Diving In

So happy to let this cat out of the bag:

We are fostering-to-adopt!

I was truly afraid to tell people about it. I felt like people would think we were crazy to throw ourselves into more inevitable emotional stress on top of the battles we are currently facing.

When Maddy was diagnosed with autism, the first question her doctor asked us was if we wanted more kids, informing us they were at much higher risk for autism because our first child had it, and especially because she is a girl. We didn't have set in stone plans, but I had always told Mike I wanted 3 or 4 kids. So in my heart, our family wasn't done yet.

For several months I felt like I wasn't allowed to have more kids because it would be irresponsible or dumb or I wouldn't be able to handle another child with autism, and it was devastating. After a while, I realized that I would regret forever not having tried to have the bigger family I wanted. I am a firm believer that God does not want us to make decisions based on fear, and after praying through it, Mike and I decided to be open to more children. After a very brief stint of "openness," we weren't pregnant, and we were both feeling an odd unrest about the entire thing. I was struggling intensely with some of Maddy's stuff. So we put on the brakes and talked and prayed. Had we made the wrong decision?

Two years ago at our old church, we had an annual "Orphan Sunday." I had never been open to adoption. It felt like a plan B in case we couldn't have our own children, and we already had two kids of our own. It never crossed my mind as something I should consider. I hadn't known anyone who was adopted growing up and hadn't been exposed to it really, and didn't have a clue what foster care was until we got married and I was introduced to it through some friends and family. Well, that Sunday changed everything. Mike and I walked into the parking lot, got in the car and said "We need to adopt kids."

Around the same time, my sweet nephew was in the process of being adopted through foster care. Something about inviting him into our family, and feeling a love that was not any different than that I felt of blood relatives, and watching my brother and sister in law brave the tough journey and work their tails off to give him a forever home... it all deeply affected me.

Well, God's timing is everything. I was ready to start the process immediately, and somewhere I had in my head that I wanted to adopt two sisters, both older than Maddy and Owen. Our kids were young enough that the whole birth order thing wouldn't really matter, and it's the older sibling groups that have the hardest time being adopted. The idea of foster/adopting an infant felt self serving somehow, so we had our plan. Two elementary school aged girls; sisters.

We went to our orientation, the first step in the process. Somewhere between the stories of birth children being stabbed with butter knives and the incredibly negative undertone of the entire thing, we left feeling disillusioned and unsure. Thank God for that, because our plans were not right for us. We had no idea Maddy had autism, we had no idea that our life would look the way it currently does, and it just was not supposed to happen back then. But we knew it would happen eventually; it was all a matter of timing.

Well, here we are; I will be required to be home for Maddy for 20-35 hrs/week of therapy in our house for the next couple of years at least. I won't be working any time soon and I likely won't get to start the Master's program I'd planned to attend either for a very long time. Owen will be starting preschool and I'm going to have a lot of free time on my hands and not much to do with it. This is the perfect time for us to have little ones in our home. And this time, we are sure that adoption is the way that God wants to fulfill that.

We have had many conversations and prayed over our family and for discernment, and here is the plan (but we aren't married to it, we know God has a way of changing plans up :) ):

We will be fostering infants from 0-6 months old, any race, boys or girls. Only one baby to start, but we are open to two after a while if we feel we can make it work. They will be "red flag" files, or kids whose case plan is leading toward severance of parental rights, making them available to us for adoption. There is no guarantee we will get to adopt the child at all up until the day we go to court and the judge signs the paper. It is a very intense roller coaster of a thing; at any time, an unknown family member or person could come forward to claim the child, and the court will always give the child to next of kin before foster parents.

I am blessed to have seen many successful adoptions of infants through foster care, including my nephew; I know it can and will happen if you stick with it :)  You always have to be on board with the case plan and also realize you are a foster parent first; as a foster parent, the goal is always reunification with the birth family. I know these things in my head, but I also know that each child will be very hard to let go of.

The babies we will be caring for will suffer physical abuse, prenatal drug abuse, neglect, etc. Some of them may be born in prison and come straight to our home from there. It's going to be difficult, but I am humbled and blown away that I get to be part of caring for them and showing them God's love even if for a short time.

I can't wait to meet my future children. We already have a boy name picked! Which, if you know anything about Mike and I picking names, is a bit of a miracle. When I asked Mike how many he wanted to adopt, he said "as many as we can handle!"  Also a miracle. Who is this guy?? :)  For now, I think we're sticking with two! But hey, you never know.

We would love your prayers! 

pumpkin cheesecake and the world's strongest force.



...hear that?

In my house, that's the sound of my heart beat slowing, my eyes getting heavy, my lungs breathing deeply and a pumpkin cheesecake candle burning so close to my nostrils that it's a legitimate fire hazard to my respiratory system. I can't personally attest to the power of crack, but I'd go all in on a bet that pumpkin cheesecake candles may as well be olfactory crack. At least in October. For me.

But forget smells, this is about the sound I'm reveling in at this very moment:

It's the sound of bedtime.

Not mine.

Theirs. :)

It sounds a lot like a ceiling fan on high speed and a crappy old AC unit buzzing. And when they are sleeping, I get to have thoughts that aren't only about them.

But the truth is, I don't mind. I don't mind them consuming every ounce of me, stealing my hard-won patience and trading it for cheap tantrums, handing over my morning shower/blowdry/makeup routine for yesterday's mascara and a list of Nazi-reminiscent breakfast demands met with my unnaturally calm re-direction.

What is it about our children that makes us so ready to die for them? To hand over every luxury, even the stuff we used to consider essential... just so they might have the chance, just a shot at a fulfilling life?

I'll be honest with you, I've never met a year more difficult than the last one has been. It's been a daily battle to the death: hope versus fear. It sucks the life out of your spirit. It's a battle that wounds and incapacitates you slowly, until one day (seemingly out of nowhere) your find yourself in a compromised position and have no idea what to do or how to win. You lose momentum. You lose people... friends. You lose confidence. You lose motivation. You lose the "put together" image. You are naked, cold, and stripped of any facade that used to render you a worth-while person. You wonder if you're even worth loving anymore. And attempting to love your very young children well, all day every day, in the midst of such a battle makes you a dead woman walking.

But then the mystery of God steps in. The One who makes everything beautiful in its time. And He says, "It's your time."

I can't tell you how often in a week I look at my perfect daughter and it hits me like it's February 7, 2013 all over again.

"I'm diagnosing her with autism. Have you thought about whether or not you want to have more kids? Because odds are they could have autism too. She's going to need therapy like it's her full time job. She may never be a self-sustaining adult; a lot of that falls on how hard you are willing to work for the next 15 years to get her there. She probably won't be able to find employment, get married, have a family, etc. You have until she's six years old to make the biggest difference. Good luck. "

It hits me and emotionally I drop to the ground and my soul screams in fear and and my face has to stay calm so I don't make my kids upset, and it happens when I'm driving her to school or we're out on a play date or she fails again at making a friend, or worse, when some unsuspecting friend/family/acquaintance asks me about her and I totally lose it.

Oh, God, God God. What if she's never happy? What if she has to live with us forever? What if she hates herself when she's older and more aware of her circumstances? What if she hates You? What if I hate You???

But God has been teaching me the most amazing thing.

When I surrender, and I allow hope to win and I let it be my anchor in those moments, joy happens. It's the stuff from that Mother-Teresa-esque, cryptic, unnatural, almost delusional sounding Bible verse that tells us to have joy in our suffering-- it sounds unreal. But now, after all this, I say real hope breeds joy in suffering. And I don't think I've ever met a force more powerful than the joy that comes from suffering, because it is so much bigger than just me, or just us. It's Him.

 And joy in the midst of suffering isn't some sort of act of martyrdom; all it really amounts to is knowing the heart of God and loving Him in all circumstances.

So, if I insist, I can face my greatest fears and carry the weight of them on my own shoulders. We can do it that way... but that's how fear wins.

Or.

I can face my greatest fears with the confidence of God's love for me and my daughter. And hope wins.

And hope changes everything.

Kind of like pumpkin cheesecake candles.

my "duh" budget


This is the first time a budget has worked for me, mostly because there is literally no possible way to mess it up.

It's the cash system that Dave Ramsey teaches about, but on a smaller scale tailored specifically to me and the way I spend. We now pay cash only for every purchase outside of our regular bills.

I am an impulse buyer by way of clearance Target shirts, overpriced coffee and Chick Fil A. I'm addicted to convenience since becoming a mom, and I can emotionally justify just about any purchase when I get to the end of my rope. I'll leave it to your imagination to determine how this affects our monthly spending :)

I've been married for seven years, and I've seen about a million and two friends jump on the Dave Ramsey band wagon in that time as I've tried to figure out how to handle money. Me not being a fan of bandwagons, I stayed away. Also being incredibly stubborn, I thought "I'll figure this out myself." Sometimes I did figure it out and would be awesome for a couple months, but usually would slip back into my bad spending habits much to the angst of my patient husband who would still be wearing shirts from high school if I didn't force him to buy new clothes. Frugal McFrugalson married Spendy McSpenderson. I make good jokes.

Anyways.

Here's my new magic system:

It all starts with this really great wallet I purchased from ReisPeices on Etsy.



But it's not just any wallet... it has six zipper pouches to separate the six areas I keep budgeted:
  • Groceries
  • Gasoline
  • Household items
  • Clothing
  • Play dates
  • Eat out/ Date Money
Every Friday is my "payday" and I stock my wallet with my allotted cash for the week.








So, I pay myself every week, but I don't necessarily spend everything I get paid. For example, we have $20/week budgeted for clothing for four people. That's $260 a year per person, which in my opinion is not a whole lot. But we are trying it and we'll see how it goes! I haven't spent any of it in the last three weeks, so I have $60 so far for when I need to buy the kids warmer clothes! I am also doing things like redistributing my weekly play date money that I don't spend to my clothes budget because I am not going to stockpile convenience money. Clothing: need. Play dates: convenience.  So it's flexible, yet concrete; when I run out of cash, I run out of cash.


The other thing I'm doing that I've never done is keeping a spread sheet going of every item I buy at the grocery store.

This way, I know how much my grocery shopping trips will cost me to the dollar based on my meal plan for the week.



Yes, I really have 4,797 emails in my box.

Don't judge.

:P

Did I mention I'm bad at organization?

Which gives you an idea of what a big step it is for me to keep an actual spreadsheet of every grocery item I buy! ;)

We are back on gluten free $$$$$. But Costco is really helping with the cost, buying all our staples there and an onion here or spice jar there at Safeway.

So there is my budget system that actually works! What tips do you have for budgeting? Do you use a cash system? Any advice? What's working for you?

the giant in the room



While M was at preschool today, I took the opportunity to spend some quality time in Petsmart with O looking at birds, snakes, fish, etc. He was quite amused. I've been having a tough time parenting my 2 year old (shocker), and I had spent the better part of my day being intentional with him, finding ways to set him up for success to give him positive reinforcement. No joke, I literally have to go out of my way to put him in a position where he accidentally decides to do something good so I can shower him with praise and hope he enjoys it enough to want positive attention when he has to make real choices between right and wrong.

I digress.

Things were going according to my divine plan, until it happened.

A very tall, bigger woman went walking toward a nearby door, and O ran to hold it open for her. And who could blame the little guy for being a gentleman? I was proud. This is going to make her day, I thought. He stood there, gazing up at her.

Then, with shrill and acute articulation, these words escaped his unknowing, tiny mouth with volume that could wake the dead:

"Whoa!!! A GIANT!!!"

If you know me, you can picture my face and probably feel the instant sense of doom and despair and powerlessness and shame and horror I felt all at once in that moment.

Have you ever read Harry Potter? You know that invisibility cloak? Every child born should come with one because two year olds. Or like a pocket sized escape wardrobe to Narnia. Or like those berries on The Hunger Games. Too far?

Even though half the store must have heard his exclamation, she pretended not to, and so did I. She didn't even look at him or acknowledge him. And we both went on with our day.

But it's 2am, and in typical Emilybrain fashion, I'm wide awake and I can't stop thinking about her. I remember the time a kid my son's age asked me when I was going to have my baby, and I was about a year post partum. I still think of it to motivate myself to get in shape. And assuming this woman holds onto things at even half the capacity I do, I know his remark had to have hurt her feelings a great deal. Two year olds know no flattery; they call it like they see it.

I wish I could apologize and tell her she looked very pretty today. I wish O could tell her how cool he thought she was because she reminded him of his favorite character on Mickey and the Beanstalk (albeit 20% compliment, 80% salt in the wound). I wish our society didn't tell women they have to look a certain way to have worth. I wish I could have found a way to make her feel valued as a person in that moment instead of pretending nothing happened. It wasn't my proudest moment.

I really want to teach my son humility and mercy and how to properly love people.

So... Dear O, please never, ever, ever call a woman a "giant."

Seems like a good place to start.


On again.

Since 2008 I've gone through seasons of on again/off again blogging.

Consider this my official notice of "on again" :)

I have a small amount of extra time on my hands now that I've finished by bachelor's degree (YES.) and I feel like I have a lot to say these days, so here we are.

I also feel a strange sense of having lost my voice, so if I'm a bit rusty (read: boring), stick with me while I dust off the old keys a bit.

Everybody blogs for different reasons; some to project an image of sorts, some for business, some to take a mental dump, some to build lofty political or religious platforms, some to inspire, some to solicit attention of no apparent merit, some to record important life events, etc.

I've come to the conclusion that I have no idea why I blog. I think I've done it at one point or another for almost every reason listed above. I sat and thought about why in the world I should start blogging again, and the only reason I could come up with is: I enjoy it. Never mind the fact that Google Ads blacklisted me (yes, that is a real thing), this whole autism blog never once fulfilled its purpose (to find more moms of kids with autism), and I am about as fickle as my son sitting on the toilet trying to decide whether he has to pee or poop (it's more confusing than you think).

So if you're back with me for the millionth time and you feel like this is turning into a bad dating relationship (is she committed or isn't she??), I apologize. I can't promise I won't leave again. But I can promise to speak as transparently as possible so as not to waste your time or my energy. You really never know what's gonna happen next around here...




New Life



Ah, friends.

Here I am at the same place I find myself every time I start a blog. Perhaps this time I should take notice and change accordingly.

I have this journal problem. I own 20 journals, easy. I picture my life in chapters, and each time a new chapter starts I buy a new journal because I don't want the old, worn out parts of my life to mix with the new and exciting. As if they don't deserve to grace the same pages, otherwise what's new and fresh  might be tainted and ruined. But really, what ends up happening is I collect this pile of unfinished journals; unfinished stories, unfinished feelings, unfinished dreams and hopes.

If you've followed me over the last few years, you realize I do the same things with blogs these days. This particular blog was meant to document the "Autism Chapter."

Until I realized autism wasn't just a chapter.

If I allowed it to be, Autism was the whole book. And that was the most depressing story I could have ever lived. And I was miserable.

And I've come to realize some really important things in the last month or so, but especially this past week:

Autism does not define my life. It especially doesn't define M's life. I have permission to do things for myself. M has permission to be exactly who she is; God made her that way on purpose. Neither of us are a slave to autism. And that is really, really good news for me.

Autism is not the entirety of our story, and I am stealing our life back and running full speed ahead.

God has begun something new and exciting in our story, and I am ready to step into it. I've been waiting lifetimes for this very season to begin. I am so happy to say goodbye to the old and fully embrace and invest in the new. Is autism still a part of it? Sure. It always will be. It's not what I signed up for, it's not what M deserves and I would change it if I could... but I can't. This is it. This is life. It's happening. And I'm in.

For starters, I will be going to Fuller in the fall for Marriage and Family Therapy, just like I have been dreaming and planning for the last year and a half! That is my first step towards freedom.

There are all sorts of new blossoms (blossoms are too small- more like new trees, new oceans, new mountains) being born in our lives; the dead is falling away and making room for new life! Winter is over. Spring is here. Thank you Jesus.

This blog makes me sad. So it's going to fall away too. This blog labels my kid and might embarrass her one day. This blog narrows the lens through which people view her. We aren't going to pretend M doesn't have autism moving forward, but we are going to take the spotlight off of it and start living again. There is a time to mourn, a time to hurt, but there is also a time to live. I'm ready to do some proper living.

Please keep our family in your prayers! Your love, support and encouragement have been priceless. Thank you so much for everything.