Sunday, February 7, 2016

I was in Prison and You Came to Visit Me

Over the last several weeks, I have had many well-intended people question my decision to visit Sweet Mama in prison. I know the concern is for the protection of our family. I understand their unease. I, too, have sought the Lord multiple times, this week.

How did we get, here?!?!

With each question, the Holy Spirit would answer with Matthew 25:35-36.
For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.
My friend and I made the long drive together. She gripped my hand, tightly, and prayed for God's presence, before I walked in. I didn't have the slightest bubble of nerves.

I had to wait in a holding room for two hours before I could see her. I didn't have my phone or a book. I just sat there and prayed. I listened to the sad stories around me. There were many family members visiting prisoners that day and the mood was heavy.

The air was so thick, I pushed through tears, all afternoon. 

I had called the facility earlier to make sure I would be able to see her after making the long drive. The officer on duty said, "You must be Rebekah? You're the only person on her list."

Those few words broke my heart and set the tone for the hours before our visit.

I made eye contact with her from across the room while I was stopped at the third security station. When I passed the final inspection, I nearly ran to her and grabbed her as tight as I could. She sobbed and hugged me back with all her strength.

She kept apologizing for her tears, but I told her I wasn't in a hurry. She could cry for as long as she needed. She asked me a hundred questions in rapid succession. We started with Cisco and exhausted every topic on all three kids. I was happy to share our life with her, as I can only imagine the loneliness that eats through her days.

She asked me if it was hard to say yes to bringing home another baby when the agency called about Baby Brother. I only know how to be genuine, so I shared my heart and the emotions that came before our "yes".

She interrupted me halfway through and said, "I'm glad you brought this up." 

I didn't.

"This is what I have been wanting to talk to you about."

I braced myself for one of the many questions Ben and I imagined she would ask.

"I would like to have him back...what I mean to say is, I am going to fight to take him back."

[Silence]

I was shocked speechless. We, literally, sat staring at each other for a minute without a word. 

When my life - turned TV movie - started playing, again, a thousand thoughts rushed through my head. I am a confident girl who is not afraid of silence - uncomfortable or otherwise. So, I just sat there. I really didn't know what to say. Mama started in about the attorney she is meeting with, her hopes for a strong case, the brokenness in her heart, and the guilt she fights.

I never took my eyes from her.

After her ten minute monologue she looked at my face and said, "How does this make you feel?"

It took everything in me not to laugh. The humor was not in the seriousness of the conversation. I had to push down the giggles because of all the many questions Ben and I prayed and prepared answers for, THIS WAS NOT ONE OF THEM.

I took a breath and very lovingly and kindly said this. "My mama heart understands exactly why you want to do this and even respects your desire to fight. But, I am his mother, too. And as hard as you are going to fight, I am going to fight harder. Your kids have experienced trauma, but they find security in each other. If you saw the love that exists between them - the rolling, belly laughs that only Edie can get from Baby Brother - you would never try to pursue this."

Tears started streaming her face.

"You asked me to always be honest with you, even if the truth would hurt your heart. Baby Brother's adoption will be final in a few weeks. There is nothing you are going to be able to say or do to have the judge reverse his decision. If you follow your heart on this, you are only giving yourself false hope and I don't want to see you even more devastated on the other side."

I took her through the judge's instructions at the end of the termination trial to help her remember that her decision was irrevocable. That she agreed she was not impaired or coerced in any way to sign over her rights. I asked her if she remembered when the judge told her that "changing your mind" is not grounds for an appeal and that the time for filing an appeal has long since lapsed.

She buried her face in her hands and sobbed. I just sat, quietly, and waited.

After several minutes, she calmed. With puffy eyes, she said, "Okay. I won't fight. Hearing you say that you would fight harder, reminds me that you love him as much as I do. I won't fight. You can be his mom."

Looking back, I understand that this is EXACTLY the scenario that keeps adoptive parents bound to fear. But, if I gave in to all of the [completely] rational fears I have had over the last several years, I would have limited God's ability to move in my life. I, certainly, wouldn't be mother to five, and I would have been settling for a pretty mediocre supply of blessing.

I want to live in overflow - every day.

There was absolutely a part of me that wanted to get up from our meeting, walk out on Sweet Mama, and never look back. It would be easy (and justifiable) to convince myself that she is not worth the energy.

But....if I had done that....how would I reconcile Matthew 25? How would I make an account that the Lord asked me to go to him in prison, but I was too uncomfortable?

Our [admittedly] crazy conversation strengthened our friendship. If I had turned my back on Mama, I would have missed my reward. I wouldn't have been able to offer her hope or stomp on the lies of the enemy or hear her parting words, when we hugged:

"Thank you....Thank you for being the only person that treats me like a human being."

I hope this challenges you to increase the depth of your love.

Shove your fears into a closest.
Pray for wisdom.
And invite someone in.

Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers or sisters of mine, you did for me.
 - Jesus




Friday, February 5, 2016

FF: AHHHMazing Chicken Pot Pie


Thank you for all of the kind words and prayers for today. I will be heading out at lunch time to visit Sweet Mama. My girlfriend is making the trip with me and sent me a text, yesterday, that started with "while you're in prison..." I told her I didn't like the sound of that!

The good news is that no matter what difficulties the day holds, I get to come home to my family AND this feel-good dinner!

Although, this recipe comes from The Pioneer Woman, I give the most credit to my sweet friend, Casey. I was near tears with a new baby when she pulled in the driveway with this beauty. Most of our go-to meals don't show themselves for 7-8 weeks, but this one is on a 2-3 week rotation. It's that good!

My second favorite thing about this pie is its versatility. This morning, I made three. One for a new mama (been there!), one to half bake and freeze, and one to half bake for dinner. I will give you the half-bake instructions if you want to add this to your freezer list.

FF: The Pioneer Woman's Chicken Pot Pie


Ingredients:

3 celery stalks, chopped
3 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
1 large yellow onion
4 TBSP of butter
2 cups cooked chicken breast, diced
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup chicken broth
1 chicken bouillon cube
1/2 cup frozen peas
1 cup heavy cream
2 sprigs fresh thyme or a sprinkle of dried
1 tsp salt
Black pepper
1 store-bought box of pie dough (2 rolls)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 and set your pie crust on the counter to warm while you prepare the filling.

Melt the butter in a fry pan/dutch oven over medium heat. Add the celery, carrots, and onion. Saute the vegetables for a few minutes and then add the chicken.

Sprinkle the flour in, stir, and continue cooking for a few minutes. 

Add the chicken broth, chicken bouillon cube and frozen peas, stirring for a few minutes.

Pour in the cream and allow the mixture to cook over low heat, for about 5 minutes, so it can thicken. Season with thyme, salt and pepper. 

Line your pie dish with the first roll of crust and pour your filling into the pan. You want to make sure you have about a half inch of crust showing, so that you can add the top dough roll and get a good folded seal.

Place the second roll of crust on top and fold the edge under, pressing it together with the bottom layer. Doing this will, naturally, form pretty edges. Place a few slits in the top for steam to escape.

If you are baking the pie to eat, you'll bake it for about 35 minutes until the insides are bubbly and the crust is golden brown. Make sure to let your pie sit and thicken for a few minutes before breaking into it.

If you plan to freeze the pie or deliver it as a meal to your neighbor, you'll want to half bake it at 400 for about 15 minutes. Half-baked refrigerated pies take about 20 minutes to warm. Half-baked frozen pies take about an hour to bake.

All of our kids, including the two littles, go crazy for pot pie night!





Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Preparing for Prison

Stand Firm.
Let nothing move you. 
Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord 
because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

[I Corinthians 15:58]

This week, I committed to spending concentrated time in prayer and reading my Bible. On Friday, I will be visiting Sweet Mama in prison for the first time. The closest I've ever been to prison is a juvenile detention center that I used to visit to lead a young women's bible study. I don't expect this visit to be anything like that.

Given her security level, we will be able to speak face to face, but the list of visiting rules is long. I got the shakes reading them because...well... I am a rule follower and will certainly forget that hand touching isn't allowed when tears are trailing her cheeks.

Recently, I gave Sweet Mama my phone number and accepted her call for the first time a few days ago. I happened to be putting Edie to bed, so I switched the phone to speaker when we picked up. As soon as I said, "hello", I could hear the longing in her voice. She is desperate for friendship and desires so much more than I can give. Edie assumed it was Ben on the other side and, immediately, started chatting about her favorite jammies and snuggling her bunny.

I heard the awe before she broke to tears, "Is that...?"

"Yes! We're both, here. I was just putting Edie to bed." I tried to keep it light, "Isn't she a little chatter box?"

Sweet Mama only muffled sniffs. I let Edie talk and listened to Mama cry.

Before our time ran out, I told her that I would be visiting on Friday. The phone went dead before we could say goodbye.

The weight in my heart is not loaded by guilt or charity, but rather genuine compassion. The only difference between the two of us are the families we were born to. Without radical intervention, she doesn't have a fighting chance for a better life. Her world is too narrow and bound by love for a man that has brought her to ruin. 

I fill pages with Truth and encourage her to think big, yet her only dream is to "get out" and find him.

My commitment to prayer, this week, is in effort to squash the natural negatives that flow through my heart and to remember that love always hopes. Every time. In every situation.

Most of my nerves stem from the questions I know are coming. For weeks, Mama has been telling me that she has a few important "things" to discuss with me, but that she must do it in person.

I trust that God will give me the answers when needed, but Ben and I have been discussing one question at length. I am certain she will ask if she can see her kids, again. In prison or otherwise.

I am concerned for her heart after I share mine. Although my kindness may point to wide-open rainbows and ever-after castles of friendship, I am also a protective mama. And happen to be raising traumatized babies. Genuinely, my hope is that one day she and Cisco will both be in healthy, secure places, where a meaningful relationship can really blossom. But we're not there, today. 

After two years, we have finally tipped the scale in the slightest margin and are starting to see real victories with Cisco. Every week, I see new slivers of trust that allow him to inch his toes across the attachment line. I DREAM of the day, he jumps that divider and runs full force into our love. 

Mingling his fragile heart and Sweet Mama's irregular stability is a disaster that we're not willing to risk. And I know that will break her heart. 

I have also discerned an important perception through her last several letters. Sweet Mama questions God for the atrocities she's faced and hates that drugs ravaged her life. But sadly, her reflections are self-focused. She doesn't make the connection that drugs didn't just alter HER life, but nearly broke three little spirits, too. 

My prayer is that I will be able to share difficult truth with her, even though it will be painful to deliver and hear. If she doesn't make the connection between her choices and her kids' sacrifices, she might not ever break the cycle.

Friends, pray for me. 

I am desperate for wisdom as the light and darkness of our worlds are about to collide.



Friday, January 29, 2016

FF: Crunchy Pork Chops



Even though we have a pretty diverse list of family favorites, I was feeling bored when I sat down, last Sunday to form my two week grocery list. I dusted off The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook (the only cookbook I kept when we moved) and decided to make 14 new meals, that we hadn't tried. We're about five in and would you believe that EVERY new recipe was a huge score for the family!?! That makes me excited for the rest of next weeks' dinners!

Again, there was no thought to a picture...but you'll have to trust me on this. The boys told me this was the best "chicken" they had ever had!

FF: Crunchy Pork Chops
Serves 4
Prep Time: 5 minutes; Cook Time: 40 minutes

1 5oz box of Melba toast broken into rough pieces
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/8 tsp sugar
6 TBSP mayonnaise
4 6oz boneless rib pork chops, 3/4 - 1 inch thick

Put your oven rack in the middle position and heat to 425 degrees. Place the Melba toast, salt, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, dried thyme, and sugar in a large zipper-lock bag. Get your days worth of frustration out and pound the Melba toast until you have coarse crumbs the size of small pebbles.

Add 2 TBSP of mayo to the bag and work it into the crumb mixture. Transfer your mixture to a shallow dish.

Working with 1 chop at a time, coat with about 1 TBSP of mayo, using your fingers (it's totally gross), and then roll it into your crumb mix. Press the breadcrumbs into the pork chop to make sure they adhere. If you want gooey-bottomed pork chops, you can lay them right on a baking stone/sheet. If you want them to be crispier, put a wire-rack in your baking sheet, and put the chops on top. I didn't want to mess with the rack, so I just laid them on a baking stone.

Cook them until the outside is golden brown. 22-25 minutes. For best results let them sit for 5-10 minutes before cutting into them.

I made warm apples to go with the pork chops. I just threw 8 apples into my dutch oven with 1/2 cup of water and a sprinkle of cinnamon for about 20 minutes.

I received rave reviews from the critics and made a note to double the recipe next time!




Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Feeling Lost

I have half-written a dozen posts in my head before falling asleep on the couch or dragging myself to bed after the kids go down.

How is it going; how are you doing; how do you do it are the questions on loop, right now. I usually state some form of, "we're exhausted...but finding our rhythm." And that's true.

Transitioning Baby Brother has been much easier than the transition with Cisco and Edie was, but I wouldn't call it easy. Having a baby in the house seems to double the amount of responsibilities we have day-to-day...and there are still four other littles that need us.

Three of our five are receiving special services, right now, which adds extra chaos to an already bursting household. But this is part of the call. Caring for lovies that need a whole lot of love+.

Bonding with Baby Brother was quick and easy. I never had that experience before. He is such a little lover and has, truly, brought so much joy to our home. All six of us are enamored. We met with a pediatric psychologist on Friday and she was stunned by the attachment that exists in just three short months. It doesn't matter how tired he is or how bad his gums are hurting (all 6 front teeth found it timely to fall at the same time), Baby Brother is, constantly, showering us with kisses and head snuggles.

He is so, wholly, entertained by Edie. When I watch them wrestle and giggle and take baths together, I get teary and thank God for pushing our hearts to "yes".

Our family has, definitely, found our flow. From managing the house to getting everyone where they need to be (on time), we all do our part. And there really are few complaints.

Ben and I have been very purposeful in filling love-tanks, individually, and just this weekend we took the four "bigger" kids to an overnight water park for some baby-free fun. Ben is also helping coach the older boys' Lego/Robotics club and really enjoys their time together. Last night, they "snuck" out for pie afterward and talked the whole way about the latest news in kindergarten and first grade.

My heart is full from the fullness of this life...but major pieces of my identity have crumpled in the last few months and trying to mash the new me with the me I want to be has been an insightful process. Early in the summer, before the news of baby, I made a very difficult decision to stop working full time and reduced my hours, significantly. Our schedule was too much to sustain.

I cried for days over the change. I love my work and knew that being home was going to take serious adjusting. Once I warmed up to the idea, I found myself looking forward to fall in a way I never had before. All the kids would be in school or preschool during the day, which was going to leave me some quiet time to write and run and pray. I couldn't wait to have a grocery day that didn't include anyone else but me. A luxury I had never experienced.

I enjoyed exactly one Tuesday all to myself. And then Baby Brother came home.

The glowing attributes attached to being home more were swept under the rug so quickly,  I really didn't even have time to process the new change. A baby showed up and suddenly, I was barely surviving. I love to cook and that became a nightmare with two under two. I love to read my Bible, but had to settle for a verse on my phone. I love to work, but even part time requires excessive planning, packing and driving. I love to write, but I am too tired. I love to read, but I am too tired. I love sharing my life with women, but I am too tired. I love playing games with Ben, but I am TOO TIRED.

You get the idea. Maybe you're in the same boat.

I really didn't take the time to reflect on all the changes that happened over the last several months, until one day (a few weeks ago) Ben and I were talking about our exhaustion and constant need for infused patience. While holding my hand, in a very genuine, I-love-you-through-and-through sort of way, Ben said, "You used to smile more."

At first I laughed it off and said (or maybe thought), "Yah...back when I was sleeping."

But slowly, over the last several days, I've allowed the Holy Spirit to use that statement as a mirror. And not in a beat myself up, pity-partying nature.

I, recently, was talking to another mom pregnant with her fifth, who laughed at the notion that we would have our two year olds potty-trained, right now. There was such freedom in connecting with someone who understands.

We do have five kids under seven and I give myself a lot of grace.

But, I am still not okay. And I am telling you, in case you're not okay either.

It's okay to not be okay.

No alarms need to sound nor reinforcements show up at the door. God knows me and loves me and will help me focus my blurry bits.

He might even use this time to show me new pieces I couldn't see before.

I am not a "free spirit", which, admittedly, makes the wandering uncomfortable. But, in the last seven years, the greatest moments of unease, brought about the highest level of reward.

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need {Hebrews 4:6}.








Friday, January 8, 2016

FF: Meatcakes


Meal time is so SUPER crazy around, here, but we've managed to find our rhythm, again.

I hated meatloaf growing up, but this is one of the first meals I learned to make (the right way) when Ben and I were first married. It's packed full of flavor, freezes well, and compliments all your favorite feel-good side dishes. Now, we make meat "cakes" because - well - it just makes life easier for mom and dad! The boys pick up the entire (or three) meatcake and dip away.

They only takes about 15 minutes to throw together, but a solid 40-50 minutes to bake. Often times I will pre-make the night before, so I can pop them in when we get home from school.

Here is what you'll need:

FF: Meatcakes
20 min prep/50 min bake at 350
Yields 1 bread pan loaf or 10 cupcakes (we double our recipe!)

Ingredients:
1 beaten egg
1/4 cup fine bread crumbs (I keep Italian style on hand)
1/4 cup milk, water, or apple juice (whatever you have)
1/4 cup onion finely chopped
1/4 cup celery finely chopped
1/4 cup green pepper finely chopped
1/4 cup carrot finely chopped
2 Tbsp of fresh parsley or a good shake of dry
1/2 tsp dried sage
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp dried bail
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 lb of ground beef
For the sauce:
2/3 ketchup + 1/3 mustard + 1/3 bbq sauce + a sprinkle of brown sugar (sometimes I use chili sauce or spicy brown mustard if I have it. Just mix it all in a bowl until it tastes tangy).

In a mixing bowl combine all the ingredients well (I use my food processor to shred the veggies). 

These two are always willing to lend a hand!


You can press your mixture into a bread pan or portion it off into cupcake pans/stones like we do!


Bake for 40-50 minutes at 350 degrees. Top them with sauce as soon as you pull them out of the oven and it will melt in and get nice and gooey while you start plating dinner (this takes time in our house).
I leave the boys' sauce free because they all have personal dipping preferences!

And...I don't have a finished product picture because I had two crabby babies and many finger-lick'n six year olds in my meatcakes by this time. You'll have to visit other sites for pretty food pictures!

Edie curled her nose and pushed her plate away, Baby Brother downed a full meatcake, himself, and the boys made sure there were no leftovers.

I hope your pans are as empty as mine with this one!


Sunday, January 3, 2016

More Than Enough

"Mom. I've been looking at this trophy and thinking...do you think we could get a marker and write Pinchback over my old name?"

Before I could answer, Ty piped in, "Francisco. I don't think it's necessary to do that. This trophy is a reminder of who you used to be. You won it playing basketball as a [previous last name]. Just leave it."

I had to smile and sigh at the same time. Tyrus is more like me than I care to admit. Practicality has a tendency to block sympathy in both of us.

I dismissed Tyrus and told Francisco to bring his trophy closer. My heart filled as I wrote PINCHBACK in big block letters on his cheap-o plaque.

In a few weeks, he will have been with us for two years and the progress to family has been painstakingly slow. 

Three of our kids have really big personalities and another is a constant need-machine due to...well...being a baby. Francisco prefers to fade into the background and that's pretty easy to do around, here, with so much commotion. 

In the beginning of the school year, I was concerned that holding him in Kindergarten was giving him permission to regress. The first several weeks mirrored the last several. He couldn't name anyone in his class and was, purposely, choosing not to invest in relationships.

Everyone, including his teacher, kept encouraging us to just give him time.

Today, I was really struck by a theme.

God's love is always enough.

Every time it is whispered to my heart, fresh tears roll down my face.

Ben and I are purposeful in our love for Francisco and intentionally work at pulling him closer, but we've never been enough. We are exhausted most days and get more frustrated than we prefer. We miss opportunities all the time. We are every day people, striving for God's best, but in the failing moments find a measure of peace that our kids will have few memories of these days. We still have time to get it closer to right.

Despite the holes in our love, a miraculous transformation is in progress. Over the last three months, God has been wooing our tender-hearted, skittish boy and because his love IS enough, small pieces of Francisco's heart are not just peeking out, but remaining exposed.

Things that might make other parents smile, spark waterworks and praise in my heart. 

The first change was at school. Francisco announced that he had a friend. A friend who also happens to be one of five. His confidence continued to build when the rest of the class realized he knew most of his sight words and letters. On Ben's birthday, he was proud to talk about our family's birthday traditions with his teacher, and told me that he thought about chocolate cake all day. 

Right before break, he was sent 5 candy grams from classmates. My heart exploded.

He comes home from church and can re-tell the truths he learned.

He sticks up for himself when his brothers blame him for trouble.

When our knees touch on the couch, he doesn't move away.

His favorite  memory of 2015 was his adoption day.

Watching my sweet boy blossom has been such a lesson in faith for me. I get frustrated by the progress and some days wish that I could manipulate the time line and slap "redeemed" over his wounds, so that we can move on...which is, exactly, why my love isn't enough. It's not perfect or all-knowing. It doesn't operate with all the facts or with selfless ambition. 

What a relief to know that we don't have to have it together. God's love is everything. It's enough for me and it's enough for Francisco. His love is at work, when mine sleeps. His love whispers and pulls and moves Francisco at the right time, in the right moments, and earns genuine results.

And the best part is that God's love isn't exclusive. There is a young woman a couple hundred miles away, crying out for God's rescue. Her days are marked for her and the landscape only changes in her dreams where she can darken the light on the bars that hold her prisoner.

The more letters we exchange, the more conflicted I feel. The Jesus and mama in me tussle often over the direction that this is going. My defenses prickle; he nudges me past. I want to hold back; he asks for more.

I feel like I should be better at pride-swallowing, given the sequence of events that we've walked the last several years, but it still tastes bitter. I don't always want to give all of me. I don't always want to blaze an unknown trail.

But...then I get a nose-smashing, lip-touching kiss from my youngest six year old or see the magic dance behind his eyes when he tells a funny joke and I am, instantly, reminded that knowing him is worth sacrifice.

Whether I ever feel that for his mother or not doesn't matter. God's love is enough for her, too. And, right now, he is using me to show her what that means. Francisco's unfolding has been a timely backdrop. 

Sometimes love requires time and God asks us to remain steadfast while we wait.