Five Tips For New/Future Foster Parents

fiveI try to avoid giving unsolicited advice (hey – I said try), especially since “new” is such a subjective word. Heck, I’m new to foster care compared to someone who has been doing it twenty years. However, I’m coming up on three years, and I’ve noticed a few things that seem to be reoccurring themes. And I think anyone who is starting out, or who is considering starting the journey, should try their best to avoid a few things. Sometimes it isn’t easy to identify we’re heading down a bad path, if the path doesn’t seem all that horrible in the moment. But just like with most things, these pitfalls will make foster care harder than it needs to be, and I think we should do our best to stay off these roads altogether.

1. Don’t let someone else guilt you into taking more children than you can parent well. Decide ahead of time that it is okay to say, “No.”

This would seem obvious, but I’m not so sure it is. Once you get all your foster care placements, the calls don’t stop, and at the end of every single call is a child who needs your home and you. These calls don’t stop until you’ve said no enough to not be on the list of people to call. That takes a while. But the thing is, every single time you get a call, your heart tells you that of course you COULD take another child in. There’s certainly a space where you could put a bed in some corner somewhere. And every story is horrible. One time we got a call about a sweet little four year old who spoke no English and needed a home where at least one person spoke Spanish. He had just been discarded by his illegal immigrant mother because she preferred to stay with an abusive man over keeping her child. And by that I mean the state had literally told her that they would provide her a safe place to stay so she could keep her child, instead she sent her child away. If we hadn’t been on our way out of town at that moment, I’m not sure we would’ve stood firm on our one child at a time policy. But you can’t say yes to every child. And you have to tell yourself ahead of time that you have a responsibility to the child or children you have already said yes to. I’m tired of seeing and hearing stories about foster children who lived in places with so many kids that they got sloppy parenting instead of the kind of parenting they needed to be successful. Part of the reason we went into foster care was to provide strong parenting to help turn kids from statistics into successes. And I’d rather see a foster home provide stellar parenting to a few kids over the years, than to turn out forty kids that don’t look any different than they would’ve if they’d stayed in their dysfunctional homes. If you don’t think you can parent them well for the long haul, then please say no. Focus on the one(s) you already have.

2. Don’t develop a martyr/hero syndrome. The foster care journey isn’t about you.

I honestly think this one feeds into the first one. We get the call and we think, “I must take this child or no one else will. It’s me against the world!” No, it isn’t. They will call the next person on the list. When we approach foster care from the vantage point that we are offering ourselves on the altar of the cause, all we’re doing is turning our home into one of the stereotypical foster homes people like to point out as what’s wrong with the system. Foster parents don’t need to suffer for the cause. Foster parents need to provide a stable, loving environment to the kids in their homes. If a foster parent needs the attention and adoration of the masses for “giving themselves to the point of affliction for so many children,” then I’d argue they should get out of fostering. Immediately. Fostering isn’t about getting an award at the end of the line for having taken care of the most children ever. Don’t get me wrong, it is WONDERFUL when people are equipped to do a good job with lots of children. I’ve heard incredible stories of outstanding people who changed the lives of countless children. But you know what I’m also positive of? Those aren’t the people who were doing it for attention or an award. They were the people who fostered day after day, year after year, and got to the end of the journey with a long list of kids who loved them because they did their job WELL. What about the other kids who were funneled through homes with too many children because the parents took on the martyr role instead of the parenting role? Foster parents are not heroes or saints. They’re normal people stepping in to care for a child that needs a home. The least we can do is make sure that the home we provide is parented by healthy adults doing it for the right reasons.

3. Don’t start approaching other people in the system as the enemy. Foster care is a team effort, and every single person on the team is mandatory.

I have been so blessed to have had excellent case workers, guardians ad litem, and overall really positive experiences with most agency people I’ve encountered. I’ve developed good relationships with bio-parents/family. In some ways, this has been good luck. In some ways, I’m just going to say it, it is because I approach it with a good attitude. I take the time to listen to the case workers, who are often underpaid and over worked. I offer my home to them as a place to relax and enjoy the child they are checking in on. I am not overly needy. I don’t complain over every single thing that goes wrong. I LIKE them as people, and respect them as the people with the most control over what happens to the child I love. I try to keep the guardian ad litem in the loop if the case worker doesn’t have time. I listen to them, as well. They are volunteering their time to care for the child in my home. They have to spend endless hours in court, they have to deal with the bio-parents, who don’t always appreciate them. They just want to help children. I give them information about what is going on between the child and their bio-parents, I help them in whatever way I can. I try, in the beginning and when reasonable, to keep the child and their bio-parent as connected as possible. I treat the parents with respect and dignity. I don’t automatically assume they are horrible people, just because they’ve made horrible mistakes. I go out of my way to give them as much time as possible with their children, because odds are pretty good that the child will be returning to their home. How have I helped the child if I haven’t helped the parents become better parents? The children in our homes have a team of people dedicated to doing what’s right for them, the team needs to work in harmony in order to have the best outcome possible. Foster parents can’t work on a team where they view everyone else as the enemy.

4. Don’t forget that each little individual that comes to you has a story. How you interact with them and their story determines who they will be as future adults.

Your approach to each little one informs how they feel about themselves and the place they come from. It molds them. Even the little ones, who are often seen as clean slates, no matter their past. I was talking to a foster mom the other day who has a sweet little eight or nine month old. That sweet baby has been in THREE foster homes in his short little life. Imagine how hard it is for him to learn trust and feel stable. Every person he’s developed relationship with has, for one reason or another, been removed from his life. The most important thing she can do is teach this little guy how to bond. His brain needs rewiring. But how will she remember what’s important if she glosses over his story? Learning as much as we can, and using that information to educate ourselves on every single aspect of parenting that child is vital. I’ll never forget our first, sweet foster daughter. She desperately needed to learn that it was okay to feel things. And to communicate those feelings. It took hours of talking to her with very little response to get her to open up. It took sharing my own feelings about things, even negative feelings, to show her that feelings are okay, as long as you deal with them appropriately. Of course, by the time she left, she had well learned that lesson and was pretty hard to shut up. Haha. Taylor your parenting to each child and spend whatever time is necessary to ensure they get what they need, even if they’re only with you for a short time.

5. Take care of yourself. Find small breaks when you can.

This is good advice for all parents, not just foster parents, but all the more for foster parents. Fostering is often draining, stressful, and frustrating for reasons that go way beyond parenting. Sometimes you just have to step away for a second. Last night, after a weird week of hurricanes and football games, the baby was EXTREMELY frustrating at bed time. I felt myself getting annoyed. So I made a handoff to the hubby. And when the little booger had overstayed his welcome with dad, I tagged back in. Sometimes, you just have to step back and breathe. The better you feel, the better parent you’ll be. Don’t try to take on everything, even when you know you’re at your limit. It’s not helping you, and it’s not helping the kids in your care. Again, avoid trying to be a martyr. Ask for help when you need it. Sometimes, even a ten minute break is enough to reset your mind and you can dig back in with the right frame of mind.

Fostering is a wonderful undertaking, but I think everyone who does it should always be evaluating and re-evaluating. With traumatized children, it’s imperative that we provide healthy homes with healthy adults. Let’s at the very least avoid the obvious pitfalls. Let’s make fostering as easy as possible so more people will see it as something they, too, can do!

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When The Storm Comes

rescueWhen you have kids in your home that are under the watch care of other agencies, they want to know what your plans are when a hurricane is headed your way. Luckily, I’m married to Mr. Planner Extraordinaire. While everyone in our town was running around looking for water and gas, I was busy at home making sure I had other things done because he had us get water and gas two days before everyone else hit the panic button. We had our plans for getting out of town, if need be, and we have everything we need if we don’t leave, but end up with no power for a while. The only thing I can’t possibly prepare for is the rage that will hit my home if the power goes out during my son’s away football game. There is no level of preparing that can help with that kind of fury.

As long as we can make it through the game, we are good to go, as much as you can possibly be. As someone who experienced, first hand, the devastation that Andrew brought, I can tell you that you can’t really be prepared. You just prepare the best you can. There’s no real way to get ready for what it looks like to be without power and water for weeks, to be surrounded by people who lost everything, to be sitting in a house that has no roof. Listening to the story from my mother-in-law, who rode out Andrew inside her house as it was ripping her home apart from top to bottom, about how very scary Mother Nature can be is not something you soon forget.

But you strategize as best you can, knowing that if you get the worst of it, the plan won’t be enough. I see people scrambling around trying to figure out where to go to get the things they need, where to go if their house isn’t safe, who to turn to if the worst case scenario happens. I see panic. Fear. Uncertainty. You hear stories about people being rude, pushy, and downright ugly. Over a case of water.

So, as I was typing up my plans for the agency that inquired, I started to think about all the kids, in all the homes that were answering these same questions. I thought about the kids who had just arrived in their new foster homes, or who have just been put in a group home. I thought about kids who have been in the system for years, and wondered how all these babies, children, and teens are feeling when facing down Irma.

And then it occurred to me that this is how they approach life ALL THE TIME. Their lives are in a constant state of panic. Their systems are on alert and hyper-vigilance at all times, because this is how they survive. Sometimes it comes out in aggressive behavior, sometimes in sullen silence, often in anxiety and frustration. Sometimes they can be rude, pushy, and downright ugly. Just like the people preparing for natural disasters. Only their lives are the storm. And they can’t escape it.

Imagine how it must feel to have no one steady in their lives to guide them through their lives when the water rises and they don’t know how to swim. Think about how frustrating it must be to have no plans for how to handle the strong winds that blow away what little bit of structure they’ve built to protect themselves.

And then think about the stories you heard from out of Houston, where strangers were rescuing strangers. Where people drove from miles away, to bring their boats to go out into the storm waters to pull people to safety. Remember the tears of relief those people felt when they saw a small boat pulling into their area, to get them off the roof top they’d been stranded on for days.

This is what you can be to those children whose lives are in a constant state of storm warning. This is the rescue you can provide to children who are stranded without the tools to help themselves out of danger. This is how you can be a continuing source of relief and strength to children who sometimes live their lives for year after year, waiting for someone to pull the boat into their area, so they can get out of the danger zone, into a life of safety.

Hurricanes come and go, and the national attention turns away from the story. But the affects of the storm go on for much longer in the areas that have been devastated. One thing we can know for certain, the influence of the broken lives of the children in the foster system will be long felt on our nation if people don’t act. Just like the strangers who drive for miles to bring relief to natural disasters, we are going to have to see people opening their homes for the young and most vulnerable strangers in our nation. These kids need some people to step up and open their hearts and homes.

Physical homes can be rebuilt in pretty quick order. The hearts of children take a little more time, investment, and emotion.

We know that our Lord can calm the physical storms in the natural world. He calms the seas with a word. But the only way He’s calming the seas of these children’s hearts is for us to be His hands and feet.

“Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.” – Teresa of Ávila

Less Talk, More Action

I’m going to go on a small rant about one of the more virtuous aspects of foster care that I think our country could learn a little lesson from today. With the furor and ridiculous amount of really petty conversation going on about race due to a small number of idiot white supremacists and a small number of fascist, violent morons, it seems that everyone could take a little looksie at the families in the foster care system, and take a moment to reflect.

Do you think for one second when I hear about a baby born on drugs in need of a loving home that I wonder for one second about what the race of that baby is? Do you think when I get the call about an 11 year old being turned into the system by her family on her birthday that I give a single thought to what race that child is? Does race matter one single bit when a call comes in about a baby from a domestic violence situation who needs a home in whether I will take that child?

No. Because when you’re actually dealing in the real world where people hurt, race isn’t even on the top ten list of things to worry about.

hands.jpgFoster families don’t have time to worry about statues, because there a too many children to worry about. Foster families don’t have time to worry about who hates who, because there are too many families in need of love. Foster families don’t have time to worry about the racism “out there,” because they are too busy making sure their little ones aren’t affected by it in their precious lives.

This is my question to the world of protestors and Twitter warriors: WHAT ARE YOU DOING IN YOUR LIFE TO ACTUALLY HEAL RACISM?

There was a rally in our little city yesterday over tearing down a statue I feel most people never even noticed in the last decade. It’s not even a person. It’s a pillar or something. And from what I can tell from the photos of the event, there were probably a few card carrying KKK folks there. And there were some people there to speak against that nonsense. And it looks like it was a fairly peaceful event. Great. Thank God there was no violence. There was a lot of yelling and name calling. It’s all fine to yell at someone, I guess, but what I wonder is this: how many of them carry hate in their heart against the people on the other side of their protest and are actively dehumanizing people they disagree with? How many homeless people did they walk/drive past on their way home from the rally? How many drug addicts did they step over to get to their cars? How many real opportunities to make a difference did they completely ignore on their way to “make a difference?”

We are living in a country where people increasingly think they are actually making a difference in this world by logging into their Twitter account. Hashtag bring back our girls saved exactly ZERO girls. Hashtag I stand with *insert cause of the week* does exactly NOTHING to help the cause. No amount of tweeting will actually do anything. It can add to the hate. It can add to the ridiculous amount of bad information that swirls around the web. It can make you FEEL better. But does it actually accomplish anything? Not. One. Thing.

I read a story about an elderly black man who evidently angers the younger generation of Twitter warriors. You know why? Because he purposefully builds friendships with KKK members, he’s befriended over a hundred. He’s been told that he’s “hurting the cause” by eating dinner with white supremacists. Then he pulls out his DOZENS of KKK cloaks, given to him by white supremacists that have changed their minds about being members of that group due to their friendship with him, and he asks the question, “Here’s what I’m doing to combat racism. What are you doing?”

Good question.

None of this is to say that there’s anything wrong with peacefully protesting to stand up for things you support or to stand against things you oppose. This is America. That right is one of our best and most cherished. It brought about the Civil Rights movement, giving voice to the truly marginalized. But what I am wondering is: is protesting, in this ugly atmosphere, the most effective thing to do to fight against racism right now? Is yelling at people on the other side of a protest line REALLY the best way to heal racism in our country? Because, from what I can tell, if you really think tearing down a statue is removing a part of history we shouldn’t forget, you are going to be standing in protest with a racist member of a white supremacist group who feels black people should be shipped to another country. And if you really think that keeping a statue is making it hard for race relations to move forward because they glorify our country’s past sins, then you are going to be standing in protest with a violent, dangerous fascist who thinks it’s okay to beat people who disagree with them with baseball bats. Believe me, the extremists on both sides appreciate your support.

I prefer that old gentleman’s method. And he’s changed a LOT more minds than have been changed at any protest, whether the Twitter warriors or protestors want to acknowledge it or not.

I know that it’s hard to discuss racial issues because it is such a personal, sometimes painful, subject. But isn’t it time to come up with concrete, tangible things you can do in your life besides just talk about change? And yell at someone?

Actually change someone. Change yourself. Change your life. Reach out and care for someone else. You want to do something tangible in race relations? Take a child of a different race into your home, and get to know that child’s family, and help a family in need. Go to poverty stricken neighborhoods, where there are people of all races, and help feed the poor. You want to help heal inner cities? Tutor kids that need help in school.

All of the talk in the world isn’t going to make a difference until we leave our bubbles, and move into communities in need.

As Christians we aren’t called to just talk about problems in the world. We are called to take the Answer to the problems, to the world. We are supposed to be actively making a difference in the world, shining a light in the darkness. We can’t do this with just words. We have to live the answer with our works. We have to get our hands dirty.

Words aren’t enough.

“I Draw The Line At Cannibals”

We still have little signs stuck on walls and cabinets around our house, little pressures from our youngest daughter explaining to us why we should be fostering, left over from her successful campaign four years ago. Stats about children going to bed with no family. Inspiring quotes about how helping a child won’t change the world, but the world will change for that one child. You know, the typical signs a kid puts around the house when they’re harassing their parents . . . oh wait, your children don’t plaster your house with signs in order to badger you into completely changing your life? You lucky, lucky creature. Curses on us for raising such creative, tenacious children.

Anywho, one of the signs says, “We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, in order to have the life that is waiting for us.” I was thinking about this today, and I think this is true of so many aspects of a Christian’s life. So often God wants us to let go of the small things we have set our eyes on because He wants our hands free to grab on to bigger things He’s got in store for us. I often wonder about what life was like for the rich, young ruler who Jesus invited to follow Him. Can you imagine what he missed? He had the chance to walk side by side with Christ, but couldn’t let go of worldly possessions in order to do so. His life would’ve been so much more, if only he’d said yes.

I was talking to the youngest about saying yes to big things, and she said, “Yeah, but I really have to draw the line at cannibals. I think God’s probably okay with that, don’t you?” I laughed, and then asked her to explain what the heck she was talking about. Because that sentence totally lost me. Ha.

cannibal“Well, I’ve given this thought, and I could see myself doing lots of things. I could even see myself going to dangerous places where someone might say I have to choose between renouncing Christ or dying. And I can see myself choosing Christ in any setting, except a village of cannibals. I’ve figured out that I’m pretty sure I’m willing to die for Christ, but I don’t think I can imagine being eaten for Him.”

I said I was pretty sure that would rule out a very SMALL portion of the world’s population, so I would guess that God could understand her aversion to being eaten. (I also made a note to myself that if we are ever in a plane crash in the middle of snow covered mountains, she will NOT approve of us living off her if she goes first. She will expect us to choose starvation.)

And then, after I was a little grossed out from thinking about cannibals for too long, I thought to myself I wish more of the church would draw their lines that far away from where they’re standing. One of the most common things I hear from people about fostering is, “Oh, I could never do that.” So, how far away is that line? Not even past opening our own doors.

I wonder how much impact the early church would’ve had if the early followers of Christ had the same attitude as today’s church about being outside of our “comfort zones?” And I don’t really mean this just about fostering, more like even the simple basics of living a life that moves the world toward Christ. I read this: “And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all. For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales and lay them at the apostles’ feet,” and I wonder how it would’ve looked to the community around them if they hadn’t been so intentional about caring for others. Would they have added to their numbers daily, those who were being saved? Jesus said the world would know we were His by watching how we love. He also said, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.”

Perhaps this is why we aren’t adding daily to our numbers those who are being saved. Perhaps this is why we’re losing our culture to hedonism and commercialism. Maybe the world sees a lot of talk from us, but not a whole lot of love, and not a whole lot of action. Maybe the world is tired of seeing platitudes from the pulpits, and tweets from the congregations, about how much we love Jesus, because they’re not seeing a lot of love for the least of these in ACTION.

I heard, recently, about a leader in a church being told he wasn’t being a very good leader if he wasn’t doing what the people who were following wanted him to do. What???? How ridiculous. I couldn’t possibly disagree with this more. Leadership isn’t about doing what everyone else does, it’s about doing what God leads you to do, and then helping people catch that vision. Then going where He wants you to go, not where others tell you to go. Can you EVEN imagine Moses coming down from the mountain, still glowing from being in His presence, and saying, “Oh, you want to worship the golden calf? Oh. Okay. Since that’s what YOU want to do.” It’s laughable.

No. It’s time for the church to lead the way in love. Not words. Not tweets. Not trivial banalities that add to all the other quarrels in our culture. Actual love in action. Stepping out of our comfort zones and ridding the world of the needy. Genuinely taking care of the least of these. Showing love in a world that’s so filled with hate right now. Opening our hearts to the widows and the orphans. The hungry and the imprisoned. The naked and the thirsty. This is how the world will know we are His. And this is how He will show His love to the world.

Let’s quit drawing our line in the sand so close to our comfort zone.

Let’s draw our lines at cannibals.

The Truth About Fostering

It’s been a busy summer. Between the family’s camps, mission trips, vacation, and illness, I haven’t had time to think, much less write, a coherent sentence. I’m vaguely aware that summer is almost gone, and school is right around the corner. Of course, I’m not quite ready. And another summer has gone by without my beach ready body. Bummer.

We moved into a new limbo this summer. Our little guy is officially up for adoption, and we’re officially in the process of adopting. It’s strange. Unexpected. Weird. And wonderful.

Something happened the weekend of my grandmother’s funeral that I’ve been thinking about quite a bit. I had to travel by myself because the rest of the family was out of town, so it was just me and the little guy. There was a ton of family roaming around, and some of them had no idea that we were even foster parents, much less that we had a little one. Of course, there was much support and the usual, “I think what you’re doing is terrific,” but those weren’t the reactions that caught my attention.

One of my cousins, who is about my age, watched with a quizzical look on her face, as I chased our one year old around the kitchen, while she enjoyed the company of her adult children and other relatives (I’m sure you picked up on the slight bit of jealousy in that observation. Ha). Eventually, she just looked at me and said, “You are crazy.”

She was dead serious. Wasn’t joking at all. And all I could do was look back at her and say, “I know.” Because she’s one hundred percent right.

That’s the honest truth about all of this. It is crazy. Taking in other people’s children is crazy. Starting the entire parenting journey all over again is crazy. This life is crazy. I did not expect this to be me. I thought I would be the one sitting around enjoying my adult children while I watched the younger parents run around after toddlers. I assumed I would be doing the things I wanted to do at this age, I certainly didn’t envision constant interruption from a little one who has yet to learn that everything isn’t supposed to go in his mouth.

C. S. Lewis says, “The truth is, of course, that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life – the life God is sending one day by day: what one calls one’s ‘real life’ is a phantom of one’s own imagination.” My imagination wouldn’t have come up with this in a million years. And I’m pretty imaginative. Ask any one of my imaginary friends.

And that’s why fostering, and advocating for others to foster, can get a little sticky. It’s rarely what you thought it was going to be. I’ve been reading other people’s stories about fostering on a Facebook page recently, and some of them are so overwhelmingly sad. There’s so much wrong with this broken system. The world is a wreck. Foster parents who aren’t equipped to deal with the child they’ve been given, children who aren’t getting the help they need from the system, case workers who are so overloaded they can’t handle their jobs, biological parents who simply can’t care for their children – not because they don’t want to, but because they just can’t for one reason or another. It’s hard to imagine why on earth anyone would WANT to enter the foster system, much less why I would ENCOURAGE people to do it.

Yet, here I sit at the computer, once again, writing with the hopes that someone will read this and consider joining in on the crazy train. No, this isn’t how I expected our life would be. No, I didn’t really sit around thinking about how fun it would be to chase around a toddler instead of relaxing like other, normal people my age. And no, I didn’t really want to change diapers again, or potty train again, or . . . or . . . or . . .

oceanIt’s easy to make a list of the reasons NOT to do this. But when I imagine what I would be like, what my faith would be like, having not done it, I thank God we’re here. I thank God we started, not knowing what would happen. I’m so grateful to be where I am, in spite of not picturing it for myself. I think about how Peter must have felt when the boat hit the shore, after he walked on water with Christ. We always seem to focus on the part where Peter lost sight of Jesus, and Jesus commented on his lack of faith. But what we forget is that PETER WALKED ON WATER. Did he stumble doing it? Sure. Did he let the chaos and waves around him shift his gaze off Christ? Yep. He sure did. Do you think for one second he ever wished he hadn’t stepped out of that boat and walked toward his Master? Not in a million years, I’m willing to bet. Peter may have tripped up a little in the storm, but I bet as he walked on the dry land, later that morning, he was still a little light headed from the thrill. And he may have been the only one crazy enough to step out of that boat, but he was also the only one that walked next to Jesus on the waves.

Obviously, I’m no Peter, and this foster care thing is no miracle the size of defying physics on the ocean, but I have to think that when the chaos erupts around our family, and we lose sight of Jesus because we’re wrapped up in the size of the waves, we will feel the hand of Jesus reaching down into the place where we are sinking. And He may even ask us what has happened to our faith. But I don’t think for one second there’s any way we could ever regret stepping out of the boat. Because the truth is, no matter how crazy it gets, the thrill of following Jesus out onto the waves will be worth it. We may be the crazy ones, but we are also right next to the One who can calm those waves with but a word.

So, yes, the truth about fostering is that it IS a little crazy. But I won’t let that stop me from trying to get others to step out of the boat into the chaos. Let your toes dip down in the water, feel that salty spray on your face, and try to remember that when your eyes wander off of Him, He’s right there to reach down and lift you back up again. Don’t let the fear of the storm keep you from experiencing the thrill of being in the deep water with the Master of the Sea.

Why Are They Letting A Toddler Run Their Lives?

Oh. That one’s easy. They’re exhausted, run down, worn out, and completely destroyed. They haven’t looked in the mirror for a few days either, so they’ve yet to get to totally demoralized. Just give them a couple days. The realization that they’ve lost every shred of the sanity they held so dear is coming. They’ll see their reflection, and utter destruction of their self-identity and esteem is just around the corner.

For all us forty something moms of teenagers and adults, who have so smugly nodded in sweet solidarity about how cute those little toddlers are, as they’re throwing a fit in the middle of the checkout line at Walmart, and who have unwittingly said, “Oh, I sure do miss those days,” please allow me to apologize for forgetting how terrifying and truly horrifying those little buggers are. And I only have one! To the mothers too precious and naive for the world, who have had them back to back, and have more than one toddler at a time, I salute you. You are incredible.

When little bit climbs up into the tunnels at Chick-fil-a, and can’t figure out how to get back down, I feel like Jafar in the dungeon, “I need a young man with strong legs and a strong back to go in after it.” The other day, a sweet, little six year old asked if he could let the little man slide down with him. “Yes, that’s so sweet of you.” After several turns down, I felt bad the little guy had my kiddo as a permanent tag-a-long, so I said, “If you just help him sit at the top of the slide, he could go by himself and then you wouldn’t have to keep having him with you.” Next thing I know, the sweet six year old comes down, sans my little one. Oh, wait, no, here he comes. Cartwheeling head first down the slide, head over heels. My heart starts beating quickly and my mind starts circling around all the questions that involve things like, ‘surely they don’t take kids back for misjudging their ability to navigate the playground?’ Clearly he has yet to master the idea of sitting down to go down the slide by himself. It took twenty minutes for my heart to get back to semi-normal and I think I finally quit checking for broken stuff after an hour.

I have turned our once normal living room into a giant play area. There are toys everywhere. Every. Where. I pick up these toys one hundred and fifty thousand times a day. And why do I even have to pick them up? It doesn’t even seem like he plays with toys. He has them, but for some reason is far more interested in playing with empty boxes and the recyclables. One looks around the house and thinks, ‘Oh, they have a toddler.’ But no. We don’t have a toddler, he has us. Right where he wants us. Around the leg, or grabbing the arm, holding hands, or climbing on the back. There isn’t a moment of the day (except glorious nap-time) that a set of eyes doesn’t have to be glued to the little monster. He’s either putting something in his mouth, touching something dangerous, climbing on something he shouldn’t be, or trying to get his hands on the kitchen knives. “Don’t put that in your mouth!” “Wait, how did he get over the fence?” “Stop! That will give you a boo-boo. BOO BOO. Did you hear me? BOO BOO.” He is relentless. Always in motion. Always into something. Except his toys. He’s almost never getting into those.

And he’s discovering his voice. Joy and rapture. There’s nothing quite so glorious as sitting in a restaurant when he’s decided he’s done. And now he wants down, so he can run around the restaurant free-style. No. I don’t let my toddlers do free-style. Anywhere. But he hasn’t quite learned this deep truth yet. What he has learned is that he can throw himself down on the ground with a fully arched back, and wail, when he doesn’t get what he wants, when he wants it. “Wait! Don’t do that. The floor is CONCRETE!” The little dictator thinks that this will work. Eh. Sometimes this works. Sometimes it’s almost impossible to come up with “real time consequences,” in the moment, for every little thing. Yes, I said that out loud. Evidently this is the new catch phrase of the moment. “Real time consequences.” Um. Okay. Forgive me if I can’t come up with, on the spot, the perfect response for these terroristic behaviors. Perhaps the lost year of sleep has inhibited my ability to calmltantrumy lay out a series of ramifications for the one and a half year old, who doesn’t seem to yet grasp the idea of delayed consequences. So, yeah, sometimes the little throw-himself-on-the-ground thing is going to work momentarily. And sometimes I won’t think of the proper response until the middle of the night, when I will bolt straight up and wonder, ‘why didn’t I think of that sooner?’

So, add to this the constant state of guilt that comes with not reading to them enough, not getting enough vegetables into them, letting them watch too much television, and counting that pool time as bath time, and you have an inevitable situation where it may seem as if the little tyrant is in absolute control of the adults in the room.

Mostly, because he is.

When The Next Stage Finally Comes

winding pathWe have just moved past one stage of fostering, and into the next. We have gone from “foster family,” to “adoptive family,” and I can’t tell you how stressful the whole thing is. I’m glad we’ve officially arrived here, so I don’t have to kill my husband, who over-thinks every little court hearing. Ha. There is a collective sigh of relief in my household. My husband’s, for getting the final, final word that everything is working out. Mine, for finally being able to live in peace with a man who finally sees that everything is working out.

I have several observances from today. Are you all that surprised?

I’ve always been the foster parent that is “extremely helpful” with the biological family. This is how other people in the system describe me, when they discuss me in court or in mediation. And, to tell you the truth, I’m happy to wear that label. I wish all foster parents would, first, wear that label before any other. Anyway, I think I’ve mentioned before, that I start out each and every meeting or phone call with a biological parent by explaining to them that I’ve already raised my children, and I’m not in foster care with the intentions of raising theirs. I tell them that I am going to do everything I can to help them get their children back, if that is what’s best for their child. So, the difficulty for me, in all this, has been in wrapping my mind around the fact that we have moved way past that point. I’m no longer the helpful foster parent. It’s been apparent, for a while, that adoption was where this was headed, but I think that the finality of it all hit me today, as I heard the judge declare that the rights of the parents had been terminated and the home study for adoption, giving the child permanency, should begin. This time, my tears weren’t for his loss, but for our gain. Permanency for this child. He is on his way to being ours. Right now, he’s technically in limbo. But his birth parents no longer have any say in his life. He’s in between families on paper, but he is certainly on his way to permanently being part of ours. It’s official, in court.

But as the parent who sits through every staffing, court hearing, and meeting, I think I have had more confidence in the direction things were going. My husband, on the other hand, has had to be the parent getting second hand information about what happened, why there’s been a delay, why the lawyer’s said this, or what they meant when they said that. And, if I must be honest, and I must, I don’t exactly have a steel trap for a brain. I don’t even have a plastic trap for a brain. I don’t remember every single detail of what’s said. I don’t even remember tiny details about what’s been said. I remember the gist of what’s been said. The basic, general approximation of what was said. Close to what may or may not have been said. Being on the outside of the ins and outs of all those meetings has been highly stressful for him. He lacks the, um, personality, let’s say, to trust that the system is going to work out fine, when it does such seemingly ridiculous things at times. Every delay has been a reason for more skepticism that the system wouldn’t eventually do what was right for the little guy. So, today was a huge relief for him. He honestly didn’t think it would happen, until it happened. Ha. Then he said, “I can’t believe this is really happening.” Ha HA. Well, yeah, mister. Are you just now figuring that out?

I think my kids have been most concerned over what would happen at the mediation. What would we have to do? How much would he have to be exposed to over the years? How often would there be interference in his life? Their relief at the biological parents not showing up for that, to make uncomfortable demands, has been one of the only moments of reprieve in the midst of the chaos.

Today, another moment of realization hit, for me, too. We will move out of the stage of caring for orphans. I can’t say for certain this is true, but I suspect that we will not be fostering any more kids for a while. Of course, I can’t be one hundred percent certain of this, and we will keep our license for at least another year (since we’ve already done the training, you think I sat through that for nothing?), but we always planned to do one child at a time, and now that this one child has turned into THE child, I’m realizing that he may be our last. I have mixed emotions about this. I had always planned to help dozens of children over the course of years. We’ve helped four, so far. I’m going to have to think of other ways to advocate for the foster care system. Maybe speaking? Continuing to write, as a constant voice crying out for more workers in the field? I’m not sure. I’ll have to think on that one.

But as surely as that door may close, one door has opened for certain. Our family has entered into the adoption stage, and adoption is one of the familial terms used in the New Testament to describe salvation and the blessings found within. The picture of a gracious God, who lovingly adopts those in Christ into His family, shows our Creator for who He truly longs to be: the God whose desire is to adopt each and every one created, into His family, to be His children and full heirs of the Promise. “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” We will forever be a breathing, living example to the world of the true heart’s cry of a loving God, a Father who has given His all, so that each and every living soul can turn to Him for entrance into the arms of family. It may be dysfunctional and frustrating at times, but the family of God is the one place where you can always know you belong. We’re all a little kooky, but if we weren’t, would it really be all that fun?

And hey, that sounds an awful lot like the family this little guy is getting adopted into. A little kooky, somewhat dysfunctional, and fun. LOADS of fun. Good luck, little guy! You’re officially stuck with us!!!

What They Never Told Me

eldecbeach.jpgThey never told me it would be so easy to fall in love with someone else’s child. You expect that when a child comes into your home, you will make them feel loved and welcomed. You hope they will know how much you care about their security and well-being. But no one told me how thoroughly and completely he would become one of us. A sneaky look like his sisters, a little mimicry of his big brother, a facial expression like Dad, a little sass like, oh who knows where that comes from? That’s totally beside the point. But the instant it was clear he was no longer theirs, I knew it was because he was meant to be ours. People would say, “Will you be putting him up for adoption now?” To which I want to say, “Pull out a picture of your sweet child at sixteen months and tell me if you would’ve put him up for adoption?” He is ours. He belongs.

They never told me what profound sadness I would feel for the loss of our little boy’s biological family. I sat in court today, as his parents didn’t show, and wondered what I would tell him one day. Then I went to my car and cried, uncontrollably,  because I felt his loss so deeply that it was as if my heart was crumbled up and tossed to the side, because I couldn’t help but wonder if he would feel that way one day. Tossed to the side. Crumbled. Can we make up for that? People always say, “He’s so lucky to be in your family.” And I know they mean well by that, because I know what they mean. But that doesn’t really acknowledge the loss involved, does it? In order for him to be in our family, he first had to lose the one he was born into. And I know, in the future, I will tell him how much I tried to help his birth family get him back. I will tell him about the hours I sat at the park with them to help them bond, and how I tried to help them keep their spirits up. I will tell him how they loved him, but sometimes love isn’t enough to take care of a baby. But how will I explain the last six months to him? Do I tell him that in the end, they didn’t show up? Will his heart hurt like mine did today?

They never told me how the plans you have for fostering are absolutely nothing like what will actually happen. We never did foster a teen boy, although, as my daughter frequently points out, one day he will be a teen boy. Yeah. Twelve years from now. We expected this journey to be one thing, and it has morphed into something we had absolutely no control over. It has pushed me, stretched me, made me into a more compassionate human being. It has taught me things about my God I never would’ve learned else-wise. I’ve been furious with the system, and I’ve found myself fiercely defending the system. I’ve encountered people who selflessly lay themselves down for other people’s children. I’ve seen good people cry over the fact that they love these children more than their own family seems to. I’ve seen the best of people in the system. And I’ve seen the despair of people who are caught up in the system, but don’t have the tools to help themselves get out of it, and the grief over that is sometimes more than I can bear.

They never told me how fostering would completely change the lens through which I view others, and the world around me. Especially the church. I’ve never been so aware of how little her impact is on the very people in the world who need her most. We’ve gotten so caught up in the materialistic, me-first mentality of America, that much of the church has forgotten that James says the test of true religion is how we care for the widows and the orphans. We’ve forgotten that Jesus said not to hinder the children, that the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these. We have let it slip our minds that what we did not do for the least of these, we did not do for Him. We sit by and watch story after story of how the world is collapsing around us, and we clutch our pearls and we wring our hands and say, “When will the Lord do something about this?” All along He has, but the church has not taken up the call. And our world suffers because of it. Children suffer because of it. And we should “consider how far we have fallen! Repent and do the things we did at first.” We should return to our First Love and do the things He told us were important. And focusing on making money, staying comfortable, separating ourselves off from the problems of the world, weren’t options. They’ve never been options, and the American church needs a steep course correction. That sounds harsh. I don’t mean it to be, but I can’t help but wonder about how many tears the Father has shed over the little ones with no families, as he looks at His capable bride with empty rooms and hardened hearts. 

They never told me how much harder it is to parent later in life. I mean physically. Wow. The lack of sleep and back pain are real in the first year. So much doubt and worry about whether I can do this. So much guilt and frustration when I use the television to sit for a minute because I just kind of want to veg. I’m not supposed to be chasing a toddler at this age! Am I feeding him right for this stage? I don’t remember, can he have a pillow yet? When can he eat honey? Why have I forgotten this stuff? Thank God for Google. Seriously. Otherwise, I’d be in constant question mode, because when you’re raising your little ones and you’re surrounded by other mommies and pediatricians, you just kind of seem to learn this stuff by osmosis. Now, I don’t fit in with the mommies. They’re all the age of my oldest child. Oh geez. They’re all the approximate age of my oldest child. What am I doing? I’m old. And back I go into doubt mode.

They never told me that watching him giggle at little bouncy ball things on television would bring such joy, and remind me of how precious my own children are. No, they’re not babies any more, and yes, they’ll soon have babies of their own (not too soon, kiddos), but oh how I love being their mother. My children are grown, but now they will have the pleasure and wonder of watching a little one grow the way we watched them grow. They will laugh when he throws fits, even though I tell them not to. They will spoil him, even though I tell them not to. They will love. And I don’t have to tell them to. It comes natural because we are family.

We’ve always had a great family. We just didn’t know it wasn’t complete until now.

Dads Rule, Moms Drool

In the midst of starting over again with little ones, on this, the week after Father’s Day, I’m reminded of the somewhat undeniable fact that dads are the most important people in the world. There doesn’t seem to be any way for us moms to get out of the inevitable end result: the kids will eventually toss us over for their Daddy. Enjoy that first year, cuz Dad’s getting the next several good years.

Who rocked them in the middle of the night when they couldn’t sleep? Why, Mom. Who spends all day attending their every need? Huh, Mom. Who watches Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, instead of Supernatural, because scary monsters are no longer an option on the television? Well, that would be Mom. Who cuts up every single thing they put in their mouth because they have no teeth? Once again, right here. Mom. Who changes those stinky diapers more times a day than she can count? You got it, Mom. Minions, five hundred times a month in the car instead of nice, soothing music? Mom-o.

How great the reward, right? But then . . .

Whose name do they say first when those precious words start rolling off their tongue? Dad. Who do they look all over for in a crowded room when they’ve got hugs to give? Oh, yeah. That would be Dad. Who do they gleefully run up to with excited babble the second Dad comes through the door, five seconds after pitching a ten minute fit on the floor because they weren’t allowed to eat the dog’s food? Yep. That’s Dad. Who do they gaze at with eyes of wonder and adulation, all angelic like, after spending the day wreaking havoc all through the house? Dad, of course.

Of course, I would place bets that this has always been true. I’m not sure, but I’m pretty confident, if Eve had written the first book of the Bible, we’d probably have written proof that even the first child pushed the mother of all humanity to the side to show a little father favoritism. It seems highly likely, in light of my experience.

What is it about Dads?

They are the fun ones, I can readily admit. They do the hot, sweaty, outside stuff. They wrestle and play more. They may even let the kids get away with a few things mom would never let pass. Ice cream for dinner? Sure! Mom’s not here! I remember when my kiddos were little being a bit frustrated by the fact that dad could, seemingly, do no wrong.

But now that I’m trying my hand at this parenting thing again, there are a few things I didn’t know then, that I do know now. And I learned them by watching Dads and kids. And I plan to use them to my advantage.

Number one: I can let go and be the fun one every once in a while. I don’t always have to focus on the “important things.” Sometimes the important thing is playing on the steps of the pool and watching the little guy dump out his submarine fifteen hundred times onto the deck.  I mean, honestly, do I really want to be cleaning the kitchen anyways? No. No, I do not. The older I get, the more I realize that I don’t care if someone stops by and the house is a little messy. I have a one year old running around. It’s impossible to keep the place clean, and what he is doing is far more significant to the future than whether or not all the toys are off the floor.

Number two: I can say no to other things, too. In our house, the most important thing to the Dad around here is spending time with his family. He doesn’t really much care what everyone else is doing or where they’re going. If he’s with his kiddos, at home or at their activities, he’s a happy camper. This used to drive me nuts. “Don’t you want some sort of adult interaction?” No. No, he doesn’t. He’s been busy with adult interaction all over the place at work, and now he wants to focus on making sure his kids know how important they are to him. Now, instead of fighting it, I make time for adult interaction for myself in other ways and enjoy the fact that we aren’t always running here and there, trying to fill our calendars with “important” stuff.

Number three: as the wife of a youth minister who has been watching family dynamics for years, guess what I’ve noticed about kids who stay strong in their faith? The most important factor I’ve observed is those kids have strong, present dads who participate in family. The security kids get from a strong father, who is there with them, makes a huge difference. (Before anyone gets annoyed, I’m not saying that moms don’t turn out good kids on their own. I’m just saying that, over the years, I’ve noticed that dads are an extremely important, and constant, part of the lives of the kids I’ve seen come into adulthood with strong faith. Moms are obviously an important part of this, too, but faithful dads seem to, in high numbers, turn out kids of faith.)

Number four: in my home, the Dad deserves this seat of honor. He works hard, not just at his job, but in our home, to make sure that his wife and children not only have anything they need, but way beyond. He puts up with the adult stuff all day at work, then comes home and actually does laundry, because I suck at laundry. I am married to a giver. I always joke that it must be hard for him to be such a giver in a house of takers, but there’s a lot of truth there. If my kids turn out to be givers in their own families, it will be 100% because that’s what they’ve seen modeled by their Dad. Won’t be from me. I’m a little more, okay, a lot more, selfish than he is. Honestly, I don’t know how he’s lived with me all these years.

Please don’t misread what I’m saying and think I’m saying moms aren’t important. That would be ridiculous.

dad

I just think in a culture that, in a lot of ways, derides dads as dumb and unnecessary, we should remember that this culture isn’t doing such a great job of turning out such decent human beings. In fact, we’re in pretty deep, ummmm, trouble around here. If our society is going to turn kids around, perhaps we should start giving men a little more respect and have some kind of expectation that they should fulfill their roles as dads. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the number of deadbeat dads seems to have risen exponentially alongside of this culture’s portrayal of men as dispensable. 

The dad in this house is indispensable. He holds our family together. I can’t imagine doing it without him.

Imitating The One Who Matters

It’s gotten to the point where I just have to say something out loud. Our family has a serious problem, and it needs to be confessed and owned. I feel like if we don’t face it, eventually it will be our undoing.

And it’s ridiculous. We know it, we see it, but we can’t seem to stop.

This kid. We really do act like he’s the center of the world. We sing at him, we clap for every little thing he does, we tell him he’s adorable all day long. We laugh at what he laughs at, we play when he wants to play, we read him a book when he wants a story. We cater to a one year old. At some point this has to stop, else he’ll wonder why everyone doesn’t react, to every little thing he does, with a big round of applause when he’s out in the real world. imitation2

His latest thing is copying the siblings. We first noticed this when our son came home for
a weekend visit and was leaning against the counter, casually talking to his dad. Next thing we know, little bit can’t walk into the kitchen without backing up to the dishwasher, and casually leaning back for his own version of chit-chat. It’s adorable. He turns around way too far away from the counter, so he has to back up several steps. Then he leans back against the dishwasher about three inches too far away, so he kind of loses his balance, until his back hits the wall. Then he regales us with his funny stories – he talks with his hands – looking up to make sure you’re listening, and at the end, leans over with both hands on his knees, and laughs and laughs.

I’m telling you, it’s the cutest thing ever.

I am glad no one can understand what he’s saying, of course, because I have no doubt he sounds a lot like us. Our brand of sarcasm and humor probably isn’t quite so funny to everyone else. And perhaps it’s about time we filter what we say around little ears. If we continually yell out, “Drunk baby,” every time he falls, pretty soon he’s going to be saying it in Sunday School and we will have some explaining to do. (No, really. Something very similar happened to us with our first born.)

When it’s time to eat, all you have to say is the word, ‘Grace,’ and his little hands shoot up in the air, ready to grab a hand for prayer time. The head bows very seriously, and we all giggle. It’s just so precious, it’s hard to get to the business of thanking God for the upcoming meal when such serious, darling prayer is taking place.

It’s a very daunting thing when you think about it, this idea of imitation. These little ones God places in our home, whether for days, weeks, months, or years, are picking up lots of things from us. They’ll see the good, the bad, and the ugly, but what we’ll most need them to see is that we are imitating Christ. Of course, this is true for all parents, but sometimes it feels like more pressure with the fosters. I mean, you’re bringing these kids into your home, from chaos, to show them something different, relief from their stormy lives, to administer salve to their wounded hearts. Sometimes it feels like you have to get it right or you’ve blown their only chance to experience what life is supposed to look like in family. I can’t imagine anything more horrifying than bringing a sweet one in, and them leaving without having felt some piece of Jesus from each of us.

How we live matters. Sometimes having a little one around, copying your every move is a good reminder of that.

This mandate to imitate Christ is a tricky thing. So many versions of Him, so many opinions about Him, so many competing ideas about who He was. Going straight to the source is the safest bet. Ephesians says, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.”

So, I look to this little one to see a perfect picture of how I am to live. Just as this sweet little one emulates the big kids because he thinks every single thing they do is awesome, so are we to mimic the love and sacrifice of our Savior, laying down our lives as an offering. “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” Paul says we do this, in large part, by walking in love. And I realize this is WHY the little one wants to do exactly what we do. He loves us because he knows we love him, so he is doing his best to become like us. And by copying us, he is becoming one of us a little more each day.

Walking in love is easy with such a sweet little thing. Walking in love with the other people, out there in the world, isn’t quite so easy. I’m having a hard time with this, as of late.

But I’m aware that, like this little one, if I am to show how much I love Him, I have to constantly be working toward being like Him. It’s not easy. Honestly, there are a LOT of irritating people in this world. They flutter in and out of our lives like sand gnats at the beach. You really want to smack them all, but there’s always another swarm of them just a little further up the beach. Best to avoid the swarms altogether. Or perhaps, in the case of people, not bugs, it’s best to learn, a little more each day, how to see them the way Christ sees them. And learn to love.

Well, crap. That means I have to quit doing what I naturally want to do, and start copying Jesus, whether I feel the way He wants me to or not. Eventually, if I copy Him enough, it will become more natural and I will be like Him before I know it.

Or in a couple dozen years, anyway.

All I know is I WANT to want to love like Him. I want to see people the way He sees them. I want to look at the people who annoy me and see the precious individual inside with understanding eyes. I want to quit thinking things like, ‘Yeah, well Jesus got a whip out and cleared the temple,’ and I want to quit fantasizing about ways I can work ‘brood of vipers’ and ‘whitewashed tombs’ into clever takedowns of people who frustrate me. Heh. Instead, I want to be the Jesus who saw past the self righteousness of a rich, young ruler and called on Him to follow. I want to be the Jesus who bent down and wrote in the sand as He saved the life of an adulterous woman. I want to be the Jesus who asked for a drink of water from the outcast. Because, after all, my self righteous anger at people who wrong me looks nothing like the righteous anger of Jesus in the temple. And, in the end, Jesus died for the very people He drove out that day. I want to be the Jesus who dies for the people who hurt Him.

I’m not there yet. The other day I saw a snarky comment on Facebook by a particularly difficult person to love and my first thought was not very Jesus-y. What I want to do is be the kind of person that is so busy leaning up against the dishwasher, having a talk with Jesus, that I can’t help but see her as a person in need of patient love. Long suffering love. Patient and long suffering, key words. Geez. There I go again. Stepping away from the dishwasher.

Like I said, I’m working on it.