Happy Birthday to “Momma’s Baby”

August 19, 2017

You are a brilliant, energetic, funny, witty three-year-old boy, and our time with you has FLOWN by! In your three-year life, you’ve experienced more than you even realize. Your life represents 1,096 days of God’s grace. It’s hard to believe that for 83 of those days, we did not know you. We weren’t there the day you were born. We weren’t able to protect you, comfort you, help to meet your needs. You were 83 days old when you entered our home, and even then, we did not know you were to be our son forever. We only knew that the Lord nudged our hearts towards you with a simple little word: yes.

I remember one of our first nights together. You were awake: first fussing for your bottle and then fussing because of your tummy troubles. My experience as Momma to two other reflux-babies taught me to hold you close and pat firmly to soothe you. You refused to be snuggled chest-to-chest and insisted, instead, on facing away from me. You trained me quickly with your shrill screams, and melted my heart with the sweetness of victory when you finally relaxed in my arms. I remember thinking how strange it was to KNOW that I was up in the middle of the night with another woman’s baby, and yet to have it feel perfectly right. It was God’s grace. I remember whispering my secret question to you, “Are you someone else’s baby??” I could not bring myself to ask what I really wanted to know…”Are you my son?”

Your baby days flew by, as all baby days do, and I found myself sometimes gripped with panic that I might be missing something. It’s hard to explain the feeling because I wasn’t missing anything. You were with us all the time. We saw each milestone, heard each laugh, treasured each moment, but we didn’t know if the “moments” were ours to keep or if we would someday wrap them up in a pretty package tied with heartache and send you “home” to another parent. I didn’t know if I was remembering enough, treasuring enough, doing enough…I didn’t know if you were going to stay, and I was missing you even as I was holding you.

Now here we are at your THIRD birthday. We celebrated your first two birthdays with you also, but this is the first one we’ve celebrated when we can fully, legally, officially say you are our son. What a gift!

You are a passionate, intelligent little man with tremendous athleticism. From the moment you began walking, you’ve been dribbling a soccer ball like you were born to play. You also throw a baseball, dribble and shoot the basketball, easily complete a full jump-stop, and throw and catch anything you can get your hands on. You admire “the brudders” (as you refer to them collectively) and you don’t hesitate  to keep up with them in whatever they are doing. They are your heroes, your protectors, and your friends. You also keep close tabs on big sis and enjoy talking and laughing together with your matching voices and similar giggles. You can make us smile at the drop of a hat and refuse to smile like no one I’ve ever known.  For over two years, we endured photo after photo with our own “Stonewall Jaxon” – refusing to crack a smile or humor us with a laugh. Just in the past few months, we discovered the joy you find in teasing and refusing to cooperate. Now, we use reverse psychology to get you to participate in what we want. “Don’t smile, Jaxon….whatever you do, don’t smile!” The result, of course, is the ornery grin that we know so well.

At this age, you are a fireball of opinionated, demanding independence with a side of sweetness. You are a Momma’s boy through and through, yet you’re tough and daring. You jump from high places and land – solid on your feet – with a proud, growling victory laugh.  You are determined to be “bigger” to ride the rollercoasters RIGHT NOW. You have no fear (which certainly heightens mine), and you can often be heard saying “I wanchew, Momma!” while reaching for me. You’re just days away from mastering potty-training and there’s not much “baby” left in you. You love to ride in Daddy’s truck, watch movies, play outside, line your cars up in a perfect row, play with the wooden trains, do puzzles, read books, play ball, and eat. You are a “hangry” fella, and if we find that there’s nothing we can do to settle your temper, we can almost always bring back our sweet baby with a bit of food to curb the rage.

We are so thankful for the privilege of watching you grow, helping you learn, and being your Momma and Daddy forever. We will never forget the day the Sovereignty of God placed you into our arms and allowed us the beautiful heartache of walking with you and your biological parents through the valley. As the song says, “You’re worth every fallen tear. You’re worth facing any fear.  You’re gonna know ALL my love, even if it’s not enough – enough to mend our broken hearts, but giving you all of me is where I’ll start” (Matt Hammitt – All of Me).

That is where we started, little man, and that is where we’ll stay…always and forever giving you all our love. Happy Birthday, baby boy! May this be your best year yet!

All of Me


Grace like sunshine

Grace like rain

Grace like rest amidst the pain

Grace in words

Grace in deed

Grace in meeting every need

Grace to give

Grace to grow

Grace to stay and grace to go

Grace for others

Grace for self

Grace for heart and mental health

Grace: the sweet taste that I savor

Grace: such undeserved favor

Grace to speak up

Grace to stand

Grace to lend a helping hand

Grace to dance

Grace to sing

Grace, sweet grace, in everything

~Julie Gayle Davis

June 28, 2017

Butterfly Baby

As I sit on this cool stone bench beside a lovely bronze woman, I can think of nothing but to tell your story. She has a collection of books and is deep in reading one, but I think she would stop to listen to yours, as it is one of the most beautiful I’ve read and certainly among the best I’ve played a role in. The butterfly sanctuary is nearby, but I don’t need to go there to understand the delicate beauty they show – the life lessons they reveal.

You, my dear, came to us so young and unrefined. You came confused and searching, both lost and found. We tried to scoop you up – to keep you from being trodden underfoot like a lone caterpillar in a big and busy world. You squirmed and wrestled, but as life and our Creator would have it, our home was your resting place: your time to cocoon.

“That’s a nice, quiet place,” notes the smiling gentleman as he walks by, taking care of his aged body and enjoying the beauty that brings me back to you.

“It is!” I reply with a smile, but I chuckle to myself thinking of how NOT quiet your cocoon was. Not quiet, and yet so perfectly peaceful. You and I, we were rolled into this tightness together, and though you seem to welcome them, I am pushed to panic in tight spaces. Together, and with the men and boys we love so much, we were squeezed and pressed by the fibers of foster care that I knew could be my undoing. I wept while you rested, and I prayed while you pushed. I fought the growth and the change like I always do. I wonder if the fight makes me appreciate the victory more: victory in submission, as my will dies to His. It’s such an ironic way to find victory. But you… you giggled through it. Just like when those manly brothers roll you into a blanket-burrito and carry you around taking turns gobbling you up…you smiled as if the pressing, the growth, and the change were just a game for us to enjoy together. Oh sweet baby girl, if only it had been a game.

If it was, it was the harshest kind where winners are losers and grief is the prize. At least that’s how it felt in the pressing.

Just when the cocoon threatened to take my very breath and all the grace within me, I caught a glimpse. I caught a look at the bigger picture that amazing Creator of ours was painting.

I saw you flutter.

I saw you struggle and flutter.

I saw your beauty: your delicate, marvelous beauty, and then I saw one of the most priceless glories my eyes have ever been privileged to behold.

My precious baby girl…sweet butterfly I now can call my own… I saw you fly.

I’m not sure if I’ve read the stories old bronze Anne is reading, but I am quite certain she would close them all to listen, if she could hear me telling yours.

Too Heavy to Bear

When it comes to weigh-ins, some days just tip the scale more than others. Yesterday seemed heavy. Do you ever have days like that? Days when you catch your breath just in time to have it knocked from your lungs again? For me, it’s not even always about my own “stuff”. Sometimes other people’s “stuff” gives me a hard reality check and brings me to my knees. I find myself wondering about grace in these moments.

Is there grace for even THIS? Is it enough?!

I know the answer. I know the truth. Still, sometimes I want to ask Him just to hear it again, afresh. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor 12:9)

Perfect power.

That’s what He has. Weakness? We’ve got it. BOY do we have it:

  • Lost jobs.
  • Unborn babies resting in heaven before they even lay in the arms of their waiting mommas and daddies.
  • Heartbreaking loss of loved ones.
  • Nervous anticipation of test results, meeting outcomes, interviews.
  • Broken families, hurting children.
  • Cancer.
  • Alzheimer’s.
  • Illness.
  • Dreams deferred.
  • Failure.

The list goes on and on.  The good news is –

So does the GRACE.

The world will tell you

“God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.”

“You are strong enough.”

Don’t believe it, friend. You feel weak and defeated because you are not strong enough. You are weary and worn, and you can’t bear to take another step. You can’t handle this. I can’t handle this.

So when you do take another step (even though you can’t), and when you do take another breath (even though your chest heaves a thousand pounds of weight to bring the air in), and when you do stand (in spite of your exhaustion),

just remember –

this is GRACE.

Jesus NEVER tells us that we can walk through this life without pain. He doesn’t promise not to give us anything we can’t handle. He doesn’t promise us prosperity or earthly wealth. He doesn’t say it won’t be hard. In fact, He assures us it will be. And then He invites us to rest…not to stop working – not to stop trudging through the “field” of pain, but to labor alongside THE ONE who can bear the weight we cannot bear.

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden (weighed down), and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matt 11: 28-29, emphasis added)

Today, I am praying for weary and hurting friends. I am remembering that the weight is more than they (or I) can bear, and I am praying they will find rest for their souls.

GRACE and rest, my soul-weary friends.

Our Momma

Sarah and I called mom today and shared a 3-way call to give her a gift “together”. Thankfully technology allows us to connect in so many ways to help ease the ache of the distance. Her voice broke as she tried to express a Mother’s Day wish to us and tell us what great mommas she thinks we are. I think I probably speak for both of us when I say that hearing a compliment like that from her, carries greater weight than hearing it from anyone else, except maybe my own children. It’s like having an expert in your field tell you what a great job you’re doing in your work. There’s nothing quite like it! ❤

As I held my 11 year old in a long hug tonight, I told him how much I love him. We went back and forth trying to love each other more, and finally I played the only card I could to win: “I loved you before you loved me.”

“What?!” he questioned, immediately defending his unborn self for not loving me first. I told him no matter how many infinities he adds on, I still started loving him first, so I win. 🙂  I smiled as I thought about how the kids have no memory of when they started loving me. They just grew into it. I, however, loved them from the moment I knew they existed (and I loved the idea of them even before that).

In the same way, I have no memory of when I realized how great Mom was. I just needed her and depended on her from the beginning, and I can’t recall a single moment when she let me down. I feel like I’ve loved her forever, but even so, I know she loved me first.

She has cheered us on, taught us, corrected us, been an example for us, nurtured us, encouraged us, and the list goes on and on. Here are some fun memories that come to mind:

  • She helped me figure out how to write that RIDICULOUS number 5 that brought me to tears. I still see a fat man with a hat. 🙂
  • She led me to the Lord as we knelt beside her bed and looked at God’s Word together so I could understand His plan of salvation.
  • She took care of me when I had my first bike crash and thought that maybe I needed to give up.
  • She worked HARD and studied HARD to get through nursing school when we were little and even though we didn’t understand the sacrifice then, we were able to look back and really “get it”.
  • She helped us with spelling words and language homework.
  • She refused to give me the bad news that I couldn’t carry a tune to save my life (as a child). Thank goodness she had the wisdom to know that it was more important that I sing joyfully. Had she seen things differently, I may have missed a talent and passion that has shaped my life.
  • She chased us through the house with a fly swatter (and I’m pretty sure there were no flies involved.) 😉
  • She stood up for us when we needed a defender.
  • She modeled honesty, integrity, grace, and beauty as a mom, a wife, and a career woman.
  • She could hold and sooth anyone’s baby, any time, and she loved every moment of it.
  • She encouraged my passion for writing from my first poem in fifth grade.
  • She watched more plays, dances, and performances from us than anyone and somehow managed to seem interested in each one.
  • She eagerly attended each concert, game, meet, performance, and banquet because she would NOT miss an opportunity to support us in whatever we were doing.
  • She cried when we messed up, and when we got hurt, and when we left home, and we knew it was just love dripping from her eyes.
  • She told Dad not to say ANYthing to me when they both saw how PERFECT my “friend” Jeremy was for me. She knew me well enough to know that I might get all weird and let go of the best gift of my life if they brought it up too soon. I’d like to think I was more reasonable than that, but mom probably knows best. 🙂
  • She zipped prom dresses and wedding gowns, decorated ceremonies and receptions, and was present for (nearly) each baby’s birth (except L who chose THAT moment to be the only moment in his life when he moved quickly.)
  • She answers calls that begin with “Hi Dr. Grammy…” and anxiously waits to see what kind of medical advice we’re seeking for ourselves or her dear grandbabies.
  • She welcomed our first foster children into her arms and home in such a warm way that no one could have known they hadn’t been there all along.
  • She worked hard throughout our lives to build memories we could cherish. It’s not her fault that our minds held on to things like how “cows have tails”, and how rough our ride was in the back of the blue truck as she attempted to learn to drive a manual. 🙂  Because of her we know that doing jumping jacks in a night gown is a bad idea and that it is possible to get knocked out cold when holding a tree limb that someone is cutting.

She is one of those people who truly grows more beautiful with each passing year. She is a classy, graceful, godly Momma and we are so thankful to call her ours! Though the life lessons and gifts we’ve received from mom are really too numerous to count, her character is pretty well summed up with this passage from the end of Proverbs 31. Thank you, Mom, for being this kind of leader for us:

Her children rise up and call her blessed;

Her husband also, and he praises her:

“Many daughters have done well,

But you excel them all.”

Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing,

But a woman who fears the LORD, she shall be praised.

vs. 28-30


Heart-strings for my Sister-mom

Happy Mother’s Day, my friend. For the past two years, you have weighed heavy on my heart on this day, and I suspect you will continue to for the duration of my life. You see, your role in my life is unlike any other. Your impact to my motherhood is unmatched.

Ours is an unlikely friendship. We came together in difficult circumstances with lots of “firsts” for both of us. On the surface, it seems that our differences far outweigh our similarities, but there is one thing we share that unites us through it all, and it tips the scale so dramatically that we become more the same than different. It is them. They are the wildflowers that bring beauty to our common ground. They are the heartbeat of our sisterhood: our babies.

She was your first daughter. She’s my first daughter, too. Her sweetness captures us both, and that precious smile fills us with happiness. She is love – growing in grace, understanding, and beauty every day.  He was your first son – a potent introduction to the other world – the world of boys that used to be all I knew. He is my fourth, and a beautiful fireball of passion and energy. His eyes melt our hearts, and neither of us can hold back a smile when we hear his laughter. He is joy – bubbling with talent, and wowing us with intelligence.

They are just “littles” now – still innocent and unaware of the way their young lives have been altered. They may not fully remember you, but I do. I know your love for them. I’ve seen your tears, and heard your muffled cries that accompany the heartache of not holding them in your arms. I’ve heard your generously-given praise for my role as their momma, and my ears still ring with the sweetness of You’re giving them exactly what I wish I could  – the precious heart-salve-words that only you could give. I love you for giving life to these beautiful children and for desiring a better way for them. I made a promise to you, and I know you hold it close to your heart: I will make sure they always know of your love for them, and I will always honor you in the way I speak to them about you.

You are their first-momma, and I am their forever-momma; what a complex partnership we have. Not only am I their forever-momma, I am also the self-appointed keeper of their memories. The importance of this presses into my heart with such weight that I lose my breath. I want to build a hope-filled future for them, but I don’t want to rob them of their past simply because they can’t remember for themselves. I want our children to experience such a beautifully honest adoption that they never bear the weight or feel the pain of the loss like we have. It may be a hopeless battle, but I will give it my all. They already lost you in one regard. My heart breaks to think of them losing the strings that tie them to their starting place in this word. I collect pictures, letters, stories, memories…anything I can give them to hold on to. I imagine these strings running from your family to ours like a graceful instrument on which they can play songs of love and come to see the divine orchestration of their lives: all of the parts of them, in harmony.

I often wonder if you and I will ever sit together again – if we’ll ever share a hug or a conversation over a warm meal. I wonder if you will return to our lives in some fashion. I wonder if you’ll call again or if you’ll write. I know sometimes it hurts you to even think about those things, so I try to focus on having compassion for you and lifting you in prayer every day. The reality is, even if we never shared those things again, there is one thing we will share forever: our motherhood.

I pray our tangled heart strings will someday play the music of that bond so beautifully that the children we share cannot help but dance to its rhythm.

Happy Birthday, Awesomeness!

April 29, 2017

I can’t believe you are 13. Your child-soul is fighting hard against your adult-body, but life and growth follow the pattern God designed, and whether we like it or not, you are growing up. I am amazed by you. Every. Day. (I can hear your playful response in my head, “Yeah! I am pretty amazing!”)

Your sweet, little stuttering voice has given way to a deep manly voice that only breaks when you giggle. Your bright orange hair has darkened, leaving only a faint trace of the “read-head” you used to be, and the redhead temper has faded as well. (Thank you, Jesus!) 🙂  The fiery, strong-willed spirit of a defiant toddler now has a voice. You’ve changed, and you’ve stayed the same. You know who you were, and who you are, and who you are meant to be. You have grown to recognize the value in how God made you (as have we), and you have taught us SO MUCH about His goodness, His grace, and His creativity.

We used to call you our BULLDOZER. You plowed through anything in your path and were not deterred by stumbling or even falling. You were tough as nails, and we feared a future of frequent-flyer miles in the ER. You were loud, and bold, and in a constant state of motion. You have been our real-life example of inertia, and we now know for certain that an object in motion TRULY will stay in motion unless acted upon by an outside force. 🙂

I often find myself watching you and admiring your handsomeness, your gentleness, your contagious smile, and your magnetic personality. You put others at ease. Well, okay… you put other kids at ease…and you put Daddy and I at ease…but you make some adults very, very tense. 🙂 HA! That’s okay, though. Your easy personality draws others in, and kids of all ages find joy in friendship with you.

You will not be contained. Tight spaces, tight clothes, anything that prohibits your freedom of movement crushes your spirit and ignites the fight in you. Just like when you were a little man fighting to be free of our arms restraining you, you are still full of fight for freedom. You pursue freedom and you promote it.

Remember the time you asked me why in the WORLD I would spend time putting on make-up instead of just looking “regular”? To you, “regular” is better…more honest…more free. You challenge my way of thinking, and I am a better person because of you.

I am amazed at the maturity you show in valuing your childhood. It seems ironic to call it maturity, but it really does take a wise soul to appreciate this time in your life. You have a Peter Pan mind-set and have zero interest in growing up and being forced to become a responsible adult. You TREASURE the freedom of being a child and I love that you LOVE being a kid. It makes me smile to picture you as a grown man, looking polished and refined on the outside, but – no doubt –  keeping the child alive on the inside.

Even though you don’t want it to happen, I see it happening, sweet boy. You are growing up. You have passed me in height and could now lift me more easily than I could lift you. It’s not just your physique and voice that announce your manhood, but also your willingness to lay down yourself for others. You stop what you are doing to tend to the needs of your baby brother or sis without a single complaint. You jump at the opportunity to help someone to understand something. You are a natural teacher and a leader.

While I will always treasure your childhood, as you do, and fondly remember your roly-poly baby days, your bulldozer toddler days, your spinning through the halls elementary years, and your transformational teen years, I look forward to seeing each step of your growth into manhood. I admire and respect you and can’t wait to see how the Lord uses your life for His glory.

Happy Birthday!

He did what we couldn’t

Because Jesus did what I couldn’t, I was able to stand and praise Him Sunday – knowing that my praises ring out to a LIVING God. EASTER, Resurrection Day, as I like to think of it, is the crux of Christianity. It is the pivotal, powerful, perfect completion of the work that Christ came to do on the cross.

And this year was especially powerful for us, as we have experienced a resurrection of sorts in our family – a coming back to life – an overcoming of death and destruction to awake to beautiful victory. Almost exactly a year ago, the final court session was held which declared our foster children officially “fatherless” and “motherless,” as the legal parental rights of their biological parents were terminated. Termination. Heart break. Death. Destruction There is nothing pretty about foster care. Its weight is immeasurable.

These innocent, precious babies were completely unaware of the storm they had been in for more than a year and a half prior to that day, and they remained unaware of the uncertainty of their futures – of our future as a family.  Termination was not followed by an “end” or a break to the stress. Instead, we were greeted with shocking news that they may be taken from us forever.

We couldn’t do it.

We couldn’t take it.

We couldn’t breathe.

We couldn’t think.

Heart break. Death. Destruction

How could the Lord have brought us so far to let us be drowned in the sea?

We recounted His many protections, interventions, and miracles over the past year and a half of our lives as we learned new terms like ICPC and contested adoption, and we cried out to Him to help us. We chiseled hard at our stubborn hearts trying to make them willing to obey even if our fears were realized.

The thing was, we couldn’t do it.

We couldn’t fix it.

We couldn’t make ourselves submit.

We couldn’t bring beauty from ashes.

But God

There it is again. That life-changing conjunction that started it all: but God. We used to be among the masses of people who “couldn’t” imagine fostering because we “couldn’t” bear to lose a child. We used to struggle to find compassion for people who made foolish choices that destroyed their families.  The list of what we “couldn’t” do goes on and on and on.

Mom and Dad used to say “Can’t never did anything”. It’s true.

But God did. He overcame sin and death. He defeated hell. He promised His children the VERY SAME resurrection power that raised Jesus from the grave, and He gave us a beautiful thing called GRACE that floods our veins just when we think “can’t” is going to win out.

My mind flashes back to the day we received “the call”. Two babies – one boy, one girl. Will you take them both? The kind woman inquired. Lots of people are willing to take one or the other, but we want to keep them together.

I raced to call my husband who was far from home in a job that kept him busy for long days, and he met my question with a question: Well, can you do it? Because the reality is that most of it is going to fall on you, at least for now.

My eyes welled with tears because the truth was that I could not do it.

But God…

And we said YES not because we were able, but because we were willing and HE was ABLE.

Because He did what we could not, we love two children that weren’t born to us, as if they were.

Because He did what we could not, we love the families from which they came.

Because He did what we could not, we invested every part of us into helping those parents of theirs, into cherishing their original family, into walking through the fire of foster care only to find ourselves compelled to walk it again and again.

Because He did what we could not, we celebrated THIS Easter, Resurrection Day, with all five of our beautiful children and five biological family members worshipping the Lord with us and our church family. Together.

And I stand amazed.

As I watched my children surrounded by the love of BOTH of their families, I could not help but think of how far beyond us this is. We couldn’t fix anything. It was hard, and ugly, and awful, and full of death and destruction, but the resurrection power of Jesus Christ brings beauty from ashes. He didn’t bring us so far to be drowned in the sea. He brought us to the end of ourselves so we could KNOW the work was HIS.

“He’s alive. He’s ALIVE! Oh Happy Day! Happy Day! He washed my sin away. Oh Happy Day! Happy Day! I’ll never be the same. Forever I am changed” We sang it Sunday, and my baby boy’s eyes lit up as I sang it to him again today. This Easter was an especially “happy day” for us because in more ways than one, we got to see the resurrection power of our Savior do what we couldn’t, and we will never be the same.

Strong in Grace

Runners to your mark. Get Set. BOOM!

My mind flashes back to the thrill of the race as my own son trains for his first track meet and my nephew experiences his first today. Somehow, my sister and I have been ushered from our place on the starting line to the place our parents once held in the stands, and we can now understand the excitement they felt and their drive to witness every race.

I cannot help but recognize the parallels, as I am currently witness to (and participant in) a much more significant race happening now, and two of the most influential men in my life are nearing the home stretch. My mind can barely process the speed with which this race of life takes place, and my heart is both broken and at peace about it all.

The two men I speak of have held similar roles in my life. Bro. Collins was my pastor from birth until I left home for college at the age of eighteen. That is when Pastor Lingo became not only my pastor, but friend and father-figure as I learned to navigate the waters of independence.  Now these men are both “surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses” and they are laying aside every weight and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and running with endurance the race that is set before them (Hebrews 12:1). Their earthly vessels may not seem strong in this moment, but they ARE still running with endurance and there is NO DOUBT they are both “looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb 12:2) My eyes fill with tears and a smile tickles my face as I think about the memories I cherish with each of them.

I don’t recall my first meeting with Bro. Collins (though I suspect it was probably on the OB floor at the hospital the day I was born). He was just always there – always a part of my life. He was a larger than life (and much larger than me) person, and all I have to do is close my eyes to hear his booming voice once again. Everything about Bro. Collins is BIG in my memory: his stature, his voice, and his influence. It was under his preaching that the Lord opened my eyes to my need for a Savior. It was his HUGE, gentle hands that covered my face as he announced, “I baptize ye, therefore, my little sister…in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Buried in the likeness of His death. RAISED in the likeness of His resurrection, “ and his “Amen” was the loudest of all. He worked hard throughout our childhood to keep my sister and I straight, and we tried to walk together out the church doors so he could tell which one was “Sayrah” (as he pronounced it) and which was Julie when he shook our hands. I still chuckle at the thought. I remember service after service, he would make us laugh with his stories, and bring us to humility under the heavy truth of the Gospel, as his giant fist pounded the pulpit with the truth of his words. I remember how he was ALWAYS ready. He was ready to go at a moment’s notice to the hospital bed of a church member or the home of a loved one. To him, this meant being dressed in his trademark suit and tie. He was ready – just like that – on the morning that stands out most in my memory. It was the day after my birthday, the summer before my senior year of high school, and Mom had awakened me with the tragic news of my friend’s passing. In my still-shocked state, I joined other friends at Joby’s house where his family was still reeling from the reality of his devastating accident. I was standing near the front door when I spotted Bro. Collins approaching the porch. It felt like my family was there – like a piece of home in the midst of the foreign territory of grief. Seeing his familiar frame, my composure crumbled, and I greeted him on the porch with no words – only tears. He is a big man, but he is a gentle man, and he lovingly held me as I cried. I don’t recall what happened next, but I will never forget the relief I felt when he arrived in that place.

The years have stolen some of the strength and size in Bro. Collins’ stature, but he is still a larger-than-life pillar of faith to those around him. The roles have changed for him, much like they’ve changed for Sarah and I with track meets. He’s no longer visiting others in the hospital, but they are visiting him. Some things don’t change, though. He always has a witty remark or a playful response, he always has his beautiful, sweet wife by his side, and he always has the admiration of those privileged to watch him live out the Gospel he loves so well.They may force him into a hospital gown for now, but he is still spiritually dressed and ready as always. He has fought the good fight, he is finishing his race, and he is keeping the faith (2Tim 4:7). When the time comes for him to enter the presence of the Lord, I suspect he’ll hear another gentle, but booming voice declare “Well done, my good and faithful servant!” (Matt 25:21)

Interestingly, Bro. Collins and Pastor Lingo were connected before I ever knew it. The Lingos served faithfully on the mission field in South America for many years. Our church (under Bro. Collins) had been one of their supporting churches, and he had visited with them on multiple occasions. He even visited them in the hospital when their second daughter was born. I can’t even imagine how many people he has welcomed into the word in this way. 🙂  When it came time for me to leave home and go to college, Bro. Collins suggested that I go to Pastor Lingo’s church in my college town. I took his advice and gave it a try at my first opportunity. I immediately fell in love with this warm and cheerful body of believers and the Lingo family.

Pastor Lingo has played many roles in my life over the years. He has been not only my pastor and teacher, but also my alarm clock. He was very supportive of me using my vocal abilities in church. He invited me to sing solos and encouraged my participation in the church choir. Sometimes, however, in my disorganized college brain, I would forget about choir practice. This is where Pastor, the alarm clock, came in. 🙂  He would call me in my dorm room to remind me to come to choir. Pastor was very fatherly, often checking up on me and showing a genuine concern for my well-being. I had the privilege of going on my first mission trip to Mexico under his leadership.  He provided guidance and council when I met the love of my life, and he led us through pre-marital counseling and had a huge part of sharing our story on our wedding day. Sometimes on our anniversary, we bring out the videos and re-watch that cherished day.  Tears fill our eyes as we listen to Pastor so sweetly describe his observation of our relationship and the ways that the occasion of our wedding renewed his appreciation for his own cherished wife. Pastor is a romantic, tender-hearted man and life with three daughters definitely made him more sensitive than most. His passion and compassion for people came through in his delivery of the Gospel and his interactions with people. I cannot even describe all that I have learned from him over the years. Pastor Lingo challenged me, not only with his teaching, but also with a couple of comical details. He’s the first person I have known with a glass eye. It took me a while to learn about this detail. I could not figure how why I struggled so much to look him in the eye. Once I finally learned which eye was real, the problem was resolved. 🙂 In college, I pursued a minor in Spanish. As a lifelong Spanish speaker, the language was woven through Pastor Lingo’s mind and heart…so much so that it would frequently come out during his sermons. He would give a confused look and call out to his wife to provide him with the proper English equivalent. I personally enjoyed the challenge of figuring out what he was trying to say before the translation was given.

Pastor has been a spiritual leader to us and a part of our family since he first welcomed us in 1996. He has trained and encouraged us to lead and teach and has celebrated the births of our children. He baptized two of them after they came to Christ, counseled with us, cried with us, laughed with us, and lived life with us. Though Alzheimer’s has robbed him of the ministry he once adored, our respect and love for him and his family is unwavering. He has showered our youngest children with smiles and laughter, and even if he does not understand that they’re “ours” through adoption, he still shares a part in that. The Lord used his teaching on this very topic, years ago, to prick our hearts and prepare us for where we are today. His impact in our lives and countless others is immeasurable and by God’s grace and with the help of his family, he is running the homestretch of his race, bound for Glory.

I am eternally grateful to have been touched by the spiritual athleticism of both of these remarkable men, and I am overwhelmed to be among the cloud of witnesses watching them finish strong. Only God can see the finish line, but we trust Him with these servants of His and we rest in the assurance that this world is not their home.

As we seek to foster grace in our family and the lives of those we touch, it is godly examples like these that spur us on to love and good works (Hebrews 10:24). Thank you, Jesus, for these faithful men who have not only served You, but have been able to teach others also (2Tim 2:2). We are blessed to know them.

To the Dad of our Littles

Just over a year ago, we penned these words – not knowing for sure what would come of them. We poured tears and prayer into the words and, by God’s grace, the letter was received with gratitude when we delivered it. This man we now refer to as their “first dad” has become an extension of our family and we will never regret the decision to show him love.

To the Dad of our “littles”:

Go ahead and give us your update…that phrase has been repeated in nearly every team meeting as you sit, all eyes on you, forced to face or hide whatever ills you may have encountered in the weeks since it was last asked.

But we’re not writing to ask for an update or to tell you where you’ve failed. We aren’t here to talk about that. We’ve been talking about that on a monthly basis for the past year and a half. In these long and difficult months, you’ve been reminded weekly, if not daily, of your sins and mistakes. You’ve been criticized, encouraged, humiliated, and helped. Thankfully, our role is not to be your judge or determine the legal consequences/accountability; there are others who bear that weight, and though we support them, we also want you to know that we see you in this. We see your effort, your hurt, and your love for your children. You are not the same person you were when you began, regardless of the outcome

These last two years have been rough, and the losses have been inexpressible. We’ve been angry with you and heartbroken for you…and everything in between. We’ve watched your ups and downs, cheered for you, and found our hearts overwhelmed with both grief and compassion for you. The failures you feel may haunt you for years to come, but we are compelled to tell you a different story – the one we’re afraid you might miss in the midst of the anger and hurt. It’s the story of what you’ve done right:

  • You’ve stood

Thank you for standing: in the heat, and under the microscope, and through the trials, to show that you love your children and want to be sure they are safe. You’ve stood strong at times and you’ve been brought to your knees at times, but you’ve continued to stand back up. Thank you for standing.

  • You’ve stayed

Thank you for staying faithful to see your kids so they can have the satisfaction of knowing that your time with them is the highlight of your week. You’ve stayed in baby girl’s life to be “Dad” when you didn’t have to be. You’ve stayed determined to figure out their needs, and wants, and learn what makes them laugh. You’ve stayed supportive of us from the very start, never treating us as the enemy, and possibly never knowing just how much your positive feedback has meant to us.

  • You’ve grown

Thank you for growing and progressing. You’ve willingly taken advice and input to help you grow as a Dad, and you persisted with a colicky baby, always eager to learn what “worked” for him. You’ve grown in your willingness to face this process and you’ve grown by taking more steps in the right direction than ever before. You’ve been challenged and stretched, and the process is painful, but you’ve grown, and growth makes it worthwhile.

  • You’ve given

Thank you for giving life to a little man who wears a portion of you in his features and his heart, and for giving a treasure of a daughter your love and fatherhood without question. You’ve given a part of yourself and you’ve given us no doubt that your love for them is great.

We don’t know what comes next any more than you do, nor can we predict how the story ends, but we do know that teaching these sweet children to love and honor each of their parents is of utmost importance, and you’ve given them a gift with all that you’ve done right. We pray for you daily and count it a privilege to do so.

Thank you for your kindness to us.

Very Sincerely,

The Fosters