Wednesday, May 27, 2015

"Please don't give up on me."

"I feel like the boy who cried matter how bad I want this, it's too late. I know that."

I vacillated between compassion and irritation listening to Missy's biological dad plead his case before the judge.

Today's termination trial spanned six hours. SIX. My back was stiff; my patience thin.

The facts are stacking. He only visited his daughter six times in twenty months; he hadn't completed any of the goals in his parenting plan; he spends more time in jail than outside, and he admitted to having a very serious drug problem.

The judge was kind, but firm, and found the burden of proof met. He terminated rights.

Early on, this morning, Little Missy's dad vocalized his desire to voluntarily sign over his rights. He asked many questions, but the one that mattered most to him was that Ben would continue to be her father. Ben took her to three of the six visits and although it was for purposes of scheduling, today, I am so thankful for our decision. In some small way, I think, it eased the tearing in his heart to know that the man his daughter will grow-up calling "daddy", always showed him kindness and respect.

I hate the political bologna that plays out every time I'm in that courtroom, but I couldn't be mad at dad for changing his mind and requesting a trial. It was his last chance to fight for her.

I was able to look past his excuses for walking away and saw the honesty in his heart. Though his experiences with Little Miss were limited, he remembered every one, highlighting the first time they met and her first neck grabbing hug.

His plea to the judge came from such a place of brokenness, his words have haunted me the rest of the day - "I hope this is the time that someone or something will give me another chance. Please don't give up on me."

Even though this judge drug both cases a full year past our expectations, I am thankful for his leadership and respect his character. He responded to Missy's dad, gently, saying, "You turned your back on the resources we offered. You can't and haven't been able to help yourself and because of that, you will not be able to help or care for your daughter. I have to act in her best interest."

Dad cried softly and took his defeat with humility.

I tried to make eye contact with him as he was escorted out of the courtroom by police officers, but he never looked up.

I will, likely, never see him again.

As soon as I picked up the boys, they wanted to know what happened in court. I gave them a edited version of the day and challenged them to pray for Little Miss' dad, as the burden in his heart could be too much for him to bear.

The outcome of today puts us one step closer to adoption, but there is no victory in witnessing such devastation. This is the fourth time we've walked this path, but it never feels right or natural; I don't think it ever will.

Please draw this sweet man to you. Cloak him in your presence and protect his frailty. Bring him a mentor that will shoulder his deficiencies and guide him to wholeness - someone who will persist and cheer and point him toward love at every turn. I have seen glimpses of his heart for his daughter...give him the same glimpses of your heart for him. Anchor his hope.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Day will Bring it to Light

Cisco's therapist came over, this week, to say goodbye. She joyfully graduated him from therapy right before his adoption hearing. As I walked her out, Cisco ran ahead to join his team in the outfield as Ben pitched a home run to LJ - another plus to having a house full of boys the same age.

As I thanked her for all she had done for our family and affirmed her role in God's healing of Cisco's heart, she teared up and said, "What you guys are doing here is really something." I tried to wave her comment away, but she stopped me, "No. Really. Most of the homes I visit don't look like this [she gestured toward the lively baseball game] and most of the kids I see don't have outcomes as positive as Cisco's."

She was a complete godsend to our family. Watching her leave was an emotional rite of passage.

I took this picture, last year February, the first week Cisco and Missy came to live with us.

I've probably looked at it a dozen times since that day, but the uncertainty balled up in those sweet fists and the self-doubt weighing on Cisco's shoulders brings me to tears every time.

What a distinction to see him sitting next to two confident, assured brothers.

With a lot of love and even more tears, he overcame every obstacle he faced, this year. I am wowed by his quiet, fighting spirit.

We met with his teacher, last week, and made the difficult decision to have him repeat kindergarten. I am certain every parent wrestles with such discussions, but the closeness in age between the boys, made it extra tough (Ty is 2 months/1 week older than LJ and LJ is 2 months/2 weeks older than Cisco).

The amount of progress that Cisco made this year is remarkable and could have justified pushing him through to first grade. But here's the truth. While Ty and LJ soaked in the learning opportunities of their first year of preschool, Cisco was found in a condemned motel room, half-starved.

When Ty and LJ raced to the door on their first day of their second year of preschool, Cisco stood in the doorway of his second home and met his foster family for the first time.

Three months into kindergarten, Ty and LJ knew the names of every student in our small community school, while Cisco stood behind his brothers, too nervous to speak through his new stutter and too wounded to risk investing in friends that he might have to say goodbye to...for the third time.

It wasn't just the newness of school that overwhelmed his bright mind, it was the newness of every area of his life. New school, new home, new siblings, new parents, and (of course) new sets of rules all around. It's really no wonder his body was taken by anxiety.

Our little guy had to work, tirelessly, this year to achieve what most of the students in his class take for granted every day. He didn't just fight for academics. He fought for friendships, normalcy, trust, and routine. And because he ended kindergarten a squeak above "average", he would start first grade running faster than the others, continuing his fight to close the gap.

We didn't want that for him.

We want Cisco to rest in the guarantee of a tomorrow that looks just like today.

Last summer was such a kaleidoscope of change and emotion, I'm really looking forward to this summer. There is a great level of peace that comes with knowing your children, inside and out. I am thankful that we've finally reached that place.

When I tuck Cisco in at night and receive genuine hugs and right-on-the-lips kisses, I know his heart is whole.

Over the weekend, I was washing bedding and suggested that each boy take inventory of their stuffed animal collection (each one rivaling that of a zoo) to determine if it was time for a few goodbyes. I told them to make a little pile by the door of animals that they would like the agency to give to other boys and girls coming into foster care.

Ty and LJ produced zero stuffies between the two of them, yet my Cisco came with an armful of lovies and said, "Mom, I brought all of these animals from my middle home, but I don't need them anymore. Let's give them to another kid that has to have a middle home."

Punch to the heart.

That's my boy. He has the sweetest spirit I've ever met.

I was reading in I Corinthians, recently, and this line really struck a chord with me (3:13): "...the Day will bring it to light." That has never stood out to me before, but I like this new-to-me name of God.

The Day.

With love, he wakens his people and brings light to the darkness, cleans out the cobwebs, and fills hearts with song.

It's one thing to experience it myself, but entirely another to watch the revolution in others. Watching this boy's life sing is one of the greatest rewards on earth.

Friday, May 8, 2015

FF: Crock Pot Flank Steak

This is a great work day, crock pot meal! I found this Flank Steak recipe from The Mrs with the Dishes.


It's very easy. Here are the ingredients:
  • 2 pound flank steak
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 4 tbsp brown sugar
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • freshly ground black pepper

I marinaded my steak overnight and cooked it on low for 8 hours. When it was done, I chopped it, diagonally, put it in the broiler for 5 minutes to crisp up the edges, and salted it before serving. It was so yummy, we didn't even use the tortillas I had bought.

The boys didn't love it, but ate it up when I provided them ketchup for dipping.

I paired it with salad, biscuits, and applesauce. We eat a lot of applesauce - which is why we are building our own orchard in the backyard!

Monday, May 4, 2015

She Loved a Little Boy

The drive into town always fills my heart with home. It's more than nostalgia.

I remember the hallway I feigned courage in, moments before Rebekah opened the door to our lives for the first time; sitting in the adjacent hospital room, listening to her muffled sobs as she signed her son over; the small cottage we brought Ty "home" to; the doctor's office we visited after nights of sleeplessness (he smiled at our certainty that something was wrong); the Mexican restaurant we ate at for the first time as a family of three; every corner 7-Eleven (we were giddy over our new technology and its ability to find slurpees); the day we said goodbye to our Colorado family, unsure if we'd ever meet, again; and all the hugs and hellos that came with each trip back.

The wonder of the Rockies match the awe in my heart for this incredible adventure.

Every homecoming picks up at the other's end.

And watching Rebekah share in motherhood moments is beyond beautiful.

Our favorite day was a relaxed one at the zoo; we enjoyed mountain views as much as we did petting the giraffes.

I marveled at how happy Rebekah is. She is still the same bubbly, vivacious friend, I've always known, but there is a new joy in her spirit. She has lost a considerable amount of weight, runs a profitable maintenance company with her husband, and is in the beginning stages of launching her own weight loss coaching business.

It means so much to see her, genuinely, happy and living in peace.

I have never met anyone braver. The strength she mustered to push through horrific times is immeasurable. I would have cowered in the corner after the second or third disappointment, but Rebekah just kept on pushing. She pushed and pushed and pushed until she overcame.

Instead of nursing regret, she embraces today and laughs at the days to come (Proverbs 31:25).

No one would blame Rebekah for keeping all of her time with Ty to herself, but she lives in a state of  sacrifice and finds joy in sharing him with her family.

Nearly six years later, Rebekah told me she never regrets her decision. Her words, instead, are always overflowing with thankfulness for our family and the life we've given her Tyrus.

To be honest, I don't understand it.

And if my experience wasn't firsthand, I might not believe it. Second only to the Father's love, her heart for her son is a treasure in my life and I know Ty will one day realize it, too.

Our reunions are special in every way, but I would be lying if I said they didn't come at a cost. When we left, Rebekah later expressed how emotional saying goodbye was and couldn't help but compare it to the day we drove back to Michigan.

The reminder is necessary, but difficult for me to stomach. All the joy and love in the world don't erase the brokenness in our story. Redeemable paths aren't God's intent, but an overflow of his grace.

The tear of separation will always be shadowed in Rebekah's love for Tyrus. A good indicator that natural emotions exist in supernatural connections.

There really aren't enough words in my heart to describe this woman, her family, and the great God that we all serve.

And she loved a little boy very, very much -
even more than she loved herself.
The Giving Tree, Shel Silverstein

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Open Adoption

For reasons on both sides, it has been two years since we've seen Ty's birth mom, Rebekah. She has as many littles at home as we do and that just makes cross-country travel difficult.

As much as I wish we lived closer, every time we do get together our time is treasured and memorable for all of us. Ty and I are making the trip by ourselves, for the first time, in a few days.

The past 15 months of foster care taught me more things that I wanted to learn, but one truth that surfaced often is the tremendous sacrifice that Rebekah made for her son. I have always known it and given it a place of honor in my heart, but watching the level of arrogance and self-interest that Little Miss' parents possess, in and out of the courtroom, gave me the deepest appreciation for the decision Rebekah made.

Cisco and Missy's parents care, but only in a biological "they-should-be-with-me" kind of way. I realize, now, that the instinct of a mother - fierce protector - is not innate in every woman.

I will never forget the day Rebekah called me a few years ago. She was in the car with her kids and looked in the rear view mirror with a complete sense of overwhelm. It was one of those days. She, immediately, breathed a prayer of thanks to God that Ty was not dependent on her everyday care...that God had provided a family to love and support him. She called to thank me for worrying for him, so that she didn't have to.

I, honestly, cannot comprehend the depths of that love and Ty has only scratched the surface. He is so excited for our trip and can't wait to be in his hometown with his first family. It will be a beautiful reunion!

I will post pictures and notes on my Facebook page, throughout our weekend, and look forward to coming back, here, to share our moments. If you have a question that you would like to ask me, Tyrus, or Rebekah, please leave it in the comments or on my FB page. The three of us will spend some time recording our answers.

Open adoption is such a gift.

Friday, April 24, 2015

FF: Quinoa Surprise

This week's recipe is a Ben invention and family favorite - Quinoa Surprise! The "surprise" is that it never looks 100% the same. A couple of weeks ago, we were out of quinoa and the boys thought it was hysterical that we were just eating "Surprise!" for dinner.

This one is super easy. 30 minutes tops.

First, grab the cutest sous-chefs you can find. We're in jammies because our evenings are on a tight itinerary with a seven o'clock bedtime. Baths and jammies come before dinner in these parts!

The ingredients are simple. Mix together: 
1 lb cooked beef
1 cup cooked quinoa
1 drained can of black beans
1/2 bag of frozen corn
Taco Seasoning (we make our own with this recipe)
If I am feeling really ambitious, I'll cut up onion and peppers and throw them in, too.

Now. The most important part of Quinoa Surprise is the topping.

We add hand-shredded sharp cheddar, cilantro, and chipotle ranch (just mix a few good swigs of chipotle sauce with your favorite ranch dressing). Some of us eat our taco pile with corn chips, while others roll it up in a burrito.

It doesn't look like much...but man do we LOVE it! Each kid, including sister, eats 2-3 helpings. There are never any leftovers!

Stroke Ben's ego if you try it and love it as much as we do.

We like to serve it with a side of cornbread and refried beans.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Team Pinchback

I didn't sleep but a wink. It wasn't just excitement; it was the remembering of all the moments that led us to this place - mine and his.

I spent years praying for babies that wouldn't come and a solid six months living under a suffocating cloud of defeat. It is the only time in my life that I let the pain win and allowed hope to walk out the door. I thank God for the people who didn't give up. The people who continued to pray and shoulder the burden when I couldn't.

I wouldn't go back to tell myself anything. The sharpened character that emerged from that fire is  a treasure that cannot be priced. God redeems. The enemy was successful in stealing my joy and purposeful in his pursuit, but he is no match for God's love or creativity.

I jumped out of bed without an alarm and, excitedly, rushed downstairs to get the boys up. LJ, uncharacteristically, popped out of bed and said, "Today is the big day!" As Sweet Boy climbed down his ladder and, sleepily, sat on my lap, the first tears flooded my eyes. God would have answered all of my prayers with one adoption. He would have satisfied my gut cry with one gift. Yet, my lap was heavy with my third.

More than me, this day was about him.

As we approached the courthouse, he looked up and said, "Mom, we've been here before, remember?" Yes. The past 15 months were booked solid with ridiculous red tape and multiple DNA tests.

For the first three months Sweet Boy lived with us, he held a bucket on his lap in the car because every other trip resulted in anxiety induced throw-up. He could barely speak without stutter and nearly every conversation was overtaken by tears. He didn't love; he didn't care. He was so fearful of not meeting our expectations that he self-disciplined and hit himself into submission. His story is so pervaded with neglect, I am astounded that he survived.

When it came to Sweet Boy's dark corner of the world, the enemy was near successful in destroying his life, but he is no match to God's power.

God redeems; he makes a home for the lonely (Psalm 98:6).

I had "Team Pinchback" tees made for our special day and my mom bought each of the boys a team hat with their individual adoption days inscribed on the side (Little Miss has a set waiting for her). Sweet Boy wasn't given his uniform until the official judgement, making that moment even more special!

Before the ceremony started, I stole a few minutes to tell my baby how proud I was to be his mom.

(Seriously cute - those dimples melt my heart!)

I may not have carried these babies in my belly, but my heart doesn't know the difference. I will never forget each moment the judge declared it in the best interest for them to forever be under my care.

Twenty-three people came alongside our family to cheer on our newly drafted member. What a gift each of them are and special thanks to my sweet friend, Casey, for helping us remember the day with pictures!

It is with so much joy that I introduce you to the sweetest boy I've ever met, our third born son - Francisco Jonathan Pinchback.

His new middle name honors the greatest spiritual influencer of our life and is profoundly appropriate as it means "Yahweh has Given".

God has entrusted this precious boy to our family and we will do our best to honor Him with our lives.