in port

We knew the tether that held us to it was thinning when we started calling it “the old house” instead of “home.”

in port

We ate weird meals in attempt to clean out the fridge and freezer until we started sleeping at our new place. One day I served biscuits and gravy, which sounds normal except that the biscuits were actually English muffins and I served them with a side of lettuce (I mean, salad) and the last tablespoon of some balsamic dressing from the 1940s.

That night I wandered through the kitchen looking for dinner, but I’d already fed the kids all the leftovers, I didn’t want to cook, didn’t want to scramble up a couple of eggs, and didn’t want to eat the last of the stale bag of tortilla chips. So I took one for the team, and dove into the vanilla ice cream and topped it with cranberry syrup.

The walls were bare and our voices echoed. We touched up paint and trim, using a wood stain marker over every scratch we’ve made over the last ten years in attempt to conceal the fact that we’ve had enough children here to populate Gilligan’s Island.

The highest concentration of scratches was on the corner cabinet by the lazy Susan, where Sophie used to paw when we were slicing meat for sandwiches, cooking burgers, or carving the turkey. I cried covering them; her grave is in the woods over there, and I grieved over leaving it more than anything else.

I moved to the stairs and worked my way up that railing with the stain marker, covering pale spots where the wood was exposed, trying to make them blend and look new again. We put on a lot of miles here in ten years.

It’s a beautiful house, but it’s been loved and lived in, and we hope the new owners appreciate it – not just the work we did to prepare it for them, but that they appreciate the home that’s been made here and continue that legacy. I hope they know the wear and tear are from living life, and they will have many years of adding their own dings and scratches.

Iree said she hopes the people who bought the house have kids so the woods, trails, and clearings will still be played in, instead of growing over neglected. And I hope the owners of our new house – wherever that is – feel the same way.

I hope they’re being good stewards, cleaning up, touching up, praying for us. I hope they love their house and have similar mixed feelings about leaving it. I hope they’ll want us to love it there.

Maybe houses are like people: As children, those of us who have learned attachment early are able to attach in healthy ways later, and maybe a house that has been loved-in by one family is increasingly able to be loved-in by another family.

During our last week there I was mostly on an even keel, but at times out of nowhere the thought of not being in these walls made me all emotional. Overwhelmed. Leaky. After so much waiting and working to move, suddenly it was time and I wasn’t sure if I’d crossed everything off the list.

We get this way with life events and transitions. Am I ready? Did I do everything I was supposed to? Do we have everything we need?

I berated myself because it’s just walls, floors, and air, and I’m not sentimental. But it’s also memories, and more than that – it’s a milestone.

Because what we really mean when we ask all those questions is, Does this mean I passed the test?

This was the place we brought four kids home to. This was the place we learned to fight for healing in the midst of black brokenness. This is the place we got our war wounds, where we learned about friendly fire and mutiny, and about brotherhood and who we bury the body with. It’s where we learned that fear dreads the curveball, but faith knows God will catch it.

This was our battleground.

Just air, and space, and walls, and floors. But the Breath of God moved in this place.

The morning of the day we moved, I prepped dinner in the old kitchen so it would be easier to make in the new kitchen that night. As I chopped veggies, this song was on repeat and my eyes started welling and stinging, I swear it was the onions – and I threw the kitchen window open to 17 degrees and prayed it wouldn’t kill my aloe plant before we moved it to the new house.

We ran out of time to finish the puzzle and in disgust resorted to breaking it into chunks to pack in its original box. It was a sorry mess when I opened it again; the edges of every section had crumbled in the transfer and loose pieces that I’m certain had been fixed in place were everywhere.

This is ironic, I thought. You think you’re putting something together, and this is what happens.

But we’d already learned that starting over is not the same as going back to the beginning. Sometimes it moves the starting line forward. Sometimes it means the tether has snapped, and a gust of wind fills the sails to send you where you needed to go.

He who walks righteously and speaks uprightly,

who despises the gain of oppressions,

who shakes his hands, lest they hold a bribe,

who stops his ears from hearing of bloodshed

and shuts his eyes from looking on evil,

he will dwell on the heights;

his place of defense will be the fortresses of rocks;

his bread will be given him;

his water will be sure.

– Isaiah 33:15-16, ESV

And that is where we are right now. In between, if you missed the newsletter, we’re renting a beautiful place from a friend while we wait for the next direction.

We’re on a bluff and the views are incredible; we can see for miles and pray over the highway in both directions. Our kids have room, our books have shelves, and after three tries, we even figured out where to put the catbox.

It’s a lighthouse for us, a temporary refuge to recuperate and rehabilitate after so many years in choppy waters.

Know your own happiness. You want nothing but patience – or give it a more fascinating name, call it hope.

– Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility

It’s not where we thought we’d be, not where we planned to be. We’re not sure how long we’ll be here.

And now that we’re looking back, we can see that that’s been the story of our last couple years. Except before, we thought we knew what we were doing, and now we know that we don’t…and we’re okay with that.

We’ve made port in safe harbor. He is the anchorage. We’ll rest until He moves us again.

starry night: when we find ourselves in unexpected territory

Not sure if it’s denial or just complete rebellion, but we broke out a 1000-piece puzzle to work on for Christmas, even though we’re moving in a few weeks.

And, friends, this is not your normal puzzle. No, no, this is Van Gogh’s Starry Night, a thousand pieces of beautiful insanity requiring a magnifying glass, good lighting, and (probably) an inordinate amount of sheer stubbornness.

So, I’m in.

starry night: when we find ourselves in unexpected territory

Up close, Starry Night has trillions of faint lines that look like bones – a tibia here, a broken fibula there – and the subtlest shades of color make the light seem to fall against blue-black darkness. It has scratchy marks you’d never notice until looking intently at a magnified thousandth of it. None of the pieces give any indication what the big picture looks like.

We’re making slow progress on it while procrastinating through more responsible moving and house-selling duties. The last time we worked on puzzles was when I was pregnant with Finnegan, and I could justify slowness and rest with the contractions of early labor and all the other discomfort of late pregnancy. And in a way, we’re right here again – we’ve been pregnant for months, bursting at the seams in this house we’re overflowing out of, and restless for this new season, new structure, new routines.

We’ve been in labor for this move for a long time. Years.

We thought we wouldn’t be here this year. Actually, two years ago we thought we were spending our last Christmas here, and last year we were absolutely certain we would be living somewhere else by now.

But we’re still here. It’s a “finally suddenly” feeling; it seems too fast after all the slow waiting, and I want to hold on to certain pieces while flinging others into oblivion. It all melds together though. Just like days, years, memories, brushstrokes – they refuse to sort cleanly; they bleed into each other.

We are hip-deep in selling the house – repairs, paperwork, phone calls, oh my – and since it’s December, we’re also up to our ears in gatherings and festivities. Texts about scheduling and signatures come in rapid fire, and my phone sounds like it’s dinging “Carol of the Bells” on just one note.

We strive for margin, and in our striving sometimes we lose more white space. We imagine life to look a certain way, and it violently veers an entirely different direction.

I need to stop for a minute, slow down, and put a few of these pieces together; get some perspective.

I turned 41 last week.

(This is a good time to mention that last summer, Chamberlain asked what scallops were – lines, not shellfish – and I told her they were sort of like waves, and pointed to a nearby wooden crate with scalloped edges as an example. “Oh, like those?” she asked. “Those are scallops?” She was pointing to the wrinkles on my forehead.)

I’m 41 now, and we’re moving, and none of this looks the way I thought it would. We have a back-up plan to rent from a generous friend, but we haven’t found the right house to purchase, we don’t know exactly where we’re going, and we’re not really sure what we’re doing.

I’m not really sure what God’s doing with us.

But I’ve been looking way too closely at one or two pieces of this, and they are only thousandths of the picture. I know He sees the whole picture. I know He has a thousand reasons for having us where we are. But not knowing what those reasons are, or where He is sending us, or what He is doing, is hard.

I told a friend that this not knowing is doing many of the same things to me that fasting does – it brings up the dross, the hard questions, and tests my willingness to receive hard answers.

It also tests my ability to trust Him for good answers.

He and I have been talking about it a lot (a lot) lately. I’ve asked Him over and over, and He keeps saying, It’s a surprise, Love.

I’ve mouthed off something about not liking surprises and He hasn’t stricken me down. I’m the one who finds presents early, shakes them and squeezes them, and hides them in new places just to be a stinker.

Sheer stubbornness. See, told you.

But the season feels off, unfamiliar – it’s not the way it’s supposed to be. It’s not what we envisioned. We don’t picture the cramped house, people overflowing out of bedrooms, the special needs that interrupt daily interaction and normal activities, and children losing years to poor choices and mental illness. I talked to a woman recently who is also struggling through this season, wanting life to be the way it is supposed to be, instead of revolving around her husband’s addiction.

It’s not the way it’s supposed to be, because we never envision the angry, distant family member, or the job loss, or the person who’s always been there but suddenly isn’t because death took them too early.

None of it is what we expected, dreamed of, or asked for.

He meets us in the mess we are in, whether the mess is from our own choices, or the choices of someone else, or because He has a surprise in store to teach us that we’re not in control.

He’s telling me that when you find yourself where you never thought you’d be, He’s positioning you for something you never could have planned.

On that starry night, Mary probably never imagined her first experience of childbirth and motherhood would occur in unfamiliarity, in a barn, in the dirt.

Maybe Jesus was born where He was because we needed to know it is okay for things to not look the way they’re supposed to. Maybe it was so we’d know we have a King who doesn’t fit the mold. Maybe it was a thousand different reasons.

Maybe one of the reasons is to show us that our expectations and plans fall short. Maybe we would settle for mediocrity when we were made for more.

…. The rest of his days he spent…wondering and pondering why he had not found a way to the East. He blamed the unknown continent that barred his way. It never occurred to him to be grateful that the unknown American continent had been in his way. Otherwise he and his men would have starved to death on the endless way to Asia.

For the world was three times as wide around as Columbus had believed.

– Ingri and Edgar D’Aulaire,  Columbus

Maybe we dream too small, too stubborn.

Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

– Ephesians 3:20-21, ESV

Saul the Pharisee never dreamed of becoming Paul the Evangelist. Peter, as a young fisherman, never imagined growing up to be the Rock the church would be built on. Columbus never planned on discovering America. John Adams, Abraham Lincoln – neither of them had any idea as children that they would be presidents who would direct and define our nation’s history.

And until the angel told her, Mary never imagined being the mother of the Messiah.

But when her plans were changed she gave the sacrifice of praise. Mary sang her magnificat though she never imagined being pregnant and unwed, shunned and suspected by society for the rest of her life. When she was engaged to Joseph, she didn’t think her wedding would be compromised by pregnancy and scandal.

All through history, none of the great figures and heroes had any idea what the big picture of their life would look like. They only saw a thousandth of it at a time, like you and me.

Except for Jesus. He was the only one who knew what He was getting into – way beyond inconvenience and into the depths of messy humanity. That’s where He chose to meet us.

And He is still meeting us here, right now, wherever we go.

__________

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whatever it takes: a rallying cry for adoptive and foster families

Adoptive and foster families, this is for you.

You, who went through all the training, requirements, meetings, interviews, and red tape. It was crazy-thorough. Then you brought your child home.

whatever it takes: a rallying cry for adoptive and foster families

And you learned that all that preparation was kind of like going through earthquake survival drills – learning first aid, how to take cover, how to evacuate safely – versus actually living through an 8-point earthquake. It was like the difference between learning CPR versus actually having to administer it on someone who has no pulse.

Some of our kids came to us carrying grief and trauma equivalent to that 8-point earthquake.

And we love them. But it’s hard because they are hurting, and hurting people hurt other people, and we are here to do everything possible to break that cycle.

But some days we don’t know what to do with them. There your kid is, doing that same behavior that’s driving you both crazy: Rages. Lying. Something unmentionable involving bodily fluids. And yep, we love them, but they don’t always believe it so they test our love. Sometimes they push back hard. These attachment issues are no joke, friend.

Some days we pray and do one thing, and the next day we pray and feel like we need to try something else. We’ve learned to live in grace on a moment-to-moment basis.

I know your house used to be your sanctuary, but now, some days it feels like a warzone. The atmosphere’s changed and you barely recognize it: tense, palpable, high-alert, heavy. Sometimes you feel the weight and pressure of it in your gut. You’ve learned that you need God’s wisdom and presence in every moment, too.

And I know it may not feel like it anymore, but this is still your turf. Your territory. The spiritual attack is real but you own this space. You are the boss here. And as much as their behavior might contribute to the chaos, your kids need you to fight for dominion.

Don’t lose yourself, friend. Your kids need you to still be you – and they need you to find them in the darkness. There’s a uniquely brilliant person in there behind all the trauma and behaviors who is dying to get out and be known.

And there’s a real you in here, too. You may feel like you lost yourself somewhere between the airport and the millions of appointments, but you are becoming refined. Strong. Whole, and more you than you’ve ever been before. You didn’t think you could be this tough, did you? You had no idea you’d be able to do all this. And here you are. This is you, doing all the stuff.

I hear your excuses; I’ve said them to myself plenty of times, too. I know you don’t feel like you’re enough. You don’t feel like you’re getting enough done, getting enough sleep, getting enough exercise, giving enough smiles, giving enough hugs to those kids. But those feelings aren’t the boss of you. They don’t change reality.

You are enough. You’re doing enough. God is enough to cover you in this time as you’re seeking Him, trying to shine light in darkness and find truth in trauma.

You’ve spent hours making phone calls, researching, getting references, making appointments, sitting in those appointments, wondering if this intervention is going to work for your child. Wondering if this professional is going to help your child, or if they’re going to do more harm than good.

You’ve missed some friends and social activities because things are different now. You wonder before every engagement if it’s going to be worth the effort, or if all the hoopla will evoke too much aftermath. We used to take for granted how easy it used to be, back when we never worried about overstimulation, hypervigilance with boundaries, and attachment issues.

You are the families who’ve been not just willing to go to the broken and hurting, but you’ve welcomed them into your own homes.

You are on the frontlines. And the church will see significant, exponential victory to the extent that it cares for those on the frontlines.

You’ve given everything you’ve got for the advancement of the Kingdom, and you’re giving people a vivid picture of how much God loves them. You are showing God’s heart for humanity – the same Spirit of adoption that He showed us.

In pockets around the world, the church is waking up to the power lying dormant in adoptive and foster families. The church is realizing that assumptions and lack of awareness about what these families endure have hindered not only the healing of the broken, but the growth of the Kingdom.

And there is a contingent of humble, repenting congregations rising up to do whatever it takes to support those who have already been doing whatever it takes – and in some cases, it’s taken everything – to walk out the spirit of adoption.

These teams – those who directly care for the broken, and those who support them in it – are unstoppable. They are mighty, gritty, capable of exploits, and not afraid to play hardball with darkness.

They are changing nations and generations. Together, they are living out a message that the world cannot ignore.

So you, my friends, are rocking this. Keep pushing through, and do whatever it takes to get some rest. To get some space. To find the you that you recognize again.

Because you’re in there, and you’re powerful. You’re changing the very nations with your daily steps to love your family and maintain dominion in your sanctuary.

praying for liftoff: a message to adoptive and foster families, and the Church who loves them

Way back in June we got the email. But way back in June, October feels decades away.

It crept closer though, and we had flights, hotel, rental car, childcare, everything – all our ducks in a row. Within a week of departure, we had both vehicles in the shop, both vehicles back out of the shop, a cellphone busted and subsequently replaced, and last-minute dinner with friends.

praying for liftoff: a message to adoptive and foster families, and the Church who loves themAnd then twenty minutes before we were supposed to leave, we lost our keys.

Friends, we haven’t lost our keys in ten years. Maybe twenty. But an hour later, we still hadn’t found them and we finally threw up our hands, rushed our goodbyes, and took the Stagecoach into Anchorage.

We made it just in time – good friends made up for lost time and met us in Departures to take the Stagecoach home with them for a three day sleepover. We skipped baggage check, made it through security, found our gate.

Our first trip away, just the two of us, since going to Bulgaria five years earlier – not exactly a vacation, more of a business and ministry trip – but it was 72 hours of purely adult time, mostly together.

And after all that rush, we waited.

I didn’t realize how many tiers they have now for boarding classes.

The announcements start rolling: “Now boarding passengers with small children and those needing assistance.” Wait seven minutes. “Now boarding First Class.” Wait another five minutes.

Now boarding VIP members,” which, at this point, sounds pretty unconvincing because you’d think that status wouldn’t need to wait for the third turn – in which case, we can file “VIP” under I don’t think that means what you think it means.

After these three groups, they successively call Gold Star Members, Gold Star Members with Glitter, Members Who Refrained from Scowling While Enduring Security, Members Who Packed Tooth Floss, Members Who Actually Use Tooth Floss, and finally, District Twelve, may the odds be ever in your favor.

We found our seats somewhere around District Ten, stowed our bags, and settled in for the redeye. And I forgot how magical liftoff is: the sudden rumbling, the intense increase in speed, feeling more pressure as it constrains you into your seat, getting louder and louder until suddenly — lightness, like driving from a gravel road onto new pavement, and the ground tips diagonally out the window.

I wrote earlier in the month about how we should never confuse humility with cowardice, and I preached it back to myself as we left our kids and excuses behind, preparing my message for the mission ahead.

We need to care for adoptive and foster families because these are the people willing to bring the mission field right into their own homes. These are the radicals, a force to be reckoned with in fulfilling the Great Commission – so why does the Body of Christ not nurture and protect such a battalion? Why do we generally seek to enlist adoptive and foster parents, but do so little to maintain them after the papers are signed, and the balloons are deflating? Why does the Church at large leave these families to languish with a mere pat on the back? How do we help the Church understand what these families really signed up for?

These are the families traveling through life as those needing assistance. They are First Class, they are VIPs, but they’re often relegated to the Church’s tail-end, left to fend for themselves in thin air, barely breathing, as they fumble for oxygen.

These are the questions I took with me to Colorado Springs, to tape an interview for Focus on the Family’s radio broadcast.

We’ve partnered with their ministry for years. More accurately, we partnered with them years ago until we adopted, and the pressure constrained us to our seats to such an extent that the fasten seatbelt sign didn’t go off until sometime in 2015. Even then, the turbulence kept us from wandering too far up and down the aisle before the sign came back on and we had to rebuckle.

But the email came in June and it was an opportunity that would take a special kind of idiot to refuse — so, not being that special, so we took it – not just for us, or for me as a writer, but for adoptive and foster and special needs families who desperately need this message to get out. Because they are exhausted in their cramped seats and they need to get up and roam the cabin a bit before they can’t take it anymore, and yank the hatch open to jump out.

In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

– Philippians 1:4-6, ESV

A day and a half later, I sat in a studio across from two men I greatly admire. During a thirty-minute conversation, while we barely skimmed the surface across the gamut of adoption and foster ministry, we emphasized that caregivers need to be cared for, too – and how that doesn’t always look like what people think. We talked about how adoptive, foster, and special needs families need more than lip service and affirming nods, because “support” is also often filed under I don’t think that means what you think it means.

Foster and adoptive families have strapped in and buckled down, and when the drinks were served, the plane hit rough air and the mess went everywhere. People with good intentions came by and dumped cleaning supplies and a bucket of water into the tight quarters, but it further spread the mess, increased the discomfort, and crowded the occupants.

These families need the people around them to understand the context of their situation so they can help clean up the mess and not just add to it.

These families know what it is to grow in faith to the point of needing more from God – not just wanting more in our ease and selfishness, but needing more to meet the service and vision He’s called us to. We remember being needy and hurting, too. They’ve been willing to walk in the mess of missions and ministry, and have not been afraid to get their hands dirty in the hard work of caring for others.

These families need to be reminded that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. It’s not necessarily supposed to look finished yet. We may still be taxiing on the runway. That is okay.

Churches, extended families, and communities can learn how to support adoptive and foster families. We were able to take this trip because our church, family, friends, and community chose to learn how to stand alongside us. We could not have done it without a team of people willing to grow along with us.

Our friends come along side us, releasing the pressure of false expectations and ignorant assumptions. They know what it looks like in our homes behind closed doors. They know that some days, there’s a raging mess, screaming fits, and people either refusing to eat or gorging themselves on hidden food – not to mention what the kids might be doing.

These friends — they know it’s hard. They know you’re doing your best. They know that you never feel like your best is good enough, but they keep reminding you that it is good enough, because He’s good enough.

And it’s okay, you’re still taxiing.

These families need a community willing to step outside the glittery rainbow image the media has sold them, and into the often-gritty picture of reality in adoption and foster care. When that happens, they won’t give up on the Church because they’ll see that the Church hasn’t given up on them.

The Church – God’s Kingdom – is not built on those who quit, but on those who stay.

– David Pepper

And all our people are behind us, praying for liftoff.

____

You can listen to my interview here. Enjoy. :)

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praying for liftoff: a message to adoptive and foster families, and the Church who loves them

the second day: when we don’t know what’s ahead

We walked the woods and I wandered to the spot where we buried someone precious a few years ago.

the second day

The piece of bark was just laying there, right over the grave. This skin torn off of a living thing, leaving it exposed, vulnerable, and in pain.

Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.

I think often about this “second day” space: this time between heartbreak and victory, between the bloody cross and the empty grave, when we don’t know what’s ahead.

We hoped for something huge and desperately longed-for, but it was thrown in our face and spat on. We didn’t know what was coming.

We tried to build a fire for warmth and light, but we’re still freezing, the smoke is getting in our eyes and we can’t see anything else.

We thought those contractions meant we were close to delivery, but found out we were only dilated to one and a half centimeters.

When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.

The Kingdom is on the cusp of something amazing and huge. He is waking up His people in a way we haven’t seen in our generation, and maybe in a way He hasn’t done in many generations. This is a great time to be His people, but we have to endure the hard work of waiting.

We walk a tense line between faith and not moving ahead of God to push fruit, forcing something to work on our own. We don’t want to miss His move of certainty by stepping without Him, tired of waiting for the prophets and giving the sacrifice on our own. We don’t want to build the golden calf in our impatience for God’s answer, as the Israelites did when they squandered their loot from Egypt in making a work of their own hands to worship.

For weeks now, God has been reminding me that He restores, redeems, and refines us in our encounters with Him. And we often encounter Him in our need, in the quiet, dark place of the second day where we hurt and have no answers and are brought face to face with our need for His light, His answers, and His comfort.

In this second day space He is putting things back together for His people, as though He was working in the dark soil of our very foundation and identity, and making things right in ways they have never been before.

So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.

– John 16:20-22, ESV

The second day is a day of smoldering ashes. Our woodstove is the grave of that tree. We lay on more kindling and push things around a little closer to the coals.

We shut the door. We watch.

The smoke starts spinning in there, the coals start glowing and flickering. It’s only a matter of time before you hear it – the deep whoof, the sound of ebullition — all is bright and burning.

It is the second day. We’ve been waiting for a long time and the momentum is increasing, and God is about to ignite something ferocious, contagious, and powerful for the Kingdom.

“Does bark always come off in the shape of a heart?” Cham asked.

No, I told her. Only God does that.