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Archive for October, 2013

My parents never hit me.  I can’t remember a time when they ever raised their voice and yelled at me.  I’ve never seen them fight.  There was conflict and frustration, misunderstandings and disagreements.  But my parents never hit me.  Never raised a hand to strike in anger.  I never felt the fear that causes a kid to cower.  My dad was tall and strong and had a presence that commanded obedience.  But never, not even once, did he hit me.  His hands were ones that held mine as we took Sunday afternoon walks through the woods.  Hands that tucked my covers tightly around me when I went to bed.  His hands picked me up when I fell off my bike.  Hands that crafted tree houses and doll furniture and security.  My mom had a quiet spirit; calm and consistent.  Her hands were ones that cooked dinner for the family.  Hands that held me close when I was sick.  Her hands created art and color and beauty.  Their hands never brought me fear.

But some kids don’t have that.  Some kids fear the palm and fist and backhand.  Some kids are all too familiar with the sting of hands against their face, hands striking their body, hands causing pain.  They haven’t experienced yet a hand that feeds and heals and offers comfort.  When they misbehave, they face abuse.  When they play too loudly, they are hit.  When they stutter their words and can’t speak right, they are met with ridicule and unkind words.  When they argue they are taken by the shoulders and shoved against the wall.  Some kids cower if you move too quickly toward them.  Fear burns in their eyes where joy and childhood are supposed to shine.

When a child learns to fear the hand, to shy away from it, to associate it with abuse, their brains are rewired to use their hands the same way they were taught.  Where naturally humans are prone to protect themselves, children of abuse may find their own hands as one of their greatest enemies.  They use their hands to fight others, to destroy what’s around them, to tear people down.  For the past sixteen days I have watched two pairs of hands very closely and through their movements I get a picture of what life must’ve been like for these two incredibly special but incredibly broken kids.

Little Girl came to me with several diagnosis, including oppositional defiance disorder.  Until recently I only got small snapshots of what that looks like.  She would be whiney, pouty, complain about simple tasks.  She’s refused to eat her dinner and complain when she had to clean up.  It’s all been minor stuff.  But the past few days whenever she was issued a command she did not agree with her automatic response has been to ball up her fists and hit her forehead as hard as she can.  Not just once or twice, but over and over.  At one point she was banging her head against the wall telling herself how much trouble she was in, how worthless she was.  Tonight was yelling and screaming and “I f—-ing hate this place!”  Lots of tears.  Lots of anger.  And I watched those hands move and attack that precious face and pull at that beautiful blond hair.  I watched fist ball up and ached inside as I saw them hurt her body.  The abused has become the abuser…to herself.

So I took those hands that haven’t been taught.  I opened them into mine.  I stroked her hands.  I held her cold fingers softly in my palm.  My hands are such imperfect examples, but I held hers gently until she calmed.  And as I held hands trained for battle, always in attack mode, I whispered truth into her ears.  “You are precious.  You are love.  You are deeply valuable.  You never deserve to be hit.”  Her body loosens up, she stops crying, and she allows me to hold her.

Tonight as I sit here, ashamed to admit I do not always respond with grace, I think of another pair of hands that I want to train my own.  The hands nail-scarred and calloused, hands that healed the sick and blind.  Hands that raised the dead.  Hands that touched children and blessed them.  I want hands like those.  I want to help my foster kids to rewire their brain so their hands are no longer clinched, ready to fight.  I want to help them see the healing that can come when we use our hands for good.  Hands to clap and praise for a job well done.  Hands to hold when you cross the street.  Hands to wipe away the tears.  I want them to learn what hands were truly made for.  Not for hitting or hurting but for healing and for hope.

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I’m a Ma’am Mama

I walked through the door tonight after serving the youth at church and spent a few minutes chatting with my babysitter about how things went.

“So, what exactly do the kids call you?” she asked kind of hesitantly.

“Miss Shelly.  Why?”

“Well,” she responded, “Little Girl just asked when her new mommy was going to be home.”

A knot rose in my throat as I wondered to myself how I already let things get to this point.  It’s only been a week, and I was really trying this time to keep some emotional distance so I didn’t lose myself again in the love of a child that could never fully be mine.  I also wanted to protect their little hearts from getting too attached to save them from more pain.  After my brokenness with the last two kids I wasn’t even sure I was ready to begin fostering again, wasn’t sure my heart could handle any more goodbyes.

I should’ve seen this coming.  The first few days the new kids were with me we all kept our distance.  They called me “Ma’am” and little else because that’s all they’ve been used to.  Shift workers at shelters don’t have names.  They are all “Ma’am.”  But as I fed them and bathed them and provided structure, stability, and security, my name changed.  Instead of “Ma’am” I became Miss Shelly.  They began to open up to the idea of being taken care of and loved on.  They started telling me stories about how their day went.  They started putting their heads on my shoulders during story time.  They ran up and gave me random hugs just because.  And as their hearts were opening, so was mine.  Unaware, I was letting those two little souls insert the key into the lock I chained around my heart the last time I said goodbye to two kids I loved.  Over the last seven days that key has turned and my heart has opened and I’m afraid there is nothing I can do about it now.

When I picked the kids up from daycare this afternoon Little Girl ran up to me saying “Mama!  Mama!  Mama’s here!”  She jumped in my arms and nuzzled her strawberry smelling hair in my neck.  I ignored what she said at the time because I didn’t want to admit I was falling in love with her too, but as the day went on I realized my name has changed again.  I’m not just “Ma’am.”  I’m no longer “Miss Shelly.”

I’m “Mama.”

As I stood worshiping tonight at youth group I felt an overwhelming sense again of the mercy of God.  I do NOT deserve any of this!  I did not deserve a second chance at fostering.  I certainly was not ready to tackle two kids at once!  But the incredible mercy of God has overtaken me yet again.

Brad said tonight as he was preaching, “Your job is to be obedient.  God’s job is to be faithful.”  How incredibly true this has rung in my life this week!  I had no idea what I was getting into but I stepped out in obedience to what God has called me to do.  I said “yes” to these kids and He has been so faithful.  Little Girl was still awake when the babysitter left (“I cwied for you Ms. Shelwy” she said with tears staining her cheek) and as I was sitting on the floor of her room, trying to get her to sleep, a thought came to me.  God’s mercy and faithfulness isn’t just in the fact that He gives me strength each day or that He has provided me with two kids that sleep through the night or that I get to still be involved in Church.  Those things are all because of His faithfulness, but there is something more.  His faithfulness is seen in the very fact that I am serving.  God knows that I feel most loved with I am being served and somehow, but some strange twist that only He can do, serving foster kids is the most tangible, evident way that I feel loved in return.  I can’t quite explain it but somehow in the very act of serving others God is loving on me.  This is mercy.  This is His faithfulness.  This is His way of taking seven days and turning me from a “Ma’am” to a “Mom”.

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Two New Mercies

Troubles surround me, chaos abounding
My soul will rest in You
I will not fear the war, I will not fear the storm
My help is on the way, my help is on the way

Oh, my God, He will not delay
My refuge and strength always
I will not fear, His promise is true
My God will come through always, always

This morning in Church as we sang the words to this song by Kristian Stanfill my eyes filled with tears and my heart swelled and a peace rushed over me in a beautifully overwhelming way.  God has been so very, very good to me.  I don’t deserve the least bit of His mercy but He has poured it over me time and time again.  A couple weeks ago I started a “Blessings Journal” to record all the little things throughout the day that bring me joy.  A few days ago as I was reading my Bible it hit me that these things aren’t just blessings.  The cardinals on my back porch, the field of bright sunflowers, the cool morning air, a hug from a friend…these things are God’s mercies.  The Bible says His mercies are new every morning.  I get to experience them in the form of His blessing but I see them so much more dearly as mercies.  I do not deserve a single one of the things I have penned in my journal.  Those are kisses from Heaven and a reminder of how big God is.

A week ago I made the decision to say “yes” to two kids.  Four days ago I drove over an hour to a shelter where I met my Bair LCS and a DSS caseworker.  I was there to meet two children that I would take home with me and start a new journey as a foster mom.  I have to be honest.  I wasn’t quite sure I was ready to take on another kid, let alone two at once.  When the door closed on my time with my first two kids I said I would never take two in at one again.  Oops.  There I go trying to predict the future again.  I always seem to be wrong.  Anyway, I drove to the shelter and sat inside on a toy box, baking in the sun shining through a window that took up the whole side of the building, listening to three firemen share safety tips with the kids.  It was all kind of surreal and ironic.  I drove all this way and sat waiting in the shelter to meet my new kids.  One little boy exuberantly answered every one of the fireman’s questions.  One little girl sat silently on the edge of the couch afraid to even shake the fireman’s hand.  Those were the two precious kids that were coming home with me.

We signed paperwork and did a quick introduction and then the shelter staff handed me two bags with all the kids’ earthly possessions in it and we headed home.  As soon as we were alone in the car they opened up and chatted like crazy.  Little girl has a speech disorder so I only caught about a fourth of what she said, but she was so chatty and happy that I nodded and responded and listened as best I could.

These past four days have not been perfect, but God has been ridiculously merciful in showing up.  Satan has been throwing every dart he can find in our direction but God keeps deflecting them and shielding us with His hand.  The minute I left to pick up the kids my battery in my car died.  I had to get a friend to help jumpstart it and then detoured to Advanced Auto Parts to replace my battery.  The kids couldn’t start school on Thursday because we were still missing documentation on their immunizations and when we showed up bright and early on Friday, the principal sent us home again because the school was on a field trip.  I woke up Saturday with a fever, sore throat, and double ear infection.  Life has been crazy.  Frustrating.  But not overwhelming.  Dart and deflection.  Dart and deflection.  Mercy after mercy after mercy.

These two kids are, in a lot of ways, “normal” kids.  They wine a little, complain about eating their dinner and cleaning up, hate taking baths and try to eat snacks when I’m not looking.  But they are also amazingly well behaved.  They obey with little coercion, help with chores, get dressed by themselves, sleep through the night, and look after each other instead of fighting all the time.  Little boy helped me mow the lawn this afternoon and then we all sat out in the front yard and painted crafts.  I have had time to cook, clean, take naps (they actually ask me if they can take naps too!), play piano, read, walk the dog, and play with the kids.  I know with school starting tomorrow our schedule and free time will change, but all of this, every moment these past four days, have been such tangible reminders of the merciful help of God.

I don’t have to fear.  In the first four days He’s gotten me through car troubles, school issues, and illness.  There is no limit to His mercy.  I don’t have to fear the inevitable storm.  Or the battles we will face.  Or the trials we will go through.  Or the restless nights we will endure.  I will lift my eyes up for my help comes from the Lord.  And His mercies are new every morning.  Great is His faithfulness!

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Sparrows

My parents came yesterday and helped cross off dozens of items on my to-do list.  Actually, they were pink sticky notes placed in each room of the house reminding me of what all needed to be done in that room: repaint the door, hang blinds, move furniture, put stuff in storage, fix the sink.  Several to-do lists scattered around.  We got so much accomplished!  It’s amazing how different things are my second time around with a placement.  When I got Half Pint everything happened so fast and unexpectedly; I had very little time to prepare.  I didn’t know the first thing about registering a kid for school or how to find daycare.  I had no idea what I was getting myself into.  This time things are a lot slower paced.  I got the call and so far have had four days to clean and fix and prepare.  Four days of waiting.  It’s been nice.  But like any placement, it’s been a roller coaster.  Last week I turned down several placements and then felt so strongly that I needed to say “yes” to this one.  I wasn’t even sure I was ready but God so sweetly confirmed it that I didn’t even hesitate.  I said “yes” and then started a foster mom’s version of “nesting”.  I put decorative decals around the rooms, took sheets and rugs out of the closet and positioned them smoothly where they belonged.  I looked up recipes and thought about planning meals (because let’s be real…I’m not actually going to have time to cook!).  I visited the school, collected paperwork, and made all the calls I needed.  I found babysitters for nights I’m going to be gone.  I’ve been slowly taking my time tying up loose ends, waiting for the call to tell me to come get the kids.

And I have waited.  And waited.  And am still waiting.  Four days may seem like a long time, but when you’re waiting on a call that will instantly change your life, the waiting feels like forever.  I went from being nervous about this placement, wondering if I was ready, to being nervous that they are going to get placed with another family.  It’s something I can’t explain, but I have fallen in love with these two kids I haven’t even met.  I have prayed over them and tried to picture them in my mind.  If you’ve ever been a foster parent, you understand.  I feel protective of them and want to advocate for them and want to give them hugs to let them know they are safe.  I want to tell them about Jesus.  But here I wait.

I had my phone sitting next to me all day.  I checked it every five minutes to see if the call had come for me to go get them from the group home they are staying at.  I contemplated changing my plans and taking the day off, just in case.  Nothing happened.  Now that I’ve adjusted my thinking to being in foster mom mode again, it’s hard for me to think about things falling through and me not even getting to meet them.

I love how much God cares about all my “what ifs” and pathetic worries and insecurities.  He cares so very much.  I took my dog for a walk after work and was thinking about how disappointed I was that I hadn’t gotten “the call” today and was worried that the kids would end out back home in an abusive situation or that they would get hurt or led astray by other kids at the group home.  They are so new to the system and I just keep thinking if only we can get them out and into a home, then they’ll be safe.  Gosh it’s crazy to think this much about a stranger!  So, I was walking my dog, thinking about these things, enjoying the coolness of the evening.  Something caught my eye and when I looked to my left I saw the softest, downy feather floating slowly through the air.  I know it sounds silly, but I stood there and just watched it float.  I watched the light reflect off the whiteness of the down and just watched it swirl.  It seemed weightless.  And as the breeze carried the feather up and down and away, I heard God whisper to me:

“Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are those kids not much more valuable than they?” (Matthew 6:25)

And then, as if on cue, to my right a flock of birds that were hidden up in a tree behind my neighbors house started singing.  Hundreds of birds, all at once.  They whistled to each other messages of God’s faithfulness.  I stood there and listened.  I watched the feather land in the grass.  I understood exactly what God was trying to tell me.  Those kids are valuable.  The kids that I haven’t even met yet, God cares about them and longs for them to be fed and sheltered and kept safe.  So I sojourn on.  I stop worrying.  He is faithful, so I will wait.

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I remember every detail of the first time I met Half Pint.  I remember her standing outside DSS, between two bushes, under the cover of the overhanging roof.  The ground around her was covered in smooth, tan stone gravel.  She walked around, looking all too familiar with the setting we found ourselves in.  The intake coordinator was there.  She had on a sleeveless green dress and her hair was pulled back in a messy pony tail.  The sun was shining and my senses were on high alert; all the colors were vibrant.  The smells, the way the air felt, the sounds around me throbbing in my head.  I squinted my eyes trying to take it all in.  I heard their words.  I saw the movement of adults pulling trashbags filled with clothes and toys out of the trunk of a black SUV.  I couldn’t think.  My head was swimming.  I signed papers and nodded my head and turned to the blond headed girl twirling around me.  I remember it all.  Tonight the colors and sounds and the way I felt that day are so vivid and real.  I relive those first few moments.  It’s been almost a year and a half since that day and I can picture in slow motion everything that happened.  I remember it because the moment I looked into those blue eyes I knew my world would never be the same.  That was the moment I fell in love with foster care.

There are so many sweet moments in my life when I see the movement of God and hear His voice as clearly as if He were standing among the tan stones with me.  I know His presence is always here, but there are moments I can feel it and sense it in a way that makes my body come alive and my world slow and I see things in colors more deep and beautiful than I ever knew existed.  I sense today that I’m on the cusp of seeing Him move like this again.  The world around me, my world, is speeding up and getting a little chaotic, but I can see things in slow motion and catch glimpses of all the details going on around me.  These are the moments I see God.  After months of resting and seeking and learning, I hear Him say, “It’s time.”  I have turned down case after case of kids needing a home.  Twins with special needs, a child with autism, a sibling pair obsessed with death and killing.  And then I get an email about a pair of kids needing a home and something in me sparks.

I spent today praying about this placement, the potential of having two new kiddos in my home with me.  I have gone through every excuse I can think of: I’m not healthy enough, I’m still healing from the grief of saying goodbye to the last two, I’m just getting plugged back into serving at Church, people will think I’m crazy.  I keep playing the excuses over and over in my head yet I found myself tonight walking out of the store with butterfly wall decals and a Spider Man night light.  I bought replacement blinds for the ones Half Pint tore down.  I purchased his and hers loofahs and restocked on TP and toothpaste.  I stripped the beds and made sure the house was clean.  I made a grocery list that included milk – and I can’t even drink it.  I didn’t mean to do these things.  I just did them.  It felt as natural and right as breathing.

Saturday I meet these two kids they have asked me to open my heart to.  I’m going to visit them and spend the day with them and come home and decide if I want to say “yes”.  Something tells me I already have.  It’s amazing, really, how strong I feel at this moment.  I was talking to my dad tonight and he said that God doesn’t give us grace before we need it.  He gives us the grace we need in the moment for the things He has called us to do.  I have felt so unbelievably tired lately, wondering if I will ever feel well enough to foster again.  And it’s like the moment I hear Him say, “It’s time”, something in my soul is re-birthed and life springs up again.  I can’t explain it beyond saying that His strength really and truly is enough.  He calls some people to serve Him through an overflow of joy and others He calls through suffering.  As much as I wish He would call me in the overflow of good times, I know His grace is more colorful in our weaknesses.  I can’t see His grace as clearly when things go according to my plan, my timing.  But when I submit to His will and open my heart up to His plan, my world slows, I feel His breeze, and I see the blues and reds and yellows brilliantly around me, calling me to an even greater joy.

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