Sunday, December 29, 2013

For when Christmas is over

I started writing this post a few days before Christmas, and somehow in all-of-the-crazy of the holiday season, I never found time to sit down and finish it. And now the ornaments and stockings are packed up. The tree sits bare-branched, and Maverick licks every last drop of sappy-water from the tree-stand: we don’t bother refilling it. Despite the temptation to forget all these ruminations, to simply slip into a new year and fresh start; I’ve been convinced to post it anyways. I’m never quite sure why certain things press into my heart, but maybe someone needs to read it in these strange post-Christmas-pre-New-Years days.
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Adam takes the kids grocery shopping this morning (bless him), because I am desperate for a little space. I shower, because I think it’s been a few days, and then sink into the couch, curling my fingers around a warm cup of coffee. I light candles and put on some soft piano Christmas hymns. I’m desperate to conjure some Christmas spirit, some semblance of joy or peace or hope, or anything really. And so I read yesterday’s entry (of course I’m behind) in The Greatest Gift; because if Ann Voskamp cant help me feel Christmas-y, I’m not sure anyone can.

Are you ok? Adam whispers it to me earlier this morning as I struggle to formulate appropriate responses to the children’s many requests for snacks and movies and various breakfast foods, gulping coffee to shake the last vestiges of sleep. Yes, I tell him: it’s just a lot. Which, as it turns out, exactly mirrors my feelings right now about the Christmas festivities and the Christmas season in general: it’s just a lot. It feels like I’m still wiping the turkey-induced-sleep from my eyes, and I can’t quite catch my balance in the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. We hop from one gift exchange and family Christmas party to work Christmas party to the next. And I can’t help but think intermittently about how opposed it all feels to what Christmas should actually be about. Like somehow we’ve taken and started celebrating everything that directly opposes what Christ means to a hopeless world.
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I feel disillusioned, and distant.  As stubbornly as I try to recapture my former enthusiasm for Christmas and all it entails, it just wont come. We wait entirely too long to start our Christmas shopping this year, and miss all the shipping deadlines. This means, horrors, we have to actually go to Target in the city at the height of Christmas-crazy. In the course of our one-day-Christmas-shopping-extravaganza, we get stopped at stoplights and parking lots no less than four times and asked for money. Each supplicant presents a sad story, or a piece of cardboard box saying I am hungry God Bless you. One woman clutches the hand of a small boy in a bright blue winter coat, dark curls peeking from under his cap. Tears pool in her eyes and trickle down her cheeks as she explains how her house burnt down and they need a hotel for a few nights and her mom is sick and it will just be until she gets out of the hospital. I nod sympathetically and hand Caden to Adam, because he won’t stop loudly asking WHOS DAT MOMMY? I press a few dollars in her hands, wrestling to stop the flash of annoyance that courses through me. I’m just trying to enjoy some Christmas shopping and there’s nothing that ruins a good consumer-driven Christmas experience like a reminder of another’s less-than-good fortune.

When I get back in the car Adam informs me that she already stopped him on the way into Target with a different story of a grandmother’s house that burnt down and a husband in the hospital. I know, I sigh. But that poor baby with her. 

I am disenchanted.

I think the crux of my disillusionment lies in the fact that I’ve somehow rounded this corner I cannot seem to turn back from. And suddenly Santa and the red-nosed reindeer seem not cute and harmless so much as dangerous. Hurtful even. Particularly to the very ones that Jesus came to offer thrills of hope and worth for the soul.
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She needs a ride to the doctor again, and her mom pulls me aside to whisper they’re getting evicted.

I unfollow no less than five of our kiddos on instagram yesterday because the things they post are so wildly inappropriate they make me blush.

He’s not sitting in a jail cell this Christmas, but I sometimes wish he were. At least he would be safe from his own self-destructive bent.

They are hungry and ends wont meet and they cant afford a Christmas tree. While we have two. The need piles, our own excess a heavy burden beside.

A friend today lost her husband to cancer. And I weep to imagine the pain and joy entwined together inexplicably. Loss and new life and ache for an end that doesn’t make sense, all tangled together in a big messy knot.

And the longing seems the only part of Christmas I can resonate with this year. The waiting and laboring and lumbering towards an unknown arrival on the back of a donkey. The pain and stretching. The lack of space and the stink and the no-fair-this-cannot-be-the-birth-place-of-the-King.
A bunch of neighborhood kiddos come over on Christmas Eve for a dinner of pizza and hot wings, followed by a bonfire and smores. We don’t go to a midnight service, and we don’t even try to read the Christmas story for good measure. Instead, we snuggle the kids into bed after leaving cookies and milk and carrots for the reindeer. The boys exclaim how adorable our kids seem for believing in Santa, because they have never met a real-live-human-being who actually thinks Santa Clause is real. Believing in a jolly red-suited man who brings presents down your chimney remains relegated to the realm of those children lucky enough to actually receive Christmas gifts. Most of our kids get theirs at giant toy giveaways where they are handed a garbage bag stuffed with a toy or two labeled BOY 5-7 or GIRL 2-4. Or possibly at awkward family-sponsorship programs, which they declare unanimously as the-worst.

Zack wears shorts despite the cold, and he volunteers to guard the door from the inside while the kiddos test out Jayci’s new tire swing, arcing wildly across the dark cold and star-laced sky. We huddle around the warm campfire before heading inside for a loud and slightly-ridiculous dance party, which makes me laugh so hard I nearly cry.

Driving the farther-away kiddos home that night, we pass the burnt-out, fallen-down house on the corner, behind which a large crowd of homeless men gather around the bright flame spilling from a burn barrel. Topped with hats, and wrapped in blankets, I hear laughter and watch a few sip their warmth from brown paper bags.

I wonder about them, while pondering the Jesus Storybook Bible story we read Jayci earlier that morning. Particularly the illustration of the shepherds reclining around a fire: they’re described as rough and rag-tag and reviled by all of society.

Hmmm. I say it out loud, as images of angels announcing the birth of the Savior to the unlikely group huddled around the burn barrel dance through my mind.
I think too of Bethlehem and all of the people hustling and bustling through the busy little town, worrying about the census and their taxes. Laying in the beds they secured in the inn long before Mary and Joseph made their weary arrival on a donkey. After all, they planned ahead and the-bed-was-rightfully-theirs. But think of what they missed. Of how the Savior slipped into the world and lay in a manger just outside their windows.

I don’t want to miss it. I want to be in the stable this Christmas.

But sometimes things smell in the stable. Because the mess and the muck and the mire that Jesus entered into? It’s messy and mucky. Exhausting. Gross even. And sometimes I ache for his coming back, not as a babe, but a King. THE King. For an end to the weary world, and epidemics and poverty and cancer and all-of-it-quite-honestly. 

Christ has come. His Kingdom is here, and if I want to find it, I think perhaps I need to make my way back to the stable. Because this unlikely King seems to make Himself known in all the most unlikely places. And the further we follow, the deeper it all trickles down.

If I’m honest with you, sometimes I want to turn back. To figure out how to capture the magic of Christmas with Santa and elves and hot chocolate. But I’m not sure this Savior who breaks all the rules has bought into a culture where bigger is better and we only take one-day-off from shopping to unwrap all the things we bought before we head back to the stores to spend gift cards and exchange everything that didn’t fit just right.

Sometimes I feel like life doesn’t fit me just right these days. And I’m reminded today among the broken pine needles and bags of crumpled wrapping paper of exactly why: because this is not my home. And the Kingdom ushered in by a newborn King doesn’t operate right-side-up by chasing the American Dream straight up the ladder. Instead the least will be greatest. The pared-down life that solely seeks His glory, this resonates most deeply with the pared-down Christmas story. The one that speaks less of magical elves and flying reindeer and more of a simple, hard journey to Bethlehem to birth a baby. Of prophecy fulfilled and hearts tuned to their worth. Not you-better-be-good-for-goodness-sake, but you will never be good enough and so He came.

I stumbled through Christmas this year. And next year? I have no idea what needs to look differently. But I do know this: Christmas must mean good news for all the souls who ache for something more. Which, as it turns out, is all of us.

Friday, December 20, 2013

A Thrill of Hope

Our tree has been standing bravely bare in our living room for days, the top and bottom chopped off to make space for our overzealousness in selecting tree size. Lights wrap the top half of the tree, twinkling festively, while the bottom lies conspicuously bare-branched. We needed more lights (because, you know, our tree is ginormous), and we haven't yet had time to stop and get some. Or to unpack ornaments and hang them on branches with joy and holiday delight while drinking hot chocolate and watching Elf, as per my unrealistic expectations. Instead, boxes sit cluttering the living room, pulled down from the attic but unopened. I glimpse a shattered ornament through the plastic lid, and I know unpacking will require plucking shards of impossibly-thin ornament glass from lodged in every bauble and cranny. Our stockings are stacked on the floor, next to Jayci's baby doll and the deflated football Caden has been toting around all morning. We have stocking holders, but I have visions of Caden immediately yanking them onto his sweet-but-also-crazy head, so we need to make a run to Home Depot to buy some hooks, in order to hang our stockings from the chimney with care.
We hurry back from decorating Adam's parents' tree in Marietta, trying to make it in time for Bible study. We've already made pancake breakfast this morning, brought three car-loads of kids to church, and then spent the afternoon Christmas decorating and eating white chili with our sweet family. I am exhausted, and rummage through the trash and empty diet coke cans around my feet in the still-squeaky van, hoping to find a pacifier to stop all-the-crying coming from the back seat. I turn to Adam with a huffy-sigh, feeling a little car sick from constantly turning around to hand Zack my phone, or return things to Jayci, or appease Caden with new toys.
I dont remember Christmas being this exhausting when I was a kid, I tell Adam, feeling old and grinchy and wishing that I had chosen to drive rather than deal with the small children who constantly need things from the back seat. Perhaps my parents weren't as involved, they probably had less friends than us, I remind him. Or maybe it was just a different time, a different pace of life. Whatever the reason, I'm realizing it can be really hard to actually enjoy the holidays when we are so busy running from one activity to the next, all in the name of celebrating the Christmas season.

And if we cant even enjoy the holidays, how can we ever remember (let alone teach our children) the real reason we are celebrating in the first place? How can we anticipate Christ and celebrate Advent, when it taxes my mental capacities just remembering to give Jayci her antibiotics twice a day?

Questions without any answers, I think to myself, as I slip on my sparkly ballet flats with my pajama pants and rush out the door for an impromptu drive to clear my head and calm my heart late last night.

I drive slowly through our neighborhood, careful to follow road signs and avoid the many trolling police officers. Christmas music plays on the radio, festively jingling while crooning of fires and chestnuts and Santa Claus coming to town. Clouds cover the moon, and dark-lined streets are dotted only occasionally by twinkling Christmas lights wrapped around broken porch spindles. I think of Nazareth, and then of Bethlehem. A tiny town filled to overflowing, children playing in the streets, inns with no space, a humble town teeming with life and people. And I wonder what it would look like today? Would it look like this, I wonder? Littered sidewalks, broken glass and boarded-over windows, porches full of people, music bumping, police cars circling. Humble, and broken, yet teeming with life.
A new song begins to play softly on the radio, and I spin the dial to turn it louder.

A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices.

Stopping at a blinking stoplight, I feel the weariness in my bones. And my heart surges with the thought of what Christmas means for a weary world.

For the man next door, weary with the weight of this neighborhood he has called home for so many years, his door kicked-in and computer stolen. For the pregnant mother, weary from working the night shift, while five of her six children have science fair projects due this week. For a weary grandmother lifted into her wheelchair this morning, so she can go to court with the teenage son of her daughter, lost to the streets years ago. For the harried single-mom, weary from working two jobs to buy Christmas gifts for her grasping children. For the teenager, weary of always trying so hard to fit in, weary of slinging and banging and chasing after everything that slips so easily through his fingers. For the wife, weary of reminding her husband to pick up his laundry, to hang up the towel, weary of telling him she is done with it all. For the busy suburbanites, weary from making car payments and house payments and filling the empty space under their tree with packages that will never quite be enough to satisfy.

A weary world.

I wait for the gate to open and the homeless man with the matted hair to limp by, then pull the car into our yard and slip back into the house under the dark cover of the tired sky.

Maverick barks and Caden cries. Sighing, I rush in and pick him up, I lay my hand against his chest in a rare quiet moment, as he buries his weary head in my shoulder. And then I feel it. A thrill. His little heart beating a unique rhythm, evidence of his defect that flutters against my fingertips. Terrifying and beautiful.
A thrill of hope.

Christ's birth. A Savior who entered in as a baby. Caden's heart flutters, and I imagine him helpless, chest bared and heart beating before my eyes. I remember my baby, and I imagine my Savior. And my own heart thrills, surges with a terrifying beautiful hope.

The kind of hope that thrills a weary world. That promises all things made right, even when everything seems terribly wrong. A heart rewoven, healed and made whole. But never the same.
Tears slip quietly down my cheeks as I lay Caden gently back down and make my way back to my own bed, stepping gingerly over weary hearts and limbs snoring from every available soft surface of our little home.

Exhausted beyond measure, I pull the covers over my eyes to block the street lamp's glare. Still, sleep is elusive, and I am summoned back to pray over a sweet friend, weary of having nowhere to go, no place to call home after her college dorm closes it doors for the holidays. Weary of a broken world and the memories of what could have been. Weary of the shards that cut skin, desperately seeking blood and life and the hope that slips through fingers, as elusive as sleep this night. Tiptoeing back to bed again, the sounds of sleep from the next bedroom remind me of the weary teenager, who has flitted through our family's story for years. Tonight, her weariness compelled her flight from a broken and dark home, and we followed her slowly amidst stubborn refusals to return, with our taillights blinking warning, shouting at the men who tried to stop for a fourteen year old girl. 

A weary world.

And yet. Hope should always thrill. Because the infant-Savior born cuts through flesh and bone until our hearts are bared, re-knitting and healing until everything is turned upside-down, or rather right-side up. And in a messy, dirty, loud, weary world; I am struck anew this evening by a King who enters into a smelly stable and offers the kind of hope that thrills, and never ever disappoints.
 
O holy night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of our dear Saviour's birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
'Til He appear'd and the soul felt its worth.

A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees! O hear the angel voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born;
O night divine, O night, O night Divine.
Led by the light of Faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.
So led by light of a star sweetly gleaming,
Here come the wise men from Orient land.
The King of Kings lay thus in lowly manger;
In all our trials born to be our friend.
He knows our need, to our weakness is no stranger,
Behold your King! Before Him lowly bend!
Behold your King, Before Him lowly bend!
Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother;
And in His name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name.
Christ is the Lord! O praise His Name forever,
His power and glory evermore proclaim.
His power and glory evermore proclaim.

*Life leans crazy around here these days, so this is a re-post from last Christmas.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Holiday Tour

I currently have approximately 12 minutes while Caden sleeps to pick up my house before my MAGICAL CLEANING FAIRY comes and makes all my dreams come true (aka a cleaning service hired by my amazing friend Hope for my birthday). I used to think my mom was crazy for wasting her money on a cleaning lady when we always had to clean before she came. But now I totally get it. Because I will pick up toys and clutter all day long if it means I dont have to clean my sink or vacuum or dust.

Anyways, I snapped a few quick shots of our (meager) Christmas decor this year. I swear to you that Christmas snuck right up on me this year. Seriously.

Side note: yesterday was my birthday and Adam made me this beautiful shelf for our clawfoot tub. It's perfect for my books and beverage and some candles while I relax. I think I'll keep him.
Another of my favorite birthday treats was that one of our sweet teenage boys from the basketball team got a card and had all our boys sign it at school. It totally made my day, especially because the card depicts the birthday girl running from the police. Also, they all signed with a green pencil-crayon. Hilarious.
Adam also made me a pumpkin-bourbon-cheesecake topped with whipped cream. Obviously the ideal ending to my day.
Anyways, back to the tour. This year for the first time, both kiddos have tiny trees in their rooms. I bought them for a song because I felt bad that our tree kept falling over and our outside lights never even made it out of the box in the hallway.
I kept our mantel simply and easy (or lazy, if you will) and taped up a few Christmas-y things with festive tape. Voila.
Here's the infamous Advent calendar I bought before realizing it needed to be hand-stitched together. Thank goodness Adam also occasionally hand-stitches things for me while I edit pictures.
(awesome Atlanta print from a mobile art studio called #weloveatl - I'm obsessed. Christmas print from Lisa Leonard). 


Just in case you were wondering, we have in fact been enjoying holiday-celebratory-type-things around here. For instance, sometimes the children wear Christmas pajamas and choreograph routines in front of the Christmas tree. The days when this happens are obviously my favorite days. 
 And sometimes my sister comes over and makes delicious cinnamon rolls, which the neighborhood boys describe as hittin' . . .  I must say that I agree.
And these two ice them, which melts me a little. Enough, at least, to ignore the copious licking of the icing spreaders. 
And since there are approximately zero gifts under our tree right now (because that's how many I've purchased), I've got to finish picking up the house before heading out to Christmas shop. It's unfortunate I waited too long to shop online and have avoided the crowds as long as I possibly can. Wish me luck. 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Hearts for the Holidays 2013

Seeing this little man now, you would never guess how scary those first few days of his life were for us. Some of you, in fact, might not even know Caden's story: he was born with a serious congenital heart defect and had major open heart surgery at five days old. Sometimes the imagining of him in the hospital seems nothing but a distant dream. But we can still remember, and we must. And so we raise an ebeneezer to remind ourselves, and the world, of the ways that the Lord walked through our darkest nights. And we remember too the space for grace that we found in the CICU at Egleston. The amazing doctors and nurses who fought for and with Caden, and all of the people (including y'all!) who sent encouragement and prayers and loved us so well in real and tangible ways.

That's why, even though life gets fabulously busy and normal, we still plan to deliver baskets to the CICU at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta this holiday season (a tradition we began two years ago). Thankfully, I have a wonderful friend and fellow heart mama who offered to help coordinate and get things together. 
 
A quick list of things we have included in the baskets in the past: 
- Nice journals and pens (so parents can write, journal how they're feeling, write down medical details, questions for the doctors etc).
- Gum, mints (you dont always want to leave your baby's bedside to go brush your teeth, but also want to talk to the drs and nurses without scaring them) . . .
- Small packets of tissue
- Water bottles
- Packaged snacks (granola bars, crackers etc) or homemade goodies
- Gift cards (there are several restaurants etc nearby: starbucks, chickfila, panera bread, doc chey's, and Domino's are neaby chains, and there are also some local places right near the hospital - rise and dine, Bad dog taqueria . . .)
- Gas cards (you drive back and forth a lot!)
- Travel-sized things of shampoo, body wash, lotion, etc.
- Hand lotion (you wash your hands constantly so they get super-dry)
- Small things of laundry detergent (if you stay overnight at the hospital, it's nice to be able to do your laundry)
-Antibacterial gel (you have to be extra careful about germs!)

If you want to contribute to the baskets, either with specific items or monetary donations towards the baskets, we would love to have your help. You can email me at Becca1612 at hotmail.com - or just leave a comment here and I'll get in touch!

 When we deliver the baskets, we always tell them they are from our community of family and friends and even strangers who want to remember and care for the least of these. And we are honored and overjoyed to love and walk alongside families who have to spend Christmas in the CICU with their sick babies and children. 

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Weekend Links: Advent edition

The holiday season seems fast and furious already. Sigh. I'm tired (story of my life right?)

Anyways, the festivities this weekend included visiting Santa (and picking out a new Christmas tree, to replace the one which wont stop falling over). Jayci had to convince Caden to get on Santa's lap, not that I blame him since he was slightly less than jolly.

Cute kids, if I do say so myself.

Meanwhile, Adam brought some of the boys for a little getaway at the amazing house of some sweet friends. The boys had a blast, and they had olympic events which involved wrangling goats. I'm mostly just sad I missed it, because I can only imagine the antics involved in five boys from the inner city wrangling a goat.
Later that day, we attended my work Christmas party. The best part of this event mostly revolves around good friends and a plethora of family. 
 
And my date with his fresh haircut.
And my parents sporting their flashing glasses. For those of you who know my dad, this fashion accessory is greatly out of character for him. 
And today was for decking out the Stanley tree and attempting the family photo, which was more than a little challenging on a freezing cold/rainy day. 
If anyone else feels as harried as I do at this point, I thought you might need to read some of these reminders. Of the real reason, of Truth, of grace, and what it means that God incarnate. 
In which Advent is for the ones who know longing - Sarah Bessey
When you're this close to giving up hope - Ann Voskamp
Dwelt Among Us - Austin Channing Brown
Light Your Candles Quietly - Micha Boyett
A Gritty Nativity - Jessica Rock
Jesus isn't the reason for this party - Flower Patch Farmgirl

And a few from right here . . . 

"But joy culminates in a season of longing and loss and hard laboring. And I remember the way a teenager labored unseen to birth a Savior King. And we too labor unseen, waiting for Christmas and His coming and the new beginning we all need." - from Laboring Unseen

"I do know this, as long as God keeps crossing our paths with kiddos and babies and teenagers who need a loving place to eat and maybe even sleep: we will continue to live with our doors flung wide. Maybe not even because they need us, but because we need them. Because without them, without the marginalized, the fatherless, the least-of-these; I have a terrible propensity towards selfishness, towards easy." -from FAQ: About Adoption


Friday, December 6, 2013

Laboring Unseen

My foot rests on the brake more than the gas, my wipers struggle to find the right speed for dealing with incessant drizzle, and brake lights shine red for miles.

Please, for the love, stop kicking my seat. I say it through clenched teeth, trying to keep from joining my two year old in his wailing, foot-kicking tantrum. I close my eyes and take a deep breath. Quiet strains of peace on earth goodwill toward men come from the slightly-warbled back speaker.

Waxing poetic about loving the least of these is all well-and-good, but what about the other kind of days? When you sit in traffic, and your five year old stomps her foot and sasses, while the two year old screams and kicks the back of your seat the entire way? When peace of earth feels like a distant dream, and the only kind of hopeful expectation you have is for bedtime?

As life barrels towards Christmas at astonishing speed, I kick myself for already falling three days behind on my advent reading on the fifth day of December. I congratulate myself on buying a pre-made Christmas countdown calendar, only to unwrap it and realize you’re supposed to sew-the-dang-thing-together yourself. Now, it lays in pieces strewn across our dining table, alongside two boys working on their chemistry projects, while Caden runs back and forth from the cupboard and refrigerator requesting snacks.

Sometimes life is just life, and pouring yourself out happens just as quickly in tiny drops as a big torrent. Sometimes loving the least of these looks a lot like motherhood. Like driving kids to school, and wiping snotty noses, and making macaroni and cheese for dinner one more time (I told you, I’m hopeless without Adam).
The temptation to feel insignificant pulls strong. I hear it in her words when she whispers (or emails) to tell me how inspiring I am, how she wishes she could change lives too. I hear it in their voices, and I’ve lived it in the days when I simply cannot handle one more request and can scarcely muster the energy to send Jayci to her room for one more time-out.

I fold more laundry, bending to pick up cards and blocks strewn across the living room floor. I find more matchless socks, pairing Ariel with Cinderella because at some point, what does it even matter? Hope feels far flung and joy distant, lost perhaps in the monotony of motherhood and life. And I begin thinking that maybe I’m missing something besides just my Christmas tree and stockings, and perhaps it can be found at Target right next to the tins of Christmas cookies.

But joy culminates in a season of longing and loss and hard laboring. And I remember the way a teenager labored unseen to birth a Savior King. And we too labor unseen, waiting for Christmas and His coming and the new beginning we all need.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

FAQ: About Adoption

I’m feeling a bit confused by all the pictures of the small (and remarkably adorable) chocolate baby on your blog/facebook/etc, and also Zack . . . What is going on: have you adopted one or both of these children? If not, then what-in-the-actual-heck is the situation with them? Also, I thought you said you guys were going to adopt - is this still the plan?

Let me begin with an assurance that I completely understand your confusion. Things can get a little hectic around the Stanley Clan, and sometimes it’s hard to keep up. Even for me, and I live here.

Anyhow, the easy answer to your question is this: no, we have not adopted (or have plans to adopt) either Amir or Zack. Amir’s beautiful momma is still in high school, and sometimes we watch him while she goes to school. Occasionally, he spends the night with us, because she begs for a break. And this momma understands full well the need for a break. For rest, for sleep with both eyes closed, and strength to face a full day of work or school or simply putting one foot in front of the other.
Zack lives with his mom, baby sister, and grandma. He goes to school there, and typically spends the weekends at our house. He has his own room here; although when I say “Zack’s room,” please understand that this room encompasses also an office, Maverick’s (the dog) room, as well as a corral for all manner of other sports gear, junk, extra snacks, etc. Poor Zack. The other day I made him watch an episode of Hoarders with me, just so he would feel better about the state of his room at our house: See Zack? No cat skeletons, let’s call it a win!

Adam and I have discovered a surprising comfortability with living right there in the tension between ours and not-ours. Often, we will engage in conversations with people about how we want to foster. Typically, the person we’re talking to will say something like oh I’ve always wanted to foster, but I just wouldn’t ever be able to give the babies back. That’s too hard. And because I am a people pleaser/conflict-avoider of epic proportions, I typically nod my head in understanding and murmur something along the lines of oh yes that would be entirely too hard.

But here’s the take-a-deep-breath truth: Just because something’s hard, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it.

Caden’s surgery and time in the hospital taught us, stretched us, and ultimately strengthened us, more than any other period of my life. Including kindergarten, and all four years of college. But perhaps the biggest lesson I walked through during that time was this one: there are no guarantees.

It becomes far easier to give our babies back when we recognize they were never ours to begin with. We can never really know how long we have to invest in these lives. Jayci, Caden, Amir, Zack, and every single kid who walks through my door is a gift. Offered extravagantly to me by the author of the Universe. And therefore, I will treat each reverently and love each deeply, recognizing them as such.

I’m not saying everyone should be a foster parent. Quite honestly, I’m not even sure we will ever officially become foster parents at this point. I do know this, as long as God keeps crossing our paths with kiddos and babies and teenagers who need a loving place to eat and maybe even sleep: we will continue to live with our doors flung wide. Maybe not even because they need us, but because we need them. Because without them, without the marginalized, the fatherless, the least-of-these; I have a terrible propensity towards selfishness, towards easy.

Last week, we had Amir for three days and two nights. Two very long, very sleepless nights. On night number two, I sat in our dark bedroom, bouncing lightly at the foot of the bed while Adam slept deep. Moonlight and streetlights co-mingled in stripes streaming through bamboo blinds. Amir’s tiny brown eyes finally closed, lashes on cheeks, and his fists unfurled. I lay him gently back down, climbing under covers to warm my toes. And just when my own eyes flutter shut, I hear his little grunts, the ones that quickly accelerate to cries. I pop back up and resume my bed-end perch.

The thought flits into my mind before I can stop it: I shouldn’t be doing this. I deserve my sleep. I’m not the irresponsible teenager who had a baby I can’t take care of.

I look around the dark room, realizing how far I’ve fallen from my high horse and trying desperately to clamber back up. Forgetting, of course, that no one finds grace atop her high horse.
It’s only when I bend low to sit rocking a bundled baby in the dark. Only then do I encounter the grace in a posture reminding me both of who I am and who He is. In the sweet hush of a dark room, holding an infant, I remember the infant-king who came enrobed in feeble flesh to save mine. I remember that it cannot be her bad choices and my good ones. Instead, we clasp hands and face a broken world together because we both make bad choices every day. We both sin and groan to give birth to new life that comes in the most unexpected ways.

And so I grasp lightly the gifts God gives us for the seasons we have them. We pull an extra chair up to the table and forgo sleep for a night or two. We wash the smell of grease and cigarettes from Amir’s baby curls and drive Zack thirty minutes to school because he missed the bus and has a test. I worry less about enabling and hard-lines-in-the-sand, and more about loving with the kind of love that enters in. I ignore the voices that whisper it is too hard. Because of course it leans hard; the cross was never intended for easy. We bend low, and meet our Savior there. Every single time.

O ye beneath life’s crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow;
Look now, for glad and golden house
Come swiftly on the wing;
Oh rest beside the weary road
And hear the angels sing.

Monday, December 2, 2013

What I'm Into: November Edition

Thanksgiving, quite frankly, flew past. Even with 3 different celebrations. Suddenly I found myself a few days after stuffing myself with turkey and sweet potatoes, realizing that the calendar had flipped to December and Christmas lays-in-wait just around the corner.
Hastily, we headed with some friends to cut our own Christmas tree. Because lumberjacks, they always cut their own trees. Except it turns out that we live in Georgia, which means that our beloved pine trees don't grow very well here. In fact, most of the trees went beyond Charlie Brown to just sad. And I was down-right grumpy before finally settling on a tree which would be sufficiently full, once shoved back into a corner where at least half would be hidden. The kids didn't care nearly so much as momma did about the tree-quality. Which made me realize (finally) that I should probably just shut my mouth and trim the tree while singing carols and sipping "hot coffee" (as Caden calls hot chocolate). As it turns out, grouchy mommas don't make for happy memories. 
So this month I'm into feasting and getting the house all cozied-up and decked-out for the holidays. Also, I'm into this little boy getting a big-boy haircut for the first time. Although it also makes me a little sad. Stop growing already!

Reading
A few reads from the inter-webs I've loved this month:

Also, this post on urban education, because I'm a little bit seething over some of the work one of our boys was having to do today for his chemistry class. The level of quality of his education is simply more-than-a-little-unbelievable. Sigh.

On the actual book-side of things, I just finished reading Orphan Train, and am about mid-way through A Million Little Ways.

TV/Movies
Adam and I laughed really hard through the last few episodes of Parks and Rec. Ron Swanson is Adam's hero, and he and April tie for my favorites. Also, the latest New Girl was hilarious. Mindy Project never fails to make me happy. And Scandal, obviously.

We are loving (and watching over and over again) Despicable Me 2. It makes me laugh too, which is a definite bonus. I also loved Catching Fire, and want to take the kids to see Frozen.
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And look, a picture with me in it! And Zack photo-bombing. Story of my life. Danielle dyed my hair dark last week, although you cant really tell in this picture because of all the sunshine. 
As a side note to end this post: I know that I said I had come to terms with our scrawny tree. But it turns out that while I was writing this, the tree fell over for the second time. And all Jayci's home-made "cornamants" (as she calls them), broke into little pieces. Along with half our ornaments. So the tree and I are no longer on speaking terms.

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