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First, get a couple of four year olds together. Oh, and grab your ingredients, too.

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Then walk away while your four year olds try to sneak some chocolate chips, unsuccessfully pretend they are NOT doing so, and then eat them anyway.

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Tell them they can lick the bowl. Regret that decision immediately

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Immediately put said children in the bathtub and continue without them.

Come dangerously close to using flour instead of powdered sugar.

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Make a giant mess.

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Release children from bathtub. Enjoy.

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(This tutorial brought to you by Christmas time at the Hughes house.)

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When I was pregnant with Reagan, I had no idea what to expect, and therefore had very few expectations. The ones I did have were quickly dashed to pieces when I had her. That’s the way it works with your first. Because you cannot possibly imagine what it’s like to have a baby of your own until you have one. No matter how much experience you have with others’ babies, nothing can prepare you for it.

With Charlotte, though, I’ll admit that I kind of felt I knew what to expect. And in many ways my expectations were correct. But one completely irrational assumption I had was that Charlotte would be a boy. I know that’s crazy. I know there was as much chance she’d be a girl as that she’d be a boy. But I have 2 younger brothers and so I just had it in my head that she’d be a boy. So when the ultrasound showed up “girl” (because I have no interest in waiting an extra 4 months to find out what I’m having) I was like, “wait, what?”

Sisters?? Two girls, 19 months apart? I have no categories for this. I immediately went to the teenage years in my head. What will THAT be like? How am I going to deal with the hormones and insecurities and drama of not just one girl, but two? Then, three years later, we added Eva into the mix and now I have three girls within two years of each other. Oh, Jesus help us.

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When I survey the cultural climate of our age, I can grow very anxious about raising girls into womanhood. I know they are still young and yet I also know that Reagan is six and that pregnancy feels like yesterday. Now I know that anxiety is never good, but I do think there is wisdom in preparing now for what’s ahead. In being aware of and prayerfully considering what my girls will be facing as they enter adolescence and adulthood.

One prevailing issue for young women (and older women, if we’re honest) is the issue of beauty. I won’t go into the whole “the media is ruining our image of beauty with photoshop” thing. Although I do think you should be aware that you are being offered a completely unattainable and impossible image to which to aspire. However, I think the more dangerous issue for Christian women is that we have allowed this to become part of our conversation in an unholy and unedifying way. And this can lead to a subtle hypocrisy.

Think about your conversations with your closest friends. How often do you discuss your external appearance? Exercise, weight loss, diet, hair style, makeup, the post-baby belly, that flab on your arms, needing new clothes, wishing you could get a tummy tuck, etc. Know that I point the finger at myself when I say this. I am part of the problem. And for the sake of my daughters, and for the sake of my own heart, I want this to change.

Here’s what Peter has to say, “Let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.” (1 Peter 3:4)

It occurs to me that I can teach my daughters the importance of this scripture while simultaneously undoing that teaching if they don’t see it taking root in my own heart. Because one thing is for sure, they are always listening, and they will hear that talk about exercise, dieting, etc.

I recently had a conversation with a friend about insecurity and body image and I admitted to her that I actually have always had a fairly healthy view of my body. Now please know that I’m as tempted as anyone to obsess about getting to the perfect weight or having the right clothes. I’m not boasting here. But as I was talking to her I realized how much I have my own mother to thank for the fact that it’s not as consuming for me as it is for many women.

I believe my mom did two very important things for me when I was growing up. First, external appearance was just never a big conversation topic. She never once brought up to me the fact that I had gained a few pounds or was maybe a little behind in fashion.  Now, if I brought it up, she gladly talked about it. But it was usually to encourage me to be content and not worry too much about it. And when I lost a bunch of weight running on the cross country team she didn’t make a big deal about that either. It just wasn’t the most important thing. And the second thing she did is she modeled this for me. I cannot recall my mother every talking about her own weight, worrying about her own appearance, wishing she could look different, comparing herself to other women.

It’s funny, both my mom and I are healthier now than we’ve ever been. We send each other iPhone screen shots of our most recent runs. We probably have better fashion sense than we’ve ever had. We shop together and keep each other from buying hideous things. We discuss hair styles and make-up. But it’s just not, and has never been, the main thing. And she helps me to remember that. A few weeks ago I lamented to her, via text, that I’d spotted my first vein on my leg. And she laughingly replied, “Badge of honor!”

This past week Josh preached on hypocrisy in the early church, what a deadly, insidious thing it is. I don’t want my daughters to hear me preach the importance of inner beauty, and then see me obsessing about my external beauty. This is confusing and harmful. Instead I want them to see what I saw in my mom. Contentment. A willingness to laugh about it all. A lack of worry. Seeing this in her went a long way with me.

My prayer for myself is the same as my prayer for my daughters. That in the face of every sort of temptation to obsess about outer beauty they, and I, would see Jesus and find contentment, quiet. That their hearts would find satisfaction not in how they look but in who Jesus would create them to be. May His pleasure be our delight, friends.

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October Reading

Oct
2014
12

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The last time I posted about what I’m reading was April. April. You might think that’s just because I forgot to post but it’s more like because I forgot to read. Even the most avid reader has to go ahead and accept that sometimes daily life leaves you with just enough mental energy to watch a little Gilmore Girls at the end of the day before falling into a coma.

In all seriousness thought I did have a crazy summer and first month of school during which very little reading was happening. However, I did squeeze in one book in August that I truly LOVED. There is a handful of books that I go back to again and again and this book has definitely made that short list. At the Women’s Gospel Coalition conference this past June I picked up Idols of the HeartLearning to Long for God Alone by Elyse Fitzpatrick. It was the title that attracted me. I don’t know about you but it seems that everywhere I look there is an idol of some sort enticing me to abandon love for my Savior in favor of its empty promise of fulfillment.

This book went beyond what I expected. For me, it just really got into the heart of the matter when it comes to idolatry and how it invades and infects our lives as believers. And then it provided all of the hope that comes with the Gospel promise that Jesus is indeed enough. It caused me to think deeply about where my idols lie and about how to effectively fight against them. This book is deep, encouraging, practical. And then on top of all that it has really helpful discussion questions/extra Scripture reading at the end of each chapter. The kind that really do deepen your understanding of what you’re reading.

Perhaps the biggest thing I took away from my reading of Idols is a new perspective on the freedom that is ours in Christ. In her chapter entitled Willing to Obey, Fitzpatrick says,

Once a person becomes a Christian, he has liberty. Unlike his old self, whose choice was always toward sin, he is now able to choose to sin or not sin. Both of these choices are a possibility. When his heart is so inclined, when he’s convinced of the goodness of it, and when he longs for the Lord and the joy of bringing Him pleasure, he chooses to obey Him. He’s no longer a slave to sin in the same way that he was before he was saved. Before he was saved there was only one possible outcome in every choice: he was going to sin. But now that he has a new heart, there are two possibilities. He can sin or he con not sin, freely choosing, according to his desires.

This is one of those things that I “knew” but had kind of lost sight of. I used to be a slave to sin, but have been set free to choose what I never would have before. The heart is deceptive and we become easily convinced that it is the other way around. That the sin we left behind is where freedom is found and the righteousness we’re called to is slavery. To be a Christian is to be a liberated slave who never has to go back to that life. What amazing news. What a wonderful reminder.

So, as you can see, I highly recommend this book.

And even though I’m sure I’ve mentioned Future Grace by John Piper before I’m just going to go ahead and tell you again that you want this book in your library. I went back through various chapters from it over the last 6 months. It had, and continues to have, a huge impact on my life. This is one of the books I mentioned above, that I just continue to go back to. You won’t regret owning this one.

As for what I’m reading now, there are a couple of books on my list to finish this month. The first is A Meal with Jesus: Discovering Grace, Community & Mission around the Table by Tim Chester. Josh and I are in a little supper club and are reading this book with that group. Sharing a meal is such a foundational piece of the church community and of society as a whole.  I’m really looking forward to reading this and having a deeper understanding of why that is. And it doesn’t hurt that we’ll be discussing this book over a great meal with friends in a few weeks. Perfect.

And lastly, I’m in the middle of reading Eight Twenty Eight: When Love Didn’t Give Up, by Ian and Larissa Murphy. Ian and Larissa’s story became rather well-known through social media and their blog, Pray for Ian. You can read a synopsis of it here. I’ve followed their story over the last few years, and it is an inspiring one. But I am finding in reading Larissa’s very honest writing that it is also a very real story. She shares the ups and downs of loving and following Christ and her husband through tragedy and hardship. I am so glad I’m reading it and encourage you to pick it up as well.

Hope these suggestions encourage you to continue reading as well. Or to put it down for a few months because life is crazy. Because that’s okay too.

Good News

Sep
2014
22

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It’s easy, as a mom, to get bogged down in the details. I lose sight of the main point of it all, to point my kids to Jesus. I get too worried about silly things like the fact that they are, as I type this, eating chicken nuggets for dinner. Again. Or that there is a strange pee-like smell in this house and I can’t figure out where it’s coming from. I stop to pray, only to be sucked into an argument between two of my offspring and all thoughts of holiness and delighting in Christ flying out of my brain in a millisecond. I grow weary and want to just sit and put my feet up and stop trying. I fear that all of the mistakes I make on the daily are just  completely screwing my kids up. And then this…

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The book of Jesus

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One day a girl

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Had good news

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She was going to have a baby (was curious about this picture…asked Reagan to explain. It’s Joseph dreaming about the baby. Kinda relieved it’s not Mary in labor)

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The baby was gonna die on a cross

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Then He was going to be buried in a tomb

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Then He rose up to heaven

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Jesus died on the cross for our sins He loves us He is the best person in the world.

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This is what all the hard work is for, friends. Don’t grow weary of doing good. Especially with your children. There are eternal seeds being sewn and the moment will come when you see that they are GETTING it. And beyond this God can use your own children to remind you that you have a Savior who LOVES you and He is the BEST. Don’t lose sight of the good news in the midst of the details. It’s the point of it all.

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I know the rest of the nation is all “Yay! Fall! Pumpkins! Leaves!” But we down here in Florida are sitting in our heavily air conditioned houses praying that this is the day that the high goes below 90. While it’s a little depressing that fall is still a ways away, it’s comforting that we live less than 2 hours from a good beach and can still go there for the time being. And, to be perfectly honest, I think snow is horrid so I’ll take it. Here’s to you, Florida! I might never see a leaf change color but at least I’ll never have to shovel a driveway.

This weekend we decided to embrace the heat and went to the beach with our new, dear friends. The weather was perfect, the water was warm, the kids actually had fun for the most part. And we adults actually found time to talk off and on! So even though I’m pretty sure I’ll never get all of the sand out of our van, I’ll call it a success.

Near the end of our afternoon the wind started to pick up and our blue beach ball couldn’t stand up against it and started rolling up the beach. Titus saw this and immediately went after the ball. What followed was a hilarious, Sisyphus-like endeavor to retrieve the ball and return it to our spot. He’d just run and run after that thing, get a hold of it, come back, lose it again, rinse and repeat. We kept saying, “where’s Titus?” And then we’d spot a little dot, way down the beach, patiently running after that ball.

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The thing that really struck me about this endeavor was Titus’ attitude about it all. That he simply found pleasure in chasing after this ball. He never grew frustrated when it slipped out of his hands again, working it’s way just out of reach. He just turned around and went after the thing again.

I cannot imagine a better metaphor for motherhood. You guys, I’m so tired right now. I do the SAME THING EVERY DAY. And it so often feels pointless. Why strive to clean a house that will be completely dismantled in 15 minutes after the kids get home? Why do another load of laundry when I know there will be a new load to do again tomorrow?

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(And this, remarkably, is only about half of it)

The dishwasher always need to be emptied. The schoolwork must always be checked. Dinner demands to be made. Snacks bagged, lunches made, coffee pot set, clothes laid out. Constantly fighting the same battles, teaching the same lessons, disciplining for the same offenses. It is incredibly redundant, is it not? Just when I think I’ve pinned even one of these things down, the wind of life picks it up and blows it out of my grasp and I’m scrambling to get it back.

So I’m watching Titus yesterday and all I can think is, “God, I just want to have that joy again. Can I just do the task and be pleased? Why must I always be weary? Did you not intend for me to find joy in doing my job?” Too often when I feel this way I try to change my approach. Do I need a new system? Do I need to change our routine? Do we need to try a new method? There’s a place for making those sorts of changes, of course. But in the end my job is still my job. When I focus on the approach I miss the real crux of the matter. It is not the jobs that are making me weary. It’s the orientation of my heart. If the source that fuels all of these activities is wrong, the joy is gone.

“These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:11)

Full joy. That’s what He wants for His followers! But of course that verse alone makes no sense. You’ve got to know what He spoke to them, to us. Look at these preceding verses.

“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.”

These are hard words to understand, harder to follow. And yet this is where full joy is found. We obey. Of course we obey. We do our jobs. We fulfill our calling as followers of Christ, working hard to raise our kids to love Him, creating a home that is a haven and a place for ministry to happen, meeting the needs of husbands and children and friends and neighbors. But we don’t just obey. We abide. When you obey without abiding, the joy disappears.

Friends, are you abiding? A good way to find the answer to that question is to ask yourself if you have joy when you obey. When I feel frustrated because it seems that all I do is chase that stupid beach ball to no avail, it is because I am forgetting to “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” I’m forgetting to sit at Jesus’ feet like Mary, thinking only of serving like Martha. He wants the sitting and the serving. He wants the abiding and obeying.

So now I’m sitting here looking at all that needs to be done this week. The calendar and the emails are all pulled up on my screen and the laundry is piled up on the couch and I forgot to take dinner out of the freezer and Titus is running around in his undies and Reagan has been playing video games for way too long. This is the moment when all the obeying in the world will do me no good. I’ve got to abide, too. Maybe before I address all that I’ll just soak up the grace of His wonderful Word before diving back in.

Farewell 20s

Jul
2014
28

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This year I am turning 30 and because I have such a sweet, affectionate husband I am sitting on a balcony in Destin enjoying a little bit of R&R to celebrate. Technically my birthday is next Sunday but when you’re an adult you don’t really get to make a big deal about YOUR DAY anymore. On my actual birthday Josh will be preaching and we’ll just have a normal day. (Incidentally he also preached on Mother’s Day and he has a meeting on the night of our anniversary next week. There is a lot of celebrating before or after this year.)

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(Here we are at Bud and Alley’s Taco Bar. Eating Tacos. By ourselves. Glory.)

So we’re here, relaxing. Doing all the things parents do when they have  a brief respite from family demands. Sleeping in. Taking forever to eat a meal. Laying by the pool without worrying about someone drowning. Reading without interruption. Going for a jog. OK going for a jog might not sound restful but it’s kind of fun to just decide to go for a run when you feel like it. Plus I just got new purple running shoes and I don’t care how old you are, new shoes are exciting. Especially if they are purple. So obviously I had to take them for a spin.

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Speaking of shoes and birthdays, I so vividly remember the awesome floral Keds I got for my 7th birthday. I’m sure my parents have no recollection of this but I LOVED THOSE SHOES. And we went to Chuck E. Cheese and watched The Great Mouse Detective, which had just come out on VHS. And that is all I remember from my 7th year of life. Think about that, parents, when you are creating all those precious memories.

Anyway, one of the great things about these 4 days is being able to hit the pause button and let myself think. With all the small kids and the daily demands I often don’t really have much time with my thoughts during the day. It’s only when they go to bed that I’m able to stop and think and by then my thoughts look something like “I should probably…I think I need to…wasn’t there something?…Oh never mind I’m going to bed.” And by the way, if you’re wondering why I haven’t written much over the summer it’s because during the school year I often wrote my blog posts on the mornings when all my kids were in school. Because my brain works at 10am. But no one really wants me to write after 7pm. Trust me.

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(Sitting on the balcony. Thinking all the thoughts.)

I’ve been thinking about turning 30 and about the last decade of my life. Don’t worry, I’m not about to get all existential and “what is the meaning of life?” on you. The end of Ecclesiates kind of answers that question for you anyway. But I do think it’s good to look back and see all that God has done. The truth is that my 20s were not at all what I expected them to be. My 19 year old self had a lot of ideas about what that decade would be like. There were 2 tracks I envisioned, and neither held marriage or children. I always feel a little guilty about that, because for so many that’s the dream. But if I’m being completely honest I didn’t want to get married young. I wanted to live my life first. I wanted to go to grad school and work for a publishing company. Or I wanted to go work with high school students somewhere, because the woman I admired most at the time (and still do) did that and she loved Jesus more than anyone I knew. And so I wanted to be like her. Either way, I wasn’t looking for my MRS degree and I wasn’t even sure how I felt about children. I just knew there were some things I thought I’d enjoy doing and I wanted to do them before I started the whole “family” thing.

That was the year I met Josh, who turned my world upside down and challenged me to really think about who God was calling me to be through His Word and His Church. Not through some arbitrary ideas I had spiritualized in my heart. With Josh my whole trajectory changed. I was married by 21. I became a Pastor’s wife at 22 when my husband left his successful career to answer the call. I had my first baby at 24, my second at 25, which meant I basically had 2 babies. And at 28 I flew to Uganda to adopt 2 more. In 10 years I’ve basically ended up going as hard and as fast as I could in the opposite direction of what I had planned.

Now I know that many would say, “Yeah, but that’s kind of the dream life.” And you’re right. It’s a beautiful life and I know now how much I should have wanted it. But I don’t want to trivialize the fact that it is God Who made me want the life He’s given me. We often sing the old hymn, “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty,” at church and I am always struck by that line, “Hast thou not seen how thy desires e’er have been granted in what He ordaineth.” What an odd thing to say, that our desires are met in what God ordains. And yet this is the story of the Christian life, as we are transformed “from one degree of glory to the next.” He doesn’t just meet our desires, He transforms them into the desires He has for us.

What I wanted for myself was not necessarily bad. A fun career is not bad. A life of ministry is certainly the opposite of bad. And yet God had something better for me than my plans. Not better because it makes me happier. Although that’s true sometimes. But sometimes I am sacrificing all of my time and energy for 4 small ones and it seems like more than one person can do. And I dream of that old dream of mine. No, it’s better because it’s what He wants. He knew how selfish I would be if I got all I wanted. He knew that mixed in with the good desires for success and influence were bad desires for isolation and self-exaltation. He knew that this life He’s given me would lead me deeper into confession, repentance, dependency and holiness.

So as I leave those unexpectedly amazing 20s behind I am filled with gratitude for God’s all-surpassing wisdom and kindness. And I look ahead to 10 more years of all of my desires being met under His sovereign care.

A Year Ago

Jul
2014
10

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I haven’t written in a while because May and June were this crazy, unexpected whirlwind of exhaustion. I could go on and on about it but honestly it’s kind of a boring story. Josh injured himself playing basketball, he had surgery on the last day of school and I spent the first 2 weeks of the summer with all 4 kids home and Josh recovering in bed. Suffice to say, it was a rough couple of weeks. But hello July! A new month and new mercies!

July is exciting because guess what was happening exactly one year ago today? I was flying home from Uganda. This seems impossible to believe, but it’s true. On June 13 we celebrated a year of Eva and Titus being ours. That was the day that we sat in that stifling courtroom in Kampala and Eva and Titus (then Matrin and Derrick) sat in my lap as their birth mother agreed to sign over her rights and prayed a blessing over us. There was weeping and exhaustion and a lot of “what now?” Followed by a month of “who knows when we’ll go home?” as we waited and waited for everything to be finalized.

So even though June 13 is THE date, July to me is THE month. Because July was when we began to become a family. When Eva and Titus began to see that this was forever. When Eva and Titus met Reagan and Charlie and they became Eva and Reagan and Charlie and Titus.  When we could finally focus on getting to know each other better and on settling in and on learning what this new family of ours would look like. And even though it was crazy and exhausting, July of 2013 was, for me, a GOOD month. It was full of hope and promise and future.

Josh and I have been really awestruck as we have considered lately all that God accomplished in this last year. The year itself was so full and so all-day-every-day adjusting that I think we’re just now taking a breath and truly seeing all the miracles. I could write pages and pages of miracles but here are just a few examples of the seemingly impossible changes that have taken place.

A year ago all Reagan wanted was for her brand new sister, Eva, to be her best friend. But Eva was afraid and threatened and wanted little to do with Reagan. She stuck close to her brother and kept her new sisters at arms length. A few weeks ago Reagan and Eva ran into the room to announce to me that on our vacation they were going to share a room and Charlie and Titus would share the other room. They spent our vacation playing and swimming together and snuggling at night as they watched Disney Junior in bed.

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A year ago the only things Eva and Titus could say in English were “How are you?” and “I’m Fineeeee.” Now they both speak in complete sentences, sometimes paragraphs, and have completely lost their old language. ONE year. Unbelievable.

A year ago Titus was still toddling around like a baby because he had been held most of his life. His belly was so distended that I honestly didn’t know how the kid kept himself upright sometimes. Now he runs and plays and looks like a little man.

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A year ago he was so serious all the time and he barely laughed. Now he cracks jokes and belly laughs all day long. Even when I want him to be serious he’s smiling that mischievous smile at me.

A year ago when Eva was corrected for bad behavior she would hide her head in her arms and weep silently, sometimes for hours. Now when Eva is corrected she can articulate not just what she’s done wrong, but that she’s sorry, and that she knows mommy and daddy love her.

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A year ago Reagan and Charlotte were excited about these new siblings but pretty attached to each other and usually playing on their own. Now Reagan often pairs off with Eva and Charlotte often pairs off with Titus. And more often than not they are simply altogether making the most imaginably loud racket and having the time of their lives.

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A year ago the water was terrifying and Eva and Titus were clinging to the steps. And now, this…

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This moment, them jumping into the pool with abandon. This was the moment for me when I said, “Wow. Wow, God. Look at what you’ve done.” These are not even the same children. They are not orphans at all. Not even a little. They are Hugheses through and through and they know it.

And I can’t help but think, as I often do, of how this adoption of ours continues to deepen my understanding of the Gospel. It would be easy to see all of these little changes and look at them as the natural progression of things. To say that they were bound to adjust eventually and learn how to be a part of this family. But the truth is that things could have just as easily remained stagnant were God not opening their little hearts to understand love and trust and hope.  In the same way I can look at my own growth and think, yes, of course I’ve changed. But I am like my formerly orphaned children. Had God not reached in and adopted me, were it not for His daily, consistent, faithful fathering, there would be no change. Every change in me is a miracle, too.

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