Monday, March 30, 2015

FAQ: Why tell our story?

This FAQ is probably better named FCG - the most frequent criticism given.

I do post comments from critics if they are tasteful and well intended, but all others get deleted. Most deleted comments usually have to do with the openness in which I tell our story.

I've been blogging for almost seven years and since the beginning, I have often been challenged with the level of detail I share about our kids...and, to be honest, I understand the concern. Critics think their stories belong to them (not me) and hate that the world has an opportunity to make judgements on my babies. They worry that my kids will grow to resent me or my blog and be embarrassed about the story I've written.

So...why do I do it?

That's easy to answer.

Transparency bridges chasms left in the wake of defeat, destruction, and discouragement. Pain is pain and though our stories may be different, our resolve is the same. The desperation that suffocates us in the darkness, the lies that sneak up through our toes, the sheer sadness over loss on any scale are the bits of life that hold significant power over our future.

If we stuff our emotions to the quietest corners of our heart and never let God's light expose our weakness, than we never have need of him...or each other.

Conversely, if we open our book to those around us, revealing the most intimate places, genuine connections can spark revolution...and not just in our story, but all the stories that surround us.

I tell our story at near full disclosure because it changes lives and gives the love of God legs.

I didn't love any of my children upon our first meeting. In fact, the last three, left me questioning my own ability and God's calling on my life for months. I have teetered between an unhealthy balance of love and anger toward Little Miss' parents, this past year, and have given in to more moments of personal devotion than I care to admit.

My writing rhythms to these raw points of connection and makes our story believable.

Without any doubt, I can say that God has commissioned my family to tell his story and give voice to the muted. It is a story of avocation, redemption and reconciliation, but resounding love is unfolded in every layer.

That's truly the message I hope I preach.

Love never fails.

All of our kids are unique with varied personalities, but one connecting cord runs through each of them. They are sensitive and, extremely, perceptive when it comes to need. They teach me how to listen every day.

Ben and I are not the start and end to our story. In fact, it's not our story at all.

Tyrus, LJ, Sweet Boy, Little Miss, and all others to come have been hand-picked to live out this part of God's perfect plan. The six of us are together because God is the owner of time. He knows that we are more effective together than apart. He has given each of us a generous gift that contributes to his mission.

Mine just happens to come in the form of brought-together words and someday, I (alone) will be accountable for how I used my talent.

That's why I write - why I tell this story.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Oh Baby

We'll pick up Food Friday, again, next week. Our week was too packed to fit it in!

In three weeks, I will FINALLY be able to, properly, introduce you to Sweet Boy. We received notification, this week, that his foster file has, officially, been closed, and we have legal guardianship! The only outstanding to-do is our adoption court hearing. It has been such a long year, I can't believe we made it to this point. 

Sweet Boy is so excited, he talks about going to court, nearly every day. Yesterday, when I picked him up from school I heard him telling a friend that he would be adopted in a couple weeks. His friend asked, "What does that mean?"

"It means I have a family forever - I get to be a Pinchback!"

His friend, simply, said, "Oh. Cool."

I am thankful that most kids have no understanding of what it means to be orphaned. His upcoming adoption day will be a great celebration for all of the people that have prayed and paved the way to his rich future. Not only will our closest friends and family be there, but so will his previous foster family, case workers, and therapist. It will be a great day.

Little Missy's case is at a standstill. I stopped asking questions. I am confident she will remain in our family, so I am choosing to be at peace with where we're at. It looks like her adoption won't be finalized for another year. It's frustrating for us, but she doesn't know the difference...and there are some outlying blessings in having constant connection with the agency.

I have been able to remain in contact with Sweet Boy and Missy's mom, which is really important to me, and we did our first sibling visit, this week, with their new baby brother. 

Because Sweet Boy's foster file is closed, he is not required to do the, monthly, visits that Missy is. I think, this summer, I will choose to tell the boys and let them come with us, but for now, it's more important that he attends school and sees his adoption through. He had such a difficult time defining family, I'm not ready for him to have to take on the complication of trying to understand why his new "brother" doesn't live with us.

I'm not sure how our future family will take shape, but I am confident that we're doing the best we can, right now, with the family we have. Baby brother's foster family knows that we are open to adopting him if he became available and (today) seems, equally, content with fostering and/or adopting him. Ben and I have made our intentions clear to the agency, but haven't had a chance to meet the foster family, yet. We will adopt baby brother if the foster family says, no, when the time comes, but we will not exercise our "first right" to adoption if his family wants him to stay. I know how long this process takes and, in the end, it's best for him not to move if it can be avoided. I have three children that moved multiple times and each move added to their brokenness in significant ways.

Regardless of where baby brother stays, we pray for his health and wholeness and hope that we will get the privilege of being influencers in his life. Remaining true to transparency, our hope is that the foster family will raise him. If God gives us say-so, we would like our future adoptions to be older children. Things don't often go according to our, we'll just have to wait and see what God has in store.

Prior to the visit, Ben's parting words were, "Please don't fall in love with that baby..." I enjoyed cuddling him and watching Missy's interactions, but there was no motherly instinct (not that I've ever had that upon first meeting). He was very calm and good natured - complete opposite of his sister.

Speaking of his sister, she had her tube surgery, yesterday. 

I fell in love with her a long time ago, but there was something about just us girls being together that flooded my heart. Little Miss is like me in a lot of ways. We have very little fear and are willing to try most things. We are confident, secure, and committed to follow-through (Ben might say "stubborn"). Watching her take on the hospital like she owned the place was hysterical. She didn't care that we had been up since three, she greeted every person that walked through the doors with a "hello"; she went from curtain to curtain in the pre-op room, rubbing backs and giving hugs. We were one of many families with littles having surgery that morning. 

Her constitution is so strong it seems supernatural.

While every other lovie, rightfully, clung to their mama, my baby was discovering new hallways and shaking hands with doctors. Watching her, affirmed in my heart why God chose me to be her mother.

She is going to change the world.

Her surgery went really well. The doctor said she had a lot of fluid in her ears and expects her hearing to improve, significantly. I am so thankful.

I am thankful that God continues to move and work in our family. 

We have so much to celebrate!

Friday, March 20, 2015

FF: Costco Chicken Bake

Apparently, this was a must-have option at Costco in the recent past, but was pulled from the deli menu for whatever reason. We did get a Costco membership, this year, once we realized how many beef sticks the boys were consuming, but stopping in the deli is not an option with one full cart of children and two of groceries.

All that to say, I chose this recipe from the picture...not previous experience.

Homemade Costco Chicken Bake Recipe 

Couldn't you just eat the picture? This Costco Chicken Bake recipe comes from Redefined Mom.

I paired it with a simple salad and fresh blackberries.

It got so-so reviews from the boys, but Ben and I loved it. These two liked the pre-dinner grapes and peppers better than what was served up, but they still get points for cuteness.

The crisp loaf with baked in Parmesan is well worth the try! Tell us what you think.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Love Now

Sweet Boy's mom is back at the agency, weekly, visiting her new baby. She asked our case worker if I would send updated pictures of the kids, so we did a mini photo shoot, this weekend. While I was taking pictures, Ty said, "Mom, do you know what would be really nice? If we made "Miss J" a book about our family."

While I snuggled Missy in for a nap, Ty and Sweet Boy got to work (LJ is not the sit down and do type).

I didn't pay much attention to what they were writing, except for the occasional, "Mom! How do you spell --", but when they proudly brought me the finished project, my eyes swelled with tears.

Ty only has limited knowledge of what Sweet Boy's first life was like and, truthfully, I don't think Sweet Boy associates any of his trauma with his first mom. She was out of the picture most of the time, so there is a genuine disconnect in their relationship.

Their little book was such a reflection of love at its purest.

Ben and I are not perfect people and we, certainly, miss the mark when it comes to parenting a lot of the time. But, we are purposeful when it comes to our philosophy on love.

We love without condition or border.
All our deserving without exception.
And our measurement of choice is super-sized wheelbarrows.

Each boy took turns writing, while the other boy illustrated. Ty did the cover.

Sweet Boy did the first page.

They switched on and off for about a dozen more.

They told her all about our family and the things we like to do.

It was the ending that got me the most.

They wanted to make sure Miss J knew that she was loved by Jesus.

I love the way our kids love.

Sometimes it's Daniel in the whale or Jonah and the giant - they're learning their way through the Bible. Their theology will come in time, but love is demonstrated, now. The way we talk and pray and extend ourselves to others, shows our babies what true religion is all about.

 When I flipped through the pictures from our photo session, I cried in awe over every one. God has never failed our family and his story of love is carried through each of these lovies.

Friday, March 13, 2015

FF: The World's Best Lasagna

I admit. This is the second Food Friday in a row that I gave my own dinner the highest rating...but I can't help it. Unlike when Buddy the Elf discovers the best cup of coffee, this deservedly is the world's best lasagna. I used Ben's grandmother's recipe for years and loved it...but this is better. A LOT better.

The secret is in the sauce. And I mean that, literally. I am ashamed to admit that I had never made my own tomato sauce before this recipe. It was so delicious, I can taste it in my dreams!

This does break my 60 minutes or less make-to-serve rule...but I made the lasagna up the night before and had it ready to pop in the oven, after I picked the kids up from school.

If you, too, would like to be in on the World's Best Lasagna recipe, head over to Cupcakes & Kale Chips.

World's Best Lasagna. The sauce is so flavorful from having both beef and sausage, there is the perfect amount of cheese, and it all comes together into the perfect bite of hot, cheesy, meaty, saucy deliciousness. 

I followed the directions, exactly. Like the author, I did not use fennel and I bought no-cook noodles. Actually - funny story - I had lasagna noodles in a clear make-everything-look-pretty box from the container store, but since I couldn't remember whether or not they were no cook noodles, I was forced to throw them out and run to the store for new ones. Ug. After spending two hours on sauce, there was no way I was willing to chance the error!

Ty insisted on giving the lasagna two stars, even though he ate most of it and Ben....well...I'm not actually sure what Ben is holding out for. I might have to serve it on me, after hours, to achieve supremacy. We'll see.

I, however, found this to be, PERFECTly delicious. I paired it with frozen garlic bread and a quick salad. 

The lasagna was even better the next two days for lunch!

Friday, March 6, 2015

FF: Sweet & Spicy Bacon Chicken

I had such a hard time picking which recipe to share! We had three new meals, this week, which will definitely be regulars from here on out. I decided that I want to make a cookbook for our family because I hate looking in ten different spots for recipes. With so many neat do-it-yourself websites, I'm thinking this is the year to do it! All that to say, the pressure of a year-end release, has me trying more new recipes than usual.

No one around the dinner table is complaining...well, except for Ty. He'd prefer to have some version of pasta every night of the week!

Today's recipe is SO EASY, yet so mouth-watering delicious.

This recipe comes from Just a Pinch , but because of the limited instructions, I'll save you the time and put it below.

Sweet & Spicy Bacon Chicken

Sweet & Spicy Bacon Chicken Recipe....wrapped in bacon, sprinkled with chili powder and garlic powder, then rolled in brown sugar.  Love the sweet with a kick! 

All you need is:
Salt, Pepper, Garlic Powder, Chili Powder
Brown Sugar
Cook your bacon in the oven at 400 for about 5 minutes. You still want it to be pliable so that you can wrap it around the chicken (I used boneless/skinless chicken tenders).

While your bacon is cooking, put a cooling rack inside a foil lined pan. This allows all the bacon drippings to run off your chicken and into the foil (easy clean-up!) Lay your chicken on the rack and sprinkle with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and chili powder. I did a light sprinkle of each and got amazing results. When the bacon is done, wrap each chicken tender in bacon and then - here comes the WOW factor - roll the bacon wrapped chicken (liberally) in brown sugar.

Bake at 400 for 30 minutes.

The blend of caramelized flavors had every boy licking their fingers - even Tyrus. He only gave my chicken a 1, but deemed the bacon worthy of it's own category.

We served this up with salad, biscuits, and strawberries, but the chicken was the true talk of the table.


Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Saying No

We have a lot going on.

Little Missy has had a rough month of doctor appointments. She is in a Early Headstart program that initially caught her vision and hearing irregularities. After several failed tests, we are moving forward with next steps. We did her glasses fitting, today, and boy do I wish I could show you a picture because she is adorable!

The hearing issue is a little scarier. I sat in the booth with her at her last testing and cried every time she couldn't hear the audiologist call her name. She can hear mid and high tones, but missed all the lower levels. She is going to have tubes put in her ears to help the sitting fluid drain better and then we'll do further testing. I am praying that the tubes are our answer!

Our visitation with dad has not, legally, been suspended, but we've been, temporarily, relieved from making the hour drive each week to the agency. I have limited information, but dad is missing and must have done something that warranted our case worker to petition the court for termination. Although, I am sad that he was not able to push forward after 90 days of sobriety and progress, I am so, SO relieved. I finally have complete peace in my heart that our daughter will be with us forever...even if the process drags out for several more months.

We signed all of our adoption paperwork for Sweet Boy. We have all the needed county and state approvals, we're just waiting on our finalization court date. It's a big tie on who is more excited - us or him.

During the wind of activity, last month, we were called about fostering Sweet Boy's half/Little Missy's full baby brother.

Saying no was both the easiest and hardest decision we've had to make when it comes to this process.

Our answer was not a flat "no". We would love to adopt him and allow him to grow up with his natural siblings, but for so many reasons, fostering him is just not what is best for our family, right now. And that's the part that breaks my heart...because I feel like one of the many voices putting their needs/policies about what's actually best for him.

But, it's right for so many reasons.

Managing the schedules of six people (two working adults), with the added complication of a foster care routine (visitation, therapy, home visits, and driving an hour for medical appointments) is near impossible. Logistically, committing to a seventh schedule that will require three weekly visits with mom, is just not realistic.

If that was the only barrier, we would have figured it out. Especially because I am not ready for our story to end with mom. My love for her is so unexplainable and not easily shaken.

The biggest definer for me was Sweet Boy. He has come so far in his security, but we have to handle his heart, gently. He still has moments of complete panic and needs to be reassured, overtly, that our love is never-ending; his home never-changing. We had one of these moment, this past weekend. I don't think his little heart could handle the stress and emotion of another little person in the house, right now, especially a person that could equate to loss.

Even though baby brother would, likely, stay...for mom's sake, I hope he doesn't. I hope that she can find the will to thrive. I know better than anyone the complexities that lie within that statement. I know what my children have suffered and are paying for because of her poor choices...but my love for her will not allow me to give in or give up. I want her to succeed this time.

The system is way too unpredictable to think through all the different scenarios. Baby brother might come to us, eventually, or he might not. Either way, we pray that God protects his spirit and hope that we'll have relationship with him.

We've always operated with open hearts, but leaning on God's direction is critical when it comes to making such life defining and changing decisions.

Saying no is not always easy and sometimes might not even make sense, but affirmation is realized when coated in everlasting peace.