Welcome to my circus.

October 19, 2017
by Maralee

I Almost Believed my Own Hype

I had a phenomenal weekend. It was a weekend I had been excited about/dreading for months. After making excuses basically whenever I’ve been asked to speak to strangers (I do a fair bit of speaking to our local community), I finally said yes to a speaking invite and felt the weight of it from the moment I agreed to it until it was finally done. I wanted to leave these women feeling encouraged and empowered. I wanted them to feel seen and cared for.

I spoke from my heart.

And it went well. Praise God.

Photo by Sharon Miles

After a 40 minute drive back to my family, I returned a conquering hero. . . at least in my own mind. I was relieved that it was over and proud of how my hard work had turned out. But my family? None of that mattered to them.

They were happy to have me home and I was immediately thrown back into the chaos and joy of raising six kids. They were not interested in how it had gone, they didn’t care about how many women appreciated it and they didn’t even give me a minute to get out of my fancy pants before they started asking me to help them unwrap their snacks. It was kind of a rough reentry.

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October 17, 2017
by Maralee

If you Give a Foster Family a Chicken Dinner

If you give a foster family a chicken dinner,

They might have extra time to spend with their foster child.

When they have extra time to spend with their foster child,

They’ll spend it taking a walk, looking at flowers.

When they spend it on a walk looking at flowers,

They learn more about each other because they aren’t feeling stressed by dinner prep.

When they learn more about each other because they aren’t feeling stressed,

They are able to work on forming a healthy attachment.

If they’re able to work on forming a healthy attachment,

They’re creating a foundation for lifelong relational health.

If they’re creating a foundation for lifelong relational health,

Sometimes it feels too risky and the foster child will push them away.

When it feels too risky and the foster child pushes them away,

The foster parent will need to work through their own feelings of rejection and lovingly draw closer to the child.

When the foster parent can lovingly draw closer to the child, the child may realize they are committed even when things are tough.

If the foster child realizes the foster parent is committed, they may feel safe enough to open up.

When the foster child feels safe enough to open up, the foster parent can respond with empathy and can help meet their physical needs.

When a foster parent responds with empathy and offers to meet their physical needs, the child may feel ready to eat.

And when the foster child feels ready to eat, she may ask for a chicken dinner.

Being a foster parent is one way to help a foster child, but it isn’t the only way. This work takes a team approach and sometimes the best thing you can do is bring dinner. You may wonder how dinner helps, other than just the physical provision of food, but the time you invest in making that meal is time that foster parents can invest in relationship building with the child. There are so many other examples– bringing diapers, having groceries delivered, praying for the child and family, dropping off coffee for an exhausted mom, taking their bio or adopted kids on a fun adventure so the focus can be on the foster child, providing childcare so the family can go to court.

I think there is a wrong impression that doing something for foster kids requires actually being the one to invest in the foster kid. What many of us know is that when you invest in the foster FAMILY or the foster PARENTS you are actually doing the best thing possible for the foster child. They need to bond with those parents. They need to feel safe and loved by consistent adults who can provide nurture, structure and stability for them. They don’t need a rotating parade of adults in and out of their lives to say nice things to them. When you can build into the foster parents, the foster child will reap the rewards.

These kids need foster parents who don’t burnout. They need experienced foster parents who have learned how to work with the system, have successfully built relationships with biological families, and have gained parenting wisdom by working with kids from trauma. Having an involved and educated support structure is one way we can prevent burnout in our foster families. If you are part of that support structure, take pride in what you’re doing! Claim it. Tell other people how you are involved in the work of foster care by bringing meals, showing up with emergency pacifiers when the brand the family had on hand wasn’t working, and helping facilitate date nights for the foster parents (gift cards they can use for a date night in after the kids have gone to bed is a great way to handle it.).

We recently attended a picnic thrown by a local church for foster families with our agency. The dinner was great, but what was even better was being able to just sit with other families who understand what we’re going through. The foster, adopted and bio kids were able to play with other foster, adopted and bio kids. This is so beautifully normalizing for our kids. While the church who provided the food may have thought they were just providing a meal, it was SO MUCH MORE than that for the families involved. It was a rare opportunity to relax with people who know our struggles and joys.

We need everybody to show up for these kids. Think about your unique gifts and passions and how you can use them for foster kids (make a blanket! paint a nursery! take a family photo! give guitar lessons!). Everybody can do something and maybe what you can do is make a chicken dinner.

*This post was originally published at Her View From Home

October 12, 2017
by Maralee
1 Comment

The Baby that Comes in a Storm

My baby was born in a storm. I don’t know what the weather was like that day. I spent all day walking the halls of the hospital, protected from whatever elements were out there. But there was a storm brewing in my heart and my life. It was that kind of storm you can see miles off, green and eerie. I couldn’t keep it from coming towards me and I felt this intense protective drive to keep this baby safe. I felt helpless and desperate and I was longing for something better.

Being pregnant and knowing things are difficult is an incredibly vulnerable feeling. It would be great if all pregnancies happened when you were ready for them, when things were peaceful, when your circumstances were smooth. That’s just not the way of the world. Pregnancies happen in all circumstances. Situations that seemed fantastic 40 weeks ago can be devastating when the time comes for your baby to enter the world. Life changes and sometimes takes turns we didn’t anticipate. Pregnancy doesn’t protect us from pain or rejection or heartache or cancer or job loss or financial struggles or the death of a loved one or mental health issues (ours and other people’s). Pregnancy doesn’t cure our problems or prevent them, it just intensifies the emotional impact of them. It especially intensifies the fear.

But God is watching over the pregnant, the women in labor, the mothers of young. When we feel tossed about by unsafe winds, when we feel defenseless in the face of the storms raging around us, God is present. He is capable of stilling the storms, but sometimes he doesn’t. Sometimes he sits with us in the whipping wind and pounding rain as we cradle our newborns to our chests. He is with us as we weep in the rocking chair. He is there when we walk the halls at night, wondering how we can be good mothers in the face of all the hurt in the world and the hurt in our own hearts.

Three years ago my baby was born in a storm. While I don’t know that I’ll ever be thankful for the storm, I am incredibly thankful for my baby. He was the right gift at the right time. God knew what I didn’t know when I got pregnant and when he was born. He was a little light in my dark time. His warm body in my arms was a constant source of comfort. He was there and he needed me. He was a reason to take good care of myself because I needed to be the best mother I could be for him and my other kids. I would never ask or expect a child to do those things, but he did them just by being my son and I’m forever thankful.

It can be easy to think of pregnancy as a magical and empowering time. When I look back at my pregnancy experiences, that is not how they felt. They made me feel vulnerable. They made me look at the world through new eyes. I felt defenseless and incapable. There were moments I felt ashamed of bringing a child into a world where I couldn’t always protect them, where I knew the world could hurt them. Even in the most pleasant of circumstances, we know that the world is a hostile place and children are the most vulnerable among us. To bring new life into the world is to agree to all the possible calamities outside of your control that could befall someone you love more than your own life. I think this feels even more true to older mothers as we’ve seen enough of life to know exactly how much is outside of our control.

If you’re pregnant in a stormy time, know that you aren’t alone. Don’t be ashamed for daring to hope that this child will have a good life. Don’t let fear steal your joy. Whatever your circumstances, a child is a reason to celebrate. Ask for help if you need it. Let others see your storm and they may just help provide you with the encouragement and respite you need.

God has his hand on this little life and an ever-watchful eye on your stormy circumstances. He sees the chaos and threats even we can’t see and he cares deeply about the vulnerable and needy. You aren’t forgotten or on your own. Whatever the world may say to you, there is value and beauty in new life and you are the one tasked and gifted with the joy of bringing that new life into the world.

He tends his flock like a shepherd:
    He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
    he gently leads those that have young.

Isaiah 40:11

October 10, 2017
by Maralee

Dear Girl Mom About to Have her First Boy

I know you’ve been eyeing me for some time now. You wonder why my kids always have stained shirts. You wonder why they’re constantly bruised or scratched. You can’t figure out why my bathroom constantly smells a little like. . . well, it’s unpleasant. You sat on my couch and a matchbox car rolled out from behind a couch cushion. You ask me when I’m going to teach my kids about “inside voices.” You wonder why it always sounds like a medical emergency and/or bathroom emergency is happening in a zoo when you call me to chat. You say adorable things like, “I’ll bring some crayons so the kids can color while we talk.” and then you’re mystified when my kids eat the paper and shove the crayons up their noses.

My first two kids were boys. And you had girls.

You’re now getting ready to make the transition from a mom of only girls to a mom who experiences the full range of chaos that comes with having kids of both genders. Mama, you’re in for a wild ride.

You know the beauty and fun that comes from having darling girls who will join you in tea parties and dress-up games (although my little girls like to dress up like superheroes and fight with lightsabers because they have big brothers). You have shown up to places in coordinating outfits with your delightful daughters and people have gasped with the adorableness.

Boys come with their own fun and cuteness. But what you’ll notice most isn’t what’s different about them, but what is different about you because of them.

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October 2, 2017
by Maralee

The Downside of Motherhood as a Career Choice

I am busy. I’ve been trying to run from that word because it just seems so overused these days, but I can’t deny the reality. This week was busy bordering on ridiculous. I have multiple part-time jobs I work from home, I had two speaking events, I’m finishing up putting together content for a retreat I’m speaking at soon, I had a meeting with a friend about an additional volunteer project I’d like to help facilitate, we planned and lead the music for church. . . and I also have six kids.

In the quiet moments (which are few and far between) I find myself wondering why I run at this frantic pace. Why am I always juggling and why do the balls I’m juggling always seem to be on fire? It’s in those quiet moments that I’m starting to hear an answer. I think it’s because I hate quiet moments.

The other night we took the kids out for ice-cream and they all ate their treats and then went to play in the playland. Nobody needed me to spoon-feed them their ice-cream. Nobody needed me to help get off their shoes. I didn’t have to climb into the play structure to rescue a terrified toddler. My kids are still young, but they are becoming more and more independent. I love this. I’ve been shooting for this moment from day 1 of parenting. I have taken such joy in teaching them self-help skills, self-advocacy skills and independence. But in the back of my mind I’ve always thought, “Don’t get too comfortable here. They’re going to grow up and leave you.” After a decade solid of parenting young children, I can finally take a breath. But that breath seems to catch in my throat.

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September 29, 2017
by Maralee
1 Comment

Military Mom, I can Kneel for the Flag and Stand with You

Dear Military Mom,

You’ve been on my heart over the last few days. As I’ve seen the heated rhetoric about who stands for the flag and who doesn’t, I feel like your heart and mine have been trampled all over. Our private pain has become a public bargaining chip used to manipulate emotions and cast blame. People have made assumptions about what side of an issue we’d be on and have used our experiences to justify their opinions. It feels so raw and exposing.

I want you to know that in the midst of the debate about who stands and who kneels for the National Anthem, there is no debate in my heart about the sacrifices your family has made. I am nothing but thankful for your child’s work on behalf of those of us who haven’t had to deal with the realities of military life. I recognize that this flag feels less like a symbol that can be used in protests and more like a precious reminder of why your family does what it does. I have never sat at a military funeral. I haven’t watched with pride as my child moved through the military ranks. I know how much respect I have for you, but I know I haven’t experienced what you’ve experienced.

While I haven’t been helping my child navigate the transition to military life, over the last few years I have been learning how to navigate a transition of my own. As a white parent to black and brown children, I have been listening and learning about living in a world that can feel much more hostile than the world I grew up experiencing. I have been realizing how much work we have to do as a country to create a climate of equality, respect and love for our fellow man. I have come to value means of peaceful protest that remind us there is still work to do, even when those reminders are uncomfortable for those who hoped we were past these things.

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September 25, 2017
by Maralee

GIVEAWAY from Unique2chicdesigns *CLOSED*

Last week I wrote about my newfound love for the pinecone. It has become a symbol of hope and new life after trauma. This year in honor of my daughter’s adoption anniversary, I wanted to give her a pinecone necklace and get one for myself so we could be matching (She’s at that age where matching is a really sweet and special thing. I’ll hang on to that as long as I can.). Adoption anniversaries can be complicated days—lots of bittersweet feelings. Giving her this necklace was a sweet moment for both of us as we acknowledged that it’s okay to be sad and have the big feelings and that God can make good out of that hard. Since the day she got it, I have loved seeing the little sparkle in her eye when she wears her necklace or when she sees me wearing mine.
I ended up getting my necklace through Mandy at Unique2chicdesigns and I’m excited to share her work with you! She helped me figure out what kind of necklace would be best for my daughter and together we picked a kid-friendly chain that my daughter hasn’t been able to break and has been able to put on by herself. I love that the pinecone is small, it’s almost like a little secret my daughter and I share. I am now kind of obsessed with the idea of matching mother/daughter necklaces and I’m excited to get more as the years go on. Mandy was really helpful and fun to work with, I’m thrilled with the end product and she graciously agreed to partner with me for a giveaway so one of you can enjoy a piece of hers, too!

Here’s the short version of how to enter the giveaway:

-Enter by commenting on this post with what product you’d like if you win: necklace, bracelet or earrings. If you want to look through the etsy site and tell me what piece is specifically your favorite, I’d love to know just because I’m curious. 

-Like the Facebook page and write on there that you were sent by A Musing Maralee.

Those are the two ways to enter and you can get a total of two entries. I will do the drawing tomorrow (Tuesday) at noon (CST). I will connect you with Unique2chicdesigns and you can pick one piece of equal or lesser value to the pinecone necklace I got. Just be sure and tell me which one you picked because I want to vicariously enjoy it through you.

So let’s get to know Mandy and Unique2chicdesigns!

How did you get started making jewelry?

At the time (and still today) I was a stay-at-home mom. That in itself is pretty awesome but it has its challenges, too. The biggest challenge for me was wanting to connect with the outside world. Staying at home taking care of littles is beyond great but can be isolating at times.

I had been a shopper on Etsy for a few months and then one day in the Spring of 2013, I just dove right in. I started with wire wrapped birds nests and rose rings. Then from there, I started making tiny glass beaded earrings. Finally, I stumbled into the hand stamping world and haven’t looked back. I’ll be honest, it’s a bit of an addiction. 🙂 I find the most joy in the handmade community and the buyers who appreciate it. I love making someone’s vision come to life and knowing that a little piece of me is out in the world.

photo courtesy of Unique2chicdesigns

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September 21, 2017
by Maralee

The Power of Showing Up (The Bridal Shower Speech I Would Give if You Asked)

I have never been asked to be the one who gives the little talk during a bridal shower. Maybe it’s because of my tendency to say things that border on slightly inappropriate when stressed or because I can be a wee bit too honest about the hard times in marriage. For whatever reason, no one has asked for my wisdom on the subject. But I’m not waiting for an invitation anymore. I’m just going to give this speech. So put on your favorite sundress, grab one of those little cucumber sandwiches you are legally required to eat at bridal showers and let’s do this. Bride-to-Be, I’m ready to tell you what it is I think you need to hear.

My friend Sarah has my favorite Most Embarrassing Moment story. It’s so good, I’ve started telling it at random times without her even being present. It’s my happy thought when I’m at the dentist and feeling stressed. It isn’t about marriage, but I’ve found that it does seem to apply.

When Sarah was in high school she was in the Future Business Leaders of America club. I don’t know how exactly she ended up in this position of honor, but it was her job to deliver a speech at the statewide meeting of FBLA leaders from across Nebraska. Sarah had a carefully planned speech and she was going to start it with a famous quote. So she walked confidently across the stage (I think she was wearing some kind of pantsuit. . . at least that’s how it happened in my mind) and started her speech by saying, “Woody Allen has said that 80% of success is just showing up.” Except that isn’t what she ended up saying. She walked confidently across that stage and opened her speech by fumbling over her words and saying, “Woody Allen has said that 80% of sex is just showing up.” Because Sarah is a class act, she just kept on rolling like she didn’t just say the most embarrassing thing possible in front of a bunch of teenagers. I love her. And I will never stop laughing at this story.

But I love this story for one other big reason. I think her version of that quote is one of the most important things I would want a new bride to know. So much of having the kind of intimacy that will grow your relationship is just about showing up. Showing up when maybe you’d rather be absent—physically or emotionally. Showing up with energy to expend and forgiveness for however the day has gone wrong. Showing up with compassion for your tired body and your husband’s lack of charm by this point in the evening (and this point in your life. . . someday you’ll know what I mean). Just show up with expectations low, feeling free to be yourself and let the moment happen. Show up ready to laugh and love and accept your husband for who he is.

But contrary to what Sarah might have implied (accidentally), this showing up thing isn’t just about sex. It’s a great way to think about marriage in general.

Show up to his work with lunch sometimes. Surprise him with cupcakes and embarrass him in front of his coworkers. Show up and cheer at his pick-up soccer game. Show up to his favorite superhero movies even when then the plots are all the same and you can’t remember which are the good guys and which are the villains.

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September 18, 2017
by Maralee

Becoming Pinecone People in a World of Fire

Last year there was a fire in an area of the country that is precious to me. We spent five years working in a group home that bordered the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. I was glued to my computer last November, watching for updates from friends, checking on the situation at the group home, and keeping tabs on the local news where I heard the names of beloved hiking spots and areas of the park that held precious memories for me. . . all burned and burning.

As I watched it all unfold at a distance, I remembered driving through Yellowstone National Park on a family vacation when I was a kid. We drove through a part of the park that had been recently devastated by wildfire. I was upset to see the black earth and dead trees. I remember telling my dad this didn’t seem right. Why didn’t firefighters stop the fire? My dad patiently explained to me that sometimes the best thing was to let a fire burn, that a fire could be part of God’s plan for keeping the forest healthy by burning out the overgrowth and letting it start fresh. My dad pointed out areas where you could see new trees returning and new growth coming up through the charred remains.

Now, sitting in front of my computer, agonizing about the fire that had put so many homes and lives in danger and was ravaging a beautiful place I loved, I needed some tangible sign of hope. I wanted to remember that fire can be a cleansing thing. I needed to know it not just because of this literal act of fire in front of me, but because I’ve seen too much devastation and pain. I found myself reading article after article about how a forest rebuilds after a fire and I stumbled upon an image I couldn’t forget. An image of a pinecone burned and charred, still glowing red from the heat. But a pinecone that was open with possibilities for new life.

There are pinecones that will not open to release their seeds unless they are heated to extreme temperatures. They sit high up in pine trees, potentially for decades, entirely closed. They are the forest’s “in case of emergency, break glass” plan for regrowth in the aftermath of a fire. When a fire rips through, the pinecones are heated up to the exact right temperature to cause them to slowly open so they can release their seeds. After the fire has stopped, these pine trees are one of the first things to repopulate the forest. As I looked at that image, I knew it was something I needed around to remind me of how disasters, suffering, and pain are not surprises to God. He has already looked at the devastation of the world and he planned for ways that new life could take root. He planned for growth to come from situations that seem entirely like death.

My talented friend Maddie took the image I came across and painted it for me. It now hangs in my home as a daily reminder to my family and me of how God takes what was meant for evil and uses it to bring good into the world. The beauty of my life and family would not be possible without a whole lot of fires. I don’t think God takes joy in the fires of infertility, of family break-down, of marriage struggles and miscarriage. But I think he sifts through the ashes of the pain the world throws at us and shows us where he’s hidden the seeds that will bring joy and hope again.

Painting by Maddie Hinrichs. Photo by Rebecca Tredway.

I wish this world had never burned me. I wish these were lessons I didn’t need to know. But I have seen this frustratingly consistent theme in my life over the last 15 years. God took a girl who had a sweet, protected, mostly carefree upbringing and he has brought her through the fire. Things have been taken from her and she has experienced grief and loss she didn’t know were possible. Which is precisely why it was necessary.

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September 14, 2017
by Maralee
1 Comment

Raising Kids Who are Close in Age is Easier Than You Think

I have six kids. Those six kids came to me over the course of 7 years through a mix of birth and adoption. When my youngest was born my kids were 8, 6, 5, 3, 1, and 0. For a couple weeks a year, I have two sets of kids who say they are “twins” (they’re the same age until one has a birthday). I know a thing or two about having kids close in age. And I have zero regrets. If you’re just leaving the newborn fog and wondering if it’s too early to consider adding to your family, I’ve got a list of reasons to give it a try:

You’re already slicing all the grapes and hot dogs. There are a lot of safety precautions that come with having a tiny kid. Might has well have two tiny kids while the outlets are all covered, you bought the van with carseat space, you’ve outlawed marbles and button batteries, and you’re already slicing any foods that are potential choking hazards. At some point, it hardly seems like two is any more work than one when they’re spaced close enough that you’re prepared for their needs.

Potty-training two isn’t as bad as it sounds. When you’re cleaning up accidents, it’s really not that bad to clean up twice as many. What’s worse is getting out of the diaper and potty-training stage, getting used to not seeing someone’s bodily fluids on a regular basis and then having to get back into the habit. It’s a kind of deja-vu nobody wants to experience. Continue Reading →