Lasting Lessons from Hurricane Irma

I took one last look at my husband as my four children and I drove away from our home on Florida’s west coast. With his hands clasped in a prayerful pose and nervously lifted to his lips, I darted another quick prayer that we would be home again soon and find everything and everyone as we left them. I knew Ron and our family were anxious about my 500-mile evacuation to my parent’s home in Alabama. The last time I had set out on the solo parent mission was six years earlier. We didn’t make it even two hours into our journey when I  totaled our SUV and landed myself and two older children in the ER. That trip was an attempt to help victims of a devastating tornado in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. This trip was an endeavor to escape the potentially fatal winds of the category five storm dubbed, Irma.

Irma was the largest recorded hurricane to date. Our city, thankfully, was sparred the brunt of the winds and the storm surge, but not before wrecking everyone in the state’s nerves as we braced to see what path this storm would take and how strong she would come in. Irma resulted in the largest mass exodus of people from Florida. We were among millions driving away from the storm to seek refuge in neighboring states. With gasoline scarce and roadways pregnant with fleeing evacuees, we drove out early on Wednesday morning trying to beat the traffic. We were successful in that endeavor. Finding US 19 traffic free and momentarily plentiful with gas, the kids and I successfully made the 10-hour trip in 11 hours.

As the state of Florida experienced one of the slowest weeks in history, all Floridians felt the oppressive weight of uncertainty. Regardless of our geographic location, we were all considering the possible loss of life and property. We were reevaluating priorities and esteeming relationships above material possessions. So many of us wrestled with the question of evacuating or staying to assist in the aftermath. Hunkering down, or hustling away. Many for the first time realized that the cone of uncertainty is a real threat and not an ideology to keep people glued to their local weather forecaster nor a way to sell bread and water.

Now, nearing a month after Irma, there are a few lessons we must remember even as the debris continues to be cleared away and the aftermath begin to look more like the prior glory of central and southern Florida. Granted, our area was spared the most it could have been and the more southern portions of the state are still experiencing aftermath in ways that I cannot fathom at this point. Please consider as you read these thoughts that our home suffered no damage and we weren’t left to wrestle with the total ruin that some of our fellow statesmen, along with the Caribbean Islands, are dealing with. Prior to landfall, we prepared for the worst and prayed for the best.

  1. Community continues to be the cornerstone of civilization. It was amazing to see how much humanity is highlighted in the darkest hours. The community among friends and family was fully displayed as texts were sent, storm shutters and plywood boarded, water shared, and safety plans made. It was a beautiful sight to behold. We held each other’s hands both figuratively and literally, encouraged one another, and prayed for and with one another. We braced the storm with faith in our God and His sovereignty no matter the ultimate outcome. In today’s digital era, we can falsely believe that all you need is a deserted island, Amazon Prime, and a laptop to experience all life has to offer. Rest assured, physical community cannot be replaced, merely inadequately replicated online.
  2. Debris remains long after the headlines have shifted. We continue to require cleanup locally. Most people have cleaned their yards, but piles of brown limbs and leaves accumulated on streets, as well as many large downed trees, remain. News is purposed to sensationalize every situation for a season, but the seasons for real catastrophes linger dramatically longer than the seasons of national news headlines. When our Facebook temporary profile pictures move onto the next cause, people in affected communities cannot. Like a death in the family, the world moves on, but the day to day has forever changed for the family who lost a loved one; and in the case of Irma, loss of physical needs. Therefore, our eternal perspective and our service perspective are longer term than our television screens.
  3. We are smaller and more helpless than we daily imagine. When a category five hurricane is ripping through islands and countries and seems to never slow down, it is amazing to see how big God is and how small we are. Only God can calm the storms. Man can simply brace or run. We taunt our pride in self-sufficiency, only to find in the face of natural disaster we are ultimately inadequate. We can plan, pray, prepare, and protect to the best of our abilities but the outcome is out of our hands. We are in control of far less than we daily realize.
  4. We, the Church, are known by our love for one another. Local teams of people from our church were out immediately after Irma hit, cleaning up debris and fallen trees in neighborhoods. This service of sawing and cleaning up trees cost a reported $6,000 after the hurricane. When a neighbor of one of our church members realized the team at his neighboring home was a volunteer clean up team, his mind was blown! These teams helped people both locally, and some continue to assist further south in Naples. When we help others, Christ is glorified and people begin to question the reason for the assistance being offered.
  5. The objects of earthly importance are not those which we use daily. When we crammed our car full of items we wanted to spare in the event of total devastation, we took documents and photo albums we rarely consider or use. More importantly, we placed the people we care most about in the car to carry them to safety. Things can be replaced. Little we use in the day to day is so priceless it can’t be duplicated or done away with. Irma made us consider how little we really need and how valuable people are.

Ten days after we pulled out of our driveway, we were pulling back into our parking spot. The kids and I were probably among some of the last in our area to make the return trip. We had waited to make sure there was power, gas, and open roadways. This time, as I looked through the window of the car, Ron was wearing a smile and open arms. Hands of prayer had turned to hands of welcoming praise. I hope these lasting lessons linger longer than the headlines in our state and local communities and we place the most value where eternal worth lies.

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Thirty Balloons: An Adoption Tale

Once upon a time, there was a little blonde-haired, blue-eyed baby boy in need of a place to call home. He needed a mom, a dad, and a few siblings to grow alongside.

A few miles away was a family looking for a child to love forever. The family had a mom and a dad and two children searching for a child to coddle, wrestle, chase, kiss, and teach about the love of the King.

One day, after several months of seeking out such a child, the blonde-headed, blue-eyed baby bounced into their place of worship. He was safely held, that is,  in the arms of a family caring for him until such a time as he was matched with his forever family. For the daddy of the family in search of a baby, it was apprehensive love at first sight. For the mommy, it was a bit of confusion because she thought they were called to love a brown-haired, brown-eyed baby girl. More about her later as she wouldn’t come along for another year…but that would be getting ahead in the story.  After one visit with the baby boy in her home, the mommy, also, was forever in love with the blonde-haired, blue-eyed baby boy.

In fairy tales, evil always ensues before the damsel is rescued, the family reunited, or the kingdom saved. Real life mimics fairy tales because fairy tales mimic real life. This little boy’s story had many a dark and looming cloud.

For nine months the boy and the family grew to know and love one another. They shared firsts and celebrated milestones. The mommy and daddy, and the boy’s temporary family, sent e-mails, made phone calls, attended meetings, and petitioned judges before the blonde-haired, blue-eyed boy bounced into the family’s home to stay. (Only modern day stories include phone calls and emails, but they are no less valiant, mind you, than decrees and messengers riding through the night to save the kingdom, rescue the damsel, or reunite the family.)

All throughout these months, and the ones which would ensue, a host of people within the Kingdom began to pray and petition the King for the boy to be placed with this family. Countless men, women, and children throughout the land would ask the King to place the boy with the family forever, and, quickly! The petitions of the people were being heard and would be answered in time.

Shortly after the boy came to live with his soon-to-be family, the court discovered an error that had to be addressed for this story to turn a final page into the second portion of its tale. This error would take ten more months to come to light and, thereafter, be rectified.

All this time, the months were accumulating  while the boy was waiting for the royal proclamation to give him a family. It would be thirty months until the proclamation would be granted. Thirty months before the blonde-haired, blue-eyed boy would be given his royal name–that name which his family prays is already written in the scrolls of the Kingdom as in this kingdom. Thirty months until…forever.

Thirty months came and went before this big day arrived…

As the boy and his family experienced the declaring of the proclamation that would unite them for all of their life in this kingdom, they thought of how quickly the thirty months passed in retrospect. Like thirty balloons being lifted to the sky and released in a moment’s time with the wave of a hand, the loosing of a grip, the relinquishing of power.

The weight of the wait was intense and a load, at times, seemingly unbearable. But upon the royal decree, the weight instantly became as light as air. All the cares of the past were lifted away to be replaced by a focus on the future and on raising a knight for the Kingdom.

Lest you forget, fairy tales are full of woe before wonder, and this fairy tale will be like the others and, similarly, unlike. Good days and gloomy days lurk ahead, but this day was a day two kingdoms celebrated with thirty balloons and triumphant shouts filling the chasm between. Maybe, just maybe, one of those balloons reached the other side and greeted others who have waited in like fashion.

*This story is a prologue to another story still unfolding. If it weren’t for this one, the later would never be possible. Woe lurks, but wonder is on the other side. The Kingdom prays and the King whispers, Courage dear heart.


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12 Picture Books to Celebrate Your Adopted Child

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As we near the close of National Adoption Awareness Month, I would like to share one more book list. (Be sure and see this one I shared earlier in the month.) These books focus on your adopted child. To preface this list, no one book is going to tell your child’s story. For your child’s story is unique to them. The Bible will tell them the story God wants to write for them, and it will help your child deal with any troubling family histories–have you checked out Jesus’ genealogy lately? However, these picture books are tools and stepping stones to continuing the conversations that you have ongoing in your home. They can be, in the words of Linda Sue Park, mirrors and doors. Your child may see himself or herself reflected in these stories, or they may come to realize that there are children all over the world who are longing for a home. My three favorite are listed first.











As always, please share any other recommendations. I would love to gather picture books with adoption stories from Africa.

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The False Summits of Adoption

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In hiking, a false summit is the portion of the mountain that appears to be the highest point; however, upon reaching it, a mountaineer sees that the summit is higher. Unless prepared for such false summits, the effect on a hiker’s psychological state can be damaging.  So much so, that the she may give up and begin a disappointing descent.

In the summer of 2015, our then family of four hiked the majestic Manitou Incline in Manitou Springs Colorado. It was the most difficult hike to date that we have hiked as a family, and it has proven to provide so many parallels to obstacles we have faced in our adoption journey. The two-thousand feet gain in elevation over a mile at the front end of the hike was almost paralyzing to my psyche. I wasn’t sure we could complete this hike with success, but we ventured forth anyway. The people along the journey were so encouraging. They couldn’t believe that our five and seven year old children were attempting such a hike.

The real kicker came as we were approaching what seemed the top of the incline. Another hiker told us, its a false summit. The top is still a ways up. What? There was more? We had already had to make accommodations for one child to poop while on the trail (that was a first and only so far!) and our other child started off battling a bit of an asthmatic episode and had to be carried for part of the initial portion of the hike. A false summit! Okay, time for a snack and to regroup and prepare ourselves for the remainder of the journey to the summit.

In order to complete this hike we were on all fours, lifting children, encouraging children, and taking multiple breaks. The good news is… we made it! The victory welcome at the top from the other hikers is something our children will never forget; and I am almost positive, some of our fellow hikers will not forget either. In particular one man named Don.

Our adoption journey which we had temporarily laid down for nearly two years was reinitiated after we returned from that family vacation. That summer multiple videos were released which exposed Planned Parenthood for selling the body parts of aborted babies and killing them in such a way as to gain the most profit from their organs. These videos were the tipping point for us to take another step towards adoption. We had fostered for 13 months in the hopes that we would foster to adopt. However, our hearts were so wounded  and raw after the reunification of our foster son, that we knew a time of refreshing and regrouping as a family was necessary. As we all know, the Lord will not let us rest forever. That summer He was calling us back to the work of adoption and orphan care.

In July of 2015 we decided not to recertify as foster parents but to ask that we go straight into the adoption process. In short, much misinformation was communicated to us which has further complicated our adoption journey there on out. However, in September of 2015, through the fostering of a baby by friends of ours, we met a beautiful blonde-headed, blue-eyed boy that we are now in the final stages of adopting. For ten months we daily made multiple phone calls, sent numerous emails, and advocated on behalf of the best interest of this child before he was placed in our home as a pre-adoptive placement in July of 2016.

You may rush by that last sentence; but for us, the living out of those ten months was long and arduous.

With high hopes that the adoption would be finalized in October of this year (2016), we awaited the go ahead from the attorney to schedule the court date. We inched closer to the anticipated court date only to discover that our son was not yet free and clear for adoption, but that a paperwork error had occurred and we were essentially back to a holding period.

Was this a false summit, or merely a strenuous portion of our hike?

With that knowledge in mind, I boarded a plane in late September and went hiking for two days in breathtaking Washington State with a dear friend. No false summits in sight on our hikes, and so far, none our adoption journey.

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Until…

Two days after my return home, we were told that our adoptive son’s mother was pregnant and would give birth to his sibling within a month.

False summit identified.

Stunned, is probably a good word for our reaction to this news. Overjoyed, is the word for our children’s response! Little had we known that Emily, our oldest daughter had been fervently praying for a baby sister. Now, she saw that her dream was within reach.

So today, we find our family expanding–at least at present, and Lord willing forever- to a family of six. Emily was right, the baby is a girl. So as we ascend this (what we perceive to be) the final portion of the adoption summit, let our story be one that encourages and informs you. Few adoptions are expedient, and none are without loss and pain. False summits happen all the time in hiking and perhaps with more frequency in life.

We are looking forward to that mountain-top view. The summit shall surely be worth it. We anticipate sharing in the joy and telling the God moments. To God be the glory!

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Walking By Faith: Responding to the No and the Yes of Jesus

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Therefore the LORD waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the LORD is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him. And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or to the left. (Isaiah 30:18,21, ESV)

A few weeks ago, I was strolling alongside a newly-walking one-year-old. He had tired of simply watching the gymnastics lesson and wanted to try out some moves of his own. Instead of letting him onto the gym floor with my kids in class as he first attempted, I took him outside to walk on the sidewalk. I wanted to hold his hand to protect him from falling and getting yet another bump on his face. He’s gained the nickname “Bruiser” because of all his recent spills.

Needless to say, newly walking one-year-olds think they have the whole walking bit down. He didn’t want to hold my hand this time. He hadn’t asked for assistance, but rather, he had a taste for freedom.

As I grasped his hand and wouldn’t let go, I considered that all he was hearing was, no, no. 

No, don’t pull away from me.

Continue reading at iBelieve.

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The Big Ask: Are You Pregnant?

When Someone Asks If You're Pregnant and the Answer is No

The above picture is a current one of me, NOT PREGNANT. Have you ever been asked if you were pregnant when, clearly, you were not? Me too! Travel over to iBelieve today to see how to respond to this question with grace and truth. Because, let’s face it, the big ask stinks if the answer is a big no.

Read more here.

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$1.00 Texting Challenge

$1 Texting Challenge

Texting. Most of us text anywhere from several messages a day to, at minimum, a few a week. I am completely guilty of checking social media on my phone, reading articles, emailing, and texting while “stopped at red lights.” Often this is the case for when I am driving alone, or sadly, all too often when I am transporting my kids.

As of September 10, 2015, I will no longer be able to text or check my phone in the car without a fine. Why the abrupt and decisive change of mind? Please watch this video and you will see. (Click here if viewing in a reader.)

A video similar to this one produced by AT&T got my attention late one evening this week. It was a tipping point for me.

As of yesterday, my children, my husband, and frankly anyone riding with me, can charge me a dollar if they catch me using my phone while I am driving. Long live the passenger’s seat! The only exceptions are using my phone as a GPS or answering a phone call. Truthfully, even then I am going to be very selective as to answering phone calls.

Four years ago, I totaled my car while driving with my then one-year-old son and three-year-old daughter. A complete accident for which my family is eternally grateful that God saw us through safely. Thankfully, I was not using my phone at the time of the accident. I know what it is to be a wreck and I know that I don’t want any negligence on my part to ever endanger our children or anyone else trusting me with their life while I am behind the wheel.

Accidents will happen. However, there are many accidents that can be prevented.

Another reason that I believe this to be a necessary stance for myself is the witness factor to my children. I want to set the standard for what my elementary age children will be held to when they learn to drive. When it comes to the overuse of our phones, parents have the ultimate standards of hypocrisy. We don’t want our children on their devices, or ours, all of the time, and yet, we too find it difficult to put down the cell phone or tablet and live in real time. (Side note: I think that is one reason why I like books so much. My kids don’t have to guess if I am reading a book or the Bible when they see me holding onto a real book. I read enough articles on line and eBooks that I feel I have to explain that “mommy is reading” quite a bit.) Going hands free in the car will be an example that the kids can return to when they are held to that standard in the future.

So what about you? Will you take the $1 texting challenge for your car rides? My kids can’t wait to catch me texting. Little do they know my iron will isn’t going to budge!

Maybe you are single and don’t have children, or maybe you are an empty-nester. That’s okay! You can purpose your own tangible loss to forgo if you break your commitment to drive hands free.

Put the phone down and enjoy the ride!

If a man vows a vow to the LORD, or swears an oath to bind himself by a pledge, he shall not break his word. He shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth. ~Numbers 30:2

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What Your Pastor and His Wife Aren’t Telling You

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Perhaps you are familiar with Ruth Graham’s book, In Every Pew Sits a Broken Heart. You may be quick to nod in affirmation thinking, I have often worshiped with a broken heart among a congregation and friends who are unaware of my hurts and circumstances, for one reason or another. However, it may surprise you to realize the broken or discouraged heart of a brother or sister may be your pastor or his wife.

My husband has served in ministry prior to and all throughout our dating and married years. For the last fifteen years, we have served together in a handful of churches under differing roles and responsibilities. We have enjoyed sweet times serving with fellow staff and lay leaders and the visible fruit of changed lives. Other times, we have served alongside those who, it seemed, viewed us as the enemy or a stumbling block to the way they envisioned ministry should be carried out.

We encountered a situation like that in one of the first churches we served in. The most active couple in the youth ministry was also the most vocal couple in opposition to the direction my husband was taking the students. It seemed no matter what he did, this couple wasn’t pleased and wanted to let everyone know. Months after we left that church, the husband became the youth pastor. It is hard to please someone who wants your job and thinks they can do it better.

Please come read Five Things Your Pastor Wants You to Know But Might Never Tell You over here. Thanks for reading and let me know what you think.

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Homeland: A Christmas Series

Homeland Part 1

When I was young in the mountains, I never wanted to go to the ocean, and I never wanted to go to the desert. I never wanted to go anywhere else in the world, for I was in the mountains. And that was always enough. (Cynthia Rylant, When I Was Young in the Mountains)

I have spoken to several men and women whom desire to live in a different place than where they are. Admittedly, several times in a given week or month, I am one of them. I often love the place I live and other moments I desire a grand adventure far, far away. This phenomena has prompted me to contemplate whether this is a perspective shared by historical accounts of men and women documented in the Bible. So far my search has turned up empty.

I believe the desire for novelty and adventure are good, and God-given, but I also wrestle with the reality that it can be a sign of ingratitude, discontent, and a blinding of my eyes to the mission God has given in the present, to the gifts of here and now. This Christmas God has guided my thoughts on the matter to the account of the shepherds and the wise men.

There are two groups of men that were called to worship and witness the Christ-child: the shepherds and the wise men. The shepherds traveled walking distance to witness the new born King of Kings. These men, by vocation, were homebodies often sleeping among the sheep they guarded and never going far from their flock.

And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.  (Luke 2:17-18, ESV)

Conversely, the wise men traveled up to two years to witness the Messiah. Their journey started when they saw the star rise and set out to worship him.

When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.  And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasure, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. (Matthew 2:10-11, ESV)

In considering the missions of both these two vastly different groups of men, a few similarities stand out:

  • Their mission was to find the Christ and worship Him.
  • They were given a sign to know that they had found the Messiah.
  • They obeyed their assignment.
  • Their response was worship and joy.

Whether shepherd or wise man, pauper or prince, native or foreigner, those that are in Christ Jesus are each traveling to the same homeland. They are each integral parts to the story of the world, redemption, and the promised restoration of God’s creation. We each work in our areas of influence so that it too can be said of us as the cloud of witnesses in Hebrews 11:

For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. (Hebrews 11:14-16, ESV, emphasis mine)

Shepherds heeded the heralding angels and the wise men followed the star; we are all called to follow the King. Each of us as part of the story should look to our homeland and work toward that same end. Let us find something in our surroundings today to be grateful for and to recognize the hand of God in our adventures near or far.

Have you encountered any men or women in the Bible who desired a grand adventure away from the place they were living? I would love to hear your answers if so. You can leave a comment below or e-mail me at Brooke.Cooney.1@gmail.com.

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A Letter to My Younger Self on Adoption

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I know you will remember a time in your childhood when you wondered if you were adopted. Never mind that you look like your parents and laugh at your own jokes exactly like they both do; but, just the same, you will wonder if you were adopted and never told. You will naturally gravitate towards books about orphans.

This is the planting of a seed.

Next, you will have a desire to adopt. You will make this a topic of priority with your fiancé and subsequent husband. Being the Type A planner that you are, even a few months into trying to start a family, you will again give adoption consideration and state, “If we can’t conceive on our own we will adopt.”

This is the watering of a dream.

Two kids, and a few years later, you will read Kisses from Katie and determine that if a twenty-something woman from Tennessee can adopt and foster children on her own in a foreign country, then surely you can foster one child on the way to adoption.

This is sunlight upon fertile soil.

Next you will complete the nearly 10 months of work that it takes to train and paper-approve families to foster. It will be a never ending cycle to prove your family fit to parent a child not your own. You will complain and you will wonder why on earth it will take so much to do a good deed.

This is the breaking forth of a seed out of the dark soil into the sun. 

At last, when you thought the day would never come, you will get the call to pick up your foster son. You will go expectantly with his Thomas the Train backpack and snuggle animal from Target. Then you will meet a child who your heart will forever call son. He will be blonde and beautiful and wild and covered in spaghetti sauce and you will have many long days ahead of you.

This will be the stalk rising from the ground.

For 13 months you will labor, love, and advocate on this child’s behalf. You will sing to him, Jesus Loves Me, and do all the things a mother does. You will watch every single person around you love this little boy like he was your very own son—because in many ways he forever will be your son. You will train him in the way that he should go and pray on his behalf.

This will be the wheat ripe for harvest.  

Finally, at the end of 13 months, you will say good-bye to your little boy as he is reunited with his biological family. It will be one of the hardest and perhaps the most impactful goodbyes you will ever say.

This will be the kernel falling to the ground. 

Months will pass, tears will fall, a new normal will encompass your days, and you will wonder how you ever did it all. You will wonder: can I ever do that again? The answer will not come right away–at least not the answer you think others will expect. But in all the waiting, you will say: Loving another child changed my lifemaybe the world in some small way. Then you will tell his story, your story, so that other families may open their homes to make the difference in the life of a child.

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

John 12:24

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