Wednesday, October 19, 2016

A Moment for the Hellos

There has been a lot of time spent processing goodbyes in our household. Goodbyes are painful, whether we spend months preparing for them or get a phone call that they're happening in an hour. Goodbyes are one of the first things people think about when they hear "foster family", and their impact lasts a long time, so we've talked about them a lot.

But as we're gearing up to launch back into foster care in the next couple of months, I want to take a moment for the hellos.

Our hello moments didn't have people ready with cameras for family photos and first moments together. There weren't balloons or flowers. The pictures we do have had to remain private, and we couldn't share names or details of why our children came to us or what they had experienced. The days and weeks after a placement involve many meetings and appointments, lots of trial and error, and then the straightforward exhaustion of sleeplessness with little babies. Most of the stories, images and memories from those first days with each of our children have remained within our own household.

So I want to talk about the hellos now, before we're back in the midst of the chaos. About the beauty, excitement and tragedy of bringing home someone else's baby.

When my home is open and ready for a child, I jump at every phone call. Everything stops to answer the phone. The phone comes everywhere. I answer every unrecognized number at any time of day, because even though I'm perfectly aware that the county will call from a county number, I can't stand the thought of missing out on a phone call. (I know this is irrational. I'm over it.) A missed call or a dead phone battery could mean someone else takes the call and the child is placed elsewhere. (Probably still with a family that is loving and wonderful, so I feel like kind of a bad person saying this, but it's disappointing to realize major life change was a moment away and you missed it.)

Those moments of answering the phone and finding out that it's one of those calls are full of adrenaline and excitement. Shaking hands, running around trying to find note paper, but writing on a scrap or an envelope instead because everything is happening quickly. Not much information - maybe a birthday, a name, a race, some background information. Trying to jot down every detail and carry on a conversation, all while trying to make the major decision of whether or not to make this child a part of my family. Asking questions, knowing the odds of getting answers are slim - and the odds of getting correct answers are even more slim, because again, no one has very much information, and sometimes what little there is isn't deemed important for the foster parent (we can talk that one over another time). Even the few details we get have to be taken with a grain of salt - birthday, parent history, even a child's name, can all be wrong in those first phone calls.

By the time I'm off the phone, I've made a huge life decision, all while jotting down notes and carrying on a conversation; yet somehow there's already a twelve-step to-do list in my mind by the time I hang up. Then I'm running around, texting family and close friends to announce our new addition, contacting the pediatrician and the child's case worker. Putting laundry through the wash, all in various sizes because who knows how big this child will be. Grabbing diapers and pacifiers of varying sizes and shapes because, again, I know nothing about the child. I'm sterilizing bottles from storage and getting out the can of formula we keep for backup; changing the crib sheets; packing a diaper bag; rearranging my schedule for the next few days...

All this happens while the situation is still up in the air. I remember the day Big Brother A and I got a call for a 10-month-old baby boy while we were at the beach. I still can't believe that I heard the phone ring from the water. They would let me know by 4:00 if R came into care. They didn't, and he didn't. I still pray for that baby. The hello never happened, but just knowing he was there made a place for him in my heart. I will forever pray for him by name. Even that whisper of a hello is a beautiful privilege.

Our very first foster baby hello.

The first baby who did come... The first call after three months of certification. That baby was already in care. That situation was different than many, because he was in an emergency foster home. He was clean. He was dressed in clothes that fit, that weren't stained. We knew when he should eat next and what kind of formula to use. We knew his age, his name, his situation. The next day, we found out that the situation wasn't what we'd been told, and he left. But the hello was beautiful. Soaking in a new little person. Knowing that in ten days, he'd lived in four places. Wanting to show him what love looks like for as many days as we had. Treasuring him, even when he wouldn't sleep at night, because he needed to be treasured, because he needed to know what home feels like. Josh and I sitting next to him at 4 am, awed by the beautiful details in his perfect little toes and fingers, trying to learn his face and ears by heart, stroking his sweet, soft hair. Beautiful hello.

And the next baby. He was in the hospital. They didn't know if he'd be discharged that day or the next. I got a call back that he needed to stay one more day and we couldn't go to be with him that night because we'd be in danger from a birth parent. We mourned the chance to spend the night in the hospital with our baby, our baby we had never met, so that he would not be alone. I was SO EXCITED and distracted when I got the follow-up call that he was definitely coming to us that I ran not one, but TWO loads of wash with NO clothing in them. (Remember, that was in our pay laundry era, so that's $3.00 in quarters!)

I packed his going-home bag. Four months old, but to us, the outfit I picked would be his first. The day he came home would be the day he joined our family. This was my first medically fragile child. I didn't have a clue how big he'd be or what his needs would look like, but I was ready to learn. I had to leave my husband and Big Bro A at home, because the situation wasn't safe for Big Bro. This time we wouldn't all meet the baby at once. The feeling of wandering into the hospital to pick up a baby - surreal, exciting, nerve-wracking. I learned that there's a social services room in the hospital. I was brought to my little Baby Z and left in his room while logistics were sorted out. A nurse came in to introduce us, showed me the baby, and asked if that was who I was there for. I didn't even know his race; I couldn't have told her if it was the wrong baby! How quickly can you bond with a baby if you're not sure it's the right one yet?? Beautiful baby; uncertain hello.

I remember getting information overload on how to care for this special baby, and asking them to write it all down for me. There were discharge papers I wasn't allowed to sign because I wasn't his legal guardian. A county worker was there for that. I was amazed at how much the hospital staff LOVED my baby. They had nicknames for him. They knew what he liked and didn't. Some told me memories of their weeks with him, and that they would miss him. If I had known how loved he was already, I wouldn't have felt quite as sad about having to wait one more day to meet him. Being in the hospital did not mean he was alone.

I wasn't allowed to carry him to the car. I wasn't even allowed to use my clean, safe, sturdy infant carrier carseat. I had to place him in the dirty, broken infant carrier with the strap only on one side from his birth family, "so he would stand out less". I was escorted to the parking garage by security people, who checked around corners and inside elevators for the relative who might attack if she saw me with her baby. A nurse pushed a hospital cart full of beautiful new items people had given our little guy so he'd have his own things. They left me in the parking garage, hoping I didn't find out what baby's relative looked like by meeting her face to face! I switched him to our carseat and loaded the trunk: our diaper bag; beautiful donated items that were just oozing with the love of many different people; and the not-so-nice things his family had brought to the hospital with him, never anticipating that they would be going home with someone else - that their baby would be going home with someone else.

I brought him upstairs to our apartment, where he met my husband and son for the first time. That was beautiful. Another beautiful hello. Even the evil cat came to sniff sweetly at his tiny, gorgeous little curls. Beautiful moments, all ours. No family pictures, just snapshots of one or another of us getting to know this precious boy. Beautiful pictures that we would look back on after he left in two weeks, amazed at how much change had already happened. Dry skin was smoothed; cracked and rough hands were healed. His thin face had rounded out; his sad and lonely cry had been replaced by a smile and the most beautiful baby giggle. Joyful boy.

And the third baby. Big Brother A and I were out getting groceries, and I got the call in the checkout line at Wegmans. I rudely took it, and I'm so glad I did! So I was putting groceries on the checkout belt, trying to remember all the information coming from the homefinder with no ability to write it down, and feeling so rude about ignoring the cashier. In the meantime, Big Bro decided he wasn't getting enough attention and opened up a box of elbow macaroni and dumped the ENTIRE box on the floor! So we had the cashier, the kind maintenance person, the person getting our new box of pasta, a cranky 2-year-old, and me still rudely on the phone! They were, of course, very courteous and forgiving, because Wegmans customer service is awesome. Such a memory!

That call was a probably-later pickup. We went out as a family to have lunch together, and we got the definitely-come-now call right after lunch. All of us went together that time. We went to a county building, the same one we'd visited for our goodbye with Baby M. We parked in the loop. I got out of the car and walked up to the door with an empty baby carrier. I waited for a few minutes with the people who were loitering outside. Then a case worker came down with a baby, a toy, and a diaper bag. I vividly remember thinking it was a little inappropriate for the random person sitting on the stone wall next to me to say "oh, he's going with her? I'll take him!!!" and how shocking it was that they just handed me the baby and his things without any ID or signatures (I hope they looked up my face in a file somewhere first!). And then I latched the infant carrier in the car, and we drove away, with a new baby that two people in the car hadn't even looked at yet! We had our moment of introduction at home, alone. Sweet and beautiful. Another hello.

Hellos for us are blurry text pictures to family and close friends, family movie nights and frozen pizzas. Hellos are trips to Wal-Mart where well wishers congratulate me on how skinny I am for having such a young baby and then give my husband and I very puzzled looks when they realize how very white we both are! Hellos are new clothes that a baby never gets to wear, that become sweet hopes packed away for another baby who might come some day. Hellos are wondering if this baby has had a bottle before. Did they nurse? Is their mommy still healing from delivery? Is she okay? What is she thinking and feeling right now? Does their daddy even know? Are there siblings missing this sweet babe? What does his new sibling think of him? Is this the first day of forever, or one in a numbered set? Hellos are taking pictures of every moment and every first, even though it's just a first for us, because maybe we'll be the one making a baby book for that little one. Maybe this will be the story we'll tell our child someday. Maybe we'll have the privilege of sharing their forever as friends, even if they aren't in our home. Maybe we'll be able to send a CD of pictures with them when they leave so that this chapter of their lives will be beautiful and loving, not blank and unknown. Maybe we will have the ability to give bio family glimpses of the precious moments they missed.

Every moment in foster care is bittersweet. The hellos and goodbyes are equally precious, beautiful, and heartbreaking. They leave you wrestling with a thousand questions and thoughts that have no answers, and you have to just surrender and enjoy the baby smell. You treasure the outfit they came in, even if it was dirty and mismatched, because that's how you met. You treat the toys and blankets they brought along with care, because what if that's all you'll have to share with them some day about their first home? (But if the baby isn't attached to the smell... You wash them. Because yikes.)

The joy and anticipation of the hello is something beautiful. It is something I can look forward to even in the midst of the hardest goodbye. I have learned that hello doesn't lose its beauty. And while the uncertainty of the future is painful, I can say with certainty that there will be more hellos when the time is right. The hellos and the in-betweens are well worth the goodbyes.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

We were all foster kids...

Adoption is greater than the universe. That’s the takeaway from reading the first chapter of Paul’s 1st century letter to the church in the city of Ephesus. He writes that God chose his future children long before the world was even created. Adoption was on His mind while he was forming the universe.

But ultimately adoption is a beautiful tragedy.

It is beautiful because it is intentional, requires sacrifice, and gives a child a new identity within the fold of a family. They are no longer orphans and they are definitely not just “adopted children” -- they are a son or daughter! They are equal with that of children born by blood, because love transcends simple biology. It’s an incredible reflection of the way that God adopts those who have faith in Christ and gives us the title “children of God.”

It is tragic because the ultimate cause of adoption is sin. It is because of sin that death exists and leaves orphans in its wake. It is because of sin that a child faces neglect or abuse and enters the foster care system. It is because of sin that families are fractured and children must be adopted into a new family.

Sin has corrupted the original design for creation and for the family and adoption is the beautiful response that attempts to bring Gospel-driven order to all of the chaos.

But what about foster care? How might we view foster care in light of God’s original design?

Similarly, adoption in foster care is a beautiful tragedy. It gives a home, permanency, and a new identity to a child with significant disruption in their lives.

But adoption is NOT the ultimate goal of foster care.

The goal of foster care is to provide a very temporary solution when disruption happens within a family. Sometimes a parent’s poor choices (drug abuse, crime, or neglect, to name a few) create an unsafe situation for a child. Other times an emergency situation leaves a child in a precarious situation (for instance, a child’s sole caretaker is hospitalized and they do not have any support network in place).

Whatever the cause, the goal of foster care is to care for a child while doing everything possible to pursue reunification. The ideal outcome after a child enters foster care is for the biological parent to find healing, help, and recovery so that they can parent their child. We know that simply can’t happen in every situation, but that is the ultimate goal.

And I believe that this is a profound picture of the Gospel, albeit a different one than adoption.

In the opening chapters of scripture, we catch a glimpse of an incredible relationship between God and humankind. Adam and Eve walked side-by-side with their maker in the garden before sin entered into the equation.

Since then, the effects of sin have separated man from God and we’ve been desperately trying to bridge the divide. Eventually God sent his Son, Jesus, to pay the penalty for our sin and bring us back into a right relationship.

In this same sense, children in foster care are estranged from their parents and the hope and goal is that they will be reunited. As a foster parent, I am given the opportunity to play a role in the reconciliation of a child with a parent. It’s an act of restoration, bringing a family back to its God-designed structure and function.

The metaphor breaks down quickly, because we recognize that God didn’t do anything wrong. The break in the family relationship was because of OUR rebellion. And even though it was MY fault, God paid the price to rectify that relationship. Nevertheless, foster care is about us playing a role in restoring what has been broken.

But because adoption is a possible outcome of foster care, there are many layers of Gospel redemption. We got into foster care to help families reconcile and to walk alongside hurting parents and care for hurting children. But if reconciliation isn’t possible, we welcome the opportunity to adopt a child and give them a new identity in our family!

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.