Too Much to Say To Say Nothing

I sat down at my computer about 8 times over the last 8 months to update you on our fostering journey.  Some of these 8 times would have been joyful posts about milestones or how beautifully our little guy has blended into our family.  Some of these 8 times would have been feet stomping, fist slamming on the desk rants of frustration and anger and all the rest would have been an attempt at explaining the complicated emotions I have experienced over the last 8 months.  This is by far the hardest thing God has ever asked us to do but with that said, the blessings have been many and some, so very unexpected.

Here is my first attempt at painting you a picture of our experience.

There are so many people in this foster care portrait.  First, there is this little boy who has stolen our hearts.  He and I spend a lot of time together.  It all truthfulness, probably more time than I spent with the ones I birthed in their first year.  Some of this is due to our current work situation.  I worked full time with babies in tow while my biological children were babies and they were all so very healthy.  I now work from home which allows me countless hours of cuddles, feedings, giggles and lots of time in the car for doctors appointments and on again off again visits with his biological parents.  What he lacks in physical stature he makes up with in personality.  He is quick to smile, quick to let you know when he is hungry and these days quick across the floor to find every Lego, craft supply or matchbox car that the Bigs leave at his level.  He thinks Andrew and I are pretty fun to be with and he LOVES the Bigs almost as much as they love him….I say almost because their love for him is so big it is hard to believe he could fit that much affection into his tiny body.  He is sweet and silly and so lovable he makes my heart hurt.

There are also many people around him.  His original caseworker who placed him in our home.  She still texts for pictures of him and checks on him occasionally.  I thought he was her favorite until I saw her interacting with other kids at the courthouse, greeting them by name and with hugs or encouragement about how much they had grown.  That is when I realized that she is just one of those amazing people who makes everyone feel like they are the favorite.  She will always be so special to us because she brought us our first babe.  His current caseworker who received his case a few months ago makes monthly visits to our home to check on him, checks in with his parents and helps provides them with resources in hopes that they will be able to keep him safe in the future.  She also handles countless texts, voicemails and emails from me as I try to navigate all the bureaucracy that is the foster care system.

Our little guy lucked out in the GAL (Guardian Ad Litem) department.  The GAL is an attorney who specifically represents the child.  She is experienced, organized, compassionate but firm.  We have only had to call on her with one big concern so far and she responded quickly, fairly and corrected the problem.  I appreciate her wisdom, encouragement and know that she is looking out for our little guys best interests always.  I also appreciate her willingness to teach some of the system to Andrew and me.  Along with the GAL comes a Magistrate.  He is the judge who will ultimately decide what happens for our little man.  I can’t give you a read on him but can tell you that I find everything about the court portion of this process to be intimidating and worrisome.  During our first court appearance he asked if I had anything to add and I’m fairly certain I grunted.  Literally grunted.

Our family also has a Support Worker who is in charge of making sure we are okay, that we get our training recertification hours done on time, that we have the resources we need.  Most times when he comes, I think he is just making sure that Andrew and I are holding up okay.  He fields our questions that often times don’t have answers and walks along with us.

In another post I will talk about our roles in all of this and the roles our children have grown to fill.

These are all people who I knew would be a part of this team but the team is so much bigger.  They consists of high school and college friends who shipped clothes and baby equipment and diapers and bottles to our home when little man arrived.  It’s my neighbor who planned a surprise baby shower for us.  It is Hope’s Closet, a local non profit organization who coordinates opportunities for us to trained, be encouraged and be known as well as provides equipment, supplies and clothes for kids coming into foster and kinship care.  It is our small group at church who brought food for us, prays for us and babysits for us so we can still have date nights.  It is my fellow foster moms who have listened to me vent and be surprised by things they already knew.  It is my non foster friends who try so hard to understand this unique experience we are going through.

It is also our parents and extended families who did not receive this call, did not wrestle with it for years and did not say yes but who have come along side us and supported us by listening, babysitting, loving us, listening to us cry and yell and laugh and who have decided that this little boy is in.  That he is in for as long as he needs to be in and that he will be in our hears long after that if he goes home.  They didn’t sign up to be this close to all this pain but I can’t say enough about how their hearts have opened to this little boy.  We are all wide open.

I hope that this is the beginning of me being able to find the words to begin to tell you the amazing blessings that come when you are obedient to a call.  That hope and love and compassion can come out of brokenness, sadness and hurt.  That He makes all things work together for our good.   

Please pray for everyone in our portrait.

Sara

We Are That Family

Every year I think, this is the year we won’t be “that family” at the Christmas Eve Service.  This year the little old ladies will not say, “bless your heart.”  This year we will have control of our bodies and mouths and every year I’m wrong.  

Let us recap.  Three years ago Christopher was innocently playing on the floor at my feet in a sweet little country church filled with no more than 40 people in my parents hometown when I suddenly looked down and he wasn’t there.  He had crawled 2 pew rows back and was entertaining everyone behind us.  I, of course, was sitting in the middle of our pew and climbed over all the people to retrieve my little man. 

Last year, we went up for the children’s moment at the same church.  About half way through they handed out gift bags to the kids.  Benjamin grabbed his and ran, literally, like he had stolen it and was attempting to avoid arrest.  Then he stopped mid aisle and ran back put his free hand in the air, faced the cross hanging at the front and yelled, “Thank you Jesus!” And then took off running again.  

This year, I mean the boys are four years old, surely this year will be our year.  As I look around the packed auditorium I think, you poor mamas of crazies.  It’s okay.  I have been there.  I will not laugh when your toddler burps or throws a fit.   I have been that mom with that child.  I begin to smile as I remember all our crazy Christmas Eve service moments.     About five minutes into the sermon in a quiet moment while our pastor is talking about Jesus’ humanity he says, “I hate to ruin Away in a Manger, but come on, no crying he makes?  Has anyone seen a baby that doesn’t cry?”  Rhetorical questions are a lost cause with preschoolers, so my sweet Benjamin says in his loudest shouting voice, “Yyyeeeeeeeessssssss!”  I swear his yes lasted 25 seconds.  And again, we were “that family” at the Christmas Eve Service.  The difference in this Christmas Eve and the previous 2 is we were not in a small country church.  No, we were in a packed auditorium with 500 of our closest friends, who errupted in laughter.  

You are welcome all you other moms who were afraid it would be your kid.  The Gabbards saved the day again. I tell you all of this to say this.  The manger probably wasn’t perfect.  I mean, it was a barn.  There may have been crying and dirty diapers and postpartum emotional rollercoasters.  There may have been uncomfortable moments but it all worked out okay.  Jesus made it into the world.  He made it!  And because He made it, we get to make it too.  God bless you this Christmas!  And may all of you have a Benjamin at your Christmas Eve service to remind you that it isn’t about being perfect it’s about being present.  
Merry Christmas!

Sara

He Marches to a Different Beat…and that’s okay.

DSC_4420This is my Benjamin.  He is so different from my other crazies.  He is busy and yet highly focused on what he is doing.  He is challenging and very loving and sweet.  He doesn’t follow instructions well but is very sensitive to correction.  He is cuddly and yet has a hard time receiving too many snuggles because he has so much to do.  He is hard to teach and coach but extremely curious about how things work and often takes things apart and puts them back together.  He even answers questions in unusual ways.

Benjamin, what do you want to be when you grow up?

A dump truck.

Do you mean a dump truck driver?

No, I mean a dump truck.

While coloring recently, I got on his case about how he holds his crayon and was encouraging him to try to color inside the lines.  He looked up at me with these big brown eyes and said, “Mama, those lines aren’t for me.”  He’s right.  They aren’t for him.  He just sees things differently.  He challenges me to try to see things from a new perspective.  I want so badly to understand him but he is so beautifully complicated.

He views the world in a very different way than anyone I have ever met.  In 1st Peter 4:10-11  it says, God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another.  My sweet Benjamin is a gift to me.  He challenges the way I see things.  He encourages me to seek understanding over judgement.  He draws me in because I want to know him more.  He’s right.  The lines aren’t for him.  He marches to the beat of his own drummer because my drummer is either too fast or too slow.  His differences from me are so beautiful and mysterious.  What a blessing he is, not just as my son, but as a constant reminder of how our uniqueness is not a mistake but a plan for us to better serve others and serve God.  He will grow up to challenge the way we think about the world and for that I am grateful.  Color outside those lines little man.  Love you.

10 Crazy Things This Mom Says Daily

1.  Stop fighting over imaginary toys!

2. Don’t stand there and dance, just go to the bathroom.

3.  I don’t have any napkins, just lick your fingers.

4. That was not a snuggle, you just wiped your face off on my shirt!

5.  That’s nice but you aren’t at grandma’s house right now so NO!

6. Go back in there, wipe your bottom and wash your hands…..and turn off the light!

7. What do you have in your mouth?

8. You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.

9. You better eat all your pizza (or insert any other unhealthy kid food here) or you don’t get any ice cream.

10. Did you need that drink 10 minutes ago when I was in the kitchen, or do you just need it now that I’m trying to use the bathroom by myself?

The struggle is real.  What crazy things do you say?

How to Guide: Making your Family Crazy

If you are thinking, how can I get in a fight with my spouse and make myself and my children crazy, you should totally make an appointment to get family pictures taken.  The fight you ask……was because he tried to be helpful and do the laundry so my “good jeans” were in the washer when we needed to head out the door.  I mean seriously, what was he thinking?  Probably something ridiculous like, I think I’ll throw in a load of laundry because Sara seems particularly psychotic today.  Nice try Gabbard!  After throwing an adult size tantrum I did pull it together and wore only slightly damp jeans to our photo shoot.

Expectation is the enemy of joy.  When I expect things to go a certain way I am left feeling frustrated, disappointed and spent.  This is especially true when trying to do anything with little humans.  They don’t act the way you imagined they would.  They don’t say what you thought they might.  It’s crazy but they are like individuals rather than accessories (wink).  After a denim emergency, quick showers, hair doing, proper actual accessorizing and coordination of outfits we made it to our appointment and got these gems.

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Was it worth it?  I think it was.  The photographer captured each of their personalities so perfectly.  My Benjamin is a little squirrelly and a lot sweet.  Christopher has a lot of feelings and always has a twinkle in his eye.  Abigail is a little sassy (she gets it from her Mama) and is a happy, sweet girl.  Even though our getting ready process did not go as I had expected, the photos turned out far better than I could have ever imagined.  Goodness inspite of my attitude.  In the future I think I will plan as much as I can and go in with less expectation and more hope, it is Holy Week after all.

May you find hope today knowing that Jesus came, loved well, taught us how to care for one another, died, didn’t stay dead and awaits us in a sweet place.  Happy Easter!

 

Breaking my Mommy Heart

This week I cut my daughters hair, stitched up a hole in her special blankie she has loved well since she was a baby and prepared clothes for a consignment sale.  In short, there has been a lot of cry this week.  It is so true that the days are long but the years are short.  As I think about our oldest heading off to Kindergarten I’m filled with anxiety.  Is she prepared academically?  Have we done what we need to do to prepare her?  I’m also filled with sadness over how fast these baby/preschool years have gone.  As I’m filled with anxiety and sadness she is overwhelmed with excitement.  She is curious about what school will be like.  She can’t wait to ride a school bus.  She is anticipating all the new friends she will make and all the cool things she will learn.

Joshua 1:9 says, “Be strong and courageous.  Do not be frightened, do not be dismayed for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

The older I get the harder it is to embrace this idea.  Change is  frightening but knowing that we don’t have to go it alone is comforting.  So as I cry over her curls, patch her blankies and stare at clothes that can’t possibly be too small for my baby girl, she is ready to attack these new experiences.  God, please give me half her courage to not only weather changes in my future but to embrace them.

Circles and Straight Lines

I find myself all the time saying, “When we get there?” or “When this happens?”  When the boys are potty trained life will be so much easier.  When the kids are in school, things will settle down (don’t worry, all my mom friends with older kids have set me straight on that lie I have been telling myself).  When we move or when we have the money…

Recently, a guest preacher spoke about Exodus and Moses’ journey through the desert.  He spoke about how we all have a desert of sorts to cross.  This could be a lay off at work, a delay in our plans to grow our family or a death in our close personal circle.  He spoke eloquently about his own personal deserts.  He even used visual aids.  Each week he had a jumbo pad of paper and a black marker and he would make a diagram of the journey that Moses was on and how it was not dissimilar to the one we are on too.

I’m pretty sure he wanted us to leave encouraged.  If Moses, who killed a guy, can be used by God then so can you.  Journey on to your Promise Land.  Trust God.  March forward good and faithful servant.  And don’t get me wrong, I got all those things but the thing I noticed the most about his talk were his visual aids.  Every single diagram he drew was a circle.  First this happens then this happens then you come back to here.

Hold up preacher man!  You’re telling me my life is not a straight line or even a curvy line headed in a distinct direction but a circle.  I’m out.  Next.  Bring in the next guy.  Kidding.  Kind of.

So often I find myself focusing so fully on the destination.  When we get completely out of debt we will be superheroes!  When the kids get bigger we will be able to take amazing vacations!  When I lose weight I’ll be happier!  When my house is clean my friends will think I have it all together!

What if life is not a straight line headed to a destination?  What if it’s a cycle of closeness to God, hardship and renewal?  What if it’s caring deeply for someone, being hurt, crying and then caring deeply for someone again?  What if its teaching our kids by example, failing, talking through the failure and then teaching our kids by example again?  In lieu of viewing this as a hamster wheel, how freeing is it that all we have to do is our best in this moment?  Tomorrow we may fail but today all we have to do is try.  Regardless of the desert we are crossing there will be a promise land coming up next that will renew us before we hit our next desert.  The things that are most important to me are things that never come to an end until I come to an end: loving others deeply, parenting my kids, serving others in a way that Jesus would have enjoyed.

No destination to race toward.  No deadline to hit.  Just beautiful circles.

Halloween Candy…..Stop the Madness!

Halloween candy is the worst thing ever!  Not only does it juice them up the night of Halloween but it lingers for weeks after as a source of constant conflict.

Can I have a piece of candy Mommy?

No

Why not?

Because there are healthier options.  A kid cannot live on candy alone.

But I have been so good!

Yeah, well you are supposed to be good.

Drives me crazy!  Yesterday my daughter asked for candy before lunch.  I told her she could have a piece if she cooperated for quiet time.  She proceeded to whine, wake up her brothers and not rest at all.  As I gave up on a quiet time and headed downstairs she had the nerve to ask for candy.

No Abigail, you broke our agreement.

Moments later, I look over and she is walking across the kitchen with her hand behind her back.

Abigail, do you have a piece of candy?

No Momma,

Last chance to tell me the truth.  You will be in bigger trouble if you lie than if you just tell me the truth.  Do you have candy in your hand behind your back?

No Momma, my back just hurts.

Seriously?  She’s five and she bold faced lied to me.  She’s advanced for her age, what can I say.  It broke my heart.  She’s too little to be covering things up.  Have I not created a safe place for her to be honest?  I was so hurt by her lie.

How often do we do just that to God?  How often do we cover up something and try to hide it when God is looking at us and saying, “I see that hand behind your back.  It will be easier if you tell me the truth.”

What’s in your hand behind your back?  I could be a past experience that you can’t talk to God about yet?  Maybe it’s an addiction that has taken the place of God in your life.  Maybe it’s stress instead of trust in God.  Perhaps its judging others instead of loving them.  It’s different for all of us.  For me, I feel like it’s often a cupcake instead of self control or snapping instead of patience.

Whatever it happens to be, God is offering an easier road in exchange for our honesty with Him.  Remove the hand from behind your back, open your palm and accept the plan.

Very Big God and Very Small Problems

I’m sure this NEVER happens to you, but sometimes I get a little wrapped up in my own crap.  Sometimes I lose my mind over the state of my home, being late to preschool, my husband leaving dishes in the sink.  Sometimes I find myself losing sleep because my son doesn’t use his fork as well as his twin brother.  Is he falling behind?  What do we need to do to improve his fork skills?  I should probably google that to see if we are missing something.  I’m sure you NEVER sound like a crazy person but sometimes I do.  Sometimes I get so anxious over the most trivial things.

Occasionally I gain perspective because I have to endure something that really IS hard or witness a friend or family member go through a tragedy.  Last week I gained perspective in a different way.  We got to spend a week on the gulf side of Florida.  This was the first trip to the beach for our crazies.  They were so excited.  I was a mess of worry about the whole trip.  I couldn’t get past the idea of a 17 hour drive….while potty training….twin….boys.  I was concerned about the expense of this big of an adventure.  I was worried we would forget something.  I was worried about our dogs that were being dog sat by a new person.  I hadn’t seen the ocean in almost 8 years and all I was doing was worrying about everything with no anticipation of the awesome that was about to happen.

The trip went way better than I could have ever expected.  The only thing I forgot was sunscreen, which, believe it or not, you can buy in Florida.  The boys had zero accidents on the drive down and back.  Nobody drowned in the ocean.  No one required an urgent care visit.  No one puked.  And everyone had fun!  Somebody pinch me!

Our first morning, we woke up and had breakfast on the balcony overlooking the ocean and as we enjoyed the view we saw a beautiful rainbow.  Sometimes I forget the vastness of the world while I’m wading through my own crap.  Looking out at the seemingly endless ocean put things into perspective for me.  I thought about how trivial my worries are compared to many others in the world.  I thought about how amazing it is that in this vast world that we live in God knows and loves me.  Even as everyone else works through their own stuff too, God loves me.  Even as I let my worries consume me, God loves me through it, all the while loving everyone else through their stuff too.

I feel like the childhood version of myself had a better understanding of the “big-ness” of God.  The God who throws rainbows in the sky and molds the earth in His hands.  I found myself much more in awe of things then.  I don’t want to lose that childlike faith and awe.  This week I will look for times to be in absolute awe of this BIG GOD who loves little old me.

The Social Media Mommy Lie

Not long ago my husband and I were talking about some of our frustrations in parenting.  He shared that he feels like the kids are so well-behaved all day while he is at work and then he comes home and they are nuts, not listening, acting out, arguing and throwing tantrums.  He went on to reference the happy smiling faces in the pictures I send him on our occasional trips to the zoo or playdates with friends.  With all the sensitivity I could muster, I busted out laughing.  “They are nuts all the time!  It is crazy all day long!”  I just don’t take pictures while I’m power walking out of the zoo with one under my arm kicking while the other two cry in the wagon.  I didn’t snap a quick picture when Benjamin emptied all the books off the bookshelf and pulled all the linens of the bed during nap time.  I  forgot to document it when Christopher laid down in the line at the grocery store because it wasn’t his turn to “pay.”  My husband’s perception of our days are based on the happy pictures I send him as he works.  Perception is reality.

In our house on your birthday we eat sweets, sing Happy Birthday and blow out candles at every meal.  The twins’ birthday comes 11 days before my daughters.  On their birthday, we talked through the things that are hard about other people having birthdays with our daughter who was almost 5 years old.  She struggled but made us very proud as graciously let them have the spotlight, watched them open presents and blow out candles.  Birthdays are hard for little ones but it gives us an opportunity to teach them that while they are very special and important, they are not the center of this big beautiful world.

Fast forward 11 days and it’s my daughter’s 5th birthday.  We wake up and come downstairs where I have a donut with a candle in it ready to sing to our birthday girl.  My boys climb up in their chairs for their donuts and ask for candles also.  I give them the pep talk about how they are very special and important but this is sissy’s big day and she is the only one that gets a candle, just like they did 11 days earlier.  As I begin to sing they begin to scream and cry.  I powered through and took these picture.

Abigail's 5th Birthday Breakfast

The picture on the left captured the reality of the moment however the picture on the right reflects how I hoped it would have gone.  Any guesses on which one ended up on Facebook?Social media is such a delicate balance.  There is so much negativity, criticism and strong opinions on facebook and twitter.  In equal parts there are a whole lot of us pretending to live a picture perfect life that is not reality.  The middle ground that I am constantly searching for is one that shows some of my reality in a way that allows myself and my friends to laugh at how crazy life can be sometimes.  As Christian moms it is not our job to be perfect, have perfectly behaved children, beautifully clean homes and homemade snacks when the kids get home.  All those things are nice, although almost impossible to attain and may even make us hard to relate to isolating us from the possible friendships we could be creating with moms who need some encouragement.  Who are you going to reach out to on a day when your kids are extraordinatoially challenging, the mom whose children look like they fell out of a Pottery Barn Kids catalog everyday?  There is power in being vulnerable.  I see my Christian mom challenge in three parts:

Love my kids with my whole heart, hopefully so intensely that they can begin to imagine how much God loves us.

Model caring and loving others so they become vehicles for God’s love to reach others.

Encourage other mommas that are trying to do the same thing.

As you post on your social media accounts this week, be honest, be real, be positive and use your platform as a doorway for real relationships with real people who are facing some of the best and worst moments of their lives.