Joy Has Something To Tell You

I daydreamed of this moment. I hoped to be able to sign to Joy –

“See these pictures? See those shirts everyone is wearing? See that sign? All those people love you. All these people in this picture are saying, “I love you, Joy!”

I prayed for this moment.

“…How much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”  – Matthew 7:11

My new dream is of the day signing “Jesus loves me, this I know,” goes from a fun thing for Joy to mimic to a life-changing reality for her.

I pray that Joy will know the love of Jesus.

And look at all these faces I’ll be able to point to – her first examples of Jesus’ love in our family, friends, old cheerleading coaches, 6th grade buddies…

That first week in China, when we were grieving, certain that Joy would never be able to understand us or sign back or walk or smile, I never could have imagined, only four months later, I’d have this happy, healthy, miracle smiling back at me and signing the sign we hoped she’d see.

Check out that right hand. She may not fully understand how special you all are for a while, but I do. She may not know how much God loves her yet, but He does.

For Him and for you I will never have enough thank yous. But, thank you.

“The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love.
The Lord is good to all;
he has compassion on all he has made.
All your works praise you, Lord;
your faithful people extol you.
They tell of the glory of your kingdom
and speak of your might
so that all people may know of your mighty acts
and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
and your dominion endures through all generations.”

Psalm 145:8-13



Squatting in Front of the Liquor Store

19055718_10103659564655078_3789222716670558846_oA couple weeks ago, I found myself squatting in front of a liquor store with my three children. The blonde toddler was screaming because I don’t remember why. The big one was mourning the death of the Diet Coke that had just broken through the flimsy plastic bag she was carrying it in. And the Chinese-American was trying to sit on my lap.

Which doesn’t really work when you’re squatting.

In front of a liquor store.

I want you to know I didn’t cry. I kept it together. I felt a kind of calm one must feel right before they get eaten by a shark or something.

Maybe I’m being dramatic. I’m just trying to say, I looked at my situation, knew there was nothing I could do to get to my car short of abandoning my groceries or my kids, and so I just sat down in surrender. I didn’t seek a rescuer or make any calls, I just sat there and waited for help.

There are a lot of boring details that go into the “how” I ended up squatting in the middle of the parking lot with my three children outside of a liquor store and why my car was so far away, but there I was with too many bags and too many children to go from point A to point B.

That’s the hardest part of mothering three children. Just getting from point A to point B.

After a few minutes of my oldest asking what we were going to do and my youngest continuing to scream with the most volume she could generate, and my middle one still attempting to tackle me, an older woman carrying her own groceries asked me if I needed help.

I turned my head and said, “So much yes.”

She took the groceries from me and I carried two of my three children, one under each arm, and she asked, “Are you… a babysitter?”

(Crying on the inside)

“Nope…I’m a mother…”

I laugh with my people about how crazy the emotional temperature of my house is these days. We have high highs, you guys. Joy, our deaf but now hearing with a hearing aid daughter, just said “Mama” yesterday. I got to write a book that will be in bookstores July 4th! Highs!

But, we can get low. Laying in front of a liquor store low. Sometimes within the same hour. The macaroni doesn’t get scooped out quickly enough and Joy transforms before our eyes back into “Old Joy.” “China Joy.” The shell of a child who had never known love. If she flips that switch, it’s so hard to help her out of it. It’s so hard to make the crying stop.

And I look around, and sometimes it makes me feel really down. I wonder how many tears are too many tears. I wonder how it will affect my other children. I wonder what I’m doing wrong and if I’ll ever get it right. The highs of dreams being realized and milestones being reached lose their electricity and I grumble at myself for feeling weak and unhappy.

But, here’s what I love. I love that in my highs, there is still nothing as wonderful as Jesus. He is better than books and first steps and promptly scooped macaroni. He is the reason for all of my joys. And in my lows, I know that because of Jesus, one day there will be no more lows…

Revelation 21:4 – “‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

Sometimes though, the hardest thing is getting from point A to point B. In the hard moments, heaven can feel distant. There is wondering and worrying and sadness and squatting on sidewalks feeling alone. Sometimes Jesus feels forever away.

But that’s not true.

He’s squatting right beside us.

Jesus isn’t just the prize when I reach Point B. He’s the prize right now. Right in the middle of broken grocery bags. In the middle of the ups and the downs and the laughs and the cries and the backtracking and the pinch-me moments. Jesus is more satisfying than met goals and He is more powerful than our problems.

He’s the source of every good and perfect thing. AND He is the friend most completely acquainted with our weakness.

Point A to Point B isn’t easy, but it is sweet. We do not walk from the Kroger to the car alone. We’ve got a God strong enough to carry all our groceries and all our toddlers and all our hopes and all our joys.

He is, right this second, carrying us from painful Point A to perfect Point B.

My Matron of Honor Toast

Photo of me giving my toast, totally relaxed and not panicking at all 😬  taken by the amazing GWstudios 

My sister asked me to give the matron of honor speech at her wedding last week and I was terrified. I was nervous because I hadn’t given a speech since running for president in 6th grade (19 years ago, oh my gosh). I was also nervous because I have a history of panicking under pressure in front of people.

In 10th grade, I made All American for cheerleading, so I got to do an individual routine at cheer camp in front of hundreds of people. I had a solid routine. My music even had sound effects with coordinating dance moves. Like a “wa-pow” where I’d throw a punch and a bell ding where I’d do a toe-touch back-handspring. It was good. But, as soon as I stood in front of the crowd, I blanked out, panicked, and ran off the stage sobbing. 😎  🙌🏻

So, about this wedding toast. I had what I wanted to say in my brain, but I didn’t know what my body would do while standing in front of 150 people with a microphone. So, I made notes on my phone. Just the bullet points.

I had my notes open on my phone as my dad finished his toast, and I kept touching the screen so they wouldn’t go away. But, somehow, 20 seconds before I took the mic, my incessant screen-touching erased my notes.

By what I’ll call divine intervention, my speech was a hit. By that I mean I didn’t blank out, panic, and run off the stage sobbing, and the people who have to tell me they loved it told me they loved it. So, a hit.

Hey, guys! I don’t run off sobbing when I have to do something in front of a crowd like I did 20 years ago.

It was a relief. It was a new feeling.

This past year, God’s been showing me over and over how He makes us new.

”Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” – 2 Corinthians 5:17

I feel the back and forth of this almost daily. I hope to be “mature” in my faith, and yet, like Paul in Romans 7, I keep doing what I hate and what I want to do, I don’t do. Every day, I still battle my flesh, my fears, my panic. My moments of dependence on God in the midst of screaming and butt wiping and writing deadlines can quickly turn to pride which turns to despair which turns me, once again, to dependence on Jesus.

Just this week, I was texting the “Big Fam” (the group text with Brandon’s side of the family) about how God had given me eternal perspective and peace even though Dewy and Joy had both been screaming and pooping all day. But, just a few hours after I sent that text, I locked myself in the bathroom, handed the kids to Brandon, and threw my deodorant against the wall. It’s usually the deodorants fault. Not my best moment.

Back and forth.

Old and new.

I’m cycling through my humanness and seeing my sin and being constantly brought back to the feet of Jesus. Every day. And He’s refining me.

I don’t think I’m as bright and shiny as I thought I was last year. But, I don’t think bright and shiny should have been the goal. I’m being made like Jesus, old to new, one degree at a time.

Hopefully I’ll get better at managing the emotions that come from all the toddler trauma. Either that, or I’ll just “hang in there” until the screaming phase passes.

But, here’s what’s neat. I don’t have to look forward to my twilight years for peace and tranquility. The Prince of Peace lives in me. He has and is still making all things new, every minute of every day.

I’m not who I was 20 years ago. I can give a toast now. I’m not who I was a year ago. There is freedom in falling short, because there is a future that won’t fall short. My Father made all things. And He is making all things new, pure, perfect, complete, wonderful, beautiful, forever.

So, raise your glasses and pick up your deodorant. Wipe your tears and smile. Here’s to Jesus and newness and the next degree of glory.

“You Sure Have Your Hands Full!”

FullSizeRenderThese days, ninety percent of the time people talk to me, they say the same sentence – “You sure have your hands full!”

Guys, I’m not making this up. I’m not exaggerating when I say that people don’t say “Hi” or “How are you” or “Good afternoon” to me anymore. They say, “You sure have your hands full!”

I really do.

I just can’t help but laugh when people say it now, because of the sheer volume. In one doctor’s office yesterday, three out of the four people I passed said it to me. After the appointment, at the grocery store, two separate cashiers said it as I walked by. It has become the caption for my life. “You sure have your hands full!” My answer has become, “Yes, I sure do! And I love it!”

I really do.

And I also get really frazzled, really often. Happy tears blur into sad tears that blur into frustrated tears that blur into thankful tears. I try to wear minimal eye make-up during my peak crying hours. 🙂

I cry because I have my hands full. And I cry because I have my heart full.

Our adopted daughter, Joy, has been a Hiltibidal for two months, now. On April Fool’s Day, Brandon, Ever, Brooklyn, Joy and I shuffled off our umpteenth airplane and breathed in our smog-free Nashville air. Since then, we’ve been introducing Joy to Hiltibidal family life. And we’ve been to doctor’s offices like it’s OUR JOB.

Joy has seen so many specialists, has had so many pokes, has been talked to and about by so many people wearing so many stethoscopes. And we’re finished. We’ve now seen all the people. She’s done the blood and the ears and the kidneys and the eyes and other things I can’t even remember, and so Tuesday was THE DAY. The follow-up day.

Tuesday, we returned to the pediatrician to discuss all the findings. He ran out to meet me in the lobby and ask about her. Then, we had our regular visit, and the prognosis is this – she’s doing amazing.

In China, many guessed “cerebral palsy.” — She requires no physical therapy and all of her bodily structures (besides the having no ears thing) are fine.

In China, we wondered if she’d ever learn to do anything to take care of herself. — All the Vanderbilt geniuses agree, she requires no occupational therapy.

Our doctor thinks all of her issues were due to neglect and believes she will be just fine.

She can hear. She can walk. She can communicate. She’s happy. Her recovery is a miracle.

Witnessing the miracle of healing to her physical body has been incredible. But, witnessing the daily spiritual miracles that are happening just because she is here have me amazed.

Yesterday, in the midst of my “you sure have your hands full,” I went three places. In all three locations, Joy’s presence led people to talk about Jesus in public.

For weeks, in waiting rooms and in lines at the grocery store, people have asked questions. People want to know how old she is. Where is she from? She’s that old? Why is she so small? How much has she grown in the past two months? (An inch and a quarter and six pounds!) Those questions keep leading to Jesus.

Our doctor himself, ran out to see me a third time before I left just to stand in the door frame, shake his head, and say, “God is good.”

This is the same doctor who saw her file and told me we should have great hesitation accepting it. On our way out, the nurse squeezed her little leg and said, “Look at the meat on that thigh. That’s amazing. That’s Jesus.”

Watching Joy go from near death to full of life has us all rejoicing, has our doctor apologizing for being scattered because he’s “just so excited,” and has strangers stopping me to ask questions. Just her presence has Christians talking about Christ in public and in front of all the other waiting room waiters and grocery store line liners.

I cycle through so many feelings each day and in each location. In the garage, struggling to buckle five-point-harnesses and in the park, struggling to keep my eyes on three kids at once and in the kitchen, struggling to keep Dewy from having a meltdown over no more sugar packets. I cycle through and get to the edge of “Why am I so weak! Why can’t I do this well! My hands are too full.”

And it brings me right back to Jesus. Right back to that spot of neediness, of desperation, of dependence. And I inhale His goodness and exhale His love. And I wipe my happy and sad and tired and excited and frustrated tears away for the millionth time and I keep going. And I fight to switch over from “try to be good at this” to “Jesus is good to me.”  And I keep thanking Him.

God “sure has His hands full” with me – maybe His most high maintenance kid – and He makes it look so easy. He doesn’t struggle to keep His eyes on me. He loves me in the midst of meltdowns.  I am His. And He is mine.

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. – Psalm 73:26.

My hands are full. And my hands may fail. But my heart is full of the strength of Another.

So, I’m proposing a new life caption – “You sure do have your heart full!”

Either that or, “Unlimited Sugar Packets For Everyone!”

Meet Fris-boop and Boop-itcher

When I was little, the closest thing I had to a security object was a furry platypus I named “Googles.” (This was before Google the website, you guys.) Every day, my SWAT team dad would have Googles experiencing some sort of torture when I got home from school – hanging from a string in my closet. Closed in the laundry room double doors. Smashed into the piano bench seat. I’ve shared this, through laughter, with people, and rather than laughing with me, they looked very disturbed. I guess you had to be there.

When my firstborn, Ever, was one and a half, she bonded with “Boop” – a then-pink, now matted grayish-mauve stuffed lamb. Dewy took to a little fluffy dog she named, “Dee,” but the family calls Dee, “Dewy’s Boop.”

You see, because of Boop’s amazingness, Boop is no longer just a name, but has become a species. I have several friends who have casually mentioned to me that their child needed to go get his or her “boop.” It’s really catching on. Trust me.

So, we bought some boop options for Joy before we went to China to go get her. A Chinese doll. A fluffy dog. A bunny.

Come to find out, Joy hates dolls. It’s a deep hatred. As soon as she is presented any type of soft, fluffy and/or doll-shaped thing, she immediately swats it away from her person. “Get that Boop out of my face.”

Instead, she has formed a bond with a miniature pink frisbee she got from the prize box at our dentist and a small blue pitcher.

Meet Fris-boop and Boop-itcher – the objects that give Joy security. These objects never leave her hands. Ever.

IMG_7469-3 2

Today marks one month since we brought our Joy home from Tianjin. Six weeks ago, she couldn’t crawl, walk, or communicate in any way. No pointing, no copying us, no sounds, no nothing.

Today, she’s walking all over the house. She’s up and down the stairs. She signs for “ice cream” after every meal. When she drops something, she signs to ask for “help.” Goodness gracious. And with this hearing aid strapped to a headband that Vanderbilt sent us home with, she can hear! If you call her Ya Zhu, she won’t look up, but she lights up like a little star when she hears us say, “Joy!” I lost count of how many ASL signs she knows and uses after thirty. Guys, she’s the sweetest.

But she doesn’t feel secure.

She doesn’t yet realize what it means to be a daughter. What it means to have a home. What it means to be family. She still panics about food. She toy hoards. She clings to her boops because she’s still confused. She still fears we will go away. I know it by what her face does when I get out of the car and take the 4-second walk to her side to get her out. I see her relax with relief when she realizes that I’m going to pick her up and hold her yet again.

She’s happy. She’s growing. She’s thriving. But, she’s still insecure.

And it hurts my heart to see. And yet I know so many people, myself included, who cling to blue pitchers and pink frisbees for security, because we don’t fully understand what it means to be a son or daughter. To have a home. To be in God’s forever family.

It feels silly that I still battle insecurity, but I do. I so often find myself wiping mascara off my face again, re-explaining to my big one, again, that Mommy’s identity is in what Jesus did for her, not what she accomplished today.

It’s such a gift to have lived with Jesus long enough to know what it means to be His kid. To be able to run into His arms. To know that He’s always coming to get me out of my carseat. 🙂 To know that I don’t need a third snack or a Boop-itcher or a Fris-boop because I have all I need in Him.

Our family is nuts right now. We laugh a lot. We cry a lot. There is a lot of dancing and diapers and tickling. The days are long and sweet and messy. And I know the tears and the messes aren’t for nothing. The tears and the messes are lessons to my daughters and review lessons to me – that our security can’t be found in money or relationships or frisbees. We are God’s kids, so we can laugh with empty hands.

Home and Safe and Loved

The moment we got Joy

It’s hard to find words to describe the moment. When this person you’ve never met gets dropped in your lap. She’s not a trusting newborn who fits into the crook of your arm with ease, like she’s been taking up residence inside your body for most of a year.

It’s different.

She’s a stranger. She’s lived a life. When she should have been fed, she was not. When she should have been held, she was suffering alone. When she should have been rocked and carried and touched, she was left in a crib for so long that her head is, and always will be, misshapen.

When she gets handed over, she doesn’t look into your eyes and know that you are about to shelter her and love her and provide for her. She looks past your eyes. She leans away. She hits you in the face.

She’s stiff. She’s sad. She’s scared.

It’s a moment I thought we trained for like marathon runners. We read the required books. We watched the required videos. We filled out the required forms. We did our stretches. None of this was a surprise in my head. But, it was a shock to my heart.

Pride is such a sneaky thing.

I glided through the adoption process high on my faith. God proved Himself trustworthy every day – through the amazing generosity of friends and strangers who helped provide what we needed to make this happen, through the almost-eerie opening of doors that led us to this specific little girl, through intimate moments with the Lord, speaking to my soul through His Word, as if He were right in the room with me.

I trusted Him. I know I did. But, somewhere in there, I started trusting me.

During our training, we learned about how difficult it would be in China. We learned about attachment and how hard it would be for the child, and how hard it could be, even for us. But, I would be fine. I knew I’d be fine. I mean, look at what God had done! I wouldn’t struggle. I’ve lost count of how many people I told, before getting on that plane, “Even if the details of this adoption end up a worst-case-scenario, I’m not afraid. God has been so faithful, how can I not trust whatever He has for us in this?”

And I meant it. I wasn’t afraid. I knew things could be tough and I knew God could be trusted. I was as prepared as I thought I could be.

But, then I got to China.

And I was handed this girl.

This starving, severely developmentally delayed, fearful, flailing, tiny deaf girl. I felt so much compassion for her, but I didn’t feel ready.

And suddenly, I didn’t feel okay.

I’d done the training, but truthfully, I hadn’t really believed that the training applied to me. I’d subtly listened to the lie that I’m strong enough. I’m better. More equipped for this than the “weaker” parents from the training who struggled.

My pride and judgement from the past few months was instantly exposed to me, but repentance wasn’t my first idea. Rather, my first ideas were isolation (ignoring texts from my friends) and despair.

We looked at Joy and saw what we thought might be a worst-case-scenario. That first week, she was the size of a one-year-old. She flailed constantly and couldn’t seem to learn anything. And Brandon and I were convinced, for days, that we’d just adopted a child who would never grow, never learn, never communicate…

God gave us this girl. We knew that to be true. And we loved her already. But, I spent those first days grieving. Grieving the simpler days of soccer practice and laughing in my home with my healthy, happy girls. Grieving the hopes I had of signing the Gospel to Joy, so she could understand and know grace and freedom. Grieving the desire to see her grow up and thrive.

And I was angry at myself for grieving. And angry at myself for being weak. Angry at myself for sinning. Angry.

How could I be so stupid? How could I be so proud? How did I think I was doing this with the Lord all those months, and look at me now? Look at how sad I am! Look at how stiff she is when I try to rock her. If I’d really been walking with God, I wouldn’t feel so much fear and sadness right now! I’d be celebrating! Do I know my own heart?? Does the Lord know my heart? Is He going to take care of me?

Thank God for Brandon Hiltibidal who had the brilliant idea that maybe I needed to repent of pride. When he said that, sitting on the edge of the bed in China, it took me a minute to remember that repentance was a thing. It took me a minute to remember that the Holy Spirit intercedes for me.

So, I buried my leaky mascara-smeared eyes into the white hotel comforter (sorry, room cleaner) and I told God I was so sorry and so prideful and so weak and so in need of Him. And under that blanket there really was a God who really heard my heart and really forgave me and really decided to shower me with grace, instant grace in that moment, in that hotel room, thousands of miles from home.

Later that day, Joy learned how to sign “food.” Since that moment, she has learned much more, she has grown much more, she has smiled much more , and our hopes for her future have resurrected. We have a calendar full of doctor’s appointments this month and there are still a lot of question marks. But, here’s what I can tell you. Somewhere in the second week of the trip, I remembered that the Lord adopted a broken, needy, stiff, scared little girl named Scarlet, who didn’t know how to trust or love or be loved. God loves me and has endless grace for me, and as I started to remember that, I started to feel less fear and more joy. Less like an emotional mess and more like a mommy.

Every day so far, there have been moments when this new calling – doing it fully and doing it well – have been hard. And I feel overly weak. Then, I open my mailbox to find cards from friends with perfect, anointed words of comfort and grace. Handwritten scripture. Bouquets of flowers. My people leave meals on my doorstep because I can’t invite them in. And their love reminds me to renounce the lies. The lies that my not-enoughness is what matters.

And so, I’m pushing back on the half-truth that I should despair because I’m not enough. And I’m replacing that half truth with full truth.

Full Truth: I am not enough. I am WAY too weak. BUT…God’s power is made perfect in weakness.

I’m not sure I’ve ever read anything more beautiful:

“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9

Grace is ours. God is real. Joy is home and safe and loved. And so are we.


I Was in a Tornado at Dunkin’ Donuts

fullsizerender-1-2When I call Brandon, it doesn’t say my name on his phone. It says one of my nicknames (Scrawls), followed by a tornado emoji, followed by another one of my nicknames, “Ol’ Reliable” (it’s an ironic nickname). The picture that flashes up is an off-brand Elmo with fire behind him. Each of those details is attached to a lot of long stories that are probably not interesting, but my point is, tornados are such a thing for me that I literally have one attached to my name on our phones.

So, much of my identity for much of my life has been tied to fear and panic – and specifically, tornados.

I’ve lived scared as long as I can remember. When I was five, I collapsed dramatically in aisle six of the grocery store because I was convinced I had appendicitis. It’s something we kind of laugh about in my family now, but I was a wreck. It was just after my parents got divorced and my drives to school were always terrible because I was nauseated. Doctors said “nervous stomach.” Adults said “hypochondriac.”

The fear morphed and changed as I got older. But, I always had things to be afraid of. I’ve had seasons in adulthood when I was on medication for panic symptoms. I couldn’t stop hyperventilating.

I had a black widow phase.

A sinkhole phase.

A rare infectious disease phase.

A bad guys phase.

But tornados have been a constant. They’ve always been number one on my list. They’re super creepy looking and deadly and unpredictable. Seriously, you don’t know when the death wind is coming for you. My husband jokes regularly about my frequent YouTube deep dives into tornado destruction videos.

“Whatcha doin’?”

“Just watching a tornado swallow a warehouse in China three years ago.”


“Got to stay vigilant.”

I knew there would be storms today. But, I didn’t think they were starting until 8am. At least, that’s what my weather app said when I woke up at 6-something. I noticed last night that we were out of coffee, so I decided today I would take the girls to Dunkin’ Donuts.

I didn’t know tornados were a possibility. I didn’t even think we’d get caught in the rain.

We pulled in at Dunkin’ and ordered donuts and coffee. I asked the lady who was helping us how she was doing and she paused before saying, “I’m running…but not on Dunkin.” We chuckled and took our donuts.

Ever wanted a seat by the huge glass windows, but I said, “Eh, it’s supposed to storm soon, so let’s sit away from the windows.”

As soon as we sat down, the sky got weird. Let me remind you, this particular Dunkin’ is ALL windows. It was suddenly dark and it felt like everyone in the store with me held their breath. I remember saying to Ever, “Wow. Maybe we should go home…the sky just got really weird.”

As soon as I got the words out, the wind threw the door open and shut and our napkins flew everywhere. Then, the hail started.

It was all so sudden. The power went off and tornado sirens went on. All of our iPhones started buzzing and “TORNADO WARNING: TAKE SHELTER NOW” flashed on the screens. There must have been eight of us in the Dunkin’ and we all instinctively huddled near the bathroom, gawking at the huge windows. It looked like we were in a cloud that was rushing by horizontally. The trees were bending. It was loud.

A real tornado was really outside the donut shop, touching down a street over.

The Dunkin’ Donuts lady who was “running, but not on Dunkin” wrapped her arms around my Ever, and we were all silent.

I held my girls and asked God, out loud, to please protect us. Ever was crying and shaking and Brooklyn was motionless, like she knew something was happening. And then, it was as if a light switch was flipped. Everything was still. People started moving again.

“Did that just happen?” we all mumbled.

It wasn’t until then that I had time to text Brandon and tell him what was happening.

This is what was happening.

So, there it was. My biggest fear, materialized. And the funny thing is, I wasn’t really afraid. Ever was afraid, and I just kept telling her that God is in control of the weather and He is good and He loves us and we can trust Him. Even when bad things happen.

It’s just so crazy.

People have been asking me if I’m nervous about what we’re preparing to do this month – fly overseas as a family and adopt a little girl with special needs. And my answer is no. I’m not nervous.

God has been so faithful. I will write more about all the ways at some point, but He has just been so clear and loving and generous to us, in such personal and miraculous ways, I can’t even be afraid.

If all our scenarios end up being worst case, I can still trust God because He has proven His love and goodness to us, just like He’s been doing since the beginning of time.

It’s just an incredible thing. This Christian life. I look back at the layers and layers of sin and fear and disobedience that He has helped me through and I am just in awe. Even in the middle of a tornado in a Dunkin’ Donuts, I’m in awe, as I experience this gift He loves to give His children – the gift of perfect peace.

You will keep the mind that is dependent on You in perfect peace, for it is trusting in You.” Isaiah 26:3

So yeah, my adrenaline was through the roof, and it is even more so now that I’m watching the news footage of what was happening while we were snuggling strangers in a donut store bathroom. But, I didn’t have to be afraid. I knew that if that tornado sucked us up, we’d still be okay. We’d be more than okay.

“For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Philippians 1:21.

God is so gracious. Also, I’m going to ask Brandon to change my identifying emoji from a tornado to a donut.

You Can’t See Our New Daughter


In a few weeks, I’ll be boarding a plane with my husband and my daughters and as many tablets, headphones, travel books and lollipop distractions as we can cram in a carry-on for the long flight to China.

From our perspective, we are about to get a new daughter. We are growing our family. We are celebrating and buying matching shirts and matching backpacks and daydreaming about seeing her change as she learns how to be loved.

From her perspective, the world is about to end. Every smell. Every sight. Every person that has ever been familiar, whether it be a foster parent or sibling or an orphanage worker or the view outside the window, will be taken from her in a moment. They’ll hand her to us and everything she has known will disappear forever. She’ll see our weird faces and she’ll smell our foreign smells and she’ll wonder why we’re kidnapping her.

That means that as much as we’d like to throw her a welcome home party and as much as we’d like to show her sweet face off to every living person within a 100-mile radius of Middle Tennessee, we’re instead going to disappear.

It’s called “cocooning.” Experts suggest that if you are adopting a child with a traumatic history from overseas, you should cocoon them for 6-8 weeks.

Here’s what this means.

When we bring Joy home, she won’t see anyone but her immediate family. No friends. No grandparents. No Easter Bunnies. No playdates. Nobody. Joy’s world, for a long time, will be Mommy, Daddy, Ever and Brooklyn and that’s it. Oh, and Pickle, the beta fish.

That’s because we want Joy to learn what parents are. We want her to see what a family is. We need to be the ones to hold her. We need to be the ones who meet her needs. We will try to help her learn to trust us. To help her know that we are where she should go for help.

She is an orphan. She will have a new family. It will take time for her to learn to trust.

When God first adopted me, it took me way more than 6-8 weeks to believe that He really loved me and that He really was working all things together for my good.

How awesome would it be if baby Christians were cocooned? What if, when our eyes were opened to the glories of Christ and our need for the Father, nothing else could influence us or interact with us or distract us for weeks or months or years? We might, then, learn quickly that anything that seems to show He doesn’t love us or care for us or want what’s best for us is a lie.

I wish that was a thing, because I’m as prone as any orphan to run to strangers for satisfaction or joy or support.

We’re about to reach into another country and pull out a broken little girl with a broken history and we’ll welcome her with open arms into our own broken family. Joy’s adoption isn’t her happy ending. She will spend her life recovering from the scars of abandonment and neglect, but we do hope she will one day understand that through Jesus, her life really can have a happy ending. Through Jesus, her story can be re-written.

In a few weeks, she will go from orphan to daughter. She will go from being homeless to sharing a room with two sisters. But, her broken heart will not instantly be made whole. We know that no matter how well we cocoon and no matter how much we spoil her, only her Father in heaven can fill the hole in her heart.

Will you please pray that God will heal her emotionally, spiritually, and physically? Please pray that God will protect us – our hearts, our marriage, our kids. Pray that He will make us all less selfish and more loving. That He will help us get better at sign language. And that sooner than later, our hands can communicate to Joy’s heart and teach her that just like we flew around the world to bring her into our family, God traveled from heaven to bring her into His.

What I Teach My Kids About Their Butts


Ever and I have had this joke about her butt for years now. She might be getting a little old for it. But, pretty much, it started when she was about three, and I told her that her tushy was actually my tushy attached onto her body when she was a baby, and vice versa. And she said, “Mooooooooooommyy, NO IT’S MY TUSHY.” And I said, “Actually, sweetie, you’re wrong, because you see, that’s my tushy. I was there when the doctor switched them. And so, I have your tushy on my body. But the one on you, that’s actually mine.”

Maybe that’s weird. Okay, typing out the whole thing, I’m definitely realizing it’s weird. Whatever, it’s fine. Seriously though, please never think about this again.

But, when you have kids, whether you like it or not, you and your child sort of blur together. Their life is your life. Their bum is your bum. As a mom, you put your dreams, your time, your body, your everything, on the back-burner for a long time to meet this tiny person’s every need.

You are the conductor and the teacher and the cheerleader and the night-shift nurse and the chef and the boo-boo kisser through every stage. The “mine mine mine’s” and the tantrums and then finally, VOILA, they turn six, and you exhale and look at this beautiful masterpiece you’ve raised, like WOW. I MADE THAT. This person is a radiant, decent, kind person! She mostly does what she’s supposed to do! I must be awesome at this.

But then, you think about that time when she was 20-months-old and saw you scream at the steering wheel in frustration. You were sure you’d damaged her in irreparable ways. Or the time, when she was just barely five, and walked in on you crying and telling your mom with stage 3 cancer that you didn’t want her to die. Surely, that broke her heart too soon. Or what about the time you and your husband aggressively disagreed on the way to the soccer game last year and she saw you cry and yell and state your case like a cave woman. That will absolutely be something she talks about in therapy.

But, no. Here she is. Sharing. Smiling. And you think to yourself, Wow. I must be really great.

I sure swing high and low when answering my constant burning questions: Am I a good parent? Am I doing this right? Have I ruined everything? Is anyone proud of me?

Just the other day I was watching Ever while she brushed her hair, and wondering how much of her sparkling qualities and good behavior are from her and how much are from me, and it was like God leaned over and tapped me on the shoulder and went, “Uh…hello? Heaven to Scarlet. It’s not her…it’s not you…it always has been and always will be Me.”

“For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen.” – Romans 11:36

It is God who does good things. Forgetting that I have next to nothing to do with anything good that God uses me to do, sets me up for despair when I lose my cool, or spend too much time staring at computer because listen, I had a deadline, or listen, I’m tired and I work hard and I want to read this funny fake article about a frog who said Moses.


It could happen again tonight – the mulling over burning questions. Maybe, I’ll tuck my kids in and think to myself, “When I was reading stuff on Facebook and my kid looked at me and wanted me to play barbies again, and I said, ‘just a minute,’ did I ruin her?”


Spoiler Alert: I didn’t actually have a rear transplant with my oldest daughter. Her bum and my bum were never actually surgically switched.

Second Spoiler Alert: It doesn’t really matter. Nothing is really hers. Nothing is really mine. Everything is borrowed and nothing belongs to any of us. No kids. No plans. No accomplishments or funny jokes. No good deeds or Christ-like reactions.

Looking for my own good and fixating on my obvious and frequent bad is a crippling pastime. All good is from God. All good is to God.

He helps me up when I feel like I’m missing it as a mother. He gives the grace when I’m getting it right. He holds my daughter’s future.

And that’s why I can be a mostly happy person. Because molding masterpieces isn’t up to me. But, MAN, do I get to enjoy a lot of beauty when my main focus is noticing, just witnessing, God’s goodness to my family.

That’s my hope.

And Ever, that’s my tushy.

We’re Going To Be Okay

Started my blog a year ago today and this was my first post. Last year, we were praying and fighting for joy as we walked through darkness, as a family. This year, our circumstances are rosier, and our God hasn’t changed one bit. He is still full of mercy and love, He is with us now like He was then. He is good now, just like He was then. Thankful to be the daughter of the One whose name is Faithful and True. I knew, when I wrote this, that we were going to be okay, and here we all are. Mom is healed. Grandpa #1 and #2 are in heaven with Jesus. We’re on the hunt for a third car seat and an extra chair for the dining room table. We are more than okay, because our God is always good.

Scarlet Hiltibidal

8458681569_ae61b8a9b3_z Photo by Flickr user: Kristina D.C. Hoeppner

Sometimes, you’re getting group texts from your dad about how brave your mom is during her first chemo, and while you’re looking at them, your baby falls out of her high chair onto her head, and you’re at a restaurant trying to be cheerful for your sweet mother-in-law’s birthday dinner, and you whisk your freshly injured baby into the waiting area and stand facing the painting on the wall so no one will see you crying. But, you see that you’re face to face with a painting of a guy standing in a field full of bulls.

And the painting makes you think of being a five-year-old flower girl at your mom’s second wedding because her new husband – the guy that would adopt and love you as if you were his daughter by blood – would attend his own wedding with a major pectoral injury…

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