Monday, June 5, 2017

HE IS [I AM NOT]

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The past few weeks I've been wrestling through emotions and situations that leave me breathless with fear and heartache. Yet this truth has been my solid foundation through it all: He is God (which means that I am not). Three characters from the Bible keep coming to mind: Hannah, Job and Jeremiah. All three, when faced with horrible and heartbreaking scenarios in their life, turned to God in worship and surrender, with great humility.

Hannah:
There is no one holy like the LORD; there is no one besides You; there is no Rock like our God.
Do not keep talking so proudly or let your mouth speak such arrogance,
for the LORD is a God Who knows, and by Him deeds are weighed.
The LORD brings death and makes alive; He brings down to the grave and raises up.
The LORD sends poverty and wealth; He humbles and He exalts. (1 Samuel chapter 2)

Job:
Then Job replied to the LORD: "I know that You can do all things; no plan of Yours can be thwarted. You asked, 'Who is this that obscures My counsel without knowledge?' Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. . . . My ears had heard of You but now my eyes have seen You. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes." (Job chapter 42)

Jeremiah:
It is good for a man to bear the yoke while he is young.
Let him sit alone in silence, for the LORD has laid it on him.
Let him bury his face in the dust--there may yet be hope.
Who can speak and have it happen if the LORD has not decreed it?
Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both calamities and good things come?
Why should any living man complain . . . ? (Lamentations chapter 3)




When I focus my mind and soul on the God-ness of God--the unchanging, unfailing truth that HE IS GOD--three things happen:

1. I am awed by Him
           There is no one holy like You. There is no one besides You. You are a God Who knows. You can do all things. No plan of Yours can be thwarted. Nothing happens unless You decree it. You weigh deeds. You bring death and make alive; send poverty and wealth; send calamities and good things.

2. I am convicted of pride
          I must not keep talking so proudly or let my mouth speak such arrogance. [I see You and then] I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes. Let me bear the yoke. Let me sit alone in silence. Let me bury my face in the dust. 

3. I am encouraged to trust
          There is no Rock like our God. There may yet be Hope.

Daily (hourly?) I am striving to humbly submit and let Him be God. This truth is the one place I can settle myself down in without a doubt: He is God. (So many other things in life are uncertain but not this!) Deeper certainty of this truth brings hope in the midst of heartache, joy where there are no easy answers, and peace when my life is unsteady. God is God. Amen.

Even in darkness
     my heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord
     my heart is secure
I will have no fear (Psalm 112)

Monday, May 1, 2017

THE EVOLUTION OF A WALL

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It's time for a Tree House update! The wall of built-ins in the fireplace room was desperate for fresh color. And I was desperate to unpack my books. Over the course of a few weeks, I cleaned and scraped and painted and stained and painted some more. 


The main built-in structure and shelves got a coat of "Dorian Gray" (same gray as the bedrooms upstairs, two shades darker than the gray on the walls of the main floor). The back of the shelves I painted "Jasper" by Valspar, a deep green. The crown molding got a fresh coat of bright white. Plus, I stained the mantel a dark espresso brown and Bryce removed the corbels. 

Here is the evolution in pictures: from listing photo to current.

Listing photo.

New wood stove (surround still needs to be added).

Starting the painting!

Couldn't wait to get the dark green started!

One side done!

Both sides done! And the fireplace surround is up.

Painting 16 shelves in the basement.

Staining the mantle--the old reddish-brown is on the bottom.

Stained mantle and corbels are gone.

Lower cabinet doors are drying, and finally was able to unpack all of our games on the bottom shelves. This is an accurate photo of projects in the midst of real life.

Bright white crown molding (made such a difference).

Bright white crown molding and shelves in place. Trying out different lights. Bryce put on new outlet covers and added a plug underneath for the stove.

Unpacking all the books after the shelves dried for two weeks. Such a happy day!

Books on shelves but not styled yet.

Doing my styling thing: put a few things in, step back and look, repeat a million times.

I didn't know Bryce was sneaking photos of me.

And the final reveal! The room feels so much more like home now and I am relieved to have all of my old book friends back again.

BEFORE



AFTER







Thursday, April 27, 2017

FOR THE FIRST TIME FOSTER MOM...

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So, you're just about to be a first time foster mom? If we sat down to have coffee, here is what I might share with you. A list of thoughts and suggestions for you and your heart as you start this crazy journey. **A big thank you to the ladies of my adoption & foster support group--they helped brainstorm many of these ideas.**

1. Set aside money for initial expenses. When our two foster daughters came to us quite suddenly (with about 5 hours notice), we needed many practical items right away. And with the way the calendar fell, we didn't get our first per diem check for almost 30 days. In those cases, it's helpful to have some cash set aside, ready for immediate needs in case the state checks don't come for a while.

2. Appointments, visits and phone calls galore! Just be prepared for many, many visits in the beginning from state case workers, therapists, agency case workers, CASA (court appointed special advocate), etc. And there will be many calls with all of these people, along with e-mails and texts. Plus you will need to set up initial doctor appointments (tracking down a medicaid-approved doctor if they don't have one yet!), as well as dentist and eye doctor visits, if needed. If your child has medical challenges, add in all those specialty appointments. Don't forget visits with bio parents. Basically, be prepared for your calendar to blow up.

3. Keep a binder of documents and a calendar of events. Prepare a binder for each child with all of your foster paperwork, medical reports (at every visit the doctor will fill out and sign a sheet for the child which you will scan to your agency or DCS), communication from the court, etc. It is so helpful to have everything organized in one spot! Similarly, start a specific calendar for your child to record appointments, visits with bio family (and missed visits), and other important events. This will provide a good reference should you need it later in their case.

4. Be careful of the battles you pick. If I could have given myself one piece of advice when we started fostering five years ago, it would be this: don't fight the food battle too soon! For the little boys who were with us for two weeks, I should have just fed them frozen pizza, hot dogs, and chicken nuggets for goodness sakes! For the little girl who was with us for a month, I shouldn't have made her finish the bowl of chili--a peanut butter & jelly sandwich would have been just fine. If they end up staying with you long term, learning to eat a varied & healthy diet will come, but don't pressure them or yourself to get there right away. Similarly, don't use anything too precious. Put $10 Walmart sheets on the beds (with full coverage plastic mattress covers!). Use paper plates and plastic cups. Clear away all breakable or precious knickknacks--this way you can just let the kids be kids and lessen your own nagging and worry.

6. Make an acronym cheat sheet. Until you become immersed in the foster world lingo (don't worry--it will come!) make a reference sheet for yourself. FCM, CASA, DCS, CHINS, SNAP, CANS, CCDF . . . so many to learn! This document may be a good starting place.




7. Ask lots of questions and make connections. Dive in on behalf of your foster children. In the beginning, I reminded myself often that my job was to be the child's advocate--they needed me to be "annoying," to make demands on their behalf, to protect them. I also did my best to stay in good contact with all of the caseworkers via text and e-mail. Build rapport and connection whenever/however you can with all of the people involved in your child's life. Show them your appreciation, especially the case workers. They have a hard and thankless job most of the time (random gifts and thank you notes go a long way). Related: choose not to die on every hill! Carefully pick and choose your battles with all of the service providers. For instance, if they bring a child home early from every visit, and it is a problem for you, then let them know. But if it isn't a big deal since you're there anyway, then let it go.

8. Take care of yourself. Mental health/sanity days are essential! Go on dates with your husband! Let family and friends help you. If they offer to help, give them something specific to do--don't be embarrassed or feel guilty. When our family went from five to seven overnight, we were blessed with meals for three months, dinner and bedtime assistance when my husband was working, laundry-folding help, etc.--all so essential to our survival in those first few months. Also, find a support group of women on a similar journey. It truly is so encouraging and important to have friends who speak the language of foster care and who can provide guidance and friendship. Finally, don't forget about respite care, even if just for a couple of hours during the day or a weekend. This is a valuable resource--let yourself use it, especially if you have foster children with medical needs and you aren't able to ask friends and family for help.

Just a few more . . .

9. Utilize Kingdom's Kloset. So many times we had children come to us with little or no clothing. Please use the ministry of Kingdom's Kloset! At least to hold you over until you get a few per diem checks and can build an actual wardrobe. They will provide a sack of gently-used children's clothing (specific to the gender, size and season), usually dropped off at your doorstep within 24 hours. Such a wonderful gift! More information HERE.

10. Hair cuts are a no-no. Believe it or not, foster children's hair cannot be cut without biological parents' permission. A bit silly and ridiculous? Agreed. But it's the rule nonetheless. I've fought for this approval many times, but just be aware that it may take awhile. Remind yourself this decision may be the only bit of control a biological parent has in the life of their child and they often do not want to relinquish it--try to remember this with grace and patience.

11. Say YES! as much as you can. Another story at bedtime? Yes! More chips for lunch? Yes! Five more minutes outside? Yes! Even more important is to follow-through on that Yes. Be generous and willing to please, especially in those first few months of transition.

Mostly, I want to tell you that you can do it--Jesus will help you and you will need Him! Please reach out if you have questions or need someone to talk to. I love to share about our foster journey and provide encouragement if I can.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

I AM BARABBAS

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I am Barabbas

Today is the day of Preparation for Passover and usually there is joyful commotion on the streets of Jerusalem in anticipation for the festivities. But this morning is different. This morning the pulse outside my cell is restless, anxious, pent-up evil. Why are the Jews riled up so early this morning? I hear them shouting, chanting perhaps, but can’t quite recognize their strong words.

Suddenly, my door is thrown open and in the early morning light I am grabbed roughly. Is today the day of death? My punishment? How odd for this to happen right before Passover—usually the Romans want to avoid upsetting the Jews around their feasts. I thought I was ready for this moment—but how can one be ready. Renewed hatred for these Romans stirs within my soul. If only I could throw off controlling hands and make my revenge, my victory.

I am dragged to a palace and pushed before a crowd of angry men. Ah, this was the evil hum I heard earlier; this crowd is pulsing with intent. Their chants grow louder as another man is brought to stand beside me. Except I hardly can believe he is still standing—his flesh is torn, dripping blood, long thorns digging deep into his scull.

Around us discussion swirls between Roman Pilate and Jewish chief priests. “I see no basis for a charge.” . . . “Crucify him!” I can’t keep my eyes off of this man. Despite the flogging, he still seems calm, regal, even in control. I realize I am holding my breath, waiting to hear his name: Who is he? Why was I brought here to stand beside him?

Familiar charges pierce through the noise: insurrection, subversion, claiming to be the leader of the Jews—this man’s crimes sound similar to mine. Are we to be crucified together? It seems Pilate is confused about the truth of the accusations. Do I see fear in Pilate’s eyes, deep uncertainty in a man hardened by war? A battle of wills (and worlds) continues—the crowd is determined to hate this man. Pilate asks: “Why? What crime has he committed? He has done nothing to deserve death.” With one voice they respond: “Crucify him! Away with this man!”

I am steeling myself against feelings of fear and dread of the coming torture, when I hear Pilate say: “But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’?” Men shout back, “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!” This is why I am here! His life or mine. Today one of us will be killed; the other set free. I am guilty; is he? His face is set like stone—determined, yet still a soft hint of compassion around the eyes. As the crowd chants louder and louder, “Crucify him!” he turns to look at me and I see love?


Events move in a haze: Pilate washes his hands at the judge’s seat. Soldiers mock and spit. Someone adjusts the ropes on my wrists . . . no, wait, they are loosening them. Releasing me. After all these years, my chains are gone. But that man. Where is he? The mob is pulsing and pushing. I am shoved aside as they surge forward. Cross beams jut above the crowd as the prisoners move toward the Hill, the place where traitors are crucified. By an inner force of curiosity and self-loathing, I follow the man.

There at Golgotha, I watch them crucify him. Hammering spikes into flesh—nails that should have been in my wrists and feet. A cross raised up in humiliating torture—the very cross meant for me. As he is lifted up, I see posted on the sign above his head, the place where crimes are listed: “Jesus of Nazareth, The King of the Jews.” I want to run in shame, but my feet are stuck here in the dirt in gratitude, watching him groan in agony. Jesus, the King, dying the death deserved by me.

And so I see myself in him—the guilty set free; the Innocent sacrificed.
I am Barabbas. Barabbas is me.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

AN ANCHOR OF HOPE

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Foster care is a journey of uncertainty. Fighting and trusting on behalf of children is never an easy or straight-forward process. (Perhaps this helps us remember how important the work truly is? Perhaps there is an epic battle in the heavenly realms for each life that is wanted/rescued.)

This year, the word coming to mind most often is hope. Not hope that it will work out exactly as I want or plan. But hope in a Person--that Jesus will work it out exactly as He wants, at exactly the right time, for His specific sovereign purposes. For hope to be truly hope that I can hang my life on, it must be properly placed. Properly placed in a Person.

Hope to tackle just one more day.
Hope to love despite the risks.
Hope to persevere in the midst of unknowns.
Hope to continue trusting even in sorrow.

I wonder if hope can only truly be hope if we're in the midst of something that requires us to need it. Some sort of sorrow or seemingly insurmountable mountain ahead.  Not only so, but we also rejoice in our [trials] because we know that [trials] produce perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us[!] (Romans 5:3-5)

I told a friend recently that I'm in the midst of a Lamentations 3 moment. Let him bury his face in the dust--there may yet be hope. (Lamentations 3:29)  To the world that probably seems an impossibility but it is somehow true--suffering in trials and face-in-the-dust yet still great hope that does not disappoint.




Friends, our foster case is out of [our] control. Five years ago when Bryce and I started the process, we never could have foreseen the difficulties to come. The heart is invested and the calling sure; yet the road to permanency is, frankly, absurd and simply heart-breaking at times. We cannot hope in the system or our caseworkers or the attorneys or the other myriad of people involved in our case. If nothing else, I am learning that all we have is hope in Jesus. ...we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. (Hebrews 6:18-19)

What a beautiful picture of Hope! Our sure soul anchor that we can run to.
My heart chooses to declare, in the mist of everything: my hope is You, Jesus.


For further study on hope, some of my favorite passages:
Lamentations 3:19-29
Romans 5:2-5
Romans 15:3-6, 13
Hebrews 6:18-20

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

WINTER LENTIL VEGGIE SOUP

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So, the title is a mouthful but this soup is a yummy one! I adapted from a recipe on allrecipes.com titled "Winter Lentil Vegetable Soup" by Cecile Leverman. This recipe filled my crockpot to the top (which was my goal). We didn't eat it with any meat added and it was delicious as is, but some sausage added towards the end would be yummy too! The spices below are approximate, add more or less to taste.


WINTER LENTIL VEGGIE SOUP

Throw into the crockpot:
* 2 cups red lentils
* 2 medium onions, chopped
* 3 stalks celery, chopped
* about 1/2 head of cabbage, chopped (as much as you can fit in)
* 28 oz diced tomatoes
* 1.5-2 cups diced carrots
* 1.5-2 cups green beans (frozen are fine)
* 2 heaping spoonfuls of minced garlic
* 1 teas salt and pepper
* 2 teas basil
* 1 teas thyme
* 2 teas curry powder
* 1 teas white sugar
* add chicken broth/stock and/or water to fill up the crockpot (keep an eye on the liquid level while cooking to make sure the lentils have enough liquid to cook)

Start the crockpot in the morning. Cook on high for 3-4 hours (to give the lentils, onions and carrots a head start) and then turn to low for the rest of the day. Serve with cornbread and top with parmesan cheese!



Wednesday, March 1, 2017

DON'T TRUST YOUR HEART

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Do you trust your heart? Do you let it control your thoughts and feelings?

Sometimes (okay, lots of times . . . too often) I lay in bed at night, remembering the day. And memories rise up to condemn me. My heart points out all of my failings toward the children, etc. and a great sinking-feeling overwhelms me.

This week, though, I was reminded of the fallen-ness of my own heart. Why do I persist in trusting it?

My flesh and my heart may fail... (Ps 73:26) -- my heart is going to fail!
The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? (Jer 17:9) -- deceitful, no cure! and I can't even understand my own heart.
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you. (Ez 36:26) -- my heart is so far gone that I need God to give me a new one.
Search me, O God, and know my heart... (Ps 139:23) -- I need Him to search and know my heart, because I certainly can't and don't.




There is a verse in 1 John that sparked the whole change in my thinking: Wait a minute! I don't need to lay there and let my heart condemn me. There is One Who is so much GREATER!

This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in His Presence whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and He knows everything. (1 John 3:19-20)

There is a place and time for letting our conscience (via the Holy Spirit) point out areas of failing/sin and lead us to walk in confession and repentance. But there is never a need to wallow in condemnation. (Notice it says "when" our hearts condemn us, not "if"!) My heart is not trustworthy. But I can trust HIM. He will help me to walk in the truth. He will bring gentle conviction, not condemnation. He can and will bring rest to my heart.

His Presence is where I need to stay and where my heart can be at rest.
God is GREATER than my heart.
He Knows Everything (even/especially me).

Do you trust your heart?
Maybe we need to rethink that a bit and instead trust in the One Who is greater than our hearts.
Our Heart Rescuer. Heart-Rest-Maker.

I think I have a new verse to whisper to myself at night . . .

Monday, February 27, 2017

TREE HOUSE RENO // POST MOVE IN

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Here we are: POST MOVE IN ....... or alternate title: FIRST WEEK IN THE TREE HOUSE.

First, let me start by clearing up any confusion--our wonderful Tree House is now livable and safe for the children (for the most part), but it is most definitely not finished (probably will take us a couple of years to get to that point). However, we are thrilled with the progress and so grateful for all of the help along the way.

Second, we must say:
Thank you to all of you who have so wonderfully followed along on our journey to make the Tree House into a home. Thank you for your encouragement and help and interest and cheering-on from near and afar. You have helped to make this journey fun and exciting and, most importantly, doable. We appreciate you all!


 During this first week in the house, we kept busy!
  • Set up a bookcase in the eat-in area to use as an interim pantry
  • Worked to clean out and organize the garage (Bryce is still working on this one...)
  • Frosted the front side-light windows
  • Started unpacking a little bit
  • Installed a utility sink in the laundry room
  • Hung curtains in the kids rooms and the fireplace room
  • Finished touching-up paint on the cabinets and installed the microwave
  • Called to get the second dumpster taken away
  • Installed a new light in the dining room (since the old one kept dropping shards of glass on my head)
  • Finished the kitchen backsplash (the pieces around the rest of the counters) and sealed them 
We also spent lots of time outside enjoying the unseasonably-warm February weather.



Let's end this Phase 1 of the Tree House Reno with photos of current life on the main level of the house. It's real life around here--messy and busy and unfinished.  Here's a picture of the current state of the spare bedroom. And since the master bedroom has no closets (Bryce needs to build shelving and hang rods), there's stuff everywhere. And the kids rooms are currently just explosions of toys and clothes since I haven't got everything situated yet.  Therefore: no other pictures of the upstairs for now.


The spare bedroom (i.e. random box storage)


Entry, Living Room






Dining Room




Kitchen, Eat-in



 

(still project messes? oh yes indeed)

Laundry Room 

Using shelves in random places until storage systems are built



Half Bath





Fireplace Room 







Boxes. And lots of kids everywhere. That's a good note to end on.

We're very much in the midst of a Project, but so happy to be in our home together! Thanks for joining us on this journey! (If you have specific questions about anything, we're always happy to chat. And we love giving tours--hint, hint! ;-)

(Click Here for a list of all of the Tree House Renovation posts.)