day 15–hot cocoa love.

Well…sometimes things don’t go as planned, especially when it comes to loving people. Today was one of those days. The challenge for today was to bring hot cocoa to the Salvation Army bell ringer. Apparently they do not ring the bell on Sundays. Oops. So we headed out after church with a bunch of hot cocoas and rode around our town trying to think about who would be out in these crazy cold temperatures. The kids saw a police man sitting in his cruiser and shouted out from the backseat. “Mom we can love him today!” So that is what we did. We continued to ride around our neighborhood looking for our amazing police officers and spread some hot cocoa love. Everyone deserves some love but our officers have a really hard job and do an outstanding job keeping us feeling safe. I can’t wait to hear how you and your family spread some love on this chilly Sunday!

Tomorrow the challenge is to bring or send flowers to someone you know is really struggling this Christmas season. Christmas can be extremely hard for some. I know. That was me last year. Flowers and a hug can bring such love to someone’s sorrow. So friends…..go spread some love! #25daysoflove

Be sure to leave what you did today in the comments or on my Facebook page. It’s amazing to see love spreading ……

The emptiness that screams….

There is this void inside of me. I think if we are honest with ourselves, we all have this.

I think I’ve always known mine was there. An emptiness that screams. Like me. Need me. Invite me. Laugh at me. Hold me. Notice me. Love me. Listen to me. Hear me. Believe in me. Trust me. Walk with me. Dance with me. Pick me. Don’t leave me. Want me. Fight for me.

When I returned from Uganda a year ago I came home with a chasm of emptiness. I am sure all that were there noticed it when I walked through the gates at O’Hare. Although I am sure it was masked by the fact that I was looking just so ravishing after traveling 26 hours straight with a child that was bighting me .

After being in Uganda for over eleven weeks and only released from the country because a certain large organization was called in, you could say I came home with some “issues”. One of the biggest issues was my overwhelming sense that I didn’t belong. I didn’t know how to fit back into my own family. I had left that role for so many months that my family didn’t even know where I belonged. And I had this devastating ache that I would not be able to ever reconnect with my friends. That we would never see things in the same light again.

It wasn’t until recently that I could voice exactly what that need was, I wanted to be heard. Really heard. But I couldn’t. I wanted others to understand the depth of what I had been through. I wanted them to see international adoption in the same revealing way that I now am understanding it. I wanted someone to tell me that they understood the deep pain that suffocated me. I wanted someone to realize that I missed out on three months of all of their lives and felt like I never caught up. I wanted someone to see that I was struggling to know what my role was in the home. The older kids had to be in charge so many times that they had a difficult time letting me be mom again. And here I was scared to be mom because I carried so much guilt around for being gone. I wanted someone to know that I needed to reconnect. And I didn’t know how.

In retrospect I know this wasn’t fair. To them. To me.

I wanted others to fill a deep longing. A deep pain. A deep fear that only Christ himself could heal.

This morning it was apparent I still have parts of the emptiness that are still exposed. I was feeling so alone and disconnected from others. I was drawn into the lie again that they will fill the emptiness that only He can fill.

So in the emptiness I will cling. In the emptiness I will heal.

In the emptiness He will make me whole again.

an open letter to those thinking about adoption…

If there is one piece of advice I would give to those thinking about adopting it is this.

YOU NEED COMMUNITY.

You need a group, a group, not an individual that will walk with you through this. And not walk away.

You need people in your life that will stand in your kitchen after you have returned home after being gone for three months and say “you’re wondering why you did this, right?”.  And loving you in the answer.

You need people that you can lay on their couch and cry knowing that you don’t need to say a word you need to just be.

You need people that will bring you meals and not try to hold your child or give your child anything. They understand that attachment is holding on by a thread.

You need people who get what the trenches look like. They are an ugly dark place filled with loss and grief.

You need people who give you space to feel what you need to feel.

You need people who will fight for justice for the orphan not their happiness.

You need people who will cover your house with prayer and pray the darkness away from you.

You need people who will stop and actually want to know how things are.

You need people who know what to do with hair, skin, rashes etc.

You need people who are in your corner no matter what.

You need people to shower you with grace when make a decision that you stand alone in.

You need people who understand that the health department and the social worker coming on the same day deserves a good cry and a latte, if not a bottle of wine.

You need people who are not afraid of the truth. You need people who fight for your family.

You need people who know what it’s like to try and collect bodily fluids out of your child is draining every last ounce of sanity you think you have.

You need people who understand that you cannot spank your child when he misbehaves. Knowing and respecting that this just sends them into a tale spin of shame.

You need people who realize that adoption can bring out the ugliest part of you. Parts that even scare you.

You need people who love you through your own tantrums.

You need people who understand that at least the first year you are in your own bubble of adjustment.

You need people who understand not to take things personally when you don’t return phone calls, much less remember your birthday.

You need people who except that your family looks different. You need people who celebrate that.

You need people who continually lead you to the great Healer.

You need people who want nothing but healing for all of you.

This is my prayer for you. That before you decide to bring another child filled with trauma into your home that you would have these honest conversations with yourself and those you love. That you would ask God to begin to heal the hearts and lives of those around you so they can be your people.

In honor of Billy Graham- what is your legacy?

Today is Billy Grahams birthday. He is 95. 95 years of life on this earth. 95 years to leave his mark. His legacy. This got me to thinking. What kind of legacy do I want to leave? It also had me thinking that I am so relieved that I did not leave this earth before the age of 25. Lord knows there were many times I should have. Yet only by His grace am I still alive today.

When I was younger I remember my great- grandfathers both held certain men in high esteem. On my sweet Catholic great- grandfathers wall hung a gold plated framed picture of the pope. Next to it was a picture of Jesus. They hung on the right side of his rocker at the same level. I have to imagine that he believed that the pope was Jesus in the flesh and he wanted to always remember him in his prayers. While my Christian Reformed grandfather holds Billy Graham in the same esteem. To this day he will tell me stories of revivals that he has seen or heard and the eternal impact that Billy Graham has had on him and the way he has lived his life.

In 2007 I had an amazing opportunity to serve alongside Samaritans Purse in Liberia. Serving those afflicted with HIV/ AIDS it was my first time falling in love with Africa and realizing the joy we lacked here in the US. Although it is Billy Graham’s son Franklin’s organization I felt like I was getting to experience a part of the Graham legacy that my grandfather had experienced.

So today being the patriarch Billy’s birthday I have to imagine that as he looks over the birthday cake with his family singing him praises that he is filled with gratitude. Knowing that he has left a legacy that has changed the not only their lives but the lives of those all over the world.

So what kind of legacy will you leave?

Will you be more concerned with what grades your child has? With what clubs they are in? How popular they are? Will you look back and say wow I am glad that every weekend was overbooked with activities that I never got to really know my children? Will you look at your bank statement and be pleased that you never gave extravagantly to someone who really needed it? Will you be calm before your maker knowing you believed 10% was not for you? Will you be filled with joy that you spent more hours at the gym than on your knees before the King? Will you be satisfied that you went to brunch with your friends or slept in on Sunday morning instead of worshiping the one who made you? Will you be at peace knowing that you never took the moments to share the love of Jesus with the little ones living under your roof? Will you be rested knowing that you continued to live like you were in a frat house every weekend instead of growing up and being the man of the house? Will you be content knowing that you never knew that your neighbor was in so much pain but your pride to walk across the street kept you inside? Will you be delighted knowing that your kids went to elite colleges but never learned what empathy was?

If I were to have passed before the age of 25 I cannot imagine the legacy I would have left. Be selfish. Drink whenever you want. You don’t have to be married. You can believe whatever you want to believe. You have no one to worry about but yourself. Spend money on things that make you look better than everyone else.

I want to leave a different legacy. I want to do better.

I want my legacy to say mercy. Love big. Love with reckless abandon. Give away. Give away everything. Things mean nothing. Create memories. Slow down. Say no. Serve. All the time serve. Serve someone who can never serve you back. Take pictures. Write stories. Tell your story. You are never too lost. Don’t be afraid. Travel the world. Make sure your feet and heart stay red. Sit at the feet of Jesus and let His love permeate over you. Tell others about redemption. Give grace. Receive grace. Fight for your community. Fight for each other. But don’t fight with each other. Reach out and feel the hand of Jesus. And most of all….know that you matter.

Take a moment and think. What kind of legacy are you leaving?

more elmo less emailing.-things I am learning from just being present.

Last night while riding in the car with my oldest she asked how she could be praying for me. Now before you go all “my kid never asked me that before! I can’t even get a full sentence out of my teenager!” You need to know that the youth pastor just minutes before had given all the kids an assignment that night to ask their parents the same question. And if they were too nervous or weren’t on the same spiritual walk as their parental unit that they could ask God to bless their household.

It wasn’t long after she asked that I knew what had been on my heart for a while now.

“To be present. With you. With all of you.”

I have a close friend who has five little bambinos. She has told me on numerous occasions that she does not volunteer for any projects outside of her home at this time in her life. And without even questioning it I completely agree with her. This sweet one has her hands full and then some. I have never viewed her as selfish or self -centered. She is basically the opposite. She pours her heart and soul into what is before her. That happens to be five precious blessings at her feet. In fact I would never think of asking her to head up a project or expect her to ever be on a team for anything.

A few days ago though the thought came to my head as I was dropping off my fifth child at school for 2.5 hours. I have five kids! No it’s not a surprise to me. I know how many kids I have. And although they are not all little they are still a lot of work. At times I think that having teenagers and toddlers at the same time is the ultimate parental test. Although the needs are different they still need me, the needs just come in hormonal waves. When I had one child I went to play dates, story times, watched Elmo, read book after book after book, and took naps. I did not volunteer to be any more than who I was. Yet now with five I seem to think that I can do all of that and take on any and every project that comes my way. While the projects may be good. I am learning again it is not good for my soul.And its not good for my families soul.

I have come face to face with the reality that I have limitations. I need breathing room. I need quiet time. I need to exercise. I need to lay my face on the floor before my God. I need to talk to my husband. And this is hard to do with the phone ringing, email sending, text answering life I have been trying to keep up with. I do not thrive on this. Others might. I don’t.

I need to do laundry. I need to clean the house. I need to prepare meals. Grocery shop. Make and go to doctor’s appointments. Sporting events. Concerts ( and yes that included the infamous recorder concert, don’t be jealous). Sporting awards. Mowing the lawn. Shoveling the snow. And try to catch the stupid dog that ran away again. Somewhere in there bring all the kids to school and remember to pick them back up again.

I need to be present. I crave it. To be all there. If I am not there and I am everywhere else I start to fall apart. I start to get anxious. I start to catch my breath. I start to get really ugly with myself and with others. I start to lose sleep. I start to forget things. I start to think that these other things are more important that the five little (some not so little) at my feet. So why is it ok for me to give grace to others who have multiple children and forget to look in the mirror and breathe grace in for myself?

It’s not. So I am choosing grace. Just grace.

assessments.

This past week Ephraim’s teacher came for a home visit. The program that he is in for early intervention has it as one of their requirements that they visit the homes of their students. There is a higher risk of child abuse and neglect when the child has special needs or is labeled “at risk”. I was looking forward to her seeing how well he has integrated into the home environment. What I wasn’t looking forward to was the acting out that occurred the entire time she was here. He kept covering my mouth telling me to be quiet. He wanted her all to himself. He asked her to move in. It really was a highlight of my mothering career. My two other children home at the time then proceeded to answer the phone and play the bongo drums at the feet of the teacher. It felt like I was being taped for my own reality TV show on a network that no one would watch.

The report from the visit wasn’t what I was expecting. She mentioned several times how she was concerned how far behind he was. His language fluency as well as his social skills in comparison to his age was not measuring up. At first I was a little disturbed by her assessment of our sweet boy. And I wanted to say yes I know he is not at the correct developmental age. However, he is not even close to where he was a year ago. In this mama’s eyes he has come leaps and bounds from where he started from. And to compare him to a child the same age that was born and raised from birth with two parents in a first world country is just unfair.

Yet, this is how I compare myself. Daily I compare myself.

I love reading blogs. I am a bit of a blogaholic . There are blogs that I run across that I make a note to read later and then there are blogs that my smarty pants friends post and write that I learn so much from. But then there are the blogs that I follow religiously .They make me laugh and contemplate life and faith. For a long time though I only read adoption and mom blogs. I wanted to know that I wasn’t alone in the struggle. But you know what I kept feeling? I am not good enough. I don’t homeschool my kids anymore. I am homeschool dropout. I must not love my kids enough then. I don’t make my own detergent. Therefore I must not care about the environment or the stench of store bought detergent on my children. My children also do not match. Like ever. I shop at thrift stores and clearance racks. That is it. So I must not care if my kids never make the GAP adds. I also am not a size 4. I think I was a size 4 in elementary school for a month or so but I will never be small. So that means I must not care about my health or how attractive I am to my husband anymore. I know this is not true. I do.

But this is what I do, I compare myself to standards that don’t make sense. They are not even in the same ballpark. Making assessments with women I don’t know. Trying to assess where I am today with women that I discovered are at least ten years younger than me. Here I am sitting in my self- examination pity party trying to mirror the lives of people that I have no business holding my worth up against .

I am basically telling God that where I am today is not good enough. That how far He has carried me . Emptied me. Healed me. Transformed me is not enough. And that is just not acceptable. Where I am is not where I’d like to be. But from where I was a year ago is only by His grace. And His grace is enough.

When my teenager teaches me.

I’m a complainer. I can be. I can be a whiner and child not getting her own way. If I feel discomfort or see a social situation that I think needs “changing” it is my first sinful instinct to complain. I have my mini temper tantrums and excuse them as “stress” or say “someone needs to deal with that”. If I have issues with my marriage I can complain to my girlfriends. If I have issues with my kids I check out every book in the library about the particular setback. I roll my eyes at the mom in Target not controlling her selfish children, ignoring the fact that last week that was me in the same situation. I see someone being treated unfairly and I can feel the righteous rage build up inside of me. I hear a mom screaming and cussing at her kids across the street and I call my husband at work telling him we are putting the house up for sale. Letting him know that I am sick and tired of having to tell the kids to come back inside to play because I just can’t stand the language being used any longer.

This past month though I have been convicted on so many levels about my pride and self- righteous attitude. I can go around complaining or signing the next petition for an action to be taken place but until I walk across the street I am nothing but words. This morning I got to witness high school students “do something”. As I was a part of “See You At The Pole “day. Where students, teachers, pastors, community members and parents are invited to come and pray for the school and students. I was humbled when I saw how many students came to be a part of the solution.

I have been adamant with my husband that sending my daughters to this particular high school sends a fear in me that has never settled. I cry and beg him to think about moving to a “better” school district every August. A school district where there is more parental involvement with higher test scores . Where our kids will have more opportunities with a better chance of good influence. So basically I have been asking to move to a “socially acceptable, suburban, no diversity, uppity school district where people can buy there problems away and this mom can feel like everything is ok.” Which is in fact everything we wanted to avoid when we moved here.

And then this morning happened. I stood back and watched high school students bow there heads and beg God. Beg God to be so present in their school that teachers would not understand what was going on. That the sadness that has plagued the school would be overcome by the Holy Spirit. I watched as one of my daughters mentors showed up at 6:30am to hold her hand and let her know that she was not alone in this battle. As I walked away to get in my car I turned back and took this picture. clip_image001

I literally was crying. God was so present. He always has been . It was just me that was unwilling to walk across the street. To ask Him to be present. His Holy Spirit and Light are there. They are here. They are with every student.

I need to be bolder. I need to be on my knees for the girl in Target, for the teachers in the schools, for the students walking the hallways, for the woman across the street who is just needing some relief. I need to stop being a complainer. To set down my pride. To lay it all at the cross. To follow the example of the high school students this morning.

holding onto the back of a motorcycle and other lessons I am learning.

Parenting is hard. Parenting a teenage girl is like watching home movie reels of yourself and wanting to write a different ending. I was an atrocious teenager. For example, if you thought of the worst kid your kid could hang out with in high school and then look them up in the yearbook, there would be a picture of me. It’s not like I was rowdy or destructive. I was self-destructive. Which is the worst kind. I was a lost girl. A sad girl. I was every youth pastor’s worst nightmare. I put on the best front. Attending mass with my parents. Going on retreats. Holding part time jobs since I was 14. So to some I was the friend you wanted for your son or daughter. But I should have worn a shirt that said “Run away from me!”

The regrets I have are overwhelming and if I didn’t bathe in God’s grace I would drown in them. But the thing is, my daughter is the age that I was when thing started to go downhill on the back of a motorcycle. And the correlations are frightening. She looks just like my sister with the personality of me now. Not the me before Jesus, but the” I want to change the world” traits. For that I am grateful. But I am scared.

I sit and listen to my husband discussing the latest dilemma with our oldest for hours last night and I just pray. I can hear her say how unfair we are. How strict. How we don’t trust her. I hear her plead to be trusted. And then I hear my husband answer we do. We do trust you. But God trusts us to make decisions for you that you may or may not agree with. You don’t have to. That is because we are your parents and not your friends. We will always be your biggest cheerleaders. We wish we could be the “yes” parents. But we know that it would be the worst thing for you. Yes, we do ask for advice from those that we admire as parents and people. We do let you be with your friends and hang out with them .But you know our rules. No dances. No dating. You have to introduce us to them. You are not supposed to be or look like the world and God will honor your obedience. We love you so much and will do whatever we can to make sure that Jesus is evident in your life. Please don’t forget that. We adore you.

I sit on the couch and just thank God that I have a calm and collected husband. Because if I had the chance I would just let her know that this was not my first rodeo and everything she was trying to pull with us I had done. And done it way better. I would also let her know that I had already filled out an application for her to join a convent in the hills of France. I am sure all of that would have gone over real well.

Instead I heard crying. And hugging. And blowing of noses.

I did not say a word. I think God made me sit on that couch and just be a listener. A learner. Teaching me that she is not you. She will make mistakes. She will make decisions that you don’t agree with. I would imagine that Jesus would softly whisper to me… But here is your chance. Here is your chance to show her the waterfall of grace that I have poured over you. Rest in this. She is mine and I adore her more.

blue walls and other things of going off the deep end.

This is a portion of a journal entries written over six months ago. It is only a fraction of what God has been doing in my life these past five years. He is changing me. Renewing me. And it is His story of healing that I am in the process of putting into a memoir of redemption and the unexpected struggles of depression and anxiety. Grace.

She stared at the walls. Blue. Light blue. Not light robin egg blue. Or you’re near an ocean blue. More like you have just been locked up blue. You have just officially hit rock bottom blue. Your dignity and pride are stripped away blue. Your soul is naked blue. The no one who can protect you now blue. She sat. Staring. Tears running down her cheeks, raw from the tears that had been shed in the last 24 hours. Hours filled with question after question. Name? Date of birth? Medications? Next of kin? Children? Where are they? Insurance? Are you going to harm yourself?

That is the question that got her here. That landed her in this hallway. That brought her to this dejected place. A place where she was just a shell of who she used to be. Frail and exposed. When she looked at the nurse with some sort of cheery scrub on, something that a toddler would find delight in and vacantly said “I don’t know”.

She wanted to disappear. She wanted it all to just stop. She wanted her heart to stop beating so fast. She wanted it to just end. To wake up far away from where she was. With no responsibility. No decisions to make. No one to ask her anything anymore. She wanted to hide. She wanted the voices in her head to cease. The voices that told her things she would never utter out loud. The voices that took control of who she was of who she never wanted to be. The voices that told her she wasn’t safe. She wasn’t safe to be in her own skin. She wasn’t safe to be around.

This is where it had all landed her. The months of anguish she had endured all boiled over her that Sunday morning. And by Sunday evening she was being watched by a police officer. Monitored one on one so that she wouldn’t harm herself. Her purse was taken away. Her clothes gone. She was left laying with a paper gown trying to plead with the doctor to not lock her up .She hadn’t shaved her legs or worn pretty underwear. Her mother always told her to do these things. Although I am sure her mother never thought her daughter would be laid out on a gurney being evaluated by a psychiatrist that December. She wanted to melt into the bed. She wanted to disappear. She wanted to wake up from this nightmare. “Please” she is pleading with him just don’t lock me up. She knows what it’s like. She does . She knows how they over medicate. She knows that people at church will find out. They say that they will look past this and forgive her. But they won’t. She knows.They say grace. But judge by the law. She knows that she will be looked at as the “crazy mom who had to be locked up” “ The mom who couldn’t handle it” “ The one who fell off the deep end” She knows how she will never be the same. She will never be who she was meant to be.

She sat staring at the blue wall pleading with God to show up. Begging Him to be real. In this moment of all moments in her life she needed to feel Him. To hear His voice. To feel His arms wrap around her. She pictured herself at His feet barely able to lift her head clinging to His ankles. Begging for mercy to be tangible. For this one moment all she ached for was hope.

sweet ones.–dreams for my daughters.

Dear sweet ones,

I watch you growing into the girls I always wished I could be and it makes me pause for a moment and think. I wish someone would have told me so many things when I was your age. Although maybe someone did and I was already so far gone that I just closed my ears to what was being laid out before me. So this is my advice to you now. Feel free to Tweet or Instagram it, whatever you need to do to remember it.

– Never color your hair. Seriously don’t start. You have gorgeous hair and once you start you end up spending hundreds of dollars to keep it up. You have your aunt’s gorgeous hair and I am a bit jealous. But if you do color your hair don’t do it yourself. I beg of you it will cost a lot of money to correct. And it hurts and is painful. Make sure you want photos of yourself taken with that color. Don’t try to convince me that purple will still look classy in 15 years.

-Don’t ever date anyone that is not as amazing as your dad. You both adore your dad so much and he feels the same about you. Don’t forget that. When that boy or man child starts paying attention to you talk to your dad about him and listen. If you can’t or if he doesn’t even have the courage to talk face to face with your dad then walk away. Better yet run. Because sweet girls you think your daddy hung the moon and the man you marry needs to hold it in place.

-Don’t go to college. Ok. Hear me out. Don’t go to college if you don’t know what you want to do with your life. Just because you have a college degree does not make you any better than anyone else. Believe me some of the people I love and respect the most are changing the world more by never stepping in a college classroom. You don’t have to spend $30,000 a year to figure that out. And debt sucks. Travel the world. Go on a mission trip go on many! Ask tough questions. Follow your passion not the crowd. And if the crowd is your passion than we have another problem. I want you to see and know other countries and other cultures. I want you touch the oceans with your toes and see the evidence of God in the face of devastation.

– Open your heart to the possibility that God has something more than just high school drama for you He will meet you there.

-Throw away the credit card applications before you even walk in the door. They are liars. They do not want the best for you. They want the best for the world. And you are not of the world.

-Don’t fight with your sister. Love each other well. Learn her love language and speak it to her. Don’t wait until it is too late to make amends. Your siblings are your blood and they deserve all of you. I messed up in this area and I don’t want you to have the same hole in your heart like I do.

-Say no. Say no before you say yes. I want you to know how to balance your life. And just because it is good does not mean that it is always a yes. Good things deserve a no too.

-Know God. Explore Him. Claim Him as your own. Read His word. Soak in His Presence. Sit silently and hear His voice. Know that He is pursuing you so stop running and let Him catch you, hold you , and love you.

-Learn to change a tire. Grocery shop. Know how to cook all of your favorite meals and your siblings meals too. Give money away to complete strangers. Write thank you notes. Always have stamps on you. Know your family’s history. Ask questions. Tell your story. You never know how your story will heal another’s.

-Come home. You will leave at some point and I will sob. It will probably be an ugly cry and very embarrassing. But after you leave and start your own life. Come home. Visit. Call. Write letters. Skype. Facetime. Whatever you need to do to stay connected. If you need gas money I will send it. I will eat cereal all week if it means that I get to see your sweet face. Home is where we are. Home is where you began and the two should always matter to you. And if you don’t call. Don’t worry I will.

I love you to the moon and back,

mom.