Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Things I Didn't Want to Learn

I have learned so much over the past four and a half months as a foster parent that thinking about all of it makes my head spin. Most everything that I have learned I read about years ago in college. Not a single undergraduate education major escapes college without a child development class or two! 

Most of what you learn in college about "the real world" doesn't really sink in though 'till you've experienced it in the real world. For most of us, the real world is safe, commonplace, and at times rather dull.  What my family learned these past four months was at times dangerous; we no longer feel common and it was definitely not dull!  If you need to add a little excitement to the routine of your life, consider taking in foster kids. 

In college I learned about the developmental stages of childhood. This past summer we learned that when a child is neglected or not properly cared for and loved, these stages get all messed up.  

In college I read about two things called Reactive Attachment and hoarding.  The past 4 months I saw both taking place.  In college [As well as up until the day before the kids came] I assumed that a family's love could easily overcome these behaviors.  I was wrong. Overcome, maybe.  Easily, not.  Time, LOTS!

Four months ago I learned that "rest" and the whole idea of needing rest and resting have to be taught.  I never dreamed I would meet a child with no idea how to rest.  Ever.

Four months ago I met children who used [and sometimes still use] food for emotional blackmail.  Whether binging or refusing to eat, children who have not been nurtured and sometimes not fed use food as an emotional weapon.  These same children can be overwhelmed by portion sizes. Large or small, the ammount of food on their plates can be traumatizing.

Four months ago I started to witness my own children at their servants' hearts' best as well as driven to their most fed up worst. Seeing them stretched and used was painful as well as prideful. They are, after all, still kids themselves.  Watching them suffer was painful but knowing that they were growing and maturing eased the pain a little.

Four months ago I learned that it is possible to love children that aren't mine.  2 weeks ago I learned how to let one of them go.

Four months ago I was optimistic that I had enough love [and discipline and cleverness and equal stubbornness] to begin to heal children who didn't fit a typical developmental mold.  2 weeks ago I learned that bandages aren't enough sometimes.  I learned that some wounds are beyond my love at this point.  I learned that I am just a bandage but the wounds I was trying to heal were not just surface scratches.  

Four months ago my pride was in tact.  2 weeks ago my pride was smashed in one hour.  2 weeks ago I wasn't enough.

2 weeks ago I had to surrender to the fact that I am not enough and I never will be.  I am not supposed to be.

2 weeks ago I had to admit that my family was not enough.

2 weeks ago I learned what it really means to surrender.  Throw up the white flag.  

2 weeks ago I felt failure.  I felt defeated.  I felt bruised.  

2 weeks ago I learned what it means to have nothing to hold on to except hope.  Hope that God has a bigger plan than what was unfolding before me.  Hope that what I was listening to wasn't the end of something but rather the beginning. I now cling to that bigger plan.

Without the hope found in God's bigger plan for my life and hers, I would feel like a failure still.

In the arms of a loving God, I am reassured that I didn't fail.  I did what God asked.  

In the still quiet times of reflection over the past 2 weeks, I have learned that circumstances not working out according to my plan do not equal failure.  They have allowed me an opportunity like never before to trust a really big God.

Over the past month I had prayed unceasingly for God to reveal his next step.  I prayed in anguish that "something's gotta give." I was at my wits end. I prayed and God answered. He didn't answer by calming the storm but by holding me though the tempest and waves that I thought I was drowning in. He reminded me that the water's never part 'till your feet get wet. I thought I was drowning but now look back and see Him holding my head just above the crashing waves. He reminded me that He often shows off the biggest when we totally surrender.

We had to surrender 2 weeks ago but not to failure; to hope. Hope that after what felt like 70 years of captivity, God's plan for a little girl's hope and future are secure in His hands.  Hope that the part we had to play in her life made a difference.  Hope that the seeds we planted will be watered and tended by someone else.  

Being asked to be "the first link in a chain" rather than the more noticible last link is just as honorable.  We can't see into tomorrow but we have learned to trust God's plan for it.

Another realization that we have come to is that we will likely be asked to go on this adventure [aka 13th floor] again.  We have learned much.  Maybe next time we will be able to use some bit of wisdom we learned over the past 4 months to some other child's benefit and healing.  

Maybe some of the things we learned, that we really didn't want to learn, will help us in the future.  

Maybe we will be crushed again.

Maybe we will feel more successful.

But maybe not.

Maybe we will just be obedient.  And that's enough.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Baby Steps

My husband often reminds me at the end of a bad day to look back further than the present situation and to look at the big picture.  He helps me keep my perspective when the going gets tough.  If I look back beyond the moment, I can see more clearly.  In the moment we are either making progress too slowly or losing ground.  In the moment the many baby steps are not as noticeable as they are in hindsight.  In the moment I often want to bang my head against my pillow and cry, but if I take the time to look back and see the big picture, I can see how far we have come.  Baby Steps, he reminds me, Baby Steps. Progress is made in Baby Steps.

After only a month of having been a foster family, I can’t see the big picture yet.  I don’t know how far we’ll go.  I think we are making baby steps in the right direction, but I can only hope we’ll reach the destination we seek.

After only a month as a foster family I am already exhausted physically and emotionally.

After only a month as a foster family, I’m not sure if I want to do this again. It’s harder than I thought it would be.

After only a month as a foster family, I feel guilty for wanting my life back.  My uncomplicated, easy life.  We never realized how easy life was before taking two broken little ladies into our home.

After only a month as a foster family, I want to give my kids their life and their house back.   

After only a month as a foster family I can’t believe how much our lives now revolve around the little ladies. Their appointments.  Their counseling sessions.  Their parent visits. Their… Their…Their…   We have not even gone out to eat as a family in a whole month.  The girls are just not ready yet.

After only a month as a foster family I can only hope and pray that what we are doing will be worth it. 

The paradox at this point in our fostering journey is that this past month has probably been the healthiest, happiest and safest month of the girls’ lives.  Who wouldn’t want to serve to give them that? We have given them more security, food and fun than they have probably ever known consecutively.   We have given them their own beds and clean sheets.  Meals AND snacks AND dessert.  We even  gave them their own toothbrushes! (Yes, something one of the girls told me was “Mommy, I have never owned my own toothbrush before, Thanks!” )  Whose kid thanks them for letting them have their own toothbrush?!

When I feel like we are barely getting by each day in the midst of laundry, laundry and more (peed on) laundry I just want to cry.  When I feel like we are muddling through teaching the meaning of “No.” I wonder when we will ever get around to practicing numbers and reading.  

When I feel like all I do all day is say “no” ~ “No, you can’t play in the road.” “No, you can’t eat that, that’s trash for the garden.” “No, you can’t hang on and pull on your brother’s clothes.” “No, you HAVE to use toilet paper…every time.” No, No, No! I feel like a drill sergeant!    

When I feel like we are barely getting above teaching the most basic functions, one of the girls will say something like, “Mommy, you’re the best at cooking!”  “Mommy, you’re the best at crafts!” “Mommy, you’re the best…”  “You’re the best…”  My heart melts and I remember all of my dreams about what I wanted fostering to look like!   

When we are driving in the van and the girls ask for “That Newsboys song about the ‘King is Coming’" I know they are curious about the God we serve.  And then they ask who the King is and we get to tell them!  Then they ask if they might get to go to Heaven and meet him some day and we get to tell them about heaven!  And then they ask if heaven “is only for adults or do kids get to go too?”  We get to tell them how much Jesus loves children!  And then, only 2 days later they sing Newsboys as loudly as they can!

2 days later there were still peed on sheets to wash.  2 days later there were still tantrums to absolve.  2 days later there were still the emotional parent visits to conquer.  But, 2 days after asking who the King is, they told their older sister (who lives with a different foster family) at their parent visit that she can meet the King someday too if she gets to know Jesus! 

So, after only a month of becoming a foster family, is it worth it?  I think so.  Do I want the ease of my old life back?  Yes.  Do I want more alone time?  Absolutely!  Do I want to wash less peed on and pooped on laundry?  Um, YES!  Do I need adult, mom time desperately? YES!  But is serving in this capacity worth it?  I have to admit that it is.  I also have to admit that I have to ask myself this multiple times a day and hash my emotions out in prayer.   I figure that if God has asked me to take this on, he can handle my emotions over it!

I have come to the conclusion that our new normal is that of being missionaries in our own home.  We didn’t need passports to serve; God brought the mission field to us. I bet missionaries feel a similar sort of loneliness that I am now feeling. A loneliness that stems from  leaving behind what they once knew for what becomes their new normal.  There is grieving and excitement all at the same time.  Serving no matter the cost is always worth it.  It is worth it but not easy or glamorous. I have to remind myself that only God sees the big picture.  He knows how these little ladies are like sponges soaking in all kinds of love and security.  And, it is just delightful when we see them soaking up the “King.”  

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

What we Learned Our First Week as a Foster Family

What a blur this past week has been.  It took 4 months to complete our foster training and 6 weeks before we finally got a call to take a sibling group of 3 girls. (Now down to 2 girls)

In the past 5 days we have learned more about grace, mercy and the need to stockpile applesauce than we ever imagined!

I'm typing this list so that in a few years. after we have become more seasoned as a foster family, we can look back and laugh over what some day we might come to think of as the "little stuff."  Right now, nothing is little.  We are in survival mode.  Me, as the mom.  My kids, with their new "siblings." As well as the girls who had the rug pulled out from under them a week ago last night.

Things we Learned After Our First Week As A Foster Family

  • When receiving someone else's kids, there probably will not be such a thing as "Love At First Sight."  Learning to love these kids will take time.  I really hoped some deep mothering instinct would kick in and I would instantly love the girls...but that's just not happening.  Love is a process...
  • Just because toilet paper is such a common place item in my family doesn't mean it is common for everyone.  Learning where and how to poop is a skill that I never dreamed I would be teaching this week.
  • Coloring books and water colors have saved my sanity and allowed us to be able to eat this week.  Without them, I would probably still be preparing the first meal for the girls.  This has been the ONLY way so far to keep them in a seat for more than 30 seconds.
  • Boundaries, rules and common sense HAVE to be taught.  And kids who have never been taught not only don't know basic rules in a family, but have no concept of them and don't even know they're breaking them.   We have had to teach things like, "Playing in the street is not ok." and "Biting the top off of a glass weather instrument and drinking what's inside is not ok!"
  • Hungry kids eat OFTEN!  Our girls came very hungry and malnourished.  They eat like little birds, a little at a time and VERY often!  We have had to teach that it is ok to ask for food; you don't have to steal and hide it.
  • Prayer is a must.  In my own strength I would be failing miserably, but with God all things really are possible!
  • There is NO down time...yet! 
  • Sleep and alone time are more precious than ever! The girls like to follow me everywhere.
  • A supportive husband is absolutely necessary!  Especially one who loves kids and loves to draw and has infinite patience.
  • I can't believe that we have already learned that not every placement works out.  When you have a 13 year old girl placed in your home with a 15 year old son of your own, there might be problems, especially when the 13 year old has no concept of appropriate relationships.  The 13 year old already has a new foster mom.  I feel both guilt and relief.
  • In the first week of a new placement, especially your first week of fostering ever, the social workers have become fast friends!  
  • There are kids in the US who have no idea what a dishwasher is or how cool automatic doors at Target are!
  • Having other foster parents to talk to is invaluable!  The need to vent to someone who won't judge you for your raw emotions is priceless and necessary!
  • Reading police reports about the new kids is necessary as well as excruciating!  
  • Working with medicaid is a new skill I am still learning.
  • Like we learned in our training, daddy is the hero!  The girls can't wait for their new daddy to come home from work.  Speaking of their new daddy...the girls have learned that daddy goes to work EVERY day and he comes home EVERY night. They had no concept that dads did this.  
  • Being called mommy and daddy by children who are not my own this soon is weird and cool at the same time.
Things My Kids Have Learned This Week...
  • Privacy that they didn't even know they had is gone.  Especially for my daughter whose bedroom turned into somewhat of a dormitory!
  • You have to have clothes on ALL the time.  No more running around in just underwear!
  • Stuff can be replaced.  Because the girls have no self control yet and touch everything, special treasures have to be hidden for a while.  It's been like baby-proofing all over again, but this time it's for a 6 and 8 year old.
  • Their problem solving skills are being honed as well as refined under pressure.  Sometimes that means its ok to go hide for a while and sneak chocolate with me!
  • Separate bed times are a blessing!  The time we have as a family after the girls go to bed will become VERY precious to us over time!
  • Not all kids react the same to the new kids being here.  They each have to accept the changes on their own at their own pace.   That means some have delighted me with their efforts while some have hidden.  Both are ok for now!
  • Patience, Patience, Patience.  Kids from broken homes don't come fixed.  
  • Fixing takes TIME!
  • Mom is breaking all the screen time rules we set as a family.  TV is one of few ways to get the girls to calm down.  Changing that also takes time.  
  • Psychology 101:  In homes like the one where the girls came from some parts of their brains just haven't been developed.  Parts that control social skills, moods and self control are now up to us to teach.  Time!

We didn't just become foster parents this past week, we have become a foster family.  We are all sacrificing for the mission we decided to live as a family.  We are all tired and ready to throw in the towel at moments already, but we are also determined to press on and see what huge blessings God has in store for us by next week, or next month or next year.  We are living out one of my all time favorite verses:

"Be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care, serving as overseers - not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not for greed for money, but eager to serve; not lording over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock."  1 Peter 5:2-3

Sunday, February 2, 2014

I could NEVER do THAT! But now we ARE!

So often I hear the words, "Oh, I could never do THAT?"

Usually those words come from moms who think that they could never stay home all day with their kids AND be responsible for educating them at the same time.

I try not to be sassy with these ladies or show too much disdain, because I used to be one of them.  When you are a licensed teacher who chooses to stay home with her kids and then has a child who struggles in school it is only natural for others to ask if you had ever considered educating him yourself.

I was asked that often 10 or so years ago.  My answer was always the same, "Heck no!  I'll kill him and be on the evening news by Friday!"  Why would I want to stay home with so challenging a kiddo and NOT be paid for it?! Of course, now I wish I had considered it many years sooner! :O)

I get the answer.  I answered it myself many times. 

I could never do THAT!   

I am at a place once again where moms are telling me "I could NEVER do THAT!"  We have recently announced to our friends and family that we plan to begin fostering kids in our area.  What I sense at times is that some people are actually thinking "Why would you WANT to do that?"  It's a good an honest question and one I have been pondering myself for over a year.  And to some extent the answer is who would WANT to do that?  I mean who would want to disrupt their own family dynamics to bring in a child who may come with more baggage than we already deal with?  Why would we want to stretch our finances any tighter than they already are?  Why would we want to tax our schedule any more than it is already is?  Why would we want to expose our kids to worldly issues they have not been exposed to?  Why would we want to have to go to court on the behalf of someone else's mistakes and bad choices?  Why? Why? Why?  The questions are endless.  

At our first Foster Care training meeting we were asked to tell the group why we plan to foster children.  I hate to admit that I was a bit flustered and unprepared to answer.  They wanted a 2 minute answer.  I have been processing this for so long that the answer is so much more than that.  Yes, there are more kids in need of a place to call home than there are willing homes available in Wells County, but that's only a small piece of a much larger puzzle.  

As I have spent much time in prayer and thinking through the answer to this question. I have also been amazed and blessed to see God's hand at work through every step of this process!

Sometimes we pray a prayer and have no idea how or when God will fulfill it!  

17 years ago when we bought our house, we thought it was SO large and only hoped we could fill it!  As we thanked God for this old house and property, we asked him to bless it not only as our home but that He would use it for his glory and purposes.  That is probably one of the first steps in our Foster journey. Back then, we had no idea how God planned to use our home!

Sometimes we live through a situation that we have no idea how God can ever use for his good purposes.

When I was a kid myself I had no idea that the dysfunction around me could ever be used for any good purpose. If my own childhood helps me relate to and love child in our home better than I could otherwise then I praise God for it.  

When I was asked to resign from my job a few years ago, I saw no good future purpose in it. I felt only betrayal and sadness over what I lost.  Months passed before I saw it as God's sovereign way of preparing me for this season.

Sometimes we pray desperate "What NOW?" prayers.

When I grew up I prayed all the time for a different family. 

When two of our babies went to heaven before taking their first breath on Earth, I prayed in desperation for God to give us children. What Now?

When I lost my job over something I didn't say or do I prayed in anguish.  Why did God take that from me? Wasn't teaching my mission from him?  What Now?

When our son became suicidal a few years ago I prayed fervently for protection.  What Now?

As I look back I can see God's hands not only lifting me and carrying me through all of these turbulent times but I see them hovering over me as well.  He not only carried me through the fires, he had refining purposes IN the fires.  I'm sure there will be future fires in our life, but we are presently in a season of rest that only God could bring.

The last 3 years have been such a season of restoration.  My son's health has been restored.  My "career" has been restored to more than it ever was before.  My family is all that I could have ever hoped or asked for!  

Now I am in a new season if "What Now?" prayer.  This new season has been one of expectation!  What's next God?  Why have you brought us to a time as this?  Why all the rest and restoration?  There's no way God is going to let a prayer like that go unanswered!

Early last year, God started answering some of my expectant "What Now?" prayers in ways I didn't see coming!

By mid year, His answers made me know he was asking for action! 

After returning from Africa in June,  I had to ask myself, "What Now?"  Why would God have me go to the third world and not ask that question? So, God, Now that you showed me African poverty, what do I do about it?"  The answer didn't come right away.

Over the fall our local paper ran a series of articles about the meth problem in our area. One article in particular grabbed me!  It stated that there are not enough homes in our area for all of the misplaced children who have to be removed from these meth homes.  God reminded me of the prayer to use our house. He asked me if the offer was still good.  

Without spilling too many family skeletons out into my blog, God also used my mom's testimony to grow a love for someone else's children in me.  Last fall I heard my mom's whole testimony for the first time.  I knew bits and pieces of her life but not all.  Before she shared her whole story with others she had to share it with me first.  When she did I realized that my childhood was even worse than I ever thought.  It hit me that there were times when I could very well have become a child in need of foster care myself.  That was daunting to ponder over!  At the same time that God freed my mom from carrying this burden all by herself for many years, he laid it at my feet and asked, "What Now?"

I knew right away what all of these experiences had in common.  God has a new purpose for me and my family.  I knew I was at the point where I had to share my heart.

I wondered if God was laying this purpose and hunger on my husband and kids.  How do you just tell your husband what you think God wants the WHOLE family to do?  I prayed for 2 months before sharing this with him.  I actually got to the point where I had thought through so many What If situations that could make this a very bad idea that I secretly hoped he would balk at the idea and I could just keep praying about it!  :O)  Praying is safe!  Fostering could get messy.

But God's hand was all over and under this idea of "mine."  Within 24 hours of telling him what was on my heart, we had a social worker at the house and a mortgage size stack of paperwork to begin filling out!  The kids reacted just like I thought they would!  They were beyond excited!  Within a few days, my daughter had her 2nd dresser cleaned out so her new sisters would have room for their things!  My middle son told me to put the bottom bunk back on his bed so boys could have a home to learn about Jesus in as well!  

Is the moral of the story, "Be careful what you pray for! God might answer!"  or "When you pray with expectation, God WILL answer!"  

I think the moral is something more like, "If you pray, when God answers, He will provide!" 

All the What Ifs that my friends are thinking of when they tell me they couldn't Do THAT are the sames ones I am processing every day.  All of their concerns are God's as well.  God wouldn't give us a love for children we don't know without making a way for us to show it. He wouldn't give us a desire without making it possible for us to do this!  

It's true we couldn't do THIS on our own.  He will be there with his hands over, under and around us all the way!  

So what is the answer to the question, "Why did you decide to Foster?"

God wants us to!  

We prayed to be used.  

We are trying to be obedient.  

God will make a way!

If you have taken the time to read this post all the way through, you must be pretty interested in our journey!  We covet your prayers!  We are blessed that you will be part of the force that makes a way for us to love.