Monday, May 12, 2014

My Sunshine

The bedtime routine is a big deal in our household. Josh has blogged about it before (here).

One of my favorite parts of our routine is the little song that we sing every night. It's "You Are My Sunshine", but with a few changes. We sing "You are my sunshine, my _______ sunshine", and fill in the blank with the names of each child in our home that night. Visiting, foster, or permanent, every child is a bit of sunshine in our life while they are with us. And even when it's just Big Brother A, we never sing "only sunshine", because we believe that ultimately the highest source of joy and light in our lives is Jesus- the one who gives us everything, including our children.

This song is a great source of joy for me. It's a prayer of thanksgiving every night. It can also bring a little heartache the night after one of our foster babes leaves. Each time we've had a goodbye, Josh and I have exchanged that "uh oh what now" look right before getting to the names in the song. Do we only sing Big Brother A? What must it be like for him to immediately cut out the child who was "Baby Brother" hours ago? And yet, can we really keep adding verses into the song for each kid indefinitely? After all, the ultimate goal of the bedtime routine is a sleeping toddler!

So now, we sing just the kids in the room during the song. But at the end, we have an ever-growing list of thanks:
"Jesus, thank you for my sunshine today. Jesus, thank you for my A today. Jesus, thank you for my Baby Z and Baby M today. Jesus, thank you for my family today."

I'm not sure if this is sustainable. I can picture us taking 10 minutes to get through the song by the time we've had a lot of kids in and out of our home. But I love it. It helps us to remember to pray for our foster babes each day. It helps big brother A to process and believe that we still love them, and that our promise to them remains "We will be your family for as long as you need us".

It's just a little thing, but I'm glad our daily routine can keep these boys in our hearts daily. And I'm glad Big Brother A cares enough to keep challenging Josh and I to reconsider where we draw the boundaries of our family.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Two Weeks

These are the hands of our little Baby Z when he first arrived in our home.

He often clenched them tightly together, a little to one side. Changing him or swaddling him was quite the chore. His little muscles were so tense and he held on to his own hands so tightly. And that paci? He was desperate for that. He had been in the hospital for two weeks and a day when we picked him up. His nurses and case workers were so wonderful and loving, but they were, by necessity, in and out of his life. We assumed that his paci had been his one, most consistent "friend" during those two weeks. Little Z weighed in at a little over 8 pounds when he joined us, even though he was almost 4 months old.

In two weeks:
- We fed him every three hours - or often even more frequently.
- He learned how to ask for food when hungry, and that his needs would be responded to.
- He became less desperate for the paci. In fact, when he was full, he would sleep without it! (Versus the first night, where he woke up every time it fell out.)
- He still loved holding his hands, but his whole body seemed to relax. He smiled. He snuggled. He managed to hold toys. He enjoyed being swaddled and let it happen without struggle.
- He gained over a pound!
- He started smiling at us, snuggling with us, and "talking" to us as if we were Mommy, Daddy, and Big Brother.
- We were part of getting him onto a formula that worked better for his system so he was in less pain and able to eat more.

Two weeks is a long time, especially when you're only 4 months old. Little Z was with us as long as he was in the hospital, and I hope that in that time we were able to make as much of a difference as the hospital had made for him. He grew. He started acting more like a 4-month-old and less like a newborn. He learned to form strong attachments. (And I have every confidence that he will attach again in his new family. He is so very sweet and loving.)

And most importantly - He learned that, in our home, his needs were always met, he was loved and wanted, and his tummy was never empty.

We love the idea of foster care. Admittedly, we also desire to grow our family in a permanent way through foster care by eventually adopting. It can be easy to start to think of foster care placements as successes or failures based on the length of stay for each child. But Z's amazing progress in two weeks was worth every bit of love and attention we gave him, and every bit of pain and mourning that we are experiencing now. He is no less deserving because he wasn't here forever, and we're glad he became a forever "little brother" in our hearts. He only needed us for two weeks, but his need in that time was great. And we were so glad to be able to be the hands and feet of Jesus to this precious little one.

Friday, May 2, 2014

The Hardest Thing I've Ever Done...

The last few days have been very hard. My wife and I said goodbye to our second foster child, baby Z, and returned to our previous state as a family of three (and an evil cat). Because of the physical state of the little guy when he entered our care, we were stretched to physical exhaustion faster and harder than anything we had ever experienced before (and trust me, our biological son was a terrible sleeper for the first year of his life).

The "feed him every 3 hours" schedule wasn't friendly to sleeping -- especially because his intense reflux made it look more like the "feed him, burp him, watch him spit-up all over his clothing/burp cloth/the floor, change his clothes, get a new burp cloth, and spray and scrub the floor" schedule. This meant we often were sleeping in spurts of 1-2 hours.

But the physical exhaustion is definitely NOT the reason that foster care is the hardest thing I've ever done. There are so many other reasons...

You are forced to love without caution and expect to have your heart broken. The ultimate goal of foster care is to provide care for children with great needs, while their parents/guardians go through some sort of rehabilitation or assessment. The ideal result of a foster care placement is the reunification of the biological family. We are not in the business of permanently destroying these families. But we can't take children and treat them as if they are temporary -- instead we must love them with a "they have always been our children" love. These children don't deserve cautious love, but deserve all of the love we can offer. This inevitably leads to heartache. We pour all of our physical and emotional energy into a child, only to see them leave our care and reunite with their family. It is very, very hard...

Life keeps moving around you and few people seem to notice. One day we are a family of three and the next we are a family of four. We don't get 9 months to mentally prepare for the arrival of a child. We don't pursue maternity/paternity leave to make the transition smooth. A few people reached out to us and offered/brought meals, but nothing like the flood of affection we received from friends and family when we had our biological son. And we understand. Many of these placements are temporary and it would exhaust our network of relationships to keep supporting us in tangible ways (read: free food) every time we received a child. And this is not to minimize the prayers, the questions, the conversations, and the kind words we have received throughout this foster care journey. Our little world changes dramatically in an instant when we get a foster child, not unlike having a biological one, but the rest of the world keeps spinning essentially as it had before. It is very, very hard...

You have a front-row seat to the ugliness of sin. Every single child that comes into care is the result of a painful situation. These can be precipitated by drug use, neglect, abuse, violence, or any one of a number of other sad factors. And it's common to blame this on "external" influences. For example, my wife was just told in a foster care class that "almost all placements are the result of either mental illness or drug use". See what we've done there? Now we can blame the pain, suffering, and losses of children in the system on illness or drug use -- we don't blame it on the natural human propensity towards sin. The reality is that human sinfulness has created a separation between man and Maker, and this leads to untold horror, pain, death and destruction in our world. Every child we take into our home brings a story that is stained with the effects of sin. It is very, very hard...

And our hope for each of those stories is to write a new chapter that is filled with hope and redemption -- the kind of healing that can be found in the only solution to the sin problem. That solution came in the the form of Jesus Christ, who lived a perfect life and was nailed to a tree to pay the penalty of sin. That penalty was a death I deserved and the death he took on my behalf.

For each child that comes into our home...

We want to love them with a reckless love that leaves everything on the table and breaks our hearts every time they leave.

We want to notice them and value them as the image-bearers of God that they are.

We want to shower them with prayer and take up the cause against the sin problem that is wrecking their world. We want to share with them (and any family members who will listen) the hope, healing, and reconciliation with God and others that can only be found in the saving work of Jesus Christ.