Falling Through Staircases and Other Things I’d Like to Avoid

Sometimes the fragility is so suffocating. So ending. For so long, it feels like I am living on the verge. Of change, of heartbreak, of rage, of tears, of breakthrough. Of it all. And I hate heights and edges. As I kid, I thought I was one misstep away from falling through those staircases with no backs. It may have been physically impossible but it made me focus on the next step so hard. Clutch the railing so hard. That kid is not too far away.

The cracks in my cool also make me more tender to the beautiful notes, to the moments — and there really may just only be moments — in a day with children that delight my mom heart. The cracks make me painfully aware of my need for a Savior and that can’t be all bad. The cracks make me so grateful and relieved by small things. Coffee. An open parking space. A friend’s dropping by.

My life is so small and I think so big. I am professionally poised while constantly compelled to reveal, unearth, and challenge. It is a strange, exhausting stretch. Do you know it?

My short walk with foster care has so far shown me that our grasp on reality is very, very weak. The hours of certification classes do not make sense of the process we are in now. The barrage of comments on our “daughter,” on how she looks like me, on our family of five, are bittersweet and strange nods to the mystery of family. The confident assessments of her visiting family, of how she is and what she likes and what I am thinking. The reports turned in to court by strangers describing a child’s situation they have never asked about. It all nods to the mysteries behind any appearance, any situation, what we see and think we know.

She hugs me so tight and that is real, but knowing that she could also never know about me is also real. Praying for her is one of the most real things we can do for her, because our feet are planted in Now and our vision is nearsighted, and yet, I cannot tell, I cannot perceive, what is real about it. What it is doing, what He is doing, what They will do, for her life, for mine. What is praying like this, for this, doing in me, the pray-er and what on earth is it doing in the heavenlies. I am the pray-er afraid of the gaps, afraid of falling through and falling small. The pray-er of brokenness and poise, of long-winded comments and wordless wants.

I am so here. I am so temporal and human and here. Heartbroken over the unknowns facing my children, clutching the railings for fear of falling through. Heartbroken over the recent losses in the Church–my extended family–and the lost ground of the Kingdom. Heartbroken over my own inadequacy and mistakes. And so I am heart-surrendered. Heart-surrendered to more–to more than I can see, to more than seems so real, to more than the graves of today. Heart-surrendered to more than here.

Whenever I think of here, I remember that sweet, divine line of poetry: “And here in the dust and dirt, O here // The lilies of His love appear!”

Maybe there is room on the verge to dangle my restless legs. To sit and rest from the climb. Somehow, with all the loose pieces of my heart and all the sensitivities in my soul, I still hope there are lilies to be gained. I am banking on that poet’s forecast. That even though I could be on the verge of insanity and even more grief, I could also be nearer to love, to grace, that I have not learned, not lived, before.

Not because I have transcendent powers of reflection or meaning-making, no. I have these suspicions because Jesus is known for coming to the edges and ledges; He is the relentless Shepherd of my story that goes to the verge and enters the graves and finds the ones. The alones. The heartbroken. The sinners elevated and isolated as special. The children with gaps in their past. The big-thinking unavoidably-regular moms climbing scary staircases. Only because there is the I AM, the YHWH, the God with us here, the Counselor, could this space–this fragile verge–be redeemed. Not the end, but the middle.

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Life on Trial

I have a real fear of inspiring people in all the wrong ways. Like the “what not to do” type of almost-cool/daring/yadahyadah Christian woman who tried a lot of things that did not go real well and therefore, inspiring people to not do x, y or z.

So there’s that.

One of those variables in the back of my lovely mind is foster care. Like, golly gee, in the midst of the advocating, the scheduling, the documenting, the crying, the monitoring of visits, the actual, you know, parenting, there’s this concern that someone in the crowd of witnesses is deciding if they will foster-to-adopt or not, and this uncontrolled mess of a scenario is screaming “NOT.” And, like the first-born, over-achieving child-in-a-big-body that I am, I would like to raise my hand and take responsibility for that. Somehow.

And then I think, maybe telling it like it is will only help people make a better decision, not necessarily a different one, than they were already going to make.

Or maybe not.

But this blog is about telling the truth and being open about crisis and struggles and victories and feelings. It is about permitting the ands of life to breathe in recognition that the Shepherd is good and close and big and that He sees things fully. That dichotomies are almost always false choices and there is so much stinkin’ room in Grace for and.

There are about 10-100 articles right now that you can read about the beauty of fostering and the meaning and purpose and theology of opening your home and your heart to a scenario beyond your control for whatever amount of time you are given to nurture and protect that child. They are great and compelling and they are true.

And this is also true: some days, I am a wreck. An externally-composed, inwardly-spiraling wreck.

Here are a few thorns:

  • We feel that this baby is our child, our family, and she probably is not and there is nothing that we can do about either of those things.
  • I have been made to repeatedly feel like I was on trial while trying to protect her from being hurt by someone who actually is.
  • Being a foster parent includes all of the responsibility of being a parent to a child and an assistant to an array of social service professionals, with almost none of the power or choices of either role.
  • Usually, we are her only worldly advocates. And our communication is mistaken for asserting our personal will and for a desire for convenience. Which is actually laughable.
  • I am one of her birthparents’ only friends.
  • One of our time-sensitive financial forms is currently frozen because of being given invalid information and then not finding any help from the powers-that-be in correcting that information.
  • Our personal information was shared with others who should definitely not have received it period, let alone by mail.
  • She has had as many social workers as the months she has been in foster care.
  • We are expected to be highly-trained, capable parents coming into the game but on the field have to defend our spot and perspective in every scenario, in front of every walk-on, with no real back-up.
  • Left at home, she enjoys 2-3 good naps each day but she usually cannot have more than one because of her demanding schedule.
  • She, unlike thousands and thousands of children, has a line of people who want to care for and love her as long as (or as soon as) they possibly can.

Everyone knows that becoming involved in foster care or foster-to-adopt methods of family planning is risky and scary. In broad strokes, we knew it. We knew it would require more patience, more faith, more risk, than we could know. We knew that no matter what scenario we found ourselves in, that loss was part of the story. For the baby, for the birthparent(s), or for our family and our community.

What I didn’t know was all the specifics. (And I LOVE specifics.) All the ways that an originally straightforward case would unravel and unwind and extend and unwind me and extend me to the end of myself, over and over again. I couldn’t know some of the numb places, the silent places, and the yo-yoing of this lifestyle we were catapulted into. I also couldn’t know that peace could somehow touch me in the oddest, most awkward, and unsettling situations. I would have never thought we could do this. But this is something you don’t do until you have to. And even then, it’s through no strength or sometimes even willingness of your own.

I am traveling a mysterious marathon with no pace-setters and no mile markers and no medals. And I still don’t know the specifics I want to know.

Chances are, if you were not scared out of a desire to do foster care or foster-to-adopt by other information and the daunting approval process (“You want to examine my pen drawer?”), you won’t be deterred by our bouquet of and specifics–this and side dish to the beautiful entrée about love and meaning and tender moments. So here it is. In spite of that nagging fear of being the anti-inspirational writer, I share this part. This ashy, confusing and true part of a complicated blessing we treasure and walk through day by day.

Beauty and Ashes and Forward

There is so much of me that craves beauty.

It is almost a tangible deficiency somedays, when my smile is lagging, when my breaths are pulled taut, when my attention is scattered like my son’s die cast cars across the carpet. The endless ocean of die cast cars…

I cannot even begin to name that hunger when physical hunger often is missed while I am running between diapers, doctors, and dirty clothes. Without real effort, I cannot even begin to identify that what I really want is to see the Beauty Between. In all the crevices of Normal and Sub-par. The super in the natural. That is what I really need. But my senses get dull so easily.

And then I watch a short video about unexpected love and a pulling, exhausting attachment. Or I hear a song that reminds me of Pretty and of the sunshines I keep company with. I witness my oldest speaking to my youngest in a compassionate and tender tone, moments after I consider a day-long time-out. Or I suddenly miss a beautiful friend who passed away two short, long weeks ago. I think about her and the beauty of her generosity, her sassy style, her beautifully-crafted story of resilience and healing.

And these things strike a chord, a reverberating deep chord of the Sacred. Of the Beauty I miss, not because it is not around me but because I am slow and too fast and I think I need to be in the woods to have it. To participate.

It has been a relief-less run lately. Asher’s 6th febrile seizure and his terrible rendition of the flu took me off guard. I couldn’t stop crying one night when his diaper and the day’s events took me back to Guatemala and a particularly desperate time of not knowing what to do about his health. I stared at the Maytag downstairs, telling myself he was okay, it was okay, and I tried to focus on the amazing thing of a washing machine and an extra sheet and ER this time around. Ryan and I are having tough discussions in an effort of discernment and dreams are scary to name and disappointments hurt and distractions demand. We have been thrown into a “child welfare” system and a process and scenario no amount of classes could foreshadow and we are helpless. It is all waiting and responsibility and confusion. Losing Lily has left a hole, even for me on the peripheral. I expect her to drop by and then my heart drops. And her children, no matter how many – and there are many – loving aunties and motherly neighbors they have, have lost their mom. Their motivator, their fan, their hero. And other children will talk and complain about their moms and be sent to school with Valentine’s Day doo-dads from their moms and will not have had to find the perfect size 6 girls dress for their mom’s memorial service. We can mother them but we cannot be their mother. His wife. Their rock.

Beauty, bullets to my ignored heart from the unexpected sources, in the midst of this cloud of welling and numbing, hits me hard and sudden. Fleeting, but reminding me of True and Noble and Praiseworthy and Excellent. And I am crying not because of fear, or even of grief, but just craving. Of recognition and longing.

The pilgriming is hard, isn’t it?

In these days, beauty reminds me that the promise is still coming. That nothing is wasted. That something in me is still alive and creative and wanting more is part of the journey forward. That now is all we have and nothing I am cleaning or fretting over is for keeps.

In these days, with disguised beauty and bulleted beauty and coming beauty, I am trying to remember to stop. To look. I am trying to believe that the heaviest things are not the truest things necessarily. That crying over a Chinese commercial isn’t just crying over a Chinese commercial. That pausing to peer at a die cast car with a four-year-old is worthwhile. That beauty knocks and sneaks in and beauty is even within this fidgeting, weary frame. Because this frame is part of Creation and humanity and there is good and beauty because He makes it so.

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The Show Will Go On

This week I thought we may need to take a day to be a family of four again. But we are still five. Gratefully, surprisingly, tiredly, five.

Another twist in the road of foster-to-adopt. Another plot twist that leads our imaginations with new anticipation and wondering.

Throughout the past three months, each day has come in rhythm. Each night there is sleep. Each day there is activity. And we chug along. At the same time, there are the outstanding questions and trailing prayers that backdrop any normalcy. Under the piles of girl laundry. Hanging in the sleepy rooms of children’s nighttime breathing. Between the rows of bottles and the crowded stretch of carseats taking up the width of the car. At times, though so entrenched in the Daily, I feel the tense waiting as though I am in an amphitheater, waiting for a show to start. The stage holds no clues to the plot; the passing of time is unmeasured and undefined. In a crowd, I watch. I fidget. I try not to write my own script.

Through all the waiting, there has been divine grace. Grace I never knew I would – I could – bear witness to and definitely could not muster. A growing compassion for the woman whose baby I hold. A friendly calm and feeling amidst an assortment of their family members I have met and spent time with. A forgiveness for unfair behavior. A peace that allows us – all five – to sleep at night and wake in the morning.

This past week has held much upheaval. Aside from our personal phone calls and turn of events, there have been attacks, bad news, injustice, and poor decisions in our surrounding community. In these times we know with painful poignancy that we are small. That our definition of safety is not what it used to be. That anger and despair could take us. That we have grown spiritual muscle for this walk in the desert but maybe not enough and it is time to reach out and it is time to feed our souls and minds with life-giving things because the rest is life-taking.

And that is not all bad.

When our life pushes our faith to become less invested in things going our way, going easy, our love for Him becomes more disinterested and less false.

And the weaker my attachment is to a comfortable, self-defined plot, the more I can appreciate and sit in spaces of ambiguity and waiting.

So I will be thankful for that. I will be thankful for one more day of rising as five. One more way Love is introducing me to Himself. One less limit I have placed on His character and plan.

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Psalm 6:3-6 – O Lord, how many are my foes!

Many are rising against me;
many are saying of my soul,
there is no salvation for him in God.

But you, O Lord, are a shield about me,
my glory, and the lifter of my head.
I cried aloud to the Lord,
and he answered me from his holy hill.

I lay down and slept;

    I woke again, for the Lord sustained me.
I will not be afraid of many thousands of people
who have set themselves against me all around.

Psalm 4:8 – In peace I will both lie down and sleep;
for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.

Proverbs 3:1-6 – My son and daughter, do not forget my teaching,

    but let your heart keep my commandments,
for length of days and years of life
and peace they will add to you.

Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you;
bind them around your neck;
write them on the tablet of your heart.
So you will find favor and good success
in the sight of God and man.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.

Hope

It is a chance for us all to be pregnant.

Man, woman, child. It is the time to be waiting and expectant. And maybe a little hormonal.

We join Mary and Joseph in the anticipation of a baby King. We reach back in time, and feel this present time, and hope for a coming time that is, at the very least, different. No amount of decorations can lift our hearts. No consumption of holiday drinks and sales can mend our souls. We are longing, we are waiting. It is Christmastime.

This year, I feel the burden of Mary’s role, of her being given a bewildering part to play in a salvific drama that largely does not include her.  From the time she heard that she carried a Savior, that Joseph could not claim Him as his son, that His name had been chosen for her, she must have sensed the awkwardness. She must have had an inkling that this road was not only an honor, it was a grief. Not just embarrassing, but bereaving.

She would face the humiliation and isolation. She would cry out in labor pains, and lose her figure. She would have all the worries and urges of a new mom. But from conception, this baby was not hers alone. He–the Messiah–was the Son of God. He would not call her house His home. He would differentiate from her before she was ready. He was born to die, rise, and ascend. She would lose Him and it started before she even had Him. She couldn’t know Him fully.

Yesterday, I held a sleeping baby girl while I hung up a 28-year-old ornament with my other arm. It is a piece of fabric, in a tiny quilter’s hoop, with printed words speaking of all the love a daughter brings to Christmas. It is dated 1985. It is a familiar ornament as I have hung it each year for as long as I can remember. Tears came to my eyes as I realized the predicament I was in, willingly, painfully. The sleeping baby in my arms is almost surely going to move and be someone else’s daughter. She was entrusted to us and while we had always hoped, we also always knew, that others may come forward with higher priority than we. This darling knows our smells, and we know her cries. She enlarges the hearts of my sons but they cannot understand that each week, I am holding my breath, wondering if this week, we will lose her. This is a unique and difficult beauty.

It struck me as I looked at her and looked at the tree through quiet tears, that 1985 was the first Christmas I had had with my parents. It was not my first Christmas, but it was the first Christmas with my family. Though I was over a year old that December, it was the first time they had their daughter during advent. They had waited. They had followed other paths that did not result in a firstborn child. They had been pregnant many times over, in a way, before that ornament could be hung.

I have no idea if we will spend her first Christmas with her, but I know that we are not her family, though our feelings betray us.

I am no Mary. I am not waiting for the Savior, nor growing Him inside my womb. I am not facing public scorn and have the benefit of the Lord’s Prayer, her son’s prayer, to guide me this pregnant season. 

But I can see her story in a new, heart-wrenching way this advent time, and that helps give meaning to this spot. I can appreciate not being able to lay claim in any conventional way to someone you are caring for with all your heart. I can appreciate, though cannot emulate, the faith she must have clung to, the wide picture that must have softened her suffering. She is a hero of heroes. She, in a messy, human, awe-inspiring way, is part of the reason we today can sing “Joy to the World” at the end of all of this.

I cannot hang a new ornament about a daughter this Christmas. But I have the comfort of an old one. I cannot call her mine or name her but I can show her the Christmas lights and begin advent with her lying on my chest. Even as she fills our arms for now, we continue to wait, to make room, to anticipate. I love her with urgency; we grieve even as we gain. We continue to be pregnant, arms linked with the rest of the Bride, once again–searching for the star, yearning for salvation. May hope steady us for peace.

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She

The words fail when I am asked what this is like. When I turn to the One we call Father–a familial term–to ask, to believe, for my family–to ask what? to believe what? The words fail when I describe her and this and I wish it were that easy.

My home is sprinkled with signs of a baby girl. We are attached and attaching. We have known of her as long as we have held her, which is to say, not long at all. We do not know how long we will be able to smell her and dress her. How long the honor of comforting her and bathing her is ours. We do not know.

Like most of life, this process of adoption is entering without knowing the location. Without knowing what you are about to do and how much you can handle. Without guarantees.

I know that this could be the beginning of a very long road of finding our daughter. I hope that this is the beginning of a long story together. I know that the labor pains are in the future, rather than the past. I know that the painful contractions of something yet to come and trying to be are going to be ongoing, going to hurt, and may not produce what we think. I know that things will become more intense before we are discharged from this stay. This undefined mysterious stay of Unknown.

It is a beautiful and tender time, vulnerability included. We may not have the words, but we are so thankful. We may not have any answers, but we believe for her good. We have her, for now, right now, and it is our pleasure and a grace. She reminds us that today must be enough and must be significant. That we are not masters of our own lives. That to love fully is to grieve and to risk. And that is life. She reminds me that some of the most sacred parts of life are the ones least accommodating to words, security and definition.

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“Look at this perfect house we made!”

I am officially, permanently, 29 today. (God bless that waiter who asked for my ID tonight.)

I have nothing particularly profound to say except many thank you’s and thanks, and thanks a whole lot. To my Shepherd, to my husband, to my family and friends. Such a good, good company I have walked through life with. Many parts are not acquainted with the others, but in my heart, you are all my Church, my companions, my neighbors and witnesses.

In the midst of this inspiring company, I am currently struggling to remain faithful while truthfully realizing a valley. But I have so many hills that have been covered and moments of green pastures and rods of comfort that even though I may cry frequently (though less now than a couple weeks ago), the valley is becoming less unfriendly and urgent to this soul.

The past year has included some amazing developments. Marriage counseling, One Thousand Gifts, growing in understanding of church planting, Guatemala, the adoption process, shared spirituality practices and finally reading Walk Two Moons come to mind. We truly don’t know what this next year will hold. Ryan is 30 now, after all.

Today was not an especially restful day but lazy birthdays are not really in the plans for several years. Until then, I must.teach.children.to.do.chores!!! I did sleep in till 7 and was showered with delicious kindnesses throughout the day, just in case my aging metabolism needed help slowing down. I read library books to my children. I raced cars, jumped on the trampoline, built bugs, and worked on fine motor skills. I skyped with my parents and youngest sibs. I ate with dear friends. I did some official, super-high-profile work.

I also had the chance to tell my story, that convoluted, unconventional story, to a social worker. I sat in a room for two hours with an adult, no children, and answered grown up questions about my life, from birth till now, and my extended family and my thoughts on adoption and… What a special opportunity. It really was a birthday gift.

Today, Ryan and I had separate interviews with DCFS. Suddenly, we are at the top of our social worker’s list and we see the finish line in the adoption approval process. Which means we are very close to when a random phone call could be a significant invitation to our third child’s life. We are very close to the waiting game. While I was testifying to God’s goodness in an office building and all the caring souls in my company, a few miles away my 4-year-old exclaimed suddenly at the lunch table to his dad, “Look at this perfect house we made!! — Look!” while taking in the kitchen, the living room, the walls, the windows, as if all for the first time.

I love that. I love that something that has been relatively the same, going without his notice, for 3+ years, is all of a sudden something to shout about and find a burst of joy in. As Ryan and I wander nonsensically around the house tonight, arms full of misplaced books, toys, outlet covers, and cleaning supplies, as we prepare for our final home study and interviews tomorrow, my mind keeps traveling back to Dante’s lunchtime wonder. Look! Look at this great set of cupboards in the bathroom. Just look at what a perfect bed this is. Look! There’s our front door!

Oh! To have wonder. To have it in the next decade of adulthood, well before everything is nostalgic and before the toy and diaper chaos is over. Before all the answers, before the healing, before the valley has been walked. Oh to see something that is dramatically the same and find something new. If that is not the Gospel, I don’t know what is.

It is such a perfect house. With its unpainted walls, dusty surfaces, loose papers and cruddy carpet. It is grand and excessive and a blessing. And has room for more. One more.

And even in the valley, this valley that has layers and depths that continue, there is room. There is room for something else.  When I see the old, crusty familiar and the tears well again, and I think I know what everything means and what the setting is, may wonder and thanksgiving surpass my poor 29-year-old vision. May I hear the word, “Look!” from a delighted Maker above and see the same, anew.

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