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Archive for the ‘Gratitude’ Category

Dear Lady in the Tweed Skirt,

I know it was probably awkward for you and your business partners and that realtor lady to deal with me and a one-year-old boy while you were trying to tour office space to rent this morning. Let me assure you, it was more awkward for me to have to peel my son off of the realtor’s leg, only to discover he had also squeezed his pureed fruit all over the floor right by where you were standing. I’ve never actually scrubbed the floor in a public place with baby wipes before, so it was especially disconcerting to do so on my knees right in front of you, but I want you to know that I do understand that it seemed like Julius and I were a bit of an annoyance. I especially understand how you could feel that way after he mowed you over with the stroller. I really did try to stop him. If I hadn’t turned my back for just a second to discard all of the fruit-puree/foot-traffic-covered baby wipes, I probably would have caught him before he took off pushing that stroller right at your back. I’m sure it both startled you and hurt quite a bit when he slammed into you. Please know that I appreciate that you constrained yourself to merely glaring at me when I apologized profusely, rather than saying anything snarky. I recognize that you could have been much more unpleasant toward me than you were and I’m grateful.

I just want you to know, I really am a decent human being.

I’m sure it seemed to you like I think I rule the world, and especially that little indoor courtyard where Julius and I had camped out for coffee with my new friend. Please believe me when I say, I don’t think I rule the world. I’m really just trying to figure out where I fit in it.  I was hoping that my time at the coffee shop with a friend would ease my transition into this new town and back into being a mom of a baby again after a ten year hiatus–I’m desperate to feel a little bit less like a fish out of water. And, trust me, I don’t think it’s okay for children to disrupt the business world – until very recently I worked in an office and I totally get it – but, the truth is, it’s really hard for me to get mad at Julius over stuff like that. See, he’s been my foster son since he was two months old and I accidentally fell in love with him. I say accidentally because I knew all along that by the time Julius was a year old our family would be moving across the country and we would have to leave him behind with another foster family, so I kind of wanted to protect my heart.

Unfortunately, he’s pretty amazing and hard not to love so that didn’t happen.

I know you probably don’t really want to hear all of this, but I didn’t get to explain it to you this morning during our short interchange and I need you to know: until this past June I thought I was going to lose him.

For months I grieved heavily as I anticipated our impending separation, even as I trusted God to take care of him. And then, the miraculous happened. Julius’ sweet, but very young mother, decided she wanted us to raise him.  The day we went to court with her and heard her say that before a judge was so bittersweet. Our hearts were overflowing with joy and breaking for her at the same time. It was confusing and difficult and beautiful. We felt the same way when Julius’ father made a similar decision two weeks later. It felt like a privilege to be able to be a part of these birth families’ lives and we began to understand our responsibility to keep Julius connected to them.

Five short, miracle-filled weeks later, Julius was officially declared by a judge to be ours. We drove straight from the courthouse to the highway and moved our family to this beautiful state that you call home.

So, again, I know it probably doesn’t matter to you, but I need to say it anyway: I treasure this little boy.

When I look at him sometimes I feel like I’m looking over a giant cliff that I almost, but didn’t, fall over, and I am overcome with gratitude. It gives a girl perspective, you know? I will never get over the fact that we didn’t have to leave him behind. I will never stop thanking God that Julius calls me “Mama.” So, though I know we were a train wreck this morning, and it was truly pretty humiliating to kneel before you and then have him run you over, I am grateful that it happened. What a joy to be the mama who had to apologize for this amazing little boy’s ridiculous antics. What a privilege to clean up his messes and help him navigate this life. I wish with everything in me that I’d had the same perspective when my daughters were little and I’m determined to treasure all four of my kids in this way for the rest of their lives. So, dear Lady in the Tweed Skirt, please accept my sincere apology for the way my chaos affected you this morning. I’m sure you’ll be glad to know that I didn’t pee my pants while laughing hysterically on the way home—and that is the biggest miracle of all.

Julius

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One year and three days ago I became a foster mom. It has shaken me to the core. I am certain we made the right decision in doing this—God was very clear. There have also been many, many blessings that have come as a direct result of us fostering—the deepened maturity and kingdom-mindedness of each of our daughters, the opportunity to love on six different children in their time of distress, relationships with families in crisis, witnessing God’s clear provision for our family and more. But as I have no desire to blow sunshine where it doesn’t belong I must admit it has been tough. Really tough. A couple of the children we’ve had in our home have had behavioral challenges that have required almost constant attention and have pushed us way beyond our own parenting abilities. One of our babies had severe health problems that had us in the doctor’s office about every four days and limited our ability to do life as normal. For the first seven months we felt as though we were constantly in the blazing fire and the temperature just kept rising. Working full-time and continuing to manage an already busy home life during all of this added to the burden and lead me to the following unhealthy “stress management” behaviors: multiple occasions of sobbing uncontrollably on early morning runs with friends, eating more than my share (and Brooke’s share and my kids’ share…what?), throwing full cereal bowls into the kitchen sink in frustration (which unfortunately happened to pop out of the sink and splatter their contents all over the kitchen just before my parents arrived from out of town—I swear it looked worse than it really was), ceasing all writing and self-discipline and forgetting to be kind to those that I love most. To be clear, I don’t think this happens to all foster parents. It’s definitely a tough job for all of us, but many handle it with grace. I have always thought I could handle stress fairly well. Turns out that’s not exactly the case.  Long story kinda short, I ended up in counseling last spring. It was super helpful and I’m so glad I did. I learned much about self-regulation and the validity of my emotions. I learned that I’m not crazy, but that I don’t have to let my feelings rule the day. I also learned that if I push my index finger on the area between my nose and my upper lip, where a mustache would be if I had one, it just might prevent an emotional explosion and begin the process of bringing me back from the dark side. Fantastic stuff. But there was more work God wanted to do in my heart.

For seven months, I suffered from a constant state of being overwhelmed beyond my ability to cope. My emotions were so big I couldn’t see straight at times. And yet, I heard whispers from the Lord that I could tell would be hope-giving if I could get over my pity party long enough to listen. Sadly, that didn’t happen. During that time, God spoke quietly to me about how to find joy in the midst of suffering. A friend told me about Ann Voskamp’s book One Thousand Gifts and its beautiful message of “eucharisteo,” or giving thanks in everything. I intended to buy it but never did. Months later, while setting up a work event in a church I don’t attend, I came across a table of free books, most of which were decades old–except for one shiny new copy of One Thousand Gifts. I knew He left it there for me. I took it and intended to read the whole thing, but got bogged down in chapter three by the poetry of Ann’s language and the nastiness in my heart. I tried to make a list of things I’m grateful for but I couldn’t make it sound as pretty as she did and didn’t see the beauty in anything around me. Later I was following links on someone else’s blog and I found the blog of a woman named Sara Hagerty who has adopted four kids internationally. Her blog told a story of how God told her husband that they needed to defy all the experts and go immediately overseas to retrieve their children even though the paperwork wasn’t ready. She struggled to trust him but did so anyway and five weeks later they came home with their kids. She inspired me so I subscribed to her posts—a rare occurrence for me—and I was surprised to find out that the main theme of her blog is “adoration,” or basically giving thanks to God through His word. I felt God tugging my heart to let Him show me the way out of my pit but I couldn’t (or wouldn’t) let go of my frustration long enough to let Him do it. I left most of her posts unread in my inbox.

Then our two most challenging kiddos went home in June and I was surprisingly sad. I had been afraid that I would only feel relief and would therefore cement my status as the worst foster mom to ever live.  I was happily surprised that the grief at their leaving was as big as it was. For one week we did nothing but watch Harry Potter movies and hang out as a family, then a friend texted me that I needed to read Katie Davis’ newest blog post right away because she had just sent a foster baby home too. Katie is a gifted, spirit-filled, yet refreshingly average, 23-year-old who is living in Uganda. She is loving and serving the people, and through God’s leading has become the mother to thirteen sweet Ugandan girls. Her life speaks loudly of Jesus’ love and her humble words constantly shout Truth into my life. This is what she wrote seven days after our boys went home:

“I believe the lie that I must meet expectation, and I try harder…Life gets too busy, it gets so fast and so full that at the end of the day it can feel just empty…This was not the first time I had been here and I knew what to do. I pull back, I dig into the Word and I listen. The lesson whispered in the quiet is always the same. My friend Sara calls it Adoration. My friend Ann counts it all up as Eucharisteo. Paul says it’s the secret of contentment, hands full or hands empty. Whatever we name it, it is astounding Truth: Communion with the Savior is the only thing that makes anything matter.”

Did you catch that she actually linked to both Sara Hagerty and Ann Voskamp’s blogs?! That Katie knows of them both, let alone considers them friends, was a completely shock—that God was saying the same thing to all of us was a greater shock still. It hit me like a ton of bricks. This time I heard God say very loudly and firmly: “Now we’re going to bring it all together, Sarah. This is the way. This is how you find your way to joy even in this crazy life you are living. You give thanks. You adore me. Come learn.”

That day I became a student. If God in His unbelievable grace would continue to pursue me with this lesson even after I ignored Him for so long, I didn’t want to miss what He had to say. I returned to the book I hadn’t finished and bought myself a tiny little moleskine journal to write down the things for which I am grateful. I decided to lower my standards for how my grateful thoughts sounded and didn’t expect poetry, but searched for things that really made me feel grateful—even if they were simple or I repeated them over and over again. I wrote that I was grateful for the sweet sister love between my girls, new purpose and joy for my dad in his long-awaited new job, Friday evening at home with my loves, a considerate husband who puts the toilet seat down, dear friends with whom to do life, the incredible blessing of a marriage restored from the brink of disaster, finding one last pina colada flavored popsicle hidden in the freezer, and my incredibly comfortable bed. I started carrying that little journal with me wherever I went and it became a delight to find things to be thankful for at every moment. I started the day saying thank you and I ended it the same way. During the previous seven months, there had been blips of pleasure, but the Hard was just so big I barely registered those blips. When I began to search for things I could thank God for, the Good became so big that the hard things became the blips that didn’t register much attention.

Since the day I began to learn about living a grateful life my circumstances haven’t changed much. I’m still an overly busy foster parent who sometimes fights being overwhelmed. Some days are just as hard as they were before, but my focus has changed from the Hard to the Good and that has made all the difference. One day it hit me that this is what God meant in Philippians 4:8 when He said: “And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing: Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” It makes so much sense when I put that in the context of giving thanks all the time. I don’t have to ignore the hard or be unrealistically optimistic, but there are always things for which I can be grateful and when I turn my thoughts to those things, my heart loses the pity party and I am strengthened for the journey. There are some days when all I can scrounge up to thank God for is the fact that I don’t have herpes (tales from working at an STD clinic) but that definitely still brings my heart to the grateful place and provides perspective! When I turn my heart to gratitude instead of letting it follow its natural course to complaining and self-pity, I draw near to the Lord, my spirit is revived, and Satan is defeated.

I have learned that I can’t manufacture joy. It is a fruit of the Spirit and not achieved by my own resolve. But I CAN choose gratitude—and God has shown me that genuine gratitude is the doorway to joy. I choose to open that door and let the joy come in. It’s taken me a long time to find the margin in my life to write this down but I’m so grateful to be doing so today. I don’t ever want to forget this lesson. I know deep in my spirit that this truth is Life in the humdrum and the chaos and the stress and the weariness. And, in fact, I am now finding it is all over His Word as well—He barely goes a chapter without encouraging us to be grateful. I’m praying that God will imprint the same truth on your soul as you navigate whatever difficulty you find in your own path. Many blessings to you!

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