When the ordinary is extraordinary

Last night as I sat and watched a Christmas concert at the same school that four generations of my family have attended, I was struck with a sense of awe that something so ordinary was actually quite exceptional.  

Two Christmas's ago, we were preparing for our trip to China. The past two years have been challenging, wonderful, mundane, stretching, and incredible.  Both ordinary and extraordinary.  

Two years ago we adopted a child that was considered worthless, at least by a culture in general.  In his 6 years he was abandoned as a toddler, found by police, lived in two different institutions, and lived with multiple foster parents (whom I thank God for!).  In his most recent institution he was classified as "bed ridden" and remained in a crib night and day.  The short bars of the crib where walls of his cage.  He watched other children, who could walk, wander around and even go outside. I know now how much he internalized that.  He is so very aware that his body just doesn't do what he wants it to do, and he is extremely aware when he is treated differently because of that.  Hyper aware even. I've listened to many heart wrenching, tear filled, rages that eventually come back to him screaming things like "I can't walk!" "I have bad feet!" "I hate my hand!""bad guys come and I can't run away!".

   He was viewed as defective and treated as something without value by so many.  Inside a little boys heart that turned into a deep self loathing.  He also has an enormous amount of fear and a perpetual hyper-vigilance.  He has not yet realized that we will never ever abandon him.  We assure him of that truth daily, but still, the fear is there.  Just this week, after his first trip to Costco with Mom and Dad, he had a melt down/ panic attack in the parking lot.  Complete with retching, shaking, and sobbing.  I noticed he looked pale and somber while we shopped but it wasn't until after his meltdown, when he found his words, that I understood just how terrified he had been.  Even after two years of us assuring him through our actions and words that we would always be his parents he thought this might be the place where we leave him, or the ever present "bad guys" might finally find him.  As we drove home afterwards he asked for constant reassurance, and then when we pulled up into our little town he looked like the weight of the world was taken from his shoulders, like he was honestly surprised that we had brought him back home.  He thanked us over and over for bringing him back home again.  He was convinced Mom and Dad had taken him to the City to leave him there( when in fact it was for various therapy appointments).  The reality of that fear is heartbreaking.

Two years ago we pursued a child who could not walk.  We had hopes that he would be able to walk with assistance but we didn't dream that he would become and independent walker and be able to stand unassisted.  We chose a child who had quite severe developmental delays, although we had very little idea (and still don't) what that will mean as time goes on. 

He was considered unadoptable by many...and an unlikely choice by most.  Even our guide in China asked us "didn't they have any better kids for you?" Basically, "how did you get stuck with him?".  Various people in Canada have asked us the same thing...although with a distinctly Canadian sort of tact and veiled in polite conversation. While in his home country we witnessed the stares aimed at him, and the looks of disgust.  We endured it with him for only a short while.  He endured those sneering glances, and long awkward stares for years.  He was told by words, actions, glances, and body language, time and time again that he did not belong.  He was not worth it.  

So last night as I sat in the front row, holding my camera, watching an elementary school Christmas concert I was watching something spectacular.  So spectacular that it was completely ordinary.  

I watched my son stand unassisted in the front row for multiple songs.  He beamed as he did the actions, caught as many words as he could, followed the teachers promptings like a hawk, and gave me a thumbs up.  I could see how hard he was working just to keep his balance.  I knew his feet were hurting after an already long day of school. 

For the first time in his life I witnessed him just be one of the pack.  He completely blended in.  He was just a kid.  Not a kid with equipment.  Not a kid with a disability.  Not a child adopted from China.  Not the kid who is three years older than his classmates. Just him.  Just a kid waving at his very own Mom and Dad and singing about Santa. 

I was so thrilled for him!

He stood bravely on stage, in front of rows filled with people, and did exactly what he was supposed to do.

I don't know that I have ever been more proud.

His teachers and the other children at the school have been so great.

One thing parents of kids with special needs know is that moments of "ordinary" are completely extraordinary.

This week as we visited a centre dedicated to serving children like Elijah and were assessed by very kind professionals and therapists, I realized again that we are so very fortunate to live where we do.  We have so many resources available, and there are so many people who want to see him thrive and reach his absolute fullest potential.  In so many other countries, people with disabilities are treated so poorly.  Families are left with no resources and are often encouraged to abandon the child. He could have lived his life within the bars of an cold, harsh, institution.  He could have ended up being used as a prop by someone who would exploit him, being made to sit on a dirty sidewalk and beg for pocket change.  He might have never learned to walk, or known secure love.

But. God.

This was just another huge reminder that his story is being rewritten.
Those hard things are being redeemed.

Bite me "Bed Ridden".  
There's no holding this boy back.


Burnout and a New Season

Our Tiny Princess Annie has been with us more than half a year. Last month marked six months of loving this beautiful girl.

Speaking of beautiful girl.

Can you believe how much Miss Cece has grown up?  
Maybe it's the fact that her hair has grown so long but she is looking so much older to me.  She still keeps us on our toes, and keeps us laughing.  She is an absolute joy...and at the same time can drive me insane.  It's a paradox I'll never quite figure out.  

Miss Cece is very happy that it's Christmas time again.

We didn't hold off too long on putting up the tree.  As soon as our Canadian holiday "Remembrance Day" was over we switched into Christmas season mode.   We usually let the kids put on the ornaments, which are an eclectic assortment of homemade treasures and things that have been collected over the years.  I can tell our kids have grown taller because more than just the bottom half of the tree is decorated.  Making memories.

We're still soaking up time with this little treasure, and thanking God for each day.  I don't know that a baby has ever been so adored, loved, and doted on in the history of mankind.  Ok, maybe I'm exaggerating.  But seriously though.  If it were possible to spoil a baby, we would have wrecked her with love.  Fortunately it just means she is a very secure, and happy baby. 

 When time is cut short you tend to take nothing for granted.  That and she has five siblings who pretty much think the sun rises and sets with her smile.  

We're not totally sure when our final goodbye will be, but we're thankful to have some Christmas memories made with this black eyed beauty. 

7 months!  
Oh my, how far we've come baby. 

Annie is a little fire cracker. She is determined, ambitious, curious, energetic, and radiantly cheerful.  She has an incredibly sweet and content disposition.  Just a happy baby who always has somewhere to go and something to investigate.  She's a petite little girlie but she's crazy strong.  Already changing her is like a rodeo event.  

This year the heavy layer of snow brought with it a sense of rest.  Or at least being able to breathe.  Work has finally slowed down a bit on the farm.  The yard work and garden is done. The Hubster is home longer in the mornings, gets home earlier for supper, is around for putting kid bedtime, and is "on call" as back up parent when our schedule gets crazy and we need to run kids around to appointments.  That has given me a fresh bounce in my step.   

Honestly, I think I hit a wall a couple weeks ago.  Exhaustion climaxed to a whole new level and I was ready to tap out...physically, emotionally, relationally.  
I just wasn't on my game, and Mama has to be on her game.

 Since then, I've been trying hard to do some "self care"....which for me simply means intentionally working to keep this body, mind, and spirit in as healthy a condition as possible (as far as it depends on me) so I can keep up with my crazy awesome life.  "Self care" is a topic that I tend to avoid simply because it can so easily become selfishness...and I know I don't need any help to become more lazy or selfish! That and I'm naturally a "low maintenance" kind of girl.  I'm trying to figure out what authentic, Christ centred, others focused, "self care" looks like.  Part of it is figuring out where I need to be better equipped and seeking out wisdom where I need it. Maybe I'll have to mull it out in a blog post someday.  Even Jesus pulled away from the crowd on occasion. 

I think it has helped.  I feel like I have a better attitude, and a little more energy anyhow.

Our family hit the ground running when we got home from Baja last spring and we haven't stopped to take a breath since.  Our trip south last winter was amazing and so filled with great memories but restful and rejuvenating it certainly was not.  A two month long road trip/ living in a camping trailer with 7 people in Baja Mexico is not so much a "vacation" as it is a slightly ridiculous adventure.  Then came a newborn preemie, and a very long busy season.  

Now that I think about it its been an insane couple years.  It has almost been two years since we left for China.

We had all started feeling the burnout.  Juggling schedules, work, school stuff, special needs parenting, home, and the ever present doctor, therapy, specialist, and dental appointments has kept us busier than we like to be.  We intentionally keep our "extra curricular" activities limited to prevent this from happening...but somehow it happened anyway. That's just life with six kids with various special needs and health considerations.  

So right now, we are trying to catch our breath, catch up on a few house projects (because this old house seems to be falling apart around us) and spend a little bit of time at home together as a family.  Some time to reconnect outside of the usual rush.  

I am so thankful right now for the beginning of "slow season".  Or at least "slower" season.  

My Hubby and I actually went on a real date! It had been over 6 months since we had eaten a meal out together.  We spent a whole day together in the city.  Well, we did have a baby for most of that time but when you have six kids reducing the number to one seems like a vacation.  

With the gently falling snow came a sense of peace.  No matter how much I fret about life, no matter how much I dislike winter....this world just keeps turning on it's axis and God's in control of all of it.  There's no changing the seasons, and some seasons you just merely have to endure.  Such as a Saskatchewan winter. There's always beauty to be found somewhere. 

I'm intentionally trying to cling to this sense of peace despite our crazy "normal" and so much unpredictability.   
Foster parenting is something I both love doing and despise at the same time.  It's impossible for fostering not to carry a certain burden of sorrow and brokenness because those things made it necessary in the first place.  I love the kids and the families involved, I hate the situations that make it necessary. 

I can't really actually explain how I can love it and hate it at the same time.  Maybe it's similar to when I used to run long distances competitively.  It was hard.  The training was a lot of work. The races caused extreme discomfort and stress....but yet I kept doing it.  

It's strange how something can be completely life draining and incredibly life giving at the same time.  

Maybe that's the Gospel story in this messy, imperfect, broken world of foster care....there is no new life without death.  With this life as a foster parent comes the constant reminder that "this is not how it was designed to be", and I feel myself join in the groaning, the agony, and the waiting for ultimate redemption to be birthed.  Longing for every tear to be dried.  

Maybe I'm just plain crazy.
That's entirely possible.  

Maybe it takes a whole lot of "crazy" to willingly venture into those hard places. 
Whatever it is I'm pretty sure that God threw me into the deep end with this one and I'm in way over my head. There is no such thing as tidying up loose ends, there's just raw and ragged.  

Just don't ever tell me "God doesn't give you more than you can handle", because that's a huge steaming pile of bovine pucky.   

I gave up trying to "handle" things a long time ago. 


Thankful and Tired

It seems that we are getting a summer encore.  Our summer was short and cool but now October has been gorgeous.  The best part is last month's frosty nights killed the mosquito.  

October also brought the end of a very long harvest.  I survived single parenting season for another year.  We celebrated by escaping for a couple days to a small campground.  The weather was perfect for camping, the trees were showing off their fall colors, the campground was virtually empty and there were no bugs. It was just what we needed. A perfect little breather on Thanksgiving weekend (our Canadian holiday).

The short Autumn days made for some glowstick fun before bedtime.

Our trailer was parked right next to a playground.  Which meant some chill time around the campfire for Mom and Dad! 

Aili looks taller than me in this photo! I'm pretty sure it was uneven ground.
That's my story and I'm sticking to it. 

My sweet Miss Cece.  She still struggles with her head to toe eczema...it was particularly itchy that weekend. 

My gorgeous girls.  

A rare picture with me in it,

and our fat little dog Taco.

The only thing better than hotdogs and smores is eating them with friends. 

After a couple days of camping we cleaned ourselves up and spent a day at my parents house.

Miss Cece adores her Grandpa. 


After a delectable Thanksgiving turkey dinner I asked my sister to snap a few pictures of our family...since we were all in our nice duds and in one place.  Chasing down the kids and convincing them to cooperate was easy compared to wrangling the husband. 

Have you noticed how much our tiny foster baby has grown? She's nearly 6 months old now, rolling everywhere, and starting to sit up.  I wish I could add "sleeping through the night" to that list...but alas, we continue our nighttime visits. 

She's worth it.  Besides who needs sleep when you've got coffee and carbs. 
My ulcer and ballooning butt would agree. 

Life continues in limbo as far as our wee one is concerned.  We treasure each day, and are thankful for each milestone we get to witness.  

Clearly Aili didn't get the "Smile!" memo.

Good enough. 


It's that time of year

It's harvest time again.  Actually it's been harvest time for about 6 weeks now.  
Other years I've been more involved and had many lovely pictures to share. 
This year my hands are full at home and I've been too lazy to venture out to the fields to capture the process on camera.  

Cece and I did go on a little field trip one morning a couple weeks ago.  It was fun to go for a ride in the combine with Daddy and have her all to ourselves.  Just Mom, Dad, and our little farm girl.  She soaked it up.  

I snapped a few pics on my phone which is why they are such poor quality.  You get the jist of it though.

Daddy's girl. 

This fall has brought some changes to our family dynamic.  For the first time ever I have three children in public school.  My oldest is still homeschooling but the boys all get on the bus.

I wish I could tell you I'm all torn up about it.
I'm honestly trying not to sound giddy.
Bottom line is it's working out very well for all involved.  Change always involves some hard choices and a bunch of self doubt, but now that we're committed I couldn't be happier with the arrangement.  The only form of education we're loyal too is doing what we think is best for each child, each year.  Next year we will reevaluate and take it from there.

One huge down side of not homeschooling everyone is a loss of freedom to travel.
In years to come we may decide public school cramps our style too much...but for now the scales have leaned in it's favor.

6 wks into harvest time and I'm about ready to see the end of it.  The kids are missing their Daddy and I'm missing having a husband.  Such is farm life though.  

After my last post candidly describing how it feels to say goodbye to a foster baby I want to briefly update you on how the Lord is working.  Obviously I can't say anything about the situation itself but I can say that I have felt a complete and astonishing amount of peace since then.  Thankyou for praying dear friends.  I can't explain this strange sense of serenity any other way.  It defies circumstance and my own depth of loss...it makes no logical sense at all.  I have absolute confidence that God is good, He loves this little girl, and he's got this.  I can totally rest in that..even when we say goodbye. 


when the brave face cracks.

When the kids are finally in bed and the house is quiet.

I can stop pretending and assuring.
I can stop being brave and strong for them.

All I am then is wrecked.

All day I try to patch the breached damn with platitudes, positive perspectives, and head knowledge, but at night it bursts.   The torrents rush out.  The brave face crumbles.

During the day I can recite for you all the reasons why I am supportive of first families and long for redemption, healing, and reunification for foster kids. I preach to myself the gospel of sacrifice and of a God who is good and sovereign.  I can tell you of a Father who knows each hair on her head, and who sees even a sparrow fall.  I know there is a bigger story being written and I play only a small role.  I am aware that this is all part of the gritty world of foster parenting.  In my head I know these things.  Even in my heart they are deeply rooted.  I know this child is not legally or biologically mine. I have no delusions regarding that fact.

In a previous post I said "I'll let you know when that day comes" regarding how it feels to let go of a dearly loved foster baby, a baby who so seamlessly became a part of our family, and who was as sweet as she could be.
I'm not sure if words can adequately describe how it feels but this is my attempt.  Full disclosure and brutal honesty.

Torment.  Anguish.  Torture.

These are words that come to mind. Maybe that sounds like a heavy dose of hyperbole but if it is then, at this moment, I'm living in that exaggerated state.

It feels like being told that you must give away your baby.  A baby you can't even bear to leave with a babysitter without that maternal longing to return her to your arms.  You must give her to strangers and simply walk away.  You must do what is absolutely unnatural for a mother to do.  You wonder if they will know how to comfort her when she cries, or if they know that she is ticklish under her ears.  You wonder how she will spend her days.  You wonder if she will be safe, if she will be well loved.

It feels like being told your baby will die shortly after he is born.  The death of a dream.  The expectation of horror. Knowing you will have to figure out how to let go after such a short time, and walk away with aching empty arms.  You wonder how you will continue to breathe.

It feels like looking up at an ultrasound screen and seeing a silent heart.  A sudden awareness of all you will miss and all the experiences that will never be.

It feels like staring into the perfect face of a sleeping baby and suddenly realizing that you won't see her first teeth come in, or see those adorable toothy smiles. You won't be there to watch her learn to crawl, or take her first steps, or say her first words.  For the first time in your life you wish you could have the privilege of potty training or scrubbing her art work off of the walls.

It feels like staring into an empty cradle where a baby once slept.

It feels like being pushed under a wave and tumbling around in water.  You struggle to find footing, and you forget which way is up.  Your chest burns and your head aches, craving something that is essential but elusive.

Of course, in my head I know that this is all part of the "job".  This is what we signed up for.  We knew we would fill a role for however long a child needed us. I knew it would be hard because we've done this before.

I prepped myself and our kids as much as possible before our placement, with the reminder that '"this will be temporary".

This case was a bit different than we expected though, it blew out of the water all my best laid heart preparation.   

I knew there would be no protecting my heart with this one.

I remember that moment of stomach dropping fear knowing the storm that could come and choosing to walk into it, while at the same time praying that this cup would be taken.

My "this is only temporary" resolve crumbled when I saw a fragile little girl laying alone in a hospital room filled with other tiny babies being doted on by Mommies and Daddies.  She slept quietly in a hospital bassinet in the back of a room filled with babies being taught how to nurse, and receiving skin to skin "kangaroo care".  She was like a little Roo without a Kanga.  I knew then that I could be that Mama to her.  I have been.  For 5 months she has been nestled and carried next to my heart in a "baby wrap".  There was simply a vacancy that needed to be filled.

When you see me in person I should warn you that I will be wearing my brave face. It isn't very thick or strong, and it may crack on occasion but I will do my best to keep it in place. When I see you I will hold back the torrent, and I will stifle the wail.  My spirit will be keening as a mother losing a child but I will pretend I don't hear it.  Simply because I must. Please forgive me if I avoid eye contact, and make meaningless small talk. This is me boarding up the windows and surviving the screaming wind and pounding rain.

There is no rest for the weary other than in the One who is my Sabbath.
That is where I will find my joy and comfort, even when my feet keep moving, my hands keep reaching, my heart keeps breaking, and my spirit keeps trusting.

I will continue undaunted,
simply because there is more life to live.

It's not about me. I'm not the point.

There are more babies lying alone and there are more children forgotten.

The paradox of fostering.  It hurts like the pit of hell, and yet you know you would do it all again.

Soli Deo Gloria,


In the Dust

I expected to get a phone call this week.  It came this morning.

In my heart I knew what was coming, but yet I still held onto the glimmer of hope that somehow my fierce love and sheer strength of will would be enough to change what might happen.

We are beginning the "transition" of Baby Annie into her new home.  We are actually very thankful for a sensitive, competent, and kind case worker who understands that fostering involves real families, actual children, and real grief.  I am thankful for our five months with her.  I will always treasure the days that I got to be her Mommy.  We trust that God is good and that He goes ahead of her and goes with her.  Even though I feel like my heart is being gauged out with a spoon, I do have a sense of peace.  This isn't an unjust, or horrible move...it's what is supposed to happen.  That doesn't change the reality that we really love this little girl and will miss her terribly.

I don't have many words right now to process the emotions.
Right now I'm just trying to inhale and exhale.

Today also happens to be Elijah's 8th birthday....which is feeling less than festive at the moment.  I need to put on my brave face and not let the sadness overwhelm what is a happy celebration.  The timing isn't super awesome.

Thankyou for following along on our journey through foster parenting and for praying for our family as we feel the full depth of what we are called to.  This will hit some of my kids hard I'm afraid, please pray for their tender hearts.

I suspect I will find my words eventually, but for now I'm just resting in the One who doesn't need words to know my heart, and I can use the words of others to excavate Truth.

"In the psalms, God has given the church a language which allows it to express even the deepest agonies of the human soul in the context of worship." Carl Trueman

There is a time to weep.  There is a time to wear the sackcloth, lay down in the ashes, and to just let brokenness be what it is. Even when we have to keep putting one foot in front of the other...and decorate a birthday cake.

"Though You slay me
Yet I will praise You
Though You take from me
I will bless Your name
Though You ruin me
Still I will worship
Sing a song to the one who's all I need"


Summer Summary

I have definitely not been good at keeping up with this little blog.  So much good intention, so little time and brain function to accomplish it. After posting so little for so long it's hard to even know where to begin.  It feels a bit overwhelming to jump back in.  I really want to capture our memories though...because goodness knows this is the only place my memories are safe.  My sleep deprived brain is leaky.

This is our summer at a glance.
Over all it was a cool, wet summer.  Everything is so unusually lush and green on the Prairie this year.  The mosquitoes and weeds in my yard particularly loved the damp weather.  We did get a few weeks of summer weather before our first frost hit a few days ago.  I'm hoping for an extra nice fall.  I'm so very not ready for the cold to return.

We prefer the summer.   

Cece was my little berry picker.  Our raspberry bushes produced a decent little crop this year.  

We did some camping with friends...in the cold and rain.

                                                               Note the winter hat and coats in June.

Some backyard play time. 

We camped with friends at Cypress Hills.  It was wet and cold..but pretty.

we celebrated being Canadian.

We celebrated 11 years of Roman.

My sister in law Brook and her son came up from Seattle for a few weeks again this year. 
We went to Arlington Beach Family camp as one huge family of 10. 

                                                                 I turned 37.
                                I really did think that getting old would take longer than it has.

We celebrated Baby Annie's three month birthday,

and her fourth.
When a future with her is uncertain and time is precious we are reminded to celebrate the little things in life,

like our daughter officially becoming a teen.

and no she didn't know what that was on the front of her shirt...

Aili will soon be taller than me.
Kids growing up also happened a lot faster than I thought it would.

Speaking of growing up.
Look at this big kid on his way to school!
This picture makes my heart skip a beat. 
Only a couple years ago he was merely existing, classified as bed-ridden, and hidden away alone in an institution.  
Here he is standing tall all on his own, a big smile on his face and getting an education.
Parenting this boy has it's share of challenges but when I stop to see how far he's come it puts all those small irritations into perspective.  Little by little his heart is healing and he is gaining confidence and security.  A year ago he never would have tolerated leaving my side and being taken away on a school bus.  It would have been sheer terror for him.  Now he trusts and understands so much more. It's been a big step for him but he's doing really well.  I'm excited for him. 

We are now in the middle of Harvest season on the farm...aka single parenting season.  I keep thinking "next season" will be slower....but I'm starting to realize that with six kids there is no "not busy" season.  There's just a fluctuation between hectic busy and chaotic busy.

It's good busy though.
I love my life.

Soli Deo Gloria,