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.