When God Asks Me to Step Out of the Way

I’ll never forget what it felt like to place him in his car seat one last time; to gently fold all his little baby clothes and tuck them tenderly into the blue Rubbermaid box. Each little onesie, blanket, bottle and soother had been lovingly and carefully selected by me, but here I was placing them in a box to hand over to another mother.

The infant photo shoot my sister had done for us had been printed and placed into a little album alongside the clothes.

His favourite blanket was tucked up beside his face and I had made sure not to wash it for the past week, hoping the smell of my skin and our home, the only home he had known in his short life, would linger on it while he adjusted to his new home.

My heart staggered when I thought of all the things I couldn’t possibly begin to pass along. How I knew just how he wanted to be held, what he was needing or whether or not he was full after a bottle. The way to hold him in the bathtub, stroke his cheek while feeding him or when to use diaper rash cream. A million things I had learned about this sweet boy, but here I was saying goodbye.

That first goodbye was the hardest.

After one last kiss, I stumbled through tear-filled eyes and sobs out of the room and out of his life.

I don’t know if I prayed in that moment, but I know that in similar moments of surrender since, I have cried out, “God, how could you let this happen? Don’t you see?”

I have believed the lie that a social worker, a judge, a system or a biological family member was in control, despite knowing intimately the God of the Universe, who spoke creation into existence.

I have believed the lie that He is not enough; for me or for my children.

I have grappled with faith and fear, unable to fathom how a future without me could be the answer; his best yes for this child I adore.

These past few months I have had to bring my heart time and time again to its knees in surrender, choosing to place my trust and my attitudes squarely in the hands of the One who sees it all and simply place one foot of humble obedience in front of the other.

Sometimes, as foster parents or as biological parents, God asks us to get out of the way.

Sometimes His very good plan for my child doesn’t include me or my ideas, passions, advocacy or protection.

Sometimes God’s very good plan for my children involves pain and grief and loss.

What does a parent do when God asks us to move out of the way so He can accomplish His purposes without us?

I know some of you are walking this road with your children.

Maybe it’s your young adult child, who is walking a road you never imagined or dreamed for them. They don’t want your help or advice or comfort. They need to figure this out on their own, and you are helpless.

Maybe it’s your child with learning differences or social struggles; you drop them off at school every morning and you wonder if you are doing the right thing. They are miserable, angry and struggling to stay afloat, but you know this is a battle you can’t fight for them.

Maybe it’s medical difficulties that are robbing you of the control and protection you long to give your child. You have to watch them endure poke after poke, procedure after procedure and you ache to take their place but instead all you can do is cradle their small body in your arms and squeeze back your tears.

Why would God allow this to happen?

Oh, sweet Mama.

I know the pain that rips at your heart and the way you writhe against the surrender.

I know the way you beat your fists against His chest and struggle to fight your way back from the chaos.

You don’t need to be afraid of your smallness in His presence.

It’s time to rest in His abundance.

He is able;

Abundantly able, to do more.

Yes, more, precious friend.

More than you’ve asked.

More than you’ve dreamed.

More than you can even begin to imagine.

Now we can only see glimpses through a dirty, broken window pane.

But one day,

one sweet day,

Hindsight will be perfect.

This present reality will fall into place in the radiant glory of His magnum opus, His great work, in not only our tiny scope of vision but in the vastness of the entire universe and all of time from beginning to infinite.

Trust Him.

Put one foot in front of the other, one day at a time and walk in sync with His spirit.

It is there alone you will catch a glimpse of just how great and good His plans are.

-AF

The Next Right Thing

Do the next right thing.

This phrase has been pressing into my heart, playing over and over like a song on repeat. 

I hear it on the days when I am being pulled in a thousand different directions.  I hear it on the days that are too quiet and I am letting myself worry about the future, the past, and the present.  I hear it when I am overwhelmed by the many unknowns and intimidated by the things I know.  I repeat it like a mantra at 6 o’clock when I’m exhausted and there’s still a thousand things to do.

Just do that next right thing in front of you.

If I never get a chance at tomorrow, or that next breath…it will only be the present that really matters.

Slow down.  Hold the baby longer than you need to, just to be sure he’s really sleeping peacefully before you get up. Take in the scent of his baby skin and the way he grunts as he settles into blissful sleep. 

Stop. Get down on the floor to see that Lego structure he has created, the artwork being shoved into your hands or the ladybug crawling on the ground at your feet. 

Don’t let the chaos overwhelm you. Focus on the job in front of you or the small thing you can do right now to make a difference. Fold one load of laundry, commit to sweeping around the kitchen table or grab the opportunity to nap while the babies are sleeping.

Just find that next right thing.      

This is sometimes how I survive the roller coaster of foster care.

Tomorrow may be terrifying.

Tomorrow may be painful. 

Tomorrow may change everything. 

But right now, there is a diaper that needs changing.  There are little hands that need to be held.  There are noodles to scoop and smiles to return.  There are clothes to fold. There are bags to pack, pictures to print or hugs to give.

Do the next right thing. 

Do not waste this moment because the next one looks so hard you can barely breathe. 

This moment, this now that you are existing within, is just as important as whatever will happen next.  The little moments make up something valuable; they make up a life.

Most of life happens, not in the brightness or in the darkness, but in the medium light of a regular day.

Emily P. Freeman

If you are like me, you have a hard time with the small, ordinary moments of faithfulness. There is adrenaline for the highs and lows and a determined, resolute fire burning in your gut when faced with the giants of the world.

But when nobody is looking and it’s three o’clock on a Monday afternoon, well…that is when it’s hard to see your way through. That is when it’s hard to take a deep breath, solve yet another spat gently, get up off the couch, or choose carrot sticks over a chocolate chip cookie.

But those ordinary moments are ultimately what make you who you are and determine the course of your life.

Want to get in shape, eat healthier, be more productive, spend time with your kids, or improve your marriage?

It happens when you choose the next right thing.

One foot in front of the other, one choice at a time.

It has been said that God has not promised us strength for tomorrow, next week or the coming year. He has only promised us the sustenance, courage and resilience for today.

This moment.

Now.

So take a deep breath, my friend.

Focus your eyes on what you need to do and find your next right thing.

~AF

Every Life Matters

We’re just a couple weeks past Mother’s Day and my stomach churns every time I scroll through my Facebook feed.

Just a short week ago, we proudly posted pictures of our children, our mothers and our grandmothers.

We applauded women of all ages and validated the sacrifices they make to bring life to the world.

On Mother’s Day moms enjoyed breakfast in bed, flowers from their partners and tender thank you notes scrawled in preschool print. Everywhere we looked we saw the message that mothers deserve to be seen, valued and encouraged in their role; that what we are investing in is beautiful, irreplaceable and important.

Mother’s day proposes to us that women deserve to be recognized for the courage, resilience, and sacrifice they live out daily in their quest to give themselves to the next generation.

Mother’s day told women that they are strong, capable, remarkable and seen in a world that would have us believe otherwise.

But today, my Facebook feed stands in stark contrast to the messages of Mother’s Day.

Today women are saying,

We demand control of our bodies and our lives.

We are victims of a war against femininity.

We want a voice.

We deserve respect.

No one else gets to trump our rights.

All I can think as I watch friend after friend share outrageous, passionate, angry memes, posts and videos is…

Where are the women who, two weeks ago, valued life and motherhood? Where are the women who said they would willingly lay down their lives for the little people they birthed?

When my son was diagnosed with a brain tumor at 18 months, I would have given anything to take his place and go into that operating room myself. Instead I placed him into the arms of a stranger wearing a gown and mask and stood sobbing in my husband’s arms as he was carried away from me.

I would give anything to go back in time for my four other children and take the betrayal, abandonment and hurt they experienced. I would give my right arm in a heart beat if it meant I could erase some of that pain or change some of their first mothers’ choices that have led to such difficulty in life for them.

Every mother I know would throw her life recklessly on the line for her child.

So what changes so dramatically when a baby travels down the birth canal and lets out that first feeble cry? At what point do they magically become human and worthy of protection when a mere few months earlier we say their existence is only optional?

If life does not begin at conception, when does it begin?

At 10 weeks?

20 weeks?

30 weeks?

40 weeks?

And who gets to decide at what point a new life is formed enough to have rights of its own?

We go to great lengths to get prenatal care and help women make healthy choices during pregnancy.

Why does it matter if my children’s birth mothers exposed them to harmful substances in the first two months of their lives if they weren’t really classified as a life at all?

And what determines our value?

Who gets to decide which lives are valuable and which ones are discarded?

Are we put on some type of scale to determine our level of significance to the world to decide whether or not we hold enough value to deserve an existence?

Maybe it’s our level of dependence on another human being, our physical or mental capabilities. Maybe it’s our IQ level or emotional intelligence that should dictate our worth.

Maybe it’s whether or not our birth was planned, if we developed fully in utero or if we were wanted.

Who gets to decide?!

I care about this because the ripples of abortion are deeply personal to me.

Four of my children deal with physical, emotional and neurological differences that set them apart from their peers. They learn differently, they process differently, they see the world through different eyes.

Would you put them on a scale and rank their worth next to their peers in accordance with their abilities?

If life before birth can be evaluated and discarded based on certain qualities, why not after birth as well?

What if someone could have seen the extent of my children’s struggles and abnormalities?

What if the years of neglect, trauma, turbulence in foster care, unusual chromosomes, neurological damage, physical weaknesses and difficult family circumstances they were entering into were deemed to be too difficult?

What if someone had decided they were not worth it, not wanted, not valuable enough?

“They’ll just spend years in foster care when their teenage parents cannot care for them.”

“They will struggle all their lives; it isn’t fair to them.”

“Their mother isn’t ready to have a baby. She’s so young.”

Who would have protected their right to the beautiful, rich lives they live today? Who would have imagined the unique, irreplaceable talents and skills they bring to the world, my world, today?

Where are those women?

Where are the women who will sit day and night beside the tiny plastic bassinet in the ICU while a vulnerable premature baby fights for life, surrounded by wires, tubes and monitors?

Where are the women who will take in the child who has lost their first parents, been abandoned, neglected or abused, believing that the life they are taking into their care is worth the sacrifice of comfort, time and freedom?

Where are the women who will fight passionately for the rights of every human life to be preserved, protected and valued?

I Believe women should have rights…but not for women’s rights to be placed above every other human’s rights.

I don’t want my rights to trump the rights of my children, my husband or anyone else.

That is not equality and that is not the kind of world I want my daughters to grow up in.

I want to raise daughters who value their femininity and see the incredible ability for nurture, intelligence, beauty and life they bring to the world as women.

I want to raise daughters who are willing to lay down their comfort, sacrifice their freedom and discipline their minds and hearts to serve their communities, families and the world we live in.

Women who can both lead and follow.

Women who will travel across the globe to invest in developing careers for women living in poverty, to dedicate their lives to raising the next generation, to empower their husbands and sons with strength and integrity that only a woman can inspire in a man.

I am pro life because I believe life begins at conception and that God is the author and keeper of each new life.

I am pro life because I believe each new life is carefully crafted in the image of God, and therefore every life matters and that every life deserves to be protected.

I realize I have painted this picture very black and white. I know there is unimaginable pain, trauma and so many complicated layers to this issue. Probably some of you have been triggered very painfully by this post, and for that I am so sorry.

The pro choice movement would lead us to believe that a woman’s choice to abort brings freedom, healing and empowerment to women caught in impossible situations.

However, they leave out the reality that abortion accepts sacrificing the life of an unborn child is necessary and acceptable. The ramifications and ripple effects of that declaration are devastating.

The pro choice movement also fails to acknowledge the incredible physical, psychological and emotional trauma women experience post abortion. Abortion rarely improves a woman’s difficult situation, but instead adds another toxic layer of grief and loss. It emphasizes the results of trauma as a problem versus the trauma itself.

I don’t join protests, tout political jargon or support all the people, movements or bills that are passed under the name of pro life.

But I am pro life and I choose to stand firmly by the truth that life begins at conception and that every life has value.

~AF

“For You formed my inward parts; you covered me in my mother’s womb.
I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Marvelous are Your works,
And that my soul knows very well.
My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.
Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed.
And in Your book they all were written,
The days fashioned for me,
When as yet there were none of them.” -Psalm 139

If You Can’t Adopt…

So many people are in situations or circumstances that make it impossible or difficult for them to pursue adoption.  While I campaign and advocate openly for MORE FAMILIES TO ADOPT I certainly realize some families are not able to pursue adoption for a variety of reasons…and shouldn’t.  Unfortunately the landscape of our culture is also making it more and more difficult for Christian families to adopt as our values and ethics become increasingly controversial to society at large.

So what can you do if you are not able to adopt?

How can you obey the biblical command to care for the orphan? (Psalm 82:3, James 1:27, Isaiah 58:6-10)

1. PRAY

Old, young, middle aged…even children can get involved in this way!  Through this season we’ve committed to praying with our children for waiting children needing families.  I’ve seen such a space open in their hearts just in a few short prayers as they connect with these children.  Prayer changes hearts and it changes lives!

  • Pray for the waiting children, waiting families, newly adoptive families, and tired adoptive families in the trenches.
  • Pray for more adoptive families to step forward!
  • Pray for wisdom and perseverance for families wading through the trauma adoption brings.
  • Pray for courage for families facing difficult adoption realities.
  • Pray for healing for the children.
  • Pray that through the next month the church would rise up and meet the challenge of thousands of children needing homes!
  • Pray that the Christian families currently undergoing the home study process would be approved to adopt!  Pray that they would not be excluded from consideration due to their faith.
  • Pray for the social workers, judges and other professionals on the front line deciding the fates of these children.

2. BECOME A RESPITE HOME.

To become a respite home you will go through the typical foster care training and assessment, but as a respite home you will only commit to the time you have available.  It may be one weekend a month, every weekend, one day a week or one weekend a year!  Whatever time you have can benefit a foster child and family.

Children in care are dealing with big emotions and big life changes which often show themselves through big behaviours!  It can be a huge relief to have a weekend off for a foster family to regroup, catch up on sleep, visit family or just relax and rejuvenate for the work God has called them to.

Likewise, respite homes are encouraged to act more like a ‘grandparent’ in the child’s life.  Relax a bit on the structure of the child’s life and just have fun.  My girls have very fond memories of some respite homes they spent time in on weekends during their years in foster care.  These people, though only in their lives for brief periods of time, built fond memories with them and helped them to feel like they had a larger, extended family outside of their foster families.  They still talk about them today.  One couple in particular advocated strongly for our girls to be placed together instead of separately for adoption when they cared for them on weekends.  We are very grateful to them!

This role is perfect for an older couple who may not be prepared to take on a child full time, a family busy raising their biological children or a single person who may not have the resources or time to commit to full time parenting.  Also, if you’re considering foster care and would like to ‘ease in’ a bit…this will give you a taste and some experience before forging ahead full time.  Many times the agency will set you up with the same child or children so that you can form a relationship and become a safe haven in the child’s life.  Most children in care look forward to these “sleepovers”.

3. SUPPORT A FOSTER OR ADOPTIVE FAMILY IN YOUR CHURCH OR COMMUNITY.

There are so many ways you can bless a foster or adoptive family in your church or community.  Take a look at the time, skills and resources you have to offer and then just ask the question, “How can I use these to support a family on the front lines of this ministry?”  We are so grateful for our extended family, friends and church community who have supported, loved and prayed for us through our adoption journey.  It is so important to feel like you have a village behind you!  These are some of the ways that people have blessed our family:

  • Hand me down clothes, toys, etc.
  • Babysitting – so thankful for people who have volunteered to babysit…even when our children are not easy to care for – so that we can have a date night!  Being foster parents means our babysitters need Criminal Record Checks and agency approval.  It means a lot to us when people do this for us so we can leave the children for an hour or two!  There are also many appointments for children in care so having a babysitter available to take some of the children while you go to the dentist, doctor, paediatrician, school meetings or visits with birth family is a huge blessing.  We also have family members who have went to even further lengths to have their homes approved to be able to keep our children overnight as well.
  • Meals – freezer meals, leftovers, take out or gift cards…we are thankful for them all!
  • Gifts – When our daughters first joined our family one couple blessed us by giving us Canadian Tire gift cards specifically to buy the girls each a new bike and helmet.  Not only did it mean the world to us, it was special for the girls to realize so many people they’d never even met cared for them and wanted to bless them.
  • Accompaniment travelling to appointments.  In those first months we had to travel over 3 hours just to see the girls’ paediatrician.  It was a huge blessing to have a friend come with me so that my husband wouldn’t need to take off work.  6 hours on the road, 2 very active girls and a stuffy doctor’s office were a less than appealing prospect until my friend added in her company, some fun toys and snacks.
  • Taking an interest in the children’s lives.  Like any other parent, we want our children to have a broader world than just us.  It’s a huge blessing to know someone else is investing in our children’s lives alongside us.  It’s also really important for the child to build as many healthy relationships as possible.
  • Ask how it’s going.  Acknowledge the extra layer in their family dynamics and give space for them to talk about that.  You might be surprised at what their normal looks like.
  • Point out the progress or positive things you notice in the child’s life.  It is so reassuring and comforting as the parent to hear something good about your child.  It can help affirm progress, encourage during a difficult season or just remind you that you are not alone in this when others notice your child growing and maturing.
  • If none of these ideas fit…just ask!  Ask how you can help, and observe their family to see if you can spot a need.  They may feel vulnerable at first accepting your help but if you prove to be a safe and nonjudgmental support they will gladly welcome your assistance!

    4. EDUCATE YOURSELF.

    I cannot stress this one enough!  So many adoptive parents and children who have been adopted have been hurt by the ignorant words of someone around them.  Words cut deep, and for many adoptive families every conversation about adoption is full of landmines.  As an adoptive parent, I know that sometimes I read into things too deeply, and I apologize for that.  I certainly want to understand when comments are made out of ignorance…however…you must understand that the stakes are often a lot higher than you think!  An off hand comment overheard by a child can plant deep seeds of fear, shame or inadequacy.  So be aware!  Listen to the adoptive families around you and follow their lead in how they discuss their child’s history and challenges related to adoption.  Don’t ask for more information than they are willing to give, as it may be sensitive, but at the same time take an interest in the child’s life.  If there are diagnoses or behavioral challenges, don’t jump to conclusions!  There is very likely a huge part of the story you are missing.  They need your encouragement, understanding and support…not your criticism.  Also, know that parenting advice is rarely helpful to families parenting a child with attachment disorder, trauma or neurological differences.

    5. VOLUNTEER

    Similar to providing respite care, public child protection agencies are always in need of volunteers.  With thousands of children in care and not nearly enough foster homes to accommodate them all, agencies are often scrambling to meet the needs of the children.  As a volunteer you will need to complete a short screening process and be approved.

    There are many opportunities to serve such as:

  • Driving children in care or their families to appointments, visits with birth family, school, etc.
  • Holding babies in the NICU who have been apprehended but not yet placed in a foster home.  After spending 2 days and 2 nights in the NICU with one tiny baby I know first hand how big a need this is!  Many of these babies are withdrawing from drugs they were exposed to in utero and in severe pain.  They desperately need the one to one care a nurse does not have time for.  They need eyes that will see the dirty onesies, hands to cream the raging diaper rashes, arms to hold them firm and walk the halls for hours as they cry and cry.  They need someone to go out and buy them sleepers.  They need someone to hold them and feed them and make sure they are getting enough nourishment.  Our particular little baby spent most of his hours at the nurse’s station as he had no one to care for him before we showed up.  No infant should be that alone in the world.
  • Completing paperwork for childcare workers
  • Organizing events

In the foster and adoptive community we often hear, “It takes a village to raise a child.”  This is very true.  While it may be possible to do it on your own, it is so much easier and so much better with support from your friends, family and community.  Ask God to show you how you can be a blessing to foster and adoptive families.  You will be richly rewarded for any time, money or resources you pour into this ministry!

Reading Aloud with Your Family

Every now and then in the sea of parenting books I am constantly reading, there is one that connects with my soul and makes me say, Yes!  That’s it!

Recently I stumbled across one of these books.

The Read Aloud Family by Sarah Mackenzie inspired me, challenged me and helped me dream again as a Mom.

As a young girl I fell head over heels in love with books.  I learned to read with ease at a very young age and spent hours poring over books.  Stories enchanted me, carrying me to new places and introducing new ideas.

I used to spend hours wandering the isles of the public library, pulling out one book after another to scan the back cover or flip through the pages to get an idea of the content.  When it was time to go I would painfully sort through my huge stack and try to decide which ones were my favourites and which ones I would leave behind until next time.

As a mother, I would love to see my children discover stories the way I did.  To be delighted for hours on end, swept away to other worlds and times in a story is a beautiful way to spend a childhood.

A reader is never bored.

Five years into my mothering journey, however, I have come to realize that some of my children are not wired to dive into literature the way I am.  Learning disabilities and high energy levels can throw some major barriers on the roadway to reading, and for some of my children reading will always feel more like a decoding exercise than a fascinating way to spend a couple hours.

Imagine trying to read a book upside down while looking in a mirror with itchy mosquito bites all over you begging to be scratched.  That is approximately what it feels like for one of my children in particular to sit down with a book.

What The Read Aloud Family introduced to me was the idea that even if my children are never able to launch into the world of literacy independently, they can still enjoy stories and let their imaginations take them to these far away places through me reading aloud to them!  Not only that, but the benefits of reading are not only limited to enjoyment…though that should still be our number one goal when we read aloud!

When you read aloud to your children, these 5 things will happen:

1. With the chore of decoding words out of the way, your children will be able to settle in and enjoy the story, setting them up to experience the joy and magic of stories.

Though it is certainly true that life requires a lot of mandatory reading that is not fun, I want my children to pick up books because they want to.  Reading aloud to your children and introducing audio books to them gives them the opportunity to experience what it is like when the chore of learning to read is put behind them and they can effortlessly experience the content of the writing.  Though it is still going to take work to learn how to read, we all know the more that you read the better reader you will become!  If we can motivate our children toward reading with pleasure instead of a feeling of obligation, they are much more likely to succeed in becoming strong readers.  Nothing will make them want to pick up books more than falling in love with stories.  You can help them do this by reading interesting books to them, including books that would be too difficult for them to read on their own.

2. When you read aloud you will be exposing your children to phonetically correct language which will help them develop their own ability to read, write and speak correctly. 

Constantly taking in new vocabulary and proper sentence structure through the ear will inevitably result in the same coming out through their own mouths and writing.  It is exciting and funny to watch your children try out new vocabulary and ways of speaking.  I love seeing little ones trying to include big words they have picked up while writing their personal stories.  It’s also fun to explore vocabulary with your children as you read, giving them definitions for those interesting words you stumble across.

3. When you read aloud with your children you can help them learn how to make connections in the content.

This is a skill that is so important for children to develop as it is linked to their comprehension of what they are reading.  It is not enough just to be able to decode words; they need to be able to comprehend the ideas being portrayed behind the words.  Understanding similes, metaphors, foreshadowing and motives behind the content they are reading is imperative.  When reading aloud, taking the time to ask simple questions or explore opinions can encourage your children to be thinking while they are taking in content and analyzing it’s motives and meaning.  In a culture where our children are being bombarded with messages, I want my children to know how to use critical thinking to develop their own convictions and ideas confidently.  You can encourage three kinds of connections: text to text (connecting to another book or earlier chapter), text to self (connecting to his or her own life) and text to world (connecting to something in the broader world or culture.)           

4. When you read aloud to your children you will be building memories together. 

This is my favourite motivation to read aloud.  There are few things I would rather give to my children than to remember me being truly present with them, hearing my voice reading to them and experiencing the intimacy of a shared story.  I can still hear my mother’s voice, see myself and my four siblings sprawled around the living room and remember affectionately the tears in her eyes the first time she read Wilson Rawls’ Where the Red Fern Grows.  That moment in time will be lodged in my soul forever.  I can see my fourth grade teacher’s classic high heels and feel the hard, scratchy carpet beneath me when I pick up the book Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Patterson  and The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis.  My husband inherited the well beloved Thornton T. Burgess collection of bedtime stories from his grandparents and we are currently reading through his well loved copy of The Adventures of Chatterer the Squirrel.  My daughters were delighted to learn this was one of their Dad’s favourite childhood stories.  Gordon Korman’s humorous stories bring back memories to me of laughter and camaraderie with my siblings and cousins as we would retell the stories and pass on the latest sequels.  Stories that are shared provide material for conversations and opportunities to explore difficult topics.  Love, honor, courage, grief…these are topics often explored, even in very young children’s literature.

5. Last of all, when you read to your children you will also be reading to yourself! 

I have been reminded this summer that there are few things I enjoy more than a good story.  I love when the kids are begging for just one more chapter at bedtime and I cave, despite the time, because I just can’t wait to see what happens next!  I love reading, and with five children in the house, there aren’t a lot of quiet moments where I can pick up my own books so if I can experience reading and spend time with my children simultaneously…that’s a win for me!  I also love having an excuse to pick up those elementary age books again.  Many of the best books I have ever read are written for ages 8-12 year olds.  Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl, The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White, Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder, Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maude Montgomery and Ramona Quimby Age 8 by Beverly Cleary; what a humorous, enchanting and enjoyable repertoire!  And those few books are just barely scratching the surface of a gold mine filled with hours of adventure and entertainment.  Even picture books for little kids can be interesting and fun to read as an adult.  I have loved my boys’ recent favourites; The Little Blue Truck by Alice Schertle and Jill McElmurry, Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site by Sherri Duskey Rinker, Big Bad Bruce by Bill Peet and Mighty Dads by Joan Holub and James Dean.

If any of this sounds exciting or intriguing to you I encourage you to pick up a copy of Sarah Mackenzie’s book, The Read Aloud Family.  This manual to reading aloud with your family will give you inspiration, practical tips, book lists for every age group and tips for choosing good books.  I promise you will not regret it!

~AF

Working With Educators to Support Your Child

School has just begun, and for many of you this means a return to familiar routines and schedules.

For some of you, this means overwhelmed, overstimulated kids who come home exhausted with piles of homework or daily notes scrawled by a frustrated teacher at the end of the day.

Educating our kids is both our responsibility and a gift we’ve been given.  Many children all over the world are unable to attend school due to extreme poverty.  If your children are able to attend school regularly or receive formal instruction, take a minute to contemplate that they are blessed!  While education may be a “right” in our Western culture, make no mistake.  Your children are privileged to have access to education and to learn important skills that will give them opportunities to sustain and provide for themselves as adults.

For a long time, parents were fed the lie that they were not equipped to be their children’s educators.  They were not expected to be the ones to know their child best, have the skills needed to guide their future and certainly not to teach them.

However, a movement of ordinary moms and dads are rising up to show themselves as not only worthy but exceptionally equipped to be the best teachers for their children.

Not only do you, as a parent, know your child better than any teacher…you have skills, intuition, knowledge and invaluable life experience to share with your child.

Many parents do not want to take on the demands and responsibility of providing their children’s education, and this I understand very well.  However, do not assume this means you have withdrawn the right to speak into your child’s educational experience.

While teachers have long been viewed as the experts and authority on children’s education, I believe many children suffer academically because parents have been detached from their children’s educational experience.

Parents and teachers both have expertise, knowledge and insight that are important to a child’s education.

The beauty of a school environment is that it gives opportunity for both the specialized training of a professional educator and the intuition and practical insight of parents to combine for the benefit of the child.

So how do you work alongside professional educators to combine their expertise with your intuition?

1. The first rule is to give respect and then expect it in return.

Your child’s teachers spends hours pouring over lesson plans, academic research, curriculum expectations and learning strategies.  By placing your child under their supervision you are giving them the responsibility to educate your child in the best way they know how.  They have specific training and knowledge that will be very valuable to both you and your child, but you need to take the time to listen respectfully to their professional opinions and follow the procedures put in place.  Nothing positive will be accomplished by bullying or criticizing.

However, I would also say that it’s important to require that respect in return.  If there is something you know about your child that is not being taken into consideration, you need to make that clear.  Don’t ever underestimate your insight as a parent.  You know your child best and what may sound great in theory may not work practically for your child.  Don’t allow a professional educator to intimidate you.  A good educator will know this and ask for your input.  Every relationship needs boundary lines, and this one is no exception.

2. Never undermine your child’s teacher in front of them.

Every parent knows the feeling of their child coming home with a story about their teacher that makes you wonder what they were thinking…but I cannot stress enough…be the adult and don’t say it out loud!  There is a very high chance your child’s version of the story is not accurate or is missing some pertinent information.  If you have concerns, by all means contact the teacher, but don’t allow your child to hear you speaking disrespectfully about the adult they are supposed to respect.  They will carry that comment to school with them in their mind every day and it will lead to them finding it very difficult to respect that teacher.  Always try to help your child see what the teacher’s perspective might be and remind them that their job is to be respectful and polite, even when differences arise.  Teaching our kids the skill of disagreeing respectfully with someone is a valuable life skill, so if there is an issue that needs addressing, walk through the steps of resolving that issue with both dignity and respect.

3. Communicate.

If you begin to see problems arising with your child academically, socially or behaviourally or you are concerned about some aspect of the curriculum or classroom procedures…speak up.

Contact your child’s teacher and request a meeting where you can express your concerns and ask questions.

Use the teacher, not your child, as your first source of information.

Listen respectfully and make sure you’ve taken the time to get accurate information and can express your concerns clearly.

Make sure you know how your child’s teacher prefers to communicate, whether it be through text, email, a daily agenda or in person.

Most problems at school between parents and teachers arise from miscommunication or lack of communication.

Let your child’s teacher know that you want to be involved and ask questions regularly, as they will likely forget at the end of their busy days to fill you in on things you might want to know.

4. Give grace.

Your child’s teachers are not perfect.  They are flawed humans, similar to your child’s parents 😉

They will make mistakes.

Give them some grace and remind yourself, and your kids, that you will probably need it in return at some point!

You will never regret establishing healthy, respectful relationships with your child’s educators.

5. Do not assume your child’s teacher knows your child as well as you do.

I am speaking particularly to parents of children with learning disabilities, behavioural challenges and social struggles on this one.

While your child’s exceptionalities may seem obvious to you, don’t expect your child’s teacher to understand why your child may behave or react the way they do.  You have a context for this child’s experiences that is helpful in decoding their struggles or successes.  Don’t be afraid to share this information with your child’s teacher as needed.  If your child has a formal diagnoses of some kind, make sure your child’s teacher knows this and is given a brief but clear summary of the best ways to navigate those extra layers successfully.

I have found it helpful to create a personal learning profile for one of my children in particular outlining her ideal learning environment and style, what her needs are and what aspects are challenging for her.  I give this to my child’s teacher as early in the year as possible and let them know to contact me if they have any questions or concerns.

Don’t forget to include any information that may seem “obvious” or has been discussed multiple times with other teachers or professionals within the school.  It is very easy for information to get misplaced or lost in the transition from year to year.  Assume your child’s teacher knows nothing about your child and go from there.

6. Lastly but most importantly pray for your child’s teacher.

Teachers are important and play a large role in our children’s lives.  Their jobs are not easy and the system they are working within places high demands on their time and energy.  Many teachers feel overwhelmed and unappreciated by their students, fellow staff and parents.  Make sure your child’s teacher this year knows that you see what they are doing and that you are grateful for the time they spend helping your child learn and grow!  Pray for wisdom, patience, energy and creativity.  Pray for their hearts to be drawn toward Christ.  Pray for opportunities to serve them and let them know you are grateful for them.

It is beautiful to be able to partner with others to educate your children.  You will be amazed watching your child learn and grow, and having others to celebrate those milestones with makes it even sweeter.

I hope this school year is the best yet for you and your children!

~AF

 

 

 

May 10th

I wake before dawn, my son’s cries prompting me to stumble out of bed and down the stairs to where he cries in the darkened kitchen.  He’s looking for his Daddy but it’s too early so I scoop him up and carry him close to my heart back up the stairs.

I wipe his tears and his nose, get him a drink, and then tuck him back into bed next to his love bunny.

“Goodnight, Babe.  I’ll see you in the morning.  Mommy loves you.”

Back in bed I climb between the cool sheets, but now I’m awake and the birds are chirping and it’s May 10th.

May 10th.

A year ago today my 18 month old son fell off the back of a pickup truck.

My husband and I did all the things you do.  We watched for drowsiness, nausea, vomiting, disorientation, swelling on the skull, lack of balance.

He seemed fine.

It was evening so we kept him up an extra hour or two and woke him every two hours through the night.  Each time he responded appropriately and by morning we were less concerned.

He had a doctor’s appointment scheduled for the following day–his 18 month check up and immunizations.  I took him in, deciding I would mention the fall he’d had last evening to the doctor just to  be on the safe side.  I could feel a bit of swelling over his left ear, and he reacted to some slight pressure, but otherwise was his normal happy self.

When the nurse called us in she felt the bump on his head and said she’d mention it to the doctor.  We looked at the 18 month developmental goals.  His speech was on the low side of average but I wasn’t worried.  Kids are all so different and I hate the way we put them all in categories so early in life.  His head circumference was on the larger side and I joked about my husband’s genes producing large heads.  He had two routine immunizations, which he handled well.

When the doctor came in to see us she agreed there were no concerns about development at this point but said she was going to send us for a skull x-ray just to be on the safe side with his head injury.

“I’m probably going to regret this because if they see anything at all they’ll want you to get a CT scan as well but I’m going to do it anyway, just to be safe.  We don’t want to miss anything,” she said.

I reluctantly agreed and we left with the x-ray requisition.

I had been through x-rays and CT scans and MRI’s before with an infant we fostered so I was not looking forward to putting my shy little boy through the process of an x-ray.  I knew from experience the contraption they strapped tiny people into for an x-ray looked more like a medieval torture device than modern medicine.  The worst part was that because the x-ray emits strong radiation waves, I was not allowed to stay inside the room with him.

I called my husband and let him know what was going on, irritation in my voice.  I was frustrated that we had to put our son through this when it seemed that he was fine.

I went to the hospital as quickly as possible and they conducted the x-ray, promising they would send the results to my doctor who would call me to let me know what they revealed

By the time we got home we were both tired and hungry.  I made lunch and tucked him in for his nap.

I had barely got back down the stairs when the phone rang and my doctor’s name flashed up on the screen.

“I’m sorry, they saw a small fracture so they’d like to do a CT scan,” she said, her voice apologetic.  She didn’t sound worried, and reassured me it was probably minor but that they had to be extra cautious with head injuries.

I grudgingly woke my son from his very short nap and called my husband again with the news.  By now I had let the frustration seep in and I felt like crying.

It had been a long day already and it was just past noon.

Immunizations, a skull x-ray and now a CT scan yet too.

We headed back to the hospital.

I felt horrible.

We were both grumpy and tired.

What did a fracture on a toddler’s head mean, anyway?

What have I done?

At the hospital the doctor reassured me it didn’t appear to be anything serious and gave him some sedation to help him stay still through the CT scan.  It was a relief to have him sedated for the CT so that I wouldn’t have to listen to his fearful cries as we strapped him to the table and I stepped outside the room.  It also gave him a chance to get some much needed sleep.

It was approaching dinner time and all I wanted was to be at home with my family.

Back in the ER unit across from the nurses’ station we waited some more, me trying to keep my son from falling and hitting his head yet again as he drowsily came out of sedation and tried to crawl off my lap.  He was tipsy and clumsy and I had to laugh watching him as I tried to restrain his movements to keep him safe.  Freezies and juice helped move the sedation through his body and reorient his senses.

I had no idea that day how often we would do this in the following months.

I kept my eyes and ears on the doctor as he came and went from the station across the hall.  I tried not to let the niggling fear creep in as I watched him studying the computer screen and talking in low tones on the phone.

I sent messages to my sisters and mother-in-law on our family chat group, letting them know where we were and why.  They promised to pray and sent hugs and kisses.  By 5pm my mother-in-law let us all know that they, too, were sitting in an ER room as my father-in-law had broken his wrist at work!

We laughed at the irony.

Finally the doctor reappeared and I sat up eagerly, waiting for answers and hoping he would be discharging us soon.

Now, I would be able to recognize the signs that something was wrong;

The vague explanations, the carefully side-stepped questions…

We might need to be sent to Orillia, the nearest paediatric centre, by ambulance for monitoring over night.

Did I have someone who could bring me some clothes and essentials?

I called my husband and updated him, asking him to pack a bag of things.  I wished he were here, and we discussed who should go and who should stay with the other kids.  Both of us felt frustrated and anxious and our conversation was short and stilted.  I didn’t want to go…I was scared.  But I certainly didn’t want to stay home while my baby went either!

He promised to bring me some things when I heard more and we hung up.

The next time the doctor reappeared his eyes held concern,

“Is there someone coming to bring you some things?  You will definitely be going to either Orillia or Toronto Sick Kids tonight.”

Sick Kids?

My heart dropped and I felt terror course through me for a brief second until I forced it down.

Sick Kids was not for minor falls.

Sick Kids was not for a small fracture or bruise.

“Is everything ok?” I forced out the words calmly, though my mind was screaming them.

He looked at me and said, “Why don’t we wait until your husband arrives and I will explain everything to you both.”

I knew.

Looking back now, I can see that in that moment something resonated.

Everything was not ok.

This time on the phone my voice broke and I pleaded, “Please come now.  They’re talking about sending us to Sick Kids!”

We both knew something had changed.

When he arrived the doctor came to us and pulled the curtain closed behind him.

I don’t remember the conversation except this.

Brain tumor.

Our son; our beautiful baby boy…had a brain tumor.

When they took a CT scan to examine the fracture more closely, they could see it.  A huge dark shadow on his brain.

It took a complete reorientation to realize that this fall, this minor fracture, was the least of our worries.

Our son’s life was in danger.  Not because he fell four feet onto concrete…but because he had a massive tumor growing inside his brain.

It wouldn’t be til almost a year later, sitting across from my counsellor with tears rolling down my cheeks, that she would help me see it.

“You know, He wanted you to know.”

We could see it faintly…the blessing in the fall…and spoke it.

But to hear the words, He wanted you to know.

He wanted to save your son.

Life.

When the doctor left with sincere, hushed apologies and a promise to return with more details of transportation soon, we crossed the distance between us and clung to each other, our son held between us.

We tried to process our new reality.

Details emerged.

We’d be transferred by air to Sick Kids by the ORNGE Medics team.  They’d be there to pick us up in an hour or less.

It is the little moments that I remember:

The numbness that took over my body as we went through the next hour waiting for the helicopter to arrive.

The way I collapsed in tears into my friend’s arms when she found me at the hospital just before we left, her shift just beginning.  Her words, “It’s going to be ok.  They can treat this.”  And the news of her pregnancy; a light in the middle of the darkness closing in.

The way the chopper blades cast a whirlwind on us as we approached in the dusk, whipping my hair and carrying my son’s frightened cries up into the sky.

The utter confusion I felt when they asked, “When is the first time you were told his head was larger than normal?”

Were we supposed to notice it?

All the times he’d ever cried inconsolably or been sick or hurt came rushing back.

Should I have known? 

Would another mother have known?

The way all of life seemed to hold its breath as we lifted up into the night sky.  I looked down on the bright lights below; at my son fallen into an exhausted sleep on the stretcher and the medics sitting quietly opposite me in the dark.  I heard the words almost audibly.

Steadfast Love.

They held me in that moment of terror and brought a quiet peace I cannot explain.

Over the next twelve hours they told us more.

They told us our son’s tumor had probably been there since birth, steadily growing.

It was shocking in the worst of ways.

I felt helpless and betrayed.

Robbed of my innocence.

So where was God?

Where was He when my son was diagnosed with a brain tumor?

Where was He when a hundred needles were poked through his smooth baby skin?

Where was He when we had to hand our son over to a scrub-clad OR nurse and watch them take him away from us, his cries causing sobs to tumble from our chests.

Where was He when our son’s IV line slipped out of his vein and sat unnoticed, leaving him without the antiseizure medication he needed and causing his little body to begin seizing every few seconds?

Where was He when we begged for healing for his hydrocephalus but instead he had to undergo yet another surgery to insert a shunt?  A shunt that causes other complications and dangers.

Why didn’t God heal our son when we asked him to?

Why him?

Why us?

***

Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:
Who is this that darkens my counsel by words without knowledge?
Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Who shut the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb, when I made clouds it’s garment and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed limits for it and set bars and doors, and said, “Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed?”
What is the way to the place where the light is distributed, or where the east wind is scattered upon the earth?
Who has put wisdom in the inward parts or given understanding to the mind?
Who provides the raven its prey, when its young ones cry to God for help, and wander about for lack of food?
Do you give the horse his might?  Do you clothe his neck with a mane?  Do you make him leap like the locust?  His majestic snorting is terrifying.  He paws the valley and exults in his strength; he goes out to meet the weapons.  He laughs at fear and is not dismayed; he does not turn back from the sword.
Is it by your understanding that the hawks soars and spreads his wings toward the south?  Is it at your command that the eagle mounts up and makes his nest on high?
Will you even put me in the wrong? 
Will you condemn me that you may be in the right? 
Have you an arm like God, and can you thunder with a voice like this?
Whatever is under the whole heaven is mine.
Who is then he who can stand before me?
Then Job answered the Lord and said:
“I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.  I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.  I repent.”
(Job 38-42 excerpts)

***

And I fall to my knees in worship.

Because He was right there.

He was right there through 18 blissfully naive months as a monster grew inside my baby’s brain.

He was right there when we turned our backs for a second…and he fell four feet down onto concrete.

He was right there when our doctor sent us for a skull x-ray, just to be on the safe side.

He was right there when the very same day that our son was diagnosed, my father-in-law broke his wrist at work, leaving him without work responsibilities for 6-8 weeks.  Instead he was busy caring for our two daughters and us.

He was right there when the surgeon smiled and said, “It went better than I could have expected.  We got it all.”

He was right there when my gut prompted me to go to the nurse and say, “I’m sorry, I know I am probably just being paranoid but I feel like something is wrong.”

He was right there in that chopper, breathing words of peace into my terror.

He was right there for weeks before our son’s fall, drawing me back again and again to the words in the Psalms…steadfast love.

He was right there when we heard the words…benign.  No cancer.  No further treatment.  Low probability of recurrence.  “I don’t see why he shouldn’t make a full recovery.”

He was there.

He was our Shield.

Our Protector.

Our Light in the darkness.

Our Hope.

I still don’t have answers to the why’s, but they become less important when I see His sheer Greatness and my own smallness.

Suddenly, I don’t expect to understand.

Instead, the why’s turn to why not’s.

Why not us?

As I look around the crowded dining room at the Ronald McDonald Charity House, smiling at the now familiar faces.  She bounces over, eyes shining and bright despite the fact that she and her family have been here for months now while her little sister fights the disease ravaging her body.  This room is one of the most beautiful displays of joy amidst pain, generosity amidst difficulty and hope amidst darkness.

The reality is that every one of us is dying.

The world is broken and so are we.

Sin cast its dark spell and we are all vulnerable to it’s snare.

Today, on May 10th, I watch my son giggle alongside his foster brother — two tow-headed boys covered in sand and water.

Today, I watch him chatter to himself, copying his big sisters’ words and tones.  For months he was oh so quiet and I feared he would never speak again.  But the words keep coming faster and faster.

Today he roars at me while sitting on the toilet, my little lion, and giggles uncontrollably when I cover my eyes in mock terror.  Potty training and copying his favourite story book.

I watch him run across the yard, one foot landing a little harder than the other despite the physiotherapy we’ve done.  It doesn’t make me fearful…instead it makes me smile and feel oh so grateful.

I track his fluids and we go get bloodwork done at the clinic.  As I pull into the parking lot I explain,

“We have to do a little pokey and then all done.”

He looks at me with wide eyes and points to his arm.

“Po?”

I smile and nod.

There is no fear as we go inside, take off his jacket and sit down across from the elderly couple.  I’ve never seen another child here.

He is a calm and adorable as we take our place and the nurse holds his arm.

After a few tears he is happy again and proudly carries his stickers outside.

Today I am not scared.

I am not angry.

I am not sad.

Did God heal my son?

Yes and no.

He will most likely have a shunt for the rest of his life.  He is still developmentally delayed and may suffer from learning disabilities as he grows older due to the trauma in his brain.  He has low sodium levels for a reason we are not sure of at the moment but that are moderated with a fluid restriction.  We do not yet know if he will need antiseizure medication long term.  He is still enrolled in three therapy programs; speech and language therapy, occupational therapy and physiotherapy.

But today I am just grateful.

Because I have my son, and in the last year I have seen my world shift on it’s axis, spin out of control and right itself up inside my Father’s strong grasp.

It’s hard to imagine how life can become more clear, more precious, more meaningful…until it does.

I don’t wish all this away.

I can no longer remember what it was like before.

I know I can’t protect my son…and that brings sweet relief instead of fear.

I know I can’t control my life by doing it all right — my two little boys are a testament to that.  One I protected fiercely from the minute I knew of his fragile existence in my womb.  He was given every advantage and still a massive tumor grew in his brain.

The other faced adversity and fought for survival from the second he came into being…yet he is happy, healthy and brilliant as he shows my son how to build a tower and “reads” him their favourite story.

Why did my son have to suffer?

I don’t know.

I don’t have all the answers and I cannot argue theologically through the why’s of suffering.

I just know that I have a good, good Father.

He is real,

He is good,

I believe

and I am grateful.

I can’t question the God I believe in because it is He who has sustained me, healed me, rescued me, and breathed hope into my terror.

He created a million galaxies in a single breath.

***

It’s getting light outside now, and my hand cramps on the pen.

I set my notebook on the night table and curl up to wait for the inevitable pit PAT pit PAT of my son’s sleepy, uneven stride across the hall.

It’s May 10th

But I feel peaceful, grateful and humbled by the love of my God.

-AF