Moving out and finding her worth…

Yesterday, we filled the Suburban to the top, no nook or cranny missed and made the trek to Fort Worth. It was M’s big moving day. M is one of the Mom’s whose girls we hosted twice through Safe Families. I have written about her multiple times because she is a favorite of mine. Over the year we have known each other, we have become family. Watching her come full circle, now moving out of the shelter and into an apartment of her own was overwhelming in the very best way. We had talked ahead of time about the possibility of me taking pictures and telling her story. She eagerly agreed, wanting people to understand that all poor people do not cheat the system. She often gets grouped into that stereotype. She hates it so much that she didn’t even want to accept disability for her daughter who has muscular dystrophy because she didn’t want anyone to get the wrong idea or think she was trying to live off of hand outs. She wants people to know about the world of poverty and how impossibly difficult it is to dig yourself out when you’re doing it the honest way.

I had big plans to take lots of pictures to share with you guys…but mostly it was like any other moving day with things to unpack and children to wrangle so I barely got any. But mostly, it looked a lot like this:

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and this…

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We unloaded the Suburban. Kevin brought in his tool box and did all the assembling while M and I kept the kids under control and went through boxes. She cried when she stood in the kitchen and realized it was hers. I’ll never forget that. We listened to the kids say that they were hungry and I watched her get uneasy. She had already confessed that with her recent $0.75 raise at work that she lost half of her food stamps. She confessed animosity towards the girls at the shelter who don’t work at all and get 3x the support she does while she works long hours in a nursing home kitchen half the time and as a CNA the other half. We talked about how the right thing and the easy thing are seldom the same but that God honors integrity. 

We went through a couple of things that were donated from a nearby nonprofit. We figured we’d be able to find the girls something to eat from the box of food they brought. As we sorted through, a lump formed in my throat and I got sick to my stomach. The boxes of donations screamed to me that women like M are not of any value to the world. How can she know her worth when all she’s ever experienced in her life is other people’s throw away stuff?

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Those bananas had a thin film of white mold along the backside of them…which was gross, but nothing compared to the green fuzzy mold that had accumulated on the bread and tomatoes. The small bag of canned food held promise, until we read the expiration dates mostly consisting of 2010 and 2011. I blinked away tears and we put away a can of tomato soup, a couple cans of veggies, a small bag of cheetos and an orange. M immediately peeled the orange and cut it into 5 equal pieces for her girls and my kids and I wanted to scream, “STOP IT! Don’t you give that food to my kids….you feed your babies!” but instead I thanked her for her generosity. The kids continued to play and we sorted through the bag of non-food items that came along with the other donations. She already moved the couch to the dumpster and we quickly saw why. It smelled like urine and bugs had made their home on the inside of it long ago. That someone could say  “give this to the single Mom moving out of the shelter, it’ll be fine for her” blows my mind. Donations like that show her what society thinks of her. I hate that. What are we saying about her value that it’s even acceptable to give her these things? Still, not an ill word spoken from her. I asked her how she felt about all of it and she just said “I don’t want to complain, I’m grateful for everything.” The last thing to go through was a plastic bag. And she pulled out 3 shoes…nope, not 3 pairs of shoes, literally 3 shoes.

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M is a single Mom who works long hours, has an almost 2 year old who is constantly on turbo and a 3 year old with special needs. There is no such thing as fancy dresses or going out anywhere. But these were the 3 shoes. They were 4 inch lacy heels and at this point all we could do was laugh. We made jokes about how there should have been a piece of paper included that said “Can you please throw this stuff away for us?” and also some more crass jokes about the types of occupations one might have needing shoes like that. And sorry if it all sounds offensive or ungrateful, I just wish you could have seen her defeated face overshadowing her grateful, humble words. We’ve got to do better.

If they knew M, they would have set aside the best of the best for her. If they knew her story, they would have known she is worth more than moldy food and mismatched shoes. She moved from Puerto Rico leaving an impoverished area, but also all of her family and security, behind. When she left Puerto Rico she had 0 high school credits. The first thing she did when she got to Texas was find an alternative school that would let her work at her own pace so she could get her diploma. It was really important to her that she got to have a diploma instead of a GED. And what takes most kids four years to accomplish, M accomplished in less than a year. She worked tirelessly to complete all of her classes and at the age of 19 received her diploma.

She knew she was on the right track, and when she fell in love she thought she’d get all she dreamed of when she moved from Puerto Rico. First an education, then a family, and then her dream career. She started her family, marrying who she believed to be the love of her life and basking in the security of it.

They had their first baby when things took a turn. There was fighting…so much fighting. It got worse when he started dealing with his anger by self-medicating. One day, she had no choice but to get the police involved. She said she would press charges, but was afraid she would get in trouble, too because admitting abuse meant she exposed her baby to that abuse. The officers assured her that they would never punish a victim, but the next day CPS came and took her baby away. Her husband in prison, her baby in foster care, she was lost. Soon after she would find out that she was pregnant again. She sold everything she had to afford an attorney. She spent all of her savings and went into debt to fight for her daughter. She took all the classes required of her to have her parental rights restored and in the process lost her job. When the judge ordered she be reunited with her daughter he told her, “I want you to know that this almost never happens.”

She had her daughter back but had nothing else left. And so came the shelter.  When we met her, we were taking in her girls who were then 9 months old and 1 1/2 years old. She said she’d never use a program like Safe Families, but then she broke her foot. The girls couldn’t stay at the shelter alone so it was either us or CPS. She didn’t have much of a choice. She was guarded and protective. I didn’t understand why she wouldn’t just let us in. I didn’t know that the last time someone came and took her baby, she lost everything to bring her back. In time, we began to trust each other. We became friends. We started talking because we genuinely enjoyed each other. No because she was a charity case, not because she wanted anything from us, but because God was molding the most wonderful friendship. And then one day she found out that my Daddy is Puerto Rican and all bets were off. She was sold. And we became family.

We’ve rejoiced with her when she got her CNA, and got a better job. We’ve mourned with her when she lost said job because it wouldn’t work with her childcare hours. She called me crying when her daughter was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy and I cried to her when I was stressed out about Layla’s struggles. She has nothing to give and yet she always says, “If you need anything, I’m here.” And she’d give me the little she has without a second thought because that’s just the way she is. 

Kevin snuck out and ran to Walmart and when he came back we started unloading groceries. M’s tired face softened and she was mostly silent. I couldn’t tell if she was embarrassed or overwhelmed but I didn’t want her to feel uncomfortable so we left the groceries in their bags and I just hugged her really tight.  I told her we had to get the kids to bed but that we loved her and would see her soon. Kevin would later tell me that the girls immediately started tearing into the yogurt because they were so hungry. M would later confess that the girls were just going to have that bag of donated cheetos for dinner. When we got in the car we talked about how therapeutic it is to serve others. We talked about how easy it is to love someone who is so different than you and how it’s so obvious that love comes from God. We talked about how easily we can take for granted our own full pantry until we see an empty one.

Then my phone rang. We were maybe 10 minutes out and it was already M. She was sobbing. She said that she didn’t want to cry in front of us, but now she couldn’t stop. She told me that no one in her life actually meant it when they said they loved her or that they were there for her. She said this is the first time. She said she had been sitting there while the girls ate wondering how she was going to repay us. She said that she hoped I knew that she was always there for us, too. And I begged God that the little that we’ve been able to do for her would help show her that she has value and worth.

I told her that everything that we’ve been able to do for her has been because the Lord has provided for us and that He was using that provision to provide for her, too. And that He loved her so much, that even if He hadn’t sent us, He would have sent SOMEONE. It’s not because we are good people or because we just have so much extra to give, it is because He loves her so much that He has sent help. We talked about the way God brought us together to be family and that He is a good Father who takes care of his children and where we might fail her as family, because we are human, that He will never fail her. I pray she comes to know this deep in her soul.

I pray that God will send helpers to the M’s all over the world. There are so many. And I pray that all of you reading this will learn the faces and the names of poverty and take them by the hand and walk with them. And I pray that it changes their lives and changes your life the way it has ours. I pray that when you drop your boxes of donations off to the shelters or the food pantries, that you think of the single Mom moving out on her own for the very first time and that you will put the best of what you have in that box and that in return, she will feel like she has worth.

Until the next blog…be blessed.

Sometimes she leaves us…

One minute she’s with us and then the next minute she’s gone.

 

All is well when she gets in the car after school. I hand her a snack and she tells us she earned a sticker. We make our way to Target and the mood shifts. I can see the manic look in her eyes and my stomach drops. She is defiant and loud. Her movements are brisk, her eyes refusing to make contact with mine. She’s gone.

She’s not Layla anymore. She can’t be reasoned with or spoken to. She doesn’t even hear us. She just screams. We leave and she won’t keep her seatbelt on. Out of desperation, Kevin puts her in the car seat with the 5 point harness. He hopes she won’t take that off. She’s not safe.  She scratches him and yells. I get in the seat next to her and wrap my arms around her tightly as Kevin drives away. I squeeze her arms close to me so she feels some sense of security in the midst of her thrashing around and I whisper “Shhhhhhhh” into her ear over and over. Her body goes limp and she cries. I cry, too. And I silently thank God that her Occupational Therapist gave me the right tools to do something. I silently thank God that it worked. She doesn’t know why it happens. We talk about all the better things she can do when she starts to go to that place. She tells me her brain talks to her and sometimes it says bad things. She is confused and sad and we are exhausted in every sense of the word.

Honestly, on days like this I fantasize about a Layla who was never exposed to drugs in her birth mom’s womb. I dream about a Layla who doesn’t struggle with dark moments in private. My mind drifts to what it would be like without a world of Neurological testing, Occupational Therapists, Psychiatric visits and medications under our belt. The doctor says scarier things than she used to. Like how to look for signs of bipolar disorder. I feel ill-equipped. But the moment I catch myself thinking this way, I stop myself. God has assigned Layla her portion and cup. And he has assigned me mine, too. And if I acknowledge that He is good, (He is, by the way) then I must acknowledge that what He allows is for our eternal good as well. We can do this. One day at a time.

It’s just that it gets so lonely. To most of the world she appears normal. The well-meaning “She seems fine to me” comments are like a punch in the gut. I am grateful that you have never seen the scary side of her and yet simultaneously frustrated that you do not understand. On the other hand, if you HAVE seen that side of her, I am terrified you will compare her to her brother and sister and somehow view her as less. Is there a way for you to recognize she is different without treating her that way? I’m not sure.

Before the night is over she is completely back to normal. And our aching hearts are already on the mend. We have been there/done that too many times before. We may go months before we see anything like this again, or tomorrow may bring another day of pain. We just never know. But we carry on. We know that even when Layla is at her worst, she is the most incredible gift. And when she is at her best, there is not a greater feeling in the world. I wouldn’t trade her or change her for anything. Her story is beautiful and she is a fighter.

 

P.S.-Give grace to the family with the kicking and screaming child walking out of the store. Yes, that child may be a spoiled, entitled, brat. But that child could also be the most pleasant, well-behaved, sweet thing who fights the hardest, darkest battles behind closed doors. And her Mommy and Daddy might be afraid and overwhelmed. One smile and nod can remind us that we are not in the trenches by ourselves. Assign positive intent. It makes all the difference.

First Day of School!!

 

 

 

 

 

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Our babies are growing up so fast!! Today Layla started 1st grade & Bryson started Kindergarten. I am counting down the hours til I get to pick them up and find out how their day went! Tomorrow Bryson will have to miss school because he’s having a little procedure in hopes of finding out what’s been going on with his tummy lately. I’m so grateful it worked out that he didn’t have to miss his first day though! I’d like to write a post soon about the crazy whirlwind of a month we’ve had and how lovingly God has poured peace into our tired souls in the middle of the most difficult circumstances. But for now, let’s all cry about how big my kids are!! Hehe! 

 

Until the next blog…be blessed!

What about MY son?

Can I be frank with you guys? The reason I despise talking about racial tension is because if I say we still have a problem, I am diminished to being nothing more than the white wife of a black man. To many, it seems that OF COURSE I’m going to feel that way because my husband must have influenced my opinion. If I had married a white man, perhaps my feelings would be considered. But because of who I chose to marry and because my babies’ skin is darker than mine, my opinion is skewed. It feels pointless. But seriously? I am ill over the countless stories on the news. And I am appalled by our sleepy nation and our collective unwillingness to wake up. Not just to the black men being shot down or put into choke holds forced to suffocate by police. But by Christian children being cut in half by radicals in Iraq. And by women being kidnapped and forcibly sold for sex until they reach the point that they’d rather die than continue. But all of that is too much for one post, so today let’s talk about the Ezell Fords and Michael Browns. Let’s say their names and tell their stories and determine that this is unacceptable. And you can think that my opinion is skewed…and maybe you’re right. One day though, a cop may decide that my son looks more black than white and in today’s climate that makes me feel afraid. If that makes me biased, then so be it.

I remember the first time Kevin was pulled over while I was in the car with him. We had been dating a couple of years and we were on our way to see a Christmas tree lighting. Kevin had recently got a new car and the temporary tag had fallen and was not visible to law enforcement.

It never occurred to me that there was a reason to be scared of the police. When I was a child my father got pulled over because I was holding up signs in the back that said “There’s a cat on your roof” and another driver didn’t think it was as funny as I did. He was nice, he cracked a joke and let us go before asking that we stick to signs that said things like “Hi!” instead.

One time in college I failed to yield and I was pulled over. The officer sympathized with how busy college life can be and warned me to be careful and that was the end of that.

It was different in the passengers seat with the black man I would one day call my husband. I saw a flashlight shine in his rear window as the officer inspected the inside of the car. To this day, a police officer has not done that to me. For Kevin though, it has been a consistent occurrence. I could only see the officer from the shoulders down but I will never forget the way his hand looked when he placed it over his gun holster on his belt and said “Have you ever been arrested before?”

I have learned that it is possible to take a tone with a person that says exactly what you wish you could say to them without using words. I didn’t know about that tone until I listened to that officer speak to Kevin. And I remember Kevin using a calm and respectful tone in return. Because that’s how he was raised. And I wonder had he been raised differently or if he had less patience for that officer’s attitude, if we would have found ourselves in a scarier situation. Thankfully another much kinder officer pulled up who took over and we quickly transitioned back to a routine traffic stop.

I could tell you that we’ve moved beyond the place in our nation where people are judged by their skin color but then I would remember that we are terrified to drive through certain states when we go to visit my parents. That one time we made a pit stop in a town where we were clearly not welcome and for a moment I feared what an angry old man would do to myself and my daughter as we walked out of the restroom. I still cry when I think about the way he looked at us and the tone he used that screamed hatred and disgust when he whispered.

I don’t like talking about this in a public forum. But we need to talk. About all of it. We are afforded the luxury of shutting the t.v. off and not paying attention for the sake of our comfort, but then nothing will change. And I’m begging you to long for change. I have babies growing up in this world who need to know they can trust the police. I never want my son to know what it feels like for an officer to try to intimidate him by putting his hand over his gun as he speaks. I never want my daughters to feel that life would have been easier for them had they been all white instead of half.

Join me. In the aching. In the praying. In the acting whenever we can, however we can. Speak truth. And stop turning the t.v. off for the sake of comfort. People are dying. We can’t be okay with that.

Until the next blog…be blessed. 

For Jordyn

In 6 short days Jordyn will be having a birthday! It has been quite a week, but it’s such a special time for our little girl and I wanted to be sure to get her annual birthday letter written!

My dear Jordyn-

It is hard for me to fully grasp what it means that the “baby” of our home is turning 4. Late night feedings, never-ending diaper changes, and those precious quiet moments in the rocker by your crib where you lay silent across my chest as I pray words of love into your sleepy ears…well those days have gone away. Without my realizing how quickly they were going as they went. I look at you and see a little girl instead of an infant and it still catches me off guard. But as I savored every second of those fleeting days, I savor every moment of watching you grow into such a big girl. The only thing more beautiful than your big smile and bright eyes is your kind and gentle heart. I am so full of love for you, sweet girl.

When you were a baby, getting you ready for bed was one of my favorite parts of the day. We would rock and sing and your drooling, toothless smile melted my heart every single night. And even now, I know the memories we make when the sun goes down are memories I will hold on to forever.

On a normal night we will gather together in the playroom singing our nighttime songs and praying our bedtime prayers. Hugs and kisses all around and then you hop up the stairs and head to bed. By the time I am upstairs, your breaths are slow and rhythmic and I watch the stillness of your beautiful face. I kiss your forehead and pull up the sheets and you are none the wiser. Still, it makes my heart so full. There are other nights though, that as the house quiets and I open your bedroom door, your eyes open wide and your giggly smile is reminiscent of the toothless smile I gazed at years before. I lay down next to you in your bed and we tell stories and sing songs. As you tire, you throw your arm around my neck and I pet your hair and watch your eyes get more and more heavy. In those moments, there is not a stress, a worry or a fear in the world that matters. All I can think of is how blessed I am to be your Mommy.

I know time will continuously escape me as I watch you, your sister and brother grow. It is inevitable. I know how there are some days that drag on forever and that then in the next instant I am grasping for more time. I know that someday, not too long from now, you won’t need the tuck-ins or sleepy songs. Someday, just as my mother did for me, I will go to bed and only doze until I hear you come in safely for the night. Someday you will spend the night in your own place for the first time and maybe call to say goodnight (please call to say goodnight. I’m going to be a wreck.). I know that when that night comes, I will open the door to your empty room before I go to bed and still vividly be able to see you. A drooling toothless smile rocking back and forth…the heavy eyed little girl who throws her arm around my neck to fall asleep. And I will be thankful. It has been such a joy to call you daughter.

Happy Birthday to my delightful little Jordyn. I love you higher than the sky and deeper than the sea.

Love,

Mommy

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5 Practices for Suffering Well

5 Practices for Suffering Well.

This morning I came across the blog in the link above. Because none of us are exempt from suffering, I thought it was well worth the share. It’s funny because this morning I was on the phone with my father and I told him that, because we know that scripture says that there will be suffering and persecution in our walk with God, I don’t want to be the kind of person who is knocked off my feet and surprised when it happens. I want to suffer well. I want to suffer in a way that still brings glory to God. It almost seems ordained that I would come across this well written piece shortly after that conversation. I hope it encourages your spirit the way it has encouraged mine!

Until the next blog…be blessed!

Contact Burns

It feels odd to be writing about this today because it happens to be my wedding anniversary. A sappy lovey blog would seem more appropriate. Seven years ago I became a Mrs. We stood before God, pledging to walk together, taking on life’s obstacles as one. I am filled with more love for Kevin today than ever before. Our time together has made our marriage one that I am proud to call strong. I know that’s no small feat in today’s culture. I have assurance that no matter what this life brings us, we can get through it as long as we keep our focus on the Lord. And that’s a beautiful thing because life gets ugly sometimes, doesn’t it?

This morning on the phone with him (he’s out of town until this evening) there was grief in the pauses of our anniversary wishes for one another. We are celebrating our amazing marriage, of course. But we also happen to be mourning. I hate it when that happens. Tears rolled down my cheeks and he gently asked if I had gotten any more sleep. I hadn’t. By nature I am emotional, anxious and weak and so when life gets stressful I lose sleep, am quick to cry and feel sick to my stomach. Not my most attractive characteristics, I know. The day’s distractions aren’t enough to keep the sinking feeling at bay. Even my laughter is tempered with the reminder that there are hard battles to fight. Battles that we didn’t provoke or ask for. I know that I’m blessed to serve a God who says that in my weakness He is strong. I know that I’m blessed to get to fight these battles with my husband who is also strong and full of great character. And there is no one else in the entire world I’d rather fight them with. But my goodness. I’m tired. And I know he is, too.

We sit in silence knowing exactly what the other must be feeling and then say our I love yous before he’s off to work. I go back to talking to the Lord because it is all I can do. And when there are no words I trust God will understand my tears and will use them as a sacred prayer that only He can understand. I trust that will be enough. He counts my tears. I know that much. I also believe what the scripture says, “They that sow in tears shall reap in joy.” (Psalm 126:5) And it’s not the reaping I’m worried about. I know that will come. It’s the sowing. The sowing is the hard part.

I share a lot with you guys about what it means to work with people in crisis. I have told stories of redemption, I shared dreams I have for the Moms in crisis we’ve met, I announced successes and you guys have celebrated right along with me. But what can be harder to talk about is the truth that when you work for the Lord, you are vulnerable to attacks. And we can handle it because we do not fight alone. But it still might hurt. Jesus meant what He said, “Remember the word that I said to you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you…” (John 15:20)

People in crisis are often broken people. And hurting people often hurt other people. We are not exempt from getting hurt because we are serving God. I wish that were the case, but it’s not.

Do you know what a contact burn is? When you touch something that’s already really hot and so in the process you get hurt? If you pulled a person out of a burning building and their clothes were already on fire, you may have saved their life, but that wouldn’t exclude you from getting burnt in the process, right? That’s where we are at. We have experienced a contact burn. And the aching is still palpable and we don’t know when it will heal. We are still shaky from the pain. It is a unique place to be in because not only do we have to decide if we should continue to open ourselves up to this type of pain in this season of our lives, but we also have to decide if we can expose our own children to it. And it’s not a no-brainer like you would think. People from the outside looking in say “Protect your kids, first. Always. Of course.” But, as I’ve said on this blog before, we want our kids to be brave. We want our kids to be selfless. We want our kids to follow God above all else…even when it’s hard, even when it hurts…ESPECIALLY when it hurts. We don’t want them to run from persecution because it’s uncomfortable. And if that’s what we want for them, then that’s what we need to model. At the same time, God has given us these precious lives to parent and I know we must use wisdom to parent effectively. I know sometimes that means saying no. It’s not always clear when it is time to say no and when it is time to say yes.

I am without answers right now. We are living moment to moment with no idea what comes next. I am grieving over our broken world and longing for God to be near and to give us the answers about what our next steps should be. I have put as many details out there as I can for you guys for the sake of transparency, for the sake of being real, and for the sake of being able to tell you that we need your prayers. Please pray.

Confiding in a trusted friend last night with some of the details I can’t write publicly at the moment, she sent me this quote and it is how I want to close out today’s blog because it so pertinent and worth meditating on…

 “We ought to give thanks for all fortune: if it is ‘good,’ because is it good, if ‘bad’ because it works in us patience, humility, and the contempt of this world and the hope of our eternal country.” -C.S. Lewis

Until the next blog…be blessed!