Arizona Adventure

We moved. Across the country. In my last post I shared that I felt nothing, just a numbness. All I feel now is an overwhelming gratitude because, it turns out, there is enough grace for that. And so much more.

The house we ended up in is in a wonderful neighborhood, surrounded by farmland, (Yes, they farm in the desert! I had no idea!) and exactly two miles from the base of the White Tank Mountains and its regional park. It is gorgeous, especially for previous flat-land Hoosiers like us. treesThe one thing I was worried about missing most from Indiana landscape was trees, but we have three large trees with hummingbird and turtle dove nests in our backyard. Amazing!

We leased a ranch style, one-level home which has eliminated so much stress from our daily lives as it makes supervision of Bo so much easier. Just eliminating the frequent adrenaline surges from large objects flying down the stairs from his hand, on a regular basis, has lowered all of our blood pressure to normal levels.

We are all acclimating to the higher temperatures and doing our best to forgive every blasted person who promised us a “dry heat” as humidity levels have routinely soared between 40-60% since our arrival, with temps around 105 daily. Dry heat, my butt. I’m told this is temporary due to monsoon season, but it seems pretty convenient nobody thought to mention it before we moved. Ahem.

neighborhood

My drive home from work. I smile every afternoon. 

School started five days after Shawn and the kids arrived and was very hectic, initially. Arizona schools frankly are pretty broke and have a terrible reputation. We were very worried about the boys, especially as they came from such amazing school situations. It is something that we bathed in prayer and spent way too much time obsessively worrying over.

Bo was in an essential skills class previously and would’ve returned to the same teacher, Miss Julie’s, classroom had we stayed. They shared a mutual adoration for one another and she challenged him in ways no one else could. More than that, she believed in him, even more than we did, I’m embarrassed to say, and he excelled under her tutelage. The thought of him ending up wasting his time in some of the awful situations I’ve read about, was really scary to me. But God knew. He loves Bo even more than I do. He provided Mrs. D. who is a near clone to Miss Julie. She adores Bo, has the same classroom style and set-up, and believes in him every bit as much. She is so impressed with all he learned under Miss Julie and is keeping her goals for his new IEP. The speech therapist is amazing, as well and has big plans for total communication for him, which is what I’ve been shooting for with him. He loves school!

Eon was fully included the last two years and the plan for second grade was the same in his amazing Indiana school. We were unsure how this was going to fly in his new school, although we knew the law was on our side. We also knew that if the teacher is not, it can be a terrible year. We had his transitional meeting on Friday. His teacher loves him. Yay! She does, however, have 33 kids in her class. He will need more support in the classroom. I may have annoyed his mild special ed teacher with my little inclusion speech, and expectation that evidence-based practice be provided. If she plans to pull him from the classroom some, that’s fine, as long as she shows me the current research to demonstrate that it’s best practice. I just wanted them to be aware of my expectations and goals when we reconvene for the IEP so no one is blindsided and we don’t waste anyone’s time. Overall, they seem like a great team and I think we can work well together to ensure his needs are met. He has, however, been playing them quite a bit and he needed a “come to Jesus” meeting when he got home from school. Turns out, they think he needs help carrying his lunch tray (Ha! Uh, no. Tell him to suck it up, buttercup!) and he’s been laying on the floor if he doesn’t want to do something (um, heck, no! Dad will come to the school to put a stop to that if need be! And, why in the world was he coming home with green/good behavior checks everyday?!?) Anyway, we straightened them out that he is very competent when he chooses to be and he WILL choose to be from now on. Ugh. This child.

moth

Giant moth on our stoop.

The other kids are thrilled to realize there are critters to be found in Arizona, too, although in the desert, not the creek. They are undaunted by the heat and spend at least part of everyday exploring the desert and longboarding in the park.

We gave Ellie, 16, the reins to find us a church to visit, and she, being the awesome big sis she is, found one advertising a special needs program. The website said we needed to contact them in advance, so we intended to keep Bo with us the first service we visited. However, when we were checking in the other kids, the volunteer helping us, told us he was more than welcome to attend that very day and her husband was actually working in his class. She took us there, we verbally told them some info about him, they gave us a form to fill out during the service and bring back and he was good to stay! Amazing! Never have we felt so welcomed and wanted in a church. Frankly, the service could’ve been terrible and we still would’ve returned just for that feeling and relief. It was the first time in 3 1/2 years that we relaxed, and worshiped together, knowing all our kids were well taken care of and learning about Jesus. Turns out, It was actually a great service! Ellie went to youth group that night and has since made some friends. We’ve decided to make it our new home church and are looking forward to getting involved in small groups.

park

Our park.

My job is fantastic and I love it! After twenty years of wearing scrubs, I feel like I’m playing dress up everyday in business attire and it’s fun! (although, my feet didn’t think so, initially, but they’re coming around.) I work for a huge non-profit hospital conglomerate in the acute inpatient rehab department as a clinical referral specialist. (although, depending on who you talk to, I’m also called an acute rehab liaison. Idk.) It’s very different from my previous twenty years as an occupational therapist, but I am able to use my clinical judgment daily (which seemed like I was able to do less and less in the SNF environment), therapeutic use of self, and communication skills I honed as an occupational therapist.

Having my parents nearby is a huge bonus. They have been a wonderful help to us and, even though the drive across the valley is long (a little over an hour),  we see them quite a bit. Grandpa helped me with the kids for two weeks as Shawn returned to Indiana to get the house finally on the market. We were so grateful to have him!

I’ll be glad when Google maps no longer has to help me navigate my daily life and when I start to feel like I belong instead of just a visitor, but that will come.

 

Moving Readiness…or Not

Three weeks from today I will replace the lush greenery and farmland of Indiana, for the mountains and desert landscape of Arizona, for good.

My emotions have been so mixed about this move, I have ceased to have any. When people ask if I’m excited, I feign enthusiasm. When asked if I’m sad to leave, I affirmatively answer that, too. Nervous, same. I don’t know what I feel.

The truth is, I don’t really feel anything. I’m over it already. I try to conjure up emotion for the “last times”, but I find there aren’t any and I worry I’ll regret that in the months to come. “This is the last Greenwood Freedom Festival for us, Mom.” Yep. And I only feel a little guilt that I sent you with the neighbors so I could recover from our garage sale.

Nothing is normal and I thrive on normalcy. I try to honor the kids in their need for routine in this stressful time, even though I just want them to stay out of my way while I get things done.20160427_210154 I’m trying to make sure they get to relish in their “last times” as they enjoy romping in their favorite creek and capturing Hoosier critters with their friends. I’m trying to allow teen daughter to make as many memories as possible with all her besties and her boyfriend to carry her through the coming months.

I’m trying to be empathetic as they process their feelings. Oh man, do they have a lot of feelings. Could we all just stop with the feelings, already? 20160625_125549And Eon, bless him, asking me daily, “Move now, Mom?”

Our garage sale was a huge success with blessedly little leftover to load onto the Salvation Army truck. Only to come upstairs and trip over boxes I forgot to take outside. And then find another in my closet…and, oh look! Here’s another in the girls’ closet. Pretty sure we have enough stuff for an entirely new sale, but instead, we’ll just call the truck back.

The hardest part is when people ask me for details. Little things like: When is the rest of the family joining you? How are they all getting out there? Do you have a house, yet? Have you sold yours? You know, details.

Frankly, we don’t really have answers for the details. We’ve never done a cross country move before. We’re kind of figuring it out as we go.

We’ve not sold the house, yet, nor do we even have it on the market. Turns out, making repairs and improvements with a destructo-Serb underfoot and a lot of other kids who need more supervision than they’re currently getting is a lot easier said than done. (Which is probably why it needs so many repairs and improvements to begin with.)

We can’t secure housing until I get out there to see the rental properties we’re interested in. I will stay with my parents temporarily, but my job is in the northwest valley of Phoenix, and they live in the east valley. The commute will be brutal. Hopefully, I will secure housing the first week I’m there before I start my job and I won’t have to do it long. The family will join me after that.

The teenager and youngest will fly out and everyone else will drive. We think. Lately, the Serb has been freaking out in the car and having what appear to be panic attacks. No idea what’s up with that, but if it continues, we can’t subject him to a 2,000 mile car trip. So, I don’t know.

In other words, I don’t know what exactly is happening with my life except it’s all changing, it’s completely stressful, and my response to all of it is to not care. I hope there’s grace for that. IMG_20160527_082511

My Target Bathroom Experience

Today, I needed some stuff from the store. I managed to escape the house without children and drove to our local Meijer store here in Greenwood, Indiana. I sat in the parking lot and began making a list on my phone when I received a Facebook notification. That’s all it took before I was completely distracted and scrolling through Facebook in my car, oblivious to the world around me, or my purpose for being at the store in the first place. (Welcome to ADD…Squirrel!)

I came across a post by one of my friends promoting a pledge by the American Family Association to boycott Target stores because of their new inclusive bathroom policies. It’s been signed by over a million people. It reminded me that I’d read something about protests outside Target stores on this date.

I started my car, left Meijer, and drove to my nearest Target. No protesters. Dang it. I was slightly deflated that I didn’t get to cross a picket line.  I shopped…and shopped…and shopped. Did I mention I didn’t have any children with me? As I headed toward the Market section of the store to complete my list, the inevitable happened.

I needed to use the bathroom.

Dare I? Was it safe? Weren’t there men in there dressed as women lurking in the stalls just waiting to attack or, at the very least, peer at my nether regions? Oh, wait. This is Target. They don’t even have to dress as women! 

Cautiously, I approached. I saw several men go into and come out of the Men’s restroom. None of them even glanced at the door to the Women’s. I walked closer to the doors.

A mother and her young daughter went into the Women’s restroom before me and into a stall. I went into another stall and locked the door. They did their business. I did mine.20160604_114021 Other people came and went. Toilets flushed. Sinks turned on and off. I came out of my stall and washed my hands. Another lady was there and laughed as I waved my hand under the non-automatic paper towel dispenser, stating she did the same thing. At least I think she was a biological female. She could have been a transgender female. I have no idea. Nor do I care. We did our business, exchanged pleasantries, and returned to our shopping.

I used a Target bathroom and I was unharmed. I lived to tell the tale.

You can, too. 

We Are Enough

Earlier in my mothering I struggled with feeling like I wasn’t enough. In fact, five years ago on Mother’s Day, I wrote this post expressing that very idea. Beautiful-Happy-Mothers-Day-Images

I am human and imperfect. My children know this about me and I am sure that picking out the perfect Mother’s Day card is difficult for them. I imagine them standing in the aisle rejecting card after card, until they finally find a safe, funny one.

I hate that the holiday objectifies motherhood until it is something  angelic and saintly like halos and gold dust. I know few women who can live up to that.

It portrays the “good” mothers are those who can read the same favorite bedtime stories for hours on end, instead of hiding the annoying books and leaving out only the short ones….that rhyme.They can create gourmet meals on a shoe string budget, instead of serving frozen pizza for the 3rd time this week. There is no way they have a hidden chocolate stash, but if they did and it was found, they’d be sure to share, instead of lunging for it and yelling, “MINE!”…

…I’m just a mom. I feel like I am failing much more often than succeeding. I notice all the the things I’m not doing, over all I am. I worry that I’m not disciplining enough, enjoying them enough, teaching them enough, loving them enough…that I’m not enough.

I have not changed very much, but my perspective has. Maybe because I’m older, my kids are older, or I have so dang many of them. Or maybe it’s because I’ve been immersed into the world of special needs and the bar has been significantly lowered. It’s hard to worry about Pinterest parties and gourmet meals when you’re just trying to keep your kids out of the hospital or making sure you know every last bit of the law to ensure they get the education they are due.

Last night, at church, our pastor spoke on the idea that mothers walk around with our very own cloud of guilt hanging over our heads. He told us that almost all of us struggle with not feeling like we’re enough. I teared up, not because I struggle with it so much now, but because I remember sitting in that very church three years ago, weeping as he said the same words and I absorbed them for the first time.

I was told I was enough. There was no “but…” attached.

Other than my husband, all my world at that time was telling me differently. The homeschooling community was telling me to be enough I should read the Bible with my children everyday and grind my own wheat. My former church taught me I should squelch all my needs and desires and find fulfillment only in service to my family. BuzzFeed threatened that I should be turned over to CPS for allowing my kids to play unsupervised in the yard. Pinterest showed me that I was failing in every possible way from birthday parties to healthy recipes. And Facebook assured me that everyone else was doing it exactly right.

So, hearing a different song was a balm to my soul. I drank in that message of grace. Like cracked ground thirsting for rain, I could not get my fill of it.

And, as one who has once been so thirsty, I try to nourish other moms with the same grace. You are enough, dear mama. You are exactly the mom your child needs. God chose you, specifically, knowing in advance your shortcomings and failures, to mother the children he has given you. The fact that you have ever worried about failing as a mother, proves that you are not failing, because you care enough to care.

chocolate-03I still have a hidden chocolate stash; my kids wear mismatched socks (and not the kind bought on purpose…I’m talking a cute kid’s sock and a giant men’s tube sock); I’m supposed to cook our weekend meals which means we usually have donuts and McDonalds; Sometimes, I bribe older kids to put little ones to bed; My five-year-old knows all the lyrics to “Stressed Out” by Twenty One Pilots. You get the idea. I am not rocking this motherhood thing.

But I’m enough. And so are you. 

We are selfish at times, most definitely. We are wrong, often. We are human, absolutely. But we love, however imperfectly, and that is enough. Because of Him, we are enough.

There is grace for that.

 

Dupification, Bitterness, Mercy, and Love

I was duped. Perhaps you were, too. For years and years, I was led to believe that my behavior, my morality, was not just the barometer of my relationship with God, but actually was to be the focus of my whole spiritual existence.
Accusing-fingerI needed to keep tabs on all areas of my outer life, for so many reasons. God certainly was. It was behavior He was looking at to determine if He could be pleased with me. How many times did I pray, “Lord, may I be pleasing to you in all that I do and say”? It was as if He was just waiting for me to screw up and garner His displeasure.

Worse than my own potential demise, though, was the burden I carried for those in my world. I was taught that, as Christians, we are to be “set apart” from the world. We needed to look, talk, and act differently than those heathens around us. In so doing, we would win others to the Kingdom. The theory was that they would be so attracted by our “light” they would want what we had.

It was a huge burden for a mouthy, short-tempered, habitual sinner like me to try to win over people to Jesus by my goodness. Because, frankly, I’m just not that good. And, there are tons of other people out there, heathens evenwho are way better than me, who aren’t peddling Jesus.

loveIn the last few years, I’ve experienced a huge paradigm shift. I realize that being set apart has so little to do with our behavior and everything to do with our hearts. I understand that Jesus never said they’d know we are His followers by our goodness and adherence to rules, but rather by our radical, ridiculous, uninhibited love.

There is exhilarating freedom in discovery of this magnitude.

Unfortunately, rather than relishing in the freedom, I ruminated on the past. I dredged up all the faulty teachings I sat under for years in a former church. I studied abusive church practices and pastors and realized I was not imagining it and I really had been a victim. As wounds reopened, instead of bringing them to Jesus for healing, I picked at the scabs until they festered and the stench of infectious bitterness took hold. Every new revelation in Scripture, instead of bringing wholeness, just further indicted the church in all its failures and reminded me of all the years I’d lost.

But God…

(Isn’t that how every good story turns?)

But God, in His mercy, in a snippet of a sermon with another point entirely, showed me my bitterness and rebellion and told me to lay it down. 

Bianca Olthoff preached the story of the resurrection of Lazarus in John 11 from the perspective of Martha, early in February at the IF:Gathering. I highly recommend a listen if you can get your hands on it. Almost as an aside, she talked about Mary coming out to meet Jesus after her brother died, and laying at His feet. Mary, whose name means “Bitterness, rebellion, and want (as in a child)” laying at the feet of Jesus. Verse 33 tells us that when she did that, Jesus was deeply moved. Olthoff said, “When we willingly lay our bitterness and rebellion at the feet of Jesus, something changes.”

An arrow pierced my heart.

I wrote in another post that I was ready to swim again. I was ready for change. Something needs to change.15193306-a-man-making-a-confession-to-the-cross-shot-under-dawn-sky-1024x683

So, I laid it down. All of it. The anger, the bitterness, the frustration, the hurt, the resulting rebellion, the hate…and the want, the want to birth something new.

And freedom reigns.

I laugh now at my former crazy ideas of God. I’ve written before I can count on no hands the number of people who’d approached me and asked about Jesus because of my non-alcoholic, G-rated lifestyle.

My biggest opportunities for sharing with those who really want to know, have arisen in the last three years from those who start out asking why in the world we would add a child with Down syndrome to our already ginormous family (Jesus told us to love the least of these), or why we often spend Easter sharing communion and Cadbury eggs with homeless people (they don’t care what we’re wearing, almost everybody likes Easter candy, and see answer #1), or where I got my shirt that says, “I don’t have my sh*t together.” (online, and it’s a relief to admit it and know I’m loved anyway.)

Basking in His amazing love for us and really getting that He could not be more pleased with us as His children is where it sparks. Our love for others is an outflow of His love for us and has absolutely nothing to do with striving, or putting our best foot forward, or pasting on a happy face.

homeless-It is seeing people as Imago Dei, with His eyes, and loving them in all their mess. It is painfully hard and deliriously wonderful, and I’m not very good at it, yet. It’s outside my comfort zone and feels weird much of the time. When I take my eyes off Jesus, I worry I’m not doing it right, a throw back to my religious roots.

But He loves me. He has grace and patience for me in abundance, even when I get it woefully wrong, which is often. He loves us all. 

 

What If?

Four years ago today, we received the response for which we’d been waiting on pins and needles. It was affirmative. Serbia was going to allow us, a crazy big family, to adopt a child with Down syndrome from their country.

Long before we were waiting to hear from them, God stirred our hearts for the estimated 15 million institutionalized orphans in the world. With a simple prayer, “God, break our hearts for what breaks yours,” uttered many years ago, our world shifted as our hearts cracked. Our knowledge increased about orphans with special needs in Eastern European countries and the terrible fate awaiting them. We were undone.

We prayed for those orphans. We began supporting families adopting them, we cheered every “gotcha day”, and read every blog post. And while we occasionally wondered what it would be like to be in their shoes, the obstacles were great and the leap of faith needed too big.

Our excuses were typical, but very real.

  • We couldn’t afford it. We’re a large family living on one income. We live within our means and comfortably, but there is not much extra and adoption is expensive.
  • We didn’t have much room. With seven kids already squeezed into a 3-bedroom home, I was unsure we’d even pass a home study. (Two words – vertical space. Kids stack well and triple bunk beds are a dream.)
  • We were normal. Meaning we weren’t superheroes or extra patient or incredibly loving or extra spiritual or anything else we thought adoptive parents were supposed to be. We liked our comfort, we valued sleep, we got short with the kids sometimes, our house was often a disaster…just normal.
  • We felt at capacity with the seven kids we already had. We forgot that love multiplies; never divides.

And they were a lot of sound reasons not to do this to overcome. So many what if scenarios playing over and over in the recesses of our minds.

  • What if…we commit to a child and then don’t have the funds to bring him home?
  • What if…we get there and find his medical issues are way more involved than they said?
  • What if…I can’t love him like I do my other kids?
  • What if…he never attaches to us and has severe behavioral problems?
  • What if…he has autism? (Yes, this was an actual fear. Proof God thinks Himself hilarious.)
  • And there were more. So many more. It was terrifying.

So while we’d been waiting for Serbia’s yes, it was really a giant, yet trepidatious, yes on our part that got us to that point. A year later we brought home our feral three-year-old with the functional skills of an infant. I’ve written much about our wild ride since then with my most noteworthy post here, written a year ago.

Our Bo has been home three years now and life is just normal. Well, our normal, anyway. I don’t think about his adoption much except on the anniversaries. But yesterday, as I was sitting on the couch watching a movie, he climbed up in my lap, rested his head on my chest and fell asleep.

For two hours, I dared not move and I scarcely breathed, lest he’d waken and the spell would be broken. I allowed myself to wonder and I wept big silent crocodile tears because…

What if?!?

What if we’d said no? 

And, oh God, my throat constricts, and my heart pounds, and the tears are running again. Because for this boy, it wouldn’t simply mean no mama’s arms to hold him until they cramped, no strong papa with whom to feel safe, no tickle fights with siblings, no toys to increase imagination, no therapy to broaden skills, no school to increase knowledge.

For this boy, and for millions like him, it would mean eventual abuse, neglect, and death. 

And, as terrifying as our yes seemed at the time, the fact that his very life hung on it, scares me that much more. Because we almost said no so many times and at so many points along the way and our reasons were so foolish and ridiculous when the life of a child hung in the balance!

Our excuses seemed reasonable, but next to a life, they were anything but.

I don’t like to think about what if, because it shakes me. It forces me to think about the others – the orphans, the homeless, the trafficked, the abused – and my seemingly reasonable excuses to sit idly by, while lives hang in the balance.

Complacency is easier. It’s comfortable and it costs me nothing. But for those to whom I’m saying no, my complacency costs everything. It almost cost my son his life.

goofybo

Open Letter to Trump Supporters

Dear Donald Trump Supporters,

Your candidate has publicly mocked a reporter with a disability (Nov 25, 2015.) He has denigrated women loudly and openly (pigs, dogs, disgusting, grotesque, fat, ugly, bimbo.) He said we should build institutions for people with mental illnesses (Face the Nation, Jan 3, 2016.)

One man’s opinions and actions matter little to me except that he has followers like you, a lot of you, apparently. In interviews and polls, your reasons for backing him usually boil down to, “He tells it like it is,” so I have to believe you agree with him on these points and deem his behavior desirable.

And that terrifies me. 

As a woman with a mental illness (generalized anxiety/panic disorder) and the mother of two boys with disabilities, I always knew there were haters out there. I follow social media and read the comments on internet articles and have seen hate and ignorance spewed about on a daily basis.

I am acutely aware there are those convinced that people with mental illnesses are dangerous and a threat, when the opposite is actually true and we are much more likely to be victims of violent crimes.

I know misogyny abounds even today and women are considered a punchline, a sexual object, or even a punching bag.

Most distressful to me, however, is the mockery of people like my boys, or worse, the opinion that their lives are not worth living and they shouldn’t even exist at all. These boys love life, they have intrinsic value and worth, and they have my heart.

This is not about politics for me. This is real life. No matter what happens in the Primaries or come November, I’m afraid now and feel unsafe in my own community.

See, I used to think all those people with all those opinions about my life were just internet trolls who maybe lived in their mother’s basements.

Until your candidate became wildly popular and you began following him, I had no idea I worked with those people, went to church with them, and even invited them to my home.  And, frankly I don’t know what to do with that.

Because while you appear to treat me normally, you support Trump because “he says what everyone is thinking” so I have to believe you think it’s okay for men to treat me with disdain or for me to be institutionalized. While you smile and pat my boys on the head, in your mind, it matters not that people bully, ostracize, and mock them.

Your support of Mr. Trump frightens me, not necessarily because of what it means for the future of this country, but because of what it means for the present. The reality is my world is not as safe and good as I once thought it to be. My neighbors, co-workers, and friends are not the people I presumed them to be.

I now understand, that while you may not intend to hurt me or my family, you would do nothing to stop it were we to be harmed in the name of straight talk, or change to the political system, or “making America great again.”

I know this because you’re allowing it to happen now.

You’re part of a cultural shift in which people who are not like you are maligned, threatened, and sometimes physically tossed about for being different or expressing different opinions. You may not actually be doing the threatening or the tossing, but you’re endorsing it.

Your true character, the core of who you are, is now exposed and to be honest, I’m a little afraid of you.

I’ve allowed my vulnerabilities to seep through in our past interactions. I’ve shown you my hand. My gender was obvious, but you also know of my struggles with anxiety and panic. You know the joys and challenges I’ve faced raising children with special needs and the uphill road ahead of them as adults with cognitive disabilities.

How long before you prey upon those weaknesses or allow others to do the same? 

To you, this may be just about politics, but to me, your support of Mr. Trump paints a picture of who you actually are.

And that makes me kind of sad, and scares me more than a little. 

Erecting my own wall around myself and family,

A fellow American

 

Swimming

boardwalkI have a deep love for the Atlantic Ocean born from yearly vacations to the South Carolina shore as a child. The wildness of the waves, yet predictability of the tides, holds great allure for a Midwestern girl like me.

Always a strong swimmer, I never fully appreciated the sea in all her strength until one summer when I was about thirteen. I was a little farther out and down shore from my family when I miscalculated a breaker and was slammed headfirst into the water. I tumbled over and over, as the waves tossed me nearly to shore and then pulled me back again. All orientation was lost to me and I had no idea which way was up as the mighty ocean dragged my face along the sand, only to pull me back and then do it again. Time stood still as I struggled, and wrestled, and swallowed salt water before I was mercifully spit upon the beach, exhausted and stunned, rethinking everything I thought I knew about swimming.

Three years ago, we embarked on the adventure of our lives to travel across the world and receive our son, on whom we had never before laid eyes. I read the blog posts I wrote in the time leading up to travel and wonder, “Who is that woman? So inspiring, so full of faith, so certain.” I barely remember her, but I wish I could be her.

Adoption, Bo, autism, medical complications…none of these are the cause of the hit my faith has taken in the last three years. They may have been catalysts, or it very well may be an easy starting point from which to mark time.  I set off on the this journey full of faith that God would see us through it, which is noble and true, and had I stopped there in my thinking, all would have been well. But, instead, I knew how God was going to see us through. I had planned it out for Him. All He had to do was follow the plan and do A, B, and C.

Only He did not do A, B, and C.

There were deep valleys, and hills, and wrong turns, and fender benders, and wild collisions, and cliff hangers. There was rejection, and isolation, and fear, and loneliness, and anger, and grief.

I embarked on this journey certain I knew how God worked. I had the formulas, the platitudes, the righteous answers all memorized. “There is blessing in obedience.” “As you sow, so shall you reap.” “All things work together for good.”

My Jesus was more cosmic karma than Father God. Deep in my core I believed that if I did hard things for Him, He owed me a good life. (Good, of course, meaning easy. I am American, after all.) So this wilderness in which I’ve been wandering came as a complete surprise and mystery to me. As one by one He stripped away my faulty core beliefs, exposing me to complete vulnerability, and in the process, raw pain, I developed my own scabs and callouses, a tough exoskeleton designed to keep me safe.

But carrying around a shell is a wearying burden.

I’ve watched my responses to other people as of late. My lack of empathy to those feeling stressed by what to them feels like a crushing blow, but to me seems minor, is startling. My judgmental sarcasm about those who have opposing views is unattractive. There is a hardness to me that mirrors anything but love.

I saw this meme and related to it, initially, before I recoiled. diamonds

I don’t want my beauty to have an edge. I don’t want to be untouchable. I want God to use my pain for His glory, so I can offer hope, grace, and love to those in the middle of it. I need to lose the exoskeleton or the diamonds or whatever hardness resides in me if I am to be free to do that.

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

Coming to Jesus and learning to be gentle and humble in heart is the starting point. I have no answers on how God works and very few on who He is. I’ll let my favorite quote about Aslan, the great lion in one of my favorite books sum it up:

Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

Much like all those years ago on the beach, when I realized what I thought I knew about swimming didn’t really apply to the bigness of the ocean, I now see what I thought I knew about Jesus doesn’t really apply to the bigness of the world.

I’ve finally come to the understanding that while God did not do it my way, He did NOT fail me. I know this because here I stand on the shore, shaken, bruised, and dripping, but ready once again to swim.

bowaves

Lessons From the Salon

So, this happened awhile back.

salonredacted

Not my proudest moment. In my defense, I could only hear about every third word, not enough to jump in and educate the room (aka, tell everyone they are, of course, wrong, and how in the world can you actually think such things you close-minded banana brains?!?) And, there was the dye in my hair. I didn’t know how long it was supposed to sit there but I was pretty sure if I got boo’d from the salon and had to drive home it would be way too long and I would end up with green hair.

But still. Bashing the poor? Expressing hatred for an entire people group? Calling it “an invasion”?

I pretended to read my book and shut them out. And prayed. I prayed for grace and mercy for the bigots in my vision. I prayed that I could see them as people and not “bigots.” I prayed that I would have opportunity to speak if I was supposed to do so.

The loudest of the mouths left before my dryer timer dinged. Another left soon after. During my rinse out, it came down to my stylist and me. I said nothing. She told me all about her exhausting weekend serving at her church. I prayed harder. As much as I love a good debate, being as opinionated as I am, I also really like this woman (plus, she does great hair!) I didn’t want to disagree with her.

She referenced their conversation and I told her I couldn’t hear because of the dryer. So, she filled me in. Sigh.

I won’t go into detail, but we went round and round, her wielding scissors about my head and me often silently chiding myself, “You could end up bald! Just stop TALKING, Tara!” But, of course, I didn’t. And, she showed great restraint, giving me an adorable cut with great color that I love.

But, I was enlightened, although really, I’ve heard it all before.

Some of us are willing to have compassion for those less fortunate as long as they are not eligible for government subsidies we are denied, or do not possess anything we may want.

It doesn’t seem to matter the trauma refugees experienced before they arrived. Serial rape, death of children, brutal murder of family in the dead of night are moot points in the face of free healthcare and tax-free small business, apparently.

It makes me tired and sad. When believers speak in platitudes and post Scripture memes and then focus only on their rights and and bemoan some false sense of “persecution”, I shake my head in disbelief.

In a land where we can worship where we wish, and are free to post those Scripture memes at will, and have easy access to quality healthcare, and food in so much abundance we actually worry over ingredient lists and local sourcing, how dare we, who claim to follow Jesus, begrudge any of the same to others simply because they had the bad sense to be born somewhere else?

Just the other day, I gave a lecture to my children. There is a new round-a-bout not far from our house. This is a new concept to many on this side of town and it’s taken some getting used to for many drivers. I explained to the kids that those entering it must yield to those already on. If I was entering, but was in a hurry and decided my need to get somewhere on time was more important than the driver already on and didn’t yield, I would cause an accident. Somebody has to yield or chaos would reign.

As believers, we are mandated to yield, to love others above ourselves, to lay aside our rights, to die to ourselves. I told my kids they are going to be world changers and that this, this family, these siblings are their training ground. If they can learn to yield to one another, to love each other, they can love anyone.

If you really want to watch Peppa Pig, but let your brother watch Teen Titans Go, it will be a lot easier to let the pregnant teen crash on your couch for awhile when you’re older. If you willingly give your little sister the last cookie, I know you’ll excel at parting with a chunk of your paycheck to build those wells in an African village.

One of my sweet daughters came to me later and summed up what we all worry about, “If I yield all the time, I won’t ever get anything.”

That’s the heart of it, isn’t it? If I’m not looking out for myself, who will?

It is so counter cultural to follow Jesus. To trust that He sees and will provide all our needs. To live with an eternal perspective. To accept there is joy in the cross.

When standing up for our rights as Americans clashes with our calling as Christ-followers, it’s time to step back and remember where our home truly is.

Hint: This is not it.

I wrote most of this post months ago. I needed the reminder today. Fear for our country is welling up in me. Just this morning, I watched, aghast, as a presidential contender advocated for building institutions for the mentally ill, or “sickos” as he called them.

I’m sure he has no idea that our country has just recently been enlightened enough to move away from that archaic notion. I shudder wondering which people he thinks should fill them. I’m sure at least one of my boys would make the list. (Would I? With my anxiety disorder and need for medication?)

It would be tempting to dismiss his ramblings if it weren’t for the sheer number of followers who claim that he speaks their minds, as well. Do they want to lock up my child, too? I’ve read the comments, seen the stares, watched the news. It’s not a leap to think so.

Yet, love, not fear, must win. Love has to be our motivator. We stand up to bigotry and ignorance and we call out injustice, but we do it so love can win. People are valuable – no matter their place of birth, their income, their IQ, their abilities, their color, their past, their perceived potential, or even their political leanings.

When I remember this is not my home, it’s easy to stop fighting for a bigger piece of the pie and instead, share the part I already have. When I remember it’s not my agenda but His Kingdom that matters, I can humble myself and seek His face and ask Him to heal our land. When I remember that Imago Dei is imprinted in all of us (If I pray a lot and squint real hard), I can even see Him in the Trump followers (I’m a work in progress.)

Love and yielding. I know there’s grace for that.

Spin, Pride, and the Isolation of Comparison

spinI spin things. I think we all do to some extent, only posting pics that show us with good hair or sharing the stories that put us in a positive light.

Because I’m the mom of many, I’m especially sensitive to how I present our family. I’m aware that moms of two are allowed to vent about their kids, express frustration, be stressed out, and look overwhelmed and no one thinks twice. It’s normal, right?

Unfortunately, moms like me don’t feel like we have that luxury. If we vent about our kids, express frustration, are stressed out, or look overwhelmed, we feel judged for bringing it on ourselves by having too many kids. It’s just the way it is. Another mom of many has explained it better here.

I’ve long given up on being a “together mom.” Thankfully, Pinterest has never held an appeal and I’m content not being crafty or particularly fashionable. Frankly, it’s a good day if my kids are wearing shoes when we leave the house as a family. My expectations are pretty low.

t-shirtI tend to be pretty open about my short-comings. This shirt remains my favorite. But there are still pockets of insecurity I harbor and sometimes they catch me off guard.

Four years ago, I left my life as a homeschooling, stay-at-home mom and joined the ranks of other professional working mothers. I felt like I’d stepped into a different culture. As the former, I was used to engaging with other moms of many on a tight budget whose homes were chaotic, messy, and fun like mine, who were used to stretching a dime so thin you could see through it, who overlooked the unbrushed hair of a toddler to the sweet smile underneath.

Suddenly, as the latter, I found myself surrounded by dual-income women with disposable finances whose homes could grace the covers of magazines, whose family outings were to pricey ticketed events, and who bought their kids’ clothes from trendy boutiques. Still feeding a family of ten on one-income, I was out of my depth and comfort level.  I glossed over the details of our freakishly large family and Beverly Hillbillies daily life, and mostly kept my mouth shut.

Four years later, I’ve opened up a lot, mostly with jokes and self-depreciating humor about my life but didn’t realize how reticent I was to be completely real, completely me, until this weekend.

My youngest daughter and I were invited to the princess-themed birthday party of a co-worker’s daughter. Of course, KJ was thrilled to go. The morning got away from me and by the time we were getting ready, several awful revelations hit me full force and at the same time.

  1. KJ’s hair was dirty…like stringy, dirty and there was no time to wash it. No amount of brushing would make it look presentable.
  2. Someone had thrown her Elsa dress in the dryer and now it was matted and wrinkled and tacky looking. I’m not sure I even own an iron nor was there time to try and find it.
  3. The camo pants she insisted on wearing under the dress had to go, but the best I could do was slightly clean jeans.
  4. The only matching shoes I could find were pink tennis shoes with about an inch of dried mud caked on them.
  5. Her jacket was in the wash and her only other choice was a zippered hoody…with a princess dress and muddy tennis shoes. Awesome.
  6. We were going to be really late as it was and still had to pick up a present on the way there because that is just how I roll, dang it!

None of it should have mattered. None of it. But the truth is, it all did. It bothered me so much. I needed my five-year-old to look good to validate me as a mother. I was ashamed for even feeling embarrassed, but it was still there.

On the drive to the store for the present, I tried to get KJ to skip the party. “We could have a lunch date, just you and me!” She was having none of it. (Good for her!) So instead, I prayed. I repented of my foolish pride, prayed that I would be a blessing to someone else at the party, that KJ would have fun, that the birthday girl would be honored, etc.

KJSofiaIn retrospect, of course I feel foolish. We were welcomed by wonderful hosts, we ate amazing Filipino food, KJ was treated like a princess (and got to meet one!), we had fantastic fellowship, and were so grateful and delighted to have been part of it.

I almost made us miss all of it because of some imaginary comparison and feeling like I didn’t measure up. It wasn’t that I was trying to measure up to other people’s expectations. It was that I wasn’t measuring up to the spin I’d created.

For example, when the young moms at work asked if I give my kids’ baths every day or every other, I answered, “Not everyday. It dries out their skin,” which of course implies I bathe them every other day, right? Spin. The reality is, the little kids get a bath when I notice they need one. Which is usually when their hair looks greasy or they’re visibly dirty.

Why didn’t I just say that? Because I’m insecure and I don’t like to be judged. Basically, I’m proud. I’m convinced that other people are doing it better and I don’t want to be found lacking. But we’re all lacking. In some way or another, every single one of us is lacking. And we’re going to continue to feel insecure and isolate ourselves due to comparison and continue to spin our lives if we don’t start letting our guards down and being real.

KJsnakeI do have one regret about the party (besides being crazy late, as usual). I wish I would’ve let KJ wear the camo pants under the princess dress. Any five-year-old that eats a plate of Filipino food with gusto and asks for a snake painted on her face instead of a flower is well on her way to living a life comfortable in her own skin. I don’t want to stand in her way with my own hang ups.

I just want to teach her without a doubt, no matter her own lacking, there is grace for that.