Color the Walls with Love

She is just three weeks younger than our Vaeh, the squirming, wriggling bundle in my arms. Waves lap the shore and I walk, bounce, and her movements settle into stillness as her eyelids droop shut.

“Moooommmmy!” I hear him shout from the distance, where he plays with his friends and their mommies. I watch him drop his yellow shovel and start running. “Mommy?” I hear the question in his voice.

He has been possessive of me and his Daddy since Vaeh left. Everyday he asks me where I am, a multitude of times and often frantically, the minute I am out of his sight.

Keeping tabs on Mom, again. I think as his little legs sprint towards me. “Mommy, you got Vae back!” He shouts with such a big smile.

I choke on my own breath. Shake my head no and watch his smile disappear. “Mommy, you got Vae?” He tips his head to the side, a hopeful glint in his brown eyes.

“No, Cub, no.” It’s all I can say.

He makes no more comment…just turns and runs back to play.

Every couple of days, at random times and random places, he talks about her. He announces to his new friend that he has a baby sister. He asks me when she’s coming back. One day he sits on the couch and says that he wants to “huggle” Vae. “Re-mem-ber, Mom?” He says, “I huggle Vae. I hold her.”

And every time, I feel this jolt in my heart.

The family that was will always be and will be no more.

If that makes any sense.

I am pouring myself into work, painting nine hour days and staying up till midnight to clean my dirty house and working seven hours in the sun to mulch my flowerbeds and hedges, because I have to do something or I’ll go insane.

The people that say time heals don’t know what they are talking about. The depth of loss that rends my heart grows more, every new day the sun sets. Somewhere, out there, she is growing, learning, experiencing, living – without me. Without us.

And I cannot tell you in words how deep a chasm that cuts through my heart.

Everyone else is moving forward in their lives and I am hanging on for dear life trying to function. I meet new people who ask me how many kids I have and I tell them one, because it’s just too complicated otherwise, but that feels like such a betrayal.

My friends talk about their babies and I am left to listen and wish that I could share about all the ways my baby girl is growing.

I look into my son’s charming, kind eyes and feel sad for him that he does not have his sister he loved so much. LeoandNevaeh

I feel lost in my own skin, like I don’t know what to do, how to be, or even who I am. If I were really honest, I would tell you that I feel like someone cut my heart out and sent it away.

This is the very real truth about where I am.

And if I could tell you one thing, from this place I find myself today? I would tell you to color the walls with love.

Say yes to serving your neighbor when it’s inconvenient for you. Pick up the phone and call that friend it’s been so long since you chatted. Give more, keep less. Love the least of these. Let your heart bond with that little baby, whether you have him for one month or eighteen years.  Brush your daughter’s hair extra long and sing with your little boy extra loud. Bring brownies to the old man down the road and smile at every single person that you meet. Be a friend to everyone. Meet no strangers and have no enemies. Look at no man with condemnation, but extend a hand of grace to serve,

Pick up your paintbrush – whatever yours looks like – and paint. Make a picture, tell a story, and leave a legacy.

Everywhere you go.

And we will not be the perfect or the put-togethers, but we will  persevere.

Because we are partakers of the grace of Jesus Christ, and He who began a good work in us, will bring it to completion. 

Stop waiting for enough time, enough money, and enough resources and go embrace the sufficient grace to be brave enough to color the walls with love.

 

Why We Love

My phone tells me it’s 2:59 am.

Slowly, I crawl out of bed and pad softly to the bathroom.

I feel wide awake when I come back, so I sit on the edge of the bed and stare at the floor.

I stare at the floor and feel the heavy emptiness of grief.

She is gone and she is all I can think about.

I pick up her fleecy soft elephant blanket, the first blanket we wrapped around her tiny newborn body and the blanket I’ve been sleeping with since she left us.

Tears slide silently down my cheeks and I sit hunched over in the dark silence of night.DSCN3361

I keep telling Ryan that I just want her back. “How do I move on?” I ask this a hundred times a day, or more.

“I don’t know,” he always says and as far as I’m concerned there are too many I-don’t-knows in this story.

Mother’s Day comes then, and I watch the sun rise through my bedroom window, just missing her.

My Cub runs around the bed and right up to my face, nose-to-nose: “Heeeey, mom.” His face splits into a big smile and I find myself smiling right back.

“Can I have a huggle?” I say, and he grins wider.

“Shore!” He replies and wraps his little arms around my neck.

I am so glad to be his mom.

For the first time in four days, I leave the house. We drive down to the high school and I start a new journey ~ running.

I am not a runner, but I’m going to do this running thing and come July, I’m going to run that fundraiser 5K for Grady’s Decision, a ministry devoted to helping NICU families. I’m going to run it for our girl who ran a 40-day marathon of her own in the NICU.

So I run the track and then let Ryan do some running of his own. Leo, our Cub, takes off after his dad. He wants to be just like his Daddy, and our boy runs for almost 3/4 of a mile, without a break, smiling all the way.

I almost laugh for the sheer delight on his face and the joy he has brought our lives.

We go for ice cream then and I eat a free Mother’s Day sundae. When we start to drive home, I ask Ryan if we can please just drive around. “I’m not ready to go home yet,” I say. So we aimlessly drive the countryside and I stare silently out the window and think no coherent thought but grief.

Mother’s Day came and Mother’s Day went, and Monday morning there is a knock on my door and a stranger on my porch.

I am trying to clean away my sadness, background music playing far too loudly and I am just a sight to be seen, but I push open the front door and the man smiles and hands me the most beautiful bouquet of flowers I have ever seen. When I open the card it reads, “To Mommy Renee”, and I can’t even read the rest of the note for the tears that fill my eyes and spill over.

1 John 4:19 says, “We love, because He first loved us.”

When we said yes to Vaeh, we knew she would not be with us forever. As much as we miss her now and as much as we want her to always be with us, saying yes to her little life – yes we will care for her and provide for her and love her as our own – was always simply just about loving her…because of Him, who loved us first and gave us life.

And part of loving Vaeh and being family with her, is loving Vaeh’s mommy and being family with her. We love, because He first loved us.

My heart was never more splintered or shattered than it was the day I watched her drive down the road without me. The day one of the most beautiful chapters of my life ended. The day I walked back through the blue door of my little townhouse and hyperventilated grief till I fell asleep exhausted.  DSCN3368

I have no idea how to begin again.

I have no words.

I don’t know how to pray. My heart longs to have her back in my arms, here, in our home. And yet, I love her mama too and I believe that her mama is beginning again. I saw it on the day she had to leave her newborn girl, in her eyes spilling over with her own mother grief, how she loves her baby. I was there when she gave birth, holding her hand and cheering her on, and there was something about sharing that sacred moment, that knitted my heart with hers, a sisterhood of sorts.

This whole wide world is twisted over with grief and bent over with sadness, and I just ache.

And the flowers come, with the note from my little girl. And her Grandma tells me that they all want us to stay in her life. And her mommy calls me on Mother’s Day and leaves me a message to have a happy day.

I feel it in the air, how the page is turning, how the chapter has ended but the story continues, and maybe all this is the true miracle of His kingdom coming today, how the mercies of God are new every morning, and how great is His faithfulness.

WHY You Can Face Tomorrow

The man with the long silver hair leaned over and speaking low and husky he said, “I dunno, but I think she” jabbing his  thumb in my direction, “I think she is gonna have a real hard time when she has to give that baby back to you.”

Just this weekend, I walked into the lobby of the state prison, carrying our baby girl in the car seat, and the bottle and Ziplock bag with diapers and my wallet and the money for the vending machines. I knew I would probably get news, but it didn’t sink in until she was sitting there next to me in the hard plastic, red chairs in one overcrowded and chaotic visiting room, and she said: “I got a bed date!” with such joy and relief her eyes shone.

Her eyes shone while a heavy lump formed in my throat. “Oh, you did?!” I croaked, trying to muster up some feelings of excitement.

May 5.

Just two-and-a-half weeks to be a family.

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We talked about her plans and as soon as it felt appropriate, I excused myself to go to the bathroom. I stood at the bathroom sink and took deep breaths and stared into the mirror, the same mirror I’d stared into with happy disbelief the day we heard that we would get to adopt our son.

I knew this day would come. I knew it the very moment we said yes, we’ll take the baby girl and I knew that any other outcome was a very, very slight possibility.

But nothing can prepare you for the day you get your timeframe. Nothing. All the pep talks and self-help advice and prayers swirl down the drain, the moment you hear the news that you have this many days.

And whether it’s stage four cancer or giving back your foster child, your timeframe is never long enough.

My mind went blank and my stomach felt pinched tight, like someone had punched me and I just couldn’t get my breath. When the man in the visiting room jabbed his thumb at me and said that business about me having a real hard time, all I could do was just nod and smile sadly.

I hold my girl tighter and longer and kiss her little cheeks more than ever. I want to freeze time. And someone tell me, how do you cram a lifetime of love and being a family into two-and-a-half weeks?

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There are moments I feel so mad, because this world is really stupid and smashed up and splintering and doggone it, why do the children always pay?

And I ask God, how can you, how CAN you let this happen and what in tarnation was all of this for?

And shoot, but there aren’t ANY nicely packaged up answers for bleeding hearts.

But there IS JESUS, and I am telling YOU, YOU – whoever YOU are, I am telling you today, through my tears and from my shattered heart, that JESUS is MORE than enough.

I don’t know what your timeframe is or your heartbreak or your God-forsaken, this-can’t-be-happening-to-me nightmare – but I know that there is a REAL and LIVING God who has numbered the hairs on your head, who came for the broken and the shattered and the messed-up, and said: “I am come that they may have life, AND that they may have life more abundantly.”

And when I stare through my tears, into the face of my baby girl, I know it deep in the fiber of my one heart, one soul and one being – that the Good Shepherd who cares for His sheep will take care of my little lamb.

When I start to worry over statistics that project sadness over my little girl’s life, I tell the Enemy, “No. No, no, no.” Because I believe that there is one GREATER than he that is in the world and you can tell me all the numbers and percentages and I will tell you that the God of this world is BIGGER than your numbers and percentages.

And I will choose to stare the odds in the face, because I believe that Jesus came to give us abundant life and I believe that no matter where you are or what you face, JESUS SAVES.

So when that fateful day comes, that day my heart will burst wide open into a thousand pieces, I will lay my hands on my little girl and I will say two things.

Baby Vaeh, you are beautiful. You are strong. And you are so, so loved.

And?

Baby Vaeh, no matter what you face – Jesus came for you.

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And you, friend. So close your eyes and take a deep breath and begin again.

You can, because Jesus saves.

 

Why You CAN Say Yes

I started skiing when I was five. At five, I learned how to buckle bindings on ski boots and how to strap your feet to two narrow boards so you could fly down a snow-covered mountain.

Skiing was the sport of choice for my family in the winter. We lived just five minutes away from a small ski mountain and we weren’t rich, but there was always money for a family pass. (That was back in the day where a family pass was a family pass, no limitations on how many people could be in your family before you had to start paying extra fees.)

We’d pack ourselves up in our big old van, around three to four times a week and it was never enough for us. We’d eat supper before we went and we only ever stopped long enough to go to the bathroom. We didn’t want to waste time in the lodge when we could be screaming down the hills.

*above pictures taken by my sister, Hannah Pratt

When I was ten years old, I met my first black diamond. My siblings had told me a black diamond was a really steep hill and said I probably couldn’t do it. That was enough for me. “Oh yes I can,” I insisted and so we made our way to that black diamond called the Fearless Leader and I stubbornly started after my sister and brother.

Halfway down and they had gone over a knoll in the trail and I couldn’t see them anymore, and all of a sudden my knees felt weak. I was terrified. The hill just felt like it was getting steeper and steeper the further down I went.

So I sat down. Plopped down on my butt, right in the middle of the trail and screamed for my sister and shouted into the wind that I couldn’t do it. Finally, I took off my skis, slung them over my shoulder and started walking.

That’s right. I started walking. (Have you ever walked for long in a pair of ski boots? Enough said.) I walked straight down that black diamond hill and met a worried and furious sister and brother at the bottom: “You scared us so bad! What have you been doing? We are never taking you on a black diamond again!”

That was fine by me, because I never wanted to go on a black diamond again.

Later that day, it was my oldest brother Brian’s turn to ski with me. Skiing with a big bunch of siblings like I had, meant the older ones all took turns skiing different levels with the younger ones.

“I think we should do the Fearless Leader,” he said.

“I can’t!” I protested, “that one is just too steep.”

“Renee,” he said, “you’ve done the Giant. There is hardly any difference between the Giant trail and the Fearless Leader. I think you can do it. Listen, I’m going to take you to that trail and we’re going to do it. I’ll ski slow and you just follow me close, all the way down the hill. Just do what I do.”

I felt so scared when we got to the top of that hill, but before I could protest again, my brother’s skis had crested the top of the hill and I didn’t want to be left behind, so before I knew it, mine had too.

We skied slow and calculated until we got about halfway down the hill and I remember telling my brother, “We can ski faster than this you know.” He had grinned and I had grinned back, before we cut loose and careened down what remained of the Fearless Leader.

It became my favorite trail.   

It was two am on a Thursday morning when I remembered this story, how excited I was to conquer that trail. I did every black diamond on the mountain that day, plus one double black, and skiing only became more of a thrilling adventure.

I didn’t realize then that a whole lot more had been conquered than a snow-covered ski path. But at two am on a Thursday morning, rocking my baby girl in my rocking chair, I remembered this story and I saw the victory for what it really was. I had faced a paralyzing fear and I had won.

I had also been led.

Rocking away, I had been sitting there thinking that I could never foster another child again. I had been thinking about how each child has wildly and beautifully destroyed my heart and how it just wasn’t in me to keep going.

The responsible thing would be to stop upending my life anyways.

Eighteen years later and I was plopping my butt down in the middle of the trail again.

It’s enough. I have done my reasonable service.

Yes, I actually thought those words.

And even as I thought them I knew better.

When I had told my friend Paula how we got our phone call about Vaeh in December – just before Leo’s adoption –  and how I struggled after we said yes, because I worried that we had been rash, I told her that I had asked God to please show me that we had made the right decision.

You see, we had made a pledge to not enter into another fostering-type situation, until our son Leo’s adoption was finalized. When we said “yes, we would take this baby girl due in February”, we knew the adoption was coming, but didn’t actually have it officially completed.

The day after our big yes, I worried and I prayed all morning and I asked God to show me that we had not just made an emotional choice. We got home just after lunch, I got the mail and there it was – our adoption papers stating that it would be finalized in six days.

It was like God was saying, “you’re good, you’re good”… “I’ve got your back.”

So when I told my friend Paula this, she said: “And there will be times in this journey with your girl, that you will need to go back to that reassurance, to be reminded that you are doing what you are supposed to be doing.”

Two in the morning and I’m sitting there rocking and setting my heart down in the middle of the trail, saying enough, when this story, almost twenty-years old, about skis and ski mountains and facing your fear, comes flooding back.

I was led down that hill same as I am being led up this one.

I can face my fear like I did on that trail, or I can let that fear stop me in my tracks and keep me from the joy. Paralyze my heart.

Fear always paralyzes one thing and keeps you from something else.

The next day, I hold her a little bit longer when she’s done eating. I talk to her longer. I wonder at her longer. She stares up at me with big eyes while I tell her she’s the sweetest pea in our pod. She blinks and keeps staring, and I gently tap her cheek and talk soft.

Her eyes light up and twinkle as her face breaks into the biggest smile.

I melt.

There were 40 long NICU days and tremors and screams and long days and aching, tired bodies and emotional stress and complete and utter chaos at home, there is a heart destroyed with love for the boy with the brown fedora and the girl with the long eyelashes, there is sacrifice and frustration and impatience and anger and repentance, there are questions and confusion about what it means to be Jesus to the biological mommies and what loving them should be, and there is opinions about what should happen and what shouldn’t happen and about who deserves what and who doesn’t deserve what – and at the end of the day, or two o’clock in the morning, yeah —

I pretty much want to throw in the towel and say, “that’s it, no more”, but the moment I think it, I feel something bigger rising up in me and snuffing out that fear.

Love.

The love of God has compelled us to say yes, first to Leo and now to Vaeh, and I don’t know yet, but maybe it will move us on to say yes again.

And who am I to say enough, when I am held and constrained by a love that went all lengths to receive me?

Greater love there has never been.

So you can say YES…one big unreserved YES…to whatever crazy, impossible thing God calls you to do.

And He will lead you down that trail or up that mountain, and snuff out your worst fear, and you will make it, because you are extravagantly LOVED.

I don’t know what the future holds for our family and a part of me wants to beg God to never ask us to do anything like this again. But then… I look into the faces of my beautiful children and I see it there, in the twinkle of our little stars – the beauty of our best yes.

By Faith, You Can Take the Next Step

She was three weeks old on Friday. Three weeks old and eight pounds of round-cheeked, big-eyed cuteness. Three weeks old and I want her to slow down on that gaining weight, getting big stuff. I’m counting down the days and dreaming of the day her face will get kissed with winter sunshine.

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When she was born, I thought we had a 50/50 chance (it was probably more like 90/10) we’d be home in a week and I hoped real big. And then they admitted her to the NICU, where she could safely fight out her withdrawal, and I was sure it would be just two-three weeks.

And then two days before her 3-week birthday, she got her highest score ever, sweating real hard, crying real loud, shaking too much. And they said, “she needs relief” and her dose went back up – not down – and my heart panicked.

“I can’t do this anymore,” I told God and I waited for Him to speak, to reassure me, to calm my heart like He’s done so many times before.

Silence.

“I can’t do this anymore,” I told Him again, my heart beating fast and my body feeling weak and my mind so tired.

Silence.

Sometimes when you feel like you need God the most, He doesn’t speak.

Know what I mean?

I felt that this week.

I cried. “People don’t get it, God. They don’t get how hard, hard, hard this is. My whole life has completely stopped. I just want to do laundry again and clean up Leo’s messes and make my family supper and greet Ryan when he gets home from work. I just want to bring my baby girl home and put a ribbon in her hair and give her a bath in the bathtub and rock her in my rocking chair and cover her with her pink elephant blanket and put her “Wild About Daddy” outfit on her and be a family with her.”

I cried and I talked it all out.

The fear – that Vaeh would suffer from developmental delays, that she’d be in the NICU for another month, that Leo would feel like I abandoned him and never forgive me.

The anger – sometimes at Vaeh’s mom, for letting this happen to her daughter, sometimes at people who don’t seem to care about her – to care that she is my daughter regardless of our different bloodlines, at unfairness and injustice and brokenness.

The weariness – of driving, driving, driving, of living so many hours in one tiny corner of one big room in one brick hospital, of eating cafeteria or take-out food, of sleeping in strange beds, of beeping monitors and false alarms and clumsy chords and security badges and locked doors, of trying to be brave.

The exhaustion – of trying to balance being a mama to Leo and a wife to Ryan and an advocate for Vaeh’s mama, and a friend and a sister and a daughter and a fierce mama for Vaeh, of trying to figure out when to be what and how to be what and what it all means.

I cried and I talked it all out and when I got all done, there was no sign from God or word from the Lord or blessed reassurance.

There was nothing but deafening silence.

I know you’ve been there before too. I know you’ve lived in a hard place and you’ve cried out from your hard place, hoping and longing that in your moment of desperation, a verse would come, a song, a message – something – anything – to make you feel heard and noticed and reassured.

 I bet you’ve been there before, sitting in that hard place, wishing for a ray of hope, waiting and waiting and the only thing happening is nothing.  

And when that nothing happens? When you don’t get miraculously healed from cancer, or miraculously discharged from the NICU, or miraculously saved from a broken relationship – you have a choice to make and it is one of the most important choices you will ever make.

You can believe God or you can not believe God, and what you choose will set your course for the next moment and the next choice and the next time, and there’s no middle ground here.

Job asked God a lot of questions and when God finally spoke into the silence, He said, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?”

It was kind of like God was saying, “Job, I made you. Why do you ask me where I am, Job? I never left you. And Job? Job, nothing happens that I don’t see. I am the Creator. I have not forgotten you.”

We’re human and we want something tangible, and when God is silent, sometimes we wonder if He’s even real.You can believe God or you can not believe God, and the difference all comes down to faith

And whether or not you believe or not believe, will not only change your course for the next moment and the next choice and the next time, it will change the entire direction of your life.

“By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.”

By faith, I know that God has brought me here. I struggle to know and to see how it will all end. Will Vaeh be healed? Will we get to bring her home? How long will we have her? How long will we know her? Will Vaeh be delayed and struggle for the rest of her life? Will she grow up and thrive, healthy and secure and loved? Will we have the chance to be a family?

In my humanity, I want answers and I want answers now.

And then there was Abel whom God commended as righteous for offering up his first fruits, and Enoch whom God commended for pleasing Him, and Abraham who obeyed God and went on a journey not knowing where he was going,  and Sarah who believed in God’s power for the impossible.

Hebrews says that it was by faith.

Hebrews says that it was by faith and that they died in faithnot having received the things that were promised, and the faith chapter eleven in Hebrews ends with saying this: And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us,that apart from us they should not be made perfect.”

I wrestle with my faith and I wrestle in my faith and in my flailing humanity, I don’t quite get it.

But I know that the choice to believe God or not believe God will be the catalyst in my life for how I live, how I walk and how I see.

So I’m taking the next step, and the next, weary, exhausted and sometimes fearful, because I want to die in faith and have it be counted for righteousness.

You too? I know we cannot do it alone.

So let’s do this faith walk, you and I, and let’s do it together.

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Do It Today

It’s 7:31 and the food hasn’t come yet. I feel starved and what I really want to do is just go back to my baby, but I can’t take food with me, so I sit and I wait. I never thought I’d be here you know, maneuvering my way through hospital security and up elevators and down halls and through more hospital security – to get into the NICU for my baby.

Yet, here I am. This is what I’m doing and I wouldn’t trade it for a second – the endless hours sitting in an uncomfortable chair holding my baby, because holding a baby with neonatal abstinence syndrome is about the best thing you can do for them.

Neonatal abstinence syndrome is just a fancy way of saying that your baby is withdrawing from drugs. I never thought my baby would be withdrawing from drugs.

Yet, here I am. This is what I’m doing and I wouldn’t trade it for a second – all those endless hours of holding, the crying and screaming sometimes, the tremors and the high temperatures and the fear and the unknown and the monitors and the beeping and watching the numbers on the screen and the doctors saying she has to get more morphine because she isn’t balancing out yet and all the questions and wondering how long.

Yes, here I am. Before she was admitted to the NICU, I walked the floor in one of the hospital rooms upstairs and I held her tight and she cried and screamed relentless and I told Jesus I just couldn’t do this kind of hard.

I had hoped she could withdraw without a NICU stay and morphine dosing, because sometimes – it’s rare –  they can. And so I had hoped and we had tried and we had made it three days and were so close to making that five-day mark when they would have maybe told us we could go home.

The nurse took her that morning to the nursery. She told me that she had called a NICU nurse up to come and check her out, to get a second opinion. She had slept so fitfully and I had not slept at all. I was so determined to see her through and every ounce of strength wanted to fight this thing for her, no matter what it drained right out of me. I tried to sound brave when I said, “Okay. Alright. Let me know,” but I think my voice cracked just a little. My heart knew what my mind and my body refused to admit.

I hadn’t slept more than a couple hours in a forty-eight hour period of time. I had fought so hard to give my little girl a fighting chance, I had sacrificed my sleep and my own comfort, because maybe if I just stayed up and held her close through all her tremors and her tears, maybe she would make it through the night and we’d be out on top of the withdrawal.

But that morning, the nurse came and took her and I laid there in the hospital bed watching the clock tick away the minutes.

Finally she came back…by herself. And what my heart suspected was confirmed. My little baby girl was headed to the NICU. Her tremors were bad enough that they were concerned about the possibility of seizures or brain damage.

“Do you want to come and say good-bye?” The nurse said, while I jumped off the bed, slipped on my moccasins and followed her down the hall. We almost missed the NICU transport team, but I  got to kiss my girlie’s cheeks, fighting back big tears, before they rolled her away.

When the door to our room shut behind me, I sat on the bed and my shoulders shook with my tears. It felt like such a defeat. Here I was hoping that my baby girl was almost through withdrawing, and here she was really just beginning.

Our tidy little life has been completely dumped upside down, since. My sister flew from Maine to care for Leo. Ryan is working as much as he can, and I have been commuting 90 miles a day to be with our little treasure.

The days are long, the care is sometimes intense and always demanding, and much of the time, you feel terribly alone.

And I would not trade what I am doing today, for anything.

I was feeding her this afternoon, my pink-faced girl with the blue eyes and the black hair, and our nurse was feeding the baby closest to ours and she said, “I don’t know how you do what you are doing – fostering these babies.”

I was quiet a long moment before I said, “Neither do I.”

She said nothing and I said nothing for a moment, before I went on: “It really is a grace from God. I cry everyday when I think about the probability that she won’t always be with us, and this is really, really hard. But I remember with our son – we adopted him, then, but I think that is more rare – I remember holding him when he was about six months old, crying, because for the life of me I could not imagine how I would ever give him up.”

She was rocking her baby and listening, while I rocked mine and talked: “I remember crying and I remember thinking that even if my whole heart was crushed, I would never regret knowing him and loving him, but I would regret not knowing him and loving him.”

More recently, I have watched my sister-in-law and one of my best friends, foster a baby from birth and struggle with him through drug withdrawals, only to give him back. I have spent sleepless nights crying till my stomach hurt, wishing I could make everything better and knowing there is no way to make the loss of your child better.

I watch what they are going through and I ask myself again, why we are doing what we are doing. And the truth is? I don’t really know.

Except sometimes, Jesus tells you to do something or go somewhere, way outside your comfort zone, way outside your familiarity, way outside what you think you can possible do.

Everyday I have at least one nurse tell me that we are amazing and I completely disagree.

We are not amazing.

God is amazing.

I stare into the tiny, round, pink face of my daughter and I cry tears of thankfulness that God asked me to walk a road I would have never volunteered to walk. If we were not here, our little girl would have no one.

This is not the way I would have chosen to have a family.

But every day that I wake up and hear my little boy say, “I huggle you, Mommy” and every time I watch my sweet girl’s respirations drop back down to a normal rate because she hears me singing about Jesus, I thank God that He is God and that He has allowed me to have a family this way.

I am every bit of pure exhaustion tonight. My head hurts, my body aches, and I want to sleep for a whole week without waking up. I get angry watching my girl go through the torment she must suffer because of drug abuse. I miss my little boy and my husband. I feel alone.

And I’m telling you now.

Do it.

Whatever He calls you to do, He will give you the gumption, the courage and the love that you need for every single impossible moment.

You will never be the same and you will never want to be the same.

Because whatever it is that He calls you to do, will cause you to behold Him in ways you never imagined and would never trade for anything.

AND – God delights in doing the impossible through you.

When you are weak, HE is strong.

Today is the day to do it.

Whatever He asks.

Do it today.

And you will behold the glory of an amazing God.

 

—————————————————————–

We have been so blessed by the people of God doing community. People that are almost strangers to me, a young Christian family with three children ages two and under, have opened up their home to me so I don’t have to commute 90 miles a day. They live three miles from the hospital and they feed me breakfast and give me a bed to sleep on.

My sister and her fiancé brought Ryan and I out to eat today. We ate good food and laughed and felt like normal people again.

My other sister flew from Maine to care for Leo. She is selflessly caring for him and making sure there is food for him and Ryan to eat, doing my laundry and cleaning my house.

Friends have texted me and blessed me with words. People I barely know have sent me messages breathing “BRAVE” right into my not-brave soul.

Grandpa and Grandma Shafer sacrificed several days to run after our two-year-old, before my sister could come.

My friend brought us a year’s worth of granola bars and snacks and a Subway gift card to help with eating on-the-run.

Some of our family – on both sides – went and told people about some of the financial things we are facing with this kind of situation (gas and parking expenses, food expenses, etc.). People are giving and we are so humbled.

My sister-in-law brought me potted PINK flowers and tea and honey to drink on my long hospital days. She thinks of things no one else would.

One of my other sisters showed up with coffee in the biggest cup you could get. She knows what ALWAYS hits the spot. She was also the one who managed to plan and throw a beautiful baby shower for me, amidst caring for her three young children, one of whom has Spina Bifida and was having appointments and surgery right over that time.

My friend who helped my sister with the shower, who knows from personal experience what it is like to do what we are doing.

Our neighbor who brought over a laundry basket of grab n’ go snack food. (I’m not kidding about the size.)

And there are more people…all the people who pray, who made freezer meals, who gave gifts, who send me random emails and messages saying – “HEY! You are LOVED…we are cheering for you!”

::Just Wow.::

Why You Can Face that Hard Thing

Then there was the time we left the church.

I don’t think anything else could have been so hard and so right, then that. How do you graciously leave a church community? How do you say “good-bye” (in that “I-go-to-church-with-you” way) graciously to people who you care for and people who have cared for you?

Yeah, all that and then some. If you’ve ever done it, you know what I’m saying. That’s been a huge part of our 2015 right there. Six years of questions and conversations and thinking and praying and frustration and iron-sharpening-iron and rebuke and tears all culminating in that final decision: it’s time to leave.

If I told you the truth, I wanted to leave years ago. Almost as soon as I started attending, but not quite that far back, I wanted to leave and I’m so glad I didn’t.

I would have left angry.

I’m glad my husband is cut from the cloth of something greater. I’m glad he said, “No” and I’m glad he stood on that, holding me all the time.

I’m glad because I can look back now and see how Jesus had a work to do in my heart. How he put me where I was for a good reason and how He kept me there as long as He did. Six years. Six years that sometimes felt like a painful eternity.

I know it’s so cliché, but Jesus really does know better.

When we finally did leave, it could not have been more clear and my husband could not have been more decided. I think some people wondered if it was really for real, but I knew it the instant Ryan said, “this is it”, that this was really it.

And of all things? I cried a lot of tears.

I cried, not because I didn’t know it was time and it was the right thing to do. I cried, because I care and I love and I hate change and I hate good-byes and this was all really, really hard.

Hard, because you know that as much as you say, “we’ll stay in touch”, the nature of relationships change.

Hard, because you know there will be misunderstanding and hurt and possibly even judgment.

Hard, because starting again is always hard.

Hard, because new friendships will be made and that will take a lot of time and effort, and the old friendships you could depend on might continue, but they might not too.

And yet — following Jesus always pays. Always.

Jesus is why and how you can face that hard thing in your life. He’s the reason you can stay in your imperfect church and sometimes He’s the reason you can leave. He’s the reason you can risk your heart again, and sometimes He’s the reason you protect your heart. He’s the reason you can say yes, and sometimes He’s the reason you can say no.

Not everyone will understand your path and your journey and your decisions, but if Jesus is the reason? You can hold your head high and take it on the chin, because you know, deep in the core of your soul, that following Jesus pays.

You there? The one reading this?

You’ve got a Savior and a Redeemer and a Refiner and His name is Jesus. If He’s got the whole world in His hands, that means He’s got you too. So step out and step in Him.

And never look back.

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality,  idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.  If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.

Galatians 5:19-25, ESV

Why I Can Face the New Year {and you too}

I’m pulling spun-out laundry from the washing machine, when I think of it – how January 3rd is here, and 2016, and it’s a new year already and time goes so fast, and I wonder how many people say that every year. “Didn’t we just start a new year? How can we be here already?”

When you’re fifteen and your bad days hinge on hair and pimple flair-ups, you just smile when people talk about the swift passage of time. “Before you know it, you’ll be middle-aged with a family and you’ll wonder what happened”, and at fifteen, you don’t even have a driver’s license but you’re already wondering if you’ll ever get married, and middle-aged people that say things like that are just weird.

I toss the spun-out laundry into the dryer and I realize I’m middle-aged now and people that say things like that might be weird, but they are also telling the truth.

The earth keeps right on spinning on its axis and time never stops — or even slows — and the honest reality is that your longest day is nothing but a sliver of a moment in the grand scheme of life.

And I might be middle age, but I’m still figuring this out. That my life matters today, on a Monday when “all” I do is clean my bathroom and change laundry loads in the basement and read books to my two-year-old. I’m still “getting it”, that all this living is what life is really all about. That “being someone” and “making a difference” and “leaving a legacy” is about how I love my husband and if I make time to chit-chat with my neighbors and how I raise my son. IMG_4389IMG_9877IMG_4235IMG_4367IMG_7332IMG_7342IMG_7356IMG_7175IMG_7326IMG_7252IMG_7378

When I was fifteen there were so many things I wanted to “get past” – I wanted to get past school. I wanted to get past singlehood then, and start dating, and then after dating a couple of months, I wanted to get past dating and get engaged. You know how it goes, right? There is always something next, right?

It happened when I became a mom. I loved this little baby boy, but I wanted him to start cooing. Then he did and I wanted him to giggle and then roll over and seriously, when would he crawl? Some days, hard days, I wanted him to stop being a baby, like he could just get over that, and be a kid.

It’s human nature and I’m only becoming more convinced, that it’s a messed-up part of human nature. Because the real milestone is seeing the wonder and beauty and importance of today, how this day and this moment marks your life, how it shapes you and carries you to those landmarks of your life, how the moments that stand out are only special because of who you are, and how who you are is all that life lived out every day.  

This summer we got a phone call about a baby that needed a home. We said no. Sometimes, as much as you wish you could, you can’t. We had said we wouldn’t do it again, until our Cub’s adoption was finished.

On December 7th, we got another phone call. This time was different and I knew it right away. We had to make a decision fast, like we always do, and I called Ryan at work. He listened, all quiet and then he said, “What do you think?” And I paused before I spoke, because I was afraid. Afraid he would tell me no, that we really needed to wait until the adoption was finished, like we had said we would. That would be responsible, right?

Sometimes I hate being an adult and feeling the need to be responsible.

“My heart says yes,” I was quiet and I waited impatiently for his response.

“Yeah,” he said, “Yeah, me too.”

“Really?” I could hardly believe my ears. “Really?”

We waited a couple of days, prayed about it, talked about it, weighed the pros and the cons and wondered if there are pros and cons to wrapping your arms around a baby and giving it love.

Then we said yes, two days later on December 9th. And the moment I hung up the phone, I wanted to cry. What had we done? I doubted our decision, because we had said that we wanted to wait until the adoption was through and then we didn’t. Did we just make an emotional decision, because there was little baby girl that was going to be born in February?

“God, are we crazy?” I prayed that whole morning, in my heart. “Ok, God, I just need to know we did the right thing. This is a huge risk and did we just plow into it and make an emotional decision? I didn’t think we did, but did we?”

I got home that afternoon, got the mail, and there it was – the cream envelope branded with our lawyer’s name and office address. My hands shook, but I ripped that envelope open as fast as I could. We had a date to finalize the adoption of our Cub.

December 15.

I smiled all day long. Smiled because in less-than-a-week our adoption would be final. Smiled because we had gone out on a limb and said yes to a baby girl and the timing of everything just felt like a big stamp of blessing from God.

I’m closer to middle age than any other age now, and I’m a far cry from where I thought I would be, when I was fifteen. I’m living a life I would have never marked out and I’m doing things, like foster care, that I merely contemplated as remote possibilities in the distant future.

And yesterday, we walked up to the tall, chain link, barbed wire fencing and signed ourselves in at the front desk and went through security and through doors that only open when you hear a buzzer. We sat in a crowded visiting room and waited for a woman to come out, a woman with a bump at her belly, due soon. We sat there waiting and I thought about the fact that she had already made it clear that she would want her baby back when she got out.

She came out and I gave her a hug and we talked. “What made you decide to do this program?” She asked, between bites of a cheap vending machine burger.

So I told her. I told her how we couldn’t have kids of our own, how we’d doctored and cried and been mad at God. I told her how we ended up getting Leo even though we weren’t on the list and how we’d just finished his adoption. I told her how we never expected an adoption, and how I’d told Ryan six months into loving our Cub, that I would really do it all over again, because for better or worse, my heart might split in two, but I would never regret loving him.

She told us that she was getting out in May and she said, “Only three months without the baby.” And I smiled at her, but my heart cracked a bit.

“You are my angels,” She said then, popping a blue Sour Patch Kid into her mouth. “I don’t think I could do what you are doing.”

I looked into her eyes and I saw her. She was a human, a woman, and she was a mom. A mom who had some really hard knocks and made some really bad choices. A person that needs Jesus, just like me.

“I didn’t think I could do what I’m doing either,” I said, “I don’t know how I’m going to love Nevaeh and then say good-bye. I don’t. I have a hard time explaining this too, but I think sometimes God puts it in your heart to do things that feel crazy and impossible, things you don’t know you can do, but He puts it in your heart and He gives you grace.”

She puts more Sour Patch Kids in her mouth and doesn’t say anything in response. She just looks at me and her eyes are kind and grateful.

And I wonder, sitting there, how it will feel when I place her daughter back in her arms and say good-bye. I wonder what in this crazy, spinning world I am doing, because what I’m doing feels a little like putting your heart up for target practice.

I know how fast time really goes and how short three to six months will really be, and I don’t even understand myself why on this earth we are doing what we are doing, except I am starting to realize that my life matters today, while I’m “just” being a mom and a wife and a woman and a person that believes in crazy grace that equips you to breathe and take one step at a time.

A lot of things in life don’t make sense, and I don’t know why God allows a lot of things to happen the way He does, but Jesus loves me, this I know, and this, my friends, is why I can face the New Year.

And you too.

 

 

 

Redemption. Revelation. ::a new year::

“I’ve been walking around with a lump in my chest for the last three days, but I am not asking myself why I am doing this, I am asking myself why I ever questioned if I should.

The air is thick with redemption.”

August 14, 2013. I put those words to page, somewhere between baby cuddles and baby cries and baby wonder. We had brought our son home, and my mind was whirling with it all…the newborn wonder, the new mom uncertainty, the new parent questions. This precious boy was in my arms and I loved him so much that my heart hurt.IMG_2385

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There were those first days that were so hard. We were in the process of buying a house, so I was packing, packing, packing and living out of boxes. He cried a lot and I didn’t even realize then how much he fussed. When you’re living in the moment, you don’t think about how bad it is, you just deal with it, and that’s what I did. One night, Ryan went to a men’s meeting at church and Leo screamed for an hour-and-a-half-straight. I had him all swaddled up and I sang and I sang and I sang while tears streamed down my face.

I remember staring into his eyes and feeling heartbroken, because his eyes looked so lost. I prayed so hard that he would find his place in us. That he would bond and make us home. I prayed so hard that this would happen, because you know what they say about kids who don’t bond? I begged God for that, even while it scared me to think that he would bond to us and then what?

What would happen when his biological mother was released from prison and we had to give him up? How would I ever live with no little man Leo? An empty crib and an empty green and brown and yellow bedroom haunted my mind.

I didn’t pray about these things. I begged God for mercy. Mercy on Leo’s biological mother. I will never forget her sad good-bye to her son. How the big tears could no longer be squelched, how they rolled down her cheeks and dripped off her nose. How her hands shook and how she whispered, “I’ll always love you,” into his ear before she handed him into my arms, one last kiss on his little nose. Mercy on Leo, who was born into a broken world, a world all ripped open, torn apart and bleeding out. Mercy on us, who loved him more than any other little person we’ve ever known.Shaferfamily2013

But it’s true. Two days after the birth of our precious son, Leo, I wrote it, that the air was thick with redemption. I wrote it and I believed it, and the passage of time has only proved it.

The redemption was only beginning on August 14, 2013, God working and shaping our hearts, turning us, sifting us, moving us, calling us out as we became parents.

I remember that moment of stillness, the sacred moment it dawned on my heart, that I would truly never regret saying yes to Leo. He was a swaddled up, six or so months of chubby, way-too-cute, sleeping bundle and I was rocking him just a little bit longer. Rocking him and thinking about what will happen when I have to say good-bye.

My finger stroked his soft cheek and the tears came and he sighed contentedly in his sleep. “I will never regret loving you,” I whispered. “My heart might ache, and I dunno how I’ll go on, but I will never regret loving you.”

Part of my story holds the grief of infertility and the pain of miscarriage and the sharp pain of loss. There is a loneliness in my soul that many women can never identify with or understand.

That grief is still there, and the loss. The aloneness is real.

But so is the redemption.

Redemption never erases the ugliness of brokenness. It reshapes it.

I don’t know what your story is, but I’m sure it’s broken somewhere. Maybe your husband left you for another woman, left you to fend for yourself and the kids? Maybe your best friend betrayed you or your coworker used you to get himself a promotion? Maybe you’re still single and feeling so alone? Maybe you’re so locked up you don’t know how to feel anymore?

Brokenness is part of being human and that’s downright ugly, and I know that we all wish to find a way to forget.

To rewind. Erase. Start over.

It’s okay. I get it.

But stop right there. Brokenness is a right of passage we all get to live with and there isn’t any point in starting over.

So begin again. A new year is dawning and a fresh chance is calling – you.

You right there. The air is thick with the redemption of Christ, the powerful redemption that breathes courage and strength into weary bones and whispers hope to aching hearts and speaks love to hungry souls.

Jesus came, in a lowly manger, and He brought life more abundantly than you could ever dream or imagine. Believing that God has a good purpose for your life, doesn’t happen when the ducks all get in a row and things start making sense. Believing begins when you dare to stand in the brokenness of your humanity and begin again.

We’re just three days away from beginning again. Are you ready to live 2016 as though you believe that the God of the universe is on your side?

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that His life may also be revealed in our mortal body.” – 2 Corinthians 4:7-11

 Your story may be wrought in pain, but God takes pain and brokenness and He redeems it to only be a revelation of His goodness, His greatness, His unfailing, unfettered amazing love. He is all grace, only over and over again. He is grace and He is mercy that saves us from death and restores us to righteousness.

On December 15, 2015, we testified in court. We told a judge and our lawyer and a handful of friends and family why we wanted to adopt Leo and make him forever ours. We were granted our petition and I, like Hannah from thousands of years ago, can say that I have gotten a man from the Lord.

This story, still not finished yet, for is any story ever done unfolding? This story is wrought in the pain of loss and hurt and grief, but I have seen the salvation of the Lord.

I would have never chosen infertility, you know? Would any of us have chosen our hard roads and our heartache?

But God, he is rich in mercy and He came, our Jesus, to save us from ourselves.

And it’s a new year coming and the air? The air is thick with redemption.lawyer day

———

We’re doing it again. Yeah, before we’d even had our adoption day, we’d said yes to another baby. A girl this time. Coming soon, due on February 3rd. We don’t know how long and we feel all those “what if”, “how can we” feelings all over again.

But blessed assurance, there is one thing we know that anchors our souls and holds us fast in a world of unfettered brokenness – Jesus is ours.

{PLEXUS} How it’s Changing my Life

There are some things in life than no one can prepare you for. The diagnosis of cancer. Someone running a red light and crashing head-on into your vehicle. Your child dying in his sleep. Being told at 22 years old that you are starting menopause.

You can have the best made plans and life will happen anyways.

The summer of 2009, I was busy planning a wedding, doing a low-carb diet with my mom and sister, exercising daily and loving my life. I had energy, I had dreams and I was in love…and terribly naïve.

I ended up in the doctor’s office three weeks before my wedding, because my period had gone absent without leave for three months straight and you kind of want to figure those kind of things out before you get married. She ran some labs and told me nothing would probably come up.

But then she called. She called and said it was probably nothing, but there was this one hormone level that was a little too elevated. “Just focus on getting married,” She said, “Once you’re settled, find a doctor and just have it re-checked. I really think you’ll find that it’s nothing.”

I totally believed that she was right (what could possibly be wrong?) and I went on my merry way and got myself married and settled in. A couple of months went by and I started experiencing chronic lower abdominal pain. My periods continued to be irregular and sporadic. Something was up. Fears started nagging me.

I started researching doctors in my area and I scheduled an appointment. I had this gut feeling that we were going to find out that the supposed nothing was actually something, but I went to that first doctor appointment never imagining what would transpire. I had always been healthy. Whatever was wrong was a simple fix, I was sure of it.

Was I ever so very wrong.

Nothing could have ever prepared me, a naïve twenty-two year old, fresh-married slip of a girl, for that moment when a doctor looked me square in the face and said, “This isn’t right. I’m going to run these labs again. We’re going to schedule a pelvic ultrasound and I want you to see an endocrinologist.”

I stared at wedding pictures and I wondered what I would have thought had I known.

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In the last six years I have seen upwards of five different doctors specializing in various fields of medicine related to fertility and hormones. I have undergone failed fertility treatments, had more ultrasounds than I can count on both hands, sat in several different doctor’s offices, and filled up far too many vials with blood (the record was twelve at one time). I have incorporated regimented exercise into my already active lifestyle and completely overhauled my diet. We eat almost 100% gluten-free, low-carb, sugar-free (not including natural sugars) on a daily basis.

After all of this, I have seen very little results. My husband and I said good-bye to our miracle baby that we miscarried in 2010. My chronic abdominal pain went away only after putting ourselves on a strict diet. People thought we were joining up with the gluten-free fad, but this was pure survival.

In the meantime, I forgot what feeling good was like. I got used to dealing with digestive issues and irregular periods and brain fog. Without even realizing it, I slowly slipped into mild depression. I struggled seriously with hormonal imbalance and didn’t know what to do to even start getting on top of my game.

In 2014, my reproductive endocrinologist said, “You need to get pregnant this year or go on synthetic hormones.” I just smiled and said, “Okay,” but the last thing I planned on doing was going on synthetic hormones if I didn’t get pregnant.

Early this summer, I had just about had it. I could tell my body was so off hormonally and I knew I had to do something about it. While eating well has affected my hormonal levels in good ways, my levels have consistently ranked between premenopausal – postmenopausal since twenty-two-years-old. “I have to do something,” I told Ryan, “but it’s not going to be synthetic.”

{Enter: PLEXUS.}

Plexus. That annoying line of products people were posting all over social media. Oh, please. That was what I thought of Plexus.

Then my friend Rosanna, who I knew to be very health-conscious, started posting about it, and my interest was peaked. This was in June of this year, right around the same time I told my husband that I have to do something. (But who knows what.)

Plexus haunted me. I kept thinking about it. Finally, the beginning of July, I approached Rosanna about it. Ryan and I sat down and researched the products and read reviews and hashed it out.

We got stuck at the 60-day money-back guarantee if the products did not work for me. Seriously though, what did we have to lose?

It felt expensive to me. (The number one reason I have heard for not wanting to try it.) But either way I looked at my situation, I was going to be spending the money to balance my hormones. I could find nothing regarding the actual Plexus products to be concerning or potentially harmful. So I took the plunge and I started Plexus.

I told two of my sisters and I said, “Please don’t tell anyone. I don’t want people to know I’m doing this, because they’ll just think I’m one of “those people”.”

Today, I am proud to tell you that I am one of those people. Getting on Plexus is one of the best things I have ever done in my life.

While most people do not see results this quickly, within two weeks I was noticing a difference in my mood, my skin and my energy levels. I thought I was psychologically trying to convince myself that this was happening because I wanted so bad for it to work. Then my husband brought it up, “I really think I’m going to be a fan of this Plexus stuff,” he said, “I can already tell a difference in you. Have you thought about it?”

I have been on Plexus for four months and for the first time in over five years, I feel like myself again. Not only do I have the gumption to get out of bed in the morning (this became a very real struggle in the last several years), I have energy. I had become such a tired and worn-out person, I had stopped doing anything creative that required much work or effort. I’m doing projects again and having fun doing them! I am far less irritable, my head feels so much clearer, and to top it off, I have lost the fifteen pounds I had put on due to hormonal imbalance/early menopause issues.

Plexus feels like this doorway in my life, that God has opened for me. I realize that this might not be an answer for everyone, but I wish that I could get all of the people I love to give it a try, for how it is changing my life. Maybe it doesn’t make sense to you, but when you are a 28-year-old woman going through menopause since you were 22-years-old, finding something that helps you to gain balance and energy and health feels like a true miracle.

———————

The month of November is a special month in that the PLEXUS company is offering FREE shipping to old and new customers alike!

FREE SHIP NOVEMBERProBio5

The ProBio5 is a great product to start with for a new Plexus PROBIO5customer desiring to obtain gut health. This supplement can be bought retail for $34.95 or bought preferred for $29.95.This pricing is comparable to other good probiotics out there and remember that NOVEMBER is the month for free shipping! At the time of manufacture, there are 2 billion live cells in 1 capsule of ProBio5. 

To read more about this product or other Plexus products, please go here: http://shopmyplexus.com/reneeshafer/

** Please feel free to contact me with questions, feedback or to place an order, HERE.