control

Today was supposed to be our official “home visit,” a major step in the adoption process, in which a caseworker conducts a three-to-four-hour interview with us and then inspects our home.

Even though we are used to having random people in our house on a very regular basis [that’s the life of a foster family], for some reason the significance of this step along the adoption journey put me into major stress-mode. The victim of my anxiety was our house, which I decided needed to be cleaned with a psychotic passion.

For two full days, my mother watched all three children, and I cleaned. I mean, I really cleaned. I vacuumed the crevices between the baseboards and the floor; I moved every piece of furniture in pursuit of dust; I wiped down every lampshade; I re-organized all of our bookshelves; I scrubbed the gunk off the kitchen chairs. You get the (crazy) idea.

And it’s not like our house is usually in disarray. I’m no Dottie Domestic, but I work pretty hard to clean up on a regular basis, but that usually involves picking up toys and making beds [and to be totally honest, the beds don’t always get made].

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When questioned about why I was making myself a tad insane with all of this, my reply was usually along the lines of: “it’s just that we haven’t been able to control any step of this fostering and adoption process, and finally I can control something. So, even if it is just the state of my house, I want to do something about it.”

Ah, “control”…such a lie we tell ourselves, yes?

And this particular illusion of control was broken Thursday evening, when Ryan came home from work very feverish and sick. Even though I insisted he lie down, I think he saw the crazy in my eye, so he opted to help pick up, amidst his shivers and aches. [I know!] At one point he commented, “you know, maybe my getting sick is a sign that we need to ‘let go’ more.” I brushed him off and said, “oh, I know we’re not in control of this process. Of course I know that. I just want everything to be as perfect as it can be!”

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Instead of seeing his sickness as a sign I should chill out, I pushed myself even more. And sure enough, he started feeling better Friday, so I felt justified in all of my hard work. “See, it’s all going to work out!”

Then, at 5:00 Friday evening we got the phone call that due to unforeseen circumstances (unrelated to J and N’s case) the home visit would have to be cancelled and re-scheduled for an undetermined future date.

Naturally, I cried some ugly tears and went on more than a few rants about “the agency” and “the system.” However, after I got all of that out of me, I finally waved the white flag.

Alright, Lord, you are in charge…of everything. No matter how hard I work, I will never truly be in control of our lives. I surrender. 

Even though my pursuit of control was well-intentioned [at my core is the deep, ardent desire to have these babies be ours, you know?], it didn’t lead to any more peace within myself. And it never well. Only by letting go of our own well-constructed plans will our hands be free to grasp onto His will, which is always more beautiful.

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“The plan of God is absolutely beyond us, always; it cannot be narrowed or imprisoned within the limits of our imagination. But one who is always willing to change everything according to what God wants…circumstances, especially those that vex us the most, that are inevitable circumstances, these are precisely the ones that mark the road of God; the person who is open to this is not attached to anything of his own, and he’s free.” Luigi Guissani

[Since our Saturday was suddenly open, we thought we’d do something grand with the family like go to the zoo. But, by the time we were finally ready to leave the house, it was too close to J’s sacred nap time, so we opted for the little park at our nearby school. The Lord must have known we needed the Vitamin D that this freakishly warm weather provided. Also, after this post, an old friend gifted Philomena with the shirt she’s wearing. So sweet, yes?]

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five years

“What I am doing, you do not understand now, but you will understand later.”   John 13:7

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Ryan and I purposefully chose Jesus’ washing of the apostles’ feet as the Gospel reading at our wedding for many of reasons. Obviously, it shows the other-before-self-ness inherent in marriage: “If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do” (John 13:14-15).

However, we actually chose it primarily because of an earlier line: “what I am doing, you do not understand now, but you will understand later.” We saw it as the theme of both of our single years, that is, those winding and confusing roads that led to each other. We didn’t understand what was going on at the time, but it all made perfect sense when the Lord brought our two paths into one.

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That said, little did we know our first five years of marriage would be marked by an even more dramatic lack of understanding. Sometimes we joke that it feels like we’ve lived a lifetime in this short time: becoming parents, buying a home, miscarriage, returning to school, secondary infertility, writing a textbook, hospitalizations, becoming foster parents.

And yet, we have absolutely clung to this verse over and over again. Even though we do not see the full picture in the moment, we know God is at work creating something beautiful with our marriage.

Happy 5th Anniversary to my favorite person. There’s no one else I’d prefer to have accompanying me through all my days.

[So, I wrote this post yesterday, and this morning I woke up to a very sick child…like, the messy-everywhere kind of sick. Thus, I will be washing plenty of feet, both literally and metaphorically today. Cheers.]

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P.S. Ryan and I made a super lovey-dovey mix CD for all of our wedding guests who stayed in the hotel. I’d thought I’d memorialize that moment in our story with the Spotify playlist below, minus a couple songs that weren’t available on Spotify…I’m looking at you, Radiohead’s “All I Need.”

I’m having some trouble embeding the playlist, but here’s the link: https://open.spotify.com/user/124554819/playlist/6nWGGeifdZmZZmHONfXmQA

she doesn’t nap anymore…

…but at least she uses her free time to save the world…

with style.
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princess superhero 2

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[These were taken mere moments after she woke up her never-actually-naps 4-month-old foster sister. I *may* have lost my s**t. Just a little. Her consequence was entertaining said baby whilst I have my Internet zone-out time. #TuesdayisthenewMonday]

xoxo

When you have a four-year-old daughter who has recently become *obsessed* with holidays, specifically Valentine’s Day…and you totally blanked on getting her something…and you aren’t too great at cleaning out old candy…

 

Voila.

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Please feel free to pin this ingenuity.

Love, your very own Martha Stewart.

 

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the surrender of foster care

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The feeling comes at weird times. Like today as I was digging through some clearance items at Carter’s and saw a shirt in Philomena’s size that declared in sparkly letters, “Best Big Sister Ever!” I stood there internally debating whether it would be appropriate to buy it for her. Aside from the improbable superlative [I mean, what exactly is the criteria and investigation to prove the best big sister ever?], technically Philomena is a big foster sister, which is truly different than a natural, biological sister. Would it be dishonest for her to don said shirt around town?

Obviously, this is a silly train of thought. No one would actually care if she wore that shirt. But as I stood there, these musings reminded me that I would never be able to dress my daughter in a cute shirt like that to announce a pregnancy to the excitement of friends and family. Even if we are blessed to adopt J and N someday [God-willing!], it won’t be a big surprise to anyone.

As I placed the shirt back on the shelf, I had a pit in my stomach, tears in my eyes, and a thought in my head that recurs often: “this is just another surrender of being a foster parent.”

Like the shirt, some of the surrenders of foster parenting are really quite trivial. Like not being able to send out a Christmas card (technically, we could have, but we wouldn’t have been able to include J and N’s picture, nor use their full names, so that would have been a lame representation of our family). Or for my social-media-loving self, not being able to post pictures and videos of the children is more difficult for me than I’d like to admit. Then there’s the utter embarrassment that occurs when I always seem to get in the grocery line of the checker who is new and doesn’t know how to process a WIC check for formula, so the inevitably long line behind me is held up, as the employee calls for a manager.

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And there are other surrenders that are a little more profound. I wish I could nurse N to promote bonding and give her all the nutrition and goodness of breastmilk, but alas that will never happen. Also, Ryan and I have a long list of names that we absolutely love and that have meaning for us, but we will never be able to use them: if we adopt J and N, we think it best to keep their given names, even if the names are ones we never would have chosen ourselves.

Then there are the greatest surrenders. Like not being able to baptize our foster children. We long with every fiber of our beings to pass on the faith that gives us life and defines us, but until the children become ours, we cannot give them this gift.

This strikes at the heart of all of this: J and N are not our children. Not yet. Maybe someday. Maybe never. But, coupled with this reality, is the concurrent reality that on a day-to-day basis, they indubitably feel like our children, especially now that their biological parents’ legal rights have been terminated. We feed them, comfort them, heal their wounds, teach them how to be human. We treat them no differently than our naturally-born daughter, but still it is different.

This post probably sounds like I am complaining. Well, I suppose I am kind of complaining. Sorry. I am a broken, weak, selfish person, and this whole situation is hard on my nurturing heart.

And yet, I think this is part of why the Lord has led us to this particular path of parenthood. All of these surrenders are good, so good for me. I tend to think I am in charge of my own life, that I can control everything. But, I can’t. And I shouldn’t. The Lord is teaching us the type of letting-go that we’re often too stubborn to do on our own.

Yes, foster care demands a lot of surrender.  However, every aspect of our lives should be subject to the same abandonment. Only in this renunciation of our own plans, our own wills, can He truly work His beauty.

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my family: January 2016

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I love re-reading the little Philomena updates I used to sporadically write. I realized the last one I did was well over a year ago. It makes me tear up now, because so much has changed in her life in this time.

And the changes are the type that are beautiful, but so difficult when you are in them. I am not just talking about Mena here. I have been refined and stretched more in the past year-and-a-half than I ever thought possible. Last night in prayer I kept getting the image of this huge, jagged boulder. It was being slowly, painfully chipped away. So slowly. So painfully. And yet, in the end was this small, sleek stone that you couldn’t help but marvel in its smoothness.

I don’t think I need to spell out that analogy for you, now do I?

[I intended this post just to be a general update on the past few months, but now I’m getting all deep, huh?]

When I wrote this back in July, I felt so empty as a mother. I was at the point in which every moment of every day reminded me of my insufficiency. I didn’t think it possible for me to handle even one.more.thing.

Our Lord has a way of taking this kind of emptiness, fear, and vulnerability and doing something unimaginable.

In this case, it came in the form of newborn baby N.

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The first week of October we received this unexpected gift, the full biological sister of J. We don’t know what is going to happen in their futures, but we know their presents are inter-twined with ours for a reason, so we are clinging to our foster children with a fierce love.

That said, suddenly becoming a family of five was very overwhelming for quite awhile. It wasn’t until about December that we started to feel the fog lift a little. And there is no way we could have survived those first couple months without all the extraordinary help from our friends and family. Sometimes I feel a little guilty about how good we have it.

Blessings without number; mercies without end.

***

Philomena turned four on Christmas. Goodness gracious. [Are four-year-olds still considered toddlers? Or are they called “preschoolers,” even if they don’t attend preschool? I feel like I should know these things!] Four is looking eerily similar to three, in terms of challenges. And yet, she has these fleeting moments of maturity that give us a glimpse of hope. For example, just now Ryan came into the office to ask me if I asked Mena to sweep the pine needles from the (still up!! we’re working on it!!) Christmas tree, because that is what she was currently doing.

I hadn’t.

And there’s the fact that she takes her picture “chore chart” very seriously. If she remembers she didn’t make her bed, she immediately runs upstairs to remedy the situation. Also, now she sometimes lets J walk in front of her when we’re going up the stairs. That might not seem like much to you, but she is obsessed with being the one in front, so it’s momentous here in our casa.

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In general, she is still very head-in-the-clouds and imaginative. She usually has some dress-up outfit on at any given time, and she can easily play by herself for hours. I do a *little* bit of not-really-but-kinda schoolwork with her, which she absolutely adores. I have no doubt it has very little to do with learning the sounds of letters and is much more attributed to having one-on-one time with her usually preoccupied Mommy. We also read “chapter books” with her now before bedtime (one chapter a night), and I think it is the favorite part of the day for all of us.

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Philomena was really “into” Advent and Christmas this year. I don’t think my heart could have swelled more than with her off-key rendition of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” every night around the Advent wreath.

***

is 20 months now, and there are almost no words to describe his wildness. He has this astute radar that tunes into exactly what he shouldn’t be touching or doing, and he goes after such goals with an enviable fervor. I am constantly finding him on top of the dining room table or running off with my phone or trying on Philomena’s most-favorite princess shoes.

He gets frustrated very easily and throws countless (extremely short-lived) tantrums throughout the day. His speech development is a bit delayed (in that, he doesn’t really talk at all, but he has quite a few baby signs), so we think that is the main reason for said tantrums. At least, that is what we hope.

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HOWEVER…he has one of the kindest hearts I have ever encountered. Seriously. He is obsessed, so obsessed with N. From the first moment he laid eyes on her, he has been giving her kisses and cuddles. Granted, this affection pretty much always goes too far, and she ends up screaming at the top of her lungs, as I sprint across the room. But it’s the sentiment, yes? Also, if any kid anywhere (even strangers at Target) starts to cry, he gets this very concerned look on his face and goes over and gives the child these very heartfelt strokes.

And he’s weirdly helpful when he wants to be. He likes to bring me N’s diaper and take his plate to the counter. And after he hits or bites Philomena, he gives her gentle pats of affection to make up for the offense.

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In all seriousness, J has gotten very attached to us. He is indubitably a Mama’s boy. He actually cuddles with me before and after naps (this never happened when he first came to us), and when he is upset (which is often), only my hug can satisfy him. Many of his tantrums result because he can’t sit on my lap or I can’t hold him in that moment. And when I do pick him up, he burrows his head into my shoulder and holds onto me with an unnatural strength. This has earned him the nickname from Ryan of “koala.”

***

is three months of chub and happy. She is nice and plump, with those thigh rolls that make my motherly hormones go crazy. She is starting to vocalize so much, and she can baby-smile on command like the best of them. She actually is an amazing night sleeper, but basically doesn’t nap for more than 20 minutes at a time. C’est la vie. You can’t have it all.

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***

As for me and Ryan, we just kind of hang out all day. I am always on top of the housework and never stress eat or stay up too late. We read dozens of books about which we have stimulating conversation.

Not.

Like I said, life is difficult. But the good kind of difficult. Ryan is taking on three (!!!) classes this semester, along with working full time. I predict he will be just as calm and cool as he usually is about all of it. And that is said without even a twinge of sarcasm. The man is as close to a saint as anyone I know. Or maybe a robot, because he essentially never sleeps.

Since I have so much free time, I decided to take on a few work projects. Like writing another entire textbook. And teaching a master’s course in the Fall. I can assure you I will approach all of this neither calmly nor coolly.

But, the Lord is making me into a smooth stone. So there’s that.

[I just realized that this blog read like a Christmas letter. Unintentional, I assure you. Happy Holidays?]

 

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.