Monday, December 24, 2012


Merry Christmas dear friends! May you each experience the PEACE ON EARTH right there in your homes that the angels proclaimed at the birth of our savior!
It's Marriage Monday again here at HOPE AT HOME and this time we are hearing from our good friend and fellow adoptive parent, Kate of  One Flesh Marriage. It's always the season to give attention to our marriages! 
If you have ever lived with another person, which I am assuming all of you have at one time or another, then you know how hard it is to mesh different personalities together. God has blessed in each of us a uniqueness that is all our own. Marriage is one of the places where encountering each other’s personalities, habits, quirks and beautiful differences is most challenging. It can also be the most rewarding. 
Marriage Oneness
The journey of marriage is a journey toward oneness -being completely known by your spouse with all the joys and blemishes. Getting to a place where oneness is nurtured and in forward motion is difficult with two totally different people. No matter how alike you and your hubby are, you are still very different. How do we move forward on this journey to oneness when we have unique and different personalities? Keep in mind that oneness is a journey, not a destination. You will be seeking intimacy and oneness all of your married life; you are not there once you say your vows. Believe me, I was that young, naive bride who thought we had reached the destination once we said “I do.” How wrong I was. Fortunately, God has been gracious with both of us and we are moving forward!
Embrace and Celebrate Your Spouse’s Personality
Just like you, your spouse was made by our most amazing God. We can celebrate our spouse’s personality or we can allow it to bother us. Many times opposites attract, so there will be things about the two of you that seem so different. At first we may think these things are great, then after years of living together they start to grate on our nerves. I used to dwell on all the little things that my hubby did or didn’t do and based them on his personality. I have come to realize how much that hurt him. Lifting them up and praising him for who he is-- that's how God desires me to be. 
Does that mean that when they make a huge pile of clothes on the floor, we just embrace it, smile and move on? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Embracing and lifting up their personality does not mean that we never share how we feel. Those piles are a good opportunity to serve and help your spouse out with organization. Then sometimes it is good to talk about the piles of clothes, if they truly bother you. Talk about how you can work together to a solution that works for both of you. 
Build Intimacy in All Areas
When we take time to build intimacy in all areas of our marriage, we find that there is a softening in our hearts and we are better able to extend grace to our spouse. Four critical areas of intimacy we focus on are: Spiritual intimacy, Physical intimacy, Emotional intimacy and Intellectual intimacy. Do the two of you spend time together in these four ways? 
Every day, you should have the opportunity to build up these areas with your spouse. The main thing that keeps us from focusing on at least one of these things daily is selfishness. We all work hard and at the end of the day many times just want “me” time. I would encourage you to be sure some of that "me" time is “us” time. 
Be Honest About Your Own Pitfalls
It is easy for us to point a finger and bring to light the short- comings of our spouse. Yet one of the best things you can do is to be open and honest about your own pitfalls. Share them with your spouse. They most likely already know them, but knowing that you see them and are trying to work on them, speaks volumes to your spouse and builds intimacy. Keep in mind this is not in a self- deprecating way, but a spirit of understanding the things God wants to refine in you. 
Seek to be the Spouse God Asks And Let Your Personality Shine Through
The question remains, what is our personality and what is something that needs to be refined in us? I believe that seeking God’s word for you as a wife or a husband is the first step. Look up wife or husband in your Bible. Ask God to reveal to you, what he desires for you and the wife or husband. After that settles in, seek God on your personality and how that fits. There may be things he desires to work out of you, and there will be things he wants to bring to the surface to compliment your spouse. How does this flesh out, you may be asking yourself. Here is an example:
If you as the wife are gifted in numbers, you may naturally have taken on the responsibility of paying the bills and handling the budget for the family. There is nothing wrong with that by any means. Yet the husband is designed by God to have a need to provide for his family and to see that provision. Your personality, designed by God is great with numbers. How can you seek God on making both work together? 
Working through these things builds intimacy through seeking God and good communication. Is it going to be easy? Not necessarily; sadly we usually struggle with giving up control in different areas of our lives. Yet, God is faithful and when we are obedient to his word and what he asks of us in our marriage, his word says there will be blessings.
Moving Forward? 
Do you feel that you are moving forward on your one flesh journey or are you stuck in the muck of your own self-focus?  Are personality issues a stumbling block? If you have worked through some of these things and are on the other side looking back, what would you share to help those who are in the valley?

Monday, December 17, 2012


From Susan Hillis:
Do you remember our friend James from our HOPE AT HOME 2012 Conference? We commissioned him to write and perform a Spoken Word, entitled Naked Hope. Well, if you didn't make it to  the conference (or you want to listen again), click HERE to listen and read some provoking words of HOPE. 
So, that is all to say that James shared a testimony last Sunday at church, telling a story of a recent dream he had.  In the dream, there was a man who had seen much better days, walking through a store kind of like WalMart. As he walked, this man in the dream realized how much he needed, and wanted, and so wished he had what it took to get it.  I imagine the man walking past the strawberries, thinking, "oh, the taste of strawberries is a distant memory; it would be so nice to have some,"  or "those warm gloves would be so nice to have as the weather is quickly turning colder."  Unbeknowst to the down-and-out-fella-in-need, there was a stranger in the store following him at a modest distance, putting in his cart each item the needy fella had looked at with longing.  When the needy man walked up to the check out counter with his one meager purchase, the kind stranger behind him pulled up and unloaded his cart full of the things the man wished he could have bought. He paid for everything, then gave it to him as a gift -- a gift much too large to manage alone.  So the generous stranger helped the needy fella get all the purchases to his car. Others in the store who had observed the event were in awe, completely distracted from their own shopping by this man's extravagant kindness.  

Distracting Kindness

The dream was an allegory of the kindness of God in providing for our friend James, after many months of many struggles with work, transportation, income, and college.  James shared that little by little, each need has been provided for.  By the kind of kindness that is distracting....distracting kindness.

May we, each of us, have eyes to see such distracting kindnesses of God in our own lives, and may we have hearts like that stranger in the dream, to pass it on. 

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow us-- all the days of our lives!  (Ps 23).  Surely distracting kindness shall follow us.

Lord, we love your distracting kindness. We feel so happy when someone on facebook 'likes' something we write or a picture we post.  Lord, thank you that you spend our days 'liking' us!  May we pass along Your distracting kindness in an absolutely effusive way over these days, to absolutely everyone who walks through the door!  Thank you Lord for YOUR DISTRACTING KINDNESS to me!

Sunday, December 9, 2012


Recently I have found myself thinking quite a bit more about the pasts of our children who have come into our family through adoption. Ironically, the facts of our children's pasts, along with the resulting issues, both positive and negative, seem to be more present in our present, not less, as the years have gone by.  It would seem to me that the opposite would be true-- that the longer our children are home, the more distant the impact and influence of their past. And in some ways this has been true. But in some ways those key questions of identity that are the stuff of adolescence and young adulthood have taken us back to a season not unlike those early days after our adoptions, where we are especially aware of the impact of the our children's past experiences in their lives, in their thinking, in their actions, and in their beliefs. 

It seems to me that the past is not a non-issue, that one of our roles as parents is to help our children navigate the often complicated emotions and other residue from the things they experienced, and equally as influential, the things they did not experience before they came into our families. And having understanding of how our children are experiencing these realities, helping them to understand why they might think, feel or act in certain ways, has been so helpful to Stephen and me. I am thankful for the freedom we have to embrace each child's story, their whole story, as we help them come to their own decisions about who they are and how they will process their often harsh and painful origins. I use the word freedom because apart from the freedom that we have in Christ, who is the great redeemer of all things broken and stolen, I think I would have tried to ignore and cover over and deny all the hardships of our children's pasts, simply out of my desire to protect them and to help them move forward.

Over the years it has been tempting to "wish away" the past, hoping that the goodness of the present would override it somehow. Tempting or not, that simply does not work. For it is a gift we give our children to share with them in their story, even the most difficult parts. For most of us the instinct is always to protect our children from pain by avoiding it or covering it over, but what if protection in this case looks more like embracing and accepting? At some point many of our children will need to know even the most difficult parts of their story, and we parents want to be the ones to tell them and to walk with them through the process of grieving and the swirling emotions as they struggle to process their story. 

Let me show you a picture of a tree that Stephen and I saw last week when we were away. (we went to Santa Fe-- just the two of us! It was so refreshing to have that time together!)
You can't see very well from this distance; this tree doesn't look particularly interesting, until you look closer. Now take a look at the close up of the trunk:

This was a large tree that had been cut down to a stump years ago. I am sure that there were no expectations of this tree once it had been cut down. But how cool is this?! Out of that dead stump came a whole new tree-- a really great tree. I see that God, in His great wisdom and goodness, is doing a similar work in our children. He is not allowing us to ignore the past, but rather is using what seems like a dead stump to call forth new life-- He is continuing the story without wasting one thing! Only God does such amazing things! For it is true my friends, He is busy working ALL THINGS together for the good of our precious children. (Romans 8:28)

We are watching and co-laboring with Father God as He is doing a "new thing" (Isaiah 43:19) in our children's lives through adoption. This is a privilege beyond measure. We parents get front row seats in this interactive drama where new things spring forth; where a past marked by rejection, pain, sin, abandonment, relinquishment, neglect, fear, and lack does not determine a future, but is miraculously transformed and re-purposed for LIFE.  

I have always liked the analogy of driving a car that Susan Hillis shared with me years ago, as she and I have spent many hours talking and praying about how to parent our children into their future, according to their Identity and Destiny, rather than in response to their past. 

Stephen and I have had to teach 7 teenagers how to drive, and I am not kidding when I say that this is one of the worst parts of parenting for me-- nothing like giving a moody teen a lethal weapon! One of the things we teach them is the importance of the rear view mirror. Until you teach someone to drive, you probably don't realize how many times you take a quick glance back to what is behind you as you navigate forward. But that right there my friends is the key-- you only glance back! Yes, you do it often and it is a key to successfully moving forward, but if we were to focus our eyes backward, rather than forward, we would never make it to our destination. 

So, as we parent our children our eyes are always focused on the future, on our child's Identity and Destiny. We Parent Forward. However, we recognize that their past is not something to be ignored, and is as a matter of fact, a key component in the call of God on their lives and on their unique identity. So we glance back as needed. And something I would add on that we have been learning recently is that occasionally a child may need to pull the car over so to speak, get out and spend some time exploring what lies behind. And when that happens dear parent, you get right out with him or her, link one arm with your son or daughter and the other arm with the Holy Spirit, and walk right alongside. And the best thing we can do for our child on this excursion is to keep our focus always on the Lord and His forward-moving, life-giving, past-redeeming plans and promises. 

Father, would you help us to simultaneously embrace our child's whole story while keeping our eyes firmly focused forward into their Identity and Destiny in You. Thank you for your redemption of all that has been stolen or lost in our child's past. Cause them to be that beautiful tree, a planting of the Lord! Amen.

(Susan Tebos and Carissa Woodwyk's book, Before You Were Mine; Discovering Your Adopted Child's Life Story, is very helpful in helping adoptive parents embrace their child's whole story. Great practical ideas and wonderful focus on the Lord.)

Monday, December 3, 2012


From Susan Hillis:

At our house we are beginning all the Hillis Christmas traditions, and I thought I would pass along a few in case there may be some of them you too would enjoy!  Let me start with a story.....

My new acquaintance asked in a rather flitty way, "So, how do you do Christmas at YOUR house with 12 people?  Is it just chaos on Christmas morning?"  I answer, "No, it's really NOT chaos.  We actually really enjoy the Christmas season at our house." She goes on to her next question, "Do you just have mountains of presents to open?"  And I answer, "No, we don't have mountains of presents;  each of us gives a few.  We actually put everybody's name into a basket twice, and then go around and draw names in early December.  Each of us makes two gifts for the two folks in the family whose names we draw.  Because we make our gifts, our time over the holidays is typically spent at home with each other, working together on our gifts instead of out at malls shopping.  A few of the more creative ones help the ones who struggle to come up with ideas.  Over the years we have had folks make toe rings, quilts, albums, creative board games, write and illustrate books, sweatshirts, jewelry, home made candy, paintings, sculpture, book shelves, ceramics.   And of course there is Ksusha - she picked Brian's name 3 years in a row and painted him the same piggy bank each year - just made it different colors.  I guess she thought accountants would like to safeguard their funds!

From the time Cristi was just a toddler, I began to look for ideas that would help the Christmas season be lived out, practically, as a time to celebrate Jesus' birth, rather than as a time marked by dread of the materialistic flavor that is so ubiquitous in America.  And I would say this--  the best habits we have adopted replace numbers with faces.  Rather than the numbers on a price tag or the number of gifts to buy, we try to focus on faces...that is, on loving God, loving people and loving each other.  Here are some habits we repeat, year after year, in those categories.

Loving God

- Jesse Tree - Making a simple felt Jesse tree (you can google it) involves purchasing felt for the wall hanging and 25 decorated felt ornaments, that each symbolize an important story in the gospel message, from Genesis to Revelation.  Everyone in the family can help make the tree and ornaments, which comes with scripture passages and short devotionals that can be read every night of advent.  The Jesse tree has become a family heirloom, as year after year, we reread the passages and take turns hanging the ornaments.  Of course there are discussions which can become heated arguments, about who gets to put up the beautiful white feathery dove that symbolizes the peace of the Holy Spirit.  And we get a chance to talk about how it is just these kind of fights that make us need the peace this dove symbolizes!

- Advent Wreath - We often have an advent wreath that we light each Sunday, with the 4 candles, symbolizing hope, love, joy, and peace, and the fifth one lit on 
Christmas day symbolizing Christ's birth.

- Christmas Books - Every year we buy a new Childrens' Book; some of our favorites are Alabaster's Song, The Crippled Lamb, The Candy Cane, Christmas in a Shoe Box, Little House on the Prairie Christmas, A Child's Christmas at St. Nicolas Circle. What are some that you have enjoyed? Would you share them in the comments so we can all benefit.

- Acting out the Luke 2 Christmas story from the Message - Kids love doing this on Christmas Day - in our house the most cherished role for some reason has always been...not Mary, not Joseph, not the angel, but...the donkey who gets to crawl in on all 4's, carting Mary on his or her back!  Towels with ties do great for the shepherds; bathrobes become the garb of Mary and Joseph, with a baby doll for baby Jesus.  And a few safety pins easily transform a white sheet into an angel's costume.  And Burger King crowns picked up earlier in the week do great for crowns for the 3 kings.

Loving People

- Visitors- We love the book, Christmas at St. Nicholas Circle, which reminds us all that the best part of Christmas is loving the least of these, who cannot necessarily reciprocate.  For a number of years now we tend to spread the word that the Hillis Home is open for visitors during the 2 to 3 weeks that school is out - and we tend to count the numbers of folks who come, with a little figure scribbled on the calender for each day we are out of school.  Many years we have smiled to see more than 100 visits during these few weeks!  We talk a lot about loving every one who comes through our door as a way to love the Lord - and read and discuss Matthew 25 about the sheep being those who loved well.

- The Gold Box - For many years, we have a large gift box wrapped in beautiful gold paper with a slit on the top.  We are to do small acts of unseen kindness and then write it on a note and put it in the box.  Anything from that Colossians 3 list of, 'clothe yourselves with kindness, humility, compassion, forgiveness, and patience' fits here.  We talk about how wonderful it is to do something that only Jesus sees.  It is His gift.  No one ever opens this box - we just keep it, adding to it year after year.

- Serving - Often at the end of the day on Christmas, we go downtown to help clean up from the Hosea Williams Feed the Homeless Feast that serves 10,000 folks every Christmas Day in Atlanta.  It is a joy, always, to feel that we did something practical to serve always gives a chance to talk about this being a gift for Jesus that He loves!

Loving Each Other

- Gifts - So I started out sharing how we make gifts for each other.   On Christmas morning after we open stockings, have breakfast, read Luke 2 and thank God for His gift, Brian asks who wants to be the first to give the gifts they made.  And one by one we get to enjoy seeing the special treats that have typically have time as a bigger ingredient than money.  As the kids grow older and have jobs, some of them prefer to purchase gifts now, and some still make them. 

- Time - But mostly what we do is simply spent time together - whether its games outside, from soccer to baseball to Frisbee, or inside, like board games and puzzles.  The outings to Stone Mountain and Mount Arabia and ice skating also build fun memories!

- Music - We typically sing a carol or two every night, and on several occasions we have acted out the 12 days of Christmas, with each of donning a costume to match our day....obviously none of the boys wanted 'nine ladies dancing.'  But they all loved '6 geese a laying' as they pretended to run around laying eggs!  An old CD that may still be available somewhere has the song that our kids to this day remember best of all, and the words provide a fitting way to end this post:


SO, I wish you each and every one a Merry Christmas!  If you have some beloved traditions to share feel free to post them here in a comment!

Blessings on you and yours!
Much Love,