Happy Father’s Day, Dad (jumping in the deep end)

Father's Day

When I was 3-years-old, my dad threw me into the lake and yelled, “Kick, kick, kick!”  My mom was not pleased (to say the least) as he scooped me out of the water.  He did this to teach me how to swim, to not be scared, and to learn what to do should I find myself in the water again.

When I was five-years-old, my dad pushed me off and ran behind me as I learned to ride my bike without training wheels.  “Peddle!”, he yelled as I excitedly conquered riding on two wheels.

When I was 9-years-old, my dad looked up at me on the diving board of the deep end  and yelled, “You can do it!” as I did a gainer off of the board.

When I was 11-years-old, my dad held my hand as he told me I would never have children.

Waking up from my hysterectomy, in a daze, I saw him and the doctor standing over me.  The courage and strength he must have carried just to mutter those words overwhelms me.  It breaks my heart and fills it with pride all at the same time.  Actually, I do not recall one time waking up in the hospital without him present.  Even as an adult, if I have a serious medical issue come up, he is there.  He has always been there.

As we celebrate Father’s Day this weekend in the US, the times my dad has told me to “jump” or held my hand when I needed it the most, have flooded my mind.  My dad is not perfect.  He was not as a young father and he is not as a grandfather but he is always there and always giving his two-cents-worth (or more).

I can come up with a thousand words to describe my dad but that would make way too long of a blog post and I’m sure you would get bored with it.  I’ll just say this.  My dad is loyal.  He is opinionated (even when you don’t want to hear it).  He has a soft heart (even if he doesn’t want others to know it).  He is exactly the kind of Earthly dad that I need (even if that irked me as a teenager).

Throughout my life, I have had this notion; this juxtaposition that I need to be careful and brave all at the same time.  I have carried this feeling that life is precious but also worth taking a risk.  I learned this from my parents – especially my dad.

When it has come to making decisions that might elate and break my heart at the same time, I have always tended to go for it, despite the risk.  When it comes to expressing my opinion even if it means being misunderstood or ignored, I have usually leaned towards just stating it.  A big part of this is the faith I have in God; my Heavenly Father, Keeper of my Secrets, Whisperer of my dreams.  Another part, of course, is my Earthly Father; my dad.

As I get older and watch my parents get older, I have come to recognize the full measure of what it is to have a dad (and a mom) who are still active in parenting.  They give me advice.  They help around my house.  They celebrate special events.  They cry when I cry.  They laugh when I laugh.  They worry…just like I suspect I will when my children are adults.  I know our days are numbered.  I know that one day, I will wake up without my parents to call or cry to or just be there.  It is becoming more real as we all traverse this crazy thing called life.  I do not know how many Father’s Days I will have with my dad but I do know that each and every one is special and that I appreciate him more and more as time passes by.

Looking back on life, he has always been there.  When we fostered, he was immediately at my door step the minute we accepted our children into our home.  As a grandparent through adoption, he has never wavered in his love for my kids.  Not once.  Not for a second.  Never.

Back in 1983 when my dad held my hand and whispered truth and encouragement into my ears, I would have never guessed that we would be where we are today…three kids…three lives touched by adoption…three lives influenced by my dad…hearts that were once filled with grief, now at peace.

On this Father’s Day, to my dad, I want to say, “Thank You”.  Thank you for throwing me in the lake at 3-years-old.  Thank you for pushing me off on my bike ride at 5-years-old.  Thank you for yelling “You can do it!” when I was 9-years-old.  Thank you for digging through your own grief and finding the wisdom to tell me at 11-years-old that I would never have biological children.

As an adult, when considering choices in front of me, I usually go with the attitude of “go for it”.  I know this came from my dad.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad.  Thank you for encouraging me to always jump into the deep end.  

Each Time I Speak

Today I had the privilege of speaking to a class of social work students at a Christian university about foster parenting, adoption, and infertility.  I always enjoy these opportunities to share of the great calling that is foster parenting, and to give a glimpse of my own personal testimony.  It seems each time I speak, I walk away learning a bit more about myself, and about the Lord.

It was a small class, and I really do not know what each of them want to do with their education or who their target population of clients will be.  I don’t know what any of their own life stories involve, but I was thankful to see a group of young persons seeking to learn more about society and the social issues that we face.  I also recognize that they are going to learn more once they actually graduate and dive into the field, than myself, or any professor could ever teach them.

With that being said, I do believe in the power of story-telling, and not just fictional stories.  Human stories are powerful and often help the listener navigate their worlds vicariously through the stories of someone else.  Today, after speaking about the basic facts of foster parenting, and sharing some examples of both heart-break and joy, I was asked to share my personal journey.

I’ve been a guest speaker several times and have told my story of infertility and adoption multiple times.  Each time I start though, I struggle just a bit with how to begin it.  Often, I pause, take a deep breath, then start something like this….

I need to start from the beginning in order for you to understand the full story…

I begin the tale of my journey by explaining that my medical problems started to happen at the age of two years, but that no one ever suspected what would happen at the age of eleven.  I tell of being in the hospital for nearly a week in the dying process before the life-saving decision was made to perform exploratory surgery.  I talk about my hysterectomy, and at times, I catch myself off-guard about how open I am now in talking about it.

After I “break the ice” a bit with my medical history  I meander my way through the steps taken to become licensed as a foster parent up until the moment I first laid eyes on the precious baby we were charged with taking care of.  I tell of the lows (and there were many), the highs, the revelations, the humbling moments, and ultimately, the gift of adoption.  I speak of the relationship built with my son’s birth mother, and the moments where all I could do was kneel in prayer for the child I deeply loved.

I go on to talk about how our son declared we would get a baby sister about 10 days or so before we even became aware of her.  I talk about how her “case” was vastly different from my son’s, and how our children are strong-willed, ornery, and deeply loved.  The Lord’s declaration to me that my journey was never really about me in the first place is something I always share.  It is the most important piece of my story, and something that will always stand out to me as being one of the most incredible gifts through all of this.

On the drive home following my speaking engagement, I was at a place of peace and contentment with life.  I feel this way every time I am able to share my story.  I see how the Lord put all the refining and deeply painful moments together with those “mountain-top” moments in life.  I also think about the adolescent girl and young adult that I once was who barely whispered a word about what happened.  I remember that my hysterectomy was something I hid from others, was deeply ashamed of, and that caused great internal turmoil in my life.  I recall the images of myself avoiding baby departments, struggling through baby showers, and coiling up in a fetal position while weeping my way through the pain of infertility.

I am so thankful for opportunities to share my story with others.  I know others learn from my professional and personal experience.  I believe that a small dose of understanding is learned, and that some may walk away feeling moved to get involved in foster care.  I also feel that I am able to speak for those still struggling through infertility, and to share that there is always hope and goodness that happens in life even when that doesn’t seem possible.

For me though, each time I speak it out loud, I am reaffirmed of His presence throughout my life, His marking of the path that led me to my children, and His ability now to use me in ways I never imagined.

Thank you, Lord, for bringing me to a place where my story reflects Your glory.  I feel You around me Father.  I feel You working on me, and sculpting my life in ways that remind me of who You are.  I also know that You are not through with me yet, and for that, I am excited to see what You have in store.

 

Favorite Fishing Buddy

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“The charm of fishing is that it is the pursuit of what is elusive but attainable, a perpetual series of occasions for hope.” —John Buchan

My dad fished professionally for many years, and earned sponsors and endorsements from boat and bait/tackle companies.  He was featured in magazine articles, and won many notable tournaments throughout his career.  As a matter of fact, when I tell people around here who my dad is, most (if into fishing) “ooh” and “ah” over my dad’s knowledge of the lakes and his seemingly instinctual ability to catch fish.

Before the adoption of our son, we took him to the lake often to visit his “Papa” and play around on the water.  Once our adoption was finalized, and my son had the ability to hold a fishing pole, my dad headed out on the water with him and started teaching him all that he knew.  He is now 6-years-old, and has been fishing pretty regularly since the age of 2 years.  He can name virtually every type of freshwater fish.  He can top-water fish, use a variety of baits and tackle, and even use a bait-caster.  I think he would fish just about every day if we let him.

During visits with my son’s biological mother while we were fostering him, she often asked me if someone would take him fishing.  She wanted her son to have the opportunity to learn how to fish.  I’m not sure if this is something she enjoyed as a child, but it seemed pretty important to her for him to be a boy who fished.

She was quite excited to hear that my dad past-time is fishing, and that her son would learn to fish from one of the best around this area.  When I get images like the one above from my dad while on the lake with my son, I can’t help but think of his birth mother, and how often she talked about taking him fishing.

My dad may have won tournaments, earned money, and made a name for himself through fishing, but the joy on my son’s face and the time spent with his favorite fishing buddy is by far the greatest award he has ever received.

 

John 14:18 (HIS children)

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

-John 14:18

I was talking in church several years ago to a woman who had spent some time in children’s ministry.  Through the years she had ministered to many hurting children.  An issue that always seems to affect and burden children are when their fathers are absent in their lives.  By all means, I believe that many single women do a wonderful and fantastic job of raising children.  My grandmother raised my mother, and several siblings, after the death of my grandfather.  However, there is something special about the relationship with a father.

In my experience, children long for their fathers.  They want to have a decent, healthy relationship and to at least know they are loved.  The former children’s minister seemed to always have the right words to say to children who mourned their absent fathers.  She said to them, “You may not have an Earthly father by your side, but your Heavenly Father will never leave you and loves you more than anything.”

When I read the verse above, of course, my mind goes to adoption.  Children who were once fatherless are given the joy of having Earthly fathers through adoption.  I also believe that this Scripture verse is a promise to all of us.  We will not be left as orphans.  He has promised His love for all of us.  The Lord loves every human being on Earth.  We are HIS children, and He will not abandon us!

Have a super Sunday~

Six Years of Happy

Happy Birthday Bubby.  I love you so much more than I will ever find the words to express.  I am incredibly grateful to the Lord for choosing us as your parents.  I know I have said that over and over, but I suspect I will not stop saying it until my life on Earth has ended.  Just thinking about the person you are growing into, all of your strengths and sweet quirks, makes my heart leap with joy.

The night before you came to us, I prayed that the Lord would provide us with the opportunity to parent a baby.  We woke up that morning not knowing that by the end of the day, our lives would be forever changed.  He answered my prayer immediately.  We quickly rushed out the door to head to the hospital after getting a call from the local child protective services saying “can you be there in 30 minutes?”  Your first year was full of hope, tears, joy, fears, and the overall feeling of being a part of something bigger than ourselves.  We were caught between loving you desperately and the commitment we made to help your birth mother get you back.  We were sworn to protecting you; yet, we had to rely on others in your life to make the decisions on what was best.  We were broken down and humbled by the plight of your birth mother while glowing in the enchantment of who you were and by the Lord’s gifting of you.

I was so happy to have him for his first Christmas.

Your second year held the mixed up feelings of grieving for your birth mother and her loss of you while experiencing pure joy at your adoption.  Before your adoption, we did not know how long we would hold you.  We said “love you forever” as often as we could.  On that fateful day in May, we were given the blessing of you being ours forever.  So much was revealed to us during this time of life.  Your curly hair, sweet smile, and boundless energy kept us amused.  People were drawn to you.  Your charm and talkative nature took flight.

The outfit he was adopted in. We “tried it on” just a few days before his adoption to make sure it fit. Of course, he looked perfect in it!
sweet curls for a sweet boy

Year three…well…let’s just say that year three was a wee bit challenging.  Your God-given strong-willed determination was your shining accomplishment!  You  started to see more of the world with curiosity and fierce independence.  Music also became something you were quite fond of.  You welcomed a baby sister!  You announced it.  You told us that you would be getting a baby sister before we even knew.  I can only imagine how your little mind must have been spinning when your baby sister arrived on our doorstep.  You took it in stride.  You noticed your friends’ mommies had babies in their bellies; and yet, you never questioned why your sister was delivered to our door by a nice lady with brown hair.  You just seemed to understand that your mommy does not grow babies in her belly.

Age 3 with sissy
He was so excited to have a baby sister!

Year four was the year of music, Legos, and all things super-hero.  You often dressed up, grabbed whatever sword you could find, hop on your big wheel, and ride through the house in an attempt to beat the bad guys.  Sometimes you even sang songs about being a super-hero.  One of the sweetest things you said to me was “Mommy, you are my super-hero.”  When at home, you seemed to always have a drum stick and your dulcimer in hand.  Your songs were also about rock stars, Jesus, Christmas, God, and of course, mommy.  You performed just about every night for us.  You would jump out of the closet, proclaim yourself as a rock star, spin around, then sing and strum away.  My favorite song went like this:

I’m a little rock star…for Jesus…for Christmas…for God…and my family.

Here he comes! (I promise he has some form of clothing on)

Year five seemed to slip away so fast.  You took your first airplane ride, went to a strange new place called Disney World, rode rides that overwhelmed your senses, and shook with excitement when meeting Buzz Light Year!  Painting became a hobby for you and we discovered your natural ability as a gymnast.  You graduated from preschool, got glasses, spent extra time with your Papa fishing on the lake, and started Kindergarten.  You started referring to yourself as a “school-ager”.

He was so excited to meet Buzz!

Sometimes, I just sit back and watch the videos of you throughout the years.  My eyes well up with tears at just how special you are and also at how swiftly time has gone by.  I wish I could back and push a button to slow down time.  I wish I would have kissed you just a bit more before night-night, or let you sing me one more silly song, or picked you up one more time when you said “holdu holdu“.  You are starting to show your growth in the way you get just ever-so-slightly embarrassed if I try to kiss you around other kids.  But, at the same time, you still reach for my hand and put your head on my lap when it is just the two of us.

God has blessed us so much by choosing us as your parents.  You continue to amaze us, challenge us, stretch us, refine us, and love on us daily.  You, my son, are a precious wonder.  Happy, happy, happy birthday my sweet one…love you forever…

Thank You, Lord, For Giving Us Six Years of Happy

Well With My Soul

“When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea billows roll; Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say, It is well, it is well, with my soul.”  

These lyrics are part of a classic Christian hymn by Horatio G. Spafford (1873). Mr. Spafford wrote this following a series of tragic events in his life that included losing his entire investments in the Great Chicago fire, and the sudden deaths of his four young daughters in an accident at sea.  His despair put into words has brought comfort to generations of Christians.  Out of one man’s tragedy, a song was written that continues to this day to bless people and bless the Lord.

This song has been on my mind for a several weeks.  We typically sing contemporary songs at church; however last Sunday, the worship minister closed the service out with It Is Well with My Soul.  I stood there and smiled at the Lord’s perfect timing in everything.

Years ago when singing this song, I did not always believe, find solace, or live out the words coming out of my mouth.  I was “well” with my job, education, husband, parents, friendships, etc; but I was not “well” with infertility.  The sorrow I felt was deep as if it came from the inside of my bones out to the rest of my body; the kind of sorrow that literally aches.  There is a line in the song Absence of Fear by singer/songwriter Jewel that goes “This vessel is haunted, it creaks and moans.”  That is how I felt.  I was living in a haunted vessel.  My body creaked from the hardship that it had endured, and it moaned for what could have been.

Since my foster parenting experience and the adoption of my children, I have been completely overwhelmed with the sense of peace with all that has happened.  It is difficult sometimes to put into words as there are not enough to describe how nothing else can replace the peace-maker that He is.  His peace does surpass all understanding.

It is an experience that begins with the full acknowledgement of who He is in our lives and what we choose to believe about Him.  Is He a father?  Is He a maker?  Does He offer His love freely to us or do we have to earn it?  Does He truly plan our lives with purpose far beyond our imaginations or understanding? I once questioned these things and wondered how a father, maker, love-giver, and planner could, or better yet would allow pain and loss in His children’s lives.  My earthly human instinct is to protect my children and prevent pain in their lives, so the vision of God allowing tragedy to happen has been a struggle for me to wrap my head  and my heart around.

However, full acknowledgement of who I am in Him has led to further understanding of the dark times.  The revelation of God in my life and how He has planned it has only brought me closer to Him.  I look at my situation now and see His Hand working in all of it.  Total acceptance of my infertility has been possible because of Him, not me.

I wonder sometimes if peace amongst each other could be a possibility if everyone were able to truly say “it is well”.  It is usually not the violent act, illness, or ruined relationship that lingers on in our hearts and minds.  It is the bitterness and resentment caused by these things that stain us.  It is our expression of whatever is ailing us that can cause great strife.

I am so thankful to be able to live life without resentment about infertility.  I am so thankful to know that I am His.  The song It Is Well with My Soul has a deeper meaning for me now.  My singing it is an act of saying to the Lord “whatever Your will is, I accept it and trust you”. 

My writing and speaking about infertility is a testament to the Lord’s faithfulness.  Whenever I am able to share just a bit of my testimony, it affirms me that the Lord can take tragic situations and turn them into ones that will bless others.  Thank you Lord for carrying me along the path where I can not only sing, but shout, it is truly well with my soul.

Dad’s Heart-Papa’s Love

I have a great father who has turned out to be a wonderful Papa to my children. My dad is really just a big kid in a lot of ways. He works hard, but also plays hard.  During my childhood, dad was a professional fisherman and in the vending machine business.  He was often gone before I even got out of bed each morning; however, rarely was Dad gone for Mom’s comforting dinners. Afterward, we would sit and eat ice cream or popcorn and watch T.V. together. I used to love to sit on his lap and imitate the goofy commercials that often played in the 70’s.

It was a special treat for me to go with him on his vending machine runs. Sitting in the section between the front seats of his white van, we would blast rock music and sing loudly with the windows open.  Most of the time, he would just make up the words to the songs he did not know. His versions always seemed to be a little less poetic but way funnier than the original lyrics.

The kids in my neighborhood also loved my Dad. He would play “shark” in the neighborhood swimming pool with them. I would hear “Beached Whale!” being yelled out and knew to take cover because of Dad’s antics with the diving board. He taught me how to swim at a fairly young age during our many weekends boating, fishing, and swimming at the lake.

Being able to swim was always very important for him as his father drown when I was only nine months old. When I was pretty young, Dad threw me over the boat into the lake, yelled “kick, kick, kick”, and then scooped me out of the water to the relief of my anxious, and angry, mother. His lack of fear spilled over to me, making me bold enough to try just about anything he came up with.

My dad is not perfect. He can be stubborn and quick to give his opinion. I’m sure like most of us; he has said a few things that he regrets. However, I’ve witnessed how incredibly loyal he really is. Even if his heart is broken over situations, he does not stop caring for his family.

When I was sick in the hospital, he fretted over my situation. He worried like any father would about his daughter’s fight for life. He was ever-present for the three plus weeks I laid there struggling to live. He watched and waited for me to start showing signs of recovery. The entire time he would whisper to me “You’re a little trooper Caroline” as if to encourage me to continue fighting the war that was taking place within me.

Perhaps, he saw a bit of himself in my fight for survival. While in Vietnam, he survived two close brushes with death. The first time, during a monsoon, Dad contracted dysentery. The deathly high body temperature that accompanies dysentery took the life of one of his good buddies while they waited for rescue. There he was, 19 years old, with his whole life ahead of him, slowing wasting away due to high fever, and all he could do was lay there and wait…wait…to be rescued and for any sign that things were going to be okay.

The second time during the TET offensive, an armory of weapons near Dad’s bunker exploded. He was rendered unconscious and had shrapnel buried deep within his knee. Because of all the chaos that ensued while quickly trying to pull the living out of the jungle, Dad was actually considered MIA for several weeks until being identified in a military hospital during his recovery.

One of dad’s memories from the war is that of spending Thanksgiving in a “hole”. Barrels of strawberries were dropped onto the muddy ground around him. Even though he and about ten other soldiers were being shot at, Dad bravely belly-crawled to the berries, scooped some in his hands, and then crawled back to the hole that had become his safe harbor from the gritty, life-taking atrocities surrounding him. I wish now that I could have whispered in his ear “You’re a trooper Dad” while he huddled in a hole in the jungle of a war-ravaged foreign land far away from the love and safety of his home and family.

Dad has always been a little outwardly stoic about my surgery and even his time in war. But, I’m sure he has cried more than I will ever know about his own battle and the illness that I battled during my youth. He watched his baby girl go from being a healthy muscular dancer to skin and bones. On top of that, he was put in the position of raising a daughter who would never have biological children. Throughout my growing years, his support never wavered. He was quick to give his opinion if he disagreed with my choices, but after-all, that is what dads are supposed to do. He made sure I had the opportunities to explore my talents, interests, and goals in life.

Okay…now flash forward many years to the year 2006. Dad rushed to my home as quickly as he could to see for the first time the precious baby boy placed in our home as a foster placement. I remember telling Dad “We are just fostering him. We may not be able to adopt him” multiple times so that it would sink in. I think Dad nearly fell in love the minute he looked at him.

Throughout our time fostering my son, Dad grew closer and closer to him. My son kindly referred to him as “Papa”. The two quickly became best buddies. The entire time my Dad knew that he may not be able to hold his “grandson” for life so he wanted to make the time he had with him special. Fostering was difficult on us but at least we understood what was going on with the legal case. Dad did not and could not know due to confidentiality. I am sure he worried about losing the grandson that he had fallen in love with. When the case moved to adoption, Dad was elated. His future fishing buddy would not be going anywhere and he would be able to finally officially introduce him as his grandson.

Dad was also very eager to hold our daughter when she was placed in our home. Her foster care case quickly turned into an adoption, but still Dad had to wait for her to “officially” become his granddaughter. She too loves her Papa. She gets so excited when he arrives at our house, runs to him yelling “Papa!”, and jumps in his arms.

I’ve said it before, but it is worth saying over and over. I love the fact that my children were predestined to be in our family. My Dad was predestined to be their Papa. He loves them, encourages them, and is a big kid when they are around. Dad may be a little heavier than he was in his early years. His sparse hair is grayer than it used to be. He doesn’t get up as quickly as he did before. He still may be a little stubborn at times, but, one thing that hasn’t changed is his heart and his love.

He continues to be the Dad I remember growing up who softly held my hand during times of illness. He is the fun-loving, giggle-making, and toy-buying Papa to my kids that they so deserve to have. He is fiercely protective of them and whole-heartedly in love with them. My Dad’s heart is reflective of a Papa’s love.

Exodus 20:12
“Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.”