Tattoo It On My Heart

I got a new tattoo a few weeks ago. I really like it. My grandma doesn’t. She hates tattoos. She doesn’t understand “Why you young people have to mark things on your bodies.” She’s cute and l love her so much. And regardless of my tattoo, I know she loves me too.

Hesed is scripted on the side of my wrist.

It’s Hebrew for covenant love or loving-kindness. Capturing the true meaning of the word in English is difficult. It’s better defined as a life-style. Like the love Ruth lived for Naomi. It’s the love Boaz lived for Ruth. It’s the kind of love that has no strings attached, doesn’t think about self, loyally loves regardless of feelings, day in and day out, in the hard and in the easy. It’s a sweet love, like the love between a husband and wife. It’s a lasting, never ending love, the kind of love the Father has for His people. The kind of love I want to spew out of me like a geyser and wash over the precious ones in my life and those watching.

Tattooing that word on my body is so much easier than living it.

Sometimes I literally go in the bathroom and close the door, just to be alone. It doesn’t change the fact that I am still needed. There is always a little knock and voice on the other side of the door calling my name. After a few seconds, I’ll see those tiny, brown fingers wiggling underneath. I never knew the bathroom before to be a place of such retreat.

Right now I’m working full time and my husband works nights in the NICU.

So I work a full day and come home to two little people who seem to always fall apart when I walk through the door. My husband wakes up right in time to entertain them while I cook supper and pack lunches for the next day. We see him off to work, and I do bath and bedtime by myself. The few hours between the babies going to bed and the time my head hit the pillow aren’t exactly rest either. I’m sweeping up food thrown in the floor from the tantrum at dinner. I collect all of the sippy cups scattered around the house. Run the dishwasher. Iron and lay out clothes for the next day. Check emails, pay bills, and clean the kitchen. The baby has been sick so when it’s my time to go to sleep, I’ve been up with him every night, and working with dark bags underneath my eyes the next day. It honestly seems to never end, the exhaustion.

I know you know what I mean.

I’ve learned that when I am physically exhausted, without realizing it, I can become spiritually tired too. I start believing lies about myself and my family. I start to feel frustrated that I am not seen, recognized, or appreciated.

After those thoughts start stirring around for a day or so, I develop this annoying, entitled attitude.

“I deserve a break. I deserve to go to the bathroom alone. Or for heaven’s sake can I not just eat without being interrupted?” I start keeping score. “I haven’t slept either. I’m just as tired as you. It’s your turn. I just changed that last dirty diaper.”

There is this distance between the Father and me. I have trouble connecting with my husband, because rather than seeing him as who he is, my beloved, the one I loved first, I see him as two extra hands to help with the chaos of our life. I start to see my children, the ones I prayed so long for, as jobs. My friends hear more of my griping than my engagement in their lives.

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Photos by Rachel Ackerman Photography

Dear Foster Mom,

You do hard things. 

You stand in the gap for little ones in the hardest days of their lives. You're the middle mom, filling the space between brokenness and redemption. You love them as they are your own, expecting nothing in return. 

You constantly have people in your home measuring, inspecting, making sure it's "up to code." You deal with over-worked, under-paid, case workers that rarely see the actual heart beyond a name on a file. You get calls in the middle of the night, in the middle of work, in the middle of moments with your family, and you drop everything. 

Because there is a child who has been ripped away from the only familiar they've ever known. They've experienced trauma we can't begin to comprehend, and now they have no one. 

But you, sweet mama. 

You spend those first several nights, walking, bouncing, and praying the withdrawals end soon. You wonder when it was the last time they ate. How does this one fall asleep? Do they have a lovie? 

Your heart aches at the brokenness. 

But you don't just look from afar, you step in it, just like Jesus does. You're not afraid to get your hands dirty in their mess or stay up each night rocking, singing, and kissing that sweet one when you have to work the next day. 

You love because He loves. You've seen His worth. And even though this dear one has been forgotten, you know the Father hasn't missed one moment of their precious life. 

He matters to the Father, so he matters to you. 

I see your heart wilt when people say, "I could never do that, I'd get too attached." I also see your teeth clinch and your fists tighten because that comment infers you are inhuman. Do you have such a hard heart that you wouldn't get attached? Of course you get attached. But you also know this is Love, and Love expects nothing in return. 

Love does hard.  

So you make those sweet footprint projects, you take pictures to capture every moment you can, and you video those firsts, because he deserves for someone to see them. And you're there cheering and clapping and so very proud. 

Because right there in the middle, for these moments, he's yours. You treasure them in your heart, knowing the Father is watching too.

Months pass. This sweet one is apart of you. You're his mama. This is your family. 

And then just like that, his time in the middle, with you, is over. 

And you are heartbroken. 

Yet, unselfishly glad for him. 

Although you knew this day would come, loving, expecting nothing in return is painful. That's why there aren't many of you. Because what you do is hard. 

But sweet mama, He sees. 

He sees that dear one. He loves him more than you can even dare. He's watching lovingly as every detail of his life unfolds. And the time he spent with you, burned forever on his sweet life the love of faithful Father, the only love, possibly he will ever know. 

And that same Father sees your breaking heart. And I can't help but think how proud He is of you. Because what He wants most for you is to look like Him. 

And the way you just loved, is His spitting image. 

You'll always remember that precious soul. He made you a mama, and that is so special. But you'll soon start to remember the days before him, your heart will begin to heal, and before long, you'll get another call. 

Someone else will need you.

And you'll know this one too, matters to the Father, and they'll matter to you. So you'll stand in the gap again, being a middle mom, loving fiercely, expecting nothing in return. And you'll get attached again. Of course you will. 

But that's why they're aren't many of you. Because you do hard. 

And your love, foster mama, it's the spitting image of the Father's. 

*Photos by

Rachel Ackerman Photography

*

That Kid With The Story

My principal emailed me last week and said she added another student to my roster. "But come talk to me when you get a chance. I have to tell you her story." And I replied, "You know I love kids with stories!"

Rewind seven years.

I was a first year teacher. Bright eyed and bushy tailed, convinced I was going to implement everything I had learned in school and saw on Pinterest perfectly. It didn't take long to realize the goal of the year was to survive. And not let the children kill each other.

And let's talk about this for a minute. Why in all of God's green earth, do they give first year teacher's THE. WORST. CLASSES? For the life of me I will never understand it. Thinking back, regardless of my inexperienced classroom management, that class would have sent the most experienced teacher to her grave. It was hard.

I made it through October, you know that's saying a lot, and me and my first year class were finally dancing smoothly together. We had established a community of learners and I felt like they were starting to listen to me. Right when things started to become manageable...

He interrupted our Thanksgiving Feast.

I'm sure she saw the terror in my eyes. The office lady handed me a stack of papers and leaned in to whisper, "The guidance counselor will be in here shortly."

He just stood there. Looking up at me with his big, empty, chocolate eyes. In that moment it was as if the Lord allowed me for a second to peek into his soul. I knew he came with a story. And I knew I was there in that classroom, at that moment, for him.

The weeks that followed were somewhat of a blur. I don't remember anything else about my first year, except for him (and a terrible puke experience. Let's just say the janitor not only cleaned the floor but handled the situation too).

He stole my heart. And my patience. And my temper. But mostly my heart.

He moved from another state because he had witnessed his dad being murdered. Basically a drug deal had gone wrong, and his little eyes were the ones who saw. He had severe behavior problems. Wouldn't you?

He would run out of my classroom. Lock himself in the bathroom and bang his head on the door. He would hide under the lunch table. I found it ironic once, that the Special Ed. teacher couldn't help me get him out from under the table. He would have crying fits, sprawled out in the floor. I literally had to hold him like a baby. After I would finish the song I was singing, he had calmed down enough to get back to first grade work.

For the rest of the year, he consumed me. I prayed for him on my way home. I talked to my husband each night about his day. I went to sleep thinking about him, and he was the first thought that passed through my mind the next morning. How could I love him better? How could He know Love because of me? How could I break through those walls he built to protect himself? And show him that he didn't have to walk through life alone?

That kid with the story, he changed me.

By March, his little brown hand always found it's place in mine. His tantrums still were happening, but he trusted me enough to get through them faster. In May, after MAP testing, I was amazed at his progress. I don't know how that kid, or all the other kids in my class learned a thing that year. But they did.

I believe he is part of the reason my children are in their forever family. I always had a heart for the orphan, but after him, I knew I had to do more. He changed me. Forever. He taught me that I was much like him. I, too, have a story. And parts of it, although different, look much like his. Broken. Messy. Damaged.

He will be a big seventh grader this year. And even now, as I type this and think of him, tears roll down my face. He still writes me letters, sends me pictures, and I've heard from other parents that I'm still his favorite teacher. My former principal emailed me a video of him performing in the school play, and I literally watched it a thousand times. And cried. God has done so much in him. So much in me. And I still pray that if he hasn't already, God would rescue his precious heart, and redeem every part of his story.

So Monday starts a new year. And my roster is all wrinkled and scribbled on. Those names have been prayed for. And I can't wait to meet the kids with the stories. They make it worth leaving my babies at home.

It's easy to get caught up in curriculum, new standards, lesson plans, paperwork, and duties. But teacher friends, pretty soon, there will be little people behind those names. Each with their own story. And I don't know about you, but it's not enough for me to only teach them. I want to always be their favorite teacher, not because I taught them to read, but because I showed them Love.

That Love. He is always the reason.

And you never know, those kids with the stories, might just change you.