Tuesday, May 31, 2011

reading. i. love. it.

my goal for the next week is to read for at least one hour each day.  i am pretty excited about it.

what am i reading? [in no particular order]

surprised by grace- i am LOVING this book.  i love learning more about God's grace.  it is the foundation for everything in my life.
Surprised by Grace: God's Relentless Pursuit of Rebels

ina may's guide to childbirth- this has been a great encouragement to me.  the first entire half is just various women's birth stories (mostly natural births).  so cool!
Ina May's Guide to Childbirth

give them grace: dazzling your kids with the love of jesus- reading this one with some wonderful ladies from church! :)
Give Them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids with the Love of Jesus

overcoming fear and discouragement: ezra, nehemiah, esther - i was trying to decide whether to do a kay arthur study on nehemiah or esther.  then i saw that she has a book that covers both.  sweet!
Overcoming Fear and Discouragement: Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther (The New Inductive Study Series)

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

It cannot be wrong. It is done in love. It must be well.

“Reader, if God has given you His only begotten Son, beware of doubting His kindness and love, in any painful providence of your daily life! Never allow yourself to think hard thoughts of God. Never suppose that He can give you anything which is not really for your good. Remember the words of Paul: ‘He who spared not His own Son—but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things’ (Romans 8:32).

See in every sorrow and trouble of your earthly pilgrimage the hand of Him who gave Christ to die for your sins! That hand can never smite you except in love! He who gave His only begotten Son for you, will never withhold anything from you which is really for your good. Lean back on this thought and be content. Say to yourself in the darkest hour of trial, ‘This also is ordered by Him who gave Christ to die for my sins. It cannot be wrong. It is done in love. It must be well.’"

-JC Ryle  (thanks to girl talk )

i love how he says "lean back on this thought and be content"... we can rest and relax on these truths, even in the midst of the most painful hardship.

this quote reminded me of a really good point from my pastor's sermon on sunday.  he pointed out that the times we are most likely to doubt God's love is in the midst of a trial, and that is why paul wrote these words to fight that lie:

"who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger or sword? ... no, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us." romans 8:35, 37

that is why i am meditating on and memorizing these verses this week...  i need it to penetrate my soul, because i often do doubt his love when going through a painful trial.

Friday, May 20, 2011

my thoughts on the controversy: natural birth

this week two books came in the mail that i am pretty excited to read.

natural childbirth the bradley way
Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way: Revised Edition

and ina may's guide to child birth
Ina May's Guide to Childbirth

one of the upsides to the kids going back with their birth mom is that i have been able to focus a little more on our little "bun in the oven" and preparing for her to come.  one of the things i have been needing to think through and research more is having a natural child birth.  from my initial research it seems that this is just the right time to really start preparing for this major event, if you want to have a natural birth, because of all the exercises and practicing that is needed in order to be successful.

first let me define what i mean by natural child birth.  my desire is to give birth without any sort of medication or medical intervention whatsoever.  the kind of birth that could just as easily happen in my own home as in a hospital.  women have been doing this for thousands of years, and still do so around the world.

however, these days in america it is popular and accepted as the norm to have induced labor, an epidural, an episiotomy, and/or a cesarian section to "help" the laboring mother.  labor and birth are treated as an illness, as women are sent into hospitals to do something that is completely normal and healthy for their body.  traditionally women have given birth with the help of a midwife or other women with lots of childbirth experience, but these days doctors do the deliveries.  unfortunately doctors are trained to "do something" and not just stand idly by... and what they do is administer drugs and order unnecessary surgeries "just in case" (ie to avoid being sued in the very small chance that something will go wrong).  unfortunately, when you look at the statistics all of these medical interventions are actually hurting both mothers and babies more than helping.  (please note that i am not saying that these medical interventions are never acceptable, its just that they should be the exception and not the rule.)

america has the highest rate for medical interventions during birth anywhere in the world (in fact, a few years ago, the c-section rate was up to 30% of all births in america!!!) and one of the lowest rates for home birth among developed countries (less than 1% of births in america, but up to 30% of births in some european countries).  that being said, our infant mortality rates are the highest among developed counties.  the reason for this higher rate of death is that medical interventions bring risk for the mother and baby.  even when a medicated birth seems to go well, the effects of the drugs are always felt by the baby and there is no drug that has been proven completely safe for an newborn baby.

furthermore, it is completely a myth that giving birth with drugs will be a pain-free birth.  first of all, the drugs eventually wear off, and sometimes before more can be given.  second of all, getting an epidural messes with your spine, and some women continue to feel the effects for a long time afterwards.  third of all, when you are given an epidural it often slows down your laboring and contractions, which means that labor inducing drugs also need to be given (it is a vicious cycle, and the reason why many women need to be given LOTS of drugs to get through child birth).  these labor inducing drugs (such as pitocin) cause contractions to be much more painful than natural contractions.  you may have the impression (which is common) that laboring women scream out in pain during the process... this is only true of women given labor-inducing drugs (which, these days is the norm, which is why we think it is normal to scream while laboring).  if you ever watch a video of a women given birth without drugs, she is not screaming in pain, but occasionally moaning (if you are interested, search for "natural birth" in you tube).

on the other hand, women who do not taken medication are able to be up and moving around during labor, finding the most comfortable (and most effective) positions to labor in.  more important, though, is the fact that unmedicated women are able to feel the body's natural repsonse to the birth, a huge release of oxytocin and other chemicals which leave her feeling very alive and happy.  women i know that have had both medicated and unmedicated births have mentioned that they will never accept the drugs again, simply so that they can experience the high after the birth that you cannot feel when you have an epidural.

yesterday, in the bradley method book, i read this interesting quote: "many women start out with a medicated, monitered experience and then "graduate" to a more natural method."  using the words of the book, i am hoping to get the "graduate" experience without going through the undergraduate course.  but, i must add, this will only happen if the Lord allows (james 4:15).

more more information, in addition to the books above, i highly recommend the documentary, the business of being born which goes much more into depth than i can here about the differences between medicated and natural births, and why america has such high rates of medical interventions, as well as the effects of these interventions.

(i write all of this to share my thoughts and feelings about the subject.  before i did any research on this years ago, i figured that i would just have a medicated birth like most other american women.  however, the research is too compelling not to share, especially since i feel like many women are uneducted about their options and the reasons for going with a natural birth.  however, i do want to emphasize that medical intervention is need in a few births, and i praise God for giving us these tools when they are absolutely needed.)

Sunday, May 15, 2011

what's next?

it feels like i suddenly have this big gaping hole in my life.

weekends can now be a time to relax and hang out with friends, not spend hours in the car driving the kids to see their mom and catching up on housework.  my afternoons after i come home from work are amazingly free... i can even take a nap when i want to!

its pretty rare to experience such an all-encompassing life change like this. its not just all the extra free time, but even just having a free mind... no worries about foster care paperwork that is due, whether or not the kids are hurting each other when they play, or what needs to get done each day to have everyone clothed, bathed and fed...

for the past few days i have been enjoying and relishing my free time: sleeping in, taking much needed naps (trying to catch up on all the sleep i am behind on from the last year!), reading, watching netflix and relaxing.  one time a while ago i joked that if/when the kids would go back to their mom, i would sleep for a week straight... it hasn't quite been that, but i definitely don't feel bad for all the extra time i have spent in bed!

i have also been thinking ahead to how i want to start using this new found free time.  if there has been one thing that i have learned in the past year, it has been to be much more generous with others with my time, and to use my time wisely in general.  there have also been numerous times that i thought to myself "i wish i had done more of ____ when we didn't have kids".  now, i have another chance at a few months without kids, and i want to us it well.  here are my initial thoughts on how i want to use my "extra" time for the next few months:

*gardening- my dream is to have a huge vegetable garden in our back yard.  unfortunately, i am a bit slow in starting it up, so it might not be as big as i was origionally hoping, but i am praying to have a fair sized crop of veggies (and melons!) by the end of the summer.

*reaching out to my neighborhood- i haven't quite thought through what this will look like yet.  alex and i want to have a cookout in the near future.  i want to spend some more time with the people i have gotten to know.  i need to pray for some more wisdom and direction in this area.

*getting enough sleep- though i average 8-9 hours a night, this still hasn't been enough for me since becoming pregnant.  i want to try to take more mid-day naps as well as get to bed at a better time each night.

*reading, praying, memorizing scripture-  this is definitely something i have thought about a lot while we had the kids... why didn't i do this more when i had free time!?  i want to really use my time wisely this summer to invest in these disciplines well.

*spending time with people- always a priority for me, which can be more of a reality at this life stage. 

*spending time with my wonderful husband-  we are hoping to go on a mini-vacation this summer (for the first time since we were married!) up the coast.  and i now that we wont be so exhausted all the time, we will be able to spend more than an hour together on our weekly date night.  i feel like this summer is going to be a second honeymoon! :)

Saturday, May 14, 2011

sorrowful. thankful. rejoicing.

“give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  1 thessalonians 5:18

“ [regarded] as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” 2 corinthians 6:10

"therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain." 1 corinthians 15:58

earlier this week, a judge ruled that our four foster children should be reunified with their birth mom.  three days ago, we drove them to her place, and dropped them off for the last time ever.
it is difficult to describe the mix of emotions that i have felt as a result.  sadness for the kids and what their future holds.  the pain of four broken relationships.  thankfulness for everything God did through our time with them. peace with His plan.  longing to see them grow up.  joy in the blessing that they were to us.

i have been reflecting a lot on their time with us, what God did in us, what God did in them.  i miss them.  but i am very thankful, and i can honestly say that i have a heart full of joy in the midst of it all.

i am thankful for the laughter they brought to our home.
  i remember reading some kind of statistic about adults laughing on average like 7 times a day, while children laugh on average something like 100 times per day.  i really noticed this about our kids... they laughed about everything!  sometimes hearing their laughter made me suspicious, because it often meant that they were doing something mischievous, but God really used their laughter to show me how serious and hard my heart is, and gave me a desire to just laugh more.  He used it to help me take my eyes off the never ending list of tasks i needed to accomplish in order to stop and just enjoy a minute or two with them.

i rejoice because of how God taught me about His character through their time with us.  one way i learned about his character was through reading about and meditating on His fatherhood.  it was always such a contrast to my parenthood... He is full of patience and his every action toward His children is motivated by love.  even my most loving actions (which are rare) are stained and marred by sin.  when the kids were disobedient, my mind instantly went to what punishments they "deserved" for their rebellion and what privileges they did not "deserve".  God continuously reminded me of His grace towards me, and how he constantly fills my cup to overflowing with blessings that I don't deserve.

God also really took deeper into my heart the reality of His sovereignty, that all things are under his control.  my trust in God has gone much deeper through this, even when many aspects of our first foster care experience did not go the way that we were hoping.  God chose for these kids to be in our home.  he chose that first we would have two, and then four.  he chose that things would be hard at times and good at other times.  and he chose that this week they would go home with their birth mom.  period.  i have no bitterness, just a deep trust in him (by his grace).  moreover, i rejoice that my God rules the universe. "our God is in the heavens, he does whatever he pleases" (psalm 115:3)

i rejoice that he has humbled me through this.  God showed me a deeper level of my sin than i have ever experienced before through our kids.  having previously worked with children with austism, i thought that i had a lot of patience.  boy.  was. i.  wrong.  (but God reminded me that He has perfect patience, and that true patience can only be brought about in me through his spirit).  he showed me my severe lack of love and empathy (while reminding me of His perfect love and his desire to fill me with his love by his spirit).  he showed me my pride, that i would think that i could keep up with four young children all on my own (but in the midst of it, he graciously provided what i needed to get through each day).  he showed me my complete inability to "do everything without grumbling" (philippians 2:14), and lack of joy (but constantly reminded me that only He is the true source of joy).

i am thankful that we got to share the gospel with them on a regular basis.  moreover, i am thankful for all the opportunities (and we will continue to do so) to come to Him in prayer and ask for their salvation.  i rejoice that they got to hear gospel truths that they may never have gotten to hear otherwise.  even now that they are back with their mom, they have bible story books and CD's of gospel centered songs (that we sent them home with) that we pray will continue to point them towards Christ.  it breaks my heart to think that i may never see any of them here on earth again but i spend more time praying that i will spend eternity with them.

i am thankful for getting to play the important role of teaching and training them.  teaching and training is haaaaarrrrddd work.  but so satisfying when you see the results.  i am thankful that we were able to spend almost a year of the most important developmental time in all four of their lives with them.  we were the ones who taught the oldest two how to get dressed.  we were the ones who taught the youngest boy how to take off his shoes.  we were the ones who taught the oldest two all of their colors, the oldest brother most of his letters and the middle brother to count to five.  many of these things we taught them they should have been taught long before they came to us, and they still might not know had they never come to us.

i am thankful for everything that i learned that will make me a better parent in the future.  one of the biggest things i saw through our time with them was my sin and my need for grace.  on more than one occasion i had to apologize to the kids for my sin (such as being impatient) and i thank God that he helped me to do so.  however, i also really saw how a parent's sin can transfer onto their kids and it has really lead me to pray more for sanctification... i don't want our kids to follow in my sinful ways!

i also learned that it is important to bring up God and the gospel at every moment possible (especially since their time with us was so brief). every moment is an opportunity for them to learn about God's character.  when they would notice a bird or a tree, i would point out that God made that bird or tree. when they had difficulty sharing toys, i would bring up the reason that we share... because God first chose to share with us.  when they were excited about a new toy or new shoes, we would pray and thank God for providing it.

i am thankful for how our time with them has gotten me more excited to have a large family in the future.  even though things were very chaotic at times, i was able to see innumerable benefits to having a large family.  i loved seeing how close of friends all the kids were.  it helped that they constantly had others to play with! (it baffles my mind when so many parents of a single child say they don't have time for another one... i feel like i don't have time to be the sole entertainer for one!)  it was also cool to see how things we taught one child quickly transferred onto the others.  for example, within a month of the oldest learning his colors, the next oldest brother also knew all of his colors. 

these are just a few of the things i have thought about this week, and why i am thankful and joyful in the midst of my sorrow.  i am also hopeful... i hope to get to spend eternity with them in God's presence.  but that will remain just a hope for the time being.

Monday, May 9, 2011

tomorrow is the day....

"the king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD;
   he turns it wherever he will."  proverbs 21:1

if i didn't believe in God's sovereignty in all things, i think i would be going nuts right now.  tomorrow is the court date for the kids, where the judge will most likely rule that the kids will go back with their mom.  if so, we will be driving them there on wednesday, possibly never to see them again.

but the judge's heart is a stream of water in the hands of the Lord.  God will turn it where he will.

the thought of them going home is a bittersweet one...  on one hand i relish the thought of free time, sleeping in, relaxing, allowing my brain to unwind, not having to deal with their crazy behavior of recent and having much less housework to do.  on the other hand, we already have had a taste of what their life will be like, and it is not something i want for them.  i *know* that they would have a much better life with us... but that might not be God's ultimate desire for them.  he may have a better plan to bring them through lots of hardship.  in the past month or two i have grown much deeper in my attachment to the younger two, especially to lovely girl (to whom i am her "real" mom as far as she is concerned, she has spent two-thirds of her life with us) and i so want to be their forever mommy...

but i have a desire deeper than being their forever mommy... the desire that they would know Christ, delight in Him, treasure Him, love Him... and maybe God will choose to do that through a very rough life where his gift of grace and promise of new life will seem that much sweeter than if they grew up in a loving, nourishing, emotionally fulfilling home.

i have no idea what their future hold, but i rejoice that i can pray for them, and continue to affect them even if they are not living with us.

please take a minute to pray for all four of our foster kids.  pray that they would come to know Christ.  pray that God would turn the judge's heart tomorrow to make a decision that will ultimately lead them to know Him.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

april at our home

wow.  i cant believe that it is may already.  time flies when you are pregnant with four young kids in the home :)

april at our home was eventful (the story of our lives recently).  for the first two weeks, the kids were in respite care at another foster home.  during this time i got a lot done (things that i dont have time for when the kids are around)... major work on our garden, finishing our complicated taxes, lots of catching up on cleaning and laundry. i think i even took a nap or two :)  alex and i also took a weekend trip to san diego which was fun.  it was also a time for reflecting on things with the kids...  i missed them, despite enjoying the break, and was able to think through what i want my last weeks with them to be like.

things with the kids have shifted pretty majorly since they came back.  we expected a bit of a readjustment period, and our expectations were pretty accurate.  in addition, not only were they thrown off of the normal course of things by the respite care, but even more so by the extra time they have with their mom these days (visits were formerly about 6 hours, now they are 48 hours long).  since this change we has seen a dramatic increase in tantrums, whining, screaming, crying, disobedience and talking back in all of the boys.  it has been a trial of my patience, as well as my understanding of the gospel.  God has been very gracious to help me love them through it, reminding me that my sin is much more ugly than any of their behavior.  he has also been gracious to forgive me when i am impatient and don't love them through it.

their next court date is coming up soon, may 10.  we have been told that they almost definitely will be reunited with their birth mom at that time.  on one hand i am eager for the craziness of having all of them in the house to be over, but on the other hand i am a bit sad for the kids... seeing how they come back from their parent visits is a bit of a reality check for what their life will be like living with their mom.  we have also given a bit of thought as to the possibility of them coming back into our lives again.  if they are reunited and something goes wrong and they go back into foster care, we would be the first to get a call to take them in.  we would be open to it, but we would most likely only the younger two kids who we started out with originally.  we feel, and several other people have also noticed, that these two have developed a special bond with us that the older two clearly do not have.

this has been a month of growth for me spiritually.  i have been making prayer and bible reading more of a priority, which has been good.  it hasn't necessarily been life changing every day, but more like a good discipline that is making me stronger over all.  i have been reading through revelation, which is one of my favorite books of the bible, and thinking more deeply about some of the things in it (especially relating to the end times).

one very exciting thing for me this month has been (FINALLY!) starting my vegetable garden.  in so cal, you are supposed to start seeds january to march, but i put it off for a while since we did not know whether or not we would be moving (it also didn't help that i majorly lack free time!).  i am hoping that my late start wont mess things up.  by God's grace, a couple veggie plants planted themselves earlier in the year, which means that we have a tomato plant that already has lots of flowers and 4 small tomatoes, as well as pumpkin plants with tons of blossoms.  in addition, i have started seeds for butternut squash, sweet cherry peppers, basil, marigolds (flowers that ward off bugs that attack veggie plants), watermelon as well as more pumpkin and tomatoes.  we are blessed with a ton of garden space, and i am hoping to make good use of it all.

baby costa is getting bigger.  this week is the half way point in the pregnancy, which is fun :)  i bought some maternity clothes this week and have started to wear them, its nice to have a bit more room for my expanding tummy.  at an ultrasound about a week ago we found out that the baby is (most likely) a girl, so we can call her a "her".  we have thrown around a few name ideas, and have possibly landed on one.  finding out that the baby inside of me is a girl made my affections for our foster baby girl that much stronger.  i want them to grow up together, to be best friends.  right now i cant imagine life without her beaming smile, her silly walk, her cute crinkly nose and her room-brightening squeals.