Reading Aloud with Your Family

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

Recently I stumbled across one of these books.

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

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

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

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

A reader is never bored.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. When you read aloud to your children you will be building memories that cannot be replaced. 

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

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

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

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

~AF

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

 

 

 

 

This One’s for the Moms

Parenting is hard work.

Nobody is perfect but somehow we still expect perfection, especially from ourselves.

It doesn’t help that we have access to so much information.

Every day we as moms are bombarded with hundreds of messages of what we should and shouldn’t be doing, wearing, saying and eating.

Sometimes I feel like no matter what I do, it’s never enough.

How do I know if I’m doing this well?

What are the most important things?

Am I getting it right?

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But God gave those children to you for a reason, Mama.

The best parenting moments often happen when we are confidently parenting in the ways that we instinctively know are best for us and our children.

Here are a collection of some things I have told myself and other moms.

Because we could all use some grace.

***

Dear Moms,

Your child will not die if they eat Kraft Dinner tonight…or three times this week.

Your integrity as a person does not depend on the cleanliness of your home.

It is ok not to breastfeed your baby.

Not all immunizations are good and not all are bad.  It’s ok to make your own choices and its ok to just follow the immunization schedule your doctor suggests.

Colds and flus happen and there is very little you can do to stop them.  They will run their course and be over soon.

Some of the best days happen in pajamas with unwashed faces, bare feet and dirty floors.

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Having devotions every day is not always possible when you are a mom.  You are not going to hell for being busy caring for the little people He entrusted to you.

Sometimes your child will be the bully and other mothers will misunderstand you and yours.  Take it as an opportunity to develop character in yourself and your child…and remember in detail all the times you were mean to others as a kid.

Most children do not enjoy church.  This doesn’t mean they will never be Believers, it just means they’re regular children.

Sleeping through the night for babies, toddlers and mothers is a myth.  Few nights will go by that both you and all your children will sleep for 8 hours with no interruptions.  Lower your expectations and you will all be happier.

Sometimes bribes are the perfect solution.

Don’t turn everything into a lesson.

Babies cannot be spoiled by being held…but it’s also ok to put them down so you can take a shower.

You don’t always have to give a reason other than “Because I’m the mom.”

Co-sleeping can be wonderful…or terrible.  It really is YOUR choice.

Follow your instincts…but don’t expect to be a super-human.  You never did or will know everything about everything.  Sometimes it’s better to call the Doctor.

Pretending you did not hear or see something is a coping mechanism every parent will use sometimes.  Stay sane!

Siblings will fight, and sometimes they will hurt each other.  This is normal.

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Every parent does hundreds of things they will later regret.  Say sorry, do what you can to resolve the situation and then move on.

When the dentist says your child has cavities it does not necessarily mean that you are not brushing your child’s teeth well enough or often enough.  Also, no one expects you to have time to brush and floss three kids’ teeth for them every morning and night.

Living off the grid and growing your own food is probably not a good option for most of you.

Whichever way you choose to educate your child has worked for hundreds of other children on the planet.

DIY sometimes just means that it looks like you did it yourself.  Don’t let Pinterest fool you!

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Love really does cover a multitude of sins.

The TV is a good babysitter and its ok to use it some days.  If it provides you with the breather you need then it is probably worth it.

Children under 5 rarely handle social situations well.  They hit, they bite, they scream and they grab.  This is perfectly normal.

Sometimes you need to put your own needs ahead of your children’s and practise some self care.  Don’t be a martyr.

No matter how hard you try, there will be some things you do badly.

It’s okay if you’re aiming for just OK.

Life is not fair, and your kids should know that.

Children love time with you.  It doesn’t always have to be quality, it doesn’t always have to be quantity.  Both have value and significance.

Your kids will not always be happy and they will not always like you.  That doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong.

It’s ok to say no.  It’s also ok to say yes sometimes.

Adolescents will be grumpy a lot.

You will not enjoy your children, or parenting, all the time.

God loves to fill in the gaps that we miss as parents with His perfect, extravagant, more than enough love.

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Keep your chin up and your smile on.

You.

Are.

Doing

Great.

With Love and Grace,

Another Imperfect Mom

~AF

*Photography credits to Unfrozen Photography

 

 

Why We Chose Public Education

It’s here again.

Back to school time.

On the last day of school in June I walked to my daughters’ school for their end of year assembly.  While there, I was reminded for the hundredth time how blessed I feel to be a part of such a kind, fun and interactive community.

While it’s certainly not the right choice for all, we’ve had wonderful experiences here.

I would love to share with you some of the reasons why we chose public education for our daughters and to take time to publicly express gratitude for the many ways this choice has been a blessing in our lives.

My husband and I both attended small public schools in our communities as children and we both enjoyed our experiences there.

While these schools were far from perfect we both emerged with a good education, a broad circle of friends and exposure to many people who were different from ourselves.

During high school I spent time in both public and private Christian schools volunteering and gaining experience through cooperative education experiences.  I enjoyed each classroom I was a part of and emerged knowing that I wanted to teach.  I was given an opportunity to begin pursuing that dream in a small private school in Northern Ontario at age 18.  I took it enthusiastically!  I loved the classroom and I knew this is what I wanted to do.

I taught in this school for 3 years.

I made hundreds of mistakes and certainly would have benefited from more training and education, but somehow God’s grace enabled me to teach, nurture and learn in this environment.

It was a huge learning curve and God used this experience in my life to guide and grow me.

After teaching, I spent a few years providing childcare for community children.  We lived just down the street from our local public school and two of the children I cared for attended there.  This gave me opportunities to spend time at the school, get to know some of the staff and volunteer in the classroom.  I got a chance to work alongside some amazing educators and I learned a lot from them.  It reminded me of my own wonderful experiences in the public education system, while also reminding me of some of the major flaws of the public system.

When our daughters came home we were drawn to public education because it provided the support, services and inclusion for children with exceptionalities who need it, like ours.

We wanted our children, no matter their abilities, to be able to learn and interact with their peers and absorb as seamlessly as possible into their appropriate classes.

This model was also the closest replica to what they had been familiar with in their previous homes.

I also loved that the public school was a 3 minute walk from our home, which made it easy for me to volunteer in their classrooms as well as continue spending time in some of the other classes as well.

The first year was rocky.

 Very rocky.

 Our daughters were emotionally, academically and behaviourally challenging.  They had just been uprooted from everything they knew and loved and they needed time to adjust to this change.  I am so grateful for the teachers who supported my daughters through that difficult year.  The patience, gentleness, compassion and genuine love they showed was so beautiful.

They were there to love my kids for who they were, despite the behaviours, academic challenges and anxiety that meant weekly or sometimes daily phone calls home.

I walked and ran the few minutes back and forth from the school to our home countless times that first year and often breathed a prayer of thanks that I was so close.  Some days I was at school more than home.  I will forever be grateful that during that time there were adults in my daughters’ lives that understood education was far from the most important priority and were there to encourage and celebrate both me and my daughters.

I was also thankful for the professional educators that year that helped guide me through the maze of testing, Individualized Education Plans, therapy and behavioural supports.

That year I learned to celebrate the small successes, worry less and be patient with my children as they learn.

I learned that children learn if they can.

While it sometimes appeared that my children were being lazy, defiant or purposely disruptive it almost always stemmed from an inability to manage their circumstances emotionally, academically, or physically.

While I’ve had to be the expert and advocate for my children’s individual needs at times, I am so grateful to be a part of a system that does have supports available for my children.  I’m also thankful for professionals who have been able to guide me into a better understanding of some of my children’s exceptionalities.  Sensory rooms, alternative report cards, individualized goals and expectations, one on one supervision and assistance, part time learning programs and in-school therapy are just some of the special education tools we’ve accessed in the past three years.  All these supports are available for free to children who need them.

There are many who tell horror stories of navigating the system for their children, but our experience has had many positives.  You will have to fight for these supports and probably won’t get everything you feel you want and need, but there is much available.

I am so grateful for each of these supports as they have made it possible for my children and many other children I care about to learn and grow socially, academically, physically and emotionally inside a regular classroom surrounded by their peers.

Because we had invested such a huge part of our time and heart into the children in our community we really wanted our children to be able to attend school with the kids they played with every day on our street.

We wanted to be a part of our community, and school is such an easy way to do that.  We have gotten to know so many people because we chose public education.  Almost every time we go out we meet or see at least a few people we know.

I want my children to grow up alongside the children in their community and have exposure to people who are very different than they are.

I want them to develop empathy, respect and practical skills to know how to relate to the culture they are apart of.  Ultimately I want to give my children the confidence and ability they will need to embrace and share their faith in a culture that knows very little about genuine Christianity.

I don’t want my children living in a bubble of people who talk, look, speak and believe the same as them. I don’t believe that equips them with the practical skills to relate well with other people and reach the world with the gospel.

I realize a lot of fear goes along with this approach and I understand that fear.  I understand that exposing your children to the culture also means exposing them to danger.

I am confidant in this approach only because I believe without a doubt that parents are the biggest influencers in their children’s lives.

Teachers’ and peers’ influences pale in comparison to the impact you will have on your child’s heart.  While the public education system may at times come in direct contradiction to your own set of morals and values, these situations give you as the parent the unique opportunity to discuss relevant issues with your child.  While your child may question or even push back against your perspective at times, elementary aged kids will very rarely reject the values their parents hold.  What you are ingraining in them is stronger than you’d ever hope to believe.

While dealing with bullies, violence or sexualized behaviours are no walk in the park I am so grateful to have the opportunity to explore these issues with my children in a biblical way while I am still the primary influence in their life.  Helping them navigate through these issues is a privilege many parents miss because they wait too long to approach it out of fear.  I’d rather do it gradually, bit by bit and age appropriately through my children’s natural experiences than try one day in their teens to give them the whole boatload at once.

Gender confusion, racism, addictions and brokenness are all a part of the world our children are growing up in.  Wishing them away will not change that.

It’s important we give our children a biblical framework to navigate these challenging issues.  In our experience, having our children in public education has helped us to stay motivated to keep ahead of the culture in giving our children these messages.  We want to be the first to shape their perceptions and ideas, which means we need to be addressing them earlier than we’d sometimes feel comfortable with.

I am also constantly amazed at the way my children have been able to develop a compassionate, kind and respectful view of even the most difficult children around them.

They understand that a child’s outward actions are often caused by something going on inside.

It’s been one of the most beautiful parts of parenting for me to walk them through these encounters with grace and seeing them embrace this same grace toward their peers.  To see them modeling the kind of love Jesus had–a love that looks past the unkempt, unlovely parts of us to the broken places of our hearts–there is no greater joy for me.  They constantly come home asking us to pray for one friend or another who is experiencing anything from bullying to the loss of a parent through death or divorce.  Sometimes it’s just an observation of a friend who doesn’t seem very happy, is having behavioral problems or comes to school without a lunch every day.  Those prayers mean the world to me, and they teach my heart not to fear.

While many people feel the public education system is failing our children academically, I have come to appreciate the broader perspective they teach from.  It is less important that children learn to write neatly in cursive, for example, in an age of limitless technology.   It is very important, however, that children learn how to develop critical thinking skills, analyze information, and develop a thorough understanding of the math and sciences.  There are more and more opportunities for our children to enter career fields requiring strong math and science skills.  While literacy always has and always will be important, I can appreciate the strong inclusion of interpretation and comprehension of a text alongside the actual reading or writing of it.

I am still fond of many of the old-school ways of teaching children including memorization, repetition and organization particularly with children with learning disabilities, but I am also observing benefits to a more inquiry-based, natural approach.

The truth is public schools have volumes of challenge academically, socially and behaviourally that private schools will never have because they are easily accessible to everyone.  Social issues such as poverty, family dysfunction and children’s mental health impact the public system more severely than private organizations and these issues drastically change a child’s ability to learn and interact in a structured environment.

Statistics often do not mirror the extreme challenges educators are being faced with daily in the public system and the creative, compassionate and intelligent ways they are handling those challenges.

I took many of the learning approaches I learned in our public school into my homeschool with our younger daughter.  It was invaluable for me to gain a larger repertoire of teaching styles to be able to teach her in a way that she could truly thrive.

The first year our daughters were in school they both had the opportunity to bond with a teacher in a way that made it possible for them to thrive.  The difference a caring teacher can make on a child’s ability to learn is so huge.  I am so grateful for the many teachers that have invested in my daughters’ lives.

Some of them are now people I call friends.

There are so many wonderful men and women who are choosing to become educators to our children.  I have seen so much passion, energy and thought put into my daughters’ education.

To the Christian community I would also like to make a note that there are hundreds of Christian men and women in our public school system that are working hard to make a difference in these children’s lives every day.  Some of these men and women have been a huge blessing to our family during the last 3 years and it’s been an honour to support them in prayer and encouragement.

I have been humbled to be able to see just how many of the teachers involved in my children’s lives are brothers and sisters in Christ.

 For my daughters it’s been a special privilege to be able to connect with some of those men and women spiritually despite being in an environment that does not teach or encourage our faith.  Some friends and I formed a prayer group one year specifically to pray over our school, the teachers and the students.

I was humbled and amazed during that year to observe in awe and gratitude how many ways God blessed our education experience and the teachers he placed around our children.

Last but not least I love the large, colourful and diverse world public education brings to my children.  Art, music, drama, Native language and culture, a variety of athletics, French and plenty of time in nature are just some of the experiences my children enjoy at their school.

They have a beautiful wooded area on either side of the school property that they get to spend time in exploring, learning and sometimes just being kids.  They’ve come home with stories of building bridges across little streams, observing tadpoles, and finding different types of bark and moss.  I love that their teachers have carved out time for them to enjoy nature as they learn and that they recognize that sometimes an afternoon playing outside in the woods is just as beneficial as sitting inside studying.

I also love that technology is a part of their education program as well as plenty of opportunities for kinesthetic learners to experience hands on learning.  There are math and literacy programs that my children can access both at home and school so they can continue to make progress wherever they are and have a more individualized approach.

While every education experience has its challenges and benefits, I am so thankful for the freedom we experience here in Canada to be able to pursue education for our children in however God leads us, whether that be public school, home school, private school or a combination.

I am thankful to have the freedom to be involved in my children’s education and to have access to so many resources in our community to help them thrive.

While I don’t know what the future will bring, we will commit to just one year at a time, following where He leads us.

Cheers to September!

May it be filled with new beginnings and abundant grace.

AF

 

Life Unexpected

It is the stuff of nightmares.

A doctor with an apologetic face;

He’s offering a chair, taking a deep breath…

Brain tumour.

My heart clutches.

I look to my husband and I see his face cringe.

Our son snuggles closer between us when we cling and sob out sorrow.

I race home to collect a bag of things,

To hug my girls good-bye.

Their fear and innocence in contrast pushes me on.

I promise them and hold them tight.

Before I can breathe,

process,

hold this new reality in my hands…

We are being rushed toward the helicopter, my tiny son strapped to a stretcher and crying as we roll through the darkness.

I’m kissing my husband goodbye.

“I will be there as fast as I can.”

I want to scream,

To pull my baby in my arms and run far away from all this.

The men are large and strangely comforting in their neon jackets.

They are gentle and calm.

They strap us in and sit quietly in my stunned grief as we fly through the night sky.

My son settles into an exhausted sleep and I hold his hand and stare down at the lights below.

Steadfast love.

It comes to me and pulls together my anguished heart.

Over and over in the last 2 weeks I was drawn to the psalm, not sure why, and now the words bind up my wounds.

“Your steadfast love, O Lord; extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds.”

“How precious is your steadfast love, O God!”

“Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in you.”

Steadfast.

Love.

I breathe and take refuge in the angels in neon across from me.

We are landing and they place him back in my arms.  I hold him close and wrap a blanket around his bare arms.  We’ve left without a jacket and the night air is cold.  I grip him to my heart and try to transfer myself to him.  I know he is afraid.

Steadfast love.

We follow strange corridors and crowd into an elevator.  The men in neon surround us and tower over us.  My son gazes wide eyed and scared.

We follow back outside to an ambulance and whisk away.

I breathe gratitude and feel tears well when they allow me to hold him instead of strap him to the stretcher.

We are sitting in a busy hallway on a stacking chair being admitted and still I hold him tight to my chest, the blanket securing him to me.

My eyes feel big and scared.  I feel small and unsure.

My heart flows gratitude when I see my big brother round the corner and come to us.

He stays with us even with his own son lying upstairs.

Steadfast love.

The hours blur as they insert IVs, put on lead lines and watch monitors.

My baby’s skin has always been so spotless and white.

I cringe as they pin him down and poke and press.

He is terrified.

My husband comes and we sit together in shock as our baby drifts to sleep on the cold white hospital bed.

Questions.

Answers?

My phone dies from the texting.

We spend the night in a crowded room trying to sleep in the upright hospital chairs.

We won’t leave him.

He falls into sleep and I am so thankful he can escape this nightmare as I try to get comfortable.

The next day there are tests.

More questions.

Information staggers my mind and makes me stare at my boy unbelieving.

So perfect.

So unblemished.

So innocent.

Brain surgery tomorrow.

9am.

They will cut his scalp open and drill a passage way through his brain.

I hold the words at arms length and turn my eyes so I won’t have to look too close, to let the terror seep in.

I focus on reassuring my toddler, learning new terms and piecing together brain anatomy.

I phone my girls and once again I put on my brave voice.  I am their string of hope and I won’t let them down.

My voice is strong and sure as I promise them and reach for words they can understand.

I give them just enough to ease their anxiety, but not too much.

We take our little boy, clad in hospital gown and pajama pants, to the play room.  For over an hour he plays and we watch him forget about the IV on his arm.  He babbles and laughs and points at the elevators moving up and down.

Steadfast love.

I wonder when he will play again.

That night I sleep on a couch near his room, comforted by knowing that I will be close by if he needs me.

Morning.

Surgery day.

Only now do I let myself Google it…preparing my heart for the fall.  The words I find give me footholds of reassurance and I claim them fiercely.

My husband carries him through the halls to the OR.

We look at books and try to hide our uncertain tears from his little face as we wait.

He likes the trucks and tractors in the book.

For a minute he goes very soft in my arms and snuggles up to my neck.  I squeeze him close and breathe him in.

Steadfast love.

When they take him and his bunny Flopsy away he cries and we force ourselves to turn and walk away.

My mother in law’s arms give me a second to collapse and I feel tears rush in.  She holds my pain for a minute before letting go and it feels good to share a bit.

It is 6 long hours.

I am nervous…but I also feel held.

I am humbled as I realize all the people praying in this moment.

I believe.

Steadfast love.

The surgeon is there.  I anxiously rise to the inevitable and scan his face for hope.

He is so pleased.

Gratitude overwhelms as he describes what we hardly dared hope for.

It is gone.  They’ve gotten every piece they could find.

Steadfast love.

We go in to see him and I could weep with relief.  His chubby cheeks relax in peaceful sleep.  Flopsy is still there with him and we tuck him up by his arm.

Steadfast love.

The uncertainties lurk but we hold onto the hope and embrace it.

Its been a few days now and I sit by my baby’s bedside in the ICU.

The adrenaline rush is collapsing and the truth feels cold and hard beneath my tumbling heart.  I am scared and uncertain in this new reality but still…

Steadfast love.

I reach for the hearts that I know will hold me, us, in all our pain.

He is seizing beneath my trembling hands and his eyes stare dull and lifeless.

They are rushing in, grabbing masks, calling code.

I am being pushed back from his bedside and I cling to my husband’s trembling chest.  More and more…they just keep coming, calling out orders and stats.

I am terrified and the sobs push out of my lips.

I stumble out into the hallway into the waiting arms of my sister in law, who came rushing when she heard the code.

She holds me and says “I’m sorry” as I fall apart.

I know she knows this feeling and I am so grateful for her presence in this moment.

He knew that I would need her tonight and her son is surprisingly, blessedly, fast asleep down one floor in his room.

Steadfast love.

We return to the ICU and I am so grateful.  The carefully monitored room feels familiar and safe after the last 24 hours.

Answers come and we nod in understanding as they explain.

Knowledge gives grip to confidence and I advocate for my son, feeling strong and sure in the normalcy of knowing what is best for him.

Steadfast love.

It’s painful to watch him grasp for strength and my heart staggers under the weight of discouragement.

She knows me well and despite my efforts her arms bring the tears flowing.  It feels better than I thought to let the fear out and fall apart.

Steadfast love.

He meets us on the street corner with the kindest and gentlest of words.

“Don’t worry,” he tells my husband, and we see he really means it.  He gives generously and my eyes fill once again with gratitude for this man who has continually blessed our family again and again and again.

I am humbled and so grateful.

Steadfast love.

The waited on words are offered casually and its anticlimactic as we cautiously grasp hope.

No cancer.

No further treatments needed.

“I see no reason he should not have a full recovery.”

Really?!

Steadfast love.

A weight falls off our shoulders and breath comes easier.

For the first time in days I see light.

I wake up to the video and I smile the biggest smile.  It’s my little boy grinning his crooked little smile and high fiving Daddy with his right hand!  The side that’s been weakened since surgery.

Steadfast love.

So much joy with one small milestone!

They keep coming and coming.

First kick,

first reach,

first grasp of my finger,

first step,

first bite.

So many reasons to be grateful.

Steadfast love.

I talk to them on the phone and they are bubbling over with happiness and news.

“I miss you, Mommy.”

“I miss you, too.”

And then she goes on with what Nana said, what Papa did, what happened at school…

I smile the biggest smile as I listen to her happy voice.

They are safe and happy, even though they are so far from me.

They have found their people and they know who they belong with right now.

How do we deserve to be loved so unconditionally and fully?

Steadfast love.

It’s our first weekend home!

We get a pass!

I am ecstatic and my heart actually skips a beat as we drive into our small town.

It’s so beautiful and green everywhere!

We’ve been gone a month and so much has changed.

Life everywhere.

I drink in the green trees, the breeze on my face as it blows off the bay, the sight of my children all playing together in the back yard.

Steadfast love.

Life has changed, and I miss the way it used to be.

But in it all, I am so grateful.

And I know…

In the journey there is beauty,

growth,

redemption,

and always…

Steadfast love.

-AF

 

Why You Should Still Do it Even Though It’s Hard…

As a foster and adoptive family, we have heard so many different comments from people regarding our choice to reach out to these vulnerable little ones.

Some of them have been very encouraging and inspiring, and we are thankful to have a great support network of people who are behind us in this venture.

But along with that, I think we have heard every reason in the book why someone might NOT want to adopt or foster.  People seem to think they need to explain to me every reason why they can’t or won’t get involved.  I often stand there quietly, silently struggling for words as they unload on me.  Most of the comments seem to be guilt or fear driven.

“I would get too attached.”

This is the most common statement I hear in regards to foster care, specifically.  I know where this comes from, because I used to say it too.  While I always had myself convinced I could never foster because I would ‘love the child too much to give them back’ I now understand the arrogance and selfishness of that statement.

“Too loving to love” is the idea most people want to convey in this statement.  This is completely unbiblical.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never fails.         (1 Cor. 13)

True love is not based on what may or may not happen.  True love is a choice: to commit, to sacrifice, to put someone else’s needs ahead of my own.  True love rejoices in good things…and healing broken families is certainly a part of that!

Yes, I know…things can go horribly wrong.  You will be working with a broken system and broken families…but that is no excuse!  As a believer in Christ you must believe that God can bring beauty from ashes and is fully in control over all of life’s circumstances.  We will not always understand, but we are commanded to trust and obey.

Many families have walked heartbreaking journeys beside children in their care, and many times things did not turn out as they hoped or planned, but as followers of Christ we need to believe that His purposes will not be thwarted.  We are working for the Potter who can redeem even the most shattered of vessels.

“I have my ‘own’ children to love and care for.”

While I understand our commitment to guide, protect and nurture the children God has placed in our care, I think our idea of what this looks like is often twisted.  There are many children who have been taken all over the world on the mission field, living in less than ideal conditions, being exposed to life threatening illnesses, residing near war zones and being exposed to all kinds of danger physically, emotionally and spiritually.  Is this a reason not to go?  Do the positives outweigh the negatives?

I will not pretend to think that every family can easily begin fostering or adopting additional children, but I want to challenge your perceptions and ideas on this.

What is it that you dream of for your children?  Do you dream of health, wealth and happiness…or do you dream of something more?

Do you dream of seeing your children evade the materialism and entitlement so prevalent in our culture today?  Do you dream of them becoming world changers?  Do you dream of them developing a deep compassion for the less fortunate, the marginalized, the oppressed?  Do you dream of them understanding that all we are given is to be used in service for Kingdom Building?

What is more important?  That their personal comforts and privileges are guarded and protected?  Or that they are given opportunities to build character qualities that will prepare them to be used in spreading the gospel?

Yes, you need to keep them safe.

Yes, you need to place them above your own ambitions.

Yes, you need to be prepared and have a plan.

But know this.

If you are called, you will also be equipped.  And it just might surprise you what fruits you see emerge in your children as you serve in this way together.

Oh, and one more thing.  Please don’t use that word…”own.”  It’s time to extend  your borders and start calling someone else your “own.”  Love is a choice.  Choose it.

I am not ‘cut out’ for that.  That takes a special kind of person.

I understand.

I understand what you mean when you say this.  But I can’t help but think it’s a pretty easy way to let yourself off the hook while millions of orphans around the world wait for a select few people to be ‘cut out’ for this job.

What is this job exactly?

This job is parenting.

This job is sharing generously your time and resources.

This job is being willing to love the least of these…with no expectations in return.

This job is caring.

What exactly about this job do you need to be ‘specially equipped’ for?

What about this job is so much harder than any career path or ministry you may pursue?

What about this job does not line up with exactly who Christ asks us to be, and the example He left us to follow?

It’s time to stop waiting to be ‘cut out’ for this job!

It’s time to pray and ask God to equip you for this task!

He can and he will.

Just ask!

“But I’ve heard that…”

Oh the stories!

Everyone has a horror story about adoption, foster care or the local child protection agency.

Are they true?

Some of them, yes.

But please…don’t make your decision based on somebody’s story.

Do the research.

Find out for yourself what you need to know from a reliable source.

Don’t believe everything you hear.

There are always two sides to a story, and the worst stories are only ever one sided.

I believe Satan is using this tactic powerfully to keep people from pursuing foster care or adoption.

I’ve been disappointed at the number of Believers that will gladly join the bandwagon of complaints, criticism and disgust.  This is not helpful.

We need to be wise.

We need to pray for discernment as we engage the world and it’s brokenness.

We need to be prepared to give an answer for what we believe and we need to be firmly rooted in Truth, so that bitter stories and angry rants will not sway us from what we know to be true.

All I ask is that you choose to believe and repeat only things that you know for certain are true and valid.

Horror stories passed on through friends and acquaintances do not fall into this category!

If the story does not honour all involved, including the birth family, adoptive family, children and professionals…please take a deep breath and keep silent.  Try to imagine what the opposite side of the story may be and realize that almost all situations in the foster and adoptive world carry grief, loss and trauma.  They are complicated, sad and easily misunderstood.

God never promised that His plan for our lives would be easy, comfortable or even make sense in our worldly vision.

In fact, He promised the opposite!

Our task here is to daily ‘take up our cross’ and follow him.

Our retirement will come in heaven.

As long as we are here, we are to be busy building his Kingdom, reflecting His character and taking the gospel to the broken.

AF

 

 

 

A New Home

“I don’t want to live in this house!”

Her brown eyes filled with tears and sobs shook her body as she let the words she’d been holding in all day tumble out into the space between us.

I smiled and tugged her toward me with a sigh.

I knew just how she felt because I was just like her.

No matter how wonderful, change is change.

And it’s hard.

We had been in our new home for almost a week now and it was just starting to sink in that she was never going back to the little nest we were all familiar with.

The chipped paint, the crude treehouse, the scribbles on the wall…all blemishes yet somehow so familiar and comforting at the same time.

So…in that first wonderful, yet awkward and challenging first weeks of living in our new home, here are some things I’ve discovered can help you settle in.

  1. Go places.  Walking back through your front door and knowing you’re “home” helps it feel real.
  2. Bake cookies.  It’ll fill your house with delicious smells and help ease the strangeness of it all.
  3. Burn candles.
  4. Relax and indulge in a bubble bath…even though there are still boxes to unpack.
  5. Have friends over.
  6. Do laundry.  Nothing like piles of laundry sitting all over the house to make it feel like home!
  7. Take time to dream and organize while you unpack.
  8. Get things on the walls.
  9. Relax on the couch.
  10. Read a book.
  11. Put on some music.
  12. Let it get a bit dirty.

So there you have it 🙂

In case you’re wondering we all quickly got past the new and awkward feelings and are enjoying our new home SO much!

The whole experience did remind me, however, of the first weeks our girls were home to us.

The first weeks with our newborn son.

The first weeks when a new child has come to stay in our home.

It reminded me to be compassionate of the tears and tantrums and grief that generally accompany those first months with a new foster or adoptive placement.

They’ve left everything familiar…

and even if what they left was not very nice and maybe not even safe…

it was still home.

It was that  broken light fixture hanging on by a thread.

The sound of the air conditioner starting up.

The dim blue night light in the hall.

The familiar sweet scent of marijuana covering the clothes and blankets pressed close.

The way she always sang in the shower or the clattering of his hands doing dishes in the evening.

The smudged, stained marks on the bath tub and the thickest red towel that was your favourite.

The stuffy you always slept with that somehow got left behind.

Your favourite pants.

The wallpaper coming off around the edge of your bed where you would pick at it as you were going to sleep.

The sound of the TV blaring in the next room when you woke up in the middle of the night.

To some it would look, feel and smell strange and frightening.

But if it’s all you’ve ever known…it feels like home.

It feels like expectations and predictable.

It feels like comfortable.

Think about what it feels like to stay or sleep in a hotel for the night.

No matter how luxurious it may be…there’s usually still a little part of you that wishes for home when you sink onto that mattress.

The bed doesn’t feel right.

The blankets are a different texture.

The bathroom light is too bright and the street lights cast flickering shadows on the wall.

The sound of the furnace is heavy and stifling…you can’t hear the clock ticking like at home.

Now imagine if you hadn’t chosen to be there at all…

or in fact if you didn’t even know WHERE you were!

Terrifying is hardly adequate to describe it.

We expect so much from these little people sometimes.

AF