This is not a typical blog post from me. Trust me, this one is a little “out there”. Definitely off brand for my writing. But I’ve been chronicling an oddity in my life, and I want to share, partly to see if anyone else has experienced anything similar, and partly to record about it for the future. So, here I go…
Do you ever have something pop into your mind with seemingly no trigger and no related conscious thought? Maybe you’re watching a show about dogs and suddenly an image of a purple rocket ship is in your brain in perfect detail. Or you’re cooking dinner and the words of the preamble to the Constitution forms instantly in your mind, like someone held up an imaginary flashcard that you weren’t expecting. For the last few months, I’ve frequently had a similar occurrence, sometimes many times a day, only it involves tastes and smells. I experience very vivid and very specific tastes and smells, in my mind, at random times. I’ll be going about my day and suddenly, I'm acutely aware of the taste of popcorn or the smell of gasoline. Sometimes, I find the event interesting. Other times, I'm befuddled, and I question if I’ve somehow tipped the scales of normal brain processes.
I don’t call the tastes and smells memories because they aren’t associated with a specific place and time, but they are memories in the sense that my brain recalls a particular taste and/or smell just before it identifies the specific food or item to which the taste and/or smell is associated. These tastes and smells are so vivid and sudden that I've been tempted to call them sensory hallucinations, but I am able to distinguish that I’m not actually smelling or tasting what my brain evokes.
There are two life events that I can loosely connect to the onset of this phenomenon: 1) Contracting and recovering from Covid, and 2) Changing to a low carb/keto diet. When I lost my smell with Covid, it was only for a few days, but it nearly drove me crazy. I cried because not having any sense of smell felt overwhelmingly strange. Around the time I got better, I completely changed my eating habits. Could the phenomena be a brain quirk caused by the virus? Maybe my diet has altered my brain somehow; some (certainly not all) of the tastes and smells could be triggered by normal cravings for foods I've given up. Or maybe I've developed a form of synesthesia, but I haven't identified the triggers for the sensory perceptions.
There was a day in early January where the tastes and smells occurred so many times that it started to get on my nerves. It had crossed the line into distraction. To try to make some sense of it, I decided to document what I was “smelling” and “tasting” and the time of day it happened, to see if there were any patterns. I did this for one month, and the results are fairly interesting (at least to me.)
I'm tempted to share my log for the month, but that might be too much. Let's just say, there are some odd things documented. Some of the items on the list I haven't actually tasted or smelled in years. Deviled ham? A tanning bed? Chinese donuts? Dried tobacco? Others are common for me, like ketchup, ranch dressing, and apples. Some of the tastes/smells are very specific, like Ivory Soap, Smarties candies, and Fruit Stripe gum, while some are more general, like toothpaste.
Are these perceptions here to stay? Will they become less distracting over time? Maybe they aren't so odd. Perhaps there are lots of people with the same experience, who don't talk about it because it's their normal.
The human brain is an amazing thing. No doubt, we are all "fearfully and wonderfully made" (Psalm 139:14,) despite our quirks or differences, or perhaps evidenced by them. As we change and get older, we learn new things about ourselves, and that's one of the things that makes life interesting.
Just in case you didn't see it on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, or YouTube...I just signed a contract to publish my fifth novel!
To announce the signing of this contract with Iron Stream Media, I visited one of the settings of my upcoming novel, which is tentatively titled Songs for a Sunday. Oh, I can hardly wait to tell you more about this book (but I will). For now, I'll share that it's my first novel with a dual timeline, set in present day and the 1960s, and it's a Southern/Women's Fiction story set in and around Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The book is scheduled to release March 2023. (I know! So far away! But more time to spread the word is a good thing.)
In these pictures, I'm at R.J. Reynolds Auditorium, a beloved landmark of the city. Two pivotal scenes in my book take place here--one in each timeline.
Construction of this magnificent building began in 1919, and was the vision of Mrs. Katharine Smith Reynolds, in honor and memory of her husband, tobacco industry magnate Richard Joshua Reynolds, who died the year prior. The bronze memorial tablet in the lobby reads: "This auditorium is to be devoted to the cultivation of the arts and sciences, and to the education of people, in affectionate recognition of the life and services of him in whose honor and memory it is dedicated."
One more teaser about the book- it deals with the struggles, secrets, sacrifices, and successes of two sets of sisters, generations apart. I'm so excited to work with Iron Stream Media for this project, and I'm very grateful to Editor Extraordinairre, Eve Marie Everson (who is also a fabulous author) for the opportunity. Thankful also for my agent, Cyle Young.
I look forward to sharing more in the coming months!
I'm trying to get comfortable sharing messages on camera every once in a while. (TikTok filters really help.) So here are some thoughts about an experience I had recently, when I was convicted in my spirit for saying "I can't." I hope this message encourages you.
I never really seek a word for the new year, but some years, one finds me. In 2019, the word that came to mind was momentum. I felt it applied to my writing career getting off the ground and picking up speed. In 2020, the word that found me was bigger. I didn’t know it then, but I think it had to do with the need for my faith to be “bigger” to handle the trials of that year and for me to understand that God is bigger than our situation. I don’t remember feeling a word for 2021.
This week, as the thought of a New Year’s word passed through my mind, I felt several forms of a Latin word settling into my spirit all at once—Solus, Soli, Sola, Solo—all which mean alone or only. It's the English word sole. I believe it speaks to what should be my sole aim, my sole goal in the upcoming year: To seek Him first. Matthew 6:33 says, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”
Sure, I have goals and ambitions for the new year, even resolutions. My “word for the year” isn’t a vow to forsake anything that isn’t specifically of eternal value. But I hope it will remind me that my priority should be to please God alone and to draw closer to Him, and that any goals I achieve should be for His glory alone. If I keep those things in focus, I believe I’ll be successful in 2022.
Seek Him first. Then everything else will fall into place as it should.
The roar of motors and rushing wind rivals other noises in our house—kids laughing, kids bickering, television blaring, dogs barking. Three high-powered fans sit in the floor of our dining room-turned-office and the kitchen near the laundry closet. A giant dehumidifier with a hose draining into the nearby bathroom sink is there, too, working to dry out the subfloor after a faulty gasket on a newly-installed pump in the washing machine caused a leak, which we discovered when we returned home from the beach last week. Floorboards in the dining room had buckled into mini mountain ridges.
It’s a small thing, really—an inconvenience for a few days. And soon we’ll have new floors and a great appreciation for homeowner’s insurance. But we have to leave these very loud fans running for a few days, so we’re yelling to speak to one another and trying to not let the noise drive us crazy. In a nice way, it reminds me of my childhood, when our air conditioning was a couple of window units at either in the end of the house and we used floor fans in between. The roar of those motors was a regular sound of summer.
More childhood memories came this week in the form of a pair of wingback chairs. I purchased them through an online auction—I was outbid on everything else—and they were a bargain, especially considering the sentimental value they hold. My parents were kind enough to pick them up for me, and my dad helped me load both into my minivan after church on Wednesday night. The former owners of the chairs are both deceased, but it doesn’t seem so long ago that I was in their home, with my parents and sisters, having dinner. This couple from our church were gracious hosts, kind and welcoming, and their home was a showplace. Now the pink, formal chairs that I remember in their fancy sitting room, are in my not-so-fancy house. They are unlike anything I could probably find in a store today, and they are totally out of place in my home, but I love them, and so do my kids. The chairs remind me of friends and hospitality, they smell like memories, and they are much more comfortable than they look. I hope to rearrange my daughters’ bedroom for the girls to each have one, but for now--until we have to move everything into a pod in the yard while the floors are being replaced--one of the chairs sits in our living room, not far from my work desk, in the middle of the all the chaos.
Work has been especially challenging this week. For part of it, along with the noise of the fans, we've had all four kids at home. It’s hard enough with three kids being on summer break, but when I found out that an outbreak of the virus at preschool meant shutting down the four-year-old’s classroom for a time, I admit, I panicked. I half-jokingly screamed into a pillow. I pretended to bang my head against a wall. Then, I remembered to count it all joy. My four children, whom I love, are under my roof all day. That is a blessing. A hardship when I am on phone meetings for hours, yes, but still a blessing. We have a comfortable home in which to spend our days, exposed subflooring and all. And we are well. Thank God, we are well. I’m praying for friends who are sick right now. And I pray for those who may be struggling to find childcare.
Other than work, dealing with repair people and claims adjustors, taking kids to instrument lessons, church, guiding kids through the day so they’re not constantly on devices, making sure the refrigerator and pantry are stocked for six people, preparing meals, and cuddling our four-month-old kitten who enjoys being held like a baby while I’m at my desk, I’m also finalizing plans for Vacation Bible School. VBS kicks off in a little over two weeks, and I'm praying that the Lord will use it to draw people close to Him.
Since I’ve attended my church for all but the first two years of my life, I have lots of great memories for VBS there. I pray my children love going to VBS at our church as much as I always did, and still do. But directing takes a lot of time. There's much to be done. So, I’ve had to realize that, with everything going on, writing the newest novel should wait; completing the short story I started should wait; and, even helping someone dear to me edit their first book should wait, for a little while. To everything there is a season.
So, why am I taking time now to write about renovations and furniture, work and kids? It helps me process emotion and clear my head. When all the thoughts and feelings start jumbling together, I let them out, so my brain can work better. And the extra benefit? It boosts my faith. When I write about life, the written record proves the goodness of God. His blessings are everywhere--including at funerals and in minivans on country roads--which He showed me this week.
Around 9:30 Thursday morning, while the man was here ripping up our floors, I closed my work computer and left to go sing at the funeral for my friend's father. Alex stayed home with the pets and the kids and the demo guy, and there was no doubt which of us had the easier task.
The funeral was a sweet tribute to a man who loved the Lord, his family, music, and writing. (I only knew of him, but I think we are kindred spirits.) It was an honor to celebrate his life, to grieve the family's loss, and to worship God with them. There was a beautiful peace in the room--the stillness of a loved one's race now finished and the blessed hope of a reunion in the sweet by and by.
Driving home, I could see that the interstate was backed up as I approached the exit, so I kept going, traveling on country backroads instead. The longer route could have been an inconvenience, but it was exactly what I needed. The sun was shining, and the color of the sky and brightness of the clouds was mesmerizing. Seeing the cows and horses, farm ponds, old barns, and the seemingly endless green fields, brought me joy. God was there with me. And there were no loud fans. In the quiet of my minivan, I thanked Him for His blessings.
It’s not been an average kind of week, but there's joy to be found in all of it. I'm waiting and watching to see all the good things God will do, and above the roar, I say, "I’m blessed."
I made a mistake this week. For days it has haunted me. It makes my stomach twist and tighten and my chest ache to think about it. Agonizing—that’s what living with my mistake has been like. All over a social media post.
When I shared on Facebook about our house search, and that we’d had to back out of a contract for the home we’d fallen in love with, I thought it was innocent, just telling friends about the journey. The post was set to private, after all. But the owners of the property somehow found out about it and weren’t happy with what I shared. When I got a phone call confronting me about it, I was devastated. I was embarrassed. I cried. I wanted to hide from the world (and I tried for a little while.) I probably should have known better than to share what I did, but my post wasn’t meant to cause harm. I didn’t mean to mess up. And my impulse was to swear off social media forever.
My reaction might seem silly, but I can’t stand it when people are upset with me. And I hate to make mistakes. Every time I share on social media, I read what I’ve written multiple times to make sure there isn’t an error that will make me look foolish, and especially that I haven’t said something that might hurt someone’s feelings or make them think less of me. So, when I do the very thing I’m so cautious to avoid, it’s torturous to my psyche.
Years ago, I was healed of anxiety issues. Sometimes, the panic tries to sneak back in, and I have to remind myself that I’m healed. It’s when I’m faced with conflict or the consequences of mistakes that I have to do the most reminding. After my social media flub this week, a barrage of stupid mistakes flooded my memory. They piled on top of one another. Thus, this blog. The memories won’t leave me alone, so I’m facing a few by writing about them.
When I was in my late teens, I was by myself in the office on a Saturday at one of my part-time jobs. The phone rang and I answered. The caller sounded like a nice old man. He asked for another employees’ phone number. The list was printed and posted on the wall next to me, and I wanted to help the man out. Next to the lady’s name and number was printed, “Do not give this out.” But the man sounded so sweet. He convinced me that he was her friend. I was young and naïve. I gave the man the phone number, only to find out later, from my very unhappy boss, that the man had been harassing the lady and she’d had to have her number changed because of him. Because of my mistake, she had to have her number changed again. It’s been over twenty years, and I am still sad about what I did.
At twenty, I worked in a different office as a receptionist. One morning, when I got dressed for work, I questioned the outfit. Was the top too lowcut for the office? I stood in front of the mirror, turning and leaning, scrutinizing to decide if the shirt was appropriate. I decided to go with it, only to be approached by the office manager at some point in the day and told never to wear it to work again. I was mortified. I had tried to make a good decision because I did care about how I looked. I didn’t want to be dressed immodestly. I just made the wrong choice.
Not long ago, I did a small task for someone that I loved, thinking that I was being helpful. Instead, the person was offended by my action. They thought I was trying to take over their responsibility, and they haven’t spoken to me since. My mistake this week brought back the hurt of that broken relationship so strongly. The feeling of helplessness. Of confusion. I meant no harm. But somehow, my actions did damage, and I can’t fix it, though I tried.
This week, I was reminded again how quickly things can go from fine to not, from calm to gut-wrenching. Yes, it may seem like I’m overreacting, but the fear of being reprimanded for the next mistake is very real. I often worry, did I thank that person for the gift or compliment? Did they know I was sincere? Did I forget to speak to so-and-so? Did I slight someone by accident? Were they hurt? Are they mad? Did I sound boastful? The questions are endless because I genuinely care about people, and I care what they think about me (maybe too much.)
There are tons more mistakes I could talk about, some bigger, some smaller than the examples here. And I haven’t even talked about sin. This blog will be much too long if I start down that path. So, what’s my point? Is it all hopelessness? Of course, not. That’s never the point.
A few days ago, when I was crying over an action that I couldn’t undo, there was one thing that brought me comfort. I said to myself, “Jesus loves me. Jesus loves me. Jesus loves me.” The Bible says, “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38, 39) I’m pretty sure that includes my mistakes. Regardless of what others think about me, He loves me, and that’s all I need to know.
I’ll make more mistakes, for sure. (Writing all this down and sharing it could be a mistake, just like the Facebook post that started it.) But I can handle the fear of messing up again because my mistakes will never change His love for me. I struggle with anxiety sometimes, but no matter what, Jesus loves me. I don’t always get things right, but Jesus loves me. I do foolish things sometimes, but Jesus loves me. I mess up, but Jesus loves me. Jesus loves me. Jesus loves me. Jesus loves me. And He loves you, too.
Do you need reassurance that God knows the end from the beginning? That's what I got out of a story from Exodus this week.
In chapter three, God spoke to Moses, instructing him to lead the Hebrew people out of Egyptian bondage. Moses was told to go before Pharaoh and demand that he let God's people go. But God told Moses, "And I am sure that the king of Egypt will not let you go, no, not by a mighty hand." (v 19) God already knew that Pharaoh would say no. The next verse says, "And I will stretch out my hand, and smite Egypt with all my wonders which I will do in the midst thereof: and after that he will let you go." (v 20)
God knew how things would play out, and each of the plagues was part of His plan. He wasn't surprised when Pharaoh changed his mind about letting the Hebrews go the first, second, third, or ninth times. But it doesn't seem that Moses was privy to the details. He only knew about each plague when he was given the next assignment to petition Pharaoh (with threats of water turning to blood, frogs, lice, flies, livestock pestilence, boils, hail and fire, locusts, darkness, and the death of the firstborn children.) God knew that Moses would come before Pharaoh multiple times with the same result. (Also see Exodus 7:2-4.)
I don't understand why we face certain challenges, except that they can refine us and help us grow closer to God. But sometimes it's tempting to want Him to press fast-forward on the battle and get us to the victory. Or at least give us a hint about when it will be over. I want to know what I'm up against, on a scale of one to ten plagues. But His plans are good, even when I don't understand.
Our God is not bound by time. He is already in the future, even while He's here with us in every situation. He knows the end of the story. In every difficulty, we can take comfort in knowing that, in time, we'll be able to simply "stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD." (Exodus 14:13)
Launch-day Jitters: The Many reasons I'm Nervous About My new Book, and Why I Shouldn't be (Plus a Giveaway!)
My fourth novel, New Wine Transportation Company, releases today, and there are so many emotions--excitement, appreciation, relief, joy. But one of the biggest feelings is ANXIETY. Will readers relate to Pastor Daniel Whitefield in New Wine Transportation Company? Will they understand the message I'm trying to convey? Is the overall theme clear? Will readers like it?
I shouldn't be so nervous. But this book is kind of "different." It doesn't follow some common conventions of Christian Fiction. It is a short novel (the same length as my first, Grace & Lavender.) There are no female points of view, and while most of the story is from the perspective of the main character, six of the chapters represent six other characters. The genre is first and foremost "Christian Fiction," and it definitely fits into the "Southern Fiction" (or "Small-Town Fiction") sub-genre. But unlike a lot of Southern Fiction, it does not share characteristics with broader categories like Women's Fiction and Romance. It is more "general," which could make it more challenging to reach an audience.
One of my biggest concerns about the book is the subject matter. Drinking alcohol can be a "hot button" issue within the church, as demonstrated in the story, but that really isn't what the book is about. Please read the preface from the front of the book, below. I really hope people understand this:
"This story is not about drinking or not drinking alcohol. It is not meant to spark a theological debate and is not intended to be a representation of my personal interpretation of Scripture on the subject of alcohol. This story is about “the love of God [that] has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 5:5). It is, like all my writing, about how God works “all things together for good” (Rom. 8:28). And it is about obedience to His leading, even when our direction is challenged."
Another concern I have is that, since the time I finished writing New Wine Transportation Company, I have completed a fifth novel that is more conventional and I believe has the potential to reach a broader audience, and I also feel like it's the best story I've written so far. Anxiety creeps in and tells me that, if people don't like NWTC, they won't give the new story a chance when its published one day, and I REALLY want to reach people with the not-yet-published story.
Now that I've spent several paragraphs telling you what I'm worried about, let me tell you why I'm ashamed of that worry. I believe wholeheartedly that I wrote New Wine Transportation Company for a reason. It has a purpose. And I need to trust God with that purpose, whether the book is widely received or it isn't. So far, the kind people who have agreed to review the book have said some wonderful things about it. One of the most touching and rewarding for me was that a reader had been inspired to "be reaching and loving the broken." That's when I knew I had put limitations on God. He can do with this story whatever He chooses. If one person is inspired to help their community, or if one person is challenged to trust God more (as I have been), or if one person is drawn closer to the Father through the message of this story, then that's enough. Even if it simply provides a few hours of entertainment for someone, that will make me happy. But I won't limit God. He can use it however He wants, and I pray that it will be used for His glory. And I pray the same for the next book, and the next, should He allow me to continue writing. I shouldn't be nervous about my writing if I've asked Him to be in control of it.
This past Sunday, at the end of service, I led the congregation in a song many might think of as a children's song. But it was very fitting for the sermon, and it's fitting for my book release, too, despite my nervousness. This is what I'm going to try to focus on. I hope you feel it, too, today. I've got the joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my heart. Down in my heart, down in my heart. I've got the joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my heart. Down in my heart to stay.
My ten-year-old is a cheeky one. She recently overheard me on the phone, telling my mother that my husband had taken two of our kids to the store while I stayed home with "the other two."
"What--we don't have names anymore?" my daughter quipped.
She shot me a pretend look of indignance, and I chuckled, which was her goal. But her joke immediately reminded me of something I'd recently studied, about three characters from the Bible whom some refer to as "the three Hebrew children.”
Shadrack, Meshack, and Abednego are often referred to in this generic way, in story books and songs, as if the young men who refused to bow to King Nebuchadnezzer's golden statue in the book of Daniel didn't each have a name. But the interesting thing is, Shadrack, Meshack, and Abednego aren't even their real names. Those are only their slave names.
Daniel 1:6,7 tells us, "Now among these were of the children of Judah, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah: Unto whom the prince of the eunuchs gave names: for he gave unto Daniel the name of Belteshazzar; and to Hananiah, of Shadrach; and to Mishael, of Meshach; and to Azariah, of Abednego".
From a transcribed sermon from the late Rev. Chuck Smith, I learned that Hananiah means "Beloved of the Lord", but his Babylonian captors changed his name to Shadrack, meaning "Illumined by the sun god." Mishael means "Who is as God?", but it was changed to Meshack, meaning "Who is like Shak?" Shak was a false Babylonian deity. Azariah means "the Lord is my help." They changed it to Abednedgo, which means "the servant of Nego", another false god of the region. (Along the same lines, Daniel means "God is judge" while Belteshazzar means "Baal's prince.")
Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah had beautiful names that spoke of the goodness of God, but they were given names that meant much the opposite. Their new names paid tribute to idols. What a heavy weight that must have been for "the three Hebrew children" who served the true God! But, even though history remembers them mostly by these slave names, their stories prove that they never forgot who they really where.
When these three young men were threatened with death but still refused to bow, it was because they knew that no one else can take the place of God (Mishael), and that they could be brave in the face of danger because God was their help (Azariah). They trusted that God loved them (Hananiah). Their slave names did not define them. They remembered who they were in God.
Like the Babylonian captors, our enemy assigns labels in an attempt to break us. The world calls us things far removed from the truth, and people spin words to cause discord and tear us down. If you claim to be a patriot, they'll say you're a nationalist. If you stand up as pro-life, they'll call you anti-choice. If you love someone but don't agree with all their choices, they'll declare that you're a bigot. If you're a traditionalist, they'll call you old-fashioned. If you're a Creationist, they'll call you anti-science. If you're in love with Jesus, they'll call you an extremist. But the world's labels don't define us; we don't have to accept them. If you're a child of God, that's the only title that matters.
Some of the names people should reject might be related to their circumstances, rather than their beliefs. Minority doesn't mean victim. Adopted doesn't translate to damaged. Broken doesn't mean worthless. Hurting doesn't mean hopeless. Don't buy what the devil is selling. He may try to give you a name, but it doesn't mean that's who you are.
Since the days of the early church, followers of Jesus have born the name. Acts 11:26 says, "And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch." That's who we are. We're Christians, followers of Christ. When the world calls you something you're not, don't let it get you down. Keep following. Keep trusting. Remember who you are.
The night before the adoption ceremony, I felt nervous. We had waited so long for the day—to make this beautiful, affectionate three-year-old our son—yet, I had this jittery feeling, and that led to guilt. Was I second-guessing our decision? Wasn’t I absolutely sure that I wanted to parent this boy for the rest of my life? Then I realized, my nervousness wasn’t because of doubt. It was the same kind of feeling I had the day I got married. It was very similar to the case of nerves I experienced the morning of my scheduled c-section with my second child. It was the same as any other time someone stands on the edge of forever and is about to take the next step.
I’m not sure when God planted the seed of adoption in my heart. Maybe it was when He adopted me into his family when I was a child. But I had the dream, the desire, the life goal to adopt, for a very long time. My heart cried out at the words of James 1:27. Every time I saw a website or a television spot about children in need of a family, I wept. For years, I read profiles on the Children’s Home Society of NC page and ached for the children. But when was the “right” time to do something about this longing?
Thankfully, my husband, Alex, had the same desire to welcome a child through adoption. After we had two precious girls—Elizabeth in 2007 and Sarah in 2010—we thought, “Okay, we’ll adopt the third child, one day.” Then in 2013, Daniel was born, and we had to say, “I guess we were supposed to have three and adopt the fourth.” That’s when the vision for the future really started taking shape. I had the idea that we would wait until our kids were old enough to be involved in the process—the youngest would be around seven—and, as if I could actually manufacture the scenario, we would adopt a three-year-old. The child would be a boy, because the two girls were already sharing a room, and when I envisioned him, this fourth child of mine had darker skin than me.
In November of 2017, when the tug at my heart was so strong I couldn’t ignore it anymore, I suggested to Alex that we go to a local children’s home—a Christian agency that also does foster care licensing—for an information session. He agreed, though he’d always felt like God would put us in a situation to adopt, outside of the foster care system. After speaking to the licensing specialist for forty-five minutes, we left with an application and paperwork for foster care training in-hand. In the parking lot, Alex said, “So, are you going to fill those out today?”
We began our classes in January 2018, and, long-story-short-- after a tedious process, rife with frustration—we were finally licensed in October of that year. Little did I know, the waiting had only just begun. (Note: we met some remarkable people during the process that we are so glad to have in our lives now.)
I don’t remember when the first call came, but sometime between October and March, we said yes to NINE placements. Do you know how many of those children we helped? Zero. (I wrote about the waiting in this post.) For whatever reason, those children all went other places. When we finally got our first placement in March (I say finally with hesitation, because, while we were eager to help, foster care always means a child has had to experience trauma) it was a seven-year-old boy that we knew would be with us for a short time. I didn’t know it would only be six days. Even though he wasn’t with us long, we cried when he left, and I think of him often.
In May of 2019, I shared with new friends at a writers’ conference that I was anxious to do what I felt God had called us to do. I didn’t want a child to need our family, but I knew there was a child somewhere that did, and the waiting was gut-wrenching. Multiple people prayed for me at that conference, and for God’s will to be done for our family. The next weekend was Memorial Day, spent having a great time at the beach. On the drive home, Sarah made the statement that she felt like someone was missing (which I talked about in this post.) And someone was. The next day, we got the call. The social worker from our agency said that a two-and-half year old, African American male needed a home. She spelled his name but wasn’t sure how it was pronounced. She told me he had asthma (he doesn’t) and that he was non-verbal (he definitely wasn’t.) She was able to give me a few other details about his medical history, and she said that he was coming from another foster home. Around 7:30 pm, he arrived.
I’ll never forget the site of him--this angelic-looking little boy in a dinosaur t-shirt, pulling his tricycle from the county social worker’s car to our front door. She told us that he was very independent. To our surprise, as both social workers (county and licensing agency) sat in our living room going over information, while he played with a toy truck on the couch, we learned that a court hearing to terminate his biological parents’ rights was already scheduled. He had been in foster care, basically, his entire life.
From the beginning, this was not a “typical” foster care scenario. There was a very strong possibility that we would be able to adopt this child. Even though we had trained our minds and hearts to believe in and champion the unofficial foster care motto—"Reunification is always the goal”—that wasn’t the direction his case was headed. And it finally made sense—all the waiting and rejection. The entire time, we were expecting our son. There was no one else that was supposed to be part of our family, either temporarily or permanently. It was always him. From the moment he was born, God knew he would be my son. My husband and I were foster parents, but not really. We were just his parents. God spared us the heartbreak of wondering if we would have to say goodbye, though we still had to go through a long birthing process of waiting.
The first court date was just two weeks after our son came to us. It was a standard “update” hearing. We went, though it wasn’t required or expected. Without going into a lot of detail, we heard things in court that made us cry. Alex and I both fought to maintain our composure, but we couldn’t keep from sniffling as we choked back tears. We were later reprimanded by one of our social workers for our “behavior” in court, as though we could have helped it. We apparently showed too much emotion. That was the first of many times we felt unfairly scrutinized by the system.
The TPR (Termination of Parental Rights) hearing (I think in late July) took several hours and was continued to August. Based on what we knew, we were genuinely surprised when the judge ordered the termination at the August court session. However, our son would not become eligible for adoption for some time. It took five months for the judge to actually sign the termination order. After that, we had to wait thirty days to see if either of our son’s biological parents would appeal the termination. They did not.
In late February 2020, we were able to formally start the adoption process. (Which meant a switch to a different agency social worker who was very kind and helpful.) More paperwork, more waiting. When the pandemic hit in March, our monthly home visits, and the monthly required meetings with our agency, began to all be done by video. This was actually a huge weight lifted. But I also wondered if the adoption process would be hindered by the pandemic. As it turned out, Covid did slow it down, and it definitely made it “different” in a lot of ways (like signing final paperwork in the heat outside DSS office while wearing masks,) but I’m finally able to see that it has all been on God’s calendar anyway.
Around the time it started to seem certain that adoption would happen, we began transitioning our son to his new name. We decided to change his name for several reasons and felt he was still young enough that it wouldn’t be traumatic for him. We often called him by “pet names” anyway. He didn’t know his middle (or last) name, so there was no attachment. And I wanted him to have a name that meant something. We named our son Benjamin because it means “son of my right hand,” and we kept his given first name as his middle name. The boy who was known mostly as “CarCar” became Benjamin Acara, and, on his own, came up with the nickname Benji.
On June 18, 2020, we received word that we had been approved to adopt Benjamin. Then we had to wait for the “when.” This was the hardest period of waiting for me. Somehow, it was even more difficult than waiting to see if his bio parents would appeal the termination, which would do nothing except prolong the process. He was ours, but not legally, and waiting for the adoption ceremony to be scheduled was excruciating. At church, I requested prayer for either patience, or for someone to hurry up and push that paperwork through.
Early on Monday, July 27, I checked my email for the tenth time that morning and there it was—an email saying the adoption ceremony would take place that Friday, during our scheduled beach vacation. We were overjoyed.
After fourteen months of life and memories, we would be able to officially make him part of our family. To my other three children, he was brother from day one. To me and Alex, he was our son from day one. In the last fourteen months, he had been with us to museums, the zoo, aquariums, parks, Vacation Bible School, football games, plays, and family get-togethers. We took him to the beach for the first time last September, and he loved it! We had a party for his third birthday in November, and we wondered if it was his first. He had been with us through good times, like new jobs and three of my book launches, and also bad times, such as the deaths of church members and a painful rift within our church family. He was also there in the wild season of pandemic parenting, as we both worked full-time with four kids at home. Benjamin was already an integral part of our family, and now we would be able to shout it to the world.
On Friday morning, July 31, 2020, at 10:00 am, we gathered around my laptop, at my husband’s parents’ beach house, for a “virtual” adoption ceremony. There were grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins (and some great and helpful social workers) on the video conference, all eager to witness the moment Benjamin officially became ours. It was so wonderful to have all these people cheering us on, cheering for him. He is loved by many, and he will grow up knowing that they were as overjoyed as we were to make him family.
I haven’t said a lot about who my son is as a person, but this story is more about our journey to becoming his parents. Maybe soon I can write about how affectionate, smart, athletic, musical, and funny he is. I’d love to tell you about his likes and dislikes, and cute stories about him and his brother and sisters. Now, we have a lifetime to live and write those stories.
I could also tell you how he came to need our family, but instead, I’ll summarize by sharing something I’ve learned, in general: It takes extreme circumstances for a child to be placed in foster care, and parents are given opportunity after opportunity to reunify. I am confident that, in Benjamin’s case, foster care, then adoption, was the only right path.
Of course, as much as we love him, parenting Benjamin can be challenging, too. It’s sometimes difficult to tell if behavior issues are related to trauma or just being a three-year-old. I think it's normally the latter, having parented three three-year-olds before. There are many studies related to the long-term affects of childhood trauma on the brain, and some say that no matter how a child arrives at adoption, they will always have psychological issues as a result. While I understand the science behind those viewpoints, I also know that God is bigger than science. I believe that He can and will heal Benjamin of any and all physical and emotional impacts of trauma and of his medical history.
Looking back at my original dream for adoption--the one I formulated when Daniel was just a baby—I’m amazed at how God delivered. Daniel is now seven and Benjamin is three—just like the vision. I can't think of any other time in my life that God allowed me to have such a clear glimpse into the future. I thank God for my family and for dreams that come true, and I feel immensely blessed that Benjamin is part of both.
'Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world: But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.' Galatians 4:4-8
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Thank you for visiting my blog. I share devotional articles and musings about life, parenting, and the writing journey, as well as important news about my books. I hope you find something of interest here!
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