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.

your words, His action

Have you ever been in a situation that you thought was somewhat insignificant, but ended up finding out that it was quite significant to someone else?  I have, and I would like to share it with you.

At the age of twenty, the doctor discovered a Dermoid cyst on my left ovary.  My left ovary had barely escaped the bacterial invasion that caused my hysterectomy at age eleven.  It was somewhat risky to leave the ovary in my body because of the rapid pace the bacterial infection was spreading, but the doctors decided it was worth the risk.

This ovary became the one thing in my mind that “kept” me female.  I know that is quite ridiculous now to say that, but I was so young when all of this nonsense happened.  Even at the age of twenty, I struggled with making sense of my “female-hood”.  By the time the cyst was found, it was too late.  My survivor ovary could not survive any longer.  The decision was made to remove it.

The surgery was scheduled to happen on my 20th birthday.  Yes,I lost an ovary on my 20th birthday!  Before I go any further though, I should explain that I am not exactly a great candidate for laparoscopic surgery.  Let’s just say that my insides are a little jumbled around and there is a tremendous amount of scar tissue.  All of my major surgeries have been done the “old-fashioned way”; meaning, cutting right down the middle of my abdomen.  This surgery to remove my ovary was not any different, so naturally there was a lot of prep work that had to occur before the surgery.

I was admitted to the hospital in the evening and stayed up most of the night before my surgery talking with my roommate.  She had her gall bladder removed and was in a great deal of pain.  I could not see her as the curtain was pulled the entire time.  We were both on pain medication, but talked about our medical histories and thoughts about life in general.  Of course, my medical history was a little more colorful than hers.  The next morning, she was gone before I got a chance to see her.

About three years later, when walking out of a college class with another student, the topic of my surgery came up.  I do not even know why the surgery came up, except maybe to explain my absence from classes.  Partly through my explanation of what all had happened, she stopped dead in her tracks, turned to face me, grabbed my arms, and said, “Caroline, You are the one.”

She went on to explain that her very good friend had her gall bladder removed and was feeling depressed and sorry for herself.  A young woman was admitted to the bed beside her.  Her friend shared that this young woman had been through so much and was still trying to be positive about health and life.  She never got the chance to see what this person looked like, but strongly felt the young lady was put in her room for a reason, and that reason was to help bring her out of the self-loathing slump she had been in.

That young woman was me.  I do not take credit for any of this.  I really do not even remember my exact words said to her or what all I may have shared.  Instead, I believe that the Lord placed me there at the right time and in the right circumstance to bring comfort to someone else.  The credit belongs to Him.

I decided to share this because of the potential impact all of us can make in the lives of others.  What may seem as insignificant events or simple conversations might just end up being exactly the things that someone needs to hear or witness.  We are all witnesses of a loving Heavenly Father.  He is able to use all of us to share hope, love, and our lives in a way that will glorify Him and help raise up humanity.

So, next time you think that conversation you had with the person standing behind you in the grocery line did not mean anything, think again.  You never know how the Lord will use your words to lay out His action to reach someone else.

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer. – Psalm 19:14

Any questions?

After my son’s adoption in 2008, a neighbor asked me, “Are you concerned that you didn’t connect with him since you did not carry him?”  I was only briefly stunned by her question.  I knew that I needed to think quick and give her an answer.  After all, she asked me in front of a group of neighbors during our block party and I did not want to be standing in the middle of an awkward moment of silence.  I replied, “No, not at all.  Loving him is very natural…as if I gave birth to him.”  All she responded with was “Oh”.

When I told my husband about the conversation, he said, “She didn’t carry or birth her husband.  Does that mean she is not bonded or connected to him?”  (Good point honey, good point)  He has always had a great way of simplifying things.

Her question has stuck in my mind through the years.  I really cannot blame her for her lack of knowledge about adoption.  After all, she had only given birth to children.  She had never experienced the incredible richness of becoming a mom through adoption.  I am still not sure what she meant by the word connect.  Perhaps she meant to say “Are you worried that you have not bonded with him because you did not give birth to him?”.

Looking back on our short conversation, I wished I would have said to her the things that have been revealed since becoming a mother through adoption.  I have realized that my expecting was not in months, but years.  My labor was not in hours, but years as well.  I did not carry my children in my body.  I carried them in my imagination, my prayers, my hopes, and my dreams.

I carried them in that quiet space where it is just myself and the Lord.

Foster and adoptive families usually get asked all kinds of random and often insensitive questions.  When we were going through the licensing process to become foster parents, someone said to me, “You are not going to take one of those meth babies, are you?”  Was that a question or a directive?  I was not quite sure.  The truth is that many newborns who come into protective services in the state I live in have been exposed to prenatal drug and/or alcohol usage.  To call them “meth babies” though felt very cold and calloused to me.

Here are some more questions that I have been asked:

  • Are your kids “real” siblings?
  • Are you scared that their “real” parents are going to take them back?
  • Are you sure it is okay to tell them that they are adopted?
  • Do you plan on having your “own” child in the future?
  • Do you know their “real” parents?

I answered the first two questions with a “no” and a “yes”.  No, I am not scared their “real” parents are going to take them back….that would be considered kidnapping.  Taking them back is not an option.  Adoption is legally binding and permanent.

Yes, I am absolutely sure it is okay to tell them they are adopted.  It is a travesty for children to not know their history and to be lied to.  It damages every ounce of trust and relationship built through the years.  It also gives glimpses of the thought that adoption is something that should be kept secret, as if it is shameful.

As far as the kids are concerned, they are real siblings.  Trust me, if you spend any amount of time in our home, you will notice that they fight like cats and dogs, yet are inseparable.  There is nothing fake about their relationship as a brother and a sister.

The last two questions can be answered by this fabulous quote I found.

“Natural Child: Any child who is not artificial.  Real Parent: Any parent who is not imaginary.  Your Own Child: Any child who is not someone else’s child.  Adopted Child: A natural child, with a real parent, who is all your own.”  -Rita Laws, PhD

 Any questions?

Visions of Pregnancy

Before the adoption of my children filled my home and my heart, and before the Lord’s revelation in my life, I used to wonder what I would look like if I were pregnant.  Here is another excerpt from my memoir in a chapter where I talk about the deep longing that existed when walking around with the feeling of emptiness.  I cannot believe I am admitting this, but…deep breath…here it is:

I secretly envied my pregnant friends.  I wanted what they had.  The joy, excitement, and love they shared with their spouses throughout their pregnancies were clearly obvious and I was jealous of it.  It felt really childish for me to think “why can’t I be like that?”  Or, “why does she get to have more children when I cannot even have one?”  It was almost shameful for me to think that way, or at least I felt ashamed of having those thoughts about them.  I love my friends and I love their children and I know it is wrong for us to covet what others have, but I honestly did.

Just once I wanted to know what it would feel like to carry a baby in my body, or hold a baby and believe that he or she was mine.  Every so often, I dreamed about being pregnant.  I do not know what made me feel worse – the dream itself or waking up.  Often, I stuck a ball under my shirt, stood in front of the mirror, and just stared at myself.  I surveyed the shape from every angle.  This was the closest I would ever come to seeing my “pregnant” belly.  I always thought I would have made a cute mom-to-be.

It is a mistake to assume that women who cannot have biological children never wonder what their pregnancies would feel like.  Most of us, although sympathetic to those going through it, would give anything to know what morning sickness was like, or to have the moment when a slight kick is felt from the inside.  We would give nearly anything to have an ultrasound done that reveals the life growing inside of us.

Most of us have dreamed about pregnancy.  Most of us have had visions of ourselves pregnant.  Many of us still do.

I never, ever told anyone close to me that I used to stand in front of the mirror daydreaming of being pregnant.  It was embarrassing and I felt as though I should not have even considered it.  But, why not?  Why not wonder what it would feel like to be pregnant?  This is not wrong, silly, or senseless.  It makes perfect sense to me.

If your path to pregnancy is jagged right now and you find yourself hiding away in front of a mirror staring at your belly, it is okay.  Do not be embarrassed.  Do not feel as though you should not be doing this.  Give yourself a break and daydream all you need to.  I get it, and my guess is that nearly every one else who is struggling with infertility or barrenness gets it to.

May His vision of you fill your life with love, peace, and understanding.

.

Road to Joplin

Day 2 with Joplin flag

This weekend I had the privilege of riding in a cycling event called the MS 150.  Every  year hundreds, if not a thousand or so cyclists make their way to a small town in southwest Missouri to complete a 150 mile bike ride.  This is done to bring attention and raise funds for Multiple Sclerosis.

This was my third year riding in this event.  I always seem to walk away from it with a great sense of accomplishment.  It is also quite humbling to be cheered on at the start line by people who live daily with MS.  This year, a woman with MS said to us, “When you get towards the last few miles and your legs are burning, just remember me saying Thank You.  Just remember that you are riding for many of us who cannot.”  Then, at the finish line, the same man every year, bound to his wheelchair, holds his hand out with a medal dangling from it.  As one reaches for his or her medal, the man gently says “thank you”.  It is quite humbling and I hope to ride in future 150’s.

This year though had even more of an impact on me, but for a different reason.  This is the first year that the ride took us back to Joplin, MO after the deadly tornado which claimed the lives of so many in May 2011.  Last year, the ride had to be rerouted and completely taken out of the Joplin area due to the devastation of the storm.  I had been there about a week or so after the tornado struck, and was silenced by what I had seen.  Cars with windshields blown out laying on top of each other, buildings that looked like they exploded by the force of a bomb, houses upon houses crumbled up like sticks, and trees stripped completely down to the bark.  It was shocking.  Just shocking.  The city I live in is close to Joplin and we are so lucky that the storm did not rumble its way towards us.

Although my work has taken me back to Joplin a few times, I usually do not drive through the area where the destruction took place.  This year, the MS committee planned the route specifically to take us through some of the path of the tornado.  Before I entered this area, my legs were screaming, my mind was off in some other place, there was pain tucked right in between my shoulders, and I was ready to be done.  I had been in the saddle for about seven hours, and my own “saddle” was telling me it was time to get off.

However, this changed when I entered the area where that beast of a storm stole normalcy from the lives of so many.  The few trees that survived were mangled.  Their bare branches looked like hands reaching towards the heavens in desperation.  Others bent over, all leaning to one side; yet, fresh green leaves bushed out from whatever spot they could find.

As I got closer to the eerily flattened area where houses once stood, I thought about the families and children who once lived there.  I imagined kickball being played in the streets, children swinging from swing sets, families walking their pet dogs or washing their cars.  All of this wiped clean.  Sure, there were new houses being built and definitely the vision of new growth could be seen, but I just kept thinking about how much destruction took place on those grounds.  The names of streets had been painted on the roads.  The ground was completely stripped of grass. There were partially crumbled buildings still being torn down.  It just went on and on.

As I drew nearer to the “end” of the destruction zone, I became overwhelmed with emotion.  I thought about the mothers who lost their babies, the babies who lost their daddies and mommies, and all the others who never woke again on this Earth to see the sun rise.  All I could think was “so much destruction, so much despair.”

But there in that moment on my bike with nothing but my own thoughts, I realized, or at least was reminded, that the Lord is not a god of destruction.  He is not a god of devastation.  He is not a god of despair.  He is the God of regrowth, rebirth, restoration, and life.  He lifts up our heads.  He carries us through the storms.  He gives us life.

The next morning as 800 or cyclists gathered around to start day two of the cycling event, small Joplin flags were handed out to each of us.  We placed them in our helmets, on our bikes, or held them in our hands as we rode through part of what was named “Memorial Miles”.  With just the sound of wind, the breathing of fellow riders, and the hissing-like noises from spinning our wheels, we rode in silence in honor of those killed by the Joplin tornado and in honor of the courage it has taken for the city to rebuild.

This year the road to Joplin became more than just a cycling event that I love to participate in.  Yes, it was done in an effort to support those struggling with Multiple Sclerosis.  However, I left the event with Joplin on my mind.  This weekend turned into a reminder of the blessing of health, of love, of family, of home, and of our incredible Heavenly Father who restores, renews, and leads us to Life.

few words, big meaning

I thought I would share my son’s prayer the morning before we walked out the door heading to his first day at Kindergarten.  It has been a few weeks since he said this prayer, but it still lingers in my mind and on my heart.  I asked him if he would like to say a prayer for his first day at school and he said yes.  I waited for his cue to see if he wanted me to say it, but instead, he chose to lead.  It went like this:

Dear God,

Help me to make good choices at school.  I want to be good.  Help me Lord.

Amen

The prayer was straight to the point, had few words, but so meaningful.  He knew what he wanted.  He simply asked for it.  He stated his desire to be good.  He acknowledged his need for the Lord to help him.

I think a lot of us adults could learn a lesson or two in this…don’t you?

Life in a Fish Bowl

Here is a brief part from my memoir I have stored away on my computer.  I am getting closer to making a decision about trying to publish it, but in the meantime, I am finding that parts of it inspire me to write blog posts that are not necessarily even related to my story at all.  This section is part of chapter two where I talk about the medical aspect of what occurred, as well as, my stay in the hospital.

There was an aquarium on the pediatric unit at the hospital that housed a Newt.  When I was able to, I visited Newton (not sure if this really was his name or if I called him that on my own) just about every day.  Our eyes would make contact, and I would stare at him in his fish bowl world wondering what he was thinking.  I wished I could have jumped in the tank with him and swam around to escape.  I too had people staring at me probably wondering what I was thinking or if I really understood what had happened.  My hospital room had become my own fish bowl.

Although this is from a section of my story about the time in the hospital, I cannot help but think that we are all living in “fish bowls”.  We tend to watch each others’ actions and form opinions based on how others are swimming around.  When sad times make their way into life, we sometimes stand by and watch the reactions of people.  Often, their reactions affect our responses.

What if instead of just standing there on the outside of the “tank”, we would all make a more committed effort to jump in and swim around a bit with those who are going through a difficult time?  I wonder how many people could be eternally impacted if Christians would walk alongside people we differ from, or people who are grieving, or lonely, or homeless, or orphaned, or guilty, or addicted, or whatever else makes us think we are on one side while they are on the other.

I know it is cliché to say “what would Jesus do?”….but seriously, “What would Jesus do?”  His life, as written in Scripture, depicts a Savior who walked with people most of us would stray from.  His love is for everyone….everyone.  We are all living life in a fish bowl.  We watch others, and more importantly, others are watching us.  I think it is time that Christians (including myself) stop wading in the shallow end of the pool with only those we are like, and jump in head first with those we are least like.  After all…”What Would Jesus Do?

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” – John 13:34

Voice of Truth

The song titled, The Voice of Truth, by Christian band Casting Crowns is one of my favorites.  I love this song.  Each time it comes on the radio, I crank it up.  The words of the chorus are quite simple:

But the voice of truth tells me a different story.  The voice of truth says, “Do not be afraid.”  And the voice of truth says, “This is for my glory.” Out of all the voices calling out to me.  I will choose to listen and believe the voice of truth.

-Casting Crowns

There was a time in my life when I did not know what truth was.  I heard many “voices” but none of them were comforting.  I guess what I’m trying to say is that there were moments in my growing years that whispers of darkness, cruel thoughts, and hurtful words were a part of my psyche.

I remember wondering after my hysterectomy if I had done something awful to cause it to happen.  I thought that perhaps I should have been born a boy…yes…being a boy would have been much better than a girl who could not have babies.  I also thought God surely knew I would make a terrible mother.  He must have wanted to spare a child my mothering.  Or, perhaps I was a child killer in a past life…even though I did not think past lives even existed.

As an adult, I wish I could say that these notions faded, but they did not.  I found myself thinking that God did not want me to be a parent.  If He wanted it, then it would have happened miraculously, quickly, and without any additional strife.  I do not know if anyone who reads this believes in spiritual warfare, but I do.  The fact that these horrific, cruel, depraved thoughts lingered in my mind as a child and an adult prove to me that spiritual warfare does exist.  Not one adult ever said these things to me.  Not one child, no one.  Yet, I “heard” them.

Back in 2000, I started going to church again.  As I began to do so, those hurtful words and  notions took a backseat to the Truth that is found in the voice of God.  The written Word became magnified.  In Him, I began to hear “You are beautiful”, “You have purpose”, “Your life was worth saving”.  Even more awesome though was the clarity I received from worship and reading the Word.  I was able to recognize that the voices bringing me down were not of Him. They were flaming arrows of the enemy and I was the target.

His Word and the hope I found in Christ became my shield.  The following verses spoke to me in ways that drowned out the cursed thoughts I once carried:

Jeremiah 29:11 “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.”

Psalms 139:16 “Your eyes saw my unformed body.  All the days ordained for me were written in Your book before one of them came to be.”

Psalm 139:14 “I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”

Romans 5:2-5 “Through him we have also obtained  access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the  glory of God.  More than that, we rejoice in hope of the  glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that  suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character  produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been  poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to  us.

Silence and suffering comes along with infertility.  It can dishearten the strongest of believers.  It can eat at the core of one’s relationship with the Lord.  The enemy whispers “you don’t deserve to be a parent”, “you must have done something wrong”, “it must not be God’s will for you”….and many more things.

I can tell you that when in the pit of despair over barrenness, it is hard sometimes to hear anything but the words of the enemy.  It is hard to see outside of the strife and beyond the pain.  It is hard to hear the voice of Truth calling out.  IT. IS. HARD.  

However, as the song says, THE VOICE OF TRUTH TELLS ME A DIFFERENT STORY.     

The stories of those of us who have struggled or are currently being challenged with the spiritual confusion of infertility are not written by the enemy or anyone else for that matter.  Our stories have been written by the One whose voice is true; the One whose love is everlasting; the One whose shield is strong; the One who breathes life into the most destitute of situations; the One whose grace saves; the One who created us; the One who set our limits; and the One who has declared our future.

What’s the voice of truth telling you?  

For those of you who are battling your way to parenthood, stay strong in your faith.  Know that you are loved by a God who is bigger than your doubts.  Know that He is not done with you yet.  Know that your story is just unfolding.   Take delight in the hope of His promises and the mystery of what He has in store. 

Listen to His Voice of Truth.  Be Blessed.