Friday, September 26, 2014

Stop Singing Oceans

I can't believe someone else thinks just like me. I've been saying this for months ever since I made the mistake of singing it back in February and began one of the most difficult 6 months of my professional life.

I could have written it myself.

http://www.anniefdowns.com/2014/09/16/stop-singing-oceans/#.VCWWDJ69KK2

Sunday, September 14, 2014

On being 51


Today I turned 51. Life is just so very very good. It took a long time to get here but it is so good to be here.

I spent time with 4 of my 5 grandchildren in the last three days... yes there are 5....I was surrounded by a great church family, old and new friends, and the best husband ever. My list of blessings is so long that I can no longer count them.

We number 24 now -- this family called Fletchers... 12 kids, two parents, 5 grandchildren, and 5 other parents of our grandchildren. Our kids are so fun to watch because they truly enjoy one another and get together as often as possible. 7 of our sons live in our home, our daughters are in an apartment 2.5 miles away, and we see the other three fairly often. I get to see my grandchildren often.

Sundays is family day. We typically have at least a grandchild, sometimes two or three, and a bunch of kids at church and then with us for dinner later. It's huge blessing to watch them interact.

My mom lives 3 miles from me. I see her at least once a week. She joined us for church and dinner. She is an amazing woman of God. She inspires me all the time. I miss my dad every day but I'm so grateful to have my mom close.

I love my church. I play in bells. I sing in choir. I play keyboard in the band. The friends I have there are amazing. My guy friends, especially, though they give me a really hard time and would not admit to being my friends, are such a blessing in my life. They keep me laughing.

I love my job. I am daily challenged, pushed, and forced to be a better woman and a better leader. I work with a phenomenal group of women who I supervise and have peers across the country that I enjoy. In two and a half weeks one of the best friends I've ever had is going to join my staff as the assistant director. I get paid to live out my passion. It doesn't get any better than that.

I spent my morning with friends from church and my afternoon and evening with family. They make me smile. We laugh. We reminisce. We tell stories.

I love being 51. I have learned so much even in the past few months. Things like:

1) If something works for me and it doesn't work for those around me, it's not OK.

2) Pushing myself to do things I don't enjoy well has it's own rewards.

3) Every moment counts. I am done wishing things would be over so I can move on to the next thing. I am happy being me.

4) Sometimes people really are doing the best they can even if it isn't what I would wish or expect from them.

5) God is faithful. God is good.

6) Providing kids with place to belong during their growing up years has incredible rewards once they are grown. They are better people because we endured the tough things they put us through when they were growing up.

I've learned much more that those things but that is what immediately comes to mind.

I have little time to blog. My life is full. But for those of you who are in the murk of it all, there is light at the end of the tunnel. And life is good.

Quick update on everyone for you:

Kyle and his wife have a son, Silas, who turned a year. They both teach elementary school. They are married, as you know, and have built a house. Their lives are picture perfect... just as Kyle always dreamed it could be.

Rand is living at home and looking for work. He is currently the family taxi driver, cook, and errand runner as Bart and I are seldom home.

The son who never likes to be named in the blog lives here about 3 days a week and with friends near Mankato the rest of the time. He is a tattoo artist and we enjoy his son Aiden, who is now two, whenever we get to see him.

John lives with us. He works full time at Taco Bell and part time for a moving company. He is working hard to save enough money to be independent.

Salinda just had her second child two days ago. The baby's dad is a pro basketball player in Uruguay and we really love him. The baby, Carlos Jr. is downright adorable.

Ricardo is finishing up alcohol treatment. He has been sober for about 11 months. He lives in a halfway house in the southern part of the Twin Cities.

Mercedes is a nanny and a PCA and is living with Salinda and her two kids a couple miles from us.

Tony is engaged to Taylor who we really love. They live in Alexandria but he texts or calls almost daily. He is working for a steel company.

Leon is in his first year of college and living at home being the wonderful person that he always is.

Dominyk is a senior. Believe it? He also has a job working in the care center where my mom lives in the kitchen. He's grown up a lot and really wants to join the army.

Finally Wilson is a freshman and spends all his free time in front of the computer which we have concluded is a good thing. There are a lot of things he can't do while he is sitting there, 5 feet from our bedroom door (Get addicted to drugs or alcohol, get a girl pregnant, etc. etc. etc.)

Bart is doing great. He's such an amazing communicator and is involved in several spiritual development opportunities in and outside of the local church. I'm blessed beyond words to be his wife.

I think that's it. Maybe I'll blog again some day!

Sunday, March 02, 2014

I did Stand Up. It was very fun.


I just finished an amazing weekend. I flew to Seattle on Thursday to attend and speak at Refresh 2014, a Christian Foster and Adoptive Parents conference. This is the third year... I was here for the first one and as I have pointed out in jest at least 341 times since I got here this weekend, the FIRST YEAR I was important enough to be a keynote on the main stage. This year, back room. Now that the conference is big and popular I guess I'm not. :-) Except for Friday night respite... I was doing standup. How fun is that?

So Thurday I left kinda crabby to tell you the truth. Why? Because I am completely in love with my church and the people there and I HATE missing church. I also had to miss a monthly coffee shop event with the praise band at church and we hadn't had it for a couple months so I was just bummed to miss it. It's my favorite thing.

And I also was waiting for news -- news of whether or not I was going to get promoted at Bethany and whether or not I could hire an assistant. (I had an idea and one picked out -- a good friend of mine -- so I was really excited to find out and hated to be away when that news came)

But this morning as I get ready to fly out, I am SO sure this is where I was supposed to be....

Let me back up and tell a story. I went to a Unidos en Cristo weekend a few weeks ago. If you have never been, you should find out a way to go. It's amazing. Anyway, I came back from that completely changed in regards to the way I look at people. I finally realized that I AM A DOOR GOD PUT IN THIS WORLD FOR HIS LOVE TO WALK THROUGH! (Thank you Jason Gray).

All of the sudden life is different. Instead of seeing the people around me as burdens or interruptions or annoyances, I am seeing the opportunity God has given me to infuse grace, love, joy and hope into them. And this weekend I had the opportunity to do that.

Talk about an amazing time. Wonderful people, all connected to adoption, many going through REALLY hard times, coming together to to share experiences, to encourage each other, pray for one another, and bask in being refreshed. I got to meet cool people like Carlos Whittaker, and Jason Kovacs, and Bruce Kendrick. I even met a lady who calls Steven Curtis Chapman Steve. Wow. Blessed.

Friday night I had the chance to do stand up. It was SO MUCH FUN. I shared my heart... I told my stories... I had people in stitches. And then I turned it around at the end and I shared with them the way God has been showing me that all through the tough stuff of the past He was loving me, wooing me to Himself. A love story. They were in tears.

Yesterday I was treated like a celebrity. It really cracked me up. People were coming up to me asking for hugs, asking if they could friend me on Facebook, telling me how much they had enjoyed the night. I had two seminars and I closed each with prayer. It was so cool. We laughed together, we cried together, we shared life together.

This morning I had a surprise breakfast with the founders and leaders of the conference.... just the three of us. Andrew and Michele are awesome. I just love them.

Then I came upstairs and Leon let me worship with my people back home by holding his phone up with me on Facetime for the whole service. He even walked around and let me say hi to folks afterwards.

I sat in my hotel room with my phone on Mute singing 10,000 reasons very loudly with my people back at Brunswick. And my heart was so full.

My kids are all doing pretty well with the exception of Ricardo who is in jail... Pray for him. Pray for all of them actually.

My grandkids are adorable -- Salinda is having another (she's living in Puerto Rico with the new baby's dad right now). My husband remains incredible and his ministry is flourishing and great things are happening.

I realized that I needed to be Refreshed at Refresh, but more than anything I needed to be here to refresh others. When I was in the middle of the chaos and multiple crisis phase of our lives several years ago very few of the "old survivors" showed up to conferences any more. I would have loved to see an example of hope that I would make it to this place and there weren't many there.

And so I am flying back very glad I came. In awe of God's mercy and grace that allowed me to be here to bless others. There is no greater blessing.

I would like to promise I'll blog more but I probably won't. Life is just so full....

The next chapters at Bethany are exciting ones -- an adventure waiting to happen. I covet your prayers for us as we embark on a journey that impacts more children.

My theme song for the next chapter is one we sang at the conference: It's long, but so so very good.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

As 2013 Ends....

I'm feeling a bit contemplative today as I reflect on the year 2013. It has been an incredible year. Possibly one of the best of my life. I am beyond grateful to God for being with us through the many hard years that led to this year which was so good.

I am not completely sure whether or not our circumstances have changed, or whether it has just been me who has changed. Probably both. It's kind of a "did God calm the storm or did He calm his child" question(thanks Scott Krippayne). I think the answer is both.

Because it hasn't necessarily been an easy year. We began November of 2012 with only three kids living at home. Leon, Wilson, and Dominyk were all in school and life was very peaceful. By November of 2013 we had 8 of our kids living at home. It kind of went like this. In November of 2012, Tony and Mercedes moved back home (Sadie completing Job Corp, and Tony getting his GED but being "kicked out" before a graduation ceremony could take place). In March, Salinda and Gabby moved home where they were about half the time (going back and forth between our house and Gabby's other grandparents' home). By July Tony had moved out to live with birth family but Sadie's then boyfriend moved in in August. In September Jimmy moved home as did John after he finished court ordered treatment. Mike moved back home in November. Last week Salinda moved to Iowa with Gabby to live with her new boyfriend who is a D League basketball player, and Sadie got an apartment with another girl. The numbers of who stayed with us went up and down many times.

2013 is also the year that my Daddy went to heaven. I think about him every day. He was 90 and in a great deal of discomfort, so it was selfish of me to ask him to stick around -- he had more friends in heaven than here on earth anyway. But it is still hard not having him a phone call away.

But regardless of the negative, 2013 has brought a lot of positives as well. My mom came to live in an assisted living facility near us. Aiden's mom moved to the Twin Cities and she brings him to church every Sunday that she isn't working and then has dinner with us. We have gotten to see Isaac nearly once a week as his mom is faithful to bring him to visit. Silas entered the world in June and it's so cool to see Kyle as a Dad and watch him and Christy be such good parents.

This year was also a great year for us here at the Minnesota office of Bethany. I invested a great deal of energy into building an amazing team of dedicated, professional and fun women who are kicking butt when it comes to providing good services to families and expectant parents. I am so incredibly proud of the work that they are doing. I also have been able to make connections with some amazing people that include those at the national office, my supervisors, and donors, board members, volunteers over the last year. I asked God to steal my show (thanks, Toby Mac and He has done just that.

On a personal level, I must say that I love our church and the people there. I have thoroughly enjoyed getting involved in the musical groups (praise band, choir and bells) and our women's group. There is so much potential there and I am excited to see what God is going to do in our midst. I really figured that somehow by the time I got to be 50 I would have figured everything out, but I am realizing that I am just beginning to understand huge concepts like grace, unconditional love, mercy, peacemaking, and compassion.

Isaac's mom Courtney put something on her facebook a few months ago that I actually liked (sometimes her stuff is NASTY, but this one was great). It asked the question, "What would life be like if you woke up tomorrow with only the things you thanked God for today." I have spent a great deal of time thinking about that and have been careful to daily thank God for the basics in my life -- food, clothing, and shelter -- but more importantly for the incredible tapestry of people who make up my life.

This Christmas was the best one we have ever had since Bart and I got married. Our children were respectful to one another and to us, they were appropriately grateful and they were generous. At the end of the night, Bart and I happened to be sitting alone at our dining room table and I looked across the table at him, and with tears in my eyes I said, "You know what? We did good." It was a great feeling of satisfaction that our children, even with the rough starts they have had, are doing as well as they are.

So I have my family -- my kids and their kids, their significant others, the parents of my grandkids and their families, my kids birthfamilies that we have connected with, my mom and the constant positive presence that she is in my life, Bart's family -- I'm surrounding by a unique group of interesting folks who makes sure my life is never boring.

And I have my coworkers, that I mentioned above. They are also a very rich part of the tapestry of my life. Daily interracting with them never fails to make me smile.

And finally, I have my friends. Through Facebook and in person, I am reconnecting with folks who have been a part of my life since I was born. Friends of my parents and their children, friends from high school and college, friends from my years in Brookings when I got my masters, and from years in Mexico and Bartlesville when I was working in higher education. And then the countless adoptive parents and professionals that I have met over the past 17 years. And now the friends that I have at Brunswick who have been so incredibly supportive.

The support system that I have in my friends has gotten me through the worst of times and the best of times. Because of Bart and a handful of close friends, I am able to do everything that I do. I want to make sure that I never take them for granted.... they are the reason I make it through each day. God has blessed me and uses my relationships with people to keep me going and do all the things He has given me the privilege of doing that result in children finding homes.

I realize that I have rambled ... but maybe that's because my mind is rambling right as I think about this last year. But I want my ramblings to always end with gratitude.

We had a lot of very very hard years as we parented our children. But 2013 wasn't one of them. 2013 was a year where we got to see a glimpse of reward in the midst of it all.

I look forward to 2014 being an even better year and want every breath I breathe to be one of breathing in his grace and breathing out his praise (Thanks Matt Redmond)...





Friday, November 22, 2013

The Minnesota 500

If you've read my blog or seen my Facebook you know that I have an incredible amount of passion for the issue of kids in foster care who are waiting for a family. Recently that passion has expanded beyond those in the U.S. to include older waiting children in other countries. Recently my branch has been assigned 22 children over the age of 10 across the world who are waiting for a family. I can't get them out of my mind.

For this reason I have designed the Minnesota 500. I really believe that God is asking the church in MN to step forward and consider adopting older kids out of foster care and around the world. The 500 number comes from the 350 who are currently waiting and not in a preadoptive home in Minnesota and 150 of the children internationally that Bethany has been asked by various countries to find families for.

I'm meeting with pastors who will give me time to do so to discuss with them how to set goals as to how many children their congregation will step forward to adopt in the next few years. It is my dream over the next three years to have churches step up to claim a total 500 future adoptions.

So why am I telling you? You might have a connection to a church that might like to hear about my plea. Or, even more significant, you might feel like God is calling you to adopt.

If you would like to hear about the 22 kids that I'm referring to... or if you would like to connect me with your pastor, I'd love to hear from you....

To adequately communicate the passion I have for this, let me post here my gala speech from our gala at Bethany two weeks ago...

In our world today there are a multitude of agencies that exist to deal with the myriad of human needs that we find ourselves facing in a broken world -- homelessness, the incarcerated, those caught in human trafficking, hunger, unemployment, and on and on. And while many see us as not that different from the others, I want to explain tonight why we are unique and why I personally I am humbled by the opportunity God has given me to lead the MN branch of Bethany Christian Services.

Most of you know that my husband and I have adopted twelve children. In 1996 we learned that 120,000 children in the US were in foster care and legally free for adoption… and we felt God calling us to do our part. That began an incredible journey. Now ten of our kids are adults and we have four grandchildren – and my passion for 3children who wait has only increased over the years.

Have you ever asked yourself the question, “Why do I get out of bed every morning?” For seventeen years now I’ve had the same answer. I get up every morning because each year over 25,000 teens celebrate their 18th or 21st birthday and are forced out of foster care, alone and unwanted, never belonging to a family.”

Richard Stearns, CEO of World Vision, answers that question for his own life. He says, “I get up every morning because I get to be the answer to the prayers of a child.”

So what happens to those children whose prayers go unanswered? What happens to those who never know the love and safety that comes with family? The statistics are both alarming and sobering. Of these young adults who age out of the system:
30% are homeless,
63% don’t complete high school,
55% are unemployed,
62% have trouble accessing health care,
40% are on welfare;
42% get arrested,
26% are incarcerated,
60% of the girls are pregnant within a year of leaving foster care.
And over 60% of child trafficking victims across the United States are current or former foster youth

These numbers are what make Bethany stand out as unique from other non-profit organizations. We have been entrusted by God to change the statistics of the future. Every year here in the U.S., these 25,000 plus kids leave foster care without anyone to claim them and no place to belong. The average age now for young adults becoming financially independent from their parents is 27. How can we as a society release foster youth into the world without parents and expect them not to become a statistic?

Bethany Christian Services as a global organization envisions a world where every child has a loving family. In Minnesota Bethany has been working towards that end for over twenty years. Before a child is born we provide compassionate and wise counsel to those deciding whether to parent their child or make an adoption plan. We place newborn babies into families, we bring children from across the world into homes that are planning and hoping and dreaming of their arrival, and we work to find families for older children and teenagers in the foster care system. Today there are 350 kids waiting right here in Minnesota, and 143 of them have been waiting for a family for over three years. 9 We make a difference because each time a child finds that place where they belong, are loved unconditionally, and have consistent support, the likelihood of them becoming a statistic as an adult decreases substantially.

22 teenagers have recently been assigned to our Minnesota branch from our global office. They are older kids from Africa, Asia, Colombia, and Bulgaria and they have taken over my dreams and permeate my waking hours. I have read their paperwork, I know their stories and I have memorized their faces while creating profiles and working on a slide show. Their pictures are in my office... they are hanging on the walls around me.

Most of you don’t know that prior to coming to this position I worked for a non-profit agency that specialized in matching children in foster care with families. In my years there I was personally a part of over 500 children finding their “forever family.” But these 22 kids have hit me harder than any of those 500 ever did.

You may wonder why these 22 haunt me and I want to give you an honest answer. Even after all of my previous success as a recruiter and matcher, I don’t think that I can find these kids a family. The words “how would you like to adopt a sibling group of teenage boys from Bulgaria?” don’t come up naturally in daily conversation. The job is too hard. The task is too difficult. I don’t even know where to begin.

To make it even harder on me, I know for a fact that my husband and I could parent any of these kids. But our bedrooms are full -- in fact I’m not even sure we have a free couch this weekend. So instead of taking them in, I need to talk you – or someone else – into adopting them. And without God I know that is an impossible feat. I share the need but it is God who will speak to hearts and we at Bethany are praying that someone, maybe even you, will listen.

Regardless of the difficulty of the challenge, I compelled to tell you about them because I believe with all my heart that God is not ignoring the prayers of these 22 kids. It cannot be God’s plan for these beautiful teenagers to end up on the streets of their home country.

And it’s not just these 22. How can we say that it is His plan for millions of kids to spend their lives without family? And this is the problem: God doesn’t have a plan B. He looks to us. We are his hands and feet here on earth.

When the statistics came out about children aging out of foster care several months ago I saw that the number was continuing to grow. In 2011, 26,286 left the system and went out into the world without a family. That day I wrote a blog entry and I want to read some of it to you:

The God I serve would not intentionally let 26,286 young adults loose in a world with no support and without anyone to turn to in crisis. So I ask myself, “could it be that He asked His people to adopt them, but they said no?”

When I think of those 26,286 kids I no longer can ask myself why God didn’t do something about their plight. Instead I realize that He did a great job of caring for them ... He called His people … but they didn’t respond. It may not be as simple as 26,286 families saying no to God. But what if it is.

SO there you have it. This is the kind of stuff I've been doing lately -- and the MN 500 program is front and center in my mind -- in addition to raising money, supervising staff, and doing everything else I do at Bethany.

I'm believing God for this miracle.

Where Have I Been?


Where did the last two months go? I think I was immersed in life and today have come up for air. I was asked on Facebook to blog again, and so I am going to do that and try to answer the question, "Where have you been?"

I just read my 50th birthday post and made myself cry. Not because I was impressed with what a brilliant writer I am (though there is that :-) but because I am so incredibly grateful for where I am now and the life God has allowed me to live.

So.... here is where I have been.

1) I've been at church. A LOT. I am convinced that the group of people at Brunswick may just be those who "get church" and are attempting to learn how to "Do church" the way Jesus intended. I am quite invested in it as MY church, not just Bart's. I don't think this has as much to do with the church itself -- becuase we had some incrdible people in Belgrade, Luverne, and Mankato -- but because of my position in life. I can finally focus on something besides parenting -- which obviously I am still doing. But having 12 kids ages almost 15 to 27, is much different than, say, having 9 children between the ages of 5 and 15.

So at church I am playing in the bell choir, singing in the chancel choir, and recently joined "Testify" the praise band to play keyboards. I am thoroughly enjoying being part of a great music ministry. And I am also involved in a Women's Bible Study that meets weekly, a "Circle" that meets monthly, and I do a few other things here and there.

2) I've been at work! A couple weeks ago we had our annual Bethany gala which was so incredibly awesome. So many people were there who are friends of mine, as well as my board and awesome staff. It was a great night... and even a successful fundraiser!

I have developed a new initiative that I am going to blog about separately so that you can see what I'm up to without everyone from Facebook having to read through this drivel when I link the post. But the "Minnesota 500" program is a huge part of my life right now.

I end up working 50-60 hours a week but I love almost every minute of it.

3) I've been trying to keep up with my kids, though half-heartedly. I just don't have the energy to get caught up in the drama any more. So I have a "don't ask" policy. I figure if they want my advice or they need to know something, they will tell me. The exceptions of course are the three who are still in school and I get a little more nosy about them. The rest of them are adults though and supposedly "on their own" so I'm sort of viewing my home as a college residence hall like the one I used to manage back from 85-88. I never worried about the residents, never asked them where they were - it was just my job to be there if they needed me. So far it's working. I'll tell you about each of them in a minute.

4) I've been trying to be a good daughter to my mom. She is an amazingly resilient happy person with a great attitude and a love for God and others that is insurpassable. She inspires me. But her to do list for me is like God's mercies -- new every morning -- and fitting that in amongst everything else is a challenge. She loves living at St. Therese and being part of our church and our family (but she can't hang out with us for a long period of time. She thinks we are exhausting. :-)

So, I suppose those of you who have been reading my blog forever and a day would like to know how the kids are. Here we go:

Kyle is doing great, turned 27 this week. Wow. He and his wife Christy live an hour north of us. Bart and I are "nannies" on Fridays for baby silas who is now 5 months old -- he does it most weeks but I fill in when he can't. He sent me the picture above this morning. Kyle and Chirsty are both teachers and Kyle has started his master's program. They live in a home they had built and they have a puggle puppy who is incredibly annoying.

Rand is in Mankato, still working at Lowe's, still doing great, still invtesting lots of time in Young Life. He visits us often -- and connects regularly with his birth brothers and his birth dad and his family. Some day I have to blog about that whole story. Simply awesome the way life has turned out for him.

The son who doesn't want to be named in the blog is coming to live at our house to live for a while starting today or tomorrow. Finished court ordered rehab a couple weeks early and needs to do aftercare in our area. His son, Aiden, comes up to see us often as Tessa moved up here with her parents and is only about 35 minutes from us. They usually join us for church and lunch on Sundays.

John has been living at our house for the past couple months -- since he got out of court ordered rehab. From what we can tell he is staying sober, and doing well. He seldom leaves the house except to go to work, and doesn't seem to have made any friends which is a really a good thing. Even though he and Courtney aren't together, she brings Isaac up almost every week. He just turned three in October and is a rambunctious crazy talkative loud little boy full of life and fun.

Jimmy had a job from August to October washing dishes, but is currently unemployed and living at home. He helps a lot around the house and doesn't cause too much trouble, but really needs to find a job.

Salinda is living at our house almost full time and has been since March. Gabby lives with us about half the time. Salinda has a full time job as an asst. manager at a fast food place and seems to be happier than she has been for a while. Gabby is learning and growing... precise, quiet, articulate, thoughtful -- everything Isaac is not.

Ricardo is in jail -- we don't know the story, we just see the website. Something about a pistol and assault and his brothers who have been in that jail report that he is heading for prison. We hope not. His story is the one that most breaks our hearts as he did so well while he was living with us.

Mercedes has three nanny jobs and works more than 40 hours a week. She gets paid good money, she is super good with the kids, and the families love her. She also is a big help with her neice and nephews -- her employers let her bring Gabby to work so Salinda doesn't have to pay for day care. Sadie turned 19 last week... hard to believe.

Tony is living with birthfamily. He had a job for a couple weeks, but apparently is currently unemployed. He is planning to come home for a few days at Thanksgiving -- and he was here for my dad's memorial service in October.

Leon is doing his second senior year at a different school and he is doing quite well. He is getting good grades and should graduate at the end of this semester. He has a job as a PCA and is a very willing and helpful chauffeur for his siblings.

Dominyk is having the best school experience ever. He is getting OK grades, loves to go to school, and seems to fit in well at the charter school he attends. He is going to be 18 in April -- hard to fathom -- and he has a girlfriend!!! I know, we were surprised too. He is 6' 3" and is obsessed with getting into the army -- although he still has about 60 pounds to lose. He just got a job at the place where my mom lives at the dining center.

Finally, Wilson is about to turn 15. He spends almost his entire life in front of a screen, but we have let that go. We have discovered that you can't really get addicted to drugs or impregnate someone if you are connecting to the XBox all the time, so we are letting him kind of make those choices on his own. He is getting excellent grades and is wrestling -- rumor has it he will have the varsity spot come January at the high school even though he's still at the middle school and in 8th grade.

Whew. Are you tired yet?

So, that's where I've been. I really wish I could find a way to keep blogging, but somehow it doesn't end up on the priority list....

I don't read blogs any more. I barely look at Facebook. My world is right here in front of me and it is so full it is overflowing.

If you haven't seen this video yet you should watch it right now. It's so incredible. And in it are the words to my current favorite song....

and all of the sudden, I'm unaware of these afflictions eclisped by glory -- and I realize just how beautiful You are and how great Your affections are for me....

When you hear this young man sing those words they will give them a way deeper meaning


Sunday, September 15, 2013

On Turning 50



Yup, it happened yesterday. I turned 50. I guess big birthdays call us to reflect and think about where we've been and where we thought we'd be now when we dreamed of today years ago.

I can't remember my 40th birthday. Neither can Bart. All we can remember is that we had 9 children between the ages of 7 and 16 and that we were anticipating the arrival of a 10th. We know we lived in Luverne, MN at the time and since I wasn't blogging back then, I have no idea what happened. Maybe someone else remembers my 40th, but I am drawing a blank.

However, I will never forget my 50th. Last night our church had it's block party -- the Carnival of Community -- like they do every fall and this time it so happens that it fell on my 50th birthday. I kept referring to it as the "Carnival of Claudia", jokingly of course, but they sure turned it into that! Our praise band learned a new song, written especially for the occasion, and preformed it right after I was crowned the "Queen of the Rodeo" in honor of the "Big B Roundup" theme of the carnival.

Ten of my children were there as were all four of my grandchildren. Our daughter in law and both of our grandbabymamas were there. My mom was there. And of course, my amazing husband was there. Several members of Rand's birth family joined us as well. And about 200 other people... all celebrating the fact that we were together. It was awesome.

This morning I have come to some conclusions about what I thought 50 would be like and what it has actually turned out to be.

First of all, to start off with the only negative thing, I never dreamed I would be this unhealthy when I turned 50. I never thought I'd be this out of shape, this heavy, this messed up with diabetes and heart issues. It makes me angry at myself for not taking better care of myself and for creating such a deep hole to climb out of when I do decide to do something about it.

But then the rest was all good stuff.

I never dreamed that I would be this challenged and have such a rewarding career at 50. When I was in my 20s I had the best job ever -- Dean of Students at a small Christian college -- and I loved it. But by 28 I was bored with it, not having any idea where my next step was. I had reached my lifetime goal by 24. And for several years I thought I had peaked early and would never find the "perfect job for me" again. But my job now is awesome. I am able to use my strengths and all of the experiences of the last 20 years to work on behalf of children. I love my staff and the challenges that my job brings me.

With the crazy risk-filled out-of-my-comfort zone life that Bart and I chose, I never thought I would feel this satisfied or this content with our family's life. Things are are sometimes completely chaotic and out of control at this stage, with so many young adults trying to make their way in this world, but I'm actually OK with the challenges. All of our kids are OK. Some are flourishing. All of them have some contact with us and we get to see all four of our grandchildren fairly often. No one is completely angry with us (at least not today) and they typically get along well with each other. There is a family-wide investment in the next generation and our grandchildren have very committed aunts and uncles.

I certainly didn't realize that my life would be filled with so many great friends. When I was in college I heard from many, "Cherish your college friendships, because they will be the best relationships of your life." And I made some awesome, lifetime friends during those days. But I didn't know that some of them would still be my friends at 50 or that I would have made hundreds of friends between then and now. I certainly didn't expect to be surprised at this age with so many new, good friends who live in community with us. My birthday celebration last night was proof of something that continues to amaze me: God has blessed me throughout my life with people who love me in spite of my unconventional ways of dealing with people. Flaws and all, they love me, and I them. Decades of strong, resilient friendships that leave me feeling blessed every day. I recognize that not everyone has that.

I had no idea how much I would still be learning about life, God, and my faith at this point in my journey. In my 20s I knew everything, so I have no idea how I arrived here -- knowing so little as I turn 50. But I am constantly surprised by the ways that God teaches me things on a daily basis about what He expects of me and who He is. I am thrilled to be involved in a church at this time where there are so many who long to be what God wants us to be, who support me in my faith, and who want to constantly do more to build God's kingdom.

Finally, I didn't realize how much more I would love my husband now than I did when I knew him 30 years ago, or when I married him in 1996. He is a consistent example of self-sacrifice, unconditional love, mercy and grace, and spiritual discipline. He is so sharp it's almost scary, so wise, articulate and bright. And his wit is so quick and so hilarious that I find myself laughing every day. And unlike me, the ever-so-predictable one, he is incredibly unpredictable and always keeps me guessing. Life is never dull when he is in it... no matter what we are facing. The things we have been through together have made our marriage and our love for each other stronger... they haven't torn us apart.

And so I guess when I think back to my expectations when I was 25 or 35 looking ahead at 50, I can sum it up by saying, "I never dreamed I'd have such a satisfying career, such an unusual yet amazing husband and family, such a heart full of love for those who surround me, or a faith so ever-changing and ever-growing that I can't wait to see what's next.

I've said it many times to many people over the years. I didn't want a safe, easy journey, or to be like everyone else. I wanted a life that I could not handle on my own, because I wanted to watch God do cool stuff. He has done just that. My whole life has been valleys and hills of a crazy reckless roller coaster ride that I have just LOVED being part of. And it will be even better when I can look back from heaven and see the ways God had everything figured out. I'm excited about learning from Him how He worked everything for good...

And so I conclude with the bridge of one of my new favorite songs:

One day I'll stand before You
And look back on the life I've lived
I can't wait to enjoy the view
And see how all the pieces fit...


Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Grace Bothers Me

John is back in touch with us. After some time in jail and alcohol treatment, he has stumbled upon a job that has some promise for him. It involves convincing people to get new roofs after storms and it has some potential. In addition, he has a boss who is willing to take care of transportation and housing for him in the meantime so it's working out well. Ironically the office for this company is a mile from our house and the apartment he is talking about renting for John is about that close as well. So we are seeing him daily. And I'm not going to even ask any more questions about the job. He's got a pay advance and a place to live and he seems sober so it's all good.

Isaac and Courtney came up this weekend to see him/us and it isn't easy for them to get along. John hasn't been around Isaac for a long time and Courtney is used to doing things herself. John is trying to establish position as "Dad" and wanting Courtney to be quick to forgive while he is easily frustated with her. Others in our family are wondering why we are so quick to forgive him.... even though they have been eager to accept our forgiveness in the past for the things they have done to us.

As I was trying to explain all this yesterday, I was thinking about how much our kids have taught us about forgiveness. We have learned with clarity what Matthew West sings in his song "Forgiveness,"
It'll clear the bitterness away
It can even set a prisoner free
There is no end to what it's power can do
So, let it go and be amazed
By what you see through eyes of grace
The prisoner that it really frees is you

I explained to the kids that forgiveness may not have much of an effect on those we forgive, but it transforms us as we learn to offer grace. Our kids give us so many opportunities to learn that as they live out their anger towards others in our presence and direct it towards us. After years and years of it, we have learned the beauty of forgiveness.

So night before last Bart and I were reading in James chapter 2 where James is pointing out that if you screw up in one little way, you break the whole law. In other words, no sin is worse than the other and so we need to be careful to view others with mercey because we need it so desperately ourselves. The passage concludes with the words, "mercy triumphs over justice."

Then yesterday morning I was riding to work and heard Matt Redman's song, "Your Grace Finds Me." Except that I misunderstood the words (British accent maybe? :-) and I thought that he kept singing, "Your Grace Bothers Me." And I realized I agreed.

It bothers me when God extends His grace to other people who don't deserve it! Even though that is the point of grace-- that we don't deserve it -- it annoys me when people who are REALLY bad get offered grace. Just like my kids who are annoyed when we offer forgiveness to their siblings, even when they need it so desperately for themselves, I do the same thing.

When I was a teen I remember how frustrated I was when I realized the grace offered to the thief on the cross. Here I was committing myself to serving God for my WHOLE life and I was still going to get the same reward as a criminal who had only five minutes of life left? That BOTHERED me. But that's grace.

When dealing with kids who come from hard places, mercy and grace and forgiveness are daily concepts that both haunt us and save us. There is no other way to counteract the pain. And no matter how much it bothers those around us who don't understand, we have to offer grace. God's grace isn't fair.... that's not what it's about... because mercy triumphs over judgment.

Those words have been running through my mind again and again the last 24 hours. Your Grace Bothers Me. Mercy Triumphs Over Judgment.

They challenge me. They explain things to me. They motivate me. They give me peace about the way our lives are "turning out." I don't like them... my personality is one that can be harsh and judgmental and critical and black and white and my first thoughts have often been ones of punishment and justice and fairness and people getting what they deserve... and yet that's not what I'm called to do.

I heard it explained years ago that Grace is getting what you don't deserve, and Mercy is not getting what you do deserve. Makes a lot of sense to me.

So, at the risk of being repetitive and redundant, let me challenge us to let our first thoughts and our first words every time to be love... to be forgiveness..mercy...grace.

Because in the end, Mercy Triumphs Over Judgement. Mercy and Grace Win. Every time.