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Monday, September 1, 2014

Why my child is not lucky to have me

A little boy has come into our life. We call him Baby Z for short.

He is sweet.
He is cute.
He is a horrible sleeper.
He is loved.
He is small for his age.
He is the cutest little laugher.
He is happy (now).
He is a champion eater.
He is soft, squishy and lovable.
But there is one thing he is not. 
It's the thing I hear often from friends. It usually goes along with "I could never do what you do." It's always said with the best of intentions and the most supportive of hearts. It's not new . . .  I heard it with Leyla all of the time. It sounds nice at first, and reaches out to stroke my ego. In fact, it seems so nice to say that I struggle to call it for what it is. 
And yet every time I hear it, I cringe. 
There are many things my foster child is. But there is one thing he is not. 
My foster child is not lucky to have us. 
My child (and I use that term loosely, because he is in fact, not mine) is not lucky to have me.
The reason I am in his life at all is because he has endured abuse or neglect. He has lost his mom, dad, brothers or sisters before we ever came into the picture. This precious, helpless baby, in his first few months of life, has endured some things that I cannot even imagine going through as a capable adult.
His story breaks my heart. It is not a lucky story.
He is not lucky because when he wakes up at night, I wonder if it is from hunger or from trauma. It could be either. It could be both. And he wakes up . . . a lot.
As I snuggle his precious little squishy body, I wonder if he remembers his time before. The way he cries sometimes makes me think that he does remember. He is not lucky to have a "before."
He has a certain cry that comes out sometimes that is absolutely desperate sounding. He is not lucky to have had a reason to cry this way.
As I fill in doctors, and state workers, and early intervention specialists on his progress, I am reminded of why he needs state workers and specialists. Why he needs to make progress. 
This baby has been inserted into our family, perfect strangers who now call themselves mom and dad. While we may be loving, that does not change the fact that we are indeed strangers. Imagine going to the grocery store, picking out a random family, handing your young baby to them and then walking off as you hear the mom say to your baby: "Hi! I'm your mommy now!"  This random family may be the best parents in the world -- but would that child be feeling lucky in that moment?
While foster care is not so random from our perspective, who is to say that this is not how a child experiences it? 
Let me tell you who is lucky . . .

The child was born into a home and family that is safe and nurturing. 
The child who was never pulled out of the only home she knew, getting separated from her brothers, sisters, pets and playthings.
The child who will not be moved from family to family at the whim of the government.
The child who did not start out life addicted to drugs or alcohol.
The child whose parents intimately know him, and make wise, informed choices on his behalf . . .  Rather than be at the whim of a judge who only knows the child's face from a 5x7 snapshot in his file.
More than likely, you know this child.
If you are a safe, responsible, nurturing mom or dad -- Your child is the lucky child.
Your child's life may not be perfect. Maybe they struggle with health issues, or had an absentee parent, or have endured some tragedy in their own right. 
I'm not saying that their life, or your life, is perfect and free from pain. 
But I am saying, they are lucky to have you, a loving mom and dad, in their corner from birth. You nurtured them, loved them, kept them as safe as you could, and gave them the best possible start to their life.
So I know what you mean when you say my kid is lucky. I really do.
I know you mean that you are thankful they are finally in a loving home, where they are finally receiving the care they deserve. I know you want to support us foster parents by letting us know we matter. I'm not trying to split p's and q's and make you feel like you are saying the wrong thing.
It's just that knowing his history . . . knowing that he didn't get to choose his life or his family . . . knowing how completely out of control he is of his own life . . . I can't help but feel that he is in fact one of the few unlucky ones.
My hope and prayer is that no matter how unlucky he is to have needed us . . . God will more than make up for his humble beginnings.
And if I could be so honest -- I feel pretty lucky to be the one to love on him.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Throwback Thursday

As usual, I am laying in bed, head swarming with thoughts I wish to pen. 

(Is that expression even valid anymore? I'm definitely writing this on my blogger app on my iPhone.)

Ok... So thoughts I wish to iPhone out to you.

First, today is throwback Thursday. And I don't feel like I have to reach back very far to feel like I'm back in the past.

The past where I wore cute clothes. The past where I had time to exercise every day. The past where I slept a whole.freaking.night.long. (What is that even like?!?!? It's been so long it seems...) The past where I'm a strong motivated business women. The past where I had just two kiddoes, and was unsure if we'd ever add a third.

The past ... As in a week ago.

The changes in the last week are obvious.

I wear less make-up. My hair is always in a pony. I have absolutely no idea how to even make a phone call. I am so tired, I incorrectly gave out my social security number AND my husband's cell phone number -- twice. My bedroom has a discernably larger amount of boy's clothing in it. My dishwasher has way more bottles than I have ever (ever) used before. And my fridge has way more yummy, prepared meals than ever. (And yet, I'm definitely not cooking.)

And my heart has grown so much bigger because I get to love on one dear, sweet, insomniac little baby.

TBT -- and it was exactly a week ago we got the call about Baby Z. A week ago I nervously kept my kids at Ryan's softball game -- counting the minutes till we could meet Baby Z. 

A week ago, we packed up the kids at 9 pm to drive out and meet him. And a week ago, exactly at this time, I emailed our social worker to let her know ...


Baby Z hasn't been with us for a full week yet. But it seems that everything, everything has changed. 

Some for the good. 

And some for the bad.  (I miss you Jillian Michaels!!)

I have so much to share about this week. What (very.very.very) little I can share about him. Whether we plan to adopt again ... About how you can help foster kids when you can't foster. And what it's like to "parent" a baby after trying for so long, and grieving so many losses.

So my head is spinning, full of blogposts I long to write. But my baby is sleeping (hallelujah!) which means I should too.

So I will leave you with this:  please pray for Baby Z. For his bio family. For his other family (namely, us Lewises.) Pray for wise doctors, on-it social workers and judges, and doctors with discerning eyes and hearts.

Pray for Baby Z, that no matter how or when, he will end up in a safe, loving and nurturing environment.

And pray that when it is time, our family will have the strength to let go.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

There are more Jenises out there

Photo credit: FBI photo

This week, our community held its breath.

We faced some of our worst fears. We whispered prayers to whatever god we believe in. And we watched, and waited and waited, and waited. 

Soon, it wasn't just our community hoping and praying for a little girl -- a stranger to many of us, yet we thought of her and prayed for her as though she were one of our own. The entire nation joined us ... waiting, hoping and praying.

And today our worst fear was realized. 

Precious 6-year-old Jenise Wright was confirmed to have been murdered, after being reported missing late Sunday night.

Maybe because my Maddy is so close to her age. Maybe because her home is literally a 5-minute drive from my house. Maybe because the murder of a 6-year-old is just unthinkable. Maybe because I drive by the police and FBI cars, police tape and "Road Closed" signs on my way home from the store. 

Whatever it is, this little girl has been constantly on my mind, in my heart, and in my fervent prayers since I learned about her disappearance on Monday. 

During this week, I have been checking the news, reading reports, and watching all the status updates as the search for her grew. I kept my eyes peeled everywhere I went. I wondered if she was scared, alone, in pain or already with Jesus.

And I held my own daughters tighter ... Praying gratitude over their very real presence in my life. Their deep breathing at night became a miracle. The minutes with them were not to be taken for granted.

Yet as I grieve this little girl I never knew, a thought keeps coming to the surface, and I just can't shake it. 

There are more Jenises out there

We don't know all the facts about her murder. We don't know all the details about her family. But I think that it is a fair assumption that her parents allowing their 6-year-old to wander the neighborhood without any real knowing of her whereabouts ...  or even awareness of when she was entering or leaving the house ... put this child at risk. 

She was a vulnerable child. 

And there are many others just like her. 

These are children we don't hear about because they are removed from their homes before they disappear or are found murdered in the woods. 

I know these children exist because the day police found Jenise's remains, we got the call to take a vulnerable child into our home.

Here is a baby whose story could have made headlines ... But thank goodness it didn't. 

And yet, I wonder about if it had. 

I wonder what your response would have been had you come to memorize the features of his face from watching the news every night, instead of seeing my Facebook posts with his updates. I wonder if I would have seen the same sentiments that I have seen posted on Facebook as friends rightly expressed outrage at the apparent neglect of Jenise's parents. 

"Precious baby girl," I read this week, "If they find her, I would adopt her and give her the love and care she deserves."

A justifiable sentiment. 

But then I have to wonder ... Would you really?

Would you carve the necessary weeks out to do all the training needed to be a licensed foster home? Would you lock up all your medicine, adjust your parenting practices, and put privacy aside as social worker after social worker inspects your home and reviews every. Single. Detail. About your life? 

Would you fill out an an obscene amount of paperwork that makes giving birth look like a walk in the park?

Would you take the risk that you may care for a child with all you have, knowing that any day they could be taken from your home? Will you make room for them in your budget, set a place for them at your table, and carve away your precious time for doctors' appointments, specialists and court proceedings?

You see, it's easy to be outraged when we hear of child abuse or neglect. 

It is easy to cry, to mourn, and to wish that things had turned out differently. It is easy to believe that had they been in our home, they would have been safe, and loved, and cared for. 

It is, however, quite a different thing to actually take that child into your home, and make sure that they are safe, and loved, and cared for.
And I guess what I want to know is ... Are you willing? 
Ryan and I had about 12 hours to make our decision. I could not escape the fact that as I was devastated to learn of Jenise's death, here was another vulnerable child -- another potential Jenise. 

Would we say "no" as taking a child right now is not convenient? Would we choose our lifestyle of comfort over a lifestyle of sacrifice?

This is what we wrestled with. 

And to be honest, it really came down to principle. We had no red flags in taking this child ... Just a pretty solid belief that this is what we need to do ... Come what may. 

I do not write this from a spirit of "look what we're doing!" I write this from a scared, trembling little heart. A heart and will that are desperately relying on God to empower our family, strengthen me as a mom, and fill in the gaps for us where we fall short. 

I write this knowing that our community around us ... The love, the support, the prayers ... Make it possible for us to say yes. 

I write this from the humble knowledge that this burden to care for a child really is so light. Other Christians are being called to stay faithful even as their children are being beheaded, their wives are raped and abducted, and their husbands as killed. 

What is our service to God in light of such sacrifice? 

And yet. It still matters. It matters a lot.

To be honest, the timing is not perfect. The finances are not perfect. And, to be oh-so frank, Ryan and I are FAR (f     a     r) from perfect. 

Week don't have all our stuff together. I still haven't registered Maddy for school or gotten Leyla's new social security card yet. Just like every mom I know, finding balance feels elusive sometimes. 

In short, taking on another child right now is far from convenient. 

But then again ... Being neglected by your parents and at-risk for abuse and even death is not convenient. Being abandoned at a drug house is not convenient. Being let down by person, after person, after person until you've lost all faith in God and humanity is not convenient. Being raised by a 5-year-old sibling because your parents are strung out on drugs is not convenient. Being born drug or alcohol addicted is not convenient. Being forced to move in and out of homes by the whim of some almighty judge is not convenient. Being forced to have weekly visits with your abusers (albeit supervised) is not convenient. Not knowing where you belong, being separated from your siblings, and standing out in school are not convenient.

Being at the total whim of a broken government system is not convenient. 

We feel for these children. As we rightly should. By all means, let us have compassion and grieve for their losses.

But I urge you to do more. Let us not just feel. Let us act.

I get that we cannot all be foster parents. I get it. But I think there are those of us out there that need to step up. We need to get our homes ready, take the classes and bite the bullet to commit. So when a child like Jenise comes along, we are ready.

If you absolutely cannot be a long-term foster parent, ask yourself what you CAN do. Maybe you could do receiving care (short term care between 1-4 weeks). Maybe you could do respite care? Maybe you could donate clothes or no-longer-needed baby items to families doing foster care? Maybe you could make that family a meal when they receive a child into their home? Maybe you could commit to praying for them, babysit for them, or call them and really listen to how they are doing? 

Of course, foster kids aren't the only ones at risk.

Maybe you are sponsoring a child. Maybe you are volunteering with at-risk youth. Maybe you are helping support victims of sex-trafficking. Maybe you are delivering food or clothes to children in Africa. Maybe you have adopted a child from an orphanage. 

But if you are not doing anything yet ... Ask yourself? What are you willing to do? Where is God calling you to help? Where can you use the time, money and resources you've been blessed with to make a difference?

If you chose to foster, you should know:
The foster care system is broken. The situation will likely not be perfect. There is a real risk that you may end up with a broken heart. You will wonder some days what on earth you were thinking when you signed up to do this. There will be loss, heartache and fatigue. 

But there will also be one more guarantee. 

You are making a huge difference in the life of one of God's precious children. Your standing in the gap could literally save their lives.

There are more Jenises out there. 

And I want to know ... Will you join me in doing something about it?


*If you chose to research foster care (woo hoo!), I would urge you to get licensed through an agency. In many cases, this is absolutely free. We went through Youth For Christ, and cannot recommend it enough. The social worker on the child's side represents the child (as they should.) Your case worker in the agency will represent your family, and will make sure that you understand everything the social worker is saying. They will keep you up-to-date on licensing requirements, offer trainings, and be there as a very real support to your family. So definitely, definitely, go through an agency. :)

Monday, August 4, 2014

Making room for gratitude -- Making room for God


There are 2 things I don't really love ... 

Watching TV. 

And window shopping. 

It's not that those things don't bring small pleasures in the moment. Trust me ... I love great design, especially in updated houses and darling clothes. 

But I have noticed that setting out to see things I cannot afford breeds ugly discontentment in my heart. 

Perhaps it doesn't cause it ... But like sugar with candida, it fuels discontentment's parasitic growth until I'm overcome with a desire for something I don't have. 

Suddenly all those cute summer dresses I bought last year just aren't enough for that upcoming business event. The house I have done my best to decorate on a budget just isn't stylish or functional enough. My body -- which just hours earlier felt strong and attractive as I exercised, hoisted my daughters in the air to their delight, and wrapped my husband in a bear hug -- suddenly feels less than. 
My muscles could use more toning. My legs are too lumpy to look good in a bikini. My hair is too thin and short. My face is too scarred from acne. My womb is too jacked up to give life to babies.

And so it goes. 

This insipid distaste for the things that once delighted me seeps in quietly, masked as ambition for more. 

When I have that promotion ...

When our income can keep up with the lifestyle I want ...

When we are in a position to buy a house ...

My spirit begins to insist that I deserve more than God has chosen to give me at this moment. It is a fool's pride.

While ambition and striving have their place (as do promotions and buying houses), my motivation must be for something greater than me. Greater than that next big thing. Greater than private school, and fun vacations, and an unlimited grocery budget. (Or shopping budget.)

There must be more room in my life. Not for more stuff. But for more gratitude. For more of God himself.

I must ask myself ...

Where is my gratitude that my family is safe and sheltered in our home when I am jealously eyeing that renovated kitchen on HGTV?

Where is my heart when I'm so keen on noticing my many flaws, instead of delighting in my good health, strong muscles and bones, and a body that enables me to do almost anything I want to do?

What would God say to me as I jealously watch others' pregnancies progress to babies, when He saved my daughter Madelyn, and blessed us undeservedly with little Leyla?

When I start nitpicking, I must chose to breathe a silent prayer of gratitude. 

Lord, even as my home doesn't reflect all that I want for it... You have provided in abundance. We are blessed beyond measure. And it helps me look forward to the home you, the ultimate designer, have created in heaven. 

Thank you for my health ... My heart that pumps blood, lungs that breathe in your fresh, foresty air, and legs that -- while lumpy -- still take me everywhere I need to go. 

Lord, thank you for allowing me to be a mom. Even as I may always struggle with my lack of fertility, thank you for bringing my husband and kids into my life. Thanks for keeping my other babies safe and happy with you in heaven while I wait to meet them. Thank you that you will use my suffering in some way to bring you glory and serve others. Thank you that my pain won't go to waste.

As I breathe in the truths of how rich I already am, I pray that you would fill me up even more with the realization of your many blessings in my life. 

May thankfulness, a spirit of abundance, and unending gratitude mark my character, and hem me in. May it keep out ugly jealousies, quiet discontent, and an attitude that tells me that you have not given me enough.

May my heart be glad ... 

Even as darling clothes call my name from behind the thick glass at that sweet little boutique.

Even as I appreciate the creativity and fabulous design that went into their granite countertops in the kitchen, beautiful soaker tub and hardwood floors. (Not to mention that fabulous backsplash!) 

May the only call for more in my heart be that of needing more of you.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Fostering-to-adopt: Our story, Part 3, The Big Reveal

For my part 3, I'm so excited that Deanna (Leyla's first foster mom) agreed to co-write this post with me.

Up until this point, our lives were very much separate. They were foster parents of a darling almost-1-year-old. We were licensed foster parents with no placement and no prospective placements, who just so happened to babysit their daughter a few times.

And then life -- OK, God -- threw us together in this crazy plot that none of us could have written on our own.

Before you continue with my Part 3 (and Deanna's Part 4), be sure to catch up on our stories.
My Part 1 and Part 2.  And Deanna's Part 1, Part 2 & Part 3.

And now . . .  the big reveal.

The next part of the story has no logical order of events. It gets all jumbled up in my head when I
remember it, because I’m pretty sure it all happened simultaneously. And really fast. It happened really fast.

In January, we met a new respite family: the Lewis family. Dropping Leyla off for the first time we met Ryan and Rachel and their sweet daughter Maddy. Conversation flowed easily and we were confident in the loving care Leyla would receive in their home. It was such a treat to receive pictures and updates and an occasional question via text message while we were away. They were able to watch Leyla for us on a few more occasions that winter.

 I'll never forget when the Gemmers first walked through our front door and into our lives. We talked easily enough, crowded together in our entry way by discarded coats, shoes, a huge suitcase and a tiny child strapped into an infant seat. 

Laundry was spread all over my living room (but I think it was at least folded.) I felt self-conscious suddenly. What if our home . . . what if WE . . . weren't good at this? What if we weren't enough somehow?

In spite of the copious amounts of laundry, the Gemmers never let on that they were uncomfortable leaving Leyla with us. As much as I enjoyed the small talk, I was ready to get that sweet baby into my arms. :) 

As I mentioned in my previous post, it did not take long for me to fall completely head over heels for Leyla -- and feel in my heart as though she were already mine.

A few days after Leyla came home from one of these respite visits, I received a call from her social
worker checking in on a few things. Before we hung up, the worker asked me how the weekend at the
Lewis’ had gone, and I just knew.

From the tone of her voice and the way she asked the question, I knew that she had the Lewis’ file on
her desk and that they were in consideration to be Leyla’s forever family.

I had quite a bit of traveling coming up, and in between my trips, we had respite planned for Leyla. I think we had her for about 3 different visits over a few weeks.

I remember going to our MEND leadership conference in Texas, and I looked at the pictures of Leyla that I had on my phone from our visits each night before I went to sleep. I was smitten. I was pretty much counting the days until she could be with us again.

Ryan decided to take the First Placement class that we needed to take to keep our license current. Sigh -- more training. At least this time, we both didn't have to take it. Which freed me up to work my business, and take care of my traveling. 

During this time between respites, I was taking a 36-hour class required for our foster license and,
though most of it was very interesting, it little had to do with the baby in our care. So I spent a lot of
time in class cross-stitching, listening, and thinking about our sweet girl.

One night I went home and suggested to Darin that maybe we shouldn't keep Leyla until she was legally free. That every day she was reaching new exciting milestones and wouldn't her forever family be sad that they missed them? That every day she was becoming more attached to us, and wouldn't that make things harder on her in the long run? That maybe there would be a family out there willing to take the risk and take her now?*

Turns out Ryan Lewis was in that 36-hour class with me. Even though I didn’t have any official
information, my gut knew that their file was on our worker’s desk. I knew that they were a lovely family. I knew that we had connected. I knew bits and pieces of their story of infertility and loss. I knew they were completely smitten with Leyla. I knew they had an empty crib.

I wondered what God was doing.

*Leyla was not yet legally free, and wouldn’t be for quite a few more months. This meant that while
adoption was looking likely, there was still a chance the biological parents would be given more time, a smaller chance that would be granted custody, and still opportunities for a relative caregiver to come forward.

The night I got home from my trip, I was sitting at my computer. I'll seriously never forget this moment. You know how you remember exactly where you were when you found out Princess Diana died? OK, kinda like that. Except . . . no one died. But the memory is seriously vivid.

It was really late at night. Ryan was about to head to bed. He had just finished his foster care class. And then, he drops a bombshell on me.

I really wanted to stay quiet, I really did. I asked God to hold my tongue and let him work. But I also
didn’t want this amazing family to get away. I knew I didn’t get to choose Leyla’s family, but I really
wanted it to be this one. And so when I look back I don’t know if what I did next was right, but it is what it is.

I don’t remember the specifics of the conversation, but after class one night as Ryan and I were chatting, I told him that Leyla was likely headed towards adoption, but that our family was going to continue to do foster care, and therefore were not available to adopt. We left it at that, but I knew a seed had been planted.

The phone call I received from Rachel within hours of my conversation with Ryan confirmed that.

"So, uh, the Gemmers are not adopting Leyla," Ryan mentions before he heads to bed after a long night at training.

Shock. Silence. A billion questions at once. And then tears. Lots and lots of tears.
Someone might have thought someone had died. But they hadn't. 
I cried for Leyla. I cried for this little girl who had already lost once, and would lose again. I wondered how she could cope, being away from the only family she ever knew. The loss of a second family was too much it seemed for someone so young, vulnerable and small. 
I never judged the Gemmers. Not once. But boy did I mourn for Leyla. 

Since Ryan could not answer any one of my billion questions, I called Deanna just as soon as I could. I can't remember if it was that night, or the next morning. But I knew that yesterday wouldn't have been soon enough.

I didn't know what the plan was for this baby. But I knew I wanted to be a part of it.

I needed to know why they weren't going to adopt. 

And then, I wanted to know if we could.

We met up for coffee a day or two later and while carefully skirting the line between sharing
information, and keeping confidential things that were meant to be confidential, I told her much of our journey, and she shared a lot of hers. I told her that it would be a risk to take Leyla with the hopes of adoption, but I also shared my reasons for feeling now would be the right time for her to move.

We met at Starbucks. Deanna came in her adorable yellow peacoat. She was so put together, so immaculate. Even as I tried to smear my makeup on in an acceptable manner that morning, I still felt disheveled. It was not so much an outward thing, I don't think. It was more like I was having the most important interview I would ever have, for a job "title" that one does not normally interview for. How could one ever feel prepared enough to talk to the current mom of the baby you hope to adopt?

We discussed as much as we could legally without crossing any lines. It's hard in foster care, because until you're "in" . . . there is so much you are not allowed to know. 

I remember she had a friend sitting at a table next to us. She introduced us, and the whole thing felt awkward. How does one say, "Hi, I'm Rachel, and I'm trying to learn from your friend here if we might be able to adopt her baby." Deanna instead introduced me as a new friend, and the old friend had no idea what Deanna and I were up to.

I think I drilled Deanna on everything that I could. And she answered guardedly when necessary, openly when allowed. I learned why they weren't adopting. I shared with her my stories of loss. It turned out, we had lots in common. And (I think) we just generally liked each other, and were excited at the prospect of what God seemed to be up to.

But everything still rested in the hands of our social workers. And until our social workers officially asked us to adopt, our hopes and plans could have been for nothing.

The next few weeks are sort of a blur, but basically our agency and our social workers were clued in that Rachel and I were on the same page. There were so many conversations that I really can’t tell you how it all went down. Maybe Rachel remembers?

Yep. I  remember. For about a week, I knew the Gemmers weren't adopting, and I was hoping for a call from our social worker. Meanwhile, Ryan and I were already thick in the throes of deciding whether we would adopt if we were given the opportunity to do so. We had our dear friends and family praying a TON about it.

I was in the bathroom, getting ready for the morning, when our social worker called. She let us know that the Gemmers wouldn't be adopting, which I already knew. She asked if we would consider taking in Leyla now, with the goal of adoption if the parental rights were relinquished.  (YESSS!!!!)

I gave her all the right answers, like "We'll have a lot of questions we need to discuss with you." And "Ryan and I will have to do a lot of talking and praying." The truth is, I really could have given her an answer right then. Ryan and I had already decided that we would be Leyla's potential adoptive parents, and were ready to take her in. But I didn't want to sound like I was making a casual decision. And Ryan and I did decide that we would hear ALL the details on the case first before we gave our final decision.

We were invited to come to a meeting with all the players in her case where we would go over all the details on her case, as well as her prognosis and any medical issues or delays she might have.

I do remember one final hurdle before the Lewises fully committed (although I was pretty sure it was just a formality at this point), was a big meeting at my house. It was Leyla’s 6-month review with the Holly Ridge Center and their birth-through-3 early intervention program. This was my status update that afternoon:

Displaying Untitled-1.jpg

It was a great meeting where we were able to celebrate the amazing progress that Leyla was making,
and address some of the new challenges we were facing.

And ultimately the meeting gave the Rachel the confidence to know that she had the skills and the
support to mother Leyla well.

I already knew she had the love.

She’d had it from the first day she met her.

Sitting in the Gemmer's home, surrounded by strangers with a little girl playing at my feet, was a very surreal experience. I listened to all the experts (the Gemmers, of course, and the physical therapist.) I learned fully of her background and prognosis. As many questions as I could come up with, they disclosed as much as they knew. 

And at the end of the meeting, I told them.

"We want to be Leyla's parents. And we're willing to take her in now."

The only thing that was left was to tell Leyla's biological parents of her move into her home. And to plan out her move into our home over the next few weeks.

 Keep posted for Parts 4 & 5: Transition.


Thursday, July 17, 2014

You are not super mom. (And that's a really good thing.)

I am not super mom.

I am not super mom.

I am not super mom.

Not that I've been accused lately of actually BEING super mom. Ummm . . . I don't think that's ever happened. Or is ever likely to happen.

But more often than I can count, there has been a voice telling me I am NOT super mom . . . not like I should be.

It is a familiar voice. Someone that I respect, I love and I hold dear. Someone I hold to be a voice of wisdom. Someone who has a close relationship with God. Someone who knows what it's like to be a good mom. Someone who loves my family dearly, and wants to see me succeed.

Today when I had friends over for a play date, and my sink was full of dirty dishes and margarita glasses from last night's Arbonne event, that voice gently prodded at me. "You are not super mom . . . "

When my mini-guests discovered my room (aka, The Place of Utter Disaster), and their moms had to go in and retrieve them, I heard it a little more forcefully . .  "You are not super mom . . ."

When the friend I had invited to dinner at 5 had to wait until 6:30 to actually eat said dinner, I remember "I am not super mom . . ."

At 3 am this morning, when my daughter came in multiple times -- afraid of bugs, monsters and lights through her window, and I respond much more grumpily than I would have at a more decent hour (10 am would have been amazing), it chirps up. "You are not super mom . . . "

When I am late to an appointment.

When I realize that the cup half-full of smoothie is STILL in the cupholder in the car (from a few days ago) and has now crusted over (ewww).

When I cringe at someone looking in my minivan simply because I cannot keep it clear of toys, food crumbs, mismatched shoes and socks, and apparently, 2 pair of Maddy's panties. (??!?!?) 

When my kids are driving me nuts, and are willfully disobedient, and the feelings I have at that moment more closely resemble feelings of hate than feelings of love. 

When I raise my voice, threaten to spank (or actually do spank), and discipline in anger.

When I remember that I still haven't given little B's foster mom his jacket back -- 2 weeks late.

When I am short with Leyla after constant screaming and sibling bickering. (Her screaming of course. Not mine. Although I'm seriously thinking of starting.)

When I remember that one special parenting tip the social worker (or behavior specialist or viral blog) gave me that would have been PERFECT for the situation at hand --- but I remember 10 minutes too late.

When I take some time to myself and mommy guilt sets in because I'm not being productive.

The voice is relentless . . . "I am not super mom . . . not like I should be."

In short . . . I fail. A lot. Like really a lot.

I yell more than I should. My house gets messier than I think it should, for longer than I thought we could ever live like that.

 If I plan a fun activity for the kids, I think I should be home cleaning. And vice versa. 

There are days where my priorities are crap. I'll get a whole bunch of Facebook posts in, but miss out on personal development, reading my Bible, or even just spending 15 minutes of face time in with my hubby.

For everything I do -- something else goes undone.

If you see my house clean, it probably means that I procrastinated all day on cleaning it, and had a crazy flurry of activity literally counting the minutes till you arrive. It also means that some part of my house is terribly NOT clean, because I can't get it all together. One room goes to pot, always. It's not a matter of if -- just which room I can afford to have go to pot.

If one bathroom is clean, chances are the other is not.

If my laundry room is clear, then my room is overflowing with clean laundry I'll affectionately refer to as "Mt. Washmore."

If I look cute and ready for an Arbonne event, chances are my kids watched WAAAAY too much TV that day. (Oh, hello Dora. Again. I'm so glad you are considered "educational." Maybe if my kids start walking around saying "hola" and "gracias" I'll feel so much better about the inordinate amount of time my kids spend with you.)

Either I let my kids watch cartoons every morning with breakfast so I can get a workout in. Or I sit with them and try to have an intellectual conversation (ha!) over the first of our three meals together. (Which, to be honest, usually results in me fixing them first, then seconds, then thirds before I even have a chance to get a bite in. So much for eating together.)

Either I spend time working my Arbonne business and contribute to our family income, or I organize a craft for my kids that I learned about on Pintrest.

And for right now, either I get up and clean the dinner dishes NOW so I don't have to do them tomorrow -- or I sit, and take 30 minutes for my blog to honor my children gone too soon.

I chose to blog. 

And my very worst critic sees it all.

She questions my decisions, as though they were easy to make. She compares my actions against the actions of my friends, or worse, those of my own mom. She is kind enough to recognize when I get it right. But even as I hear her extend grace upon grace to friends, acquaintances and even strangers -- she is stingy with that grace toward me.  

She is so quick to remind me that I am not the mom I wanted to be. That I am not super mom.

She --  is me.

I can't get away from me. I see it all. Where I get it right. And where I get it horribly, horribly wrong. I have a crap memory of the times I get it right, and a fantastic, picture-perfect memory of the times I've gotten it wrong.

I want to say it's just me that struggles with this. I want to be alone in this. 

But in these days of Facebook, Pintrest and Twitter -- where it seems everyone is changing the world, perfectly coiffed, with well-behaved children and a designer house -- chances are I'm not alone.

Maybe you keep hearing your own voice. Maybe you are quick to notice your mistakes, quick to give others grace but dole out only small parts of grace for yourself. Maybe what you look like, feel like, and act like doesn't always match up with how you feel you SHOULD look like, feel like and act like. Maybe you struggle second-guessing yourself after you make choice after choice for your family.

I'm calling it. I'm calling it for me. And calling it for you.

I am not super mom. You are not super mom.

And you know what?

We were never meant to be.

We have the privilege of being moms. Some of us have living children. Some of us are mothering our children gone too soon. And some of us are doing both.

Every day we have a million choices set in front of us. 

Sometimes I make choices and I feel like I totally made the right one.

But most choices fall into the gray area. Each option is a good option. Or both choices are bad options. Or -- MOST LIKELY -- each choice has some good and some bad in it.

And so you, and me, us normal, totally NOT-SUPER MOMS, do our best to navigate our days. We do our best to honor our kids, our families, our priorities and even ourselves.

But we don't always get it right. We are reminded daily of just how normal we are. Sometimes that pesky voice comes chirping up reminding us of our shortcomings.

Today, I'm talking right back to her. I'm tired of listening to the should haves, and would haves, and if onlys.  I'm tired of pretending that I've got all my stuff together.

Hear me on this. I do NOT have all my stuff together.

But here's what I have right. And trust me on this: You do too.

You love your kid. You love your family. And you love yourself, even if it's hard for you to show it sometimes.

You are doing way better than any of us had expected of you. And even if you feel like you are failing, we are all looking to you with admiration for your many, many strengths. We secretly want to be a little more like you in good ways. We learn from you, learn how to love, or organize, or run a business, or make cute crafts, or coordinate a fancy party, or plant a garden, or write a blog, or take photos, or wow our in-laws with a delicious meal.

You bring something to the table NO ONE ELSE COULD.

You are fantastic gift to your kids. To your husband. And to yourself.

The truth is, even though you're not a super mom -- you sure are amazing.

And in case you were still wondering, there's this really amazing part to not being a super mom.

When your daughter grows up, she won't have to be a super mom either.

She will know the gift of accepting her beautiful, amazing, un-super self . . . because you gave yourself the gift of accepting your own beautiful, amazing and un-super self.

Today, momma, LOVE ON YOU.

It's the best gift you could give your family.

And if you WERE super mom, it's the gift she'd give them too.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

I bit the bullet

I read from the fabulous Mel at Stirrup Queens that you should finish a draft before you start another post.

As I have about 5 drafts recently started (in addition to the 20 someodd that have accumulated through the years) ... And about 50 more stories to edit and post ...

I'm blatantly ignoring her advice.

(Although, Mel, it really IS good writing advice. I promise I do take you up on it most days.)

So you might be thinking there must be some news, or something blatantly pressing on my heart that I'm writing on my phone while I should be sleeping. 

And the answer is No. Or, at least, not really. 

I started a pill. Actually, make that 2 pills.

Here is my new nightly cocktail:

It's somewhat humbling to even post this, or acknowledge that I'm back on all this medicine after weaning myself off all meds for so long. 
First, it was the anti-depressant. 

Then, it was the baby aspirin. 

Last week, I bit the bullet and started birth control. 

And tonight, I add anti-nausea pills to the mix.

So far, birth control has been OK in every other area except one really really big one.... Nausea. 

The first time I took it, I woke up halfway through the night and I couldn't sleep because I felt so bad. 

The other days I managed to sleep in at least till 6 before getting up feeling sick. Saturday, I laid in bed till 2 pm. (Thank you Ryan!) This morning, I was up at 4:30, ready to hurl, trying to munch down some ginger cookies in case they'll help. They did, or something worked, and I fell back asleep at 7. 

Thank goodness for Maddy who got herself and Leyla cereal and turned on the TV. (Well, a few min later she came running in telling me that Leyla was sitting ON the table. Of course, that got me up for a bit.)

In spite of her help (and Trader Joe's ginger cat cookies -- which really is people food), we missed Leyla's play group. I MADE myself exercise, but had to stop a lot to make sure I kept everything down. 

I decided today that this nausea was interfering with life enough. Time to call the doctor.

The nurse said that the nausea should go away in a month. I asked for tips coping with the unhappy side effect, and she one-upped me: got me a prescription for anti-nausea meds. When I was preggers with Maddy, I lived off this stuff. Literally.

So tonight, I start. And hope I sleep in till at least 7. And hopefully, I am not super sick. But in case I am ... The bucket and ginger crackers are conveniently an arm's reach away. 

As for other things ... Life in blogging has been interesting since my blog went viral. 

And here's what I mean by that. 

First, when your stats start going crazy, you kinda freak out ... In a good way. Then you get overwhelmed (over 1,000 comments in a few days' time will do that. And that's a 1,000 very personal stories of peoples' babies.)

Then you start getting some recognition, people start liking you on Facebook, and then you (ok, really me) start to feel like , YES -- I am a writer and I could totally write a book. 

Except, even during that time, I had to remind myself that the slump was coming. 

You see, viral isn't sustainable. I don't want to be a one-post wonder. 
I want to have content that is readable, thought-provoking, tear-producing, straight-from-my-heart share-worthy stuff. 

But here's the thing. Blogging is really a partnership. I write for me and for you. I hope you like what you read. And I hope you share. 

Sometimes it's hard to see numbers dwindle. It's hard to come off that high.  I have to make myself remember that every single one of you are NOT a number -- even though that's all the comes on my dashboard. It's so much better when I make myself remember that you are a NAME, a person, a friend, a loved one, someone I haven't met yet but I have the privilege of sharing with.

Honestly, YOU reading my blog is super cool. Thanks so much for taking some of your precious time to care about me, my words, my thoughts, and my family. I super appreciate you.

If you take time to comment -- extra super cool. I feel so loved by a thoughtful comment. Or even just one that acknowledges, "hey, I read your stuff."

If you take time to share my blog -- that is like the biggest, biggest hug ever. I think for anyone who is an artist of any kind (music, words, painting, etc), the biggest compliment you could ever give them is to share their work.

So for all of you who have shared whenever a post speaks to you, thanks from the bottom of my heart. And for all of you for whom I see a number, and not a name, know that I really appreciate you sticking around. <3


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