Updates and Manga

I wanted to give you all an update on our meeting that we had last week concerning our foster child. The meeting went really well and we were able to come up with a timeline that is long enough to enable a slow, hopefully smooth transition, with a lot of safety measures in place. It was definitely an answer to prayer and I am feeling a lot more peace about the upcoming changes. 

The meeting was Friday afternoon. On Saturday morning my husband went running with me (a sign of true husbandly devotion) and then I came home and ended up doing almost nothing, all day long. I was wiped out from stress. But I have felt God’s mercy on me as the last couple days have been worry-free, slow, and peaceful. 

In other news, this past weekend, I started reading one of my daughter’s manga. Basically, comic books. It’s a romance manga that my daughter really liked, and we used to tease her about it. Then for her birthday, we bought the anime series and all watched it with her, and it was so wonderfully sweet and fluffy that me and all the little kids fell in love with it. In a culture where “romance” is often just another word for pornography, it was very nice to see a version of romance where handholding is about the raciest thing that happens. 

My kids have been laughing about me reading this, but I have to explain a bit why this has grabbed my fancy. I have always had a fascination with how people interact with each other. The role of power and submission, friendship, protectors, the heroes, the villains. How it all plays out. And I have so many questions. Why are we drawn to these kinds of characters? Why do we think that this kind of interaction is “sweet”. It was really interesting to see drawn out pictures, cartoons,  of all these tropes that appear in every kind of literature I’ve ever read. My interest is not so much in the story, but rather the stereotypes that they are representing and trying to understand why these stereotypes show up so often. 

I’ve been thinking a lot, too, about the nature of Jesus. Our perceptions of him. How we interact with him. The connections between the literature we love, and our inner desires for a relationship with God. Because I do see a lot of connections. I look at this cartoon in this silly manga, and I find something inside of me is stirred, and I have to ask, what inner longings do I have that draw me to this caricature? And I find myself setting the book down and asking God about it. These stories that captivate us only do so because they are a shadow of what God originally designed for us in the Garden of Eden. So what is this desire and how do I find the real version of it in God? And it’s actually been a rather nice time of talking to God. I don’t feel like I’m getting all the answers, but I really feel like he is listening to me. 

The verses that he has put in my mind this morning are ones like Jeremiah 29:13:

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.

And Matthew 7:7:

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.

I just feel like God is saying, No you don’t understand it fully right now, but keep asking questions. Keep looking. You’re looking for me, and I want to be found. 

And I feel encouraged. God can be found in the craziest places, even in an anime cartoon. 

Walking a Hard Road

We’ve got a meeting at the end of this week to discuss the reunification of our foster daughter with her birth family. 

There are a lot of emotions going on right now. On the one hand, this morning as we drove to school, I prayed for each of our family members and for our foster daughter’s family as well. Which we have been doing for two years. And I had the thought, Why are you surprised that prayers are being answered? Except, if I’m being honest, those prayers were more for the benefit of my foster daughter than because I had any faith. Anger and unforgiveness has kind of made me only able to make a blanket prayer, God be with them. But at the same time, I’m proud of her birth family. It’s been a long hard road and they’ve worked hard to overcome some really big obstacles. 

When I’m dealing with some big tantrums and crazy behavior, I find myself thinking, Well, at least this will no longer be my responsibility. But then sweet moments happen and I think, what is our family going to look like without this child smack in the middle always stirring things up? And I worry about my other kids’ grief that they will have to process. 

And I wonder, how on earth are we going to come up with a smooth transition that will produce the least amount of trauma? How much assistance do I offer to make this easier for my daughter? How much assistance will hinder her bonding back with her family? How do I make sure she knows, beyond all doubt, that I will always love her and I am always going to be her mom, and I’ll always be here for her if she needs me? How do I step back from primary caregiver to friend of the family? 

I don’t know. 

I have no regrets. But I hate this. 

I’m sitting here in my living room while I write this and I looked out the window and saw a bunch of birds swooping through the early morning gray sky. This verse came to mind. 

Matthew 10:29-31  Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

This is what I have to cling to in faith. That Jesus loves my foster daughter even more than I do and he has his hand on her life. My job is to say yes to whatever love and care God needs me to offer this child, but I also have to let go when he says it’s time to let go. Though maybe not a complete release, just a loosening of my hold. 

I try to look forward into the future, and fear shows me all the things that could go wrong. But faith requires me to stay in the moment. Right now what am I required to do? I’m required to give her birth family another chance. And I’m required to walk with them through this process. I don’t know how it’s going to turn out, but I know what I have to do today. 

All prayers are appreciated as we walk this road. 

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. 

Not Bored Anymore

Well, it feels like it’s been several weeks since I last sat down to write, though in truth, it’s only been four days. I feel like I’ve crammed in enough activity in the past week and a half to fill at least one month. If someone were to ask how I was doing, the answer would be Tired. 

 

But it’s a good tired. It’s the tired at the end of a really good workout. The tired after completing some humongous task. It’s the feeling of knowing that you have worked really hard and now you deserve some rest. 

 

Introducing new kids into the family is very similar to having a newborn baby, minus the nursing problems. Our schedules have been tilted, everyone is in a transition mode. There’s excitement, and irritation, and 24hr-a-day parenting. 

 

The first day we got our new kids, that night, my husband hugged me tight, grinned at me, and said, “You know you’re crazy right?” I thought about that for a whole day then confronted him the next night, “If I’m crazy, what does that make you?” He said, “Oh, I’m crazy too.” Apparently we are well-matched. 

 

So, I know this is going to sound weird, but adding these kids to our family has added a lot to my life. I have to admit, I was getting a little bored. Our family was on cruise-control and while parenting is always challenging, there was nothing new or unexpected. I felt very much like I was treading water, trying to figure out how to challenge myself. Maybe I could figure out how to take on more piano students? 

 

Well, I do not feel bored any more. 

 

It makes me think about how God knows best. It seems that he has created us to enjoy change. We have the four seasons, or in other parts of the world, rainy seasons, dry seasons, stormy seasons. We mark time by how the weather changes. We have various holidays and festivities marked out to happen throughout the year, and we are constantly looking forward to these changes. I can’t wait for spring to come! Valentine’s Day is coming up soon! I can’t wait for next fall! 

 

It’s kind of strange that we live in a state of constant change, but we also crave the familiar, the comfortable, our safety zones. The two don’t seem to go together. 

 

I know that when we start getting close to Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Years, there is a feeling of excitement and anticipation. I feel more alive and energetic, just awaiting all the festivities. I also know that when my comfort zone gets shaken up I feel more alive and purposeful. There is more zing in my step. 

 

I wrote in another blog, quite a while ago, about The Prayer of Jabez. How it was all about asking God to increase our boundaries, increase our area of influence. And I never liked that prayer. I never had any desire to make my boundaries any bigger than they are right now…thank you very much. So, recently my boundaries have suddenly increased. And I find myself happy about it. Feeling alive and useful. And thankful. Thankful that God knows a lot better than me what I can and can’t do. Thankful that he was willing to shake me out of my comfort zone. 

 

So, yes, I am tired. But I’m also not bored.

 

Which Voice Will You Listen To?

The last couple of days I have had some loud voices in my head. The first voice has been systematically pointing out all the ways that I’m failing. It has pointed out the dust and cobwebs that I haven’t gotten around to cleaning. It has pointed a finger at my pantry that needs a serious overhaul. It has reminded me that I have a hole in my dining room floor that needs repairing. It has kept a tally for every time I have lost patience with my children and yelled. It has shone a spotlight on each of my children when they have not obeyed or been sassy. It even brought up some old stuff, like the fact that I didn’t write my (now deceased) grandmother regular letters when I was younger. Every time I have put any food in my mouth it has shouted out how I am a fraud, I claim to be a Christian, but here I am being a glutton and stuffing my face. If I just had enough faith, I would overcome this sin habit. 

 

This voice has been responsible for at least one day where I could barely drag myself out of bed. I would say it has also been responsible for the sharper tone of voice I’ve been using. And it probably plays a big part in why I’ve been losing my temper so quickly. It’s really hard to be nice when you are fighting a feeling of worthlessness. 

 

I said that there were voices, more than one. There has also been another voice. It’s been quieter, but it’s still been there. It’s the voice that quietly says, being a mom is hard, you’re doing a good job. It’s softly said, here, you have some spare time, why don’t you get on your elliptical for a while? It’s calmly reminded me to go and apologize to my little boys for yelling. It’s urged me to pull out my Bible in the mornings, instead of staring at Facebook. It’s whispered, You are Saved by Grace, not by Works. It’s gently suggested I put on some praise music while cleaning to counterbalance how annoyed I always get when cleaning up my kids’ messes. When I have completely given in to fear, it’s firmly told me to recite my creed of faith, ground myself again in truth. 

 

It’s taken me a couple days to realize that there is actually a battle going on in my brain. And I have to make a choice. Which voice am I going to listen to? One is the voice of judgement. The other is the voice of love. 

 

I’m thinking I need some love. 

 

You would think I would recognize immediately that one voice is for me and the other is against and I would just shut down the ugly voice. Life has been a little crazy lately. We’re going through a lot of transition and we have a lot of things in limbo at the moment. And that makes me feel insecure. And feeling insecure makes me lose my vision. And suddenly that loud obnoxious voice kind of sounds like it’s speaking the truth. And the more I listen to that voice, the louder it gets. 

 

Honestly, about the only way I can break free of that voice is to purposefully focus on truth. What does God’s word say? What does God say about me? 

 

As I was writing this, I took a short break and checked my Facebook. My sister-in-law had just posted a song on her page. It was just what I needed to hear. 

 

I hope you have time to click on this link, it’s a song about listening to the voice of love. 

You Say by Lauren Daigle

May you have the grace to listen to the voice of love this week.

 

 

Meandering Thanksgiving Memories

thanksgivingpic

After my husband and I got married we gallivanted around for a while. We spent our first year of marriage in Knoxville, Tennessee, while Andy finished up his last year at UT. Then when our first born was only 10 days old, we moved to Alaska to be near my parents. We stayed in Alaska for a year and half then, when I was 7 months pregnant with our 2nd child, we moved to Chile to be near my husband’s parents. We stayed there 15 months then moved back to the states when his parents retired as missionaries. We arrived in Florida, bought a used car, packed all our earthly belongings, a 2 ½ yr old, 1 yr old, and our dog into a little Suburu station wagon and headed north. We found out right away that our car needed work. It overheated continually and our 10 hour drive to Knoxville, TN turned into a 24 hr drive as we crawled our way up the highway in the middle of summer, stopping every couple miles to let the car cool down before we crawled forward again. Our goal was to make it to Knoxville where we had some friends who were willing to give Andy some work and give us a temporary place to stay. We eventually made it in and enjoyed our couple weeks in Knoxville, catching up with our friends, fixing our ailing car, getting some traveling money.

After Knoxville, we headed north again, this time heading towards Green Lake, Wisconsin where we met up with Andy’s parents at the American Baptist World Missions Conference. During that time I discovered I was pregnant again. We now needed a place to hunker down while I weathered the months-long intense nausea. Andy’s parents were settling into a new home in Maine and offered for Andy to come and remodel their kitchen. We loaded up our car and headed towards Maine. We ran out of gas money just as we got to New Hampshire and so we made our way to one of Andy’s adopted Moms’ house, Lynn Yule. She was willing to let Andy do some handyman work around her house in exchange for some gas money so we could make it the rest of the way to Maine.

We spent several months in Maine with Andy’s parents while Andy built a new kitchen for his parents and I stayed close to the bathroom. Finally I started feeling better and we prepared for the future. Our plans had been to go to Kentucky to live close to my Grandparents who were having some health problems. It was where I had been born and spent some of my childhood so it seemed like as good a place as any to settle down. We bought a very old camper/trailer. It looked and felt like a miniature trailer home instead of the more modern campers, but it had a built in bathroom, beds, and a small kitchen. No living room furniture, just empty space which we later filled with a loveseat/hideabed. Andy bought an old truck (an ‘86 F250 4wd diesel) (my husband said some people would want to know) that “needed work” to haul the camper and we figured we could live in it until we got ourselves more established. We were ready to go. About a week before we had planned to leave, my grandmother wrote and asked us to not come. Life’s messy. All the reasons behind that letter really aren’t my story to tell, but we did feel a bit like the rug had been pulled out from under us.

So, we regrouped. Looked at our options. Andy’s uncle offered a job in Florida, but we didn’t know anyone there, no friends. No church. We had a place we could stay in Maine, but the job options were very limited. We could go back to Tennessee. We didn’t have any jobs or place to live there, but we had a good church family, good friends. We finally decided that Tennessee was the way to go. With the connections of friends and a church, we figured that jobs and places to lived would fall in place. We loaded up the trailer, truck ready to haul, Suburu stuffed to the gills again. It was November and I was now 5 months pregnant and would be driving from Maine to Tennessee with two little ones in the backseat, following Andy while he hauled our camper. I just have to add some pertinent information. I didn’t get my driver’s license till after my first child was born and the only driving I had done was in small, rural towns. To say I was terrified of the drive would be putting it mildly. This was before cell phones were completely dominant so we bought a set of walkie-talkies to keep in touch while we drove.

It took us 7 days to get to Tennessee. Not because we were taking our time, but rather because everything that could go wrong went wrong. Vehicles breaking down, weather breaking windows on the camper, me going left while Andy went right when we got to a confusing intersection. We spent a couple nights at a Flying J’s truck stop while Andy tried to fix problems on the truck and camper so we could keep going, and I tried to keep two small children happy in the middle of November at a truck stop.

We finally limped into Knoxville on November 12th and headed for the Volunteer Campground up on Raccoon Valley Road. We had looked it up in the yellow pages, called ahead, and they were affordable and had space. We got there on a Sunday afternoon. We pulled into a short-stay sight and Andy got us all hooked up, went to the camp store and got some food to cook for supper, then he told me he figured he would head over to our old church for the Sunday night service. Maybe he could hook up with one of his old friends and ask about jobs. I inwardly groaned at having to settle the kids in for the evening by myself, but I was grateful for his willingness to pursue work right away.  I nodded and agreed it was a good idea.

Andy came back a couple hours later and said he had spoken to his friend Tony and he would be able to head into work the next morning. It was just a temporary job, but it was something. We took it as a good omen. The temporary job ended up introducing Andy to another person who was hiring and for whom Andy ended up working for another six years.

We settled in pretty quickly. We got together with old friends and had a good time comparing our new parenting experiences. At church I got hooked up with our church’s homeschooling co-op and ended up getting some piano teaching jobs, plus a whole new group of friends. Life at the campground was fun. We were moved over to a more permanent spot and had fun meeting lots of interesting people. There was a strong sense of community, and people helped each other out.

Our finances were very tight. There was a man in our church who worked for a bread store. He had got permission from all the powers-that-be and he would bring in the old bagels that could no longer be sold and put them on a table at church where people could help themselves. Every week I would got get a couple bags and that kept us fed for lunches for the rest of the week. I figured out which grocery stores had the best deals and stretched my pennies to the breaking point. I learned how to be very creative with what I had. I couldn’t afford to buy a calendar, but I had some craft supplies so I got my two little ones to help me make a calendar page for our current month, complete with stickers and little stick drawings. During the holidays I bought a large bag of oranges and some sugar and using my saved jam jars, made orange marmalade and homemade cards for Christmas presents. Andy got some wood and made homemade wooden blocks for the kids which entertained them for hours. I would go borrow a bunch of books from the library to read out loud. We only had a tiny space to live in, but it was full of peace and fun. The kids even managed to somehow play hide-and-seek with their dad. In a camper. It helped that they were little and unobservant. 🙂 It was a difficult time, but a very rich time. Andy and I were determined to do whatever we needed to move forward and we didn’t let the hardships get us down, because that was just part of the adventure.

We got to Tennessee in November and Thanksgiving rolled around very quickly. My parents flew down from Alaska and got a room at a nearby hotel. My mom and I went shopping for the Thanksgiving dinner and I kept having to remind my mom that I only had a tiny fridge and a little stove. As it was, when it came time to cook the turkey, we had a big scare that the turkey wouldn’t fit in our mini-oven. But we finally managed to cram it in there. We had a little card table set up as our dining room table and we got some folding chairs and somehow, holding small children in our laps, we managed to squeeze around our little table and enjoy our feast. Sometime during the meal we went around and shared what we were thankful for. Family, good food, a roof over our heads, a job, new beginnings. Friends.

In retrospect I can see how that Thanksgiving kind of held to the spirit of the first Thanksgiving so many years ago. Starting over in a new place. Things aren’t super comfortable. Some mixed emotions about the places you left behind. No idea how the future is going to unfold. And taking some time to be thankful. Because there is always something to be thankful for. This Thanksgiving, fifteen years down the road, I give thanks for Tennessee and how it’s people have opened their arms to us. I give thanks for my family, a roof over my head. Jobs. Old pathways that continue to meander their way into the future. Friends.

God is good.

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!