Archive for February, 2013

Then and Now

On Saturday we had a morning of training at the Bair Foundation where they went over all of the “Structured Interventions” we are supposed to be doing with the kiddos on a consistent basis.  Things like having family meetings, daily check-in, tracking behaviors, and house rules.  Some of the ideas we already had in place but a lot of them were very practical things I need to be using in my therapy with the kids.  But as we were talking the thing that stuck out to me the most was when our trainer was talking about how far all our foster kids have come.  With a room of almost 30 parents, she said the progress she’s seen is unbelievable.  Progress?  In our homes?  Surely she can’t mean mine.  But it’s so easy when you are stuck in the middle of the battle and you feel like all you’re ever doing is putting out fires to notice that there are some fires that are no longer burning.  There are some embers that aren’t even glowing anymore.  There are some battles that have been won.  So as I sat there at my “Super Saturday” training I started thinking of all the progress the kids have made in the months they’ve been with me.  And I wanted to write them down so I would start focusing on these positives.  When all I focus on is what still needs improvement, the kiddos are never going to improve.  When I focus on their failures, they will fail.  But if I start to see these victories as evidence that God is working and these kids are growing and things ARE getting better, we may, just maybe, get through this war in one piece.  So, here’s my list of “Then”s and “Now”s.  Starting with Sweet Pea:

  • Showed no emotion, not even when in physical pain…Cries and openly expresses feelings.
  • Stood in front of the mirror saying how much she hates herself and how ugly she is…stands in front of mirror and talks about how adorable she is.
  • Wrote inappropriate things on books and paper and magnetic boards…uses her writing skills to write encouraging notes for others and for creating amazing stories.
  • Struggled coming up with a single sentence to write with her spelling words…easily comes up with well worded sentences and ideas.
  • Wouldn’t take responsibility for misbehaviors…admits to wrong doing and can verbalize where she messed up and how to make it right (even to the point of correctly correcting her brother).
  • Lied about everything…lies about nothing.
  • Woke up several times a night with nightmares…sleeps through the night.
  • Said inappropriate things to strangers in public…carries on a conversation with an adult she just met.
  • Cut or pulled out her hair and pulled out her eyelashes…growing out her beautiful blond hair.
  • Cussed and used foul language…is very cautious of the words that exit her mouth.
  • Had an understanding of Jesus…has a heart for Jesus.
  • Wouldn’t help with chores…takes her dishes to the sink, helps with the dog, and helps clean the house.
  • Threw tantrums for hours…occasionally throws tantrums for minutes.
  • Refused to eat anything…eats pretty much everything, without complaining.
  • Fearful…confident.
  • Detached…attached.
  • Bounced from house to house…finally home.

And now for Little Buddy (although I’ve only known him for a few months, I have seen growth in so many areas):

  • Covered his face and pouted when in trouble…makes eye contact.
  • Refused to admit when wrong…apologizes to the person he’s hurt.
  • Wouldn’t help clean up…cleans up his toys and offers to help his sister.
  • Whining to express feelings…starting to use words to express feelings.
  • Shy and quiet…outgoing and confident.
  • Couldn’t read…Reading little books.
  • Cried when dropped off at church…walks in room by himself, no tears.
  • Lied…tells the truth.
  • Only ate one vegetable…now eats three.
  • Didn’t know Jesus…knows Jesus.
  • Bounced from house to house…finally home.

I need to write these things down.  I need to think of more.  I need to pay attention to the subtle ways their lives are changing and their hearts are opening up to healing.  I need to stop focusing on all the “thens” and start believing God for more “nows”.  What a beautiful work He has done when I wasn’t even watching.  Oh that He would open up my eyes to see His hand just a little, every now and then. 


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Poster Jesus

A few weeks ago a man at work gave me a copy of his favorite painting of Jesus. He gave it to me because I said I liked it when really I was just being polite.  Don’t ever do that.  It’s a picture of Jesus smiling or maybe laughing while he stands on a fisherman’s boat clutching a net.  Smiling Jesus.  It was given to me to give me joy and hope as I face trials with my kiddos.  But the picture seems all wrong to me: his lips are too narrow and his teeth stick out so he looks more like the Joker than Jesus.  His eyes are kinda buggy and his clutched hand looks more like a fist ready to punch than a Savior ready to rescue.  I call him “scary Jesus”.  We have passed him around my office as a joke (because when you work in the College of Christian Studies these types of things are abnormally funny) and we have pointed out all the stereo typical ways that we as modern Christians try to depict Jesus.  Yesterday afternoon Jesus ended out on my wall.  It was hilarious   Every time I looked up from typing an email or working on a report, scary Jesus was there looking at me.  Scary Jesus was watching my every move.  And it made me laugh.  But today it’s not so funny.  Today his laugh looks more like a cackle than something producing joy and I feel like He is staring at me, mocking me.  Today I just felt mocked by Jesus.  So I took Him down. 

I’m sure poster Jesus wasn’t really mocking me, and in my heart of hearts I know that the real Jesus (who lives IN my heart) isn’t mocking me either.  But life just seems so topsy-turvy lately that the most logical conclusion my limited human brain can come up with is that God is playing games with me.  Lately I’ve been feeling like He’s toying with my life and getting some sort of sick pleasure out of it.  I know this isn’t true, but poster Jesus has felt like a more real representation of the God I’ve experienced lately.

As my whole blog can attest to, life has been difficult since I became a foster parent.  Incredibly rich and rewarding at moments, but mostly just plain hard.  I have lately felt like God has called me to do something incredibly huge and arduous but then completely walked away from the project and stripped every ounce of support from me as He walked out the door.  

I have realized, now so more than ever, how much the battles I face with these two kiddos have everything to do with spiritual matters and very little to do with physical.  Satan is fighting so hard.  The hardest I may have ever experienced him fighting. Quarter Pint has said things like “my brain has Satan in his heart” and Half Pint acts so out of control and bizarre I have no doubt there is a war inside her heart as well.  The more aware I’ve become of the war going on in the heavenlies for these two souls, the more I have begun believing and praying big prayers for these kids.  Most days they probably roll their eyes and wonder what I’m doing and saying and praying.  I have prayed out loud, over them, in their rooms, by their beds, through my house.  I have renounced Satan and his evil plans and invited the Holy Spirit to dwell.  I have prayed every thing I know how to pray.  And for a week it worked.  Not like a magic charm, but for a week I could feel God winning.  Satan fled with his tail between his legs and I had an amazing week with my two kiddos.  But then Satan came back and took along with him a legion of other demons to fight with him.  And the reason it feels at times that God’s not with us or that He’s silent or that He just simply doesn’t care is because I KNOW God could win this war but right now He’s choosing not to.  He’s letting me and my sweethearts get thrashed around and beat up and torn down and I don’t see Him here at all.  That’s the part that seems cruel.  That He would call me to a battle and then seem to disappear from the field.  It seems mean.  Unkind.  Mocking.

I have started reading Philip Yancy’s book Disappointment with God and I’m realizing that what I’m struggling with is really nothing new.  The Israelites struggled with believing God when He was right in front of them, dwelling in the temple or leading them in a pillar of smoke or fire.  People of faith through out time have wondered the same thing.  The Psalmists have written verses on the seemingly silence of God.  So I’m trying to cling to what I know is true.  What I’ve experienced in the past.  What I read in God’s Word.

God is not mocking me.  He is not sitting up in heaven with the angles sharing a big bowl of popcorn enjoying the downfall of a small town girl and her two foster kids.  He’s not like that.  He’s loving and gracious and incredibly good.  So when God seems silent or hidden or unfair, I turn to what I know and take one day at a time and step out in faith.

My faith is an imperfect one and that’s possibly why God is allowing me to sit and stew for so long.  It’s so easy to trust Him when things are going well, but then again, is that really trust at all?  Faith is an act of worship and a sign that we love and trust our Savior.  Not scary Jesus in the poster, ready to punch someone, but Sovereign Jesus who is ready to deliver at just the right time.  The poster had one thing right though.  Jesus is clinging to something.  But that something is not a net or a boat or an object to throw.  Jesus is clinging to me.  Not to mock me or watch me fail, but to love me and lift me up.  That’s the Jesus I want to fix my eyes on.  That’s the Jesus I NEED to remember.  Because that’s the real Jesus.

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Just Another Monday

Sometimes the hardest question for me to answer is, “how are the kids doing?”  A few co-workers asked me that today and everything in me wished it was last week Friday and I could honestly say for the first time in a long time that everything was great.  I wanted to tell them how we’d made it through the week with no new holes in the walls and how, as far as I can remember, I didn’t get yelled at even once.  I wanted to be able to say, “you know, things are fantastic.  Everyone is happy and healthy and great.  We’re doing just great.”  But that would be a lie.  So I tell them it’s complicated and skirt around the fact that the assistant principal pressed number two on his speed dial (I like to think that there is at least one family whose kiddos are worse behaved than mine) telling me that, once again, I had to come pick up Sweet Pea from school.  It was the normal things: yelling at her classmates to shut up, putting her feet on her desk, running around the room and not paying attention.  They would’ve just let her stay in the office if that had been all.  But she hit a kid.  They just don’t allow that at school.  Ever.  

So when people asked me today how the kids were I sighed and told them we’re surviving.  That we’re hanging in there.  And that at the end of the night all three of us are still breathing.  That’s not what people want to hear.  They want to hear how my adorable blond hair, blue eyed babes are making great headway and are such a picture of success.  They like to pat me on the back and say, “you’re making such a difference” and tell me what a wonderful mother I am.  But today I didn’t have the strength to make up some cutesie story and smile and nod and tell them we’re great.  The truth is today we’re just surviving.  Hanging in there.  Still breathing.

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Do not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God. – Exodus 34:14

I have been reading through Exodus and it has taken me forever because for every chapter I read there are a dozen lessons that accompany the verses.  God has taken me all over the place in what He’s teaching me: Sometimes the route He takes me on may seem like a round about way of arriving somewhere, but He knows that the shorter route would cause me to take my eyes off Him (Ex. 13:17-18).  The Lord still fights for us if we would be still and wait for Him (15:2-3).  I need to look past my pain to the promise (17), I need to find a good support system and for goodness sake stop trying to do everything on my own (18:14).  I need to remember who it is that can deliver people from their bondage (20:2).  And God still calls us to do incredibly great, holy things, even when we totally blow it with our own sin (32).  I could’ve written whole entries on any one of these topics.  Goodness knows I’ve journaled about them enough in my own quiet time.  I’m on such a whirlwind of learning that it honestly has been hard to keep up.  On the side God’s given me lesson in faith, what it means to love, and what it means to let go.

But there is one lesson I did not think I needed.  One thing God totally blindsided with me.  And to make sure I really got the point, He not only spoke to me in Scripture but he used a friend to very strongly call me out.  This lesson has to do with idols.  Something I would’ve said in all sincerity that I do not struggle with.  God is first in my life.  Or is He?

I mentioned to said friend that I was struggling so much lately with exhaustion and burnout and feeling empty and feeling nothing at all.  Numb.  And maybe even just a tad depressed.  I hate saying that word because normally people freak out.  They get all quiet and serious and concerned.  Not this friend.  She looked straight at me and said, “That doesn’t surprise me at all.  You’ve made your two kids your idols and God has been dethroned.  When you dethrone God, He allows you get very, very uncomfortable.”  It stung a little.  Okay, her words stung a lot.  But I couldn’t be mad, not even for a moment.  She was so very right.  Without realizing it, Lydia and David have become my idols.  Not just my first priority, but my only priority.  I squeeze five minutes with God in the morning as the kids brush their teeth, but He was so far from number one.

I got back last night from two glorious nights in Ridgeway, SC.  I stayed in an apartment attached to a mammoth of a house and drank coffee, relaxed in a Jacuzzi tub, took walks through the woods by the creek, napped on a king size bed under a think, silky comforter.  I sat at a table gazing out the balcony at acres of land.  I felt the sun warm my skin and listened to the melancholic sounds of wind chimes.  And for two days straight I rested.  I read my Bible and books about Jesus and journaled until my hand hurt.  It was me and God.  Silent.  Distraction free.  And it was here that I realized my idols are not just ruling my life but destroying it.  And I am bowing down to them every single day.

The hardest part about my weekend is transitioning the lessons I learned in a time of solitude back into my crazy, chaotic world.  I learned to be still (once I stopped literally pacing around the room), to listen to God, to love His Word, and to put Him first.  He was my top priority and I devoted hours this weekend just hanging out with Him.

So how do I start making Him my number one priority?  How to I turn away from my miniature idols with blond hair and blue eyes and bow down once again to a God who is jealous for my heart?  It started this morning with me choosing to wake up and spend 20 minutes with Him before I woke up the kids.  20 minutes.  It felt so short compared to hours in the woods.  But it’s a start.  I choose today to bow to Jesus.

It’s going to be a struggle.  My kids demand that I bow to them.  Every day, every time they pull at the string that is still attached to their heart, I have to remember to bow to Jesus first.  I cannot be an effective foster mother if I’m, although unintentionally, worshiping my kids.  These two broken kids cannot withstand the weight of my worship.  Only He who is Worthy can.  It’s time I start back bowing down to Him.

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Grief and Loss

I remember the first time I went to a funeral.  It was for my grandpa Hap, I was in middle school, and my family drove in our old brown van all the way to Michigan to say goodbye to him.  I remember feeling sad to have lost a man that I knew so little about.  I wrote a melencholic poem in his honor as we drove North and tried to form together some memories of our times together.  There weren’t that many.  I remember him sitting in his big recliner watching the Price is Right, I remember how loudly he snored, and I remembered the way his face was always a little prickly, even when he had shaved.  I can picture the deer heads mounted in the entry way of his house and the golf balls he had scattered around for tee time.  But in my life we had visited each other about once a year, at most.  So, at 12 years of age, there wasn’t much more that I remembered.  But I grieved his loss.  I cried at the funeral.  And I think I miss him more today as a 30 year old than I even did as a pre-teen.  Losing a family member is like losing a piece of yourself, part of your heritage or your past.  If I felt, and still feel, this way about my grandpa, the first person I had to part with forever, why should it surprise me at all that foster kids desperately grieve the loss of their parents?  I think I have underestimated the pain that they feel.

Tonight as I was talking with my case worker from Bair, I started having all these epiphanies of why my sweet Half Pint has been acting out so much the past two days.  We have had four or five perfect days of behavior.  I was almost getting used to being treated with respect, being answered with politeness, and being obeyed when I issue a simple command.  But Tuesday morning our DSS caseworker visited the kiddos at school and, like normal, Sweet Pea and Quarter Pint have been a barrel of craziness since they came home that day.  My beautiful foster daughter spent all evening yelling at me and screaming and beating the walls with her fists yelling, “Mama!  Can you hear me?!  Mama!  Why won’t you come back?  Mama!  Why can’t I see you?”  She sat on her bed and held up one stuffed animal after another and yelled, “Strawberry, do you love me?!  Snuggles, do you love me?!  Brown Sugar, do you love me?!”  I could hear the pain tumbling out with each word she bellowed.  She lashes out at me like crazy, and tears down her blinds and kicks holes in her wall and strips the paint off her bedroom door, but in the midst of it all her heart is desperately crying, “Am I loved?”

That night I crawled up on the top bunk with her, pulled her close, and told her that even though her animals can’t respond back and her dolls remain silent, she can be sure of two things.  God loves her.  I love her.  She grieves so deeply and seeing her case worker triggers something deep inside her soul that is desperate to be loved.  Seeing her caseworker is a reminder of being taken out of her home, having to testify in court, saying goodbye to her little brother, saying goodbye to her mama.  When a foster kid is visited by their caseworker, we cannot fully understand the loss and grief that wells up inside their tiny minds.  Half Pint especially knows no other way to respond than to lash out on the one that does show her love.  Maybe if she pushes me away the pain won’t hurt so bad for being abused and abandoned by her own parents.  How much foster kids must ache!

And her brother is no different, he just responds in other ways.  He kicks the wall and screams at me and refuses to look me in the eyes. He lashes out at his classmates and teachers.  He whines and complains.  But he aches too.  I overlook his pain because I get so tired of hearing him baby talk me like a two year old or respond to simple commands with a hundred “whys”.  He hurts too.

When these kids entered foster care they lost a lot.  They lost their home, their little brother, their parents, their school friends, some of their toys, their beds and each other.  Now that they are back together they still grieve.  They are daily reminders to each other of all that got taken away.  I wish I knew how to help them.  I wish I knew how to make the pain go away and to have them find freedom and joy in knowing that they are loved.  But for now I step back, offer security, consistency, love and grace.  Lots of grace.  And I let them grieve.

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