24 hours in

24 hours into this foster parenting gig, i want to make note of some beautiful things:

like…

  • the way that V (age 15) searched me so intently with her wide, dark eyes, as if she was searching my spirit, trying to ascertain if i was safe, good. based on the way that she now looks just as intently into my eyes, but with a smile creasing her face, i conclude that she has decided i’m okay.
  • the chalk art of fancy ladies and hearts that appear, get erased, and drawn again on the chalkboard wall by J (age 7).
  • the fact that all six of us held hands in a long line as we walked from the mini van to the mexican restaurant the first night.
  • hazel puking all over the high chair, table, and floor at the mexican restaurant. J and V taking it all in stride.
  • seeing J play, so happily and so naturally making herself at home. she’s playing pretend, keeping so busy at it, as if it’s her job, which of course it is.
  • V with Gus, and how quieted he is in her arms.
  • J’s delight over el gato (the cat).
  • roasting marshmallows over the fire in the wood stove tonight, laughing when they went up in flames. J and V had never done this common american thing before.
  • the wholesome busy-ness of a day spent tending to the needs of four children, and especially feeding them.
  • Hazel trying to chatter away in friendly hospitality to J and V, not understanding that they cannot understand her. Hazel says to them, “you make funny words!”
  • J’s enthusiastic and sincere “thank you!” upon being told she would get to make her own pizza for dinner tonight.
  • the constant use of translation apps on my iPhone, and how humbling it is to be so utterly UN-proficient at something (speaking in Spanish).
  • chopping vegetables in the kitchen with V, asking her which ones she likes, and seeing her taste her first olive and twist her mouth with distaste at its flavor.
  • the blessedness of a quiet afternoon when my own littles were asleep and J and V sat cuddled on the couch watching a Disney movie in Spanish on YouTube, while i read my new magazine and sipped on tea.

feeling glad to be doing this work, happy for the ways it is already expanding us as a family, hoping and praying that Father will minister to their hearts in this home He’s given us to share.

 

why i chose this : following Jesus

i chose when i was 2, which i always thought must be impossible, like maybe my mom forced me into it. but i can tell you now, as a mother who prays nearly every day for Jesus to reveal himself to her kids in ways that they can understand and know Him… He does that. Jesus reveals himself to babes, and they begin to “get” it, which is mystery and grace and altogether wonderful.

but this is beside the point.

i chose to follow Jesus as a teenager and in college because my mind was satisfied enough, stimulated even, and my heart yearned for his good news to be true. he was a moral compass, a comforting truth, an assurance that when the suffering of this life ended, there would be release in heaven.

but i chose to follow him in earnest when, in my mid-twenties, he delivered me from the pit (the kingdom of heaven starts here in this lifetime). he snatched me right out of the mire and healed my heart, and he did it with so much personal attention, so many small signs and wonders that only i would understand. he revealed himself to me and allowed me to really feel and know his love deep in my bones. he gave me relationship with Holy Spirit in a way i never knew was possible, he taught me how to really pray and then showed me how he answers. he showed me how to sink into my confident sonship with Papa, and he let me learn and hear his voice. and through all of this  he became beautiful to me, and potent, and wise, and tender, and absolutely worthy of my devotion. that testimony is a longer one, and if you really want to read it, you can read it if you want to PM me to ask for it.

and then i vowed my life to him. the same day that i married tim, tim and i also said some vows to God. we said we’d be true to him, that we’d be kind to others, and that we’d go wherever he told us to go with the gospel. i wear a ring on my wedding finger that symbolizes that vow. and divorce is not an option.

so now, you see, even though there may be seasons when things are dry between us, or when i’m unhappy with him, or when i want very much to avoid him… we’re still married. and i know that he is still alive and active and as good as he’s ever been. so i still choose to follow Jesus. and i hope that i always will.

everything else in this series about why i chose this or that or the other thing really hangs on this first thing: that i chose (choose) to follow Jesus.

Soften

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One thing a miscarriage can do, I believe, is to soften you, open you. Maybe the heart mimics what the body is doing as it releases — whether you like it or not — the baby-that-would-have-been into the hands of God.

I had a[nother] miscarriage this weekend. It feels so surreal to name it, particularly in public like I am now. I didn’t know I was pregnant, had not sought to be, had in fact tried not to become so. My only clue was an uncharacteristic acne break-out, which I dismissed by way of other explanations.

Gus is so small still and I so overwhelmed by the task of caring for two, that I have not felt at all ready for babe #3. But it turns out that he would have become a big brother this coming august, had things turned out differently.

There was sudden and severe bleeding and consequent light-headedness. A trip to the ER where my blood pressure bottomed out and for several terrifying moments I feared I would leave my children motherless. There was the rather tactless delivery of the pregnancy test results, described in present tense and yet already in past tense. There was an ambulance ride to the main hospital downtown Madison, during which I sang worship to my Jesus, who was so near. There was lots of monitoring and an ultrasound to “rule out fetal activity” or ectopic pregnancy. There was so much blood, and so also a blood transfusion. There was waiting. Finally there was prayer-evoked miracle as we rounded a corner and came out of the woods, elated with relief that at least I was no longer in serious danger.

The same night I was back at my in-laws house, tucked in with my living babies, depleted, weak and exhausted but alive and grateful.

This was an unusual miscarriage. Such extreme blood loss isn’t typical. And it is certainly a complicated grief to be told about your baby in the same moment you are losing them.

But the softening… It has left me tender. It has put things into perspective, shrinking small dramas to their appropriate sizes, and making room on my heart to love another which, I believe, every pregnancy must do. We grow new spaces in our heart for each little person we carry. And if that space isn’t to ultimately be filled by a born and hold-able baby, we will share it with someone else who needs it. We will not be able to turn back or close off that new addition. So perhaps we move toward a future pregnancy with surprising new resolve and urgency, or we realize how much we do in fact want to become a mother (as was the case after my first miscarriage in 2010), or we cling tighter to the loved ones we already have…

… Or in some unusual case perhaps we are given an opportunity to open our arms and our home to a stranger, drawing on that deep reservoir of newly uncovered maternal tenderness to love them openly.

Which is the case for us. Because two days later we received a call about a pregnant teenage refugee who is giving birth today and needs a soft placed to land until a more permanent situation can be arranged when she turns 18. And against all worldly wisdom, only because Holy Spirit gave both of us a unity of peaceful Yes, we said yes to her, to them.

Today she us in a hospital in Michigan, laboring to give birth to her baby while I am packing up in Wisconsin for a return to our home where we will make room for these two (I have already arranged the furniture in mind ), so that when they are released from the hospital we can help to catch them with our love… A love I’m not actually sure I would have been able to access in this already crazy life season if I had not just suffered this loss and the scare that surrounded it.

I don’t know if that will make sense to many of you… But somehow I sense that these two events are a pair, by design.

Today I am thanking Papa and this little unknown child of ours for the gift of softening, opening.

home study #1

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today we had our first home study on this journey to become licensed foster care parents for refugee minors.

we sat around our table with a licenser and her supervisor, happily chatting, receiving instruction, answering questions, talking about why this is  road we’re walking in the first place.

and those reasons are so anticlimactic, so matter-of-fact.

and right now this entire thing feels so abstract, so far-off, so difficult to imagine.

part of me wants to do what i always do when i have Big Life Questions and want to anticipate and understand them: that is, i want to Google it. i want to devour articles and blogs and stories from others who’ve walked this road and been brave enough to share about it in a real way. but the google search results are yielding limited results, since the fostering of refugee foster kids is in so many ways a different animal than the fostering of american kids in the american system, and also less common, which means i haven’t been able to find a single blog/account/personal story of someone who has gone before us.

thankfully, we know a few families personally and we can pick their brains.

but really it might be best that i can’t piece together a detailed sketch of what this will be like: how it will feel to have him/her/them sitting at our table in the dark, quiet evenings, sharing a meal of food that i’ve learned to make just so that they’d feel a bit more at home, watching him/her/them play with my children in a manner at first tentative then surprisingly familiar, driving him/her/them to and from school, trying to communicate around language and cultural barriers, waking up to see his/her/their brown-skin faces greeting me.

how old will he/she/they be? we can’t seem to settle on a particular profile of The Sort of Kid(s) We Want, because we believe the Holy Spirit will tell us Yes or No on a case by case basis and really we can make anything work for a little while. and this sort of foster care is usually always just for a little while.

which leads me to wondering what it will be like to have him/her/them be here so briefly, requiring an opening of our hearts and hands and home to love and sacrifice, only to leave again, so soon and to such unknown futures.

the licensers told us today that the real need is for families who are open to taking teenage boys. boys will stay longer than just a few weeks because they are not transitional like the younger ones who are in pursuit of living family already in the country, but whom have no one else to go home to. they need a family that will stick with them for a long haul.

an african or south american teenage boy? for years? can we begin to imagine that?

tonight i told Hazel that daddy and mommy have been talking about having other boys and girls come live with us in our house.

me: “what do you think of that?”

h: “i think…good.”

me: “do you think it should be a boy or a girl?”

h: “a boy.”

me: “do you think it will be a big boy or a little boy?”

h: “a BIG boy!”

me: “like vivi’s big brothers max and ib (they are 15 and 16 years old, respectively, and one of them is a refugee from the Congo)? do you want a boy like that?”

h: “yes!”

i won’t read too much into that, but she’s been known to be weirdly prophetic in the past. i bless her open heart. later she exclaimed,”he come live in mine house with ME! i love mine house so much!”

on the occasion of your 9th month

towel-baby-1dear sweet boy of mine (buster, gus-gus, buddy, son),

yesterday you turned 9 months old, which means you have been outside of my body now just as long as you were inside of it. this also means that you are three-quarters of the way through your first year of life.

you are crawling around at lightning speed, usually goal-directed, with the kitty cat, a tempting toy, or your mama as the target destination. you pull yourself up to standing like it’s no big thing, and you can balance already quite well. if we hold your hands while standing behind you, you will take steps across a room. i am guessing you’ll walk before your first birthday.

you eat. bananas, avocados, potatoes (sweet and white ones), apples, gluten-free pasta with sauce, chicken curry with rice, broccoli (a favorite), beans, goat cheese, veggie-quinoa soup, strawberries, and almost anything that i am eating that i’ll share with you. you always eat more than i think you will. i think it’s possible that between you and your sister, daddy and i will be eaten out of house and home. such good appetites you have.

you sleep on your belly, even though i put you down on your back every time. you’re still in our room with us, in a pack ‘n play at the foot of the bed, disrupting me multiple times a night with your waking, sometimes because you want to nurse (you were too busy during the day to do it, so you make up for it at night), or because you want to practice your new developmental skills, or sometimes because you just need to sleep in my arms, beside me in the big bed.

but that’s just the physicality of you. your spirit is the more incredible thing to witness.

you move through your world with courageous curiosity and good humor. you are not easily startled by unfamiliarity or loud noises. you just move right into a space with an assumption that things will go well for you there. you rarely hang back. you take all things in stride, quietly and with a bemused smile on your face. some moments, you are squirming out of my arms in a way that seems to say, “let me at it!”

you are quick to laugh, especially at Hazel and any form of peek-a-boo, or mama’s face pushed into your belly on the changing table. you are slow to cry. usually it is only teething or hunger that will bring out your grunting, humming vocalization of displeasure or discomfort that most closely resembles crying but really isn’t crying by any traditional definition.

you are significant. you bring something to the table that matters, something no one else can bring. you are courageous and gentle. you make a difference.

i am so proud and so terribly grateful to be your mama. there is nothing you could ever do that would make me stop loving you. you are my favorite son.

love,

mama

frustrated intentions

i intended to begin rising again before my babies do, to shower and dress and center on Truth, and drink a first cup of coffee.

          then G started more frequent night-wakings and i at the time i should be waking, it seems he’s just finally settling.

 

i intended to stop wearing frumpy things, like that much-too-large ivory polyester button-down sweater. 

          then it got really cold and it was so warm.

life & light : my first photography workshop

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[originally posted here]

i’ve toyed with the idea — largely due to having received so many requests — of having a workshop that would teach folks how to use their DSLRs the way they were intended to be used. it’s a real need. i mean, more and more of us have taken the plunge and purchased a nice DSLR camera, with high hopes of having better pictures to show for it, and then it somehow disappoints a bit. we realize that a good camera doesn’t automatically lead to great pictures. truth is, we have to learn how a camera works, what exposure is and how you achieve it, how to compose an artful image, how to meter and focus, etc. etc. if we don’t know how to do those things, the “Auto” setting is all that remains available to us, but “Auto” — though smart in certain ways — is not ever going to be a great photographer. because of this, i like the idea of spending a chunk of time equipping people to learn how to use the fantastic camera they’ve invested in, empowering them to take shots of their families and personal lives in a way that they can feel good about.

but there are lots of workshops out there to teach the technicalities, both online and in camera stores, and from other photographers. you don’t have to look far to learn how to use your DSLR.

so if i’m going to do something like this, i want to bring my unique self to the table, offered up as a gift to those who might feel inclined to receive me. and i think my particular gift, my niche, is this: to notice ordinary moments and to capture them in a way that let’s you see their beauty. this is the feedback i get the most often, and it’s also the gift that lays behind my two specialties of family photojournalism and birth photography. it’s how i photograph my own family, too.

that is what i hope to offer to you in this workshop. i want to invite you to sit in my living room around my wood stove on a wintery day. i want to offer you pastries and coffee while we sit down and have a conversation not just about the technicalities of DSLR use, but also about our lives. i want to take time together to practice gratitude and noticing and light.

i want to talk about how to use a DSLR with technical skill for the larger purpose of celebrating the life that’s unfolding around you, in all its glorious ordinariness. 

here’s what i’m envisioning it will look like: the first part of the day will be spent learning the how-tos of DSLRs while we sip our hot beverages, then we’ll move into conversation about telling a story with our photos and “finding beauty.” we’ll have a yummy lunch together while we talk more. then the afternoon will be space to practice what we’ve been learning and discussing, through a few different invitations.

because i want to keep this highly personal and want to give each participant the attention he/she deserves, space is limited to 6. so if this resonates with you, listen to that, get in touch with me, and register now.

i am so stinking excited.

love,

b

—-

12 hours after putting this workshop “out there” online (facebook, blog, email), it was completely filled up.

i feel like i’m onto something here. like i’ve stumbled onto a path that is right, which utilizes the unique giftings and competencies (photography, hospitality, seeing deeper beauty, encouraging women) Father has given me by His Spirit. i suppose this is because the entire vision and most of the details came flooding into my head space during a community worship session, and i had the distinct feeling it was from the Holy Spirit.

doing this sort of things — as cheesy as it might sound — really makes me feel really alive. if the glory of God is man fully alive, than i hope this brings Him glory.

feeling so blessed today.

why i fail at writing ministry updates

LoveFeast-9.11.13-15when i first moved in over here to this westside neighborhood, knowing the statistics about its crime and poverty, and seeing with my own eyes that it was most definitely very different than anywhere i had lived in my privileged life thus far, i wrote on my blog a lot about the lives of the folks i was meeting. i wrote about the people we were helping and how. i wrote about what they were struggling with and my yearning to see them have more. i wrote freely partly because i knew they would never read it (they wouldn’t have internet connection or a computer) and because most of it i would say to their faces, too.

but these days i can’t find it in me to write about “them.” nor can i even see their unfolding stories with the crystal clear precision that i once thought i could. i don’t know how to summarize who they are, why they struggle, what’s going on in their lives/hearts, or what God is up to in their stories.

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so when it comes time to attempt to write for the boiler room blog, or to write a ministry update letter, i get so stuck. i sit there thinking about the people we are here on the westside to serve, and i think, “i can’t think of anyone! what are we even DOING over here?!” (yeah, sometimes self-doubt and panic set in). but it isn’t true that there isn’t anyone we’re serving, nor is it true that God isn’t writing a good story with their lives… it’s just that… well, maybe it’s simply that “they” have become “us.” what were once case studies are now long-term, living-and-changing relationships with people. and though their number is few, the relationships are deepening and enduring.

the people we’re here to serve now serve alongside us, setting up feasts and serving meals. the people we’re here to minister to now share keen scriptural insight at Sunday gathering. the folks we’ve been praying for now offer up their own startlingly potent prayers.

and, yes, they are — some of them — still addicted or unemployed or living on the streets or struggling in relationships or looking for a free set of mittens on a cold day.

how can all of that be true at once? how do i put that in a ministry update? how do i make a statistic out of that?

a harder week

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i tried to start a fire in the wood stove so that i could sit here and write in front of it. the fire did not take. so the scene of this writing isn’t as romantic, nor as cozy as i hoped to be able to report to you, reader-friends. :)

you may have noticed that i’ve been quiet in this space. i had one other post drafted last week but in the end it sounded preachy somehow. i wasn’t comfortable with that. so i scrapped it. but i’ve been having trouble coming up with things to say.

this week has been hard. hard isn’t a very good descriptor; it’s much too vague. this week has been full of a raw emotional vulnerability, saying hard things and having hard things said back. it has been a scary week, a week in which i’ve fallen into the temptation to doubt the value and course of our ministry because a very recent Series of Unfortunate Events formed one big question of “what the hell is going on here?” in my heart. and i didn’t know whether it meant God was trying to put the brakes on things or just to invite us into another layer of trust and steadfastness. in the end, steadfastness turns out to be closer to the truth, i think. i’m grateful that He spoke that word (along with other wonderfully reassuring ones) over us and our team. I Corinthians 15:58 has felt like an answer: “Therefore, my beloved brothers and sisters, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of The Lord, knowing that in The Lord your labor is not in vain.”

but whenever we are facing the possibility of not getting our next paycheck — as we are right now (it is one of the Series of Unfortunate Events), and which is also a prospect that we face at least once each year — i crumble into a pile of worry and resentment and then go into problem-solving, striving, i’m-going-to-take-care-of-myself-because-clearly-YOU-are-NOT mode. i’ve known that this compulsive chain reaction indicates that need for some healing or sanctification, or maybe both. so tim and i spent the week fasting and praying about it.

[as an aside, can i share with you a bit of what it's like to live on the financial support of people who love you and Donors Who Shall Remain Anonymous? friends, it is not an easy thing. if you are not careful, you fill find yourself often in a state of questioning yourself, the work you are doing and how you are doing it, always asking if it's good spiritually enough, the results obvious enough, the numbers impressive enough to deserve the gifts of your hard-working counter-parts who earn their paychecks at for-profit companies. in seasons when the number of people you're "reaching" seems small, or the fruit in their lives invisible, you may wonder if you're wasting everyone's money in order to keep living in this God-forsaken place under chronic low-grade stress that comes from being in close proximity with poverty and abuse and social injustices that your ministry doesn't seem to be able to penetrate with life-changing gospel news in ways that you think your donors might expect (as if it's really ultimately your job or at all under your control). and if you buy yourself something pretty or go on a vacation, you may feel an almost irresistable urge to (a) hide it, (b) downplay it or (c) somehow explain yourself for having spent money on it. you may start to fear that your friends will dread seeing you because they anticipate you asking for support, and you struggle to believe that it may actually be a gift and a joy for them to give it.  no, this is not an easy thing. so when there's a financial rough patch at the boiler room, my desire to somehow escape our status as ministers living on support goes through the roof.]

then God spoke Prov 31:25 to me through another member of our Core Team. “She can laugh at the time to come,” it says. She can laugh partly because she’s prepared and she knows how to care for her family in hard times using what she has on hand and the wits God’s given her. but even more so, i think the reason she can laugh at the future is because she knows who her Papa is, and that He’s holding her fast, and that He isn’t interested in seeing His children beg for bread, and that He’s wealthy and fully sufficient. furthermore, she can laugh because even if the time to come is hard and she is not rescued from the hard things, still she can expect a great gift from that Father who doesn’t give indigestible stones where there should be nourishing fish. He might not rescue her from a missed paycheck, but He will give her provision for what’s really needed, or an experience of His nearness that shrinks all her earthly concerns to something the size of an inconsequential pebble compared to the eternal worth of knowing Him. So I chose to start laughing. and worshiping. even when i still had no idea how we’d pay all the bills this month. there has been so much freedom in that, and so much joy.

as if the Series of Unfortunate Events were not enough, one of my buttons was pushed by another Core Team member in what was really an innocent email in the wake of the Unfortunate Events. and instead of waiting until the maelstrom of emotions subsided enough for me to see straight, i responded through my tears of insecurity and anger and fear, which sent that person and that person’s spouse into something of a tailspin for a couple of days. that whole process also shed light on a way i’ve been relating to tim that is not as it ought to be, and to confess that before him and ask his forgiveness and then to receive it was hard and weepy work, too. and though we [all] have been able to make things right, there’s a residue of embarrassment and disappointment in myself for not acting very much like the woman i like to think that i am, or –worse yet — for not actually even being that woman. it’s so humbling. and i’ve felt so raw and exposed, even as i’ve received grace.

i’ve been so preoccupied with the unresolved relationship tension and the quest to figure out a plan b for our finances, that i have been checking out on my kids and my daily household tasks, looking for ways to escape (obsessive Instagram checks!), finding solace in things that don’t actually satisfy, because i just didn’t know how to help myself, or haven’t felt up to helping myself. i spent one day in a funk so deep that i actually hid from everyone and refused to attend our weekly community meal because i knew i could cry at the drop of a hat. instead, i ate lots of cookies and went to bed early.

BUT He doesn’t leave me here, at least not alone, and certainly not forever. i’ve interspersed testimony to that fact in the midst of my sharing about the struggles, i hope. He’s faithful and He’s worth it all.

and it looks like — breaking news! — we might not miss that paycheck after all.

so this is me, very much still in process. feeling like the world’s worst missionary (i’ll fight you for the title, Jamie). clinging to the steadfast love of my Father and trying to emulate that steadfastness. writing “Jesus, we trust you” in huge letters on the chalkboard wall and trying to mean it. worshipping. forgiving myself. keeping my hand to the plow to do the work He’s giving me to do in spite of my imperfection in doing it.