Bittersweet: I Hate Goodbyes

Well, as it turns out, Lloyd Christmas and I have something in common:  we both hate goodbyes (that’s a Dumb and Dumber reference for those of you who are scratching your heads!).

After 12 wonderful years in Knoxville, TN, we are moving to Tallahassee, FL.

How do you say goodbye to the people and the place where you’ve spent over a decade?

Knoxville is where Greg and I bought our first home.

All three of our children were born in Knoxville.

When Greg and I moved to East Tennessee 12 years ago, it was farther from family than I had ever lived.  We were truly on our own, and we dug roots…deeper than we ever imagined we would.

It’s been a good ride.  Life has really happened during our time here.  Greg and I both grew up a lot.  Greg got his feet wet in a different area of collegiate athletics, and he found out that it was something he was good at and really enjoyed.  I began a different career path in the home.

Bittersweet is the word I would use to describe this move.  We are leaving an amazing community, but we are also on to new adventures in Tallahassee, FL.  This is a place that Greg is very familiar with (his alma mater) and that I will learn about quickly.  We are going from one university (The University of Tennessee) to another one (Florida State University).

We have blanketed this decision in prayer.  Oh, if you knew the “behind the scenes” leading up to all of this!  It is not a decision we made lightly.  There has been wise counsel and research and lots of prayer.

When I’m reading a really good book, I tend to put the brakes on during the last couple chapters because I don’t want it to end.  That’s how I feel in this chapter of our lives.  We have been in the middle of a really good story, and now that it is coming to an end, I’m savoring every second.  With every place I go and every person I see, my thoughts quickly turn to, “This could be the last time.”

I don’t have time, however, to slow down too much, as this move will be a fairly swift one.  Greg will report down to FSU in the next month, so it will be a whirlwind of activity. Perhaps that is best…not much down time to get emotional.  All of my to-do lists will keep me occupied.

I’m scared.  I’m excited.  I’m scared because of several things:  farther from my family in Ohio, new place, new people, new schools, new routines, new culture.  It will not be my comfort zone for awhile.  On the flipside, however, I’m excited for those very things (except being farther from my family!) as well.  It will be a clean slate, a blank page, a fresh start.  As we do a lot of “lasts” in the next month, we’ll also look forward to a lot of “firsts.”

And if I’m being frank, home is wherever your heart is, and my heart is with my people: Greg, Colton, Josey, and Wyatt.  I love them fiercely, and we will start over in Tallahassee. Transitions can be difficult, but we are resilient and game for wherever the Lord takes us in this life.

To my Knoxville friends, you will be greatly missed.  Many of you have become “Framily,” which means that your friendships turned into living life so closely with one another that you were really like family members to us.  We have cried together, laughed at each other, comforted each other during the hard times, and applauded each other in the good times.  You have touched our lives and made an impact that will last forever.

Thank you.

If you think about us, please lift us up in prayer as we make this move.

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Dear Mom, I Want to Be You When I Grow Up

Dear Mom,

It’s crazy to think that the woman who gave birth to me could not only be my mom, but also become my best friend (right behind my husband).  Of course, growing up you had to be a disciplinarian, the authority on all things from how to treat others to the importance of doing chores to how to balance school and extracurricular activities. Alongside dad, I saw the two of you love and care for us but also command respect.

Somewhere along the timeline of our lives as you watched me blossom into a young woman you slowly started to let go, little by little.  You trusted me (despite the whole incident where my friends and I decided to be rebels one night and head to a dance club instead of dinner and a movie like I told you and dad…whoops!  Grounding me from driving the car the rest of the weekend was the right thing to do.).  You empowered me.  You loved me unconditionally.

There are two lessons, however, that you taught me that I will never forget for as long as I live.  It is because of these two things, and in this order, that I have a strong bond with you that I want to instill in my own life:  Faith and Family

Your faith has always been important to you.  It gives you meaning and purpose in this life.  It guides and directs you wherever you go, and I love the example you have set for me.  Never has your faith in God shown so strongly as when you stood by dad in his five-year battle with cancer.  Though your world was turned upside down, your trust in God never shattered.  In fact, I think your faith was made stronger through adversity.  The trials and turmoil you went through just anchored you into God even more.  I stood by you and watched as you carefully balanced your roles as wife and nurse.  Sometimes you couldn’t help yourself, and the nurse in you took over.  I admired the way you cared for dad by making appointments, researching his cancer, juicing carrots, making him comfortable in our home, and the list could continue.  You fought just as hard as he did to kick cancer’s butt.  In the end, it overtook him, but you were not bitter.

You might have gone through the stages of grieving, but you never lost focus on the fact that dad, who had a personal relationship with Jesus too, was in a much better place with a brand new body.  Your walk with Jesus is inspirational.  You are a Proverbs 31 Woman:  You “dress yourself with strength and make your arms strong” (verse 17).  You  are “a woman who fears the Lord and is to be praised” (verse 30).

Your family has always come in a close second place, right after your faith.  Again, your relationship with dad was a great example for me as a wife.  Although it was difficult at times, dad was your first priority in our family.  The lines might have gotten blurred at times, especially during those difficult years when we were younger.  Andy, Aaron, and I needed you too.  Your sacrifices were not unseen.  I have a new appreciation for you now that I’m a mother.

Although you worked when we were younger, you made the days seamless.  You were always a couple steps ahead of us, figuring out schedules and childcare.  The passing of the baton from you to dad on those nights when you worked third shift were so smooth.  You never missed a beat.  You also never missed an activity.  I could always count on looking out at the stands and seeing your smiling face.  Sometimes I even heard you cheering loudly for me and my teammates.  You walked beside me in every new adventure, including the tough middle school years where you tried to tame my perfectionism and navigate hard transitions, especially with friendships.  You also helped me during my busy and challenging high school years where I balanced schoolwork, sports, and band.  I’ll never forget the day you and dad dropped me off at college.  It was bittersweet.  I was excited to start a new chapter but scared to be away so far from the shelter of you and dad.  These things are also true for Andy and Aaron.  You loved us enough to let us go.  You are a Proverbs 31 woman:  You “are called blessed by your children” (verse 28).

Now that I’m a wife and a mother, I understand these things.  So many times during my days I have moments that make sense and remind me of my own childhood.  Your example has been solid.  Faith and family have always been important to you, which is why we have moved from a parent relationship to a friendship.  I don’t take this for granted.  Not all girls have friendships with their mothers during their adults years.  Thank you for showing me how to transition from parent to friend so well.  I want to be you when I grow up.

Love,

Your daughter and best friend

 

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Pray

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Gosh, this morning was yet another reminder that God is in control and not me.  So many times this past year I have flown the white flag of surrender.  Things have not gone as planned, and I’ve heard the word, “no,” more than I would like to hear it.  Who doesn’t like control?  Who doesn’t want to feel like they have a hold on the future?  The issue is this:  nobody does.  There is probably a reason that we don’t know how our futures play out here on the Earth.

This has led me to see the importance of prayer in my life.  At the end of the day, that’s all I truly have:  my relationship with Jesus.  It needs to become more important than any other relationship I have.  Communicating with others is the key to any relationship really, so this is no different in my friendship with Jesus.  How often, however, do I try to seize control in situations and forget to come to Him first?  A lot.

This morning I got angry with Jesus, clenched fists, animated body language, loud words.  Another “no.”  I had my little fit and then my eyes fixed on a craft my daughter did at her Bible study…a simple hanging sign above my sink that said, “Pray.”  So that’s what I did.  That’s all I had at that moment.  I cancelled plans and re-calibrated my focus.  I expect so much.  My standards are high.  So are God’s but with grace for when I miss the mark, which is often.  Gosh, I needed time with Him.  Sometimes I get off track and only see this small piece of the picture and neglect the fact that God is the big picture.

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So learn from me.  When you feel like you’re going to lose it and chaos surrounds you, get calm and go before God in those moments.  He is in control.  His plans are better, and His ways are higher.

“Always be joyful.  Never stop praying.  Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

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Another Year: Looking Back and Moving Forward

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Dear 37-Year-Old-Self,

It’s been another year.  Wow!  What a year it has been at that.  Life-changing.  Gut-wrenching.  Fear-bending.  Faith-building.  It’s been 365 days of the above.  Approximately a year ago you, along with your husband and family, embarked on what would be a wild ride.  It was crazy.  Crazy for so many reasons.  The plunge into foster care was an adrenaline rush.  It was scary but exciting at the same time, and gone was the people-pleasing, fist-clenching, comfort-craving person as soon as you said, “Yes!”

It’s been a little over four weeks now since you said good-bye to the girls you mothered for five months.  This is what I want to say to you:

Be proud of what you did for five months out of obedience to a calling from God.  It’s okay to look back fondly at some of the accomplishments that took place with the girls.  Handling five children is not an easy task, but you did it.  If anything, your journey this past year taught you that, you can do hard things.  You are stronger than you think.

You are not a failure.  Go ahead and grieve, though.  Disrupting a placement is like experiencing a death in the family.  It is a loss that hurts to the core.  But you are not a failure.  You gave them a life for five months where they saw what a healthy and happy family looks like.  They observed your husband going to work.  There was an understanding that in order to make a living, you had to secure a job and provide for a family.  They observed you taking care of your family through grocery shopping, packing lunches, reading books, helping out with homework, and making appointments.  They observed you and your husband, a solid unit, loving each of them well.  You were a success in that season of their lives when they so desperately needed someone to provide love and safety.

You can still be involved in their lives through prayer.  You may not see them every day now, wake them up for school, make their meals, wash their clothes, or tuck them in at bedtime, but you can always fall to your knees and cry out for the Lord to hold them in His hands.  Their journey is not over.  You played a powerful part, though you may dismiss it.

You can move forward.  This might not be the end of foster care for you or your family.  God is so much bigger than you give Him credit for on a daily basis.  Perhaps foster care will be working behind the scenes for an organization or an agency.  Perhaps it will be providing respite care for a foster family who so desperately needs a break (because now you know the sacrifice it entails).  Perhaps even there is another placement down the road.  Only God knows.  You can focus on what’s ahead while remembering the past.

You have permission to be still.  You don’t have to do ALL THE THINGS.  This is not being lazy.  This time when you can reflect and journal and maybe just maybe begin to write a book is important.  This world is so crazy busy, and you do have a lot going on in your own family, but don’t forget to be still.  God commands it actually (Psalm 46:10).  You need to savor and enjoy time, while managing it wisely.

I’m not sure what this year will hold for you as a 37-year-old, but there’s never a dull moment.  It might not be as big and life-changing as foster care, but this life is anything but boring.  Each day is a gift.  Birthdays are a time to reflect on the year behind you and dream about the year ahead.  Seize the day.  Seize the moment.  You’ll blink and be 38.

Sincerely,

Yourself

 

 

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It’s My Party, and I’ll Cry If I Want To

 

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Do you ever feel fragile?  Like a dam holding back water, just so that everybody can function?  Like you are the only one holding everything together, so you better straighten up buttercup?  Dig deep and slap a smile on your face?

That’s how I feel right now.  I feel this pressure often as a stay-at-home mom.  There’s no cracking under the pressure.  I tell myself that I can’t fall apart, lest my entire family comes tumbling down with me.

The truth, however, is that it is my party, and I’ll cry if I want to.

Sometimes as women we see crying and emotions as a sign of weakness, but it’s actually just a sign that we are human.  We love.  We care.  We feel.

Plan A doesn’t work out, so we’re reeling from having to move toward Plan B…

A friend seems to have it altogether, and you don’t…

Your husband’s job is always changing and leaving you guessing…

Your kids are fighting, and you are tired of disciplining…

Your dreams are just that at the moment…dreams…

You’re so exhausted, but your child gets sick…

The county schools are closed down…for the week…

All of the above have happened to me recently.  As the captain of the ship, a SAHM, I persevered and moved past my sadness and anger, but is that healthy?  I don’t think it is healthy.  Even Jesus wept…because he cared deeply for his friend, Lazarus (John 11:35).

Life is full of ups and downs.  I’ve learned, however, that it’s okay to crumble, to not be strong.  Life is not always a beautiful Instagram photograph.  There are days when I just want to retreat, to cry, or to just be solemn.  It might mean that I give my children more free play time and less structure.  It might mean that I color in my adult coloring book.  Sometimes it looks like walking outside to get the mail and breathing some fresh air.

There is “‘a right time to cry and another to laugh, A right time to lament and another to cheer’ (MSG Ecclesiastes 3:2-8).”

It’s also healthy to pick yourself up again.  Lately, I keep hearing the whole, “count your blessings,” in my head.  Honestly, it makes me want to roll my eyes.  I cannot really explain it except that I want to wallow in my mud.  Nobody else is walking in these shoes.

Exactly…nobody else is walking in these shoes.

In the end, I’m the only one who can do anything about the ups and downs.  To that end, I cannot allow a bad day or unfortunate circumstances to nail me down.  I’m the only one who can essentially get unstuck from the self pity, which is what it oftentimes becomes.

So go ahead and cry.  Retreat.

But get back up again…and perhaps dwell on those blessings in your life.  Don’t just count them.

“‘God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out, his merciful love couldn’t have dried up. They’re created new every morning. How great your faithfulness! I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over). He’s all I’ve got left’ (MSG Lamentations 3:22-24).”

 

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Letting Go in the Name of Love: A Goodbye Story

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“You are special.  You are loved.  Always know that no matter how loved you are on planet Earth, God loves you even more than that.”

Those were the words I whispered while holding back tears as I put one of my foster children to bed in what would be her last night in our home.  She held my gaze for a second as I said those words, and her eyes told me that she was sad too.  I then prayed for her and went to her sister’s room to do a final tuck in as well.

When we dove into foster care, we always intended for our home to be the “last stop” for a child, or children, in our case.  I’ll never forget, however, the conversation several weeks ago that changed our minds.

I had just gotten up off the couch after having a very serious conversation with my husband, one that impacted us and others in our lives in big ways.  It was the kind of talk that leaves you exhausted.  In my heaviness, I almost fell back down onto the couch after I got up to go to bed.

Were we really going to do this?

Yes.

If you’ve read any of my most recent blog posts, you’ve read about our life-changing year last year and how we took in two foster children last fall.  You’ve also read about how we felt called into it, obeyed God in this calling, and struggled throughout the process.

In the past four months there has been lots of love and laughter, but there has also been pain, stress, and frustration.  To take two children whom you haven’t raised, whose foundations have already been poured, and to then build onto that cracked foundation is quite a task.  One that is bigger than us.

We had discussed transitioning the girls to another foster home for several weeks now. The catalyst to this “final” discussion was a Sunday evening of chaos, which stirred us up more than usual.  One of the children we fostered was becoming a challenge, and one of our own children was not handling our situation very well.  The two of them were like oil and water.  While this is not the only reason we decided to transition the girls, it was the main one.  Our own family had to become the priority.  Also, we concluded that we could no longer give these girls what they needed, especially the oldest of the two children.

It wasn’t working.

And that was hard to say, believe me.  I tear up just typing those statements out.  And the determined voice inside my head fed me with shame and guilt.  If you could just wait another day, another week, one more month.  But we couldn’t delay the inevitable. Their situation to reunite with birth parents does not look promising, but we are not their forever family.

Sounds harsh, right?  Not if you have been on your knees for months asking God about this decision.

Here is what I know at this very moment: I won’t regret this time being their foster parent, nor will I ever forget about them.

I went to the store weeks ago and bought them Bibles.  I put a lot of thought into the perfect Bibles for them.  One is purple with butterflies and the other is pink with flowers.  I decided to have their names engraved on them.  When the sales associate brought them to me, I was an emotional wreck, choking out a quiet, “thank you” through tears.

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Some might question our decision or be disappointed in us.  That’s okay.  I said this same line in a previous blog post, and it is as true today as it was when we took on the two foster children in the fall:

This hard thing is the right thing.

I feel a little like Abraham at the moment.  He obeyed God…to the point of walking up that mountain to sacrifice his own son.  Can you imagine the journey he took?  The agonizing decision to obey God to the point of killing his own flesh and blood?  Out of nowhere, however, just as Abraham began to make the sacrifice, a lamb appeared.  God provided.  The sacrifice was no longer Abraham’s sacrifice to make.  It was God’s.

We will miss our two foster girls, and our own family will have to push through some heavy emotions.  In some ways, it might even feel like a death in the family.  The five months that we were foster parents stretched us in unimaginable ways.  I learned so much about myself in this process.  Perhaps the largest takeaway, however, is a new appreciation for my own three children.  I’m so proud of them for allowing us to flip their worlds upside down for a quarter of a year.  They arose to the challenge and while there was plenty of turbulence, they grew up during that time as well.  I hope that they look back at this time and are thankful that we served God in this way by taking in the poor and neglected.

So in the end I’m letting go and resting in God’s release from this.  This is not an exit from foster care forever, but when we do jump back in, it may look different.  God’s timing is always spot on, and we are trusting His leading in this if we ever become a foster family again.

To those of you who prayed for us, encouraged us, and supported us along the way, we cannot thank you enough.  Your kindness saw us through the ups and downs.  You directly and indirectly impacted the lives of these girls through serving us.  Prayers, meals, and childcare were huge helps.  Seeds have been planted.

In this situation, letting go is in fact loving them and everyone else involved.  Our worlds have forever been changed because of these two girls.

Every time you cross my mind, I break out in exclamations of thanks to God. Each exclamation is a trigger to prayer. I find myself praying for you with a glad heart.  Philippians 1:3

 

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The Heart Stuff: Foster Love

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I feel like vomiting…with my words.  There is so much I want to say about the subject of foster care.

It’s hard and exhausting and frustrating and confusing and sad and happy and troubling…sometimes in the same day.  Did I mention that it is hard?

The only thing I can compare it to is being the parents of a newborn.  You are clueless.  It’s baptism by fire.  All of those adjectives in the above paragraph could describe that first year of parenting too.  You can attend training and read books.

NOTHING CAN PREPARE YOU, THOUGH, UNTIL YOU ARE IN THE THICK OF IT, DOWN IN THE TRENCHES.

Last night was harder than usual.  I had this dreamy evening planned in my head. I canceled everything.  We had a meeting as well as a church program to attend, but I had decided that I wasn’t getting in the van one more time or running to one more scheduled thing.  Our foster children had a supervised visit with their birth parent.  I know these are necessary, but I dread them.  Those evenings are hard.  Just when I’m feeling pretty good about our new normal…just when I’m feeling liked, maybe even loved a tiny bit, by these two children, they come home a mess of emotions.  This makes me angry and frustrated and confused…probably no more than they are in those moments after spending time with their parent.  It’s those evenings, and the ones after scheduled phone calls, that I have my fists clenched and my heart hardened.  And then I remember something.

This is not about me.

I want it to be, though.  It’s my time.  It’s my schedule.  It’s my house.  It’s my children.  It’s my family.  It’s my love and emotions.  It’s my sacrifice.

Why can’t these foster children understand this?

They might never understand this.

In the same way, I will never fully understand Christ’s love for me.  I will never quite grasp and understand His sacrifice through Jesus Christ.  Does he ever look down and shake his head and withdraw his love from me?

Absolutely not.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Romans 8:38-39

His love is unconditional.  There are no strings attached.  If I turn away from him, he continues to run after me.  If my pride interferes with my purpose, he continues to pursue me.  He desires a relationship regardless of how connected I am to him.

My role as a foster parent is to do just that…love unconditionally despite my sacrifices.

I’m not sure how long these two children will be with us.  Perhaps weeks.  Perhaps months.  Maybe even a year.  What I am sure of is that I was called into this moment in their lives.  My family was called into foster care.

“You might be temporary in their lives.  They might be temporary in yours.  But there is nothing temporary about the love or the lesson.” – Tonia Christle

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