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Archive for April, 2014

Shoes

The moment a child walks into my house and takes off her tattered, usually too small shoes, I quietly slide my feet into them. Not literally, of course, but I try to put on their shoes and imagine for a moment what that kid is feeling. I look in her eyes, examine her face, and discern her body language. Does she look anxious? Afraid? Upset? Defeated? I take my cues from her like a director of a play; for a little while I’m on stage and together we are acting these parts. New kid. New mom. I smile at her, me on her level, and make some none threatening comment about her cute earrings or stuffed bunny. I introduce her to Max and he does a wonderful job of breaking the ice with his teethy doggie grin and cross eyes. I smile big and warm and welcoming and walk with her over the threshold into my house. Our house.

Rules can come later. Unpacking can wait till tonight. Right now, at our first moments together, we are establishing a base for what our relationship will look like for the next few weeks or months. I am showing her the value she has in the very way I welcome her in to my home. I show her the important rooms: her bathroom, her bedroom covered with butterflies and flower decals, and of course, I don’t forget the playroom. I’m upbeat, laid back, annoyingly happy and positive. I tell her to make herself at home. I call her sweetheart and honey and kiddo so she knows from the beginning I recognize how special she is and start with my little words and actions to show her she’s loved and valued and belongs. 

When she starts to get anxious or talk about past placements and trauma, I calm her with the simple reminder that her job at my house is to be a kid. That’s it. She gets to play and learn and focus on making good choices. My job is parent; to take care of her and make sure she’s safe. Every placement. Every time. This is how we start.

When I first got my license I thought these moments of placement beginnings would be the most awkward. I’m always a little shy around strangers and have my own bag of quirks that follow me around. These kids come from who knows where…with their own baggage…to me. But after 13 foster kids have stayed at least a weekend with me, I’ve got the routine down, and the first day move seems more a part of life than an awkward first meet.

I prayed and prayed verses over my house when I first bought it in 2008. I begged God to make it a safe haven, a place of restoration for all who enter in. So far he has done that. Every single kid that has walked through my black metal front door has almost instantaneously bonded with me. Ones what caseworkers had described as withdrawn and loner have run into my arms and cuddled on my lap before we ever even sat down to do paperwork. 

I believe with all my heart that first impressions matter. These kids, at the very least, have experienced very little love. Most of what they know is broken love. So when they walk in a house that has been blessed deeply with the PERFECT love of God, they feel something in their spirit that I believe they have been missing for most of their lives. I hate that every kid that has left me from respite cries or asks why they can’t just stay with me, but I also love it because in a big way it validates what I am doing.

We talked tonight at home group about the parable of the talents and what it was costing us to invest what God has entrusted us with. When I see the way a kid’s smile lights up when I enter a room, the first time she voluntarily hugs me and then gets bashful about it, the first time she includes my name in a heart for a sidewalk chalk masterpiece, I know my talents have not been wasted. From the moment she steps through my door to the moment she leaves, I hope and pray what I am pouring out; the talents that I’m investing, reap an abundant return.

Tomorrow we are going shoe shopping for Annalise. She will throw out the pairs that disgrace her and the ones that show to the world her past has been poor and tragic, and she will buy some new ones. Maybe sparkly and pink, some cute sandals, or a new pair of tennis shoes to make her feet proud. And as her shoes change form and her life begins to transform, I will continue to walk beside her, slipping my feet in and out of all those shoes, meeting her and loving on her right where she stands.

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I should’ve known better. Seriously. How many times have I said I was going to “take a break” only to fall back into fostering a couple weeks later. No sooner had I hit “publish” on my last post than I received another call for placement. Why do I even try to plan? I had pictured my summer: me laying out at the lake, laughing with friends, enjoying a simple life rotating around me for a change. Why do I even entertain those thoughts? Not only should I know myself better and my heart for the orphan, but have I not learned by now who Jesus is? Silly, silly me. But I’m so glad He always has better plans. Whenever I say “no” and He says “yes”, it turns out to be a marvelously beautiful story. Here’s the first chapter of the one He’s writing now.

Remember the little nine year old I wrote briefly about? Well, she moved from respite at my house last week, to respite at another house over Easter weekend, to her permanent new foster home on Monday. And by permanent I mean “lasting 24 hours”. I got a call Tuesday morning from my caseworker asking if I would consider having Annalise come stay with me again, even if just for a few days. Her “permanent” home threw in the towel after just one day. It was some nonsensical battle over shoes. As Grace and I talked about all this sweet girl had been through the past three weeks…the abuse, the moves, the upheaval…my heart got knotted up and like God throwing a boomerang, I knew it was not coincidence that she had come back to me. So I decided that I would NOT do respite for her this week, but I would welcome her gladly back into my house as my fourth placement.

Annalise is such a special girl. I talked to her assistant principle and counselor and teachers today and they were all delighted that she had been able to come back to their school. She could light up a room with her smile. Annalise has not had an easy life so it’s easy to understand why she responds with her rough exterior and punk attitude. But when you cut through that, when you love on her for even a few minutes, that melts away and she smiles the most genuine, beautiful smile I have ever seen. When Annalise came back to my house last night she ran up to the door, laughing and beaming, full of the deepest joy I had seen in a long time; more joy than I had seen on her face in the time I have known her. It was like the face of one who had been wandering and finally come home.

We are going to have many hurdles to jump over in the next few months. She is sassy and spunky and has a little ‘tude on her reminiscent of my teen years. But I had a fantastic talk with her last night over a Chick-fil-a sandwich and fries about respect and what it means to live together as God intended family to be. I remind her constantly that her job is to be a kid; my job is to parent. She seems to like that idea. She is smart and has such a heart for Jesus already. I was not expecting to foster again, but I’m so glad God called me to her.

We had three little other foster girls over tonight and while we were playing outside Annalise and I played a velcro ball toss game. I’d throw the pink and green ball to her, she’d catch it on her velcro mitt, and then throw it back to me. As I replay the evening in my head tonight I think about how clearly that defines our relationship. Annalise is the ball, I am one mitt, and God is the other. I “tossed” Annalise back to God, He held her tight in His grasp, and then when I least expected it, he “tossed” her back to me. And now we’re stuck. In the past 24 hours, somehow, she has managed to stick herself to the velcro of my heart. I’m not sure how long God will let me hold on to her, but while I do, I’m going to hug her, brush her thick crazy-curly hair, read her devotions as I tuck her into bed, and love her with everything I can.

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The In Between

It’s been a few weeks since The Kid moved on. I heard he’s with a family that has a mom and a dad. That makes me happy. I also know they moved him three times in the first two weeks he was moved from me. Three times. This is what I was afraid of. One placement lasted all of two days. He’s probably lost count by now of how many homes he’s lived in. I know I have. But as bitter sweet as any move is, I am thankful to have this time to recover, to rest, to pray about what may be next for me. In the week after The Kid left, I got calls for four more placements. A kid who has been so exposed to violence and crime that he talks about guns like we talk about the weather. A kid who has been sexually abused. A teenage girl looking for a place to belong. A sibling pair wanting to stay together. I said “no” to every one of them.

Last weekend I got a fifth call for a nine year old girl. She got in a fight with another kid in the home so they had to move her. I’m not talking about a verbal lashing between the two; I’m talking about she walked away with bruises covering her arms and legs and a huge gash on her forehead where she was hit with a metal rod. I said “yes” to take care of her until they could find a permanent placement. She showed up to my house with the clothes on her back and her backpack from school. She came with about half her medications because her foster mom would take her drugs and give them to her other children: free medication. She was angry and confused. I watched her for one week before they moved her to another “permanent” placement. I won’t ever know where she ends out.

As I watched her leave my house and headed into my elongated Easter weekend, I began to question God again about what His plan is for me. What’s my next step? I have fostered for over two years. I have had so many kids pass through my home and have exhausted the word “no” with ones I have turned away. I love fostering. But what if it’s not enough? I realized afresh as I listened to phone call after phone call of kids needing placements, kids just needing a bed to sleep on for the night; phone calls about other foster families that abuse their foster kids, foster parents who are sometimes worse than the family the kid got taken from, and I realized that the need is so much greater than what I can house in my three bedroom, two bath house.

So I’ve begun praying for more. I’m praying for what’s next and how I can have the greatest impact on the lives of countless kids waiting to get moved from a homeless shelter or group home and placed with a loving family. There’s got to be more that I can do. The need seems so overwhelming at times. I didn’t realize until I started putting faces and names to the numbers exactly how big the gap was between kids having a home and kids waiting. What if these two years have been all about exposure and awareness and experience so I can do more?

I live a very simple, quiet, semi-predictable life. But what if God has called me to more? What if I’m supposed to be a greater advocate for these kids who do not have a voice? There is no limit to what God can do when we willingly submit to Him. What is my “more”?

I have started toying with the idea of starting a non-profit to help provide support and encouragement for foster families, or try to get plugged in to speaking at churches, or maybe even writing my own book to bring awareness to the need and to help people see that they can get involved too. It all seems like way more than I am qualified for, but then again, I didn’t think I could be a single foster parent. But I was.

I will continue to seek God between the “what has been” and “what will be”. And in the in between I will rest and dream and pray and someday, perhaps soon, I’ll move on from the in between to the “what’s next”. I can’t wait to see what that will be.

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