Monday, May 16, 2016

Difficult doors to open lead to open windows: courageous meets crazyonce again!

     God's really good at stories.  When reading His love letter to us in His Word, it's obvious He likes adventure, knick of time rescues, miracles, and evidence that only He could have done something marvelous  in someone's life.  He likes to show off!
      Well let me tell you what He's up to in our lives.  I wish I could share a book, but for now, we are just sharing what is happening in the present.  Good sequels always take a long time to be told.  God seems to be like that too as His plan unravels in our lives as the days, months, and years go on.  We can't rush it but thank Him and see Him working in every moment, every answered prayer, and even in every setback.

     If you know us and/or read my blog regularly, you know we have been trying to adopt again since March 2015.  We have felt led to adopt privately in our region through an adoption lawyer and word of mouth at local doctor's offices, crisis pregnancy centers, and our home study agency.  So far, God has kept this door closed.  Because He hadn't placed our next daughter in our arms yet, last summer we felt led to host an orphan from Eastern Europe.  Hosting led to trying to pursue adoption, which was stalled until the winter hosting period to try to help her make a sure decision.  It was obvious after the winter hosting she did not want to be adopted for various reasons.  Fortunately, though, she is now staying connected to us through Facebook.  Heartbroken, yet still trusting God, we prayed about what to do next.  Because of our hosting experience we realized that our family has grown through grief, loss, and having to say goodbye to someone who we consider a part of our family.  Though it was one of the most difficult things we had ever done, it made us more like Christ.  We pulled through it and realized we COULD do it, as difficult as it was.  After making inquiries and asking lots of questions of other families who had gone before us, we made the decision to become foster parents.

     Fostering has had a stigma of being something extremely difficult to do.  How can I love a child in my home for months, even years, and then send that child who I have loved as my own back to an abuser, a drug addict, a criminal?  But the real question should be how can I say I can't open my heart to a damaged and broken child who may never know love, family, and experience the Gospel lived out in front of them?  How could I be unwilling to take them in? It is a selfish, closed-hearted attitude.  We must love as Jesus loves and be willing to be broken as He was.
    There is a huge need for foster parents in our area.  Foster homes are so full of children that many are having to be placed several counties away from their birth families.  This means moving schools, long trips to court and visitation, and dealing with loss in a worse way than having to move to a foster home nearby.
     We have completed training for fostering and have all of our many documents ready for certification. It took three months to complete the requirements, including 10 weeks of night classes in a neighboring county.  We will be approved to foster one girl, aged 5 or under, at a time in our home.  The limit for children in our home is 5, so that is all that will be given to us.  Whether or not she will be adoptable will be determined with time.  It is a long, emotional process.  Each girl may stay with us weeks, months, even a year before she is placed back with her family, a family member, or is released to be adopted by us.  We don't know if God will give us a forever daughter through the foster system or not.  We simply want to walk through this door to be ministers of love, family, and the Gospel to children and their families who are terribly broken.

     As foster parents we will be given placements with only a couple hours' notice.  When this happens, we will likely get on social media and share as vaguely as we can (abiding by policy) what our situation is.  If it's a baby, we may have immediate material and feeding needs, need help around the house with children (automatic sleepless nights), we could really be blessed by meals, and will need lots of prayer and encouragement! Even a child as old as five arriving at our home with very little preparation will create a large amount of stress and need for support and help as we adjust and minister to her grief, shock, and individual issues from the trauma she has experienced.  While we won't be begging for help, please understand we will need it.  Fostering requires a big support system and we know we can't do it alone.

And Here Comes the Twist......

     We were under the impression that shortly after completing our paperwork and training we would be certified and soon afterward receive our first placement.  The time line looked like this would happen soon after school was over for our kids in June.  However, our social worker signing off on our paperwork is extremely busy, so busy she wasn't even returning my messages and initiating contact with us until May 9th, when I caught her in her office.  When we talked I asked when would be a reasonable time to expect our certification to be signed off so we could receive children.  She answered "The first of August".

     My first response was "Oh no...that's so long.  What a wasted summer of waiting".  Then I realized the orphan hosting period for this summer was scheduled to be over on the first week of August.  The eyes of my heart were wide open.

                                        God,  you are opening another door!!!!!!

     I called Kris, not knowing what he'd say.  Never had we seriously discussed hosting again, because we assumed we'd have a foster child this summer.  We couldn't do both.  It was logistically impossible to handle both.  But we had 24 hours to make a decision.  The hosting matching period, having started in February, was going to close the NEXT DAY.  I told Kris the situation, and he calmly replied "Call our New Horizons coordinator NOW."

     She answered the phone immediately.  On the last day or two of hosting matching, workers are scrambling, begging, pleading with all their followers on social media to pray, give, and make a last-minute commitment to host.  While over 100 children from Eastern Europe had been matched to be hosted, another 100 had not.  They were about to be told "no one picked you".  Their hopes of coming to America for the chance at love, hope, and family, whether it be simply a connection or as significant as adoption, were about to be shattered.  I told her our situation and she gave me story after story of the remaining children we potentially could have in our home.  It came down to a couple different teen girls and a brother and sister sibling group.  She told me "I will have the person who met and interviewed them call you and tell you more about each of them".  Wow.  Within a few hours, the phone rang again.  I got to hear all the details of each of those kids who never had been to America, had amazing potential, and may never have this chance again.  Then I got really serious with the interviewer and asked "Of these kids we have narrowed it down to, which one, in your opinion, needs hope the most desperately?  Which one could benefit the most from being in our family this summer?"  She paused and said "It's the brother and sister".  I was surprised she didn't tell me one of the teen girls.  They were about to age out and be put out on the streets.  Surely they need hope!  But after meeting them, she felt this sweet brother and sister needed it more.

                                                       Let me tell you about them.

     E and E are going to be 10 and 11 when they arrive.  They both have birthdays within a couple weeks of each other, just before they arrive, and are less than a year apart in age! They are from the same country as "L", so we will already know a little of their language, common foods, and culture when they arrive.  " Little Miss", as the interviewer called her, is a chatterbox.  She knows a good bit of English already and is so excited about coming to America for the summer.  She loves art, especially painting and origami, and really wants to see a zoo and ride a roller coaster in America.  She plays with dolls, but since she lives in a home with lots of boys, likes playing with trucks as well.  She'd love to learn to swim this summer too.  "Little Mr." (I'm giving him this alias) loves basketball and running.  He really is laid back and lets his sister dominate the conversation.  They get along really well and love each other dearly.  He wants to learn to swim, ride a roller coaster, and see a zoo this summer too!
When I learned about these kids, tears welled up.  They would absolutely love to hang out with our kids!  There couldn't be a better fit!

     E and E had a significant scholarship donated toward their hosting fees.  When evening came and Kris and I hadn't made a final commitment yet (we had until the next day to put them on hold) we got a message saying "The next family to put a child on hold has been offered an additional scholarship".  Kris said "Ok, let's do it!"  We got the scholarship, essentially allowing us to host two kids for the price of one.  What a blessing!

    We will have to move Anna Faith into her brothers' room in order to host these kiddos (no worries, she and the boys are thrilled about bunking together!).  There are rules in place about ages of kids they need to share the room with, so we had to put them in a room alone.  Because of their closeness, they should love to have each other close.

     I will be posting a list soon of items they will need this hosting.  We will need to collect stuff quickly since all of this happened literally in the last possible day!  We have been shuffling around in one week getting documents notorized, letters of agreement mailed, trainings and even a face time home visit completed, all before the deadlines established.  In the next two days the kids' tickets will be purchased and we'll be able to count down!

     Would you please be in prayer for E and E?  We know this is of the Lord.  He has opened this door at the last hour and we have been able to walk through it in faith.  Yes, we will have six kids this summer for about six weeks!  Having a 4,6,8,10,10, and 11 year old will be loud, energetic, chaotic at times and very stressful with language and cultural barriers, but we know God will give us the grace and strength to serve Him in this way.

     Would you also please consider being a blessing to these two precious children while they are here with us?  They are actually adoptable (yes, we know for sure this time!).  We said we'd never put our hearts out like this with host children again, but here we are.  Just a side note, never say never to God....  We are not considering adopting them (logistically we can not have more boys in our 3 bedroom house so it is impossible).  But giving them a summer of love and family is much better than passing them over and knowing their hopes will be dashed.  These kids are going to need love from our community and from people they may never even meet.  Receiving gifts, meals, hugs and special time together, basic necessities they must have to live here and take home with them, all of these are items you can bless them with.  Last year "L" was blessed and overwhelmed by the gifts people gave.  She enjoyed writing personal thank you's to each giver.  I have no doubt these kids will react the same way.  If you'd like to give them a gift of zoo tickets, water park passes, Discovery Park tickets, gift cards to a local restaurant (they may very well have never eaten in a restaurant before), new shoes, a backpack, etc. please let me know.  Bringing over a meal and/or volunteering to babysit our other kids so I can take them out for shopping and special time alone would be HUGE as well.  I'll be compiling a list soon of items we need to collect and wish list items that would make their day.  It blesses them, but also blesses us as we have been instantly bombarded with having to collect everything for TWO kids in a month's time!

     So once again we are seen by the world as crazy.  But while on the surface we may appear insane with six kids in tow for the summer, in our hearts we are acting out our faith in courage.  We can't wait to see what God will do with our imperfect family to make an eternal difference in two children's lives this summer.  Are you excited to see how this story will continue to unfold?  We sure are!

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Those Stubborn 10 Pounds: What Difference Does it Make?

What difference does 10 pounds make?  I'm not writing to sell you on a method, a product, a program, or a special fad diet.  I'm not knocking any of you friends who are sales representatives for them, because according to your daily posts about your products that help you earn a significant second income, they have amazing impacts on your personal health.  However, I want to share my story and how it doesn't just affect my waist line, energy level, or confidence nearly as much as it has taught me much deeper truths.

After "L" left us and returned to her country (for her story, see my posts about orphan hosting) I entered a period of discouragement and despair.  I mourned for the girl who I prayed would be my forever daughter.  I ate more comfort foods, was less active, suffered more migraine headaches, and from the stress even got a misaligned neck needing adjustment from a local chiropractor.  I've discovered I have a lower than average metabolism, so even a week or two of reducing my activity level results in instant weight gain.  Several pounds that had creeped on over a couple years rapidly added on several more, and before I knew it, all my clothes were getting tight, my energy level was plummeting, and my ailments increased.  Many of you may think "What's 10 pounds?  I have to lose 50!"  The reason 10 pounds is significant to me is that it signified I was entering a path I didn't want to go down.  It revealed to me that I was relying on food to be my comfort, not the Lord.  I was more irritable and moved more slowly with my kids, and it was affecting my parenting in a godly way.  Something needed to change.
After running a 5K run down the road with my oldest

I tried exercise first.  I exercised three times a week to the point of exhaustion.  One hour workouts while the kids were running in and out of the house were stressing me out.  I never lost a pound, but actually started GAINING more weight!  So then I started calorie counting on my phone with a Fitbit Kris got me for Christmas.  It seemed to make sense, but after a month of reducing my diet by 800 calories a day (simply eating less) and intensely exercising 3-5 times a week for 30 minutes I had only lost a mere 1 pound.  I was getting really discouraged at this point.

It was around this time I joined a Bible Study at church.  It was about being a prayer warrior, based off the movie "War Room".  Studying what God's Word teaches us on prayer every day for eight weeks taught me how to pray more specifically, passionately, and intimately.  I had to pray before even getting out of bed because if the kids heard I was up, it was over (They are really good about beating me up every morning)!  This new discipline and deepened walk with God refreshed my day to day attitude and my cravings for comfort food to relieve stress throughout the day lessened.  I started replacing carbs (granola bars, yogurt, bread, sugary cereals, etc) with protein (plain granola, peanuts, greek yogurt, low fat cheese sticks, whole grain unsweetened cereals) and never felt hungry like I used to!  No special diet, no fancy expensive foods, no cutting out gluten, fats, etc, but just a big increase in whole foods without additives, substitutes, and lots of sugar.  Sure I eat chocolate sometimes (dark chocolate isn't so bad when you get used to it), and love to eat fruit instead of sugary snacks, but these general replacements throughout the day became my new favorite foods!  And FINALLY the pounds started rolling off!  I lost 1-2 pounds a week for the last 2 months and am finally at my goal- the weight I was before getting married 12 1/2 years ago.

I feel great.  My migraines are much less frequent.  My neck pain rarely returns.  My moodiness is much more level (no more big sugar fluctuations!) and I'm much more patient with my kids during the day.  I have found a new dietary lifestyle and have no intention to go back to my old favorite foods.  And some of my kids actually have learned to like these foods too (but still enjoy their sugar as well)! Calorie counting has been my biggest accountability, but I also know that if I eat junk one day, even if it is 800 calories less than what I've supposedly burned that day the scale will be up the next morning (it never fails).  My metabolism is just that bad!  Some of us are just designed that way, which gives me much more empathy for people who are constantly struggling to keep weight off that they worked so hard to lose.

I want to be the kind of mom who, when I have 5 and 6 kids in a grocery store with me, gets asked the standard "all they all yours?" and when I reply affirmatively, get a response like "You don't look like a mom of six kids!".  That is a testimony that I live by Philippians 4:13: I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.  It is true.  By gaining a deeper walk with Him in prayer, the loose ends of my life came together.  He gave me the strength to go for a 3 mile run when a year ago at this time I couldn't even run half a mile without back pain or a headache.  He gave me the strength to keep trying when I was discouraged.  He gave me the willpower to say no to what wasn't good for me so my health could reach its full potential.

Ten pounds are gone, but much more importantly, I feel empowered to be more for Christ now.  If He can get me through the valley of discouragement with mourning the loss of a child I thought would be ours and can get me through losing weight to restore my body and resolve, He can empower me to do even more.  There is more to this story that I want so badly to share, but you will have to wait a little longer!

This by no means indicates my life is all together.  I still struggle with impatience, showing grace to those who I don't think deserve it, and using consistent discipline with my kids to name a few.  I still have days when I don't want to get out of bed and face those hyper children and my disaster of a kitchen that needs cleaning from the night before.  I still am weak, but Christ is making me more like Him one lesson at a time.

We are all on a journey as we grow in our walk and understanding of God and His Word.  He is working in different areas on each of us.  Recently for me it has been simply learning to pray more and letting my daily lifestyle and activity line up with my growing walk with Him.

Got struggles?  Try prayer.  It works! (no pun with the It Works products intended!)