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.

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

building character: a story problem about how we get where we’re going

It’s a story problem: Nine people plus four cats, divided into a three bedroom house, multiplied by enough special needs to fill a docudrama miniseries. We are so many pieces of flint bumping into each other, sparks flying everywhere.

(Or, nine plus four divided by three multiplied by X. I checked the order of operations, and there should be parentheses in there somewhere around the addition. Not that that’s any help.)

building character: a story problem about how we get where we're going

Our family’s bedroom situation is like the river crossing puzzle, when a farmer has to carry a fox, a goose, and a bag of beans across the water in a boat that can hold only two passengers, but leaving certain combinations together results in the loss of at least one party. Some kids need their own space, certain kids can share, and other kids need to be separated. Fun, right? Yep, just like a root canal.

So we need to divide and conquer the bedroom situation like there’s no tomorrow. We’ve thought so far out of the box that if I told you some of the ideas, you’d think I was crazy or desperate. And you’d be right.

Every night I am the woman beating down God’s door, praying in earnest for an answer that feels so slow in coming.

Tell Me what you want, He said.

You know what I want, I said. You told us what to look for. There’s nothing out there that fits it, and I feel too picky, materialistic, and shallow for not having found it yet. People all over the world are homeless or living in a house the size of my bedroom, and we can’t find a house on the market that fits our family. Ridiculous.

No. Tell Me what you want, like I was your builder.

Fine. I told Him all over again about our bedroom situation. I rehashed wants versus needs, and what would be ideal versus what we would settle for. And I begged Him to not move us somewhere with propane heat, ridiculous covenants, or hideous custom tile from the 1980’s.

What about layout? He asks. What about landscaping? What about the neighborhood? This is where things get overwhelming. I have some vague ideas, but I don’t trust myself to decide all those details. I don’t want to create something from scratch — I just want to see it, and I’ll know whether it’s right or not.

The details don’t have to match my Pinterest fantasies (though I dearly love my boards here, here, and oh yes, swoon, right here). I don’t mind some dings and scratches. I just don’t want a sterile, cookie cutter house…I want character. Some old beams, a weird window. A place where we can have chickens. A little more room to stretch out in. A vessel that carries all of our passengers.

I want Him to design it, though. He knows how to make the details work. If I put together everything, I’d feel regret over mistakes I found later – the laundry room should’ve been on the ground floor, not the basement; the square footage we added to one room should’ve been shifted to another. I’d blame myself for it not being perfect. Stupid, maybe, but I know me, and that’s how it would go down. That’s my order of operations.

But if it’s His design, I can foot the nitty gritty to Him and trust Him to make it all for a good purpose. He knows the quirks our family can handle.

I told Him all of this. While seven kids were asleep, some in bedrooms and some not, the shower ran hard and the water beat down and I told Him every bit of this.

knik river

And then He started talking, too.

So, Love…the kid issues, the bedroom hassles, the cramped quarters. I know it doesn’t feel perfect.

I know how the tight schedule affects the amount of time you’ve spent working toward a goal without seeing progress, and the delayed gratification that you’ve been waiting so long for. I know this river’s taking a long time to cross.

But what if you realized I designed this season for you? What if I knew those were imperfections you could handle, according to My design?

You said you just want character. What if this is how you got it?

And that’s Jesus, with the mic drop.

____

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the year of deeper and wider

I first encountered one of my favorite books in sixth grade. I was pulled out of class for a gifted program, walked down the hall to an unfamiliar, sterile classroom, and listened to a teacher whom I did not know read The Wind in the Willows to us.

I hated it. If this was being “gifted,” I wanted no part of it.

the year of deeper and wider

Several years ago it showed up in Mattie’s curriculum. I approached it with doubt and suspicion, unsure about subjecting my kid to the same misery I’d experienced twenty years earlier.

The Mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring cleaning his little home.

We dove in, and within the first pages I was in love. Surely it was the same book from before – but this time it was beautiful and alive and magical, so it must be that I wasn’t the same person reading it. I’d grown deeper and wider. I’ve read it all the way through three times now, not counting that first go-round that almost inoculated me from it entirely. I’m so glad it didn’t.

The kids ate lunch while I stood in the living room and read the first chapter to them. This is the first time Cham, Andrey, and Reagan have heard it and I want their memories of it to be warm and filling, sticking with them.

Spring was moving in the air above and in the earth below and around him, penetrating even his dark and lowly little house with its spirit of divine discontent and longing. It was small wonder, then, that he suddenly flung down his brush on the floor, said “Bother!” and “O blow!” and also “Hang spring cleaning!” and bolted out of the house without even waiting to put on his coat. Something up above was calling him imperiously…

This is Mole, who has lived below in seclusion, discovering the world above for the first time. It’s also me, and probably you. I know what the spirit of divine discontent feels like. I, too, have flung work to the floor while yelling mostly printable expletives.

I came to this passage and stopped to look for a pencil. None were within reach, so I tore the cushion off the couch to check my stash and found five pens, a set of nail clippers, a broken animal cracker and, hallelujah, one mechanical pencil. I started marking sentences.

He thought his happiness was complete when, as he meandered aimlessly along, suddenly he stood by the edge of a full-fed river. Never in his life had he seen a river before – this sleek, sinuous, full-bodied animal, chasing and chuckling, gripping things with a gurgle and leaving them with a laugh, to fling itself on fresh playmates that shook themselves free, and were caught and held again.

The story is fitting for all seasons – summer and winter, and especially those spiritual ones when you long for a river that runs deeper and wider than what you’ve been splashing in, and when you find yourself free of old barriers and able to test new waters that were out of reach not too long ago.

Testing new waters is impossible when you’re drowning in the deep end. We’ve spent a ton of time flailing and splashing there, but I’m thrilled to say that for the first time in four and a half years, it’s not where we are anymore.

Or, more accurately, it’s not that we’re no longer in the deep end, but that we’re no longer drowning in it – we come up for air sometimes, and can finally venture out into other waters a little.

Four and a half years.

By the side of the river he trotted as one trots, when very small, by the side of a man who holds one spellbound by exciting stories; and when tired at last, he sat on the bank, while the river still chattered on to him, a babbling procession of the best stories in the world, sent from the heart of the earth to be told at last to the insatiable sea.

A big part of it is that one of our kids who needed his world (and therefore, our world) to be as small as possible is starting to experience victory like never before. I mentioned here a few months ago that choices are unsparing things. Sometimes we need the spirit of divine discontent to propel change, and over recent weeks his choices have been markedly and consistently different, by the grace of God.

He is experiencing the joy of a river that is deeper and wider. It’s a marvelous miracle. Most days (not all, I won’t lie) are warm and filling, and we hope it sticks.

The Kingdom is always of increase; our deep and wide is an insatiable sea.

This day was only the first of many similar ones for the emancipated Mole, each of them longer and fuller of interest as the ripening summer moved onward. He learnt to swim and to row, and entered into the joy of running water; and with his ear to the reed-stems he caught, at intervals, something of what the wind sent whispering so constantly among them.

– Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows

Physically it is winter around us, but we are approaching a spiritual summer like a fast-moving train. There is running water, a full-bodied river; we are learning and growing and anticipating fullness that overflows the banks and spills into thirsty places everywhere.

I wish I could read the whole book to you, but there’s a terrific version of it on Librivox here instead. You’ll hear more about it soon, though. We’re only on chapter three.

Wind in the Willows, and Bingley