pickup day 2.0

We know Who brought her back into our lives for this season. As sweet Eden matter-of-factly stated, “God wasn’t surprised when Kami decided to attack the other kids.” Nope, He wasn’t. We might not be her forever family, but we are her today family, and we aren’t guaranteed tomorrow.

Drowning in anxiety. This was an appropriate description of me when we heard our respite time was coming to an end much sooner than we’d hoped.

Unlike the original version, Pickup 2.0 happened in a Chick-fil-a parking lot in Georgia. Let me go back and explain: back in December, we realized after 3 1/2 years (about 1,230 faith-stretching days) of daily battles won and lost that we desperately needed a break. We were prepared to pay for a local 10-day respite over Christmas when, unexpectedly, some experienced friends who knew about Kami’s situation offered to give her a fresh start. They were willing and eager to provide not only a respite, but to potentially welcome her into their family on one condition. The one condition was that she must not physically attack their other children. Well, Kami had many problems in our home, but attacking other kids hadn’t been one of them, so we moved forward believing that this may be Kami’s second chance.

After we delivered Kami to the respite home on December 14, 2017, it didn’t take long for her to begin a disturbing display of aggressive behaviors – things she never did with us. Looking back, I imagine she may have wanted to be aggressive against our kids, but chose (wisely) not to. We saw glimpses of this lurking urge over the years, but we never gave it room to develop, and we also gave her the benefit of the doubt. Surely she wasn’t being malicious, we assumed? For whatever reason, she viewed her change in environment as a chance to act out in new and horrifying ways. So, two glorious months of peace and rest later, we found ourselves with Kami back in our care. In my mind, this was NOT how my plan for rest in the new year was supposed to unfold!

Just days before Pickup 2.0, Mason and I had the joy of traveling together to visit two of our sending churches in Louisiana. While there, we enjoyed a sweet and too-brief time of reconnecting with special people who knew us before the adoption, counseled us through it, and loved us after it. As I related my desperate fears about taking Kami back and reiterated why I just couldn’t do it after all we’d been through and all she’d done, one friend shared with me Psalm 18:34. “He trains my hands for battle; he strengthens my arm to draw a bronze bow.” Now, this was not exactly what I wanted to hear, because it implied God was going to ask us to do the thing we really didn’t want to do. We were looking for a quick escape, but God was pulling us closer to Him and deeper into His heart by asking us to do the impossible. Again. (Thank you for sharing that Scripture with me, Marsha! You are one of a precious group of people who God strategically placed to speak truth to us at just the right moments in recent weeks.)

This is a time of creative solutions for our family. Mason spent a week living in his parents’ spare room with Kami to figure out this new little girl he picked up in the Chick-fil-a parking lot. That living arrangement only lasted one week because the kids wanted him home so badly. They can understand him traveling out of state, or taking a trip to the other side of the world; but Dad living across town was hard for them to accept. He now sleeps on our couch while Kami sleeps in a tent in the living room – the only safe place for her, since she’s unable to share a room and we don’t have an extra one. Because each of the 12 (yes, TWELVE!) children’s homes we called refused Kami, he is finding creative ways to make this arrangement work. While we await her second placement, Mason decided that public school was the best course of action, and he made it happen. This is her first week.

The reason Mason is doing all of this is so I can hang on to the big strides in personal recovery I was able to make during the two-month respite, and so that Ezekiel, Eden and Isaiah can have my full attention during this transitional time. I am learning that even the most restrictive limits and boundaries can be healthy when in the best interest of everyone. We have other children to protect and the peace of our home to preserve. We have the ability, by God’s grace and guidance, to field this situation wisely. Mason is now able to go to the office during Kami’s school hours, but she has been his main ministry in recent days. I have never, ever been more grateful for or aware of the blessing he is to me. He is laying down his life for me, choosing to keep me separated from Kami (even if he and I can’t be together) rather than risk my health and sanity by placing us in close quarters again. He is more of a gentle, strong, capable leader than I ever noticed before. He is leading us so well!

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Above is a simple glimpse into how this kind of parenting can lead to parental PTSD, particularly for moms.

Now for some good news: our friends who kept her for the two months started her on a miraculous medication. Having been through intense drug withdrawals with her in the beginning, and not being familiar with any positive aspects of pharmaceutical usage, this was a route we hadn’t even considered taking; but it’s made a huge difference in her demeanor. She doesn’t rage nearly as often as before.

Since coming back into our home, Kami has attempted to lash out against the kids in new ways; but Mason is doing an amazing job of keeping them separated and keeping her supervised round the clock. They’re not afraid of her, but we all know this isn’t the ideal environment for her. We are working with an agency that specializes in placing kids from similar backgrounds to Kami into families where they can “be the baby” and have the chance to flourish. Our hope and prayer is that very soon her forever family will be found. Feelings are deceiving and not to be trusted at face value, but from day one we didn’t feel like Kami’s forever family. We were never motivated by our need for a child, but by this child’s need for a chance at life. From the moment we signed her final adoption papers in that stifling office in Sofia, Bulgaria, this felt like a life or death rescue mission. We played our role, and we will assume it is concluding until and unless God tells us otherwise.

The worst, most untrue thing anyone could say to us is that adopting Kami was a mistake. We will forgive you if you say that, but please know you are mistaken. It is never a mistake to obey God, and He is the One who drew us to her name, picture, and story. It is never a mistake to show the love of Jesus to a hurting person to whom He specifically calls you to minister, even if it means personal risk. 

We know Who brought her back into our lives for this season. As sweet Eden matter-of-factly stated, “God wasn’t surprised when Kami decided to attack the other kids.” Nope, He wasn’t. We might not be her forever family, but we are her today family, and we aren’t guaranteed tomorrow. Our responsibility is to honor God and live the Word, which we continue to do to the best of our ability.

So, what is God asking you to do that’s causing you to panic? Have you, too, thrown temper tantrums in your spirit because things aren’t working out the way you planned? When you know the Lord personally, every trial becomes a force that pulls you closer to Christ. The most desperate, intensely challenging times of my life are the ones in which I most powerfully experience the realness of my relationship with Jesus. Michael W. Smith sings it well: “I may look like I’m surrounded, but I’m surrounded by you.”

 

Surrounded,

Christen 🙂

find them, push them, respect them: your limits

Some limits are meant to be pushed, and others are to be respected.

In my high school and college days, I spent a lot of time doing math. Ever since I first learned of the limit in high school calculus, I’ve been interested in pushing it. I took as many Advanced Placement classes as possible in high school and told people I wanted to work in aerospace engineering. This got a much better response than “I want to get married, have babies and homeschool them,” which was really what I always wanted!

So here I am in what I might call an Advanced Placement level of parenting: training from the ground up a formerly institutionalized child while homeschooling three “homemade” kids. I was just telling my mom the other day, after she spent an eventful evening with them all, that most people will never associate with (much less live with) a person who was born and raised in an institution. It’s an unusual situation that has pushed Mason and me to our spiritual, emotional, and physical limits.

Though adoptive parenting has shown us our limits in painful ways, the plus side is we’ve learned to create margin in our lives. When things get really tough, we know to drop what we can from our schedules and focus on what’s most important. Despite the fact that we’re still on our way out of the woods with KJ (it’s a winding path), we shared recently that we were getting ready to jump into foster care. We submitted it to God and felt confident about it.

When the foster parent certification class started, we found ourselves in the midst of a wild week or two. It was well timed. We realized our desire to open our home to more children right now (in Christen World, this is the best time to do any good idea!) wasn’t taking into account the needs surrounding our latest addition.

We have good days/bad days, good weeks/bad weeks with Kami Joy. God used a string of bad days with her to clue us into the fact that our home is not “home-study ready”. (The home study is the several week process that a family goes through before they’re cleared to adopt or foster.) We know from our adoption home study that these are meetings where everything comes out in the open. Some of the difficult, intense feelings and struggles we’ve had in our parenting journey with KJ are still too fresh (as in, just happened yesterday) for us to be able to truthfully present ourselves as parents who are mentally and emotionally healthy enough to manage more trauma in our home right now. We’re grateful God showed us something through this string of hard days. There was a limit there that we didn’t know about. Some limits are meant to be pushed, and others are to be respected. This one had a sign over it:

do not push

Our family remains totally open to God’s leading, ready to welcome whoever He may bring into our family through whatever means He might choose. It’s comforting to realize that just because our orphan care capacity feels maxed out right now doesn’t mean it always will be. Plus, I am reminded there are many other ways to do orphan care, like supporting adoptive families financially or emotionally through the excitements and challenges of their journeys. In North Carolina, I attended an amazing adoption support group that inspired me to try to find or start that kind of group down here.

There are no limits to the ways God can direct us when we submit our ways to Him. When you have a personal relationship with Jesus, you’re able to do things that would be impossible on your own because it’s His mighty power at work within you doing way more than you can even imagine. God is a good Father, faithful to speak to us when we listen. What’s He saying to you today? Here’s His latest to me:

Don’t think that by serving Me more you can get Me to love you more. I don’t love you because of what you do for Me, I love you because of who I AM. Don’t seek relief from your adoptive parenting struggles by becoming a foster parent just yet. Love each of your 4 kids well; and especially focus on loving that fourth one into the fold.

These words were gifts to me. 🙂

Christen

 

10 positive things about dietary restrictions

Here are ten encouragements for you if you’re dealing with a suddenly restricted diet.

Here’s a positive spin on something that’s generally viewed as a major bummer: dietary restrictions! I remember saying as a teenager, “I could never give up wheat,” “I definitely couldn’t live without cheese,” etc… Well, I’ve learned by now to stop saying I could never do something. Many of those things, I’ve ended up doing!

Here are ten encouragements for you if you’re dealing with a suddenly restricted diet. Take heart; it could become a big blessing in your life!

  1. Most of the grocery store is off limits, so you save both money and time when you shop. You learn to zero in on the small sections that carry your safe items. If you’re gluten and dairy free, brands like Bob’s Red Mill and Enjoy Life (affiliate links included) exert a magnetic force on you!


2) You are forced to actually think about everything that you put in your mouth. This is a healthy practice we should all do to care for our bodies, but many of us don’t take the time to read labels and make informed decisions unless we develop an allergy or intolerance.

3) The temptation to pig out in social settings is gone, leading to…

4) You emphasize relationships with people rather than food! When I go to a restaurant to meet a friend, chances are I will just order a glass of water and maybe a small fruit or vegetable side dish. (This also saves money!)

5) Fewer choices make for a simpler lifestyle. An unlimited array of choices at the grocery store or restaurant can be overwhelming.

6) The physical discipline of controlling what you put in your mouth can be translated into a spiritual discipline. When I had to become strict about making sure no gluten (and later dairy) was in my food, I realized that I should be just as strict about what I say and what I watch. Practicing vigilance in one area helps develop it in other areas.

7) Midnight snacks feel good. I can stand in the dark kitchen, after everyone else has gone to bed, eating carrots and hummus until I am fully satisfied. I don’t feel sick or guilty afterward!

8) Your stomach gets the message that it’s full. Back when I could tolerate gluten and dairy, I had a greater tendency to overeat because I didn’t feel as satisfied after eating.

9) You’re more grateful for your food! If someone goes to the trouble to make me a GF/DF treat (which my mom does all the time), I enjoy every last bite of it. As long as it’s safe, I’m not picky.

10) You can be sure that when you pray “Give us today our daily bread” like Jesus said to do, He knows exactly what kind of bread you’re talking about! In my case, any of these choices below will do. 🙂

In everything give thanks!

Christen

saying yes to God’s best: the things I didn’t even know I wanted

I’m learning to be grateful for all His gifts, even the ones I didn’t ask for.

It all started with a piano. Loresa, a friend of Mason’s mom, asked one day if we would like a free piano. When she relayed the offer, my first inclination was no, thank you. I figured our open floor plan, which has our kitchen, dining room, living room, and school room all together, seemed full enough; and besides, I hadn’t played piano for years. Mason and I talked it over and felt a tug to accept the kind gift. It was delivered a couple of months ago to a cozy spot next to the dining room table.

piano

This piano has been therapy to my soul. I never would have guessed that I wanted one! I had no idea how good it would be for me, and how fun it would be to pull out all my old music books and remember how to play songs full of pleasant memories. Eden was the first to try to teach herself to play (that lasted all of about 2 weeks), Ezekiel compiles a lineup of special songs (all in minor keys, of course) for me to play him each day, Isaiah snuggles up next to me with his chubby little arm around me says “I love you, Momma!” when I play, and Kami has learned to process and enjoy a new kind of sound in the house. This piano, at first a seemingly random offer to be passed over, has become a sweet gift to every member of the family – even Mason, who’s not the keenest on musical appreciation. (Thanks, Loresa!)

This got me thinking about some other gifts I’ve been hesitant to receive. I heard on the radio the other day the idea that God’s will is everything we want, if we knew all the facts. Of course, we don’t know all the facts, but sometimes we get far enough down the road to see glimmers of them in this life.

One gift I didn’t know I wanted at the time was our third baby. Isaiah is a kind, cuddly, smart, empathetic member of the family, and he’s got a glue-like quality that pulls everybody together. He totally disrupted our plans to adopt from South America in 2012, and we were pretty upset that our grand orphan care mission was derailed by an unforeseen pregnancy. We were foolish and shortsighted, and Isaiah is the best surprise we have ever received! it just takes one look at him every day for God to remind me to trust Him and be patient – it can take 9 months or more to see His purposes unfold. 🙂
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Sometimes we wrestle with the gifts He drops into our laps, particularly when they take us on rollercoaster rides. This has been the case with Kami Joy. I was encouraged to hear one international adoptive mom share with me recently that it took her close to 10 years to feel love for her child. (If you haven’t adopted a traumatized older child, that might sound heartless. It’s quite the opposite. Like so many other things in life, it’s hard to understand unless you’ve lived it.) We do have many moments and days now where we feel warm feelings toward her, but we still have days where we simply choose to love her through our actions in the absence of feelings. She’s a gift that God has used to humble, soften, refine, and bless us.

Martin-1014
Here’s another gift I never would have asked for: a cancer diagnosis. It was like something from a movie, finding myself in a doctor’s office with my spouse where I was told very seriously that I had cancer. This happened to me last month. I think the whole thing was a bit over-dramatized on the medical side, but God’s not intimidated by that. He taught me so much through the six-letter word that I was afraid of. I was pretty upset at first and spent a few days crying and resigning myself to all sorts of horrible treatments. Then we prayed, educated ourselves, calmed down, asked friends to pray, and prayed some more. We watched portions of The Truth About Cancer, I scoured the internet looking for home remedies, we spoke with trusted friends, and we used unconventional things like black seed oil, eggplant extract, baking soda, Essiac tea, and of course, our doTERRA essential oils. During the time between my biopsy and my visit to the oncologist, the growth had almost disappeared. The oncologist needed help finding it, yet flippantly dismissed the notion that natural treatments could have helped. 😉  It is completely gone, with only a small scar showing where it was! The Lord led some of our friends to pray specifically for clear guidance on whether or not we should proceed with surgery. He gave it, and we aren’t planning on surgery right now.

God healed that small tumor. He is so awesome. If I could guess, I think one reason He gave me this gift was to demolish a huge fear stronghold in my life. I have been afraid dozens of times in my life that I might have cancer. (I’m not a hypochondriac, but I have leanings in that direction.) During both of my visits to the doctor, I felt God’s overwhelming presence with me. It was so amazing to be in a situation that I had feared for my entire life, yet to be overcome with peace that only comes through a personal relationship with Jesus. He was right there with me the whole time, and I was reminded that my times are in His hands (Psalm 31:15).

Another fun aspect of this whole experience was seeing Mason, my eternally calm husband, receive with me the doctor’s news that the biopsy had come back cancerous. Not surprisingly, he remained unruffled. He might drive people nuts with his bluntness and expressionless-ness at times, but his coolness under pressure is a great trait. This also makes us a good team, since I tend to spazz out on both ends of the emotional spectrum.

Another thing we may not have known we wanted was the call to leave Mason’s last career when it didn’t satisfy our souls. (We have many wonderful friends continuing to serve in that career in obedience to God, and they are right where they need to be, and we are so grateful for their service!) God has a specific purpose for each of our lives, and because He showed us what it was for us and equipped us to follow, we are now experiencing the deepest soul satisfaction of our lives. It’s been a season of sweetness where I’m often overcome by God’s crazy goodness to guide us so closely and be so active in our daily lives. The days fly by, they get intense, and I mess up; but sometimes I have a hard time calming down enough to sleep at night because I’m so excited! Jesus says in Matthew 17:20,  “if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.” Imagine the possibilities!

Who can list the glorious miracles of the LORD? Who can ever praise him half enough? Psalm 106:2

I’m learning to be grateful for all His gifts, even the ones I didn’t ask for.

Christen

***I want to include some encouragement for anyone who’s struggling with their health and feeling like there is no hope outside of conventional medicine. While there is definitely a time and place for conventional medicine, there is also a lot you can do at home using God’s creation under His guidance. For anyone who might be interested, here are the affiliate links for a few of the products I used. No, I am not diagnosing or treating anyone else’s illnesses by sharing about these products. 🙂

Starwest Botanicals Organic Essiac Tea, 1 Pound

Sweet Sunnah Black Seed Oil Cold Pressed (First Pressing) 8 oz..Non GMO Unrefined & Unfiltered,No Preservatives & Artificial Color – Glass Bottle – Product of USA.

BLACK RASPBERRY SEED OIL. 100% Pure / Natural / Undiluted / Virgin / Unrefined / Cold Pressed Carrier oil. 0.5 Fl.oz.- 15 ml. For Skin, Hair, Lip and Nail Care. “One of the highest antioxidants, rich in vitamin A and E, Omega 3, 6 and 9 Essential Fatty Acids”. by Botanical Beauty (I applied topically to tumor site)

Piping Rock Eggplant Extract 6000 mg 30 Quick Release Capsules Herbal Supplement (I mixed the powdered extract with essential oils and applied topically since I had trouble finding a good eggplant at our grocery store)

Many blessings as you prayerfully pursue good health!***