The Next Right Thing

Do the next right thing.

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

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

Just do that next right thing in front of you.

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

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

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

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

Just find that next right thing.      

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

Tomorrow may be terrifying.

Tomorrow may be painful. 

Tomorrow may change everything. 

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

Do the next right thing. 

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

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

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

Emily P. Freeman

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

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

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

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

It happens when you choose the next right thing.

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

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

This moment.

Now.

So take a deep breath, my friend.

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

~AF

Titus 2 Women, Faith & Motherhood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These women are my sisters in Christ;

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

Titus 2:1-6 says,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


If You Can’t Adopt…

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

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

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

1. PRAY

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

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

2. BECOME A RESPITE HOME.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    4. EDUCATE YOURSELF.

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

    5. VOLUNTEER

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

    There are many opportunities to serve such as:

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

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

What I’ve Learned About Halloween

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 witch 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 thought, allowing their littles 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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

The Cross, Chocolate Eggs & the Resurrection

Then we come to this weekend,

Spring still making its shy debut.

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

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

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

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

So much grief; so much joy.

So much loss; so much gain.

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

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

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

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

Their eyes light with joy at each new discovery.

The chocolate is sweet and sticky on my tongue.

Mmm.  So good.

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

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

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

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

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And its this.

It’s for this that I needed that cross.

Impatience, sarcasm, frustration and pride.

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

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

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

We cling to that hope in our brokenness.

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

We are justified!

We are whole and spotless and beautifully redeemed.

Because of death, yes…

But also because of Life!

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

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

Tomorrow is Sunday!

Resurrection Day.

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

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

Songs of hope.

Songs of promise.

Songs of light and love.

We are not lost.

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

We are redeemed!

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

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

Chosen to be the recipient of lavish grace.

Lavish.

And so, it is Easter.

So much grief; so much joy.

So much loss; so much gain.

Pain in the midst of victory.

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

~AF

 

 

 

 

 

 

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