Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Snow Globes, Cardinals, and Hope

We belong to a small homeschooling community, and this week we did a Christmas gift exchange. I picked the name of a sweet mamma who had recently miscarried her baby girl. As I walked through the store trying to find a gift, I was repeatedly drawn to one in particular. Here is the letter I included with her gift….

Dear Mamma,

This snow globe is a strange gift for me to purchase. Knick-knacks do not generally catch my eye, perhaps because as a former teacher I received more than my share. But, as I prayerfully walked through the store in search of something for you, I was repeatedly drawn to this cardinal. I remember having read or heard something about cardinals being spiritually significant, so I came home to do a little research.

I discovered that “cardinal” comes from the Latin word “cardo,” which means “hinge.” Christians have often used birds (particularly the dove) as symbols of the Holy Spirit. While these birds are often portrayed in white, symbolizing purity and peace, the red of the cardinal points to the vitality found in the blood of Christ - the blood that frees us to be people of God. This freedom offers us true life. As one source wrote, we are reminded that although our circumstances may appear desolate, there is always hope. Our hope “hinges” on Christ, the crucified, risen Lord.

I bought this for you knowing this season is difficult for you. Instead of feeling your baby girl grow inside of you, there is an emptiness where she should be. You are such a beautiful example of one who trusts God with abandon. Thank you for encouraging me that way. Know that even in the midst of this time of loss, there is hope: hope in realizing that your daughter now rejoices with her King; hope in recognizing that God loves you even more than you love her; and hope in the assurance of His unending faithfulness. I pray that as you see this cardinal surrounded by snow, you will remember that our hope is built on nothing less that Jesus’ blood and righteousness.

My prayers are with you this season that God will grant you joy in the midst of trials, strength to face each day anew, and peace because of His Son.

When this mamma friend of mine opened her gift today, she immediately looked at me with shock. I told her to read the above letter after which she pulled me aside to tell me her story. Here it is as told in her words….

About 1.5 weeks before we lost our baby girl (we had the privilege of knowing that we lost a daughter. Her name means “peace/walks with God” and “delight/one who brings pleasure to others.” Her name could not be more perfect considering her story), we visited Longwood Gardens, and I found this mug that I fell in love with and ended up buying. My entire pregnancy, the song, "His Eye is on the Sparrow" kept playing through my head, which is strange, because it's not a well sung hymn anymore, but the words are beautiful. When I saw this mug, immediately I felt strongly that although it wasn't a sparrow depicted, it was God very clearly reminding me that He is watching out for me AND this tiny baby inside, and that His ways, while not always what we'd like or hope for, are always best.

For some reason, I've always been drawn to cardinals, and having two pairs in our backyard, I find so much joy in watching them. From almost the beginning, the cardinal represented to me Jesus' watchcare over both me and my baby, and the joy that comes through Him. The colour red has always reminded me of His precious gift to me. When we lost our daughter, it was all the more precious to me to see a cardinal, because of what it reminded me of.

Fast forward a week or two, and I had a strong desire for a snowglobe, but not just any snowglobe. A very specific one that I cannot put my finger on.

Today was the gift exchange at the kids' class, and when it was my turn to open my gift, I pulled out this snow globe with a cardinal sitting inside. It took everything in me to not start to cry.

What I read further made me want to cry, and when I finished, I spoke with my friend (who didn't know me very well yet) and she apologized for the gift and said she knew it's usually a type of gift that you give when you can't think of anything else to give, but that when she'd been searching for the perfect gift for me, she'd found this, and kept saying "no!" but every time she'd walk away, she'd lose her peace, and every time she came back to the snowglobe, she'd have peace again.

Finally, she bought it and told her husband that either I'd open it and politely smile but later throw the globe out, or I'd open it and it would be a miraculous God thing. She didn't understand why THAT was what she was supposed to buy, because normally neither of us would want something like that, but she had to trust God's direction and so she gave it to me.

When she heard my story, both of us were in awe of what God has done. We both walked away blessed beyond measure. She, because she listened to God's quiet leading and did what seemed absurd, then found out it was precisely what had been a desire of my heart that I had not even been able to put into words. And me, because God took what was in my heart that I had not yet found the words to express, and He made it reality through the simple gift from a friend.

Guys, God sees and knows. He cares. I don't understand the whys of this life, most recently the reason that we lost our sweet baby, but I'm finding more and more, especially thanks to your prayers, that I'm finding joy in the most unusual places and most uncommon ways, and it is beautiful to see. Look for it, because He is wanting to show it to you. Whether it's a mug, or a snowglobe (especially when you really dislike knick knacks), or a note, a smile, a touch, or so much more. God isn't limited to the normal. He works outside the box and He enjoys blessing us. I guess my challenge to you today is to look for the joys, especially the littlest things that He places in your lives, and you'll be seeing His hand at work all around you...

I had no idea the meaning behind the cardinal until today, but now I once more stand in amazement of how God has worked, even in making the cardinal of such significance to me.


Friends, God still does speak to us. Listen for His prompting and be a blessing to someone today.

I echo the words of my sweet, new friend: God sees, knows, and cares. He wants to meet us where we are; He enjoys blessing us; and He is not limited to our definition of normal. 

This is especially visible to us during this Advent season as we remember that the God of all humbled Himself to enter our world as a helpless baby so that He could one day sacrifice Himself and triumph over death, for the joy set before Him.

The joy of our redemption.

My Hope is Built on Nothing Less
by Edward Mote, 1797-1874

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus' blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus' name.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

When darkness veils His lovely face,
I rest on His unchanging grace;
In every high and stormy gale
My anchor holds within the veil.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

His oath, His covenant, and blood
Support me in the whelming flood;
When every earthly prop gives way,
He then is all my Hope and Stay.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh, may I then in Him be found,
Clothed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne!
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Birthday girl!

Four years ago today, I had no idea I was about to become a mom. A was born around 4pm on a Tuesday in Salt Lake City, Utah. It wouldn't be until Wednesday night at around 10:30pm that the agency finally reached us after having tried all day. To their credit, AT&T gave me a refund for one day of virtually non-existent phone service.

Peter was on a business trip in Virginia when we got the call that we had been chosen to parent our amazing little girl. Within twelve hours, I met Peter at Philadelphia International airport and we began our cross-country journey to Utah via Arizona.

We met A and her amazing first mom, M, at the hospital on Thursday evening. Both mom and baby were scheduled to be discharged on Friday morning, so Peter and I had breakfast, rushed to purchase a car seat, and arrived at the hospital only to discover that our baby (not yet legally ours) had been rushed for a CT scan after M had discovered an indentation (a ping-pong fracture) in her skull. She had so much hair even as an infant that it wasn’t initially visible.

The next several hours were spent listening to the team of residents tell us about possible skull surgery to reverse the indentation. In some ways it was overwhelming, but it was also strange because we had not yet signed any custody papers, so while the agency certainly wanted to follow our lead, the ultimate decision was legally theirs to make. M had relinquished her rights in Utah, but New Jersey required a longer waiting period, so for the interim our baby was in the custody of our agency. A strange feeling.

Mid-afternoon, the Chief of Neurology told us he thought the problem would fix itself and that surgery wasn’t necessary, so we agreed to follow up at CHOP in a few months.

Our baby spent her first week and a half outside the womb in a hotel room sleeping in a drawer because there were no available cribs. During our time away, one of our dogs managed to swallow a nylon stocking. He needed surgery (with 17 staples!) to remove it. We passed our days in Utah visiting with A’s first family, figuring out how to be parents in a strange city away from family, and waiting for the courts to approve us to travel home. We were finally cleared on Friday, December 21, and at around 3am on Saturday we boarded the Amtrak train for home. We finally arrived at 30th street station in Philadelphia around 5pm on Christmas Eve. It was a whirlwind of a time for us.

But amid all the excitement and extensive process, there are two moments seared into my memory. The first was the moment that we left the hospital. I will never forget the incredible juxtaposition of emotions as we sat in the coffee shop of the hospital with M and said our goodbyes. I cried as we left. There are few words for me to describe what an amazing woman she is to have loved so much. She is certainly braver than I.

The second is during a luncheon we had with A’s first family. Her first mom’s father held her, gazing at her little face as if to memorize each feature. He was a quiet man, but oh how I could see such love on his face.

Adoption is hard. Today, I rejoice with my little girl as she turns four. She is precocious, sensitive, full of love, determined, and she has an amazing sense of humor. I am eternally grateful that I get to spend every day loving life with her. But today underneath all the joy and excitement, my heart grieves for another mother who has missed all the precious milestones. My great joy comes at the expense of another woman’s great loss. She is the bravest woman I know.

"A child born to another woman calls me mom. 
The depth of the tragedy and the magnitude of the privilege are not lost on me." 
- Jody Landers

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Shout out love

To the couple who picked up the tab for our five squirmy and rambunctious children at dinner the other night:

We arrived at the restaurant with five very hungry and tired children. We had almost opted for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at the hotel in preparation for our long drive home. But God had other plans. He knew we needed to be encouraged.

Last week the children and I joined my husband on one of his business trips. He flew out ahead of us, and I drove the children several states over to the state where they were born. While there, we visited with their previous foster family and then we spent a few days at museums and parks. Being in their home state triggered some varied responses in my kids. Although they intellectually know that adoption means permanency, when you've spent between 30% and 75% of your life in foster care, it takes some time for emotions to catch up to reality. 

To say that last week took its toll on me is an understatement. It may not have been as bad as our first few weeks together, but it was definitely a giant step backwards. 

So, when the waitress approached our table tonight and mentioned you, I was sure she was going to inform us that you complained about my son who was constantly peering over the divider to see what you were eating while repeatedly saying, "mommy, I'm really hungry," or my daughters who were using outside voices at an inside table while calling me a "meanie."

Instead, our waitress said that you had paid the bill for our bouncy bunch.

Thank you.

You have no idea what a blessing that was to me. 

I had some time to reflect last week while driving, and I realized that trading in a career for motherhood is essentially exchanging back-breaking work for heart-breaking work. 

This is certainly true for all mothers. But, those of us who parent children with histories of trauma often have to deal with an added layer often unknown, misunderstood, or even ignored.

You may not know how each trip to the store, each ride to the park, each day at school is a game of Russian roulette. 

Will my older children throw tantrums at the store? Will one of my kiddos scream at the top of her lungs in public? Will another one threaten to kick me in the face if she doesn't get what she wants? Will one bite the other? Can I just get through the checkout line without an argument that turns into a shoving contest complete with blood-curdling screaming? Do I correct my child and risk adding fuel to her fire? Or, do I ignore her defiance while judgmental eyes think that they would never let their child speak to them that way?

I thought I was largely past the multiple successive tantrum phase (and I don't mean by my soon-to-be 3 y/o), but this week was a reminder of how far we've come. To be honest, I am just glad that the people in our hotel who heard our chaos won't recognize me at the pharmacy. 

I read once that what many people don't realize is that, while "normal" children (and by that I mean children blessed enough to live with the parents that gave them life) have episodes of defiance and rebellious behavior, children who come from trauma have much longer lasting episodes...tantrums that last for hours, days, or even weeks; high-pitched screaming coming from kiddos waaaay past the tantrum throwing phase. Or, in our case, children who are learning boundaries that differentiate between private expression and public expression of frustration.

A few months ago, our middle child coined a phrase during her bedtime prayers. Now each night she prays that God would help us "shout out love" to those around us. I love this visual. 

"Mom," she'll say, "do you know what it means to shout out love?" 

"Tell me," I reply.

"It means to be kind to people you don't know."

To the couple who shouted out love to us last week....may you be blessed beyond measure, and may God's blessings be returned to you in "a large quantity, pressed together, shaken down, and running over." (Luke 6:38)

"‘I can guarantee this truth: Whatever you did for one of my brothers or sisters, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you did for me.’"   ~Matthew 25:40

"Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it." ~Hebrews 13:2