Thursday, December 10, 2015

Is Christmas Still For Me?

Last Christmas was my first real taste of what Christmas feels like when life is really, really hard. You can read about that here.

I love my Advent activity calendar. It's such a big deal to me. Going into it this year, I remembered last December's chaos, and I tried to make things simpler. I tried to know that things might not happen.

We had court recently. Baby S is going back. We've been in a holding pattern, told that once Birth Parent decided they were ready, Baby S would be leaving us in two weeks. We've been two weeks away from goodbye for a few weeks. I never like waiting. I don't like it now either.

Today we were asked if we'd do Baby's return on Christmas Day. Yes, you read that right. On Christmas Day. I knew that the county planned to send him soon, despite what I think are a lot of red flags. But Christmas Day? Guys. Come on.

We're gonna try to fight that one. It's beyond crazy. It has been hard enough to guard Christmas in my heart already.

But something has happened. Something held over from last year. Last December, I felt so much sadness as I watched Christmas slipping away from me. All of the missed moments hurt. It felt like I was missing Christmas. Much like Cindy Lou Who in the live-action Grinch movie, I wondered where Christmas had gone, and if I had changed too much for it.

But this year, the more lost I feel, the more good Christmas feels. The more moments slip away, the more precious our Christmas movies and hot cocoa moments are. In a way that I didn't expect, Christmas is more for me this year than it ever has been before.

Advent isn't a season of  trying to shove in all that I can. Missed traditions remind me of how broken life is, and that makes me long for Christmas more. Not because "It's the most wonderful time of the year" (I feel a little like I'm lying to my kids every time we sing that song). I need Christmas because life hurts. Joy is hard to find, some days. And Christmas is about joy coming in the midst of pain.

And finding beauty in imperfection. Christmas sugar cookies don't look like the magazines with kids, huh?

I've noticed a lot of other people are hurting this Christmas. I guess my world is getting bigger and a little more grown-up. Christmas doesn't mean a month without pain. The upside to that is that maybe hitting "real life" won't hurt so much in January, because Christmas wasn't meant to numb my reality and then leave me fighting for hope when all of the good Christmas things are put away.

Christmas was meant to give me something bigger than my reality. It's not just for the happy people. Christmas offers a solution to my sadness. And much like Mary's life was about to get a lot messier, and more complicated, and more painful, and a hundred times more amazing than ever, my life will move forward with a lot of pain and sorrow and purpose and meaning. God won't leave me, even when life is confusing and I don't see his direction. In a few months, we'll celebrate Easter, and I'll be reminded that God's plan was always clear, even when it didn't make sense to any of Jesus's friends. Even if it still doesn't make sense to me.

Christmas is still for me. Christmas is more for me than ever before. I can find a deep peace in the approaching holiday. It's a peace that hurts, but it's stronger for that.

Merry Christmas, friends. May this Advent season bring hope and peace, even if the wounds remain or the circumstances don't look new on the outside. I know we'll be okay, because Jesus came for the broken people, and all of our hurts just make us more qualified for God's amazing work in us.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Wednesday, Goodbyes, and Maybe Not Yets

So our lives might change a lot this week. Or not at all.

Welcome to our story.

Is this about the twentieth time I've said Baby S might be leaving in just a few days' time? It sure feels like it. I'm glad he's still with us, because it hasn't been the right time for him to go back yet. It was supposed to be the right time this time, and then a lot of things changed in a few weeks' time. I know what I would do if it were my choice, but it's not. Maybe that's good, because I'm way too far into this thing now to be unbiased, although I really do try. My mama bear instinct has kicked in and it's pretty hard to shut down.

Wednesday is another court day. We've entered the "have his stuff packed or at least ready to be packed each court date" stage. It kind of drives us nuts, because we can't plan. But it's also become our new normal. So we'll get through this one too.

It's really weird to think about how big Wednesday's decision could be, because each time Baby S is "definitely going back very soon" and then doesn't, it feels less possible that he could leave. He's been with us for 16 months. He's 100% part of this family. It is 100% more crazy when he is here, because he is active and wild and enthusiastically happy about getting into everything because everything makes him laugh. But I'd still rather get up with him at 5:30 AM and chase him around home cleaning up a trail of destruction all day long than have him not here and sleep in and have tea on a veranda somewhere.

Of course I'd rather have him here. He's my baby. I want him here forever, with all of his crazy head-butting hugs and his sweet sloppy baby kisses and his love for hide-and-seek and his silly sweet hair that stands up in random places and flops around as he runs back and forth.

Just look at him. One tiger slipper on, trying desperately to communicate with Winnie the Pooh. Seriously. Super cute.

But how can I want him here when that means he's not with his Birth Parent? Josh and I are really and truly in this mainly because we think that reconciliation and healing in a birth family is the top goal and a wonderful representation of Jesus loving us and healing us although we were so very broken. This doesn't stop applying just because we love our foster son. But desiring reunification is not so easy when the things you see aren't pointing to success for parent and baby. We don't blindly desire reunification in every circumstance. This system is in place to protect children and families, and that means sometimes it is not right to send a child home right now.

Thankfully, as I'm foster mom, I am able to live in this limbo of don't-send-him-away and hope-he-can-go. I'm so glad I'm not a case worker or judge. I can throw my whole entire heart into my baby and fight for his good when it is my place and step back and let others make the call when it is their place to do so.

So it's confusing, and complicated, and ever-changing. So many changes. So many last-minute reschedules and please-pick-him-up-nows and rearrange-your-entire-weekend-pleases. So many we-need-another-meeting, just-one-more-meeting-will-help, they'll-listen-this-time-just-drop-everything-and-come-for-a-meeting.

I'm getting used to planning around not getting to do what we plan. I'm getting used to expecting visits to be cancelled when it's going to be crazy to re-arrange the morning. This is not because I'm being negative, but because it's currently the most likely scenario. There's a whole other level beyond flexible that we live in now, and it can drive you crazy, but it's life and you just keep going and try to laugh when possible and find the right people to cry to when not, and pray the whole time that God will preserve your long-term effectiveness even if the short-term sanity is lacking.

I can no longer wrap my brain around Baby S going. Saying goodbye every month seems worse than doing it once when it happens. And will I really be less blindsided if I go into court telling myself he's leaving?

Who knows.

We don't know how to plan, or how to think, or even how to pray. So for now, we enjoy each day we have together, and the ones we have that aren't together too. We try to paste on a cheesy smile and not yell at anyone when they ruin our plans because sometimes that's all I have left in me. We just ask God to help, because I don't even know what to pray for. But he promises that he knows what I need better than I do, so maybe it's better that way anyway.

Thanks for everyone who's praying and loving Baby S with us. Thanks for being here with us through our slow (not-so-slow?) descent into craziness. I love you guys for that.

We'll make it, guys. Through Wednesday and through however many other court dates are left with this guy. Not because Josh and I are sane enough or great enough or together enough, but simply because God is a big God who can do big things, even with broken people.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Our Reverse Trick-Or-Treat

Holidays offer some really great chances to interact with people living near us, especially those who are difficult to interact with naturally. I don't usually go around knocking on my neighbors' doors and asking them about their lives. For some, that happens in passing, and that's awesome. Others I pretty much only see when I make the extra effort. So showing up at their door with a bag of candy or a box of cookies is a great ice breaker and lets them know I care, even if they're not the type to want to share their personal stories with me at the mail box.

So when possible, when a holiday rolls around, Big Brother A and I shop for some candy, find some cute bags, and load 'em up. When we're feeling really ambitious, we even bake.  (We're not baking this Halloween. We'll see what happens at Christmas. I don't think the box mixes for last year's super lazy, super abandoned Christmas cookie projects are expired...)

If for no other reason, this is worth it because it's a chance to write out our names for our neighbors. I'm terrible at names so I get it when people forget mine, even when we've been living next to each other for years. It's a nice excuse to let them get a refresher without feeling awkward. We often know each other by apartment number or last-name-on-the-mailbox. A nice little list of first names is a good tool for getting to know each other.

Even the most shy of neighbors has seemed receptive to this so far. It makes people smile. It's a good stretch for me, too. Having a little kid in tow helps, but it's still way outside of what I'm generally comfortable with.

So anyway... Here's our little reverse-trick-or-treat project for this year.

Big Brother A and I will deliver them the afternoon of Halloween. He'll wear his costume. He'll probably be super excited, and then the door will open and he'll refuse to make eye contact. Such is childhood. We'll do our best! There haven't been any other young kids living in the building since we've been here, so we don't do our trick-or-treating at our neighbors' doors, and this gives us a chance to say hello to them anyway.

Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Their Pace

Lots of life moves quickly. There are commitments. Responsibilities. The world does not stop to wait for us.

I am trying to teach Big Brother A this. He does not believe me.

I love the idea of allowing our children to live life unrushed. It sounds so sentimental and sweet to say that children need time to explore and should never be told to hurry up. It totally sounds like the kind of parent I want to be.

But I've met my kids. It's not happening.

Grownups need to learn how to live life unrushed. We're always on the move. We're always thinking about the next thing we need to do. There are expectations on our lives. We're always on the clock because we're nearly always reachable through technology.

Children don't need to be taught how to move slowly (I'm talking about life's pace, not rate-at-which-they-tear-apart-the-whole-living-room; we're working on slowing that one down). They get it. They're wonderfully good at taking in the surroundings. Big Brother A points out beautiful ceilings in places I've never looked up. We see rainbows everywhere. Pretty leaves on the ground. Trucks on the road. Big Brother is taking in everything.

Everything except the urgency behind my requests as we're trying to get out the door. My over-the-top requests, like "please accomplish your 1.5-minute tooth-brushing routine within the next 10 minutes."

So I teach my children to hurry. They need to learn efficiency and focus. They need to learn that getting my tasks done quickly gives me lots of time to enjoy in whatever way I choose later.

And sometimes, when my Google calendar reminder says "You have no events scheduled today" and Big Brother A takes less than an hour to eat, I let my kids teach me how to take life slowly.

Fall is a perfect time for that. There are amazing details everywhere, and little children are amazing guides when it comes to exploring outside.

So today we explored our world. Well, we explored a very small chunk of it at a very slow pace. It was lovely.

Because we had such a fun time and in case you didn't have a 4-year-old tour guide today, here's a little piece of our world through the eyes of Big Brother A and Baby S (who is clearly a toddler now, but for sake of consistency, I suppose he's stuck with that name).

This is a giant bug Big Bro found. We're guessing queen ant. I would never have noticed this thing on the huge parking lot we were crossing, but he spotted it right away. Kids are awesome like that!

We took the long way home. And then backtracked to find Baby S's boot. And then took the short way back. So we covered it all.

Big Brother A collecting all the different kinds of leaves he can find so that he can make a tree guide book.

A ladybug that was going to be his pet forever. It flew away. He moved on. He also got over the lost friendship with the slug that was living on his bucket for the first half of the walk.

I love how brave this boy is getting. He used to need me next to him, but he's off having his own adventures now while I help Baby S learn to navigate the playground. Pretty soon neither of them will need me to hover. I love watching them play!

Saturday, October 24, 2015

When Things Need to Change

I like to be nice to be people. I like to be helpful. I want to be kind. I want to come off as loving and caring and flexible. I want to serve others and help them feel appreciated.

I want to be present for my family. I want to have energy for my kids. I want to truly care about the things my family cares about and listen with a smile and full eye contact that says this conversation matters.

Sometimes it's hard to do all of this at once. Sometimes it feels like there's nothing left for my family after I've met all of the demands of the world outside our home. Sometimes, once I've given a little, people don't even ask for a "yes" or a "no"; they just tell me what I'm going to do for them. Sometimes people outside my home start controlling my life and my decisions.

Sometimes it feels like there's nothing left for the rest of the world once I've met the needs of my family. Sometimes it seems like there's not enough time in the day to keep everyone clean, dressed, fed, organized, and shuttled to all necessary locations. Being responsible for the physical, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing of my home is a big job and it can leave me feeling drained and unable to reach out to others outside of my home.

Maybe you've felt this way before. Sometimes it's appropriate to have an internal focus or an external focus for a time. For me, it can be hard to realize that the time for a skewed focus has passed, and that I have crossed into unhealthy living. I don't always detect the slow progress toward letting my actions be controlled, rather than deciding what I will do with my life and my time. Eventually, life becomes too out of control to ignore that things need to change.

Like this week.

I've felt like foster care controls my life for a while now. Things have gotten speedily more difficult in the last few weeks. I'm sure part of that had to do with being a single parent for 13 days while Josh was in Chad, but I think it's mostly to do with some changes in the needs of Baby S's birth family in the last couple of weeks. Instead of "would you guys be willing to..." things have become "here's the way your day is going to go regardless of your plans or needs." Instead of "in case of emergency we know you're willing to..." it is suddenly "every time something needs to change we'll assume you'll do it." And this is not just birth parent. We've just become the go-to solution.

I get why it happened. We've tried to be helpful. Our case worker is extremely understanding and communicative and we love her and want to make things as easy for her as possible. She's overworked, stressed, and coming up against the same broken system sending kids back to awful situations as we are.

So a few "yeses" to the case worker, and some flexibility for birth family, and all of a sudden we're constantly on call. Early pickups and late deliveries. Canceled visits. Indecisiveness that leaves me glued to an hours-long back-and-forth on my phone with no ability to plan a day for myself and my kids. And more. All resulting in a lot of anger and frustration simmering inside as plan after plan gets wrecked.

Last week, I found myself so worn out by constantly being on call that I broke down. I'm thankful my sister was there to help me pick up the pieces so I could get it back together. But it was a clear sign : things are out of hand. I need to build some walls. I'm all out of giving and I need a way to get some back.

Part of me always cringes at the idea of "boundaries". It seems a lot like drawing lines around my generosity. At refusing flexibility. At putting myself first. At a "no" that will make a lot of work for someone else. But if I don't start now, I'm going to find myself saying no to all of it after Baby S leaves. If there's not a way to be a foster parent AND have a healthy family (nah, let's set the bar lower - let's set the AND at mental stability), then foster parenting will have to go. That's not what I want. That's not what my case worker wants. My family had - has - a passion for this. And there has to be a way to do this without letting it control every part of me.

I don't want to put me first in an "I'm entitled to me time" kind of way. However, I can't pour and pour and pour myself out without allowing myself to refill with the God-given refreshers that God has built into me. I feel my effectiveness lessening. God hasn't called me to foster care so I can be stressed, sad, angry, and ineffective. Craving effectiveness is not selfishness.

Just deciding to fix this won't get me anywhere. So I'm working on some concrete goals. Right now, those look like writing regularly (this is like a mental health thing for me, guys; when I'm not posting it's because I don't agree with myself for more than five straight hours), going to the gym regularly, and spending one-on-one time with Big Brother A while ignoring all texts and phone calls. They can wait. Seriously. I cannot be Plan A Solution for everybody all the time. And I can't pull Big Brother A through foster care without having a good pulse on how it's effecting him and open communication to help him process it.

We need these moments to be off-the-grid. But this one was spent waiting for my day's schedule to be finally decided on.
That can't be the norm any longer.

I'm empty. All my best attempts at refilling are getting thwarted, while the demands are increasing. Sometimes God calls me to rely on him when I'm empty and he rewards that dependence. But/and he's given me tools and wisdom for staying healthy (spiritually, emotionally, physically) that cannot be neglected for the long term.

I've got to reprocess, both internally and externally. My service is next to worthless when my heart isn't there. My hands aren't doing good work when my mind is moaning and complaining and struggling through it all. I want to serve so people see God's love in me, but I don't feel loving when every good thing in my day is stolen away. I feel resentful.

I'm going to take a step back and fight for the necessary ability to refill. To have control over my schedule. To be healthy enough to be able to be flexible AND say no. Not for me. Not JUST for me. But for effectiveness. To be God's hands and feet and see lives change. I need to do some work to get back to that place.

If you're in this situation with me, I'm praying for you. I know we're all here sometimes. You and I aren't alone. We don't have to stay here, though. Let's make some changes so we can be what God calls us to be. Let's remember why we allowed our balance to become off and seek out godly ways to recover our balance and use our passions to serve our homes and our communities.

God always gives us the power to do the next right thing. We can fight for internal restoration AND external effectiveness.

Let's do this.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

It Makes All The Difference

This morning was our second morning into Baby S's first four-day weekend away from home. We won't see him again until Monday.

I thought church without Baby for the first time would be a dramatic and sad thing. But it wasn't at all what I pictured.

It wasn't what I pictured, because I am part of a church that is more than just a bunch of people showing up to check off "listened to a sermon" from their weekly chore list. I'm surrounded by people who love Jesus and love people. I'm surrounded by people who care. I'm surrounded by people who really mean it when they say "I've been praying for you guys."

I'm surrounded by people who have never hesitated to pour deeply into Baby S. I'm surrounded by people who really do understand what we are going through, because they've allowed themselves to love him deeply and are now journeying through his return alongside us.

I'm surrounded by people who work with kids and families every day of the week through many different roles, fighting for healing in the homes in our neighborhoods and in our city.

I can't fully express how amazing it is to be part of a church that is not a building where a bunch of people meet, but rather, a family of people living and growing together every day of the week (who happen to have a dedicated meeting space).

If you're not part of something like this, please consider it. If you've only known church to be a place for the good people, try again. There is something incredible about a group of broken people loving Jesus together. Something amazing about a family that cares so deeply that I barely went five minutes at a time this morning without a hug, an "I'm praying," and an acknowledgement that my little guy was missed today.

Church is why I can do this and know I'll make it through. God's people are the reason I know it will be okay.

If you don't have people like that in your life, I'll gladly share some of mine. They're a pretty awesome crowd and I know they'd love to meet you.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Just An Update

It's been a while since I've consistently posted. Here's an update on our wonderful, crazy summer.

This summer has been so BUSY! So many very good things have contributed to that busyness. We traveled to see Josh's family, spent a week at camp together as a family of four, and traveled to see my mom's side of the family. We had visits from my mom and sister and a very small but very sweet celebration of the day we met Baby S one year ago.

There's so much beauty in traveling for our family. We are thankful that Birth Parent allows Baby S to go with us and works with us to make up visits he misses when we are gone. When we travel, we have the amazing opportunity to feel like a normal family. No visits. No texts needing immediate response. No (or, at least, few) calls about foster care. No appointments. Sometimes, we don't even have access to email! It's wonderful. I feel like I so often get thrown off track because so much of foster care is putting my day on hold to help get things back under control, because the drama pops up out of nowhere and suddenly there's some information or appointment urgently needed from me. It's like my train of thought is constantly derailed, and it leaves me feeling drained and fighting stress levels. So being "off the grid" for much of the month was amazing!

Another highlight of traveling is that people don't even know we're a foster family. They can't tell that Baby S isn't a bio family member, so they don't even think to ask. There's no being brought into conversations about his birth parent, his history, or any of the (approximately) thousand-and-one dramas going on at any given time. People just treat us like family. They treat Big Brother A like a normal big brother, and ask him normal big brother questions. They treat Baby S like a normal baby-turning-toddler and ooh and aah over his cute little tricks without feeling sorry for him or making assumptions about his future. We're allowed to express joy and love and happiness without questions about how we're going to handle the pain of losing our child if he leaves us some day.

We love positive interactions about foster care. We absolutely love having honest conversations about the ups and downs of life as a foster family. We hope it encourages someone, someday, to take a next step they've been considering. But it's also lovely, sometimes, to not feel like a foster family at all.

We just get to be family. A crazy, busy, joy-filled, always-running-after-the-toddler family, enjoying the normalcy of being exhausted simply because parenting is good and hard and tiring!

Some of my favorite moments are when my two little boys are playing together, full of giggles and adventure (and even a little bit of mischief!), just being brothers.

So that was awesome. The unfortunate result is that all of the normal requirements and drama and chores and meetings had to fit into the windows we were home. Make-up visits had to be scheduled, and the already-flaky driving service for Baby S gets extra-super-flaky when it's not a normally scheduled time.

It's hard to feel overwhelmed right after a vacation - to already have that fleeting thought of "if I could just get a break!" and realize that no length of break will ever solve things. It's having to realize that this is life, and buckle down and pray for the energy every day to have a positive attitude even when a look at the day's agenda is daunting, and things keep popping up to make the day crazier, as they often do.

During this last month, there's also been some pretty emotionally draining back and forth involving Baby S's case. He was supposed to be completely through his transition back to Birth Parent by the end of September. This was a hard truth, but something we were ready for, since we've known it's coming for months. Then there was a set-back, and we were told he wouldn't be taking any steps forward toward more hours at Parent's house until the end of September. So we absorbed that information, and changed our thoughts and plans. And then this week, we've been told suddenly that his overnights will possibly be starting in a week! Although nothing is changing until the end of September, everything is changing before the end of August, and with only a week's notice. It's very frustrating and VERY confusing! The inability to ready our hearts and calendars for this major transition is very tiring and weighs heavily on us.

So we haven't reached out to sweet friends and neighbors very much this summer. We haven't done a lot of play dates or cookouts. We've been out of town a lot, and when we were home, we had so much make-up to do that we've felt almost nonstop busy. And although I want to get into a rhythm of playdates and outings with friends and all the fun, sweet things stay-at-home moms sometimes do, I don't think this will realistically be my reality at this stage in our journey. As much as I want to do dinners with other families and adventures with friends in the evenings, this, too, has to sometimes take a backseat - for now. Baby S comes back from day-long visits exhausted and needs time to catch up on sleep when he's home. Evening family time is especially precious since one of Baby S's long visit days is also Josh's day off.

Family time isn't selfish, it's a necessity, and for us there's a ticking clock to each day and week together as a family of four. We put stability and togetherness on a high pedestal in our home, because we long to fill Baby S up with all the love he can hold before he goes back to Birth Parent, both for his sake and for ours. (That doesn't mean we don't serve, by the way. We also place a high priority on serving others and especially serving through Northridge. It means that, when possible, we find ways to serve together.)

Thanks for the prayers. Thanks for checking in on us, and loving on us, and giving the boys high fives and hellos when you see them!

Happy summer!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

One Year With Baby S

Today is the one year anniversary of our little Baby S's arrival in our family.

Baby S was our third placement. We had quick goodbyes with the other two babies - quick, but not easy.

When Baby S arrived, I was pretty convinced that every placement was going to be short-term. It seemed like we would never reach a new normal. It seemed like things were going to be constantly changing. (Which, by the way, is pretty accurate, even with a long-term placement. Things barely settle into a normal before they are changed again, often suddenly and outside of our control. Such is foster care!)

Still, Josh and I found that we were able to bond with Baby S despite the uncertainty. He was able to bond with us, too, after a lot of prayer, hard work, and tears. He had to learn how to love us and he had to learn how to let us love him. He learned how to be nurtured and snuggled and hugged. He learned it well and he is now a beautiful, joyful, BUSY toddler!

I don't know if Baby S has changed drastically since his arrival or if he's just become able to be the happy, determined, enthusiastic person he always should have been. He's an amazing little guy. We're so proud of him!

In the last year, I've learned that it was okay to mourn our other two babies, despite their short placement. I've learned that I have as much right to mourn Baby S if he leaves today as I will two years from now. I've learned that a child's age and length of stay do not determine how long I'm allowed to miss my child after they go. I've learned that the potential for a forever family member is an equal loss no matter how long the stay. I hope this will help me to process and cope the next time I have a short-term placement.

I've learned that it's possible to work with birth families. I've learned that it's incredibly rewarding and incredibly difficult, sometimes in turns but often both at once. I've learned that I still have some growing to do in creating and sticking to healthy boundaries. I've grown a little more confident in my role as a foster mom and in my ability to speak on Baby S's behalf, even if my voice isn't heard. I've learned that I can and should advocate, even when no one is asking, in case someone eventually listens.

I've learned a lot about poverty. I've learned that it goes way beyond just money. Poverty is not having the transportation to get to high-quality food, not just the inability to buy it. Poverty is never having been taught how to feed your child healthy foods, not just the lack of money to purchase good things for them to eat. It's a mindset. It's an upbringing. It's a lack of information and a confusing muddle of misinformation. It's a cycle that is difficult to escape. It's trying to help people and realizing you've enabled them, or trying to keep from enabling and realizing you've missed a God-sent opportunity. It's messy.

I was thinking about all that I've learned in the last year and almost all of it revolves around my role as a foster mom. I don't know what the last year would have been like without foster care. A lot of the pain of the past year was a direct result of foster care. A lot of the busyness was because of foster care. A lot of the tough issues with Baby S were because of his struggles as part of the system. Foster care has changed everything. Love hurts more than it ever has before.

But this difficulty and pain and sadness cannot help but result in growth. I'm stronger than I was a year ago. I'm learning to find joy in every circumstance. I'm learning to love God more now that some of the people I love most are no longer permanent fixtures in my life. I'm learning to depend on God for my future more as the amount of control I feel over my life lessens.

I wouldn't trade the last year for a year of wholeness as a family of three, or even for a year of joy welcoming a second forever-baby into our home. I don't say that lightly. Every day is a struggle as I learn and relearn how to trust and have joy and obey God even when my circumstances - well - stink.

I wouldn't trade what I've learned about God or the amount of growth I've seen in my faith. I wouldn't trade the increase in my ability to stay emotionally stable through stressful and unpredictable situations. And I wouldn't trade my son for any other.

I love you to the moon and back, Baby S. I love you no matter where you are. I love you no matter where you go to bed at night. I will love you always. Happy one year with our family, little man.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Why don't I have the good things I need to do big things for God?

Josh and I want to help kids. We want to grow our family beyond two children. (Most of the time. Except when we're feeling very human and they're feeling very monstrous. But, you know, normally.)

We can't grow much bigger in a two-bedroom apartment. We can't add more kids with a car that seats 5... or 2 adults and 2 car seats.

So don't we need a bigger vehicle? Don't we need a bigger house?

When we first got married, I would have said "YES!" We want good things for good reasons. We can't pursue our good goals without those good things. Thus, we need those things.

But the answer has been "no" to getting those good things for years. We've watched many other people get those things that we desired. We've seen them get the van even if the number of seats in a car would have been sufficient. We've seen them get the big house even if they're not putting children in the bedrooms.

Is that bad? Absolutely not. They want good things to pursue good goals. I'm so happy for them. I hope they enjoy those great blessings!

But my opinion has been changing. Did they need those things? Maybe not. Maybe those things were really wants that they were able to pursue. Having our wants filled isn't bad. It's a blessing. But it's not a guarantee.

Someone else might get their wants filled while I wait for mine. And I need to be joyful while I wait.

Well, this last month our car broke down twice. It needed to be towed twice. Big Brother A even decided he's going to invent a personal towing device to save us the money and hassle of calling a tow truck. Every time it's in the shop, we have no car, since we are a one-car family.

The car was no longer reliable. It was becoming increasingly more expensive to maintain. And it had felt cramped for quite some time. It was finally time to abandon "Blue Car" for something newer and more reliable.

Bye, Blue Car!

I have thought for years that I would think "good riddance" when we got rid of Blue Car. I was surprised to find that God has been growing me through my years of waiting. The moment came to think "thanks for nothing, Blue Car," but instead of bitterness or frustration, I found myself filled with gratitude for the increased standard of living this car brought to my family over the last seven years.

Blue Car car broke down often, but it lugged us here and there for years, filled up with people I love. It gave us flexibility and freedom. Not having a car for a few days is always such a reminder for me that we take this privilege of having a personal vehicle for granted. Sick baby? Just hop in the car and take them to the doctor. Need milk? Drive where it's cheapest. Prescription? Just pick it up when you're out. So many things that aren't a big deal with a car can be huge and life-changing for people without one (especially without connections to people who can bring them places). My foster care journey has shown me a glimpse of real poverty, the kind that means a lack of freedom, a lack of choice, and a lack of independence. This car raised us to a standard of living that is unattainable for many in our city.

Since Blue Car was going, Josh and I decided it would be wise to get the "next level" of car for our family. We have spent a lot of time listening to others talk about "needs" that seemed a lot like "wants" to us, so we tried to be careful about our wording and our mindset. We didn't need the extras or expense of a minivan. We found something that would better suit us and our budget. But it still has optional third row seating, which is a huge blessing, because now if/when Baby S goes back (probably in September), we will have a place for him still, even if we add another child to our family. We won't have to wait indefinitely because of a fear that moving forward will mean shutting him out if he needs us again someday. We can squeeze him in to our apartment somewhere, but there would have been no squeezing in Blue Car. There is peace of mind in knowing that there's a way to have him in our lives and still continue growing our family, if we choose to do so. It's a great blessing and a great relief.

(By the way, Big Brother A thought long and hard about naming our new vehicle. It took him about ten minutes of deep thought. He came up with "Black Car." He's very proud of himself. I think it's safe to say logic is more his strength than creativity!)

As I'm getting used to our new vehicle, I'm excited and thankful. And I'm trying to remember that this blessing is a filled want, not a need or something to which I was entitled.

Maybe someone else wonders when their turn will be. We're still with you. We're still in the apartment. We're still feeling the tension of dreaming bigger than our circumstances currently allow.

It would be easy to think that God must give everyone with big dreams the opportunity to pursue those dreams, for the sake of accomplishing as much as possible. But the goal is God's glory, not just efficiency. What if some of us are called to make the most out of what we have, even if we could have done more in different circumstances? What if I can bring more glory to God by not waiting until the right things all line up before I dive in to serving? What if squeezing my little family into a home that is tight-spaced but filled to the brim with love is exactly what my little guys need?

I'll try to be a wise steward of my resources, thankful for all that I have been given. And I'll do my best to serve in every way I can while I am in this stage of life. I will not wait until the next stage to do all that I can do, because I know that God will make my little contributions go farther than they ever deserve to go.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

God Knows

I've mentioned our big boy who was with us just for a weekend last year. He was so sweet and so needy, and my heart broke for him. And then I learned that they were looking for another foster home for him shortly after he left us and my heart broke again. I have prayed for him and cried for him many times. He was so vulnerable. If he didn't end up with the right people as soon as possible, his chances at a normal life and normal attachments seemed slim.

We definitely couldn't have had him in our little home. We had Baby S by the time he needed a new foster family. It hurt me to know we had the heart for him and not the space. Of all our babies, he was the one who seemed to need us most because he would be hardest to place, because of his age and because of his needs. This has weighed so heavily on my heart.

Yesterday my family went to the yearly foster parent zoo event. We had Big Boy R there with us last year. He was so busy and had so little ability to communicate, and we'd only had him for a few hours when we left for the zoo. We had to keep him buckled in to the wagon for the majority of the event, to keep him safe and to keep him with us. The aquarium room was one of the only places we felt safe letting him run and explore. So last night, a year later, I was standing in the same room, thinking about Big Boy R and telling Josh my memories from that room the year before. I sat on the same bench as last year, remembering how he'd eaten his snack there the year before and squeezed his juice box (oh, what a lot of juice we had to clean up!).

And then I looked over to my left. And HE WAS THERE! Our boy was standing right there, in the same spot, holding his drink, watching the sea lions!

It could have been a flashback to last year. The same child, the same place, even holding his little cup as he watched. Except this year, there was calmness and peace in his expression. He was so grown up and he looked so whole. This year, he knew he was loved, and he knew he was part of a family. He was thriving.

There often isn't closure after kids in foster care leave your home. This moment was a gift from God. A touch from him at a tough time in our foster care journey, reminding us that he will not neglect these children. He still loves them. He is not finished with them.

By God's grace, we had the amazing chance to be on Big Boy R's team this past year, all because of one weekend with him as his first foster family went on vacation. As I talked to his foster parents about all they have given to help him develop and thrive, I was so very glad to know that I have had the opportunity to pray for them through all of the sacrifice and difficulty and triumph, even if I didn't know how God was using my prayers.

Big Boy R playing outside last June

God had him in the right place, with the right people. He didn't use me the way I longed for. But he used my longing to keep me praying for that little man. He clearly placed our boy in a home that did more for him than we could have, with our different circumstances. And in a way that I still don't completely understand, he used my prayers, as he so faithfully does.

My heart is so full today. I'm so glad I got to see this little warrior again and meet the wonderful family who is advocating for him. (I hope it didn't creep them out to come across this stranger who's clearly holding-back-tears happy to see their child!)

Even if Baby S has to go, God will not abandon him. He loves my babies even more than I do.

Who knows how he's using my prayers for Baby M and Baby Z, and for the babies who never even entered our home but still have a piece of my heart. But I believe so strongly in this moment that he is using them.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

So, How Are We Doing?

I think the best word to describe life right now is "chaotic".

There are lots of good things in that chaos. There are a lot of really challenging things, too.

Our schedule keeps shifting and changing. The last court date added visit hours for the baby, and with a vacation coming up, we're also trying to cram in a lot of extra visit hours so that we won't be running to catch up after we're home. (By the way, birth parents are within their rights to ask that children remain in the county and go temporarily to another foster home during their foster family's vacation. It's a huge blessing that Baby S will be allowed to come with us for a whole week of "normal" family time and that Birth Parent is willing to work with us to make up visits.)

We're so grateful for all of your prayers leading up to our last court date. So many people followed up with us after and it's very encouraging to hear again that we're not alone in this. Thank you for standing alongside us! (If I missed getting back in touch with any of you, I'm so sorry. Just reach out again and please forgive me for not following through! I promise I appreciate you and your kind words!)

Court will be held again tomorrow. Court dates two weeks apart is pretty tough, and each court date is very draining for our family. There's a lot of drama surrounding court dates, and a lot of uncertainty leading up to each one. Please continue to pray with us leading into tomorrow. (If you missed our post on specific ways to pray for foster families, you can check it out here.)

So how are we doing, day to day?

We're doing okay. We love our family. There are beautiful moments of feeling like a normal family and not feeling wrapped up in foster care. Baby S is adorable and busy and walking! We spend all of his waking hours that he's with us running in circles after him and trying to keep Big Brother A from losing it over having his train tracks destroyed and his special toys chewed on and his body pulled and pushed and drooled on. Big Brother A is processing Baby S's upcoming return to Birth Parent. He spent weeks telling Josh and I that he'd like another brother when this one goes home. Then a couple of days ago he decided all babies are slimy and he's done with them! So I think, overall, he's just really processing life as a typical 3-year-old big brother with a typical "slimy" 1-year-old little brother.

Emotionally and spiritually, it's a battle. There are a lot of challenges right now. Just parenting two active little boys is a lot. Parenting them and balancing almost all of the household chores and responsibilities (so that Josh can be fully present and able to invest in the boys when he gets home - because they need Dad time) is already a lot, and we're still learning what it means to be a family with a ministry job. And then, you know, just throw in the whole foster care thing, and sometimes life just feels like it's spinning out of control.

But there's order and peace in the chaos. I can only find that in Jesus. I think it's surprising and incredible to find that the more my life requires me to have big-time faith, the more I feel totally unqualified. Maybe I thought faith-growth would be a forward progression. Maybe I thought I'd need Jesus less the closer I was to him, or that I'd start to earn stars and badges for my super faithfulness. But wow, sometimes I'm just back to the beginning again, taking a lot of deep breaths and just reminding myself that I believe God is in control, and God is good, and God is in control, and God is good...

I just keep running to Jesus. I just keep reminding myself that I need the cross. People are telling me that I'm a superstar/good person for being a foster mom, but can I tell you something? From where I stand, I'm a very broken person, struggling with sin issues like anger and unbelief and distrust, and I feel less "religious" and more "I just really need Jesus" with every passing day. This is good for me. And it's very humbling. I'm spending my days trying to live like Jesus in front of my boys, and my nights praying that somehow, by God's grace, he would help them love Jesus despite all of my daily failings and struggles.

I'm becoming familiar with the idea of suffering. I'm realizing it's not going away any time soon. My struggle has been largely in feeling the weight of this suffering and wanting to escape from it. But I am trying, instead, to just pray that God would use it, and realize that I don't have to carry the weight of the suffering, even if it's not going away.

I need Jesus.

And I need to fill myself with good things when I'm empty (which feels like it's a lot, sometimes), because I see that I am pouring out buckets of whatever I'm filling up with. Sometimes, if I'm filling with negativity and anger and complaining, it starts pouring out. But I crave God's goodness and I long to pour out love and mercy and gentleness. So I'm trying to more faithfully fill myself with these good things, knowing that whatever I put into my heart is what will come back out.

Reading reminders like this goes far:

"But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth. When they hurled insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed." (1 Peter 2:20-24)

There's so much I love about this. There is so much for me to lean on when I'm trying to figure out how to respond to my circumstances. Can I just note here that Jesus was put to death under the authority of a corrupt human judge? But still, he trusted himself to God as the ultimate judge, recognizing that God is in control even when people are not good. I need to have that kind of belief, too, that God is in control - even over Baby S, even when there's a lot wrong with the system that is legally deciding his future.

So how are we doing? Well, we're hanging in there. We're just trying to follow Jesus' awesome example and remain thankful for the many good gifts God gives us every day. Thanks for praying with me and my family and loving on us as we learn.

We need Jesus!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Please Pray - Here is how

Every single time court is held for our foster son's case, it is a big deal. Everything is moving so quickly and every single scheduled court date dramatically changes our family dynamic (changes in attitudes, our visitation schedule, etc).

And tomorrow is another one of those days. So would you consider praying for us? 

We've shared our foster care journey with a few close friends and one of the more frequent questions is "How can we pray?" It's not as simple as "pray that the baby gets to stay with us" because we are in it to help a broken family find healing. We are not in foster care as a means to cheap adoption, but to play a role in the reconciliation of a child to their biological parents.

So here are a few ways you can pray for us (and for foster families in general, I think).

1) Pray for the children.

This might seem obvious. These children did not choose to be taken from their parents. They still love their families, despite what has happened to them and around them. But here they are... thrown into a stranger's home.

The entire foster care system is designed to protect children as family finds the resources and help necessary to return to the role of caretaker. Despite this, it can often feel like the needs of the children aren't important in the eyes of everyone involved. The ultimate long-term goal of reunifying a family often trumps the short-term goal of stability for the child. This is a good goal, but it's hard for the system to always make the next right decision because it is all so messy. For that reason, we need to...

2) Pray for clarity in the case.

We've learned quickly that misinformation is normal throughout this entire process. What you hear from one party isn't necessarily what you'll hear from them in another setting. And not all the information necessary to make a wise choice is deemed important enough to share in court -- many people close to the case are not required to share and often will not share because they want to preserve relationships or maintain confidentiality.

Our prayer every single day is that all the relevant information would reach the judge. That every single person involved in the case would divulge all of the details critical to weigh the options and make an informed decision. The webs of deceit, half-truths, confusion, and chaos in the case are horrifying to untangle. Pray with us that Truth would stand out from lies, misinformation, and biases in the court room and that Justice would be done.

3) Pray for the foster parents.

Just as information can quickly become muddled in the court room, it can also quickly become muddled in our hearts. Even foster parents who begin the foster care process with goals of reuniting families can quickly become burned out, bitter, or resentful as the difficulty of working within the system and with the birth families wears at us. Pray for clarity and peace in our hearts.

4) Pray for the relationships.

When birth families are fighting for one outcome and foster families are longing to protect the children, continuing a positive relationship can become stressful. It can be hard to work together to parent when the two parties have very different ideas of what is best for the child. Pray that these relationships could continue to be strong and positive, because this is of ultimate importance for the child who loves both parties and needs to see them working together.

5) Pray that Jesus would change hearts.

Pray that Jesus would reach these children and grow them into adults who love and follow Jesus. He might do this through loving Christian foster/adoptive families, through birth families who meet Jesus and raise their children up after him (this would be our number one prayer), or even despite a difficult upbringing after returning to a family that maybe shouldn't have been reunited. Whatever happens, pray that God would use the child's circumstances to speak His love loudly into their life, and that they would grow up a part of the one forever family that cannot be taken away and will never change - God's forever family.

6) Pray for our family.

For us specifically, we are praying that we would have clarity and peace in the direction God has for Baby S and his Birth Parent, so that we can move forward without anger or worry regardless of decisions made in court. And, again, we are praying daily for clarity and truth in the court room.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Our Big Birthday Boy

Tomorrow is our Baby S's first birthday.

We are so proud of him. He has grown into such a loving, snuggly, sweet boy. He is smiley and flexible and cheerful and puts up with so many crazy things so joyfully. He has a beautiful personality and I am so glad he is here with us, in our family. After our two short term placements who left so quickly, we were hesitant to believe that little 6-week-old Baby S would stay with us for more than a couple of weeks. But here we are, at his first birthday. Our hearts are so full of joy to have him here with us on his special day.

But like much of foster care, there is not only joy. There is also a deep sadness. Baby S is leaving babyhood behind. He's standing on his own now (he's so smiley and proud of himself!) and will be walking before long. He is quickly approaching toddlerhood. He is moving from formula and bottles to milk and sippy cups. He's eating big person food and trying to keep up with his big brother. He wants to be a big boy.

And his birth parent hasn't been able to have the active role they desired. Birth Parent has been as involved as the county has let them, and I'm not trying to minimize their role. It's been huge that he's had this level of involvement from Birth Parent. But this isn't what Parent hoped for or expected. And there is a deep sadness in knowing that Parent is celebrating Baby S's birthday knowing he is leaving babyhood behind, and that they were not able to do that stage together.

There are a lot of tough moments for us with this case lately, but no matter what, we still believe the goal is reunification, when this is best for the child. We are still cheering for families reunited. Baby S's safe travel through babyhood is a victory that we are glad to have been part of. But while we love and cherish his role in our family, we also recognize that his separation from Birth Parent is a tragedy, and that saddens us.
Tomorrow, we will proudly celebrate our big one-year-old baby boy. We will joyfully acknowledge his status in our family, not as foster child, but as son and brother. We love him dearly. We are so glad he has become part of our family, and he will forever hold this place in our home, whether he stays or goes.

But we will also be inwardly grieving. We will be sharing in birth parent's sadness. We will be mourning the childhood birth parent had hoped for and planned. And we will be praying for birth parent, tomorrow and every day.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

On Days Like This One

This day. My goodness. So busy. So crazy. So many positives. So many frustrations.

We woke up to a beautiful day
bright and early, with a crabby teething baby.
The kids wanted to go outside
but our one family vehicle died in a friend's driveway Tuesday and today I needed to make phone calls.
We found a place that looks great to work on the car
but I needed to be the one to call so Josh could go to work. And my phone stopped working and needed a total reboot, which takes time - more time than I had with my two fussy children.

So I went for a walk to the playground with the kids
because I didn't have a car and couldn't take them anywhere else.
Got some great exercise pushing the double stroller with the kids in it and really enjoyed the sunshine
despite the scary hooded teenaged boy lurking around the whole time we were there.

Big Brother A ate a good lunch in a reasonable amount of time when we got home (big win!)
with a sugar drink called a "yogurt smoothie" that I pretended counted for dairy since we ran out of milk two days ago and don't have a car to go buy more.

I made the phone calls to get the car fixed
while Big Brother A yelled and tried to get my attention
and to get the car towed
while Baby S wiped out next to me and needed to be soothed while I talked
and to let my friend know the tow truck was headed her way
while Baby S cried like he had never eaten before and Big Brother A howled because he had bitten his tongue.

I got the baby to sleep and the big boy to rest and finally got a chance to take a shower and put the morning's thoughts in order
since I decided to prioritize this over any semblance of order in my living room, kitchen and dining room.

Here's what I realized.

There was ultimately one big problem with this day. It wasn't the kids, or the car, or the house. Those were tensions that needed to be managed, and issues that needed to be dealt with. But the real problem with my morning
was this ongoing list.

This list of good-versus-bad from my day originated in my mind as an attempt to balance the good with the bad. It was a try at calming my complaining attitude with moments of appreciation for other pieces of my day.

But this attitude shows an ugliness in my heart. It shows entitlement.

I'm trying to weigh out the bad with the good, because I think I deserve the good. I think the good is the norm. I think the manageable is how it should be, and the difficult and unmanageable days are anomolies that give me the license to feel and act differently than I do on other days.

But that's garbage. That's not real life. If everything is good and comfortable and manageable, I'm not walking toward the mess; I'm backing away from it, waving a bunch of excuses in front of me so I can defend my space instead of finding peace in Christ through the chaos.

How many times do I have to learn that I need these times of frustration to keep me on track? How many times will I re-discover that the problem is, once again, that I'm putting myself first? That I'm a coward who backs away from the tough stuff instead of stepping into it with a prayerful attitude and a strength that comes from Jesus? I can do such great, big, difficult things through God's strength, but I still chicken out and aim small so many times, moping about how I feel instead of seeing the big picture.

This life isn't supposed to be smooth, paved, and guard-railed. It's more like a wilderness hike, and I'm going to get muddy and bruised and maybe even lost sometimes, but I'd rather hike through the mess and make a big difference in this hurting world than stay in my safe corner and keep Jesus to myself.

Life isn't going to get easier. I've just got to toughen up and get ready to be all in... Every day. Every time I forget again. To toughen up in perseverance... and to back down in my me-centered attitude. Because more me-focus is exactly the opposite of what I need. There's a way to work hard and fight hard without it being about me.

Even when our only car dies, the phone stops working, and the baby is teething all on the same day.

Because God is good, all the time. Forever is real, and this life is just a small moment leading up to eternity. And I can push harder and try more and be tired longer when I remember that it's only for a moment.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Do you ever feel invisible?

I have often gone through times where I've struggled to feel connected to people around me, starting way back when I was a little girl trying to make friends in a tiny Vermont elementary class of ten kids (in a room that included two grade levels). I now realize that I'm a mix of introvert and extrovert, and that mix of desiring to be around people and yet feeling inwardly shy and withdrawn has caused me a lot of confusion. I struggle to reach outward in love without being overburdened by fear of what others think of me.

I have often felt like an outsider. I used to think I was the only person going through this. My world was so little, and sometimes the loudest voices in it were the outgoing people who didn't seem to struggle with connecting. I felt like the only invisible person in a crowd of people who were comfortable with themselves. It was like there was a wall between me and everyone else, and I was made to watch through the window and sometimes briefly interact before retreating back into my own little bubble.

I'm growing, little bits at a time, and I am starting to learn that there are so many different kinds of people. God made an incredibly diverse world. He made many outgoing people and he made many shy people. Some of us will always be more reserved and less able to live and laugh loudly and publicly without overthinking.

And that's okay. As long as I am not using these attributes of myself as an excuse to avoid doing what I am supposed to do, I am not sinning by remaining a little quieter, a little more reserved, and a little less outgoing than many of the people I admire and work alongside. In fact - and this was a little surprising to me at first - I am starting to realize that God made me this way on purpose, with a plan.

God has made others like me. There are others who can feel alone in a crowded room, who don't know how to step out and become part of a group, and who feel a little socially awkward when everyone else seems polished and well-spoken. There are others who tend to feel like outsiders. There are others who sometimes feel invisible. By making me one of those people, he has given me the tools to reach those people.

Ever feel like you're alone in a crowd?

I used to wait for someone else to reach out to me. I spent a lot of time hoping for gestures I never received. I have let myself feel unloved because of this.

Now, though, I'm trying to look outside myself with eyes more ready to see the people around me and feet more ready to take the first step. I know what would make quiet, reserved me feel loved and wanted, even on my quietest days. I know what would make me smile and brighten with feelings of being appreciated and valued. I don't need someone to do those things for me. I need to use those desires as a tool in my approach to others like me. I'm not there yet, but I'm growing daily and finding my confidence in the worth and approval I have gained through Jesus, rather than approval from other people. But there are a lot of people who haven't started down that road yet, and I can help them take first steps by helping them feel love and worth.

The things I have desired from others are good things. They are things that I can do for others like me.

I can be the person to approach the one in the corner of the room and start a safe and comfortable conversation. I can step out and offer friendship to someone who hesitates to join in, because I'm right there next to them on the outskirts of the conversation, hesitating too. I can show the young mama the gestures of love and appreciation I have craved. I can welcome the new family in town, the parents of the brand new baby, the foster parents with the difficult court date or the new placement. I can bring the flowers, drop by with dinner, offer a coffee date, babysit the kids, or send a note with words of encouragement. I can pray and follow up and reach out in love.

I can push myself to be the one who reaches out. I can do for others what I wish someone would do for me. I can encourage another. And ultimately, I can find my worth and value in Christ, whether or not I receive the same efforts in return. Every good and perfect gift comes from God above, who never changes. May I use my time, efforts, and affections to bring him glory and help others feel loved and accepted by God as I have felt loved and accepted.

I have to make choices in this. I can't be the one to reach out to everyone. I don't have the time, although I wish I did. But I can always have in mind a few people I am choosing to intentionally invest in, and a few little ways I am loving on the people around me. I can do the big things for those few, follow up in little ways with a larger circle of friends, and reach out with little notes, texts, or prayers of encouragement when my resources feel drained or my time feels too limited. It never takes more than a few moments to jot down the note that's already in my head, or to pray for the person I'm already thinking of... even when the budget gets tight!

Isn't God great, to have made us all so unique? I want to try to embrace my personality type and lay it at his feet as the best I have to give. I want to stop being inwardly focused and start embracing my desires as clues for how to reach out to others.

When I feel invisible, I will try to look around the room, move past myself, and take a step toward someone else in order to meet their needs, instead of focusing on my own.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Mother's Day and Broken Systems

The month of May has been a very busy month so far. Some of it has been great. Some of it has been more difficult than it was supposed to be. Josh and I were able to go to an awesome conference and be so encouraged. And while there, we got difficult and frustrating (and did I mention difficult?? and did I mention frustrating??) news about Baby S's case.

The system we are part of does not make sense to me. The best interests of the children are often not at the forefront of the child's case, and the loudest and most influential voices in the court room too easily become the people with the worst ethics and least concern for the kids. A lawyer who still does not know why the child is in care can say there is no reason for the child to be in care and that can change the trajectory of the case. It doesn't make sense.

If you're considering foster care, know this. This is a broken system. You will be frustrated. Your family will feel overlooked, your thoughts and first-hand experiences will hold no weight in court, and you will be frustrated to realize that the child is getting shuffled along based on a lot of factors that are not primarily focused on the child. You will get your first placement and you will wonder if you can ever do this again.

Because loving your next placement doesn't take away the sorrow of the babies who left.

You will have to decide why you are in it. These children do not get a chance to decide if they want to be part of the broken system. Babies don't get to say what they want or advocate for their needs. Big kids may be able to talk in court but they certainly aren't always listened to. You will provide a loving, stable, growth-friendly environment, and the child will become yours and hopefully thrive in your home and odds are that they will leave your whole family to go back to something broken and painful.

Your heart will be broken. But your home will still be home, and the rest of your family - however that is constructed in your home - will still be there. If you love Jesus, he will continue to be a source of stability and joy that cannot be shaken. Your heart will be broken. But you will still find wholeness. The broken won't be about you. It will be about your child, who has no control and is losing a family no matter whether they stay or go.

The way this system works - it stinks. You can't be in it for you. As North Point's Drive conference so accurately presented, you can't be in this foster care journey because you have a need to rescue a child. You will be able to make a difference in a window of the child's life and that window will have more of an impact than you can ever realize. But in most cases you won't be able to rescue the child from a broken situation. They will go back.

You have to be in it for the child. For the impact you can make on their life while they are in stability and love and wholeness. For the chance to show them that whole families are the norm for them to strive for, not the strange outlier in a world of broken families. For a chance to give them something else to hope for and work for when they are raising their own children someday.

The hard thing for us to understand from our point of view is that the broken and painful home is still home to the child. Sometimes big kids ask to go back despite all the good and the growth they are experiencing. They don't see things the way we do. They love us and they love their birth families. They might not understand what they're going back to, they might not see the long-term consequences, but they do need to be given the encouragement that it's okay to love their birth family and to be excited to go home. (Honestly, they're going whether or not they want it, so they might as well be given the emotional license to embrace that return.)

What does this have to do with Mother's Day? I guess probably not much from the outside. But it's what Mother's Day is made of for me this year. Mother's Day is a confusing opportunity to celebrate someone else as mother for the child who knows me as Mommy. It's a chance to honor someone else for the position I've been filling most hours of the day, all hours of the night, for almost every diaper change and bottle and first and teething and fever and adventure in Baby S's life thus far. Mother's Day is weird this year. It's hard. I'm Mommy, yet I'm in the store planning a Mother's Day gift for someone else.

But it's not for me. It's for baby. It has to be for baby. And it has to be through Jesus. Or I can't do this again. And this calling was not ever about me, or my husband, or my bio son.

So we'll keep on trucking, and loving little Baby S. We'll help him be able to celebrate Mother's Day for both his mothers. We'll start thinking about how to pack him up and send him away. We'll talk about doing this again someday even as our hearts and minds are resisting that this is happening. We'll keep praying in the frequent moments where it's all we can do to keep from sinning in our attitude. Pray for us!

And if you'll give me another five minutes of your time, check out this blog post from an adoptive mom friend, as she shares her thoughts approaching her son's first Mother's Day. It's worth a read.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Focusing on Fear

Here are some of those things you hear a lot as a foster parent:

"I could never be a foster parent... I'd be too afraid to get attached."
"I could never be a foster parent...  I'm afraid I'd love them too much."
"I could never be a foster parent... I'm afraid it would be too hard if they had to leave."

I've thought a lot about this. I believe most of the time, when people say this, they are outwardly processing very difficult feelings, and I try not to run too far with these statements. I know they aren't saying I don't love my foster babies. I know they don't think I'm unattached. And I hope they don't think it's easy for any of us to say goodbye.

I understand that the idea of foster care can be very scary. I wrestle with that fear every day. But here's what I've been thinking more and more frequently lately.

The risks involved in foster care are not all that different from the risks involved in any type of close relationship.

When I was pregnant for Big Brother A, there was a lot of baby loss that hit very close to home. I mourned with the friends and coworkers who lost their little babies (both preborn and born). I struggled with knowing how to offer comfort when I had not experienced the same loss.

And I became afraid.

It is hard to fully experience joy when fear becomes mixed in.

I allowed myself to feel the weight of the uncertainty that Big Brother A would become team member #3 in my home. I started mentally framing things in terms of "if the baby is born".

I hesitated to attach. I loved my baby. But I didn't want to love my future with the baby. Not until the baby was safely here and the future was fully certain.

Around 18 months later, we discovered Big Brother A's peanut allergy. Everything was so unknown, and little things like grocery shopping or playing at the playground were suddenly very scary. What if Big Brother A was accidentally exposed to peanuts and something terrible happened? It was so painful. It filled me with fear. All of the risk of attaching so fully to another person resurfaced.

The possibilities of losing my child during pregnancy, losing my baby to unpredictable circumstances, or losing my baby to complications surrounding an allergy may not share the same probability as the possibility of losing my foster baby from my forever family. But they are very real. The weight of the risk is the same, no matter the likelihood of loss.

I think every parent, every wife, every husband, every child in a loving home, has already started to experience the reality of possible loss. This can cause fear in any of us, in any circumstance. When we start to focus on that fear, we start to miss out.

When my focus is on my fear, I miss out on the beauty of attaching fully to the people in my life. I put myself through the pain of the worst case scenario over and over, when maybe I never would have had to experience it at all.

When my focus is on my fear, I stop trusting God to do what is right and good. I stop having my faith in the only one who has any real control over my situation.

Most of life comes pretty short on guarantees, but this is something I hold to as certain:

"We know that God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." (Romans 8:28)

This isn't talking about God making everything easy, or always giving me what I want most. This is talking about making me into a person who looks and acts like Jesus. This is talking about little, weak, fearful me being able to pull through amazingly different circumstances by God's power alone, and emerging stronger and closer to Jesus through those painful times.

There are so many scary things about foster care. No one should enter into this journey unaware of the types of hardships that come along with it. It is totally legitimate to experience fear in considering fostering. It's wise to think through the implications for yourself and your family. And ultimately, God might not have equipped you to be a foster parent. He might not have gifted you in specific ways that would make you good at this. You might know that the burden of stress and the uncertainty of it would not be the best thing for you or your family right now. That's okay. Not every family is meant to be a foster family.

But let's not let our decisions stand on fear. That first fear of pain is not a good resting place.

"The Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline." (2 Timothy 1:7)

Don't let it be fear that keeps you from considering foster care. You could be the person who overcomes fear despite uncertainty, and is able to someday help a foster child through their own fears as they process the pain of loss, separation, and uncertainty. Maybe, like me, you'll have to face fear daily, and will constantly be in a process of re-surrendering your emotions, thoughts and actions to God. Maybe, like me, the fear will be an ever-present reminder that it is all for God's glory, and a constant encouragement to look ahead toward Heaven with joy and anticipation.

Only by praying often and praying hard can a mommy constantly cope with the possibility of child loss. 
But I think any flavor of parenting gives a taste of this fear and uncertainty.

Maybe you're the person who needs to tackle this idea, only to arrive at the other side without a plan to foster but with a solid understanding of why this is not for you. Know your gifts and know your resources. Trust God to work for your good, wherever he leads, no matter how painful. Don't be afraid to wonder if it's for you; and if it's not, embrace that. Find other ways to invest in the orphan and widow in your community. God does not call all of us to do the same things, and we can find ways to support each other in our separate callings.

Let's stop standing on fear.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Losing What is Most Precious

So far today, I have not been a very nice person.

I've been upset because I lost my wedding ring. I looked all over the place. I checked pockets. I dug through every toy bin. Josh moved furniture and we checked under and around (most) everything.

My wedding ring is precious to me. It has special meaning because of what it means and who it is from. It is special because I have worn it faithfully. It is special because my sweet Baby S loves it and spins it on my finger, and every time I silently promise him that this ring is a symbol of the stability and constancy that he shares in my home. And it has monetary value, too. We couldn't replace it - not when that would make it that much longer until we can build up a down payment for a house.

I thought I had lost something precious to me. And I was crabby about it. I was unloving and unkind. I knew that I had no excuse to do wrong. I knew I was sinning through my attitude and my actions. And I continued to make excuses for myself anyway.

And then there was a doctor's appointment for Baby S. The appointment itself was fine. He's healthy, happy and growing. But the interaction with Birth Parent was painful, and confusing, and left me feeling a little crazy. I was now worrying not just about losing someTHING precious to me, but also someONE - my beautiful little sweet boy who knows me as Mommy.

I didn't want to lose one of my very most precious someTHINGs. I didn't want to lose one of my very most precious someONEs.

I scrolled through my Facebook feed and saw lots of Good Friday posts. That's great. But I wasn't feeling it. How can I feel it when I'm worried about something so big and so heavy?

And then I found my ring. My beautiful ring, that I thought was lost forever.

And I remembered.

Good Friday is about losing what is most precious to ultimately gain what is most precious. Good Friday is where I belong most, when I am feeling torn open and totally crazy over the idea of losing my sweet son. Good Friday is not just about Jesus losing his physical life, but about Jesus being totally separated from his Father. Good Friday is all about a Father losing his most precious Son.

I don't want to lose my baby. I don't want to be the mother who loses her son. But I can find hope here. I can find rest here. I can find sanity in my craziness. I don't understand what is happening in Baby S's case, and I am broken and confused as I approach this Easter with court looming just a few days after.

But I know that God's peace is ultimate. I know that life and joy with Jesus is forever.

That doesn't take away the today-pain. But it does add joy that can coexist with my deepest sorrow.

Today, I am thankful for Jesus. I am thankful for a Daddy in Heaven who would knowingly and willingly walk into losing his son, for my sake. Losing his most precious someONE, for a broken someone who didn't even know him yet.

I love that.

Happy Good Friday, friends. May you find joy and peace in Jesus today, no matter what you are going through.