My Epitaph, from an 8 year old

 

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An 8 year old friend at our church gave this mug to me last night at Life Group. Isn’t it adorable?

Since then, I keep thinking, If that’s what it says on my tombstone someday, I’ll have done alright…”

Until recently, I have given no thought whatsoever to what I would want carved in granite over my body’s final resting place. The plan is that I’ll be hanging out in heaven (where the events of the past 7-8 years have secured me an EPIC condo with simultaneous views of the Atlantic, Pacific, and a wide swath of the Mediterranean…) So I haven’t considered how I’ll be remembered here on earth.

Then last week, my friend Sonya, in town from Hawaii to speak at our women’s retreat, invited me up to the North Shore to spend a day writing together. We had solid artistic intentions. But it turns out what we both needed was time to talk. It was as if we each had pieces to a larger puzzle of shared experiences, and this was an opportunity to see  how they fit together.

We had a long breakfast overlooking the ocean. Then out of nowhere she asked, “Do you want to see my favorite headstones?”  

Of course, my gut reaction was No. I mean, that’s weird, right? We were by the ocean, drinking coffee, with an endless supply of carbohydrates. Why would we move?

But of course I said Yes. I’ve been at this Jesus thing long enough to know that when a respected friend invites you to do something a bit peculiar, the Kingdom of God is often at hand.

So off we went.

A few winding miles from our breakfast table, Sonya introduced me to two of her heroes:  Ebenezer and Abigail Cleaveland.

They lived on Boston’s North Shore in the late 1700’s. He was a pastor. She probably was too, although that sort of thing was entirely informal in those days.  They lived long lives in a tough climate. What stood out to me most was that they believed in free grace – the idea that we don’t earn God’s love, or Jesus’ salvation, or the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We receive them. We respond to Jesus’ offer of love, forgiveness, freedom and help. And as we respond, we are saved. This was a radical stance in Puritan New England. And yet Ebenezer and Abigail lived long, full, intense lives…and they finished well.

Sonya said something so poignant as she showed me these headstone inscriptions: “We make public statements about who we are and what we stand for every day on social media. But back then, this was your one chance to tell the world what your life was about and what mattered to you.”

I’d never thought of it like that.

She described how, in the aftermath of a difficult season in their lives, she and her husband Jordan found comfort in this couple’s legacy, as well as faith to move forward toward their own. Sometimes when you’re in the midst of betrayal and loss, it helps to have someone to look to who has forged a path through the darkness. You need someone up ahead who is saying with their lives, The Light is real. Keep going. It matters! 

And then I got to tell her how she and Jordan have done that for us.

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We had a good time, there in the cemetery. As we watched the boats fishing out in the harbor (Ebenezer & Abigail have A VIEW!) it made me wonder in a new way what it means to be from a place. Not in terms of preferred sports teams, or whether or not you own winter clothes, or if your reaction to an approaching stranger is to invite them in for dinner or pretend you don’t see them. But to be the ones who were born into God’s plan for a place. Perhaps those things matter more than we realize. Steve grew up in Cambridge. I’m from Southern Maine. In some way, we’re decedents of Ebenezer and Abigail, charged with living out the message that even in the midst of this harsh, beautiful New England climate, God is near and He has something better for us.

This morning, as I look at this mug from my sweet little friend, it gives me vision for how I want to live these days in this awesome place. I’m usually funny – it’s a genetic thing. Sometimes I’m kind because I try. But happy has been a bit of a stretch goal. Enough so that when it comes, I know for sure that it’s God. Telling stories about how that unfolds is a fun way to spend a life.

I want that to be my legacy – that we helped others make that connection, here in this place that I’m convinced really IS the best place in the world to be. It seems like something worth living…and dying… for.

The Rest of Yesterday’s Story

Yesterday I had a bit of a rant. I wasn’t sure whether or not to post it. It had the potential to come across as full-on ungratefulness for all I have, and I am astoundingly blessed. It hasn’t been that long since I felt astoundingly NOT blessed (to the point where Steve and I actually had the conversation, “Do you think we might be cursed? Because in the Bible, lives like ours mean you’re cursed…”)  and so I don’t take what I have now lightly.

But here’s the thing: every answered prayer brings with it parts that drive you bananas. And every “here’s a look at my life” blog (or book) brings the temptation to only show the parts where you’re crushing it – not the parts where it’s crushing you.

I don’t want to do that. As disappointing as it is to watch someone who has something you’d give ANYTHING to have complain about it, it’s even worse to witness their seemingly perfect life and wonder why you’re not as constantly chipper and celebratory and just as thrilled to be alive as they are.

I’ve had those thoughts.

Why aren’t I capturing our lives in heirloom-quality candid photographs? Why don’t I have a capsule wardrobe? Or a in-home craft corner? Or a partnership with artisans in emerging nations whose wares I feature on my blog? Why don’t we do game nights? What does it mean that Steve wants to give up on the 1000 piece puzzle we attempted during vacation but I want to leave it out because it means we can just eat dinner in the kitchen? WOULD WE BE HAPPIER IF WE HAD CHICKENS??? 

I’m not even kidding. I’ve actually wondered if our lives might be more peaceful & happy (and heirloom-quality photo worthy) if we installed a coop of pecking, pooping BIRDS in our backyard. Because nothing says SERENITY NOW! and HONEY, TAKE A PICTURE! like your dog’s mouth filled with the feathers of Clyde the Clucker. Thankfully, my sister reminded me of the time THAT NIECE came home from a farm visit covered in bird lice. That cured my chicken fantasy once and for all.

But why did I have it in the first place?

I share about the things I struggle with in an attempt to make my online life look a little bit like my actual life. Yes, I untag myself from unflattering Facebook pictures. But then I circle back and tell you that the tummy rolls are so out of hand, they require professional intervention. 

The other day, someone asked me, “Who reads your blog?” I thought for a moment and realized that in my imagination, you guys are curious about adoption, wondering about what faith looks like in the midst of real life, and/or just interested in an entertaining story.

All of these things have ups and downs, and none of them are true or encouraging or memorable if they skip the hard parts. But to be really good, they also need a satisfying ending that leaves the main character in a place the reader feels good about. So let me do that for you:

My day yesterday was not all bad. Yes, the morning was rainy and rocky and emotionally perhaps not my best (given that whole hiding out on the third floor thing.) But then it was REDEEMED. The sun came out. I had lunch with a friend. I’ll call her JESUS POWER GIRL because she is so openheartedly encouraging everywhere she goes. She was full-on hands in the air praising God for something right there at our lunch table in the middle of Cambridge yesterday (not a common sight, to put it mildly) and the people around us were all smiling and nodding because the happiness is so contagious when she’s around. Then she told me about when she had three teen boys living with her, and how she was grossed out for years by the household aftermath of those sweet, smelly young men. But now they’re successful, launched actual men, and it’s worth it.

And with that, I got my eye back on the ball.

Thanks for hanging with me when there are dips in the ride. I know they’re not as fun as the slow climb to new heights. But if someone told me about a roller coaster and didn’t mention that I’d be terrified and furious for significant parts of the experience, I’d find it hard to trust them.

I’d rather have you trust me than think I’m perfect.

My Fashion Woes

A couple of months ago, I went to Steve’s company holiday party dressed like an Amish

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If you look closely, you can see the patch pockets! #classycocktail!

nun. I didn’t mean to.  The dress code was “classy cocktail,” which I interpreted to mean, Like you’re coming from work, only a step up. I found a cute preppy dress from Tommy Hilfiger. It was a little big, but I kind of liked that; I’m not exactly in top form right now. I paired it with a jacket & boots because it was about thirteen degrees that night. And yes, I knew that I looked a bit like I was there to serve a warrant. But Boston has a pretty wide professional dress code. I was sure it would be fine.

We walked into the venue a bit early (it’s so hard to calculate traffic across the city) and I knew instantly that I’d screwed up.

Friends, the sequins were blinding. Hair had been professionally done. Hours had been invested in mani-pedi-facials. There were GOWNS. Everyone looked elegant, upscale, and GORGEOUS.

I glanced at Steve and whispered, “Wow. I really miscalculated…”

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I didn’t even realize until later when I saw this picture that we MATCHED. We look like an audition tape for The Real Housewives of Ultra Conservative County.

He looked mortified for me. We checked our winter coats, and took a picture in front of an unavoidable step & repeat that stood between us and the bar. I prayed for a camera malfunction. We walked into the mostly-empty room and I took a deep breath. I knew had a decision to make: I could ruin this night with my embarrassment, or I could figure out another way. So I decided to fight for it. I looked up at the seventeen Buddha statues decorating the restaurant and said, “Jesus, I know you’re here somewhere…I could really use some help…”

We found a place to stand with our drinks & small plates. I made it a point to talk to Steve about things OTHER THAN how underdressed I was. And when he introduced me to people, I did not say a single embarrassed word about my outfit, because nothing makes social situations worse than that.

We had a great night. Everyone I met was fantastic, and we had so many deep, good conversations about biotech, writing, faith, and adoption. Yes, I felt awkward the whole time. As much as we’re not supposed to care what we wear, and we’re supposed to appreciate each other for what’s on the inside, blah, blah, blah… my missing the cues on the dress code meant the night was way more emotional effort than I wanted it to be, at a time (right after the holidays) when I didn’t have a lot of extra fight in me. I’m so glad we went. But I’m not sure I’ll ever wear that dress again.

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I thought of this the other day as I caught up on the blog of a fellow memoirist who had a baby last year at the age of 46. As she described her woes in getting dressed, and how her body feels lumpy and odd in ways it never was before, I realized: I ALSO have a one-year postpartum body. Only I never gave birth.

It’s pitiful. Don’t you think the benefit of adopting should be that I don’t look like I have kids??? But nope. I got dressed the other day and realized I looked like a big marshmallow covered in denim & 2-ply cashmere. But I think the problem is less about having too much size, and more about having lost my style: Last week when I wore a ponytail to church, one of the teens came up and said, “Miss Trish! You look so different!”

You know you’re in a rut when a ponytail is a bold move forward.

So you can imagine how my curiosity was peaked when that blog friend talked about her clothing woes and how she’d just received a box from a company called Stitchfix that mails you clothes. She was going to POST PICTURES of her in the new items (!!??!) I was horrified/captivated/in awe: wasn’t that the equivalent of taking the entire internet with you as you try on jeans at Target???

She has awesomely sarcastic humor, so I was excited to see how she’d skewer the experience of trying clothes picked out by a complete stranger on a body that shifted daily in all sorts of unplanned directions.

She kept every cute thing in that box. (They send 5 things. You pay $20 for the styling service, which is credited against anything you buy. And there’s 25% off if you decide to keep everything. Apparently, this is a whole thing that’s been happening for years. Enter Trish in her Amish ensemble, a little late to the party…)

(I’ll admit, I was a bit salty that she found a dress, because I have this secret theory that people who look good in dresses and like them have ALL THE DRESSES. It’s like the dresses know. The rest of us get a boy dress with patch pockets. But whatever.)

In a fit of I don’t even know what, I signed up for a Stitchfix delivery of my own. I think I was just excited to leave my problem at the feet of an expert (even if that expert is an algorithm supposedly named “Katelyn”). I knew my blog friend would get a $25 referral credit, and that seemed like a way to thank her for being so honest (her blog TITLE is “An Inch of Gray,” referring to her hairline. I love her!) and making me feel less alone in navigating my fashion challenged state.

I had LOW expectations when the box arrived. I liked that it was pretty, and I was prepared for disappointment. I’ll cut to the chase and tell you the miracle: They sent me jeans that fit perfectly. Length, width, everything. It was like they’d been tailored for me.

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I might even wear them to next year’s company party. If I’m going to be underdressed, I might as well really go for it.

The rest of the box was a mix. There was a blue jacket that made me look like I was there to change the oil on your car, and a pair of earrings like ones I already have. Those I sent back. There was a blue floral top that was unbelievably cute once I tried it on.

And then there was the green shirt.

I haven’t owned anything green that doesn’t say “Boston Celtics” on it since about 1975. It’s just not my color, or so I thought. But this shirt was so pretty! It didn’t fit. But still, I loved it so much that I pulled it back out of the return package (they send you a postage-paid return bag you just drop off at the post office) after I’d sealed it, just to try it again. It was still a no. But now I’m on the hunt for a different top in that shade of green.

What that box did for me had almost nothing to do with the actual clothes. It was more about how it energized my thoughts about dressing in general like nothing in recent (or even distant) memory has. The the little style guide gave me ideas for other outfits from things I already have, and I even got back on Pinterest (which I’ve decided is like going to the Mall with your friends, only while lying on the couch by yourself. I’m not sure that’s a good thing, but at least now I understand the appeal.) I’m so glad I did this. It’s good for my style and my soul.

It’s good to find help when you need it, and to be reminded that more is possible in life, IMG_5282even with things that shouldn’t be such a big deal, but are. I kept the empty Stitchfix box on the floor of my bedroom for about four days after it arrived, just to remind me of how happy it had made me. That’s some pretty good return on investment.

If you’re in a style rut? Try Stitchfix here. If you use this link, I’ll get a $25 referral credit on your first go, like my blog friend received when I tried. The Cherubs thank you for making their mom slightly less embarrassing.

Food Fight

I’ve become one of those people who posts pictures of food.

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I don’t know how this happened, except maybe that food (and dinner in particular) has been such a nightmare for us for so  long.

But last week, the kids liked every meal we made.

(I’m going to leave that as a stand alone line, because it’s a MIRACLE.)

This is my way of declaring victory (read: dominion) over the horror that is mandatory  family dinner. (You know that it’s mandatory right? Because experts. Sigh.) I’ll post the recipes below, in case you’re fighting a similar battle.

A bit of background: Food for me is like exercise: best when it’s completed and I don’t have to think about it again for a while. I know this is strange, and it’s embarrassing to admit in our culture that venerates eating. Suffice to say I’m not someone who sources my ingredients. If you ask me if I eat local, I’ll nod yes with confidence: Market Basket is 3.7 miles from my house, and I buy pretty much everything there.

As I’ve shared before, I was just getting a handle on nightly dinners for two when the Cherubs moved in with us. They HATED our food. (They even complained to their social worker, “All they feed us is STEAK…”) This is common with kids who have spent time in foster care. Most didn’t eat particularly well (if at all) in their original homes, and not every foster home feeds kids enough food, let alone good food.

We had nights where things got so bad, I’d just leave the table after dinner and go up to my room to fume & regroup, because they were Just.So.Nasty.

Normally, I wouldn’t care all that much what they ate. I was raised in the 70s on beverages made from space age powders (Tang, Kool-Aid, instant ice tea, instant coffee, even powdered milk) and I turned out okay. But I HAD to get them on healthier food: I had one child who looked 8 when he was actually 12, and another who had “risk of diabetes from childhood obesity” written all over her medical records. So it wasn’t an option to just sort of play along, feed them Spaghetti-o’s & Hamburger Helper, and hoped things somehow worked out.

Okay, that’s the problem. Now let me tell you what we tried, and what worked.

Step 1: Keep the fridge full.

Our kids are hyper-alert to food availability. I can’t tell you how many times when I’ve had a busy week and just haven’t made it to the store yet, #2 Cherub asks, “Are we having money trouble?” This came up this weekend simply because we opened our last stick of butter. We weren’t even out…we just didn’t have extra.  Almost two years in, and they’re still looking for signs that Steve & I might lose our capacity to serve as the adults.

So I do my best to keep the fridge, pantry, and fruit bowl FULL. There’s not much junk there. But there is lots of food.

Step 2: Stop the complaining. 

After months of trying to figure out this dinner thing, I realized that the kids were kind of getting off on antagonizing me. It was a battle, and they were winning. Power struggles are part of parenting anyway, but they’re particularly part of adoption. On the verge of losing my sh*t about all of this, one night (after a really unpleasant fight the night before) I fixed them a special, just-for-you dinner: plain chicken, plain rice, plain green beans. I filled their milk glasses right to the top, and I told them, “From now on, this is your next dinner after you complain.”

It hasn’t been a problem since. (See pick your battles, win the ones you pick.)

Step 2:  Add Glop

Our kids love condiments. BBQ sauce, ketchup, salad dressing, soy sauce, salt, pepper, hot flakes, butter… Their favorite meals are things they can make gloppy. So look for versions of these that don’t have high-fructose corn syrup, and let them have at it.

Surprisingly, this also provided the best behavior modification option in our parenting repertoire. (See pick your battles, above)

Step 3: Wait

It took time for their palates to change. At a basic level, we were dealing with addiction – sugar in various forms, chemical additives, etc. Detox takes time, and then it takes more time for new habits to form. I did my best to provide variety, try new things, and find as many gloppy meals as I could feed them.

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Finally, last week, this all paid off.  Here’s some of what we ate that we all liked.  (And when I mention specific ingredients, I will link you right to Amazon. Because if there’s one thing I wish we’d done differently, it was to have some of our groceries delivered during our transition. If you’re in the process of adopting? Let me just set you free and say, you can worry about your carbon footprint NEXT YEAR. The rest of us will cover for you while you save a life or two. And if you have a friend who is fostering or adopting? Sign them up for a delivery service like Peapod or Amazon Fresh, and maybe crowd source a big ole’ gift card from amongst your friends or colleagues. Your friend who’s adopting won’t have the brain space to thank you for about 18 months, so I’ll just say it for them now, because I know they mean it: THANK YOU!)

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Turkey Kebabs

Anything on the grill is better, particularly because our kids like their meat well done (read: burnt into little hunks of blackened char). We learned with the first run of this that bacon doesn’t work at all on kebabs because the fat catches the whole kebab on fire but leaves everything raw inside (sad face), but with turkey & veggies (even sausage) it’s fantastic.

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Honey Mustard Pork Chops 

The kids like pork, but the highlight of this meal is that I slice a head of cauliflower into “steaks,” spray them with olive oil, add Jane’s salt, and broil them on a cookie sheet. Microwave frozen peas or green beans and call it a night.  I make the honey mustard glaze with hot mustard that is scrumptious. (see Add Glop, above)

My Mom’s Meatloaf (aka the meal of many life lessons)

Really, is there any food concept grosser than a “loaf” of meat? But I loved this as a kid and my kids do, too. I learned the hard way that I need to use 85% lean ground beef or I end up with a giant meatball swimming in grease. I add Italian bread crumbs, chopped onion, egg, and ketchup. I also learned to take my rings off before mixing. (AGGGH)  My mom’s secret was to cut a slice into the center of the loaf and hide cheese in there. That’s some good melty wonderfulness. Finally, I learned that baked potatoes take approximately nine hours and need to be started before you do anything else.

Chili (aka giant vat of glop)

I first made this on one of those awesome nights where we were all happy and having fun together, when it felt like our family life was a miracle and I just wanted to make the kids something they would truly love. So I made chili, even though it sort of grosses me out. It turned out to be a good choice, because this is chili even I can eat.

It’s nothing fancy: browned ground beef or turkey, smushed tomatoes (I can never remember if they should be crushed or diced, so that’s always a wild card depending one which can I grabbed at the store). Red beans & black beans (I get the low sodium ones in the can. Don’t even talk to me about soaking the dried ones. I’m not there yet.) I toss in a jar of salsa (because I’ll mooch Paul Newman’s efforts to advance my cause), frozen corn, and approximately 4x the amount of hot chili powder as I think is way too much. We serve this with that fake shredded cheese no cow would recognize, and the tortilla chips they sell near the counter at the beer & wine store. Just keeping it real, folks.

Chicken & Chick Peas

My friend Laura gave me this recipe a few years ago when I was doing a Lenten fast that only allowed certain grains.  I always use meat that’s already cooked (either from a rotisserie I grab at the store or leftover chicken breasts) so I don’t have to worry about food poisoning. Cook up about a cup of couscous. Take a moment to love that it only takes 5 minutes. Vow to eat less rice because it’s just too demanding. Sauté a chopped onion, along with some orange & yellow diced peppers. Add cooked couscous, a can of drained chick peas, some frozen peas & a bit of chicken broth. Mix together with cumin & that other yellow spice that also starts with C (Curry! that’s it!). Add corn if one of your Cherubs says, “I haven’t gone to the bathroom in awhile…. Spinach if someone is being punished. Let it heat through. Serve in bowls and marvel that they’re eating it. Go upstairs and write in your journal, Have found proof that God is real…

Family Chicken 

I have no idea how #2 Cherub came to claim this as our unique concoction, as it actually came from one of those index card recipes that show up in the mail sometimes. But apparently, it’s our very own now, and when they ask for “Family Chicken,” this is what they mean. It might be the only thing I make with no ingredients from a can, so it’s FANCY.

You dip chicken breasts in egg  while you struggle not to think too much about what’s happening. Coat in a mixture of bread crumbs, grated romano cheese, and Montreal Chicken Seasoning (MCS has solved more “I won’t eat that!” food fights in our family than I can possible describe. It’s cousin, Montreal Steak? Single handedly ended the, “They feed us nothing but steak!” war.) Broil until the edges of the chicken catch fire, because you got a bit distracted and the Cherubs like their meat killed twice. Serve with whatever vegetable you have and whichever starch you have time to boil.

And finally…

Life Group Food

I add this last item because if you’re in the thick of food issues with new kids, I want to reassure you: it won’t always be this hard, you won’t always have to do dinner like a military drill, and at some point, you’ll see breakthroughs in your kids’ tastes and places you can give a little without having all your hard work collapse.

At least once a week, we’re back out the door at night so fast that there’s no time to cook. So I’ve caved to boxed food, and let me tell you, it makes our kids MUCH more amenable to whatever the night’s obligations entail.

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They love chicken pot pie (because glop), and Newman’s Frozen Pizzas. Mac & cheese with hot dogs. Pasta with pesto and a pile of grated cheese (after which I chase them around with a spoonful of peanut butter, giving my 500th lecture on PROTEIN).

Here’s the cool thing:

#1 Cherub has grown about 8 inches and lost a bunch of those baby teeth. #2 Cherub is healthy, fit, happy with her body, and energetic. Both of them now monitor their own eating in a way that supports their personal needs. And while dinner time still isn’t anyone’s favorite part of the day, we get through those ten minutes together. I’m not sure it bonds us the way the experts promise. But it’s a hill we’ve conquered as a family, and shared victories count for more than you’d guess in this process.

Here’s the best book I found to help me think through this challenging season.
To those of you who are longtime readers: THANK YOU for your laughter, support & prayers as I’ve wrestled with this part of our lives. It’s nice to report some victory. And for those of you who are new? And maybe considering adopting from foster care? Forget you ever read this! But maybe bookmark it (I have a whole folder of “adoption blogs that save my sanity”) for the days you need to know that things will get better.

Middle School Musicals & Blending Families: A Praise Report

This weekend we watched #2 Cherub sing and dance in Oompa Loompa splendor in her middle school musical. It was SPLENDID. The show was hilarious and fun (thankfully less creepy than the Tim Burton movie) and there were some astonishingly good moments for us as a family that I want to capture and remember.

Willy Wonka 1 Willy Wonka 2First, different members of the Cherubs’ original family came for all three performances. Friday, Saturday & Sunday, they each drove long distances to a school they were unfamiliar with. They brought hugs and flowers and loud cheers for #2, and bought #1 more candy than he could possibly scoff down during intermission. They are so for the kids.

It’s not easy, what they’re doing. I don’t think this always how it goes in these situations (this was not at all our experience when we had Princess Peach) – and so I’m astonished and grateful that it’s possible. It’s good for the kids (and for us) to have so many people on their team.

Lest I paint TOO romantic a picture here, let me also say that the kids have no idea what to do with all of this familial blending – first they were terrified that we wouldn’t like each other, now they’re like, “Wait, you guys LIKE each other?” They find it awkward. But as one of their uncles pointed out, when you’re 14 & 12, EVERYTHING is awkward. If this is our awkward, we’ll take it.

Second, as we drove home after opening night, I heard #1 say to his sister in a low voice, “You did a good job.

I was like, “WAIT! was that a sweet moment between my children???”

They laughed and said, “Yeah, it was…”

For all the truth about how much #1 & #2 have helped each other through difficult times, they are also just like every other set of sibling kids I know: they bicker constantly, the one-upsmanship is endless, and they agree on nothing if they can possibly help it. It gets so bad some mornings I’ve threatened to make them walk to school if they don’t cut it out. (This was highly effective the week it was 9 degrees. I think it will lose its power as the temps warm up.)  There aren’t many moments when they say something genuinely nice to one another that isn’t prompted by a grown up.  But this was unprompted and genuine. #1 was right – she did do a good job. He knew how hard she’d worked, and (I think) how much his big brother praise would mean to her. It was precious.

Then we got home and she tripped over something and he made fun of her, so we were back to normal. But still, I think it’s the “good job” she’ll remember.

By the end of the weekend, we were all EXHAUSTED. It’s noon on a snow day right now, and we’re all still in our pajamas. I think big events take a bit more out of you when you’re a new family, because you’re not sure how things will go and there are so many emotions and hopes and relationships at play. But when it all works out? You need to WRITE IT DOWN and remember it, and let it set the new standard for how things can be.

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Dinner, both nights of the show. I would have been such a good 1970s parent!

Road to Adoption: Checking in after one Year

 

We went on vacation last week :)

IMG_4185 This was our first as a family. (Because no, I’m not counting that time we took our Black kids to the White Mountains.)

We went to Syracuse NY for the Vineyard East Regional Conference, a gathering of Vineyard Church leaders from Maine to Pennsylvania. The difference in these two experiences was a good reminder of how far we’ve come.

Last year at this time, the kids had just moved in with us. They were stressed and overwhelmed, struggling mightily to make the best of a situation they never asked for. They called us Steve & Trish, they submitted to hugs but didn’t reciprocate, they had no trouble expressing the many and varied ways we sucked. The list of things they hated included meeting new people, having new experiences, and my cooking. In other words, most parts of most days. Don’t even get me started about running errands or driving anywhere in the car. There were times they both just pulled blankets over their heads in the back seat just to get some space to process their fury.  I moved my toothbrush out of the downstairs bathroom after finding it coated with soap.

I think what saved us in those early days was what we’d learned from other foster & adoptive parents: to IGNORE the part of us that wanted to say, “Oh honey, I know you’re hurting…what will make better???”  Because the truth is, they didn’t know. They were in new territory, and needed us to help them map the land. So we doubled down on high structure & high nurture.

Steve and I gave endless hugs and words of appreciation and affirmation. We complimented toenail growth and praised deodorant application. We ate dinner together every night, even though it was quiet and angry and awkward. We kept the refrigerator STOCKED. They may not have liked all the food, there was a lot of it.

At the same time, the kids were expected to look good when they got dressed, not wear clothes with stains or rips, brush their teeth & shower daily, make their beds, and do the few chores we could dream up with excellence and without complaining. We gave them a script to follow for when they meet people (because people happen), and just ignored their “Oh it’s going to be AWFUL/I don’t want to go!” complaints when we left the house until they more or less learned that if something was planned, it wasn’t getting un-planned. They detoxed from high-fructose corn syrup and the dream that we’d swing through 7-ll to pick up dinner. They had early bedtimes, almost no tv, and quickly learned that there was just no way either of them was going to play songs in our car or our kitchen about what some girl was going to do to some boy after they left the club.

These were not the boundaries I would have predicted if you’d asked me about my parenting before The  Cherubs arrived. I’m not against TV or music or even junk food. But we learned that these were the boundaries our kids needed, and so we build these rules like scaffolding around them to give them something secure to hold onto.

I don’t think I realized until this vacation how much this scaffolding WORKED.

I am in awe.

This year, our kids have just started calling us Dad & Mom. They hug us back and ask for affection. We have family jokes and things we laugh about. They’re still nervous about meeting new people, but have learned that meeting new people is ALWAYS awkward, no matter who you are, so they don’t take personally. They more or less tolerate my cooking. (Honestly I think we now just eat a bunch of healthy-ish food none of us really like, but we’re doing so much better than before that it seems like a win).

And in the days leading up to our vacation, they DIDN’T obsess about going to a big conference filled with people they don’t know. Instead, they chose a couple of good things to focus on: that we’d promised them McDonalds the first time we did a really long car ride, and that Auntie Gwen & their friends Grace & Sam would be there at the conference, too. They repeated these two things again and again, creating a narrative of excitement instead of fear. It was amazing.

When we arrived, the hotel had a pool…and a basketball court (GOD BLESS YOU Residence IMG_4172Inn Syracuse for that basketball court!!!)  At the conference, there was a teen/youth track the kids could follow so they weren’t with the grown ups the whole time (GOD BLESS YOU Syracuse Vineyard for the teen/youth/get-away-from-your-parents-and-have-your-own-experience-track!!!).  By the end of the first night, they asked, “Can we come again next year?” And by the end of the week they didn’t want to leave.

It was one of the best weeks we’ve had as a family.

I’m sharing this because Jen Hatmaker shared a similar then vs. now story on her blog last year that saved my sanity when I was deep in the trenches and feeling like I didn’t have what it takes. It’s been taken down, so I thought I’d post my own version to pay it forward, to cheer on all of you who are in this situation right now, or considering foster care/adoption.

You should consider foster care/adoption. I’m not sure anything in my life has gone on such a speedy track of growth and transformation. These kids are amazing. It has taken more than Steve & I thought we had, and there have been some white knuckled nights and long, frustrated days. I’ll admit that there was a season where the checkout guy at our local beer & wine store knew us REALLY well, because we were there A LOT.

But this kind of transformation in just over a year? It’s worth it. Some adoptions take longer to find the sweet spot; this isn’t a one-timeline-fits-all endeavor. But the wins are pretty huge when they come.

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Our traveling tribe from Greenhouse Mission Vineyard Church.

Wing-It Wings: A Recipe

Not sure if I’ve mentioned this here before, but I am a culinary rock star.

What? I haven’t told you this? Well let me tell you now!

UnknownSunday after church I decided to make chicken wings. I thawed the chicken, pulled out the crock pot, then went online to look for a recipe. Which is when I discovered that our line was not on. We had no cable, no internet, and thus no recipes.

Steve called Verizon while I tried not to panic. I looked through the kitchen for anything that seemed vaguely wing-ish.

I remembered an old recipe that called for mixing grape jelly and ketchup, but we had no grape jelly and I wasn’t sure one could substitute Strawberry images-1Polaner All-Fruit and live to tell the tale. Undaunted, I squirted a half gallon of ketchup in the crock pot, put in the wings, then covered them with brown sugar and honey. That didn’t seem liquid-y enough, so more ketchup. I set it for 4 hours on high, said a prayer for God’s mercy over this sad little meal, and escaped into a book.

An hour later, Steve and the fine people at Verizon solved our connection crisis, and he turned on the Pats game. He said, “Wow, I thought I was going to have to head down to [the bar a few blocks away] and order up some wings to watch the game!”

“But I’m making wings!” I said, pouting (but of course still exuding my usual calm and gracious maturity.)

“Um…chicken and ketchup?” Steve asked skeptically. I had to admit, the kitchen smelled a little gross. “We need some pineapple or something,” he mused, “with soy sauce…”

“WE HAVE THOSE THINGS!” I exclaimed, then sprinted to the kitchen.  You see, Steve’s mom bought me some Unknown-2canned pineapple to use with our Easter ham…back in April… which I forgot all about…and shoved to the back of the pantry to hide my shame. Maybe it could save the day!

I tossed the yellow chunks into the bubbling cauldron of ketchup with unrestrained glee, then doused it all with a soaking of soy sauce. (The basis of my cooking philosophy is that salt makes everything better.  And soy sauce = healthy salt, right?) I let this new mixture churn for 3 more hours, then served my “wing-it wings” over rice.

Those. Wings. Were. DELICIOUS! It was like homemade sweet & sour sauce, without all the nasty additives. I will totally make these again, only I’ll bake them so the skin gets nice and crunchy.  Another strange recipe in our collection of favorites, another set of protein parts saved from the brink of disaster!

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I am (for this moment at least) a culinary rock star.

I am so excited

celebrateJazz hands. Leaping awkward dance moves. High fives with myself (which ends up looking kind of like a jumping jack). That’s the kind of day I’m having. And I get to share it with you, which is one of the true joys about having a blog.

I’ve hit milestones on TWO major projects.  One was a deadline I expected to hit, the other came out of the blue like a rocket.   I’m having a little trouble breathing because I am JUST SO EXCITED TO BE A WRITER TODAY. Some days it totally bites lemons. But today is not that day. (And if you don’t believe me about the jazz hands, ask my neighbors. I just walked THIS DOG around the block in the rain singing and not-so-subtly dancing to an old No Doubt song. To Bergie’s credit, she seemed to enjoy it. She has very little rhythm, but was utterly unashamed.)

Not the actual cover (not even the right subtitle). Just a mock-up to show that this is the story of how everything shifted after we said our "I do's."

Not the actual cover (not even the right subtitle). Just a mock-up to show that this is the story of how everything shifted after we said our “I do’s.”

The first project is a complete re-write of my second memoir, A Maze of Grace. The original was lovely, but it came along at kind of a strange time in the publishing world and never shaped up to be what I’d hoped. So over the last year my awesome agent did what needed to happen to get the rights to the book reverted back to me so I could re-write it and put out a new edition.

I spent this summer slashing through those essay/blog-ish chapters. I threw some out and retooled the rest into an actual story–with a beginning, middle, and end. Part of what made the first edition so choppy was that many of the story lines hadn’t played out when it went to press–even I didn’t know what would happen. So I compensated by filling in the blank spaces with commentary (“What do I think Jesus would say if he met Rosie O’Donnell???”) Which was fine in a  certain sort of way. But it was not at all the point of the book.

With this rewrite, I added a narrative arc. I wrote new scenes that covered about 2 or 3 additional years, and got real candid about all sorts of things that happened and how Steve and I figured out how to respond to them…and how these experiences challenged and shaped both our faith and our marriage. Probably 50% of the book is new writing. The book has a new subtitle: Encouragement from the Trenches of Wedded Bliss. I wanted to really make it a book about chasing happily ever after with God, because I believe it’s possible, and I think it’s worth the effort.

I have a lot of hope for this book. I hope it will be out by the end of this year. I hope you will buy a copy for yourself, and for everyone you know who could use some encouragement. I hope it will start a huge, quiet wave of people praying for their own happily ever afters, and then sharing stories of the surprising ways God came through.

So I was excited about that…and also a little fatigued the way you are when you’ve been looking at something for too long and are itching to move on to a new project. Just for kicks, I pulled up the folder of material for The Courage to Ask, a book I was writing last year about praying for a husband that I ditched in December.  I remembered it as a yard sale of disconnected ideas strewn about cover_courage_trish_ryanin a bunch of half-baked paragraphs, and feeling like a failure because no matter what I tried, I could not pull together this project that mattered so much to me.

This morning, I spent about three hours mucking around in all those words. I was stunned to discover that some of them are really good. It makes sense, the ideas hang together. It’s still being very first/second draft-ish. But there’s real stuff there to work with. I suspect that the problem with this book wasn’t my writing, but my head. I needed to spend some time getting reconnected to the God who answers prayers before I could encourage anyone else to take that kind of risk. Now, I kind of can’t believe it. It feels like God took this project I killed and resurrected it. I could not be more excited.

(To those of you who read the excerpt from The Courage To Ask in the new edition of He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not and emailed to say, “let me know when it comes out!” THANK YOU. I can’t tell you how much you encouraged me to keep going back to those pages, believing that God will bring something beautiful out of those ashes.)

I’d hoped to have this book out in February 2013…and then 2014. This year is the first time that seems possible. Pray for me! And maybe do an embarrassing little dance right where you are, just to spread the happy. Thanks for celebrating with me :)

Thank God THAT’S Not True…

images-1I’m driving a lot this week, which means I’ve had the chance to listen to some different podcasts. One sermon in particular caught my attention yesterday. The speaker claimed that the overarching theme of the Bible is that we need to treat other people better. He claimed that this is THE choice Jesus offers us, and that when we’re nicer to others, this is what allows God to bless us and set us free from whatever problems we feel stuck in.

My first response was, Huh?

Then a few minutes later, when the speaker re-iterated his point and it was clear no nuance or additional perspective was coming, I pulled up to a stoplight and said out loud, “Oh, THANK GOD that’s not true!”

Don’t get me wrong – It’s a fine thing when we make the effort to treat other people well. It makes for a more pleasant day. But it doesn’t bring the transformation I’m looking for when I’m on my face in the mud, hoping against hope that God can help.

Nice doesn’t break the grip of depression, or heal multiple sclerosis, or help an addict say no to one more drink.  Good manners don’t heal family dysfunction, inspire people stuck in a dead end to set out on a new course, or create deep, honest relationships that last.  And while resisting the urge to swear in Boston traffic might build character, it doesn’t make a dent in racism or classism or narcissism or terrorism. It can’t make forgiveness real.  It doesn’t take old dead things and make them new.

Nice is, well…nice. It’s a small player in a much larger spiritual landscape.  Treating other people well is sometimes the result of our spiritual quest, but it’s not the message Jesus came to bring. It’s not the Good News.

The interaction between our earthly lives and our Father in heaven is a mystery. The role Jesus images-4plays as intermediary between these realms is confounding and awe-inspiring. Death. Resurrection. Salvation. New Life. We don’t get it. We’ve spent centuries trying. And yet the more deeply I come to “understand” what this all means for me, the less able I am to describe it…and the less apt I am to try to simplify it for others. All I can do is invite you in. The mystery of Jesus–his death, resurrection, the hopes and miracles and promises we’re told to reach for as the result–is much more profound than a nursery school lesson about trying to be a better person.

How could something be the full message of God if we came up with it on our own?

I don’t normally critique other people’s take on Christian faith. But the world feels especially insane right now.  Ferguson. James Foley. ISIS. Ebola. Not to mention ALS and a million buckets of ice water dumped over heads around the world. It makes it hard to breathe.  In this time of utter chaos, I want to say that if you’re someone who heard that sermon (or one like it) this week…that is not the whole story. That’s not even a rough approximation of the Story, or what Jesus offers. God is more than an “a ha” moment about how we treat one another. We don’t get to understand the whole thing yet. But when you see it in real life? You know it’s true and bristle at the suggestion that we should settle for less.

If there’s one are of life where we should reach for more, it’s what we expect from God.  I leave you with this, from C.S. Lewis:

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

May today be a day where we are less easily pleased…enough so that we wrest our eyes off of ourselves and each other, and lift them them instead to God.

 

A Wedding, A Funeral

1996-2014-WeddingKissOn Saturday, Super-G & I had front row seats as our friend re-married her husband. They’d been divorced for enough years that this qualified as a miracle. It was a break-out-the-tissues moment, and I spent the entire ceremony trying to pick my jaw up out of my lap. Because even though I knew they were re-marrying each other–we flew down specifically for this event–the reality of it caught me off-guard.

It is an incredible thing to decide that the past does not define your present.  For two people to reach this place at the same time? Then dare to dream together for the future? That left me slack jawed.

It’s God. Obviously. But perhaps I’ve grown so used to believing for more “everyday” sorts of miracles (city parking spaces, an outfit at a good price for an important event, a THIS DOG we’d love as much as we loved THAT DOG) I lost touch with the possibility of believing for something that matters this much. The new & improved Mr. & Mrs. Maney SCHOOLED me about faith on Saturday. Thank you to the fine couple for such a gift.

(Speaking of unexpected gifts…the day before the wedding, the Bride, her mother & her two sons introduced us to Hobby 10500393_10203187526383711_7176283082732736580_nLobby.  Holy tchochke decor fun! All political posturing aside: this place is awesome. I love being a Northerner, but one thing that might lure me south is this schmorgasbord of whimsical chickenry! *The Bride coined this fine phrase – isn’t it perfect? I’m imagining an HGTV special built around this theme!)

We took a late flight home and landed back in Boston a little before midnight. THIS DOG wagged all 90 pounds of her spectacular self when Steve and I got home, and I spent almost an hour petting her and telling Steve in excited (over-caffinated) blurts all about our trip.

16704_20140814.jpgxThe next morning was our friend George’s funeral. It was an excellent funeral. You wouldn’t think there could be such a thing, but there is: it’s when your thoughts bounce back and forth between how much you’ll miss the person who died…but yet realize what an incredible job he did with the years he had.  That’s the dream, right? To die having loved others well, with people in your life who love you? Easier said than done. As I blogged last week, George pulled it off.

I know there’s some deep theological point I should draw from being at these two events (each of which seemed unlikely not all that long before they happened) one right after another.  All I can come up with is this: Follow God. Life is unpredictable, control is a lie. Having Jesus in your line of vision as you navigate increases the chance that you’ll end up in a place you want to be.

Now if I could only find that engraved on a whimsical chicken… :)