Friday, April 14, 2017

In the morning, she will be three.

My sweet, beautiful girl,

Tonight, I laid you down, and you told me "tomorrow is my birthday, mama."  We said our bedtime prayer, which ends "God is great, God is great (you insist we say it twice), AMEN!" You asked me for a kiss, and then a hug, and then to cover you up, and then for a kiss, and then for a hug, as you do almost every night.  I closed the door behind me after hugging and kissing your brothers and turning out the light, and I breathed deeply as I realized that tonight is the last night of this year of your life.  It tugs at my heart.

This is the first year you've shown excitement about it, after celebrating a few other birthdays over the year, your memory being much more acute, and feeling traditions take place as you and your brothers grow older.  I'm excited for your excitement, though it's bittersweet to see you transition from baby-hood even further.

Darling girl, tonight, you're still two.  Tomorrow, you'll be three.

I sit here thinking about how, growing up, I had hoped that someday I would have a daughter.  In my mind, she would be a perfect, smiling ball of joy, with curly hair, and beautiful features.  She would be kind and smart and so much more.  After God blessed me with your two brothers, I felt it was my calling in life, loving them so deeply, to be a mom to three or four boys, and felt I would never have a daughter.  I don't know why I felt this way, and it was bittersweet, but I was so sure.   When I was told you were on the way, I didn't believe it until they placed you on my chest, and you were in fact my little girl.  Every day since then, it has made so much sense that you were brought into our lives.  I didn't ever imagine you would fulfill my dreams to precisely.  You belong with us, and God knew it.

My heart can hardly handle another birthday.  Yet another year has flown by too quickly, though, fortunately, the chaos in our lives has slowed down quite a bit, and this transition from two to three years of life with you is much clearer in my memory and I feel I was much more focused on our days together, enjoying them, savoring them, and cherishing them.  Not that I didn't in years past, but someday, you'll understand what I mean when I say they were busier and harder and much more muddled together.

Not this year.

This year, I watched you blossom from a young toddler into a much more mature toddler.  I've heard your vocabulary soar with countless words and phrases I have never heard a two-year-old use before.

I've seen your sweet little self turn a little more sassy, as I was warned may happen over time.  I miss the days when I don't have to remind you to use a "kind voice," but I cherish your personality all the same.

I've seen you grow so tall, your hair so long and curly, your eyes so wide and filled with deep wonder.  You've become very independent, but you still totter back and forth from being "big" and "little" where sometimes you want to do everything on your own, and other times you'll cry on the floor because you think you need to be carried.  I'm sorry when I don't give in to the tantrums.  It's not because I don't want to carry you, it's just that I don't want to fuel that behavior.  I do, in fact, love that sometimes you still want to be carried, and I love the feeling of your arms wrapped around me as I carry you.  Your brothers very rarely express that desire anymore, and I know it will be all too soon that you won't want me to, either.  You use the most adorable phrase when you want to be held, as you tell me "I want to hold you," even though you really mean it the other way around.

I love that you still want to cuddle, sit on my lap, and snuggle in bed sometimes.  I love that you still ask for a kiss and a hug when I drop you off at daycare or Sunday School in the mornings, and that you still want them both before bed at night.

I love when you call me "Mama" instead of "mommy," and I don't know why.

You've got an excellent memory, little lady.  You know almost everyone's name at daycare and Sunday School, and you can recall the middle names, favorite colors, and eye colors of the people who mean most to you, assuming you've inquired what these things are already.

You love music, and art, the outdoors, and your blanket. In the morning, your favorite cat is Benjamin, but when we get home at night, your favorite cat is Lucy.  They both love you, and they're so gentle with you.  When you're sick, they are by your side.  You recently developed a love for birds, and you proclaim it almost daily.  You also love tigers, and dogs, and fish, and bunnies, and lions, and horses, and ponies, and unicorns...  I'm sorry I couldn't give you a pet tiger for your birthday like you requested repeatedly.  Someday, you'll understand.

You've surprised me and gone from wearing diapers full time to barely wearing them at all, and you're so proud of your big girl status in this area.  While I'm grateful that the diaper budget has dwindled immensely and I don't have to change diapers all day every day, it's a reminder that you're not going to be little for much longer.

I love listening to you sing songs and narrate your play.  You've such a bright imagination.  I love that you will play with both of your brothers on a daily basis.  They love you dearly and they make sure you know it.  They are so good about building you up with positive affirmations and compliments.  I hope you'll always remember how beautiful they think you are, even if sometimes they're not being very nice to you.

Baby girl, soon you will lose the remaining baby features on your little body, and become a preschooler like your brothers.  I pray you'll take the days a little more slowly than you have been over the past year.  I know you want to go to kindergarten, too, but you've only a few short years to be a tiny little girl.  Don't rush through them, please.

I pray that as you grow older, you'll continue to be kind, gentle, intelligent, helpful, and hilarious.  I hope you'll want to spin in a dress for years to come, rock baby dolls gently, and give hugs freely.

You light up every room you walk into with a smile full of sunshine.

I pray that I will always be able to remember the deep chocolate color of your bright eyes, the spirals in the back of your hair as they dry after bath, your dark, long eyelashes, especially as you sleep against my shoulder sometimes, the warmth of your tiny little hand as it holds my finger while we walk, and the jubilant melody of your laugh, among everything else about you.

I pray you'll always let Jesus in your heart, and show other's his goodness.  I pray you'll be a blessing to each person you come across.

Miss Norah, you stole our hearts from the get-go.  Cherish it as we cherish you.

Thank you for all of the joy you bring to this world.

I love you, Sweet Pea.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

The silence was broken.

There was silence.

Seventeen-ish months of silence.  That day in July began it all, and a day in December ended it.

Seventeen months of absence.  Seventeen months of wondering. Seventeen months of trying to believe on my part.

Seventeen months where my oldest son believed, prayed, and hoped, even when I felt like giving up, and even had given up from time to time.

Before that day in December, when the silence was broken, I had begun to wonder if my children would see their dad again in this lifetime. My mind would wander and I would contemplate what I would do if I had heard through the grapevine that their dad had died.  Would I take them to his funeral? Would it be worth it? How would I help my daughter learn about her dad? What would I tell them about him later in life?

Yes, that's where I was at.

And every night, my six year-old would pray that God would protect his dad and help him to make good choices. He would hopefully ask that someday, they would see their dad again.

Honestly, I've been nervous to let this secret out of the bag, because I'm sure it could be a controversial topic, but I feel like it's time to swallow my nerves and just be honest.  I know God is telling me it shouldn't matter what others think, but my human nature gets me sometimes.

I've been keeping the secret for a couple reasons.  The first being that I wanted my children to have the privacy, and our family to have the freedom to see what unfolded without feeling the pressure of society or social media.  I didn't want or need the countless differing opinions on the matter, and needed to just pray it out, seek God's guidance, and go with what I believed he was leading me to do.

I was also a little scared. I didn't want to admit that I was being cautiously brave and believing life over death in this situation, and then have it all fall apart in a couple of weeks.

If people had come to me questioning how things were going, or flat out asked about the situation as it had been, I was honest, and I told them this secret, asking them to keep it to themselves.  I thank those of you who have upheld that promise and allowed my children the privacy and time to walk through these last few months.

And for others, I'm sorry if I have offended you by not telling you about this development.  But, I hope you can try to understand and respect my decision.

As I was saying, in December he broke the silence.  I had given up on trying to get ahold of him, and had tried to put on a positive face for my children when they continued to pray for a reunion and God to help their dad make better choices.  I had been through Cleansing Stream, and despite what I believed I could do, and what popular culture would tell me to do, I forgave the unforgivable.

It was perfect timing, in some ways, when he waited until December to break the silence.

I prayed long and hard afterward (I blogged about it weeks ago, without much detail), and believed that, although many would call me crazy, or stupid, or tell me he shouldn't be allowed to, that it was okay for him to see his children again.

I don't have to explain why I chose this, but I'm sure many will wonder.  Why on earth, after all that had happened, after all those months, did I let him see the kids?  I talked with him in depth for quite some time, met up with him without the kids, talked some more, and made my decision.

Because he is their dad.

People would say he has no right to see them after all that happened.  Legally, that's true. The children are 100% mine legally.

But he is their dad.

In my heart, I knew I couldn't look my children in the eye someday, after he had been gone so long, and admit to them that, had I chosen to not let them be reunited, I would have been the thing to keep them apart even longer.  I didn't need the blame for that.

It had already been so long. My daughter didn't really know him.  She would look at photos of him and not call him daddy, and the boys would get irritated.  She didn't remember him, really. But the boys, they still had that longing desire to have him in their lives.

And here he was.

Perfect? No.  Did it make everything that had happened okay?  Certainly not.  Did it erase the pain?  No.

Did it give the potential for greater healing?


After consulting with a few professionals on the matter, and praying of course, I knew that the only way to allow healing and restoration, was to give their dad a chance to try.  Yes, he could have been lying and just trying to fill a temporary void over the holidays.  But, I couldn't know that.  Just like I couldn't know if it was for real, and God was really leading him back to his kids unless I gave him the chance to be with the kids.  I couldn't give this a chance for success without giving it the chance to fail, but I couldn't live with myself knowing that there would be no chance at all.

I had to really, truly give it to God.

And I did.

It's still fresh and new.  There are still details we work out as we go along.  I am in control of the situation, the visits, everything.  It is all under my stipulations and schedule.  There are many details that I will not go into, but, after three months, I truly believe I've made the right choice, as vulnerable as it made me feel, as terrified as I was for my children.

I believe, as does my son, that God was answering months worth of prayers.

We are still praying for their dad as we maneuver this new road in our path.

It can and likely will get messy and confusing, and there will be countless questions from the children as time goes on. But, I have to believe that God will guide us through them as they come along.

Because, as our story has shown in so many ways, God has been here alongside us this entire time.  He's taken our pain and brought joy.  He's taken the mess and brought so much beauty.  He's taken the brokenness and restored our hearts.

He is so good.

And, I have to believe that He will continue to be good and perfect, no matter how these chapters pan out.

Because He's unchanging. He's sovereign. He's perfect.  He will never leave us, even if everything fell apart again.

I am sure there are many reading this who vehemently disagree with my choice. I've encountered that already.  I pray that there are those out there who understand, and that regardless of how you personally feel about it, you can trust that I am doing what I truly believe is best for my children.  I've always had their best interests in my mind, from the moment the world started crumbling.  They're my treasure, and I would do everything I could to protect them from pain, but I can't sacrifice their chance for healing and joy with their dad.

There may be heated and controversial opinions.  I know.  There are countless people out there who care so deeply for me and my children, and who are so angry over the pain we've been through.  I get it. I was there too.  We are so blessed that we are cared so deeply for that people have such strong emotional responses across the spectrum.  Regardless, I pray that anyone who hears my children speak about seeing their dad will be respectful of their excitement in the story, non-judgmental in their presence, ad just give them your love and support.

Thank you to everyone who has been there for us through any and all of the legs of this journey.  Thank you for the prayers you've prayed, the tears you've wiped away, the hugs you've given, the words of encouragement, consolation, humor, compassion, and everything else you've given us.

(There are MANY posts leading up to this one. If you're new to my blog, feel free to search through by topic, or start scrolling backward to 2014.)

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Good Grief

Someone, please tell me I'm not alone here...

Have you ever just been sick of yourself?

"I just don't know what to do with myself. I don't just know what to do with myself.."

That obnoxious song isn't really fitting to my situation except those two lines, but those two lines, nonetheless, are stuck in my head this evening as I try to stay awake, yet again, day 10, while the kids wind down for bed.

Good grief.

Really, though.

Have you ever been there?

I don't get there often, I really don't.  As of late (like the past year or half a year at least), I've been much better about regulating my emotions, and keeping thoughts captive to God's truth, or at least being able to seek out advice or guidance when I'm in a spot where my mind is all mucky.

I don't know if it's the onslaught of influenza 2017, or if it's a spiritual attack, or if it's exhaustion, or if it's just a mental mess, but lately... I'm sick of myself.  The last couple days to a week have been rough.  I've felt like I was emotionally unstable. I can't tell sometimes if I'm overthinking things, or imagining things, or if I'm nuts, or if I'm just tired, or if it's true that I'm whiny or irritating or a big baby or a lackluster mom or an unhelpful employee and on and on and on.  And then I mull on it, and then I overthink it, and then I worry about it, and then I wonder about it, and then I wonder if I should reach out and talk it out with someone, and then I worry that talking to someone would just be irritating and drive them nuts and make them think the things about me I mentioned above.

It makes me sick of myself,

Now, in rational moments, I would say it's an attack of my spirit and my faith, and then I feel like I can handle it and know that I'm good, because God wouldn't make me that way.

But then, sometimes, in the exhaustion, I feel paralyzed and unsure what to rebuke or how to counter attack, and sometimes I just don't plain think to even pray about it.

I hate when I get like this.

Thankfully, it's not all that often.

I am worn out. I will admit that. Physically, emotionally, and mentally apparently.  But I don't believe I'm spiritually worn out. I think that everything else is just getting the best of me and I'm not sure where to start in this battle.

I write this not for pity or to worry anyone.  I write this because I feel like maybe writing will help, as it often does.

And I write, because I wonder...

I'm not alone in this, right?  Someone else feels this way sometimes, too?

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

We don't do zombies.

Today, due to wonderful weather, and the fact that my daughter, who had been battling Influenza B for five days straight was finally fever free, the kids and I found ourselves headed to the park for some fresh air.

It was a delightful hour, for the most part.

Except that period in the middle where I was the uncool mom on the playground.

Now, being uncool doesn't bother me.  In fact, I have spent the majority of my 33 years being "uncool," and that suits me just fine.

My kids generally think I'm pretty cool though, especially on the playground.  If I don't have an adult companion around, I find myself up and wandering the play area, pushing kids on swings, following them up and down steps, helping them on monkey bars, chasing them, climbing up the ladders, and so forth.  The kids appreciate that about me.

Most of the time.

Then, there's days like today, where there are moments in the middle where my oldest asks "why are you over here watching us?"

"Because I like to be with you," is what I said.  It is truth.

However, today I had another reason.

I was sitting on the picnic table seat for a moment before then, sipping on my cooling coffee, when I heard someone yell "I'm gonna slice your head off!"

I looked over, and there was a taller boy chasing my oldest, hands in the air in front of him, pretending to be a zombie.

We don't do zombies.

Aside from the fact that my youngest two had nightmares the night they went to the zombie walk, and periodically since then, my middle son has asked "mom, are zombies real" as we drive to daycare, following with me saying "No, buddy, they're not real," and then "Okay, they're scary,"  I don't see the purpose.

Now, I know people will wildly disagree with me on this topic.  Popular culture dictates that zombies are fun, entertaining, imaginative, and so forth.

But I don't see the value in them.  I have a six-year-old, a four-year-old, and an almost three-year-old.  I know we can't escape this zombie culture, but they seem so young to have knowledge of it already.  Call me old fashioned, call me a prude, call me whatever you want, but I prefer my children to have wholesome, positive imaginative play.

That, and to be quite candid, zombie apocalypse play and zombie-slashing fun go against the God-centered child-rearing I am attempting to live out.

I know that some people, again, may argue "well there are zombies in the Bible."  Okay, so maybe I can see where you're coming from there.  Except I disagree, and instead of forming my own argument against that, I'll link you up with one that fits my viewpoints and leave it at that.

So, I hear this child threatening, though pretending of course, to slash my kindergartner's head off, while his younger brother and sister are two feet behind him.  My four-year-old yells "NOOOO! Don't KILL HIM!  He's my BROTHER!"  He knows, I assume, that it's pretend, but I also know that he's still working to decipher reality from make-believe on a regular basis.  (See above about whether zombies are real, and add in "Do ghosts exist? Do werewolves exist?  Do unicorns exist?" and so forth.)

My youngest is yelling "That's not kind!"

She's right.

We have been working on our family identity recently, and our is "we are kind."  We talk about it daily.  We pray that God will help us be good friends, to bring people joy, to show people love, to not hurt people, to not cause people to cry.

I approached my oldest, and I said, "Buddy, we don't play zombies, do we?"

"No, mom."



Knowing full well all these other children (roughly 8 of them) are running around pretending to kill and eat each other, and they have taken notice to the fact that I pulled my child aside, I said, "Because it's not kind.  We are kind, aren't we?"

"Yes. I love to be kind!" he replied.  "But it's pretend."

"But it's violent, and it goes against what Jesus asks us to do. It goes against what God wants for us to be.  It goes against the Bible."

He looked at me, with his "Play Hard, Pray Hard" t-shirt on, a shirt he chose himself to wear to the park, and shook his head. "Okay, mom."

Then, came the sly kids shouting "Well, raise your hands if you're playing zombie apocalypse!"

He wanted so badly to raise his hand. I raised my eyebrows, and he kept his hand down.

"I love you, buddy."

"I love you, too, mom."

And then he ran off to play alongside the other kids.  He slipped up once and pretended to shoot someone as they ran by.

"Why are you over here watching us?"

I wanted to say 'to hold you accountable and make sure you're making good choices,'  but instead, I gave the answer above and let him decide what choices to make on his own.

I was proud.  He didn't play zombies after.

I played alongside, hearing them laugh, seeing them smile, and looking when they'd call "Mom! Watch this!" as best as I could with all three trying to show me things at once.

The older boy ran by again, and pretended to spit on my children.

"What are you doing?" I asked him calmly.

"Spitting poisonous venom."

"We already talked about this.  My children don't play zombies.  You may stop now."

He ran off.  I know he snickered and the others looked at me.

I didn't care if I was uncool.

I felt a little guilty that I may have made my kids seem like they were "uncool" to the other kids, but really, if being kind and playing wholesome, positive, laughter-filled play on a playground, without dark, violent themes is uncool, then they can be uncool.

They're only little once.  Some day, I won't be on the playground with them.  I am not always on the playground with them now, and I don't intend to be breathing down their necks at this age either.  Sometimes, I'm right there though, and I believe it is my job as their God-focused mother to intervene in situations like this, to teach them Bible-centered morals and practices as best as I can.

 I will pray that when it comes time to decide if they're going to join in with the make-believe bloody murder and flesh-eating attacks with their peers, they will choose our God-focused morals and remember why, right now, we are kind and we do no do zombies.  I will hope and pray.

I can't control what other parents do, and their rules on zombie play or murder themed make-believe.  My children even asked why the other kids play that way, and I said "their families don't have the same rules as I do."  It's as simple as that.

But I do hope that if you're one who allows that sort of play, you perhaps talk to your children about playing it on playgrounds, especially those with young children and toddlers, who don't need to be and/or whose parents do not want them to be subject to such dark and gruesome themes.  If that's something you allow (although I wish it wasn't), I hope that you could request your children save it for private locations, like their homes or friends homes.

Personally, I have no taste for any sort of zombie entertainment. I know tons of my friends do.  That's their choice.  But I choose to not have that in my own home.

I'm not a "helicopter" parent and I don't intend to be. But, I do believe that young children, mine specifically, should be allowed to enjoy positive themed play as long as possible before popular culture and dark themes of the world become more prevalent with age and their peers.

For tonight, I will pray that the themes and impressions from the pretend slashing, decapitation, and cannibalism at the playground will not leave lasting impressions on their hearts or infiltrate their dreams.  We will pray again, as we do every night, that Jesus fills them with peace, joy, and good things.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

I'm Anchored.

For quite some time now, I have had it in my mind that I wanted a very specific, simple tattoo on my left wrist.

On my right wrist, I have a simple tattoo that reads "I love you" in my grandmother's handwriting.  In fact, multiple female family members have similar handwriting tattoos on their wrists or clavicles.  We all went together and had a tattoo party when they heard of my idea and fell in love with it themselves.

My left wrist, though, all I wanted was an anchor.

When I was younger, I would have never suspected I would adore the image of an anchor as I do now.  I thought of them simply in terms of sailing and pirates and such.

But then, my faith was tested.  I guess that's a silly statement, because throughout one's life, faith is continually tested.  I'm no different in that regard, and I have had many tests under my belt, each time, my faith in God remaining.  From time to time, I may have distanced myself, but He's always been there.

But recently, over the last few years, my faith has been tested in ways I never dreamed of.  From finding out my former husband was cheating on me with men and women alike, to threatened homelessness while I had no job and three children ages six months to four years old, to living in a homeless shelter and transitional housing, to being abandoned financially and emotionally, to filing for divorce... to self-sufficiency (for the most part, with occasional blessings from trusted family and friends) and single parenting in a God focused home, I've done nearly a complete 180 degree turn around in my life, and all the while, my God has remained, pulling me through, guiding me, walking beside me, carrying me, fighting for me, and calming me.

This anchor...

This anchor is my reminder.   It reminds me of my past and my victories.  It reminds me of God's sovereignty and steadfastness.    It reminds me of hope.  

You see, through everything in my life, my hope has remained.  I've never been hopeless.  I've never been completely alone, because I've known God to be with me always, even if I was refusing to acknowledge him.  Even in my deepest despair and my darkest times, my hardest routes and my scariest valleys, I've had hope in a better tomorrow, and I've had hope that God would pull me through, as He has.

One of my most well-loved bible verses is Hebrews 6:19.  It's beautiful in multiple translations.  "This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls.  It leads us through the curtain into God's inner sanctuary." NLT

"We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.  It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain." NIV

Hope is an anchor.  What a beautiful image.  In all that life throws at us, this hope keeps us steady.

What is this hope?

God is this hope.

"The Lord is all I have, and so in him I put my hope." Lamentations 3:24

"Sovereign Lord, I put my hope in you; I have trusted you since I was young." Psalm 71:5

"Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from Him." Psalm 62:5

"We put our hope int he Lord. He is our help and our shield. In Him our hearts rejoice, for we trust His holy name. Let your unfailing love surround us, Lord, for our hope is in You alone." Psalm 33:20-22

"You will live secure and full of hope; God will protect you and give you rest." Job 11:18

This tattoo is also my reminder to seek God continually, through my life. It's permanency shall remind me to enter my secret place and to pray.  Sometimes I forget. Often, actually, I forget.

"Let your hope keep you joyful, be patient in your troubles, and pray at all times."  Romans 12:12

And, it reminds me that God has a plan for me, even if I feel things are out of control, totally random or uncertain, or make absolutely no sense.  Because God says so. 

"For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope."  Jeremiah 29:11

The bible talks a lot about hope.

But so does music.  Many know that God speaks to me often through music.  I will hear a song a hundred times, and on the 101st time, it speaks in a new way, or I hear a lyric I had never heard before.  Many songs that resonate with me deeply talk of God as an anchor for us, or his hope as an anchor for us, or him carrying us through storms.  

"Let the King of my heart be the wind inside my sails, the anchor in the waves, oh he is my song." -John Mark McMillan, King of my Heart.

"When darkness seems to hide His face, I rest on His unchanging grace.  In every high and stormy gale, my anchor holds within the veil." Hillsong United, Cornerstone

"In the eye of the storm, You remain in control, and in the middle of the war, You guard my soul.  You alone are the anchor when my sails are torn.  Your love surrounds me in the eye of the storm." Ryan Stevenson, Eye of the Storm

These are just a few that came to me at the moment, but I know that there are more.

I don't always have my bible with me. I don't always have music with me. I don't always have my phone with me. But, I do always have my wrist with me.

And now, on that wrist, I'll always have my anchor with me, to show me, to remind me, to inspire me.  Maybe someday, someone I do not know will ask about my anchor.  Maybe they'll assume I'm a wannabe pirate. Maybe they'll think I was in the navy.  Maybe, just maybe, they'll ask.  And my God will fill me with bravery and grace, and I'll step out in faith, and I'll testify.  I'll tell them all about how I've been through quite a storm,and my God, my Hope, my Anchor held me steady through it all, and I am no worse for the wear as the sunshine came out.  I'm stronger.  I'm braver.  I'm calmer. I'm more rooted in my faith than ever before.

Because I'm anchored.