All of Me

It was such a lucky encounter.

There we were, at the library once again for our tutoring session on a perfectly normal Tuesday of the summer.  As usual my daughters headed straight for the back corner for the games and toys.  By the time I caught up to them, there they were sitting on the floor watching a little boy as he raced his cars and trucks around on the floor making appropriate loud vrooming noises.

As I approached, smiling at the man sitting on a chair watching the little boy, my daughter looked at me and said,

“Mommy, who is this?”

She’s very curious about people, especially little people, and since we often run into people I know that she hasn’t been acquainted with yet it’s a somewhat common question.

I responded with a grin toward the man,

“I don’t know!”

Halfway through my answer the man cut in and said the little boy’s name.  My daughters both glanced at me with wide eyes and I stumbled for words, finally blurting out,

“Did you say _______?”

I knelt down on the floor and took a closer look at the little boy my girls were so intrigued with.

Sure enough.

My breath caught in my throat as I stared in disbelief.  Just the right age, just the right eyes and complexion.

Last time I had seen this little boy I was kissing his soft cheeks, caressing that dark hair and fighting back the tears as I buckled him securely into his infant car seat.  I had loved him with a passion I had never known before.  He was the very first child that made me a mother.  The very first child that turned my world upside down.  The only child I’ve ever grieved quite that hard for…simply because I had no former experience to brace me for the goodbye.

For the next hour I watched him play, studying his sturdy toddler movements, his joyful little personality bursting at the seams.  I talked to him, handed him toys and smiled at the sight of my beautiful little girl playing at his side.  The irony was so intriguing…here we were two and a half years later and our lives had traveled such a distance from each other, despite living in the same small town.  When I was able to catch his eyes I saw in them only the reflection of a stranger.  I was a complete stranger to him, and he to me.  Yet at the same time I knew watching him run and laugh and play that I would do absolutely anything in the world for this little boy.  The moment he entered my life, my heart claimed him as my own.  Our time was so short…only 5 weeks…but it was more than enough time to establish a bond strong enough to last eternity.  Every child I have ever cared for has claimed a piece of my heart and in return I have offered each one a vow.

I will love you.

Unconditionally.

For as long as I can,

As well as I can,

No matter the cost to my own heart.

I will fight for you,

And protect you.

I will claim you as my own, and love you without boundaries.

A piece of me will always be yours to keep.

Because I have been so loved,

I will love you.

This is the beat of my heart, and the passion that God has placed within me.  When He called me to serve the least of these, He called me to do it with all of me.  I have struggled at times to keep this vow.

It is hard.

It is messy.

It is scary and vulnerable.

It means holding tight and then surrendering with abandon, believing that God goes with each one even when I can’t.

It means facing the truth, even when the common cliches would be much more comforting.

It means asking hard questions and committing to heavy burdens…but not letting them pull you down.

It means taking one day at a time and believing that now is as important as forever.

It means giving more than you think you have, regardless of the consequences.

My biggest prayer every day that I have been a foster parent has been that I will love every child God places in my care this way.  Why?

Because they deserve it.

Because it is right.

Everything I believe about fostering and adoption has it’s roots in my belief that God is our Creator, and that He delights in each and every person that He creates.  Every little person that has entered my home or ever will has unimaginable value in His eyes.  For me to treat them as any less is horribly wrong.  He loves us regardless of our performance, and gave the greatest He could possibly offer us even though we had done nothing to deserve it.  He takes us as His own and gives us a future and a hope.  He puts everything He has on the line so that we might experience redemption and relationship with Him.  When I realize that He has died for each of these little ones…what else can I possibly consider than to give everything I possibly can for them as well.

Too many children are living in the foster care system believing that somehow they are second rate.  Despite the fact that they have been so wronged in so many ways, most of them believe it is them that are somehow to blame.  Even more horrifying is the fact that the general consensus in society is the same!

Too many foster parents survive the constant change over in kids by holding back pieces of their heart.  Don’t get too attached.  Brace yourself for the goodbye.  Put your own needs and family first.

I get it.

It can be hard and the lines can get pretty gray.

But I also know that a child can absolutely sense those attitudes and they do more damage than you can imagine.  We have a whole generation of teenagers emerging from the foster care system who have never once in their life felt like someone would do whatever it takes.  They know better than anyone that when push comes to shove, foster families will protect their own backs.  They’ve heard all the reasonings and they know what they are…excuses.  The words they hear are:

“You’re too much.”

“It’s too hard.”

“Our own children are more important than you.”

This doesn’t mean that the answers are always the same.  Sometimes loving does mean letting go.  Sometimes loving means drawing some hard lines.  Sometimes loving means realizing this child needs more than I can give.  But too often those kinds of ‘love’ have little to do with what’s best for the child and much to do with what’s best for me.

So I am begging you.

Dare to invest as much in these kids as you’d invest in your biological children…because they are every bit as valuable and every bit as important.

Join me in starting a revolution in the foster care system.  A revolution of Christian families stepping forward to say,

“Yes!  I will love these children with all of me.

My littlest A loves this song by John Legend…it’s a song that takes her back to a familiar place that felt safe, happy, warm…and every time she hears this song on the radio her blue eyes light up with joy.  So I’ve started singing this song to her.  It’s a connection point that reaches her heart.

ALL OF ME

What would I do without your smart mouth
Drawing me in, and you kicking me out
You got my head spinning, no kidding, I can’t pin you down
What’s going on in that beautiful mind
I’m on your magical mystery ride
And I’m so dizzy, don’t know what hit me, but I’ll be alright

My head’s underwater
But I’m breathing fine
You’re crazy and I’m out of my mind

‘Cause all of me
Loves all of you
Love your curves and all your edges
All your perfect imperfections
Give your all to me
I’ll give my all to you
You’re my end and my beginning
Even when I lose I’m winning
Cause I give you all of me
And you give me all of you, oh
Give me all of you, oh oh

How many times do I have to tell you
Even when you’re crying you’re beautiful too
The world is beating you down, I’m around through every mood
You’re my downfall, you’re my muse
My worst distraction, my rhythm and blues
I can’t stop singing, it’s ringing in my head for you
My head’s underwater
But I’m breathing fine
You’re crazy and I’m out of my mind

‘Cause all of me
Loves all of you
Love your curves and all your edges
All your perfect imperfections
Give your all to me
I’ll give my all to you
You’re my end and my beginning
Even when I lose I’m winning
Cause I give you all of me
And you give me all of you, oh
Give me all of you, oh oh

Cards on the table, we’re both showing hearts
Risking it all though it’s hard

Cause all of me
Loves all of you
Love your curves and all your edges
All your perfect imperfections
Give your all to me
I’ll give my all to you
You’re my end and my beginning
Even when I lose I’m winning
Cause I give you all of me
And you give me all of you

It’s not the song I would have chosen in my sentimental mind to be the anthem for my baby girl, but she chose it…and really…it’s perfect.  I will always love you, babe.  All the imperfections, in all your mess.  I am so bad at this, and I have no idea how to be everything you need me to be.  But I love you, and I will do my best to give you all of me as you, in all your vulnerability, choose to put your trust in me.  And to all the rest of the kids out there who have taken pieces of my heart…I hope that you grow up to know that at least one person in your life loved you with everything she had!

Walking home that day after our encounter at the library with my baby…yes, my baby…I felt so blessed.  Even though it can be hard to see kids later and face the facts of their life, it’s still an experience that is very meaningful.  Even though this little one I gave everything to just a few short years ago looked at me with no recognition or attachment, it made my day to see him smile.  I delighted in his chubby cheeks that once lay on my chest, the little legs running around that once kicked in distress in his hospital bassinet.  Memories came flooding back, and it was beautiful to relive them.

Thankyou, Jesus, for the gift of that little moment.

Was it a lucky meeting on an ordinary day?

Maybe.

Or maybe it was just a little reminder from my Jesus that He’s right here with me.  His is the passionate heart beating inside of me for these little ones.  His is the vision of a future and hope.  His is the pouring out of all that I am.

It is because I was first loved by Him that I love.

AF

I Am Loved

I look up and there she is.

Positioned just like me on the couch, at my side with pen in hand, pretending to do Sudoku like Mommy as she makes little markings and scribblings in her Activity Book.

She wants to be just like me.

I am so blessed.

I look up and there she is.

Smiling at me with those sparkling brown eyes…no filter, no block.  I’m looking straight into her soul and she trusts me implicitly with all that is there.

I am her everything.

I am so blessed.

I fall down exhausted and disgruntled at the end of a long, hot day.  I close my eyes and soon I hear footsteps pattering toward my place on the couch.  I sigh inwardly, wishing for a moment alone and expecting her constant chatter to start any minute.  Instead I feel gentle hands caress my hair and rub my back…soothing, loving, tender little motions.  A soft kiss lands on my cheek and a blanket falls gently on my shoulders.  I smile and stay very still.

She adores me.

I am so blessed.

I open my eyes after a nap and see two little girl bodies huddled at my kitchen sink before my pile of dirty dishes.  I had left them there to do later.  The dishwasher was full and it was too hot to stand with my hands in hot, soapy water.  But there they are and I hear;

“We should do these dishes for Mommy ’cause she’s really tired and she had a rough day!”

“She did?”

“Well yeah, it was really hot and I usually get frustrated when it’s so hot so she probably does too!”

“Oh!  Okay.”

And there they are; scrubbing, brushing, rinsing and drying.  One too small to reach the sink so she stands on a stool by her big sister’s side.

They are loving me with every stroke of that brush.

I am so blessed.

I roll over in bed at the sound of the door as he creeps in to kiss me goodbye.  There’s a glass of chocolate milk in his hands.  He smiles at me and my heart fills up in an instant.  I savor his kiss, his unshaven face against mine, the firm muscles of his back under my hands and the chocolate milk, filling my stomach so I won’t be nauseous later.

I am the love of his life.

He’d do anything for me.

I am so blessed.

Every time I am caught in these moments I feel so incredibly humbled.  I am far from the perfect…or even ideal wife or mother.  I fail miserably on a daily basis.  They hear my sharp tones, they see my angry eyes, they feel my rough hands pushing them away.  They watch me choose myself over them so many times.

Yet they love me so unconditionally and forgive me so completely, even when I am so undeserving.

In their eyes, their touch, their voices of love I see glimpses of my Heavenly Father.

A love that covers a multitude of wrongdoings and places them as far as the east is from the west.

A grace that washes me clean and keeps no record of my wrongs.

They offer me hope for my humanity.

Thank you for loving me.

I love you more than life itself.

XOXO

AF

Summer Days

It’s July 16th.

The summer is already a quarter spent!

Here today, gone tomorrow.

By this week I feel like we’re finally hitting the summer groove around here.  It always takes much longer than expected to adjust to a whole new schedule and routine.  We’ve had some busy weekends with late nights that kept us struggling to play catch up on sleep, laundry and other necessities, but this week…ah…we are finally feeling it 🙂

I have been looking forward to this summer so much.  It is wonderful to have hit the official one year mark with our girls.  We are into our second year, creating traditions, reliving memories and basking in the comfortable feeling those things bring.

It was time for a break from school and I am delighted to once again be the centre of my daughters’ world.  Since I’m at stay at home mom and the girls aren’t in any type of extracurricular programs, the three of us spend every day all day together.  Granted, that gets a bit stifling at times, but I truly do love us seeing the world together and knowing the seconds and minutes of their days, something I never got to experience with them as infants and toddlers.  I love knowing every little thing about them and why exactly they are tired, grumpy, happy, sad, overwhelmed or silly at the end of the day.  There is so much intimacy in that knowing.

I also spent some time thinking about the summer before it actually came, so I was prepared for the longer days and lack of routine and personal space.  I decided I would build those elements into our days and so far it has worked really well!  I knew I wanted to enjoy the freedom of summer with them, but I also knew that my pregnant body would need rest each day and my daughters and I would all benefit from some personal space!  So every afternoon we spend at least 30-60 minutes having Quiet Time.  It’s not always at the same time, as our days vary in schedule and activities, but we try to make it happen every day, even if it has to be right before dinner.  To prepare for this, I created our ‘Quiet Time Box’ which is filled with activities that only get used at Quiet Time; puzzles, games, notebooks, magnetic dolls, simple and no-mess crafts.  Nothing messy, nothing complicated and nothing electronic is the rule.  They each pick one thing from the Quiet Time Box each day, as well as some books to read.  Then we each disappear to our own little corner of the house for that time.  There are only 2 rules for Quiet Time.

1) Be quiet.

2) Stay in your spot.

Usually my littlest A, who loves to talk and hates to be alone, falls asleep because she is bored and gets in a nap, which is a bonus and extends my quiet time quite substantially!  I sometimes take a nap or just sit down and read a book, spend time with Jesus or do nothing at all.  Today I’m blogging 🙂  Occasionally I’m busy preparing dinner or doing laundry in that time but it’s still great to have some time where nobody is calling for Mommy or squabbling or just making noise!  Thinking space, I call it.

Another way we’ve built in routine is that we’ve continued with our morning jobs routine that helped us during the school year.  Once we’re all up and we’ve eaten breakfast, the next step is to get ready for the day.

Wash your face.

Brush your teeth.

Get dressed.

Make your bed (This one’s only for the kids…I know, I know I should really do this too! 🙂

Pick up your dirty laundry.

Brush your hair.

After all that is done, you’re ready to go play! 🙂

If you’re thinking…”Wow, my kids would never remember all that or stay on task!”…know that this has been a work in progress for the past year.  My girls each have visual charts to help them remember to do each job, and my younger daughter who can focus for about 3 seconds max on her own has hers divided into 3 categories and has to report to me with her chart after she’s finished each category.  Now that we’ve been doing the exact same thing the exact same way for over 6 months (it took awhile to find a method that worked) they are finally moving through the routine pretty smoothly and with very minimal assistance.  It’s awesome!  I really love having the same start to our day, weekend or weekday, and knowing they can do it without me nagging them.  It also pushes me to get out of my bathrobe just a little sooner and we all feel better by 9:00 am than we would without the schedule!

Another thing we do every day is some work in our Gr. 1 and 2 Curriculum Workbooks.  They each do three pages a day, one from each category; Reading, Writing, Math.  If you’ve never seen these books at Wal-Mart and you have kids that need some extra academic practise through the summer, check these out!  They are designed based on the Canadian curriculum.  Everything should be review if you use the book for the grade your child has just completed.  It’s a great way to review concepts, identify strengths and weaknesses, fill in gaps and keep your child’s brain in tune academically.  Just a note, I understand some kids do not need this kind of maintenance over the summer and that is super!  Others, however, really benefit from this kind of review so that when September comes they do not have to spend the first two months trying to retrain their brain.  I also find it helpful to stay familiar with my children’s academic ability and behaviours related to school work.  The first rule of being an advocate for your child with a learning disability or behaviour problem is to know what their capabilities are so you can give insight and advocate for your child’s potential.  Be the expert on your child!

Besides the Quiet Time, workbooks and morning jobs we try to get out and do something active together at least once a day.  A bike ride, a walk or a swim.  They love it and it’s very healthy for me and baby who, by the way, we are all getting pretty anxious to meet!  Three more months to go! 🙂

We frequent the library down the street about twice a week, go grocery shopping and go do our ‘dog job.’  I found a family needing some extra exercise for their 3 ginormous Great Danes!  We go over twice a week and let them out to play in the yard for about an hour while all their family members are away.  It’s been a fun way for the girls to earn a bit of their own money, feel like they have a summer job and get some healthy exposure to some big dogs!  A great opportunity to practise responsibility and perseverence!

All the little pieces add up to days that fill amazingly quickly!

Overall, I feel blessed.

I love my girls so much and I feel so blessed to be able to stay at home with them full time.

I adore my husband, who works so hard to provide for us and truly is the best Dad I can imagine for our daughters.

My life feels full and rich and vibrant.  We have many friends and aquaintances we bump into around our small town each day which keeps life interesting.

We love camping in the summer and hope to get out quite a few times to do that.

As for the girls’ adoption, we are still waiting for the final documents needed to officially become a family.  We’ve run into delay after delay and I’m anxious to have our day in court, sign the papers and celebrate!  But in the meantime it really doesn’t change our lives all that much 🙂

So that’s our little world which continues to spin 🙂  Hope you are enjoying the summer as much as we are!

Cheers!

AF