bloglove: best of the year

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Christmas is busy for everyone, myself included, thus the bit of silence here. Just when I thought my last scheduled event had passed on Saturday, I found out there’s another this next Saturday. Sigh. At least the next few days are pretty clear. Maybe you also have some extra time over the next few days to read some blog posts. It’s been quite awhile since I’ve shared some favorites, so here’s my best of the year posts. Sit with your computer or tablet or phone or whatever you like – just make sure you have a hot drink – and enjoy! (and as always, click through for the whole post and show some fellow bloggers some love)

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Several weeks ago in my bible study with my precious mama-friends, we had to pick one word to describe God. Like if we could only use one word to describe God to a friend who knew nothing about Him, which word would we pick? With no question or hesitation, I will always, always pick Love. All the other attributes of God, in my opinion, can be traced back to these three words: God is Love. And so, I give you these two posts that tell the same story in different ways, and both of them are my absolute favorite posts of the entire year. This is the Jesus I know. This is the Jesus I want my kids to know. This is the Jesus that I want you to know too.
On my beautiful, remarkable, redemptive, all-knowing Jesus Love:
Seen and Known - Jonathan Martin for SheLovesMagazine.com

“This kind of story has the power to transform a city: the story that says, ‘My past has been messy, and so is my present. But I met a man who knows all about it … and still I am fully loved.’”

Finding God in the Ambiguity - Jonathan Martin

“The real God revealed to us in Jesus of Nazareth is the God who is real enough to touch us in our own ambiguity.  When I’m clear or when I’m cloudy, He is no less real, because He does not exist simply to prop up my own limited understanding of how the world is ordered.”


On motherhood and calling:
What my Mother Taught Me - Shauna Niequist

“And the last thing my mom teaches me, through her words and her actions, is that if you live a life of radical and honest prayer, if you allow yourself to be led by God’s spirit, no matter how far from home and familiarity it takes you, you won’t have to worry about what you want to be when you grow up. You’ll be too busy living a life of passion and daring.”

The Beautiful Collision of Family and Calling - Jennie Allen and Rebekah Lyons

"In order to have a calling, you must have a Caller. Calling is rooted in the voice and the whisper of God."


On adoption and all that:
FAQ: About Adoption - The Stanley Clan

“Adam and I have discovered a surprising comfortability with living right there in the tension between ours and not-ours. Often, we will engage in conversations with people about how we want to foster. Typically, the person we’re talking to will say something like oh I’ve always wanted to foster, but I just wouldn’t ever be able to give the babies back. That’s too hard. And because I am a people pleaser/conflict-avoider of epic proportions, I typically nod my head in understanding and murmur something along the lines of oh yes that would be entirely too hard.
But here’s the take-a-deep-breath truth: Just because something’s hard, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it.”

When There is Still Hope - The Stanley Clan

“And so we measure our success not with statistics or growth charts, but with love. And we hold our ground, refusing to be moved by what the world tells us we should be doing. Even when we trip over disappointment and set-backs, we regain our footing in the sure and ever-present promise of hope in Jesus. Because the darkness will not win, and success neither belongs to us nor can be measured by us anyways. Don’t we follow and chase after a God who delights in turning things on their head anyways? Where the first are last, and to find your life you lose it? We hold our ground, standing in solidarity with our neighbors, in an unexpected and beautiful kinship with those around us.”

Live While You're Alive - Christina Gibson

“Wake up and embrace a dangerous path, because we know who we are and we know the One who gives strength.”

Forgotten Fridays: Love is Not Wasted - Maralee Brady for The Forgotten Initiative

“Foster moms aren’t magical. We don’t have unbreakable hearts or a different kind of love that protects us from pain. We love and grieve and then love again. We do it because we know that love is not divided. Love is not wasted.”


On parenting:
What I Won't Tell You about My Ballet Dancing Son - Ashleigh Baker for A Deeper Story

“When you ask my dancing son about this passion he carries and you catch my eye, slightly uncertain how to proceed, I won’t try to convince you this was all his idea or give ten examples of his father’s unwavering pride or waste breath assuring you that my second grader isn’t gay. I’ll simply tell you what he said to us after his first Nutcracker performance last winter: ‘Mama, it feels like my heart is flying when I’m dancing. I think God made ballet because he knew I’d love it.’”

On Being a Locksmith - Nish Weiseth

“I told her that finding the key is hard - it's small and obscure and each key looks totally different for each kid. But that's not even the hardest part. The worst thing about it is after finding a key that works for a while, something inside his little brain changes the lock, then you have to go find a new key.”


Do you have some favorite posts from this past year? Link them up in the comments!

 

[image: Death to the Stock Photo]

the not-yet miracles

Friday, December 20, 2013

'winter' photo (c) 2003, Seth Anderson - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

I wish that Christmas-time was all wonders and miracles and joy all the time. It’s just that we live this broken, painful world where bad things happen. Maybe you’re struggling with the idea of miracles this season.

Maybe you don’t believe that a miracle will occur with your life, in your marriage, with your children or job or friends or family.

See, Christmas is filled with all the expectation of fullness of joy and happy family memories and life is just like the J. Crew commercial, yet for most of us, it doesn’t end up quite like that. The things I’m hoping for, believing for, praying for miracles for…those things haven’t quite come to pass yet.

A sweet boy that we loved as our own is now in a precarious living situation with seemingly no hope for a bright future.

A friend is in a marriage that just isn’t working, stuck in an unhappy place.

A new friend has lost literally everything. All of her belongings, her old home, and the man she loves. She’s starting over and is full of fear and regret.

Our sweet baby girl has an uncertain future.

Our youngest two children are longing to understand why they can’t be with their first mama.

Maybe, like me, you’re grieving a change within a treasured friendship or you’re hurting with a friend whose life and marriage are full of pain or you’re hurting on behalf of your children. Maybe you are up against a truly impossible situation. Maybe you are full of pain and heartache, and you are consumed by fear.

I hear you. I’ve been there, and I’m there with you still. Sometimes the pit seems too deep to claw out of. Yet I know Someone who’ll give you a lifeline. I’m borrowing some challenges from my husband’s sermon on Sunday – first: tell the One who can work the miracles. Trust Him to do it for you. And secondly: tell someone else. We are given one another for a reason. Tell a friend who can hold you up when you feel like falling. Tell someone who can trust God on your behalf when you feel like you have no trust left to give.

Even when this season brings no joy: You are not alone.

the baby miracle

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

My last little Christmas miracle to share this season is brief, because most of her story and our part of it isn’t ours to share right now. But the tiny baby who we brought home from her little corner of the NICU when she was one day shy of two months old continues to surprise and amaze us every day. She has the sweetest, most laidback disposition, but make no mistake, she is a fighter. Surviving an emergency delivery at 30 weeks, arriving into this world at less than three pounds, then sailing along to become this fourteen pound, medically healthy, developmentally maturing beautiful seven and half month old baby – that’s the work of a warrior.

‘Though she be but little, she is fierce.’ – Shakespeare

We get to parent two children who did not have a good start to life. We know what it’s like when you’ve missed out on months and years of healthy attachment and normal brain development. We know first-hand what happens to a child down the road when they haven’t known the nurturing love of a family. We have this tragic knowledge now built into our family’s DNA, and thus the whole family knows this thing we’re doing for one precious baby is more important than most people realize.

When she sits on our laps on the loveseat under our enraptured gazes and IMG_1452encouraging smiles and looks from mama to papa and back again, she knows she is loved and adored. She trusts that everything we do is for her best interests. She feels safe and secure. Given that she’s in foster care for a reason, it’s not a huge stretch or a violation of anyone’s privacy to say that she would not have received this if she had gone home right away with her mom. No matter what happens in her future, this knowledge will be permanently built into her brain development. She will always know what it feels like to be part of a family with two parents and multiple siblings who would do anything for her. We don’t know what her story holds; we only know that God put her in our family for a reason. The fact that she survived with the deck stacked so against her to end up here, right now, healthy and loved: that’s not chance. That’s a miracle.

the fire miracle

Saturday, December 14, 2013

In my mom’s kitchen, for almost all of my childhood and adult years, there sat a kerosene heater. When you grow up in a house built during the Civil War, you need some supplementary heating during the winter. Many a child has learned how to be safe around a very hot heater in a fairly small space, and mine have been no exception.

In the winter after Brenden and Raniah came to live with us, we were in the middle of some of the ugliest and hardest parts of their foster care case. Things were not going well, and I had so much fear for their future. We were sitting in the kitchen one winter morning, Brenden was warming his hands towards the heater, and I was trying to keep a careful eye on him during our conversation. His hands were getting too close, and both my mama and I cautioned him about his safety. She reached over to turn the heater off just as a precaution, and the minute she touched the knob, he laid his little three-year-old hands flat on the top of the metal kerosene heater.

I don’t know if you’re familiar with this type of heater, but they get blazing hot. This happened to be one of the older types without a protective grate on the top of it. His hands lay directly on the metal that been just a few inches over the open flame.

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Amid our choruses of ‘no, no, no’, Brenden immediately began crying. I jumped up from the rocking chair, picked him up and carried him to the sink to begin running cool water over his hands. My mom went to get some other supplies. I left his hands under the water a good long while, then we sat down on the chair, my hands on his head, terror in my heart, and my mama turned his hands over and began to put vitamin E oil on them. As she gently rubbed his bright red hands with the oil, I began to whisper prayers over him, calming him and us down together.

We were looking at each other in some confusion when we realized his hands were not burned. I was cautious, assuming that maybe the burns would show up later or some such nonsense. Not believing. I saw him place his whole palms straight on the top of the heater. No amount of actual visible evidence was convincing me that he was not seriously injured. Yet he wasn’t.

“…Are you sick? Call the church leaders together to pray and anoint you with oil in the name of the Master. Believing-prayer will heal you, and Jesus will put you on your feet.”
James 5:13-14

My mama knew right away. She believed it was a sign for us, for our family, for Brenden that God was with him. That He was going to take care of him. That no matter what Brenden’s future held, and we just didn’t know what was going to happen at that point, God had His hand of protection on our sweet boy. She wanted to tell people, asked me to share about it the next Sunday at church. I just couldn’t. I couldn’t go to that place. I was so oppressed by the fear and the deep, dark places that we were sitting in alongside our son, that I couldn’t even talk about it. The most obvious of miracles, with the most unexplainable happening, and I just couldn’t accept it.

Today, finally, after three years, I can’t even write this without crying. Both for the miracle that happened to my precious boy and for the doubt that kept me from it for so long. The God that protected Brenden from horrific burns is the same God who sheltered him during that miraculous meeting regarding his future. The God who plucked Brenden and his sisters from the hell they were living in is the same God who gave them new names, placed them in families that are helping them heal today.

“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.
Isaiah 43:1-2

That’s the kind of miraculous Fire God that we serve. The God who can ignite a dripping wet altar with fire from heaven is the same God who loves us with a passion that we cannot even comprehend. This furious love – this is the love that can beat death and sickness and injury and trauma and abuse and neglect and loneliness and rejection and shame. Christmas reminds us that while that Love came in the most vulnerable of forms, it blazes bright like fire with glory and light, and we will not be overcome.

The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness; the darkness couldn’t put it out.
John 1:5

the conference room miracle

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

'DSCF3958' photo (c) 2008, Joe Loong - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

While I continue to write about foster care and our journey through the system while we’re still in the midst of it, there is so much that I can’t share for confidentiality reasons during the process. Not only that, but there is a lot that we don’t even know until after the whole thing is over. This is one of those things…

 

We were at the end of our children’s foster care case. Surrounding most foster care cases, at least in our county, there is a team of people who are working different angles of the case. (I explained some of the team members here.) This team typically meets monthly, although in this case, it all led up to one big scheduled meeting where we were going to hash out the different opinions on our children’s future. There were differing opinions on whether our two children would remain in our home or whether they would be reunited with their older sister in a brand new adoptive home. The reasons for or against aren’t particularly important to this story, except to say that we obviously felt it best and healthiest for our children’s future for them to remain in our home.

We were told this meeting would not be a decision-making meeting. Even so, we felt like this particular meeting was the most important thing that would ever happen in our children’s case. Looking back, I’m not sure why. No one told us that. If we knew then what we know now, we probably wouldn’t even have believed it mattered at all, but somehow it settled in our spirits as something of supreme importance. So much so that I fasted the entire day before. For non-religious people, fasting probably sounds like the most ridiculous thing ever. For more-religious-than-me people, you’re probably wondering why I feel like this was important to mention, but here’s the thing about me and fasting: I suck at it. No really. I’m terrible at it. I believe it’s of great value, but self-discipline is not my strongest character quality. Thus, it’s pretty important for my part of this story that you know that. I fasted, and it wasn’t even hard.

I prayed that day like I have never prayed before or since. Face to the ground, great groaning prayers because I was all out of words to even say. I struggle with praying bold prayers, but this time. This time, even in the middle of fear and trembling, I poured my heart out for my children.

The next morning, we dropped the kids with my mom and headed out to the agency. The urge to vomit didn’t lessen the whole way there. I had sent copies of my notes from the whole case to the CASA worker, and they had been distributed. I had pled our case to anyone who would listen, and I knew this was beyond us. Before we went in, we broke our fast with some grape juice and bread there in the parking lot. (Perhaps we should’ve used the real stuff to calm the nerves…)

When we walked in that room, we were two of fourteen people sitting around that huge conference table. People from different agencies, different departments. People who knew our children personally and people who were just reading a case file. All of them there for just three small children. According to several of the people in attendance, to their knowledge there had never been this kind of meeting before in our county. According to someone in the agency I spoke with recently, there hasn’t really been one since either.

The longer it’s been, the more specifics I forget, but the atmosphere in that room is burned into my head. It was a divine moment. If there had been an angel choir singing audibly, I would not have been surprised. It was that kind of holy. Sometimes we just get a glimpse of the unseen, and I have only a handful of times experienced it like I did on that day. Probably none of those people in attendance felt that the same way we did, but for that many people from that many different disciplines to all care enough about three children to take a couple hours out of their day for a meeting that most of them weren’t required to attend…that was miraculous.

When we walked out of that room, we were no more informed on our children’s future than when we walked in. When we got back to the car though, the relief just washed over me. Both Wendell and I knew that what had just happened was sacred. No matter what the decision was going to be, we knew the best had been done. There was no more to do than what we had just experienced. We were at peace with that.

What we know now: before that meeting, the major players in our team had pretty much already made up their minds. Our children were going to be moved. Even just typing that makes me feel a little nauseated inside still. I’m glad we didn’t know at that point – I’m not sure I had the capability of coping with that kind of knowledge then. At that point, I really believed they were still conflicted on what decision to make. Now, I don’t believe they were conflicted as much as they were delaying the inevitable of informing us of their real opinions.

What we know now: that meeting, and one man’s voice in particular – a man who had no stakes in the outcome of this case, a man who had no compelling reason to attend this meeting other than his sincere care for children, made up the mind of one of the team members as to what the best future looked like for these kids. After the meeting, the agency department heads stuck around and asked that team member their opinion. After the opinion was given, we are told that team member was asked, “You know what you just did, don’t you?” (The implication being that that specific voice carried the weight which swayed the decision.)

What we know now that we also knew then: that meeting changed the course of our children’s future. I don’t know how I knew that back then, but everything we’ve learned since then has proven our instincts to be true.

So…miracles. I believe they exist. I believe this was one. One that might be explained by lots of logical answers and reasoning, one that we might chalk up to emotions and coincidences and ordinary happenings. Does that make it any less a miracle? I say no. I claim this for my children. The battle for my children’s future in that room is just a glimpse of the battle fought for our souls every day. The passion displayed by those who cared even the slightest amount for these three kids is just a taste of the furious love our Savior has for us. Heaven breaks through, supernatural made plain, and there are three children who have safe and happy families and a brighter future because of it. Three children who are healing day by day and who are beginning to build a redemptive future together as siblings, even if they don’t live in the same house. Miraculous. Without a doubt.

fire God

Monday, December 9, 2013

'fire' photo (c) 2007, matthew venn - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

It’s Christmastime, and I’ve been thinking about miracles and fire and a God who blazes bright with the unexplainable. God as a small baby – I find it incomprehensible to think about it as history, and even more ridiculous to think about what it would be like if that happened today. A baby? We talk a lot in Christian circles about Jesus’s return to the earth. We think we have a handle on the plans. But what if it isn’t like that at all? What if he came as a baby again? The most unlikely of places, the most unlikely of forms. Would I believe?

I find myself pondering my own acceptance of this burning hot God who can ignite even the dampest of spirits. When we think miracles, we mostly think of raising the dead, healing diseases with just a word, turning the impossible into possible. We think of things that we believe just don’t happen everyday, or if we’re honest – ever. The converse is true too. We say miraculous when we really mean fortuitous. I would venture a guess that this is probably the more common usage for most of us. I have a pair of plaid shoes that I call my Christmas Miracle shoes. I found them on clearance a few Decembers ago for a couple of dollars. Is that a miracle? Really?

Truth is, I’ve seen some miracles myself. Both the kind that could be explained away by circumstance and one pretty spectacular one that can’t. But I wrestle still. There’s something in me that has a hard time bringing myself to believe in a God that burns so fiercely that He can subvert natural law. In my head, yes, oh yes, that’s the kind of God I want to serve. The mystery of this brilliant God I love? Well, the mystery is usually my favorite part. Until it comes to actually and truly believing. Trusting God to do the impossible? Not just what we call impossible, which is often just the improbable, but the truly impossible? Eh. Sometimes I’m just not so sure.

For the next few posts, I’ll be sharing about my own experience with the miraculous.  Divine encounters, impressive coincidences, unexplainable supernatural events – doubt and belief and fear and wonder set ablaze by a God who sends fire from heaven, with a God who controls angel armies, yet still just longs to ignite our hearts with His love.

what I was into–october/november edition

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

what I read:

I’m not sure what took me so long to start reading Divergent – well, I am sure. It’s the fact that it’s a dystopian society young adult novel – but I loved the first two books. I think the story is better than The Hunger Games, but the writing definitely leaves a little to be desired. I’m done with books 1 and 2. I’ve heard very mixed reviews of the last book, but I’m eager to finish the series.

I read two Sophie Hannah books: Kind of Cruel and Little Face. I very much enjoyed both of them. They’re very similar, and I found them to be the perfect sort of reading when what I want to be is entertained.

I am just about through Deep & Wide: Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend by Andy Stanley. Andy Stanley writes highly practical books for those involved in church ministry. We attend different kinds of churches, but I think there’s a lot of useful information there to be used in any type of church.

also read: Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro, Tapestry of Fortunes – Elizabeth Berg, Multiply – Francis Chan, Self-Inflicted Wounds: Heartwarming Tales of Epic Humiliation – Aisha Tyler

 

what I listened to:

The Heist - Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – I love this album, and the content is good enough that I’m going to purchase it for my eldest. Clean version, of course.

The Glorious Unfolding – Steven Curtis Chapman. I just can’t help myself. Even my semi-post-evangelical, slightly-hipsterish, cynical-about-all-the-KLove self. I love me some SCC.

 

what I watched:

Funnily enough, most of the new stuff I like this year has come in the form of sitcoms. I am VERY picky about my sitcom watching, but I really enjoyed even the more traditional ones from this year. Namely, Brooklyn Nine Nine (the hub’s fav), The Michael J. Fox Show, and Trophy Wife. I know, I know. Trophy Wife has the most horrendous name and terrible premise. But it’s hilarious. I promise.

In the drama portion, we are loving The Blacklist. We’ve missed Alias immensely, and this totally fills that void. I hang my head in shame to tell you that I also love Reign. Admittedly, I began watching because I have an emotional attachment to the show. (Anne of Green Gables!) I just found myself sucked in. To another CW show. Shame shame shame.

 

My list is a bit sparse. My fall has been a little crazy, but I’m glad to finally be getting this done today. And as always, I’m linking up with Leigh! She’s celebrating one year of link-ups and hosting a giveaway. Write your list and join the fun!

 

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