Posts Tagged ‘Fostering’

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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Apparently I was overdue for a meltdown.  It’s been about a month, so I suppose it’s time for all the little annoyances and difficulties and frustrations to start spilling over the bucket of what I can handle.  I know I’ll look back on today in a few days and everything will be ironic and funny and humorous, but today I was just too tired to process anything logically.  The ironic part of the day is that I spent time doing my Beth Moore study this morning and one of the questions she asked was “When was the last time you put two and two together and got six?”, meaning when was the last time that emotion clouded your reason and even when you’re looking at all the details of a situation you still come to the wrong assumption.  This morning I couldn’t think of an example.  Maybe if I had spent a little more time pondering it this morning I wouldn’t have had to go through the ten minutes of panic that I endured this afternoon.

School got out early today for Lydia (is it any wonder SC is number 51 in US education?!) so my sister picked her up.  I was planning on running some errands over lunch (like spending it in the line of the DMV for new license tags) and decided to let her know I was going to be late getting home.  As soon as she answered the phone, she said in a very quiet, panicky voice, “I was bitten by a beetle and fainted.  But don’t worry, the doctor is here with me now.”  I immediately changed my plans and drove as fast as I could back home thinking the whole time the most irrational of things.  This is how my mind works.  It can jump from logic to panic in less than five seconds.  In the three minutes it took me to drive home I had already processed in my mind how the whole situation happened:

Dawn picked Lydia up from school, they were playing outside (for who knows what reason; it was pouring rain!), and somehow Dawn stepped on a beetle.  Not just any beetle, but a poisonous one.  Horribly poisonous too.  She fainted, and poor little Half Pint had to find her phone and call 911.  She had to be stronger and braver than the average eight year old in order to save my sister.  Dawn, of course, was laying out in the rain while the poison from this exotic beetle filtered through her body.  I was just sure that she had beat cancer only to die to a tiny bug while watching my child.  How could I forgive myself?!  So then I started getting angry at how unjust and unfair life is and how ironic death is.  I was fully prepared for the ambulance to be wheeling her out as I pulled into the driveway.  But when I got home, all I saw was her car.  No drama.  Quiet.

That’s the moment my panic turned to anger and relief and tears.  Lots of tears.  How could I have been so stupid to let emotion overlook the obvious…I could hear Lydia laughing in the background, I could sense playfulness in my sister’s voice.  Hindsight I would’ve known that Dawn is too smart to play outside in the rain.  And who has ever heard of beetles in SC killing anyone?  If I had thought for just two seconds, I would’ve remembered we have a game that has lots of tiny little beetles in it.  Plastic beetles.  And I would’ve remembered that Lydia’s new favorite game is “Surgery.”  But no.  I forgot everything.

When I walked through the door and saw the two of them laughing and playing (how dare they?!), while I was stressed and worried and scared, I immediately burst into tears.  I am so tired.  I am so behind in everything…bills, cleaning, doctors appointments and therapy sessions.  And today was Home Study day too, so those are always off days anyway.  Lydia acts out and I’m super sensitive.  The combination of all of this…and one of my favorite earrings breaking this morning, and Bi-Lo not having Almond Milk, and my check engine light being on…was just a little too much.

So, there you go Beth.  Eat your heart out.  Two plus two has definitely equaled six today.  Hope you’re happy.

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Sometimes I forget I’m fostering.  I get so in the mode of mommy that I forget Half Pint wasn’t born into my family.  I’m used to the ebb and flow of our life together.  And then I get an email like the one I just read that reminds me that this life the two of us live is not normal.  Two weeks ago Lydia’s mom terminated her parental rights.  I was so worried about the moment I would have to say goodbye that I haven’t spent much time thinking about when she would have to say those words.  It would’ve ended that way anyway; she just made the choice to cooperate instead of dragging it out through the courts.  This is what we were hoping for and waiting for and praying toward.  But today I got an email saying the mom would like a goodbye visit with her kids one last time, and my heart just sank.  For the first time my heart aches for this mother.  In a couple of weeks she has to sit down with her kids and tell them she has given them up…permanently.  They can never come back home with her.  She has to tell her kids that she is no longer their mom.  Oh how my heart breaks for her!  How can you look at the faces of these beautiful children and tell them goodbye forever?  She’s saying goodbye to their childhoods.  Goodbye to hugs and kisses and laughter.  She is saying goodbye to grocery store runs and nights of homework and folding tiny little clothes.  This mother is going to have to hug her babies goodbye and then watch them climb into the backseat of a car and never see them again.  This is going to be a very difficult day for her.

It’s also going to be a difficult day for Lydia.  Even though today she asked me again if she could start calling me Mama, I know in her heart she still hopes for reunification with her family.  She told me the other day that her mom is the person she looks up to most in the world.  No matter how illogical, her mama is still her mama.  She talks about how her mama puts fries on her hamburgers and the way she sings around the house.  She still talks occasionally about going home.  When her mama looks into her tender blue eyes and says “I can’t take you home”, it is going to crush that child.  For a child who asks “why” about everything inconsequential, she’ll want to understand.  She’ll need to know why her mom can’t take care of her, why she can’t go home, and why her mom just won’t make the effort to get better so they can be a family again.  She won’t understand, and perhaps that will be the most crushing thing of all.  She will think she’s not good enough, not beautiful enough, too much trouble.  She’ll blame herself.

We knew this day was coming.  It was unavoidable.  But it’s going to be one of those days that will be lined with more sorrow than joy.  Goodbyes are never easy, but when they are forever, they have the potential to hurt so deeply the pain may never fully heal.  I’m praying that after the blow, Lydia lands in a soft place.  I’m praying God’s grace will overshadow their last moments together.  I’m praying that this final goodbye will allow Lydia to embrace her new life and finally start living again.

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I can’t believe there was ever a time when Lydia was not a part of my life.  In one month how did we go from her not being a part of my life to her being my whole life?  It’s strange how quickly I forgot life apart from her.  I don’t remember what it is like to sleep in past six or stay up after ten.  I can’t remember life without bedtime stories, games of Connect Four, and meals actually eaten at the kitchen table.  And was there actually a time when I was caught up on laundry and household chores?

I don’t remember a time in life when my heart wasn’t connect to this child.  This sweet child that I did not know a month ago I would now die for.  A child I could have passed on the street a hundred times and not thought twice about now consumes my thoughts.  A child that was a stranger to me is now my family.  One month.  One month and I have forgotten that life ever existed outside of Lydia.  And in a strange way (though obviously not complete), I understand a little bit about the way a mother forgets the pains of childbirth.  That first week that Lydia was here was painful.  It was messy.  Complicated, strange, frightening, and chaotic.  But if it wasn’t for these memories being written down by my own hands, I would almost deny they ever happened.  Was there ever really a time when I thought I may have made a huge mistake?  Did the thought really cross my mind that she was too much for me; that I couldn’t do this?  Did I actually think of giving her back?

One look at her beautiful smile and I wonder why I ever doubted that this thing would work.  Now that we are a month in, I can’t imagine life without her.  I heard a rumor floating around last week that since her mother terminated her parental rights, that the whole process may move a lot quicker than they hoped.  There is a family that wants to adopt her and they were talking about trying to get permission for a pre-adoptive placement so she could move in with them soon.  My heart about choked me in my throat!  I’ve only had a month, people!  Please don’t take her from me yet.  And the door swings both ways too.  She told me today on our way home from church, “I’m not ready to leave you yet.  I want to stay with you for at least two more years.”  Two years when you’re only eight is really a long time.  We’re not ready.  My life changed radically when Lydia stepped into it, and although I miss certain aspects of my old life, this new one is pretty special.  I don’t think I can go back to “normal” life again.

Not only is life not the same, but I’m not the same person anymore.  Last week I went back to visit my old haunts in NC where I grew up.  Looking at it now, you would’ve thought time had stood still.  Five years ago I walked away from my missionary life and friends and co-workers.  Last week I walked back in and not a thing had changed.  Everyone was in the exact spot I left them.  Nothing looked different.  Nothing seemed different at all.  Everyone had gone on living just like they always had.  We hugged and chatted and caught up, but it felt so surreal.  I had moved away and changed and when I came back the me I am now just didn’t seem to fit there anymore.  I almost think it is sad that nothing has changed.  Not because I don’t fit in anymore, but because my life is so rich and full and abundant that I want others to experience these changes.

I’m not sure exactly where I’m going with all these thoughts tonight.  All I know is that sweet little girl sleeping in her room has stolen my heart.  This new “normal” is exactly what I hoped it would be.  Life with her is better than life alone.  Now what I’m praying for is the strength to let her go when the time comes.  I know it will probably be another five months down the road, but tonight I’m just wishing for more.  She is an incredibly special kid.  People tell me I’m doing a great job and sacrificing and doing things they never could.  I think they have it wrong.  They are thanking the wrong person.  Sweet Lydia, thank you for this month and for giving me the chance to love you.  You are so worth it.

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The fact that I am just now getting around to writing at all is testimony to the fact that it’s been a crazy week.  Absolutely, completely chaotic and overwhelming and exhausting.  After finally getting Lydia enrolled in school, we went Wednesday morning to meet her teacher.  But let’s cover the background first…You know those amazing little pills they give to hyper active children, well Lydia had run out and since her prescription wasn’t supposed to end until May 11th, we were left without any drugs.  Nothing to help calm her and help her control her actions.  So, drug free Lydia rolls into school completely un-ready to tackle her first day.  I met her teacher, who is the picture of elementary education, and walked Lydia down hallways covered with art work, writing assignments, and loads of kids.  I walk away completely trusting her in the hands of strangers and tried desperately hard to concentrate on all the work I am so very behind in.  At about 1:00pm I get a call from the principle, Mrs. Starnes, telling me that Lydia has completely destroyed the classroom.  She didn’t destroy it physically, but I guarantee there was no learning accomplished that day in the class.  She threw her shoes, flirted with all the boys, screamed and rolled around on the floor and acted like a complete crazy person.  The write up they sent home with her was three pages long.

When I got the call I became a complete weepy mess.  These last few days have been some of the most exhausting of my life.  I hadn’t unpacked her stuff, the cupboards are bare, any day now my boss is going to fire me because of how much work I’ve missed.  The house is a mess, the dog runs and hides, I’ve had to quite leading KidSpring and Home Group and certainly will have to give up Area Leading too until thing calm down.  I have been crying for days…in my kitchen while I cook, in the bedroom while I organize, in the bathroom while I brush my teeth, in the office while I try to get caught up.  Weepy woman.  It’s been ridiculous.  So when I heard that Lydia got taken to the principle on her first day, I was beside myself.  Plus couple that with the things I read in her Diary yesterday morning, I didn’t know what to do.

I spent the afternoon trying to make the most of every teachable moment.  As a mom (I guess that’s what I am now!) you realize that throughout the day there are a million teachable moments.  I mustered up patience and love and spent the afternoon playing in the sprinkler with her, reading with her, and talking with her about what happened at school.  I had her write down three things she could do to make her next school day a success.  She came up with:  Listen.  Be good.  Follow directions.  I thought those were pretty good.  Then I just spent some time getting to know her more, building her up.  Mrs. Starnes was completely impressed with Lydia’s ability to read.  She said she’s reading way beyond a second grade level.  Lydia keeps on shocking me with how smart she is, not only in regards to the world but to God as well.  She randomly talks about Creation and Adam and Eve and when I asked her what love is she said: “Laying your life down for a friend.”  She has this amazing foundation from who knows where.  We just need to clear away the rubble from the house that fell down and rebuild a new house.  But I’m getting off subject.  🙂

Building her up…  Lydia will stand in front of the mirror and tell herself how ugly and fat and ridiculous she looks.  She needs affirmation like no kid I’ve ever met before.  And believe me, I have been trying every second to give her just that.  She says “Excuse me” when she burps, I praise her.  She is gentle with Max, I praise her.  She eats all her food, I praise her.  It’s opposite what I’ve always believed and taught, but I believe that if we start with transforming her behaviors, her heart will eventually catch on.  I cannot reason away with her what happened and how she feels and the things she thinks about.  But if we can control those behaviors, I believe eventually the rest will follow.  And behaviors are changed with praise.

We learned that at school today too.  Mrs. Starnes and Mrs. James (her teacher), met us in the office today with a sticker chart already complete with two stickers…just for showing up.  Lydia was so excited to earn stickers for good behavior.  At 10:30 I got a call from Mrs. Starnes saying Lydia had already earned enough stickers to get a prize.  Lydia piped up over the speaker phone, “I’m a good girl!”.  Yes, sweet child, you are good.  I have never beamed with pride more than I did at the moment that I got a good report from the principle.  I felt giddy.  Excited.  Like a mom.

I picked her up after school (Dawn was supposed to but got in an accident on her way…what a Jonah of a week!!) and we spent the afternoon just hanging out.  We got ice cream as a reward for good behavior, went to the park and played at the “beach” by the lake; we ate dinner and played with toys and read piles of books.  She’s an incredible kid.  I needed today to get past yesterday.  I think God knew I couldn’t handle two of those days in a row.

I know this post is chaotic and random, but apparently that’s how my life is now.  Completely unpredictable and out of my control.  But I also know that each day I love Lydia more, I understand her more, and more things are put in place to help her succeed.  Beth Moore once said that things don’t go from bad to better.  They go from bad to worst…but then eventually you look back and see that they are under your feet.  Yesterday was one of those “worst” days.  I know there are plenty more ahead on this road called healing.  Lydia is an incredibly broken child and it will take years to build her back up.  But today we put one brick on that foundation.  Today we removed one more stone that was left behind.  And once again, we made it through today, and today, that’s all I needed.

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Every week for the last five weeks or so I have had something going on in my life relating to foster.  Classes, finger prints, home studies and inspections…This week it was all about making sure I was healthy.  I had my physical on Wednesday which turned out to be five minutes with the doctor and half an hour sitting alone waiting for them to come back.  One of the nurses came in after that time and stuck my left arm with a little shot.  Part of the process of making sure I’m healthy is to make sure I don’t have TB.  I came back on Friday where I waited in a line that was reminiscence of every DMV experience I have had in life.  They filed through ten people in front of me with another dozen behind, with only one check-in station open.  Once I got to the back, they pronounced me negative and sent me on my merry way.  You know what all that means?  It means I’m finished with everything they need from me to be a foster mom!  However…since my sister decided she wants to stay here for a while longer, her process has just begun.

I’m trying to be positive because it’s a good thing for her to stay here and I know it will be a help for me if she really embraces what I’m doing.  It’s just frustrating standing at the finish line and having to wait for her to catch up before I can cross it.  She had her interview today which was a mere ten minutes compared to my three hours.  I’m really hoping having her here won’t be a hindrance to them placing someone with me.  If they let “partners” foster together, they certainly should let sisters.  I’m just hoping that when it’s all said and done, I’m the one who’s okay with it all.  I had worked up my heart until it was set on living alone and pictured how my new little family would be.  It did not include my sister watching TV while she covered the living room floor with her art projects.  Or trying to help her through another breakup…and another crush.  My little picture included me cooking with my kid, sitting at the table while he or she does homework, living room floor covered with Barbies and ponies and cars and blocks.  I pictured a backyard with a swing set and garden, indoors cleaned regularly and everything scheduled.  This will change things.  I need to find the balance between holding my sister responsible and being responsible to my kids and to what God has clearly called me to do.  God knows I need so much wisdom!  Just praying I’ll stay positive about things that look negative and be the best foster mom I can possibly be.

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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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