He Knows

Once upon a time there was a two week old baby girl who Kevin and I wept for and prayed over while pregnant with our son. We loved her fiercely and longed to provide for her the stability that we knew she needed. “Lord, show us what you want us to do and make a way for us to do it.”

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And He did show us. He did make a way. Because He knew. He knew Layla while she was in her birthmother’s womb. Long before Kevin and I dreamed about building a family, God knew what our family would look like. He knew he would prepare our hearts to be her parents. He knew that, though our abilities were limited, our faith in Him was big and none of what would come after that would ever, ever surprise him.

 

Once God did open the door for us to adopt Layla, it was time for us to take action. We had to step out in faith that He would provide. That He had prepared us. That He would continue to guide us. It was one of the best yeses we have ever said.

That same baby that we wept over and prayed for made her own decision today. Like the decision we made to take a leap of faith and say yes, Layla took a leap of faith and said yes to Jesus. She took action and we are so proud of her.

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I’ll be honest, when Layla told us she wanted to be baptized, I was hesitant. Although I was the same age as Layla when I was baptized, it was different. My family had gone from not serving the Lord to finding Jesus and it changed everything. There was a clear line between before we were saved and after. We were baptized at the same time, shortly after accepting Jesus and it was easy to understand because I knew what it was like to not know Jesus. But from the day Layla came to stay we have told her about who Jesus is to us. How we believe he had perfect plans that lead her to us. Layla doesn’t know that clear before and clear after. Her Mommy and Daddy have known Jesus much longer than she has been alive. She didn’t get to see the way that God changed our lives when we accepted him. I was afraid that because of that, she wouldn’t fully understand what she was doing. And I didn’t want her to make the choice to be baptized simply to please us.

My fears were all for nothing. That sweet girl loves Jesus for herself. She started telling me about how hard it gets when her brain goes too fast and she feels like she needs to calm down and that she talks to Jesus and He always calms her down. She told me how she sings to him in her room at night because she just loves him so much. She has her very own relationship with God. And while I hope we have modeled it well, I am confident that we have not forced it. Today Layla said her very own yes. She was just a tiny baby in need of stability and now she is a big girl making her very own choice to follow Jesus. And I can’t even explain how beautiful it was to watch her Daddy, who became her Daddy because of adoption, participate in Layla’s baptism symbolizing that she is adopted into the family of Christ. Wow.

Recently a hailstorm ripped through our small town leaving softball sized holes in roofs and windows. Our home is not livable and we’ve lost a lot of our belongings. We are in an extended stay for what we hope will only be a month. It has been a roller coaster. But all I can think about is the way heaven is rejoicing today. Nothing else matters in comparison. All I can think about is how important it is to live this way:

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.” (Matthew 6:19-20)

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God knew her. And God knows us. He knew that the vivacious little girl who grew in our hearts instead of my tummy would make the big choice to follow Him and He knows the plans He has for her. He also knew exactly where my family would be on this day. He knows all about our current trials and current victories.He knows what is coming next. As we continue to strive to store up our treasures in heaven, as we continue to walk alongside our kiddos showing them that God is always, always enough, we find peace in the promise that He knows. Nothing surprises Him. And He is good.

What it means to host

It’s 4:00 a.m. and she cries. I stumble out of bed and prepare her bottle with eyes half closed. I’m not a morning person, but I find myself smirking at the sight of her sweet happy face. We sit for the bottle and I stare. All I see is her Mom. Bravery. Strength. Resilience. All these things pumping through her blood, encoded deep in her DNA. All these things visible to me…almost palpable…as she takes big gulps of formula. The more fond I grow of baby, the more fond I grow of mother. As her eyes get heavy again, warm and comfortable in my arms, I pray that her mom will know that type of security, too. I pray that soon she will know what it means to feel truly safe. To feel truly loved. I pray that God forges us together as family. That He will help us to trust her and her to trust us. I know that with Safe Families those relationships can take time. But I have seen God come through time and time again and so I pray these things with confidence.

This is Safe Families. A heart filling with love for a sweet little baby while simultaneously loving the baby’s warrior of a mother.

Sometimes it is 4:00 a.m. bottles and rocking baby back to sleep.

Sometimes it is hour long temper tantrums that bring you to tears.

Sometimes it is reading scared toddlers to sleep.

Sometimes it is picking nits out of a stranger’s hair.

Sometimes it’s Facebook pleas and text messages to friends for their old hand me downs when a 3 year old comes with nothing to wear.

It’s often play time and kids movies and rushing to church with extra little ones in the car.

It’s often baking their favorite treats and watching faces light up.

It’s often singing songs and giving cuddles and reassuring Mom that all is well.

But it is always, ALWAYS about love. Love for the little one. Love for the Mommy. Loving without condition because that is how we are loved. And that love changes everything. It just does.

Until the next blog…be blessed.

To Accept the Things I Cannot Change

I am prone to lean towards “control freak” status from time to time. I’ve been that way for as long as I can remember. As a teen and young adult, it tormented me. I struggled for years with an eating disorder upon learning that one thing I could effectively control was food. Time and experience has taught me to surrender. Control is a facade. None of us are really in control of anything. No matter how much we’d like to believe otherwise, we are all just one phone call, one event, one doctor’s visit, one unexpected moment away from our lives being turned upside down. I don’t say that to be melancholy, this realization has strangely brought me so much peace. There is only One who has control. But thankfully, I trust Him. He is good and just and loving and so it is okay. There is freedom in surrender.

Still. This control thing creeps up from time to time. And anxiety breeds rampantly in the mind of someone grasping for control. It is the thorn in my side like the one Paul spoke of in 2 Corinthians. It keeps me from becoming proud. It reminds me of my need for the Peace-Speaker in the midst of my chaos. And so in a way, I am grateful.

Last night my mind wandered down the dark and twisty path it sometimes ends up at. I thought about the burden of living in a world where terrorism, violence, deadly illness and natural disasters are so common it seems ironic to call them news. I thought about how much heavier that burden is living in a world with children. What if one of these awful things touches their lives? I can read for hours about effective ways to help Layla with the needs she has. I can remind the kids to wash their hands and say their prayers (because Jesus & germs are everywhere…). I can teach them about “tricky people” and make them wear helmets and I can find the fine line between teaching them to be brave and keeping them safe. I can always, always pray for them. But even if it goes against every fiber of my Mama Bear instinct I must accept this one thing…I am NOT in control of their lives. Only God is. I have to relinquish any sort of control I try to hold even if it’s under the pretense of wanting to protect them.

I can teach. I can direct. I can discipline and encourage. I can and will spend more hours in prayer for them than I have for anyone else in my entire life. But they will make their own choices, face their own consequences, and experience their own tragedies. I have been placed in the position of responsibility of these precious lives and I will care for them, I will guide them and I will love them so much it hurts. But I must surrender their lives to the One I have surrendered my own life to and trust. He loves them more than I am capable of loving. He is a good Father. It can all fall apart tomorrow and if it does, we will deal with it then…but tonight I will sleep in perfect peace. Because I will choose to trust Him.

Stuff is crazy, ya’ll. In personal lives, in society, in the country, all over the stinkin’ world. And so maybe you’re feeling a little anxious, too. Maybe your mind has ventured off to the dark and twisty places that mine has been. Be encouraged. Be still and know that He is God. Our emotions don’t have to be defined by our circumstances. Choose trust. Choose peace. We can rest in knowing that He is good. Always.

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.

Our Houseguest

She tries to hit and smack and punch. It’s her default. So I hold her hands and get down to her eye level and say “We don’t use our hands to hurt others. We use our hands for love and kindness.” And she stares, confused, because I didn’t yell or hit her back. Then she begins to cry. Not a small cry either. She screams out at the top of her lungs and repeats phrases she has probably heard screamed at her a million times before.

“You’re wearing me out!”

“Get away from me!”

“I’m sick of this!”

She’s three. She has so much anger.

Then, in her fit of frustration she makes her fingers look like a gun and tells me that she’s going to kill me. That she wants me to die. But she doesn’t mean it. What she really wants to kill is her pain…pain that is deeper than what I can understand. Such big feelings for such a small child. So I pick her up off the floor and hug her, stroking her hair and whispering that it’s okay in her ear. When I lift her she is tense and kicking. But soon she goes limp, and rests her head on my shoulder. She is exhausted, but moans out the words “I’m mad.”

And I know she is. I’m mad for her. And we talk about the helpful ways and unhelpful ways that we can deal with our anger and I tell her that it’s okay that she’s angry. I start to list everything she did right during the day, and she smiles. Her eyes get heavy and soon she falls asleep.

But I am wide awake, with the palpable anger that is still left in the room. I pray for strength for us and peace for her and I wonder if her short time in our home will make any difference at all. I wonder if putting small bandages on big wounds will ever be enough. I pray that this is not all in vain. My insufficiency is made all too obvious, but I remain obedient. Because if not us, then who?

Later that day she tells her stuffed animal that  “Mama Jesika say, we only use our hands to love!”  And I rest in the hope that God knows the end of the story, even when I don’t.

Until the next blog…be blessed!

A Special Birthday

I will never forget the night we got the call about our first hosting with Safe Families. And Kevin started his distant drive, long after our kids were in bed. I rushed around on pure adrenaline putting together a toddler bed and pack & play at midnight. He came home in the early morning hours with two scared little girls who wanted their Mommy. I promise you I watched God wrap them up in his arms before I even had a chance to. This whole experience with Safe Families has been so much more about God doing what He needs to do through us and so much less about us actually doing anything but be obedient.

Our phone calls with their Mom were short and awkward. Her pride outweighed nothing but her fear. I wanted to grab on to her but she didn’t want to be held. In her 20 years of life there was no such thing as a person who came through unless they wanted something in return. Though she won’t admit it now, I’m pretty certain she was terrified we were going to take those babies from her. And those babies are her everything. They are her reason. They will be the reason she eventually gets out of that shelter. They are why she doesn’t blow off the steam that accumulates from her difficult life by getting wild and making poor choices. Although there are nights she wishes she could. They are the reason for her 50 hour work weeks with minimum wage pay. They are the reason she dreams. Some days, they are the only reason she lives.

After they were back safely in her arms, she could finally breathe again.  At first, when she realized we still wanted to be apart of her life even without the girls in our home, she was defensive. She waited to find out what we really wanted from her. Then she waited to see if we would give up on her after she lost the job that would give her a better life because it wouldn’t work with daycare hours. But we kept on calling. Kept on texting. Even when she wouldn’t respond. A year later, God has woven our hearts together and now she calls us family. And we love her so!

Her oldest turns 3 next month. And you know how you spend hours agonizing about a Pinterest-perfect party with matching favors and décor? She’s just figuring out how to have enough money in her budget for a pizza that day. But she doesn’t believe in taking handouts so when we offered to help she wasn’t interested. Until we came up with the idea to have our daughter and her daughter celebrate their birthdays together. That didn’t feel like a handout to her. It felt like family. It felt safe to her. And we want her to feel safe.

Next month we will load the Suburban up with wrapped gifts. We will make the hour drive across the metroplex again. But this time, it will be to celebrate a sweet little girl whose Mommy has made a million right choices even when she gets push back with each one. On that day, she won’t worry about being short money or stuck in a shelter. She won’t think about her broken down car or when she will find a better job. There will be playing and pizza and cake. And the kids will meet Mr. Chuck E. Cheese in the flesh and either scream with joy or terror (it’s really a toss-up with that mouse!).  I will take an obscene amount of pictures and love on their Mommy every second that she lets me. She will step out for a minute to smoke a cigarette and I will watch our kids play and I know I will feel God there. Because this is what the kingdom of heaven is like. We are all poor and we are all rich and it doesn’t matter which of us lives in the shelter and which of us lives in a house. We are family. All of her struggles listed next to mine, all of my accomplishments listed next to hers….it all means nothing because we are equally and fully loved by a Savior who gave his life for both of us. There is no difference. And He is most evident in the moments that we live like this fact is true.

Until the next blog…be blessed!

Jordyn

We sit by the window, enjoying the tiny streams of light that peak through the clouds. I help her trace letters. From time to time she gets frustrated and says, “I can’t!”

I lean down to her ear and say “Yes you can, baby. You can tell me that it’s hard, and that’s okay. We’ll keep trying. But don’t ever say you can’t.”

She tries again and gets it right. We cheer about it and I pray that she learns, deep in her soul, not so much about writing letters, but about trying when it’s hard. About not being afraid to fail.

She is beautiful sitting there tracing her letters. She looks so old.

But she will never be this young again.

Ever.

I stare long enough to catch her attention and she looks up and smiles so big. I take in all of her 3-year-old beauty and ask God to help me appreciate her to the fullest.

May we live intentionally with our children; taking every opportunity to teach and to love. May the thankless and never ending tasks of parenthood not keep us so preoccupied that we miss the moments that could become memories. And may we hold on to these precious times and remember that our children will never be this young again.

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Until the next blog…be blessed!