Glimpses of Goodness

“Can I show you something?”, a foster-mother asked as I entered her home to check on the teenager living with her.  “Sure”, I said.  She ran to the kitchen, grabbed a letter, and handed it to me.  “It came in the mail today”, she said in a soft tone and gentle smile.

I unfolded the hand-written letter, and began to read it.  The letter was written by a former foster child who lived in her home for less than one year.  He told her that he had gotten in serious trouble since he left her home, and had to pay for his crime in the local jail.  He told her about his baby girl, and fiance, and how he wanted to be a good father and husband.

He also spoke of the impact she had made on his life in just the short time he was there.  “You showed me what it is like to have a family”, he said.  He then reminded her that he witnessed the devotion she had to her family, and to her faith.  During his time in jail, he thought a lot about his time in her home, and realized that the life he was living was not one that would support his child, his fiance, or his desire to be the man he desperately wanted to be.

He ended his letter by telling her that he was about to get out of jail, and looked forward to being different from when he went in.  As I finished reading it, I looked up with tears and said, “Wow.”  She said, “You never really know what kind of impact you make on someone’s life.”

The memory of this moment was on my heart today after I witnessed my son, age 6, choosing to put his extra change in our family’s “Blessing Jar” instead of keeping it for himself.  You can read about this jar, and why we have it, by clicking on the link:  Blessing Jar.  After he decided his change should go into the jar, he looked up and said, “Why are you smiling?”  I said, “It just made me happy when you made this choice.”

Tonight, I was unfortunately reminded that the choices we make to better someone else’s life are not always supported by those closest to us.  A visit from one of my in-laws revealed this person’s opinion that we do not have support regarding our taking in my infant cousin who was in need of stability and security.  This person’s complete disregard for this child conflicts greatly with the stated faith this person believes in.  It is disappointing, and a little infuriating, but it certainly does not dis-sway us from doing what we felt led to do.

I’m sure that the foster-mother I spoke of earlier was confronted with opposing opinions about her desire to do foster care.  It would not surprise me if people questioned why she wanted to bring in “troubled” children and teenagers.  They may have provided her with multiple reasons why she should not have become a foster parent, and maybe even, distanced themselves from her.  There might have even been moments when she doubted her ability to get through to the toughest of kids.  She probably questioned from time to time if she was making a difference in their lives.  But….that short, sloppy-written, but significant letter came, and it reminded her of the reason she chose to invest in the lives of others.

The Lord gives glimpses of goodness, and reminders that our decision to choose life-affirming and love-giving actions matter.  I’ve seen it when watching my daughter nurture her older brother when he was not feeling well, or when watching the kids interact and love on the baby.  Today, I saw a glimpse of goodness when my son chose to give up his change with the knowledge that it will be used to bless someone else.  It seems the Lord gives us these glimpses in order to encourage us to keep on doing what we feel in our hearts is right to do.  He also gives us these moments to affirm how our choices, whether good or bad, affects others, and can be mimicked by the little ones in our lives.

If you have made a choice to do something that will affect others around you, or if you are being confronted with a situation where it would be easy to think “let someone else handle it”, then I want to encourage you to consider prayerfully and with wisdom what the right thing is for you to do.  Don’t let the blurred vision of others, or self-doubt, stop you from doing what your heart is leading you to do.

Little hands learning to Love

Little hands learning to Love

After all, you wouldn’t want to miss the incredibly humbling, and sweet glimpses of the goodness of life. 

Acts 20:35 – “In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner, you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.'” 

1 Peter 4:10-11- As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. Whoever speaks, let him speak, as it were, the utterances of God; whoever serves, let him do so as by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. 

Wading in the Water {best laid plans}

IMG_2177We celebrated the little one’s first birthday today.  He had a good time seeing familiar faces, and squashing the bright orange and white icing between his stubby little fingers.  Grandmothers, a great-grandmother, a “Mamoo and Papa”, uncle and his birth mother were present to celebrate the first year of this sweet boy’s life.

I know that by honoring his birth mother, I honor this child.  I also know that loving him is loving her, and vice-versa.  I feel quite blessed to raise him, and to have an open relationship with his birth mother.  Truthfully, I’m honored that she trusts me enough to parent her son.  I’m not going to pretend for one minute what it’s like to be in her shoes, nor am I going to judge.  The important facts of the situation are that we all have a vested interest in the safety,well-being, and love of this little boy who is a gift to us all.

Sometimes I have to pinch myself when I tell people how many children I have. Three.  Three children.  I remember moments of anxiety while we were getting approved as foster parents as if they were yesterday…moments like this one

It was the mid-summer of 2006 when my husband and I had finished up our foster parent training classes and were waiting to become licensed as foster parents.  Earlier in the year I had met a little girl in a foster home and instantly fell in love with her.  She was a pixie of a girl with blonde wispy hair and big blue eyes.  I truly felt she was supposed to be mine.  She was the reason we sought to become foster parents.

Months passed by, and we were not approved yet.  In the meantime, the little girl that I swore was going to be my daughter went to live with another family so that she could become their daughter.  Our process to become a licensed foster home took longer because I had previously worked for the state, and I figured that they needed to make sure it was all on the “up and up” that we were approved as foster parents.

During that summer, I went to the lake to play on the water with my parents, cousin, and her young son.  As I swam away from the boat a bit, I looked back and watched my cousin interacting and swimming with her little boy.  The vision of this mother and son reminded me of what I was missing.  Before I knew it, I started sobbing.

I quickly turned myself around so that my cousin and dad could not see my tears.  I felt foolish, but could not stop.  I was floating in the middle of a lake having a full-blown, heart-wrenching breakdown.  The water usually gives me a peaceful sense of weightlessness, but not on that day.  The weight of my broken heart made it hard to keep myself above the water.  My mother saw what was happening, and made her way over to me.  I don’t remember if we really even exchanged words, but she knew why I was crying.

My best laid plans for that summer were to become a foster parent, accept placement of that little girl I fell in love with, and go about our merry way in becoming a family.  My plans fell through.  Just like the drop of my tears into the lake, my plans quickly dissipated into a vast sea of confusion.  I had no idea what was going to happen, and was tired of worrying about it.

After crying it out a bit, I pulled myself together, swam back to the boat, and put my sunglasses on so that my red eyes would not give away what just happened in the water. I put on that familiar mask of a smile that I’ve worn so well through the years.  I don’t think anyone except my mother knew that my heart broke apart a bit while wading in the water.

A few months later we were approved as a foster home and received a call about a baby boy who would become our first foster placement, and then our forever son.  A few years later, we would get a call about a baby girl who also became our forever daughter.  And now, seven years removed from that moment of despair in the lake, I watched with eyes of love as another little one dug his hands into his first birthday cake.

That moment of wading in the water plays in my mind quite often.  I remember the feelings I had, and the thought that my plans….my best laid plans….would never happen.  I think about my worry, about my struggle, and about the sorrow I once experienced.  If I could go back and swim alongside my broken self, I would say, “Don’t worry.  Don’t let your sorrow weigh you down.  Your best laid plans are nothing compared to His plans for your life.”  

Dear readers, If you find yourself wondering when or if you will become a mother, please do not give up hope.  You are not alone in this, even though it might feel like it.  Reach out to others who understand what it feels like to be walking in your shoes.  Be encouraged, and know that your Father in Heaven hears you.  He sees you, and He holds you.  Blessings – Caroline

Blessed beyond Measure

little loving one

little loving one

“How old is he?”, asked the gentleman sitting next to me in the car dealership waiting room.  “He’s almost a year old”, I replied.  “Our baby is due to in two weeks!”, he said with excitement in his voice.  “Wonderful.  Are you having a boy or girl?”, I asked.  “Boy”, he said.

We continued to talk about the differences between boys and girls.  After his name was called to pick up his car, I said, “Good luck and congratulations with your new little one.”  He thanked me and went on his way.

I did not want to explain that I had not given birth to the little guy in the stroller next to me, or that he was my little cousin, or any other detail surrounding our relationship.  I also chose not to explain that my kiddos are adopted.  It seems there is a time and place for that, and this was not one of them.  The remainder of my wait time for the service on my car, I thought about how exuberant he was about his baby growing inside of the woman he loved. Sometimes, these conversations affect me, and cause me to think about my experience with motherhood.

Truth be told, I sometimes forget that I didn’t give birth to my children; and yet, at other times, I’m keenly aware that I did not carry them.  Right before our oldest son’s adoption, I was able to review the entire protective services file for him.  I took notes, wrote down names, and read it as if I had not heard the information before.  I had heard it before, but seeing it, reading it, and soaking it in, was a whole new experience.

I turned the pages as if reading a novel.  I felt sadness at times for what must have been a difficult road for his birth mother, and then, my sadness turned to anger when reading about some of the choices she made when pregnant.  This experience was the first time I actually felt anger towards his birth mother, and towards the not-so-healthy start he had at life; still yet, I carried such empathy for her.

My daughter was born and basically abandoned due to circumstances beyond (in some respects) her birth parents’ control.  I heard what the social workers suspected her birth mother did during pregnancy, but, there is no written proof of any of it.  She was born, brought into protective services, placed in a foster home, and then moved to our home.  It really felt as if she was forgotten about by the one person who brought her into this world.

If I had carried my children in my womb, I would have not made the same choices.  I would have gone above and beyond to protect my babies before they were born.  I would have taken any class offered on prenatal care.  I would have seen a nutritionist, read all of the books and articles I could get my hands on, taken the necessary supplements, and done anything else that contributed to the health of my children growing inside of me.

I would have carried their ultrasound pictures around as if they were flags of victory.  I would have kept people guessing on the genders until I just couldn’t stand it anymore.  I missed the kicks in the belly, the swollen feet, the flushed feelings, and the nesting time.  I missed the look on the faces of loved ones when announcing our new arrivals.

I would have bought cute “going home” outfits before leaving the hospital.  Their nurseries would have been ready for their arrivals.   I would have kept their names secret, but only for a little while.  I would have invited my mom to my doctor’s appointments.  I would have taken as much maternity leave as I could.  The minute I held them, I would have known they were mine forever.  I missed out on carrying the most important gifts I have ever received.

 I.missed.so.much.

Do I wish that I had carried my children in my body?  Yes, of course I do.  I wish I would have experienced feeling them growing inside of me.  I wish I would have had nine months to fall in love with them.  I wish I would have had my bags packed by the door in anticipation of their impending births.  I wish I would have felt labor pains as they made their way into the world.  I wish for all of the experiences of being pregnant.

Do you want to know something amazing though?  

Even though I missed out on carrying my children in my body, and even though I would have made difference choices had they grown in my womb, I know that my children were meant to be mine.  I know it…I feel it.  They are an extension of who I am, and who my husband is.  I do not regret the path I have walked to be a mother.

They are the living, breathing, walking, and delightful embodiment of the hope I had for the future.  They are the promised answers of a faithful Father who heard my prayers and pleads to be a mother.  They are examples of goodness that is born out of awful circumstances.  They represent God-given strength, and the resilience of children whose start in life was a challenge.

Earlier in the week, I woke up, and read this email that was sent to me from a friend:

Isaiah 51:3

New Living Translation (NLT)

3 The Lord will comfort Israel again
    and have pity on her ruins.

*** Her desert will blossom like Eden,
    her barren wilderness like the garden of the Lord.
Joy and gladness will be found there. ***

Read this scripture tonight and thought of you 🙂

I didn’t carry my children in my body, and in many ways, I wish I would have….but….the joy found when our lives collided with each other is something that I would never trade.

my sweets

my sweets

I meandered my way through the barren wilderness, and walked out of it with joy, gladness, and blessed beyond measure.

Thank you, Father, for reminding me in small and big ways just how faithful You are in listening, guiding, and gracefully giving me gifts that keep on giving.

 

  

Let Freedom Ring

photo (90)As July 4th came to a close, I decided to go for a run through my neighborhood.  The neighborhood we live in has a couple of lakes that all connect by a system of drains.  Large trees, wide streets, light traffic, and streetlights make for safe and scenic evening runs.  The rushing of water running alongside me, chirping crickets, splashes of bullfrogs hopping into the water, and the steadiness of my breath are sounds I have grown accustomed to on my runs.

On the fourth of July, I could hear the sounds of fireworks going off in the outskirts of the city.  The popping noises and blasts were not a distraction; instead, they reminded me of the annual reunion our nation has with American pride and independence.  The sounds of the night did not frighten me or cause me to wonder what was happening in my city.  No, they were the sounds of celebration.

For some in other parts of the world though, the harsh non-celebratory sounds of blasts are heard.  For those in the midst of a warring nation, or a nation in revolt, these popping sounds must evoke terror.  There are also many in the United States who are enslaved in violent relationships, addictions, and hopeless situations.  The more I ran and listened to the fireworks echoing throughout the sky, the more I was reminded of what freedom means for someone like myself, and maybe even you, and how it must evade many.

I’ve been confronted this past week with the word freedom from a variety of sources.  Last week our church showed a video of a church member reciting a spoken word poem about freedom.  He spoke of freedom in Christ.  He reminded us that Jesus used his freedom to set us free.  In the end, he asked, “How will you use your freedom?”

On July 4th, my dear friend’s wall post on Facebook caught my eye.  In it she justified her reasons why she spends time on a weekly basis organizing, cooking, and serving food to homeless people in our community.  She is part of a grassroots effort to serve those in our society who are often invisible to most; even to those of us who are active in our faith.  I do not know why she felt the need to give her reasons, but I suspect something was said to her, or she was questioned about why she would help “people like that”.

My friend is serving others in a way that some of us who claim to follow Christ are not, or would not consider doing.  How many of us cook food for the homeless?  How many of us take our children along to help serve street people?  How many of us offer a hug, smile, or kind words to lift up someone who has been rejected by society?

Sadly, how many of us walk on by and pretend these people are not out there?

Her post stuck to me the rest of the day.  It humbled me.  I thought about it on the evening run I spoke of earlier, and at work the following day.  While sitting at my desk, I noticed the following Scripture on the calendar hanging in my office:

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. –Galatians 5:13

There it was again.  The word free staring back at me.  As a believer in Jesus Christ, I know that my freedom is not solely represented by fireworks or the fourth of July.  There are many who are not physically free in this world, but have found freedom through the unfailing redemption of Christ.  There are also many who boldly serve others because of their freedom in the Lord, even if it means possible persecution for themselves and their families.

We are a very blessed nation.  American Christians are probably some of the most free believers in the world; and yet, what are we doing with our freedom?  Do we use it to judge those who are different from us?  Do we use it to buy things that please us?  Do we think “someone else will take care of that” when it comes to the lost in our own communities?

How are we using our freedom?

I say, let freedom ring in the way we act towards one another.  Let the sound of our freedom be one that is undeniable.  There is someone in your community that needs for you to show him or her the greatest love and freedom you have ever found.  

We are not called to be served by our Savior.  He’s already done that.  We are called and set free to serve one another.

Let freedom ring, my fellow Christians, let freedom ring.

trust Him more

“I know God would not give me more than I can handle, I just wish He didn’t trust me so much!”  Have you ever felt this way before?  It seems to be a popular thing to say or think when facing hard times.  I sure have said it, thought it, and even cried it out during my life.

In my later teens/early twenties, I used to wonder why God allowed barrenness to enter my life the way it did.  There were many times when my search for an answer that made sense seemed to end in even more confusion.  People would tell me that God wouldn’t put anything in my life that I wasn’t strong enough to handle.  While these words were meant to be comforting, they were not.  I didn’t want to be strong enough.  I wanted to be a parent.

Who wants to be strong enough to handle infertility anyway?  

I’ve been thinking about the saying referenced above all day, and have come to the conclusion that we may have it backwards.  We may think that God needs to be able to trust us.  I don’t think He does.  I believe He desires for us to trust Him, and to step out in faith during the hardships.  The blessings and the heart-breaks we receive in life are not based on the condition of whether we are worthy of being trusted.

In 2007, while fostering our son, I was overcome by so much doubt about my role as a foster parent, the struggle with not knowing what would happen in the future, and the failure to believe that I could be strong enough to handle the potential heartbreak of losing the precious baby we had come to love so much.  I knew that there were some very important decisions that needed to be made.  I knew that the professional team involved had to carefully consider reunification with the birth parents, and possible placement with a relative; still yet, I longed for an answer that was marred by the juvenile justice system and time.  It was not black and white.  We were living in the gray.

During this time, I went to my pastor, and asked him a question that pastors may cringe when being asked.  “Why does it feel like God is always testing me? Have I not proven to be faithful?”, I asked with tears rolling down my cheeks.  There I was, slumped down in the chair, with tear-stained cheeks, and the look of longing written all over my face.  He sat back in his chair, let out a gentle sigh, put his hands together as if he was about to pray, and then said,

“Caroline, God is who created you.  He is the one who set your limits.  He would never put you in a position that would push you past the limits He has already established for you.”

I sat there for a moment, examining his face and his words.  I allowed them to soak into me.  His words were like lightning to my thoughts.  They broke through the darkness of where my mind had been taking me, and in a flash, I realized that it is not about if God trusts me during hardships, but whether or not I trusted Him.

These words buried themselves into my heart, and I carried them with me for the remainder of my foster care and adoption journey.  Even now, I am reminded of this when facing situations that appear to be pushing me towards an edge that I fear falling off of.  I think of them when exhausted, when worried, and when struggling to make hard decisions.

If you are facing infertility, or hardships right now in your life, picture yourself being molded and shaped by the most loving Hands.  Picture those Hands drawing your world around you, illustrating and scripting each step of your day; and each moment, both big and small, of your life.  Imagine glorified Breath whispering words of hope into the air you breathe in.  Imagine a Father walking in front, beside, and behind you throughout your life.

This Father…THE Father…is not in the business of setting traps.  He does not wish for you to fall off the edge.  The next time you are facing a difficult moment in life, picture God wrapping around you.  You are His blessed creation.  He knows your limits because He is the one who created them.

Maybe during difficult times, we should all practice saying,

“I know God wouldn’t give me more than I can handle, I just need to trust Him more.”

Sounds a bit different, doesn’t it?

Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.  He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.  Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall;  but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. -Isaiah 40:28-31