What If?

dandelionWhen there are so many unknowns in your immediate life, it’s easy for your mind to wander to a lot of what ifs. What if this happens? What if I make this decision? What if I screw up big time?

I go to that one a lot. What if I make a bad call? What if I do something wrong? I mean, it’s been many years since I’ve had a little one around my house. You’d be surprised at how much you forget. For instance, our little guy is sick. Really sick. Miserable. When do you go to the doctor? What’s a serious temperature for an infant again? How far do you put the suckie thing up their nose? There are so many things you forget when you’re doing this whole baby thing later in life.

And I have always been a fairly laid back parent when it comes to illness and injury. Is it bleeding? Oh, you think you’re dying? Okay, we should go to the hospital. My husband and I may, or may not, have been the parents who had their oldest child go to bed with a fractured arm because ‘it will probably feel better in the morning.’

Well, not so much when it’s broken.

So much can go wrong, but so much rarely does. This is reality. But what if? Balancing the probable with the not knowing is a really thin line to walk when you’re dealing with someone else’s child. Even more so when they’ve been around long enough to feel like your child. Hold a sweet one for enough nights and eventually they no longer feel like someone else’s baby, because they are yours for now.

And this is the thing about foster care that is so difficult. “They” – the powers that be, the system – they want you to take these sweet, broken children into your home and love them like they’re your own, but then in the end, they want you to let them go as if they were never loved like a member of your family. And as a foster parent, you are the last person considered as an expert on the child. I mean, sure, you’re the one they’re throwing up on in court, you’re the one that held them while they shook from withdrawals, and yours is the only family they’ve ever known, but by golly, what if some distant stranger from out of nowhere shares a drop of blood with them? Well, shoot! Lookie there! We’ve got a family for that child!

What? That child has a family. The foster family that’s been asked to take it in, like one of their own, has become their family. Maybe the only family they know. What if that family is where they belong? Perhaps the blood of a stranger isn’t as important as the arms of the people who’ve been loving this child, in their home, for so long.

But THIS IS foster care. You go into it willing to give your heart to a little one that ultimately is not yours. Half of the children in foster care will eventually end up back with their parents or someone in their family. This is what you must be willing to do.

And there are horror stories from both sides. You hear about the foster family that gets so attached to a child that they fight in court for years to keep the child. Then they lose because the child was supposed to go back to their family. What of that child’s feelings? Why didn’t the foster family let them go, years earlier, when it was obvious it wasn’t possible to win? Or you hear about the terrible case of a child who is quickly yanked away from the only family they’ve ever known, their foster family, only to be placed in the home of strangers they’ve never met. Who in the system was thinking of that child’s transition and mental health? Who thinks a four year old, who has been with a foster family since birth, doesn’t deserve a little warning and transition, if they must be given to someone else just because they’re a cousin of mom’s cousin’s sister? And who, besides a system out of touch, really thinks that just because someone shares distant blood with a child, that makes them automatically better than the family they’ve been with for years?

So many what ifs. So many things expected from foster parents that go against natural inclinations.

But if I’m going to be honest about this journey, I have to say, frankly, that this is what you sign up for when you sign up for foster care. It’s not easy. If it was easy, I suppose more people would be doing it. This is what you open your family up to. This is what you expect your extended family to understand. This is how it really is. And it won’t always end up the way YOU want it to.

The child comes first. And you have to rely on your intellect to override your emotions when you fall in love with each and every child that comes into your home. And you must love each and every one of them. This is necessary for their wellbeing. And yours.

Sometimes it is easy to love them and let them go. Even though you love them, and your hearts hurt from the empty spot in your home, you know that true family was the family they were taken from, not the family that loved them in the short term.

And sometimes you have to let them go when it’s not easy, but it’s best. Sometimes another family they find in the future is better for them than yours.

What if you fall in love with a child and they don’t stay? That’s not a distant what if. That’s a surety. It’s going to happen. Because that’s foster care. That’s the kind of what if you take a risk on.

But it’s not the important what if.

What if there’s no one there to love that child? What if there isn’t a family to take that child in? What if that sweet baby ends up in a group home because there just aren’t enough families to take her in? What if that scared, helpless little one has no one to care for him when he’s taken out of danger and needs a safe place to heal? What if that teenager never has the joy of belonging to a family?

See, those are the important what ifs. Those are the what ifs that should compel you to risk your heart to heal the heart of another, if this is your family’s calling.

Because those are the what ifs that matter.

Expectations And Preconceived Notions

frazzled-momThere have been some unexpected experiences in our fostering journey. No one can really know, from the very beginning, what to imagine, I suppose. There are the impressions you have from years of encountering other foster families, the horror stories you hear in the news, the foster kids you’ve seen over the years of being a class mom, and the information you gather from the classes you take to be licensed. All these experiences swirl around and create a picture of what you think it’s like.

It’s nothing like that picture, at all. And yes, your picture is different than mine, and I still say that it’s probably nothing like you picture.

I remember years ago, when we lived in another city, we had two foster families in our church. They seemed like these organized, together people who kept their little flocks of chickadees all in a row. Really. One of the families would come into the building with all these sweet little toddlers and children in a straight line. It always seemed like there were ten of them. Or fifteen. Lots of littles. All well behaved and in order. And then there was the other family, who took in children who were not only removed from their homes, but had mental or physical problems as well. So, they seemed like the Incredibles on steroids. Surely they had super powers of some sort that we mere mortals knew nothing about, right?

I added to my picture this idea of having a house full of five dozen children. And don’t forget, saintly and organized. Knowing I was NOT super mom (and most definitely not a saint), my video highlight reel included me losing children, losing my sanity, and not looking anything like those other, together foster parents. Unorganized and missing children.

Then I thought back to my earlier years of marriage when my husband and I were relief house parents at a children’s home. Not exactly like fostering, but similar. We were young, really young, and had plenty of energy, lots and lots of energy, and we had no children of our own. In other words, no parenting experience whatsoever. We were the fun people. We were the ones who came into the organized world of the full time house parents on off time and let the kids do things their normal house parents probably never let them do. I don’t mean bad things. Just super fun things. Like in a power outage, play hide and go seek in the dark, when all the other houses did the responsible thing, like sit on the sofas and be safe. We may or may not have ended the evening with a small, very minor (extremely little, really), dent in a door. But it was fun. And word spread about all our fun. We played ball with the kids, we talked to the kids, we didn’t send them to gym time, we went to gym time. We encouraged *gasp* dancing and communication. We built relationships with them because we thought that children who were abandoned by their family deserved adults in their life that cared about what they thought. And this hacked off some of the, shall I say, more mature in age house parents. We encountered teenagers who said they would never grow up to believe in Jesus because of the way Jesus was presented to them by some of those couples. We really did encounter some truly horrible adults in those years. Abusers of power and withholders of grace. We were told the way we approached these kids was all wrong and we weren’t helping them.

Inadvertently, I most likely added to my picture the idea that in order to do a good job raising damaged kids, we would have to be stern, no fun, and graceless. This is, of course, total poppycock, but the idea lingered subconsciously, nonetheless.

And then there’s just the fact that I’ve done a little people watching over the years. And I’m NOT saying – at all – that the vast majority of foster families fit the description I’m about to give, but what I’ve seen (even though rare) is this: some families look absolutely miserable and ragged out with a gaggle of children they aren’t watching. I’ve seen foster parents ignoring children who were obviously trying to get their attention, and when they did interact with those children, they were impatient and ugly. At a FUN event for children. It made me feel the same way as when I see a family at Disney World with a mom or dad berating their children and ruining the happiest place on earth. It is sad. And irritating. And it makes me think, maybe when some people take in ten or twelve children, there is a financial incentive. And maybe some of those children aren’t being put first. Or even treated with decency.

And so, added to my picture is the idea that some people will think we are fostering for the wrong reasons.

And maybe some of these pictures are similar to your pictures of what fostering is like. Maybe these are the kinds of things that keep you from wanting to foster.

But, here’s the thing. You can be normal AND do foster care. You don’t have to go around looking like a bedraggled mess of a person with a dozen children trailing behind you. (I mean, I often do look a bit untidy, but that was true before foster care. I’m just a mess. And I don’t like dressing up and putting on makeup and doing my hair unless I absolutely have to. Like, you know, church, or a funeral, or maybe a wedding. But please don’t see the shambles that is me and blame foster care! I was like that way before I started this.)

What I think I’m trying to say is: you don’t have to take in ALL the children to do foster care. You can just take one. Or two, if you feel like it. You don’t have to feel overwhelmed. You don’t have to live in a home that seems controlled by unruly children and teenagers. You don’t have to lose yourSELF to be a foster parent. You don’t have to damage or put your own children at risk.

You can say no to those things. You are in control of what you bring into your home.

And I actually wish people would do this. Not to say that I haven’t seen families with a lot of foster children do a good job. I have (see above paragraphs). A VERY good job. But, over many years of knowing LOTS of foster children and families, I’ve also seen families that don’t parent all the children in their home WELL. Children that get ignored because they’re quiet and the least squeaky wheel. I’ve seen children neglected. I’ve seen parents who have left their biological children craving attention.

And here’s the thing. They’re usually homes with people who have huge hearts. Just trying to do what they can to make the world a better place.

But imagine a world where lots more people joined the fostering world and just took in one child. Or two. Imagine there was a world where so many people were available to say yes, that people who already had seven children weren’t called and asked to take in just one more kid. And then, just one more.

Like the note on my mirror says: taking in one child may not change the world, but it will change the world for that one child. If enough people took that one child, the stereotypical worn out, frazzled, stressed out foster parent wouldn’t exist. Because there would be a loving home for each child (or sibling group) and each child could live in a place where there were adequate hours in the day to address their needs. And discipline them correctly. And love them immeasurably. So many of these children need so much more than food and a roof. They often come from the darkest places in our world, and they need a person who will take the time to shine light into that place and help them out of the night. And sometimes that takes intentional, extreme amounts of time. And they need to live with a person who will fight all the forces of hell to protect them and heal their hearts. They’ve often already been born into a family that has let them down in the most severe ways (although that is not ALWAYS the case), and they deserve one-on-one attention from an adult who cares enough to listen and guide them through the shadows, back into a world of beauty and brilliance, so they can take on the world and become adults who bring light to a dark world themselves.

So, all that is to say this: don’t let the negatives (or wrongly perceived super positives) you’ve seen or heard about with other foster families influence whether or not YOU should do it. Your family is different and you are in control of your home. You become the family God wants you to become, and you and He set the limits. Not the system. Not a case worker. Not a judge. You. You are in complete and total control of who you become as a foster parent.

Make a truly great story for your family. One kid at a time.

Here’s To The Moms

I’ve been having an identity crisis that no one knows about. Heh. Nothing serious, I don’t need a counselor or a straight jacket (any more than usual). Just beeeba24d11f5ed51e826c91076a82c42f2n thinking a lot, “What the heck am I doing?” I think it’s rightly called a Crisis of Mothering. You know, where you wonder if you’re ever going to do anything spectacular with your life. Where you wonder if all the days spent picking up noisy toys and sweeping up Cheerios are accomplishing anything at all. Where you wonder if you’ll ever get to do anything that involves, well, achievement.

And I’m not supposed to be here now. I’m well past the Cheerios stage, and on into the grand part of life where I’ll soon be watching MY children have children. I’m almost done with the tough part, I’m ready for the smooth sailing part I’ve heard so much about. Instead, it’s becoming apparent that the plans for the little one we now have in our home aren’t going quite as expected. What was meant to be a short stay while parents got on track is turning into an unknown. Definitely not short. And I’m back at the beginning.

I’m older and wiser, so I know things now that I didn’t know when I started the grand experiment of parenting on my own children. I know to enjoy the little moments, because they soon pass. I know not to worry about meeting every little milestone according to the books. I know to say, “I love you,” in excess, because there’s no such thing as a child hearing it too much. I know I’m not perfect at parenting, because there’s no such thing. I know there are some things I’m great at, but there’s plenty more stuff I am severely lacking. I mess things up regularly, but I get enough things right to not feel like a total screw up.

And if there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s this: I have great kids. My husband and I have plenty of faults, but we turn out some terrific children. I look at my adult (one, almost adult) offspring and wonder how on earth they turned out like they did with me as a mom. I am so proud of the people they have turned into. Compassionate lovers of Jesus, with big hearts, quick senses of humor, adventurous spirits, and no nonsense individuality that gives them confidence. They are enjoyable human beings and I had a part in that. I claim all the spectacular parts, my husband is surely responsible for any of the lesser qualities (just kidding, hon). Sort of.

And then it occurs to me that this IS the elusive achievement I keep wondering if I will reach. Will I ever finish and publish a novel? Who knows? Will I ever get off my butt and churn out enough art to add some decent income to the family budget? Maybe? Will I ever be an accomplished house wife with a clean house who provides spectacular meals at six sharp? Um, no. Not going to happen. No need to put a question mark behind that one. Let’s be real, here.

However, I’ve thrown stunning children out into the big, wide world. And this is no small feat. Look at the people in the world. Decent ones aren’t always easy to come by.

And I can do it again. With someone else’s child. I can be a part of stopping the cycle for this one, sweet little boy. I can take a child that was removed from an emotionally unhealthy, drug influenced situation, and pour into him love, emotional health, and stability. Sure, this may not be what I expected to be doing at this stage in life, but acknowledging the value in it is important. We live in a society that devalues motherhood. We are regularly sold the lie that even the very act of carrying a child to term is an invasion to the mother’s body, and the invader is only important if the mother chooses to deem it so. Is it any wonder that so many discarded children can’t find their place in the world?

No. Mothering is important. Taking a child and turning out a valuable member of society is one of the most important jobs on the planet. And if you can help do it for another person’s child, more power to you.

So, here’s to the mommies who are changing dirty diapers, even though they just put a clean diaper on that little bottom. And the moms who are cleaning up the kitchen, only to find the once clean family room in shambles. Here’s to the moms who will pick up chicken nuggets tonight, because they couldn’t find a minute to prepare dinner. In the mundane minutes of your day to day schedule, stop and take a minute to pat yourself on the back. Mothering is hard, and sometimes thankless. But the end result is worth it. It may not come with the pay check of a best selling author, it may not involve the accolades of an award winning actor, and it won’t, often times, even garner one second of appreciation from that fit throwing toddler. However, take it from someone who’s already done it, and is gearing up to possibly do it again, the satisfaction of raising an enjoyable adult is worth what you’re going through now. One day you will sit around the dining room table playing (somewhat inappropriate) card games with your kids, laughing yourself silly, and you will realize that the little tots who made you wonder if you will ever accomplish anything are sitting right in front of you as shining achievements.

And nothing else on the planet will ever give you that much satisfaction.

So, mother on when it’s hard. We need all the decent human beings we can get out there in the world. And we need YOU to raise them.

Limbo

c909bdf275b5513eec4752113e4e9152There’s a lot of waiting in this system. Waiting for court. Waiting for referrals. Waiting for parents. Waiting for answers.

Needless to say, patience is more than a virtue when fostering. It’s a necessity. Unless you want to go absolutely bonkers. And you can choose that path, I suppose. But I’d imagine it would make for a stressful life. I think there’s a pretty strong argument to be made for trying a way that doesn’t end in a straight jacket.

Isaiah 30:18 says, “Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; therefore He will rise up to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for Him!” This verse comes in the midst of an interesting chapter about rebellious people who turn from God. Yet in the midst of it, He says these words. These are the qualities of the God I serve. He longs to be gracious. He seeks justice. He shows compassion. Even when His children rebel against Him. How much more for the children we cover in prayer?

But patience is the key. Blessed are all who wait for Him, but I think it was Tom Petty who realized that the waiting is the hardest part. Mostly because we realize we wait in the midst of a system full of people who aren’t waiting on Him at all. In fact, we may be the only people involved in our little one’s life who know Him at all. So, we know that waiting on Him isn’t a magic cure all guaranteeing everything will turn out right.

However, thinking of this verse with our little one in mind is encouraging. The Lord longs to be gracious to him. He wants the very best for him. More than I do. I can pray that He will give our little guy the very best in life, because He longs to be gracious to him. And He will move in the life of this sweet baby with compassion. He knows what our precious one needs most, and thankfully, He is a God of justice. So, as I wait on Him, I will pray these words as a reminder to myself, and as a little wink and a nod to Him, to show Him I know what He’s like. I have to wonder if sometimes He doesn’t get a little tired of His children acting like He doesn’t know what the heck is going on. Like we don’t know His qualities at all. Relying on these aspects of His nature brings confidence during the wait.

I recently heard a story about a child who was inhumanely neglected until brought into foster care. He was ten months old, could not sit up or crawl, had a flat spot on his head, and had never been given formula because the mother just gave him whatever food she had laying around. Imagine the idea of this. I feel such outrage for this child! Now, imagine nurturing him, feeding him appropriately, loving him and snuggling him. And then knowing that the system is working to return him to the people who did those things to him, with little to no change in their behavior. The system is breaking down here. The thought is horrifying. But, now pray those verses about a compassionate God, who longs to be gracious, and who is a God of justice, for this child. This little guy is in limbo, in a system full of people making decisions about his future. But we know a God who can work through this system and keep this sweet child in a family that will love him, and nurture him, and give him everything he needs to thrive.

Then will you pray for three other children who have been taken from a place where they knew love and were put in a dangerous home? Sometimes people don’t work in the best interest of children, but instead use the system as a tool of revenge. Pray to a God of justice that the last ditch efforts on behalf of these little ones will successfully find an open, and unbiased, ear. Impartiality is needed, in order for the right thing to be done. A small miracle is required for justice for these children.

If ever there was a time when the church needed to lift its voice in prayer for the smallest among us, it is now. This selfish society is overflowing with people yelling about all kinds of causes, while true little victims are virtually ignored. And there are thousands of them. Prayer is the only hope for these little ones.

And I just have to admit, right up front, that I am not great at this. As much as I want to be, I’m just not. I get consumed by the daily activities that come with life. I get weighed down with the mundane and distracted by the destructive. I am incredibly selfish and flawed. There are so many ways I fail at following Christ.

Thank God that verse applies for me as well.

Here’s what I know, the Lord longs to be gracious to me, and He rises up to show me compassion. When I don’t have the right words, the Spirit intercedes on my behalf. When I don’t use my time wisely, He gently nudges me with words of wisdom from others. The other day, I met a guy who gets up at 3:30 (AM!) to meet with God, because he finds that is when God speaks loudest to him. I was reminded of all the times I sat at 3:30am with this little one, talking to God and being stunned at how clearly He spoke at that hour. I may not start waking up at that hour every day, but I certainly will not fight it when I suddenly find myself awake at that hour. Perhaps He has something to say, and I want to listen. When I lack wisdom, I serve a God who tells me, “Now if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without criticizing, and it will be given to him.”

I may not be great at this, but I have the tools to be. And now is the time for us to rise up for justice for the least of these. We must stand in the gap. Some of us must bring them into our homes, some of us must work in the system, some of us must support them financially, and some of us must pray. But we all have a part to play. The entire body of Christ must get serious about the orphans among us. The world has left them behind. But God does not desire that we do the same. And we are His hands and feet on this planet.

It is up to us to rescue them.

Training In Fear And Praying In Faith

As a foster parent, there are a certain number of training hours you must receive each year in order to be relicensed. Lots of great fun. Hours of training. Every year. The together foster parents, work them in a little along the way, all year long. We choose a different path in our home. Cram them in at the last possible minute, with the highest amount of stress, just in time to be licensed! The helpful thing about these classes is that you can take them online. Oh, wait! They’re changing this in our county. This year, half the hours will have to be done in person! Isn’t that AWESOME? I think that’s going to be a real selling point to recruit new foster parents, don’t you? Because there’s nothing more a foster parent wants to have to do, but go to an extra place for hours of trainings, in a room with people who will ask questions you don’t want answers to, all while listening to lectures you could be GETTING ON THE INTERNET. Rant over. Maybe.

Anywho, I always decide which classes to take based on what’s going on in my home at the time. This year I split most of my training hours between the effects of drugs on infants, and attachment.

The classes on the effects of drugs and alcohol have all the info you most dread when you’re caring for a baby born addicted. You see what could be and it instills this abject fear of the future. They show videos of children with long term problems and health issues. Will our little guy have long lasting problems? Will he have behavior issues? Will he have a tendency toward addiction? So many unknowns, about so many issues. Every little thing he does that seems odd, which, let’s face it, is half the time in the first year of life, sends the list running through your brain again.

Then you watch the classes on attachment and you see how utterly unconcerned the system seems to be when it comes to the mental and psychological wellbeing of the youngest kids in the system. Professional after professional talks about how important it is to properly transition young children from the home they’ve been in, to their next placement – whether back at home with their family or with a new family. And time after time, they tell story after story about the children who are snatched away from the foster parents they’ve grown up with, and quickly scurried off to a new home with, essentially, a stranger to their sweet lives. You hear the stories, and you sit at your computer crying for the sweet little ones who have been so damaged by the system that was meant to care for them. Then you wonder, what will happen to your little one? Will a judge care that you are the only family he’s known if he sends him somewhere else? If a random family member shows up and you, as foster parents, are no longer given consideration as long term placement, will they give the child enough time to transition, without harming him psychologically?

So many fears. So many possibilities.

And then I remember to put these questions into the hands of the One who loves our little guy most. I remind myself, there’s no shortage of moments His love has shown up big for this sweet baby.

When he first came home from the hospital, he was strangely unresponsive. For a while, you could just chalk it up to the lingering consequences of the drugs that had been in his system. But after some time, that explanation rang hollow. He stared off into space. He refused eye contact. He didn’t want any human interaction. He had no ability to self-soothe, at all. It was weird to watch, and of course, you didn’t just share your concerns with his mom or dad. How would that go? “Gee, looks like those drugs did a real number on your kiddo, huh?”

A well-timed discussion with a nurse gave me the info about how important holding the little guy would be. This awesome nurse, who actually had no reason to be talking to me at the time, is the one who told me that studies show physical touch, and skin to skin contact, would literally repair his little brain. That conversation is what spurred me to snuggle the crap out of the little guy. I may not be able to do a lot, but I sure can hold a baby. Like a champ! Month after month I held him for 18-20 hours a day. I held him as he slept through the night. I strapped him to myself all day, except for the small amounts of time he would sit in a swing. If I wasn’t holding him, my daughter or husband were.

Still nothing. No eye contact. No smiling. No laughing. No engagement. I finally told his case worker to set him up for an evaluation. And while we waited for the appointment, we continued to hold, hold, hold.

And then, one day, it happened. He looked at us. He smiled. He laughed. He did it all within just a few days, it seemed like. One minute seemed hopeless. The next minute, all of a sudden, we had a joyous little guy on our hands. Two weeks later, three ladies showed up at my door for an evaluation. They started all the tests, and I said, “Yeah, I guess I should tell you that about two weeks ago, he just suddenly caught up to life.” After the tests, they all seemed baffled, “He’s just not going to qualify for any extra help. He is meeting all his milestones.”

Well, yeah he is. And he has been ever since. He poked his head out of his little shell and just kept right on running. Sometimes, and I know all parents think their little guys are brilliant, (he’s not technically mine, so it’s okay) but sometimes he does something that I think, “Surely, that’s super amazing, right?” Like, at 11 months, he will sometimes play with toys for two hours at a time. Sure seems like we missed that whole ADHD thing, huh? Or he will hold two little people in his hands and pretend to talk with them. Imagination already?? “That’s super early, right?” He is a lover of music, and he has major rhythm. Music prodigy? Okay, that’s going a little far, but you see where I’m going with this.

A well placed word from a nurse, a foster mom with arms, and time to heal. God provided these things for our little guy, and in the midst of fear and uncertainty, I will remind myself of His love for him. And there’s plenty of uncertainty to go around. The little guy is in limbo for quite a while, with a big unknown future. I want it fixed quickly, my way. But that’s not how it’s going to happen, and I keep praying that the God who loves him most will consider his future. I don’t want to annoy God with my constant yammering, but I feel like He gave me permission to annoy Him in Luke 18. I can’t forget the widow who petitioned the judge, to the same point of annoyance I suppose, who finally gave in to her requests. Jesus says, “Will not God grant justice to His elect who cry out to Him day and night? Will He delay to help them? I tell you that He will swiftly grant them justice. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He find that faith on earth?”

Will He find that kind of faith in me? It’s something worth asking myself. And will He only find that kind of faith when I get my way, or will my faith remain strong in disappointment? This is, of course, the question we always want to remain hypothetical, but it rarely stays that way forever in the course of a human’s life. We live in a broken place, where bad things happen.

However, like the pesky widow, I will throw myself of the mercy of He who has the power to grant justice. I will constantly lift our sweet little guy into His presence and cry out for his future. And I will be the one, who when the Son of Man comes, He finds faithful. And I will pray for that statement to remain true, no matter what the future holds.

The Way Of The Cross

There are so many ups and downs in the world of fostering. For the children, for the parents, for the case workers, for the foster families. It seems the roller coaster will never stop and the unknown is always hanging out there. How long will this one stay? When will they go home to their families? Or where will this child end up? With all our other placements, even through all the ups and downs, there’s always been a sure end in sight. With this little guy, it’s all unknown. It’s all up in the air now.

4f14893079a12dfbded4235dc2730dcb

For the first six months he was with us, there was no unknown. His family was fighting for him. He was going to be going home. But at some point this changed. An end to the ride seemed more and more unsure. And now, there’s nothing but limbo.

It’s dawning on me that every day creeps closer and closer to final decisions and I’m torn in two with conflicting feelings. So much unknown right now. Is it possible his parents will realize the direction they’re choosing for their lives without their baby is horrifying? Will they decide to fight? Or will they give up fighting for him for good?

One side of me would be happy to get my normal life back. I know, there’s that selfish side of me showing again. But I look around my messy house and see the art and writing projects put to the side and think, ‘yes, light at the end of this tunnel means I would eventually be able to do those things.’ I could sleep at night, my back would get back to normal, and no more dirty diapers calling my name. I also think that if they fought for him, the people who should love him most would’ve shown him that he meant more than drugs. What a wonderful story that would be.

Then this other side of me tears up at the thought of our house without his laughter, my arms empty as I walk around the grocery store, and an empty crib siting in an empty room. What would our family look like with that hole? How would our hearts heal? How would we go on with the uncertainty of whether he would be okay if he’s turned over to the people who lost him because they couldn’t adequately take care of him?

I thank God that I am able to curl up in His arms and cry, knowing that He cares about our sweet little guy way more than I do and I can trust Him to love this little one. Each day moves me closer to the reality that we aren’t in control, and I want to be full of faith and grace. I hope to be full of faith and grace, no matter what happens in court.

I will try to remember that people need mercy. No matter what. Sometimes I look at this sweet little one’s face and marvel at how anyone could possibly give him up. Seems so unbelievable. Missing his first smile, first laugh, first steps. To the person who doesn’t know addiction, the idea of missing these things is unthinkable. How do you not get angry for him? How do you love these people who didn’t fight hard enough? Seems unforgivable. In my worst moment, I get mad that he wasn’t enough. In my most SELFISH moments, and how hard this is to say out loud, I am mad that I am picking up the pieces. I parented my children, my last is almost grown. Why am I parenting someone else’s child? Isn’t it unforgivable that someone give up fighting for their child?

This concept of forgiving the “unforgivable” keeps hitting me square in the face in so many different ways. (And not just in regards to fostering. Ha. Everywhere in life.)

When anger clouds my judgment, I sit in my comfortable place and examine away. I scrutinize the actions of others I just can’t understand. Take notes on how they should’ve done things differently. Mentally turn their words over and over in my head, reminding myself of the many times they’ve done the wrong thing.

Then I’m reminded of the words of Jesus, who not only said the whole, ‘Forgive seventy times seven’ business, but also said, ‘Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.’ Sheesh. Why did He have to go and talk like that? Such nonsense to our ears, but still absolutely necessary for true discipleship. Why does my own selfishness come to mind right in the middle of thinking of other’s wrongs? Why can’t I just focus on what others do? Why must He bring to mind my own shortcomings?

I don’t like it.

Not at all.

But I am coming to realize this is the very thing He meant when He said, ‘pick up your cross daily and follow me.’ When are we ever more like my Jesus than when we are forgiving the unforgivable and laying down our lives for people who ‘don’t deserve it?’ Isn’t that exactly what the cross is all about?

In my better moments with Him, I can see this.

In my anger and self pity, it’s a little fuzzy. In the foggy places, I focus on the wrong of others.

In my very best moments, I realize I, too, need forgiveness for the ‘unforgivable.’ How are my selfish desires any different? How is my anger any different?

So when I start my day, especially on the day when these thoughts need to be forefront in my mind because of what I will face, I will swallow the pill of discipleship and I will put on my forgiveness shoes and walk the way of the cross. Don’t ask me if I’m mad while I’m doing it, that is now beside the point. I’ll be forgiving while I’m doing it.

That will be enough.

Pure And Undefiled Religion

This record of fostering started because I kept posting midnight ramblings to Facebook, and my oldest daughter made me start a blog instead. Presumably to have a better outlet for my wordy discourses. Ha. The reason I most hesitated to do it was because I’m afraid of how I might be misunderstood.

When talking about fostering and how it affects my walk with Christ, I hope it comes across in the right spirit. I don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea about the posts. It’s a little of what I’m learning and thinking along the way, so that I’ll remember special thoughts and moments. Some of it will be just to share funny or touching moments, some of it’s to hopefully push people who’ve been considering fostering or adopting across the finish line, some of it’s to share with people that knew me – let’s say – before I was in love with Jesus, about the depth of the love of a Savior who cares about them, too. Please take them in the spirit intended. There’s absolutely no holier than thou coming out of this girl. I have very little holy. Ha.

So, please, as I’m learning and writing, please remember I’m not lecturing. Just sharing thoughts. Especially today.

Raul and I were juggling our latest little guy in a restaurant when a lady starts talking to us about the cute little guy. We explained he was a foster baby, and she said, “My god, why on earth would you do that to yourself?” She wasn’t kidding, she was being quite sincere. I explained to her about the need for foster families for these sweet children and she had no idea why that made any difference. Why on earth would we care so much for other people’s children? She was obviously a loving mother and grandmother, but was honestly flabbergasted at the thought of taking in a stranger’s child. I was bemused at her obvious bewilderment. 

And it struck me. She might not know of the transformative power of Christ. Perhaps she doesn’t understand that kind of thinking because she is not a new creature in Christ. I am compelled to live for these little ones because Jesus’ life, and the laying down of His life, demands it. It’s demanded for all His followers to lay down their lives. Not all of them do it through foster care, and we won’t always do it through foster care. Some do it by being a doctor, teacher, cop, waitress, missionary, Sunday school teacher, and the endless other things we all do with our lives.

I wonder if the church had been doing a better job of laying down its life for the world, if maybe the world wouldn’t be in a little better shape than it’s in now? I’m so tired of the hate and vitriol that seem to take up so much space in our world, all because people disagree about how to approach life. Perhaps if each believer reading this really focused on laying down their life for others, in the very spot God is calling them to do it, then one life at a time, we might be able to change the trajectory.

I’m going to work on this. I’m going to try to be different in a sea of sameness. I may have to swim upstream, but I’m so tired of the direction the current is taking our country. I may swim with snark, but I’ll be swimming in the right direction.

Lots of people don’t understand this particular swim stroke. Recently, I have had an unusually large number of people say to me, ‘I just couldn’t do foster care. I don’t know how you give them up. I would be so attached.’ Which is the complete opposite situation of the lady in the restaurant.

But if attachment is all that is keeping you from foster care, I urge you to rethink this position.

Think of the children who are forced into group homes because there are not enough people willing to be attached. Or think of the babies who will not be adequately rocked and cuddled because no one wants to get attached. Think of the foster care homes that are overcrowded, and therefore not giving the absolute best to each child, because no one else will risk becoming attached.

The book of James says, “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” Is there any orphan in more distress than the child whose parent neglects them, the baby born addicted to drugs, the toddler whose face is bruised by the hands meant to care most for them? There is no caveat in that verse that reads ‘unless you will get hurt or attached.’religion

Perhaps part of remaining unstained by the world is letting go of this idea that we must not put ourselves at risk of being hurt in this world. Maybe we must be willing to become attached because of the children who will never truly have anyone attach to them. Does it hurt to let them go? Honestly, yes, it probably will. But is that enough reason for us to let them remain uncared for and abandoned? I say no.

I don’t mean to dismiss the thought. It is a hard thing to do. One’s mindset from the beginning in foster care must be that you are, most likely, the temporary hands of God loving on a child in more need than we can ever imagine. And the idea of turning them back over to a situation out of our control IS DIFFICULT.

But God calls us to the difficult.

God calls us to hurt.

He took on flesh and proved that sometimes hurt at the hands of other humans is absolutely necessary to fulfill God’s plan. Don’t you think that some of the anguish in the garden was Jesus had grown attached to the people He’d spent the last three years of ministry loving deeply? I have to think on some level He had grown attached and didn’t want to let them go.

But He had to let them go in order to take on the cross.

If this is all that keeps you from opening your home, take up your cross and follow Him. The rewards of showering the love of God on precious children far outweigh the pain of letting them go. Perhaps not in the moment. I will have to come back and re-read this to myself if the little one we so love right now is put back in a situation out of our control.

But I will become attached. I will attach and let go as often as necessary. Because being the temporary hands of God to these children beats the tar out of never being the hands of God to these children, every time.

Mercy And Time

I’m often the first one to say I’m short on mercy, but I must admit that when you’re thrown into the middle of some of life’s stickiest situations with people, God has a way of giving you the gifts you need to get His job done. For a person with little to no discernible mercy in the recent past, I’ve climbed a notch or two up the scale. It’s amazing what lack of sleep and long talks with God in the middle of the night can produce in a person.

When little bit first joined us, his body was still clearing out the last traces of the drugs he was born addicted to. Because of this, I had the hardest time getting past one thing: how do you show love to a person who did this to their child? That’s just the honest truth of what was going through my mind. I made my normal first call to the mom and said all the usual things. I told them I wanted to help them, I would spoil their baby, and I would be happy to meet them for a visit. But in the back of my head, all I could think about was how on earth I was going to get past my anger at what had happened to the sweet, innocent one I held through the night as his little body shook.

The very first time I went to meet the parents, I had to pep talk myself the whole drive there to remember that addiction is hard and it often happens to broken people. I wanted to treat them with the same kind of care I treat a family member who is addicted, that I love with all my heart. I had to make myself, force myself, to see the people behind the drugs. The pain and the hurt. The struggles and the brokenness.

I’m sure they were just as nervous to meet me. Imagine having just gone through birth and having the state come take your baby away. Yes, it’s consequences for actions, but imagine the fear and confusion that comes with facing that AND the fact that if you don’t kick this habit that’s been wearing you down, you will not be able to get that child back. What a horrifying thought.

These are the kinds of things that ran through my mind in the middle of the night, as I held little bit. And what else was there to do but beg Him to give me whatever I needed to deal with the baby’s parents. I couldn’t do it on my own.

I swear I don’t remember having anything resembling ‘thoughts’ when my own children kept me up at night. I remember waiting for the day when they would ‘just sleep through the night.’ The sleepy fog that came with my own children felt like crisis. I didn’t realize at the time, those were some of the most precious memories I’d ever have with my children and I didn’t realize how quickly they’d be gone. Sure, they’re replaced with the joy of having teen and adult children who make me laugh so hard I think I’ll wet my pants and who make me proud of the people they’ve become, but oh, how I wish I’d REALLY known how fast they’d grow.

And then they go away and become their own people in their own towns. The joy and heartbreak of this is unfathomable. If only we could go back in time and grab precious moments to save up for reliving. 

The other day a random lady at an art show said to me, ‘I wish I had time to foster.’ I thought, yeah, me, too. But then I thought about why I have time for this sweet baby. I lost a job, back when the crisis was fitting an 11 year old foster child into the craziness of life. I lost a job I loved, sharing with young women the hope of successfully breastfeeding their sweet babies, passing on the word that the time would fly and to enjoy it while it lasted.

It’s so easy to say. Not quite as easy to do with success.

I’m still a mess. My house is a disaster and the other day I snapped at my perfectly reasonable teenaged daughter, “I just want to shower! That doesn’t seem like a lot to ask!” Exit crazy mom left. I’m now quite sure the whole lack of sleep, lack of weight loss thing is 100% fact, as the size of my butt seems to grow in direct proportion to how little sleep I got the night before. So does my to do list. Growing. Not being accomplished.

However, as I sat there night after night rocking that sweet baby boy in the wee hours, I recognized that the joy of it far outweighs the horrors. There’s nothing quite like being told by the nurse who specializes in my little guy’s problems that cuddling him literally heals some of the damage done to his fragile body. Reconnects neurons or some such thing as that. How often will I physically heal another human being?

And there’s nothing near so wonderful as watching the teenage daughter you’re a little snappy with pick up this little one and marvel at his new expressions and find wonder in the task of bringing the broken into our home and care. How often will I see my daughter minister in such a way? And nothing rekindles love for your hubby quite like watching him pick up that little one, and getting to be reminded over and over again what an incredible father he is. How awesome is it to get that chance at this, ahem, later time in our lives?

What is our time but an expression of what’s important? What did Christ do with His time but invest it in people? Every bit of mercy I work up to encounter this sweet one’s parents is Him working His love through me. Every minute that I still lose in the middle of the night – now due to a cold instead of withdrawals – seems wasted in sleepless fog, but is really just pouring His love into this sweet child.

If you think about it from a modern perspective, Jesus spent His important years walking around with His important people. A bunch of misfits and sinners. So, when I feel like I’ve wasted my time because I can’t keep my schedule together, don’t keep my house clean, and wonder how I’m not in a job I love, ‘making a difference and a paycheck,’ I will try to remind myself that the One I love most had no paycheck, but made all the difference in the world.

 And when you see me, and I look like death on a plate, or my house is a wreck, or you discover that book I was working on still isn’t finished, realize that although you see me and are rightly horrified by my state of utter disorder, it’s all fine. This time will also pass, but know that the blessings of caring for the least of these far outweigh these stresses.

Yet another thing my sweet Jesus always knew, and longs for us all to figure out.

Is There Some Kind Of Plan Here?

If I were to be honest and frank, which let’s face it, I usually am, then I would tell you that before our latest little guy came along, I always turned down calls for drug babies. It’s hard to type that sentence because a) I totally realize it sounds completely selfish, and b) it’s selfish. However, it is true. Like I wrote earlier, we didn’t have intentions of having really long term babies because we thought our house would be needed for some other kids we knew.

And everyone knows that drug babies come with parents on drugs.

I come from a family with our fair share of addicts. And if there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s really hard to kick drug addiction. It can take LOTS of time. During that time, if an addict’s little one is in your home, you are taking care of their sweet baby through the ups and downs of parents who may succeed for a time and then crash. Or perhaps the parents do just enough to keep the case open, but it drags on and on.

As sweet as little ones are, I believe I’ve already mentioned my interest in little ones that DON’T MOVE. If a baby is in your home for a year, they’re bound to learn to crawl, or walk, or, at the very least, drag themselves across the floor. I’m really into the non-moving sort, so I don’t have to mop very often. Or chase them. You know, once they can move, they kind of like to practice. And they want to go everywhere. And you have to chase them. And I’m old. There’s a reason I ignorantly gave birth to all my children in my twenties. Young people are better at chasing little movers. I’m too old to chase babies.

So, now you see how selfish I am. Yeah, I’m self aware. Now we’re all aware. I am a selfish, lazy, old woman who had no plans to chase babies.

But when the call for this sweet thing came, I was assured by the man on the other end of the line that this little guy had A LOT of family signed up to take him and that it would be a fairly short stint. So, I thought, sure. Why not? He’s like sixteen days old. He’s eons away from movement. I can watch the little guy until someone from the family jumps through all the hoops to bring him to their house.

If only I’d known that none of those hoops would be cleared.

The long and short of it is, in foster care, things almost never seem to go exactly according to your plans. Well, in my case, never. Not once have things gone according to my plans. If we were drawing a graph of what MY plans look like, compared to what actually happened, you’d see my pretty picture at the top left hand corner of the page, complete with graphics of immobilized children. Then you’d see a line that goes all squiggly all over the page, off the page to the other side of the page, to the picture of what actually happened, which is a frenetically drawn picture of a crawler. With big heart drawn around him.

I’m fully convinced that things have always gone exactly according to God’s plans. When looking back on each and every child I have loved through my home, I can see, in each instance, exactly why that child needed me. I don’t mean that in a prideful, annoying, “look how they need ME” kind of way. I mean, I can see why each child, or parent, needed exactly the things that I specifically could offer. Whether teaching a young girl how to communicate her feelings and feel love, or helping a mom who needed someone to fight for her, or whether it was a set of parents who were addicted to drugs who needed someone to keep their child without judging them. God always brings the right children to my home.

Gosh, you’d think He had a plan or something.

I was looking at some of my past posts on Facebook, from when we first got the little guy we are now madly in love with. I think what I wrote when I first cradled his sweet little body in my arms is a good summary of those first few, naive moments, before I knew he would be crawling on my floors.

Dear Sweet Foster Baby,

It’s just me, you and the low hum of the fan, in the middle of the night. Again. You’ve gotten a pretty rocky start in life, so I don’t mind sitting up with you, but I will appreciate when you sleep more than 2-3 hours at a time.

Until then, we’ll sit.

You won’t remember us when you’re older, but we will never forget you. I pray that the love and snuggles you get in our home can shape you and give you a certain level of security and confidence for life, even if you don’t know where it came from. Mostly, I pray that one day you’ll know that Jesus loves you more than I ever could, and when I look into your sweet face, it’s Him I see. You connect me to my Jesus in a way no other person ever could, for when I care for you, He says it’s as if I were caring for Him.

So, you go ahead and cry, and take your time learning how to live in a body that’s been damaged in the place where it wimg_2233as supposed to be most protected. In the mean time, I’ll learn to love your momma and daddy, too, no matter how hard that seems, because I already love you and I’m madly in love with Jesus. And I’ll keep telling them how He loves them, too, so maybe one day they’ll tell you.

And when people say, ‘I don’t see how you can get attached to a baby and then say goodbye,’ I’ll try to lovingly say, ‘Goodbye isn’t the hard part. I can’t imagine never having said hello.’ And maybe, if we get the word out to enough people, every sweet, damaged little body will have loving arms to rock them, as they figure out how to live in a broken world, in desperate need of restoration and redemption.

So, go right ahead and wake me up. I can sleep when you’re ready.

Sometimes Mistakes Happen

Imagine the pain of having your child removed from your home in circumstances that didn’t require removal. I can’t even imagine going through this myself. And, honestly, I never really gave much thought to it happening to anyone. I mean, most people have heard of extreme stories that make news headlines, but I didn’t really think of it in terms of every day people and children.

However, our sweet infant #2 and her mother were in this exact nightmare.img_1909

We got a call for this little bundle straight from the folks who removed her. She didn’t have a case worker yet, or a guardian ad litem. And when I was told about coming to pick her up, I was instructed to go to the back of the building, because we were dealing with a hostile mother who may be violent.

Wowza. Okay. Perhaps I should’ve said no to this one. Needless to say, the hubby went along for this trip. Couldn’t hurt to have a large man in the car with me, right? I mean, if I am going to be attacked by an irate parent, may as well have my insta-bouncer in the car for a little back up. After all, she couldn’t possibly take on my husband. Unless she brought a gun. Or gang members. Or ran over us with a car. These are the thoughts that started running through my head.

So, with great trepidation, we went to pick up the sweet child that may or may not get us hit by a car. And we were told that going around back would keep us from being seen and that the mother had been told to go to the front. Okay. Great. No problem for the foster parents. Safety first.

Next thing I know, a state worker is running out to our car with an infant and she’s looking around the parking lot, complaining that the mother was headed our direction. And sure enough, I look up and there’s mom and a very large dude, coming around the corner. I have a slight moment of panic, while the worker is going on and on about how the mom knew she wasn’t supposed to be there and she would make sure mom didn’t follow us when we left.

Great start, right? Thing is, I take a look at mom and she doesn’t look like some out of control, raving loon. She looks lost. And I found out later that is exactly what she was. Lost. She didn’t know where the correct door was because the building doesn’t have an obvious front door. I’d gotten confused by the building myself, on past visits.

But that was the way I was introduced to this sweet child. In a moment of mass chaos, brought to everyone by a system that took a child that never should have been removed.

After my first phone call with mom, I knew something wasn’t right. First off, she wasn’t the crazed lunatic I had been warned about. She was so relieved when I called her and told her about where her daughter ended up. I always like to make a call and tell parents that I will do everything I can to help them, and that I will spoil their child rotten while I have them, and that I want what’s best for the whole family. I stressed to the mom that her child was the only foster child in my home and that she wasn’t in a foster home full of kids. She would be the center of attention. I also like to stress to these parents that I don’t want their child. I’m not looking to adopt a bunch of kids to fill my house. I only foster. I’ve already raised my children, I’m not looking to raise theirs. Plus, I’m old.

And then I find out why mom was angry. She was angry at a system that had seen a woman in a bad situation (domestic violence) and had chosen to use a baby as leverage to try and get mom to do the right thing. Instead of helping mom, they brought devastating heartbreak to her. And on top of that, mom wasn’t NOT doing the right thing. The dad had been taken back to prison the very night the child was removed and mom was never a danger to her child. But even if you said that because dad was a danger, how did that suddenly also make mom a danger? And if the child HAD been in so much danger with this horrifying mother, why had they left another child in the home if she was such a risk? Mom was the victim at the hands of multiple people in this situation.

After the phone call, and feeling one hundred percent better about the situation with regards to safety, I offered to meet mom so she could see her little one. At our first meeting, I got more detailed information about mom and the circumstances surrounding this removal. And then I was angry.

For the mom.

And the minute that sweet baby was assigned a case worker, I went to work on behalf of mom. She had a TERRIFIC case worker, who also saw that this case was out of the ordinary. And then we BOTH went to work on behalf of mom.

I told mom that we needed to figure out how to get her a lawyer. No way did I think she should go into court with the person appointed to her. Not to say anything against them, because I know they do the best they can with their own heavy load, but she needed someone who was working hard for her. This mom couldn’t rely on a person who might only see her case two minutes before she stepped in front of the judge. Mom needed someone in her corner. Because here’s what’s facing a parent in these circumstances: they’re working, often times, a minimum wage job to pay for a place to live, which they must maintain to get their child back. Then they’re penalized for making money, at a job they must keep to get their child, when it comes to the other things they need to do to get their child back. Like counseling, evaluations, and getting lawyers. They have help for people with NO money or job for these things. But people with no money can’t get their children back because they can’t show they can support their child. But people with jobs can’t get the help they need in other areas because they’re told they make too much money.

Yeah, if that paragraph confuses or angers you. Welcome to a system that sees cases instead of people.

And so I was reminded that seeing a person, instead of a case, is of utmost importance to keep this system from hurting children, instead of helping them. Sometimes that is just the consequence of the way things are done before the child reaches your home. I’m sure the police officers who decided how to get mom to testify against dad weren’t maliciously trying to hurt anyone, they were trying to get a case closed on a pretty bad guy. I’m sure the child protective people weren’t trying to malign mom when they told me she was dangerous and out of control, they were looking at the case of a mom who pitched an absolute fit when people took her child. And I’m sure that I could’ve seen the situation as a case of protecting a baby from a dangerous family, if I hadn’t taken the time to listen to mom.

I found it easy to help this mom. I spent all my energy for the next two months doing everything I could to make sure our sweet little one ended up in the arms of her mother as quickly as possible.

However, I didn’t know how important it would be for me to see people instead of cases, until our next little guy came along.

All parents aren’t quite as easy to help.