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Archive for March, 2014

One of my favorite things to do is to go to the public library and walk up and down the aisles pulling out as many children’s books as my arms can carry. I’m one of those stubborn moms who are determined to not need a bag to carry them out, so I always end out cramping an arm or a wrist in effort to be an independent, strong woman. It’s ridiculous, I know, but it’s what I do. This last trip to the library I grabbed a handful of books newly released and was eager to get home, tuck in the Kid, and read to him. We built a fort in the living room out of his play tent, two couches, a folding table, and as many blankets and quilts as we could find. We snuggled inside with our pillows and pjs and began to plow through the books we acquired that afternoon. One of the books I brought home with us was called “Because Your Mommy Loves You”, by Andrew Clements. I am hopelessly sentimental, so I chose this book as an opportunity to have another chat with Kid about how I love him. The book wasn’t what I expected, but exactly what I needed. It’s a story of a mom and her son who, appropriately since we were snuggled in a homemade tent, were venturing out on a camping trip.  It goes through each step of the trip: buying supplies, packing the car, hiking, crossing a river, setting up a tent… Each time a new task is presented the author says something like:

When the pack on your back feels like a giant rock, your mommy could say, That looks awfully heavy for you. Here, I’ll carry it! But she doesn’t. You both sit down a while and share some water and a handful of raisins. Then she helps you strap on your pack again, and up the trail you go.

I am the type of foster parent who so wants to protect her kids that I often end out enabling them and doing things for them instead of teaching them how to do it themselves. This whole book was simply illustrating how real love is often not taking the easy road and fixing every problem that a kid may face. Sometimes real love is jumping in the trenches with the kid and teaching him how to set up his own tent, find his own food, and put his sweater on by himself. I always feel conflicted because my love language is acts of service, so to me, standing back and not serving in the tangible, hands on, way, often feels like the opposite of love. But I am learning that love does not always mean doing. Sometimes when mommy loves you, she chooses the hard road to give you the best chance of life.

This week has been one that has offered me countless opportunities to choose what was best for the Kid and not necessarily what I wanted to do or what was easiest. As a foster parent, sometimes the most loving choice you can make for a child is in knowing when you have done all you can and to pass the torch to another family. This was a lesson I was hoping I never had to learn. My first two kids were adopted. My second two kids got reunited with their family. Good endings. I like it that way. But with this kid, everything is different.

I starting reading  a book tonight that talks about kids that come from trauma filled pasts and how, despite common philosophy and belief, kids that respond to life by lying or being defiant or abusing or being hyperactive, aren’t doing so out of anger and willful disobedience. Kids from traumatic pasts act out of their stress and fear. I’m only 17 pages in but I’m already wishing I had bought this book two months ago. Maybe things would’ve been different.

Things with my sweet five year old kid drifted from bad to worse these past few weeks. We would put him on respite for the weekends to offer me some reprieve, but his heightened behaviors simply became more impulsive and chaotic and scary. I’d be folding laundry and he’d slap my cheek, palm open, leaving a handprint on my left side. I’d be doing paperwork and turn around and he’d be standing behind me, knife in hand, threatening to stab my face. We’d be doing crafts and all of a sudden the scissors was in his hand, ready to be thrown at me. I had already removed my china cabinet, my pictures on the walls, my piano. I kept all bedroom doors locked and put sharp objects in a locked cabinet. But he would find new things to abuse me with. A whisk from the kitchen. The remote for the TV. His tennis shoes laying in the middle of the living room floor. And his impulsive behaviors, the way he’d climb on the washer or dryer or trip the breakers in the hall…it all just got too out of hand. And if it was just with me we could’ve assumed I was doing something to trigger these behaviors. But it wasn’t. It was at daycare and with our case workers and at DSS. It was with his Behavior Modification specialists, at the dentist, and with his peers. We tried everything we knew how to do. Even the professionals were at a loss.

So because Mommy loves the Kid, she had to let him go. It wasn’t safe for him here anymore and it wasn’t safe for me. I would’ve waited until one of us ended out in the hospital before I threw in the towel, but thankfully my LCS and director know me well enough to make the call for me. I got a call Tuesday morning telling me that they had decided to move the Kid from my home. Oh, how I sobbed. I’m not a quitter! I don’t give up on a kid! But they gently explained to me how we had done everything we could; how I stuck with him way longer than any other foster parent would’ve; how this is not my fault. And as they comforted me, and I fasted and prayed, God made it abundantly clear that it was time to let him go.

The ironic thing is that one of us did end out in the hospital. That afternoon when I went to pick up the Kid from daycare, he tail-spun into another one of his violent episodes and he could not be calmed. We had to call the EMS and waited for the police and ambulance to arrive. What it feels like to have a cop, hand on his gun, looking at you like you’re the biggest idiot in the world, not understanding why you can’t just control your kid, is an incredibly humbling experience. But Sweetheart’s stress and fear had so overloaded his senses that it was impossible for him to respond with clarity or logic. So we got in the ambulance and drove to the ER.

The whole experience was so tragically sad. I kept looking at those beautiful blue eyes, knowing in my heart of hearts that he is such a terrific kid, aching because there was nothing I could do to help him, even if I wanted to. Even if I wanted to make his pack lighter or carry some of that burden, I just absolutely could not. So I sat in room 11, talking to doctors and nurses, patient advocates and chaplains, waiting for my on-call case worker to arrive. I held the Kid some of the time, but most of the time he just pushed me away. I prayed and prayed for a miracle that day, but God said no. Not now.

And as time drifted away and my worker came, I gave the Kid one last hug goodbye. I held him tightly as he screamed and clung to my neck, begging me to let him stay. I whispered in his ear, “You are loved. You belong. It’s going to be okay.” and then I passed him on to the worker and let her drive him away. And just like that it was over.

The pain from Tuesday is still so very raw. My heart aches more than I can bare. I want tomorrow to come and for them to bring him back. I want to be able to see this whole thing to completion. I want to see the miracle. But because I love him so much, I recognize I have done all I can. So I trust Jesus to go with him wherever he ends out. Tomorrow I will finish packing up his things. I will wash the jeans he wore Monday playing in the creek and his favorite hoodie that he has worn every day. I will pull together his toys and books and crayons and wait for my case worker to come pick them up. I may get to see him some day again to say goodbye, but most likely I will not. And the lack of closure on this placement rips at my heart and makes me wonder if I’ve done enough. When he woke up Wednesday morning did he remember his Mommy loves him? Will he one day understand that love means sometimes letting go?

I don’t know how to NOT love every kid that passes through my home. So when they leave, whether it’s adoption or reunification or a new placement, I hope and pray that they know, at the end of how ever many months or weeks or days they were with me, that Mommy loves them. Because I do.

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My house is quiet tonight. There is no noise except a few cars passing by and the whirl sound from the fan of my computer. The dog is asleep, the TV is off, and it is utterly quiet. A part of me loves the serenity of an evening alone, a chance to reconnect with God and find some solitude. But the other part of me aches because I am alone and I miss my blond headed boy so much.

When I received my foster care license two years ago I vowed to myself that I would never, and I mean NEVER, be a foster parent who sent a child back. I was committed. Ready for any sacrifice that had to be made. There was nothing I wouldn’t work through with a child because the last thing a child needs is another person telling them they aren’t good enough. If I’m honest, I think pride may have even played a part; I am so good at foster care that I will never have to give a child back. I can do this.

Or so I thought.

In foster care training they did a fairly good job of teaching us what it must be like for a child who has been abused or neglected. We talk about the way they respond and how their developing brains get wired incorrectly. They teach us management techniques and coping skills to work on with the child. Lots of great useful information. But what if the neglected child comes into your home, suffers from a line of drugs and incest and abandonment, and targets you as the one to get his frustration out on? What if the paradigm shifts from child abuse to parent abuse? What if you love him like crazy, but find that love is not enough?

This past week has been almost unbearable. Monday night I got sick with the flu or some other awful bug sent to torment me. I was so cold I couldn’t stop shaking, even wrapped up in blankets, clasping a heating pad. My head throbbed. My body ached in every muscle and joint. And my stomach? Well, let’s just say it decided to join in the madness. And at the same time my body decided to declare war against me, my little buddy decided to do the same.

That sweet boy would lay into me like a full grown man in a boxing ring. Fist clinched, he aimed to injure. Punch after punch, between muscles and tendons. He hit and kicked and spit mouth-fulls of anger all over me. He unsheathed his nails and scratched my arms, grabbed my flesh and pinched. He locked his teeth on my wrist and fought tooth-and-nail. He threw items at me, full force, aiming at my head. And when I would retreat to my room and lock the door, he would beat it with any item he could find big enough to cause harm. Sometimes he screams and cries while he beats, other times he laughs. Sometimes he just stands over me calling me a f***ing b**ch. This has been going on with relative frequency for the last several weeks, but this week he was unrelenting. And when I had no strength left to defend myself and he started making insanely unsafe choices (like trying to get out of a moving vehicle or riding his bike in the street while I was “tied up” being sick), I had no option but to call for help.

I called someone to come and get him. Five days this week I have been without him. Five days I have sought healing for myself and prayed miracle prayers for him. I love that kid more than I can express, but what if love is not enough? What if I can no longer give him the help he needs? What if my home is really not the best fit for him? How do I deal with that?

I don’t know how you know when enough is enough. I have heard the breaking point for other people: a teen sneaks out with her boyfriend, a kid injures the family dog, a child won’t stop backtalking the foster mom. But I told myself I would never be one of those. I don’t have a breaking point. I know the measures Jesus took to rescue me; can’t I do that for someone else?

Tonight Jesus spent some time putting balm on my wounds. He took me to the Psalms and I read out loud verse after verse of His faithfulness, His strength, the way He both destroys strongholds and helps us find our stronghold in Him. He talked about His shield of protection and the spacious places He brings us to. Rest and peace and a satisfied soul. I cried and clinched my Bible to my chest as I begged God to make these things a reality in this little boy’s life. He’s the sweetest, spunkiest, silliest boy I know. And I love him. But my love cannot sustain. Without a miraculous move from God, something’s gotta give.

My sweetheart comes back tomorrow. I don’t know how he will respond to being back home. My body is mostly healed from the flu, and the bruises the kid inflicted have gotten less tender. I pray he comes back softened, ready to receive the love I offer him. But when my love is not enough, I will continue to cling to the One who is Love. And I will trust Him with the outcome of this placement, because He is good, because He knows best, and because He is God. And that is more than enough.

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I was sitting in IHOP after church today next to a feather-haired girl wearing a baseball cap, eating a “Create a Face” pancake. She wanted it to look like a monkey but there’s only so much you can do with batter as a canvas and bananas and strawberries as paint. I looked into her beautiful blue eyes and tried to find a glimpse of the little girl I met almost two years ago. Her eyes were more shallow now, but her freckles still kissed her face and her smile showed there was still life left in her. She seemed distant, like the last ten months had aged her more than just physically. She turned her hat to the side of her head and tried to act punk-like. I wasn’t buying it. My goal was to draw out the little girl that I knew was still in there. The girl full of spunk and creativity and sweetness. I knew it was still there because when she smiled I saw the girl who was before this season of her life took over. 

A big part of my heart aches. It aches in a good way because I got to hug and kiss her and whisper “I love you”s into her pierced ears. It was so good to hold her again. But it aches in a painful way too because I see the way she is hurting and I want so desperately to be able to make the pain go away. Her hair is gone except for a little patch on the back of her head, right above her neck line. She wears a hat all the time now, partially to keep her from pulling the rest out and partially so she won’t have to explain to the world why she is bald. I gently rubbed the stubble trying to grow back on her scalp and told her how beautiful she was. How much Jesus loves her. We had our usual “fight” over who loved the other most. I loved her to the moon and back. She smiled and said, “If I could measure from here to heaven with my love for God, one centimeter short would be where my love for you is found.” I think she won.

It’s strange being with a foster kid again after your role as a mother has been completed. She is with her new family now in a new city. She is a lot taller and has meat on her bones. The warts on her ring finger have vanished. She’s styling cute boots and sweaters and looks like a little lady. If I passed her in a crowded street I would barely recognize her.

She told me a story this afternoon about a one-eyed woman and her son who was ashamed of her disfiguration. The son shunned his mother, embarrassed by the seeming imperfection she refused to cover with a patch. He threw her out of his house when she came to visit her grandchildren and ultimately she died without ever being reconciled to her son. The son, feeling guilty for kicking her out, went to visit her only to find out she was already gone. She left him one note expressing her love to him. When the boy was very little he had fallen and poked out his eye. His mother loved him so much and, wishing that he not face disgrace, replaced his missing eye with one of her own. She took the shame that should’ve been his.

I had heard this story before but hearing it from the mouth of a nine-year-old forced to wear a hat because of what she had done to herself; it took on a whole new meaning. Every kid that comes into care is coming with some sort of brokenness. Some sort of “disfigurement”. My role as their mother (for how ever long that may be), is to carry the weight of that brokenness for them. My job is to protect them, as much as I can, from embarrassment and shame. My job is to replace that emptiness they carry with a little bit of the excess Jesus has given to me; to “pluck out my eye” so that they may see. I take part of myself and fill in the gap. That’s what foster parents do. The kids may spend their whole time here completely missing the point, but it doesn’t matter. I love them, so I will carry that shame for them.

And the reason I can do it is because Someone has already done that for me. Jesus has taken my sin and guilt and shame and carried it for me. He covered me with His righteousness and mercy so that I may stand approved.

This weekend getting to see my first two foster kids was absolutely incredible. My role has shifted from control to influence, but I cherish every moment I get to speak truth into their lives again. I will forever love my Sweet Pea. She may grow and change and continue to push away, but she was my first. She was the one I learned from and grew with and fought with. She was the one that taught me how lavished the love of Christ is. And no matter what happens or who she becomes, I know with certainty that we will always love each other, just a centimeter short of heaven.

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