Friday, March 27, 2015

Hospitality: The Cure for a Messy House

Slaughter Penn Farm VA
Nothing gets your house cleaner than expecting company.  It may be painful to admit, but it is totally true.  You can let many things slide when it is just your family who has to see the mess, but invite someone outside of the inner circle and it is on!  Laundry and piles of sports gear is flying.  Dishes are hastily loaded into the dishwasher and things are thrown down the basements steps to be dealt with later.  Panic sets in as you only have 30 more minutes before they arrive.  Maybe the house is in such a disarray that an hour out insights an attack of anxiety.

Imagine though a house that is perpetually ready for guests.  I am not talking about a house that is ready for a magazine spread, rather a home that for the most part is warm, inviting and relatively suitable for company.  Imagine with me the freedom of being able to call a friend and invite them over for coffee without the fear of your house.  Imagine a knock on the door that finds you confident to swing the door open wide.
Dinner with friends.  Start teaching hospitality now.

Now please don't think I am Joan Clever or anything like that.  Bear in mind I do have children.  If you have been a visitor to the blog before then you know I have four boys, little dirt loving, outside playing, toy weapons and cars everywhere, boys.  I could pile my laundry to the ceiling and my sink is always full of dishes.  The kitchen floor is a dirt magnet with a propensity to stay that way despite my best efforts.

With all of that said it is not impossible to maintain a somewhat clean and orderly home.  My secret weapon in this battle is HOSPITALITY.  There seems to always be company coming for one reason or another.  So for that reason and with that in mind we try and keep on top of it.  And when we've lapsed thankfully there is sure to be another round of company coming to hold us accountable.

   Hospitality is an action of love shown to those we love and those we do not love.  It is contagious and warms the hearts of those it touches. -Derek Hill
In Galatians chapter 5 it says, "For you were called to be free, brothers; only don't use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but serve one another through love."  Indeed we are free to make a lot of choices.  How will I spend my day?  Who will be apart of that day?  Whom will be honored and glorified in it?  We can either be the center of that or maybe even our own families OR as shown in Proverbs 31:20 we can, "reach out to the poor, and extend hands to the needy'' and "be hospitable to one another with out complaining." (1Peter 4:9) 

The guy who taught me how to love, write and entertain be hospitable.

Very often we feel uncomfortable having people over.  Either our busy schedules, are unkempt homes, lack of confidence in the kitchen or whatever probably very personal reason you have, these things prevent us from offering the kind of genuine closeness people need.  Not everyone needs a huge party thrown in their honor, but maybe a family in your neighborhood could really use a warm meal and a friendly faces to share it with.  Maybe the single mom in your church could use a break and some free babysitting.  Maybe you have room in your home for a foster child who needs a safe and nurturing place to heal.  Maybe instead of keeping an eye on the kids from the kitchen window you stand in your drive way to watch them play and notice a neighbor struggling to get a project done in his yard.  Now with eyes open wide you see an opportunity to help, encourage, support and care for or meet a need.  And maybe just maybe along the way you will see that it becomes a habit and a pattern of life that leads to way more than a clean house, that just happens to be a nice little by-product.

With love,

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Even Christians Face Depression

It is not hard to imagine that as winter drags on here in the east that many people are feeling a bit low, tired of the cold long gloomy days.  They wait with expectation of warmer more cheery days ahead.  Though we expect and even commiserate these less than desirable feelings during long weather seasons we often hold back on sharing that life has brought some very unpleasant and even depressing seasons in our hearts.  It's easy to point to seasonal affective disorder, but what about when spring returns and our hearts are still living in the shadow of doubts, fears, loss and depression?

For too long I have been  unwilling to label myself depressed.  That was a mental health issue among others that my mother suffered from and besides I didn't feel that bad.  Or did I?  After what seemed like a long "season" of ups and downs, foster parent training and other eye opening experiences I was ready to call it what it was.  I was depressed.  I was tired.  I saw no end to the struggle.  And yet my faith was strong.  My relationship with the Lord was continuing and so I tried to reconcile the two positions.  Can a feeling of depression reside in the same heart with the living God?  Was my depression evidence of a lack of faith and trust in God to see me through this time in my life?

I remember the night clearly.  It was almost dinner time, Chris was home from work helping me in the kitchen as he usually does and we were talking about the day.  The kids were in the basement playing and I could hear them carrying on being wild like boys are prone to do.  It was just another day.  I don't remember if it had been a harder than normal day, but it lead to me laying on the floor crying.  After posting a picture of Toby on Facebook I got comments about how blessed Toby was to be in our family and what great parents we were.  My only thought was, "if they only knew."  I'm not a super hero.  This parenting thing has ripped at the threads holding me together and exposed some very raw feelings.  Raising these boys, especially our adopted son has not brought out the best of me at times.  And the words meant to encourage me cut to the quick.

Not wanting the boys to see mommy on the kitchen floor crying I went upstairs to take a bath and compose myself.  I poured my heart out to God, crying for some kind of help, angry for not feeling equipped for the task at hand and ashamed that I was rejecting my son in my heart.  Looking back there was so many more feelings and troubles piled up in there, many that I had yet to unpack.  In my desperation I asked God to just let me die.  That pain did not quickly subside and the struggles continued and even then I was not willing to admit I was suffering from depression.

God did not answer my prayer that night they way I wanted; instead he poured his soothing balm of scripture over me.  Words of peace like
"my grace is sufficient."  
"all things work to the good of those who love me." 
 "In this world you will have trouble, but do not fear for I have overcome the world." 
 "Consider it pure joy my brothers 
when ever you face trials of many kinds because you know the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  
Perseverance must finish it's work so that you may be complete." 
 "Be strong and courageous" 
 "I will make all things new" 
 "beauty from ashes"  
"How high and how wide is the love of Christ"
 As it did that evening it doesn't always come out of my heart word for word as it is in scripture, but God never the less reminds me of his words.  They help to "take my thoughts captive" and to let God heal the hurting places.

We can look at scripture and see that many great heroes of the faith have been where we are, lost in despair crying out to God to bring it to an end.  He did not leave them or forsake them and He will not leave us either.  For further study see Moses in Numbers 11:10-16 and Elijah on the run in the wilderness in 1Kings 19. 

Being Christians doesn't make us super heroes with an immunity to suffering.  Depression is not a sign that you are dangerously close to loosing your salvation or that you have lost your trust in God's ability.  For me I doubted myself, not God.

Tell someone
Seek help
Be real

You never know how your honesty will give permission to someone else to open up and begin on their own path to healing.

With love,

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

2 Years Home and the Stages of Grief

A few weeks ago we made it to a big milestone and though we did not have a big celebration the passing of time has been strongly felt. Behavior struggles abound and talk of a life before are steady.  Then yesterday a school assignment brought on tears that lasted an hour.  Pleading to go home, yearning for Taiwan our son is finally grieving on the outside.  My attempts at comfort were of no use, but I stayed and sat beside him praying for healing to come to his little heart.

These Eyes

These eyes that stare back at me
Such pain and grief
Reflecting a life I did not know

These eyes hide loss I cannot imagine
Only empty words fill my mouth

I sit
I pray
I wait

These eyes I hope will one day look to the cross
For there you will find healing

Those eyes looked on you with love
Before I even knew your name
In His eyes there is peace

-ruth robbins

With love,

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

5 Things I Learned During Foster Parent Training

How you look at things determines what you see
I just want to say thank you to all the people who have supported us through prayer, babysitting, listening and training during these last 10 weeks.  We survived, we thrived, we whined (maybe just a little), we learned.  Now granted we learned much more than five things during all this and really this class would be good for all parents especially those parenting kids from hard places.  I will go on record to say that the training required for an international adoption is inadequate at the very least and insufficient at preparing parents for bringing a child home.  This does not mean to say that what we received these last 3 months was perfect or exhaustive, but very certainly a good start in preparing someone for the arduous yet significant task ahead.  So in no specific order here are at least 5 things I have learned:

Kids Need Compassion  My kids, your kids, the kids down the street, the brat you hear screaming at the toy store, the relentless 3 year old rolling on the floor having a fit.  They all need compassion.  Sometimes it is the last thing you want to offer.  Bad behavior or choices maybe has led to some  uncomfortable consequence or emotions and yet the kids God has given us need to know there is grace for them and that despite the situation we love them.  When we fall to our knees before God do we want to hear a scolding or do we want the arms of grace to surround us with compassion?  The gentle instruction will be much more warmly received after that and probably better delivered too.  With what measure of compassion does God give to us?  And what of that do we as a parents offer to our kids?  I think of the servant forgiven of his debt by his master who then was unwilling to forgive the very small debt owed him in Matthew Chapter 18: 21-35.  View that in light of us and our kids.  We often see that parable in regards to others outside our family or more for adults, but what about parents and kids?  It's a perfect fit.

Good/Right Behavior is NOT the Primary Goal in Parenting  This has been my goal for 10 years worth of parenting.  It may not have been a conscious one, though through my words and actions it has made it's way to the top of the list.  I get embarrassed when my kids misbehave in public because I take it as a direct reflection of my ability to parent.  When my children disobey at home I take it as a direct assault on my authority in the house.  The chaos of unruly boys and fighting brothers is too much to bear some days and I just want them to be good.  At first glance these all seem like nice, reasonable thoughts yet they fall short of the real task at hand in raising children.  It is to nurture and grow the seed of faith God has planted in the hearts of our children.  We want them to know the love of a Savior and the love of a family.  In time they learn to read, write, create and maybe obey, but not because they are made to, but because they learn right and wrong by your patient words and diligent teaching of truth.  A child will begin to trust your guiding when he has learned that he is safe, valued and heard.  If you are only an authoritarian you are only obeyed because you are feared.  I want my children to trust me because I am the first connection they have to God.

I'm Not Ready  About 4 weeks into our classes I realized I was in over my head.  And even now I am completely overwhelmed.  The subject of why kids end up in care is deep and it is real.  The burdens they carry are great and the needs they have are huge.  What I did not realize was how much these scenarios we covered were going to bring up hurts from my own past.  I wish that I could say I have moved on and that I've overcome them, but I have not.  That pain is still real and deep in my heart and unless I have come to a place of healing I cannot help a child walk that path of healing.  One other weighty thing that has come up is that I probably have ADD and that at least one of our boys does too.  Many children in the foster care system have been diagnosed with it and so therefore we learned a lot about it in our training.  As we were going down the list of symptoms Chris and I turned to each other and said, "oh my gosh!  That's ****!"  Then as I dug a little deeper on my own I began to put the pieces together for myself.  I don't really know where to go from this place, but I know that God wanted us to take this training for several reasons and hopefully one of those in the right time will be to welcome more children into our home.

Kids Are People Too  Have you noticed that kids have ideas, thoughts and feelings that are entirely their own?  Sometimes as if they are totally different little persons from you altogether!  My kids feelings matter.  Your kids ideas matter.  Their thoughts and opinions matter.  Now granted they will rarely display these at a convenient time or place during your already hectic day or in a fashion most pleasing.  But they will want to be heard.  In time a child can either learn that they matter or worse yet think they don't.  It may come in a small package, but all the things that come together by the hand of God to make you unique also comes together by the very same God to dwell in the heart of your child.

It Takes a Village  I can't do this alone.  Even with an awesome husband, which I am blessed to have we cannot expect that this monumental task of parenting can be done in a bubble.  I pray you have a church that stands beside you.  Seek out a friend who will partner with you in prayer.  Meet regularly with other people to pour over God's word.  Pick up the phone and call someone in that moment of utter chaos who can speak words of life and peace to you.  We were made for community.  I think I have said that before and I'll say it again.  We need each other.  Maybe your that other person.  See someone downcast or someone who could use a hand or encouraging word?  Be that for them when they don't have the courage to ask or even know where to turn.  In the Foster care system it takes a village of social workers, foster families, school teachers, judges, birth families and many more.  Be part of the village somehow.

With love,

Friday, October 31, 2014

Making Time To Make Memories: A Photo Update

An afternoon Sunday hike

Big brother

Growing and getting stronger

Day at the Dulles Plane Pull with Daddy

Now that's a serious snow plow

Turning 10

Wings and Wheels

Fall Festival with our church

Turning 6

Exploring DC

Photo extravaganza in DC

My Boys

Standing Strong

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

More Than a Bunch of Teddy Bears

In this picture you might see a crazy women who has a goodwill addiction or if you think like my kids, a pile of ammo for a stuffed animal fight or maybe you see what I see, HOPE.  I see the kids who will at some point come into our home and need care, love and lots of grace.  You see Chris and I are 2 weeks into a 10 week training course to become foster parents in our county.  These bears are part of my "nesting".  I won't have a child growing in my belly and we won't be doing adoption paperwork, but our family will be growing.  We will welcome kids into our home that are hurting, neglected, confused, angry, and maybe without hope.

I am very thankful for the training we are receiving and from the conference we attended in DC by Show Hope called The Empowered to Connect Conference.  Little by little we are growing our tool belt of knowledge and resources to care for kids from hard places.  My moms group at church will be using the Bible study that goes along with the book The Connected Child by Karen Purvis.  What I'm trying to say is that we are not alone.  We have others who stand shoulder to shoulder with us in this, praying, babysitting, listening and learning.  Granted this has already felt daunting.  The information is overwhelming and the task just a bit scary, but...

"The helpless entrusts himself to You; You are a helper of the fatherless.  
Lord, You have heard the desire of the humble; You will strengthen their hearts. 
 You will listen carefully 
doing justice for the fatherless and the oppressed 
so that men of the earth may terrify them no more." 
 Psalm 10:14b,17-18

Maybe it's just a bear.  Or maybe it says, "this is mine, someone cares for me and I will always have a room to put it in" even if that home is mine or that someone is me I can always find more bears for each of the children that God brings my way.

Please pray for us and our family as we prepare to open our home to more children in 2015.

With love,

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Raising Godly Men

As a mom of four boys we are on a mission in our house to raise godly men and to teach our boys that there are indeed differences between males and females.  We have each been given different roles and gifts within a family and community.  Daddy is the head of our household, the leader, final decision maker and bread winner.  I am the homeschool teacher, boo boo kisser, cook and the bill payer.  Now this is certainly not an exhaustive list; my husband and I do share a great many duties, but we believe the Bible has given us a template to follow.  It helps us to understand where we each fit in and how to use our gifts to best support the family and to fulfill the purposes and callings to which God has put us.

Natural born leader:  Adam being the first man was given the duty to name all the creatures,  care for creation and to create.

Suitable helper:  Eve was created to be the perfect counterpart to her husband Adam.  She was not  made to follow him around and clean up after him, but to partner with him in his duties of care and creating.

 Now unfortunately due to sin these roles have been all screwed up.  Men are raised without courage. Women are power hungry.  Families are torn apart by divorce.  Single parents struggle to fill the role of both mother and father.  Women do not have strong men to lead their families.  And so many men either are too aggressive or not even truly present for their families.  Women all too quickly step in and take charge, never giving husbands a chance. We are not connected to each other as husband and wife and we don't get our roles.  But Titus chapter 2 gives us a window into how it should go.  I encourage you to check it out.

"In the same way, encourage the young men to be self-controlled in everything.  
Make yourself an example of good works with integrity and dignity in your teaching. 
 Your message is to be sound beyond reproach, 
so that the opponent will be ashamed, having nothing bad to say about us."  
Titus 2: 6-8

We are hoping to stop this cycle with strong biblical teaching, example and a whole lot of prayer!  Last year we taught a Bible class written by John Piper based on his book What's the Difference and let me tell you that raised a lot of eye brows.  We talked about submission, leadership in the church and how we fit into all that.  One other book I highly recommend is Wild at Heart by John Eldridge, a must read for all men and any women with a husband or sons.  My goal today is not to spell it out for you, but my hope is that at least today it will peak your interest and just maybe you will dive into scripture and see what it has to say.

The other day I had proof that maybe we were getting through to at least one of our boys.  Levi and I are just starting our Kindergarten year together and we needed to review letter names and identify things that were created by God or man made.  In the interest of time I figured out a way to combine the activities.  Each letter was on a puzzle piece that corresponded with a brightly colored picture starting with that letter.  We made our way through the pieces matching A and apple then shouting God created.  And so it went.  B and ball, man made.  C and cat, God created.   Then we got to J. Jam.  Levi just nonchalantly says, "women made." moves onto K.  The end.  To him that was a logical answer.  I laughed hysterically, high-fived him and immediately called my husband.  I love my job!

With love,