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.