Children and Disabilities

Gregory piano playing 11:12

Recently, I’ve doubled my piano student load in order to pay the bills around here. Don’t worry, 15 students= 7.5 hours of work a week, with hardly any drive time since they all live in my town. I’m not going crazy…yet.

One of my new students is on the autism spectrum, recently diagnosed. The mom has talked to me many times about his issues, constantly apologizing for the way he behaves.

But you know what? He is quickly becoming one of my favorite students. Granted, I don’t have to get him to finish his chores or homework. But a 30 minute piano lesson can be a surprising pressure-cooker for behavior.

One of the things I noticed right away is that when he does talk, it’s whatever is on his mind, right there in the moment, hurtful or not. This is one of the things his mom warned me about, saying that he has a very difficult time understanding social situations and having any sort of empathy for others. Most of his therapy has been suppling him with memorized phrases to say in different situations, like, “I’m very sorry I hurt your feelings, I won’t do it again.”

I find his honesty a breath of fresh air, quite honestly. When I asked if I could write finger numbers on his hands, he  looked down at the floor and said, “That is the strangest question anyone has ever asked me.” Haha, right? How many kids have THOUGHT that, but never said it? He’s never pretending to be excited, he’s never pretending to understand. We need people like this in the world, people who cannot pretend, who cannot feign emotion.

But I leave his house every week, thinking about the emotions associated with childhood disabilities. Many times, I’ve tried to put myself in the place of the mother of a child with a severe disability. Would I feel like I had failed him in some way? This thought had never occurred to me until I had kids of my own. When I look at AJ’s little hands and feet, I think, “my body GREW those!” It’s the craziest realization that I think can only belong to a mother. If he had a disability of some sort, would I grieve that somehow, my body had not supplied the needed ingredients to give him a normal life?

My kids have inherited many of my traits, both good and bad. I see this most clearly with Gregory. He has social anxiety issues, and watching him struggle at the library’s story time (he won’t sit within a mile and begs to go home) or shut down on a play date causes my heart to hurt. I was just like him growing up. Even once I learned to conquer my social anxiety, being around people was an absolute chore. In fact, it’s still a lot of work for me to attend social functions, parties and playdates. I am saddened because I know that Gregory will have a lot of the same work ahead of him. I am saddened that he didn’t get Jesse’s outgoing personality instead.

But I also know that this social anxiety as a child is what caused me to read all the time. While other kids were out making friends, I was reading every book I could get my hands on. I spent hours every day, locked in my room writing. It’s made me who I am today. So, perhaps my “disability” as a child one of my greatest assets. We need people in the world who are willing to lock themselves away and write, just as much as we need the ones who are always moving, conversing and getting stuff done.

From now on, I am determined to think of disabilities as opportunities instead.

Healing after trauma

Gregory midnight wakeup 3:2013

As this summer draws to a close, I wanted to talk about what it means to heal from something traumatic that’s happened in your life.

When I talk about the trauma of this past year, I am not just talking about our awful foster care experience, but also about our house-hunting ordeal turned nightmare. I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching about this past year, figuring out the ways in which those difficult months, the most difficult of my life thus far, have changed me. I always worry about how bad experiences are going to shape me, because I’ve come to find that I’m SO sensitive and SO shapeable. I am entirely unable to put on a front or be happy about things if I’m not doing well inside. Open Book. That’s me. An Open Book that anyone can write in.

But is hardening my heart a good option? Is that what this last year has taught me– harden your heart and be careful who you love? Be careful what you dream for?

No. No matter how much those 5 months of my life hurt and sucked big time, I REFUSE to let them negatively affect me, as easy as that would be. For instance, the first question people ask us is, “Has this made you afraid to ever foster kids again?”

The answer to that is complicated. Do I think we will ever be ready to foster a teenager again? Nope, I can safely say that that is not something I ever want to put our family through again. But do I wish we could foster other kids? Make a difference in this world, even if it means heartache? Yes. A hundred times yes. In many ways, this experience has opened our eyes to the huge hurting world out there, and once you see it you can never unsee. I’m grateful that our negative experience taught us something so positive about our calling and about ourselves. I sometimes ask Jesse, “Why do you think that God allowed things to get so bad?”, and he always responds, “Because, there’s comfort knowing that we did everything we possibly could. It helps us to know that the failure was not our fault.”

Above all things, however, I think that this experience has taught me how to NOT be a victim, and that the consequences of letting someone or some circumstance walk all over your family are dreadful. When someone is unfair or downright cruel to me, I am the “flight” part of the “fight or flight”. I only know how to retreat and lick my wounds in secret, even if the abuse is ongoing. Jesse is actually the opposite end of this equation, which is what makes us so good for each other. When I just want to retreat and give up, he takes charge and faces the situation head on. In fact, the one thing he wishes he’d done differently this last year was stop the situation from getting as bad as it did, pulling the plug sooner.

A few examples of abuse in my life: I had a horrible boyfriend who was really bad for me. He treated me horribly. He took other girls’ phone numbers WHILE WE WERE ON DATES, and then accused me of being untrusting. Jesse was actually the one who helped me break up with this guy, because I didn’t have the nerve to do it myself. Even though the relationship was toxic and abusive, it was better than nothing and I stuck with it.

There was also the time I worked at a classical school in Ft. Worth and a particular mom had it out for me because I failed several of her kids’ papers. Since she had home-schooled them up to that point, she was deeply hurt by my criticism. She made it her personal mission to GET ME FIRED. She would literally sit in the carpool line all afternoon, going car to car, trying to collect enough dirt on me to get me fired. Seriously! And instead of standing up for myself, I took it. I never confronted her, just came home to Jesse sobbing every single day. As a result, I was afraid to ever set foot in a classroom again.

All of these situations have shown me that I do not need to be a victim when something wrong occurs. Just because someone is offended does NOT make it my fault. I do not need to accept personal responsibility if I have done all that I can on my end of things. The buck stops with what I can control. The end.

But that’s easier said than done, as anyone knows. It’s easy to let your thoughts wander, wonder what so and so thinks, wonder if so and so is mad, wonder what they might do. I am learning, left and right, that the biggest thing I need on a day to day basis is to control my thoughts. There were so many times during those 5 months that my thoughts were like buzzing bees around my head. And it got to be too much.

Finally, I was able to lean on the Lord in a way that people talk about with many cliche’s such as, “Give all your thoughts to Him”.

That always sounded cheesy to me, and I’d never understood it.

Until these last 5 months. It took me being in such a desperate place of being unable to control my own thoughts and anxieties to fall on the Lord and say, sometimes out loud, “I cannot handle this anymore, not for another second. I NEED you to take these thoughts from me.”

There was one time that I’ll never forget when I did this. We had just finished with an AWFUL day, full of police officers and self-harm threats from our foster child. I was desperate for comfort, and I cried out to God. And I got an IMMEDIATE response. As soon as I was done praying, I felt a warm presence, starting at my head and going all the way down to my toes. And I heard God speak. I cannot explain it, but I heard words. Someone said, “I am pleased. You have pleased me. And I love you so much.” It makes me tear up just to write this, because I rarely want to talk about it, it’s so precious to me. I’d never heard God speak to me before, and that day I heard it.

Learning to open my heart and let God show me how valuable I am has been the most important way in which this traumatic last year has changed me. I know God is there. I know my family is there. I know my friends are there. If I can stay fully aware of how much these people love me, I don’t need to harden my heart in order to protect it.

Love protects. Not the absence of love. This, I have learned.

Internet Privacy

I absolutely LOVED this short article on Momastery today about internet privacy. It’s insane and incredibly discouraging how little the teens of this generation understand about the internet. For all of their technology smarts, teens (I’ve worked with them for the past 7 years), are incredibly dumb when it comes to Facebook, blogs, etc.

My boss at my old school in Ft. Worth used to say that young people have NO idea what it is to have a public image and maintain it. They don’t put two and two together to realize that if they post skanky photos on the internet, SOMEONE is going to find them, someday. Even if you “deleted” it, someone else may have saved it. Many employers seek out a person’s Facebook, first and foremost, before deciding to hire. They won’t just stop at your profile either– they’ll investigate who your friends are too! For this reason, one guy I know went through his contacts and deleted everyone who didn’t help promote the image that he was dependable. A friend likes to party and has pictures to prove it? DELETE. A friend posts mild profanity on their wall? DELETE. In his short 22 years, he had already learned the hard way, and wasn’t going to risk another job.

Sadly, I don’t even think it’s just teens. There are people I went to high school with who are CONSTANTLY posting pictures of themselves, scantily clad at Halloween or various parties. My first thought is always, how are you comfortable with former teachers (who you are friends with on FB) and future employers seeing that? Don’t you realize you are embarrassing yourself?

And teens who post their cell numbers on Facebook? Don’t get me started.

Anyways. Rant of the day.

Rough Month

You guys, August was just one of those rough months you kinda want to forget ever happened. I should add that there were a few exceptions– we visited our friends in Southern CA that were here from TX, we got a visit from the Shelbys, and we went to Big Sur. Oh, and our AMAZING  7 Year Anniversary trip. So those were definite highlights that I don’t want to take for granted.

But there were a couple big sucky things.  I’ve wanted to write about them, but then another thing would happen and I wanted to wait and see how it played out first. And it always got a bit worse, so I’m glad I waited to write about it in one neat post, rather than let bad stuff string along into a saga.

First of all: I lost my teaching job at NCCS. At first, it was just “your 3 classes got dropped down to 2 and no one told you, sorry you had to find out like this”. Then it was “We’re not sure if we’re going to have the enrollment to keep the AP classes separate from the normal ones”. And then it was, officially,  “We definitely do not have the enrollment to pay you. Wanna teach for free?”

Finding all this out, mid-August? Totally craptacular. Luckily, we have a savings account for the first time in our 7 years of marriage, so we weren’t panicking….but we were saying, “Holy Crap, that’s a third of our income, gone like that! With only 7 days notice!”

Luckily, Jesse’s job is secure (he’s now the only English teacher in the HS). And I still have 9 piano students. If I had known I wouldn’t be teaching, I would’ve had all summer to build up my clientele, but with only 2 weeks before school starting, I wasn’t sure I could pull in enough students to pay the bills.

Whaddya know, God is really really good. In just 2 weeks, I’ve pulled together 2 extracurricular Latin I courses, one with NCCS after school and one at a homeschool group. I also got a flood of emails from interested piano students, and I start teaching 7 new ones next week!

So, the long and short of it is: As of right now, we can pay our bills, AND put a tiny amount into savings every month. Granted, we won’t be flying around the US to vacation or see anyone for the time being, but we will be far from starving. God is SO good, I cannot say that enough. On the plus side of this arrangement, I only have to work from 3-6pm, 4 days a week! That’s actually less than I was working before. And it won’t put strain on Jesse’s prep time because my awesome mother and mother in law are stepping in to help babysit all 4 days so Jesse can stay at school and get stuff done!

Second of all: Right on the heels of this, I found out that the reason for all my headaches and tummy aches is gluten. I’ve been trying to eliminate various foods all summer to figure out why I’ve been feeling so crappy, and I saved gluten for last because I really REALLY didn’t want it to be that. I love pasta! Bread! Donuts! Unfortunately, (or, fortunately, actually), after 4 days off of gluten, I feel better than I have in months. It’s undeniable, at this point.

I really wasn’t ready for another project to take on at this point. I’m starting up 3 different avenues of business right now to pay the bills, and it takes a lot of coordination and behind the scenes work. The boys and Jesse are not about to stop eating gluten any time soon, so I’ll be alone. Also, we are on a vegan fast every Wednesday and Friday (due to Orthodoxy), and being gluten free is really hard when you can’t eat meat or dairy.

So, it’s good news in the sense that I finally feel better. It’s bad news because I really really wanted it to be something other than gluten.

Lastly: After months of going back and forth, being hot then cold, our foster daughter C finally decided that she does not want to do the work that’s required to live with a family. She has chosen to stay at her school up north and eventually transition out of her group home to an in-between foster situation before aging out of the system.

While this is a relief because we no longer have to wonder about when she’ll be coming back, we are very sad, mostly for her. To not have any family is a very sad and scary place to be, so it’s crazy to think that attaching to a family is even SCARIER than that. She has never learned how to go back and fix relationships, and has a 5 month expiration date on every single relationship in her life, save the one she has with her old foster mother of 7 years. Her “survival instinct” makes her blow up every situation and relationship and restart, like a video game. She doesn’t realize that this is not normal– in fact, she does it on a QUEST to be normal, sadly. She has layer upon layer of self-deception going on (borderline multiple-personality disorder), down to the point where she re-tells the narrative of whatever happened at a particular home, just to deceive new families, social workers, police officers, etc. into believing that it was someone else’s fault. Whenever anybody figures out what’s really going on, she blows it up and moves on to someone new that she can manipulate.

And her attachment issues run so deep, that I am very afraid for when she decides to have kids or any sort of romantic relationship, especially since her mom and grandma had the same attachment issues which lead her to where she is today. If the issues cannot be fixed, they just repeat themselves.  The odds of a fatherless teen having a baby before 20 are high, and the odds of an orphan are astronomical. It makes me mad to think that a child who was abandoned at birth will just continue abandoning everything else in her life. I’ve talked to many other people who’ve fostered teens who were abandoned, and it’s the same thing. It makes me feel so helpless to change things. You can’t help someone who won’t let you near them.

We are still grieving on a day to day basis. One minute, I’ll think I’m okay, and then the next minute something new will crop up and I’ll realize I haven’t healed yet. That’s how grief works. I want to let myself go through this process of grieving, as painful as it is, because the alternative (shutting off my heart), is an even worse solution. I want this to grow me and make me stronger, not harden me. Part of this growing and grieving is to know that it’s OKAY to remember that we loved and love her, even if she only pretended to love us to get what she wanted. I don’t have to cut her out of my heart and life– what I had for her was very real, even if it didn’t turn out like I wanted.

So, there you have it– my crappy August. Here’s to September being better!

Thoughts on Adoption, Unconditional Love, Part 1

looking-over-moonstone-2013-small1.jpg

Want a crash course in adopting? I could sum it up in one phrase: Unconditional Love is terrifying. So terrifying, that it causes confusion and agony for a traumatized child. We learned really early on that the more we repeated how unconditional our love was for C, the more we emphasized that there was NOTHING she could do to earn it or take it away, the more the situation got worse.

For a foster child who has made their way through life by being their OWN parent, manipulation is a second language. They don’t even know they are manipulating, after a certain point. They don’t even understand that they are twisting love into leverage.

Unconditional love becomes translated as the ultimate manipulation, made even more terrifying because they’ve never experienced it and don’t know how to handle it. When normal children encounter something new, they respond according to their personality, but they use it as a learning experience and change as a result. Traumatized kids take something new and scary like unconditional love and try to fit it into a box that they already have within their experience. And, since manipulation and trauma are 90% of their experience thus far, Love becomes the most uncomfortable and unsettling thing out there.

So, we adapted. Learned how to communicate with C differently. Instead of saying, “It doesn’t matter, we’ll love you regardless”, we eased off and said things like “If you do this and this thing, we will be closer”, or, “If you do this, we will love each other more.”

Holy batman, right? As a parent, try imagining for ONE SECOND that you would ever tell your kid, “I will love you more if you do these three things.” It’s inconceivable to me. Makes me want to vomit. But the minute we started operating this way with C, things would get relatively better.

This particular aspect of our dealings with C has taught me so much about our relationship with God. It’s well-known to me that the main critique of Catholicism and Orthodoxy is that we are “works-based” and trying to earn our Salvation, messing with the concept of the gospel. I work at a Christian school where kids say things on a routine basis about how “Catholics aren’t even Christians because they don’t believe in Faith or the Bible”.

Please, hang with me. TRY to think of it along the lines of our relationship with C. When we set out “works” for her to accomplish, it didn’t change the end result any. We still loved her unconditionally. The things we outlined for her weren’t about whether or not we loved her. They were about drawing us closer together as a family, mercilessly tearing down all the sin and manipulation that was keeping us apart.

I can’t speak for the Catholic church, but since I have been a part of the Orthodox church for 7 years next month, I can safely say that I have NEVER heard of good works in relation to “where we go when we die”. All the structure in the church, all the good works we strive for, are only made to bring us closer to God. It’s no secret. You could, perhaps, mishear a homily in an Orthodox church because of preconceived notions, but I promise that if those weren’t in the way, you’d hear the message loud and clear– the Orthodox church does NOT believe that we can earn our salvation. The Orthodox church wholeheartedly believes that good works have a unique and irreplaceable role in bringing us closer to Christ.

Take a few for example:

Going to church several times a week: I’ve seen many a protestant raise their eyebrows on this one. Sundays are all that’s mentioned in the bible, right? I can’t even begin to describe how much healthier my soul feels when I go to church even TWICE a week. It’s like going from eating all McDonalds to organic home-made dinners. It doesn’t mean that I’m trying to earn my salvation, reminiscent of Awanas where the Blue Jewels on the crown were for church attendance.

Forgiveness: I was always terrified by that verse in the Bible about how if you don’t forgive, Christ won’t forgive you. But it makes so much sense. Resentment is like hard water deposit on our heart– we get crusty, and pretty soon the pipes are clogged. We cannot feel or accept Christ’s forgiveness if we are not forgiving others!

Confession: This is a super controversial one for Protestants, because only Christ can forgive sins. However, if you listen to the specific word-for-word prayers that the priests use at the end of confession, it’s similar to what the officiant says during a wedding: “By the power vested in me by the state of ___, you are now man and wife”. Only God makes a marriage valid. And only God’s forgiveness makes a confession valid. But the Church knows that saying things out loud to someone else actually makes a difference and actually has the power to heal and draw us back into communion with Christ! How many times do we say in our own head, “Wow, I shouldn’t have done that, I’ll do better next time” and we never do?

The message I was given regarding works in the Protestant world was, “we do good works out of our love for Christ”. But which comes first? I honestly believe that good works come before love.  We DO things to grow closer to God, and as a result, we feel closer and love him more. DOING things help us love a person better.

The difference? Our good works do not help GOD love us any better. He already loved us so much while we were yet sinners that He sent Christ to die for us. But they do help us, because we are not God, and cannot love Him the way He loves us.

Long and short: when we asked C to do “works” for us, it wasn’t to change whether or not we loved her. We asked her to do them because it was the only thing that would heal our relationship and draw us closer. Likewise, the more we labored over her, the more work we put into our relationship with her, the more we loved her.

I think that God works the same way with us.

Thoughts on Adoption, The Background

I promised that one day I’d unpack a few of my complicated thoughts and feelings about adoption, and the circumstances surrounding our foster daughter’s recent absence from our home.

I can’t say much specifically about the actual circumstances, since to do so would be break confidentiality and perhaps embarrass one of my children. I will say just enough so that anybody who was not privy to my emails knows a few basic details.

“Lil C”, as we called her (my mom Courtney is “Big C”), came to live with us in October. Actually, she lived at my parents’ house, while we parented from afar. It became clear within weeks of her arriving that the trauma and the issues ran VERY deep–much deeper than we were lead to believe. We struggled through about a month and a half, while her behavior got more erratic and dangerous. The police had to come out once or twice in that amount of time.

Around Thanksgiving, both C’s therapist and social workers began pushing for her to go to a group home. They felt that the issues were so deep, that they could only be worked on once removed from a family, since kids with attachment disorder and PTSD only feel threatened and scared by what normal people find loving. Basically, imagine someone holding a knife to your throat. You’d be scared, right? What if someone asked you to do Algebra problems at the same time? That’s what it’d be like to be a 15 year old whose been in the foster care system since 8 months old! (FOR THE RECORD: We could never let a knife come NEAR our daughter, much less be the one holding it. It was just the best analogy for the moment).

But we pushed back, saying that we wanted to give it a few more months. We thought that if we could just get into our own place and stabilize her, things would get better. By the time we got into our house around February, however, things were completely out of control. The police were at our house every single night, sometimes even at 2am (and we still had to wake up with babies and jobs, only hours later). We actually got to know every cop in our city! Our house was already stripped of every type of sharp object, including razors, scissors, and knives. Sometimes, we had to take away bobby pins or picture frames with glass.  I was so stressed out that I would start shaking at all hours of the day– the adrenaline was always pumping, in case I needed to step in and take action. I lay awake all night, praying desperately. Pretty soon, I couldn’t sleep at all. I started bringing the boys into our room and locking the door, out of paranoia. I couldn’t eat either– my stomach was always churning and aching, as though I had the stomach flu. My mom, in particular, became really worried about me, as I lost somewhere between 10-15 pounds in a few weeks. My face looked completely haggard all the time. The funny thing is I didn’t even notice any of this, because I was so caught up in day to day survival.

On one particularly bad day, we had to send our boys to stay with my parents because things got so severe. This was a huge wakeup call for me– things had gotten so out of hand that my babies were no longer safe in their own home. We gave it to the inevitable and cried out for help from the social worker team. Just two days later, after an intense meeting with around 15 government officials (that I sobbed the entire way through), they took C away to a shelter home until they could find the right group home placement. It completely devastated us. Even though I knew it was right, knew that if we continued like this any longer, we would completely fall apart as a family, it was some of the deepest pain I’ve ever felt. I walked around for days, bursting into tears at random moments. Something small, like seeing one of her t-shirts, or smelling her perfume which had taken up permanent residence in her room would send me into hysterics. I felt as though someone had come into my home and kidnapped my child. Eventually, we were able to channel this grief into firm resolve to help her from afar so that she could work on her issues and eventually return to us.

C has now been at her group home in NorCal for 3 months. While she has fixed most of her behavior issues and is finally on stabilizing meds, she has not begun to deal with any of the issues surrounding why she left us and why things got so out of control. Part of me believes this is because she has one established mode of dealing with difficulty– running away and hiding, both emotionally and, sometimes, physically. Just like a video game, when life gets too tough to handle, she blows herself up and decides to move on to the next school, next group of friends, next family. Even now, when being asked to confront the issues, she would rather move on and find another family so that she doesn’t have to work through anything. As we all know, one cannot have a normal or happy life without learning how to face difficulty, sometime or another. We hope and pray that she decides to do this before she “ages out” of the system in just 2 years.

Now that some of those painful memories are out of the way, the next time I write I can unpack some of these crazy lessons and experiences. Adoption has taught me buckets about God’s love and mercy towards us, and I can’t wait to share it!

The Story of Our House

Everything from November-February was kind of a blur in our lives, and I’ve recently realized that I never wrote out the story of how we found our house.

I bring this up now because I find myself so grateful for God’s providence in this area. I told Jesse the other night that if I’ve ever had a “Gideon and the wet fleece” testing moment with God, it was this past year. At one point, I actually told God in no uncertain terms that He had abandoned us, and there was no hope, despite how hard we had worked to follow His direction.

I’ll get to all that in a moment. I documented a few of our housing ventures (here, here and here at the beginning of this year, including our desire to wait until summer 2013 (now) to start house hunting again, after our first escrow in April 2012 fell through, just DAYS before Anthony was born.

All that resolve to “wait” changed when we met Caitlin and we decided to become her parents. Legally, we were not allowed to be her guardians if she had to share a bedroom with the boys in our 2 bedroom townhouse (which we loved so much! Only $1100/month, most utilities included, walking distance to work! Talk about a money saver!).

So we jumped the house hunt into high gear. That’s when all the devastation started. Every offer we made was rejected. And housing prices started to rise– FAST. I felt like we were on the Titanic, watching the water rise around us, unable to do anything about it.

We had our offer finally accepted on the “Bedbug House”, as we affectionally started calling it. As problem after problem started to surface with that house (it was even involved in a lawsuit, which meant that no escrow company would even secure the title! Talk about sketchy/scary!), we made some drastic changes in our approach. We were tired of living in Limbo, tired of trying to parent a very troubled teen from afar, while living mostly at my parents’ house once again (even though we were still paying rent at our place).

That’s when Caitlin’s old foster mom of 7 years, also a realtor, offered to start bidding on homes for us ALL CASH (she’s quite wealthy). The plan was that she would pay all cash for a bank owned property (90% of the market here were short sales or foreclosures), and then we would buy it from her. This plan gave us a few huge benefits:

1., With an all cash transaction, the process is quite fast, usually 7-14 days. Our situation with Caitlin was becoming SO volatile (more on that someday), that this became a priority.

2. Banks love all-cash offers over FHA or even conventional.

So we started bidding. There were 2 houses in particular that we tried really hard to get. Reasonably, we should’ve gotten them. On one, we bid ALL CASH, no contingencies, $30k over the asking price! But there were 14 other bids in just 3 days, and we lost. How’s that for a crazy housing market???

Nothing. Things fell through time and time again. We were now well into November, 3 months into the process. We were starting to get desperate. We even started putting in bids on homes we hadn’t even SEEN.

Then we found what we thought would be the PERFECT situation for us. A short sale in Paso Robles, built in 2006, around 2200 sq. ft. Due to extreme circumstances, the house was only 2 weeks away from foreclosure. If you know anything about how short sales work, this was BAD NEWS for the seller. All conventional loans take at least 30 days to go through, meaning that the only way to save the house from foreclosure was to pay ALL cash.

Enter us, right???

It looked as though the bank was going to accept our offer. There was nothing else on the table, they started asking for extra paperwork that showed they were serious. Our realtor was 99.9% confident that we were going to get the house and be able to move in 2 weeks.

So, we put in our 30 day notice on our apartment. Only 6 months after moving in, we were packing up again, just a week before Christmas and RIGHT during Finals week at school. We were more stressed than we’ve ever been in our lives.

And then.

The bank shut down our offer. Told us they wanted $25k more than we had agreed on or they were going to auction it off.

We were devastated. The house was already at the top of what we were comfortable paying. $25k more was just not doable. We knew it. We had a sleepless night or two, making the final decision, but we knew we had to walk away.

There were so many tears over packing up our apartment, homeless once again, nowhere to move but back once again to living with my parents (who were complete troopers about the whole thing!).

Merry Christmas, right?

That week, we started looking for house rentals. Our hearts were broken over losing yet another house, one that we thought was so perfect. We had even showed it to Caitlin, something that we had refrained from doing since we knew how hard all this was on her. It had always been our dream to own a home, but we were now realizing that we couldn’t ignore the obvious– NOTHING was working.

And then we got rejected for rental after rental. Someone always beat our deposit by a few HOURS.

This was when I had my “Gideon Moment”. I cried out to God, asking Him how on EARTH this could be happening! “We were willing to wait for a house, for the right time”, I would say. “But You told us to adopt! To take this hurting teenage girl! How are we supposed to do that, without a roof to put over her head?”

I’ve never been in so much despair. I mean that, in all seriousness. I will look upon those 2 weeks as the hardest to date (and if you know anything about how hard things got with our foster care situation, you know that this is a serious claim!).

<><><><>

Christmas Eve, I spent most of the day in tears and despair. In an absent minded attempt to distract myself, I start browsing Craigslist (hey, it usually makes me feel better!).

On a whim, I decided to check the real estate page. I hadn’t done this in months, because I figured that anything worth seeing would pop up on the MLS page sent to my inbox.

I’ll never forget this moment. I ran across a hastily written ad for a house that was in the middle of renovation. There were only 4 pictures, mostly of the outside.

And then I saw the price. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Why on Earth is it so low, I thought to myself. It was just a tad more than most of the “fixit uppers” we had bid on, only the ad stated that the kitchen and bathroom would be renovated by the end of the month.

I RAN outside to Jesse and showed him the ad. I could see how excited he was.

“Call the guy right now” he said.

“But it’s Christmas Eve!”

“Call him.”

I called Ken, which was his name. He talked with me for a while, heard our situation, and offered to leave his family gathering and meet us at the house in 30 minutes.

Excitedly, we packed up the family and went to see the house, which, as you may have guessed, is our current house. Jesse and fell in love immediately. The entire walk-through, we kept turning to each other when Ken wasn’t looking and making shocked faces.

We told Ken that he would be seeing an offer from us within days. 2 days after Christmas, we sat down with him and drew up an offer with the escrow office. All parties involved decided that we would do the transaction withOUT a realtor in order to save even more on the price. It was a risky move, but we got advice along the way (for the record, I wouldn’t recommend this route for a first time homebuyer. We had been through so many offers and escrows that we knew the process inside and out).

Ken was so great to us throughout the process. For example, the pantry that he installed didn’t come with doors. I told him that with 2 toddlers, the pantry was virtually useless to me without doors. In exchange for us doing the wood staining, he went back to the cabinet maker and had him custom-make some!

Another deal we made: since moving in was our first priority, he let us move in a full 40 days before the escrow was finalized. In exchange for our “rent”, we bought our stove and fridge (we paid around $500 for each of them, so it was a GREAT deal for us!).

And, despite all the hiccups in the escrow process, Ken stuck with us. A fellow scholar (he studied Latin and Greek at UCSB!), he wanted US to have the house, and stopped answering calls from other people who were offering to buy it.

In the end, we got a house for $30k UNDER the market value from the outset. We locked in a great rate, around 3.7%. We moved in middle of February and didn’t pay anything until May, enabling us to do lots of home renovations and projects.

I especially wanted to document this journey because it is such a testimony to me of God’s faithfulness. We ended up with a home that was a million times better than ANY of the ones we bid on. Right after we bought, the market rose 25%, meaning that if we had waited until this summer (OUR man made plan), we would be looking at small condos due to the price change. Also, in the middle of June the feds raised the mortgage rates up to nearly 5%. While that may not seem like much, it would’ve added $100/month onto our payment!

I hope I always remember that despite how hopeless and abandoned we felt, God was right there creating a better plan than we could ever have hoped for.

Valle 31

Outdoors and Garden

Jesse and I have lived in apartments for all 6.5 years of our married life. Unfortunately, living in an apartment with only a small balcony does not exactly prepare you for owning 1/2 acre of undeveloped land!

So, although we’ve been working our butts off, there is still a lot to do. Suggestions are appreciated!

Yard 4

My little seedlings were definitely getting too big and needed a home!

Yard 1

I’m one lucky gal! My father in law and Jesse teamed up and made these for me 🙂 The deer netting is finally up, so I was able to plant! As you can see, however, the second garden bed needs more soil before I can plant my squash and zuchinni

Yard 3

Now that my seedlings are gone, my window garden is back to normal. Up on top, I have the 4 herbs we use the most frequently. I also have my lovely yellow Freesia plant!

I found daffodils at our local grocery discount center for $3 each! A steal, especially since I thought I'd only be able to buy bulbs this late in the season

I found daffodils at our local grocery discount center for $3 each! A steal, especially since I thought I’d only be able to buy bulbs this late in the season

I also planted some lavender. I was overjoyed to find that both lavender and daffodils are deer resistent (which is good, considering we have a HERD of deer that think they own our yard).

I also planted some lavender. I was overjoyed to find that both lavender and daffodils are deer resistant (which is good, considering we have a HERD of deer that think they own our yard).

Next, we have some patio furniture! I found adirondack chairs on craigslist for $40. We also have a new table and 4 chairs (although they're not fully painted yet...closeup later).

Next, we have some patio furniture! I found adirondack chairs on craigslist for $40. We also have a new table and 4 chairs that I practically got for free at a garage sale (although they’re not fully painted yet…closeup later). The yellow wrought iron table and chairs will make it  upstairs onto our master balcony after Anthony’s birthday party

Now for help: I don't know what to do with this area? It's to the right of our main walkway, to the right of my daffodils and lavender. Should I do bushes? Ground cover? Deer resistant flowers? HELP!!

I don’t know what to do with this area? It’s to the right of our main walkway, to the right of my daffodils and lavender. Should I do bushes? Ground cover? Deer resistant flowers? HELP!!

This is the right side of our house as you face it from the front. Eventually this will be the boys' play area, with a picket fence around the perimeter. We have Gregory's (empty) sandbox and his baseball tee so far. Should we add a playground? A water activity table? This area is too shaded to support much of a lawn, so that's out

This is the right side of our house as you face it from the front (for reference, the deck is to the top right, and the daffodils and lavender are directly to the right). Eventually this will be the boys’ play area, with a picket fence around the perimeter. We have Gregory’s (empty) sandbox and his baseball tee so far. Should we add a playground? A water activity table? This area is too shaded to support much of a lawn, so that’s out

Down below at the foot of the second set of deck stairs: we have a pretty good idea of what to do here. Jesse wants to build a paver patio with a rock fire pit and more lounge chairs

Down below at the foot of the second set of deck stairs: we have a pretty good idea of what to do here. Jesse wants to build a paver patio with a rock fire pit and more lounge chairs

Then, we have the master balcony. Unless deer have wings, they shouldn't be able to come up here and get my plants :) To the left is where the yellow table and chairs will go, unless I can think of something better?

Then, we have the master balcony and the view from our bed (I actually took this while sitting on my side!). Unless deer have wings, they shouldn’t be able to come up here and get my plants 🙂 To the left is where the yellow table and chairs will go, unless I can think of something better?

Yard 11

I decided on climbing jasmine because 1). We had this at one of our apartments in Dallas and it’s easy to grow in pots and 2). Because I love the way it smells! We will probably have our doors open quite often during the summer for a cross breeze, and I want to wake up to the smell of jasmine, yes please!

Good Blog Post

I’ve always found my friend Sarah’s blog enjoyable, but I thought that her post today was especially good. Read about how she labored at home for 3 days with her baby, then finally made the decision to transfer to the hospital.

Isn't her baby just the CUTEST THING EVER??? Sorry, Sarah, hope you don't mind me stealing pictures of your adorable girl. She even has my sister's nickname-- Nell!

Isn’t her baby just the CUTEST THING EVER??? Sorry, Sarah, hope you don’t mind me stealing pictures of your adorable girl. She even has my sister’s nickname– Nell!

What I found so refreshing about this blog post was her absolute honesty. It was helpful for me, as well, to realize the immense amount of guilt and shame associated with “failing” at an all natural birth. I’ve always struggled with empathy in every area of my life– I try, but I’m just really bad at it, turns out.

Sarah’s post helped me to understand the other side of things so that I can avoid hurting feelings. Out of all my friends who’ve had babies, 90% of them (including me) had a ROUGH labor with their first baby. Around half of those ended up in the hospital with an epidural, despite the fact that they took tons of measures to avoid it. By the grace of God, I made it through my 22+ hour labor without transferring or needing drugs (although G did come out BACK OF HIS NECK first! Yikes!). But it’s safe to say that I could use some help with empathy in this area.

Also, she was RIGHT ON with how her struggles with breastfeeding changed her outlook towards mothers who use formula. My first two weeks breastfeeding were literal hell-on-earth, full of tons of cussing and “WHY GOD, WHY??”. Then, when he was 10 months old, I had to use two months worth of formula on him because I got pregnant again. I’m so grateful that my experience with Anthony has been the complete opposite, but I’m also glad that it wasn’t my FIRST experience, or else I wouldn’t be able to understand the other side of it. If feeding Anthony had been my first experience with breastfeeding, I’d have probably put my foot in my mouth about a dozen times, then fallen flat on my face when I struggled the next time around.

Preschool

Last night was North County Christian’s Open House night. It was actually a lot of fun– a yummy BBQ to support the Booster’s Club (ever had Hawaiian coleslaw? It was amazing!), “choreographed” hula dances from each of the elementary grades, tons of art from the High Schoolers taped up on every available wall, and the Science Fair awards with Mr. Bartel (ah, the memories! Not to brag, but I had two kick-a projects when I was in High School. I even went to the Regional and State Fairs and won prize money!).

In the midst of the hubbub, I decided to take the plunge and walk across campus to visit the preschool room. Jesse and I have discussed sending G to preschool 2 mornings a week from 9am-12:30pm. He loves singing songs and coloring here at home, but think that he could enjoy and appreciate 7 hours a week of guided interaction with other kids. Other than the social component, I don’t even care much if it’s “school” (YET–don’t get me wrong, I care a ton once he’s in Kindergarten), but I want him to interact with other kids on a consistent basis.

We’ve also looked into the absolutely wonderful Montessori school down the road from us– the same one I teach piano at on Tuesday afternoons. Over the past 5-6 years, I’ve worked at nearly a dozen Montessori schools in LA, Dallas, and now here on the Central Coast, and I must say that I’m more impressed with CHMS here in Atascadero than I am with any other Montessori school. I don’t have time for the details here, but it truly is a gem. They go through 6th grade, and, get this, they have a LONG waiting list for each classroom. You have to wait for over a year to even get in to this school.

The problem? To send G there for 2 mornings a week is $3900/year. That’s over $300 a month for 6 hours/week of preschool! A car payment!

And, the more I think about it, Montessori education is great, but if the kid is not fully immersed, it might not really be worth the money. And to send G there fulltime (not that I ever could! My poor Mommy heart!) would be close to $8,000/year!!! Employing certain Montessori principles at home seems like a better idea.

So we went to visit the little 2.5-3.5 year old preschool room at NCCS. I loved it from the second we walked in. It was so cheerful, fun, and un-cluttered (I can’t stand most preschools for this reason…). Dena, the head of the preschool, was there, and she was just the sweetest! She gave me a run down of what the 3 hours in the morning looked like and showed G all their different books and letter games. I must admit, I was pretty darn proud when Gregory could name his letters and colors for her. She seemed shocked and surprised that a 2 year old could already do that (hey, he’s my kid, I’m not surprised. Don’t ask him to count or do his numbers, however….;) ).

Also, I loved that G clearly felt happy and comfortable there. He walked right in and acted like he owned the place! He went right to the art easel and started drawing “cew-cals!” and “squawers!” (they looked nothing like either shape, but he’s got quite an imagination lately). He read books with Dena and even interacted with her animal puppets!

My favorite thing about Dena was that she didn’t call the kids “students” or “children”, but kept referring to them as Friends. “Oh, most of our Friends don’t get here until 8:30am”, or, “On most days we have between 8-10 Friends”. How adorable is that?

So, for right now, NCCS’ preschool is our top choice. I’m not going to lie, the fact that we get free tuition and I’ll only be 20 yards away in another building really helps me feel better. I think that I could even schedule my teaching to be mostly these two mornings so that I can spend the other days and mornings with both boys. And, while Gregory’s having fun singing songs and doing arts and crafts, Anthony will be getting some one-on-one attention from his Grandmas! What a lucky kiddo!