Sunday, February 22, 2015

Seven Years

Seven years ago today, I sat in a hospital bed, pregnant with my fourth child, a son. The son for which this blog was created, our sweet Happy. I will never forget the doctor coming in to tell me that despite my every effort, my body was failing our boy. He was no longer getting adequate blood flow from the umbilical cord and if I wanted a chance to meet him alive, he'd be born that very day.

February 22, 2008 was one of the most profound days of my life. We were so well loved and surrounded by people who prayed us through and welcomed our boy. It was a day of tangible love and peace. Our son was born and placed immediately into his daddy's arms and was able to meet all of his family and many friends before he was embraced by the arms of his Heavenly Father.

Letting go of that boy was agonizing. I struggled to memorize EVERY feature of his tiny face, I breathed him in for as long as I could hoping that somehow that feeling would be engrained in my soul long enough for this not to shatter my heart into a million pieces.

I'd let go before. Our son Isaac was born in July of 2005 and died six short days later. I spent the majority of that time in shock and struggled to make sense of all that was happening and that shock prevented me from REALLY breathing him in, it kept me from fully embracing each moment because I was terrified of the future. In a way, Isaac taught me how to love his brother better. Because of Isaac, I was able to love Asher more fully and make sure there were no regrets.

Both boys knew only love. But after loving Isaac and letting go and feeling I might literally die of heartache, yet finding that God and His people carried me until I could walk again, I was able to trust that prior experience and love with a reckless abandon that I'd never known. I was able to embrace Asher and all of the joy and pain that came with the gift of him.

As I sit here on what would have been his seventh birthday, my heart still aches. Tears still fall and I sometimes struggle to catch my breath, but I know God is there, I know He will provide the comfort and the grace for each day. I wish more than anything that my boys were both still with me, but that was not His plan.

The more I think about them, the more I realize the magnitude and significance of their short lives. Because of them, I am not afraid to love and let go, I have a deeper peace in knowing that even when it feels like I might die of heartache, God will use that pain and bring beauty from it. It was in our boys honor that we decided to foster. It has never been our goal to replace those sweet treasures, but to honor them well. To parent them as best we can even in death, and we felt God calling us to love other children in need in their absence. Because we know God will not let us die of heartache, because He has taught us to love so fully not knowing what the future holds, we are able to be a family for those who need one even if for just a time, we are able to give our whole selves to them even knowing they might leave and we may never again see them.

They deserve someone to breathe them in, to memorize their faces and to wipe their tears. I am beyond humbled that that someone is me. We are no longer afraid of the pain of letting go because if it hurts, it means they were well loved and that is the ultimate goal. We have learned to trust God so fully that our pain is secondary to all else...we know that even in our agony, there is purpose and beauty if we make an effort to not let it harden our hearts, but to soften them, we don't become exempt from the pain, we'll never be immune, but we learn to live with it, to embrace it and to even be thankful for it because it grows us, it brings us closer together, closer to Him and He ALWAYS brings purpose from it. This lesson, taught to me by a sweet 4 pound 1 ounce baby boy aptly named Asher.

Happy Birthday sweet Asher Joseph, I could not be any more proud to be your mama.  I'll love you forever, I'll like you for always, as long as I'm living, my baby you'll be.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Keeping it 100

A couple of weeks ago, as I was hauling children and carrying out the mundaneness of life, my husband sent a text message. It read, "What are you passionate about? What makes you want to get up in the morning?" I will admit that I was annoyed when I read it, I mean, I don't have time to ponder such big things. I cook meals, I clean up, I wipe butts, I give hugs and I settle fights, lather rinse repeat.

I responded with, "my family", to which he called me out...telling me that was a cop out...he knows I love my family and serve them with all I have.

We let it go at that but the question was in the back of my head...each day I'd revisit that text conversation, it bothered me that I couldn't give a deep answer. It made me wonder where I'd lost myself and who I even was anymore. That's Howard for you, always going there, always pushing me and asking the hard questions.

I thought about all of the things I've been passionate about in life but I felt like reality had beat every one out of me. I wipe tears and butts all day long. I do nothing of great significance, I live my life, I go through the motions but I am not making any great differences, I am not fighting poverty or serving in a third world country or volunteering at the local food bank. I am so tired most days that I can barely drag myself out of bed let alone want to wake up for something.

I thought about my life, I've endured losing my mom, the loss of two sweet baby boys, adoption, foster care and cancer and those are just the big ones. When I was diagnosed with cancer, perspective came, I was just glad to be alive and with my kids each day I haven't been searching for anything bigger or better or more grand.

Then a night last week we found out that a co-worker of Howard's had lost the baby she'd been carrying for nine months, he would be still born that night. My heart was so broken, my eyes full of tears and I paced the house wracking my brain for what I could DO. I called the NILMDTS photographer who did Asher's photos to see if he could go and take some pictures for them. Initially he thought he could but when the time came, he wasn't able to be there, after a message or two with a few local friends who have lost babies themselves, we found a wonderful photographer willing to go. We raced to get ready to get there and when the time came, the mom wanted to be alone, no extra people in the room, and I totally remember that feeling, so after having a cup of tea with a friend, I drove to the hospital and I sat in the parking lot and I just prayed. I didn't even have any words, I just cried out knowing the Lord knew my heart...and the heart of this sweet family.

A few nights later I'd stopped at one of my dearest friend's house to gather a few of my children who'd been playing there. As we were chatting she got a phone call for a foster placement of a sweet three year old girl. I offered to drive her to the agency to pick the little girl up so she could ride in the back of the van with her. We got to the agency and the fear was tangible. Three sisters being separated and pulled from all they knew. Fear and tears in their eyes they waited in a sterile office for the person who would care for them for the time being. We walked in and our eyes met theirs and my heart shattered. I wanted nothing more than to take all three of them myself to keep them together but there is a six kid limit in foster care and if you have six kids in your home you can't take on more, which is why they were being separated.

As we loaded the sweet girl's things and buckled her into a strange van to take her to a place far from anything she knew, she screamed in terror, she screamed for about 15 minutes before my sweet friend was able to calm and reassure her, we offered Happy Meals and Dora and anything we could think of to make things just a tiny bit easier for her. My heart was so broken that night I couldn't sleep, so I sat up praying for that family an everyone involved in the case.

Howard was sound asleep, but in that moment, I sent him a text, it read, "You know how you asked me what I am passionate about, and what makes me want to get up in the morning? This is it. I am living it. Helping and praying for hurting families and children, and it is what I do in my every day. The wiping of butts, the settling of fights, and hugs and the wiping away tears...that IS what I was meant to do. I am doing it. It feels mundane and like none of it matters, but it matters the MOST."

The next day he text back, "That's keeping it 100". (We watch the Nightly Show on Comedy Central most nights, and Larry Wilmore has a show and one of the segments is one called "Keeping it 100" and he is asked questions and has to keep it 100 percent real.)

Sometimes in life, it all gets to be mundane and exhausting, but it is often those moments that are the most defining. Motherhood is so hard. Mothering hurt children is unimaginably hard and there are many days full of therapists and social workers and biological families and lawyers and tantrums and tears, but it matters. It may not appear as grand as serving in a third world country, but we are all called to different things, and my mission my home. It is HERE that I will make a difference. It won't bring me fame or fortune, but it will bring eternal glories...if I am keeping it 100, friends, this life is so hard, so exhausting and so overwhelming, but it is SO worth it. I am living the dream...right smack in the middle of God's will...and there is no better place to be. SOMETIMES I get to love and pray for those who are also going through tough times, I get to comfort with the comfort that has been shown to me and in those moments, I am able to see from the outside and I am so grateful.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Foster Parenting and Marriage

It has been a while since I have felt I had anything much to write.  Most days by the time I get a few minutes where I could write, I am so depleted and exhausted that I feel I don't have anything left to give.  Writing helps me focus.  It helps me concentrate on the beauty within the difficulty and I need to carve that time out to make that happen.

As I sat down today and thought hard about what my greatest blessings are, I overwhelmingly could not stop thinking about Howard.  We have been married for going on fourteen years now.  I remember reading statistics about how the loss of a child affects a marriage and the divorce rate for those couples is significant.  Most stresses do have a negative affect on a marriage and after losing two children, a cancer diagnosis and just the every day stresses of life, we continue on the roller coaster of foster care which is kind of a definition of stress in and of itself.  

Like any relationship our marriage has had its ups and downs for sure and we've had our share of arguments and dry spells, but I can tell you that while foster care and adoption do add stress to our marriage, they have also solidified it in a way I am not sure would be possible otherwise.  Each day I watch this man love these six children.  He loves each of them with a reckless abandon, knowing we aren't promised another day with any of them.

Three of these children share his DNA, and three of them do not and when it comes to loving them...there is no difference.  Watching my husband selflessly love children born to other parents, some of whom we will only love for a short time, has been such a powerful force in our marriage.  I stand in awe of the testimony he is living out.  He adores each of these sweet blessings and for the time they are with us, they are his own.  He celebrates their every milestone and sets such an amazing example.

I've never known a better husband or father than this one right here.  He is loving and firm and constant, he is always available and slow to anger.  He is even tempered and rational when I am not.  He is the yin to my yang.  He is an encourager and a teacher. His arms are a safe place for each of these sweet babies and for me.  He always puts us before himself and is continually trying to help lighten my load in any way he can.

This current foster care case we are involved in is a tough has been stressful and has wreaked havoc on our lives, and each time I want to throw in the towel, he gently reminds me why we do what we do, he directs my eyes back to our Father who has called us to do this.  All children deserve a stable and loving place to be.

Foster care is so hard, but so is life and it is all worth it.  I can easily see how foster care could cause a great deal of wear and tear on a marriage, but for me I am grateful that the changes it has caused in mine are ones of strength and beauty.  I mean there really is nothing sexier than a man loving his babies...especially ones that don't share his genetics, right?  ;)