Friday, February 6, 2015

Out With the Old. In With the New.

Hello Dear Readers!

I have fun news. I'm moving the Just Beth site! No panic attacks...all the posts will follow me over to the  all-new Just Beth blog.

Because I'm sure that would keep you up tonight.

Those of you who have been conveniently receiving posts to your email will keep on doing so! If, by chance, you once upon a time entered your email but never verified, you might start getting the posts to your inbox.

Here's why:

My new site has a subscription service that allowed me to import subscribers from this site. However, it didn't recognize that some subscribers had never verified by clicking the little link that came to your email yonder days ago.

So, I'm totally not trying force email friends! If you don't want to hear from me via email, please oh please click the unsubscribe button when you get a fresh new post on Monday morning. I'll still love you. I promise!

I look forward to seeing you over at the new Just Beth site! Onward and upward....

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Supporting Foster Families: Helping the Newbie

It was only a year ago that Nate and I started the process for becoming foster parents. Less than three months later we received our first placement. And much like welcoming a new baby for the first time, becoming foster parents rocked our world.

Our "normal" lives suddenly involved so many new dynamics I felt like I was in a constant state of being off balance. Court dates. Social workers. Home visits. Interactions with birth parents. ISPs. Multiple government buildings. It was overwhelming to say the least. Not to mention there was a tiny new life we were responsible for. Our family of four became a family of five in the blink of an eye. I had about 36 weeks to prepare for my first two babies. We got a 36 hour notice for The New Chick.

If not for dozens of friends and supportive family, I'm not sure we would have navigated those early weeks unscathed. Looking back, there were some specific things others did that made the adjustment much easier.

Here are some ways to offer support to new and prospective foster parents:

1) Offer to help get their home ready. Part of the liscensing process is having a home inspection. Most states require prospective foster parents to install safety latches, fire extinguishers, stair rails, cabinet locks and all manner of safety equipment. Not to mention that most new foster families are rearranging rooms and furniture to accommodate new children. Offering to help with these projects would be a huge help. Make it a group project by involving your Bible study pals or Sunday School class. Might as well make it fun!

2) Spend time with biological children. The day we welcomed our first placement, a dear family friend came over to help care for Titus and Anna. While we were busy with the new baby, this sweet lady focused solely on the big kids. What could have been a very difficult evening for them turned out to be positive because they had the undivided attention of a beloved friend. Since then, there have been numerous times that church friends and family offered to spend time with Titus and Anna. Having that connection with trusted adults has helped eased this transition for them. Nate and I think the world of those people who are an unchanging constant for our kids in the face of this unpredictable life! Offer to take the biological kids to the park or another outing so they get some time focused on just them. It will be a blessing to them and their parents!

3) Share your used baby gear, age appropriate toys, and clothing. Ya'll. I seriously had one thing the weekend we found out we were getting The New Chick. A crib. That's IT. No car seat, no baby clothes, no bottles no NOTHING. But some amazing gal pals totally saved the day by bringing every necessity and a ton of other stuff. Another friend went and bought diapers, wipes, and baby detergent. I don't know what we would have done without them! Most foster families don't have much notice and can't possibly be prepared for every age and gender scenario. Used items and school supplied are much appreciated. Or, buy a gift card to clothing stores for older foster kids so they can get new clothes. They'll be tickled and the foster family will too!

4) Get fingerprinted so you can babysit. An ongoing need for ALL foster families is babysitters. One of the most loving things you can do is find out what is needed to be "cleared" to keep foster children and do it! There are few things that refresh Nate and I more than a few hours away together. Or even (gasp!) a night. We deeply appreciate those who have been cleared to watch our kids and offer to do so! More than that, I can sleep at night knowing that if I have to go in the hospital, someone I know and trust will be keeping the kids rather than sending them to another foster family they may or may not know.

5) Be understanding. Becoming a new foster family is overwhelming and demanding. For a while, I pulled back from church commitments and away from relationships so I could focus on taking care of a newborn and helping our bio kids adjust. It took time for us to figure out our "new normal". Be understanding of the demands placed on foster families and give them space to navigate their new lifestyle. Lower your expectations for what they can manage. If they are on nursery rotations at church, offer to fill in for them. Communicate that you're available if they need you. You'll bless them just by letting them know you're behind them!

Foster care is hard. But you can make a huge difference in how hard by the offering support!

*Fellow foster families, what other ways to support would you add to this list? How have others ministered to you?

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Friday, January 23, 2015

Rethinking Family Devotions

One of my readers asked me to write a post on how the Lawrences do our family devotions. (GAH! I have READERS! This one doubles as my son's Sunday School teacher, but details, details....) I am so happy to accommodate her request since I love to pretend I'm the expert on things.

This picture is so misleading. Needing a picture of that couch for another post,
 I sat them on it and said, "Do something funny." This is what I got.
When I first starting blogging, Nate suggested I put our self-made family devotion material up as free downloads. I shot the idea down like a deer in season. And laughed as I did. Mainly because our family devotions have ended on a less than stellar note more often than not. I figured what we were doing probably shouldn't be duplicated by the world at large.

Unless, of course, you want a piece of this kind of action...
  • 4 year old breaking out into "Let It Go" in the middle of her prayer.
  • Fighting over who gets to pick the first worship song.
  • Refusing to participate.
  • Parents getting angry because children won't participate.
  • Fighting over who prays first.
  • Praying over each other. (Not in a spiritual way. More like trying to pray louder than the other because they're mad they didn't get to go first.)
  • Fighting over who gets to play the part of Jesus in any given Biblical scenario.

I'm sure God must pleased.

So why do we keep at it when clearly it's not always a picnic? We feel compelled to be our children's primary spiritual teachers. Simple as that. And we have a faint glimmer of hope that one day we might regularly leave that time together with nary a sour attitude. (If you're there already, send me stories! I need inspiration.)

Before I tell you what we do, let me debunk some myths about the FAMILY DEVOTION TIME.

1) Everyone needs to leave the time happy to consider it a success. Not true. For our family, more times than not someone leaves disgruntled. And I totally get how that can feel like failure. Especially when, as parents, we so want to come away from that time feeling like they got it. But success is not always smiles and agreeing nods and insightful questions. Success is not always happy, compliant children. Success is when your kid's Sunday School teacher tells you she told the entire Bible story to the class before the teacher could fill in the details. Success is when your son makes a connection from scripture to his actual life during everyday conversation. Success is when they remind YOU of a point from last weeks devotion. They are listening. Even if they're frowning while doing it. Success is God's word working it's way into their little hearts over months and years until it begins to affect how they think and what they do. Don't let their apparent unhappiness derail your determination to do that!

2)Family Devotion Time needs to be nightly, or at least regular to be a success. Is that the ideal? Absolutely. Is that my preference? You betcha. And if the rest of our lives would simply cooperate, I'm sure we could swing it. But the truth is we're dealing with real while aiming for ideal. Real is some nights fall apart at the seams and we're just glad to get them in bed. Real is kids get sick and we let them lay around and watch How to Train Your Dragon. Twice. Real is we do ballet on Thursdays and by the time we eat and finish homework, it's time for bed. 

Our family works toward doing family devotions most school nights with the exception of Wednesdays, since we're at church. But honestly, we're doing great to get two nights in a week during this particular season. At other times we've managed 4 nights a week. The important thing is to keep striving to make it a priority and get it in there as often as you can.

3) Family Devotions should look a lot like Sunday School. You know. Children sitting quietly while teachers tell the story. Happily singing "Zacchaeus Was A Wee Little Man" as a group to reinforce the Biblical truth. A quiet, reverent prayer to put an official close on the time. Honestly, that's just not our speed. The good news is there are no official rules on what family devotions should look like. You have freedom! Not to mention that family devotions will probably look drastically different for those with 5 year olds and those with middle schoolers.

Now that you know we're the most spiritual family on the block, I'm sure you're dying to replicate what we do. Here is our general pattern:

1) We give the kids a few minutes warning to wrap up what they are doing and head to the living room. Generally, we do family devotions last thing before bedtime, but that has changed with different seasons. Pick a time when they are less likely to be tired and obstinate. (Common sense, right?)

2) Each kid picks a praise song from a kids worship site. (Cause we all know I'm not about to lead any singing.) There are some great web sites with fun kids praise music out there! The one we usually use is Worship House Kids. Youtube is a good resource too. We let the kids go nuts while singing. Dance. Jump around. The point is to help them associate worship as a whole body and heart kind of thing. We try to lead them to pick both fun, upbeat songs and reverant ones. But let's be honest, here. They're 6 and 4. Reverant rarely happens.

3) Next, we tell the Bible story. It's our pattern for Nate to usually lead on this, but don't get too legalistic here. We have found it's much easier for them to pay attention when we tell the story verses reading it. The past couple of years we have been slowly working our way through the major stories of the Bible, that way they learn the events in context of what happened before and after. We currently use The Jesus Storybook Bible as a guide, but there are lots of other good Bible story books to choose from. Mainly, just pick something age appropriate.

While Nate is telling the story, he almost always uses some kind of prop or activity to get them involved. When we were learning about Solomon building the temple, we brought out the blocks. He let the kids build a simple structure while he told the story. When he taught on Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, he let one of the kids "play dead" while the other pretended to be Jesus. (That one was a hoot. "Can I just leave her dead?")  The goal is to put some sort of tangibility on these stories that might seem far removed from their everyday lives. Using multiple senses helps them solidify the concepts.

4) Nate and I pray, but give the kids the option. At first I really pushed each of the children to pray. But then I realized I was doing more harm than good with one in particular who doesn't like to be pressed into doing things. I decided it was far better for him not to pray, than to learn praying was something you do to make Mommy happy. So we don't make a big deal of it anymore. Funny thing, he now prays fairly regularly during family devotional. Leading by example is definitely the way to go in that area!

That's it ya'll. We don't use any material, although I know there is lots of good stuff out there. Mainly, we just needed a simple plan we could stick to. Nothing complicated and very little preparation required.

I hope this is an encouragement to those of you who want to start (or restart) a family devotion time, but have felt the task was daunting. Trust me when I say teaching children is NOT my spiritual gift. If I can do this, so can you. Let me know how it goes!!

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Sunday, January 4, 2015

Bring On the Boring

So this is where I am today. And let me say from the front end, it's not my finest hour. Because quite frankly I am little bit over all the hoopla and merry making that comes with our culture's hyped up version of Christmas.

We've done the light shows. We've made the cookies. We've seen the parades and we've hidden the candy canes all over the house 27 times.

When it comes to sprinkles, go big or go home.

Oh yes. It's been big fun what with the decorations and the never ending sweet treats and the something to do every night and day.

We've enjoyed the over the river and through the woods. Opened all the presents. Clocked 800 miles on the minivan. And watched Dora's Christmas Adventure till my ears want to scream for mercy.

But now, this mama is D.O.N.E with creating memories and merriment. Because --> "Thanks, Mom and Dad, for using all your bandwidth for one solid month to delight and bless me. I think I've had enough. You can let off now."....said no child EVER.

Hear me say, I'm not the kind of mom that believes in entertaining my children every moment they're home. I'm more of the "Go outside and play in the dirt" kind of mother. I enjoy hanging out with my kids, but I've never bought into the notion that it's my job to keep them happy by supplying a steady stream of fun.

But something happens to me during the Christmas season. Suddenly this "go play" mama has a list of  20 things I want us to do together. Add that to the school/church/community/family events that are already planned and it's a recipe for 31 solid days of kid happiness. Parties at every turn. Gifts galore. Special event this and special event that. The steady stream of entertainment has them hypnotized into believing that this is REAL LIFE.

No way man. No more.

I can tell by the way they are still looking for presents and asking what fun thing we're going to do next that it is time to detox. They've been entertained and partied and gifted and generally catered to for LONG ENOUGH. It's time for this little family of mine to be reconditioned.

Time to stop expecting presents at every family gathering.

Time to embrace just being home.

Time to find fun in sticks and outside and the everyday.

So here is my plan. We're doing meals at home. We're doing chores. We're doing school and homework and not much else for a while. And for the love, we are doing bedtime ON TIME. 

Plain and simple and normal and hype-less. That's what we're going for.

But because this ain't my first rodeo, I fully expect withdrawals. I'm preparing for the moping and the complaining and the discontentedness. But I will not be moved.

They need to remember that life isn't about constant entertainment. I need to remember that it isn't my job to provide that. Nor is it in their best interest to try. We're going to re-center at home base. Hunker down and let the dust settle. 

Christmas, you were delightful. But now, it's time to bring on the boring.

*What normal things are you ready to get back to?

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Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Gift I Gave Jesus, And What He Gave Me in Return

It's been one year today.

For three months I had been moping around, grieving the death of a dream to adopt from Haiti. Nathan had been trying in his own gentle ways to point me toward foster care and domestic adoption. But I was resistant. 

I didn't think I could open my home and my heart to that kind of potential heartache. All the unknowns. All the problems. All the complications. All about me. 

But as last November crept up on December, God began to knock. And when I cracked open the door, He blew right in.

Nathan had requested an information packet about foster care and adoption from the Department of Human Resources the August before. It collected dust for a few months as I clung tightly to my reasons for not filling out the application.

At one point I finally threw it away. 

Forgotten and dismissed, I plunged into the Christmas season with no idea that it was going to make it's way right back into our home.

As the first week of December came and went, I began to consider what gift our family would give to Jesus for His birthday. Usually it's monetary. A lump sum to foreign missions, presents for needy families in the area, or some other endeavor that involves making His name known or giving to the least of these. We were still tossing around ideas when an application to foster/adopt through the state showed up in our mailbox. Unrequested. 

One year ago today chills covered my body when I saw the manila envelope in Nathan's hands. In that same moment I heard Christ whisper, "This is what I want for Christmas." And my soul shifted.

He was asking me to say yes to foster care. Asking for the gift of my trust and this home and our future. He wanted what He always wants. My willingness to follow Him anywhere, into any unknown, with only Him as my Shepherd.

A year ago today I gave Jesus exactly what He asked for and said yes to foster care. We didn't lay our heads on the pillow that night until we had filled out the entire (lengthy!!!) application. When I finally snuggled under the covers, I experienced the sweetest peace knowing I was giving Jesus what He wanted for His birthday. 

But how on earth could I have known that by offering that one gift to Him, He would give me 10,000 in return?

Because ya'll, it was me who got the gift.

I got the gift of kindred spirits while traveling this rocky road with other foster parents. I got to rejoice over their placements and intercede when their hearts broke. I got deep deep friendship.

I got the gift of water walking with Jesus. As we stepped out of the boat in every conceivable way; with our children, our finances, our future, our time, I got to hold the hand of the Master and know the satisfaction of doing what I thought humanly impossible.

I got the gift of a 5lb bundle of pure sweetness to hold and love and squeeze and rock. I got to pray over him at night, to feel his little body on my chest, and to nuzzle his tender cheek. 

I got the gift of watching my biological children dote over a new sibling. Of seeing them be proud as peacocks when others adored him. Of witnessing their growth as they gave up much and took on more to make room for this new one. 

I got the gift of his first smile, his first giggle, his first crawl. I got to see his uncontainable delight when I walked in the room. I got the gift of his preference. 

I got the gift of showing him off to others, of hearing them make a fuss over him, of picking him up from the nursery, and taking him home with me when day is done.

I got the gift of loving him so much that I fear losing him. And the gift of knowing the love of the Father more deeply because of it. 

I got the gift of his presence in our lives. I got the gift of more of His presence in my life. 

But unlike the gift I gave Christ, I deserved none of it.

I didn't give to Him to get something in return. But it just goes to show that anytime we offer something to Christ, we are the ones who benefit from it. 

That gift I gave Jesus a year ago, I'm so much richer for it.

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Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Not Into Normal: More of Me than You Might Want to See

Today I decided to dig out the journal from 2013 and walk down memory lane. You know, since there's nothing else to do around here and all. What with the three kids and the two dogs and the laundry and the two dozen toys my son wants me to replace batteries in and the party I'm hosting TOMORROW NIGHT. 

While enjoying the denial zone and reading through my little green leather journal, I ran across this entry from August of last year. (Yes, I write in a journal every day. Yes, I'm going to let you read it. Yes, you'll know the extent of my mental instability afterward. Like me, anyway, please.) I remember being in such a state of unrest and confusion. That feeling that God was calling me to something else...but what?  For those of you who feel like you're on the verge....

"Went to the grocery store and talked with Jenna on the way home. For a brief moment I felt "this is how it should be." Run errands. Take care of things at home. Do normal stuff. 

15 minutes later I'm reading Jen Hatmaker's blog about the trials of bringing home Ben and crying into my lunch plate. 

I am so not into normal. I've dabbled in normal and found it terribly...not for me. It gives me the ibbie jibbies. I want to blow the doors off of normal

Meanwhile, I vacillate between the urge to contact Jen Hatmaker and beg her to tell me something helpful (cause I'm sure she's got time for that) and telling myself to quit obsessing over whatever "this" is and unload the dishwasher. But I don't want to unload the dishwasher. I WANT _______?

Dare I say it? Something big. God sized. A little scary. Water Walking.

All that really matters to me, Jesus, is what you want me to do. Do we adopt? Domestic or international? Are you sure? I'm not. I feel selfish wanting more. And I feel like a glutton for eating both those pieces of chocolate. 


I think we have success in the "not normal" part. Cause there ain't nothin' normal about this here foster care thing. Reading that entry reminded me how when God's got a mind to do something unusual in your life, He often gives you an appetite for it even before you know the name of the meal. 

His ways continue to astound me. 

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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Spoiled American Thankful List

Let's end this holiday on a lighter note...

I am way yonder, seriously, VERY thankful for:

1) My bed. Ya'll. I really like my bed. O the glory of that bed! We went all out and splurged on the king sized foam top deluxe version. Worth. Every. Penny. (You were right, Nathan.) Life is hard. Beds don't have to be. Dear bed, I love you and never want to leave you. When the kids are grown, we'll spend more time together. I promise.

2) Coffee. Really, it's the only thing I like about the mornings. And quite frankly I find it difficult to be spiritual without it before 9am. If only little elves would make it and bring it to my bedside table before I wake up...

3) Cheap Entertainment. As in the Burger King two blocks away with a play place. It's loud. It stinks like kid sweat and funky socks. But hey, the children are happy and contained. 

4) The DVD player in my minivan. Should we consider travel time family time? Probably. Should I be directing their little eyes to the beauty God created around us? Absolutely. Should we be memorizing scripture and playing fun travel games? Right again. Do I push play to keep those little boogers off my nerves on extended trips? Oh yes. 

5) Pacifier clips. Sheer genius. Nuff said.

6) eGift Cards. Because I can remember at 11:45 pm that it's your birthday and still get a present to your inbox before the day is over. Bam. Take that procrastination.  

7) Public school teachers. I considered  homeschooling for 45 minutes. I still get cold chills just thinking about that terrifying day. Behavior charts. Organizational folders. Schedules. Not to mention the actual educational part. Thank you thank you thank you teachers for taking my kid 7 hours a day and preparing him to be productive member of society. You are #1 in my book.

8) Cheesecake. With coffee. In a restaurant. 

9) Velcro shoes. We just taught my 6 year old how to tie actual laces. Oh the agony. Actually, my husband did most the training on that. Because apparently I'm incapable of teaching my children anything practical for actual life. Thank you, Sketchers for six sweet years of velcro light up shoes before we had to endure the hardship of laces. 

10) Athletic pants. Because jeans are so restrictive, don't you think? Ah the relief of pulling on pants that don't remind me of my muffin top, big hiney, chunky thighs. Sorry world, you see me in my i don't care sweats far too often. But oh the glory of not shoving my bottom half into clothes made for Barbie. 

*What would you add?

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