Thursday, May 19, 2016

370 Days

When we met two little displaced girls in the dark on our front walkway last Spring, we were told to expect this to resolve in a few months. Last week marked one year since our oldest foster daughter, Bug, came to live in our home.
One year.
52 weeks.
365 bedtimes.

Unlike an anniversary to celebrate, May 13th brought mixed emotions. What do you do with a day that represents brokenness, removal and the reorientation of a little life? I chose to lay low and not say much, until bedtime when she brought it up.

As I was tucking her in, her abrupt words sliced through the fading evening light. "I've lived here a year now. I'm never going home, am I?"
Gulp.

A long conversation followed. It was full of love but devoid of promises or timelines because decisions about outcomes aren't mine to make--nor are they hers. This is where we live...running a race with no idea of the length or challenges remaining on the course. One day we will round a corner and spot a finish line, but until then we run--loving, stumbling and learning-- together.

This week I noticed another trend--second timing. Today is her second field day in our home and tomorrow is her second last day of school in our family. Again, this trend is bittersweet. We have a trove of memories together. There is depth to our relationship. But there is now a widening gulf in time between her old life and this one. What we initially viewed as a layover on her journey has extended to an ever-lengthening chapter.

She's even come to embrace that while I am not "real" Mommy, I am "right now" Mommy for however long God sees fit. I cannot imagine the past year of my life without Bug and her sisters in it. Our hearts and lives are forever changed.

And tomorrow we start our second Summer break.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Regarding Honors Day

Yesterday our school held its annual Honors Day, recognizing students for academic excellence and strength of character. It was a day of mixed emotions, because (like real life) everyone does not get a medal.

There was the expected pride and jubilation by those receiving the awards (and their paparazzi parents) as well as disappointment and borderline-shame from those whose names were not called upon to be honored. The first graders joyfully devoured the dum dum suckers that had apparently been handed out to keep them quiet. Some of the 2nd & 3rd grade boys on the aisle stretched for high fives with each recipient as they walked forward to be recognized.

Many of the older elementary students seemed to sit up straighter with the announcement of each category and shrink back a little with resignation when their name was not the one called for their grade level. There was even the unfortunate muttering-under-breath from a handful of children who haven't yet mastered the art of sportsmanship or editing their self expression.

Our school's tradition is to keep all awards a secret. Parents of children who are being recognized receive a cryptic email stating "Your child is receiving an award. Please do not discuss this with anyone." The specific child, nor the award are revealed. For those of us with multiple children there is the added twist of wondering which will be recognized and in what area. I found that I, too, sat up a little straighter each time a 5th grade award was on the agenda.

It can be tempting as parents to view awards days as a measure of us and how well our little people are turning out. In doing so, we can relegate our children to projects we are developing. Does the world approve of them? From my adoring mother's perspective, it was plausible that each of our trio could have been recognized in some area. They are bright, precocious, growing 5th graders who are (mostly) kind...and so are dozens of others of their peers. In the end, 7 of the 46 in their class received individual honors, including 1/3 of my trio.

After all the names had been called, a mom of three children (spread out in different grades) turned to me and asked if I was nervous about handling the 'fallout' of only one award. As I sat in the bleachers and pondered the question I thought: This is the stuff of life lessons.

In our own home we had an immediate opportunity to practice celebrating with those who have been recognized and encouraging those who didn't have their moment in the sun this time. I think social media makes this true even in homes without multiple same aged children. This week my Facebook timeline and Instagram feed are full of rightfully proud parents. The parents, after all, are privy to just how hard a child has been working in a subject area, the obstacles that have been overcome and how this recognition may have been just what was needed in a particular season to urge a child to keep going.

After the ceremony, I had a little one-on-one time running errands with one of my non-recognized children. We were birthday party planning and the subject of the awards ceremony had not been discussed. As we walked down the snack aisle at Kroger he commented matter of factly, "I try a lot of things, but the only trophies I have ever received are for participation." He didn't betray any sadness or sour grapes per se...merely a somewhat resigned observation.

He went on to comment on a few of the specific recipients and how well deserved their honor had been. Although it was mostly a kid-led conversation with no lecture from Mom (this time) my heart lept at the real life sweetness. What I LOVE most about motherhood are the moments of realization as our kids start to put together their understanding of how the world works.

In those moments I am so grateful for the perspective from 41 1/2 years of living and all the more committed to being a centered adult who does not ride the roller coaster of tween emotions.

Contemplating the day, I was flooded with memories of many awards days in my past--some where I felt overwhelmed by an honor and others when I felt overlooked by not having my name called. I have been on both sides--flattered and frustrated.

In a world full of participation trophies, I value the tradition of awards--to lift up examples to which others can aspire and to say "I see you, great job." I rejoice with the kid in my home who was honored--and the fresh wind it put in that child's sails. The excited faces of the kids who were honored were precious and moving. Hooray for the noteworthy kids!

But I also empathize with the ones who didn't get a prize this time. Some of them get their kudos on a sports field or court, others from an audience as they perform, but some of them haven't yet had an outstanding talent or ability emerge that earned them public recognition. Everyone blooms in different ways and at various times. It is important to teach our unrecognized children that the awards and medals aren't to be expected, nor the measure of their worth or sole motivation for good work. Awards are simply the icing on top.

Our experience also serves as a parenting reminder to rejoice over success all along the journey in meaningful and sincere ways. In may not be a public medal, but a pat on the back, an eyeball to eyeball congratulations on a new skill or a sticky note on a bedside table complimenting a budding character trait go a long way. In the long run being seen, affirmed and valued is what all of us seek--and that should never be solely dependent on a Spring awards day.

Monday, May 02, 2016

Because You Don't Always Know the Back Story

I had a restorative brunch with some of my dearest friends this morning--an incredibly therapeutic way to start a busy Spring week. Among the many turns our conversation took was some confession on my part of an insecurity I am carrying related to one of my children.

I stop by the school a few times a week with a delivery that to a casual observer would seem absurd. Honestly, before I was in the situation I would have judged my actions as enabling, coddling from a Mama with too much time on her hands. Maybe in a few years, I will look back with a different perspective--but for now, they seem right, loving and appropriate.

My pride wants to explain why I am there and justify my decision--but my kids are now at an age where their story is not always mine to tell. It is not my responsibility to satisfy the curiosity of others or to assuage my pride by justifying actions. I'll risk judgment to protect my child's privacy and preserve our trust.

As I was talking with my friends, one of them teared up and shared a similar story from her adolescence--when her mother came to the school parking lot every day during PE to help her dress out so the other girls in the locker room wouldn't see her back brace and tease her. As tears streamed down her face she said, "I don't remember any of her lectures or specific lessons she intended for me at that age--but I remember that my Mama made sure I felt safe and loved."

We all laughed through our tears that this sacrificial act by her mother likely caused people who didn't understand the back story to label her in a negative way. I cringed at the realization I have certainly made the same mistake with my peers.

As an ex-Montessori Mama, a believer in empowering our kids, fostering independence and teaching our kids to be brave--I feel like a bit of a hypocrite. Yet, I am growing to realize that the most dangerous mistake we can make as parents is making broad, sweeping generalizations that we then cling to for the sake of our pride.

I am learning that mothering God's way means abiding in Him. Yes, there are general rules that always hold true--but those are fewer and farther between than I previously thought. God's grace is sufficient for TODAY--so I am trusting Him moment by moment, step by step and decision by decision. The road is different for each child. I'm trusting their Creator as my guide.

Furthermore, it is not my job to judge another Mama doing the same thing.

As we race toward the finish line of elementary school and look towards all the awkward, anxiety producing, exciting growth of middle school, I pray God will keep reminding me there is generally a lot more to the story than what we see on the surface--and most of us are just doing the best we can!

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Myth of Perfect Parenting

As a first time parent 12 years ago, I left few stones unturned in my efforts to parent well. A great deal of research went into what types of bottles, diapers, rash creams, formulas, strollers, cribs, sleep training, detergents to purchase...even what music to play in the nursery. Keenly aware this was likely my one shot at parenting, this type A personality wanted to do well. I didn't think of it as perfectionism...but more so as good stewardship of what I had been entrusted.

Eleven years later as first time foster parents, my pendulum had swung far in the other direction. Of course I still possess a desire to serve well, but my road tested and oft-humbled ego had a much more realistic and practical approach. We will keep the children God brings to us safe--and love them. This was essentially my strategy: Our family is functioning pretty well...these children will just get on board. Clearly it will be better than the difficult circumstances from which they have come. In its own way, this too, felt like stewardship.

As time has built bonds with these girls and my bio children have morphed into full-fledged tweens, I have found myself somewhere in the middle of these two extremes. Needs of the children have come to light over time. I have tried to dig in and meet each where they are and in the process found myself frustrated, exhausted and inconsistent. Being pushed to the limits of self has led me at times to take on a "whack a mole" approach--dealing with squeaky wheels and burning bushes. This from the girl who has a written family vision statement... How God must laugh!

Through this process I have realized that 'perfectly' parenting each of my current five is impossible. I am drinking from a fire hose. There is just not enough time in the day, energy in my body or insight in my mind and heart to give them all a perfect childhood. I am not every referring to Pinterest worthy meals, pony rides and perfect braids...I gave up on that long ago. Some days I struggle to cover basic table manners and homework time--much less reach their hearts and combat the lies that already plague each of them to some degree.

My flesh has failed. I cannot do this with the excellence I desire.

This realization was simultaneously freeing and deep-sigh inducing.
Am I in over my head?
Am I doing more damage to these kids than good?
What were we thinking signing up to take on more when we already had our hands full with three?
Were we obedient or arrogant?

As I confessed all this to God over the course of a few weeks of somewhat hand-wringing prayer, He sent me perspective-shifting and peace-bringing truth.

"Today, we groan as we serve God, because we know all too well our handicaps and blemishes, but one day we shall serve Him perfectly!" Warren Wiersbe

And because that quote came from a study I am currently doing on the book of Revelation, it led to a revelation of my own: We simply cannot serve perfectly this side of heaven.

Furthermore, these people I have been subconsciously trying to polish up and perfect are children...little, immature but growing people. The point of childhood is to train them up no doubt, but we are preparing to launch them into the world as adults--not place them in museums as flawless specimens. They are each unique works of art, full of imperfection and quirks.

As I have received calls from teachers about issues in need of addressing (in bios and fosters), sat across from psychologists and engaged in conferences with faculty and my husband I have had to giggle that 'perfecting' a child ever crossed my mind. After all, at 41 I am more aware of my own inadequacies, weaknesses and vulnerabilities than ever. We all have a long way to go--and this is the journey of life.

I am not for throwing in the towel and settling for mediocrity...but I am a huge fan of perspective. Stop. Breathe. Laugh. Savor. Coach. Love. And agree that the only way to make it through this parenting gig with our sanity and our faith is to take it all one grace-filled day at a time.

Regardless of how the current circumstances line up with my strategy or plan, "THIS is the day the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it." Psalm 118 NASB

Thursday, April 21, 2016

To the bio parent of my foster child

In the last couple of months God impressed it upon my heart to reach out to one of my foster children's biological parents. After going through the appropriate channels for permission, I was able to get a letter out recently--our first communication in 11 months. I heard it was received with tears.

I didn't know if God intended to open a channel to ongoing communication, or if it was to be a one time letter, so I went with a basic introduction, high level update on the girls and encouragement that redemption is a gift offered to everyone--no sin was too great for God to be waiting on the other side with outstretched arms for a future of healing and hope.

That 8 1/2 x 11 sheet of copy paper was scrawled out between the daily loads of her babies' clothing in my laundry room and bathed in prayer. Honestly, it merely scratched the surface of all the words I have for this parent and those of others we have had in our home.

In the last year as four foster children have lived with us for periods of time ranging from 10 days to 11 months, I have pondered all the things I would want to say to their parents, if given the chance.

None of these children arrived via a typical adoption scenario where I would express gratitude for their parents' bravery in placing these children in a situation where they could have a more secure life. These children were all involuntarily removed for various reasons--often combinations of metal health, neglect, incarceration, substance abuse.

Many of my imagined conversations were full of frustration and anger. As children weep uncontrolled, angry tears that I cannot fix, suffer panic attacks, experience nightmares--or take out their negative emotions on me I disrespectful ways-- I have less than loving thoughts.

I wish I could video the gut-wrenching tantrums and take them to high school classrooms with the message: THIS is the cost of drug addiction, domestic violence, living a tough gangsta life..
I cannot look at an arrest record in the paper without thinking about the number of children each mugshot represents. My mind reels with questions I want to shout:
How could you do this to an innocent child?
What drug/man/hurt/crime was worth missing tucking your baby into bed at night or watching them master something new?
How does it feel to know someone else is rocking your crying child, being gifted their artwork and receiving their goodnight hugs and kisses?
Why can't you get it together for your babies' sake?

When compassion wins, I am saddened by just how deeply imprisoned in sin/illness/addiction/past hurt these parents must be--because who willingly endangers or neglects a child? It is from this place I can genuinely pray for restoration and healing. I know THIS is the place from which I must serve--despite how emotionally messy it can feel.

In many ways it would be simpler to just make these birth families "bad" and the system a "good" savior--but if you are reading this you are old enough to know real life isn't that simple. Looking into the pasts of many of these parents I realize they are the products of abuse, neglect and painful childhoods themselves. They need deliverance from their past and healing too.

This perspective changes the way I foster parent. It leads me to pray with the children for the parents--that they would know restorative, redemptive healing and love. It also leads me to zone in on truth with these kiddos--the importance of respect for authority, boundaries, responsibility, spiritual connection, work ethic and education.

As I was halfway through writing this post last week I received a response letter from the birth parent--it was open, kind, grateful and full of hope. It also requested that I continue to correspond. My oldest foster daughter reveled in the fact that we are pen pals. I saw an immediate change in her demeanor--she became much softer and affectionate towards me. Funny how peacemaking has that effect.

And like most everything else in this foster journey, I have no idea what God is up to so I am holding on for the ride.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Hope Blooms

This has been a dark Winter in my soul.

In January we were led to request the removal of a foster child from our home--a decision I never, EVER would have understood until it happened in my own family life. We have readjusted our family dynamic for the third time in 11 months--from family of 5 to family of 7 to family of 8 and then a different version of family of 7.

We've been weary, confused--even resentful--which has brought guilt and shame. For a while it seemed the more unselfish we became with our bio family--the more selfish we felt as we tried to cling to the remaining few things that were just 'ours.'

After court a couple of weeks ago people asked if we were pleased with the outcome and my honest response was that we don't even know the specific outcome we are hoping for anymore. Of course we desire growth and safety for our girls and their siblings...but the specific way God plans to deliver that is still not clear.

It feels like we are in a vast, desolate land at this point in the journey--wandering, waiting to see if another court date in late Summer will provide any more direction. As I thought about this metaphor, I was reminded of a verse our pastor shared with us a few years ago during a very difficult circumstance.

"Even the wilderness and desert will rejoice in those days; the desert will blossom with flowers."  Isaiah 35:1

And as if on cue, just as new Spring buds were erupting in my yard, an almost forgotten fractured relationship experienced its own new life. An envelope appeared--literally years after we had given up on resolution--its contents suggesting that as we surrendered God had kept working to restore. Yes, indeed, in the desert a rose will bloom.

The reminder that God's timetable is rarely in line with our own breathed new winds of hope into my sails. My spirit felt lifted by the reminder that in God's economy stories aren't over until He says they are. He is in the redemption business. Our obedience in humility, justice and mercy are not in vain.

"I will not cause pain without allowing something new to be born, says the Lord" Isaiah 66:9

What a promise! Nothing is wasted--even pain and dark Winters. I am grateful for the azaleas, cherry blossoms and other Spring buds--reminding me that what we perceive as death and dormancy often clouds the new birth that will follow.

As if God has lifted a veil, I see signs of life all around and am reminded that He is in the business of making all things new. He is Creator, Healer, Restorer...but we must have faith during the dark days that Spring is coming and new life always comes through the pains of birth.

We have our laughter back. Joy is returning to my heart--and the impact on my marriage and the little lives under this roof is its own reward.  I'm recommitted to marriage, motherhood and family as a call to joyful service rather than the attitude of woe-is-me frustrating drudgery I was allowing to infiltrate my attitude.

I give up on trying to figure out where this is going to end up--and choose to lean hard into Him today--moment by moment instead.

I am so grateful for a God that leads and instructs me time ad again--always leaving me with a better glimpse of who He is.

O, Spring, welcome to my yard and especially to my heart!

Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Night Before Court

It has been 10 1/2 months since the phone call asking if we could take in two little girls. All we were told on that Spring afternoon was gender, age and names (ironically, one of which was wrong). Until they showed up on our doorstep, we had no idea about their race, hair color or last names--much less the more intimate details like what foods they like and don't, favorite colors, future hopes, fears and shoe size.

We entered into foster care hoping to provide some breathing room for a family in crisis--feeling called to make space for troubled adults to work out their issues and be reunified with their children. In the last 10 months glimpses of a complicated back story have come bit by bit through our girls, their siblings and some good old fashioned google/facebook searching.

After all this time, I am still trying to put together the story that led to this place... amazed at how the choices of people I had never met could so powerfully impact the life of my family. We are forever changed as a result of the struggles of these strangers.

We've done our best to keep going with "normal life." This week it was Spring Break, Easter & a birthday. Tomorrow I will be back at the courthouse--for the 5th time in 10 months--to hear what other virtual strangers (attorneys, judge, experts) think about the next steps in these girls' lives. Honestly, one of the most surreal aspects of this process/system is that despite our intimate involvement as interim parents, I will be present as a mere spectator. I am not required to attend, nor will I be called upon to speak or offer an opinion.

The fate of these girls, their siblings and my little family will be directly effected by decisions and timelines--and we don't have the slightest idea about the outcome. THIS is the most challenging (and sanctifying!) part of being a foster parent--the complete lack of control. Frankly, the longer we are in this role the more I have learned to accept it. The outcome I envision has changed drastically and repeatedly in the last few months. My role is to serve, not to decide.

Although I am an advocate at heart, I no longer feel confident about what direction I am even hoping this all goes. The Lord as been teaching me there is a fine line between advocacy and arrogance. I think of Peter trying to stop the high priest's servant who came to collect Jesus that fateful night in the Garden--as if he knew better than our Lord what should happen next.

The timing of this season seems to be no small coincidence. I feel God showing me how this is an Easter story.

I carry an agony of the difficult goodbyes/transitions in our future, the Friday hopelessness of all the pain these little hearts carry, the silence of Saturday waiting and wondering if God has forgotten about us and the Sunday joy of resurrection and redemption...I am hopeful, exhausted, and slightly afraid. Mostly, I just want to know the plan and to be able to tell the hearts in my home what to expect. 

I want to protect and prepare them. But in the end, I don't know what God is up to. I don't know which direction this story is heading--or the timeline within which it will occur. I cannot trace His Hand, so I must choose to trust His heart.

So I breathe deep. I pray. And I show up to find out a future God already knows.

An Easter hymn seems most appropriate: "Because He Lives, I can face tomorrow. Because He Lives, all fear is gone. Because I know He holds the future..."

If you have a moment to remember our crew tomorrow, it would be appreciated. Lots of anticipation among everyone involved. Pray for truth to be made plain, for wisdom to prevail and for peace and calm assurance to envelope all the hearts involved.