Thursday, August 21, 2014

how one ends up doing all the things they swore they'd never do.

You know, trusting and following God drives me crazy, if I'm honest.

It messes up "my" life.

So often I buy into this illusion that I have control. I make plans, great plans, and they all just sort of crumble every. single. time.

Right now I find myself in a position that I never would have chosen if it were all up to me; and yet somehow, I have this intense peace that it is God's perfect plan.

Three things I swore I'd never do:

1. Have less than three kids.
2. Work(as in -employment-) in ministry.
3. Homeschool.

Two kids? THAT'S IT? I wanted like 4-5. 3 minimum. When we didn't feel led to have more of our own (which was a battle to reconcile in itself, and still is, to be honest), we thoughtfully and prayerfully signed up for foster care. In one of the more bizarre turns of events in my life, God clearly, clearly wanted us to stop the process after we finished licensing. I can't even try to explain it- all I can say is, out of nowhere, after 3 years of wanting to do it and 6 months of a licensing process, we both totally and completely knew we weren't supposed to, like the flip of a switch- and that is not like us at all. I have been confused about that since it happened... until now.

Work? Yes, I want to work. In fact, if it were all up to me, I'd be registering for my Master's classes right now with my sights set on a Ph.D in family systems. When my position became available at church, at my husband's place of work, in my husband's department, I just knew I was supposed to do it. It was the only thing that made sense. And this, my friends, is definitely not like me- I want to be independent and do my own thing.

I grew up in public school, and it was hard. Academically, socially, you name it. But it shaped who I am, and taught me about ALL people, not just the ones like me, and it taught me how to handle myself in difficult situations. I wanted my kids to experience this- I wanted them to know people who were different from them. I was anti charter school, anti private school (especially the "sheltered" Christian schools), and above all else, anti home schooling. I used to think, we can't make the system better if we take all the "good" students out of it and put them in safe little "good student" bubbles- we are a community! Solidarity! Don't take the salt of the earth OUT of the earth, keep great kids in schools and the schools will be great too!

A year ago, my stigmas against homeschooling began to falter one by one, until they were gone. There are so many AMAZING, well rounded, committed leaders in our youth group who were home schooled. Their families are solid. They love AND like their parents. They are close with their siblings. They have a heart for their communities. They are healthier than I was at their age. It has changed my entire perspective.

Enter: my beautiful, kind-spirited, light-hearted, differently-abled daughter :) She has been in preschool for two years in a public school setting and has thrived, until the last six months.  The more she moved up in the ranks at school, the more edged out of her education I became. The more of my voice I lost. And because I know her needs better than anyone else, what that meant was she was losing her voice too.

Three weeks ago, I hadn't dreamt of homeschooling- only my master's degree. But then kindergarten happened.

My daughter's unique mind was lost in a sea of 30 other students in her class room. She was getting half or more of her worksheets wrong-- material that she has had mastered for over a year. It's not because she didn't know it, it's because no one could take the time to explain how to do the worksheet or what it meant or why. An arbitrary worksheet that doesn't matter to the mind of a child with autism is going to be treated as just that- arbitrary. Here at home she gets every answer right almost every time. She learns here, because she gets the one on one instruction, repetition, and reward that her brain requires to make stuff stick. I won't go into the details of her IEP and the technicalities behind everything, all I will say is - it wasn't working.

My daughter is a social butterfly who doesn't know she's any different than others- she loves everyone and isn't afraid to be herself. But on the day we withdrew her from school she still didn't know anyone's name in her class. She hadn't met any new friends. In a crowd of 30 other students, she spent her time on the playground alone, she played in class alone, she ate lunch by her teacher instead of with friends. The longer she acclamated to this environment of being alone in a crowd of people, the more it would reinforce that that was her role in a group of peers- the loner.

The social interactions she did have were negative; someone stole the splint off of her broken finger during the school day and she was in tears when I picked her up. We kept the splint at home the next day to avoid a similar situation, and someone ended up stepping on her broken finger to the point of making it bleed- she was sent to the nurse's office, they put a bandaid on it, and NO ONE EVER TOLD ME. I had to find out about it from her.

And you know what?

ENOUGH.

She has had way too much academic and social success and has way too much untapped potential to waste on a broken system that won't accommodate her.  She has worked too hard. In a sink or swim environment, she is not being provided the tools she needs to swim. AND SHE CAN SWIM.

I am finally beginning to see: all things to work together for God when you love God and honor Him and seek His will.

He has orchestrated this beautiful life for me: this amazing chance to educate my child and give her the future she deserves, the opportunity to grow as a leader and as a lover of people in my new job position, and in contentment and satisfaction with the perfect and whole family He has blessed me with.

I could have done all the other stuff anyway. We could have done foster care anyway, or had more of our own kids anyway, but then I wouldn't have had the time or resources to teach Maddy at home, and she'd be left in public school on a high stakes gamble. I didn't know homeschooling was coming, but He did.

Friday, July 11, 2014

The night I fell in love

I don't talk about falling in love very much, partly because our story is unique and messy, and partly because I feel like it makes me look weak or sound dumb. Probably because at that stage of my life I was pretty weak and kind of dumb. :)

But falling in love with my husband at summer camp when I was 17 is the best dumb thing I've ever done.

The first time I saw him, I thought I already knew him.

The first conversation I had with him, I knew I liked him and wanted to be friends with him.

The second conversation left my heart a tangled mess. I couldn't figure out how I felt about him, but I knew it wasn't normal. Something extraordinary was happening in me that drew me to him like a magnet, and he was a guy, so... I guess that meant I liked him?? I just didn't know.

More conversations happened, and I had never been so drawn to a person. But I still wasn't sure.

Then we had the spaghetti dinner. We were working at a camp together, and it was our job to serve the food to tables of highschoolers. We paired into serving teams, and he and I ended up together.

It was western night. He had on this awful plaid shirt with a gaudy belt buckle and a ratty cowboy hat, and I wore a denim skirt with french braids and eyeliner freckles on my cheeks.

I watched him serve the kids with this huge smile on his face, and my heart went limp like the the very noodles we were dishing out. Holy everything... my face got hot, my stomach lurched (butterflies??? no, it was like a heard of wildabeast), my hands tingled and I couldn't feel my feet on the floor.  I understood in that moment why they call it "falling" in love, because once you step off the ledge, there's no going back; you're just gone, whether you like it or not.

And I was so gone. My heart was totally and completely at his mercy.

For me, falling in love with my husband went from zero to sixty, from confusing friendship to I-think-I'm-gonna-marry-you.

This rapid relationship mutation from friend-to-I-love-you happened to him too, but two years later :)

We went from platonic best friends to that car ride home late at night that took me by the greatest surprise, when he told me we were going to get married and he just knew that he knew, and I knew too.

And so we did.

:)

Thursday, May 15, 2014

You Cannot Love in Moderation



I have this dream that in death, I will have used up every ounce of my being.

On my dying day,

My face will be aged and weathered from the time I spent alive in the sun. The skin around my eyes will fold and crease as a permanent mark of how much I smiled. My knees and elbows will be scarred from the times I fell, because it will mean I went somewhere daring instead of easy.

My brittle fingers will ache deeply from the work I've used them for; God, let me die with dirt under my fingernails.

My feet will be calloused from walking every last mile I could squeeze from them; my eyes heavy from all they've seen; my hair a brittle silky white as a testament to the wisdom I've collected over a lifetime. My voice will fall hoarse and tired from talking with the ones I love and singing my heart out.

My life is not something I wish to preserve, but something I wish to spend freely and give away piece by piece, moment by moment.

I may not be a beautiful old lady, but even in death I will be an alive one.


This song has been on repeat in my house for the last few days.


One line in particular has been hovering over my thoughts since I heard it: You cannot love in moderation.

You either love, or you don't. You cannot love in part; the nature of love is such that it either is, or isn't.

Often, I feel that living is the same: you either live, or you don't. You cannot live in part. You're either fully alive, or not alive at all.



In summation: I am an all or nothing sort of person. 


And this is an exciting and passionate way to live, but it is also very, very difficult.

It makes every major life decision impossible. It makes every passion in my life feel deserving of 100%, but I am not exempt from the laws of math and my attention has to be divided if I am going to serve multiple passions.

For a while, I ignored the "all" part of me in hopes of gaining traction or control.  Passionate: bad, Even-keeled: best. Then my daughter was diagnosed with autism, and my protective "nothing" casing was smashed to smithereens leaving me vulnerable, exposed, and "all."

In my newly discovered all-ness, I decided that my daughter having autism didn't mean I couldn't still change the world, make a difference, do my part and somehow be used by God for something incredible. So I tried to do. it. ALL.

And God has swiftly aimed, fired and destroyed every plan I've made. Jobs, ministries, school, projects, various forms of employment, charity...

The things that have actually worked out in my life are things that had nothing to do with my all. They just happened to us. Right place, right time, divine intervention.

Three weeks ago came the biggest blow yet. After 3 years of praying and waiting to do foster care, followed by six intensive months of preparation, training and financial investment, it became abundantly clear to us and those closest to us that foster care was not, in fact, in the best interest of our family or me personally. Days, hours before our first placement, it was like a light turned on in a dark room. Through various unexpected circumstances, we simply realized: we should not be doing this right now. No questions asked, it was just over.

And for the last three weeks, I have been living somewhere between all and nothing, searching for my footing, and mostly just floating. Surely I was made for more than this. Surely my life means more than existing in my white, middle class, suburban, cliche Gap ad existence. Surely, God, you want us to SAVE THE BABIES. What. Is. Going. On.

I've been praying for direction; praying to understand the desires of my heart, praying for contentment, praying for passion in simply sitting still, or simply making my kids breakfast, or simply teaching them to clean up their toys... and praying that one day maybe my role in the world won't feel so simple anymore. That I can grasp passion and wield it in a disciplined, meaningful, creative, difference-making sort of way. In a way that I can work myself to the bone for the sake of something greater.

For now I am choosing the discipline of contentment in right where I've been placed. It's the hardest discipline I know... but I am learning it and it will serve me well no matter where the Lord takes me from here.




Sunday, March 30, 2014

In which I finally admit that I'm scared.

Fear changes us.

Patience wastes away to an easy and appetent temper in the wake of fear, always pointing a finger. 

It's like an acid that deteriorates healthy peace down to the brittle, failing bones of anxiety and worry.

Kindness burns to dusty ashes of lazy callous and casual slander.

It's a mind-shift that reverts love to selfishness, trading joy for apathy.

Goodness is veiled by ordinary evil so well-camouflaged you never knew it creeped in.

Gentleness warps into harsh reaction.

Self-control falls prey to the robbery of greed and lethargy.



If I've learned anything from my my pain or growth in life, it's that fear is a scam.



In a month or so, we will be parenting, loving, and living as a family with one or two children who aren't ours. They'll travel roads littered with negelct, sexual abuse, physical abuse, and substance exposure to arrive home with us. They'll face obstacles of emotional trauma, delayed development, special needs; limps they'll have to learn to walk with. They'll long for their own mother's embrace and love and acceptance, and have to settle for mine.



I'm scared.


There, I said it.

You know, we've got a pretty great thing going for us as-is: A strong-rooted marriage between best friends; two beautiful children who we strive to parent intentionally and carefully with attention to detail; an amazing success story of our daughter's hard work overcoming her obstacles with autism; an incredible home that blesses us daily; order, routine, character, love, affection, acceptance, family.

It would be so easy to put up some sort of protective force field around "my people" to keep out the bad, or pain, or discomfort.

Our gut instinct in the face of fear is to protect what's at stake.

How will my kids feel about sharing me with someone who isn't one of "our own"? How divided will my attention be? Do I have what it takes? What if our foster children don't love me? What if we adopt and they grow up feeling like I can't meet their needs like a biological mom could? What if I have to say goodbye to a child I want to keep? What if this whole process emotionally traumatizes my husband and children? What if it emotionally traumatizes me?

Some might think the opposite of fear is courage, but I recently read that the opposite of fear is love, and I kind of like that.

In the face of love, I know I can't ignore the fact that thousands of unwanted children suffer daily at the hands of mentally and emotionally unwell parents, and I especially can't ignore the fact that we can do something about it as a family. I can't ignore the fact that we want them. I can't ignore the empty room in our home begging to be filled, the empty chairs at our dinner table, the love in our hearts so readily available; to withhold a love so freely given to us-- even in efforts to "protect" ourselves-- would be to deny who we were created to be at our core. It would be a tragedy of epic proportions; a self-important waste of God-given, life-giving resources.

When love and fear face off, fear doesn't have a hope in the world for victory. It's like my 3 year old son arm wrestling my 30 year old husband.

Not every family in existence is called to foster or adopt. I know and accept that (although, did you know that if only 1 family for every 4 churches in our country adopted 1 child, there would be NO ORPHANS in our country??? I digress...). But WE are.


We were made to do it, and so we shall. We will laugh and cry and hurt and rescue some and lose some and grieve and find hope and healing and keep going.

It won't be easy, and that's okay-- love is never easy. But it is always worth it.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

time in the garden

Gardening is one of those things you either love or hate.

Something about it all just seems so tedious, in the worst sense of the word. The seeds need to be buried at just the right depth, they need the dirt packed on top at just the right firmness, enough water to stay damp every day but not too much or they will drown (in our desert climate, it's harder than it sounds).... and then there's the waiting. I go through all the trouble of planting, and for what? Days of staring at dirt.

But then, it happens.




It will be a while yet before that Thai Basil sprout is of any use to me, but the sprout gives me hope and motivation to keep going, so I do.

I water it daily and never miss, or it will surely die. 

And it grows....




As I see the progress, I can almost taste the pesto recipe I've been dying to try, so I keep going. I stay faithful. I get myself out there with my watering can every day.

With enough care and determination, my work is rewarded with a full, rich violet, aromatic plant that will produce enough basil for endless pesto.



And in that mountain top moment of my Thai Basil plant's realized maturity, I learn something about myself:

I love gardening.

But not for the reasons you think. Not for that mountain top moment at the end where I get to snip off some leaves and make my pesto. Not for the facebook-worthy victory photo that proves I'm all organic and health-conscious and thoroughly domesticated and stuff.

I love the process; I love the discipline. Something about life, and how tender and delicate it is, and how tedious it is to properly care for it, and how committed you must be to keep it healthy... 
something about that just resonates with my soul. It resonates deeply with my life experience. 

My kids are like my little sprouts... so delicate and so full of promise, yet so much of what they are capable of becoming lies squarely on the shoulders of my commitment level to them.

My marriage is like a plant that has just begun to take root, learning to weather some storms, survive the occasional drought, yet demands daily attention and total devotion to reach the heights it was meant to grow and maintain its resilience.

My friendships and extended family often feel like totally different species of plants... if my immediate family is a Thai Basil, my other relationships are Coriander or spicy Oregano- requiring all different kinds of nurturing and attention, but such a rewarding variety of flavors and smells and colors to enjoy during my time in the garden.

I'm learning to appreciate my daily toil instead of view it as a chore. Some days are difficult, frustrating, and I kinda want to throw in the watering can and tell my plants to just whither up and die if you're gonna be such a diva, why don't ya... Are you ever going to grow? Am I just wasting my time out here?

And other days, it's like magic happened overnight and all of my work amounts to a sprout, and I'm motivated enough to keep going.

The more time I spend in the garden, the more understanding I become of its seasons; I'm learning that droughts are temporary, and storms pass. I'm learning just how valuable the victory moments are, and to celebrate them thoroughly; to really live those moments.

Gardening, like relationships, is not a means to an end. Learning to love my time in the garden every day, picking up that watering can one more time, digging my hands into the dirt and doing the work, is teaching me peace and contentment, and that by His grace, God designed me to be a sustainer of love. 

And Thai Basil. :)


Tuesday, February 11, 2014

New Additions

 Many friends and family have expressed interest in helping us get our foster care ministry started with donations, so here's the scoop on what we're doing and how you can help!



WHAT WE'RE DOING

In Arizona there are nearly 15,000 children in foster care due to their parents' inability to care for them. The reasons range from physical/sexual abuse to neglect, which is usually drug related. The primary goal of foster care is to reunite families once the birth parents have taken steps to improve and heal the home to make it safe for the child to return.

We will be fostering baby girls, ages 0-6 months, and siblings up to 18 months old. At any given time, we will likely have two foster children in our home beginning April 2014.

Most of the babies in our care will have been exposed to drugs in utero, which can present many developmental delays and problems as they grow into toddlers. With great care and appropriate therapy, most of these children can and do outgrow their developmental setbacks.

When babies come into our care, they could be with us anywhere from two days to two years. We have to be prepared with clothing, diapers, formula, etc. on any given day at any given time-- we simply get a phone call and can have new kiddos in our home as soon as an hour later! 

We are open to and hoping for adoption through this process if we happen to care for children who are not able to be reunified with their birth families.


WHAT WE NEED

On a day of particularly poor judgment about a year ago, I was convinced that we were done with our "baby stage" of life, and got rid of almost every baby item I owned. We are truly starting from scratch, and without the typical baby showers and such that come with pregnancy, it is overwhelming! 

Thankfully, we are incredibly blessed with generous, big-hearted friends and family who have asked to help. We are moving into a smaller house, so I have streamlined a list of what we truly need so we aren't swimming through piles of superfluous baby gear at our new place :)

We will happily and gratefully take any of the things on this list in good used condition!

Food and diapers aside, all items on this list will stay in our family and will be used to help multiple children; we will not need to replace these items with each new child placement.
  1. Prayer. If you don't have monetary or material resources to give, we would love and cherish your prayers for our family and our hearts as we enter this time that promises both trial and great reward.
  2.  Anything on this Target Registry (most of which must be ordered online)
  3.  Target gift cards (to be used in emergency placements for diapers, formula, unforeseen required purchases, etc.)
  4. Exersaucer or bouncer (Example)
  5. Tummy Time Play Mat (Example)
  6. Two bumbo seats and trays (we use these in lieu of high chairs)
  7. Play pen (Example)
  8. Bum Genius All In One Snap cloth diapers (can be found at Buy Buy Baby here)
  9. Cash donations via PayPal (so I can do my own secondhand shopping!) can be made to emilydelster@gmail.com.
Your love and support are far more valuable than anything else, and we feel like we are partnering with you as friends and family who support us and stand behind us, and especially those of you who step into it with us as a whole new chapter of life begins. Your generosity will touch the lives of abused and neglected children, and will help ease our burden as we love and parent them. Thank you, from the bottom of our hearts.


'Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.' -James 1:27
‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ -Matthew 25:40

Thursday, January 23, 2014

the long answer

When someone asks where I'm from, the first thing I do is try to figure out whether to give the long answer or the short answer.

I'm from 8 different states in 17 years. I'm from family scattered all over the country. I was born in Montgomery, Alabama and lived there for the first six months of my life, but haven't been there since. So, what do I say? Usually something like, "I'm a military brat, so everywhere."

But in my heart, I am from the tiny neighborhood (that has grown to the city) of Litchfield Park.

Old Litchfield Park is where I spent the most important five years of my childhood-- the longest I ever lived in one place.

I lived in the trees here, a fearless climber. I rode my bike and rollerbladed every square foot of sidewalk in this town. I know which citrus trees produce sweet fruit and which are sour. I know where the land rises and falls. I remember the addresses and phone numbers of all the friends who shared this neighborhood with me. I held hands for the first time with a boy on the dock down the street. I learned what it meant to devote myself fully to excellence, and rode my bike to swim practice three times per day one summer just a quarter mile to the heart of town. I tasted my first wine cooler (all two sips I managed to get down) we had stolen from our parents' fridge, and decided right that second that rebellion wasn't my thing. I remember picking up 2-3 of my closest friends to go to church with me every week and how I never felt more in community. I remember when I finally understood God's love for me. I remember swinging at the bright orange park alone, praying. I remember feeling alive for the first time.


I remember when, 16 years later, Mike and I miraculously found an affordable rental house in this very neighborhood and I got to move my family back "home."


I remember when I swung my daughter and son on that same orange playground. I remember taking them to swim in the pool that taught me what it meant to work hard. I remember hoisting them into the branches that my ten year old self once sat and dreamed in. I held their hands on the dock. We traveled the rise and fall of the streets together in my bike and trailer. They've memorized the houses with the good Christmas lights, especially the Snoopy house. My daughter walked the halls as a student of my own elementary school. We laid in the grass and watched the same palm trees sway in the wind.

Somehow, in these short two years here, I was able to transfer the sweetest part of my own childhood to the heart of my kids.


And I needed that.


In a time where everything else was broken, we had this. In a time when I didn't know how to give my daughter what she needed, I offered her the very best of what I knew to be good when I was little. In a time when my heart was breaking, I sat on the dock at the lake and remembered. I sat by the trees and remembered. I pushed my kids on the orange swings and remembered: God is good.

As we prepare to leave it, I'm surprised that I'm not too sad. Military life took me away involuntarily from my haven all those years ago, and we needed to come back to give it a proper goodbye. Old Litchfield, we've loved you for all you're worth... and you'll always be ours.

Though we press on to new beginnings, you are my long answer; you are my home.