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.

 

vday 2 blocked faces

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?]

 

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.