Saturday, May 13, 2017

My Last Mother's Day

***The images in this post are quotes and scriptures that have resonated with my soul as my husband and I came to do the decision to be foster parents.***

It's not often that you stand at the brink of a new relationship and know it's going to end in pain. I don't think humans are engineered for that. Unless there's significant trauma, I don't believe that we go into a relationship believing the other person is going to leave us, or hurt us, or that it will end in heartache. And yet, that's where I am today. It's the Saturday before Mother's Day, and I have "all the feels" as they say, but mostly the uncomfortable ones.



My husband and I are going through foster training. We started our journey just a few months ago, bright eyed and full of optimism and hope. We stand to complete our training and (hopefully) be ready for placements by August. And yet here, on the brink of Mother's Day, I'm questioning. Questioning what next Mother's Day will look like. How many children will I have loved and said good bye to by that point? How many little ones will steal my heart, and then return home? The thought crossed my mind the other day that this is my last "normal" Mother's Day. It's my last Mother's Day as a Mama to just two beautiful girls that I birthed. The rest of "my" children are either in utero, or in a home that may be neglecting or abusing them. And that is heart wrenching.

I also think about their mothers. I think about how some Mama out there knows she's pregnant, but her inner pain is so deep that she can't resist the siren song of drugs or alcohol. I think about the Mama who knows she's pregnant and feels completely incapable of taking care of a little one. I think of the Mama who desperately wants her children, but poverty means she has to work double shifts, at the risk of neglecting those same children. I think of the Mama who has lived through horrific abuse herself and knows no other way to exist than to try to displace her own shame onto her children. I think of the Mama who sits in jail, unable to see her babies, but loving them so much it hurts. It's their Mother's Day too, a day filled with pain and heartache, insecurity and instability.



And I wonder...is my heart strong enough? Have I recovered enough from my own struggles to be able to walk beside these hurting families? Will I survive letting go when everything in me screams to hold on? Can I truly have open hands, an open table and an open heart?

I don't really have answers. And that's a hard thing for me to accept. I'm an idealist, and I want to believe the idea that the kids coming into our care will be just like our own, it's just their parents that are screwed up. I want to believe they won't have major behavioral problems, or physical remnants of prenatal drug and alcohol exposure. I want to believe they'll attach easily and it'll be only mildly uncomfortable to release them back into their capable parents' arms. But all of that is just the ideal. It's not reality. As that understanding deepens, my heart starts leaping in my chest and asking my brain, "Are you sure about this? Are you sure we're tough enough for this?" And when those questions get overwhelming, I have to do the only thing I know to do: pray. Pray for them to be safe, and pray for me to brave.



So I stand on this side of the pain, on this side of the heartache and I still say yes. I still say yes because I feel His heartbeat every time I think of a child who feels unwanted, unloved, and unseen. I feel His heartbeat every time I think of a mother and father who desperately love their children, but are incapable of giving them what they need. I feel His heartbeat every time I think of the Mama who is drowning in her own pain and pulling her children under the current with her. And I say yes, even if it means my own heart must break in the process. Maybe it's in the breaking that we become whole together.



I plan to write more extensively about our foster care journey as we progress through it. May I ask a favor? Please keep our family in your prayers. This is a scary journey, but one we feel called to and we covet your prayer covering for us, our bio children, our extended family and friends, and the children and families we are called to love.

Blessings,
April

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Broccoli Tomato Salad



I don't share a lot of recipes here because I'm the world's worst food photographer, but this is one of my family's favorite salads. How can you go wrong with broccoli, tomatoes, cheddar cheese, and bacon?! I served it alongside my favorite Green Chicken recipe from Nom Nom Paleo (and makes the perfect addition to a garden salad the next day...it just gets better and better!), and a garden salad. And corn because my daughter loves corn. She loves it so much that I didn't get to eat any of the corn you see on my plate, she stole it. ;)



Broccoli Tomato Salad

1 large head broccoli, cut into 1/2" florets
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1/3 cup finely chopped red onion
8 oz. cheddar cheese, cubed
1/2 lb. bacon, cooked and crumble

Dressing Ingredients:
1 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground pepper
3 Tbsp. white vinegar

In a large bowl, combine broccoli, tomatoes, onion, cheese, and bacon. Whisk together dressing ingredients until sugar and salt are dissolved. Pour over salad. Toss to coat veggies. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours before serving.


If you make this, let me know! I'd love to know if you enjoy it as much as my family does!

Blessings,
April

Monday, March 13, 2017

Don't Fence Me In!

I mentioned recently that I should write a post about how much I despise labels. Well, this is it. This has been something brewing in my heart since 2000. I'm excited to dig into it with you all today.

As I shared on Friday, I've been a member of many different Facebook groups and message boards over the years. I've been in groups with topics ranging from art to parenting, from diet to natural living to homeschooling. Each online community has a lot of questions posted each day. Their actual questions may be something like, "Is this recipe pure/natural enough?" "Is this curriculum Charlotte Mason enough?" "Is my painting realistic enough?" "Was my discipline choice for my child good enough? The topics may vary, but once boiled down to their purest form, they are all asking the question "Am I enough?"



Label or Prison?
If we aren't careful, we can be defined by our labels. Our labels, which should serve to guide us, instead become walls that imprison us. We can become fearful of branching out into new territory because our label won't allow us. Instead of being free to experiment and explore this wide, beautiful world full of possibilities, we create mental jails where we grow stagnant. 

For instance, if I label myself as a Charlotte Mason homeschooler, I've handed those around me a yardstick with which they can measure my "enough-ness." Suddenly, if I choose to try a new approach that may not align entirely with Charlotte Mason philosophy, then someone can say, "Uh-oh, you're not Charlotte Mason enough!" If that bothers me, I can quickly shrink my life down to fit into that box that I (or others) have created. That label can become like a boa constrictor, tightening around my life until I can't expand and breathe.

Relationship Killers
I shared in this post how much Chasing Francis meant to me. I'd like to share a section out of that book that really spoke to my heart:

I don't want to be labeled at all. Labels are misleading. They objectify people. They are a form of relational laziness. We think that if we can nail a person's label, we've got them all figured out and we don't need to spend time getting to know who they really are...People are always a lot more complicated than their labels.

I LOVED this passage. It is exactly my heart beat, particularly in light of our current political dynamic. If someone claims the labels of Liberal, Conservative, Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, etc. then we think we know what they're about. We think we know what their values are, how they voted, what they believe and think about every current issue. But as Ian Morgan Cron said, people are a lot more complicated than their labels. And if I'm going to develop deep, meaningful, authentic, vulnerable relationships with people, then I can't whittle them down to fit the mold of a simple label. Don't I owe them more respect than that? Don't YOU want more respect than that?



If we aren't mindful about how we're utilizing labels, we can fall into "relational laziness", someone who labels people, decides if they're worthy of our time, attention, or love, and ultimately, misses out on a rich life. I'm obviously not talking about money here; I'm talking about a life made rich by experiences that stretch us, relationships that require the best of us. What could be a rich tapestry of relationships woven together by mutual respect ends up tattered rags. And all because we didn't take the time to look beyond the simple labels and get to know the people underneath. We are far more complicated, and infinitely more valuable, than a label could ever express. 

So, what do we do with these labels?
I could say trash them, but let's face it, that's not realistic. We will always attempt to label, quantify, and classify things, ideas, and people. It's in our nature. Instead, I propose that we should use labels are a jumping off place. Instead of seeing them as boxes that contain us, why don't we use them as engines to propel us onward?

What are the labels you've adopted for yourself or assigned to others? Are they accurate? Do you need to re-think how they apply to you? Are there new labels that would be more appropriate to your value system? Take some time to evaluate the labels in your life and decide if they're serving you or enslaving you. If it's the latter, it's time to let them go.

Blessings,
April

Friday, January 27, 2017

Defining Your Core Values

I used to be a member of several groups on Facebook with topics centered around minimalism. There was one devoted solely to mothers attempting to live a minimalist lifestyle, one for families, one for homeschoolers...basically, if there's something you're interested in, there's a group for that on Facebook. 



Regardless of what type of group it is, there is always a question that surfaces: "Is this ok? Is this _minimalist/artistic/healthy/whatever_ enough? Am I doing this right?" And if translated correctly, what they're really asking is, "Am I enough?"

Fluid Definitions

Like anything, minimalism can get tricky when we try to define it. To define something is to draw the boundaries of that thing, and it's hard to do that when the thing you're trying to define is fluid. Minimalism is a very fluid concept; it can mean very different things for every person who claims the label. (I should write a post on why I despise labels so much. But that's for another time.) 

These are all ways I've heard people define minimalism:
  • Owning a set # of items 
  • Being able to fit the items you own in a duffel bag/suitcase
  • Living in X-amount of square feet (36, 100, 240, 600....)
  • Having an intentionally uncrowded schedule
  • Zero waste
  • No furniture
  • Not owning a car/home
  • Not having children/limiting the number of children you have

And that's where that fluid definition comes in...all of these are legitimate ways to define minimalism for them. It certainly doesn't have to be how you define minimalism for yourself. When I first stumbled onto the idea of minimalism, I realized how freeing it could be to own fewer items. I realized how much of my time was spent simply maintaining my stuff. I remember hearing the phrase, "Our stuff should serve us, not the other way around." And I was hooked.



So, what's important to you? Start there and that will help guide what your process looks like. One of my core values was that I want to spend quality time with my family. So I began looking critically at what I was doing that was making that harder to achieve. Since laundry was a huge issue for me, I immediately donated tons of clothing. I do less laundry, we spend less money on clothing, and getting dressed is a lot easier because I'm developing a wardrobe of only things I enjoy wearing. 

What's your Why?

You have to know why you're doing something or you won't stick with it. Defining your core values helps you live purposefully, not being pulled here and there by every wind of consumerism, but intentionally creating the life you want to live. You don't have to ask others "Am I enough?" if you've already defined "enough" for yourself. You can easily look to your core values and determine if you're living in alignment with those. 



No one else can tell you if you're living the life you were made to live. That knowing comes from deep inside, and one of the best ways I've learned to hear that voice is to quiet the noise from the stuff I own, create literal and figurative space in my life, and listen. Minimalism hasn't been a cage, but instead the key to the lock on the cage of consumerism.

Blessings,
April

Monday, January 23, 2017

All That Remains

In the last week I've watched the film Minimalism: A Documentary About Important Things twice. I've been so moved by what I saw portrayed in the film: people coming from places of deep, profound pain and dissatisfaction into a life of contentment and great joy. And how? By shedding the excess weight of material things. By choosing simplicity.



The other day while scrolling through Facebook, I realized just how much of my newsfeed is dominated by marketing. There's not a single day that goes by that I don't see post after post trying to sell me on the latest essential oil blend or eye cream or lipstick or fashion item. And if we're honest, every single post is a form of marketing. We carefully curate what we share on social media because we're marketing a certain version of ourselves. We want to people to "buy" the best version of our lives.

And it's certainly not just my newsfeed, it's the side bar, it's every website, every blog. Search for a specific item on Amazon and they're quick to suggest 15 other items that other customers bought at the same time. Don't you need all of those too? Don't you want all those too? How will you read that book without this state of the art book light, this neck pillow, that throw blanket, this stainless steel coffee mug, the espresso machine, and the "book lovers" coffee blend?  How have you existed up to now without all this stuff?!

We're chasing something that doesn't exist. The advertisers and manipulators dangle the carrot in front of my face, saying if you just buy this, own this, have this, you'll be happy. But the carrot is plastic, and even if I caught it, I wouldn't be satisfied.



I'm not interested in working a job, pushing a business, just so I can buy the next upgrade for a life I don't want. It's ok to say I don't want the McMansion, the third car, the Disney vacation. Henry David Thoreau said, "I make myself rich by making my wants few." And what I want lately is pretty simple:

  • I want to spend time with my family. Not just time in close proximity, but focused, quality time. That means saying no to anything unnecessary. It's ok to say no.
  • I want to pay off debt. Yes, that means we need an income. But I still don't think that means working a job my husband or I hate. Our time NOW is just as valuable as our time when we're debt-free. We can talk about the hustle all day, but what if I died in the middle of the hustle? Would it be worth it?
  • I want to homeschool my kids well. I want to do the absolute best job that I am capable of, and nurture who God created them to be.
  • I want to write a book. (Yikes. Did I say that out loud?!?!) And not just any book, but one that adds value and brings solutions.
  • I want to love people well. Right now, that means some specific people God has dropped into my life, as well as searching out those that I know he's calling our family to serve, in some hard places.
  • I want to travel with my family. And not to the glossy magazine vacation spots, but to places that nurture my soul in the deepest ways...mainly, places where nature is wild, and my family can roam free. Some of those beautiful spots are right in my own backyard.


The thing is, I don't want to wait until...until the debt is paid off, until the kids are older, until we've reached some arbitrary measure of success, until we retire....to live the life we want to live. I want to live a life of value now. I want to live a life of meaning. I know that when I pass from this earth, people won't say, "I'm really going to miss her, she had a really nice sofa." Or "Do you remember those awesome shoes she wore?" (Hahahaha....no one would ever say that about me anyway!) ;) But, I HOPE they'll say things like, "I'm going to miss her. She really loved well." "Do you remember how she poured her life out in service to others?" I hope they remember that I saw this life for what it really is...my one and only beautiful life, and that I didn't just wait for someday.

So I ask you:


Blessings,
April

Friday, January 20, 2017

Chasing Francis

"A truly great preacher isn't someone with a seminary degree who explains the gospel; it's someone who is the gospel."



Last week I read Ian Morgan Cron's Chasing Francis: A Pilgrim's Tale. I've had it on my Amazon wishlist for several months, though I can honestly say I'm not sure why. I don't remember who recommended it or where I stumbled onto the title. But when I saw it on the bargain book table at a local Christian bookstore, I picked it up. And I'm infinitely grateful that I did.

Cron weaves a story that is so similar to my own. Our family attended Pentacostal and non-denominational churches throughout my years at home. As an adult, I settled into that routine as well. But in recent years, I've felt my heart aching for something...different? Better? I haven't been able to put into words exactly what I've been looking for, or what I thought was missing. Until I read this book.

It's a work of fiction, and yet pulls in historical and spiritual truths that touched my heart in ways I'd forgotten about...truthfully, it stirred me to know Jesus more. As I read, I was asking myself, "Why don't I take you seriously, Jesus? Why do I believe Christian celebrities when they say, 'This is what Jesus said, but he didn't really mean that. You don't really have to sell your belongings and give them to the poor. You don't really have to be poor in spirit, hunger and thirst for righteousness, or be meek to inherit the kingdom.' Why do I believe them over you? Because it's convenient?"

Chase (the main character) ends the book with this plea:

We're all seeking God together --come join us.....If someone asks me what kind of church I belong to, I want to say, 'a come and see church.' Come and see how we love the poor; come and see how we give dignity back to those who've lost it or given it away; come and see how we encounter God through every practice at our disposal; come and see how we love one another in community; come and see how we stand for peace and justice; come and see how we've been freed from consumerism and have become radically generous; come and see our passion for beauty; come and see how we defend the earth; come and see how we preach the gospel at all times and when necessary use words. Come and see--and perhaps after a while, you'll decide to join us in the story we're living in.
That passage really sparked a passion in my heart. As I said, I've felt this longing for something within the Church, but couldn't put language to it for the longest time. This was the language I needed. It helped me define what it is I've been seeking. See, I want to be a part of a faith community that identifies more with their Savior than with a political party. I want to be part of a faith community that reclaims the Arts, instead of relegating them to the realm of the secular. I want to be part of a faith community that embraces our call to be caretakers of creation. I want to be part of a faith community that embraces the disenfranchised and brings them in as family. 

More importantly, I want to BE that church. I don't just want to be in a church where others believe those things, I want to honor those values in my own heart, in my own home. Not to sound cliche, but I want to BE the change I wish to see within the Body of Christ, and ultimately, the world. While I needed language, I gained more than that...I feel like I got a road map. I love books that point me back to Jesus, that show me more of his character, his passion, his vision. And Chasing Francis did that for me. 

What have you read lately that was a wake up call? Please share...I'd love to hear!

Blessings,
April

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Current Reads

Every January, I set out with the same goal: Read more. Since I'm determined to keep that goal this year, I'm going to be sharing book reviews and current reading lists throughout the year. So, keep me accountable, friends! If I stop sharing these, remind me! I need all the help I can get. ;)

I'm trying something new this year. I'm reading several books at once. I have never attempted this before, but so far it's working well. Here's what's on my bedside table right now.


I can't believe I've never read these books. I mean, I've seen all the movies, but never actually read the books. When I saw the boxed set in my daughter's book order for school, I snatched up a Christmas gift for me! :) So far, I'm loving The Hobbit. I love the language and imagery. 


Recommended by a friend, I can tell this is one that I'll reference time and again. I'm currently reading through it one chapter per week in an online book club with a few friends and we're all getting a lot out of it. My favorite quote so far: "Conviction always move us back to the Father. To say, 'I am not worthy so I will stay away from my Father' is shame. To say, 'I am not worthy, but I will go to my Father' is conviction."


I found this on the bargain book table at a Christian book store. I've read some of Ruth's writings and I enjoy her work. I'm about 1/3 of the way through, and so far, I'm enjoying it. I like that she weaves scripture throughout, and includes some journaling/discussion questions at the end of each chapter. I'm hoping there will be some practical tips in there somewhere, but the philosophical basis is good, too.



I started reading this last year and never finished it. What I've read so far is awesome, but for some reason, I just couldn't get into it then. But I love Brene Brown, so I'm diving back in and enjoying it so much! Sometimes the timing just isn't right for your heart to receive the message of a book, but I think the timing is right for this one now!


I actually finished reading this last week. I broke my rule of only reading a few chapters per day per book. I loved this fiction story and couldn't put it down. It's not the most well-written fiction book I've ever read (I've been to Italy...there were a few VERY minor flaws), but it was lovely, and I got a lot out of it...I felt it gave language to some longings I've had in my heart for a long time. It inspired me to download several more books about St. Francis of Assisi and I can't wait to dig into those! Check back Friday for my thoughts on Chasing Francis.

I have a huge list of books lined up to read this year (growing by the day!) and I'm loving this new technique of reading 3-4 at a time. I think I'll get more books read this way. In the past, if I've gotten bogged down in a book, I've put it aside, but didn't want to pick up another until that one was finished. It slowed my progress down tremendously. But this way, if I'm getting bored or tired of the author's voice for a bit, I can easily pick up another, read a few chapters, then come back. I've purposely chosen books from different genres and subjects, and made a list of books for each area of my life. I'm thoroughly enjoying this process and can't wait to see how much material I can get through this year! 2017 is the year for GROWTH!

I'd love to hear what your reading goals are for 2017. What's on your bedside table right now?

Blessings,
April-