February 10, 2016

Dear baby, with love - from one of your mamas.

Dear baby M-

You had your two month doctor appointment today. You did so well, of course - you are just about the sweetest baby ever. Mama was so proud of you.

We both were, we moms.

You see, your real mom came with us today. She asked what she should refer to me as, what we call ourselves at home. It was hard to tell her we usually call ourselves Mommy and Daddy. It's what's most natural, what we've done with all of our babies. She didn't seem to mind; it made me want to cry to hear your mom call me Mom, and then call herself Mom, too.

You are doubly loved. Two mamas who love you so much.

I've gone to lots of pediatrician appointments over the past ten years, including six different two-month appointments. This one was unique, and it will always stand out in my memory. At this appointment, I wasn't sure who should carry your seat. Who should get you undressed. Who should pick you up when you cried. I'm not your real mama, and yet I am.

I'm the one who can answer all the questions. The one who knows your sleep schedule. The one who knows what normal is for you. The one who has trimmed your nails and tasted your tears and knows just how to hold you when you feel upset. I'm the one whose voice you turn to, the one whose face you respond best to. But you're not really mine. I'll love you forever, but someday you might not remember me.

This week I was reading about Jesus' birth, and a tiny, two-word description of Joseph lept off the page for me: foster father.

Foster father.

Joseph didn't get to name Jesus - he was told He was coming and he had simply been chosen. We know feelings like that.

Joseph knew Jesus wouldn't be his always. He knew his Son - yet not his Son - wouldn't have his nose or his eyes or his trade. He had been called to love and let go. To sacrificially give up his whole life - his reputation, his residence, his legacy, the rights of the father of a firstborn son. No doubt his family and friends questioned his decision to wed Mary. He became a refugee hunted by a power-crazed king to keep Jesus safe. This was not the life he had dreamed of. And yet, it was the greatest dream of all. His Heavenly Father had entrusted to him, a fallen, limited human being, the privilege of fathering His Son. Changing diapers, kissing boo-boos, trimming nails, tasting tears.

One day, that Son would take on a different kind of pain, a different kind of nail, a different kind of tears.

I don't know if you'll be ours forever. Most likely, you won't. Just like baby D and our other baby M before you, we will love you fiercely and grieve deeply when you leave us. But you, dear M, are worth it. You are my son - and yet not my son. You won't ever have my eyes or my nose. Loving you comes with a cost, and I won't deny that it's hard. This is not what mamas dream of.

But I will love you. And I will love your mama - your other mama. I will pray for redemption even if it means we say goodbye. And why?

Because my Jesus was once a different kind of foster baby. He came into the brokenness. He took on a pain much deeper, grief more wrenching.

He loved you that much. He loved me that much. He loved your mama that much.
We love because he first loved us.
1 John 4:19
It is a privilege to love you, no matter the cost.

With love,
One of your mamas.

February 9, 2016

Follow me, as I follow Christ

The owner of these cute little toes recently turned ten.

Somehow an entire decade has passed. A decade of diapers, milestones, crayons, bandaids, tears, time outs, babydolls, zoo trips, library visits, hikes, snuggles, and discoveries.

My little girl isn't quite so little anymore. We gave her clothes for her birthday and she was thrilled. Times have changed.

As much as my mama-heart feels nostalgic and a little sad to see her stretching up tall and looking less like a child, I am thankful. She is growing in her understanding of the world. She is growing in her own abilities. She is growing in love for others. She is growing in her love for Jesus.

She is my biological child, but my greatest privilege and blessing has been mothering her spiritually. John says it well, speaking of his spiritual children - there is no greater joy.

"I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth." 3 John 1:4
In the past week we have opened a new chapter in our spiritual journey together - helping her to learn to feed on God's Word for herself.

The women's Bible study I'm currently leading consists of your Bible, a blank journal, and a set of questions to help you dig in on your own. The "REAP" method - Read, Examine, Apply, Pray - has been around for a long time. Sometimes it's known as "SOAP" - Scripture, Observation, Application, Prayer. Both have the same idea: using an inductive study method to help you dig into God's Word in your personal quiet time and challenge yourself to live out the truths you discover.

It's a method you never outgrow. And it's a method a child can use. This week, I began to teach AG to REAP.

We opened Bibles and journals together, and pen in hand, began to study the book of Matthew. She looked over my shoulder and copied me as I outlined and found repeated, key words. We shared what truths we were seeing. We pondered what those truths look like lived out.

I love being AG's mama. And I love being her teacher. A decade into the journey of parenting, I feel the press of the passing of time; with a decade behind us and less than a decade of training before us, I most of all want to be her discipler. The person who tells her, "be an imitator of me, as I am of Christ." (1 Corinthians 11:1). There is no greater legacy for our kids.

I'm thankful to live in a day when there are so many great resources available to help us teach our kids God's Word. But the greatest resource ever? Parents who are in a full sprint after Jesus and invite their kids to follow them in pursuit of the King.

A decade is behind us. Those little toes aren't so little anymore. But parenting isn't about keeping little ones little - it's about launching the next generation. I pray that her faith won't stay little. I pray that I would follow Jesus well, and that if she looks more like her mama, she'll look more like Jesus.

December 13, 2015

Do the next thing

Let’s have a little pep talk, shall we? I need it - perhaps you do, too?
Life at our house is often a blur, but the last couple of weeks have been frenetic. Our biggest ministry event of the year, followed immediately with a sudden three day road trip. Then, still several hours from home, we received a call from Job and Family Services - we brought home our newest foster baby, another newborn baby boy, the next morning. And just to make it more exciting, baby-arrival day was also our five year old’s birthday, I had a speaking engagement on Saturday, and our kids were participating in our church’s Christmas concert.
Homeschool was shelved for the week. Doctor appointments, errands, laundry, paperwork, and all manner of other little details came crashing in. And oh yeah - we have a newborn in the house. And it’s Christmas.
What’s a girl to do when life gets a little cra-cra?
Here’s a pep talk I’m giving to myself for the upcoming week, some pointers I need to remember. 
  1. Spend time with God. Everyday. I know you feel like you don’t have time. But if you have too much to do to spend time with Jesus… don’t you have too much to do to NOT spend time with Jesus? {Remember - You aren’t enough. He is.} Turn on those Christmas lights, pour yourself a cup of coffee, and crawl into the arms of our good Father.
  2. Make a list. If you just feel ambiguously stressed you worry about things that aren’t a big deal and forget the things that are. Write it down. You’ll feel better. {Relying heavily on my Daily Planner!}
  3. Prioritize. Look at the list and decide what’s essential and what’s not. Aim for the essentials and then re-evaluate if you have time at the end of the day.
  4. Breathe. The more you tell yourself how suffocated you should feel by your schedule the more challenging it is to just slow. down. and. breathe. It’s not the end of the world if all of those little things on the list don’t get done. Take your worried thoughts captive. Are you focused on truth? Does your reaction match the size of the problem? If not, hard stop - pray. Think. Breathe.
  5. Let it go. As my friend Cindy Bultema recently reminded me, I don’t have to do it all. Christmas cards? Cookie exchanges? Parties? Homemade dinners? Pinterest perfect hand-crafted decorations and perfect gift wrap? If you enjoy it and you feel relaxed and at peace doing those things - dive in. If it doesn’t bring you peace, if you feel stressed, stretched, overburdened - let it go.  I needed Cindy’s reminder this week. At our house, this means saying no to multiple Christmas parties, picking up an occasional fast food lunch when we’re out running errands, and ordering pizza for dinner. Maybe more than once.
  6. Take a shower and get dressed. Put your shoes on if it’s a particularly challenging day. I’m always tempted to stay in my ripped yoga pants all day when we have a newborn and my sleep schedule reflects the fact that we have a newborn. Get dressed. You won’t be worried about a friend or social worker stopping by. You can go get the mail, sign for that package (let’s hear it for online Christmas shopping on weeks like this, yes?!), and run a quick errand without realizing you haven’t showered in 4 days and you look half dead.
  7. Say yes to offers for help. It takes a village to raise a Kristi. It takes a village to raise you. We need Jesus, and we need community - there is a great strength from living life in close contact. On weeks like this, God has taught me to humbly say “yes, please” when friends offer to step in and help. May I bring you dinner? Yes, please! What can I do for you? Watch my kids, please! Can I pick up something at the store for you? Yes, please! And if no one's offering, ask them.
I’m thankful that life doesn’t always run at this pace. But, sometimes it does. Start your day with Jesus, and as Elisabeth Elliot would say - just do the next thing. His grace is enough.

December 1, 2015

December warm-up: Joy Missions

The weather outside has been unseasonably warm.
Inside, not so warm. Our kids have had short tempers and sharp words with one another in the past couple of days.
Several months ago I had introduced them to the old J-O-Y acronym – Jesus first, then others, you last! They had locked onto that and bring it up from time to time. Today, when having a little family meeting to apologize and repair broken relationships after a rough morning, LB said the way they had been acting was like “YOJ.” Putting themselves first.
As it is December first, we came up with a quick advent project: JOY missions.

{It’s not a pinterest-worthy label and it’s crookedly scotch-taped on, but it does involve scented markers and a mason jar we found floating in a lake while canoeing this summer. Does that count?}
We wrote out some secret missions:
  • Let someone else go first.
  • Clean someone else’s room.
  • Make someone’s bed.
  • Choose a toy to give away.
  • Write an encouraging note.
  • Say something kind.
The kids helped me think of things any of them could do on any day. Little things that show the JOY principle – putting others before yourself out of reverence for King Jesus.
Each day this month, they’ll pull a slip of paper from the JOY jar and that will be their mission for the day. At dinner, they will share what their mission was and how they completed it.
There are lots of fun pinterest-worthy advent count downs and projects out there – but focusing our hearts this season doesn’t need to be picturesque and quaint. I’m praying that this December has a little more JOY and that our home will be warm, even when the weather does eventually turn cold.
Merry Christmas.