Picking Weeds and Being Good Dirt

This world has felt a little crazy lately. I’ve reacted to some current events in a very intense fashion. Had I never experienced this wild surge of emotions, I might question my own sanity. However, this heightened mental state feels familiar. I felt these same powerful feelings a few years ago when we were adopting Caleb. I suspect the process of adopting a child makes my heart extra tender. I’m not typically a gal prone to tears but lately I’m finding myself getting teary eyed during commercials and I know something is up.

I’ve always been a fan of social media but lately I just cannot stomach the banter. I have told people in the past, who were struggling with how Facebook made them feel, “If it makes you feel bad, don’t have it.” I’ve recently had to take my own advice and deactivate my account, take a little break. I need to center myself, find my foundation again, and then I can get back on there to admire my friends’ pictures of their cute kiddos and laugh at funny memes. Until then, I’m like a smoker who’s trying to quit: I don’t know what to do with my hands.

Yesterday the kids were watching a cheesy movie, which would typically be a prime Facebook scrolling opportunity for me but instead I went outside to pull weeds. My Facebook hiatus should have happened weeks ago because those weeds were THICK. I had lots of time to think as I sat out there digging in the dirt.

My mind went to a parable that I’ve read many, many times. Jesus, the ever popular storyteller that he was, had gone out in a boat to get a little space from the crowd that had gathered around him. From the boat he told a story of a farmer who went out to plant seeds. Some seeds fell on the path, some on rocky soil, some fell in the thorns, and some fell on good soil. The seeds that fell on the path were gobbled up by birds. Jesus said that is like folks who hear the message and don’t understand it, as if Satan is grabbing it away from them. The seeds that fell on the rocky soil did great at first but their roots were crummy so when the sun came out, they burned up. Jesus likened it to folks who start out on fire for God but as soon as life gets hard, they lose their way. The seeds that fell among the thorns were quickly choked out by the prickly thorns, the same way we can become distracted by worry or deceitfulness and fall away from God. The seeds that fell on the good soil are like a person who hears the word of God and understands it and brings others to know who God is.

Guys, this story is a bible class teacher’s dream….the visual aid possiblities are amazing!! Birds and seeds and thorns and a hot sun. I digress.

Here’s what struck me today about this parable. Do you know what Jesus is telling us we should strive to be? Not a fancy farmer or a pretty bird. He doesn’t want us to be prickly thorns or the hot sun. We aren’t weeds or corn or flowers in this story. Jesus must’ve been on a bit of a mission to humble folks with this tale, because in it he calls us to be DIRT. I mean, not just any dirt. We shouldn’t aspire to be hard dirt or shallow dirt or thorny dirt. We should aspire to be good dirt. But really, Jesus? Dirt??

I think Jesus was telling me it’s good to keep my heart a little broken up and tender so that I can be receptive to what he wants me to see and hear and feel. I think he wants me to fill myself with the proper nutrition, with quiet time and time spent in scripture and in prayer, so that I can grow good things. And while manure might be good for actual dirt, I think it best if I remove some crap from my life right now (I’m looking at you, Facebook). I think perhaps Jesus wanted to remind me that being a follower of his isn’t always neat and tidy, that sometimes I’ve got to get dirty and do hard things.  I think Jesus wanted to remind me that tilling up a garden (or a heart) might hurt in the moment but it yields beautiful things in the long run. And maybe, just maybe, what feels like my heart breaking could just be God planting a seed. Maybe, being the God of the universe, He looked down and saw my tender heart and thought it was prime time for planting a passion. I can’t know for sure but it certainly makes my tender heart feel much less like an injury to protect and much more like an opportunity to grow something really good.

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Open Heart, Open Mind, Open Sores???

So there was this guy who lived a long time ago. His name was Naaman and his story is told in the book of 2 Kings. He was a warrior, a valiant soldier. He led his army to victory and was highly regarded by the King of Aram. A pretty big deal, right? A famous war hero, one of the king’s most trusted commanders. Life must have been pretty sweet for old Naaman. Except one thing, he had leprosy. According to WebMD (which Naaman didn’t have access to at the time): “leprosy is an infections skin disease that causes severe, disfiguring skin sores and nerve damage in the arms, legs, and skin areas around the body.” The article goes on to say that leprosy isn’t terribly contagious. However, as I previously eluded to, the folks in bible times didn’t have WebMD and they were convinced that they could contract leprosy simply by being in close proximity to someone who had it. Thus, lepers were treated as outcasts.

Turns out Naaman’s wife had a servant girl who knew of a prophet who she was certain could cure Naaman of his disease. Word got back to Naaman about this prophet and Naaman went to the king of Aram to ask his advice. The king encouraged Naaman to go see this prophet. He even sent with Naaman a letter to the king of Israel that basically said “This guy is named Naaman, I like him, please cure him, k?” So Naaman went on his way, taking a bunch of silver and gold and several changes of clothing, no doubt anticipating the treatment to be costly and lengthy. When the king of Israel read the letter that the king of Aram had sent he was like, “Are you kidding me? I am not god! I can’t heal people. Is this some kind of a joke?”

Elisha the prophet heard about the whole matter and said to the king of Israel, “Send that leper my way.” So Naaman went. And the prophet gave him this treatment plan: “Go wash in the Jordan River seven times, then you’ll be good to go.” This made Naaman MAD. He was all like, “I was expecting this prophet to come to me and call on the name of God and wave his hand and, all magic like, make my sores go away. He wants me to wash in the Jordan River? Ew. No.” Then he stormed off in a temper tantrum.

His servants followed him and said (I imagine very cautiously), “Um, so, we know you were expecting something big and fancy. And we are pretty sure if the prophet had told you to pay a million dollars or arm wrestle a bear or something you would have done it. I mean, if you would have been willing to do something big, why not try this small thing? What do you have to lose? You know, if you want.” And so Naaman did it. He marched himself to the Jordan and dipped in it not once, not twice, but seven times, just as the prophet had instructed. And do you know what? It worked!! Naaman was cured, his skin as clean as a child’s.

How many times have I found myself in the same scenario? I mean, not with leprosy but with a problem that needs to be fixed. I’ll be all twisted up about something. A problem or dilemma. I will wrestle with it, talk about it, worry a bit, turn some molehills into mountains, then (usually) remember to pray about it and search God’s Word for answers. More often than not, the solution is simple. Rest. Forgive. Persevere. But those answers seem too easy…so I complicate things. I take a little marble that could easily be picked up and put in my pocket and I turn it into a boulder that I couldn’t possibly manage.

Or this. I will take something that I’m pretty sure God has placed on my heart. To write things, for example. And I somehow manage to make it complicated. “What should I write? Who is my audience? A blog? A book? Do I aspire to be a published author? Do I need an editor?” SELF, stop and breathe. Don’t make things complicated. Just do the thing. In it’s simplest version. Take the words in your head and write them down.

Duh.

Want to change the world but the task seems daunting? Do you think you’d have to join the Peace Corps or become a missionary? Mother Teresa says it like this, “What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family.” It ain’t glamorous and requires way too much laundry and too often involves cleaning up vomit and gross stuff but it is an important work.

Guys, we don’t want to be like temper tantrum Naaman, expecting some big grandiose plan, disgusted and arrogant and angry, and STILL COVERED IN LEPROSY. We want to be like humble Naaman who swallowed his pride and did the thing that seemed beneath him because that is how HE WAS CURED. That is how Naaman became whole and healthy again. That is what we want too, isn’t it? To be whole and healthy. It turns out the cure for Naaman’s open sores was found in an open heart and an open mind. So, let’s quiet ourselves and open our own hearts and minds and listen to the small, still voice inside us. Then let’s step out in faith and do the work we were made to do!

Fantastic Foul Up

Ever made a mistake? A real whopper? A magnificent mess? I have. More often than I care to admit. But there’s one in particular that haunts me. It is hard to admit and has, sadly, hindered me from doing some good stuff. I dropped the ball and it backfired epically. And I’m going to tell you about it.

About two years ago I was volunteering at a local homeless hang out and met a family who tugged at my heart. Mom, dad, a sweet 2 year old boy, and his baby sister. I reached out and they accepted my offer to help. I bought diapers. I met them at the hospital when mom had a health scare and needed someone to watch the kids. I bought birthday gifts.

Before long, mom and dad lost custody of the kids, due in part to their unsuitable living situation. The state requires certain standards of living for its children and homelessness doesn’t meet the criteria. I still don’t know how the state got involved. Doesn’t really matter, except that it wasn’t me who involved them. I was FOR THIS FAMILY. I wanted them to succeed.

It was a strange relationship. I wanted to help, obviously. But I didn’t understand their lifestyle, clearly. I was pretty fuzzy on what “helping” them looked like. So, when they told me that all they lacked to get their kids back was a deposit on an apartment I (after consulting with my husband) wrote a check. And I petitioned my friends for donations to help them set up their new home. And we helped them move. And bought them groceries. And then I patted myself on the back and walked out of their lives.

What a nice, happy ending.

Nope.

Mom had/has a serious drug addiction.

At a chance encounter last Christmas season I ran into the kids, along with a new baby, at an event for kids in foster care. Mom and dad were both in jail and the kids were being adopted. Their time in their new apartment was short lived. And probably not amazing.

In a really jacked up effort to help, I had really REALLY mucked things up. I had great intentions but missed the mark on what this family really needed. Friendship. Not a hero, just a friend. Someone to stick with them for the long haul, to be close enough to recognize that something was majorly amiss, to intervene on behalf of the kids involved. I dropped the ball. A big freaking ball.

And so, I’ve been gun-shy. I have a lot of irons in the fire right now and I just can’t be the kind of friend that I should be. Thus, I’ve given myself permission to do very little. If I can’t be ALL IN, why bother?

Because. Every little bit I can offer matters, if done properly.

I cannot pretend to come alongside someone and make their whole life better. But I can try to make this day better.

I cannot/should not buy houses and furnish them. But I can buy water and coffee and offer them.

I cannot appreciate enough the folks who are dedicating their lives to befriending the local homeless population. They are my heroes. They are doing it right.

I cannot allow a fantastic foul up to keep me from doing the good that I know I can do. And neither should you. Don’t allow your past mistakes to keep you from doing the good that you can do right now! Don’t be afraid to do something just because you might not get it exactly right. Don’t allow yourself to be frozen in fear because of your own fantastic foul up.

I’m Pretty Sure I Can’t Do This

After The New Kid left us we had a couple of months to regroup. We needed the time. As much as we loved him, The New Kid had given us a run for our money and we were tired. We weren’t sure we were going to continue to foster. His story had been a success, the first and only kiddo we have fostered who was able to be reunified with his parent. He was a challenge but in the end we felt good about where he ended up and thought maybe we would end our foster care career on that high note.

And then we got a call.

The phone rang at 4:00am. A two year old girl had been taken into care and needed a place to stay. I said no. I had to be at work in a couple of hours and couldn’t make childcare arrangements on such short notice. After I hung up the phone my husband reminded me that it was my day off. I quickly called the number back and they excitedly told me that someone would be bringing her to us in about an hour.

She entered our home quietly. She was beautiful and bewildered and exhausted. She spoke very little for quite some time, but what she lacked in verbal communication she more than made up for in attitude. She had sass and spunk and a personality that quickly came to light. Miss Moxie seemed a fitting nickname.

She has lived with us for almost 9 months and we are hopeful that she might just get to live with us forever. Yep, we are on the road to adoption. Again. We weren’t expecting to be here. Again. We are terrified. Again. We are excited. Again. It’s familiar and different all at once.

I’m trying to do less worrying this time around. Less fretting and more faith. I cannot really do anything to change the outcome, our fate rests in the hands of lawyers and judges at this point. I can only trust that God knows what is in store and He will reveal it to me when the time is right and help me navigate whatever waters he puts me in.

Besides all that, I’ve already done plenty of fretting. When faced with the decision to adopt, we had to take a good long hard look at ourselves and our life. Could we start over with a toddler? Could we fit another person into our home, our family, our life? Could we  muster the energy to keep up? Could our kids handle it? Could our marriage handle it? COULD WE DO IT? The answer was and is ….. no. We can’t.

There isn’t enough of us to go around. We can’t meet all the needs and wipe all the noses and dry all the tears. We can’t be present with all the people all the time. We can’t give our kids/each other/ourselves all of the attention. We can’t do it. And that’s when a familiar calm washed over me. I can’t, but God can. And there it was. The peace that I needed. It is the best place to be, leaning hard on God. It is a familiar calm amid a storm of unknowns.

We are currently enjoying our time with Miss Moxie, knowing that there is a chance she might not be with us forever. We are reminding ourselves that we don’t need to build walls around our hearts fearing the “what if”. We are ALL IN knowing that if things don’t end with MM with us permanently that we have poured all the love that we could into her in the time we were given. And that if our hearts shatter in the end, God will be there to patch us up.

Yeah, About That Awkward Text Message….

There’s a good chance that at some point you’ve gotten a random, out of the blue, moderately awkward text message, Facebook message, or phone call from me. It might have started something like this: “I know this might seem weird” or: “I’m not very good at this, but……..” or “I know I’m not going to get this right but I guess I think it’s better to say it wrong than say nothing at all” or even this: “I know we haven’t seen much of each other over the years, you know, since you were my KINDERGARTEN TEACHER”. Like I said, awkward.

From there, I likely went on to explain that you’ve been on my mind, on my heart, and that I’m praying for you or grateful for you or glad you’re in my life. Or all of those. You probably wondered why in the world I was reaching out at such a random time in such a weird way.

I guess I feel like I owe you a bit of an explanation.

I don’t feel as if these communications are completely random. It might sound strange and a bit far fetched, but I sincerely believe that I’m being compelled to reach out. A “God nudge”, I like to think of it. Kinda like maybe God is looking out on mankind and thinks, “That gal over there needs to hear a certain truth. That she is loved. She is valued. She is important. She is special. That the work she is doing matters. She is not alone.” And since He can’t just thunder those words down from heaven (I mean, He could, he IS God, but I think He recognizes that a thunder from heaven might be sorta scary), He uses us to do it.

And here’s why I think that. More often than not, when I reach out in a weird, random, awkward way, the response isn’t “you friggin’ weird-o, leave me alone!” but something altogether more tender, like “how did you know I needed to hear that?” or “I really needed that encouragement today!” And since I’m a rather dense gal, I KNOW it wasn’t ME that recognized the need for those words at that time, it was God working through me. And it feels really good to pass along messages of love. And because I think it’s really cool to be used by God in this way, I just keep doing it.

Also, I really love being on the other end of a “God nudge” too.

Three years ago a high school freshman wrote a paper for English class. In it, she talked about me. For whatever reason, she was inspired by some things I’d done in my life. The words she wrote were flattering and kind and encouraging. And for three years she didn’t share them with me. She waited. She waited until she felt the time was right and then she emailed me the paper. Her email was short (and not the least bit awkward) and she explained that she’d been given this assignment years ago and recently came across it and thought I should read it.

What she didn’t know is that I’ve been going through a season of self doubt. I’ve been asking myself questions like “Why am I doing these hard things? Am I really making a difference? Is it worth it?” Yeah, I’ve been a real treat to live with the last few days. I’ve been questioning, wondering, obsessing about why I do what I do. And then, out of nowhere, I get an email from a high school senior who tells me that at a very important time in her life she looked at me as an example. She saw what I was doing and felt like it was important. That it mattered. That I was making a difference.

I cried (and I don’t cry often). I cried happy tears. Tears of reassurance. I thanked God for the reminders that I needed to hear. And I thanked my young friend for reaching out. She too had felt a “God nudge” and although it would have been awfully easy for her to shrug it off or ignore it, she didn’t. She acted on the nudge and spoke words of life to me. At a moment that I REALLY needed to hear them. She didn’t know that I was in a funk, but God did. I think maybe He looked down on mankind and saw me and thought, “Abbie is getting discouraged, she is believing lies, she is questioning the calling I have given her. She needs truth.” And then he picked an unsuspecting teen to speak to me.

So the next time you’re thinking of someone for no apparent reason or a particular situation is weighing heavy on your heart, don’t ignore it. Consider that maybe you’re being “nudged” to reach out. It might feel like random timing or just completely awkward, but take a chance. And the next time you receive a random, awkward text from someone who is just thinking about you, know how loved and valued you are!!!

Sometimes awkward=awesome.

Confessions of a reluctant sports mom

When I was in labor for the first time I experienced the magic of an epidural. Let me tell you, it was amazing. I was able watch the monitor and I see the little line rise up to indicate I was having a contraction but I couldn’t feel a thing. I was blissfully numb. It wasn’t a bad way to labor. Until it was time to push. I had zero sensation, but the doctor said it was time, so I put my chin down and pretended to know what I was doing. I felt like an actress playing the part of a woman in labor. I asked the nurse, very quietly, if I was doing it right. She assured me I was and a few minutes later my beautiful, squealing baby girl arrived on the scene.

Fast forward 11 years. Summertime. Baseball season. All three (THREE) of my kids are playing summer ball. My husband is in hog heaven. He is a natural athlete, very competitive, and loves the thrill of the game. Me? Meh.

I watch the other parents at the games. They are PUMPED. They cheer and yell and get thouroughly, genuinely excited watching their kiddos. Me? I’m internally searching the crevices of my brain for appropriate encouraging words. I say things like: “Swing if it’s there. Get ready. Way to watch. Swing at strikes. Watch the ball.” It feels like I’m on a game show called “Let’s State The Obvious!!!”

I’ve become fluent in baseball vocabulary mostly by mimicking my husband but also from faint memories from my childhood of my dad listening to baseball games on the radio on our way home from church. 

I mutter to my husband, “Am I doing it right?” I feel like an actress playing a mom watching her kids play ball. I don’t get it. But they love it and I love them so I’ll just keep playing the part. 

The Rimmatoop

Five years ago today I met my son. He was four years old at the time. Like most kids, he loves to hear the story of how he came into our family.

His entrance to our world is a different sort of tale than that of our other kids, but it’s sweet and special and one we all recall fondly. Here’s how it goes….

One day, in the middle of July, I got a call at work from Children’s Division. A four year old boy had come into care. His name was Caleb. That was all I knew about my boy when I left work a few minutes early to meet him.

I first laid eyes on him at a McDonald’s Play Place. He was accompanied by his case worker. He had eyes as brown as chocolate and the cutest, chubbiest cheeks. He didn’t speak.

I said goodbye to the case worker and loaded Caleb into my car. I peeked into the backseat a million times to see his sweet face. He would smile but the silence hung heavy. I began to talk. About nothing and everything just to fill the quiet. I told him about our home and our other kids. I talked about the cows we drove past. I told him we had chickens at our house. And a pool.

Then, out of nowhere, he began talking!! I was thrilled, but I couldn’t understand what he was saying. He repeated himself over and over again, growing increasingly frantic. “I need my rimmatoop! My rimmatoop. I NEED MY RIMMATOOP!”

Bless his little heart. I asked him to repeat himself a hundred times. I tried repeating what I was hearing and he assured me I wasn’t understanding him correctly. He was frustrated, I was beside myself. I needed to know what it was that this boy needed. I needed to understand him.

My cousin is a speech therapist. A brilliant one, in my opinion. I figured if anyone could distinguish his jibberish, it would be her. When we arrived home I texted her: “this kid needs his Rimmatoop. What the heck is a Rimmatoop?! Help!!”

Time passed. I introduced him to the dog and the chickens. He met the kids and my husband. He discovered some toys and was quickly entertained. He had seemingly forgotten about the Rimmatoop he had so desperately needed.

A while later I received a short message from my cousin. It simply said: swimming suit?  I asked, “Caleb, do you need your SWIMMING SUIT?” His smile told the answer. Of course that was it. He had begun *needing* it as soon as I mentioned we had a pool. And of course we promptly got him one.

Our story doesn’t take place in a hospital. No doctors or epidurals. No newborn photos or bitty baby inky footprints. But it’s one of my most favorite stories to tell. And one of his most favorite to hear.