Tuesday, December 16, 2014

"I Hate Christmas"

Ok, hear me out before you start sending me messages telling me what the true meaning of Christmas is all about...

This past weekend one of my daughters made this statement, "I hate Christmas."  I listened to her heart, loved on her, and intended to send her a note later in the week when she was a little more ready to hear it, reminding her that Christmas is all about HOPE, and Jesus coming down to earth as a baby, vulnerable and innocent, because of His love for mankind. Telling her that we cannot allow the circumstances around us to rob us of the joy of this season.

I intended to, but then we had court, and the Grinch (aka the judge) stole Christmas right out from underneath me.  He ruled that two of our boys would not be spending Christmas morning with us. 

Now another of my daughters said to me, "Mom, I hate Xmas." What she meant was that she hates all the commercialism of Christmas that takes away from the true meaning of the holiday.

Lest you think I am raising a household of Grinches, I assure you that I love Christmas, I love the music, the lights, the decorations, the stockings, the food, the sense of peace on earth, I love all of it. (And for the record, so does my other daughter, Jennah!)  I love the traditions of Christmas, or at least I did.

Honestly though, this latest ruling has taken the wind our of my Christmas sail.  It is as if the Grinch himself came and took our Christmas tree back up the chimney.

To be fair, I was already struggling.  Jeremiah got married back in November and we were adjusting to the knowledge that we would not be spending Christmas day with him and his wife.  My heart was already sad by how life is changing.  I mean you are talking (or reading from) the girl who cries after all the presents are opened every year because it marks a change.  This is the last year we will give a baby doll as a gift....this is the last year anyone will willing put on the feety pajamas...this is the last year before so and so goes off to college....  Remember, I love the traditions of Christmas.

So the news that Christmas morning will not be what we had planned is more than heart breaking.  I am devastated.  I want to do nothing more than lie in my bed and sob...which for the record I have done.  I want to scream at God and question whether or not He is paying attention to what is happening down here on Railroad Street...which for the record I have done.  I want to complain to anyone who will listen about how our Christmas is ruined...which for the record I AM doing right now.

But what is truth?  Is my current, "I hate Christmas" attitude okay because the circumstances surrounding me are pretty awful?  Or are the words I intended to share with my daughter true?

"Christmas is all about HOPE, and Jesus coming down to earth as a baby, vulnerable and innocent, because of His love for mankind... we cannot allow the circumstances around us to rob us of the joy of this season."


The truth is even back in the day...actually THE DAY, on the day that God became flesh, it was not what everyone had expected.  In fact the world had No room for Him.  When He was ready to enter this cold, sin-filled earth, there was no place for him.

I bet Mary's "Christmas" was ruined when she found out that she was going to have to travel to Bethlehem while being 9 months pregnant.

Or what about Joseph?  Do you suppose his day was ruined when he found out the woman he was engaged to was pregnant?

This is not what either of them expected!

Then they arrive in Bethlehem just as the labor pains begin.  Do you think Joseph stomped the ground and yelled, "Just our luck!" when he found out there was no place but a dirty stable for his wife to give birth in.

Maybe he yelled at God, "Is this what you want for YOUR son?"  "Are you paying attention to what is happening down here in Bethlehem?"  

Or how about Jesus himself?  What a rude awakening to go from Heaven's glory to the filthy, smelly stable.  Do you suppose somewhere in His infant mind he thought, "I hate Christmas."??

I guess what I am trying to say, from my very broken heart, is that Christmas is not....cannot be, about out expectations.  Christmas is about a Holy God having a plan that is bigger than any of us can see in this moment.

Truth is, Christmas is going to be hard this year.  We are going to have to adjust our expectations but I always come back to this
1- God is still God and 2- He is still on the throne.

I am sure we are not the only family who feel like the Grinch has stole our holiday.  Many people have lost loved ones this past year, or even as recently as this past month.  Others will spend the holiday season overseas serving our country, or here missing their loved ones who are serving out country.  Still others will pace the floors of a hospital waiting room on Christmas day.  Someone somewhere will sit in an empty nursery brokenhearted over another Christmas with empty arms.... Truly the list goes on and on.  So what I want to remind each of you, each of us, is that this season really is a season of HOPE.

"The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." (John 1:14)

A God who loves me enough to send His son, knowing the cruelties He would face, surely knows what is happening down here on Railroad Street.

Reminds me of the song, "A Strange Way to Save the World."

"All things work together for the good of those who love the Lord and who are called according to His purpose." Romans 8:28  

(Even when it doesn't feel like it!)

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Do You Wanna Join the Chaos?

Ok, just to warn you right up front, this is not going to be one of my more serious blogs!  It has been an especially stressful day and so I thought I would share something a bit more lighthearted!

It started as an accident actually.  My Myrah girl is away at college and we are missing each other, so I decided to send her a series of different videos: her brothers saying hello, and other silly things.  All of this was happening one night while I was cleaning up supper.  We had eaten spaghetti, and anyone who has ever mixed spaghetti and toddlers needs no further explanation, but for
those of you who have missed out on this delightful experience, I will cue you in on the fact that spaghetti noodles never stay on the table, and they stick to everything.  Add to this a bit of yogurt and a quirky sense of humor and this is the message my sweet Myrah got!  Of course I actually sang it to her, but I will spare you that pain! 

Do You Want to Join the Chaos
words by Marla Graham, music from Disney :)

Do you wanna join the chaos?
There's yogurt on the walls.
Spaghetti noodles everywhere,
There in my hair....there even down the hall.

I use to have a clean house
But now I don't
Children have come to stay
Do you want to join the choas?
It doesn't have to be just chaos.

Myrah responded, "I don't miss that!" and I responded,

"Okay bye"

Keep smiling my friends and find humor in the small things!  Questions, comments, or therapeutic advice?  Feel free to contact me!

Proverbs 17:22 A joyful heart is good medicine,
    but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

This Old House

When I saw this house being torn down the other day, I was struck by incredible sadness.  No, I have never lived there.  In fact, I don't know that I have noticed the house much in the past.  So why was I sad?  Well, I couldn't help thinking about the original builder.

Was it a young man, eager to build a first home for his new bride?  Was he filled with uncontainable excitement as he told his beloved about their first home?

Was it a family farm that had been passed down from generation to generation?  Did the man build it with his own hands?

I couldn't stop thinking about the stories that house had watched unfold: first loves, Christmas celebrations, countless birthdays, a family working together, new life, death, so many things had happened inside these walls.

By now though, those glory days have come and gone and the mark of time and life itself has brought this house to the point where the owner felt it was no longer worth saving.  The valuables have been removed, and all that is left is for the structure to be leveled.

That got me thinking about my own life and how it is like that of a house.  God was the original builder.  He worked hard and planned out all of my days.  (Job 14:5) 

Was he filled with excitement as He talked to His beloved Father God about all the things that lie ahead for this "house?"  Was there long discussions about the family history being started in this new establishment? 

Lo and behold, the "house" was built and I entered the world, just as God had planned and then began to be marked by life itself.  Sin began leaking into my life and making my "house" worn down.  Sometimes the sin that brought destruction to my house was of no fault of my own, and other times....oh other times, I brought the damage on myself.  It wasn't long before my "house" began to look as if it needed some repairs.  As my "house" weathered more days and more damage, it began to look as if it might indeed be beyond repair.  Perhaps it would be more cost effective to simply tear it down and start over?

Oh but that is not at all how God works! 2 Corinthians 4:16 assures us, "Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day."  I am so thankful that God will always view me as a work in progress and a "house" worth saving! 

Oh there are definitely areas that need repaired, but the Master builder will be certain to provide the best care and needed repairs.  You know this makes me think of a song.  

It is an old Sunday School song, He's Still Working On Me The words are:

He's still working on me
To make me what I ought to be
Took Him just a week to make the moon and the stars
The sun and the Earth and Jupiter and Mars
How loving and patient He must be
'Cause He's still working on me

  Think I will have a necklace made with this image on it!  Blessings my friends, I am going to spend this season of Thanksgiving being thankful for the truth of Hebrews 12:2, "fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Compassionate Judgement?

If you follow my blog, then you know that for the last 6 years we have been walking through the world of foster parenting.  Two years ago, the goal for two of the four blessings we have was changed to termination of parental rights.  For two years we have navigated the never-ending roller coaster ride of canceled and postponed court dates.  

At the beginning of the journey we were hopeful that the biological parents would be able to get the help they needed and reunify with the kids.  But as the years ticked by, and more kids were added to our number, and as they continued to struggle with making good life choices, we realized that termination of parental rights would be what was best for the kids.  Each of these sweet babies deserve a permanent, stable future and after 6 years of instability we were ready to move on.

Well the day finally arrived, with great anticipation we headed down to the court house ready to have an end to this craziness, at least for two of these babies.  We were filled with excitement and nervousness as we entered the courtroom and the trial for termination actually began.  The judge was seated at the bench, the state's attorney and DCFS lawyers were ready to go.  The biological parents were there with their attorneys, and we were sitting with our attorney.  Ready, set, go!

Then the strangest thing happened.  As I looked at my brother's face and his wife's face, I was struck with an overwhelming sense of sadness for them.  I was expecting a different emotion...joy that judgement day had finally arrived, "You made your bed, so go lie in it," kind of sentiments. Instead, I was heartbroken at the finality of all of this for them.  The children that they birthed would no longer be connected to them in anyway.  No longer would they have any legal rights to them, even the birth certificates would erase their existence from the lives of these kids.  I should have been jumping for joy...this has been a long, hard battle.  They have been terrible to the children, and terrible to my husband and I.  Time after time they had the opportunity to make changes and they did not even one time choose to make any real alterations.  They may have given a little lip service here or there but in the end they each went right back to the  lifestyles that got the children removed in the first place.  So why was I feeling compassion rather that satisfaction?

As I thought more on this, I couldn't help but connect the events of this situation to what is coming for all of us in the future.  Someday each of us will face our final judgement day (Matthew 25:31-46) and I couldn't help but wonder if God's heart would be as heavy as mine was for these biological parents.  Will He be heartbroken for the people who gave lip service but no real commitment to the life changing relationship with their maker?  Will He be filled to overflowing with compassion for people who continued in their lifestyle even though they had been given opportunities for change?  Will He feel tears spring up as He looks into the eyes of His creation and has to pronounce the judgement that he/she has chosen for him/herself?  I can imagine that His heart will be broken that day, knowing that He did all He could and yet hell is what is awaiting these people.  No more second chances, His name will be forever removed from their birth certificate.  This time, not because He chose that but because they chose to erase His existence from their lives.  It will be a sad, sad day for the Maker of Heaven and Earth when He has to stand in that "courtroom" as tears of compassion roll down His cheeks.  I guarantee He will have no thoughts of, "Well you made your bed..."  Rather, He will likely have to turn away as sadness overwhelms Him when the final judgement is read.

Thoughts?  Questions or Comments?  As always, I love to hear from you!

Monday, June 30, 2014

Living Sacrifice

Well the day has arrived, actually the week has arrived.  Today we have court for what we had hoped would be to be able to intervene and begin moving toward adoption on all 4 of our blessings.  Then on Wednesday, we will begin the proceedings for 2 of them toward termination.  However, with great frustration we were told that our petition to intervene and for full custody has been continued...oh how I hate that word, "continued."

Instead, there has been a petition entered to remove all three boys from our home and now, that is what court is in regards to today.  I have been anxious for days about this.  I have whined to the Lord that this battle has been raging for 6 long years.  I reminded him that I am tired and that enough is enough.  I pointed to their sweet faces and pointed out that they needed permanency and we all had hoped to be able to enjoy our summer without all this drama.  I kicked, I screamed...and God did what any good parent would do.  He reminded me in His gentle way that He was in charge and not me.

He has been speaking to me through verses and various words of encouragement from friends, but then in church yesterday He was finally able to shake me from my tantrum.  It happened during praise and worship.  We were singing Matt Redman's song, "Lay Me Down."  Some of the lyrics read,

I lay me down I'm not on my own
I belong to You alone
Lay me down, lay me down
Hand on my heart, this much is true
There's no life apart from You
Lay me down, lay me down
Lay me down, lay me down

Letting go of my pride
Giving up all my rights
Take this life and let it shine
Take this life and let it shine

It will be my joy to say
Your will, Your way
It will be my joy to say
Your will, Your way
It will be my joy to say
Your will, Your way

As I was singing the lyrics I began to wrestle with whether or not it was my joy to say, "Your will, Your way."  I realized what I truly had been saying is, "My will, my way."  It reminded me of the Scripture from Romans 12:1-2, "Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will."

Years ago, I was in a Bible study where we were discussing this very passage and an older gentleman remarked, "The problem with a living sacrifice is that it keeps crawling off the altar."   Certainly that seems to be the case for me here.  Six years ago when we began this journey, I committed our path to the Lord.  I promised to love each of these babies and told God we would walk this path with Him, wherever it lead. I committed to being a living sacrifice.  

Did I know then how hard this would be?  No.  

Did I know then how long the battle would rage on?  No.

Does it matter?  No

Is God good?  Yes!

Does He love me?  Yes!

Does He love these babies?  Yes!

So this morning, as we prepare for court, I am going to (try to) get back up on that altar and be the living sacrifice I committed to being long ago.  Here's hoping I don't crawl back off the altar!

Prayers?  Questions?  Please feel free to contact me!   

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Faith Dance

So my last post was a bit heavy hearted.  Ok, ok, a lot heavy-hearted!  I admit that we are still walking through some dark and troubling days. And, I still feel very much like we are waiting to hear the final diagnosis.  However, we do not wait without hope.  

As a young girl, I took some dance lessons. I was not really born to be a dancer, but I wanted to be! So after dance class, I would run through all of the moves we had learned to whatever dance we were working on. I would play them over and over again in my head. I often didn’t have the actually music to the song we were performing so I would try to “hear” it in my head. (It was before the days of internet and youtube!) It was also before, "Dancing with the Stars" or I would have added that to my dream!

As I was pondering our situation and anticipating some upcoming court dates, it stuck me that that those dance days are somewhat like our life right now. Though I cannot “hear” God working...I am able to move forward knowing that I have walked through these moves before. That I have already rehearsed with music times when I could see God moving and “hear” what He was saying. So now, without the music, I must have the faith to run through the dance.  The truth is, the music is still playing (God is still here and working), but for this season, I must move forward without hearing it.   Hebrews 11:1 reminds us that, "Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see," so though I am sometimes troubled by all that may lie ahead, I will lace up my dancing shoes and begin moving through the steps I have rehearsed so many times before.  My dance partner is amazing and He knows all the steps...in fact He even created the music! 

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Foster parenting and terminal illness

So you might be asking what foster parenting has to do with terminal illness...it does seem like a strange connection, but it is the only way I can describe what we are now walking through.

When you enter the world of foster care, you always know that there is the possibility that these precious babies will one day be returned to the birth parents. In fact, a part of you hopes that this is exactly what happens because it means a restoration...something broken is now repaired.  Parents who were struggling have gotten the needed help and are now ready to reengage in the life of their children.  This is the goal of foster care.  But, I would be lying if I said that that this is easy.

To be a good foster parent, you must fall in love with these children from the very beginning of their placement.  They need love more than anything else in this world.  (Except Jesus, but He is love, right?)  So on one hand you are committing to love and treasure this child for some unknown amount of time all the while being ready to walk away without question when the courts or social service agencies tell you to.  Often times, you are allowed no further contact once reunification takes place.  Am I the only one who thinks this is crazy?

For starters, what message does it send the child?  Do they not wonder if you no longer care?  Do they not feel a new sense of abandonment?  Oh friends, this system is so broken, a system intended to help children seems to be causing even more harm.

And that is if the birth parents really have worked to get healthy.  What happens when that is not the case and the children return home, to the same broken situation they were removed from?  Then what?  How is a foster parent supposed to feel?  What is "socially acceptable?"

I don't know the answer to that question; I only know how I feel.  These last few weeks we have been preparing our hearts (as best as we can) for the beginning process of two of our babies transitioning home.  This transition is happening, not because the parents have worked to "get better" but rather because the social service agency failed to do their job and these babies have fallen through the bureaucratic cracks.  Because of confidentiality, I cannot go into details but if I did, I assure you that your heart would be sickened.  I have literally been told by a caseworker that, "It is not a matter of if these kids will get hurt, but when," and yet I have to allow them to begin having overnights as we prepare for full transition.  So how do I feel?

I feel like I am sitting in a conference room at a hospital.  The team of doctors are all looking at me with serious, frightening faces.  My stomach is turning and threatens to spill as I prepare to hear their words.  The doctor in charge pulls his chair up next to me and begins, "I am sorry to give you this news, but the results are in and I am afraid their is nothing we can do."

The room starts spinning as I try to focus on what he is saying, "... terminal and it seems there is no hope... try some new treatments but ... no guarantees ..."

My sobs escape from somewhere deep inside my body. I am no longer able to contain my emotions or the contents of my stomach.  The hopelessness feels like it is suffocating me and I struggle for each breath.  Someone is asking if I am ok, if there is anything they can do, but I have no answers.

This is a dark, dark place.  This place of no hope.  And this is where I am, foster parenting and terminal illness. 

I honestly do not know how we will be able to walk this road, how we will do what we are required to do, but I do know that God is still God, He is still good, and He is still on the throne.  I guess this is where faith comes in, trusting God even when I cannot see past the hopelessness.  I blogged about Hope and its opposite, Anxiety a few years ago and as I was rereading those words, I was reminded of this verse in Hebrews:

Hebrews 10:35-36 “Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward.  For you have need of endurance so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised.”

So as I sit hear in the dark, trying to find that confidence I have lost sight of, I will call on the endurance that comes from knowing I have done all that Christ has asked me to, and then I will TRY to rest in what He has promised.

So as I close, I ask you to please, please pray for us in these next few days and weeks as we cling to the promises these two songs remind us of...

I Will Praise You in This Storm, Casting Crowns  and

Bring the Rain, Mercy Me

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Easter, Sacrifice and Lessons Relearned

Déjà vu- that is what I am experiencing this weekend, that feeling that I have already been here, seen this and done this.  Sometimes that feeling can be a good one, like bringing home a newborn child, or a worship time where you really connected with God. And other times, that feeling of deja vu can be less pleasant, like the actual birth of that newborn child, or a trip to the dentist.

The deja vu I am having is so deja vu(ey) I have even blogged about it before. The trouble is, I must be a slow learner and so the Lord is allowing me to walk this road again and (re)learn the lesson.  What lesson is that?  Well, I'm glad you asked.

Just this past Friday I received a phone call from the social service agency who we work with.  It was to inform me that two of the four of these precious babies were suddenly going to start overnight visits, beginning this Sunday and running through Tuesday.  There was no warning, and to say the least it sent our world spinning.  My momma tiger heart was racing and there was really nothing I could do about it.  Well, except pray and...

And what Marla?  Why is it that we feel like we have to do more than pray?  Maybe it is my Type A personality, or a lack of faith, or just a restless momma heart, but to simply just pray about it seems just that, too simple.

But is it?  I think back to the first Easter season, the night before Jesus was to be beaten and killed.  What did he do?  I bet you already know what I am going to say, but let's take a peek at the Matthew 26:36-39:

 "Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”  Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

He prayed.  He sat in the garden surrounded by his closest, albeit sleepy, friends and cried out to the Lord. 

Of course I still feel the need to argue my case, remember I said I was a slow learner.  So here is a glimpse at my conversation with God...

Me-"But Jesus knew what tomorrow was going to look like, I don't"

God-Knowing what tomorrow holds sometimes is harder than just trusting that I will be there, no matter what happens. Proverbs 3:5 "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding."

Me-"But I've worked so hard to keep these kids safe, how can I just let go?  Do you know how hard that is?"

God- Marla, you silly girl, I've got this. Psalm 37:7 "Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him; Do not fret because of him who prospers in his way,Because of the man who carries out wicked schemes."

 Me-"But I am so afraid, how can you say to rest?  All I can think about are the what if's."

God-If I am for you then who can be against you?  Psalm 27:1 "The Lord is my light and my salvation— whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life— of whom shall I be afraid?"

Me-"Do you know how hard this is?"

God-Did you forget that I sent my son, my one and only son, to a cruel and hateful world?  A world that would despise and reject him? A world that would mistreat and kill him?  I've been in your shoes.  I sat back and watched my son suffer agony and chose to allow it.  (Matthew 27)

Me- "How could you do that?  I can't, there is no way I can walk this road you are asking me to travel."

God- I did it because I loved you, enough to make a sacrifice, it was the only way.  John 3:16 "For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him will have everlasting life."

God- and one more thing, you CAN do this.  Philippians 4:13, "I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength."

As you can see, God is pretty wise.  I have spent my weekend fretting about things that I truly have no control over.  I know you won't be surprised to hear that the overnight visit....well, it got cancelled (oh ye of little faith!) and we have court in the morning to determine what direction the next few days and months will take.  I would be lying to say that I am resting easy and not fretting a bit about tomorrow. However, I am trying...and isn't that all any of us can do?
I will leave you with two verses,

Isaiah 26:3, "You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast,
    because they trust in you."


Psalm 37: 5-6 "Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn, your vindication like the noonday sun."

 Trying to SHINE, 

Friday, March 14, 2014

How do you do it?

Recently, I asked my friends on Facebook to suggest some topics for my blog.  Several people suggested that I talk about organization and making the most of our time with our kids.  It is not my typical style but I am going to give it a whirl.  So without further ado...

How do you do it all?  This is a question I get asked a lot, and it is a question I am not 100% sure how to answer. As many of you know, I am the momma of 8 precious babies (ages 19-9 months, a Pastor's wife, I have a weekly radio show that I co-host (Growing Stronger Together), I have the privilege of running an annual women's conference(Shine Ministries), and just this year I returned to the world of teaching.  So, yes, I am busy but the truth is, we all are busy.  And, we all have the same 24 hours in our day.  We are all faced with the same choices on how we are going to spend them. I do not claim to be an expert on time management or organization but I have learned a few things along the way so my next few blogs will be some of the things that work for our family. 

Menu planning
This is probably my most useful tool.  It not only saves time but it saves money.  I plan our menus from month to month.  I know that may seem overwhelming, and if so start with a week or two at a time and work your way up.  Here's how I work it.  First, I print a blank calendar for the month.  I only plan suppers as that is our main meal.  I don't usually write down the side dishes unless I want something specific.  Next, I always try to introduce two new recipes to my family each month so I will start with putting them on the menu on days I know I will have some extra time in the evening.  Then I focus in on Tuesdays.  In the fall and winter, I plan a different soup for every Tuesday (Chili,Cheeseburger, Taco, stuffed pepper, etc.)  In the spring and summer, I plan salads on Tuesdays (chef, taco, chicken, etc.)  After I get my Tuesdays settled, I take it week by week, I add a chicken dish each week, an Italian dish, some family favorites, and before you know it the month is full.  I do plan every Sunday as leftovers, since we get home so late from church on Sundays.  It also helps clean out the fridge for the next week.  Another time saver here is that I store all leftovers in glass containers so that when I get up Sunday, I take off all lids, set the oven on 200* and when we get home from church everything is ready to eat.  
After I have the menu planned, I use it to write my grocery list.  I do all my major shopping once a month and buy in bulk which helps save money.  I also buy 10 gallons of milk at a time and freeze them.  This lasts two weeks if I am lucky!  I do have to make a trip back to the store after about two weeks for more milk, bread, eggs, yogurt, fruit...things like that, but it is a quick trip. I honestly feed my family for under $400 a month.  
     Menu planning also helps with our day to day.  When I get up in the morning, I already know what I am going to cook for supper.  I either get things going in the crock pot or at the very least, get the meat out to thaw, and set things I need out on the counter.  That way when I get home, I am already set to get things going, which helps me stick to the plan.
     Of course, life isn't as predictable as we would like it to be and sometimes our plans change.  It is good to be flexible and allow for this!  If for some reason I end up not cooking a planned meal, I circle it on the calendar.  That way I know that I already have all the ingredients for that meal and can just write it o the next month.
 Goodness, I hope that all makes sense and it is something you find useful.  This isn't my typical blog so I am a bit out of my comfort zone here.  I guess I am writing in the spirit of Ephesians 4:9-12 says it best, 

"Two are better than one,
    because they have a good return for their labor:
10 If either of them falls down,
    one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
    and has no one to help them up.
11 Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
    But how can one keep warm alone?
12 Though one may be overpowered,
    two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken."

So , here's hoping this was of some use to you!  If you have questions or comments I would love to hear them!

Happy Planning, Marla

Sunday, January 26, 2014

"Just a Foster Parent????"

I'll admit, when we first embarked on this foster parent journey, we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.  Already having four biological kids ages 9, 11,12, and 14, we didn't set out to be foster parents on purpose.  I mean we are crazy but not THAT crazy!  However, after my nephew Kyle was killed my husband and I both agreed that we would take a stand against child abuse in any way we could.

That is exactly what happen and in July of 2008, we became "foster parents" for the first time.  We received a call from the Department of Children and Family Services asking if we would agree to allow my niece to come stay with us for "awhile."  Five and a half years and 3 more kids later, we found ourselves in the role of foster parents.

The journey has not been an easy one.

It is not for the faint of heart.

We have learned many things along the way and even though I did not give birth to these last four blessings, they are every bit as loved as my biological children.  I guess that is why it makes me so angry.  It happened again the other day, just before Christmas.

I was on the phone with an agency, regarding a current concern for one of the little ones and the professional (I am being generous here) on the other end of the phone made this statement, "Ma'am, you need to remember that you are JUST A FOSTER PARENT."

I knew I needed to wrap up the conversation before my sinful nature came ripping through, but she just kept going and before I knew it I was uncontainable.  I took a deep breath and responded, "Ma'am, please tell me that you did not just say that I am JUST A FOSTER PARENT, because I believe I am so much more than that."

She asked a loaded question, "Well then, what else are you beside a foster parent."

In all fairness, she asked and it would be rude to leave her question unanswered.

"For starters, I am their aunt, but beyond that, by your own agency's standards, I am an advocate for the children in my care.  I believe that is not only my role, but it is my responsibility as outlined by your policies." I was ready to reload and keep shooting when I came to my senses and realized I could go on for days and it wouldn't change a thing.  So this Momma Tiger retracted her claws and finished up the conversation.

But here it is a month later and it is still bothering me.  Since this latest encounter, I have been toying around with the idea or writing a job description of sorts for everyone out there who is  "JUST A FOSTER PARENT," and since I am up rocking an overtired three year old, tonight seems like the perfect night, so here goes!

Foster Parent Job Description

I am a boo boo kisser- and sometimes the boo boo's have been caused by the senseless behavior of adults who should know better.

I am a rocker, lullaby singer, bad dream chaser -and sometimes those dreams have very real roots.

I am a chauffeur- and sometimes that means driving these babies to places they are afraid to go.

I am a counselor- and sometimes that means having your heart broken into millions of pieces as you listen to the very real fears and feelings of someone so young.

I am an expert at self control- and sometimes that means biting your tongue when you want to criticize the biological parents, or holding back tears until you get behind closed doors.

I am an advocate, all children need someone to be their voice when they cannot be heard- and sometimes this means going to court, hiring your own lawyer, writing letters to judges, governors, and anyone else who will listen.

I am a repairer(with Jesus help, of course)- and sometimes that means more than fixing toys, sometimes that means rebuilding a little person that someone else has broken. 

I am a homework helper- and sometimes that means figuring out how to fill in family tree projects and answering questions harder than those on the SAT.

I am a record keeper- and sometimes this means more than scrapbooking the typical childhood milestones, it means blending what was with what is.  It means documenting odd statements and conversations, every mark or bruise before and after a visit, reporting anything out of the ordinary in just the right balance so it doesn't seem that you are making mountains out of molehills.

I am a promise keeper-and never has it been so critical to keep your word so that you can earn the trust of someone who has learned not to trust.
  Like every parent, I am a nurse, a maid, a referee, a hairdresser, a made to order chef, a launderer, teacher, entertainer, event planner, hugger, hand holder but most of all...

I am a prayer warrior- and sometimes that means standing in the gap when it would be easier to throw in the towel and run away. 

This description is similar to those mom job descriptions you have probably seen, that is because being a good foster mom (parent) and being a good mom (parent), are really one in the same.  There is no distinction between the two...there cannot be if you want to raise healthy kids, "foster" or "biological."  If you do the job right, labels like these will be indistinguishable.

I'll admit, when we first embarked on this journey, I was not sure we could do it.  I feared that I could not love someone else's child as much as those I had given birth to.

I was wrong.  I have learned that it is not giving birth to a child that causes you to love them unconditionally.  It is something unexplainable, much like the unconditional love of God.  It is not something earned or bought...it is just there, free, and for the taking. 

"Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters,"  Colossians 3:23,

Thanks for reading, as always, I love to hear your comments or questions.