A Christmas Love Story

Once upon a time in October, a boy and a girl moved to a foreign country with their two small babies and a handful of earthly possessions.

They lived in a borrowed apartment while they were learning to speak the language and navigate daily life.

As Christmas approached, the girl was homesick and sad that she did not have her own Christmas decorations and a Christmas tree to put up.

The boy loved the girl, and it made him sad that she was sad. So he did the only thing he could think of. He got her a tree. (And she liked big trees.)

He left the superstore with the giant boxed up Christmas tree. He waited patiently for the correct city bus to arrive (they had learned which bus to take in their two months abroad, thank goodness). Then, he heaved his cumbersome load up the bus steps and waited nonchalantly with the other passengers.

The bus driver was curious about his foreign guest and motioned to the box and asked what the boy was doing.

The boy knew his bus routes but didn’t have such a solid grasp on the language yet, so he wasn’t sure exactly what the bus driver was asking, but figured it had to do with the awkward box he was transporting around town. So he shrugged and said, “My wife.”

And the bus driver nodded knowingly and pulled away from the stop.

The girl was so happy when the boy presented her the tree. She was still homesick and she still didn’t know how to order at Burger King, but she knew there was no one else she would rather celebrate Christmas far away from home with.

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Gotcha + One Year

The memories I swore would stay so sharp forever have dulled in the past twelve months. Like a beloved painting hung too long on a sunny wall, the day we got Lovebug has faded some in my mind.

I remember floating to breakfast in the hotel. The ride squished into the too small car with two suitcases and a stroller. The cold. The blue sweater I was wearing. The smile on Hubby’s face.

We missed the turn.

We found the building.

We signed a paper. (I have no idea what it said.)

We chatted idly with the social workers through our translator.

11046495_10101942886357258_5378406371486506783_nIt felt like we were moving in slow motion all morning until a car pulled up out front and the world kicked into high gear. I watched her walk up holding her foster mother’s hand. I stood absolutely still drinking the scene in, because after almost five years I could not believe this moment had actually arrived.

She was wearing big boots and she was bundled so tightly in all her layers. She ran around the office amusing all the social workers. We could tell they adored her. I couldn’t believe she was running– she hadn’t been walking when we met her five months previously.

I figured we would be there for a while saying goodbye, but the next part happened so fast.12301708_10101940555418478_6913338497425471253_n Lovebug was put in my arms by the foster mom and she patted me on the back. We didn’t share a language, but the look we exchanged spoke an entire conversation. I have no idea what I could have said to show the depth of my gratitude. She had held my baby when she was sick. She had faithfully taken my girl to every doctor’s appointment, every physical therapy session. She had taken her to the beach for the first time and dipped her tiny toes into the sea. She taught Love how to walk and run. She had fed Lovebug and fattened her up. She had read to her and played with her and fed her bottles with a loving touch that Lovebug didn’t know in the orphanage. Her face blurred through my tears and then she disappeared down a hallway. Instead of making a big deal of saying good-bye to the baby she had grown to love so deeply in thirteen months, she ducked out of the way and let me take over as mommy.

12322958_10205060298659650_4697272509029636183_oLovebug was not interested in the car seat (read: screaming bloody murder), so we rode the four hours to the capital city holding her on our laps. She fell asleep on me for over an hour. She looked at the books we brought and ate her snack and was so content and happy for the whole ride.

We stopped for lunch and I ordered her some soup. I dropped bread into it like the foster mom had done with her soup that summer, but Lovebug was much more interested in running around the restaurant and charming all the other customers than eating!

The whole day felt like a fairy tale ending. I knew the journey was just beginning, but it felt amazing to be holding Lovebug and to know that we would never have to let go.



The balance of adoption

This school year, I am back in the classroom with a sweet bunch of four-year-olds. Lovebug attends the same preschool in a three-year-old class. Because it’s a small school, I see my Bug quite often. And every single time she sees me she yells out to her class, “THAT’S MY MOMMY! HIIIIIIIIIIIIII MOMMY!”

img_5934The other kids have started pointing me out to Lovebug if she doesn’t see me right away, and then she gasps and yells, “THAT’S MY MOMMMEEEEE!” I’m sure her teachers just love this interruption that happens 47 times a day, but I secretly hope she never stops.

Sometimes, adoption feels weighty and the trauma and grief that my daughter has experienced in her short life takes my breath away. At times, her losses plague my heart and I wonder how they will shape the woman she will become. I wanted to tell her a birth story on her birthday like I do for my other kids, but I didn’t have a story. I don’t know what happened when she was born. I have the name of the woman who gave her life and that is the extent of what I know about Lovebug’s birthday. And that is hard for me.

But other times I completely forget that I was never pregnant with Lovebug. I struggle to remember what life felt like before she came. She fits so perfectly in our family. I love her so much. She makes us laugh so hard. It feels like she’s always been here.

I’ve seriously had moments where the concept of adoption feels so far away and distant, and then something jarrs my conscience and I remember. Oh yeah, she wasn’t always ours. She used to not have a mommy to point out to others and read with and snuggle and tickle with and talk to and love. I remember the ache of waiting and the years of empty arms. I remember the roller coaster of wondering when we would find her. I remember the tremendous cost as invoices for each part of the process flooded in.

But most days, she’s just my daughter. Naughty and funny and exhausting and curious and sweet and sticky and loving and cute and rough and adorable and precious and silly and caring and stubborn and wild and free. “Adopted” comes so far down the list of words that come to mind when I think of her.

I’m guessing to some extent, I will always be living in this balance– rejoicing over our gain and grieving her losses. Maybe that’s just part of the adoption story.



Six Months of Love(bug)

IMG_5610On June 7, we were celebrating six months since Lovebug’s Gotcha Day. Six months of family, hugs, kisses, smiles, tantrums, meals, early wake-ups, car rides, snacks, tears, naps, scooter rides. Six months of Love.

I have so many moments when I can’t believe Lovebug is finally home. If you’re wondering if adoption is worth it– the millions of tears and the thousands of dollars and the hundreds of hours of paperwork– the answer is yes. I couldn’t always see clearly in the middle of it, but she is absolutely 100% ours and I can’t imagine doing life without her now that she is home.

I’m trying to own the lessons I learned walking through the adoption process. It’s funny how quickly things we thought we took to heart and learned so well slip away. Like the complex grammar of a foreign language gathering dust in the corner of a brain. Or the built-up endurance dwindling when shoes sit instead of run. It’s not easy, but I don’t want to forget the things I have learned about waiting and struggling.


Got her!


On December 7, 2015, we woke up in a small city in Bulgaria. We had breakfast at our tiny hotel, and we felt a nervous excitement pulsating in our bellies– was it really happening? There had been so many moments in the past four-and-a-half years when it felt like “Gotcha Day” would never arrive for us.

We waited for just a few minutes at the social services building, chatting through the translator with the office staff. All of the sudden, I could see through the glass front doors that a car had parked right in front of the building. I took a deep breath because I wanted to remember the moment forever. The back door of the car opened and there she was. Our Lovebug. And she was walking!

Advent for Mommies

from sheila ipod to feb 2015 3010We are quickly approaching my absolute favorite time of the year. Thursday morning, turkeys will begin roasting in ovens and filling houses with the smells of home. More than any place on earth, Thanksgiving smells like home to me. Even living far away, I was pleased to realize that I could fill my house with the fragrance of Thanksgiving if I baked a couple pies and stuck a brined turkey in the oven.

But the awesomeness doesn’t end there. I love that Thanksgiving ushers us into the season of Advent, which is derived from the Latin word for “coming”, and that is precisely what we do during December– we wait for Jesus to come.

fromipod 3439There are many things I’d love to say to mommies during this time of the year, and most of them were already typed out by Jen Hatmaker, so you can check out her thoughts on the Christmas Conundrum. I read this when I had a four-year-old, three-year-old, and one-year-old, and it felt like a breath of fresh air. I felt like she whispered to my soul, You can celebrate Christ without all the drama and stress, mama.

I encourage you to take time each day during the month of December to retreat into the depths of your heart and look at Jesus. I would argue that it is the most important thing you can do for your family– more important than cleaning the guest room or baking twelve different desserts. If we aren’t treasuring Christ during Christmas, how can we expect our children to?

There are some spectacular resources to help us get into the Word during Advent. If you’d prefer not to use another book, just start with the Christmas accounts in the Gospels. Read John and watch Jesus’ life on earth. Look at the Psalms and start praying as you see the heart cries of the psalmists. It doesn’t matter what you choose, just get yourself in the Word during Advent if you want to get the most our of your Christmas this year! Here are some other suggestions:

  • She Reads Truth does an Advent devotional. They post new material during the weekdays and then give you time to catch up and work on Scripture memory during the weekends. You can read the Scripture passages and devotionals free each day through email or on their webpage, or you can pay a small free to get the devotional on the She Reads Truth app. Bonus: they have beautiful free lock screen downloads of their weekly verses!
  • Make Room for Advent Naptime Diaries has put out an Advent calendar for five years now. This year they compiled devotionals from 25 different women into a beautiful devotional for December. You can still order, but it might not arrive until after December 1, which is perfectly fine because it’s not dated! 🙂 Their site at Make Room for Advent will also be full of extra videos and resources during the Advent season.
  • The Expected One by Scott James I picked this up at Lifeway the other day for $5. It’s a small book and looks like a great way to refocus my heart each day before Christmas.
  • The Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp I read through this book last Advent season and I enjoyed it. I know some people don’t prefer her writing, but if you like her poetic style, I think you’ll enjoy reading The Greatest Gift during December.

If you start searching for Advent traditions for your family, you will find from sheila ipod to feb 2015 3031yourself on rabbit trail after rabbit trail on the interwebs, because ideas we lack not. There are a million things you could do to celebrate Jesus next month, and all of them seem like great ideas. Keeping that in mind, I would suggest you choose your way to watch for Jesus’ coming and stick with it. You don’t have to do all the great ideas you pin on Pinterest, I promise. Especially if you have many small children, kiss it simple, dear one, so you can enjoy this most enjoyable of seasons.

In years past, I have loved reading The Advent Book during our family worship each evening in December. Each day during the month, your little ones open a new door in this beautiful keepsake book. Each door reveals another part of the Christmas story (straight from the Bible), so by December 25, my kids can recite the Christmas story by heart. It’s easy and lovely and perfect for kids of all ages.

We have also done a Jesse Tree a few times. A Jesse Tree comes from the verse in Isaiah about a branch coming from the stump of Jesse (spoiler alert: it’s Jesus). Each day you look at the family tree of Jesus, usually adding ornaments of symbols to a tree. You will find different resources using different sets of stories, but the point is the same– all the Old Testament stories are looking forward to Jesus coming. I love the chronological aspect here– seeing how all of the Bible is pointing to Jesus is an excellent way to read and examine Scripture with our kids. You can purchase beautiful hand-made Jesse Tree ornaments to use on Etsy, or Ann Voskamp has a set that you can get free if you purchase her book, The Greatest Gift. Her book for families is called Unwrapping the Greatest Gift, and although I’ve never used it, it seems like a very popular option for parents (as proven by its #1 rating on Amazon!) You can also download free printable Jesse Tree ornaments and hang them with twine, or if you are a handy sort of woman, you could make your own set of Jesse Tree ornaments using felt. A Jesse Tree can be used for any age, but is probably a little more suited to elementary aged children since some of the Bible passages can be lengthy!

I have not used Truth in the Tinsel, but it’s been around for a few years now and I’ve heard great things from parents who have used it with their preschoolers. The premise is that you read a passage from the Bible and then do a hands-on activity with your children to reinforce what they heard. Truth in the Tinsel is for families with pre-schoolers and early elementary ages.

I have also heard of using The Jesus Storybook Bible throughout Advent. You can download and print a free Advent calendar (with corresponding readings from The Jesus Storybook Bible) from FaithGateway. You could use The Jesus Storybook Bible for children (and adults) of all ages, it’s written in absolutely beautiful prose and the illustrations are impeccable.

Just the other day I came across this new Advent tradition called Star from Afar. It’s adorable. (Think Elf on the Shelf, but not creepy.) Each day you hide the star and your children search for it. When they find it, they place the Wisemen with the star until December 25 when the star lands at the nativity scene. Star from Afar seems suited to younger children, toddlers to early elementary ages.





In Jesus’ Name

Yesterday, I saw this post in my Facebook news feed from an expat who lives in my city in Turkey:

“Just read an update from a friend that said that they offered a blanket to a refugee in the name of Jesus. The man said, ‘Who is this Jesus? Since I left home he has given me food, a place to stay and now a blanket. I want to know him.’ “

I came back several times to read the post and each time tears flooded my eyes.

As refugees began filling our city this year, I was burdened for their IMG_0805desperate conditions and never knew what I could really do to help. Often when I saw a refugee mom and her children on the street, I would duck into a market and fill a bag with milk boxes, bottles of water, apples, and crackers or cookies and then hand them over with a simple blessing in the name of Jesus. I began keeping food bags in the van, so I could hand them out the window whenever we encountered a refugee family at a stoplight. It never felt like much. It felt like a drop in a bathtub– how could I ever make a real difference when all I had was a few apples and boxes of milk to offer?

IMG_0751The post on my news feed yesterday reminded me that I never know the whole story. I am just a small part of the story God is weaving into the fabric of someone else’s life. My crackers and bottled water don’t feel like much, but when I offer them in obedience in Jesus’ name, He multiplies and provides. (See John 6:1-14 where Jesus uses a little boy’s offering of five barley loaves and two fish to feed five thousand people!)

We buy into the lie that we have to do big, awesome, life-changing things for God for it to “count”. It’s true, He wants our big yeses. He desires our obedience when He calls us to big steps– changing jobs, starting a new church, becoming foster parents, sharing the good news with a co-worker, moving to a new city, joining full-time ministry. But God wants more than our big flashy yeses.

He wants our tiny daily yeses. He wants us to pull over and help change that flat tire. He wants us to give food bags in Jesus’ name. He wants us to offer to host dinner even though our furniture is threadbare and our curtains are hand-me-downs. He wants us to pick up the tab. He wants us to smile at the tired barista at Starbucks. He wants us to deliver dinner to the sick family and greet the unfamiliar face in our pew. He wants us to cry with the hurting soul. All our little yeses are different because we are different. Your gifts and location and abilities and relationships are different than mine. But when we each put our YES on Jesus’ table each day, He gathers them all together and builds a beautiful Kingdom for His glory.

And what a magical Kingdom He builds with those yeses! It’s small IMG_0748enough to fit in the palm of a child’s hand. (Matthew 19:13-14) It’s as unruly as a garden plant that grows wherever it is. (Mark 4:30-32) It belongs to the poor in spirit. (Matthew 5:3) It’s as lavish as a wedding banquet. (Matthew 22:2) It’s as easy as loving God and people. (Mark 12:29-34) It’s as valuable as buried treasure. (Matthew 13:44) It’s not of this world (John 18:36) and yet, it’s in our midst. (Luke 17:21)

His Kingdom is at hand. (Matthew 4:17)



So close…

fromipod 1959We finally got dates to travel to Bulgaria to bring our daughter home. In two-and-a half-weeks, I will be gathering her into my arms forever. And after all the waiting and sweating and hard labor to get to her, I might never let her go. 🙂

I haven’t had a two-year-old in three years, so I’ve spent plenty of time in the Target baby aisles lately trying to remember. Adoption is special. I don’t really know what to expect when I take my girl into my arms and escort her to our hotel room that first night. Will she cry? Will she struggle against me? Will she want to sleep with me? Will she want to be in a crib? Will she sleep all night? Will she wake upset in strange surroundings? Will she fight against diaper changes? Will she gladly rest in my arms? Will she let me wear her? Will she want the toys we have? Will she scream in public?

I remember having some similar questions as we brought new baby after new baby (after new baby) home from the hospital. What will s/he be like? Is she grumpy? Will he fuss? Will she like the bath/crib/pacifier/diaper changes? Will he cry when I’m in the grocery store and make everyone stare at me?

But this feels different. This darling little one’s personality has already taken some shape. She has already experienced great loss. And trauma. And transition. She is resilient. She is strong. She is beautiful.

But will she let me change her diaper?

I don’t know.

So, I’ve been gathering the supplies. Making the lists. Reading the blogs. Saying the prayers. Because above the Tylenol, diaper rash cream, and twinkling musical toys, I need His grace to finish this adoption well. From the first signature on our contract with our agency to the moment the judge declared us a family of six, His grace has carried us through this process, and I have no doubt He is waiting in Bulgaria to walk me through each meal time, each public outing, and each bed time in an unfamiliar hotel.


I’ve heard that elephants are pregnant for 22 months. WHAAA? Can you even imagine?

I feel like I’ve been pregnant as long as an elephant. With an adoption. Which means I have paper cuts instead of Braxton Hicks. And instead of rubbing a swollen belly and wondering how my skin can stretch grotesquely far, I pull up videos on my phone and let the tears fall as I watch my daughter laughing half a world away.

I’m sure people have put this kind of gestation into better-flowing prose than I will. But I’ve been struck repeatedly with how pregnancy-like our adoption is. We “tried” to adopt for several years before it stuck. We thought several times this could be it! Only to have the rug pulled out from under us.

We’re sorry, but she already has a family.

The committee will meet and decide which family is best. (Spoiler alert: It’s not you.)

The medical issues are more than outlined in your home study.

The grief that followed was deep, real, agonizing. It felt like it might never happen for us. It was devastating.

On December 18, 2014, it finally stuck. Thankfully this kind of “pregnancy” is a little more hygienic than the traditional kind, and we found out from an email that said, “She’s yours if you want to proceed!” and not a stick I had just urinated on that said PREGNANT.

Instead of a gender ultrasound, we took a trip to our daughter’s hometown to meet and spend time with her. Then we nonchalantly signed a form in front of a notary to make things more official. We laughed and teased just like I remember doing in those dark rooms where the wand slipped around the cool gel on my bulging midsection and we heard, “It’s a girl!” and then, “It’s a boy!” and once again, “It’s a boy!”

We went about our normal life as we waited for a court date, which we could liken to the beginnings of labor. The normal routines of life march onward as if new life isn’t being stirred up and families aren’t about to expand their girth. Life is funny (and kinda demanding) like that.

On October 27, 2015, we got news that a judge decided our case– Lovebug is now officially our daughter. And she was given a new name. Our name. This is it! Let the pushing begin!

If we were counting weeks here, I am approximately 10 weeks overdue. It’s not quite 22 months, but that explains the grouchiness, trouble sleeping, late night snacking, and random bouts of tears (every day). This is not my first rodeo, all of this feels very familiar.

Except not.

So, I’m over here pushing. And crying, And screaming. And making my husband bring me Starbucks red cups because #mamaneedscoffee. She’s not quite born into our world yet, but here’s a little sneak peek:

Please meet our new daughter, Lovebug. Finally. Our Sofia Yana Stover.

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For the Love (of Jen Hatmaker)

This post is part of Jen Hatmaker’s “For the Love” Blog Tour which I am delighted to be a part of along with many other inspiring bloggers.  To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE.

This spring I was able to read an advance copy of Jen Hatmaker’s book, For the Love: Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible Standards that releases TODAY! I had enjoyed Jen’s other books (7 and Interrupted), so I was excited to get my hands on her new book to preview it.

Oh my word, y’all. Jen is so funny. (You already know this I’m sure, because of her viral goodies like Worst End of School Year Mom Ever.) But Jen also has a serious side. She touches on a lot of topics in For the Love: turning forty, marriage, parenting, church, leggings and yoga pants, supper club. Really, this book is a gem. I laughed so hard sometimes, I’m sure the other Starbucks patrons thought I was a nut job. And I cried so hard I shook (and was thus glad to be in the safety of my own bed) at parts like teaching our kids what is really important (teaser: Be Kind. Be You. Love Jesus.)

So, go get you some Love today, For the Love that is. And then go look for my name listed in the acknowledgements section!

Too much? I’m sorry, not sorry. Happy Launch Day, Jen, my imaginary BFF! MUAH!

Let’s lay down our junk, our wonky junk that messes up relationships and community and togetherness. We won’t let our own crazy stop us from affirming each other and banging the drum for our sisters. -Jen Hatmaker

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