Thursday, June 25, 2015

June: A Journal of Pictures (Part 1)

June has been for re-grouping. It has been a long, extended sigh. It was a good thing school wrapped up earlier in the month, giving us more time to just be.

Several people had recommended we get away, just us, in order to process the things that have taken place in our home and life since the beginning of the year. We were not able to do that, but we have had much time together as a family. We have needed it, and we have felt such enjoyment in it. We've needed time to talk, yes, but more so time to just exhale together. We are more attune to the simple, familiar aspects of our family of six, and we've found much relief in expressing our appreciation for all that God has given us and all that He has brought us through.

Jon and Olivia each had obligations on the first weekend of June, so I took the three boys out for a time of... um, messy memory-making! This may very well be our first annual MUD RUN!

Before the race:

I positioned myself on a stump with my zoom lens, ready for them to pass through this portion of the race. They were in heaven!

I saw him think about it, then take the plunge. Why not see what it's like?!

Andrew opted to just roll a bit. At this point I'd say most of the kids forgot it was a race!

Jack trying to find his brothers.

As they waited in the parent-pick-up section, they spotted me taking pictures from the top of the embankment with my zoom... Big, proud, happy smiles!


For a while I thought I could keep myself from getting muddy, but that was a pointless thought!

Some days the kids spend hours in the pool. Tonight Olivia has a friend over, and I called them in at 9:30-- they had been in there for nearly 5 hours, with the exception of dinner on the deck. This is quite normal with the boys, too.

Growing kiddos. Olivia will be a HS freshman, and Michael is starting Jr. High.

Once again, my camera has been instrumental in my discovery of "good things" in a way that is like therapy! Here I followed what is common-place with Jacob. Picking wild flowers to give to me is such a simple childhood act, but its beauty easily gets lost in the shuffle of life. Following the trail of his gift made me appreciate love and relationship within our family in a new way. All the simple little things add up to a life quite wonderful indeed!

Sweet boy. It's a good thing he's still so kissable!

Hiking. It's one of my favorite things. We figured we should get one last hike before the summer heat  keeps of from voluntarily moving east of the coast. I would have liked to hike further, but it was hotter than expected and we were running low on water.

Always flowers.

This boy only occasionally brings flowers now. At least he warned me not to freak out.

Psalm 40 has been particularly personal to me this month. A few of the verses...

I waited patiently for the Lord;
    he inclined to me and heard my cry.
 He drew me up from the pit of destruction,
    out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
    making my steps secure.
 He put a new song in my mouth,
    a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
    and put their trust in the Lord.
(40: 1-4)

In sacrifice and offering you have not delighted,
    but you have given me an open ear.
Burnt offering and sin offering
    you have not required.
(40: 6)

But may all who seek you
    rejoice and be glad in you;
may those who love your salvation
    say continually, “Great is the Lord!”
 As for me, I am poor and needy,
    but the Lord takes thought for me.
You are my help and my deliverer;
    do not delay, O my God!
(40: 16-17)

And also, Ps. 37:23-24

The steps of a man are established by the Lord,
    when he delights in his way;
 though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong,
    for the Lord upholds his hand.

The Lord's faithfulness to His children is sure, unfailing, and consistent. When I read this verse, I picture a small child holding onto his father's hand. When that child stumbles, the father keeps that child from falling to the ground and he swoops him right back onto his feet. The child does the walking and the stumbling, but the father does the swooping and stabilizing!

His faithfulness indeed never ceases-- toward me and all who call upon His name! This gives me great hope!


Tuesday, June 9, 2015

An Unforeseen Ending

The afternoon sunlight of that day was simply beautiful. Early June days had arrived with a thick marine layer of gloom, but this day, like a gift, was beautiful.

The children all played together in the pool. The bigger kids stood on surf boards and competed with foam swords, or took turns running from the hard scape onto the boards and flinging themselves into the water. The two youngest of the bunch bobbed and flailed in the jacuzzi, showing off their recently learned tricks from their first-ever swim lessons last month. I stood by like a dutiful lifeguard and cheered at all their attempts to swim, amazed by how far they've come since they first arrived. Not too long ago, they were anxious of having their hair washed.

The afternoon continued on wonderfully. The three youngest warmed up beneath fluffy towels while I sliced up an entire watermelon. It lasted maybe 10 minutes before every last slice was consumed. I picked up a couple soggy band aids by the pool side, carried in wet towels, and prepped for dinner.

On one hand it was a pretty normal afternoon: kids, water, food, band aids. On the other hand, it was completely different. There were no outbursts or "episodes," no defiance and slamming of doors, no hateful words. And this would be our last afternoon together.  I will always remember it as a wonderful day.

Everything that has transpired over the course of the last several months is still so raw; I am having a difficult time knowing how to package it all into words. This is the post I wish I didn't have to write. It's a post I don't know how to write. I keep reminding myself I don't owe it to anyone to give an explanation here, but to some extent it is necessary if I ever plan on blogging again.

After an incredible amount of prayer and counsel from individuals and couples who are well-acquainted with foster care and adoption, and who love the Lord, we have decided not to proceed with the adoption of the two precious children that were in our care. It is a complicated matter, and I desire to keep the reasons private for the sake of the children. In essence, we are not able to provide the level of care they need and deserve.

After the decision was made, I agonized over how the last day would unroll. I imagined it to be the worst day of my life, with one child raging and the other in utter devastation, and with my heart absolutely shred to pieces. However, my imaginings could not have been further from the truth. The children took the news as very matter of fact, and within minutes they were completely excited for their next home. We spent the evening and the following morning preparing the kids for their transition, and the whole time they were happier than we had ever seen them before. Frankly, it was quite bizarre, but their response further confirmed we were making the right decision.

I broke the rules and tucked my phone number and address into the Bibles we gave each of the kids. I'd like for them to be able to reach us some day if they choose to do so. Surprisingly, I received a phone call the following day and I spoke with one of the kids. She had good things to say: she was settled in comfortably, she was enjoying her new surroundings, and she happily told me about her new friends. Amazingly, her brother's old school friend is in the same home, and the two boys were on the trampoline out back. She promised to give him a hug for me. I then spoke to their new caregiver, a very warm and caring individual.

On this side of things, we are confident in our decision and feel very relieved and grateful. The last four months have been the hardest trial of our lives. And yet, there is a certain sadness and grief over what could have been.

I'm not sure why things went the way they did. I do know with certainty that God's ways are not my ways. I may never know the "why" of this chapter of my life, but I trust in the surpassing goodness of God at all times.

I know I will battle a sense of failure, and wonder where we went wrong. I will question the strength of my faith in God, and I will fear being judged or misunderstood by others. But I know God is sovereign, and I trust God has His purposes in it. This is now part of the story He wrote for me before time began, and I trust Him completely to know what is best.

I am thankful for all those who loved them well, especially within the body of Christ. The children know the gospel, and they know we will love and pray for them always.


Saturday, May 30, 2015

Hands Wide Open

Apparently the hard drive of my computer is shot. The computer won't turn on and the stuff that wasn't backed up is lost. I'm terrible at all things computer related (which means a lot of things), and my guess is that my laptop wasn't backed up in over 6 months. I haven't yet allowed myself to think of all that is gone, except for all pictures. Of course this blog has a few, but it's the ones I couldn't post that I'll really miss. So this post typed out from the kids' school computer will also be without pictures!

The month of May is winding down rapidly. It's one of my favorite months of the year. Sadly, this year I didn't get to see and enjoy the month quite like I normally do. June. June will be my May. Just maybe.

Mother's Day is in May, though this is not the reason I love it so. Still, Mother's Day brought lots of opportunity for reflection this year. Although the day itself was quite lovely, this was a different sort of year. Honestly, in years past it always felt to me that there were two children missing. This year six hand-written names decorated the Mother's Day banner, and somehow it still felt odd.

Motherhood has been an unexpected journey for me. Entering my adult years, and especially entering marriage, I didn't relish the idea of having children. I was more interested in education and in "meaningful" work in a career. I pictured myself pursuing graduate work, then work in cardiopulmonary rehab. I loved helping patients and their families, combining exercise and nutrition in a clinical setting. I had enjoyed this work in my undergraduate internship.

Fast forward a couple years, and I found myself on a different coast with new surroundings and circumstances. Church was different, too, and for the first time I felt like I was being fed the 'meat' of the Word. Suddenly I was learning like I'd never learnt before and I was surrounded by godly young women raising their families. I saw biblical parenting for the first time and I was surprised by it, intrigued, and attracted. (Perhaps I had seen biblical parenting before, but I had never recognized it as such). I began to learn more about God's design in marriage and motherhood. I began to see it as a valuable work, a work that is meaningful and with eternal ramifications. In short, God completely changed my goals and desires in life.

Then the babies started coming. One after another, they came! I devoted myself to learning how to best do my work in a way that honors God: I read books, listened to messages, watched others closely, and asked a ton of questions. I rolled up my sleeves, so to speak, and gave myself to the task, and in it I found unexpected satisfaction.

It was at some point early on in those years that the idea of adoption began. That idea grew from an interest to a more consuming desire during those childbearing years. Eventually, after our four children were born, we pursued an adoptive placement through two different avenues. Both times, however, the doors clearly closed. With no options remaining, I began to pray that the Lord would remove this desire of mine. If adoption wasn't His plan for our family, I didn't want to be constantly thinking about it and hoping for it. I didn't want my desire to take up any room in my heart if it was not God's desire for us. I actively sought to be dissuaded.

But the desire persisted. After we moved from L.A. and settled here, Jon and I gave it one last attempt. We went through the lengthy (and down-right tedious and even ridiculous) process of certification. We did the hours, we prepared our home, and we set aside or gave up many other pursuits and opportunities. We prayed for wisdom and discernment, and for protection as we opened up out door to the state, exposing ourselves to their scrutiny.

Then we waited. And waited. The incompetency and inefficiency of the system kept astounding us. We were on the verge of deciding when to quit (because certifications do have expiration dates) when we were presented with a sibling set of two. And now here were are.

So back to Mother's Day. My take-away from this year's special day for moms was not what one might expect after all that has transpired. It was a somber reminder that none of this-- four natural born children + two more-- is about me. This life is not about me. My work and my people... They are not for me, and none of it defines who I am before the Lord.

It's a truth that must be understood completely: My worth is only in the Lord.

It is not in the accumulation of possessions or living in a beautiful house. It is not in health or in physical beauty. My worth is not found in a successful career, nor in a committed marriage, nor in motherhood. It is not meaningful ministry, not in plans or dreams, not in sacrifice and self-abandonment. It is not found in devotion to a passion. It is not associated with the people we love and serve. It is not in a legacy left behind.

Everything could be stripped away. Things could come crashing down. What matters is that I am God's, and my relationship with Him comes before everything else.

I am reminded once again that all of the things I hold dear really belong to the Lord, and they bear no significance on who I am to Him. My precious people and my meaningful work, my desires for the future-- those are certainly important to me, but I hold them humbly with hands wide open. What I hope for and what I thought God has prepared for me... they just may not be the way I had pictured.

Ultimately, I must trust God to do (to give and to take, or to withhold entirely) as He chooses. Hands wide open... never grasping, never demanding. Only trusting.

The take-away for me this month was quite certain: God's ways are not my ways, His plans differ from mine, and He will direct my path. I know I will often fail, especially with the unexpected, but I commit to seek Him and to walk in wisdom, and to hold everything in submission to His will. Hands wide open.


Thursday, May 28, 2015

Just a Quote...

“Children are a precious gift from God, but much anxiety comes with them. In all cases, the Word of God gives us one receipt for the curing of all their ills, ‘Bring him unto me…Never must we cease to pray until they cease to breathe. No case is hopeless while Jesus lives. The Lord sometimes suffers his people to be driven into a corner that they may experimentally know how necessary He is to them. Ungodly children, when they show us our own powerlessness against the depravity of their hearts, drive us to flee to the strong for strength, and this is a great blessing to us. Whatever our morning’s need may be, let it like a strong current bear us to the ocean of divine love. Jesus can soon remove our sorrow, he delights to comfort us. Let us hasten to Him while He waits to meet us.”

(Morning and Evening, September 17)

Friday, May 8, 2015

Friday Closing

I have more sweet friends than I deserve! After a trying week, these beautiful peonies! Several others sent encouraging music via email, others remembered me in prayer. I am grateful in ways I cannot express!

I couldn't stop taking pictures of these beauties today! 


I woke up this morning more tired than usual but so, so thankful for Friday! I slept in just a bit; everyone did because we had a little rain during the early morning hours and everything was so cozy and still. Friday at last! Later tonight we will load up and drive to the airport and welcome our guys home! It has felt like ages since Jon and Andrew left!

I've started my days with some Psalms this week. This one here (Ps. 105) was a good reminder of my job description. It is what must take priority, and my obedience in it will work its way into all the other jobs I undertake. Whatever happens, whatever comes, may I do and pray these things relentlessly~

Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name;
make known his deeds among the peoples!
 Sing to him; sing praises to him;
tell of all his wondrous works!
Glory in his holy name;
let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice!
Seek the Lord and his strength;
seek his presence continually!

And things do happen and trials do come our way! We should expect it. Things had been going along smoothly for the first several days of Jon's absence, then, well, not so much. As I type here this evening I can see little cuts and scabs on my hands which came from caring for a child that has given in to every sinful behavior they could come up with. My muscles ache. I've had to physically subdue this child's anger and hatred before, but this episode was quite a bit more extreme. It's an ugly thing-- because the manifestation of sin is always ugly-- but this subduing was the most loving thing I could do at that time. Still, in many ways, it feels like a battle lost. 

I know it is a test: "Will you love me if I act like this? Really? Prove it!" And so the unleashing of threats, hatred, defiance, violence, etc. begins.

So yes, in a sense I feel like we are not making good headway with one individual because things are getting harder. But in another sense, these are valuable lessons for the rest. The blessings of obedience are evident in the life of those who obey, the consequences of sin are tremendously ugly. Late at night, the older kids and I have sat up and discussed how we should be prepared for the morning; we armed ourselves with this verse:

"…but God shows His love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." Rom. 5:8

When we were unlovable, undeserving, and actively opposed to God, He loved us in the most sacrificial way. We can strive to be Christ-like in the way we actively choose to love those who act against us. We talked about the fact that loving these kids is really a display of our love for the Lord, and our expression of love is an expression of God's love to them. So really, IT IS ALL ABOUT GOD! 

This afternoon while I had the youngest two take naps, the rest of us enjoyed a little treat. We hid in Michael's bedroom lest one of them wander out before nap time ended! In my defense, I'm just trying to avert long, drawn out problems! The rest of us need to enjoy our relationships which are still very much together and intact! I was encouraged by their words: they told me how surprised they were at my calm and composure during the "episode." To me, it is a wonder anyone could see any sort of calm or composure!

This little tea and scone break was well timed because just half an hour later our little ticking time bomb exploded again! (Pray for me, will you?)

Not many people speak out truth about adoption. In our time and culture, it has become romanticized and trendy. Many people go into the process with unrealistic ideas, only to be unprepared for the difficulty and trauma of it all. Many placements/adoptions fail. 

For some people, adoption is a way to build a family, and under many circumstances this is a lovely way to do so. But for those who want to open their home to the needy, adoption can be a very difficult road. These "needy" children are typically not the ones that make good additions to happy homes if happiness is the ultimate goal. It is not the building of a family, but simply an answer to the call to care for the needy. It may simply be a way to fulfill biblical hospitality to children. 

I have more to say. Maybe we will be the ones to say the things most won't want to admit. Maybe we will be the ones to help others view adoption and the care of needy children in a less romantic way, in a realistic way that still is beautiful to God. Maybe we will scare anyone contemplating the idea, or maybe we will be the ones surprised by the beauty of it. I don't know. 

For now I pray for our salvation... That all six children would be saved, that God's mercy and grace would shine into the darkness, and that in it all, God would be glorified...

"Save us, O God our salvation…
that we may give thanks to your holy name;
and glory in your praise."

…Because salvation is for God's glory!

But for right now, I'm off to the airport! Happy Friday!