Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Love is a Language

My love language is acts of service. I must be a minority because no one in my life speaks my language, fluently. For some reason, I am surrounded by people who need and love words.

[If you have never read Gary Chapman's theory on love languages, do it! Understanding the five languages - service, time, touch, words, and gifts - will provide incredible insight to your relationships]

Apart from God's radical love for us, the reason Ben and I have such a rich marriage is because we've learned to love each other in the way that is most meaningful to each of us. While Ben appreciates my mad house management skills, clean sheets on our bed is not the way to communicate my heart to him - even though that's how I want him to love me back. He clings to affirmation. He needs to hear that his muscles are huge and that his heart of compassion makes my heart flippity-flop. It's not natural for me to love him with words, but I try {like it's my job} because I don't ever want him to wonder.

This topic has been weaving its way through many of our conversations, lately, because the fight for attention in our house has wrestled itself to the surface in some pretty ugly ways (most of which end in a phone call from the school).

As I prayed for insight, it became pretty clear...we were not loving the older boys in ways they felt it best.

We were able to identify Ty and LJ's languages right away, because it's how they show love to us. Ty craves and often asks for one-on-one time, while LJ wants physical contact around the clock. I'm pretty sure he would be happiest if he could go through life holding my hand or riding my back like a baby chimp. Ty is an old soul who loves to sip hot cocoa in his robe, discussing the happenings of his day and asking all the questions that sparked his curiosity along the way. LJ wants to tackle any family member that will take it and give breath-sucking hugs. God help us when he notices girls.

Francisco is much more mysterious and because his heart is so good and gentle, he is the one most likely to get lost in the shadows. He's not loud or stubborn or confrontational and takes life in quiet stride. One night we just asked him...When do you feel the most loved? Is it when you come home and find an unexpected gift waiting? Reading little notes left in your lunch? Family movie nights?

He thought for a few minutes and said, "Maybe when I stay in the kitchen with dad, while he's doing dishes, and everyone else leaves?"

It was sort of a question statement, but revealed the sincerity of his heart.

Several days later, Francisco and I were working on a puzzle together. The kind you wish you had never started. 1500 pieces and for every two pieces you connect, there are twenty obstructing your success, without apology. Just as I was ready to quit for the night, very quietly - with no fanfare - Francisco said, "Mom, this is how I feel loved...sitting here, doing puzzles with you."

I smiled back and whispered it was the best part of my day.

Just like that, he handed me the keys to his heart. Nearly every day, this week, I made it a priority to sit down with him, even if only for a few minutes, and we cursed the puzzle together. He doesn't say much while we work, but every time he finds a match he whoops and hollers and calls for an air-five.

It is super hard to follow-through with intentions and easy to let all-the-things-we-should-be-doing burden our hearts. It's okay if we miss a night of reading or swap devotionals for dancing or ditch showers for star-gazing. It's all okay.

Our life is a circus. For real. And so much of our day is prescribed, but when I take the time to love my people in the languages they understand, I know I'm winning.

And they're winning, too, because they know they matter.

Friday, March 9, 2018

FF: Chili & Cornbread

We only have a handful of recipes that score high-fives all around the table and this is one of them. Seventeen years ago, I worked with a Hispanic woman who taught this know-nothing-newlywed how to wow my husband in the kitchen. I've never found a chili that rivaled hers - now ours.

FF: Crockpot Chili & Cornbread

2 cans of Rotel (We like original, but you can go spicy!)
1 can of black beans 
1 can of red beans
1 diced onion
1 diced green pepper
1 diced red pepper
1 lb cooked ground beef

Dump everything in your crock and cook it on low for 8-10 hours. I don't even drain the bean cans. Super easy.

30 minutes before serving, add:
1/2 bag of frozen corn
1 chili packet
Sprinkle in chili powder to your spice preference
Sprinkle pepper on top

Top with Chili Cheese Fritos, cheese, and sour cream!

1 box of Jiffy cornbread per instructions + 1 8oz can of creamed corn (so good you'll never eat it another way, again!) We like to make ours in a bread pan, but muffin pans work, too.

This is seriously a fan favorite!

Monday, March 5, 2018

You're Not Even My Real Mom

"I hate living here," he shouted through the bathroom door. "All you think about is YOU. And you're not even my REAL mom."

I knew this day would come. I remember talking about it with Rebekah, months after Ty was born. I was an emotional teenager once who didn't understand why my parents were bent on standing in my way or dousing my love-struck heart with buckets of ice water.

His words still felt like a punch to the heart and arrived a few years earlier than predicted.

He knows me better than any of his siblings. He's thoughtful and perceptive. He rubs my back when he feels tension and sits in the kitchen while I'm cooking, so I don't have to be alone.

He's almost nine and this year has brought more questions than any of the years before.

One notable change is his relationship with Rebekah.

For eight years, Ty loved Rebekah through me. We would talk and visit but his interaction with her was really an overflow from my friendship, not his. This year has been different. After too many low-battery sitter situations, we added a cell phone to our plan to act as our family house phone. Rebekah's number was one of six that we programmed in. Ty started his communication journey with misspelled text messages that ended with heart eyes and poop emojis, but over several months he grew into asking for regular phone call privileges.

At the dinner table, he'll fill us in on all the doings in Colorado and takes great pride in being the first to know. Here and there, I've had hits of sadness that have nothing to do with their conversations, but everything to do with his maturity and independence.

I can't help but think about how different our life would be if we had acted on our fear and distanced Rebekah from our hearts and life. I get teary thinking about it.

When Ty gets a perfect score on a math test and picks up the phone to share his news, my heart doubles in size. When he puts the phone back and tells me he's the luckiest kid on the planet for having two moms, I thank God for guiding us past boundaries.

It's not perfect, but nothing is.

Watching an eight year old process loss and long for people he doesn't see often enough is hard, but unloading eighteen years of pain in a single conversation would be harder.

Having multiple moms is messy business and we each have to work through the pain that passes through our part. While Ty grows into a story so much bigger than he is, there are going to be days of harsh words and accusing questions. Today, it was directed toward me, tomorrow it might be her.

We have to stand together as moms and remember where our confidence lies...certainly not within the capricious hearts of our self-serving children.

I have to fight failure monsters, knowing that many of Ty's outcries are fixed to time that's hard to give in a family of seven. Rebekah's monsters feed on guilt and make her wonder whether or not she deserves his attention at all.

However hairy it may be, we'll never stop wrestling for love. Love for God; love for each other; and love for a little boy that is still discovering both.

Love will win...in time.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Making A Way

Have you ever been on a carnival ride with endless spinning and find yourself in somewhat less of a  neutral state? You can't say you hate the ride because the darling next to you is wide-eyed and giggly, but the spinning is quite annoying, your heart is a little panicky, and your eyes are closed, begging for time to hurry and dump you back to a place that is more comfortable.

This is the scenario that best pictures how our life has felt over the last several months and prompted an unintentional departure from this space. 

In the quiet moments, I know the truth. But...quiet would only be heard in this house if someone was jumping on the sofa shouting it with all their might. And disorder has a way of unraveling me...quickly...and causes me to wonder why on earth God picked me.

There was a moment, last spring, at the end of an IEP (special education) meeting for LJ that I let the chaos win and fear bludgeoned my heart. I barely held my sobs as I ran-walked to the car. 

We were failing LJ. 

For the first time in my adult life, I ran away. I, quickly, sent a text message to work, but otherwise didn't tell anyone how I was feeling or where I was going. I just ran. I gave God a list of jobs I would have been exceptional at and presented different scenarios that would, presumably, have been better for LJ. Because he's a gentleman, he didn't interrupt. I went on and on and on. I cried for five hours straight and only stopped long enough to try on and purchase a new pair of Nike sneakers. That helped a little.

As I pulled back into the parking lot of the school and shut the car (and by car, I mean bus) off. The Holy Spirit delivered his one liner.

God did not pull LJ from disaster just to fail in your family.

So true. And I knew it was true. I held my breath for a few seconds and let it sink deep into my heart before the door opened and I had to let all the little people back in.

I don't want to bore you with days of details, but I have to tell this story.

LJ's clinical labels include emotionally impaired, ADHD, ODD, and some OCD. 

School is an ever-living nightmare. 

The meeting I attended was to recommend LJ for special education. Our school is amazing and the plan was strategic, but there was one huge problem. We live on a two county district line. Our current school is in our city, but we are assigned to attend school in the neighboring county. When we found the perfect country home to fill with more babies, we understood the special education risk, and chose to attend school as a school of choice family. It was a part of our story that we were sure about.

Fast forward four years and we had a weighty decision to make in 10 days. If we signed and accepted the IEP recommendation, LJ was going to have to switch districts and attend a different school than his brothers. If we didn't sign, he could continue on, but it would be without the services he, desperately, needed.

We prayed and cried and talked to every person that would listen. I even wrote a raw-heart letter to both superintendents begging for them to make an exception in our case. When our request was denied, Ben held my hand and reminded me that the Knower of all things, knows LJ best. We wondered if sending LJ to a district on his own might benefit him in surprising ways and tried to settle into the summer without thinking about it. I couldn't think about it; sending the boys to different schools ripped my heart in two.

Two weeks before school started, the principal of our school called, and opened with, "You must be praying hard. I've never seen anything like this in my career." 

Legislation specific to our predicament was passed in our benefit, weeks before, and required the two districts to join a cooperative agreement. The principal was calling to tell me that LJ would receive full special education benefits as if he was an in-district student. And I didn't have to do anything.

This was an Ebenezer raising moment for us. God made a way for LJ where there was NO WAY. He cares so much for his son, he cleared the necessary debris and changed legislation for him. Equally as significant - his way was on its way, while we were walking through the mud. 

This was not a coincidence or act of man. 

It was a miracle that I hadn't even thought to ask for. It's the sort of thing that begs consideration...what else haven't I asked God for?

I don't know if school will ever be less of a challenge for LJ. I don't know if he will learn to control his emotions or recognize his triggers. What I do know is that he is worth the investment and God will never fail him. Or me.

Even in the disorder.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

God Sees

"I don't know what to do! Tell me what to do!? I think I'm going to cut my tether and run."

Wait, wait, wait....slow the information train down. 

I hadn't heard from Sweet Mama in over a month; the last few conversations we had were difficult ones. She discovered she was pregnant, again, and waffled between abortion, parenting, or asking us to parent. She admitted it was an uncomfortable conversation to have with me (I agreed), but she had no one else to turn to. 

I mostly listened while my insides screamed.

"They put me on a tether and if I don't have a permanent place to live TOMORROW, my PO is hauling my a** to jail. I can't do it. Not again. Not pregnant. I am going to run. Doesn't that seem like the best choice?!?!"

After I was schooled on why she was tethered, what a PO is, and why shelters aren't an option, I asked if jail was the worst multiple choice answer. I couldn't think of a kinder way to say it, so I just went for the punch-in-the-face approach.

She lectured me up one side and down the other for such a suggestion, but all I could think about was dependable shelter, meals, and medical care. 

I can't relate to most of her experiences and pretending isn't genuine, but I care for her deeply and do my best to listen to the Holy Spirit so that I can give her godly counsel.

She asked if I would wire money to help secure housing. She was desperate and I could hear it in her voice. But I said no.

I pleaded with her not to run and tried to paint a picture of what that would mean for her and her baby. It was well over two weeks before I learned her whereabouts.

She didn't run. She did go to jail. And she lost the baby.

I felt immediate relief on all three accounts and then I heard (really heard) the shake in her voice and I saw a picture of her heart.

It is so important that we, intentionally, remove our natural lenses in such situations because despite our best efforts to love generously, we are tarnished by experience and influence. I didn't share this story for a long time because I didn't want anyone to voice the same unfiltered thoughts that I had.

Yes. This baby was rescued from a life of risk and separation...but at her mother's expense. Does one life hold more value than the other? 

Imagine the loss.

Three babies born to Sweet Mama were removed, brutally, by the legal proceedings in a courtroom - and while I did my best to keep their memories vivid and alive - there was never a goodbye. 

Now there is a fourth. The details are different, but the loss is the same. Life on the inside; barren on the outside. 

I've spent weeks thinking about the severity of Sweet Mama's circumstances and the mix-match of our stories. Her heart is shredded...yet she doesn't give up. She, stubbornly, holds on challenging others to defy her will. I see so much of her daughter in her. They are fighters; survivors. 

I feel the feels when I think about Edith and her story. Named by her mama - reward of war. The truth in it is chilling.

Somewhere in all the darkness, Sweet Mama has a flicker of hope.

She hopes for a kinder life. The chance to love and mother and know peace.

Do you know what her name means? 

I only looked it up, today.

God sees.

God sees her. He knows her comings and goings. When she sits; when she stands. Even when her thoughts are afar, he knows them. He loves her so much that he called me - the mother of her children - to see her, too.

...and I'm doing my best to see her as he does. Whole and worthy and of priceless value.

Who has God asked you to see?

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Fight for Love

In looking back over my year, there is one question circulating my mind and it doesn't have anything to do with my house or money or body weight.

With what measure did I love?

Fourteen months ago, God violently shook our hearts and asked us to step outside of our plan and bring home baby number five. Only weeks into sleep deprivation and complete chaos, God pulled me in further and asked me to show up for Sweet Mama. This wasn't a gentle calling that lead to a casual check-in. It was more of a walk-into-her-room-and-scatter-the-darkness type of event.

After 30ish years of walking with the Lord, I can boast in my direction following. I wouldn't say that I always see the world through a kingdom lens or that my natural frustrations don't blur the clarity, but when it comes to Sweet Mama, somewhere along the way, God swapped my heart for his, and loving her became instinct. But not easy.

It wouldn't be fair to measure my love for my kids, or my husband, or my closest people. That's too obvious; predictable. Loving them takes very little effort.

The true measurement of love is found in messy relationships with obscure boundaries and complicated outcomes. Sometimes those relationships exist within our families and friendships, but more often they surface, suddenly, in the catastrophes of life. Because these experiences are marked with pain, bias, and inequality, it's easy for justice to strangle our love. We must fight for love.

I have been wrestling God over my relationship with Sweet Mama. He asks for more than I want to give and he never lets me settle within boundaries that make me feel safe. Sweet Mama is a fighter by nature and rules her life with aggression and manipulation.She takes more than she gives and rarely acknowledges our part in her story. It would be easy to cut off our connection and most would find it reasonable - maybe even necessary.

A few weeks ago, Sweet Mama started a social campaign to take her kids back and used pictures I had sent her. In my humanness, I was enraged. For several hours, I let myself think on my own and to those closest to me I ranted. It wasn't her intended threat that angered me (our adoptions are final and legal), it was her disregard for my heart and theirs. To no one in particular, I raised my fist and listed all the ways I had gone beyond. I relived the atrocities she committed and made sure to emphasize words like MY KIDS and MY FAMILY.

Earthly wisdom encouraged me to close accounts, inform police, and take precautions, but thankfully the whisper of the Holy Spirit held more authority. Even in my fury, I knew the answer. She needed love more than ever. Her brokenness leaves her desperate, grasping for pieces she will never be able to put together on her own. I let my frustrations rest and after a few days, let God use me to administer healing to her heart. In the beginning of our conversation, her walls were very dark. Her words were ugly and harsh, but mine were soft and kind. When she spewed, I listened. Twice, I wanted to walk the other way; twice, God, gently, nudged me back. I listened; she cried. And then we broke through.

It took both patience and time for the window of her heart to open long enough for me to slip through. It wasn't as grisly as she let on, but it was full of dents and craters. Family, life, people, men - they've all let her down. The knee-jerk Christian response to this dilemma is to vocalize God's all encompassing, redeeming love...but then walk away.

That isn't gospel. That isn't love.

God uses us to reveal himself to others, but if we refuse to view people the way he does, we will never make impact. On the contrary, when we ignore our impulses and let the love of God turn our hearts toward others, that is where the supernatural magic happens.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Adoption is Ugly

We had the rare privilege of sharing our weekend with Ty's first mama, Rebekah. Our last few visits have been in Colorado, which means this was the first time Rebekah had met all of our kids! Having her in our home at our dinner table made the world right, again. The first few hours, Ty couldn't stop talking. He wanted to share his whole world. Between writing samples and yo-yo tricks, he would ask, "What's your favorite color?" and "How long did we live together?"

My heart soared the heavens watching Ty's love explode at having both of his mamas in one place. I had to push tears to deep places as our conversations traveled varied depths. Apart from the distance, we would say our relationship is ideal. Our love is genuine, our connection runs deep.


The treasure we find in each other came at such a high cost. So high, that it will never be paid in full. Listening to my friend -  my sister - share her heart and the loss that tugs at its corners was almost too much to hear, but it's critical for our relationship. I'm not about meaningless friendships. The real nuggets of gold are unearthed in hard, rocky places and we can't be afraid to visit them.

While my path to adoption was marked with loss, the pain was dulled the first time I held Tyrus in my arms and obliterated by the time I rocked Hunter. I haven't forgotten the start of our story and, easily, slip into the darkness with other friends walking it, but it's not a reality I live with every day. Eight years ago, I begged God to let me mother one...and, today, there are five little people around my table asking for breakfast - simultaneously; at high volumes. That's my reality.

Rebekah's path is different. She gave what most women couldn't and while adoption is packaged pretty and our photos look nice, the violent tearing of Rebekah's heart is kept hidden. Only those that dare to ask, hear the truth. There is not a bandage big enough to cover the hole. She watches another woman mother her son.

As the other woman, I listen to her heart and acknowledge the pain to which there is no cure. The best we can be is honest and share our son without fear, arrogance, or distrust.

As the three of us drove to the airport, Ty and Rebekah sat side-by-side, fitting a year's worth of questions in one sitting. I fought tears when I looked in the mirror and saw Ty fighting them, too. Rebekah shared a lesson with him about anchors and how powerful they are when buried in our heavenly Father. Then she gave him a little anchor keepsake to remember all that she had said. When I told him it was okay to be sad, he sobbed and Rebekah held him. I barely got through a prayer of safe travels before we got out of the car and by the time we stood together on the sidewalk we were a hot mess.

Anyone witnessing the scene would have been teary over the untamed weeping of a seven year old boy, but had they known the truth, we would have been an internet sensation for sure. This was the first goodbye that Rebekah's pain echoed through her son's. I thought he was going to be sick. I'm not sure how long we stood there or how many goodbyes were said, but Ty was in the car ready to buckle and jumped out before I could shut the door, screaming for Rebekah to come back.

We both knelt down and circled him tight. Our words and tears covering our huddle; I'm not even sure who said what, but we told him how supremely special he is. That he has two mothers whose love for him is only second to God's. Rebekah and I, hurriedly, exchanged love, both afraid to look at each other, and Ty cried most of the way home.

As soon as we walked in the house, he ran to Ben and the tears came again. We held him together and let him cry it out. We didn't bother with words.

Adoption is beautiful and redeeming and an ever-reflection of God's love for us, but not tonight. Tonight it's ugly, unfair, and unnatural.