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

house hunting: what we pull out of dry ground

We are still here, still looking at houses.

We go through the listings and check off their disqualifications: Too far away, too expensive, too small, too ratty. Not enough bedrooms, not enough bathrooms, no room for our dining room table, no privacy, soooper boring. Has restrictive covenants. Has an HOA. Doesn’t allow chickens, rabbits, domestic cats, wild children, sheer curtains, antique furniture, croquet sets, kayaks, kombucha, water guns, Nerf guns, real guns, or people who can shoot guns.

house hunting: what we pull out of dry ground

We’re not waiting on perfection, but it feels like it, and we use the term “perfect” very loosely. We know what we’ve prayed for, and we know what He’s said. We just haven’t found the match yet.

House hunting has become like scavenging for food in the kitchen when you’re hungry but too tired to cook: You go to the fridge, reject everything; go to the cupboard and reject everything there; then you go back to the fridge with lower standards and hope something jumps out at you with some virtue you hadn’t noticed before. Oh, peanut butter and apples. Hmm. I could maybe go for that.

And that’s sort of what we’re doing now as we look for houses. Oh, a one-acre lot that’s full of weeds and in the wrong area, but it has enough bedrooms and pretty nice flooring. Huh. I guess that might work.

But we’re also still waiting on a buyer for our house here, so we have time. We have another showing tomorrow morning, and though I won’t have time for any mercenary baking, I’ve leveraged it to get tons of extra chores out of all the older kids – vacuuming, dishes, straightening bookshelves, you name it – while I sit here and type this post, eating bonbons and sipping a martini.

(Every bit of that’s entirely accurate, except the last part. Pretty sure I don’t like martinis. And I already binged on chocolate last night, so that’s not really true either. But, you know, everything else. Gospel truth.)  

We are beyond ready to move on, be done with showings, get where we’re going, divide and conquer the bedroom situation, and unpack our books. If this showing tomorrow results in an offer, I might do cartwheels and dance the funky chicken. I may even try a martini. Though it would probably require several of the latter to facilitate the former…so I digress.

This season of transition has been long and unsettling. There are more than just physical moves afoot, and we have a lot of questions we’d like answers to. We are in a season with kids, work, and mission where we’re at a loss for what to do in certain areas and we need Him to just move some situations for us.

In a non-physical sense, we clearly know where we are supposed to go. We just have no idea how to get there.

…Command them, saying, ‘Take twelve stones from here out of the midst of the Jordan, from the very place where the priests’ feet stood firmly, and bring them over with you and lay them down in the place where you lodge tonight.’ – Joshua 4:3, ESV

We need Him to part the waters so we can pull stones out of a place we could never access in our own strength and ability. We’ll be happy to put them on display for the world to see once we’re safe on the other side.

He’d done it for the Israelites before – different river, different crossing. Different battle. And He’s done it for us before, too.

The people came up out of the Jordan on the tenth day of the first month, and they encamped at Gilgal on the east border of Jericho. And those twelve stones, which they took out of the Jordan, Joshua set up at Gilgal.

And he said to the people of Israel, “When your children ask their fathers in times to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’ then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel passed over this Jordan on dry ground.’

For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you passed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up for us until we passed over, so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty, that you may fear the Lord your God forever.”

– Joshua 4:19-24, ESV

Though, they weren’t really safe on the other side, and we weren’t either. The other side doesn’t mean ease and comfort. It’s just that once you’re on the other side, you’re all in – committed, no turning back, the water fills in the gap behind you and the only way to go is forward. It was true for them, and it will always be true for us.

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work…He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.

– 2 Corinthians 9:8, 10-11, ESV

They had proof that He was mighty. So do we, if we choose to recognize it when it happens, and remember it when we face the river.

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from one hermit to another

I was baking and it was completely mercenary. We had a showing in one hour and I wanted the house to smell amazing.

(Pause: In spite of the amount of cooking I do, I want to reaffirm that this will never evolve into a foodie blog, as I’ve mentioned before. Not because I don’t like cooking, or because I’m bad at cooking, or because I don’t like writing about cooking. It’s just that the everyday level of chaos here is more satirical than informational, and…well, you’ll see. Okay, resume.)

from one hermit to another

Last week we had three house showings in a span of twenty-four hours. Craziness. It’s what my nightmares were made of back when I used to think of putting the house on the market: How do we get the house clean enough (and empty enough) to make it look sterile and appealing to strangers? How do we get all the kids and cats to cooperate? How do we make it look like a normal family lives here, instead of one that outnumbers the Brady Bunch and also comes with a small cat farm?

We’ve learned a few tricks. We hide beds trundle-wise. We clear as much surface area as possible. And we take the cats with us – which upgrades the “how many clowns can you fit into a circus car” joke to the rank of how-many-Guerras-can-you-fit-in-a-Stagecoach. Turns out, all thirteen of us do: each cat gets a carrier, each person gets a seatbelt. Two of the cats go on kids’ laps while the other two cry and hiss at each other in the back.

It’s awesome. Exactly what I imagined when Vince promised me years ago that he would lead me on adventures. Sort of.

So that day last week, I was baking hermit bars. Have you had these? They’re a spongy, spicy, not-too-sweet, completely euphoric blend of cloves, molasses, cinnamon, and nutmeg. See, I told you. No mercy.

They’d been in the oven for a whole two minutes before anyone smelled smoke. Detritus in the bottom of the oven from a few meals back had started to smolder, and instead of wooing buyers with the smell of spicy sweetbread, we frantically threw all the windows and doors open to air out the house.

It, too, was awesome. Just like I’d planned, except the exact opposite.

We put the hermits on hold in the fridge, and got ourselves, the cats, and the smell of smoke out of the house just in time. We loaded the Stagecoach and went down the road to the park to wait it out.

Strange vehicles pulled into our driveway, and strange people walked into our house.

It’s a weird feeling, wanting them there, wanting them to fall in love with what you’ve prepared for them, and yet at the same time feeling a little violated. I didn’t feel it so much during the first two showings when we were out running errands, but this time I felt the whole gamut of excitement and unsettledness because I kept spying peeking checking from the shelter of the twisty slide. Which, now that I think of it, isn’t really isn’t that unfamiliar of a feeling as an introvert.

(Quick aside: I have a book signing in Anchorage soon, and I anticipate some of these same feelings. Barnes and Noble is sorely lacking in twisty slides to hide behind, though, so I’ll be brave and do my best to appear well-adjusted and sociable. I would love, love, love to see you there, and I promise not to hide under the table even once. )

After forty minutes the strange cars left. Once home, I threw the hermits back in the oven, determined to eat enough of them to ruin my dinner.

They take all of ten minutes to throw together and 17 minutes to bake. I’ll give you the recipe and they’re worth making as soon as possible even if you’re not trying to coax people into buying your house. This isn’t official, fancy, or fussy; there’s no sifting, separating eggs, etc., though you could do any of those if you really enjoy that sort of thing. This is how I make them, quick and dirty, and it’s as foodie as I’ll get. Promise.

In a medium bowl, mix 1 ½ cups brown sugar, 2/3 cup olive oil, ¼ cup molasses, 2 eggs, 2 ½ cups flour, ½ teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon baking soda, and The Magical Ingredients: 1 teaspoon each of cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. Grab hold of the counter and refrain from swooning. Some recipes call for raisins, walnuts, or currants, but I love my family and leave those out.

Now is a good time to preheat your oven to 350. Fahrenheit. You knew that, though.

Once you’ve mashed everything together with a rubber spatula, the results will be more like bread dough than brownie batter, and you’ll need to plop it into a greased 9×13 baking pan and use that spatula to spread it out in a thinnish layer.

Throw it in the oven and bake for 15-18 minutes. Once they’re cool enough to eat without burning yourself, devour at least half the pan while your kids aren’t looking and ruin your dinner like I did. No shame.

That night our Realtor texted me. She said the family loved the house but they thought it was too small for them. And I confess I responded with some thoughts that were rather, uh…expletivey…as I thought of our baker’s dozen of humans and animals, and longed for a little more space, too.

We’re keeping the house sterile (mostly) and I am exhausted. The adrenaline rush has worn off. While part of me is loving the minimalist white space around here, the other part of me wants to fling laundry all over the floor and leave dirty dishes in the sink to ferment.

But not tonight. We have another showing tomorrow, so I’m back to mercenary baking. It’ll probably be hermits again, because how can you not love a treat that shares its name with extreme introverts? But this time I’ll remember to clean the oven first.