A Village

Sasha is a young single mom working a day job…and raising three kids on the side.

What started as a babysitting opportunity turned into weekends, weekdays, weeknights, and sometimes weeks at a time.

For these three kids she is just as much “Mommy” as their biological mother.

They have drawers full of clothing, favourite toys and predictable routines specific to her home.

Sasha is often exhausted and frustrated from the early mornings, interrupted nights, constant transitioning of toddlers and syncing schedules.

However, when the kids do happen to go home for a few days, she can’t help but miss them and wonder what they’re doing.

She is a mom in every sense of the word.

Her parents and siblings help out as well, welcoming these children into their family with open arms.

“Grammy” is adored by all and despite having raised four of her own children spends day after day, night after night caring for, feeding and loving three more little souls.

Sasha and her family’s endurance and generosity have inspired and blessed me.

If it were not for them, a single mom with very limited resources and support would be overwhelmed, frustrated and more than likely unable to cope with the demands of raising three active, young children on her own.

It’s very possible this family would be a part of the foster care system if it were not for Sasha’s daily sacrifices and commitment.

***

Dana is a newlywed.

She and her husband love children, which led her to begin offering childcare out of her home.

Through a series of events Dana was given the opportunity to provide childcare for a young single mom who had recently moved out of a women’s shelter with her two young children.

Dana knew this family would require much more than the typical childcare expectations, including weekends and possibly overnights as this young mom worked on securing employment and rebuilding her life.

Soon the children were spending a lot of time in Dana’s home and she soon learned to love them very much, despite some very challenging behaviors that made it difficult for her to reach around to all the children in her care.

When the family’s new residence turned out to be infested by bedbugs and Children’s Services began considering the children be removed, Dana and her husband stepped forward and offered to take the children into their home full time until the situation could be resolved.

So…on Dana and her husband’s 6 month anniversary, they found themselves curled up on the couch with two children watching a Disney movie, too tired to go out.

While the children’s mother visits regularly and is very grateful, Dana and her husband are the ones who change diapers, tuck the children into bed, deal with tantrums, feed, clothe and pray over these children.

There is no word other than parenting that explains what they are doing.

They are often exhausted and feel ill equipped to parent these children, but in her words,

“It is so beautiful to have something bigger than ourselves to pour into!”

If it were not for Dana and her husband, this family would most likely have entered the foster care system.

Thanks to Dana, this young mom can see her children every day and work at building a safe home for her children to return to without the stressful scrutiny of Social Services which is intimidating for anyone.

Her children were able to move into a home they were already familiar with, with people they already knew and loved instead of being torn from their home and placed with strangers.

It will be a long road ahead for this family but Dana and her husband have proved they are willing to do whatever it takes to support this family and help them thrive.

I truly believe there is hope for this family because of Dana.

***

So many times, when a new little face appears at my doorstep teary, wide eyed and frightened, I have wondered…

Could this have been prevented?

I look at my own children, hear their birth parents’ stories, observe the grief and loss and regret and questions and I wonder…

Could this have been prevented?

What if there had been someone there to walk that young mother through the diaper changing, breastfeeding, teething, and tantruming of young children?

What if there had been someone to bring freezer meals, clean the house, buy tiny baby clothes, give her an hour to nap, throw a baby shower.

What if that young father battling addiction had people around him to support him and his son.

Someone to call out the man in him, the father in him, and to model integrity.

Someone to offer free babysitting for his son, hand me down clothing, a night off or a ride to and from work each day.

What if that teenage couple had someone a little older and wiser to come alongside and gently walk them through car seat installations, nutritious meals and safe sleep?

What if there was someone to say those words every mother longs to hear,

“You’re a good mom.”

What if we opened our eyes to see the families around us who are struggling and to offer the small things we have to them.

Because in our offerings there is dignity.

There is validation and affirmation.

There is a shared strand of survival in the challenges we face as parents.

We all need a little grace.

Of course, not all situations could be prevented.

Many families need more than a freezer meal or hand me downs…

but what if we started there?

What if we stopped trying so hard to get it all right that we had room to acknowledge that you and I…well we’re the same.

We both raise our voices and collapse under pressure.

We both suffer from anxiety and turn our backs when we shouldn’t.

We both make mistakes…

sometimes ones we will regret forever.

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I wish I had been there when my daughter was born in her mother’s tender seventeenth year.

I wish I had been there through the challenging teenage years when addiction lured her into its deathly grip.

I wish I had been there to let her know that she is not alone.

I wish I could have offered up my hands and my baby clothes and my leftovers.

Maybe things could have been different.

I love that I know a God who delights in taking broken things and making them beautiful and whole again.

Adoption and foster care are both wonderful examples of  His work of redemption, but make no mistake…

they are the result of brokenness.

While God delights in restoring the broken pieces of our lives, he also longs for His original design to flourish.

Families are created to last forever, and when that initial model disrupts there is chaos, trauma and pain.

Parent and child will bear scars for a lifetime.

But what if there were more Sasha’s?

More Dana’s?

More people willing to enter the core of this problem instead of placing bandaids on top?

How many more families would remain intact?

We live in a broken world.

Every day we witness the evidence of that tragedy, but as believers, we are called to bear witness of the Light.

We are empowered by His Spirit to foreshadow His Kingdom here on earth while we wait for Him to return and restore everything to its beautiful, original design.

I love these verses in Pilippians that teach us how to serve humbly.

“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.  Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 2:3-5

It takes a village.

We were never meant to do this on our own.

I am so thankful for the Sasha’s and Dana’s who are bravely, gracefully stepping into the mess of brokenness and offering up what they have.

It is painful,

it is exhausting,

and it is often discouraging.

But it is good.

~AF

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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5 Things to Consider Before Adopting

  1. Are we ready?

    Are you and your partner equally willing to pursue adoption?  Often one partner will begin this process more zealous or passionate than the other but it’s important to move past that point before pursuing adoption.  If there’s a gap in your levels of readiness, don’t pressure your partner.  Spend time talking, thinking and praying together and individually about it.  Often doing some research to dispel common myths and fears helps a more hesitant partner gain confidence and direction.

  2. What type of child are we prepared to parent?

    Assess your strengths and weaknesses honestly in light of adoption and decide what type of child you feel you are best prepared to parent.  Is there a certain age group, gender or cultural background you are more drawn to?  Consider expanding your skill set through research, interaction with adoptive families, or volunteering at a school, church, etc.  It’s important to be honest about your capabilities and also be willing to open your heart and mind to new challenges, experiences, etc.  It’s also a good idea to identify what expectations you have surrounding an adoption and recognize they may or may not be accurate.

  3. Consider openness.

    Are you willing to maintain any type of openness in adoption?  Are you willing to be in contact physically or through email or cards with a child’s biological parents, grandparents, siblings, etc?  What about a child’s foster family or school friends?  It’s important to consider this issue and spend some time thinking carefully about how you feel about the people in an adoptive child’s past.  Openness is a big discussion topic in adoption today so you will need to be prepared to address this issue.

  4. Have we developed a good relationship with the professionals who will be facilitating and guiding us through our adoption?

    It’s important to trust the professionals who will be working alongside you in your adoption process.  Make sure you have asked any questions that may be lingering in your mind and taken the time to express your feelings about this change you are considering.  Being honest can be a very vulnerable feeling but it’s important for your social worker to understand who you are as a family and what it is that is driving your decision to adopt.  The more your professionals understand you and your family the better equipped they are to guide you through the process toward adoption.

  5.   What changes are we willing to see happen in our family?

    Inevitable there will be changes if you decide to bring a new child into your family through adoption.  Spend some time thinking about what those changes might be and how you feel about them.  Also spend some time thinking about what changes you are not willing to make.  Identifying the areas where you are flexible and the areas where you are not is helpful in guiding you toward whether or not adoption is right for your family.  It will also help you identify what type of child you are best equipped to parent.  For example, are you willing to buy a bigger home, bigger vehicle or renovate your home to accommodate a child?  Are you willing to change or let go of important traditions in your family?  Are you willing to adopt out of birth order?  Are you willing to have your child share a bedroom?  Are you willing to change your diet to accommodate a child with food sensitivities or medical needs?  Would you be willing to travel overseas?  Are you financially able to adopt in the way you prefer?  All of these questions will prepare your mind and heart for adoption.

Ultimately, remember that God has a way of preparing our hearts and minds for whatever He has in store for us.  Pray for a tender heart that is surrendered to His plans for your family in regards to adoption.  Pray that He will equip you with the wisdom, love and skills that you will need to parent your new child.

And remember…

You are promised only grace enough for one day at a time.

Life Goes On

And slowly, but irrefutably…

life goes on.

Seasons change,

new little faces come and go through our revolving door,

and we slowly let out the breath we didn’t know we were holding.

Somehow we start doing normal things again and try not to crumble under the weight of them.

Though it’s behind us, mostly, and we’re moving on…

we’ll never quite be the same.

I turn this over and over in my hands and try to figure out how it works.  This holding on and letting go and moving on and embracing it all.

The world feels bigger and I feel smaller.

My heart races more quickly and doubts crowd in overwhelmingly.

I feel like I’ve lost something.

Confidence.

That’s what it is.

I second guess my every move and the instincts I once relied on dance in and out of the shadows, evading my grasp.

One day at a time we try to rebuild what’s collapsed around us.

I say yes, and pray for strength to be able to love another little soul placed in my arms for a week, a few days, or until further notice.

Those little faces that walk through my door start to piece my soul back together.

I remember I am not alone in this broken world.

There are so many others.

I plan and dream and set aside the what if’s that want to destroy it.

I leave my son in capable arms and enjoy the time away with my husband, realizing my shoulders relax from their alert stance.

I find time for His Word to soak into my heart again and I start a Bible Study with a friend, grasping to understand brokenness and hurt and being stuck.

We go back to the hospital.

We come home.

We go back again and there are two more small surgeries.

We come home.

I file the hospital discharge papers and organize my son’s medical records into something recognizable; putting the sheets of paper carefully in chronological order.

My daughter starts a story; propelled by my own love of putting life into words.  She calls it “My Family.”  It is equal parts adoption, foster care and her little brother’s medical journey.  I know she is processing and healing and I look forward to each new addition she chronicles.

 

I start doing other things again.

Parent teacher interviews.

Dinner with friends.

Sleepovers with our god daughter who we have missed so much.

Writing.

I call our social worker and smile down at the envelope of paper work she gives me.  It smells like a brand new notebook and looks like hope in my hands.

We decorate the house for Christmas and celebrate National Adoption Month.

Slowly but surely, the beautiful Truth sets in.

We’re ok.

We’re all ok.

My son has a new sparkle in his eyes, and despite some scars he is beautifully, wonderfully whole.

My daughters keep stepping forward and I see a new confidence and grace in their stride.  I savor the trust and security I see glowing in their eyes.  I had feared so much would be lost but instead I am reassured.  I had no idea they could be so brave and strong.

The little, normal moments of life fill up my heart.

And suddenly I see we’ve come full circle.

Steadfast love has been there all along.

 

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Fearfully & Wonderfully Made

She calls on a Thursday.

He is less than a week old and still in the hospital NICU.

Will we take him?

He has some medical conditions that will take extra effort and pose a small risk to myself and our children.

Still,

I say yes and I can’t stop smiling all day.

I picture the soft baby hair and I can feel his baby skin against my cheek.

We purchase the car seat we’ve been putting off, new bottles, pacifiers and a package of newborn sized diapers.

All weekend I prepare for the probable.

I wake up in the night and think about his tiny body swaddled tight in a blanket; a nurse patting him with firm, reassuring pats to calm him.

I wish I am there;

to hold him,

to watch his every move protectively,

to soothe the withdrawal symptoms that make his little body tremble.

My heart cries for his pain and yet delights in his existence.

I pray for his mom, too.

I picture her leaving the hospital.

Alone.

I remember how tired, tender and overwhelmed I felt as a new mom.  As post birth hormones rushed over me and exhaustion seeped in, I had clung to my baby and my husband.

It is doubtful she has either of these to cling to and I wish I could hold her and tell her that it will be ok.

That I’ll be here to help.

That she can do this.

I pray for wisdom to love her well, no matter what I may think of her choices.

I dig out a notebook, ready and waiting to be a log book for us to pass back and forth so she won’t be out of the loop in his care.

By Tuesday morning I am all set.

My Mama Bear instincts have come rushing in and I am willing to rearrange my day at any cost to make sure I can accompany the social worker to the hospital.

I can picture the NICU I have spent time in before and I imagine him there.

He’s parked by the nursing station, waiting for someone to come and claim him to be theirs.

Mine.

I set the pile of baby items in the hall and try to figure out how I can move all the kids around so there’s plenty of space for everyone.

The phone rings and my heart jumps in anticipation.

It’s her.

Our social worker.

Baby is not doing well.

He’s struggling with the withdrawal symptoms and needed morphine over the weekend.

He’ll be in the hospital for at least another week.

Also, family has come forward and they will be taking him home upon his discharge.  We are not needed after all for Baby Boy, but thank you for being available.

I hold up my disappointment from crashing in by remembering why I believe in reunification and kinship care.

I practise gratitude as I pack away the baby things and break the news to my baby-loving daughters.

I wake in the night and turn my disappointment into prayers.

Safety.

Comfort.

Wisdom.

Love.

I think about the hours I spent loving this little person that I would probably never meet and wonder why it happened this way.

But then I think…

Why does it make any difference?

He is worthy of it all.

My love,

my time,

my grief,

my family,

and my money.

Not a single prayer, cent or minute was wasted because

this little person matters.

He matters to the One who made Him

and he matters to me.

And in that,

my heart settles.

“You are beautiful, for you are fearfully and wonderfully made.”

Psalm 139:14

 

 

 

Why We Chose Public Education

It’s here again.

Back to school time.

On the last day of school in June I walked to my daughters’ school for their end of year assembly.  While there, I was reminded for the hundredth time how blessed I feel to be a part of such a kind, fun and interactive community.

While it’s certainly not the right choice for all, we’ve had wonderful experiences here.

I would love to share with you some of the reasons why we chose public education for our daughters and to take time to publicly express gratitude for the many ways this choice has been a blessing in our lives.

My husband and I both attended small public schools in our communities as children and we both enjoyed our experiences there.

While these schools were far from perfect we both emerged with a good education, a broad circle of friends and exposure to many people who were different from ourselves.

During high school I spent time in both public and private Christian schools volunteering and gaining experience through cooperative education experiences.  I enjoyed each classroom I was a part of and emerged knowing that I wanted to teach.  I was given an opportunity to begin pursuing that dream in a small private school in Northern Ontario at age 18.  I took it enthusiastically!  I loved the classroom and I knew this is what I wanted to do.

I taught in this school for 3 years.

I made hundreds of mistakes and certainly would have benefited from more training and education, but somehow God’s grace enabled me to teach, nurture and learn in this environment.

It was a huge learning curve and God used this experience in my life to guide and grow me.

After teaching, I spent a few years providing childcare for community children.  We lived just down the street from our local public school and two of the children I cared for attended there.  This gave me opportunities to spend time at the school, get to know some of the staff and volunteer in the classroom.  I got a chance to work alongside some amazing educators and I learned a lot from them.  It reminded me of my own wonderful experiences in the public education system, while also reminding me of some of the major flaws of the public system.

When our daughters came home we were drawn to public education because it provided the support, services and inclusion for children with exceptionalities who need it, like ours.

We wanted our children, no matter their abilities, to be able to learn and interact with their peers and absorb as seamlessly as possible into their appropriate classes.

This model was also the closest replica to what they had been familiar with in their previous homes.

I also loved that the public school was a 3 minute walk from our home, which made it easy for me to volunteer in their classrooms as well as continue spending time in some of the other classes as well.

The first year was rocky.

 Very rocky.

 Our daughters were emotionally, academically and behaviourally challenging.  They had just been uprooted from everything they knew and loved and they needed time to adjust to this change.  I am so grateful for the teachers who supported my daughters through that difficult year.  The patience, gentleness, compassion and genuine love they showed was so beautiful.

They were there to love my kids for who they were, despite the behaviours, academic challenges and anxiety that meant weekly or sometimes daily phone calls home.

I walked and ran the few minutes back and forth from the school to our home countless times that first year and often breathed a prayer of thanks that I was so close.  Some days I was at school more than home.  I will forever be grateful that during that time there were adults in my daughters’ lives that understood education was far from the most important priority and were there to encourage and celebrate both me and my daughters.

I was also thankful for the professional educators that year that helped guide me through the maze of testing, Individualized Education Plans, therapy and behavioural supports.

That year I learned to celebrate the small successes, worry less and be patient with my children as they learn.

I learned that children learn if they can.

While it sometimes appeared that my children were being lazy, defiant or purposely disruptive it almost always stemmed from an inability to manage their circumstances emotionally, academically, or physically.

While I’ve had to be the expert and advocate for my children’s individual needs at times, I am so grateful to be a part of a system that does have supports available for my children.  I’m also thankful for professionals who have been able to guide me into a better understanding of some of my children’s exceptionalities.  Sensory rooms, alternative report cards, individualized goals and expectations, one on one supervision and assistance, part time learning programs and in-school therapy are just some of the special education tools we’ve accessed in the past three years.  All these supports are available for free to children who need them.

There are many who tell horror stories of navigating the system for their children, but our experience has had many positives.  You will have to fight for these supports and probably won’t get everything you feel you want and need, but there is much available.

I am so grateful for each of these supports as they have made it possible for my children and many other children I care about to learn and grow socially, academically, physically and emotionally inside a regular classroom surrounded by their peers.

Because we had invested such a huge part of our time and heart into the children in our community we really wanted our children to be able to attend school with the kids they played with every day on our street.

We wanted to be a part of our community, and school is such an easy way to do that.  We have gotten to know so many people because we chose public education.  Almost every time we go out we meet or see at least a few people we know.

I want my children to grow up alongside the children in their community and have exposure to people who are very different than they are.

I want them to develop empathy, respect and practical skills to know how to relate to the culture they are apart of.  Ultimately I want to give my children the confidence and ability they will need to embrace and share their faith in a culture that knows very little about genuine Christianity.

I don’t want my children living in a bubble of people who talk, look, speak and believe the same as them. I don’t believe that equips them with the practical skills to relate well with other people and reach the world with the gospel.

I realize a lot of fear goes along with this approach and I understand that fear.  I understand that exposing your children to the culture also means exposing them to danger.

I am confidant in this approach only because I believe without a doubt that parents are the biggest influencers in their children’s lives.

Teachers’ and peers’ influences pale in comparison to the impact you will have on your child’s heart.  While the public education system may at times come in direct contradiction to your own set of morals and values, these situations give you as the parent the unique opportunity to discuss relevant issues with your child.  While your child may question or even push back against your perspective at times, elementary aged kids will very rarely reject the values their parents hold.  What you are ingraining in them is stronger than you’d ever hope to believe.

While dealing with bullies, violence or sexualized behaviours are no walk in the park I am so grateful to have the opportunity to explore these issues with my children in a biblical way while I am still the primary influence in their life.  Helping them navigate through these issues is a privilege many parents miss because they wait too long to approach it out of fear.  I’d rather do it gradually, bit by bit and age appropriately through my children’s natural experiences than try one day in their teens to give them the whole boatload at once.

Gender confusion, racism, addictions and brokenness are all a part of the world our children are growing up in.  Wishing them away will not change that.

It’s important we give our children a biblical framework to navigate these challenging issues.  In our experience, having our children in public education has helped us to stay motivated to keep ahead of the culture in giving our children these messages.  We want to be the first to shape their perceptions and ideas, which means we need to be addressing them earlier than we’d sometimes feel comfortable with.

I am also constantly amazed at the way my children have been able to develop a compassionate, kind and respectful view of even the most difficult children around them.

They understand that a child’s outward actions are often caused by something going on inside.

It’s been one of the most beautiful parts of parenting for me to walk them through these encounters with grace and seeing them embrace this same grace toward their peers.  To see them modeling the kind of love Jesus had–a love that looks past the unkempt, unlovely parts of us to the broken places of our hearts–there is no greater joy for me.  They constantly come home asking us to pray for one friend or another who is experiencing anything from bullying to the loss of a parent through death or divorce.  Sometimes it’s just an observation of a friend who doesn’t seem very happy, is having behavioral problems or comes to school without a lunch every day.  Those prayers mean the world to me, and they teach my heart not to fear.

While many people feel the public education system is failing our children academically, I have come to appreciate the broader perspective they teach from.  It is less important that children learn to write neatly in cursive, for example, in an age of limitless technology.   It is very important, however, that children learn how to develop critical thinking skills, analyze information, and develop a thorough understanding of the math and sciences.  There are more and more opportunities for our children to enter career fields requiring strong math and science skills.  While literacy always has and always will be important, I can appreciate the strong inclusion of interpretation and comprehension of a text alongside the actual reading or writing of it.

I am still fond of many of the old-school ways of teaching children including memorization, repetition and organization particularly with children with learning disabilities, but I am also observing benefits to a more inquiry-based, natural approach.

The truth is public schools have volumes of challenge academically, socially and behaviourally that private schools will never have because they are easily accessible to everyone.  Social issues such as poverty, family dysfunction and children’s mental health impact the public system more severely than private organizations and these issues drastically change a child’s ability to learn and interact in a structured environment.

Statistics often do not mirror the extreme challenges educators are being faced with daily in the public system and the creative, compassionate and intelligent ways they are handling those challenges.

I took many of the learning approaches I learned in our public school into my homeschool with our younger daughter.  It was invaluable for me to gain a larger repertoire of teaching styles to be able to teach her in a way that she could truly thrive.

The first year our daughters were in school they both had the opportunity to bond with a teacher in a way that made it possible for them to thrive.  The difference a caring teacher can make on a child’s ability to learn is so huge.  I am so grateful for the many teachers that have invested in my daughters’ lives.

Some of them are now people I call friends.

There are so many wonderful men and women who are choosing to become educators to our children.  I have seen so much passion, energy and thought put into my daughters’ education.

To the Christian community I would also like to make a note that there are hundreds of Christian men and women in our public school system that are working hard to make a difference in these children’s lives every day.  Some of these men and women have been a huge blessing to our family during the last 3 years and it’s been an honour to support them in prayer and encouragement.

I have been humbled to be able to see just how many of the teachers involved in my children’s lives are brothers and sisters in Christ.

 For my daughters it’s been a special privilege to be able to connect with some of those men and women spiritually despite being in an environment that does not teach or encourage our faith.  Some friends and I formed a prayer group one year specifically to pray over our school, the teachers and the students.

I was humbled and amazed during that year to observe in awe and gratitude how many ways God blessed our education experience and the teachers he placed around our children.

Last but not least I love the large, colourful and diverse world public education brings to my children.  Art, music, drama, Native language and culture, a variety of athletics, French and plenty of time in nature are just some of the experiences my children enjoy at their school.

They have a beautiful wooded area on either side of the school property that they get to spend time in exploring, learning and sometimes just being kids.  They’ve come home with stories of building bridges across little streams, observing tadpoles, and finding different types of bark and moss.  I love that their teachers have carved out time for them to enjoy nature as they learn and that they recognize that sometimes an afternoon playing outside in the woods is just as beneficial as sitting inside studying.

I also love that technology is a part of their education program as well as plenty of opportunities for kinesthetic learners to experience hands on learning.  There are math and literacy programs that my children can access both at home and school so they can continue to make progress wherever they are and have a more individualized approach.

While every education experience has its challenges and benefits, I am so thankful for the freedom we experience here in Canada to be able to pursue education for our children in however God leads us, whether that be public school, home school, private school or a combination.

I am thankful to have the freedom to be involved in my children’s education and to have access to so many resources in our community to help them thrive.

While I don’t know what the future will bring, we will commit to just one year at a time, following where He leads us.

Cheers to September!

May it be filled with new beginnings and abundant grace.

AF

 

Grief

I woke up with a start and reached for my phone.

3:22 am.

Flopping back on the pillow I rolled over and tried to get comfortable but my chest felt tight and my mind was fully alert.

Memories I wanted to forget flooded in and I winced, closing my eyes tight to black out the image of my baby on a hospital bed.  Gritty, unsettling details played on the screen of my mind.  Black and white words on a page, our surgeon’s face smiling kindly at me and my son’s still body.

My ears strained for sounds through the halls as I got up to get a drink.  I wanted to go to their doors and peek inside like I do sometimes, just to listen to their breathing and make sure everyone was ok, but I shook it off, feeling silly.

We’d been home from the hospital with our son for three weeks.  The crisis was past and the prognosis was great.

But my heart was staggering to hold the weight of reality.

What had just happened?

For over a month we had lived under the shock of our son’s sudden diagnoses, surgery and recovery.  We had gone from one crisis and milestone to the next, pushing forward toward healing.

We kept going because we had to.

There was no time to sit back and process.

No time to take in the what ifs.

There was too much to do to allow the fear to creep in.

But now, with quietness all around me and the comfort of my own bed beneath me I felt my heart race.

All the fears and the what ifs came crashing in around me.

I had almost lost my son.

How had life made a turn so quickly?

How had I lost the innocence I lived with before?

I wanted so badly to just keep going.  To pick up where we had left off and continue on as if it had never happened.

But I couldn’t.

Because had changed.

As much as I wanted to be able to go on and forget, I couldn’t shake the brokenness that I felt inside.

My friend’s kind eyes and gentle words came back to me.  She had been sitting there on my couch, staring straight at me on just the right day.

“And how are you?” She had asked, after I gave my usual glowing report of Karter’s latest accomplishments and the goals he was meeting.

The laundry I was folding knotted in my hands and I felt the tears rush in.  It was just one of those days…and she knew this story oh so well.

It had only been a few short years since I’d been at her bedside as she fought against the unexpected.

It’s ok to take some time to grieve.

Grieve?

It felt strange.

We were all fine!

We were so grateful and humbled at the goodness we had experienced.

I felt like all I could rightly feel was gratitude and joy.

I had my baby here at home with me, sleeping peacefully in his crib.

The future looked bright.

I thought of 7 year old Jack and his mom; of tiny little Aden, both of whom were still where we had last seen them, and wouldn’t be going home anytime soon.  Their scenarios were so much worse than our own.

How could I grieve when I had so much to be thankful for?

And yet…

I felt let down.

I felt scared and hurt.

I felt like I had lost something precious to me.

Sometimes I had to avert my eyes from my son’s somber gaze, or from his teary cries.

I felt like I was going to break if I let myself take in the possibility that he might be remembering too.

I didn’t want to go out and see anyone.  I didn’t know how long I could continue to hold it together and paste on a smile that was fitting for the ‘God is so good’ conversation.  It wasn’t that I didn’t believe it.  It was just that there was so much more depth than just a bandaid smile to that statement.

I avoided the videos on my phone of the days and weeks before all this happened.  I didn’t want to see the subtle changes.

The lack of speech, the cautious movements, the melancholy depth in his gaze.

Gradually, we could see him coming back to us…but I missed my little boy.

I missed the little boy who waved a hockey stick in his right arm with confidence and strength.

I missed the babbling chatter that he had just begun, pointing at the world around him with eager curiosity.

I missed the clear baby gaze that used to be so innocent and pure, looking at me with absolute trust.

I missed being enough; feeling brave and strong.

This one child, I had grown inside of me and tried so hard to protect the way I could never protect my daughters.

I was going to keep him safe.

He wasn’t going to know what it was like to feel scared, hurt and alone.

Yet here we were.

Slowly over the next weeks I tried to take it in and to take time to feel.

I still am.

To feel the pain, the fear, the loss.

To let myself adjust to the unexpected life has brought us.

I feel like my mind has room for very little these days, but I’m realizing that’s ok.

We have had little people in and out of our home again the past few weekends as relief foster care placements and I am so grateful to be able to offer love to them despite the inadequacy I feel.

It feels good to feel that heart-tug when their little hands reach for my neck.

It feels good to remind myself of who I am and to know that even when I am not enough, God promises to fill in the gaps.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships,in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”                                      2 Corinthians 12:9-10

Strong?

Delight?

It feels so foreign and yet I can see it shimmering through.  When I fall into bed exhausted at the end of the day, yet I close my eyes and see her sweet little face tucked into my daughter’s bed.  Safe for one more night.

I feel it in the little boy arms that sling around my neck as he somersaults over the couch back into my lap, shy in his request for some affection.

I feel I have so little to offer these little people God has set in my home for a few days, yet somehow it’s obvious they can feel His love, His acceptance, His grace shining through the chaos and busyness of so many little people in one house.

Karter continues to make progress, though it comes more slowly now.

His happiness and slowly returning confidence is like a healing balm to my soul.

I cannot get enough of his smile,

his laughter,

the little shrieks and sounds he’s just started making again.

We went camping last weekend and he absolutely loved it.

To watch him toddle around taking it all in was so fortifying to my limping heart.  Swimming, exploring, boating, stomping on bugs, eating beside the campfire and falling asleep exhausted at the end of the day curled up in his sleeping bag next to me.

I needed it too.

The fresh air, chilled lake water, smoky campfire flavour and dirty faces of the ones I love most around me were so far away from the fear and pain.

It felt good to take one more step forward, away from the darkness.

Bouncing over the lake with my girls as we tubed beneath the bright, hot sun I felt more free and happy than I have in months.  We laughed and shrieked over the waves, again and again and again.

Just now my eyes land on a piece of mail.

“Never Give Up Hope!”

Hope.

It can feel so elusive but it’s always right there within grasp when we believe in a God who is so much bigger than this broken, faded world.

If this is you right now,

limping along grasping for threads or feeling disillusioned with the world,

take these words as my prayer for you and hide them deep within your heart.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

-Romans 15:13

 

 

 

 

Life Unexpected

It is the stuff of nightmares.

A doctor with an apologetic face;

He’s offering a chair, taking a deep breath…

Brain tumour.

My heart clutches.

I look to my husband and I see his face cringe.

Our son snuggles closer between us when we cling and sob out sorrow.

I race home to collect a bag of things,

To hug my girls good-bye.

Their fear and innocence in contrast pushes me on.

I promise them and hold them tight.

Before I can breathe,

process,

hold this new reality in my hands…

We are being rushed toward the helicopter, my tiny son strapped to a stretcher and crying as we roll through the darkness.

I’m kissing my husband goodbye.

“I will be there as fast as I can.”

I want to scream,

To pull my baby in my arms and run far away from all this.

The men are large and strangely comforting in their neon jackets.

They are gentle and calm.

They strap us in and sit quietly in my stunned grief as we fly through the night sky.

My son settles into an exhausted sleep and I hold his hand and stare down at the lights below.

Steadfast love.

It comes to me and pulls together my anguished heart.

Over and over in the last 2 weeks I was drawn to the psalm, not sure why, and now the words bind up my wounds.

“Your steadfast love, O Lord; extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds.”

“How precious is your steadfast love, O God!”

“Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in you.”

Steadfast.

Love.

I breathe and take refuge in the angels in neon across from me.

We are landing and they place him back in my arms.  I hold him close and wrap a blanket around his bare arms.  We’ve left without a jacket and the night air is cold.  I grip him to my heart and try to transfer myself to him.  I know he is afraid.

Steadfast love.

We follow strange corridors and crowd into an elevator.  The men in neon surround us and tower over us.  My son gazes wide eyed and scared.

We follow back outside to an ambulance and whisk away.

I breathe gratitude and feel tears well when they allow me to hold him instead of strap him to the stretcher.

We are sitting in a busy hallway on a stacking chair being admitted and still I hold him tight to my chest, the blanket securing him to me.

My eyes feel big and scared.  I feel small and unsure.

My heart flows gratitude when I see my big brother round the corner and come to us.

He stays with us even with his own son lying upstairs.

Steadfast love.

The hours blur as they insert IVs, put on lead lines and watch monitors.

My baby’s skin has always been so spotless and white.

I cringe as they pin him down and poke and press.

He is terrified.

My husband comes and we sit together in shock as our baby drifts to sleep on the cold white hospital bed.

Questions.

Answers?

My phone dies from the texting.

We spend the night in a crowded room trying to sleep in the upright hospital chairs.

We won’t leave him.

He falls into sleep and I am so thankful he can escape this nightmare as I try to get comfortable.

The next day there are tests.

More questions.

Information staggers my mind and makes me stare at my boy unbelieving.

So perfect.

So unblemished.

So innocent.

Brain surgery tomorrow.

9am.

They will cut his scalp open and drill a passage way through his brain.

I hold the words at arms length and turn my eyes so I won’t have to look too close, to let the terror seep in.

I focus on reassuring my toddler, learning new terms and piecing together brain anatomy.

I phone my girls and once again I put on my brave voice.  I am their string of hope and I won’t let them down.

My voice is strong and sure as I promise them and reach for words they can understand.

I give them just enough to ease their anxiety, but not too much.

We take our little boy, clad in hospital gown and pajama pants, to the play room.  For over an hour he plays and we watch him forget about the IV on his arm.  He babbles and laughs and points at the elevators moving up and down.

Steadfast love.

I wonder when he will play again.

That night I sleep on a couch near his room, comforted by knowing that I will be close by if he needs me.

Morning.

Surgery day.

Only now do I let myself Google it…preparing my heart for the fall.  The words I find give me footholds of reassurance and I claim them fiercely.

My husband carries him through the halls to the OR.

We look at books and try to hide our uncertain tears from his little face as we wait.

He likes the trucks and tractors in the book.

For a minute he goes very soft in my arms and snuggles up to my neck.  I squeeze him close and breathe him in.

Steadfast love.

When they take him and his bunny Flopsy away he cries and we force ourselves to turn and walk away.

My mother in law’s arms give me a second to collapse and I feel tears rush in.  She holds my pain for a minute before letting go and it feels good to share a bit.

It is 6 long hours.

I am nervous…but I also feel held.

I am humbled as I realize all the people praying in this moment.

I believe.

Steadfast love.

The surgeon is there.  I anxiously rise to the inevitable and scan his face for hope.

He is so pleased.

Gratitude overwhelms as he describes what we hardly dared hope for.

It is gone.  They’ve gotten every piece they could find.

Steadfast love.

We go in to see him and I could weep with relief.  His chubby cheeks relax in peaceful sleep.  Flopsy is still there with him and we tuck him up by his arm.

Steadfast love.

The uncertainties lurk but we hold onto the hope and embrace it.

Its been a few days now and I sit by my baby’s bedside in the ICU.

The adrenaline rush is collapsing and the truth feels cold and hard beneath my tumbling heart.  I am scared and uncertain in this new reality but still…

Steadfast love.

I reach for the hearts that I know will hold me, us, in all our pain.

He is seizing beneath my trembling hands and his eyes stare dull and lifeless.

They are rushing in, grabbing masks, calling code.

I am being pushed back from his bedside and I cling to my husband’s trembling chest.  More and more…they just keep coming, calling out orders and stats.

I am terrified and the sobs push out of my lips.

I stumble out into the hallway into the waiting arms of my sister in law, who came rushing when she heard the code.

She holds me and says “I’m sorry” as I fall apart.

I know she knows this feeling and I am so grateful for her presence in this moment.

He knew that I would need her tonight and her son is surprisingly, blessedly, fast asleep down one floor in his room.

Steadfast love.

We return to the ICU and I am so grateful.  The carefully monitored room feels familiar and safe after the last 24 hours.

Answers come and we nod in understanding as they explain.

Knowledge gives grip to confidence and I advocate for my son, feeling strong and sure in the normalcy of knowing what is best for him.

Steadfast love.

It’s painful to watch him grasp for strength and my heart staggers under the weight of discouragement.

She knows me well and despite my efforts her arms bring the tears flowing.  It feels better than I thought to let the fear out and fall apart.

Steadfast love.

He meets us on the street corner with the kindest and gentlest of words.

“Don’t worry,” he tells my husband, and we see he really means it.  He gives generously and my eyes fill once again with gratitude for this man who has continually blessed our family again and again and again.

I am humbled and so grateful.

Steadfast love.

The waited on words are offered casually and its anticlimactic as we cautiously grasp hope.

No cancer.

No further treatments needed.

“I see no reason he should not have a full recovery.”

Really?!

Steadfast love.

A weight falls off our shoulders and breath comes easier.

For the first time in days I see light.

I wake up to the video and I smile the biggest smile.  It’s my little boy grinning his crooked little smile and high fiving Daddy with his right hand!  The side that’s been weakened since surgery.

Steadfast love.

So much joy with one small milestone!

They keep coming and coming.

First kick,

first reach,

first grasp of my finger,

first step,

first bite.

So many reasons to be grateful.

Steadfast love.

I talk to them on the phone and they are bubbling over with happiness and news.

“I miss you, Mommy.”

“I miss you, too.”

And then she goes on with what Nana said, what Papa did, what happened at school…

I smile the biggest smile as I listen to her happy voice.

They are safe and happy, even though they are so far from me.

They have found their people and they know who they belong with right now.

How do we deserve to be loved so unconditionally and fully?

Steadfast love.

It’s our first weekend home!

We get a pass!

I am ecstatic and my heart actually skips a beat as we drive into our small town.

It’s so beautiful and green everywhere!

We’ve been gone a month and so much has changed.

Life everywhere.

I drink in the green trees, the breeze on my face as it blows off the bay, the sight of my children all playing together in the back yard.

Steadfast love.

Life has changed, and I miss the way it used to be.

But in it all, I am so grateful.

And I know…

In the journey there is beauty,

growth,

redemption,

and always…

Steadfast love.

-AF