February 14, 2018

His grace really is enough - an update on our fostering journey

Sitting in the safety of my living room with dear friends gathered around me, my jumbled, teary answer to the simple and sincere question came bubbling out.
"Where are you guys with fostering?"
For months they've heard my angst. The tug of war between my heart, my head, and God's call. We are four years in to this fostering journey, believe it or not, and it's time for our biannual license renewal. As this season of paperwork and trainings (trying to smash the last of our 40 hours of required training into an already full calendar) loomed, my heart and head were in full out revolt. And I had a lot of valid reasons.

This summer, chronic back pain I had been experiencing for years came crashing in on me and it was fairly debilitating for a season. After chiropractic and orthopaedic and physical therapy appointments I still wasn't feeling strong enough for the physical demands of caring for a baby.
"Clearly," I thought, "we should be done fostering."
Our kids are getting older and homeschooling is getting more intense. Preparation is more intense. Teaching is more intense. Keeping up with their workload is more intense. God has entrusted me with the incredible privilege of teaching my children and I am working so hard to make sure they are prepared with the best education I can give.
"Clearly," I thought, "we should be done fostering."
My work for our church is something I love and feel called to do. Fitting in office hours and meetings is already a bit of a challenge with my "Stephens Academy" crew in tow. In the past when we've had newborns, I was part of so many meetings with a tiny baby in my lap or strapped onto my chest - our pastoral staff is wonderful and was so gracious as I bounced babies, tried valiantly to keep socks on their feet, and juggled bottles and burp rags, my Bible, notes, and sometimes a spilled cup of coffee. How would I do this with a child who isn't a newborn, when my back doesn't seem up to caring for a newborn??

"Clearly," I thought, "we should be done fostering."
Don't those seem like valid reasons?? I thought so. I laid them out in a logical argument before the Lord. We had been faithful - and He hadn't opened the door for us to adopt. Now the season when this made sense really had come to a close. Wouldn't He please, please just release us from this, confirm to both of us that we had done our part so we could step out with a clear conscience? But God seemed silent.

After much discussion and prayer and with mixed emotions, NP and I decided to renew our license. We didn't sense that God had given us the green light to be done. Renewing our license gives us two more years of opportunity... and who knows what will happen within two years. But my heart wasn't really in it.

During this time, our church had been going through a period of forty days of fasting and prayer called "Making Space." I cleared out some extra distractions and continued to pray. I also happened to be listening to two audiobooks to earn credit hours for our foster license - The Lucky Few: Finding God's Best in the Most Unlikely Places by Heather Avis, and Adopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families and Churches by Russell Moore. By the way, if you are trying to rationalize with God why you shouldn't foster or seek to adopt any more, these are not the books to read.

Through that extra time and space with God, through those compelling books, God finally seemed to break His silence on this topic and impressed this on my heart, not in these words, but in this meaning: "You know I called you to do this. That hasn't changed. This never was something you were able to do or something that made sense. I will be faithful - will you?"

It was then, when I surrendered to God - again - and said that we would step into the scary unknown - again - that He gave me clarity on what all of this struggle was really about.
It was about grief.
It was about fear.
It was about fairness.

Four years ago we stepped onto this road with trembling hearts but ready to love with abandon. And we did.

We brought baby D home from the hospital and loved him with whole hearts. When the county moved him, when no one felt comfortable with where he was going, we ached and grieved... and still do. For weeks I would think that I heard him crying upstairs and remember he was gone. I would find a tiny sock that had been forgotten under a piece of furniture and cry. The fresh loss took months to heal over, but the wound still ached.

A year later we brought baby M1 home from the hospital and loved him with whole hearts. He was a delightful baby. We let our hearts bond again. And when the county moved him, thankfully to a loving home that we feel very comfortable with, we still ached and grieved. I knew we were part of God's forever plan for M, and that he was exactly where he should be. But the wound was ripped open and ached again - so deeply.

A few months later we brought baby M2 home from the hospital and loved him with whole hearts. We had been told he would likely only be with us for a week or two. Weeks turned into months, and a glimmer of hope began to shine at the edges of our hearts unbidden... maybe, just maybe, M2 would stay with us. And when the county stretched definitions of kinship and moved him, with very little notice and no transition time for him or for us, the wound was ripped open yet again and the ache was so heavy.

A few months after that, God took us in a radically different direction. We stepped out in crazy, daring faith in the process of adopting L & P, an older sibling pair. This was far, far outside of our original plan - we had trouble articulating why to our social worker - other than just, "this is what we believe God said to do." We went through a crazy, long, emotional process with the county - and when they placed them in a different home... after we bought bunk beds, after we bought a zoo pass with "5" as the number of children, after we had dreamed and pictured life and made arrangements... we felt like we were in a tail spin. We were grieving the loss of kids we had only met one time but who had been very much ours in our hearts and minds. What are you doing, God?? This is what you said! I still believe He took us down that path - perhaps for reasons I will not understand this side of eternity.

A few months after that, we brought baby C home from the hospital and loved him with whole hearts. Just for a week. And even though C went exactly where he should be, the old wound smarted. It wasn't just him. We were grieving D, and M1, and M2, and L & P. We were grieving this whole stupid system. We were grieving our dream of adoption. We were grieving God's plan being very different from what we had imagined.
"Clearly," I thought, "we should be done fostering."
This was hard. And though my back, and homeschooling, and work were all valid reasons for seriously considering the decision to continue, the fact remained... this was about grief. And fear. And fairness. This didn't feel fair. Why did other families we knew and loved (and were incredibly, deeply happy for) have forever stories... and we had goodbyes? 
"Where are you guys with fostering?"
My answer bubbled out to my dear friends. God has said keep going. And I don't want to. And it feels unfair. And I am afraid. And I am so, so tired of grieving.

This morning I was reading in Acts 20 of Paul's final, emotional, gut-wrenching conversation with the elders of the church at Ephesus. 

And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.  Acts 20:22-24, ESV
 Our "suffering" and Paul's don't even come close to lining up - I'm certainly not saying that. But his words leapt off the page to me and resonated with my heart during this season of saying a hard yes to God.
"Constrained by the Spirit" 
We go because He says go. In a world where a message of "obey and God will bless you- He wants you to be happy" seems to be pulsing through American Christian culture, He has never promised that. He simply promises to be with us. He promises we will never be alone. In fact, He tells us life will be hard, we will suffer, we will grieve. But He is the treasure we will never, never lose. We are saying yes again to foster care because we have no choice - I honestly don't want to do this, but feel constrained by the Spirit.
 "If only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus."
Our season of fostering and adopting isn't over. I honestly cannot imagine who He will bring us, how He will enable us to handle all of the things He has given us. In fact, I know that we can't handle it - it is literally too much for me. I am not enough. But He hasn't asked us to plot it all out and have a neat and tidy plan and all of our ducks in a row - He's simply called us to follow Him in obedience, and He has promised that He is enough.

As Russell Moore so eloquently unpacks in Adopted for Life, adoption is ultimately a spiritual issue. We adopt because we are followers of an adopting God. We are adopted ourselves - He delights in picturing what He has done for us in the restoration of the lives of children. Adoption isn't charity - it's war. It isn't easy, it isn't pretty - and we haven't been promised a "happily ever after" on this side of eternity.

So that's where we are with fostering. Our hearts are grieving - but we will trust that He will comfort us. We are fearful of more loss and heartache - but we know that we can rest in His sovereign plan. This journey doesn't feel fair - but if it was about fairness, we wouldn't stand a chance. It's all grace - grace for our grief, grace for our fear, grace that is enough for me.

His grace really is enough.

November 16, 2016

Count the Cost

Perhaps you and your spouse have thought about adoption or foster care for years.

Maybe it's a brand new thought but it keeps coming up everywhere, seemingly out of the blue.

Your church might have recently spotlighted the orphan crisis and uncomfortable thoughts keep needling their way into your mind.

Suddenly it seems that there are billboards about foster care and adoption everywhere you go, adoptive families who keep crossing paths with your life, common threads in conversation, in radio programming, in blog posts.

You hear the phrase, "Not everyone is called to adopt and foster," and you heave a sigh of relief. Perhaps God is calling to to be a support family, to intercede for orphans in prayer, to raise awareness. Or perhaps, perhaps, God is nudging your heart that He is leading your family to step into the hard places of foster care and adoption, and you're running scared.

My husband NP and I were those people running scared for a long time. And then God made His leading so undeniable that we kept on running scared - but we ran toward obedience. And it has wrecked us in the best possible way.

You see, I was so afraid. So afraid of getting attached. So afraid of watching my children grieve. So afraid of stepping into messy places. And those fears have become reality.

We have picked three precious babies up from the hospital, and over the past two and a half years of our fostering journey we have spent a cumulative year in a repetitive cycle of newborn diapers and WIC visits and pediatrician check ups and night time feedings. We have chosen to love those babies as our own, knowing they might leave. And eventually, all three of them did. And each time, our hearts broke a little bit more, our children grieved more.

Recently God began to push us down a very different, unexpected path. It was a path we had run scared from, even while obediently caring for these little ones - He began to steer us toward a sibling pair waiting for adoption in our county. Their faces broke our hearts, their story broke our hearts, and along each step of the journey God kept confirming that this was the path we were to be on. As the process went on and we waited for the slow wheels of the county to move toward an adoptive match, we felt like we were clicking up a very, very frightening roller coaster - we didn't know what exactly we were in for, but through the fear and joy and unexpected turns to come we knew we would be safe in God's hands, and we knew we would look back on the ride and confidently say it was worth it.

And suddenly, the ride came to a stop. The county chose another family. After months of waiting, after continuing to be in the running after 73 other families had been taken out of consideration as possible adoptive homes, we were second choice. The end. The whiplash has made our heads and hearts throb. And for what? The question hangs unanswered.

Wow, thanks for the encouragement, you say. You're welcome.

My friend, as you consider if this is a path God is leading you toward, I urge you to count the cost. Because it does have a cost. Every adoption involves loss - someone is saying goodbye to that child no matter what. Every foster placement involves loss of control and predictability - it is not safe. You will be wrecked. We have been wrecked. But as I stated earlier, we've been wrecked in the best possible way.

A couple of nights ago I shared this with a friend over a darkening picnic table as our kids played under the supermoon. I confidently told her how grateful I am that God has taken us down this difficult and winding path. I am thankful for how He has expanded my heart for those who did not grow up in a safe and protected and privileged environment like I did. I am thankful for the way He has given my children an open, aching heart for kids who live right around us who don't feel safe and loved and confident that someone is making sure they remember to brush their teeth. I am thankful for how He has allowed my kids to wrestle with the fact that He doesn't always give us crystal clear answers for why things don't end up the way we think is best, why He lets us grieve - and that we can still trust Him to work all things for our good.

Count the cost. And find Him worth it. He is always worth it, and with every bend in the road, with every darkening gloom, we find that Aslan is present in the darkest moments in the most unexpected of ways and will whisper to us at our lowest points, "Courage, dear heart."

And so, we will allow Him to bandage up our bleeding hearts and take steps of obedience again, not knowing where He will lead next. Maybe the point wasn't our "happily ever after" shiny, flawless adoption story (by the way, there isn't such a thing). Maybe the point was us learning to obey at all cost. Maybe the point was us praying for and carrying the weight of kids who need us to advocate for them and pray for them like they are our own. Maybe the point was me writing this, and you taking a step into the unknown.

He is already there and your unknown isn't a mystery to Him.

Count the cost. And find Him worth it.

May 2, 2016

Why you shouldn't homeschool your kids.

As leaves fill the trees, graduation parties fill the squares on our May calendar, and thoughts of summer vacation fill our minds... questions about homeschooling tend to fill my conversations this time of year.

Homeschooling is a fantastic fit for our family. We love it, our kids thrive with it, and I am so grateful for the privilege of teaching them. I love the intensive time of discipleship and relationship building it gives us and the intentional way we can engage life together as a family.

Will we homeschool all the way through? I don't know. We are confident God will guide us step by step.

Would we do this again? Absolutely.

Could you homeschool, if that's what God is calling your family to do? No doubt.

But should you homeschool? I don't know. I can't answer that for you.

What I can tell you is that fear isn't a good reason to do [or not do] anything.

Are you considering homeschooling out of fear? Or are you considering homeschooling because you believe God may be prompting your family in that direction?

Are you considering traditional schooling out of fear of not being able to homeschool? Or are you considering traditional schooling because you believe God may be prompting your family in that direction?

The righteous will live by faith. Not by fear.

As you consider the year ahead and what God would have for your kids, you can get input from people who are passionate about homeschooling, passionate about Christian schooling, passionate about public schooling. But no one else can answer the question for your family - what is God prompting your family to do?

Live (and school) by faith, not by fear.

April 26, 2016

This one's for you, Mama.

This one's for you, Mama.

For you when weariness wakes up with you - when sleep is fleeting, eyes are heavy, no coffee strong enough.

For you when tantrums rage and you cry hidden tears of frustration and exhaustion.

For you when you read the news headlines and look at your precious ones and fear lurks at the edges.

For you when children stretch tall and hormones rage and doors slam and every emotion possible somehow shares the same ten minutes.

For you when no one can find their shoes.
Matthew 19:13-15 
Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them. 
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” When He had placed His hands on them, He went on from there.
Familiar verses... but linger a moment with me, Mama.

Some days our work feels small, unimportant, unworthy of notice. That's how the disciples saw these mothers with their little ones in tow - easily passed over, not worth the time of their busy, important Rabbi. Just some moms and their crying, coughing, wiggling kids.

That's not how Jesus sees them - that's not how He sees you.

Today as you wipe up spilled milk, find the lost permission slip, drop off a forgotten lunch, do yet another load of laundry... He sees you. He welcomes you, and He welcomes the little ones you love (even if they aren't so little any more).

The very best work you will do today in the lives of your children? Carry them to the Savior. You are seen, you are welcomed, you are loved. He knows the weariness in your eyes. He knows the fears and concerns that haunt your heart. You might feel small and unworthy of notice - but not to Him.

So come in your frustration, in your fatigue, in your anger, in your confusion. Come in your mess. What better balm to a mama's soul than to know the Savior sees her and intercedes for her children.

What a friend we have in Jesus.