Tuesday, May 8, 2012

What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Stronger

Today I found myself with a few hours of alone time. I am quite the lucky gal, because I have parents who love my sweet ones as much as I do, and they cart them off every single week for a day of spoiling. Thus, giving me some much appreciated alone time. Usually, I do the same sorts of things with my time 'off'. Target and Panera Bread always top the list. But those two things simply would not do today. Boss (ever the grown up) has me on a new (strict) budget, so I am afraid that Target and I are going to have to break up. I havn't shared this news with Target yet, but I have been thinking of ways to let her down gently. It's not you, it's me Boss, or something like that. So Target was clearly not an option. And since I am on a mission to lose my last ten pounds of baby weight, Panera Bread was out, too. I, for one, know that the Cinnamon Crunch bagels will soon miss me. In fact, I think they already do. I can hear them calling my name from ten miles away! Why, oh why, does breaking up have to be so painful?

Anyway, back to my alone time dilemma. What was a girl to do? Specifically, what was I to do with my next several hours? I sat down (in the tub) to think, and somewhere in the midst of my thinking, my mind wandered to my 30 Before 30 list, and then I knew. I just knew. I was going to take myself on a date. To the movies. Alone. (Gasp!) Yes, that was exactly what I was going to do! Because if real men wear pink, then real women are capable of going to the movies alone. Or something like that.

It is important to note here that I have never been good at being alone. Never. The more the merrier, I always say. Being alone usually makes me feel depressed. And when I am depressed, I like to eat bagels. Cinnamon Crunch bagels from Panera Bread. Which (as you know), cannot happen anywhere in the forseeable future. So I was quite nervous about my soon-to-be alone time at the movies, but I decided to make the best of it. Since it was a date, I curled my hair AND put on lip gloss. And then I drove to the theater in my twelve passenger van all by myself. I rolled down the windows (which ruined my curls thank you very much) and belted out Kids Bop like the cool adult that I am. It was awesome! And it was just what I needed to face my first task off my 30 Before 30 list.

There was one time back in 2003 when I tried going to the movies by myself. We had just moved to a new city so we hadn't made any friends yet, and Boss was working insane hours. There was a movie out that I wanted to see, so I put on my big girl panties and went by myself. I was pretty sure that I would die of embarassment should anyone discover that I was there alone, so I pretended like I wasn't. I fake talked on my cell phone as I paid for my ticket, leading the unsuspecting cashier to believe that my girlfriend would soon be meeting me there. Because I know that the cashier cared. I could tell. And then when I sat down in the theater, I picked a super crowded row (so maybe it would end up looking like I was in fact with one of the groups near me), and then I casually placed my jacket over the seat next to me. I 'saved' the seat for my nonexistent girlfriend that would soon be arriving. It was all really very clever. And just a tiny bit immature. (But hey, I was only 21 years old back in 2003. A mere child!) But this time? This time I am fast closing in on thirty, so fake phone calls and casual jacket placement simply would not do. Maturity had to be the name of the game. I was to present myself as a calm, confident, adult woman, who was completely sure enough of herself to go to the movies alone.

By the time I arrived, after several rounds of Kelly Clarkson's What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Stronger, I was ready to do this. I confidently walked up to the cashier, asked to buy ONE ticket to the movie of my choice, and imaginary girlfriends were nowhere to be seen. I purchased my diet coke and then picked out my seat. I sat where I like to sit (half way up and on the right hand side), and it didn't matter to me that not one other person was sitting in that section. I smiled at the elderly couple behind me, and then I got comfortable with my feet up and my jacket in my lap.

And you know what? Maybe I really am growing up, because I had a fantastic time. Turns out I am pretty great company. It's quite the freeing feeling to finally learn to be comfortable in one's own skin, and I think I am getting there. One step closer with each passing year. Loving myself, the real me, a little bit more every day. I have learned a lot in my almsot thirty years of journeying this earth. Today, I only went to the movies, but tomorrow, I might be called to do something different. Something harder. One day I might be called to follow down a road less traveled, and I think I just might be brave enough to do that. Even if it means I would have to walk alone. With curls in my hair, gloss on my lips, wind brushing my cheeks, and Kelly Clarkson cheering me on, I have discovered that I can do just about anything. And what doesn't kill me will in fact make me stronger after all.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Stripping and Slowing

If you want to see what children can DO, you must stop giving them THINGS.

― Norman Douglas

I used to be a perfect mother. But that was before I actually had children. Long before marriage and motherhood, I dreamed long about how things would be. Boss would go to work, and I would stay home. Traditional roles for traditional people. We would live in a quaint (yet fabulous) little home surrounded by land. There would be lots of children. Lots and lots of children. And we would live a wonderful, but simple life together. I dreamed of gardens and flowers, swingsets and picnics. I dreamed of reading aloud to the children under the branches of a shade tree and finger painting the afternoons away. I dreamed of tea parties and traditions. I never dreamed of televisions or video games. I never dreamed of thousands of toys, each coming with thousands of pieces. I never dreamed of clutter, or excess, or wasted days. In my dreams life was perfect. I had perfect children, and they had a perfect mother. Our days were well spent. That was the plan.

But then life happened, as it always does, and after (almost) nine short years of our family doing life together, I look around and sometimes don't recognise what our life has become. The television is always on. Always. Little eyes are fixed on the screen too many hours a day. Eyes glossing over, minds numbing. And the toys? There are too many to count. This week alone I have hauled off six large bags to donations. Six bags! And I still can't find the floor of my children's room. Clutter and excess abound in our home. I keep it well hidden, but it is still there mocking me. Mocking my dreams of a simple and meaningful life. And I don't want to talk about wasted days. Too many 'going through the motion' days have gone by. And sometimes I wonder what happened to my dream of living deeply and living well. I am afraid it got burried somewhere underneath all of the clutter. But I have begun the project of slowly digging out my dream of a life well lived once more.

In a few (very few!) short weeks our family will be making some big changes. I can't wait to share with you here what some of those changes are! But they involve stripping away and slowing down. Stripping away of things for sure (that process has already begun!), but also stripping away of responsibilities and commitments that have carried us far from who we desire to be as a family. And it's funny, because the more responsibilities and commitments that Boss and I aquired over the years, the more things our children seemed to aquire. If Mama felt guilty for her hectic schedule, surely a new movie for the girls would help. Perhaps if they were distracted they would not notice Mama running in circles around them?

And without meaning to, I slowly, oh so slowly, began replacing my presence in their lives with things.

Because we do have a swingset in our backyard, but it rarely gets used. My girls are always waiting for Mama to come out and swing with them. (I do believe they have waited long enough.) We also own a picnic blanket and a really nice basket! But I think we have only used them twice (maybe) in all of these years. And there has been no time for afternoon read alouds or finger painting masterpieces. Because Boss and Mama were too busy. Too busy doing good things, even great things, for others. We have been too busy to celebrate life with our children on a daily basis. And I am ashamed to admit that we actually thought giving them things would take away the sting of our choices. But it didn't, and I didn't like the Mama that I was becoming. The Mama who was too busy serving others to meet the needs of the ones she loves the very most. The Mama that justified her actions, because her girls could now afford dance lessons, and soccer, and over the top birthday parties. The Mama who used the television as a babysitter so that she had time to get just one more thing on her list accomplished. And I didn't like who my children were becoming either. Somewhat greedy with a strong sense of entitlement.

So things are about to change. It is our goal to begin living life in slow motion. Less of things, more of us. We want our lives to reflect that we value people over posessions, just as God does. We are more than ready to strip away and slow down. We are ready to see what our children can DO. And we are ready to see what we can DO, too. And I do think that it's about time.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012


They say that history repeats itself.

And I have long wondered why, though I have seen this theory become a reality more times than I care to count. Because my world, the foster care world, is much like a circle. The cycle really having no end. Individuals and families constantly struggling to rise up out of the dirt. People not believing they can be more than their pasts.

And while I have not lived in this world for long, I have seen enough to know that it is true. If we are not careful enough, if we do not fight hard enough both for and with them, history will repeat itself. The cycle will continue.

Because it has continued before my very eyes, and I have felt helpless to stop it. Out of the thirty-eight children we have served in the last six years, nine, so far, have gone on to have children of their own. And out of those nine, six have already had their children removed from them for one reason or another. For some of them, their children were removed for the very same reasons they were removed from their parents years before. History was repeated, and the cycle has continued.

And I have struggled to make sense of this in my mind.

As a dreamer, I am constantly looking forward. Pushing forward. To stay stuck, to remain the same, that is my worst nightmare. Never moving forward is not an option for me. I can {possibly} understand not moving forward if you have no other options. But to choose to let it happen, to allow history to repeat itself, this I have struggled to understand. So I began praying for wisdom and searching for answers. Searching for clues. Anything to open my eyes. Anything to help me understand.

Today my understanding came in the form of a science lesson. My oldest daughter is studying the plant world. Specifically, she is learning about roots. I had her read aloud to me as I sat across from her sipping my diet coke.

The roots hold the plant very tightly in the soil. When the seed begins to grow, it first pushes out a tiny root. The little root looks like a string.

It might not look very strong, but the tip of the root is very hard. The tip of the root pushes and twists its way through the soil as it grows.

As the plant grows taller, the roots reach deeper into the soil. The roots must grow longer to hold the bigger plant in place.

( A BEKA Grade 2 Enjoying God's World Science Reader)

And as realization set in, I had my daughter read those same words aloud to me once more. I closed my eyes and let them sink in. And I finally began to understand.


History repeats itself because of roots. One small, simple word with such profound meaning. Think of a flower. All we can see is the outside. We see the beauty, the color, the worth, the potential. We see the stem of the flower. Our eyes take in the petals. But what is holding the flower up? What pushes the flower to grow taller, stronger? The answer lies in the roots. Oftentimes we do not give roots much notice. We don't acknowledge the power they yeild. Because we can't always see them, it's easy to forget that they exist. But here, in my world, roots repeatedly make their presence known. I simply wasn't recognizing them for what they were.

Over and over again I have watched girls come to me as wilted flowers. I know they come from somewhere, but far too often I have not given much thought as to where. And without knowing it I have viewed myself as their stem. Their encourager, their cheerleader. Because you can see a stem, and you can see me. Pushing them to be more, pushing them to stretch, pushing them to grow. And if I was lucky, over time, I was privaledged to watch them bloom. It was a gift to see their true colors unfolding before my very eyes. It was a joy to watch them dream big dreams, if only for a moment. And my dream became that they would bloom for a lifetime. But the color never seemed to last. Eventually, my flowers would begin to wilt once more. They would begin to sag back down to the ground, back to that which they came from. And I never understood why. But now I do.

It was because of their roots.

The words my daughter read to me made sense. The roots hold the plant very tightly in the soil. It might not look very strong, but the tip of the root is very hard. As the plant grows taller, the roots reach deeper....
Roots are strong, and they are powerful, and they are real. They have the potential to either give and encourage life, or to take it away. But it is hard to stand strong. It is hard to bloom. It is hard to rise above, to tower above the soil. To tower above that which you know. And that is why so many of them return. That is why so many beautiful flowers return to their roots. Because roots have a stronghold in each of our lives, and if they are not life giving roots pushing and encouraging growth, then it is simply much easier to allow your roots to drag you back down once again. And that is why the cycle continues.

That is why history repeats itself.

I found no answers today. Only a bit of understanding. I realized that those of us in the foster care world need to pay more attention to roots. To where the child has come from. It is not enough to just be their stems, to only be their cheerleaders encouraging them from this point forward. It is not enough to only try and 'fix' what we can see. If we don't address their roots, the child might bloom for a season, but the beauty will never last. I have no doubt that digging in the dirt will be messy. And digging up roots is sure to be bone weary work. But once the roots are exposed?

Perhaps then we can replant and the flowers that bloom just might last for a lifetime.