Wednesday, March 20, 2019

What's Next, Papa?

This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?”  Romans 8:15 (MSG)

I am riding an exhilarating parenting roller coaster in this season, but especially today. I had court first thing this morning to determine the next steps for the precious four-year-old foster child we've been parenting for the last nine months. 

People who have never been through the foster care process often ask me what the significance of a court date means and frankly, they are simply mile markers. Every few months we check in with the legal system to make sure everyone's rights are being observed and to monitor progress on the case and if any changes to case plans are in order. At these hearings, the judge sets a course and tells the caseworkers what (if any) leeway they have in charting next steps in visitations, etc. based on the progress of the parents in their case plan.

The stress of that is hard to explain. It is the periodic reminder that this child I've loved as one of my own's case/ future is not even remotely in my control. I sit in a room full of adults making serious decisions about her future while she’s blissfully unaware at preschool. Surreal. Humbling. Forces me to trust.

I am walking out onto the high dive, surveying the height, calculating the risk...I hear the Spirit whisper, "Do you still trust me?"

A lot happens in a short period of time in court (today, under 20 minutes) and it takes a few follow up conversations to process implications on every one's lives and schedules. 

After court today I had a two hour window before I had to attend our first official high school meeting for my trio. Talk about emotional whiplash! 

As the faculty members discussed rigorous course loads and future goals, the reality set in of all the growth, path charting and decisions coming our way. I am thrilled to see my tribe grow and change, but their exposure to the great big world increases every day. Again, I hear the Spirit whisper, "Do you still trust me?"

In the course of my running around today, my random playlist landed on Turn Your Eyes by Vicky Beeching. I listened to those lyrics on repeat.  

“Look full in His Wonderful Face and the things of Earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His Glory and Grace.” 

I am so grateful to love this Jesus, who meets me in the mundane and overwhelming me with care and concern for my little heart. 

In response to that love, I respond. Yes, I choose to trust. I choose to be lost in the beauty and sovereignty of the Lord instead of my limited perspective and fears. 

I choose to respond with childlike expectancy, "What's next, Papa?"

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Year In Review 2018

I have neglected this blog in recent months for a whole host of reasons (largely unintentional) but have been feeling a longing to get back to my love of writing.

I periodically print and bind these entries for posterity, so I thought the best way reentry might be a catch up of sorts. As we are now two weeks into a new year, I decided to take a look back and the moments that made 2018.

February included a whirlwind trip to see Hamilton in NYC with a handful of my best friends--as a belated Christmas gift to each other. The highlight (other than the quality time) was meeting NYC firefighters up close as they responded to a late night fire in the kitchen of our hotel.

In March our family traveled to the Galapagos Islands for a fantastic adventure. We made new friends, soaked up the Internet free week truly off the grid, and delighted in the miracles of creation on full display in this pristine part of the world.

In May the triplets celebrated their 14th birthdays. Time definitely seems to be moving a warp speed these days.

In June we accepted placement of a new foster child...a 3.5 year old little princess who has added a whole lot of sparkle to our home!

Fall was marked by young Ryland's foray into being a kicker on the football team. He started out at second string and through lots of practice after practice, hard work and commitment earned the starting spot mid-season. I loved seeing these characteristics of his grow and be rewarded.

Kate excelled in cross country and in her diligence as a student. Parker was rewarded for his spelling excellence by earning a spot in the first round of the state spelling bee.

We spent our Christmas holidays in Africa. From Cape Town, South Africa to Victoria Falls (Zambia and Zimbabwe), a day trip to Botswana and the grand finale was 3 nights in the bush for safari in Sabi Sabi reserve. This trip was truly a dream. We absolutely loved the adventure.

As we move into 2019 I am blown away by the major headlines we anticipate: ending middle school, 15th birthdays, learner's permits, braces off, and likely sending our foster baby home after a year (or more) in our home...and these are just the things we *think* will likely happen--only the Lord knows what is truly to come!

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Counting the Cost

I am entering the hard phase of placement with this sweet little person. 
Four months in. 
Defenses down and true heart coming through--trauma and all. 
Sweetest "I lub you, Mama." whispered, and even sometimes shouted at me.
Exhausting, sleepless nights thanks to night terrors.
Training up someone else's child.
"Hold me, please" with the most precious look of love, trust and outstretched arms. 
Precious giggles.
The wonder of watching her learn to count.
The pain of hearing her describe scary memories. 
Investing in her bio parents--believing in them, cheering for their health and restoration.
Gambling all our hearts on their comeback.

I am tired.
I am hopeful.
I am a wee bit nervous.

And then, yesterday, I listened for the first time to the lyrics of a song I have owned for over a year.
It has played in the background countless times, but at just the right time, I actually heard it. 

I'm saying yes to You
And no to my desires
I'll leave myself behind
And follow You
I'll walk the narrow road

'cause it leads me to You
I'll fall but grace
Will pick me up again
I've counted up the cost.

Oh, I've counted up the cost.
Yes, I've counted up the cost
And You are worth it.
I do not need safety

As much as I need You.
You're dangerous
But, Lord, You're beautiful.
I'll chase You through the pain.
I'll carry my cross
'cause real love
Is not afraid to bleed.
Jesus, Take my all.

Take my everything.
I've counted up the cost

And You're worth everything.

-The Cost, Rend Collective

I have counted up the cost and He is worth it.
This means loving the people He loves are worth it.
Whether it is the child who isn't sleeping from 11pm-3am or the difficult adults in my life. Stretching, swallowing my pride, going out of my way is worth it.

I am reminded of one of my favorite sections of Bob Goff's book, Everybody Always: 

"Obeying is costly because it’s uncomfortable. It makes me grow one decision and one discussion at a time. It makes me put away my pride. These are the kinds of decisions that aren’t made once for a lifetime; they’re made thirty seconds at a time.”

“What I’ve been doing with my faith is this: instead of saying I’m going to believe in Jesus for my whole life, I’ve been trying to actually obey Jesus for thirty seconds at a time."

I won't do it perfectly.
"I'll fall but grace will pick me up again."

But what about my heart?
"I do not need safety as much as I need You."

This seems like it might get messy.
"Real love is not afraid to bleed."

I am reminded of one of my favorite sections of Bob Goff's book, Everybody Always: 

"Obeying is costly because it’s uncomfortable. It makes me grow one decision and one discussion at a time. It makes me put away my pride. These are the kinds of decisions that aren’t made once for a lifetime; they’re made thirty seconds at a time.”

Earlier he said, “What I’ve been doing with my faith is this: instead of saying I’m going to believe in Jesus for my whole life, I’ve been trying to actually obey Jesus for thirty seconds at a time."

Friday, October 05, 2018

God Writes the Best Stories

Last Fall, we had a 4 year old girl in our home for a few weeks. She had only been in care about a month when her short-term foster Dad was injured in an accident. We took her in for respite care while he recovered.

Almost immediately, I was overcome with a feeling that this was someone else's forever baby. As a foster parent there is always a baseline sense that you are the right-now Mommy while the dust settles, family restoration is attempted and facts come into focus. I am ever aware I am rocking, holding, disciplining and experiencing milestones with someone else's baby. It is the bittersweet nature of this ministry. But this one was different. I had an unusual fire in my belly. The facts of the case were more clear-cut than previous placements and this sweet girl was longing for a Mommy and Daddy in a raw sense.

My husband and I both were both moved to advocate for a foster-to-adopt home to be found for her as soon as possible. In very short order our agency matched her with another family one town away and the decision was made to move her there.

The transition was ideal, in that, I was able to speak to her new foster Mom the day before. We were able to discuss bedtime routine, food preferences and the little things that would make her feel more known as she entered their family.

The new foster Mom and I clicked immediately. I am was able to encourage her via text messaging and pray for her as they got to know one another. She sent me photos and updates. We met for coffee without kids a couple of times. When we were awaiting a new placement or transitioning with a new child, she covered us in prayer. We even got to visit their home and see how beautifully this little girl was acclimating to her new life.

Through all the heart-wrenching twists and turns of the loss of this child's biological family, her foster Mom and I have been united in prayer that God's Will be done and her heart be protected.

This week the foster family passed the last major legal milestone in their journey and signed a letter of intent to adopt. She is at home with her forever family--and has been for the last year--they've been able to experience first lost teeth, Kindergarten, soccer practice and almost 400 nights of bedtime snuggles and growth.

This afternoon I received a series of texts from her new Mama that made me weep and reminded me anew of the faithfulness of our Father.

The original post she referenced was written after an intense emotional night where God's Word (Psalm 23 through Sally Lloyd-Jones) was exactly the balm that fragile heart needed. I am thrilled to report that it was a promise God kept.

And while my friend complimented MY writing, I know without a shadow of a doubt that God is the real author of this story!

I cannot wait for the official court date to be set where this sweet one becomes on paper what God has known all along. She is an adopted daughter, loved, wanted and found.

This Fall, we are three months into another preschool aged placement. A family rhythm has been established. We have bonded. She will forever have a place in my heart as a dearly loved baby of mine regardless of how much longer God chooses to leave her here. And this is the point in the process where it gets emotionally messy. I get fearful. I am tempted to question God's timeline and speed. I want to know the outcome so I can prepare and protect her heart (and those of my family members).

And through these text reminders of His Faithfulness, God sends me a clear message of who He is and how He operates. Not on our timeline. Not in a way we can predict. Always according to His nature.

The story God is writing in both of their lives has allowed me to carry the baton for a season, but He is ultimately writing the story in a way that is full of creativity, restoration and grace.

Glory to God.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Goin' On A Bear Hunt

Perhaps it is because I have a little one in the house, but lately, I am reminded how many life lessons really are the basics we learned in preschool and Kindergarten.

In the thick of life with a 3-year-old and three uniquely wired 14-year-olds, I keep coming back to the truth that the process--messy, painful, chaotic and tender as it may be-- IS what parenting is about. The maturity we hope for our children to gain, the growth we expect and the strength we want to launch them into adulthood having is all built here and now, in the gym of growing up.

Our human tendency is to run from mess, failure and conflict. As my children encounter various trials and confront areas of immaturity, I want to hit fast forward and hurry on to the other side, even though I know better. I like efficiency and finality. Frankly, I don't enjoy the laborious process of trial and error. I want the payoff, but wish there were ways to microwave the process--to speed it up and minimize the pain.

Thinking about this recently I heard the old children's song in my head, "Goin' on a Bear Hunt." If you are unfamiliar with the song, it recounts a fictional walk through the woods where multiple obstacles are encountered. There are various versions, but at the end of each obstacle comes a familiar refrain, something along the lines of:
"I'm not scared. No, I'm not scared. 
We can't go over it, 
We can't go under it, 
We can't go around it. 
We just have to go through it."

ADHD, Anxiety, hormones, ego, impulse control, truth-telling, learning to navigate relationships...all these current challenges in my home and their accompanying emotions are exhausting. But there is no question in the breaking down and the rebuilding up emotional, psychological and spiritual muscles are born.

My fledgling young adults are trying out their wobbly emotional and social legs in front of an audience of the world. In a baby giraffe we would ooh and ahh, but in a teenager, we tend to cringe and/or judge. The world keeps telling us that stumbling is a sign of failure, but it really is the precursor to walking.

So I am spending a lot of time praying, deep breathing and sometimes, I confess, peeking between the fingers of my covered eyes. I don't want to watch the stumbles, but I know they are essential to learning to walk and then run the race set before us.

"We can't go over it, we can't go under it, we can't go around it. We just have to go through it..."

Thursday, September 06, 2018

"T Minus" Parenting

A couple of years ago there was a push towards a countdown/legacy app to remind parents how little time they had remaining with children living in their home. I dutifully typed in the triplets' high school graduation month and the numbers still seemed high and far away.

As our children have celebrated birthdays and completed grades, I am beginning to hear the clock tick. There are milestones happening that receive far less press than the big ones like driving and graduations, yet mark time in their own striking way.

Dropping off in front of the grocery store to go buy a few things while I stay in the car, allowing them to go to the movies or a pizza place with friends and no adult, giving them a debit card with their name on it to learn to manage money, letting them walk to a friend's house in the neighborhood or go play a round of golf without a chaperone.

Step by step my young teens are becoming more comfortable in their independence. I am giving them more responsibility and they are (mostly) rising to the occasion. Of course, they stumble and fall as any child does when learning to walk, but we are doing it. Growth, however awkward and sometimes cringe-inducing and painful, is happening. And suddenly young adulthood doesn't seem so far away.

This Summer I watched several close friends launch their children into college and it has struck a much more personal chord. The reality of sending my people (ALL AT ONCE) out into the world in less than 5 years is becoming far more real.

In my weakness, I have allowed this countdown mentality to infuse an anxiousness into my parenting. A few accusing phrases bounce around my head (and occasionally squeeze their way out of my mouth.)

Time is ticking. 
They are 14 years old...they will be driving a piece of heavy machinery on roads with other people in less than a year. 
It is time to outgrow (insert childish behaviors here).
We have so much work left to do!
I can't send a kid to college that still (insert bad habit here) or doesn't know how to (insert responsible action here).
Their future roommate/wife/inlaws/boss won't believe good parents didn't work this out in childhood.
We have got to work on (insert list here that grows exponentially the more anxious I feel)

As I entertain these accusations, I start parenting out of fear (of what will happen if they aren't PERFECT when I launch them) and pride (what people will think of me).

Unfortunately, when I realize it is happening and start trying to talk myself down, I feel ashamed and overwhelmed. I don't like those feelings so I somewhat lighten up. Habits persist. The cycle starts all over again.

As I am honest about these feelings, the Lord is faithful to remind me that THEY ARE HIS. HE has plans for them--and while my role is significant, HE is their creator, savior, sustainer, sanctifier and the ultimate author of their stories. The point is for their lives to reflect God's glory, not mine.

"It is not all on you. You are significant in your kids' lives, but God is sovereign."
-Jeannie Cunnion, Mom Set Free

So, I plugged the date in and discovered I have 244 weeks until graduation...89 weeks until they are independently driving cars...and then I let out a large exhale of surrender. God willing, their stories will stretch far beyond those dates even as my role continues to shift within them.

God is growing them and I am grateful for the front row seat to watch it all unfold. Cheering, correcting, consoling, cringing...but holding on to the faith that they were all His idea--and He picked me to be their Mom for all the sanctification it would bring on both sides!

They are His. I am His. I believe that and therefore, I am recommitting myself to parenting accordingly.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

A Foster Mama's Prayer for Meeting the Parents

A few weeks ago we received a foster placement--one precious child, younger than the age we typically receive. In God's divine timing, all my big kids were out of town allowing for a few days of individual attention. She arrived with an ear infection, so the first few days allowed me to connect with her as a caretaker in a sweet, uninterrupted way.

 Kate returned from camp on the child's third day with us, then the boys 12 days after that. The slow and steady introductions have made for the sweetest transition of a foster child we have ever experienced.

I was tempted by impatience in new nays as we awaited her arrival. Not knowing age, number of children, gender or arrival date triggered my every control freak tendency. I wanted to know God's plan for my Summer. I wanted to get on with it. And each time my chest would tighten, God tenderly whispered to me to slow down, trust and pray.

I have prayed for this child--without knowing her name or face for months. I have asked others to do so too. I have also been burdened for her birth family all along--praying for them and the challenges that have led them to this place in their story. I looked back at my calendar this morning and realized we actually had a group of friends from the Middle East here praying in her bedroom the week this child was first removed from her parents. God has been at work even in the darkest valley, whether they knew it or not.

Tomorrow we go to court for the first time and I will actually meet the parents face to face for the first time. More than ever, I want to be the face of Jesus to them--not from any literature I hand them or sermon I preach, but by the way I treat them. Lord, fill me with grace instead of judgment, genuine warmth and kindness. Remove my people pleaser tendencies and help me to show them authentic love--not so they will like me, but so they will see more of You. 

Lord, make it abundantly clear to the family we are not in this ministry to acquire a child--but to care for their baby with all we have so they have space to heal and grow and become a reunified family, healthy and whole.

I don't know God's plan for this child or her family--but I do know praying that they can all see and know Him more clearly through this process is the burning desire of my heart.

This is just the first lap of a marathon, Lord. When I grow weary and tempted to question the timelines, the process, the logistics, I pray you remind me to slow down, trust, pray and keep leaning hard into You.