what I wish I’d known

Awhile back, Grace at Camp Patton hosted a series from some wise mommy bloggers titled, “What I Wish I’d Known” about motherhood. For some reason my cynical self was oddly moved by their words. I think what struck me the most was the wide range of advice offered, from the trivial to the profound. [If you haven’t read the series yet, please do yourself a favor and stop reading this banal post and go over there for a while.]

Anyway, it got me thinking about what I wish I had known about motherhood before embarking upon this journey. [Ugh. “embarking upon this journey”- so corny]

And what came to me was this: what I wish I would have known about motherhood is just how bad I would be at it sometimes.

Let me be clear that I did not make that statement out of some kind of false humility or self-deprecation or a desire for compliments. Simply, it is true: some days I am a bad mom.

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What makes me incredulous is that I never expected this to happen. I mean, what did I think, that my concupiscence would suddenly disappear the day I gave birth? Nope. I am still the same self-centered, flighty, emotional, slothful, quick-tempered person I was before Philomena (and now J) entered my life.

I wish I would have known that there would be moments when I would lose my temper with my sweet girl for such a minor offense. I wish I would have known that there would be days in which I would totally “phone in” with motherhood, instead of being actively engaged and present. I wish I would have known that there would be times in which I would consciously choose to zone out on the Internet, rather than play a game with my child. I wish I would have known that I would repeatedly call my husband at work in tears, because I had messed up again and again and again.

I wish I would have known all of these things, so I wouldn’t be obsessed with my failures when they happen.

We all have that distance between “the person I am” and “the person I want to be.” Lately that great chasm has absolutely plagued me. I have hours, days, weeks in which I become obsessed with my insufficiencies and my brokenness, especially in motherhood. I think this is partially due to the reality that my very identity is wrapped up in my wife-ness and mother-ness [are those words?]. I feel that when I fail as a wife and a mother, I fail as a person.

Indeed, it is a grace to see one’s faults (truly!); however, it is the father of lies who cajoles one into being obsessed with said failings.

When all I see in my motherhood are my sins, my faults, my less-than-ideals, then there’s no room in my vision for Christ. Deep-down, I know that in my insecurities is right where Jesus wants to be. He desires to transform those awful parts of me into something beautiful. But when I focus merely on my faults, then I forget about the Answer to these faults.

This is not an excuse to sit on my spiritual ass, and say, “well, we’re all broken, so it’s okay if I’m a bad mom.” Of course not! By God’s grace, we are to raise saints. And that means nothing, if we ourselves are not striving for sainthood. But what I am coming to realize is that when I focus just on the struggle and not on the goal, then all I will ever do is struggle.

Marriage and motherhood are like those mirrors that magnify your face and show every flaw, every pore. Those mirrors are totally freaky, but goodness knows I can pluck my eyebrows so much better with them. The Lord uses our vocations to refine us, and it really hurts at times. Nevertheless, I can see in the three short years of my motherhood His challenging me to embrace virtues I had no idea that I lacked.

And you know what? Even on the bad days, my daughter and foster son see my sincerely asking for their forgiveness. Even if I over-react nine times out of ten, there is still that one time that I bite my tongue and say a prayer. These moments impact them too, even if it is not conscious for them right now. This is part of what we want to teach our children: that all of us are broken and fallen, but the virtue is in embracing the cross, getting back up again, and keeping our eyes on the victory.

Yes?

what I wish I'd known about motherhood

“Nobody can go off to battle unless he is fully convinced of victory beforehand. If we start without confidence, we have already lost half the battle and we bury our talents. While painfully aware of our own frailties, we have to march on without giving in, keeping in mind what the Lord said to Saint Paul: ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’ (2 Cor 12:9). Christian triumph is always a cross, yet a cross which is at the same time a victorious banner borne with aggressive tenderness against the assaults of evil. The evil spirit of defeatism is brother to the temptation to separate, before its time, the wheat from the weeds; it is the fruit of an anxious and self-centred lack of trust.” – Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, “The Joy of the Gospel”

summer 2015

I’ve never been a big summer person. I mean, of course as a student for 16 years and a full-time teacher for 8 years, these months had the distinct appeal of sloth socially acceptable relaxation. Nevertheless, my disposition and inclinations lean much more toward the coziness of Fall or the vitality of Spring.

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But there’s something about this particular summer that has struck me. It has just been very summer-y for some reason. It’s not like we’ve been to the beach or gone to an outdoor movie or even the pool that much. Maybe it’s that Ryan and I finally own a grill [took us long enough, eh?] or that there have been some days that have actually been cool enough to get outside.

I don’t know, and I suppose it doesn’t really matter. All I know is that I like it.

Travelling has been pretty low-key too. At the very beginning of summer, I took a solo trip to Ontario to see some longtime girlfriends. It was a delightful time, marked by wine, endless conversations, and a sudden cold snap [of course you would do that to us, Canada]. Then, last week all of us went with Ryan’s family to a wedding in Illinois to see his cousin get married. Philomena and J were both adorable, and the bride and groom seemed so happy. Of course, our kids were the only ones at the reception, so they dominated the dance floor [by “dominate,” I mean ran around like the crazies they are, and then demanded to be held for multiple songs before running around some more.] We also have planned a little trip with my family to a lake in Oklahoma, so that should be nice and relaxing-ish [hopefully!!!!!!!] .

Anyway, I thought I’d share with you some of my favorites as of late:

Perfect Summer Dinner: grilled chicken sausage [this roasted red pepper sausage from Costco is our current fav] + grilled zucchini and bell peppers + a hearty, legume-based salad [my black bean and quinoa salad is still a fav, as is this lentil salad, which lives up to its lofty name]

Perfect Summer Drink: We decided to be cliche, and christen the Moscow Mule as our official summer imbibement. And imbibing we have been.

Perfect Summer Snack: Fruit. All the fruit. Seriously. It is so cheap and amazing this time of year. [Second runner-up is homemade popsicles.]

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Perfect Summer TV Show: For some reason, my TV-watching gets really fluffy during the summer. Ryan and I are weirdly into “The Next Food Network Star.” [Jay and Eddie will definitely be in the finale, but the third person is a toss-up for me.] However, if you’re okay with something more intense, we both surprisingly enjoyed Netflix’s “Daredevil” [warning: very violent].

Perfect Summer Album: Sufjan Steven’s “Carrie and Lowell.” Really, this is a terrible summer album. It is full of melancholy and longing, which are the opposite of summer, but I haven’t stopped playing it since about April. So, for me, it’s the best. Listen at your own risk.

Perfect Summer Reading: I actually haven’t had much light reading this summer, so I don’t have any summer-y recommendations. What about you? I mustered my way through Anna Karenina, which was grandly poignant, but far from fluff. I also caught up to 2007 and read Sarah’s Key in less than 48 hours. It was an easy read, but its (depressing) subject matter is not your typical summer fare. I think next I’m going to re-read To Kill a Mockingbird, in order to join every other middle-class American in reading Harper Lee’s new novel [which is getting very mixed reviews, unfortunately].

Alright, that’s it. Go get yourself a popsicle and run through the sprinklers.

too attached?

I do not think anyone reads this blog who is not my Facebook friend [actually, I don’t expect anyone to read this anymore, since I’m not exactly Ms. Consistent with posts]. However, in the off-chance you do not know me in real life, here is a quick update on fostering. We had a beautiful newborn baby girl with us for three weeks, but then she went onto another home (for good reasons!). Currently, we are blessed to have had an 11-month-old boy “Baby J” as part of our family for a couple months now.

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It’s too bad I have to censor his face, because it’s a cute one!

Baby J is chubby and jolly. He has freakish strength. He is ridiculously active and into everything like nothing I’ve ever seen. He is an absolutely voracious eater. He is already beginning to climb places he shouldn’t. Basically, the polar-opposite of his big foster sister. We wouldn’t have it any other way.

Like all children in the foster system, his future is pretty precarious. Obviously, I can’t go into details [not even vague ones! Sorry.], but it looks like he will be with us for at least a couple more months, and beyond that is a big question mark.

One comment Ryan and I hear over and over and over again is: “Oh, I could never foster. I would become too attached to the child, and it would be too hard to see him go.”

I never know how to react to this statement. From my perspective, it seems like people are giving us not enough or too much credit.

On one hand, are you saying that we won’t become attached? Are we heartless robots who can separate our emotions from the beautiful child we treat as our own?

Or on the other hand, are we just so saintly and super-human that somehow we can love and be vulnerable with a child, but then just easily let him go without difficulty?

Trust me, neither is true. With both of our foster babies, we became strongly attached immediately. And I can guarantee you that if Baby J leaves our home, it will be a tragic, devastating, life-altering event for both of us.

So, how do I answer such a statement?

Recently, a friend related what a friend of hers who fosters always replies: of course it hurts when they leave; if it didn’t hurt, then we wouldn’t be doing our job correctly. That response really resonated with us. Every child deserves to be loved until it hurts. Every child deserves parents who are willing to give of themselves, to put him before their own needs and wants. And yeah, this hurts.

Yet, we are not doing this for ourselves. If someone goes into any kind of parenthood—be it natural, foster, adoptive—for oneself, to be personally fulfilled or to satisfy some internal void, he or she is bound to be disappointed. As any new mother or father can attest, parenthood is radically about the other. The same goes for fostering. It looks different than natural parenthood, but the inherent “other-ness” about it is still there.

Don’t get me wrong, there are moments when fostering does, indeed, feel great: that moment when Baby J recognized me in a room full of people and gave me a smile, when he nuzzled his head into my shoulders in a (very!) fleeting moment of affection, when he got hurt and immediately crawled onto my lap for comfort. Nevertheless, there are just as many moments of pain: trying to comfort him during a screaming spell but not knowing how, dropping him off at his weekly visits with his birth family, waking at night in panic and not being able to fall back asleep for hours, because I am so worried about his future.

Yes, I suppose all those people are right: we have become too attached. And yet, I think that’s how it should be.

“I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.” Bl. Mother Teresa

waiting

waiting

It has been a long, often frustrating road of red tape; however, our house was officially licensed for fostering in October. We held off on actually activating our profile as foster parents until I had healed more fully from my surgery. As I have been feeling great these past few weeks, the other day we decided to tell our case worker that we were ready to take in a baby.

And now it’s time to wait.

Five weeks? Two days? Three months? We have no idea how long it will be until we receive a placement. Even though we are hoping to receive a child into our home, it is with the grim understanding that it will only happen through an awful circumstance that surely will be traumatic for the child.

Ryan has detailed a little of his journey to our decision to foster. I suppose this is the time to explain mine. Like he said, both fostering and adoption have been on my heart for a very long time, since I was a young child, in fact. During our engagement, Ryan and I discussed adoption, even specifically foster-to-adopt. However, getting pregnant two months after we got married put that idea to the side for awhile.

It didn’t return to my heart for a couple more years. I have a distinct memory a few weeks after our miscarriage in which I was rocking Philomena to sleep and praying fervently for the future of our family. Very clearly on my heart I sensed God telling me that there was a bigger plan at work in our lives, specifically adoption. Immediately I told God that I would be open to the idea, but I needed a year to try have another natural child before we could take any concrete steps to pursue this route.

The year that followed was certainly a spiritual and emotional roller coaster. Doctors, fertility treatments, painful let-downs every month. And yet, there was something profound happening in my soul. It is hard to explain, but it was deeper than all of the disappointment and tears. I was heart-broken, but I sensed God using the brokenness to build something beautiful. [Does that sound corny? Sorry.]

We were experiencing it differently, but God was working similarly in Ryan. He was so strong, so certain that all of this was for a purpose.

Around November of last year, Ryan and I started talking seriously about adoption. I remember a specific Sunday morning we were just talking about the possibility at the table after breakfast, and both of our eyes filled with tears. They were the kind of tears that aren’t out of sadness, but rather a sign that we knew this moment was of utmost [eternal?] significance. Ryan took my hand and said, “I’m all in, Sarah. If this is what God wants of us, I’m in.”

We looked into a few different adoption options, but honestly we only ever seriously considered foster-to-adopt. Many people pursue this route, because it is a lot less expensive than traditional adoptions. Of course that was a factor for us, but even more we knew we wanted to take in a child that may be overlooked by others. We wanted to take on an innocent person’s sufferings as our own.

Finally in May we began the classes and the mounds of paperwork to be certified as foster parents. It was during this process in May and June that God worked on my heart once again. At first, I only wanted to be open to children who were already free to be adopted. However, the Lord used some circumstances beyond our control to change me. It’s a long and ridiculous story, but basically the odd layout of our house meant that we only could be certified to take children two years old and younger; they actually would prefer us to take children under 12 months. [Originally we hoped to take in children four years and younger.] Because the process to be free for adoption is so long and drawn out in the foster system, very few babies [maybe none?] are already free for adoption before they are 12 months old.

Basically, if we wanted to continue this process, we would have to be open to just-fostering, which means we would take in babies whom we may or may not be able to adopt some day. Ryan was completely open to this, and it was through his witness that I too became open.

I remember talking in the car after one of the classes, and he said something like, “even if we only have a child for one month or six months or whatever, we can still show him unconditional love. He won’t be old enough to remember it later, but it is still objectively good for him.” Then on another evening, I made some whiney-selfish comment to Ryan like, “but, after having a child in my home, I couldn’t bear to give him back!” And Ryan immediately responded, “It’s not about you! It’s about the child. He is not yours. The child is ultimately the Lord’s, and he is still someone else’s son or daughter. It is not about what you want; it is about what is best for him or her.”

He was right, sooooo right.

We went from “we feel called to adoption” to “we feel called to foster, and maybe God will allow us to adopt one day.”

One thing that I always knew for certain was that I didn’t want adoption to be a “consolation prize” for us, a “lesser” choice to having natural children. I wanted to be certain that we were called to this, regardless of our infertility. I can honestly say that we are in that place right now. I am certain God used our inability to have another child to bring us here, but He did, indeed, bring us here. I am certain that even if I found out tomorrow that I was pregnant, we would still take in a foster child if we received the phone call that very same day.

When a baby is placed in our home, we have no idea how long s/he will be with us. He or she could be part of our family for two weeks, two months, even two years, and then returned to the birth family [which is always the preference of the foster system]. Or, we could have him or her forever. Accepting this precarious unknown has taken much surrender on our part. This surrender is only in theory now. God only knows the difficulty of the reality of it.

And thus, here we are. Waiting.

meal plan: week of November 10

I still am not sure if I’ll start blogging regularly again. Only time shall see. However, my recovery from the surgery is going well enough that now I actually have to start cooking for my family again. Thus, I decided to start posting our meal plans again to give myself some motivation to do something more than, “uh…how about quesadillas again?”

Monday- Butternut Squash and White Bean Soup with cousous

Tuesday- Arroz con Pollo from this amazing cookbook/memoir

Wednesday- Family Dinner at my parents’

Thursday- pizza night. We’ll probably do one with beef and veggies and another one with spinach. I bought this recipe awhile back, but I haven’t tried it out yet. We are faaaar from strictly paleo, but we do try to limit our grains, and this recipe looks interesting.

Friday- beans and rice. We’ll use a simple recipe like this. Ryan and I have often discussed having a more “sacrificial” meal on Fridays, and this little post really inspired me to just start doing it.

Saturday- an event with some friends. We’re bringing fruit.

Sunday- a version of this Cheesburger Soup (it’s great with lentils!)

p.s. Nell at Whole Parenting has started a meal plan link-up. Love the idea. I’m getting on this bandwagon.

“The” Surgery: Part Three

[Click for Part One and Part Two.]

I am glad I am writing these posts now, because I think if I would  have written all of this when I was “in” it, I would have probably been fairly despondent and cranky. Like I said at the beginning, I am feeling *great* right now. Of course, I am still “recovering.” I can’t lift Philomena or push a shopping cart, and I get sore and tired easily. Nevertheless, I feel so much better than I did even last week that it gives me hope for a full recovery. Not going to lie, there were moments in which I felt I would never get better.

While I was “in” the suffering, I kept hearing about truly difficult situations: a friend’s baby having his second heart surgery in his 8 months of life; someone diagnosed with cancer; a relative close to dying; a friend’s brother dying; and many more. Of course, hearing about these situations gave me “perspective” on my own little difficulties. And yet, it provoked something greater in me. I talk quite a bit about the “beauty” in suffering, but when you’re in it, the suffering feels pretty darn ugly. Truly. But, I guess that’s the point. So much of our existence is lived trying to rid ourselves of any suffering, pain, or inconvenience, be it physical, emotional, spiritual. However, we can never totally eradicate it. Suffering is part of our human experience. We are fallen; we are broken. We need to accept that in order to accept the answer to it.

And not to get too preachy, but the beauty comes in the reality that we have a God who took on all of our humanity, even the brokenness. I mean, Christ’s passion and death was probably pretty ugly, right? During my “lowest” moments this past month when I really struggled to have hope, that is when I encountered Him most profoundly…because I had to. That is the most beautiful of all needs.

And beauty? It was there. It was so there. I have never felt more loved by friends and family than I did in these weeks.  As I said before, I was inundated with cards, phone calls, emails, texts that were incredibly sincere, supportive, and prayerful. Friends invited Ryan over for food and company during his lonely days in Wichita. Someone at our parish mowed our lawn without being asked. People sent up gifts for Philomena. A priest friend offered a novena of Masses for me. We received giftcards for gas and other expenses. My household sisters from college actually filmed a succession of videos that told an intricate story to entertain me in the hospital. My aunt and uncle were the most gracious of hosts for the five weeks. My mother-in-law took off a whole week of work for when we were supposed to return. We received a moving “spiritual bouquet” from friends at our church. Now that we’re home, people are bringing us meals, helping watch Mena, and being my “personal shopper” [that would be my sister]. The list goes on.

And yet, the gold star for generosity goes to my mother. She lovingly took care of Philomena and me without ever once complaining. Where they were staying was 20-30 minutes from the hospital, but she still made the drive with Mena twice every. single. day, so I could have a few precious hours with my daughter. And she still cooked and cleaned and took care of all of us. She and my dad had to cancel a vacation to Boston, which they did without a second thought.

I already wrote about how extraordinary Philomena was during this time. My heart was so moved by her witness to me.

Then there’s Ryan, who drove to/from Omaha five (!!!) times, all while balancing a full-time job and two classes. He never complained either. Seriously. I think I was the only one doing all the complaining.

I suppose this is my way of saying thank you for all of the kindness and prayers. My body was broken, but my heart is full.

The End.

Nurse Philomena advanced quickly in her skills.

Nurse Philomena advanced quickly in her skills.

“The” Surgery: Part Two

[Click for Part One.]

Well, the surgery ended up being more serious than anticipated. I think it took around eight hours? They had to remove *eight inches* of my small intestine. That first stay in the hospital ended up being seven days. I wasn’t allowed to eat or drink anything, and I had a catheter along with an NG tube for quite a few days. Truthfully, that week was kind of a blur of morphine, ice chips, and HGTV. That said, my clearest memory is of Ryan being absolutely extraordinary. It is humbling needing help with *everything*, but he was right there with me every step. It was his encouragement that got me out of bed and moving around a bit, even though I was so uncomfortable. And I was able to receive the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick.

I received *so* many calls, texts, emails, flowers, and cards from friends and family. Even though this was one of the roughest weeks of my life, I do not know if I’ve ever felt more loved. More on that later.

gratuitous picture of Nurse Philomena #2

gratuitous picture of Nurse Philomena #2

My birthday was Day Six in the hospital, and it was particularly tough. I was finally allowed to drink liquids, but with the return of bowel function came a whole host of other absolutely awful issues I will not detail here [you’re welcome]. It was also the day Ryan had to return to Wichita, so I was left alone. Not to be dramatic, but I do not think I have ever seen the cross more clearly than in that afternoon.

Anyway, so I ended up being released to my aunt’s house, where I was able to stay for a couple days. Another aunt from Denver came to help out, which was another blessing. I thought I was starting to recover, albeit slowly. However, a routine blood test the day before my second surgery revealed an elevated white blood cell count. As soon as I returned to my aunt’s from the blood draw, the doctors called me and told me to return to the hospital where I was to be re-admitted.

Ryan had already planned on returning to Omaha later that night, but when he got word of the issues, he left work right away to drive the five hours to be with me.

After more blood draws, an X-ray, and an IV-contrast CT scan, it was discovered that I had a very large abscess in my abdomen. Basically, it was a significant collection of infected fluid from a bacteria that somehow found its way into the abdominal cavity [is that the right word? I know I’m hacking all of this medical-speak.] The next day the “short” surgery ended up being a few hours, in which they drained the abscess as much as possible and tried to fix some of the extensive damage it caused. They put a drain in my abdomen, so I was able to see all the lovely secretions myself for days to come [yay!], and I was put on serious IV antibiotics. Once again I was in the hospital for an undetermined amount of time. Ryan had to return home that Monday, but as I will talk about later, my mom and Philomena came up twice a day for many hours.

A week later they removed the drain and were talking about releasing me. However, Dr. Hilgers decided as a precaution to order one more IV-contrast CT scan to make sure everything was alright. Sadly, the scan revealed that the abdominal abscess had returned, and two more abscesses on my liver had formed. The next day I had a “procedure” in which interventional radiologists used the CT scan images to place another drain in my abdomen and a second on my liver.

Yet again, I had drains coming from me, ridiculous amounts of antibiotics (now given to me in my new-and-improved picc line), and an undetermined amount of days in the hospital.

After five days, I had another CT scan, and it was determined they could take out my liver drain. [Sidenote: can we talk about how ironic it is that the woman who doesn’t allow a microwave in her kitchen for fear of residual radiation had five CT scans in the course of three weeks? Yeah. The doctors jokingly called me a “glow-worm.”] However, because I was on medication to prevent blood clotting, when they pulled out the drain, I bled and bled and bled. In hindsight, this probably wasn’t the most serious of issues, but just seeing all that blood soaking gown after gown of mine was unbelievably frightening. Finally, they were able to get the bleeding under control, and I had to receive some platelets.

Nurse Philomena taking a break from her duties to color.

Nurse Philomena taking a break from her duties to color.

A couple days later (at the end of week three in the hospital), they were ready to release me to my aunt’s house, but I wasn’t allowed to return to Wichita until my abdominal drain could be removed. I had a home health nurse come every day to take care of the drain. And (you’re not going to believe this) a doctor who is doing her fellowship with Dr. Hilgers came to my aunt’s house *every day* to check on me. Talk about compassionate care.

Anyway, I ended up staying at my aunt’s for another 10 (long!!!) days. Other than a possible blood clot in my lung that landed me in the ER one afternoon [it ended up being nothing, thank God!], these days were fairly uneventful. I was on two types of oral antibiotics that left me incredibly nauseous and listless. I really tried playing and interacting with Philomena as much as possible, but that proved to be difficult at times.

Finally, my drain was pulled last Monday (October 13), and we were able to come home on Tuesday. I was definitely crying tears of joy [and pain! Five hours on the road post-surgery is no joke] as I walked into our house, where Mena and I were greeted by signs, streamers, balloons, and presents. Oh, and Ryan was there too. ;)

Part Three will be much happier, I promise!