Saturday, November 4, 2017

The Answer

It's been quite a while since I have come here and share anything.  Life has been busy, my heart has been busy and frankly I've been struggling to figure out what I even believe about anything anymore.  Religion has become something that makes me uncomfortable, not to say it's all bad but I look around and see people doing things in the name of religion that go against the very teachings of what they are supposed to be about and I struggle to make peace with that.

The truth is I have been struggling to make peace for quite some time with Jesus and with myself.  It seems in my life I have had many ebbs and flows when it comes to Jesus and even myself.  Today I feel like I am making my way back to peace and while I still have no answers I've had a bit of a red letter day.

Thirty years ago this winter, my mom died.  My heart ached, my soul ached and I could not make sense of the world.  That following summer a teacher who was and is very dear to me made it possible for me to go to summer camp.  There is a little gem of a camp on the edge of Lake Erie, on the western border of Pennsylvania it is supported by the local Baptist Church.  I was so nervous to attend this camp.  I'd gone to church my whole life but had no real idea who Jesus was or what following his teachings really meant.  I cried in my bunk my first night there and in the morning after a prayer time I made my way down a narrow road to the Lake.  I remember standing there, tears falling into the lake, looking out at the magnitude of the water and the waves and wondering where on earth I fit in this world and why any loving God would take my mother.  I didn't leave with answers that week, but I left well loved.

Twelve years ago I sat in a NICU cubicle while doctors told me my son was dying, I ran to another room and cried and cried while a nurse held me and even held my hair back while I threw up.  My husband brought that sweet boy into the room and we held and sang to him as he drew his last breath.  We left the hospital that day, not with our child, but with a box of memories of six days of his life.  I clutched that box as we left the hospital empty armed and broken hearted.  Neither Howard nor I said a word on that drive back to our little corner of Pennsylvania, but that car somehow found itself on that narrow road leading to that rocky beach at that tiny Baptist camp.  Once again tears fell into the lake as I wondered where on earth I fit in this world and why any loving God would take my son.  I felt so insignificant standing there looking out at the crashing waves.  The magnitude of the waves overwhelmed me but also stilled my heart, drowning out all of the extra noise in my head as my husband held me and  I ached in a way that still takes my breath away just remembering.  I didn't leave with answers that day, but I left well loved.

In the past few months I have found myself overwhelmed and growing cynical with a world seemingly gone mad.  Foster care has opened my eyes to stories that have broken my heart, become a part of me and yet are not mine to tell.  We have some big decisions coming up for our sweet foster daughter and beyond ALL else my only hope is that decisions are made with HER best interest in mind.  Life has gotten hurried and full and I have found it difficult to breathe or even take a moment to take care of myself.  I celebrated a birthday this week and was overwhelmingly grateful to have my amazing husband, children and friends as they showered me with gifts, sent me out with friends and gave me space for self care.  Today I found myself walking that narrow road leading to the rocky beach at that very tiny Baptist camp in solitude.  I stood there as waves crashed and it was like the floodgates opened and months of tears fell into the lake as I stood there wondering where on earth I fit in this world and why any loving God would allow such poverty, addiction, abuse and brokenness.  I felt insignificant standing there looking out at the vast lake.  I walked back to the camp where I am currently attending a retreat with some of the most lovely women you could ever meet.  I'll leave here tomorrow with no answers, but I'll leave well loved.  

Honestly, friends, this world makes less and less sense to me each and every day.  I am overwhelmed with heartache for all of the brokenness of the world.  I have made it my mission to enter into the pain of others and just be there and feel it with them, to be there and love them well.  I honestly have a lot of questions about religion but as I sit here tonight my soul still stilled by the sound of the crashing waves, I think the answer is love. I think it might just be that simple.  I think we try to complicate it all with doctrine and laws and rules but the basis of it all should be love and if it isn't, it isn't my God.  Love doesn't always look pretty or feel good, but it is the answer.  We don't always have to agree with each other, we don't have to like everything about each other, but we CAN always love each other well.  SO when I think about religion and how I fit in and what I believe, I am still figuring that out.  I do believe 100% that there is a God and that he loves us and wants us to above all else love each other so until I get the rest figured out (and maybe I never will) I'll just continue to love others well.  Could you help me be part of the answer and love others well too?
"When sorrows like sea billows roll, whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul." - Horatio Spafford

A new command I give you: Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. - John 13:35

Friday, April 14, 2017

"Good" Friday

I sit and write this in my bed as I recover from another melanoma surgery.  Last week I had a mole removed and the doctor assured me if anything it was atypical, so I was a little stunned when the nurse called and said that it was in fact melanoma...again and that I would need to schedule a surgical excision to be sure we got it all.  "This one was caught early" she said.  Somehow that didn't comfort me.  It felt like another battle to fight and while it definitely could be worse, I've been exhausted from fighting battles.

I remember finding out that Asher was not well while I carried him.  It seemed so cruel that I'd have to go through that twice.  I mean, I had the thought that "I had paid my dues".  I praised God despite having to let go of my second born son.  It seemed cruel that I'd have to also let go of my fourth born.    They say lightning doesn't strike the same place twice.  They're wrong.

Death can strike twice, cancer can strike twice, and it leads me to think of how Jesus' people must've felt on Good Friday.  Good Friday couldn't have seemed "good" in any way shape or form.  It had to be agony, it must've felt cruel and crushing, much like the trials we face today.  Good Friday wasn't good.  Sometimes we need to sit with that pain, we need to feel it, let it wash over us.  Brokenness, fear, sickness, and death are all part of this fallen world.  Christ suffered, we suffer.

The truth is, that we can live the Friday and Saturday experiences with hope.  Jesus gave us a beautiful example.  It's Friday, but we KNOW Sunday is coming.  Christ died, but he ROSE.  The rising would not be so powerful without the two days of death.  Jesus overcame death so that we would be able to have the hope that one day all of these trials, these hurts, these battles will be won...maybe not by us, but one day all of the sad things will come untrue, there will be no more hurt, no more fear, no more death.

Jesus died, the tomb was empty, and he was resurrected.  Friends who are living a Friday experience right now, hang tight, hold on and turn your face upward.  I am not sure what it will look like but Friday doesn't last forever, don't lose hope, don't fear that Sunday won't come.  He assures us it will.  It hurts right now, there are so many questions, anger, disappointment, longing, grief and fear.  Allow yourself to feel ALL of them, just don't reside there, feel them and keep on moving on to Saturday, Sunday WILL come.  Beauty will come from ashes.  It may not look anything like what we hoped or expected, but these trials are changing us, they're preparing us for greater things even when they don't feel so great.  You may not feel like you've got this, but He does.  Hold fast.  It's Friday now, but Sunday IS coming.  I don't know all of the answers, or really any, but I know this isn't the end.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017


Nine years ago today, I sat in a hospital room hooked up to monitors, with the crushing knowledge that my sweet fourth son's life was near it's end.  I was taken for a midnight ultrasound to take a look at the umbilical cord as it was suspected that the blood flow was beginning to slow to his body.  My greatest wish was to meet him alive.  I was told it was a long shot, but the doctors promised they'd try.

The ultrasound confirmed that our time was running out and I was bombarded with decisions.  Big decisions.  I am not by nature a decisive person, anyone who knows me knows that any decision causes me pretty great anxiety...ok, maybe not any decisions, there have been some decisions in life I have unequivocally known the way to go...marrying Howard, adopting my kids, those were no brainers.  What kind of mattress to buy...nope.  Hours and hours of research, to be sure I don't make the wrong decision and have to sleep on a lumpy mattress for the rest of my days precede a decision like that.  I am not being dramatic, it really causes me great anxiety, some days I just need someone else to make all of the decisions that I KNOW aren't a big deal but somehow make a big deal.

This day, there was no such person.  Howard and I were faced with what to do next.  We could have a c-section immediately and hopefully meet our boy before he died or we could wait it out and let his lungs mature more giving him a greater chance of longer survival.  Then, once he was born, what measures would be taken, who would be in the room, what would happen next?

We took a breath and decided we wanted to meet our boy, his heart was slowing, and it wasn't looking good.  We made phone calls to our friends and family and let them know they were welcome to come and meet him, we called our favorite NICU nurse, a photographer and our pastor.  We made a plan.  I would deliver the baby and they would close me up ASAP and I would be taken to recovery where his siblings would come in and meet him, followed by grandparents, aunts, and friends.  The photographer would be there all the while capturing every precious moment.

The decisions came easy, we just knew what to do, we have NO regrets about our time with Asher and we somehow got a tiny lifetime out of the thirty minutes he lived.  He met many people and he knew only love.  He died peacefully in our arms and it was a day of tangible love, grace and hope.

Fast forward nine years, tonight I stood in Target and cried a river because for the life of me I could not choose a toothpaste.  Why on earth are there so many choices?  They all do the same job, but what if there is a better one, which one gives me the most for my money?  It is maddening.  I stood there and cried and cried. I finally threw one into the cart and moseyed back to electronics to find Luke.  He could see I'd been crying and he asked what was wrong.  I told him I was overwhelmed picking a toothpaste.  He looked at me and said, "Mom, I doubt it is about the toothpaste. It maybe is because tomorrow is your dead son's birthday."  Maybe.

On the ride home he spoke with wisdom and kindness that made my heart overflow.  We stopped at a drive thru for ice cream and fries.  As we pulled away, I looked at him and said, tomorrow is your brother's birthday.  He handed me a fry and said, "Let's have a fry and cry".  We did.  I sometimes worry about secondary trauma inflicted on our kids because of the things they've lived and continue to live and then my thirteen year old shows me he gets it.  He didn't try to offer meaningless words, he didn't try to fix it.  He handed me a french fry and cried with me as we talked about what a nine year old Asher might be like.

We got home and he helped me carry our bags in and he went to get a shower.  As I was putting things away I heard him soothe the baby back to sleep when she began to fuss and I thought about how lucky I am to have that kid.  He then came out of my bedroom and said, "Mom, I found this kitchen knife lying around in your room, I figured it ought not be there, so maybe just put knives away when you are done using them in your bedroom."  We both laughed, and he hugged me and thanked me for spending the evening with him and as he went to bed he said, "You're a good mom, Asher was really lucky to have you for his whole life."

His whole life.  Asher had his mom and his dad for his whole life, not many of us do.  While I'd do anything to have had him here with me today, and I sure wished he were following me around Target tonight picking out birthday goodies, I had him for 31 weeks, 4 days within my womb and 30 amazing minutes outside.  He had his mom for his whole life and she could not have loved him more.  I'll probably always wish for more, but I know he now wishes for nothing.  He is perfect and whole and with his Heavenly father, and while my body physically aches for him every day, he lives on in us, we are different because he lived.  We know a compassion and a depth of soul that we never would have known without his brief life and while my heart aches, it also bursts with joy and pride that he was mine.  I had him for 30 minutes, he had me forever.  It is well, it is well with my soul.

I'll love you forever, I'll like you for always, as long as I'm living my baby you'll be.

Asher "Happy" Joseph Bolte 2/22/2008

Monday, February 13, 2017

Let Light Shine Out of Darkness

2 Cor 4:2,6 (NIV) We have renounced secret and shameful ways... For God who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," made his light shine in our hearts to give us the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

I don't know about you but these days I look around and I feel overwhelmed.  I see stories of addiction, sexual abuse, mental illness, violence, etc and I wonder what in the world is happening.  I had a conversation with my grandmother about some of these things that were weighing me down and she said that these things were not so rampant in "her day".  I got to thinking.  Is that true?  Are these issues new?

I would argue that they aren't new at all.  Those issues have been around for as long as people have been around I'd guess.  I don't think they are more common today, I think people are getting BRAVE and talking about them.  History tells us that many atrocities happened long ago, I think the difference is that for many years people were silenced.  These were things no one was expected to talk openly about.  When we keep secrets, eventually they will have to come to light...eventually whether they are spoken about or acted out, they come out.

For decades, maybe centuries, people have dealt with all of these issues in silence.  They were inappropriate things to speak of and so they got shoved away, deeper and darker, and in that darkness they fester, they begin to cause rot and decay, the decay spreads and spreads until eventually something comes to light or the rot takes over.  I think this silence and suppression of these issues has caused the infection to grow, it becomes a cycle and the only way to break that cycle is to get honest, open up and address the issues.

An abuse victim shoves their fears and feelings down until they grow and the abusee becomes the abuser, a person struggling with mental illness shoves the shame away until the illness takes over.  A person struggling with addiction continues to feed the addiction until that addiction brings death and destruction.  We can't keep on keeping' on this way...we need to be brave, we need to bring it all to light.  We live in a broken world where terrible things happen and we need to talk about them.  It is time to break the stigma.

I think there are far too many of us carrying around hurts and traumas that we are not meant to carry alone.  I don't know why these things happen to so many, but I know we were never meant to try to handle them alone.  I've been criticized for being so open about my mom's suicide and my own struggle with depression and anxiety.  More than the criticism though I've had people share stories with me that they had previously been unable to share, people who've contemplated their own suicide but found hope in knowing they aren't alone.  My mom's birthday was yesterday and I can't help but think that if she had felt she could share, if she could be honest and bring that darkness to light she might still be here today.

Friends, you aren't alone.  Whatever your struggle, you are never alone.  When we get brave and we share our souls and the deepest darkest parts of them, we allow light to shine into the darkness and the light will cause growth, the rot and decay will stop and true growth and healing can take place.  I think for many generations stigma and taboo won, that must end here.  No more shame, no more stigma, no more taboo, you are loved and you are not alone.  I urge you, whatever your struggle, whether addiction, mental illness, sexual abuse, abuse, anything, reach out to someone who loves you well, bring the darkness to light, take back your power, God can bring beauty from the ashes of any circumstance, but as long as it remains in the dark it will fester and the infection will spread, so bring it to light, let the light shine out of the darkness, I am here, I am with you and I am always honored when you share your stories with me so feel free to email me if you aren't sure who else to share with.

Let's leave a better world for our kids and bring it all to light!

Mat 5:14-15 (Phi) "You are the world's light; it is impossible to hide a town built on top of a hill. Men do not light a lamp and put it under a bucket. They put it on a lampstand, and it gives light for everybody in the house."

Friday, January 20, 2017

It is Personal

On Tuesday of this week, I sat in a cancer center for the day.  It is near the third anniversary of my cancer diagnosis and I am now having annual scans to be sure the cancer doesn't return and if it should, that we catch it before it spreads.  I have written before on my experience in the cancer center.  It is a sacred place.  It is a place where deep sorrow and great hope coincide.  It is a place that unless you've spent time there, you can't really grasp.  While I am a nervous wreck each time I go, I also look forward to going, I could sit and just listen to people share their stories all day and basically I do.

This week was slightly different.  My best friend took me to this appointment so that Howard could keep the wheels turning at home and we headed out once getting kids settled with school or on the bus, I got there, had bloodwork done, had an IV placed and was sent to the basement for radiology (where I would later have to have the darn IV redone, but in the grand scheme I shouldn't complain).  Once in radiology I was separated from my friend and placed in a small room with seven other cancer patients all waiting for scans as well.

Part of the scanning process requires drinking a contrast solution.  It isn't TERRIBLE but it's no margarita.  As I sat there with those seven people we each took turns giving a "cheers" as we received our contrast.  The feeling is one of camaraderie, it isn't a place anyone would choose to be, but there is a solidarity in that room that you won't feel elsewhere.  As we sat and sipped our bottles of yuck, we shared stories.  I sat there in awe of these people.  The resilience, the positivity, the hope was tangible.  A 72 year old man with terminal liver cancer that had spread to his lungs, who by all doctor predictions should've been dead years ago, a 32 year old mom of Muslim faith who was battling stage 3 ovarian cancer, a 54 year old woman on a clinical trial for breast cancer, a 61 year old man battling prostate cancer, a 43 year old man battling stage 4 colon cancer, an 83 year old woman enduring treatment for end stage renal cancer so she could see her first great grandchild be born, and a man who kept to himself and sat quietly in the corner fighting tears.

These are all real people.  Michael, and Adra, and Ethel.  Bob and Ryan and Millie...and the man in the corner, they are parents and spouses and siblings, friends and as we sat there, sharing stories, the news came on.  The fear and sadness in the room was thick as the repeal of the ACA act was being discussed.  Each of these people have a preexisting condition.  Each of these people need expensive medical treatment to live and continue to live.  Each of these people is loved deeply by others.  Each of these people deserve better.

When fighting cancer one should not have to fret about the logistics and financial aspects of their medical care.  They need all of their energy just to show up and fight.  I try not to get political here, as it is never my intention to divide people.  We all need each other and we need opposing views to better each other.  But guys, healthcare shouldn't be a luxury afforded to only the should be a right in America.  All people should get the care they need without going bankrupt or being denied.  These precious people are afraid that changes in healthcare law will ultimately result in their death...this is life and death.  I hope and pray they are wrong, that everything is going to be just fine and that maybe the new president will surprise us all...regardless, I'd challenge any of the politicians of America to spend just a day in a cancer center, listening and truly HEARING people, healthcare reform maybe should start there.

Today a new president takes office.  If you know me, you know he would not in a bajillion years be my choice.  I do not believe he will be a voice for the marginalized, I believe he is a voice for only himself and is a man of no integrity.  I do not believe he has the best interest of the people at heart.  As a mother to girls, to children of different ethnicities, children with special needs, and as a mom with a pre existing condition married to a public school teacher, this is beyond political, it is personal.

 His words and actions thus far give me no hope in his ability.  He is all of the things I pray my children never become, he is in no way a role model I want them to follow, his words have been horrendous, and yet we as a nation write those words off hoping that something shockingly different will be better.  I am a firm believer that words have power and I believe his words have revealed who he is, but I stand today hoping with all I have in me that I am wrong.  I hope he somehow deep deep down has the ability to "Make America Great Again", but friends, this job is too important to leave it up to him.  We have to stand up and speak out.  We have to be unafraid to be a voice for those who need one and to stand up for what is right and just.

We cannot give up now, we have to make our own corners of the world better, world change begins kind to each other but keep fighting the good fight and do not grow weary.  The battle begins now.  It's ok to be sad today, but tomorrow we begin the hard work ahead of us, God is still in control and we have the power to make a difference...let's do it.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Walking/Driving After Midnight

We are all probably pretty familiar with the phenomenon where you hear a song and it is able to transport you back into a moment of the past because the song played at a significant time in your life.  It evokes the same emotions, feelings, moods, vivid memories flood back.  It is much more than just nostalgia, it doesn't necessarily make you yearn for the past, it transports you there.

Twenty nine years ago, my mother ended her life.  A single bullet and it was over in that instant.  She'd suffered with depression and I suspect other mental health struggles for maybe forever.  She had a traumatic childhood herself and despite her best effort she was not able to overcome the demons that continued to haunt her.  She planned her death in great detail.  I was nine, I had no idea what was happening at the time but looking back it takes my breath away.

The events surrounding her death were extremely traumatic for me.  I didn't realize until I was in my thirties just how traumatic they were.  I began seeing a therapist and discovered I was struggling with PTSD.  I had almost no memories of the first decade of my life.  When I turned the age my mother was when she died, memories suddenly began flooding me at inopportune times.  Feelings and traumas I had never dealt with were demanding my attention.  I have continued therapy and worked on dealing with those issues and feelings in addition to taking medication to combat some of the same demons my mother fought for so long.  I am not ashamed.  If nothing else, my mom surely taught me a heartbreaking lesson.  I will continue to get help and fight for my life for as long as I live.

I am in a much healthier place today.  I hold little resentment I once clung to and I am able to see through my own experience, the struggles she faced.  For as long as I remember, I've had a strong connection to Classic Country music, mostly women.  Patsy Cline, Crystal Gayle, Tammy Wynette, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton all hold a sacred place in my heart.  One memory I have that is a positive one is that my mother was a singer.  She was talented, and she loved to sing.  She would put records on and dance and sing around the house almost daily when she was well...and she would sit and sing and cry when she wasn't.

On our most recent vacation to Myrtle Beach, we drove through the night.  I am by nature a night person.  I enjoy the quiet and stillness of the night and I function best in darkness.  I pulled up my playlist on my iPod.  The rest of the family was sound asleep and I drove through the hills of West Virginia and Virginia while I sang my heart out.  It was maybe the most therapeutic thing I have ever done.  I started with "Walking After Midnight", tears fell down my cheeks as I sang the words, remembering my mom singing that song all of the time.  It transported me back to a moment of her holding my hands and dancing with me in our living room.  Her smile, her long blonde hair, and her chunky cardigan sweater were almost tangible.

My playlist continued, Crazy, Harper Valley PTA, Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue, Islands in the Stream, Jolene, Stand By Your Man, Delta Dawn, I Don't Wanna Play House, I Fall to Pieces, She's Got You, Coal Miner's Daughter, Fist City, and the list goes on.  I've had this playlist on my iPod for as long as I can remember, I guess as long as I've had an iPod.  There are so many moments in my life I yearn for my mom...for her advice, for her help, just for her presence.  It was on that drive well after midnight, as I sang Walking After Midnight along with Patsy that it occurred to me that those records were soothing to my mom's soul, and today, they soothe mine.  I miss her.  Every day I miss her.  I have missed out, she has missed out, my family is missing out...but in a way, she continues to mother me through music.  It might seem silly, but as I listen to those songs, I can hear her voice, in those moments she is with me.  I sure wish I still had those records, but for today, I am grateful for iTunes for bringing my mom back to me in a small way when I really need her.  It is comforting to be transported to those moments, dancing and singing in our living room and let's be honest, most of those songs teach a pretty good motherly lesson and there's something to be said for the sound of a fiddle, a banjo or a steel guitar.  ;)

"I go out walkin' after midnight, out in the moonlight, just like we used to do, I'm always walking' after midnight searchin' for you."

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Take Care of One Another

"We must absolutely take care of one another.  It does take a village, but we have to be a village first. We have to take care of each other's children."  - Ruby Bridges

We've been studying a bit in our homeschool studies about activists who have made a difference.  One of the most recent people being Ruby Bridges.  I read this quote and it resonated with me so deeply.  Things in the Bolte house have been good.  Everyone is doing pretty well, we had an amazing Christmas vacation and things have been relatively uneventful.  Nevertheless, I am tired.

I don't just mean I could use a nap kind of tired, though a nap would be nice, it would not come close to alleviating the bone numbing exhaustion I suffer from.  Raising six kids, two who are currently very active in sports, two with some significant special needs, a dramatic seven year old and infant is a lot.  Each day I find myself more overwhelmed and tired than the last.

Raising special needs kids is something I never realized was as intense as it is.  It feels like every day is a battle and many days, I feel like I am losing.  Decisions are made every minute of every day that have to be thought through in their entirety or the consequences can send us in a downward spiral or worse.  I have a child who does not correlate cause and effect, has no respect for boundaries and has no fear, she has to be supervised every single minute of every single day. My kids have to be wearing the right pants, their socks have to be just right, their backpacks packed with the appropriate tools (wiggle seat, sensory soothers, books, etc) to help them be successful for a day in school, and the list goes on.

I wake up in the morning, feed the baby and try to chug a cup of coffee while it is remotely warm, when this fails, I'll later pour the coffee over ice and pretend I intended it to be that way.  I wake Jacob and Lily and get them dressed for the day.  This can go well, but more often than not I've chosen the wrong pants or the wrong socks or we want to wear three dresses at once.  When it comes to wardrobe, if it is weather appropriate, I typically don't fight that battle, I pack backpacks, making sure each kid has what they need to be the most successful on the bus and at school.  I brush hair and teeth and hope the bus comes on time because it is all a delicate balance.

Once they are safely on the bus, I walk back up the driveway where I hear the baby screaming because she cannot see me and I've gone outside in the 10 degree weather without her.  I come in and scoop her up and check emails for the day, I return emails to caseworkers, teachers, therapists, biological parents, grandparents and other service providers.  Most days there is then a doctor appointment or caseworker appointment or therapy appointment to deal with.  I wake the other kids and they get breakfast, (which I am learning to have them do for themselves, clean up, get dressed and brush teeth, they then begin work on their homeschool checklist for the day that I have prepped at an hour no one should see.

We get the schoolwork done, read books, play games, create things, while I juggle a baby, dinner plans, bills, and phone calls from caseworkers, school, therapists, etc.  at 3:30, I realize I have forgotten the second cup of coffee I made and just pour it over ice and suck it down.  The bus comes and two four year olds who have mostly held it together all day come home in tasmanian devil fashion.  They blow through the door and it all falls apart, I spend time trying to decipher their behavior and what it means and how to help them, I lose my patience, I begin again, I finally send everyone to separate areas with a  screen, because I am human.

Howard comes home, we sit down to eat (I won't even try to describe dinner chaos, but imagine feeding a herd of finicky tyrannosaurus rex, it resembles that), Howard kisses me and out the door he goes to coach either Luke or Ben, sometimes both.  I clean up dinner whilst refereeing UFC style four year old brawls, and wrestle them to the tub where I assembly line bathe the three youngest children, lotion them up, brush teeth, read stories, snuggle and tuck them in, clean up the bathroom, sit down, get up, tuck kids back in, repeat.  Oversee showering of older kids, laundry, food prep for the next day, feed the baby, lie down to watch The Daily Show and promptly fall asleep.

I am sure that is not even it and that is just a normal day not a day where the s#it hits the fan.  It is exhausting and overwhelming, and amazing and rewarding.  Not a day goes by that someone doesn't look at me very seriously and say, "I don't know how you do it all" or "I think you are taking on too much" or "you can't save the world".  The thing is...maybe I can't save the world, but I can make the world better for a few, so I will keep just doing that.  Just because I can't do all things for all people doesn't mean I should do nothing.  These days the world praises independence, not having to lean on others, we are missing our village and I am a product of a village of adults who cared enough to invest in me when my own mom was missing.  I might be tired, but I'll keep doing that for as many as I can, because these kids, they are amazing gifts and they have so much to offer the world, they make ME better, and maybe, just maybe the village starts with me.  The tears, exhaustion and sleepless nights are more than worth it.  We have to stop viewing kids as other people's children and a burden.  They're all our children and our future.  Let's stop blaming and shaming and making parents feel they aren't doing enough, lets take care of each other and each other's children. Parenting is hard. Extend grace. Lend a hand. Be the village.  World change is going to start there.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Unrealisitc Expectations are Premeditated Resentments

The first decade of my life was spent in a home filled with love but also expectations.  High expectations, often unattainable expectations.  My mom was a perfectionist, and it wasn't quite as much that she wanted things to be perfect, but she wanted things to at least APPEAR perfect.  She did a great job of this.  From the outside looking in, we probably looked near to perfection as a family.

Appearances can be deceiving.  My mom was struggling with mental health and as a result every one in the house was also struggling.  I am still trying to piece my childhood together and heal from the trauma unintentionally inflicted upon me by the one who supposedly loved me most and in her own way, she did.  I am grateful in my life to have learned that there is One who DOES love me most.

I often find myself struggling with those expectations my mother held, wanting the world to see the family of beautiful well behaved, well groomed children, wanting to put on a picture perfect view of our family.  I mean we're a good looking crew, but it is a mirage.  We are a crew of broken people hobbling our way through life the best way we know how, we have nothing really figured out, we spend our days changing diapers, making meals, cleaning endless messes and feeling like we are botching all of it.

We want to send our kids into the world and have others see our kids as lovely, obedient little genius rockstars.  We often measure our success by their ability to do this.  As my kids grow, I am learning that especially my kids who come from a more traumatic beginning, cannot live up to that expectation.  They have big feelings, big fears and lack the coping skills to shove it all under the rug the way my brain has been wired to do.  Their brains are wired quite differently.

Brain science tells us that early trauma affects kids...even babies.  Stressful pregnancy, drug use, neglect, poverty, all of these things play a role in how the brain of a person is wired from the very beginning.  There are six kids who currently call me mom, each of them with their own unique brain wiring, with their own strengths and weaknesses.  Somehow when we get a compliment on our parenting or on our kids' behavior it validates us, makes us feel as though we are succeeding.

One of my children has been struggling...especially in school.  For months, behavior reports, bus suspensions, and teacher phone calls have been keeping my anxiety level above 100.  The feeling of failure overwhelms me.  I adopted her.  I love her.  I want to save her from all of this.  I want her to succeed, and if SHE succeeds, then I have succeeded.

I have been at the end of my rope, unsure of what to to next for her.  I want the whole world to see her the way I see her.  I want them to see a ray of sunshine, a walking rainbow, a beautiful girl who is beating the odds.  They see behavior.  She cannot put on the facade most of us learn to put on.  She wears it ALL on her sleeve, her joy, her frustration, her sadness, her anger, all of it.  I have felt helpless and alone, and I can't really even imagine how it feels to be her.

I sat in a child psychologist's office with her this week, desperate for hope, desperate for answers.  What I got was a little bit different.  It was an emotional appointment as we discussed all of my little girl's strengths and weaknesses, her struggles and her past, but when I left that office, I left with a gift.  I left with a feeling of having ACTUALLY been heard.  I left with a peace that that woman saw my daughter as I see her.  She saw the amazing, brilliant and sweet little girl I love, and she saw her struggles.  Never did a look of annoyance cross her face just compassion and understanding.

My girl responded well to her and obviously so did I.  I didn't realize how much I just needed someone to HEAR me, not to downplay my concerns or to blame poor discipline, but to HEAR me. Expectations are a good thing, and we should hold high expectations of our kids but we need to make sure they are realistic.  This woman "got" my girl.  Her expectations for her were high and appropriate.  She helped me to see that my success as her mom has nothing to do with my daughter's perceived success in the world.

As I drove home, tears ran down my cheeks as I came to the realization that success looks different for different people.  I cannot spend my days worrying about the years ahead.  I must spend my days in this moment, helping my kids find their own success for today.  I cannot be their savior.  That job is already taken.  I can be their mom.  Their cheerleader, their biggest advocate.  The fight is long and the fight is hard.  I am exhausted, but one day at a time, I will choose love and compassion.  I will still get spit at, and kicked and screamed at.  I am parenting children who need to release those feelings and they feel safe to do it with me, even though it hurts.  I will snuggle them and reassure them, I will discipline them by teaching them the way they need to be taught and let go of what the world thinks I should be doing, because if they've got it figured out, then they should be doing it.

So, parents out there, parents of special needs kids, kids from hard places, kids who've endured trauma.  I see you.  I hear you, and I am with you.  You'll find no judgement here, we're all limping along as best we can.  We might as well do it together.  Let's redefine success, let's continue to raise happy kids who feel loved and live up to their own greatest potential...whatever that looks like.  Hold those expectations high, but attainable.  I raise my coffee mug to you, one day at a time, and sometimes just moment by moment, we can do this, it is a hard and sacred job, but we are blessed to do it.

                                                       Photo by Holly Jane Photography

Monday, November 14, 2016

A Walk Down Memory Lane

In September of 2012 we began our journey into the foster care world. It has been a roller coaster for sure and there have been many moments when I have just wanted to throw in the towel, but overall it has been amazingly rewarding and I am so grateful to have this opportunity to be just a small part of what God is doing in the world. Our first foster care placement was a 3 week old baby girl. I fell fast and hard for her, she was like an extra appendage of my body and could be found in my arms at all times. Just three weeks after we met her, a case worker drove to my house, with her mom, who loves her VERY much, and I had to hand her back to the woman who grew her in her womb. It was bittersweet loading that girl's belongings into the car that day. I hugged her mom, we both cried and I hit my knees praying that they would be able to be together forever.

Over the next few weeks we accepted a sibling set who were with us just a week and another baby girl who had been born the SAME day as that first baby girl. This baby girl left us to be with her grandparents on November 13th around 7 pm. They picked her up, thanked us and even called me later that night to go over her bedtime routine. My heart was sore but grateful. It was so amazing to be a safe place for kids and to get to see them reunite with biological family. Nevertheless, they became a part of our family instantly and we have missed each of the children who have been in our home. We pray for them each day and try to stay in touch when appropriate.

The morning of November 14th I got a phone call from the agency for a little boy. I told the worker that I needed to think about it as I kind of felt my heart needed a breather. It wasn't like me to hesitate but for a reason unknown to me at that time, I just didn't feel ready. I thought of and prayed for that little guy throughout the day and figured I'd call that afternoon to see if he'd been placed.

Just before lunch time, the phone rang again. It was the agency again, I hesitated to answer, but they never pressured me into taking a placement so I figured it must have been something else. I answered the phone and the sweet worker on the other end, said I wasn't going to believe what she was about to say so I maybe should sit. She explained that after an unfortunate series of events, that very first baby girl we'd fallen in love with was coming back into the system today if she could be found and she knew how much we loved her and she wondered if we'd want to be her foster home again.

Tears of joy and sorrow streamed down my face as I said yes. I hung up the phone, called Howard and started to prepare for her. I waited on pins and needles all day for a phone call saying they'd found her and that I needed to come get her. We continued to wait, the kids were elated and so excited to see her again. Just before midnight that night, I got a call, I left instantly and picked our girl up at a local Burger King parking lot. To this day we joke that babies don't come from storks, but Burger King.

We brought her home and bathed her, snuggled her and cried. We wondered what had happened. We knew her mother loved her deeply, and was surely heartbroken. I won't share any of her mom's story as it isn't mine to share, but she is a kind and loving person and she loves her children and we love her. As it turns out, this baby girl is our daughter Lily Grace. She is a ray of sunshine in our every day and challenges us constantly. We are grateful that she is now forever ours, and we grieve the loss she continues to feel even though she doesn't quite understand it. As foster parents we believe it is incredibly important for kids to know their roots. Lily has seen her first mom when possible and is building a relationship with her biological grandma, great grandma and sisters. It has been an overwhelmingly amazing honor to be able to watch her story unfold. She was our first foster care placement and is now our forever daughter. She is loved by all of us incredibly and also by her biological family.

I pray my Burger King baby will always know how loved she has been all along and not a day goes by that I don't pray for her first mother. November 14 marks the day that Lily came back to us but also the day she was separated from her natural mother forever. We rejoice and we grieve and I think we will probably always dance between the two of those as we navigate this foster care/adoption world, but as you read this story of God's plan for Lily, consider if He'd also have you play this part in the life of a child or a family who needs a safe place for their child even temporarily. It is definitely not for everyone, but could it be for you?

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The Body Remembers

I've been struggling this past week with anxiety more than is typical for me.  Things are going well, Howard is home for summer and we've been having a great time together as a family.  There is nothing major going on that should cause additional anxiety in fact I SHOULD be having less...and so then that thought plays over and over in my mind causing an anxiety snowball.

Tonight I had a couple of moments to myself to decompress as I cleaned up the basement.  The littles were sleeping and those who were awake were happily engaged in some activity otherwise.  I've struggled with PTSD in the past several years and ended up seeking treatment for the flashbacks and lack of sleep I was experiencing, things have been significantly better, but this week things have been kind of tough.

We all know about flashbacks, suddenly a memory floods your brain taking complete control sometimes seeming so real that you struggle physically.  You see the entire event replay so clearly in your mind.  It is less common however to realize that our body remembers these events as well.  It isn't only our brains that suffer from trauma.  Trauma affects EVERY cell of our being.  Those cells all have the capacity to recall the trauma.

This week I've been feeling a bit like I've been hit by a truck and as I spent time allowing myself to feel those feelings and figure out what was going wrong, I realized that this week, is the 2.5 year mark since my cancer diagnosis.  Strangely as each of my six month oncology appointments approaches, my arm will ache and I find myself checking lymph nodes more often because I'm just so achy.  My body remembers cancer.  My body remembers a large chunk of flesh being cut from my left arm and sewn back together under great tension.  My body remembers the lymph nodes being removed from under that same arm and the more I fight those feelings, the worse they tend to get.  I've learned (with therapy) that the best way to cope is just to allow myself to feel the feelings, even if they're scary and even if it gets worse before it gets better.

This week I will head to the Clinic, have my oncology appointment and hopefully be 2.5 years "no evidence of disease" from stage 2 melanoma.

As I continued to process my feelings and give myself the space to just be present in them, I also thought about how this week is Isaac's eleventh birthday.  Eleven years ago to this date I was carrying my second born son safely in my womb unaware that ANYTHING could go wrong.  I had a nursery prepared, and we were so very ready for his safe arrival, when the bottom all fell out on July 14, 2005 and my world changed dramatically forever.

My body remembers.  These memories are ones I am never quick to push aside.  Unlike my cancer memories, these memories are ones I savor and wish I could relive just once more, I wish I could make better use of the time I had and be more prepared for what was about to come.  I miss that boy something fierce and my body literally aches for him around this time each year.  It is a bittersweet ache because while I still grieve him, that aching is proof that he lived and that he mattered.  Sometimes I struggle to move through these aches and pains because in a different way it feels comforting to just revel in the tangible evidence of his absence.

For tonight, I will sit and just allow my emotions, mind, body and spirit to just be and feel all of the things I need to feel for now.  Sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself is just be, be gentle, be kind and be present with yourself and that is my plan this week.  As I head to the Cancer Center this week and celebrate the 11th birthday of my second son, I will be mindful, gentle and kind.

  I guess I share all of this to remind everyone, we've all got some type of baggage and trauma, and you sure aren't alone in that.  The world seems to be going mad. God created each of us with the capacity to take care of ourselves but we weren't meant to do it alone, so as trauma continues to affect us individually and as a society, let's be a little more gentle, a little more kind and a little more present with ourselves and with each other.  The world is a tough place, a kind word and a gentle smile go a long way.  Let's feel all of the feelings and allow others to feel all of the feelings, let's judge less and love more, the body remembers, each cell remembers, let's give them good memories.