Thursday, December 22, 2016

Fight for Love

In looking back over my year, there is one question circulating my mind and it doesn't have anything to do with my house or money or body weight.

With what measure did I love?

Fourteen months ago, God violently shook our hearts and asked us to step outside of our plan and bring home baby number five. Only weeks into sleep deprivation and complete chaos, God pulled me in further and asked me to show up for Sweet Mama. This wasn't a gentle calling that lead to a casual check-in. It was more of a walk-into-her-room-and-scatter-the-darkness type of event.

After 30ish years of walking with the Lord, I can boast in my direction following. I wouldn't say that I always see the world through a kingdom lens or that my natural frustrations don't blur the clarity, but when it comes to Sweet Mama, somewhere along the way, God swapped my heart for his, and loving her became instinct. But not easy.

It wouldn't be fair to measure my love for my kids, or my husband, or my closest people. That's too obvious; predictable. Loving them takes very little effort.

The true measurement of love is found in messy relationships with obscure boundaries and complicated outcomes. Sometimes those relationships exist within our families and friendships, but more often they surface, suddenly, in the catastrophes of life. Because these experiences are marked with pain, bias, and inequality, it's easy for justice to strangle our love. We must fight for love.

I have been wrestling God over my relationship with Sweet Mama. He asks for more than I want to give and he never lets me settle within boundaries that make me feel safe. Sweet Mama is a fighter by nature and rules her life with aggression and manipulation.She takes more than she gives and rarely acknowledges our part in her story. It would be easy to cut off our connection and most would find it reasonable - maybe even necessary.

A few weeks ago, Sweet Mama started a social campaign to take her kids back and used pictures I had sent her. In my humanness, I was enraged. For several hours, I let myself think on my own and to those closest to me I ranted. It wasn't her intended threat that angered me (our adoptions are final and legal), it was her disregard for my heart and theirs. To no one in particular, I raised my fist and listed all the ways I had gone beyond. I relived the atrocities she committed and made sure to emphasize words like MY KIDS and MY FAMILY.

Earthly wisdom encouraged me to close accounts, inform police, and take precautions, but thankfully the whisper of the Holy Spirit held more authority. Even in my fury, I knew the answer. She needed love more than ever. Her brokenness leaves her desperate, grasping for pieces she will never be able to put together on her own. I let my frustrations rest and after a few days, let God use me to administer healing to her heart. In the beginning of our conversation, her walls were very dark. Her words were ugly and harsh, but mine were soft and kind. When she spewed, I listened. Twice, I wanted to walk the other way; twice, God, gently, nudged me back. I listened; she cried. And then we broke through.

It took both patience and time for the window of her heart to open long enough for me to slip through. It wasn't as grisly as she let on, but it was full of dents and craters. Family, life, people, men - they've all let her down. The knee-jerk Christian response to this dilemma is to vocalize God's all encompassing, redeeming love...but then walk away.

That isn't gospel. That isn't love.

God uses us to reveal himself to others, but if we refuse to view people the way he does, we will never make impact. On the contrary, when we ignore our impulses and let the love of God turn our hearts toward others, that is where the supernatural magic happens.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Adoption is Ugly

We had the rare privilege of sharing our weekend with Ty's first mama, Rebekah. Our last few visits have been in Colorado, which means this was the first time Rebekah had met all of our kids! Having her in our home at our dinner table made the world right, again. The first few hours, Ty couldn't stop talking. He wanted to share his whole world. Between writing samples and yo-yo tricks, he would ask, "What's your favorite color?" and "How long did we live together?"

My heart soared the heavens watching Ty's love explode at having both of his mamas in one place. I had to push tears to deep places as our conversations traveled varied depths. Apart from the distance, we would say our relationship is ideal. Our love is genuine, our connection runs deep.


The treasure we find in each other came at such a high cost. So high, that it will never be paid in full. Listening to my friend -  my sister - share her heart and the loss that tugs at its corners was almost too much to hear, but it's critical for our relationship. I'm not about meaningless friendships. The real nuggets of gold are unearthed in hard, rocky places and we can't be afraid to visit them.

While my path to adoption was marked with loss, the pain was dulled the first time I held Tyrus in my arms and obliterated by the time I rocked Hunter. I haven't forgotten the start of our story and, easily, slip into the darkness with other friends walking it, but it's not a reality I live with every day. Eight years ago, I begged God to let me mother one...and, today, there are five little people around my table asking for breakfast - simultaneously; at high volumes. That's my reality.

Rebekah's path is different. She gave what most women couldn't and while adoption is packaged pretty and our photos look nice, the violent tearing of Rebekah's heart is kept hidden. Only those that dare to ask, hear the truth. There is not a bandage big enough to cover the hole. She watches another woman mother her son.

As the other woman, I listen to her heart and acknowledge the pain to which there is no cure. The best we can be is honest and share our son without fear, arrogance, or distrust.

As the three of us drove to the airport, Ty and Rebekah sat side-by-side, fitting a year's worth of questions in one sitting. I fought tears when I looked in the mirror and saw Ty fighting them, too. Rebekah shared a lesson with him about anchors and how powerful they are when buried in our heavenly Father. Then she gave him a little anchor keepsake to remember all that she had said. When I told him it was okay to be sad, he sobbed and Rebekah held him. I barely got through a prayer of safe travels before we got out of the car and by the time we stood together on the sidewalk we were a hot mess.

Anyone witnessing the scene would have been teary over the untamed weeping of a seven year old boy, but had they known the truth, we would have been an internet sensation for sure. This was the first goodbye that Rebekah's pain echoed through her son's. I thought he was going to be sick. I'm not sure how long we stood there or how many goodbyes were said, but Ty was in the car ready to buckle and jumped out before I could shut the door, screaming for Rebekah to come back.

We both knelt down and circled him tight. Our words and tears covering our huddle; I'm not even sure who said what, but we told him how supremely special he is. That he has two mothers whose love for him is only second to God's. Rebekah and I, hurriedly, exchanged love, both afraid to look at each other, and Ty cried most of the way home.

As soon as we walked in the house, he ran to Ben and the tears came again. We held him together and let him cry it out. We didn't bother with words.

Adoption is beautiful and redeeming and an ever-reflection of God's love for us, but not tonight. Tonight it's ugly, unfair, and unnatural.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Small Moments

When I was younger, who was going to be where was a big deal. In fact, when I was 16, I threw a party and the first two calls I made were to the coolest boys at church. I wasn't crushing on either of them, but if they showed up, they would draw numbers and the party would be a success.

As the story goes, both boys came. And I ended up marrying one of them. I would definitely consider that night a win.

I, recently, turned 35. Hands-down my favorite thing about my thirties is the rich contentedness. I still like that same boy to show up to my parties, but beyond that there is a settled peace about our life. And that's saying something with the circus we're trying to run around here. It makes sense why so many kids are embarrassed by their parents actions.

Kids are still working it out; they're excitable. And when excitable bumps up against steady, there is bound to be a reaction.

The other day one of the boys said, "Mom, can I sleep with you tonight?"


"But why? I really want to snuggle...ALL night."

Because I want to snuggle your daddy all night.


There are lots of reasons, but mostly because he keeps my feet warm and gives me really, really, REALLY good kisses. I love kissing your dad.

Immediately I received a "MoMMMM!!!" with an exaggerated eye roll and head shaking.

We don't hide our affection from our kids. In a world of shadowed love and manipulation, it's really important that our kids see our outward displays of love for them and each other. And even though they feign disgust, I think they like to see us playing kissy-face. It makes them feel safe; secure.

And security is on the short list of things we must instill in our kids.

At seven, the boys have already experienced some pressure from their peers. In fact, one of them refused to swim all summer at day camp because someone told him he was fat, during the first week. I wish I could whip up a smoothie that would, instantly, fill our kids with super-knowledge. I want to infuse my experiences all at once to save them from difficulties I've seasoned. Knowing I can't is frustrating. Instead, I have to standby this slow evolution and remind myself that these things take time.

Our sweet Cisco boy came to live with us two and a half years ago, and would you believe that we're, just now, starting to see our son for the first time? Security doesn't happen over night - or even many nights. The same could be said about character, humility, patience, and the like.

We have to be steadfast and we can't let the gut-punches win. There are little people watching. Yes, they see our mess-ups and slipped frustration, but they also see our resolve to do what's right. They value what we value and love what we love.

Ben was outside throwing the football with the boys, this week, after an hour or so, Cisco looked up and said, "I love you, dad."

Small moments matter.

While it will take decades for them to settle into their own identities, there are hundreds of points along the way that our actions drive their roots deep.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Light-Wrapping in the Dark

I am a hard-working, educated mama. For dinner, I had a large salad and chicken pizza, drizzled in barbecue sauce. For dessert, I had a sugared donut from our favorite cider mill. I could call more than a dozen people, right now - this instant - that would show up for me if needed. My bed is warm, my bills are paid, and my morning is full of promise.

I didn't spend much time, today, thinking about the mamas that went without. Actually, I didn't spend any time thinking about anyone. I rushed around trying to do my best to get all my little people to their places. It was one of those days that just didn't work and brought tears more times than not. I exhaled louder than necessary, when I finally sat down in the quiet dark. You know the moment -they're all asleep (you want to sleep) and you drink it in. I love the stillness. It makes total sense that God likes to meet there. I want to LIVE there.

My phone buzzed.

"I'm stuck in a bad situation..."

Sweet Mama.

I put the phone down without reading more, set my head to my hands, and threw out a what-are-you-doing-to-me, "Lord?"

Help her.

"I hear what you're saying, but...." haven't I helped enough? I didn't voice that last part. It sounded better in my head.

Help her.

Our relationship was never easy, but her release from prison has brought an onslaught of uncomfortable conversations and necessary boundaries. I sighed and read the rest of her message.

She needed a safe place to stay. Her roommate was using, her first paycheck undelivered, she had no one to call and no where to go. She apologized for asking, promised to pay me back, and gave me a number to book a weekly-rated motel. I could feel her desperation.

Help her.

Without hesitation, I picked up the phone and called the motel. No room. I, quickly, texted our case worker and asked for resources. Within minutes, she sent me women's shelters and named places to stay clear of.

Everything was full or required in-person payment. The shelters all had wait lists. I was told to call back every day between 8-9am to hold her spot, in hopes that something will open in the coming weeks. For every day I don't call, her name will move further down the list.

I spent 90 minutes scouring the city for a safe haven. Nothing.

My frustration grew with every phone call. Our system fails our kids and, now it's failing her. Sure, Sweet Mama gets help here and services there, but she needs radical intervention - someone to hold her hand and walk her through the mud. With two years of sobriety behind and a heart full of dreams ahead, she is at the point of balance. Anything can happen, but odds point south.

She was forced to stay put, tonight, but we made a plan for the morning. I know God will protect her, but I don't know what that means for me.

Help her.

I wanted to end our relationship three times, this week, but God kept pushing me forward.

In all of his years of ministry, Jesus, certainly, could have used the excuses I've been trying out - this isn't easy; this isn't comfortable; the cost is too great; I've done enough.

But he didn't. And because he didn't, I have salvation, today.

Aren't you glad that Jesus didn't see the soldiers coming and say, "I'm out. THIS is where I draw the line. I've done enough." Wouldn't he have been justified?

As much as I want to resist it, I can't deny the begging of my heart. I don't know what comes next or how this looks. And it's a little terrifying. Okay, it's A LOT terrifying. But, I rest in this - God doesn't abandon us when the monsters of the night creep before us.

Instead, he scatters the darkness and wraps us in light.

We CAN do hard things.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Pieces of Me

My leave-taking from this space was unintended. As it turns out, raising five kids, is tough.

Really tough.

And it's not just because none of them pee without spraying the toilet first.

Somewhere in the meal-making, clothes folding, hair cutting, appointment driving, T-ball cheering, and job going cycle, my identity became singular in focus and so many of my favorite attributes shelved themselves.

It wasn't like this happened overnight. The changes came slowly and, mostly, I was able to re-adjust to each new state of crazy, while living content.

I am a career mama by choice and the sacrifices I've made in that area have probably been the hardest. As challenges and opportunities in the workplace have surfaced, the terms always remain constant. I only have a small portion to give and it has to be enough...even when it's not.

I understand the big picture. And, more importantly, I know who drew it.

I know this time is temporary and fleeting. The sweetest moments will stand out best and we might ask for the clock to reverse. I'm not chasing after tomorrow or glossing over the giggles and kisses today.

But, I do stand in front of the mirror, wondering about the girl who stares back.

Her clothes are wrinkly and hair unkept. Showers, meaningful conversations, and self-investment are luxuries often missed. Apart from Jesus and family - so many things she loves are far from close.

Her dreams are dusty.

A few weeks ago I sat on our back hill and let the tears stream. Ben came and laid his head on my lap and we talked, quietly. I appreciate the steadiness of our marriage. We never rest in the challenges of the day or swap faith for fear. We release our shortcomings to the night and rise in victory with the freshness of morning. Rarely does our frustration attack the other.

So, when it comes to identity, how do I reconcile uneven footing, when my faith and marriage test strong? It's a good life when your God and husband are wild about you...and you know it.

Yet, I look around...and there are pieces of me everywhere and no real plan for resolve. And I plan for everything.

I'm not going to lie, it's unsettling.

Ben and I spent last week in a remote chalet in the Smoky Mountains.


My family took our kids and gifted us several days of solitude. I didn't know how desperate we were for the fill-up, until we got away. Renewal drenched every part - body, soul, and spirit.

I spent a lot of time reading my Bible and shaving my legs.

Although my pieces are still here and there and my day-to-day hasn't changed, I am anchored in Colossians 1:17. He [Jesus] is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

What a relief.

My pieces aren't missing! Some are just...well, sort of stretched out of sight, with supernatural elasti-glue.

The adventure of it teases me with promise. While the picture grows with each fixed section, how many fragments dangle in shadows waiting for discovery?

Some pieces won't fit for a long time; others will surface easily.

But, they're all here...

.....even if the baby dunks them in the bathtub or they double as artwork for a season.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Muting the Sigh

God has been kneading my heart over the last few weeks, stretching and pulling, bringing the knotted, ugly pieces of me to the surface.

I have been wrestling with my apathetic feelings toward Sweet Mama, lately, and arrogance has crept in. The reel of mind conversation loops unkind, but genuine words.

I’ve done enough.
No one else would go this far.
She’ll be pregnant again in four months.
I am done with her; I am done with this.
I don’t care.

We have continued to email back-and-forth from prison. I stick to talking about the kids, because it’s the only conversation that doesn’t frustrate my love for her. Mama will be released in a few short months and her plans are not life-giving. She’s going back. To him. To the familiar. To the only life she knows.

Her resolve is to do better, but she doesn’t see the holes of her plan.

She called me, this week, and in a very abrupt, I-think-I-can-intimidate-you way, asked, “So how is this going to work with my kids when I get out?”

I wanted to slam the phone down and erase her from my memory. I’m pretty sure she has mistaken my kindness for weakness and thinks that somehow, in the end, we’ll co-raise her children together.

I tried a rational approach and expressed my hope that one day she would have a strong, healthy relationship with her kids, but walked her through some of Cisco’s traumatic experiences over the last two years in hopes that she would understand why he’s not ready for a relationship, now.

She didn’t see it.

I did more listening than talking and she released the selfish folds of her heart. Her love for her kids is true and real, but it’s tangled in her childlike focus on what she wants. Her experiences limit her abilities. She has probably never felt the depths of a mother’s love. Never felt sacrifice or cheering or mama bear protection. If she’s never seen it modeled, how is she to know?

We got off the phone and I was angry. I was angry that Sweet Mama couldn’t understand the fragility of Cisco’s heart or the inappropriateness of bringing one of the babies with me on a prison visit. She doesn’t see her relationship with me as a gift and seems to lack social awareness of not only how her words might affect my feelings, but also the usual practice, here.

I spewed my frustration to Ben and in effort to avoid apologies later, I set our conversation and friendship aside for a few days. I didn’t answer her follow-up phone calls or emails.

Instead I prayed.

I prayed for wisdom and asked God for fresh perspective.

His answer came in Galatians 6:9.

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’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve given up on Sweet Mama – because it’s genuine. This path I’m navigating is not worn with travelers. It’s not usual, natural, or easy. I have to check my emotions at every turn and, continually, ask for a new supply of patience. I am not a born quitter, but the complexities of this challenge have worn me. When it comes down to it, my love for my kids is so much greater than my love for their mother.

But, my love for God is so much greater than my love for all else.

It’s no wonder my spirit is split.

I’ve been chewing on these words for days – do not become weary in doing good – do not become weary in doing good. Do not give up. Do not give up. Do not give up.

This morning, my reading was in Ephesians and I found the comfort I needed to right this flip-flop.

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good…

I was CREATED to do good.

And I agreed to love like Jesus when I said yes to him and yes to Sweet Mama.

I have to push forward. I have to continue to step well outside natural boundaries. I have to love this woman that is so difficult to love...because it’s in me.

The Jesus in me will erase my disgust, mute the sighs, and try again, today.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Family of Seven: Staying Organized

I've been wanting to do this series for awhile.

Probably the second most asked question, right after, "Are they all yours!?!" is in regards to how we make this thing run with so many little people.

I like to think that organization is one of my spiritual gifts, which is good, because it's critical to making sure we get to where we need to be on time with smiles on our faces!

I'm going to take you on a tour through some of the key areas of our house, so that you can see what we've done to make our home run efficiently.

I love a pretty house - I really do. One day when all of the kids are grown and gone, magazine pages will be a reality. Today, function has the highest importance.

Tip #1: Choose Function

Every weekend, I sit down and look at our 7-day calendar to map out meals and clothes. Weather and events always effect the outcome.

We'll talk about meals later.

I lay out (and coordinate) clothes for each kid for the week ahead (Monday through Friday). This brings GREAT freedom in the mornings. We also put other specifics to the day in these bins. For example, the boys keep their library books in the weekly drawer that they need to remember to take them back to school. It's liberating. I don't have to remember who needs money on this day or which boy has gym on that day. I do this, without fail, every week.

While I don't layout my own clothes for the week, I do choose my next-day outfit, every night, before I go to bed.

Tip #2: Clear Expectations

We have posted charts for each boy that gives them clear directions on what they need to do each morning, afternoon, and night. Our charts are eye level and plastic-coated. When we first started this, last fall, they used a dry-erase marker to check each box, every day. Now, the charts serve more as a reminder. Only one of them needs to still use his, diligently, because remembering is not his strong suit.

Several months ago I lost it over a crumpled towel on the floor. I was so angry at....well, me. The boys couldn't reach the hooks on the back of the bathroom door, so what else were they supposed to do, but throw it on the floor for me to rescue? I made it my job to find hefty bathroom hooks to suit our family. Now, the boys can be responsible for hanging their own towels after every use. Sigh.

Tip #3: Everything Must Have a Place

With seven people in this house, everything must have a place or we would be overtaken with clutter. I am a fanatic about this rule and keep a large stash of hooks and velcro on hand for those pesky things that try to sneak-attack. Fly swatters to soap bars, everything has a peg, bin, or cupboard. No exception. It's the only way to stay tidy.

Because our mudroom only accounts for half our family, the littlest Pinchbacks have hooks for their coats and backpacks outside their bedroom door, at their level. Every morning, Edie gets her own coat and backpack on. She's only 2, but she knows the routine and we've made it easy for her!

Toys and school work seem to be the biggest culprits around, here. Some of my solutions include homemade clipboards for artwork (these only cost me a few dollars each to make - we have several around the house).

My favorites gets printed (Artsonia) and framed in one of our picture galleries. You'll see Cisco's sweet owl below in the far right.

We have a command center in the kitchen for notes, cards and reminders. The bins below the corkboard organize our mail and papers into neat to-do piles.

My kitchen is not large and we don't have a pantry. Space is a premium. When the kids daily folders and art supplies started exploding, I had to find a solution. The re-org required me to part with items that we don't use, daily, like my waffle maker. Sure it's a bummer every three months when we think about it, but the freedom from clutter is WELL worth it. I'll see that large salad spinner a decade or so.

I heart refrigerator and food organization, too, and keep our snacks at little-people grabbing levels.

While we're in the kitchen, let me show you my favorite nook. Yes, the bread is placed in its properly marked container, but my favorite item, here, is the velcroed-to-the-wall chalkboard that serves as our 10-day menu planner. Above it, I keep a very official sticky note for items we need at the store. Milk 
is always on the list.

For toys, we keep it very simple. I think it took me about 3 1/2 kids to realize that we had way too many. We are intentional, today, with the gifts and toys we buy, so that we don't create waste.

Edie and Hunter have a kitchen set in their bedroom with preschool-like picture labels to tell them where items go. With a little help from an older brother, Edie is getting really good at picking up her room.

I use our TV cabinet in the living room to hide our most played with (Hunter proof) toys - Kid K'nex, Magna Tiles, Duplo Legos, and miscellaneous baby toys.

 And these awesome IKEA shelves hide all the big-kid toys in the basement playroom. They started out with pretty, clean white labels on each bin, but Edie has taken to slowly peeling them off when she gets a chance. Stinker.

The playroom also has our well loved and worn play clothes. This is probably the most visited center by the four oldest. The boys are most often in capes, but Edie gives preference to her inner ninja turtle.

I'll end with this. My kids are collectors - all of them. Inevitably, where I see trash, they see treasure. They each have their own special bin. They can keep anything - and I mean anything - they want in their bin. I am not allowed to meddle, organize, or color-code their special place. It's just for them. There's only one (sneaky) mom rule. When the bin is too full to close, he/she must go through it and prioritize which items to keep versus toss. I can't even tell you how many arguments and tears this saves.

I understand that not everyone loves to straighten as much as I do, but I hope these tips will give you as much freedom as they have me. And maybe a boost of confidence that you, too, could add one more foster care lovie to your home....