In the Middle of the Storm

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There is a lone sunflower plant in our compost bin. It was planted in a pot and placed just outside our back door, but with all of the random pots and containers with plants and trees sitting around crowding the grill and smoker, Jason just picked up the sunflower pot and set it in the compost pile to get it away from everything else. And there it stands. Alone.

About the time the bud began to open to the light, we were placed with two foster children: a five year-old boy and a three month-old baby girl. We’ll call them Jack and Jill. Our family had been waiting for this moment to welcome the children into our home. Our kids were excited, Jason and I were giddy.

But excitement wears off quickly when life becomes difficult. In the welcoming of foster children we were not welcoming a fairy tale of acceptance and easy-going attachment. We were opening ourselves up to all of the pain and brokenness that these children carried with them.

Fear. Rage. Defiance. Medical Issues. Sensory Issues. Hygiene Issues. Day in and day out these things began to wear on all of us.

What is even more revealing is what fostering continues to show us about ourselves. We were putting ourselves in a position where these stormy days uncovered the lack of love in our own hearts.  In mine and Jason’s. And in my children’s.

On the third night that Jack and Jill were with us Jason was working his regular shift at the station, so it was up to me to put everyone to bed by myself.

“Are you going to protect me?” Jack asked me.

He had asked me this same question four times already and every time I had promised that I would.

“Will you tell God that I’m scared?” he said.

I would start to pray and then he would interrupt again with another thing to add.

“Will you tell God that I miss my mama?”

“Dear God, Jack misses his mama.”

And then he began to cry for her.

“Oh Father wrap your arms around Jack right now.”

Between sobs Jack added, “Will you tell God to wrap his arms around me for this many days?” And he held up ten fingers.

And of course I prayed. With a broken heart. But the bedtime routine went on for a long time. And I had four other children to put to sleep and they all needed me. And they couldn’t understand why Jack didn’t just go to sleep. And I was getting weary.

So I backed out of his room again promising for the fifth time that I would leave the door open and the bathroom light on and yes, in the morning I would give him something to eat. I tried to say goodnight to my boys, but Jack kept getting out of bed or screaming in fear that I hardly spent any time in my sons’ room for having to take Jack back to his bed so many times. By the time I made it to Addie’s room, Jack had miraculously fallen asleep on his bed, but I could tell that my daughter was troubled.

“Mommy, I’ve never felt like this before,” she began, she looked as if she were about to cry and I thought she was going to say something entirely different than what she said to me. “I want to just run into Jesus’ arms and let him hug me.”

Her words hit me deep and I breathed them in. Yes. Me too. I pulled her close and wept into her hair.

A week later the kids watched the backyard flood with water as the sky rained down. Jack was the one to notice the sunflower, as he had taken quite a liking to the bright yellow flower in the middle of the brown.

“Look! The flower is dancing!” he called out and all the kids pressed their faces in the glass to see the wild dance of the sunflower in the storm. My heart sank as I had grown attached to the flower myself. This storm would surely kill it.

But the next day the flower held its golden head high towards the heavens. It looked bigger  than ever. The storm had not killed it.

It’s been four weeks since Jack and Jill have come to live with us for a time. It feels like it has been one storm after another. Some days I think that I can’t go on. I am exhausted from sleep deprivation and constant trials. My children struggle to accept this new life and I am burdened for them. It feels like war every day. A fight to love. For all of us.

Just about every time I get in the car and turn the radio on I hear that David Crowder song in which Jesus continues to sing over me , “I am holding onto you, I am holding onto you. In the middle of the storm, I’m holding on. I AM.”

He’s got me. He’s got my children. He’s got my foster children. And this storm is not going to kill us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fostering a Ready Heart

We had gone away to the Piney Woods for the weekend. To a charming cabin among the pines and the oaks, with the dogwoods shimmering their silver, white blossoms amid the Spring green.

We met up with our best friends, Ken and Britt, and their precious boys. And we met two other families we had never met before, one of which opened up their parents’ cabin to us and all of our children.

And the children had the most fun, I think.  Nine kids ages three through nine (and one tiny baby) and all the dirt and woods to discover, a fire to be continually provoked, golf carts to be driven, and other such toys.

The last night, after the kids had all quickly fallen asleep in sleeping bags strewn throughout the floor of the game room, the adults huddled together on the outside deck. It was chilly and lightning flashed far from the cabin, lighting up the darkness of the woods. Coyotes called to one another mournfully. We passed around dried figs, while the men smoked pipes and we eased comfortably into conversation. Strangers becoming friends.

We began to talk about the orphan. One family had adopted from Ethiopia, another family had spent time working with troubled children who lived in group homes, another family had fostered and then adopted their son. It was when this family began talking about their son that my heart began to ache.

The mother talked about how adoption is not God’s Plan A. She talked about how difficult it was and is for their son to come to realize that he did not grow in her tummy as her other children did.  She talked about how the adopted child grieves for the loss of his mother and father, no matter what age he is when he is adopted.

I sat there in the darkness, right up next to Jason, and I wept soundlessly.

You see, we are so close to receiving our fostering certification. It seems it has taken us forever to get to this point, but we are awaiting the final home study walk through of our home. It has been seven years, this Spring, that I went to my first adoption conference and felt the tug on my heart to adoption. Seven years, another child, a career change for my husband, a move to a different city, living with in-laws, paramedic school, moving into our home, homeschooling, and watching God change my children’s hearts to embrace the orphan. God’s timing is important and He has been preparing us all along for this next chapter in our lives. And we are almost there!

But throughout the excitement of being so close, I am constantly sobered by the reality of what fostering entails. We have been blessed to know many people in our church and community who have fostered and adopted and as they share their stories with us, the truth is: IT’S HARD!!! On so many levels. The stress of adding another person or two to the family dynamic is immense, and then there is the exhaustion of caring for the needs, the spiritual warfare of dealing with children who have been deeply wounded, the grief of these children, and on and on and on. No. I do not expect it to be a walk in the park on a sunny day. I expect pain and frustration and problems.

But I also expect God’s presence. And His leading. His strength. His provision.

Just this morning I was reading a biography with the kids about George Muller, the missionary to Bristol, England who is known for his incredible dependence on God to meet his needs and the needs of the orphans in his care. I read about when George first introduced to his church his vision of starting an orphanage and choosing to completely depend on God for everything they would need. I read how many people scoffed at the idea, how this just wasn’t done in England. But it was when I began to read about those who supported George and how they began to offer their service and their possessions and their money, that I started weeping again (and this time not very quietly) that I had to pass the book off to Jason so he could finish the chapter and I could blubber away.

It was like God was telling me that we will not be alone in this fostering endeavor. Though it will be difficult, there will be support. And the support will come in different and unexpected ways.

On the day that we left the cabin in the woods, Jason went out in the rain on a four-wheeler to get some clippings of plants to try to root them when he got home. He cut wild grape vines and blackberry vines and other things because that’s what he likes to do. On my kitchen table I have the white dogwood flowers in a glass that Jason cut from a tree in the woods. They remind me that Spring comes after Winter.

I do not enter this road to fostering with blind eyes to the pain that it will bring. But at the same time I do not walk without hope. For who knows, but that Spring may come to a child who has experienced more grief than I may ever know.

 

The Planting

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It was St. Patrick’s Day when the kids planted their seeds in the garden.

The boys were in the garden digging and digging and picking up worms and mounding up the soil, getting it ready for the planting. It is amazing to me how much effort is taken to actually get to the point where the soil is ready to be filled in with seed.

We now have three strips of garden beds in our backyard, where last year we only had two. Last summer, Jason covered over the grass of the soon-to-be row with newspaper and dried leaves and grass to prep the ground to be a new garden bed. The newspaper looked odd and out of place beside the other two garden beds which were vibrant with growth. It looked ugly and the newspaper would blow off around our yard, but my husband, the gardener, would gather the newspaper and spray them down with water and keep adding to the desolate garden bed. The idea was that in the decomposing of the paper and the leaves and grass, the ground underneath would be made soft and we might  even not have to rent a tiller to break up the ground.

That is exactly what happened. Now in March, after six months of continuing to prep the ground, the boys started digging in the garden bed and discovered rich, dark earth underneath the newspaper. They showed Jason the earth they had discovered under there and he decided that the tiller was not needed.

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I went looking for Addie because each of the kids had a plot of the new strip with seeds they had each chosen to go in the ground. It was time to plant and I wondered why my daughter was not out there in all of the action.

I found her in her room copying Bible verses.

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“What are you doing sweetie?” I had asked her.

“Oh, I’m copying verses to go hand out around our neighborhood.” She had about twenty pages from a little notebook filled with verses.

My heart filled with great joy. That very morning I had gone out walking, praying that God would give our family boldness in sharing the good news of Jesus with those who do not know him.

“I’ll go with you!” I volunteered. I would definitely support this effort to take the Word of God around to our neighbors.

I looked at my little missionary and said, “But first, there is a strip of ground that is all ready for you to plant some seeds.”

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After the planting and after lunch, Jason laid his hands on Addie and I and commissioned us as we went out with seed of our own to sow around the neighborhood.

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Maybe, just maybe some of that seed will have fallen on fertile ground.

When Jesus Prays for You

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It is lent and I wake up dry as old bone.

My alarm went off at 5:30, but I shut it off and rolled over. It’s now 7:30 and the kids are awake and my youngest comes into the room, desperately hungry. So I get up slowly and try to gear up for a day of serving my family and teaching my children, but I realize as I look at myself in the mirror that I have nothing to give anyone today.

The one thing I want is the thing I forfeited when I decided to sleep in this morning. I want time alone with Jesus. I need time alone with him today. Because my heart doesn’t seem to be working right. I’m needy and I have been for a while. And now, with the recent news I received of my loved one (the kind I can’t share details about) I’m in angst and my sadness and anger dodge and twist within me.

I’m faithless today. And along with that, I’m joyless.

But it is an absolutely gorgeous day today. Spring seems to have broken through. The birds are rejoicing outside and the blinds spill golden light into my bedroom.

I walk out into the living room and my boys have opened up the blinds already and Jeremiah smiles proud and shows me the table he has set for breakfast all by himself. Thaddaeus hops up and down expectantly as I survey everything. They are full of springtime.

So I make them breakfast and they eat and then Addie comes down and she eats. Then I make breakfast for Jason and I as my husband comes in to help me and I can’t stay inside, so we eat outside. And the warmth of the sun and the cool, fresh breeze and the garden beds prepped and ready for seed and the smell and the sounds of new life, all of this begins to awaken something deep within me.

We gather the kids outside for morning devotions as Jason pours us each a glass of home-brewed ginger ale. I pass the Bible over to him and ask him to read, for I need to hear it this morning.

I close my eyes and Jason reads John chapter 17. It is Jesus’ prayer for himself and his disciples and for those who would believe in him in the generations to come. It is his prayer for me. These are Jesus’ last words to his friends before he is betrayed into the hands of evil men and condemned to die on a cross for the sins of the world. For my sins. These were the last words recorded by John, Jesus’ beloved friend. And as Jason begins to read and the kids sip ginger ale, I am overcome with the intimacy of this recorded prayer for all who would believe in Jesus.

Jesus was praying over me. With hands outstretched and eyes looking to the heavens, he prayed all those years ago thinking about me. He prayed protection and unity and holiness and mission and nearness and love. But what really got me was verse 13. “I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.”

A tear slips down my cheek as I inhale the meaning of these words. Jesus wants me to have joy. Even now. Even though all is not as it should be. Even though those I love are hurting greatly. Hadn’t he just said it in John 16? “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Jason finishes the chapter and we all sit in silence in the golden morning. Addie says that devotions should as well be over because when Jesus prays for you, that’s about as good as it gets.

“Thank you, babe,” I whisper to my husband. “I so needed that.”

The kids skip away to play, taking advantage of the fact that I am in no hurry to start the homeschool day just yet. I sit in the sun and let myself come alive at the reality that Jesus offers me full joy today. And all I have to do is receive it. He doesn’t force himself on me, but lets me choose if I will allow myself to be loved today or not.

Today I choose to receive.

My Journey with Celiac Disease

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I can still remember the urgency in which my midwife, Hillary, pleaded with me.

“There is something wrong. With all of the supplements and pills you are on, there is some reason your body is not absorbing the iron that it needs. You must see a doctor and get to the bottom of this!”

That was five years ago today. The very day after my youngest, Thaddaeus Joseph, was born.

I had been somewhat anemic for a while. I remember being turned down in college to give blood because my hemoglobin was too low. At that point I didn’t really mind being relieved of the blood-letting. But throughout college and even into my married life I remember having episodes of having to sit down on the shower floor because it felt like I was about to pass out. Having babies was when the anemia kicked in full gear. I was put on an iron supplement in the middle of my pregnancy with Addie, but because I was delivering at the hospital, my doctor was not so much concerned about low iron. Jeremiah’s birth was a different story because we decided to go the home birth route. However, HIllary had me on so many supplements, including blackstrap molasses and chlorophyll and floradix and liver, that my iron levels improved slightly and I was able to safely deliver Jeremiah at home. When Thaddaeus came around, I immediately started with the iron supplements and kicked it into high gear at the very end because my levels continued to drop. Hillary delivered a shot of pitocin right after Thadd was born in order to help my uterus to contract and to prevent hemorrhaging. And the Lord enabled me to deliver a healthy baby boy at home. But I knew that there was something wrong with me.

My midwife gave me the name of a family doctor who practiced naturopathy up in McKinney, TX. Dr. Chartrand. I made a visit to see him and thus began about a three month journey of trying different supplements with my iron levels continuing to drop. I remember Dr. Chartrand looking at me one day and saying, “Your iron level is about that of an eighty-year-old woman. It is amazing to me that you are still standing up.”

And so I began my own research, which led me to some forgotten website that listed off different symptoms of an autoimmune disease called Celiac Disease. The common symptoms were digestive, but “unexplained iron deficiency” was on the list. So as soon as I met again with Dr. Chartrand, I asked him to do a Celiac screen and that very day he tested me.

I remember being down in Houston visiting my in-laws when I received the call from Dr. Chartrand telling me that the results had come in from the test and yes, I had tested positive for Celiac Disease. So, he told me, allI I had to do now was completely avoid gluten. FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE!

The weight of that sentence hung about me like an iron skillet. I had no idea what gluten really was, and what in the world did or didn’t have it in it. But my very first reaction to the news I received that day completely took me off-guard. I responded with thanksgiving. I remember being outside of my sister-in-law, Jen’s house in the early Spring of Texas, the birds busy about me, the live oak trees growing in their new leaves, and I remember breathing in life and audibly praising God that a diagnosis had been found. It would change my life forever, but it was like God had clearly written the next step in my journey. Go gluten free. And I had to walk in obedience to this very difficult discipline.

I cannot say enough about the incredible support my family and friends were to me as we all scrambled to learn all we could about what kinds of food I could and couldn’t eat and O how wondrously so many went out of their way to prepare food for me and make sure things were not cross-contaminated. Jason, most of all, proved to be my biggest support and endless source of research and inspiration as we changed our lives to accommodate to this new diet. He is an indescribable gift to me.

Six months into the diet, my iron levels were higher than normal. “You are cured,” my doctor told me as there was no reason for me to see him again. And so I have been walking gluten free for almost five years now. It has been challenging, but time has carved the rut of daily routine into an almost easy gluten free road.

But now, as is the case in many things, the road is changing again and the path is not as clear cut. Jason and I have just recently been researching the paleo diet and the benefits specifically for those with autoimmune diseases. I resisted this change initially. There’s nothing wrong with me! But all I have to do is look at pictures of me five years ago and compare them to recent photos. I may not be as pale as I used to be, but I am skinnier. Obviously skinnier. And not the kind of skinny people are jealous of. The kind of skinny that people make comments like, “I would hug you, but I would probably break you,” or “When it rains, you don’t get wet, do you?”

So, after painfully coming to terms with my own low body weight and the probability that my gut is not absorbing all the nutrients that it needs because of other dietary factors, I have decided to adopt the paleo diet. SIGH. I so didn’t want to go here! But the more reading I do, the more convinced I am that it is the diet for me. So, I believe that this is another of God’s markers pointing me down another similar and yet difficult road. Not according to my plans. My plans this year were about writing and fostering, not cooking!

But again, I am reminded that it is not my plans, but His that are worth submitting to. Proverbs 16:9 “We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps.” This is the story of my life. And it has proven to be even better than any plan I have ever made for myself, every single time.

So here goes: one foot in front of the other, cutting down a path one step at a time.

Fullness

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Life is full these days. The good kind of full, the push your plate away from the table and sigh kind.

After several years of trying to just survive, it has been so refreshing to breathe and to invest time and energy into this season of fullness. The biggest investment has been in bringing my children home from public school and beginning to homeschool. Fourteen weeks into it so far and we are all loving it.

Due to my own lack of documentation of the process, I struggle to even attempt to recount our homeschooling experience. So I will do what a wise person once suggested in this dilemma: write out simple declarative statements from snippets of life.

Maybe this will paint a picture of what fullness looks like in the Brown household:

Addie declares the very first day of homeschool, “I want to be known for something one day. Kind of like Benjamin Franklin or the Wright Brothers.”

Our whole family drives downtown to Houston’s inner city Third Ward on a Monday morning every month to deliver sack lunches to Generation One Academy.

I have Thaddaeus and Jeremiah take turns running up and down the stairs 20 times as a study break in the middle of the day.

I step out in faith and play guitar every Tuesday for devotions at our weekly Coop meetings.

The kids make new friends. And so do I.

We do our read-alouds in a magnificent Magnolia tree on the Houston bayou one afternoon.

One of my children sometimes doesn’t want to do their reading.

One of my children sometimes doesn’t want to do their math.

One of my children stands on the chair to do their work.

Sometimes I have to get the principal to talk to them. 🙂 aka Daddy

Sometimes the principal has to do the math lesson.

We get to care for a litter of five baby kittens.

We bury one of the kittens and I hold my oldest son as he grieves long.

Jason teaches the kids woodworking in the garage.

Everywhere projects abound and cardboard and scotch tape disappear fast.

Addie warms our home with her piano-playing.

Legos are always everywhere.

Thaddaeus uses all things as percussion instruments.

We go to the park when the other kids are in school.

We finish school by noon.

We watch bees make honeycomb in the bee hive Jason built.

We read lots of books.

We pray together.

Jeremiah prays over a sack lunch with a name on it from Generation One Academy. He prays that this girl will grow to love the Word of God and be bold to tell others about Jesus. Thaddaeus lays his hands on another sack lunch and prays protection over the child.

Addie tells me that it should be our family’s job to tell others about Jesus and she tries to come up with ways to get a whole bunch of people all together in a room so that can happen on a grand scale.

And I laugh and I cry and I love my kids so hard my heart hurts and some days I have to text my prayer-warriors because I do not feel like even looking at my children. But at the end of a day, I am full with the conviction that I am doing exactly what I have longed to do for so long and that God is blessing this season of togetherness.

It is good.

 

 

The Season of our Joy

There is a strange phenomena around the holidays that not many people talk about. Something most of us probably do not deal with, but then again, maybe we do. Something that stands opposed to this season of light and hope. Something that would rob us of our joy.

Depression. Sadness. Sorrow. I don’t care what you call it. It’s there for all kinds of reasons. That dull ache in your middle.

I feel it too. With Thanksgiving just a heart-beat away, I know that it is followed by a flurry of December birthdays and Christmas shopping and family get-togethers and good food and anticipation of my children’s expectancy and the advent activities we do.  And I love December. But there, in the midst of the glowing lights and the happy faces is the realization that my family is broken. That relationships are not what they should be. That loved ones are really struggling in all kinds of areas. And most of all, that I cannot fix it. Oh there is such deep sorrow over the pain of those I love!

I remember this Fall, at the very beginning of our first homeschool year, I went out for a walk. I prayed that God would reveal to me the meaning of my middle name. It seems a funny thing to pray for because my middle name is Joy. But I prayed for it nonetheless. Immediately, the phrase, “shouts of joy and victory”, from a Psalm our family had been memorizing, came to my mind. But I quickly dismissed it because that didn’t seem to fit me. I am not a loud person by any means. I had always thought my name meant a kind of peaceful happiness. That seems to gel more with my personality.

The next day I happened to look up a Scripture that God had used mightily in my life to deliver me from fear. Zephaniah 3:17. I began looking up this reference in all different translations of the Old Testament. The Complete Jewish Bible translation reads: “Adonai your God is right there with you, as a Mighty Savior. He will rejoice over you and be glad, He will be silent in His love, He will shout over you with joy.” And there it was again. This concept of shouting joy. So I looked up the Hebrew word for that specific use of joy in that passage and it is the word “B’rinnah” which means “praise with loud, joyful shouting or singing.” And this is the meaning of my name. A triumphant shout of joy.

And so God has revealed to me my name, my calling. A shout of triumph over the enemy of this dismal and corrupt world. A shout of joy that my God is still a Mighty Savior. That He rejoices over me. That I can be still and know His love. Even though there is still pain. Even though things are not how I want them to be.

He is here. He is right here in our midst. Emmanuel means God with us. It is the victory of advent. It is the joy that triumphs over the sadness. And it is mine.