Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Time to Walk the Walk

I am a genuinely selfish person.

And this isn’t one of those humble self-deprecations that I’ll turn into a win for myself so you can praise me for pushing through despite how hard things are.

Let’s avoid that. My pride doesn’t need a boost.

The last few weeks have been a new level of chaos in our lives. Baby S, our former foster son, has been with us as his mother fights through some chronic medical conditions that make caring for him very difficult.

Time to walk towards the mess!

His behavioral and developmental delays are exhausting and the consistency required to effect lasting change in his life is daunting. He needs nearly constant supervision. He has little fear of our set of stairs that he can only navigate safely in one direction. He can open locks and is interested in seeing what’s outside the house. And his curiosity has no limits (think hot ovens, pots of coffee, the microwave, our fridge, every closet, on top of every piece of furniture, etc).

Walk towards the mess.

He’s almost two and a half and has a half dozen signs and words. Miscommunication is rampant and frustrating for everyone. The temper tantrums escalate to “glasses knocked off your face” with some regularity. (And few things get my blood boiling like seeing my wife take a hit to the face.)

Walk towards the mess.

The tantrums know no boundaries in time or space. They don’t happen all the time, but when they do happen it’s quite a sight. I have yet to discover a scenario more humiliating than a full-on temper tantrum in the middle of the crowded lobby at church while I’m trying to talk to someone I haven’t seen in a long time. (Nevermind, the grocery store is worse. At least at church I’m surrounded by people who love me.)

Walk towards the mess.

The toughest bed time was the evening I slept on the floor outside the boys’ room so I could stop him every time he got out of his crib. Sleep took two hours and 18 hallway tackles (you start counting when the absurdity gets to such insane levels that all you can do is laugh).

Walk towards the mess.

We don’t know what the future holds. He isn’t in our home through foster care, but because we genuinely love him and his mother and want to help in a tough season. We’ve seen significant developmental progress even in these few weeks, but the potential exists for all of this to vanish as he eventually heads back home and we share parenting responsibilities.

Just walk towards the mess.

That’s been the battle cry of our family for the last few years as we’ve navigated this foster care journey. Simply repeating it to myself to calm the tension as things get harder stopped working last week.

I don’t know what I expected would happen when we started all of this.

I think I assumed that walking towards the mess would be hard, but that things would work themselves out because we were doing something so sacrificial and noble. Then things got really hard and I started looking for excuses to pull out and make it stop.

Our five-year-old big boy is responding negatively and we are seeing some of his worst behavior. 

The emotional baggage is weighing heavily on my wife. 

My four-month-old baby girl isn’t getting the attention she should to help her grow and flourish.

It’s getting harder to get and stay ahead on emails and projects in ministry.

See what I did there? Lots of very noble excuses that demonstrate my care for my work and family. Those are easy tickets out of a hard situation and nobody would question them as valid reasons to step away.

And when I look at it from my wife’s perspective, it gets even worse. Over the last few weeks, she found out she was taking care of a thirty-year-old man-child in addition to the three younger than six.

All of this has brought out one very real and sobering truth about myself...

I’m willing to walk towards the mess just so long as the praise I receive outweighs the inconvenience of that sacrifice.

That doesn’t sound much like the Jesus I claim to know. Knowing we were undeserving, He still went through the trouble of showing up in the middle of the mess of humanity only to be eventually slaughtered by the very people he came to save. He agonized over this on the evening before His death, pleading to be released from that path, but submitted to what needed to be done. He was not ignorant of the weight of what was happening. And He was deserving of praise long before

Paul, a man who lived in the first century who saw the risen Jesus and who was friends with people who were friends with Jesus, wrote about this so clearly:

“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!”

Now that’s walking towards the mess.

And I can barely get over myself long enough to help my boy who needs some love, some rules, some consistency, and a night watchman outside his bedroom.

Thank God His grace is bigger than my shortcomings, because I have plenty of those...

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Old Fears and New Answers

As I've mentioned before, my household is looking ahead into re-entering the foster care world soon - probably within the next few weeks. We've been saying after Thanksgiving. Big Brother A is praying, "God, please let Thanksgiving be tomorrow so we can do foster care again!"

It's felt really strange to tell people "we do foster care, but not right now" over the last ten months. Ten months! I can't even believe that Baby S left us ten months ago. We're still on the roller coaster for the ups and downs of his life. We're still communicating, still having him over, still texting about his therapists and diagnoses and struggles. We're still missing him. We're still praying for him. He's still in our nightly "sunshine" song where we thank Jesus for each part of our family. It's still "Baby S's crib"; "Baby S's toy"; "Baby S's carseat". We have diapers and spare clothes in his current size. So although we're technically not "doing foster care" it feels like all that has really changed (other than the obvious empty bed) is the lack of communication with case workers. The rest of the ups, the downs, the drama and the love have all stayed the same.

All that to say that it's been strange feeling like we're advocating for something but not really doing it, all while feeling exhausted from doing something that still feels a whole lot like foster care even though it technically isn't. Now we're talking about adding another child, and it's always framed in terms of "if Baby S" and "when Baby S". We're not filling his bed. Possibly ever. We can keep serving his family by being there if Birth Parent becomes unable to keep up with our little guy. It's something Parent mentions regularly. We have another crib, though. We might be crazy (when we think about "what if Baby S AND..."), but we're getting excited to fill it.

We picked out some special new toys for our next foster son. We hope having something soft and warm of his very own will help him to feel some love and comfort while his world is scary and changing.

Excited. And can I honestly say... Terrified. Knowing something is coming does not make it easier. For example, knowing we'd be tired with a newborn did not make being tired feel any less tiring. Knowing it would hurt having Baby S leave didn't make it any less painful. And knowing how much it rocks our world and how tightly the grief of losing a child winds into every part of life will not make it easier next time. If it ever gets easier, we're doing it wrong, and that will be when we need to quit. This round of goodbye had a huge impact on me emotionally and mentally. I feel like, between that and a physically rough pregnancy, I was battling depression I didn't even know I had until it started lifting in just the last month. So looking from my newly clearing lens into a future that could involve another prolonged goodbye and another painful round of grieving is still scary. In fact, it's probably even more terrifying than it was when we started foster care because the first round of grief keeps getting ripped open. Thinking of stacking another hurt on top of that - well, let's just say it might be a big growing moment for my mental stability! And adding to that the fact that there's no guarantee of future contact once a child returns home? It's heavy.

So old fears have not left. They may be even stronger. But I've grown since the last time we've been in this waiting-for-a-call place. The year of grief, goodbye and depression has grown and stretched me. It's the kind of growing pains that keep your kids up at night, but then in the morning you're almost positive they're a whole inch taller than yesterday. I have learned just how weak I am in the last year. And in that weakness, I have come to be totally and completely awed by God's strength. He has always been enough. I have never been enough. And in every new way that I see my insufficiency for this task, I see even more clearly God's ability to use those very insufficiencies to make his part in this household shine even brighter. It's an amazing thing. One of God's greatest gifts in the last year has been learning that "I'm not strong enough" is true. That's okay, because God doesn't need strong people. He uses people like Paul from the Bible who know their weakness and let God shine through by using an impossibly broken person for too-amazing-for-them things.

When we started this journey, we quickly learned that one question almost always follows after people find out we're a foster family. "Won't you get too attached? Wouldn't it be too hard to give them back?" I've gone through various answers in our three years of fostering. I started with "Yes, it will be hard, but it will be worth it." I went through "Yes, it is absolutely killing me and it's only by God's grace that I'm standing upright, dressed and showered, pretending to be a functional person." (Don't worry. I didn't say any of that. Just YES and then moved on, because I couldn't go into any more than that without sounding like a crazy person.)

And now I've landed on a new answer, which I hope is more helpful and informative.

"Won't you get too attached?"

"Yes. That's the point."

Our Baby S has regressed in a lot of ways. It's been painful to watch that. But through it all, he loves people. He loves us. He seeks attention. He makes eye contact. (He really does. They say a lot of things, but he still has more HIM left with us than in other situations, and we still see it.) He laughs and giggles and plays chase. He tries to copy his Big Brother A and be just like him. He's attached. That's the biggest thing we have given him. That is one of the only things he has kept. It might be enough to change his life, even with all of the hard things he's going through now. He knows he can love and be loved. He knows he's lovable. He knows he likes to laugh and make others laugh. Maybe, someday, he'll be able to believe that Jesus loves him because he believes that love is real.

It hurts like crazy to attach deeply to someone who leaves. It hurts beyond belief to watch someone you're deeply attached to suffer and struggle and be unable to help.

But if we didn't have foster care, these babies would be numbers. They'd be beds in a big room full of beds, with staff helpers coming in and out. They'd be played with and they'd get attention, but they wouldn't get attachment. That's our gift that they carry with them. And it is worth it. And it does hurt. And that's the whole point.

So we wait, full of nerves and fear and hope and a little bit of crazy (if our 3-month-old stops sleeping through the night we're going to wonder what we got ourselves into!). It's going to be good and hard to dive back in. We're feeling ready and not-ready.

We'll let you know when we're officially back on the list. We're hoping for December. Pray that Baby Gigi keeps sleeping so we continue to feel able to add another round of love, and awake at night, and making messes, and court and case workers, and buckling into carseats, and brotherly arguing, and sharing toys with the baby's face...