The Best Gift I Ever Gave Our Marriage

Michael and I have been married almost 14 years. With school, work, extra-curricular activities, church, other obligations and pile on an international adoption (help me; I’m drowning in paperwork): it’s SO easy to just be two people who pass in the hallway and collapse in the bed at the end of the day. We manage kids, schedules, and finances, but we also want to be intentional with our marriage. We always said we would make regular dating a priority, but life gets busy and good intentions aren’t enough.

For Christmas, I gave Michael TWELVE pre-planned dates in envelopes. Tickets bought, dates planned and it’s been the BEST GIFT I EVER GAVE US – OUR MARRIAGE. I know I have my man’s undivided attention, a dinner out, an activity or concert together – ANYTHING. As a mom (especially as a homeschool mom), I get burned out. This time together is so refreshing for me. It fills my cup and I can’t wait until the next one.

So far, we’ve attended been able to go to An Evening of Worship at the War Memorial Auditorium, Winter Jam (which is put on by Holt International – the adoption agency we used for Zoe’s adoption), a Third Day concert, and to the Ryman Auditorium for Sam’s Place with Steven Curtis Chapman. We won’t always do concerts, but we are in Nashville (aka Music City) and we love music, so we’ve been thankful to get experience those together.

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I’m so thankful for these date nights with my man. It really doesn’t matter where we go or what we do, I just want to be wit him!

A Care Package for Evy

We had a friend’s sister (and now a new friend) heading to China and she offered to take a care package to Evy for us. We sent 2 new outfits, 3 pairs of pajamas, some panties, socks, some toiletries, a stuffed animal, and a photo album of our family to our baby girl. I also included a couple disposable camera for them to snap some pictures of her (I’m PRAYING they use it. Pictures are such a treasure to this mama’s heart), and some chocolates for the nannies.

So thankful for our wonderful agency (CCAI) for providing us with a translated letter and for these awesome tags in English and Chinese.

We are so grateful for the gift of knowing our girl knows she has a FAMILY coming for her. I am praying that her nannies show her that photo album often so she familiarizes herself with our faces. I just can’t wait to get my hands on that sweet baby girl!
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Serving in Student Ministry

It’s really not a secret. I like little kids. A lot. They’re fun, they’re innocent, and generally speaking they still love to please you (obey) and don’t give too much attitude. But as my own children have aged, I’ve really fallen in love with teenagers. Robert entered the middle school youth group at our church this past fall and Michael and I have been serving in the student ministry on Wednesday nights. I’ve really grown to love these students.

I love that our youth group is intentional. They talk about HARD stuff with our students; they don’t shelter them from the realities of this world. They invite them to step out and be a bright light for Jesus in this very dark world.

They talked to the kids about Sex Slavery and how it’s a REAL thing and what they can look for, how they can bring awareness, and how they can be intentional to END IT. After they finished talking to the students about it, I spotted these three middle school girls gathered  together to pray.

 

A couple days later, we headed to the Opryland Hotel for a weekend retreat called Quest with nearly 1,000 students from our church. I was a leader along with another volunteer adult leader and a college student. It was exhausting and fun. It was filled with challenging teaching (I wish I had teaching that was that challenging as a middle school and high school student), powerful worship, serving in our community, and a time for connecting with these girls. So many kids made decisions over the weekend. I know that weekend was a pivotal moment in so many of these students’ lives.

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3 tired Quest leaders loading up and heading back home. Such a pleasure serving with these ladies this weekend. 

 

If you are local to the Nashville area, and you’re looking for an amazing church that is raising up a generation of world changers, come check out Long Hollow. We love it!

Referral Day

January 26, 2016

In true adoption fashion, it always catches you when you least expect it. Shuttling a van full of kids off to writing class, running by the grocery store really fast, and trying to come up with a dinner plan: that’s when the phone rang. In the middle of my busy-ness. And it stopped me in my tracks. A call from CCAI (our wonderful adoption agency). I honestly wasn’t expecting it. I figured they were calling about something in our application and with more forms to fill out. But they told me they had a little girl’s file they wanted us to review. She asked if I wanted to hear more about her. She’d just turned 3 – just days before. A January baby – like me. I liked the sound of this. She told me that she was healthy and doing well and that she has albinism. Along with that albinism comes some degree of vision impairment, but we aren’t sure to what degree that is. She said more things, but I honestly don’t know what any of it was. This was the call. The call about our daughter.

I couldn’t get home fast enough. I wanted to get home and plop down in my computer chair and open those emails as fast as I could. I wanted to see her sweet little face. I wanted to see my girl.

Honestly, I wasn’t expecting a child with albinism. Our medical conditions checklist was pretty extensive and we were open to a LOT (I mean a LOT – a SCARY LOT). This seemed like nothing compared to some of the conditions we had marked that we were open to. I have a dear, sweet friend who adopted a kiddo with albinism from China a couple years ago. We’ve talked about her daughters needs, struggles, and daily life. And honestly, it’s so manageable. There’s a whole community of people out there of adoptive families with kids with albinism and vision impairment.

From the moment I saw that gorgeous blonde hair and sweet smile – I knew she was mine.

We officially have approval from China to share her with you. Here she is. Our precious daughter, Evelyn Claire YiYen Sloan! Evy

Isn’t she just the sweetest thing you have ever seen in your whole life? That little face, those cute little fingers, those almond eyes. Baby girl, you are mine. For all the days of my life, I will tell you that you are precious, you are loved, and you were chosen. I know God has great BIG plans for your life. He has never left your side and He never will. I can’t believe we get to be your family. It’s such an honor and so humbling. I am just so thankful my heart may explode.

Her name is just perfect. I love it. Her Chinese name means “little bird” and so does “Evelyn” (which is my grandmother’s name), so I knew Evelyn had to be her name. And Claire is after Michael’s grandmother, Clara. She is named after our two grandmothers. I just couldn’t love it more. We plan on calling her “Evy” (rhymes with Chevy).

My heart is full. I can’t wait to add this little bird to our nest.

Snow and Church at Home

Y’all! We are in the South. We don’t get much snow – if we do get anything it’s usually flurries that melt once they hit the ground or we get ice. Lovely ice. You know the kind that freezes trees and makes them break and takes out power-lines? Yeah. That ice.

But this year we got SNOW And lots of it. I kinda laughed when my mom got the kids new sleds and I teased her that was basically ensuring it would never snow again.

But we had snow. Lots of snow. Snow that kept my hubby home from work and even closed down our church from holding services. (They broadcasted the services online for us and it was awesome!) We snuggled up on the couch and worshipped together. We were challenged by our pastor and we turned that little bonus room into a holy sanctuary – all while wearing pajamas.

These snow days slowed us down. They kept us home and forced us to spend some much needed time together. It was glorious. I’ve never been a big fan of the snow (mainly because it’s cold and I am not fond of being cold), but this year it was just what we needed.

Adoption Announcement Photos (and Christmas photos)

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My sweet friend Erica Ho (go check out her blog over at Goodbye Normal) offered some photo mini-sessions to local families as a way to help her son Elliot raise funds for their Uganda mission trip.

I am so thankful she captured these images for us. We got Christmas card photos and adoption announcement photos all in one! It was hard to keep this quiet until we announced we were adopting!

 

 

Advent

For the past few years, our family has used an an incredible resource during Advent season. We learned about Truth in the Tinsel in 2011 and have been doing it every year since. We counted down the days by reading a Bible story that told just a little piece of the story of Jesus’ birth. From Gabriel and Zachariah, to Mary and Joseph – all beautifully wound together to tell the story of the Savior of the world.

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My kids can be creative as they make ornaments each day that go along with our reading.

truth in the tinsel
This has been a sweet blessing for our family to do each year. The kids love it, and seem to get it deeper and deeper every year. We do this during our school day and just make it part of our school curriculum in December.

However, this year my heart longed for a little something new – something dad could be involved in during family devotions at night.  The reality is at night after ballet and Boy Scouts and dinner and baths – we aren’t going to do a craft. But I wanted us to all go a little deeper, to still love our old traditions, but maybe start something new in this season that we could all do together.

Oh, how I feel like I’ve discovered the most precious gift in the season by finding Unwrapping the Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp. Ann has a way to speaking to my mama heart. She speaks truth with boldness slathered in grace. And this book? Oh, my heart soars!

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Each night, we curl up on the couch with our Bibles and we read the most captivating story – all part of HIS story as we work our way from Creation to the Birth of Christ.

Then we add our ornament to our Jesse Tree. We cut ours from felt and put it up in the dining room and each night we add our ornament from the story we read that evening.

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This has been just what all of our hearts needed this Christmas season. The intentional time we spend as a family each night reflecting on the true meaning of Christmas and focusing on the GREATEST GIFT instead of what gifts we are anticipating under the tree.

Hoping you feel encouraged to share with your own kids the miracle of the Christmas season. What are you doing as a family? Do you have any traditions during the season? I’d love to hear them!

~paula