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...

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

A Sticky Note Faith

This story began a couple of weeks ago. With the return to school and all the measurables it brings...conduct reports, homework, quizzes, dress codes, comparison...I was feeling stressed out and inadequate as a mother of five. 

So much to teach to so many in so little time. I started slipping into the fleshly mode that tempts me most, "Perfector" of my children.

She needs to sit still. 
He needs to make more eye contact.
He has got to learn to tuck in his shirt.
His temper.
Her grammar.
His impatience.
Her tattling.
His anxiety.  
Her bossiness. 
His disorganization. 
Her sloppiness. 
His perfectionism. 

 There was so much work to be done to 'fix' all of the children in my home.

One night as Ryland & I were talking about how to tackle all the 'work' that needed to be done to make respectable adults out of all these little people, the truth hit us like a ton of bricks. We can't do it all. We needed to get back to basics. Instead of perfecting these little people, our role is reflecting the only One who can.

Oh, how our good intentions can trip us up and lead us to lose sight of what matters most.
So, on a simple blue sticky note I wrote 5 letters and a period. I posted it on my kitchen window so I could be reminded while coming and going through my days. Yes, I am to coach on all sorts of things...but my main goal was clear:

A couple of days later I was walking with a friend when she mentioned a similar strategy. She told me she was practicing an equally simple refrain as the 'surprises' of daily life popped up. No matter what, she wanted her heart's response to be, "Thank you, Jesus." 

I added those words to my sticky note.
The very next day, over breakfast, our freckle faced 8 year old foster daughter asked, "What's that blue note in the window for? Why are you thanking Jesus?" I explained that I was trying to remind myself all day long to be grateful to Him. 

As we were walking out the door for school I noticed a new yellow sticky with a note written in her handwriting that said, "We love you Jesus."

Perhaps I made too much of a fuss over the sweetness of it all, because that afternoon she added another more elaborate message:

The spelling needs work, but the message almost wrecked me. 

To: Jesus
You are loved! And forever we are counting on you forever.  

This is it. Just this.
The faith of a child.
It's innocence touched something in me. 

One of my great fears/worries with all of my children--but especially with the foster children--is that they will count on me as their Savior instead of the Lord.
I don't know how long I will be in this little firecracker's life, but I know she CAN count on Him forever

It is not my role to be a Perfector, but instead a Reflector...of His love, of His grace, of His plans for their lives, of His protection and care.

And, again, I must have made too much of a fuss, because I now have a tribute wall in my kitchen. (I had to move it from the window because I could no longer see out.)

Little prayers scrawled down by pudgy hands connected to a little faith-filled heart...they make me giggle in their earnestness, familiarity and tone.
"Jesus, we are caring for you always."
"We are thinking about you, Jesus."
"Jesus, we are going to have a good day."  
I am not discounting the wisdom that comes from in depth study and theological debate, but this child's simple, sticky note faith blesses me down to my toes. I can't help but think she gets something many well-versed church people miss.

There is a reason Jesus told the disciples to let the children come...their stripped down authenticity and innocence has a lesson for us all.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Hope versus Fear

It was not until recently that I realized I am indeed a fearful parent. It was easy to deny because I am not your 'traditional' neurotic Mama who frets over safety. My kids climb trees. I allow them to fail and learn from natural consequences. We embrace adventure. We discuss tough topics. We sometimes eat unwashed fruit. We own a trampoline.

As my children have aged (and grown in number) I have felt led to really examine my heart regarding discipline. I cannot fight every battle or die on every hill without going insane or completely alienating my children. Walking through the process of deciding what to emphasize and what to let go has shed some light on my own heart condition.

At the risk of revealing too much of my crazy I will confess that a few years ago I literally sobbed on the floor of a child's room late one night begging God to tame his temper so as to spare him from a jail sentence one day. In my fear, I skipped straight from an exhausted and angry little boy to his future as an incarcerated felon over one particularly passionate bedtime meltdown. In hindsight I know this was extreme, but lesser versions of this pollute my good parenting sense.

I realized the issues that most pushed my buttons directly correlated with my fears about/for that child's future.

Last week I really felt the Lord impress upon my heart to parent from what I HOPE for my children, rather than what I FEAR. It sounds hokey and perhaps a bit impractical, I know. I mean, we must coach our children and help them shore up their weaknesses. It is our role to raise up responsible adults that can function in the world. But, honestly, for me this change in how I consider my response in discipline has been huge. I feel better. Less stressed, more positive and what a difference it has made in the attitude of my most challenging children!

As my passionate son responded to me with a bit too much fire in his belly Monday I was able to exhale my fear and inhale some hope. I sat him down and quietly said, "The Lord has wired you to be a lion of a man. I can't wait to see which direction he points your passion and leadership. But, honey, I don't want you to trip yourself up with this temper. I love you. I'm on your team. You've really got to watch out for this." I looked him in the eye and I meant it.

I couldn't believe it when instead of making excuses and casting blame, he exhaled and a genuine smile crossed his face. It was apparent he liked the picture HOPE painted. It was a far better motivator than fear. And it was miraculous.

I am new at this approach and have no doubt I will continue to stumble through--but I am liking the results so far and thought I'd pass this along to anyone else who can identify.

“Every decision we make today will be driven by fear or love. Who we toss the keys to determines a lot about the destination.” –Bob Goff

Today I choose faith that God is writing my children's stories, hope that it is far better than what I could write and love because it covers a multitude of fearful Mama sin.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

A Real Life Sunday Morning

Today started with such potential.

I woke up without an alarm before everyone else in the house (a minor miracle considering how much I like to sleep) and had a whole hour alone to sip coffee and finish the book that I've been lost in for days. Buoyed by the incredible, redemptive plot of Francine Rivers' Mark of the Lion series my heart was pondering how God really is in His Plan is often a slow we need to keep our perspective and not get sucked into circumstances.

As each child stumbled downstairs, the aroma of bacon mixed with coffee hung in the air. Like I said, the morning had such potential.

Then we realized we didn't have enough milk to make pancakes...or to fill cereal bowls...and the snowball of Sunday morning chaos was set into motion. I forgot something I needed for my Sunday School lesson. A boy's dress shoe was declared missing as we were hurrying to load--launching an all out family search throughout the house for almost 5 minutes--which made us late. I wish I had handled it like Mary Poppins, with creativity and joy. But back here in real life, anxiety, more contagious than a stomach bug in our home, quickly spread. Its symptoms were blame, snappiness and tears.

At the stop light halfway to church my husband glanced down at my coffee cup precariously balancing on my cup holder and quipped, "You know that is going to spill this morning too, right. Have you prepared yourself?"

When we made it the short 4 minute drive to our church parking lot I realized I had not yet managed to put on my make up. My ADD child burst into tears because he had forgotten to take his medication--or to eat his breakfast (a bad combo for our already frazzled kiddo.) My husband and I did a quick tour around the Sunday School classes--surely we could round up a doughnut or a biscuit. But, alas, we are Presbyterian not Baptist ;) and there were no breakfast foods to be found. 

As the call to worship began I sent my husband and 4/5 of our brood to be settled into the service while I took P on a quick ride to a convenience store a few blocks away for peanut butter crackers and a breather. A minor skirmish occurred with another child on the way out. He didn't want to stay at church and laid out his case for why he should be allowed to come with us. He did not take my answer well and continued to plead. Through clenched teeth and with a threat of docking his allowance I sent him back into the service. As he turned to walk away I watched the look on a deacon's face a few feet away. At first I thought he was trying to see if I needed back up, but realized he may have been observing to see if my son did.  

As I cranked the car P said, "Can you turn on some Christian music, Mom? We need it."

I exhaled a slight smile and heeded his request, knocking over the coffee cup in the process, wondering why my flesh falls for this so often. My heart soaring on heavenly thoughts, eternal perspective, godly pursuits and then something as insignificant as a lost shoe becomes a pinprick to my hope & joy-filled balloon. I crash from the serenity and peace of a 50,000 foot view to being lost in the weeds over such silly things. A reminder of how fickle the human nature can be!

Real life means running out of milk, children losing shoes, and far more challenging, anxiety-producing circumstances. But faith means knowing THIS is not all there is. Yes, we must handle our business here, but I pray we remember to cling to our perspective in the process. 

We found the shoe. We were right on time for church. I rounded up what I needed for the Sunday School lesson. The hungry belly was fed and back in the service by the announcements. I bought two gallons of milk after lunch. 

In the grand scheme of life...these were all such little things. What mattered most was my heart response and, frankly, it needs some work.
My favorite part of our Western vacation this Summer was the views.

The world is breathtaking from the right perspective. Weeds, potholes, and other minor defects blur into a beautiful landscape, not in spite of but because of the texture and depth they add. And so it is with this life. What seems overwhelming up close is awe-inspiring with a little bit of distance. 
While I wish I could invent a drone type machine that would suck me back up from the muck and the mire to a perspective that is always serene--I know I have something more reliable: the availability of the Holy Spirit at a moment's notice through the mere whisper of His name.

Most of us gird ourselves for the big chapters of life--the devastating phone calls, the major losses and life changes. It's inspiring to watch people rise to the occasion and be champions of the faith. But may we not forget that we are called to be faithful in even the little things. 

Yes, our children learn about having a real personal relationship with God from sermons, music and Sunday School--but they get to examine its authenticity in OUR lives through things like lost shoes and anxiety-riddled mornings.  Lord, I pray, you will meet me there and pull me out, bearing YOUR fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. 

Tomorrow is a new day.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

On Making Plans

"If you want to make God laugh, tell Him about your plans." Woody Allen

I have spent the last two decades striving to build a drama free, protected life. My husband and I have a family mission statement, a financial plan, all matters of insurance and an estate plan. Our kids have educational savings plans. We are constantly dreaming of travel plans, ministry plans, retirement plans.

This makes it especially ironic that here in our 40s we are realizing how very little we know of what the future may bring. Since the arrival of two little foster daughters 105 days ago, our desire to plan is stymied. We do not know how long they will be here or where they will go next. We don't know if we will have them for the holidays or whether to include them in early Spring travel plans.  I can't even pretend to know how this whole thing is going to end. I don't even have enough information to speculate at this point.

I have been forced to live life on much more of a day-to-day basis. While I would like to know if I should be building their Christmas lists, with all the moods we now have in our home, most days I just want to make it through homework time with limited tears. We live at the bottom of a bureaucratic funnel and a complex social situation that doesn't fit neatly into our responsible, mapped out life...and, frankly, their little hearts trump our need to 'plan.'

Never have the words of Psalm 27:1 resonated more: "Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring."

Despite framed art in my home that reminds me to "live simply," life has gotten undeniably complicated. Not just because of our little girls...but because we are middle aged and this world is broken. Sin, illness, complex relationships...I look around and laugh that I ever thought much of anything fit into neat little packages.

And a funny thing has happened...rather than finding the absolute uncertainty frightening or frustrating, I have crested the dreaded waterfall of lack of control and found myself plunging into the cool rushing waters of this unpredictable life story feeling remarkably free.

The more complicated life has become, the simpler it seems. Pretending I have much control seems absurd. In letting go and letting God, I am realizing the words, "I don't know" are not only true but liberating.

I wish I could claim maturity, but it was really humility and weakness that led me to this place. It took the overwhelm of five children and the foster care system to shine an undeniable light on what has always been true: None of us really know what tomorrow will bring or understand the ways in which our Lord works out his plans in this world.

I am no longer a child trying to prove to the world how much I know. I am a middle aged woman who has lived long enough to realize how little I really know/control AND that it is OK.

I have long equated wisdom with planning--and I do feel that we are wise to steward well what we have been entrusted. But I pray that we also leave plenty of room for faith that there is One who is writing our stories--for they are generally full of twists and blind turns.

We have to stop listening to the deceptive voice of fear and instead tune into the still small voice that urges us to trust. We must loosen our grip on the reigns of the comfortable safe life and allow our God to take us on a ride we couldn't even imagine for ourselves. We will no doubt be breathless in many places along the way...sometimes from exhaustion and other times from awe and wonder...

The reality is that we are all buckled in on this roller coaster of life. We can't steer it, but we do have a choice in how we ride...terrified or full of wonder. I pray the Lord will make me the girl on the roller coaster with my hands in the air, shouting in exhilaration rather than the terrified one clutching the bar with eyes clenched shut. The loop de loops are coming either way.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Together & Alone

Although yesterday was my little girls' 12th day of school, it was the first day of 5th grade for my trio. We were up by 6:10 and working our way through the two-schools-in-separate-parts-of-town-but-with-same-start-time routine. I made major headway on my To Do list--including some quiet time to read and write. I didn't quite get to my grand plans for meal planning, exercise, reorganization and Bible Study...but it is only Tuesday :)

I confess that I find this season of raising tweens to be a lonely part of motherhood. Between my three we've ditched braces and glasses, gotten a first zit, are dealing with changing bodies, ear piercings, razors, insecurities and mood swings. My children are growing into young adults, and because of my desire to honor and protect them, I don't feel free to talk about it at all.

Honoring budding little people's sense of privacy and self is important. I don't want to embarrass anybody or hear/share TMI...but I do want to get all the other 5th grade Moms in a room and say, "Hey, you are NOT alone!" I considered having a back to school gathering just for other Moms in these Middle Years, so I could look people in the eye and remind them we are in this together, but even getting on everyone's calendar seemed impossible.

We are not the same women who sat on playground benches together 7-8 years ago grateful for any adult conversation. In those days, play dates were for Mommies. We discussed potty training, reflux, tantrums, worrisome personality traits and preschool choices. No subject seemed off limits. We were tired, but motivated and fully engulfed in our motherhood roles.

Time has changed us. As our children have grown and stretched their wings, so have we. I look across the group I started out with and barely recognize who we were. There have been so many life altering headlines: divorce, pursuit of advanced degrees, remarriage, additional children, return to the workplace, cancer, aging parents, addictions, troubled children... There are a lot more concerns on our plates now than whether or not to try baby sign language.

I find evidence of how we have drifted apart and individualized even in the simple things: We drop off now instead of walking in...carline, birthday parties, sports practices, even church. It comes naturally as our children grow more independent.

It is normal and healthy that we no longer hover on the fringes of the kids' activities. But, honestly, I miss the camaraderie. In its absence I fear competition creeps in. I confess that I find myself defaulting to the somewhat isolated place of "dropping and running." I have noticed the lonelier or more insecure I feel, the more likely I am to stay in my Suburban reading with the windows rolled up or hunker down at home and unplug from engaging with my community. Where our mutual overwhelm with early motherhood once drew us together, our coping strategies and circumstances now seem to have built walls that keep us apart.

I've been rolling all of this around in my brain this week--feeling somewhat insecure myself about the return to school and mom circles where I can't always find my fit. Revelling in the freetime school schedules now allow, I have indulged in a newfound interest of reading books I somehow missed as a child. This morning, in an old classic, a quote struck me that seemed to offer perspective:

“You see, though we travel together, we travel alone."  Madeleine L'EngleA Wrinkle in Time

Ahh, there it is. Though we travel together, we travel alone... In this marathon of motherhood and life, even when we have the same goals we find ourselves with a different pace (often dictated by the other hearts in our home) and taking alternate paths based on gifts, challenges and circumstances.

Even those of us who are travelling together with the commonality of mothering in these middle years also find ourselves travelling alone because we each have a unique race to run. 

I am not a runner, but I have participated in a half dozen 5ks through the years. In doing so I have found there are different types of racers: There are those who don headphones, sunglasses and seem to be in their own space oblivious to the world and there are others who are so busy socializing as they walk that you wonder if they will ever make it to the finish line at all. Between those two extremes are a whole host of others who are running their race and encouraging others as they go... a little eye contact, maybe a little conversation, head nods of acknowledgement, a word or two when they can tell you are ready to quit... This is the kind of participant I pray to be.

We each have to answer to our Maker when we cross the finish line. God assigned our roles and our courses. I want to do well with the little hearts I have been entrusted while honoring my covenant to my husband. (That's a lot of hearts to hold on this race!) But I also pray I will be brave enough to engage the other runners around me--even when I am winded and it may seem easier to shut out the world--to take the focus off myself, suck up my insecurity and step out of the comfort zone to spur others on.

The Christian life is so full of both/ands: Grace and truth. In but not of. Salt and light. Truth in love. I think it is this balance of give and take...loving and allowing ourselves to be loved...that we will find community the way God intended and the great comfort that we travel both together and alone.