Saturday, July 25, 2015

A HARD KNOCK LIFE: CURRENT FOSTER CARE CRISIS

We watched the new version of Annie a couple of months ago and really liked it, and it reminded me how much I had enjoyed the old version when I was a child.  I headed to YouTube to show the girls the old version of "It's a Hard Knock Life," which is full of singing and dancing and little girls cleaning.  I loved it as a kid, and all of my children were transfixed.

But then they started asking questions.

Who are all of those girls?

Where are they living?

Why are there so many of them?

My eyes filled with tears as I tried to explain, because it represents such a real issue.  These girls are orphans.  They don't have mothers or fathers.  They live in an orphanage.  The words of the song trilled in my mind.

"It's a hard knock life for us.  It's a hard knock life for us.  No one cares for you a smidge, when you're in an orphanage.  No one's there when your dreams at night get creepy.  No one cares if you grow or if you shrink.  No one dries when your eyes get wet and weepy.  From the crying you would think this place would sink.  Empty belly life.  Rotten smelly life.  Full of sorrow life.  No tomorrow life."

I know this song by heart, because I did a dance to it in a college talent show.  We won money, so you know it must have been good.  In college, I actually majored in Family and Human Services.  I did an internship at a group-home for children that had failed out of foster care for behavioral issues, which was about as pleasant as it sounds.  That summer was so hard for me, because I saw, first-hand and for the first time, the horrors that adults can wreck into children's lives.  I truly didn't have a frame work for it, and it rocked my world.

I was at a sensitive time in my own life, because my dad was battling cancer, and I remember ending that summer completely drained and never wanting to touch foster care or social work again.  I certainly never wanted to adopt.  I had seen the dark side, and I never wanted it in my own family if I had a choice.  I craved comfort and ease and pleasant.  I still do.

Thankfully, God had other plans for my life.  We've adopted, and I wouldn't have it any other way.  It's hard and messy at times, but it is beautiful and for our good and God's glory.  One of the main ways that I get to serve the orphan currently is by being on the board of the non-profit Immerse AR.  I've talked about it many times, and it has been an eye-opening experience in its own right.

In our most recent board meeting, we reviewed where the system currently stands in our state, and it was an extremely depressing 45 minutes.  Our new governor also just reviewed all of this and released a report.  To sum it all up - there is a crisis.  There are more children entering the system.  There are fewer foster families.  Lives hang in the balance.

I absolutely know that not all people are called to foster care and adoption, but I firmly believe that many of us need to be doing more than we are.  I don't and can't know what this should look like for individuals.  I know that in my own heart I am loathe to give more, because comfort is an easy idol to look towards, and getting involved in the lives of those who are really hurting is painful and messy.  The lines are not clear, and timelines are moving targets, and we want things to be easy.  This issue is not easy.

But - as I listened to the words of "It's a Hard Knock Life", I was reminded that it really is an incredibly difficult life for children whose birth parents have failed them in more ways than they can number.  It's never easy to be them, and they have no choice in the matter.  I'm hoping and praying that better solutions can be found.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

LATELY IN A SMALL SHOW OF BULLET POINTS

Here's lately.
  • We went to our neighborhood pool for the first time this weekend and had a lovely time.  Really and truly.
Untitled
(What am I doing with my hand?  Mysteries always seem to find me.)
Untitled
(This is Lily's "I'm trying to humor you by pretending to smile while you take a picture" face.)
Untitled
(Aunt Rachel joined us!)
Untitled
Untitled
(I posted a slow-mo video of this on Instagram, and she really does fly!)
  • I got new glasses for the first time in about 15 years.  They do such a good job of correcting my astigmatism that I am now suffering from "constant contact disappointment syndrome."  It's totally a real thing, and I am not sure what to do about it.  
  • We met friends at Jump Zone yesterday, which the kiddos mostly loved.  
Untitled
(They will go to Kindergarten the same year.  #shestallishhessmallish  Also, she thinks it is cool to wear socks that don't match.  This explains a lot of laundry drama to me now that I fully understand it.  Also, I think she looks away on purpose, but she is smiling, so I'm not going to complain too much.)
Untitled
Untitled
Untitled

  • We're battling ungratefulness and disrespect this summer, and with our added time together, I've gotten to see a lot of this.  
  • I've been doing a Book Club of Colossians this summer with some friends and new friends, and it has been so rich.  It also really helped when my morning started with some of the aforementioned attitudes from my children, and I heard the words from Colossians echoing in my mind - "clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience." (Col 3:12b)  Having a stay in my spirit when I really just wanted to be irate was such a blessing, and the situation ended in soft words and cuddles, all thanks to God.
  • I had a rather impromptu dinner date with two friends - one of whom has just returned to town from being gone about a month.  We walked in with our twelve kiddos 6 and under.  I will never quit saying how glad I am to do life with friends, because I really am so thankful.

Untitled
  • Yesterday I totally forgot about my dentist appointment, even though I had planned for it.  Then, I completely forgot about the twins' afternoon therapy session - the one we have every Wednesday afternoon.  It was good confirmation that my decisions to back off from responsibilities in the next year have been well placed.  My brain is a tad over-loaded.
  • I cleaned out my closet again.  I think the last time I did it I did a terrible job, because truly, there was so much that needed to go.  I am not a hoarder, but I did feel a bit sentimental handing those things to the man of Good-Will, even though they are just things.  I see the patterns and fabrics and think of the memories.  Then I remind myself that I took pictures of almost every last memory, and I don't need memories hanging in my closet.  Or clothes that don't fit well.
Untitled

Friday, July 17, 2015

THIS WEEK: PLAY BY PLAY

This week sort of did us in.  Every Sunday afternoon/evening, we sit down and talk through questions and get on the same page about our week.  This has been an invaluable exercise for us.  When we planned for this particular week, we never could have imagined the ways it would be upended.

We started out with a date night on Monday night, which was a treat.  We've been doing date nights weekly so that we can remind ourselves how much we like each other.  It's easy to lose track of that in the midst of some of the chaos.  We ate someplace new to us:  Three Fold Noodle and Dumpling Company.  We loved it, as well as walking around downtown and hitting up a bar where John knew the bartender.

Untitled



Tuesday was Cow Appreciation Day which was a great deal of fun and also took a great deal of energy.  John was pretty well wiped out.  Late Tuesday night, we got a text saying that a CFA in our market had experienced an armed robbery and that two team members had been shot.  John didn't see the text until 1 a.m. when we got a phone call that the alarm was going off at our restaurant.  Let me just tell you that sometimes, owning a restaurant (or two) is an incredible amount of work.

Thankfully, everything was fine at our store, but John felt like he could be helpful with what was going on with our friend's store.  He went to the hospital on Tuesday night to meet up with our friend and check on their team member.  Both team members are going to be fine - thank the Lord.  Needless to say, we didn't get much sleep that night.  John spent all day on Wednesday at that store helping to run interference and get things ready to re-open.  Wednesday found me tired and a bit on edge.  Whining had taken over our home, and I wasn't sure that I could take much more.

But Thursday got better and included a day lunch date for John and I, because we had the chance and grabbed it.  We had a lovely dinner at our friend's CFA on Thursday night, and it was great to check in with them and see that things are going to be fine.  It's hard to see friends walk through an experience that is something we all fear.  But - it's also amazing to see people come out on the other side.  CFA is a great family to be a part of.

Also, this week, William has decided that he NEEDS to hold Violet's hand whenever they walk anywhere.  It's pretty dang cute.



John was supposed to head to Mississippi yesterday for a conference, but with everything that had happened, he decided to stay home.  He graciously agreed to take the kids and I back to Three Fold for dinner.  So, that's twice in five days in case anyone is keeping track at home.  It was just as good the second time, and the kids loved it too.  Win, win, win.



(We all loved the cucumber slaw that is available on the weekends!)
Lily with the lilies.  She requested this picture as she does anytime we are in the vicinity of lilies.  I am always happy to acquiesce.

Surviving this week, along with all the others that came before it, feels like a gigantic win.  As I showered this afternoon, I was trying to put my finger on why it feels intense so often.  We are actively paring down on activity, but there is a certain amount that comes with the territory of four small children and two restaurants.  We can't cut any of those things, nor would we want to.  I've had many opportunities this week to ask God for his grace, his strength and his wisdom.  We cannot do it all or figure it all out.  There is too much.  But - God has led us here for so many reasons, and I am grateful.  It is stretching.  It is making us look to him more and less to ourselves.  Which I'm sure is the point, but it is a hard one and doesn't come naturally.

Happy weekend.  I hope and pray the needed rest comes for you and us.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

SUMMER READING RECOMMENDATIONS

I'm an avid reader.  Always have been.  I got to thinking that it might be fun to do a blog post with my favorite books, because I have found so many good books through the recommendations of others.  Then I realized that what I read is pretty personal to me.  Everyone has different desires of things they want to get out of reading and what they like or tolerate.

I'll describe my basic reasons for reading as well as some of my own standards, and that may help you better judge whether you would want to take any of my recommendations.  Mostly, I read for fun, which for me means that I mostly read fiction.  I do often read books that would encourage me spiritually as well, but by and large, I devour fiction.  I love Harry Potter and have read the series more times than I can count.  I love Anne of Green Gables and have read all eight of those books repeatedly (though I don't really care for the 4th much, so it has often been skipped).  I've read Pride and Prejudice over and over.  I also really enjoy many of John Grisham's novels, so I guess my taste is a little all over the place.

I've realized that I enjoy many young adult books, because I prefer to read things that could be made into a PG-13 movie, more or less (though I will say that I tolerate bad language much more than graphic violence or a lot of sex).  I do venture into adult fiction as well, since I am a grown-up.  Once I find an author that I like, I usually read a lot of their books, because I find that I can trust them to some degree.  Reading is basically letting someone else take you on a journey, and I don't like falling into the wrong hands.  I also read a lot of reviews before I choose a book to this end.  If lots of people say they hate the ending, I usually skip the book, because for me, there are enough real things in life that have bad endings, and I don't want that in my "entertainment."

So - here are a few books you might enjoy!

The Secret Keeper, by Kate Morton

This is the first Kate Morton book I read and my favorite.  It flashes between the past and present, like all of her books, and has many surprises along the way.  I love a good mystery, and this one kept me "turning pages"***.  It's a little lighter than some of her other work, but I did enjoy her other novels as well.

51I+HUwj6zL._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_

***I mostly listen to books.  If you are wondering how in the world I have time to read, it is because I multi-task a lot of different things and reading.  You can decorate cookies, sew, fold laundry, do dishes AND read when you have book on your phone ready at the push of a button.  Audio books make my world go round.

The Rosie Project, by Graeme Simsion

This book is light and fun.  It is told from the first person narrative of someone who is on the autism spectrum, and his perspective on life and the ways that he relates to people are hilarious.  And it's an adorable love story to boot.  I recently read the sequel, The Rosie Effect and loved it as well.

51Y0eAmT1xL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_

A Time to Kill and Sycamore Row, John Grisham

I've read many of John Grisham's novels, but when I saw that one of the newer ones - Sycamore Row - was a sequel to A Time to Kill, I realized that I had never read the first one.  I read them back to back, and it was a compelling look at racism in the not so distant past.  Both books were gripping and thought-provoking to read - though I did skip a chunk of the first chapter of A Time to Kill.

51s7VvnsARL._SX277_BO1,204,203,200_51Nax7tQl5L._SX362_BO1,204,203,200_

The Selection Series, by Kiera Cass

Okay.  You very well may judge me for putting The Selection Series in this list, and I will very well tell you that I don't really care if you think my reading preferences are like that of a 14 year old girl.  Sometimes they are.  This is pure fluff.  I've heard it said that if The Hunger Games and The Bachelor were to have a lovechild, this would be the result, without the violence of the Hunger Games (which I read and mostly enjoyed until the last book which I mostly hated).  There are four books in this series so far, and a fifth book will complete it.  They are not great quality writing, but the books were fun, mostly interesting reads, and I was sad when I was done reading them.  And I'm excited for the last one to come out.  Plus, they have beautiful covers.  It matters.

51rsxhScWmL._SX320_BO1,204,203,200_

The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver

This book is the opposite of fluff.  It is excellent story-telling through the lens of four sisters whose parents move them to Africa to be missionaries.  As a Christian, I found it a fascinating- though cynical - look at missions and what can go wrong.  It has more sadness than most books on this list, but it stuck with me and kept me thinking.

51W4pHe-iRL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_

The Cuckoo's Calling, by Robert Galbraith (aka JK Rowling)

This is the first book of the Cormoran Strike detective series brought to us by JK Rowling under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith.  I love this series.  JK Rowling is a masterfully engaging writer, and I really enjoy her style of story-telling.  These both have a bit of gore and lots of bad language - just to warn you.  I am anxiously awaiting the third book that will debut this fall and seeing my friends Cormoran and Robyn again.

51QITX5qOKL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_

Love Does, by Bob Goff

If you are looking for a quick, uplifting read that will challenge how you view God and people, this is the book!  It's so good.  Bob Goff is one of the most infectious people walking around Earth right now, and it is inspiring to hear some of his God stories.

41SIGmrxqaL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_

The Royal We, by Jessica Morgan and Heather Cocks

This is more pure fluff.  It is loosely based on what the story of William and Kate might look like if you had a front row seat.  So, if you like the British Royals and fun love stories, you will like this book.

41HiZ6hLlDL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_

Well, I feel a bit as if I've bared my soul by showing you what I like to read.  I hope you find something in there to help you make it through the summer heat!  I'd love to hear your suggestions as well - I always have a running list of what to read next.