Tuesday, December 29, 2015

A Christmas In Care

This Christmas was not at all what I had prepared for.  Our two new boys have only been with us for 4.5 months and this was their first Christmas away from thier birth family.  Thanksgiving went smoothly, but Christmas is a whole nother animal.  Kids see lots of movies and commercials too that help them create this picture perfect scene of what it should be.  They remember what it was like before whether that was good, bad or somewhere in between.  They remember their family and that can be very painful.

Several of the days surrounding Christmas were tough.  However the Christmas pageant the night before and the day of were just wonderful.  I can't tell you we did anything special.  There was no magic trick or sedation involved; we just kept it simple.
Zoolights trip Dec. 2015

Zoolights 2015
All along we had been emphasizing the truth of Christmas and the many differences in how we celebrate it versus the image they may have built up.  It's a simple time with an amazing story of redemption, our redemption.  The time of waiting for the Messiah was over.  He had come, not as the people had hoped, but he came in His way and His time.

Toby almost 3 years post placement
By God's grace He is working out his plan of salvation and the revelation of His word in the hearts of all my boys.  Each of them is at a different point in their walk of faith.  Some have yet to believe while others know He is true.  Through yet another simple means God gave me encouragement to keep teaching, loving and serving these boys.  On Sunday the kids were up front talking with Pastor during the children's sermon about all the lights around the church and he asked what do all these lights have to do with Jesus?  My foster son pipes up loud and clear, "Because He is the light of the world!"

" The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;  
a light has dawned on those living in the land of darkness."  Isaiah 9:2

I am humbled to be a part of God's work.  This season like never before, has deeply moved me because of Jesus sacrifice for me.  Even being a Christian my whole life, I am in awe that God would do anything for me let alone allow me to be a part of sharing the gospel with the world.  I  don't deserve any of this.  I have screwed so many things up.  But Jesus in obedience to His Father came to be the light in my darkness!  

Merry Christmas and a blessed New Year with love,

Friday, November 13, 2015

Foster Parenting: Living in an IF World

Kids say things like "if I'm here when......."  Or if I go home then...."  If I'm here for my birthday can I...."  IF.  IF.  IF.  Our day and our conversations are filled with that little word.  I can only provide so many answers and so many certainties.  I can say things like "well when we have court next time we will know more."  or "there won't be any changes until....."  The truth is this is a very uncertain time in the life of a foster child and the foster family.

We can make plans several months out, but things can change.   A family member may step forward to take custody.  A judge can decide a child is staying in custody.  There is a standard timeline cases usually follow.  There is an initial 5 day hearing, a 30 day hearing, a 60 day and then a 6 month hearing and a 12 month hearing.  So to the child they have their eyes set on each of those dates.  The plans are as follows until that next date then the great big IF reappears.  At each of those markers something could change.   Around 9 months an evaluation of the long term plan is addressed.  Is a return home still the most likely situation?  Is this case moving in the direction of termination of rights?  Does an adoptive family need to be found?  For the sake of the child a huge push has come to shorten the length of time the birth family has to get on their feet and be ready to assume parenting responsibilities again.  This is meant not to totally severe the ties with family or to punish anyone, but to provide more permanence and a lot less IF World living for the child.

With our current set of children we are between the 60 day and the 6month hearing.  We hear a lot less IF talk these days, but it still surfaces almost everyday.  I would encourage you to pray for the children in your community who live in this IF World.  Here are a few ideas to get you going:

*healing from past abuse and neglect
*a sense of self worth
*courage to tell their story
*support at school
*birth families to find stable jobs/housing
*freedom from addiction
*support for foster families
*knowledgeable foster families as they deal with difficult behavior
*healthy attachments
*a belief that they are loved

With love,

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Fine Tuning Our Spiritual Perception

Jesus had just fed 4,000 men with 7 loaves of bread.  Many people followed after him in search of a cure for their afflictions and found precisely that.  Demons were called out of people, chains broken both physically and spiritually and countless healed.  Even nature obeyed the commands of Jesus.  The disciples themselves were not only front row witnesses to all of this, but participants being sent out in twos with the power and authority of Jesus.

And yet they still didn't get it.

In Mark Chapter 8 the disciples found themselves on a boat again hungry and tired from the days work.  Imagine with me this scene of grumpy gruff fisherman complaining about not having enough bread for dinner.  Then enters Jesus the scene.

"Aware of this, He said to them, "Why are you discussing that you don't have any bread?  Don't you understand or comprehend?  Is your heart hardened?  Do you have eyes, and not see, and do you have ears, and not hear?  And do you not remember?  When I broke the five loaves for the 5,000, how many baskets full of pieces of bread did you collect?" Mark 8: 17-19a

And yet they still didn't get it.

We can look at them and wonder how on earth did they NOT get it?!  They witnessed miracle after miracle.  

And yet they still didn't get it.
But neither do we.

Just as Jesus questions them, he says to us, "Do you remember?"  Though remembering may not help us if we never understood in the first place.  It is important for us as believers to be aware of the work God is doing in and through us.  We need to fine tune our spiritual perception.  I believe we do this by not just being focused on earthly or bodily concerns.  Especially as parents we can get caught up in the what's for dinner, who is taking Susie to soccer and what are we going to do about little Johnny's grades kind of thought patterns.  I am guilty of this too!  What's for dinner is a huge question around here EVERY SINGLE DAY!  I often fret about what I am teaching my kids.  Am I doing enough as a homeschool mom?  Add foster parenting to my list of earthly concerns and I am drowning in thoughts not set on God or my spiritual life.
Unless we have the discipline of setting our minds on what is above and not on what is on the earth (Col. 3:2) then we are totally going to miss some cool stuff!  What may have seemed like a random thought or occurrence was actually the God of the Universe directing your day.  That promotion at work may not have been your boss finally noticing all your hard work, but  God expanding your sphere of influence for his glory and meeting your financial needs as well.  This list could go on.  God is at work in every area of our lives if we would only perceive it.

The other issue at hand is the remembering of such events.  How often do we  like the disciples see the amazing work of God in our very own lives then so quickly forget the next time a crisis arises or a need surfaces?  Over and over again we forget.  I have been focusing on this discipline with my kids in our study of the Old Testament.  The children of Israel were told to remember.  They had feasts to help them remember.  They set up stones in honor of God to help them remember.  The take away should be for us that remembering the work of God in our lives is vital to our spiritual growth and our faith overall.

"Be careful that your heart doesn't become proud and you forget the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery."  Deuteronomy 8:14

When I was a girl my dad would tease me when I was having a moment struggling to trust by saying, "Oh ye of little faith."  I always thought that was something he made up to teach me.  Little did I know that those were not my father's words.  Imagine my surprise when I was reading my Bible one day and saw in bright red letters Jesus saying those words!  Needless to say my dad had a big chuckle when I called him to share my revelation.  Looking back helps us fine tune our spiritual perception.  Though we may not have realized it at the time, we can learn now from what God has done in our past.  Many lessons learned in life come as a process rather than a radical change.  It was said many times in the gospels that the disciples didn't get it, but a time came when they did.

"So when He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this. 
 And they believed the Scripture and the statement Jesus had made."  John 2:22
 "His disciples did not understand these things at first.  However, when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about Him ."  John 12:16a

And we too can share in that legacy of faith that at one time we didn't get it, but I hope one day it will be said of me, "She believed the Scripture and the statement Jesus had made."  Be patient in this endeavor and remember that it is a process that takes time.

With love,

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Confessions of a Foster Mom

I get really grumpy leading up to visitation and court dates.
I struggle with how to comfort my foster children when they miss their family without feeling offended.
I want them to like me.  I want them to stay.  I want their family to get better, but I want them to stay.
I take it so personal when they don't like the food I cook and only want McDonald's.
I pout like a toddler sometimes because I don't know how to deal with all these emotions going on inside me.
I don't want to get attached. 
I hate not knowing what is going to happen.
I don't know how to protect my other children from the influence that these children bring with them.
I don't have enough time to spend with each child and so I withdraw from all of them.

God is bigger and He is enough.  I know this in my head.  I see the words in my Bible that tell me this is true.  I believe that I am sinful and not enough, but that Jesus really is enough for me.  I sang that in church last week.

In this moment and in the days leading up to things like court feeling and knowing are very different.  Jesus you know what I need right now.  Let me see you!

Friday, August 7, 2015

Conversations With the Living God

Do the prayers of your heart and the words on your lips flow like a calm and peaceful river before the Lord?  Or do they rush out in a torrent of jumbled thoughts, concerns and requests?  Perhaps they look like the waves smacking against the shoreline in a the midst of a violent storm.  Or rather would you paint a picture more of a little girl or boy sitting at the feet of a father in a field of wild flowers?  Now I will have to admit this last one makes me a laugh a bit, because I'm not sure when or if my prayer time has ever looked like that.  It often looks more like good friends hiking along a path.  Steep upgrades, level straightaways, breathtaking views, arduous brush, steady pace and quickened feet; all part of the journey and conversation of life.

There isn't just one moment that can encapsulate my entire prayer life.  Just like the seasons of life, it too has gone through different changes, has taken different forms and has always been true to my heart.  We know from reading scripture that God has made us.  He knows our thoughts.  And knows both our strengths and weaknesses.  We also can read that He wants us to be in communication with him. 

I would urge you to turn your thoughts to Him.  Spend structured time in prayer too, but also be conscious of the fact that we have the Living God dwelling within us in the form of the Holy Spirit.  Our thoughts can be more than ramblings in our own minds, but rather deep conversations with God himself.

Don't let this idea freak you out.  I know.  Some of your thoughts are not so holy.  Some of your thoughts follow a stream of profanities.  Some of your thoughts are full of doubt and questions.  Some thoughts are so puzzling it makes your puzzeler sore.  I know because mine do too.  Remember that God has big shoulders.  He created the entire universe with his breath for crying out loud!  He can handle what is going on inside you!  Talk to him!  Let your words flow however they are going to flow that day.  A river cannot control the speed at which it flows.  Other determining factors play a key role in that, but a river continues to flow never the less onward towards the mouth of a larger body of water.  So we too surrender to Him who is in control, sovereign over us, Living God and faithful friend. 

With love,

Friday, July 24, 2015

A Moment Changes Everything: Foster Parenting

You've heard the saying that a moment can change everything.  When a foster parent gets a call that children are in need it changes everything to include the plans you have for the rest of the day, what's for dinner and maybe even what you do with the rest of your life.  That may sound overly dramatic, but imagine life turned on it's head with one phone call.  Maybe you have experienced something similar, perhaps even more dramatic, tragic or overwhelmingly joyful.

You are about to be a grandparent
Your spouse is retuning from duty
Your son got accepted to  college
The new job requires a move
Test results are back
Diagnosis confirmed
Your company is making cuts
There has been an accident 
Sibling group of 5 is being removed from their home

Their day did not go as they expected either and it changed everything for them too.  Their stuff was loaded up in empty sacks, a backpack and a trash bag.  Their story is not rare, but in that moment it became intertwined with my own.  I will never forget the day they walked through the door of the visitation room and I could put a face to the names of the children Chris and I had just agreed to take custody of; a 16 year old girl, and 8 and 4 year old boys.  You could see the numbness already setting into their faces and hearts.  This painful moment was too much to bear, but step by step they bravely walked to our truck and got in.  How they left there without tears I do not know.  I was overwhelmed by it all.  We had gone from a family of 6 to a family of 9 in a moment.

Those first few days were a blur and only by God's grace did we make it through.  He kept putting the words from Micah 6:8 in my mind.

"Mankind, He has told you what is good and what it is the LORD requires of you:  to act justly, to love faithfulness, and to walk humbly with your God." 

Within a week a visitation is usually set up with the parents and though the children are very eager to see them, separating again is very tragic and painful.  Leaving with them that day was so hard and they were hurting so deeply and my heart was broken for them.  I continued to question if I was really equipped to handle this kind of hurt or able to be of any good to these kids, but again God reminded me of his presence.  The license plate in front of me read E5TR 414, a verse I had been praying over for a few months.  The words were to Queen Esther from her uncle Mordecai.

"If you keep silent at this time, liberation and deliverance will come to the Jewish people from another place, but you and your father's house will be destroyed.  Who knows, perhaps you have come to your royal position for such a time as this."  Esther 4:14

I know that God will provide a way of healing for these kids that come into care with or without my help.  I also know that God can use my past, my marriage, my family and my church to be a channel of his grace and mercy.  It is challenging, it is handwork, it is thankless, it is heartbreaking, but it is the beautiful redemptive, sacrificial work of the gospel too!  Every chance I get I share the hope I have in Christ and the promise that He loves them.  

Exactly a month after they arrived and in similar fashion they were gone.  Another phone call, more hurried packing and a drive back to DSS.  I will never forget the look in my foster daughter's face when I told her she was going home.  It was a look of disbelief and then realization.  She looked up to heaven and with closed eyes she said thank you to God. 

God has rescued my life from the pit (Psalm 40) and nothing I can say or do can repay Him for that.  Foster Parenting is not about earning more of God's love, but of revealing it to those who need it so badly. 

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Learning to Trust Myself and Others

In Philippians chapter one Paul writes to the believers instructing them while he is away to be, “one in spirit, with one mind, working side by side for the faith that comes from the gospel.”  Ten women from my church,  Hope Presbyterian, gathered with other women of faith at a Young Life retreat center called Rockbridge and together we were indeed united in one spirit of truth, worship and hope.   It was more than a chance for busy wives and mothers to get away.  It was about noticing the glimpses of God’s glory in the midst of our circumstances, for when we see that glory we are changed.   Each of us went burdened with different things, different struggles, unique challenges and at varying stages of faith, but what we have in common is that as believers we can all trust the promise God gave us to “work all things for the good of those who love him.”  The hard part is understanding what God considers good and how we evaluate good.    We can sometimes miss God working in our lives or speaking to us and think that he has been distant or unresponsive, but if we take the time to really look we can see his sovereign hand.  We can be certain it is Him when we have been in the Word; it focuses our vision to see what we could not see before. 

Our weekend was filled to capacity.  Not only did we engage in literally hours of bible study filling us spiritually, they did a fabulous job of filling us physically.  It wasn’t just that the food was good, but something remarkable happens when meals are shared together.  A table, food and fellowship are the ingredients in building relationships.  And as I would see on the high ropes course as well, “Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their efforts.  For if either falls, his companion can lift him up; but pity the one who falls without another to lift him up.”(Ecc 4:9-10)  At first I was the only one interested in even doing the course, but a rapid course of events transpired, 7 names were signed up and that was that.  I was pumped!  I had never done one, always wanted to, no real fear of heights, this was going to be awesome!  That was NOT how I felt in the moments leading up to stepping on the first obstacle or how I felt as I ever so slowly moved from wire to wire step by step terrified to my very core.  God and I talked that whole way, every scary minute of it!  I looked around and he showed me 6 other women, some as afraid as I was, stepping right along with me.  I was not alone, not only was God with me, but he provided others I could see, touch and hear cheering me on.  We yelled, screamed, I even cussed when I fell off one portion, we laughed.  It was a beautiful picture of friendship that revealed a very big whole in my heart.  I do not trust.  I don't trust others and even more so I do not trust myself.  God is working on that in my life.  I have been reading Nicole Johnson's book Fresh Brewed Life and God has also used that to speak many truths to me.

  We do not walk this journey of life and the mission of sharing the gospel alone.  We can trust those around us and we can trust God who provides all we need for the life He has called us to.  And as for that high ropes course, let's just say it was a ONCE in a lifetime opportunity!

With love,

Monday, June 15, 2015

A Heart That is Broken

This has been my prayer for months, to have a broken heart for the things that break the Father's heart.  This is not to say that I have not prayed this prayer before over the years, but especially now as we prepare to welcome hurting children into our home I want to have a tender heart.  We know from having adopted Toby that it is easy to care when that child is far away, cute and not breaking any of the rules or stepping on your toes.  It is another thing to care deeply, love much and show grace when daily the child refuses to obey, reciprocate loving affection or is incredibly needy for attention.

My heart feels ready and yet we wait.  My heart grows discontent with God's timing.  My heart desires what is does not have.  My heart has yet to fully trust what God is doing behind the scenes.  Everyday I pray for God's perfect timing and will and everyday I struggle that it is not my own.

When we say yes to the big things God calls us to I think we expect that they will happen very quickly.  There is great need after all.  The Gospel is to be preached, lived out, shared.  Of course God wants that to happen now!  Right?! 

"For My thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not My ways."  This is the LORD's declaration.  "For as heaven is higher than earth, so my ways are higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.  For just as rain and snow fall from heaven and do not return there without saturating the earth and making it germinate and sprout, and providing seed to sow and food to eat, so My word that comes from My mouth will not return to Me empty, but it will accomplish what I please and will prosper in what I send it to do."  Isaiah 55: 8-11

And so today as the many days before I pray that God's word not only prepare me, my family and the children to come, but that He do a work in my heart.  Let me see with eyes that believe and a mind that trusts that God truly can do the impossible work of changing my heart, forgiving my sins and using my life to bring glory to Him.  I pray also that whatever God has called you to or that you are waiting on Him for that He teach you to, "Guard your heart above all else, for it is the source of life."(Prov. 4:23)  Only in Him can we have true contentment.

With love,

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,