Posted in about me, family, foster care, Note to Self

And then there were EIGHT!?!?

This year has been FULL of surprises! Big ones, small ones, happy ones, sad ones, and even strange and almost unbelievable ones (possums in the toilet?). Now, here we are. It’s almost November and I have no idea where the year has gone. But when I look back, it seems like too much has happened for less than a year to have gone by. (Such is life, I guess.)

Unfortunately, I’m a super goal-oriented person. I LOVE setting both small and big goals for myself and the feeling I get when I meet or exceed those goals! So far this year, with all the unexpected happenings, I’ve failed to hit almost every goal I’ve had, especially blogging goals. 

I’ve tried so hard to keep up with blogging but it’s been nearly impossible. So my new goal (as far as blogging is concerned) is to get used to using my phone to write and post and get caught up on reviews. Using my phone, in theory,  I “should” be able to stitch together some posts in short bursts of free time throughout my days.  So say a prayer, wish me luck, and sacrifice a chicken under the light of a full moon that this is one goal I’ll be able to stick to!

Actually, maybe don’t do that last one?

No… Definitely don’t do the last one.

Seriously, DON’T DO IT! If you have a chicken, I need the eggs!!!

It takes a whole dozen eggs just to make enough for everyone at breakfast now because one of those unexpected happenings that’s occurred this year was a previous foster placement coming back into care and back into our home, bringing our current family size to eight!!! (Note to self: you need to Google when it becomes cheaper to just raise chickens and dairy cows.)

Having 6 kids, my studio time has been cut short, but I’m finally get a bit set aside most days to work. I should get my audiobook page updated this weekend so please be sure to check that out and use the links found there to view & purchase from Audible! (As always, reviewers can contact me for promo codes.)

I’m also getting some quilting and crochet time in so I’ll try to post about those projects soon.

And, of course, I’ll be posting reviews!

I pre-apologize for any funky fonts, misspellings, or other craziness that occurs as I figure out this whole WordPress phone posting thing and appreciate any suggestions on how to keep my blog going and staying connected with the blogging community with small children! Leave me a comment below or shoot me a message through the Contact Me page. Thanks for visiting!

~Jess

Posted in faith, foster care

What Jesus Feeding the 5,000 Taught Me About Fostering

We haven’t been fostering for very long. Our first placement came to stay with us in December 2017 and left the following November.

Of course, that’s the goal of foster care – to help keep families together by providing the guidance and resources necessary to make that happen…

But it doesn’t make life any easier or hurt any less when the children who’ve become a part of your family are no longer there. It almost killed me to say goodbye.

Time to grieve.

We decided to take some time to heal and mourn our loss after that first placement left.

Unfortunately, that didn’t stop workers from contacting us to take in another placement. I couldn’t get upset or blame them. In our state (and many others) there is a severe shortage of foster families willing to take in foster children.

As hard as it was to say no, we just couldn’t open up our hearts and our home to another set of kids. We were still too broken.

The emotional roller coaster I went through during that time is incredibly hard to describe…

I deeply desired to take in every child they asked us about.

I missed having a house full of children running around all the time. It was way too quiet and the silence sometimes felt as if it would swallow me whole. I’d heard that phrase before, but it was the first time I actually understood it.

At the same time, I couldn’t imagine other children sleeping in the kids’ beds, playing with their toys, wearing the clothes they’d outgrown. And I knew I’d be comparing the “new” kids to the “old” ones, which wouldn’t be fair to any of us.

So we continued to turn down placements, convinced we were “doing the right thing.” And that saying no was “for the best.”

WWJD?

Our logic seemed infallible.

But as I sat alone one day, having my quiet time and reading the account of Jesus feeding the 5,000 in Matthew, something changed. I saw something there I’d never noticed before…

If you’re not familiar with the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000, it goes as follows:

Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand
13 When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.
15 As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”
16 Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”
17 “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered.
18 “Bring them here to me,” he said. 19 And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. 20 They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. 21 The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Matthew 14:13-21
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® 

I’ve read this story more times than I can count. I’ve heard it preached on Sunday mornings, listened to podcasts, and watched videos on it.

To be honest, I’ve read and heard it so much I tend to gloss over the miracle part of it. Like, yeah, Jesus fed a bunch of people with just a little bit of food… it’s Jesus. He could do things like that.

But this story has never really hit me in a way that I could relate to. As a disciple, it’s not one I’ve drawn strength from or looked to for guidance — at least, not until now.

If you notice, the beginning of this story starts with “When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place.” That’s important as to what took place in my heart that day reading this story and having it hit me like it was the first time I’d ever heard it…

What was it Jesus had heard happened? John the Baptist had just been killed. He was Jesus’ cousin and friend. He was the one who’d baptized him! Jesus loved him deeply and fiercely.

Jesus was in mourning.

He took a short time to grieve and pray, but he didn’t shut down or shut people out. He could’ve turned the crowd away. Everyone would’ve understood if he had.

But he didn’t.

He took care if them, providing for their physical and spiritual needs despite his grief. If it was me, I wouldn’t have had any desire to care for the twelve apostles, much less some huge crowd I knew was gonna turn on me soon!

I wasn’t doing the same. I was wallowing in my own pain and grief and not willing to be Jesus’s hands and feet here on earth in the way He called me to be.

But were we “ready”?

I was already feeling the urge to take in more kids despite my heartache by this time. I felt a little lost and incomplete. Fostering is the one thing I’ve known, without doubt, that God has called me to. I felt selfish taking a break before my “WWJD” revelation.

But my husband didn’t feel the same. Neither did our kids.

Each time a call or text would come through, I’d start preparing in my head for new arrivals. Then I’d talk with the rest of the family about it and realize…it’s just too soon. Not only were we still dealing with loss, we had other issues we were also dealing with and taking in more kids during this time just didn’t make sense.

I think there are certain moments that the Lord just puts everything in place and softens hearts to bring him glory. The day I had the above heart change, He did just that.

I talked to my husband when he got home from work about accepting the next foster placement…and he agreed! This might not sound significant to you, but believe me, it was!!!

And the rest, as they say, is history.

We’re currently blessed with a new foster child in our home. She’s been here for about 3 months now and we’re enjoying every minute of having her here (even during the late night screaming parties).

I wanted to share this because I found it funny when I thought about it later. Jesus providing for 5,000 over 2,000 years ago led me to see past my own pain and provide for someone in need now. And out of all the passages in the bible about caring for orphans, widows, the least of these, etc., the one that pierced my heart never mentions them.

What do you think? Have you ever been surprised by what you’ve gotten from a seemingly random piece of scripture? Let me know your thoughts below!

Posted in blogging

No, I’m not dead…

Hello everyone!

I know, I disappeared after my steroid injection post, but they didn’t kill me or anything! (I’m actually going to get the second one today. Yikes!)

I am sorry for the radio silence over the last few weeks, we’ve just had a lot going on! Some was just personal stuff, but on top of that we started getting the house ready for a sibling group we thought we were going to get from foster care, but that fell through, and now we have a completely different placement…

So a lot of transitioning going on in my home! Which means a lot of randomness and sporadic posting here.

I do hope to at least get caught up on reviews and my other planned posts over the next couple weeks and then hopefully get back to normal and fully open up to review requests again soon!

In the meantime, I just wanted to pop in quickly to say hi! I’ve missed all my blogging world peeps! Hope all is well with you!!

Posted in blogging

2019 Blogging Goals

Another Year Has Come and Gone…

Well, It’s officially 2019 and I’m both excited and a little sad to say goodbye to 2018.

The last part of the year was especially hard. To name a few of the most difficult…

1) We said goodbye to our foster kids, which just about killed me. 2) The pain in my neck spread to my arm, back and even caused problems with my head and vision. (I just realized I never actually posted about that.) And 3) My youngest went to live with her dad so I only see her on the weekends.

Some really great things happened during that time too, though…

1) I was able to interview my dad for StoryCorp. 2) I changed the name of the website and went self-hosted! and 3) I was blown away by the love my post received as the blog of the day via The Write Reads (go check them out!)

And with both the good and the bad of the entire past year now gone, it’s time to look forward to a new year and all it will bring with it!

Goodbye Jess Combs, Hello Combing Through the Pages!

So when I started blogging three years ago, it was a short-lived experience that revolved around me. It made sense for my blog to just be my name.

But I’m boring!

I quickly got tired of talking about myself and the Jess Combs blog died a quiet death.

One of the most exciting things about 2018 was combining the fun of blogging with my passion for reading and bookishness. Enter the name change and the birth of “Combing Through the Pages.”

Now that I have a new bookish name and it’s a new year, it’s time to start making some goals for 2019!

Blogging Goals for 2019

There’s a lot I want to do with Combing Through the Pages in 2019! Some of my goals are far-fetched dreaming, some are just practical things I should have been doing all along, and others are exciting ways to connect with other book lovers and bloggers.

Without further ado, I give you my goals list for 2019:

1. Catch Up on Review Posts!

My top priority for 2019 is to catch up on all the books I planned to have reviewed before the end of 2018. It’s no excuse, but with everything that happened from October-December, I got behind. There are some great books I’ve read that haven’t been written about yet, and a couple I didn’t get finished in 2018.

So my first goal is pretty simple… get caught up!

2. Finish Becoming “Combing Through the Pages”

So simply changing the site name from “Jess Combs” to “Combing Through the Pages” was pretty easy. But as I quickly learned, it takes a lot more than that to actually make the change!

A new logo, new about page, new headers, new social media banners, etc… There’s a lot that still has to be done to finish “re-branding.”

In a way, this one probably could go under catching up, but it’s a whole other beast to tackle and so it’s number 2 on my list!

Among the major things #2 requires, is settling on my logo. What do you guys think of the one I’m using currently? Do you have suggestions? I would absolutely LOVE any and all feedback on the site! I’m still learning so please leave your ideas, thoughts and opinions in the comments or send me a message through the Contact Me page!

3. Hit 1,000 WordPress and E-mail Subscribers

This is one of those far-fetched, if all my dreams came true goals.

I’m currently at 343 WordPress/E-mail followers. So I’d need 657 new people to subscribe to Combing Through the Pages before the end of the year. If I average 2 new followers a day, I’ll hit it, so even though it’s a “daydreaming” goal, I think it’s possible.

4. Spend 2+ Hours Every Week Supporting My Followers Blogs

This one is pretty self-explanatory. I want to be intentional in 2019 about supporting those who support me.

So my goal is to take at least 2 hours every week and just visit, comment and use affiliate links on my followers blogs. Those are all things I appreciate others doing for me, so I want to be sure to do the same for them!

5. Show More Love to Other Book Bloggers 

The book blogging community, as a whole, is amazingly supportive!

When I started reviewing book, I was lucky enough to stumble across two incredible ways to get connected, find support, and discover other great blogs!

The first was the New Bloggers support group run by Evelina at Avalinahsbooks. Whether you’re new to the book blogging thing or you’ve been at it for a while, she’s an invaluable resource! If you’re a book blogger and haven’t already, you should go check it out right now!

Again, with everything going on, I haven’t been able to participate a whole lot this past month or so on the app and I’ve missed it terribly! So part of this goal is to make full use of the community Evelina has made and retweet, reblog, and support in any way I can my fellow book bloggers!

The second great resource for me was The Write Reads on Twitter. The Write Reads makes it super easy to support other book bloggers! Every day, a different blog post is featured as the blog of the day. Others visit and retweet the post.

I’ve discovered a lot of new bloggers, new books, and great posts through The Write Reads. There have been days when the only other blogger I’ve been able to visit was the blog of the day so I’m super thankful to be a part of it and want to keep it going through 2019!

6. Create and Stick To an Editorial Calendar!

I am great at scheduling months in advance for my family, but I am horrible at it for my blog!!!

I tried to use a calendar to come up with ideas and a schedule for last year, but when I actually used it, I never followed through.

So… my goal is to actually make use of an editorial calendar. This should keep me from needing to play catch up in 2019!

7. Post 5+ Times a Week

This one kinda goes with #6, but I decided to give it it’s own number.

One of the great things about planning out posts for a month, is that I know what’s coming up! So I can write posts in advance and schedule them to post!

I’ve been getting better about this, but I want to do even better in 2019! If I stick to it, I won’t have any problem making sure I’ve got posts Monday-Friday.

8. Host 3+ Giveaways in 2019

I think I entered almost every bookish giveaway I saw at the end of 2018!

While I wasn’t fortunate enough to win any of them, I loved the idea and am really excited to do some myself! So stay tuned as I’ll be giving away books and gift cards soon!

9. Post more about Fostering.

While this blog is mostly about books, I’m also a foster parent and I want to talk more about that.

Fostering isn’t easy and people aren’t always supportive. There are things that people don’t talk about and there are some things that are just down right funny. I want to bring it all out in the open – the good, the bad, the funny, and the sad. I’m hoping to connect more with other foster parents and other bloggers who blog about their experiences.

10. HAVE FUN!

My last goal is just to have fun. Sometimes, blogging can feel like a chore instead of a hobby. So in 2019, I want to just keep enjoying what I’m doing and sharing with all of you!

So I’m looking forward to having fun as we comb through the pages of life together!

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

Posted in family, foster care

Our Life will NEVER be the Same.

*Warning: This is going to be a raw (unedited), emotional post.

After almost an entire year, our first foster placement left yesterday.  We knew it was going to be hard, but knowing something in the abstract and actually experiencing it are never the same thing – NOTHING can prepare a heart for this…

We knew this day was coming

It’s not that we didn’t have time to prepare or anything. We’ve been boxing up their things and sending a little bit at a time for weeks now. With every box that was closed and sent away, a piece of my heart went with it, and I had to face a hard truth I’d been steadily denying for months…

These were never my kids. 

I never lost sight of that fact, really. I thought of and prayed for their mom every single day. I imagined myself in her situation and cried myself to sleep, hurting for her and for her kids who were sleeping so far away from her. I couldn’t imagine not knowing where my kids were spending the first year of their lives. I asked God over and over again to help her stay strong through this time, to give her the skills she needed to be reunited with her babies.

But in my heart, I wasn’t praying for “her” babies. I was praying for “ours.” Hers and mine.

I was there when the one year old met her brother and sister for the first time – the day we brought them to our home from the hospital. We threw a Minnie Mouse themed party for her 2nd birthday, waited for her favorite swing to open up at the park, sung silly songs, and laughed and cried together so many times over the last year. She’s grown so much and learned so much. And I was there for all of that, holding her hand through most of it.

We brought the twins to our home from the hospital after spending days visiting them there. I quit my job to stay home with them because they couldn’t be out in public until they were 3 months old. I got up with them in the middle of the night, heard their first laughs, fed them for the first time, watched them learn to crawl, saw their first steps, and so many more firsts… and I was as proud as any other parent would be.

But I was also hurting. Because every first I saw, meant she didn’t. And no amount of pictures can fix that.

So I prayed that they be reunited. That she not miss out on all the firsts.

The more I prayed, the more guilty I felt. Because I loved them so much and a part of me didn’t want to let them go.

No, they weren’t mine. But they felt like mine. They shared my home, my life, my everything. They were my daughters’ sisters and brother. They were every bit a part of my family as my husband and daughters are.

But only for a time.

We knew that going in. We knew it towards the end, as we sent box after box away. We weren’t prepared.

Why did we do this?

I remember when we first talked to my girls about us fostering. They were entirely on board and eager to start. But fostering wasn’t mine and my husband’s first choice.

We were well on the road to international adoption a year ago. Our home study was completed, our information had been sent away, all the background checks and everything had been done… we were excited.

But we couldn’t move forward.

When I was growing up, two of my best friends were sisters. They had been placed in the foster care system and honestly, it wasn’t the best situation for them. One of them died not too long ago and since then I catch myself thinking “if only she’d had a better chance…” way too often.

My oldest daughter has a friend who also spent some time in foster care. She was separated from her brothers during that time. When I found out about it, it haunted me.

And then it happened… my youngest daughter came to me in tears. Her friend was gone. She didn’t know where. They’d put her with a foster family with her sister and she didn’t know where her two brothers were. They had no idea when they’d talk again or if they’d ever see each other. 

The guilt was too much for me to bear. How could we, knowing what we knew, continue down a road so much easier for us when families were being ripped apart? These kids weren’t just being taken out of their homes and away from their parents, but away from their brothers and sisters! 

There’s no way to ease the pain of being separated from their parents, but we could take in siblings so they could still have each other. And we could give them a safe place through a difficult, awful time.

We could do better. We could help them. We would do what we could.

Basically, we did this because we had to.

We called the social worker and switched from international adoption to foster care one day and got a call for our first placement the day after the change was finalized.

My family mourns.

I remember my husband and I talking to another couple when we were about 6 months into the foster care experience. We loved the kids so completely and there was no difference between the foster kids and the other kids. We knew we were setting ourselves up for a pain beyond our comprehension, and yet, we couldn’t stop ourselves.

The response from them was one that will probably always stick with me and that is helping me process the pain I feel today. They basically told us that if we didn’t hurt this way, that means we weren’t doing it right.

The moment the kids drove away yesterday, a piece of my chest went away went them.

I keep reaching up and touching my breastbone to make sure it’s still there – because I need to be reminded that it is. The feeling of it though, is gone. I have no idea when it’ll be back again.

So we packed up our things and drove. 

My husband, my daughters, myself. We left the home we shared with our foster family for the last year and came to a cabin in the woods for a few days, where we can’t escape each other and can face our pain and process it all together.

Because as happy an occasion as it is for a family to be reunited, our family has been gutted. We mourn as though we’ve lost three children, because we have.

There is a part of me that feels selfish for that and there is a part of me that does not. Right now, the selfish me is winning. And I’m letting her win because I need that. Maybe tomorrow I’ll celebrate for them, but probably not… it’s going to take me some time. It’s going to take my girls some time. It’s going to take my husband a lifetime.

The truth is…

We may never get over this pain.

And yet…

We’ll do it again.

Not today or tomorrow, but when we’re ready to love another group just as much as the first. When we can give our hearts without holding back for fear of the pain to come… 

But today, we cry and we hurt and we pray.

Posted in foster care

Why Fostering is EASY and the loving is hard…

Fostering is Easy.

My husband and I began our adventure into the crazy world that is the foster care system the end of last year. We received our first placement – a sibling set of newborn twins and a 1 year old – on December 1, 2017. A friend of mine came over about a month later. She and her husband had fostered for a couple of years and we were swapping stories of our limited experiences. (I’d only been at this for a month. She’d already tread these waters and survived to tell the tale.)
Our toddler was in meltdown mode. It was past her nap time and she had an audience… cue the Terrible Two’s. Every toy she saw seemed to require screaming, crying,  and arguing about (with no one in particular – an imaginary friend, maybe?) and me, trying to keep her from waking up the babies and have a conversation with my friend, all while maintaining a smile and still trying to keep my home in a somewhat non-pigsty type order. (There are seasoned foster parents laughing hysterically right now at my naivete… I did mention I was only a month in at this point, right?)
My friend then went all sage-ish on me and broke down the foster care system in 7 words. The sentence she spoke was tragic, enlightening, semi-freeing… and incredibly sad.

You don’t have to give her toys.

Huh?
I looked at her like she’d just informed me she’s dodging the feds and – should I ever need her – she’ll be hiding out in Mexico with her lesbian lover AND she’s not taking her precious baby boy because that’d be too inconvenient. (Yeah, it wasn’t a good look on me.)
Eventually, I got my mouth to form words again: Continue reading “Why Fostering is EASY and the loving is hard…”