Badge of Honor

So, this happened:

It was the same Feedspot list as our own local The Pioneer Woman, who was number 17 on the list. Who puts her at number 17? I mean, Mercantile, hello?!

I was number 50 out of 100, because I like to stay safely in the middle. That’s like a C in blogging, right? It’s passing, if you are right in the middle of the curve?

Except the top 100 is out of a gazabillion blogs all over the world, so it’s super fun.

The children think Nathan gave me a prize for being his wife, and I told them I get lots of prizes for being his wife: I get to steal his house shoes, he brings me cheese and crackers, and I get very witty conversations when not interrupted by little slimy rugrats.

Their response is to insist they are not rugrats, ask about the cheese I eat without them, and remind me that stealing is not a good choice.

I remind them that the only way not to be a rugrat is to behave like ladies and gentlemen.

They do, really, most of the time.

Except tonight, when Alex woke up Barrett and Anber after bedtime and talked them into sneaking into the kitchen to steal Christmas candy for him (so it wouldn’t be him who is stealing, of course).

That meant holding a “disciplinary council” with the three of them and Nathan and then also me via FaceTime. It was really hard to keep a straight, except also I don’t want them to be little punks. But we really want them to learn to use their agency and make their own choices, which means letting them make mistakes.

I will make sure to cook so much food tomorrow that they will be too full to even want candy!

That’s how you get in the top 100 blogs: you try your best to be a really good wife and a devoted mother, and it all comes out like a hot mess with a side of snark.

Except we’re trying, and they’re trying, so we will keep trying together.

We don’t need to be best at anything, except the best at trying again.

And our family definitely has opportunity for trying again.

And this award is maybe the nerdiest thing to happen to me, ever.

Christmas Today

Here’s the funny thing about setting booby traps… sometimes you trap yourself.

Naturally, it was this morning that Kyrie was in crisis and needed help and we had to crawl under our trap to get to her!

Then, we realized (just in time!) that one of Barrett’s presents was still in the tornado shelter! So before the children could begin their escape, they first had to slide our keys at us under the trap so Nathan could go out the back door and around to the garage to get into the tornado shelter to fetch the last present!

Hilarious. It will be the booby trap we never forget. They loved it, though!

They were so excited to open presents, and it really felt like a rite of passage in making this our new home.

They all wore their new outfits today, but not before everyone posing with new Sunday shoes!

I made French Toast out of egg nog while they played, and got a casserole from the leftovers of last night’s turkey dinner prepared in the over for lunch. But as soon as everyone was fed and settled and playing, the most important thing to do was my girls’ hair – which they wanted filled with ribbons today.

Their extra hair braiding and beading stuff has been packed for a week, and Mary’s has gotten so big and frizzy that I started getting complaints! People are quick to jump on white parents of children with black hair when it isn’t cared for well, maybe as they should. But I do know how to care for it and do know how to comb it and what products to use, and I can even braid and bead it by myself.

But Mary is 9, and wanting to practice on her own, and it makes me crazy when people pick on her hair not knowing she was the one who did it. She is proud to be able to comb through it on her own now, and can even part it into two or three very rough sections. That’s amazing at her age with her hair, and I’m okay with letting it be as is from time to time as she learns. It’s important for her.

But I am also always relieved when she is ready for help and wants it back up, so I can get it up to keep it healthy and strong and combed and out of her way.

Ribbons. So many ribbons, she wanted this week, after I spent all week hunting down her beads. But it is done, and she is adorable, and all is well.

And, conquering the Christmas morning event and getting their hair up meant I actually got a hot bath and a nap for a changed, which was lovely for a day off work.

I think we are all relaxed, refreshed, and generally spoiled this week!

Christmas Eve

Nathan had to play violin at First Church in Bartlesville last night, and I was working the ER, so the children went to his parents for their Christmas celebration. I sent gingerbread house kits so they could play, and they had a blast! I think they got them half eaten today.

But because I worked last night, I got today off. I already have tomorrow off because of working the weekend. That makes tonight our Christmas Eve, and we will celebrate Christmas on Tuesday. It works for us.

We got the last of the boxes unpacked and out of the house, and the kids broke down the empty boxes and took them to the recycling center. That was my present! I love it! So we are all moved in, except for hanging pictures, and now the garage is empty of the empty boxes so I can finish moving their clothes for next year and food storage. I am so grateful for all their hard work and so much help! I can’t believe we got moved in just one week!

We celebrated with our Christmas dinner: turkey, stuffing, potatoes, cranberry sauce, and a tablecloth – which, as Alex says, shoes we mean business.

It was lovely just to be home, and I am so excited to just rest tomorrow (even from cooking, since we have turkey leftovers).

I gave them their traditional Christmas Eve present of new pajamas, and they were so excited. I love that they still love this! They are growing up so fast!

We did a Family Home Evening about the Christmas story, and drank egg nog, and ate little chocolate snow men, and sang Christmas carols.

Nathan has worked for months on their Christmas Eve presents – which he has traditionally made for them every year.

This year, he read (only the first) Harry Potter book to them at bedtime, and the older three got to see the first movie.

So this year, for their homemade gifts, Nathan made them magic wands, and quill feather pens, and each one a different special power amulet, and official invisible cloaks (with iron on patches for the insignia). They were thrilled! They were so excited, and each felt so special, and he gave them each a little speech about what makes them unique and special and powerful. It was amazing.

The boys are now camping in Kirk’s room for the night, and the girls in Barrett’s room, so that we can get them to sleep to set up Santa presents and bring them all out at once in the morning.

Except we have another Christmas Eve tradition: booby trapping the children like in the original Parent Trap camp scene. It’s a hoot, sends off alarms if they try to sneak out in the night, and they love crawling through it like Mission Impossible lasers in the morning when it’s time to come out. We love this game, and it’s so fun, and good for them for physical therapy on a week when they miss appointments.

We will celebrate our Christmas morning tomorrow, and they are so excited!

Presenting Angels

We have been surrounded by angels since answering the call to foster, and never is it more evident than at Christmas time.

The hospital provided our family with a box of food, new pajamas for each child, and a new outfit for each child. The Police department gave them each a new toy. A foster agency we never even got children from gave us new stuffed animals for each child.

None of that was expected, neither was the box of oranges or baskets of eggs or two pound bag of tiny snowman chocolates.

It’s been like manna from heaven, with a side of quail.

Our church angel tree got them each new Sunday shoes, a book, and legos. Legos are a really big deal for our children, because for years they have done legos as their Sabbath activity. They do not play with legos on other days. They do not squabble or fight while they play. It is something they can do, together, without drama or trigger or competition or fear. It’s amazing, and it gives us very peaceful Sundays.

And it was their idea. This legos on Sundays isn’t a rule we set. It’s something they came up with all on their own as they explored what the Sabbath means to them. So on Sundays, they don’t play at all with their other toys, and only play with legos which they don’t play with on other days. It’s adorable.

And, the creative play they do while building is some of the most therapeutic they could engage in with those precious little hearts who have been through so much. It’s also perfect for occupational therapy and social skills. I mean, legos for our family are not just silliness. It’s serious and amazing and healing.

And they play with them all day long, which gives Nathan and I rest. Real rest. Take a nap rest. Sit down for a minute rest. The kind of rest we haven’t had in years.

So we all are a fan of legos.

But, that’s a lot of legos for six children playing at the same time.

They are going to flip out to see new shoes and legos – and books are perfect because we just split up their rooms and they all have their own libraries started and our children love to read.

We may mess up a lot of things for our children, and they may spend more years in therapy because of us than for anything they went through before us, but by golly, we gave them a love for reading – that’s how I know they will be okay.

Anyway, when you put all that together:

One outfit, one pair of shoes, one book set, one toy, one box of legos, a new stuffy, new pajama set, two tiny surprises from friends, plus the Harry Potter wands Nathan made, all together that makes ten presents for each child.

That’s not even anything frivolous or fancy, though it’s more than the four gifts of “something you want, something you need, something to play, and something to read.”

Part of that, though, is because they really do need new Sunday shoes.

But still, seriously, ten miracle presents for each child.

It’s amazing.

And it’s hilarious, because ten presents for six children adds up to sixty presents squeezed under the tree – not even counting a bunch of crazy wild fancy toys.

That’s crazy.

It feels a little ridiculous, especially when we think, “Oh!  But where are we going to live?”

Oh, yeah.  We are here.  We are safe.  We are home.

Or, when we think, “but what are we going to eat?”

Oh yeah.  Our pantry has been filled by the storehouse, and strangers, and angels hidden in the crowds.

Or when we think, “but how will we pay for Kyrie’s supplies?”

Oh yeah. Someone sold shirts for us.  And someone sent us a box of syringes.  And we won the medicaid appeal for her formula.  And somehow, those loved ones around us – the ones we don’t even get to hang out with because of doctor’s appointments and hospital visits – somehow they keep mailing us just enough to get what she needs, or palming us just enough to answer what we cried about on our knees that morning.

I cannot count how many times this year that has happened: that Nathan and I have been on our knees, pleading and begging and praying, and the doorbell rang, or the mail came, or someone shook hands with him on Sunday, or someone left something for us when we were not looking.

These are the angels who have heralded the good news to us throughout the year: Heavenly Father hears your prayers, and He knows your needs, and He loves you.

So maybe ten presents are ridiculous, when you think about so many places in the world where there are so many without shelter, without water, and without food.

That’s what I was thinking about when our Bishop first asked us to fill out angel tree forms for our ward.  I declined, initially, because we are safe and warm and clothed and fed, and that is sufficient for our needs.

Except the Sunday shoes, which we needed desperately in a spoiled American kind of way.

But, he said, we send our tithes and fast offerings to those places the way the church is organized to help.  But we are also responsible, he said, for our local people, which includes you, and this is about the children, and about traditions as a family, and about giving them memories.

“Fill out the paper,” he said.

And so I did.

And then one day this week, a box of presents just appeared out of nowhere on our back porch.

Sunday shoes, books, and legos.

And I fought back tears.

But then another family from church showed up one afternoon while I was at work and delivered to us a couch and loveseat because they heard we didn’t have one.

And then another special needs mom mailed us a gtube button because her child changed sizes and she just happened to have what we needed.

And then somebody put Christmas lights up after we moved.

And then some other anonymous person gave us zoo passes – with tickets for the train.

Memories.  That’s what the zoo is to us.  It’s not just an outing.  It’s the place we went to everytime we got new foster children, to let them flesh out their new family dynamics and for us to get to know each other in a safe, neutral setting.  It’s where I take the children on my days off, so that we can play and spend time together while giving Nathan a break and time to finish his work.  It’s where we go for homeschool field trips on days all the other children are in classrooms, so that Kyrie can get out of the house without dying.  It’s where we go to be a family, to learn, to play, to run and shout without having to be quiet and sit still.  It’s where Kirk learned to rock climb with one hand, and where Alex is well-behaved because his autism mind can predict what is coming next, and where the little ones first learned about animals and have done more pet therapy with those goats they brush than they ever could anywhere else.  That’s what the zoo means to us.

The zoo is where we learn about stables, and why animals need stables, and how animals eat, and what a funny thing it is that a baby would be laid in a manger.

Our faith tradition understands that the Savior was born in April, but we are so grateful for His birth that we join the rest of the world in celebrating at this time of year when the Spirit feels so strong while people are focused on being kind and generous and giving and good.

And we know Christmas isn’t about the presents, and we try to teach this to the children, but it’s also an awe-inspiring thing to watch the Spirit of Christmas grant provision to little children, relief to parents, and create memories for us all.

I work tonight, so Nathan has taken the children to Bartlesville to play with his parents while he plays violin for the Methodist church program.  I sent them in their pajamas, and they will open presents and they will make gingerbread houses.  It will all be very exciting and loud and I will be extra grateful for grandparents.  They will fall asleep on the way home, stumble into their beds just as I get home from work, and then wake in the night to throw up like they always do after eating everything they can find at Grandma’s.  Traditions, right?

When people talk about what we have sacrificed for these children, I often think about what the children have sacrificed for each other.  Not just for Kyrie, but also that.  They have come through hard things, committed to our family the way little ones do, and worked hard to be all they have become – sometimes in spite of us.  They work hard in their therapies every week, and they work hard at their chores, and they work hard in school even when it is at home.  They do not get much extra most of the time, because we have to so carefully stretch everything and even for their own healing must keep things so structured and steady and even keel.

But Christmas?  Christmas is something else.  It’s time to rest, and to play, and to ponder, and to sing, and to smile.  It’s time to give and serve and love, but also to receive and to feel loved.

And it amazes me that each of them have these ten little presents, and I am in awe of how friends or strangers could pick things out such gifts so exactly right for them.

Because they are gifts from the magi, gifts from angels, to these precious little spirits growing up before my eyes.

The Christmas after Kyrie was born was the first one we realized how her care had impacted us and changing our situation, and then last Christmas seemed impossible but unfolded before our eyes.

This Christmas came with a move completed in a week, start to finish, which is more than we could have done on our own, and our cultural celebration of Christmas has arrived on our doorstep one surprise at a time, one course at a time, one box at a time.

Maybe that’s my present: to know that we are okay, and safe, and not alone.

My children reminded me this morning that I am an orphan.  I don’t know where they learned that or how they figured out to apply it to me.  I told them it was okay because I am a grown up, even though it is hard.  They said it was still sad because I won’t get any real presents.

I told them they were my present, and it’s true.

And even Kyrie, whom we didn’t know would still be with us.

And maybe what we have experienced gives us peace while we still have her with us, or until she passes, or until she is better (which they say will not happen).

And maybe instead of only anticipating grief, we are learning to anticipate peace.

Maybe we have learned this year how to ask for help, how to give each other comfort, and how to let ourselves be loved.

Maybe that’s what Christmas is about: a baby born to do what we could not do for ourselves, to comfort us when we feel despair, and to love us no matter what.

Thank you for being angels.

Deliverance

It’s hard to see in this dark picture, but when I came home from work tonight the house was decorated for Christmas!

Someone put bells in our bushes, a Christmas teddy bear in the yard, and has some kind of magical swirly color light shimmering on our house.  It was so sweet!  The children were so excited when they got home tonight from watching Nathan play violin at the methodist church in Bartlesville.  I loved the lights, have never seen anything like it, and could drown in its hypnotic rhythm.  It was lovely!

We have made progress unpacking, and it almost looks as if we have always lived here.

The children’s rooms are all unpacked, except gifted beds still on their way.

The kitchen is unpacked, and the bathrooms are unpacked.

Mine and Nathan’s room is unpacked.

We even got two van loads of broken down boxes off to the recycling center today.

We only have the living room to finish, now that the shelves are in place after the cable man came.  I love our book shelves.  Now that the children have their own rooms, they also have their own bookshelves, and it is fun to watch the library begin to transfer to them as we gave them each some specific books and they picked others out.  It somehow felt very solidifying of this whole family experience, I think.  There is something about our family and books, and something about our books all over the house that makes it feel like we have always belonged here – even when there is more work to do!

It is good to feel safe, and a gift to feel comfortable, and all of it is new to all of us, I think.

We finished most of the books after taking that picture, and even got all our instruments cleaned up and re-shelved and a place for everyone’s spots to practice piano and violin.  Their rooms are starting to take shape beyond just unpacking, and their little school desks are set up nicely.  We are almost back in routine!  It looks like maybe tomorrow we will finally be able to put up our Christmas tree, and just in time!  It is not an easy thing to move in the middle of the holidays!

In the meantime, the yellow house is cleaned out of everything on the inside (not the garage yet), and now it is ready for cleaning.  We will do that and take new pictures to post, and see if it sells.  It will be a sad day, but also exactly like the first blessing said: that it would be a home for my family and not just for me (that was said back when it was only me), and that I would have my children there (not only did we start fostering there, but all the adopted children came back these six months to live here together once Kyrie was released on palliative care).  And, when we moved back to the yellow house last May, that blessing said that we would be in the yellow house “for a short respite to regather strength, and then to prepare for deliverance”.

We are glad to be delivered to this house, to each other, and still be in the hands of God.

I, for one, have learned lately that most often I am contending with myself, and that it is a little easier to be more charitable to others when I am not being so self-centered.

I mean to say, of course there are storms out there.  This is mortality.

But the Savior says do not be afraid, so why worry about the storm?

He reaches out His hand, and offers peace, and that is where I am to look.

Instead of focusing on what is so very hard, or how very exhausting life can be, or all the opposition against us, sometimes it is better to just look toward the Savior.

Maybe it’s really that simple to walk on water instead of drowning.

We are safe.  We are loved.  We are surrounded by angels in our community and far away loved ones and those on the other side of the veil.

We are champions of the impossible, testifiers of miracles, and witnesses to the very birth we celebrate this season.

We stand in holy places, and we will not be moved.

Home-ing

Today was our Sabbath, which meant we did not have to work hard at unpacking.

We can, however, help bring our home in Order, so what was important was caring for our sick children and organizing ourselves while they rested.

That meant I got the crockpot going with homemade bone broth, which is what (I believe) is helping Kyrie get healthier and stronger, and was perfect for the sick ones today.

It also meant that the bathrooms are all functioning now, and that Nathan and I got settled in our room.

It is a relief to have a room without boxes, but also have access to clean clothes and know where my papers are for work and for Kyrie to run around happily without it being dangerous.

Everyone seems to be adjusting well, with the children loving their own spaces and time together going more smoothly because they haven’t already been in each other’s way all day.

Kirk got his bookshelves today, so he will finish his room tomorrow. Mary got hers as well, so we are just waiting on her rug and curtains. The little ones just played and played.

The most exciting thing, though, is that because the big kids are no longer in the same rooms as the little ones, they are – for the first time – getting to stay up an extra half hour later for reading time in their beds. You would think we gave them a million dollars. They love it! They are so proud of themselves! It’s adorable.

More adorable is how glad Nathan and I are to be in our chairs after their “lights out”, to rest and relax and recover from the weekend.

We have to rest, you know, not just because it’s the Sabbath, but also because we know what comes next: the books.

Moving Day

Well, we did it. Again.

We got all moved, mostly.

We got the kitchen unpacked, all five children’s rooms unpacked and set up, and our room functional.

And by functional, I mean at 11pm Nathan and I collapsed in our chairs and couldn’t move, and could barely crawl to our bed to sleep.

Anber and Kyrie love their new room, even with their mattresses on the floor while we wait for their new beds given us:

Alex was so sweet to make Kyrie’s bed for her:

But he was also excited to start creating his “autism cave” which is what he wanted for a bedroom. The house has a giant hallway, and he and Mary have this plan to split it in half so they can have their own rooms. His bed isn’t put together yet, and his blackout curtains aren’t hung, but he got his things unpacked and his bed made!

Nathan and his dad worked hard on getting Mary’s end set up:

They are using loft beds (thank you, Sarah!) and putting their dressers and school desks underneath. We will add more shelves, but these two like these cozy little spaces and it’s what they asked to try. We were willing to let them try if they followed some basic rules (i.e., only changing clothes in the bathroom even after their curtains go up). Mary thinks it is “very New York like Papa” and could not be more thrilled:

Barrett is excited to have his own room, but played so much just in the empty space that he didn’t even get many of his toys out yet! He’s so funny! We left a rocker in his room for calming down and cuddle time, which he still very much needs.

Kirk is beyond excited for his own room, and he got the special room with the window seat. He is also waiting on his bookshelves to be set up, but he’s excited for a good start!

Mary and Alex helped us move, and worked so hard!

Kirk and the littles played at a friend’s house, but what we thought would be an hour or two turned into all day, naturally. We are so grateful to so many who helped and who cared for our children while we moved.

Oh, and for the teachers from church, who moved our swing set for us! That was so much work!

We were all very glad to all be home together, in pajamas, and finally sit down to a make shift dinner!

Everyone is already better with their own spaces and more space to play, and we are so grateful for the ongoing blessings hidden in affliction and trials. Heavenly Father is so faithful and good to us, and we are so very grateful.

By church time this morning, we had our pantry unpacked so that our table was in place and everyone could get to their seats easily:

(The boxes in the back are Kyrie’s feeding tube formula, and we will move those but it didn’t seem necessary for the Sabbath.)

We got everything put away so my kitchen is claimed and clean.

I even got Kyrie’s medical supplies organized better, though we aren’t finished because it’s Sunday, but we had what we needed for today.

We couldn’t find Sunday shoes, and we don’t have the Christmas tree up yet, but all the children have their hygiene baskets and got showered and we got into Sunday clothes. And they all have their scriptures and we got our prayers in last night and this morning.

That’s not bad for twenty-four hours, yeah?

Don’t worry. We aren’t finished. There’s still books. So many books.

The struggle is real, you guys, even on a resting Sabbath!

Plus Kirk threw up last night, which he always does after any kind of grandmother visit, and Alex woke with a cough. So it is a day I am glad they have their own rooms! I will keep them home today while Nathan is at church with the others, and if anyone else even clears their throat I will bring them home after Sacrament and give them broth, too. Mostly, though, we are just worn out!

It is a good day to rest.

Latkes and Applesauce

We used the leftover potatoes from the family gathering the other day to make latkes for Hanukkah, and we had just enough applesauce to go around.

The children were as delighted with this as they are a holiday that includes playing with fire every night!

Celebrating Hanukkah is not a Mormon faith thing, obviously, because it is a Jewish holiday. But after so much time in Israel, and such study of Hebrew, and the friends we have made in study and in worship, it is part of our identity and culture to acknowledge. It is a story of a miracle, and the return to the temple, both of which are important pieces of our faith and worth emphasizing.

There is a dark side to miracles, though, which is usually the struggle that leads up to the miracle. Whether it’s years in exile before the celebrated return, or a bloody battle before the victory, or the diligent work through mundane tasks to harvest much needed provision.

These are themes familiar to our family, after the hard years we have endured.

I do not mean to complain, as every family endures hard things. But I do share and write about the particular hard things that have been our hard things because those are the lessons and miracles of which I can testify.

And this season, with Hanukkah and Christmas – and even autumn’s Diwali with all of its lights – is the season for celebrating miracles.

Ultimately, these miracles are the victory of light over darkness, good over evil, knowledge over ignorance, and hope over despair.

That’s what we learn from miracles, and why the struggle before a miracle is necessary, whether that is confusion before understanding, wandering before settling, or even grieving before resurrection or reunion.

Regardless of our circumstance, and even though we have moved a ridiculous amount of times in the last few years, I love that our family has wandered like Abraham or like Moses. This can be our story. We went into exile to gather ourselves, and we wandered in circles as we became a family. Then, after having found each other, we returned here to our home base to rest as promised.

And it was good.

And now, as we set out again for what we hope is a final stop, we are starting out as a family solidified and strengthened. We are not being chased away by ghosts this time, and there are no new kids in our group anymore. We are one, just a family, as we are.

Our tiniest miracle continues as Kyrie is still with us as Christmas approaches and we thought she wouldn’t be. Daring to hope, we see her gaining strength (and weight) and becoming a little person instead of a baby. The gtube has saved her life, and her clear lungs mean that every bit of oxygen we can get into her really actually means something. She sings and dances, and runs and plays, and laughs and even screams for the first time.

She is so normal.

We will take every day that feels like that, even with syringes that pump in her organic feeding formula and even with the oxygen tubes that lay around our house now like forgotten toys.

Those of you who bought fan club t-shirts, by the way, should be getting them soon. They are being printed today and shipping tomorrow! How fun is that?

That’s not all the news we got early this morning.

After waiting two and a half years, the full report on Kyrie’s genetic testing has come back and was emailed to us.

Her results were normal, which gives us hope regarding some of the additional struggles they were afraid she might face in the future.

It is good to get good news for a change!

What a feeling to have burdens lifted, for loads to be lightened, to find out there are some hard things that just won’t be required for you (or her) to endure after so many other hard things.

This is a relief. It is good news. It doesn’t take everything else away, but it means that we don’t have to worry about the extra things they said were possible – she’s not going to lose her sight from this, or have juvenile arthritis, or other related things from other syndromes that sometimes have some of her symptoms. This is good news, a mercy given to a child who endures enough already.

But it included other news, too, which confirmed what we already assumed: cell damage and structural issues and something else I don’t even understand all indicate that in Kyrie’s case, her medical problems are indeed caused by alcohol and polysubstance abuse while in utero.

We knew that already.

But now it’s on paper.

On paper in a way she will have to face and process as she gets older.

On paper the very same day her (and Anber’s) biological mother is being transferred from prison back to the local jail for court, to get out years early because of overcrowding.

It stirs up an emotional response in me that I confess is not pretty or tender, but feels more like a storm I am afraid of because of the flashing bolts and roaring thunder. There are not even words on that stupid feeling wheel for how this makes me feel.

That woman-child, barely twenty when she was sent away to prison for what she did to my baby, has never served her real sentence. Her real consequences should be seeing this baby when she is purple, and then blue, and then grey. Her real consequence should be watching her struggle to breathe, choke on her food, and wipe away the tears that fall as she aspirates on her drink. Her real consequence should be sleepless nights week after week, month after month, again and again, in hospitals far away from home and all alone. Her real consequence should be watching that baby in a coma, pleading with her to wake up to a life of pain and struggle. Her real consequence should be two fingered chest compressions on a toddler the size of a doll, washing eight billion syringes a day, or shoving a tube down her baby’s nose and throat so as to keep her alive, even though that was one more thing blocking an already restricted airway. Her real consequence should be learning how to travel to a hospital a thousand miles away with a van full of medical equipment, getting strapped to gurneys on helicopters, or having to find a way to fly home again with an infant and six machines in your lap on the airplane. Her real consequence should be the exhaustion from suctioning every eight minutes 24/7 with no nursing help, the fear instilled from blaring heart monitors in the night, or the trauma inflicted from having ten minutes to keep your baby alive when it’s a forty-five minute drive to get there. Her real consequence should be having to plead and beg for one more dollar to get the next medical supply not covered at home but necessary to keep her alive, to work one more night shift to make up for the one spent in the hospital, or to research laws about trading medical supplies that home health won’t take back but you no longer need in hopes of finding the things you need more desperately than your own air because it’s the difference between life and death for your child. Her real consequence should be waking in the night because the Holy Ghost himself has warned that the child is not breathing, learning to trust that voice to tell you how to move or turn the baby so she can breathe or eat or gasp for air, learning to trust God for the provision and protection for that baby to live another day.

Those should be her consequences.

But they weren’t.

They were mine.

It’s so atonement-ish.

Because I chose to bring that baby home, promised to care for her, and have done my best to do right by her.

And so on the day that woman goes before a judge to plead for mercy and early release, her now almost three year old daughter runs to me to sing the Good Morning song and tell me she already went potty like a big girl.

And I will hold her, and kiss her, and hug her.

And then I will tell her about her other mother, where she grew in her tummy, her other mother who loves her so much and has spent every day missing her – which is maybe the hardest consequence of all, and one from which there will be no early release.

But it is a season of miracles.

And for lighting the world today, we are called to be merciful.

Even merciful to mothers who make mistakes.

Even merciful to ourselves.

How far can you go today to show mercy to someone else or to yourself?

What pain can you release for the cause of mercy, even when doing so doesn’t justify a wrong or erase natural consequences?

What hard place in your heart is being called to soften, what story needs reframing, what grudge needs letting go?

Who needs forgiving from something so awful they can’t undo, even while consequences haunt them far more than you ever could?

What small good can you do in the world, for someone who doesn’t even deserve it, for someone who maybe won’t even appreciate it, or for someone who needs a break in life when there has been no hope?

When Anber and Kyrie’s mother gets out of prison, I will take them to see her when it is time and they are ready.

It will be the hardest visit ever, not because she is worse than the other biological parents, but because the damage was most externally obvious. And because we have had this illusion of time where they were only mine. And because I am really comfortable with being really angry at what she has done to this child.

But that kind of anger is not of God, and justice is His to serve instead of mine.

And while there are days I know Kyrie would not be alive if we had not sacrificed so much to care for her, I also know she would not even be here if it were not for her mother.

And she is not my story so much as her mother is her story and Anber’s, and they need to write it themselves.

We have said it before: children are not happy meal toys to be possessed. They are living beings, with their own stories to write, and that woman is their mother.

It’s harder, too, because it is a starting over.

We met Kirk and Barrett’s mother at adoption, after the hard pieces of their story, during a new beginning for the boys. She and I have worked hard to learn to trust each other, as we offered visits and as she participated. It grew out relationship into the safe place it now feels, even in such painful circumstances, and it is starkly contrasted with Mary’s mother who deserves the same kind of mercy and love but hasn’t participated.

I don’t know what will happen when this woman will get released. I don’t know if she will participate. I don’t know if she will be safe for the girls. I don’t know if she understands how hard Kyrie’s life has been, or how she has struggled, or what a miracle it is that she is still with us.

I don’t know if it isn’t maybe true that Kyrie lasted this long just to see her mother again, and process that in her own way.

There’s purpose in all of it, I know that.

And I know that today is the day we are called to be merciful, so that is significant to me.

Difficult and unpleasant, but significant.

But that’s part of the journey, the uncomfortable part.

It’s part of adoption. It’s part of fostering. It’s part of being a family.

Mercy.

Biological Family Thanksmasgiving

Today was one of our favorite days of the year: our Thanksmasgiving with our biological families.

Alex’s parents and sister and niece and nephew came:

And Kirk and Barrett’s mom and baby sister came:

So did their aunt and uncle and cousin:

We even got to meet Barrett’s father’s mother for the first time:

And we talked to Barrett’s father for the first time in prison – he has not seen Barrett since Barrett was ten months old:

So grateful to his mother for doing the hard work to make that happen. It’s a tricky thing, triggers and memories and biological family issues and feelings about it, but it is Barrett’s story, and it is his to work out. Anber also talks to her mother on the phone in prison, and has been pretty direct with her. Kirk, even, at some point, when he is ready, will need his own very serious conversation with Barrett’s father. It’s a tough call, but we would rather they begin working these issues now while we can support them, rather than facing it full on as adults on their own.

Speaking of hard issues, I begged and pleaded, but we were unable to get anyone at all from Mary’s family to come. But, Mary showed them how to string up popcorn:

And Mary was also the boss of ornament making:

The children had their first recital, playing for their families:

Then Nathan led them all in Christmas carols while Mary helped me serve up the meal the children cooked: turkey, volcano potatoes, sweet potatoes, plus an Aunt’s fruit salad and a mom’s green bean casserole, and apple pie.

While they were all in line for their food, they passed the children’s school work lining the hallways:

These were gifts for the families at the end.

Anber and Kyrie’s mother’s twin sister and mother made it just in time at the end:

But the most fun part, so say the children, was the gift exchange! It warms my heart, not because the children got a few gifts, but because all the families have “adopted” all six children as much as we have, so everyone had a few gifts to open – even Mary, who had no family show up at all. They had such fun!