Halloween and the Gospel

October.

The air grows crisp and all around us the earth shows signs of death as it crawls into hibernation.

Thanksgiving comes and we roast turkeys and eat pumpkin pie, surrounded by family and friends.

The yard disappears beneath heaps of brown, orange, red and yellow leaves; vibrant even in their death.

Pumpkins, spiders, ghosts and witches appear everywhere.

Storefront windows, flyers in the mail, calendar pages and even the search bar on Google.

Before we know it another month has gone and Halloween night creeps up on us.

Many Christians will stop and think twice as this holiday approaches each year.

Most of us know people who refuse to have anything to do with the holiday, wanting no association with the darkness, evil and greed that tends to accompany it.  They will turn off their lights tonight and maybe pull their kids out of school for the day, wanting to avoid creepy colouring pages, classroom haunted house projects and ghoulish themed dances.

Most of us also have Christian friends who will choose to celebrate it with no reserve, allowing their little ones to troop through the streets dressed in costumes ranging from princesses and robots to mummy brides and blood smeared skeletons.

How should Christians approach this holiday?

Is there room for compromise?

Does it matter?

I’m not going to answer those questions for you, but what I do want to do is share with you what our family will be doing tonight and why.

While this is not right for every family it works for us at this age and stage.  I have been the parent searching for the ‘right fit’ for this holiday in years past so I wanted to share in case it might be helpful to others trying to make these decisions.

In years past we have held in-home costume parties, trick or treated through our neighbourhood, collected food for the local food bank and handed out candy to neighbourhood friends.

What we’ve settled on the past couple years is a family movie night with a bowl full of candy.

When trick or treaters come to the door we answer cheerfully with a smile and something like,

“Sorry, we actually don’t celebrate Halloween but I hope you have a fun night!”

In coming to this decision for our family, these are some of the things I have learned.

  1. There are many reasons Christians site not to celebrate Halloween, but not all of them are biblically accurate reasons. 

    For example, many people choose not to celebrate because they are afraid of the darkness associated with Halloween or they believe in common superstitions about this night and it’s origins.  As people who have been redeemed and saved from Satan’s power, we no longer need to fear him.  He has already been defeated and there is no power on earth, even on Halloween night, that can undo Jesus work on the cross to save us from this bondage.  (1 John 4:4, Colossians 2:15) I am certain he is busy on Halloween night, but only because he is busy every single night of the year.  We are taught as Believers to be on guard, watching for him and being prepared for his attacks any time, any where.  (1 Peter 5:8)

  2. Halloween presents many opportunities for teachable moments with your children.

    You’ll miss these if you choose to avoid the topic altogether.  If by chance you live in the type of neighbourhood I did as a child, on a farm in a Mennonite community, you might be able to watch this holiday go by with very little notice.  For most of us, however, the approach of Halloween in the local Dollarama alone will provide plenty of discussion material.  If blood covered mummy masks make you uncomfortable, figure out why that is and tell your children about it.  Whether you are choosing to participate or not, you probably have some opinion on whether or not your seven year old daughter will go out dressed as a “mummy-bride” for instance.  Try to figure out how to explain to your children, even your very small ones, what you are uncomfortable with and why.  Make it as clear and simple as possible without teaching them to be judgy about their friends and neighbours who may choose differently.

  3. Don’t over dramatize the little things. 

    If your Kindergartener comes home with a picture of a witch they coloured at school today, please don’t tear it up and throw it in the garbage.  Take the time to compliment them on the wonderful job of colouring they did and leave it at that.  If in following days they decide to start dressing up in witch costumes or including zombies in their imaginary play time those might be opportunities to sit down and discuss darkness and evil and set some boundaries, but the colouring page is just that.  A colouring page.  A four year old is probably not ready to hear about the origins of Halloween, modern day witchcraft and Satanic symbols.  You telling them will only scare them or unintentionally fascinate them with the subject.  Similarly if you are going to quote scripture, make sure it is simple and truly significant to the topic at hand.

  4. Don’t take a firm stance too quickly one way or another.  

    I’m grateful for the years we had with our daughters to grow into this decision we’ve come to.  Not only does it make me more confident in the decision we’ve come to, it also allowed time for them to grow into it as well and align their values with ours gradually.  It was a wonderful opportunity to model prayer, seeking scripture and listening to the Holy Spirit in our personal lives.  It’s also been a wonderful opportunity to model respect and grace to Christians who may choose something entirely different than us.  Knowing how to navigate differences of opinion inside our faith community is a skill I am passionate about teaching my children.  We also try to take this year by year, leaving room for some changes to our tradition if needed.  For example, one friend shared with me how they had not previously celebrated Halloween but she felt that this year they had a unique opportunity to reach out to many of their neighbours by taking their children trick or treating door to door in their new neighbourhood.  We’ve also had years where, as a foster family, we have other people’s children in our home for Halloween.  As temporary guardians, we don’t have the right nor would it be helpful to cause unnecessary offense or animosity inside already complicated relationships.  Sometimes there may be church activities or neighbourhood parties you feel comfortable joining while other years there may not be.  Be willing to model wisdom to your children by making thoughtful, well informed decisions on a case by case basis.

  5. Be confident in your decision and share it freely.  

    If you’ve decided not to trick or treat with your family, like we have, don’t be afraid to say that.  Be prepared to share in clear and simple language, with a smile on your face, what you’ve decided and why.  It doesn’t have to be judgy.  It doesn’t have to be bashful.  It doesn’t have to be complicated.  If you know why you’re doing what you’re doing, you don’t need to feel intimidated.  If they want to know more, they will ask.  Otherwise, keep it light and don’t share more information than they want to hear.  Encourage your children to do the same.  Give them simple, clear language they can use with curious friends, neighbours, teachers, store clerks, etc.  They will pick up on your attitudes quickly.  If you are hesitant to talk about it or fumble over answers, they will do the same.

  6. To follow that up, make it easy for your kids. 

    Yes, I said easy.  One of the reasons we’ve chosen to celebrate in this particular way is to give our kids the opportunity to practise standing for something they believe in that goes against the cultural norm.  However, I’ve learned that it’s important to choose these opportunities wisely with age appropriate expectations in mind and to offer plenty of grace for your children.  They are only kids and Halloween is a hot topic among children.  If you are going to make rules about what they can and can’t do make sure you are accommodating them as much as possible.  For example, I wrote a brief note to my child’s teacher this year briefly explaining that we don’t celebrate Halloween and asking if my daughter could be accommodated in the classroom with fall/non-spooky activities this week.  When my kids described an optional second grade class haunted house activity happening at nutrition break I encouraged them to make their own decision about what they felt was appropriate.  I chose not to take my boys to the library story hour this week since it was going to be Halloween themed and they didn’t have costumes.  When my daughter hid behind me, embarrassed, when the cashier asked about her Halloween costume, I cheerfully explained that we don’t celebrate so she wouldn’t have to.  We don’t trick or treat but I still buy a wack of candy and we have a fun family night instead.  I’m not trying to make it hard, and I’m happy to take the blame if they are not ready to try to stand up for my decisions to their friends, teachers, etc.  I’m the parent, not them.  Make it as easy as possible for them to do what you’ve required without more humiliation or struggle than necessary.  This will set them up to be more likely to make their own hard decisions in the future.

While I’m writing this my daughters have come home from school.  One of my daughters has told me about the second grade haunted house she decided to attend.

“It wasn’t actually scary, it was just little kids, ” she says to me.  I nod and smile, accepting her choice with no judgment.  She carries on, talking about the pumpkin she carved and the conversation she had on the bus with her friend.

“We don’t celebrate Halloween.  We just stay home and eat candy,” she told him.

She tells me she was surprised when he said, “I wish I could do that tonight because it’s going to be wet!”

We laugh together and she explains that he is dressing up as one of the Star Wars characters.  I let her chatter about what she would dress up as if she were going trick or treating tonight.

Then we talk about what movie we will watch.

My other daughter comes home and tells me about what her art teacher told them.  She’s wondering if I have a picture of her deceased grandfather.

“I know it’s not really true,” she says, a little embarrassed as she explains how you can tie a string to a rock or jewel and hold it above the picture.

“If it swings this way then it means the person is alive or something and if it swings this way it doesn’t…she said there was a person in her family who died in a war…”  I wait patiently, letting her finish the story.  She is curious and I can tell she thinks it would be fun to try.

I remind myself she is a kid and not an emerging Wiccan.

I explain briefly in simple language what the ritual is about and why it’s not a good idea for her to try, despite it sounding like a fun little activity.  Then we talk about the truth of the gospel.

How her grandfather loved Jesus and was saved.

How we can know exactly where he is and that he’s safe.

How the Bible tells us the truth about life and death.

Yes, Halloween is complicated and as Christian parents sometimes it would feel easier to disengage from the conversations that it inevitably initiates.

But I truly believe we miss out.

We miss out on opportunities to breathe life, truth and grace into the lives of those around us, including our children.

We don’t need to be afraid.

We don’t need to be embarrassed.

So tonight, whether you are out in the cold engaging with other trick or treaters in your neighbourhood, handing out candy to costumed children, helping out with a church party or sacked out on the couch watching a movie and eating Snickers,

I hope you experience freedom, truth and the transforming power of the gospel.

Because that is for every day of your life.

Including October 31.

~AF

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

Titus 2 Women, Faith & Motherhood

When my son was diagnosed with a brain tumour, I felt like the world shifted on its axis.

I had never been more terrified and unsure of who I was or what life meant.

During that season, I felt the Father love of my God like never before. I felt Him carry me and my family through that season in the gentlest of arms, with no expectations of me other than that I would simply let him hold us and trust His goodness.

However, on the tail of that I experienced a spiritual desert season of anxiety, anger, loneliness and uncertainty.

Everything I believed suddenly needed to be held to the light; examined and tested by the fires of doubt within me.

I wanted to curl up in a ball and hide from the world.

It felt big and scary, and I had no idea which way I should turn next.

It was in this season that a good friend of mine invited me to join her women’s group.

Hungry for communion with other Christian women and longing to become a prayer warrior for my children, I accepted the invitation, having no idea that God was about to do a work of redemption in my soul.

Most of these women were much older than myself, well past the stages of parenting and marriage that I was struggling through. We came from a variety of denominations and faith families, and there was really no common thread that wove us all together outside of our Jesus.

But this group of women welcomed me into their prayer circle and picked me up out of the dust. They took the pieces of my broken, bleeding heart that had been battered to shards through the storm of the past year and gently starting piecing me back together with the truth, grace and love of the gospel.

They wept with me, prayed with me and bolstered my spirits. They laughed with me, gave me wise advice and honoured me in my feeble efforts to strive for something greater in my parenting, my marriage and my walk with Jesus.

In short, they were Jesus to me. In a time when I desperately needed support, God led me to this incredible group of women and used them as a channel to heal me, teach me and offer me joy through new friendships.

Over tea cups, desserts and our Bibles we worshipped, repented and grew together.

When I walked into that space every Wednesday evening I knew instinctively that here, I was safe.

These women are my sisters in Christ;

My fellow warriors on the front lines of enemy territory, claiming back our children, our marriages and our identity through the power of His words spoken into the quiet of a cozy living room.

Titus 2:1-6 says,

“Teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live…then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.”

When I read those verses, I think of these women in my prayer group. I think of the wisdom I have glimpsed as I’ve listened to them share their stories and prayed alongside them for their middle schoolers, teenagers and young adult children. It’s comforting to know they have walked this road ahead of me and that I am not alone as I muddle through each new phase. Their humility and courage inspire me to keep putting one foot in front of the other; to love my children well while they are here with me, to model patience and kindness in my home, to be a woman of strength and grace.

I also think of my own mother when I read these verses. She modeled so much kindness, generosity and integrity to me as I was growing up. She willingly set her own needs aside to care for my siblings and I, day after month after year after decade. My childhood memories are rich because of her constant presence in our home, faithfully going about the mundane tasks of life on a farm with five children. So much of what I know and believe about motherhood, my identity as a woman and my Kingdom work was instilled through those early years.

I think about my cousin who I lived with as a young adult while dating the man who is now my husband. The two years I spent in her home watching her navigate early marriage and parenting young children left a deep impact on my life. I’m so grateful for the authentic, generous, humble presence I observed her to be in her home. She taught me so much about respect, kindness and courage to do the right thing even when it is not easy. So many little patterns in my marriage and parenting trace back to her mentoring.

There are so many more I could name. My mother in law, my grandmothers, older women in the church and my neighbourhood who have poured into my life, often unknowingly.

I like to think of all these women as my Titus 2 women.

They bring texture to the fabric of my life. Their experiences, perspective and fire-proven faith give me confidence that I, too, can emerge stronger, wiser and gentler on the other side of adversity. The stories they carry with them plant seeds of wonder and curiosity in my heart; to travel, to experience, to delight in the world around me.

It’s so easy to find the people most like ourselves and camp out there in that comfort zone, but I want to keep intentionally seeking out women who are older, wiser,more mature than I am. I want to have a heart that is teachable and brave enough to pursue growth.

As I move into my thirties, I want to be aware of the young women around me who are observing my own fumbling attempts and open my heart and home to them as well.

I believe there is so much wisdom and beauty to be found in multigenerational friendships.

What have you learned through friendships with older or younger women in your life?


Pro Life Meets Grace

I wrote a post a few days ago entitled “Every Life Matters.”

In it I shared my passion for the pro life movement and my firm belief that life begins at conception.

I believe everything I said but it left me with an unsettled feeling that I couldn’t shake. Something just didn’t sit well in my heart.

Was it fear of how others would label me? Discomfort at placing myself so entirely in an unpopular camp? The Spirit’s promptings of the airs of self righteousness that trickled through my words?

Those things for sure, but there was more.

I finally realized, it felt unfinished and unsettling because it was.

This was only half of the story.

I firmly believe that life begins at conception and that from the very first second that life should be protected, advocated for and fought for.

But I also believe that being pro life means advocating for, protecting and fighting for the lives of women, not just babies.

It means not ignoring the stories of the women who feel abortion is their only option, and allowing those stories to drive us to hard questions.

It means advocating for real, viable solutions and accessible support for women struggling with mental health issues.

It means supporting local pregnancy centers in their goal to give women support emotionally, physically and spiritually whether or not they choose to carry out their pregnancy to term.

It means crossing social, economic and racial barriers to reach the hearts of women living out realities I don’t understand or cannot identify with personally.

It means fighting for laws that will offer protection and healing for vulnerable women.

It means grieving with them.

It means listening to their stories and not offering unsolicited advice or uneducated options.

It means offering truth, grace and support to women who have chosen abortion in the past or are choosing abortion now.

It means choosing words and actions that bestow dignity and value on women who are considering abortion.

It means raising young men of integrity who will treat the women in their lives with respect, dignity and honor.

It means surrounding our daughters with both men and women who will protect, empower and validate them to live out their fullest potential.

It means supporting struggling mothers, getting involved in foster care, providing permanency for children who need to leave their first families.

It means grace.

Grace that humbly admits I have few answers to the difficult situations women find themselves in leading up to this decision.

Grace that acknowledges we live in an imperfect, marred world where sin and darkness berate, abuse and destroy.

Grace that sees my own brokenness, fragility and sin.

Grace that covers, forgives and redeems.

Pro Life meets Grace when Jesus enters the scene.

Jesus offers us life abundant, regardless of the wreckage of our lives.

He infuses hope, courage, resiliency and beauty into our mess.

As a Jesus follower, and a pro life advocate, this is the message I want to carry.

~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

Mother’s Day

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day.

I’ve been churning it over for a week now, trying to decipher what feelings bubble up in my chest when I think about this day.

I go tuck in each of the five children I call “mine,” pausing over each sleepy face.

I’m not his real mother…and I am so frightfully out of control of his future, even though he looks up at me trustingly with those beautiful blue eyes. I stroke his cheek and smile down at him as he says, “Goodnight, Mommy.” My heart constricts with pain and anxiety as I think about the unknowns rising like a mountain before us. He won’t be seeing his mother tomorrow or likely for a very long time. I hold that truth painfully in my chest as I creep softly from his room.

In my littlest boys’ room, I go to each little toddler bed. My baby has fallen into an exhausted sleep after our busy day and I’ve missed catching him awake. I wonder how many more things I missed today…it feels like there’s just never enough of me to stretch around. This child that I carried and birthed; I want to give him the sun and moon and all the realms beyond but all I can muster up is me, which never feels like enough. I struggle with guilt, wondering at the life I’ve given him even while I watch him laugh and play with his brothers.

The child who will soon be legally mine sighs and reaches for me as I come close. He’s my “hand full and heart full” and we struggled to stay afloat today. I press my cheek against his for an extra second, squeezing my eyes shut and praying God can somehow redeem the brokenness of his life, the feeble attempts that are mine and the friction between us. He gives the tightest squeeze and then pushes me away to grab for his comfort blankie. I would give my life for him, but my patience seems to hard to muster sometimes.

I tip toe downstairs to find my girls who have been scurrying from yard to house to barn all evening with excited grins and warnings not to look. My heart swells under their unconditional love. I soak in their hugs and draw strength from their steady affection. They don’t know how much I rely on them and how many times I pour out gratitude for getting to be their mother. They are growing so fast, and I love watching them flourish. We sent flowers to their first mom today, and chatted on the phone. We all miss her, and I wish we could be together tomorrow. It feels incomplete, somehow.

I sit down and stare at the screen, the house falling into silence around me.

Mothering has been so much more joyful and so much more painful than I ever imagined.

It has filled me with courage and strength and it has crushed me in defeat.

I have cheered on the sidelines, filled with pride and I have fallen on my face sobbing under the weight of it all.

More than anything, I have learned that no matter how my children may come to me, they are not really mine at all.

I keep running face first into the harsh reality that I have very little control over my children’s lives.

I am not enough, and I never will be.

The truth is, it is my own sanctification at work so many times in the hard, the pain, the messy of it all.

It’s humbling to realize that I’m not the teacher, He is. And he uses them; their disobedience, trauma, anxiety, carelessness, chaos, lies. To create in me a new heart, a new spirit, a breathing, living reflection of Himself.

But oh the texture and soul that these small humans bring to my life. How the Father has shown me His love for me through their lives. How He has grown in me a love so beyond my own capacity.

So what do I feel when I think about Mother’s Day?

I feel hopeful…that He who started something new will be faithful to complete and establish it.

I feel grateful…to be surrounded by my little tribe of witnesses who run this race at my side and offer life giving sustenance to my weary bones.

I feel honoured…to be chosen to love for a season or a lifetime; to invest in this next generation in the small ways I can and then to be a witness of the incredible ways He multiplies those feeble offerings.

I think sometimes I have made motherhood my idol, but God continues to bring me back again and again to the Truth of it all. How small I am, how great He is, and how much He delights in this beautiful, daily, messy sanctification.

I would do this all over again.

~AF

Simplifying Childhood

Moving our family to a little falling down farm on the edge of town has been an adventure in so many ways.

This move was birthed out of a myriad of desires, passions and ambitions.

One of those was the desire to give our children the gift of a simplistic childhood.

I grew up on a dairy farm in Wellington County where I spent my summers crawling over straw bales, running barefoot through the yard, nestling fluffy kitten fur up against my cheek, climbing trees, eating apples plucked from our orchard and wading through muddy creeks.

I had no idea how magnificent this childhood experience was or how much texture and depth these experiences added to my life.

I didn’t know that I was learning to take risks as I rode my bike down the barn steps and balanced precariously upon barn top beams, determined to keep up to my older siblings and cousins.

I didn’t know that the wide variety of sensory experiences were contributing to brain development as I felt mud between my toes, rocks beneath my calloused feet and dirt under my hands.

I took for granted the way I could walk out the doors and roam free for hours, with no specific goal or destination in mind, just freedom to be and explore my world as I wished.

Every summer my skin would turn brown beneath the sun’s warmth, my dark hair deepening to hues of auburn and chestnut.

I thought it was normal for children to sit high in the branches of a pine, bare legs swinging, to make forts in the barn loft or catch frogs in the pond.

As I grew and left my childhood behind, I left many of these simple pleasures with it.

Now, I look at my children and I would give anything to be able to give them a taste of the life I once lived. Not only because of my own fond memories but because the more I learn, the more I realize that this kind of environment nurtures healthy, happy children.

Children are meant to be able to learn and explore and fall and laugh. They are meant to experience freedom and follow their curiosity and dig through the layers of a richly textured world.

So how do we do this?

How do we give our children the gift of simplicity, setting them free from the demands of a society who would want to categorize them, sit them down, mold them into tiny adults?

  1. Let them play. They are little for such a short time, and for some reason we feel we need to organize them; sort them into categories, grade their achievements, nudge them toward accuracy and reality. But children have rich, creative minds. They see the world differently. Good and evil stand in stark contrast, and they will recreate this in their play. Every little bug in the dirt or tattered leaf or knobby stick can be studied, delighted in and recognized to be something magnificent. Give your children space to play freely. Do not fill their time or their rooms with too many toys that will entertain them and tell them what they should do and how they should do it. Instead, give them a bucket of plain wooden blocks. Dump out a bin of Lego builders. Leave some paper, crayons, glue and scissors on the table and see what they create. When they bring you their stories and structures and collections, admire them for what they are. Ask them questions and let them decide what they have created, don’t assume or pass judgment.
  2. Give them structure. This may seem contradictory to play, but really it is what makes the play possible at all. Children thrive when they are surrounded by comforting absolutes. Too many variables make children, especially young children, feel vulnerable and unsure therefore discouraging them from following their naturally inquisitive minds because they are too busy worrying about what they might need or miss. Predictable meal times and bed time routines are essential and create a rhythm to your days that wraps them in security and comfort. Knowing what to expect their days will look like, generally of course, helps children to relax inside those parameters and busy themselves with the great work of childhood…play. Children who feel safe can explore and create and learn.
  3. Take them outside. Snow, rain, sun, sleet…let them experience it all. Nature is full of endless entertainment for children. Mud puddles, trees to climb, birds nests, caterpillars, water, ice and dirt. Invest in mud suits, rubber boots, warm clothes and ratty old jeans that you won’t mind getting torn and ripped. Give them shovels, containers, watering cans and buckets. Go for walks both on sidewalks and off; a walk to the park and a hike through the bush can be equally exciting for a child. Let them get messy; let them take risks, even fall down and hurt themselves every now and again. Eat outside, read outside, play outside and even nap outside. Go to the beach, the park, the forest, the farm, the backyard. Build a sandbox, set up a bucket of water or a plastic pool, ride bikes, blow bubbles, go barefoot. All these experiences feed the soul of a child. Not only will this environment be beneficial to their brain health but it will also give them the best chance at being healthy emotionally and spiritually.
  4. Give them rest. This includes physical, emotional and mental rest. Create a solid, dependable, practical bedtime/nap time routine and stick to it. Kids need plenty of sleep. In fact, ironically it seems the more sleep they get the more sleep they need. Tired kids will have a hard time playing or resting well. Try to balance your day with both active and restful activities. For example, an hour or two of outside time might be followed up with some stories on the couch. Playing play dough might precede going to the grocery store or some other outing that is more chaotic. If older kids complain of being bored, don’t become too anxious about filling that space for them. It’s necessary for them to learn how to enjoy their own company and not be afraid of the quiet. Teach them how to be able to sit and look at books, to be still and watch a tiny ant carrying his disproportionate load, to breathe in deeply in and out and feel their muscles relax from head to toe. Surround them with quietness, peace and stillness regularly.
  5. Involve them in responsibilities. Kids love to help when they feel they are wanted and needed. There is nothing that can replace the pride of knowing you have done a job well. Provide plenty of opportunities to work both alongside you and independently. Participating in family chores fosters responsibility, healthy self image and gratitude. Teach them to cook and do laundry. Don’t shy away when they sigh at being told once again to unload the dishwasher or help set the table. Praise them for jobs well done and send them back to redo jobs done haphazardly. Will they thank you down the road? Probably not. But that is beside the point. They are learning they are a part of something. They are seeing the real life in front of them and will start to notice what others around them are doing. You will know you are on your way when they thank you for doing their laundry, unloading the dishwasher or picking up their scattered shoes.                    

Children need so much from us, and yet so little. They require huge quantities of our emotional and physical presence with them but they require so few resources to truly grow and thrive.

We cannot travel the world today and give their little eyes the sights of the Great Wall of China, the Eiffel Tower, the Grand Canyon and and Cliffs of Moher…but we can go outside and see the birds and feel the mud under our rubber boots and watch our chickens peck away at the rinds of a cantaloupe.

We cannot afford private music lessons to entice their musical little minds toward Mozart greatness, but we can turn on some nursery rhymes and beat to the rhythm on our homemade drums.

My preschoolers are at home with me. They do not play in sensory buckets every day, practice lining up at the door, learn rhymes and riddles for every activity or get exposure to early learning curriculum….but I can let them help me bake muffins, teach them how to zip their jackets, sit on the floor and build towers of blocks with them or read them story after story.

Reminding my mother heart of these time-proven child raising truths has helped me to refocus my parenting on what is most important. When I fall into despair because I cannot possibly do it all, I can come back to this and remind myself of what I can do today that is valuable.

-AF

Why Reunification Matters

It’s what everyone wants to know.

Where is his family?

Why is she in foster care?

Doesn’t anyone love them?

How could a mother or father abandon their child?

I can see it in their eyes.

Pity, judgment and confusion.

“They’re better off with you,” they say.

“I don’t understand how a mother could do that.”

“Doesn’t that scare you?”

I wish I could show them the other side of the story.

I wish I could describe to them the struggles of growing up surrounded by addiction, poverty and domestic violence.

I wish I could capture the joy on my foster child’s face as they run into the open arms of their mommy.

I wish I could show them how he cries every time he has to say goodbye to his Daddy, and the way his daddy has to turn away blinking back his own tears as we walk out the door.

I wish I could show you the bags and bags of clothing Mom has given me or the toys Dad brings…their desperate attempt to try to fix things.

I wish I could show you the pain I see in their eyes and the longing for some understanding.

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The amazing thing about love is that it thrives even in the most unlikely environments.  Even surrounded by chaos, it takes root deep within hearts.  When yanked up, it bleeds out pain and raw anger at the injustice of it all.

You would be surprised to know that most parents of foster kids are a lot like you and I.  Moms and Dads who love their kids.

Sometimes love is not enough.

Love isn’t always enough to conquer addictions and poverty.

Love isn’t always enough to change the trajectory passed down through generations of abuse and loss.

Love isn’t always enough to heal the wounds of abandonment and rejection.

So much grace is needed to see past the behaviours to the cause.

For a parent who is at the end of their rope, social support programs are sometimes enough to pull the pieces together.

If  you know you are out of options, you will be willing to try almost anything.

But it takes a lot of courage to accept that someone else might know how to raise your children better than you.

It takes a lot of discipline to tear apart the fabric of your life and try to implement completely foreign patterns and habits into it.

Family-Intervention-Services

I don’t know many parents who would react well to being told:

“You don’t know what is best for your child.”

“You need help raising your child.”

“You need to change major things about your life to be allowed to continue raising your child.”

“You need to move.”

“You need to break up with your partner.”

“You need to attend support groups once a week.”

We ask big things of these parents.

And we are right to…but it doesn’t make it easy and it’s important that we understand what we are asking.

From their perspective, they often feel someone is trying to rip apart their family and ruin their lives.

It’s hard not to feel attacked and lash back in destructive ways.

But under all that, most of these parents love their kids desperately and just need some support to pull together the pieces of a life that has disappointed, wounded, ensnared and deceived.

We often make the mistake of setting unreasonable goals for these parents.

We want instant results.

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But real progress usually happens over time, with lots of support, plenty of chances and grace.

Sometimes the children will suffer during the interim…as they wait for their parents to become healthy enough to parent…and this feels unfair.

But I’m beginning to see that it’s so important that we don’t rush things.

At the end of this story, I want to be able to look that child in the eye and tell them I did everything I could to help salvage their family.

It’s so important that we, the foster parents, are the ones there to offer grace and let these moms and dads know that someone is in their corner.

I am still working at becoming this kind of foster parent.

They are often intimidated, frightened and bitter when they meet us…so it’s a big shift to show them that we are not the enemy.

But if we can…

Well…we might just be able to be the babysitter they call when that little one returns home.

We might just be that friend they text, send photos and vent to on a difficult day.

We might just be that ongoing support that every parent needs through the long days of parenting.

We might just get beach days and walks and playdates at the park.

We might never hear from them again, except to watch them grow from afar on social media, their eyes alight with happiness through the camera lens…

and in that moment…

even when it’s obvious that not all is perfect…

we will know it is right and good.

God came up with this perfect design and called it a family.

The blood bonds that run through our veins are powerful and precious and should be fought for fiercely!

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I know that it doesn’t always work.

And I know that it’s a bloody, awful mess in the process.

But if it works…

well…

if it works…

we have just done something extraordinarily beautiful.

It’s called redemption.

~AF

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The Always Good God and Foster Care

It’s been a stressful season.

Moving, sickness and the chaos of the holidays.

In the middle of all that, we got news that one of our little ones may leave us.

Gut punch.

No matter how many times you remind yourself as a foster parent that all this is temporary,

you cannot prepare yourself for the nausea that hits when you think about them leaving you forever.

Especially to someone they do not know.

Far away.

Foster care reminds me over and over again how little control I have over my children’s lives.

They are not mine.

None of them.

They are really just on loan to me, some for a very short time, some for longer, but all on loan to me.

They were created by an infinitely wise, sovereign God who has plans for them that far exceed my limited scope of vision.

I want to protect them.

I want to keep out all the hurt, disappointment, betrayal and fear.

I want to prevent them from ever feeling lonely, misunderstood or anxious.

But I forget this is how we grow; this is the shaping of our souls.

It is through the pain and the wounds of our lives that our hearts reach out for the One who can heal, restore and make room for the fruits of the Spirit to take root and grow.

I would like to be able to say that my ‘temporary’ children always leave my home and return to healthy environments.

I would like to be able to say that my prayers for their well being are answered every time; that I get to see happily ever afters for each one.

I would like to be able to say that I always know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I made a difference in the trajectory of their lives and hearts.

But the truth is…

Sometimes kids return to very difficult circumstances.

The answers are rarely easy or clear, and wading the muddy waters can leave me feeling anxious, betrayed, angry and afraid.

The prayers I pray over these little people every night, the tears that fall on their hair and the desperate cries for help sometimes feel like they are hitting the ceiling.

I often feel alone and misunderstood by friends, social workers and professionals.

I am often tempted to play the power that is placed in my hands in the wrong ways, and I vent too often on others instead of going to the One who is in control.

But the truth is…He IS in control.

I woke up the other morning at 4am with the future of my son weighing on my chest.

I stared into the darkness, willing my heart to embrace the rest that I knew could be mine, but my heart fought it.

An hour and a half later I finally got up, grabbed my Bible and settled into my favourite chair. My mind swirled in a thousand different directions but I purposefully flipped the pages and found the book of Job.

Disciplining my heart to be still, I reread the words I have read so many times before when it feels like life is in utter chaos.

Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said: Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?”

[Job 38:1-4]

I pour over the words, reading and rereading; letting them seep into my soul and take residence there; a fledgling plant sprouting its roots.

Who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb, when I made clouds its 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’?

[Job 38:8-11]

Who provides for the raven its prey, when its young ones cry to God for help, and wander about for lack of food?”

[Job 38:41]

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 in the valley and exults in his strength; he goes out to meet the weapons. He laughs at fear and is not dismayed.”

[Job 39:19-22]

Is it by your understanding that the hawk soars and spreads his wings toward the south? Is it at your command that the eagle mounts up and makes his nest on high?”

[Job 39:26-28]

And I fall to my knees in worship and surrender.

Who then is he who can stand before me? Who has given to me, that I should repay him? Whatever is under the whole heaven is mine.”

[Job 41:10-11]

And finally in chapter 42 my heart resounds with Job’s.

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…my ears had heard of you but now my eye sees you.”

[Job 42:1-5 Paraphrased]

I can fight it, I can grapple with the conflicting realities around me, but it will not change the simple truth that God is in control.

I flip back to Jeremiah and let my eyes fill a little as I read the words I’ve highlighted long ago; my favourite verses to pray over all my children but especially for my ‘for a little while’ kids each night.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

[Jeremiah 29:11]

He is good.

He has promised it.

Always.

When I see His goodness, and when I don’t.

When he moves the mountains, and when I watch them tower above us.

When he carries me through the waters, and when I struggle against the waves.

He is a good, good Father.

I bow my head and I give it to Him.

The worry.

The fear.

The pain.

And in that tattered place of rest there is hope.

I stop and buckle into the nearest chair later listening to the lyrics of the song that has carried me through so many waters these past few years.

My hands are trembling as they raise and my face crumples but the tears crack through the walls of fear and doubt and anger.

I will do this a thousand times over until my heart believes.

Trust In You

by Lauren Daigle

Letting go of every single dream

I lay each one down at Your feet

Every moment of my wandering

Never changes what You see

I’ve tried to win this war, I confess,

My hands are weary, I need your rest

Mighty warrior, king of the fight

No matter what I face You’re by my side

When you don’t move the mountains

I’m needing You to move

When You don’t part the waters

I wish I could walk through

When You don’t give the answers

As I cry out to You

I will trust, I will trust, I will trust in You

Truth is you know what tomorrow brings

There’s not a day ahead You have not seen

So let all things be my life and breath

I want what You want Lord and nothing less

You are my strength and comfort

You are my steady hand

You are my firm foundation

The rock on which I stand

Your ways are always higher

Your plans are always good

There’s not a place where I’ll go

You’ve not already stood

When you don’t move the moutains

I’m needing You to move

When You don’t part the waters

I wish I could walk through

When You don’t give the answers

As I cry out to You

I will trust, I will trust, I will trust in You

I will trust in You

-AF