Thursday, August 7, 2014

while I wasn’t writing…

…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.”

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

where we call it out by name

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

Sunday, August 3, 2014

our day in court

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

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.