Saturday, January 20, 2018

Goodbye to Haley

January 16

This morning I watched everyone in my family tell our 14 year old chocolate lab, Haley, goodbye. She completely lost use of her back legs the day before. She had to be carried for food, water and to urinate and defecate. Her tail was between her legs and her eyes begged for relief.

My husband spoiled her with delicious duck meat for breakfast. The kids hugged her and rubbed her ears. They knew I was taking her to the vet while they were at school and that the outlook was grim, but the hopefulness of youth still ruled their hearts.

I carried her to the car at 9:30 and drove with all the courage I could muster to the Vet. I called my husband (who was at work) for a last minute pep talk. As I carried her in from the car, our vet and one of his tech's was waiting to open the door and take her from me. We carried her back to an exam room and after placing her on the table, we all made the decision that it was her time.

My last mental picture of her is her sweet grey face with splotches of pink from my lipstick kisses.

The children knew I was taking her to the vet while they were at school--and that she might not come home. The reality still hit them hard.

As Parker mourned he said, "I've know her my whole life. I have known Haley as long as I have known you, Mom. She was always there for me when I was sad and now I have to go through this without her."

Lots of conversations about how there is no easy way to do a hard thing and love is worth it.

But, ugh.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

January 9-15, 2018

"Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom." 
Psalm 90:12

I am continuing my life snapshots and weekly wrap-ups with observations and lessons learned from the first two weeks of 2018. This exercise is taking some of the pressure off my rusty writing legs and prompting me to seek God the lessons of my days. Don't expect fully formed thoughts...

January 9
On these cold Winter days, I have taken to sitting in my car in the driveway or a bit longer once I arrive home (especially during the day when I am alone.) The heated seats in my Suburban are so toasty, it is hard to leave. I refer to it as my home office. This afternoon I paid particular attention to the hydrangea bushes along my front drive. They are lush and productive and stunning when in bloom--but right now they look like dead sticks. If I didn't know how glorious they are in Spring and Summer, I would did them up and throw them out...but I have seen their potential and know they are just dormant now. A powerful metaphor for me...dormant does not equal dead. Things and people have seasons. Don't judge them by a snapshot from only one.

January 10 
"Expose and dismantle the faithless, graceless ways we parent, Father. Free us from our overbearing and under-believing ways. Forgive us for being more anxious than loving--more likely to nag or brag without ceasing than pray and trust without ceasing." -Scotty Ward Smith

Just loved this quote today.

January 11 
Parker participated in (and took 2nd place) at the school-wide Spelling Bee. For a child that struggles with anxiety, it is a big deal to put himself out there in such a high stakes, visible way in front of his peers. Next stop, Round One of State!

January 12 
Participated in TBRI training for the third time in three years. This trauma-informed training on how to love kids from hard places well is excellent. The first year I attended we had just gone through our first failed foster placement and I felt sick and ashamed through many of the lectures. I wished desperately I had known better how to handle LuLu.

The second year, some of my guilt and shame were gone and I was able to hear more from the standpoint of "when we know better we do better." I was also able to learn tips and tricks that could improve my parenting of my own children who have some sensory issues as a result of a traumatic pregnancy and NICU stay.

This third time, I couldn't help praying constantly for the next child or children in our home as we have tentatively set a date to re-open our home April 1.

January 13 
Area wrestling tournament. Parker was sick and could not compete and Ryland wasn't able to drop pounds to make weight--fine by the Mama! Today I appreciated what an encourager and team player Ryland is. He stayed at the tourney for 8 hours and cheered his teammates on with so much enthusiasm he was hoarse. I delighted in his back patting and genuine support of his teammates. He's the guy you want in your corner.

January 14 
Driving lessons at the farm. How can it be that my kiddos will have learners' permits in 16 months??!!

January 15 
Haley, our 14 year old chocolate lab, lost use of her back legs. She now has to be carried to go to the bathroom or get food and water. I am not ready to write all about this yet except that the conversations with my children were meaningful and important. There is no easy way to do hard things because hard things are hard.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Snapshots of a Life: Week One-ish 2018

Last Thursday's chore was a general organization and clean up of my attic. This led to the rediscovery of a large storage box full of keepsakes from my life. When my Grandmama passed away last year I received a box of mementos she had kept for me--from my birth announcement to my children's. There were few photos, but she too was a word girl and had all the documents of the key moments. I promised myself the treat of exploring that box once the less exciting work was complete.

Friday, a last minute cancellation of plans created space for me to sort through the box, which included not only my Grandmama's contributions but my own keepsakes as well. It was a bizarre, roller coaster walk through 43 years of a life to flip from random college party pictures to wedding shower invitations and high school snapshots. I found my first resume and tons of memorabilia from my stint working for the 1996 Olympic Open & Closing Ceremonies. There were also letters Ryland & I had exchanged and journals from the transformative years of my post-college early twenties. I also found two time capsules--one from 1994 and one from 1/1/2000 where I had written letters to my future self. (I confess I chose not to read those just yet.) 

As I read through the journals, I remembered that pre-blogging I used a calendar to jot down key events and lessons from most days. They were not well-formed thoughts so much as scrapbooks of words--pieces of the day and my corresponding feelings. There seemed to be freedom from pressure to draw any conclusions. Perhaps it was the freshness of my journalism education--report the facts without the need to teach a lesson. 

I wondered what it would be like to return to that method of recording the world. In a social media age laden with people's (mostly dire) conclusions, what if I went back to more observation than conclusion? I think this is why I transitioned from blogging to Instagramming. 

So, nine days into this New Year, I decided to try something new here, which is actually revisiting the old--a brief reflection on each day and something I learned, appreciated, observed or simply want to remember. 

January 1
Watched the most gorgeous sunrise that turned the inside of my house a warm orangey-pink. A bitter cold day where the kids and I stayed in pajamas until almost 3pm. Big football evening--UGA's historic overtime win versus Oklahoma and watching my son, Ryland's sheer joy as a lifelong UGA fan. Alabama beat Clemson in the Sugar Bowl later that night, but we were honestly exhausted by that time. 

January 2
A trip to Chattanooga for a doctor's appointment for one of my trio. Good news. 

January 3
A trip to Atlanta for another specialist for one of my trio--who decided to take a very interesting approach regarding a health issue facing one of my people. Dr, C. challenged this child to step up as a young adult and take more charge of their own health choices. Honestly, not what I was expecting, but remarkably effective at this point (a week in) and inspired me as a parent to consider this approach more often. Our relationship is already much better. We will return in a week to see if the health issue is positively impacted as well.

January 4
Met for coffee with a woman I've been mentoring for two years as we tie up a few final loose ends in preparation for the return of her two children from DFACS custody. She spoke about how the practice of Gratitude has changed her life. She's a single working Mama with a life history most reading this cannot fathom, a recovering addict whose children are in foster care and she is overflowing with thanksgiving for the gifts of her life.  One day, with her permission I hope to write a lot more about this...

January 5 
The day spent exploring my life box in the attic (mentioned above). A was reminded that handwritten notes are a gift that keeps giving--and that photos really should be printed occasionally. Also, that as we document our kids lives we ought not to forget to record what God is doing to keep growing us up as well--hence this post. Also, enjoyed a two hour 'family business meeting' with my husband that reminded me why I love being his partner--may or may not have included going over spreadsheets in a bar across the street from the youth group event my kids were attending ;-)

January 6
Wrestling tournament out of town with my sons. Sitting on the sidelines waiting between matches I had time to read a book about Haiti (On that Day Everybody Ate)
in preparation for a women's trip later this month. My heart already aches for the level of poverty I will see there--and how God wants to use that exposure in my life.

January 7
Church and then very low key day with kids and husband scattered at various activities. I was able to spend some sweet one-on-one time with Parker as he created an escape room in his bedroom. What fun to search for locks and supplies with him and remember that he is his very best self when he is creative.

January 8
Unexpected day off from school with kids because of the threat of ice. The CFP National Championship game in a fiercely divided house. I hated watching young Ryland's heartbreak but great opportunities for conversations about sportsmanship. 

There is nothing fancy about these hastily typed paragraphs, but I think I will treasure these snapshots of our real life one day. 

"How we spend our days is of course how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour and that one is what we are doing."-Annie Dillard

Friday, January 05, 2018

Muscle Building

I hate working out.

I love outdoor adventures. I enjoy family bike rides, hikes and swimming--but something about going to the gym turns me off. I don't enjoy it--and I am not particularly good at delayed gratification. I like to see return for my work that gives me a boost to keep going.

As you might imagine, there is rarely a dull moment in a house full of 13 year olds. I actually asked one of my children if for my birthday I could have one week without a call or e-mail from a teacher or school representative. Most of this particular child's adventures are harmless, but it would be dishonest to say I haven't struggled with WHAT IN THE WORLD we can do with this kid.

While I have been involved in various aspects of youth ministry for two decades, parenting teens is a different role than being their Young Life leader, their Sunday School teacher or their Bible Study facilitator or mentor.

I am gobbling up wise words like a starving person--and as I read, pray, listen and reflect on experiences the word that comes to mind over and over again is PROCESS. This is a process. 

In no other stage of life have we expected our children to learn immediately and without errors. When our babies were learning to walk, falling was a part of the deal. We laughed, clapped and comforted. We didn't lecture and act ashamed.  

When they were trying solid foods we took copious photos of their messy faces and trays. Our potty training toddlers were expected to have accidents. We rejoiced when they didn't and understood bladder control was a new skill and it would take time to perfect.  

Why then, do we wring our hands and fret endlessly over the stumbles, accidents and messiness of the growing adolescent?

Adolescence is a stage in life where the stakes seem higher because we are starting to see the launch date on the horizon. The sound of the ticking clock gets louder and the expectations and fears ring in our ears. 

Last week as I was walking through a painful life lesson with a child I was reminded that he has to grow his muscles--and that means working them out...having them stretched, reaching his limits. And as his muscles are growing, so are mine...

We can choose to walk in fear or in faith. One is non-productive and sinful...and the other one is difficult, but the command God has given us.

FAITH not fear.

I recently read a rephrasing of 2 Corinthians 9 for parenting that I found very encouraging.
"No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no human mind has conceived--the things God has planned for those who love Him--including the good planned for your kiddos. TRUST."

Friday, December 29, 2017

Christmas Wrap Up

As I ponder this year's holiday experience, I think it is safe to say it is one of the richest and most authentic celebrations of Christmas I have experienced.

For the last several years I have committed myself to being 'finished' with all the Christmas prep of shopping, wrapping and cards by December 1st. (I use a liberal definition of finished, but 85-90% counts ;) This requires a little planning but truly allows me to experience the celebration of Advent by being present instead of stressed and rushed.

To accomplish this goal, I break my shopping list down into categories (nieces and nephews, work gifts, friend gifts, grandparents, etc.) and start purchasing in August. I find this spreads out the expense as well. I use Amazon wish lists for my children as it allows them to research prices, reviews, etc on items they are interested in (and is easy to pass along to close family members and grandparents looking for ideas).

I set a goal of ordering my Christmas cards and the traditional photo calendars we make for grandparents by Thanksgiving, this allows me to take advantage of preseason coupons and stretch out the envelope addressing process over a few weeks.

This year we also accepted an invitation from friends to travel to Colorado for a ski trip the week before Christmas. Frankly, I had a lot of anxiety about this because even though I am committed to me December 1 completion of the to do list, there are always last minute items.

Saying yes led me to simplify my Christmas decorating. I only put up one tree instead of two and opted to not put up the wreaths on the outside of our home. (An unexpected snow the weekend we planned to do exterior decorating also sealed the deal.) I was surprised to find I didn't really miss the extra d├ęcor.

We left town December 16-17 for a four city tour of funeral, wrestling tournament, out of town family celebration and birthday dinner. We regrouped on the 18th and then left for our ski trip with friends. We pulled back into our driveway just before midnight on the 23rd, collapsed into bed and awoke to Christmas Eve guests.

There was peace and a resignation that all the truly important things had been handled. If it had not been done ahead of time, God gave me the very-unlike-me ability to let it go. We had food, family, our church to worship in and felt rested from our frenzy-free trip--ready to truly soak in the celebration. Although, I actually made trips to Wal-Mart and the grocery store 12/24 because I am a sucker for the energy of the last minute rush.

I don't share my methodology for any other reason than as encouragement that if this scattered woman can do it, anyone can! I am committed to this plan because of the purpose and peace a little planning on the front in seems to bring.

In the couple of days since Christmas, I have been able to gloriously lose track of what day of the week it is. I have been able to spend face to face time with people I care about and let some of the leftover mess go. Instead of a frenzied takedown of Christmas I am doing a little at a time and it feels pensive and sweet, not just another item on the to do list. I am learning that bite-sized pieces are much better for my soul. (And big kid helpers aren't such a bad thing either.)

I have also been keenly aware of the human condition this year. The week of Christmas started with the untimely death of a dear friend of my husband's and has included lengthy conversations with people I care about who are in pain, poverty, recovering from addiction--but rather than sadness, I am more reminded than ever that THIS IS CHRISTMAS--Emmanuel, God With Us, who came because He had to enter into the muck and heartache in order to rescue us from it.

The older I get the more real this muck becomes to me. I have people I care about literally drowning in their muck right now. I am trying to celebrate Christmas year round by entering in-- but I am not Him. It makes me sad and sick and sometimes scared. Which leads me right back to my need for Him. I can't rescue anybody, but I pray I can introduce them to the Rescuer by authentically seeking Him, speaking of Him and reflecting His love more often than I do.

A hope for 2018...

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Call

Last night our city held its annual Christmas parade. The festive, community-building tradition overtakes our town. Broad Street parking is filled early in the day by pickup trucks positioned so family and friends have tailgate "stadium seating" for the big event. Folding chairs start lining the center median hours in advance.  Marching bands and Shrine clowns abound as more than a dozen blocks are occupied by float lineup. Hundreds of participants buzz during the final fluffing on locally made flatbed floats full of tiny mites football players, Girl Scouts, pageant queens and church nativities.

I had to have Kate downtown for a theater rehearsal right in the midst of the madness one hour before the parade's start. As I was navigating the re-routed traffic on my way home I had a flashback to this very night and exact street two years ago when we got the call asking if we would take the baby sister of the two little girls we were already fostering. It was a gut-wrenching question because I knew how challenging it would be. Saying yes meant SIX children under the age of twelve for the foreseeable future--including all day every day for Christmas Break.

I remember my prayer, alone in the car, before I called Ryland to discuss. I was grateful for the countless detours because I needed to drive in the dark--counting the cost. I knew the right answer was yes. But I was afraid.

This is the fostering journey. Counting the cost but walking in obedience--frightened, aware of the risk but trusting that God will be with us--strengthening, helping and upholding.

When people speak of foster parenting they often say, "I could never love a child knowing they would leave. I could never let them go." But I am learning the key to Godly parenting is remembering they are not your possession--they are His.

We have had seven foster children come and go now for periods ranging from 4 days to 18 months and each have left a piece of themselves indelibly marked on our hearts and family life. The precious little girl we had in the Fall is now with a wonderful long-term placement and I am able to communicate regularly with her new Mama. It is a gift to find my role in that scenario as a fierce prayer warrior who knows and adores the child, able to encourage her sometimes weary new family through this transition.

Last Wednesday I ran into the 7 year old boy we had at the beginning of the Summer. He left our home under very difficult circumstances that still sting my heart. Our 'accidental' encounter included big, warm hugs with the boy and his birth Mom. It was a reminder that even after a child leaves, the story goes on and our lives may continue to intersect.

Earlier this month we had the privilege of providing respite for a foster family from our church. I was nervous about hosting a 15 year old boy we had never met, but he was truly a gift. He and my husband have developed a friendship that has continued despite his departure.

All these threads--their lives and ours, seasons of various lengths are being woven together in a tapestry. From our position, up close and in the center of the action, we lack the perspective to see the bigger picture but we trust the Master Weaver whose movements are perfect and full of purpose.

We are in a holding pattern with fostering right now. The combination of some extended travel plans over the next few months and issues within our family that required some focused attention, have led us into a sabbatical season. But I am beginning to feel the stirring again, the call of the Lord to prepare to get back in the game is getting louder in my heart. Frankly, it is followed by questions, doubts, selfish objections as I count the personal cost and fear.

Which brings me back to the flashback of my phone call.  The calls never come at convenient times. I received our first one during the last innings of a playoff baseball game, one in the middle of the night in Israel, another while I was weeping in my driveway after hitting my beloved pet. True obedience doesn't get to be on our schedule.

When we get a phone call for a placement we have no idea what awaits us on the other line--the breadth and depth of circumstances which have brought this child into care. Their gender, age, and name are about all we have. We do not know how long they will need to stay, what issues they bring with them and how God will use each of our lives to sanctify and shape the others. But I am learning there are things we DO know when we get those calls. God will be with us. He is enough. Nothing is wasted. Hearts will be changed.

In light of this almost-Advent season I thought of the 'call' Mary received via the Angel Gabriel's visit to announce she was being entrusted with a child.

I re-read the story from Luke 1in the Message translation this morning and several portions struck me in a new way.

29 She was thoroughly shaken, wondering what was behind a greeting like that. But the angel assured her, “Mary, you have nothing to fear. God has a surprise for you...
Because of where I am in my parenting journey, I realize this is the call we get with each of the children God entrusts to our care--whether through our womb or some other way. Even if our children were 'planned,' He has surprises for us. 
It is sobering and humbling to watch our children's lives unfold. It is a messy and glorious process. I long to respond to His Call with less tight-fisted attempts to control and more submission and trust. The older I get the more I find, I don't want to miss the adventures God has planned for me--even the ones that are painful and difficult. The adventures that leave the scars seem to be the richest ones.
So, we are resting up. Enjoying a restorative break but listening for the next call and praying we have the faith of Mary to respond. 
v 37-38 Mary said, "Yes, I see it all now; I’m the Lord’s maid, ready to serve. Let it be with me just as you say."

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

That's from Dad

My son Parker is a sensitive and emotionally intelligent young man. He is physically affectionate, charming and caring. Even at 13 years old, he runs to hug my husband with a huge grin when he arrives home from work. He is also always the last child out of my car in the morning during school drop off. Every single morning Parker exits the car with a warm goodbye then stops and looks back after 2-3 steps with a verbal "I love you, Mom," or a sign language version accompanied by a warm smile and a wink.

A couple of months ago he saw a wedding day photo of my husband kissing me on my forehead. I mentioned that the tender gesture made my heart melt even now. Proving that he is a good listener, kissing me on the forehead has become his newest and most special way of communicating his affection.

We tease at home about his charming gestures. I tell him he's going to be a tender and wonderful spouse and my husband reminds him that I am already married. In keeping with this banter, he now compliments me or kisses my hand and says, "that's from Dad" with a wink. He wants to show affection and give my husband the credit.

As I have read so much in the news in the last couple of weeks about the mistreatment of women, I have felt a myriad of emotions. I am a woman, raising a young woman and two young men. I have been on the receiving end of unwanted advances and comments. I have experienced disrespectfulness. I know the anger, the sting and the shame.

I also, thankfully, know what it means to be in a relationship with a respectful, caring and honorable man. Parker's antics are a reminder to me that our children are watching. They are gleaning what it means to be a gentleman and how women are to be treated.

We are hearing a whole lot of ugly in the news, I just wanted to pause and esteem the good. May we not forget that there are still respectful, loving and godly men. May we honor them and commit to raising more of them. I am incredibly grateful that my children are watching an amazing example and somehow already realize the tenderness and charm they are developing is a credit to their Dad.