Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Things I Never Thought I Would Do

Sometimes I feel like I'm walking through a world in which I don't belong. I've always had a passion for adoption, but I didn't always have a definite plan to foster. I'm sheltered. I'm non-confrontational. I like people to like me. This foster care world is full of moments I never expected to have in my life.

I never expected to know my way through the county Hall of Justice. I didn't picture myself waiting in long security lines with people who are there for all sorts of reasons, reasons that make me nervous if I stop and think. I never expected to have a seat where I normally sit in a court room, or clothes and routines that are normal for court days.

I didn't think I'd ever find it normal to get unexpected calls from lawyers, specialists, nurses or case workers. I didn't think I could ever get used to being constantly assessed on my home, my parenting style, and my relationship with someone who gets to live by totally different standards than I do. I didn't picture sending my baby away four times a week in a van with people who don't always keep him safe and often have no experience with babies.

I didn't picture myself celebrating my baby's birthday quietly, alone, and without my baby. Twice now I've prayed and mourned through a baby's first birthday, wondering if my baby is safe, if my baby is growing and happy, and if my baby is with people who are even celebrating that beautiful milestone.

I didn't think I'd be reaching my seventh wedding anniversary and living in a rented apartment. I didn't think I'd be washing dishes by hand and trucking up and down two sets of stairs to a shared pay laundry facility by the time I had two little boys.

I never thought I would feel so under-equipped. So broken and drained, at times, that I've had to pull into parking lots to get a good cry so I can come home ready to be with my family again.

But then...

I never thought it would be so easy, and so necessary, to have a relationship with someone far from God. It has sometimes seemed hard to have people in my life who still need Jesus. My closest friends often go to my church and follow after Jesus, raising their babies to know about him. It's hard to reach outside of that bubble. Well, it used to be. Now it's not such a stretch.

I never thought I'd have so many opportunities to be the one who treats everyone the same in the court waiting area. To be the one to make eye contact with the rude employee and ask them about their day. To speak a kind word to the not-so-kind, overtired, and overworked state worker or office assistant on the other end of the phone.

I never knew I could be content to live with less. I didn't know I'd be strong enough to walk through most of my days with the satisfaction of truly appreciating my little cozy corner of the world. It's hard to want to do more and be limited by physical space, but I can see God growing me in it. I can appreciate safety and comfort. I can appreciate the people I share my space with. And I can appreciate that home has become more than a place to me. It's a feeling, an atmosphere, that I can help foster and that will fill any and every place my family lives in together. I know this is true because no matter where we go, home comes with us. This is the feeling that my children will remember someday when they think of home. This is what I will look back on when I am old. This is what fills my heart with contentment.

I never thought I'd have the chance to pray so devotedly for little boys I would, in many ways, only know by name. I never thought heaven would seem so real, and so near, as it does when I'm missing my babies and praying that I'll meet them again some day in a place where we can all be whole and together, loving Jesus face to face. I never thought reliance on Jesus would be something I would cling to and cherish so desperately as in the moments I am holding my smiling nine-and-a-half month old baby boy and breaking inside as I think about what his future might hold. Or in the times when I'm having a conversation with my three-year-old, who may grasp even better than me that we can love Baby S wholeheartedly all while knowing that he is a sweet gift that we share with another family.

In this, I have seen Jesus. I am realizing that my brokenness is a gift. I could never do this on my own. The more I feel over my head, the more I know deep down that I am right where I belong. Sometimes I feel with such certainty that I should not be able to move forward from where I am - that things have broken too much, and that I'm too little and too weak to do what is right.

And then, when I am able to carry on in truth and love, walking with Jesus even though my heart knows I can't take another step, I am absolutely convinced that I have seen God working. When I am able to handle my sins and mistakes in a graceful and humble way, I know for sure it is not from me. And it fills me with hope that he can use me, broken as I am.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Little Things Monday: My Big Helper

There are some pretty tough moments with little ones. Three-year-olds can be so charming one moment and so difficult the next.

This is one of those moments where I felt like maybe something is going right in this little boy's upbringing.

Big Bro A picked up this bag from the shelf all by himself and started off with it. Sure, we had a shopping cart; he didn't need to carry it. But his sweet little heart told him to help Mommy, and he did it all on his own. I love it.

I'm grateful for a little man who is growing up into such a big helper. I actually love bringing him to the store with me for real now (versus when they're super little and it's really much faster and easier to go alone). He keeps me company, he helps me find things on the shelf, and he helps me carry the groceries. Well... unless he goes into an overtired tantrum. Oh, three-year-olds. Generally, though, bringing him with me brings me so much joy.

I'm thankful for Big Brother A, my great little helper.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

We have a bed! ... Again!

In September of 2013, Josh and I were getting ourselves set up for foster care. We really didn't need much, but one of our biggest needs was either a bed or a crib to make room for our foster babies.

God provides in the bigs and littles. The timing was perfect and beyond what I had expected. I love when God uses people to meet each other's needs. You can check out our post about getting Big Brother A's toddler bed here.

You know what? Big Bro A is starting to outgrow that little bed. He's 3 1/2 now. Josh and I have been talking about looking around for a bigger bed for him. We weren't ready to make a priority out of it, budget-wise. He could technically still fit in the little bed. It was just getting a little less roomy.

Guess what? One of the amazing people we have had the privilege of meeting through foster care offered up a free race car bed and mattress. It couldn't have been more perfect for our little dude.

We might not use the toddler bed right away. But now we can, if we need it. You never know.

I just love that our God is a God who pays attention to detail. The big questions - how long will Baby S be here; how do we love on his Parent and still keep healthy boundaries; what does our future family look like - those won't be answered any time soon, despite my wish for answers! But the little things make me remember : God knows. And he cares.

And this bed? Awesome.

Ignore the cat. She's not your friend. This is the only time she will look cute to you. The other times she will be hissing.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Little Things Monday: Rain Boots Are Not Just For Rain

I think there is a general misunderstanding out there in the big world.

Mostly I hear it from older men and women in the grocery store.

"Where is the rain??" they ask.

"You're all prepared for a big storm!" they say.

I just want to set this straight:

When you're three, a raincoat and rain boots are not necessarily because it is raining.

It is equally valid to wear a raincoat and rain boots because there are puddles out there that are begging to be made into rain by busy preschooler feet.

It is also equally valid to wear a raincoat and rain boots because three-year-olds know that rain coats look cool and mommies know that rain boots are one of the first things toddlers can put on with total independence.

So, without further ado, a little celebration of all the puddle-jumping, raincoat-sporting spring days to come in the next couple of months.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Love, Addiction and Biology

There are a lot of misconceptions about parents whose children are in foster care.

I've gotten some questions that are pretty incredibly misinformed, like "Doesn't Parent want him back?" and "Isn't Parent going to take him back again?", as if Parent is choosing to leave Baby S in care.

Before getting into different reasons children are in care, I want to set this straight: Parents choose their actions. Judges choose when children return home. Birth parents cannot decide they are ready to parent again and then just do it. They have to go through court. This process may take a while, even for a parent who is following the plan the county sets up for them. There are a lot of factors that make even a simple case become unpredictable and far from straight-forward. Sometimes, certain actions mean that parents must demonstrate the ability to stay on track for a period of time before they can try parenting again, no matter how well they are doing.

Babies come into care for a lot of reasons. In our case, Parent has never expressed the desire to leave Baby S. Parent has only wanted to have Baby S return as quickly as possible. This does not always translate into totally straight-forward progress, but Parent's desire for reunification is very real. Parent's love for Baby S is very real, too.

There are certainly cases where parents are willfully abandoning children. I'm not denying that reality. Even Baby S has only one involved birth parent. But it hurts me to hear the assumption that Parent isn't trying or must not want Baby S. I love Parent. Baby loves Parent and will continue to love and know Parent no matter what the future holds. I don't want Baby S growing up hearing whispers of Parent not loving him or not trying hard enough. He doesn't need that. He's going to have enough baggage already. His life is not simple, his routine is not normal, and his family will never all live under one roof.

Looking at things a little more generally, parents make all sorts of poor choices that result in their children entering into foster care. Some parents have mental or physical health issues that limit their ability to care properly for their children. Often there is a combination of poor choices and physical limitations playing together. A lack of supportive community, broken family background, and lack of resources and information also play a role in a parent's inability to properly care for a child.

There are a lot of little pieces stacking up to make one case. It's usually not as simple as wanting or not wanting a child.

Sometimes, a parent continues to make bad choices despite their love for their child. I have seen addiction lead to poor choices that a person never would have made when not in the heat of the addiction struggle. At the same time, I have seen continued love for family and a deep hurt that people can experience as they are torn between the need to satisfy the physical and psychological demands of addiction and the desire to please and love the people who are closest to them. I've seen that recovering from addiction can be a long road, a road that is seldom straight and often detours backwards and around in the long journey ahead to recovery. And I have seen people who love and long to be loved through all of this. The poor choices are not okay, and the children of addicted people experience the consequences of these choices. I am not suggesting that people become blameless; however, I also do not think we can assume that a parent does not desire to reunite or does not care about their children because they continue to struggle with addiction. Addiction is powerful. Sin is powerful. The desire to become clean is not always enough by itself. People may not be able to show God's selfless, sacrificial love to their children when they have not yet understood God's offer of selfless, sacrificial love themselves.

Long-term mental and physical health issues can look similar to addiction from our side of foster care. Sometimes people choose not to get treatment. Sometimes they choose not to take their medications, or they make poor diet decisions that decrease the effectiveness of their efforts. People don't always make straight-ahead full-speed progress toward recovery for mental or physical health. And again, although sin is still sin no matter where we see it, we should not be too quick to assume that poor choices mean a lack of parental love. Maybe you would be surprised to see the little ways some parents think they are making good choices for their children, even when all of the big things are going wrong. It doesn't always make sense to us, especially when things are getting skewed through a fog of mental health. Still, I've seen poor choices that, in a parent's mind, were viewed as positive. It's difficult for foster parents to balance pushing for what seems best for the child and understanding and/or supporting the motive behind the less-than-awesome choices. But it is so important to try to understand that poor choices do not have to mean a lack of love for the child.

In our case, Parent's love for Baby S is so obvious. I often can't share specifics to stick up for Parent when people ask questions that assume the worst. It's not information that belongs to just anyone who asks, and it really bothers me when people assume Parent doesn't want their child. Parent desperately wants Baby S back in their home. No matter how they progress through "the plan", there is a timeline pinned to this case that will not allow reunification just yet. Parent tries to be there for Baby S in any way they can. My role does not end at being Mommy for Baby S. It also involves being a support to Parent and trying to gently help grow their parenting skills and knowledge. It can be hard to stay positive sometimes in the day to day, but the specifics belong only to our family and those involved in the case, and I am going to do all I can to extend community and positive support to Parent.

Baby loves his Parent. Parent loves Baby. Parent has a long road ahead. I'm not sure at what point in that road Baby will rejoin Parent under the same roof. I don't know how many of their struggles will be difficulties to overcome and how many will be lifelong tensions. I can't speak to the long-term success of the reunification efforts. But oh, I wish I could convey in these moments, in these conversations, how much Parent is trying, and how much the little steps can be huge signs of love and effort, even if they look small or confusing from the outside. Despite the moments of frustration and the ups and downs, I will never. ever. for. a. single. moment. doubt Parent's love for Baby S. No matter what happens.

Proverbs 10:12 says "Hatred stirs up quarrels, but love covers all offenses." Love covers all offenses. A child might not see all of those things that we see when we look at a birth parent. A child's love can cover over a whole lot of offenses on the parent's part. Children are often the first to long for reconciliation and reunification with a birth parent, regardless of how much hurt is in their past. Children and their birth parents have a bond and a shared experience, and trying to downplay that will not help us to love either the child or the birth parent into a better place. I want to love like Jesus loves me. I want to look for the positives and encourage the growth and try to gently pray and nudge in the still-broken areas.

I want to tell Baby S story upon story of the good and generous and loving and kind moments and only remember the pain-filled moments of tension or frustration when absolutely necessary. Baby is going to need to hear ten positives for every negative, and I think the gift of love and respect for Birth Parent is one of the best and most important gifts I can give him while he is under my care. I hope the people around us will help us to do this, even starting now while he is still very little. I believe most of them will, and I appreciate (so, so, so much, guys) those people who have already reached out and invested, not just in Baby, but also in Parent. Nothing makes my family feel loved in quite the same way right now as feeling the love our friends and family extend to Baby S and his Parent, unconditionally and without reservation. You guys are awesome.

And when those hurtful questions resurface, we will do our best to protect Baby and Parent, respect confidentiality, and use the painful moment as a teaching time. Because I think Birth Parent's hard work and love for Baby S deserve more than a "Doesn't Parent even want him??"

Monday, March 2, 2015

Little Things Monday: Treasuring the Mess

Sometimes, at the end of the day (or before nap), there's quite a wake left behind from my little family.

Lately, before picking it up, I sometimes snap a quick picture. These messes won't always be here and I want to remember this stage for all of its beauty, difficulty, really fun mess-making good times, and constant running around in circles taking care of all the little things.

I think I'll remember these things, but looking back, I know that my memory isn't very good. Someday I'm going to look at a stay-at-home mom of little ones and have no real idea what her day is like. Someday I will be far enough removed that I can't quite remember the feeling of being home all day and having an enormously productive day, yet feeling as if I've gotten very little done.

Maybe these pictures will help keep my memory fresh. Maybe they will help me to be more sympathetic, more prayerful for others, more ready to offer help in the ways that those mommies might crave help.

Maybe they'll just bring a smile to my face. That's enough, too.

This picture shows a day spent getting fun new books from the library and snuggle time while we read right through the stack, experiencing new stories together, especially about outer space! It reminds me of a Big Bro so patient and loving during Baby's shots that morning, so that we could all go out to the library after and enjoy that special time together. It reminds me of the full-volume rocking dance party Big Bro A and I had while Baby S was at his visit, and of the difficulty of keeping quiet for Baby to nap in a small space while allowing Big Bro to experience all the loudness and movement that a 3-year-old requires. The baby toys show me a baby growing bigger and more able to play and interact every day. The Bumbo shows me practice for sitting up and a Baby growing and developing. The lunch box reminds me of the extra hours spent in writing in the visit journal for Baby, packing his bottles and lunches and extra clothes and toys and diapers for visits, getting him up early from naps and settling him back in after he arrives home from a visit. Up toward the top I can see the awesome set of new-to-us raincoats that I found for the boys to wear this spring for a price that made me smile.

There are more memories and fun times hiding in each little mess. I'm thankful for this little thing - the joy of remembering the mess-making as I'm cleaning up all of the little adventures and games from a day of play.