Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Christmas Shopping at the Salvation Army

Yesterday we were in the Salvation Army shopping. There is a time when I would not have even been able to utter that sentence due to embarrassment, and to be honest, as I sit here typing, I have been tempted to delete it about a hundred times, but then there would still be no post.

In August 2015, I returned to college to work on a much desired degree in Psychology and Neuroscience. School has always come easy to me, but it has been more than a decade since I have graduated from Nursing School, I am now the Mommy of a preschooler and a toddler, and I have a mortgage and obvious other bills, so needless to say, this journey has been tremendously difficult.

I went from working full time to working per diem to accommodate my college courses and this has meant a huge reduction in money. It has meant we don't eat out or go to the movies. It has meant that I pay for gas in change, and it has meant I do not shop at the mall or online for anything.  The Salvation Army and other second hand shops have become the only places I buy clothing. And for the first time ever, it is now the place I find myself Christmas shopping. Another sentence I can hardly believe is coming out of my mouth. 

Since I became a Mom, I have prided myself on purchasing high quality toys, learning toys, and beautiful children's books (my real weakness, we have a small library). So having to shop for toys second hand this year has brought me to tears more times than I would care to mention. As a result, I have been forced to examine and re-examine, how the consumeristic society I live in has affected me, and even my view of Christmas. It has meant having to tell my four year old, we don't have money for yet his millionth request prompted by the media, his friends, or some add that has come in the mail.

At first, every time I would have to tell him we didn't have the money for something he wanted, be it Chinese, a new toy, or even a doughnut, I would cringe and almost choke on the words coming out my mouth, as my eyes welled up with tears. I felt like a failure, or like I was somehow letting him down.  In the beginning he would cry and I would remind him, of all the ways God has blessed us, and everything we have to be grateful for. Each time, I knew I was talking as much to myself as I was to him.

In time however, something amazing has happened for both of us. I am so grateful for things I have previously taken for granted. And I have had the opportunity to really teach my son an attitude of gratitude and heartfelt praying for others less fortunate than ourselves. I really believed I was already teaching him to be grateful, but it is so easy to be grateful, when you are lacking for nothing. I have been forced to examine and re-examine how much of the consumeristic society I live in has taken over my life and even Christmas for me, not to mention what I have been teaching my children. To be honest I am ashamed of how wasteful I have actually been and I would not have ever thought previously of myself as a wasteful  person.

So, to get back to yesterday's shopping trip... I was pushing Gideon in a cart and Samuel had run ahead to the few toys in the store. He happily ran back to me before I had gotten to him, two toys in hand and shouted, "Mommy look at what great thing I have found for us to give Gideon for Christmas, it is exactly what he wanted!" Not just one, but two, perfectly working tickle me Elmo's in excellent condition for $ 2.99.  We stood there together talking about how God had blessed us and even provided for the desire of Gideon's heart. Samuel was grinning from ear to ear and I could have just started crying.

As we looked with great anticipation for what other treasures we would find, a very dirty little girl, about six years old, came up next to me and began tugging on my shirt. She said, " You are so beautiful. "Thank you, you are very beautiful too," I said.  She then looked at Sammy and back at me and said, "He is so handsome and lucky to have a Mommy like you." I bent down next to her to talk to her about the toys she was looking at, when she whispered in my ear, "I am so hungry." I did not have any food with me (something that will not happen to me ever again. From now on, I will always at least carry a granola bar), so I thought well maybe I could talk to her Mom.  But as her mother approached, there was no way for me to get a word in edge wise. And as most of you know, that is not ever a problem for me.

She was clearly high on something, wearing pretty provocative clothing especially for the weather and took no interest in her daughter. She grabbed her daughters hat and began to tug her down the aisle. "Mommy could we get a toy please, " the little girl said. Her mother picked up a bag of broken kitchen set toys, and said "Sure, you can have this." The woman did not care that they were broken or that it was not even what her daughter had been looking at. She had not even cared enough to wash the dirt off the little girls face, and she was no less interested in the desires of her daughters heart.

God is no not like this. He does not leave us with our face in the dirt and he longs to give us the desires of our hearts.

On the drive home, Samuel continued to ask about that little girl and another child at the store with a speech impediment and a substantial learning delay that had hit him for no reason. "I did not hit him back Mom and I was really trying to understand him, was he speaking English?"  "Why was that girls Mom like that?" My son is for the first time, seeing a hurting world all around him and the brokenness he sees, bothers his little heart as he tries to understand it.

I hope the brokenness around us continues to break my heart as well as his. Christmas is not about stuff, it is about Jesus who came to heal our brokenness and a God that gives good gifts to his children.  If you find yourself as financially strapped as I do during this holiday season, do not despair, Jesus slept in the feed box. There was no lights or amazing decorations, and no elaborate toys. The Kings brought him perfumes for his burial.

Christmas is about the gift God gave us-Isaiah 9:6 -For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. This is what we need to teach our children, this is what we need to share with those around us.


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Explaining Fostering and Adoption to a Toddler

Explaining foster care and adoption to a toddler has been an interesting journey these past two months and is nowhere close to finished, as I am sure we will continue to revisit this topic as he grows and matures. Beginning the foster/adoption process again has brought a new set of challenges, fears and emotions, not only for me, but also for Samuel.

Since we only have Gideon on the weekends right now for respite, until his parental rights are removed, that means we share his care with a foster family that does not want to adopt. After we had him the first weekend and took him back, everything seemed smooth. The weekend had been great and Samuel had done so well sharing my affections, his room, and toys. But I should have known there is always a calm before the storm.

Unbeknownst to me my tiny human had been mulling over a great many thoughts in his mind and on Sunday night he refused to settle in and go to bed. He began to rant and rave in a toddler language, meaning only half of the one sided argument was understandable. After about 20 minutes my precious boy said through tears, "Are you going to leave me?"

 I had explained what was going to happen many times to help get him ready, but he could not wrap his mind around the events. All he understood was we were getting a baby, had a baby, and then took a baby back, which meant to him that maybe I would take him back too. Talk about break my heart.

Needless to say, Samuel slept with me that night and has most nights since, not to mention I had to take that Monday off from work to support my peanut's emotional crisis.

Since then, Samuel has adjusted to the fact that he is mine and that we share the baby until he becomes our's forever. However, he always wants to know why we have to share and he does not understand what the heck we are waiting for (parental rights to be signed off). Every time we take the baby back, Samuel asks "Why" over and over and no answer does he find satisfying, he eventually just stops asking.

This past time, when we took Gideon back, the foster home had received a little girl about Sammy's age. Upon seeing her, he hugged her tight and then looked at me and said, "I want that one too!" And then he threw a royal tantrum, when we left without them, for which I carried him from the house screaming and flailing his arms and legs.

Though his understanding is limited his heart is wide open.

P.S. If you are by chance in a similar process, I am so thankful for books like Stellaluna and the television show, The Dinosaur train, which help explain adoption in a way and at a level my son can relate too.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Foster to Adoption Round Two

In December, I was asked by DSS if I would be interested in adopting again. A micro preemie in a nearby NICU, they suspected was going to be in need of a forever home. However, this was not just any tiny human, but the biological sibling of my tiny human. He had been born in October, 8 days before my son's second birthday. He was 3 months early, and weighed in at 1 pound 7 ounces. He was on a ventilator, but was expected to be able to breath on his own soon. And like my son, he was born with many drugs in his system. The prognosis was unknown, but he had, had 1 brain bleed and his retinas were damaged. Additionally, his biological mother had left the hospital and had not returned nor left a way to contact her.

For many months I had, had thoughts of a second child, mainly because I did not want my son growing up alone. However, I had kept my thoughts entirely to myself and had not pursued foster care or a second adoption. As a single adoptive mother of one beautiful boy, I wondered if I could or should do it again, I wondered if I could do it alone with two.

I told DSS that I may be interested, but did not want to have the baby in my home until parental rights were severed, because I was afraid of Samuel getting attached and the baby having to go back to their biological mother. I was afraid that I would not be able to explain such a situation to a toddler and I was afraid that my heart could not bare the loss. Due to my fear, DSS placed him in a temporary foster home until the legal paper work could be completed.

Now, 7 months later, I have begun taking the baby on the weekends in preparation for June 19th, the expected date that DSS will file for abandonment and that I will likely begin fostering him. This is just the beginning of what will likely be a 15 or so month adoption process, similar to that of my son, Samuel. 

I do not know what the future looks like, but I know that my heart has room enough for two. I do not feel the same going into round two as I did in round one. I knew with a lot of certainty in my heart that Samuel would be mine from the first day I held him, but I do not have such a sense of sureness this time. I know that when the baby is absent from us, I feel like part of my family is missing, but I am afraid to fully embrace him in case the court should rule differently than expected. All of that being said, I can't help but love him. He is always smiling and his pudgy little hand wrapped tight in my hair, when he falls a sleep on my chest, reminds me continually that God has a plan and I need just keep holding his hand.

Because he is a foster child, I cannot use his name, but if this process ends in adoption, his adopted name will be Gideon Asher Bentley. Gideon meaning mighty warrior and Asher meaning happy.

Please be in prayer for myself, Samuel and baby Gideon as we walk this journey with Jesus.

Friday, March 7, 2014

The "Beloved Days" (Lent)

 Ash Wednesday (which was March 5th), signaled the beginning of Lent ( 40-day liturgical period of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving). Historically, the season of Lent lasts from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday (The day before Easter) and includes the Paschal Triduum (the three-day period therefore from the evening of Maundy Thursday to the evening of Resurrection Sunday.)]  Lent is traditionally described as lasting for forty days, in commemoration of the forty days which, according to the Gospels, Jesus spent fasting in the desert, before beginning his public ministry. 

As I use these 40 days to prepare my heart for Easter, I find myself most connecting with the Tagalog language (an Austronesian language spoken as a first language by a quarter of the population of the Philippines) that refers to Lent as "Mahal na Araw" or "Beloved Days". As I purpose to reflect daily on a God who would ransom me with his son, I cannot help but be overwhelmed by such an extravagant love.

March 4th was the 1 year anniversary of my son's adoption being completed. It was not spent celebrating in the way I had imagined, because my precious boy was ill. Instead we spent the evening wrapped in a blanket on the couch until he fell asleep on my chest. It is in these moments as I kiss his head and breath in his sweaty little ringlets that I find myself in a very reflective and prayerful place filled with gratitude to my faithful God- a God that has not left us as orphans.

Ephesians 1:4-8 He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished on us.

I pray you also use these next 40 "Beloved Days" (Lent) to reflect on God's love for you.

This song expresses my prayer to God during this time and I hope it ministers to you as it has to me.
What Love is This- Kari Jobe

 Matthew 6:19-21 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.


Saturday, December 7, 2013


Had I been Joseph's mother
I'd have prayed
protection from his brothers:
"God keep him safe, 
he is so young
so different from 
the others."
Mercifully she never knew
there would be slavery
and prison too.

Has I been Moses' mother
I'd have wept
to keep my little son;
praying she might forget
the babe drawn from the water
of the Nile,
had I not kept 
him for her
nursing him the while?
Was he not mine
and she
but Pharaoh's daughter?

Had I been Mary
Oh, had I been she
I would have cried 
as never a mother cried,
"....Anything, O God,
but crucified!"

With such prayers
my finite wisdom
would assail
Infinite Wisdom
should prevail!

-Ruth Bell Graham

Every night I pray over my tiny boy, much the same way I imagine these mother's prayed for their sons. As I hold his chubby little feet in my hands, smell his sweaty little baby head nestled under my chin, and see his eye lashes resting softly on his cheeks, I am overwhelmed with love for him. So when I think about the heart ache they must have felt when they saw there babies suffering, I can only imagine they must have questioned their God. Had their pain and the suffering of their precious boys been God's best for them?  Why didn't He intervene on their behalf? Why didn't He rescue them?

Had Joseph been rescued from his brothers, thousands would have perished in famine, perhaps even Joseph. Had Moses not been raised in Pharaoh's house, he would have perished and his people would not have been set free from slavery. And had Jesus been saved by God, we would all perish in our sin. God's wisdom is beyond what we can see or understand. While that does not make the pain hurt less or the suffering more tolerable, it does make God trustworthy. 

If your heart is breaking, Beloved hold on! You are not alone. There is no promise from God that we will be rescued, but He does not leave us. Jesus knows first hand how you are feeling, if you are crying out and feeling scared and alone. Jesus has been there. Mark 14:36 "Abba, Father," he cried out, "Everything is possible for you. Please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine." He asked if it is possible that God take his suffering from Him. He also cried out on the cross in Matthew 27:46 "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?"

Christmas is a time to celebrate hope. The hope of heaven (Jesus) and promise of wholeness which was born in pain (Labor) and brought forth in suffering (The Crucifixion).

Saturday, October 5, 2013

I Am Raising A Lion!

It has been a long two weeks and many nights I have sobbed myself to sleep in prayer, pleading with God to bring wholeness, in lives of those I love, where there has been only destruction. Thank God, as Shelia Walsh would say, "My God lives close to the floor."  

As I write this post, I have three close friends who are severely broken, due to domestic violence in their "Christian" marriages. I have seen them lain low and humiliated by the ones meant to love them as Christ loved the church. I have held them until they were limp, while their weeping shook me to the core.  And now as they seek safety and healing, I have seen them judged and condemned by their different church bodies. When did the "Church" become an intolerant, disinterested, abuse condoning, non-compassionate, mob of pharisee stone throwers? Oh wait, I forgot, this is what the "Church" has been known for throughout history. 

Mark 2: 17- Jesus said to the pharisees, "It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but the broken."

There is never a time when abuse of any kind is acceptable or should be condoned for any reason. There is nothing acceptable about crushing another's body or spirit. To all of those who would tell a woman being abused by her husband that God commands her to stay in that marriage and that she just needs to pray harder or be a better wife, I would argue that you and I do not know the same God. 

Isaiah 61 is my life verse, but I believe with all of my heart that it is not just my calling, but God's calling for all those that are called by His Name.

1The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,a
2to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
3and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.
4They will rebuild the ancient ruins
and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
that have been devastated for generations.

For as long as I can remember, people have referred to me as a lioness, because of my deep desire for justice. However instead of that being a compliment it was most frequently spoken in a way that was meant to hurt me or knock me down a peg, and some how teach me to be a lamb or a rabbit. It is only now as I raise my son to be a lion, one who fights for the rights of others and loves fiercely, that I realize that what the enemy meant to harm me, God intended for my good. After all, lambs do not raise lions.

Yup, that is my rough and tumble son "baby wearing" his female baby doll dressed in pink at the park (his choice). And although the older boys and some of the fathers looked at him a little funny, when he pulled his pink baby out and rode down the slide with her on his lap, he smiled the biggest grin and simply ran over to push her in the swing.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Caterpillars, Toads, and Ducks

The end of Summer is typically really hard for me, as I know we here in upstate NY are headed for the cold dark days of Winter. I think I actually mourn the lack of sun. However, with the preparation I have been doing to begin homeschooling the Tiny Human, I have been filled with enthusiasm and have almost failed to see the days growing shorter. Not to mention we have been using every hour of day light, since I have a very busy toddler.

 Even though, Samuel will only be two in October, I have decided to embrace a Montessori type approach to education, so we are beginning a very relaxed but purposeful exploration of the world around us to develop a love for learning and early reading and writing skills. For Sammy at this age, all of his learning takes place through hands on experience, so we will be getting dirty a lot during the Autumn. Deuteronomy 6:7 "Teach your children diligently. Talk to them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way, when you lie down and when your rise up."

My love of learning began with my mother saying, "It is not how much you know that is important, but whether or not you know how to find out the answers to what you do not know." This is one of my great desires for my son, that he will love to learn and study, especially the Bible, to find answers to his questions. This is why I am digging into the book of Exodus and digesting it bit by bit for what seems like the millionth time. Matthew 7:7 "Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you."

Summer came to a close with a splash, literally. Sammy jumped off a diving board the last Sunday on August, following a baptism service.

He has been able to hold his breath under water for a while now and has recently started to try and swim under water on his own. But his lack of swimming skills could not deter him from the temptation of springing off of the diving board, like the big kids, into my arms. And the thrill of that brief moment when you feel like you are flying was enough to keep him splashing until my arms were heavy and I was too tired to tread water beneath the diving board anymore.

Our garden, I believe, has also given us our final harvest before the snow flies. Gardening has been a good lesson in perseverance for me. Between flooding and the snail plague we encountered, I was tempted more than once to give up, but in the end, all of the healthy produce has been well worth the frustration.

In the same way, Galatians 6:9 reminds us, "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up." 

I work in a high burn out position, with mentally ill patients who are in Crisis. It can become exhausting. However, I try to remember that my labor is not in vain, and that showing my patients love and dignity is showing them Jesus and I pray that some day they will produce fruit.

This week with the start of school, we are studying the letter A and apples, as well as the life cycle of the Monarch butterfly. What this means more simply is that my dining room table is covered in bug jars that my son watches at breakfast lunch and dinner and lays hands on when we hold hand and pray for meals...which I find hilarious.

It also means we have a conversation about gentleness several time each day, so that my son does not squash the poor critters with his chubby little fingers. We have been collecting different caterpillars all week, one we know will turn into a Monarch, and the rest we will have to wait and see.

Hunting for caterpillars on nature walks, while feed giant fish, and picking up every bird feather we see has been a real joy.  Not to mention crawling under low pine trees and running through wide open fields.

Studying the letter A and apples has been a lot of fun too. In addition to picking apples off our back yard trees and eating them on the spot, we have taken them to riding lessons to feed the horses, and we spent a day at the Cider Mill, which included apple fun, duck feeding, and miniature tractor riding.

 Oh and the close of our week, perhaps my son's greatest joy was finding and holding a toad in our friend's yard. Little boys are a wonderful blessing. And God continues to show me more of himself through my son every day.