Sunday, May 24, 2015

Peace & Pigtails

School's out and Summer is in. As if someone flipped a switch, backpacks and tennis shoes vanished to be replaced with flip flops and damp towels. Grateful for the break, no one is yet crying boredom. My days are filled with sunscreen, swimming lessons, bicycle helmets and ice cream.

Eleven days into being a Mama of five and I am not just OK, I am truly peaceful. This feeling is inexplicable apart from the Lord. I am less stressed with five than I felt with three--largely because I know I can't handle this without Him. I am letting go a bit of my need to manage and embracing laughter, chaos and laundry.

For the next month I will be dropping off and picking up my "big kids" at their respective Summer camps, while enjoying the simple pleasures of childhood Summer with the little girls who have dived right into the mostly happy chaos of my home. I have no choice but to simply tackle one day at a time.

We have had some adjustment bumps, but thankfully they have been minor and expected. My bio kids are discovering the joys and challenges of younger siblings. My foster kids are experiencing simple things for the first time. Last week they had their inaugural Chic-fil-A meal and finally asked "why do you keep putting dishes in and out of that oven?" Dishwashers and drivethrus...I am giving them such a cultural experience! Ha.

I keep questioning how smoothly this is going. Waiting for the other shoe to drop.

We had a call about a placement before this one. It was only one child but it was complex. We knew him and had a sense of the challenge involved. After prayer, counsel and gut checks we felt led to decline...and I felt like a failure.

My pride wanted to take him, but wisdom told me we were not qualified/equipped to meet his needs. My impatience with being on the bench wanting to serve needy children grew as two weeks of quiet passed with empty beds despite our willing hearts. Or could I even call us "willing" after saying no? During that time, I wondered if we had made a mistake.

Then we got these girls--and it has felt like God's plan. Peace is the only word I can use.
As they learn to ride bikes and swim, I am experiencing the refreshing reminder that obedience is not always hard.

Letting go of my agenda? That was difficult.
Entering into the unknown with thoughts swirling of all the 'bad' things that might happen? Challenging!
Choosing faith even when I was fearful? Gulp-inducing.

But, right now, I feel "peace that passes understanding." I am writing this down to remember...when we wait on the Lord instead of trying to write our own story and pull our own strings, there is peace. It is worth the wait.

Four decades of life have taught me that the comfortable place is not drink it in while I can. There will be bumps on the road ahead, no doubt.

I already LOVE these girls. I am pushing away thoughts of telling them goodbye eventually. But I KNOW God brought us here and I KNOW He is trustworthy for all the chapters that come after this.

Yesterday afternoon as the sun was setting and we were walking home from the pool I heard laughter and looked over to see well-dressed people sipping wine on the country club porch on a glorious Summer evening. It was picturesque--right out of a lifestyle magazine.

I was sweaty and rumpled, carrying a soaking wet eight year old I could hardly hold (at her request). I glanced at the beautiful people on the porch and had a flash of resignation...that's not my life now. This choice has me on a divergent path.

And what of the spontaneity of roadtrips and adventures that classically mark our Summers? I can't cross state lines without permission...and I have 5 kids now!

I started to self-examine: Will I miss that life? Am I OK with the trade-in? And then I glimpsed the braided pigtails of one of my little charges, exhaled and allowed a soft smile to take over my face. This is my portion and my cup for this season...and it really is good.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Party of Seven

In 1986 when my class at Ladonia Elementary School took the Presidential Fitness Test I measured 49 lbs and 49 inches. As a 6th grader, that was very small. Predictably, I spent a lot of time on the bench in sports endeavors and waiting to be picked for playground games. I can still envision the dusty pavement I would stare down at as I waited for my name to be called...always among the last two.

For the last couple of weeks we have been waiting for a different kind of selection--a match of our family/home with a foster child in crisis. Ironically I was back on dusty ground at a baseball game Wednesday when we got the call--as I stared down at the gravel the caller informed me that we'd been matched with two little girls who needed a place of refuge-- and we've spent the last 5 days adjusting to being a family of 7.

As challenging as our first placement was, this one has been precious. My home has been infiltrated by lots of braids, baby dolls, Elsa, Anna, balloons, stickers, painted toenails
and a love of dresses!

The spare room where we prayed now has sweet heads in its rumpled beds (and salvaged party balloons tied to it.)

We are finding a new rhythm and morning routine. Our family dynamic is shifting to include a couple of new personalities. Our Suburban and our dinner table are full. I can't really discuss my laundry situation...Yikes!

There are far more questions than answers at this point:

How long will they be here? (It may be several months.)
Will the shine wear off? (So far they've been precious additions.)
How will the start of family visits impact their feelings about us? (We are pulling for their family to heal and be put back together.)
How will we all impact each other's hearts?
What will Summer look like with FIVE kids!?!

All of that will come in time...and it is a great lesson for this planner girl. THIS is the day the Lord has made. I must live, love, obey, serve right HERE. Tomorrow will come and the Lord will be there.

Until then, I'm brushing up on little girl life, holding pudgy hands and learning a lot about Frozen :-)

Friday, May 08, 2015

The Myth of Best Mom Ever

This morning I enjoyed the sweet tradition of Muffins for Moms at school with my children.

After breakfast, all the mothers took a seat in the Commons area as students performed a simple and cute song honoring their Moms. I wish I had a copy of the lyrics, but there was really nothing Earth shattering about them...which turned out to be what I appreciated most.

The students wore ear-to-ear grins as they sang to a room full of their biggest fans about the very ordinary things Moms do from waking them up to tucking them in--and lots of menial tasks in between. I grinned through my tears because those sweet children sang with a gusto that illustrated their individual beliefs that THEIR Mom really was the best.  The BEST at packing their lunch, the BEST at tucking them in, the BEST at hugging them when they cry. What a reminder that I am not trying to be better than other Mamas, I am just trying to do my best with my little flock.

After the performance, the children served as hosts and hostesses in their classroom and presented us with gifts. The art was fun, but the fill in the blank pages are always my favorite. Even as my children age, I revel in the gift of their words. While they no longer think I am 16 years old and 18 feet tall like they did in preschool, I still couldn't help but chuckle at some of their responses.

My three same aged kids, growing up with the same Mama in the same season of life deemed me "great," "awesome" and "cool" for entirely different reasons.

R: "She is nice, loving and outgoing. She is always there for me and never, ever stops loving me. I love when she plays with me. She teaches me to finish the drill, work hard and never give up." (He values presence and active investment in his life and growth.)

P: "She always spends time with us. She is never mean to us. We love when she takes us places. She is kind, loving, caring and funny. The most important lesson she has taught us to keep a napkin in our laps." (This sensitive and family oriented kiddo even crossed through every reference to "me" and made it "us." And you better believe he is working hard on table manners. Ha!)

K: "My Mom is so crazy and fun. She can really creep people out with her British accent. She loves to watch me play soccer. She makes awesome pasta. Her job is being a Mama. She has taught me to clean my room and never be mean." (So, she used the word crazy twice, but she values excitement, fun and adventure. She is proud when I am silly and engage with her friends.)

What a reminder that each little heart and life values different things and therefore has a different formula for feeling loved. Yet, God entrusted all three to little old me. Some days I feel pretty good at it and other days I feel like a miserable failure.

I think this is what makes Mother's Day complicated.  A day that celebrates the beauty, sacrifice and blessing of motherhood can make me feel like a poser. I know I am not the "best" or the "greatest" Mom in the world as Hallmark would like to make me believe. I often don't feel like serving or giving one more time--I just want to eat my french fries and not share. Some afternoons I want to let dishes and laundry pile up while I sit in the sun and veg out with a mindless ipad app. Some nights I am annoyed when people are up past bedtime and I just want to sip hot tea and read alone. I'm snappy when I should be patient.

Don't even get me started at all the super Mom checklist things I am not doing: growing my own food, buying only organics, mastery of natural oils, yoga, gluten free, screen free, homeschool, nightly family devotions... I am well aware of my reality, my hopes and my inadequacies, so when we start throwing around "greatest" and "best" the words ring hollow.

Somewhere along the way being grateful for Moms turned into announcing that every Mom is the greatest. I'm calling baloney. Motherhood was never intended to be a competition. If we fall for that trap it will so distract us from our primary mission that we will fail the very ones we were assigned to love. 

Frankly, I don't want to be the best or greatest. I just want to love well. I want to be seen and known by my people. I want to feel loved and appreciated in return. Keep your trophies and give me a good solid hug.

Being an effective Mom is a moving target that begins and ends with relationship--relationships that fill us up (the Lord, spouses, friends, small groups) so that we can pour back out in our families and our communities. Our assignment is to know and love the little ones God has entrusted to our care and do our "best" to love them in a way that points them to the "greatest" love of God. That is enough because He is enough.

So, Mama, you keep doing you while looking to Him -- because that version of you was handpicked as the greatest/best choice for each one of the hearts He entrusted to your care. 

Happy Mother's Day!

Thursday, May 07, 2015

99 months, 29 Days

Eight and a half years ago, I fell in love with my family's current home.

Tomorrow (God willing) we will finally close on the sale of the house we left in early 2007 to move here.

We have reluctantly owned a 'second home' 6 miles from our primary one for over 8 years.  The story doesn't make sense according to the way I long thought 'trusting God' was supposed to work.

The first home Ryland & I purchased together--where I cried tears over infertility, adjusted to life in a brand new town, welcomed a new puppy, discovered we were pregnant, renovated to prepare for a rapidly growing family and ultimately brought our babies home was a source of great joy. It was truly a wonderful home.

A series of events led us to our current home quite unexpectedly. Everything was so smooth in the beginning and bathed in prayer that the sale of the old house was almost a given in our minds. Until it wasn't. The Housing Market Crash of 2007 was squarely upon our community the very month we closed on our new home and listed the old. Once a sweet blessing, the house slowly became a big burden.

We didn't go down without a fight.

We lived with minimal furniture in the new house for months so we could show the home staged with furniture but without three toddlers.
Our kids turned 3.
We cut the price.
We rented it for a year.
Our kids turned 4.
We cut the price again.
We renovated bathrooms.
Our kids turned 5.
We rented again.
We cut the price again.
Our kids turned 6.
We did a landscape overhaul.
We cut the price again.
Our kids turned 7.
We repainted the entire interior.
We replaced carpet.
Our kids turned 8.
We thought we had sold it twice.
We had to walk the road of mediation after an ugly ending to a contract.
Our kids turned 9.
We cut our price.
We had another contract fall through.
Our kids turned 10.
We rented again.

We've been out of the house twice as long as we lived in it. Many frustrating situations presented themselves through this roller coaster process. The ownership of a house we loved but did not want or need was costly--to our emotions, our time, our finances--and at times put a real strain on our relationship.

I have struggled for 99 months and 29 days to find what God might be teaching me. We tried to follow Him faithfully through this whole process. We prayed. We sought Godly counsel. We followed the 'rules' and it was still messy and difficult.

After all these years, it seems I should feel more celebratory about the closing tomorrow, but the most I can muster is a sigh of resignation. I am grateful, but I am tired of this chapter. I don't think the check will satisfy what I really want: a neat, big lesson I could wrap up in a bow. (I like those.)

As I walked around the property this morning for a final inspection, I asked God again: What was the point? The loss of time, substantial money, energy would be so much easier to swallow if I could count it as the cost of some lasting lesson.  Make this count for something God. Show me what you have been up to so I can feel some value from this long, frustrating road...

Please make this make sense so I can understand. I promise to tell the story of Your faithfulness--just show me what it is...

But He hasn't yet. And maybe that IS the lesson. God doesn't function in a transactional manner. It is not ours to know what or why. Faith really is just walking in obedience and trusting Him for the rest. Even when it is hard. Especially when we can't wrap it up in a bow and explain it away. Real faith is knowing that the way He is at work may, in many cases, never make sense this side of heaven.

I learned lots of small lessons along the way. Hard ones that stretched me and grew me...but should 'small' lessons cost so much?

Honestly, this was just time and money. It wasn't cancer, terrible abuse, a horrific accident, devastating heartbreak...but one day it may well be. This world is not our home. Life gets messy. No one is immune.

And I pray we will choose to trust, even when we cannot see. Even when I do not get my neat bow. Even when it costs me. Especially in those times.

He is God. I am not. He is wise, trustworthy and concerned with an eternal picture.

99 months and 29 days feels like a long time, but it is nothing in light of eternity.

Maybe one day I will get my big, neat lesson from this...or maybe learning to practice this type of faith when it doesn't make sense was the lesson.

Sunday, May 03, 2015

One Race, Three Ways

This afternoon K competed in her 8th youth triathlon.

Our Spring has been very busy between a musical last weekend, soccer games and entering the world of foster care. As a result, K's enthusiasm trumped her preparation. The cause race registration fees supported was worthwhile and the atmosphere at a youth triathlon is always rewarding, so off we went.

The boys have no interest in triathlons these days. Years ago they 'tried' but announced their retirement at the ripe old age of 9.

R loves to be busy, involved and helpful so he offered to volunteer for the event. He was assigned a position at the finish line helping with the medal distribution. Assigned responsibility, paired with a friend of mine and our local baseball team's mascot, he was in heaven.

P is a natural born encourager, so he decided to make a sign and be his sister's cheerleading section.

K raced. 

P cheered.

R served. 

As I watched my three--experiencing the same Sunday afternoon in very different ways--I realized this is the way God intended us to live.

When the three roles converged at the finish line, I got a picture of the body of Christ--community as He designed it to operate.

We are all uniquely wired with various bents for service and engagement with the world. All three roles were needed today: competitors, volunteers and supporters. All contributed to the atmosphere and the ultimate success of the event. And so it is with us.

As Ephesians 4 puts it:

Here’s what I want you to do... I want you to get out there and walk—better yet, run!—on the road God called you to travel. I don’t want any of you sitting around on your hands. I don’t want anyone strolling off, down some path that goes nowhere. And mark that you do this with humility and discipline—not in fits and starts, but steadily, pouring yourselves out for each other in acts of love, alert at noticing differences and quick at mending fences. 

 You were all called to travel on the same road and in the same direction, so stay together, both outwardly and inwardly. You have one Master, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who rules over all, works through all, and is present in all. Everything you are and think and do is permeated with Oneness...but that doesn’t mean you should all look and speak and act the same...He keeps us in step with each other. 

Ephesians 4: 1-7, 16 The Message translation

May we not compare ourselves to the roles others have been called to serve, or even the pace at which they do so, but instead faithfully show up in the place He has assigned for us.

For one day, we too will meet at the finish line and celebrate together the race to which we were called. Many roles, one amazing race. What a glorious day that will be!

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Avoiding Calls

It was August 1988 and I was a couple of months from my 14th birthday. I was starting high school in a new place and feeling all of the apprehension and nervousness one might expect. My insecurity focused on my status as a late bloomer. The incredulous remarks questioning if I was old enough to be entering high school had begun. I had not officially entered puberty and I had never been kissed.

The only excuse I have for what happened next was an adolescent brain and ill guided advice. My best friend, also a Jennifer, decided the cure for my anxiousness was to make me feel more like a woman with something we could control--getting me kissed. (I know. I am cringing still 26 years later.) Jennifer had a plan & I jumped on board as co-conspirator. She set her sights on an unsuspecting neighbor, then invited him over to her house that afternoon to hang out.

Later that night we stuffed our beds and snuck out to his front yard down the street. (This is why my home has door chimes enabled on the alarm, kids.) We giggled as we threw rocks at his window until he came outside. I can still feel the nervous adrenaline of walking around the neighborhood awkwardly talking about nothing, exhilarated by our taste of rebellion. Then, under a lamp post at the corner of his street he kissed me.

Our mission was complete. We giggled all the way home. Back in Jennifer's room I stared in the mirror trying to see if I looked any different. Had I been legitimized as a young woman? I certainly didn't feel changed. I marked 'first kiss' off my mental list of teen experiences and never saw him again.

It wasn't his fault. He called me--several times actually. I wasn't interested. I had an agenda and it had been accomplished. (As a Mom of boys, this too makes me cringe.) So over the next several days as he called my home--this was 1988, landlines only and no caller ID--I made it my mission to avoid having to speak to him.

My initial strategy was simply to not answer the phone. My mother found this ridiculous and the incessant ringing annoying, so she would generally answer. She made it clear that she did not support my dishonesty, so when I spat out a panicked, "If it is him, tell him I am not home" I got a disapproving look and the reply. "I will not lie for you."

The resulting strategy was to make my "not being home" a truth. Any time the phone rang I would dart out the back door--I can still hear the slamming of the brown wooden screen door behind me as I made my escape. With my heart pounding and my back against the brick exterior of my childhood home, I strained to hear my mother's voice in the distance.
"I'm sorry, she's outside."
"Ok, goodbye."

As the kitchen phone clicked back into the cradle I would reemerge. With a sigh and a shaking head, Mom would report who had called. Sometimes it was him--other times a friend I would quickly call back. Just typing this caused me to deliver the same familial sigh and head shake 27 years later. What silly wasted energy!

The story is entertaining and excusable because I was immature and cowardly at 13 years old.  I would like to think things have changed, but I was recently thinking about the propensity in all of us to avoid calls.

We are slicker now, with caller ID, voicemail, texting, etc. but the temptation towards avoidance is still there. Literally, I have felt it over the last few weeks as I have attempted to wrangle volunteers for Vacation Bible School. Figuratively I have felt it as hard news of current events has come across my twitter feed, my news pages, my television screen. Personally I have felt it as there have been stirrings in my heart about issues in my community and my relationships.

It is not the sound of an old fashioned ring tone these days that sends me scurrying and making excuses, it is the stirring in my soul, the quiet whisper, the gulp, the gnawing sense that I should answer, respond--even if it is just to speak the truth of my disinterest or fear.  Honesty is always more courageous than avoidance.

Since I have started paying attention to it, I can almost literally hear the screen door of my heart slamming as I make my excuses and scurry out of ear shot. Although these days my avoidance comes in more clever forms like making myself busy with respectable tasks like purging closets, family time or "getting my life together." As I hide from a call I rehearse my excuses and fluff the pillows of my comfortable life.

My objections are not always excuses. Sometimes they are legitimate, wise, prayed through Nos. Every call isn't from the Lord and every ask doesn't deserve a yes.  I just want to learn to be truthful about my heart. To honestly evaluate, even when I am scared and risk being inconvenienced--to answer according to what Love would have me do instead of comfort.

I want to be one that makes a practice of running toward a life of service and love instead of running away to protect my self interests.

I don't want to fall prey to the lie that the point of this life is comfort, safety and ease. I want to point to be Him. Ironically, the avoidance tactic often leaves us fearfully breathing heavy in our cramped hiding space instead of stepping out with shaky knees into the sunshine of a deeper more meaningful life.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Lessons from Our First Placement (So Far)

We are on night 6 of our first foster placement, which does not exactly make me an expert. What it does make me, however, is raw, humble and honest.

I have been hesitant to post because I have a strong conviction about fairly representing our experience so far--and frankly, trying to accurately portray the roller coaster of emotions--while observing appropriate privacy considerations--is a challenge.

There have been some very difficult moments. Children cannot help what they are born into and yet their hearts, minds, emotions and very lives are molded and shaped by it. Witnessing up-close the impact of an adult's decisions and struggles on a young child's life is frustrating.

This is not like parenting my own children. I am wonderfully free of some of the strongholds of fear, pride and guilt that trip me up with my trio...but I am picking up pieces, filling in gaps, trying to earn the right to be heard through love and consistency, all while knowing this child may only be in our lives 10 days. God has been faithful to remind me that HE is the Savior of this child...not me. HE has a plan. HE can redeem this story. I am to be faithful to my part, but not be so bold as to think it depends on me alone.

There has been personal cost. I have had to disappoint friends and family members, cancel plans and make myself available for whatever this little person may need. The first 24 hours were especially gut-wrenching and bathed in exhausted, frightened tears as I mourned that loss of some of the comfort of my former life.

As I have chosen to be honest about my fears and inadequacies to a few close friends, I have been blessed by their support, prayers, presence and comic relief. I generally prefer not to be 'needy,' but my community has loved us well.

This is not a Disney movie. The child in our home isn't gushing with gratefulness to be here. He has been through a lot and yet is young enough to not grasp the uncertainty of his future. He is far more concerned with his survival than my feelings. I can't say I blame him.

But because life is generally equal parts hard and beautiful, there have been moments I wouldn't change for the world.
Hearing our little friend's guttural giggle.
Introducing him to silly string.
The fact that he refers to me as "JenniferScott" while simply calling my husband Dad.
R's admission last night that watching this makes him realize "it is really hard to be a parent sometimes."
Hearing my children pray for this child--watching them choose to love him with tenderness and compassion.

The questions and insights from K,P & R have shown me how the Lord is really working in their hearts. The love and patience they have each displayed has made me weep. Even as children, they have found their role in serving. K has been the perfectly peppy mother hen--with an easy, hospitable demeanor.

R has taken on the role of big brother, teaching baseball, football, ipad apps and rock climbing with kindness and enthusiasm. P has appointed himself academic coach--bound and determined to teach our young guest to read--crying frustrated tears tonight that after a 15 minute lesson his charge was not making enough progress.

As challenges frequently do, this week has brought strengths and gifts to the surface in each of us that may not have otherwise been used or recognized. I see my husband for the incredible leader, supporter and defender of our home that he is. I see my children for the young lady and gentlemen God is developing them into--and I see in myself a strength that only comes from struggle, admitting my inadequacy and leaning hard into Him.

This is hard and we are tired, but it is also sweet and God is good. We don't often hear all of those statements linked together, but it is the reality of life--and especially when it comes to broken human hearts--hard isn't always bad, just as comfortable isn't always good.

We know this is where we are supposed to be. God called us here and that is enough to propel us forward into the unknown.