Monday, June 29, 2015

Love, Hide-n-Seek, and Brilliance

A friend recently asked me, what do you wish you knew, as an 11 or 12 year old girl, heading into womanhood? It was a good question. The answers were the same things that I wish my soul would know now as a 37 year old. These are not complete. They weren't written by a theologian. They were just written by little-not-so-young-me, as I thought about what really matters, what really changes things and what do we/I need to know and remember to head into the next stage of life - whether 13, 38, or 73.
Here it is.

Luke 10:27 "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'"
You are loved. You are loved thoroughly, purely, and perfectly.  This love is not dependent on anything you do, have done, or will become. This love simply IS.  Your greatest goal in life is to find the love, catch the love, "spy" the love, and spread the love. All around you, everyday God has left little love notes, in the beauty of a flower, the wonder of a piece of art, a cool breeze on a hot day, a baby's laugh, your Mom's mac-n-cheese - when you find His love - and you name it - and you find joy in it - then, you are right in the center of God's greatest dream for your life.  The next part of His dream, for your life - is for you to do all of those same things with the people that God puts into your life.  Love them - find the love - "spy" the love - spread the love. Delight in the love you share with other people that God has set beside you in this life. As you find more and more of God's love all around you (see above) you will have more and more love to share with those around you.  

Jeremiah 29:13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.
Find ways to live in the present. That may sound silly, because, of course- where else can we live, but the place that we are? But, many people spend much time remembering, longing for, or wishing to re-do the past.  When not focused on the past, we are often straining toward the future, worrying, wondering, planning, and grasping for what will be.  When we are not lost in our past or pining for our future - we are often distracting ourselves with anything to keep our minds busy, entertained, or feeling good (but not really feeling, at all).  But, to simply BE in the present - thinking, feeling, loving, creating, relating to God and others - this is where we are truly alive.  It is in these times and spaces - that we really experience the love and relationships that I wrote about above. (That's right, sweetie, keep looking up!) So, when you feel yourself lost in your past, obsessively planning for the future, or feeling "bored" and reaching for a distraction - perhaps, instead, play a game of Hide-n-Seek, with God. There is something in your present moment to be thankful for, there is a person near you who you can show love or appreciation, there is an emotion that can be given space to dance, there is a love note somewhere in your midst, can you find it? There is a song to be sung, a mile to be run, or a story to be told. When we live and love in the "now" and we seek God with our whole heart - God promises us that we will always find Him.  Sometimes it might seem that God is hiding, but - if He is hiding, it is right out in the open! We must keep seeking Him, in all of our moments. 

Matthew 28:20 And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.
Romans 8:28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
Life will be full of hard things. It is OK. You can do hard things. You are going to be hurt, in ways that you cannot imagine. But, you will be OK. The goal is not to run away from the hard things or the hurt; the goal is to grow in our ability to give and receive love in the midst of all the hard hurting moments. God is with you and His love is perfect - and perfect love defeats fear. You do not have to be afraid. That doesn't mean you will like the bad things; it means you will not be alone in the midst of them. It means that God will collect your tears and, just like Jesus with his friends in the Bible, He may cry salty tearts right along with you. Then, because God is awesome like this, He can take the hard and the hurt and the bad and the broken, and make something beautiful.  God can do this because, He is the first Artist and Creator and so He can recycle the junk in our lives - caused by sin and brokenness and a world of sickness - and make something that is better, more beautiful, and a blessing to someone - somewhere - somehow. Sometimes beauty takes time - sometimes you have to wait a while to see it. But, we can trust our God - He is good and though he doesn't always rescue us from hard things He always stays with us in the midst of them and He is continually weaving together something beautiful, especially from the broken bits. 

John 14:20 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.
Revelation 21:5 He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making everything new!" 
Sometimes the pain, sadness, and brokenness you will see are somewhere else or in someone else, like a child far away in another country who does not have a family or a friend at school who no one will eat lunch with.  In those moments, it is also so very important to remember that you are not alone. God is with you. God is within you. That means, that God wants you to enter the brokenness and be a part of the pain tht is around you and the beauty that He is working on. We are His image bearers. That is fancy words for - when people see you, they see God. Inside of you is all of the creativity, love, resourcefulness, brilliance, and compassion that God has (because, of course, you are His child).  So, when we see the brokenness, we are meant to help bind it and to create beauty, We are not simply meant to talk about it, or cry about it, or wonder why God is not doing something about all of this mess. My dear, He is doing something - and He is doing it inside your heart - and it is meant to spill out into your hands and feet. So, little child, listen carefully to your heart in the hurting times of those around you- Jesus is speaking there and He wants you to be a part of the work He is doing of making all things new. 
Matthew 5:16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
Finally, you are a girl/woman. You were created in the image of God. At some point someone may have painted a picture in your mind that God was/is a boy. That is silly. God is God. As a girl - you show a very important part of who God is and without you being the amazing girl/woman that God has created you to be - with all your love, joy, creativity, brilliance, compassion, and creativity all spilling out all over the place - people would not be able to see God quite so clearly.  Be brave. Be bold. Be kind. Be love. Do not accept any limits that anyone would put on you - God has opened wide the gates - the possibilities are limitless.  You are an amazing young woman....let your light shine and blind them with the brilliance of Christ in you, the hope of glory (Col. 1:27). 
Love For the Path Ahead, photo shared by my beautiful friend who has been walking the hard paths of life with me....she is so good at being a part of "everything new" in my life!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

A Modern Psalm of Mourning

A Modern Psalm of Mourning
by Short Girl

I tried to speak and my words leaked from my eyes.
So, I bathed in my tears and tried to drown pain
But, she would not give up the ghost.
I thought maybe I could run from her --
but, pain was an ever present pursuer
hot and hurting, like a thousand pounds - heavy on my heart.
What do I do with this shadow - this darkness that consumes?
Hope is flickering - a light faintly sensed
A remembering from a time when dreams burned bright

Where do I go? I am alone.
What do I do? I am afraid.
What will become of me? My answers have faded.

God, I have trusted in You. I have called out to You.
I have placed my hope in You and said, “I will not grow weary.”
But, weariness came - a twisted sister of pain
And now, I am lost and without strength.
My children look for me and I am, no more.
They are hurting and wounded and I am bleeding out
before I can bind their wounds or stroke their faces.

Rescue me - in my weakness. Shelter me - in your strength.
Let me abide in the shadow of the Most High.
I will wait for you, Lord - even as my hope grows faint
Lead me to the Rock that is higher than I.
Lead me beside cool waters that will cleanse my soul.
Speak to my heart and heal it. Lead me to a clear path.
Show me your way, when I cannot find any way.
Illuminate the dark places of my heart
This beautiful - brutal - life is the life I have.
Be with me in the midst of it - save me from my self.
I will say to my soul - look up. I will say to my heart - have hope.
For God does not grow weary or faint -
He knows pain, but is not overcome by it.
He is the God who turns dirt into beauty
He breathes His will and the whole earth is filled.
He is the God who speaks Life out of death.
Oh God, you are my God and I will ever seek You.
For you are my only hope and my salvation.
I will say to myself, God is good and His goodness will I seek.
I will not give up - I will wrestle until broken and beg for the blessing.
I may limp all my days, but I am confident of this
I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Sacred Places, Grapes and Grandma

I grew up in grape country and though vineyards tend to evoke images of romance and nostalgia for many people, growing up grape vineyards meant work, and lots of it!  However, now that I don't regularly trim vines, pull brush, drive a tractor, tie grapes, pick grapes, or sneak away with my cousin to create "art sculptures" from my parents copper tying wire - I admit, I too am a bit of a sucker for the nostalgia of grape country in Western New York. In fact, there are days when I yearn to walk a grape row, escape the sounds of the city, and return to simpler days. Especially, once September rolls around and I know that there is fruit, ripe for the picking on those vines - the taste of home.  Yes, we worked hard, but we worked together and oft days, now that those vineyards are far away, I miss all of that togetherness.

I lived in three different houses while growing up. My parents seemed to follow the old advice, "Go west young man, go west and grow up with the country" and thus my parents moved west - west down the same street -  West Sidehill Rd. That first house has always been special to me, though. It is the house where, for a few short years, I was an only child and my first memories of playing the piano, our black lab that hated thunder storms (Sheba), and singing Elvira with my Daddy, are in that house.  However, the memories are deeper and more sacred than that, now that I am older.
On Left: Everett Eddy (Grandma's eldest brother) & his future wife Carrie. On the right - Arthur Strine Sr and his future wife, my Grandma, Luella Eddy.

You see, I loved to listen to my Grandma tell me stories- although she now lives with Jesus - when we were together she told me many stories of her life and of that house where she had her first surprise breaths and tiny cries. It was a surprise because she was the second twin in what was expected to be a singular birth and her cries were tiny because no one knew if the itty-bitty second baby would make it through the night. Grandma grew up in that all old farm house, filled with her Mama's laugh and the work of her Daddy's strong hands. It was the same farm house that her Daddy had grown up in. It is the house my young father bought as a young bachelor after he came home from the Vietnam War, and as he fixed up that house - he dated my mother, and together they mended, sanded, hammered, dreamed and eventually my father proposed to my mother in that house. They came home to that house on their wedding night and their siblings had pulled all kinds of pranks and shenanigans that caused them grief and laughter and gave them more stories to tell. A year later, it was that same house that my parents brought itty-bitty me home to, at 30 days of age and a little less than 5 lbs, my tiny cries called that house home, on my first Christmas Eve. Then life kept moving, right on into the blizzard of '77 - where the snow came up to the eves and we bundled up and hunkered down in the old family homestead house.  It is one of those "sacred" spaces in my story, in the story of my family. It isn't that fancy, it doesn't have cathedral ceilings or an in-ground pool, but it is so very, very special.

Last year when I was home and talking with my Mom about life and the future and that house, we talked about the possibility of she and my Dad turning it into a quiet, quaint, vacation property.  A place where another couple, family, or group of friends could spend a weekend or a week and maybe make some special memories of their own.  Just a couple miles from major interstates and Lake Erie, it is surrounded by vineyards and woods and the aura of a simpler time.  If you decide to visit, let me know - I can tell you which room was mine when I was a little girl, where the piano used to be, and which window Sheba used to try to jump through when there was thunder in the air.  Also, if you live close to me, have my Mother send back some grapes with you, maybe peaches from their orchard, or if it is a little later in the fall - I'd like fresh pressed cider. Please? If you are someone who is really close to my heart, give my Mom a hug for me - she doesn't get enough hugs with her girls living several states away.  One can never have enough hugs, beautiful sunsets, or stories to tell.

More information about staying at The Homestead House and Arwen Farms. There are grapes in New York? Yup, there sure are! Lake Erie Wine Country

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Risk of Loving - A Risk Worth Taking

A good friend shared this quote with me and it resonated in my heart as being deeply true.
"Every time we make the decision to love someone, we open ourselves to great suffering, because those we most love cause us not only great joy but also great pain. The greatest pain comes from leaving… if we want to avoid the suffering of leaving, we will never experience the joy of loving. And love is stronger than fear, life stronger than death, hope stronger than despair. We have to trust that the risk of loving is always worth taking." - Henri Nouwen
I had a taste of this love that suffers, when my Grandpa went to Heaven back in 1986. I remember crying, crying, and crying. He was my ketchup on ham sandwiches, watch him make a bullet, tell me a story, get you with a fly swatter grandpa.  I wish we could have known each other longer.  I loved him as much as my nearly 9 year old heart could and his loss was felt in salty tears and dreams where he would still sit and talk with me.  He was the first person whose leaving broke my little spirit, where I saw a picture of loving and suffering mingled. The risk of loving is always worth taking.

This is one of my favorite pieces of art Little J made at pre-school this past year. Our Little J has her own story of risk and love with as many ups and downs as a roller coaster!  Thank you, Jesus, that we took the risks!!!
When I thought I was a grown-up, and skipping down the flowered path of infatuation, I don't think I really had any concept that this doe-eyed, your kiss makes the world stop turning, you are all I need in the world love -would eventually also mean suffering.  I did not know that these two were twisted sisters.  However, I have found along the way, as romance has ebbed and flowed and matured into the kind of love that says, "I am here, your partner for life; I have your back; I am your person," that those we love most also have the greatest capacity to hurt us. Oh, and how we have hurt one another in some of the worst ways! That being said, we have also loved each other in the very best ways, ways that are full of grace and redemption, rolling on the floor laughter, and singing and dreaming. When you know someone inside and out, you know just how to bring someone the greatest joy and pain.  Has it been worth it? Even knowing the good, the bad, the breath-taking beauty, and the ugly? Yes, I would get up and do it all over again today. Oh, yes, the risk of loving is always worth taking

What about the J that didn't stay? That itty-bitty brown baby whom I loved through middle of the night feedings and who delighted me with his first smiles and chubby hands reaching for me in the morning - oh, how I loved him! His loss, the loss of a child who felt like my own but never was, was like arrows in my heart and even now - nearly 9 months since he went back to his Other Mother - he shows up in my dreams, in the photos on the wall, and in unsolicited memories. I love and miss him, and I always will.  If I could rewind the clock and get that phone call again - on April 18, 2013 - from Department of Child Services, I would say, "Yes, yes, yes!" all over again.  I would not miss a single moment of those 6 months with him.  The risk of loving is always worth taking.

Sometimes I get ahead of myself. (For those who know me, this is not a shocking statement.)  I have been mothering, and falling in love with, Baby J (II) and Sister K for about 10 weeks, and as such, I start to imagine a life where they never leave. These are dangerous imaginings, for a "for-now-foster mama," but it is hard to keep them at bay.  J&K may stay for the long term, they may go in the short term, and reality is, that regardless of which - loving them will eventually mean leaving them - whether it is after a lifetime or within the month or year.  The other reminder, is that along the journey of every type of parenting, there are the little leavings that hurt and they are not to be avoided.  Starting school, not asking for help, hurting each other, leaving for college, getting married are all leavings and there are a million in-between.  Another day of life, another day of love, another day of leavings - big and small, another day of risk....may it ever be so, because, if we want to know great love then we have to take great risks and if there is one thing I want, in this whole world, it is to love well and to be loved well. Bring on the love - bring on the risk!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Are They All Yours? Blessings.

Happy Mother's Day!  At our house it has been the BEST MOTHER'S DAY EVER! Why? I slept through the night last night, while Jeremy took all of the baby's nighttime feedings!  I seriously woke up feeling like a new woman.  Not only did I get a full night's sleep, but I also got to take a shower after I woke up and actually got dressed, dried my hair, and put on make-up before coming downstairs to NOT make breakfast. Big-J (of the JK-Crew) said, "Mom - why do you look like that?" Which can be interpreted as, "Mom, in recent weeks you have looked like someone who is on their last days - your hair in a greasy pony tale - drool stains on your face - and baby puke on your smelly t-shirt. I have completely forgotten what you normally look like."

We then gathered our happy JK Crew and headed out for a delicious brunch.  Brunch is one of my favorite meals, because it includes all of my favorite breakfast foods at a time that allows for me to get more sleep and dilly dally a bit (or in the case of having five kiddos, just to get out the door without inducing major stress).  I am going to be honest with you - the kids all looked pretty darn adorable and were so stinking good that a woman actually chased us down as we left the restaurant to tell us how precious our kids were and how amazed she was by how well behaved they were!  WOW - Happy Mother's Day (it is amazing how well behaved children can be when there is a prize of bacon and a side of fluffy pancakes involved)! We actually got a lot of stares, I think that maybe a family of 7 with children ages 3 weeks, 19 months, 4 yrs, 9 yrs & 12 yrs - happily eating out at a restaurant seems a bit out of the ordinary to people.

The hostess who seated us said, "Wow - you have a beautiful family." Followed up by a pretty standard question, "Are they all yours?"  It only took me a split second to respond, "Yes, they're all ours!" (As a side note, Jeremy gets extra mother's day bonus points, because he says this is a natural question for her to ask since I have an especially svelte figure, for having a three week old itty-bitty-Baby JS.)  "Yes, they are all ours," because for today - they are ours and we are theirs and we are a family.  If she had asked,
"Did you give birth to each of these children - vaginal, c-section, or VBAC? Or have you adopted? Or are you a foster parent? Or did you pick a few of these kids up out of a stranger's yard on the way here? Or are you just crazy people who like to take random kids out to restaurants for a good time?" she would have gotten a pretty long story with lots of gory details, dreams realized, heart-breaks, and a shout out to the Other Mothers.  However, today, she only asked "Are they all yours?" Today, I am a mother 5x blessed.  If we add in those who were once ours, with those who still are, then I am a mother 10x blessed. That, my friends, is a lot of blessings.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Don't Yell Over Spilled Yogurt, Growing Hearts, and The Baby Grace Brought

Little J spilled her yogurt this morning. She was sitting at the counter happily eating, when BAM - it was like a yogurt bomb went off. Yogurt on the floor, yogurt on the counter, yogurt on the cabinet doors, yogurt on my FOOT! I felt it inside of me, the frustrated response, the one that instantly wanted to yell - "What DID you DO?!?!?! - Why? How? There is yogurt on my FOOT!" However, I took a breath (I have found that, as a general rule, breathing is beneficial,) and instead said, "Don't worry honey, we can clean it up together. No big deal."  My insides followed my outside response pretty quickly, and Little J experienced grace.

Exhibit A - Yogurt Foot
Our homestudy was scheduled to be presented to the Special Needs Adoption Program (SNAP) Council for our county/state this past Monday.  However, on Tuesday, I got an email saying that "out homestudy was inadvertently left off the presentation list." Left off, after 18 months of it being inadvertently lost in the process, thinking it had been approved the whole time while we were fostering and hoping for a long-term adoptive placement.  Inside I wanted to yell, "What DID you DO? Or Not DO! How? Why?"  However, again I took a breath, a breathing in and out kind of prayer, and instead said, "OK. I understand. It will all be OK. In the right time, God will bring the right children into our home and not a single child has come or left our home on accident."  Our caseworker experienced grace.

It has been a year since Baby J came and invaded our lives and hearts, and 6 months since he left our family. Six months of grieving and thanking God for his life and the part we got to play in it and crying for the parts that we will not get to be a part of, mourning the hole that he left in our hearts - the one that used to feel like a gaping wound.  There is a huge need for foster families in our county, and I am pretty sure the same is true nationwide. Jeremy and I talked, we prayed, we got the opinions of our J-Crew and the response was unanimous and passionate, "It is time."  So, yesterday, after breathing in my frustrations and breathing out grace about the missed SNAP approval, I told our case worker that she could put us back on the call list for a foster placement.  Fostering isn't about me or us. It isn't about growing our family. It isn't about the pain of "what if they leave." Fostering is about a child, a child who has no one in this whole world to offer them safety, love, family, a home, or hope for today.  So, you can call us again, we have room, there is a hole where Baby J was that another child will not fill, but God will grow our hearts to make room for another....
They say your heart is about the same size as your fist. J.S. has one tiny fist....

The call came the same day.  Would we accept the placement of Baby J.S., a 5 day old little tiny baby man, he really needs a family for now?  Now, we have a baby - he is even a "J" Baby!!! (Unbelievable.)  He may go live with a relative after a hearing today. He may stay with us for a few days, weeks, months or forever. We don't know.  So, we will love him for today, for these minutes and hours, all of the breaths in and out. We will feed him two ounces of formula every two hours day and night and hope and pray that he continues to avoid the pain and torture of withdrawal from addictions that he did not choose. We will choose hope and grace and cling to the knowledge that Baby J.S. is not here on accident and although some things happen "inadvertently," nothing is lost in the the hands of our Good Father. Welcome to the family, Baby J.S, the baby that GRACE brought.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Twitterpated. Another J on the Way?

There is something about the spring.  Birds are singing, flowers are breaking through the cold hard ground, and the next thing you know, I'm twitterpated - knocked for a loop, in the words of a wise old owl:

Yes. Nearly everybody gets twitterpated in the springtime. For example: You're walking along, minding your own business. You're looking neither to the left, nor to the right, when all of a sudden you run smack into a pretty face. Woo-woo! You begin to get weak in the knees. Your head's in a whirl. And then you feel light as a feather, and before you know it, you're walking on air. And then you know what? You're knocked for a loop, and you completely lose your head!
Twitterpation looks different for me than it did back in the spring of 96 when I was falling head-over heals for a boy named Jeremy.  Beginning in the spring of 2001, came this deep, knocked for a loop - lose my head yearning, to be a Mama.  Although different than the original twitterpation, it was just as powerful and life-changing. Since then, three more J's have joined our crew.  Now, it is April and I find myself with the Mama urge....come on, one more J, please, God?  It doesn't have to be a baby, I'm a little older now and wouldn't mind skipping the "up all night stage."  However, there is something about baby feet that is absolutely irresistible, so I could endure the torment of sleep deprivation if there were tiny toes and Johnson's Baby Lotion involved.

This Mama can't birth no more babies.  That's OK, because the J-Crew is pretty passionate about adoption. We think it is fantastic and back in 1996, adoption was one of those common denominators that pushed Jeremy and I past simply being twitterpated and into the kind of relationship that became a marriage. We've enjoyed the joy and newness of spring, weathered dry hot summers, trudged through everything falling apart in the mucky autumn, and bundled up and clung to each other through cold hard winters. Relationships go through every season and having survived 15+ years of different seasons thus far, we can firmly declare, "Great Is Thy Faithfulness, Lord unto us!" (I digress).

We are hoping and praying for one more J.  In September 2012 we became foster parents, being convicted that there was a huge need for families to love and shelter the hurting hearts of children who were experiencing pain beyond what many of us have ever known.  Five children have come and gone from our family during this time span.  We recently found out, that although we originally requested and had been told that we were approved not only as a foster family, but also were being considered as an adoptive family, that has not really been the case (booo!).  The right files were never sent to the right people, the right "i"s were not dotted - the T's not crossed and stuck somewhere in the midst of red tape, we have not been being considered for adoptive placements this entire time.  So, now our homestudy is being sent for adoptive approval and will be reviewed on Monday, the 21st, the day after Easter.  This seems rather fitting, Easter is a time of all things new, resurrection, and hope.  So, we have renewed hope that there may be another J on the way, that will stay, sometime in 2014.  You know, the kind of J that sticks, and joins the J-Crew forever. A little brother from another mother, to share in the stories, songs and seasons that are to come.