Friday, April 29, 2016

The hard and the holy.

It happened. They said it would. Not from him. I thought I was prepared so the sting took my breath away. From behind the closed door, “This family is stupid. I wish I was never adopted.” Do I open the door and say that I’ve heard? Walk away? The anger seems too big to carry alone. Too big for a 10 year old boy.

I walk in and ask him to look at my eyes. I ask if he would like to share those thoughts with me now? “No.” I ask why he said it . As his eyes meet mine, “Because I’m angry.” I tell him I understand that but we don’t speak hatred out of anger. I tell him I’m glad he is using his words but there are different ones to use. Ones that won’t hurt people like his hurt me as a tear gives way. I tell him I am trying to help him learn healthy ways to deal with his anger and give him some paper and tell him to write his feelings down if he needs to and I turn and walk out.

It is said calmly. It is said with love and concern and understanding. It is said with bravery. I didn’t want to have that conversation but I did. Because I can do hard things and so can he. I get to teach him that. And with God’s help, we can do it with love.

It had been a hard day. Behavior issues I thought we were past reared their ugly head. He had lost a privilege for two days. I was ruining his life. Your average tween things except for this isn’t average. He is an average boy that has been through a not so average life. I’m an average mom trying to love extra ordinary. Life calls us to hard sometimes.

I realize that part of our day could have very easily triggered things in him and wonder if he is just having a hard time verbalizing them. I feel a hand slip around my waist, “Mommy, I’m sorry for my behavior today,” and he squeezes me with every ounce of himself. This is the boy I know. This is the boy I’ve watched him grow in to right in front of me.

I hold this little man boy’s face in my hands and thank him for his apology and accept it. I let the tears from my face land on his because I want this sweet boy to know that I take loving him very seriously. I want him to know this mother son thing is hard and it hurts and it heals and we will always figure it out together. I squeeze back even tighter so that message is felt deep in his bones. That is bravery. To ask forgiveness is brave. This sweet boy walked in to my life at the age of 3 and opened up his heart to me. He let me love him when I’m sure there was nothing scarier. He loved me back. He loved new siblings, a new dad, new aunties and uncles, cousins and grandparents.  He forgives us when we fail him and he shares his feelings with us when it’s hard to. He let joy in to his life and some days needs to remind himself over and over again that he’s deserving of it.  This boy so many define by his adoption, his grief, his loss. This boy that is so much more than that. This boy has taught me courage. 

This kid. My son. What a beautiful gift it is to be his mom. Hard and exhausting, maddening and emotional…a privilege and a joy…. In the midst of this ugly I wanted to scream and cry and feel sorry for myself. With that little arm and that soft low voice asking forgiveness, I was reminded, God, that you see me. You are ever present, God With Us. In the ugly and the wonderful, in the hard and the holy. In it all, You are working. If we let you, You will write this story and it may be difficult but oh, will it be beautiful. Thank you, God, for it all. May it shape us both in to who you’d have us be.  

**Are you in the hard or the holy? God is in both. Trust that.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Painting toes and praising Jesus

Some times you don't make it to church on Sunday. Some times grief sneaks up on your child and comes seeping down her face. Some times you put everyone else in the car and you sit that little girl down and you talk to her about the hard things. You hold her face and you look in her eyes and you tell her how sorry you are that she has to do such hard things. You tell her how valued and worthy she is. You talk about the grief and her biological momma and your chest will ache from the pain she carries. Your tears fall with hers and your shirt will cling to your shoulder where her tears and snot have settled. You talk to her about the good and you carefully and honestly discuss the not so good and you paint a picture of a life before you, a life she no longer remembers. You show her the picture, the one of her first mom and her beautiful smile. You point out the similarities and the ends of her sweet mouth turn up at the sight and the blank look in her eyes of not recognizing her mom's face catches in your throat in a mass of the things missed. And you don't even try to wipe the tears anymore. Hers or yours. You just simply say, when things get hard, I will never leave you. When you are sad, I will be here with you in it and we will talk it through. While you miss and love your first momma, it doesn't push your forever momma away. There is enough room here for that love and longing. It's okay here. I am so sorry you are hurting. You tell her it is completely understandable and normal that she feels like this and that there are other sons and daughters all over the world feeling just like she does right now. You tell her she is not alone. You tell here that sometimes it makes you angry and that's okay if she ever feels that too. You tell her about Jesus and His love for her. You tell her He was adopted. You tell her your love for her is unconditional.  You tell her that love often looks like service and sacrifice. You sit her on the couch and you grab her little feet and you wash them and you put lotion on them and you paint those little toes and you have church right there while you do it. Church right there with the little brown feet and the snot and the tears.

You serve her with the best of you. You sing praise songs and the tears slow and she will look at you with that sweet look that shows you just how important you are to her. And your heart...your heart can barely take it. This sweet girl struggling to share her grief with you and not hurt your feelings at the same time. This sweet girl in this sacred time trying to balance all of that. You hug her with a fierceness that says we are in this together. You show her your love for her in the simple task of painting her toes. You feel God's presence this your family room surrounded by a dozen little bottles of bright spring nail polish and tear stained faces because church is wherever we bring it.

Friday, February 26, 2016


My mamaw had 8 children. Her first were twins. One, my aunt Doris, born with hydrocephaly, had significant special needs until she died at the age of 16. It shaped her life. The other was my momma. My mamaw raised all of her children on a farm in Southern Indiana. She was selfless, generous, no-nonsense and kind. She could play cards  or pray the rosary with the best of them. She laughed; really let herself laugh.  She showed me who I wanted to be.

A few friday nights ago,  I walked in to her hospital room where 25 other family members stood. They made a path for me to the side of her bed. I made it. She had seen all 7 of her living children and their spouses during this long day. All 26 of her grandchildren had either visited in person or thankfully for those far away, through Facetime. The first born of her 31, soon to be 38 great grandchildren, my daughter, got to kiss her face.  I felt that kind of sadness that feels like it’s physically pulling the pit of your stomach out through your chest. The sadness that gurgles out of you in sounds you don't recognize as your own and your body shakes....the kind of sadness that some people spend a lifetime protecting themselves from. But I let it come. I feel the intense wave of  grief and it brings with it that peace you can only get from knowing you’ve loved with all you have. I could not love this lady more. I could not be more thankful to her for the selfless example she gave. I could not have been more undeserving and privileged to have this Mamaw as my very own.  I wanted to see her again before she meets Jesus, we all did…not because of things left unsaid but out of sheer longing to be with her as long as we can be on this earth.

She holds on to my hand with the grip of a toddler to a cheerio and focuses in on me with the one eye that will cooperate enough to open. I can see the recognition. I feel the squeeze of my hand and the squeeze squeeze when I show her Trevor and Grace are here too. She knows. Her breathing is labored and she is exhausted from the work it requires. I kiss her face and run my fingers across her thin skin and the wedding band she still wears. I tell her it is okay. I thank her for her selflessness, her example. I express how excited I think Jesus will be to meet her. I imagine her meeting up with my Papaw and them swinging together on their porch again.  I think of my aunt Doris waiting all this time for her momma. I look up from her face and see my family standing in that room. I see their stories like one of those flipograms in my mind. Triumphs and struggles, flaws and friendships, loyalty and love. I see all of us together. Always. This family of mine, half dysfunction half delight. Together. That’s the key. This woman whose bed we are surrounding knew that. She is why we all stand here. She is why we all stand together.

People often say they wish they had a family like ours. I get it, believe me. They sometimes say it like I’m lucky though. It’s not luck.  That family is work. This togetherness, this unity, this love is not easy. Every single one of those people in that circle have done something the person standing next to them could be mad about. That circle could just as easily have held bitterness and anger, deceit and dread, tension and tired excuses.  But it did not. It won’t. Mamaw has taught us all it’s not worth it. Do we agree 100% with everything everyone does all the time. No. Does being mad about it change anything but your relationship? Nope. It’s not worth it. The only thing worthy of our energy is our relationships. It is why several of the people standing in that room drove for hours with no guarantee they would make it. It’s because of that relationship. It is worth everything. A four hour drive. Worth it. The hard work of forgiveness. Worth it. A last hug, a laugh. Worth it. The pain of letting go of pride. Worth it.  Setting aside winning the argument so you can hold on to peace. Worth it. Not bringing up that mistake you made that one time every time you make another. Worth it. Loving others well is rarely convenient but it is always worth it. That circle hasn’t been free of drama or struggle or wrongs done, it’s just known love was more important. Always. Mamaw made sure of it.  For that I will forever be grateful.


We buried my mamaw this past weekend. As I watched the little children run in the meadow next to the cemetery, and my aunts make sure each of their sisters had a flower from the arrangement on the I saw the pat on the back from one uncle to the other and a chuckle from one about something the other said...
even as I felt the aching for her in my chest...
I was reminded that life for all of us continues.  Together. 

Originally posted for Every Child on Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Forever Family

The Every Child conference will encompass foster care, hosting, and adoption. How 
is God calling you to be a part of His plan? Are you ready to hear Him? The following 
is an account of just one family stepping out in faith to love the most vulnerable. 

In November of 2005 and December of 2006 my children were born to their first mom. 

Too much of life happened to them between then and the time they were placed in to our 
hands in May of 2009. It wouldn't be until October of 2010, that the courts finally caught up
with our hearts and they were forever home. I had to look up the year the adoption was 
finalized because I can't believe it has just been 5 years.  There are ways it seems so much 
longer and life before those two is hard to remember.In another way it is a bit refreshing to 
think it's only been 5 years and that we've come a long way in a short time. It's no wonder 
some of the struggles we have gone through in the past year and I am once again reminded 
of the pain and grief that the redemptive story of adoption is birthed from. 

There is not a single thing I would change. I read back over a journal I kept at the time and 

theemotions gurgle to the surface and my eyes sting with tears. I am reminded how hard we 
fought for their momma to be their momma. I am reminded how sad it made me that she felt 
she couldn't and how angry it made me that she didn't have the skills to be. I am reminded how
deeply it hurt that the system had failed yet another. I am reminded how much I loved and
respected her and how it conflicted directly with my all-to-human judgement's at times. I 
remember my inability to understand that her life experiences could have only led her here. 
I will always be thankful she chose life for them and selflessly broke the cycle. I am reminded
how small they were, just 2 and 3 years old. I remember how brave, how open and willing to 
accept our love these little children were. I am reminded how scared and angry and filled 
with an intense sadness they were that it seemed to seep from their  souls. I am reminded how
immediately I loved them. I am in awe of how much our 3 other children welcomed them in 
and protected and embraced and hurt for them. I am reminded how very much in love I was
watching my husband father the fatherless. 

Becoming a mother to two grieving children is the hardest thing I've ever done. Stepping

in to the place of a mother they loved....they still love. Truthfully, sharing their love with her
has been hard I often tell them they have enough love in their hearts for both of us and they do, 
but it's only honest to say that their are moments that has stung a little. The juggling of emotions
that comes with this journey never ceases to surprise me. One moment I can be crushed by the 
weight of the burdens they've carried and yet others, felt normal frustrations at the fallout that 
creates in their lives. This journey has brought me the greatest moments of joy and taken me to 
the bottom of a cavernous pit. Our adoption story has made me feel utterly alone at times and others surrounded by God's love for us, often shown by the amazing friends and family in our lives. It has
left me questioning the brokenness of this world and in amazement at it's beauty and grace. It has 
given my children a family but at the loss of their first mom. It has given me more than I could ever

I had no idea what to expect then. I still don't. I have a sign that hangs in the kitchen that states 

"never a dull moment" and it's obnoxiously true. Each stage of development greets grief
differently. But at the same time, each new day is one more day they know the security of a family
the gentleness a father should bring. They are loving, kind, compassionate children that know Jesus. 
They are worthy. They are valued. The hard has been hard but the alternative isn't an option. She 
was their first mom but I am their last. She is the mother that gave them life but I, I am their mom
for life. I am incomprehensibly thankful that we gave our yes to God...that when it made no earthly 
sense at all...when the finances weren't there....when we already had a full house...when we were in 
the middle of facing a layoff... that we just trusted God to have us. I am so thankful that this time I
didn't blow it and let my fears win or my intellect or my feelings of self doubt. I am so thankful for 
stepping out in faith, for giving Him our whole yes and for jumping feet first in to the craziest ride 
of our lives. Happy Forever Family Day, Family.  

What an honor it is to be your mom. 

I'm Listening

originally posted on


I have loved and believed in Jesus my whole life. It wasn’t until I was in my 20’s
 that I actually started listening to him.
I got married, had 3 children in 5 years and Grandpa moved in. Life got loud
and the whispering of Jesus’ calling on my life got quieter. It became clear for 
me to be a disciple, not just a believer, I was going to have to be very intentional
in my choices. I didn’t just want to focus on the what-not-to-do’s but things I
could do in my life to bring Glory to God. With this wreck of a heart I have,
it sure wasn’t easy. It still isn’t. At times, it is difficult to hear God through the
busyness of my life so I just started to study His life and the truth is, I found
most of the answers right there in the Bible. I used that as an example. Do 
what He did. In the doing, it will become clear.
I started small and concentrated on the nudges I felt in my Spirit. When a
memory of a long time friend came to mind and I’d actually follow through 
to let them know I was thinking of them. Often times it was at that exact 
moment that my friend needed encouragement. I would see the homeless 
guy on the corner and before I could hear the news story echo in my mind
about the scam this can be, I’d allow myself to feel the tug on my heart from
God to give. The new mom across the street seemed overwhelmed at times 
so I’d offer dinner and a few hours of babysitting. Those sweet little nudges
are where I started. Taking the next big step with God’s lead changed my life.
In early 2009, I began to pray 3 specific prayers. 1.) Open my eyes to the
needs of others around me. 2.) Break my heart for what breaks yours and give 
me the courage to act. 3.) What ever you ask, I will do.
Be careful what you ask for.
My husband and I after years of talking, gave God our yes in a mighty way.
We began the process to adopt. It would take two years to complete so we
had plenty of time to get our finances in order and prepare our home and family.
Like most things, I gave him my qualifications. We would adopt from another
country so we would not have the ‘messiness’ of dealing with a birth mother. 
We could adopt one child, a boy, because we had room with our son. And if He
wanted this from us, He was going to have to fund it. We did not have a single
dime in savings. It was already tight raising a family of 5 on one income. What 
would it be like with one more? We prayed for a much talked about promotion to
happen for my husband. With our prerequisites in tow, we took the leap of faith.
God has a way of ensuring I depend on Him instead of my own accord so it should
be no surprise to me that it didn’t take two years. An amazing couple donated the
money for our home study. Within a month, through a series of events only God 
could arrange, our son arrived on our doorstep. And so did his sister. Yes, not one,
but two toddlers. They were not from another country. They were from right here. 
I sat across from their momma and dove head first into the messiness of loving her, 
encouraging and empowering her to be their mother for a over a year. My husband 
didn’t get the promotion. He got a month’s lay off. It was the scariest, most difficult 
moments of our lives. It was filled with our new children’s grief and rough
transitions and at times, downright ugliness. It was also filled with beauty, grace 
and the most wonderful outpouring of support and love from the body of Christ
I’ve ever witnessed. I got to see my children welcome their new siblings with 
open arms and understanding and to share their life, their space and their parents.
Watching my husband love our children, blessed me. Watching him love
someone else’s child, blew me away. It grew us and stretched us. It still does, to be
honest. But stepping out in faith, taking that risk in His name, gave me the most
incredible view of God’s love for us. It was the Gospel in action.
Taking that next step in your faith is beyond scary. Following those little nudges,
taking those big leaps…all scary. Giving God our yes? Tough stuff. He rarely calls
us to easy. But what He calls us to, He equips us for. It’s important to trust His
sovereignty and remember He can see the big picture. Getting to know and love my
children’s birth mom was a gift. Being able to look in their faces and tell them how
hard I fought for their family brings me a peace I didn’t know I’d need. That experience
 also brought me a career calling and planted the seeds for me to fight for other families.
Our budget? It hasn’t made sense on paper in almost a decade but we have always had
what we need. That lay off of my husband’s gave him this opportunity of intense bonding
time with our two new babies. It gave our family of 7 the chance to spend a month of
quality time together and eased our transition immensely. It allowed this new mom of 5,
 ages 2, 3, 3, 6 and 8 to keep her sanity.
What we experienced during that time, was a series of God opening doors and us
walking through them. It was affirmed again and again through others generosity,
miraculous moments and timing only God could orchestrate, that we were indeed
smack in the middle of His will for our life. Allowing God to use you, is the greatest
feeling you will ever know.
If I hadn’t become very intentional about listening to God in the little moment’s of my
day, I’m not sure I would have gone for His big ask when He brought it to me. I want
to encourage you. When you sit in church and the video about the next mission trip makes
 you cry, that isn’t a coincidence or because you’re emotional. That is the spirit of God
whispering. When you read about the food pantry and feel that little nudge in your heart,
don’t be so quick to dismiss it. God is speaking to you. When you are walking past that
older lady in the grocery parking lot loading her full cart in to her trunk and your feet
hesitate and your mind quickly tells you that you are in a hurry to pick up the kids, that
hesitation is the whisper of your spirit; God’s spirit in you. God will take your actions,
when they are aligned with His and He will knock your socks off with blessings and
There are books by famous theologians and great Christian leaders written on taking that
 next step of faith. I am just me. However, I think we’ve been programmed to believe
that God wants big grand gestures from us. He wants us to move to China and give
away all of our belongings. He expects us to save all of the orphans, bring clean water
to the entire world. I think we picture obvious signs and this audible voice telling us what
His purpose is for us. I think, most of the time, it is simpler than that. It may seem too
simple, but for me, it is about learning to attune our heart to His. It is about learning to
listen for those internal whispers. It is about studying who God is so I can reflect His life
in mine. As we learn more about Him and His love for us, our love for Him grows. The
fruit follows. The spirit of God is in each of us. We have to practice listening to it. It’s
like putting on noise canceling headphones, blocking out the world and tuning in to the
Holy Spirit. It is about obeying that voice and exercising that obedience in the little
moments of our day, and before we know it, those little moments have added up to a
 life that reflects His; a life of worship.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Thanksgiving Table

originally posted on


1 Thessalonians 5:18 NLT “Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.”
Thanksgiving is my favorite day of the year. Don’t get me wrong, I love the sweet baby Jesus, but Thanksgiving is it for me. There are no gifts to buy or open, no fancy dresses with matching shoes and little girls pulling up their tights with each step into the sanctuary. No elf with elaborate set designs. Just time with family and invited extras. There are always extras. Thanksgiving is never about the place settings or the trendiest recipe. It’s not even about my corn casserole or my momma’s stuffing and they are so stinking good it could be. It’s always been about the people around it.
One Thanksgiving my mom made us, or should I say, gave us the opportunity, to go around the table and say what we were thankful for and a family tradition was born. Some years, it was shared around the table after our meal, often through tears. Some years it’s been penned directly on the tablecloths. “I am thankful for light sabers and basketballs,” from one of the cousins. “I am thankful Dad beat cancer,” after a year filled with fight. “I am thankful for my trip to Africa,” spoken after the fruit of a lifelong calling to go. “I am thankful this year, I’m a mother,” from a sister after a decade of infertility. “I am thankful I have a family,” when the loss of one is still fresh in your veins. There have been countless celebrations announced and victories won spoken around that table of thanks. Some years it’s been written on leaves of construction paper and hung on small branches from the yard serving as a centerpiece. This year, in true Pinterest fashion, we will write them on a pumpkin.
There has been really difficult, grasping for air as you come to the surface kind of years. There have been year’s of fighting cancer and grieving lost pregnancies and dumb choices. There have been times when the struggling marriage sat around that table, the father in law losing his words to dementia, the friend fighting addiction, the new member at church that feels isolated. Seated at the table has been a wife beaten by her husband and an exchange student thousands of miles away from home. The mother that gave my youngest children life sat there with us the last time she chose to see her children…needing to witness the love firsthand before she gave herself permission to let go. Each year we are one family. A broken bunch of crazies striving to love one another well. Each year there is something to be thankful for, appreciative of; even in the pain. There is redemption around the table. Each year there is a harvest. Around that table sits forgiveness, reconciliation, perseverance and strength. Patience and faithfulness are seated there. Love sits there. Big, messy, we are in this together kind of love.
There has never been a year I’ve not had something to be thankful for. There has never been a year that anyone else has had to exclaim, ‘nothing to say, no blessings this year.’ Each year. Each year there are blessings. Each day. In abundance. There is always appreciation and gratitude and the time to reflect on those moments, those gifts, brings joy to the faces seated around me. Where there is appreciation and thanks, there is praise.
At that same table, throughout our lives, we were taught thankfulness. It’s how this day looks so beautiful now. Messy beautiful. Thankfulness was an intentional way of living, an intentional attempt at grace and joy and praise. In her book, One Thousand Gifts, Ann Voskamp talks about the eucharisteo“And he took bread, he gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them … ” (Luke 22:19 NIV). In the original wording, ‘’he gave thanks’’ was translated from the word eucharisteo, meaning grace and joy…the gift of grace and joy at the table of thanksgiving.
There has been some tough stuff in my family this year. Sitting at the table might even be hard. Maybe you’re in the same situation. Our circumstances may change but thankfully, our God does not. He is the same. We will give thanks because of who HE is, not how we feel. We give thanks, because even if not, HE is still good. He is ever present. He is always with us. He is the gift of grace and joy. He gave us that example when He carried the cross through town and in the midst of unconscionable pain, praised God anyway. That is thankfulness. And after that thanksgiving, the miracle came 3 days later. It is our gift back to Him to remember. Out of our love for Him, we remember. Because of His love for us, we give thanks.
Voskamp writes, “The Eucharist is the central symbol of Christianity. One of Christ’s very last directives He offers to His disciples is to take the bread, the wine, and to remember. Do this in remembrance of Me. Remember and give thanks. This is the crux of Christianity: to remember and give thanks, eucharisteo. Eucahristeo always precedes the miracle.”
And for that, I am thankful.
May your Thanksgiving table offer grace, joy and praise.
~Jen Harris