Monday, February 18, 2019

Chapter 52: A Crash Course in Gratitude

This blog is one that I have needed to get to for a while, but I can honestly say that there have literally been no words for me to adequately express how grateful I am feeling these days. Our lives have changed so much over the past two months, but then again they could have changed so much more.

Have you ever gotten a phone call that changed your life? I remember the phone call telling me about Dani Marie. It changed my life for sure, and it was the stuff my dreams were made of....I received another life-changing call a couple months ago, but this one was straight from my worst nightmares.

Let's rewind....

December 17, 2018-

I'm an early bird. I always have been. Daniel works swing shift at Toyota, so sometimes he leaves out in the early morning hours. This particular morning was foggy. I woke up just a little before 4:00 am and heard him stirring downstairs. I messaged him with a little small talk. We were making plans for the busy evening ahead. I was instructing him to pick up our daughter and her friend from gymnastics because once I dropped them off I would be headed back to Booneville for a Christmas party. That was it.....I didn't say "I love you" or "Be safe"....I just made plans for another busy afternoon. I laid there awake for a few minutes and got up to get our clothes laid out for the day. I crawled back into the bed half asleep to snuggle up with Dani and do my morning devotion. My phone rang. It was a number I didn't recognize, and I assumed it was a scam call. I answered it. It was the ambulance service calling to inform that Daniel had been in a terrible accident. They told me he was in the ambulance and had just been cut from his car. They said he wanted to talk to me, so they put me on speaker. He told me he loved me. I could her pain and fear in his voice. "I love you. I love Dani. Ok? I love y'all." That was it. The EMT got back on the phone and warned me about the fog. He told me that they couldn't land a helicopter, so they would be taking him to Tupelo ER. He told me to come but to be very careful. I remember asking him if Daniel was going to make it. My exact words were, "Wait, tell me... how bad is it? Is he going to live?" He hesitated and then told me he really didn't know. "I don't know, I just don't know." He said he had a severe head injury and had lost a lot of blood. He told me he was hit by an 18 wheeler. He hung up the phone.

I couldn't breathe. I collapsed to the floor and army crawled into my closet. I stayed on my knees for what felt like forever before I could stand. I cried out to God. I was literally terrified. I called my parents and begged them to pray. They told me they were coming to get me and drive me to the hospital. I made a few frantic calls pleading with people to pray as hard as they could. I stood when I finally had the strength and walked to wake Dani Marie. I remember stopping dead in my tracks before rousing her. I looked at her sweet face, and I couldn't do it. I recall thinking this could be the very last time she ever woke up with her daddy alive, and I just couldn't do it. I had to let her live in this reality we had taken for granted at least a few more minutes. I somehow managed to get on some clothes. My parents arrived and we headed to the hospital. I was shaking uncontrollably. I'm calm. I'm extremely level-headed. Most of the time in tense moments, I remain strangely controlled. Not this morning. I was terrified I was going to lose my best friend. I was scared I would have to raise my daughter alone. How could this be happening? So fast??? I remember unbuckling my seatbelt and getting onto my knees in my mother's floorboard. She begged me to get up and buckle, but I do my best praying with my face to the ground. I talked to God like I don't think I ever have before. Don't get me wrong, He and I have had some very intense and difficult conversations. This was different. This came from a place of complete helplessness and fear.

You see, Daniel and I have people we love dearly who aren't Christ followers. They just aren't saved. They are good people who mean so much to us, but they just don't see the need for God to be on the throne of their lives. We have been burdened over their salvation for a while. For the past year or so, we have been praying for God to do whatever He needed to or through us to bring them to Him. It hit me like a ton of bricks. What if this was it? What if this was the moment that was meant to point others to Him? If I have learned anything in my life it's that God is for me. He is absolutely for my family, There were years where I doubted this truth but no more. I know with all my heart that God can work all things for His glory. I was not doubting God's goodness, but I was doubting my ability to cling to it. I was on my knees in the floorboard and crying out to my God. I was quoting scripture and clinging to its promises. I begged him to lend us His ear. I told him that I would never try to change His will, but if He would just lend us all His ear, I knew that by this time literally hundreds of people were praying with us. I'm a firm believer in the power of praying people calling out your names. Literally, hundreds petitioned Heaven on our behalf that morning. I could almost hear them all lifting our names. I told God how much we needed Daniel. Then I prayed the hardest thing I have ever prayed. I asked God to give me the strength to praise His name even if He didn't see fit to save Daniel. I told Him I knew He was good, but I begged him not to let me forget it even for a second when I got to that hospital. I knew that if this was the moment God planned to use, that if I cried out in anger or questioned Him that Daniel's prayers to use us to point others to Him would have been in vain. I knew if I believed what I say I believe, I had to still praise His name no matter the news. Then I realized that Dani was in the car with me. Was she scared? Would she be angry at God? NO! This couldn't happen. I know how cruel this world is. My worst fear for her would be for her to shut God out. She won't stand a chance in this world without Him. She's just six, would she understand? How could she not blame Him?
I got up and reached for her in the backseat. She was holding my daddy's hand and she was awake. I grabbed her precious face.
"Baby, Do you love Jesus?
"Yes, I love Jesus!"
"Do you know He loves you? No, matter what? You know Jesus loves you, right?"
"Yes, ma'am......I don't want my daddy to die."
"I know you don't baby. I don't either. No matter what happens, no matter what we hear when we walk in those doors in a minute, you know what?"
"Jesus loves me."
"We have to cling to that."
She nodded. She was calm. She was scared, but she was not panicking. Looking back, her faith is far more mature than I gave her credit for.

We got to the hospital and the wreck was on the news. It was ten minutes, but it felt more like hours before we knew he was stable. They let me go back to him. It was the most wonderful sight. Granted, he was banged up awful. His back was broken, his leg was crushed literally from the inside, and his head lay open to the skull. His orbital wall had been crushed, but he looked at me with the one eye he could use and mustered up a smile. "I've really done it this time haven't I, Honey?" were the words he said. I was so grateful in that moment. They informed me that he needed CT scans to see how bad the damage was. His head could most likely have bleeding we couldn't see and some damage that would show in the scans. The scans would let us know about his organs. I slid down the wall and started praying that God would let the scans show, "No brain damage, no organ damage, no brain damage, no organ damage....." I repeated the words over and over. An hour or so later, those were the trauma surgeon's exact words. We were so grateful! That morning I was taking his smile for granted, taking the day for granted, and now I was soaking up this moment and so thoroughly grateful to hear his voice and see his face. It wasn't the same face, it still isn't. In fact, he now wears a scar across his forehead similar to Harry Potter's trademark lightning bolt. We jokingly refer to him as "The Boy Who Lived" around here. That morning changed our lives. We spent the next month in the hospital. Multiple surgeries, therapies, and hurdles were to follow over the coming days. We took them all in stride. I missed more work than I ever have, our daughter who had only ever spent a single night away from us now suddenly had 17 under her belt, my strong husband needed my help to bathe, eat, and go to the restroom. Life certainly changed, but in spite of all of the hurdles we had to overcome...I'd say in many ways it changed that day for the better. I'm different now. Daniel's different. We all are. You see there will never be another day I take for granted. I will tell people I love them far more often. I won't assume that our busy afternoons will come without stopping to soak in and be grateful for the quiet mornings. I won't put off for tomorrow what could be done today because the truth is that tomorrow isn't promised.
Daniel and I grew closer over those weeks together in the hospital room. We watched movie marathons, played board games, and we laughed. We laughed so much at so many silly things. We cried a little, but we mostly laughed. We spent more time together those few weeks than our busy lives have ever allowed us to in fourteen years. This Christmas was so different. We truly got a crash course in gratitude. Our village of co-workers, church members, friends, family, former students, and even complete strangers showed up and showed out. We had so many meals provided for us, gift cards gifted to us, laundry done, toiletries brought to the hospital, baked goods that arrived at always just the right time. People took care of Dani Marie and made sure she never missed a beat. People have showered us with love and prayers, and we are so thankful. We are eternally grateful for the love and kindness that has been and continues to be poured on us.
  Daniel is already walking with crutches. He's hoping to be walking completely on his own again soon. He still has a long road of therapy and recovery, but we are so thankful to be on this road. He realizes that God spared his life. The night before the accident, Dani Marie prayed like she always does for her daddy's safety on the way to work. The law enforcement, medical professionals, and people who saw Daniel's car all tell us there is no way he should be alive. It's a miracle. We truly believe Dani Marie's prayers were answered and God placed a hedge of protection around Daniel's brain and vital organs. The prayers of so many of you after that have kept him and given him strength. Once again for that, we feel so grateful. We have told everyone who would listen about God's goodness. The truth is we should have been doing more of that even before this. God didn't need to spare Daniel that day for him to be good or powerful. He was both of those things already, but He chose to let us keep our husband and sweet daddy around a little longer and for that we are forever grateful!
This morning hug the people you love. Don't take this regular Monday morning for granted. This crash course has taught me to be ever thankful for the normal days and all that comes with them. We love our village! More updates soon......



Saturday, December 15, 2018

Chapter 51: Really Wish Them a Merry Christmas

       How is it already the most wonderful time of year again? It's been a while since I have updated or written. We have been busy with 1st grade. Can you believe that? Our girl is loving art lessons, science experiments, making "how to" videos, gymnastics, dinosaurs and all things unicorn. To say the least, our schedules and hearts are incredibly full.

     I'm doing some early morning cleaning while the rest of the house is asleep. Often this time turns into deep thinking and long talks with the Lord. Dani Marie hasn't been feeling well lately, and we have really worried about her being such a picky eater. She doesn't have much of an appetite and a very short list of approved foods. She definitely doesn't share our genes on that one. Well, I started praying and thinking about how to get her to try more foods. This turned into a full out on the floor, on my knees, in tears situation pretty quickly. That line of thoughts led to me thinking about how tiny Dani Marie's birthmother was. She had a petite frame with the palest complexion. I know she was sick and her body was recovering from the traumatic events leading up to Dani Marie's arrival. She had just delivered a baby way too early with absolutely no prenatal care. Her organs and entire body had taken a toll from a hidden pregnancy and the stress that surrounded her circumstances. Her eyes had dark circles which stood out more so because of her fair skin. They were beautiful, absolutely beautiful. They were the most beautiful mix of Caribbean blue with a touch of stormy grey. I'd never seen eyes quite that color at the time, but now I see them daily. Even though her eyes were beautiful, they were tired and weak. The crystal blue was a stark contrast to the black circles underneath them. When Dani Marie's allergies flare up or she isn't feeling well, it's an automatic flashback for me. This morning, as I was praying about Dani Marie needing to eat a little more and try some new foods, my heart was overwhelmed.
     I thought back to her mother. I can't tell you how many times I have replayed our only meeting. I guess by now, it's in the thousands. All the things I wish I had said, I should have said, always come to mind. Today is different. This time, I realized that somewhere right now she is still that same person. While I don't know where, who, or how..God does. I thought about this Christmas season and how it lends itself to witnessing to people more than any other time of the year. The secular world stops and celebrates our precious Christian holiday. We, as Christians, know the entire story. We know that Jesus didn't stay in the manger, and we also know why He couldn't. How many times this season already have I run in a store without speaking a word? I have been in a rush to pick up food for a Christmas party, accessories for a Christmas outfit, a gift that was on sale, and so much more. How many people have I passed? People eager and willing to engage in conversations about spiritual matters simply because it's Christmas time.
     The reality is that Dani Marie is so much ours. She is like me in so many ways, but then at the same time I see things that I know were ingrained in her from somewhere else. My mother tells me often a child couldn't be more like their mother than Dani Marie is me. She has the same silly sense of humor, adores her daddy just like I do, laughs from way down deep, cares about others almost to a fault, wears her heart on her sleeve and loves Jesus so very much. Still, we honor and are ever thankful for the legacy of who it was that helped God get her to us and gave her those stunning features and certain traits. I realized for the first time that Dani Marie's birthmother is just a version of Dani Marie all grown up. We teach Dani Marie about Jesus, thanks to EBBC Awana she knows as much if not more scripture than I do. She has been brought up already understanding the importance of our Savior and His love. She already has the tools to know where to turn when things get tough. She already has a foundation on which to build a life of knowing God. That gives us hope for her to face the world. I don't think her birthmother had this. In fact, I'm pretty certain she didn't So does that mean that she is a lost cause? That she will never understand that God's grace allows us to lay any and every burden, even the self inflicted ones, at His feet? At times, when I have reflected over our meeting that's how I felt. I felt responsible for not saying enough. I told her that I wanted the three of us to be sisters in Christ someday, but that's all. I left it at that. I didn't tell her how or what that really meant. I told her she had renewed my faith in a God that works ALL things for good, but I never offered her an opportunity to accept Him then and there, I thanked her. That is all. For years I have carried a guilt and regret that I didn't do or say more. This precious and beautiful girl gave me the greatest gift of my lifetime, and I have always felt as if I failed her that day. I want eternal salvation for her with all my heart, but I have feared I didn't do more to guide her that way when we met. God absolutely overwhelmed my heart this morning. For the very first time in all these years, I realized it isn't over. She is no longer a girl, but now she is a woman. She is older and hopefully her heart has healed somewhat. Maybe she still remembers our meeting, or maybe she has long since forgot the words we exchanged. I don't know. I do know that I have read in sermon notes that sometimes it can take seven times of hearing the gospel for someone to really receive it. Where this statistic came from, I really don't know. I have held on to it though. The message said something along the lines of, "Don't take it personal if you witness to someone and they don't receive Christ that day. God may have just planted the seed that day. The next time they hear the gospel may be like watering the seed. The next time a little more tending to the garden, and then a little more. Eventually, that seed that was planted will be ready and produce. That person may later accept the Lord. You don't know. You don't know whether you are the first to plant, the first to water, the first to weed, etc." I don't know if that was the first time Dani Marie's birthmother heard someone speak about God's goodness, and I don't know how many times she has heard it since. What if she needs to hear it just once more? What if the very next time is the 7th time? That fills me with so much hope. That's why I need to ask you for a favor! Yes, you!
     As you are going about the hustle and bustle of the most wonderful season of the year, will you be mindful of those you cross paths with? I'm going to challenge myself to slow down and use each opportunity I see to share the joy of Christmas. It might be a quick chat in the checkout line about an upcoming Christmas musical at a local church that ends with an invite. It could be simply asking someone sitting next to you while waiting for a table about their favorite Christmas tradition and then sharing yours, or it could be as simple as holding a door for someone with a big smile and really wishing them a "Merry Christmas!" Today, this very day, maybe one of you will bump into a young lady tired from working long hours who is carrying the weight of the world. Maybe you will both be grabbing coffee in the quick hustle and bustle of one of the season's last shopping days, maybe she is Dani Marie's birthmother. Our hero, who gave us our baby girl, would you really wish that girl a Merry Christmas?  Maybe you will go to pay at a local fast food restaurant and who knows maybe she even messed up your order, but could you still dig down and really wish her a Merry Christmas?
For the first time this morning, I realize that her salvation is not my task alone. While I have prayed for it every single day for the last seven years and will continue to for the rest of my life, it's not my sole responsibility. It didn't have to happen in that single conversation we had. It could happen today. It could happen because a complete stranger simply really wished her a Merry Christmas, and just maybe that stranger will be you. I have promised myself and the Lord this morning that I would slow down and be mindful of every opportunity this Christmas to share the greatest story ever told. Dani Marie's story is one of my favorites. There is a story even greater, and it's because of the Christmas story that we have the opportunity to be living Dani Marie's story this very day.
     Thank you in advance for loving on the people around you this Christmas. All of them....The ones you know and love and even the ones you don't. It's amazing what God can do when we are willing to notice His people we meet and take the time to really wish them a Merry Christmas!
I love y'all!
Ashlee

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Chapter 50: Long Lines and Life Lessons

Hey y'all!!!! I'm currently typing this from the comfort of my cozy bed. Why am I in the bed at 6:00? Well, I might as well get to today's blog topic.


If you have seen the news, your newsfeed, or social media today then you know all about the "Pay Your Age" sale that Build a Bear attempted. Within an hour of store openings across the country, police were shutting down some stores. Lines were several hour waits even before the doors opened. Madness right? Well, I guess it's a matter of perspective.

Dani Marie and I had planned a Mommy/Dani Day as we call them. We heard about the "Pay Your Age" sale, and we both love a good bargain. Dani Marie has several of these "stuff your own" animals, but her eye has been on a unicorn for a while. They usually run about $30 bucks or so. We decided we'd head out and take advantage of the sale. We arrived at the mall at 9:15 this morning........

The line was already out the doors of the mall and backed up onto the sidewalk. Wow??!!! I expected a line, but nothing like this. The sun is scorching down already. It's Mississippi in July, need I say more? I immediately offered to take her back home to swim and us come back another day. She told me she didn't mind waiting and would find a shaded spot. She stood in the shadow of a nearby tree and played with two little boys. She ran and laughed and giggled. In about half an hour, we moved inside the doors. Wow!!! The line was so long! It was wrapped around into the food court, and that is where we took our spot. I realized at this point that we were looking at what I estimated (wrong) was a two hour wait. I offered her once again the opportunity to leave and return, even assuring her we could pay full price for the unicorn. She smiled and told me that she really wanted to be able to pay her age. She said the unicorn was meant to go home with her and she didn't want it to have to go home with another family if she left. I laughed at her logic and agreed to stick it out.

A little after 11:00, I realized the line was moving much slower than I thought. We were looking at several more hours. I explained this to her. I told her we would wait, but it would be a very long time. She didn't mind a bit. She hugged me tight and held my hand. She told me she was having so much fun! I realized then that she wanted the unicorn, but she was also enjoying the experience of waiting for it. She laughed and giggled and played. She met a couple kids who taught her to play UNO at a table in the food court. She stood at the window of the arcade and cheered for people inside winning tickets. I ordered her a lunch plate as we passed a little food spot. She met a little boy whose mom was trying to make it until they got home to eat, in order to avoid spending more money. Dani Marie, without hesitation, split her meal with him. They laughed and became close friends over their hour long lunch. The line was slowly moving. My feet were killing me, I had worn flip flops and not very supportive ones at that. I didn't realize what we were committing to when we got in the line. I couldn't complain though, I didn't want to rain on her parade. I started to prepare her that the unicorns might be sold out by the time we reached the store. She told me not to worry, she would be happy with whatever she got. She met another group of kids and started playing paper, rock, scissors, with them. They laughed and had the best time. She hugged me so many times today.

While she was playing I met a precious custodian at the food court. Her hours had been cut previously but today instead of getting off at 2:00, they asked her to stay until 3:00 because of the crowds. I met a fellow teacher and her two boys. We covered for each other in line during potty breaks. We laughed and talked for hours like old friends. Dani Marie got gummy bears from the yogurt stand and even though gummy bears are her favorite, she only ate one. I asked her why? She told me she gave them away to a "new best friend" who said he liked them, too. We met up with some friends from home and waited with them to enter the store as a group. They were allowing one group in at a time. Finally, after 7 HOURS we made it to the front of the store. Dani Marie immediately started talking to the worker and they ended up realizing after a short conversation that they both have to wear an eye patch at night. She complimented Dani Marie on her sparkly purple glasses, and she told her they have some in the store for the animals. She knew Dani Marie had her eye on a unicorn. There were only a couple of the ones she wanted left in the bin. The worker went and got the one Dani Marie wanted and personally handed it to her. Dani hugged her so tight and smiled at me. We checked out "Stardust" and left the store. I leaned down and asked Dani Marie if it was worth it?

"Well, what do you think? Was it worth the wait?"

She smiled so big and said, "You bet! This girl was worth the wait! She gets to come home with us now!"

We loaded up and headed home. My feet hurt so bad. I was tired. I was sore, but somehow I was so grateful. I thought about how easy it would have been to be ill or upset. I thought about how I could have told her it was a huge waste of time. Some of the posts online have called us crazy or stupid for waiting, and I guess maybe to some we are. I didn't want to wait. This is just the kind of thing that only a parent would do. I'm so thankful that I have someone to stand in that line for. It made me think back to our journey into parenthood and the almost 7 years we spent waiting. Would we be one of the ones who walked away with arms full or empty? Should we throw in the towel and turn away? The moment I laid eyes on Dani Marie and realized she was mine to keep and take home, my soul rejoiced. I learned a lesson from Dani Marie today. In her waiting, she never complained. She didn't worry they might run out or she wouldn't get exactly what she wanted. She was willing to put in the time and wait, even with no guarantee that she would walk away with what she came for. She was patient. She was kind during her waiting. She didn't watch other girls walk out with unicorns and get bitter or jealous. She always smiled. She was genuinely happy for others. She got her unicorn. She will value it above the rest, because some of its value comes from the wait. I asked her when we walked in the house tonight what her favorite part of today was. She told me it would have to be making so many friends.

Build a Bear's headline in the news said, "Pay Your Age event so successful it failed" and chronicled the negative aspect of many upset customers having to wait hours or be turned away. After standing in the longest line of my life, I'd have to disagree. For us today was a huge success. We met new people. We took the time, because we had plenty of it to pass, to get to know others who we might have only passed by on other days. My daughter, who I worry about because she is an only child and tends to "get" lots of things, trips, and experiences displayed kindness and patience beyond her years. I was reminded how fortunate I am to have someone to stand in line for. I think all that makes for a pretty successful day.

Would I do it all again? Absolutely! It wasn't that all that time was worth it "to save $20", but the day spent with Dani Marie was priceless. I'd do it again tomorrow to feel the way I feel right now, overwhelmed with thankfulness. I can't lie though, I'd wear some better shoes. :)


Friday, March 16, 2018

Chapter 49- "Now, Let's Go Home"



Hey everybody! I hope y'all have had an excellent spring break. I know most of you just had a regular work week, but maybe the teachers and students enjoyed the week off! This blog has been in the works for a while. I just couldn't find the courage to share it. Believe it or not, every single blog makes me a little nervous. Sometimes more than a little I guess. I'm (or at least I used to be) a pretty private person by nature. I made a promise to God a while back that I would be transparent enough to give Him all the glory for Dani Marie's story. It's easy to share the highlights, but the insecurities that come along with it, well that takes a little more "dying to myself" and just sharing our hearts. Here you go...


Flashback to November....

Dani Marie's adoption is closed. What does that mean? Well, it means we don't have contact with her birthparents. Not that we don't talk about them, it's not that we don't celebrate them, it's just that we don't really know them personally. Whose decision was this? Well, all of ours really. Mainly though, it was her birthmother's decision. You see, at that point I would have given a kidney, much less agreed to any terms needed to be a mother. I get it. I mean I understand why she wanted it this way. I know all kinds of adoptive families. The thing about adoption, not just adoption parenthood in general I guess, is you have to find what works for your children and your family. I've seen open adoptions be the perfect fit for some families. For Dani Marie's birthmother, closed just worked best. She explained her reasons to me that one time we met. It was like everything she did for our girl, out of love. She told me that it would be too hard for her to see ongoing pictures from birthdays, school events, etc. The thing was, she loved Dani Marie so much. She wanted so desperately to be a part of her life, but her wants.. those came second to Dani Marie's needs. She knew for Dani Marie to have the best shot at this life, she needed us. Financially, spiritually, she needed to be placed with us. I can't imagine what that felt like for her. I do know that she made all her decisions with our baby girl's best interest at heart. She told me that day that she wouldn't cry, she'd already cried all her tears. She told me she wanted that to be the happiest day of my life. And it was.... She explained her decision. One made with a maturity well beyond her years. Her decision was that the first time we saw our baby, would be her last time. She needed to see that she was loved and leave it there. I can only speculate about the other reasons why. I have a million times...played those first moments back in my mind. I think she was breaking her own heart. She couldn't see pictures of a life she wasn't part of, for her I don't think she could even play just a supporting role in Dani Marie's life. I think it would have been too difficult for her, because she loved her so much. I think she did all that she could, she gave Dani Marie absolutely the best shot she could. She hand-selected a family that she felt could provide for her needs and wants in a way that she couldn't. I can't imagine. I can't comprehend her sacrificial heart.

So, what does that mean? That means that Dani Marie understands she is adopted. She knows that makes her special. She knows she grew in her birthmother's tummy. We have told her this story since she was small enough to fit in our hand. As she is getting older though, she understands it more. That means sometimes the questions are deeper than they were three years ago or even two. She has always been intrigued by the fact that she has her birthmother's eyes. She loves to ask about how we felt when we first found out we were getting her. She asks often to look back at the pictures of our "pinked out" yard the day the adoption was official, compliments of sweet Aunt Am. Those stories have always brought smiles and excitement to relive. A few months ago, a more difficult set of questions brought other emotions.

Dani Marie is at the age where lots of her friends are having little brothers and sisters. She understands that her mom isn't able to carry a baby. I guess, her little mind had been trying to think of a loophole. One night when we were riding in the car she asked a new question.

"Mom, listen. I been thinking maybe birthmother could have another baby. Maybe, she could have a brother or sister for me. I mean, if she has a baby won't it be my sister or my brother?"

I just swallowed hard. You see, one of my "fears" is that someday she'll let the world change her view of adoption. I know it's silly. It's something I have to die to and trust in God. The human flesh in me is afraid sometimes. I guess, that someday we won't be enough for her. I know that sounds silly, maybe. I mean, I'd love for her to meet her birthfamily if that is what she wants. I wish I could promise that her fairytale would continue and it would be a great reunion. I can't though. Would possible siblings accept her? I'd hope so, but who knows. Would she ever get angry at us for not being able to give her that role as a sister she wants so badly at times? I hope not. Will she one day wish that she wasn't a part of our world? Goodness, I pray not. Would someone she seeks out, hurt her? I don't know. See, those are the scary questions at times. I have always just prayed that God would guide us and give us peace. The answer is yes, all the children that her birthmother and birthfather have are her siblings. What does that mean? I don't really know. So, how do I explain this one? Over the years, I've learned to be slow to speak. I just stayed silent a minute. I asked God to help me answer this. In true Dani fashion, she didn't stop asking until I answered her.

"Well, baby let's see. Yes, if your birthmother has a child that would be your biological sibling. Now, does that mean a baby brother or sister could come live with us? NO, it doesn't. You see, our hope and prayer for birthmother is that now she is older and hopefully has finished college and has a job, and maybe she is in a place where she can take care of a baby. That's what we want for her. We want her to be the best mommy she can be. When you were born, she wasn't at a place where she could be that. She was smart and she loved you so much that she knew that. That's why she "put you to us" (Dani Marie coined this phrase when she was almost 3, and we think it's the perfect way to say it.) so we could be a family."

And then I just held my breath.
"Yes, I understand. She knew we needed each other right, Momma?"

I smiled. That sweet baby. That's exactly right. I thought that would be the end of the conversation, but it wasn't not quite.

Later that night while I was brushing her hair she started in again.

"So, Momma when you saw birthmother, was that at the hospital where all the babies are born?"

I explained that it was. I talked to her about the talk we had that day. Then she asked me if she could go there. She wanted to go back to where we saw her birthparents and everything began. This part scared me a little. What will she feel? Will she wish she had gone home with them? What is this? I don't want to confuse or hurt her. I thought these questions would come at 10 or 12. I didn't think it would be 5!

I agreed to take her. We started out the next day. We were headed to the NICU. We were almost at Tupelo when she said, "Wait, Daddy was there. Right? Wasn't Daddy there, too? My birthfather was there and so was my daddy. We can't go back without him."

I agreed that her daddy was there. I told her it would be a few days before Daddy could go with us due to his work schedule. She said she wanted to wait until we could both go back to the place where we last saw them. I was a little relieved. That was it for a few days. The following Saturday we got up and headed to Tupelo. I never mentioned going, I guess thinking she had put it out of her mind. We were headed to the mall. As soon as we got in she reminded us. "Don't forget where I want to go. Remember, the place I was born at?" Right, okay. We headed to the NICU. We pulled in the parking lot, and so many memories flooded back. I asked God to help me find the right words to comfort her heart. I also asked him to protect mine. Would she be glad she left there with us? Were we "enough" for her? We walked in to the hospital. She immediately told us she wanted to go back to where we had our "talk". My husband never said a word. I think he was feeling some of the same things I was. We walked out to the courtyard and when we stood beside the table, I pointed.

"Here it is. This is the spot. This is where we ALL made the plan for you." I wanted to say more, I wanted to remind her how much we wanted her. I wanted to explain. God seemed to silence me. He reminded me that sometimes it's only in the quiet that peace can come.

"Momma, where, where did she sit? My birthmother could you show me where she sat?" I got down on my knees and I mustered out a "Sure, baby" and pointed to the seat. Then, she walked to the seat and she sat in it. She sat and rubbed the edge of the seat for several minutes. She never said a word. Daniel looked away, and I just held my breath. What was she thinking? How could I comfort her? How could I remind her that she is our world? That she was wanted and loved and prayed for? What could I do? What was she thinking? She rubbed the seat and she had the most solemn look, I've ever seen her have. Had it really been six years since we had been in that same spot? Then, after almost five full minutes of silence, she looked at me. She smiled. I was still on my knees. She reached her arm around my neck. And she spoke.

"Momma, you know what? That day, y'all made the perfect plan for me." She hugged me so tight. My heart just melted. We came there that day for her. I wanted to help her find peace. I wanted to comfort her little fears or worries, but in true tinygirlbigmiracle fashion she comforted mine. I was her momma, and she was glad. She wanted us. In fact, she thought being with us was the "perfect plan" for her. In a thousand lifetimes, I could never deserve this precious girl. She held mine and her daddy's hands. She looked at the door and then she told us, "Now, let's go home." That's exactly what we did. I still don't know what she was thinking or feeling when she sat in that spot. If she is anything like her selfless birthmother, I'm sure she thought of everyone else involved. Maybe she even felt the love radiating off that spot from another young beautiful girl who sat there looking at me with the same crystal blue eyes years ago. That girl gave me the greatest gift, our daughter. That day, Dani Marie's precious confirmation that our plan was perfect was another gift I will always treasure.

We snapped this picture of her before we left.
The truth is we are still just getting our feet wet with how to handle the complicated questions that come with adoption. Sometimes maybe we even make it more complicated than it really is. It's actually pretty simple. Just like the way God loves us. We don't deserve it, we can't explain it. It's simply a gift given to us. Dani Marie had the best answer for any question that could ever come up. "We made the perfect plan for her." God, her birthparents, our precious social worker, her daddy, and I all loved her enough to make the perfect plan for her. One day, I hope she understands just how perfect that plan was for me, too. 

Love y'all! 

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Chapter 48 - Let Your Light Shine..


Hey there! Whew.....this sure is a busy time of year. Can I get an Amen??? We have been super busy with life lately. We love it that way. Something happened today, and I knew I had to share it with y'all. Before we get to that, I have a funny story about our kindergarten priorities.


Dani Marie has now officially been a kindergartner for a full 9 weeks. She loves it! She thinks her teachers are real-life queens. She has made precious friends, and we hear lots of stories about lots of different things. And occasionally, she gets her school work finished. I'm picking, but the kindergarten social circle appeals to her much more than the daily academic tasks. She had a fantastic first report card with all satisfactory marks. Those who know me well, know that I love school. I love the challenge of a test, the satisfaction of top scores and completed tasks, and just learning in general. She enjoys it, but it's the people who really excite her. At least a couple days a week, she doesn't get in any hurry about finishing her work. She ends up having to work through recess to get it all completed. When I found this out, I about had a stroke. We had a few "family chats" as we call them around here. I reminded her how important it was to work in a timely manner and fully focus on her work. She has been itching to be Student of the Week since the very first week of school. I can't lie, I have been looking each week for the letter. Well, apparently she likes to chat a little much and work slowly. I'm an elementary teacher, y'all. This just didn't mesh at first. Here is a sample of how a few of our family chats went......

"Dani Marie, did you get to go to recess today?"

"No, ma'am, but it was fine."

"What do you mean, it was fine?"

"I'm on green. I'm not in trouble, not at all. Ms. Donna and I just stayed in together so I could finish a few things. It's fine. I love her so much. It's nice to spend alone time together, just us. I mean imagine if I hurried and finished and went out every single day. She'd get bored inside by herself!"

All I can do is shake my head at her logic. This last chat took the cake though. Her teacher brought her down to talk to me about completing her work in a timely manner. She scores well on her assessments, she is already reading and decoding, and she is super smart... but she doesn't get in any hurry about writing and completing her worksheets. I told her we would talk about it later that afternoon.

She bee bops in my room.

"Dani Marie, why didn't you finish your sheet today? What was the deal?"

"I just couldn't, Mom. My brain wouldn't  let me focus on it. It was full of something else."

"What? What was on your brain?"

Cue the sweet smile..."Well, all I could even think about was my sweet mother. You, you were on my brain and that's all I could even think about....how much I missed you, how beautiful you are...."

Wow. See what I deal with? I tried to tell her if she really wanted to be Student of the Week she would have to complete all work and quit talking. She patted my leg and told me not  to worry that she was happy for her friends like Jaxson, Austin, Ridge, and Lily. She said they work hard and that she would just be happy for them until she got her time. What can we even say to that? So, we will just continue to make little cameo appearances on our friends and cousin's (By the way congrats to Nick Garner, this week's Student of the Week!) posters until we finally get it all worked out and earn one of our own.

What is precious though, is how much she loves people. She has made wonderful friends with our custodians. She wants to get there early enough each day to help push Mr. Brown up the hill in the lunchroom with his mop bucket. She is amazed at the "chicken nugget recipe" the lunch ladies use. She has a list of people she wants to buy breakfast for each day, and she always tells me when one of her friends is sad or happy. She loves to shower faculty and staff with little treats and happies, and she knows and remembers every single person's name. She is teaching me to chill out, and to gauge success more by the relationships we build more than the accolades.

Which brings me to my main point...

We were checking out at Wal-Mart today. We had been shopping for a friend's baby shower. Dani Marie had spent what seemed like an eternity in the baby section picking out the perfect gifts. She finally selected a tub of bath toys and a baby tub. We picked out a card and ribbon, and we headed to the check-out. She immediately struck up a conversation with the cashier. The cashier asked if she was getting a new baby brother, and she told her she wasn't but her friend Tripp was. She said, "We are going to a baby shower, and we'd love for you to come." The lady chuckled and told her that she appreciated the invite but she had to work. They carried on a few more minutes. She said her good-byes, told her we would see her soon because we come to Wal-mart "a whole, whole lot"and we headed for the car.

"Momma, that lady sure was nice. Wasn't she so nice? She was such a sweet thing, I know she must love Jesus."

I was busy loading the car and almost dismissed it at first, but as I got in and buckled it really soaked in. She has learned to equate joy with Jesus. I just stared at her a minute, and you already know I cried. I love that about her. I love everything about her. We drove home, and I did some thinking and reflecting. When people encounter me, do they see Jesus? Do I radiate the joy of Jesus? I hope so, I want to. I decided to challenge myself this week to let His light shine in my conversations. This life is busy, hectic, and sometimes discouraging, but this world should have no control over our joy. That comes only from the Lord. It can't be taken by a bad day, bump in the road, or a negative person. It's ours to keep and ours to share. The kind cashier and my kindergartner reminded me today that joy reflects the Lord. There are a lot of people around us that need to see that reflection. So, let's challenge ourselves this week. This song was part of our morning worship service. As I kept thinking about what Dani Marie said the lyrics replayed in my mind.

Everyone needs compassion,
Love that's never failing
;
Let mercy fall on me.

Everyone needs forgiveness,
The kindness of a Saviour;
The Hope of nations.

Saviour, He can move the mountains,
My God is Mighty to save,
He is Mighty to save.

Forever, Author of salvation,
He rose and conquered the grave,
Jesus conquered the grave.

So take me as You find me,
All my fears and failures,
Fill my life again
.

I give my life to follow
Everything I believe in,
Now I surrender.

My Saviour, He can move the mountains,
My God is Mighty to save,
He is Mighty to save.
Forever, Author of salvation,
He rose and conquered the grave,
Jesus conquered the grave.

Shine your light and let the whole world see,
We're singing for the glory of the risen King... Jesus

Have a great week! Shine your light!
School pictures.....I'm in love with them!

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Chapter 47: We already love you...

I haven't blogged in a while. I didn't really mean to this time, but I wrote this letter for Dani Marie's kindergarten teacher. We are so eager to find out who she will be. We can't believe we will be taking this girl for orientation on Tuesday. Technically, her daddy is taking her. I will be in 2nd grade meeting all my precious students, so he gets the solo orientation nod. Anyway, I wrote this and decided since I have shared so many special moments of our lives with y'all.... I might as well.


Dear Mrs. _____________________,

Wow, where do I even start? I guess by telling you that we already love you. I know you are having a busy day. I know you have already spent countless hours and dollars of your own getting your classroom ready. I know this because I have been in your shoes, so for all that we already love you. We have been praying for you now for quite some time. You see, Dani Marie is our daily reminder that God is good and oh, so faithful. We are thankful and honored to share her with you this year.

I want to start by telling you who she is. I know that she is one of your twenty-something students. We have really worked on keeping in perspective the "only child" thing. We remind her to treat others kindly and not be "bossy". She is so unique. She definitely dances to the beat of her own drum. She has a heart of gold. She is kind from somewhere way down deep. She will probably tell you often how pretty you are, how much she loves you, and that you "bless her little heart" for many reasons. If you could mix Minnie Mouse, an English professor, and a country singer all in one you could recreate her little voice. She keeps us laughing. She also is a warrior. I guess even from when she first arrived way too early but just on time. Her little heart quit beating twice, and those tiny paddles were used to start it back again. Her NICU paperwork details the many hurdles she jumped over from the start. From being solid blue and lifeless to breathing with the assistance of machines she started out fighting. She is strong. She's tiny, but she is strong. More than anything, she is amazingly aware that our God doesn't have limits. She is not yet calloused by the world to doubt or think that things are impossible. She keeps me in check quite often. She knows and says often that "God can do it" or "Jesus has the power" to do the impossible. You know, she's right. He uses her so often to remind me that He is still in the miracle business.

I know you will have rough days this year. I know sometimes you will be so exhausted you can't think straight. There will be times you feel unappreciated, underpaid, and defeated. You aren't...well the underpaid part is true, but the unappreciated and defeated isn't. I'm writing this and telling you because I want you to know you are prayed for. Every single morning of every day you are prayed for. Not just for your teaching or your class, but for your comfort, peace, and family. We also hope Dani Marie will share her sweet spirit with you. We hope you will get to see the amazing faith she already has. I don't know if it's just because she came straight from God's own heart, but she seems to sense when people could use a hug or just a smile. We hope she gives you those whenever you need them.

We want her to be successful. We want her to set high goals, and then work hard to reach them. We'd love for her to win reading awards, get high marks on her objectives, and exhibit outstanding behavior. I guess more than all that though, we just want her to love life. We want her to make friends and laugh often. With all that we want for her, the one thing we don't is for her to feel like she has to be perfect. We know there will be times she makes mistakes. She may break a rule or (quite probably) talk too much. Please let us know. We won't be defensive or mad, but we will support you and work to help remind her the importance of being disciplined.

Now, I have a confession. Can I just be honest for a minute? I know we told you we already love you. I hope you will grow to love us, too. I'm going to just go on and be really honest with you. I'm scared. I am. I'm someone (if you don't already know from working with me :) ) who likes to be in control. I like when things go as planned. I like to maintain control in situations, so I can manage "what could go wrong" in advance. Because of this, I'm scared. My biggest fear is for her to come home one day in tears because someone tells her I'm not her "real mom". I'm so scared for someone to break her spirit or make her feel like her life is anything less than what we have always told her....a miracle. I know the curriculum, I know y'all do a family unit. I understand that others will be sharing all about their lives. She knows she is adopted, and we celebrate it. We read stories, talk about birthmother's beautiful eyes, celebrate "Gotcha Day", and remind her how wanted she was. Unfortunately, the world doesn't always see adoption that way. Some people don't understand. I have heard people who mean well use the words "real" and "biological" interchangeably. I'm not na├»ve, I know the moments will come when she has questions, gets confused, or is upset. Would you do me a favor? If those moments come while she is on your watch, will you love her through them? Could you scoop her up and tell her that "real" family are the ones who love you? Please, remind her that two parents could never love her more than we do. And please, remind her that she was wanted. I guess, you see, my biggest fear is for her to feel she wasn't. I begged for her. I did. I pleaded and bargained. I begged God to make me a mom, and He sent me her. I prayed for so long he would heal my body, but His plan was better. He healed my heart. She healed my heart. Thank you sweet lady, thank you in advance for being there in the moments I won't be. You will experience so many things with her this year. For all the things you will be to her, we already love you.

 I apologize in advance, but we will read every word of every note or letter you send. It isn't because we are picking over anything. I hope it never feels that way, but it's simply because we want to soak up every single moment of this ride. We are all too aware how the lonely times seem to linger while the happy ones fly by. She is our heart, and we want to treasure every single minute of her life. With that said, let us help. I know there will be things you need, but would never want to ask for. I promise, we'd love to help. You need bandaids, stickers, extra glue, or just a Dr. Pepper for yourself, just tell us. We want to help you in any way that we can. We don't see it as a chore, on the contrary. You see the fact that "our daughter is in your class" is still something that makes our hearts skip a beat. It's amazing and breathtaking, and it still give us chills that we get the awesome privilege of doing the "parent" thing. And I still cry, almost daily. I love being her mother, and because of that I already love you.

I know you are busy, so I will end this. I just wanted to tell you that we are praying for you. We are here for you if you need us. We are excited to start this journey with you, and most of all sweet lady know that we already love you.

Ashlee and Daniel


Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Chapter 46- The Ones You Can't Buy

Hello!

First of all, I wasn't sure if I would continue blogging to tell Dani Marie's story. The last blog seemed like a good stopping point. It's amazing how far we have come since that very first entry explaining her unexpected but long anticipated arrival. Today's events changed my mind. They had to be added to this precious story. I'm so thankful the Lord has allowed me to tell of His blessings on our lives.

Before I get to that.....Are you ready for this???

It's so hard to believe she is this grown. Wow, it happens so very fast.

December, specifically the Christmas season, has always marked the end of another year for me. For so many years it was an all too quiet time in our home. I've written before about the hurts and struggles that accompanied so many silent Christmas mornings. It was impossible not to notch off another year, year 1,2,3,4,5,6, and still no little one to celebrate the most wonderful time of year with.

That first Christmas with Dani Marie was a fantastic one. It made me realize just how perfect God's plan for us was all along. It helped me return my focus to the promise of the manger, and I regained an eternal perspective I had long put away. Every Christmas since has been a wonderfully magical time in the Martin home. I never fully forget about the quiet Christmas seasons, but I think of them much less often. Today, for the first time in a few years my Christmas tears returned. You see, I have always loved to decorate for Christmas. I love the lights, the ornaments, the trees, and every bit of the red, gold, and green goodness that represents the Christmas season. I have hosted countless ornament parties with friends and family. We exchange fancy ornaments and ring in the start of the Christmas season. I have changed my tree up it seems a million times. I have gone with the Southern Living fancy look, the rustic burlap wrapped style, the sliver and gold nostalgic color scheme, the shades of red theme, and a few others. It has been pretty so many times, but it never was quite what I wanted it to be. I guess I changed the topper, the colors, and even the tree itself often seeking the "perfect" tree. It just never felt quite like home. I couldn't put my finger on it. Today, I finally see what has been missing all along. I am more thankful for this Christmas tree than I have ever been of a decoration, because I finally understand.

I picked Dani Marie up after preschool today. She had a Christmas gift bag full of things she made at school. In the bag, what might as well have been pure gold, were three ornaments that absolutely melted my heart. It was the most special ornaments of all, you know the ones you can't buy. Handmade ornaments with her sweet little handprints. I would have paid hundreds of dollars for them, but they were given to me freely. Given to me by a beautiful blondie wearing the biggest smile. She was so proud of them. I put them on the tree and she just beamed. I fussed over them and examined each one. I cried like a baby. I suddenly remembered green and red paper chains, a wax crayon church, a glittered and soggy from too much glue candy cane, these had all adorned my mother's tree. The tree of my childhood, and that was what I had been missing. My tree had always been pretty, but today for the first time it is beautiful. For the first time in my life, I had a little child to make the best ornaments of all. The ones you can't buy, and those are priceless to me. My tree will never again look like it could grace the pages of a holiday magazine, and that is just fine with me. This Christmas my heart is bursting because God once again used his tiny girl to remind me just what means the most. I'm so thankful today and every single day that He chose me for her and her for me.
How great is our God y'all???

Merry Christmas! I hope your family has a priceless Christmas season filled with lots of contagious laughter, yummy food, and a few of those decorations that you just can't buy.