Adoption, Community, Fostering

How many kids do you have?

You guys! I recently joined a bible study and it brought so much refreshing to my soul! I am so honored to study the word of God with women who are HUNGRY. And I mean, these girls just won’t quit. They do not choose light-hearted, easy, breezy studies, let me tell you. (There is no time to fall behind on journaling & homework either!) God spoke it and these girls will study it.

It. Is. Awesome.

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I can now say that these women are dear and wise and some seriously amazing cheerleaders, but on my first day? Not so much.

I sat down at the table after a scrumptious [hot] breakfast where we were divided into small-ish groups, yet as the introductions traveled around the table I grew so anxious I was shaking and in tears when all eyes turned to me. What was I supposed to say? I was already dreading THE QUESTION. The leader prompted: “You don’t have to say much, maybe just tell us something about yourself? Do you have kids?”

That did it.

I’m pretty sure I didn’t use an ounce of restraint when I choked out “I don’t like that question!”

See, it’s complicated. Of course, there are 5 Schuiteboers who live at our address (for now). Each of us has friends who come to play or eat or sleep. (Yay for an open door community!) Then there’s fostering… Just fostering alone changes this number on a daily/monthly basis. The number of those who live with me changes and the number of how may are carried in my heart changes too.

Then there’s last summer… yup, as I entered this unsuspecting group of Jesus-chasers I had just barely survived a crazy season as a mom of 7. I loved it. I love them. Each kid was so beautifully brought to this house and this season of our lives. God’s promises were all over each one of them and He was doing such a good work! (I can say that now since I’ve had months of space & plenty of therapy to recuperate and heal.) Crazy enough, at the end of the summer I was down to only 3 kids to tuck in at night and I felt the void. I loved the now-missing kids and they will truly never leave my heart. They will be mine forever.

Then there is the mostly-adopted-but-not-present Elisee whose paperwork has seen no progress in a full year and sweet Chelsey who is growing up and moved out on her own for the first time. I’m just saying… I get to claim these two even when my “mothering” is mostly spent on my knees!

Seriously. I am undone.

So is my answer to this overwhelming question 3? How many kids I tuck in at night.

5? the number of kids who will *someday* be Schuiteboers and come home for Christmas.

9? The kids I have loved, smooched, and wiped away tears for when their own momma’s couldn’t. The ones I personally carry in my heart.

19? The number my girlfriends can amass at the nearest park on any given summer day, but also the number of kiddos I pray over, invest in and plan to talk to about all the things they don’t want to tell their own moms when hormones hit.

How about 143 million? The number of orphans out there whom I often pray for and cry over and desperately want to offer hope and security to- even if only for a moment.

Here’s the beautiful part: No matter how many kids I say I have, I actually have more than that. The kids that live in my house will always be my kids… ALWAYS… even when they leave someday (voluntarily or involuntarily). The kids in the foster care system- they’re all my kids. My friend’s kids- they’re mine too. The orphans around the world- they’re my kids. I am blessed with these kiddos to love, to pray over, to mourn for, and to lay at the feet of Jesus. This is KEY. Our children belong to Jesus. I’m just hanging with them a bit. I need to let go of the number and how it effects my identity as “a mom of ___”. Instead, I want to focus on loving each one well. Katie Davis from Amazima Ministries says:

 “I have learned that I will not change the world. Jesus will do that. I can however, change the world for one person.”

Just one.. at a time… That’s all I can handle anyway. I want to truly invest in the one in front of me and love each one that passes through my arms & prayers well. I don’t need to claim anything to try to help the world understand this crazy way of living. I am the arms of Jesus and that’s enough identity for me.

And let’s be honest. When it comes down to it, I will actually claim a fake (higher) number in those moments I appear slightly crazed from having a “bunch” of kids!

Community

A little too much love!?

Boy, has it been a week. I’ve had increased stress, loss of sleep, trouble eating, and emotional trauma. (Not because of the kids this time, thank goodness!) This time it’s the ducks.

See, I’m trying to love the least of these… which really includes anyone and everyone… aaaand apparently it includes my duckies.

The struggle is REAL.

And now we have a duck in Carter’s bathtub. (The ultimate duck-lover’s sacrifice.)

I find myself at 3 in the morning hearing the quack of my feathered ladies outside the bedroom window (note to self: move the coop this summer!). It’s their cries of distress and I know it all too well. We are pretty much surrounded by woods and fields for miles and miles. Predators abound. We’ve lost our ladies to foxes, raccoons, opossums, coyotes, and great horned owls so far.  But now that the coop is close enough to hear, I KNOW when it happens. I can’t sleep through that!

So on night no.1 I heard the quack of fear and ran outside in my pj’s and rain boots (PS It’s still below 30 degrees at night here in MI.) to find 2 of our 3 ladies quacking away and moving warily around the edge of their fence line. I opened their house to find the last duck with a raccoon’s paws around it’s neck. Poor thing! The coon ran out and climbed our tall fence (which I naively thought wouldn’t happen to us) and I realized our problems were only beginning. Those varmints are marauders. They destroy everything they touch, never mind that they leave a mess of their victims’ pieces- GROSS!  I waited and watched the woods as I hovered over the injured duckie for a half hour before feeling she was going to make it and all the ladies were safe. I reluctantly headed back to bed.

I awoke later (like 7:00) that morning to find that our victimized duckie had not made it through the night due to a return visit from the coon. (Special thanks to the hubs for cleaning up the mess of pieces I “couldn’t reach” under the coop!) And a hole had been dug right under the fence this time.

Night no.2 I literally woke up with anxiety attacks every hour or so. I flew to the window to peer into the night wondering if I had really heard their quacks or was I just dreaming? The whole darn day was spent counting heads out the window to make sure they were really safe. Lord knows I was NOT letting them out to roam the yard today!

Day no.3 I woke up at 3:30 am to the urgent  quacks and then silence. (Any mother of young children knows that silence is worse than noise.) This time Collin was ready. He had his gun by the bed. Fortunately/unfortunately he insisted on getting dressed to go out ‘coon huntin’ in the woods. (Really!? I heard silence. Hurry it up!!) He got his gear and headed out while I kept the dog quiet and watched out the window (& shout-whispered my two cents of course). Again, one duck was in the coop with blood on it’s neck while the other was hiding by the fence. He trod around the coop, scanned every single tree, and stalked the wood line but to no avail.  He returned 45 minutes later to close up the coop only to find the coon still hiding in the rafters of our duck house!! Thank goodness, he’s thorough because that rascal never got another breath. He’s buried behind the barn now with the opossum from last fall. VICTORY! (However momentary, it is still sweet.)

Moral of the story? I have none at the moment. Perhaps I was just wanting ya’ll to know love needs boundaries… I haven’t seemed to find healthy ones here, as poor Carter will be showering with a duck for a few days. Perhaps it is also important to choose where we invest our love. I’m sure there’s a whole sermon there.  Please feel free to comment below on your thoughts for a conclusion here. I know God speaks to me even through ducks!

** A quick update: Our injured lady has returned to the coop! She did lose an eye- quite a tragedy- however, she’s recovering well in every other way. Carter even re-named her after a family viewing of Finding Dory. While brushing his teeth and watching her swim in his tub he proclaimed she should now be called Becky.**

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One lonely lady waiting for the convalescent to return.
Community, HOPE

Come-Unity

I’m kind of on a story-telling kick. I hope that’s ok. I appreciate the chance to shout out some of the crazy-cool things God has shown me through His people.

This story begins one day when I moved into a new house. It was a lovely house; almost 100 years old and in the sweetest little village. It did have a fully functioning toilet at the top of the stairs. No walls, no sink. Just a sweet little farmhouse landing with an original bead board linen closet, a floor-to-ceiling window, a couple bedroom doors and a toilet. (My nephew was the first to use it, much to Carter’s chagrin.) So the house needed a little work… It had enough charm and character to make up for that!

While Collin and I were looking at buying The Toilet House (as it was apparently nicknamed by the neighbors), we noticed a backyard fence with a gate leading into the neighbor’s yard. We could “fix” that after the toilet had walls around it, no problem. Of course, on moving day a neighbor came right through that fence and welcomed us to the neighborhood. (Let me just say that I’ve moved a good number of times and never have I ever had a neighbor welcome us or even introduce themselves!) This neighbor, her husband and son were kin to the folks we had purchased the house from and the kids used to run back and forth between the yards. I wasn’t so sure I was comfortable with this set up having a 3 and a 1 year old myself, but thanked her for the welcome.

Well, let me tell you, I have learned more about community from this friendly neighbor than anywhere else! She came through that fence without reserve, but also without judgement or agenda. She walked into the house like she had known it her whole life (or at least a long time). And she had! She knew why the toilet was at the top of the stairs. She knew the neighbors’ frustration with the fence-sharing situation. And she knew why the family had to sell this house to us. She had a heart for this neighborhood and especially for this block; and so she made it her business to know us, too. And we became friends.

It didn’t matter that I was in the middle of muck and mire with a chronically (Celiac) sick baby or that I didn’t have a car of my own to get out during the day. She didn’t mind having all of our playdates at my house so I could regulate baby naptimes and she didn’t mind packing a (gluten) lunch for her kid and then de-contaminating my kitchen afterwards so we could hang out longer. She never judged me for my crazy Jesus-loving commentary or church-going even though she had already made up her mind on the matter. And she openly “watched over” our house at all times and commented on our comings and goings without shame. (I just love her utter honesty!!)

When I think of my new neighbor popping over or calling as soon as we walked into the driveway, I realize the crazy grace and acceptance we had for each other. She tried over and over to quit smoking and I tried over and over to plant a productive garden; but we did it together. We talked about potty-training and husbands and church and budgets while we walked the streets of the village to go to the library, grocery store, and park. We taught our boys to ride their bikes across the street in the open parking lot. We drank a lot of coffee with even more creamer. It was the simple life, in a sense.

Unfortunately, now I realize how complex that kind of community really is. I have not yet been able to recreate that way of doing life together since we moved away from that neighborhood. During our time in the Toilet House, I learned what it meant to BE WITH someone. To show up and sit. To traverse the highs and lows without wavering in friendship. My neighbor came over and she was beside me AND for me! (and vice versa!)

What if we all sought to create that kind of community? One where we came along side each other and united in spirit for a life season? What if we all embraced COME-UNITY?

Community, Love Notes

Wendy Bird

Dear dear Wendy,

Oh my friend! You are so close to my heart. Who else has been through childhood with me and lived to tell the tale? There is no one. I love our silly, sweet and embarrassing memories together! When I think of you I think of a sunflower bedroom, Beanie Baby collections, bird poop (in your hair, not mine!), brothers, mothers, and family devotions, ice cream and horse poop (somewhat together…), Jesus, and endless inspiration for my faith. Who else would I want by my side when I had my first “big” break-up, sang my first solo, and was so burnt out from a sick baby that I couldn’t breathe and my husband bought me a plane ticket?

You, my friend have brought me life and breath and Jesus at all the right moments. Thank you for your strong faith. You simply do not waiver. I know we all have moments of doubt, but when it comes to the end of the line, you love HIM more than anything! There have been times where you have shared with me our Lord’s strength simply by a memory and you don’t even know it.

I have to say, I hate how life brings varying seasons of friendship. Of course, the times of renewed friendship and deep connection are so beautiful, but the times of distance are full of regret. I wish I could say we have never let life come between us. However, I know that when something big comes, good or bad, you’re there. I can pick up the phone and we will start up right where we left off and God will do a mighty work. I can count on that.

My sweet friend, you know we are connected at the heart. i hope you know that when you laugh, I laugh (and snort) and when you cry, I cry. My heart has been so heavy for you in your recent days of grief. Yet honestly, I love to cry for you and intercede on behalf of your awesome family. I love them like my own. This time, however, it was so different. As I cried, I realized I was finally able to cry for myself at the same time. You see, we both experienced a loss. Mine was undefined and strangely incomplete and yours was an age-old tale but excruciating, none-the-less. In my sisterly intercession, I was able to experience my own grief at the same time. I was able to mourn and hear the truths of God in a way I didn’t know I even needed. God is so good. He knew what we both needed! And boy, did He deliver some healing to our hearts…together.

So thank you, dear friend, for allowing me the privilege and gift of being in “the mess” with you! Thanks for sharing with me your pain and joy. Thank you for letting me be a piece of your story. And thanks for being a piece of mine. Thank you for years and years of ridiculous memories. They are the best that I have!

With Papa’s love,

The sister you always wanted but always had

Community

My Friend At Meijer

I have a friend at Meijer.

She is employed there while working on her degree in Criminal Justice.

I get to see her in the checkout lane EVERY time I go. It’s one divine appointment after another.

It all started one day when I complimented her hair, I had just taken out Mya’s first extensions and my hair-care world was being rocked. How do women around the world have the time, commitment, and knowledge to do “this” over and over!? It seemed like I had just succeeded in doing everything wrong. (My own hair, mind you, is washed once a week “whether it needs it or not” with minimal brushing in between and occasionally curled…ONCE for the week!) Poor sweet Mya will one day cry at the photos of her lovely locks torn to shreds and dry as bone after I got those braids out

Mya's pretty braids before I ruined them!
Mya’s pretty braids before I ruined them!

My friend has some gorgeous dreads that I’m absolutely positive took days to put in. And she must care for them meticulously because they always look so smooth and glossy. “I can learn a few things from this girl,” I thought so I struck up conversation. I’ll admit she was a bit reserved at first. Who can blame her? I’m sure not everyone who checks out wants to hear your whole life story and your hair care techniques when they ask “How are ya?” But once I complimented her amazing hair, she smiled and opened right up. It is obviously something she prides herself in and she had a lot to say. By the time I left the store, I knew all her style secrets and a few tips from her experiences with her nieces and nephews too. I went straight home and washed, conditioned, and finger brushed (this is a HUGE help!) Mya’s hair. Then I made a super-secret, tried-and-true, best-loved recipe for a homemade daily oil spray that is divine. My new friend is a genius!

As luck would have it, I got to go back to the store just two days later. (I love those multiple-trips-in-a-row-weeks…NOT.) My friend was there and so was Mya this time, so I introduced them. Now they can be friends too. The world needs more of these friendships that start with nothing and yet continue on for the love of Jesus. I never feel the need to preach or leave a tract, but each time we chat I do leave behind a little bit of Jesus with a smile, a question, even a hug these days.

All my kids know my friend now and boy, are they better at showing Jesus’ love than anyone! They run up and say “hey” with no reservations. They high-five and smile sweetly and any person knows they really mean it. There’s no angle, no expectations to be fulfilled, we just want to be friends. I’m pretty sure my new friend will get a birthday party invite at some point, because kids are so good at loving fiercely. I want to be like that. I want to love my friends fiercely no matter how well I know them or what their story is. Now that I think of it, I may just invite her over for coffee. I want to know her more and I want to love her even better and someday, whether I get to tell her or not, she’ll know she encountered Jesus and I think she’ll like the Jesus she met.