Blessed Indeed! A look back at this year!

12.16.2014

As we head into Christmas and the end of the year, I've been reflecting on the challenges God brought us through this last year! I am not sure that my life has ever changed so drastically from January to December like it has this year!

I started off with a wonderful teaching job that I loved and enjoyed.
We were fostering B.
We were expecting our 2nd son.
We had a rambunctious 3 year old!
Shortly after Judah's birth, we were faced with various infections with our newborn. A ruptured ear drum at just 2 weeks old. 2 hospital admissions where I have horrible memories of nurses poking my tiny infant trying to find veins while he screamed his bloody head off in their treatment room. I knew they were helping him, but my heart broke for him. Spinal taps on this tiny one. Drs showing me the fluid and then one time it was so bloody, because he had already had one before, but this was protocol. Test and more tests. Ear tubes surgery. Finally discovering there were NO neutrophils in his body, yet somehow, miraculously, he healed ever so slowly along with the medicines and God's healing hands. Another admission and then we were sent home with a baby that I was worried if he could even be outside while a neighbor cut their grass.
Yet we experience God's abundant grace and provision through other believers, family, and friends. Meals would just show up at the hospital. People were taking care of our children, home, and even our foster child, because we were too stressed to know what to do with her. The doctors and nurses were amazing as they helped us through the stressful unknowns.

Then, the call from an oncologist, also known as the blood doctors or hematologists, who wanted to do a bone marrow biopsy on my 6 week old baby. It was feeling like too much. Then, he asked if he could pray over us, and God's peace welled up in my soul. This little one was his and I had to trust him. He was precious in his sight!

I didn't know how I would react when I found out that Judah did in fact have a rare blood disorder called Severe Congenital Neutropenia. But, I was thankful. Thankful, of all things! I didn't yell at God or get upset or cry in the bathroom, like I thought I would! The Holy Spirit filled me with a thankfulness that we knew what was wrong and thankful that while no cure existed, we could manage it with daily Neupogen shots. I was thankful for the drs calling us in 2 weeks early for a bone marrow biopsy, now a yearly needed test. Thankful, when the Dr gave me a hug and said, "Welcome to the family. Although, no one wants to be a part of this family. We are glad to have you!"

I never thought I would be this mom. In a way, I never really thought too long about all the children fighting cancer. Now, I see them every couple of weeks when I go to the cancer clinic with Judah. I see those little Brave warriors and their bald heads fighting for their lives. I've gotten to know them just a little. Brave Zoe, Madelyn, Sarah, and Gabriel. The ones I see, but don't know there, too. I sit on the sidelines of this world and pray in a way that is new to me. I see God healing and giving and also choosing when he takes away. Heart shattering. These precious lives.

So. It's true. I've heard the words "bone marrow transplant" and "Leukemia" more times than anyone ever should. And then we've heard amazing news, such as the Neutropenic specialist feel like Judah's disorder has a low risk to developing that bad L word, and they feel like we don't need to worry about having a preventative bone marrow transplant!!! And we humbly praise God and count our blessings that another day is lived with these amazing children of ours!

And now suddenly, it's Christmas! And I look back at this year and the trials that we went through, and continue to praise God for all that he has done for us this year and how my life has changed for the better in many many ways!

I now stay at home full-time and care for my two precious sons.
B is happily fostered by Hart's cousins.
I am very thankful to NOT be pregnant anymore.
And we have a rambunctious 4 year old AND an amazing 9 month old!
We are about to celebrate 6 years of marriage together!

And truly life together is different than what we started out with this year, and yet still beautiful.
 We are very blessed, indeed! Thank you Jesus!


Nothing is Impossible for God - Thoughts on Matthew 19:26

10.20.2014

Matthew‬ ‭19‬:‭26‬ ESV
'But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”'

This is one of those verses I feel is so often a verse taken out of context and misquoted and used to provide some sort of motivation to ourselves. In fact, the devotional I read the other morning that used this verse did that very thing. In a nutshell it pretty much said, "what's that impossible task for you? Well it's not impossible for God."


The problem with taking that verse out of context is if I then take it at face value it's going to set me up for failure. Ok, so flying like Peter Pan is impossible for me (and I mean legit, literally flying...as in the ability to defy gravity without the help of anything, except maybe some fairy dust and happy thoughts). But it's not impossible for God, so, in the words of Lloyd Christmas, "You're telling me there's a chance!?" Sure, God is powerful enough that He could allow me to do that, but the chance of that happening is worse than Mary Swanson ending up with Lloyd.



But, as the person who designs the motivational poster and puts Matthew 19:26 on it would probably say to me, "We don't actually literally mean impossible. We just mean something really difficult." And isn't that how we approach that verse too? We take the verse out of context, but by doing that we realize the impossible doesn't fit, so we replace it with difficult. So it becomes; what is really difficult for us isn't difficult for God. And then we use it as motivation as we prepare to hike that mountain, or run a marathon, or go in to an interview, or take a big exam.



(And here's George Washington even getting in on the action...)


When Jesus spoke verse 26 to the disciples, I seriously doubt He had Washington crossing the Delaware in mind. Let's back up a few verses so we can put it in to context to see what He meant.

So if we back up, He is speaking with the rich young ruler and points out the sin in this man's life. After having his sin exposed, rather than being freed by Jesus' words, he walks away in shame. Jesus then turns to his disciples and tells them that it's easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter heaven. (As a side note, over the years some have tried to make the argument that at the time of Jesus there was a sort of door or passageway in Jerusalem where camels had to kneel way down to be able to get through. And this place was called The Eye of the Needle. So, these people claim, Jesus wasn't actually speaking of a literal eye of a needle, but rather this place, and therefore Jesus wasn't saying it was impossible but just difficult. But there is 0 (zero) historical evidence to back up this claim and I believe this is just a lie from Satan to, once again, replace the word impossible with difficult.)

Now when you hear Jesus say it's impossible for a rich person to be saved, what is your immediate knee jerk reaction to that? I'm guessing it's something similar to the disciples. We are told they are astonished. Does it shake you up a bit? Maybe when you read that you thought 'Hey, I have money, and enough so that people would probably consider me rich. I love Jesus, but are you saying I've not been saved by Jesus?' Or maybe you thought, 'I don't currently have money, but I'm working hard on my Dave Ramsey plan and am hoping to one day have a nice nest egg saved up. So are you saying that's wrong?' Or maybe you thought, 'I know people who are wealthy and based on the fruit in their life I would say they love Jesus, but are you telling me they don't?'

Jesus doesn't really go further into details with money at this point, and I think the reason is because it's not so much about the money but more in general about idolatry and the love and worship of something that's not God. But, since He does reference money, let's take a look at it real quick. Based on other places in scripture I would say no, He's not saying a Christian can't be rich. I would point to these 2 things. Scripture reminds us that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil, and also tells us that we can't serve 2 masters. As we see with the rich young ruler, the moment he is asked to give his money up, he was hit in the face with the truth that he loves his money more than God, and serves it rather than God. It doesn't say you can't be wealthy. One can certainly posses lots of money and love Jesus more than that money, and serve Jesus rather than money. But, the Bible does make strong warnings about the ease of loving and serving money rather than God, and therefore strongly enforces the idea of being on guard against those sins.

The other thing I would point to to say that it's not really about the money but rather more so idolatry, is that the disciples asked Jesus who then can be saved? They don't ask "So rich people can't be saved?". They say "Who then can be saved!?", which that 'who then' sounds to me like it encompasses everyone.

And that brings us to verse 26 that is so often misquoted. The disciples are lamenting to Jesus and saying who can be saved!? And Jesus says what's impossible for man is possible with God. With man, it is impossible to rescue or save himself. But it is not impossible for God. It's impossible for those outside of Christ to repent and come to God because they are dead in their sins. But for God, even raising one from death is not impossible.

You know, as I write this, I now think I'll change my stance. Maybe it is okay for this verse to serve as a motivational poster. But maybe the picture on the poster needs replacing. Instead of a picture of a person running a marathon, or hiking up Mt. Everest, or jumping across some treacherous chasm, or sailing across the Delaware, it should be a picture of an empty tomb signifying God's ultimate power, even over death.


Or better yet, it could be a picture of you or me. You see, this verse should in fact serve as motivation. Not to motivate us to do some task that we think is extremely difficult. But instead let it serve as motivation in our prayer life for, and as we witness to those, that are lost. If it's not impossible for God to rescue you or me out of our sin, then it's not impossible for Him to save (fill in the blank). Who is that person you've given up on? Who is that person you have decided is unsaveable and said "God isn't going to save them."? If He is capable of saving you or me, then He is most certainly capable of saving that person you have written off. Don't give up on them. Pray for them. And more importantly, be intentional with them by becoming involved with their life and becoming a friend to them. It's not possible for you to save anyone. Maybe that's why you have given up on the Great Commission. Maybe you were trying to save rather than allowing God to save by using you, and since we are completely incapable of saving, you got frustrated and gave up.

Matthew‬ ‭19‬:‭26‬ ESV
'But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”'

God, thank You for Your Word. It is living and active. It is sharper than a double edge sword. While all other things wither and fade away, Your Word remains forever. Your Word is mighty and brings life. As Your adopted child it is my joy and honor and privilege and delight to call You Daddy. Just like I delight in my children coming to me and telling me everything on their mind, You delight in Your children coming to You and casting all our thoughts and cares before You. We, Your children, rejoice that You are involved in all aspects and every detail (great and small) of our lives. So when we are preparing to run that marathon, or going in to a big interview, or have a big exam, or about to cross the Delaware, we are thankful that You grant us access, through Jesus, to come before You and ask for endurance, or the correct words, or to calm our nerves, and ask for Your favor. But forgive us for when we cheapen Your Word by reducing it to some spiffy inspirational quote to help us get through something difficult rather than allowing Your Word to cause us to look in awe upon You, the One who is capable of doing the impossible.

Thoughts on Psalm 32:8

10.16.2014

This morning for my quiet time I, Hart, read Psalm 32:8 and started to jot down my thoughts and they quickly grew from a short journal entry to something a little longer that afterwards I thought I would share with others in case it serves as encouragement to you.

'I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.' Psalm‬ ‭32‬:‭8‬ ESV

How comforting this promise is! The sovereign God; creator of the universe; maker of me and Savior of my soul; the One who holds it all together and works together good for those who love Him; the One who knows no beginning and no end; who orchestrates everything and knows all that will happen because nothing can happen outside of Him allowing it to happen, promises to instruct me in the way I should go and His eye is always on me!

What came to mind almost right away when I read this at first was the classic story of an expert taking a young and inexperienced person under his wings and training him: Mr Miyagi and Daniel-san, The Karate Kid (the original one...not that one with Jackie Chan). Mr. Miyagi was the older, wise expert, the master, and he took Daniel who was young, immature, and inexperienced and trained him to the point where he became a well trained fighting machine and capable of winning the karate tournament.


Mr. Miyagi's teachings were odd at first. Daniel didn't understand the purpose of washing Mr. Miyagi's car (wax on wax off), sanding the floor and painting his fence. When one watches this for the first time it almost seems that Daniel has become this crazy old man's slave. But then in an inspirational moment Mr. Miyagi shows Daniel-san that those jobs, though they seemed insignificant, odd, boring, laborious, actually were preparing him for fighting. Isn't that like God so often? How often do you think "God why are you letting me go through this? What could I possibly learn from this that would be important or help prepare me for the future?" But God, as seen in this verse, promises to teach us. The master promises to train us! And though His teachings may seem odd, or difficult, or unimportant, He knows what is ahead of us and knows how we need to be equipped.



"I will counsel you with my eye upon you." Think about the end of the movie. Daniel-san is in the final round of the championship. He's banged up, and now facing his arch rival after almost giving up, and who is behind him? Mr. Miyagi. The master is still there with his eye upon him.



Obviously there are differences. Real life isn't accompanied by an 80's inspirational soundtrack. There's not always happy endings. And there's one major way we are not like Daniel. Though he was young, inexperienced, and kind of a punk kid, he was the victim (His arch rival, and his rival's gang, beat him up and constantly hound and torment him). Though we like to think we are, in reality, we aren't the victim. In fact, Ephesians 2 goes so far as to call us God's enemy. We rebelled against the King of kings, and rightfully deserve the King's wrath. But God being rich in mercy poured His wrath into His perfect and spotless Son, and in so doing rescued us. And as we see here in the verse, He promises to take us under His wing, His protection, His shelter, His guidance, His ever watching eye, and trains and teaches us the way we should go. His teachings don't always make sense in the moment, but He is the Master and knows what we need preparing for.

God, let me take delight in the promise that you, the Great Teacher, the Ultimate Master, have taken me under your wing and guide and teach me. Help me to not quench Your Holy Spirit and forsake Your teaching and guiding. Grant me the eyes to see and mind to understand Your teaching, and the discipline, self control and perseverance to follow You and obey You.

---

Side note - Yeah life isn't accompanied by an 80's inspirational soundtrack, but how cool would it be if it was!?

Foster Care Update: Loving B to the End!

10.09.2014

There have been so many times that I have wanted to publicly share the awfulness we have endured the last few months within the SC DSS system, particularly in Richland County, but today we celebrate, because God moved and because God is doing great things in the midst of a broken system, particularly through their new county director, Reese Palmer, who we met with this morning.

As you know we have been fostering B for over a year now, and when it came to light the depth of what we were dealing with with Judah and his bone marrow failure disorder, we began to realize that our role in the foster care system needed to end. But it was far from easy.

You see, Hart and I could NOT give up on the little girl God placed in our family. Most foster parents would have not hesitated to pick up the phone in the midst of such a crazy trial and have a child moved with the snap of their fingers, but we couldn't do this to this little one. I guess you could say we weren't most people. We couldn't stand the thought of her being traumatized again by moving to an unfamiliar home, with people she didn't know, and never seeing us again.

While the storm at DSS was brewing and transition after transition was happening, our own family was enduring our own storm with caring for our medically fragile baby. Family members of ours stepped in to help and began caring for B during our many hospitalizations and numerous doctor's appointments. A bond formed deeply there and while at first they began seeking how to just become respite caregivers, at the same time, we were realizing more and more that what we would be dealing with was a life-long situation with Judah. We knew we couldn't continue fostering. These family members wanted to step up to become B's foster parents. They could also adopt her if that need ever arises.

It's just that during this time B's caseworker changed 4 times in 1 month and we all were having trouble navigating the system. We had a lot of problems with stability during this time and with changing hands during a particularly stressful time, it felt as if we were now the enemies and not treated as a key component with a voice that could help work towards the right end to help the whole child. And it made us sick. It felt as if the entire system was against us and B's needs were being disregarded.

Until today. A round table was held with many key people within the county, and it was realized that just as I felt like all along, it was in B's best interest for us to pass the baton to our family members. I am so glad that I did not give up. That we can all have a happy "ending", even if it's just fostering. B and her baby sister were both allowed to be placed together under the same roof, within our extended family. A family she loved, was used to, and already saw as HER family. The most amazing thing is that we can truly be a village raising a child. That we can still see her and love her with all of our hearts, just a little further removed than the day to day in our own immediate family. We can focus on stabilizing our baby's health. Finally.

As I returned home, and scooped that baby girl up in my lap to read her before nap story, she took the story I had chosen "Goodnight Thumper" from my hands and placed it back in the book basket. She instead picked up her Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones and placed it in my hands.

It fell open to pg. 74. And I read:

"No one loves me," Leah said. "I'm too ugly." 

But God didn't think she was ugly. And when he saw that Leah was not loved and that no one wanted her, God chose her-- to love her specially, to give her a very important job. One day, God was going to rescue the whole world -- through Leah's family.  

Now when Leah knew that God loved her, in her heart, suddenly it didn't matter anymore whether her husband loved her the best, or if she was the prettiest. Someone had chosen her, someone did love her -- with a Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love. 

So when Leah had a baby boy she called him Judah, which means, "This time I will praise the Lord!" And that's just what she did. 

And you'll never guess what job God gave Leah. You see, when God looked at Leah, he saw a princess. And sure enough, that's exactly what she became. One of Leah's children's children's children would be a prince --the Prince of Heaven --God's Son. 

This prince would love God's people. They wouldn't need to be beautiful for him to love them. He would love them with all of his heart. And they would be beautiful because he loved them. 

Like Leah." 

Like B. Like you. Like me. 

It gave me chills reading that to B. (even the part about having a baby boy named Judah!) Seeing her heart and how she longs to be loved and how she has a love for God at even a young age. The fact that we got to keep loving her with a Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love. And we get to pass that on. 

It's an honor. A true blessing from God. 

And I am thankful I can say that THIS. THIS is what fostering is all about. It's about making a difference. And maybe we could only do it in one life. But we did it. And by God's grace alone. He kept us going when we wanted to give up.

And now I get to collapse into a heap of joy under the weight of God's mercy and grace. He is truly the defender of the weak and helpless. The fact that he would use us as part of it, is beyond belief. 

Thank you, Jesus! I know he will continue writing B's story and I know she will always be loved, because God chose HER!

He writes the best stories.
 

Fostering Through the "Storm"

7.26.2014

I suppose it's time for a little foster care update on this blog. It took a dramatic turn when Judah entered this world and the focus shifted promptly to him and his health, and to our survival as a family, sustained by prayers of those around us.

We need prayer again. B has court this coming Monday.

I cannot write specifics, of course. So, we ask for your prayers covering her and our family, and that God's perfect will be done in her life. Whatever that looks like.

I remember clearly almost a year ago getting that first phone call. A little girl. 7 months. Would we take her?

We held hands, prayed, and said, "Yes!" Even though the world would eventually tell us how crazy we were. For we knew just 2 days prior, that God was knitting together a little one made in His image.

We knew it would be hard to both be pregnant AND foster, but we went full on ahead, knowing God would work out the details. I don't think we realized HOW pushed to the limit we would be, but it was worth it. Every deep moment chasing deep moment.

Our deepest, most serious family portrait! Haha! (Photograph by Kelly Smith)
I remember when God breathed to my soul this verse for B.

"Those who were not my people I will call 'my people,' and her who was not beloved I will call 'beloved.'" Romans 9:25 

For so long, I thought that meant she would be MINE. A mini-promise entailing God's chosen child for our family. But I was wrong. Throughout this journey, I discovered the reverse to be true. She was not MINE, but His. HIS promise over B, that she was His BELOVED. He was taking care of B. He had bigger plans than what I could dream for her.

The rush of the past 4 months, being in and out of the hospital with Judah, there were so many times when I just didn't think we could keep fostering our precious B, a little one we didn't want to be tossed around in the system, a little one we loved like our own! Time and time again, God allowed people to step up to help. And on one occasion, then many thereafter, Hart's cousins kept B for us when we needed them.

They fell in love head over heels with this sweet girl.

In the same moment where I knew I wanted God's best for one that I knew was His beloved, I knew that puzzle pieces were beginning to form where B was fitting perfectly with our extended family.

While we have continued fostering her through this "storm" of life, we could not have done it without Hart's family stepping up, saying, "YES!" to this unique and beautiful B!

Monday is huge. Our family will stand before a judge and ask that he allow B to become a part of our extended family forever. Truly the best of both worlds for her and our family! We would get to be a huge part of her life. She would still be a part of our family at large, and we could watch her grow up, still see her for Holidays, birthdays, etc! She would be truly, deeply loved! I know that full well!

We don't know what will happen. But, we can pray. We can ask that God works mightily in this little girl's life. That she gets a beautiful family that cares for her best interest! A place she can live life to the fullest! Hart's cousin's home is that! We want her there! The place she truly would be the happiest!

As a mother, a foster mama, I know, none of these children (bio or foster) are MINE, but His. I know that when we said, "Yes!" It meant we would grow. We would learn a ton about ourselves! As seasons of life change, we know that sometimes it's not always how we pictured it, that through the storms, we are refined. We are changed for the better, and we come out more like Jesus than ever before.

B's story is beautiful in Christ and we know God is writing a beautiful ending! Please lift her up in prayer!
 PhotosOf Grace Photography by Kelly Smith