March 13, 2013

And now there are six...

The facts:

We became a licensed foster family in January of 2010.  Trey and Kaleigh (half siblings) joined our family as foster children in July of 2011.  That fall, we were asked to consider adopting them if the case moved in that direction.  We were certainly open to this possibility.  Trey moved to Milwaukee to live with his father in June of 2012 - a positive move, one we believe was best for all involved.  It became apparent that God was calling us to adopt Kaleigh.  The court terminated parental rights in October of 2012.  The adoption of Elizabeth Kaleigh Patenaude was finalized March 5, 2013.

A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, 
is God in His holy dwelling. 
God sets the lonely in families...
(Psalm 68:5-6a)

The call:

We are grateful for our 3 healthy beautiful biological children.  After 3 difficult pregnancies, Dana and I were certain we were "done" having children.  I remember someone commenting, "You'll know you are done because you'll have a sense that your family is complete."  We only knew we struggled with the thought of another pregnancy...not the thought of raising more children.

For the next several years, the possibility of adding children to our family lingered in the back of our minds.  Stories of missions to a Mexican orphanage and children in Belize, involvement in the life of a single mother with a drug addiction, family members in need...  We never felt an urgency to actively pursue anything, but God kept the needs of children right in front of our eyes.  Our hearts were consistently challenged, and we began to pray about how God might be calling us to care for children.  We were drawn toward becoming a foster family, yet we did not take action.  In the fall of 2008, we bought a home that could better accommodate our growing family.  We received mixed reactions when we began to share our thoughts about foster care with friends and family.

During the summer of 2009, Dana had lunch with a friend and fellow believer who was returning to the mission field after a brief sabbatical.  God used this conversation to confirm His call for our family into foster care.  Dana doesn't remember the details of the conversation, but he does remember coming away with James 1:27 on his heart.  "Religion that God accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress..."  Dana came home from that interaction and asked, "Remind me why we haven't pursued foster care yet?"  And so it all began...

He is the Rock, 
His works are perfect, and all His ways are just. 
A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is He. 
(Deuteronomy 32:4)

The heart:

I am not naturally a mushy-gushy, wear-your-heart-on-your-sleeve, I-just-love-to-get-attatched-to-small-children kind of person.  I have come to realize this as an asset in being a foster mom.  I am able to do my "job" in a loving, affectionate, caring way while at the same time remaining objective in my thoughts and attitudes about what has happened and will yet happen to these children in my care.  We did not pursue foster care with the hope that we would someday adopt children.  We were definitely open to the possibility, but adoption was not our aim when we became licensed foster care providers.

If you are hoping to read a story about how an ache in our hearts for more children was realized and fulfilled when a certain little girl won us over, you will be disappointed.  This is not a sappy story; it's a story of a faithful and loving God revealing His heart for us by calling us to have that same heart toward a child of His.

We were in a unique position as foster parents in that we had a considerable amount of time to get to know Elizabeth before we were asked about adopting her.  The answer came quickly, almost without thinking about it...yes.  Did we realize what we were saying? It seemed like we should want to take some time to consider it.  This is a huge decision! But we said yes. Even after we agreed to this, we didn't know for quite some time if it would become a reality.  We had plenty of time to doubt our decision (which we did)...plenty of time to wonder...plenty of time to question whether this was really what we wanted...plenty of time to back out...

However, God used this time to show me the condition of my heart.  How my love is fickle. How I doubt His leading when the way is difficult.  How I make decisions based on what I perceive to be easiest or most comfortable for me or my family. How my love for people often stems from the fact that I feel some sort of affection for the person. Or the person makes me feel loved. God used this time in my life to refine me (and I mean by fire!)  He used this time to demonstrate over and over again how His love for me is not at all dependent upon my behavior or attitude toward Him.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: 
While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  
(Romans 5:8)

I came face-to-face with the truth that real love is a decision, not a feeling.  God's love is set and determined - a choice.
For He chose us in Him before the creation of the world ...
In love He predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ.
(Ephesians 1:4-5)

The adoption:

We rejoice in the parallels between Elizabeth's adoption and our adoption into the family of God.

See how very much our Father loves us,
for He calls us His children, and that is what we are!
 (1John 3:1)


One of the most obvious is the change of identity.  Just as we are new creations in Christ (2Cor. 5:17), Elizabeth has a new name.  Elizabeth means "God's promise" or "I am God's daughter". We chose it to remind her and us of God's special care for His children.  We see Elizabeth's life as a reminder of God's promise of redemption through His Son, Jesus, which ultimately results in our adoption into His family (Gal.4:4-5). We also wanted her name to fit with the rest of our children's names.  Each of the children have a Biblical first name and a significant family name as their middle name.

God redeems us out of a life of sin. Jesus sees us in the midst of our need.  We have nothing to offer Him.  We don't even really want Him (let alone know we need Him), yet He determined to set His love upon us, and sacrificed His life to make us His.  As His children, we become coheirs with Christ. God redeemed Elizabeth out of an unhealthy home.  He saw her need, and He provided.  He's called us to set our love upon her and welcome her into our family.  She will have all the benefits and responsibilities that go along with being a member of the Dana Patenaude family.

The hope:

So Elizabeth...we set our love upon you.  We choose you to be adopted into our family as our daughter.  God delights in His children, and we delight in you.  We hope someday when you have a full understanding of what has taken place in your adoption into our family, you will joyfully echo the sentiments above!  We pray that our love for you will be a testimony of God's love for His children.  This is our prayer for you sweet girl.  May you live to bring Him glory!


I waited patiently for the Lord;
    He turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
    out of the mud and mire; 
He set my feet on a rock
    and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth,
    a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the Lord
    and put their trust in Him.
(Psalm 40:1-3) 


July 23, 2011

Confirmation

Who knew that God could minister to my heart in the time it took me to type this blog? I initially entitled it Emotional Exhaustion, but as I typed, He worked on me and helped me to take every thought captive in obedience to Him! All glory is due to You, LORD! You are AWESOME!


23 days into July - We've been home a total of 19 of them. In the past 19 days, we've had 103 different people visit our home for at least an hour...51 of these people were under age 13. 27 different people have slept here overnight at least one night. There have been a total of 3 nights this month when it was only the 5 of us sleeping under our roof.

We love to be hospitable. We enjoy hosting people in our home. We know that God gave us the home we have for that specific reason. It's amazing to me that as I look over the list of those we hosted this month, I look at each and every name with a certain affection. Thank you, Lord, for friends and family. When I list these numbers above, it's not with complaint or pride - just confirmation. Confirmation that we are using our home and spending our time invested in relationships. We wholeheartedly believe and affirm that we are called to be in relationship with those in Christ and those who have yet to know Christ. I need to remind myself of this when I feel like I do today - emotionally exhausted.

Before I go any further, I need to let you in on a little secret: I am energized and recharged by alone or one-on-one time. I LOVE spending time connecting with people in a more intimate way. This is difficult for me to do in large group situations. It takes an enormous amount of effort for me. I LOATHE small talk - not because I don't feel it is valuable and necessary in getting to know people better, but because it's awkward for me. It feels uncomfortable and takes work. I come away from a larger social gathering exhausted; I come away from lunch with a friend exhilarated. (An interesting side note - Dana is the opposite. He's totally pumped up at the idea of spending time with people whether in large or small groups. He goes a little stir-crazy if he's alone too long...) I am also one who relishes time alone as this is time with my Lord. During the school year, I have larger doses of this kind of time. I actually look forward to my cleaning jobs, not because I love cleaning so much, but because it's time alone when I can crank up the worship music or listen to podcasts from my favorite preachers without interruption. I'm energized after a few hours of cleaning (mind you...not energized to clean my OWN house, just recharged enough to go back to relating again).

Children are another story. I am not really a "kid person". Some of you may be surprised by that since we are right smack dab in the middle of a ministry to children - namely foster children. I am not one of those people (like my husband is) who loves to just hang out with kids. He romps and plays and laughs and tickles and truly enjoys spending time with children of every age. Kids LOVE him. I'm one who is focused on meeting practical needs, analyzing behaviors, watching for what's really at the heart of the matter, and trying to draw children out in conversation. (Somehow small talk with children isn't quite so painful for me :) As you might notice, these are not things children find very exciting... The easiest way for me to connect with a child is by reading them a book. It's like we are sharing in a more intimate experience that satisfies both of our desires. My favorite thing to do with children is read books to them.

So what does all of this mean for right now? What does this mean when the numbers are such as they are above? What does this mean when I've been living in a state of forced spontaneity, mild chaos, and somewhat reluctant self-sacrifice? It means I'm tired - emotionally and physically.

Nail polish on the couch, mounds of laundry, 5 extra kids, pet puke, hamburger "blood" dripped everywhere (long story), water in the basement, fish tank disaster leading to carpet shampooing and friend's dead fish, unbearable heat and humidity making it next to impossible for kids to play outside. Dana left yesterday for what we have come to call "Fantasy Farm Camp" (thanks for the positive spin on that Kyle) He will be in Crookston farming with a friend for the next 3 weeks. That's my "poor me" paragraph...just needed to get that off my chest :)

What DOES all of this mean? Right now, I'm fully dependent on the grace of God to get me through each day. And what a gloriously painful place that is to be. Again, I don't say this with pride or complaint in my heart - just confirmation and conviction. I CANNOT DO THIS ON MY OWN. It is Christ who works in me both to will and to do...(Phil. 2:13) I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. (Phil. 4:13) In the past, I would've been doing everything I could to control my circumstances in order to keep my life more manageable and orderly. Praise God, that in His infinite wisdom, He has other plans for me. He has used numerous experiences (frustrating, challenging, heart-breaking, humorous, difficult, and even down-right ridiculous - but ALL of them out of my control) in the past year to practically demonstrate to me that my life truly is not my own, nor is it meant to be. It is Christ's, meant to be lived in obedience and in glory to Him. This is the deepest cry of my heart - to live my life for His glory. If you know and love Jesus, you understand what I'm talking about. If not, you probably think I'm crazy.

Last weekend, a friend (love you Kari) asked me about foster care wondering if I "like" it... It struck me as an interesting question. Our family has been called into foster care. It's a ministry. We do it joyfully because we know it's His best for us, and He has truly given us a heart for these children. Do we like it? Hmmmm...... Dana compared it to asking a missionary located in a remote, hostile, poverty-stricken location if they "like" it. It's difficult to say you like something that challenges you and reveals your weaknesses at every turn. It's difficult to say you don't like something that so deeply fulfills a calling within, that has infinite eternal and even earthly rewards, that affirms and strengthens the character you long to exhibit. I guess I'd have to say I may not always like it, but I DO love it because I love Him. It is He that works in me both to will and to do.

Why do I write this? Not so much to inform others as to encourage myself. Tonight I feel weak. Today it was hard. And yet I have joy...unexplainable, overflowing, peace-giving joy. Praise you Jesus! Your grace is sufficient for me for Your power is made perfect in my weakness. AMEN!

May 31, 2011

A Taste of Summer






May 28, 2011

Eleven

Eleven observations from an afternoon and evening spent with three 11-year-old girls:

1. High-heeled shoes are fabulous! While trying them on, if you can take 4 or 5 steps in a row without wobbling, twisting an ankle, or falling over you are "totally ROCKIN' those shoes!"

2. A boyfriend is someone you like who has told one of your friends he likes you also. The main reasons you like him are because he is good-looking and nice to you. You don't ever do anything together. You rarely talk to each other. You do dream about marrying him one day, and you blush and get silly when you talk about him.

3. It's essential that you are extremely passionate about one thing and you notice it and/or talk about it whenever opportunity arises. (i.e. the color green, animals, your "boyfriend", things that remind you of something you recently read)

4. Mildly humorous things are actually over-the-top funny.

5. It's become cool to ride the carousel again.

6. More than one person must be talking at all times.

7. For the most part, moms and your friends' moms are OK. Your thoughts on right/wrong and in/appropriateness are still shaped by your parents. Dads are fun too, and the mention of them is always good for a couple of eye rolls to indicate how obnoxious (in a good way) they can be.

8. 3D movies are way cool, and definitely worth a 90 minute wait. Sitting in a movie theater for 2 hours really gets you hyped up...especially if you've been snacking on candy during the show.

9. The instinctual female desire to visit the restroom in pairs has already kicked in at 11.

10. When with your friends, you automatically become louder, sillier, more dramatic, and more daring than you normally are.

11. It is truly a joy to hang out with 11-year-old girls (at least the ones I got to spend time with yesterday). They are interesting, engaging, funny, exhausting, daring, insightful, tender, and beautiful.

May 24, 2011

Tough Love

Love is patient. Love is kind.

We've all heard it a thousand times. What does this look like for real? What does it sound like?

What is kindness to one who is on the path of destruction? Is it to let him continue on his way unobstructed? Or to issue a warning of the danger and even jump in his way if he continues along the path? And what if he does continue? What is patience to one who rebels against every warning, intervention, and discipline intended for her good? Is it to give in to her demands and hope that all goes better next time? Or is it to stand firm, repeat instruction, encourage submission, and refuse defeat?

So often we think love must be doing the thing that makes someone feel good. The thing that avoids conflict. The thing that makes life more peaceful. Taking the path of least resistance. The world talks about this kind of love as being difficult because you set aside your thoughts about what is right in order to be more tolerant and "loving". It's not based on any sort of truth other than the subjective idea of whether or not the person you are trying to love feels loved. If he doesn't feel loved, you must not be acting lovingly.

Here's what that same Bible passage about love being patient and kind says, "Love finds no joy in unrighteousness, but rejoices in the truth." (1Corinthians 13:6) Love tells the truth and is willing to fight for it...not in a rude or demanding way, but in a patient and kind way. A way that is not boastful or proud. A way that is not selfish or unforgiving, but hopeful and enduring. This kind of love I do not possess. Of this kind of love, I am not capable. It is only by the grace of God that I can walk in this kind of love. And believe me, I mess up. There's no formula for this kind of love. It's often difficult to discern how to put action behind the words. Let alone being able to have the right attitude in performing the actions... This love doesn't depend on the feelings of either the one seeking to love or the one being loved. It's a commitment. This is True Love, Supernatural Love, Tough Love.

Dana now writes: I shared this analogy with Sarah tonight as we listened to our 7-year-old foster daughter continue in her raging fit over the loss of privileges.

Have you ever seen a wild kitten? Not wild, like playful wild, but the "not tame" kind of wild? We would run into these kinds of cats every once in awhile growing up on the farm. We'd approach the kitten wanting to pet it or pick it up so we could feed it, care for it, love on it. Can't you picture the kitten backed into a corner with it's tail poofed out, it's back arched, it's mouth spitting/hissing, and it's paws taking swings at the air with claws extended? Why does it do that? Mostly, for the cat, it's a defense against what it perceives as a threat. It doesn't understand my outstretched hand is a sign of care, of protection, and provision. What I'm offering to the cat is foreign and so it's only natural to fight.

The analogy isn't perfect, but I pictured this little girl like the frightened little cat, hissing, spitting, claws extended, not realizing that this discipline is actually for her benefit.

It also reminds me of Hebrews 12:7-13:
Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. “Make level paths for your feet,” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.

May the love in our home be like the Father's love for us - even when it's difficult, especially when we aren't "feeling" it...may we pursue this kind of tough love.

May 22, 2011

Rubberbanding

As we drove home from my cousin's graduation this evening (a 2-hour drive), Dana and I chatted about our current life circumstances. (Note: We let our children watch DVDs on longer trips. While I can't say this has done a lot for their entertaining-themselves-while-driving skills, I can say having them occupied does wonders for our marriage. My mom always said she and Dad had their best conversations over dishes; we have ours while driving.) So anyway, I asked Dana how he's feeling about things right now. He said he feels like he's just waiting. I inquired further and he likened it to a rubberband. We feel the stretch and we know something will change. We might be stretched tighter, or the tension might slack a bit. Not sure, so we wait and see. I liked the analogy so allow me to take it even further...(I know I'm kind of a weirdo, but this is really how my mind works :o)

Our lives are kind of like rubberbands. During those easy (or perhaps lazy) times, we might say we're like the flaccid rubberband just laying in the drawer - enjoying a respite from work, but really not much use to anyone. Or a rubberband might be used to hold a few things together - feeling useful, stretched a little, but really just glad to be of some use. After all, isn't this what rubberbands were made for? Then there are times when the rubberband is really stretched. Life is hard. There's a lot to hold together. There's a lot depending on this rubberband and it doing the job/s it's being used for. It's doable, but definitely difficult - this is probably where we find ourselves right now. And then there's the rubberband that is being stretched way beyond itself. It barely even looks like the same rubberband. Sometimes it's being stretched beyond what it even should be. Sometimes, it just a good thing this rubberband is around or how would any kind of order be maintained? You are not even sure if it's going to hold fast or just snap...

Isn't it funny how we'd probably all prefer to be like the flaccid or maybe even the little bit stretched rubber band most of the time? When we find ourselves stretched a little beyond what is comfortable, do we complain, give up, try fixing things, or yearn for the times when we can just lay flaccid in the drawer? Yet, I think we learn the most when we're REALLY stretched, even uncomfortably so. It's only when the rubberband is stretched beyond what it can handle that it truly undergoes any change - in a rubberband's case usually not for the better - but in our own lives, by the grace of God, as His children we can trust in the fact that it's ALWAYS for the better.

Please excuse the cheesiness as I ask, "How's your rubberband?"

May 16, 2011

Refrigerator Magnetic Poetry



Just playing around with magnetic poetry we found when cleaning out closets...therapeutic!