trust and the new year

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

This year may not have been the worst year on record, but heartbreaks, failures, disappointments, and even a gazillion good sort of things left my heart in a million little pieces. Tonight, I’d kind of hoped for Easy A and champagne sipping with my husband, but instead the bubbly sits lonely on my desk while I surf Netflix for something to watch. While I’m thankful for the quiet, I’m left alone with my thoughts and dreams, wishing I had not chosen to wear non-waterproof mascara today.

I hoped that we’d end this year more fiscally ahead, on our way to a slightly larger home that fits our foster-care dreams, with excitement over the future. Instead, we’re ending this year with a job change – and while it happens to be what we’re called to do, it is absolutely what we don’t want to do – along with some financial consequences, and I’m facing fears deep from my soul that I never expected to surface again.

I thought that we’d end this year as a complete and legal family of 7, but instead I sat in my bed last night listening to a baby who’s still not quite mine sleeping in the next room and a newer, more fragile family member giggling (boys are the worst when it comes to giggling) and exchanging ‘that’s right, brothuh!’s with my teenager downstairs over a video game. Building this new relationship has been the most beautiful kind of agony for our whole family. It’s been an awful long time since I’ve been on my knees with such desperation than the way I’ve been for this new partial-addition.

I thought that I’d end this year in a more peaceful, more surrendered position. In spite of all my protestations to the opposite, I find myself still trying to clench my fists tight around the things I want and hope and pray for, the things I’m just not quite willing to let go, the things that I’m trying to fill myself up with that just won’t satisfy. I tell myself yet again to let go. Open hands, Suzanne, open hands. Because surely if I say it enough times, then I’ll follow through, right?

DeathtoStock_Creative Community1Trust. That’s my word for 2015. I know it as sure as I know my own name. Honestly though, I feel a little weird picking it. To everyone else, I doubt my life looks like it’s in that much upheaval. We’ve been through far harder and far worse things, at least at first glance. These are the tricky bits: sometimes it’s the smallest of things that bring the world hurtling down around you. Sometimes it’s the most benign changes that reveal how controlling you really are. Sometimes it’s the beautiful things that bring the most pain.

Trust.

I lay my heart out before the God of mercy. I open my hands before the Father of Lights. I surrender to the One who calls me out into the deep, even when it’s the smallest of steps that makes me falter. He who has promised is faithful. I say it with my mouth; I believe it in my head. I want to think that I know it in my heart, but my actions would suggest otherwise. This year? I want to live like it’s true.

[image: death to the stock photo]

foster care to adoption

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

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We are at the end stages of our foster care journey with Sweet M. The inefficiency of the child welfare system will never cease to amaze me. For this case, the most clear-cut case they could ever hope or ask for, it will still be 18 months from placement to permanency. That is too long. They’ve had permanent custody of Sweet M since July. There is no reason that adoption shouldn’t have occurred early this fall. Except. Inefficiency.

In our county, after permanent custody has been awarded to the state, the case is supposed to move from the foster care unit to the adoption unit. This necessitates a change in workers. They have 30 days from permanent custody to have the initial matching meeting. A matching meeting involves the adoption caseworker, along with a supervisor, and perhaps a committee of sorts. I’m not exactly sure of all the players since potential parents are never invited to these meetings. At that meeting, if there are multiple applicants to adopt a particular child, they will sift and choose the best candidates. They may not choose a final candidate at that first meeting. However, in Sweet M’s case, there were no other applicants. Just us. They didn’t advertise her (as is supposedly legally required) because there is no reason. No other family would beat us in a matching meeting because we are already her family and there are no other extenuating circumstances (siblings, etc.) that would jeopardize that, if that makes sense.

We were matched within 30 days. We met the adoption worker not long after that. She didn’t officially even have the case, but she started to take over monthly home visits and such. She didn’t have the case file yet, but she began to fill out all the reports she was required to complete. One of those was a large family assessment, since we have more than four kids. She came to interview all of the children separately to find out how they felt about our family, about Sweet M, about the adoption, etc. Apparently your children’s feelings and thoughts don’t matter unless they have at least three siblings. I’m, frankly, super confused by this requirement.

Fast forward months. She still didn’t have the whole case file. When a child moves toward adoption, the workers have to file with every single place she has ever been or received care. Every hospital, every doctor’s office, every therapist’s office, etc. This takes some time to gather. In our county, they will also make copies of the original birth certificate and social security card for our records. Once adoption occurs, the child is issued an amended birth certificate. Or as I like to call it, the paper of lies. This birth certificate lists the adoptive parents as the birth parents. The location is where the adoption takes place. The birth date, however, is still the same. So the farce is that we were, according to this piece of paper, there for the birth of our child. False. Also? We’re not the birth parents. In some states, if you have been adopted, you do not have the right to have a copy of your original birth certificate. In some states, you aren’t even allowed to get it as an adult. I have so many feelings about this state of affairs, and they are too numerous for this post. Suffice it to say, I am not a fan of this system, and I am eternally grateful that our county takes the time to make sure that the kids who leave their care have access to their original documents.

Once the case worker got the full case file, we had to take Sweet M for a psychological evaluation. Basically an attachment assessment at this age. Guess what? She’s securely attached to me. Surprise.

After that report made its way to the caseworker’s desk, she dropped off the whole file to us, and the next day we went in to sign the adoptive placement papers. This makes it all very official and yet still not official. It’s essentially the go-ahead to file in court for the adoption finalization. We have to sign a gazillion papers that say we’ve received all the information about Sweet M, that we know her special needs, that we’ve agreed on an adoption subsidy, that she will receive Ohio Medicaid until 18, etc. It takes awhile to make it through all the paperwork.

After we left the agency, we went straight to the attorney’s office for him to work on his part. Signed more papers there, made sure everything was correct for the amended birth certificate, and then we went back to our car with full hope that things would move along quickly.

It’s been two weeks now, and we still have no court date. All we’ve received is confirmation that in spite of all assurances to the contrary, the final report is still not done and still not filed with the court. There’s been quite a number of heavy sighs and more than a few angry tears in the past week or so at this house. It’s just so frustrating to count up the months and realize that by that time we finalize Sweet M’s adoption, she will have been with us 18 months. 18 months for the easiest case the agency could’ve asked for. 18 months of them knowing this was going to be the outcome, yet 18 months of them not preparing for it. Sometimes the system just astounds me. I’m not surprised by inefficiency in government usually, but then sometimes I am just taken aback by how truly terrible it is. It doesn’t truly matter since Sweet M’s placement was never at risk, and she’s been safe and secure with us the whole time. She certainly doesn’t know any of this has occurred. Still. If I were in charge……

So here we are. Still waiting. Yet still convinced this thing we’re doing is worth doing no matter the headache, frustration, and cost. It’s worth it all. She is worth it all.

photo credit: Julia Manzerova via photopin cc

endless hope, relentless joy

Saturday, December 6, 2014

November ended and December began with a hard clap of strife and stress for us here. Busyness and necessary truths collided with a force that I didn’t exactly anticipate. Foster care craziness, adoption delays, job changes, financial difficulties, and the endless amount of time I’ve been spending in my car hauling children from activity to activity has worn me thin.

The thin places are where God is meeting me these days. Not always in the way I want him to, but He’s there nevertheless. He’s having me deal with some hard stuff – fears I wasn’t completely in touch with, sins that I haven’t been completely willing to let go, health that is never completely up to my standards of excellence, a world that seems to have gone mad with oppression and greed, and children that will always show me where my weaknesses are.

And then there’s my friends. Maybe one of them is you? Friends who are dealing with far worse health than I, friends who just can’t seem to catch a break financially, friends who are unemployed, divorcing, hurting, grieving, walking through the hardest days of their lives….and isn’t this what Advent is all about? That desolate time of expectation before that vulnerable baby entered our world with an act of violent love to revolutionize this whole broken world. That’s the longing I feel tonight.

Hallelujah. I can still sing it.

five things I want my kids to know about death

Friday, November 21, 2014

origin_8982962023We had an exhausting past weekend as we said goodbye to my great-aunt at 87 years old. Combine that with the fact that my husband was out of town for all of that weekend, and I’ve been running on empty for awhile. I thought I was doing ok until I got the text that Wendell was on his way home from the airport. The older two were watching TV, the next two down were asleep, I was putting the baby to sleep, and by the time he got home, I was pretty much out for the night. This doesn’t seem like that interesting of a story, but it was 7:30. Some of you hadn’t even eaten dinner yet. For a girl who struggles to go to sleep before midnight, it was a fairly significant event. I think my brain said, “hey. he’s almost here.” and then shut down. The end. So tired.

I’ve been thinking a lot about our past weekend and the previous few weeks during which we anticipated my aunt’s death. This was the sixth viewing/funeral we’ve been to this past year as a family, and the only one where there were several other children. Apparently it’s not too common to take your kids along to funerals or viewings. I think it’s so important for my kids’ upbringing to be exposed to death and mourning, so I compiled a short list of the things I want to teach my kids about death. I will be the first to admit, however, that my children have been fortunate in that we have not attended the funeral of a child or the funeral of someone who died from violence. Those things will bring up new questions and new problems, and let’s be frank, I don’t have the answers for those things. I can’t tell them why God allows children to die, why violence sometimes seems to win…but I can teach them about death as a part of life. These are everyday lessons I want them to learn.

1) Dying people are not scary.
I watched my four-year-old climb up right beside that hospital bed in the room where my aunt took her last breaths and take her hand like there was nothing to it. She started right in with a one-sided conversation, no fear at all. It was the sweetest little thing, made even more striking by the fact that they didn’t interact like that regularly. I never want my children to fear the elderly or the dying or the vulnerable. Don’t be scared. Just love them.

2) Death is not convenient.
With very rare exceptions, death cannot be predicted. So you change your plans. You skip practices, games, holiday dinners, working on your house, work, school, and even sometimes vacations. (Unless your ticket is non-refundable and the rest of your family can still go. But then you feel bad about it.) You show up. If you know the person who died, but not their family, you still show up. They want to see the people that loved their loved one. If you don’t know the person who died, but you do know their loved ones, you show up. That’s what makes us people. We share one another’s loads. We grieve with one another. Even when we don’t know what to say. We come and we give a hug and we cry together. If you can travel to the location, you do so. Don’t be scared. Just show up.

3) Death is a lot of work.
So you do it. If it’s not your loved one, you do the work. If you’re part of a church, then you move chairs and you set up tables and you ask what else needs to be prepared for the funeral. You make food for the after-funeral dinner, and even more importantly, you serve at the after-funeral dinner. You do this EVERY TIME you possibly can because someday it’s going to be your family member, and someone else will need to do it for you. If you’re not part of a church that does this kind of thing, then you make food for the family. Not just the immediate family, but the ones who don’t live in that house too. They all are tired and overextended with the purchasing of funeral clothes and time off work, and everyone could use a break. Make them dinner. Clean their house. Do something. Don’t be scared. Just step up.

4) Death is not scary.
This one was really brought home to me on the way home from my aunt’s viewing. The kids asked about the body which led to a conversation about embalming which led to burial which led to cremation which led to my older children deciding on their death and funeral wishes and wanting to know mine. It wasn’t icky. It wasn’t weird. It was just a conversation about the natural progression of life. People die. We grieve. We remember them, but we move forward. As they are exposed to death, it will only serve them to be better equipped when someone very close to them dies. I don’t want them to be paralyzed with fear when that inevitably occurs. Don’t be scared. Just keep on.

5) Death is not the end.
The last lesson is the most important one of all. The night we got the call that my aunt had finally passed, my Maggie said, “Do you know that Aunt Esther never learned to drive? When she was getting ready to learn, a pig ran across the road and the car, and then she was too scared to ever try. I bet right now she’s driving a golden car with wings.” Facts of that story are maybe not completely verified, but Maggie understood the point. Aunt Esther still lives. The minute she left this earth, she gets to be present with Jesus. Something deep within my kids’ souls knows this to be true. I’m not sure if it’s just my own indoctrination of our faith beliefs (possible, but I honestly can’t remember us talking about this aspect of death much) or if it’s just this innate part of us as humans that knows that there is more to us than just this earthly life. Eternity is planted in our hearts, and my kids know this to be true. Death is sad. Death is painful. But don’t be scared, sweet children: Love wins.

things I learned in the dark

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Sweet M has been sick since Labor Day. Until the past week or so, she was up multiple times a night, every night. One of those awakenings would typically last anywhere from 2-4 hours. I think I’m handling it just fine, but then she sleeps through the night one night and I can’t. I’m not the kind of person who can get completely up and do productive things while battling insomnia, so I’ve been lying in bed, listening to a lot of Roseanne Cash, and learning some things in the dark of night.

origin_35466035061. While battling extreme embarrassment over my affinity towards the game, I just can’t quit you, Candy Crush.

2. I’m pretty sure I can now diagnose your diseases solely by looking at the location of pimples on your face. Thanks, face mapping.

3. Jesse Thorn’s voice is now more familiar to me than my husband’s, thanks to Judge John Hodgman and Bullseye.

4. Reluctantly and with enormous amounts of skepticism, I have done an inordinate amount of research on essential oils and their usages resulting in a hefty purchase of said oils this month. Two things: I think Young Living might also be the work of Satan so I used a different company, and also, I really don’t believe all the hype. We’ll see…..

5. JoJo Moyes has become a favorite. Me Without You was terrific, and the best I’ve read of hers so far. Eerily timely, given the Brittany Maynard news coverage. The Kindle is an insomniac’s best friend.

6. Virginia wine country vacations are expensive.

7. Maybe closer to home would be cheaper? Or maybe not. Hocking Hills has some crazy expensive cabins and inns, although you apparently can get a whole Scottish inn experience there. I bet that’s experiencing a significant growth in profits as a result of the whole Outlander situation.

8. In spite of my fear over the future, in spite of the pain-driven tears, in spite of the anxiety-fueled gulping breaths and heart palpitations, and even in spite of the myriad of frustrations and things unsaid between us at any given moment, lying beside my husband at night is the safest place I know.

(Full disclosure: I’m a verbal processor, and if my sweet husband is reading this right now, he is thinking with horror: “how could possibly be ANYTHING unsaid???”)

 

 

photo credit: Moe M via photopin cc

when you doubt

Sunday, October 26, 2014

DeathtoStock_NotStockI think I believe in this miracle-working God who makes everything sad come untrue and sets the captives free and works it all for good, but then life intersects. Sometimes it’s all more mud than it is glory.

People get cancer…and instead of being healed and fighting the disease back to remission, they die and leave behind their children to pick up the pieces.
Cars crash…and there isn’t the angel that visits the scene to pull out the body before it is crushed.
Marriages crumble…and sometimes they don’t have this wonderful redemption story. Sometimes they just end.
People are hungry…and sometimes no one comes to give them food. Sometimes they just die of starvation.
Children are brought into this world…and sometimes they aren’t protected by the people who are supposed to protect them. Sometimes those people hurt them instead.
People work all of their life, as hard as they can…and sometimes they never, ever get ahead. Sometimes they end in as much poverty as they started.
Children are adopted…and sometimes it doesn’t end happily ever after. Sometimes the adoptive home is worse than the first family they had to leave behind, and they are ripped yet again from another family only to spend years in foster care and age out of the system with no family at all.

Sometimes things don’t end up the way we want them to. Sometimes things don’t end the way we think God should make it end. Sometimes He just doesn’t intervene. I don’t know why. I can’t explain that. I know I love Him. I trust Him in spite of it. My eyes are on You, Jesus, but boy, do I have some questions…

[image: death to the stock photo]

the hair of humility

Saturday, October 18, 2014

These past two weeks have given me another silver hair. I have pulled my single silver strand with dedication for a couple years now, last night being no exception, but then this morning, I looked in the mirror to see another shiny metallic glint in my part line. My first showed up during the trauma of our foster care journey with our two youngest permanents. I suppose this one could be attributed to a gift from the upcoming finalization of the littlest’s adoption, but I tend to think it’s from the stress of the past couple months. Wading with your children through their deep stuff all the while battling some deep stuff of your own will age you quicker than anything.

origin_3718841972I realized some heavy truths this week. Mostly that my angst and grief over my child’s difficulties are largely just all selfish feelings about me. I feel like I’ve failed. I feel like if I were better at my job and my life that we would not have these problems. I feel like I’ve done all the wrong things. I’m afraid people will think I’m a bad parent. I’m afraid that I am a bad parent.

Really, though? My son’s story is not all about me. It’s his story. I get to walk alongside him through it, and I hope that I help more than I do harm, but in the end, it’s his story. Only his.

I am not his savior.
I am not his rescuer.
I am not the person who will make all things right in his life.

I love him.
I protect him.
I advocate for him.
I teach him.
I pray for him.
I am on his side.

From now on, when I look in the mirror and I see that second silvery thread, I will remember I am his mama. And that’s the end of it. I do everything that a mama should do. The outcome? It’s just not up to me. Even if he never heals in the way I hope and imagine, it’s not about ME. This isn’t about what I do or don’t do, how I feel about it all. This is my son’s story, and the redemption and restoration and rebuilding that I work for in his little life is really just up to One who loves him more than I ever could.

So that hair up there? It’s just a little reminder of who I am NOT. I think I’ll call it the Hair of Humility.

(That I will continue to pull out whenever it appears. So I’m vain. Some things can’t be helped.)

make me brave

Saturday, October 4, 2014

IMG_9375Earlier this week, I spend a full hour googling cabins and spas and small inns, dreaming of a quiet retreat, somewhere to recharge and rest for just a bit. I’m sure part of it was the relentless heat of summer’s end, part of it also the relentless demand of a large family. Even in this heat, the leaves have been falling, but instead of that being the joyfully anticipated harbinger of my favorite season, this year it’s feeling just a little bit like death and fear.

In the flush of victory of a successful beginning to the school year, we are watching our son deal with demons that we haven’t seen exhibit themselves in years. Learning how to love him well has been a constant struggle, and if I’m to tell the truth here, it’s been more failure than success on my part. I’m not telling those of you who are parents anything that you don’t know, but there is no greater piercing than watching your children suffer, particularly the kind of soul-crushing suffering that makes your heart break wide open. If you’re the mama of a child who has come from a hard place, you also know that when most people, even your friends or family, want to tell you that the behaviors are normal, that things are to be expected, you know there is just a level that is deeper for your child. Yes, the behaviors often look typical. It’s usually the reasoning behind them and the depth of it that is different. That’s the muck we’re wading through right now, even while we celebrate the enormous victories our sweet boy is experiencing at school, at church, and at home. He has worked so hard to come this far, but it is a definite reminder that the pit is just as deep as it has always been even if we don’t go there as much or stay there as long.

I get him in a way that I’ve never before. I’m struggling with some deep stuff too. The underlying fear that fuels a lot of my emotions has come out in my actions more than I’d prefer. You’d think as an adult, I’d have a better handle on that, but this fall, I’ve been daily confronted with my own weaknesses. For instance, I’ve felt better than I’ve had in more than 2 years for the bulk of this summer, but suddenly my hair is coming out in giant handfuls and my palpitations are keeping me up at night again. I think it’s just stress, but there’s always that undercurrent of fear that I’ve enjoyed as much good health as I’m going to ever have again. We’re also beginning one of the biggest life changes our family has ever experienced, and I’m gripped by the uncertainty that surrounds it. I’m overcome by my own resistance – there’s never been anything that I’ve wanted to do less. Yet I know it’s right, and I know it’s God. So I can’t say no, and I’m just honestly a little ticked off regarding the whole thing.

I spent a lot of time this week bemoaning my son’s attempts to run away (a new tactic he’s been trying of late). But really. Do I have the right? Isn’t that what I’m longing for at heart too? To run away? The hours I spend daydreaming about escaping my life for a time, the hotels and places and pretties that I pin while I long for a vacation where I can forget about my trouble…is that so different from my seven-year-old just taking off down the street?

Just as I follow him down the road through the neighborhood while he walks off his anger so he realizes there’s no place he can run to that we won’t follow him, that there’s nowhere too far that we won’t love him back home…that’s what my Jesus is gently, gently saying to me too.

If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.
Psalm 139:9-10

I will never leave you nor forsake you.
Joshua 1:5

Any of you want to run away and escape too? Is it just that time of year? What I do know is that this is the time, right here, right now, where we need to be brave - my sweet boy. me, and maybe you too. Walking forward into the unknown, where our feet may fail, trusting that we walk in a living hope that will never fade or perish, that will not put us to shame. Trusting that we follow Love who already made a way for us. Leaning on the One who is for us, not against us. Strong and courageous, I am stepping forward into the deep. Not without fear, certainly; I am still crazy afraid, but I’m headed to where I have no choice but to let it all go in surrender.

Isn’t that what true bravery is? Doing the thing you’re scared to in spite of the risk?

Jesus, make us brave.

 

[image: death to the stock photo]

my daily Eucharist

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Tuesday evening, as a simple act to end a simple night of prayer in the church basement, with the twinkle lights illuminating, I dipped a piece of bread in the cup and ate it. Together with my sisters and friends, in spirit with women all over the world, we celebrated what some call the Eucharist, some the Lord’s Supper, others Communion, and at this point in my life, what I just call it the Table -a place where we all come broken, all unworthy, yet all made whole and worthy by the very act that we are remembering.

Every morning, the very first thing I do is unscrew a lid, take out two tiny pills, one yellow, one pink, and begin my day with an act of humility. The same humility and surrender that brought me to the Table this past Tuesday evening. Every night, the very last thing before I get into bed, I again unscrew that lid, take out a tiny pill, white this time, and place it in my mouth. The tang of medicinal coating feels much like the tang of the juice soaked bread I place in my mouth every time I take communion with my community.

It’s one of those incomprehensible mysteries, this sacrament that we take together. The Catholics believe the bread and the wine literally become Jesus’ flesh and blood when we take it. The skeptic in me recoils and rolls her eyes at that description, but even I have to admit that something supernatural takes place during those holy moments. We take into our bodies that very things that are representative of Jesus’ death and sacrifice. The broken bread His broken body. The wine red like His blood. The very thing that brought death now, somehow, miraculously, brings us life.

The same thing happens to me each time I take my medicine. It’s a battle to surrender to my body in this way. I hate that I have to take daily medication. It’s a reminder, day after day after day, that I am broken. I can’t handle things all on my own the way I would prefer. I can never again live without taking these pills. I need help to do things that other people do without thinking. It is something completely outside myself that I am forced to depend on to function.

The humility I feel when I open and close my day with submission to these facts is the same humility I feel when I submit to the soul brokenness that I remember each time I commemorate Jesus’ sacrifice. I can’t control and handle everything on my own. I need Him in ways that I’d sometimes rather not admit. It is something completely outside myself that I am forced to depend on to function.

When I come weary to my medicine case, I remember the energy I will have because it causes my body to function differently. When I come bitter and wounded to those pills, I remember that these medicines bring healing and wholeness in a way that my flesh cannot bring on its own. I submit to the things that remind me of my own mortality and lack of control over my life because they bring life to my physical body.

When I come weary to the Table, I remember that I am carried there by the people of God. I remember that Jesus is the only one who can teach me real rest, who can teach me to walk in grace. When I come bitter and wounded to the table, I remember we are all in this together. I remember that we are all broken in the same way, and it’s only through Jesus’ sacrifice that we are made whole. I remember that this very thing which reminds me of death is the thing that brings life to my soul.

The medicine works life in my body. The bread and the wine work life in my body.

origin_3383659848“For we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.”
2 Corinthians 4:7-12

 

Daily, I come. Daily, I surrender.

 

 

photo credit: khrawlings via photopin cc

remembering ferguson in over-the-rhine

Thursday, September 18, 2014

(photo: Twitter user @The_Blackness48)

Saturday night, Wendell and I walked through Over-the-Rhine, a traditionally rough, recently trendy neighborhood in Cincinnati. We put in our reservations at the fancy tapas restaurant owned by nationally recognized chef. We went through the over-pried locally manufactured goods store, lingered over the handmade wallets, and then we decided to take a walk down the crowded street while we waited. Any building that wasn’t already remodeled was under construction. Fancy lofts, expensive condos – Get in now while it’s cheaper…except cheaper means hundreds of dollars more a month than what these apartments used to cost. We passed modern fashion, pricey handbags, bouffant men’s hairstyles and all sipping cocktails on high stools.

Until two blocks down. There, the color changed. Literally.

The street was no longer glitzy, the people no longer white. A man lay in the middle of the sidewalk, a two-year-old nearly pedaled his big-wheel right into the street before his seven-year-old brother stopped him. The chairs were plastic, the drinks came in cans. I don’t think I have ever walked down a street with greater contrast than this one neighborhood. I love urban renewal as much as anyone, but my experience in the big cities close to us is that it too often looks like gentrification instead of true community transformation. This is part of the problem with race relations in our country.

I haven’t talked a lot about Ferguson with those around me. My feelings are mostly too raw. My heart is broken by this nation we live in. I’ve wanted to say things. So many things. I just don’t have the world experience to say them from my own personal authority, and after awhile, it becomes weary just quoting the knowledge I’ve attained from others.

I think I’ve mentioned before, briefly, the profound experience I had when reading The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander last year. I don’t often find myself convicted by ills committed by society at large or by our government as if they were my own sins, but the research and educational path I took while reading that book wrecked me in a way I didn’t expect. Things I thought were true all of my life were challenged deeply. The enormity of the task I have to rear a brown-skinned girl in a world where white privilege remains mostly unacknowledged and unchanged has brought me to my knees in humility. The unwitting complicity in these broken systems brought an unanticipated measure of guilt and repentance.

There were many who wrote about Ferguson in ways that I could never begin to put to the paper. There are others who are living this in ways that I probably never will. Their words bear far more weight than mine, so their words are the ones I’ll share here. I know most will think this is a story whose time has passed. I just can’t stop thinking about it, and I hope that none of us stop thinking about it. May we leave this world, this nation, our communities a little better than when we got here, and may I be part of that legacy.

 

If I could ask just one thing of you on this issue, please read some (or all) of these links. It might take you a week or two or even three to read all of them, but please. Please do not let this time in your life go by without investigating this issue in our nation, in our churches, in our own lives:

Why We're Still Unwilling to Admit to Systemic Racism in America - Benjamin Corey
“I believe that part of the task for Jesus followers in this time, in this place, and within this culture, is to usher in a season of reconciliation for our country. It will be hard work, it will make you unpopular, and it will involve some costly choices. While I believe that there are thousands ready to live like Jesus lived and to carry on his message of empathy, inclusion, and reconciliation, we must first face the following fact:
We cannot begin addressing this problem until we’re willing to admit this problem exists.
May we, the people of Jesus, live in reality– even if it is a difficult reality that invites us to sacrificial change.”

America is Not For Black People - The Concourse
”To ascribe this entirely to contempt for black men is to miss an essential variable, though—a very real, American fear of them. They—we—are inexplicably seen as a millions-strong army of potential killers, capable and cold enough that any single one could be a threat to a trained police officer in a bulletproof vest. There are reasons why white gun's rights activists can walk into a Chipotle restaurant with assault rifles and be seen as gauche nuisances while unarmed black men are killed for reaching for their wallets or cell phones, or carrying children's toys. Guns aren't for black people, either.”

Ferguson and the Quest for Racial Justice - Russell Moore
”Ferguson reminds us that American society has a long way to go in healing old hatreds. Our churches are not outposts of American society. Our churches are to be colonies of the kingdom of God. Let’s not just announce what unity and reconciliation ought to look like. Let’s also show it.”

Racial Profiling, Thugology, and the Church - Efrem Smith
I was just in Oakland this past week and too many churches were closed, with signs stating that they are only open for Wednesday Bible Study and Sunday Morning Worship. This is unacceptable. The issues facing our cities calls for collaborative church strategies that put Christians on the streets until systems change and crime reduces significantly. Commuter Churches must become Community Churches again. The Church can indeed address both racial profiling and thug-ology.

Two Americas: Ferguson, Missouri Versus the Bundy Ranch, Nevada - The Daily Banter
You need to click through to see this article – it’s more a visual piece than something from which I can pull an effective quote.

Racial Bias, Police Brutality, and the Dangerous Act of Being Black - Kristen Howerton
Rather than a quote from this article, just go and look through all of the research Kristen links to in this article. It needs no commentary.

Would Black Transracially Adopted Males Rather Be White Right Now? - Angela Tucker
”Are white adoptive parents more inclined to reminisce, reflect and eulogize Robin Williams than they are to educate, advocate and act upon these current systemic tragedies that directly impact their family?”

This Is What We Mean When We Say It's About Race - Medium.com
”So when we say that this or any other issue is about race, part of what we’re asking is for you to go beyond the scope of your own experiences when choosing whether or not to validate another person’s perspective, because your experiences may not shed enough light on the problem. Just as fish don’t understand the concept of water until they’re out of it, white people don’t usually understand white privilege until they’re forced to confront its effects, usually by people of color who are sick of getting the short end of the privilege equation.”

A White Cop, A Black Kid, and A Crime - Jamie, the Very Worst Missionary
”As people of privilege (*ahem* you know who you are), we have a responsibility to ask WHY, and then listen intently to the answer. Our neighbors in Ferguson have been standing in the street with their hands in the air, because they're trying to tell us something about the balance of power and racial inequity in the U.S! Are we willing to hear them? Because maybe it's time to shut up and listen. Or maybe it's time to get up and act; to meet our friends in the street, clasp their hands, share in their tears, echo their outrage, and stand by their side until, statistically, a long and healthy future is equally as likely for every child.”

Black Bodies White Souls - Austin Channing Brown
”I am convinced that the soul of the white church has yet to be ashamed. It is not ashamed of slavery- it only dismisses it. It is not ashamed of Jim Crow- it only claims credit for ending it. It is not ashamed of incarceration rates- it only excuses it. It is not ashamed of ghettos- it pretends to have nothing to do with them. It is not ashamed of segregation- only silently benefits from it. There is no shame for who America has been. I believe that until there is collective shame for who white America has been to people of color, white America will not choose to be something else. If it is fine with who it is, it will continue to do what's always done.”

if grace is an ocean

Thursday, September 4, 2014

O14A0456For the past month, I’ve been arguing with God. As if I know best. I’ve been telling Him all the things that I need, that I want – telling Him what I do and don’t want to do, what I do and don’t want to be. I’ve told Him over and over how flawed I am, listed out all the ways I’ve been screwing this whole thing up. Lest you think that the God I speak to isn’t real – well, I can’t disprove your experience, but you can’t disprove mine either, and I’ve been experiencing God in a whole new way this month.

 

God often speaks to me through His Word. Sometimes in ways I don’t want to hear. Maybe it’s because I’m a writer myself. Maybe it’s because reading has always been my favorite subject. Maybe it’s because there is nothing in this world that makes my heart cry glory like a well-put phrase or a well-chosen word. God speaks in all kinds of ways to all kinds of people – through others, through the Holy Spirit in our own souls, through circumstances, through signs or miracles or what have you, but as for me, it’s always been the Word where God does the hardest work in my life.

The study that a friend and I have been doing on Hosea could not have come at a better time than right now. I’ve read Hosea 85 gazillion times due to my teenage infatuation with Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers, but it has never ever struck me like it has this particular time.

…so when I read Hosea 2:14 about God speaking tenderly to us in the desert, I am reminded that no matter my faults, no matter my sins, God does not treat me as I may deserve. He shows mercy. He showers grace. He speaks tenderly.

..when I read Hosea 2:23 where God says, “and I will say to Not My People, ‘You are my people’”, I am reminded that God has made me part of a People. Not an individual. I’m part of a group. I can’t do this all on my own. I can’t even process all the things on my own. I need my people. When I’m faithful to talk to my people, you know what? They are faithful to tell me hard truths and ask me difficult questions and help me figure my life out.

…when I read Hosea 4-6 about Israel’s sins and unrepentance, I can see that mirrored in my own life. My unfaithfulness to the One who always shows Himself faithful. My clinging to worthless idols instead of clinging to One who can truly give me what I need. My arguing and crying and whining about the things He’s asked me to do instead of just being obedient. All of that ugliness is just washed away in the waves of His mercy. It sinks in the depths of His grace.

 

God continues speaking even when I’m not expecting it. I was caught off guard when I found Him speaking rather sternly to me, even in the middle of a book I’ve read before, in the middle of a story that I thought didn’t apply to me:

“Perhaps this applies to you, too, good reader. God may be leading you away without a clear final destination yet….There is a horrid beauty in following God slightly blind. The victory later is sweeter, the prize more valuable than breath. Obviously, we are Americans; we like a plan, we like assurances. But the ways of faith exist so far outside of our tidy boundaries, it is a wonder we can ever receive its mysteries at all. As it was, we could only hold loosely to something we didn’t even understand, and that put us in a position of faith and terrible humility. We can wreck the spirit of a mission by prematurely focusing on the strategy. When the “how” eclipses the “why” too soon, we create a positional shift to defend and execute rather than listen and receive…”
Jen Hatmaker from Interrupted, revised and expanded

 

Umm. Listen and receive? I want a plan, thanks. Following God into the great unknown is so much more glamorous sounding than the panic that I find settling down in my life to stay for awhile. I don’t want to hold loosely. I want cling tightly. I want all the things to be in order and figured out and progressing along a certain trajectory. Even if that trajectory calls me to do really, really hard things, painful things, things that require more of me than I thought I could give – frankly, I still only want to do it if it’s the trajectory that I plan for. This unknown stuff? Shove it.

 

I’m in the middle of these hard, yet somehow still tender, truths, in the throes of wrestling with the One I love in spite of it all. Perhaps it’s time to lay down my arguments and my defenses. The minute I think I’m ready, I find myself taking up arms yet again. At odds with the One who calls me, yet steadily, if somewhat reluctantly, moving towards Him. Every time I think I have this whole ‘follow where He leads’ thing figured out, God calls me deeper still. Every time I think I’ve sacrificed enough, He calls me to lay down one more thing. Every time I think I’m can rest on my laurels and take some time off, He gently, yet firmly, prods me onward – reminding me yet again that this isn’t all about me. Further. So even though tonight, quite honestly, finds me fighting against the waves, I know if I let go, I can sink in the ocean of grace.

Now, to match my head with my heart. Press on.

 

“Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord;
his going out is sure as the dawn,
he will come to us as the showers,
as the spring rains that water the earth.”
Hosea 6:3

 

 

[image: death to the stock photo]

a tale of two rooms

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Last week, while the husband was taking the eldest deep-sea fishing for his 13th birthday, on a whim, I decided to re-do our bedroom.

securedownload (1)For four consecutive mornings, I woke up in this room. With the perfect gray-green color on the walls, newly painted furniture that now actually matches, a gallery wall, a floor that’s picked up, and no crib in the room. It’s peaceful, and I woke up happy each day. There’s something that feels so grown up about it. I know that seems silly to say since I’ve been a grown up for quite a little while now, but I’ve also shared my room with various babies for the bulk of the past several years. There was something about waking up in my grown-up room that made me feel ready for the day. Like my entire life was set right. Like I was the one in charge here, after all. securedownloadIt was a lot, frankly, for one bedroom to live up to.

Then there was Tuesday morning, when I woke up in another room entirely. One that, yet again, had a crib in it.

Monday night, during our bedtime routine, I was giving one of the daughters the medicine she takes for sleeping. Sometime in between me giving it to her and trying to get her up to bed, the baby grabbed the bottle, somehow the lid came off, and she ate 5 or so of the pills. Within ten minutes we had searched the area for the pills, called poison control, and gotten on our way to the ER since poison control told me I needed to get her ‘checked out’. Once we got into the ER, the story was completely different. We were taken back immediately to a trauma room, and swarmed like it was a for-real emergency. Stomach pumped, antidotes given, xrays, blood, vomit, catheters…it was a tiny bit surprising for me given that the medicine she took was prescribed for a child, and poison control didn’t even say to call the squad. Due to the nature of this particular med, we were then admitted to PICU for monitoring for 24 hours. When dawn broke on the hospital room that next morning, little baby was traumatized from the ER shenanigans and still clearly under the influence from the medication overdose. Mama was exhausted, guilt-ridden from the event since it happened when I was RIGHT THERE! (how does this occur? I still can’t even tell you.), and fearful over investigation and reprisals since she’s not yet ours. We woke up at the mercy of the doctors and social workers who held our fate and our release in their hands. So much for my peaceful, grown-up, in control mornings.

After my dose of humility brought by the attending doctor interview, I got another with the hospital social worker. I was relieved when she assured me they had no concerns, that it was clearly accidental, that they would pass that along to the agency, but I knew we’d still have the agency to deal with. We’ve never had anything happen that was our fault during placements, so I had more than a little trepidation of what it all would mean. Sweet M’s caseworker told me not to worry – yeah right.

As much as my new room gives me some kind of illusion that I have it all together, at least in that small square footage, the truth is far different. I only have to look at the pictures of those two rooms I woke up in this week to see it. I screw up. Accidents happen. Just a second can change my life forever, and there’s nothing I can do after the fact to rectify it. There’s no punishment that equals the amount of harshness that mamas can pour on themselves when it comes to their children. This mistake was redeemed by quick medical intervention, but too many times we can’t fix our mistakes so quickly. Yet, as I was reading in Hosea today, there is no mistake for which God won’t grant mercy. Even in the wilderness, he drew the people who betrayed Him over and over back to Himself. He speaks tenderly to us in the face of our worst failures. (Hosea 2:14)

Maybe I can use that and speak some tenderness to myself as well? I’ve been pretty harsh with myself over the past couple days. Deservedly so. But maybe the time has come for me to be a little tender too. If God can speak tenderly to the people that forsook Him again and again and again, perhaps I can muster a little compassion for myself. Perhaps I can sit in mercy and grace. So today, when I do the interview with the county regarding this whole incident, when I get the verdict on the consequences, when I rehash this whole story for the umpteenth time, my instinct is to berate myself again.  This time I’m going to try to let go of that. I’m going to try to treat myself with just a little grace.

 

 

Do you need some tenderness in your life this week too? Let’s lay down our shame and lift up our faces together.

sweet hope

Monday, August 25, 2014

large__5342575851After a week of school, I feel as though we can breathe again. The house had descended into the depths of chaos in the weeks prior to school starting. There was so much yelling and fighting and crying and mess. And that was just me…

It’s always kind of crazy right before any big transition in our house. The children sense something big is coming, even the ones who don’t understand what it is. Behavior disintegrates. Emotions flare. Tension is high. Add to that one child who had entered the depths of fear-based acting out because of previous trauma, and we were just living on the edge here for a while.

Last year was emotionally traumatic for our kindergartener. His first year of school was not his favorite, by a long shot. He ended the year hating school, disliking his teacher, and feeling so much shame that it took us some weeks to recover. As school began to approach this year, we watched him just fall apart here at home. Finally we sat down, had a big talk complete with tears, and decided that we had to take action before the school year started. We went into last year hoping for the best and reluctant to put any labels on him unless necessary. Unfortunately, not only did we wait too long to step in and when we did, we did so with too much trepidation. His teacher did not seem invested in his success, and I think he fairly quickly got a reputation with her. He developed quite a little chip on his shoulder and assumed the worst from everyone.

This year we didn’t want a repeat of last year, so I spent the summer in prayer for whomever would be teaching his class. Once we found out the name, I emailed and asked if we could meet with her privately before open house. Open houses are busy and loud, and it’s difficult to get appropriate time with any teacher. She readily agreed! I went armed with an introductory letter and a toolkit about educating kids with trauma (found here). HIs teacher was gracious and engaged. She built relationship with him immediately, and above all else, she doesn’t use the simple green-yellow-red card system. She still has a discipline system with colors (which is still not my favorite), but at least you don’t start ‘good’ and then turn ‘bad’. You start the same every day, but then you can move up or down – acknowledgement and praise for good choices, consequences for bad ones. Not only that, but if you happen to move down past just the warning, she then sits with each child individually and helps them to fill out a paper about the choice they made and what a different choice might be that they could use in the future to respond to that situation. EXACTLY the kind of thing our son needs – help with his decision-making. He doesn’t have enough executive function in his brain yet to fully realize how his choices might affect something beyond the moment, so any reinforcement in this area will help his brain develop those connections better. Add to that a teacher that he feels relationship with, and he is set up well for this school year.

He has come home happy from school all week. Something we saw very few days last year. The other day at dinner, when we were telling the highs and lows of our day, the best part of his day was…school! That literally never happened last year. Not one single time was school his favorite part of the day. I have wept with relief and gratitude more than once over the past week. I pray it continues. We’re living on hope around here, and it sure is sweet.

while I wasn’t writing…

Thursday, August 7, 2014

…I was reading. Thus this highly curated edition of links I’ve been saving up to share with you. Since I had probably twenty things saved, and they were from the entire year, I decided to edit my picks significantly. The best of the best, this is. After this, I’m caught up, and it’ll only be fresh picks from now on.

On foster care and adoption:

Are They Orphans - This High Calling

“So, you're not her real mama?

I swallowed because I was not in a mood to defend.

But Sis was quick to answer, I have two mamas. Both love me.

The lady turned to me, Are you going to adopt her?

Again, quicker than a whip, Sis jumped in, I don't need to be adopted. I have a mama who loves me and is working really hard to get me back.

The nail gal didn't ask another question.”

 

10 Things You Need to Know About Adopting from Foster Care

“That being said, there is no such thing as messed up kids; there are just kids that come from messed up places. And that’s where we come in—their adoptive families, friends, communities, schools, churches, neighborhoods. We come in and we love them and we care for them and we do everything we can to make this part of their lives as amazing as we can. We show them their worth, help them learn to trust, and provide the stability that serves as a foundation for healing.

Love works, but not by itself.”

 

On church:

In which I think community is worth intention :: or why I still "go to" church - Sarah Bessey

“In a fractured and mobile and hyper customized and individualized globalized world, intentional community – plain old church – feels like a radical act of faith and sometimes like a spiritual discipline. We  show up at a rented school and drink a cup of tea with the people of God and remember together, who we are, why we live this life, and figure out all over again how to be disciples of The Way, because we are people of hope.”

The Coming Class Crisis: Why the Church Should Invest in Early Childhood Education - Alan Noble

“Children in the lower classes are receiving less and less of the crucial opportunities needed to grow, learn, and mature compared to their upper class counterparts….

One of Putnam’s most interesting findings is that children from working class families no longer tend to be involved with churches. This wasn’t always the case. In the recent past, Putnam claims, “There were no class differences in religious observance in America, but now attending church among the [working class] in America has collapsed,” where as for upper-middle class it has “not changed much.”

Putnam sees this as a serious problem, because without the involvement of churches, many of these kids will not receive the attention and opportunities that are important for social mobility. Putnam claims that churches (along with every other major social institution) have failed working class children, creating a generation that is alienated, untrusting, and unskilled. The church has abandoned the poor, he says, and the results are tragic.”

 

And finally, the stuff that just wrecks me:

Photos: Father Of Santa Barbara Killer Meets Victim's Dad

Sometimes, not much needs to be said. That's the case with a series of photos released today that show an early June meeting between the father of the Santa Barbara killer and the dad of one of his 20-year-old victims…."I've been told that the shooter's father has said he wanted to devote his life to making sure that doesn't happen again. I share that with him," Martinez said. "He's a father. I'm a father. He loved his son. I love my son. His son died. My son died."

Put on that Swimsuit - The Mom Creative

“Because at the end of the day, it is not about me.

It is about my kids….

Today, I hope to encourage you to push your insecurities aside. Put on that bathing suit. Run through the sprinkler. Jump in the pool. Splash.

Have fun.

Your child will remember those moments and your freedom – not how you looked in your swimming suit.”

where we call it out by name

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

large_6711852My father-in-law sat on my couch during their week-long stay at our home and pulled my youngest son onto his lap. He held him, and then he proceeded to my absolute astonishment to name all of the positive character qualities that he is seeing develop in our seven-year-old young man. Gentlemanly. Kind. Polite. Well-behaved. He told him how proud he was of him and how much he loved him. He explained the qualities for our 1st grader who didn’t yet understand all the vocabulary. He told him that he wouldn’t just call anybody these names, that he saved naming these qualities for people he respected and loved.

Ever have one of those moments where you feel like Moses at the burning bush? Moses is in the desert, and God sends an angel to speak to him through this bush that looks like it’s on fire but still doesn’t burn up. God, from within the fire-bush, tells Moses to take off his shoes because the place where he’s standing, that place where God has come to speak directly with him, is holy ground. That’s how I felt on this otherwise ordinary July evening in my messy living room with its dirty carpet. I wanted to take off my shoes and throw my hands in the air. Holy ground.

My father-in-law had no idea what he was doing, I’m certain – thus my astonishment. I don’t think we’ve ever spoken to him about our goals for our son, about his emotional needs. My dad says it best when he said that for this particular child, the primary question of his life is “Do I matter?” We spend a large part of our days trying to figure out how to build this truth into his little life, and then, without warning or prompting, someone sits in our home and tells him the very thing he needs most to hear.

In the Bible, whenever God wants to make a point or commemorate something important, He will often change a name. There is such power in naming something. When he called Abram to leave his homeland and follow Him to an unknown place where He would then build Abram’s family to be a mighty nation, God’s chosen people, He changed His name to Abraham. When He called Jacob to continue that line, he renamed him Israel. The pattern continues throughout the Story of scripture. In Revelation, we are told that when God’s kingdom is established finally and forever, we will all receive new names. The pattern echoes with places as well as people. Hagar names the place where God came to meet her. Jacob names the place where He saw God in a vision. If you want to give something lasting value, if you want it to mean something, you give it a name.

We do this for our children. We give them names that are meaningful to us. Whether it’s a family name or a new name, people tend to put a significant amount of thought into naming their children. It becomes especially powerful for the children that we adopt into our family. We don’t just give them a name, we change their name. Their identity is not exactly the same anymore. They identify with a new family, become grafted into a new history.

This re-naming process, it’s become a life-script for our family.
We mostly call it redemption.

Everyone else has called you bad: we call you good.
They’ve said you’re weak: we call you courageous.
Others might call you stupid: we point to your intelligence.
They might call you mean: we call out the kindness.
You’ve been rejected: we delight in you.
They call you an orphan: we call you family.
They might say ordinary: we say you are a masterpiece.
Everyone else in your life has said you’re worthless: we call you worthy.

You know, I need this just as much as my children. I need to name things. I need to call them out in specific ways at specific times lest I lose my focus on what matters, on what’s true. It’s how we change the script. This story that seems like it should turn out bad? It’s going to work out for good. We name it so. Even during the very worst of the summer months when we feel like we’re taking more steps back than we are forward, we get these moments. These holy moments when God uses the most precious of men to speak to the most precious of boys. God is in the business of redemption. I just get to be a part of it. He’s the one doing the rescuing, and I am newly reminded of His capability to do just that.

 

 

photo credit: emdot via photopin cc

our day in court

Sunday, August 3, 2014

I haven’t written a huge amount about our case with Sweet M, mostly because there hasn’t been much to say. From the moment we picked her tiny little self up at the hospital until today, we’ve had maybe five parental visits, a gazillion medical appointments, and virtually nothing else. There’ve been a few case reviews at court, none of which we attended since they don’t tend to be worth the time. There weren’t any team meetings. No CASA worker or GAL until the past month. No other services. There just hasn’t been a need.

Not all of her story is mine to share just yet (and some of it never will be mine to tell), but what I can share is about our past month. The month where we finally got an arraignment date and subsequent trial date for the state to obtain permanent custody.

large_137091735I am still ambivalent about that positive spin our county tries to put on the ugly truth of what actually occurs at those trials. The ugliness of being called into a courtroom where witness after witness takes the stand and reviews in vivid detail all of the failings of the birth parents. Every mistake they made. Every abusive and neglectful thing they did. Every moral failing. Personal details about sex lives and drug use and relationships and finances. Their whole lives get recorded on those official court documents. After all the sordid details are repeated for all to hear, after the judge asks even further questions, then the state rests their case. They call it asking for ‘permanent custody’, but what it really is is the stripping away of any parental rights from the birth parents. They have no legal claim any longer to the children they conceived, birthed, loved, and cared for. Lots of areas use different terminology – ‘termination of parental rights’ is one common one, and I think I prefer that term by far.

It is not positive. It is ugly. I’ve been in two different permanent custody trials, and they both mark two of the worst days of my life. It is the very worst thing to hear these children’s parents drug through the mud. Maybe it’s necessary. Maybe it’s even deserved. But it is also extremely painful. While most of the cases we’ve been a part of have been messy, I have always had the utmost respect for how our county treats the children’s families. They go out of their way to provide dignity and respect to people who often don’t deserve it and who definitely do not receive it in any other area of their lives. Unfortunately, this end-of-case trial is not where dignity and respect are not of importance. The facts take precedence, and the truth usually doesn’t lend itself towards dignity.

We sat in the courtroom this past month for only about 20 minutes. That’s all the time it took in this particular case for the judge to rule. Usually, our judge will hear a case and then issue a written decision after review a few weeks later. Not for Sweet M. He listened to the caseworker’s testimony. He listened to my testimony. He listened to the recommendations from the GAL (who has never met this baby, by the way) and from the agency, and then he granted the state’s motion for permanent custody right there from the bench after 20 minutes. 20 minutes for him to make our Sweet M a legal orphan. Those kids that you read about in foster care? The 140,000 that are waiting for permanent families? Our Sweet M joined their midst this past month, and my heart was broken.

This is not the end of her story just yet. She is not family-less in reality: she is loved and adored by everyone who lives in this house. It’s just that foster care has some rules, so within the next few weeks, we’ll be applying to adopt her. Hopefully they’ll choose us. Then we’ll receive an adoption worker, and after all the paperwork is done, a finalization date. Hopefully.

In the meantime, we mourn the loss of her mother. Of her father. Of her siblings. Of her birth identity. We care for the orphan in our midst and count each and every joy along the way. The grace of each moment with this sweet baby is worth every bit of pain. If she is to be ours someday, we will answer for how we spent these days. We will answer for how we treated her story and her family. Conducting ourselves with integrity is one of the most important gifts we can give her. So while we must speak the truth, we must also grieve the loss. She’ll grieve too someday, and I want her to know then, even as I have always, that she is not alone. We weep with her. We mourn with her. We love with her. It’s what parents do. Even the temporary kind.

 

 

photo credit: vaXzine via photopin cc

the heat of summer

Sunday, July 20, 2014

tumblr_mqffnx1lQ11qkxrtro1_1280We are in the dog days of summer here, and that means little writing time. Little reading time. Lots of hands-on parenting time. Which I wish with all my heart meant that we were vacationing and crafting and swimming daily and all the the lazy things summer brings, but what it really means is that we are fighting and working on loving one another better and cleaning and stressing and counting down the days until school starts.

Baseball is over for the year as of about 6 pm this evening. I am simultaneously sad and relieved. We don’t do fall ball here, so it’s a big break until basketball starts. The girls still have therapy, piano, and dance, so it’s not like our schedule is completely free. The oldest is leaving for his very first overnight camp week in the morning, and while I am a little heartbroken over the thought of my constantly-growing (1.5 shoe sizes since APRIL!!), voice-deepening almost-teenager leaving for a week, I am excited for him to have this experience. I can’t lie, I’m also excited for a little more peace on the homefront since tensions have been high betwixt the oldest and youngest boys of late.

In the meantime, we are navigating treacherous foster care waters (more on that later), some of the biggest life and career decisions we’ve ever faced, financial restrictions, and just the general stress of long, long travel weekends topped with sick kids topped with court topped with two very long baseball tournament days – one rainy and cold, the other in sweltering heat. My body is confused, exhausted, and sunburnt.

And for all of this time, I’m still counting gifts. We are going through this study with my mama-friends’ group, and I am inspired by their newness to this practice as well as convicted to start listing things out again. There is so much power in giving things a name, and while counting gifts is a spiritual practice that I never completely forsook, the specificity of writing each one down has breathed new life for me.

With that, I’m counting to 1000 again….

20. pretty dancing brown arms
21. women to process life with
22. sparkling pool water
23. smell of the leather ipad cover
24. seeing that book I cherish in others’ hands
25. hearing those words change them too
26. catching a glimpse of a friend’s notebook beginning to fill with gifts of her own
27. “my best friend Ester” who “sat with me and stood by me and held my hand”
28. birthday smiles
29. confidence in a large crowd for my cautious boy
30. seeing my lonely-no-more children with a rightful place at the table
31. horses and buggies
32. unsolicited apologies to a stranger
33. watching my son pitch ‘under the lights’
34. tournament wins
35. front porch mornings
36. kindred spirits
37. family treasures
38. how my kids love their Uncle Ken
39. morning breeze and sunshine through the clouds
40. Here I raise my Ebenezer
41. mid-morning dance-offs, a reset for the day
42. two boys in a backyard tent
43. sister slumber parties
44. miraculous court dates
45. peace for the words to speak under oath on the stand
46. quick resolutions
47. texts from friends who understand my emotions
48. the best of sisters-in-law
49. get-well cards from nieces
50. 2nd place finishes, even amongst tears from young men who are still little boys
51. truth telling from our habitual liar
52. innuendoes and intimacies, laughter and winks (figuratively, anyway. I can’t actually wink.)
53. sunburned arms
54. generosity beyond measure from my very favorite brother

not shrinking back

Friday, June 20, 2014

SimoneAnne-1834Caseworker visits always bring with them a sense of unease. Foster care is unpredictable, and as soon as you think you know what’s going on, you find out that you really have no clue. The minute I think I understand how it all works, something new gets thrown our way. When Sweet M’s caseworker came earlier this week, I completely expected a curveball. When none came, I honestly was a little more uneasy after she left than when she arrived. Is a smooth, easy case too good to be true? I’d like to think it’s not, but my experience doesn’t lend itself to trusting the system.

We are expecting a court date within the week for the state to get permanent custody of Sweet M. It’s expected to be ruled on immediately, not even actually going to trial. After the state obtains custody, then we can apply to adopt her officially. The agency is required to have an adoption matching meeting within 30 days of custody where the committee decides which family to permanently place Sweet M with. As far as we know, there are no other families in the works, we have the advantage since she’s been in our home for almost a year, but it’s still unsettling to know that anything can happen. I just can’t allow myself to feel any sort of relief just yet.

With all of this in my head, once Sweet M started breathing just a little weird later that night, I was definitely unable to get any sort of rest. I just sat in my room, watched Netflix on my ipad, read some poetry, hands shaking just a little while I listened to her sleep. A couple hours later, I packed up some stuff for the hospital. Ridiculously. She was sleeping. Her breathing was just vaguely abnormal. I knew I was being silly, but the fear has a bit of a grip on me right now. I just can’t allow myself to relax. Even now, while she’s sleeping in her crib for a nap (which is highly unusual for her because she really prefers to be held for naps, thank you), I feel like I constantly have to be at the ready. The day she went to the hospital she slept a really long time in her crib before she woke up screaming and then fell unresponsive. So this day, when she is still sleeping hours later after I put her down, I feel tense.

I’m not sure when I’ll feel at ease, but I’ll continue to surround myself with truth. With joy. I count gifts, I enjoy the moment, I say yes more than I say no, and good grief, above all else, I get my chores done because you never know when you might have leave suddenly and your mom has to pick up your house. I can’t shrink back from the uncertainties, either in foster care or just in life in general. I move forward in spite of fear. I must give my children a legacy of life and health and peace – and one of risk. Living fully alive, because I can’t be destroyed by worries of the future or pain from the past.

But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved.
Hebrews 10:39

 

 

[image: death to the stock photo]

gift after gift after gift

Saturday, June 14, 2014

IMG_2829

because I’ve been recently reminded that each moment is a gift and not a single one is guaranteed,

because I’m fairly confident that I’m currently parenting our very last baby,

because my oldest is going to be a teenager in three short months,

because I will never get back this time in my life…

I’m back to counting gifts. It wasn’t formal, but after we got home from the hospital, I found myself recording them in my head all day long. It’s a practice I never gave up, but this week I decided I needed a more conscious pursuit. Something to commemorate my days. Something to focus my eyes towards the eternal. Something to heal my heart and put fresh air in my soul.

- tiny toes pushing against the bottom edge of the high chair tray
- the way her hair is starting to curl on the back of her head
- that brief moment when I barely recognized my son because he’s just so tall
- the bluest of blue skies
- cleared brush and wide lake views
- the smell of the water
- staying awake past midnight just talking, like we used to before we were both so tired all the time
- a phone full of texts of love and prayers during a crisis
- little boy tears over The Ugly Duckling story
- when the best part of their day is playing with one another
- tiptoes trying to reach magnets a little higher up on the fridge
- packing up a little girl’s backpack for her first overnight with her favorite cousin-friend
- how happy my boys are at the ball fields
- watching my not-so-little-anymore son play ball with the big boys (who shave. and drive) on the Babe Ruth field
- the kindness of a coach who has changed our son’s whole outlook
- so many spontaneous baby kisses
- six teeth
- fludrocortisone – a little yellow pill that has dramatically changed my life
- sleeping babies and husbands, affording me rare quiet time to think and write

How do you stay sane? How do you focus on what matters? Is there a spiritual practice that has changed your life like this one has mine? I’d love to hear your stories.

open hands

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

In the quiet of the ultrasound room with a galaxy of projector-stars overtop and classical music playing on the radio, I put my hands on Sweet M’s unresponsive little body and finally felt some of the emotion of the day seep through. Not too much because the tech was in the next room speaking with the radiologist about the results. I wasn’t about to be embarrassed in front of the medical professionals.

I had felt fairly calm until now. When I called Wendell to come home because something was wrong with the baby, when I decided he hadn’t arrived quickly enough and called 911, when I called my mom to come get the other kids, when I changed into pants (because my jammie shorts were surely not appropriate for hospital wear), packed my purse with all the papers we might need and a phone charger while Wendell took vitals and tried to get her to respond, I was calm. Preparing. I was calm in the back of the squad as Wendell drove us to the hospital so both of the medics could work on her in the back. I was calm in the trauma room when what felt like 80 people were all asking me questions at once. I was calm in the ER room while we waited on testing and tried to keep her breathing regularly and begged her to just wake up.

But in that dark, peacefully painted little room, I was left briefly alone with her. That’s when I started my own begging with God. Please. I can do surgery. I can do disease. I can do special medical needs. I can make this work long-term, but please, oh please don’t ask me to let go of this baby in this way before she’s even really mine. I laid my face beside her too-still body, and just whispered ‘open hands. open hands. open hands.’ Because if I said it enough times, maybe I’d surrender to it completely. Maybe I’d mean it in my heart, not just say it with my mind.

I know. I know none of my children are mine, and if there’s anything foster care does really really well, it’s to remind you of that fact. We live with open hearts and hands, and it all feels so good and right and holy until that moment when all you want to do with every fiber of your being is grasp as tightly as you can and never, ever let go.

IMG_2857Through the next two eternally long days in the hospital, through the eight different blood draws, the countless vitals checks, the room changes, the sleepless nights, I whispered it over and over in my head. This baby. She’s not mine. Every moment I get to spend with her is a gift. Every smile. Every lick-kiss. Every time her little voice says ‘mama’. Every single moment is grace.

We’re home now, she seems well, and we have no answers. We have no guarantees it will never happen again. A part of me feels like it’s not over yet. A bigger part of me wants to forget it ever happened at all. There’s that moment burned into my memory of getting into the squad with this sick little baby while the rest of my children are sobbing on the porch. That’s a part I’d just as soon let go of.

So I continue to pray the same words I’ve been praying for days now, knees to the earth:

It’s all Yours, Jesus, and it’s all grace. Here I am, all of this for You.
Open hands.

how to slowly emerge from the fog

Friday, May 30, 2014

DSCF3572Tonight, on my walk to escape the terrors of the end-of-school-year, adjustment-to-summertime life with the littles, I was thinking over and over about shalom and the Kingdom of God here on earth – how we live in the chaos, just longing for the peace that passes all understanding. Eager to really and truly walk in the unforced rhythms of grace because let’s be honest, virtually all of my life feels forced right now. Maybe for you too?

While I am thankful beyond measure to have answers for my health issues, the medicines have not been magically effective so far. I still struggle through virtually every day. I am behind on all of my regular duties like cleaning and laundry and parenting and all of the things. I feel like a failure every single day that I have to lie down in the afternoon to take a nap. I haven’t even been able to train the baby to sleep in her own crib for naptime yet. I force myself to do almost everything that I would normally have no trouble accomplishing. It’s better, sure, but nowhere near the level of functioning that I feel like I need to be at to maintain a household of 5 children in a very small space. Forced.

The children are, like most of America’s kids I assume, in crazy mode right now as we transition into summer. My parenting skills have been, well, less than stellar. Everything about it feels forced. My marriage skills have too often for my comfort been suffering from the same malaise. I attempt to force myself to be kind and nice and patient, and when that fails, my attitude is anything but easygoing and restful. Forced. Forced.

In other areas of our lives, we are dealing with some difficult, complicated, and painful conversations. Just thinking about them tends to sap the joy and freedom that I feel in those situations. It weighs on me way more than I’d like it to. Forced. Forced. Forced.

But Jesus’ promise to me is not one of force. It’s one of rest. He’s promised to not lay anything on me that is ill-fitting. When I think about how much in my life feels ill-fitting right now, it brings me straight to my knees. That stuff is not of my Savior. I don’t have to remain tired, worn out, burnt out on religion. Jesus has promised rest, real rest, the kind that overwhelms with peace. When I walk through my daily life, it’s not trudging through and plodding along – it’s walking in the unforced rhythms of grace. That’s the promise I cling to. My only requirement: come to Him. Learn from Him. Stop taking my cues from this busy, chaotic world around me. Breathe deep. He is all I need.

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
Matthew 11:28-30

Here are some things helping me to breathe deep and walk in the unforced rhythms of grace right now:

Joyce Meyer. I know that she’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but sometimes you just need a woman of God to speak God’s promises over you. To encourage you to think positively, to change your life, to do the things that make for health. I love her.

Friends. The friends who call because they remembered that you told them a month ago when your doctor appointment was, and they wanted to see how it went. The friends who sit with you every Wednesday morning and talk about Jesus and challenge you to live your life following Him everyday. The friends who pray for you and your babies and walk the same roads you walk. The friends who continually call you into a deeper walk with your Savior and who challenge you to live fearlessly.

Poetry. I never considered myself a lover of poetry until fairly recently, but there is no better way for me to breathe deep than to read really good poetry. Some favorites: Mary Oliver, Langston Hughes, Wendell Berry, and of course I do love me some Yeats and e.e. cummings.

Reading. Just taking in a book gives me fresh air. I’ve turned into the sort of person that’s reading several books at a time, which is the kind of person, if I’m honest, I never thought I’d be. I just find such freedom and refreshment in reading other people’s words that I never want to limit myself.

I’ve shared a few of mine – so what are some things saving your life right now? Share below!

 

[image: death to the stock photo]

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