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

 

Two Mothers

I stare at the photo, breath caught in my lungs.

It’s my daughter in 20 years staring back at me.

Same beautiful eyes and wide smile.

Same long and lean body; so different from my own.

The light and laughter there makes me want to reach out and pull her from the photo.

I dream that night of meeting her.

We smile and reach out for each other; familiar despite having never met.

I wake up still feeling her slender back under my hands.

It is the little things that make me wince; that dig a well of grief in the middle of my joy at finding her.

The way she describes drinking olive juice from a jar and the look in my daughter’s eyes when I tell her, the only one in our family who eats olives.

The way she loves so many of the same things my daughters do.  Banana muffins, horses, music and nature.

The way she tenderly recounts sewing in little waistbands and what my children…or hers…or ours…were like as babies and toddlers.

I am unprepared for this grief.

This abrupt encounter with so much gain…and so much loss.

I am unsure how to hold my joy in my hands…while looking down and realizing it all came at her expense.

How do I justify all I have when I know the tables could have so easily been turned.

It is beautiful,

and shattering.

I look at them differently as they smile into my eyes,

seek out my affection,

come running to me with their latest drawings, stories and ideas.

I know as they bring me their caterpillars and create ant homes and worm habitats that she would be so much more delighted than I am right now.

I think of her finding a huge caterpillar in her garden, or her stories of helping turtles safely cross the road.

I wish she were here to enjoy their dirty faces grinning cheekily at me.

I tread unsteadily on the fence line of guilt and gratitude,

haunted by what she might do and say were she here.

All her words have been laden with grace and dignity and humility.

I have her permission to love without guilt, yet that in itself speaks a thousand words and almost makes it more difficult.

I feel like a heroine and a traitor.

I wonder at the world.

The world that separates mother and child,

that pulls unsuspecting teens into spirals of addiction and compromise with no warning of all they have to lose.

The world that offers so much pain and loss and heartache to one,

while another trips almost effortlessly through and lands in so much joy and blessing.

I reach out for more of her, knowing that as I learn her favourite colours, TV shows, hobbies, fears, regrets and joys…I am putting together the pieces of my children.

I scroll through her photos, feeling the weight of loss as I see family and friends that were meant to be part of my children’s lives…but aren’t.

It’s not that there’s a hole…it’s just that I know this was meant to be theirs.

We schedule chat sessions and eventually, our first meeting.

She’s even taller than I imagined and so graceful as she slides into the seat across from me, dressed in a pretty aqua top…my daughter’s favourite colour.

We stumble awkwardly yet enjoyably through a dinner conversation…most of which I cannot remember later for the butterflies in my stomach.

My husband bridges the gap between us…two mothers…and I’m grateful for his casual conversation.

I leave with anticlimactic memories and a picture of the two of us, arms slung around each other, smiling side by side.

I know it’ll be an important image for my daughters as they grow into this relationship…the picture of what was and what is simultaneously, tethering them to reality.

We fall into patterns of texting and chatting online, slowly letting in a new normal.

I casually laugh about a conversation we had, a photo she sent or a story she shared.

My daughters get used to it; their two mothers being acquaintances and then slowly…friends.

I love the way I think of her randomly, or can send off a text whenever I want.

I love the way I can share those special moments with her and know that she’ll care…because she’s a mother.

I love the way I can see more and more clearly the similarities between mother and daughters, and the shy adoration I see in their eyes when I notice them and comment.

I love the letters that get sent off in the mail with lovingly braided bracelets tucked inside.

I love the forging of our lives.

Loving my daughters’ birth mother is loving them.

They reflect so much of what I say and project about her onto themselves.

She is and always will be a part of them…and therefore a part of us.

I both love and hurt watching them reach out in fragile innocence for the affirmation she offers.

It is humbling to watch them flower beneath her tender care in ways that I can’t provide.

I see clearly the holes I cannot fill, and I’m grateful she is there and willing to fill those.

I imagine she feels the same, and once again this is one thing we share.

Two mothers.

I know so many people don’t have this story.

They don’t have this happy ending.

But I’m so grateful for this woman we call Mom.

Her integrity, humility, determination and beauty has added depth and colour to our adoption story that we never could have imagined.

Two mothers.

-AF

“A child born to another woman calls me mom.  The depth of the tragedy and the magnitude of the privilege are not lost on me.”

-Jody Landers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

10 Great At-Home Date Nights for Busy Parents

Taking time to care for your marriage in the middle of raising kids can feel exhausting!  I’m so grateful I had a friend early on who introduced me to At-Home Date Nights.

If you’re like me, as much as you’d like to get out of the house some days, the last thing you want to do is hire a babysitter to keep your kids while the two of you go out.

Well guess what?

You don’t have to!

Pick one night of the week as your date night, let the kids know they will need to go to bed or at least their rooms a tad earlier (I recommend before 9pm) and the two of you should have at least an hour or two together to do something fun, relax or just be.

This has been so much fun for my husband and I, and it’s now by far our favourite way to spend time together.

While there are hundreds of ideas on Pinterest, here are my easy 10 to get you started!

Fort Fiesta – Couch cushions, blankets, pillows, wooden planks, the table…whatever you can find to create a cozy little hideaway big enough for the two of you to fit inside.  Add some twinkly lights, snacks and music and you’ve got the perfect environment for a cozy and relaxing date.

blanket fort

Games Night – Pick your favourite board game, card game or even electronic game and bring out your competitive streak.  If you want to raise the stakes each of you choose what you want as a prize if you win!

Board-Games

Art Adventures – Pull out the classical music, coloured pencils and sketch books for a classy evening.  If you’re the artsy type this may result in some real, actual art!  If you’re like me, you’ll borrow one of your kid’s colouring books and try to stay inside the lines.  Regardless, it’s an easy, relaxing way to sit side by side and chat while you keep your hands busy.  This is my husband’s favourite way to listen to me if I have spaghetti brain and need to untangle a few noodles 🙂

paints

Cooking – Try out a new recipe or just pull out your favourite cookie recipe.  It’ll be more fun than you think to create a yummy treat together.  Tip: If neither of you likes the kitchen pick something simple and quick.

couple cooking together

Dinner for 2 – Feed the kids earlier and occupy them with a movie or something so you can spend some time preparing your feast.  Grilling some red meat usually gets men excited and you can always pull out some fancy dishes and wine glasses to make even the simplest meal feel special.  Kraft Dinner by candlelight tastes so much better!

dinner for 2.jpg

Apps & Movie – Grab a recent release or old favourite the two of you would enjoy watching together and pick up some tasty appetizers at your favourite restaurant or the grocery store.  Our favourites are flatbreads, spinach dip and boneless bites.  Mmmm.

apps

Campfire Cuddles- I am so looking forward to summer time again.  Many summer nights at our house have been spent roasting hot dogs around the campfire with the kids and then as it gets dark out we tuck them into bed and creep back outdoors to sit and enjoy the fire.  Stars, crackling wood, smoky scented air and a blanket or two make the best conversation atmosphere…or to just sit and enjoy being together in the quiet.

campfire pic

Dream & Imagine – For this date, grab a notebook and a couple pens and start a bucket list of your dreams, goals and crazy never-going-to-happen ideas.  You’ll make 3 lists.  His, Hers and Ours.  Now start shooting questions at each other.  Where would you like to travel?  What are your career aspirations?  Where do you want to see our family in 10 years from now?  Don’t stick to realistic expectations.  Feel free to laugh, cut loose and fall in love with the person you married all over again 🙂

bucketlist

Book Club – If you’re both readers look no further!  Tonight all you need to do is each grab a book, flop down on the couch and get reading.  Sometimes as parents all we want to do is to be in the same place, doing the same thing, in the quiet!  If you want to add some conversation to this night, each of you read a chapter and then swap books and do the same.  After you’ve each read one chapter of the other person’s book, talk about what you learned, the questions you have and what your take on the book is!

books

Closet Clean Out – It is Spring, after all!  If your closet is needing a thorough sorting, set a date for the two of you to go at it together…and have some fun!  Bring some snacks, music and a bunch of garbage bags to toss your old and tired wardrobe into.  Don’t forget to ask your spouse’s opinion on what items should be donated, tossed and kept.  You might be surprised what you learn about your spouse’s style and preferences!

closet clothes

Have fun!

~AF

The Cross, Chocolate Eggs & the Resurrection

Then we come to this weekend,

Spring still making its shy debut.

Snow is still heaped against the shadowed places beside the fence and ice covers the tops of the puddles that the sun melted yesterday.

The lawn is brown and yellowed, the trees bare; life beneath the ground holds its breath waiting for the sun’s warmth to signal that it is time.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”  John 12:24

We wake up Good Friday to the sky cold and dreary.  All day it changes back and forth from cloudy to sunny to cloudy again.  It cannot decide whether its a day of light or darkness, and our hearts agree.

So much grief; so much joy.

So much loss; so much gain.

Pain in the midst of victory; the greatest sacrifice to accomplish the greatest rescue mission the world has ever known.

“He was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and by his wounds we are healed.” Isaiah 53:5

We do our Easter hunt a day early, scavenger clues scrawled on colourful pieces of paper.

They shriek and run eagerly with buckets banging by their sides.

Their eyes light with joy at each new discovery.

The chocolate is sweet and sticky on my tongue.

Mmm.  So good.

And I wish that all of life was this sweet and perfectly mesmerizing.

But they tear into packages and leave bits of paper and cardboard all over the counter, knocking each other over in their haste.

I prickle with irritation and the magic of it all starts to dissipate.

The sugar high brings chaos and silliness and fighting naps and I get frustrated at it all.

dscf5169.jpg

And its this.

It’s for this that I needed that cross.

Impatience, sarcasm, frustration and pride.

My sin glares ugly in our faces and rips and tears at what wants to be whole.

We are only humans and we feel it oh so real.

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”  Romans 3:11

We cling to that hope in our brokenness.

Because of the gift; that cross so crude and unlovely,

We are justified!

We are whole and spotless and beautifully redeemed.

Because of death, yes…

But also because of Life!

“In Christ shall all be made alive.” I Corinthians 15:22

“Death is swallowed up in victory.  Oh death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?”  1 Corinthians 15:54-55

Tomorrow is Sunday!

Resurrection Day.

pexels-photo-349600

We will put on our dresses and buttoned shirts and pretty hair bows.

We will smile and rejoice as we sing the victorious songs.

Songs of hope.

Songs of promise.

Songs of light and love.

We are not lost.

We are not doomed to break under the weight of all our shortcomings.

We are redeemed!

We’ve been rescued and scooped up into the palm of a Hand so gentle and nurturing.

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us.” Ephesians 1:7-8

Chosen to be the recipient of lavish grace.

Lavish.

And so, it is Easter.

So much grief; so much joy.

So much loss; so much gain.

Pain in the midst of victory.

The greatest sacrifice to accomplish the greatest rescue mission the world has ever known.

~AF

 

 

 

 

 

 

Self Care and Why it Matters

I remember the first time I travelled internationally with my children.

For the first time I actually stopped to listen and observe carefully as the flight attendants demonstrated how to use the oxygen masks and life vests in case of an emergency.

With my baby in my arms and two daughters beside me, it suddenly felt important to know how I would go about saving their lives if need be.

The most important take-away?

Always put your own mask on first.

It struck me how contradictory this was to every maternal instinct inside of me.

As mothers, we regularly play the martyr.

We sacrifice.

We shield.

We protect.

It’s who we are, and who we want to be.

But what happens when the steady pouring out of ourselves leaves a gaping hole?

What happens when the mundane of life covers up the joy?

Is it ever ok to put me first?

As Christian mamas we heap on the added burdens of selfless service, taking up our cross and putting others ahead of ourselves.

We take the verses to heart and stretch ourselves thin and fragile over our treasures.

We want it all.

We want to be enough.

But we foolishly forget we will never be enough on our own.

There is no glory in exhausting our own resources so that at the end of the day we are weary, discouraged women with nothing left to offer.

I realize there are seasons and days when this is the inescapable reality of motherhood.

We all have seasons that drain the life out of us, but sometimes it’s because we are neglecting our own souls.

Self care is a bit of a hot button word right now, but it’s really not that complicated.

It means taking time to infuse hope, joy and energy back into myself.

The purpose of self care is to fill yourself up so that you can once again pour yourself out.

It’s hard to mother well from a depleted soul.

I practise self care so I can tuck my children in with smiles and tender kisses at the end of the day.

I practise self care so that I have energy to be active with my children.

I practise self care so that I reflect hope and joy to a dying world around me.

I practise self care to remind myself of who I am in Christ.

I practise self care so that I can enjoy time with my husband.

If you’re like me you might be reading this thinking, “Great, another thing to add to my never ending to do list.  One more thing I’ve neglected to accomplish.”

But self care is probably something you’re already doing…it maybe just needs to be prioritized into your life a little more intentionally.

Self care is doing things that you love; things that make you happy.

It means feeding your passions and pursuing your dreams.

It means disciplining yourself to choose what is best so that you can reach your very greatest potential.

It means that every now and then, you put your own spiritual, emotional or social needs first.

So today…find a way to take care of yourself.

Turn on your favourite music, order pizza for dinner or get out for a walk.

Take a bath…with music so you won’t hear the chaos the kids are causing downstairs with your husband.

Plan a date night at home, exercise or go shopping.

Take a nap while the kids lie down, join a women’s group or book club, journal or call a friend.

Change the scenery around you for a few hours.

When we think of self care we tend to think of hiding away in a corner somewhere by ourselves, but some of these things can be done with your children at your side.

It’s about choosing to enjoy the life you have, and finding ways to make it easy to enjoy.

It’s ok to leave the dishes for a nap sometimes.

Deciding to spend the morning outside in the sunshine instead of cleaning the house is not a choice you will regret.

Losing some weight or cooking a nutritious meal will help you feel more motivated, energetic and happy.

Listening to your favourite worship songs while you feed the kids breakfast could be the difference between staying calm and refreshed or frustrated and stressed through the morning rush.

Pick up your Bible while the kids are quiet or listen to your favourite podcast while you fold the laundry.

I have found it can be such a subtle change to my day but such a great shift in my heart when I take the time to choose things that will fill up my own cup.

 

In John chapter 10 Jesus says,

“The thief comes to steal, kill and destroy but I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

This is what Jesus desires for you.

Life!

Abundantly.

~AF

 

 

 

 

 

When You Just Don’t Feel Like Enough

It’s one of those seasons.

I feel like no matter how thin I stretch my heart across the grid of my life I cannot quite reach the borders.

I look at the faces circled around my table and I long to be able to fill the gaps.  My heart staggers a bit at the distance between where we are and where I want us to be.

I see the slumped shoulders of a girl with the weight of a changing world on her preteen shoulders.  Catty friends, difficult assignments, disappointing grades on her report card and the constant pull and tug of her sister.  I feel her creeping away from me, and I’m just not ready for this.

I see the runny nose of a little boy getting over the cold, his eyes rimmed with tell-tale redness.  He’s been whining and weary for days now.  His constantly outstretched arms beg me to pick him up, up, up.  I can’t do it all, sweet boy.  I can’t fix it for you.  But I dole out more Tylenol and fill his sippy cup for the hundredth time.  Breathe in gratitude; breathe out the chaos.

My middle child flits in and out, constantly bending to the pressures of the needs above and below her.  I know I need to carve out time for her that will not be dictated by toddlers or preteens.  Her body is tense these days, and her heart feels far beyond my reach.  I feel my heart ache with the words her teacher shared and the stubborn tilt of her chin.  I wonder if she knows brittle hearts break the fastest.

My baby watches the world with delight and I wish I could say I don’t miss a thing…but I do…every single day I do.  I reach my fingers to land softly on the bumpy, brittle valleys of his head…testament to the surgical interventions of the last year.  My thoughts jump to the MRI we’re waiting for, the EEG and neurology appointments next week and the therapy sessions coming up.  I wonder what I’m missing and why he’s not sleeping well.  I smile when he pops out yet another new word, tucking it away to savor; it feels like hope.  The next minute in fierce toddler style he is screeching at me and throwing his bowl off the table.  I can’t figure out whether I should laugh or cry as I look at the rice scattered all over the floor.

My husband’s phone rings and I hear tidbits of his conversation.  He’s setting dates, planning meetings, sounding eager as they plan the future.  I am so proud of the new opportunities arising for him…I wonder if he sees me barely keeping up to his enthusiasm.  I’m apprehensive of the change, only because I am unsure what to expect.  I know he knows this too.  I put on my brightest smile because I want him to know how very proud I am of him.  I see how hard he’s worked and I know he deserves this.  I know he will take care of us all no matter what…but still I feel a bit like I’m drowning.  I just can’t quite keep my head above the water.

My phone alarm rings…medicine time.  I see it’s almost gone and make a note to call the pharmacy in the morning.  I hope this will  be the last refill and that our neurology appointment will bring only good news of his brain scans.

The back door slams…they’re home from school.  She’s full of chatter and stories…I can’t tell which ones are true today.  The oldest is quieter than sometimes…I think she looks tired.  I try to catch her eye but she’s turning her back and leaving the room.  We’ve been getting to bed on time but I know she hasn’t been sleeping as well and life is just draining the joy out of her lately.

I catch sight of the conversation on the screen as she talks to her birth mother.  I see she’s asking questions about her father….questions with hard answers.  I run a hand over her back and let her know I’m there but inside I feel the air squeeze out a bit…I know I can’t protect her forever.  I grab my phone to text birth mom to thank her for always being so patient and kind…for being a role model my girls can look up to.  I’m so grateful for her presence in our lives.

I see the time and hurry to pack his backpack full of snacks, diapers, wipes and extra clothes.  I throw in the play dough and a few toy cars…he gets bored with the play room at the Children’s Aid office.  I call out that it’s time to go to his visit and he comes running, eyes wide with excitement.  I rush him to the car…I have good intentions to be on time but still we manage to arrive a few minutes late.  I hope she knows it’s not because we don’t care.  I ask her if she’s feeling better this week and mentally remind myself I need to text her more.  A picture, a funny story…something.  She hands me a bag of new clothes and I smile, even though they’re the wrong size.  I pull the social worker aside to ask about next week’s plans and let her know he fell off the kitchen chair yesterday and bumped his head.  She lets me know quietly that court didn’t go as well as we hoped.  I kiss him goodbye and wish I could save him from the heartbreak of his own story.

My phone beeps and I see an email pop up from the school.  It’s my daughter’s principal asking to set up a meeting to go over my daughter’s test results.  I agree to the time and then wonder who will watch Little Boy.  My stomach pulls into knots, wondering what the testing results will say.  Will it help or hurt us at this point?  I put medication and dietary changes on the list of things I want to research to help kids with ADHD and FASD and check my calendar to see when our next pediatrician appointment is scheduled for.

I’m trying to present the new phonics rules to her and guide her through the activities suggested.  See, hear, touch.  See, hear, touch.  She needs all three senses to grasp the new concepts.  The toddlers are squabbling over cars and blocks and the best spot on the couch.  I look from my daughter to them, trying to decide if it’s worth interrupting her lesson to help them sort it out.  I love homeschooling, but I also hate it.  There’s possibly an end in sight and that both makes me terrified and relieved at the same time.

He offers to take the little ones with him for a while and I sigh gratefully.  For a few minutes the house will be quiet.  I glance toward my untouched Bible in the basket by my chair.  I’ll pick it up at nap time, when their eyes close and I sit outside their bedroom door waiting for Little O’s restless limbs to fall quiet.  I wish I felt inspired but lately it’s mostly just choosing to believe that I’m being fed whether it feels like it or not.

Choosing to believe that He’s filling in the gaps I’m leaving behind in my own life, my children’s lives…the world around me.

Sometime I open my eyes in the morning and wonder…how am I going to keep it together today?

How am I going to get through the next week, hour…five minutes?

Honestly, I don’t always know…but somehow it happens.

Sometimes I do it well and sometimes I feel completely overwhelmed by it all.

Anxiety is such a joy stealer, and fear…it is a liar.

Many times if I stop and think I know it was not me at all that held it together.

Grace comes in so many different forms and always at the right time.

There are tears, but there are also a lot of kisses and laughter and funny stories and so even the bad days creep by.

Life can be such a puzzle, can’t it?

As moms our hearts and minds can feel like they are divided into a thousand small pieces, scattered over the table in a kaleidoscope of colour.

I don’t really have any solutions.

I guess I just want you to know that you’re not alone out there.

Yes, you.

The one who teeters on the tightrope of her life, wide-eyed at the chasm below.

The one who is having a hard time believing that Spring is just around the corner.

It’s been a long winter, hasn’t it?

But new life is on its way.

Easter is just around the corner, promising that the best endings come from the most painful stories.

Hang in there.

We’re going to  be ok.

~AF

 

 

 

 

10 Ways To Prepare for a New Foster Placement

Preparing for a new child to enter your home through foster care is both exciting and apprehensive.

Usually we have less than twenty-four hours to get everything ready before the child is walking through the front door.

There are ten things that I try to do when I’m preparing for a new child to arrive.

  1. Prepare bedroom.  

    This is usually the first thing on my list as it’s the most important.  When the social worker arrives with the new child, they will both want to see where they will be sleeping and make sure there is a place for their things.  I like to keep a variety of bedding options on hand to pull out so I can accommodate boys or girls of the age range we typically foster.  I prepare the bed, do a quick tidy of the room and make sure there is plenty of room for clothing, diapers, etc.  If it’s an older child it’s nice to make sure there’s an empty hook in the hall closet for coats and backpack, a drawer or toothbrush holder in the bathroom and space in the bedroom for things they don’t want to share.

  2. Make a list of questions to ask the social worker upon arrival.  

    I am in the process of putting together a binder and printouts that I can use each time so I don’t have to rethink this one every time, but before they arrive I like to jot down any questions I have, dates to share and reminders for myself to bring up during our conversation.  The important ones are questions about routines for the child, medical concerns, contact info of the placing worker, and what to expect for access with biological family.  All of this should have been shared already over the phone or be included in the folder given at the time of placement but it never hurts to cover the main things twice.

  3. Pull out appropriate clothes, toys, equipment, etc.  

    I have a collection of baby equipment, clothes and toys in storage that are not currently being used.  When a new child is on their way I like to pull out any bins of clothing I think might fit and any equipment such as baby carriers, swings, rockers, etc I might want to use.  It’s nice to know what I have in case a child arrives with very little clothing, toys, etc.  This also helps me know what might need to go on my shopping list.

  4. Grocery shopping.

    The last thing you’re going to want to do within the first few days of a new placement is run to the store for food, so if there’s time I scope out the fridge and sneak in a shopping trip before the child’s arrival.  Included on that grocery list will be easy, kid friendly foods that most children will find comforting and familiar such as Kraft Dinner, chicken fingers, french fries and pizza.  I also like to make sure I have diapers, wipes, formula, toothbrushes, etc.  Some of these I keep on hand regularly.

  5. Laundry.  

    I like to be able to focus on settling in the new arrival without having to worry about us all having clothes to wear, so I often throw in a load or two of laundry as I’m waiting.

  6. Cook dinner.  

    Whether the child is expected to arrive first thing in the morning or nearly bedtime, I try to think ahead to the next couple meals and make sure I have some easy options available that won’t take too much time or attention on my part.

  7. Simplify my calendar.  

    In between placements, I try to keep going on as normal and planning life, even though I know those plans could be cancelled at any minute.  When I know for sure a new child is arriving, I always take a look at the next few weeks of my calendar and see if there’s anything that needs to be, or could be, eliminated.  This is also a good time to make sure there are no appointments, family plans, etc that you are going to require respite care, babysitting or special permission to take the child along for.  It’s good to bring those things up sooner rather than later, even though the child may have already left your home by the time you reach that date.

  8. Clean.  

    Whether it’s the bathrooms, bedrooms, floors or the fridge…if there’s a corner that has been bothering me for the last little while I try to get it cleaned before the child arrives as there’s no guarantee when the next opportunity might be!  Truthfully if I get to this one, it probably means the arrival is taking longer than expected and I’m having trouble waiting patiently!  🙂

  9. Take a shower and wash my hair.

    Particularly if there is a baby or toddler coming I try to get this done as it can be very difficult during the first couple days of getting a little one settled.

  10. Nap.

    Okay, so we all know this one is usually unrealistic.  Who has time to nap, especially while getting ready to welcome a new little person into your home!  Even if I do manage to lie down, my mind is usually too busy to be able to actually sleep.  It would, however, be a really great choice if you were able to do it!  Especially if you are about to bring a baby into your home.  Even older children will rarely sleep well the first week in a new home so bank up if you can!

 

And that’s it!

My top ten “Get Ready for a New Placement” goals.

What about you?

Anything you like to get done between the phone ringing and the front door opening?

I’d love to hear them!

AF