All of the Feelings



I have the best community. Seriously, the best. So many people have been praying for our family and were anxiously waiting for news about the custody decision for Ali’s little sister. When I got the news first thing Monday morning, I sent the first texts with trembling hands. It was so much to process and wrap my brain around. I was dreading telling everyone who was waiting with us…because I knew it would open up a flood of texts, emails, phone calls, conversations…support. I just didn’t know if I was ready for all of that. How silly to think that way. I’m tremendously thankful for the tender words I’ve gotten from everyone, including you: my online community. Some of my very closest friends I have never met face-to-face.

The follow up question to my sharing of the news was what I was dreading: “How are you feeling?” I just don’t know. It’s cliché but the best answer: I’m feeling all of the feelings. I actually appreciated the “You doing okay?” question better because it’s more manageable. Yes. I’m doing okay. I will be okay. Then a dear friend (the kind of friend who will just hug you and let you cry) who invited us over for dinner and/or to drop Ali off for dinner so Jason and I could talk—I can’t even express how much that means to me.

After the initial shock, the first thing I felt was relief that the waiting was over. We’ve been waiting, putting our lives on hold in some ways, for 8 months. It’s been a long and exhausting fight. The last 10 days of the wait between the trial and the phone call were the most difficult.

Then I imagined her current caregiver—who I’ll now just refer to as her mom—getting the phone call at work on Monday morning just like I did. I imagined her weeping with relief and joy that the baby she loves so deeply and has poured her life into the past 7 months is with her for good (most likely…permanent custody is a tricky matter). I felt joy for her. And joy for baby girl who will go about her day just like any other day without any disruption.

But the grief and loss of the sibling relationship—a real, living-in-the-same-household-everyday sibling relationship—is intense. I feel the weight of it for my daughter who doesn’t really understand it all yet. She prays at night, “Thank you for baby [Trust] to come here and be with us.” She’s going to keep praying it every night and I’m going to have to keep reminding her everyday that it’s over; she’s not coming here to be live with us. Ali has had so much loss in her life already—both girls have—and I had hoped we could alleviate that one for them.

I won’t unpack all of my emotions here but suffice it to say I have disappointment, anger, frustration, confusion, grief, hope, trust, love… and it’s changing by the minute. I know that God has a good plan for our family and for baby Trust. I’ve never doubted that for a minute. I know He could have moved her to us. I believe that one day we’ll look back and it will make more sense.

This journey was not all a waste of time, money and energy. I can think of three significant, very personal things that God has taught me through this process. I know our involvement also sped up certain parts of the case that led to faster permanency for baby Trust. And now we have the confidence to look our daughter in the eyes when she asks, “Why didn’t you try to get my sister?” and we can answer her, “We did everything we could do.” When I hold her and dry her tears, I’ll cry too because I’m familiar with sorrow and I’m acquainted with grief, just like the One who holds me now and dries my tears.


The Wait is Over


The wait is over. We did not get the news we were hoping for. I’m devastated for our daughter and her little sister and what this means for their future—visits a few times a year rather than spending everyday together. But I also have peace knowing that littlest sister is deeply loved and wanted where she’s living. I trust that God has a plan and it’s a good one. I have a lot to process and I need some time to do so. Please forgive me in advance if I don’t respond for a little while as I’m letting go of 8 months of praying, hoping, fighting, phone calls, letters, hearings, trials, research, preparations…

Letting Go


“Hug your baby tight when you get home,” a well-meaning friend suggested on Friday afternoon, hours after the unspeakable tragedy at Sandy Hook Hill Elementary School.

At some point every parent will come to a point when she realizes she doesn’t own her child, the child is not an extension of her but an independent creature and as a parent it’s impossible to protect our babies from every danger in the world. There is a risk of putting our children on such a high pedestal that we make them idols, treasured above the Life-Giver Himself. Abraham was guilty of such and God pushed him to the extreme to force first-born Isaac out of the god status Abraham had put him in. Let him go and entrust him to Me, or I will take him away.

As painful as it was, I’m thankful for the experience we had of almost losing Ali over a year ago in a bizarre placement battle through DCS. When we thought we had lost her, I buckled under the incredible pain. I broke for her, thinking she was about to lose her family a second time and her second chance of growing up with a father. I had no choice but to let go of my maternal grip of her… she was not mine. She did not belong to any person. She belongs to Creator Father God.

By a miracle, she was placed back into our arms and we walked out of courtroom with custody, dumbfounded. We let go of her because we had to, and God saw fit to give her back to us. I pray that I never forget that she is not MINE. I don’t own her. I’m entrusted with the responsibility and incredible blessing of being her mother. My love for her is deep and wide and it goes on forever. Everyday is a gift and tomorrow should never be taken for granted.

I will hug her a little tighter. Snuggle a little longer. And then I’ll let her go, take a deep breath, and trust the One who made her.

My heart is broken for the families in Newtown, CT who lost their loved ones. I’m praying specifically for the families of two of the children that God brought to my attention. Reading through the names of the victims, the name Olivia caught my eye, and then Benjamin. One of my best friends has two precious children named Olivia and Ben (who are thankfully safe and well) and when I thought about them, my heart crumbled. So, everyday I’m lifting up the Engel and Wheeler families as they’re walking through this dark and horrible tragedy. May the Prince of Peace, the Comforter, wrap them up in His arms this week and in the days to come.

Date Nights


A few weeks ago I was grumbling about how “I just want to go home” and I’m tired of living at someone else’s house. Well, there are also a lot of perks of living with my parents. I also mentioned those in my complaining post. One of the best aspects is the ability to leave the house while Ali is sleeping (when one or both of my parents is home, of course). This has been really helpful with all the running around we’ve had to do with the new house. Often during her nap one of us is running down to the house to check on something or other. My favorite is when we’ve been able to put her to bed at 8:00 and then slip out for a few hours. It reminds me of our pre-parenthood days and it’s just lovely. A few times we’ve popped over to our friends’ house either to watch their kid so they could go out, or to have some adult time after their kid is asleep, too. A few weeks ago, in the midst of a busy travel time for Jason and my intense deadline time at work, we were able to grab a late dinner at our favorite Indian place. It was peaceful, delicious and romantic. Despite our busyness, I felt refreshed—like I had just had a weekend in the middle of the week (it was a Tuesday night).

Jason and I have always been intentional about date nights, even during the first 8 child-free years of our marriage. At least once a month we’d spend a little extra (sometimes that meant $30 budgeted instead of $15) and spend some set apart one-on-one time. We continued that habit when we had our first foster placement, a toddler just a bit older than Ali is now. My parents offered to babysit for us one evening early on and it was a precious time for Jason and me to reflect on everything that was happening. Once baby Ali was placed with us, we found it to be quite easy to take her with us on date nights. We could still go to our favorite restaurants, take our time and have great conversation. It’s a bit different now. The more busy we get with work, home building and an active toddler, the more date nights alone have become essential. We can really feel it when we haven’t had one in a couple months because we need it. We crave that time of quiet undivided attention, away from the distractions of home. Thank you to my parents for demonstrating how important date nights are and for valuing them enough to offer to babysit for us!



“We’re like peas and carrots, you and me,” Jason said. A sixteen year old romantic.

“I don’t like peas,” I typed back on AOL chat.

“You don’t like peas?! Peanut butter and jelly, then.”

“Ok then.”

It was 1999 and we were young and freshly in love.

13 years later, we have an almost 10-month-old daughter that loves peas as much as her daddy.

Our Love Story – 1:6


I thought it would be fun to record Jason’s and my love story—at least the beginning of it—starting with when we met and fell in love back in 1999. This is part 6 of 6.

Jason and I started talking everyday after school on the phone and on AIM chat (the text messaging of our day…) late at night. We shared everything with each other about our struggles at school, drama with friends, tension with our parents, dreams for college and beyond. It was clear that God had answered my prayer.  I got my best friend.

From the beginning, Jason shared with me that he wanted to take it slow and not rush into anything. It hurt. I assumed that meant he liked me, but he didn’t like me like me. But he kept calling. And we kept getting closer.

Jason had a job at a McDonalds inside of a Wal-Mart (talk about double-yuck!) and as my mom and I were on one of our frequent mother-daughter shopping dates, I suggested we stop by and say hi to him. She kindly obliged. We probably ordered fries or a milkshake. That I don’t remember, but I do remember seeing Jason in his purple hat and polo shirt and thinking he looked so cute!

The Saturday after our first double date, Jason and I went out again, just the two of us this time. We went down to the peninsula to watch the sunset over Lake Erie—my favorite place in Erie, PA. I remember sitting on a lifeguard chair together and talking about the awesomeness of the sunset and how the sky changes colors. We pondered the marvels of God and the complexity and beauty of Creation. This guy was a deep thinker and I loved that we could share this awe of our Creator together.

Back at my parent’s house we watched TV with my dad. When he left the room, I let Jason pick what he wanted to watch. He landed on Emeril on the Food Network and I learned that he loved cooking and was considering becoming a chef. Seriously? This guy is an amazing musician, writes poetry, can spend an hour marveling at the sunset AND he loves to cook? I was in heaven. Emeril’s show was just starting to get popular back in 1999 and he would say he needed to “kick it up a notch” every time he was adding more spice, and “bam” as he tossed it into the dish.

As we sat there on the love seat together, across from Emeril Lagasse on the TV, Jason asked if I thought we should “kick it up a notch. You know, make it official.” He was asking me to be his girlfriend! I don’t think Jason was certain of it quite yet, but God had answered his prayer, too. He didn’t want to date another girl unless she was his future wife.

Our Love Story – 1:5


I thought it would be fun to record Jason’s and my love story—at least the beginning of it—starting with when we met and fell in love back in 1999. This is part 5 of 6.

Monday after school I called my friend Lindsay to discuss homework, youth group, the usual…and why did she think Jay hadn’t called me yet? Was he going to ask me out on a date? We tossed around a plan that maybe we could invite Jason and the guy Lindsay liked, Matt, to hang out and make it seem like it was just a group of people from church hanging out…not a date or anything.

About that time, the call waiting beeped. Hang on, Lindsay. There is someone on the other line. Hello? Is Martina there? This is. This is Jay Ahlbrandt. Heart. Beating. So. Hard. His voice sounded incredible. So different than hearing my brother’s or my dad’s voice on the phone. He was speaking soft and clear, right into my ear.

We made small talk for a few minutes then he asked if I’d like to go to a movie the next Saturday night. I was glad he couldn’t see the ridiculous giddy grin on my face. I’d love to! Not sure if I was ready for a solo date with a boy—I was only 14, remember—I suggested we make it a double date and invite Lindsay and Matt. Jason was the only one of us with a license so he offered to pick everyone up. I arranged plans with Lindsay and then Matt (still letting him think it was just some friends hanging out).

The day of our date, my mom got a call from Lindsay’s mom. Karen had all kinds of questions for my mom. How well did she know this Jay? Was he a good driver? How old was he? Where exactly were we going? What time would we be home. My mom laughed. Lindsay is the first born in her family and I’m the youngest of three in my family. “Should I be more concerned?” she asked me jokingly. “I guess I’ve already been through this with your sister and brother and I just trust you.”

I paced around my bedroom, sneaking peeks out my window towards the driveway every 15 seconds. When I’m nervous, I have a constant urge to pee. I think I went to the bathroom three times before Jason’s blue Acclaim pulled into the driveway. Another quick swipe of deodorant. Check myself in the mirror one more time as the doorbell rang. I let my mom answer the door so she and my dad could fulfill their parental duty of inspecting a guy before he takes their daughter out on a date. I walked down the stairs a minute later, even though I knew my parents weren’t going to be obnoxious and intimidating; it just wasn’t their nature.

We picked up Lindsay and then Matt and headed to the dollar theater—the one that showed movies a few months late for a greatly discounted price. It was becoming clear that Matt still didn’t think this was a double date. While Jason bought my $1.50 movie ticket for She’s All That, Matt just bought his own. We sat in this order: Matt, Jason, Me, Lindsay. It was a cheesy high school romance movie but it totally spoke to me. It was about a cool, popular guy who ends up falling in love with a quirky, shy, artsy girl after a mean bet from his best friend who challenged that he could make any unlikely candidate the prom queen. There I was—a shy, nerdy, artist—being pursued by a cool, confident, rockstar. The song Kiss Me by Sixpence None the Richer that played at the end of the movie instantly became my new favorite.

We got a late dinner/snack at Burger King afterward and then went back to Emily’s house to say hi to some other friends. At this point, I think Lindsay was completely frustrated with Matt’s avoidance and decided she’d get a ride home from someone else. Jason took Matt home and then me. We both agreed we had had a really nice time and should do it again. After a friendly hug goodnight from across the car, I floated into the house. I don’t remember specifically what I did but I’m guessing I went up to my room and straight for my journal to recount the night and draw hearts around Jay’s name with colorful markers. Because that’s what 14 year old girls did back in 1999. Or at least one did.

Our Love Story – 1:4


I thought it would be fun to record Jason’s and my love story—at least the beginning of it—starting with when we met and fell in love back in 1999. This is part 4 of 6.

For the rest of the day after the post-prom sleep over, I couldn’t think about anything other than Jason. I went to a planning meeting for an upcoming house building mission trip to Mexico and then went to the beach with some other youth group friends who were also going on the trip. We ate pizza and watched the sunset but my mind was consumed with that cute boy I had danced with the night before.

After church the next day, Jason came over to say hello. We made small talk for a few minutes. I had been doodling on my bulletin during the service with a random carpenter’s pencil I found in the pew. I made some joke about how it probably got flattened by a steam roller or a fat person sitting on it (I don’t remember specifically) and he laughed and asked if I would use my flat pencil to write down my phone number for him. My heart started pounding even harder than it already was…my number! He wants my number! He’s going to call me!

As if my mind wasn’t already consumed enough with this guy, now I had to wait by the phone for the rest of the day. I’m pretty sure I spent the afternoon sunning in the backyard with a few magazines, the portable phone by my side, you know, just in case. In the evening a classmate came over to work on a debate for English class the next day. We were supposed to be preparing to argue how it was impossible that Lee Harvey Oswald assassinated John F. Kennedy. The grassy knoll. The magic bullet theory. The Warren Commission. I couldn’t care less. All I could think about was the phone. When was it going to ring?

Our Love Story – 1:3


I thought it would be fun to record Jason’s and my love story—at least the beginning of it—starting with when we met and fell in love back in 1999. This is part 3 of 6.

There was a dance coming up, hosted by the local Christian radio station called the Christian Prom—kids from any school were welcome, the music was all Christian and of course…no funny business. Me and another girl at our church (who apparently also had a crush on Jay) convinced him to go. We all called him Jay instead of Jason back then and until I found out he preferred Jason.

We each showed up with different groups of friends. A few of my friends were seeing Jason for the first time and one of them insisted I needed a picture of him for my scrapbook, at all costs! She marched right up to him, snapped the photo with no explanation, turned around and came straight back to the table where we were all sitting…waiting and hoping we’d get asked to dance. The red glow was caused by the photographer’s carelessly placed finger. I love the what the?! look on his face.

It was getting late. Jason was running out of slow songs to make his move. Finally, half way through a song—I couldn’t tell you which one because I wasn’t listening to it at all—he made is way over to us and asked if I could like to dance. We walked out to the dance floor together and bobbled back and forth in awkward rhythm, Jason with his hands on my waist and me with my hands around his neck, a good 12″ between us. (Why didn’t my bold friend take a picture of this?)

After the dance, most of our youth group friends went back to Emily’s house for the night—one of the graduating seniors who had been an important influence on me. Finally, Jason and I had time to just talk and flirt and sit side by side. Somehow, I don’t remember any of our parents taking issue with 10-15 high school boys and girls all sleeping in one living room. I guess we were trustworthy enough and there was accountability in numbers. Jason slept on one end of a sofa and I on the other end…with the girl who also liked him in between us. When I opened my eyes in the morning—with a neck ache, I’m sure!—I saw Jason, sleeping peacefully just a few feet away from me. Before long everyone started stirring. I watched him open his eyes, look at me, blink hard and yawn, look at the girl was still asleep on his legs and make a raised-eyebrows face at me that said, “Oh boy…”

Our Love Story – 1:2


I thought it would be fun to record Jason’s and my love story—at least the beginning of it—starting with when we met and fell in love back in 1999. This is part 2 of 6.

In another part of town, Jason had had enough. He was 16 and already jaded from hurtful relationships. He wore his heart on his sleeve and subsequently had it crushed by a girl more than once. Many nights were spent scribbling poetry into spiral bound notebooks, allowing the tears to flow in the privacy of his bedroom. Thoughtful, creative Jason spent hours practicing scales, learning new songs and writing music. Sometimes he would even fall asleep on the floor with the guitar still strapped across his chest. “I don’t want to have another girlfriend until I meet my wife!” he told God.

He also played around town in a few hardcore/metal/punk bands…

(Photo courtesy of Facebook. That’s him on the right.)

We met at our church at a Wednesday night youth group gathering. I don’t remember who introduced us for the first time but I knew who he was months before we officially met. He noticed right away that my eyes are two different colors. I can tell a lot about someone based on this. One eye is blue and the other is hazel, but the difference is subtle. There are people who I’ve known most of my life who have never noticed. Jason was looking into my eyes;  he was really seeing me.

As our relationship started to grow and form in the weeks to follow, Jason insisted we take things slow and not rush into dating, remembering what he had told God and thinking he couldn’t possibly meet his future wife so young. He assumed the answer to his prayer would come in several years and he was OK with waiting.