Kelly

Kelly

Gosh, this was a hard post to write.  I stopped, stared at the image of my cousin above, typed a little, and deleted a lot before finally deciding on how to write about her.  My cousin has been gone now for quite some time.  This week marks the 16th anniversary of her death.  It was an extremely painful experience to lose a best friend and someone who I essentially grew up with.

Most of my friends and co-workers do not even know.  It is not that I have forgotten about her…I just cannot “go there” very often.  I am extremely blessed with amazing friends, but there will always be that space that only Kelly filled.  The vast majority of my early life memories involve her.  Cousins really do become children’s first friends.

She was only 23-years-old; yet, had many sorrows and troubles.  Addictions and sadness plagued her, even though, there was a tremendous amount of sweetness, tenderness, and love buried underneath all of the dirt of life.  She battled addictions for several years and though she wanted to live a full, healthy life, I think that the struggles she had were just too great for her.  So much life has happened since hers ended, but she is never really too far from my thoughts.

My last words to her, while she was conscious, were “baby steps, Kelly, baby steps.” I was trying to get her to slow down with her eagerness to get out of the hospital.  I knew she needed to just put one foot in front of the other and that starting a new, healthier life would be much more difficult than she probably imagined.  “Baby steps”….I regretted those words.  If I had known those words were my last to her, I would not have chosen them.

Moments before her death, I ran to the chapel at the hospital and pleaded with the Lord.  I was not an active Christian at the time and had a lot of confusion, but I still believed in a Heavenly Father who heard our cries.

“Lord, please God, I will do anything. Please let Kelly live.  Please God….she needs a miracle.”  

These words stumbled off of my clumsy lips that were quivering and drenched with tears.  My broken and trembling body laid over the back of the pew.  My hands were clasped together and I was reaching out to the cross before me.  I was alone in the chapel begging….it was just me and God.  It was me bargaining for Him to deliver a miracle to my near lifeless best friend.

Soon after, this I heard my name and turned around.  In the doorway, my aunt stood there shaking her head with tears rolling down her cheeks.

“She’s gone”

….silence.

….numbness.

I got up and nearly ran right into a lady wearing a white jumpsuit.  I remember her brown hair for some reason, but I do not remember her face and did not know she was even in the room.  She said to me, “I heard you pray and wanted to let you know that your cousin is going to be okay.  It is all-Saints day.”  She hugged me and I walked out of the chapel.  I was not Catholic (still am not), so I really did not know what she meant, but something about my encounter with her felt good.

Several months after my cousin’s death, I prayed that God would allow me to see Kelly one more time so that I would know she was okay.  My prayer was answered in a dream.  We were driving around in a car listening to music just like old times when she was breathing Earthly air.  No words were spoken, but I could “hear” her say “I’m okay Caroline.  I’m okay.”  There she sat glowing in all white with that beautiful smile on her face.  There was great peace in the car and I remember not wanting the ride to come to an end.  I woke up and even though it pained me to realize she was gone, I just knew that she was at peace and with the Lord.  I have not dreamed of her since then, but that is okay.

I believe the Lord did grant her the miracle I so pleaded for on that fateful day.  You see, Kelly had been rendered unconscious just a week or two prior to her death.  She miraculously came to, asked for forgiveness, recommitted her faith in the Lord, told her family and friends that she loved them, laughed, hugged, and then passed away.  That was her miracle.

I too was touched by a miracle on the day Kelly died.  My aunt who ran into the chapel to let me know Kelly passed away does not remember the lady in the white jumpsuit.  She told me there was no one else in the chapel with me when she came in.  In other words, I believe my miracle on that day was an encounter with an angel telling me that my sweet cousin was going to be okay even though she would be leaving the Earth.

Kelly never had the opportunity to become a mom, graduate from college, start a career, own a personal computer, use a smart phone, or travel to some far off exotic place.  She did not get to stand next to me at my wedding, attend my adoption hearings, and watch how my story of infertility unfolded.  I know she would have been so in love with my babies and would have cherished them as much as I do.  I believe a part of her will always be with me during all of the moments I share with my children.

I look forward with great anticipation and joy at the reunion I will have with her in Heaven.  I look forward to breathing in the same celestial air that she is breathing and to shine with her in the glory of the Lord.  But, for now, I will continue to hold her in that quiet space that belongs only to her.  I will continue to think of her every time I see tulips and daisies.  And, I will continue to rejoice in the miracles that occurred during that week when Kelly danced her way into Heaven.

Love You, Kelly

Grace is a Gift

Lost Hill Park

Yesterday, we took the kids out to local park to take some pictures.  I planned their outfits, made sure their faces were clean, and properly instructed them to not wipe anything (crumbs from their snack) on their shirts.  I am not a “photographer” at all, however, have a decent camera and every once in a while, I get lucky and capture a fantastic moment!

As we were walking along the trail and stopping to snap off some pictures, I tried to instruct them to look at me more often, not walk into the tall weeds, or stay on the trail, etc….but I do not think they were paying too much attention.  Their agenda was to have a good time while mine was to get some good photos of them.

We came across a partially dried up creek bed where we stopped to let the kids throw rocks in the water.  I said to them “Do not get in the water. If you step in the water you will fall.”  I took a quick picture of them and was preparing to take some more when my daughter took one step onto the slimy rock and down she goes.

right before the fall

Being the drama queen that she is, she screamed at the top of her lungs while partially soaked in water with the slime of algae on her.  The people walking on the trail were staring at us.  My son just continued to throw rocks into the water as if nothing happened.  My husband was laughing, although he was trying to hide it from me.  I quickly pulled my camera up, took a deep breath, and said “I told you that if you stepped in the water, you will fall down. We have to leave now.”  To be honest, I was fuming inside and did not see any of the humor my husband found in it!

This morning while thinking about our day yesterday, the Lord impressed this upon me.  “Caroline, how many times have I told you to step back from the edge?  How many times have you fallen, and stood up soaking with the slime of sin?” 

Wow – our Lord never fails to turn life into a lesson.  

He is the best example I have of being a parent who finds joy with my children even when things don’t go “my” way.  He is the forgiving parent who does not pack up and walk away.  He is the gracious parent who still wants to capture my moments of beauty despite the fact that I just wallowed in the mud.

Thank you, Lord, for reminding me that grace is truly one of the most important gifts a parent gives a child.

Barren to Blessed (meaning behind the name)

The first night I started this blog, I had no idea really what the heck I was doing.  I just felt the urge to write.  It started when I began to journal about my hysterectomy a few years ago.  I guess I held so much in over the past 25+ years that once I started writing, there was not an end in sight.  I do not want to stop.  Writing is therapeutic, and each time I write, I learn from it.  I am pretty sure most bloggers can relate to this.

I know I am not the best writer and often make grammatical mistakes, but writing is not about perfection anyway (at least in my opinion).  Writing, like life, has moments of grit, sorrow, heroism, and laughter.  Writing has given voice to the imperfections of my life and to the yearning to be understood in the world.  Writing releases the words my heart wants to say.

I have to be honest, I really did not spend a lot of time coming up with my blog name.  Growing up knowing I would not be able to have biological children caused me to think of my barren self as being cursed.  I do not mean cursed in the witch-crafty, voodoo kind of way necessarily; although I wondered that from time to time soon after it happened. For whatever reason, I felt that I was intentionally blocked from having a “normal” life.  Of course, now that I am an adult, I do not know of anyone who has had a “normal” life.

Adding children to my life has given me a taste of living a life outside of my own.  Parenting children continues to bring meaning and sense to life and the things that have happened.  But, the meaning behind my blog name is more than just about the children.  I walked a long and difficult road to see the Lord for who He is in my life.  I was void (barren) of listening to His will, reading His word, and leaning on His hope.  I did not see a purpose for what happened.  I could not see the light at the end of the tunnel…until I saw the Light that is Him.

The Lord was calling me back to Him long before I even gave a thought about becoming a foster/adoptive parent.  My blog name obviously represents the blessings that come from children.  If my life ended up without children, there would have been sadness of course.  I know that.  However, I also know that life in Christ is a life worth living and for that I am truly blessed.

Don’t Borrow Trouble

“Caroline, I learned raising you with all of your health problems that you can’t borrow trouble.” 

The quote above is from a conversation today with my mom about my son’s health.  A routine trip to the urgent care to make sure that bronchitis or pneumonia had not declared itself in my son’s lungs turned into a six-hour ordeal involving multiple breathing treatments and more doctor’s appointments and testing to come.  I’ll know more this week and am really trying to not borrow trouble, but I’m also really good at it.  If it was a salaried talent, I would be a “zillionairre” by now!

I admit there is hypocrisy with me in this area.  I just wrote a post about not allowing life’s distractions (Distractions, Distractions) to get in the way of keeping focus on the Lord, and here I am just a few days later getting distracted by the “what if’s”, “why now’s”, and tomorrow’s worries that may or may not even come to fruition.  I will suggest to others to not fret over what may or may not be a problem.  I’ll quote scripture and encourage others to pray, but often I do not take my own advice as well as I would like to admit.

I do not believe that the Lord wants us to fret over situations.  We are to cast all of our cares onto Him in good faith knowing that He has already declared the victories in our lives.  The walk on this Earth is hard.  Our money runs out, our relationships lay in ruins, and our bodies break-down; yet, He never changes.

HE.NEVER.CHANGES

While my mom told me not to borrow trouble, she also suggested to be prepared.  Learn about possible conditions, think through scenarios, and be open to the possibility that health matters can become serious.  She knows this first hand from raising me.  You can learn a little bit more about her in my post titled Mother’s Resilience that I wrote on Mother’s Day.  She has always told me to “trust my gut and intuition” when it comes to my children.  I feel that this gift is one the Lord has given to women.  That ability proved invaluable when she was raising me.  Her persistence and determination to get answers played a big role in saving my life during my illness.

So for now, I am going to walk in faith trusting the instinct the Lord has granted me with my children and trusting Him to work out the details.  I am going to put as much effort as I can to focus on the hope that comes from the Lord instead of the hap-hazards of being human.  Regardless of the outcome, I have comfort knowing that the Lord already has tomorrow’s troubles in His Heavenly Hands.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

– Jeremiah 29:11

Distractions, Distractions

Wow!  I have been really distracted this week.  My daughter has been a real pistol lately (okay she’s almost four, so I’ll give her a break), my son’s allergies appear to be creeping him closer to bronchitis despite the medications and various attempts to keep him healthy, a situation involving an extended family member has filled me with concern, my job is busy, my husband’s job is busy (he too works in child welfare), and, well, the toaster caught on fire.  I’m talking flames shooting out of it heading right towards our cabinets.  What does the toaster catching on fire have to do with all of this?  We were distracted!

Here’s a picture of the toaster that got a little toasted itself this week!

While toasting taco shells for dinner, we got busy talking and stopped paying attention to the toaster oven.  One of the shells fell to the bottom somehow and caught on fire.  I frantically opened the toaster door which added air to the fire which then caused the flames to shoot up over it right towards our cabinets.  Clearly, the training I have had in how to put out fires did not even register!  My husband quickly grabbed the oven, ran outside, threw it on the ground, and poured water over it.  Within a few seconds, the smoke alarm was going off, my children were screaming, and the kitchen and hearth room were full of smoke….which of course, has added to the challenge of keeping my son’s bronchial issues minimal this time of year.

It was not a major fire or anything like that, but that brief moment of not paying attention could have turned into something far worse.  The smell of thick smoke stayed with us throughout the evening despite our attempts at clearing out the air in the house.  Since this happened, I have been thinking about the variety of distractions I have in life that often cause me to lose sight at times of my relationship with the Lord.

Work, laundry, children, parents, husband, more laundry, errands, and of course, laundry – these are all components that fill up my days, my thoughts, and my responsibilities.  I usually do not even realize how distracted I have become until I am at church and focus only on Him.  It is like an “ahh” and “aha” moment every Sunday morning.  I sit there thinking only of my faith in the Lord, my hope in Him, my walk with Him, and that Glorious Day when He returns.  But then, as the sun sets on Sunday, the laundry basket starts looking more like a laundry tower, the kids start yearning for me as they know the weekend is coming to an end, and I start thinking about all that will be required of me throughout the work week.

I do not want to sound like I am complaining.  I feel 100% blessed to have the opportunity and ability to work, to have a home to clean, to have children to bathe, to have a husband, and to have errands to run.  I see all of these things as gifts and do not want to take them for granted.  Life is just busy.

However, I still keep thinking about the fire in the toaster.  How many times have I come close to stepping into a fiery situation because of taking my eyes off of the Lord?  How close have I come to being burned because of my distractions?  Like the smell of smoke that lingered, how has the residue of sin lingered in my life?

The Scripture verse I am drawn to when thinking about this is Matthew 6:25-34.  The lessons I take from these verses is not to worry.  However, as I think further, I realize that distractions in life can sometimes be based on worry.

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

I take away from this the reminder that the Lord is never so distracted that He fails to meet our needs.  He keeps His eyes on us all of the time.  He will never be too sidetracked by our busy schedules, or overflowing laundry baskets, or screaming children, to meet us where we are.  He will provide for us even though we are frantically trying to provide for ourselves.

I think it is funny how the Lord used a burning toaster and some very over-cooked taco shells to bring me back to thoughts of Him.  Thank you Lord for your sense of humor!  I pray the only real distractions I have are ones that always point me right back to Christ.

Forgiven

The picture on the right is of a ring I wear nearly every day.  Besides my wedding ring and a necklace with the names of my children engraved on it, this ring is about the only consistent piece of jewelry I wear.  The word forgiven is engraved into the ring and serves as a gentle reminder to me that nothing else matters really except for the forgiveness and life I have in Christ.

On the inside of the ring, Eph. 1:7 is engraved.

In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace.  Ephesians 1:7

Sometimes, I think about things I have done in the past and the struggle even now to live a life that models Christ to others.  I get caught up in wondering whether or not I’m “good enough” for the Lord.  Truthfully, I’m not good enough for Him.  No one is.

Often, my human desires get in the way of keeping my eyes, mind, and heart focused on Heavenly intentions.  I set goals that will enhance my walk with the Lord, but then fall short of completing them.  I get up every day saying and praying that I would act in ways pleasing to Him and that the love of Christ would show through my actions.  Then….life happens.  I get upset about something, or make a snap judgement about a situation, or not offer the same amount of grace that the Lord has given me over and over again, and that feeling of failing the Lord sinks in.

During these moments, I look down at my ring and see FORGIVEN.  It serves as a quiet reminder to me that He has already chosen His grace over my flaws.  He loves me despite all the messes I have made and will make until the day my eyes look upon Him.  I am already forgiven for things of the past and the times I acted as if I did not know Him.  Nothing will change the mighty forgiveness of the Lord.

His love is unfailing, His blood is redeeming, His mercy is miraculous, and His forgiveness is forever.

Messages of Tears

“There is a sacredness in tears.  They are not the mark of weakness, but of power.  They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues.  They are messengers of overwhelming grief…and unspeakable love.”                              -Washington Irving

Gosh, I love this quote.  I L.O.V.E. it.  Each time my eyes skim over it and I soak it in, it  causes me to stop whatever I am doing.  I think about the tears shed worldwide on a daily basis.  I think about the tears that have been poured out of the deepest sorrow and joy throughout generations upon generations of humans.

I think about myself curling up in a fetal position sobbing from every pore of my being while mourning the loss of not being able to have a biological child.  I truly mourned this.  Those tears held within them my secrets, my grief, and my pain.  Those tears shed were not in vain.  I earned each one.  I deserved to let go of each one.  Those tears were for the girl I once was, and the mother I thought I would never be.

I also think about the tears of joy that have navigated their way down the landscape of my face. They too spoke volumes of resilience, thankfulness, and complete understanding.  Those tears released the power of love held within.  They too held their place of importance in the history of my life.  They too were for the little girl I once was, and the mother I was discovering myself to be.

I remember hearing the “sniffles” behind me at our adoption hearings.  I quickly looked around and saw family, friends, and even some child welfare professionals with tears rolling down their cheeks.  Each tear was a message of hope and hard work.  Each one represented the efforts made to keep my children safe, to help their birth parents, and to give them the permanent family they deserved.  The Judge stopped the court proceedings during my son’s adoption and gave me a moment to gather my tears back up.  He told me that he had seen many tears of sadness throughout his court room experience, and it was good to see tears of joy.

On a vastly more important level…the most important of all, I think about the tears that flowed down the faces of those who witnessed the crucifixion and death of Christ.  I think about those who must have had tears of awe-filled joy at realizing His resurrection.  The message of unspeakable love, unselfish love, and saving love that those tears gave is still heard and felt today.  At times, I am caught off guard during worship at church.  I find myself singing a song, staring at the Cross, and wiping away the droplets that resemble the overwhelming magnitude of my Savior’s grace and love for me.

I think I love this quote so much because it reminds me of the purpose and the purity behind each tear that falls from our eyes.  The voice held within our tears speaks so much more compared to the words that may or may not leave our mouths.  There is a sacredness there, and it should never be underestimated.

Don’t hold your tears hostage.  Don’t stifle their meaning.  Your tears may be speaking for you.  Allow them to.  Your tears may be speaking to you.  Listen to them.

Masks

My children have plenty of masks they like to wear around the house.  Their imaginations soar as they defeat the bad guys, sneak around like ninjas, or hide out like burglars.  Their masks bring a little more tangibility to their ideas, and for brief moments, they get to be someone different.

Christians (well, not only Christians) often wear “masks” too.  Some may be wearing the mask of wealth when, if truth were told, they are actually deep in debt.  Others may wear the mask of happiness although they are suffering through great sadness.  There’s the mask of strength that is worn by those trembling from weakness.  And, there’s the mask of contentment; although, one’s desires tend to chase him or her around.

The mask of popularity is one that is worn frequently; although, the person may actually be crumbling from poor self-esteem, low self-worth, and loneliness.  The “everything is fine” mask is one I wore often growing up.  I even topped it off with a great big smile.  The fact is that not everything was fine during my adolescents and young adulthood.  I struggled with thoughts and feelings of inadequacy, but no one knew it.  I was semi-popular, active, and out-going.  Even now, I pull out this mask to help get me through rough times.

For moms, we often wear the mask of “Super Mom” even though we barely have strength left in the day to kiss the little ones goodnight.  Our images on blogs, Facebook, Pinterest and any other social networking sites may really just cover up the day-to-day struggles we have as parents.  It is hard raising children in this fast paced world where reality show stars earn more of an income for getting drunk and acting foolish than those who storm through the trenches to save others, those who teach children, rebuild families, or compassionately love on people every day.  It is a struggle to raise children to be selfless and compassionate when the world expects them to be driven, number one, and egocentric.

I would much rather see an unveiled, unmasked version of someone’s strife than to walk by and not even notice because of the amazing job he or she is doing at covering up the pain.  Deep longing, jilted despair, and confusion are hidden from the rest of the world when those mighty masks are put on.  As a Christian, I too struggle at times making sense of the world around me, and the reason why things happen the way they do.  I even admit that I wear a mask that covers this doubt up a lot of the times.

I was reading in Luke Chapter 5 today and verses 29-32 jumped out at me.  This blog topic has been on my mind for the past few days, so it did not surprise me that the Lord led me to these verses.

2Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. 30 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” 31 Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

It makes more sense to me for non-believers to see Christians for what we are; broken and imperfect sinners who know we are our strongest when we declare our weakness.  Instead, I fear what they see is what our masks represent; wealth, power, judgment, popularity, political motivation, and self-righteousness.

Imagine if we gathered the various masks we wear, threw them to the side, and showed ourselves as we really are.  Imagine the difference our actions, not our agendas, would make in the lives of others if we let love lead the way.

Imagine the reaction of others when our masks come off and we show Him to the world.  He is the healer.  He is the lifter of our heads.  His love and His sacrifice is the only “mask” we should be wearing.

Around the Fire

Last night we had the privilege of spending the evening around a bonfire in the country.  Hot dogs, roasted marshmallows, the sound of crackling wood, a gorgeous full moon, the chatter of folks, and gleeful screams of children playing in the field next to us made up our evening.  Fires are so good at catching one’s eye.  I sat and stared for a long time at the majestic wisps of flames as they flickered their way up to the heavens.

With the scent of fall in the air and the comfort of a blanket over me, my thoughts immediately went to the reason why we were all out there under the stars.  Out of the eighteen or so children present last night, around thirteen of them were adopted out of foster care.  Let me say that again….13 out of 18 or so children present last night were adopted out of foster care.  Most of the children were siblings of some sort, but not all.  A handful of families adopted the siblings.  Honestly, it was kind of nice to be at an event where my children were not a minority.  Usually when we go to “get-togethers”, or anywhere in general, my kids are typically the only ones adopted; especially out of protective services.

There is something comforting when being around fellow parents who have experienced the journey of being a foster parent and adopting.  We are able to swap stories of our experiences and compare notes.  We can relate to the challenges sometimes experienced when raising children with histories of abuse, neglect, prenatal exposure, or separation from family of origin.  We can also talk about resources that may come in handy if future issues should arise.

Last night, I took a moment to look out in the field at the children playing.  The image of glow sticks in hands, glow-in-the-dark balloons bouncing up and down, and the sounds of laughing children running freely through the field filled my mind and my heart with gratefulness.  I thought about how their young lives were interrupted by the ways of the world and the poor choices of their  birth parents.  I thought about the losses every single one of them has endured already in life.  I thought about the adults around the fire who took them in.  I thought about the opportunities they have because of permanency in their lives.

I thought about how they get to have a childhood free of abuse.  I also thought about how lucky we are to be a part of this.  Adoption out of foster care is not a second best choice.  It is not reserved for only those who cannot afford private adoption.  It is not just for couples who are unable to have biological children.  It is a blessing to parent a child whose beginning to life automatically put him or her in the category of the “least of these”.

It is a blessing to meet other adults whose lives have also been impacted by the decision to become foster parents.  We are all connected in some way to each other by the children playing in the field.  We are all a part of something bigger, something more eternal, and something better planned for these children.

As I watched the fire burn and looked around, thankfulness filled my heart.  We were all brought together by the one true God who brings light into dark places, hope into hopeless situations, and love into the lives of all of us.

Radiant Possibility

Photo taken by Sarah Carter (http://sarahcarter.is/)

“Every child born into the world is a new thought of God; an ever-fresh and radiant possibility.”  

-Kate Douglas Wiggin 

This is the quote we used for our daughter’s adoption announcement back in 2010. We picked it because it reminded us that despite our daughter’s not-so-lucky start to life, and despite basically being abandoned; her life is one of hope and possibility.  She is a gift from the Lord, and He has wonderful things in store for her.

I wanted to share it to remind fellow parents, parents-to-be, or those struggling to become parents that we all have lives of radiant possibility.  Our children or future children also have the opportunities to live lives of radiance.  Despite what we are going through or have been through, we have the ability to live the kind of life that breathes love.

The Lord knew His plan for our daughter.  He scripted her tiny little life right into our home.  He knows His plan for us.  All of us were on His mind when He was on the cross, and we are on His mind today.

I hope this blesses you and lifts you up during your struggles.  I hope you see your life as being one with God-given radiance, hope, and possibility!