It’s a Place Worth Fighting For

I went jogging in my neighborhood this morning. I looped around and went over some sections of the road twice. I finished running and started walking towards my house. An elderly woman came rushing as fast as she was able, out of her house. She had a big grin and was holding a cold bottle of water. She called out, I’ve been watching you! And handed me the bottle of water. I’m Karen! And then she turned to go back to her house. 

The other day I was jogging/walking and I had hit my walking stretch and another lady called to me from her porch, wanting to know if I got out at a regular time every day, wondering if I wanted to join her on her morning walks. She also wanted to know if I needed a drink of water. 🙂

This morning, as I was running down a familiar road, I realized that I had a nodding acquaintance with almost all of these neighbors. My kids had played with a lot of their kids. I passed another lady out running and we waved at each other. We met last summer when a different neighbor held a block party. Her kids bring their dog to come greet my dog pretty regularly. 

Our next door neighbor has a little girl who is best friends with my foster daughter. That friendship, and their willingness to have my daughter over to play regularly, has been a life-saving thing for us. 

I ran into another neighbor at the grocery store last week. I testified at the trial of the murder of his son. He came up to tell me how the family was doing now that the trial is over. 

One of our elderly, very civic minded couples that live in our neighborhood has started a text chat with as many neighbors as they can add. I think we have forty people on the chat right now, and they are always looking for more people who want to join. They talk about the monthly neighborhood meetings, a community garden that we have down at the park, congratulations to the new parents on the birth of their child, does anyone know who this stray dog belongs to? (pictures attached!) 

Neighborhoods are great things. Our neighborhood has had a rough year. Lots of gun violence, deaths, craziness in our high school. At times I have had the thought, we should just move. This is ridiculous. We talk about it. Where would we want to live? (Definitely the country!) Wouldn’t a small rural school be better? But so far, every time I think about moving, I have a check. No. Not now. This isn’t the right time. 

And I think we don’t give enough thought to what we would be giving up. We have lived in this community for almost seventeen years now. And it’s taken us a long time to establish all these connections. But they’ve been established. They are here. This is our neighborhood. This is our community. And it’s a good community. Lots of good people. 

And I guess this is part of the  answer to the question a lot of people think, but don’t come right out and ask..Why do I live here? Why haven’t I moved? Because it’s home. It’s a good home. And it’s worth staying and fighting for the changes needed to make it a safer and better place. 

Weary

My head is fuzzy

Thoughts flit around and disappear

My shoulders, so tired

The world weighs too much

I try to move and bustle around

My legs are heavy

So tired.

Just keep moving, Just keep moving

I whisper to myself

The daily tasks stack up around me

Waiting.

Voices call my name

Everybody needs me.

How much longer? 

How much longer can I just keep moving?

Rest

My soul cries for rest.

God help me please.

And I wait

And I trust

And I just keep moving

Confident Help is on the way. 

Fat Fridays: Fixing the Roadblocks

Today (Thursday) has not been a great day for the diet. In fact, the last three days haven’t been great. A lot of fast food. This morning I had run out of my lite greek yogurt cups. I ate the last of my blueberries and then looked in the fridge again. There was not much there and none of it looked good. I poured myself a bowl of cereal. My first cereal in a really long time. Last night someone dropped off pizza at our house. I thought I would go and cook myself some lentils and rice. Didn’t happen. I was really busy and then I was super hungry so I grabbed some pizza. 

That has kind of been how the days have been going. I’m super busy and there is not-so-healthy food available and so I eat it. 

I’ve been feeling pretty bad about it today. But, as I tried to explain what was going on to my trainer, I got some clarity on what’s going on….

This week has been crazy. It’s the first full week of having all my kids home from school, and that’s following a vacation and then immediately having all my big kids head off to camp which meant I was managing all the little kids on my own for five days. I have written down a new family schedule, but now, by sheer force of will, I have to get all my kids onto this new schedule. And that takes a lot of will power. At the same time I am trying to get my house in order after the vacation and having a week with no older children home to help. And also get my house summer-proofed (organizing my activity drawer for rainy days, organizing books and math puzzles and workbooks for keeping our school skills honed during the summer, organizing all our legos and building blocks and art supplies for bored kids). 

You would think I would have already been prepared for summer to come. After all, it’s no surprise. But, alas, I was so focused on just finishing up this crazy school year that I did not give a lot of thought to summer. Also, we have a foster child who does not handle a “go-with-the-flow” lifestyle, which my other kids are more adept at. We are finding out, loud and clear, that our house needs a strong routine/schedule NOW in order to help her function better. And so this week has seen me extremely busy and slightly panicked as I have been trying to establish order as quickly as possible. 

Grocery shopping and meal prep and cooking healthy dinners have been low on the priority list. 

So, I’ve learned something important about myself. I have to have a routine/schedule or I can’t function as a mom of many kids . 

I have been working hard on fixing that and I’m actually pretty hopeful that by this coming Monday morning, I’ll have the most important things in place and I can be back on schedule. 

It was really helpful to talk to my trainer and put things in perspective. Ok. There is a roadblock. Let’s make a plan to fix the problem and then move on. 

The Great Summer Transition

For the first time since I started writing this blog I have been struggling, the last couple weeks, to find a time to sit down and write. Usually my days have a fairly slow rhythm and I can fit in whatever extra thing I need to do pretty easily. But since summer has started I feel like my personal treadmill suddenly sped up from easy walk to fast run. 

I’m pretty sure that any mom out there that suddenly has her kids home from school will understand. Transitioning to new schedules is not easy. Not easy on the mom, not easy on the kids. And if you have any kids with special needs, that transition is even harder. Routine is a strong glue that holds a lot of people together. Usually I am a little more prepared, but for whatever reason, this summer I’ve been floundering a bit. 

I went out and bought a big dry-erase calendar board that has a “notes” section on the side. Then I realized that wasn’t enough space to get everything written down, so I went and bought another smaller dry-erase board and put it underneath that one. Now, I think I need at least ONE more dry-erase board to really have EVERYTHING written down. (Because writing everything down on a dry-erase board will somehow make everything better!)

This summer I have different children leaving for different camps almost every single week. It’s unnerving. When you have a lot of kids there’s always a bit of an inner panic that you’re going to forget someone somewhere and now the routine is all shaken up and I have to count kids up differently. We’re missing someone!! Oh, right, they’re at camp. And that one is at summer school, and that one is at work, and that one is playing at the neighbors…you can see how it gets a bit unnerving. Like, could everyone just sit still so I know where you are.

I”ve had other unnerving things happen too. Like I had to get a root canal yesterday. Very unnerving. I hate pain. I hate dental pain. I really dislike dental work. 

I’m going on a women’s retreat this weekend. I’ll be gone from the family. That is very unnerving. Not that I can’t be alone without my family. Not that I won’t greatly enjoy being alone for a couple days. But it’s different. It’s not normal, and I have a hard time relaxing into “not normal” things. 

So, here I am, flying along on this fast-paced “new” schedule that hasn’t become a comfortable routine yet. My kids are all off in different directions. I’m doing something different this weekend. The end result is that I’m battling with some anxiety and panic. And in the middle of all this chaos, God has been downloading his goodness to me. And I want everything else to just hit pause so I can just soak it all in, but instead I just find myself dwelling on it in bits and pieces when a quiet moment arrives. 

My teens went to a church youth camp and when they came back, some things had shifted spiritually for some of them. And I can see a difference. And I just want to cry because really, the only important thing in my entire life is that my children follow after God, and when you see them taking ownership of that relationship and becoming independent in that area, there aren’t any words to describe your joy. 

Another thing, a friend of mine has been posting Bible devotions/research that she has been doing about Jesus as the Groom and God has been shining a spotlight on the intimacy of his relationship with me. And it makes me feel cherished and special. It’s an overwhelming answer to that lifelong question, “Do I have any worth? Am I lovable?”

So, here I am, waffling back and forth from a spiritual high to anxiety. It’s a weird place to be. Writing this down helps me get it all sorted out in my mind though. God loves me. I can be at peace knowing he’ll help me figure out this summer. 

Plug for Foster Care

Foster Care is kind of in a crisis right now. They need families to sign up to be foster parents. It’s a constant need. I see ads and articles talking about this pressing need all the time, but I have been hesitant to take up the call and start advocating and pressing other people to consider being a foster family. Mostly because we have been on this journey since December 2019, and it’s been hard. And I’m in a place where I can very clearly tell you how hard this is on a day-to-day basis, and do I really want to be responsible for someone else signing up for foster care and then watching them be weighed down by this same burden? 

I kind of feel the same way about having large families. I love our large family. I would not go back in time and do anything differently. But, it’s been hard. It’s not an easy path. So, I don’t go around telling everyone else that they should also have a large family. 

But having a large family is what has made me who I am. Refining by fire. And being a foster mom has been a whole other level of refinement. 

I didn’t pursue fostering. I had a desire to be a foster parent, but the size of our family disqualified us to be official state foster parents. The prayer in my heart was kind of, Ok God, I have a heart for these kids, but there is nothing I can do. If you want me to foster, you will have to fling open the doors. So he did. We ended up with what is technically termed as a kinship foster placement, even though we were just good friends of the kids, not formally related. 

I think about concerns I’ve had about fostering. The main one is, what about my own children? I don’t want to harm them in any way! After all, kids who enter the foster care system are usually coming with some sizable baggage that affects their behavior and their ability to get along with others. 

In the first months that we welcomed a sibling group into our home, we had a lot of rough spots. Very rough spots. During that time many of my children came to me in private to complain and ask why on earth these kids were in our home. I was very straight forward with my answer. James 1:27 (NIV) says, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” I am a Christian. God wants me to take care of the orphans, and these kids might as well be orphans since the State will not allow them to live with their parents. 

They need help. 

We are able to give help. 

We help. 

This is not to say that I purposefully put my children in danger just because I felt like I should help foster kids. In the end, two of the kids had to be moved to a higher level of care than I was able to give. But we were able to eventually have the youngest sibling on a more permanent basis and she is still with us. And while those two kids didn’t stay with us, I do know that I offered them love and safety during the time they were with us and helped them on their journey. 

I think in the end, it’s always a heart issue. What is your heart towards the orphans and widows of this world? What is your posture when it comes to obeying James 1:27? It’s been my experience that if you are willing to obey, and ask God to give you HIS heart for the needy, God will fling open doors so you can help. Whether it be to actually have children in your home, to help other families who are fostering (they need all the support they can get!) or to find some other way to help, if you are willing, there is always something you can do. 

This is my plug for foster care. These kids are God’s creation. They are beautiful children with a lifetime of possibilities ahead of them. 

They need help. 

We can help. 

Let’s help. 

Motherhood Brings out the Worst in Me

It’s been a day.  

I was in the middle of a confrontation with a melting-down child. I was seconds from physically removing said child and taking them to a quiet location where they could get calm without an audience…and then another child decided to come and stand right between us and start playing her recorder as loud as she could. And for a moment I felt frozen in time as I watched sheer ridiculousness unfold before my eyes. Several choice comments jumped in my mind and I may have muttered some of them at a slightly audible level. 

A couple hours later I asked the kids to clean their zones. The child of Recorder Fame pitched a fit and caterwauled the entire time she was cleaning. She sounded like a dying cat…I just might have mentioned that to her. 

Another, younger child, escaped the house without doing their cleaning. I chased them down, and when they responded that their zone WAS clean, I proceeded to point out, in sarcastic detail, the ten things that they had failed to clean. 

Earlier in the day, the kindergartner would not do his reading. So, I made him get in the car with me when I went to pick up kids from public school, and he had to sit there for the thirty minutes wait and read his book out loud so I could hear him. And I might have done a this-is-your-own-fault, when he complained about being bored. 

This morning, I had this random thought…I know God loves me, but does he Like me? 

At the end of days like today, I kind of feel like a not-so-nice person. I’ve yelled, been sarcastic, made a lot of kids unhappy with my expectations of them. I am not currently the hero of the hour. I am about to sit down to supper where I will be the bad guy who makes everyone eat vegetables. And then, I’m going to make kids do homework. And I’m not going to let them watch tv tonight. And then, they will all have to go to bed at bedtime…and brush their teeth. I will, in fact, win no popularity points tonight as I parent my brood. Though they still will all want me to hug and kiss them goodnight.

Being a mom sometimes just feels like it’s me at my worst. 

The mean me. 

The strict me. 

It’s hard to feel like a lovable, nice, person when you’ve just physically carried a screaming seven year old up the stairs to their room because they need to be in a quiet place to calm down. It’s hard to feel like a nice person when you’re dishing out the table chores after the meal and no one wants to be the one who has to sweep the floor, but you assign it anyway, cause you don’t want to sweep either. 

Maybe being a mom is so hard because it really brings out the worst in us. Our kids strip away all our pretensions of being sweet and patient, and instead show the real us. Someone who has some temper problems. Someone whose patience has real limitations. Someone who makes mistakes often. Someone who struggles to put others first. 

As I think about this, maybe God especially likes me in the role of mother. It keeps me honest and humble. No fake Esther pretending to be pure and holy. Instead it’s me: dirty, weary, spending half the day asking for forgiveness as I try again to be patient. Try again to see things from the child’s point of view and not just my own. Try again to not be cutting with my words. Try again to have grace. 

Me at my worst, is actually just me at my most real. And being real is what God wants from us. So, I guess I’m actually in a pretty good place. 

Resting in the Favor of God

Lately I feel like my life has been reading like a soap opera. What happened this week? Oh, you know, death, violence, tragedy, mental health emergencies, major appliances broken…

Yesterday my 2nd grader was playing on the playground at school. Two cars drove past the school, shooting guns at each other. The kids heard the gunshots and ran inside, school went on a soft lockdown, lots of police were present as the kids were dismissed from school. You know. Just another day. 

On the same day, we had a child with a mental health crisis, and it came home to me again, that our health system is letting the kids down. Our school has a program where a therapist comes to the school from one of the big providers in our area, and meets with the kids at school and does home visits during the summer. Awesome program. Except the therapist quit her job in November, and they still haven’t replaced her. And my child is falling through the cracks. Our own doctor’s office only does mental health visits over the phone or zoom, which doesn’t work well for small children. After a flurry of phone calls, we have found a new place we are going to try that does in person visits. Thank goodness. 

And this just seems to be our everyday life now. 

This year I have felt an urgency and conviction to actively work at keeping myself in a good place mentally. I am prone to depression and anxiety and have learned that these are things I have to constantly be working on to keep them at bay. With a lot of pushing and shoving from the Holy Spirit, I started a new exercise and diet program in January that is giving me good results. I started taking high school Algebra 1 online, just for the challenge, and I have enjoyed the sense of accomplishment, every time I pass another exercise or another quiz. God has been convicting me of my choices in entertainment, and I have been working on a big shift in what I read, which is a whole story in itself, but I have been working on filling my mind with more wholesome things. (Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Philippians 4:8)

This is my testimony, despite all the craziness, I have not been shaken. I know when I was younger, things would happen, and I would wonder if I was being punished for some wrongdoing. I would wonder if all these troubles were a sign that I was not walking in the right direction. I believed that if I was a Christian, then my life should be mostly blessed, simple. And if it wasn’t, then I must be doing something wrong. 

I don’t believe that anymore. God is good but his goodness doesn’t always look like the Perfect American Dream. The bible is pretty clear that we are going to have trials and hardship and persecution. 

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

Right now I feel like I am in a place of faith building. Each day I feel almost bewildered at how normal I feel. Things happen, and I step back and shake my head, when is all the crazy going to stop? But, then I keep moving and keep tackling whatever is in front of me. And I marvel that God is still keeping me in a place of peace. Yes, I am worried about what is happening in our nieghborhood with gun violence. Yes, I am concerned over many things, but my head is still above water and I’m still swimming.  And that is all God. 

My daughter has been playing a song recently and the refrain is stuck in my head. It’s from the Psalm 30:5, the first half of the verse:

For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime;

Funny as it sounds, I feel very much like I am resting in the favor of God. Despite the soap opera thing going on. 

My Day so far…

5 am My day started when the three year old climbed into my bed. I heard him come in the room and sat up, Watch out for your sister! He was about to come to my side of the bed to climb in, but another child had come in the night and settled with a blanket on the floor by my bed. There was also a child asleep in my armchair. Good grief. The three year old climbed over the sleeping child and cuddled up with me. I dozed a bit, but at the back of my mind was the knowledge that my alarm would be going off soon and I would have to jump out of bed and across the room to turn it off as fast as possible so it didn’t wake up the three sleeping kids. 

7:45am. All the kids (minus two teenagers) are up, have eaten some breakfast and are logging on to their computers for their morning meetings. I sit by the six year old to help her stay focused. The homeschooling 7th grader is doing his own thing and the six year old homeschooler is playing till I have time for him. 

8:30am I leave kids doing school or taking a break, load the cat into a cat carrier and drive her one block to the vet where she will be getting fixed today. I’m supposed to sit in the parking lot and call the phone number of the vet, then they will come out to me when they are ready. Their phone line is busy. It takes me 40 minutes to get hold of the vet. They come get the cat, I have to pick her up this afternoon. 

9:10am I was planning on going home, but now it’s time to swing by the elementary school and pick up free school lunches. I call home and let the now-awake teenagers know what’s going on. 

9:30am Back home. I unload the lunches and then try to help the two six year olds do their school while I am also trying to put the cold food from the lunches into the fridge. I go back and forth. Help one child finish an assignment, send them on a five minute break, turn and help the other child with an assignment, and back and forth we go. Yelling at the three year old every once in a while to go play upstairs where he won’t be bothering people. 

11am, most of the kids are done with their morning assignments. I call the high school to figure out how to get the paperwork we need for my daughters to go take their written driving tests on Friday. The secretary says we need to come in and fill out paperwork. I yell at the teens to go and get in the car so we can get this done. 

11:15 am. I’m sitting in the car waiting for my teenagers inside the highschool. I open up an email from last week where my oldest daughter sent me a form that needed to be filled out for her FAFSA for college. I had forgotten to look at it last week. I find the email, download the link. Take pictures of the form, crop and edit the pictures. Open my adobe app, convert the pictures into pdf and get ready to start filling them out. I read all the questions carefully. Hmmm. I am not needed to fill this out. It doesn’t require my signature. I can just tell my daughter the answers over the phone. Check this off my list. 

11:30 Home again. Everyone is eating lunch. I get a text message. Don’t forget 6 yr old has a meeting at 1:15! Ok. Same child still has 2 assignments to finish, has to do a Spanish class at 12:30 and attend a meeting at 2:15. Got it. I set an alarm on my phone to remind me of all these things. The kids who are finished with their assignments are asking for their 20 minutes reward-computer-time. I set another timer to keep track of their computer play time. 

I still need to fold a week’s worth of laundry, get kids to do their chores, and figure out what I’m making for supper. And pick up the cat. And take kids to youth group tonight. And do advent. And read a book to the poor ignored 3 yr old. And keep the fire going in the fireplace. And let the dogs in and out of the house multiple times. And make sure all the kids actually DID finish all their school work. 

And instead of doing all that, I am decompressing by writing about my day. 

I think my brain is going to explode.

Two more days till Christmas break.

Lots of Stuff Happening

It’s been quite a week. I keep thinking, surely it’s Friday. Nope, still Wednesday. 

Yesterday we went to court and got custody of our foster daughter. 

I just learned today of the death from covid of a cousin in my father’s family. I did not know him, but I have become Facebook friends with his sister over the years, and my heart is grieving for them. His wife is still in the hospital with covid and another of their family just died of covid as well. Please keep them in your prayers. 

I just got news this afternoon that our schools will be going virtual for our final week before Christmas break. I’m very thankful that our elementary school has managed to stay open all semester, but I know this next week will be challenging. 

Two other things happened that I won’t go into, but which also caused me a lot of stress. 

And it’s only Wednesday. 

Today, I have been searching for rest. My brain is at that point where it is now shutting down different areas to conserve energy. My son brought me his math work today to get some help. It was percentages. Seventh grade math. I watched the video to relearn the concept and then struggled through a couple word problems with him. I felt like my brain was moving in slow motion while I tried to apply the formula to each problem, and I finally said, you know what, let’s do this tomorrow. We’re done. 

I had a DCS worker in my home today. She needed a private place to talk to one of the kids, so I showed her into my cluttered, kinda messy bedroom. Here. This is the only private place in the house. I threw my blankets onto my bed, told her, just pretend like this bed is made, and walked out. And I felt no shame or anxiety. Those parts of my brain had apparently already shut down. 

I’ve moved the tv back to the house. (We’ve been tv-free since July.) I wanted to be able to watch Christmas movies, and I was also trying to be kind to myself, anticipating needing some tv-babysitting over the Christmas break. So, today, I let my little boys watch some tv shows while I took a short nap. 

Tonight I am writing and then I’m going to watch silly videos on Facebook and maybe look for a new book to read. But, I’ll probably crash into bed by 9 pm since my inner clock has been waking me up at 5:30 am lately.

Despite all the stress, I am feeling peace. God is on his throne. My problems aren’t too big for him. He has given me small moments of grace, like the purple sunrise I got to snap a pic of this morning. It’s Christmas time, my house is cozy. And, as people always like to point out, my life certainly isn’t boring. 

“Your Name is the Light in the Darkness”

This morning in church we were singing the Paul Baloche song, “Oh Our Lord”, and we sang the line, “Oh Your Name is the Light in the Darkness…” And I suddenly had a flashback of me, in my room, calling out to Jesus for help. On my knees in despair, unable to help myself, crying on the name of the Lord, and it wasn’t just one scene, it was many scenes going back for years and years. All the times I have called on the Name of the Lord for help. Lord, I don’t know what to do! Please help me! Desperate cries. And EVERY SINGLE TIME, he has helped me. EVERY SINGLE TIME. Oh Lord, how Majestic is Your Name! How powerful is your name! You have brought me out of the pit. Your name is a strong tower and the righteous run into it. Your name is the Light in the Darkness.

This weekend has been quite a roller coaster for me as I walked through a crisis with one of my kids. And I had that completely helpless, powerless feeling of, I don’t know what to do or say to help this child. And I love this child and I’ve got to help them. And I don’t know how… Jesus. Help us. Please. And he did. He did. Friday night was the pit of despair, and somehow Saturday and Sunday have been wonderful. 

People hear how many kids I have, and they shake their heads and they say, I don’t know how you do it! 

And I don’t know quite what to say. Cause really, I’m not doing it. It’s all God. But, any pat response I give will just sound light, frivolous. How do I communicate to a stranger that, There is no way I could ever parent this many kids on my own. I couldn’t even parent one kid on my own. This parenting journey involves me on my face regularly before God crying for help, mercy, wisdom, relief. And he is faithful to help. He listens and he answers. 

This past week I have been trying to make a conscientious effort to turn my thoughts to worship instead of worry. This week has given me a lot of things to worry about. We’ve even had some major crises. But, I have had an amazing amount of peace throughout.

You keep him in perfect peace

 whose mind is stayed on you,

 because he trusts in you. Isaiah 26:3

God’s name is trustworthy. 

for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Romans 10:13

I’m here to give my testimony, my witness, my story. Jesus has never let me down. Ever. And I’ve walked some crazy paths. I’m walking a crazy path right now as I try to raise this growing family of mine. Every time I have called on Jesus for help, he has helped me. And it’s not because I’m some amazing Saint. I’m as sinful and messed up as the next person. The only difference is God has saved me, and continues to save me. And I continue to call on his name. 

My heart is overflowing today with praise. I’ll leave you the words to this Matt Redmon song, 

Worthy, You are Worthy

Worthy, You are worthy

Much more worthy than I know

I cannot imagine

Just how glorious You are

And I cannot begin to tell

How deep a love You bring

O Lord my ears have heard of You

But now my eyes have seen

Chorus

You’re worthy

You’re worthy

You’re worthy

You’re worthy to be praised

Forever and a day

You’re worthy

You’re worthy

You’re worthy

You’re worthy to be praised

Forever and a day

Glory, I give glory

To the One who saved my soul

You found me and You freed me

From the shame that was my own

And I cannot begin to tell

How merciful You’ve been

O Lord, my ears had heard of You

But now my eyes have seen