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Posts Tagged ‘Foster Care’

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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I stumbled upon my initial journal entry (pre-blogging days) and think now’s as good a time as any to remind myself what I was learning at the beginning of this journey.  So, here goes (from 12/3/11):

Dad said this morning “there’s a fine line between being crazy and being courageous.”  I think walking by faith is putting yourself in the gray area between the two.  Somewhere between insanity and bravery is where I’m beginning to walk in faithful obedience.  At the beginning of this journey I’m choosing faith.  As seven years of dreaming begin to become reality, I feel like I’m going to throw up.  My heart is pounding , my hands are shaking, and I keep asking myself, “What the heck are you doing!?”  But I also know who God is.  I know sometimes to be in the center of His will is NOT the calmest, most smooth, sensible place to be.  But God didn’t fashion me for comfort.  He called me to faith.  Faith walks forward without knowing exactly where the path leads.  Faith just obeys and takes that first step.  I know my obedience will cost me.  But being disobedient will cost me even more.  So I walk forward.  Jesus’ life of obedience led Him to the cross.  Will I not also follow Him forward even if He calls me to suffer?  People did not understand Jesus; they discouraged Him and tore Him down.  But He walked on.  He had the favor of God upon Him yet He did not live an easy life.  Nor did Mary…or Daniel…or Joseph…or Moses.

Why do I think Jesus’ calling on my life would require anything less out of me than my everything?  I’m at this place, scared out of my mind and so excited I might burst out of my skin.  I can no longer go back.  I have felt the sting of abandonment and neglect and abuse.  I have heard their stories and seen their faces and listened to the statistics.  How can I turn a deaf ear to the plight of our children?  So I’m moving forward.  I am taking a deep breath and embracing the next step and I will walk as far down this path as God will take me.  I am pursuing fostering.  I’m moving ahead.  My eyes are wide open and I am learning the costs.  But I refuse to stop just because it will be hard.

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So, I just had a melt down.  I felt it coming on all day, but as I neared the moment I would crawl into my warm bed, it happened.  Sloppy crying too.  It didn’t surprise me.  Yesterday as Ashley was asking me how I communicate sadness and disappointment and anger, I realized that pretty much I have one response.  I am a woman.  I cry.  And today it just made sense.  I didn’t realize how much it takes out of you to be on your A-game all the time while you’re going through inspections and interviews and meetings.  When you’re constantly putting your best foot forward, it can get pretty cramped.  The tipping point today was the moment I realized I was trapped.  Oh, don’t think I’m getting all symbolic and poetic now.  I was literally trapped down my hallway.  It was after 11:00pm and I was settling in for the night when I tried to turn the handle of the door that separates our bedrooms from the living area of my house, only to find that it wouldn’t open.  The handle turned, but that thingamabob that latches the knob to the door frame would not budge.  I jiggled it and pulled it and put my hands on it and begged God to unlatch it.  Nothing.  Not a glimpse of movement.  So I had to call my sick dad on the night of his birthday and wake him up to have him do another one of his famous long-distance rescues.  They should create a monument in his honor because somehow he always manages to save me.

But being physically trapped made me realize tonight exactly how I’ve been feeling these last few days.  I don’t feel like committing to foster parenting is trapping me per say, but I do feel a certain degree of sealing parts of my future and being trapped in the own doubts of my mind.  Today has just been one of those days where I have been helplessly reminded how human I really am.  Warning to anyone out there who is thinking about foster parenting: it’s one heck of a roller coaster ride from the beginning.  You move fast paced with barely a moment to take in what’s happening around you but somehow you still manage to take in the feeling of highs and lows and incredible speed, but you’re not really able to process what has happened until the ride has finished and your head is left swirling, wondering how you got here.  That’s what this process is like.  And today I realized it has all happened so fast that I may not have handled everything the best way possible from the beginning.  I’ve been thinking about this for years, but I did not clearly communicate with my family and friends what was going on and because of that things this week have gotten a little out of whack. I felt a little attacked from a guy friend (“Are you doing this because you want kids but are single?”), from a youth pastor (“You know I’m blunt, but how exactly are you going to handle this alone?”), and even my own family (“I feel like you didn’t even consider my feelings.”).  Now I’m back re-examining what fostering will look like for me and if it’s all worth it.  I’m wondering if the time is right, if I am right for this job, and if maybe, somehow, I mis-read the signs.  I’m just waiting now for God to come, show me how to unlatch this door and set me free from this trap.

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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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At first when I began this journey of foster care, the greatest obstacle in my heart was fear.  Fear of the unknown, fear of what would happen to my family, fear of whether or not I was strong enough to do this.  I struggled with fear for days, but ultimately Christ overcame it and Satan lost big time.  But today I realized a new type of obstacle has taken root in my heart.  It’s an obstacle called joy.  This past week I hung out with friends, danced at a wedding, stayed up really late talking.  I’ve played Phase 10 and Guess Who with my sister and had lots of time of laughing and reading out loud and watching TV shows.  Before I didn’t have to worry much about what fostering would cost me because I didn’t feel like I had much to lose but recently I’ve been getting a pretty good taste of community and exactly what I would be sacrificing if I go through with this thing.  I would sacrifice late night chats.  And living with my sister.  And having my own schedule and space and time.  I’d give up my independent life and sacrifice it for the needs of a child.  It’s funny how sly the evil one is.  How dare he twist things that give me great joy and use them as a roadblock to me moving forward with fostering!  But I will not back down.  I am willing, like I was on day one, to count the cost, to cling to Jesus, and to plow this obstacle down.

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