Hosting #21

Tomorrow marks 4 months since we picked up our current little house guest, baby R. She is our 21st hosting (CRAZY!) in the almost 3 years we have been with Safe Families. Our time as her host family is coming to a close and we are so excited about watching this family reunify! We are also excited to show her mommy, A, that we meant business when we said we would stick around long after the hosting.

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Baby R was 5 months old when we met her young mommy in a Starbuck’s and became fast friends. At that time, A did not have a stable place to live, spending much of her time in her car. She did not have any form of income, she was overwhelmed and teetering on the edge of sanity as she tried to juggle homelessness, family tensions, past abuse, full time college courses and a baby with literally no stable support system.

Fast forward and baby R is now 9 months old! She is pulling up on everything, scaling furniture, saying “mama” “dada” and “banana!” She has grown in size while her mommy has grown as a woman. For every milestone we have watch Baby R achieve, we have seen development in A as well.

Baby R will go home to an apartment that her Mommy worked hard to get. A will get her associate’s degree this summer. She has learned valuable lessons about managing money, about raising a baby, about the importance of taking care of your spiritual and mental health in addition to your physical health. But most importantly, we have been able to give her the gift of an extended family and she has given us the gift of growing our ever expanding circle of loved ones.

Has it been perfect? No. Has it been easy? Not even a little easy, friends. Has it been worth it? YES. YES. YES. For every second that fear has struck my heart because of the drama that inevitably comes with serving those in crisis, there have been many more seconds of my heart filling with pride and joy watching Baby R grow into a big girl and watching her Mommy grow into a woman.

There have been late nights and frantic phone calls and tears in these last 4 months. And we couldn’t have done it without our “people.” Our tribe. Our safety net and support. The ones who give us grace when we just can’t seem to get out of the house in time because our house guest just isn’t having it. The ones who respond to the “please pray right now” group texts. The ones who pick up extra clothes for a baby they’ve never seen or buy Christmas presents for a young mommy they will never know. You know who you are. But there is no way you could ever know how much you bless us over and over again. You are just as much a part of our work with Safe Families as we are. We could not do it without your selfless service and dedicated prayers. My heart will forever be grateful. Just thank you. Yes, YOU!

Will you join me in praying that this reunification is a successful one? That sweet A will feel confident in her ability to parent full-time again, that baby R will continue to grow and learn and develop close bonds with her mommy? We are so excited to see what God has in store for A and her baby girl and I hope that in a couple of years I’m able to update you guys on the huge progress that I have big hope they will continue to make!

Until the next blog…be blessed!

 

My Word for 2016-Joy

For the last few years, in lieu of a New Year’s resolution, I have chosen a word to focus on.

In 2013 my word was present. That word came off the heels of the tragedy that happened at Sandy Hook. Watching the horror of children ripped away from their parents in the most senseless act of violence left me raw and weepy. I wanted to hold on to my babies just a little tighter. I went into 2013 doing just that.

In 2014 my word was rest. Being “present” made for a great year. But between being a present wife and mother and jumping head first into Safe Families for Children and my eyes opening up to a world of crisis that I previously knew nothing about, I was exhausted. So rest was the word for me.

By the time December 2014 had rolled around I was ready for the challenge of a new word. I learned a lot that year about choosing rest when things got chaotic and it was food for my soul. I also held with me the important lessons I had learned about being a present human being. My word for 2015 became intentional. Intentional for me was going to be learning about leaning into the things that were important and cutting out what was not. It was about saying yes out of obedience and about not being afraid to say no when I needed to. God knew I would need that word.

Intentional was the word that echoed through my head as I made hard choices. I chose to be intentional in taking a summer sabbatical from Safe Families to be there for my family in Florida as we walked through my dad having treatment. I’ve said no when it was hard and said yes when it was harder and it was good. 2015 has been tough, but I made it count. There were lots of intentional moments and there was little regret. For that I am thankful.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what my focus should be in 2016. I knew early on that my word was going to need to be JOY, but I was nervous. You know that whole thing about “Don’t ask God for patience, because he’ll just give you a bunch of annoying situations for you to learn patience from instead of just dropping patience in your lap like you want”? Well, I was apprehensive that if I stuck with this word, I’d be setting myself up for a lot of hard moments where I would need to practice choosing joy when it would be easier to lose it. I shared this fear with Kevin and in all of his wisdom he reminded me that God already knows what 2016 will hold. And it holds what it holds no matter what my “word” is. The only thing that changes is the lens in which I choose to see whatever life has to bring. So I’m sticking with it. I don’t know what 2016 holds. But I do know that I want to humbly accept what God deems best…that I want to receive my portion and my lot with joy-because joy doesn’t have to be contingent on circumstance.

Am I still a little nervous? Yes. I’m human. And this year kicked my butt. There were lots more tears than I care to admit. There was so much heartbreak. But there was always, always a reason to hope. Always something to be grateful for. In a world that ever-changes I hold on steadfastly to the promise of a Father who is unchanging and who loves fiercely. I am going into this new year with joy. Whether 2016 brings a lot of highs or a lot of lows (or an awesome combination of both) I refuse to lose the joy that is in my heart. For 2016, I am choosing joy.

What’s your word?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Merry Christmas!

It’s Christmas! I wait all year long for this time of year. I love the lights and the music. I love the quiet reflection of Advent. I love the way my living room smells with a Douglas fir in the corner. I love our deeply rooted family traditions and the reminder they serve that we are so blessed to get to do these things together. And the cookies y’all. Everyone talks about dreading putting on an extra 5 lbs during the holidays and I’m over here like “BRING. IT. ON.” Life is short, so just whatever.

The introvert in me can get overwhelmed with all of the social gatherings, the long lines at the stores and the running around for the kids’ events. All of the hustle and bustle has been that much more intense this year with an extra little in our home through Safe Families who’s teething something fierce and only sits still when she’s asleep (but my goodness, she’s adorable). Even with the added crazy that can come along with Christmas-I love the way that stress is so easily remedied for me with the reminders everywhere…Peace on earth…The weary world rejoices…All is calm, all is bright…Some of us are in a season of mourning or season of pain and, for me, I’ve found that at Christmas all of that hurt somehow finds a way to coexist with joy and gratefulness and love. It makes my heart so happy.

Are you swooning about this time of year? It’s cool if you aren’t. But I am.

Something that’s been fun this year has been listening to my dad talk about Christmas. I have great childhood memories of Christmas time. It’s always been a special time for our family-but in so many ways it’s like he’s rediscovered how amazing it all is. The other day he called me to talk about the song “Mary Did You Know” and how meaningful it is to us as Christians. I casually mentioned another song (One Child by Natalie Grant if you’re curious) that I thought he might like because it had sort of the same premise. I told him how there was this one lyric that I have spent a lot of time thinking about.

“This baby cries, and for the first time the world hears the voice of God weep. Mary sings a lullaby as the hope of the nations gently falls asleep.”

My Dad just gasped. And then he said, “Jesika-do you know how far that is from our comprehension? We aren’t able to even fathom what that moment must have been like. We just can’t. It’s crazy.”

And he’s right. This is the reason why we “Christmas” so joyfully. We can criticize how Christmas began or debate what relevance December 25th and the actual birth date of Jesus Christ have- but really, I just don’t care. I just want to rejoice. Because I am weary. Working in crisis-care and loving hard sometimes leaves me a little shell shocked. Life is tough y’all.  Everywhere we look there is ugly to be found. People hurting people. Loved ones dying. Injustice everywhere. Homeless single moms and hungry babies. Discouragement and frustration. And this little nagging feeling that what you have to offer is insignificant and insufficient.

But Jesus, you guys. It’s so pertinent that He came to the earth as something helpless and small and fragile. That God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful.  I love that Jesus’ extended family tree was full of drama and that instead of coming as a king with a big scary voice that he came as a carpenter with a servant’s heart. I love that this is Christmas. Because you know what it means? It means that the last will be first and the weak will be strong. It means that we are not insignificant. It means that we are seen and loved and that we have access to the one who can take our insufficient effort and make it enough. His birth was nothing short of a miracle and He hasn’t stopped with the miracle-doing since. He’s forever making miracles of the mess of my life.

All are welcome at the manger. I hope you’ll join me in quiet contemplation of that lowly, beautiful place and in turn feel gratefulness for your lowly, beautiful life. Merry Christmas friends. May you know Love this season.

Rescued (part 2)

To read the first part of this two part series, click here: Rescued (part 1)

Leah was like every other newborn baby. Fabulously chubby cheeks, tiny little toes. There were diaper changes and bottles. There was very little sleep. Pushing through the exhaustion and loving on this brand new life who was starting fresh in the world was so good for my soul. I was waking every two hours with a fussy baby, and in the process my soul was waking up, too. The fog lifted. She brought so much healing to my hurting heart. That newborn baby smell alone is good medicine. During that period of time, one scripture stayed on my heart:

For everything there is a season... A time to be born and a time to die... A time to cry and a time to laugh. A time to grieve and a time to dance.” Ecclesiastes 3:1-4

It was Leah’s time to be born. And it was incredible. Even in hard circumstances, even with a hurting mommy. It was on purpose. That was easy to accept. As I embraced her “time to be born” I began to see the more difficult parts of that scripture like  “a time to die” and “a time to grieve” in a different light. Could those somehow be good, too? Yes. I think so. A life just beginning is meaningful, but a life well lived and then completed is meaningful too. It is right to dance and rejoice…but it is right to weep and grieve, too. Both are gifts in their own way. The good given to us by grace…and enough grace given to us to get through the bad. The aching in saying goodbye to a person or a season in our lives serving as a reminder that we were blessed to have had something so hard to let go of. The pain an obvious indication that we are in need of a Savior. Baby Leah was a precious reminder that somehow sorrow and gladness can coexist in the most beautiful way.

While we cared for Leah (and she in turn tended to our hurting hearts) Christy was diligent. Intentional with every moment she spent away from her sweet girl, we were soon called to a meeting with her family to discuss next steps. Christy’s family was understandably terrified to know there were “strangers” caring for their own flesh and blood. It was a miracle the way an hour together eased their fears. All of their hesitations were gone and they welcomed our help. It wasn’t anything we said or did. There weren’t words or actions sufficient. It was the grace of God alone that gave them peace. The moment we joined hands as one family and prayed for God’s direction is a moment I will hold on to forever.

While we shared our hearts, my concern for Christy grew. She would not join us or her family. She stayed in the car of the parking lot. After some time passed, I asked her mom if it would be okay for me to go out and speak to her. She agreed. The shame in that car was palpable. Christy wept uncontrollably. She was humiliated to share with her family that she needed Safe Families. She said she felt unworthy of our help and like a failure and an inconvenience. I joined her in the weeping as I reminder her that she was strong and courageous; that a mom who has the strength and selflessness to say “this is more than I can handle and I need help” is not a failure. She’s a hero.

She seemed to calm, but made it clear that she was feeling the separation and divide I spoke about in my first post. The one we so desperately try to avoid. The one that implies that the moms that utilize Safe Families are insufficient and the volunteers are superior.  I knew I had to get real with her. It was a risk. She may not want her baby being cared for by a person who actually DOESN’T have it all together. I had to let go of my pride and open up about the things I was learning.

“Christy-you are not a charity case. You have been a help to us as well. You should know that my Dad has brain cancer…stage 4…” I told her everything. I told her about my summer, and about my sadness. I told her about the way I saw death everywhere until I saw her baby and was finally able to see life again. I told her that we had set out to be rescuers but that she had rescued our family right back. She hugged me and said “I had no idea.” When she pulled away there was no judgement, no fear, and best of all no shame. There was joy. She smiled and said “God knew that I needed you and that you needed me, too. That’s so cool.” She was right.

You’ve heard me say it before and I’m sure I’ll say it again-Safe Families is messy work. It is hardly ever the case that a story wraps up in a neat, pretty bow. But I’m happy to say that after a couple of weeks Christy and Leah were reunited and stable. Christy is doing an awesome job parenting and we get updates from time to time on baby Leah. Where Leah has grown physically, Christy has grown in her confidence and in her joy. She has grown in her relationship with God and in her ability to trust others. And because of her, I have grown, too. At the heart of it, life is meant to be lived together. Those in seasons of joy and those in seasons of pain walking alongside each other. I’m so thankful to have walked some of my path with Christy and Leah.

Rescued (part 1)…

I have waited to write this blogpost out of respect for the Mommy we hosted for who valued privacy. It’s a long story so I will be sharing it as a series, part 1 today….part 2 tomorrow (or later this week…we’ve currently got a different little houseguest in our home and I’m working around her schedule!) I will not share pictures of this Mommy or her baby (although they are both beautiful). I will not share their real names. But their story, which became part of our story, is something that I have thought about frequently. And I’m excited to share.

When you have been rescued by a loving God-all of that love overflows and you find yourself wanting to be a rescuer in return. That is why I love Safe Families for Children. We don’t have all the answers, but we can reach out a hand to a family who is drowning and they can use our hand to pull themselves out of the water. Then we get to figure out the rest of it together. Hosting is the best way we can reflect what the Lord has done for us over and over again.

If we’re not careful, watching the weight of families in crisis can create a divide. Sometimes the trauma they have experienced is so far beyond anything I have ever experienced that I can start to feel separation. A hierarchy, levels of “togetherness” or who has been hurt worse is exactly what we do NOT want. We are all broken. We all need Jesus. Their sin is ugly, but so is all of mine and the blood that Jesus shed is enough to cover all of it. I try to avoid allowing that divide to creep in. Sometimes the Moms help me with that, like in the story  I’m sharing with you today. For the purposes of sharing, we will call the Mom “Christy” and the baby we hosted, “Leah.”

We got the text. The one from our Safe Families coordinator. “Call me, I need to talk to you about a potential hosting.”

And before I knew any of the information my gut reaction was “absolutely not.” I responded with a passive aggressive text about it not being a good time to host. In reality, I was hurting so deeply that I could not have imagined trying to pour into another family.

My Safe Families coordinator-sometimes seeing more in me than I see in myself, pressed in. She shared Christy’s story. We would need to pick baby Leah up straight from the hospital as she had just been born. Christy was scared and the description she gave to our coordinator of what she hoped for in a hosting only matched one family-ours. I knew it was God. I said a nervous yes and we prepared to bring a newborn home.

I had just spent the summer in Florida with my parents and sister, the majority of that time away from my husband and missing him dearly. Dad did chemo and radiation and we joined him for an oncology appointment. It was valuable time that I am still so grateful for…but it was a lot of hard. I was having a really difficult time transitioning back to our life here in Texas.

I have recently learned that if you don’t deal with your grief, your grief will deal with you. And it’s usually ugly. Well, my grief was dealing with me. The storm that had hit our family in April felt unrelenting and all I could think about was death. The uncertainty, not only of how long my dad had, but how long ANY of us had to live. How fragile our days are and how little control we actually have. God was faithful to offer comfort, but my soul continued to ache. Death. It was everywhere I looked. And I was so sad.

And then we walked into the hospital room.

I saw a scared Mommy and in her arms she held the opposite of death. New life. Staring me right in the face. I instantly loved them both. I forgot my own grief for a minute, I got down low on my knees by Christy’s hospital bed so that I could purposely look up into her face and I said “We want you to know that we love you already and we think you are so brave for being able to ask for help. What questions can we answer to help you find peace?”

And I swear to you that I myself came alive again in that hospital room. I remembered who I was. What my purpose is. And instead of being consumed with death, I became more determined than ever to live out that purpose for as long as there is still breath in my lungs.

 

Faith Over Fear

https://www.bonfirefunds.com/faith-over-fear-fundraiser

With a little over 4 hours left until Daddy’s t-shirt fundraiser is over I wanted to post a heartfelt thank you. We sold 20 shirts! 20 people intentionally purchasing an article of clothing that supports my Daddy…that represents his battle…that reminds us to choose faith. There are no words. (11/17/15 UPDATE-the fundraiser ended with 27 shirts purchased! We are so touched by the acts of kindness towards my Daddy! When your shirts arrive, please send picture so we can show them to him!!)

Some of you didn’t buy shirts but have still helped my parents out monetarily. Others have dropped meals off. There are people who have set alarms on their phone to pray for my Dad at the same time every day. There are people who have consistently checked up on my sister and I. There have been texts of encouragement sent to mom. Some of you have shared scripture or uplifting songs. All of it has meant so much.

At the beginning of this year I would have never guessed we’d be fundraising for my parents. 2015 has had some ugly, difficult moments. But, there has also been so much beauty. The way people have shown up has been beautiful. The way God has used our pain for good has been beautiful. The comfort and peace our family has found in moments where comfort and peace should not even be possible has been beautiful. Thank you to each and every one of you who has been a part of this journey. Thank you for making it more beautiful.

I don’t know what the future holds. We don’t have answers about what comes next. That doesn’t scare me like it used to though. I am more confident than ever that we are loved so much. I find myself less and less frequently wanting to ask God why he allows certain things to happen. I find myself less frequently trying to get my own way. I find myself more and more humbled and grateful that God is enough and that He knows what He is doing. He is good. He is good AND He holds my Daddy in His hands-so whatever the outcome, it’s okay. Please continue to pray for my family. Pray for my Mom as she cares for my Dad. Pray for my sister and I to have continued peace. Pray my Dad will continue to have good energy. Pray for healing. Pray for time well spent. Pray for a cure for glioblastoma. But more than anything else, pray for God’s will to be done.

Thank you, friends. For your love, for your support and for your prayers.

 

 

Happy 7th Adoption Day, Layla!

On this day seven years ago- morning came with no sleep, but plenty of adrenaline and excitement to push us through. We dressed our 4 1/2 month old Layla and our 4 day old Bryson. Between morning feedings and trying to get dressed ourselves we barely made it out on time. We snapped them in their car seats and rushed over to the courthouse.

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We stood before a kindhearted judge who thanked us for giving him a break from the long list of child support and custody cases he typically deals with in family court. He asked if we committed to love, support, provide for and protect Layla and we answered with an emphatic yes. He mentioned that it was obvious by her confident eye contact and slobbery baby smile that she was already doing so well with us. And then just like that, he declared us Layla’s Mommy and Daddy. And we walked out the same family that we were when we walked in…but there was so much peace in it being official.

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I read our paperwork at least 10 times that day…but especially this part: “The final judgement of adoption creates a relationship between the adoptee and petitioners that would have existed if the adoptee was a direct blood descendant….entitled to all rights and privileges thereof, and subject to all obligations of children being born to petitioners.”

She would be ours. Forever. For real. No different than the 4 day old I held in my arms who came directly from me. Isn’t that incredible? I still can’t get through this day without weeping at the magnitude of what that means. She did not come from me, but she is mine.

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Adoption is the greatest miracle God has done in our family. And not just because it brought us our sweet, vivacious, energetic girl. But because scripture says that God has adopted US as sons and daughters. And just like Layla’s adoption papers say about her…from the moment we made the choice to follow Jesus, a relationship was created between us and the Father, so that we are entitled to all rights and privileges thereof. That is so humbling. So today I’m grateful for adoption. I’m so thankful for the little girl that I still can’t believe I get to call daughter. And I’m so thankful that God calls me HIS daughter.