Music

Friday, January 27, 2017

When Your "Yes" Costs You Something (And it Will)

As Christians, I believe God calls each of us to something.  Oftentimes, multiple somethings.

And I'm becoming more and more aware that nearly always our callings require something of us.  They're not usually things that keep us comfortable or from sacrificing things that are hard to give up.  If we take a close look at the Bible, it's full of verses telling us that we're going to have to daily die to ourselves (Luke 9:23, I Cor. 15:31), to take up our cross and follow Him (Matt. 10:38, Mark 8:34) and that we're going to face trials (I Peter 5:10, James 1:2, John 16:33, Rom. 8:18).

Our "yes" will always come with trials.

Truth be told,  saying "yes" to adoption has cost us a lot. And not in a financial sense, yet in ways that have been much more costly and sacrificial.

You see, adoption is hard.  I don't know very many people that will tell you it's easy (albeit, I do know a select few).

Yet God is constantly reminding me that He hasn't called us to an easy life.  He's simply called us to follow Him.

For us, we had talked about adoption since we were dating.  I had always had a desire to adopt a little girl from China.  We had talked about wanting 4 kids; having 3 and adopting the 4th.  So when we had 2 girls and 1 boy the logical choice was to adopt a boy.  After researching and discovering how costly private and international adoptions are, we decided to adopt through the foster care system.

Even that process is long and arduous.  There's nothing easy about it.  The paperwork.  The background checks. The classes and trainings.  The waiting.  Oh the waiting.  The home visits.  Interviews.  Having your kids interviewed (and subsequently being humiliated by their off the wall answers).  The inspections and rules upon rules, the covered trash cans and electrical outlets, and more smoke detectors than a fire house has on hand and emergency escape routes posted and well, you get the point.

I wish I could say that was the hardest part for me.

Oh how I wish I could say that.

But that's not my story.  And my "Yes" cost me so much more.

From the day we brought him home, we were met with opposition from well intentioned people, and well, some not-so-well intentioned.  You hear people talk about caring for a child from a hard past and truthfully, you think, "Eh, not me.  He's so little, I mean, just 15 months old.  We've got this."

No.  No we didn't.  We battled him on eating what was provided since he thought his diet should consist of Orange crush, mac and cheese, and strawberry ice cream....or jarred baby food they were still spoon feeding him.... at 15 months old.  We had to teach him how to use a fork and spoon, to sit up correctly since he'd been placed in a walker and left for no telling how long and then was put to bed at 5:30 pm with a bottle of milk.  We had to work tirelessly with him on not holding food in his mouth.  On trusting that we will always provide for him.  He cried and cried if I asked him to go play while I was cooking, fearful he wouldn't be fed.  He would inhale his sippy cup, gasping for air trying to drink it down as fast as he could.  He'd eat like a little piglet, lest it wouldn't still be there minutes later.  He'd eat to the point he'd vomit from overeating.  He simply lacked trust.  He lacked the faith in us that we wouldn't ever let him go hungry.  And it was heartbreaking.  If you haven't been there it's hard to explain watching this.  And I'd be lying if I didn't say it was also frustrating at times because we were doing everything we possibly could for him.

So when people wanted to feed him.... No.  Absolutely, positively no.  If he couldn't trust that we would provide for him then we certainly didn't want or need him seeking that out from other people, which he did often.  We went so far as to not even allow our parents and siblings to give him food.  One of us would always give him his plate.  And we were so thankful for their understanding.

But how they understood, others did not.  And I wish that those people understood all the battles we faced early on.  Yet that wasn't how our story unfolded.  We were talked about.  We were shamed (on Facebook of all things).  Meetings were held (yes, seriously over us asking for him not to be fed) and feelings were hurt because we refused to back down on what was best for our son.

This is the life of adoptive parents.  Going against stream because it's what your child needs.  And as his momma, I will gladly do that despite the backlash we receive.

Amidst my battles I was keenly aware of the chatter behind my back.  I remember telling Mark one night that I knew this particular group was talking about me.  He dismissed it as a combination of me looking into things and because of the depression I was dealing with; which really, I can't blame him.  So when a brave individual later came to me, seeking forgiveness for not standing up for me within that group, I had heard all I needed to hear.... had confirmed what I already knew but had hoped wasn't so.

I wish I could say that was the worst of it, but it wasn't.

We battled people from the outside on a lot of things, but if I'm being honest, the biggest battle I faced was within myself.  I hate this part of my story.  And by hate, I mean utterly in every way possible despise it.  I choke back tears and sobs every time I think about it.  It's hard.  It's ugly.  But it's also part of who I am and what's brought me to the place I am now. I've written about it in part in this post as well as this one but have battled sharing much more than that, and that's really probably a gross understatement.  I've said no to God a lot because I think my story is ugly.  Yet He's been speaking to me, working on my pride in order to get me to a point of sharing the hard truths of some of the things I faced.  And so I'm braving the waters a bit more, trusting that He'll somehow use it for His glory.  Oh how I pray that my struggles will not have been in vain.

You see, parenting a child from a hard place is.... well, hard.  And as if that isn't enough, add to it that I had zero bond with Chi when he came into our home and the fact that we were the 5th home he'd been in only complicated his ability to bond with people.  The excessive whining (hello toddler years), the battling people who didn't have a clue, the watching our other kids trying to adapt and struggling..... it all began to wear on me.

Combine that with a medication that I was unaware caused depression and suicidal thoughts and the perfect storm began brewing.

I went downhill quickly.

I wondered what on Earth we had gotten ourselves into.  It felt like it would never get better, like he would never trust us, like people would never step outside of their tiny boxes and care enough to walk in our shoes....to try to understand what we were dealing with, like I would never have more than a surface level bond with him.

Every day was a struggle.

I woke up thinking "Oh God.  OH GOD!  We really did do this.  I can't do it.  I just can't.  He deserves so much better than me."  "Why!!!??  Why can't I feel something besides frustration for him?"  "I want so desperately for this to be better.  Please, God. Please make this better. You have to make this better."  "If you can't make this better, then please give me the courage and bravery to do what's best for him, even if that's not being with us."

Every day.

Multiple times throughout the day.

And God always said "You're the one."

I'd be lying if I said this didn't make me angry.  I wanted my "Yes" to not cost me so much, to be easy.  And this has been anything but easy.

I wanted to feel connected to him, but didn't.  Therefore all the normal things he would do as a two year old exponentially frustrated me more than they should have.

It felt like the worst carnival ride in history that would never end.

Yet deep down I knew this was our path.  And I knew that God would see us through it, even on the days I really struggled to believe that.

The depression worsened.  The thoughts began to come.  I say thoughts, but really they were lies from the enemy....and I believed them.  Every single one of them.

I was worthless.... as a wife and certainly as a mom.  My family was better off without me.  Why bother even trying anymore?

One day I remember yelling at the top of my lungs at Mark.  I blamed God.  I blamed him.  I blamed myself for ever thinking I could do this.  I was simply mad and depressed and irrational.  Oh how I was irrational.  I was crying so much that he could barely understand me.  I wanted to leave...had to leave.  He could have the kids because they needed someone strong, someone who could guide them and see them through life because I clearly wasn't that person.  They deserved better.  So much better.  And me leaving and letting him move on would be the only opportunity for them to have the life they deserved.  Hear me when I say my love for Mark and our kids is unmatched and unwavering, yet this is the nature of lies from the pit of Hell.  And every fiber of my being believed those lies.  I packed a bag and we literally fought over the bag, Mark pulling it from my hands saying "You can't leave.  It's going to be okay.  It's going to be okay.  It's going to be okay."  I walked out the door without the bag, him on my heels jumping in the car beside me, refusing to let me walk away from my family.

I still can't type that without the tears flowing.  The depths to which I had fallen... it's utterly heartbreaking.  The reality of what I was willing to give up because I had believed the lies.

And Mark.  Oh, my sweet sweet Mark.  When I wanted to give up, he fought for the both of us.  And the beauty and grace in that is something that I'll never forget.

I had made it through another day, but not without still believing the lies.  I just didn't have any fight left in me.

The thoughts continued.  I wished for death.  I prayed that God would just take me Home.  And when He didn't answer me, I began contemplating how I could take matters into my own hands.

With every beat of my heart, I wish this wasn't my story.

I wish I could tell you it was easy.  That I immediately fell in love with him and we bonded right away.  That I've never been depressed and certainly not suicidal.  And gracious, certainly not over the sweetest little two year old.

But this is my story.

And God has redeemed it.

I want you to read that last sentence again.  God has redeemed it.

No matter what your story is, He can redeem it sweet friends.

He walked alongside me, reminding me of His truths and promises.  He'd give me days where I began to think "Maybe, just maybe I can do this."  Then He prompted me to look at the side effects of the medicine I was on, which led to me stopping it immediately and subsequently the depression and thoughts leaving with it.  And He saw us through the ultimate betrayal of someone sending in a letter saying I didn't love Chi.  As I've briefly written about before, the letter was full of lies, complete with saying I wouldn't get up in the middle of the night when he'd cry.  Imagine the betrayal and pain we felt.  Imagine someone saying you won't get up in the middle of the night when your child is crying, even though your child sleeps through the night and has never gotten up (still hasn't).  Imagine having the baby monitor turned to high so you could hear him just in case he did.  Imagine your older son sharing a room with him knowing that he'd be awoken too should Chi be crying in the middle of the night.  So perhaps then, you can imagine our hurt.  The shock.  The questions and wondering why someone not only could tell such lies but why on earth they would.  There are some questions that we'll likely never have an answer to. Yet God can and has redeemed all of this.

What's hard for me is that I can look at my story and somehow begin to believe another lie..... that this person was warranted in sending the letter.  But here's the truth:

Telling lies is never warranted.

Gossip and backbiting is never acceptable.

And most of all, despite all of my struggles, loving Chi was never in question, only my questioning myself and abilities to be the mom to him that he needed.  I loved him so much that I was willing to admit defeat so that he could have better.  But God never offered that as a choice, He only consistently spoke to my heart "You are enough, my daughter.  You're enough for him."

Over the past several months I've thought about that sacrificial love.  I've thought about his birth mom and how she signed away her rights.  Now, maybe she didn't care.  Maybe she didn't want to deal with his health issues.  Maybe she thought "Hey, I can have more.  I'll just let him go and hopefully have one with less health problems."  Maybe.  BUT, maybe, just maybe she thought "I can't give him the life he needs.  And I love him so much that I'm signing my rights away to give him a chance at something better.  I won't fight this because he needs someone who can fight for him better than I can."

The sacrificial love of a mother made me a mother to yet another.

The resemblance of our willingness to sacrifice for his greater good is not lost on me.  Two mommas wanting the best for the same son.

I began asking God to bond us together, to make our hearts beat as one.  And He faithfully has been answering that prayer day by day.

The stubbornness I've had over the past 18 months, the utter brokenness.... Him bringing me to my knees.  Nay, breaking my knees until I would bend to His will, it has made me who I am today.

He used what most see as a negative... my stubbornness, and helped me use it for His honor and glory.  For fighting my way out and refusing to stay where I was.  For being willing to fight for our son and for myself to be just the mom he needs.

He helped me realize that just how it wasn't Chi's fault that I didn't carry him and have a bond with him, that you know, it wasn't my fault either.  But He could still work through us to bring about something marvelous and bind us together in ways I never could have fathomed.

And that's just what He's doing.

Because you know my prayer that He'd make our hearts beat as one?

One day last week as I was holding him close, rocking him in his room, it occurred to me that due to a rare condition where his heart is on the right side of his chest, our hearts always line up and beat together.

Each time I hold him, each time I reach out to love him more and more, our hearts beat together.

That realization moved me to tears then, just as it does now.

God had heard and answered in miraculous ways.

I'd like to say there's not still work to be done, but really, with parenting there's always more to do, regardless of if you factor in adoption or not.  But what I can say is that he trusts us so much now that we're constantly having to tell him to hurry up and eat because he knows it'll be there and takes his ever-loving-time eating.  ;)  He eats about any and everything.  I'm moving past all the frustrations and we're having fun together reading and playing, snuggling and doing all the things I had hoped we'd do with ease.

And you know what that means?

We're bonding.

God is binding us together.  He's so helped me that I can't even remember what life was like before we had him nor can I imagine ever not having him with us.

Yes, there are days that are hard, but even the hardest of days is nothing compared to what I've gone through.  And I'm so thankful.  Oh so very thankful.

I say all of that to say this:

I don't know what your "Yes" is.

I don't know what it's going to cost you, and it will cost you something.  But I know, without a shadow of a doubt, when you stay inside His will, He'll see you through each and every step, regardless of what it costs.  He'll give your eyes new sight that allow you to see His hand in and through it all.

Our yes has cost us a lot.  Truth is, our yes still costs us in the form of running to appointments every week and particularly with his upcoming health needs this spring and summer.

But he's worth it.

You saying yes to what God is calling you to will always be worth it.

You may be called to witness to someone at work.  To become a foster parent.  To adopt.  To become a missionary.  You may be called into the ministry.  You may be called to start a new outreach.  You may be called to any number of things that may cost you something if you say Yes.

Might I encourage you?

Do it anyway.

To think that our yes can be used for eternity.... gracious, it doesn't get much better than that.

Allow Him to use you.  Say Yes.  And then trust the Father's hand.

Because saying Yes to the Father is never easy, but it's always, ALWAYS worth it.

Monday, December 05, 2016

The Storm Behind the Front

Sometimes I think people look at us and think we have it all together.  Like we're some sort of super family that doesn't face the same struggles and battles that everyone else does.

But we do.

I think people can look at our pictures on Facebook and think that that's all there is to see.

But it's not.

You see, we've recently just come out of a storm, are presently in a storm, and recently just found out we'll be heading back into likely the strongest one we've ever faced.

When we chose to adopt we knew we'd face battles - that Satan would come at us like never before.  But if I'm being honest, while I knew this, I wasn't prepared for it.  I was naive and completely and utterly caught off-guard at the extent to which the enemy would go to break me down.

And he used me to do it.  You see, since having Emilee I've been battling a variety of different things with my health.  I've been passed from one doctor to another, none of which (until recently) have genuinely tried to help.  One put me on a prescription that I readily took without any regard to its side effects.... because I didn't even take the time to look them up.  I just wanted relief.  And it cost me dearly.  Because over the course of 12-15 months I slipped into the darkest days of my life, which also happened to be right around the time we brought Chi home.  His first year with us was spent with me being all over the place, me and Mark arguing because of the state I was in and my subsequent responses and actions to everything.  I questioned everything.  The adoption.  Our marriage.  Being a mom.  And as I previously wrote about in this post, I even began to think that giving up on life was the best choice I could make for everyone.

Satan had so distorted my mind and thinking that it was hard for me to distinguish between reality and his lies.  I had been doing the Armor of God Bible study and learning how to truly fight, yet I found myself slipping back to where I had been.

Sweet friends, I believe with all my heart that it was the prayers and petitions of my family that kept me here and brought me out of the pit of despair.  And truthfully, very few of them knew the extent to which I was suffering and battling myself, yet they prayed all the more.  And I began to petition and beg God for mercy, to restore my mind and bring healing.

And one day as clear as if He was standing before me I heard Him whisper, "Read the side effects."

I thought it was a weird answer to what I was asking of Him but I did it nonetheless.  And there it was.  The medicine I was taking can cause severe depression and suicidal thoughts.  So much so that the medical community termed a phrase "*medicine's name* induced depression."

I stopped the medicine that very day.

Within two weeks I began noticing a difference.

Within a month I knew God had not only heard my prayers but faithfully answered them.

Now 3 months later I finally feel like myself again.

I feel like I can be the mom that God has called me to be to my children.  And I feel like I can love and bond with Chi in ways which I wasn't previously able.  We have made leaps and bounds of progress just in the past 3 months that I can't even describe.  Gracious how I love my kiddos.  How we have such sweet times together.  And I love as I leave their rooms at night how they'll ask for me to sing to them.  How Chi reaches his hand up for me to hold or how the girls sing with me.  Oh how I missed so much in the past year.  My heart aches at the thought of just how much time I lost.  How we faced so many battles from people who talked about us instead of prayed over us.  Yet He has been faithful through it all.

We left that storm only to be in the somewhat constant storm of raising a child on the spectrum.  Yes, Eli is high functioning, so much so that he can be trusted with a gun and out in the woods.  He's quite the little hunter.  But y'all, it doesn't negate all the battles we face with him that are often unseen to the outside world.  We have been on our knees in prayer seeking answers and guidance on how to best help him.  We make strides in one area only to see him revert back to behaviors he had previously stopped (like head banging).  Yet we persevere and love and guide and continue praying that God would work in and through not only us, but our sweet Eli.

And the storm that's brewing?  It seems to just be building momentum.

And so I ask that y'all would be praying for us, for the protection of our family and children as we enter the approaching storm.

You see, we knew Chi had medical conditions when we adopted him.  We knew that he'd be facing another open heart surgery when he was around 4 or 5.  But we were led to believe that'd be it - that this 2nd surgery would fix everything and he'd go on to lead a normal, healthy life.  But our world was shattered Friday when we saw that his oxygen levels were already down to 84% (although we suspected they'd be lower because of his worsening shortness of breath).  And then that led to being told that his surgery would be sooner than later.  And then that led to being told that most all children who have what he has will at some point need a heart transplant.  I felt like the air had been knocked out of me.  I was trying to process all that was being said and still listen to what she was telling us about the procedure and upcoming appointments but everything just seemed like a whirlwind around me.  I mean, he's healthy (other than the shortness of breath).  He's a normal kid.  No one would know anything if not for him becoming winded easily.  I mean, why won't the second surgery fix it?  Why have things changed?  Why couldn't we have seen his normal cardiologist so we could ask these questions?

Fear.  Fear.  And more Fear.

And yet I looked at him with all those wires hooked to him and knew in those moments that I'd do any and everything possible for him.

Right now nothing is urgent.  They don't like to do surgeries in the winter if possible, and he's healthy and maintaining well enough that we can wait even until early summer, which is the plan.  He'll have another appointment in mid spring, then a heart cath in late spring to make sure all the pressures in his heart and lungs are good and then open heart surgery a few weeks after that.  And no one knows when the transplant will be needed, be it 2 years after the surgery or 20.  It's simply based on how him and his body respond.

I'd like to say I'm not anxious about this, but I'd be lying.

This news changes a lot.  But you know what I can say is this:  this news doesn't change how we prayed for him before we ever knew him.  It doesn't change how we prayed and prayed for our son before we ever got the call, praying him through his first surgery we had no idea about at the time.  It doesn't change how we love him and will do whatever necessary for his well-being.

But it does bring a lot of fear.  Obviously for his health and safety.  But also for how our other 3 kids are going to handle it all...handle our divided attention, being separated, seeing him like he'll be after the surgery....

But HE is faithful.  Time and time again He shows me just how faithful He is.

So when you see sweet pictures on Facebook like this:


and think that we have it all together...that we're the perfect family, I want you to remember this:

You see the front.  We see the storms that have made us who we are.

We have an incredible family.  Mark and I have a great marriage.  We have friends and family that love us and cover us in prayer.  BUT we are who and what we are ONLY by the grace of God alone.  It is HIM friends.  It is HE and only HE who has enabled us to be and have the family that we do.  HE alone is faithful.  HE brings healing and peace and joy amidst the trials and storms of life.  It is only because of His grace and mercy that we have made it this far.  And hear me when I say this:

I believe with every fiber of my being that He will see us through everything we're about to face.

Because He's never not done that.  Yes, we've lost two babies.  Yes, we've had times I didn't know if we'd make it.  Yes, we've watched friends bury their sons.  Yes, we have one son on the spectrum and one facing a possible heart transplant.

But HE IS GOOD.

He's so good to us.

I hope that no matter what you're facing in life that you can plant your foot on solid ground and say with us that no matter the storm, He'll be the way.  And if you can't, please contact me.  I'd love to tell you how He can bring you the peace for which you're seeking.

Much love,

Phoebe

Monday, October 03, 2016

Held

I'm becoming more and more aware of something.

My babies are growing up.

I know.  That's not earth shattering news.  I know this is the progressive course of life.  But it's hard.

I was texting back and forth with my friend the other day and she was getting ready to have a girl's night out with one of her daughters.  She said her older daughter had been invited to a sleepover and the younger one was feeling left out.  But what she said after that has stuck with me.

"I won't always have the chance to mend her heart but at least this time I can."

I was reminded of this yet again when after watching the Jungle Book our three year old got up in the middle of the night, running through the house screaming and crying.  I was jolted awake, confused, trying to figure out what was going on when the sweetest little voice said, "There's a lion in my room."  Ahh.... Shere Khan.  A lion, a tiger.... all the same to a 3 year old: scary.

I pulled her up into bed with us and she snuggled in close to me.  Her crying stopped, her breathing slowed to normal, and she drifted off to sleep as I rubbed her sweet little blond hair and kissed her forehead over and over and over.  After a little while, I took her back to bed and returned to sleep myself.  And then I heard it, her little cry coming closer and closer.  "Mommy, there's a lion in my room."  And so we repeated the process again.  Snuggling next to Mommy and Daddy, rubbing her little head, giving her kisses, and assuring her there aren't any lions anywhere to be found.  She calmed down and I returned her to her bed.  Not too many minutes later, I heard it again... this time, a whimper from the dining room.  A hesitancy.  I met her at the door, arms opened wide.  She ran to me and I scooped her up again.  Neck to neck, she held tightly.  This time I went to her room, sat on her bed beside her and rubbed her head as I whispered softly to her, reassuring her she was safe and there weren't any lions in her room.  And that time, she drifted off to sleep for the rest of the night.

It's in moments like these that God often reveals His truths me.  I couldn't go back to sleep that night.  I tossed and turned and this blog post began coming to life in my head as God softly spoke to my heart.

If you'd only come to me like she comes to you.

So many times I try to do things myself, in my strength and even though I know this will get me nowhere, I continue on anyway.  I fail.  Then I try harder.  I fail again.  And I repeat this absurdity over and over again.  And time and time again I end up reminding myself that this is futile.

So very futile.

If only I'd just go to Him.  Because, unlike me, He never sleeps.  He's not caught off guard, confused, and trying to figure out what's going on.  He already knows and He's waiting.

Oh how He's waiting for me to just go to Him.  To be held.  To steady my footing and be reassured.

I often imagine the Father to be a lot like my Dad.  Because gracious, He certainly blessed me with an incredible dad.  My dad made it easy for me to know that Christ loves me because he showed me through his love every day.  When life threw us some curve balls and we lost two of our babies, my Dad is who I wanted to call.  Other than Mark's, he's whose arms I wanted to be in because he's always comforted me for as long as I can remember.  And the Father whispers:

I'm here to do the same.

He wants to hold me close.  He wants me to settle in next to Him so He can steady my heart and show me that I can trust Him when He says everything is going to be okay.

If only I'd just be held instead of running.  Instead of depending on myself and what strength I think I have. There's such comfort in just being held.  Sometimes true strength is found in letting go.  And oh what peace there is in His arms.

You know, I won't always be able to take away my kids' fears and mend their broken hearts, but right now, while it's possible, I'll spend every moment of my life trying, running to them and holding them as long as I can.  And each and every time I do, I pray that I'm reminded to run straight to the Father and ...

... just be held.

Friday, August 05, 2016

My All Star Team

Most people who know me know I've been a bit frazzled here lately.  Apparently I'm becoming less and less skilled at hiding it too.

Four kids will do that to you.

While recently home for a visit, my uncle said he thought I could use some encouragement because I seem "on edge".

Ahem.  Again.  Four kids.

But what he said has stuck in my mind for some time now.

"Who better equipped to deal with each of your children and their struggles than you?  You have two counseling degrees.  You see potential everywhere and push them to meet it.  You don't let them get off with excuses or use diagnoses for failure.  Who better to coach your team?  God equipped and chose you for each of their struggles."

Truth is, I often feel like I'm just riding their cases all the livelong day.  "Stop whining."  "Leave your brother alone."  "If you're about to tattle, don't.  Walk away."  "No, you cannot eat.  We just ate 30 minutes ago."  "I said clean your room.  What part of that did you not understand?  Get it done."  "Hurry up.  We're running late."  "Why is he still not dressed??!  Gracious, we have to GO!!"  "I already told you to stop whining.  Go sit on the rug."  "Do not hit your brother.  I don't care if you are playing robber-breaks-in-our-house and he's the robber."

It's easy to get caught up in the 'parenting' part and forget the potential part.  Yet each of them are filled to the brim with potential.

As my uncle said, "The difference between a friend and a coach is that a friend loves you for who you are.  A coach sees your potential and pushes you to achieve it.  And you have an All Star Team."

And really, I do.

Anna is our first born.  She's the answer to many many prayers after being told we likely wouldn't be able to have children without extensive medical interventions.  Oh how I've had such dreams for her and she's met and exceeded all of them.  She's our overachiever.... our all A's student, in the Gifted and Talented Program.  Our little Ms. Social.  Never meets a stranger.  Loves playing volleyball and is exceptionally good at it.   She wants to be a doctor when she grows up, an OB/GYN to be exact.  She's thoughtful and goes out of her way to be helpful.  She's an incredible big sister, playing with each of them and helping me on days we're in a rush to get out the door.  She loves to cook and will often get up early to "surprise" me by making breakfast (muffins, eggs, even homemade waffles one day).  She's not only physically beautiful, she has such inward beauty too.  Her compassion for the less fortunate and least of these is inspiring.  And each time I look at her, I'm reminded of just how much potential she has.

Eli is our tender-hearted, camo-loving kiddo.  His mind is like an encyclopedia.  Seriously, do WWII trivia with him and prepare to be blown away.  For years, I thought he was just rambling off made up information until we recently were talking with a Navy vet and they talked about everything you could possibly imagine and ELI KEPT UP- machinery, battleships, dates of certain invasions, the 5 beaches that were invaded in Normandy (yes, he can name them all).  There were times our friend wasn't sure of something Eli was saying so we Googled it and EVERY single time he was right.  I was blown away.  His mind is absolutely incredible.  He's the one I've had to fight for and with the most.  I've refused to let his diagnoses define him - so much so he doesn't even know he has any.  I've gone head to head with him, pushing him to meet his potential, crying because he was failing in school and I didn't know how to help him succeed.  And then so very thankful for his teacher who walked side by side with me and we watched him go from making F's to making the honor roll every.single.year.  He's an avid hunter, killing his first deer at the age of 7, and two more at the age of 8.  He loves animals and tractors and all things outdoors.  And each time I look at him, my heart swells with pride for him wanting to serve in our military and I see just how much potential he has.

Emilee is our free spirited, boisterous, full of life little (almost) 3 year old.  She's our rainbow baby after losing #3 and #4.  I don't know why God saw fit to give us her after losing our other two babies, but I am so very thankful He did.  She's a constant reminder of His faithfulness.  She wakes up ready to go each morning.  She's constantly on the go but also loves to be snuggled and rocked.  She has the most contagious laugh and gracious how it brightens my day.  She's head-strong and determined and while it's my job to keep that in check, I also foresee it being what takes her far in this life.  I hope that determination of hers sees her through all the trials and hard times and keeps her moving forward to meeting all her goals.  She loves her baby named Piggie, not to be mistaken with her self-given nickname of Emi Pig.  She refuses to go to bed without her Care Bears blankie and Piggie beside her.  She loves to talk on the phone and I SO foresee her being the class clown.  She fights with her brother like crazy, but equally loves and adores him.  And each time I look at her, I see potential in so many areas.

Malachi is our caboose.  The son for which we prayed God would give us.  Adoption isn't easy.  But everything in me knows it will have been worth it.  Because he's worth it.  And gracious how he's such a smart kid.  Before he even turned two he could sing the entire alphabet and Jesus Loves Me.  He's smart beyond his age and has an extensive vocabulary.  I mean, he already speaks in 7-8 word sentences and he's barely over two.  He loves trucks and Paw Patrol and cuddles up with his stuffed zebra Daddy got him each night.  He loves to eat and be around people.  And someday I see him being a singer.  Oh how he loves to sing.  Every time we go somewhere, he'll be singing parts of all the songs on KLOVE.  I hope he never loses his love for music and singing.  He too is head-strong and while I have to keep his in check just as much as Emilee's, I also foresee that determination taking him far, helping him become whatever he wants to become, with us standing beside him cheering him on.  Because he too has such great potential.

I remember someone saying that Anna has such high goals.  I mean, a doctor!  That's not a small task to undertake.  And for her to be just 10??  Truth is, she's wanted to be an OB/GYN for the past 2 years.  And I don't know if it'll change or not, but here's my point.  This person said "It's not like she has a goal to be a stay-at-home mom.  That's not exactly a lofty goal, but a doctor?!?"

Yes.  I'm a stay-at-home mom.  And perhaps this person had a foot-in-mouth moment that they later realized.  But here's what I'm taking from that.

This stay-at-home momma is raising children who have lofty goals!!

I have one who wants to be a doctor and bring life into this world.

I have one who wants to become a hero and serve our country by joining the military.

And I have two that while they're still toddlers, I have no doubt will make their marks on this world too.

You see, I didn't set out to be a stay-at-home mom.  I mean, shoot, I have two college degrees.  I was a 10 year old kid playing counselor with my friends.  I had my pretend files and my cassette tape recorder so I could record our "sessions", because as a kid, I too had a lofty goal.  To be a counselor.  To make a difference in this world by helping people.

And you know, even though I'm not presently out in the field, I'm still getting to do this every single day.  I get to raise world changers.  Children who will one day be adults making an impact on this world.  And while most kids never sit around dreaming about being a stay-at-home mom, I'm more and more convinced that it's my role as a mom which will make the greatest impact.

I have an All Star Team and I plan on being the best coach I can for them.  And yes, that's hard.  I fail every single day.  But just as I'm convinced that my role as their mom will have the greatest impact, I'm also convinced that it's in my determination to stick with it that more than just them will see the benefits.

Lord willing, may I coach them well.

~Phoebe

Monday, May 23, 2016

Fighting my Way Out

I remember being a kid and going to St. Louis to visit my grandparents, aunts and uncles.  My Grandma Hughs was an avid wrestling and boxing fan.  She'd always have one of them on on her little TV and us kids would get such a kick out of watching her get all worked up.  She'd be hollering at the TV and before you knew it, she was up on her feet yelling "Give him the ole one-two."  She was pint-sized and full of life and oh how I miss her.

Truth be told, I've felt like I've been dealt a few blows here lately.  Satan never really plays fair.  He's all about the kidney punches, low blows, and even after the eight count and you're begging to tap out .....he just doesn't stop.  He's low like that.  And as strong as you think you are, I can assure you, you'll never be pound-for-pound in this match.  It seems he'll always have the upper hand.

But just because he may have the upper hand, doesn't mean that we can't beat him at his own game.  Because when we have God in our corner, we can begin to see the lies and the deception, and come out swinging, fighting our way back into the game.

And that's what I've been doing.

You see, the past several months have been hard.  Adoption isn't easy.  It's beautiful in so many ways.  Goodness, how it's beautiful.  Our love for him.  His love for us.  How he's thriving and growing and happy.  He's absolutely precious.  Yet that doesn't all of a sudden take away the struggles.  There are real battles people who foster and adopt face.  And sometimes, I think the outside world doesn't always see these struggles.  They assume that everything should be perfect.  That everything is perfect.  He's perfect.  We're perfect.  And let's be honest here, no one is perfect.  It's almost as if the standard for adoptive parents is higher than for biological parents and it makes no sense at all to me.  If anything, we should be given more leeway, more understanding and kindness because this is a journey.... a process if you will and sometimes we just need your understanding.

9 months ago as we pulled into the driveway, it was as if Satan himself was sitting on my doorstep waiting for me.  I have been thrown so many low blows, I can't even tell you.  We've been dealing with normal things you deal with when taking in a foster child; things like establishing trust after being the 5th home he's been in, difficulties with eating habits since he'd basically lived on orange Crush, mac and cheese, and ice cream, attention seeking behaviors, adjusting to having another baby in the home, etc.  We've also been having to deal with individuals who have been less than helpful....less than understanding in helping us through these struggles and I'm telling you, it's just been hard.

Bonding doesn't happen immediately in these situations.  It's a process.  I carried our other three kiddos for 9 months, feeling them kick and roll, suck their thumbs, have the hiccups.  Creating hopes and dreams for them.  And then I spent every day, 'round the clock, caring for them.  Feeding them, rocking them, singing to them, loving and kissing them and doing all the things us mommas do.  And all of it created a deeper bond between us.  But I missed that with Chi.  I missed all of it.  I missed carrying him.  I missed giving birth to him.  I missed all the nights of getting up to feed him and rock him (and yes, I'm weird, I loved those nights with our other kiddos).  I missed his first word.  His first time rolling over, sitting up, crawling... even his first steps.  I missed all the formative months of when babies learn to trust and bond.  And that's been hard.  So when I say that bonding is a process, it's just that.  It takes time.  It takes daily working, daily doing the things that seem out of place to do for a 2 year old but that he needs - like rocking him while maintaining eye contact.  That's hard for him.  Truthfully, it's hard for him to be held for any length of time because he was never used to being held.  Most of you saw a picture on Facebook the day the adoption was final of him sleeping in my arms..... it was the first time since we brought him home that that had ever happened.  It's so many things that are worth it but that are also difficult while in the midst of it all.

A few months ago, I found myself in a deep depression, struggling from day to day to do the basic things that need to be done as a mom of 4.  I would go from one extreme of being angry and impatient to the other of crying and feeling hopeless.  I began to question God and His calling us to this.  I began to question my ability to be the mom Chi needed me to be.  And ultimately I began thinking that my family would be better off without me.  That my kids deserved a better mom.  That Mark deserved someone who could handle all of these battles without falling apart.  They simply would be better with me gone.  And that thought led to thoughts of how I could take my own life and make it appear as an accident so they could still get my life insurance.  I spent a lot of time wondering how to do it, all the while Mark telling me he thought I was depressed and needed to go to the doctor.  Then my best friend began saying the same thing and I had to pause and take a close look at what was going on.

Sweet friends, hear me when I say this, Christians and even counselors are not exempt from these struggles.  I wish I could say I was.  I wish I could tell you that these thoughts haven't at one time been in my head.  It's so very hard to be in that spot knowing that you're being irrational, that being gone would cause them more harm than good, yet still simultaneously thinking they're better off without you.  It's such a devastating place to be and my heart goes out to any and every person who's ever been down that road.

Yet through all of this, my Father revealed something to me.

Satan wouldn't be attacking me so hard if there wasn't something glorious on the other side of these struggles.  He called us to this for a purpose.

So, I began calling the doctor's office trying to get an appointment. They weren't accepting new patients.  Our doctor had moved to a different clinic.  Weeks went by and they never would return our calls.  So then I scheduled an appointment with our doctor at his new clinic.  And then had to cancel it.  But through all of that time, God kept reminding me that we face battles every day.  The problem I was facing was in how I was addressing the battles.  God calls us to suit up and fight.  To put on our armor.

And that's what I started doing.

I began swinging and throwing my own combinations.

I dug deeper into His word.  I prayed harder.  I spent more time with Chi reading and playing and singing to him.  I started focusing on Christ's promises and less on my problems and the depression began to slowly lift.

We were making incredible progress.  We were growing and bonding and loving more and more deeply.

I had fought my way out.

And yes, I realize this isn't possible for everyone.  There are those who need to see their doctor.  Who need medication.  And honestly, I believe I was one of them.  Yet God, in His kindness, helped me work my way out of it all.

But hear me when I say this.  Satan is relentless.  And it's how I know that God has something incredible in store for our family and our sweet Chi.

Because through all the battles and struggles I had faced, just as I was standing back up I was side-swiped, knocked to the ground flat on my face.  And having endured all that I already had, this was an all out low blow, cutting me to the core.  Someone had sent DHS a message saying I didn't love Chi.  The message was full of lies and hatred and I was absolutely heartbroken.  I had the wind knocked out of me.  And I don't even know that that fully explains how hurt I've been.  Particularly given where I had been and all the fighting I had done for him.  The fighting to love him beyond measure, not just as someone loving a child, but as me loving MY child.  Yet learning that it was someone within our circle (yet not a close friend) was all the more heartbreaking. Our worker visited with us and let us know that she had no concerns whatsoever, that the message had no foundation for several reasons.  We then had to jump through some more hoops as protocol and had another meeting with more people who all said the same thing.  The message had no credibility, complete with them not even getting our last name correct.  Our workers have been in our home for months.  They've seen us interact, love each other, give hugs and kisses.  They've gotten the pictures I sent them of him being the sweetest little cow in the Christmas play, and pictures of the zoo and playground and trips we've taken.  They knew these were lies and it felt good to have that validated.

But you know what?  Having them believe and see my love for my son didn't take away the hurt.  It didn't take away that someone lied about me.  Because, that's what this was.  It was a personal attack on me.  And as a result, a lot of things changed in our lives.

Yet one thing remained.  God was faithful. In the weeks leading up to this, I'd been learning about putting on my armor.  I had been fighting my way out of depression.  I was fighting.  But this ...  this made me a fighter.

There's a difference in fighting - just haphazardly swinging and throwing punches.  But a fighter.... she's not just armed, she knows how to use her armor and use it wisely.  It's not just about swinging here and there, it's about trusting The Teacher, following His instructions, and making each punch count for His glory and honor.

And I was able to do that.  I was able to fight well and honorably.

I wish I could say that takes away the hurt.  It doesn't.  But it does give me peace in how I handled myself.

I've cried a lot of tears over the past 9 months.  Battling myself.  Struggling to be the best mommy I can be to all of our kiddos.  Fighting depression and trying to figure out how to work my way out of it.  Dealing with hurtful comments from people.  Knowing people are talking behind my back about our struggles instead of just taking them to the foot of the Father on our behalf..  Dealing with thoughts I wouldn't wish on anyone.  That's why this came as such a shock to me.  But you know, it didn't catch God off guard one bit.  He knew.  Sweet friends, He knew.  And He'd already gone ahead of us preparing the way.  What this person meant for harm, God used for good.  He used it to validate us as parents.  To remind us that Satan attacks when the Father has something great in store.  And you know, as a result of all of this, Chi's lawyer pushed even harder to get us a court date, which led to us officially being his parents last Monday!

Christ has done so much for us here lately that when I step back and look at it all, I'm in awe.  Just having everything finalized has done so much in the way of letting go and being able to fully embrace and love without fear of losing him.  We're so much closer today than a week ago and leaps and bounds from where we were 9 months ago.  And I can only look up and thank the Father for that.  It's His working in and through me and gracious, it's been hard, but oh how different I am than just 9 short (long) months ago and it's been worth every battle I've had to fight.

God works through the storms.  And oh that I could always remember that.

That I would remember to put on the full armor of God.  Remember that attacks often are a reflection of just how great His promises are on the other side.  And remember that in order to fight well, it means suiting up.

I'm fighting my way out.  Following the Master.  And most importantly, loving my family.  Soaking up our time together.  Praising Him for all His provision.  Giving Him all honor and glory for pulling me up out of the pit.  For showing me how to fight well and honorably.  For His peace.  For our sweet son.

And praying that whatever battles you may be facing, that He'll show you just how to suit up and fight well too.

Stay strong friends.

~Phoebe