What She’s Always Wanted

Mickpic“This is what I’ve always wanted to do.” I could hear her smiling as she said it. My oldest daughter, Michaela (Mick), has been working hard to help in any way she can with the world refugee crisis. As she has written, “Currently, there are 65 million forcibly displaced people in the world with 21.3 million of those people being refugees. Refugees are those who have fled their country for fear of their safety because of war, threats of persecution, or natural disasters. While refugees come from all over the world, fleeing their country for one reason or another, 51% of refugees come from Somalia, Syria, and Afghanistan combined.”

Currently, she is in Serbia, the homeland of her brother, a country which has proven anything but kind to the least of these, and refugees are no exception. Graffiti is everywhere with slogans of frustration and hate making it clear that those with nowhere else to go are not wanted there.

Because the need is great, and she is strong and confident at twenty years of age, she was asked to go to the Hungarian border and lead a team to help meet the needs of the most vulnerable, people who are living in squats or out in the open, determined to somehow beat the impossible game of racing across the border to a life with hope. They are often harassed and beaten by police, and are without the means to feed themselves. While most of them are young men, too many are adolescents, barely old enough to have facial hair. And there are a few children, six and seven years-old with only teen relatives to watch over them in this wilderness.

Ever the adventurous quick learner, she learned to drive a stick in less than a day, so she can transport goods from the nearest warehouse to the people. Her willingness to do this cost her much, possibly including her safety, which is much more perilous in this position.

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Ikea, the wonder pup.

She also rescued a puppy from an IKEA parking lot. I know, I know. But, actually, I think it’s a smart move. She’s been training him, already. She envisions him as a protector for herself as he gets older, but also as a therapy dog for the children and the broken people she encounters. He’ll need to eat, too, of course. Also, as she is further north, she will need to secure warmer clothing and gear as winter approaches and she will be spending a greater amount of time in the elements.

She told me the initial quote after informing me she’s currently living in the warehouse, has no place to shower, and no stove on which to cook food. And, yet, this is what she’s always wanted to do. I hear contentment in her voice, pain and fear at times, but also peace.

When she started this journey, she determined to go where she was needed. All she sees now, day in and day out, is overwhelming need. If you would like to partner with her, you can give at wallet.google.com and enter her email: mickmae@gmail.com I can promise that any amount you give would go a long way. She is my daughter and thrifty is her middle name.

One time gifts are so appreciated and helpful. Monthly support would be phenomenal and such a boon to her spirit (and give such peace to mine!) She is meeting needs in a way that most of us couldn’t. I am so grateful for her willingness and her tenacity to do so.

If you are the praying type, I would love it if you would commit to pray for her for safety, endurance, wisdom, and grace. Please pray that she loves well and obtains favor with all those she encounters.

May the rest of be so blessed to find “what we’ve always wanted to do” in acts of service to those around us. In this world of increasing instability, I am certain there is grace for that.

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.

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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.

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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

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.

 

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.

The Anxious Canary

I am a wife, a mother, a sister, a friend, a special needs advocate, an occupational therapist, a writer, a champion for orphans, and most importantly, a follower of Christ.

And I am mentally ill. 

There is shame accompanying those words and that should not be. As a community we say we need to destigmatize mental illness in this country. The world needs to understand millions of us live with these diseases and we are not mass shooters or serial killers. We are not weak or pathetic, although we feel like it very often. We are simply broken individuals just like you, trying to find what works, how best to live with the hand we’re dealt.

canary_bird_ii_by_taleb83Being a canary is lonely and terrifying. It’s isolating, too. The first time I heard the comparison of those with mental illness to canaries from Glennon Doyle Melton in this post, I felt almost weak in the knees.

Because yes, I’ve got these conditions—anxiety, depression, addiction—and they almost killed me. But they are also my superpowers. I’m the canary in the mine and you need my sensitivity because I can smell toxins in the air that you can’t smell, see trouble you don’t see and sense danger you don’t feel. My sensitivity could save us all. And so instead of letting me fall silent and die — why don’t we work together to clear some of this poison from the air?Why the World Needs the Mentally Different

I also felt empowered. Finally, someone who expresses purpose for my crazy. And on good days, I can be thankful for my sensitivity and recognize that the creativity that pours from these fingers and the passion that oozes out my core is interconnected to the anxiety that often sends my heart racing.

But there are days like today. Many days like today.

All I feel are the nerve endings tingling in my fingers. My thoughts bounce from one thing to another, like my brain can’t find a safe place to land. I woke up with my head literally buzzing (and, yes, I do know what the word literally means and am using it appropriately) like a cell phone was vibrating inside my ear. I am snappy with the children and their incessant questions and general neediness is almost more than I can take.

And the tears. I feel like fifty percent of my communication is accompanied by tears and I am on the verge of them the rest of the time.

It is so much more than simple unhappiness or stress. It is a constant fight with my amygdala to overrule the fight or flight hormones that it insists on flooding into my bloodstream for no apparent reason. It is spending way too much of my concentration and emotional energy to slow my heart rate and regulate my breathing.

It is fighting to keep myself physically present downstairs with the rest of the family until I just can’t any longer and I escape to my room, to my bed, where the waves of failure wash over me as the depression that so often accompanies anxiety takes a deeper hold.

The children wander in throughout the day, wanting me to settle disputes, read a story, offer a snuggle, or tie a shoe and I willingly comply, grateful they don’t shut me out as I do them. But it’s painfully little I am able to give on a day like this and my inadequacies flash in neon above my head. The fact that they don’t question where to find me or why I’m there is most telling of all.

I manage to pull it together on work days, although I’ve ducked into a bathroom on more frequent occasions and my red-rimmed eyes are a telltale sign to my coworkers that all is not well. (As if the increase in swear words weren’t enough to tip them off.) I pray and practice my breathing on the very short commute home, but still retreat to my room most days after brief greetings with the family. Work and retreat. Work and retreat. Repeat.

This is the reduction of life generalized anxiety disorder causes, the toll of mental illness.

The fear and darkness affect all of us. It should not be normal for children to find their mother in her bed in the middle of the day. It’s that realization alone which propelled me to make the call to my doctor for medication. I’d been looking at my condition myopically. I could struggle through. I could deal with the sleepless nights. I could figure out better ways to cope.

But my family shouldn’t have to cope.

It will be weeks before we know if it will lift the fog and slow the fear, but just filling the prescription gave this anxious canary a glimmer of hope.

And that is grace.

I am mentally ill. 

Destigmatization can only happen one voice at a time. I’m shaking off the shame and raising my voice. Will you add yours? (#shameless)

I am pretty sure there is grace for that.

Parenting Success?

The nurse checked the car seat to make sure she fit safely inside, handed us our discharge papers, and wished us well. Just like that, we were on our own as first-time parents. I panicked a little. “Shouldn’t we have to take a test or something,” I asked my husband. “We don’t know what we’re doing. How do they know we’ll do right by her? How can we possibly have enough knowledge to parent someone else? Are we ready for this?”

MickairportThat was almost nineteen years ago. Today, I watched that baby fly the nest as she boarded a plane bound for the Pacific Northwest. I felt the very same way I did then. Shouldn’t she have to take a test or something? How do we know we did right by her? How could we possibly have had enough knowledge to parent someone else? Is she ready for this?

She is. In spite of us, she is.

I’ve been reflecting on parenting in general a lot in the months leading up to this as we still have seven more children to launch. In some ways, I feel like I know less now than I did all those years ago leaving the hospital with the very first one.

Parenting is humbling. These gifts we’re entrusted with for a season are simply immature people with their own wills, ideas, personalities, and preferences. There is no formula or right way to shape them into perfect grown up versions of our dreams for them. No parenting book gets it right for every child or every family.

As much as we want to cling to the right way to parent, there is no such thing. What works for one heart, fails miserably for another. And as much as we like to plan, and prepare, and control, this is one area that all the research in the world pales to trial and error, and even that fades next to relationship.

We need to redefine our vision for success in parenting.  Everyone assumes if your children turn out okay, you’ve done your job well. On the flip side, there is a lot of judgment for parents whose children take a dark turn. We need to understand how little control we really have in the outcome of our children’s lives.

Our daughter will spend the next year with Serve Seattle, an urban missions institute, working in the inner city and training for urban missions. We are very proud of her. The temptation is great to receive the congratulatory pats on the back from our fellow parents, to revel a bit in a job well done. We are so happy for her and the choices she’s made, but we are under no illusion that our stellar parenting is the impetus for it all.

Because we know better. Based on our parenting alone, it could’ve gone either way. She could’ve just as easily gotten in with the wrong crowd and be heading in a very different direction. Because she has a free will, her choices have so very little to do with us.

We’ve all seen it. Siblings all raised by the same godly parents, but one is “the black sheep”. They loved him well and were faithful to point him to Jesus, but there he is. He’s spoken of in hushed tones by those outside the family. Other parents shake their heads and wonder what his did wrong.

Maybe nothing. Probably everything.

We all have. If we’re honest, we’d recognize and realize that we all do everything wrong. We all make all kinds of terrible mistakes in this parenting gig. We take the wrong approach. We’re harsh when we should give grace. We let things slide when we should take a stand. We’re quick to lecture when we should listen. We’re often selfish and lazy.

No one does it right all the time. Most of the time, we don’t even know what right is.

Parenting success is not evidenced by the people our kids become. Our success in parenting is based on our obedience to love our kids and point them to Jesus. It is not based on what they choose to do with Him. That is a choice only they can make. We can neither glory in their achievements nor wallow in shame over their failures.

Those parents whose adult children are on the wrong track didn’t screw up any more or less than the rest of us.  We all do it terribly wrong and remarkably right. I read recently that if you worry about being a good parent, you probably are.

Moving forward with our kids still in the nest, we’ll continue to love them, to point them to Jesus at every opportunity, to pray for wisdom constantly, to screw up frequently, to apologize often, and to afford them grace to do the same.

Because we want what’s best for them, we hope they choose to follow Jesus passionately and to love others selflessly. We want them to be responsible and productive members of society. But if that is not the course they decide to follow, it will not make us failures as parents. We are successful every time we choose obedience in showing them love and Jesus.

Anything else, regardless the outcome, and there is grace for that.

When Little Outgrows Big

EonKJI worry about the day she outgrows him. They are best friends now, two peas in a pod, attached at the hip. She pines for him during his long school days and waits eagerly for the bus at the end of the day. He is always delighted to see her. She understands his limited speech and doesn’t mind that he calls her only “J” and not fully “KJ” as is her given nickname.KJ&Eoncornhole

He is big brother by only 21 1/2 months, but they help each other, she by zipping his jackets and other fine motor tasks and he by flipping light switches or door locks out of her reach. I’ve noticed other ways she’s starting to help, though. Turning on his show because he can’t yet master the complicated remote is one. Taking the lead in what games they will play is the more concerning other.KJ&Eoncow

As she has passed him in speech, fine motor skills, and tech savvy, she will pass him in maturity, as well.

And I worry. Will she still adore her big brother? Will her face still light when she sees him? When her friends replace him as a confidante, will he be heartbroken?

KJ&EonblocksWhat happens when she is given more freedom than he as her maturity exceeds his? How will I soothe that injustice for my boy and still allow room for my girl to find her wings?

I try not to let myself go there. The anxiety wraps it’s tendrils around my heart like a vile weed. I need to cut it off, to pull up the roots, and enjoy the now. For now, it is a love fest, a tight bond, an amazing friendship.

It is enough. There will be grace for later when later comes. 

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A Full Heart

BochairThis guy turns six-years-old today. My heart can hardly stand it. He’s been ours nearly as long as he wasn’t and I still well up to think about what that means. The magnitude of adoption leaves me breathless even as the mundane of it makes me shake my head. How can something so life changing, so utterly profound, be in reality, so completely ordinary?

As always, I remember with prayer his birth mama. May she be well today and know he’s loved.

I remember with huge smiles and much love and gratitude his foster mama today, too. I’ll never forget her showing us pictures of his third birthday. BobootsA picture of a cake flashed on the screen. Puzzled, I looked at Shawn, “Is that cake shaped like a shoe?” Clearly, I did not yet know my boy. But she did. And cared enough to make him a cake shaped like the one thing he loves best in all the world. I have no words.

He has overcome so much and continues to amaze and bless us each and every day. His new fabulousness is calling Shawn from the other room with, “Dad? Daaaaad!” And my personal favorite response to each request with, “Okay,” even as he fails to actually comply with said request.

BobusHe loves kindergarten and is thrilled to don his backpack and trot out to the bus every morning. He returns every afternoon with a huge smile. I think he was actually offended when we let him play hooky last week and took him to the state fair with the rest of the family. He would’ve much preferred to go to school.

We finally found the right meds for sleeping and he is thriving with a full night’s sleep (as are his parents). He has not had any recurrence of ear issues since February. Probably due to both of those, he no longer has negative behaviors that plagued him for so long, either. My arms are bruise-free, and the house has been mostly free from flying objects for quite awhile. BomouthHe’s still a little guy, but a recent growth spurt has him now wearing size 4T and looking quite the little boy versus the toddler he seemed for so long.

His therapists confide that he’s their favorite which shouldn’t shock me, but knowing the lengths we came to get here, really does surprise and delight me. BoarmThe boy who once avoided all interaction, who averted eyes from contact, who ignored all attempts at connection is now charming strangers with his sweet smile and knuckle bumps and it’s amazing.

I share our story in hopes that it might encourage someone out there to realize that maybe adoption is not the giant, terrifying leap you once thought. Maybe it’s just a conscious choice toward an incredible, yet ordinary life.

And maybe, without you, a child doesn’t have a prayer of experiencing a life like that. 

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Go Forth, Guinea Pig

Every mama blogger faces the disappointing times when she has so much material, but alas, it’s all related to her teens and tweens and she must shelve her desires for the greater good. (The greater good being the hope to one day meet her grandchildren.)

MicksittingMy oldest is now an adult, a high school graduate. Our relationship, often tumultuous, has given me some material over the years that I have dutifully shelved. I am beyond certain that she also has tons of material to share with her therapist should she ever take me up my offer to employ one to aid in her recovery from life in this, her childhood home.

We call her the guinea pig child. Let’s face it. It’s not like she came with a manual or anything and clearly we’d never done any parenting before, although before she came on the scene we did fashion ourselves parenting experts as most childless couples are wont to do. But really, we did not know what we were doing. Parenting was a grand experiment and she was the unfortunate guinea pig.

I read loads of books and did my best to implement the advice of the expert dujour. Unfortunately, I’m a fast reader and there are a lot of books. Poor kid probably thought she had whiplash from how quickly I changed the rules and my parenting style in those early years. I relaxed as more kids came along. Probably too much.

It can’t have been easy for the child who is a typical first born, type A, organized temperament to be raised by a creative, spontaneous, hippy mom like me. She picked up my slack, a lot. I can’t remember at what age she started taking the lead when we were out in public, but I remember admonishing many times over the years, “Stop leading when you don’t even know where we’re going.” I knew early that she would never be a follower. All we could do was pray without ceasing that she would be a follower of Christ and learn to be a servant leader of others. As the oldest of many, the leader (aka, bossy) part came easy. The servant part required much training over the years.

Until she has her own guinea pig child, she’ll never fully know how much we prayed for her or agonized over every decision related to her growth and development. From schooling choices, to television viewing habits, to diet, to the appropriateness of church youth group (Yes, really. Parents of first borns can be really uptight!).

And, although she was very vocal in her displeasure of many of our parenting choices, I never really knew where she stood in matters of faith or deep things of the heart. While we play, and joke, and tease, and shop, ours is not a relationship of midnight soul baring. Unlike her free-spirited, always wordy mother, this one holds things close to the vest.

knowbyloveAnd so I watched her life.  In her teen years, a picture began to emerge and I began to hope that maybe she’d blossom in spite of us.

Asked what she wanted for her sixteenth birthday and she was very specific. She wanted to get a group of friends together to complete sixteen random acts of kindness she had already written out. And so we went downtown and passed out gloves and sandwiches to the homeless, distributed cups of hot coffee to parking lot attendants, dropped off previously collected donations to the food bank, gave candy to workers waiting at the bus stops, and so much more. It was amazing, exhilarating, and totally outside my comfort zone. Once again, my child was leading me.

When we first brought Bo home from Serbia, Michaela was sixteen. Just two years shy of graduating, we all knew she wouldn’t be living in our home much longer. It would be nice if she cultivated a relationship with her new brother, but she really didn’t have to. He came to us a tough nut to crack, full of behaviors, and difficult to love. He painted with poop at every opportunity, threw food at the dinner table, broke everything he could, and pinched, hit, and kicked.

She dove right in. It wasn’t long before they shared a special bond and she became one of his trusted few.Mick&Bo

So, even though we’ve not talked about this for hours on end, it’s no surprise to me that she has chosen to serve as her life’s work. Specifically, that she is taking a gap year before attending college and leaving instead for a year in Seattle, WA. She will be working with Serve Seattle, a ministry of Urban Missions Institute, which trains young people through hands on internships, Bible study, and coursework for urban ministry. It is a boots on the ground experience and, we believe, will well prepare her for the ministry she feels called to do.

While she will serve in all areas of urban ministry, she has chosen to specifically focus her attention on homelessness, human trafficking, and prison ministry.

Like all missionaries, even those in training must raise their own support. She has been selling off all she owns, and working hard all summer, and still she is coming up short. If you are willing to invest in the future, not just for our girl, but for our world, please give directly to Serve Seattle (tax deductible) here. Be sure and find her name, Michaela Lakes, by clicking the “I would like to support” box so it will fund her training specifically. Or, you can give directly to her gofundme account here.

I look at all the social justice arenas that break my heart for which I feel powerless to make real change, and I am filled with hope. There are young people like my girl with drive, passion,  strength, and smarts who are willing to be led only by the One who matters into the heart of it all to make a difference. Change will be made through them.

mickmeMostly, I am filled with humility and gratitude that He took all our mistakes and failures, covered them with grace and mercy and allowed our daughter to find Him in spite of us. Her presence will be keenly missed in our home. My heart, quite frankly, will be ripped in two when she gets on that plane. But, as true with the last eighteen years, I know with certainty, there is grace for that.