take heart

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

I sat down to write a different post full of the books I’ve read, the TV I’m watching, and the music I’m listening to, but I just don’t have it in me right now. I find that I don’t have much in me right now at all. After a month-long decline into thyroid craziness again, and the recent week and a half of trying to climb back out, I physically don’t have much reserve. After ten weeks of nothing progressing on our current foster care case, and then the past two weeks of resumed visits, I emotionally don’t have much reserve. Looking forward to the next month where I have an already full schedule for the entire month, I mentally don’t have much reserve either.

There’s just this:

“From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I.”
Psalm 61:2

I know too many people whose hearts are faint right now. Friends who have lost daughters, husbands, pastors, nephews, friends. Friends and family who are battling physical and mental disease. Parents who are saying goodbye to children they’ve loved as their own for months and months. Others who are just overwhelmed to the brink of exhaustion. My story is not unique nor is my life harder than everyone else’s. We are in the middle of hard stuff, friends. It’s ok to say so. Life is hard. This world is broken. Today there is pain and suffering and brokenness and death. I don’t have answers; I just know what direction to head in.

Right now? Tomorrow? Every day after that. I’m heading to Jesus.

Take heart.

 

 

Oh friends: Love wins.

the glory of it all

Monday, October 21, 2013

Four and a half years, seven different children, and some days I feel old hat at this whole foster care thing. We know pretty much how things generally work. We’ve spent our fair share of time at home visits, in team meetings, waiting rooms at the agency, that hallway outside the courtroom, learning to know the whole system by name. We know enough to know you can’t ever count on anything for sure. It’s a far cry from our first placement where their three months with us felt like an eternity. Now, we’re four months into this whole thing with Sweet M, and I feel like we’ve barely even begun.

Ten weeks without visits can lull you into a sense of complacency. Normality. You forget you’re not a regular family. You forget that she doesn’t really belong to you at all.

Then someone hits a restart button, and you’re dropping her off at visits again. Handing her over to a stranger, but a stranger who knows her in more intimate ways than you ever can. Heart in the throat, willing the tears to wait until the car, telling this sweet baby’s mama about her likes and dislikes, her schedule and medical issues.

It’s not sunshine and roses for anyone. Sweet M is unsettled and angry at being left with a stranger, her mama is upset and brokenhearted at this tiny baby who doesn’t know her at all, and I’m stuck in the middle. The everyday mama to this precious life, the only one she really knows, yet really not her mama at all. I am. I’m not. No matter how many times we do this, no matter how many children I give my heart to, the pain always rises. It’s a piece of your heart every time, and there are days when I wonder how much more I can give away. How many times I can say goodbye. How much longer I can give my everything to a child who deserves every single bit of me and yet still hang on.

I am swallowed by worries and hurt, and even as I sink to my knees, I know it’s into an ocean of grace. I know there’s strength for the road ahead. I know it’ll find me even when I can’t see through the fog. God is faithful, again and again, and hope is more powerful than fear. So I sit in our minivan in the visitors’ parking lot, a Love Wins sticker decorating our dirty back window, and I sing truth out – grace like an ocean - I’m sinking with hands raised, tears flowing, because I know I’m at the intersection of holy. Heaven meets earth, and in the dirt, there’s glory.

isn’t it ironic (and by that, I mean it’s interesting. Ironic is a largely mis-used word.)

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

1

In case I ever thought God didn’t have a sense of humor, He continues to prove me wrong.

I say I’m too scared and introverted to do new things, and He says, “here’s this conference you can go to. Alone.”

I say no more babies, He says, “here’s the smallest, tiniest one ever.”

I say being on screen makes me so uncomfortable that I want to throw up, and He says, “hey! you know what would be awesome? Doing another video.” At least this time it was for a fancy-schmancy fundraising event that I can’t afford to go to, so I’m unlikely to see the results.

I happen to mention that I am uncomfortable with public platforms, and I am consulted about attending two different multi-agency conferences to make presentations.

I talk about how much I hate clichés, and God says, “You want to hear me laugh? Tell me your plans.”

The joke’s on me, I guess.

 

 

2

I wrote a whole post on shame and behavior issues in school and how it’s kind of a new thing for us, and then the very next day my eldest daughter came home in tears because she got in trouble at the end of the day and was going to have to move her name to yellow on the following school day. Turns out a little boy kept calling her names, wouldn’t stop, and so eventually, out of extreme anger and desperation, she takes off running towards him. Fortunately, we were snuggling side by side when she told me her story, so she could not see my struggles to maintain appropriate concern and composure. I’m not sure what her plans were, but I can promise you this: that little boy is extremely fortunate that my Maggie did not catch him before the teacher intervened. Extremely fortunate. I’ve seen that girl angry, and I’m pretty sure he didn’t stand a chance.

*as a side note, the next day, the teacher talked to her about the situation and agreed to keep her ‘green’ color record pure since she was unfairly provoked. Thank you, Jesus, for teachers who can keep the broader picture in mind. Especially since she didn’t catch the little boy. I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t have been willing to forgive whatever Maggie had planned for that poor kid.

 

 

3

In our mama’s small group this past week, one of them laughed at my prayer request, saying, “Only in this kind of group are you going to hear prayers that ask God to help our babies poop.”

Good news. God does answer prayer – even poop prayers (yep. it’s a thing), and the third type of juice we’ve tried appears to be the charm when it comes to regular baby bowel movements. It’s apple, if you’re curious.

 

 

4

On Monday nights, I lead a high school girls’ small group. We’re talking about using our words well and speaking love to others. This past week, I learned that there aren’t many physical fights at the high school anymore. This seems foreign to me since physical altercations were the stuff of legends during my high school days. One such fight resulting in a girl’s earring being literally ripped from her ear through the earlobe. Or cartilage? I can’t remember; it’s been awhile. (but not too long. A respectable amount of time has passed since I was in high school) Apparently, the thing now is “twitter-fights”. What the heck. I don’t even know what that means. At least the fighting is all 140 characters or less.

 

 

 

5

I really have nothing much more to say here, but I tend to be OCD about certain things. One of them happens to be even and odd numbers, and I just couldn’t end the list with only 4 things. So this is 5. All is well.

shame shame

Thursday, October 3, 2013

In every classroom that my children have been a part of, at least through the 3rd grade, they use the same disciplinary system. It involves color coded cards, displayed prominently on the whiteboard. Some of their teachers have had separate color cards for every kid in the classroom, and some have had separate color areas that each kid’s name gets moved to throughout the day. Every kid starts out every morning on green which is synonymous with good behavior. Most of the teachers have allowed several warnings and behavior reminders while the kids still stay on green. Yellow usually is for continued non-compliance or physically hurting someone, and in some classrooms, this involves a time-out of some kind. Red is for the very serious infractions, and blue sends them straight to the office. If you have to move your card or your name, it is visible to everyone in the classroom.

I don’t know that I thought much about this system until this year. My oldest two kids aren’t the get-in-trouble-at-school types, and they would sooner die than have their names moved or their colors changed. This year is a bit different. Now I’m parenting a child who isn’t as confident. He’s not a trouble-maker, but he does have trouble regulating if put into a situation where there is little adult supervision and lots of potentially invasive kid-on-kid interactions. I’ve never seen him initiate any sort of aggression (apart from with his older siblings), but his moral compass swings hard towards justice. If someone hits him, he is unlikely to take it for very long without retaliation. And if something happens in the course of what he deems a competitive sport of some type, he is not likely to feel like he has done anything wrong at all. It’s just the game, you know?

As a result, there’s been some days when his agenda doesn’t come home colored green. I know it immediately when he gets off the bus. He wears his shame like a heavy coat. Shoulders slumped, face downcast. He doesn’t make eye contact; he doesn’t use appropriate vocal tones when he speaks with me. After awhile, when he feels the safety of home kick in, he’ll share. And he cries. Which may not seem significant to anyone but us, but this is a kid who doesn’t cry from vulnerability. Ever. He cries from anger and frustration, but expressing vulnerable emotions is not in his wheelhouse. From the moment he moved in, he has fought any notion of vulnerability that we’ve attempted to extract from him or introduce to him.

'Shame' photo (c) 2008, Anthony Easton - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

When we look at that discipline board, we may see 20 kids who stayed on green for that day and 5 who had some behaviors, so they’re on yellow. When my son looks at that same board, he sees 20 good kids and 5 bad kids. It’s how he describes it to us every day. Exactly how many kids are good kids. Exactly how many kids are sort of bad. Exactly how many kids are really bad. And when his card isn’t registering green? He doesn’t think, “I did something bad today.” He thinks, “I am bad.” He internalizes that shame like nothing I’ve ever seen. So much so that his tears this last time resulted in a final fearful vulnerable moment where he shared that he was just so afraid that he would have to go back to live at his previous abusive home. Because of a COLOR-CODED CARD.

I respect teachers’ rights to have a disciplinary system. This one seems to be particularly motivating for my son, so I imagine the whole system seems to be really working. He yearns to stay on green every day. Just not for the right reasons. Our objectives should be to elicit right choices from the kids, yes, but not at the expense of their self-esteem and emotional health.

I feel really strongly about the negative aspects of shame in our society, in our families, in our churches, but I don’t have answers on how to eradicate it. I think shame is the most insidious of negative emotions, a lie from a pit of hell. Not the shame that allows us to feel when we’ve done something wrong – I would call that guilt anyway, but that deep, deep shame that tells us that at our most basic level, we are not worthy. It tells us we are bad people, and no one would love us if they saw who we really were. That’s the shame that destroys. Brave and honest research is being done on the topic (thanks in large part to Brené Brown), but we have a long way to go.

I hesitated to share any part of this story because I typically don’t share things are quite so personal to him. I try to be more vague, less specific. I don’t want to betray him in any way, but I also think it’s something we need to be talking about. I think someday he will want to think that the things he struggled with are not in vain. That, while protecting his privacy as much as possible, we used pieces of his story to make a difference.

Today, I’m left with more questions than answers.

How do we raise our children to be free of shame?
How do we structure our schools, our churches, our society differently to teach people to live in freedom and walk in grace?
How do we balance the need for discipline with the need to protect and nurture children?

One thing I do know – it starts at home. It starts with me. For right now, all I can do is continually combat the voices from other places that tell my son that he’s a bad kid. That he’s not good enough. That he’s not worthy. That’s he’s still just one wrong choice away from being sent back.

At home, in our family, we can tell him he’s loved. When he proudly tells us he stayed on green, we can praise him with condition – always, always adding that we love him just as much no matter what color his card is on at school. Reassuring him that he will never, never have to leave our family. Continually pounding it into his little head that he is not a bad kid. He is good. He is good no matter how he behaves. He is worthy because he EXISTS not because he behaves in a certain way.

I don’t have to look very far to see what happens when kids are raised in a shame-based culture and home. It’s not pretty. Grown adults fight these same voices, but the older we get, the longer those voices have had to worm their way into our very being. It’s my job right now, with this particular child, to work my very hardest to make sure that doesn’t happen to him.

So when I hold him tight each day, I whisper those same things to him that we’ve whispered from the beginning, each time with a catch in my throat and a prayer in my heart that this time, maybe THIS time, it’ll stick.

You are safe.
You are worthy.
You are loved.

May it be so.

 

 

*this post has a couple of minor edits  to include a more precise definition of the kind of shame I’m referring to, for clarity’s sake.

what I’m into: September edition

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

what I read:

The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander was the best book I read all month. Actually, it was the best book I’ve read in several months. I’m still processing much of it, but it is eye-opening. It’s an unflinching indictment on our nation, and for me, it left me in a place of repentance for my attitudes about the whole issue of race in the justice system. Not that I didn’t believe racism existed in our justice system, but I think I was still clinging to a misguided sense of what that actually meant. I definitely didn’t realize the extent of the problem until I read this book and started researching it for myself. This should be required reading for every high school history and government class, and those of us out of school would do well to investigate it for ourselves and our children.

The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold was just as good as I remembered it. A very worthwhile re-read.

I didn’t expect to love Decoded by Jay-Z as much as I did. This was an utterly fascinating read.

I had some assigned reading from my kids’ doctor:  Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems – Richard Ferber and The Challenging Child – Stanley Greenspan. They were nothing ground-breaking; I’m pretty sure he doesn’t realize how many books I’ve read on adoptive parenting, parenting traumatized children, sensory processing disorder, etc.

Red Letter Revolution – Shane Claiborne and Tony Campolo was an enjoyable and interesting read. I think I’m just so familiar with both of them and their stances on various topics, however, that I wasn’t particularly challenged. I’m glad to own the book anyway, and if you are unfamiliar with either of them, you may very well find this book challenging and potentially life-changing.

 

what I listened to:

This was a GREAT month for music. I can’t remember the last time there was this much good music out. My typical listening patterns are podcasts in the car, music at home, but this month it’s been music all the time, no matter where I am. I can’t listen to these albums enough.

Inland – Jars of Clay. Love, love, love this one. It was worth the wait. I’ve been playing it constantly.

I always buy a sophomore release with trepidation, especially if I absolutely loved the first album, but Heart by The City Harmonic is just as good as their first – maybe better, even. Is every day too much to listen to an album? I particularly like The City Harmonic for worship services. Not all bands are suited to all congregations, but this one suits ours. If you’re also a worship leader, they are worth a listen. These first two albums of theirs are taking worship music in a new direction – they don’t feel compelled to go your standard Chris Tomlin/Hillsong/Jesus Culture route that everyone else is emulating right now. We’ve already worked up one of the songs for Sunday mornings, and I’m sure several more are not far behind.

I Am Mountain by Gungor just came out last week, so I’ve added that one to my daily rotation as well. It’s crazy good, as always.

I’ve been streaming Dustin Kensrue’s new music, The Water & The Blood, for a little while now, and the album just came out yesterday. It is flat out amazing. Seriously. There would be no question that this would be my most recommended album…except for the previous three. I recommend all of them. I cannot choose.

Other really great albums I’ve been listening to: Your Grace Finds Me – Matt Redman, I Was Wrong, I'm Sorry & I Love You – Derek Webb, Fortunate Fall – Audrey Assad

 

what I watched:

Friday Night Lights – It’s fall, and thus it’s football season. I could write pages upon pages about how terrific this series is. I’ll spare you my assessments, except to say this: this is a nearly perfect television series. There are a couple missteps, sure, but it is beautifully written, beautifully acted, and beautifully filmed. The last ten minutes of this series are by far the best moments of television I’ve ever seen. Put it in your Netflix queue, and enjoy.

I’ve started several of the new fall tv offerings. I usually try to watch at least the pilot of most of the shows that interest me, and then I whittle down from there. I’m pretty excited about several of the new series, so I’ll give it a bit and see how attached I am after a month.

 

What were you into during September? Tell me below, or write your own post and link up with Leigh!

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