Another Rainy Day

It was raining yesterday when the white DCFS van pulled into the driveway. It all felt so strangely familiar as I took hold of two toddlers … only this time, instead of being met with scared, blank eyes, that sweet toddler boy saw me and a big smile lit up his face.

“GiGi!” He stretched out his arms to me, and as I pulled him close, he melted into my arms.

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It was also raining on September 12th. I remember because that was the day I first met the tiny duo that rocked my world.

I will never forget how the rain fell as if it would never stop as the white DCFS van pulled up in our my driveway. My sister-in-law held an umbrella over my head, as I reached in and pulled out a plump baby girl with big blue eyes. A social worker followed behind us, clutching her older brother tight to protect him against the rain.

For five months, those two kiddos were a part of our family. And then just as quickly as they arrived, our precious babies left.

That was three months ago.

All spring my phone has remained strangely quiet. I had only two calls from the DCFS, and neither placement worked out in our favor. Honestly, I was glad for the reprieve. My attention was needed elsewhere …  A rental property that I own (located several hours from my actual home) needed some extensive work, my grandfather passed away, and my son had major surgery.

Yet, it was also a season in which Jon and I often discussed our decision to be foster parents. Is this still what we felt called to do? Was it worth the cost to our family? We agreed that we felt called by God to do this work and that we should keep our home open to children who needed a loving home. And so we waited …

Yesterday about lunchtime the call came through. Two children in need of a home … two year old boy and his one year old sister. The same sibling set we took in last fall and loved on for five months.

Would we take them back?

Of course. How could we possibly say no?

Only this time Jon and I said yes to the call knowing the cost involved. We know the commitment will require more of us than we thing we possibly have to give, and yet somehow we always find we have enough.

We already know the bittersweetness of being foster parents. The is an immense blessing that comes from loving these tiny sweethearts, and yet the fact remains that these are someone else’s babies. The only reason we get to love them is because something horrid happened in their lives in the first place. It’s a reality we can’t escape.

Jon and I know that chances are great these babies won’t be with us forever.  It could be weeks or months, but probably we will have to give them back. And yet, until we do, we love them just as if they are our own children. To do anything less would be wrong, even though in our humanness we have a desire to cushion our own hearts from the possibility of pain associated with losing someone we love.

This time it would be different. This time we aren’t naive. This time we know exactly what saying yes means … and still it is the only answer we have.

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Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world.      ~James 1:27

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Return: An Unexpected Weekend Guest

Last Thursday I got a surprise phone call from our former foster care worker. “Would you please consider taking in K. for a few days?” she asked. “There’s situation where his mother needs some help in caring for him and we thought about asking your family first.”

Would I? You bet! I didn’t even have to stop and think twice.

Of course, I wasn’t the only one elated about K’s return. My entire family was excited about the opportunity to spend a few days loving on our favorite two year old once again. It has been a little over two months since Mr. K and his baby sister left our care, and while we weren’t expecting to see him again, we quickly began to prepared for his sudden return into our home.

Nathan and Megan eagerly pulled out some of the old toys he loved most, while Julia went on a search until she found his favorite Barney DVD. Maddie pulled out the board books and put them into a box on the lowest shelf in the room. Joel got the booster seat set up at the dining table. Meanwhile, I made a quick trip to the story to buy goldfish crackers and popsicles and o-way-hoes (bananas) because I knew exactly what this little guy likes to eat. It didn’t take us long to get everything prepared and ready for K’s return to our home.

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K. opening the big dump truck on his birthday. It quickly became his favorite toy. Our entire family was sad that he wasn’t allowed to take it with him when he left us.

 

Friday morning, the social worker showed up with K. in tow. Initially, he was a little confused, but it didn’t take long before he warmed right back up. Soon he was happily playing with the big dump truck and the train tracks. Later in the afternoon, the bigger kids eagerly took turns watching him play outside. K had everyone’s complete attention and delighted in lots of walks around the block and pushes in the swing.

K. had been at our home less than two hours when he grabbed my hand and walked me over to where I used to keep a hidden stash of lollipops and other tiny treasures. He pointed up to the box high up on the shelf, flashed me his biggest smile, and said, “pwease?”  Immediately I felt myself grinning back at him, amazed at his fantastic memory. But as soon as I remembered that the box was totally empty, I felt awful. How could I have forgotten to replenished my box of surprises?

We had such a fun few days, going to the park to play and taking K. to church with our family.  But now all the excitement has come to an end. This morning, little K. returns back to his mother. Our five-day visit is over and I’m sad to see him go once again. Chances are he won’t be returning to our home …

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But I can hope that perhaps one day he will return to visit again.

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Behold, I am coming soon. ~Revelation 22:12

I am anticipating another return … the return of Jesus Christ to collect His bride. The Bible teaches that no one knows the day or hour of his coming. But just because we aren’t expecting it, doesn’t make the chances any less likely.

You see, I may not be able to count on K. returning back to my home. I love the little guy, but I have to accept the fact that when he walks out of my door today he might not ever return to me.

But it’s not that way with the return of Christ. His return is 100% guaranteed.

Though I may not know the day or the hour, I can be prepared … by choosing to grow in my personal relationship with Jesus through daily prayer and studying His word, by forming encouraging relationships with other Christ-followers, by choosing to live my life in a way that honors Christ.

Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. ~Matthew 24:44

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This post is part of the 2015 A-to-Z Blogging Challenge. If you are visiting due to that, thanks so much for popping in to read today’s post. I hope you will leave me a comment so that I can return the visit to your blog. I love to connect with other bloggers and readers. If you are a regular reader, I hope you’ll stick with me during April when I blog about the stories of my faith.

Restoration

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I had never really seen the likes of it … dog feces smeared over the wood floors, evidence of roaches littering the bottoms of every kitchen cabinet and drawer, holes in the walls, mold in the bathroom, thick layers of dirt and grime and dust coated everything with a surface.

My husband and children had just spent the weekend helping me clean up my North Louisiana rent home. We carted out piles upon piles of trash, raked up two years worth of leaves, swept and mopped and scoured every surface we could easily reach. And still at the end of those two days of hard work, there was still so very much more to do.

The bathroom leak had been fixed, but now came the work of ripping out all of the molded sheetrock and putting up new. There were several broken ceiling fans and light fixtures which needed to be replaced. One room had several large holes in the walls, which meant I needed to get new paneling. Throughout the remainder of the house, the walls and trim desperately need new paint. And then there was the question of the roof.  Did it leak as my former tenant indicated, even though I couldn’t see physical evidence of the leaks? If so, could it be patched, or was I looking at the expense of a brand-new roof?

As I stood and looked around my, I saw the fragmented beauty of what once was. But the charming old home that I had bought for myself just five years earlier was no long charming or beautiful.  My brother, who had come by to help for a couple of hours, shook his head in disbelief and said, “Well, Paige … this definitely isn’t the home you left 4 years ago, is it?”  Sadly, all I could do was nod my head in agreement.

Hours later, I stood on the front lawn with Jon next to me, holding my hand. I sighed, but he leaned in and said,  “Maybe, with a little hard work, together we can get this old home back to its former glory. I know it will be time and money … but I think if we just take it one step at a time, we will be able to take care of each thing that needs to be done.”

I smiled at him, for the first time feeling that all wasn’t lost. Even through the discouragement, I knew deep down that the old home could become like new again.

This house could be restored.

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It’s been almost a month since they left us. I still miss their sweet little smiles, their precious hugs and kisses, the way their chubby hands felt in mine. I miss rocking and singing and reading books.

I knew from the beginning that being a foster parent would require me to love children as my own and then be willing to give them back to their parents. After all, that is (at least initially)  the ultimate goal for every foster child.

But knowing isn’t quite the same thing as experiencing.

I didn’t know how it would feel to buckle their car seats for the last time knowing this was our goodbye. How could I have prepared myself for the tears  that streamed down my cheeks as I washed the last of the baby bottles, sobbing because that sweet little girl who wouldn’t be snuggling with me at night any more? For two weeks after they left, I kept coming across stray baby socks, chunky legos and matchbox cars, evidence that two small people who used to live with us don’t live here anymore. Every time it made me cry.

It’s been hard on my heart, and yet if I am fully truthful then I must also say that there is lots of  joy and hope in my heart for those two precious children. They are back with their mama. Isn’t that where every child wants to be? Held in their mother’s arms? Loved by the parent who brought them into this world?

God called me and my family out, asked us to be part of something bigger than ourselves. We learned to love children who weren’t ours as if they were our very own, and then in the end we had to give them back with nothing left but the memories. But oh, what a privilege to be witness what came as a result!

A family has been restored.

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Me and my dad, Easter 1973

Not quite six months ago, my father died. Unexpectedly. On my birthday. I’ve not nearly gotten over it yet. Most days, I wonder if I ever will.

It’s been a surreal sort of experience, learning to go throughout my days without talking to my dad. I used to pick up the phone without thinking. I wanted to talk to him, tell him something funny one of the kids said or ask for some advice. I would be halfway through dialing before I would remember that he no longer was around to answer phone calls.

Other times the phone would ring, and I would answer expecting to hear his voice on the other end of the line. Of course, it always turned out to be someone else and I would spend about half of that conversation trying not to cry because I wasn’t talking with my father.

Once I was at my home church and thought I saw my father walking at the other end of the hallway, his back to me. I raced ahead without thinking, only to feel surprised when it turned out to be my uncle. While I was glad to give him a hug, I wished it had been my dad instead.

I celebrate my first birthday while Papaw celebrates his 50th ... the first of many birthdays we have celebrated together.
I celebrate my first birthday while Papaw celebrates his 50th … the first of many birthdays we  celebrated together.

Just last week, my grandfather passed away. Now not only is my father gone, but my father’s father as well. Though it wasn’t nearly the shock of my father’s passing as my grandfather was ninety-one and had been ill for most of the last six weeks of his life, his death has left a what feels like a large raw, ragged hole in my heart.

Two patriarchs gone in less than six months. The two deaths feel so entangled, I am not sure I even know how to process through the grief.

At my grandfather’s funeral, it felt all too familiar. Weren’t we just here, reading the cards attached to the flower arrangements, accepting casseroles and cakes from well-meaning church members, and receiving condolences from a long line of friends at the church?  Now we must do this again?

Tears ran down my cheeks as I watched the photo slide show during the visitation for my grandfather, yet I wasn’t sure who the tears were for … Daddy or Papaw.

Maybe the tears were mostly for me.

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And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. ~1 Peter 5:10

Until the last six months, I never thought about Heaven much at all.

If I am truthful, I must admit that actually going to Heaven is something I have never really anticipated.  I’ve always expected that some day in the future I will go there and see it for myself, mainly because it is what God promises will happen when I die as a result of putting my faith in Him. But I haven’t really ever spent time looking forward to that day.

Furthermore, lately I’ve realized that for most of my life my thoughts about Heaven have frequently conflicted with Biblical teachings.

I’ve always imagined Heaven as this great white expanse, trimmed in a rich gold. Pristine, quiet, and ethereal. Everyone there wears a white robe and a completely serene expression upon their face. As Heaven knows no anger, no tears, no worry, no sickness, it is a place of complete peace. But I also came to realize that I also never imagined heaven being a place of joy or laughter or even of love. Just eternal rest from this current earthly life.

No wonder I wasn’t eager to think about it or to anticipate going there myself! If dying means never laughing or feeling excitement again, then why would I care about Heaven?

Of course, since Dad’s death, I’ve thought quite a bit more about Heaven. I’ve never doubted that my father (and now grandfather) is now experiencing Heaven, but I have wondered if the things I miss most about them are still a part of them. Oh, I hope so! I miss their laughter, story-telling, and curious minds. How I would love, just one more time, to hear my father and grandfather engaged in one of their friendly Biblical debates, as they happily studied their Sunday school lesson together. I can’t tell you how many Sunday lunches I spent listening to them discuss exactly who Melchizedek was and the mysteries surrounding his priesthood. Are these parts of them buried in the grave?

And what of other things about this earthly life that I enjoy now. I know this planet is a flawed place to live, so far from perfection, but there is still so much to love about the world God created. Beautiful sunsets. Stars against a dark night sky.  Cool breezes. The kiss of warm sunshine against my skin on a spring day. Brilliant fall leaves. Laughing with a friend. Hugs from my family. Chocolate. So many things I cherish about life … When this life is over, must these end as well?

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But, as it is written,“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”  ~1 Corinthians 2:9

Not long ago, Jon had a dream about the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. In his dream, he was this large banquet hall where huge tables, covered in white clothes, were filled with large platters of delicious food. The smell was intoxicating. As Jon sat down to eat, he noticed a group of dancers enter the hall, performing an intricate dance to this amazing music. Jon said he started to dance along.  Next there were singers. Again, Jon knew the words to all the songs and enjoyed clapping and dancing and singing.  Then later on, he noticed several groups of people, each one seemed to be captivated by an engaging story-teller. Jon said it was the most wonderful party he had ever attended, and that when he woke up he was actually sad that it had to end.

Heaven? A party that never ends? 

Now that sounds like something to get excited about!

I’ve been reading Randy Alcorn’s book, Heaven, which is perhaps the most definitive book about the subject (after the Bible, of course). In his book, Alcorn writes,

“Satan need not convince us that Heaven doesn’t exist. He need only convince us that Heaven is a boring, unearthly existence.”

This particular quote resonated deeply with me, obviously because it was so true of my own beliefs regarding Heaven. My imaginings of Heaven aren’t accurate at all, for it is far from being a place of mundane existence.

Earth is just a prelude to heaven. So magnificent sunsets, majestic mountains, delicious meals in the company of friends, the joy of laughter … all of these things are just a delightful preview of what is to come.

God declared His original creation as “good.” His plan all along has been to redeem and restore it.

Religion professor Albert Wolters writes, “God hangs on to his fallen original creation and salvages it. He refuses to abandon the work of His hands—in fact, He sacrifices His own Son to save His original project. Humankind, which has botched its original mandate and the whole creation along with it, is given another chance in Christ; we are reinstated as God’s managers on earth. The original good creation is to be restored.”

Restoration.

It’s not just for old houses or dysfunctional families or broken relationships.

It’s for all of Creation. For me. For you.

All it takes is trusting Jesus Christ to redeem us from our sinful selves. And when we do, we can anticipate the day we die, knowing we will be restored to all we were originally created to be, perfect in every way. We will not be sent to some place of eternal rest, but rather will be reinstated on a new earth, as real and as physical as the first, but without all the sin and shame and sorrow and sickness.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away …  And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”   ~from Revelation 21

The Greatest Gift

It was raining the day they came to live with us.  

 I hadn’t been given much time to prepare for their arrival, perhaps an hour’s notice at most. I suppose that in the end it didn’t matter all that much, as I didn’t have a clue how to prepare to welcome them to my home in the first place.

When the white government mini-van pulled up in our driveway, my sister-in-law, who had unexpectedly dropped by and gotten caught up in the afternoon’s drama, held an umbrella over my head as I reached into the vehicle to pull out a chubby nine-month old baby girl. As I carried that sweet little one into my home, her big blue eyes gazed up at me with what I can only describe as a rather dull expression. No fear. No curiosity. No spark. Only a blank stare.

Days, maybe weeks, later, I noticed she had a dimple, so tiny and sweet, that flashed across her left cheek with every baby giggle.

But that day, there wasn’t any laughter.

Her big brother, if you could call him that for he was as tiny as she was chubby, walked into our home and immediately found the small collection of toys arranged on the living room rug. He busied himself with the cars, not seeming to notice there was anyone else in the house.

As I signed the stack of paperwork, accepting the responsibility of caring for these two children, I wondered what would happen when the social workers left our home.  Soon enough, I discovered the answer to that question. Nothing. No crying. No fretting. No indications of concern.  In fact, these little ones didn’t seem to realize they had been left alone with strangers.

I don’t know exactly what I was expecting to happen in those first hours. Certainly not smiles or laughter, but definitely not this uneasy calm either. But then I had never been around neglected children, which explains why …

This was also a day without tears.

The days turned into weeks, and slowly our two foster babies began to meld into our family. We read for hours on end, The Little Engine that CouldChicka-Chicka-Boom-Boom, and Goodnight Moon. We sang all the songs toddlers love: If You’re Happy and You Know ItThe Itsty-Bitsy Spider, and Jesus Loves Me. We even taught them which little piggy says, “wee, wee, wee” all the way home.

As the weeks turned into months, we celebrated their birthdays, applauded first steps, and marveled over first words. When the oldest began to recognize colors, we proudly bragged to our friends about how smart and intelligent our foster son was. There were harder lessons to be learned, such as the importance of using a spoon, how to pet a dog without pulling on its ears, and that during the clean-up song everyone must pick up the toys. At mealtime, we taught them how to fold their small hands and say grace over their food; at bedtime, we tucked them into their cribs with kisses and prayers.

As the months went by, the two babies began to change.  A sparkle came to their eyes. Curiosity returned. They began to act like children who mattered, because they did.

No longer neglected, now they were loved.

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But some days, maybe most days, I didn’t feel like loving them.

These babies weren’t like other babies who had been lavished with love and attention and nurturing since birth. Instead, they came to our home, bringing with them an emotional baggage for which I was not prepared. My days consisted of dealing with their bad behaviors. Throwing food. Screaming matches. Biting. Pulling hair. Clawing skin.

Initially, I had wanted to foster needy children so that I could share the love of Jesus with children who might not ever taste of love. My fostering dreams were nothing more than a golden haze of envisioning how I would be God’s light in the darkness.

I didn’t realize the darkness could be so dark.

The bitter truth quickly became clear. I really didn’t know how to love these babies who struggled to accept and respond to my efforts. The more I struggled, the more I fell to my knees, begging God for help and mercy.

Being a foster mom was mostly a humbling lesson in learning to truly love others. I suppose I had expected I would learn a lot about love through the process of being a foster mother, but I was banking on more of the familiar warm, fuzzy, feel-good sort of love.

Instead, God showed me a love that hurts and stings. And while He taught me more about love than I ever knew before, what I learned was that true love has very little to do with how I feel and everything to do with how I treat the other person.

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Last Friday, our foster babies left us.

Once again, I didn’t have much notice. Less than 24 hours to get ready for them to leave my home.  Just like I didn’t know how to plan for their arrival, I had no idea how to prepare for their departure.

I put all of their tiny clothes into suitcases, along with the four toys they were each allotted to carry on to their next destination. I dressed them in their nicest outfits, so that they would look all clean and shiny for their momma.

While we waited for the social worker to arrive, we sat together in the big rocker, reading board books and singing songs. I wiggled their smallest piggies, and together we laughed as we chanted, “Wee, wee, wee … all the way home!”

This was a day of giggles and laughter.

As the white government van pulled into my driveway, drops of rain began to sprinkle over the lawn. The time had come, and though I thought my heart might burst apart, I gently buckled them into car seats for the last time and kissed their tiny faces. The chubby baby girl, now almost 15 months old, reached out for me and cried.

It was also a day for tears.

And though I still grieve the loss, I already know that if I am given another chance, I’ll choose to do it all again … for love, as much as it sometimes hurts, is the greatest gift we can ever choose to give.

But the greatest of these is love. ~1 Corinthians 13:13

 

 

Better than February

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I woke up this morning feeling discouraged. It all started when I happened to remember that today is January 27th.  Much to my dismay, there are still four more days to go in this month. As I shuffled to the kitchen to start my morning coffee, there was but one thought in my weary brain:

Will January ever end? 

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Honestly, I don’t know why this particular month has seemed to drag by so very slowly. But it has, with one long day following another.

The two toddlers have been snotty-nosed, cranky and into everything that’s not tied down.  And if I’m not dealing with toddler tantrums, then it’s teenager angst. I can’t tell you which one is worse. Honestly, they are both bad.

January just also happens to be the month for our recertification as foster parents. It’s only slightly less harrowing than getting certified the first go around.  Together, Jon and I had to complete 15 hours of online training. Excuse me, but I’m so busy chasing our duel tornadoes (aka the foster babies) that I hardly have time to do anything else. Finding 15 hours to complete training is like asking me to find a needle in a haystack. Fortunately, I somehow managed to find them, so that particular stressor is finally behind me.

I haven’t been to church in 3 long weeks. Sickish toddlers kept me away two Sundays. The other Sunday I was out thanks to a two year old boy’s first science experiment involving a bottle of Zantac (that he somehow managed to open in spite of the child safety cap) and some kitchen cleaner. Concerned that he may have ingested some of the concoction, I stayed home and kept in close contact with a kind lady from the Poison Control Center.  Thankfully, no symptoms other than hyperactivity were noticed and calamity was once again avoided.

Then there is my house, the one which is once again for rent or for sale.  I could probably write an entire  blog post about that, but I won’t. It’s suffice to say that my current situation is nothing short of baffling. Changing renters should be simple enough. One renter moves out. Another one moves in. And yet this time around it has been anything but simple. I have never before had anyone threaten me to never contact them again, much less a person who was living on my property. <SIGH> Well, I have now. It happened this January.  And I didn’t even realize there was a problem between me and my former renter.

All month long it has been one thing after another. To me, it seems that …

January has become my prison. 

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Last Friday, my sister had her baby. Sweet little Mallory Piper was born via C-section at about 8 am on January 23rd, weighing in at 7 lbs 15 oz.  She is perfectly healthy with the most adorable chubby cheeks.  And I can hardly wait until I get to meet her in person.

In a way, it seems unreal that Mallory is already here.

Perhaps you can remember when we were picking names and debating on genders right here on my blog late last summer? It really wasn’t all that long ago, and yet it almost feels like a lifetime has happened between then and now.

One thing about grief is you never know what will blindside you. For example, I never anticipated my niece’s birth to bring up an entire host of intense emotions. But then again, I never anticipated my father wouldn’t be around to see the birth of this granddaughter.

I remember his delight as he announced to me what my sister had already told me, that he would be getting a new grandchild. While I cannot remember if he predicted this baby would be a boy or a girl, I do know he was tickled pink when Brooke announced she was expecting another daughter. And I certainly recall how he adamantly insisted that no grandchild of his would ever be named Hazel because a long time ago he had a mean teacher name Hazel and he had never liked the name since.

Now Mallory is with us, but my dad isn’t … and that leaves me with a strange lump in my throat that mingles with the joy and excitement of being an aunt again. As much as I already adore and love that sweet baby girl, her arrival makes me miss my father’s presence a little more. I definitely wasn’t prepared to experience these feelings along with my niece’s birth.

But truthfully, I wasn’t prepared at all for January 2015.

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Ask my children and they will tell you that I am often reminding them not to wish their lives away.

Enjoy being thirteen,” I tell my middle girl. “I know there are so many things you want to do … drive a car, go on a date,  You will be Sweet Sixteen you know it. But thirteen will never come around again.”  (Of course, I don’t tell her that very few are the number of adults who would actually voluntarily live through being 13 again.  She’ll discover that soon enough on her own.)

I know Geometry is a pain in the rear, but instead of wishing you could go back to elementary school, focus on the good things about being in the 10th grade.”  (Of course, the high school sophomore doesn’t want to heed that advice. It’s much easier to moan and complain.)

But lately, I haven’t been able to take my own advice either.

I’m stuck in the middle of January, and I can’t get out.

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Paige, Lately God has put you on my heart, and I’ve been praying for you.  What I’d really like to do is something that would help and encourage you. Can I take the two little ones one day this week? My girls and I would enjoy spending time with them and giving you a bit of a break.

I thought I was surely hearing things.

It was Sunday afternoon. Just that morning, while the rest of my family worshipped at church, I sat at home with two small children and prayed, “God, I just need a break. I’m weary and worn and I can’t go on much longer.

Now my friend had called me out of the blue, with an offer so sweet it felt as welcome as drops of water on parched, dry lips.

All month long I’ve felt alone in the trenches, forgotten in the battle, desperate for some piece of encouragement. Day after day I get up, put on a brave face and continue to soldier forward into the fray that has become my daily life … aching for February, and hoping that with it will come a blessed relief to my soul.

But here was my relief.  And it came while it was still January.

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The God of the Bible has many names, and one of my favorites has always been El Roi, which is translated as “God Who Sees.”

I might have felt alone, but God always saw me. He didn’t forget about me, and my little life currently filled with so much stress.

And while I desperately desired nothing more than a new month on the calendar as a hope of getting some peace restored, God sent someone to minister to me right in the middle of the longest, driest month of my life.

When my January wouldn’t end, God gave me something better than February.

He gave me a friend.

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Yes, it’s still January and all my troubles are still here. But I have been reminded that I am not alone … and today, my friend ministered to my heart, bringing to me a taste of God’s peace and love right in the middle of winter in my soul.

I am thankful for friends who do such nice things in the middle of January. I am grateful to be loved by a God who sees me and loves me and cares about my heart.

And both of these things are better than anything February might bring.

Two are better than one … For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion.  ~ Ecclesiastes 4: 9-10

Thank you, Lauren … you’ll never know how very much today was needed. I’m grateful for a friend like you.

Christmas Lights

He had been in our home less than half an hour when our new little foster son began to request for us to turn lights on.  His chubby toddler hands would point up to the fixture, while in a sweet but insistent voice he would say, “Light? On?”

Before bedtime on that very first night, Jon was in the dining room changing out a burned out bulb in order to please the 22 month old boy who loved lights.

Even now, three months into this foster parenting gig, our family’s favorite two year old is still fascinated with light.

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Christmas is a season of light. It seems that everywhere you look, trees and houses are lit up with hundreds upon hundreds of tiny, twinkling lights. Trees glittering through window panes. Colored lights outlining rooftops while white lights make the bushes sparkle.

At Christmas, there is nothing more lovely than a tree lit up with lots of lights. Normally, I relish in decorating our family’s Christmas tree. I love to cover it in lots and lots of lights, and then fill it from top to bottom with hundreds of ornaments. Finally, I wrap the entire tree is sparkly gold ribbon before adding our star to the very top.

Yet, as much as I love the process and result of tree decorating, this year I decided NOT to decorate a tree. It wasn’t easy to come to such a conclusion, but after a two hour attempt to keep our two toddlers from completely destroying my mother’s Christmas tree, … well, I realized it would not be a fun Christmas season if I had to spend every waking moment trying to keep myself between the tree and the toddlers.

At first, I tried to come up with a solution that would still enable me to have my cake and eat it too … or, rather in this case,  have my tree and decorate it too. Someone suggested surrounding the tree with baby gates. I considered it, but then realized it would cost me a small fortune for something I really didn’t want to have after Christmas.

I also contemplated putting the tree up in a more out of the way location in our house. However, our home has a relatively open floor plan. The only out of the way locations available were bedrooms, bathrooms and Jon’s home office. None of those options felt like a good place to put the family Christmas tree.

In the end, it seemed as if there were only two options. Put up a Christmas tree and then spend the entire season constantly guarding it from an attack launched by two small children. Or forego the Christmas tree this year and find other ways to decorate our home.

But if I thought I was disappointed about having a year with no Christmas tree, I should realized the magnitude of the reaction I was about to get from my five teens and tweens.  When I first broke the news, a few took the news rather well, but there were a couple that stared at me in stunned silence before beginning to beg and plead with me to change my mind. When I wouldn’t, I received several glares that could kill had there be any super powers involved. Fortunately for me,  I am raising humans and not super heroes.

My kids are fortunate too, for I am not a mean old Grinch … though they might occasionally beg to differ with me on that point. Still, I never intended NOT to decorate our home for the Christmas season. I just determined that a typical Christmas tree should not be part of this year’s holiday decor.

So instead of focusing on my tree, I decorated the doorways with garlands and decked out the walls.

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My banner that drapes across the kitchen. It says “Joyeux Noel.” I figure consider I that I live in the heart of Louisiana’s Cajun Country, I at least ought to include a little French in our Christmas decor.

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I set up displays of  nativity sets on every solid surface out of reach of little fat fingers.

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The stockings were even hung. Not over a chimney, which we don’t have anyway, or in their usual place along the living room shelves. Rather, the stockings found a place to hang over the living room windows. I liked the way they looked, nine stockings hanging in a row.

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In the end, there was tree to decorate after all. Last weekend, I found a mini-tree on sale for less than $10, so I got it to put on the ledge above the kitchen sink. It just so happens that it can be seen from the living room as well, which makes this small tree the perfect place to display each person’s new ornament for 2014.

Look and see if you can spot the:

(1) Eiffel Tower for Julia who has been collecting them since her summer trip to Paris;  (2) A plane for Joel to remind him of his first trip overseas;  (3)  A Rubik’s cub for Nate who figured out the key to solving them; (4) A sparkly owl for Meg;   (5) A glittery snow fox for Maddie; (6) Two reindeer with the initials K and C  for the foster babies;  (7) a turquoise and brown cross for Jon;  (8) and a cow bell which represents my wedding anniversary to Jon … it was tied to the back of our getaway car at our wedding which will be 4 years ago on Dec. 31st.

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But my favorite ornament on this year’s tiny tree is the one I bought just for me!

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While I take all the credit for decorating the inside of our home, Jon always takes care of making the outside look merry and bright. This year Megan helped decorate the front yard, stringing lights all around and placing a simple reindeer on the front lawn. As always, they did a fantastic job!

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But even though I loved the welcoming look, what I really wished was that we had a little extra money to buy a wreath to hang on the front door. (True fact: When you have seven kids, there is never any extra money.) Imagine my surprise when the very next day my sweet friend Korin gave me a beautiful fresh wreath that she made just for me to hang on my front door.

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The perfect finishing touch!

We may not have a tree this year, but the signs of Christmas are all around the house, and I am praying daily for signs of Christmas growing in our hearts as well …  the Christmas spirit of generosity and of love and of humble worship.

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Three months ago a tiny little boy and his baby sister came to live with us. And from the very beginning, the lights in our home fascinated him.

This Christmas, we have a blessed opportunity to share the wonders of the season with two innocent children. It may be the only chance we have to share Christmas with them. So we will drive that sweet boy up and down the streets after dark, showing him the city all lit up for Christmas. We will bake cookies and open gifts and bask in the glow of Christmas excitement.  And through it all, I will hold out hope that on some future day these precious kids will see the pictures and know how much fun our family had sharing this Christmas with them.

But more than anything else, I pray for our little ones’ hearts to be captivated by the Light of this World, the Holy Infant of Bethlehem who came to save us from our sins. We may not have a big Christmas tree and the presents we open may be relatively few, but oh how I hope even at their tender ages they will see the light of His love living in us, and because of that they will long to know Him more.

Because really … that’s what Christmas is all about.

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Behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” ~Matthew 2:2

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”  ~John 8:12

Finished! (Never mind … I’ve Not Even Begun)

Yesterday afternoon about 1:30 the phone call finally came.

Our paperwork is complete. Jon and I are officially logged into the foster care system and available to take a child into our home.

Whew! For a while, I wasn’t sure it was ever going to happen.  Those first few weeks, everything flew into place. I couldn’t seem to get it to all slow down.

And then everything came to a sudden halt.

Not only did things not move forward. It even seemed we were taking steps back. I found myself questioning our motives and wondering if we were up to the challenge. A minor family crisis involving one of our five children almost made us decide to close the door on this ministry.

But we decided to wait on God and let Him either close or open the door.

We waited and watched … and very slowly the last few steps were accomplished in an orderly manner.

And with that one phone call, I sat back and breathed a big sigh, “It’s finished!”

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I only thought it was finished yesterday.  What was finished was nothing more than the beginning.

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Today the phone rang again. Almost at the same exact time.

Again, it was our foster care worker with news … two kids on their way to our home.

And suddenly, just as quickly, all the relief of yesterday vanished. My heart is turning in a million directions. I’m overwhelmed with nerves and heartache, while at the same time eager to do what God has asked me and my family to do.

Any time a child is placed into foster care, there has been a tragedy. An awful thing has happened. And yet to have the chance to love on these two precious babies is an opportunity I  want to embrace.

I’ve got just an hour to get ready. I’ve got just a few minutes to get things together. There are a million things to do, or so it seems. Put the crib together. Straighten in the nursery and make sure there is nothing a toddler shouldn’t have laid about. Baby proof the living room. Start supper because I imagine cooking once they arrive will be hard to accomplish. And yet I sit here writing …

Because my heart is breaking… Two babies ripped out of their home … so even though they are coming to me where I will keep them safe and fed and hopefully happy, these two precious ones have already been through something terrible to bring them to my door.

Because my heart is anxious… Will I have enough energy for this? Can my family take the stress and strain of caring for two small children? Are we going to regret this decision or will it be the best thing we’ve ever done?

Because my heart is filled with excitement… God has asked me and my family to dare to love and we’ve said yes. It’s always thrilling to see how God will use us and there is a part of me expecting great and wonderful things.

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Yesterday, when I thought those words, “it is finished,” I recalled how those were the final words Jesus uttered on the cross. We call that day Good Friday, not because His suffering was good but because through it all humanity gained salvation.

Today is a good Friday in my home and in my life. Not that it begins to compare to the Good Friday of Easter, but rather because it signifies that we are following God in faith, dependent upon Him to meet our every need in this endeavor.

It’s good because God will meet us where we are and will give us all we need. This much I know to be true.

Still … if you think of the two babies heading to my home and of my family as we welcome them with love, I would love knowing you are praying with us and for us.

Because we’ve not finished anything. We’ve only just begun.

Let’s Try to Name that Baby

In early 2015, I will be an aunt again! My sister is having a baby … and now, after much debate (which you can read about here) we finally know whether to buy pink or blue bibs!

All along I’ve been guessing her new baby is going to be a boy, dreaming of onesies decorated with jungle animals, blankets edged in blues and greens, and plenty of toy trucks and balls galore.

Boy, oh boy!  Was I ever wrong!

My sister is having another girl … and quite truthfully, I am still tickled just as pink! There will be dresses trimmed with lace, hair bows, dolls and tea parties. Oh, I can hardly wait to meet my newest niece!

Photo Credit: Designed by godofopathy at  www.wordans.com
Photo Credit: Designed by godofopathy at http://www.wordans.com

For the past week or so, my sister and I have been discussing names via text messaging. This is probably the safest way for us to handle discussions on this topic. I’m not naming any names but one of us used to pick weird names for our dolls and stuffed animals. We’ve been arguing quibbling over names ever since.

This time the list of possible names has approximately one that I really like: Abigail.

The rest of the list is consists of names that are cute but I would never chose for one reason or another, as well as several names that cause me to question my sister’s sanity. None of them are quite as bad as something like Bertha, but a few of them are just a step or two away.  Hopefully, my brother-in-law won’t like those options any better than I do.

My sister doesn’t always choose strange names. Her younger daughter has a beautiful name, Bethany Sage.

Immediately upon finding out this newest addition was going to be another girl, I thought how sweet it would be if her daughters had rhyming names. And, in case you hadn’t thought of it yet, Sage rhymes perfectly with Paige.

Personally, I think Abigail Paige is an adorable name! It’s timeless and classic, with a Bible name thrown in for good measure. In my unsolicited opinion, this is the sort of name you cannot go wrong with giving to a daughter. Besides, I am quite certain that “little Paige” would love sharing a name with her favorite aunt.  Unfortunately, my sister has not been agreeable to my suggestion.

My sister’s oldest daughter is actually her step-daughter so she obviously didn’t pick out her name, which is Madison Rose. However, there is a little connection between those two girls and their middle names. Perhaps you noticed it too.  Rose and Sage are both color names, as well as plant names.  Though I am positive this wasn’t a pattern my sister intended to start, I see no reason she should stop now that it is going.

That’s why I’ve spent a lot of time compiling a lengthy list of appropriate names to help my sister continue this pattern when picking out a name for baby girl #3.  For example, Violet is a lovely name that is also both a color and a plant. I also came up with a list of just color names: Scarlett, Ruby, Amber and Pearl. My list of plant names included Daisy, Lily and Ivy.

Of course, I am not the only one sending my sister suggestions. My mother suggested the very unique name Teal, going along with the color theme.

The name Hazel came up in a recent conversation with my sister.  Not only is it growing in popularity thanks to its appearance in recent books and movies, but it is the name of a color as well.  I also pointed out that it could even be short for the plant named Witch Hazel, which may seem like a bit of a stretch but I thought I’d mention it anyway since there is the naming pattern of plants and colors to consider.

However, when my dad heard about the name Hazel being a serious option, he ranted that he was not at all in favor of naming any of his granddaughters Hazel because once when he was in elementary school he had a mean teacher by that name. Apparently, nearly 60 years later, he is still holding a grudge.

…sigh…

If only we could all agree on a name …

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Of all the things associated with having a baby, perhaps agreeing upon the name is the hardest part.

Consider for a moment these questions one must ask before naming a baby:

Should the name be traditional, popular, unique, old-fashioned or ethnic?

Should the baby be named in honor of a relative or friend? After a beloved character in a book or movie?

Should the spelling be traditional or creative?

There are sometimes additional “rules” which some parents require names to meet before using on their second, third, and fourth babies. These might include certain standards such as names only starting with certain letters or choosing names that fit a specific pattern (for example, presidential names). Sometimes it’s even things like desiring the entire name to contain an exact number of syllables.

It is at this point in baby name conversations that I always pause to wonder about the Duggar family.  How on earth did Jim Bob and Michelle ever manage to find 19 names all beginning with the letter J that they both liked?!  This is perhaps the biggest naming mystery for our generation.

Once all these questions have been answered and the “rules” have been followed, then the parents (who we must remember are two individual people and likely have vastly different opinions) must somehow actually pick a combination of two (or maybe three) names that they both like and can live with, all the while praying their baby will grow up to like the name as well.

Talk about a daunting task! It’s a wonder any of us have names at all!

Speaking of almost not having a name …

My grandfather didn’t have a name until he was nearly a year old. I suppose his parents couldn’t agree upon what to name him. For months he was just called “Nookie” until they finally decided to name him James Herbert. I guess we can all be thankful that they didn’t decide to stick with Nookie.

Actually, I can relate to my great-grandmother’s reluctance to name her baby. Don’t get me wrong … naming my children wasn’t a horrible experience. In fact, many parts of the process were definitely fun. Thumbing through baby name books while pondering the plethora of fantastic names out there from which I could choose, daydreaming about raising a child with various names, asking other moms (and dads) how they named their children and hearing some wonderful tales. I’m so glad for those memories.

And yet, as the weeks turned into months, I found myself fretting that I would ever find the right name for my unborn child. It’s big task to give someone the name they will have for all of their life. What if my baby grew up to hate their name? What if they hated me for giving the name to them in the first place?

Honestly, the pressure is enough to make me wish that babies came to this earth with a little stamp on their tiny bottoms:

This baby’s name is ______________. Love, God

(Of course, the blank would be filled in, otherwise it wouldn’t alleviate the enormous task of having to come up with a wonderful name. And since God would be doing the naming, both parents and child would think the name was completely perfect.)

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Photo Credit: www.tidewaterparent.com
Photo Credit: http://www.tidewaterparent.com

My husband Jon and I have never named a child together.

We are currently raising a blended family of five children, and are preparing to open our home to foster children in the very, very near future. Truly, our house is overflowing with the blessing of children!

Yet, Jon and I both have hope that one day God will give us an additional blessing, a child together. In that case, we would obviously have the task of naming such a child. There have been a handful of discussions regarding the names we might give to a future child, and based on those conversations I can explain in one word how I feel about the idea of finding a name both Jon and I can agree upon:

Worried.

My husband and I share a lot of the same likes and dislikes in many areas of our lives. Names for children is not one of those areas.

Perhaps it is a good thing that foster children come already named!

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There is one name above all names.

Hundreds of years before He was born, Isaiah wrote:

He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. ~Isaiah 9:6

And then, in the months prior to His birth, His earthly father Joseph was told by the angel:

She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. ~Matthew 1:21

If you don’t know who I am referring to, it’s Jesus Christ.  He is the Messiah, Immanuel, God with us. His name has the power to bring salvation to a dying soul, break the chains that keep prisoners bound, and set the captives free. It’s the only name in heaven and on earth that matters.

When I wake up in the Land of Glory, and with the saints I will tell my story,

There is just one name I’ll proclaim.

It’s Jesus, Jesus, Jesus … the sweetest name I know!