Halloween and the Gospel

October.

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

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

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

Pumpkins, spiders, ghosts and witches appear everywhere.

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

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

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

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

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

How should Christians approach this holiday?

Is there room for compromise?

Does it matter?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  3. Don’t over dramatize the little things. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then we talk about what movie we will watch.

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

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

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

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

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

How her grandfather loved Jesus and was saved.

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

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

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

But I truly believe we miss out.

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

We don’t need to be afraid.

We don’t need to be embarrassed.

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

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

Because that is for every day of your life.

Including October 31.

~AF

When God Asks Me to Step Out of the Way

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

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

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

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

That first goodbye was the hardest.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why would God allow this to happen?

Oh, sweet Mama.

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

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

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

It’s time to rest in His abundance.

He is able;

Abundantly able, to do more.

Yes, more, precious friend.

More than you’ve asked.

More than you’ve dreamed.

More than you can even begin to imagine.

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

But one day,

one sweet day,

Hindsight will be perfect.

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

Trust Him.

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

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

-AF

Titus 2 Women, Faith & Motherhood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These women are my sisters in Christ;

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

Titus 2:1-6 says,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Always Good God and Foster Care

It’s been a stressful season.

Moving, sickness and the chaos of the holidays.

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

Gut punch.

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

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

Especially to someone they do not know.

Far away.

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

They are not mine.

None of them.

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

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

I want to protect them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But the truth is…

Sometimes kids return to very difficult circumstances.

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

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

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

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

But the truth is…He IS in control.

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

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

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

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

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

[Job 38:1-4]

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

Who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb, when I made clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed limits for it and set bars and doors, and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?

[Job 38:8-11]

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

[Job 38:41]

Do you give the horse his might? Do you clothe his neck with a mane? Do you make him leap like the locust? His majestic snorting is terrifying. He paws in the valley and exults in his strength; he goes out to meet the weapons. He laughs at fear and is not dismayed.”

[Job 39:19-22]

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

[Job 39:26-28]

And I fall to my knees in worship and surrender.

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

[Job 41:10-11]

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

I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know…my ears had heard of you but now my eye sees you.”

[Job 42:1-5 Paraphrased]

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

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

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

[Jeremiah 29:11]

He is good.

He has promised it.

Always.

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

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

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

He is a good, good Father.

I bow my head and I give it to Him.

The worry.

The fear.

The pain.

And in that tattered place of rest there is hope.

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

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

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

Trust In You

by Lauren Daigle

Letting go of every single dream

I lay each one down at Your feet

Every moment of my wandering

Never changes what You see

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

My hands are weary, I need your rest

Mighty warrior, king of the fight

No matter what I face You’re by my side

When you don’t move the mountains

I’m needing You to move

When You don’t part the waters

I wish I could walk through

When You don’t give the answers

As I cry out to You

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

Truth is you know what tomorrow brings

There’s not a day ahead You have not seen

So let all things be my life and breath

I want what You want Lord and nothing less

You are my strength and comfort

You are my steady hand

You are my firm foundation

The rock on which I stand

Your ways are always higher

Your plans are always good

There’s not a place where I’ll go

You’ve not already stood

When you don’t move the moutains

I’m needing You to move

When You don’t part the waters

I wish I could walk through

When You don’t give the answers

As I cry out to You

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

I will trust in You

-AF

What I Didn’t Know Before Adopting

There are a lot of things I didn’t know before adopting.

I love that God protects us from too much knowledge.

Out of His love, he gives us just what we need to take the next steps;

Too little and we’d be stumbling around in the dark in confusion.

Too much and we would be overwhelmed by the magnitude of it all.

Before I became an adoptive parent…

I didn’t know that sometimes I would wonder what my life would be like if we had not chosen adoption as a way to build our family.

I didn’t know that I would be jealous of the natural bond between my friends and their children.  Healthy, established, natural-as-breathing bonds.

I didn’t know that I would feel guilty sometimes.  Guilty for being the one these children call Mommy, the one they run to, cry to and love so unconditionally.

I didn’t know that my worldview would shift to encompass the pain, trauma and injustice of my children’s early life…and that sometimes this would leave me feeling a little numb.

I didn’t know that sometimes I would feel all alone in this…like when people talk about what their kids were like as babies, how they have friends over to play or how great they are doing in school.

I didn’t know that sometimes I would be angry with the world, the church, the school, the neighbours, my family…for not understanding my children…or me.

I didn’t know that sometimes I would be most angry at myself for not being able to parent these children the way I want to.

I didn’t know that at times I would forget all about adoption and foster care, until someone comments on how tall my daughter is, how young I look to have a preteen or how busy I must be with all those children!

I didn’t know how much my extended family would have to give up when we decided to grow our family through adoption, and how grateful I would feel towards them as they jumped in with two feet alongside us.

I didn’t know how personally I would take my children’s birth stories and how deeply I would love their biological families.

I didn’t know that our social worker would become one of my favourite people; someone I feel safe with.  I didn’t know I would consider her a friend and look forward to her phone calls and visits.

I didn’t know how grateful I would feel towards the people who invest in our children’s lives, whether for a week or a lifetime.  The people who throw their hearts into loving my children bless me in the deepest way possible.  I am so thankful to have family and friends who have literally dropped everything to be present in our lives and help us care for these children.

I didn’t know how proud I would be to be called Mommy by my daughter or how humbled I would be when she curls up by my side and says she missed me today.

I didn’t know that I would become a homeschooling mom for a while…and love it.

I didn’t know that I would be the one sitting in a counselling office and across the table from a therapist, instead of my child.

I didn’t know that even after three years of living in our home, my children would not always feel safe, and that I would not be able to fix that.

I didn’t know that choosing adoption in some ways meant choosing isolation.

I didn’t know that I would need a whole new toolbox for parenting and that I would learn to constantly read my children’s body language and behaviours to monitor for overstimulation, trauma triggers and attachment issues.

I didn’t know that I would sometimes wonder if my children were really with the right parents.

I didn’t realize how much time and energy I would spend advocating for my children and how often I would feel misunderstood as a parent.

I didn’t know that love alone is not enough.

I didn’t know how many things would become insignificant in life.

I didn’t know how much grace I would need on a daily basis to do this parenting thing.

I didn’t know how many new people I would meet because of adoption.

I didn’t know just how much I did not yet know!

And for that I am so grateful.

But despite all this…and knowing it now…still I will choose this again.

Because the joy far outweighs the pain.

The truth finds it’s way through the lies.

The grief dissipates into healing.

Beauty from ashes.

~AF

 

 

 

Our Hobby Farm Adventure

Some seasons of life just pile.

Do you know what I mean?

Like all in one week you stumble across a real estate listing for a hobby farm, you consider taking in a medically fragile infant, you go visit your daughters’ first mom with them and you watch your house go up for sale.

Honestly, I feel a little raw and exposed and vulnerable at the moment, but I’ve learned that’s often the way life goes and it is these seasons where growth happens.

We lean on Him more when we realize the lack of control we operated under all along.

My husband and I have dreamed for years of someday owning a hobby farm.  As our family grew, so did our desire for more space and more opportunities to explore and create.

Our daughters have taken up the cause of this dream passionately and have invested much time and energy advocating, dreaming and planning for this one-day-to-be farm of ours.

Recently my daughter decided she was going to take a look at local real estate listings as she wanted to see how much it really costs to be a grown up and own a home.  This is all part of her recently developing interest and determination to plan, save and understand what her future may look like. (*proud mom moments)

My husband was guiding her through this process and when the list of properties popped up, one of the first ones on the list was…a hobby farm.

Of course, she immediately clicked on the link and as my husband hovered over her shoulder he tried to keep the astonishment from his voice.

Less than 10 minutes from our current home, still technically inside our small town’s limits, almost 10 acres of rolling hills, bush and scrubby pastures…

What was there not to love?

When he showed me the listing later that evening after the children had been tucked into their beds,

I let him know that there was plenty not to love!

Scrolling through the pictures literally made me sick to my stomach.

The property was gorgeous, there was no doubt…

but the house was outdated and cluttered with the excess of a life well lived.

Curled up on my couch in our beautiful, spacious, clean and modern style home I wanted nothing to do with this dilapidated home boasting 70’s style wallpaper and floral linoleum.

I realized just how attached I had become to this beautiful home God had gifted to us just two years prior.

I felt so safe here.

So loved and protected.

It had been our safe haven through a rocky two years, and I was not ready for that to end.

When it was given to us I had felt like it was an affirmation from God that we were seen and that He would provide for all our needs.

This farm felt like a kick in the gut.

Sure, I had dreamed of this kind of opportunity…but as we all know dreams are very different than real life.

I felt like I had just finally caught my breath.

Thankfully, my husband’s vision is much clearer than my own and over the next few days and weeks he nudged and cajoled me towards the dream.

Through his eyes I started to see it…that this really might be the opportunity of a lifetime.

My heart recoiled from the idea of more change and discomfort, but also strained toward the adventure I knew could be ours.

I could stay in my safe little bubble, or I could say yes to adventure and endless opportunities to create and explore.

At only 28 years old, was I really going to hunker down and say this is it?

I agreed to go check it out and we made it a date night, leaving the kids with a babysitter.

The house still gave me the same sinking feeling…but it also erased the doubts I had about there being enough space for us all.

When we got outside and began walking the property, the shades on my limited vision dropped away.

In the magical evening hours, sun sinking low in the sky, the farm lay around us in gentle hills, tall birches and sprawling grasses.  I imagined my children running the lengths of the farmyard and chickens pecking at the dirt outside the small shed.

We ducked through the doors of the old barn and gazed around at broken down horse stalls in the dim light.  The air was thick and musty, carrying me back to my own childhood days on a farm in Wellington County.

We hiked up the barn hill and turned in circles in the empty hayloft, a barn swing soaring in my mind’s eye.

There were falling down little sheds all over the place, hidden piles of wood and tin and opportunity waiting for eager small hands.

By the time we left…I think I knew.

It kept me awake for hours each night for the next week.

I’d wake up in the stillness and lay wide eyed, anxiety laying heavy on my chest as I tried to imagine leaving our home.

This wasn’t the plan!

I imagine He smiled, reaching down to stroke my brow tenderly as He gently, slowly eased the fears away.

Trust me; my plans are always good.

I grasped for something solid in it all.

If you believe what you say you do, you do not need to believe the lie that without this safe, beautiful, comfortable home you will not be happy.

What if the greatest adventure of your lives is staring you in the face and you are too afraid to seize the day?

A few weeks later, after hours and hours of agonizing, dreaming, praying, youtubing and researching…it is officially ours!

To give wings to my faltering faith, our home sold in less than a week with multiple offers coming in.

While at a conference during the week of our home going up for sale, a speaker introduced this acrostic for the word FAITH.

Fantastic

Adventures

In

Trusting

Him.

I smiled as my husband squeezed my hand.

It is sort of cheesy, but it keeps playing around the corners of my mind as we sign papers, take our kids to see their new home and dream up future plans.

Fantastic adventures in trusting Him.

I think God loves to show us pieces of Himself.

I think He must delight in our confusion and amazement at each new revelation of just how omniscient and good He is.

I think He must patiently wait for us as we stand quaking in terror at the tip of each new ledge, awaiting the moment when we finally take the leap and realize He has caught us!

And there, in those moments, when we have been filled with fear, overwhelmed with grief, crushed by anger and sadness or paralyzed with confusion…when those big arms catch us and shore us up…it is then that we learn to trust Him.

It is then that we see just how big he is and how His largeness fills all the voids and covers the distance between our dreams and reality.

It is then that we embrace our not enough for His more than enough.

It is then that we can start to believe that these stories we live are not ours, but His.  One grand, sweeping tale where He plays the main role while our parts come into perspective as merely sidelines to the main plot.

I can’t wait to see what the next chapter holds.

~AF

 

 

 

 

May 10th

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

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

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

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

May 10th.

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

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

He seemed fine.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We headed back to the hospital.

I felt horrible.

We were both grumpy and tired.

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

What have I done?

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

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

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

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

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

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

We laughed at the irony.

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

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

The vague explanations, the carefully side-stepped questions…

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

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

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

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

The next time the doctor reappeared his eyes held concern,

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

Sick Kids?

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

Sick Kids was not for minor falls.

Sick Kids was not for a small fracture or bruise.

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

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

I knew.

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

Everything was not ok.

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

We both knew something had changed.

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

I don’t remember the conversation except this.

Brain tumor.

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

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

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

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

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

“You know, He wanted you to know.”

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

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

He wanted to save your son.

Life.

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

We tried to process our new reality.

Details emerged.

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

It is the little moments that I remember:

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

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

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

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

Were we supposed to notice it?

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

Should I have known? 

Would another mother have known?

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

Steadfast Love.

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

Over the next twelve hours they told us more.

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

It was shocking in the worst of ways.

I felt helpless and betrayed.

Robbed of my innocence.

So where was God?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why him?

Why us?

***

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

***

And I fall to my knees in worship.

Because He was right there.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He was there.

He was our Shield.

Our Protector.

Our Light in the darkness.

Our Hope.

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

Suddenly, I don’t expect to understand.

Instead, the why’s turn to why not’s.

Why not us?

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

The reality is that every one of us is dying.

The world is broken and so are we.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Po?”

I smile and nod.

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

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

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

Today I am not scared.

I am not angry.

I am not sad.

Did God heal my son?

Yes and no.

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

But today I am just grateful.

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

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

I don’t wish all this away.

I can no longer remember what it was like before.

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

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

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

Why did my son have to suffer?

I don’t know.

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

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

He is real,

He is good,

I believe

and I am grateful.

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

He created a million galaxies in a single breath.

***

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

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

It’s May 10th

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

-AF