Saturday, February 21, 2015

winter redemption

behavior_picThis past fall found us in a fairly dark place again with our son. The joy over a committed and engaged teacher in a new school had faded to paranoia, bitterness, and uncertainty. The shame that we thought we had left behind with last year was back in full force. Sometimes I feel like I literally see the chains that still bind his soul in ways that I just cannot fully comprehend. We had a lot of theories about why all of it hit at the time that it did. We had a lot of theories on how to best deal with it. We had some disagreements with the school over what to do, and then after the fact, whether what we did was appropriate at all. It was painful and confusing for us, and it was a terrible thing to watch our child in so much pain.

We made some hard choices. We took initiative, under the guidance of his therapist and with his approval, to share hard things with the teacher and principal during the parent-teacher conference. We later got an email from the principal about ‘keeping home stuff at home’ and being ‘concerned’ about how much we shared in front of our son. As if he isn’t aware of his own past. As if a seven-year-old is capable of separating his schooling from all the stuff happening inside him. I get it. I get that they don’t understand why a kid doesn’t feel safe in a safe place. It’s hard to explain to some people that just because something isn’t factual doesn’t mean it’s not true.

We started driving him to and from school. This probably doesn’t sound like that big of a deal to those of you who take your kids every day, but we’re school bus people. Our district is semi-rural and because of the organization of our district, our kids go to three different schools. Driving him is a sacrifice. I pick him up during naptime. Which means there is never naptime for the littlest. It’s a big deal for us, and it’s been a hard thing.

All of it though? Worth it. Since that terrible, no-good, awful, very-bad meeting with the principal and teacher, since we started driving him to school – no more ‘bad’ days. Night and day difference. We can see it. The teachers can see it. He walks cheerier, he stands taller. Those chains? They may not be gone. They may never be gone, honestly. But for right now? That overwhelming heaviness is exchanged for a lightness of spirit.

Two weeks ago, we had another conference. Every report was glowing. I found it hard to hold back the tears during that meeting. That same day, I signed a permission slip for a school video that he was invited to participate in. A few of the teachers were asked to nominate one child to film a welcome video for the school as well as a video that highlights their positive behavior system. He came home practically skipping to tell me that the teachers were going to act out the inappropriate behaviors, and he gets to the one that is the good example. Maybe ten or fifteen kids in the whole school are in this video, and my son got to be one of them. From a kid who was the worst behaved in his class to the kid who got picked to highlight what good behavior looks like. This is redemption, and I am humbled to get to bear witness.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

cabin fever strikes

There is nothing like a hard week of an absentee husband, a couple snow days and delays, and just all around routine mix-ups to make you reevaluate everything in your life and second-guess all of your decisions as a mother, wife, and woman of the 21st century.

Here are the things keeping me grounded this week:


30-days-of-yoga-day-30-700x4001) Yoga with Adriene: Adriene is my favorite at-home yoga teacher, and right now I’m working through her 30 days of yoga. Babies and puppies make it more of a challenge than I would prefer, but at least I’m getting a work-out.





2) Peaky Blinders: Tom Hardy. Cillian Murphy. 1920s British gangsters. I can’t stop with this show. It’s spectacular.


127493) Proust: I undertook Proust as part of my 2015 Reading Challenge with a great amount of trepidation. I figured it would be too esoteric for my tastes. I just finished Beloved by Toni Morrison, and while I can appreciate some of the beauty of her writing, I just wasn’t impressed by the book as a whole. I didn’t enjoy it, that’s for sure. I figured Proust would be just be another tedious checkmark on my challenge list. To my surprise, I’m loving it. His words flow off the page like music. He’s funny, insightful, and even though he’s prone to writing sentences of despairing length, I am quite enjoying my time with Swann’s Way.




4) This song:


5) Jonathan Martin is back writing again. He’s as brilliant as ever, and I have missed his voice in my life. I spent a good portion of a morning this week weeping through his posts. If you don’t have time to read them all, just read these two: Into the Abyss and Learning to Breathe.

“No longer sitting at the head of Christ’s table with the people who decide who is or is not worthy to receive from it, I was the one in need to be loved and accepted. I was given a place at a table that was not my own. I was the wounded one, being offered bread and wine I did not deserve. There was no hope or expectation that my new friends would see Jesus in me—only an opportunity to see Jesus animated in the faces of my friends, these icons of grace.” – Jonathan Martin


What are the things keeping you grounded this week? What are the things breathing fresh life into your stale cooped up winter days?

Saturday, January 24, 2015

lazy saturdays

I wish that I had lazy Saturdays. In my head, when I’m a grown-up with my own family, on Saturdays we will sleep in, have late coffee with fried eggs on toast, the kids will play happily in their rooms while I sit on the couch with my husband and read stuff. There won’t be a husband that works on Saturdays, sons that have practice early in the morning, daughters that won’t clean their rooms. Nope. All will be beautiful and well. Don’t ruin this dream for me. Someday…


In case you do get to have lazy Saturdays, here’s some links to peruse:

On church: (I could’ve written this piece about my own church. This is what church really is.)
Confessions - Sarah Bessey

I don’t think we need a four-walls-and-a-non-profit-status to qualify as church but these people are mine and I am still learning to admit when I need something from them, too.


On calling:
Deacons and Elders and Me – Micha Boyett at A Deeper Story

This is the story of how my love for scripture deepened and grew more technicolored, beautiful. This is the story of finding myself in a church where I was invited to use my gifts in order to love God faithfully. I will kneel before my church on Sunday in holy trembling, because of the men who led me as a child, because of the women who led me without titles….I will honor the men who taught me [to] serve, the women who taught me to lead.


On the power of the written word:
He Wrote It Down – In Others’ Words

We know there is nothing to be done. We know there will be no consequences, and no justice. Life is staggeringly unfair, sometimes. But there is a record. We walked into that police station holding the jagged shards of our story, of our childhood, and said, LOOK. THIS HAPPENED. And Officer Paul Smith bore witness. He wrote it down.




2015-Reading-ChallengeThis is the weekend I plan to start a 2015 Reading Challenge. Not that I need a challenge to read a lot, but I do enjoy a good check-list. I like the idea of giving some structure to my reading choices this year. Join me?

There’s one box for each month. It’s a little late In January to be beginning, but I think I can make up the time. I’m starting with ‘a book “everyone” has read but you’. I picked Beloved by Toni Morrison. I’m a little ashamed that I have yet to read this book, so here’s the month I’m going to rectify that scenario.

If you decide to do this, let me know what you picked for your choice!

Friday, January 23, 2015


Last week, I left the neurologist’s office with a touch of concern, yet again, for our littlest. Never mind that she got the all clear after six months of follow-up appointments from her apparent life-threatening event, all I could think about was that the neurologist said she should have 50 words by 2. She barely had 20. When I questioned the speech therapist about it later that day, she said, “Well, actually, it should be 100.”  Normally, I wouldn’t worry too much about developmental stuff like that except I’m a little more antsy about this one because of the preemie stuff. the near-death stuff, and the 18-months-till-finalization stuff.

Two days later, we sat in the courtroom while the judge declared her legally ours. Now our stories are officially bound together. The family was unbelievably excited. Niah had been giving the countdown to everyone we met for days. Brenden told us when we got home that it was the ‘best day ever’. Maggie celebrated her 10th birthday with a new sister, and she could not have been more thrilled. It was a great day, to be sure. When we got home that day, much to my surprise, I noticed Mira was content and smiley in spite of the big day and lunch out. I expected a hard evening, so I was grateful.

I didn’t take much note of it until the next day when her easy attitude continued. She’d been kind of a pain for the whole week ahead of time, I’m sure partly in response to an incredibly busy schedule. The day after the adoption though, she was cheery, played with her toys, and wonder upon wonders, I added eight new words to her word list. The next day, party day, it continued. More new words, more cheer. It continued on through Sunday when finally Wendell remarked on it. I had been kind of storing up these thoughts in my heart until he said, “Don’t you think she seems different?” YES. It’s like she knew. As if that legal ceremony broke something free in her that had just been waiting. She’s more than doubled her word list in the past week. She’s smiling more. She’s playing better. She’s even more at ease with the new puppy, whom she had hated for the first couple weeks he lived with us.

Now maybe she just senses the lack of tension in our own attitudes. That’s possible. But she is markedly different, and that’s affecting all of us. Her life story is looking pretty awesome right about now.



We had no idea when we started our classes to become foster parents what our family’s story would look like, but when I I looked around the adoption party last Saturday, I was overwhelmed by the beauty that our family now contains. All the moments where I’ve wondered why we subjected our children to pain and loss and messiness and grief, all the moments where we felt like we might lose our children forever, all the moments I’ve spent in tears and prayer for the mamas, the daddies, the hurting children that we’ve met, all the moments where we’ve second-guessed our calling – those moments are superseded by this big, flat-out glorious family we get to be a part of now.

My newest little “brother” sat beside my son and across from the friend who brought him into our lives, the friend whom we never would have gotten to know if not for some of the suffering we went through along the way.

My husband’s mentor, the one who makes my husband come home lighter and happier each and every week when they meet, came to support him and to meet me. They introduced themselves by telling me how weird it is to have a daughter that they’ve never met.

A fire department co-worker of Wendell’s, whom he hasn’t actually been on duty with in almost 6 months, showed up with the most thoughtful personalized gifts, really confirming that all those long, slow nights my husband spent talking with her about Jesus and family, caring about her life…they made a difference to her.

Our kids’ CASA worker entered the room at the same time as my best friend of nearly 30 years, I thought I might ugly cry when the one of my very best friends walked herself in the door in spite of being extremely and chronically ill right now, and our church family finally got to set their eyes on Brenden and Raniah’s older sister – the one they prayed for and loved sight unseen all those years ago – and she became the talk of the party due to their uncanny resemblance.

I don’t want this to seem like too glossy and pretty a view of adoption. At its heart, all adoption is about trauma. I also believe adoption is always second best. Families are designed to be together. Adoption is a tangible representation that that does not always happen. But while not all of the people who were there will ever understand how this story is just as much about grief and loss as it is celebration, they are both there in solidarity and love regardless.

The kids’ sister told her mom after the adoption party, “It’s kind of like Miracle is my half-sister, now.” Yep. It’s kind of like that. Brenden, Niah, their older sister, Ben, Maggie, all four of us parents, and now Mira – we’re bound in this crazy beautiful way that defies description.



I wore my new favorite shirt that day in our church basement with the balloons and lights and popcorn bar, and the words on the front were my heart on display.IMG_5681

Love does write a beautiful story.



You can buy merch with that saying on it by visiting Kelli & Vanessa or by clicking the photo above.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

filed: january 15, 2015

You know that feeling after the rush of adrenaline courses through? That utter let-down relief? The inner soul exhaustion that you feel after a prolonged period of tense emotions? That’s me tonight.

When Brenden and Raniah’s adoptions were finalized, it almost felt anti-climactic. I was prepared with prose and letters and all that beautiful things that such an occasion called for. This time? I’m tired. Utterly exhausted. I didn’t quite realize how much tense I felt about this whole thing until it was all over. Tonight, with the adoption finalized and the party done, I wanted to do all of those special things that I did before – letters, blog posts, notes, loveliness in the way that I love the best. I’m just not ready.

I’m overjoyed with relief that I can finally call this baby my own. I’m overcome with gratitude for the friends and family who celebrated with us, worked with us, and made both Thursday and today so very lovely. Mostly, I’m overwhelmed by the beauty I’ve gotten to witness this week – the stuff that doesn’t even have very much at all to do with the adoption. The stuff of changed lives, the fruit of hard work in relationships, the kind of things that we just weep to see. More on all of this later. When I feel a little more verbose.

9958In the meantime, it gives me immense joy to introduce you to our Finally Official littlest:

Miracle Irene.

Her mama gave her the name Miracle because, well, she is a real miracle. 10 and a half weeks premature, less than 3 lbs., born at home...that's only the beginning of her story. We've had two more life-threatening hospitalizations since she left the NICU, and hopefully she will tell you someday about the other parts of her miraculous story that aren't ours to share.

We gave her the middle name Irene in honor of my dad's mama. She was born in 1917 - a twin and under 3 lbs. at birth, just like our Mira. The story goes that the doctor set her aside (because they thought she wouldn't make it) in order to work on her sister who was slightly bigger. My Great-Grandma Maggie looked over and told the doctor that she thought my grandma was still alive. They both survived - Mary Irene and Martha Pauline. In 1917. It boggles my mind given what we know of Mira's battle for life even with our current medical advances, but it was a miracle for sure and our Miracle is definitely worthy of sharing her name.

We adore her. She is the delight of our family. We are immensely grateful that our story intertwines with her story, and I really can’t wait to see how the rest of it unfolds.


photo courtesy of our favorite: Michelle Lum Photography

Thursday, January 8, 2015

with us in the fire and the flood

When we began our foray into foster care and adoption, we knew virtually no one who was walking this same road. In the middle of those early, tear-filled, questioning days, I longed for someone who shared my heart to encourage me. I longed for someone who had walked this road before me to guide me. Without knowing a single soul who could fill that role for me, I turned online for support.

There’s a lot to be said about flesh and blood people who can sit at your kitchen table and drink coffee and see your streaked make-up. Sometimes, you’re just at a stage of life where that isn’t possible. Sometimes the people who can sit at your table don’t have the wisdom you need right in that specific season. Sometimes, you’re left with the miracle of the internet where you can find people who are writing about just the things you need to hear. The ones who are sharing just the stories that you need to follow.

Most often for me, in those early days, it just involved reading blogs of women who had similar experiences. Eventually we started going to some conferences to connect in new ways. I found a couple Facebook groups that helped significantly. But it was mostly just me lurking and reading from afar. I didn’t have enough guts to contact people in person. I’m not extroverted enough to typically be the initiator, but once you get so desperate, you’re willing to forgo some of your natural inclinations and step out of your comfort zone.

There was a big moment for me early on. I took some initiative and wrote some emails. One of the ladies afforded me a non-threatening way to engage: she hosts something called Tuesday Topics where readers can write in a question regarding adoptive/trauma parenting and other readers can respond with helpful wisdom and advice. We were at a desperate, dark place. Trying to figure out what was best for the two in our home, weighing the option of bringing their older sister into our home and trying desperately to ascertain what is best for a child we didn’t even know…we were overwhelmed. So with trepidation, I emailed Lisa with no actual hopes that my question would be chosen.

Not only did she choose my question for a Tuesday Topic, she emailed me back and asked if she could call. And she did. From several time zones away. In the middle of a Target parking lot, I found myself on the phone with a complete stranger talking over oddly intimate details about our lives. It is not an exaggeration to say that there is nothing that made more difference in my life during that particular season than that phone call. Not just regarding the decision we made surrounding our children’s sibling relationships, but also in terms of us continuing down this road of foster care and adoption. It was the first experience I ever had where a stranger took such care and time with my life and concerns. Not because she got anything out of it. We had no ongoing personal relationship to invest in. She did it because she cared about me. Because she cared about kids. Because she loves Jesus and follows Him in this whole complicated journey we’re on. I realized we had a people. We were part of this tribe.

Lisa has been on my mind for many months as they’ve been walking a very hard road with one of their children since bringing her home from Ethiopia. I’ve kept their family and their precious daughter in my prayers the whole time. Then, over the holidays, that same 13-year-old daughter – the same age as my eldest son - was tragically killed in a car accident that injured Lisa as well. The depth of their sorrow I cannot pretend to understand, but I have grieved their loss. I have cried many tears for their family. I have pled with God for answers. While He may not give answers, He can give peace in the midst. That’s what I’m praying now. Peace and healing for their whole family. If you have space and time, would you keep them in your prayers also?

Click here to see a message from Lisa and a video from Dimples’ memorial service. No small thing that this song was chosen for her service. This same song has been on repeat in my own home so many times over the past four years; what a gift Aaron Keyes has given to God’s people. I’ll include the text and a YouTube video below in case the link to Lisa’s video doesn’t work. If you’d like to send a note of encouragement or condolence to the Qualls family, you can do so at

Sovereign Over Us
Aaron Keyes

Verse 1
There is strength within the sorrow, There is beauty in our tears
You meet us in our mourning, With a love that casts out fear
You are working in our waiting, Sanctifying us
When beyond our understanding, You’re teaching us to trust

Your plans are still to prosper, You have not forgotten us
You’re with us in the fire and the flood
Faithful forever, Perfect in love
You are sovereign over us

Verse 2
You are wisdom unimagined, Who could understand your ways
Reigning high above the heavens, Reaching down in endless grace
Youʼre the Lifter of the lowly, Compassionate and kind
You surround and You uphold me, Your promises are my delight

Even what the enemy means for evil
You turn it for our good, You turn it for our good and for your glory
Even in the valley You are faithful
Youʼre working for our good, Youʼre working for our good and for your glory


Wednesday, December 31, 2014

trust and the new year

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.


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.