Tuesday, August 16, 2016

What's it like with two kids?

Some questions are hard to answer.

For our family, we’ve come to realize there are a host of family-related questions that have no simple answers.

After our biological son was born (Big Brother A), we took a leap of faith and started our foster care journey. We’ve had four children in our home over the last 3 years. One of those children stayed in our home for a significant amount of time. Baby S came to our home at six weeks old and stayed with us until a few months shy of his second birthday.

That’s a year and a half in our home. We were mom and dad. We celebrated a birthday. We took family vacations. Then over a painful few months he transitioned back to live with his biological mom. Now we have an empty crib (when we moved to our new home Big Brother A asked to have the crib in his room because he missed Baby S). And we have family pictures on our walls that include a boy that people don’t see when they visit.

Then came Baby Gigi. Now about 2 weeks old, she is our second biological child.

And when you have a new baby, anyone and everyone wants to catch a glimpse and they have lots of questions. They inevitably ask about the labor. They always ask if you are getting enough sleep. And then they turn to Big Brother A and say some variant of:

How do you like being a big brother?

Everyone means well. We are not out to catch people with a “gotcha” whenever they ask this. But my wife and I often get a little chuckle and cast knowing glances to each other.

They tell him that they think he will be a good big brother. Yes. He will be a good big brother. He’s already got four other younger siblings and almost two total years of experience in this department.

This next question comes from people who don’t know us well. They know we have a new baby, but they aren’t sure what the rest of our family looks like. It’s a harmless question, but we are never sure how to answer...

What number child is this for you?

I feel like saying “two” doesn’t accurately describe our family and it definitely short-changes the impact those babies had on our family. But saying “six, but three were only here for a short time and one was for a year and a half but he’s back with his biological mom” is way more than they were asking for (like when someone asks how you are doing and all they are really looking for is “fine”).

I guess what they ultimately mean if pressed is “How many kids are in your home right now?” That’s a fair question. After I answer politely, the inevitable follow-up is…

How is the transition to two?

It’s about the same as the last four times we transitioned to two.

I absolutely love that this is a messy question for us. Our family’s unofficial motto is “Walk towards the mess.” Time and time again God did that for us. When humans were at their worst and running hard away from their creator, God decided to wade into the mess of humanity to bring a solution. He did it by choosing one man, Abraham, to build a unique relationship. He did it by choosing an unlikely king, David, to forge a unique nation. He did it by becoming a man Himself, Jesus, to bring us back to Him. Time and time again God has rolled up his sleeves and moved deep into the mess to make things right.

We want to do just that. When things are hard, we want to turn towards the mess and not run from it.

There are easier ways for us to grow our family. There are safer ways for our kids to engage with ministry. There are simpler ways for us to help those in need.

But God didn’t choose a simple solution. He chose to die for us.

The least I can do is try to figure out how to answer the messy question “What’s it like with two kids?”

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Ten Days

Hello, world!

Ten days ago, we added "Baby Gigi" to our family. (Gigi is the name Big Brother A calls her, so we'll borrow it for our blog.)

She's absolutely wonderful. We're so thankful for a second "forever baby". After a difficult pregnancy and a very busy month trying to get our new house all in order before the baby arrived, it's so great to just be home with our baby, settling in and making plans that don't include lists of home repairs or closets to organize and that don't require my phone timer going off all day reminding me to eat the right things at the right times and then prick my finger an hour after! Our new normal has been much anticipated and I'm so filled with joy and so excited that we are finally here.

As we've mentioned before, we're on pause from foster care right now as we settle in with our new house and new baby. We want to give Baby Gigi her time to be in the spotlight and Big Brother A time to adjust before we reallocate our time and energy into another little foster brother or sister. And we're still tracking with Baby S, too.

Even though we're not doing foster care at the current moment, it has changed things. It changes the way I see our current journey. I can't go a day without feeling the enormity of how blessed we are. Before foster care, I thanked God that we had a home and that we weren't living on the streets. I thanked God that we were healthy and that our marriage was better than we deserved, by God's grace.

But I've learned that our blessing goes so much beyond these things. I'm learning that I'm not a better person because of my good choices; rather, I'm a better person only by God's power working in me and if I had dealt with some of the situations birth families deal with, maybe I'd be surprised at how much I'd look like them. God is big enough to meet their needs and we are all responsible for our choices; difficult situations do not excuse sin. But my list of blessings that I thank God for has expanded.

In my home, we have the education to make wise choices for the health of our child, both in pregnancy and now that she's here on the outside. We have the resources to look up information when we're unsure of something. We have access to incredible and supportive doctors as well as a health insurance plan that allows us to receive their care when needed. We have a network of people to help us in an instant - with caring for Big Brother A when we were in the hospital, with meals to help ease the transition, and with moving our stuff and unpacking to make our settling-in process so much faster and smoother. I cannot picture an emergency situation where we could not get help from a dozen different families and this is a blessing bigger than I can describe. (Northridge is an awesome community of people who love Jesus and love each other; we'd seriously love for you to check it out if you've never experienced this kind of family before!)

The list goes on, but I think you get it. Blessed beyond measure. And I cannot see my newest little baby except through this lens.

Today, Baby Gigi is ten days old. I've been looking ahead and counting down to this milestone. It's been a bittersweet reminder to see this day approaching. Baby M was ten days old when he came to us. I've watched Baby Gigi grow and learn so much in the last ten days. She has learned that she can cry to communicate. She has learned that when she's hungry, mommy will feed her. She has learned my face; she will stop crying in my arms even before she's eating because she knows food is coming. She has learned that there are other people who come and go from our home; kind and gentle people who talk over her in sweet voices and stroke her soft hair. And she has learned that there are three constant, stable people who are always here with her. She's learning family. She's learning stability. She's soaking in love at every moment. We can't get enough of her.

But my Baby M? He had lived in FOUR places by the time he came to us. He could cry to be fed in three of those. He was physically cared for in three and loved and nurtured in at least two. But there was no stability. There were no attachments forming. He was learning aloneness. He was learning constant change. The smells were always different; the sounds were never dependable; he didn't know who would answer his hunger cry, or what the formula would taste like, or what kind of bottle he'd have that time.

And his mama? She was probably feeling a lot like I am right now, physically. Still sore and tired. Probably still dealing with a milk supply that wasn't going to be feeding her baby. A little hormonal and emotional, but without the happiness and peace and beauty of her baby to keep her going when she was tired and overwhelmed. Her nights were still sleepless, but she didn't have her baby there to feed. His baby things were set up and ready in her home, but he wasn't there.

So while I soak up all the sweet moments and kiss my baby for the hundredth time today, I choose to feel blessing, not pride, at where we are and what life looks like in our home. While I snuggle my sweet forever baby, I pray for the mamas who choose adoption for their little ones, who fight through long hard pregnancies and difficult labors and make the very brave and loving choice to let someone else walk out of the hospital with a new baby in their arms. I pray for the mamas who thought this would be the baby they could finally keep, only to have their child immediately removed into foster care; mamas going home with an empty womb and an empty carseat. I pray for the mamas who did succeed in providing their children care for a time, only to have them taken away later. I thank God that he has a role for us in a few of these families, and I pray that he could use us not just to love on little ones, but to help moms and dads to feel love, stability, and acceptance - maybe for the first time.

I want to say bringing home my biological baby is no different than bringing home a foster baby. It's simply not true. I love them just the same. But there's a kind of instant, fierce protective instinct over those little foster babies that is replaced by pure gratitude and awe in my forever baby. There's a part of me that rises up with a readiness to fight and an extra rush of adrenaline to answer every whimper before it's even escaped their lips when it's my job to teach an older baby the lessons of love and nurture and responsiveness that my newborn is learning now. I love them just the same. But there's something different about holding a child whose future is so uncertain. You have to do all your fighting for them right now, because you might not get a chance tomorrow. When I hold my forever baby, I hear all of the people who've held their forever babies and then asked me, "Isn't it hard to say goodbye to a foster baby?" My heart breaks a little because I cannot picture saying goodbye to my Baby Gigi. But then I remember the fight that rises up inside of you when you're loving on a possibly-temporary child; and because the bits of love you can give them might have to last them a very long time, you love them hard and you love them without reservation. Your heart can handle another break, because they need this and because you love them enough to break for them.

I am so thankful for my forever babies. I look ahead eagerly to the day where we continue foster care. Eagerly, and with a lot of sadness and some nerves, too, because it's never easy, and you don't go a day of loving a foster child without remembering that their future is uncertain and wishing desperately you could fix things for them. I continue to pray for the babies who left, because God is big and good and he has not forgotten them.

And I breathe in the smell of my baby's hair and stroke her tiny toes and find immense joy in storing up her clothes for the coming year knowing that she'll still be here to wear them.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Houses and Babies and Very Good Things and Very Hard Things

So, it's kind of been a while since I have written.

Long enough that I had to stop and think about what website I use to blog when I sat down today.

Life has been moving really fast. In some areas, it has moved forward quickly, and there have been exciting things to plan for and to keep us busy. In some areas, it has moved backwards, quickly and painfully. These are things I cannot write much about, because it is not my information to share. But the pull between the very good and the very hard has been a challenge for me.

Our second biological baby is due in less than a month. I am so very excited to meet our little girl, and as the date approaches, I have been more able to fully experience the joy of anticipating her arrival. But this has been a hard thing for me. This pregnancy has not been an easy one. The fact that we were going through hard things with Baby S throughout did not mean we got to experience an easy pregnancy in exchange. I was sick a lot in the beginning... and the middle. I finally felt like I was hitting the second trimester "easy stage" with just a few weeks left to the second trimester. That was a good three weeks. And then I started to feel off and tired and just not right, with the occasional return of morning sickness. Yay. Shortly after that, I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes, and that has been a constant challenge. Half my brain is devoted to counting carbs and proteins and how long until the next time I need to check my blood sugar. I have forgotten all math, science, psychology... every grown-up topic and all the smart things I used to have in my brain from college... because I have replaced that information with how many carbs are in a serving of green peppers or a slice of Wegman's White Whole Wheat Bread. The up side to this is that, for the first time in my pregnancy, I do feel some measure of control over how I feel. There are actual numbers that I can use to help myself feel better. It's a pretty big job to keep track of it.

It goes everywhere I go. And attacks my finger no matter where I am. Sorry, other people at Home Depot who don't like blood.

And through all the sickness and sometimes feeling weak and sometimes feeling discouraged, life keeps moving forward. We bought a house. That's super exciting, but we didn't know when we were moving in, so that was another holding pattern in my life that threatened to raise my anxiety levels. I saw myself losing energy with the pregnancy and losing time to pack and move and unpack, and I had to be very conscious of not letting myself spiral into a whole lot of worrying. I think I mostly did okay with not worrying, by God's amazing power, through a LOT of prayer and God's amazing ability to give me just what I need from whatever part of the Bible I happen to be going through in my reading plan. (By the way, being pregnant and not able to sleep at night is really awesome for helping me learn to pray more and WANT to pray more. I am actually not being sarcastic when I say that it has been totally worth the sleepless hours to be able to intimately wrestle through my hard things with God.)

And... there's my Baby S. He's been gone for almost half a year. He is not doing well. We have watched him spiral. It is very hard. It is hard for us, and for birth parent. We are still working together even though he is no longer technically involved with us as a foster care placement. In my high school and college years, the things we are witnessing now would have made me sick with worry. I still struggle to constantly re-decide to trust God with Baby S's future, and the weight of that struggle and that pain is very heavy, but I am thankful for my very-imperfect progress and continue to ask God to help me grow in this area. And I have seen him faithfully doing that, even though I don't deserve it and never could have grown even this much on my own. I'm not sure that I've learned not to worry, but I have learned to bring all of my worries to God, and the more I do this, the more I feel joy growing stronger in this struggle between the very-good and the very-hard.

When outside people ask about my life, I tell them that I'm expecting a baby any-time-ish, and that my family just moved into our first house, and that we have an almost-five-year-old who's super excited to be a big brother. Sometimes if they keep poking, we talk about foster care, and I give a polished answer and get the "oh wow that's so great!" and "now you have your own boy and girl so your family is complete even though you have babies who have left you!" type answers. I hear how awesome my life is right now, and how exciting my life is, and how happy I must be about the house and the baby.

And I'm going for transparency here, so I'm going to honestly tell you that this response causes me pain every time. I am excited. I am very thankful for these amazing good gifts that God has given to me.

But... I'm thankful because I have fought a spiritual battle this spring and summer, and wrestled with grief and weakness and pain, and because I am grasping at gratitude that God offers despite my tendency to focus on the hard over the good. And I'm filled with joy over these amazing gifts because I have wrestled through many hours of painful nighttime prayers, trying to grasp God's goodness and the brokenness of my Baby's situation, and choosing to believe that God is in control even when my heart wants me to be in control.

So it's a painful joy. A painful excitement. It is solemn more than jumping up and down. It is sometimes logical more than it is emotional.

I think this is okay. I think there are times we will wrestle deeply to claim joy. I know that God has been keeping my heart and my head open and aware of these issues in my life. He has taught me my patterns, and I now have a toolbox to go to when I start to feel anxious, depressed, or distant from God. I have great hope that God is making me more like him and I am praying that he will help my heart to want the things that he wants. It will be okay.

It will be okay because God, not because me. And so I want to acknowledge these struggles. I want to truthfully recognize that sometimes we can get good things that we have been waiting for a long time, and it can be hard. If you are there with me, I want you to know that I get it, and I'm praying for you. Thankfulness and pain and joy and hurt can live together, and they can be so overwhelming that it can be a fight not to shut down.

I'm making it, and my joy every day is real, and my trust is real, and they are more real for the fact that I can feel that they should not exist at all in broken me, and that they must therefore come from God, who is the giver of every good and perfect gift.

I'm thankful. I love my life. It's maybe a more grown-up and solemn kind of love than I expected, or the strangers in the grocery store expect. I'm praying that this grows me into a deeper person, a more passionate person, a more unmovable person with Jesus as my rock who doesn't move even in the very worst storms. I'm praying that cynicism stays far from me and that I would not allow bitterness to take root. (And good grief, that my pregnancy brain would let the spelling part wake back up, because I thought I knew how to spell these words and spellcheck keeps calling me out.)

And the house? It's amazing. It's beyond my comprehension that it's ours. I am so thankful for years of watching other people get houses while we worked through trying to do big things in a small space, because I would not have been as healthy in my new house if I hadn't had a chance to grow truly satisfied with apartment living and small spaces and a lack of permanency. I think this is such an amazing reminder of how God is going to use my current hurts to bring growth that I will be better for some day. God can use my present circumstances and my future to grow a deep joy and trust that goes far beyond what I could ever imagine.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Moving Forward

I have so many saved blog posts that I'll never publish. I have written in my head, but I can't even explain things in person. Life is messy, and good things are happening, but the hard things still hurt. I'm going to try to push through this post, and we'll just see how much sense it makes in the end, but I feel like I haven't kept you all up to date very well lately so I'm going to give this my best try.

As I mentioned in my Good Friday post, this year has been heavy, and sometimes the bad things are weighty. There's a lot of really great stuff going on in our lives right now, and I am so very thankful. I never want to come off as disinterested in my life or less than excited about the great gifts God gives to my family. There are things I really love about our life.

...Like finding out on vacation that we're having a baby GIRL!

I'm also going for honesty, though, so I'm going to go ahead and say that sometimes it's difficult to grasp the way the very good and very hard come wound together in our lives. I may have a tendency to look at all of the big things as parts of the long list of heavy-stuff-I'm-wrestling-through. I'm excited for the good things, but also overwhelmed by the competing grief and excitement in my head. I have Pinterest boards looking forward to how I'll decorate Big Bro's new room and the new nursery when we move into our first house; and I have vivid memories of Baby S screaming and struggling to free himself so he can come with me as I walk away from him each time we say goodbye. I have beautiful memories of our ultrasound and learning that our new baby will be a little girl; and favorite songs that are wonderfully upbeat and make me cry every time because I used to dance with Baby S to those songs. I go through little baby things for our new little person and I struggle to grasp the reality that I can keep clothes for her that are in sizes she won't see for a year or more, because the last three little people I mothered left with clothes they hadn't yet grown into and stocking up for the years ahead would have been unwise. I have dreams about falling in love with new foster boys or girls and worries about moving forward, limiting my resources, and then finding out that my Baby S needs to come back and needs all of my time and attention that is getting spread thinner and thinner.

And there's still anger, too. There's anger at a system that says one thing and does another. There's frustration - because why make rules at all if the breaking of the rules changes nothing? I'm starting to daydream (and night dream) about the next time we can do foster care, and at the same time, struggling with a lack of trust in this system.

There is joy. We are making the most of the freedom that comes with having only one child, and that child being a fairly independent four-year-old who can do a lot of cool family activities. We went away for a long weekend for a family vacation at an indoor waterpark, and we had so much fun together. I'm trying not to let this waiting time - waiting for Baby S, waiting for our new baby, waiting for our new house without knowing when we can move in - take away the joys of this life, this home, this little beautiful family within my walls right now.

Grief is still tricky. In moments where I've successfully immersed myself in the beauty of now, a child the age of our Baby S can send me rocking backward and struggling to stay present for Big Bro. Songs, places, even foods can bring back such strong and sudden memories, and inconsistently enough that I can't predict when it will happen. Life with Baby S is just far enough away that I sometimes think I've gotten control over these moments, but then there they are again; and Baby S's scream as he sees me walk away from him again makes reconciling his current reality much harder.

God is still good, though. The rock I stand on is this: That God can use even the messiest situations for his good and his glory. He might plan to use Baby S's hard life to build a relationship with my beautiful boy. I know I've written it before; just be thankful you don't have to read it as often as I have to think it, because you'd be totally sick of it by now. And there's this, too: My other little precious babies, both big boys who are older than 2 now, do not become less known to God even as they feel more and more distant from me. I won't get a call if either of those babies come back into care; but God is ever present for them although I can't be.

So there's that. We're moving forward one baby step at a time, laughing and crying at the unpredictability of life, totally in awe that NOTHING is unpredictable to God and finding great hope and comfort in that fact.

Thank you, as always, for the love and support and prayers. We really and truly could not keep moving forward in this journey without the amazing community God has gifted us with. You guys are incredible. We have felt so much support through our goodbyes, and now as we prepare simultaneously for our new hello, the possibility of Baby S returning someday, and our desire to continue fostering after our baby girl arrives, we are so excited and thankful to see how God works through this community to meet the physical needs of growing our family. A crib, a changing table, bags of baby girl clothes, a rock 'n play; there's a whole list of gifts that have come in already, and one of my strongest love languages is gifts, so believe me when I say that each time I see these items and dream about using them with baby girl and future foster children, I feel your love and support all over again! Thank you for filling my home with love and encouragement that actively fight back on days of disappointment, discouragement, and physical weakness (this baby girl is making sure we know she's here, guys!).

You guys are the best.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Bad Things

I know that it's only March, but allow me to say that 2016 has been a really hard year.

We said goodbye to our Baby S, and seeing him still brings pain as we reel through the changes in him and the heartbreak of his confusion and sadness every time we say goodbye again.

We are celebrating our expectation of another biological baby in August. And that's been so much harder than I expected. I have been so sick. I'm just past halfway through this pregnancy, and the magical numbers when morning sickness should disappear have come and gone. Sometimes it gets worse instead of better. Bonding with a baby while saying goodbye to my Baby S and experiencing physical sickness and weakness - what feels like a confusing betrayal by a body that used to be able to serve my family well - it's confusing, to say the least.

We started a house hunt. And oh, boy, adding one more thing to this plate... Wow.

This morning, on Good Friday, I'm thinking of a conversation I had with Big Brother A as we waited for preschool on Monday.

Me: You don't have school on Friday, you know.
A: Why not?
Me: It's Good Friday. Do you know what that means?
A: It's the day Jesus died. But why is it good?

Why is it good? I've processed that before, but never explained it at the spur of a moment. And if I'm honest, it's a question my heart still asks.

Why is all of Jesus' pain and suffering good? Why is an account that still leaves me confused and angry at the injustice and the indignity GOOD? Why is a group of friends running away and abandoning the one they loved, then watching him die as they stand stunned, confused, and out of hope, GOOD?

Why is Baby S leaving good? Why is being so sick that sometimes I can't even serve my family good? Why is being so busy that I'm back to throwing up most days good?

And for that matter, why was Baby S coming ever good? His coming was out of brokenness and pain and a family ripped apart. Why was getting married and then learning to be content in rented apartments, doing foster care in a small space and watching family after family moving forward into houses while we stayed and felt the limitations of where we were in the context of what we wanted to do, ever good? Why is one more very hard thing - being so sick in a time that is already so draining and emotionally difficult- why is that ever good?

Why is it good?

The complete measure of the goodness of what Jesus did for me can only come from the pain and the bad and the hurting of what happened to him. What happened to Jesus was brutal. It was wrong. People sinned when they mocked him, chose to hold illegal trials, found false witnesses to condemn him, and put him to death in a humiliating display between two people who deserved to be where Jesus was. I sinned when I chose, when I still choose, to follow my own way over and over and over again. I sinned and put up an ugly, irreversible wall between myself and God, between myself and Heaven. I made my own future, and it was ugly, brutal, condemning. It was all that Jesus took on himself.

It was bad.

And the goodness of what Jesus did shines from that badness. Every additional day that I live with me, I realize how deep my need for Jesus is. I'm a rule follower at heart, but that does not mean that I am good. It has meant that I want people to see me as good. It has even meant that I thought I was good, that I thought I could win some sort of imaginary prize for doing what's right. And the more I get to know my own heart, the more desperate my situation looks. That pride doesn't want to die. That stubbornness and insistence that I can do it myself, thank you is part of the big, bad, ugly wall that should have kept me away from God.

And Jesus broke that wall in the ugliest moment in history.

The ugliest, most beautiful, most Good moment in history.

This year has been a journey of grasping at hope when the emotional bad is so heavy that I can physically feel it. I've asked God to help, and although the very hardest bad things haven't gone away or gotten better, he's faithfully grown my joy, my purpose, and my hope inside of me in a way I can't explain outside of him. It's been a long, slow process. A lot of days of the process were me learning to just believe that there was hope, that there could be days of light and happiness again - not just the deep joy that doesn't go away; I love and value that, and I long for Heaven. But actual happiness. And as I woke up this morning, I realized that the answer I gave Big Brother A was the one I needed, too.

There has been a lot of hard and bad and sad this year. Jesus doesn't change that part of my life. Jesus told his friends it was going to be hard; he said it would get harder, even, if they followed him. Jesus didn't come to take away the hard.

Jesus came to make the hard mean something. He came to bring hope. He came so that all of my best efforts that fall so short and leave me so spent could somehow, in a way I absolutely don't deserve, bring about God's good and best. He came so that I could rest in him in the very hardest days, trusting that he knows what he's doing even when I don't understand it.

He came so that the months when my loudest cry is How is this Good could have the same answer as Big Brother's question. He came so that the badness and brokenness that still exists could make the Good richer and fuller and more mysterious and beautiful and filling than I could ever ask for or imagine.

The hope in my darkest days isn't in being delivered from the hard. It's from the beauty that glows forth from that hard and makes me long for Heaven as God faithfully uses me to play some small part in pointing others there, too.

The hope is a house - our first house! - found after some long weeks of searching and eight years of apartment living; of tough visits with Baby S and moments when his pain at our goodbye breaks my heart but also reminds me that I'm blessed to still be an influence in his life; of a whole new wave of change and painful transition at our church that's going to be hard, but I'm convinced will lead us in new and exciting places as we make sure our hope for growth has always been in Jesus and not a leader. The hope is more people loving Jesus in Rochester and becoming better followers of Jesus. The hope is finding our perfect house, on the street I drive down sometimes just because I love it so much, and knowing that God will be faithful to bless our move even when sometimes I'm too physically weak to do the laundry and I'm not entirely sure how I'm going to pull off the packing and cleaning involved. The hope is an ultrasound of a healthy baby, and my husband feeling the baby kick for the first time, both giving me moments of intense bonding and being able to finally start to look forward to this little person and see an end to this physical pain even if I am only just halfway through with a hard pregnancy.

The hope is ultimately knowing that these places we are in will still hurt. Some days I'll cry out for hope because I won't feel it. But I will know that God is faithful to refill me when it's time.

I'll know that there is Good in the very darkest, very worst day. That each day, like Good Friday, the Good will shine even brighter because it is happening in the dark places. That God's plan is still what is best, even as Jesus reminds me that the very best and most beautiful plan can also be the most painful.