Saturday, December 10, 2016

16 Hours: The Story of Our First Placement

***To protect the girls and maintain confidentiality, the names of our foster daughters have not been disclosed and pictures have been blurred or watermarked. ***

After 6 months of trainings, forms, home assessments, and interviews, we were finally approved and signed contracts to open our home to foster care on November 22nd.  That first night, we got a call to foster a three year old little girl, but a kinship placement was found a couple of hours later, and we weren't needed.  A few days later, the same thing happened, this time for a two year old.
On Monday, December 5th, we were putting the kids to bed when we got a phone call for a placement of two little girls from across the state.  They had been waiting at a DHS office in their county all day as their worker tried to find a home that would place both girls together. With no success in their area, they widened their search to include the OKC, and called us.  Their worker shared their story with us and told us this placement would be long term because of the severity of the abuse and the involvement of law enforcement- a minimum of 6 months.  Our paperwork clearly stated that we were open to taking in only one child at a time, but their story broke our hearts, and it took us less than a minute to decide that we would accept the placement.  The girls, 5 years old, L, and 5 months old, C, would arrive about 2 and half hours later.
Just after midnight, they pulled into our driveway and stumbled out of the car.  We had made sure to leave our Christmas lights on for them, and met them outside.  L had had an accident in the car.  It was freezing outside and she was soaking wet, wearing short sleeves and no socks.  The baby was sleeping soundly and she never stirred- even when we took her out of her car seat, and stripped her down so that her worker could point out the bruises on her little body.  We carried her up the stairs and placed her into our crib in a home she didn't know and she slept.
I noticed L had a Frozen backpack for school, so I grabbed one of Lyla's Frozen night gowns out of her room and gave it to her along with a pull up.  She was quiet at first.  Dustin went downstairs to sign forms and talk with their case worker, and I settled the girls into their room.  L spotted a basket of rainbow blocks and began building.  I asked her if I could help, and she gave me *very* specific instructions on which blocks I could put where.
As we played, I told her that I wanted to tell her the rules of our house.  I told her that we all try our best to be kind and helpful. I told her that in our house, there was no hurting and no hitting. She told me her house didn't have those rules.
I asked her if she celebrated Christmas and she told me she did.  She said her favorite thing to do was to sing Christmas carols and go to the park with her mom.  She told me her birthday was April Juneth. She told me she loved school.  She asked if I could call her bus driver and tell her where my house was.  I told her it was too far, but that I would take her to a school close by.  She simply said "Okay".
The case worker left. Dustin came upstairs and sat with us.  The baby stirred, so I made a bottle and on my way back up to their room, I saw Lyla sitting up in her bed.  She saw me holding the baby and asked what had happened to Karrick.  She was so excited (and probably relieved!) when I told her this was one of her foster sisters.  I told her there were two and she sprang out of bed to meet L.
L immediaely warmed up to Lyla.  She took the lead on their play together, and I noticed she had a small stutter.  They played together with every toy in sight.  They were so similar in so many ways. They liked the same things.  They were fast friends.  A little before 2:00, we told the girls it was time to sleep.  Dustin got Lyla to bed and I was in the girls room bouncing, walking, and swaiying wih the baby who was obviously tired but not sleeping.  I asked L if C had any favorite songs or if she knew how she liked to be put to bed.  She told me that she puts herself to sleep.  "Just put her down," she said.  I did, and she rolled over and slept.
I turned out the light and reminded L that I was just across the hall if she needed anything.  She told me she was hungry, so I got her a snack and some water.  She ate quickly and laid down.  She fell asleep sucking on her fingers.
I went to check the backpack they came with to see what they had brought.  Two outfits for each girl, a few diapers, and half a can of formula.  L's backpack was full.  A school agenda, and several folders.  I read through everything.  Notes from her teacher were written almost weekly in her agenda from August to December.  A few replies from her mother were written in sporadically.  I checked every worksheet.  I looked over her assessments and report cards.  I read the notes from her speech therapist noting her progress.   I learned as much as I could from the contents of her backpack, and then I went to bed. I slept lighly waiting for baby cries.  I heard C fuss for a moment, and I went in to check on her.  She was fast asleep, but I picked her up and held her in my arms anyway.  I prayed for her and kissed her face.  When I put her back in her crib she slept and didn't make a sound the rest of the night.
That morning, we made a list.  We needed a car seat for L, a couple more baby gates, socks, diapers, and their favorite foods.  I called a few of the resources that had been given to me to provide clothes and basic needs for foster children.  None of them could help.  One worker told me that this time of year the donation centers receive many toys (for Christmas) but almost all are in need of basic necessities like coats, clothes, and car seats.  I called our elementary school, gave them L's name and medical info, and they sent me the forms to bring in that afternoon to enrolling her.
We made cinnamon rolls for breakfast, and the big girls played dress up.  First they were Sofia and Cinderella.  Then they were getting married.  Then they had a tea party.  They brushed their teeth and got ready for the day. They made me several pieces of artwork for the refrigerator.  They jumped on the trampoline, had hot chocolate, snacked and snacked some more. We had just finished having lunch when I noticed I had a voice mail.  It was their case worker.
"We were able to find a home for them nearby.  Moving the girls will make it easier for visitations.  Someone will be there this afternoon to pick them up."
I told Dustin, and asked him to talk to the girls.
Lyla was understanding, and L didn't bat an eye.
I stepped outside to call a friend to cancel the meal train she was setting up for us, but when I tried to speak, tears welled up and I couldn't form any words.  My heart broke and all I could do was hold the child in my arms more tightly and cry.
I packed up everything the girls came with, and added everything that I could.  Before they left, I talked to L about what our family believes about God.  I told her that I believed He loved her very much, and that I would be praying for her and her sister.  She said okay, and asked to go play.
We packed so much into the day we had four children.  We loved and snuggled C, who gave endless smiles and barely ever cried.  She melted so sweetly into the arms of whoever was holding her.  She was a tiny little five month old, but she was almost ready to crawl and was rolling all around so well.
We loved getting to know L. I will never forget how quickly she and Lyla began to act like sisters.  Sitting at the lunch table playfully arguing over who was copying who, dancing in their princess dresses, and throwing each other birthday parties.  L was brave and kind and protective of C.  They were a joy.

Their stay with us was short.  Less than a day, but we loved them.  I am thankful for that chance, and I can be grateful for a move that keeps the girls closer to what they know and who they know.  Because even though I know they come from a home where terrible things have happened, L told me about some wonderful things, too. I know that she loved her mother, and L deserves to see her in a safe environment as much as she can.
I've read that every time you foster a child, they take a little piece of your heart with them when the go, but that another it grows back even bigger.  After having our first placement come and go so quickly, I can say that I absolutely believe that.  My heart broke when they left, but I know my capacity to love has grown.
This week, I faced two of my biggest fears of foster care.
1. I let children go.
2. I found compassion for the mother who hurt them.
The first was harder than I had imagined, but the second was easier.  Before getting to know the girls, and hearing L talk about her mother, it was easy for me to vilify the faceless biological parents of abused children in foster care.  When their case worker told me the severity of their abuse, my heart ached for the girls and was full of fury for the monster I imagined her to be. It was easy for me to think of her as  wholly "bad". But then I got to know her through L.  The truth is, L and C's mother sang them the same Christmas Carols that I sing with my kids.  She pushed them on the swings and caught them at the bottom of the slide. She took them out for ice cream. She did her best completely on her own without anyone meaningful in her life to lighten the load.  The truth is, there isn't one of us who is all good, just like there isn't one of us who is all bad.  Seeing their mother through L's eyes painted the clearest picture of forgiveness and compassion that I have ever seen.  The truth is, I need just as much grace and forgiveness as her biological mother does.  My rags are as filthy as hers when presented before God, but, thank Goodness, He forgives us both completely.
Our first placement taught us so much. It reaffirmed the notion that while this may be the hardest thing we ever do, it will likely be the most meaningful.  We will continue to love and care for L and C.  We will pray for them just like we pray for every member of our family.  Because, even if only for 16 hours, they were a part of ours.

"May the Lord watch between me and thee while we are absent one from one another."   Genesis 31:49

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

I Counted Three

In our house, our babies sleep with us.  Lyla was still co sleeping when Karrick came along, but it was getting crowded, even in a king sized bed.  She would only stay in our room for a few months after his arrival before moving into her own room.  It was just before she moved into her big girl bed that we were all snuggled up together early one morning.  I had woken up with baby arms and toddler feet all over my body.  As I sleepily adjusted my position, I looked all around me for our third child.  The one I soon realized we didn't have.  I remember telling Dustin that I felt so crazy because I had vividly believed and felt her existence.  But I brushed it off with a "Hm.  Weird."
When Karrick was born, I felt like our family was picture perfect, maybe even complete.  A happy little girl, the sweetest baby boy.  But then that moment happened.  Which I probably could have ignored and forgotten.  Except that it happened again.  and again...There were three instances over the next several weeks in which I went to count my children, but instead counted 3.
For the longest time, I hadn't even made the connection of our foster/adoption journey and those earlier instances of looking for my daughter.  It had been so long since I had counted 3, and the decision to adopt came later.  But when I do think back to those moments? I feel it in my bones. Our third child all ready exists.  Those feelings weren't divine suggestions of a future pregnancy or birth of my own.  It was a deep feeling in my heart that my third baby is all ready in this world, and each time I felt it, I felt it with a momentary urgency to find her.
I wish I could say that I frequently hear God's clear voice, but, let me just be honest, that's usually not the case.  Probably because I don't stop long enough to listen. But this, this I believe was God.  God preparing my heart for my second daughter.  He has linked her heart with mine and given me the desire to seek her out.
I counted 3 children because I have three children.  There's one I haven't met yet, but she is out there.  And our family is waiting.

Call to me and I will answer you, and I will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.  Jeremiah 33:3

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Fostering Is Not For Us

Adoption. I have a heart for adoption. I knew this as a teenager. I was the kid who would order informational DVDs from organizations supporting adoption and watched them and cried and imagined the day when I would bring a child (or 7 if you had asked me when I was 16) into my someday family. 
I wanted to adopt, and Dustin had always been unsure. Over the years, I would bring it up occasionally, although I had always assumed we would wait until our biological children were older.  When we discussed it, he always landed on "maybe someday".   If I was on my own (which I would never choose to be!) there would be no "maybe" about it! I would always leave these conversations feeling a bit discouraged. My prayer would always be for God to change one of our hearts- his toward adoption or mine away, toward another way to serve orphans. 
As Dustin's work drew him closer to children in state custody dealing with trauma, the need grew harder and harder to ignore, and he began to feel a pull to use his gifts in our home with a child in need.  He would never tell you this, but he is really amazing at what he does. Though he didn't set out to specialize in counseling trauma children, that is where he has found the most growth, challenge and success. He is frequently requested at his agency by case workers who are familiar with him, and his young clients love the time they have together. Some days he goes to work and gets hit, yelled at- or both, and then he goes to bed, wakes up, and does it all over again giving every kid love, attention and a clean slate.  It's not easy, but I know he is making a big difference. He spends his free time reading up on therapies and strategies to help kids reach their fullest potential and jumps at the chance to go to extra trainings and workshops to improve his skills. One thing I have always loved about Dustin is the way he never stops learning, digging deeper, and growing. When something is important to him, he puts his whole self into learning all he can, and helping trauma kids is important to him. 
So. Fast forward about 8 months after he begins working with trauma kids, and Dustin and I decide to begin pursuing adoption through DHS.  We knew we wanted our max age to be 4 so that Lyla would be the oldest, and we called to get the ball rolling on an adoption. 
After speaking with the case worker who had been assigned to us, she made it clear that while we could apply to adopt for that age range, young children don't  usually become available to parents who are not fostering. She said it wasn't impossible, but it also wasn't likely and she was unable to give us a timeline. She encouraged us to consider fostering, which offers the possibility, but not guarantee, of adoption. 
At the time, I told her we would move forward with adoption only. When I talked to Dustin, I assumed he would be completely closed off to foster care. I had always said I couldn't foster, and I knew Dustin felt the same way (for different reasons). But, as you know, that isn't where we landed.   There were several reasons we believed fostering wasn't for us. And we had to address them one by one. 

The Heartbreak of Saying Goodbye

The goal of foster care is not adoption.  The goal of foster care is reunification between the child and their biological parents.  For this reason, foster care was never something I considered.  I have always had a heart for littles, and I love them with all of it.  As I thought about foster care, I knew I could go about it a couple of different ways.  I could love them fully and unapologitically because every child needs and deserves to feel fierce unconditional love in their home (even if it is a temporary one).  Or. I could try to love them at arms length.  I could take care of them, take them to appointments, and attempt to guard my heart and myself from heartbreak. It's embarrassing to admit that those thoughts actually crossed my mind.  To protect myself.  There's that word again.  "Myself".   It stopped me in my tracks.  Who was I even doing this for?  Whose life was I trying to improve?  Whose needs was I considering?  Which brings me to my next point...

What about MY Kids?

Adding a new person to our family would be an adjustment whether by birth or adoption.  However, with adoption, I felt confident that our children would adapt just as Lyla did when Karrick was born.  But fostering?  That seemed too traumatic.  Too hard.  Too inconsistent.  Would they pick up "bad behavior"?  Would they be overwhelmed and stressed? How would Karrick and Lyles cope with children coming and going throughout their early childhood?  This was probably the toughest hurdle in foster care for me to get over.  Our first thoughts were that we should just wait until our children were older so that they could better understand the coming and going of children they would undoubtedly grow to love, and so that they would be more grounded in their own sense of right and wrong.  
That's a valid concern, and a reasonable suggestion.  It's the only reason I still have second thoughts.  I love my kids more than anything, and I would never ever want to cause them unnecessary hurt.  But the more we thought about it, the more we saw the opportunity for countless blessings.  They will for sure gain new perspectives from the children we are given the opportunity to love.  They will definitely understand the importance of answering the call to care for orphans.  They will undoubtedly have a greater appreciation for their own blessings.  They will be given the chance to share, learn, love, and grow in ways that only come through doing hard things.  Of course we will protect them from as much heartache as we can.  But if Lyla has taught me anything as she asks to pray for her "sister" every night, it is that she is more kind and generous and compassionate than I ever could have imagined. 

Is Our Marriage Strong Enough?

Marriage is hard. Change is hard.  Transitions are hard.  Since Dustin and I were married 6 years ago, we have had transition after transition after transition.  It was school, and then baby, and then more school, and then a move, and then a new career, and then baby again, and we are finally settling into our life as a family of four, but sometimes we argue.  And sometimes we don't like each other.  And I don't like that.  I don't like it for him or for me and I really don't like the idea of a child suffering from trauma having to deal with any additional stress that our imperfect marriage may bring.  When deciding to foster, we laid down some ground rules.  Monthly date nights.  Weekly breaks.  Renewed effort on both of our parts.  We know we won't be perfect, but we know we will both be here.  Loving each other and loving any children we are privileged to know.

Home Studies, Visitation, and Other Inconveniences

I mean, even the heading of this one sounds super petty to me.  But we thought about these things.  Staying home gives me the flexibility to get foster children to appointments and visits with their biological family, but I won't say it doesn't seem a bit overwhelming.  Thinking about having case workers in our home, judging our parenting, and taking notes is scary.  The 50+ page application, medical evaluations, fingerprints, background checks, 5 weekends of training (times two) and house assessment are only the beginning.  The real work hasn't even started.  When I think about our responsibilities as foster parents, I feel overwhelmed.  Until I start thinking about the biological parents fighting battles I can't even imagine to get their children home.  
My worst day. My longest checklist. My biggest stress is nothing.  I spend my days with my children in my arms.   In a house full of stuff we don't need.  With a full fridge and a pantry full of groceries (many of which I will eventually throw out because we won't ever get around to eating them in time).  While I worry about cramming in  a visitation between ballet and art class, there is a mother not knowing where her child is, or how she's being cared for.  She's alone with a hole in her heart and an ache in her arms for her baby.  The gravity of the honor of loving another mother's child while she is away from them cannot be lost on me, and it will be what moves me and shifts my perspective as we move through this process.
All of these points basically came down to the same thing.  Sacrifice.  Are we willing to give everything without the expectation of gaining anything?  Are we ready to love even when it hurts?  Can we put another family's needs in the center of our own?
We were called to do this. We weren't put here to further our own kingdom. We don't exist to serve ourselves. Our final decision on foster care took a perspective change.
Deciding not to foster wouldn't prevent heartbreak. Though it may blind us to it, it still exists for countless families and children.
Deciding not to foster doesn't gaurantee my children a life shielded from hurt, but fostering may teach them empathy and compassion.
Deciding not to foster won't make my marriage easier, but fostering my help us to lean on each other, and communicate our hearts more openly.
Deciding not to foster won't take away the feelings of being overwhelmed that comes with motherhood, but fostering may help me to see the blessings more clearly.
Instead of viewing foster care or adoption as a giant challenge or trial for our family, or even as a way to gain a new family member someday, we believe it will give us the opportunity to learn and grow and love more deeply than ever- coming to a better understanding of the love our Heavenly Father has for us, though we have absolutely nothing to offer.
We may not be strong enough for this. We may not be perfect enough. We may just plain not be enough. But that's okay. Because we aren't doing this alone. His grace is sufficient, and His love never fails. He doesn't give up. He doesn't leave us. He won't forsake us. So we will open our home and our hearts...for a week, for a month, for a year, or for forever. As long as they need. Because this is not for us.

"Have you never heard? Have you never understood? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of all the earth.  He never grows weak or weary.  No one can measure the depths of his understanding.  He gives power tot he weak and strength to the powerless.  Even youths will become weak and tired, and young men will fall in exhaustion.  But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.  They will soar high on wings like eagles. The will run and not grow weary.  They will walk and not faint."
Isaiah 40:28-31

Monday, July 25, 2016

She Drew Our Home

This weekend during church, we had a time of prayer and worship. The walls were covered in paper and the paper was filled with pictures representing different people, communities, countries and topics in desperate need of prayer. As the music played, I explained to Lyla that I was going to go write a prayer on the wall. She held my hand and I pointed out the section of the wall devoted to orphans and foster care. I wrote a prayer for the children, for their biological parents, and for their foster families. When I was finished, Lyla told me she wanted to draw something. I told her again that this wall was just for prayers, and she said she knew. I handed her a purple sharpie fully expecting her to write her name or to draw a rainbow, but she didn't. She drew a house.
I immediately started to cry when I realized what she was making. I cried because of her sweet heart and her awareness that there were children who needed homes. I cried because she cared for them. She asked me why I was crying and I told her it was a happy cry because it was so sweet of her to draw a house. She said, "Mama. It's not just a house. It's our home. Because we can help."
She knows the plight of orphans. She knows not every child has a home like she does, and when it came time to pray for them, she didn't pray that God would find them a home. She simply wrote, in the only way she knew how, "Here's mine."
Oh that I would be as intentional and willing in my prayers. That I would see a need and fulfill it myself. God, help me to have a heart like hers.
Our decision to foster and adopt came months ago, and since that time, we have talked with Lyla about what that means. We have prayed with her for children that need homes, and from the beginning of our conversations, she has been more than willing to open our home to provide love and safety for a child in need. The concept was completely foreign to her but she had compassion for these children as soon as she learned of their existence.
Admittedly, over the past week, my focus had shifted. I have always had a heart for adoption. I have always felt a pull toward it. But now it's here. Now it's happening. We have a case worker. Our application is finished. We are attending trainings, and I am beginning to panic.Self doubt is welling up inside me. Can I even handle a three kids under four (our max age range)- especially one dealing with trauma? Is my marriage strong enough? Are my children going to suffer? Will I be able to leave the house with three children by myself? Am I going to be completely stressed out and overwhelmed all of the time? Will I be equipped to mother them with the love and patience they deserve and so desperately need?
As I looked at the house my daughter had drawn, I was drawn back in. As I prayed intentionally over the orphans and children in foster care, I was overwhelmed with the realization that the biggest worries I have for myself pale in comparison to the trauma and heartbreak those little hearts are dealing CHILDREN. They are being ripped from their homes and all that they know. How could I let my worry about whether or not I am going to feel overwhelmed overshadow their most basic human needs of love, shelter, and safety?  How many prayers have I prayed asking God to wave a magic wand without any additional action on my part? 
Adoption is wonderful. Foster families are beautiful. But they are born from incredibly broken circumstances. There is no world that exists where a child is adopted or fostered without that same child being first taken from the only mother they have ever known. There is no beautiful blended family without a broken family before it. There is no mother of adoption without a mother of loss, and for every day that we are given the privilege to love a child, there is a mother missing her.  My self doubt and stress are nothing in comparison to the pain and grief of families torn apart.
We are excited (READ: terrified) to be starting our journey toward adoption and opening our hearts and home to foster.  We will be stretched. We will be insufficient. We will be overwhelmed. We won't be perfect. But we. Will. Love.
I will mother them with the same ferocity that I mother Lyla and Karrick.  I will love them unapologetically without fear of grief or heartbreak. I will ask for grace, and I will give it. I will take care of their basic needs.  I will pray for them. I will fail, but when I do, I will find strength in knowing that they do not require perfection from me because they are showered with the perfect love of their Heavenly Father. And every child in our care will know that no matter what roof they are under, they are eternally and perfectly loved by Him.
I'm still afraid. I still have self doubt. I still need your prayers for our family as we begin this journey. But I am ready. We are called, and we will answer. Because if not us, then who?

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?" And I said, "Here am I. Send me!" Isaiah 6:8

Sunday, July 24, 2016

She Knows Love Grows

One of my biggest insecurities when writing or even speaking to other adults is struggling with the idea that I don't have much to offer.  I spend my days with little people and I sometimes have d5 yearifficulty coming up with material or even focusing on an adult conversation without being pulled away by the call of a baby who wants to be changed or a kid who needs a snack.

I mean, I have a college degree, but I didn't use it (sorry mom and dad!).  Most of the education I spent pouring myself into has been pushed back, waaaay back in my brain, behind the now more relevant knowledge of potty training, teething, and Frozen lyrics.  I used to read for entertainment or even to better myself, but the last book I read had more pictures than words.

I'm a housewife, but in the battle of me vs. laundry, I'm losing.  Sometimes I "smell check" our clothes.  Karrick's little socks are practically disposable. My house may as well be labeled as "spot clean only".

Parenting is my full time job now.  I'm so blessed to stay home with my kids.  It's my actual dream job. I try SO hard to be the picture of the peaceful parent they deserve, but I lose my patience on the daily, and some days- on the hour.  I stomp around picking up pretzels and toys, and I have mastered the "mean mama look".  In some of my most humbling moments, Lyla has tearfully called me out when I have spoken to her in anger, and asked me to "talk nice".

I'm a lifelong Christian, but my faith and actual relationship with Jesus can sometimes seem shallow and immature.  I used to be in constant conversation with God, but my children are much louder than He is, and I find myself shooting up prayers only when I am desperate for divine intervention.

I'm a devoted wife, but my marriage isn't perfect, and I'm almost certain my husband isn't entirely to blame.  I am disrespectful.  I am rude.  By the time he gets home in the evening, my temper is short, and some days he doesn't stand a chance.

So what do can I offer you?  What do I know?  I know that my insufficiency doesn't make me a bad housewife, mom, Christian, or wife.  It just makes me a human one.  I know that I love my family more than anything, and I know that love is what grows everything that is beautiful and good.  I have never had more self awareness than I do now. It's probably something that comes with age (ew).  But. Thankfully, along with the awareness of my shortcomings, comes the awareness of my outrageous blessings.

I know that, for now, I can unapologetically tell you that I may have to think REALLY hard to remember what I learned in college. But. I have become well educated in birth, breastfeeding, car seat safety, and all things motherhood.

I know that, for now, I can celebrate the fact that my children are clothed (most of the time anyway), and I can rejoice in the fact that they don't need matching socks in the summer time. I can accept that Karrick's crib makes the BEST clean clothes hamper and it ain't no thang because he's snuggled up in our bed every night.  Where's the fun in knowing exactly where your favorite shirt is anyway?  There may be toys all around, but it's because I was home playing with my kids, and we didn't stop having fun.

I know that I am sometimes going to fall short of the mother I want my children to have.  I will not obtain perfection in parenting.  However, when I make mistakes, I can ask my little people for forgiveness.  Through my slip ups, I can model humility, and they inspire me every time they freely offer the same grace and compassion I extend to them.  I look at them and know that my love must be bigger than my failures, because they. are. amazing.

I know that I need a heart change.  A priority change when it comes to my standing with God, but the good news is, I do stand with Him, and He hasn't given up on me. He knows my heart.  He knows my thoughts.  He knows my desire to raise my children in a home that speaks of Him often, and I'm not on my own to figure out how to accomplish this.  Now, more than any other time, I am surrounded by such Godly sources of encouragement and inspiration, and I am thankful.

My marriage.  It isn't perfect, but I know that it is the one God has planned for me.  I know that we are both changing, but its change that comes from growing.  I'm not married to the boy I met at band camp.  I'm married to a loving father.   I'm married to an excellent therapist.  And he's forgiving.  And he's faithful.  And we will continue to grow.  Because love grows.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:13