Five Months In

It’s been five months since we began actively fostering (more than a year since we began the process). Five months in and not one thing has gone how I expected it.

 

It took longer than anticipated to become licensed, our first placement was shorter than I thought it would be, we moved, I quit my job, the list goes on. And even the silly petty things, like I wanted a baby boy and ended up with two girls. Rewind that – when we started the process I didn’t even want babies! We wanted kids who were school age, thinking they would be the hardest to place and since we were willing, why not? It turns out they desperately need places for babies to go, and at the time we only had room for one baby anyway.

 

About a month ago,after yet another thing went the exact opposite way I expected it to, I said, “I’m going to stop telling God how to do things, He doesn’t listen anyway and His plans always end up being better in the end.”

 

So I did.

 

Don’t get me wrong, I still very much have an opinion on how things ought to be, I always will, but I’ve been a lot more conscious of the fact that my way may not always line up with God’s way. So instead of telling Him how much He screwed up again, I go humbly and ask “WHY?!?” And you know what? He answers. Not always with the answer I want to hear (which is, “oh whoops! You’re right, messed that one up. Let me fix it so you’re comfortable”) but instead with a quiet whisper of “My thoughts are far above your thoughts and my ways are far above your ways” and “my strength is made perfect in your weakness”

 

That second one is worth repeating because boy do I feel weak, every hour of every day. Quite often I think, “wow God you must be incredibly strong because I am feeling incredibly weak.” I hold on to that when we have another sleepless night, or when I finally get an hour or two to myself only to watch it be whisked away in a slew of phone calls and scheduling.

 

We recently had yet another change in our life – we started attending a new church. We haven’t attempted to plug in yet, but just going and being in the presence of other believers for an hour on Sunday has been so refreshing. When we moved in December we left a church family that we absolutely adored. The commute to church was only about an half hour from our new place, but realistically it wasn’t happening. We held out and watched the sermons on YouTube and tried to stay connected with the friends we had made, but in the two months after we moved we only actually attended church once. So we decided to begin the hunt for a church – something I absolutely loathe. We prayed for a week before we even attended a service at this new church and before the service had ended that first day we knew it was where we were staying.

 

Sometimes in the midst of incredible chaos God brings a bit of clarity. It may not seem like much, but to me it was a beautiful reminder that the Lord is watching and He cares, even when he doesn’t listen to my suggestions 😉

 

Thanks for walking with us during these first five incredible months. Without the support of our friends and family we truly wouldn’t be where we are right now. Some days it feels like we are just barely surviving and others we are on top of the world. Through it all, God is good. I am reminded of the song It Is Well

 

Through it all, through it all
My eyes are on You
Through it all, through it all
It is well
Through it all, through it all
My eyes are on You
And it is well
It is well

So let go my soul and trust in Him
The waves and wind still know His name

The Hardest Part

The Hardest Part

At least once a week I tell hubby, “the hardest part is               

  • Court
  • Visits
  • All the appointments
  • The unknown
  • The grief
  • Fear
  • Scheduling everything
  • Longing for and fearing the same outcome

All of those things are incredibly difficult, and at any given moment one will significantly outweigh all of the others in a way that feels absolutely overwhelming. So I go crying to hubby and tell him what the hardest part is right now, and he listens and agrees and we commiserate and then we move on.

 

I got a phone call I didn’t want to get last week. The hardest part changed yet again, and my reaction to it was completely based in fear. I called hubby, then my mom, and got it out. Princess went down for a nap and then I went to the One who is over it all. I opened my bible to one of my tried and true favorite verses –

 

So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. – Galatians 6:9

 

I know this truth, and I also know that it isn’t some far off blessing I should be concerned with. The blessing is a nice little perk down the road, or tomorrow, or whenever it happens, but it isn’t my end goal. My end goal is not giving up. My end goal is to never completely reach a goal at all. My end goal is to keep going until the day I meet my maker and hear those blessed words, “well done my good and faithful servant.” My end goal is that day, the day I have no choice but to be finished with my good works.

 

Yet as I strive towards that goal I am reminded of the daily blessings that have come as a result of the life we have chosen. The greatest of those blessings is sitting on my lap as I type this. Every single day that I get to love this precious girl is a gift.

 

I took her to an appointment recently, and as I was leaving the person said, “It’s just so good to see her with a loving foster parent. So many come in here with their kids at arms distance, afraid to get too attached. But that’s what they need. These kids need to attach to someone, even if it isn’t permanent, it teaches them to attach in the future. You are building connections in her brain everyday.”

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Visits, therapists, court dates, appointments, the constant unknown – it’s all hard, but the hardest part? The hardest part is knowing we could take in 100 kids over the course of our lifetime, and there would still be a gaping hole in the foster care system. There would still be foster parents who don’t go all in, there would still be babies spending extra nights in the hospital because no families are available or willing. There would still be young kids going to group homes designed for kids much older and with much more severe needs, because no families are available or willing. There would still be kids aging out everyday without a permanent place to call home, without somewhere to come back to on Christmas, because no families were available or willing. Friends, I have a lot of days when I don’t think I can keep going, when the hardest thing of the moment overshadows the hardest thing of all. But we cannot stop. These kids – these families – they need Jesus. As hard as I try, I cannot change lives on my own, but I serve the God who does.

 

For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!  So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. – 2 Corinthians 4:17-18

Collisions

I got rear-ended on my way to work this morning. There’s this stretch of road on my commute that’s mostly downhill, with a single left turn lane that often gets backed up as people wait to turn onto the freeway. Unfortunately, that means it is often filled with lots of people braking abruptly as they realize that the left lane has suddenly stopped. And unfortunately, today I happened to be one of those people.

The damage really wasn’t all that bad on my end. And really, though it all happened in a fraction of a second, it didn’t come as that big of a surprise. I saw the brake lights in front of me. I pushed down hard on the brakes and felt the car slide a little. I managed to avoid hitting the car ahead of me, and once I had come to a complete stop, my thoughts immediately went to the car behind me, wondering if the driver would be quick enough to catch himself.

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He wasn’t. First came a jolt. Then a softer crunch.

The guy behind me got it worse than I did. He ended up sandwiched between two of us, with a crunch in his hood and a dent on his rear bumper where the driver behind him ended up. We got out and checked on him, making sure he was okay, and then all three of us pulled over to the side of the road.

This isn’t the first time I’d been rear-ended. Each time, though, I’ve been pretty fortunate to encounter gracious, patient drivers, as I know this often isn’t the case. This time, we exchanged insurance information and phone numbers. The lady on the end apologized, and we both gave our sympathy to the poor guy who ended up in the middle of us. And as we prepared to continue on our commute, thankful that no one was injured, the man who had hit me from behind mustered up a little bit of a smile and said, “Well hey, at least this day can’t get any worse.”

And while I briefly considered the multitude of terrible things that could happen today that would, in fact, be significantly worse than being in a minor car accident, I couldn’t help but dwell on this man’s moment of (probably somewhat sarcastic) optimism.

Today has actually been a very good day. And very little of that had anything to do with what has actually happened to me today. On the contrary, the quality of my day was very much connected to how I chose to respond to everything that has happened today. And apparently, it took a literal “collision moment” for me to really consider that.

As my wife and I move into our 5th month of active fostering, I can think back to all of the less-than-literal collision moments that have come our way. Very often, fostering feels like you’re navigating an endless stream of traffic collisions. Your life gets hit hard. You take a deep breath and get ready to assess the damage. You hope more than anything that the other party involved is a gracious driver. And then you keep going. Over, and over, and over again.

Day after day. Collision after collision.

My wife and I have had the incredible blessing of colliding with some pretty gracious “drivers” in the foster care system, though I know this won’t always be the case. And as our lives continue to collide with the lives of babies and birth parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, therapists, doctors and social workers, the collisions don’t get any easier. Some hit harder than others. Sometimes it feels like the damage that has been done is irreparable. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like an accident.

But then sometimes you collide with people who understand where you are, and understand what you’re going through, and who know how to make it better. Sometimes these people stick around.

As I drove to work today, I kept finding myself thinking about that guy who ran into me. I had never met him in my life, and chances are I won’t ever see him again. But I couldn’t help but wonder about who he was, beyond being just the guy who ran into me. Did we have anything in common? What kind of music is this guy into? What’s his family like? How was he going to pay for the damage on his car? Could he afford it? Would his insurance go up? What was his wife gonna think? How was this single moment going to impact the rest of his day? If I had met him at another point in my life, could we be friends?

I found myself genuinely concerned for his well-being, as another human. There’s this strange, forced trust type thing that comes along with getting in an accident with someone. You might not have any idea who they are, but in that moment, so much of their life is suddenly so wrapped up in your own.

As a foster parent, I am so incredibly grateful for the other people involved in this crazy, messy world called foster care, who see me as more than just the guy whose life collided into theirs.

Visiting Little Owl

When Little Owl left, her family member said she wanted to stay in contact and allow us to be a continued part of Little Owl’s life. We were cautiously optimistic when we heard this. On one hand, we were ecstatic at the thought of seeing our girl again, and on another – honestly, we weren’t sure what to believe. Was she just being nice? Was she just trying to appease us so we would hand over the baby and let her leave? Would she really follow through?

 

If I’m being totally honest – which I try to be – I was also a bit unsure how much contact I wanted. Would seeing her again just cause me to re-live the pain each time? Would her seeing us just cause her more confusion? What if I didn’t agree with the way she was being raised?

 

So we decided to wait a month. We told the family member that we appreciated the offer, but we needed a month to sort out our feelings and see how Little Owl had settled before we were reintroduced into her life. The first week after she left, I received a text and picture every day, and then it started to taper off and become a bit less frequent. By the time a month had passed we were getting updates about once a week and had settled into our new routine with Little Princess. I couldn’t have asked for it to go any better. That first week I needed the daily reassurance that she was okay, that she was smiling and eating and being cared for. Then I needed to let her go a little bit more and not depend on the constant updates. Finally, once we had another baby girl, I needed to love her fully and not feel like I was betraying Owl, or just waiting to know she was okay.

 

So after a month, good to her word, we were invited over.

 

On the way there my emotions were high. I had such varied expectations. Part of me thought I would just burst into tears, part of me wanted to turn around and go home, part of me was scared I wouldn’t be able to say goodbye again. But all of me couldn’t wait to see the girl who made me a mom.

 

You guys, the details of our visit are something I will treasure forever, but I won’t share. Little Owl is doing so well. She is surrounded by people who just adore her. As much as I miss her, all I ever wanted was for her to be in a safe, loving home and that is exactly where she is. She is growing, and smiling and doing what she does best – spreading incredible joy in the midst of a tragic situation. From day one that girl fed my soul, and she still does. I miss her everyday, and I cry for her often.

 

When the time came to say goodbye I wanted nothing more than to throw an extra carseat in our car and come home with two babies instead of one. But I looked around the house and saw evidence of love for her everywhere and it gave me the strength to hand her over once again and say “see you soon.”

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The other day someone told me they couldn’t do foster care because they wouldn’t be able to handle it if a child was sent back to an unsafe situation. I couldn’t agree more, it would suck more than I am willing to even think about. However, I have to hold onto the fact that though we have no control over where our kids end up when they leave our home, we have an incredible amount of control over how we use the time we are given with them. In this case, we were able to love our girl while we had her and develop a lasting relationship with people I now consider family.

 

And if we are being honest, no one has control over their child’s future, we as foster parents just deal with that reality a lot sooner.

 

Little Princess

Three weeks ago we said goodbye to Little Owl. It has been heartbreaking and awful, and yet peaceful and redeeming. We thought that the day she left would be the hardest day we faced, but it turns out it wasn’t. The hardest day we had was the day she didn’t come back. As I mentioned in a previous post, Little Owl had been going on visits with her family member almost every weekend, so we were used to her being gone often. That coupled with the fact that she had gone and returned a few times already, I guess some part of us just expected her to return a few days later. When she didn’t come home on Monday, reality set in very quickly.

 

She wasn’t coming back. I wouldn’t tuck her into bed each night anymore. I wouldn’t spend my days listening to her laugh or coo or babble. Someone else now had the privilege of bathing and dressing and feeding and changing that sweet girl. She will always be my daughter, she will always be my first, and she will always be the one who made me a mom.

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As hard as it has been, I have to say we have been incredibly blessed to be able to stay in touch with her and the family member caring for her. We have gotten pictures and updates and were able to hear her coo and babble over the phone yesterday. As I shared our story with someone the other day, I had a smile on my face as I showed off pictures of our Little Owl and told the story of her leaving. This person looked at me confused and asked, “doesn’t it hurt?” and I answered quite honestly, “yes, it hurts everyday.” She was visibly relieved and it made me realize that our story is confusing and difficult to digest. People aren’t quite sure what to say or how to process it. Everyone wants to know we are okay, and yet understands that we aren’t. I’m not healed, and I’m not okay. But I am healing and I am getting there. There has been incredible redemption already, which leads me to the next part of my post…

 

There’s another baby in the house! Little Princess joined our family recently and even though we have been quiet about it on social media, we are completely in love with our second baby girl. Her case is much different than Little Owl’s was and we will need to be a lot more selective about how and what we share for a multitude of reasons. We firmly believe that these kids’ stories are not ours to tell. We will never share the reasons for detainment (a fancy foster care word for being removed from your biological family) and we will never share anything we think would cause them or their family shame at any point in their lives. Every piece of information we share is for the sole purpose of encouraging others in their journey, whether it be foster care or whatever other important, difficult work the Lord has called them to.

 

What we can say for now is that this sweet girl has stretched and grown us in so many new ways in such a short period of time. She came to us scared and confused. So much about her short little life just breaks my heart and I have been brought to the cross in desperation more times than ever before. One of her first days with us I drove around town trying to get her to fall asleep just praying out loud and reciting every verse I had ever memorized over her. For days she was just sad. Attaching was difficult for us both, and yet my first priority as a foster parent is to attach and teach the child to attach to me. Kids need to learn healthy and secure attachments to their parent figures early in life or else they can suffer from lifelong attachment issues. So I held her, and sang to her, and talked to her. I had moments when I didn’t think this would work, when I just wanted to walk away. But then I saw her face, and I knew her little heart was breaking in ways I would never understand. I wasn’t mom to her, I was a stranger who wouldn’t put her down and didn’t know how she liked to be held or fed or anything. As hard as it was for me to figure her out, it was a thousand times more difficult for her to understand who I was.

 

Then we turned a corner. She needed some shots and as I held my little girl while the nurse poked her leg, watched her face curl up in pain, I instantly knew I would trade places with her in a heartbeat. Not only did I want to take the physical pain from her, but the emotional pain she was dealing with as well. From day one I wanted to see healing for her sweet little heart. I wanted her to learn I was safe and to see me as mommy for as long as she needed to. I knew it was my job to help her heal and to grow. What I didn’t know was that she was doing the same for me.

 

Before Little Owl, I only wanted boys. We were open to both genders and knew we would accept either, but a secret part of me was terrified of being a mom to girls. I’m not girly, I don’t handle the drama very well, and as much as I love the relationship my mom and I have, boys just seemed easier. But Little Owl changed that in me, and when the call came for Little Princess I couldn’t say no. Little Owl was a big time daddy’s girl. I was cool and all, but when he got home from work she wanted nothing more to do with me. Little Princess on the other hand took a bit longer to warm up to him. She has been on my hip from the moment she came to us, and we had to be intentional about her attaching to me first as I am the one home with her all day. That attachment healed me in so many ways. It has taught me what it means to truly love, to love when my heart is aching, to love when I feel I have nothing left, to love when I may get nothing in return. Attaching to Little Princess has shown me that I can do this hard thing called foster care. I can keep going even when I feel I can’t.

 

“Babies need attachment more than foster parents need to be protected from it”

I’ve heard that quote a million times, and I’ve even recited it to people who tell me they couldn’t do foster care. But the rubber met the road when I had to be willing to attach again, knowing the pain that it could eventually bring. It was harder, and scarier, and yet even that much more sweet.

The Right Time

“The time is always right to do what is right.”

Yesterday was Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and I think I may have lost count of how many times I saw this quote floating around on social media.

And it’s such a good quote. It’s true. It’s worth living out. But there is also a very cynical side of me that wonders how many people would take this quote to heart and put it into action not only yesterday, because we were celebrating the life and accomplishments of the man who said it, but today, and tomorrow, and every day that comes after that. It’s not time to do good just because we’re celebrating a man who did good.

The time is always right to do what is right.

A few days ago, my wife shared a post about where we have been for the last 71 days. It’s been awhile since I’ve posted anything myself, and honestly, the last few months have been an absolute whirlwind. I became a father. I gave my heart to a little girl. I’ve experienced the unspeakable joy of holding her in my arms as she falls asleep; of listening to her little voice as she laughs and coos and acts like a goofball.

I’ve grieved as it felt like the whole world was falling apart around me, and like I was losing one of the only things in my life that had ever been worth it.

Friday, January 13th, Little Owl left our home to be placed with a family member. She was with us for 71 days, which we jokingly call the longest 4 days of our life.

4 days into placement, we got a call and were told that she would be leaving. We were told it would be happening immediately, that’s it, the end, thanks. We had no idea who this person was that she was going to live with. We didn’t know why she wasn’t placed there in the first place. It felt like we were completely surrounded by fear and uncertainty. We had only had this little girl for 4 days, and I already loved her so much more than I ever thought that I could. I spent the rest of that day in deep despair. I wept, bitterly. I had never experienced pain that pierced me so deeply and seemed to overtake every ounce of joy that I had felt up to that moment. I was a total wreck.

And then she stayed.

We ended up getting to meet the family member who was planning to take her in. We had the privilege of building up a relationship with her, of sharing in her sorrows and triumphs. The first time that we met her, I left with a startling realization in my head –

“This is not our baby”.

From that day forward I found myself stuck in a strange and delicate state of mind, understanding that this little girl was not ours and that there was a lady out there who loved her so very much, but still holding onto the hope that maybe one day she could be ours. I played with the idea, and dreamed and imagined. I learned to calm her down when she would get restless by putting on what had become her favorite music, and dancing around the room with her – Cat Stevens, The Beatles, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Sometimes I would hold her little hand in my own and imagine that I was dancing with her at her wedding, as a father and daughter. I didn’t grieve anymore. I took in every moment, knowing that it could all change in an instant.

And for some reason, 67 days later, she was still with us. And between court dates and visits and long, restless nights, we loved her with everything we had.

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Friday morning, I got a call from my wife while I was at work.

“The social worker called. She got approved for placement. She’s leaving. I’m sorry.”

Then tears.

I drove home in silence, feeling again as though my whole world was falling apart around me. I got home and held my wife, and my little girl, and we both just cried. We got her things together. We prayed over her, and let her know that everything would be alright. She smiled, and laughed, and made all of her usual little goofball noises. Then we buckled her into car seat, we drove to meet her family member, and we let her go.

It was one of the most painful things that I have ever had to do in my life. In a lot of ways it felt very much like she was dying. Except, I knew that she would still be out there, alive, growing up and living her life. I’ve never had to experience the horror of losing a child, and I almost hate saying it, but in all honesty that reality almost made it worse than if she had really been dying.

And in the middle of my own pain and heartache, in some sort of bizarre and altogether frustrating dichotomy, I also could not ignore the joy and peace that accompanied our own grief. There was a wonderful lady out there who spent 71 days in uncertainty, clinging to just the hope of being able to see this little girl again. She spent sleepless nights fighting and weeping and waiting. She opened herself up in total vulnerability to two total strangers. And at last, here was the day that she had been waiting for.

The time is always right to do what is right.

At some point along this journey, a verse began to pop into my head as I imagined the day when this family member was able to be reunited with Little Owl again. It’s in Luke, as Jesus tells a story about a lost coin, and then a lost sheep, and then a lost son. And I imagined that this lady who we had gotten to know over these last 71 days was thinking something along these lines as she drove to meet us –

“But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.”

The time is always right to do what is right.

The last four days have sucked tremendously. I found myself bursting into tears in the middle of a coffee shop yesterday. I’ve spent countless hours distracting myself with food, music, TV, and video games. But if I can find peace anywhere, it’s in knowing that this little girl is still in God’s hands even if she’s not in my arms. I hope that we’ll still be able to see her every now and then. But even if she never remembers who I am, I know that the love that we poured into her has made a lasting impact on the rest of her life. She will never jump from place to place ever again. She is safe, and at peace, and immensely loved. And unfortunately, there are children still out there who cannot say the same.

The time is always right to do what is right.

I’ve been thinking often about how I can “spur others along to love and good works”, other Christians in particular. A big part of that is sharing this story as it happens. I know that not everyone will end up doing what we’re doing. But everyone can do something.

Tomorrow is my birthday. And while I never thought that this is where God would have me at this point in my life, I could never imagine doing anything else. It’s terrible. And it’s wonderful. And it’s crazy and scary and the most worthwhile adventure I could ever hope to be on.

If you’ve got even an inkling that this is the kind of story that you want to be apart of, please, do not hesitate to reach out to us. Do something. Do anything.

The time is always right to do what is right.

71 Days

71 Days

It has been the longest four days of my life. In four days Little Owl has –

  • Gained 5 pounds
  • Grown 9 centimeters
  • Learned to hold her head up
  • Learned to reach and grasp
  • Celebrated Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years
  • Begun to laugh
  • Absolutely exploded with personality
  • Been on numerous visits
  • Had 4 court dates
  • Had 3 social workers
  • Been seen by 2 therapists
  • Been represented by 1 attorney
  • Taught 2 people what love really is.

 

So that didn’t all happen in four days. But it did all happen. You see, four days after we got Little Owl we were told she was leaving. Everyday since then has been an unexpected gift and even though we are keeping an accurate account of the days (71), we like to joke that these have been the longest four days of our life. For only 4 out of the 71 days did we not have this unknown looming over our heads and we were too sleep deprived to appreciate it!

But somehow in the midst of the daily unknown we were able to find balance. We developed a routine, had a life, enjoyed our girl. We saw friends, made plans, canceled plans (often), bonded with our girl, taught her love, brought her to church, did all the exciting things new parents do, and all the not-so-glamorous parts too. I held Little Owl through her first round of shots, changed a million diapers, woke up at Every. Single. Hour. some nights, sucked out boogers, cleaned toes, washed tiny laundry. We did everything parents do, and then we did more. We managed appointments, paperwork, an entire family that loves Little Owl just as much as we do.

We lived life.

And then that dreaded call came. Again. For real this time.

“I’m so sorry, but she’s moving”

Just like that my world collapsed. Nothing else mattered, all I wanted was one more moment living in the unknown, because the known can hurt so much more. Yet as we prepared for our “see you later” I stopped. A very small part of me screamed for more time, and yet the Holy Spirit reminded me, “you’ve done good with the time you had.” I have no regrets. I did not feel the need to hold on for a few more days so I could just do this, or take her there, or show her that. As frail and broken as I have felt these past 71 days, somewhere in the midst of it I think I actually grew. I changed. I learned so many hard lessons that I didn’t know I needed to learn. Some I definitely did not want to learn. But this little girl gave me so much more than I ever gave her. She gave me the gift of motherhood. She taught me to enjoy the moment, even when the fear is absolutely crippling. She taught me to laugh at nothing at all, and that sometimes you just have to cry for no reason. She taught me to slow down, to listen to her cues, to understand what it means to be a parent to a child from trauma. She taught me so much without ever saying a word.

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To everyone who has ever said, “I couldn’t do it. I would get too attached. I couldn’t give them up”

Turns out you actually can. You can do the impossible task of packing up a child’s belongings, buckling them into the car seat, driving with tears streaming down your face. You can take that baby out of their car seat and hand them over. You can drive away and take your next breath.

How do I know?

I just did it.