Full Circle Faith

I shared on social media a few weeks ago that we had taken a step in a new direction regarding our impending adoption.

View this post on Instagram

 

So, this week we took a step. It was unexpected and not the way we thought we were going, but we have felt 100% at peace about it since. • We have felt for years that we were supposed to wait on a phone call and adopt privately. Lately, though, several opportunities have arisen that we felt the need to check into. We never wanted to look back and feel like we missed steps we had been led to while waiting. After checking out one avenue, Mr. Gray and I both felt very clearly that it wasn’t the way for us. When we got home, I sent an email to an agency we had been interested in for several years. Previously, they had a waitlist for families and we took that as a sign we were not to pursue it. This time, they didn’t. They were updating some of their processes and told me they’d get back with me when the new information was ready to roll. I considered that a probably not and went on my way. Within days, I received another email from them with the new information. We took that as our go-ahead and officially submitted our information this week. • We still don’t know anything about timing or place or any details, but we know this felt right. So, here we are. One step down a different path and still waiting.

A post shared by Jolie Gray | The Gray Matters (@the_graymatters) on

We were excited, but not quite convinced this would be the ultimate path to our baby. I mean, we don’t know what the path to our baby is, or we would have already taken it. Basically, we pray through any option that is presented and then decide whether to step forward or continue holding. In this instance, we stepped forward. We found out Friday that we were not going to be moving forward with that agency, and while it wasn’t surprising, it still kind of sucked. ( I don’t have a better way to say that; it did.)

This morning at church, when Pastor started the message, I knew exactly where he was going with it: 1 Kings 18. I started nudging Mr. Gray and tapping him on the shoulder before the scripture was ever up on the screen. While still taking today’s notes, I was scrambling to notes from several months ago. (This is all going to get a bit choppy here; hang in there with me.)

You see, one Sunday several months ago, I was at church by myself (it may or may not have been raining–I’m not 100% on my memory there), and Pastor wrapped up a sermon on having faith with a piece of the story of Elijah sending his servant to look for rain seven times. That morning, there in the front row, it had never been more clear to me that we were looking for that rain cloud.

‘Go and look toward the sea,’ he told his servant. And he went up and looked.
‘There is nothing here,’ he said.
Seven times Elijah said, ‘Go back.’
The seventh time the servant reported, ‘A cloud as small as a man’s hand is rising from the sea.’
So Elijah said, ‘Go and tell Ahab, ‘Hitch up your chariot and go down before the rain stops you.””

I started listing off the times we had been approached about adoption and it had never been right. Before taking the time to do that, I likely would have told you the number was astronomical. It seems like so many missed connections. But. It was just under seven–an encouraging number below seven. A place where we could see that even if seven wasn’t the end-all-be-all magic number, that God was with us. He saw us. He knew we were there in the wait and trying to lean in and listen. So, for the past few months, as I have seen Elijah references pop up, my ears have perked up. It’s been worth the time and the listen to see what God’s got in this.

As he started in on it this morning, I got my old notes and re-read while I listened. I flipped back to my new notes and kept jotting. The sermon series we are in is titled Coming out of Your Drought. It was pouring down rain this morning, which seemed fitting. This time, instead of simply talking about sending the servant seven times to check for rain, Pastor was more focused on what Elijah was doing in this time. He was on his knees, with his face between his knees. He couldn’t see what was going on around him, he was removing himself from all the distractions and focusing on his faith. He knew the rain would come. But he didn’t know when. As Pastor illustrated that with a few moments of awkward silence, it was resonating so much. That awkward silence is where I feel like I’m sitting sometimes. Just me and God in a quiet room, with nothing to do but hold on to the faith that I know we will someday have another child to call ours. We talked about seeing things in faith and using  that to build our hope. To hang onto what we know is planted, even when we can’t yet see. There in my notes from today, I wrote as I heard, “The drought is about to be broken.”

Tears streamed down my face as I wrote that. On the heels of what could have been discouraging news Friday, God was using this message to remind me that He is still good. He still keeps His promises. (Did I mention we saw three rainbows in two days last week as well?) What the devil would use to discourage us and bring us down, we can see as just another stepping stone in our path.

As we served second service, the worship leader began one song with a reference to Elisha (new prophet here–the apprentice of Elijah–part of the story in Greater). And it took me back–to a time where I was broken, hurting, and grieving in the late summer, early fall of 2012. In August of 2012, my brother-in-law passed away. It was a tough kind of grief for me to process–different than anything I had been through. That week, as prayed, read, and journaled, I read Steven Furtick’s Sun Stand Still. The week of his birthday (just under a month later, still in 2012) I had the opportunity to go to a conference in South Carolina with other leaders from our church. While there, I received such a word of God and a ton of peace. In a room of thousands, it was as though God was speaking directly to me.  (Steven Furtick, Perry Noble, Craig Groeschel, Judah Smith, and others were there.)

Back to 2018. Today. When I was flipping through my notes from church after we got home, I also flipped to 1 Kings 17 and started from when Elijah announced the drought. I read through to 1 Kings 19 where Elisha burns his plows. As I read, I remembered Sun Stand Still. Over my shoulder, I asked, “Hey, did you read Sun Stand Still after I did?”

“Yes, why?” But I didn’t respond. I was piecing.

Once I finished the passage, I headed for the highlights in my copy (albeit electronic) of Sun Stand Still. (It should also be noted I almost never make highlights in books.) I read through them all. I only needed additional context for a few.

One in particular stood out:

And it illustrates a fundamental principle of audacious faith: when what you see around you doesn’t match up with what God has spoken inside you, you’ve got to hold on to what you’ve heard. Paul said it more plainly in 2 Corinthians 5:7: ‘We live by faith, not by sight.'”

Mr. Gray was in the chair watching football when I sat down on the couch to lay it all out. I started out a little all over the place, but I finally got there. (I’m going to jump around on you one more time.)

I said, “Do you remember when we said we would wait until the boy was two to make a decision about whether we were going to have another biological child or adopt?” He did. (And for what it’s worth, it was like so much with us, we always knew we would adopt; we just needed a timeframe in which to go forward.)

So basically, the long and short of it is this. In a time of major grief and processing, we both read a book with the story of Elijah and Elisha. That same fall, just about a month later, is when we “officially” decided we would adopt. Now, within the span of less than a year, two different messages about Elijah have given me a little more clarity into the journey we are on. The boy will turn eight this month, so to say this path has been long (or short) is relative. I don’t know the end of the story. I don’t know when we’ll get an opportunity to move forward “officially” with an adoption. But I know it’s worth the wait.

Giving Good Gifts: Teacher Edition

Every year around Christmas, I realize I don’t know my child’s teachers as well as I would like and that makes gift-giving a little harder than it should be. (Some years we just keep it simple; I try to avoid anything that will just sit around, though.)

I’m a big fan of giving good gifts (and the boy is quickly following suit–he loves to give). Last year, about the time Teacher Appreciation Week rolled around, I realized I needed a questionnaire of some sort to give to each of his teachers (you can see some of what we went with for this year here). That brings me to today, when I finally had time to create such a thing.

I’ll probably let the new-ness of the year settle down, with all the filing and paperwork that comes with it. Then I’ll stick this in his folder for each of his teachers to fill out and return. I know some will be uncomfortable with the idea of it, but we really do want to honor them and show our appreciation.

Print a copy of the questionnaire here.  Feel free to pin or share as well!

 

Summer Checklist (Sanity Saver!)

As much as I love lazy summer days and the spontaneity of it all, I also crave a little structure. (I know, you’re surprised, aren’t you?) I started the summer with a devotional for the boy and some intentionality, but I needed a little more. I got an email this morning from Mary at Trusty Chucks with their summer checklist, and it inspired me to create one that works for our needs.

It’s pretty simple, and that’s by-design.

My biggest goal with it is to hold myself accountable. I can set out all these ideas for the boy, but ultimately, if I don’t follow through and check on his progress, it’s a wasted effort. This puts us both on the same page. He has tasks to complete, and I have to check the completion. (Our current system requires him to complete the task while I just ask if it was completed; I don’t check that it is completed how I intended or model what I’m asking about. It’s flawed on my end.)

So we’ll start here and make adjustments as needed. Everything on the list is already something that’s expected of him. It’s also the bare-minimum. This is acting as a jumping off point to move from. I don’t want to run a jail or take away the lazy days of summer, but I need a little more structure to keep myself from getting mad at things I expected but never asked for.

How do you structure chores? What is expected for your children each day in the summer?

 

Weep with Those Who Weep

Today is our twelfth wedding anniversary, and in anniversaries past, I have come to this space to profess my undying love for my husband as well as my appreciation for all he does for the boy and me. Those things are still true today, but today something is weighing on my heart much heavier.

As we sat down to our anniversary lunch date earlier–no phones, no child, no distractions, we began talking about life, love, death, infidelity, growing, and on and on. The more we talked, the more weepy I grew. I wasn’t necessarily sad. I was just weepy. I’m a cry-er. Thinking of broken marriages, broken spirits, broken hearts, and broken homes hurts me to my core. While those are not things I experience in my own life, they are things that I often find myself in a place of “I cannot imagine.”

If you have been around this place for any period of time, you know that we are advocates for strong marriages. You know that we prioritize each other, date night, and our marriage above other earthly relationships. As we talked through that this afternoon, we got around to depression, suicide, and mental illness in general.

Our anniversary is shared with the birthday of my cousin who died by suicide when I was eight. My cousin posted a beautiful tribute to her this morning that segued into a bit talk about depression and suicide in light of the week’s events. I feel like I only bring it up in this space when it’s a hot topic, but it’s more because that’s when it hits me the heaviest.

See, when by brother-in-law died, it was a kind of grief I have never known. It was different than any other thing I have felt. I shared a little after the death of Robin Williams, but again, the timing was only coincidental to how I was feeling in light of the news. It’s not something you can even understand or really explain without having been there. This morning, I told Mr. Gray (as I was crying for the umpteenth time) that I didn’t feel like I could share as much about the way the death of his brother impacted me because it wasn’t my story. He refuted; telling me that the impact on my was still mine, regardless of who it was or the circumstances. So, while I have that validation, I still don’t quite have words–other than that it’s hard. It’s a kind of hard I have never known before. Just like with any other grief, everyone processes it differently, but for me, it was incomparable to anything else. It’s sudden and out of nowhere. It’s difficult to navigate. It’s an act that is permanent, even when you don’t want it to define the life someone lived.

As I was reading this week, someone posted a comment regarding suicide stating that it wasn’t a tragedy, but a valiant fight. An effort to be commended. While I don’t disagree completely, I do still think it’s a tragedy that the battle has to end that way. Many people who are struggling through depression are fighting a battle I can’t even begin to fathom every single day. Years ago, I read that it was a struggle similar to those who jumped out of the burning buildings on 9-11. The options were to take a chance in the building or take a chance by jumping; they weren’t jumping to their death but to what might have been a better option. Y’all, that breaks my heart. Absolutely shatters it. So, while it’s a commendable battle, it’s still a tragedy to me that they feel like it’s one or the other. They feel as though that’s all they’ve got.

I don’t have a call to action or a beautiful epiphany to end this on. I just have a heart that’s broken for those that’s hurting and a call to love people where they are. That will look different for everyone, but it can be as simple as a cup of coffee or a text message. Be kind. Be mindful of others. Check in with your friends. Love people like Jesus would.

 

Rooster

Rooster.

He has been part of our lives for over eleven years.

He went everywhere with us for quite some while: trips, tailgates, the store, basically anywhere they would let him come with me. I remember crying most of the weekend the first time we boarded him. I cried the first time he was groomed, too–they butchered the top of his head!

He had a Houdini stint (which I actually wrote about six years ago to the day yesterday) that ended in lots of drives home due to our doggie door we thought we had done so great by purchasing.

The day we unpacked the pack ‘n play for the boy, Rooster barked his head off at the musical light that attached to the corner of it. (There’s a video somewhere, but I’m not exactly sure where that might be at this point. I can see it so clearly in my head.) The first time we laid that boy in it and he heard him cry, though, Rooster knew that was his boy.

I wish I had a video of our boy calling, “Doo-stah! Doooooooooo-stah!” in his tiny toddler voice. I hadn’t thought of it in years until this week, but now I can hear it plain as day.

 

I think I said it all best this morning:

Shortly after that post, he made his way out on his own terms, just as he always had when there was a gun shot, a vacuum cleaner, or a power tool making more noise than he cared for. As my sweet husband dug a hole for him this afternoon under the tree outside our bedroom window, it started to rain. “Remember how he would always run away in the rain and come home completely wet and muddy?” I asked. He did. We laughed.

I’m not sure how long it’ll be before I stop seeing him out of the corner of my eye or wondering why I don’t hear his tags jingling toward whatever room we’re gathered in. I know I’m grateful for the years we had, the memories made, and the time he was ours.

Fitzgerald’s Blue Eyed Rooster
June 16, 2006-January 19, 2018

Our Twist on Elf on the Shelf

Every year, people ask me why we have an Elf on the Shelf if we are trying to focus on Christ in Christmas rather than Santa. Well, first of all, it was gifted to me many years ago. Second of all, why not? Just tie in the values you’re wanting to focus on and use it to emphasize your goals for the season. (My original thoughts on this subject are here, and they’re basically the same today.)

Our elf, Teddy, comes to share joy and generosity as we prepare to celebrate Christ’s birth. He reminds us to focus on things we might otherwise overlook in the busy-ness of the season–while being cute and fun in the process.

When I was working from home and the boy was only in school two days a week, we had many more assignments than we do now that he is in school everyday and I am at work as well. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Make it work for your family. Last year, my husband locked the elf up in a bird cage with a Ninjago ninja, and that’s how he stayed until he returned safely to the North Pole Christmas Eve.

Each year, Teddy leads with the Christmas Story (via the Bible app, an open Bible, or, if my sweet husband happens to be helping out, a YouTube clip of “the boy who was going to shoot his eye out”) and follows up with pajamas, lists for children in need, teacher gift ideas, donation ideas, and more. I usually create a list in my phone that plans out the month so I know I have enough of what I need when we get to it. Obviously, it’s not set in stone, but it does help to have it planned out a little.

Teddy comes with a note each year:

Hi, my name is Teddy;
You might not remember.
I’m here to help you spread
Christ’s love all through December.

Each day I will come
And share something new
To spread holiday cheer
So Christ’s love shines through you!

God loves you so much
He sent Jesus our way,
And that’s what we celebrate
On Christmas day!

Teddy sometimes shows up in the morning; other times, he arrives out of no where during the afternoon or evening. Don’t let the details be what distracts you if you’re wanting to try it.

Some of our favorite Teddy activities:

  • Read the Christmas Story together (Teddy has the iPad app or Bible open)
  • Write or make cards for friends and family (Teddy brings cards, markers, etc.)
  • Send a video sharing Christmas cheer to someone you love (Teddy has the iPad ready)
  • Make (or purchase) teacher gifts to take to school (Teddy brings supplies)
  • Share treats with friends (Teddy brings supplies) 
  • Shop for a child in need (Teddy brings the list) 
  • Make treats for postal workers, other community helpers (Teddy brings supplies) 
  • Treat someone to coffee (Teddy brings mug, gift card, etc.)
  • Share glow sticks with friends for light parade (Teddy brings glow sticks and toys)
  • On Christmas Eve, Teddy drops off pajamas, the plate for Santa’s cookies, and a note that he has gone back to the North Pole until next year.

You can find a full thread of Teddy’s activities (they change a little every year) on Instagram or around the site on the Teddy thread.

Does your family have an elf? What are your traditions?

Jellystone Summer

This summer has found us spending more time in our camper and less time in hotels. It’s been so great to discover new places and be comfortable in our own space.

One of our favorite trips (so far) this summer was to Jellystone Park in Kerrville. It’s a quick jaunt up to the Texas Hill Country, and an easy pull for the camper. We got in late Friday night and were met with plenty to do Saturday and Sunday. We brought our own breakfast and tried out our new coffee gear (find out more about that here) while we made a plan for the day. When you check in, they provide a detailed schedule of the events for the weekend, so it was easy to discuss and see where we wanted to be and when.

From the water park to the pools to the river and the bike trails, we explored to our hearts’ content.

It was a perfect getaway for the boy, who absolutely loved being able to get in more practice on his bike while traveling around the park.

He even got brave and attempted some flips on the jump pad! Whoa–where’d my cautious kid go?

I think his very favorite part might have been mini-golf, which made my heart sing. When we were little, Grammie and Papa would always take us to play. It was so serious and competitive but fun at the same time.

As much as I’m looking forward to football season, I’m not looking forward to parking the camper for several months. We’re trying to squeeze in all the trips before we BTHOnichollsstate!

 

Family Fun at Legoland Florida

If you know almost nothing about our family or our son, you probably know our son is a Lego fan. He and Lego go way back–he’s got the Lego camps and Legofest and Brickfest trips to prove it, but the one thing he didn’t have was a Legoland trip.

Back in January, I started looking for a fun family trip for us to take the boy on around Spring Break. We were hoping to enjoy some one-on-one time with our guy before a baby made its debut. I inadvertently thought the days marked for standardized testing were the days marked for Spring Break, booked our trip, and never looked back. Until I did. And saw that now the boy would be missing school and I would be missing work. Oops. We kept it all under wraps until we didn’t. While we wanted it to be a surprise, we always wanted him to be able to build some anticipation and get excited. (Plus, we had already pulled off the big surprise in Cloudcroft this year, but that’s another blog for another time–like January, when we went.)

Turns out, this booking pre-Spring Break was not a terrible mistake. We flew out Thursday evening after school and work. It made for a late evening getting into Florida, but the airport was easy to navigate, we grabbed our rental car, and got into our Airbnb pretty quickly. (Not an Airbnb fan? Don’t knock it ’til you try it! We have found some truly great places to stay that way! Try it here. Referral link; you get a credit and I get a credit.) We skipped the Legoland Resort the first night since we would be getting in so late, but they were very accommodating when we arrived for our early entry (a resort perk) the next morning. We left our luggage with the concierge, headed to the resort entrance of the park, and waited for security. I read previously to start at the back of the park and work forward, so when we got in, that’s just what we did. Although we had early access to the park, the rides didn’t open until the park did. It still gave us time to get to the back and get situated before the main gates opened. We waited for the Ford Driving School first because the boy had seen something about it on YouTube and was really looking forward to it.

Once we got to the back, though, the boy was dying to get back to Ninjago World, which had just opened prior to our trip. We went on and did the rides between Driving School and Ninjago World while we were back there, but he wasn’t so sure about that idea! I think we rode Ninjago World three or more times when we got to it. (I won every time.)

We continued to work our way back to the park entrance, with plenty of time to do rides multiple times, stop and rest, or browse the shops (again, we’re talking the Friday prior to the Friday when most places’ Spring Break would actually begin). A couple of roller coasters were closed while we were there, but the boy had no interest in riding them, anyway. Mr. Gray and I made them little mini-dates!

 

When I was booking this trip, I had no idea what we were going to do after 5:00 when the park closed. Turns out, that’s what the resort is for! They completely entertain your kid until well after their normal bed time. We didn’t book the meal plan (because it was for four, and it was cheaper for us to just pay for our three meals) for supper, but we did eat there one night prior to the pajama party. They had a buffet with foods of every kind. All of us found something we were able to enjoy.

We anticipated Saturday would be a little more crowded at the park, so we took the day to drive into Orlando and watch a spring training game at ESPN World. Great venue, great set up, super hot!

We made it back to the resort for some pool time and pajama partying before heading back up to our room. (Did I mention we did the pirate room?)

Sunday morning, we headed down for breakfast at the resort and back over to the park for early entry. We didn’t go quite as early this time since we knew the actual rides wouldn’t be open early. We did go on back to the back since Driving School got fairly crowded Friday afternoon and required quite a wait. We knocked out all the must-dos first and then made our way around to things we didn’t get to Friday.

We were only in the park until about mid-afternoon. Then we grabbed our stuff from the concierge, loaded up, and headed back to Orlando. We were staying at the airport hotel to catch the early flight out Monday morning.

Overall, I don’t think we could have planned a better trip at a better time. It fun for all of us, and the heat wasn’t terrible yet, so we could do the whole day in the park if we wanted.

Things we would do again:

  • Go on a non-holiday or school break time
  • Start at the back of the park
  • Eat the pizza buffet for lunch
  • Stay at the resort
  • Book park tickets through the resort
  • Fly in the night prior to planning to be at the park
  • Not spend the extra money to stay at the resort when getting in late
  • Purchase the photo pass (and the additional day)
  • Watch the pirate show
  • Go on an event weekend; we loved the different activities for Lego Batman Movie Days

Things we would do differently:

  • Add an extra day at the resort (the boy had so much fun meeting other children and playing in the downstairs common area)
  • Check out Legoland Beach Retreat (it hadn’t opened yet when we were there)
  • Not rent a car from Budget (man, what an experience that was)

 

Sweet Summer!

I’d be a liar if I said I wasn’t proud that the boy wanted to give gifts to his classmates to celebrate the end of their kindergarten year.

I’d be an even bigger liar if I said I wasn’t proud that he came up with his own tag for his treats–and it was perfect! He told me he wanted to give everyone M&Ms. When I suggested I could make the word summer out of the logo, he immediately said, “We could put, ‘Have a sweet summer!'”

Why, yes. Yes we could. I am just eating it up. A boy after my own heart.

However, in case that’s not the way your heart beats, I’m linking the printable for you here. Just print it, let them sign, and attach to the candy! (We printed on Avery 8376 business cards so we didn’t have to cut. Affiliate link.)

Currently…

Currently, I am winding down my first year back in the classroom full-time. I forgot what a whirlwind that can be.

Currently, I am thinking of things I want to write and share, and hoping that summer and the end of baseball season brings the time.

Currently, I am reading three or four books simultaneously, which is highly unlike me.

Currently, I am anxiously awaiting products for our June Purpose Box and our KiDS Purpose Box. I love when I am able to try something new on the business end of things!

Currently, I am counting down the days until our trip to Barbados.

Currently, I am training our donkey to come to food. He’ll be a pet donkey before we know it!

Currently, I am drying tears from reading a post I wrote last year about the end of the boy’s preschool days. I still can’t believe we are first-grade bound in just six school days.

Currently, I am wishing I had an adoption update to share or some news to pass along on that front. We are still waiting, nothing’s changed. Time is part of the process.

Currently, I am planning summer fun and trips in my head. Hoping to make some of them a reality before too long!

Currently, I am longing for the slow mornings, the warm sun, and the quieter pace of summer. While I have loved the routine school and work have provided this year, I am ready for some rest.