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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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.”

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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?]

 

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”

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.