On the Eve of my 42nd Birthday

You know those memory flashbacks that Facebook is so fond of posting, giving us the choice as to whether or not we want to remind others of what happened on that day 1 year, 2 years, or 5 years ago? So this one came up for me today: On the eve of my 40th birthday. Sometimes I’m hesitant to look at the memories of the past because…they hurt too much. And yet I don’t hide that option from my timeline. I’m trying very hard to look back and deal with, if not make sense of, the past couple of years of life. I haven’t wanted to feel the hurt there. There is a major part of me that thinks that feeling the hurt is the same thing as letting bitterness take root. And I want to be very clear – they can be co-mingled for sure, but they are not necessarily the same thing.

And I’m finding a bit of release in embracing the fact that I can still hurt over very real relational wounds without being bitter. I’m allowing myself to feel things a bit more and that means more tears, darn it, but so be it.

I was reading again in the Psalms this week and read this from Psalm 15:

O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent?
    Who shall dwell on your holy hill?

He who walks blamelessly and does what is right
    and speaks truth in his heart;
who does not slander with his tongue
    and does no evil to his neighbor,
    nor takes up a reproach against his friend;

I think I understood something that day. From January through the end of May we were not allowed to speak of what happened. I really wanted to. I REALLY wanted to come June. I didn’t. But there has always been this thought inside me that one of these days I will. I’ll write out the whole thing from our perspective just so there’s a fair representation of what happened. I’ve been waiting for some untold amount of time to pass so I can finally unleash it all.

And yet. He who walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks truth in his heart; who does not slander with his tongue and does no evil to his neighbor, nor takes up a reproach against his friend…that is the one who will sojourn in the tent of the Lord, dwell in His holy hill.

I got the message that day. There are some hurts that may linger for a lifetime. There are some stories never meant to be shared. God hears and that’s enough. It has to be.

So on the eve of this 42nd birthday, while I’m storing a prepped turkey in the front seat of the car in the garage here in Bozeman, Montana, I’m remembering an evening of sweet girls making pies and taking silly photos and watching a Christmas movie and then eating one of the pies and I’m grateful for this space of our lives. We’re in a good place. Educationally, we’re in a better place. Spiritually we’re working towards the same in our hearts. And I’m thankful.

I’m thankful for parents who stayed together through the good and the horrible. I’m thankful for a 4-year period of time where I could live close enough to them to be involved in my mom’s care during her last years. I’m thankful for fourteen little ones who softened our hearts in a fresh way over and over and over. I’m thankful…for the winter here (because if I say that one enough it has to come true, right? Where’s my sweater…)

I’m thankful for the hope of selling our OKC house soon. I’m thankful for the new relationships God is building into our lives. I’m thankful for a warm house here. I’m thankful for hope, for hope is sometimes all I have.

There was once a time when hard things happened in our life and I lost my way. I’m thankful God led me through that wilderness into a place of trust again. And trust in such a way that this time, though I’ve been wandering again for a while, I have not been lost.

And, in fact, I have a pretty clear view of where I’m heading.

And I’m grateful. Tears and all.

Happy Thanksgiving

 

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On Hurt and the Pain of Risking our Hearts for Kids in the System

Two days ago we dropped off our two little guys, A2 and J1, at the educational care center we’ve been taking them to for the past 9 months and, with tears, we said good-bye, knowing we would likely never see them again.

Craig wrote about this here here in his post, The Comfort of Sovereignty. Shortly after leaving the care center, we received a text from Ben Nockles, of the 111 Project, and he asked us if we would share about this final chapter of our Oklahoma foster care story at the Foster Care Forum the next day. Here’s my portion of what we shared:

Three years ago I hosted a Compassion table at our then-fledgling church. Compassion is an organization I care deeply about and we’ve sponsored children through that program for over a decade. That Sunday, not one single person stopped by my table or picked up a packet. Not one. And, as a good Christian often does, I became self-righteously angry. I’m talking ANGRY. So angry that when our pastor, Doug, announced he was going to the 8308 conference later that week (what was then the Foster Care Forum) and that he hoped members of the church would also attend, I went out of spite, knowing that nobody else at our church would probably go.

That’s a great motive for going to something that is designed to soften your heart towards the cause of kids in crisis, right? Well, there it was. I went and God opened my heart up in a way I never expected. He opened up the hearts of my entire family in a way we never expected. And nine months later we welcomed a new child in our home. And over the course of the next 2.5 years we welcomed 13 more. Some we had for a very short time, some we had much longer. One set came to us twice. We loved and we lost and we loved again. And we lost again. That’s how this gig works. You can’t lose what you don’t love  and if you aren’t willing to love big and risk big then maybe you should think about a different cause to get behind. Foster care requires everything you have because it takes all of the good intentions of every program ever designed to help and it deposits them in your front door, at your kitchen table, in your spare bedroom and you have to do more than just know it’s what you should do…you actually have to do it.

That first year I wrote a lot about our experiences on my blog and I attended the Foster Care Forum again, this time to stand up here and give an account of our first few months. Last year Craig did the same.

Yesterday we said good-bye to the 2yo and 1yo we have cared for for the past 9 months and it was a fresh heartbreak for us because like so many of our plans that don’t go in the path we intended, it was never our desire to hand them over to another foster family and yet…that’s exactly what we had to do.

Shortly after we said our good-byes to two little boys who did not understand why we were crying, nor that we would not be back to pick them up, nor that we would likely never see them again, Ben asked us if we would share some final thoughts here today.

We said we would and the first thought that popped to mind came from Galatians 6:9 which says, “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”

And that’s the thing: It’s so easy to get discouraged in this work, in spite of the worthiness of it, for it is work. And after 2.5 years of it combined with other real life heartbreaks like losing my mom last year to ALS and Craig losing his job earlier this year, we’ve had plenty of opportunities to become discouraged.

Discouragement comes when you give a child back to a broken system, or parents that are only JUST able to function well enough to keep their kids out of the system, or to new foster parents, you lose touch altogether. We have no idea what has become of the majority of the kids we’ve had and we likely never will.

And yet…we are told to press on, to not give up. The harvest will come, we just may not get to be the ones to see it happen.

If we’ve been asked once we’ve been asked a hundred times if we plan to step back into foster care when we move to Montana and for the longest time I’ve said I just don’t know. I gave away everything we have collected over the past 2.5 years (and when you need to be prepared for ages 0-5, boys and girls, all seasons it amounts to a LOT of stuff). The only things remaining right now are the small shirts and socks that are still working their way through the laundry cycle here and we still have our original baby crib left. Three months ago we were planning to hand that off too. Now it has reserved seating on our moving truck.

We don’t know what the next piece of the story looks like for us – could be respite care, could be fostering again, or could be in a support role, for we know how desperately those things are needed. Regardless of how it plays out there, one thing is for certain – we will not look back at our time here as a wasted one. We will hang our little green hand prints of all 14 kids on a new wall in a new state and we will pray – for those we’ve had as well as the thousands of other kids who are living that story. And we will pray for you, that you will step in and be a voice for the voiceless; a parent for the parentless, and that you would not grow weary in the work, for in due season we will all reap…if we do not give up.

Special thanks to Ben Nockels and the 111Project for this going-away gift you see up above (the HURT letters) acknowledging our foster care efforts in Oklahoma. Ben honed in on our family’s mantra that, “If it doesn’t hurt when we give kids back, we’re not doing it right,” and the large “R” represents our goal to redeem hurt in the lives of kids. This is easily the most “hipster” decorative piece we own, and we’re excited to hang it with the 14 framed handprints/footprints we’ll hang somewhere on a wall in Bozeman. Humbled.

Fostering Expectations

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I don’t begrudge their mother their title. She is their mother. She should be called Mom. But they live with us and they hear our girls call me Mom and so I also get called Mommy. Craig gets called Daddy. And slowly, over time, the names start to lose their true meaning. The names have less to do with the people who will love them unconditionally and care for them for the whole of their lives and more about the people who are taking care of their basic immediate needs at this moment in time and likely will change a few times. Titles transfer. Attachments weaken.

When we began this foster care journey and had children in our home for 2 weeks or 10 days or 1 month, we loved and we lost, but we always knew it was coming and that knowledge built in a guard that made the leaving just a teensy bit easier than one would otherwise imagine it could have been.

But your heart can only do that so many times before it either grows too soft or too hard. And as hard as I tried to hold off, I gave in and I parented. I didn’t simply take care of them; I parented them. And I got burned and never wanted to do that again.

But then August came and we got two babies. And I’m not going to lie – they are sweet babies, but the sentinel keeping watch over my heart is very committed to the process of my protection. I’ve been caring for these boys, but not really parenting.

To parent is to risk. And it’s a risk I’ve not been willing to take with these little ones. Not yet. And here I stand, on the cusp between too soft and too hard and I’m feeling myself making a choice, one I am reluctant to make, but love calls for it. I must parent until their parents are better able to. I must provide love in addition to theirs. We must move forward in this hard life in a way that others do not, cannot, and will not understand.

As author and musician Michael Card says, “Jesus doesn’t accept volunteers; he calls disciples. Following is a command, not an invitation.”

And so we follow, even though we know what it eventually means for us. Again.

 

 

Stepping Back into a Scary Place

WritingSometimes sadness gives way to success, if you want to call it that. I can think of several gals who, after experiencing or currently experiencing really super hard things, started writing about it and became internet-famous. I remember praying once that I would be okay with a lifetime of mediocre blogging if it meant I didn’t have to experience the things those gals have had to. Because I’m super deep like that.

As it turns out, I have nothing to worry about. For me, sadness simply gives way. It dries me up. It takes me to a dark, lonely place where, even if there are people out there who understand and maybe want to walk me through it, I simply do not want to go there and thus I don’t.

I just looked back at my blog. The last post was April 8 and the post before that January 28. Prior to this year, it could be said I spent too much time on my blog. And now: nothing.

January ushered in a six-week period of hell in my heart. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is just such a terrible thing and no words can adequately describe how it feels to watch someone you love experience the devastation of that. When my mom died in February, I knew it was coming, so I felt like I should have been a little more prepared. People lose their parents every day, right? But I don’t. I hadn’t. And then suddenly I did and in truth, I wasn’t ready for it and I’m still angry about it. And it’s been almost six months. So six months shouldn’t still be preventing someone from writing about it, talking about it, crying about it, right? But there is a place deep inside me that feels like I used up all of my grief capital with people ages ago and I should really move on now.

Likewise, our foster care story turned the page into a really sad chapter in February as well. And as it happened during the same month of caring for my mom during her last days, we just closed the foster care book for a while. For almost six months.

Next week we open it back up again and add two babies to the chaos of our lives and I must say, it doesn’t feel nearly as romantic as it did the first time we welcomed a new child into our home for a short stay. Our experiences with the system have tainted me, frightened me, and made me second-guess our involvement altogether.

And yet, here we go. Life is just incessant in its constant ready-or-not-here-I-come railroading of my existence.

But then, what would it be if we just stayed in the same place forever?

I imagine…it would be death.

 

A dark and broken place

There’s a McDonalds I come to on Tuesday nights. I spend $1.08 and get a drink, sometimes tea, sometimes Coke. Sometimes I just get water. Once I ordered nothing at all. I sit here for 75 minutes while the girls are nearby attending choir. There is free wifi here and lots of fodder for the people are broken file. Last week I watched four teenagers eat burgers while two of them pawed each other the entire time and I wondered if they had parents or if their parents cared or if I would one day be foster parenting their not-yet-baby. Tonight there is a couple nearby. She’s crying. He’s yelling. Their toddler baby is wandering close by and their kindergarten age boy is climbing on the play place. I hear DUI and I hear you don’t care and I hear pain. A lot of pain.

On Sunday night Maddie and I stopped at another McDonalds on the turnpike. The options between Oklahoma City and Tulsa are pretty limited when you need gasoline and are hungry. We went in and as we were finishing up we saw a 40-something cowboy come in with a 10-something boy. The man hugged the boy. He hugged him again and again. And the boy was crying. And the boy walked across the restaurant towards the other door where his mother was waiting for him. And he held out his hand to his dad and waved one more time. And the dad held back tears and waved back and then turned around and walked out the door he came in.

And I broke down in tears right there in the McDonalds. Much like I’m about to do right now. Because there is so much that is dark and broken in this world I can hardly breathe.

I went to Owasso this weekend to file some will and trust parents at the county courthouse for my parents. It was the final step in what turned into six month process of me trying to help them get their legal lives in order. I mediated some tension between my dad and the hospice nurse who came out for the first time. Having hospice step into the story was not an easy move for my parents. It is a necessary one, but necessary does not equal easy.  And I watched my mom. And it was hard.

And I’ve been so quiet about the boys lately because they have grown right into my heart and their story is my story and when their story takes a turn next month it’s going to rip a hole right through me.

And there is so much that is dark and broken in this world I can barely breathe.

I can’t pray. I can’t talk. I can’t think. I can only cry.

And I have to hope that God hears my tears and translates them into the prayer I mean them to be.

Because there is just so much that is dark and broken in this world I can hardly breathe.

Three Guys in a Tractor

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We arrived at the farm in Pike County, IL last night and today has been a flurry of farm fun for the boys. It’s been super fun to watch our extended family on both sides embrace the boys as part of our family for this season of time and be so willing to give them all the love and experiences they give our own.

Truly, this is foster grandparenting at its finest.

 

 

Snow Day!

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We had a family snow day today and I will confess: At 8:30 this morning I said, “Only 12 hours to go until bedtime!” because…*cough*…two little boys pent up in the house all day, save for a few forays into the snow is a recipe for disaster.

We made it, though. We had one outside play time in the morning, followed by my new snow day tradition of a big brunch/lunch of sausage egg casserole and cinnamon rolls, then naps, then an afternoon play time, lots of Lego playing, and a lot of Wild Kratts. And I do mean a LOT of Wild Kratts.

Then we hauled them all over to McDonalds for the simple fact that they have an indoor play place and weren’t crowded tonight. They burned off some steam there and we headed home for bedtime.

Whew.

And we get to repeat a lot of this tomorrow, sans the evening McDonalds. Here’s hoping we make it.

Stuck

Like so many dwarves wrapped in a spider web and hanging from a tree. Thank you, Tolkien, for the visual image.

I’m trying to even pinpoint what I want to say and figure out how to make it sound true, yet concise; complete, yet honoring. Sometimes the truth is just messy.

Sometimes foster care is.

Three weeks ago from tomorrow we dropped Baby T off for a weekend visit with another foster family and two of his brothers. That was the last time we saw him. He did not come back to us.

And I mentally blasted DHS because, really, thanks for the notice, you guys.

We could have pushed for the 5-day notice they are required to give us, but in the end since we knew they were going to move him we felt it was better for him to go ahead and stay rather than come back to us for a few days and then go back again. And being with his brothers is also a good thing. But still.

And now we’ve been back to a family of 8 for the past three weeks. And it’s been one big blur. I’m finding that managing the lives of at least 7 people (7, since Craig generally manages his own) is really kicking my butt. Every single night I open up my computer and email myself a detailed list of who has to be where and when. It looks an awful lot like this one from last Wednesday:

  • 7:15: Craig takes Katie and Millie to school
  • 7:55: I leave with A5, R4, Maddie
  • 8:05: Drop A5 off, head to R4’s school
  • 8:40: Drop R4 off, head to Eye Doctor
  • 9:15: Eye Doctor with Maddie
  • 10:15: Walmart for meat and cheese tray supplies
  • 11:00: Home, drop Maddie off to do school
  • 11:45: Leave for school – pick Katie up and head to school
  • 12:30-2:30: Durin’s Day Festival
  • 2:30: Craig heads to R4’s school and picks up R4, Megan heads to North Campus and picks up Millie
  • 3:00: Pick up Millie and go home, Craig picks up R4 and brings him home
  • 4:30: Pick up A5
  • 4:45: Take Maddie to Guitar
  • 5:00 Figure out dinner
  • 5:45: Leave to pick up Maddie
  • 6:00: Pick up Maddie
  • 6:15: Finish feeding anyone who hasn’t eaten. Mad scramble to prep house for City Group
  • 7:00 City Group

Add to the insanity that a schedule, similar in length, yet different in implementation combined with trying to figure out the logistical, physical, and emotional needs of everyone here and it’s a wonder I’m not on some kind of antidepressant yet.

The boys have had to deal with so much grown up stuff in the past few weeks it’s a wonder THEY aren’t on some kind of antidepressant yet. Seriously. So much has happened that I decided to seek therapy services for them. I made an appointment based off the recommendation of my foster care support worker only to be forced to change it by the boys’ social worker. I did some digging around and found I do have the ability to push on this, but I never know how hard to do this. I pushed a little. I said I’d stick with the social worker’s preferred place for 6 weeks but if I didn’t see improvement in the boys, I was going to seek collaborative services between her preference and the place I wanted to go with. Seems reasonable, right? I got this email today, “I appreciate your concern for the boys but OKDHS has custody of this case. And we make those decisions regarding the children. Please be [in] compliance with our process.”

Y’all. I’ve tried and tried to be nothing but supportive for OKDHS, but this email right here? It makes me want to OPEN UP A FREAKING CAN.

Because I don’t really see OKDHS comforting little boys who wonder why their life sucks. I don’t see OKDHS taking these little boys to the park. I don’t see OKDHS desperately creating sticker charts and reward systems to motivate little boys to follow the rules. I don’t see OKDHS rocking little boys when the rules simply don’t make sense and they can’t handle them. I don’t see OKDHS micro-managing where I take little boys to the doctor. I don’t see OKDHS giving one flip about the education of these little boys. I DO see us doing these things. We are the ones parenting these boys. We are the ones taking them to the park. We are the ones navigating them through the rocky sea that is their life. We should the the ones who make these important decisions too.

At the very least we should be allowed to give input.

At the very very least we should be treated with the same respect they expect us to treat them with.

And I could very well be taking this way too personally, but I just feel like this is a power grab and not one that really seeks for the best interests of the boys, but just a way to say, “I’m making this decision and you can’t change it. So there.”

This is foster care. And sometimes it makes absolutely no sense.

Family and Foster Care

We took the boys with us to my parents’ house for Thanksgiving. They’ve been there before. We spent Easter there too. The boys tend to follow the lead of the girls in figuring out what to call various members of our family, so since they call us Mom and Dad, the boys call us Mom and Dad. They call my parents Nana and Papa, so the boys call them Nana and Papa. Lady Belle belongs to our family, so Lady Belle belongs to them. That’s just the way it is.

When the boys were with us in the spring, it was just the six of us. They saw pictures of the baby we’d had before them, but that’s a little too abstract for 3 and 4-year-old boys, so they didn’t understand. Then they came for a visit in August and it was the normal six of us plus one extra baby. Then they came back in October and it was still the six of us, only this time we also had a 13-month-old. They never asked why or what or how, but just accepted it as the weird way things seem to go sometimes. So I thought they understood that we care for other kids sometimes and they are in that group of other kids we care for. I thought they understood that the six of us live here all the time.

So it shocked the snot out of me today on our way home from Owasso when I heard A5 ask one of the girls, “So who is your mom?” She pointed to me and said, “She’s my mom!” He probed further, “I mean, who is your first mom? Is she your first Mommy?” Again she answered, “Yes! She’s my only mom. And she’s the only mom for all of us girls.” He said, “Really? Did you grow in her tummy?” She told him she did. He got quiet as he processed that.

And we all got quiet for a moment as we processed that. Because it never once occurred to me that he would think the girls are in the same situation he’s in, yet now that I think about it it makes complete sense.

And it makes me sad again. Because what he so desperately needs is a permanent, stable home, where he can love with confidence and live with security that the people he calls Mom and Dad will be Mom and Dad to him; today, next week, next year, and forever.

And I often wonder if he will ever get to experience that. We do our best to make the boys part of our family and treat them like part of our family and love them like family. Yet at the end of the day, they legally belong to the state of Oklahoma. And the state of Oklahoma can come in at any time and move them somewhere else and we have no say in that.

And I think that’s a tragedy. Because family doesn’t treat each other that way. Or it shouldn’t.

 

On the Eve of My 40th Birthday

On the eve of my 40th birthday

I resonate with this dreary gray

Not because I’m half a breakdown away from a mid-life crisis

But because there’s just so much I want to say

Life has been busy. La la la. Everyone’s life is busy, right? I know that. And I hate playing the busy card. Yet here we are, smack dab in the middle of the busiest time I’ve ever known.

And it’s true: I turn 40 tomorrow and I’m not loving that. I know it’s not considered PC or Christian to care about your age like it makes one squat bit of difference. I don’t fear being old, but I don’t love the process of getting there. This age, this 40, I see it in others’ eyes – to those who are younger, my age has lost all credibility. To those who are older, my age hasn’t yet gained any in the first place.

I sit here on my last night of my 30’s doing what I’ve been doing for weeks, nay, years: being present. Little boys attempt to drift off to sleep, but want someone nearby while they do. And so I sit. This is what I do.

And I fume over some issues with their case and the way several conversations with their caseworker has gone lately as they seem to be power play related and I can’t for the life of me figure out why she, who is the first to critique where they’ve been, doesn’t pull a little more for us as we also try to help these boys have the best life they can.

Because this is just not the way things are supposed to be.

And I fume over my emotionally perceived injustice that our 13-month-old was removed from us earlier this month so that he could be in another foster home with two of his biological siblings. Yes, I understand why it happened, I just didn’t love the three hour notice. Oh, and we miss him.

Because this is just not the way things are supposed to be.

And I mourn over the continued struggle I see in my mom as she battles ALS and the way my dad is caring for her.

Because this is just not the way things are supposed to be.

And maybe that’s the thing. Maybe I’ve been waiting for 40 years for things to become as they ought and I’m finally realizing that not only is that never going to happen, life is just going to continue rearing back its ugly effects of the fall and fire bombing them out in all directions.

Our church, for as much as I love it, will never be perfect. Because look who attends it.

Our school, for as ideal as I think it is, is never going to be all things to all people. Because we have a lot of different people who attend it.

Our health, for as thankful as I am for the current age we live in and our accessibility to treatment and prevention options, is not going to hold out forever. And even if I make an idol out of good healthy living, or abandon my responsibilities altogether, there will always be things out of my control.

And I sit here thinking that if I were going to sugar coat where I am, I would be saying, “This is the best time ever!” And yet my heart is heavy because it isn’t. And I know it never will be. And I understand why. But just the same, I wish it were.