One year older and wiser.

A year ago I was meeting my children for the first time. “We have three siblings two toddlers and a baby. I think they are 3, 2, and a baby. We need to place them together”, the stranger of the other end of the phone told me. After limited (incomplete and incorrect) information, she needed an answer, yes or no.

If you’ve gotten a similar phone call, you know the emotions. The knowledge that there are three babies hurt and sitting in a strangers office was enough to make my stomach turn in knots. The idea of going from 0 to 3 children gave me a migraine. Knowing there was still a shelter care hearing to come and they could only be with us for 48 hours hurt my heart. After several hours of confusion over placement we were once again given the opportunity to say no. There was no way to know at that time how my life could’ve forever been changed over a yes or no question.

One year ago, we met our children, and very soon, we will say goodbye. It will not kill me. I will not drown. Because as hard as the goodbye will be, the hello, and the middle, has been the most beautiful adventure. I am one year wiser, not by my own doing, but because I serve a gracious God. A year ago, He nudged me to say yes when given the opportunity to say no. I have seen The Church in its fullest capacity, been in the front row as chains are broken, built relationships with those I may never have known, and had gospel filled conversations in the midst of the darkest dark.

We have caught a million tears and cried a million more. We have been investigated by dcfs, sat through heated court dates, and fought for information. Brother has learned thousands of words, sister has started to trust adults, baby has grown into a toddler. We are one year older and wiser. One year filled with love. One year left breathless from hurt. One year clinging to my sweet husband for dear life. One year learning to pray and draw close to our Heavenly Father. Thankful for this year and for all of the opportunities to say “YES!” along the way.

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The sweetest reward.

We play this game several times a day where we giggle and point at each other aggressively and shout “I LOVE YOU SO MUCH!”

I don’t know how it got started but I do know that I will never let it die off. Because on days like today, when they’re gone all day at a visit, I count the minutes until I can shout my love at them. It’s the last thing they hear from me as their transport drives off, and when they come home asleep I whisper shout my love at them as I lay them down to bed.

Friends. I know stepping out in faith is hard. I know it’s scary and you might fail. I know you’re worried about not having the right answers and if you’re really hearing Gods voice. Do it anyway. My heart is so often crushed when brothers and sisters in Christ hear my story and make a comment about wishing they were brave enough to follow their calling like me.

Please hear me. You do not have to be brave. You just have to take a step in the direction of your calling.

Has God whispered to you to adopt? Call an agency. Do you feel a push toward seminary? Google them. Does the spirit keep leading your prayer time toward mentoring teens? Tell your pastor. The first step is the biggest step, so do it in a small way. Step out in faith and make a choice to say yes to your calling.

Your calling may be different than mine. But by saying yes to my calling, I get to have three screaming faces point at me and tell me that they love me so much. My reward could not be sweeter.

I LOVE YOU SO MUCH

No one prepares you for the transition…

Reunification transition. This is the part no one can prepare you for. We think a lot about what it will be like once they are reunified, talk a lot about the goal of reunification, but there’s not a lot of preparation for the reunification transition. The period of weeks and months where transition is happening at the speed of smell. There is a sense of urgency but you’re not sure why, because barely anything is happening. But we can feel it. The tiny changes that make our home feel a bit out of balance. The blankies that get sent to overnights and don’t come back, causing extreme bedtime behaviors. The every other day visits that make the other days harder and full to the brim with emotions. The mornings they are not in their beds and our home is so quiet.

Overnight visits have restarted as we press on to a goal of reunification by the end of the year. Spending the night here and there brings on a whole set of its own challenges. Making sure our bedtime routines are fluid enough that it won’t throw them if it’s different. But making sure there is enough routine that their little trauma brains can handle sleeping.

This season reminds me of the first month when we had no idea how the early parts of the case would shake out. If they would be with us for 48 hours or forever. The uncertainty is painful.

When big brother had big oversized emotions upon coming back. His sweet little mind confused and wanting to be with biological family he loves dear while also loving his home and family here. I held and rocked him, like an infant, making eye contact and reminding him that I’m here. I kept repeating this to him…

“Sweet love. I am so sorry that nothing makes sense and your emotions are big. I am sorry that it hurts to be with them and it hurts to be with us. This isn’t how it should be. But mommy loves you. Mommy loves you. Mommy loves you.”

Love on a foster family. There are so many behind the scenes emotions and thoughts. In public we give smiles and brave answers because sometimes we aren’t ready for the big deep hard conversations. So love on us. Love on our children. Pray for our families.

“I am Safe. I am Strong. Jesus Loves me.”

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“I am SAFE”

“I am STRONG”

“Jesus LOVES ME”

 

Trauma doesn’t begin when children are taken from their home and placed in foster care. Often times, children have endured a lifetime of trauma and traumatic situations before they are removed. Even a baby removed at birth can have a history of trauma. Children in the foster care system have been hurt by those they trust and they carry that hurt with them in their day-to-day life. The hurt shows itself through behavior such as: anger, self-harm, depression, rage, anxiety, and a whole host of other emotional manifestations.

 

Lately we have been working through a lifetime of toddler anxiety. All toddlers go through an anxious stage, where they are clingy, maybe afraid of the dark or monsters or bugs. But trauma behaviors are so much more. More than being afraid. More than needing to be held by mommy. I pray fervently that you never have to see your two year old have a full-blown panic attack, because it is one of the deepest hurts I have had to endure. It is helpless. And as irrational as two year olds are under normal situations, anxiety riddled toddlers have zero control over any irrational thoughts or behaviors.

 

Toddler anxiety in our home looks like extreme fear, sleepless nights, and a lot of tears (both from toddler and mommy). Having a routine, melatonin, deep hugs, and recently our little mantra have been helpful, not a cure, but helpful. And this morning we saw a mini-breakthrough. As the puppy started to get riled up, as she would normally start to cry and jump into my arms, she looked right at him and told him:

“I am SAFE”

“I am STRONG”

“Jesus LOVES ME”

My sweet girl is starting to speak words of truth over herself as I have spoken and prayed over her for months. She may not fully believe it, and it may be a lifetime of needing reminders, but these are the truths we are sowing in her little heart. I pray she always knows safety, uses her strength, and feels the love of Jesus.

 

Change the Conversation.

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I never say, “He committed suicide.” I always say, “He died of mental illness.” My dad was sick. The sickness was fatal. The sickness killed him. And the sickness is taboo and often time brings awkward feelings when I talk about it in normal every day conversations.

There are so many terrible fatal diseases in our world and mental illness is one of them. It is a sickness as serious as any other fatal illnesses that have touched your life. It is why I know, when I tell others that my dad was sick for a long time, and eventually succumbed to his illness, I know I am not lying. Mental illness is real, it is ugly, and it can be fatal if not properly treated. Your friend, your cousin, Kate Spade, Robin Williams, Anthony Bourdain, my dad. They didn’t just choose to stop being. Their brains were broken.

This week, I have seen mental illness shake my personal community, and the world as a whole. Mental illness induced suicide has rocked my personal world more than anyone should have to bare. I’ve been on the sidelines as friends and relatives spiraled. I’ve known it was coming and I have been shocked when I received the news. And until mental illness is treated with the same respect, perseverance, and dedication to knowledge as other illnesses, we are still going to be shocked when we lose another precious life.

 

The conversation has to change.

 

“Just pray more.”

“He must have not felt loved.”

“I wish you would just decide to be happy.”

“Don’t take those pills! When I feel sad I just hit up the gym.”

“I didn’t even know she was depressed!”

“I don’t understand why he chose to take his life.”

 

Have you ever said or heard these things when talking to others about depression, bipolar disorder, ptsd, or suicide? It is ok if you have. I was there too at one point in my life. But first hand experiences and education changed my tune. If you have ever been touched by mental illness (you most likely have, by the way), make a choice to be informed. Decide that you want better for this world, for your friends, your family, yourself! Be aware of friends who start to party unusually hard, family members who have pulled away, habitual canceled plans, interest that start to fizzle. Care with a fierce intensity. Use some of the many resources at our fingertips to start changing the conversation about mental illness in your circle. Because as your circle changes so will the world.

To my friends who are in deep dark places of hurting: I have been there. I have spent hours in a hot shower trying to get the sting of panic and depression to lessen. I’ve felt the weight of the world pressing on my chest. I have poured over scripture begging God to change my brain. I have spent days in bed willing the world to care. My dear friend gave me permission to use her words, words that be both deeply believe, and you can too…

“I want to remind everyone to persist. If you feel alone and disconnected from everyone in your life, maybe to the point you feel them losing interest in your struggle–persist. If you have been stuck in a rut for 5 years, even with professional help–persist. If you feel as if you’re just “done”–persist. Nothing lasts forever. Neither happiness nor sadness. Please persist. I’ve been there and I still end up there occasionally. But when it’s good, it’s really good. And life is surprising. Just keep persisting. Remain here and see where you end up. It’ll be worth it. You owe yourself as much time as possible. Persist.”

Jesus cares. And He sees you. He knows what it feels like to be hurt and betrayed. He loves you. He gave us brains to use, hearts to feel, and souls to love. He also allows doctors to use their knowledge to learn how to heal and treat this terrible sickness. Let us use our God-given brains, hearts, and souls to focus on changing the conversation surrounding mental illness.

 

Here are some fantastic resources to start and continue a healthy conversation about mental illness:

https://twloha.com/learn/

https://www.mentalhealth.gov/

https://www.mentalhelp.net/

My (first) Mother’s Day.

This is not how it was supposed to be.

 

Dreams of my first Mother’s Day filled my head years ago. I’d have a snuggly little newborn baby girl with a big hair bow and a floral swaddle. I would walk into church beaming and bragging to everyone of the sleep she had blessed me with for Mother’s Day. And we would all worship as a family and celebrate what God had given us.

 

But that isn’t how it goes.

 

This Mother’s Day, the children who call me Mommy are not my own. This Mother’s Day I will see the children who call me Mommy long enough to get them dressed in play clothes and send them out the door to biological family members. This Mother’s Day my children do not even know their first mother, the woman who gave them life. This Mother’s Day I am navigating the insane emotions of loving the children who call me Mommy without abandon while also knowing next Mother’s Day they most likely will not call me Mommy anymore. There isn’t a neat bow wrapped around the package of motherhood that I’m living.

 

So tomorrow I will go to church. I will worship and celebrate all that God has given me. I will praise Him for the children who call me Mommy. But there is a hole in my heart that is bleeding open because of the brokenness that this Mother’s Day holds.

 

Please celebrate your moms with such extravagant love. Do not feel ashamed for going above and beyond, for blasting your gratefulness on social media, for being thankful for the beautiful children you have.

 

But also, remember the unconventional mothers. Those of us who don’t quite know where we stand. Who are waiting (seemingly endlessly) to feel life in our womb. Who are praying hard for our babies first moms. Who are wishing we had a relationship with our baby’s second mom. Who miss their moms extremely harder on these days. Pray for the enemy to lose and for God’s perfect plan to be revealed. Because even as we know that He wins…our hearts are still sad.

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Passion and Fire

16406678_10155036637612792_5087112724171773469_nIt wasn’t an “ah-ha” moment, a sermon I heard, or a book I read. I cannot even pinpoint a moment in time when it was decided. It was just in me and slowly it bubbled forth. I knew long before my sweet husband knew. And even with every conversation that ended opposite of how I envisioned…deep within me…I knew. Someday we were going to be foster parents.

Maybe it was in junior high when my first close friend entered foster care. Maybe it was highschool when I went on short term mission trips and saw the brokenness of hurting children right in my own backyard. It possibly was college as I wrestled with what my purpose was and if I even wanted to be a mom someday. All I know is when we started dating and soon got married, it was a pretty constant conversation. We were going to be foster parents.

It took a few years of conversations, and moves, and strategically placed scripture for us to be on the same page. And even in that season of waiting, God was preparing our hearts. For heartbreak, hurt, and unmeasurable joy. God was preparing us for foster care.

Our journey to foster care wasn’t exciting or attention grabbing. But it might be right where you are. With a tug on your heart without a place to land. Maybe your spouse is so not on board you think you’re hearing wrong from God. Or maybe you are passionate about orphan care and aren’t sure if it’s the right time.

Just know, God does not make mistakes. He does not place a passion in your heart or put a fire in your belly without purpose. Our journey to foster care was long. Our journey in foster care is hard. But God did not make a mistake in calling us here. Because without this journey…we would have lost out on knowing some pretty amazing children.