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
Just over a week. That's how long we've been a family of six. For the first three days or so, it was hard to grasp. It's an understandably difficult concept to go from being the parent of three children on Monday- picking out three sets of clothes, making three snacks at a time, tucking three kids into bed at night- to being the parent of four kids on Tuesday. But very quickly it became "right". It wasn't even our new normal. It was just the normal we were always supposed to be. Our "finally" normal.
Even as I express how relatively easy this foster care transition has been, and how right it feels, I fully understand that at any moment things could change. We're only responsible for this two-year-old boy for as long as someone else will let us be. Somewhere between one more day and forever, that's all we know. But for now, he's part of the family.
So, how does a stranger become family so quickly. Is it because he's adorable? No, though he is. Is it because he's a "good" baby? No, though he is. Is it because his laughter makes all our hearts melt? No, though it does. My children have taken him in as a brother, and my husband and I have taken him in as a son, for only one reason: GOD. It’s supernatural. Beyond our capabilities. God makes that kind of thing possible. Not us. Psalms 68:6a says, "God setteth the solitary in families: he bringeth out those which are bound with chains:"
The day before "A" came to us, my eight-year-old daughter said, on the ride home from the beach, "I feel like we're missing somebody." All of us were there in the van, including our two dogs. She wasn't talking about Grandma and Grandpa that we left behind at the beach. She was talking about "A", though we didn't yet know who he was. And I knew exactly how she felt. God had been stirring anticipation in our hearts for many months.
On our refrigerator, we have our names linked together, written out in magnetic Scrabble tiles. Just as easy as it is to add our foster son's name to our five, that's how easy it has seemed to make him one of us. He slipped right in like the letters of his name on the board. And it's a perfect analogy of what God has done for us.
In Romans 11, Paul uses the example of an olive tree. The natural branches he speaks of were the nation of Israel, God's chosen people. But we- believers who aren’t descendants of Abraham- being the wild branches, have been grafted into the tree. He added us into the family. He has made us a part of Himself.
Galatians 4:4-5 says it plainly. "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."
How can someone become part of a family so quickly? God. With our foster son, it’s God’s love in our hearts and a divine plan that makes it possible. For the seeking soul, it’s a measure of faith and God’s grace by which they can instantly be made His child.
North Carolina’s rich heritage includes the geneses of many well-known and much-loved food products, the likes of which have earned us serious bragging rights. But, as gracious Southerners, we let the food speak for itself instead. Keep reading to learn more about famous brands born in the Tar Heel State, and to find out how I incorporated each of them into my book, Grace & Lavender.
Pepsi-Cola: Invented in New Bern, NC (Craven County) in 1893 by Caleb Bradham, who made and sold it at his drugstore. The name Pepsi-Cola was first used in 1898.
Georgia may have that other cola favorite, but we're proud this world-famous product got its start on our coast.
Fun fact: New Bern is the second-oldest colonial town in North Carolina.
Cheerwine: A cherry-flavored soft drink made by Carolina Beverage Corporation of Salisbury, NC (Rowan County) since 1917. This unique soda is sold across the Southeast, but is best known in the Carolinas and Virginia. The company also markets Cheerwine flavored ice cream, sherbet, and cream bars, sold mainly in Food Lion supermarkets (also referenced in the book), which is based in Salisbury as well.
Fun fact: Rowan County is also home of the North Carolina Transportation Museum in Spencer.
Krispy Kreme Doughnuts: Founded in Winston-Salem, NC (in my county of Forsyth) in 1937, in a rented building located in what is now historic Old Salem. While Krispy Kreme was sold to a Luxembourg-based company in 2016, Winston-Salem remains the World Headquarters and home of the Krispy Kreme Support Center. Corporate operations moved to Charlotte, NC in December 2017.
Fun fact: The influence of the Moravian settlers who established the town of Salem is evidenced, in part, by the many active Moravian congregations in Winston-Salem today. The motto of the Moravian Church is: "In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; and in all things, love."
Texas Pete: A Louisiana-style hot sauce developed and manufactured by the TW Garner Food Company in Winston-Salem, NC. Texas Pete was introduced in 1929 by Sam Garner, operator of the Dixie Pig barbecue stand in Winston-Salem. (Some people here enjoy Texas Pete on everything! I've seen it doused on pizza and scrambled eggs.)
Fun fact: A hint about the location of the fictional town of Springville, NC in my book, comes from the quote, “The best hot sauce in the world is made just down the road.”
Mount Olive Pickle Company: Founded in the mid 1920s in Mount Olive, NC (Wayne County). The company's primary product is pickled cucumbers, but it also supplies canned peppers and relishes, and other pickled products. Mt. Olive is the largest independent pickle company in the United States. The company employs over 500 people, and as many as 800 during the busiest intake season each summer.
Fun fact: On New Year's Eve, Mt. Olive Pickle Company drops a three-foot pickle down a flagpole into a pickle tank, but at 7 p.m. instead of midnight.
Any one of these is enough to make a North Carolinian proud, but to have birthed all five of these products? It makes it hard to be humble.
In my book Grace & Lavender, the main character, Colleen Hill, celebrates this culinary heritage by writing a cookbook featuring these homegrown claims to fame. Her recipes include Krispy Kreme Peach Cobbler, Cheerwine Cupcakes, Pepsi-Cola Pound Cake, and Texas Pete Tater Soup. In the story, Colleen and her young friend, Grace, also make chicken salad using Mt. Olive Pickles.
While the recipe names in my book were from my imagination, internet searches after-the-fact proved that all these recipes, or something very similar, do exist. (And I found a great recipe for Cheerwine Pound Cake from Our State Magazine.)
If you ever decide to try any of these recipes, please let me know! And if I’m in driving distance, I might be up for a taste test.
Eight times. That’s the number of times, so far, that we’ve been passed over for a foster care placement since becoming licensed in October of 2018. And it hurts.
The entire nine-month process of becoming licensed, and now the waiting, was and is an act of faith. I have never had to rely on God more, because I have no control over this situation. And even in my frustration, I recognize this as an opportunity to grow closer to the Lord as I learn to trust in His timing. So, even though I express sadness at not being selected, I still trust that God has a perfect plan, and I only want what He has in store for us. Nothing less. Nothing more. But being passed up still hurts, and it’s something I didn’t expect going into this.
Not all eight have been outright rejections. Sometimes, the situation just changed. And the truth is, none of them have been rejections of us. I know this isn’t personal. There are lots of circumstances involved. Most of them time, we’re given little information, if any, about the decisions that are ultimately reached for each child, but I’ve been assured there’s nothing in our profile that “handicaps” us when it comes to being selected. But it still hurts.
On one hand, I rejoice over the fact that we don’t have a placement, because that means there isn’t a child that needs us because he was taken from his family. We are currently only licensed to foster one boy under the age of six, so obviously, that limits the amount of calls we get. But if we were able to take siblings, or a teenager, no doubt we’d already have a placement. So, the need is real, and I’m hesitant to say anything that might discourage someone from becoming a foster parent. I know that any inconvenience to me, or any emotional upset I have over the waiting, is nothing compared to the trauma these children bring with them when they are placed. But it still hurts.
I’m ready to do what God has called us to do, and to not have the unknown looming over our heads. Even so, I trust that God is protecting us from the wrong assignment and preparing us for the right one, and that He has it all worked out. But it still hurts.
We should hear back about our ninth "yes" on Monday, 1/28.
There's a lot of talk right now about "things" that bring you joy. Thanks to Ms. Kondo, people everywhere are soul-searching and coming to the realization that less is more. While I seriously need to declutter, my coffee mug collection won't be going anywhere. Because, silly as it may sound, they make me happy.
As a disclaimer, this isn't a devotional post. It's a just-for-fun post. But I can't pass up the opportunity to say that material things may make me happy, but Jesus is the true giver of joy. "You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore." Psalms 16:11 (Now back to our regularly scheduled blog post.)
I currently have nine mugs in my collection. I don't seek out new ones, but I'm sure more will eventually be added. There are some mugs in my house that aren't part of the collection, because they aren't special. They're just mugs.
Because these are special to me, I'd like to share them with you. Aside from the fact that I really, really love coffee, and I'm grateful for any vehicle that brings it to my mouth, I love each of these for different reasons.
Let me tell you about them, in no particular order:
These are my writing conference mugs. The green one is from my first ever conference, Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference, in May 2018. The white one is from the North Carolina Christian Writers Conference in September 2018. They are fun reminders of the friends and connections I've made, and of the writing goals I have.
I love these mugs by Big Sky Carvers. The artist is Dean Crouser, and I love his work. I bought the bluebird in summer of 2017 at the Greensboro Science Center on a special visit with my kids. The chickadee was a present from Alex (I think Mother's Day 2018), and the cardinal was a Christmas present from my in-laws last month. The hummingbird might join them someday. These three are extra special to me.
This was a funny and thoughtful Christmas present from my husband. (I'd guess 2013.) It's from a very funny, yet slightly off-color British sitcom I enjoyed back then called "The IT Crowd." The tag line is "Have you tried turning it off and on again?" And as anyone else who's worked in IT can tell you, that's the solution to most computer issues.
This one is definitely the oldest in my collection. I got it on our honeymoon thirteen years ago. It had been a dream for many years to visit the museum that was once the home of Margaret Mitchell, the author of Gone With the Wind. So, we honeymooned in Atlanta, GA. I had no idea then how poignant the quote on the cup was. "In a weak moment I have written a book."
There you have it. My nine special mugs. I decide which one to use each day based on my mood (and which ones are clean.) I probably reach for my bird mugs the most.
Much of myself comes out in my book characters. So it's no surprise that many of them drink coffee. I'll leave you with this excerpt from 'Grace & Lavender'. Thanks for reading!
"Colleen took another long sip from a coffee mug she had used for over twenty years. It was white with World’s Best Mom on it in large, black letters. Coffee was another of the many things for which she was truly and sincerely grateful. Coffee, a good book, perfect four-part harmony, the sight of the first crocuses in spring- Colleen had an aptitude for recognizing simple joys. And despite her longings, it could never be said that she wasn’t satisfied with what she’d been given or wasn’t grateful for everything she had."
Nine months. That’s approximately how long it takes for a baby to fully develop inside its mother’s womb. It’s also the time it took Alex and I to complete all the requirements and get our application for foster care licensing submitted to the state. The irony of the timing wasn’t lost on me as I signed my name to the paper today.
There are so many unknowns about this process. We don’t know exactly when our application will be approved. Possibly in the next couple of weeks. We don’t know who God has chosen for us to invite into our home and family, or when He’ll send them, or how difficult the adjustment will be. We don’t know if we’ll be called to minister to a child’s needs for a short time or, perhaps, forever. As I held the pen to sign the application, fear of the unknown brought worry. But I am reminded of some things I do know.
I know God has called us to this. I’ve known it for a very long time. I know that every life is precious, and there is a child that needs my family to teach them they are a valuable creation of Almighty God. I know that providing a child with a safe and loving environment will have a positive impact on future generations. I know a foster child will mean added stress, but I also know God’s grace is sufficient. I know God’s love is a free gift that replenishes in my heart as I share it with others, and it’s His will for us not to be stingy with it.
We didn't go through the process of the last nine months because we enjoyed it, but I know God has used the "gestational period" of foster care licensing to prepare our hearts for His purpose. I’m sure there will be many more revelations as the plan unfolds. For now, I'll hold onto these truths as we continue to wait.
I'm not a very patient person. I think I get it from my father. Or, at least, since he has the same character flaw, I can claim it's a learned behavior or some undiscovered genetic predisposition and give myself an out. But I guess it really doesn't work that way.
The older I get, the worse my impatience grows. I generally show grace, but often fail when it comes to customer service hold times and waiting for a table at restaurants.
Lately, I find myself waiting for a lot of things.
The writing-related things on my list are normal. Just part of the process. So, I'm not complaining. No one has dropped the ball or has been too lax about anything. They are working on multiple projects for different authors, not just me. I'm just impatient.
The last item on the list, simply by nature of the process, takes a long time, too, although it's frustrating.
But I had a revelation today: I need to be waiting on something even more important than the things on my list. The words of Jesus in John 14:30 reveal the thing I should anticipate most anxiously.
"And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also."
It's so easy to forget, or take for granted, or push to the back of our minds, the promise of Christ's return. But the expectation of His second-coming is fundamental to our faith. We are waiting. Not just waiting, but in a constant state of waiting, watching, and working, as we continue to live and enjoy the life He has given us.
I'm in a season of waiting now. But that's where I should live! Expectant!
When I stop and put things into perspective, the nearer-every-day reality of my blessed hope as a believer should make me more patient when it comes to all the other, lesser expectations in this life season. I'm thankful that, as with Jesus' return, God controls the times and the seasons. Everything works out for good, no matter my perceptions of "on time", "quickly", "slowly", or "delay". I need to trust God's timing every second of my life, even when I have to wait longer than I'd like for a book layout, a life-changing situation, or a pizza buffet. And may we all wait together anxiously for His coming.
We recently compounded the crazy in our house by adding a fourth furry friend to the family. The current dynamic is two parents, three kids, two cats, and two dogs, and the newest member has been an interesting life change.
My husband and I hadn’t dealt with the joys and trials of a puppy in a long time, since our good girl Maggie is far past that stage. Enter a sweet yellow lab mix we both couldn’t resist. His name is Rico, and since we brought him home, this now five-month-old, fifty-two pound puppy has taught me some things about who I am and who I want to be.
Rico is not 100% house-trained. He's learning quickly, but he's still a puppy, and he sometimes has "accidents" in the house. The most frustrating thing about potty training a dog is going a couple of days without any puddles or unpleasant surprises, getting excited about the break-through, then walking into the kitchen to find another mess. Three steps forward and two steps back in the process is discouraging.
While it might be the MOST UNUSUAL COMPARISON I've ever made, Rico's shortcomings remind me of myself. I've been a Christ-follower for a long time. I ought to know how this whole thing works, right? I know what sin is, and I should know how to avoid it. But do I always do the right thing? No, I make mistakes just like Rico. Maybe (definitely) not just like his mistakes, but I can easily find myself in a stinky situation when I'm not Christ-like in my words, thoughts, or actions, and this reality makes me want to be show Rico a little grace.
But there's at least one way in which I aspire to be like my lab. This dog is always by my side. If I'm on the couch, he's on the couch. If I'm working in the kitchen, he's in the kitchen. If I let him outside to potty in the fenced backyard, he won't go unless we come out and stand with him. He'll stay on the deck and bark to be let back in. He doesn't want to be left alone, or maybe he doesn't want me to be alone. Either way, he is loyal; a steadfast companion. He likes to be near me.
James 4:8 says, "Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you..." When we just nudge in close to the Father, he tucks in close to us right back. May I strive to stay near Him, never leave His side. Drawing close to God through reading the Word, praying, and meditating on Him is how I learn to be more like Him and avoid those "messes" that my sin makes. May I be even more loyal to the Lord than my dog is to me.
Thanks, Rico, for the lesson.
My elbow meets the roughness of the commercial-grade carpet as my arm falls away from the relative comfort of the sleeping bag. The first shades of morning light wash through the frosted glass panes of the Sunday School room windows. A fluorescent beam comes through the cracked door, from the men’s bathroom across the hall.
Six little girls are camped out around me, ranging in age from seven to eleven. Two of the girls with the endcap ages belong to me, but in a way they all do.
In the room next to us, six older girls who giggled until well past midnight, are spread around, tucked under tables and cozied up to walls, all quiet. Nearby, two teenage girls who were ready to sleep sooner than the others, camp in a room by themselves.
Down the hall, my husband’s sleeping bag guards the door of a room, the same as mine. I proudly watched him shine the love of Christ last night, ministering to the youth as their pastor, a role he’s had less than two months now. Like a puzzle piece being snapped into place, I see him fit the space where he is shaped to be.
He shares the room with six people—future men and some who are already there. The youngest of them is five—he belongs to us. The boys impressed me with how easily most of them went to bed, much sooner and more agreeably than the girls.
As I maneuver in the sleeping bag, having slept off and on, I wonder how they’ve all slept—these twenty people entrusted to us overnight. Many in this budding Youth Group we’ve known for a long time and know well. The stories of others, we’ve yet to learn. We hear hints, random statements thrown out to test us, to find out if we care enough to listen. Lord, help us to listen.
I wonder how this night on a Sunday School room floor felt to them. Did it feel safer than what they know at home? Was there more comfort found on a hard floor than in their own rooms? Did they make a happy memory just because it was a new experience to break up the mundane? Was the best part just being so close to people who cared for them, friends they love?
We taught the Bible last night and sang songs to Jesus, but I wonder if the biggest lesson was found in the blankets, sleeping bags, and pillows. I pray that our church…this group…my husband and I, will be a place of comfort and safety, to break up the notion of life-as-normal, and to dispel loneliness. Because that’s what Jesus is! That’s what Jesus does! And whether He’s the reason they came or not, I hope they understand now that He’s the reason we’re all here.
My husband packed snacks in kids’ backpacks, fed impatient fur babies, and did other morning chores while I clung desperately to eight more minutes of snooze time. Before the alarm sounded again to urge me out of bed, he came into the bedroom to get his phone.
“I’ve got to go help a little lost girl in our yard,” he said.
“Huh?” I thought, but I was too sleepy and confused to say it out loud. "There's a lost kid in our yard??"
The storm door clanged, and I got up to see just what was going on. Peeking through the blinds on the kitchen window, I saw Alex standing at the bottom of our driveway with a child I didn’t recognize, both of them with bare feet.
As curious as I was, I had to wake our children and pick out their clothes for the day. Whatever the situation, it appeared Alex was handling it. I peeked out the window again a couple minutes later to see Alex and the child sitting on the ground together, looking out toward the street. The next time I checked, as our kids got ready for school and preschool, an SUV was parked at the end of our driveway and Alex stood talking to the driver.
When he came back in, my curiosity was satisfied as I listened to the story.
He had taken some trash outside, and on the way back in, couldn’t get the storm door to latch. As he tried, he heard a child call, “I’m lost! I’m lost!”
The child turned out not to be a girl, but an eleven-year-old boy with braids, who lives two streets over. He had opened the door to check for his school bus, when his two dogs pushed past him and ran outside. He chased after them but never caught up. When he stopped running, he didn’t know where he was.
I was happy that the child wound up in our yard instead of someone else’s. I was glad the door hadn’t latched, so Alex was there when the child was searching for someone to help him. It was no surprise to us that the door closed with no problem the next time Alex tried it. Sometimes there are just divine appointments to be kept.
I am grateful for a kind-hearted husband who will wait outside in his sleep clothes on a chilly morning, for a stranger to come pick up her lost son. And I am grateful for a beautiful reminder—one day, when I was lost, Jesus was there with the door open, ready to help me find my way to the Father.
Venturing away from my devotional-style blog posts, this one is a bit more personal. I am writing this mainly to set up "Part II" of this post- a humorous article called "How To Be An Aspiring Author While Working a Full-time Day Job and Raising Small Children" (how's that for a title?). But I realized, in order for me to start writing articles about writing, I first need to explain to family and friends what I am doing.
While my blog is 95% my thoughts on scripture, it is also about life in general, and my life has been even crazier than normal lately. Back in July, "out of nowhere" (read, God works in mysterious ways) I had an idea for a story (see my Writing page) pop into my head. I started writing and couldn't stop until the story was complete and I had a novel (although at 42,000 words it is considered a short novel). Now, I am starting the journey of getting it published.
Announcing to the world that I am "trying" to get a book published is a scary thing, since there are so many unknowns. But I do believe I will publish it eventually. The question is, will God allow me to have it published traditionally or go through self-publication? I've stopped and started so many projects over the years, and I've had so many "passions" that fizzled out, it's daunting to broadcast this one. But I have a clearer vision now for my writing, and I have some specific goals in mind to help me not lose the fire on this one.
But can I just share with you a little bit of my crazy, blessed life right now?
I know there are plenty of people who are just as busy as we are, if not busier. But whew! Sometimes it feels like my head is spinning! And I am so incredibly happy to be on this journey! I feel like God is shaping and molding our lives, and we want His will to be done in everything! I am so very thankful for His leading, and I am thankful for the busy seasons in life!
Ecclesiastes 3:1: To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.
There are many verses in scripture that warn us NOT to look back. Jesus said in Luke 9:62, "No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God." This reference to looking back means longing for an old lifestyle or a turning away from the calling of God. But looking back in the right way is a good thing!
If you need a dose of joy in your day, spend some time taking inventory of the blessings God has poured out. Look back over the course of your life and see where he has brought you from. We sometimes take for granted the way he keeps us from day to day, but if we look back over the span of several years it is mind-blowing and obvious what the Lord has worked.
I recently found myself reflecting on a conversation I had with my husband 13 or 14 years ago, before he and I started dating. We were just "work friends" then, and he was admittedly a non-believer. In conversation, I asked him if he was concerned about what would happen to him after death, to which he replied, "Not really."
This memory almost made me shout! Why? Because now this "work friend" is my husband who has been a believer for years, and he's now a minister telling other people about Jesus. Wow! Who but God can do that?
We need to remember where we came from, not lamenting for the "good old days" but praising God for leading us toward His purpose!
Read the words of Moses from Deuteronomy 6:10-12: "And it shall be, when the LORD thy God shall have brought thee into the land which he sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give thee great and goodly cities, which thou buildedst not, And houses full of all good things, which thou filledst not, and wells digged, which thou diggedst not, vineyards and olive trees, which thou plantedst not; when thou shalt have eaten and be full; Then beware lest thou forget the LORD, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage."
He was saying: Don't forget where God brought you from! None of what you have is by your own hand! God did it!
I encourage you to take time to reflect today. What has God done that amazes you when you take a look back?
Thank you, Lord, for my children and for the gift of summer vacation.
As this new school year begins, I pray for your blessings on them:
Lord, please give my children Christian teachers. Let the people who lead and teach them be led and taught by You.
Surround my children with kind and patient authority figures, who are also consistent and structured.
Lord, please help my children know and remember their identity in You. Help them understand how You see them .
Help my children have a healthy self-esteem throughout the school year. Let them be confident in how well You made them.
Lord, please put people in my children's paths that will encourage them, motivate them, inspire them, and guide them in the right way.
Give them friends who will encourage them in their faith, and let my children encourage others. Teach them how to be a friend.
Please let my children encounter people who are different from them, so they will see how creative You are in Your most important handiwork.
May you expand my children's knowledge of science this year, so they will marvel at Your awesome creation. Let them learn more about the history of the people you have placed on this earth, so they can learn from the mistakes and the successes of the past. Give them a passion for reading, and for language, so they will learn how to think and to communicate. And, let each lesson my children are taught contain only truth.
Teach them how to be responsible. Teach them how to deal with stresses and pressures.
Please give my children endurance to accomplish the tasks set before them every day. Help them to try their best at everything, with a good attitude. Give them a healthy pride in their accomplishments at school. Please teach them to accept and learn from their mistakes.
Father, let this be a fun and happy school year. I pray school will be a joyful place for my children to spend their days. I pray this year will be exciting and memorable to them.
Please protect my children from all mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual harm. Guard them, Lord, with Your strong hand.
Help my children to let their light shine for You. Please present them with opportunities to show people Your love, at school and everywhere they go.
Above all, let Your will be done in the lives of my children.
My heart is bursting right now. I just talked to my ten-year-old daughter for the first time in four days, and she's finally on her way home from camp! I am so excited to see her, and hug her, and hold on tightly for the rest of the weekend!
This post is a little more personal in nature than other recent articles I've written. I want to share that this has been one of the most challenging weeks I can remember. As a full-time working mother who has always wished she could be a stay-at-home mother, I have been reveling in the opportunity I have this summer to take several weeks off just to spend with my kids. It has been glorious! We have laughed, and played (and fought and cried), and have been so busy seeing and doing fun things for most of the month- then one of my three left me for almost a whole week!
My family is involved in a group called American Heritage Girls (I tell people it's like Girl Scouts, but Christ-focused). It is a remarkable organization. I serve as the troop Shepherd (kind of like a chaplain), Elizabeth is in the "Explorer" unit, and Sarah is a "Tenderheart". We've gone on family camp-outs with the group, and Alex has taken the girls on many of troop outings during the last two years of our involvement. We love American Heritage Girls. But when Elizabeth wanted to go to an AHG summer camp five hours away, my faith was tested in a big way!
You have to understand, I have not gone without seeing this child for more than a day in ten years! Other than a few one-night stays with grandparents, the only times I've not slept under the same roof as her was when I was in the hospital having her sister and brother. But I knew this experience would be good for her, and she was so excited to go. To be honest, the only reason I could let her go was because her dad took a week off from work to go volunteer at camp. (Thank you, Lord, for a wonderful daddy for my children.) He took four girls from our troop (including our girl) and drove from Lewisville, NC to Crawfordville, GA on Monday, and they are returning on a Saturday.
Campers are not supposed to call home, I suppose for a few reasons. Logistically, it would be impossible for that many girls to have access to phones. I think they also feel it makes homesickness worse instead of better. Plus, camp is supposed to be a place to escape the hold technology has on us. Still, I balked at the restriction. It doesn't feel natural for a mother not to speak to her ten-year-old child for that long! (We bent the rules a little, and I did get to speak to her for about 60 seconds on Tuesday. And, of course, my husband sent me text message updates and pictures every day, plus I could talk to him on the phone in the evening.)
But, what a lesson God had for me this week! There were a few lessons actually. I could talk all day about learning to have faith that He will take care of my children. But the biggest lesson was something I thought I already knew: Thou shalt have no other gods before me (Exodus 20:3).
Another one of the moms from our troop and I got together this week and discussed it. We are guilty of worshipping our children. It is a difficult thing for me to distinguish between the love and devotion of a mother and idol worship, but I have to admit that I probably cross that line sometimes.
Deuteronomy 4:24 says, "For the LORD thy God is a consuming fire, even a jealous God." God's rightful place is at the center of our lives. He belongs at the top of our priority list. The thought of being without my daughter for a week almost made it hard to breath! But do I feel that kind of devotion for the Lord? I definitely believe He created a mother's heart to long for her children, but I need to be very careful that I am not placing them above Him in my life.
I can't say that I've learned any special secrets for avoiding elevating my children to idol status, but I think just recognizing I do it is an important step. As with any sin, all we have to do is ask forgiveness and ask Him to help us overcome it.
I am so thankful that when we walk with the Lord, He helps us to grow and puts circumstances in our life that draw us closer to Him. There were times while Elizabeth was gone that I thought, "Why on earth did I let her go?" and "Why did I agree to this?" The answer is simple. It was a God thing. He helps us grow. He teaches us the lessons we need to learn when we seek Him. This week was so beneficial for my child. And as much as it hurt, it was beneficial for me, too. I pray I will succeed in not having any other gods before Him, including my children.
This is technically not a blog post. I just updated the "About Me" page of my little website, and I don't want to lose the original text. So, I'm pasting it below for posterity.
I'm a bit of an extremist. Truly an "all or nothing" personality. I
either stay up all night cleaning every corner of my house, or it goes weeks
without being touched. I either get engrossed in a book and read it in two
days, or I don't pick one up for a year. I either crash diet, or I eat
everything in sight! Go big or go home- that's me. So it has been with two of
the talents I believe God has given me.
As a child, I envisioned I would grow up to either be a writer or a singer. And I
would be famous!!!! All my goals somehow centered around me being in a
spotlight one way or the other. But, when those goals didn't magically come to
fruition, I largely put singing (other than in my church) and writing aside.
Now- after the birth of my third child, I seemed to have found a new
sense of purpose! I see in my three children how amazingly we are crafted by a loving Creator. And I am reminded how we are made in His image, and how He gifts us all with some level of desire to create as well.
Having three children has also given me a new sense of
entitlement. My life is so crazy-hectic, and so crazy-busy, I actually feel
entitled and at peace with not being able to do it all! My children give me the
purpose that my younger self thought I would find in the spotlight. My
extremism seems to be subsiding. I'm learning that it is better to "do
something" than "nothing", even if that 'something' is to make a website that
might not be seen by anyone but me and my very supportive husband, Alex.
So- here it is. A website. A website for
what? Well, partly just because. But I hope it will be a place to share a
little music, a little writing, and maybe a little bit of myself, while keeping
Colossians 3:24 in mind: "And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord,
and not unto men."
I found this "note" on my iPhone. It was composed on 10/16/10. Sarah was one month old. I guess it was a blog of sorts, except at the time I wrote it just for myself.
We still have nights like these on occasion, but now with three kids instead of two. Thankfully, the good times always outweigh the rough ones. And some of the rough times even provide a laugh later on down the road.
"There was an hour-long debacle in our house this evening that looked like scenes from a movie about the trials of parenting. Our three-year old had the most extreme tantrum ever because she couldn't have cake for dinner. We promised she could have some after she ate something else, but this reasoning didn't work. The tantrum was so bad it caused her to have a nose bleed which resulted in a bloody couch. While I'm pre-treating the blood on her shirt, Alex is scrubbing the couch. Then I make Elizabeth a turkey sandwich and she is happy. When I empty the washer so I can wash the bloody shirt, I discover a disposable diaper had been washed this morning and the gooey diaper gel is stuck all over the wash basket of our brand new machine. While I'm cleaning it out, Elizabeth finds a travel size bottle of baby soap which she thinks is hand sanitizer. I take her to rinse the soap off her hands then go back to the washing machine where I realize there is also blood covering the back of the shirt I just treated (not quite sure how that happened). At some point during all this the baby started screaming. Alex took over cleaning the washer and I went to take care of Sarah to find she had a dirty diaper and her clothes and blanket were soiled as well. It was so bad in fact that I immediately put her in the bathtub. Elizabeth wanted to help, but ended up re-soaping parts I had already rinsed. I had to call Alex to help. We finally got the baby and the couch clean, the washer is going through a 'cleaning' cycle, and we've all settled down for now. And, Elizabeth forgot all about the cake."
About the Blog
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!