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.

Amen.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Moving Day: A Modern Day Parable

Saturday morning a group of students in my community were scheduled to leave for a week of camp with Young Life's Capernaum ministry (for high school students with special needs). One of our college leaders, Lori, showed up at 17 year old Eve's apartment as planned to give her a ride to the bus. As she knocked on the door she was greeted by Eve's grandmother, Mrs. Jones, a strong-willed 71 year old widow with a cane. She explained that Eve was not going to be able to go to camp after all, as the family had been evicted and she needed to stay and help them move. Lori knew Eve is one of three mentally handicapped people living in the apartment being cared for by Mrs. Jones--and the most capable. Looking around the apartment, she knew Mrs. Jones couldn't handle this move without help.

Lori was crushed. She had loved on Eve all year through monthly club meetings. She had helped raise the scholarship money for Eve to attend camp--and she was so looking forward to accompanying Eve for a week full of sights, sounds, adventure, laughter and love at camp. Quick-thinking Lori had an idea.

"Mrs. Jones, if you let Eve come with me to camp this morning, I promise I will send people over today to help you move."

Lori was leaving town for camp too, but she trusted and believed in the Lord's provision--and her community's commitment to seeing Eve get to camp.

A text message was sent and within an hour Mrs. Jones had a moving truck and a crew of helpers. Despite the June-in-Georgia humidity and the short notice, by 5pm the contents of her three bedroom apartment, including medical beds and equipment had been moved to her temporary residence and a secure storage facility.

All while Eve and her leader Lori were carefree and on their way to hear about the God that loves them so.

As we were driving away Saturday afternoon I asked my 14 year olds (who honestly were age-appropriate in their less-than-thrilled response to moving strangers on a day they'd planned to spend in other ways) to tell me one thing they learned. Each reply was proof that God was using this situation in more ways than I had known, but the one that struck me most was from my daughter:

"I will never forget that all those people were willing to show up and work that hard just so one girl can hear about Jesus."

We talked about the Parable of the Lost Coin and the Parable of the Lost Sheep and I pray they will never hear those two passages in the same way again.

I am so incredibly grateful for the ministry of Young Life. It is not just about pies in faces or preaching from a stage. This ministry is truly incarnational--entering into the (messy, complicated, challenging) lives of teenagers and really loving them like Jesus would--meeting practical needs so their hearts can be open to Him meeting their spiritual needs.

Eve is at camp this week, hearing the glorious news of the One who sacrificed not just his Saturday, but his Life so she can be free. Connections were made for meaningful friendship and support of her extended family. This is not the end of this story, just the beginning. Will you join me in praying for this family and Eve's heart?

Friday, June 15, 2018

The Ministry of Margin

As I wrote in my last post, my Summer has a lot of empty space. I thought I was leaving this space for foster children to join our family and have been frustrated that "I rearranged my life" to help and not being utilized. (Yucky to admit, but true.)

Last week all three of my children were out of town and my husband was working long surgical hours--so I took advantage of the ability to leave the state without permission (a condition a foster child would have required.) I journeyed down to Florida to visit a dear friend who lives at the beach. I was feeling a bit selfish about it until I arrived and it became clear how much we both needed this visit. She had major life circumstances occurring and I was able to enter in fully and lend friendship, support, and a practical hand to share some of her burden.

On the long drive home, God spoke to my heart about being available for whatever He had in store for us-- even if it was not our plan. He reminded me that His Way was to yield my life to love and a robust schedule often doesn't leave room for the needs that crop up. That there are good works that He has planned in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10)--and they frequently don't look like our plans, lest we should boast. (Ephesians 2:9)

This change in perspective alone allowed me to see countless places my 'free time' could be used as a ministry. I was able to pause and really talk to neighbors along the way in my errands. In doing so, I became aware of a few needs that were relatively easy to meet thanks to my open calendar.

My prayer time in the morning has felt more consistent and less hurried thanks to fewer commitments. I have been prompted to reach out to people and actually let them know how the Lord has prompted me to pray for them.

It is no exaggeration to see God has put people and circumstances in my life multiple times a day that I would normally wish I had time to help, but during this season I really can.

I don't write any of this to elevate myself, but instead to record this lesson for future reference. There is a ministry of margin--when we live beneath our means in terms of time and financial resources, God will use both in ways we could not have expected.

Monday, June 04, 2018

"Good" Timing vs. God Timing

I am in the strangest season--a period of waiting for God to deliver on something I feel really 'ready' for (another foster placement) and it is taking longer than it ever has to get a phone call.

My kids are 14 and very independent. I suddenly have a lot more time on my hands at home. I have purposely stepped away from commitments, committees and travel in order to make space to foster. As a result, life feels very orderly and like there is absolutely room in our car, calendar, home and hearts to share the love and provide a place of refuge for a child or two in need. But, the call is not coming.

This is a beautiful thing! It means the needs of hurting children are being covered by family members instead of well-intentioned strangers--or perhaps that there is a decrease in the number of kids who need a safe home. When I pause and really take that in, I rejoice...but there are other moments where I confess I feel impatient and discontent.

I can't help but wonder what God is up to. Our journey as foster parents has been full of stops and starts. In 3 years we have experienced 7 placements ranging from 3 days of respite to 18 months before adoption by the children's family member. Each time a child leaves we press pause to regroup emotionally and those breaks have ranged from a few weeks to several months. Because we view this as a whole family ministry, we have multiple conversations as a family to get a feel for everyone's heart/call until there is a confident peace that we are all ready and willing to re-open our home and our hearts. We have had that for months and not been called upon.

Foster care is unique because it is so full of unknowns--a huge point of sanctification for a person wired like me. I am a planner with a capital P--especially in the Summer when we have so much downtime and my adventurous spirit wants to maximize it all. Yet, the reality is there is only so much physical preparation you can do not knowing gender, age, personality, background or length of stay. I have toothbrushes and clothing on hand for multiple scenarios. I hold on to a limited number of books, games, crafts for our littlest guests. All I need is a kiddo or two to get on with this next chapter...and God, without explanation, says not yet.

He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. ~Acts 1:7

The waiting is especially frustrating this Summer because my teenagers are gone so often for camps, trips with friends, youth trips, etc that I have an abundance of free time with an almost empty house. The timing seems so right through my Earthly eyes!

I am trying to make the most of the time. I have even completed the annual continuing education/training requirement 6 months early. I have been playing a mental/emotional game where I imagine different scenarios every week... two little boys, dramatic older elementary girls, a quiet reserved single child, an older sibling who has been 'default parenting' the younger and is threatened by our role, non-English speaking children, different levels of trauma. And I am praying-- A LOT. I have prayed for our readiness, for the child or children who is undoubtably in a traumatic season of their life and for their birth family and whatever challenges they are facing.

I know the willingness and our hearts is what God is really after--but it is still a strange feeling to know you were called, to rearrange your life and then to sit and wait.

The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,  to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. ~Lamentations 3:25-26

As I have processed through all of this I have been reminded of the MANY far more painful things people in my life are waiting for--and God has enlarged my compassion for the friends waiting to conceive, waiting to adopt, waiting for a cure, waiting to meet a mate, waiting for a rescue, waiting for a miracle...

I am reminded that regardless of the details or circumstances, in all of it we either trust the sovereignty of the one writing our story or we don't. I am publishing this as my (somewhat embarrassing) confession and as a public commitment to put off the impatience I feel simply because I want to know/plan/control.

"How hard it can be to trust in God’s timing...Sometimes it seems as if we are not even on God’s clock. Yet, there is never a time in which He is not aware of the desires of our hearts... His timing will always be perfect, even when our trust in it is not." -Jada Pryor

..but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. ~Isaiah 40:31

Monday, May 21, 2018

Wrapping Up Seventh Grade x3 (whew!)

For almost a decade my husband and I had a plan to pull our trio off the track they were on in 7th grade and homeschool them for the year. We truly love our school, so we were not leaving because of problems or issues. The thought process was that we would have more time for travel on our own schedule and that we could have an intensive year of pouring into Kate, Ryland & Parker before they crossed the threshold into the rapid independence of adolescence.

Last Spring, as time came closer to pull the trigger, multiple factors made it clear they should stay put. I was disappointed and relieved. Glad to remain part of a strong team of caring educators and anxious to see what the year would hold. As I type this afternoon, only 2.5 days remain until 7th grade is in our rearview mirror. This led me to consider why God had us stay.

Middle school is legendary for all the awkwardness and mean things that happen. The most cringe-worthy moments of my life happened between 1986 and 1988 as I traversed my own middle school chapter. My two "best" friends stole my journal and read it aloud to the boys I had secret crushes on, my training bra was accidentally exposed to my whole class during a PE exercise and I became known as "blue bow," and I had an unfortunate moment of flatulence combined with a sneeze in an otherwise silent math class that became known as "Achoo Boom."
 
Thankfully, my offspring seem to have avoided such juvenile fiction and motion picture worthy embarrassments, but this season has still been full of its own memorable lessons.

Dealing with middle school simultaneously experienced by three distinct individuals has been mostly OK, but I have earned some parenting stripes. To protect the stories that are not fully mine to tell, I will speak in broad terms:
An adolescent with ADHD, Anxiety & Sensory Processing plus hormone surges is its own kind of roller coaster, but my kid has made tremendous strides and knows there is a TEAM of caring adults backing him/her.
There have been successes marked by certificates and public fanfare as well as private feelings of failure from not making a cut.
We've experienced unreciprocated first crushes both as the crusher and the crushee and been involved in a love triangle where child A's best friend had a crush on child B's best friend, who had a crush on child C. Whew.
There have been multiple long conversations about truthtelling, sneakiness, temptation and living in the light.
Great experiences have been gained in performing before an audience, receiving feedback and sharing credit.
We've learned lessons about gossip, friendship, bullying, and forgiveness.
They have grown a combined 13 inches in height and a multitude in maturity and responsibility.
What felt like giving up on adventure, was actually just an entry point into the adventure of real life in the weeds of middle school. :-)

And I am truly happy to be a Mom right smack in the thick of it. Because THIS STUFF, this really is it. Parenting them in the world with all its heartache, frustrations, temptations, beauty, and discovery--this is the training ground, the rich fertile soil in which God grows men and women.

I am so grateful for a chapter that reminds me that even (especially?) when it doesn't look like we planned, the process is what God is using to sanctify us all!

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Harold

Our commute to school only takes 6-7 minutes. We meander through 10-12 blocks of a neighborhood before popping out onto the main thoroughfare at the intersection adjacent to an elementary school. Because the traffic light is triggered only by our arrival at the intersection, we stop every day and wait for a minute or so.

Posted at this particular corner is an elderly crossing guard. We smile and wave to him each morning. Without conversation, we have an affectionate friendship of sorts.

Several weeks ago, we arrived at the light to find his post unmanned. We missed our crossing guard's smile, but didn't grow that concerned until a whole week had passed without him. It was during this year's particularly virulent flu season, so I assumed he was ill and we started praying for him. After two weeks, I found myself reading the obituaries--fearful our friend had passed away.

I didn't know his name, but would read for any clue that it might be the man we affectionately dubbed "Harold." In retrospect, there was no real reason this is the moniker we chose to identify our silver-haired friend. It just seemed to fit and was the name that came to mind as we would pray for him (and less of a mouthful than "our sweet crossing guard friend.")

Monday morning as we approached the light he was there! After a couple of months of fearing the worst and praying for him with concerned hearts, we were all overjoyed! I rolled down the passenger window and welcomed him back to his post. He explained he had experienced a heart attack, but was feeling much better. We told him we had been praying in his absence. Then I confessed my embarrassment that we had not known his name. I introduced myself and he responded with a smile, "My name is Harold."

The middle schoolers in my car all audibly gasped. Of course, it was!

As we drove away with silly grins on our face it felt like God had given us all the sweetest lesson in His care and concern for the details--and that as we pray, He will meet us there and fill in the blanks.

This is a difficult season for one of my people in particular. As this young person that I adore walks through challenges, I know prayer is my greatest weapon--and yet I am so flustered with how and what to pray. I needed this reminder as much as my children that GOD KNOWS THE DETAILS. He wants us to trust Him--to come as we are, with what we know (or think or fear) and let Him handle the details.

I am grateful God has posted this daily reminder on our way to school in the form of Harold and his warm smile.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Half Baked Turkeys // A Middle School Mom Manifesto

Several years ago we were facing a big decision regarding schools. Our three children were at a wonderful Montessori school, but one of them was in great need of more structure. Because I didn't want to be on two separate calendars with three same-aged children, we decided to enroll the entire trio in a new school for Kindergarten.

A beloved, talented (sometimes serious and stern) teacher called me in to discuss our decision. She implored me to consider leaving them at the school for one more year, as Montessori follows a three year cycle and our children were only finishing primary year two. I explained my reasoning to her in great detail. She shook her head disapprovingly and lobbed a metaphor at me that keeps reappearing in my parenting journey.

"Imagine you invited me over for Thanksgiving lunch, but I arrived an hour early and demanded to eat the turkey right then. How would you feel? You would insist it wasn't ready yet. A half-baked turkey isn't ready to be served and is not a fair indicator of the final product had the recipe been followed."

The metaphor was powerful, but almost a decade later I giggle at her insinuation that a 5 year old would be remotely close to "finished."

My heart is currently in a trying season with three middle school students. As their 14th birthday approaches, I hear the clock ticking toward the time when we will launch them into the world. I am tempted to panic at how some current weaknesses might play out in adulthood. I honestly have never sought to produce perfect children, but I can fall into a worry cycle about temptations and challenges that may lead to particularly painful consequences later in life.

There is real tension between how often/to what severity I allow them to fail and how frequently/to what degree I intervene with corrective coaching and protectiveness. It is further complicated by the fact that each child, while the same age, is so different. There is no blanket answer.

And, oh the temptation to look around at other parents' turkeys-in-progress and compare!

I read a great post earlier this week that reminded me our children are MEANT to be unfinished--it is the very nature of childhood. Furthermore, as a Christian, I am reminded through my own daily journey that I am still quite unfinished at 43. This life is a refining process.

So, parents, how shall we cope as we mind the kitchens where all these young turkeys are roasting?

1. Pray.  Pray that fear will not be your motivator.  Ask God to give you peace, clarity, and wisdom to sift through the small stuff and focus on their hearts. I am really enjoying this resource from Jodi Berndt, chock full of Bible verses written as fill-in-the-blank prayers for specific issues my kids are facing. By seeking to look at all through the lens of Scripture, my heart is being refocused on what surface issues to let go.

2. Seek wisdom. In this information age, there is an abundance of excellent child and adolescent development information in the form of podcasts and books. I am particularly fond of these two recent reads: Are My Kids on Track?  and Untangled. Both offer needed and informed perspective on the growth going on in our kids and why each phase is necessary. Next on my list: Boys Adrift and Like Dew Your Youth.

In addition to the topical resources, it is important to stay rooted in the Word. God's promises are timeless, full of hope and also serve as reminders that imperfect, half-baked people have always been used by the Lord to accomplish His Will.

3. Encourage. Being a Mom of adolescents can be so lonely. Our image-conscious society makes it difficult (and often inappropriate) to broadcast the challenges our growing children are really facing. Growing up is messy. No one's kids are as perfect as they may appear. Everyone is fighting some sort of battle. The least we can do as parents is treat each other with kindness. Look for opportunities to chat with other parents--let down your guard a little. Offer encouragement. Let's stop judging each other's kitchen while meal prep is still in progress and definitely stop comparing each other's half-baked turkeys.

4. Breathe.  This is a journey. Take a long view and pace yourself. Riding the waves of every high and low is exhausting and non-productive. You aren't perfect and your kids won't be either--but there is a purpose in their lives and yours...not just 'one day' but NOW. Cling to faith and trust God to guide you and your children.

Don't get so 'project focused' you lose personhood--theirs or yours.

And, importantly, don't forget to laugh and enjoy this crazy ride. (Oh, the stories I will one day be able to tell...)

PS. I wrote this as not as one who claims to have it all figured out, but rather as a mini-sermon to myself because I have to refocus constantly!