Saturday, September 17, 2011

Flash

Yesterday I had a flash.

Sort of like a firework behind my eyes, only I couldn't see it. I just knew that one moment my mind was dark and the next, truth seemed to be exploding and shining light into the dim places.

It was one of those afternoons when the dread of "out of control" was washing over me.

I was hunting for a piece of paper.

To make a list.

Or four lists.

Or maybe just to make a note of "be better at everything" lest I forget that I'm not living up to my unrealistic and unholy expectations of myself.

One particular relationship in our house has been draining me for weeks. I was tired and worn out by the frustration and consumed by a "fix." The kind of consumed where your mind can't rest. You start by thinking about the problem. And thinking and thinking about it. Then you urge yourself to find a solution so you aren't just one of those perpetual whiners. But your search for a solution takes you on a bumpy road, filled with potholes and signs that bear all of your insecurities and paint in bright colors the fears that YOU, in fact, are the source of the frustration to begin with. So if you want to fix it, you have to start by knocking yourself all to pieces and then rebuild yourself as a new, in control woman.

Control.

When I get flustered, I want control.

I want a list to tell me how to get that control.

To make order.

To own and manipulate.

As I simultaneously lamented my failures and clung to the abilities that I believed could put me back into a sense of controlled, or controlling, well-being, I had the flash.

I realized that when I am overcome by a weight of "out of control" it means that I have tried to take something that is not mine.

When I can't settle into my life and relax in the ebb and flow of my days, it means that I have abandoned what has been very specially planned and saved for me while I'm on this earth and traded it for a heavy, impossible load.

When I take something that belongs in God's hands, and try to trap it into my own, I upset the balance of my relationship with the Creator.

It should come as no surprise that I feel out of control.

I never had control.

And in actuality, it sure sounds a lot better to know that someone who is everywhere and knows everything and can do anything is the one who is leading this pony.

Why on earth would I actively choose to spend my days in a frenzy, making lists to tell me what to do, how to change, what to stop and what to start? Why not, instead, when I feel that so-very-strong temptation to take something that is not mine, could I not realize what I've done and open my hands immediately.

My temptation, when feeling unsettled, is to curl up into a tight ball and hold what I think is mine close to my chest with my body ridged and weary around it. Who would have imagined that the solution would be instead to expand and stretch and open my arms to allow all that is not mine, all that I should have not tried to control in the first place, to go. To be in someone else's hands. To be in the hands of one much more capable than I.

Can I tell you, when I realized this, I was in my bathroom. I was trying to catch my breath and find my bearings and trying to shake off the soul-crushing weight of being a failure at making my life fit into my skewed understanding of "good."

I saw the pop of light and watched the little trickles of glitter fall over my weary mind and my heart that was bruised by the heavy load I had been trying to hold.

I made a decision to open my hands and drop my list and believe that God loves me.

When I left the bathroom, the difficulties were still there.

But so was peace.

I haven't fixed anything. The things that were hard before I went into the bathroom are still hard. The difference is, I feel more agile and sure footed when walking this trail.

The difference is, when I look at the trouble, I don't need to fix it.

My breath comes easily, in and out, trusting that as I take the time to breathe, God is caring, and participating, and holding all that is his, handing me beautiful pieces to look after as he sees fit.

My habit of holding too much has taken its toll, and I am sure that I have some recovering and restoring to do, but I see another way of approaching life. With my feet shod with the readiness of God's peace, I plan to walk in it.

Care to join me?

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Conundrum

I've got a serious dilemma.

We're talking big.

As in the decision I make regarding this problem could potentially change the outcome of my whole life.

Oh what I wouldn't give for a sarcasm font.

In the grand scheme of things, what I'm facing is miniscule, but isn't it so strange how the very smallest of things somehow grow into monsters in our lives?

Maybe that is just me.

Anyway. My problem.

My problem is that I am this close to swearing off Target.

I know. I KNOW!

Not Target entirely, just their clothing section.

I have been avoiding the final shutting of my heart-doors toward the colorful and affordable mama-meca, but this morning just might have thrown the last straw on this camel's back.

Most of my wardrobe comes from Target. EVERYTHING that I have purchased since starting my new life as a foster mom has come from Target.

Why?

Well, the major factor is that if I want to shop at a real clothing store it requires weeks of planning and arranging to find a time to go (no sarcasm font needed here). It is much more convenient for me to take a scan of the selection on the first trip to Target in a week, notice what I like, and then quickly grab what I'm interested in on the second trip of the week and try it on.

It breaks the shopping process into two parts, making it manageable with kids in tow, which they almost always are.

The second reason is that with $17 for a cardigan (I confess a deep and librarian-like love of cardigans) I get instant gratification. I don't have to save up for what I want. $20 here or there doesn't seem like a big deal, whereas if I journey to the Loft (see... I should have been a librarian) or Macy's or some darling boutique, I have to go prepared with the reality that a single twenty isn't going to get me ANYTHING and that my stack of twenties is going to get me very little.

But here is the problem. Over the last few months I have purchased a few items from my standby, Target: two dresses, one pair of shorts, a workout top and a few clearance tank tops.

Within the first wash both dresses AND the workout top were destroyed. Gentle cycle, hang dry... the dresses both looked like they disintegrated in water and the sports top lost the entire seam along the bottom.

I exchanged the dresses and brought home new ones that have fared a little better.

But today I was ironing my shorts and realized that again something that I had recently purchased, and taken extra care with, had fallen apart.

Argh!

I'm mad.

The reality is, if I have to replace items every month, I'm not saving time OR money.

Target is the only place I know of that sells the perfect shade of green (bright but not too limey) so I may have to deal with a change in my expectation of color-selections... but friends, I think I'm over the concentric red circles for my clothing.

Am I being too dramatic?

Too harsh?

Expecting too much?

Please talk me off this ledge if I'm out of line because if you don't, this long-time relationship is over!




Friday, August 19, 2011

Happy Birthday Andy!



I married a wonderful man.

You may have picked up on it, but I'm pretty fond of my husband.

You may have also picked up
from the two above photos
that Andy likes the Huskies,
and his black sweatshirt...

Today is his 30th birthday.

Mostly, Andy is pretty unaffected by life. He takes things with an easy stride and quiet resolve. This birthday milestone is no different.

When a friend asked him how he felt about turning 30 Andy just shrugged and said that he was okay with it, that it made him feel like a valid adult now.

Before I had even met Andy I remember telling a girlfriend that if I ever got married (I was one of those I could be single forever gals - not a man-hater, just someone who was pretty comfortable as a single) I wanted to marry a "man."

When I said it, I meant someone with strong hands, a deep voice and big muscles who wasn't afraid to get dirty, especially while changing my oil and mowing the lawn.

But as I have discovered more and more of the treasure inside of my husband, I realized that although Andy does have lovely, rock-hard muscles and a swagger in his manly step, those are not the qualities that cause me to think of him as a man.

We have just had a new near-17-year-old boy move into our house. He is a BEAST! Six-something feet tall and a good 250lbs. Linebacker material (for other women whose husbands do not watch sports, the linebacker is the big-guy on the football team). He stomps around the house challenging everyone, throwing his weight (quite literally) and bragging about how he is twice the man that Andy is.

Confession:
The first two weeks
I was SO
irritated by this peacock
attitude.
I really wanted to put him in his place
and point out all his shortcomings
until the spirit in me that loves Jesus
fluttered enough to catch my attention
and remind me
that this show of arrogance
is most likely masking
some deep wound.
His hurt will never be healed
by my pointing out his failures
over and over.

The contrast between this boy and my man is so startling. I wish so badly that I could make our giant kid understand that masculinity is not a matter of size, it is a matter of character.

If there were ever a magic trick that could make teen boys actually listen to what I said, I would use it in this relationship. I would point to my husband and commission our new charge to care less about his stature and instead learn from Andy.

My husband lives out an example of humility.

A fact you should know about Andy is that he is really good (REALLY GOOD) at a lot (A LOT) of things. He is just one of those guys who can pretty much pick up any sport or activity and be awesome at it. He knows his skills and he uses them well. He also knows that besides physical activity he is highly intelligent and quick witted. Yet he approaches new situations with a watchful eye. He does not look for moments to prove himself or show someone else up, instead he listens, he learns and he does his best whenever he can.

When I first met Andy, I mistook his quiet and understated confidence as arrogance (or, perhaps it did use to be arrogance, but he has outgrown it). Now, when I watch him or work with him, I am amazed at how comfortable he is with himself and how capable he is.

I love knowing that he is the best around, but never hearing him say it himself.

Andy is generous.

Andy gives cheerfully. He looks for opportunities to support missionaries, he tithes without fail and he loves to walk Jack through toy aisles looking for something fun to play with.

Several years ago we were part of a building campaign at our church. I had an amount in mind that I wanted to give and was nervous to tell Andy about it, as it was a lot more than I thought we could do. But when we talked about it, he had the same amount in mind! For months and months we gave, even when it felt like we couldn't do it. At one point I wanted to back out and quit, but Andy remained steady and we saw the entire campaign through.

Andy expects to learn, grow and change.

I am not married to the same man I walked down the aisle with.

The man I am married to now is deeper and wiser and more understanding than the man I first feel in love with.

Andy has made intentional decisions to change attitudes and actions that have been part of his make-up for a very long time. He refuses to cop-out from hard work relationally by saying, "that's just the way I am." Instead he does the slow and steady work of learning about me and teaching me about him.

He is softer now, more compassionate, is slow to anger, speaks wisely and plans for the future.

The man I am married to now has stepped into his responsibilities as husband and father and has WILLINGLY made sacrifices to his own comfort in order to care for me and our boys.

Andy listens to God.

None of what I've just said would matter much, nor would it be a part of who Andy is, without the fact that Andy hears from the Lord and is willing to obey.

I am so very grateful that Andy cares more about what God says than any other voice in his life, including mine.

If you ever get a chance to hear all of Andy's story, it is worth listening to. Andy is the best example to me of a life transformed by the love of a heavenly father.

The man I live with and love now, is not the man who went by Andy Aichele 10 years ago. He has grown from heavy drinker, recreational-drug user, angry, aggressive, disrespectful, imprisoned, dismissed, dishonest, calloused, and careless to honoring, thoughtful, respectable, influential, brave, and willing to go where he is sent.

Andy,

I adore you. I am grateful beyond words that I get to journey through life with you. Thank you for being a MAN: living boldly, loving deeply and leading well.

Happy Birthday!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

A conversation over chocolate-peanut butter ice cream

I'm pretty sure that it is a bad idea to replace my meals with creamy, heavily sweetened and highly caffeinated beverages, but it seems that is my current coping strategy.

The way I see it I am allowed a week of counter-productive, self-medicating behavior, right?

The answer to that is "yes." Please don't pop my bubble.

...

After walking through way too many time outs, temper tantrums, "he's not sharing" fights and heaps of dishes, I found Andy in the kitchen last night and put my head on his shoulder in surrender.

I mused out loud, "How can I love doing something that is so hard?"

Because I really do love this. Not love in a warm fuzzy sort of way, but in an "I can't even begin to fathom NOT doing this" sort of way.

I have three teen boys in my house currently. One just moved in, but two of them have been with me since Andy and I took on this job. Both of those two have been arrested at least once while in my care. Both have sworn at me, threatened to run away and lied to me over and over and over again.

But I adore them.

They tease me and I tease them. I sympathize with their breakouts, I pluck their unibrows and I chastise them for agreeing to go out with girls they don't really like. I'm not sure I could have ever anticipated the satisfaction and "full" feeling of having two teen boys rush in the house each day, eager to tell me about the latest high school gossip.

Side Note:
It is all fun and games until
a scroungy teen boy
who has trouble remembering to shower
notices your dried out and neglected
toes
and asks you why you don't have pretty
feet like other adult women.
Because, you little whipper snapper,
I'm too busy reminding you to do your laundry
to indulge in anything as frivolous as a
pedicure!
Sheesh!

For the last week, they have shown me extra grace. They have each picked up extra chores (or more accurately, done their chores without so much prompting) and played with Jack and Joey as I pour my efforts into teaching our new guys the ropes. As they have given more of themselves one of them asked me today, "How do you DO this?"

You know I love that kind of commiseration!

This morning, as I was called out of my room by needy little voices I asked myself the same question. How can I do this?

This last week has exhausted me. I feel as if I am mere skin and bones at this point. My body feels empty of soul - all of my mind, will and emotions being consumed by a short (please Lord let it be so!) season of extreme exertion.

I started a conversation with the Lord in my head this morning, asking him how I can give so fully -to genuine needs- yet still find space to be filled.

I mentioned to one of the pastors at our new church, and a friend of ours, that I was asking God that question. His reply was so simple and so sweet: "What did he say?"

I had to confess that as of that moment, I hadn't heard an answer.

But I was wrong. I had been hearing the answer since before I asked the question.

Yesterday GAP partnered with JCPenny's to get all of the 80+ kids in our ministry new school wardrobes. Each child receives a small allotment of clothing money each year they are in state custody. Penny's offered to match what they had.
They didn't just match.
They also paid all the sales tax,
which in AZ is RIDICULOUS!

They opened up their store TWO HOURS early, fully staffed with the brightest faces and most cheerful personalities and we walked our kids through the clothing section, filling bags with new outfits for the school year.

I had asked two new friends to come with our house and be personal shoppers for kids and they both enthusiastically said yes. Andy's mom was in town and she watched our boys for the morning and another staff member played with our two new additions so that our hands could be free to help the school-kids.

I had so much fun.

One of those teen boys I was talking about acted like he had never tried on clothes before. He assured me he had picked out everything he wanted, but when I required him to try it on, not a single item fit. I was able to spend almost the entire time with him, getting him a whole new closet of clothes, because the friends that came with us were so generous with their time.

The boy I worked with took a solid hour longer than the rest of the kids in my house, so my friends took my three other kids out to breakfast and to play.

When I met up with them again they were happy and well fed, feeling like they had just had a treat, instead of like they had waited a hour for a really pokey shopper.

When everyone had finished shopping one friend came back to the house and jumped right in, changing poopy diapers, playing with kids and keeping the house in order.

Andy's mom ended up staying the entire day. She took over bath time, bed time, and all other time with the two tots and freed up my hands and my emotions for Jack, Joey and my big kids.

By the end of the night my house was in order and everyone had received the attention they needed.

Not only that, but my load felt manageable.

The answer to my question is that I stop thinking that my calling is something I live out alone.

I know that not everyone is able or willing to live in a house like I am, but that doesn't mean that they might not be eager to lend a hand or play a part in some amazing stories.

If I continue to operate in a solo state, thinking that because this job is my ministry right now it means that I (underlined three times!) have to be the one to make it work, I am going to burn out and have to give up this beautiful life, before my season here has run its course.

Taking care of kids and building a safe home are the obvious parts of my commission. It would be a shame to miss the more subtle pieces of the picture - those that include inviting our neighbors to compassion, making room for our friends to give, and exposing kids in my home to the beauty of community - simply because I am too self-reliant or self-conscious to invite others in.

So let me be clear.

I need help.

This is not a one woman show.

To make it such is selfish and foolish.

I REALLY don't want to be either of those.

So while I still intend to give everything that I have, I find that I am retiring this evening with hope. Hope that as I invite others in I can give fully, but begin to fill too. That is the place where I want to live; to give and receive in equal measure - that what I give isn't mine, it just passes through me, a stream of living water.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Pretty Bow

I know yesterday's post was a bit of a downer, but over the last year I have been trying to make the concept of "real time" friendships part of the way I live.

One of my wise friends introduced me to the concept and it has stuck in my mind.

The idea is that to feed your friendships and to grow deep roots and sweet fruit in community, I have to let go of my need to present myself as "in control."

I have a tendency to like to tell my sad stories once they have a happy ending. I am learning forbearance and the art of under-reacting to difficulties, knowing that in most cases something that strikes me as traumatic will most likely seem less significant a few days or weeks after the event.

But just because something will eventually get better, doesn't always mean that I need to white-knuckle my way through a hard time alone.

Hence the "real time" conversations. It is the practice of saying, "This is where I am right now. I recognize that it will be different in the future, but at this very moment, I am struggling."

Real time feels so dangerous to me. I wonder what people will think, if they hear the "I can't do it" on the front end of an experience, and never hear the "I did it" or more likely, "God did it!" of the resolution. I am often aware of the challenge of presenting hard times without being a whiner and of knowing what times are appropriate to share a genuine struggle.

I am by no means a master of this kind of relationship, but I would like to be one day. So for now, I will simply try and try again!

All of that to say that yesterday was the beginning of a journey ...

Actually,
it is probably somewhere in the middle
since I feel like
I have been traveling toward an
awesome and unknown destination
for some time.
I figure I am about half-way up a glorious,
though steep,
mountain pass.
Every few switchbacks I get to pause
and see the ever-changing view
and admire the vastness of the world,
but then I must continue on,
moving up at whatever
slow and steady pace I can manage.

And God, in his infinite grace, poured fresh and refreshing air into my lungs this afternoon.

I am still tired, overwhelmed and confused, but to my practical self, already I am seeing a transformation in the two that joined our family on Monday.

I understand more of what is being said to me, and I feel bold in bringing them into the way I parent.

There is always an awkwardness that accompanies the transition from a safe and warm welcome, to integrating a child into the flow of our house.

Today I crossed that line and started to establish routines and boundaries rather than just cuddle and mitigate the stress I image the children are experiencing.

That means that we did time-outs, I said "no" when appropriate, and I got to splurge on a pair of pink suede shoes that made baby girl's eyes shine.

Two children
came into my home with nothing.
However long they stay,
they will at leas
t leave with a weeks worth of clothing
and the small toys
I was able to purchase for them.

I have picked a few places to focus my efforts and through repetition (oh it is mind numbing!), consistency and God's infinite grace, already changes are happening.

To see them in writing makes them seem small, but anyone who is parenting - or has recently parented - toddlers and preschoolers understands the victories of hearing "please" and "sorry" unprompted and of putting children to bed and having them stay there without a fit, are huge.

At one point today all four of my under-5 club were asleep or quiet at the same time. Yes I am that awesome.

Later in the day we all sat for 15 minutes and did a craft project, followed by another 20 minutes of playing with Play Doh.

After a hard rain it was cool enough to play outside so I brought out the speakers and put on dancing music. We colored with sidewalk chalk and jumped around, enjoying ourselves greatly.

And if I were not already the most remarkable (of course I am being facetious here) mother today, I set the table with a simple dinner that all 11 people in my home enjoyed. Sweet victory!

But wait, there is more...

To ice the cake, I single-handedly diapered, changed, brushed teeth and tucked into bed the four-under-five in less than half an hour (Actually, I didn't do all the tucking by myself, for which I am thankful! Way to go Andy!).

Rah Rah Sis Boom Bah! GOOOOOOOO Emily!

The humbling and heart-heavy realities of what I have been entrusted with are still present. I am still unsettled and still so tired that I have lost all sense of propriety and am planning on eating a spoonful of chocolate frosting after I publish this post. But despite the frightening unknown and the sobering known, I have moved forward. That is something to celebrate.

I am so very grateful that God's ability isn't dependent on my courage. His goodness isn't altered by my depravity. His love isn't thwarted by my hard heart. His ways are beyond my ways - unmarred by blemishes.

Oh God, thank you for being the same yesterday, today and forever!

And thank you friends for standing with me! Your prayers made a difference in the day!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Broken they may be, but worthless they are not.

This afternoon I was raiding the garage fridge for all the makings of a preschool lunch. I was over ambitious in what I tried to carry into the house and ended up dropping a large jar of Adam's peanut butter on the concrete.

It broke, of course, and my heart lurched as a large shard of glass slid across the length of the floor, leaving a trail of shimmering and hazardous slivers in its wake.

There are very few messes I find more frustrating to clean than broken glass.

But as I swept up the tiny fragments, I made an effort to draw some parallel between the broken glass and the strange beauty created by the smaller bits, catching the light and making my dustpan look as if it were dressed for a party.

Perhaps, on a different day, that imagery would have rung true. Today, however, what was in the forefront of my mind was the fear that I associate with broken glass. Dread may be a better word than fear. Or foreboding.

While sweeping up so many miniscule pieces there is the very real and likely possibility that something will get missed. Some near-invisible fleck of shattered jar will find just the perfect little dip in the flooring and hid away until I have forgotten entirely about the event. Wait until I no longer keep a pair of slippers outside the garage door. Wait until one day I walk out with my feet bared and that so-small glimmer will become a sharp pain.

Yesterday Andy and I welcomed two new children into our home.

The last portrait I gave you included four beautiful, brown children.

I hate trying to be
politically correct
when identifying races.
The appropriate title
seems to change frequently
and my information doesn't update
often enough.
So I say "brown" simply because
that is what the pretty girl of the family
told me she prefers.

They moved back home with their mom, which is a story for another day. The parting was bittersweet, but left our home feeling like a home.

When they moved out, we were left with four foster children, all of whom have been part of our family from the beginning.

After almost six months, we know each other fairly well. We feel comfortable with one another and each of us has trained the others how to get the best from us.

For two glorious weeks I felt like I was living with my family. My home was predictable, full of peace and happy camaraderie and full of children who have started to let their guards down.

Oh it was bliss!
Bliss may be a bit of an exaggeration.
But it was at least pleasant.

As we knew would happen eventually, we saw four new children this weekend. One came for a day, one came for a weekend and ended up moving in and two showed up at our door late yesterday evening.

When the person delivering the children called, she told us to have a bath running and wash them first thing. They had "bedbugs."

So when two tiny children arrived, one two years older than Jack and another just a few months younger, I had a warm bath going and lots of toys out to play with.

I helped a young boy undress. His clothes were caked with dirt. Instead of underwear he was wearing filthy swimming trunks under his jeans. Beneath his clothing was the wonderfully smooth skin of young-childhood, marred by dozens of small red spots.

The tiny girl has eyes that will not focus and cause her to always look as if she is afraid. Her skin too was dotted with bug bites as well as two large raw and red welts between her legs. My hope is that they are the result of ill-fitting diapers and not something more sinister. Her hair is sickly and she is so thin that her ribs can be counted.

When the woman dropping them off asked me to throw away their clothing I was a little shocked. It was fortunate that they were so close to Jack's age because everything they came with, left with our garbage pick up this morning.

The bath disturbed my heart, to see such small children walk in, so obviously ignored for a long period of time... but the sorrow went deeper as I tried to get to know them.

Neither of the children can talk. I don't mean they aren't physically able, I just mean, nobody has ever taught them how. They seem to be able to converse with each other, in a language that I first thought was foreign, but they are extremely limited in the words they can speak to others.

A boy that is five and a girl that will be three this month. They can't tell me anything.

Luckily they are very good mimes and both seem more than able to follow directions. I do understand when the boy calls his small sister "baby girl" and I have started to identify words that we used often today: share, purple (baby girl's favorite color), trucks, helicopter, BIG helicopter, no and hey!, which is what they call Andy and me.

We tried to tell them our names,
but they persist in shouting "hey!"
when they want our attention.
They aren't the slightest bit interested
in "Emily" or "Andy"
so when they remember not to shout,
they call us mom and dad.

Oh friends, can I tell you. This is really hard.

These children have been horribly neglected. They need so much. And I don't want them.

Please don't misunderstand me. I want to love them, and take care of their needs at this very moment. But their needs are beyond my ability. To say "yes" to giving all that they require means so many nos to the other relationships and dynamics that are established in our home.

I don't want to say no to the four children who are making their home with me. I don't want to say no to Jack and Joey. I don't want to say no to my own selfishness. I don't want different when what I was building was so comfortable.

These children are shimmers of something broken. A broken history, broken family, broken hearts... I am not capable of cleaning this mess.

I want to see beauty in the dustpan, but my heart is fearful. Whatever sweeping I can do, won't be enough. Pain is still there. For each small fragment I can piece back together, another chip of glass waits to draw blood.

I don't know what will become of the two new waifs that are now sleeping in my home. But I do know that ultimately, my job is not to repair the broken.

With the grace and strength of the Holy Spirit I may be able to sooth. To calm. To teach. To love.

But putting the pieces back together will always be beyond me.

As I wrestled today with welcoming these two glass-glimmers, I thought of a story in John:

"As Jesus went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, 'Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?'

'Neither this man nor his parents sinned,' said Jesus, 'but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.'"

I so badly want to blame someone for the hurt inflicted on the children that find their way to my home... but "this," whatever "this" may be, happened so that the work of God may be displayed.

Friends, I have two darling children in my care this evening that need more than I have. Please pray with me that God's abundance would cover over all of my lack and run deep and rich into their lives.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Family Portrait

I really wish I could post pictures of my most recent family.

As of this moment I have 10 children.

Four of them have skin that is smooth and creamy and slightly richer than a delicious chocolate brown. They have slim bodies and exotic features and they are extremely affectionate. Most mornings when they wake up I have a cluster of at least two giving me hugs or holding my waist while I cook.

I have three children who have been with me the entire time Andy and I have been on this adventure. Two are sweet and charming. A brother and a sister, they laugh and giggle and while they enjoy their time here, they talk frequently of when they will get to go home.

The sister, my littlest girl, has long, long brown hair that I braid most evenings. Tonight we were driving home from an outing and she feel asleep in the car, with her face squished against Joey's carseat. I carried her into her bed and didn't even bother making her brush her teeth. When I set her down she furrowed her brow for a moment and I felt my heart slow - feeling her worry and confusion. I prayed peace over her and stroked her hair and the creases that don't belong on a five-year-old relaxed as she snuggled into bed.

Her brother eagerly follows Andy's every movement. Coming to our house a little soft - he has suddenly taken to dropping down in the middle of the floor and doing push ups. Today Andy did an intense workout at the gym and his little buddy did a scaled version of it too. With a smile on his face!

Our oldest boy has also been with us since the beginning. In the first month of his being here Andy and I didn't know how to love him. He was caught twice with drugs, lead revolts against our authority, and tormented Jack.

But now...

But now...

Now, he is dropping "jokes" about us adopting him. He offers to take care of Jack and Joey. He lets me hug him. He told me the other day, he is starting to think about God again.

We still wrestle with him every day. He makes some good choices, and some poor ones, but he actually cares about what we think about his actions. He is trying and he is growing.

He is a boy who will probably be with us as long as we do this job. He will never be with his family again.

After many, many years of complete estrangement from his mother, he recently asked his case worker if he could try and see her on occasion.

It took almost four weeks to make a meeting happen. One day it showed up on my calendar and I was so delighted to tell him it had finally been scheduled. He nervously got dressed and when he was picked up for the appointment he was much more silent than usual.

He came home an hour and a half before I expected him.

His mom never showed up.

He has another visit scheduled tomorrow and I'm not sure what I will do if she misses it again.

Our eighth bed is filled by the only teen girl in the house. She has been with us about two weeks. I completely underestimated the drama a post-pubescent woman-child could create.

That is all I have to say about that.

Actually, not quite all. She spent FOUR HOURS on her hair one day. When she came out she told the teen boy in the house, "I think my hair is too fluffy."

When he refused to be baited into that fishing game, she asked directly, "Do you think it looks good?"

His answer?

"Not really."

That was a bad day.

And then, of course, Jack and Joey have the run of the house.

I am extremely grateful that to this point I have felt safe having my children around each addition we have had in our home.

Jack has heard a few too many ghost stories and now knows that Sponge Bob exists (but is quick to tell me "we don't watch Sponge Bob"). But he also has friends of all nationalities, ages, genders and backgrounds. I always have someone to buckle him in his carseat and usually he is entertained while I make dinner.

Having Jack around always gives me a reason to reject music, tv or video games that are inappropriate. Even if the kids in my home don't understand why I would care about what they watch or listen to, they understand when I say that Jack can't.

I have to teach most of the kids how to play with Joey. One boy put Joey on the kitchen counter and turned around for a second - long enough for Joey to throw himself headfirst onto our tile. Joey was fine. I spent longer reassuring the one who thought he had hurt my baby, than I did calming Joey down. Joey is a gift to each of us living here. He smiles at nothing, he cries with people who cry and he makes everybody laugh.

I can't control my boys' worlds like I thought I would be at this point in their lives, but their worlds are now deeper and wider and richer than I could have ever imagined was possible.

And Andy.

My Hero.

This job would not work without both of us. Andy is steady, and fun, and a MAN.

When I look at my husband I am simultaneously amazed by his strength and filled with wonder at the ways he has softened through this experience.

I'm not sure how to describe it, except to say that I am so very glad that I am married to him and feel infinitely lucky to be the one he gives his love and protection and support to.

It is a good life I am living today.





Friday, April 15, 2011

This Does Not Bode Well

This morning I planned to take Jack and Joey to the zoo to meet one of our little people for a field trip.

We showed up to communicate in the small ways that we think she is important, but it turns out that she just wanted to say hi for a minute and stick with her class.

So I wandered the zoo with my two boys and loved hearing their little voices and big ideas. I gave Jack a few dollar bills to buy a balloon and when I told him he could run over and pick one out he moved faster than I have ever seen.

He was thrilled by it for all of three minutes and then asked me to carry it (after Joey proved incapable of holding it correctly).

But... this story is mostly about what happened on the way to the zoo.

Of course I had to stop for coffee. My supply at home is all for hot beverages and I have yet to learn how to make a delicious iced latte for myself. So I ordered my drink and a tidbit for Jack and waited in line for my turn to welcome a scrumptious and necessary caffeinated treat.

Usually when I drive I relish the way the car gets so warm and toasty. I let it heat up and then I alternately am pleased at the cool sensation of turning on my air conditioning and feeling all the little hairs on my arm be blown about and my cheeks cooled.

As I ordered my coffee I had been letting the car get to the warm point in anticipation of my iced drink. So when I pulled up to the window you can imagine my surprise when very cold air began blowing into my vehicle.

Um.

In Arizona, apparently, there are air conditioners that blow into your car as you wait at the drive thru.

This is not a good sign.

I have been enjoying the perfect 85 degrees every day.

People keep telling me, "just wait" and I have been laughing and agreeing that pretty soon I'll be one overheated and grumpy girl.

But it wasn't until I realized that it will become hot enough to necessitate AC for the brief moment you roll down your window to receive your iced coffee that I really started to worry.

I'm really in trouble here.

I was not built for the heat.

I am about as fair as they come. The only person I know who is more pale than I am is Jack (who, as it turns out, HATES having sunscreen applied to his face. Oh joy!). I enjoy wearing clothes that cover my body and I not sure how I am going to manage to accumulate a wardrobe of clothes that are modest enough for my tastes (I'm totally not over the top when it comes to modesty, but so many of the clothes that come out in the summer can be appalling!) yet will keep me from dropping dead the minute I walk out the door, or, as it seems, roll down my window at Starbucks.

Oh friends, the heat is coming!

Just be prepared that starting in two weeks, when you check this blog it will mostly say, "IT IS SO HOT!" for about four months.

I'll try and get creative with the wording so you don't get bored, but the idea will be there.

Don't say I didn't warn you.



Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Fiesta!

Well.

I have entered the world of crazy.

But I think we all knew that would happen.

Earlier this week my rose colored glasses were broken.

Luckily for me, the world still holds beauty without them.

...

This weekend I took our little girl to a birthday party.

Which turned out to actually be a giant family reunion of a huge Mexican clan.

I sat the whole time, thankful for Joey and his cute face as a buffer and slightly alarmed to be the only white person in a room full of extremely friendly, but difficult to understand, grandmas and aunts and overly-friendly uncles.

I did get a spontaneous hug from what might have been the oldest looking woman I have ever encountered. She didn't seem to mind in the slightest that I had never met her before. I was standing, so I should be hugged.

The awkwardness I endured for two and a half hours was all worth it to hear that I was part of our five-year old's very first time ever going to a friend's house. As we drove to the party her legs bounced and her ponytail whipped as she tried to look out of all of the van windows at the same time.

She very shyly admitted that she had never been to a friend's house before.

When we arrived she hid behind my legs, even when her friend ran to greet her. Throughout the party she would come find me and ask if she could participate in different activities. By the end of our time her cheeks were pink and her eyes were sparkling.

I was exhausted from smiling and making halting conversation, but she was full and that made me glad.

I am thankful to have had that moment of satisfaction, because the weekend went down-hill from there.

Without all the shocking details (truly, shocking, I mean ... like worthy of an episode of some crime drama), I will sum up the last three days by saying that we have had two boys suspended from school, found drugs in our back yard, called the police three times in as many days, had two children removed from our home by the police and heard more profanity than I have ever heard strung together in my life.

The first night of chaos, I felt battered. I was confused and obsessed with all the things I did wrong that only made things worse. The second day of chaos I thought, I've seen it all before (how quickly I am learning) and the third day, today, I just feel sad.

It is sad to see so much brokenness.

I have begun to learn to pray in new, desperate ways and to invite God into my home at every moment.

I am grateful tonight for my mom and dad. I am thankful for support from friends old and new, and I am amazed that God's word is so alive and so powerful for today.

I was going to end by commending all of the moms and dads I know and emphasizing what an important job it is to parent, even imperfectly - but I realized that inside of me a soapbox is growing in huge-monstrous proportions and standing on a soapbox after three days of no sleep and heightened emotional levels is not wise.

So instead, I will end by saying that Jack and Joey are doing well. Joey is the star of the house and everybody wants to be the one to sit next to him in the van and help carry him into church.

Jack is finding his place in the house slowly but surely. Most nights I wake up and find he has snuck into my bed at some point in the night. When I discover him I relish the warmth of his wiggly little self next to me and kiss his buzz-cut-head. Then I usually carry him back to bed so I can sleep.

A few times I have actually just gone to sleep in his bed to save the effort of moving him from his comfortable and safe place.

We all are making our adjustments, but we are intact. We have met new friends, Andy and I have laughed and smiled and worked together and I haven't even made him listen to me cry (yet). We are tired and my brain is so full that new bits of information are temporarily being turned away - a problem - yes, but nothing a handy pen and paper can't take care of! Through it all, we are meeting God and meeting each other.

The last days have not been easy, but they have a purpose, and I am content in that.

And how could I not be finding the beauty in my days with these blokes about?





Jack, if when you are older you wonder why there are three pictures of Joey and only one of you - it is because you are miserable to take a picture of. You are too fast and usually are stuffing food in your face. And when you aren't eating, it is probably because you are coloring.

On your face.


In ink that is very hard to wash off.

But I adore you still my funny, sweet, clever and artsy boy!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow

On Monday night I sat around a long, beautiful table with my new kids.

After a chaotic afternoon, we all found ourselves sitting down to pot roast, mashed potatoes, and asparagus wrapped with bacon - my favorite thing to serve kids.

I am now the proud foster mom to three teenage boys, two elementary school boys and the sweetest little slip of a girl you could find (Ellery no longer falls in the "little slip of a girl" category as she is now nearly seven and reads at a middle school level).

All of the children in our home have been in group home settings before. One of the boys has had 22 different placements and asked me in an equally indifferent and hopeful tone of voice if this would be a permanent placement.

I couldn't tell him yes or no, but I could tell him that I was happy to have him.

And I am!

Yesterday I cheered on a boy at the skate park. Today I listened to him ask every hour when we could go back.

Yesterday on the first attempt to get to the skate park I received a call from one of the schools asking me to pick up one of our kids who was suspected of bringing drugs to school.

Today I assembled a tv stand that had thwarted all of the teen boys - even the ones who "like to put stuff together" and Andy.

Today I also had a mini-meltdown over the minor detail that I haven't figured out where CrossFit fits into this new life.

Tomorrow is Jack's third birthday, and I feel just a tiny bit guilty that I haven't even purchased gifts for him. We will, don't worry, but I am finding myself extremely thankful that he is still just young enough to not be aware of how exciting a birthday could be.

Tomorrow is another day. Another chance to learn and to develop a flow for this new family. To pray. To laugh. To feed. To thank God for his good gifts and ask him again to give me everything I need to let his love flow through me and into the very special and fragile lives that are now living in my home.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Quick Update

Well, we just (seriously, JUST... like five minutes ago - so this will be brief) rolled back in from our second, and apparently last, short-term house stay.

Midway through our week at SPLASH 8 (each of the 10 GAP houses is numbered), we got a call saying there were both a house and kids waiting for us.

So this weekend we will be packing up our daily life and moving it to a new house, for good. Joining us on Monday will be a set of four siblings (3 boys and a girl, all middle-school or younger), a teen boy, and a teen girl.

It has been fun to see how other families order their days and to have an opportunity to test out our skills in a home with lots of chances for immediate feedback. But I can not tell you how excited I am to have my own home.

The house we are moving into is still in the process of being renovated. We did a walk through yesterday and it is far from finished, but with a good team, and some elbow grease it should at least be functioning by Monday for us to bring kids in.

My fingers are crossed!

To be continued...

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Trial By Fire

Andy and I have now finished our first week of in-home work. We relieved a couple so that they could have a week off. After a crash-course of how their house worked they handed over their keys and left us to the lions.

I felt a little foolish during training, but I made a special point to ask what I was allowed to talk about on this here blog, in regards to the kids who Andy and I are interacting with.

You will be happy to know that I can still share about this adventure, I just have to be vague in reference to the kids. No names, no ages, no identifying details. I knew, going into this ministry, that I would be working with kid who needed a safe place and a refuge from unhealthy and unsafe families and situations, but until this week I didn't KNOW.

I spent Wednesday night sitting with a young woman as she experienced an intense flashback to the brutal events that brought her to GAP. She was mentally trapped in a memory of abuse. She couldn't hear me, but she gripped my hand as she screamed and moaned. Andy was upstairs with some of the high school boys, and each time they moved or came into view she was terrified.

After a consultation with her therapist I got her a drink of water and lead her, unseeing, to sit outside. As we sat on the porch swing, she calmed down. When she could hear me, I started to tell random stories. Anything that I could think about that was unrelated to the world she knows. I talked about my mom's new paint colors, about moths, about driving to Arizona.

Eventually, she sat limply on the swing, but started to ask me questions. She asked about how Andy and I met, and about school and about why we moved. After a long time of swinging and talking, she said she was ready for bed.

I got her another drink of water and stayed up while she brushed her teeth and put her pajamas on. In the morning she acted like it wasn't a major event and just moved on with her day.

At some points of the week, we felt like we the girlfriend in "The Parent Trap." Kids hid things from us (the phone and remote) they told us tall tales, they frightened us with the realities of bobcats and javelinas (okay, that was just me that they scared)

Javelinas,
in case you are like me and
have never heard of them,
are a sort of wild pig.
Sometimes called, a skunk-pig.
They travel in packs and
are highly aggressive.
They have large, sharp canine teeth
and a gland somewhere on their body
that can produce a stench kin to a skunk.
They eat cactus and small children, so I've been told.
They are blind-ish and as a result travel about at
dusk and dawn.
They terrify me.
They have taken on a mythical quality
of evil and if I see one, I might decide to
scream.

In the course of two days I was told that I was beautiful, and that I was ugly. That I was cool, and that I was mean (said with as much venom as a frustrated elementary school boy could muster). Kids jumped up to help us when we asked, or they jumped up, literally, on counters and couches in an attempt to exactly the opposite of what we asked.

I worked with two elementary schoolers who could barley read and struggled to write.

Andy did impromptu workouts outside and the boys thought it was a treat to do lunges across the driveway.

I prepared food according the the mandatory menu (the menu will have to be a whole other post, or two or three) and I also whipped up food that got rave reviews from the kids. I consider it a personal triumph that in a house of seven kids, from elementary to high school, every child but one ate the asparagus I made and asked for seconds and thirds. And that happened after many cries of dismay when I pulled it out of the grocery bag.

One teen in our care took a special liking to Andy. Though he also like to spin stories and push the boundaries, he seemed to battle within himself - "do I want to help these newbies, or do I want to make it miserable for them?" He did a little bit of both, but when he said, "You guys are weird. I've never met anyone as weird as you." He said it with a hint of admiration and later in the week he casually dropped the suggestion, a few times, that when we have our own SPLASH house we should ask for him to come live with us.

Andy and I both felt like we were able to, by God's grace and strength, to handle each event that came our way. We developed genuine care for the kids we were with and I cherished the moment that the boy who fought with me the most asked me to come read and pray with him before bed.

Both Jack and Joey got fevers while we were there and Andy was attacked by some sort of sickness early in the week. When he went to bed by 8:00, I managed the house by myself and it was fine. I remained healthy until we left and as soon as I was in the car I was struck by what I think was my first-ever migraine. I sat motionless in the van as we drove home. Then I went straight upstairs to throw-up and fall hard-asleep for a few hours. Andy, the champion of all husbands, took the boys to the park and left the house silent for me to rest. When I woke up I felt a million times better and ate a little dinner before turning in early.

At the beginning of this venture I wasn't sure I was going to be able to say that it would be "fun," but after this week, I can say that it will be. I loved almost every minute of this week. I love the kids and I love the staff of this ministry. I love my husband and was amazed again by him as I watched him interact with the kids.

Yesterday afternoon we learned that we may be in our own house very quickly. We toured it and Andy and I both agreed that we could make it our home. It is in the process of being cleaned and stocked with furniture, and though it is not ready our program director said that if she received a call today with a sibling set of six kids, she would send them to that house and tell us to get there ASAP.

Andy and I still are working out how we will make sure to give our boys the individual time and attention that we want them to have, but we feel like we have time to make those discoveries.

Last night, as we both sat with Jack and told stories and prayed, Jack wrapped his arms around our necks and said, in the tone of voice that belongs only to sleepy preschoolers, "I love you guys."

We love you too Jack.

We love you too!

We have today and tomorrow to rest and do laundry and then on Monday we walk into another house. A new set of kids and a new routine.

If you had asked me four months ago what I though of someone who did this job, I would have immediately thought of all of the hard parts. But today, I see the hard parts only in light of the miracle of being able to, even for just a few days, communicate to a child that they are safe and cared for and important.

And that Jesus loves them.

Today, I am amazed.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

One Year

Happy Birthday Joey Boy!





You have added so much joy to our family.

We love you dearly!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Point of Vulnerability

"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."

James 1:27

I had been spending some time with this verse prior to knowing anything about GAP Ministries or ever having considered foster-parenting. What had caught my attention was the last part, "keep oneself from being polluted by the world."

I was coming at it from the perspective of someone who wasn't working with "widows and orphans." I appreciated the third "option" for genuine religion. My thought was, "Well, if I'm not working with the "homeless and loveless," as the Message translates it, at least I can make great efforts to keep from being polluted by the world."

But now that I am in the midst of preparing to host children who are temporary orphans, I see the verse in yet another light.

I love that God's word is living and active.

This week Andy and I spent two very, very long days finishing our initial training and testing. We will be required to have on-going training (all house-parents are) over the year, but we have now passed all the hurdles to get us going.

Training was extremely difficult for me.

In part, because I realized that I am, in fact, "working" again. After nearly three years of being at home, I am jumping back into schedules, meetings, paper-work, deadlines, and a myriad of other work-related words that I haven't had to think about for a very long time.

It took me many months to get OUT of work mode, I'm sure it will take a similar amount of time to transition back IN.

But, it is tricky. I don't want to look at the lives in my care as "work." I have decided that for me, I will think about anything on paper as my job. The logs and forms and information that I have to keep daily to report to the state of Arizona about how I am providing care, those things are what I get paid for. The children that come under my roof, the conversations that I have, the discipline that will inevitably be required - those things are a privilege. Each life I encounter is valuable to God, I want to treat it as such.

The other aspect of training that was difficult was the array of horrible, horrible scenarios that we were trained for. At some point during each of our training sessions I had to struggle against tears. And on a couple of occasions, Andy and I both were fighting to remain composed.

I learned everything from how to supervise phone calls between children and their estranged parents, to how to handle children who run away from our care, to how to identify and report signs of sexual, emotional or physical abuse.

Oh, my heart breaks.

So yesterday, when I read, "and keep yourself from being polluted by the world," I had a whole new perspective. If I am not careful, things that now sound unimaginable to me, will become common place: the anger and difficult behavior I encounter will become a nuisance instead of a sign of deep hurt, the paperwork will seem like the priority over people, the wickedness of man will cease to cause sorrow in my heart.

I don't want to be dulled or polluted by this world.

I am about to encounter more of the "world" then I ever have. I have always had a family that loves me, a sense of security, a safety net. My world has been small, because I have had that luxury. But now, by my own choosing, I am opening my home to the world. I am welcoming people in who are covered with the world's pollution, either by their choices, or by misfortune. My options are to try and stay away, so that I don't get dirty in the first place, or to draw close, and let the Holy Spirit daily cleanse me, so that the pollution doesn't stick.

I hope that I live the latter.

When I went to get my physical and drug test (a very bizarre experience) the doctor who was helping me was completely baffled by what Andy and I are doing. She kept saying over and over, "Ten kids! Ten kids?!" She was very friendly and curious, but she just couldn't fathom it. After a little bit of conversation she said, "You should be on reality tv!"

Now, I confess, the though had crossed my mind. There is a certain element of the process that has seemed very detached from reality (making it perfect for "Reality TV") and like prime fodder for mass media.

Yet as I was reading, "and keep yourself from being polluted by the world," I realized that my other point of vulnerability, and entrance-point for pollution, will be my pride.

I know this venture sounds either miserable or marvelous, depending on your own personal risk-aversion. Either way, there is a sense of wonder that accompanies doing something out of the ordinary.

I am a person that loves praise. I love to put on a good show (not on a stage, that would be horrible, but I like to make things look good and easy) and have people notice all the little details I have paid attention to. I know this about myself.

I know about myself that I like to do well. Prepare yourself for a disclosure that reveals my true sin-nature, but whenever I start a new job, I always, always think, "I am going to be the best they have ever hired." There is something in me that just wants to make people love me and need me.

So, I would lie if I said wasn't walking into this venture thinking, "Andy and I are going to be the best!"

And I would lie if I said I didn't think telling people about it makes me sound oh-so-awesome.

But...

Knowing this about myself, I make it my aim to stay in step with the Holy Spirit. If I can genuinely walk with him, and surrender my ambitions to be the very best, to his goals, then I feel in a safe place. Being humble, doesn't mean not being incredible. Jesus was humble on this earth, and we all know how awesome that turned out! I firmly believe that God wants big things for the kids who come into GAP's care, and if I am a part of that, I will be so grateful! The danger comes when I see successes, and claim those victories as my own, rather than evidence of God's goodness and greatness.

So, in addition to the challenge to keep my heart soft, I need to keep my heart humble.

Easier said than done.

But with God, all things are possible.

Oh Lord, please help me as I give you my life!

...

I had hoped to give you a little more factual information to answer questions, but right now, my heart and head are so full of the process that I can't quite nail down details. Bear with me, we will get there.

Thank you for joining me on this journey!

Friday, February 18, 2011

FAQ: What is a "houseparent"?

Andy has officially resigned from his job.

We are now officially "all in."

His company paid for us to move to AZ, and Andy had agreed to at least a year here. With that in mind, we offered to pay back the moving expenses. Andy's boss, while sad to lose an incredible employee, was very supportive and told us to keep it and leave with his well-wishes. So, now we are jumping through all the hoops and signing stacks and stacks of paper to get us ready for our new adventure.

Yesterday I had to go get fingerprinted. That was exciting!

Actually, it was very boring.

And I went to the wrong place... twice.

But my boys were troopers and stayed polite and pleasant for all three stops. Jack was slightly distressed that my hands got so dirty and for several minutes after we got back in the van he asked me to retell the event, spending extra time and details on the part where I washed all the dirt off.

I realize that I haven't give lots of specific details about our upcoming life.

You may be wondering, "What does that mean, 'houseparenting'?"

You might be wondering, "Who will feed all those kids?"

You are probably wondering, "What about Jack and Joey?"

Well, I will tell you.

Probably not all right at this very moment, because frankly, that might make a really boring post, and honestly, I still am not sure that I am completely clear about what I have signed myself up for.

But I can tell you, in this very post, what Andy and I *think we* have signed on for.

Our eventual goal, after training, is to be the resident parent-couple at one of the ten houses owned and operated by GAP Ministries. We would live there and treat it as if it were our own home. We would have 8 available beds and would probably see a pretty regular turnover in kids.

In Arizona, once a child has been removed from a home by CPS, the parents or guardians have one year to remedy whatever the situation is that caused their children to be removed. When the state removes the child, they call GAP to see if there are any beds available. When there are, a child that comes into one of our houses could be there just for the weekend, while a family member steps up to take the child, or they could stay the full year and later be placed with a permanent foster family.

Andy and I will be responsible for welcoming each child and integrating them into a "home" setting. For some this could be teaching them proper hygiene, it could be modeling a healthy husband-wife relationship, it will probably be teaching them how to live at peace with those in the home, it will mean developing and maintaining a routine for the home - including chores, financial management and solid study habits, and for all of them it will involve managing a lot of appointments (case workers, parent-visits, court hearings, school, after school activities, doctor, dentist, etc.).

The goal of our role really is to create a home and invite children who need a safe place, to participate in the home experience. The ministry we are working with encourages outings and celebrations that contribute to the family vibe. If Andy and I wanted to budget and do the leg work, we could drive our whole house to Disneyland. We can take them swimming and hiking and to the art museum... whatever we feel like coordinating. We can take the kids for pajama rides to get ice cream on a school night if we feel like it! I love that about this ministry, that they put so much emphasis on creating a home and facilitating family.

Before surrendering myself to this transition, I spent some time going over all of the pages I have written in the past of what I want to define our family and our home. What I want us to major on. The things that I feel are critical expressions of who Andy and I are and what we want to teach our children.

I wanted to make sure that those things, that I also feel are God-given, would not be violated by this new undertaking.

Over the last three years I have kept random pages of thoughts and ambitions for my family, my marriage, my parenting... I have kept them all in one place, but haven't actually ever put them all on the same page, or read over them as a whole. As I did so, I discovered two major themes: peace and hospitality.

Those are the words that over and over and over again call to me. They embody what I want of my home and what I pray daily:

Lord, please fill this house with your peace.

Lord, please use our home as a sanctuary for those who need rest.

When I was growing up, my mom painted our front door. It was beautiful. A bright, shiny red frame with the following sentiment artfully written:

Peace to those who enter here.
Courage to those who go forth.
Let those who go and those who stay
Forget not God

Over the last year especially, as Andy and I have transitioned through three different houses, those words have filled my brain. That is what I want my offering to this world to be. A home of peace. Peace that speaks not of my hostessing skills or my cooking or my decor, but peace that seeps into spirits and invites my guests and my family to know God, the Prince of Peace.

With those two words, I feel such invitation to this new ministry. During a short part of our decision process I wanted to run away and say, "not right now." But when I saw those two ideas, in my own handwriting, alive on page after page, I knew that this was right.

What I want for my own children, I want to offer to orphans.

Peace.

Hospitality.

And as I talked to my own mom, and was refreshed and encouraged by HER enthusiasm and confidence in me, I thought, "the kids I am about to meet will probably never hear their mom say what I get to hear from my own mother." If there is a mom who is not able to speak comfort and encouragement, or who chooses not to celebrate her child, I want to do it. I am discovering that mothering, for me, is not just about Jack and Joey. It is becoming about every child who needs a woman to speak gentle words and to offer fresh food and to cheer for all of the little victories.

So for me, that is what I have signed up for.

To mother.

To promote peace and offer hospitality.

Of course there will be all the details of living and of managing and of learning. I expect hurt. I expect frustration. I expect challenge. But I don't fear it. Because over all of those things I know that God is able to do more than I can ask or imagine. And when I ask for his peace to fill my new home and to bring rest to those who need it, I know that I am praying HIS heart and can expect to see his hand and meet him face to face.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Turning Our Hearts

Yes, it is true.

Andy and I are considering being "houseparents" for a truly incredible organization that welcomes foster children into home-models while they are in transition between being removed from their homes and being placed with permanent families.

...

Since relocating, Andy and I have been on a wild adventure of seeing God move in mighty ways on our behalf. It is remarkable what has happened in our spirits as we have made space to listen and interact with our Heavenly Father.

Originally, we decided to move for a "break." We wanted to take a year and refocus and step out of what was starting to feel like a cluttered life.

As our departure neared, and as we have been adjusting to the move, it has become more and more clear to us that while the idea of "something new" was the driving force in our move, it isn't the point.

A week before we left, Andy shared with me that while he felt like he was being obedient to the Lord in pursuing his teaching degree, it still somehow felt selfish. We had built a nice little plan revolving around summers off and comfortable houses and close family. But something was stirring in his heart, causing him to open up to possibilities beyond our plan.

Just two nights before we hit the road, one of the pastors at our church was praying. As he prayed it was one of those, "there is someone here..." prayers. He said that he felt there was "someone who was on a path, a path that might not be bad, but that God was asking them to turn from their path and work for other people's eternity."

Immediately Andy and I both knew he was talking to us. At that point, our move wasn't about a rest any more. It was about waiting to hear what that would mean for us, and opening our hearts to God's invitation to work intentionally and specifically for his glory.

Through a series of divine appointments we have met a couple who currently work full-time as houseparents in a home that serves as a transition place for foster children. They have a family of three boys of their own and currently host six foster kids.

As the husband was sharing what they do, and about the organization that he works for, both Andy and instantly knew that it was our next step to find out more about it. The ministry is called GAP Ministries and after two or three emails the directors asked to meet us for dinner. On Thursday we connected over the phone and I said Andy was off on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and we could meet any time in the next few weeks on those days. She disappointedly said, "You can't meet this weekend?" We made plans for an evening dinner yesterday and at the end of that dinner she said, "We are starting training for another couple on Tuesday and Wednesday if you want to come."

So we have spent the last two days touring houses that host kids (there are 10) and starting the process of training (there is a ton!).

So, the wheels are turning and we are moving toward a MAJOR adjustment in what we thought we would be doing. The ministry is extremely well run and Andy and I are both amazed at the thought they have put into how they operate.

We have committed to waking through the doors that keep opening until we see a great big red light. At this point, I don't expect to see that red light, so we are moving our minds and hearts toward planning to be foster parents for anywhere from 6-10 kids.

The job requires two full-time parents so it would mean that Andy would leave his job.

I feel so unqualified for such an undertaking, but I know that I can't turn away from this - I might be swallowed by a giant fish!!

From the moment we opened ourselves to participating in this ministry, everything has felt like confirmation. From the songs on the radio, to the bible stories I read to Jack, to things that we have talked about over the years that are coming to our minds in a fresh way, to the scriptures Andy and I have been reading on a daily basis.

This is what Andy read the other morning in The Message:

"So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life - your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life - and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it."

Romans 12:1-2

We feel like we are being asked to surrender our "sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking around life" to a whole new way of existing. We are under no illusions that it will be easy or even fun, but we know that this is what we are to be faithful to now.

It is both terrifying and exhilarating to set our feet so firmly on a course that God has invited us to. So, as we continue in the process of learning a whole new way of living, and preparing our entire family for a life of ministry, we would so appreciate your prayers.

Self Discovery

You know you are a true grown-up when you use your hard-saved money to purchase a washing machine and dryer.

You know you are brave when you have ivory skin and move to Arizona.

You know you are very brave when you move to Arizona with your fair skin and purchase sunscreen in SPF 70 instead of 100.

You know you are a brave adult when you in the course of a weekend tell near-strangers that you are willing to move into a house of eight foster children as fill in "parents" and they say, "Great! You are hired."

You are now caught up my life.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Curious George

Yesterday I was digging around in one of our yet-unpacked boxes. I was looking for the special yellow goo that makes my hair stay smooth, instead of floating around at all angles and forming an unruly halo of pomegranate-red hair tentacles. Believe me, I need it here. So. Much. Static.

The top three things that Jack says about Arizona so far:

1. It is so sunny.
2. It is so cold.
3. It is very shocky.

All of our boys' blankets are fleecy and when I adjust them during the night for bedtime, it is a firework show in their beds.

Anyhow, I was pawing through the most likely box to find my smoothing solution and instead of drawing my hand out in victory, I pulled it out in horror. Attached to my thumb was one of Andy's razors, without its protective cover. All four (or five or six - whatever is the current maximum of razors for men's shaving devices) were dug deep into my thumb. With stomach-turning effort, I detached the razor and tried to identify the damage.

I had no luck even examining it as my whole hand was covered in blood in just a few short seconds. I made my way to the bathroom to find some band-aids. I could find little tiny ones and some bigger Curious George ones. So, I strapped up my thumb with bright blue adhesive strips with pictures of a happy monkey and bright yellow bananas.

I went through all of our band-aids yesterday and this morning resorted to cotton pads and electrical tape. I have yet to have a good look at it, but I suppose I'll get around to it.

Until then, I will struggle with texting and I will answer Jack's every-five-minute-inquiry about what I have on my thumb.

My very own Curious George!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Surprise Ending!

In the few days I have been here, I have made several big shopping trips.

It takes a lot to restock a house! Cleaning supplies, groceries ... you never think about having to buy all your condiments. You just know that when you open the fridge there will be mayo and ketchup and dressing and mustard and sun dried tomatoes ... until you move ... and there is nothing! And if you forget to buy baking soda, well then, you can't make muffins!

But anyhow, I have been to a lot of stores lately. And and each store I have come home to discover that one (or more!) of the items I purchased had a broken safety seal, or no seal at all... or that the bag had been cut open on the back and taped with masking tape!

I'm not sure what to do about this phenomenon.

Is it a southwest thing?

I suppose I have taken it for granted that if I toss a bag of basmati rice into my shopping cart that the package will be intact. Or that if I bring home a jar of peanut butter it will be sealed for freshness (I have had three faulty jars of peanut butter in the last week - different stores, different brands). Perhaps I have expected too much. Perhaps it is time that I carefully analyze each product I place in my cart before I make it to the checkout line. Perhaps I will start writing polite, but straightforward letters to the stores and distribution companies and receive hundreds of dollars of free products to make up for the inconvenience of having to return or repurchase staple items. Perhaps I don't have enough time or energy for that and I will just start praying over each poorly packaged item I discover and hope that my family is not poisoned.

In addition to this disturbing trend, I have also discovered that Fry's is most definitely not Fred Meyer.

...

Wait!

GAH!!!

I was just about to post a side note and discovered that I no longer can find the right-justified button on my blog options! How I am supposed to give you a side note in the center of my blog?? How? Someone, please tell me how to fix this problem!

Side Note: Please imagine it on the actual SIDE of the post.
I know that you remember when my Everett CrossFit trainer commented on the perviously linked Fred Meyer post. You will be horrified (and probably delighted by the awkwardness of it all) to know that throughout my time working out there he referred to that post (and several other embarrassing ones, including giving Andy the nickname "huge") on a regular basis.

I must now tell you, this is the end of the side note, as I don't have the clear signal of the text returning to its regular position.

Side note. End. Now.

...

So Fry's. It is not Fred Meyer.

Our landlords were describing the best places for groceries and likened Fry's to Fred Meyer. It is part of the whole Kroger conglomerate. But people, it is a pitiful substitution for my beloved FM.

How can it be so bad you ask? Let me tell you:

Strike one: the aisles aren't wide enough for two carts to comfortably pass each other. Strike two: the first jar of peanut butter I grabbed was leaking all over and gave me greasy hands. Strike three: they do not carry prosciutto or pancetta, or any other cured meat that is better than bacon and delicious when wrapped around almost any vegetable and roasted. Strike four (okay, I know there are only three strikes in a "strike" series, but I couldn't come up with anything better at this exact moment - forgive me): the checkout boy made a comment about my huge order and I said that I had just moved and instead of being nice he said, "I'm sorry." Lame checkout boy. Then he made it worse by saying, "Where did you come from?" "Seattle." "You should have stayed there." Doubly lame checkout boy.

See. Not Fred Meyer.

And now, for the final news of the day, which has nothing to do with groceries or Fred Meyer or my underwear, and which I was not anticipating having to write about, but now must because I hear hobbling upstairs, Andy has come home injured.

I wasn't blogging when Andy was ultimate fighting, but if I had been, I would have told you about his unnatural ability and willingness to continue life-as-normal with a major injury. One of our dear friends and mentors once described Andy by saying, "He's the kind of guy that would go hunting and get shot and forget to tell Emily about it until two weeks later."

A truer word was never spoken.

So when he comes home and nonchalantly says, "I think I hurt my ankle." That means something serious.

He went out tonight to play football with some of the guys from our neighborhood and came home happy. In the same sentence when he was smugly telling me about his interceptions and catches he removed his shoes and said, "that is not normal."

Me: No honey!

Me: Please tell me you didn't just go out and damage yourself!

Me: Really?

Me: Aw man!

Me: Honey!

Me: Is it broken?

Andy - unconvincingly: Nah.

Me: Honey!

Me: Honey!

Me: Oh man.

It looks awful. And if it even registers as annoying to Andy, then it is pretty bad. I wasn't able to convince him that it was worth a trip to the walk-in-clinic tonight, but tomorrow might be a different story. So, you may be hearing from me soon about navigating new hospitals and doctors in Arizona. Let's just hope they are more careful with their patients than the grocery stores are with their merchandise!