Sunday, October 28, 2018

Counting the Cost

I am entering the hard phase of placement with this sweet little person. 
Four months in. 
Defenses down and true heart coming through--trauma and all. 
Sweetest "I lub you, Mama." whispered, and even sometimes shouted at me.
Exhausting, sleepless nights thanks to night terrors.
Training up someone else's child.
"Hold me, please" with the most precious look of love, trust and outstretched arms. 
Precious giggles.
The wonder of watching her learn to count.
The pain of hearing her describe scary memories. 
Investing in her bio parents--believing in them, cheering for their health and restoration.
Gambling all our hearts on their comeback.

I am tired.
I am hopeful.
I am a wee bit nervous.

And then, yesterday, I listened for the first time to the lyrics of a song I have owned for over a year.
It has played in the background countless times, but at just the right time, I actually heard it. 

I'm saying yes to You
And no to my desires
I'll leave myself behind
And follow You
I'll walk the narrow road

'cause it leads me to You
I'll fall but grace
Will pick me up again
I've counted up the cost.

Oh, I've counted up the cost.
Yes, I've counted up the cost
And You are worth it.
I do not need safety

As much as I need You.
You're dangerous
But, Lord, You're beautiful.
I'll chase You through the pain.
I'll carry my cross
'cause real love
Is not afraid to bleed.
Jesus, Take my all.

Take my everything.
I've counted up the cost

And You're worth everything.

-The Cost, Rend Collective

I have counted up the cost and He is worth it.
This means loving the people He loves are worth it.
Whether it is the child who isn't sleeping from 11pm-3am or the difficult adults in my life. Stretching, swallowing my pride, going out of my way is worth it.

I am reminded of one of my favorite sections of Bob Goff's book, Everybody Always: 

"Obeying is costly because it’s uncomfortable. It makes me grow one decision and one discussion at a time. It makes me put away my pride. These are the kinds of decisions that aren’t made once for a lifetime; they’re made thirty seconds at a time.”

“What I’ve been doing with my faith is this: instead of saying I’m going to believe in Jesus for my whole life, I’ve been trying to actually obey Jesus for thirty seconds at a time."

I won't do it perfectly.
"I'll fall but grace will pick me up again."

But what about my heart?
"I do not need safety as much as I need You."

This seems like it might get messy.
"Real love is not afraid to bleed."

I am reminded of one of my favorite sections of Bob Goff's book, Everybody Always: 

"Obeying is costly because it’s uncomfortable. It makes me grow one decision and one discussion at a time. It makes me put away my pride. These are the kinds of decisions that aren’t made once for a lifetime; they’re made thirty seconds at a time.”

Earlier he said, “What I’ve been doing with my faith is this: instead of saying I’m going to believe in Jesus for my whole life, I’ve been trying to actually obey Jesus for thirty seconds at a time."

Friday, October 05, 2018

God Writes the Best Stories

Last Fall, we had a 4 year old girl in our home for a few weeks. She had only been in care about a month when her short-term foster Dad was injured in an accident. We took her in for respite care while he recovered.

Almost immediately, I was overcome with a feeling that this was someone else's forever baby. As a foster parent there is always a baseline sense that you are the right-now Mommy while the dust settles, family restoration is attempted and facts come into focus. I am ever aware I am rocking, holding, disciplining and experiencing milestones with someone else's baby. It is the bittersweet nature of this ministry. But this one was different. I had an unusual fire in my belly. The facts of the case were more clear-cut than previous placements and this sweet girl was longing for a Mommy and Daddy in a raw sense.

My husband and I both were both moved to advocate for a foster-to-adopt home to be found for her as soon as possible. In very short order our agency matched her with another family one town away and the decision was made to move her there.

The transition was ideal, in that, I was able to speak to her new foster Mom the day before. We were able to discuss bedtime routine, food preferences and the little things that would make her feel more known as she entered their family.

The new foster Mom and I clicked immediately. I am was able to encourage her via text messaging and pray for her as they got to know one another. She sent me photos and updates. We met for coffee without kids a couple of times. When we were awaiting a new placement or transitioning with a new child, she covered us in prayer. We even got to visit their home and see how beautifully this little girl was acclimating to her new life.

Through all the heart-wrenching twists and turns of the loss of this child's biological family, her foster Mom and I have been united in prayer that God's Will be done and her heart be protected.

This week the foster family passed the last major legal milestone in their journey and signed a letter of intent to adopt. She is at home with her forever family--and has been for the last year--they've been able to experience first lost teeth, Kindergarten, soccer practice and almost 400 nights of bedtime snuggles and growth.

This afternoon I received a series of texts from her new Mama that made me weep and reminded me anew of the faithfulness of our Father.

The original post she referenced was written after an intense emotional night where God's Word (Psalm 23 through Sally Lloyd-Jones) was exactly the balm that fragile heart needed. I am thrilled to report that it was a promise God kept.

And while my friend complimented MY writing, I know without a shadow of a doubt that God is the real author of this story!

I cannot wait for the official court date to be set where this sweet one becomes on paper what God has known all along. She is an adopted daughter, loved, wanted and found.

This Fall, we are three months into another preschool aged placement. A family rhythm has been established. We have bonded. She will forever have a place in my heart as a dearly loved baby of mine regardless of how much longer God chooses to leave her here. And this is the point in the process where it gets emotionally messy. I get fearful. I am tempted to question God's timeline and speed. I want to know the outcome so I can prepare and protect her heart (and those of my family members).

And through these text reminders of His Faithfulness, God sends me a clear message of who He is and how He operates. Not on our timeline. Not in a way we can predict. Always according to His nature.

The story God is writing in both of their lives has allowed me to carry the baton for a season, but He is ultimately writing the story in a way that is full of creativity, restoration and grace.

Glory to God.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Goin' On A Bear Hunt

Perhaps it is because I have a little one in the house, but lately, I am reminded how many life lessons really are the basics we learned in preschool and Kindergarten.

In the thick of life with a 3-year-old and three uniquely wired 14-year-olds, I keep coming back to the truth that the process--messy, painful, chaotic and tender as it may be-- IS what parenting is about. The maturity we hope for our children to gain, the growth we expect and the strength we want to launch them into adulthood having is all built here and now, in the gym of growing up.

Our human tendency is to run from mess, failure and conflict. As my children encounter various trials and confront areas of immaturity, I want to hit fast forward and hurry on to the other side, even though I know better. I like efficiency and finality. Frankly, I don't enjoy the laborious process of trial and error. I want the payoff, but wish there were ways to microwave the process--to speed it up and minimize the pain.

Thinking about this recently I heard the old children's song in my head, "Goin' on a Bear Hunt." If you are unfamiliar with the song, it recounts a fictional walk through the woods where multiple obstacles are encountered. There are various versions, but at the end of each obstacle comes a familiar refrain, something along the lines of:
"I'm not scared. No, I'm not scared. 
We can't go over it, 
We can't go under it, 
We can't go around it. 
We just have to go through it."

ADHD, Anxiety, hormones, ego, impulse control, truth-telling, learning to navigate relationships...all these current challenges in my home and their accompanying emotions are exhausting. But there is no question in the breaking down and the rebuilding up emotional, psychological and spiritual muscles are born.

My fledgling young adults are trying out their wobbly emotional and social legs in front of an audience of the world. In a baby giraffe we would ooh and ahh, but in a teenager, we tend to cringe and/or judge. The world keeps telling us that stumbling is a sign of failure, but it really is the precursor to walking.

So I am spending a lot of time praying, deep breathing and sometimes, I confess, peeking between the fingers of my covered eyes. I don't want to watch the stumbles, but I know they are essential to learning to walk and then run the race set before us.

"We can't go over it, we can't go under it, we can't go around it. We just have to go through it..."

Thursday, September 06, 2018

"T Minus" Parenting

A couple of years ago there was a push towards a countdown/legacy app to remind parents how little time they had remaining with children living in their home. I dutifully typed in the triplets' high school graduation month and the numbers still seemed high and far away.

As our children have celebrated birthdays and completed grades, I am beginning to hear the clock tick. There are milestones happening that receive far less press than the big ones like driving and graduations, yet mark time in their own striking way.

Dropping off in front of the grocery store to go buy a few things while I stay in the car, allowing them to go to the movies or a pizza place with friends and no adult, giving them a debit card with their name on it to learn to manage money, letting them walk to a friend's house in the neighborhood or go play a round of golf without a chaperone.

Step by step my young teens are becoming more comfortable in their independence. I am giving them more responsibility and they are (mostly) rising to the occasion. Of course, they stumble and fall as any child does when learning to walk, but we are doing it. Growth, however awkward and sometimes cringe-inducing and painful, is happening. And suddenly young adulthood doesn't seem so far away.

This Summer I watched several close friends launch their children into college and it has struck a much more personal chord. The reality of sending my people (ALL AT ONCE) out into the world in less than 5 years is becoming far more real.

In my weakness, I have allowed this countdown mentality to infuse an anxiousness into my parenting. A few accusing phrases bounce around my head (and occasionally squeeze their way out of my mouth.)

Time is ticking. 
They are 14 years old...they will be driving a piece of heavy machinery on roads with other people in less than a year. 
It is time to outgrow (insert childish behaviors here).
We have so much work left to do!
I can't send a kid to college that still (insert bad habit here) or doesn't know how to (insert responsible action here).
Their future roommate/wife/inlaws/boss won't believe good parents didn't work this out in childhood.
We have got to work on (insert list here that grows exponentially the more anxious I feel)

As I entertain these accusations, I start parenting out of fear (of what will happen if they aren't PERFECT when I launch them) and pride (what people will think of me).

Unfortunately, when I realize it is happening and start trying to talk myself down, I feel ashamed and overwhelmed. I don't like those feelings so I somewhat lighten up. Habits persist. The cycle starts all over again.

As I am honest about these feelings, the Lord is faithful to remind me that THEY ARE HIS. HE has plans for them--and while my role is significant, HE is their creator, savior, sustainer, sanctifier and the ultimate author of their stories. The point is for their lives to reflect God's glory, not mine.

"It is not all on you. You are significant in your kids' lives, but God is sovereign."
-Jeannie Cunnion, Mom Set Free

So, I plugged the date in and discovered I have 244 weeks until graduation...89 weeks until they are independently driving cars...and then I let out a large exhale of surrender. God willing, their stories will stretch far beyond those dates even as my role continues to shift within them.

God is growing them and I am grateful for the front row seat to watch it all unfold. Cheering, correcting, consoling, cringing...but holding on to the faith that they were all His idea--and He picked me to be their Mom for all the sanctification it would bring on both sides!

They are His. I am His. I believe that and therefore, I am recommitting myself to parenting accordingly.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

A Foster Mama's Prayer for Meeting the Parents

A few weeks ago we received a foster placement--one precious child, younger than the age we typically receive. In God's divine timing, all my big kids were out of town allowing for a few days of individual attention. She arrived with an ear infection, so the first few days allowed me to connect with her as a caretaker in a sweet, uninterrupted way.

 Kate returned from camp on the child's third day with us, then the boys 12 days after that. The slow and steady introductions have made for the sweetest transition of a foster child we have ever experienced.

I was tempted by impatience in new nays as we awaited her arrival. Not knowing age, number of children, gender or arrival date triggered my every control freak tendency. I wanted to know God's plan for my Summer. I wanted to get on with it. And each time my chest would tighten, God tenderly whispered to me to slow down, trust and pray.

I have prayed for this child--without knowing her name or face for months. I have asked others to do so too. I have also been burdened for her birth family all along--praying for them and the challenges that have led them to this place in their story. I looked back at my calendar this morning and realized we actually had a group of friends from the Middle East here praying in her bedroom the week this child was first removed from her parents. God has been at work even in the darkest valley, whether they knew it or not.

Tomorrow we go to court for the first time and I will actually meet the parents face to face for the first time. More than ever, I want to be the face of Jesus to them--not from any literature I hand them or sermon I preach, but by the way I treat them. Lord, fill me with grace instead of judgment, genuine warmth and kindness. Remove my people pleaser tendencies and help me to show them authentic love--not so they will like me, but so they will see more of You. 

Lord, make it abundantly clear to the family we are not in this ministry to acquire a child--but to care for their baby with all we have so they have space to heal and grow and become a reunified family, healthy and whole.

I don't know God's plan for this child or her family--but I do know praying that they can all see and know Him more clearly through this process is the burning desire of my heart.

This is just the first lap of a marathon, Lord. When I grow weary and tempted to question the timelines, the process, the logistics, I pray you remind me to slow down, trust, pray and keep leaning hard into You.


Monday, June 18, 2018

Moving Day: A Modern Day Parable

Saturday morning a group of students in my community were scheduled to leave for a week of camp with Young Life's Capernaum ministry (for high school students with special needs). One of our college leaders, Lori, showed up at 17 year old Eve's apartment as planned to give her a ride to the bus. As she knocked on the door she was greeted by Eve's grandmother, Mrs. Jones, a strong-willed 71 year old widow with a cane. She explained that Eve was not going to be able to go to camp after all, as the family had been evicted and she needed to stay and help them move. Lori knew Eve is one of three mentally handicapped people living in the apartment being cared for by Mrs. Jones--and the most capable. Looking around the apartment, she knew Mrs. Jones couldn't handle this move without help.

Lori was crushed. She had loved on Eve all year through monthly club meetings. She had helped raise the scholarship money for Eve to attend camp--and she was so looking forward to accompanying Eve for a week full of sights, sounds, adventure, laughter and love at camp. Quick-thinking Lori had an idea.

"Mrs. Jones, if you let Eve come with me to camp this morning, I promise I will send people over today to help you move."

Lori was leaving town for camp too, but she trusted and believed in the Lord's provision--and her community's commitment to seeing Eve get to camp.

A text message was sent and within an hour Mrs. Jones had a moving truck and a crew of helpers. Despite the June-in-Georgia humidity and the short notice, by 5pm the contents of her three bedroom apartment, including medical beds and equipment had been moved to her temporary residence and a secure storage facility.

All while Eve and her leader Lori were carefree and on their way to hear about the God that loves them so.

As we were driving away Saturday afternoon I asked my 14 year olds (who honestly were age-appropriate in their less-than-thrilled response to moving strangers on a day they'd planned to spend in other ways) to tell me one thing they learned. Each reply was proof that God was using this situation in more ways than I had known, but the one that struck me most was from my daughter:

"I will never forget that all those people were willing to show up and work that hard just so one girl can hear about Jesus."

We talked about the Parable of the Lost Coin and the Parable of the Lost Sheep and I pray they will never hear those two passages in the same way again.

I am so incredibly grateful for the ministry of Young Life. It is not just about pies in faces or preaching from a stage. This ministry is truly incarnational--entering into the (messy, complicated, challenging) lives of teenagers and really loving them like Jesus would--meeting practical needs so their hearts can be open to Him meeting their spiritual needs.

Eve is at camp this week, hearing the glorious news of the One who sacrificed not just his Saturday, but his Life so she can be free. Connections were made for meaningful friendship and support of her extended family. This is not the end of this story, just the beginning. Will you join me in praying for this family and Eve's heart?

Friday, June 15, 2018

The Ministry of Margin

As I wrote in my last post, my Summer has a lot of empty space. I thought I was leaving this space for foster children to join our family and have been frustrated that "I rearranged my life" to help and not being utilized. (Yucky to admit, but true.)

Last week all three of my children were out of town and my husband was working long surgical hours--so I took advantage of the ability to leave the state without permission (a condition a foster child would have required.) I journeyed down to Florida to visit a dear friend who lives at the beach. I was feeling a bit selfish about it until I arrived and it became clear how much we both needed this visit. She had major life circumstances occurring and I was able to enter in fully and lend friendship, support, and a practical hand to share some of her burden.

On the long drive home, God spoke to my heart about being available for whatever He had in store for us-- even if it was not our plan. He reminded me that His Way was to yield my life to love and a robust schedule often doesn't leave room for the needs that crop up. That there are good works that He has planned in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10)--and they frequently don't look like our plans, lest we should boast. (Ephesians 2:9)

This change in perspective alone allowed me to see countless places my 'free time' could be used as a ministry. I was able to pause and really talk to neighbors along the way in my errands. In doing so, I became aware of a few needs that were relatively easy to meet thanks to my open calendar.

My prayer time in the morning has felt more consistent and less hurried thanks to fewer commitments. I have been prompted to reach out to people and actually let them know how the Lord has prompted me to pray for them.

It is no exaggeration to see God has put people and circumstances in my life multiple times a day that I would normally wish I had time to help, but during this season I really can.

I don't write any of this to elevate myself, but instead to record this lesson for future reference. There is a ministry of margin--when we live beneath our means in terms of time and financial resources, God will use both in ways we could not have expected.