And now for something completely different

A bit of a change from my usual topics….but needed to share.

After months (years?) of discussion, my husband and I began our foster parent training classes in January of 2011.  It was the first step we had to take in adopting through the state of Kansas.  The classes were completed without problems, but once we finished attending classes and the paperwork trail began, we started hitting speed bumps.  Lots and lots of speed bumps.

First there was the delay of our final write-up, supposed to be done by a (surely overworked) social worker who helped lead our class.  After months of nagging e-mails and texts, I was assured that she had sent it–but then the office it was supposed to arrive at hadn’t received it.  Weeks later, it had finally appeared at the office; where it then had to be transferred yet again, to the actual agency we were working with.  More waiting ensued, but fortunately no more flat-out missing paperwork.  We finally (!!) had our homestudy done this January, a full year after we started our training.  More hangups followed, this time with fingerprints (getting them clear enough to read; not getting away from any criminal history, haha); at this point we were starting to laugh because the whole thing was Just. So. Ridiculous.

Finally, finally, early this summer we started receiving child profiles to read and review, to see who might be a good fit in our family.

We had a few serious discussions about a few sibling sets that came through; discussions about how many kids we could realistically handle and where we would put more than one child.  We actually pursued a sib set of three for awhile, but finally came to the decision that, depending on their needs, it would probably just be too much for us.  Then one profile came through, for one little three-year-old, and my response was overwhelming:  this is it. 

This is why we’ve been stalled.  This is why we’ve had to wait.  This is what all the hold-ups have been for.  It was suddenly all so clear.

We e-mailed our caseworker for more information; overwhelming information, to be sure, but only things that cemented my desire to continue to follow up on this little one.  We told her we wanted to continue on and be considered as potential parents when they met about the child (many more steps still to take, but finally–there’s that word again–moving in the right direction, on the right child).

Which is why it was so heartbreaking to sit in my doctor’s office parking lot a few weeks ago and call our caseworker.

“We have……a situation,” I began.

“A situation?” she laughed.  “What does that m–you’re PREGNANT!”

Yep.  And apparently I’m not the only one on her case load to call her this month, with a “situation,” where she’ll “keep our file open” and we can “get back with her” when things calm down.

This is not a “we’ve tried for years, it’s a miracle!” kind of situation.  This is a “we have a great family; we should share what we have” situation.  Why on earth would God take a family that was ready to open its doors and welcome someone in need and, instead, throw another baby at them?  Aren’t there already hundreds of kids waiting for a home?  We were passing over sibling sets of five, six, sometimes seven….why on earth would He give us another when there are already so many kids hungry for loving parents; a family they can call their own?

I have absolutely no idea what happens from here.  I told our caseworker that afternoon that we were going to have a nine-year-old, a seven-year-old, and a newborn; “as far as I’m concerned, there’s a hole to fill there!”  There’s no assurance, though, that we’ll end up with a healthy baby; we might need to muster all our strength just to deal with whatever comes our way.  I don’t understand why I’ve felt called to adopt for so long and have ended up with the rug getting pulled out from under me.  While I don’t doubt God’s wisdom, I definitely don’t understand it.  I stumbled across these words recently, though, (in I Kings, of all places), and they’ve given some comfort:

” ‘My father David had it in his heart to build a temple for the Name of the Lord, the God of Israel.  But the Lord said to my father David, ‘Because it was in your heart to build a temple for my Name, you did well to have this in your heart.  Nevertheless, you are not the one to build the temple….. ‘ ” (I Kings 8:17-19)

You did well to have this in your heart.  I don’t know if we are the ones to adopt or not–maybe we are; maybe this is just another speed bump.  But if not; you did well to have this in your heart.

This isn’t the end of the road.  It’s just a fork in the road.  I’m trusting in God’s wisdom for our family.

“Take an offering for the Lord”

“And the people continued to bring freewill offerings morning after morning.  So all the skilled craftsmen who were doing all the work on the sanctuary left their work and said to Moses, ‘The people are bringing more than enough for doing the work the Lord commanded to be done.’  Then Moses gave an order and they sent this word throughout the camp:  ‘No man or woman is to make anything else as an offering for the sanctuary.’  And so the people were restrained from bringing more, because what they already had was more than enough to do all the work.”  –Exodus 36:3-7

I was overwhelmed by these words in Exodus recently, as Moses led the building of the tabernacle.  Can you imagine being a part of a group who just kept giving?  Who had to be restrained from continuing to give?  Who wanted so much to be a blessing to the Lord that they gave, morning after morning?

My Bible commentary reminded me:  Exodus 35:5 states “From what you have, take an offering for the Lord” (emphasis mine).  “We sometimes dream of what we would give to God if we were wealthy.  Moses’ instructions to Israel are a healthy reminder.  We can give only from what we have.  When we give willingly, we please God and find joy in giving…Today too, if all would give of what they have, there would be more than enough to do all God commands” (The Bible Reader’s Companion, by Lawrence O. Richards).

More than enough, if we all would give of what we had.

Back to school…

So…that’s where I’ve been for the past week.

Doing the last bit of shopping for what the kiddos need, while trying to not duplicate what we already have.

Savoring the last two days of summer break.

Labeling school supplies and loading backpacks.

Squeezing in one last big trip to the library.

Meeting teachers, student teachers (for both kids!), and checking in with past teachers.

Consoling my tearful daughter, often, about going to “all-day” school, aka first grade.  (“Why can’t we just go half-day?  I liked half-day!  I’ll miss you!”)

Settling the kids in their classrooms and then spending an entire day with my mom; coffee, lunch, shopping….

Doing my normal, day-to-day housekeeping things….with an added benefit of kid-free grocery shopping.

Praying for my little ones, as they start this new year.

Tucking notes in lunch boxes, hoping they give at least a bit of encouragement (especially for “all-day” daughter).

And fending off question after question after question, all phrased a bit differently, but all asking the same thing:  “What are you going to do with all your time?”

Truth:  I’m not 100% sure.  Day Three of no-kids and I haven’t approached anything like a “normal” day yet; the year is still too new to have established any true routines.  Even my normal morning routine has been upended this year; forced into something different and still not truly set.  What will my days look like?  What will I be doing with this time?

I’m fairly sure He will show me.

Why we will not downsize (probably)

I’ve been reading minimalist blogs for a while, and it seems to have been a very trendy topic for young singles or young marrieds.  I often found myself rolling my eyes and muttering but wait until you have kids.

Well, now I’m being challenged by a new discovery:  blogs written by families, with children (sometimes lots of children), and their stories of simplifying and downsizing (sometimes really downsizing).  Finding out a family of four can thrive in a one-bedroom apartment is a bit of a shock to the system.  All my blathering on about decluttering loses something when I face the fact that we still have a stinkin’ big house.  I’ve wondered often in the past if the size of our home made those who knew me gag:  what a hypocrite!  what kind of simple living is she talking about?

[Full disclosure:  our home is, according to 2010 numbers (all I’m finding at this point), a totally American average 2300 square feet, with its finished basement.  I think it’s huge, but the homes 2 1/2 times the size of ours to our immediate east tend to put a different perspective on things.]

I’ve thought a lot lately about our home, about moving, about really downsizing and what that would look like.  Some things I’m mulling over:

First of all, there’s the very basic cost analysis.  The work we would need to do to sell this house, for what we would get for the house, to then buy (nope, not renting, sorry–there’s another reason I’ll never be a “true” minimalist) another house….the math doesn’t add up.  And I’m selfish:  even though I like the idea of downsizing, I tend to look at home prices and say “but our house is so much nicer for the price!”  Paying more for less house (a very real possibility in our location, especially with what we have left on the mortgage) doesn’t really appeal to me.  Paying less for less house seems to mean copious amounts of renovation…. defeating the purpose of paying less in the first place.

Secondly, I’m incredibly blessed to have the space we have, and am reminded of it each and every time we go on vacation.  Any time we stay in a hotel, I spend 95% of my time there in high-stress mode, constantly reminding the kids to be quiet:  there are people next door; there are people downstairs; there are people sleeping…. I turn into monster-mommy, trying to clamp a lid on my little ones normal noise level.  The same thing happens at home, too, on Saturday mornings:  shhh… Daddy’s still sleeping.  But wait:  at home, on those Saturday mornings, I get to say go to the basement; you can be as loud as you want down there.  Stress level:  zero.  That, for me, is a wonderful blessing.

Also:  we host.  A lot.  Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, birthdays….our families rotate hosting duties, and we have people over, often.  Having that space to spread out after a holiday meal is wonderful.  Even on Saturdays, if my family comes over, we spread out:  my dad might be reading in the relative quiet of the front room, my mom and sister and I chat in the kitchen while my son plays with Legos at the kitchen table, my daughter “does gymnastics” in the living room, and baby cousin bounces in her seat in the living room/kitchen doorway.  We have room to host, in a comfortable way.  And if all the people get to be too much for someone, they can hide upstairs or in the basement when needed.

Which brings me to my last point; my most important point.  We are currently planning to adopt from the foster care system.  Having that space–that ability to be away from someone–is something that I want to hold on to at all costs.  When and if we have more siblings in this house, I want to be able to have the kids separate when necessary:  Sweet boy, head to the basement for awhile; you need some time alone.  I know that there will probably be shared bedrooms in our future, which makes having extra space all that more precious.  I think of our front room our “away room,” an idea from The Not So Big House, and I joke that the big blue chair in the corner is the “alone chair,” where you go when you want to be alone.  So far I’m the only one in this house that uses it (haha), but I think that idea is going to be important when we start meshing who-knows-how-many new personalities into this home.

I know, absolutely, that my intentions of not moving don’t really matter.  We’ve “moved for the last time” three times now, and I fully recognize that my plans are not always God’s plans.  A job loss, a fire, a tornado….all sorts of things could happen to force my hand.  And I’ll take that as it comes.  But right now, I’m going to focus on simplifying and decluttering, and continue being content and incredibly grateful……but not downsizing.

“His eye is on the sparrow….”

This has absolutely nothing to do with simplifying or organizing….just really felt the need to share.

My two kiddos started swimming lessons today, which has been THE dreaded event of the summer.  Every week or so, someone would murmur about having to go, and I would say yes, you’re going, and the grumbles would begin.  Normally my kids love to be in a pool, but this was the first year (out of four) that they haven’t been in the same class, together, offering each other the unspoken support that only a sibling can provide.  Last year my son moved on, while my daughter didn’t.  So this year, the threat of  impending lessons has caused nothing but misery.

They woke up this morning having completely forgotten about it.  All morning they played, until about 10:00, when I called them up from the basement for snack and told them they’d need to get their suits on so we’d be ready to go….the whole time, praying that the word “swimsuit” wouldn’t result in a total meltdown.  (Usually they are quite thoughtful and take turns having fits; this was one instance I could have had them both explode at once.)  God provided peace; they seemed resigned to their fate instead of rebellious, and we had a good talk about nervous feelings and being brave trying something new and alone.

Thirty minutes later we were headed to the pool, and I was praying thanks to God for giving me fairly peaceful kids in what could have been a really difficult situation, when….wait…there was a familiar car up ahead.  It couldn’t be…. The car turned.  We turned.  No way…..  The car turned into the parking lot, and we followed.  Not possible!!!

Yes.  Friends.  The very first friends my husband and I had here; the friends who were in this city even before we were; friends from my husband’s grad school days who we’ve known for….wow, a long time….two boys piling out of the car and me yelling at their mom “You have got to be kidding me!”  Not a joke…the boys were all in the same class.

Shortly after, my daughter discovered a friend from school in her class.  (Not quite as surprising as the previous discovery….my little social butterfly can’t not find a friend somewhere.)

Leaving the pool, my daughter looked at me with a huge smile and announced, “I can’t wait to come back tomorrow!!”

Proof, yet again, that God really does care about the littlest of things….even nervous kids and swimming lessons….and will provide “even more than we can ask or imagine.”

“Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies?  Yet not one of them is forgotten by God.  Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”  (Luke 12:6-7)

Back to Basics

After my post about “How far we’ve come,” I was asked about how I was going to get “back to basics,” what I was going to do to move in the direction of a simpler home.  I could think, immediately, of a few things, but the more I thought about it the more I thought of….so here are some ideas.

First, there’s the obvious:  those moments where I decide that “today I’m going to tackle that drawer…..”  or shelf, or cabinet, etc.  Not an entire closet; just a bite at a time, to make sure I finish what I start.  I’ll go through each item, decide if it’s something we use or if it’s better off blessing someone else, and box or bag up what needs to leave the house.  But that’s only a bit part of the whole.  For lack of a better word, I’m going to call this a “lifestyle adjustment.”  (That sounds really snooty, doesn’t it?  I just mean that there seems to be a need to change how we think about stuff before we can conquer it.)

I also keep brown-paper grocery bags stowed away around the house.  There’s one in our closet, so the minute I try on a shirt I haven’t worn in a while and realize why I haven’t worn it in a while, I can change immediately into something different and add the shirt to the bag.  I keep one in the laundry room closet, so that once I’ve told one of the kids, “Last wearing on those shorts!” (or shirt, or whatever), I can add the item of clothing to the bag the minute it comes out of the wash.  I also have a nice basket on one of the shelves in that closet (about 9×13, and deep), where I put things destined for the thrift store.  This is, admittedly, where fast food toys go to die; but it also holds lots of other things that are preparing to move out the door.

The idea of “one-in-one-out” is gaining ground with the kids; they’ve realized that we’ll take a trip to the used book store if they have a stack of books ready to sell.  This is actually better than one in/one out, since the ratio usually ends up being something like one in/five out; but since they come home with cash they still think they’ve got the better end of the deal.  It’s also become easier with clothing:  we bought you those shoes to replace your worn out ones seems to make a lot of sense to them, and out the trashed ones go.

Finally, though….this is where the “lifestyle adjustment” begins.  I had a friend call recently from a store she was at, offering to pick up water bottles for my kids.  Stainless steel, with the kids’ names on them, on sale for 99 cents.  (99 cents!!)  And I said….no.  Because I know we already have two stainless steel water bottles, one for each kid, plus a Hello Kitty water bottle my daughter kept at school, plus two nice plastic water bottles….you get the idea.  I know we don’t need any more water bottles; regardless of how cool or how cheap (or how thoughtful my friend was).  The reality is, we don’t need a lot of things.  But I have to change my lifestyle; my mindset; my heart about what is a “need” and what is a “want”…..and maybe, at some point, admit where purchasing a “want” might be okay.  I have to change our buying habits; and we weren’t big spenders to begin with.

That’s the hardest part of the process:  the heart change that has to take place to say, “Thank you, Lord, for the abundant blessings you have given me, and now I will be content with that.”  Even better, to say “Thank you, Lord….what would you like me to give away today?  May I be content with less.”

Our legacy

I realized mid-May that I was doing a lot of writing about my kids and their “stuff.”  I attribute it to the end of the school year:  I’m thinking more about them because I realize I’m about to spend almost three full months with them, 24/7, and I’m trying to get to a point where I’m anticipating that, instead of dreading it.  (I’m finally there–just in time.  As I write this, my daughter is done and my son’s last day is tomorrow.)

I want to stop a minute, though, and really think about my kids–all our kids, I guess.  I wonder what they’re learning from us, as they grow up in this country where we’re so blessed and where we take so much for granted.  I wonder what I’m teaching them, as I raise them in this home; in this city and this county of copious conspicuous consumption.  I wonder what kind of an example I’m setting in my daily life, through the choices I make; both big and small.  I wonder what kind of a legacy I’m leaving my little ones (who aren’t really so little anymore).

Am I signaling a constant desire for more?  Am I showing that we never quite have enough?  Are my kids learning that if you don’t like something, pitch it, because you can always buy another?  Am I raising a generation dependent on “disposable” junk?  What would my kids say I value most, people or “stuff”?

I still remember one afternoon when the kids were running around the house in big circles:  hall, living room, kitchen, dining room, repeat.  Over and over, until one of them somehow knocked out a shelf in the bookcase in the dining room.  It’s a low bookcase, with four shelves displaying my collection of white pitchers.  Down the shelf went, along with the pitchers, along with my daughter.  She lay on the floor, howling dramatically, and I ran to check on her, and when I surveyed the scene I had a fleeting, laughing thought:  okay, now is the time to make a good choice, or she will forever remember this moment as the time I checked to see if any of my “stuff” was broken before I found out if she was hurt.  Do I want my kids to remember me as someone who thought “stuff” was more important than people?  That moment I chose wisely.  🙂

But not too long ago, I have to admit, I heard my dog gagging on my “brand new” rug, and I freaked out so badly trying to get him outside that my son called down from upstairs asking what was the matter.  (The rug owns me, that’s what’s the matter.)  That moment I chose….poorly.  I truly hope that my good choices outweigh the bad.  I hope that my kids realize that “stuff” is just “stuff,” nothing more, and that there are things much more important in life.

What do I want to strive for?  What do I want them to learn from me?   What legacy do I want to be leaving them?

“Freely you have received, freely give.”  (Matthew 10:8)

“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.  Share with God’s people who are in need.”  (Romans 12:12-13)

“Godliness with contentment is great gain.  For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it….pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.”  (I Timothy 6:6-7; 11)

“Be joyful always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (I Thessalonians 5:16-18)

I know I don’t always hit the mark.  But if I can encourage them even a little towards any of these things, if this can be the example I set for my children (and for their friends), then I will have created the legacy I want to leave behind.  If I can continue to hold all these things on this earth with open hands, ready to give and share with others, I have lived as an example that I would be proud of my children to follow.