Friday, January 1, 2016

When It's Time to Review

   In 2015...

I learned that toddlers are a lot of work and potty training is not for the faint of heart...

We witnessed God provide in amazing ways for this beautiful boy and his adoptive family

We witnessed healing

And a very sick little boy went home to his family healthy and well

We said goodbye, remembering that sometimes the healing means heaven

Ballet took off on a whole new level

And these little girls found their rhythm

We learned that the "Impossible" can come true with a performance of Cinderella. 

And some found their footing

I had the privilege of caring for this precious little one and her family

And we said bittersweet goodbyes as little ones left with their adoptive families

2015 was an interesting year... it was a year of growth and stretching in many ways. I wore many hats this year as a caregiver, guidance counselor, homeschool teacher, ballet teacher, party planner, and sometimes cookie chef. 

I am excited about what 2016 holds in store. We are looking forward to more growth, more learning, more rescues, more healing. After a year of battles, we are looking forward to victories. It is going to be a year of faith with new challenges and difficulties. We will press forward, and I am ready to see what 2016 will bring. 

And I also repelled down this cliff (because I am still proud of that moment)

Saturday, November 28, 2015

When it's time for the heart to move

I remember two years ago, someone asked me about my dreams, what I wanted to do with my life. I remember hesitating for a moment, and then answering with certainty, “I want to be a foster parent.”

I don't really remember why I said that, or really where that answer came from. But I just remember the dream was set in place, and there was no turning back. 

A few months later, a beautiful baby boy was admitted to Gentle Hands and would change my heart forever. He had been abandoned, and while I have seen many abandoned babies before, there was just something about him that had grabbed hold of me and would not let go. I offered to watch him for the night, and I did every night afterwards until he was adopted nine months later.

I have been the caregiver for various groups… toddlers, nursery age, teenage girls… and while I love those groups, my heart comes to life with the one on one. I love pouring out my heart and soul, serving and nurturing.

Someone also asked me why I thought God had brought that little boy into my life. In all honesty, I think he would have been just fine with any other caregiver, but I truly believe God allowed me to care for this little boy because my heart needed to shift. It needed to move from a place of “big sister”, a role I am quite comfortable with and wear with pride, to the place of “mom”.

I needed to make the choice to love unselfishly, to love completely, knowing fully well that love may never be reciprocated but will matter for eternity. I needed to practice loving and letting go.

Since that precious little boy, I have cared for a baby with severe pneumonia, helping him become healthy enough again to return home. Now, I find my arms filled with a beautiful baby girl who needs a safe place to grow while her mom gets back on her feet. These two little ones have been temporary and short-term, but I have loved being able to serve them and encourage their mothers in the process.

As I love these little ones, I know He is preparing my heart for what is to come. Will it be difficult? Absolutely. I expect nothing less. Will there be attachment issues, a possible history or abuse, possible medical needs, sleepless nights and maybe even hospital visits? All are a very real possibility.

And I struggle… what will this mean for me personally? Have I fully grasped the implications of what this will mean for my time, my life in general? Will this put my chances of marriage in jeopardy?  What if I fail miserably? What if I can’t do it?

I know those doubts. They are always near, stuffing themselves too closely like a scratchy wool sweater on a beautiful fall day.

But I also know my Shepherd. I know that He does not abandon. I know that He alone could have whispered this dream, this desire to my heart, and ever so gently He has been guiding me to this decision.

So, will it be difficult? Yes. But will there be many more moments of joy, discovery, little miracles, breakthrough? Absolutely. I cannot accept the good and refuse the bad. I also refuse to believe God will only ever provide bitter herbs and not sustain.

He has been leading this heart of mine to this decision, and He will restore my soul as He leads me to the next decision, and then the next. I will choose to trust.

My heart cannot help but look forward to the next few months. I am hoping to be approved for a boy, girl, or sibling group of two. I know my foster child/children will possibly be between 36 months and 6 years. I will accept a child with medical needs, attachment issues, developmental delays, and a history of abuse.

Some have asked if I will adopt. My heart has always been for adoption, and I will rejoice if that becomes part of my story one day. However, my focus right now is on fostering and preparing a child for a permanent family, whether that will be with me or with someone else. It will depend on the child and the circumstances.

My desire in fostering will be to provide a stable and loving home to a child who has experienced trauma and needs the one on one, focused attention of a loving parent. I have had the pleasure of being near some beautiful foster families that have served the children of Gentle Hands. The children in these families have thrived and grown under the care of their foster parents. By His grace, I will do the same.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Gentle Hands Presents:
"Impossible! The Story of Cinderella"

This past weekend, the ballet students at Gentle Hands performed their first installment of Cinderella. Normally, I like to do a typical recital-type performance where the different classes perform dances that run together with a theme, but they do not necessarily tell a story. 

However, about a month ago, I found out we needed to put together a performance for some visitors who were coming. I had already started two classes with Cinderella themed songs, thinking maybe we would do a princess or fairy-tale themed performance. And because we can't some to do anything on a small scale, we decided to tell the full story of Cinderella... complete with costumes, props, a script, and a whole lot of dancers. 

It has been a lot of hard work, but I am so proud of my girls and their effort. Our first performance was Sunday for the staff, children, and a few friends. One of our precious girls is being adopted, and her parents were able to watch her perform. It was a special day. 

The Bigger Girls

Prince Charming and His Royal Attendants

Cinderella and Her Prince

Cinderella and her Fairy Godmother

Our Narrator... Who makes Cinderella sound better with a hint of Aussie

The Fairy Godmother's Helpers

Cinderella's Imagination

The Big Girls

The Full Cast!

The Stepmother and her Stepdaughters

Saturday, October 3, 2015

When they are loved well...

     It doesn't have to be something grand, a giant project, shiny toys, massive projects to be completed.

     They said thank you to me for the beautiful gifts. What a privilege to correct them, to say, "Not from me, little one. From friends far away who love you and are praying for you."

      Something small... a pillowcase, a blanket... but beautiful, personalized with names.

      Thank you, dear friends, for loving us well. Thank you for taking the time to craft the details. Thank you for taking the time to show them they matter, they are loved, treasured and prayed for by friends they don't even know.

        You may never know the name or face of an orphan, but when you love them well, it blesses His heart so much.

         Loving well does not have to involve massive gestures to be noticed. It comes from the beauty of hearts willing to take the time to demonstrate they matter, they are valuable and precious.

         Dear friends, do not forget their names. You may never know their faces or hear their voices on this side of heaven; however, please remember the prayers uttered from hearts who are open to Him will never fall upon deaf ears.

         Thank you for blessing us.

We had to be reminded these are for sleeping, not wearing :)

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

When the crib is empty... Again

The story has become so familiar.

Another sick little one in respiratory distress.

He had been sick for months, in and out of hospitals. Unfortunately, this system is not kind to the poor, and they had spent and sold everything they could to save his life.

In desperation, they brought him to us.

I have seen it so many times before. And this little one was so very sick. He wheezed and coughed, trying to get whatever was in his lungs out. The first few days were spent trying to help him breathe.

Medicine. Nebulizing every two hours. Holding him more frequently than not so he didn't send himself back into respiratory distress.

Many long nights where, honestly, we just didn't know if he would make it.

And I kept thinking of his mother. We see so many little ones with parents who didn't care, parents who waited too late. Not them... they genuinely love this little guy and want him to be well.

So we kept fighting and praying over him.

"Listen," I would say to him, "You have to make it. In Jesus's name, you're going to be ok."

And he would look at me with his dark, round eyes, almost as if he understood.

Finally, he turned a corner. We could space the time out longer between nebulization. He finished his medicine and didn't need more. He was sleeping peacefully for hours at a time. He was gaining weight and growing hair.

And faithfully, every visitation day, they were waiting outside to hold him. They didn't care what medicine or how long he had to stay, they told us. They just wanted him well.

Finally, last Thursday, our precious little guy went home... lungs clear, tummy full, and a few more rolls on his chubby legs.

God is so gracious.

And today, we celebrate an empty crib, ready to be filled by another little one. And we pray for more miracles, rejoicing in a story of hope and healing.

You are so loved little boy, and we are eternally grateful to be a part of your story.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

When you witness miracles...

What if I told you this was a miracle...

To the outsider, the visitor, the casual observer who catches a glimpse through a photo, it just looks like an ordinary ballet class.

There's the little girl who won't sit still, the shy one off in the corner, the class clown in the center, pink tights, bright leotards, messy buns and big smiles.

They laugh and play. There are even a few tears from the toddlers when they are dropped off by their caregiver (but I promise the tears quickly settle).

But what if I told you this was a miracle...

What if I told you that until she had eye surgery, she could not even move across the floor without someone holding her hand. Now, she not only can follow basic directions, but she can walk backwards, and yesterday... yesterday she turned in full circles!!!

What if I told you about this little one who was so severely abused and beaten, unloved and broken when she arrived. Unless I pointed her out to you, no one would ever know. She laughs and points her toes and wiggles to the music. She can barely keep still.

What if I showed you my preschool class, and I asked you to find the newest child... you would never be able to... she laughs and tondues with the rest of the class, finding her place on the floor as if she has been here forever.

My other precious student... I remember well the night she entered our doors as a small baby three years ago. For various reasons, she couldn't even speak until a few months ago. When I began teaching her class last year, I had to conduct separate classes for her because the people and transitions were too hard. But now... Oh, she is so beautiful.

My eyes filled with tears as I watched her the other day completing her plies, laughing and dancing with her class. There are no tears in her eyes. Only mine, and they are filled with gratitude.

This little one is legally blind. This little one has been abused. She has cerebral palsy. You would never know.

And this precious older girl... her life has been so hard, but in ballet she has found joy. She told me today she wants to continue dancing even after she is adopted. She has found something to love.

I'm sure if you watched a class you would notice areas that need improvement. You would notice areas where I can certainly be a better teacher. You would notice a few of the children with physical or behavioral differences.

But you would also witness miracles.

Sometimes, I just can't help it. I want things to be accomplished, and there are goals to be met. We push and push... choreography, technique, keeping their attention.  I want them to understand and to feel it, too. Most of the time, it feels like chaos, and I wonder if anyone is learning anything. We are very far from perfect, and I am far removed from an expert teacher.

Yet dance has brought so much healing and growth to my own life. Some of my deepest moments of connection and worship have come not in movement or speaking, but through dance. When I have no words, I can move. Dance is safe. Dance draws me closer to Him. These little ones have endured more pain than you and I can hope to imagine. They have suffered abuse, rejection, malnutrition, fear, uncertainty, but they are healing. They are dancing.

They are learning to trust. As they learn to trust me to teach, to string together movements and create a piece, even if it feels ridiculous. With each moment of trust in their teacher, they are opening their hearts to trust Him... that He is good, he is still stringing something beautiful together, even if it doesn't make complete sense in the moment.

And then there are beautiful moments like this week when God calms my heart and I just sit back and watch. I watch, I remember, and I rejoice. Our movements are focused. Our music leading us to worship, and as they learn the choreography, truth is written on their hearts. We dance to the rhythms of grace and rejoice in the silliness of magic and fairytales, each little Cinderella learning to believe in the love of the Prince of Peace.

What a gift to be able to use something I have loved for as long as I can remember to help them heal. And it's funny, as I watch them dance, my own heart heals, learning peace and rest. What a privilege to witness these moments, to watch them struggle and push themselves and be frustrated and then grow.

And my older girls beg to assist me with my younger students. And they are learning to lead, learning to love this art and this expression more and more.

Miracles. Every turn, every kick, every wiggle, every class, each little ballerina, miracles.

"Let them praise his name in the dance"... Psalms 149:3

Sunday, August 23, 2015

When You Scale a Wall

During my time in Okinawa, I decided to face a fear.

I'm not sure how I talked myself into this.

Actually, I don't think there was much talking involved. Somewhere over a bowl of ice-cream and Settlers of Catan, I agreed to this. I blame the Okinawan air.

And then, there I was, harnessed in, helmet on my head, trying to remember the cardinal rule: don't let go of the rope.

I took a deep breath, promising myself I wouldn't look down. I think if I had, then I would have chickened out.

How did I get into this position?

When asked to describe myself, one of the first words I would definitely use is "cautious". I do not like heights, airplanes, free falls, roller coasters, and clowns, and I will go to great lengths to avoid them.

I certainly never imagined myself standing at the top of a 100 foot cliff, ready to repel myself down.

But I took a breath... and I slipped. Awesome.

I let go of the rope and grabbed the cliff (remember the cardinal rule?). Fortunately, I had some pretty amazing guides who talked me through how to keep going... and gently reminded me not to let go of the rope.

A few seconds later, after my not-so-graceful beginning, I kept going.

Right foot, left foot, just keep breathing.

I finally was comfortable enough to jump a little.

I didn't look down, and instead kept listening to my guide on the ground giving advice. After a few seconds, the nerves settled enough that I could enjoy the journey.

And then, at last, my feet touched the rock that had been waiting for me.


I officially felt like jello. After removing the harness and helmet, I stumbled to where friends were waiting so we could watch the rest of our group repel down.

I actually did it! A breathed a sigh of relief and sat down, enjoying the view of the cliff I had just descended.

And then I realized the adventure was only halfway finished. My friends had said we would need to climb our way back up, and it was only now that I fully realized what they meant.

No rope, no harness, just climbing our way through the maze of rock and bush.

When everyone was ready, we began to climb back up. I followed the guy in front of me, watching where he placed his hands and trying to follow.

I expected to be discouraged. I expected to feel overwhelmed and scared as I tried to climb. I expected the familiar feeling of panic.

But I didn't.

As I climbed, I kept thinking of one of my favorite books,  Hind's Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard. In this story, a woman named Much Afraid is led on a journey to the High Places by the Shepherd. Meant to be an allegory of following Jesus, Much Afraid's journey is hard. It's painful, and it requires her to make sacrifices. On her way, she must overcome pride, despair, discouragement, anger and fear.

Many times during her journey Much Afraid is given a choice. She can return to the Valley of Humiliation where she had a quiet and somewhat-comfortable life. She had a decent job working for the Shepherd, and she had relatives who were somewhat stressful and not very kind,  but they were relatives.

However, if she wanted more, then she had to follow the Shepherd. Her feet were awkward, and she had little strength, but as she followed, she grew stronger.

And really, when the choice is the High Places or the Valley of Humiliation, is there really a choice at all?

I had made the choice to repel down the cliff, and now I had no choice but to climb back up. I mean, I could have stayed at the bottom and let the tide come in and pull me out to sea. But really, what choice is that?

So we climbed, and eventually, I made it.

It wasn't graceful or beautiful. I am definitely not an expert, and there was nothing that would be inspiring to anyone else about the climb.

But something felt different when I reached the top. And even now, weeks after the event, I feel different.

Maybe it's because I stopped letting fear take hold of my heart.

Maybe because I took a risk.

Maybe because I was forced to let go... let go of my control, my fear, my desire for safety... and I had to trust.

I had to trust the rope, the guy at the bottom who promised to catch me if I fell, the guy in front of me who led the way back up, and myself as I gripped rocks and pulled myself to the top.

And as I worked through this, He assured me all the way. Instead of panic, my heart was filled with peace. I knew this was a moment that, blood, bruises and all, I would get through and be stronger as a result.

My wobbly feet became a little stronger that day. And the crazy thing is... I can't wait to do it again!

My friend Chelsea and I at the bottom of the cliff, ready to climb back up.