Sunday, December 30, 2012

Year of Discernment

My new year’s resolution for 2012 was not so much a specific task as a guiding word: Discipline. 

I was just starting back to work after maternity leave, and knew that life was about to get crazy, with two kids to get out the door in the morning, nursing, pumping, full-time work outside the home, lots of church activities and other stuff in the evenings . . . And, Type A that I am, my natural response to stress is to organize. I made lists of the things we would all need to have for each day (lunch, backpacks, bottles, pump, etc.) and I wrote out some ways to cultivate more discipline in myself. 

The guiding principle behind this discipline initiative could be summed up in this line from a prayer Matt says every Sunday before he preaches: “Lord, make us masters of ourselves, that we may be the servants of others.” 

To effectively parent my kids and manage our home life, I would need to feel in control of myself. I listed out things like setting out my clothes the night before, having our bags packed and ready by the door the night before (minus the perishable milk, of course), keeping the house straightened up, and getting up at 5 or 5:30 so I could get a jumpstart on showering and dressing before the kids got up. All these things would help me feel more in control, and thus less stressed, and thus less likely to get crazy and snap at my husband and kids. 

My success was varied. Definitely less than 50%. The very first day back to work went perfectly, but I soon discovered that my kids don’t wake on a perfectly-timed schedule, and that it is very, very hard to get out of bed without hitting snooze a million times if you’ve been up 1, 2, or even 3 times in the night with a hungry baby. The days I successfully rose before 6 reminded me how much better my morning feels when I’ve had the discipline that gives me the freedom to relax a bit. (Interesting how that works.) But I was still inconsistent. Self-discipline eludes me. 

My year of discipline was debateable.

What I really had was a year of discernment

From the time I started back at work after maternity leave in January, something felt different. I started rethinking my goals and priorities. As I spent more diligent time in prayer during Lent (mid-February to mid-April) I started to have a strong feeling of being prepared for something, being prepared to let go of my previous work path. I started wondering if maybe some new job opportunity was going to come my way and God was preparing me for that shift. I have loved the company I’ve worked for for 8 ½ years—my whole adult life, essentially—but I had a sense something new was brewing; I just hadn’t been filled in on the details yet.

The sage advice of a former boss kept coming to mind: "You will continue to excel at what you want. So know what you want."

As Easter passed, I felt frustration that whatever I was being emotionally/spiritually "prepared" for had not materialized within the six-week span of Lent. Then in May and June, unrelated in my mind to those preparation feelings of Lent, I started feeling strongly that it was time to act on our long-pondered interest in foster care. I felt a profound sense of calling and we chose as a family to follow it. Matt and I started PATH class, our seven-week training course, in July, and did all our paperwork and initial interviews throughout August and September. 

As the approval process continued, we bought a crib for our guest room, traded in my car for a minivan that could carry our little family plus three more "guests," when necessary. 

We were preparing for a big change ahead, but it was still an ongoing process of how our life was being guided and reshaped. The very first question I'd asked the social worker when I called to express our interest way back in June was "We're a two-career household, both working outside the home—is that okay?" She assured me that it is more than okay, that they want their foster families to be as secure financially as possible, so that they are not viewing care as a source of income. And we would discover that there are many single women who foster, so of course they have careers. 

But as our education in the system grew, I really began to wonder how we would logistically manage the many needs of children in care. Being a working mom is one thing—you find a good day care, develop a good family routine for kids' activities, adapting for the occasional doctor's appointment or sick day. The sudden, unexpected addition of another child with unique needs would bring different challenges. If we get that infamous 2 a.m. call from Child Protective Services, and are up for the rest of the night awaiting the child's arrival and getting him or her settled, how do we manage getting the child enrolled in their new kindergarten or whatnot the next day when we are both expected in our offices? How do we juggle the child's court dates and parental visitation appointments, the scheduling of which may be largely out of our control? And then all this for another child a few weeks or months later?

The theoretical answer would be to determine which of us has less-urgent things to do at the office (oh, how I love those discussions when Kate or Claire is sick! not) then call and notify coworkers, and in my case, take a vacation day or apply for FMLA leave. (Yes, the same law that ensures maternity leave also applies to adoption and foster placements—but imagine negotiating that human resources stuff when you're already busy with a foster child's legal logistics.) Matt's job as a pastor has typically been more flexible than mine, as an editor with a publishing house, working on-site in the office, so it more often falls to him to take sick kids to the doctor and all that—something I already regret with my own kids, as I want to be able to be there for them in times like that—and with foster care being primarily my calling, supported by Matt (just as I support his calling to vocational ministry), I would hate for foster kids' mid-workday needs to fall to him as well.

I love my work. I love being a work-outside-the-home mom (a WOHM). We could not afford for me to be a stay-at-home mom (SAHM) even if I wanted to be. But my need for more flexibility became clearer and clearer as our approval process continued, so I started conversations with my boss about work arrangements that might allow me the increased flexibility I will need as a foster mom. Fortunately, working for a church-related organization, I've noticed people to be very understanding and supportive of colleagues following God's call. So, we discussed various options over the course of the fall, and finally, somewhere around the time we were officially approved as foster parents on Nov. 30, we determined that I would resign my full-time, salaried position and instead take projects on a contract basis. 

So, I will be "going freelance" in the new year, working from home (being a WAHM, or work-at-home mom), continuing to edit Circuit Rider and to contribute to Ministry Matters, and pursuing other projects and clients as I can! My last day in the office is this Friday, Jan. 4. I've already been missing the fun office banter with my colleagues while I've been on vacation this past week, but nonetheless, I'm very excited about the prospect of running my own schedule, working from anywhere, taking on a wide variety of editorial and writing projects, and having a better work-family balance. 

We're still awaiting that call about a child who needs us (I'm rather surprised we didn't get one before Christmas, since family drama puts many children into care around the holidays), and when we do, I'll be able to do what's needed to care for that child while a permanent situation is found for him or her, be more available and less stressed for my two precious "forever children," and still use my skills and talents professionally. It's been a year of discernment. A very good year that has shaped our lives and grown my faith. I feel joyfully confident as we move into 2013.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Snapshots of Christmas

December has flown by (why should it be any different from every other month?) but we've been enjoying some nice Christmas activities and traditions.

Last year, I was on maternity leave throughout the holiday season, and it was so delightful to be able to shop and wrap and bake during the day (with Claire strapped to me in the sling, since she wouldn't nap any other way!) and then focus on whole-family activities in the evenings and on the weekends. This year, I was working, of course, and had to fit everything into evenings and those all-too-fleeting weekends. So, some things fell by the wayside. I didn't do any baking, for instance, and not so many crafty things with Kate. Oh well. Pressure and stress have no place at Christmas, so we've just been having fun with what we have been able to do.

Here are a few highlights, in pictures:

Getting our tree, tied on top of Ari (AKA Ari the Entourage or Ari the Cari)

Making a gingerbread house. One of the prettiest I've seen, if I do say so!

2nd Annual Cookie Baking with Granna (who has a matching apron ready for Claire when she's bigger)

Addressing Christmas cards while watching my favorite Christmas movie, "Love Actually."

Getting coordinating Christmas jammies from Nala.

Going to Louisville to attend a fun Santa Safari event.

We ate cookies and did a craft, and met fun characters.

Including Mrs. Claus, Frosty, and Chilly Willy (a penguin)

And then there was the big guy himself!
Kate's one wish this year has been "star tights." We'll see if she gets them! :0)

Then we saw a 4D mini-movie of The Polar Express. Kate was pretty freaked out by the special effects.

And we ended the day with ice skating at Fourth Street Live in downtown Louisville.  Kate struggled at first,  but by the end of the hour, she was inching along without any support! We'll definitely go again this winter.
On the 14th, we had Kate's Christmas program at school. 
We saw reindeer one Saturday, when they came to a local parking lot!
We played at a good-old-fashioned toy store in downtown Franklin, Tenn.

We took our 2nd Annual Jammies Christmas Light Drive.

Always a highlight of my holiday season: wrapping presents. I love it!

The extent of my baking/treat-making this year:
 these Strawberry Santa Hats for the girls' Christmas parties at school.

And these Corn Flake Holly Bundles
This past weekend, we've kicked off Christmas vacation with a casual dinner party with some friends, dinner and gifts with Granna and Opa, and lots of church per usual on Sunday. Today, we've already had one church service, and now I'm home waiting for potatoes to boil so I can make these Hummus Mashed Potatoes for Christmas Eve dinner at Matt's aunt's house.

Merry Christmas, all. I hope you are having a splendid holiday.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Children's Innocent Joy

Kate's Christmas program was Friday night. Amidst all the parental pride and clamoring to get the best camera angle, there was awareness of how we are able to continue our fun Christmas plans, while so many parents have just had their lives completely derailed by horrific loss.

The death of a child is horrible any time, but especially given this tragedy's proximity to Christmas, I keep thinking about stockings already hung, and presents already wrapped and under the tree. I think about families who might have said a week ago, "Oh, we'll just wait until Saturday to go visit Santa," or whatnot. I think about a day last week when I was so busy picking things up around the house before work that I didn't go kiss the kids as Matt left to take them to school. I was so sad as they drove away; imagine if a mother in Connecticut had had such a morning last Friday.

Last night at The Road, we sang "Away In a Manger," and I choked up with a line I'd never paid much attention to before:
Bless all the dear children
In Thy tender care
And fit us for Heaven
To live with Thee there.

I heard one Connecticut parent's apt description of the phrase "loss of innocence." His fourth-grade twins heard the shots and were understandably shaken. They slept in their parents' bed Friday night and had trouble sleeping, while their three-year-old brother slept soundly, "like nothing had happened." Like many parents whose children are this small, we haven't talked to Kate about what happened, and turn off the news when she's around.

See the joy of children oblivious to violence and cruelty:

Kate's class recites a poem starting around the 3-minute mark. Kate knew her line so well and had been reciting it for weeks. The full text is here:

It's fun to pretend what the animals said
As the little Lord Jesus slept in his bed.
The Bible tells of the Savior's birth,
How Jesus, God's son was sent down to earth.
He came to bring peace, salvation, and love.
And now he's with God in heaven above.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

12 on 12-12-12

Last year we had 11-11-11, and I linked up with Dear Lizzy to share what I was doing at 11:11 on that day. This year, Elizabeth has been doing a "12 on 12" series, sharing twelve pictures from her day on the twelfth of every month, and though it seems she wasn't even thinking about the triple fun of 12-12-12, I decided to snap twelve pics on 12-12-12 for a little "day in the life" post.

I didn't take any during our crazy-rushed morning time, or after returning home at night (finally! we have something going on every night this week) so my day was pretty much divided into two parts: work and church.

Part One: Work

1. My colleagues and I broke out the Christmas decorations a few days ago, which mainly consist of a bunch of wreaths and a skinny little tree (see item 4). I love having some festivity in the office.

2.  I spent part of my morning reviewing the designer's proofs for the next issue of Circuit Rider. Gotta get to pre-press before everybody takes off for their Christmas holidays!

3. I joined the "stand up desk" revolution that is popular now in our company. So, lots of us have these desktop platforms to raise our computers up so we stand while working. Better for circulation, energy, etc.

4. Our little Charlie Brown Christmas tree in the coffee cube. It's decorated with a string of paper clips and a paper star made of yellow Post-It notes.

5. My new obsession is, an online time tracker. I can start and stop the timers on my main projects and see how much time I'm spending on various tasks. It also keeps me from flitting around between tasks, because I know the clock is running on a certain project.

6. Ministry Matters editorial meeting. We all have the same ceramic and silicon coffee mug.

Part Two: Church

7. Wednesday night dinner this week was spaghetti. Kate ate two helpings. I put the non-messy elements in front of Claire to eat herself, but she screamed because she only wanted the meat sauce, which I fed her myself off my plate!

8. and 9. Cutie Claire eating an eclair.

10. Claire kept busy during Bible study by playing with both Matt's and my phones and the TV remote, juggling between all of them, tapping the screens and putting them to her ear in turn. "Ala?" She looked like a silly character in a movie, answering a bunch of phones at once.

11. Our study right now is A Different Kind of Christmas, based on Mike Slaughter's book, Christmas Is Not Your Birthday, which I edited. I love Mike's stuff!

12. Choir practice. Wednesdays are a long night, with choir starting at the time we're usually getting the girls in their jammies! Our Christmas cantata is this Sunday morning, so this was a can't-miss rehearsal!

Speaking of which, if you're in the Nashville area, join us for worship at 10:00 Sunday morning at Arlington UMC, or at 5:00 that evening for The Road, our casual evening worship (with free dinner!)

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Christmas Card Photos

For all my fussing about how Thanksgiving is a fall holiday, I did let a little Christmas into the day to take our Christmas card photo before changing to go over to Granna's for turkey. Since we'd be cleaned and preened and have some spare time during daylight hours . . . (i.e. things that don't always happen every day!) 

The girls both looked a little tired and under the weather, I'm afraid, adding to the usual challenge of getting two young kids to both smile nicely for (or even just look at) the camera at the same time.

And there was the distraction of the Macy's parade . . .

And the usual impulse to squeeze and torture Little Sister . . .

 So I tried getting them to focus on this fun fake poinsettia . . .

Which worked for maybe 30 seconds . . . 

Once Matt came down to assist with "crowd control," as we call it in our house, I got a few shots of each girl alone and each of us with the girls.

And, finally, a lovely family photo that will grace our Christmas card this year.

I ordered from Paper Coterie this year, and can't wait to see them! We've gotten a couple cards so far this year, and I can't wait until they start pouring in! Have you sent yours yet? Gotten them, at least?

Friday, November 30, 2012

A Quick Foster Care Update

Like many things in life, foster care is a bit of a "hurry up and wait" situation. You take your classes and turn in your paper work, then wait. Then a social worker begins her visits and interviews with you, then you wait. Then once you're approved, you just wait for the call saying there's a kid who needs you!

Right now, we're at the second of the above waiting periods. Our social worker had to turn in all her forms and stuff about us last week, so theoretically, we're being handed over to placement to be on the list for all these three a.m. phone calls we've heard so much about. I don't know if we'll get a specific call telling us, "ok, you're approved, be ready," or if we'll just get that midnight phone call one of these days. (I'll call our social worker and ask about that, I guess.)

At our last interview, she told us she was recommending us for kids 0-6 years old, just one at a time to start off with. (We're open to sibling groups, but she suggests we ease into things at first!)

I've got a lot of nervous energy these days, and had a dream last night that we got a little baby named Claire, who was just a little younger than our Claire, so we had two Claires. Interesting. I have moments of anxiety, but mostly it's just excitement, and the peace that comes with knowing we're doing something we're called to do.

A fearful side of me dreams up worst-case scenarios of how our family might be affected, but honestly, the big "horror story" that comes to mind isn't even reality, but a line from Anne of Green Gables, when Mrs. Lynde warns Marilla about adopting, saying there was an orphan in some other town who poisoned the well and killed the whole family.

In reality, what I keep hearing over and over are stories of families and children blessed by fostering:
  • the mechanic at CarMax who told me about his best friend, whose family fostered throughout his growing up years, and who still considers all those children his brothers and sisters.
  • the old lady on a bus who told my coworker how she gets so many calls on Mother's Day from grown children she fostered. 
  • kids whose families fostered who are now going to school in social work and can't wait to become foster parents themselves.
Life won't be all sunshine and roses, I know. (One foster mom blogger I now read closes about half of her posts with the words "foster care sucks," mainly for how much the system jerks them around.) But we're opening our home in love and opening our hearts in faith. Can't wait to keep you posted!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Thanksgiving Day

So I'm a little late with the holiday recap, despite the fact that our Thanksgiving weekend included plenty of "lying around time." 

I realized Sunday night how relaxing our holiday had been, having not traveled for Thanksgiving for the first time in . . . well, since leaving home for college, I guess. We went to Matt's parents' house for a big midday meal and hung out until what would have been dinnertime, had we needed to eat again, but otherwise enjoyed a lot of time just being together at home. 

Thanksgiving began with coffee and muffins, and I realized how late the Macy's parade comes on. I guess with grandparents in the house in past years, I got to sleep in until closer to parade time! 

The girls wore their politically-incorrect Indian headbands. (Kate had made hers at school last year, and she and I made Claire's together.)

And I made my one contribution to Thanksgiving dinner: a pumpkin pie with a braided crust. I'm not a foodie at all, putting presentation over culinary skill, so in true Jessica fashion, I used Pillsbury crusts and put my energy instead into dividing, rolling, and braiding strips of dough, then agonizing over the baking process to make sure my creation didn't burn.

It didn't :0)

The real bird was lovely as well.

Claire ate plenty of pumpkin muffins, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and broccoli casserole, while Kate enjoyed the giant turkey leg!

As always, I am most thankful for my beautiful girls.

Hope you had a happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Keep Thanksgiving Autumnal!

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving! Holiday of cornucopias, turkeys, and pumpkin pie.
So why are Christmas lights and wreaths going up?!?!? And Christmas music playing?! 
For so many people, Christmas begins with Thanksgiving week (or maybe before).

But as for me and my house . . .

There will still be pumpkins . . .

 . . . and leafy garlands.

. . . and even pumpkins dressed up as turkeys!

 We've had a delightful fall. I love it every year . . .

And Thanksgiving will still be decked in oranges and browns (and cute little turkey applique shirts I made with Heat 'n' Bond). The red and green can wait a few more days. Goshdarnit.

So tonight I'm making cranberry sauce, and watching some Thanksgiving episodes of "Friends" . . .

. . . and looking forward to drinking Starbucks Thanksgiving blend coffee while watching the Macy's parade tomorrow morning and baking my pumpkin pies. And while I may set a few holly-and-evergreen arrangements on the bookshelf, you can rest assured it is only to serve as a backdrop for the Christmas card photo we're planning to take—and then they will go back into the closet for at least 24 more hours until the pinnacle of the glorious fall season is passed.

Have a very happy Thanksgiving—and give that lonely pumpkin a salute as it stands watch, humbly reflecting the glow of a neighbor's twinkle lights.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Giving Grocery List for Kids

My mommy-heart grew three sizes the other night when Kate and I packed lunches for "the men who sleep at church." Our church participates in Room in the Inn, a program in Nashville through which churches host homeless men during the colder months of the year. Every Wednesday evening, our church van goes to the downtown pick up location and brings ten men back to have dinner, shower and sleep, and eat breakfast. They are given sack lunches when driven back downtown in the morning. 

Packing those lunches is one way our family can participate in this great ministry, and it is a great way to help Kate learn and practice our chief family value of compassion. I love how naturally generous and helpful kids can be, and Kate's enthusiasm for packing these lunches for "our guests" warms my heart. We counted out the paper bags, and she put an orange, a water bottle, and a bag of chips in each one while I made the PBJs. Then she cheerfully offered up some of her Halloween candy for their desserts (though we ended up putting in some of our leftover rainbow cookies from Claire's party instead, so they wouldn't go stale before we could eat them all).

To help her be even more involved, I made an illustrated grocery list specifically for the items we need to buy when we do these lunches.

The other side is items that our church food pantry collects. We don't need to get every item every time, of course, but my hope is that she can carry this list when we go grocery shopping, and spot some of these items to add to our cart.

I'm linking this post up with Kristen Welch's Works for Me Wednesday, so while we're at it, here's a bonus "works for me" tip: if you want something laminated,  but don't want to spend the time or money to take it to Kinko's or wherever, use strips of packing tape to laminate it on the cheap! Just cover both sides of the paper, overlapping the strips slightly so water can't get through, and make sure the tape extends beyond the edges of the paper so they can be pressed together to seal it. Trim with a quarter-inch of tape around the edge so it will stay sealed!


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