Judging Other People’s Children.

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Before we started fostering, I knew I would have to let go of people’s opinions about my parenting, about my kids’ behavior, about my family dynamics in general. This knowledge does not mean I have accomplished the task.

I like for people to think that my kids are wonderful. I like recognition for the non-stop effort I put into my parenting. The consistency and the creating and keeping of standards are all very thankless hard work and the resulting good behavior was something that gave me a great feeling of accomplishment, especially when compared with other people’s children! Ha! Being a stay-at-home parent can be a job without many checklist-able accomplishments, so having pleasant, well-behaved children was a good payout…before we started fostering. Even at our pre-certification training classes, I realized that letting this go would be one of my number one difficulties!

Now we are a family of seven. Two of my kids have experienced trauma for 4-6 years in the form of caregivers who completely lacked stability and parenting skills and didn’t put kids’ needs first, to say the least. One of my kids still buries her head on my shoulder sometimes, crying, “I don’t want to have two houses anymore. I want to stay here!” but she also lights up when she sees her birth father and goes home to him happily. She’s living a split life and is too young to process the big feelings. My other two children have been traumatized by the chaos, uncertainty, emotional upheaval, and even violence that have come into our home via fostering. Heck, I see my own trauma come out sometimes in my worst parenting moments, and I’m 38 years old! They say PTSD is more common in foster kids than in war veterans, and I believe it. I even see flashes in myself that shock me. If I can’t even master my mild trauma all the time, I should realize that it is way harder for my little ones to do it.

So now instead of being the one who is judging other people’s children, I’m the one whose children are being judged. There’s some irony for you. Payback, I guess. I found this unfortunate verse a few years ago when I experienced it firsthand: Whoever digs a pit will fall into it; if someone rolls a stone, it will roll back on them. Proverbs 26:27

I’m sorry if my children aren’t perfect. I’m sorry that my children don’t obey all the way, right away, with a good attitude (which, incidentally, is one of our family rules.) I’m sorry if you feel like you’re parenting your two or three year old in such a way that they will never turn out as unruly as my 4, 6, 7, 8, and 10 year olds can sometimes be. Ironically, I thought the same thing when my kids were 2 and 3, too. There’s something truly condescending about how you look at my children, knowing that yours could never do such things when they get older. Such things as fighting bitterly with annoying siblings they’ve had for only 16 months. Such things as throwing massive tantrums because they can’t handle the emotions that the past years have brought to their lives. Such things as disobeying parents because maybe those parents have been battling with another child all day or all week and that certain child hasn’t been priority #1 today, or even lately. Believe me, we see these misbehaviors and deal with them when you’re not watching. Yet somehow, our children still aren’t perfect like yours, and we’re not perfect parents like you are. Somehow, we can’t predict what our children will be like in the future like you can.

I CAN, however, see how far our children have come and find hope for the future. Sure, my sweet little bio sons have gone through some rough times in the past four years, and they’re coming out of it with scars and with strength.  Yes, two of my kids are scrappy survivors with some shocking behaviors, but their behavior this year is a night-and-day difference from their behavior last year! And sadly, my littlest has to continually adjust to going from a home where she is spoiled to one that has standards of behavior. And that’s hard, but she’s slowly adjusting. You wouldn’t believe how far they’ve all come.

The cool thing about wisdom is that it also brings humility. I can see that if my family is fighting a battle that outsiders don’t know about, maybe others are doing the same thing. Perhaps that family is dealing with the loss of a parent through death or divorce. Maybe those kids are struggling with being bullied at school or in the neighborhood. Could that family be dealing with serious medical issues that require painful interventions all the time? Or did those parents get a new job or have a family situation that is making consistent parenting a real struggle right now? Maybe just managing everyday life with two kids on not enough sleep is more taxing on that mother than I could possibly know. Everyone has different strengths. Just because parenting comes naturally to me, doesn’t mean it comes naturally to everyone. Just because 5 kids doesn’t seem overwhelming to me, doesn’t mean that one kid isn’t pushing that mom to her limit.

When Jesus came upon a woman of questionable reputation being harassed by a bunch of judgmental townspeople who wanted to stone her, he said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” I’ve got my own issues and my kids have issues, too. That’s life. Especially a life of following God, where the fire of everyday struggle brings our imperfections embarrassingly to the surface. That’s where God and we can deal with them and clear them away, like the dross being purified out of the gold. I was a much better parent before I had kids, and I was a much better Christian before I started following God into the hard places. Being “better” isn’t the goal. Being purified, being holy, being more like Jesus IS the goal.

So when it comes to other people’s kids and other people’s lives:

BE KIND, FOR EVERYONE IS FIGHTING A BATTLE YOU KNOW NOTHING ABOUT.

It’s called grace. And that’s something Jesus was really into.

Floundering Feeling of Freedom.

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For the past four years, being a parent and foster parent has been all-consuming, leaving no room for dreaming, planning, doing anything else. Now that kids are settled in school all day, post-foster-placement behaviors have diminished quite considerably, a routine is somewhat set for our visits with Midge, and the adoption of E. and A. is coming upon us rapidly, I am looking ahead with this strange sensation of possibility and freedom.

I’ve just walked into a buffet and I don’t know which way to look first. It’s overwhelming, wonderful, exhilarating, scary, and exciting all at once. All of the following thoughts swirl through my mind, each one as insane as the last. They are all daunting and improbable, yet step-by-step possible if I put my mind and energy towards them. I have no idea where to place my efforts, so I flit from one to another depending on the hour and the day. And then I feel guilty because shouldn’t I be picking one thing and putting all of my time and energy into it until it gets done, rather than an hour here and an hour there until my progress is almost unnoticeable? I don’t know what to do, but I’m excited about doing it!

  • I’m going to take up backpacking, something which I have never desired to do until this summer, when I decided that Tyler and I should backpack camp in the Channel Islands (Tyler being the hardiest camping partner of my crew.) Then I watched Mile/Mile and a Half, and realized that backpacking the John Muir Trail, a 211 mile trek through the Yosemite/King’s Canyon area is something that I MUST do. Now I’m finding myself reading trail memoirs, researching backpacking methods and learning about things I never thought I’d want to know.
  • Along the lines of “something I never wanted to do before but now find it essential”, I finished my first sprint triathlon 2 weeks ago. I’m not sure what came over me, but last December I realized that I needed to do it, despite my former almost sedentary lifestyle. I did it slowly, but I finished, and it was such an emotional and spiritual experience for me. Now I’m thinking that triathlon training should continue because it will help me get in shape for backpacking as well, and I’m thinking of dragging a few friends along with me for next year’s triathlon.
  • I’m going to reorganize my entire house, purging every single room, closet, and item until we have just the bare essentials to survive and thrive here, while still being able to keep up with the cleaning.
  • I’m working on getting my Single-subject Mathematics teaching credential. I’ve never wanted to teach Jr. High or High School before, and suddenly it’s my goal. Are you detecting a pattern? I was an elementary school teacher and loved it, but knew that teaching elementary with young kids at home wasn’t a good lifestyle combination for me. But teaching one subject (and it’s one of my favorites and was my specialty when I was teaching before) sounds doable, even appealing. I realized that I don’t want to get used to having all my daytime school hours filled with me-me-me or with volunteering for the PTA. I’m going to give this a shot and hope to study and take my Math credential tests this fall. Something about trying to reach kids and make a difference in that awkward stage of life is compelling to me.
  • I’m ready to reconnect with my husband. I don’t feel like we’ve been disconnected for the past few years, rather, we’ve been busy keeping this ship afloat so long that I think we haven’t stopped to notice how great our spouse is to just BE with. Mine is so great, in fact, that he is actually showing interest in the crazy backpacking idea. And if you know him and his desire for comfort, you know that is a big deal…him wanting to do it just because he knows I want to. It brings me to tears just thinking about that. He’s a great guy. I’d like to hang out with him sometime.
  • I’m working towards healthier cooking and eating for me and my family again. It’s a lot of work to research, pursue, and cook the most healthful foods for this crew of six or seven. I have to be prepared! I need a new freezer for our grass-fed, humanely slaughtered meats, since our last one stopped working this spring. I need to get back into planning our meals out each week and using recipes again! I need to figure out how to let the kids get involved, especially E. who is constantly asking to help. I need to figure out what foods can help with the digestive and energy problems I’ve had for the past few years. I need to get going on this!
  • I’m pumped up about studying the bible. I’m teaching at our women’s bible study again this fall and enjoy digging into the real study time required for that. I bought a study about the life of David that I wanted to do this summer, but couldn’t quite find the time for. I need a routine for this! I want to be found “in Christ” and “abide in Him” and see the fruit that results in my life.

I turned 38 on Sunday. Do you think I’m having a mid-life crisis? Is this why so many things that were formerly so detestable to me are suddenly appealing, to the point where I’m almost magnetically drawn to them? There’s something about finally having the breathing room to look to the future after four years of barely staying above water. It reminds me that I want to be taking steps in the direction of God’s plan for my life, and I want to be healthy enough to experience the joys of following that path when the joy comes. There’s nothing so wrong with that, right?

 

 

Two and a Half Months of Silence?!?

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Of course, that’s web silence, not real life silence, of which I’ve had none.

I was sitting in the family room getting some post-kids-bedtime relaxation while Greg’s out playing tennis, but I just got the urge to come here and share. Things are really going well around here. I dreaded this summer, although not quite as much as I dreaded last summer. But we have two weeks to go, and it’s been good.

Jake has turned a corner. For almost four years he has struggled. Our organized, predictability-loving, rule-following, introverted firstborn had it rough being a foster brother living in a world of unpredictability and chaos…can you imagine?! It seems like now that he knows how our life is going to look for the foreseeable future, he has settled back into being himself. That delightful, easy-to-be-with self that we thought maybe we’d driven away by becoming a foster family…he’s back! There have been days that I just shake my head in amazement and joy to see that following this path didn’t ruin our little boy. We always trusted that God knew what Jake needed in his life to prepare him for his future, but it’s great to see him happy again. Thank you, LORD! I’m curious to see what He has in mind for Jake’s future in teaching him so young how to handle hardship.

I feel like I should write about Tyler here, but there’s nothing new to say. He’s wonderful. He always has been wonderful. He rolls with the punches and gets along with everyone. He’s enthusiastic and easy-going and affectionate. He has been the child who kept me going during many months. Tyler is the rock…and he rocks.

The big surprise: seven year old E. I don’t want to jinx it, and we had one bad week this summer with tantrums and defiance and such, but that’s been it. Her behavior has completely changed. COMPLETELY. I am in awe just typing it, and I hope it’s not just a fluke. She is handling it when we don’t give her what she wants when she wants it. She is handling it when we don’t entertain her. She is taking no for an answer. All of this with flashes of attitude followed by…get this…controlling herself! We compliment her on it constantly. We made a point to keep her very busy this summer with morning camps and such, and we are planning to continue this strategy when school starts because it takes a village to raise this girl. She still struggles when artwork or school practice work isn’t perfect, which makes me nervous about her return to the classroom. But to think back to where we were when she first came, and even around February/March…amazing. Wow. We continue to pray for bonding times with her, but it is SO much easier to bond with someone who isn’t dissolving into an uncontrollable fit all the time! It’s hard not visualizing how I thought it would be to have a daughter this age and then comparing it with how it actually is. But I’m looking back at the progress we’ve made…one year made a huge difference…three more months even more…maybe when the adoption is finalized she’ll breathe a sigh of relief and really settle in?

Speaking of the adoption, it hasn’t happened. It was supposed to happen this summer but somehow someone didn’t remember about a certain evaluation to be done so it could be put into a report and placed in a file to go into another report to be presented to us in order to move forward. The evaluation has now been done and is working its way from desk to desk at the social services agency. Someday, somebody whose job it is to call people to set court dates will give us a ring and set one date of a set of three, I think, that we need before the adoption is finalized. But this isn’t at all frustrating. I’m sure glad that we have shared all kinds of psychological, educational, behavioral, and medical information with the county so that they can write it up into an official report to give all that information we gave to them back to us and say, “Here are these kids we want to tell you about. Do you want to adopt them?”

On to Little A. He is a piece of work. I don’t know what we’re going to do with him. He has flashes of complete anger and violence, and then minutes later is the sweetest, cutest, winningest little guy in the world. And those dimples. I love this boy. And he drives me crazy. I don’t think I’m going to solve this in two weeks so I’m not going to try. I’m going to wait until he goes back to school and deal with whomever he turns into then. No point in coming up with new discipline plans and strategies only to use them for a few weeks. We’ll hunker down and weather the flashes of rage with the discipline techniques that have been working well for us in the past (and even with him, until three weeks ago, or so), and then we’ll regroup in the fall. I guess it’s always going to be somebody having trouble when you’ve got a family of seven. Right now he’s it.

Midge is here! Sleeping upstairs for the third night in a row as I type. Not permanently. But we’ve been seeing her for a few days at a time this summer. She went camping with us and she’s going to beg her dad to let her do it again next week. Her dad is falling apart, in my opinion. Nothing that concerns us about his parenting, but about his inability to draw the line with Midge’s mother now that the courts are out of their world completely. We hate it. He’s giving mom overnights and trusting her not to drive with Midge or do anything to endanger her, despite her complete inability to show she can be trustworthy. We think he’s just overwhelmed with being a single dad, so we keep offering to take Midge whenever he wants us to, but he can’t quite seem to juggle everything. There’s nothing we can do, because if we report any suspected wrongdoing or incompetence to the county without really knowing what’s going on and without knowing whether they’d remove Midge again, we know he could easily cut us out of her life completely. So far, we haven’t been scared for her safety, thankfully. I just don’t know what’s going to happen. Again, we’re in a totally powerless situation where we just have to pray and leave her in God’s hands. And I have no idea what’s going to happen when she starts preschool again in the fall. Sigh. My baby. While I can, I’m enjoying every minute with my spoiled-rotten, can’t-take-no-for-an-answer, I-don’t-know-how-to-share, wonderful little girl.

So we made it. Two weeks left of summer and we’ve survived. Not even that, I think we’ve actually done well. I’m hoping to start substituting this fall at the kids’ schools and I’m working on a single subject Math credential to go with my multiple subject elementary teaching credential. I’m competing in a triathlon this Saturday, which should be good for a laugh at my expense! I trained very regularly from January to early May, at which point I got bronchitis and pneumonia which lasted a month, got busy coordinating our school’s Teacher Appreciation Week, and then it was summer with no time to train sans children. So I almost didn’t follow through with my triathlon goal. But as my good friend pointed out, I probably won’t regret it if I do the triathlon, but it’s very possible I’d regret it if I didn’t. So here I go. School days, substituting, credentialing, scheduling fall kids’ activities, adjusting my parenting strategies as our family schedule changes…such is life around here. And looking towards the future with hope.

 

7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess :: Reflections on waste month

So I was supposed to adopt seven “green” habits this month. I completely failed. I rationalize that I am already much “greener” than most people I know. We recycle. We use cloth napkins every day in place of paper towels and paper napkins. I buy second-hand clothes for myself and my kids. I experimented with eliminating shampoo for six months (although I admit I am back “on” shampoo again…mostly because it’s easier.) I bring my own bags to the grocery store and the farmer’s market. I teach my kids about taking care of the environment. We avoid chemicals in our food and spend our money to support the ethical treatment of the chickens and cows we eat. We’ve done the raw milk thing, and probably will again after our kids are adopted. (Not giving kids raw milk or home canned foods was specifically listed in our fostering paperwork!) We are already green, darn it!

These are all excuses. The truth is, I took the month off. There are plenty of ways to do more to care for our earth. But when it comes down to it, the extent of my waste month is that if I’m motivated this weekend, I just might switch my two trash cans, making the larger one for recycling and the smaller one for trash. And I’ll call it a day. Or a month. Of failure.

Sorry, Earth.

7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess :: Reflections on Possessions and Media months

I’ve been off of blogs and many other media this past month, so I realize I left this blog on the downswing of one of our foster parenting rollercoaster. The coaster has headed back up again and behaviors are looking a lot better. Perhaps as a result of my media fast?

Possessions month was a bust. Not because I didn’t do it, but because parting with 7 possessions a day for a month was depressingly easy, which makes it glaringly obvious that we have too much stuff. I continue to fight the battle against accumulation and I enjoy a good possessions purge, too. Maybe someday I’ll get to a place where I’m happy with how many possessions we own. Just enough, but not so many that the maintenance of it all takes away from our real lives.

Media. I gave up blogs (reading others and writing my own), facebook, pinterest, instagram, iphone apps (except my bible), editing photos, and internet and texting except for necessity or to save time, along with live t.v. (Netflix only, and only a handful of times.)

It was a really good month. I do believe that the kids’ good month reflected my ability to give them more of my undivided attention. I’ve only had an iphone for a year now, and I’ve only been texting for a little more than that time, but somehow that phone has managed to pull my focus away from the kids when we’re out at the park or the pool or the carpool line. Of course, the internet and facebook have been doing that for years, so it was interesting to take all of that away.

I thought I’d miss more important “announcements” on facebook. I didn’t. My cousin had a beautiful baby boy, and if I hadn’t gone back onto facebook today, I would have had to wait a few more weeks until my aunt comes back into to town to find out about it. My college friend had an adorable red-headed baby girl, which I could only find out through facebook. Our neighborhood had a few announcements and posts that I found mildly interesting, but not necessarily important for me. I had two messages in my inbox there; neither were time sensitive and could be achieved via text or phone message. I’m not saying I’m going to give up facebook entirely, but the number of “five minutes here” and “just a quick look” there can add up quickly, and honestly, would often stretch beyond five minutes. And because I would take those little peeks while the kids were home, I found myself annoyed that they would dare interrupt the digital world of my wide web of “friends” with their real life desire for their mother’s attention to their actually relevant questions and conversations. I definitely realized that over the month. And the one time that I broke my facebook fast to get input on the Teacher’s Appreciation Week I’m chairing, I happened to see a friend’s new profile pic, which was a portrait of her daughters that was taken by somebody else with gorgeous results. So my one peek onto facebook yielded some mildly useful advice for Teacher Appreciation Week along with my photographer’s jealousy and self put-downs. Do you think there’s a lesson there?

I don’t think I’m overly addicted to Pinterest or Instagram. I would like to stop using my phone for them when there are kids around. Little A. gets the brunt of this because it’s usually during the carpool line where I peek at those instead of talking with him or reading him a story while we wait. I used the internet many times this month to check doctor’s office phone numbers, renew my teaching credential, and begin studying towards getting my single subject Math teaching credential (Math tutorial websites? Yes, please!) But I did discover how much time I waste on reading blogs. I only missed a few of them, and I could easily catch up on those once a month.

Conclusion: There are places I need to cut back on media and there are places I think I’m doing fine. My definition of “doing fine” is that the media doesn’t detract from the family relationships I need to be nurturing. So in some cases, I’ll add the media back but just do it at a different time of the day, when the kids are in bed or Greg is home. Even then, I think I’ll be letting go of some of the media ruts and habits I had fallen into.

“You’re going to lose the ship, but all of the people aboard will survive.”

Title taken from the end of Acts…maybe Acts 23 or so? When Paul is going through still more hardships, including years of wrongful imprisonment and an impending shipwreck during stormy seas. Literally.

Our stormy seas are figurative. We are dealing with serious regression around here, with our foster kiddos returning to daily behaviors including defiance, tantrums, violence, disrespect and disobedience like we haven’t seen since their first months here. I spend most of my time splitting up fights, separating children, making sure those children stay separated, then going back and checking on the children who aren’t having a consequence at that moment, then going back to the first children and talking with them about their choices and reinstating their privileges, and then starting it all over again, with some kicks, screaming, and throwing of someone else’s valuables thrown in here and there. All the while attempting to keep my own temper and not let my buttons be pushed.

This morning as I was walking by our beautiful reservoir, God brought the above passage to mind. He reassured Paul with an angel, which seems a little more definitive to me. God, if you read my blog, I would really like an angel to come to me in my dreams and tell me the same thing. But as the angels have remained silent thusfar, I’ll just trust that the Holy Spirit brought this to my mind for a reason.

Our family will survive. The ship will not. What that ship is, I’m not sure. My best guess is that the “ship” is my own plan for how our kids’ childhoods should look. I’m thinking that God is shattering my own utopian ideals for my five kids’ childhood experiences. I’m supposed to trust that His plan for their early years is better than mine. That somehow His infinite knowledge of past, present, and future is more comprehensive than mine and He will give my kids the life experiences they need in order to fill the roles He has for them later in life.

He has been faithful. He is faithful. And according to the Bible, He will be faithful to complete the good work He began in us.

Of course, we just talked about the staggering extent of Paul’s faith in difficult circumstances at our Women’s Bible Study yesterday. Sometimes God is just a little bit too ironic for my liking.

 

7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess :: Reflections on Clothes Month

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For four weeks I wore the seven clothing items shown above. (Well, it’s actually eight. For some reason, the author of this challenge decided that shoes should count as one item, but we should only pick two pairs to wear all month.) So it was pretty weird. And I think we are unfairly challenged with our California weather, which included a big rain storm and what we consider some very cold days, and then a week of extreme heat! (Over 90 degrees in February? Yes, please! I love you, California!)

Which means that I wore the same tank top every day for about a week. Twice. When it was cold there was a little more variety. Thank goodness for that jacket…nobody cares if you wear the same jacket to school drop off every morning.

But you know what? It wasn’t a big deal. Nobody said a word about it. Whether they noticed or not, I don’t know. I’m guessing not. The ladies in our group who work in offices had a much tougher time this month. In my life I rarely see the same people two days in a row. I did get tired of my two tops (black tank top bought second-hand, light blue long sleeved from American Apparel) but it made my morning prep time SO easy!

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We did add seven accessories from seven different countries or charities to pray for, which made it easier to mix things up a bit. Rainbow scarf from a second-hand store benefitting homeless women and their children. Gray belt from Goodwill. Orange scarf from a second-hand store benefitting a battered women’s shelter where our Midge stayed before she came into foster care! Green beads from Haitian Creations, giving women a way to earn money for their families. Off white hat made in China, where we have missionary friends and where our good friends are in the process of adopting for the third time. Purple beanie from Krochet Kids, another organization giving poor women a way to make money to support their families. And silver Africa necklace to remind me to pray for Northrise University, a christian university in Zambia that is changing lives and making a difference in their country.

For many in our group, it was a new idea to think about who made the clothes we wear and whether the price was actually giving the workers a fair wage or not. (If you don’t think about it, it’s usually not.) It’s been a few years since I started making a concerted effort to buy second-hand and research stores’ ethics ratings before buying. And I’ve definitely backslid in being purposeful in this area. The hoodie and boots I wore this month were most likely not ethically sourced. So it’s good to think about it again.

And this month really did remind me of how few items of clothing we really NEED. So I did this:

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BEFORE: 225 clothing items, not including accessories, pajamas, workout gear and shoes

Do you see that silver metal basket in the back left with the army green pants and rainbow scarf? That’s the basket where all of my seven clothes lived for the past month. So I pretty much wore what was in there plus shoes. Mind-boggling. Makes me wonder why I have all that other stuff. Which leads me to:

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AFTER: 114 clothing items (and I purged a lot of pajamas and other stuff, too.)

My new wardrobe is a few items over half of my old one. I will admit that I saved two large boxes of clothes on a shelf on the left side of my closet. These are the clothes that didn’t make the top 114, but I like them just fine and I’m not sure I won’t miss them. Isn’t that ridiculous? I’ve lived on 7 clothing items for a month without any problem, yet I think I won’t be able to squeeze by on 114 items? But I did put those extras into a box, and if I don’t need them for a few months, they’ll go off to be donated like the rest. It’s a start, right?

Family Updates Are Few & Far Between.

It’s difficult to write here when things are sliding backwards. I don’t want to over-share my kids’ struggles, yet I don’t want to act like everything’s rosy when it’s not. So instead, I have just keep my mouth shut (or in this case, my fingers still!)

I will say that God has worked amazingly in my heart in the past five weeks. I woke up on February 1st, the nine month anniversary of our kids joining our family, and decided I’d had enough of my pity party and my selfish behavior. I didn’t like my life and there was no sign of it getting better if I didn’t change myself. And for whatever reason, the Holy Spirit began working that day. I know when we pray that God always answers: yes, no, or wait. I’ve been in the ‘wait’ category for several months, harboring bad feelings towards my situation, my kids, and even towards God, all while praying for improvement.

I have turned a corner. At ten months in, I may not be the most fabulous mother to my children, but I’m a lot better than I was five weeks ago. There’s a lot more compassion, and a stronger will to fight for these kids and our relationships. I’m hanging onto my bible time and my 1000 gifts devotional and thankfulness list, along with a devotional a good friend gave me for people in difficult life circumstances. All of that to keep me clinging to Jesus, along with daily doses (sometimes twice daily!) of a few ‘parenting kids from hard places’ books that remind me of how I’m supposed to change my thinking and my parenting techniques for these kids.

Meanwhile, Jake has been improving in his behavior. This fostering business has always been hardest on him, and he exhibits behavior that is straight out of our  trauma training sessions! I guess when you like routine and predictability and are a sensitive kid, being a foster brother from age 6-10 is traumatic! Tyler has always been the easiest with all of this. But this past week he’s had a rough time. Greg and I realize he needs a little more one on one time and are hoping to do that soon. Our five year old A. has been getting better at school and home. If only I could stop showing my frustration with him, he might be able to stop his defiance! (My frustrated voice is definitely one of his biggest triggers.)

As for our six-year old E., things have come to, as our social worker calls it, “a point of crisis.” Her current school situation is not working for her at all. In foster parenting-speak, her chronological age is 6.5. Her social age is about 11. Her academic age is about 5. And her emotional age is about 3. You can see how difficult this would make things in a first grade classroom at a school full of people (adults and children) expecting her to meet the academic standards and negotiate the social/emotional situations of a 6-7 year old. We’re working with the school staff but aren’t optimistic about them being able to meet her needs right now.

Thankfully, God showed up at just the right time to make me more empathetic to her feelings and open to different options for meeting her needs. Not everyone understands her special needs, but as long as Greg and I do, we have the responsibility to do whatever is in her best interest while also considering the family as a whole. We’ve been praying for about a month about what to do and have been talking with the professionals who will have to approve the decision since she’s still officially in foster care and we can’t make parenting decisions yet!  In just the past week, I’m feeling a bit more sure of where we’re headed. Next week I will have a little more information and hopefully we can feel confident with whatever we decide.

Every time I think about our family, I think of the tag-line at the beginning of the old Jon and Kate Plus Eight reality t.v. show: It might be a crazy life, but it’s OUR life. Yep. That’s us.

7 : An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess :: Finishing up Food, Starting Clothes

It’s been over a week since food month ended, but it’s still affecting me physically. The first four days after food month ended, I spent much of the day with a stomach ache…like the food I was eating was just sitting there like a rock. The digestive issues I’ve struggled with off and on for more than a year but were completely gone during food month…they returned. And for the last week, my energy has been so much lower than it was during food month.

On day five after the fast ended, I found myself eating beans with an egg for breakfast, Seven style. I couldn’t believe it.

I’m trying to figure out my new relationship with food. I know sugar is bad. Very bad. Poison, some would say. I know that cheese as a big portion of a meal (paninis, grilled cheese, many mexican foods) is not agreeing with me. But how am I going to move forward from here? I still don’t know. But I do know that I am oh-so-happy to add an avocado and enchilada sauce to my egg and beans or tomatoes breakfast. I’m going to keep messing with my diet until I feel good again but don’t feel deprived.

And Clothes Month.

Seven items of clothing: two pairs of pants, one long sleeved shirt, one tank top, one hoodie sweatshirt, one jacket, one pair of boots.

And this morning when I got dressed and looked in the mirror, I realized that my first outfit doesn’t look cute. And pair number one of pants are inching uncomfortably down, thanks to the Seven-induced weight loss. Which is generally a good thing, but not so much when you have only two pairs of pants to wear all month. Hmmm. I’m not sure that I chose wisely.

But whatever. Because I don’t have to wonder what I’m going to wear when I wake up in the morning. Who cares? I anticipate a much quicker morning routine. And hopefully a much better focus on what Christ thinks of me rather than what other people think of me. This month’s going to be a breeze compared to food month.

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pardon the lack of makeup. and the awkward little boot lift…my five year old photographer told me that my feet weren’t in the picture. obviously he was mistaken!

7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess :: Reflecting on Food Month

Eggplant tomorrow!!!

Eggplant tomorrow!!!

This is it. Month One of 7 is over today. Shopping at Trader Joe’s and the Farmer’s Market this morning was like a shopping spree! Beets! Strawberries! Broccoli! Swiss Chard! Avocados! Asparagus! Lettuce! I can’t wait to eat them all! (Except lettuce, which is really just a vehicle for other goodies, in my mind.) I even went back to the store after the kids went to bed (because Tyler now requests french toast for his birthday breakfast tomorrow and I have no appropriate bread) and picked up some jicama and an eggplant. I cannot WAIT to eat them. Preferably all tomorrow. It’s been a very hard month for me, as I knew it would be. I think it will be the hardest of the seven months for me. And what did I learn?

1. There are a LOT of really tasty healthy foods in this world. My seven were very good choices. I never did completely tire of the chicken, rice, beans, tomatoes and eggs. I can’t believe it. I chose the beans because that’s what most of the world’s poor eats, and also, I’ve long been wanting to incorporate more into our diet here. Mission accomplished. I’m happily eating beans at almost every meal. The apples got a little tiresome, mostly because they were my only portable food so I ate them a lot. I told Greg tonight at dinner (rice, beans, sauteed spinach) that I think it will be a long time until I eat spinach again. And then I went onto Pinterest before my late night store run, and what did I see but a spinach salad with avocado, chicken, pine nuts, and vinaigrette. And do you know what I ended up buying a 1 lb. tub of at the store tonight?! Spinach and all other 7-worthy foods aside, there are SO many good fruits and vegetables we can enjoy. I’m so lucky to live not only in a country with great access to food, but in a state with a healthy mindset. Everywhere I went there were quick options for healthful living, even some that fit into my food rules.

2. You’d be surprised what you miss. For the first two or three weeks, I REALLY wanted sweets. And cheese. And butter. And perhaps it’s because I have the flu and am not really well yet, but I’m not even that interested in the cake I’m baking for Tyler and Greg’s birthdays. And I’m almost repulsed by the thought of donuts tomorrow for birthdays. (In fairness, I was never a huge donut fan.) But I thought after four weeks that I’d be DYING for sweets that first day! No! I am salivating over a quinoa salad with diced vegetables and lemon dressing. And the last of the greek pasta salad I made for the family earlier this week. And grilled eggplant and peppers on my panini tomorrow at lunch!!

3. Eating well makes a difference in your body and energy levels. I’m not sure whether it’s the diet or my new exercise regime (probably both), but I lost 10 pounds this month. Seriously. This was not my goal for exercising or for eating the seven foods, but boy, what a nice perk! Even better, I feel more energetic all day long. In light of this and of #2, I’m trying to figure out where I go from here. I’ve been watching food documentaries (a favorite past-time of mine) and I read this month that studies have shown sugar to be more addictive than cocaine. I am not surprised. I don’t want to jump back on the sugar bandwagon and lose all of this healthy momentum and hard work. On the other hand, I don’t want to give up sugar altogether. I feel like an addict who’s been clean for a month, asking her sponsor if she could just have a hit now and then at parties. I’m not sure what’s going to happen but I’m thinking about it.

4. You can’t force spiritual growth. It happens organically, one day at a time, one bible reading at a time, one prayer at a time. I need to remember that this is a seven month journey, not a four week sprint. I had been hoping for my spiritual life to break wide open like the winter ground popping up daffodils. That didn’t happen. I did have my morning run “moment” and other than that, spiritual things are just plugging along day by day. But that’s okay. There were so many other great benefits, and I know God had His plan for me this month and for the next six months.

5. People eat a lot. At every event. And really, if I plan ahead, I can avoid most of the unhealthy stuff just by keeping myself full of little snacks here and there (ALMONDS!!! Where have you been all month! I miss you!) and by perhaps being the one who brings the healthy but yummy dish to the potluck?

So there it is. My month is over. I didn’t even bother to eat lunch today, because, really? It was going to be beans and rice and an egg over top and anyway I’m sick so what’s the point. Honestly, I almost cut my month short on Tuesday when I came down with the flu. I’d done almost a month, so what difference would the last four days make? As it turns out, a lot of difference. It wasn’t until today that it actually dawned on me that I hadn’t been craving sweets or cheese anymore. I will admit to these three cheats for the month: 1) I accidentally popped three grapes in my mouth during week two while rinsing them for the kids’ snack and didn’t realize it until the next day. Oops. 2) When I got the flu I had two cups of tea with honey and lemon. 3) Again, Tuesday’s flu had me adding hot sauce to my rice and chicken in hopes that the heat would help my body fight the fever. No luck.  Other than those three, I was a clean-cut 7 champion. I did it. And even that feeling of accomplishment makes me feel like it was worth it, too.

I recognize the gift it is to be creative in my cooking. To start with plants and turn them into something delicious and healthful. I am really glad I did this and I’m even gladder that my “council” of women for this 7 journey are sticklers for rules. Because from day one I had decided that I’d let myself use all kinds of spices and a little bit of cheese or nuts here and there to “garnish” my dishes, when we really know that there would often be almonds garnishing the air in my hands as I scarfed them down. So because of the “council” of ladies, I didn’t eat cheese or those nuts or anything else non-7-approved, and I feel like it was a bigger accomplishment than it otherwise would have been.

A little bit of self-control and self-deprivation and self-examination never hurt anyone. I am thankful for it.

And I’m glad it’s over. Bring on the eggplant. I think I’ll saute it up and make a garlic yogurt dip for it on the side. Ahhhh….

At the End of Ourselves…

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the rest of the family’s breakfast (mine was an egg over, you guessed it, beans, rice, tomatoes and chicken)

At the end of ourselves is where we find God. Or so I’ve heard. And maybe today I experienced it.

This morning I was at the end of myself. To be honest, I was at the end of myself yesterday, and when I didn’t get to eat the heath bar covered brownies and one of the children pushed my buttons in a seriously annoying way and there were five needy children at bedtime and I was tired and realized I hadn’t gone for a run all weekend, I was done.

I almost ate that brownie. I was this close. I even considered putting a call out for solidarity/support onto our little 7 challenge Facebook group. Then I decided that no, I should just not tell them and make this my one cheat of the month and nobody need find out about it. Then I distracted myself, like all good toddler parents know how to do, and then I lay down on the couch to watch t.v., because thank goodness media and food months aren’t at the same time. And then it was bedtime. And I was not going to waste my one brownie cheat if I had to immediately brush away that delectable chocolatey flavor. Phew.

I was jolted awake by one of my darling children at 6:00 a.m. on a non-school day because, as he put it, “I have a really bad bloody nose and there’s no more toilet paper!” by which he meant, I’ve used a whole roll of toilet paper for the three bloody noses I’ve had during the night because I use two feet of paper to blot my nose one time. If bloody noses were an anomaly in our house perhaps I’d be a bit more compassionate. But two nights ago I was awakened at 2:00 a.m. by a different child to clean up the bloody nose mess she’d made in the bathroom. And Greg has dealt with at least one child’s bloody nose every morning this week. If any more fluids come out of these children’s bodies, I might have to move out. We are not amused.

Of course, I had been reading a parenting book last night and felt encouraged to start fresh with trying not to lose my temper with the kids. Needless to say, I didn’t last through my first three minutes awake.

So I came downstairs to Greg and began crying for all the bloody noses and the fighting and my inability to stop getting frustrated and the fact that it was a non-school day and Greg not only had to work, but also had a meeting that would keep him out until after the kids’ bedtime. So Greg comforted me for a second and then tried to solve my problem, which forced me to sniff up my tears and proclaim rudely, “I’m going for a run.”

And I hadn’t run in four days, which is not good. But the path was deserted and the moon was bright and I was outside in God’s creation. My thoughts swirled angrily for a while and then turned to wondering. And whining to God about why He took away my easy little comfortable-parent-of-two-bio-kids-life and gave me this hard one that I often don’t like in its place. And seriously, God, now I can’t eat brownies, either?

And good old Job came to mind. He gives and takes away…blessed be the name of the LORD.

Maybe I hit rock bottom. Maybe I realized once and for all that the easy little life I had was given to me by the LORD as a gift. And it’s His to take away when that serves His greater purpose. And if I don’t have a calm home here anymore and if I can’t eat sweets (yes, by my own choice, but I really did feel led by the Holy Spirit to start this 7 fast) so what? And all of the sudden I realized what hope we have in heaven. And I thought of all those people out there who don’t have that hope when they’ve lost everything, and I don’t mean brownies and comfortable lives. I mean when they’ve lost children or health or jobs or marriages or seriously big things. I can’t imagine life’s difficulties without that hope.

The longing for heaven is what I found on my run this morning. And some perspective. I came around a curve and saw the sunrise reflected in the water of the reservoir behind our neighborhood and it was beautiful. I paused for a moment and thanked God. Within a few minutes it was light and that beauty was gone. It was a moment given just to me from my creator who is my heavenly Father.

Consistent gratitude has been missing from my everyday life for the past few months.

If I am eating only seven foods this month, what is that in the grand scheme of things? If parenting and enjoying my home is much harder now, what would be the alternative for the two kids who bring much of the chaos? They’re already considered “older children” in the world of adoption. Add to their ages their race, that they’re part of a sibling pair, and that they’ve both been labeled to have violent tendencies, one has asthma and speech problems and the other a serious heart condition, and you’ve got two kids who’d be bopping around foster and group homes their whole lives. Can I really be that selfish to wish for a brownie and some quiet hours on the couch?

So I ran home with a changed heart and a new hope. The hope of heaven and the hope that we have on earth in Christ. That I should not grow weary of doing good for in due season I would reap if I didn’t lose heart and didn’t give up. And that the Holy Spirit can work in families with broken people. And that I could withstand those chocolate croissants I had baking in the oven for the kids as a special treat.

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

iphoneography : january part 1

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2014 challenge:

use my iphone to capture and edit unique perspectives on our lives this year

Frustrated with the lack of great personal photos from 2013, I am setting out on a photography challenge this year. Not quite a project 365 (where you must take a picture every day) but I’ll aim for about that many great shots in the end. I’m not averse to having two good shots from one day or none from another. Hopefully I’ll be motivated to pick up my “real” camera this year and get back into the groove of taking and editing my own pictures instead of just my clients’ pictures. For now, here are some of the first from my iphonography 2014 challenge.

new year's eve aftermath

new year’s eve aftermath

and so it begins...four kids in tennis

and so it begins…four kids in tennis

she finally gets her gymnastics lessons

she finally gets her gymnastics lessons

brothers forever

brothers forever

school's morning mist

school’s morning mist

windowsill

windowsill

18 mile ride

18 mile ride

wonderful weather for the outdoors

wonderful weather for the outdoors

cuddling on the swing with my baby

cuddling on the swing with my baby

daddy's favorite moment

daddy’s favorite moment

i spy four woodards...do you?

i spy four woodards…do you?

Happy shooting in 2014!

7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess :: in the trenches of food month

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After my pre-7 Costco run: produce for juicing and pleny of my 7 foods for the month!

I’m halfway through my first month of seven and it’s starting to get old. The first week was way easier than I thought it would be. I think that’s just because we’re still getting into the swing of things around here after Christmas break and we’ve been so busy. This second week hasn’t been that bad, but I’m beginning to tire of my foods. If only I didn’t feed the rest of my family so well, I wouldn’t have to see the yummy things everyone else is eating without me!

My problem is that I really do like food. I like planning a new menu for each week. I love variety and there are hardly any foods I don’t enjoy, so I regularly change our family dishes to keep things interesting. I like so many different vegetables and sauces and savories and sweets! Oh, sweets! I love you. And butter and cheese, I was so close to putting at least one of you on my list of seven foods.

That’s it: only seven foods for a month. Choose wisely, I advise you, if you ever take on this foolish task. I’ve been completely happy with my choices of rice, beans, chicken, eggs, spinach, tomatoes, and apples. Considering nutrients and possible food combinations, my list has been ideal. We can use olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper for seasoning, but still, there are no sweets! No coffee treats or cheese to jazz up my beans or my salads. Sun dried tomatoes and apples in every form have been my saviors. But even still, after two weeks I’m kind of over it. In addition to water, I am drinking juices made at home so that I can try out the juicer I’m borrowing from my dad.  And even with the incredible motivation of juicing being the only mode for me to eat non-7 foods, I’ve only had juice three times, so that tells me whether buying my own juicer is worth it! Guess not.

It would be easier for me if I really felt my spiritual life being shaken up by this 7 food fast. I’ve fasted from sweets before while praying for direction on certain life decisions, and while skipping sweets is a serious sacrifice for me, it’s easier when I have a defined purpose in mind. This 7 fast is a little vague and open-ended for me. “Taking away excess to make room for the Holy Spirit to work” isn’t quite as specific as I’d like. How will I see the Spirit move? What changes will I feel happening? Will I truly feel more compassion for the world’s poor, who live on much less food than this every day? I am happy that I lost five pounds in the first week (I also started my triathalon training that same week, so there’s that) but losing weight isn’t my goal here so it’s not helping me feel motivated. I haven’t given up on the spiritual shake-up yet, but I’m still waiting.

I’m committed to this for the long haul, so I keep plugging along. Me and my apples, my freeze dried apples, and my applesauce, all of which I had in the same afternoon at Disneyland with the kids. I will admit that after that Applepolooza, as my friend Toby called it, I was a little appled out.

Two weeks down, two to go. I’m hoping to reflect here in the middle of each fast and at the end, just to see the progress I’m making over the seven months. Right now, I’ve got a chicken carcass on the stove creating homemade chicken broth, to which I’ll add (what else?!) rice, beans, diced tomatoes, spinach, lemon, salt and pepper. Yum and yawn, all at the same time.

Holy Spirit? Where are you at?

7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess :: Introduction

I'm into month one now. Can you guess one of my seven foods?

I’m into month one now. Can you guess one of my seven foods?

I mentioned that I’ve been in a weird place for the past few months. I think its a combination of things going pretty well from the outside yet things still being difficult behind the curtains. When the kids’ parents’ rights were terminated in December (and even before that when it looked like it would happen soon), I realized that this is my life. Home life is not easy anymore, so being home is not the haven it used to be. Spiritually, I was feeling a winter season coming on after a very exciting summer and fall harvest-type season in my spiritual life. I recognized that if I didn’t find something to shake me up a bit, some goal or something to work on, I could easily slip away in the wrong direction. It’s so easy to atrophy towards lives that are different from and seem easier than the ones God calls us to.

Enter: Seven : an experimental mutiny against excess, by Jen Hatmaker. I read this book over a year ago and while I enjoyed her writing, I didn’t feel at all inspired to try something similar in my life. Of course, I think we were probably in the throes of losing Midge at the time, and life was full of stress, visitations, emotional upheaval and uncertainty. It was no time for any more challenges than the one we were living. Plus, some of the challenges seemed too daunting while others seemed irrelevant to me. 

A month or two ago, one of the women from our church posted on Facebook about the book, and many others responded. Pretty soon a group of women who wanted to try the seven month challenge had formed, and without reviewing what I was in for, I signed up, looking for something to shake me up a bit in my physical and spiritual life. 

While seven is an experiment in eliminating excess from our lives and Hatmaker sets her own rigid rules for each month, the focus is supposed to be on spiritual formation and compassion for the poor. Readers can challenge themselves in the same way as the author or make their own rules, but the goal should be the same: more of the Holy Spirit and less of our own indulgences ruling our lives. 

A one month fast of some kind in the following areas of excess: Food. Clothing. Possessions. Media. Spending. Waste. Stress. 

I saw the group forming on Facebook and I was in. I AM in. I am going to be in for the next seven months. What the heck was I thinking?

A New Year :: A New Start

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It’s been a long few weeks here as I seemed to have hit a wall in several areas of my life and felt kind of lost for a bit. But things are looking up! I’m feeling optimistic and motivated…

 

san elijo_047_February 09, 2013

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  • a fresh start with Emmie. Our relationship is very tricky and our personalities clash in lots of ways. But I have a newfound determination to think before I speak, and to preface each interaction with her with the thought of “What would a loving mother do here?” and then just do it, regardless of what I’m feeling. (An idea I got from another adoptive mom’s blog.)
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  • exercise. 2011, 2012, and 2013 are all a big blur to me. I feel like I’ve been treading water for three years and we finally have some stability in our lives. Which means I can finally really make a decent effort at getting regular exercise into my weekly routine. In fact, wait for it… I’m training for a triathalon! My weakness is running so I’m starting there and will add in the swimming and bike training once I can run a few miles without dying! I found a neighbor who’s going to try it with me, and hopefully we’ll be ready at the end of August!
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  • spiritual life. It comes as no surprise that Satan’s been attacking me in the past few months. Speaking with Greg in church about fostering and adopting, teaching the women’s study on Wednesday mornings every three or four weeks, daily living in a way that goes against cultural apathy…none of these things please Satan much. So I’ve seen a surge of temptation and am feeling a dry spell spiritually. I remember feeling this once in college and coming across the following in C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters: (speaking from the devil’s point of view) “Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”  So I’m heading forward and am joining a group of great christian women who are going through Jen Hatmaker’s book Seven, and trying the challenges. The goal is that with the monthly fasts from one excess or another, our spiritual lives would be awakened in a new way.
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  • food. First up in the challenges from Seven is a food challenge. My most dreaded challenge. Because I love to eat. A lot. And I like butter. But if you’re picking only seven foods to eat for a month, butter had really better not be one of them. Actually, I was already thinking about trying some juicing to get more fruits and vegetable nutrients into our lives, and a friend is trying a clean eating challenge with some kind of shakes, which I hate. So why not start out the year with a food detox challenge torture situation? The worst that can happen is that I’m miserable and lose a lot of weight in January. It’s only a month. And maybe it will jump start my food choices in a healthier way for the year.
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  • photography. Boy, was 2013 a crummy year in photography for me. (Feeling annoyed about this, I did scrape through my archives to find the 2013 pictures that I’m using in this post!) My favorite pictures were almost all for clients and hardly ever for me. I want to change that this year. I’m going to try to use my iphone to create some photography that I love, instead of just grabbing it to record the jog-a-thon or the Christmas program. I want to use my big camera more, too, but as for a creativity challenge, I’m trying it with my iphone. Hmmm….
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  • carpool. Okay, so this isn’t quite as momentous as any other things, but I have found another parent to split the morning kindergarten pickups with! Right now I get to school at 8:00 for Anthony’s start, stay until 8:30 for Emmie and Tyler’s start, then get home a little before 9:00, only to turn around and leave at 11:00 to pick Anthony up again. Two hours is not a lot of time! But now, two or three days a week I can stay home and he’ll be brought to my door at 11:45. Perfect!! And Emmie has settled in with her friends before school so I’m planning to leave at 8:00 some days instead of staying until the second bell. Freedom!IMG_1867

So for the first time in a while, I’m feeling good. Optimistic. Goal oriented. I do love a new year!

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