A pair of basic brown flip flops.

Today, dear friends, I suffered a loss. One month ago, we brought home a new dog from the shelter. She’s awesome, her name is Romy and we love her.

Before you worry, she’s still alive.

But, today she chewed up my favorite pair of flip flops. Obliterated them, rendered them useless. After 8 years of wearing this more than any other shoe in my closet, they’re gone. I’ll be honest, I was definitely bummed and a little sad. The struggle is real.

Now, while most of you may not understand the depth of my grief over this beautiful pair of basic brown flip flops, I’ve got someone in my corner. Jamie, our 3 yr old, really felt where I was coming from. He hugged me, patted me on the back, and talked about how sorry he was that my shoe was gone. He was sad. Truly sad.

And this got me thinking. I think we could learn a lot from Jamie’s response. Not about shoes, mind you. I mean, it’s a pair of shoes. And, if I’m honest I loved them so much because they were cheap AND lasted 8 years. But they will be replaced. They’re no big deal.

So, if not about shoes, then what?

What I loved about Jamie’s response is that he was sad purely and completely because I was sad. He has no attachment to the shoes. (If he had his way, I would wear my bright red heals every day.) No, this wasn’t about the shoe for him.

This was about his mama. His main love.

When someone around us is grieving, we often try to first put ourselves in their shoes, in order to muster up a reason to grieve. Or, we offer commentary on the validity of their grief. Or advice to avoid it in the future.

Whatever we do, why isn’t our first response to just feel sad. Why? Because someone we love is sad. End of story. Who cares about the reason? Who cares if we understand?

In the end, isn’t this what the grieving among us really want? They just want you to come alongside, admit that this sucks, and allow them to cry. Will there be time for advice? Sure (though not as soon as we often think). Space for empathy? Absolutely. Room for commentary? Well, probably not.

But the first thing that needs to happen is grieving with those who grieve. Mourning with those who mourn.

And our preschoolers among us, can probably show us exactly how this works.

One of those days…

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Today wasn’t my best day of motherhood. I was impatient, my words were unkind, I was distracted and not terribly merciful.

There are many evenings that I sit down and am exhausted. Tonight, I’m absolutely exhausted and a little bit defeated.

Parenting is hard. There’s no way around it. Kids, even little ones, can push buttons you didn’t know you had.

This week has been short on sleep. Jamie had a nightmare early on and the nights sense have been complete with 2-3 hours awake trying to calm him.

No sleep for any of us makes for impatience for all of us. Jamie hasn’t been his normal, flexible, full of joy self. And Brandon and I are not at our best.

And it’s in these moments that I am so thankful for new mercies every morning. It’s in these moments that I am longing for a chance to try it all again.

And I’m learning to be okay with imperfect days. Because as discouraged as I am about my record, I am so incredibly thankful for the gift of my two munchkins. So thankful for their silliness, their laughter, their intelligence and flexibility. I love how they run and hide when i chase them and how they love to tackle their daddy. I love their thick curly hair and endlessly long lashes. I love the shade of their skin and their bright eyes.

So tomorrow morning I will make muffins, I will hug and kiss boo boos, soothe worries, comfort my anxious child, play with my babies, enjoy my children and do my best. I’ll read parenting books and blogs and try all the things.

But for tonight, I’m going to sit in the sadness. Honestly, I think we run from sadness all too quickly. Like I said up above, parenting is hard. And if we don’t embrace all the feelings that come with it, then I wonder if we’re in danger of missing something.

I am hopeful that tomorrow I will do better.

And for now I am going to continue to watch old videos, cry a little, watch Arrested Development and hug my babies before I go to sleep.

Good night, friends. Stay tuned for more posts coming soon. A few things have been brewing and I’m eager to share them.

A whole new kind of family

One year ago today we woke up in our home as a family of four for the very first time.

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Eliza was born early in the morning on June 28 and it took a week for the state of Oklahoma to let us leave. It was a stressful week with a lot of the unpredicted things coming up.

But I don’t think I’ve ever written how it ended.

The state of Oklahoma had been giving us lots of conflicting information. We had all of our paperwork done and completed, but after Eliza was born they asked for brand new paperwork and told us of requirements they had never mentioned before. My long suffering, incredibly patient husband had just about had his full.

At the end of the week, on Thursday, July 3, the state of Oklahoma tells us that Eliza’s birthmom (J) needs to go before a judge. This was a one more requirement they had never mentioned before. And we had to find someone get it done before the holiday weekend.

Through some very kind individuals we are able to get an appointment with an Oklahoma judge for 2 p.m. that day. J and her dad met us there.

At this appointment J held Eliza while the judge asked her if she understood her decision. I couldn’t take my eyes off the two of them. J looked at Eliza most of the time as she gave her statement. Then we went into a court room to wait and the judge said everything was done. J hugged Eliza one more time. Her dad did the same and then we said our goodbyes. A few minutes later we got official permission to leave the state and return home. That night we were home.

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This image has been forever burned in my mind. J knew what she was doing. And she did it out of love for her child. The state of Oklahoma gave J and her parents a lot of extra things to do. And they did them all.

There is a misconception about adoption that if a mother loves the child, she wont go through with it.

Adoptions get disrupted all the time for a multitude of reasons. And many mothers change their minds and make the decision to parent. And they have every right to do so.

(And there are many adoption situations that arise out of abuse or mistreatment. I’m not talking about those. )

Both the decision to parent and the decision to place your child for adoption can be loving decisions.

Many people have asked us about our relationship with Eliza’s birth family. And they don’t often understand what it must be like. If we’re honest, we don’t really either. We’re all figuring this out as we go. But the fact is, these people have become our very own family. We love them. They are a part of our daughter, they love her deeply and so they are a part of us. But it’s not just Eliza, they also love Jamie. We keep in touch and they are just as eager to hear how he is doing. They love him. They love me. They love Brandon.

We don’t know when Eliza will get to see them all again. We are praying for wisdom to know when it’s time.

But we are so incredibly thankful, honored, privileged and humbled that they would entrust our sweet baby to us.

Adoption is a beautiful and incredible thing. It’s hard. It can be uncomfortable. It’s messy and unpredictable. It’s full of brokenness and heartache. But the grace is so very rich. The mercy is overflowing.

And I love it.

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Shut up and listen!

In the week since the Charleston shooting I’ve been trying to find words. Honestly, for the last several years, as black lives have been taken and communities shattered I’ve been trying to find the words. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had plenty to say to friends and family around me.

I’ve been angry, frustrated, sad…and angry all over again. I’ve looked at my son, my beautiful brown son, and I’ve been scared of what future many of my own family members think he deserves.

But I’ve struggled with what to say publicly. As someone who frequently pours my heart out in blog posts, I’ve been puzzled by my inability to write about this.

I’ve been inspired, humbled and amazed at the response of the victims of Charleston. As my white friends have argued about a flag, our black brothers and sisters have been showing us Jesus. As the tragedy was still fresh, wounds not healed, grief immense, they have offered forgiveness. They have shown love. They have extended grace.

And I haven’t known what to say. And I think I know why.

White friend, relatives, countrymen: it’s time that we sit down, shut up and listen.

That’s it: Shut up and listen! Starting now.

Our black brothers and sisters have earned the right to speak. [We should have been listening better long before now. ]

So, instead of defending ourselves, distancing ourselves from the hateful shooter, debating the meaning behind the confederate flag, excusing away the actions of police officers or posting ridiculous facebook memes that try to suggest that our country isn’t nearly as racist as this hateful, racist act has suggested…

Shut up!

Shut up and listen.

The time will come for us to speak. And, it’s not that you don’t play a role in moving forward. You do. I do. We do.

But right now, it’s not our turn. If we are to be a part of necessary change, we’ve got to take time to understand the suffering of the African American community. We’ve got to take time to understand what it’s like to be a person of color in America. We’ve got to stop putting words in their mouths and taking away their voice.

We’ve got to stop.

We’ve got to listen.

Jesus is on display right now. And if we can be quiet, look around and pay attention, we just might see what He’s up to.

A child of my very own


As an adoptive family, we get lots of questions and comments. They provide for lots of awkward moments but they rarely keep me up at night.

Except one. One eats away at me and it comes in many forms.

The other day in the grocery store, it was just me and Jamie. Jamie was being his normal, silly and inquisitive self. As she was scanning my groceries, the checkout lady looked at him and then looked at me and simply asked, ‘Is he yours?” When I responded that he was, she followed up with “Is he adopted?”

I get this question a lot, so I had an answer. I knew the drill. But there was something very different this time.

This time Jamie was listening. After our exchange, Jamie looked at me and very innocently asked, “What did she say?” And when I told him, he immediately asked, “Why?”

As I looked at my precious boy, my heart broke. As I responded politely to the woman asking the question, I felt tears in the back of my eyes. And as I told Jamie a better version of what she had asked, I realized that I need to teach my children how to handle this question.

And the question comes in many forms:

Is he/she yours? Are they adopted? Do you have any children of your own? Are they real brother and sister? Are you their “real” mom / dad?

In addition to teaching them to brush their teeth, go potty, ask polite questions and pick up their shoes … In addition to family dance parties, group hugs and Lego building … I need to teach my kids how to handle someone questioning whether they belong to me or to their daddy or to each other.

I need to help prepare them that people will ask questions in such a way that it will call into question everything they have always known.

I need to prepare them.

And I’ve got to start now.

I know that this woman and the many, many others who have asked don’t mean any harm. I tend to assume the best of people, and this case is no different. And, most of the time, the comment I get most is about my children’s eye lashes and beautiful smiles.

I don’t blame that woman. She didn’t know me or my children and she was making polite conversation.

I’ve been wrestling with this blog post for some time. Adoptive families will tell you that this is a constant theme, especially if your family is very obviously formed by adoption.

And I’ve written lots about this subject. Some I’ve published, others are still too intimate, too personal to let the world read.

In the end, here is what I want people to know. Questions aren’t bad. I’m a teacher. I love questions. If you ask one, I will feel compelled to answer.

But, I need you to understand something. This is personal. Asking questions about our adoption story is like asking someone for their birth story. It’s not necessarily as graphic, but it is just as personal.

So, here’s my unsolicited advice: If you are interacting with an adoptive family that you have no personal relationship with, think about the question before you ask the question.

(For help knowing if a question is appropriate, I suggest you watch this.)

And, if you’re never going to see them again, don’t ask. Instead, squelch your curiosity and simply say, “they’re precious.” And leave it at that.

If you have a relationship with the family and are sincerely curious, my best advice is to admit that you don’t know exactly how to ask the question and proceed from there. As I said earlier, Brandon and I are very open and we love answering questions in the context of a personal conversation.

But here is my one request. Do not (I repeat) do not ask the question in front of the child. Just don’t. They hear more than you think and, even if they’re 18, they probably wont enjoy the question.

So, seriously, don’t.

In conclusion, here are my very own children, a very real brother and sister, at around the same age taking a bath. They both have beautiful curls and the kind of eyes that cause (and convey) all sorts of feelings.

Aren’t they beautiful?
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But will He really provide?

Last week we had one of those days. You know the kind where everyone (including the 6 month old) wakes up in a bad mood…and it was a struggle. Finally, we got outside and stayed there for two hours. IMG_0778We played, we ate lunch and I drank a much needed cup of coffee. And we redeemed the day. Kind of. But I feel like I’ve been walking around in that day for the last week, or, if I’m honest, the last year and a half.

When God delivered the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt He did it in a miraculous, incredible, very clear way.

Just in the escape itself there were the 10 plagues and the parting of the Red Sea. Then, after they had escaped He led them with a cloud by day and with fire by night. He fed them from the sky when they were hungry. He delivered their enemies in battle. He spoke to Moses on the mountain.

Yet, at almost every turn we see them doubt. We see them question whether He will provide. And we see a people who seem to have forgotten the provision God provided just yesterday or last week.

And, if you’re anything like me, you find yourself wondering how they could be so blind? How they could be so insensitive and whiny? How could they have forgotten manna from heaven? How could they forget the parting of the Red Sea?

Today I was reading Deuteronomy 1 (with the ladies over at If:Equip). In this opening chapter, we see that God is bringing his people into the Promised Land. He has proven himself faithful again and again and the moment has come. And what do they do? They get scared. They accuse one another. They see a battle too big to win. And they retreat.

And it’s easy for us to see the ridiculousness of their actions. I mean, God provided food from the sky for goodness sakes! He parted the Red Sea. I think He can handle an army.

We climb on our high horse and we thank God that we are nothing like the people of Israel.

I am a woman who has seen my God provide. When I was very young, He delivered me from life threatening illness a few times. After longing for 4 years to be a mom, He delivered my first born in a miraculous, only-He-can-do sort of way. And then two years later, He allowed us to grow our family again in a story that screams of His presence and provision. In the past year, God has worked through Brandon to start a college that wasn’t even a full fledged idea just a year and a half ago. The God that we worship has brought children to my dear friends and family. He has brought healing to many loved ones. He has redeemed so many. He is working through my parents to conquer evil and bring redemption in the darkest of circumstances. Our life screams of His Faithfulness!

And yet…

I am just like the people of Israel. I doubt Him. I doubt his provision. I rock my two miracles, I tuck them into their beds, I tell their stories with great excitement as a testimony to God’s faithfulness… Yet I live as if everything happens by own efforts. I doubt God’s provision at every step.

I am the one who asks But will He really provide?

And if I left it here, it would be a sad story indeed. But God, in his infinite mercy and grace, answers my doubt with Yes.

I am the one who is going before you, will fight for you… (Deuteronomy 1:30)

I am the one who created you fearfully and wonderfully (Psalm 139)

2014-06-28 09.19.43I am the one, the Word. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. (John 1)

James12I am the one who gives peace beyond understanding. (Philippians 4).

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And I am the one who

being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death–even death on a cross!

There’s God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2)

Photo Dec 25, 3 41 29 PMFriends, I am not capable. But the God of the universe is. It is He who works through me. It is He who works in me. It is He who has provided and will continue to do so. The Story is His, not mine. The praise is His. The Work is His.

And, on days when I doubt whether He will provide. On days I doubt my own ability as a mother, as a writer, as a minister, as a wife, as a teacher…. He is. He is. He is.

So, let’s get to work.

And then my cat died…

DSCN2913The day after Christmas, our little family of 4 made the drive up to Chicago to celebrate my mom for a week and then to Wheaton to reconnect with dear friends and relax some before the new semester. We had a wonderful time and at the end of it all, our souls were refreshed. We were ready for this new year.

And then on Sunday we made the long drive back to Conway. And when we walked back in the door at just after midnight we learned that our cat had died sometime in the two hours before we got there.

That’s right, we spent 10 days visiting family and friends. We spent 10 days being rejuvenated and we felt ourselves relax.

And then our cat died.

Now, we had some warning. Early in the weekend we got a report from our neighbors that things weren’t looking good. [Special note: These friends went out of their way to care for Mo and make sure he was comfortable and felt loved. They’re basically rockstars.]

But I don’t think we expected Mo to die that quickly. He went downhill fast in just a few days. And we so wanted to be there. Sure, he was a pest and my words haven’t been all too kind in the last few months.

But he was my cat for almost 8 years. He was our cat for 5 years before we were able to have children.

I loved my cat. And, as much as his particular neediness was driving me crazy, I didn’t want him gone.

So, for the last two days as I have unpacked and reorganized and prepared for what’s to come, I have also grieved. I wept when we came in the door that night. And I wept when we buried him in the yard the next day. And I’ve been learning how to grieve with a young child who is trying to understand what death means. Which translates to lots of questions and conversations. Lots of saying over and over again that Mo is dead and not coming back. And lots of remembering the good things.

And it’s all very surreal. This is the time of year that we dream about what’s to come. We make goals and draft plans for what this new year will hold. Along our trip, Brandon and I had talked a lot about what we hoped for 2015. We were eager and excited about what it might bring. What it might look like. We were energized and ready to take it on.

And then we came home to a dead cat.

A. dead. cat.

And this has got me thinking. Are we going about this whole “new year resolution” thing all wrong? When we dream and envision what a new year looks like, we rarely imagine the things that will hurt. We don’t anticipate the things that will cause us pain. We don’t care to think about the things that might break us.

I’m wondering if there might be a better way.

Now, I’m not suggesting that we start dreaming about the bad things. That would be weird and not at all helpful.

But, what if we spent time envisioning how we might handle that pain? What if we made goals to do better when the hard stuff comes? What if we not only talked about what the year might bring, but made plans for what type of people we want to be?

So, I’ve come up with a new plan for 2015.

When it all comes down to it, this year I want to reflect the image of my Savior and my Creator better. I want to love mercy and seek justice. I want to choose joy always, even in the midst of pain. I want to love others well.

How that looks in 2015… well that’s yet to be seen. First on the docket is for Brandon and me to draft a family mission statement. A statement that reflects first what we want to be. And then (and only then) what we hope to do.

And I’m once again eager and excited. But a little more measured and, perhaps, a little more hopeful about what this year might bring.

I miss my cat. But at least I can leave a glass of water out without him knocking it over…

Happy New Year, friends.

Just after we brought our little kitty home almost 8 years ago.

It’s an adoption thing

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Adoption blogs are everywhere.

There’s a part of me that loves it. I love the awareness. I love the spotlight being on such an important topic. I am thankful for the other adoptive moms who get it. Who understand our family. Who put words to feelings I had not yet acknowledged.

But another part of me is. so. tired. of. them.

I’m tired of everyone having an opinion about how my family was formed. I’m tired of adoptive parents complaining. I’m tired of people who haven’t adopted feeling that they have the right to offer sweeping commentary. I’m tired of the savior and rescue language.

And the problem is: it’s everywhere. Encouragement and discouragement… awareness and opinions… helpful advice and butting in…Buzzfeed article, after buzzfeed article, after buzzfeed article…

There are many times I’d prefer to just not talk about it. I’d prefer that people not feel the need to clarify that my children are not biologically mine. I hate the constant commentary on my kid’s skin tone, or the traits they most surely got from their birth families (because we couldn’t possibly deserve any credit)… And, somedays, I’d like to just shut off all the noise and just simply be a mom. A mom who may look differently from my children but loves them just the same. A mom who cleans up vomit and changes diapers (this is what my last two days have held). A mom who kisses boo boos and reads bed time stories. A mom who tickles and laughs. Who disciplines and provides structure. A mom who just loves as best as I know how.

And I am that mom. But, the fact is, I am also an adoptive mom. And that comes with certain responsibilities. And, whether I always feel like it or not, it means I need to talk about it. It is my responsibility to educate others about adoption so that my children have a better world to live in. It is my responsibility to talk with my children so they are equipped to handle the challenges that will inevitably come. I have to tell pediatricians and doctors that there are certain biological questions I cannot answer. I have to learn grace for the stupid, insensitive and insulting questions. Because I’m the one my children will look to.

As tired as I am by these questions and comments, I’ve been convicted lately that I’ve got to step up. In order to parent my children fully, I have to become a part of the conversation. Because one day they will be playing on the playground and will be asked insulting and demeaning questions by other kids (who heard it from their parents). They will be asked about their “real” parents. They will be required to answer for their status as an adopted child. And I need to do my part to pave the way. To prepare them at home, but to also change the world they are growing up in.

And, you know what? I don’t mind. I would do infinitely more just to be able to parent these precious ones I have been entrusted with.

So, this is my first of several blogs about adoption. (It’s also my attempt to resume this regular blogging thing.)

Why add to the overwhelming amount of adoption blogs? Well, I guess you could say it’s an adoption thing.

Now back to those dirty diapers…

The O’Brien 4

This summer just got a whole lot more fun for the O’Brien family. And we are so excited to introduce you to our daughter: Eliza Faith O’Brien.

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When Jamie joined our family, it happened in less than 72 hours. Well, this time things went down a little differently. In February we were contacted by a friend from college about a young woman in Oklahoma who was making an adoption plan for her baby. Over the next few months we got to know a pretty amazing, brave and courageous young woman. And on June 28 she gave birth to a little girl who was  10 lbs 5 oz and 21.5 inches long. That’s right. She’s huge. We all knew her birthmom was amazing before that, but we’re pretty sure she’s a super hero now.

And she has entrusted us to raise her. We are incredibly blessed, amazed and truly humbled that she would trust us in this way.

And now the adventure begins!

We’ve kept this news close in the last few months and (for many reasons) we chose not to share it with everyone on social media. And it’s made for a sweet time for us and our community to pray over this precious girl and her family. It gave us time to really enjoy our last few months as a family of 3.

And we’ve loved it.

And it gave us time to get to know the birth family. They have truly become our family and we are blessed to have become a part of theirs.

But the only thing I have missed is the opportunity to write and share about our journey. But, it’s probably been good to really allow what God has been doing to sit and do it’s work. Sometimes I am too quick to share and talk and not nearly as quick to listen and to allow the Holy Spirit to shape me and form me in his timing.

And, friends, He has been doing a great work. And I can’t wait to share the story He has been writing.

But, before I do that, I am going to pause and enjoy these first few weeks of my new family. We’re going to cocoon together and allow God to weave our hearts. And we’re going to laugh and cry and walk and run..and we’re all gonna be a little bit tired.

But, isn’t it worth it?

What’s Next?

For the first 7 and 1/2 years of our marriage, Brandon and I were consistently waiting on the next thing.

It wasn’t because we were discontent. No, we were in grad school and trying to start a family. And with every degree that one of us earned we discussed our next step. And with every decision made about infertility measures or adoption pursuits, we learned to wait for the next thing.

So, while we were fully invested in the people in our midst (and in our church family where I served as Children’s Minister), we were also consistently applying for and pursuing multiple opportunities.

And we were waiting. At our best, it was expectant waiting. On hard days, it maybe sounded like frustration. And at our worst, discontentment ruled the day.

But, overall we didn’t mind so much. We loved where we were and we loved dreaming about what was to come.

Then “it” finally happened. In January of 2013, we felt like a change was imminent for our family. And, in what can only be described as a “God thing,” we felt a very clear leading to move to Conway, Arkansas. We say it was a God-thing because I suggested in. And it was fairly unlikely that I would have suggested a move to Arkansas on my own. (Nothing against the state, but it wasn’t terribly familiar to me).

And, having grown up in the state, Brandon had never felt a deep desire to return. Don’t get me wrong, he loves his home state and missed it. But he had never imagined himself moving back.

Simply put, Arkansas had never been a part of the plan.

So we began to prepare for a big move. That July, we packed up our belongings and drove 12 hours to our new home. I, with the toddler (who screamed the whole way) and Brandon, in the moving truck with the cat.

Within a few months Brandon had gotten a new & incredible job, we bought our first house, we bought a car, we reconnected with old friends and are making new ones. I taught my first college course and picked up some writing jobs. Brandon planted a garden. And now we’ve been here almost a year. And in that time, so many of our dreams have come to fruition.

But you know what? It’s hard to shake that whole, “What’s next?” feeling.

So we are learning to live in this new place fully invested. Honestly, we don’t know what the next 5, 10 or 20 years will hold. But we do know that God has called us here for this season. And part of living fully where we have been planted is letting the “What’s next?” question remained unanswered for a little while.

And, that’s hard. But also good.

Speaking for myself, it’s not totally natural. But I’m learning. Slowly, but surely, I’m learning.