Focus on Your Heart

Focus on Your Heart

How the boys and I felt this Monday morning.

Nothing out of the ordinary. I slept through my alarm, then my backup alarm, and finally got up at the same time I’m supposed to be getting #bambam up for his shower. Just like any other day, I staggered around, breaking up arguments, reminding myself not to police the kids (and then doing it anyway). We had a last minute addition to the shower schedule and realized that we were out of Uncrustables sandwiches for lunches. At one point as my husband was fleeing for his life I even uttered the words, “This is why I hate my life.” I’m pretty sure I didn’t mean it though.

At some point in the circus I decided I needed to try to get myself ready for work. I washed yesterday’s makeup off my face because I was too tired last night to. I found a wrinkle free polo and a stretchy pair of black pants. My only option for my frizzy hair was a messy bun and yes, that is the same bandeau I wore on Saturday. As I do on every Monday morning, I stepped on the bathroom scale and, for the second week in a row, saw a number I had never seen before.

My heart sank as I saw those numbers and I replayed all of my poor health choices over the last week. As I do every week, I vowed to do better while knowing deep in my soul that I can’t. I can’t do it y’all. With all of the plates I am juggling something had to drop one of which was my personal health. In everything buzzing through my brain I heard a whisper, “Focus on your heart this week.”

The other plate that lay cracked at my feet is my heart and my soul. I’ve neglected the One who made me and in so doing have neglected myself. Not just my fleshy (flabby) body, MYSELF. Who I really am beyond the flab. I have been medicating my feelings and stress with Oreo cookies (double stuff of course) and candy corn instead of feeding my heart by spending quiet, quality time with God. Those things only taste good while they are in my mouth but they leave me still feeling empty inside.

Focus on your heart. “Okay God, I can do that.” And I left the bathroom feeling a bit lighter. I brushed my daughter’s hair and made her sandwich so she wouldn’t miss the bus. I gave grace, took this pic with my boys, and laughed while we waited for the bus to arrive. I gave extra hugs and “I love you” signs and I forgot all about the numbers on the scale this morning because I focused on my heart.

So what does that mean, really? What does it look like day-to-day to focus on my heart? Does this mean I can eat Oreos and candy corn all day? Well, I’m not buying any more Oreos, but I’m also not going to stress over snacking when I get home from work or even after the kids go to bed. I will enjoy the Halloween candy and birthday cake this week because it’s Halloween and my daughter’s birthday.

For me, it looks like dragging my tush out of bed when the alarm goes off so that I can have quiet time in the morning with just coffee and Jesus. It looks like unending grace towards myself and my kids (and Jared too, I guess). It looks like stopping what I am working on for evening prayers and tuck-ins. It looks like giving up my nightly tv show in favor of quiet reflection and prayer for those I love.

This week, I’m choosing to set aside the guilt and the cookies to focus on becoming the person I was made to be. To focus on my Creator and the passion He has placed in me. To focus on my purpose and tuning my ears to hear the Spirit’s voice.

To focus on my heart.

Absolutes

Absolutes

This is me this week.

A little dramatic maybe but I look at this picture of my precious #princesspea and I know exactly how she feels.  She wants to give up.  In this moment, learning to ride her bike is not worth the frustration and pain.

This week I leveled with God.  I told him, “I don’t want to do this.”  I don’t want to spend every waking hour thinking about my next social media post.  I don’t want to worry anymore about who is watching the vlog.  I don’t want to think about how my words could get twisted into something that offends someone instead of inspires them.  And God listened.

He listened to me cry out that I’m stretched too thin.  That I’m tired of eating out and staying up late.  That I’m tired of only doing everything half-way because that is all I have.  That I’m clearly not the right person for this job because of the things that I have read others say about me.  And He reminded me of a once-favorite story of mine.

Nerd alert: I love C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia.  Like, until I had kids, I read all 7 books every single year.  They never get old and every time I read them I am inspired in some way.

In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the Pevensies are on a mysterious island with invisible creatures.  Lucy is tasked with sneaking into the magician’s house and finding the spell to make them visible again in his book.  Amongst the other spells in the magician’s spell book, Lucy finds one that would let you know what your friends think about you and she utters it.  She, of course, is crushed when what she hears is not what she expected or hoped.  She laments later to Aslan that she doesn’t think she’ll be able to forget what she heard her friends say.  I feel like my heart echoes hers when she says, “Oh dear.  Have I spoiled everything?” 

Did I pour water on my passion when I satisfied my curiosity and read those comments?  Would I have been better off not reading them?  Will that defining moment change everything from here on out?  (Told you I was being dramatic.)

“Child,” said Aslan, “did I not explain to you once before that no one is ever told what would have happened?”

I did pour water on my passion for my purpose when I read those comments and there is no way to know how hot it could have burned if I hadn’t.  However, I do have a choice of what to do next.  As I wrestle with that decision today, I am focusing on my absolutes; what I know without a shadow of a doubt:

1. God sees me
2. God sees the burdens I carry
3. God has a plan for me
4. His plan requires me to be visible and vulnerable

And with that, I know I must carry on.

If you have hit a wall pursuing your purpose let me encourage you with this one thing:  Start with your absolutes.  And know that God sees you.

The “C” Word: Counseling

The “C” Word: Counseling

I feel like we need to talk about the “c” word: COUNSELING.

Be honest, when you hear that word, do you feel your brain shutting down?  Mine did.  When we started our foster journey, we knew that counseling would be an option.  Even that it was encouraged for us and for the kids.  But counseling was not for us.  Not that we thought we were “all-knowing” or above any issues.  We knew we would need help along the way.  We assumed, when we needed help, we would Google, call family, or ask friends (not in that order of course).

It was almost immediately after our 5 kiddos moved in that we knew we were in over our heads.  There were anxieties and behaviors we were not prepared for, even after 18 weeks of Foster training with the State.  We elicited advice from family, spoke often with their former foster family, read lots of books, and Googled, and Googled, and Googled.  Some of our issues we were able to work through with the kids but about 6 months in we had a situation arise that broke us.  

We felt the way many (if not most) of you do about calling a counselor.  We did not want the kids to have yet another label to bear.  Labels are so heavy.  We were afraid the counselor would not share our worldview.  We were afraid of allowing a stranger be the one to replace the lies in our kids’ hearts and minds.  What if they replaced those lies with more lies instead of truth?

But we had to do something.  We talked with the kids’ caseworker and learned we had some freedom in our choice of a counselor.  They just needed to accept Medicaid insurance.  Barrier one, removed.  However, not all counselors accept Medicaid.   And, as I researched counseling providers in our area I was so discouraged.  One provider touted “dream interpreting” while another forced us to take the kids from school because they didn’t see clients in the afternoon or evening. 

At one point, we did pull the kids from school to meet with one counselor but as we left we both felt pretty strongly that missing school for weekly counseling wasn’t the right choice.

We were sharing our frustration with our caseworker during a visit.  Amazingly, that week a counseling provider had stopped by her office and left their card!  She shared the information with me and I called them the next day.

Not only would they see our kids in the evenings, they could come to our house!  This seemed almost too good to be true.  We still had lots of fears about the counselor we would be assigned to but we also were beginning to feel more confident in our power as parents to say “no” and move on to another provider if we needed to.

She came in the afternoon, after the kids got off the bus.  She was only to see the older 3 and then she saved time for a “family session” at the end (we quickly learned that families are her passion).  She didn’t rush out after she was done but took her time to answer all of our questions and hear our concerns.  The little two were a bit devastated to be left out of the one on ones but successfully commanded her attention during the family sessions.

The kids warmed up to her quickly, I think it was a combination of her being on “their turf” and her God-given skills of connecting with children.  As time went on and we got to know more about her and she got to know more about us, we connected and she was able to incorporate faith in her sessions because she shared the same worldview we do.  She was able to point to Christ as she was helping our kids work through feelings that were bigger than they are and process through their past experiences while look towards the future.  She gave them hope and the tools they needed to hang on to it.

She never jumped to conclusions, she never pushed medication or any diagnosis whatsoever.  I never felt like I was unable to disagree with her (though I rarely did).  I never felt attacked or ashamed of my parenting choices or my children’s behavior.  I did, however, feel empowered as a mother and encouraged at the end of each session.  She didn’t always tell me what I wanted to hear, and some of what we worked through was painful.  But she was right there with us the entire time.

We are stronger today because we accepted help from a counselor when we needed to.  I want you to know a few things we learned on our counseling journey:

  • It is okay to meet with several providers before you find the right fit for your family.  It’s also okay to meet with the counselor yourself before your kids meet them.  
  • Ask if they can come to your house (if you are comfortable).
  • Sessions won’t necessarily be convenient and you may have to sacrifice an afternoon or evening, but you shouldn’t have to sacrifice school, church, or other important functions (notice I didn’t say sports…we did sacrifice sports but it was worth it).
  • Expect a recap at the end of each session with just you and the counselor.  A good counselor will help you as much (or, in our case, more) than your kids.
  • Also, expect homework.  No one is perfect, if you are given homework from the counselor, do it.

Please do not be afraid or ashamed if you or your family needs counseling.  And do not think less of others that are in counseling.  We don’t know the storm that is raging inside those we are closest to but we can help them face it.

When we talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary.
Fred Rogers

When you’re ready to take that first step, we highly recommend our friend, Jen Skavhaug. Find more about her here: http://www.jenskavhaug.com/#/

Family Vacation = An Adventure!

Family Vacation = An Adventure!

Vacationing has always been a bit of an adventure for Jared and I.  Jared is very spontaneous and likes to have “experiences” while I’m usually content with simplicity and familiarity.  Last year, we added 5 children to our typical vacation adventures and it quickly turned into vacation insanity.  A good insanity though…sometimes!

There’s something wonderful about getting out of the town you live in for a while.  We may simply be going from one tourist town to another but for me, it is always a refreshing change of perspective.  Almost like a chance to re-set and I feel that when I get home, I can start over new.  I tell myself that when I get home I will… 

  • Cook every night
  • Do yoga
  • Start vlogging
  • Have quiet time at night before bed
  • Pray more
  • Eat healthier
  • Etc.
  • Etc.
  • Etc.

It’s so easy to set the stresses of every day life aside on vacation.  It is easier to forget about the stresses of work, childcare (and the lack there-of), and all of the day-to-day mumbo jumbo that gets heavier and heavier as time goes by.  

Let’s be serious…I’ve never been able to keep a New Year’s resolution.  I know that I won’t do these things for long.  In addition, when I looked over my list, I realized that these things added at least 3 hours to my day not including the etceteras.  Three hours to an already packed and exhausting life.

It was with all these things in mind that I went to church this morning.  At one point during the sermon, the guest speaker quoted from the book Essentialism by Greg Mckeown and it stopped me in my tracks.  It was so powerful and relevant to all of the things rolling around in my brain that I later looked the entire quote up:

The word priority came into the English language in the 1400s.  It was singular.  It meant the very first or prior thing.  It stayed singular for the next five hundred years.  Only in the 1900s did we pluralize the term and start talking about priorities.  Illogically, we reasoned that by changing the word we could bend reality.  Somehow we would now be able to have multiple “first things”.

I was trying to order my “priorities” when that word shouldn’t even exist.  When I shifted my focus to establishing one priority, everything else on my list seemed manageable.  I know that somehow everything else will fall into place.

This year, instead of taking mostly pictures, we tried to take lots of videos of our adventures.  I love to write and plan to continue to do so, however, we know that there is power in video.  When you watch videos, you feel like you are a part of what you are watching so we plan to begin adding vlogs to our list of communications.  This is something we have felt like we should start doing for a while now but to be honest, we have struggled with differing artistic views and a limitation of skills.  That is code talk for lots of arguing and wasted hours.  This is a very strange and new world for us and sometimes we feel silly for even thinking that our small pebble could cause a big enough ripple to make a difference.  Among many other things, I pray this prayer for our family:

Lord, do something unpredictable and uncontrollable.
The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson

It is a scary thing to pray, but so great is my desire that God use our family somehow.  I’m ready for the scary.

I’ve learned a few things about traveling with kids.  I’m looking forward to sharing with you a few of these in a vlog very soon.

Go To Your Circle

Go To Your Circle

I have a confession…I hate Sunday mornings.  Well, that’s not entirely true.  I say the words, “I hate Sundays” under my breath almost every Sunday morning but I don’t really mean it.  We get ready for school five days a week with relatively few hiccups but somehow Sunday mornings feel incredibly hectic and stressful.  Perhaps it’s the added expectation that everyone needs to “look nice”.  Maybe it’s because we usually stay up too late on Saturday nights.  Or it could be that there are forces working against me that just don’t want me to make to church.  Whatever the case may be, I’m usually a hot, crabby mess until we finally get everyone in the car and are on the road.  

This morning was no exception.  During the church service my mind began to wander (as it sometimes does) and I found myself feeling disappointment in myself for being snippy this morning.  I began to talking to God about the worries I was feeling about being a good mom and wife, and worries for my children and my job.  In the midst of my conversation, God spoke.  

I love when God speaks, it’s completely astonishing that GOD would speak to a human… He’s GOD for pete’s sake!  It’s even more amazing that He chooses to speak to me.  Especially in times like this morning where I find myself disobedient, distant, and apathetic.  What did He say?  “Get in your circle.”  

Prayer does not come naturally for me.  Interceding for others just isn’t my gift.  Several months ago I decided that this was an area I needed to work on.  My family and friends, especially my children and husband need me to be a better “prayer warrior” for them.  A good friend had let me borrow her copy of The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson.  I had seen this book and heard many people rave over it but let’s be honest…the first thing that came to my mind when I read the back cover was, “Ugh, ‘name it, claim it’”.  Not for me.  I am a “God’s will be done” girl which means I’m very uncomfortable asking God for anything concrete.  Usually, my prayer requests consisted of wisdom, patience, and rest.  Much needed but admittedly shallow.  I took a chance, read the book, and I’m so glad that I did!

The “Circle Maker” in the book draws a circle in the dirt during a drought and exclaims to God that he will not move from the circle until God makes it rain.  Bold statement.  The Circle Maker did encourage me to pray bigger and more specific prayers (although, it still feels awkward) but more importantly it simply got me praying and praying consistently.  I haven’t drawn a circle in my carpet and refused to leave it until God has answered my prayers but I do think of myself as “inside my circle” when I pray.  For the “Circle Maker”, it was a physical circle, for me, it’s a metaphorical circle.  A circle that, with the right attitude, can follow me throughout my day.  That’s why, when I start to waiver in my consistency, God tells me to get back in my circle. 

That’s what He said to me this morning and it brought me to tears.  Of course!  How simple!  I was feeling overwhelmed and lost because I was disconnected from the one who makes sense from the nonsense of life.  This week I will get in my circle.  Despite everything on my Happy Planner, I will make spending time in my circle my priority.  

HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY!

I cannot list the wonderful ladies who have influenced me to become a better mom.  Thank you for your wisdom and advice and for your patience and encouragement.

Unfamiliar Territory

Unfamiliar Territory

It’s been one year and 6 months since we finalized our adoption. Most days I’m in the trenches, learning how to be a mom, working full time, figuring out what a wife looks like when 5 kids are thrown in the mix, learning how to cook, and swimming through lots and lots of laundry. We’ve had amazing victories and breakthroughs and as many failures and setbacks. It is awesome! I have always prayed that God would use our family for some purpose and recently that longing has become a burning fire inside me that sometimes completely consumes me. And so, I’ve recently found myself in very unfamiliar territory: Social Media.

I feel like “stage” is a great definition of the social media landscape in our world today. I am a backstage kind of girl. I will run your spotlight, build your sets, make your coffee but please, do not put me on the stage. The stage is exposed, vulnerable, and scary! I mean…people might look at me! But still, I have been subtly drawn to that exposure. My first and biggest step was to switch my Instagram account (which I hadn’t used much) to a “business” account. Open to all the world to see. Insanity, to be quite honest. I uncovered a logo Jared created 15 years ago for his business, added a heart, and made it our family’s logo. After much prayer I declared a family motto. I started using hashtags and changed my name on certain accounts to something that might be easier to search. I even created a YouTube channel but don’t get excited… that one is a LONG ways off. Let’s not be silly.

Sometimes I think this is all completely ridiculous. Sometimes I worry that I’ll be sucked into the vortex and become obsessed with followers and likes. (I turned off my notifications to keep that from happening.) But, in the uncomfortable steps toward the stage, I have felt at peace. If my pictures and stories turn the head of one person who needs to be nudged towards Christ, adoption, or foster care, I’m all in.

God how great You are
Great things You have done
For everything we’ve seen
There is more to come.
Every victory
Every battle won
For everything we’ve seen,
There is more to come.
-Passion

Grateful

Grateful

I have a tendency to overthink things. Shocking…I know. Maybe that’s why Christmas gets harder and harder for me each year. The extravagance that is the American Christmas makes me sick to my stomach.

Are they grateful?
Did they say “Thank you”?
Did they mean it when they said “Thank you”?
Do they even appreciate those socks?
Where are we going to store that?
Ummm…is that a pooping baby doll?? (True story)

This year was our first year as a family that we stayed home and celebrated Christmas just us. Jared and I agreed to let the kids open their gifts on Christmas Eve (a Black family tradition). As you can imagine, 5 children opening gifts all at once is a bit chaotic. About halfway through, I had to retreat to the Christmas puzzle (a Hamilton family tradition…the puzzle, not the retreat).

The holidays are draining, you hear it everywhere you turn. I am no exception to this rule. In fact, this year, in the midst of the season, I have been dealing with a particularly tough realization. There are people in my life who have made great sacrifices for me and I will never be able to repay them. I almost lose it just typing that. I will never be able to repay them. For a long time, I haven’t been okay with that. The guilt alone is a weight I can not bear. I noticed myself withdrawing and it became really hard to maintain relationships. Around Thanksgiving, I finally started letting God chip away at my pride. It’s been very painful and at times downright awful. I am in no way near acceptance but instead of dwelling on the debts I cannot pay, I am learning to look for ways I can bless others. It’s kind of like “paying it forward” I suppose although I’m not a fan of that term. Instead of trying desperately to repay those who, quite frankly I need but do not need me, I am learning to look for those who don’t have the ever-present, firm, and loving support system I have. I can only hope that by supporting and encouraging others, I will in turn bring more meaning to the ones supporting me and therefore will increase their influence.

I will forever be grateful to:
♡Those who saved our kids from being split up and continue to nurture them and treat them like beloved grandchildren (and me like a beloved child).
♡Those who agree to be called Aunt and Uncle and truly treat us like family.
♡Those who travel long distances to visit often bringing peace and a break.
♡Those who pray for me when I cannot pray for myself.
♡Those who tell me I’m doing a good job.

I know I’ve been a burden. I cling to Jesus’s words in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” “For when I’m weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 2:10b)

For all that You have done for us
For every battle won
We’ll raise a song to bless Your heart
For all that You have done
Rend Collective

Much love,
The Black Family