Why? Foster Care.

11891047_10153122245432081_7869218359170413993_nA few evenings back another couple sat on our couch, and asked us about our journey into adoption. Why foster care? Why not international adoption? Why not private adoption?

There isn’t a right answer here. There isn’t a side to be had. There is just a story. Our story. How God spoke to us. It doesn’t mean He doesn’t speak differently to different people. But here is how we fell into the hardest and most beautiful journey of our lives…

11896261_10153121313792081_1202762226290168056_nWhen David and I started dating seriously I told him that if we were to ever get married he’d have to be open to adoption. I had known since I was a little girl that I would adopt some day. He had never imagined having a family in this way, so he honestly responded and asked for some time to think about it, A few months later he gifted me a book called Loved by Choice.  In it he wrote a note that said he was in. I wonder if he had any idea?

Fast forward eight or so years, we are married, we have had Tre, and decided that we will pursue adoption to grow our family from here on out. I had always imagined our family as a tribe, from all nations, and colors, and thus we began our pursuit with international adoption. Through a series of events and God stories, we found ourselves sitting in our county’s Human Services offices and being trained as foster parents. A few months later we received our first placement, twin two year old boys.

Through the next three years nine children found a home within our hearts. Some of them were there for a few minutes (literally), some for a few weeks, others for a few months, and three stayed forever. These years were marked with a roller coaster of emotion, I wrote about our experiences, as much as I could without breaking confidentiality rules on our family blog. You can read some of our experiences here and here. And find many more there as well.

Now, when we look back on those years. And people ask why? Why should we sign up for loving kids who go back? Why should we say yes to foster care? Here are some of the things I say:

Laila Lou when they placed her in my back seat for the first time. Th moment I laid eyes on her.

Laila Lou when they placed her in my back seat for the first time. Th moment I laid eyes on her.

  1. A lot of people say, “I could never do that! I could never love a kid and then “give them back!” And I say, YOU are who we need in foster care. Kids deserve to be loved that way. Whether they go home or not. They deserve forever love, whether it is for two days or two years, they need it. And we need people who will give them that. The only way we can help heal kids and families is if we have people who will go all in with them. Who will sacrifice their emotions, their peace, their finances, and security, their time, and their safety, for kids and families who need us. As Father Boyle puts it, “The strategy of Jesus is not centered in taking the right stand on issues, but rather standing in the right place- with the outcast and those relegated to the margins…. Jesus just stood with the outcasts until they were welcomed or until He was crucified- whichever came first.”
  2. D a few days after arriving at our home.

    D a few days after arriving at our home.

    Yes, it is the absolute hardest thing we’ve ever done. Yes it’s awful when kids go home. But no one ever told me that doing the right thing is easy. Sometimes the best thing is the hardest thing to do, and it is exactly where you find the richest blessing and fulfillment, and where you realize what you were made for.When we look back on our time as foster parents we see such a sweet season, a season in which we felt closest to God, we had an amazing support team surround us and help us. And we found beauty in kinship with people we never would have been blessed to call our friends if we hadn’t have done this.

  3. Foster care helps you find the pulse of your community. When you care for- and care with- the marginalized and broken in your community- you realize that you are them. That we are one. “You stand with the least likely to succeed until success is succeeded by something more valuable: kinship. You stand with the belligerent, the surly, and the badly behaved until the behavior is recognized for the language it is: the vocabulary of the deeply wounded and of those whose burdens are more than they can bear. ” (Father Gregors Boyle, again.)
  4. There. Are. So. Many. Kids. in your neighborhood, who need your help. In our small county there are over 40 kids waiting to be adopted. And over 1,000 children in foster care here. Check out the needs in your community. Yes, it’s a broken system. Yes you will get screwed over. But we couldn’t turn our back on the kids and families that we could help. We didn’t change the system, but we did change the lives of a few kids. And that is worth all of the injustices and brokenness that we experienced.
  5. Lastly, people who have biological children are always concerned for their biological children. I can honestly say that Tre
    Noah and Tre a few days after Noah's birth,

    Noah and Tre a few days after Noah’s birth,

    has been shaped and formed with a heart for people, and brokeness, a heart for compassion and understanding unlike many kids his age, and it is because of his experience as a foster brother to many. And guess what, kids only know what you tell them! We always told Tre that kids would come and stay with us while their parents were working hard to make safe homes and families, so they could go home. And when kids went home, Tre was so happy for them. he knew what it was like to be loved and be in a safe home, and he wanted that for them too. He did better than any of us!

Everyone isn’t suppose to do foster care. But if you are thinking about adoption, and/or helping children in  your community, I urge you to consider foster care. It will be the hardest thing you ever do, I am not saying it isn’t. But I do believe that Jesus calls us to develop kinship and stand with (not for) the broken.

Parenting: Race, how the heck do I do this?

Dear Neighbors,

This is not a post JUST for transracial families, this is a post for everyone!

I recently attended the NACAC (North American Council on Adoptable Children) conference in Long Beach. My business partner Jill and I went to hear Daniel Siegel talk for two days on trauma and the brain. side note: This is like going to Disneyworld for me- I know, I’m weird.
During the conference I attended a breakout on racism and transracial adoption. It was so so good for me.
To be honest, I feel like I had maybe put the “race” thing on the back burner for our family. It wasn’t that I didn’t think it was there, or even that I had “more time” until I had to deal with it. It was that I had A LOT of issues that were being slammed in my face.
Needless to say, I realized in part because of the breakout, that it was time for us to start addressing race as a family. Isn’t it funny how once you make a decision like that, God has a way of showing you that it’s right…
I took so much from this breakout, but one of the things that stuck to my soul was this idea of being an interrupter.  An interrupter is someone who uses their voice to interrupt the status quo, to point out when they see or experience racism. To help recognize that there is an injustice, a stereotype that isn’t being addressed, a problem. To help people see them.
Interrupting the status quo to ask questions.
I knew I needed to do more of this.
You see, this race thing has been brewing, and the few times I would say how I was feeling, I lost “friends”.  Good people who refused to recognize privilege, or have a conversation about things they’ve never experienced.
So I shrunk back.
This class was a reminder that I was wrong, I can’t shrink back when things get hard.
So I vowed to be an interrupter. And to create conversations in our home to discuss race.
The speaker threw out a rhetorical question… “Do you wait to tell your kids about your values and beliefs around sex until they are having sex?”
“Of course not!” I thought. Yet to some degree, I had done this in regards to race in our home.
Of 5,000 children interviewed from transracial homes the number one reason children don’t take to their parents about race is because they don’t know what their parents really believe?! We have to start talking about it! And telling them.
We have to talk to our kids about race before it is being talked about them or to them. They have to know what we believe. If only for the fact that then they will know that the ignorant kid at school’s comment, IS NOT WHAT WE BELIEVE!
A first step for us was buying a bunch of new books for our home library. Only 3% of children’s books have a main character who is not white!  We bought  a lot of books that talk about race, about the civil rights movement, and famous African-Americans in history. I did this so that we could “interrupt” the norm, not just in culture, but even in our home. So we are filling our shelves with these books, and filling our dinner conversations with these discussions.
(**** If you are a white family, with white kids, you should still be buying books with black characters, so you can begin to have this conversation with your kids at home. Because let me just tell you, it’s super awkward at the park when kids have never seen black people, or black hair.***)
Here are some of our favorite books:
11822657_10153084681207081_7056858178954638946_nBlack Girls Can– This one is one of my favorites. It tells the stories of different famous black women in history like our favorite: Bessie Coleman (the first African American woman to earn her pilot’s license).
Salt In His Shoes– I got this one for my little baller. This is the story of Michael Jordan as a kid, as told by his mother, of the lessons and struggles he had to become the man he is today.
One Crazy Summer– This is a chapter book we’re reading at night. It is about three black girls (coming from their adopted white home) who go back to Oakland looking for their bio-mom who abandoned them. She puts them in the Black Panthers summer camp for kids. This has been a great way of “interrupting” in our home.
Big Hair, Don’t Care–  is a book empowering black girls to love their hair, in all of it’s stages, phases, and glory!
There are so many more out there. Check out this list and this one.
The Skin you Live In– Has been a favorite in our home for a long time, it is a great way of introducing the “skin color” discussion for young kids. It is written almost lyrically, and so beautiful, and always makes me cry.
I Like Myself–  is a book that Laila picked out at the school book fair last year, funny, it was also the only book with a black girl on the cover. It is a great book about accepting ourselves.
Henry’s Freedom Box– We’ve had this, it talks about the Underground railroad, it is sad, and good. And gives us a starting place to talk about race in our country.
Her Stories– Is a book of African-American Folktales, Fairy Tales and True Tales. The illustrations are mazing, and the stories are fascinating.
The Other Side– Is another beautifully illustrated book, it is the story of two girls who strike up a friendship, despite the town’s rules of segregation.
I also started interrupting our family norm by discussing micro aggressions with my kids. If you don’t know what micro aggressions are, don’t feel bad. I didn’t either until rather recently.
Microgressions “are the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership.”
This is a really powerful video about micro agressions, that I showed them (It says “not for kids”, but I showed it to mine. Watch it before you show it.):
Afterward, we talked about micro aggressions and what we could do if we are in a room and hear people say “You play like a girl!” or “You’re a tom-boy.” or “She’s prettier because her skin is light. Her hair is straighter.” etc.
We started small. But it’s something that we talk about daily now. And it’s something I want to talk more about here. I want this neighborhood to be a safe place to talk and discuss race. For people to not take up arms, but to be open minded.
Please, join in the conversation if you have respectful open minded ideas and thoughts to share!
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Back to School, Back to School, to show mom I’m not a fool…

In our neighborhood, today is the first day back to school! For those of you on the east coast, this seems like a debacle, I know.

Teachers are angels if you ask me. I can not keep it together through the sumer with just five kids. And I am not trying to teach them anything (except how to clean up their own d*&%$ messes). I think teachers should make millions, and some should make more. I am eternally grateful for amazing teachers. We love our little school, and the family feel of it.

I am the mom who writes a note to the teacher as soon as I find out who she is! I always want to give them a little insight into my kiddos. Here are (slightly altered) excerpts of my notes this year, enjoy.

Dear Tre’s teacher:

11013263_10153096827077081_3783916387844373303_nI am sorry.

He is not the ideal student for a public school setting. He will hate sitting there all day, and will create chaos and fun to get out of it . But he will also be super kind, super funny, and tell great stories.

He is sensitive and intelligent. And cannot focus for more than 15 seconds: Unless he is interested in what you’re talking about. If WWII history, weaponry, and strategic warfare are apart of third grade curriculum, you’re in luck. He is also very interested in the human body. He wants to be an inventor and surgeon, and a marine.

He knows a lot about chickens and pretends to know a lot about everything else.

You can fight him all year, or you can learn to work with his crazy, it’s up to you. Try to enjoy!

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Dear Demetrius’ Teacher:

20610_10153096827057081_2495487273198696751_nThis boy will be your biggest asset or your hardest kiddo. You get to decide. If he feels loved and safe, he will do anything and everything he can to help you, and succeed in your classroom.

He may not be the smartest kid in here, but there will not be another student who tries harder. His work ethic and no-fail attitude will get him wherever he chooses to go.

He acts tough, but is the most sensitive child I have ever known. He wants to be liked by everyone and wants people to know that he cares about them too.

He has experienced more loss and trauma in his short life than most adults I know, therefore he carries himself like an adult, he is mature and wise. But remember he is still a little boy who makes mistakes.

And whatever you do- don’t take away his recess. We will all be in trouble if you do that.

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Dear Laila’s Teacher:

11866425_10153096826997081_1346590263942210941_nI mean, look at her, she’s perfect. I don’t even need to write you a note. Except to say that sometimes she won’t tell you if she doesn’t understand, or if she needs help. She needs to know that you think what she has to say is important. Once she knows that you want to hear from her, you will.

She is sweet and kind, and will do whatever she can for a friend. Her two bestest friends are in class with her this year. I am not sure if it will be blissful or a little dramatic. But if it is (dramatic), please help them through it. I want my daughter to know that women are strong and supportive, and that friends are for life. Help them see each other’s strengths and that there is time and space for all people.

Lastly, she told me she will never wear a dress again. So this is the first and last day you’ll see her in this over sized thing. Enjoy the cuteness while it lasts.

Love,

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Three things year eleven taught us about being married

Today is our eleventh anniversary.

Colorado7.04 028What?! I remember being eleven! I can’t possibly have been married this long!

But it’s true, we have been. David and I certainly do not have a perfect marriage. But we do work our butts off. We don’t have it perfect, but we do have it good. Some days are harder than others. Some days are down right ugly. But we are committed to this thing.

Here are three things we’ve decided this year about marriage:

1. Therapy is worth every penny. 

Yup. That’s it. Invest in an awesome therapist, one that you don’t know personally and who charges more than everyone else. I think therapists are like lawyers. The more expensive they are, the better. Because nothing costs more than a cheap lawyer. (I actually have NO experience on this lawyer comparison, but it sounds right?!) Same thing with marriage therapists, you need the expensive ones, the ones that are hard to get into, cause they know what the hell they’re doing. Maybe you think therapy is only if things get BAD, or you think your husband would never go, (Bribe him with sex or homemade dinners, or whatever does it for him. Do what you have to do.), maybe you think therapists just bring up the issues, maybe you think therapists are too expensive, whatever you’ve told yourself about this, rethink it. Do what you need to do to get yourselves to an awesome marriage therapist (2nd mortgages, bribing, stepping outside of your comfort zone, anything!)

David and I don’t go often, but when we do, we reap the benefits for months. And years. At one of our first marriage therapy appointment the therapist looked at us and said, “You guys argue facts. You could argue the facts forever, nothing will ever change when you argue facts. What do you feel behind the facts?

Let me give you an example from a friend. Let’s say my friend’s husband is late a majority of the time. And this enrages my friend. My friend might say:

You said you’d be home at this time.

Why didn’t you think about what you needed to do and plan better?

Why didn’t you leave at an appropriate time to make it here with traffic

Traffic happens at this time of day EVERY day, it shouldn’t be an unknown variable

etc.

And her husband might say something like:

I lost track of time.

I knew you’d be mad if I told you I wasn’t going to be home for dinner.

I didn’t know that last meeting would go so late.

There was traffic I couldn’t account for.

I am working to provide for our family.

etc.

Our therapist would urge these two individuals to share how this made them feel. So my friend would say something like:

When you are late, and do not account for everyday things that could delay you it makes me feel like our family and specifically me, is less important to you then what you’re doing. It makes me feel as though I am less important to you than your work, friends, or clients.

And then my friend’s husband might say something like:

When you act frustrated with me because of my tardiness it makes me feel like a little kid again who is disappointing my father, I feel like such a failure, like I never get anything right, so why try.

Suddenly this argument has taken on a very different tone. One that can’t be debated, suddenly the heart of the mater is our hearts. And this causes each person to just see how it feels to be the other and hopefully compassionately listen to and apologize if they have caused those feelings.

Thats just ONE of the many amazing things our ridiculously expensive marriage counselor has taught us! And ultimately- he is way cheaper than a divorce.

2. Change is inevitable and also not allowed.

That’s confusing, huh? Here is what I mean: There are (maybe) two things that we commit to not ever change in our relationship, after that, change is inevitable, and healthy!

Marriage is so uuber complicated. But one thing I have learned about marriage is that the best marriages are when two people come together to make one, and yet allow the space and grace it takes for each individual to completely change over and over again.

Did you know that on a cellular level you are a completely different person every 7 to ten years? So why do we hold fast and true to things we thought, believed, and promised ten years ago? This isn’t the paragraph where I say, therefore divorce should be okay. But this is the paragraph that I say, no wonder divorce happens so often. If you enter into marriage with the idea that the person you’re marrying will be the person you’re with in twenty, thirty, fifty years from today… you are wrong! Let’s leave space and grace of ourselves and our spouses to change and morph.

In many ways, my desires have completely changed from the day that we wed. And so have his. There are really only two things that we do not allow to change in our marriage.

First, unconditional love is not up for grabs in our marriage. Which means fear cannot exist between us. This cannot change in order for us to have a healthy connection. 

The second thing that can’t ever change in our relationship is freedom. Which encompasses this idea that we can each change individually, and this does not threaten our collective, in fact, it makes us stronger- because when you allow a person to change it shows them that fear is not present within your connection. 

3. Date often or you will loose your connection.

It seems as if people (especially couples with young children) seem to think dating is a luxury, an indulgence of sorts, only for special days, the wealthy, or the lucky. I strongly disagree. For us dating is a necessity. This connection and openness that we strive for cannot happen without these times set aside for just us, to communicate with one another, to support one another, and to HAVE FUN!!!

If we do not keep this as a top priority in our marriage our connection would be lost quickly. If we do not get to go on a date for a few weeks, even when we’ve been together in the same place (let’s say a family vacation), we both feel the disconnection. Our world is so busy, our lives are so hectic, our children are nuts, we have to carve out time, without interruptions, without phones, where we connect, with each other and our friends to just have fun and communicate good stuff, hard stuff, fun stuff, yucky stuff, cry, laugh, and relax. It is essential in keeping this thing above water.

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Marriage is super hard. Find people who encourage you to tough it out, find people who help you communicate. And fight for intimacy in your marriage. And remember any of us who are married are right there fighting too. It’s not easy for any of us. But it is worth every minute.

Love,

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DINK Dreams and Bathrooms

 Do you ever imagine living your life totally differently? David and I do. We tease about what our lives would look like if we were single, but we also dream about being DINK’s (Double Income No Kids). In my DINK’s dream, we live in a big city, preferably New York City. And I would be a super good designer, helping people create spaces that pull out the best in themselves. (And my clients would have unlimited budgets.) We would live in an amazing pre-war apartment that had exposed brick, and a rooftop deck of our own. We would meet at the gym after we each had our wonderfully fulfilling days at work, where we would work out with our personal trainer who would help keep us in amazing shape. My husband would have seeable abs, and my thighs wouldn’t touch. Then we would walk to some posh market to get healthy organic fresh meals where we’d eat them with wonderful wine and talk about our upcoming vacations and projects— uniterrupted. It really would be perfection.
But in actuality I live in a small town in Colorado, I make terrible dinners for five kids who still love them, I rarely find myself at the gym, I’ve never had a personal trainer, and I am often fighting chaffing. As for work, I work with families who are trying to help kids who carry burdens too heavy for humanity. The most “design” I get to engage in during my work day is trying to help parents cover holes in walls that were punched out the night before, before the social workers show up. As the poet Mary Oliver writes, “All things are inventions of holiness- some more rascally than others.”
Although posh interior design seems uber holy to me, I do realize that what I do is just as… (rascally).
That being said, when we bought a home out of foreclosure and my husband accidentally mentioned that we might be able to “do a little work to it”. I thought I had won the lottery. Except we didn’t.
So after black mold popped out of the bank’s cover-up job, in our first ever master bathroom, we had to gut it, immediately.
That was three years ago.
And because there were more pressing things to do in the house with our small (non-lottery) winning cash pot, it has sat, gutted. Since the first week we moved in. Gutted to the studs.
11754350_10153056707572081_5560515957351792542_o11722591_10153056707587081_7309682294326633419_o
In the winter our bedroom would sometimes be in the 40s because it was so cold outside and we had exposed exterior walls. It meant in the summer, our attic fan (we don’t have air conditioning- old house, base board heat, no duct work….) didn’t work because the attic and our bedroom were one, so all the heat in the attic, was also in our room.11722591_10153056707587081_7309682294326633419_oNeedless to say we finally won the lottery saved up enough to do it! So about two months ago the construction began. And TODAY the last bit is getting finished! And my designer genes got to be dusted off for a bit!
BEFORE: The tiny pocket door from the bedroom into the bathroom.

BEFORE: The tiny pocket door from the bedroom into the bathroom.

The doors I found on etsy and had them shipped here. They are old country store doors. I love the old stickers and intricate kick-plates. And the colors. Since we added windows in the bathroom I wanted to allow the extra light into the bedroom, so these doors we’re perfect. We had them hang them so they could open up flush against the walls because I feel like they are such a work of art.

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The old floral kick plates on the vintage store doors are one of my favorite details.

I love the depth when you combine sleek modern pieces with the intricate details and roughness of antiquities. You will see that in this space.
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The vanity is a sleek Ikea piece, and then I found these antique mirrors at a local gem of an antique store Dwell whose owners are women of valor.

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The antique etching is my favorite.

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Isn’t this soap amazing?!

(The bottom shelf mirror is not an antique, it came from anthropologie.)
We did these built in closets (ikea closets that we then just framed out to look like custom pieces). My hubby has not had his clothes or a bathroom on the same level as our bedroom in ten years, to say he is excited to get ready in the morning here is an understatement.
 2015-07-24 14.40.19And we did my closet space in the bedroom.
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I am not much of a bath person, but we have both dreamed of a steam sauna/shower combo for years. So we took out the tub, and made everything else a little closer together to make this bigger shower/steam sauna. We added a window (I LOVE taking showers with a window, it helps me wake up when there is real sunlight in the room! ) and we just adore our view from here!
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 This bathroom was a long time coming.
David and I have found ourselves hiding in our room, drinking, and pretending like we’re DINKs. So it’s totally working for us. And we are so so grateful for our own little slice of heaven. Where I can pretend I am a top designer and David can steam up the room while he poops.
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The sign is from House of Belonging.
The mirrors and soap are from Dwell antiques and home.
The string of pearls cactus is from CactusLimon.
The doors are from RagTagStudios.
The ombre towels and mirror shelf are from anthropologie.

Sacredness and Parenting- Maybe they’re not a dichotomy?

So, I am amanda.
I tend to write a lot about parenting. I think it’s mostly because it is the biggest battle in my life. It’s the area that needs the most pruning, the area in my life that reminds me that I desperately need grace.
A lot of it.
Like way more than you.
After much contemplation, and self-depricating discovery, I think I fail my kids the most when they mess up. I lack in compassion. To say it lightly.
 When my kids mess up, my sub-conscious thought loop says something like: “If I parent them well enough, if I discipline them enough, if I teach them enough, they won’t mess this up again.”
Ha.
There are a couple problems with this mindset:
  1. THEY ARE GOING TO MESS THIS UP AGAIN.
  2. When I think it’s my job to change my child’s behavior, I suddenly take on all future burdens of their choices. Therefore it is extremely difficult to approach them with compassion, keeping our relationship the primary concern.

I recently read an amazing book called “Tattoos on the Heart” by Gregory Boyle. I will be writing several posts that have been prompted from the reading of this amazing book. One line that I read caused me to tear up, the kind where you have to stop reading because you can’t see the page any longer. So I stopped reading and just took it in to me. To the depths of me.

“The poet Gallway Kennel writes, “ Sometimes it is necessary to teach a thing its loveliness.”
And when that happens, we begin to foster tenderness for our own human predicament. A spacious and undefended heart finds room for everything you are and carves space for everybody else.”
And this is it for me. The true struggle in my parenting has nothing to do with my kids, not even with my kids from hard places who have been abused and left, who have big hurts and burdens too heavy to carry. The true struggle for me is not in teaching my kids, or approaching them with compassion. Because it is so much deeper than that. It is this idea that until I have deemed my own self lovely, until I see myself the way God sees me, every time my kids mess up, every time they fail, it will engulf me because it reminds me of my own ugliness. Without the understanding of who I am in Christ, my children’s failures reflect to me- my own brokenness.
The idea that a “spacious and undefended heart finds room for everything you are, and carves space for everybody else”… That is it. Until I truly know my own loveliness, until I see myself through His eyes, I will not have space in my heart for their brokenness.
I sat there on the plane, crying into my book, and asking God how. How can I change the way I see myself so that I have room for all of the broken people I love? In that moment I knew,  my disgust towards those I love most is not a reflection on them, it is a direct reflection on me. What now God?
And he spoke to me quietly, through the drum of the jet engines and babies crying, through the dross and brokenness of me, and He said in that inaudible whisper on my heart, “You have to carve out time to hear from me, through the community and people I’ve given you, through my word. Until you see yourself worthy, no one will ever measure up.”
So now a few days have passed, and believe it or not, my kids keep messing up. But I am trying to remember that I am sacred, and so are they. That their choices don’t reflect on my score card, cause my score card has already been tallied. And I won.
And so did they,
I am trying to wrap them up when their ugly bits show, and remind them of their loveliness.
I am certainly not perfect, but this shift has been monumental for me.
“We squirm in the face of our sacredness, and a true community screams a collective “don’t move.” The admonition not to move is nothing less than God’s own satisfaction at the sacredness, the loveliness that’s there in each one- despite what seems to be a shape that’s less than perfect.”
Father Greg Boyle
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