Their purpose is not my pleasure.

We accidentally acquired a dog about four months ago.   

By “accidentally”, I mean that my husband’s coworker found her, my husband took one look at her, and she was home within the hour.  

pet dog

Lindsey is the best ever dog now, but this wasn’t always the case.  After she ate a whole pan of chicken wings off the counter, chewed up three pairs of shoes and countless children’s toys, peed on the carpet every time we let her in the house, and destroyed her crate when we left her in it (at all, ever), I was convinced that we had made a serious mistake in taking her.  I couldn’t stand the dog, who was quickly becoming a liability and not an asset.

Thanks to a lot of training and time (and anxiety medication!), Lindsey doesn’t do any of the things she did when she first came!  She stays calmly in her crate, chews on her own toys, sleeps on her own bed, eats only her own food, and takes care of her business outside.  Best of all, she runs with me and is loving and intuitive with our girls.  She has quickly won a permanent place in our home and our hearts.

Every once in awhile, Lindsey reminds us that, in spite of our diligent training, she still has a quirky personality.  Sometimes she sleeps with her feet straight up in the air or stretches so intensely that she lets out a loud fart and then is confused about what happened.  She pulls the squeakers and stuffing out of every toy she owns (but thankfully, only with toys she owns).  Occasionally, she darts after a squirrel during an off-leash run ... and occasionally I let her go.  

It is these little idiosyncrasies that make me love our dog the most, and I never want to put her through such rigorous training that she loses the unique things that make her Lindsey.  At the end of the day, she is a part of our family for our pleasure, and we certainly expect her to behave, but we want her to have a happy life.  We don’t want a robot dog, crushed under the weight of our expectations.

This post isn’t actually about my dog.  She’s a handy example right now, but I’m really writing about the purpose of children.

***

My oldest started soccer this season.  Her team lost every game.  Every single one!

When we showed up to her first game, the other team had matching shorts, socks, and hair bows custom embroidered with their names.  (I forgot which color jersey she was supposed to wear that day.) Several of their self-proclaimed “intense” parents had professional cameras with tripods on the sidelines.  Some of them encouraged their (five and six-year-old) girls to “get rough” and cheered loudly for our team when one of our girls ran confidently down the field toward the wrong goal and scored.  I don’t remember how badly we lost.  I stopped keeping track at 15-0.

As a parent, that game was hard to watch.  Not because I was embarrassed.  Not because I cared about the outcome of the game.  It was hard to watch because our girls felt defeated and frustrated, and U6 leagues are supposed to be fun.  That particular game was a competition between their parents and ours, to prove whose kids were a head above the rest.  It wasn’t really about the girls on the field.

***

When your kids look good and when they’re talented and successful, they make you as a parent look good, also.  Quite honestly, my ego would have loved it if P’s soccer team had gone undefeated this season! But unlike my dog, whose main purpose in life is to bring me joy, my pleasure is not the ultimate goal of my kids’ existence.  Joy is a byproduct of having children, but it is not the reason for having them.

IMG_1981.jpg

So, then, what is the purpose of having children?  I’m not sure that question has any one answer, but the longer I’ve had my kids, the more I’ve realized that God gave them to me more for the purpose of bringing about my growth and humility than my happiness and success. 

My parents didn’t crush me with their expectations of me, but I’ve always had unreasonably high expectations of myself and have feared placing those upon my kids, as well.  My standard has been perfection, which is unfair to everyone. Part of learning to be human is making mistakes, and I pray that my littles always understand the rules of our home while knowing that they will be accepted, loved, and cherished, regardless of their successes or failures.  I want to train them up to follow the path leading to true life, but I also want to allow them grace, molding their wills without ever crushing their spirits or causing them to lose the quirks that make them unique.

This has been hard for me.  I do cherish and love my people, but unconditional acceptance of them can be challenging.  From time to time, my kids have challenges, and when I see their purpose as my happiness (or comfort or ease or success), I get angry with them for struggling.  If I’m believing that they exist to make me feel or look good, I become annoyed when they need me to stop what I’m doing to help them, or embarrassed when they lack talent in certain areas.  

When I see my children as precious simply because they are mine and when I am able to view their unique issues as opportunities for my growth, it becomes much easier for me to keep my arms wide open for them in every circumstance.  When I admire my family through the correct lenses, I can say confidently to my non-robotic kids, “You can lose every single soccer game and it’s okay!   You can lose them 15-0!  You can struggle with friendships and emotions and grades.  You can be afraid of the dark and wear clothes that don’t match and you can run off every once in awhile to chase the proverbial squirrel ... and every once in awhile, I might let you ... because always, you have a home in my heart and our family, exactly the way you are.

Looking Both Ways

"Look both ways before you cross the street."

These are the words that my mom, like many other mothers across the world, etched into the brain of her child.  Of course, Mom was advising me to pay attention to cars which could come from either direction and turn me into smut.  But she was also telling me to look at where I've been and where I am going.

pexels-photo-442584.jpeg

I've been a lot of places in 2017.  Speaking literally, that isn't totally true.  Aside from our winter ski trip to Colorado and a few random visits to Texas to see family, I've mostly stayed in Norman.  The rest of my life, though, has been all over the map.

I quit a few things this year, including dairy, gluten, and my job, but we began a lot more.  This blog.  AirBnBDoorpost Collections.  Piper in "big school".  Dogsitting and human-sitting.  The simultaneous newness of it all felt crushing at times.  I said "yes" way too much.

When your husband works for Hobby Lobby, you naturally take advantage of his employee discount and buy all of the things every chance you get.  After all, one can never have too many Christmas decorations, right?  This year, I purchased a new table runner.  It's mostly made of burlap, similar to seemingly all of the other decor in our home.  But if you look closely, especially when the sun is first streaming in through the windows and shining upon our kitchen table at dawn, you can see tiny gold threads woven throughout it.

Our new table runner is the tapestry of 2017.  At the beginning of the year, I chose a word that I wanted to define my life: joy.  While it is true that The Joy Project allowed me to see with clearer eyes and more gratitude, it is also true that many of my days were like the scratchy burlap that stretches across our table: stiff and dull.  I worried too much and prayed too little.  I obsessively filled my plate with obligations due to self-imposed guilt.  I struggled with my relationship with running, and with relationships in general.  I got mad at my kids and my husband.  I had a lot of monotonous, ordinary days that ended far too late because of studying for school and started far too early because, well, such is life with small children.  I strove for perfection and came up short.  And yet, there were these golden moments of joy that appeared every so often, these threads that God wove in to keep me both brave and humble.

This is where I have been.

I'm not exactly sure what the new year holds.  We could have a foster child in our home any day now, a fact which partially excites but mostly terrifies me.  I don't feel ready, but I'm not sure that I ever will.  When we began Piper's adoption process, we had all of the same feelings, but we closed our eyes, held our breaths, and jumped in anyway.  That is when we watched miracles happen.

Still.

That single word is my desire for 2018.  I know that stillness will require setting more boundaries and saying "no" more often, things which I have already begun to do.  But I also believe that there is more to stillness than the physical removal of commitments from the calendar.  I'm picturing myself in the middle of one of these tornadoes that frequent the plains of Oklahoma.  The winds are blowing up all sorts of debris around me, but I am not frantic.  I am calm.  Grounded.  Content.  Finding quiet in the storm.

This is where I am going.

family
Photo credits: JEShoots and Keeley RIckles

One Thousand Gifts: The Joy Project

Mary-Rachel-Web-27.jpg

"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.

Mary-Rachel-Web-12.jpg

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

A Case for Domestic, Open Adoption

Adoption isn't for everyone.

That isn't what this post is about.  You need to do what's right for your family.

When others find out that we've adopted, we get lots of questions.  Sometimes these questions come because one spouse secretly wants to adopt and is afraid to mention the idea to her partner, because people are trying to decide between international and domestic adoption, or because a couple has talked about adoption for years but has never known where to begin.  Whatever the reason, I'm going to attempt to debunk a few of the myths I've heard (and believed myself) about domestic, open adoptions.  Adoption is important, and I think that more people would do it if it wasn't so intimidating.

Myth #1:  Adoption is too expensive.

2013 July - Piper Fenrick-4757.jpg

Okay, let's be real.  Adoption through an agency is expensive.  But it's not too expensive.  Our daughter's adoption cost more than we anticipated (over $18,000), but we made it.  We aren't millionaires; our combined incomes are far less than even six figures.  Whether or not you read anything else on this point, please read the following:

If you wait until you have all of the money to adopt, you'll never do it.

 We are very blessed with supportive a family and friends who supported us tremendously, but adoptions are still possible without those things.  There are adoption tax credits, employee adoption grants, odd jobs, savings accounts, low-interest adoption loans, garage sale fundraisers, reduced trips to Starbucks, grants through adoption agencies, and other options.  Normal people (not just wealthy people) can adopt.

Throughout our adoption process, I was in tears, humbled by the grace of God and the generosity of others in helping us bring home little Piper.  We certainly found it to be true that "He can do infinitely more than all we ask or imagine."  

And in case you were wondering, our little girl is more than worth every penny.

Myth #2:  The birth mom will change her mind.

Honestly, she might.  A birth mom can change her mind and decide to parent up until the point when she terminates her rights (within a month after the baby is born in Oklahoma).  This has happened multiple times at the agency we used for our daughter's adoption.  Wouldn't you maybe consider doing the same, though?  All of a sudden, the baby that you've carried for nine months is very real and very beautiful, and it would become very easy to fall in love and very tough to put her in someone else's arms.  I constantly worried that Piper's birth mom would reverse her decision.  But at the same time, I knew that I would be okay if she did.

These birth parents aren't crazy.  They're pretty amazing people actually, and I care about Piper's birth mom so much that I genuinely wanted the best for her in that period of uncertainty.  

Adoption, like most things worth doing, is risky.  The birth mom really could change her mind.  And you really would be okay.

Myth #3:  The birth parents will try to take my child away.

IMG_0298.JPG

After birth parents have terminated their rights, they legally cannot take the child from you.  In Oklahoma, birth fathers can sign their rights away before the baby is born.  Birth mothers, as I mentioned before, must appear in court within a month of giving birth to terminate their rights.  After both of those situations have occurred, only the state can take the baby away from you, which would never happen unless they found evidence of you being abusive.  Birth parents aren't going to come knocking on your door to steal your child.  As previously mentioned, they aren't crazy.  

Myth #4:  Open adoptions are a pain and I don't want my child to be in contact with his/her birth parents.

There are varying levels of openness for domestic adoptions.  The agency that we used requires at least a semi-open agreement.  Minimum obligations are sending letters and pictures (via the agency) to the birth parents monthly for the first year, and then twice a year after that.  If you are hesitant to send letters and pictures, I urge you to consider the reasons why.  Your child will always consider you to be her parents, but the desire to know who the birth parents are is innate in every adopted child.  

You owe your child honesty.  

Put yourself in a birth parent's shoes for a moment.  If you had given birth to a baby, you would always want to know that that baby is okay.  You would probably think about him all the time and wonder how he is doing.  You would ask yourself, daily, if you had made the right decision.  

When regarding the tremendous gift that your child's birth parents gave you, doesn't it seem like a small task to update them on your child's life?  

Finally, I urge you to contemplate the caliber of people who choose to give their babies up for adoption.  While it is true that some are not excellent role models, that is not the case in most instances.  Piper's birth parents are exactly the kind of people who I want her to know.  They are selfless, brave, and generous. My husband and I are hoping that they will be involved in Piper's life as she grows.  You don't have to start off an open or semi-open agreement by giving away your phone number.  Our relationship has evolved to the point where we felt comfortable with that, but yours wouldn't necessarily have to be the same.  A healthy sense of caution about birth parents is acceptable; an irrational, judging fear is not.  

Be skeptical of your skepticism.

Myth #5:  My child's birth mom will have consumed drugs and alcohol during her pregnancy and harmed my child.

It's possible, yes.  But maybe not.  Again, there is much to be said here for being cautious as opposed to being fearful.

 At our agency, we were allowed to choose the amount of prenatal drug and alcohol exposure that we would allow for our baby.  None of the case workers made us feel guilty about our decisions or tried to force us to do anything against our beliefs because they knew that we needed to make the best choice(s) for our family.  

In the end, we decided that we had to leave Piper's health and well-being in God's hands. Prenatal drug and alcohol exposures can cause problems for babies and children; so can many other factors.

Myth #6:  An adopted child won't really feel like "ours."

We now have a biological and an adopted child, and I can honestly say that there has not been a day when Piper has felt less "ours" than Caroline does.  I can't imagine my heart being any more full of love, nor can I imagine wanting any other child in the world in her place.  She didn't have to come out of my womb for that to happen.  That's all I have to say about that.

Myth #7:  There is a greater need for international adoption than domestic adoption.

I have a hard time not getting angry about this myth.  International adoption is not "cooler," "better," or "more necessary" than adopting in the the United States.  

If you're going into adoption with the mindset that you are "rescuing" a child, I ask you to consider the thousands of children in your own state who need "rescuing" from foster care ... babies who need "rescuing" from a life of neglect ... teens who need "rescuing" from juvenile detention centers ... birth parents who need "rescuing" from the feeling of having to abort because there are no other options.

And then remember that ultimately, whatever child you bring into your family will end up rescuing you in more ways than you even realized you needed it.

I'm not trying to convince you to do something that you don't think is right for your family.  What I do know is that I believed every single one of these myths until we jumped into Piper's adoption.  Now that I'm on the other side, I can say that a domestic, open adoption is hard, frustrating, scary, unpredictable, unusual, hopeful, happy, freeing, beautiful, and worth every monetary, physical, and emotional cost.  

Adoption is joy. 

IMG_0311.JPG

Fan Club Friday: Wahoo! Running

Guys.  I know I get excited about every Fan Club Friday because I seriously have so many talented friends, but this one ... {Insert heart eyes emoji here.} 

Meet my friends and fellow runners, Christie and Carlee.

I've known Christie for years, and she has walked (or should I say, run) with me through some of the hardest and happiest moments of my life, imparting wisdom all along the way.  Though Carlee and I only met within the last year, our similar status as runner moms of two little girls has allowed us to strike a fast friendship.

A couple of years ago, Christie single-handedly spearheaded a kids' running club in which children of all ages trained with her and then ran a 5k as the culmination of twelve weeks of practice.

wahoo kids running club

Since that first season, Wahoo! Running has become far more than a kids' running organization, though it is still that, too.  While kids run with Christie, Carlee coaches their parents to accomplish a variety of running goals from simply getting up off of the couch to completing a first marathon or half marathon.

With literally hundreds of combined races between them, Christie and Carlee have a wealth of knowledge to offer to both newbies and seasoned runners.  So, they have started creating customizable training plans to share their insight with others!

wahoo training plan

Because I wanted to get the full Wahoo Running experience, I decided to order my own training plan from my coaching friends.  I am aiming to "crush all of my goals" (a Christie Thomas-ism) at the Prairie Fire half marathon in Wichita, Kansas, in October.  

I have used a couple of other training strategies in the past, but none of them were specifically tailored to my body or running goals.  Wahoo goes above and beyond to do just that.  Prior to constructing my plan, Wahoo sent me an Athlete Questionnaire.  In addition to basic demographic information, Christie and Carlee asked me about my height, weight, previous running experience, best times, goal times, average times, how often I workout,  other types of exercise I enjoy, and why I run.  (That sounds like a lot of information, but I completed the whole thing in under 10 minutes.)  Now, Christie and Carlee are using my answers to customize a twelve-week calendar that tells me precisely what I need to do each day.  Since I'm the most Type A person you may ever meet, I need an exact schedule which includes rest and stretching as an integral part of my program.  

Along with my training plan, I'm expecting my Wahoo! Winning Kit to arrive on my doorstep day!  My box will include a lacrosse ball, resistance band, and other goodies to motivate me and keep my muscles healthy for race day.  Dare I say that I'm pumped about running again?!

I get to train with Christie and Carlee because I am fortunate enough to live locally, and we do more than run together.  In our group of girls, we laugh, we cry, we laugh until we cry, we poop on the side of the road (I personally haven't done this one yet, but don't put it past me), and we run the literal and figurative hills and valleys of life together.  If you don't have a running community where you live, I know that the faces behind Wahoo would encourage you to start one.

Wahoo Runners

I'm a big fan of winning, but that isn't why I run.  Christie and Carlee get this.  In a matter of months since they have launched their business, these coaches have guided multiple runners to set new PRs and win age categories in the races they enter.  However, Christie and Carlee's main goals are for runners to stay healthy and to have fun.  Their desire is for people to "experience running the way it's meant to be."  In other words, they want runners to never outrun their love of running.  

If you've lost your purpose for running or are looking to find a purpose for the first time, Christie and Carlee can create the perfect plan to get you on track within a week.  After that, they will follow up with you to see how things are going, not because they're trying to build a business but because they genuinely care about you as a runner and as a whole person.

Check out Wahoo! Running on their website, Instagram, or Facebook page.  You can also email the coaches directly at christie@wahoorunning.com or carlee@wahoorunning.com.  

WAHOO!

Photo credits: Christie Thomas and Teena Moore Photography.