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.