When you’re drowning.

“We are drowning.”

I said those words to one of my most trusted friends today. Words that I’ve been avoiding. Words that I haven’t let my heart feel. But the most accurate words to describe how I truly feel under the “I’m fine!” attitude.

Today I also realized there are 32 unread text messages on my phone. Mostly from people I love. Some checking in, some waiting for a question answered, some funny gifs that I’ve yet to open. My life also has 32 things on hold. Heavy things. Things I’m trying to hold up from the water so even as I’m drowning, I won’t let anyone or anything down.

It’s not that I have problem saying no, it’s one of my favorite words (I’ve obviously been hanging out with my two year old). We have almost zero extracurricular activities this summer. We’ve rarely seen friends. We haven’t made it to our long weekend in St.Louis. The things I’m holding up have almost nothing to do with me. But the people I hold dearest. The people who live in my home. They are carrying heavy, tired, broken hearts…and I am holding them.

Do you know this feeling? The tightness of your chest that you don’t notice until you sit down at the end of the day. The tears that are always close to the surface but rarely fall. The constant strain to grab a breath just in case your lungs have to hold air for a while before you can resurface.

Maybe you’re holding foster care and financial stress and aging parents. Or maybe it’s homeschooling and foster care and mental health. Maybe your combo is infertility and self-employment and moving. It’s possible your situation is a mix of all of those scenarios.

Whatever it is that has you drowning, I see you, I feel it, I know it’s hard. I know your arms are tired and your lungs are burning. I know your prayers are more angry than loving. I know you’ve have to apologize to the Creator for being bitter and ungrateful.

Guess what? He sees you too.

“For the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our King. It is He who will save us.” Isaiah 33:22

Whatever the injustice. Whatever the pain. Whatever it is that is starting to cover your head. Our Lord, our King, He will save us.

Today, by verbalizing my complete feeling of drowning, I turned it over to the King letting Him know I was ready for saving. I still don’t know what that looks like for me. But I do know that I was not created to live in a state of drowning…and neither were you.

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Perfect power.

Quite often in foster care I get bogged down with the paperwork, constant unexpected interruptions, and so many appointments. I certainly could go my whole life without hearing the words “status hearing” again. The hurry up and wait is never ending. The rules and regulations and standards we are held to can be exhausting.

But even as all the stuff swishes around us, their eyes are filled with wonder. Their voices are filled with questions. And their laughter is free and bubbling. The wonder of everything. Every snowflake, every time we drive by a cow, every time we sing Jesus Loves Me. There is excitement and expectation. Their sweet little faces light up. It keeps me smiling. It keeps me breathing.

Simply stating that it’s “worth it” seems so thin. But it’s true. I would fill out a thousand pages of paper a day if it meant being able to hear his giggle. I would drive across the country for her appointments if it meant hearing her sing bedtime songs with me. And I would invite daily I interruptions if it meant snuggling brother with a football game at the end of the day. It is worth it. It is worth it. It is worth it.

But foster mama, it’s also exhausting. And that’s ok. It’s ok to get tired. It’s ok to admit you’re angry at the system. It’s ok to beg for permanency. It’s ok to advocate loudly. It’s ok to serve frozen pizza for the third time this week. It’s ok to take respite. It’s ok to ask for your village to step in. It’s ok to take a nap. It’s ok to take a break.

They are worth it. And we will never be able to unsee the children, unknow the statistics, and unfeel the call. But maybe tonight you need to remember how full your cup was before you starting the process of emptying all you have. Give yourself permission to leave the dishes in the sink and go to bed early. Allow your phone to sit in the other room while you soak up scripture. Take a bath and listen to worship music. Read the twilight saga (again).

Because Christ is glorified and honored even when (especially when) I am at my weakest. So tonight I am going to rest in the power of his grace. Because, dear foster mama, today my weaknesses did shine through. And tomorrow isn’t looking any easier.

“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9

Intentional Legacy Building

I want my children to look back someday and remember that my lap was always big enough. That the countless hours I sit on the floor made them feel known. That even when there is chaos (and chaotic siblings) swarming around us, that this was a safe space to enter into. For the feeling of snuggling in close while squirming about to come quick to the surface of their memories. Mostly I want for my legacy in their lives to be of safety and healing.

Do you think about the legacy you will leave your children? It’s hard in the daily trenches of time outs and nose wiping and diaper changing. My daily, stay-at-home-mom life, with a 3, 2, and 1 year old is a blur. With days and weeks and activists running together.

But as we come close to three years without my dad, I’m remembering the memories I have of him from when I was young.

I’m remembering the legacy he left.

Remembering my dad also gives me such grace to myself as a parent. Because he got a lot of things wrong. I’m sure there were countless feelings of inadequacy. I’m sure of that, because I feel it too. I feel it when I let the kids watch more than one movie. Or when I yell for no reason. And when I put them to bed early so I can think in my own head. But when I think of my dads legacy, I don’t remember the inadequacies. I think of his loud encouraging voice in the gym, of his great servants heart for his family, and how provided for I felt. His legacy lives on though his children. The things he chose to engage in (coaching, cooking meals, being present) left us with feelings that continue to be remembered. He intentionally made choices that eventually became his legacy.

I’m choosing to sit on the floor in the middle of my circus, so that I may have eye level conversations with non-sensical toddlers. I’m choosing to let my coffee get cold in the microwave because my baby needs to just touch my face for a few more minutes. I’m choosing to explain the routine of the day for the nineteenth time because it makes my children feel comfortable. In the midst of our failures as parents, let’s go into this weekend spending time on the legacy in which we want to be remembered.

“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.