Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Journey So Far

I received my first call about a foster child today. Because we aren't yet through our home study we can't take a placement, but I am approved to babysit. My heart beat hard and fast as I went to meet the little guy. I sent a quick text to a prayer warrior friend that ended with "and so it begins..." She texted back, "Don't you mean and so it continues..."

The journey to opening our home to fostering has been a decade in the making. It was not a straightforward journey (the best stories generally aren't), but has instead been full of fits and starts. In retrospect I am beginning to see just how many relationships and experiences have been used to get to this place.

Before I delivered the triplets Ryland & I were asked if we wanted a tubal to be performed in the OR after my C-section. On the heels of infertility the idea of closing up my womb carried greater weight. We declined, having no idea I would have a near death encounter with heart failure within hours of that C-section. We couldn't have known that doctors would forbid me from further pregnancies because data (at the time) indicated I had a 50% chance of death with subsequent pregnancies. We didn't know I would be denied life insurance until I had a tubal. We just knew we were open to a larger family...not planning on it, just open.

We trudged through the exhausting, sleepless days of babies. As the trio neared their one year old birthday I was advised that my heart was healthy enough for surgery to perform a tubal ligation that would protect my heart and close my womb. God seemed to have closed the door.

As the babies became toddlers the thought of additional children became a distant memory...until another series of events opened our hearts and minds.

After long days of diapers, babble and messy faces my ministerial outlet was a Bible Study with girls from our local children's home. T was a 13 year old girl who had been in care for years. We talked for hours about her desire for a forever family, her hopes of higher education and maybe law school. She was tender with my children and I was able to imagine a family that included her.

Ryland & I attended a class for folks interested in foster care in 2007. While reviewing materials, we realized that our biological children took us outside the state requirements of number of children under three in a home. Meanwhile two other excellent families from church stepped up to the plate for T. She was placed with a friend of mine from Bible Study who had been her Kindergarten teacher years before when she was first taken into DFCS custody. It was not our time. T was not meant to be in our home, but instead to be used to open our minds to the idea of foster care.

The following month my husband's first cousin was orphaned suddenly at the age of 14. We discussed the possibility of him coming to live with us, but it was decided that my inlaws were the most logical choice. As our kids turned three, we became increasingly comfortable with the idea that our hands were FULL. The approval process was daunting, the training time requirements seemed impossible with a busy husband and small children. The door was closed again.

Through the next several years our hearts continued to be moved by the plight of vulnerable families, but our service took forms other than having kids in our home. A couple of years ago, through a private agency, I started babysitting and transporting foster children as a way to provide support for friends who were fostering in their homes. 

Through this process, we got an up-close glimpse of the challenges friends who are fostering face: integrating new children with the dynamics of their biological families, dealing with the issues children of trauma often bear, loving fiercely then letting go, being out of control of the decision making process regarding birth families, how to have date nights when you can't hire a sitter...The list goes on and on. 

The greater gift from these short babysitting stints was that our whole family was exposed to a half dozen great kids. We had play dates. We went on adventures. We realized these kids were not to be feared, but rather to be loved.

Two years ago my cousin called from New Mexico and asked if we would consider hosting his daughter for a few weeks of Southern Summer with our family. Although we had only met her once, we said yes. For three weeks we got a glimpse of life with an extra kiddo plopped into the mix. She visited again last Summer and we found our groove. Each time we returned her to her parents out West, knowing we wouldn't see her for at least another year, I considered that this was a small taste of fostering.

This Fall I went through a stereotypical midlife crisis of a 40 year old stay-at-home Mom whose kids spend 7+ hours away each day away from home.
What now? I am not the woman I was when I left the workforce (not entirely a bad thing). What do I do with my time, talents and resources now that children aren't demanding many of my daylight hours?
Was I to go back to work? Doing what? Should I pursue a graduate degree in social work?

Suddenly a message started coming through loud and clear. In Andy Stanley's Resolution sermon series listeners were challenged to prayerfully consider, 'What breaks your heart?"

In Henry Blackaby's classic Knowing and Doing the Will of God I heard a call to find where God is already at work and join Him there.

In Donald Miller's A Million Miles in a Thousand Years parents are urged to help their children live a story bigger than themselves. 

In You & Me Forever Francis & Lisa Chan assert that the best way to have a unified marriage is to have a common mission.

And in the epilogue of Bob Goff's Love Does he asks: 

What’s your next step? I don’t know for sure, because for everyone it’s different, but I bet it involves choosing something that already lights you up. Something you already think is beautiful or lasting and meaningful. Pick something you aren’t just able to do; instead, pick something you feel like you were made to do and then do lots of that."  -Bob Goff, Love Does

And what I LOVE about this is that other readers/believers/listeners may find a totally different call...or perhaps would be unmoved by these words altogether. 

After all this reading, dozens of relationships, years of prayer and tearful conversations the ultimate decision to move forward was prompted by a very simple moment in early February. Ryland & I had taken a quick overnight trip to a nearby resort to celebrate our 13th anniversary. As we were walking around the grounds enjoying an unseasonably sunny, warm day a giggling little girl cartwheeled past us on the lawn.

"I can't believe we are done with that age," my husband commented. 
"Do you think we really are?" I asked.

After years of uncertainty, we took the next step. We made a phone call. We attended a class. And even through the mounds of paperwork and the hours of training we are becoming more certain that this is the next Yes. This is the season. All of those other experiences were steps on the path to here.

I am under no illusions that this is easy, painless work...but this is life and messiness comes with the command to love. Heaven knows the last 11 years of parenting have taught me humility! I don't think it is an accident that when I could finally admit how clueless I feel about this parenting gig, God chose to add a few more heads in our beds.  

There are more questions than answers...and of course there is a healthy element of fear. We don't know for how long. We don't know where this is heading or what will happen next. We just know this is the next step for our family and are trusting the Lord with the rest. 


Me said...

Praying for your family and cheering you on! We've been fostering for 18 months now (7 different placements in that time) and it is just as you described. I think it is great you are writing your story down so on those hard days you can see the evidence that this is where you are called. It is an amazing feeling being confident that you are walking in God's will. A support system of babysitters, transporters, prayer warriors, and friends are almost a necessity. It is wonderful that you seem to have that circle already in tact. I am excited about your journey, thanks for sharing!

Jodie Williams said...

We have been foster parents for about 18 months as well. Four children have been here in long term placements and 6 for Respite care. It is an interesting journey - sometimes very challenging but also rewarding as well. The strangest part is waiting for a child to be dropped off when you know they may be staying with you for months but you haven't.met them yet!! I wish I would have kept a diary or accounting of the emotional roller coaster we had with the first child we had for 5 months. Blessings to you and your family as you prepare to welcome your first foster child into your home!

Christine said...

I loved reading your story that continues to write. It is amazing the process He uses with us all: Training us when we don't know the mission yet, planting the longing in our heart, then seeing the mission come to fruition. Truly He does all the work and we are so blessed to be along on His journey. I have had a restless heart of late. I am at a stage in my life where with adult children, I am feeling a pull on my heart for a different direction on mission. I have always poured into the life of youth and enjoyed every last minute. But my focus has seemed to change to single Moms and senior adult windows. A wide range of ages but a common thread of loneliness. I love to be around these women loving on them and at the same time having a ball myself. Your article has made me realize that the things I consider "fun" is actually the mission God is calling me to join. Thank you for your transparency.