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.

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