Sunday, July 20, 2014

the heat of summer

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

Friday, June 20, 2014

not shrinking back

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]

Saturday, June 14, 2014

gift after gift after gift

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.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

open hands

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.

Friday, May 30, 2014

how to slowly emerge from the fog

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]

Thursday, May 8, 2014

rachel weeping

rachelThis week finds me once again in the bittersweet portion of my year. I’m a birthday week celebrator, and the fact that my birthday falls so close to Mother’s Day just doubles the fun. Plus, gifts! But five years ago, the week I turned thirty, we welcomed two little hurt and scared children into our home for the first time. Every night for a full week, it would take us three full hours to put them to bed, most of it spent sitting on the floor beside that sweet little girl’s side of the bed because she was too scared of me to be comforted and too traumatized by her situation to be touched. Once we crawled with exhaustion out of the rooms, then I would weep until I could fall asleep. I stopped eating, started praying during every moment of the day, and wondered if we had made the right choice. My birthday and the accompanying Mother’s Day celebrations haven’t been the same since.

That was the first year I parented children who were not my own on Mother’s Day. The first year that I was the one who accepted their handmade cards and gifts because their own mama couldn’t receive them herself. There’s only been one year since when I called all the children in my home my own on Mother’s Day, and even then, they are someone else’s children still even as sure as they are mine.

Last week, we learned that the county will be filing for permanent custody of Sweet M. A nice sounding phrase that denies the truth of a child being ripped from their birth parents forever. A permanent severing of a relationship. I am relieved the case is moving forward because children, even babies, deserve answers and permanency for their lives. I am devastated for this mama and her broken family. This year, for the first time since her oldest child was born, she will be spending Mother’s Day completely alone. This sweet baby will spend her Mother’s Day with me. I’m the one who will wake up to her smiles and snuggle her to sleep.

This week, as I packaged up the handmade cards and gifts to send to Brenden and Raniah’s first mama, the grief settled in my stomach again. She knows them in a way that I never will, and I know them in a way that she never will again. We are both the mamas of the same children, and it bonds us irrevocably to one another for the rest of our lives. Loving another woman’s children is a strange and heavy burden to bear in the middle of the joyful delight of seeing them grow up in my own family.

We often hear on Mother’s Day about children who did not get to be with their mamas, but fewer people want to talk about the mamas who do not get to be with their children. So this week, as children all over celebrate their mamas, I will be grieving with the mamas who do not get that pleasure. The ones separated by death, by illness, by prison, by addictions, by poverty and difficult choices. Those forgotten women are never far from my heart this week. I grieve with and for them, and I celebrate every one for being the bearers of life. I pray they are surrounded by support, even knowing that most of them aren’t. I pray they are forgiven, even knowing that most can’t begin to forgive themselves. I pray they are comforted, even knowing that comfort is often too far away to comprehend.

This is what the LORD says: “A cry is heard in Ramah—deep anguish and bitter weeping. Rachel weeps for her children, refusing to be comforted—for her children are gone.”
Jeremiah 31:15

 

Thursday, May 1, 2014

what I’m into: the basically-the-whole-first-third-of-2014 edition

'wall 'o' books' photo (c) 2008, Sarah J. - license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

what I read:
These past few months I read almost every single one of Sophie Hannah’s books – some are better than others, but I enjoy a good psychological mystery, and these helped pass some lengthy baby-holding hours

I heard Beth Guckenberger speak at the adoption conference I went to in March, and her book Reckless Faith is just like her speaking – full of stories and bible teaching, and I loved every minute of it.

Anne Lamott is my favorite, and I’m predisposed to like every single word she publishes. Stitches was no exception.

Other things I read: I Am Malala – Malala Yousafzai, The Hypnotist’s Love Story – Liane Moriarty, Love You More: The Divine Surprise of Adopting My Daughter – Jennifer Grant, Unglued – Lysa Terkeurst, The Anti-Anxiety Food Solution – Trudy Scott, Desperate: Hope for the Mom Who Needs to Breathe – Sarah Mae and Sally Clarkson, The Epic of Eden – Sandra Richter

 

what I listened to:
the new All Sons and Daughters is streaming on The Drop at Relevant Magazine. It’s phenomenal, as is all their work.

Borderland by John Mark McMillan. His best yet, and I do not say that lightly. Amazing.

Rivers in the Wasteland by Needtobreathe. I think this is their best yet. I listen to it nearly daily.

 

what I watched:
You know, the standards: Brooklyn 99, Parks and Rec, Community, The Vampire Diaries (boring right now, amirite?), Reign (it’s “history”, so it’s excusable), The Blacklist, Arrow

Parenthood has redeemed itself a bit. Mostly because of Lauren Graham and Ray Romano. Their scenes together are the most human, tender, honest things I’ve seen on TV for a very long time. They’re just really great actors.

The husband and I obliterated the first season of Orphan Black last week. As we are not wealthy cable subscribers, we are left hanging while the second season just started on BBCAmerica. I highly recommend it. Not to give too much away, but one actress plays the majority of the characters and it is breathtaking how they do some of the filming. It reminds me, quite fondly, of Buffy.

The Veronica Mars movie did not disappoint. We rented it the weekend it came out, and it was everything I wanted it to be. Boy, do I miss that show.

 

So there you have it. The broad strokes of the past three months. For the first time in awhile, I’m linking up with Leigh. Hop over there to get some more recommendations for your reading/listening/viewing pleasure.

What have you been into lately? Hit me up with some recommendations!