Sunday, June 28, 2015

One Big Camping Trip

Joshua occasionally reminds me that I really should be blogging. And he's right. Some would say we have an interesting life. So here's the moment when I again step out of silence and maybe post once in a while. Because well, we live in an RV now. And who gets to say that?

Someday soon I'll post a picture of our little set up. But right now there is a bunch of crap in front of it waiting to be unpacked and it doesn't look as idyllic as I want people to think our life is. So I'd better hold off. No sense ruining the illusion.


For now I'll say, we live in 31 foot Fleetwood Prowler. My husband Joshua the Park Ranger, our two kids Malachi and Mimi, our dog Rose, and me. We don't take this ol' girl anywhere; we stay put in our little town in Virginia.


I'd like to say we live in an RV out of idealism. And in a sense it is. I have had a lot of dreams over the years, and anything that's hipster-chic, like the tiny house movement, I've dreamed about doing. Joshua sometimes dreams along, and sometimes humors me. I won't tell you which is which.

First there was the intentional community dream. This one involved selling all we had, serving and living among the poor, and only having one pair of pants. Laundry day was challenging in this dream.

There was the farm dream. That one lasted until we became friends with some farm people and realized you can't really do anything because you are always farming. And you can't really go anywhere because...animalz. That seemed like a drag. Plus I don't like manual labor.

And there was a house boat dream. A Peace Corps dream. The Dorm Parent dream. The Teaching English in Korea dream (thanks for that Ken and Krystin). I could go on.

Last but not least...the RV dream. Similar to the houseboat dream, but this one involved travel around these great United States, and probably Canada and Mexico too. And hanging out with hippies. Well, that is in all of my dreams. Because in my dreams I am a hippie.

But the REAL RV dream, the one that's happening, is not as exciting as all that. It involves a new job with less pay, a desire for a stay-at-home parent, and a new town with expensive housing. It involves a plan to homeschool, with kindergarten on the horizon. None of it added up without some finagling. So we finagled ourselves into a travel trailer, and onto some land. I use the word "land" loosely, as its just an acre or two that we share with our landlord. Between her and us and all our stuff, it looks like we're having a yard sale every day. Truth be told, we had very little to do with the whole arrangement. We contributed some ideals, a willingness to do something crazy, and a very great need. The God of the universe, who knows our names and every need, orchestrated the rest.

Anyway, that's a snippet about how we got here. Hopefully I'll make time to write about it more, because there are some beautiful things that have happened, and I'd love to share them. Without further editing or ado, I'll hit the Publish button, otherwise this bit of work will join the ranks of my already lengthy Drafts section.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Some Honesty About Foster Parenting

Last year I shared this testimony that shared with our church at our church's 2013 Annual Thanksgiving Feast. I shared at the same event in 2014, mostly about our experiences with foster care and how the Lord used it in my life. I wanted to post it here as well.


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When Tom asked me to share, I almost didn't do it. In fact I took forever to get back to him, because I WANTED to be able to do it, but the emotions I feel with this are still so raw and deep and I just wasn't sure I could manage it. But I think what I have to say needs to be shared.

First of all, I'm so thankful for our foster care journey. Let me preface by saying, if you in part have ever had an inkling toward fostering, or if you do after hearing this, please talk to me. Also, there are numerous practical ways you can support foster parents. We have been so grateful for the prayer, emotional and even some financial support we've received from a number of people here.

So here goes. After 9 months of preparation, August 1, we became foster parents. Our family grew from 2, to 4 children, ages 4, 2, 19 months and 16 months. It was crazy. The first few weeks were a blur. Just constant diaper changes and sleepless nights. Pulling children off of each other as they handled their anger and confusion the only way they knew how.

At first, it was easy to love. They're little kids. They are adorable, sweet, and affectionate. But as the newness wore off, toddlers were still toddlers, with all their curiosity and testing of boundaries. And there were signs of trauma that were not only difficult to deal with emotionally, they were frustrating to live with on a day to day basis. It is hard.

Before we went into this, I knew there would be challenges, but its different when you start living it, and feeling it. Fostering is a very lonely road. It is very isolating when so many of your interactions include the words "I admire you." or "I could never do what you are doing." Or "I don't know how you do it." I'll tell you how:

I stumble through it.

I fail a lot.

I hoped that would be showing our kids this shining example of caring for orphans and widows. Of opening our home to strangers. Of clothing and feeding those who needed clothing and food. Of loving the poor. Instead, I've shown them what it means to obey God and follow Him, even when its hard, even when you mess up. I'm setting an example of confession, repentance, and forgiveness, both giving and receiving. And more recently, when my weariness and brokenness over my own failures has reached its peak, I've shown them what it is to pray constantly, to ask God for help, to thank Him for everything, and to see God answer prayer.

I have questioned this path so many times. Because its hard, because it doesn't always feel good, because it reminds me of my weakness all. the. time. There are many times where its a joy, when it feels easy, and delightful. And then there are times when it is nothing but absolute obedience to follow through on what we said we would do.

I wish I could say that I depended on the Lord constantly. The reality is though, that through this experience, I've experienced something that I haven't experienced before in my life as a Christian. There was concept that I knew to be true, but hadn't experienced in my daily life. It's this: I need him.

I need him.

I need him every hour, every minute, every second.

Many, many times I did not recognize that need in the difficult moments. In the last few months, I have seen things in my own heart that make me cringe. 

I need him, not because I'm a good person looking to be better. But because my heart is wicked, and I can't even be NICE without his help. I have seen the depth of my own sin, and recognize that if I want to change, there is no book on parenting, no tool I can add to my toolbox, NOTHING that I can do other than ask for his help, his grace, his wisdom, by the minute. He is the source of every good thing, and He is the one who can shapes me into something new.

My default setting is to figure things out on my own. I am begging God to change my default from independence, to dependence. I want the REALITY that I need him to permeate every moment of my life.

If you know my story at all, you know that this is a complete shift from where I was three years ago. I have recognized again how great my sin is, not in an ALL have sinned sort of way, but in an I AM THE CHIEF OF SINNERS sort of way. I've seen how deep my need for God is, but I also am encouraged to see how much God has changed my heart in the last 10 years, from one of doubt and unbelief, just hoping that God would someday take the little kernel of faith that remained in my apathetic, doubting heart, and turn it back to him. So to see this sort of change, is a very present reminder that God does this! He changes people!

This has been a big year for us. It was about a year ago that we were filling out paperwork to become foster parents. We went through the class, did the home study, and were approved. At the same time, on what I thought was a whim, Joshua started the application process to be a park ranger, which he went to college for. So about three weeks ago, after 10 months of jumping through hoops, he took a job at Lake Anna State Park, about 3 hours from here. This means big changes for our family, most of which all starts tomorrow. I start my first full time job working since becoming a mom. The kids will have a full time babysitter. Joshua will be leaving for 7 weeks of working at the park before returning home to attend the Police Academy in Salem for a few months.

Another change that will be taking place has been a really difficult one to make. As much as I've learned to persevere through our experience in foster care, we are also getting some experience with when its time to let go. Our foster children will be moving to a new home tomorrow. Since making this decision, the voices in my head are throwing doubt and guilt at me from every angle. Should we have never fostered instead of causing them to have to move again? What's going to become of them? Will they remember us? Will we ever be the same after experiencing the second-hand trauma of foster care? I wish I would have been a better mom to them in the short time I had. I made so many mistakes. What do people think? Do they think we're giving up? The list goes on and on.

All these thoughts bombarding me gives me plenty of opportunity to live in dependence on God, more opportunities to recognize my need of Him every moment, for Him to give me words of truth. Someone said recently, "Just because its hard, doesn't mean it wasn't what you should have done. It doesn't mean we heard God wrong. In fact, often it is the opposite." 

From these four months, I think I'm now less likely to run away from hard things, because I know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character, and character, hope. So often people have told us "I've thought about fostering, but I don't think I could handle it." Neither did we. Neither CAN we, except by the grace of God. So it is with all of life.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Renewal


Wow. It's been a long time since I've blogged. I could commit to blogging on a regular basis; chances are I woudn't. But this is a good outlet for me on occasion, so I'll just share what I want, when I want. Hopefully it will mean a little something to someone on occasion. What I'm sharing today is a testimony that I shared at our church's Thanksgiving Feast in 2013.

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John 6 says that MANY disciples walked away from Christ. So Jesus asks Peter, "Are you going to leave me too?" Peter's reply is, "To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God."

Sometimes a person goes through a season of doubt. Doubt so deep that it shakes you to your very core. I went through a period of desert for about 6-7 years. There were many reasons for it that I could list, but I think it boiled down to a God not being who I thought He was, and a deep disappointment in my life and that it wasn't what I thought it would be. Wondering if my life actually mattered to God. Did my life have any significance? There were times during it that I truly contemplated turning away from God, and from the church. But my heart, like Peter, was saying "Where would I go? There is no other Truth for me, and if there was Truth to be found, it was in Christ!" So, I made a decision that if there was a way doubt INTO Christ, I would try.

This year has marked a very significant time in my life. A time of renewal. I can't explain it, but somehow God has made Himself known to me, and my heart was able to receive it. So the thing that I'm thankful for this year is that my heart fully belongs to the Lord.

I just want to say, if you are going through doubt or struggles in your life, please know that it's okay. We live in this lie that no one else struggles like you struggle, or feels pain like your pain, or has secrets as deep and dark as yours. It is a lie. We all have our secrets.

God's heart is big enough to hold your confusion about Him. His grace is big enough to encompass your sin. There is room at Christ's table for you, and that means there is room in the Church for you. Please don't hide your struggle to the detriment of your soul. I have to say that I hid my doubts from almost everyone for years, and it was only when I chose to share the depths of what I was going through in a very public way, everything changed. It was confession of my struggle, and also, in a very real sense it was a confession of my need for community. Community is good. Confession is good.

Lastly, God is faithful. If you are dealing with doubt or apathy like I did, you wonder if it will ever end. Maybe it won't. But God is there, and our God is one who weeps with us as we struggle. There is a book I recommend called Disappointment with God by Philip Yancey. It was significant for me coming out on the other side of this desert place. And one of the most significant mental realities that I came to was that, what ever it is we are so disappointed with God about, whether it be that our life has not turned out the way we expected, or that He sees the evil in the world and allows it to continue, He sees the things that break our hearts, and His heart breaks too. He is disappointed WITH us. Along with us.

He is our safe place to whom we can take the cares of the world and He will take the burden from us. We don't need to take the burdens of the world on our shoulders. Doubt TO God, not away from Him. It's okay. Confession is good. Community is good.

I know that there are many here who do life with someone in the midst of serious struggle. Please be a safe person. A safe person is one who can share in sufferings. Someone who will not give pat answers. Someone who will listen and not try to fix it. Someone who believes that your struggles are no better than your friends. Someone who trusts that God will work His grace into your friends' life in His time. Someone who will hold your friends' hand and walk with them before they can say they are on the other side.

The Lord is good. He is gracious. He is faithful. He alone has the words of Eternal Life. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Why I Have No Friends*

I didn't intend for such a long silence when I wrote this post, but the emotional turmoil from which it came, and the subsequent response, was overwhelming. This week, I have needed to take a rest. And let me tell you, my rest has been easy. Somehow, this turbulence that I've been dealing with has lessened. Because so many people responded. And because amazingly, God met me.

Writing does something for me. It helps me to see more clearly. Last week I wrote and edited for hours, and I began to see the foolishness of my thinking. That post was the culmination of many things over a period of days. There was a book. And someone's story that I heard. A sermon or two. And your encouragement and nods of agreement. Friday truly felt like a new beginning for me.

I want to thank you. For responding. As I read your emails, and comments, and texts, most of them made me cry. Some because of their content, but mostly because they were there. Because so many of you cared enough to respond. They have truly ministered to my soul. At first, when I would read a response and cry, Malachi would say, "Mommy set [upset]?" Then after a couple of times, he started to say, "Mommy set again?" And then he pretty much ignored it. Weeping. Just life as usual around here.

In retrospect, maybe I should have turned off the computer and Smartphone so that I could get all the crying done at once, and no disrupt my day and alarm my child quite so frequently(!)

It hasn't been all cupcakes and rainbows. I am normally a private person. I don't post Facebook statuses full of drama. I don't share my business with the world. So to put it all out there like this has been very humbling and scary for me. I am still feeling nervous about it. When I run into people, the sinking feeling I have sometimes, realizing they might have read such private thoughts, is horrifying. I feel exposed. If I'm honest, sometimes I reallyreallyreally just want to pretend it didn't happen. But that would be to look a gift horse in the mouth because this feeling, and this exposure, really is a blessing. It has been a relief to be open about it, to have conversations about it. To know that its not hidden anymore. That I'm moving forward.

I am believing again. I am having understanding that I didn't have a week ago. It doesn't feel very personal yet. I feel sort of like I'm just getting reacquainted with this God who I've been been distant from for years. But I'm taking tentative steps in the right direction. And He is meeting me there. I don't know how much I'll write about this. I really do want close friends who I can live life with. But I don't know how much I can take of feeling like I'm writing my most intimate heart and sharing it with literally anyone who wants to read it. Not everyone in this world is "safe", and it is a hard thing to share private thoughts through a blog when you wouldn't feel like you trusted them face to face. But I also know that it can be helpful, for me and for others, to read and relate to my experiences. So we'll see what ends up here.

One question I've been thinking about as I've started sharing this with people more personally, is "How did I get here? Spiritually and relationally?" Why have I been going through such a difficult struggle almost completely alone?

Spiritually, it was a progression that probably started with a book I read. There were some doubts that surfaced and no one to hash it out with. There was a church situation that totally bummed me out. There was a change from full-time ministry to a regular vocation. I wasn't sure why it all happened, and I wasn't thrilled with the way life was turning out, or how hard it was to live the ideals I thought I believed in. There were more questions and no still no one to hash it out with. And then more life. And more questions. It just seems like the questions never got answered, and resulted in more questions, until I have felt really, totally confused.

Relationally, there is a lot I could say. About how I've tried and how I haven't. I haven't shared this fully with anyone except my husband and its not always because I think other people have it all together. Sometimes it is, and I know that's a lie. It's often because I don't have relationships established to share something so personal. The place I have been in emotionally is so raw that, for me, being real is more than most people are up for at some social event. It's not that I haven't wanted to talk to someone. It's just that you all don't understand the mess that would cause. I'm a Cryer. Not a normal cryer. An ugly, puffy, red-faced cryer that is really...conspicuous. I can't just ask someone to coffee, say, and dump on them my entire history without the ugly crying. And I have a kid. So I can't just "get into it" anywhere. So, being that it doesn't ever seem like the appropriate place or time for all that, and nobody wants to be the needy new friend when the other friend hasn't shared equally, it never happens. For me to be real without it always resulting in a display of my emotional wreckage means that I have to work through the wreckage. Deal with it. Heal from it.

There are times when I have reached out and alluded to this issue in my life. Sadly, the responses I've gotten have been spiritual platitudes at worst, and at best, completely inapplicable to my situation. I've received shallow advice that is supposed to fix it in twenty-two minutes like a sitcom, and "I've been there" statements when they are comparing mountains to molehills. It's so hard to share this and not be taken seriously, that it just makes me resolve to not talk to anyone else about it.

I don't want to seem ungrateful. But where are the friends who will just listen, and not try to fix it? I can't tell you how many advice sessions I have nodded my way through when I just wanted someone to listen. Don't say much. Build my trust. And share your struggles too. No, not those ones. The real ones.

Sometimes I see people, and wish I were like them. I'm sure you do it too. Not the people who have it all together. The people who seem real. The ones who really care. The ones who are warm and open. I am not that person. But I want to be. I want to be the one who can reach out when someone clearly needs a friend, but I'm not in a place where I'm very good at it. I can make a meal, I can invite you over for dinner, but I have a really hard time getting past the surface level interaction that I really wish was out of the way. And so do they. Even when I haltingly make the first move, it is often not reciprocated with equal vulnerability.

I'm hoping this whole thing will be the start of something new in my life. A rekindled faith. And also, real friends. The kind that tell me what's really going on in their lives. The not-so-shareable stuff. And vice-versa.  The kind of friends that depend on each other, and whose kids grow up together. Don't you want the same thing?

Since I wrote that life-changing post a week ago, I have had all these people reach out to me. Ask me to coffee and playdates and who knows what else. And I plan on taking pretty much everyone up on it. But I'm realizing how rehashing the same story over and over will get a little old. And I'm thinking that it would be so much better if I have a new story. Something that goes like this: I was down and out. Then I asked for help. And there you were. Now I'm not down and out anymore. Here's what God is doing in my life. What about you?


*  For the purposes of this post, I am using the word "friend" to mean, "intimate friend". I have friends. Don't be offended if you consider yourself my friend. The feeling is mutual, I'm sure. :o)

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

In Absentia

I am working on a new post, but I am just emotionally exhausted from the intensity of the last week. I can't seem to get the gumption to organize the jumble of thoughts in my head. I kind of just want to take a nap.

Here's what I learned this weekend: If you want people to read your blog, title your post something provocative. And if you want to feel loved, write a post sharing deep dark secrets and that you feel completely alone. You will soon realize that you are not.

Friday, August 10, 2012

In Which I Overshare. No, Really.

Sometimes things come to head in life and you have to do something about it. Today is that day for me. Perhaps its a cop-out to do it through a blog. But, I actually feel quite the opposite. I am terrified to post this, and also relieved. I have always cared what people think about me way too much. I don't want to disappoint people. But I'm going to set that aside because confession is good for the soul, and because the consequences of disappointing people are dwarfed by the consequences of remaining alone in this. And I have never been regretted being honest. So here goes...

I am hurting. I've been hurting for a really long time. There are several reasons why, and they are all doozies, including anxiety, depression and codependence. But the main reason for my hurt is a deep-rooted, overwhelming, persistent disappointment with God.

For years now, I have questioned God and his love for me. Not for anything I have done. It's not shame or a self-esteem issue. I know that the basis of God's supposed love, if it is real, isn't based on my actions. My problem is His actions. How can I trust that God loves me when he lets so many bad things happen to so many people? How can God care and simultaneously allow so much suffering in the world? How can He allow so much suffering in my own life? Why doesn't He just fix it all? So its not just His love for me that I question. It's His loving nature. His sovereignty. His desire for good in my life and the lives of others. His ability to change people. All of these things I doubt.

Doubt isn't really the right word. Question isn't either. It would be more accurate to say I don't believe that God is love, even though I guess I know it's true. How's that for a completely weak belief in God? Believe me when I say this isn't some small, niggling, passing doubt. This doubt has been my thorn for years, and it has eaten away at the core of everything I believe in.

I still hold Biblical values as the foundation of my life, however much I doubt. But my doubts are so serious that I cannot practice more than token Christianity because, deep in my soul, I think that if it were true, things would be so, so different. In the world, and in my life. And yet, I call it doubt, because I know that it is my belief that is wrong, not my belief system, if that makes sense. In other words, I believe that if I get past this, I will not find myself an agnostic or an atheist or a Hindu. I will find renewed faith in the real Jesus, not the one that I am disillusioned with, but who He really is.

There have been moments of Light here and there that have kept me from completely losing faith. I truly believe these moments are from God and He is giving me crags in a rock to hold on to. I know He can handle my doubts. I'm just tired of doubting. I want so much more for my life. I want more for my family and more for my children than the picture of God I am showing them. I am a shadow of the person I was. I am tired of being stuck at this point for so long. Tired of being disappointed and the resulting apathy.


One thing this has taught me is that people are never what you see. Everyone has a past. Everyone has hidden struggles, and we often feel quite alone in them. I heard something yesterday that rang so true for me, that "we compare our inside to other people's outside". We think that no one can relate to us. It's not true. I know that most people have deep struggles that, like me, they feel alone in. The problem is bridging the gulf between our islands. Personally, I think my struggle would be less of a burden if I just had close friends who were going through it with me. But how do you get there with people you've just met? And how do you just dive in with friends you've been estranged from for years? I can't seem to figure that out. There is a Part II to this post, and that is the topic. I was hoping to post it tomorrow, but an impromptu camping trip might throw a wrench in the timing.

I actually see a light at the end of this tunnel. He does love me. And I think I'm getting to the point of really believing that again. Joshua and I have been attending Celebrate Recovery, which has been good. It keeps these struggles in my face, so I can no longer push them back for months at a time. I have such a heavy weight on me, and I want so badly for it to be gone. I'm not sure how to get there, but something is changing in me. I feel paralyzed by the fear of moving forward. Of what I will find about myself that is ugly and seems better left hidden. But in spite of that, I also feel terrified by staying where I am. It is so bad for me. It is so bad for my family. So in spite of my fear, I am writing this post to reach out.

I have this feeling that in order to move forward, I can't stay in the solitary place where I've been. So, in lieu of feeling free to share this with a friend over coffee (or better yet, having a friend that has been walking with me through this for the last seven years), I am putting it out there in this not so anonymous, but slightly less vulnerable way. To let whoever cares to know that I need your support. Your prayers. Your friendship. Feel free to reach out. I am hoping for it actually.

P.S. I know that not everyone who reads this is someone that I would choose to confide in in "real life". And that is a risk I take. But please think twice before you hit SEND. Don't preach at me, feed me platitudes, shame me, or minimize my hurts. Limit your response to that which is truly loving and helpful. Please.

AND if you feel so inclined, I would love a comment letting me know you read. Writing a post like this feels scary, and it helps to know that people are actually reading it.

Monday, August 6, 2012

An Update on Breastfeeding

Malachi is 26 months old now, and we are still going strong with breastfeeding. I'm so excited we've made it this far. I can't say that I had a goal in mind as far as nursing was concerned, other than I hoped to at least make it to two years. I also have thought about child-led weaning, but I have felt more comfortable with the idea that we will continue as long as both of us want to.

We used donor milk for almost a year, to supplement the breast milk I wasn't able to provide. But since about 15 months or so, we were able to stop that altogether. We night-weaned around 21 months, but he wasn't nursing most nights anyway at that point.

When I got pregnant, I knew that it could really effect our nursing relationship. I tried to be mentally prepared for whatever might happen, including me deciding I was done at some point. It got uncomfortable right away, and has continued to be. Malachi has never given an indication that my milk changed taste, but it did dry up completely at some point in the last few weeks. Still, he nurses. Morning, naptime, and bedtime, and sometimes in between. At this point, I don't see him quitting because of pregnancy-related changes. If he weans, it will be because he is ready, and would have been ready anyway. And that makes me happy.

He has recently decided he loves cow's milk, which he previously shunned wholeheartedly. To distinguish between his two "milks", he calls one his "binka milk" (drink of milk) and the other "mama milk". Melt my heart. 

So, we have a new baby coming in 4-5 months, and I am curious and excited about the possibility of tandem nursing. I'm nervous about how he'll feel about sharing. I'm looking forward to having some help with engorgement, and giving him his fill of milk again. I'm also hoping that it will give him an extra boost of immunity through the winter with a newborn in the house. 

I'm so thankful we are still nursing. He wiggles. He flails. He bites (not on purpose). He drives his truck all over me. He caresses my face. He rests his hand on my breast. He giggles. He offers milk to his toys. I love it when he stops playing and asks to nurse. He's my big boy, but he still loves his mama's milk.