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.