Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Sanctificiation of Fostering

Today we said goodbye to our precious Z. We so enjoyed having this little person with us for almost a month. We believe that being moved in with a kinship placement is for Z's (and Z's family's) good. After we said goodbye, I remembered a blog post I had wrote about how the fostering experience was sanctifying, but I had never posted it. So, here it is.

We are only a little over a week in on our first placement, and the honeymoon is over. This. Junk. Is. Hard.

But, as I look at each hard moment and each challenge, I am trying to remind myself of the opportunity for grace. I said trying.  I am far from always thinking rightly. So, if you don't mind me being completely candid, I will share some of these hard things that are also good things. (Warning: You will fully see my sinfulness in the next part of this post. Feel free to be appalled, but only if you will then reflect on the fact that Jesus is bigger than all my sin.)

1. They are sometimes hard to love. There is not this primal, hormonal instinct to love this child as there was the one I birthed. I know some foster parents say that they feel love for the child(ren) as soon as they step through the door. I believe them. But, this was not the case for me. Quite honestly, in the difficult moments of "parenting" a child that is not my own, the enemy will whisper, "You don't HAVE to do this." It's true.  I don't. But, then I remember the fact that I don't have to do this means it is a greater opportunity for love. I get to CHOOSE to love this little person, even when they are not lovable, and there is no biological reason to. Even when they might be wisked away tomorrow leaving my heart broken. They are mine to love today. And I choose to love them by sacrificing and serving them. And isn't that a love that sounds a lot like the gospel?

2. Life is much more hectic. It doesn't feel like I am just twice as busy, but infinitely more busy. Laundry, dishes, and messes have multiplied immensely. Add to this keeping case workers updated and keeping logs on them. I miss downtime and being able to  turn on some Curious George and go on autopilot when it was just Jude and me. But, this  busyness has proven good for our house!  I spend less time on Facebook and our TV is rarely on. I spend more time teaching and training.

3. It is hard on Jude. Three days into fostering, Jude was obviously having a hard time. Jude has always been a compliant fellow, but the meltdowns that ensued were outrageous. This has been good for us in several ways. I have AMPLE opportunities to talk about the gospel with him, and though he may not understand it, I am getting more comfortable with this way of training. Also, this has really caused me to confront the pride I have in having a "well behaved" child. When your child has a fit in public, it is incredibly humbling!

4. It is heartbreaking. When your foster child celebrates milestones, your heart just breaks for them and their parents. This little one will never get to celebrate that milestone with their mama and daddy. Their mama and daddy are missing out on some of the biggest joys of parenting. Foster children just go through so much and it sometimes seems like the "system" cares little for their well being. For example, after having Z for over a week we got an email saying that the name we were using was the wrong name. I completely lost it - broke down in tears. This poor baby was put into a home with complete strangers who don't even know their name! But, with this heartbreak comes the opportunity to pray earnestly. My heart is broken for the way that sin has ravaged this family. I reflect on the fact that the only way they can be free from sin is Christ - without whom, sin will continue to lead them to death. So, we pray for the Lord to save this family. And, I pray for my own heart.  I pray that the Lord would guard my heart so that I would want nothing more for this child or this family than salvation.

As I read back over this list, I can't help but chuckle. Who knew the Lord would use a super-cute, blue-eyed little Z to show me so much? But, he did. And, we look forward to the challenges and joys that await us in our next placement.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

An Extra Pair of Feet

There are another pair of little feet in the Powell household. Monday afternoon we welcomed our first foster placement. For the sake of this and future posts, I will just refer to this child as Z.

And, to be honest it has, thus far, been so much easier than I imagined. I had braced myself for lots of difficulty, but it has not been so bad. So much grace!

My biggest concern was sleeping. We have a two bedroom home and therefore Jude is sharing his room. However, the first night went without a hitch. We lay Z down first and waited for about 30 minutes to make sure sleep was deep.  Then, we told Jude it was bedtime and said, "You have to be quiet, Z is sleeping." He put his little finger to his lips and said, "Shhhh Z sleeping."  We then snuck into the room and Jude slipped into his bed. He went to sleep and we never heard a peep all night! Praise!

In the morning, Jude woke first. He began talking to his animals as he usually does.  I came in and said, "Shhh." His eyes got big as if he remembered something. He looked over at the crib, pointed to it, then put his finger to his lips and said, "Shhh Z sleeping."  We then quietly snuck out and let Z sleep a little while longer.

Nap time, on the other hand, didn't go quite so well today (our first try). I think I will play with it and figure it out after a few days.

I know foster children generally have a bad reputation, but Z has a sweet, mellow, and happy disposition. We have been very blessed by Z's presence already. This is a pleasant child.  I looked at Stephen the first morning and told him... this is not supposed to be this easy!

But, it is also difficult. Thinking of all that Z has been through, and has yet to go through, is tough. Figuring out childcare for my OB appointments is a little more difficult now - as are all errands - a small thing, but a thing nonetheless. And, just being real, I had a few teary moments the first evening mourning the loss of our family of three, realizing our routine and comfort has been "shaken up."

But, its worth  it. And, whatever difficulties lie beyond this "honeymoon phase" will be worth it. What a great opportunity to grow in love, patience, perseverance and, above all, Christlikeness. What an opportunity to pray for this child's salvation and that of Z's parents. We pray The Lord may use us to share the gospel with this family. We are thankful for the extra pair of feet the Lord has allowed us to care for. We are praying and hoping to see great things come from the time that Z gets to stay with us.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

A Different Kind of Pregnancy

Here we are, with full hearts, celebrating 15+ weeks of pregnancy.

As if that weren't enough (and it is!), grace upon grace, I am just a normal pregnant women this time around. No high-risk pregnancy like with Jude, no twice daily injections of blood thinners or daily doses of progesterone hormones. Praise!

When we moved to Oklahoma, I spoke with my new doctor about what she thought was medically necessary for me to carry a pregnancy to term. I had some reasons to believe that the twice daily heparins shots and progesterone supplements on top of a daily aspirin and thyroid medication were not completely necessary. She agreed that I could most likely forgo the heparin shots and the progesterone supplements and just stay on thyroid medication and a baby aspirin. As soon as I found out I was pregnant she did some blood work to be sure.  I prayed that the Lord would allow these results to come back obviously positive or negative (not borderline as they had with Jude). He answered and we took the plunge - going heparin and progesterone free.

It was a difficult first few weeks! I mean, who in their right mind wants to "experiment" with a baby's life?  However, we decided to see it as an opportunity to put our trust fully in the Lord, realizing that HE is sovereign over my body and even over medicine. To see it as an opportunity to cherish the gift of conception and each day of pregnancy even if we don't get to hold a healthy baby at the end. An opportunity to believe that whatever happens, the Lord intends it for our good.

Praise God, he has graciously answered our prayers and those of those praying with us in these early weeks of pregnancy. Thus far, he has sustained this baby. I am watching a bump grow without any bruises or knots on it from shots!

And, yet more grace, we will be welcoming a foster baby into our home literally at any moment - We found out we were pregnant the same weekend we completed our foster care training!

I can not believe how much things have changed so quickly. But, my heart is full and anticipating much growth (family, physically, and spiritually) in the next few months!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

A Sick Kid and Sin

I remember being childless.

I remember thinking things about my parent-friends.

Things like, "What's wrong with them/their kids?  They are ALWAYS sick! Maybe the parents are hypochondriacs?"

And, now I have no doubt the same is said about us. We are currently sitting in the ER waiting for test results to tell us why he is still spiking 105 degree fevers after four days of antibiotics for an ear infection and why his neck is swollen.

The reality is, you can breast-feed forever or never feed your child junk food, but those things are not sovereign over sickness. The Lord is.

(***As a caveat, let me say, we have been so blessed that our little guy has not had a any life-threatening illness.  I am by no means trying to elevate our dealings with normal childhood illness to be something more. What we deal with doesn't come close to what other parents deal with who's children face serious life threatening issues. My heart breaks for them and I can't even fathom what they go through.)

It has become rather obvious to me that having a sick child is greatly used by the Lord to reveal any idolatry of my child that is within my heart. I know it is normal for parents to be anxious, to think, "What if?" to be frustrated when physicians or medication don't offer a quick fix, to think "I should have done something differently" (IE - not put them in nursery, took them to the doctor sooner, given them more/different/no meds), and to entertain thoughts of self-pity.

Yes, these may be common thoughts and feelings that all parents have as they try to care for their sick child the best they can, but they are common because our hearts are so prone to idolatry.  Especially idolatry of our children.

How quickly I forget that the Lord is in control, not us. How quickly I forget that this child is a blessing from God, not a burden.  How quickly I forget that each opportunity to care for my sick child is an opportunity to deny myself and put someone else first.  How quickly I forget that I am blessed that the Lord has been gracious that our child has not battled with something life threatening. How quickly I take my eyes off the Lord and put it on doctors, medicine, my child and myself.

As parents we have a responsibility to care for him - to provide him with medical care and medication if needed.  These are not bad things; they are necessary things.  But, when my heart becomes crowded with thoughts and anxiety that reveal I think this is in MY control or question "Why us?" I am dealing with an issue of idolatry.  My child's wellness has over-shadowed my faith in the Lord to do all things for good.

Please, do not hear me say we should not act to care for our child when they are sick. We absolutely should. However, we shouldn't give in to the temptation to sin in the process. I shouldn't worry. I shouldn't play the "what if"  or the blame game. I shouldn't snap at others who are trying to help. All of these reveal something gone awry in my heart - idolatry and a lack of faith in a completely Soveriegn God.

A friend texted me after I shared with her the details of our recent sickness, "Oh, friend! How the Lord must love you!"

She sure is right. He loves me immensely to teach me the many lessons in sanctification that come along with parenting a "sick kid."

Saturday, April 19, 2014

He is 18 Months Old!

Jude had fun with his "Halfday" cupcake
I. Love. It.

Really. I may love having an 18-month-old more than any age yet. I am so serious.

I love that he understands us. Or, at least he tries and gets it most of the time. I love that if he doesn't understand, I can "teach" him what I mean usually in just a few minutes. 

I love that he is becoming more independent. I love that he can communicate. I love that he loves to make us laugh and likes to make us proud.

In honor of Jude's Halfday (which has become an official thing in the Powell household), I wanted to list some cute things Jude does. (Disclaimer: I know these are not spectacular and are totally normal developmental milestones, but grandparents read this blog and well, they eat this stuff up!)

So, here's the list, in no particular order:

He has begun pointing and asking "Autsis?" (translation: What's this?)

He tries to entice us to wrestle with him. Yup, all boy. Loves to roughhouse.

He still loves books. Maybe all kids adore books at this age, but I promise we could read book, after book for hours and he would not be bored. Also, it amazes me that he never brings the same book twice - he remembers which ones we have read already.

He loves the "Bah-bull" (translation: Bible). He will grab it, get in a chair, and turn the pages. He has never ripped a page, which is still beyond my understanding.

He loves to take all the pillows off the couches, make a pile, and fall into it, face first.

He loves rocks, sticks, acorns, and dirt more than any toy in our house. 

He sneaks the above objects into the house and deposits them in random places. 

He still gets plumb giddy about brushing his teeth. This is not an exaggeration. We say, "Jude let's brush your teeth," and he runs, giggling, into the bathroom saying, "Teece" (translation: teeth).

He loves Curious George.

When watching Curious George, he gets upset (and cries) if something goes wrong or if George does something bad.

He offers kisses without being asked! Melts a mama's heart!

He copies my and his daddy's actions during cooperate worship. I love seeing him raise his hands, pump his fist, clap, say "Amen," and bow his head. What a precious thing!

He plays jokes. His favorite is to point to Daddy and call him "Mama" just to be silly. Then he will call me "Jude Dude" and point to himself and say "Daddy."  Then, he switches the names up and does it again. 

He calls anything that is crunchy "kackihs" (translation: crackers).  Even celery, dried seaweed, and nuts. He was disappointed with the celery, loved the seaweed, and was denied the nuts.

He will say almost every animal's name AND sound. Except cow. He will NOT call it a cow. He will only say, "Booo" (translation: moo).

He dances to his daddy's beatboxing. Actually, he will dance to any music, but daddy's beatboxing is the cutest.

Every morning, when we get him out of his crib, he hands us several items as he names them:
"Orsch" (translation: George) - His stuffed Curious George.
"teur-dool" (translation: turtle) - His light-up turtle pillow pet.
"aimpit" (translation: blanket) - His blanket.
"aimpit" (translation: blanket) - His other blanket.
I then carry all of these items into the living room and plop them on the couch where he cuddles up with them and watches Curious George.

When we say, "I love you" he says, "ah -djew" (Translation: I love you soo sooo sooooo much.  Ok, I embellished that a bit.)

It's a great season. We love our 18-month-old. Happy Halfday, Jude Dude!

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Toddler Nos

I knew it would happen, but that didn't make it any easier.

Our cute little 17-month-old started telling us, "No."

Honestly, sometimes it is hard not to chuckle at how cute he is when he says it. It's not yet that ugly, screaming, "NOOOOO!"  that I know I will hear one day soon. Right now it's just a cute, almost innocent sounding,"No?"

But, it is not honoring and obeying his parents.

It seems like with each new development I'll text Stephen: "Jude has started _____________, what do I do?" And, thankfully, he always has just the right answer.

As we parent a little sinner, I am becoming overwhelmingly thankful that the Lord has led us to a gospel-centered approach to parenting. I'm thankful that Stephen and I are on the same page. That we are a team. I know it is not that way in all homes. But, by the grace of God it is a blessing to be a parent alongside my man.

It is so sad to see your child's sinfulness. I mean, you KNOW it is there. Yet it hurts so much to see it come out in defiance and tantrums. And as I see it, I am reminded that he needs a Savior. And, I am reminded that I need a savior to navigate these parenting waters. 

So, what do we do when he says "no?"

We discipline defiance.  For issues of defiance, we remind him that the Lord wants him to obey mama and daddy (Ephesians 6:1) and help him practice. If it is a "no" to something he doesn't want like food or a toy we remind him to be thankful for what he is given rather than coveting something better. We pray with him that the Lord will one day save him and give him a new heart - one that desires obedience to God and therefore his parents.

It's hard. So far, the "toddler nos" are not fun. But, I know that how we deal with sin is an important foundation for the gospel. I pray the Lord will save him one day.

I know that he does not understand it all. But, I try not to grow weary from doing good. The routine of discipline and training may be more for us at this point. We are getting into the habit of pointing him to God's word and praying with him about his disobedience every time we discipline. 

The "toddler nos" are no fun.  But, they bring an opportunity for us to teach the Gospel and I pray we not forget it.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Desire for a Full House

Stephen and I had the conversation that all dating couples, who intend to marry, have:

"How many kids do you want?"

Back then we agreed on four. As close together as possible. Hopefully, by the time I turned 30.

Yeah, we were naive. But cut us some slack, most newlyweds think everything in life will go as planned. We can plan every second of our future but, we are not the sovereign ones.

Our story looks nothing like our plans:

Three miscarriages in two years.

A fourth pregnancy in which the Lord was so gracious.

A healthy little boy who is now 16 months old.

No pink lines since.

I turn 29 this year.

I realize that even typing a post about the yearning I have for more children risks coming across as ungrateful for the little boy we do have.

I assure you that is not the case.

However, I would say that my heartfelt desire for several children is just as strong (actually, stronger) as was my desire for one child.

Life doesn't go "as planned." Or, at least according to human plans. You'd totally think I would have learned that lesson by now. Obviously, I haven't and, obviously, the Lord knows I need more opportunity to let go of my plans and trust him.

So, instead of asking, "When, Lord?"  We decided to ask, "How, Lord?" How can we use this desire for a "full house" now, in this current season? Instead of waiting idly, how can we use our time, resources, and desire to glorify the Lord, right now?

And, here is where we have landed...

So, pray for us. We are hopeful, scared, excited, and a bit unsure of what to expect. We have just begun the certification process and still have many hoops to jump through, but hope to be certified by the beginning of summer.

And, we are still hoping for some pink lines. :)

Friday, February 14, 2014

When Valentine's Day (and other days) Don't Go as Planned

We have not been on a date night since we moved to Oklahoma.

It is not that we haven't tried. Finding a sitter when you know very few people and have no family nearby isn't always easy. Oh, and we are kinda cheap. There's that part.

I had a sitter all lined up for Stephen's birthday evening, only to have Jude come down with an upper respiratory infection - so plans were canceled.

We had a sitter all lined up for a Friday night a couple weeks ago to attend a concert. But, Jude came down with a stomach bug that morning. Then, it was my turn that evening.

Today, we didn't have a sitter lined up. But, we did have plans to FINALLY get outside (our temps haven't gotten above freezing for like 10 days, so it has been a while!) We hoped to enjoy the beautiful day with a picnic at the park and a hike.  

But, instead we have spent today cleaning up bodily excrement as our toddler has yet another stomach virus. 

Suffice it to say you won't see any awesome Instagram photos of how we are celebrating today. You're welcome. 

It is tempting to feel sorry for yourself when you are a parent. To think about all the things you are sacrificing and missing out on. But, what this really is is God revealing my selfishness.

Because I am selfish, I am tempted to get upset when parenting interferes with what I want to do. I can quickly forget how much I prayed and dreamed about becoming a parent. I can forget how many people I know who would do anything for that title. I know, it's ugly. How can I forget so quickly? 

Truthfully, I love, love, love being a mommy. Having a son is an amazing blessing. Being parents has made our marriage stronger and sweeter. 

But, even though we are spending Valentines Day in the stinky (literally) trenches of parenthood, I am reminded of what a beautiful picture of Christ my husband is. I am reminded that he is such a grace of God in my life. His gentleness, patience, kindness, humor, optimism, and passion for the church captivate me. I love him so much more than I ever thought possible. He is absolutely my best friend and my favorite person.

Frequently, I look at our marriage and just marvel at how blessed we are. We enjoy being with each other. We are unified as parents. We team up to minister to others. We have learned how to handle our disagreements better (and continue to learn). And, all of this is a testimony to his leadership. 

So, today is not the Valentines Day I had pictured. Yet, it is a good day. I am challenged to look beyond our broken plans to the blessings I have been given. I am thankful for the title of wife and mom, but more thankful for the individuals who make those titles possible.  I praise God for them.

Monday, January 27, 2014

When the Church is Your Family

It is not an easy thing moving far away from family and friends.


And, to those of you who said it would be infinitely harder once we had a little - you were right. You may now say, "I told you so."  ;)

But you know what? It is good. It is so hard and sad, but it is good.

It is NOT good in an I am so glad we live far away and will only get to see family once or twice a year kind of way. But, what I know from scripture and experience is that it is good for our growth. The Lord has and will continue to use this to grow us. He will teach us to rely more and more on him. He will teach us to cling to one another and, as a result, strengthen our marriage. He will show us that this body of believers are truly our family in Christ.

When you have no family near you, you must cling to the church. The church becomes your family in a very real sense. It is a very special thing.

From experience, this looks like...

Spending Christmas and Thanksgiving in the homes of church family members.
Church family keeping my husband company in the waiting room while I am in surgery.
Sisters in Christ stopping by with love, prayers and food when we experienced miscarriages.
Church family praying for and loving our little boy as if he were related to them.

And, the list could go on.

These are the things I have to remind myself of as I battle jealousy when someone says their parents have the kids for the night, or they are going shopping with their sister, or having Sunday dinner with family. I must constantly remind myself that the Lord has always been faithful and has given us what and who we need during every season of our lives.

The day before we moved our families had a "going away" thing for us. During that time, my mom prayed that we would find family here in Oklahoma and that Jude would have people who loved him like grandparents. She also prayed that our family in Florida would be sensitive to those around them who needed the same and would meet those needs by being parents and grandparents for those people. What a beautiful prayer it was!

So, for us, the phrase "church family" is not just a term to refer to people who we go to church with. It means something very real. And, we praise God for that.

I encourage you, no matter where you live (near or far from family), cling to your body of believers and see them as the family they are meant to be.