Friday, September 30, 2016

The Social Media Trap

I offended someone with my post about Jon the other day. I figure Matt Walsh probably offends at least a dozen, if not a hundred, people every time he touches his keyboard, so if this was the first time I've been openly offensive in 325 blog posts, I've got some catching up to do.

No, but seriously, that was the furthest from what I hoped to do. Originally, I had actually written another paragraph empathizing with the social media façade, but although you'd probably never guess, I try to keep my writing from turning into a free-flowing stream of consciousness, so I chose not to digress any further. The intent of my birthday post for Jon was simply to honor him. I didn't set out to confront the paradox of social media, but I did want to add a bit of a disclaimer so I wouldn't be contributing to the problem of online comparison that can be so damaging. If I just post flattering pictures of my husband looking all burly, helping around the house, and doting over our toddler, without keeping it real to some degree, then the folks who rarely see us in more than cyberspace could get the impression we have a marriage or family worth coveting.

But here's the catch, no matter how real you wanna keep things, you can't share the negative stuff online. I can be open and honest about my own plethora of shortcomings, and in my opinion it's still okay to share when a toddler acts like a toddler (i.e. my current Facebook cover photo). But there's a certain age of accountability, which happens to coincide with about the age of entry into the social media world, where it's no longer acceptable to keep throwing your kids/spouse under the bus. This was a rude awakening for me, as a mom who had posted pretty transparently about our adoption and parenting struggles in hopes of encouraging others in similar situations. But then one day, Angie was online too, and it was no longer fair to be as vulnerable when it meant exposing her.

If there were sound bytes or video clips of my squabbles with Jon behind closed doors, I could probably share them with you, because mine would be the tone that would make us all cringe, and the scowl would darken my face not his. But if anyone recorded his list of unfinished projects that are driving me nuts, or the mornings I couldn't get him out of bed, it wouldn't be fair for me to divulge such details, (posted with permission from him here of course.) You see, we tend to get on social media right after a tense moment with the kids or spouse and we see others on date night. Maybe their date wasn't even that stellar, but they had good lighting for the selfie and Instagram has a filter for everything! 

All this to say, there is a reason people mostly post their highlight reel online, not necessarily to make others believe they're doing better than they truly are, but because those are the moments you can share without insulting others. And those are the moments you want to dwell on.

So, to that wife who continued to keep up appearances, so to speak, even when the truth was likely much bleaker, here's what I almost wrote in the original post, but didn't want to digress from my main purpose of praising Jon:

Maybe those idyllic images and kind words about her man weren't meant to deceive anyone, but were meant to help her remember, and to remind him, of why she loved him. Maybe she too wanted to dwell on the beautiful moments and capture them for as long as she could. And maybe by speaking words of life into him publicly instead of condemnation, there could be hope for a future with more lovely times worth capturing...

May we all have the freedom to share much of the beauty that we experience every day, and may we have the wisdom to recognize others' posted moments aren't the only ones they're having, just the best ones.

"Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things." -Philippians 4:8

'Cause sometimes I make a mess of things too Buddy.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

A Perfectly Imperfect Gift

Because Jon is such a good listener and patient counselor, guys pour out their troubles to him all the time. Unfortunately, he currently has three different friends in the midst of serious marital upheaval. One of their wives was still posting idyllic stories and photos on social media about their marriage and family even as the whole thing was unraveling.

The last image I ever want to portray online, or in reality, is that we are doing better than anyone else. What I'm preaching to my vets and students this season is that comparison is one of the many thieves of joy. With social media, we're comparing 100% of our own story to about the top 5% of other folks' lives. It's basically bound to be depressing.

For this reason, I hesitate to even write about my man and all his hard work around our house. But when our partners have done good (and maybe we hope they'll do such things again someday), we really need to make sure they, and everyone else, know how good they've done.

So, in honor of another year completed, in what he likes to call his "mid-thirties," here are a few pics of just how great this guy has been to us recently.
Someone sure has an awesome Daddy to look up to! They're gonna need matching tool belts soon.

I agree Zy, he's my hero too...

Ruby had no idea this fence she was helping with was intended to stifle all her fun of roaming the neighborhood.

Look at what my man built, not just a fence from scratch but STAIRS! I couldn't even make a popsicle stick model of this.
Sometimes he just pulls down 30 year-old eyesore trees with his bare hands, well maybe with a little help from the truck too.

You would think that work, night school, and never-ending projects around the house would fill up his schedule, but he always finds time to play with his Mini-Me.

Happy Belated Birthday to God's perfect gift to our family. God knew what He was doing when He brought these two imperfect people together to sharpen and refine each other with our rough edges. There's nothing flawless, or even idyllic, about our romance, our marriage, or our parenting, but sometimes there are beautiful moments, and efforts worth praising. Those are the ones I want to focus on...

Friday, August 19, 2016

One Scared Mama

In case anyone were ever to think we've got it all together, here's an attempt at full disclosure to assure you that we're as much of a hot mess as the next family.

In the past week, Isaiah put a printer cartridge in his mouth, daily scattered toys all across the house faster than I could clean up after him, had minor meltdowns every time I took anything away from him or made him stop hitting the dog, fell down multiple times a day, woke up multiple times a night, peed on the bathroom floor, and pooped on our bedroom carpet. No worries, the dog was right there to help clean it up.

As if eating poop, wasn't effective enough at making her smell awful, Ruby got sprayed by a skunk on Tuesday, at 10:15pm! 'Cause bathing her multiple times is what we wanted to do at that hour.

Jon just began a new semester of night classes with projects keeping him late even the very first week.

In the meantime, Angie started a new school with new friendships to work through, teachers to get used to, homework to keep her up till 10:30pm, sports to decide upon, and a schedule to line up. In the process of choosing electives and fitting all her classes together, she struggled in her first choice; an art class, which later she found out was Advanced Art. So, she switched to a class that wouldn't be such a challenge, Spanish 1! I'm not at all sure how this got past the counselor in charge of scheduling, but it certainly didn't get past me. In no way did I want to make this transition to a brand new high school more difficult for her, but I wasn't about to let her spend an entire year learning how to introduce herself and say her numbers and colors in Spanish, her first language! Apparently Spanish 2 or 3 didn't fit into her schedule so she went with what was left which just happened to be the easy "A."

Back at the ranch, I'm trying to keep everyone fed, bathed, and in clean clothes, while working from home preparing for my busy travel season that begins next week. Did I mention the toddler thinks he needs to be touching me at least 17 hours a day?

So, when I started to have a hunch I was pregnant earlier this summer, I was a tad hesitant to embrace it. Trips to the grocery store were already making me nauseous, but I couldn't bring myself to take the test. I decided to postpone till Angie's birthday, which was the same day we found out we were pregnant with Isaiah two years ago, mostly for sentimentality, but partly to give me time to wrap my head around this new blessing.

Don't get me wrong, we wanted another one. Two years apart, seemed like good timing. Everything was pretty much perfect, except that the idea turning into reality was somewhat terrifying.
He's such a proud Papa!
I'm not much of a worrier. We've all heard that like 85% of what we worry about isn't even going to happen, and worrying about that other 15% isn't going to change anything anyway. Mostly, I trust that God is going to take care of me, He'll only allow me what He wants me to have.

But guys, I've been pregnant, I've had a newborn, we have a toddler, we have a teenager; I know ~95% of what's going to happen, what God's gonna allow, and I'm scared. Trusting God doesn't make the "morning" sickness any more comfortable. It doesn't make the fatigue on top of the already full schedule any lighter. It doesn't make labor happen effortlessly, nor recovery happen painlessly. It doesn't mean I'll necessarily ever sleep through the night again! And I'm not at all sure that God plans to have these little ones play together peacefully all day while I continue to email, make phone calls, write, put together presentations, and travel all over the Southeast for CVM.

Maybe I'm gonna be somewhat miserable for 9 months, maybe longer. It's quite possible the next baby won't take a bottle, sleep well, or leave my arms voluntarily for years either. Maybe I'm not gonna be able to do it all, and something will have to give. But as much as all that makes me nervous, I also know from experience that any of that adversity can draw me closer to Christ, if I let it. So, instead of stressing about the unknown, or even the very likely, I think I'll start focusing on the awesomeness that awaits us with this next bundle of pure joy and how the less-than-awesome moments are just opportunities to lean into the Lord.

"The joy of the Lord is (my) strength.” -Nehemiah 8:10

"He must increase and I must decrease." -John 3:30

Thursday, June 16, 2016

An Alternate Apology to Angie

The other day I shared a letter apologizing for many things in your life that were out of my control. But traditionally an apology is intended to make amends for one's own offenses. As I have plenty of those in our relationship, it seemed appropriate that I add on to the original apology with another...


As I snuggle your brother endlessly, I'm saddened at how many sweet moments I missed out on with you. The physical connection that we could have formed might have moved us into a deeper healthier relationship for life. Scooping you up in my lap to read to you may have changed your outlook on books altogether. Being there as you first started to maneuver through life more independently, to guide your decisions and direction, could have meant so much. But I didn't have those chances.

I'm more sorry about the chances I have had, and blown. I'm sorry I've been so far from a perfect parent. There are no "perfect" parents, but there are many who are much closer than I am.

I'm sorry, that although I was never a "young" mom as the world uses the phrase, adopting you at the ripe "old" age of 30, in many ways I was still as clueless and inexperienced as a 20 year-old. I had a lot to learn about myself, and that was at your expense. I'm sorry. Children generally have the benefit of their parents being married before they're born. As if you didn't have enough load to carry, I added to you the burden of revealing to me my own selfishness.

Other than the dog, you were my first addition to the family. With Ruby, I could maintain the façade, and actually legitimately believe, that I was a selfless giving person. I had sold everything I owned and left everyone I knew to move to Bolivia, where I served during the day as a veterinarian and many evenings in orphanages and ministries. I had myself, and maybe others, convinced that I was altruistic, devoted, even self-sacrificing.

It wasn't until you moved into my home, my personal sacred space, and started to crowd me out that I realized just how much of me there was. I had been able to give, and serve, and love others in my spare time, sometimes inconveniently, but more often on a schedule that allowed for my own autonomy, until there was you there needing me all day long and in the middle of the night, interrupting my life, reflecting my selfishness to me like a distorted mirror. The problem was, the mirror wasn't distorted, my image of myself was.

Usually, one starts with a spouse up in their grill all the time, before adding needy kids to the equation. It's a more natural progression, as husbands are fairly mature, and able to care for themselves for the most part. So after adjusting to their messes, idiosyncrasies, and differences in schedule, it's a smoother transition to move deeper into the realm of living communally by adding offspring that can't do anything for themselves. Also, husbands choose their wives and commit to love them despite their self-centeredness. You have no such covenant with me.

But, alas, you had the privilege of pushing all my buttons for the first time, and showing me just exactly how many buttons I had, before anyone else had ever found many of them. For that I am truly sorry.

There were so many things that have been unfair to you in this world, I shouldn't have added another. I didn't even know I was involuntarily putting on a mask each day for a world who was probably doing the same, allowing us to interact without getting too real. That is, until you revealed the me what was under my mask. Finding out how far I could stretch, how little patience I had even on my best attempts, and how selfish I was deep under the mask, all that should have been Daddy's job. When you and I got comfortable, as people do in close quarters over time, our manners faded, our tones changed, our self-control dwindled. That was understandable for you, an 8 year-old girl with no training in such things, but not for me. I apologize that you had to be my guinea pig while learning to interact intimately with another human being.

Your father and your brother should thank you for your service to the family as you took one for the team, teaching me to die to self a little more each day. It's never easy to be the pioneer, but if anyone was strong enough, you were. And, I think the fact that we struggled alone together for so long, has bonded us, not the way cuddling you in your formative years would have, but bonded us nonetheless.

I'm sorry, you had to be the one to point out the flaws I had hidden even from myself. But I'm not sorry that you pushed me to the end of myself, because in those times when I ran out of me, I found Jesus most fully. And only with Him, can I be a parent worth having...

Monday, June 13, 2016

An Apology to Angie


As we celebrate 14 years of the wonderful lady God is transforming you into, it's not news to you that this life isn't fair. It's not fair to anyone ever, and that's an important lesson for kids to learn as they transition from a sheltered home-life where parents can maintain a semblance of equality, into the "real world" with all its injustices.

But this is a lesson you learned long before your time, and for that I am deeply sorry. Your innocence, the blissful naivety about hardship that every kid deserves for a while, and in many ways your childhood were robbed from you by circumstances beyond any of our control. I am so sorry.

I'm so sorry that you'll probably never have baby pictures to prove what we already know, that you were an adorable newborn, and likely an even cuter sillier toddler.

I'm sorry that you don't have pictures of your parents either. I can't imagine how hard it is, not to know what they looked like, what you'll look like, to see where you got your full lips, your luxurious hair, and your perfect nails.

But more than their pictures, I'm sorry you don't have your parents themselves. We can never replace the people who share your family history, your ancestry, your native culture, your genes, your infectious laugh, your beautiful golden skin, and deep dark eyes. We understand you lost so much in not knowing them, even if we can't fully comprehend what it's like for you. And I'm sorry this will affect generations to come, as your children won't know their brown grandparents either.

I'm especially sorry that you've endured more heartbreak, trauma, transition, sadness, confusion, and loss than most of us ever will. I'm sorry for the horrible things that led you to the orphanage, and I'm sorry for the things we don't even know about that caused you to be separated from your original family.

I'm sorry that these things have written your story so far, and will continue to define you in many ways even as you hone the power to become the author of your own story from now on.

But I'm not sorry about everything.

I am not sorry for the compassion and empathy that those tragedies have developed in you. I'm so grateful that these traits combined with your determination might give you a voice as an advocate for others who've survived similar misfortunes.*

I'm not sorry, that all those evils man intended to harm you, God used to bring you to us. I'm not sorry that we are the ones who get to work out the scars from your past and see the beauty that will rise from the ashes. Although I feel sorry for the family who lost you, I'm not sorry that we get to be the family who found you; your forever family.

* "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God." -2 Corinthians 1:3-4

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Our Village

My sidekick and I have been pretty inseparable for the extent of his precious little life. The past 15 months outside my womb have resembled the first 9 inside pretty closely. Some days he appears to want to climb right back in where life was safer and simpler, and definitely cozier. The few people who still ask me to go out and do things after 7:30pm have some serious perseverance, because Isaiah does not go to bed without me, at least he never has...

Last week, Facebook showed me this picture from one year ago that day. Isaiah working his first conference booth at three-months-old.
Since then, he's been our Booth Babe at 8 conferences, and has accompanied me on 15 work trips.

Ironically though, when I saw that post from a year ago, I was sitting at another CVM booth, this time alone. For the first time in his life, I had gone to work without him.

Three mornings in a row, I went to the exhibit hall at 6:30am and didn't return till after noon. Which was not only the longest I'd ever been away from him, but also by far the longest he'd been without nursing, except a few nights. Once when I pulled back up to our place after the conference, he started crying as soon as he saw me. His caregivers had done such a stellar job, I don't even think he knew I hadn't been there all along!

Our village of helpers that allowed me to work my first conference solo in a year and a half.
I read once that it's insane to try to work from home and mom from home full-time, and there's probably some truth to that. But with support like these superstars it's possible.

This awesome crew of nannies even allowed me to play in the conference's tennis tournament, the kind of thing I loved to do before I had another person attached to me at all times. During one match, when I caught a glimpse of Isaiah passing by the court and made the mistake of saying "Hi," he lost it. I basically double faulted the whole game away after that, but the tournament director was totally impressed that I was able to keep playing. I think I had him convinced that this was the kind of thing I did all the time, when of course it was only my first naïve, and belated, attempt at such independence.
I sometimes think of single mothers with 5 kids and can only say "bless their hearts!" I have no idea how they get through an hour. During this trip, on the other hand, Isaiah, was a single baby, with basically 5 mothers. And we could still barely keep him safe and sound. There were tumbles, choking hazards, attempts to dash for the parking lot, sleepless nights, and screaming fits. Clearly we're raising him to be rotten, and he's loved beyond measure.

I thought about titling this post "The End of an Era," as I started to let myself grieve the loss of his 24-hour need for Mommy, and at the same time daydream of potentially simpler fall school visits for work, sans the sidekick. But, upon our arrival home from Florida he decided to make up for lost time and stick closer than ever day and night. So it doesn't look like our era as conjoined twins is quite over yet. I'm so thankful for the loving village of help we have to make life and work with this sweet silly boy not just possible, but so much fun!

Friday, May 27, 2016

Our 15 Month Evolution of Reading

Initially, Isaiah was a voracious reader, chewing on any book he could get his mouth on.

Then, he moved on to turning the pages so fast you could never read all the words no matter how brief the sentence, or how fast you read.

I was pleased when he started holding still long enough to touch the textured pages on some of his board books, so we went through those over and over.

But then...
"Again please," he begs with his eyes. We read this 6 page book about 15 times.
...last week, he walked up and handed me a book.

I put down what I was doing and scooped him up in my lap. He sat patiently while I read it to him. And then read it again. In my euphoric-state I promised him that whenever he brought me a book I would always stop what I was doing and read it to him.

I overpromised. I know.

But guys, I was so excited. So far, I've been able to hold to that promise, but I know he'll soon be manipulating a later bedtime with more books, and asking me to read when I'm doing something that needs to get done. 

For now, though, I'm going to read to him. I'm going to read him board books, and pop-up books. Nursery Rhymes, and Spanish books. Books about trucks, trains, plants, and animals, so many books about animals! I'm not sure if I'll be sad that he's growing up, or proud of him, when he first realizes the three little bunnies are just my fingers in the puppets of one of his current favorite books. I'll read him all sorts of children's Bibles. Rhyming Bibles, picture Bibles, Bibles with touch and feel pages, and books that sing songs to him about Jesus.

And then as he outgrows baby books, I'll read to him big kid stories. Books about planets, nature, science, and robots... I'll read him missionary biographies and historical fiction. I'll read him chapter books before he can read. And then, once he can, we'll read them together for as long as he'll let me.

I know there's nothing profound here, but reading is such a beautiful opportunity. It's an opportunity to spend undivided time with one another, in a world of distractions. It's a chance to stretch his vocabulary and build his self confidence. It's a way to grow his mind and expand his horizons boundlessly. It's an attempt to lengthen his attention span. And it's my dream that he will start a love relationship with books that will last a lifetime.

You see, I've got a chance with this kiddo that I never had with my rising high-schooler. Our soon-to-be freshman was almost certainly not read to when she was young, and it has wreaked havoc on her education. Five years of futilely forcing books on her of every genre and she still abhors reading.

I can't guarantee Isaiah will be an avid reader someday, devouring books like he did when he was a teething infant. But I can guarantee I will do everything in my power to instill a love for reading in him.

And maybe, just maybe, if they read together, there's still hope for the big one too.
They're both panting like the dog in the picture. Zy pants or says "Sit" every time he sees anything like a dog.

He literally asks "This?"