Saturday, August 1, 2015

Three Months Official

Three months of blog catch-up is more than this summertime mother of five has time for-- so you get pictures and one-liners!

We finalized our adoption! Someday (I'd like to say in a couple weeks when school begins) I'll find time to put my emotions from Adoption Day into words.

We celebrated by crossing state lines- WITHOUT notifying our case worker!

And we got a little silly away from home.

Miriam danced in her recital- a big kid in the LATE show this year.

And Amos rocked out on stage with her.

We sent the kids to camp, Grandma's and Auntie's house while we hit the California coast to celebrate ten years of marriage.

We walked Golden Gate Bridge

And slept on cliffs above the ocean

We started to pray about and plan our next chapter. I have to say, I'm pretty excited about the next leg of our journey!

Friday, May 8, 2015

Letting Go of Me and Expectations. 11 Days and Counting...

This week, I gave up my last "me" commitment. I finished my last religious education class and told my team lead that I wouldn't be teaching next year. Ten years of Wednesday evenings spent sharing my faith with the children in my parish... ten years is a long time. Maybe too long, or maybe I'll be back one day.

For now, at least, I felt unable to offer consistent quality to my class. And those kids deserve quality. There were weeks when I felt like our conversations and lessons were divinely orchestrated, weeks when I was inspired to create beautiful prayer stations and opportunities to connect to Christ. There is no doubt that my church kids learned more than Sacraments and Saints. Together, we grew closer to God. And it is SO VERY HARD to walk away from those weekly meetings.

I too often forget that what I am doing at home IS God work. When I forget that fact, I usually find myself failing at my calling. And it is difficult to admit to myself that managing my motherhood might be all that I am capable of in this season of my life. Resigning myself to a life lived solely for my family is pretty scary, but deep down, I believe it is where JOY waits.

The world tells me that I need to reserve some life for myself, and there is truth in that, but there is also temptation and confusion and blurred lines that are easily crossed. I don't always WANT to give up my life before foster adoption. I don't always like the work in heart-healing. I don't always like the reality of healing broken hearts because I stumble and fumble through the darkness of it every day. I make mistake after mistake, and sometimes I feel myself start to lose my footing. I all-to-often forget that these hearts are fragile and do not truly mean the hurt that they cause. When I forget, I get so wrapped up in surviving the war that I also forget that I am not the one who has to fight it. I don't have to fight my kids, I get to team up with them and fight FOR them.

If all goes as planned, we will finalize our adoption in just 11 days. We have spent the last few weeks going through misery and darkness. We have been hot-lined and investigated. My son has called me horrible names and thrown countless tantrums. We have had days and days of silence. We have realized that we don't really trust in our workers (because when you're being investigated, it's hard to really trust that they all have your back even when they say they do). In the last few weeks, we have accepted the worst-care scenario for our son's future and made arrangements and agreements on how will expect to handle it should we find ourselves there. And by the grace of God, we find ourselves at peace these days. Yes, we are prepared for a life where we aren't always able to help our son by ourselves or within the walls of our house. But we are hopeful and trusting in God's healing mercy. We are anxiously awaiting the finalization of our adoption so that the dust can finally settle and we can begin to fit the broken pieces back together.

Monday, April 6, 2015

We Asked... An overdue story.

We knew that Miss A was ready for adoption. She would talk about the future years with the assumption that she was ours and we were hers. But when it came down to being able to actually say the words that fourteen year olds must say, she couldn't quite voice that she wanted to be adopted. 

Amos and I felt it important that she knew that we LOVED and WANTED her, and that it wasn't a favor we were doing or a work of charity or anything of the sort. She is a blessing in our life, and we didn't ever want her to think that we were anything but grateful for her. 

We decided to tell her so.  

Early on a Sunday morning, I packed a tub of chalk into my purse and snuck off to the park where we first laid our eyes on our precious kiddos. I walked to the exact spot we stood waiting to visit with her social worker, unaware that our daughter was literally within reach of us. 

I spent a few minutes sketching out a simple message:

From the moment we first saw you... We have loved you.

Amos and I had planned this day for weeks, and I was so nervous and unsure of how the events would unfold. I was nervous that this would be too grand a gesture for our A... nervous that is would be too small. Nervous that we were wrong, and that she didn't really want adoption, and that we would make her feel terrible for saying no... or trapped into saying yes.

After church, we left four of our kids with my parents and headed out for an afternoon with Miss A. 

The day began with brunch at a "fancy" restaurant. It was outside of Miss A's comfort zone, and I was sure we'd made it too obvious that we had a plan in the works. 

Afterward lunch, we faked a necessary run to the next town over and a "spur of the moment" visit to the park. She had just been asking us the day before to go, so it was an easy sell.  

We walked around the pond, did a little swinging, and then headed to the car where we had left a board game. I suggested that we sit at the picnic tables to play for a while. After a skeptical look, Miss A obliged and followed us toward our proposal spot.

We gave her a moment to notice the colors on the ground, read her name, and realize that her entire day had been carefully planned for this moment.

Then Amos presented the ring we had searched for. We told her that we loved her, that we were incredibly blessed that God sent her to us, and that we didn't want her anywhere else but with us in our family. Then we asked her if we could adopt her as our true, forever daughter. I watched her eyes begin to well.

And then...

We waited...

And waited...

After a minute or ummmms and oh my goodnesses.... , I suggested that we sit and play our game. It was an incredibly awkward half hour. The question was out there, unanswered. Amos and I weren't able to talk about how to proceed except for a few glances. We joked and played our board game, but we were really just waiting to see what happened next.

We packed up the game pieces, and I held back to let Amos take the lead. We walked back to our spot, and after a moment, Amos asked gently, "So what do you think?" She said, "I think... YES"

Amos placed the ring on Miss A's finger. We hugged, we cried, and we took pictures. Then we headed to our favorite coffee shop (where we'd taken A on Meetcha Day) to celebrate.

I knew that our sweet girl felt special, but I wasn't sure if she'd given us a yes freely until I started to hear her tell other people about her ring and the proposal. From then on, it was easy to talk with Miss A about name changes, about how we thought life would be outside the system, about our dreams for the future of our family.

We are still waiting for a court date to be scheduled, but we all have peace. Adoption isn't an IF anymore. It's only a matter of WHEN. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

There is Work to be Done

At our therapist's suggestions, we have started talking about the A word more at home. We selected our adoption attorney, and she seems fabulous! She deals exclusively with adoptions and has already proven to be a wealth of knowledge. During our first conversation, she told me that if I drove our paperwork to our state's capitol city, I could have the kids' new birth certificates as soon as the day after adoption. No months of waiting! She has also adopted personally, and I feel at peace with her guidance. 

We are back to the paperwork. We have signed subsidy contracts. We spent two days filling out attorney information forms. I have chased copies of birth certificates, social security cards, and TPR orders. Name changes to be solidified. Psych evaluations have to be administered. 

I think the kids are feeling reality setting in. Emotions have been a bit heightened, and I have seen hints of behaviors that have been absent for over a month. We are persevering and doing our best to keep them all appropriately updated on the adoption progress. 

The possibility that Miss A will decide not to be adopted is in the front of my mind these days.  At fourteen, adoption will ultimately be her decision. I keep looking for ways to let her know that she is forever family even if she decides against adoption, but I don't want her to think that we're not over-the-moon excited to be her parents. I don't want her to choose adoption because she worries about disappointing us. I want her to know and trust that we love her unconditionally, but I know that isn't a reasonable expectation for me to have. 

Ultimately, I am, once again, doing my best to let go and let God. He's navigating us through this maze, and I try (and fail daily) to keep my focus on Him. There is much to be done. But allowing God to work on our hearts and our family bond HAS to be my priority now more than ever.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Diamonds... The Pressure is Worth It!

A few months ago, when our honeymoon phase was just ending, I sat in church and listened to our priest speak about diamonds. Incredible pressure and intense heat is required to turn a dark lump of coal into a precious, radiant gem. I remember sitting in my pew with Amos and our five kids, wiping away a few tears that I just couldn't hold back, praying that God would, indeed, make something beautiful and precious from the pressure that we were feeling.

For a while, the pressure increased, and sometimes I thought it might crush us. 
We stayed the course in spite of our terror, 
our doubt,
my weak desire for our former, simple life. 
We stayed the course. 
We endured the pressure. 
We clung to our hope for diamonds. 

God is faithful, and he answered our prayers in a BIG WAY! 

Suddenly, I saw our precious. Our rare, beautiful, treasure. I kid you not, within a week, our misery subsided, and I found my family in this incredibly peaceful place. 

Don't get me wrong, life with our five very individual kids will likely always keep us on our toes, but the kids are seriously AMAZING these days. Our younger three play beautifully together nearly all the time. Mr. J has had a complete turn around. He is helpful, polite, a hard worker, and his attitude is awesome.

Our family is feeling like a real forever family. 

I'm thinking and planning ways that the seven of us will serve our Lord together. I am starting to look forward to fostering again. I can hardly believe that our life felt like hell just a month ago. That's God, folks! 

I'm finding myself looking forward to finalizing our adoption. We will sit down next week to review and sign adoption subsidy paperwork. We are preparing the kids for last name changes and considering the addition of new middle names. Adoption will likely happen in early March. In less than two months, we'll be legal, official parents of Mr. J and Miss A. No more double checking Instagram posts to be sure that I'm not posting their sweet faces. No more asking permission for travel, no more fumbling though my answer when doctors ask what my relationship is to them. I won't have to explain that I'm both foster and adoptive mom. 


Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Christmas Break Felt Like a Christmas Miracle.

Christmas break drew to an end on Sunday, and we're back into the swing of things. To my surprise, the time with the kids home was actually good for me personally. I really expected to be crying into a bottle of wine before New Year's. Don't get me wrong- I shed a bucket of tears around Christmas, and one day, after a tough yesterday with A, I could barely hold myself together long enough to open presents with my parents, siblings, and niece and nephew. I was pathetic and embarrassing, but the day after a Wash Day is exactly that. It's just that usually no one is around to see me in the thick of it.

I expected to be crying into a bottle of wine by the new year, but the routine of having to mother all day long proved satisfying. I think I had started to slip into a bit of a depression prior to the holidays, and the long quiet days while the kids were at school made it oh so easy to feed my laziness and call it self-care. 

For the record, self-care is NOT sleeping for two hours in the middle of the day. It is not Netflix binges. Self-care is productivity. It is active prayer. Helping others. Socializing. Playing games. Going for walks. Living, at least loosely, by a schedule. Doing your job and doing it well. 

In the past three weeks, I have been proud of my mothering. It hasn't been perfect, but my heart has been in it. We are a world away from where we were a month ago. Our boys have spent much less time trying to force each other to be the sibling they hoped for. I see acceptance starting to sprout, and I'm praying that God will show me how to nurture it. 

Over the school break, I reached my limit of ignoring Mr. J's disrespectful answers to nearly every conversation we shared. I was tired of the sarcasm, the hateful exasperation Mr. J would throw at us constantly, and the incessant defiance. Attention seeking, we were told. ODD, we were told. Sibling competition, we were told. Trying to figure out his role in our family, we were told. I was done. It was time to stop excusing the bad behavior with a list of tough circumstances. I sat in our minivan and lectured my new son. I spoke to him sternly and lovingly. I told him we were finished with the behavior he was hiding behind. I assured him that I saw the boy behind all that and loved him more than I could explain. I told him that we were done with his attempts to hurt others' feelings. From that moment forward, I would tolerate no more of it. He was golden for the rest of the day. The next morning, Mr. J tossed an eye roll and a sarcastic "I'm goooooooooooing!" my way when I asked him to put his shoes on.  I directed him to sit on the stool beside me, got close to his face, looked him in the eye, and said, "I told you we were finished with that behavior, and I mean it's OVER NOW." Another hateful remark landed him home for the day while the others were brought to play with relatives in from out of town. We have lived with a zero tolerance policy for Mr. J since then. By God's grace, I have gradually seen less of Mr. J's mask and more of Mr. J.

A couple months ago, a parenting effort like this one would have led to a meltdown complete with screaming and threats of self harm, running away, or hurting others. I was SO proud of how Mr. J took my ultimatum- unhappily, but calmly obliging. What I see in that change is growing trust.

Mr. J has started to tell stories, talk about his bio mom and his life in foster care. I listen intently to every word. The glimpse into his head isn't very comforting (there's a lot of pain there), but the fact that he is sharing leaves opportunity for healing. 

We are not out of the woods, but we are in a place where I believe there is a clearing ahead. I can see God's grace around me again, and I am able to do more than simply keep everyone safe and fed. God is good, and He has not stopped working in this house, in these hearts. 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

What a Year of YES Looks Like

Last year, Amos and I started out incredibly excited to fully embrace the 2014 that God had planned for us. We wanted to say YES to God, be completely open to what His plan was in our life. 

What lofty, romantic notions New Year's Day brings! Looking back, I really feel like we did what we set out to do. We prayerfully said yes to God any time that we felt He was asking of us. 

But I certainly did my fair share of kicking and screaming along the way. I'm pretty good at that. I want God's plan, but I want it on my terms, with warm fuzzies, security, and support from everyone around us. Oh, and I really don't want to give anything up along the way! 

God blessed us abundantly in 2014. 

We opened our home to many of Jesus' sweet children. Some came for the night and stayed for days... and we thought they may stay for a while longer. I miss these boys so much. They were a respite turned emergency placement, and what work God did in my heart while they were with us. He taught me that I could love children as my own. And he afforded me the experience of seeing with my own eyes that imperfect family is so much better for us than anything else. I said goodbye to these two knowing more than ever that I wanted ALL our kids to return home. 

We started to learn about the system from the inside and our hearts grew space to love biological families. We saw the difficulty they have in finding and keeping their voices in the overwhelmingness of the system. And we did our best to bring the good that we saw in them to the attention of workers. 

God blessed us with plenty of time as a five-some along the way too. We had fun. We adventured. We bickered. We loved. And all the while, I soaked up every last moment of the simplicity.

And then, Oh MAN, did our life turn upside-down! We had no sooner officially opened our home to emergency placements than got a call at 7PM on a Thursday night listing a string of siblings' ages and genders. Seven in all. We were able to accept two of them. We saw our first court hearing with these two curly heads on our laps. We knew early on that these two had no business being in the system. We loved their parents and wanted nothing more than to take our girls home to their parents. But we work with a caution system, a fact that I appreciate. And so we waited, and advocated, and continued to do our best to keep the parents involved. We invited them to WIC appointments, doctor appointments, and had just invited them to share Easter with us. 

And then came the team meeting. The meeting that I prayed and prayed that God would do something BIG with. The meeting that we walked into hoping that they would extend visits and ended up getting to take our girls home to their parents. That was my most favorite day of foster care so far. I still get updates from their mom occasionally and send her little notes of hello once in a while. As much as I would love to see the girls, I believe it's best for everyone for their ties to be cut clean.

This year, we were able to foster the talents of our kids. We did our share of nerdiness. We danced. We sang. We sent the kids to camps.

We said yes to homeschooling for a few weeks and loved it. 

We watched as Noah grew in his faith maturity and received the Eucharist for the first time.  

And we played some more. We had expected and planned for our beach trip to include our foster girls, so it was extra special to revel in the simplicity of beach life. I think I could live there on that beach, but it's really the simplicity that draws me back over and over. I am so thankful for the days of carefree fun.

We came home and almost immediately got our first baby girl for a three day respite. It was a blast to have her smiley face around. She was sweet, happy, and such an easy baby to care for. The kids loved entertaining her so much that they never realized she was entertaining them too!

We day tripped as a five-some for the last time. 

We accepted another respite care for ten days. These two girls were our first school-aged kids. They were so much fun to entertain! We swam, tie-dyed, visited children's museums, watched movies, blew bubbles, and did the summer classics.

We grew close to great friends who have supported us in this crazy life of ours, whom we love dearly, and whom I will always be thankful for.

God brought Miriam the perfect school for her. I am forever humbled by his amazing directions. She is thriving scholastically, behaviorally, and in her faith. 

And FINALLY. God brought our babies home. This picture makes me smile and cry. It is the epitome of life now. We are all running to find shelter from the pouring rain, but we are all in it together. 

I read this on Tiffany's blog this morning, and I was moved by it.

"Perhaps you have not yet handed Him the pen, and I want to encourage you to give it a try. Or perhaps you have, but you are inside the middle, and it is hard and lonely and painful, and it feels like it must be the end. But friend, it's not the end. He is still writing your story. He hasn't left you and closed the manuscript. The pen is still hovered over you, and He is still writing. The hard times, the moments when God is silent, the painful pages that seem to suck the life from you, they all have a purpose in your story... Be patient, wait with hope and expectation, because God writes the best stories. Trust the Author of your story. What He is writing is better than you can ever imagine. ~~A Moment Cherished

We are most definitely in the middle. And it is certainly hard and lonely and painful. Last year, I started the year with the word YES in the front of my mind. This year, I want to keep saying yes, but I want to be at peace with the middle. I want to WAIT PATIENTLY. I want to HOPE. I want to EXPECT the beauty that God has in store for us!

Happy New Year Friends! May your year also be filled with Hopeful Expectation!