Worth It

The last nine months have seen some changes around here. Mainly in the hair department. Every time John runs a hand across his head, a flurry of tiny escapees falls onto the surface in front of him. Now that the sun has finally made an appearance, it has the annoying tendency to highlight a fresh crop of grays glistening from my tresses (“I think you have more gray hair than I do!” my mother helpfully remarks).

In other words, nine months of sleep deprivation and nearly constant feelings of powerlessness have taken their revenge on our scalps.

But it’s ok. The grays and the grace multiply in synchrony. Dopamine levels around here are surely at an all-time high due to Baby Boy’s sweet nature and chubby cheeks. I arrive at the medical clinic (again), and first the receptionist, then the medical assistant, and finally the primary care provider all burst into smiles when they see their familiar patient. He fills the arms of men whose strong, healthy days on this earth are past but whose hearts still respond to a baby, each giving the other exactly what he needs, and grace abounds.

grandpa cropped

We watch him grow, change, learn new things, his brain making the connections that his world is safe. His people are good and trustworthy. I took so much of infancy for granted with my kids, not recognizing the deep privilege it is to guide a child through his early months, building a foundation of trust and felt safety in his brain that no one can ever take away and that will shape the rest of his life.

Ellie boat

We didn’t exactly know what we were saying “yes” to when we signed up for this gig. We had a vague notion of “loving a child” at the cost of giving up some of our comforts. We didn’t know how indescribably hard it would be and how indescribably good. How my capacity for remembering, focusing, and accomplishing would drastically diminish, while the skin covering my scattered brain would form new lines (that don’t go away) from smiling and laughing and worrying so much.

river heart

People ask all the time, “How will you let him go?” The question also implies, “How could you say ‘yes’ to a love that might be snatched from you?” I admire these people, because they know that foster care isn’t just about babysitting. It’s not just taking care of a kid you’re ready to pass back to his parents at the end of the evening or weekend. It’s welcoming a child into your family, and loving him with your whole heart like he was your own, forgetting sometimes that he isn’t your own, wondering every day when you won’t get to wake up to him anymore, read him stories, and snuggle his face into your neck. Saying “yes” to a future, painful goodbye, where baby won’t understand why he doesn’t get to live in the house with the people who were the only parents and brother and sister he ever really knew.

E&J

We said yes, and we continue to say yes, because he is worth it. This isn’t about us and getting a dopamine rush from baby snuggles, and teaching my children compassion “for the least of these”, and parading around an impossibly cute blue-eyed chubbster (who looks nothing like our family), and getting to read board books again. It’s about him and giving him everything he needs because of the love of Christ for us and His power in us. We can love that which we hold loosely because God holds us firmly, as He holds him, come what may.

John

We just finished our first summer read aloud, The Bark of the Bog Owl. The young hero is given sage advice in the beginning of the adventurous story: Live the life that unfolds before you. Love goodness more than you fear evil. Living this life daily unfolding before me, navigating the tumbling waves of foster care and growing children, loving and looking for goodness and trying not to fear the future – this is good advice for me, too.

I look back at what has unfolded already, marveling at the grace that we have been chosen to be actors in this particular drama. Already this summer, John has been to Haiti, playing a small part in the unfolding story of redemption among school children in an impoverished context. Ellie graduated elementary school, bedazzled with awards, and confidently looks ahead to middle school. Jack has refused to get his hair cut for months, enjoying a new shaggy look, while onlookers comment how much he now looks like me! He is about to embark on a week of summer camp at Eagle Fern. Baby Boy is finally babbling, much to my speech-y delight (who cares about crawling).

Unlike last summer with its thousands of miles and monuments, this one is going to be quiet and lazy. We won’t be wading far from our shore, and accomplishments will be few. Loving three children and one good man will be enough for me, as long as I have mint green tea and iced coffee on tap for fortification.

river

The summer sun never fails to remind me of His goodness. It also lightens my hair a shade, blending in the grays, grace always coming from unexpected places.

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Summer Road Trip and Fall Beginnings

A few years ago, when both of our kids had reached the golden age of Elementary School (i.e., they could read and wait long periods between bathroom breaks), we started talking about taking a road trip together. Skills required for being in school and pleasantly riding in a car for long, sustained periods have remarkable correlations, in my experience.

road-tripping

Summers came and went quickly, all filled with wonderful things, but no road trips. Then, this year.

2016 brought some changes for us. In March, we decided to start the licensing process for becoming foster parents. That same month, John got a new job as an instructor at a community college, which included a three-and-a-half month summer break. Ellie, a 4th grader, got a parting gift from the Obama administration: a free pass to all National Parks and Monuments for her entire family. These things and the opportunities and future constraints they would bring finally forced our hand. It was the perfect summer for a road trip.

John, lover of maps and geological wonders, master of efficiency, and careful analyst of worst case scenarios, took the lead for almost every aspect of our trip. I downloaded audiobooks to my library apps and packed food, clothing, and toiletries. He did EVERYTHING else.

From Washougal, our route took us through Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, back to Utah, Nevada, California, up 101 along the Oregon Coast, over the bridge into Washington, and back to Washougal.

We only made two reservations, both in the first week. We camped in our new-to-us tent trailer about two-thirds of the nights. We had a long list of places to see, but wanted to be flexible with timing. Google and Priceline were our dearest companions.

tent-trailertent-trailer-popped-up

Here is a photo summary of the highlights:

Dinosaur National Monument, UT

I didn’t know this place existed until my uncle and aunt suggested it was a not-to-miss sight along our route. I’m so glad they persuaded us! Who knew there is a wall of actual dinosaur bones preserved in place for anyone in America to gawk at!

dinosaurdinosaur-wall

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, CO

John loved the geology of this beautiful park.

black-canyonblack-canyon-ellie

100s in the Hills, Silverton, CO

John’s dad, brother, and nephew joined us for the three days of the annual 100s in the Hills Landcruiser gathering in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado. The scenery here is breathtaking. The event was interesting. I loved every part of it except for the Landcruiser bits.

100s-landcruisers100s-colorado-trails

100s-engineer-pass

Two best-bud brothers who share nearly identical professions, trucks, and tent trailers.

100s-family-photo100s-in-the-hills

Four Corners – NM, AZ, CO, UT

four-corners-family

Mesa Verde National Park, CO

Another park I didn’t know about but absolutely loved. Cliff homes of the ancestral Puebloans 800 years ago.

mesa-verdemesa-verde-laddermesa-verde-2

Santa Fe, NM

We spent a few days with John’s aunt and uncle in Santa Fe. We soaked in the gorgeous surroundings, Aunt Beverly’s gracious, top-notch hospitality, laundry facilities, and lots of puppy dog snuggles.

santa-fe-bev-and-kids

Petrified Forest National Park, AZ

This was a relatively small national park, but so incredibly cool for our tree and rock-loving family we could hardly stand it.

petrified-ellie-and-jack

petrified-painted-desert

Painted Desert

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Petroglyphs

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Yes, John’s shirt says “Geology Rocks”

petrified-log

Grand Canyon National Park, AZ

We made a short drive-through visit to the Grand Canyon, arriving close to sunset.

grand-canyon-2grand-canyon-sunset

Cedar Breaks National Monument, UT

We camped here for five days at a lovely, cool altitude of 10,000 feet. From here, we explored other national parks in Utah.

cedar-breakscedar-breaks-elliecedar-breaks-panorama

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Junior Ranger Hike

Zion National Park, UT

Hiking through the Virgin River in a slot canyon at Zion was a highlight of our trip.

zion-kolobzion-kolob-canyonszion-narrows-hikezion-narrows-hike-3selfie-zion

Bryce Canyon National Park, UT

Hiking the Hoodoos at Bryce was another unforgettable adventure.

brycebryce-hoodoosbryce-hoodoos-hikeselfie-bryce-familybryce-john-and-ellie

Lassen Volcanic National Park, CA

We started longing for cooler climates and greener vistas, so instead of hitting the other red-tinged national parks in Utah, we adjusted our itinerary and headed west to California. We spent part of a day in Lassen Volcanic National Park, chiefly to hike the “Bumpass Hell” trail, named after a man named Bumpass who fell into a steaming mudpot here.

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Redwoods State and National Parks, CA

Wow. Just, wow.

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Animal Sightings

animals-big-horn-sheepanimals-hareanimals-marmotanimals-weasel

Once I was in the northwest corner of California, despite loving the Redwoods and enjoying our few days there, the urge to go home pulled strong. We talked about spending a couple days exploring some beaches along 101 and the Oregon Coast, but my heart said, “Been there, done that. HOME. NOW.” My brain said, “Your house is not ready for Foster Care Home Inspection. You start work next week. Get your people out of this foreign land and return to the familiar passages of Highway 14 and I-205.”

Being a sensible wife and a sacrificial mother, I did not nag my family (too much) into alignment with my personal inclinations, but let them come to their own conclusions as we ventured out of the truck in our California shorts at a beach near Coos Bay to 57 degree afternoon fog and wind.

“Let’s stop for some Salt Water Taffy then drive the rest of the way home,” John said.

Victory! Promises of sugar had worked like a charm throughout our adventures (Gatorade, Slurpees, Oreos, Jolly Ranchers, and ice cream made frequent appearances) and didn’t fail us at the end either.

Taffy was procured at Ainslees in Depoe Bay and we pulled in to our driveway at 11:00pm that night, three days ahead of schedule.

The two weeks that followed were a blur of relentless cleaning, organizing, and safety-checking, squeezing in another quick trip to Mason Lake (annual summer requirement), back to work (crying most of the way there), foster care interviews, and home inspection.

It was a rough re-entry to a good life. Our home is more organized and decluttered than it has ever been and ready for a new little person and the chaos, complications and joy that will bring. Returning to work at York Elementary always fills me with pride and contentment with my capable, caring colleagues, supportive principal, and their single-minded purpose to help all children who walk through those doors to flourish. I reconnected with our tribe of friends and family – a beautiful collection of souls I do not deserve but eagerly grasp for dear life.

Maybe I’m being “optoomuchistic” (a word I immediately entered into my vocabulary upon reading The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place), but I think everything is going to be ok.

This year and this summer put us on a path we had never been, filled us with beauty, and strengthened us for what is ahead. Life will soon become challenging, and oh, so busy, and probably very sad. But see how He loves us. He will be faithful. He will provide. I will accept from His hand the memories of this summer, the good people hemming me in on every side, and the skills and experience He has been sowing into our lives all along.

Alright, Fall. Alright, foster care. Ready, set, go.

 

Summer Unaccomplishments

Things I eagerly ponder and plan in May and June, but by the first week of July I have already abandoned:

  1. Teaching my children how to weed, vacuum, dust, fold, mop, wipe down, scrub the right waySince during the school year I mostly just do it myself or let them make lazy efforts, thinking, “When we’re home together in July I’ll really buckle down on this.”
  2. Handwriting practice for Jack. Need I say more? image
  3. Encouraging my children to read copious quantities of “quality literature” carefully selected from multicultural/award-winning/vocabulary-rich/justice-loving book lists gleaned from a myriad of sources online and from books about books that I have actually purchased that sit hardly cracked on my bedside table. Instead: are they really still checking out Geronimo Stilton at the library? Yes.
  4. Listening to Ellie diligently master “Can You Hear the People Sing” from the also newly purchased “Les Misérables” piano book so we can awe her piano teacher in September. Instead, my family is listening to me diligently pluck out “Stars” until John says something like, “I think I can recognize that song now!”
  5. Touching each and every item in my house to determine if it “sparks joy” a la Marie Kondo, simplifying and purging until my heart and soul are light and free, and so that when the Foster Care Licensor comes to inspect our home, things won’t fall on top of her when she opens cupboards and doors.
  6. Re-reading “Les Misérables” by Victor Hugo. Oh, the Foster Care archetypes I now recognize amongst its characters!

Adjusted Summer Goals:

  1. Sacrificially acquiesce to my mother-in-law’s suggestion of having Ellie to come over to her house once a week where she would teach Ellie how to clean her house and pay her for her efforts. Daughter getting paid to learn valuable life skills by a better teacher than myself = Win.
  2. Let 3rd grade teacher deal with Jack’s handwriting. Focus on teaching my nearly EIGHT-YEAR-OLD how to freaking tie his own shoes.
  3. Listen to quality literature via OverDrive and OneClickdigital library apps any time we’re in the car, which will be in copious quantities during our upcoming 3-week road trip. Already finished and highly recommend: “The Key to Extraordinary” by Natalie Lloyd, and “From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler” by E. L. Konigsburg.
  4. Remind them to practice an old piano song once a day (or at least 3 times a week), if I remember, and if we aren’t having too much fun with other stuff.
  5. Handle, watching for joyful sparks, every item in my kitchen, closet, and MAYBE my bedroom. Procrastinate as long as possible, since Foster Care home inspection is likely still months weeks away.
  6. Watch “Les Misérables” with Hugh Jackman, taking no foster parenting tips from the Thenardiers. We will love like Valjean, forgive like the bishop, follow the WAC like Javert, and fight for the rights of our children like Marius! Jean Valjean

Already accomplished:

√  Go camping
√  Go to the beach
√  Play at the river at every opportunity
√  Eat dinner outside while listening to multicultural mixes on Spotify unless over 90 degrees or raining
√  Finish the library summer reading program
√  Bonfire with friends and cousins
√  Say “no” to all Sunday School volunteer opportunities

Also this:

√  Educational Opportunity at Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center in Ilwaco, in which we discover that Lewis and Clark spent about a week at the mouth of the Washougal River (Cottonwood Beach), exploring up and down, hunting and catching fish. Upon our return home, we looked up their detailed journals from March 31, 1806 and found that yes, indeed, they did paddle up past our very spot of beach on the Washougal (named “Seal River” by the intrepid explorers)! Perhaps they stopped for lunch at our very idyllic pebbly shore! If the waters were low enough, maybe they stood upon our very stately jumping rock and did a little fishing!

imageriver

Yep, we’re pretty much killing it at summer.

Water, Earth, Fire, and Books

Despite being an educator and loving pumpkin spice coffee, I just can’t get into fall. I have friends who get positively giddy over freshly sharpened Ticonderogas, a new box of crayons, chai tea concentrate, and scarves, sweaters, and boots. (You know I love you guys and I forgive you for blasting my social media feeds with these unpleasant images when I’m just trying to savor August.) Don’t they know what those items mean?! The end of summer!

I think I’m missing the organizational/schedule-loving/fall-fashion gene that these friends have. My personal preference is the summer routine of: optional breakfast, eat lunch whenever, warm skin=happy heart, library=good-enough-education.

ellie raft

But back-to-school activities commenced, I willingly participated in 18 hours of teacher inservices, and so many cute first-day-of-school pictures popped up on Facebook, so I succumbed.

first day of school

I will step into fall (even though it’s not fall for 21 more days) and look for the good and lovely. But not before I give thanks for summer.

blueberries

This summer was just the best. I already told you about Kenya. The best. 

This summer had so many books. The four of us together read 90 books. So many adventures, new places, belly laughs, and interesting ideas.

Here were our favorites:

Jack: Capital Mysteries: Trapped on the DC Train by Ron Roy; Wayside School is Falling Down by Louis Sachar; The Golden Statue Plot by Geronimo Stilton; Marvin Redpost: A Magic Crystal? by Louis Sachar

Wayside School is Falling Down

Ellie: Ronia the Robber’s Daughter by Astrid Lindgren; Number the Stars by Lois Lowry; Mattimeo by Brian Jacques

Ronia the Robber's Daughter

Jenae: To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee; Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe; For the Love by Jen Hatmaker; Clay, Water, Brick by Jessica Jackley; Matthew, Mark, Luke, John (ESV)

For the Love

John: Selections from the Aubrey-Maturin Series by Patrick O’Brian; Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton

Master and Commander

Favorite Read Aloud: The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall

The Penderwicks

This summer was hot for the Pacific Northwest, and we enjoyed so much cool, lovely water.

We visited Mason Lake, where my grandparents live. We swam, paddled, dipped toes, and let the sun warm and tan our skin. We ate big dinners with my family, and tried to distract the kids from my grandpa’s Fox News reports about ISIS and Hillary’s emails. My mom’s cousins took us out on their boat and John got to wakeboard for the first time in 15 years, and Ellie got a personalized lesson from an expert.

Ellie wakeboard john wakeboarding

We read books.

Clay Water Brick

We hiked down the trail to the Washougal River countless times, with friends, family, and by ourselves. We searched for agates, petrified wood, crawdads, and minnows. The kids swam a lot, I swam a little. I mostly read books.

river

Chike and the River

We took a day trip to the beach on a deliciously warm day with little wind. We picnicked, dug in sand, and John and the kids splashed and jumped over waves. I read a book.

beach

Conscience and Courage

We hiked longer distances and more treacherous trails than we ever have before as a family of four (and unabashedly bribed the children with Skittles).

hiking 2During some bits, I made John walk between Jack and me so I wouldn’t have to watch my seven-year-old blithely stumble along narrow, rocky paths hugging cliff-like drop-offs (John is used to me transferring all anxiety producing encounters onto his plate of responsibility). We listened to a book on the long drive home.

The Surgeon's Mate

All that dry, hot weather had consequences, unfortunately. August ended, as all of us in Washington and Oregon know, with record-breakingly huge wildfires. John works for the Forest Service and is trained to set-up and maintain radio and communications equipment for fire teams, so he was out on an Oregon fire for the last half of August. We missed him, but felt so proud of our man who worked 17-hour days, slept in tents, and ate…(I’m not sure what he ate, other than it was in large quantities), working hard to protect homes, buildings, and wild land.

fire campradiowarm springs

John became known as The Guy With Books In His Truck, and gladly loaned out his Patrick O’Brians and Wendell Berrys.

Our Only World

We are now obliged to bid farewell to summer routines, but water, earth, fire, and books (air for the soul, if I may) will linger into fall. Wildfires are still raging, not really caring that school has started and fire-fighting dads need to be around for after-school pickup two days a week. We’ll sneak in a back-packing trip with some friends over Labor Day weekend, hammering pegs into the earth and snaking along trails. September always gives us a few sunny, warm days sure to find us at the river. And teachers tend to be fans of books, so fall bodes well in the reading department.

Tiger Boy

I’ll buck up and start making lunches, writing IEPs, and monitoring homework again. I won’t mourn my fading tan. Just please don’t tell me you want to be cold and wet so you can use your wood stove and wear boots and sweaters again. You’ll have October, November, December, January, February, March, and April for all of that nonsense. Let me ease into fall in my September flip-flops and fair fahrenheits. Then, I’ll be ready to join you in celebrating pumpkin spice coffee, a cozy fire, and of course, a good book.

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand

What Legos and the Virginia Reel have to do with Justice

Last week we concluded our fifth summer of justice-related book clubs for kids and moms. Each summer I have met new people, discovered a new author, strengthened ties with the larger, global justice community, and been witness to God’s work in the world and in our family.

Last year I shared how I came to start leading book clubs for moms and kids around the topic of justice. This time, I want to process how I see the book club facilitates developing a heart and mind for justice in a child and a family.

~ A circle of moms, daughters, and sons: When we gather at a local park on summer mornings for book club, we form a large circle-ish shape. The moms sit on blankets with their littles and bigs huddled next to them or on laps. I love seeing all their faces – most of whom I know well. Some are friends of friends. Some of their children I already know and love, and all are loved intimately by God.

I heard an interview with Atinuke, an author of books we read last year. She said that her name means: You were loved before you were born. This is what I know about each child and mother in that circle: You were loved before you were born.

We gather together around a common purpose and each of us approaches the learning and activities differently. Each mom brings her own experiences and talents, each child brings her and his own readiness, attention span, and personality. We form connections with each other and to the larger world around us. Seeds are planted and watered in moms and kids, and the One who loved us before we were born will grow those seeds in time.

Juliette

~ Books: Together, we read a book throughout the summer, one that was carefully chosen to stimulate our heads and our hearts. Our “head and heart” books have been vehicles for discovering different places, cultures, and perspectives that a child growing up in the sheltered environment most of us live in needs opportunities to explore.

readingSnow Treasure Ghana PosterNaomi Reflection

Justice Heroes: Each time we gather, we learn about a real justice hero – men, women, and children who have stood for justice and acted with courage and compassion in their time and place. These are people who were not bystanders, but acted in the face of injustice, and we are inspired to do the same.

~ Action: Sometimes we read, talk, and listen, and our heads and hearts get smarter, but then we keep that smartness to ourselves and never do anything with it. At book club, we encourage the kids to do something. So, they become abolitionists. They use their words and actions to raise awareness about modern day slavery, and support International Justice Mission, a global organization that protects the poor from violence in the developing world.

They write thank-you notes to encourage the rescuers, office workers, survivors, care providers, and investigators on IJM’s Ghana Team. They are encouraged think creatively about acting justly now as children and as grownups.

IJM letter

Together as families, we challenged ourselves to read 1,000 books and raise $1,000 for IJM by September! As of this week, we are very close to meeting our goal.

Counting books

~ What Legos and Dancing have to do with Justice: Engaged brains and happy hearts facilitate learning. But a lot of the content related to global justice issues is complicated and sad or frightening.

So we play with legos, or more accurately, use legos to teach about justice.

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Telling the story of IJM’s casework on Lake Volta using Legos

We dance. I am so grateful to have a friend to whom I can say, “Hey, you know that one part in “The Year of Miss Agnes” where the village has a dance? Do you think you could teach our book club girls “The Virginia Reel?” I wish you could have heard the peels of laughter in the park that morning (scroll down to hear a sample).

~ Widening the Circle: We teach our children that being an abolitionist means speaking up on behalf of those who are oppressed. So the kids sent letters to grandparents, aunts, uncles, and friends. They answered questions and tried to speak up when a grownup asked them about the book club. They tell about slavery in Ghana and what our book club is trying to do about it.

And the circle widens. Five-year-old Genevieve’s grandfather in California received a letter from his granddaughter and shared it with his co-workers at an auto shop, who were encouraged by the little girl’s initiative and responded with a donation to IJM.

Genevieve

Ripples of relationships from each book club family grow ever wider, and more come to know about modern day slavery through the words and actions of small children.

Together, we grasp the outstretched arm of God who hears the cries of the brokenhearted and uses his children to bind their wounds and set captives free.

boys circle 2

We clasp the hands of those that go before us,
And the hands of those who come after us.
We enter the little circle of each other’s arms
And the larger circle of lovers,
Whose hands are joined in a dance,
And the larger circle of all creatures,
Passing in and out of life,
Who move also in a dance,
To a music so subtle and vast that no ear hears it
Except in fragments.
(The Larger Circle by Wendell Berry)


Thanks, Katie Jenks and Shawna Demaray for the photos and video!