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Archive for the ‘Foster Care’ Category

Sometimes I have to laugh or roll my eyes or sigh at myself and how very wrong I have been. How often do I claim something as truth only to find out I was so completely off base? When I said a teary goodbye to Annalise several months ago and began a new journey of love, I honestly thought that my season of foster care was over. I told people that God had released me from that responsibility, that I was free to recover and heal and move forward in a new adventure. I wept over the fact that I would never get true closure from my time with Annalise, that there would always be an open wound attached to my spirit. A wound from her and from the other kids that had passed through the doors of my house and my heart. I was okay with that. I had come to accept the fact that we don’t always get a happy ending. Not every story finishes with a sunset or a romantic kiss or an upbeat song. Sometimes stories end tragically. There’s no comedic relief to tie you over. You finish reading it and are left feeling like something is missing, something was left unsaid, and you feel the weight of the end. This was how I read the final chapter of my time with Annalise. It didn’t end like I wanted it to, but it was over. The book was closed. I worked through the pain of our goodbye and put the book back on the shelf.

I was wrong. Perhaps the chapter was finished, but the book was not. A couple weeks before I left for Colorado, I got an early morning phone call from a number I didn’t know. I don’t typically answer anything that doesn’t pop up with a name from my stored contact list, but something in my spirit told me to answer this one. It was Saturday, my sleep-in day, way too early to be awake. But I answered the call.

“Hello? Ms. Shelly? This is Annalise!”

Those words woke me up faster than any fire alarm could have. I sat up, fully awake, all systems engaged. Adrenaline pumped through my body. Annalise? I had not heard from her, or about her, in over five months. The last time I saw her I couldn’t even bear to look at her face; her eyes were so distraught and empty and hurt. She sat on a hospital bed begging me not to leave her. I didn’t even know she knew my number. Perhaps she kept it from the little note I sent to her when I returned her North Face coat to her caseworker. It was an afterthought, but I wrote a sweet note telling her I loved her and signed it with my name and number. No matter the avenue she obtained it or memorized it or happened upon it, Annalise was calling me.

This is grace. This is what is so sweet about walking with Jesus, about trusting Him, about putting all the details and unfinished stories into His hands. He can take those torn up pages, the tragedy, and He can keep writing a book. God has this amazing way of adding pages to a book we’ve already closed, already finished writing. I talked to Annalise for about 20 minutes; we chatted about her school and family and boys she has crushes on. We laughed and giggled and reconnected. Not once did she mention our parting. Not for a moment did she even hint at anger or hurt from being left at the hospital, from having to be moved. We talked as if there had never been a broken moment to our relationship, like it was healed.

Over the next couple weeks we texted some, and then the week before I moved God gave me another incredible gift. My mom and sister were in town and we were able to take an hour trip out of town and meet Annalise and her grandmother. We met in a small Subway on the corner of a busy street and spent two wonderful hours together. We swapped stories from the last few months, showed pictures of snow and mountains and artwork, laughed until our bellies hurt, and slowly watched the sun slip away behind us. While we showed pictures of my mom’s latest paintings and I explained to Annalise’s grandma how my sister got all the artistic talent from my mother and I got none, I could see a change in Annalise’s expression, like she was pondering my words, mulling them over.

“Ms. Shelly. You may not be an artist, but I know what your talent is.”

Here I thought she would insert some antidote about my writing abilities, my wit or humor, my ability to keep plants alive.

“Your talent is you are a very good mother. You were a great mother to me; the best foster mom I ever had. That’s your talent, Ms. Shelly. You are a mother.”

As we ended our night together, knowing full well this may be the last time I see that sweet girl, but also very aware that God’s plans keep surprising me, I was able to walk away with a heart full of gratitude. A heart that was mending. A story that I thought had ended as a tragedy actually hadn’t ended at all. In fact, even while I was not with her, her character and mine were still being woven together in a beautiful plot. There are several of my kids that have moved on from my home and I will realistically, probably never hear from or see them again. But Annalise isn’t one of them. Getting to say a happy goodbye to her before I moved was one of the greatest gifts God could’ve give me. It set me up for a season of healing, of restoration, of joy.

I know now never to claim something as true when I have no idea what God is doing behind the scenes. He may very well make this story into a trilogy or a series or even some day, a full blown motion picture. But whatever He is up to, I can rest assured in knowing that He is up to something, and it is good and rich and beautiful.

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I always wanted to get married.  We had dress up gowns that my sister and I would twirl around in, have mock wedding ceremonies, and dream of a life with a family.  That desire has never gone away.  At times it has been overshadowed by school and busyness and life, but I have always, always wanted to get married; to be a bride and to see my husband look at me for the first time in my untarnished, perfectly pure white dress as I walked down the isle.  What girl doesn’t dream of that?  I’ve also always dreamed of being a mom.  I started working with kids when I was eleven and never had an issue changing diapers or feeding them or cleaning up Cheerios off the floor.  I enjoy rocking babies to sleep and playing dress up and using my imagination while crawling around on all fours like a horse.  I always thought God created me to be a wife and mother.  But here I am at a completely different place than I ever pictured myself.  Tonight I find myself wondering if God DID create me to be a wife and mom and that maybe, in His own way, that’s exactly what He has done.  I am the beautiful, untarnished bride of Christ and God has given me more spiritual children than I could have ever dreamed of having.  And not only that, but now as I approach 30, He is opening doors to be another kind of mom.  A foster mom.

I’m in Week Six of Breaking Free and it has been so timely for this phase of my life.  This week has been all about Beauty from Ashes.  I wanted to share some good quotes that I know in the days/months/years ahead I will need to come back to:

“Christ can’t lead us somewhere He refuses to go.”

“God sometimes allows us to be let down and disappointed in life so we will learn to set our hopes more fully in Him.”

“If God calls you to a life of singleness, feel special!  Save yourself entirely for Him!  The King is enthralled by your beauty.”

“I don’t believe God allows surrendered hearts to continue to long for things He will not ultimately grant in one way or another.  Our disappointment with God is often the result of our small thinking.”

“God ultimately did not restrict (me) from childbearing.  Rather, He loosened the restrictions and made (me) enlarge (my) tents!  The potential for spiritual offspring in the lives of those physically barren (or single…) is virtually limitless.

“If God chooses for you never to have physical children, He’s calling you to a far bigger family!”

So…my children are out there.  Some I’ve met, taught, laughed with, watched grow up and get married.  Some of my kids I have yet to meet.  But out there, somewhere, there they are.  Laughing.  Crying.  Sitting and waiting for the moment when their ashes will be turned into something beautiful.

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Tonight was my home study.  My house has never looked cleaner!  Every bed was made, dish washed, toilet scrubbed, and every inch of carpet vacuumed.  If licenses were given out purely by the sheer determination of one to make sure her house was spotless, they would’ve signed one over to me tonight.  I even lit my candles to make sure it smelled perfectly homely in here.  The case worker arrived at 6:30 and after a brief tour of the home she jumped right into question time.  I have been nervous all day anticipating the questions she may ask.  Me, the private person that I am, had to open up my life to someone I barely knew.  She asked questions about my relationship with my parents, what life was like growing up, how we were disciplined, when I first learned about sex.  She asked me about my philosophy on discipline, my goals in life, and how I respond to disappointment, sadness, and joy.  There were questions about why I want to foster and how I feel about good-byes, questions about my job and transportation and who my support system is.  She looked in the closets of my past and peaked into the attic of my soul to see if there were any skeletons lurking about.  It wasn’t invasive.  Just real.  Just lots of huge, real, honest questions about me and life and love.  After three hours of having me sign piles of papers and read policies and share my story, it was all over.  Painlessly.  I don’t feel discouraged or beaten down or afraid.  I just feel…ready.  I feel like I do after giving a speech and knowing I said everything I meant to say and wanted to say in all the ways I wanted to say it.  Happy.  Content.  Satisfied.  I can confidently say after tonight that my house is a good home.  A safe home.  A happy home.  So, beloved child out there, I am simply waiting for you to come home.

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Some weeks I feel like God teaches me a million lessons a minute.  This is one of those weeks.  I have my home study on Thursday.  Sunday morning I was feeling panicky because I still needed a bed and smoke detectors and a fire extinguisher.  I had looked through just about every Craigslist post on furniture hoping to find a deal I couldn’t refuse, after striking out at the Habitat ReSale Store and Haven of Rest’s Thrift Shop.  There were two beds that I was interested in online, one that was $350 and another for $200.  The $200 was the biggest bang for my buck; it was a bunk bed with a full and twin size mattress.  I made my inquiries for both beds, sat back and waited.  While I waited I made the mistake of balancing my check book and paying my overdue student loan bills.  The end result was less then encouraging.  I had $49.oo left in the bank.  Monday morning I woke up and checked my email.  I got one back from the $300 bed saying since I was going to do foster parenting, they’d knock $50 off right away.  Although I appreciate the gesture, $50 off when I only have $49 in the bank is not going to fix the problem.  About half way through the morning I got a call from the owner of the $200 bed.  Jay was available at 12:30 if I wanted to come take a look.  I knew there was no way I could afford this bed, but since they lived five minutes down the road, I thought, “what the heck?”  It couldn’t hurt to take a look.  So, I went.  I looked.  I liked what I saw.

I was about to shake hands with Heather and Jay and walk away empty handed when Heather asked me a question that changed everything.  “So, do you have two boys of your own?”  With a sheepish grin I told her about my pursuit of fostering and my homestudy and how I was trying to get all my ducks in a row.  Heather got almost giddy excited about that idea and all it took was one knowing glance from Jay to Heather for him to respond, “If you want it, it’s yours.”  So while I went home to round up some muscles, Heather took to cleaning the Pottery Barn sheets and filling a bag with all the essentials: a rug, pillow cases, and more than enough sheets.  By the time I arrived at 7:30pm the weather had turned freezing cold.  Jay and the boys loaded the frame into my car while Heather and I chattered and chatted on her porch.

I love how God brings community and provides for all our needs, even through the lives of perfect strangers.  After unloading load number one (which required the assistance of our neighbor Brad), Dawn and I returned for the second mattress.  I told Heather about the Bair Foundation (which just happens to be the one she and Jay were looking at!) and training and my hope to actually do this thing.  I have never felt so overwhelmingly built up by a complete stranger.  I felt admired.  Appreciated.  And somehow in the wintery night air, I felt stronger and more confident and completely overwhelmed with joy.

But God doesn’t like to just use one practical example to teach me a lesson.  It’s so like Him to nail things into me through several avenues.  The second has been through the support of my Home Group.  I finally sent them an email on Tuesday telling them what I am doing and what I needed.  The response, especially from Alicia and Jody and Erin and Kim Perkins (from KidSpring), has been overwhelmingly supportive.  Alicia enlisted Larry to put up my smoke detectors and even purchased them for me so I wouldn’t have the burden of that expense.

So, what’s the lesson in all this?  Obviously the simple answer is to trust that God will provide for all my needs.  But the greater lesson is the importance of sharing and opening up and letting other people in.  I am a private person.  I don’t take many risks in relationships.  I don’t communicate things about my life for fear of, I’m not sure, being judged maybe?  Failing? But God is showing me that’s not what life is about.  Life is sometimes about taking risks.  What if I never told Heather about fostering?  What if I never sent an email to the ladies in my group?  What if I didn’t begin to open up my life and let them in?  I’d be bed-less.  I certainly wouldn’t have smoke detectors securely fastened in all three bedrooms.  And I wouldn’t feel the love and support and strength that I do now.

God does own the cattle on a thousand hills.  But more importantly, He owns the lives of people and if I’m willing to let Him use them to help me, great things happen, my faith grows, and I am changed.

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I don’t even have my first kid.  I haven’t even completed training or had my home study or my fire safety inspection.  I need to hang smoke detectors and fix my windows and lock up my meds.  I feel I am just at the very beginning of this journey and already am feeling pulled down.  As I move forward I’m realizing at a greater level what this will cost.  Loneliness is beginning to sink in and where once my path was filled with cheerleaders and supporters, I now feel is covered with one set of footprints…my own.  I know I’m just being melodramatic because I’m tired and it’s been a week of family time, which always drains me, and I haven’t had any good alone time with God and right now I don’t see how many of the pieces are going to come together.

But I suppose anytime you step out in faith you feel alone.  I bet when Peter stepped out of the boat and started walking toward Jesus he felt alone.  None of the other disciples were diving in after him.  None of the other men offered to step on the edge and take the plunge. On his own he flirted with that tiny line between courage and crazy.   He was alone.  He could feel the waves.  He could smell the salty air.  He could touch the blanket of darkness around him.  But Peter believed that Jesus could keep him from falling.  I need to keep my eyes firmly fixed on the Author and Perfector of my faith.  The period of time when I dreamed about having a kid in my home and baking cookies with her or taking him to soccer games, that period is over.  Reality is sinking in and I can either sink with it or I can keep my head high, my eyes straight, and walk out in faith toward Jesus.

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