practice practice practice

Monday, February 28, 2011

Why is the counting of gifts so hard? Is it true that I will get better with practice? I find it so hard, in the middle of everything painful and ugly, to take the time to count the gifts. My question this week is: what do my children see? Do they see my efforts? Or will they only remember the yelling, the anger, the rage-filled moments? I want them to know what's happening in my soul. I want them to see that lived out in my life. So my prayer is that I become better at it! That God continues to shape and refine me through this. That practice really does make perfect. (or at least gets me closer than I would be otherwise)

This week, I practice counting the gifts.

88. steaming bowls of black beans and brown rice
89. electric blankets
90. giggling babies
91. the access afforded me through prayer
92. Francis Chan and others who are living public lives, yet still with integrity
93. a father-children Sunday morning doughnut run
94. the rumble of thunder
95. the steadiness of rain

a day late, but still counting

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

80. newer reliable transportation
81. unexpected "fully loaded" options
82. a bluejay perched on a barren winter twig
83. warm breezes promising of spring
84. happy children playing outdoors - FINALLY
85. early bedtimes
86. the encouragement of others who truly understand what our lives are like, what we're going through
87. heated leather seats

while I should be folding laundry...

Sunday, February 20, 2011

We bought a new van this week. Well, new to us. Not the newest vehicle we've ever owned, as we realized that we bought a 2-year-old car many, many moons ago, but it is definitely the fanciest. When those people ordered their new van back in 2005, the salesman asked them what options they wanted, and they said, "All of them." We didn't look for a fully-loaded vehicle, but it just happened to be the one we could afford. I personally prefer cloth seats to leather as a general rule, and I don't particularly care for built-in DVD players. In spite of my 'preferences', this is the van we found and could afford.

As a result, I am simultaneously infatuated with and terrified by the van. I'm infatuated with the sunroof, the JBL speakers, the automatic sliding doors, the remote that can open any door on the car including the trunk, and all 500 of the storage compartments. But most of all, I am in love with my heated leather seats. All that's lovely and sweet in this world, I did not know heated leather seats were so fantastic. I feel like someone has been keeping this from me purposefully. My hiney (spellcheck does not like this word. how do you spell it?) is so, so toasty warm and happy on cold days now. I'm almost dreading the arrival of spring which will render my heated leather seats unusable.

I am terrified by the back-up camera. What do I watch? Do I look in the mirrors like normal? Do I watch the back-up camera? I end up just flitting my eyes from mirror to camera to mirror to camera, and I'm pretty sure I'm worse in reverse (ha!) than I was before the fancy-schmancy camera. Our mechanic friend told us that they are mandatory in all cars beginning in 2013 or 2014, I can't remember which. I anticipate many back-up accidents.

I am also terrified by the built-in nav system. I don't know how to use it well, it's a little bit outdated, and you can't use it while driving. Which I understand is a safety feature, but I really want to be able to input an address while Wendell is driving. Irritating. Most of my terror is, however, centered over the fact that nearly every single thing in this van is driven by an electric motor. One that can break. One that will likely be more expensive than our entire old van. Thus why we bought the service package, but you know that as soon as something does break, it'll be on that list of 'non-covered' items.

The kids are thrilled beyond belief. When we showed them the button that operated the sliding door, Ben gasped and put his hands over his mouth. Maggie applauded. Literal applause. They thanked us no less than 18 dozen times for buying them this van. (Did I mention the built-in DVD player?) Baby R giggled and pointed when the movie played while driving the other day. Mr. B, however, is a little less enthralled. He's scared by the sunroof. He told me he could see trees and asked me to close it. When you have so many children, however, 3 out of 4 is good enough for us.

I would say that we didn't really buy the minivan for the kids, but it turns out we kind of did. If we had no children, we would totally be driving a car.

In unrelated news, Maggie has started using the word 'pussycat' as an exclamation of sorts. Negative and positive.
As in, "Maggie, you can't watch TV right now."....."Pussycat!"

"Maggie, do you like your dinner?"...."Pussycat! this is good!"
I find it hilarious. W wants it to stop. Pussycat! I do not know how we will solve this.


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

This week, I'm praying kindness for my children. This is an area that our entire family is trying to work on, but especially for our kids, we desperately want them to grow up to be kind. One of my favorite quotes has always been, "It's better to be kind than to be right." I think it's because I really like to be right, and I need this continual reminder.

Ben and I have been working on this memory verse lately:
"God loves you and has chosen you as his own special people. So be gentle, kind, humble, meek, and patient. Put up with each other, and forgive anyone who does you wrong, just as Christ has forgiven you. Love is more important than anything else. It is what ties everything completely together."
Colossians 3:12-14

I'm not quite finished with this verse, but this morning, I decided that this verse would be our next memory verse:
"Stop being bitter and angry and mad at others. Don’t yell at one another or curse each other or ever be rude. Instead, be kind and merciful, and forgive others, just as God forgave you because of Christ."
Ephesians 4:31-32

I like memorizing verses, especially ones that I'm really familiar with, in different versions. It helps to keep it fresh for me. I tend to think about what the verse means when the words are slightly different from the verse that I memorized as a child.

I'm thinking about trying some sort of poster with the verses on them. I write my verses on index cards and place them all over the house, but it's hard for the kids to see that sometimes. So maybe a poster will be the way to go for that. Mostly, I'm just tired of Ben ripping my index card off the desk where I've taped it to read the verse better.

I'm trying to do better at getting God's Word deep into my children's hearts. Our current Sunday School curriculum is fantastic for this because so many of the songs are just the memory verses set to music. The kids love it, and I love that God's Word is in their little brains without us having to work at it and without them even realizing it! The Word has power - even to change little children's (and their mama's!!) unkind words and deeds.

why Valentine's Day is important (plus a love letter)

Monday, February 14, 2011

I love Valentine's Day. Always have. Always will. And none of that 'this is a Hallmark holiday' junk. It's just not factual. I have always enjoyed Valentine's Day, and I have still had more years without a romantic Valentine than with (barely though). I looked forward to it growing up because I always received a Valentine from my Grandpa. Always with candy. Now one of my most treasured traditions is my flower from my papa. Every year, all of the girls get a flower. Last year was Maggie's first flower year, and she was ecstatic again this year to get her flower. Kept asking to touch it. Then she carried it around for a good 5 minutes once we got home last night just looking at it and smiling and talking about it. It is not hard to make someone feel loved.

The junior high group at our church sold flower arrangements this year, and one of the most special things that I've seen all year was one of the young men in our church buying two arrangements for his friends. Girls, yes, but they are friends. True friends. It is one of the most tender, generous things I've seen in awhile. Makes me all teary just to think about it. Probably good he'll never read this or he'd be embarrassed, but the woman who marries him is going to get a true treasure.
Brief commercial break:  Should you need some flowers for your friends, or your wedding, or anything else for that matter, feel free to look here: TK Floral Designs. You will not be disappointed. (Plus, she's my bff, and I love her. It's possible I'm biased, but I doubt it. She's just good at what she does.)
Edited to add: I just got my very own arrangement from her. Well, from my husband. She made it. With my wedding flowers. I'm a happy girl.

And as promised, a love letter:
When you and I were wed, I thought all would be well. For always. And it wasn't. It hasn't all been good, it hasn't all been happy, but it has all been worth it. Even today, in one of the darkest places I feel like we've ever been, we're there together.When I look at you, I see light. I love you more on this Valentine's Day than I ever dreamed possible in those first few years. Our relationship has depth that few have, our connection is stronger than most will ever know, and your love for me is the greatest gift that I've ever been given.

Above all, I'm thankful that we claimed certain truths for our marriage and our lives, like this one: "Life has taught us that love does not consist in gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction." (Antoine de Saint-Exupert) I love that we are looking outward in the same direction. Having shared purpose, having shared ministry has made us stronger than we could've been otherwise.

You are a better man than you were when I married you, a much better man than I deserve. You are kind, compassionate, gentle yet strong, tender yet tough - the perfect balance. You make me want to be a better mama, a better wife, a better person. Thank you for the million unseen and under-appreciated things you do to make our family work, to keep us safe, to provide for us, to protect us, and make us feel loved.

I wouldn't trade this life we've built for anything. God has built our family in ways I never dreamed. God has made our marriage into something better than I imagined. I believe our family is starting, just a little bit more every single day, to look a little like Jesus. And I want it just this way. May our lives, our family, and most especially, our marriage continue to reflect God's glory,

As every Monday, God's love notes to me:
65. quiet snow falling
66. the power of a kind word, like soothing honey
67. glaring sunshine, reflecting off of freshly fallen snow
68. the quiet of the morning, while children are still sleeping
69.small children, yet faithful in prayer
70. breathing in grace like air
71. the joy of children welcoming their father home
72. safety from what could have been a terrible accident
73. a cousin willing to give up his lunch hour to help me jump-start my van
74. kind-hearted friends, generous and tender
75. my Valentine's flower from my Papa
76. emotional regulation in a struggling child
77. a friend who truly loves me, enough to truly know me
78. a husband who is a student of his wife (and a good student, at that!)
79. celebrating love with my family

a better story

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

We have to trust that our stories deserve to be told. We may discover that the better we tell our stories the better we will want to live them.
~Henri Nouwen

I think that part of what brought me here, to this place, to this online thing that a lot of people just don't get, is my desire to live a better story. This quote resonates with me in a way that I can not even describe. I've been sitting with this idea of a better story for quite some time. This seed was planted in my heart when I first read A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller. When he talked about our stories, one of the things that stuck with me was essentially this idea: if you don't like how your story is being lived, then live a better story! Especially during this season of my life, is my story being told, is my story being lived in a 'better' way?

I've finally received some clarity for part of my story. No secret that I am in love with Ann Voskamp's book One Thousand Gifts. Not everyone responds in the same way to the same books, and I'm the first to admit that some of the previous 'hot' Christian books I did not find impacting at all. Thus, I wondered if other people were as profoundly moved by her writing as I am. I started participating in a book club over at Bloom (in)courage, and it seems that I am definitely not alone in my appreciation for what God gave Ann to write.

This week was chapter one. It starts in pain. Deep, dark pain. I really wonder if this is the common denominator for the women who are most moved by this book. The knowledge, the kindred over our deepest, darkest pain. Towards the end of the chapter, however, Ann talks about the holes in our soul:
"I wonder too...if the rest in the canvas of our life backdrop, the losses that puncture our world, our own emptiness, might actually become places to see.  To see through to God.  That that which tears open our souls, those holes that splatter our sight, may actually become the thin, open places to see through the mess of this place to the heart-aching beauty beyond. To Him. To the God whom we endlessly crave....
How do we choose to allow the holes to become seeing-through-to-God places? To more-God places? How do I give up resentment for gratitude, gnawing anger for spilling joy? Self-focus for God-communion."
I didn't catch this as clearly the first time through, but the second time I read this chapter, something just clicked for me. What I've been praying for, longing for, spending all my time and efforts and energy towards is the repair, the rescue, the redemption of all that's broken in me, in my family, in this world.When will God fix it? When will God make it right? Why won't He put the holes back together?

I'm asking all of these questions instead of looking at those holes as a means to see God. In my heart of hearts, what I'm truly longing for is not the 'fixing' of all that's wrong - even though that would be miraculous and lovely and I wouldn't turn it down - what I'm really craving is God Himself. He could put everything broken back together, but what good is it if I've missed Him in the meantime? I've been waiting for the redemption because I felt like that's when we'll see God, but if I'm missing God right here, right now, then I'm missing everything. This is the better story I need to be telling. Living.

book quote:
Voskamp, Ann
One Thousand Gifts
Zondervan, 2010

fumbling through the weekend

Monday, February 7, 2011

Coming off a weekend that was full of normal-type events. Basketball games, church, church meetings, Super Bowl party with the dearest of friends and family, and yet...all of it punctuated by trauma. I wonder when or if my life will ever feel normal again. I feel like everything is tainted with the weirdness that comprises our life right now. I have fun, but it feels tinged with sorrow. I do normal things, but I feel slightly disconcerted doing them. I spend time with family and friends, but I still feel alone.

I know I'm being refined. I know God is developing strength and depth of character in me that I did not previously have, but sometimes I wonder if I'm succeeding at what God is calling me to do. I don't feel stronger. I don't feel more refined. Is it going to be all right? Is God good? What does God feel towards me? Am I faithful?

Maybe someday counting the gifts will not make me feel so inadequate. I'm just beginning this journey after all. So I choose to keep trying. I choose to persevere (isn't that the same as 'keep trying'?  I need to improve my writing skills). I choose faithfulness. I choose to count the gifts, again and again and again...

51. warmth from a kerosene heater
52. waking up to a world encased in ice, glistening with the morning
53. children in footie pajamas
54. safety during storms
55. Ohio Edison electric crews, working all night to restore power
56. the glow of many candles
57. close-by family where we can cook and use the bathroom
58. reading books to my children by candlelight
59. generators to keep our food from spoiling
60. electricity
61. online communities to provide encouragement
62. God working separately in Wendell's heart and my own heart to bring us together in unity in pursuit of a new, but clear calling in our lives
63. the silver reminder of hope around my wrist
64. family dance parties

no defense

Thursday, February 3, 2011

I've been pondering this post for quite awhile. Well, I started it Tuesday afternoon, and then we were out of electricity through this morning, so it's been that long at least. The concepts have been rolling around in my head for longer than that though.

On Sunday, my brother preached (awesomely, but that's another topic), and some of his friends came to support him and hear his message. They brought with them their two little boys, both of whom are also foster children. They were adorable, attached to their foster parents, but by now, I have learned to recognize the signs of traumatized children. When I went down to the nursery to pick up Baby R after the service, one of the little boys was trying to turn off the DVD player, and a little girl who was helping in the nursery was trying to stop him. He was hitting her, yelling at her, and I could clearly see the horrified look on her face. I wondered what she would go home and tell her mom after the service. I really had to restrain myself from asking her to give him a break. What goes through my head is all the stuff this poor kid is going through, the trauma in his little life, the sadness and pain in his little life, and how everyone is just going to judge him by his behavior. Because sometimes sad looks like mad. This is one of the things our therapist has said to us from the beginning, you read it a lot in adoption literature, and I just read a blog post about it this past week. (When Sad Looks Like Mad)

For Mr. B, sad looks like mad an awful lot. I want to defend. I want to explain his bad, weird, and crazy behavior to everyone I meet. For awhile, I thought it was just because I was embarrassed by what people would think of me and my parenting skills and techniques. To be honest, there is definitely some of that there. My parenting skills are far different than what they were with my oldest two. Some of the things that I currently allow, I would never allow with my first two children. Some of the ways that I currently parented are definitely not ways that I would've chosen before. I do what Mr. B needs. I parent him how he needs to be parented. It's gonna look strange to some people; sometimes it even feels strange to me.

I'm trying to let go of the urge to defend. It's no one else's business. I don't have to defend myself, and I do not always have to defend my children. Sometimes it's OK if people think badly of them or of me. It doesn't matter what people think as long as we're doing what's right.  What's right for us is not going to look like what's right for other people, that's for sure. But do I want to defend at every moment? You bet I do.

I want to explain all the stuff that's gone wrong in Mr. B's life. I want to describe the horrors of the life that he was used to living. I want to go into the research about how trauma literally changes how a child's brain form. How their brains work differently, how they are coping with the pain in their lives, and why their sad looks like mad. I want to take them through the identification exercise that we do in training, brought back to my memory by another blog post (The List) in the past month. Since I can't do that with everyone, I'll just do it here. Follow along, for kicks:

First, write down the name of the most significant person in your life.
1. Wendell
Write down your most important role. 
2. mother
Now, write down your greatest support group. Church, family, a friend, etc.
3. family
Write down your heritage.
4. Christian
Next, write the word “knowledge.” This represents the information that gets you through the everyday tasks of your day.
5. knowledge
Then, write down your favorite place. 
6. home
Write down “Cultural Information.” This represents everything you know about your culture.
7. cultural information
Now, write down “Resources.” This represents all your material possessions, everything you own that has worth.
8. resources
Next, write down “Values.” This represents your faith, concepts of right and wrong, priorities, likes and dislikes…
9. values
Last, write down the activity that brings you the most joy.
10. playing games with my family, just hanging out

Now, mark off the four things that you think you could do without.
1. Wendell
2. mother
3. family
4. Christian
5. knowledge
6. home
7. cultural information
8. resources
9. values
10. playing games with my family, just hanging out

"Now, it's OK. You're gonna be fine; we're going to keep you safe."
Go ahead and mark off two more.
1. Wendell
2. mother
3. family
4. Christian
5. knowledge
6. home
7. cultural information
8. resources
9. values
10. playing games with my family, just hanging out

"Sometimes it's not safe to live with the people you love. You just have to learn to trust that we're safe. We want you to be safe. We have a better, safer place for you to live now." Go ahead and mark off two more...

Who of you has gone through that much loss? What right do I have to expect more from my children who have endured such loss? What defense could there possibly be for this? Fostering and adoption are, in reality, comprised of pretty terrible things. There is pain. There is grief. There is loss. There is bad behavior. Because sometimes sad looks a lot like mad.
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