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Archive for January, 2014

My parents came to visit us on Saturday, and by visit I mean come for a few hours to check a dozen things off my to-do list. My dad replaced weather stripping on my front door so I could no longer see the sunlight flickering through the crack, put in a new peep hole so I didn’t have to stand on my toes anymore to see whether the knock on the door was a cable salesman or a friend, rehung my shower curtain that had fallen down for the umpteenth time, and fixed my leaky faucet. My mom helped me close my storm windows and reorganize my closet and kept me sane while I went through piles of clothes I haven’t worn in the past two years. My dad took the Kid to Lowe’s to buy supplies and my mom colored a Planes color-by-number picture with him.

I took a nap.

It was so good to have them here, even if just for a moment. I have been thinking since Christmas about foster care and how it has affected not just me but my whole family, and every time they visit I see it all over again. I see it in the way they hug my kids, in the way they open their hearts to them. At lunch as we were gathered around my small glass table, the Kid got up and stood between my parents and put his right hand on my mom’s shoulder and his left hand on my dad’s. He looked at me and said, face beaming, “This is my family. This is my best family.” He gave them hugs and then sat down to continue devouring his peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Whenever he sees a picture of my brother he cries out, “There’s my best buddy” and he clings to my sister when she comes to visit like she’s an incredible prize he doesn’t want to lose.

And this phenomenon hasn’t just happened with him. It started slowly with the first placement, everyone timid about opening up their hearts temporarily to a child. Then the second placement came and not only did my family make special effort to love them, but they made sure they were part of the family portrait for those precious couple months. When my last two were about to leave, my family gathered on a Wednesday night and we celebrated an early Christmas with the kids. We watched them unwrap piles of presents and spent time just enjoying their laughter. My family has changed these past two years that I have been involved in foster care. It has happened slowly, but I have noticed it most acutely in these moments.

A moment that suspends in time forever in my memory is when my last Little Girl came out of her room dressed in her oh-so-special Christmas dress, the one with green and red holly embroidered in detail on a velvety red and white dress. She came out beaming. She twirled and curtsied and made a big spectacle of herself. My brother, the one who never shares emotion or feelings or compliments looked at her and said, “You look so pretty in that dress.” It was a simple statement acknowledging that he noticed her. How often had she been told by a man that she was pretty? She was no stranger to being called stupid or an idiot, but here was this big, slightly awkward man she barely knew, letting her twirl around in the middle of the room, telling her she was beautiful. Then he picked her up and played with her as she jumped across the couch into his arms. I know, this may seem so insignificant to you reading this. But to me it was a sweet moment of realization that God has not only used foster care to transform my life, but my family’s. I started thinking about how much my sister has grown up; how she’s one of the only ones I truly trust with my kids. How in a strange twist of the potter’s wheel molding her and growing her up, I now turn to her for comfort and help when a kid is having a meltdown. She’s the one that can take a screaming child from me and give him peace. My sister.

Foster care, and more specifically the ten kids that have passed through my life these past two years, have brought more than just awareness of the needs these kids have. They have brought a new definition of love, of what is important, and what it means to sacrifice for another person. Their brokenness has somehow fixed a little bit of ours, has somehow brought healing to areas we didn’t know needed touched, and in some ways has filled our lives with a kind of light that is both beautiful and warm. So, thank you to each kid that has joined our family for bringing out in my family a new kind of light. Thank you for not only joining my family but allowing me for a moment to be a part of yours. Thank you for teaching me about the special gift of family that I have had my entire life but have somehow missed. In them noticing you, I have taken note of them. What an incredible gift you have left with me!

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Family Matters

I started serving at Church again last week, volunteering Wednesday nights to check in middle schoolers and love on my group of sixth grade girls. It was so good to be back and worship with a couple thousand other people and listen to the message being preached. We started a new series this week called Family Matters. In a world of broken marriages, imperfect families and shattered homes, I knew this series would probably resonate with many of the youth that night. What I didn’t expect was the way the message would speak to my heart, to my ministry, to my “family”.

Three weeks ago I received my third placement: a sweet blond headed five year old boy. He’s one hundred percent, all-American boy. He’s into skateboarding and baseball and wrestling with his brothers. He likes spiking his hair in a Mohawk, wearing his StarWars baseball cap, and watching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Power Rangers. All boy. He’s like most of the kids that pass through my home; sweet, affectionate, and can throw a temper tantrum that send the neighbors running. When he’s good, he’s really good. But when he’s bad… Well, just hope you’re not in the middle of Starbucks trying to enjoy a cup of Blond Roast coffee when that happens.

The last three weeks have been full of laughter, chaos, and some incredibly sweet, tender moments. This kiddo has absolutely stolen my heart with his hugs, kisses, and that sweet little dimple on his right cheek. I am his sixth placement since April…that’s almost one move per month. Obviously he has some abandonment and adjustment issues which manifest themselves in negative behaviors. But despite all this little kid has been through, we instantly connected and formed a bond that I can’t explain.

So, back to Family Matters. My youth pastor talked about how God created family and placed us in families because we were created for community and connection. With sin, the family unit was corrupted and thus entered in divorce and abuse and brokenness. “Sin had a plan for your family,” Brad said. “And if sin has its way, your family is doomed.” Thankfully, God recreated family. He redefined it. He redeems it, but maybe not in the way we would always think. When we accept Jesus into our lives, we become part of His family. We become His brothers and sisters and mother (Matthew 12:46-50). The family unit is no longer defined purely by blood relations. Jesus now defines family as those who are in Christ.

What does this have to do with foster care? Everything! The kids that come into my house become part of my very unique, special family. Their biological units have been broken by sex or drugs or neglect. So I take on the role of mother. They become my kids. And I love them so dearly. Every kid that has lived with me has called me “mama” at some point, usually when I am picking them up from school or daycare and they want so desperately to fit in. This new kid started calling me “mommy” at the end of week one and I’m not even certain he remembers my real name since he officially refuses to call me anything else.

Today while the sun remained sleeping and I lay warm under my down comforter, Little Boy crept into my room and crawled up next to me. He put his arm around me, kissed me and said, “You are my family. You are my bestest mommy ever.” He giggled and hugged me again and told me how much he loved me. He understands this concept of family deeper than I will ever hope to.

People tell me all the time, “Well, just wait until you have your own kids…” and I understand the meaning behind what they are saying. They mean I didn’t birth these kids and I won’t be keeping them and yes, there are certain things I will never understand, but I don’t have to “wait until I have my own kids” to understand love or bond or the intense protection I feel for them. I have kids right now. I have my family. Sometimes it’s a family of three. Sometimes two. And sometimes my family is just my dog and I. But the months I get to pour into these kids are sometimes the most familial they have ever experienced.

I was thinking the other day about the word “mommy” and all the emotions and connotations that are connected with that word. Safety. Nurture. Provision. And I was thinking about how as a baby we are taught to call the women who birthed us “Mom”. From the beginning “Mom” is a noun, a name given to the woman holding us, rocking us, feeding our hungry bellies. But as we grow and mature, “Mom” becomes an adjective, an emotion; something we feel a deep connection to. One of the wonderful things about being a foster parent is I do not have to teach my kids to call me mom. They make the connection and the word naturally follows. There is a bond that forms that can’t be understood. So when a kid calls me “Mommy”, when he is acknowledging that we are a family, when he understands my role in protecting and nurturing, I know we are heading in the right direction. I have been told multiple times that I need to put more boundaries around my heart and not let myself get too attached to these kids. It’s impossible to not get attached when they are giving you such a personal title as “Mother”. But I don’t mind. It does make the good-byes all the more bitter, but the moments of sweetness spent cuddling with that child, my temporary son or daughter, makes it all worthwhile.

Family really does matter, whether you were birthed into one or like these sweet kids of mine, you were placed into a family by God’s perfect design. Each family uniquely special, quirky, and a bit chaotic. Thank you Jesus for giving me another chance to be a family to a kid who has no idea what that really means.

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(I’m finally getting around to publishing some posts from the end of last year. Written 12/23/13)

In the past two weeks I’ve probably written a hundred blogs in my head, things I wanted to share, wanted to express about how things were going. But life is crazy and time runs out and at the end of the day all I really want to do is sit and read or watch the latest chick flick waiting for me in my Netflix cue. But today I have time and although I don’t really know where to begin, I will write, and in the end I hope I get it all out so I can remember, or else it will seem like this whole experience never happened. Friday I said goodbye to my two sweet foster babies. It felt like they’ve been with me for a lifetime but when I add up the days it’s really only been two months, two weeks. As a foster mom I have said my share of goodbyes already. Whether they’ve been with me a year, a week, or a day, each kid that has stepped foot into my house has stolen a little piece of my heart. I am used to goodbyes, but there is a certain degree of sad haunting that goes in to my heart when I know the moment I hug them to leave may be the last moment I ever see them again.

I was feeling a bit anxious about these two kiddos leaving my nest and landing in one that they had been forced out of a few months before. So far all the kids I had were foster kids moving to foster families or adoptive families; this was my first return to a birth parent. What if they hadn’t changed? What if they were mean? What if there were still secrets the kids hadn’t told that would make their lives miserable once they returned?

God has taught me so much about trusting Him so although it was just days before Christmas and not everything in life was packaged together in pretty paper and tied with a bow, I knew that God could be trusted to walk with these kids wherever He has them next. When I pulled up to the building where I would be meeting the birth dad and the kids saw his car parked in the space beside mine, they went crazy with excitement. They chattered and smiled and couldn’t get out of my car fast enough. They ran into the building and there were dad and grandma waiting for them. I will never forget the look on dad’s face or the way tears welled up in grandma’s eyes. They kept hugging the kids and looking at them and crying happy tears into their hair. Dad was reserved, timid, but he gave me a hug and said, “Thank you. Thank you for taking care of my babies. We can finally put this nightmare behind us.” Grandma hugged me several times and couldn’t stop repeating how happy she was that they were altogether again.

It was all I could do to hold myself together. This was what fostering was all about. My job was finished. My time with them was complete. I had been faithful in what God called me to do so I could confidently pass them back home to their family. They were healthier. They had more fat on their bones and fresh sparkles in their eyes. The transformation in two months was incredible! They were happy. Alive. And now they were finally back home.

As I helped them load their stuff into the car and Little Boy told dad all about church and how much he loved it, and dad responded, “You know Son, I think it’s time we start going to church again”, joy sprung up in my heart. God can work miracles. Maybe, just maybe, my time with them was to teach them about Jesus and instill within their little hearts a love for the Word of God and His Church. Maybe they are the stepping stones God will use to bring the whole family to Christ. It was such a sweet, beautiful picture of redemption, especially coming on the cusp of Christmas. The birth of Jesus, the hope of salvation, the gift of Christ. It wove perfectly together with my goodbyes and letting go. It wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. When you hold everything with open hands and know it’s not yours to begin with, it is a whole lot easier to let go. And when I think about Jesus and His sweet life and the sacrifices He made, being a foster parent seems not like a burden but one of the greatest gifts God could ever have given me.

So I said my goodbyes and gave my last hugs. They clambered into their car stuffed full of clothes and toys and memories and we drove our separate ways and never looked back. The beautiful haunting. I shall carry them with me always in my heart but today they finally got to be carried home. What a better Christmas gift could I have given them than that?

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What Foster Care Kills

(Also written 12/23/13)

Several weeks ago my guardian ad litem showed up at my house when we were in full melt down mode. The kids were at each other’s throats and their favorite word of the day was “no”. They were distracted and hyper and just a tad bit out of control. And by a “tad” I mean a lot. My Bair LCS had just left after taking over an hour to try calming them down. They had just calmed when my guardian showed up with a box of Christmas cookies the kids couldn’t eat which of course triggered a whole new set of tantrums.

The guardian sat down with me and chatted; it was the first time she had come to visit us. She tried to calm the kids with her grandmotherly voice saying things like “children, that’s not how we act” and “you need to settle down”. It was pointless. Clearly she was unaware of the fact that these were therapeutic kids and they aren’t so easily calmed. We ignored them for the most part as we talked. She looked around my house, at the kids, at our chaotic life and then it just hit her. I’m not sure how she missed this before, but all of a sudden she realized I did this alone, unmarried. The shock on her face was visible. And if that look wasn’t bad enough, that look of pity, she had to dwell on the fact that I was single for just a little while longer. “This must really kill your social life, huh? Well, I guess you know that someone really likes you if they are willing to put up with all this.” That’s what she saw? Me, “putting up with all this?” She had no idea what I did, what it was costing me, or what exactly foster care had done to grow me. And her making a big deal out of my singleness upset me. Foster care has definitely changed my social life, but it did not killed it. I gave it up. I laid it down. I knew it would change. But as I lay in bed thinking that night I realized foster care is a murder. It didn’t kill my social life, but it certainly has killed many other things in my life. So I made a list. Of course I made a list! A list of all the things foster care has helped to destroy in my life. Fostering has killed:

(1)  Self sufficiency. Oh goodness did I used to think I had it all together! Me, Miss Independent; I didn’t need anyone. I prided myself on being able to do everything for myself and for others. I don’t ask for help. I can do it. Alone. I am strong. I am organized. I can do this! But then I added kids into the picture and realized I could barely care for myself let alone two kids! I had to learn to ask for help, to accept help when it was offered. My self sufficiency died a slow painful death as I learned anew to put my trust in an All Sufficient God.

(2)  Judgementalism. One of my greatest faults has always been my judging spirit. It used to be a lot worse. I used to look at the mother in the grocery store whose kid was pulling cereal boxes off the shelf or having some sort of tantrum and I used to think what a horrible mother she was. All those kids need is a darn good spanking. A little consistency. And for Pete’s sake, why is that mother yelling so much?! Doesn’t she know that kind words and a soft spoken voice can fix what’s going on? Now I know. Being a foster mom has put a lot of things into perspective. I am on the receiving end of the glances, the rolling eyes, the disgruntled sighs. One of my kiddos got yelled at by a lady in the library the other day as he ran away from me. And she watched me like a hawk the rest of our visit, no doubt wondering how a mom could let her kids act “that way” in the library. She didn’t know. She had no idea that these kids were abused and are adjusting and that I am trying my best to help them heal. So she rolled her eyes, sighed, and followed me around. Going shopping is worse. We can’t last five minutes without the yelling and grabbing and melt downs. After receiving so many glances and realizing that there is nothing I can do to make things work better has totally opened my eyes to the way I look at others. Foster care has destroyed my judgementalism and the way I look at other people in public. I have no idea what they have going on and why their kids are acting like that.

(3)  Selfishness. Okay, I’ll be honest. This hasn’t completely died yet. It has been greatly injured but has yet to be killed off completely. I hope one day it will, but for now it slowly bleeds. Add a kid to your life and you cannot be effective and be selfish at the same time. My world used to revolve around me; what I wanted to do, where I wanted to go, what I wanted to eat. Not so much anymore. I have two kids to consider, two kids’ needs to put before my own. They want to watch SpongeBob, I hate that annoying pineapple living sponge. They want to dance around the house. I want to sit and catch my breath. I want to hang out with friends and go on trips; they can’t survive out of our four walls. My schedule no longer is my own. You can’t be selfish and be an effective foster parent.

(4)  Perfectionism. I almost had a panic attack the other day. I was home with a sick child and was about to walk out the door to go pick up some videos when I saw two cars pull into my driveway. Assuming they were at the wrong house I went about my business, got my kiddo’s coat on, and readied ourselves to leave. That’s when I noticed that one of the faces walking toward my house was one I recognized. It hit me like a ton of bricks: my fire safety inspection was today! There were piles of dirty clothes on the couch, dishes spilling out of the sink onto my counter; I did not have my fire safety plan posted, my extinguisher serviced…nothing. I shoved shoes and trash under the couch as fast as I could and surveyed what was left. It was literally impossible for me to clean up my house in the 20 seconds it was going to take for them to make it to my door. I resolved myself to failure knowing that there was no way I could pass my inspection with my house like this; my life in shambles. My house that I don’t let people in unless it has been dusted and vacuumed and cleaned lay messy waiting to be visited by a man with a laptop and a fire marshal badge. That day it hit me. I can no longer keep up the façade of perfection. So I had to let it go. Not just let it go, but it had to be killed. Perfection is an unreasonable expectation in any life, but especially when you are fostering. You can’t predict what will happen on any given day and you certainly can’t keep life neat and tidy. Perfectionism had to die.

(5)  Passivity. I have never really been a passive person; I have been passionate about some sort of ministry or calling for as long as I can remember. But there were still areas that I would turn a blind eye to. I can’t do that anymore. If there is someone hurting or in need or broken, I can’t pretend to not notice. I cannot be passive to pain and I certainly can’t turn a blind eye to the modern day orphan anymore. I have seen their faces and heard their voices and held their hands. I have to be active now. I have to be involved. I can no longer stand on the sidelines and pray that others will get involved. I have been called and my passivity has been killed. Foster care has done that to me.

There are probably a lot of other things that have changed in me; I really hope they have. Foster care has killed my compassion for petty issues, has destroyed superficial relationships, and has cleared the way for me to be a stronger servant. I have to daily choose to die to self and admittedly I do it rather poorly, but foster care has impacted me and my life in so many special ways. The things it has killed I have not been sad to see die. Nothing that has been destroyed in me deserved to live on. 

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(from 12/23/13)

Dear Birth Mom,

I took off work early today and picked up the kids from school. They were busy playing outside, cold air turning their cheeks rosy red. I loaded them into the car and listened to their excited chatter as they told me about their day. They were excited that they got to leave early and asked me where they were going. I told them we were going to see you. This was our second meeting. The first time we met at Chick fil a and you couldn’t even look me in the eyes. I said hello and you responded by looking at the ground, avoiding me. I understand. How would I respond to the woman who was raising my kids because of poor choices I made? I don’t judge you for that and I wish you knew how much compassion I have for you.

I was impressed when I met you because you remembered to bring your kids’ favorite stuffed animals. They were so happy. It meant a lot to them that you remembered. I left you to play and talk and catch up and I went down the street to sip some coffee and fill out reports at Starbucks. Last time was good. The kids were happy. So today, although I still had reservations, I felt confident that your visit with the kids would go well. We arrived on time and the kids were hyper with excitement waiting to see you. And we waited. They played in the kid’s area as I caught up with our caseworker. They kept sticking their heads out of the door to see if you were there. So we waited. And waited. And you never came.

Help me understand what was so important that you didn’t show up to a visit with your kids, because I don’t understand. You didn’t even call to let them know. You didn’t give an excuse or any tidbit that would’ve offered comfort to them as they waited. Nothing. You only get to see them every other week, why didn’t you show? Was it car trouble? Did you need a ride? Were you too hung over to show up? Whatever your reason, I wish you had come. I had to take your kids aside and explain to them that their mother couldn’t make it. They love you. And it was important to them that they get to see you. I had to be the one to tell them you couldn’t come. I made up some lame excuse to cover for you but in reality I wanted to tell them that you just didn’t care enough to show up. That’s all they wanted, you know. You don’t have to have it all together. You don’t have to be perfect. Lord knows I’m not! But they expected you to show up. Do you know what happened when you didn’t? They were hurt. Angry. Defiant. I had to pull them kicking and screaming out of Chick fil a. Because you didn’t show. What message does it say to them that you didn’t come? How loved do you think they felt?

Don’t worry. I picked up the pieces. I hugged them extra hard tonight and played with them and told them how special they are. I wanted to make sure they knew it wasn’t their fault; that they are worth showing up for. I didn’t bash you. I told them you loved them. And I said maybe next time you will be there.

Because it won’t be much longer and they won’t want you there anymore. Please show up.

Sincerely,

The foster mom who did

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