No Victory

I feel like I have just come out on the other side of a large battle. And I’m exhausted and frazzled, relieved. But not quite rejoicing. 

We went to court today concerning our foster daughter. After three and a half hours of waiting, the actual court appearance was short and to the point. As guardians do you support this petition or will you contest? We contest. Ok. We will set a date for a trial. Here’s the information you need to know to move forward. 

The only words I spoke were, We contest. But, man, the inner battles I had to have in order to say that. 

I had to willingly cause someone else pain by saying those words. I had to say, no, I’m not going to go along in the name of peace, I’m going to fight this. I had to go against someone else’s wishes and opinions and say, No, even though you are telling me I am wrong, I still believe my perspective is right and I will fight for that perspective. I had to willingly take an action that guarantees that I am now hated by a group of people whom I’ve always gotten along with. I had to step out in faith and say, I am not crazy, the reasons I disagree are valid and are worth fighting for. 

About six weeks of mental agony all wrapped up into a little phrase. We contest. 

And while saying those words was an inner victory for me, there is also grief. In juvenile court there are no winners. My victory means someone else’s pain. And I am helpless to alleviate that pain in any way. Families torn apart by their own dysfunction, passed on to them by the previous generation’s dysfunction…there are no victors. Just a lot of hurt people trying to figure out the best way to move forward. 

I hate it. 

And so I am in that weird place where I feel certain I did the right thing. But the right thing hurt someone else and so there is no victory. Just peace, mixed with sadness. 

“Ravished”

Several years ago my older kids learned a dance to a song called “Ravished” by Jesse Cline and Ashleigh Brison.  It’s from the album “Breathe Ultimate Call”. I love this song. Every time I hear it I cry. I remember watching my children worship as they performed this song and it was like a foreshadowing of heaven. Watching your children worship Jesus is the ultimate goal for parenthood. 

Now, as I interact with my adult children and other people in the same age range, fresh, just starting out into the world, I feel like this song says everything that I want them to know. 

These are the words from the Bridge: 

Bridge 1

Whеn I was broken

When I was wounded

Like a hero, You saved the day

Your love has rescued me

But now that I’m made new

I found new life in You

And I’m never going back

Oh, You have my heart

You have my heart

And I found it all in You

And I’m sitting here crying because I want everyone to know this. Jesus is the answer. That’s it. There is no other way to get through this life. There aren’t any shortcuts. There aren’t any other paths that lead in the same direction. Jesus. That’s it. Accepted on his terms. He is Lord. He is Savior. Give your life to him. Surrender completely. It’s the only way to have happiness in this life. The only way to peace. The only way to Joy. How do you make it through this crazy thing called life? Jesus. How do you survive anxiety and depression? Jesus. How do you figure out what to do with your life? Follow Jesus, he’ll show you. How do you fix the brokenness in your life? Jesus. How do you become the best version of you possible? Jesus. 

I don’t know how to convince people of this except to say, Look. Here is my life. Here is how I’m getting through. Jesus. Everything I do, He is the only way that I’m doing it. And I would never do it a different way. I have found everything I need in him. 

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14:6

And my heart sings, “I found it all in you.” And I want everyone to have this same peace and confidence. Jesus. He is the answer. 

A Moment of Clarity

Today my six year old son decided to do my workout with me. The workout was lots of variations on a plank, with some jump rope thrown in. He was enthusiastic and could do all the exercises a lot better than me. I didn’t have a jump rope for him, but he grabbed a pair of pants from the clean laundry pile and said that was his jump rope. At one point in time, he gasped out that he was tired. He stopped while I continued. For a moment I felt some pride, Yes! I outlasted the six year old! But, then, while he was standing there “resting” he started running in place. Cause he was bored. I think he was just tired of that one exercise we were doing. When we were done, he looked at me, eyes twinkling, and confided, boy, that was hard work! And then he ran off to play…while I melted on the floor exhausted. 

This morning he was up early. He was sitting on the couch reading a book. When he finished he started chuckling to himself. The book, about a Momma pig chasing down her kids who are hiding because they don’t want to go to school (yes, a weird book we picked up somewhere) ended with Mom Plum victorious. I heard him muttering to himself. Mom Plum! She caught them all! And his earnestness pulls my heartstrings. 

He runs upstairs and comes down with a big pile of books from the bookshelf. He sets them next to me on the couch. We can read these when Noah comes downstairs! You can read all of them, or some of them. Whatever you want Mom! Then he sits next to me, leans on my arm. And today, I just have one of those, “Oh yeah!” moments, where I remember again just how amazing this particular child is. My focus is honed in and I see him in all his curiosity and sweetness and intelligence. And my heart feels full. I squeeze him closer and say I love you sweetie! He looks up at me with a grin, I love you to Mama! 

It’s so easy to get jaded to the people around us. We’re used to them. They become part of the scenery. We live in autopilot, talking without giving much thought to who we are talking to. I consider it a God moment, when I suddenly open my eyes and see this person in front of me. Appreciate how special they are. Take a moment to be thankful for their presence in my life. For a moment my vision goes from dull black and white to full on technicolor and once again, I see the treasure my son is. 

Silly Things that Bother Me

Ok. I promise this is not a whine fest. Just silliness. Stay with me here. 

Several times a week, as in more than five times, I drive down i75 heading towards Knoxville. When you are coming down i75, and you pass the Merchant’s exit and you look ahead, there is a little pass through the hills and in between these hills you see a big mountain looming.

 Then you keep driving and when you get through the little pass, “POOF!” the mountain is gone!

Now, I have figured out that this mountain is actually way beyond Knoxville. I just want to know why on earth it looks so close when I am right at that spot on the highway. Why??? This bothers me. 

The other day I was also driving down a road in Knoxville that I had been on countless times. Suddenly, I noticed a really cool building. Wow! Look at that! Is that new? As I craned my neck to see it, I could tell that this building had been there a long time. Not new. Why have I never noticed this building before? Why am I so unobservant??? This also bothers me. 

At Walmart they have all the face masks in big bins on the walkway that leads you out of the store. You don’t pass these bins until you have gone through a checkout line and are heading towards the door. Every time I pass these bins I think, Oh shoot, we could do with some more masks. And then I think, I’ve already gone through the line, there is no way I’m going to do that again right now. And I leave, without masks. Why on earth has Walmart put the masks in such an inconvenient place??? Also a bothering thing. 

I have a linen shelf in our upstairs hallway. Every day I find a pile of blankets, sheets, and pillowcases on the floor. Every day. Why? Which child/children has decided that this needs to be part of their daily routine? Do they have a mental checklist, Eat, Play, Sleep, Pull things off the linen shelf?? Very Bothersome. 

If a ceiling fan is on all the time, how does it get dusty? How come starting a fire in the woodstove is so hard? I thought wood and paper and cardboard were flammable? How come cereal bags are so hard to open? 

Every two weeks the city comes and picks up our recycling that we put out by the road. Why is it so hard to remember which week they are coming? Every week I’m standing on the sidewalk looking down the road to see if my neighbors have put their recycling bins out. And sometimes, they put their bins out, so I copy them, and then, THEY WERE WRONG!  And we all look foolish. 

Bother, Bother, Bother. 

These, of course, fall under “First World Problems” that are really not problems at all. But they are bothersome. I’m sure you’ve got your own list of bothers too. 🙂

I am Unsinkable

The other day someone asked me how I was doing and an image came into my mind. Me as a rubber ducky out on the big ocean in the middle of a storm. Waves crashed over me and I bobbed in and out of the water, raced up and down monstrous waves, tossed every which direction. But I was still floating. I couldn’t sink. I was made to float and while I got dunked a lot, I always came back to the surface.  We recently watched the movie EndGame again. Thanos, the villain, has a line where he says, “I’m Inevitable”. And I find myself saying, with the same confidence, “I’m Unsinkable”. 

I can also tell you with certainty, that my confidence does not come from myself. It comes from a lifetime of following Jesus, and seeing time and time again, that he never fails me. It is being faced with crisis after crisis, hardship after hardship, and having the Holy Spirit fill me with His power so that I can press through. Survive. Thrive. It is standing up at Testimony time and saying, my testimony is that I don’t have any dramatic stories of how I fell to the depths and then God lifted me up. My testimony is that he kept me. Kept me from looking for love in the wrong places. Kept me from dangerous addictions. Kept me from being on the wrong side of the law. My testimony is saying, Look what God can do when you give him your life from a very young age. 

We were talking at our housechurch this past Sunday about hindrances people have that keep them from wanting to follow Jesus. I personally know people who feel like becoming a Christian is too big a sacrifice. There are too many things to give up. I would say the problem with this mindset is that they aren’t seeing the big picture. The following is an often-quoted excerpt from C.S. Lewis.

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

― C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, and Other Addresses

I think about the richness of my life. I am not wealthy in worldly riches, but my treasures are uncountable. Eleven beautiful, amazing children who add worth to our world. Extended family and friends who love me. A husband who is 100% committed to our marriage and our family. A warm, peaceful home. A meaningful life that is full of purpose. A job that is so varied and complex that I can never grow bored and only rarely feels like drudgery. A church family that comforts, encourages, and constantly pushes me to grow. I am blessed beyond measure. 

There is no sacrifice in following Jesus. I have given up nothing of worth to walk this path. I have in fact gained unimaginable riches. My prayer, my hope, my longing, is that those who don’t have this confidence would be able to take hold of this truth. Jesus is the Way and the Truth and the Life. 

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe.

Ephesians1:18-19b

Come join me. You too can be Unsinkable. 

For more information, here is a great article you can click on. https://www.faithward.org/how-do-you-become-a-christian/

A Blessing for My Children

We have just finished a tough year. Last night, as I rang in the New Year with my family, I was genuinely glad that we were done with 2020. 

Last January, we had a special speaker come to our church, and he prophesied that this coming year was going to be a year of Lack. A year of Not Enough. And it would be a year where we would see that Jesus was enough. Words that turned out to be very true.

As I look back on this past year, I am still amazed that we made it through all the trials that were thrown in our path. And I start thinking about this year that we have just started. And I want to pray a blessing over my children.  

I pray that this year will be a year where you rely less on your own strength, and more on the strength that comes from God. 

I pray that this year will be a year where thankfulness becomes a habit.

I pray that this year will be a year where the entertainments of this world grow old and stale for you and instead you become captivated by the highly adventurous path of growing closer to God. 

I pray that your patience will become stronger, your kindness will become ingrained. I pray that you will gain an ability to see people through the eyes of love instead of judgement. 

I pray that your faith will grow exponentially. When problems rear their head, you will not be fazed. You will know that Your God is in control. 

I pray that Peace will be a defining part of your character. That you will seek peace with others and that God’s peace will be firmly in the center of who you are. 

I pray for Joy in the midst of hardship. I pray for love in an atmosphere of hate. I pray that God would put a passion for his Word in your hearts, that you would grow strong and firm in your knowledge of him. 

I pray that grace would lace your words and your actions. 

May this be a year, that no matter what happens in this world, on December 31st, 2021, you will look back and say, Wow, it was an amazing year. This is the year that I truly came to know that God is all that I need. 

 “May your love abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.” (Philippians 1:9-11, NIV)

With much love,

Mom

I Am Rich

I love the sounds of my house. A couple minutes ago I was sitting at the piano, trying to sight-read through a fairly simple Chopin piece I had never seen or heard before. It was slow going. Adagio. I wasn’t really focusing on what I was doing. Honestly, I was just killing time, waiting for my kindergartner to finish his workbook. Right now all the kids are waiting for him to finish his workbook. I told him that when he had finished his school work (workbook and read aloud a story) then I would go down to the store and buy our traditional bags of Candy Corn (and for all you haters out there, we happen to think candy corn is awesome!!). Every October I put out some ceramic pumpkins on my mantle, fill them with candy corn and the kids get to grab some after school is done, or chores, or whatever hard task is in front of them. 

Anyway, I was playing the piano, waiting for David to finish his workbook, and I started just listening to all the sounds of our house. 

We started a fire in the wood-burning stove this morning. The stove has a little fan that blows warm air into the room. It is a soothing white noise. We also have a large fish tank in the living room whose water filter sounds like a little waterfall. We need these soothing sounds. They counterbalance the sound of teenagers hurling themselves down our wooden staircase as loud as they can. And the sound of the three year old talking to himself as he plays his little imaginary games. I have one teenager home this week because her school is shut down for Covid. She loves music and carries her phone everywhere with her, sharing her very eclectic music choices with the whole family. 

You can hear our dog barking outside, faithfully protecting us from any random person walking down the sidewalk. The occasional car drives by on the street in front of our house. You can occasionally hear a siren rushing past on the main road which is only a block away from us. 

The kindergartner has a chronic whistling habit and the eleven year old is constantly humming. And Chopin continues to plunk along in the background. 

There is so much life tucked into the walls of this home. 

(Time lapse)

So, I just got back from the store, candy corn has been bought, pumpkin candy dishes are now full. 

When I pulled up to the Family Dollar, I saw two apparently homeless people, a man and a woman, in the alley behind the store. By the time that I left the store and was heading back to my car, they had settled themselves on the back steps of the store’s delivery entrance. They had bags of belongings and some fountain soda cups from a nearby gas station. They looked dirty and the woman looked like she was crying. But they weren’t trying to make eye contact with me, and I had nothing to offer them. No groceries in my bag, just candy corn. No cash in my wallet, just a bankcard. No words to share, my innate shyness balking at starting a conversation. I remembered that I had supported one of our homeless shelters this past weekend by shopping at their thrift store (thank you Ma’am, your purchase has just helped us feed ten people!), and I just hope that this couple will make their way to the shelter by evening and take advantage of this ministry in our city.

I climbed back into my car and drove back home. And once again, I felt like the blinders had been ripped off my eyes. A glimpse at my true reality. My home, a beautiful mansion. My children, costly jewels, unmeasurable treasures. My life, a dream come true.

And the noises in my house sound like a beautiful symphony. The chaos is simply an outpouring of joy. I feel like the richest woman on the planet as I survey this ramshackle house of mine. 

And my prayer becomes, make me a blessing.

God, you have blessed me, show me how to bless others. 

What Does it Mean?

John 14:21 Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”

 

I just read this verse this morning. The phrase, “will be loved by my Father” stood out to me. And the question, What does it mean to be loved by the Father? 

 

I was staring off into space, thinking about this, and my phone gave me some kind of alert, and I glanced down at my phone and saw this Picture that I had taken and was using as my screensaver. 

20200517_181642

It was from a walk I got to take a couple weeks ago when we were visiting a state park. My husband watched the kids while I took a solo jaunt in the woods. It was a beautiful walk. The kind of scenery that spoke to my soul and gave me joy. Nothing overtly breath-taking, just beautiful woods and greenery and light filtering through the trees. 

 

I looked at this picture and thought, this is what it means to be Loved by the Father. He created this beautiful world and then he arranged for me to be able to be out and about in it. 

 

I smiled at this thought, and then looked up. My daughter was just standing by my chair. No reason. She was playing her Minecraft, and decided that standing by my chair was a good place to play. I looked at her beautiful pixie face, her dark hair pulled back into a messy bun that a model would envy, her eyes so bright and intelligent. And I thought, this is what it means to be loved by the Father, a houseful of amazingly sweet, intelligent, fun children. 

 

A bit later, I was trying to deal with the mystery of why my washing machine was making noises and yet the power was turned off, and even when I tried to turn the power back on, it wouldn’t turn on, and yet the machine continued to make noises. I called my husband. Walked through some different steps over the phone with him, then when a large electric spark erupted while I was attempting to plug the machine back in, I just walked away from the whole thing. No laundry today. I’ll wait for you to get home and figure this out. 

 

And I thought, this is what it means to be loved by the Father. He has given me a Godly, wonderful husband who loves me and who takes care of his family. (And fixes washing machines!)

 

I thought about the question some more…What does it mean to be Loved by the Father? I suddenly remembered last night. I was watching an online class on trauma and how it shapes children’s minds, and different strategies to help bring healing. One of the first steps they gave was, Understand Yourself and your Own trauma. And I realized, that’s exactly what God has been doing over the last several years. Putting me in a place where I can understand myself better. Understand my own history. And now, from that understanding he is putting me in a place where I can help others who need healing from their trauma. 

 

And that is what it means to be loved by the Father. He not only blesses you, but then he gives you opportunities to take those blessings in order to bless others. Like one of my pastors likes to point out, in Genesis 12: 2-3, God blessed Abraham, so that he could bless others. 

 

What does it mean to be loved by the Father? 

 

I think it’s one of those questions that can be given a different answer every time you ask it. Tomorrow my list would look different. Yesterday, I would have told you that being loved by the Father was about living in community with others and the richness that brings to your life. The day before that I would have said that being loved by the Father was about his Amazing Grace no matter how much I mess up. 

 

Today, I think I will end with Peace. It’s peace. Knowing that I am loved and taken care of. Knowing that all things are in his hands. Not striving. Just Peace.

 

I am loved by the Father. 

Juvenile Court

I spent the entire morning in Juvenile Court today. Which here, where we live, deals with not only delinquent youths, but any cases solely concerning minors (custody, child support etc). We had to attend a hearing on a matter concerning our foster kids. We showed up at eight-thirty am, supposed to be there at nine, and weren’t seen until eleven-forty-five. During that entire time we sat in the lobby, surrounded by people wearing their stories on their stress-filled faces. 

 

For an empath like me, it was one of the most emotionally painful mornings I’ve had. 

 

I’m not sure what happened to all the privacy laws, but at this particular court, everyone uses the lobby as the place to consult with their caseworkers, their lawyers, their children’s lawyers and caseworkers…Everyone just sat there in front of everyone and talked about their business as if no one else was listening. My ears were burning. I kept looking down at the floor so that my shocked expressions wouldn’t give me away. Not that I was trying to listen. I was people-watching, and then, instead of just being curious about their business, I was suddenly hearing all about it. 

 

I was feeling so sad. So much heartbreak. So much dysfunction. So many shattered families. 

 

I turned my attention and started watching the people that worked there. The brassy receptionist who kept her face completely indifferent to all the weary world that showed up at her desk, looking for directions. She had no problem being firm and short in her answers. But I also saw her gather an armful of large, very soft,  cuddly, stuffed animals and arrange them on her desk. I heard her comment, The kids will love these. I had all the context I needed since I had just watched the movie “Instant Family” (which I highly recommend) where the kids in the foster system had their collection of Court Bears they were given when they had to go to court. 

 

I watched a short woman in a red suit, who radiated the aura of Lawyer from New Jersey. She had a group of sycophants following her around as she “showed them the ropes”. There was the court-appointed lawyer who made his rounds, introducing himself to all his new clients. He managed to keep a friendly, but competent air about himself. There were caseworkers who looked like they were just Done With This Job. They looked worn out and frustrated. There was the guardian ad litem who angrily demanded a clear answer from a parent who was not talking straight. There were the young men, who had just left a courtroom, shaking their heads, expressing their disbelief at what they had heard behind closed doors. There was a middle-aged man with some kind of disability that made him limp very badly. He was bustling about, doing his work with a smile on his face. He looked like he had a passion for his work. 

 

I sat and watched all this teeming humanity around me. And it occurred to me that it’s actually pretty wonderful that I live in a country that has a Juvenile Court and all the offices and people connected to it. This building represents our country using it’s tax dollars to protect children. Protect children from broken caregivers who are no longer giving care. Protect children from the stupid mistakes they make when they break the law. Try to get them off that path and onto a better one. Get justice for children who have been treated evilly. 

 

I hate that we live in a sinful world. I hate that no matter how many systems of government we’ve tried throughout history, people still treat other people badly. I hate that there really is no answer, no solution. The only way to revolutionize this world is for everyone to find Jesus and his Way of Love and Peace and Justice. And the Bible doesn’t seem to hold out hope that will happen completely until Jesus returns. In the meantime, we’ve got to somehow maneuver through these crazy times we are living in. 

 

All that being said, I’m glad that we are making an effort to protect the children in our country. I am thankful for all those people in that building that get up every day and go to work in what has to be one of the hardest work environments. I am thankful that my tax dollars are helping support this system. I am thankful that hopefully, every day, at least one child is getting a chance at a better life because of what goes on there, at Juvenile Court. 

 

Keeper of the Stuff

It came home to me today that I have a Job Title that I didn’t even realize. I am the Keeper of the Stuff. 

 

My oldest son: Mom, I have to take a present to the party tonight…where can I find a gift bag?

Me: Either top shelf of the hall closet or the bottom corner of the hall closet.

 

My husband: Where did I put my wedding ring? (Construction and wedding rings don’t always go well together.)

Me: Check my dresser.

 

Younger daughter: Mom, I want to give my teacher a Christmas Card.

Me: Check the top white drawer, there’s a stack of cards you can pick from.

 

Son: WE’RE OUT OF MILK!!

Me: No, bottom shelf, behind the eggs, there’s another gallon.

 

Extra Toothbrush? Check the pantry, above the washing machine. Plastic silverware? Look under the brown buffet, in the basket. Butter dish? I think I saw it in the bottom of the Catch All Drawer. Lost paper? Check my stack of papers in my room. Hair clips? Sorry, you’re out of luck. 

 

I think every family probably has one person who is the Keeper of the Stuff. It doesn’t have to be the mom. But, I think it is usually the person who has taken on the role of Primary Housekeeper and Primary Caregiver. It’s one of the requirements of the job: knowing where everything is.

 

Of course, I’m just human. I can’t keep up with everything. My oldest daughter used to help me with this. ANNA! HAVE YOU SEEN THE HANDMIXER??? And then she’d tell me where it was. Of course, she loved to cook and had her own organisation system so asking her where stuff was also had something to do with that old phrase, “Too many cooks in the kitchen.” But, Anna also tended to notice things around the house, so she was always my go-to person to help find something. Now that she lives in another state, I sometimes find myself looking for something  and think, “I should call Anna, maybe she knows where it is!?” Instead, I text my husband who is baffled as to why I am asking him. It just makes me feel better to pull one other person into my fruitless search for that one little attachment to the mixer that I haven’t used in two years. 

 

Hand-in-hand with KEEPER OF THE STUFF comes the job title FINDER OF THE STUFF. Now, this one, from my limited experience, does tend to be filled by the women of the house. 

 

Husband: I have looked everywhere, I can’t find that check I put on this shelf.. 

Me: (Walks over to the shelf, picks up check sitting on the shelf..) You mean this one? 

 

10 year old boy: I can’t find my shoes. I can’t go to school today because all of my shoes are gone.

Me: (Walks over to the shoe box, removes three pairs of shoes that belong to this child…) Put your shoes on, you’re going to school. 

 

Daughter, opens fridge: Mom! We’re out of salsa!!

Me: (Walks over to daughter, looks in the fridge, looks at the daughter…) The salsa is literally in front of your nose. If you walk forward about 6 inches, your nose will touch the salsa jar. 

 

Being the FINDER OF THE STUFF can be annoying. In fact, I have taken to warning my children, when they complain to me that they can’t find something. 

 

Me: If I come up there and find your shoes in less than One Minute….THERE IS GOING TO BE CONSEQUENCES! I don’t know what…But something. 

 

Anyway, I’ve held these job titles for years, I just hadn’t really thought of it till today. They are highly prestigious positions. I am sure they look good on my resume.