Sunday, September 7, 2014

Re-entry

I'm trying to come up with a good way to re-enter here after being absent for the last two months.  My absence was not due to a lack of inspiration for blog material.  We had our fair share of hilarious conversations with Lila, new victories and accomplishments for Faith, dramatic stories of plumping leaks causing it to rain in the garage of our new house.

It's just that I've felt so utterly spent - emptied out, scraped clean and bone dry - that I haven't even been able to find the energy to sit down once to type up an update or vent on screen about the minutia of our life.

On one hand, I miss it.  This blog has always served as a sort of journal of sorts - a place for the verbal processor in me to figure out how I feel about something.

On the other hand, I hardly thought about it in the last 60 days.

But here I am.  Trying to figure out how to re-enter, or even if I want to re-enter.

Maybe now isn't the best time.  Now, when I'm feeling a little bit desperate and a little bit exhausted and a little bit at my wit's end.

Maybe now is the best time.  Now, when I need to take some steps toward faith and hope and work out for myself what God might be saying in the midst of the stress and the storm.

I'm closing my eyes.  Taking a deep breath, and asking the question: What do you want to tell me, Shepherd?  In my current condition, what are you saying?  What is true?  Where is my hope?

The first thing that comes to mind is the story of the fish and the loaves of bread.  A large crowd comes to hear Jesus teach, and they are hungry with no catering service available.  After some investigative work, the disciples report to Jesus that the only food available is a few fish and a few loaves of bread.  That's all.  It's nothing really.  Not compared to the thousands of people who are squirming with hunger.

That's me.  I'm squirming with my fears that I don't have what I need.  I'm wondering how what I have to offer is going to be enough.  Financially.  Emotionally.  Hourly.  And the reality, is that a few fish and loaves are not going to feed the thousands.  They aren't enough.  I don't have enough.

But Jesus has a habit of taking the not-enough and turning it into more-than-we-need.  Not only was everyone filled to satisfaction, but the disciples gathered up twelve basketfuls of leftovers.  

So I will offer what I have - my measly fish and loaves - and trust Jesus to multiply it so that it will be enough.  I will try to not let my heart be troubled, and believe him to care for me.  I will stack stones and remember how he has been faithful in the past.  I will put my hope in him.

And then I will come back here and tell you how he took our not-enough and turned it into more-than-we-need.  How's that for a re-entry plan?

5For you have been my hope, Sovereign Lord,
my confidence since my youth.
6From birth I have relied on you;
you brought me forth from my mother’s womb.
I will ever praise you.
7I have become a sign to many;
you are my strong refuge.
8My mouth is filled with your praise,
declaring your splendor all day long.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

fear

The darkness holds fears that the light would never tolerate.  The dark obscures helpful realities that, in the light, would serve to assuage the irrational fears of the night.  For example, it is obvious in the light that a wolf does not live under Lila's bed.  But when the sun sets and her eyes get wide with the threat of our departure from her room, it's hard to believe that the shadows don't conceal a lurking beast with claws that will scratch at her legs and nip at her toes while she sleeps.  "I need a taller bed," she asserts somberly, "that way the wolves can't reach me."

Every night we pray with Lila that Jesus would protect her mind and her heart and her body while she sleeps.  We pray that he would protect her imagination from scary thoughts and dreams.  We pray that he would put a guard at the door of her mind - a mental bouncer of sorts whose job is to keep the trouble makers off the premises.  "Give her happy dreams or no dreams at all," we pray.

"Leave the door open," she implores, "so that if the scary things do come in, they can get back out again."

"They won't come in," I assure her, "Jesus won't let them.  He's bigger and braver and stronger than all of the scary things and he LOVES you."  I leave the door open just the same.

I imagine the Dream Bouncer with his muscled arms crossed, allowing rainbows and flowers and ice creams and fairies to flit past into Lila's dream world, but standing foreboding and stern in the face of wolves and bears and the other spooks that haunt her imagination in the night.

When I was small, I had a white-painted rod iron bed with an arched headboard.  I would fall asleep gripping the metal posts of the headboard, convinced that if someone tried to kidnap me through my bedroom window I would be ready and able to hold on for dear life.

I would also station our little white terrier at the foot of my bed, trusting that his bark would alert me to any dangers that may trespass.  This, it turns out, is not a reliable method of keeping fears at bay because small dogs are susceptible to misreading threats.  They have been known to bark unnecessarily or worse, to utter a low growl while staring fixed on the slightly ajar door to the closet, which of course stirs up a whole new pot of imaginary fears, now originating behind that open closet door.

My grown-up spooks come to life in the darkness, but they are much more terrifying than my childhood anxieties because, by the generosity of God, I now have several things in my life that hold great value to me: namely the Husband and my daughters.  The other frightening factor is that a simple dose of light-laced reality cannot cure my fears anymore.  My wolves DO live under my bed.  Figuratively speaking.  Experience has shown me that some of my fears cannot be chased away with rational thinking and hope in the realities that the morning brings.  I have friends who have lost husbands and children.  I have come too close to both myself.

Lila learned how to ride her bike.  Without training wheels.  I watched it happen before my very eyes.  One moment she was putting her feet down to steady herself after each uncertain pedal push, and the next she was soaring around my parents' patio.  We went from counting the number of pedals she could do before putting her feet down to catch her balance (9, then 12, then 20, then more!) to counting the number of laps she could do.  It was a magical transition.  It just clicked.  And I cried.



The catalyst of her bike-riding feat was seeing a little girl down the street who could ride her bike without training wheels.  The true impetus, however, was the reality that the little girl is younger than Lila.  Her sense of competition kicked in and she was inspired.  If Violet could ride a bike sans training wheels, then she could, too!  And, by golly, she did it.  Her will is a mighty force.  Believe me, I know.

So the next day, we went for a walk and Lila rode her bike.  I pushed Faith in the stroller and the Husband took the dog.  We started out cautious, making her stop a great distance before an upcoming intersection and having her walk her bike across.  But as she proved her control and her ability to stop and slow, we all became more comfortable and confident.  But then…the hill.

I knew it was coming up.  I coached her, "You don't need to pedal down a hill.  Just coast and keep your foot on the brake.  Try it a little and then stop."  She performed this act with ease.  "Keep your foot on the brake and don't get too far ahead."  And she was off.

At first she seemed okay.  Then it was clear that she was going a bit faster than she wanted to. "Brake, Lila," we cautioned calmly.  But she didn't slow.

She's going to crash, I thought.  But she didn't.  She just kept going and as the incline became steeper, her speed increased.

We started walking faster. "Go in the grass, Lila!" we called with a little more urgency in our voices.  Within seconds, the urgency turned to panic as with each turn of her wheel she got further and further away from us.

She screamed a panicked scream and took her foot off the brake to begin dragging her toes in a desperate attempt to slow herself.   "Go in the grass, Lila!  Go in the grass!" we yelled.

And then I realized that the worst case scenario was not that she would crash with some serious scrapes on her knees and elbows, but that she would not be able to stop before the next intersection at the bottom of the hill.  My heart leapt to my throat as I remembered that the cars crossing that intersection did not have a stop sign.  "Oh God!" I prayed - the most desperate of prayers - and then to the Husband, "Honey, RUN!"

He ran and I ran as fast as I could while trying to keep control of the stroller with Faith inside.  "HELP!" I yelled to anyone who might hear, "HELP!  HELP!" I was in a complete and utter panic as my little girl hurtled down the hill ahead of me at increasing speeds and there was nothing I could do to stop her.  I was too far away.  "HELP!" I choked, begging any bystanders to read my mind and do what I couldn't - rescue my daughter.

It all couldn't have lasted more than a few seconds.  And then, just a foot, maybe two, from the street, her front tire - almost gently - aligned perfectly with the vertical pole of the street sign and bounced off of it, bringing her to a stop and sending her tumbling, unharmed, to the ground.  Not a scratch.  Not a scrape.  But petrified and screaming.  The toes of her shoes were ragged from being used as emergency brakes.

The Husband got to her seconds later and scooped her up.  I careened down the hill, giving Faith a wild ride, and stole her from his arms as I got to them.  The tears came then; I shook with them.  Neighbors were running to us to be sure she was okay.  A man (angel?) who had been crossing the street with his dogs had planted himself in Lila's path to keep her from going into the street.  I saw the fear in their eyes and my own fear was compounded.  This confirmed how dire our situation had been just seconds before.  If she hadn't stopped, if that man hadn't been there, if a car had been crossing, if she had hit her head just wrong, if….

I tried to push the "If" thoughts away, but they were stubborn.  They insisted on being considered.  They forced themselves into my consciousness, forced me to examine the reality that I could have lost her.  In a split second, the narrative of our family's story could have changed irreparably.  We could have lost her.  We could have lost her.  We could have lost her.

We could have lost her.

I still can't get past it.  I have watched her the last few days - being her charming and wild self - and have thought with each little word and song and story and argument that these could have been wiped from existence if just one factor had changed in that moment.  Small things like watching her run up the stairs to get her glasses feel holy now.  It's melodramatic, I know.  Or maybe it's not.

Never have I felt such fear, such helplessness as in that moment.  My worst fears that for so long I managed to shoo away with reminders of good health and good parenting and good hopes from a Good Shepherd came crashing into reality and I remembered that I don't believe in a God who promises to keep me from grief and harm.  He just promises to redeem those things when they do happen.  I know he is able to command his angels concerning me and mine to guard us in all of our ways.  But I also know that sometimes he doesn't.  Which is confusing and heartbreaking, but still, somehow, does not make me trust him less.

So I'm sitting with these things, allowing them to weigh heavy on my heart because I think that's wise.  When something strikes to your deepest part and refuses to leave, it's silly to not acknowledge it.  There is something to be learned, something that may change you in helpful and holy ways.  Even if it is as small as treasuring peanut butter smudged cheeks and filthy summer feet.  Even if it is as big as once again, choosing to hand all that I hold dear over to the One who is trustworthy to keep them in his care.

The trick is to not let the fears take up residence.  I could easily become the worst version of myself and keep my kids from happy experiences just because they are experiences that might also bring them harm.  In other words, I have to leave the door open.  I have to let the fears come in and teach me what they must, but be ready to shoo them out the door when they have overstayed their welcome.  I have to set up my own mental bouncer and trust that Jesus will only let in the things that will bring about my holiness.

In the Old Testament, God's people would stack stones to mark and remember things that God had done for them.  I have my own little collection of stones - small moments from moments in our life where we have seen God's care or providence in our life.  The clothes Faith wore when she came home to us.  The candle from the Christmas Eve service when the Husband proposed.  The bead that had temporary residence in Lila's nose.  Some extra hardwood floor boards from our first house.

These blessed shoes are the newest stone:


Thursday, June 26, 2014

Good News/Bad News

It's time, once again, for the Good News/Bad News game.

Good news: The Husband changed the oil in my car last night - three cheers for a handy husband!
Bad news: He accidentally took my keys to work this morning so I was late to work which means my friend whose kids I watch was late to work.  It's what I like to call the Running Late Domino Effect.  It's not as fun as real dominos.  Is real dominos fun?

Good news: There's a reason I've been really grumpy and emotional lately.
Bad news: It's not because I'm pregnant.  It's the other reason.

Good news: Faith's eczema may not be as bad as I thought.
Bad news: Turns out the eczema flair-up was actually Hand Foot and Mouth (ironically, the last time she had HFM was also the last time we played the Good News/Bad News game)

Good news: I no longer need to worry about putting our first dent or scratch in our "new" (10 year old) van.
Bad news: Some hooligan keyed the driver's side door overnight.  Stuff like that really burns me up and sends my Injustice Meter humming into overdrive.  To the Hooligan responsible for tattooing my car: Don't do that.  It's mean.

Good news: Lila's pre-school offered to let her move "up" into the Transitional Kindergarten class and attend an extra day for free if we want!
Bad news: The fact that her class is called "Transitional Kindergarten" is forcing me to face the facts that this is our last year before she goes to Kindergarten!  Excuse me while I take my hormonal self and go sob alone in my room for a bit.

Good news: We finally came to an agreement with the sellers of the house we are buying regarding repairs so we can officially start talking paint colors and furniture arrangements! (I'll introduce you to our new house soon!)
Bad news: I think both parties are feeling a little more stretched financially than we/they were hoping to feel at the end of all of this.

Good news: After taking Faith to the doctor I drove through Chick-fil-a to get the kids some nuggets and me a giant Dr. Pepper because caffeine and high fructose corn syrup solve any problem man can manufacture.
Bad news: (And I'm in denial about this one) Caffeine and high fructose corn syrup are not good for you.

That about does it, I think.  I have lots more to tell you, but I'm just too tired.

I want to tell you about the dumpling party that First Mama and First Baba threw for us and their English teachers and how the dumplings were sooooo yummy, but the left overs made our car smell like farts.
First Mama sent me this picture today.  She's in the red and First Baba is next to her.
And it's very important that you know that I got a bug bite underneath my wedding ring and it made my finger and knuckle swell up so badly that I couldn't get my ring off for three days.  Now I'm scared to put it back on.

I also want to tell you about how Faith starting walking behind a baby stroller like a big kid and how cute and proud she looks when she's cruising along with her Frankenstein legs.


And I want to tell you about all the cute drawings Lila has been creating.  Like this dinosaur smelling the flowers:

Also, I'd like for you to know about how Franny trapped a chipmunk in the downspout of my parents' gutter and utterly destroyed it in her fervor to consume said chipmunk.  She bent it so badly that the chipmunk couldn't get out and the downspout couldn't be reattached to the gutter.  Curses.

Oooh and I want to tell you that our family was featured in a little article about adoptive families on AllParenting.com!  Exciting!
I really want to tell you about those things, but I'm just too tired.  Maybe another day.

P.S.  Our friends' little guy is scheduled to have his 2nd heart surgery on Monday assuming he gets the all-clear from the docs tomorrow at his pre-admission appointment.  Please pray for a successful surgery which will hopefully be the last one he'll need for a few years.  If you missed it the first time, or just as a reminder, here's their Hope Story:
Hope Story: The Baldwins from gathering network on Vimeo.

Friday, June 20, 2014

No one wants the squished sweet bread

"Lila! Look what happened!  You were leaning against the sweet bread* in the cart and now half of them are squished!"

"Oh."

"I guess those will be your rolls."

"No!  I don't want the squished ones!  Daddy and Faith can eat them."

"That doesn't seem fair.  Who squished them?"

"Me."

"So who do you think should eat the squished ones?"

"Daddy and Faith."

"I don't think Daddy and Faith will want them."

"Why?"

"Because they're squished."

"So?"

"Do you want them?"

"No."

"Why?"

"Because I don't want the squished ones!  I want the good ones."

"Yeah, that's exactly my point.  No one wants the squished sweet bread."

Sometimes I spend 15 minutes having a conversation and afterward I wonder if it had any effect at all.

*In case you're wondering what in the world sweet bread is: deliciousness


Tuesday, June 10, 2014

FSBO fiascos and living in the in between

I'm not going to bore you with the sordid details of our FSBO fiasco.  Well, it's not really a fiasco, just an adventure (if you spin it glass-half-full style) or a long and winding road (if you spin it Beatles style).  I'm not.  But the short of it is that we were supposed to close on May 16 with a cash offer which changed to a financed loan closing on May 30 which eventually ended with a cash closing on June 6.

The long and winding road, tha-at leads, to your door.  Except for us, the door it has lead us to is the one attached to my parents' house.  Bless them.

We are more than two full weeks in and everyone has survived thus far.  The girls are adjusting to sleeping in the same room and doing remarkably well considering one is an extrovert and one is a yeller.  The biggest casualty of the whole room-sharing change is my peaceful morning, because when a four year old wakes up and turns off the noise maker and clamors down the stairs, then certain Chinese people also wake up and holler until I stumble out of bed to retrieve them.  Faith used to sleep until 9:00 or 10:00am (if we didn't have to go anywhere) and now she sleeps until 7:03am.  Remember how I'm not a nice person when I'm tired?  Me, too.
mid-holler
We moved in to my parents' house (and my grandparents' house and my in-laws' house and our friends' extra garage) Memorial Day weekend and spent the next week loading up the remaining odds and ends from our house.  One night that week, after the girls were asleep, the Husband and I took my mom's iPod speaker and spent four hours cleaning the house while listening to podcasts (This American Life and The Thrilling Adventure Hour).  I cried when I closed the door to Lila's room.  I cried when I vacuumed the baseboards in Faith's room.  I cried when I stared in the closet of our room (I don't know why).  I cried when Molly Ringwald told the story of watching the Breakfast Club with her daughter.  I've been a little emotional about this whole thing to say the least.

On our last day before we handed the keys over to the new owners, we spent several hours at the house cleaning.  The girls ran and scooted (can you guess who did what?) around the empty house, and I marveled at how foreign and familiar a house devoid of stuff can feel.  I wanted to take pictures of the girls in their rooms, but they wouldn't cooperate.  I did get a picture of our little secret graffiti project on a hidden part of one of our closets.  Lila thought this was great fun, of course:


All was well until the new owners pulled up in their truck and Lila began to put two and two together.  She locked the door to her room and stood in front of it, arms crossed, legs wide, refusing to let anyone in her room.  I'm not gonna lie, I kind of wanted to do the same thing.  The pre-schooler in me want to yell "MINE!  This is MY house.  These are MY memories.  This is where MY family called home.  Don't take it!  Don't change it!  It's MINE!"

It's still strange to imagine someone else's furniture in there, someone else's pictures on the walls, someone else's life being lived.  I try to remind myself how ready I was to be out of there and what we have to look forward to, but my sentimentality is stubborn and willful and would much rather mope and mourn.

We eventually coaxed Lila outside and buckled her into her car seat where she broke down into sobs.

"Honey, what's wrong?" I asked with tears in my own eyes, "What is making you feel sad?"
"They're going to go in my room!  I think they're in there right NOW!" she said through tears.

I cried with her and told her it was okay to feel sad, that I felt sad, too.  I told her she might feel sad for a long time, but that it would get easier - especially once we find a new house.  I told myself the same thing.

Now that we've been out of our house for a few weeks, I'm finding I think less and less about what we left and more and more about where we are and where we are going.  As we have hunted for houses (a process which lost its appeal rather quickly) we have learned what we want, what we need, what we think we need that we don't actually need, what we think we want that we don't actually want, and what we think we don't want that we actually need.  I'll write more about that soon - about how over the last six weeks our priorities have revealed themselves as we have changed some of the questions we are asking.

For now, I wanted to share a few memories from our time here at my parents' house so far:

One of the things Lila has been mourning the most is her friendship with her buddy who lived next door to us.  This little girl's circumstances have changed significantly due to a family tragedy so she's actually not living there anymore either, but Lila was so sad to not have a friend right across the fence.  I promised her that we would have her friend come play and the very first week at my parents' house it worked out for me to pick her up to play.  Lila was over the moon and I think it gave both of them some assurance that their friendship could continue even if they live further away.

We lived close to a really busy street in our last house and hurried drivers often cut through our street to avoid a busy intersection so I never felt really comfortable with the kids playing outside - especially in the front yard.  My parents live on a quiet street and have a great back yard so my kids have gotten some great play time outside already this summer.  I took this picture from the upstairs window through the screen so it's a little funky looking, but I wanted to capture the peaceful moment.  The Husband was just out of frame lest you think the kids and dog were unattended.
P.S. Faith was eating the chalk in this picture. 


It's been raining a ton and yesterday my mom took Lila out to splash around in the gutters - something we did as kids all the time.  This kind of fun is reason number 72 why Lila will not ever want to move out of Nanny and Pop's house.

 I let Lila choose a few dress-up dresses to keep accessible at my parents' house and of course she picked her Cinderella dress that "touches to the ground."  In this picture she was "reading" a story about a big monster:
"There's a big hairy monster!  We can't stop him, but we can PINCH HIM!  But then he will fall on us so we will have to run!  Okay!  Do it quick! Pinch! Pinch! Pinch! Pinch! Now RUN!  And they ran and ran and ran, but the monster was too long!  Even as long as a train!  He was seven feet long!!"

We are spending our days house-hunting, playing outside, making a mess of my parents' house and trying to keep from crossing the line that would make them want to kick us out of their house!

We are trying to protect our kids from the chaos and uncertainty we are living in and to give ourselves and each other grace as we figure out how to live in the in between.

Lila is learning the names of all the birds that come to my parents' bird feeders and Faith is learning that shrieking really loud from the landing at the top of the stairs is great fun.

We know this time at my parents'  house is temporary - both in its gifts and in its stresses - so we are trying to live in the moment even as we grieve the past and hope for the future.

Right, Faith?
this is exactly how I feel about my life right now



Saturday, May 10, 2014

don't it always seem to go?


We sold our house.

!!!!!

I'll admit that when others would tell me with wide eyes and goofy grins about how their house sold in a day or three days or a week, the envy would start gurgling up from the deep dark recesses of my dark and broken heart.  More than once I have closed my eyes and prayed that light would creep into the dark shadows and send envy (and her good friends bitterness and jealousy) on her way.  I would pray and ask Jesus to remind me that he knows my needs and my circumstances and not only that, but my wants as well.  I would ask him to breathe a little faith and trust into my sails so that I could live in peace - the kind of peace that waits on him to open doors and shove you through them.

When house-selling season came upon us again this year, we had all but decided to hang tight for another year.  The stress and sweat from last year's attempt were still sticky on our skin and I was not looking forward to the kind of mother I become when my resources are depleted.  We reasoned that, if it was time, God would speak that word loud and clear.  And so far, he was silent on that subject.

But then, a friend mentioned that her friend was looking for a house and would we like to show her ours?  Was this the word we were waiting for?  Was this an open door and a gentle nudge to go, get moving?

So we did a few updates, cleaned the place up, touched up paint and shuffled some furniture around.  The friend of our friend came and looked at our house, and then graciously passed on it.  What seemed like an open door had slammed shut again.  There we were once again, with a house all dressed up and no place to go.

At first I was discouraged - all that work for nothing.  But soon our conversations changed from "what a waste of time" to "it was worth a shot" and "we'll try again next year" to "well, we did all the hard work, why not give the market a try again?"

I called our realtor who encouraged us to try to sell it by owner.  So we (the Husband) worked on a few more touch-ups and last Thursday night he stuck a sign in the yard.  I created a listing on fsbo.com and put an ad up on Craigslist.  The next day we had several calls and Saturday we three appointments: an agent previewing for her buyers, a no-show, and then a kind couple who were looking for a house to buy for their daughter.

And to our complete shock: they loved it.  They made an offer on the spot.  And we accepted.

The next day, we wrote up a contract and we will close at the end of the month.

All this week it felt surreal.  And now it's starting to feel real and I'm starting to feel really sad.  I'm realizing how much life has happened in this little house and how much I will miss it.  Once we find another house, I'm hoping the excitement for the future will take over the grief of what we are losing.

This home has hosted the minutes and hours of nearly our entire marriage.

In this home we learned how to be married and not kill each other in the process.

We fought and yelled and apologized and forgave each other.

We cried on the floor when we had to put our first dog to sleep.

We learned how to share our lives and home through parties and having college students live with us and opening our door to our neighbors (even though our introverted natures wanted to keep it locked tight).

I paced the living room through contractions with Lila and stood stone-still in delighted shock in the dining room when we found out that Faith was our baby.

We wept over the loss of grandparents and friends and friends' babies and unmet hopes.

We celebrated new life and new hopes and answered prayers.

This house has been a comfort, a refuge, a place of peace for our bodies and hearts.  It has blessed us in its imperfections and I am only just realized how much I love it.

Isn't that always the way?  All the complaining about what it lacked and I managed to skim over and dismiss what it has given us.  Family.  Safety.  Life.  Home.  

I'm reminded of that Joni Mitchell song, Don't it always seem to go, you don't know what you've got till it's gone?

And now we are moving on.

We already painted over the lines on the wall that marked Lila's growth.

We are trying to imagine our future in a new neighborhood.

We are taking pictures off the wall and packing up knick-knacks.

We are preparing to live with my parents for a least a few weeks until we find a new house and preparing the girls for the change and transition as best as we know how.

We are researching school districts for their special needs services and Google-mapping neighborhoods for parks within walking distance.

We are analyzing our priorities and praying that our hearts are open to God's direction.  We want a house we can stay in indefinitely.  A house we can open wide for friends and strangers.  A house that we can use to further the kingdom and make wrong things right.  A house with bedrooms for future children - be they biological, adopted or fostered.

We want to temper our instinct for safe and pretty with the reality that perhaps safe and pretty are not all they're cracked up to be.  As Jesus said, "it is the sick who need a doctor," so we are asking where the sick are so that we can be a part of their healing and, in the process, bring about our own healing and redemption as well.

We are casting out our line into the foggy darkness of the future and praying that it takes hold somewhere wonderful - even if wonderful surprises us.

Won't you come with us?

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

This girl

Oh Faith-baby I just love you.