Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Duty of Delight

These days I am usually operating at a baseline of worn out. As a result I can sometimes find myself defaulting to annoyed rather than amused. Recently, as I was having a bit of a deep sigh filled, pity party while cleaning up yet another kid/dog/cat/kitchen/life mess I heard a whisper in my heart.

"Hey, you know this is real life, right?"

Early on in my marriage, thrilled that I had my own personal MD to whom I could report every ache, pain and random body quirk, Ryland said something I will never forget.

"Jen, you realize no one's body is perfectly pain and symptom free all the time, right? The body is a complex system. These little things don't mean something is drastically wrong with you. They just  happen."

It can be hard to convey tone, but he is such a patient man. He said this compassionately. And as silly as it sounds, it was a revelation to me. That stitch in my side, the heartburn, the twitchy left eye, the bump on my leg that has been there for years...Turns out it is actually normal life stuff.

The same way it is hard to find a perfectly functioning human body, it is equally rare to find a annoyance free life. Here in my 40s I am increasingly aware that much of life includes the little nuisances, some of life includes the really scary, painful times and sprinkled throughout are the plethora of small but delightful moments that refresh our souls, lift our spirits and keep us keeping on...We simply have to train ourselves to look for them.

I just finished reading Gregory Boyle's wonderful book Tattoos on the Heart--in it he references a phrase from John Ruskin "the duty of delight."

It is not something I had considered before...
Delight as a duty.
Revelry as a necessity.
Counting blessings as a requirement.
Choosing joy as part of my job description.

We have so many other items on our busy Mama To Do lists...but what if we added delight as a "must do?"

What if we made it a daily priority to pause and breathe in the restorative beauty and wonder in each other and in the moments that tickle us.

As I wrote in a previous post, I think social media gets a bad rap as a place where people fake their lives--and of course, there are those who use the platform to do so. But, I prefer to think of it as an instrument for the discipline of delight. Like a photographer gifted in looking for the shot, I hope my heart is trained to seek the moments. Typically deemed insignificant in the grand scheme of life, I want to search for the daily randomness that brings joy, peace, love and laughter.

Like a kid-purchased light up bow tie at the skate center, 
the randomness of  a disco dancing Grumpy Cat,
Squeals at being carried like a sack of potatoes,
the ingenuity of bored kids on a Saturday morning,
the warmth of a post bath sit by the fire...a feeling I clearly remember from my own childhood.

Real life with all its ups and downs holds so many sweet treasures--in our backyards, our living rooms, around our kitchen tables...

These are the moments that make up our lives...rather than rush by them, what if we instead reveled. Just a momentary pause to freeze the frame, take it in and grin at the random, messy, quirky, delight of it all.

And as we approach this week where we celebrate gratitude it can be easy to speak in trite phrases--to make sweeping statements about our gratitude for broad categories of family, health and friends.

But I pray in the normal days that come after the feast I may be found faithful in practicing the duty of delight.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Living for the Moment

I love Instagram. I post almost every day. Ironically, the criticism social media receives for being a mere highlight reel of people's actual lives is exactly the purpose for which I use it. One quick snapshot a day to memorialize what I want to remember--a slice I hope to hold onto--a moment that made my heart cry "yes, this was a good thing today."

There are a lot of parts of my life that are present every day and yet not what I want to promote, preserve or perseverate on. The chores, the squabbles, the messes, the outbursts...spilled coffee, dirty floorboards, hurting hearts. Of course those moments are there--and God is working in them to sanctify my heart---but who wants that in their chatbooks to flip through later?

So, I post the moments my heart treasures--the ones that make the rest worthwhile. Lately I have felt a real twinge every time I post a photo--a desire to tell the rest of the story. So, without further adieu, a few of my recent Instas and 'the rest of the story.'
Last night Ryland & I had a long overdue date night to see Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors perform...To get here it took not only concert tickets but 2 hours driving, coordination with an out of town soccer tournament, 90 minutes of packing 4 duffle bags of lovies, medicines, contacts, church clothes, play clothes, books and the like with the 'help' of five children, awesome grandparents who fed, loved and put to bed our big boisterous brood.

About 30 minutes after this picture was snapped we returned to my inlaws' house to a very sick little girl who I spent 3 hours laying with in a toddler bed as she cried and coughed--and an outraged brother who was exhausted from sharing a room with her and took personal offense at the noise from her coughing fits.

BUT...for  a few beautiful hours, I was just a girl on a date with a guy I adore and that is the picture I want most to remember.

A couple of weeks ago I captured this shot of little girls, staring out the door waiting on Trick or Treaters to walk up onto our porch. It was Halloween. They were simultaneously revved up and exhausted, squabbling even as I snapped this photo. There were tears. I had to make a rotation system for who got to hold the big basket of candy when the people arrived. But they were giddy and nervous as this was the first time they had ever been Trick or Treating or passed out candy.

(And the next several weeks are going to be magical as I recently received a breathless, incredulous question..."Wait! What? Christmas is Jesus' birthday????")

This make up free, unflattering angle recorded the freedom and joy we all felt last Sunday as we had an outing as only a biological family of five. It was a true Sabbath afternoon. We exhaled. We enjoyed each other with silliness and true, guttural laughter. (And if you look closely you will see that R is ducking in the middle behind my head because he is an 11 1/2 year old boy who doesn't particularly enjoy photos.)
And today, a snapshot of two of my girls walking along a bridge our foster daughters have been curious about for weeks. What you can't see is the one who most wanted to go made choices that caused her to miss out on the outing, and we left her behind shedding angry tears. Shaken and sad, we went anyway, because sometimes that's just what you do. As we walked I replayed all of the events that almost kept us from going, while these two girls chatted like sisters and I thought "This is good. I'm glad we didn't give up."

Looking through my camera roll I realized I could do this for most of our pictures. For every sweet reason I want to remember a moment there is at least a tinge of bitter. It's what makes life so complex and full.

Most are familiar with the 80/20 rule (also known as Pareto's Principle), a business term stating that 20% of what we do is vital and 80% is trivial. The older I get the more I can see that this seemingly off-kilter ratio is applicable to many parts of my life--and can often feel more like 90/10.

The majority of what I do during a day seems insignificant, dull, frustrating even--but when I experience those rare flashes of clarity, focus and purpose I KNOW they have redeemed the less memorable parts. Fruit comes from faith and work. I can almost hear my soul remark, "OK, now I get it. This is what all the drama was about."

Every day it seems God is sending me a little wink--a reminder that He is still VERY MUCH in charge.

Last week a challenging morning resulted in a tearful apology from me to one of our girls. In a stressful situation I jumped to the wrong conclusion and in doing so had hurt her little heart. I later heard from a friend that she had observed the whole thing (unbeknownst to me). Embarrassed, I fumbled to explain the circumstances that led us to that moment in the hall at church. She tearfully told me how God had used the picture of me, humbled and on my knees apologizing to this child, to speak to her heart. God redeems even our messiest moments.

As a tired and overwhelmed 40+ year old housewife/mama of five, my definition of "living for the moment" has evolved. It is far less about being footloose and fancy free and instead about keeping my eyes wide open for the moments that redeem so much of the challenging parts of my life.

These glimpses of beauty right smack in the middle of messiness are IT. Like the gold miner who sees the tiny glint and realizes the hunt has been fruitful...redemption is found in the small moments that dot our path. May we fix our eyes on the PRIZE not the circumstances and the challenges on the way.

Yes, we must give those obstacles our attention as we pass through...but I want my eyes to be fixed on redemption, grace, love, lessons being learned and the truth that God is active through it all.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Life in Quotes

I have tried for a week to summarize some very big lessons God is teaching me...but the back stories are too long and the details too laborious for a blog post.

So, in the vein of keeping it simple, I want to share other people's words that God has used to drive home what He is teaching me about faith and trust when it comes to the lives of those dearest to me--and the 'safety' of my own heart.

"Worry is a form of meditation in which we turn the volume up on the things we fear about the hypothetical future and down on God's actual promises of care and provision." -Scott Sauls

"The only opportunity you will ever have to live by faith is in the circumstances you are provided this very day..." -Eugene Peterson

"We may feel the pressure of our circumstances but keep in mind God is never late...We're just in a hurry..." -Dr. Crawford Loritts & Psalm 27:14

And finally, this reminder from I Corinthians 4:5
"So don't get ahead of the Master and jump to conclusions with your judgments before all the evidence is in. When he comes, He will bring out in the open and place evidence of all kinds of things we never even dreamed of--inner motives and purposes and prayers."

As I typed all these tonight it occurred to me that the details of how I am learning all this are irrelevant because the truths are so widely applicable.

I am recording these for posterity because I know I will return to these reminders again and again.

He's got this. May we live as if we really believe it.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

When Words Take Root

"He (Jesus) saw the potential in the lives of sinners. In Simon, He saw a rock. In Matthew, the publican, He saw a faithful disciple who would one day write one of the four Gospels..." -Warren Wiersbe

I have a house full of big personalities that illicit a wide range of emotions from their Mama--laughter, frustration, delight and a fair bit of cringing. When left unto itself, my mind races away with thoughts of what a child's future will look like if this or that weakness isn't reigned in. I have written many times about my temptation to parent from a place of fear rather than hope.

I want to be a wise steward of these little lives, but I also want to be like my Lord. Not leading anyone or anything impatiently or in a panic...but living and moving as an expression of faith. I loved this reminder that Jesus, Himself, was a seer of potential...focused on who people were to become moreso than where they were currently stuck.

During a recent session of purging my trio's backpacks I came across projects that gave me pause. Each of my 5th graders had completed a coat of arms assignment, researching colors and symbols to use in the design they felt best represented them.

The artwork was cute, but the attached explanations allowed a glimpse into their self image, values and aspirations that does not come frequently with tweens. As I savored these snapshots of who my 11 1/2  year olds are becoming, I pondered the implication of words spoken to them through this first decade+ of their lives.

To read what my kiddos state as their beliefs about their burgeoning identity left me awestruck. They were given a word bank of colors, symbols and their corresponding meaning, then free reign to express themselves. There was only one duplicate on their pages.

Here are a few excerpts of what they chose.

 P: "I chose a dove which represents trust in God, because I have faith in the Lord. I used silver because it represents peace."
"Gold represents generosity. I like to help people like our foster kids."
"I chose a globe because I love to travel the world."
"Green represents joy, hope & loyalty. I chose this because I'm usually happy and hopeful. For example, I hope our foster children will learn about God."

K: "I chose the Ichthus (Greek for fish)representing belief in Jesus. I thought this would be a good image to choose because I trust and love Jesus and God with all my heart."
I decided on blue for my background color. It represents truth and loyalty. I used this color because I always tell the truth and never tell a secret.
I chose thyme for my image. It represents courage and strength. I used this because I am brave when it comes to heights and ropes courses. I am also not scared of anything.
I chose gold because it means generosity. I share my stuff with my foster sisters."

R: "I picked the allerion because I trust God and He gives me strength. I chose white because I trust God and He helps me with my choices. I chose the anchor because I have a big belief in God and I love him from the bottom of my heart. I chose maroon because it means patient in battle and victorious. I chose this because I'm doing my best and having a comeback in school."

These are just excerpts. There were certainly humorous parts that reminded me these are children with lots of growing left to the fact that R chose black for "constancy or grief because I am coming out of some hard times." (Concerned, I asked him what he was referring to and he flashed dimples and confessed he just thought black would look cool.)

But, typical 11 year old behavior considered, I was struck by the insight this project offered. Even while groaning at chores, attempting to sneak in a little extra screen time or practicing making body noise sounds that annoy, truth IS taking root in their hearts.

Exactly 4 hours before these beautiful, hope giving words came home I was confessing to my small group all the ways I feel like I am blowing it. I lamented that the business of life and ALL THESE CHILDREN was not allowing for the neat, picturesque moments I like to imagine my family having...

The evening Bible studies by the fire I aspire to as marks of a godly, together Mom are a stark contrast the wet haired children I am trying to coral into bed or the exhausted big kids splayed across the sofa watching replays of American Ninja Warrior.

But through the faithfulness of God and the countless adults God has placed in the lives of my children, Truth is taking deep root in their hearts.

As I read their assignments, I recognized some of the words their father and I have spoken over them--prayers we have prayed through the years. But their were other parts did not come from us, but from coaches, teachers, children's ministry volunteers, friends, family members--and oh, how God is weaving all of it together to form identity in their hearts! Truly breathtaking.

"A person becomes a person through other people." Desmond Tutu

This is the body. This is community. This is how lasting identity is formed. What a reminder to show up for other people's kids with well placed words and the investment of life on life! What an encouragement to stick with the rhythms of Bible study, church attendance and even Sunday afternoon lunch traditions with friends that have become family. These rituals form a framework where truth can be safely spoken and actively lived out.

Moment upon moment identity is being forged. Just as it is hard as a Mama to see just how much your children are growing in height, I think it can be equally challenging to see how their hearts are growing in depth. Every now and then we get these moments where we rub our eyes and go, "whoa." All of this investment of prayer and love and talking is adding up to something.

And here's the thing:  NOTHING IN THE ECONOMY OF GOD IS WASTED, even those real life moments! Squabbling siblings, ropes courses, family travel, grades that reflect not doing our best, the blending in of younger foster kids and the stretching and growth it requires? God is using it!!!

"It's an unbelievable experience to watch your kids become their own person. You know that all humanity has walked this way before, but for you and your child, it's all new. You are living the clichés, but now they are real and different."
- Sara Groves

This week I had the chance to sneak out of town for 24 hours of reconnection with dear old friends. I realized it is the same way in my adult heart. I have known these girls for more of my life than I haven't. Over 23 years we have experienced the highest of highs in joy, love and laughter and the lowest of lows in loss, pain and regret. Yet, even in our 40s, when we get together and share our hearts we remark to each other "My, how you have grown since I saw you last."

Nothing is wasted in the economy of God--not in a child's life and not in their Mama's.

So, today, Lord, lead us and guide us in having eyes to see and marvel all the ways You are at work. Give us words of hope, love and truth  and the courage and commitment to speak them. May we plant words that help each other grow into the people You have planned.

Signal by Sara Groves

Just after I hit publish on the previous post, I stumbled across this video and lyrics. What a beautiful expression of the heart of an adolescent's Mama.

"All the clichés about how fast kids grow are true.
I woke up this morning eye to eye with you.
The love songs and adages couldn't explain the hope
Of all you're becoming, body and soul.

Your heart goes out,
I can hear your song.
Your signal is getting stronger
Your signal is getting strong.
There's no cliché when I hear your song.
Your signal is getting stronger.
Your signal is getting strong.

Many clichés about living this life are true.
The path is worn, but for us it's new.
There's no way to know it without discovering.
We are marking our missteps with mercy.

Your heart goes out,
I can hear your song.
Your signal is getting stronger.
Your signal is getting strong.
There's no cliché when I hear your song
Your signal is getting stronger.
Your signal is getting strong.

It's all been said, but don't be afraid to throw back your head and sing anyway.
Your heart goes out I can hear your song.
Your signal is getting stronger.
Your signal is getting strong.
There's no cliché when I hear your song.
Your signal is getting stronger.
Your signal is getting strong.

All the clichés about how much I love you are true.
As big as the sky and up to the moon
A million zillion
Infinity plus one."
-Signal by Sara Groves (from the album Floodplain)

Monday, October 12, 2015

Five things in Five Months

I haven't intended to write less lately, I am just so mentally and emotionally tired at the end of a day I want to veg out rather than reflect. When I do sit down with the intention of writing, my thoughts and feelings swirl into a tangled mess that I lack the energy or clarity to sort. I know I will look back on this season and regret not leaving more sign posts.

Writing about our family's experience with foster care is tricky for me. I want to fairly represent the experience, the beauty and the brokenness, the challenges and the blessings. But this is real life and it is so complicated, multilayered and constantly changing that I struggle with words that explain without cheapening or overgeneralizing.

Tomorrow marks the 5 month anniversary of our current foster placement. In light of that milestone, I thought I'd attempt to break it down to the top five lessons this experience has taught us at this point:

1- This is a 'brutiful' ministry (Glennon Melton's phrase for parts of life that are equal parts brutal and beautiful) Loving children as my own that I did not have any influence over for the foundational first years of their life feels a bit like walking into someone else's kitchen on Thanksgiving day. The original cook started a meal. There are ingredients and half prepared dishes all over--and I have to try and piece together what they were doing, where they left off and keep cooking--aware that I can be tagged out at some unknown point along the way.

A mistake people make is assuming that bio families of foster kids were all bad. My girls have a lot of tender memories of their family of origin. They absolutely do not view my husband and me as heroic rescuers. We are merely substitutes for the real deal that they remember and miss.

A week ago I heard one of the girls crying "Mommy, Mommy, Mommmmm-eeeee." She was in the middle of a bad dream. I went to her bedside and wrapped her sobbing upper body in my arms.  I rocked her for several minutes. Her hair still wet from the shower pressed against my chest, she calmed down, still periodically saying 'Mommy' softly between sniffles. It occurred to me that I did not know whether she was calling for me or her bio Mom. I got the very strong feeling that she didn't really know either anymore.

2- We really are not 'so great' for doing this. I physically cringe when well-intentioned folks use superlatives to describe our role in these girls lives. I know the truth. We are stumbling and fumbling our way through foster parenting. I beg God to make all five of us full of grace as we handle these sometimes angry, frustrated, frightened children--but I would not describe our performance as 'graceful.' I apologize a lot...not just for the life circumstances these children find themselves in, but for how poorly my flesh often responds.

I feel a lot like the Velveteen Rabbit these days--not particularly shiny & fluffy, but very loved and real.

 I am broken. They are broken. The best we can do is limp together to the cross.

3- Stepping out in faith and getting in over your head is the surest way to really get intimate with God. My life has been pretty comfy. I have managed to feel mostly competent and generally in control, until now. I cannot sing a hymn in church without tears these days, because the lyrics touch a raw place in my soul.

Faith, hope, healing, trust, need, love, grace, forgiveness...they are not just words...they are the cry of my tender, tired heart. I am grateful for this glimpse of the Gospel and of God's tender mercies. Every member of my family knows Him in a deeper way as a result of the stretching, overwhelm and sanctification of this season.

4- Preserving my own family's personality and identity has been harder than I thought. I naively assumed other kids thrown in the mix would jump in and after a few modifications we would all be fine. The reality is that these kids bring their life experiences, personalities, preferences, quirks and unique identities.

There is much bickering and competition that requires rotations, routines and systems. It saps my energy and is tricky for my eleven year olds to navigate because it has effected some of their previous freedom.

The Scotts aren't nearly as spontaneous, adventurous and silly as we were last Spring--and while these girls are undoubtedly leaving their mark on our hearts, lives and evolving family identity I miss some of who we were. I am simultaneously reminded that 'preserving' has more to do with fear and scarcity and little to do with the abundant, pouring out associated with the Gospel.

I know God is writing our story--and am trusting Him for how our identities will evolve.

5- As challenging as this life adjustment has been for our family, it is unquestionably harder on our foster kids. It makes so much sense to read that statement, but I confess it is hard to remember in practice some days.

We signed up for this. They didn't. While it is certainly not our intention or plan, the reality is that we can pull a ripcord and exit this with two weeks notice--meanwhile, our young charges are swept up in this unfamiliar, no promises life until the system says they aren't.

It is hard enough for me to wrap my middle aged brain around--I cannot fathom how 7 & 8 year olds attempt to process this as their reality.

I post a lot of sweet moments on Instagram. Despite how this posts sounds, there are many. I write to offer a balanced account.

Ryland & I have no regrets about answering this call. God commands us to love our neighbors, care for the needy and to advocate for those who cannot do so for themselves. He doesn't say it will be easy, but promises He will be with us. I am experiencing this truth in a whole new way.

We can preach to our children about compassion, self control, patience, kindness, gentleness and self sacrifice--moving it into our home is another story entirely. This is nitty gritty life on life. There are tough realizations about our selfishness and precious joys as we watch these girls learn and grow.

Words cannot quantify the snapshot moments:
Hearing these girls pray "Jesus, you are my favorite person ever."
Watching our kids teach them things like cartwheels, throwing a football, doing a dive, baking cookies
The sweetness of how they adore my husband..and how it is clearly changing their definition of Father
Celebrating new accomplishments
Listening to my children's prayers for them and heartfelt concern for their future

I am grateful for this opportunity.

Perhaps the most enduring lesson of all for me is that hard and good can be fully present simultaneously. This season is definitely challenging, but also rich in deep heart lessons. And so we press on...

Monday, September 28, 2015

Redemption in Blue

When our foster daughters came to live with us it became apparent they had a negative view of law enforcement as a result of their early life experience. If we ever saw a police officer they became nervous--afraid we were going to get arrested. The girls would frantically duck and hide in the car if we saw a police cruiser. They were convinced police were out to get us.

While I realize recent national headlines and cases have exposed varied experiences with law enforcement, I really wanted to help these children see that their life experiences are not the norm. We have had many conversations about how if you aren't breaking any rules, you don't have anything to fear, but yesterday afternoon it was put to the test thanks to a yellow light.

We were traveling through a deserted intersection downtown on a Sunday afternoon. I thought I could make it. I was wrong. Just as my big white Suburban went under the unmistakably red traffic light, I noticed the man in blue.

I whispered a quick prayer for calm and announced to my carload, "I made a mistake and I am about to have to talk to a police officer about it. Don't worry. I will get a ticket but it is going to be Ok."
"Are you going to jail?"
"What will happen to us?"
"Will we go to jail too?"
"Are K, R & P going to be in foster care now?"
The anxious questions came rapid fire from the little girls in my backseat. They have seen similar situations with frightening endings.

I pulled into an empty parking lot and rolled down my window.
"I am not going to jail. I am just going to need to apologize and pay some money as a fine."
As the officer approached there was silence in my backseat.

"Hello, Ma'am. You knew you ran that red light, didn't you?" He got straight to the point.
"It was not my intention. But, yes, I did. Sir, before we go any further, could you let this carload of concerned kiddos know that we are just going to talk and fill out forms and you aren't planning to arrest me?"
His mouth turned to a slight grin and said, "Roll down the window."
As the back window went down, he was greeted by almost a dozen wide, young eyes. He kindly introduced himself and turned back to me. "Let me see your license and if everything comes back clear we can talk about a warning this time."

"He was so nice!" one of my girls observed.
"He's not taking you to jail!" another exclaimed.
"But you are still in trouble," a somewhat smug voice reminded me.

As the officer went back to his cruiser the kids and I talked about rules and consequences. I made the mistake. This man was doing his job. Then we quietly listened to a song on the turned down radio. I was reminded again how God is redeeming the lives of these children.

I felt an overwhelming desire to tell this officer what a powerful lesson he was being used to teach, but knew I shouldn't embarrass the girls by pointing out that they are foster kids or revealing the parts of their family's story that made this peaceful, cooperative interaction so important.

I considered getting out of the car but remembered too many grainy police videos of interactions gone wrong. I opted for a rumpled envelope stuck in my visor, scratching a quick note explaining a little about the passengers in my car and the beauty of this positive experience with police.

When he came back to the car with my official written warning I was almost in tears.
"I need you to know what a good thing you have been a part of today," I said as I stuck the old envelope in his hand.
He looked bewildered until he started reading it, then his lip quivered and my voice shook as I addressed the kids again.
"This officer's job is to enforce rules that keep us safe. I made a bad choice that could have hurt someone, so he pulled me over to remind me how important it is to follow the rules. Let's thank this officer for working hard to keep people safe."

He inhaled to a chorus of thank yous, exhaled a smile and walked back to his cruiser.

I plan to keep this warning on my bulletin board--yes, as a reminder not to speed up on yellow--but more importantly to remember that there is grace and redemption all around us if we open our eyes to see.

I may be their foster mom but daily I see God use other adults--some intentionally and others quite unwittingly--to mark and influence these little hearts and lives.

Nothing in the economy of God is wasted...even a lead foot!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Words to Remember

Not every day of parenting is amazing, but two quotes today that reminded me of the sweetness of the chapter of life we live in...

 From our 8 yr old foster daughter: "I want to stay a kid forever because I love cartwheels so much. How old are you when you stop doing cartwheels? I don't ever want to get that age."

And tonight during a stolen moment with our P I said: "Buddy, I don't think you can understand how much we love you."
His response? "I know. I think about it a lot actually."
Me: "You think about how much you are loved?"
P: "Yes, and what a lucky kid I am."

 These moments...they redeem so much of the hard stuff...