Tuesday, July 14, 2015

A Decade

I sit here tonight thinking about you, I can scarcely believe it has been a decade since you made your entrance into the world, changing it forever. The details of July 14, 2005 run through my mind like an old slide projector. I wonder what ten year old Isaac would be like. What kind of cake would I be baking at your request? What would be the one coveted item you'd want more than anything as a gift? Which of your siblings would you argue with as they wanted to get their hands on your new possession?

Would you be into sports? Music? Would you be kind and quiet like your dad or would you be a stubborn chatterbox like your mom?

I'll never know the answer to those things. My heart aches to know who you would be, but then I remember who you are. Isaac Matthew, you are a world changer. You have moved mountains I never thought would so much as quiver. You have inspired and led your mama to live enough life for both of us, to create a legacy. Because of you, our hearts were forever changed. Because of you, we love deeper and we live louder, you've taught us the sweetness of a moment and not to let it pass us by, and you've taught us to love with abandon. It hurts like crazy when you lose what you love but that love always makes it worth it.

It is because of YOU that we were brave enough to step into foster care, to welcome sweet children the Lord loves deeply into our home and help them heal some of their hurts, this year we will quite possibly add another member to this family through the foster care system...you made us brave, you showed us that it is ok to put your heart out there and let it be broken, God makes beautiful mosaics with those shattered pieces.

It is because of you that I am awake tonight reading about pregnancy, childbirth and prenatal diagnoses. You taught me to step into other people's grief and to just be with them. God has opened doors for me now to become a bereavement doula. I will humbly get to walk the grief journey with others feeling loss so great they aren't sure they can breathe, and I will tell them about you and your brother and how my heart will never mend, a scar will always remain, but so will you. That it is worth it...it is always worth it...love is always worth the cost.

Happy Birthday Isaac Matthew! I miss you so much that I physically ache sometimes. I wish you were here with us, but I am so grateful that I got to love you at all. I am one blessed momma. I will forever ache and I will forever use that ache to fuel me to make the world better...because YOU lived.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

When Grief Strikes

Sometimes, like a comet whizzing through the atmosphere, out of nowhere, and slamming into the earth, grief strikes.  You don't see it coming and it leaves a crater behind.  This week has been a tough week on the grief front.  Yesterday, I was cleaning a closet out, feeling pretty good about the purging I was doing and then I came across this:

To most it just looks like an ordinary report card.  A third grade student advancing to fourth grade.  YAY!  To me, it marks something very different.  I pulled the report card out of its envelope, I chuckled at the grades and comments on the inside, I marveled at the idea that I only missed two days  of school that year, then I turned it over and it hit me, like a comet out of nowhere.  Her signature exactly where it should be for the first two periods of the school year.  Then, she was gone.

It was a breathtaking snapshot of her very real absence and the breath was stolen from my lungs.  I sat down on the kitchen floor and just stared at it.  She was there, and then she wasn't.  In a moment the whole world changed.  That change is vividly marked on the back of my third grade report card.  Tears started to fall as memories flooded back.  Howard noticed that I'd stopped cleaning and he came to look over my shoulder, he was speechless.  He hugged me and said, "that sucks, I'm sorry".  I nodded.

I sat there and thought about that year.  How drastically my life changed that year.  Despite all of that, I missed TWO days of school, and one was the day of my mother's funeral.  I pondered that for a few moments, I mean, surely losing your mother at 9 years old warrants a few days absence, but as I thought, I remembered how much I loved school.  I remembered how when the whole world was spinning out of control, that third grade classroom was my constant, while the whole world around me came crashing in, that was a safe place, I had the most amazing teachers who helped to resume my normal, they loved me and stood in the gap as best they could.  Over two decades later I am still wading through he grief of losing my mom at 9.

As I look back over the hardest times in my life I can see now how the Lord used those around me to carry me when life made it too hard to walk on my own.  As a nine year old I am not sure I was aware of His presence, but He was there, I am so grateful for the amazing people who were His hands and feet to me and still are.  We were never meant to walk this journey alone, sometimes life is hard, sometimes grief strikes out of nowhere, but through it all, He takes that pain and gives it purpose, so while my heart is heavy tonight, I am rejoicing for the beauty from the ashes, for the purpose in the pain and for the people who don't turn away when things get hard, they press in and walk with the grieving.  It is my prayer that I am able to be that for someone else.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Multifaceted Mother's Day

For over two decades now, Mother's day has been a difficult day for me.  As a child losing my mom was such a great grief for a small child to bear.  Each year as I've grown the weight of that grief has not really ever gone away, but has sunk deeper, it is more of a deep aching scar now than an open wound.  As I was learning to deal with that grief, I experienced the joy of motherhood, and the celebration of Mother's day as a joyous occasion for the first time in a long time.

I've grown five beautifully wonderful babies in my body.  Three are building massive structures with legos as I type, and two are in Heaven.  The grief of being a bereaved mother at Mother's day is inexplicably difficult to bear...it is a crushing grief and I once again found myself with conflicted feelings on that May Sunday each year.

Since then, our home has become a refuge for foster kids, we've had several children come for a time and move on and we've adopted two sweet babies, they have similar yet strikingly different stories that one day will be theirs to tell.  We also have a sweet foster daughter who has been with us almost a full year now.

As I sit here and reflect on Mother's Day, I give thanks for the first mothers of each of those sweet babies.  I can only imagine their heartache on a day set aside for mothers, knowing that handpicked bouquet of dandelions is being handed to another woman.  To the first mothers of my babies, there is no way to express my gratitude.  Your sacrifice cannot be expressed in words and I am heartbroken and honored to love your child, who is also my child.

If Mother's day is a day to celebrate moms and the sacrifice they make for their children, then you, birth moms should be at the top of the list.  You ARE moms, you deserve that fistful of dandelions.  I am sure your heart aches, but I want you to know that I see you and I celebrate you, your stories may all be as different as the children you birthed, but God grew a baby in your womb, He chose you, if only for a time and that matters.  You matter to your children and you matter to me.

As my children grow, I pray our foster daughter, though we love her dearly is able to reunite with the family who is working to get her back.  I also pray for my sweet Lily and Jacob as they grow and learn their stories, I want them to know they have ALWAYS been wanted by so many people, they've always been loved and that they'll NEVER be alone.  Their first moms are beautiful, wonderful women that I love dearly.  God chose them for our family too.   I pray that we can show His love and grace as we forge ahead with all He has entrusted to us.

Love is patient; love is kind. Love is not jealous; is not proud; is not conceited; does not act foolishly; is not selfish; is not easily provoked to anger; keeps no record of wrongs; takes no pleasure in unrighteousness, but rejoices in the truth; love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things. 1 Corinthians 13 4-7

I want the first moms of my kids to know that we love them, without judgement, without strings.  We will always be honest with our kids and we will navigate this as best we know how, keeping the best interests of EVERYONE at heart.  Life is so hard and sometimes the obstacles before us seem so great.  But for these special women in my life, I just want you to know, I love you, I see you, and I see your sorrow and I know that it is real.  I celebrate you, I celebrate your sacrifice and I celebrate the incredible privilege of getting to raise these little people.

Happy Mother's Day to ALL mothers, those who are raising kids, those who are yearning for kids, those who have given up kids, those who are mourning kids.  I don't know your situation, I don't personally know your pain, but I know that God is good, I know he brings beauty from ashes.  I know that He keeps his promises and that His plans are good even when we don't understand them.

Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!  Luke 1:45

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Foster Care Awareness

I've said it before but fostering is one of the hardest things ever.  It is definitely a calling.  One of the things people ask us all the time is "are you keeping her?".  The thing is we don't know.  We do this FOR the kids, not for us, not because we're starting a children collection.  We personally feel, our calling is to just love these kids AND their parents and help them be together if that is AT ALL a possibility.  We have five forever kids and if that is all we get to have on earth forever, we are ok with that.

Our current foster daughter has been with us almost a year now...nearly her entire life.  We love her like our own and we will grieve if/when she leaves.  We will also rejoice because it is our hope that her biological parents will get things figured out so that they get to parent her.  One of the things I want people to realize is that these parents, the ones who lose their children to the system, they aren't bad people.  They're broken people.  They have issues and baggage that they need to deal with.  Sometimes they're able to work through things and get their children back and sometimes they can't.  Generally speaking, the LOVE their kids, they're just fighting demons, addiction, mental health, and processing their own abuse.

The cycle CAN be broken, and that is what we pray for when each child comes into our home.  We don't root against their parents, we hope to come alongside them, to support them, to love them, to pray for them...it is hard, it is frustrating and sometimes I DO get angry when the answers seem so simple, yet the issues continue, but if you come into foster care to adopt and aren't willing to support reunification, you might be on the wrong path.

Fostering and adoption are two different things, some people are specifically called to adopt and we have walked that road.  We are grateful and heartbroken that it was even necessary it is such a conflicting feeling.  If you are called to adopt, you should follow that calling, but if a person gets into fostering, solely to adopt, you're bound to be disappointed.  Biological parents are given EVERY opportunity and it is my belief that if a foster parent cannot attempt to support reunification, they're doing everyone a disservice.  SOMEtimes, it goes on a long time and it is apparent that reunification just cannot and should not happen, but IF it can, if a child can be safe in their biological home, that is where they belong,

Foster parents have to put the child's feelings far above their own, they have to be willing to risk their own hearts for the sake of the child and the biological family.  Parents all parent differently and while we don't all agree on parenting decisions, if a child can be safe, nurtured and loved in their original home, that is where they should be.

I guess I say this all to say that I feel like society, Christians especially, are sure to bring awareness to adoption and what a noble calling that is, my position is that while sometimes adoption is necessary, family preservation should be the crux of the orphan crisis.  We should be His hands and feet, even and especially to the drug addicted mentally ill birth parent.  We need to truly do ALL in our power to try and help families stay together adoption is not a fairy tale, it is necessary sometimes, but it is heartbreaking always, it has lasting effects, my prayer is that the Church is able to do more to step in and help families before their children are taken and come alongside families and help them heal and be the parents they need to be.  My hope is that one day there will be no orphan crisis be cause  we have become the village and we are coming alongside those who are struggling to help children be safe and loved before fostering or adoption are even needed.  These kids are our greatest resource, they are our future and they deserve better.

I shall now step off my soapbox and stop rambling.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

March Highlights

Monday, March 30, 2015

On The Horizon

March has been a busy month for our family.  Our little foster daughter turned one,  I had another great check up at the cancer center, we're plugging along with school work, house work, heart work and all of the things most families are plugging along with.  

We've been trying to embrace moments more, finding beauty even in the messes of life and with a half dozen kids in the house...the messes are plentiful.  

Finding beauty in the mess can be such a hard thing to do, recently I've been burdened for people experiencing loss.  Many of those losses have been babies.  As I've prayed and sought God's comfort, I remembered vividly all of the comfort showered upon us during our times of loss.  

"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ." 2 Corinthians 1:3-5

This verse meant so much during our times of grieving.  After giving it a lot of thought, I feel very convicted to continue to use our mess and help others find beauty.  I've decided to take some time this summer while Howard is home and complete training to become a bereavement doula, to support other families as they birth a child who is already in the arms of the Lord or who is expected to be shortly after birth.  I am so convicted about this opportunity and am praying God makes it a reality.  The class starts in July.  So if you would, pray for us, for the process, for the time it will take for me to learn ways to comfort and walk with families who are grieving, for the finances to make it all happen.  

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Seven Years

Seven years ago today, I sat in a hospital bed, pregnant with my fourth child, a son. The son for which this blog was created, our sweet Happy. I will never forget the doctor coming in to tell me that despite my every effort, my body was failing our boy. He was no longer getting adequate blood flow from the umbilical cord and if I wanted a chance to meet him alive, he'd be born that very day.

February 22, 2008 was one of the most profound days of my life. We were so well loved and surrounded by people who prayed us through and welcomed our boy. It was a day of tangible love and peace. Our son was born and placed immediately into his daddy's arms and was able to meet all of his family and many friends before he was embraced by the arms of his Heavenly Father.

Letting go of that boy was agonizing. I struggled to memorize EVERY feature of his tiny face, I breathed him in for as long as I could hoping that somehow that feeling would be engrained in my soul long enough for this not to shatter my heart into a million pieces.

I'd let go before. Our son Isaac was born in July of 2005 and died six short days later. I spent the majority of that time in shock and struggled to make sense of all that was happening and that shock prevented me from REALLY breathing him in, it kept me from fully embracing each moment because I was terrified of the future. In a way, Isaac taught me how to love his brother better. Because of Isaac, I was able to love Asher more fully and make sure there were no regrets.

Both boys knew only love. But after loving Isaac and letting go and feeling I might literally die of heartache, yet finding that God and His people carried me until I could walk again, I was able to trust that prior experience and love with a reckless abandon that I'd never known. I was able to embrace Asher and all of the joy and pain that came with the gift of him.

As I sit here on what would have been his seventh birthday, my heart still aches. Tears still fall and I sometimes struggle to catch my breath, but I know God is there, I know He will provide the comfort and the grace for each day. I wish more than anything that my boys were both still with me, but that was not His plan.

The more I think about them, the more I realize the magnitude and significance of their short lives. Because of them, I am not afraid to love and let go, I have a deeper peace in knowing that even when it feels like I might die of heartache, God will use that pain and bring beauty from it. It was in our boys honor that we decided to foster. It has never been our goal to replace those sweet treasures, but to honor them well. To parent them as best we can even in death, and we felt God calling us to love other children in need in their absence. Because we know God will not let us die of heartache, because He has taught us to love so fully not knowing what the future holds, we are able to be a family for those who need one even if for just a time, we are able to give our whole selves to them even knowing they might leave and we may never again see them.

They deserve someone to breathe them in, to memorize their faces and to wipe their tears. I am beyond humbled that that someone is me. We are no longer afraid of the pain of letting go because if it hurts, it means they were well loved and that is the ultimate goal. We have learned to trust God so fully that our pain is secondary to all else...we know that even in our agony, there is purpose and beauty if we make an effort to not let it harden our hearts, but to soften them, we don't become exempt from the pain, we'll never be immune, but we learn to live with it, to embrace it and to even be thankful for it because it grows us, it brings us closer together, closer to Him and He ALWAYS brings purpose from it. This lesson, taught to me by a sweet 4 pound 1 ounce baby boy aptly named Asher.

Happy Birthday sweet Asher Joseph, I could not be any more proud to be your mama.  I'll love you forever, I'll like you for always, as long as I'm living, my baby you'll be.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Keeping it 100

A couple of weeks ago, as I was hauling children and carrying out the mundaneness of life, my husband sent a text message. It read, "What are you passionate about? What makes you want to get up in the morning?" I will admit that I was annoyed when I read it, I mean, I don't have time to ponder such big things. I cook meals, I clean up, I wipe butts, I give hugs and I settle fights, lather rinse repeat.

I responded with, "my family", to which he called me out...telling me that was a cop out...he knows I love my family and serve them with all I have.

We let it go at that but the question was in the back of my head...each day I'd revisit that text conversation, it bothered me that I couldn't give a deep answer. It made me wonder where I'd lost myself and who I even was anymore. That's Howard for you, always going there, always pushing me and asking the hard questions.

I thought about all of the things I've been passionate about in life but I felt like reality had beat every one out of me. I wipe tears and butts all day long. I do nothing of great significance, I live my life, I go through the motions but I am not making any great differences, I am not fighting poverty or serving in a third world country or volunteering at the local food bank. I am so tired most days that I can barely drag myself out of bed let alone want to wake up for something.

I thought about my life, I've endured losing my mom, the loss of two sweet baby boys, adoption, foster care and cancer and those are just the big ones. When I was diagnosed with cancer, perspective came, I was just glad to be alive and with my kids each day I haven't been searching for anything bigger or better or more grand.

Then a night last week we found out that a co-worker of Howard's had lost the baby she'd been carrying for nine months, he would be still born that night. My heart was so broken, my eyes full of tears and I paced the house wracking my brain for what I could DO. I called the NILMDTS photographer who did Asher's photos to see if he could go and take some pictures for them. Initially he thought he could but when the time came, he wasn't able to be there, after a message or two with a few local friends who have lost babies themselves, we found a wonderful photographer willing to go. We raced to get ready to get there and when the time came, the mom wanted to be alone, no extra people in the room, and I totally remember that feeling, so after having a cup of tea with a friend, I drove to the hospital and I sat in the parking lot and I just prayed. I didn't even have any words, I just cried out knowing the Lord knew my heart...and the heart of this sweet family.

A few nights later I'd stopped at one of my dearest friend's house to gather a few of my children who'd been playing there. As we were chatting she got a phone call for a foster placement of a sweet three year old girl. I offered to drive her to the agency to pick the little girl up so she could ride in the back of the van with her. We got to the agency and the fear was tangible. Three sisters being separated and pulled from all they knew. Fear and tears in their eyes they waited in a sterile office for the person who would care for them for the time being. We walked in and our eyes met theirs and my heart shattered. I wanted nothing more than to take all three of them myself to keep them together but there is a six kid limit in foster care and if you have six kids in your home you can't take on more, which is why they were being separated.

As we loaded the sweet girl's things and buckled her into a strange van to take her to a place far from anything she knew, she screamed in terror, she screamed for about 15 minutes before my sweet friend was able to calm and reassure her, we offered Happy Meals and Dora and anything we could think of to make things just a tiny bit easier for her. My heart was so broken that night I couldn't sleep, so I sat up praying for that family an everyone involved in the case.

Howard was sound asleep, but in that moment, I sent him a text, it read, "You know how you asked me what I am passionate about, and what makes me want to get up in the morning? This is it. I am living it. Helping and praying for hurting families and children, and it is what I do in my every day. The wiping of butts, the settling of fights, and hugs and the wiping away tears...that IS what I was meant to do. I am doing it. It feels mundane and like none of it matters, but it matters the MOST."

The next day he text back, "That's keeping it 100". (We watch the Nightly Show on Comedy Central most nights, and Larry Wilmore has a show and one of the segments is one called "Keeping it 100" and he is asked questions and has to keep it 100 percent real.)

Sometimes in life, it all gets to be mundane and exhausting, but it is often those moments that are the most defining. Motherhood is so hard. Mothering hurt children is unimaginably hard and there are many days full of therapists and social workers and biological families and lawyers and tantrums and tears, but it matters. It may not appear as grand as serving in a third world country, but we are all called to different things, and my mission field...is my home. It is HERE that I will make a difference. It won't bring me fame or fortune, but it will bring eternal glories...if I am keeping it 100, friends, this life is so hard, so exhausting and so overwhelming, but it is SO worth it. I am living the dream...right smack in the middle of God's will...and there is no better place to be. SOMETIMES I get to love and pray for those who are also going through tough times, I get to comfort with the comfort that has been shown to me and in those moments, I am able to see from the outside and I am so grateful.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Foster Parenting and Marriage

It has been a while since I have felt I had anything much to write.  Most days by the time I get a few minutes where I could write, I am so depleted and exhausted that I feel I don't have anything left to give.  Writing helps me focus.  It helps me concentrate on the beauty within the difficulty and I need to carve that time out to make that happen.

As I sat down today and thought hard about what my greatest blessings are, I overwhelmingly could not stop thinking about Howard.  We have been married for going on fourteen years now.  I remember reading statistics about how the loss of a child affects a marriage and the divorce rate for those couples is significant.  Most stresses do have a negative affect on a marriage and after losing two children, a cancer diagnosis and just the every day stresses of life, we continue on the roller coaster of foster care which is kind of a definition of stress in and of itself.  

Like any relationship our marriage has had its ups and downs for sure and we've had our share of arguments and dry spells, but I can tell you that while foster care and adoption do add stress to our marriage, they have also solidified it in a way I am not sure would be possible otherwise.  Each day I watch this man love these six children.  He loves each of them with a reckless abandon, knowing we aren't promised another day with any of them.

Three of these children share his DNA, and three of them do not and when it comes to loving them...there is no difference.  Watching my husband selflessly love children born to other parents, some of whom we will only love for a short time, has been such a powerful force in our marriage.  I stand in awe of the testimony he is living out.  He adores each of these sweet blessings and for the time they are with us, they are his own.  He celebrates their every milestone and sets such an amazing example.

I've never known a better husband or father than this one right here.  He is loving and firm and constant, he is always available and slow to anger.  He is even tempered and rational when I am not.  He is the yin to my yang.  He is an encourager and a teacher. His arms are a safe place for each of these sweet babies and for me.  He always puts us before himself and is continually trying to help lighten my load in any way he can.

This current foster care case we are involved in is a tough one...it has been stressful and has wreaked havoc on our lives, and each time I want to throw in the towel, he gently reminds me why we do what we do, he directs my eyes back to our Father who has called us to do this.  All children deserve a stable and loving place to be.

Foster care is so hard, but so is life and it is all worth it.  I can easily see how foster care could cause a great deal of wear and tear on a marriage, but for me I am grateful that the changes it has caused in mine are ones of strength and beauty.  I mean there really is nothing sexier than a man loving his babies...especially ones that don't share his genetics, right?  ;)

Tuesday, January 13, 2015