December 27, 2011

Life in A Glass House in 2011: A Year in Review

Dear friends,

This is a year in review, a virtual Christmas letter if you will, to look back at the best of 2011 in our family's life, as recorded in this blog. I'm linking with Mama Kat this week, who provided the prompt for her Writer's Workshop.

Isabel was born in January. Her birthday always stirs in me a mixture of joy, pain, and gratitude. Perhaps because of the monumental decision her birthmother made, I felt compelled to write on a topic I would rather leave to better writers, or deeper thinkers. I prefer encouragement to discord but January saw me a little braver and able to take a stand. So in honor of my children, I wrote this.  

At Christmas I was given one of my favorite gifts of all time: my first sewing machine (or musheen, as Isabel calls them). I loved it so much I named her. Sally Maria Brother. 
Had I known the grief and frustration she would cause me as I tried to learn to sew, I would have named her Child of Satan. I wrote this in February after completing my most challenging project yet: a quick-sew-but-nothing-quick-about-it, make-in-two-hours-but-it-will-really-take-you-weeks fleece jacket for Noah. 

March brought me a crisis of discontent. We had gone through yet another infertility treatment, against our will, by doctor's orders, and, as usual, it failed. So I lost all perspective and, like a whinny child, began to complain about the things I lack. Patient as always, the Lord reminded me gently of his love and provision. This is what came out of my heart that day.  

On my birthday, in April, I experienced an overwhelming feeling of being loved, thanks to the magic of Facebook which allowed so many happy wishes from so many people in such a short time. It inspired me to think about the impact I can have in someone’s day by just taking one minute out of mine and I wrote this.  

Isabel started her first season of YMCA soccer in May. She was unsure and scared but she was blessed with the most wonderful coach we’ve ever known. This gentle man deserved his own ode here.    

In June my husband and brother in-law talked me into going camping for the first time in my life. On the beach. In a tent. But the experience began on the way there with a stubborn fly inside our van. Read about it here.  

I learned a hard lesson in July. One that I needed to learn and one that was embarrassing to admit, but one that is foundational to loving my neighbor as I’ve been commanded.  

In August we joyfully announced our new paperwork pregnancy like this. I have not updated much yet for the process is boring to tell, but when we have exciting news I will shout it to the four winds (and the blog world!).

I got my feelings hurt like a silly child in September, and, after crying and pouting, I turned to the Lord for help. Here is what I learned about his compassion.  

After eight months without a working stove, in October we finally bought a new one; only to have a frustrating and scary encounter with the Sears’ collection department. But we learned about God’s mercy for us in spite of our mistakes and because of our obedience, when He intervened here.  

Half-way through the first year of officially homeschooling my children, the constant questioning about homeschooled children’s social skills finally got under my skin enough to prompt me to write this in November. You be the judge!  

After a wonderful and full year, December brought our eleventh wedding anniversary. While this has been an amazing decade as Matt’s wife, as I looked back on it, I realized our life has not become what we thought it would be. Yet, it is so much more than we ever imagined: we embody a Proverb! This one.  

Have a happy new year and may your 2012 be filled with the love of family and friends, and many blessings. Above all, may you grow deeper in your relationship with Christ and, if you don't yet know him, may you come to know him and love him as He loves you. 

The Johnson clan.

December 20, 2011

Dear Pier One...a re-post

Last year I posted this as a response to Pier One's new slogan for Christmas: Decor that Speak to You! As we decorated our tree this year, once again I felt it speaking history to me so I thought it is still a very appropriate post for Christmas

Dear Pier One,
I saw a commercial you aired a few days ago. Your new slogan for Christmas ornaments is “Décor that speaks to you.” The commercial encouraged us to buy new Christmas decorations if the ones we have no longer speak to us.
Tonight, after my husband and kids finished trimming and decorating and generally having a blast, I assessed our artificial tree and smiled at the horrified look I would get from your “experts” on what Christmas should look like.
This is our second tree. Our first one was a small, beautiful, pre-lit, used one that we set it up on the reception hall of our wedding chapel. Since we got married the week before Christmas we asked our friends to bring to the wedding one ornament to help us decorate our first tree. And they did. By the end of the night the little scrawny tree was glittering like any of the proudly displayed on your storefront. It was a joy to behold, mainly for all the love and good wishes it held in each branch in the shape of an ornament.
We still have those ornaments and have added many more over the ten years of our marriage. I don’t know about the ornaments you sell in your store. To be honest, I have never even been inside one because I can’t afford most of what you sell, but I do know that I don’t need to buy your decorations. My ornaments not only speak to me, they also touch me and tell me stories.
There is the silver disco ball we gave away as wedding favors and the snowman figures we gave our wedding party. They speak about the promise we made that day before so many witnesses to be together in sickness and in health, in poverty and in wealth, in the good times and in the bad times and about the people who honored us by standing next to us as we made our vows to the Lord and to each other.
There is the one we bought on our honeymoon in New Orleans the night we saw Harry Connick Sr. (the famous Junior’s dad) playing in a hole in the wall where I sipped on a virgin strawberry daiquiri that turned out not to be virgin after all. This one reminds me of the adventure that were our first years married when we could go anywhere and do anything because we were young and carefree.
There is the one for The Parents-to-Be that Matt’s parents gave us months before we knew Isabel was a reality. I remember how this one brought tears to my eyes for it spoke of hope and promise. I look at my children today and this ornament now speaks to me about a family built on initial disappointment, lots of prayer, lots of waiting, and a God who keeps his promises.
I see the many Baby’s First Christmas ornaments that were given to us. Most of them pink, because Noah’s first Christmas was a whirlwind of moving, new church, and new life. They take me back to another baby’s first Christmas more than two thousand years ago and my mother’s heart understands how Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.
There is the one Isabel’s foster mom made for her when she heard Isabel had found her forever family. It is hand stitched with her name, and the year. It reminds me of how she spent two months of her life waiting for her mom and dad to find her, but how she was loved and cared for by many people even before we met her.
I spot a globe in the shape of a baseball that was given to Matt by his beloved granddaddy, his name-sake and his hero, who is no longer with us. It speaks of three generations of men who loved Jesus and chose to make their life’s work and vocation to make His name known.
There are some that mark a time when we were just two. Then there are the ones that belong to this new era of our lives like the Noah’s Ark with all the animals and Mickey Mouse ears from last year’s trip to Disney. They talk to me about the passage of time, how it flies, and how we move from one stage of our lives into another almost without notice.
And there we have the ones that speak of what Christmas truly is for us. The ones that portray the Holy Family. We have several of those for those are the ones that speak the loudest to our hearts. We have one that shows Santa Clause bowing to the Child Christ and one that shows a Christmas tree on one side and a cross on the other. We have Nativities all around the house as well. We have wooden ones, metal ones, ceramic, and plastic. We have toy ones for the kids to enjoy, fancy ones that should not be touched, gorgeous ones that stay out all year, and the one we collect a piece at the time year after year. These are the most valued decorations in our house as we try to teach our children in no uncertain terms what Christmas is all about.
Ten years of Christmas represented on one tree. It is not the same scrawny one we had when we first started. As has our family, the tree has changed and grown and last year we had to buy a new one, a fatter one to fit our larger living room, our many decorations, and our extra helpers.
Dear Pier One, if I were to change my hodge-podge of decorations for your beautiful, expensive ones, my tree will no longer speak to me. It would be a silent, large, green, glittering blob in my living room with no history, no meaning, and no purpose. I am sure it would be beautifully chic, but I think I will keep my tree as it is, and continue to let it serve its purpose as our family’s historian, reminding us year after year about the wonder that has been our family’s journey.

**As a side note, I have nothing against Pier One. Their new slogan just compelled me to defend my poor tree!**

December 16, 2011

The best laid plans...

Eleven years ago today, on the coldest day of December, I walked down the aisle dressed in white and married the best man I know. We were too young to understand a decade long marriage and we were too new to even imagine where we would be then. We knew the basics: kids, house, jobs, church, love forever.

(photo credit: Wallace Photography)

I woke up this morning and assessed our life together and I had to laugh out loud as my soul whispered to my heart: You can make many plans, but the Lord’s purpose will prevail (Proverbs 19:21)

My life has become a living proverb.

When I beamed at my soon-to-be husband as I approached the altar all those years ago, visions of our future were blurry at best. But never, in my wildest dreams, would I have imagined what the reality would be.

That we would have three kids was a given. 

That two would be adopted, African-American, eighteen months apart I would never have believed. That we would be praying and waiting for a child we are yet to meet, whose name, gender or age we don’t know, who lives in one of the poorest nations in the world, whom we already love, would have made me laugh.

That we would have jobs was obvious. 

That I would work part time in front of a computer so I can be a stay-at-home mom would have made me call you a liar.

That I would be a teacher was the plan. 

That I would teach my two children myself would have sent me screaming from the room.

That we would own a house was undoubtedly true. 

That we would live in a small town in the deep South, in an old house that has more bathrooms than bedrooms would have been hysterical to hear.

That we would be together forever was the idea. 

That we would have had a year when we thought we had reached the end of the line was never a thought for us.

Life has not turned out as we planned. At all. 

Nothing has gone as we thought, really. This decade has not been easy and without pain. Marriage is painful, infertility is painful, adoption is painful, sacrifices of wishes and things we thought we needed are painful. We have not had a stress-free, problem-free, tragedy-free life.

And yet…

We have never been happier; our marriage stronger; our hearts fuller; our needs more provided for; our cups overflowing further. 

Commit your work to the Lord, and then your plans will succeed (Proverbs 16:3)

Your plans...your....plans. We had plans and we had hopes but above all we had surrender and in surrendering we gained infinitely more than we seemingly lost. We let our plans become His plans and the Dreamer, who dreams bigger than we can, fulfilled our dreams. Those we longed for and those we didn’t even know we had.  

A young bride thinks she knows what a successful life should look like. A decade later, a seasoned follower of the One who said: I know the plans I have for you, knows only to plan to obey. 

December 8, 2011

A Snow Memory

I have not linked with Mama Kat's Weekly Writing Workshop in a while, but I could not resist this week's prompt: A poem about a snow memory. The first time I saw snow is engraved vividly in my mind, so please bear with my rhyming and poor stanzas. I have never written a poem in English before... 

It does not snow in my homeland
At least never in my city;
It does in the snow-capped mountains
That fill the Andes with their beauty.

So for a girl of sixteen
Who had never seen a snow fall,
The anticipation and excitement
Could barely be contained at all.    
It was very cold that first winter
We spent in this, our new territory,
But snow was taking its time,
Hiding its white, fluffy glory.

Finally on a week day morning,
While solving equations in math class,
Someone shouted, “Hey there, Gaby!
Look outside that window’s glass!”

They were soft, gentle and quiet,
They were dancing, swirling, and twirling,
The little snow flurry crystals
Were teasing and were enticing.

Pleadingly I looked at my teacher,
For I was sitting clear across the room
And the snow beckoned me to touch it,
To feel it, to taste it, and soon.

I must have looked very desperate
And I didn’t want to miss a flurry,
For the teacher smiled and motioned
And I was at the window in a hurry.

I stuck my hand out the opening
And marveled at the sensations on my fingers;
I stuck my head, my tongue, both arms,
And laughed at how snow in dark hair lingers.

It is a happy memory during a bitter-sweet time
Of leaving, struggling, changing,
Of growing up away from familiar,
Of expanding, of growing, and learning.

That first year in our new country
Was both exciting and painful.
For the new life I’m delighted
For the snow-memory, I’m thankful. 

December 5, 2011

A Christmas prayer for our children

Our sweet babies,

This Christmas we wanted to write down our wishes for you so you would know how we have, are, and will continue to pray for you since you came into our lives. More than any material present we can give you, it is this prayer that will be our gift to you day after day as you grow up.  

May you always seek to know God and be known by Him in all the aspects of your lives. May you understand early and deeply the importance of reading the Word and spending time building a relationship with your Creator and Savior. May nothing in this world be of higher importance to you both and may you never be ashamed of it, even if you are mocked, criticized, or rejected.

May you take the education we are giving you and seek to find God’s plan for your future career so you will always be fulfilled. May you allow no outside influences to direct you in this journey, neither money, nor renown, nor any other frills this world might offer you. Let Christ’s calling be the light that guides the path to your future and we will support you no matter what He asks you to do.

May you discover how faithful God is in providing for your every need if your career pays little and if your job pays much, may you understand the joy of sacrificial generosity to others who have less than you. Remember you have been blessed only to bless others and all you have is really His. May you remember the world in need begins in your backyard and extends around the earth.   

No matter what God leads you to do for a living, lawyer or missionary, doctor or teacher, policeman or pastor, may you never be a slave to money and may you always remember where your daily bread truly comes from. May you never forget that He who loves you more than He loves the sparrows and the flowers in the fields will always be faithful to provide for you and yours.  

If you choose to marry, may you find mates who love Christ more than they love you; who will put God at the center of your relationship and consider you as more important than themselves. May you look beyond their social status, physical appearance, and other trappings of the world and find a true mate of the soul who understands the values you have been taught and shares your love and passion for Jesus.

When, and if, you have children may you choose to raise them in the Word as you were raised. Whether you choose to have one or ten, may you always know that children are a blessing from God and that we will love all your children as we have loved you.
May your heart always be generous and your hand always be open, not only to those you love but to anyone you encounter in need. May you seek to serve, to love, and to respect those around you. May you find in fruit of the Holy Spirit all that you need to live well: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. May these be the characteristics that describe you.

May you always remember that our pride and joy in you comes not from what you do, how much money you make, how well-known you are, what degree you hold, but from who you are and how closely you follow the path of the One who made you. This is what you will take with you and be remembered for by your children and grandchildren when you are gone.

Make us proud by being known as a godly person who walked closely with Christ and you will have fulfilled all our desires for you.

We love you unconditionally.

Mami and Daddy.