Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Great Big Update Post

It has come to my attention via email and facebook and questions asked again and again, that I haven't necessarily done a STELLAR job of keeping y'all up to date on our lives, kiddos, children, ministry, etc. This post is my attempt to remedy that in an efficient and concise way (as it turns out, no two words have ever described me less).

So, without further ado, here are some questions and answers for y'all. Warning, this is long because, again, efficient and concise aren't really my thang. You might want to grab some coffee, or a diet coke and some cheese dip, and put your feet up.

How is Caden doing?
Well y'all, I've been wary of even saying this out loud, let alone putting it down in writing . . . but Caden has been doing much better on all fronts. It's like he just decided that he was one year old and it was time to grow up and start sleeping and eating. Granted, he still has a long way to go with his eating and he is still working with a feeding specialist every other week. However, at least he doesn't refuse and gag and choke on every bite. I'll take my victories wherever I can get them, right?

As far as sleeping, Caden has also been doing MUCH better on that front (which maybe is because he's eating more?). And by that I mean he only wakes up once or twice every night. Which is still less than ideal, but much less zombie-inducing than his every-two-hour habit was.

He goes back to the cardiologist in another month-ish (we need to call CHOA and check on when it is - because we're so organized). We will know more then about his heart function etc, but as far as we can tell he is doing wonderfully. His scar is fading, and he is the most active little one year old boy. It's exhausting and cause for rejoicing all at once.

Oh and, he took his first steps a week ago, which completely blows my mind - my little miracle baby. He still limits himself to four or five steps before dropping to his knees and taking off in a crawl. But I know before long we will be chasing him all over the place! Also, he loves music and dances every time he hears anything resembling a beat.

 How about Jayci? What's the update on her?
Jayci is nearly four years old now. I seriously can scarcely believe that fact, but it's true. She is in the most delightful, enjoyable phase right now. Cheerful, helpful, hilarious . . . and far less temper tantrums than ever before. And I say that with humility and joy, knowing that it's ALL a phase and that I probably have very little to do with her current level of fantastic-ness. Not to mention, she is a fabulous big sister to Caden, kind and helpful. AND she adores all the kiddos and loves them well too. Ok, I'm done bragging now, my apologies for that.

 One thing we would love your prayers for regarding Jayci is figuring out what we should do about school for her. Our neighborhood school is seriously lacking in some areas, but that doesn't mean it's not an option. We just want to be wise, following the Lord's leading, protecting Jayci's heart and future, and doing what works best for our family and ministry too. You know, no big deal.
Who in the world is Zack? And does he live with you? 
It has been brought to my attention that many of y'all were confused about Zack, who he is, and why he is in nearly every picture of our family. Zack is one of two boys we mentored for the last five years, and he spent the summer living with us. He came to camp with us, working as a "CIT" (counselor-in-training), and I wish I could adequately describe what a joy it was for me to see him as a leader, growing in his faith, encouraging other kiddos, and loving on my own kids. It is my dream that one day Caden will be as wonderful a young man as Zack is. Seriously, y'all.

Remember how one time, forever ago, you said you were going to adopt? Is that still happening?
Yes, my friends (good memory, by the way), we are still planning on adopting. In fact, I'm pretty sure Adam is ready for that now. And by "pretty sure," I mean he told me: "I'm ready when you are babe." Unfortunately, I cannot even wrap my mind around adding another person to our chaos right now. I think I need a few nights of good sleep before I start tricking myself into thinking I have everything under control and I can TOTALLY handle another child. . .

When we do adopt, the plan is still to adopt domestically through DFCS. But that's pretty much all we know at this point. Don't you worry your pretty little heads though, I'll totally keep y'all posted.
What's going on with your ministry right now? In fact, what IS your ministry?
Well, Adam and I started a non-profit mentoring program in our neighborhood last year. It's called Blueprint 58 (because it's based on Isaiah 58) and we are officially a 501(c)3, meaning we're all legit and tax-deductible and other stuff I dont really fully understand. The plan from the get-go was to spend some time getting to know our neighbors and our community in order to better understand the needs of our neighborhood. We also planned to partner with the local elementary school to start matching mentors with kids in the fourth grade there. Unfortunately, when we moved in, it was right around the time of the APS cheating scandal, which our local elementary school (Gideon's) was pretty heavily involved in. So that meant they had just got a new principal, and we had lots of trouble getting approved by the school to partner with them for mentoring and tutoring.

Just when we were starting to question what we were doing, if we had mis-read the cues and our hearts, if maybe we should take a different approach . . . Adam got a random phone call a few weeks ago telling us that the Atlanta school board had approved Blueprint 58 (our non-profit) to work with our local schools. That call, combined with some help from our awesome church, and a new principal at Gideon's who is excited about working with us, has reinvigorated what we are trying to do, and started the ball rolling on what I think is going to be a really good thing for our neighborhood. 

The plan is to start by mentoring one fourth grade class. And it just so happens that one of the 4th grade classes has an awesome teacher who wants to work with us, lots of the kiddos we know are in the class, plus one of the kids who comes to church has already been matched with a mentor. All that to say, we feel like God is moving things forward for our ministry and in our neighborhood. Despite lots of kids moving away over the summer, our house is always crowded and we met some new neighborhood kiddos as we walked lots of kids to school every morning while they didn't have buses the first few weeks of school.
There's actually more ministry questions and updates and such that I want to let y'all know about. And I know I warned you that this was going to be a "great big" post, but it's getting a little unwieldy. However, I have some more frequently asked questions I wanted to try and answer, so I'll do another FAQ post soon. Which means that now is your chance! Do you have more questions for me? Things you've been dying to know but cant find answers anywhere on this haphazard and unorganized blog? (welcome to the story of my life, by the way) Feel free to leave questions in the comments or send me an email (Becca1612 at hotmail dot com), and I'll answer as many questions as I can in the next post!

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Long Way Home

Sometimes I take the long way home, hope clenched fierce in my chest. Perhaps, I think, I will catch a glimpse of him riding his too-small bike to the corner store. Or maybe strolling down the cracked sidewalk with other mohawked and wiz-khalifa-haired boys. I duck my head at offers of drugs. Smiling shakily at the police officer giving a questioning stare, I drive my squeaky van slowly, searching faces beneath snapbacks and colorful bandanas. Last time I saw him, I yelled out the window and waved, hopeful. But he barely acknowledged me, this boy who holds fast to a corner of my heart, who Jayci called “brother” right along with Zack.
His frame is shrunken, his cheeks angrily pockmarked with adolescence. He wears a red cap pulled low over his eyes, which are trained stubbornly on the ground.

If I’m honest, my heart has been bruised by him. Angry blue and purple, tender to the touch. And it has been easier to ignore that bruise than to poke at it.

Better to wash your hands of him.” His grandmother’s words echo in my ears, and I think that yes, it probably would be easier, less painful.

But not better. Because when we agreed, more than five years ago, to enter into his life, we said YES to the pain. To the heartache and hurt and anger and flailing and fighting. Because a wounded heart, a child who has faced great loss left ungrieved, felt abandoned, been forgotten by the system, by the world, by whoever. That kind of hurt can produce more hurt, can believe lies, can chase after all the wrong things in hopes of finding love, in hopes of belonging.

It only took two weeks for them to kick him out of school. For them to confirm what he already knows: “better to wash your hands of him.” And I see it in his downturned eyes, his intentional swagger and the words he calls out to the girls passing by. He believes them. And it’s easier to ignore a bruised heart than to poke at it. But he has been ignoring his bruised heart for too long. Bruises faded from purple to yellow, and he built a wall to protect. To prevent more bruises. Pain is hard, and things aren’t always the way we envisioned them.

Babies are born with broken hearts, held by beeping machines and blinking lights rather than tender mommy-arms. Our kids take the wrong path. Teenagers walk away from our arms and into the world, determined to ignore the God who pursues and loves.
And sometimes mothers die from drinking too much. From a hardened heart turned to all the wrong things. Liquid amber relief to numb the bruises. And sometimes that same child gets passed around, aunt to uncle to grandma to aunt . . . “better to wash your hands of him.” And what lesson does the heart learn, what message is spoken to little ears listening in the dark? No one wants you. You will never be enough to make anyone stick around.

And the world, even those of us who say we love Jesus, who declare that we will always love our neighbor as ourselves, seek justice for the orphans, pursue good for the fatherless? We see him standing on the street corner with jeans sagging nearly as low as his heart. We watch him narrow his eyes defiantly, yell to girls as they get off the school bus. And we avoid his gaze, trying to lock our doors inconspicuously, muttering about policing harder and cleaning up the streets.
And again he hears it: you aren’t worth it. You will never be enough. They are better off without you.

But I hear that familiar whisper in my ear, Jesus reminding me: he is worth it. He is enough. And you need to tell him.

I’ve already tried to tell him, I remind my omniscient Father. I’ve already spoke truth softly to him, and harshly, and loudly, and every other way that I can think of.

Tell him again. And again. And again. Until he hears you.

I imagine what it will look like, this conversation. He will quickly accept my offer of a McChicken sandwich and Sprite. I know his order by heart. I will park my van crooked in the package store parking lot, shaking my head and shrugging my shoulders at the homeless who quickly surround me asking for just fifty cents to ride the bus to the first day of the job they just got for the first time in years.

He will walk with his bike as I fall-in-step beside him, my gold-flecked flip-flops and his pristine Nikes crunching on gritty pavement, gingerly navigating broken glass and cracked sidewalks. We will share our fries, and I will look deep into his distrustful brown eyes framed by long dark lashes. He won’t drop his eyes to the table, not this time. Instead he will listen earnestly as I tell him the truth: I’m not better off without him. That we refuse to give up, that we will follow him to the darkest corners of the places his choices take him. That our house will always be his. We keep a ready supply of ranch dressing and Frank’s hot sauce, just in case.

He will look at new wrinkles around my eyes , at my conspicuously milky skin in a McDonalds full of boisterous chocolate. He will look and see Jesus, not me. He will hear the voice of the One who has always known and loved Him, and He will know that He belongs, that he is loved and that he is worth it.

I imagine him hugging me, coming over to our house and cuddling Caden close while listening to Jayci’s endless chatter.

But the truth is that he might not ever acknowledge my invitation. He might duck his head and shrug his shoulders at his partner’s questioning stares. Regardless, I wont keep protecting my bruised heart and ignoring his. Because he is teaching me much about my Savior. About a God who is relentless in pursuit, who leaves the 99 to find the one who has been lost. And for that kind of love, that kind of God, I’m willing to tear down walls around my own heart. To recognize that making myself vulnerable, allowing myself to love fully and pursue wholeheartedly not only opens myself to hurt, but allows me to experience grace in bigger ways. And His grace will cover it all, for him and for me. Our bruised hearts, his ungrieved losses, my longings, our futures.

I idle at the light too long, my belt squealing as red flickers to green and honking cars swerve around me. Reluctantly, I pull off and turn the corner without finding his face in the sea of narrowed teenage eyes and white tank tops.
One thing I know for sure: God is rearranging things in my head and my heart every single time I take the long way home. He’s tearing down (as He’s apt to do) all the things I thought I knew, boundaries I thought I needed to put in place to protect our family and myself. And as He gently rearranges, something beautiful is emerging.

"What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost." (Matthew 18:12-14)

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy.

I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.

God sets the lonely in families.

Monday, August 20, 2012

A picture a day . . .

Means I am constantly like a month behind on editing, posting and generally keeping up with personal photography-related STUFF. You might notice more and more of the pictures are via my phone/instagram, that's because I tend to forget my big camera (or not want to carry it - don't judge, that thing is heavy!), and I am determined to see this 366 project through.

Friday, August 17, 2012

How to instill confidence in our daughters

After our road trip to Indiana, it took me several days to get up the gumption to climb all the way into the back-back of my van (I mean, who knows what I might find back there) and unbuckle Jayci’s carseat so I could anchor it back in the seat right behind me. My laziness led to many unfortunate disagreements because I could never quite hear what Jayci was trying to ask me, leading her to frustration and much whining; which, obviously, then caused me to also be frustrated and possibly a little whiny myself. Despite our communication breakdown, Jayci loved having her carseat way in the back, because then Zack could sit next to her.

And the other day, I overheard this conversation between the two of them (don’t ask me how since I couldn’t normally strain my ears hard enough to hear even Jayci’s loudest pleas):
Jayci – I follow my friend whatever she does.
Zack – You don’t always have to follow her.
Jayci – YES I DO!
Zack –You can be a leader and she could follow you.
Jayci – But when I tell her “come this way” she will just go the other way and not listen to me.
Zack paused for a minute, meeting my eyes in the rearview mirror before telling Jayci: But even if she doesn’t follow you, you can still go the other way. You can still be a leader. (have I mentioned how much I love my Zack?)
I’ve since moved Jayci’s carseat to the middle row (although I still haven’t cleaned out our van since the road-trip. Jayci may or may not have told me it was ‘disgusting’ the other day). But I still can’t get their conversation out of my head.

We walk into her first day of preschool, and Jayci suddenly falls silent, her fingers popping into mouth and her eyes locked on the ground. And I think about their conversation.

My grandfather visits, and we watch home movies from when I was an awkward middle-schooler, and I see my own head ducked to the ground, my hand covering my mouth and my voice shaking with insecurity.

How can I reach her with truth? How can I instill confidence in a girl, formed in my womb, so deeply embedded in my heart? This is exactly why I was scared to have a daughter. I don’t know how to help her avoid the traps I fell into. Because I’m still not sure how I got there, or how I got out. No desire delves more deeply into my heart than that of seeing Jayci confident. Not SELF-confident, necessarily. More like God-confident. With a healthy identity, a whole and truthful view of who she is, who she was created to be. For her to look in the mirror and see what I see, not what she thinks she should see.

I open my eyes to see the clock mocking me: 2:45, 2:46, 2:51. . . 2:56 . . . . I brush blonde hair from her eyes, gentle disentangle her limbs from mine as she has ended up sprawled, somehow, lengthwise with her legs over my belly. I am laid low by her pink cheeks, her long legs, slips of wrists, purple nails, lashes rested on rounded cheeks. Her eyes pop open blue and sleepy, and I hold my breath, hoping she’ll sink back into sleep. She smiles at me, and says “mommy let's snuggle all night long.” And I smile back, sighing with contentment while also realizing that means I wont be getting much sleep. I’m what you might describe as a “particular” sleeper. I need my space and quiet and dark. Unfortunate requirements for any mother, let alone one with two little ones who don’t appear to enjoy any of those things.

Instead I lay awake, wondering how not to fail her.
And I realize somehow, as soft closet-light shines on her fingers clenched tightly around her pink monkey, that I WILL in fact fail her. And that I'll never be able to shield her from all the world’s hurt and lies and hate and darkness.

So I must always do my best to also expose her to the light, to the Truth, to love. To show her how to see it all through eyes of grace. And grace is what will carry her and me both through our shortcomings, through not knowing the right words to say, or the right way to parent my beautiful daughter into confidence. Grace covers. It heals, it brightens, and it makes us even more beautiful in the process.

I pray in the dark hours, in the middle of the night with her too-quickly-growing-up-self strewn across my bed. I pray for her, I whisper truth into her ears. And all day, I remind her that I delight in her, that even when I lose my temper, even when I yell at her to GO TO HER ROOM, I am still equally delighted in every part of her. And I meet her eyes in the rearview mirror and tell her I love her, every single time, even when she’s whining for a “special treat” or asking me the seven thousandth question for the day.

As a mom, I know just what I want to point Jayci towards. I want her to be brave, to stand up for what is right. I long for her to love those around her, to follow Jesus, to walk in Truth. I just don’t always know how to get her there. Her sin and my sin get in the way. My selfish desires or misplaced fears get my feet off the parenting path I so badly want to be walking. I see that Jayci is naturally quieter and shy. And I know those aren’t BAD things, I just see so much of myself in her, and I want to shield her from the hurt I walked through, so I’m tempted to tell her to change. To try and force her to be someone she’s not. But as I sit here and write these words and think of my beautiful girl, I quickly realize that’s not even a little bit what I desire for her. Rather, I her to know it’s ok to be shy, it’s ok to be quiet, to be an introvert. But I also want her to be confident and at peace with how she is shaped. Or if she’s not REALLY shy and just feeling insecure, then I want to get rid of the insecurity. Do you see how I talk myself in circles here? This parenting gig is harder than it looks y'all.

I don’t know a lot about instilling confidence in my daughter (and all the girls we work with really). But I do know this: I cannot do it alone. I desperately need to remember that God loves Jayci far better than I do, and He will carry her (and I) each step of the way. He will speak truth to her heart, and it is my job to point her towards it. I will beg God for patience, for forgiveness, for grace to cover my shortcomings. And I will ask Him every day to help me live by example.
Because I’m just as guilty of always going the way people want me to go, because I’m afraid no one will follow me if I turn in the other direction. But I think if I can be brave enough to speak up for truth, to write bravely and boldly about the things I believe in, even if I’m afraid no one will follow me or listen to me. To defend the causes and people I know matter, to be myself, to be ok with being an introvert, to write and take pictures. Because the important lessons are best learned lived out, for Jayci and for me alike.

So I will keep seeing beauty even in that which is broken. In the swaggering teenager who barely lets hope flicker in his eyes. In the ever-growing cloud of kiddos who surround us each morning as we walk to school. In the abandoned homes and forgotten children, in the loud kids and the quiet ones alike. Won’t my LIFE always speak louder than my words to Jayci? Wont I be telling her, by example, that we are all worth it? Or rather, than none of us deserve this dazzling grace but that God bestows it freely and calls us worthy anyways?

I tuck her under my arm, close my eyes, knowing I will never fall asleep, but content to hold her golden head close and breath in her nearly-four-year-old self for as long as I can.

How about you? Any suggestions or practical ways to instill confidence in our daughters?


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