We closed our home.

Four years ago this week, I was scheduled to run the Tulsa Route 66 Marathon.  It would have been my sixth full marathon, and I had trained for it for months.  If all went according to plan, I could beat my previous personal record and finish in 3 hours, 50 minutes.

On Monday of Race Week, I found myself at urgent care with a nasty case of strep throat.  Undeterred from my race goals, I began taking antibiotics immediately and felt much better in a few days.  I headed to Tulsa that weekend, exhausted from a long week of sickness, but ready to accomplish what I set out to do several months before. 

Disaster hit at Mile 3 of the race.  Mile 3!  This never happened with so many miles to go.  I felt as though I was floating and on the verge of vomiting and about to fall asleep all at the same time.  I attributed these effects to the antibiotics I had been taking and willed my legs to run for several more miles. 

As the race dragged on, I was becoming more and more miserable, and it became increasingly clear that finishing the full marathon was out of the question.  Again, this never happened.  I never quit races.  My previous mode of operation had always been to keep putting one foot in front of the other, no matter what. For whatever reason that day, though, I listened to my body (or maybe it was the Holy Spirit).  When the road split, I tearfully made the choice to continue with the half marathoners, letting go of all of the goals I had prior to the start of the race.  I hated myself for it at the time.  Quitting was much harder than finishing would have been.

***

We are closing our home to foster care for awhile.  After Little Man left, our worker asked us when we’d be ready to accept another placement.  We told her that we wouldn’t.

foster son

I hate that I just typed that. 

I had anticipated having many children in and out of our home over many years.  Maybe we still will.  Maybe in five years, we’ll be in a different season and ready to try this again.  But I didn’t anticipate closing so soon.  We still had a few more months to give before I start school full-time, and it feels like we quit.  Quitting was much harder than finishing would have been.

***

Two days after I failed to complete the full Tulsa Marathon, I took a pregnancy test.  For the first time in years, it was positive.  In that moment, I knew exactly why God and my body had been telling me to stop racing, and I was overwhelmingly grateful that I had listened to both of them.

***

I’m not there yet with our decision to take a break from foster care. 

Most days, I feel that we are making a huge mistake.  I have a defeating sense that we didn’t do enough … that we gave up … that everyone everywhere is as disappointed with me as I am. 

When I look at what we are doing (or not doing) from a logical stance, it makes complete sense.  My own capacity and limitations have become very evident to me over the past year, and while I often wish that they were different than what they are, I know that full-time school and full-time fostering are not an option for me.  I wouldn’t be able to do either well, and my family would suffer.  Accepting another placement without knowing how long the child will stay seems careless, when I know that the time we can dedicate to fostering is limited and the system is painfully slow.

This is the correct, logical decision.  However, emotions often speak louder to me than logic, and there have been some pretty noisy emotions lately telling me that I’m a failure.

***

A friend revealed to me last week that we have been fostering for almost a year.  Somehow, I literally had not thought about that until she mentioned it.  The last year has slipped through my fingers, and there have been moments when it feels as though my own life has been passing me by. 

There are good reasons for our family to take a break - good reasons that aren’t purely logical. 

Foster care requires far more than a willing heart.  I’ve poured out my life for the two kids who we’ve had in our home this year, which has simultaneously been a joy and a sacrifice.  Somewhere along the way, I lost a piece of myself.  In caring for these children, I didn’t care for myself (spiritually, emotionally, or physically).  As I’ve been accustomed to doing during marathon training, I ignored all signs that I was not doing well at all and kept putting one foot in front of the other.  My foster kids had everything they needed, but my own kids lost their patient mom, and my husband lost his loving wife.

Everyone talks about how children are resilient, and they are.  However, becoming a foster family is asking an extraordinary amount of two-and-four-year-old girls.  They loved both of our foster children better than I did at times and never showed them anything but grace and kindness, which has been extremely humbling for me to watch.  But they struggled in ways that they may never be able to voice, as their little worlds became increasingly unpredictable and their parents became increasingly unavailable. 

I know what a great dad my husband is to our girls, and watching him being a dad to two children whose own fathers were mostly MIA brought me to tears multiple times throughout the year.  He couldn’t have loved them any better than he did.  Foster care took a toll on him, too, though, and having two completely spent people in a relationship strains it, no matter how strong it was to start.  I almost lost my marriage once; I’m not about to lose it again. 

Death has, unfortunately, been a consistent theme in the lives of several close to me throughout 2018, and attending three funerals in the last four months has caused me to reflect on my own mortality and the shortness of life.  I’ve been thinking about the legacy I want to leave and wondering what people will stand and say at my funeral.  I want my children and spouse, more than anyone else, to say that I cared for them well. 

I don’t regret a day of our journey through foster care.  God called us to this and gave us the grace to be obedient.  Now he’s calling us to something else, and I must choose to be obedient again.  I know I won’t regret a day of being fully present for my home team over the next few months.

***

foster daughter

It is easy to become discouraged when I see other foster families living out their calling so well.  They make it look easy, and maybe it is for them.  Maybe, too, I don’t see everything.  Definitely, we are not them, and that is okayComparison is the thief of joy.  It is also the thing that sometimes keeps me from following the Lord’s will for my life because I am overly concerned with how that doesn’t always look like His will for everyone else’s.  I may never have a revelation as to why I listened to His voice this time which is on the scale of my pregnancy in 2014.  But hopefully, when I stand at the gates of heaven, I will hear His voice louder than ever, proclaiming, “Well done, my good and faithful servant!  You did all that I asked you to do.”  When that day comes, I know I won’t wish that I had run the race He laid out for someone else.

***

When our first foster child entered our home, she had so much shame that she would hardly look us in the eyes.  (I’m thankful to report that this was no longer the case by the time she left.)  She seemed consistently afraid that we would be disappointed in or angry with her.  I remember trying to talk to her one day early on in her stay, and she would not look up from her shoes.  I lifted her head, cupped her face in my hands, looked straight into her big blue eyes, and said, “K, I love you no matter what!”  In that moment, tears streamed down my own face as I realized that this is exactly what my Father does for me.  He lifts my head out of my shame, and although I can’t see His face today, I know that there is no disappointment or anger in His eyes. He loves me because I am His daughter, and not because I did or didn’t do foster care for a certain amount of time.  He says I’ve done enough, and that is enough for me.  Well, at least I want it to be.

Preferences, Convictions, and Commitment

I knew this would happen.

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I knew I'd drop my kids off at VBS at our old church every morning last week and miss that place.  I missed it bad.  My husband and closest friends could read it all over my face.

Two years ago, we became members at a different church, the church that we still attend.  Our decision was primarily fueled by the desire to stop commuting half an hour each way every week and to become part of a church body in our home community.  This change was challenging because I loved City Pres.  Had we left because we had been hurt or upset, the transition would have been easier, or at least more clear-cut.  

When we first started coming to Providence Road, I was encouraged to hear the gospel preached so emphatically and to be welcomed immediately by kind people who genuinely love Jesus.  But I missed so many other things about our old church that I struggled to worship in our new one, and still do at times.  I miss the hymns, the responsive readings, the paper order of worship that I could hold in my hands, the communion wine and the kneelers off to the side.  I miss the austere reverence that filled the building and the beauty of the building itself with that big red door, the stained glass, and the wooden arches.  I miss the size of the body and the variety of ages found in it.  I miss those sweet people, many who we've known for twelve years, many who walked with us through the most difficult season of our life together and watched as we renewed our vows in that 100-year-old sanctuary.  

What I have had to realize is that most of the things I miss about City Pres are truly preferences and not convictions.  We are convicted that we need to be in a church in Norman where the gospel is proclaimed boldly and shown to be essential in the lives of the church members and leaders.  That's it.  When Christ stands at the head of a church, all of the minor issues can go.  There is value in finding a place and remaining committed to it, even when more comfortable places exist.  If everyone quit things as soon as they became uncomfortable, no one would ever have children, finish school, runs marathons, or remain married.  

This is not to say that I've had any easy time dying to my preferences in honor of my convictions.  But, He does help my heart.  Two years later, I can honestly say that although I still miss City Pres, I love Providence Road!  As I've slowly loosened my hold on what I want, He has shown me how the gospel can break down all sorts of barriers to give what is needed, namely God himself.  I can love and serve at this church because it is His church and my preferences are secondary to His kingdom. 

He sees me.

There isn't one area of life that our foster daughter hasn't touched. In a little over three months, she has left a mark on our bank account, on our kitchen table, all over our schedules, in our marriage, in our parenting, and on our hearts.  She has taught us a new way to live, which I sometimes appreciate but often resent.  I feel completely spent in almost every way, almost all of the time.

For the past week and a half, teachers in Oklahoma have been on strike, which means that my four-year-old has not been at Pre-K, nor has my three-year-old foster child been attending her preschool class for kids with developmental disabilities.  Consequently, I've been home all day every day with three small humans, a job which many moms gracefully undertake whether or not teachers are on strike.  I, however, have consistently felt ill-equipped, defeated, angry, stressed, and impatient as I've had these kids at home.

Last Wednesday, K started counseling with a therapist who comes to our house.  The whole thing was an absolute disaster for an abundance of reasons that I won't discuss here.  The therapist left after a day which had already included crying, feet stomping, hitting, poopy pants, whining, breaking a bench, and screaming.  Thankfully, the weather outside that day was gorgeous, so I sent the girls to the backyard, sank to the kitchen floor, and burst into tears.  The weightiness of foster care once again hit me like a ton of bricks.

We were discussing our situation in the home of some friends recently.  We were called to be foster parents, but we often wish that we weren't.  One of our friends responded simply,

he sees me

"God sees you."

Those three words have changed everything.

When I got home later that evening, I looked up the Bible passage (Genesis 16) which inspired our friend's words to me.  To paraphrase, a woman named Sarai could not have children.  So, she told her husband to sleep with her slave, Hagar, in order to continue the family line.  Afterward, Sarai became bitter toward Hagar and severely mistreated her, so much so that pregnant Hagar ran away to the desert.  Alone, empty-handed, and afraid, Hagar met "the God who sees" by a stream in the desert.  He heard her cries of misery and promised to bring forth many powerful descendants from her.

He gave her a stream in the desert.  He gives me himself, the Fountain of living water that never runs dry.

She ran away.  He pursued her.  I try to flee from this hard calling.  He finds me, calls me by name, and speaks gently with me.  

He heard her.  He hears my feeble cries for help.

He saw her.  

He sees me!  

On the days when I'm feeling hopeless and looking for an escape, he sees me.  He sees me wiping snot for the fifty billionth time today.  He sees me struggling to love people who I do not like.  He sees me in a pile of emotions on the kitchen floor.  

He sees me with compassion and grace, just as he saw his Son in the garden thousands of years ago, sweating drops of blood.  He sees the tears and sweat and catches every drop.

Son or daughter, child of the King, He sees you, too.

Fan Club Friday: Doorpost Collections

Doorpost Collections nativity advent calendar

Okay, yes, I am writing about my own business today.  

Maybe I'm not supposed to do that, but I figure that since this is my blog, I get to decide what I post.  And to be honest, I've been excited for a long time about the day when I could finally announce Doorpost Collections.

Before I tell you about the Advent Collection I've created, let me first tell you about my awesome husband.  I never thought that I could own a business with Andrew.  We are so different.  But it is precisely because we are so different that I now cannot imagine owning a business without him.  

I can make crafts, and I can write.  Oh, and I know how to be nice to people.  Those are the extent of my business skills.

I created an advent calendar and script for our own family when my oldest was an infant, and it was at Christmastime last year when the teenager living with us suggested, "MR, you could totally sell these.  I bet people would use them."  

This had truly never crossed my mind, but then I thought, "Sure, why not try?  'If you build it, they will come.  Right?'"

nativity advent calendar

Wrong.  

My dear husband is a business analyst, and he gently explained to his naive wife that this is not the way entrepreneurship works.

Have you thought about marketing?

Where to sell?

Shipping?

Packaging?

Sourcing?

Pricing?

No, no, no, no, and ... no.

So, all that stuff on Etsy and basically everything that is not the actual calendar, storage box, or script itself?  That is all my guy.  I had a dream, and he made my vision a reality.  

It also helps that I'm trying to sell a craft, and Andrew works at the ultimate craft store, Hobby Lobby.  

Anyway, enough bragging about him.  I could go on and on about how opening a business has changed our marriage for the better and made me see things in him that I never noticed before, but I should probably talk about my products.

Currently, Doorpost Collection only includes items for the Advent season, but I plan to expand the shop to include an Easter/Lent collection as well.

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The standard advent calendar includes a 16x16 inch burlap board in its natural wood color, but there is also a whitewash option.  The board comes with 25 miniature nativity objects to be placed on it from December 1-25.  These items have been sourced from a variety of retailers, and a few are handmade.  Each miniature was carefully selected to tangibly represent a part of the story of Jesus' birth in the Bible.  

Inspired by Scripture and Noel Piper's Treasuring God in Our TraditionsI created a script to be read individually or as a family during the month of December.  The script tells the story of Jesus, but it also includes other verses of Old Testament prophesies and New Testament promises.  Each day, the beginning paragraph of the script is repeated, but a new portion is also added which corresponds to the miniature being placed on the board on that specific day.

nativity advent calendar

A handpainted and numbered 25-drawer storage box for the miniatures can be purchased separately or in addition to the nativity advent calendar.  If you're a DIY kind of person, I've included the script as an option to purchase separately, as well.

If this product sounds simplistic, it is.  That's what I wanted it to be.  The Christmas season is often so full of chaos that the true Reason for our festivities is lost.  Selling these advent calendars isn't about money for me; it's about bringing Jesus back into people's homes.  It's about giving parents a tool for teaching their kids to adore the Savior.  It's about redeeming a holiday that has been distorted.  

nativity advent calendar

I'll leave you with this letter I've written.  You'll find it in your box if you order from my collection.  

You can check out Doorpost Collections on my website, InstagramFacebook or Etsy.  

 

***

Dear Friend,

I grew up in a home that did not acknowledge Christmas.  Classmates constantly questioned my religious background, wondering if I was Jewish or Jehovah’s Witness.  My response was and still is, “No, my parents are devout Christians.”  For reasons I couldn’t understand at the time, my parents chose to entirely forgo this holiday that the world has a tendency to misrepresent.

My husband, on the other hand, was raised in a family where Christmas has always been the year’s biggest celebration.  Yet, even with all of the festivities, the true meaning of advent was lost on him, as well.

Adopting our oldest child caused us to consider, for the first time, what we desired holidays to be for our own family unit.  I devoured Noel Piper’s Treasuring God in Our Traditions book in only a few days and then attempted to implement some of her wisdom into our home.  Unfortunately, the advent calendars and script which she sold when she wrote the book were no longer available.  So, I decided to make my own.

As I worked on this project, my heart changed toward Christmas and Jesus.  I had originally created the calendar to teach the story of Christ’s birth to our children through a digestible story and tangible objects, but I really ended up teaching the story to myself.  Writing the script that we would read in our home required extensive Bible research on my part, and seeing Old Testament promises fulfilled through the Messiah brought renewed joy to my spirit.  I found myself eagerly anticipating each evening during the advent season, when we would gather as a family and add another piece to the burlap board.  Seeing the wonder of the Savior through the eyes of my children sparked my own wonder, too.  For the first time in my life, Christmas had meaning.

The name, Doorpost Collections, was chosen with intention.  We, like the Israelites, are a forgetful people.  We need objects and routines which stir our affections for Christ.  My prayer is that, as you display and use Doorpost Collections in your home, you will be enabled to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength (Deuteronomy 6:4-9).

                                                                                 All glory to Jesus,
                                                                        Mary Rachel

15% of Doorpost Collections’ proceeds go directly to Peru Mission.  For more information, visit www.perumission.org.

One Thousand Gifts: The Joy Project

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"Some days I pick up a camera and it's a hammer ... the Farmer finds me with my hammer in hand, leaning over a plate of cheese grated and sitting in sunlight ... It is quite possible that the God-glory of a ring of shredded cheese may be lost on him ... Ridiculously happy over slips of cheese.  That I am, and it's wild, and, oh, I am the one who laughs.  Me!  Changed!  Surprised by joy!"

I roll my eyes, shut this absurd book, and go to sleep.  Who finds such joy in shredded cheddar?

Ann Voskamp does.  I started reading her book, One Thousand Gifts, in 2014, following the resolution of the most difficult time in our marriage.  The premise of the book is that, by naming the thousands of everyday gifts around us, we become more thankful and joyful people.  

It's a good idea, really.  But the plate of cheese scene was too much for me.  I am not a flowery or dramatic person when it comes to words.  I have this mostly-unbroken rule, though: If I start a book I will finish it.  

So I did.  I muscled my way through the remainder of One Thousand Gifts.  Although Voskamp's writing style frequently irritated me, I arrived at the last chapter of the book and got out of it what I believe she intended.  

What if I started naming my everyday gifts?  How would this change me?  Would it change me?  Would I find myself gushing over a plate of cheese by the end?

On October 11, 2014, I began naming my gifts and recording each one in my journal.  I didn't list something every day, but the first 304 were easy.  

2. Solitude

14. Legs that give me the freedom to run

34. Date nights

50. Amazon Prime

79. Health insurance

129. Pillows

180. Birds singing

210. When a favorite song comes on the radio

297. Pretty handwriting

Then I got lazy.  For whatever reason, I quit journaling as much as I once did, and the One Thousand Gifts Project was temporarily abandoned.  

Just before New Year's Day 2017, my husband and I, along with other members of our community group, chose a word that we wanted to define us in 2017.  

Mine was JOY.  The many mundane aspects of life had become monotonous to me, and I desired for something to be different.  On January 1, 2017, I picked up my pen again and resumed my "gifts list" at number 305, resolving to actually make it to 1,000 this time.

On September 16, 2017, an ordinary Saturday morning, I accomplished my goal.  

When I restarted The Joy Project in January, I knew that I would need to list an average of almost two gifts per day in order to finish before the end of the year.  Simple enough, I thought.  Some days, the gifts flowed out of my pen with little thought.

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365. When I can let my plans go and be okay

379. Walmart grocery pick-up

382. When Piper talks out loud to the TV

394. Conflict resolution

448. Speaking English

Other days, I felt as though I had already named every gift I've ever received.  

These were the moments that changed me.  

Instead of listing the gifts that were obvious (#450: Our dog), I had to start noticing.  I had to find joy in not only the ordinary, but also in the disruption of my plans and in the hardest days when giving thanks was anything but natural.   

Why is my kid asking SO. MANY. QUESTIONS?

486. Piper's curiosity

Spring allergies.  All the sneezing and itchy eyes.

544. Those beautiful white trees that stink, making me think that God has a sense of humor

Yet another kid birthday party this weekend.

556. People liking our kids enough to invite them to parties

Sister's eczema is horrendous today.

613. C's eczema giving us permission to not bathe her every night

If someone else touches me today, I might scream.

664. Having little hands that love to hold mine

I didn't get to do that thing I wanted to do this morning.

753. How motherhood has taught me to be more flexible

These are ways in which I view the world now.  

The Joy Project is no longer about writing down hundreds of gifts but about turning everything into an opportunity for praise and gratitude.

Admittedly, I never sobbed over a pile of cheese, but I began noticing the tiniest details (844: The way that eggs cook, changing from clear to yellow) and finding the good in everything from daily tasks to the most potentially upsetting situations.

Even after nearly ten consistent months of choosing joy, naming gifts still feels unnatural and sometimes awkward.  My tendency is toward anger, frustration, and annoyance.  But because of The Joy Project, I am more quickly abandoning those attitudes and adding to my gifts list instead.  

Now that I've reaching one thousand, I think I'll keep going.  Joy can be found everywhere, if we choose to open our eyes to it.  Who knows, maybe I'll make it to a million one day.

Photos by Kate Bernard