Sunday, November 12, 2017

Because I think I am Mom to the world...

Yesterday my family and I were on a major college campus for a huge rivalry football game. The stadium was electric with a sold out crowd of over 87,000 people. There were hundreds of additional people watching the game via satellite television and enjoying the revelry at the tailgate tents that covered the surrounding campus. The atmosphere was everything people love about college football.

As we walked around enjoying the college experience, I had four 13 year olds with me who had many real-life examples of the different types of choices older teens and young adults make. In a mere four hours within one city block, there were two outstanding examples of the dangers of reckless alcohol consumption that I feel need to be retold.

(This might be the time to tell you my husband no longer takes me to concerts because I cannot handle the dangerous situations I see highly intoxicated young adults--especially vulnerable girls and women--find themselves in. It pushes ALL my buttons. I am an advocate/busy body/protector to the core. In other words, I am not fun at parties.)

Back to the game.

Within a couple of minutes of the 2:30 kickoff we saw a young man being carried out of the stadium by his two larger friends. They were laughing and he was terribly incapacitated. The young man was slung over their shoulders because he literally could not hold himself up. I offered to help as his girlfriend approached them (also laughing). They assured me they had it under control. Within 30 minutes EMTs on bikes were rendering aid and an ambulance was called to transport him to the hospital for treatment.

Late in the third quarter darkness fell. I walked two of the children from our party to the restroom in a nearby building. As I waited in the hall outside for the kids to come out I witnessed an interaction between a very inebriated college aged couple. Three guys wearing fan gear from the opposing team had been flirting with her and she said something back. Her date started pulling her away from the building by her hand and up a short set of stairs. At the top, she tripped and fell. Her boyfriend walked away and left her--on her back, highly intoxicated in the dark and alone.

Just then, I heard one of the guys who had been flirting with her say to another of the guys in his group, "Hey, man, he just left her. Here's your chance."

The young man he was speaking to raised his eyebrows and the other guys laughed as they walked out of the hallway and towards her.The boyfriend was no where in sight.

I have no idea what their real intentions were. They could have been the nicest gentlemen on the planet, planning to help her get back to safety, but the sight of this incapacitated young woman on the ground like a wounded bird with laughing young men circling around her lit a fire in my belly. I went into Mama Bear mode.

"Hey, guys, I've got this."

They looked a bit surprised and were still laughing as they stood over her.

"I'm not kidding. Do you know her?"

(Nods no)

"Back off. She needs a Mom right now."

(Their smiles faded as they looked at me then each other trying to decide what to do.)

Honestly, I don't know why I pulled the Mom card here, but it as if I cape emerged on my back that made it my responsibility to protect her as if she were mine.

I won't bore you with the rest of the details, but the summary is this: After a couple of minutes and the back up of another middle-aged man we were able to find the tent where her real-life Mom was tailgating and return her to safety.

But here is the thing that compelled me to write this. As a Mama raising young teens who will likely reside on college campuses 6 years from now and be confronted with alcohol before then, I was reminded there are issues other than just breaking the law or DUI they need to understand.

Please talk to your kids about personal safety--and their responsibilities towards their friends or dates.

This girl told me over and over again she was fine--because she thought she was. She had no cell phone. She was alone, incapacitated and in the dark. She could not walk without assistance. And she was dating a guy that would leave her like that. This is how terrible things happen.

I know sheltering and creating a childhood where everything is magical seems more fun and protective--but our kids need to know before they are in the situation about the dangers that lurk. I am not a fearful person -- but the beginning of wisdom is truth. Please, parents of teens and college students, remind them to be smart and safe.

I will step down from my soapbox now as I try and decide whether I want to make it my ministry to go out every weekend and "Mom" people who need it, or put myself back on restriction from large parties and concerts. ;-)

Thursday, November 02, 2017

From the Window Seat

Last week I was able to sneak away for two nights to join my husband at a conference in San Diego. It was a brief but relaxing trip. Flying back and forth cross country in 48 hours, however, had taken its toll by the time our airplane was preparing to land in Atlanta. I was beginning to get restless, crammed into the innermost seat of my row.

I looked out the window in search of a diversion and found beauty.  Just ahead of us and to my left was another Delta plane preparing for arrival. The sunset cast a golden orange that made everything appear a bit softer and warmer. I watched for a bit, noticing the smooth lines of the plane's exterior as it floated towards its destination. I pondered the miracle of it all--sunsets, human beings flying through the air, all the productivity and planning that was taking place in the city below, the intricacies and impressiveness of modern technology.

And then it hit me. From the perspective of the passengers on the plane I was marveling at, my fellow travelers and I were the miracle.

Inside and up close, I felt antsy and uncomfortable in the stuffy cabin after a long journey, but from the distance of outside looking in, we were glorious. Ironically, the people inside the aircraft I was admiring off to the left likely felt just as I did. Maybe someone on that flight was looking out in our direction considering how smooth, seamless and picturesque our approach appeared.

The lesson was clear. In the momentary reality of hassles and discomfort it is hard to see the wonder of what is happening...but from a distance, as the whole scene is considered? Wow. As a Mama firmly in the midst of it...middle school, middle age, the second decade of marriage...this metaphor really resonated with me.

This life is a miracle for more reasons than I can count and yet many times I am focused on my current circumstances--rising and falling on the headlines of the moment, my own fears and discomfort--and I miss the awe and wonder.

Much is made of how social media is to blame, but frankly, it is the human condition. Forget the media, these same feelings can be stirred in carline, across a church sanctuary, and in a grocery store. We are keenly aware of our own struggles inside the plane. These concerns can dominate our thoughts and prayers, but if we focus too long on them we miss the glorious miracle of the bigger picture unfolding.

I strive to be a person that marvels at the wonder and beauty all around me--the life, love, laughter, community, growth, talent and overcoming inside my cramped metaphorical main cabin. But I also want to be one who can celebrate rather than compare when I glance across the way and see the glory in other marriages, families, people.

As we approach this season of Thanksgiving, perhaps it is a timely reminder to recognize and point out the wonder we recognize in other people's lives. May we retrain the eyes of our hearts and then bless others with the gift of our perspective. It may be just the encouragement they need as rough turbulence and feelings of discomfort have certainly marked their journeys as well.

Friday, October 13, 2017

It's Hard to Write in the Middle of It

I have been thinking a lot about why I don't blog regularly anymore. It was such an important, therapeutic and life-giving part of my life for a decade--what changed?

I think the shift happened as my children aged. With computer access of their own, they started reading the blog--which means their friends could as well. As they have aged, the parenting issues I was wrestling with were no longer the universal ones like potty training, sleep and attachment--they were much more personal. As Kate, Ryland and Parker have advanced into adolescence with maturing thoughts, impressions and individual perspectives, the stories were no longer mine alone. The last thing an adolescent struggling with their place in the world needs is a Mama reporting their every awkward phase to the world.

Adding foster parenting to the mix meant an even more complex need for privacy and confidentiality. I am not one to tell only half the story, and most of the lessons God teaches me involve details that truly make them powerful. I am a natural born communicator with a strong desire to close loops and bring situations to a neat-ish conclusion.

It is a place of heart conflict for me. I don't ever want it to appear that I only publish or post the glossy stuff. It is not my heart's desire to have a lifestyle page that makes it seem we have it all together. I desperately want to shout from the rooftops--"Hey, Mamas in the middle, it's Ok. We are struggling with something similar over here. Nobody is normal. We all have our stuff. This is a PROCESS. Be encouraged. You are not alone!"

Then I remember times I have hurt people with my tongue--sharing things that were not mine to share. I want to help not hurt. So, like Mary, I have been in a season of "pondering in my heart" and meeting with people face-to-face to swap stories of my foibles, struggles and lessons from the trenches.

I have also aged. In my 40s I have found myself firmly in the thick of it with most of my roles--marriage, parenting, friendships, fostering...I am no longer a bright eyed and bushy tailed newbie, but I have lived long enough to know neat-ish conclusions are hard to come by. As a believer, I know there won't ever be a true end in this life--things aren't tidied up until Heaven.

So, I think I am ready to enter back in--not as someone who has the answers or the tidy bows, but as a scavenger picking up pieces of truth along the way, because there are SO MANY places where God shows up and drops morsels along the path that lead to Him.

Let's see where this goes...

Friday, September 08, 2017

Found

There are storms raging on our television screens, twitter feeds & facebook timelines 24/7 these days...Harvey, Irma, Jose. We are overwhelmed by photos of destruction, warnings of impending danger and shifting what-if scenarios.

Off the screens and in our real lives there are countless other storms brewing and wreaking havoc. I am surrounded by people experiencing soul crushing storms: illnesses, financial ruin, addiction, families in crisis.

And in my guest bedroom, there is Little Bit, a precious preschool aged foster child who has already experienced more loss and tragedy in her short life than my adult heart can comprehend.

It is really all so much. Yesterday it felt like too much. I was heavy, useless, walking around in a fog, lost in my own what-if scenarios, frustration with 'the system,' weariness at this sin-sullied world. The realization that I cannot fix any of it left this doer in an identity crisis of sorts.

As I talked about it off and on with God through the day, I felt led to call a prayer warrior from my church and vomit my worries and emotions. She responded by reading Psalms to me over the phone. When we hung up I read a few more in the quiet before beginning my afternoon carline drill.

As bedtime approached, Little Bit, normally an easy going, sweet and compliant child just started wailing. As I tried to nudge her through the bedtime routine, assuming it was exhaustion fueling her outburst, she started screaming, "On my inside, I just feel so much pain. It hurts so much I just want to scream." (Yes, those were the words of a preschooler!)

Keenly aware of my inability to fix,  I wrapped her wet, post bath body up in a towel and sat with her while she screamed. Perched on the toilet seat, I pulled her into my lap and started to rock. She asked if we could go rock "in a real chair" so we moved to the porch. After a few minutes of quiet, we returned to her bedroom. Getting her settled, I reached in a basket of books and pulled out Sally Lloyd-Jones' Found: Psalm 23. Psalms had ministered to me earlier that day, and it seemed a good choice for this moment.

Little Bit had never been to church before foster care. When I said the name Jesus to her a few days ago she asked "Who is he?" So as I read this paraphrased for children rendition of Psalm 23, beautifully illustrated with a little lamb and a tender shepherd who feeds, guides, protects and takes care, she hung on every word. This wasn't an old familiar story, it was a revelation.

In the center of the book, it says "Even when I walk through the dark, scary, lonely places I won't be afraid. Because my shepherd knows where I am. He is here with me."

As I read these lines Little Bit slapped her hand on the page, looked straight into my eyes and implored, "Is this real? Is this true?"
With a breath-taking realization that this was a sacred, important moment, I managed to squeeze out a "Yes. Yes, it IS true."
"Keep reading," she commanded.
"He keeps me safe. He rescues me. He makes me strong and brave."
She listened intently as I turned the page...


Look at that promise: He is getting things ready...just for this little lamb. And her heart that needed to scream because it was in so much pain? It is his desire to fill it with so much happiness it can't be held inside.

I was deeply convicted by how little faith I have had. I have been tied up in knots trying to make a plan for Little Bit's life---fearful of her spirit and heart being crushed by 'the system' rather than trusting her Creator.

And the final line? It says:
"Wherever I go I know...
God's Never Stopping
Never Giving Up
Unbreaking
Always and Forever Love
will go, too!"

In that moment I thought surely David wrote this Psalm so that Sally Lloyd-Jones and Jago would reproduce it JUST FOR THIS NIGHT.

We grown up Christians can make things so complicated--the Gospel is clear and true.

I am not the boss of anyone's life, but there is an AUTHOR, a RESCUER, a PERFECTER, a SHEPHERD.

He sees us in the dark nights of our pain. He knows what we need. He is trustworthy. He is indeed a very good shepherd.

"He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart." Isaiah 40:11a

I'm so grateful.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Night Before 7th Grade

Kate, Ryland & Parker,

Tomorrow morning the three of you will start your first day as 7th graders. This milestone feels huge to me. You are legitimately adolescents, at an age where I have vivid memories of the highs, lows and countless emotions and experiences in between. As I have started to share more of my own cringe-inducing middle school stories with you, my heart feels excitement, empathy and a bit of nervousness about all you will face in coming months and years.

As you know, your Dad and I seriously considered homeschooling this year. It feels like such a monumental time of growth and change that we wanted to spend as much of it as possible with you. In many ways, I think we wanted to delay your entry into the rapids of adolescence a bit longer--to make sure we had made enough deposits, to give you more grounding, to take you on more shared adventures. It was an idea we had nurtured since you were toddlers. Yet, as we prayed and made more concrete preparations God changed our hearts. He made it clear it was His Will for you to remain in your school environment and we are thrilled to see what is in store.

For what feels like at least the 10,000th time since you were born, we've let go of our plans in favor of His. It is with faith and butterflies we send you off tomorrow morning--into the storied awkwardness of 7th grade.  

As you go, I do have a couple of reminders and a promise:

As I've told you many times, this is a stage of life where you & your peers are all just trying to figure some things out. There will be bumps and bruises on the way to beautiful growth--but it is all an important part of the process. Like a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis, the struggle is what strengthens your wings for flying. Give grace to yourself and your peers as you all simultaneously and individually work through the process. 

With hormones, changing relationships and the stress of increasing responsibilities remember to keep your perspective. Spend a few minutes every morning reflecting on who God is and how He loves you. Pause to breathe, look around at creation and remember the One who made it all also created you and has a place for you in it. 

Your identity as a beloved Child of God is not to be taken lightly. Don't let the world distract you from that basic notion-- so many of your future decisions will be best made through the lens of that one truth. 

And when things feel overwhelming ask yourself, what will I think about this situation tomorrow, next month, next year? It's funny how that seems to work for me even in middle age. 

Finally, know that your Dad and I adore you. You are each so uniquely designed and we are delighted to watch how God is working in your lives. We commit to continue to pray for you--and love it when you tell us specific things to cover. We pledge to make home a place of kindness and respect--a safe place to land and be recharged and encouraged even on the hard days. 

As you know well by now, I mess up a lot. I am learning how to parent middle schoolers even as you are learning how to be one. So, let's also remember to give each other the benefit of the doubt, believe the best and apologize quickly. Love covers a multitude of sins. 

Go get 'em, tigers!
-Mom

Saturday, July 29, 2017

What a week!

Our family had the privilege of serving last week at a Young Life camp in Arizona specifically tailored for teenagers with special needs.

There were a little over 400 people in camp with us split into four fairly even groups--25% were teenagers with special needs from Arizona, California, and Alaska. These needs ranged from physical issues such as amputations, wheelchair restriction, cerebral palsy, hearing impairment and blindness to emotional and intellectual differences. Another 25% of the attendees were volunteer leaders and staff from the campers' local areas. These adults were remarkable in their knowledge of each camper's needs and special qualities. They took incredible care of their friends--physically, emotionally and spiritually around the clock all week. An additional 100 high school students actually paid to travel and attend camp from Lafayette, Louisiana and Jackson, Mississippi as buddies--able bodied campers full of energy and friendship.

It thrilled me to watch these three distinct groups merge into one camp community. I can only imagine how exhausted the buddies and leaders were as they stayed fully present with the often unpredictable demands of their Capernaum friends, but you would never know it from their faces. I was particularly moved watching the 14-17 year old buddies as they left their 'cool' at the camp gate and fully engaged in whatever activities were happening--from Disney sing-alongs to dance parties and messy field games. They were "all in" to create a joy-filled experience for their new friends.

Behind the scenes were another 100 people--some Young Life employees, but mostly volunteers--cooking, cleaning, running sound, lights, laundry, crafts and grounds keeping--all so these Capernaum friends could have an excellent camp experience full of joy and fun that pointed to the extravagant love of our Father in Heaven.

It was a true blessing to see 'behind the curtain' the outrageous lengths people were willing to go to for these kids. Chariots (complete with shock absorbers) were constructed for use in yard games so wheelchair bound campers weren't left out. A forklift was customized to safely transport campers with physical limitations to the top of the zip line and the water slide. Earplugs were available everywhere for attendees whose sensory processing issues made sound a challenge. Multiple sign language interpreters were on site so hearing impaired campers didn't miss a joke! Even the kitchen staff, who had to provide sustenance for over 400, modified their menus for the week to deliver quality meals that respected the gluten/dairy/nut/vegan tolerance levels of campers.

I wept more times than I can count as camp became a microcosm of the life God intended for us to have--so many people with various gifts serving together with one goal in mind. No job felt more or less important. We all had the same objective but knew it required many different types of service. Patience and kindness abounded and we all worked together to say YES to removing barriers between kids and the abundant life of the Gospel.

Each of my children were able to find their unique niche as well. One became a game room staple using the gift of play to connect and forge friendships. Another worked closely with my husband in the medical office, using encouragement and resourcefulness to support hurting kids. Yet another used his own loves of swimming and dancing to find ways to engage campers and leaders. I found myself watching, praying and actively asking "what do you have for me to do or see or say right now, Lord?" (It was such a refreshing, purposeful and expectant way to live!)

Empathy is a characteristic we've been actively seeking to encourage in our children...not sympathy or condescension, but true practice in relating to people in different circumstances. This week delivered constant opportunities to do so in a fun and meaningful way.

All in all this was a remarkable week--restorative, challenging and tremendously encouraging on many levels. I was shown that there are actually many pieces of this week that can translate into my 'real life' at home. I hope to live with a more simplified sense of purpose, a renewed appreciation for community and a glorious picture of  the beauty of the body of Christ working together.

I was reminded that working with people with special needs gives a unique opportunity to know a person's challenges and address them directly. Dealing with 'typically developing' people can sometimes be more difficult because we don't all wear our real challenges on our sleeves. The ministry of daily life is to remember everyone has limps, scars and limitations in this life and we would do well to recognize them with a compassion and a commitment to removing barriers that keep people from the abundant life of the cross.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Hardest Part

When we were preparing to open our home to foster children, I prayed daily over the bedroom where these children would sleep. Each time a car pulled in my driveway to introduce a new friend to our family I knew deep in my soul this was a child for whom I had prayed long before I knew their name. As I bathed, tucked in, and tended each child, I wondered how long they would be part of our life. Even though we are not pursuing adoption, I allowed myself to wonder with each individual child if they might become a permanent part of our family. Much like a school girl with a crush, I'd whisper their names with Scott on the end. It wasn't a wish or a prayer as much as an acknowledgment that God--not us--held the future--and anything could happen.

In the last two years of fostering, we have had five school aged children in our home for periods ranging from 10 days to 17 months. Twice, we have had the difficult task of requesting a child be removed and placed elsewhere. It is not a part of the fostering process that anyone likes to discuss, but it is a reality I felt led to write about--if for no other reason than to quiet some of the self talk running through my brain at 2am.

It is a difficult reality to admit. My family enjoys challenges. We believe in grace and second chances.  Neither of us considers human beings items that can or should be "traded in" when the going gets tough. We are not shocked easily. We don't want to raise bubble wrapped children and we certainly never entered into foster care thinking we would "give up" on a child--especially ones who had already been let down by the adults in their early lives.

Early neurological development is impacted by life experience, disruptions to bonding by being moved around, witnessing and experiencing violence and even highly stressful pregnancies. All of these things are outside of the control of a child--and yet, their behavior is impacted in ways they can't just "straighten up." You cannot discipline and correct a child of trauma with the same methods that worked for your non-traumatized children.

Sometimes the behavior is such that even with knowledge of the reasons behind it, a family cannot tolerate it. For safety's sake, every heart and developing life in a home has to be considered.


I deeply believe in the need for loving, stable foster families and gulp hard when I write about the challenges. I do not ever want my words to be used to justify someone's decision to turn the other way and ignore the plight of the orphans among us. I do, however, think it is vital that people understand the deep and real challenges of this system. I trust that God will continue to call people to this work not because they've been shown only a rosy view.

It is frequently generational cycles of sin that result in children coming into care. Those of us on the frontlines of this ministry are also plagued with sins of fear, pride, self-reliance, and greed. Sinners helping sinners in a sinful world. Of course, it is broken!

Both times we have requested removal it has been with an overwhelming sense that we could not serve the therapeutic needs of the child and the others in our home as well. Both decisions have held a moment of eyeball to eyeball unity with my husband. Each time as the child was driven away, I have cried tears of loss, resignation, regret, shame, and relief.

Even knowing the intimate details of our situations and trusting the wise counsel of those who agreed with our moves, I cannot help but feel ashamed that we couldn't 'cut it,' fear that maybe it wasn't really that we 'couldn't' but instead that we simply wouldn't. I've had to lay down a Messiah complex I can be reluctant to admit. I'm realizing this work is sometimes a marathon and other times more like a relay. We aren't always called to cross the finish line, but instead to merely run the baton for our leg.

As I've processed some of my disappointment, I've recognized my preference to 'lick my wounds' privately--reserving the exposure of my vulnerabilities to only a few. I tend to shout from the rooftops when life is good and go quiet when I'm wrestling. May we never forget there is a deep blessing in the wrestling as well.

This is the part of the journey that has stretched and grown us most--especially in our reliance on the Lord instead of the opinions of others or our own wisdom and life experience. Each time has been a great humbling, but also a reminder that following God where He leads means letting go of the cleaner/neater/more flattering-to-our-own-image story we would write. I am reminded that God uses it all--every broken and confusing piece.

This is real life. This is where growth happens.