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9/18/2014

The Busyness of Summer

This summer was the busiest I ever experienced. Busier than the summer I worked multiple jobs. And than the summers I worked as a camp counselor. Busier, even, than the summer I taught in China. I didn't enjoy this summer. I didn't really live this summer. I survived.

Of course there were moments I'll never forget. Experiences I am beyond grateful for. But those experiences were overshadowed by long working hours, endless deadlines, mountains of reading, and practicum hours. In addition, we participated in an intensive 10 week initiative to learn how to better parent while the oldest child placed with us learned different techniques to help her regulate, express herself, and establish that she was in a safe place.
Those 10 weeks changed our lives. We walked in a broken, messy, barely holding it together family and walked out with newfound hope. I will always be grateful for the experience- for what it taught me but more for what A gained from it. She came alive in those 10 weeks, and she invited me fully into her world. I'll never be able to describe how much it means to share the relationship with her I do now. No matter what happens I will always carry love for her and remember her as my buddy. I'll always see her reaction to "The Little Mermaid" on stage and how she loved her first big girl haircut.

Yet, I felt like a failure during those 10 weeks. There was a sense of failure before the 10 weeks started, and there is still a lingering sense of failure. Not because of anything related to the sessions but more because of what I wrestle with - all of which became even more evident during this summer.

Filling my schedule up comes naturally. Being an introvert at heart, who desperately longs for time alone to recharge, you would think I would welcome an empty schedule. Instead I tend to pile on as many tasks as I can feasibly handle with a few more for good measure. I do occasionally say no. But I usually say "no" to the wrong things and "yes" to things that might not matter quite so much.

It took a few weeks after we finished the counseling and learning for this all to come to light. More than that, it took leaving town for five days and turning off all email notifications on my phone as well as setting my iPhone to "do not disturb" to fully comprehend just how busy I had made myself and just how it had weighed me down.

I can't really remember the last time I willingly took time off - even for just a weekend. I've certainly planned to take off and have told those around me that I was going to take off, but I haven't really practiced that. It's one of the reasons I feel I had knee surgery back in 2013 (beyond, you know, blowing my knee out completely).

The busyness of the summer was tearing me to pieces. It was wreaking havoc on my family, my marriage. I felt it every Saturday my husband played with the kids while I worked or studies. I felt it every weekday I ignored the kids to study. I felt it when they exclaimed they wanted to go "bye bye" with daddy but not with me because he was always a part of the most fun times.

All of it I did to myself. Some I could more easily step away from. Other aspects were more difficult to untangle myself from. We all make choices, and some of my choices led me to a summer of non-stop studying and paper writing on top of parenting.
I know what's important. At least, I like to think I do. I say all the right things, and I work to be as fully present as I am able. But my heart goes to the grades on my papers for meaning rather than looking at the life I am living and the people (little and big) living out life in front of me.

I had to take a final when we were on vacation this August. I was able to change the date of the final to our first night of vacation rather than the second night of our vacation. But still. As soon as we arrived at a beautiful resort, I rushed into the room and settled into the desk area to complete my final instead of enjoying the beauty and the silence that was time away with just my husband. It was truly the perfect picture of the summer.

Since returning from our trip, I've silenced some of the remaining busyness. I've stopped taking on so many duties at work. I've enjoyed time spent in front of the television. I've made memories with the littles in our home. I've even read a few books.

I've heard Jesus in the silence and the stillness that weaves through my daily life. During the most intense moments of the summer, I struggled to believe in his presence. I thought it was because He had forgotten me, but it was me who had silenced him while focusing on everything else. I made the choice to make time for everything but Him.

Getting out of town allowed me the opportunity to breathe. There was a noticeable change to my person. I rested. My head felt clear for the first time. The strength I depleted during the summer returned. I connected with my husband and held coherent conversations. I even got to meet Jen Hatmaker.
It's been a few weeks since we returned. I've battled the busyness. I've spent hours on the couch. I've continued to connect with Jesus. But my mind is swimming. I'm stuck between purging our house and de-cluttering with this intense desire to take on a million projects - spreading myself entirely too thin.

We're in a stage of a transition. I'm transitioning with school and my practicum. We're transitioning with the littles (always and amen). We're discussing the future and what we think that looks like (simply so Jesus can blow it up and show us just how wrong we were). We're engaging with other families and even more with orphan care. There's so much happening. And while I'm terrified that I'll get swept up in all the transitions and lose sight of the constants, I'm also terrified of remaining still and quiet. Yet I know the stillness and quiet is exactly where I'm meant to press in.

How do you bid farewell to your reaction to life when you have no choice but to just see your commitments through? How do you balance the quiet with the insisting assignments and projects? How do you invest where you are when there's also a future to plan? How do you engage in the life you've been given when the life looks wildly different than anything you dreamed?

If you've got the answers, I'm all ears. Until then, I'm going to try to rest, to plan my time wisely, and to make as many memories as I can..... (and maintain a 4.0 in grad school because I can't quite give that up).

9/09/2014

Oh wow. You are busy.

This post originally appeared on Not Quite Qualified on March 9, 2014. Like so much... much is the same and much is different.

I hear those words on a daily basis. It's usually followed by "I don't know how you do it." And I sometimes nod. Other times I want to cry and curl up in a ball and just hide under the covers to watch endless episodes of Parenthood for days on end. Somedays, I feel like I must be doing something right - that the fact that I can juggle so much is a testament to my personality.

We went to church today, and I was able to meet one of my sweet friend's mom's after the service. We talked about our littles and some of the day-to-day struggles, and after I delved a bit into my life, my friend's mom turned to my husband and asked him if he was the Stay-at-Home Dad. It was a sweet question and completely warranted. It's one we've wondered about endlessly, and we've decided for now that attending daycare (and therefore both working full-time) is the absolute best thing for our three littles.

Still, there is no way I would ever be able to begin to live my life were it not for my husband's support. He's given up more days and nights than I could ever express. He's taken all three kids to McDonald's PlayPlace or down the street to the park more times than I could even begin to count to allow me time to read and to study and to pick up the house. He shoulders so much in an effort to provide me a bit of sanity. Because when I'm not around the littles, I'm usually working or studying. It's rare that I get even a minute to myself. Unless of course I'm sick. And then I watched 12 episodes of Parenthood in one day.

It's not to say that we don't share the responsibilities. Because we do. And it's not to say that he doesn't also get time to himself. Because he does. But still, at the end of the day, Justin takes much onto himself and becomes second so that I can pursue social work and my master's degree in social work.

I wouldn't be able to do any of this without him. Not the piles of laundry. Not the endless dishes. Not the toddler themed dinners. Not the nighttime routines (which he did by himself last night so I could study). Not the sick days. Not the doctor's appointments. Not the court dates.

Often I think about giving it all up. About forgetting grad school specifically. And I wonder about the career path I've chosen. There are times I'm sure Justin wishes I would give it all up. But he would never ask me to or demand that I do. Because, somehow and some way, it works. this crazy, hectic, always going life, works.

We do get tired though. There are nights when we can barely crawl into bed. There are mornings when it hurts to wake up and times when we both feel sick from pure exhaustion. And we ask and wonder (sometimes out loud and sometimes silently) if we can truly do this for the rest of our lives.

Usually, when we get to the ends of our ropes, God does something to show us that He's still there. And then He lengthens our ropes - sometimes a lot and sometimes just a little. But always the rope is lengthened.

How thankful am I for that. How grateful am I that in those many, many moments of weakness and guilt and questioning Jesus is there to tap me on the shoulder and whisper (and sometimes yell) in my ear that He's bigger than all of it and that if I would just let go and focus on Him....

I spend most days feeling guilty. I feel like I am constantly taking time away from some aspect of my life. If I work too much, I lose out on time with the littles and my husband. If I hit my snooze button for an hour (or longer), I miss out on time with Jesus. If I eat dinner with my family, I might not answer a call for work. If I go to bed early, I likely will not finish all of the reading I have for grad school. It's a continuous cycle, and I feel lost inside of it - much like socks go missing each time a load of laundry is started. And yet, somehow, it's all alright. Just like it's okay for socks to somewhat mismatch, it's okay for me to go to work with no make-up and to miss picking up the littles from daycare. It's okay because I'm still here - doing the best that I can, just as every other mother and father does.

Jesus has been reminding me that guilt does not come from Him. He's also repeatedly showing me that He has brought me to where I am that and that He placed Justin in my life so that we could walk through this season (and many others) together. Jesus has also been reminding me that I do so much more than I think I do and that I do it for the benefit of my family.
I take care of much of the behind-the-scenes matters. I go to WIC appointments. I schedule doctor appointments. I pick out clothes. I manage to get all three littles to daycare in time for breakfast (most days). I do the laundry (most weeks). I wipe snotty noses. I know the tell-tale signs of littles who are getting sick. I rock the littles when they wake up at night. I answer calls from the daycare and coordinate with Justin on who is picking which sick little up. I dedicate time to my job, to people's lives. I read. I study. I write papers. I edit other's papers. And through it all, I love people.

I love my husband. I love our littles. I love my clients. I love those I work with. I love my friends and my family. I even love the people that often seem and feel unlovable (though I have to constantly go to Jesus for that one). I do a lot. I am busy. But we all are. And Jesus works in us and teaches us through it all.

There's no life that is inherently harder than someone else's or busier than someone else's. At least, that's how I believe. Yes, some schedules require a bit more maneuvering and creativity. Yes, some people fall on harder times while others seem to sail through life. Yes, some people get sick with cancer and those don't. But we are all given the lives we are for a reason. I would struggle to walk in the shoes of a stay-at-home mother of one, and she might stumble in my shoes. And that's a beautiful thing. It's a reminder of who Jesus is that we are not all called to live out lives that directly resemble one another.

The other thing that Jesus has been reminding me of? How beautiful it is to remain silent. How wonderous it is to listen. I'm still working on this one as I have a tendency to talk, talk, talk, but He's showing me that it's good not to respond and that it's okay to simply emphasize. And to remind myself, and anyone who might listen, that Jesus is over it all and that He sees our lives - how different and how similar they are - and knows what each of our specific needs are.

So, yes. I am busy. But so are you. And Jesus? He's the busiest of them all.

9/05/2014

Questions and Answers: Foster Care

{This post originally appeared on Not Quite Qualified. Some of the answers are in the process of changing, but I'll get to that at a later date...}


(Picture taken by AWPhotography... If you're in the OKC area, check her out!)

It's funny how, once children enter you life, people feel as though they have the right to know any amount of personal information. I've never been pregnant, but I've watched friends (and clients) cringe when strangers ask to put their hands on pregnant bellies in hopes of feeling a kick or an elbow.

And yet, people don't generally ask someone how quickly it took to become pregnant. There's no question of how the pregnancy was obtained - the old fashioned way, a turkey baster, IVF, etc. Instead, people accept a pregnancy and reconcile it in their minds as being normal.

Justin and I have always talked about adoption. It was a running joke between the two of us that we didn't really want to create a child. We both knew what we had been like as children and teenagers, and while our parents survived those 18 years, we weren't quite sure we would. We've also joked that we weren't quite prepared to have children that looked like us. While everyone goes through an awkward stages, ours had been a bit more than awkward, so we decided to protect any future offspring from immense awkwardness and simply adopt.

Of course, there were a few years when we weren't even sure that we'd ever have kids - even through foster care and adoption. Children are forever. They require an amount of time and energy that we weren't quite sure we were ready to invest.

But then a situation presented itself. We prayed, and we following the calling firmly planted on our hearts and in our laps. There have been many bumps along the way. We've questioned our sanity and our future more times than I count. But even of the absolute worst days, we know we followed the call and do not look back at the past 10 months with any amount of regret.

The questions have stabilized some, but they still come up when we jokingly explain that we went from 0 to 3 kids in one fell swoop.

So what questions do we get? They vary. These are the Top 10 most often asked questions. As well as the responses I want to give and then what I actually day.
1. Why do you foster?
What I Want To Say: Why did you choose to have biological children? Why does it matter? Why don't you foster? What I Actually Say: We feel called to foster care. And to adoption. For me, personally, I feel it is important to care for children who are already born. There are so many children who need a home and need love.

2. Are you all able to have your own children?
What I Want To Say: Does it matter? {Then several expletives.} 
What I Actually Say: We don't know, but it doesn't matter to us. We consider them our kids. {And sometimes I might delve into the personal a bit more, but for the most part, this is as far as I go.}

3. Are they all siblings?
What I Want to Say: Does it matter? Why do you even care? Regardless of DNA, they live in the same house, so yes, they are siblings. 
What I Actually Say: Yes. We wouldn't have three if they weren't! 

4. Do you have any biological children?
What I Want to Say: Does it matter? Biology does not make one child more "my child." 
What I Actually Say: No.  I don't think we'd be able to have three additional kids on top of biological children.

5. Their parents won't get them back, right?
What I Want to Say: We wish they could. In our heart of hearts, we wish all children could be raised by their parents. We would love to be able to form a mentoring relationship and help to reunify a family. Not a day goes by that I don't realize the aching truth that I am raising children who originally knew someone else as mama. Not a day goes by that I don't feel the weight that accompanies the heartbreak children experienced before they came to live with us. They shouldn't have to be in foster care. 
What I Actually Say: We don't know. All we are here to do is to stand in the gap and love them for as long as we have them - whether that is for a few days, a few months or forever.
6. I don't think I could give them back. How do you do that?
What I Want to Say: So you'd rather not foster and protect yourself while thousands of children suffer and spend nights at the shelter? I don't think I could do that. And it's not like there is any guarantee that you will have a biological child for 18+ years. Nothing is certain.  
What I Actually Say: We take it one day at a time. At the end of the day, it's not our call to make. And really? How do we not?

7. Do they still have visitation with their parents?
What I Want to Say: It's really none of your business. And why does it even matter to you?
 What I Actually Say: {It depends on who is asking and if they have a right to the information.}


8. How long have you had them?
What I Want to Say: Does it really matter? Some days it seems like forever and other time it seems like it's only been days. Some days I feel like I can do this for the rest of my life, and some days I feel like time is crawling.
 What I Actually Say: Several months. Though it often feels like they've always been there.


9. Are you going to adopt?
What I Want to Say: I really can't think about that right now. If I say yes and then something happens, I'll feel awful. But if I say no, then I don't want you to think I'm a terrible person either. It changes on a daily basis. Sometimes an hourly basis. Though I firmly believe every family who does adopt... They always find the right child or children. Somehow it all works out even if it doesn't make sense. 
What I Actually Say: Yes, if that is an option. If not, we will love these kids as though they were ours for as long as we have them.

10. How do you do it (meaning work, school, kids, etc.)?
What I Want to Say: I don't know. Most days, I don't feel like I do anything. Most days, I feel like I let multiple people down all at once. Most days, I feel like it's not okay for me to struggle. I feel like people think I've got it all figured out when they ask that question, and I just don't have anything figured out. 
What I Actually Say: I don't do it. I can't do it. Jesus does it. And really, you just adapt to whatever you have in front of you. Starbucks helps too. 

There's a central theme that runs through those questions. At one point, I called it prying. I found it highly frustrating. And while I still sometimes struggle with the questions (and the nerve), I understand that people are, for the most part, simply trying to understand a foreign concept. It's easy to come to terms with two parents parenting their biological children, but it's nearly impossible to understand parents welcoming in children from difficult places with hard behavior.

I choose to believe that people are inherently good, that the questions they ask come from a place of love and of worry. It doesn't mean that the questions don't hurt. Because they do. I've spent countless hours trying to understand why I have to be different. I've spent countless hours feeling as though I am less than other women and other mothers as I do not have a deep seeded desire to birth a baby and care for said baby from infancy onward.

I have learned much about myself since we first began the journey of approval for foster approximately one year ago. I've realized how hurtful some of the words I spoke were. And I've learned to stop comparing myself, my story, and my venue of motherhood to those of other women. We are all different, and those differences include how we choose to start a family or if we choose to start a family.

I think questions are warranted. They are essential to beginning a dialogue about the need for foster parents. But those same needed questions can also hurt. It's up to you and to me to figure out how to engage in the dialogue without making anyone feel as though they are less than someone else.

I am no better than anyone else. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, about me that is amazing. I'm flawed (as you can tell by some of the answer I want to give). I have some pretty terrible parenting moments, and sometimes I have some stellar ones as well. 

9/04/2014

I'm Coming Back. Ever so slowly.

I'm coming back to the blog world. Ever so slowly.

Truly, I never really left. I just walked away from this space in the hopes of redefining myself in another space. In other words... I got scared and I ran. Which I'm really quite good at it. Except I have two bum knees and can't run so fast.

After several months, God caught up with me. I rested. And now, all of a sudden, I can't shake this ever present feeling that I need to write. That even though I am busy and filled to the brim and not quite sure what is going on in my own life half of the time.... I need to write.

So here I am.

Except I'm first going to post the heartfelt posts I originally wrote on the blog I ran away to (Not Quite Qualified) and then start with some new musings and writings. GULP. I hope you'll stick around. And I hope my words will no longer stick in my throat, my heart, my stomach, really anywhere but on the pages they are meant to fill - both literally and figuratively.

A lot has changed over the past almost eight months but a lot is also the same.

----

I Don't Know How You Do It (originally posted on March 7, 2014) at http://notquitequalified.net

"I don't know how you do it."

Those seven words are often uttered with a mixture of awe, confusion, frustration, and slight judgement. Whether people mean for those words to come out in such a way is an entirely different matter. I can not speak for another person. I can only share how I feel on the receiving end of the words.

I'm no different than anyone else. Truly. I struggle just as much (if not more) than other people. I have my good days, and I have my bad days. There are times when I get everything done, and there are more times when it feels as though every aspect of my life is crashing down. More often than not, it feels as though my body is under water and my head is slipping beneath the waves - my arms and legs too sore and worn out from treading water for so long to be able to hold me up above the surface for even just a second more.

They say that in our weaknesses He (meaning Jesus) is strong. I can't argue against what they say because I know it to be true. But often I can't see his strength as I am too busy holding onto my own.

The thing is that I am good at balancing multiple tasks. I tend to thrive when I'm busy, overwhelmed, under pressure, and all too scattered. During the moments of silence and solitude, I struggle to get anything done. But what I'm finding now is that this thriving is slowly giving way to (what I feel is) failing.

I can't keep my head above water much longer. But I'm not so tired that I'm read to see just how strong Jesus is.

Maybe it's a woman thing. It could be a social worker thing. Or possibly a foster parent thing. Either way, I am all three.

And no, I don't know how I do it. Most days, I don't feel like I do it. And that it could be anything at all. It's parenting, it's responding to any number of crises in a reasonable amount of time, it's being married (because, yeah, I'm a wife too), it's studying or writing a paper (did I mention I'm in grad school?), it's pretending to wash, fold, and put away the neverending amounts of laundry, it's cooking a somewhat healthy dinner.

In my weakness, He is made strong. You would think I'd be about ready to fully realize the truth of that often overused statement. You would also think that my arms would be chiseled to near perfection (my thighs, stomach, and butt too) from all the treading of water. But you'd be wrong there, too.

For whatever reason, I am here in this stage of life. It's a stage of life that makes absolutely no sense. A stage of life that leaves me speechless and overwhelmed on a daily basis. A stage of life that constantly results in me whispering "oh my" and looking around in the hopes of understanding at least some of the craziness that makes up my reality.

The only thing I know is that I have been called. I have been called to the frontlines of the orphan crisis. I have been placed in the positions I hold. Even on my worst days (and those seem to be increasing in number), God has decided that I am one of the ones He has sent. And while it's more than tempting to turn around and run the other way (or to just go to Mexico and peace out with a margarita for forever), I'm staying where God has placed me and praying that He might provide me with clarity and knowledge that supersedes anything I could possibly hope to create.

God does not call the qualified. Instead, He qualifies the called. I am the ever changing proof of the truth in those statements as I am not qualified for any of the roles in my life.

Welcome to the insanity, the craziness, the neverending questions. Welcome to learning that I can't do it. Welcome to my accepting of the call in the hopes of becoming maybe the tiniest qualified.

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