Friday, August 14, 2015

The Weight of Grace

It is a hard balance to maintain a semblance of community, privacy, and express emotions accurately through social media. For those of you who saw my FB status yesterday about our trial date and the outcome, thank you so much for your prayers and support. But unless you are a foster parent on this journey as well, it is hard to understand what actually goes on behind the scenes and all the emotions that we are dealing with. So while we are filled with joy that the girls' case is now moving forward towards adoption, we are also heartbroken. 

I think with international adoption, it might be different. All the legal work happens before you arrive to pick up your child. You never see the parents. It is simply a child who needs love and a home. In foster care, most of the time, it isn't like this. I have a relationship with my girls' mom. I know her. I interact with her. I make photo albums of the girls for her and whisper her name in our bedtime prayers every night. She calls to talk to the girls on my cell phone. And whether she is a good parent or not, like me, she is a mom who loves her kids. A mom who, as of yesterday, was just told by the Judge that she can't be their mom anymore. 

Now imagine yourself in that same situation. 
I've been weeping for two days.
Relief. Deep sorrow. Joy. Unbelievable grief. 

Eric wrote the following after being in court all afternoon. I hope that you read it and understand a little more of what we are going through. We need the community. We need the support and prayers. And we need you to understand. 

Many of you have been journeying with us in this process and we want you to know what is happening. Emotionally, right now, it feels easier to not try to rectify what we are feeling. To say "We did it" and move on with the day to day. But that would not be true faith we profess. It would not be grace. 

Yesterday I sat in a courtroom while a judge explained to our daughters mother why it is not in their best interests for them to live with her. The weight of those words still has not sunk in. As I listened to the judge explain the long list of reasons why I was a more suitable parent, my heart broke.

We received congratulations from states attorneys and case workers and nothing has ever felt more disjointed. I was being congratulated while 5 feet away a broken mother was just told her children are no longer hers. 

I am sure many of you are wondering how to respond. The truth is:

I don't know. 

All I can tell you is where we are at: 

We are grieving right now on behalf of our children, children too young to appreciate the gravity and brokenness of what they were born into. 

We are grieving right now with a mother who has lost the right to her own children, a mother who realized too late the gravity and brokenness of the situation she was in. 

We are grieving for the siblings who will never live under the same roof together again, siblings who have grown up too fast and been dispersed too soon. 

We are grieving for a father who knew his daughters for too little time, a father who may not ever be able to have a meaningful relationship with his girls.  

We are grieving for the innocence lost, innocence that should have given our girls a carefree childhood and instead was torn away by pain.

We are grieving right now for the scars that are left, scars that will heal over time, but that will always be there to remind them of their past.

We are grieving right now for the questions created, Questions of identity, worth, and self.

Most of all, we are grieving right now for the pain of a family being torn apart. 

We are grieving, not because we believe the decision should have been different, we do not, but we are grieving because the only decision that could be made is so painful for so many. We grieving not because the court was unjust but because the situation is so broken. 

In the midst of all of this we celebrate the joy that the girls have brought to our home. We celebrate the changes we have seen in them over the last two years. We celebrate the promise of a strong, healthy home for them.

And we are hopeful. 

We are hopeful that in the midst of the brokenness new life can burst through. 

We are hopeful that a relationship with the birth mom will continue.

We are hopeful that siblings will stay close together.

We are hopeful that one day the girls will understand that the fact that their birth mom could not take care of them does not mean that she did not love them.

We are hopeful that love is stronger than the brokenness.

Thank you for being a part of this journey.

As a side note, while parental rights were terminated, an appeal has been made to take the case to a higher court. This is not uncommon, and is a process that can take up to four months, if all goes smoothly. During these next few months while we wait out the appeal period, we will be working on adoption paperwork and subsidies to keep everything moving forward. Although there are still some legal hoops to go through, we are hopeful that everything will go smoothly and that we will be completing the adoption some time next year. Our girls do not know their legal status, and only know that they have a safe home with us and will continue living with us. Once things become more official and the timing seems appropriate, we will explain to them about adoption more fully. While we have already begun conversations about this, we are very careful to not make any promises until they are legally promises that we can, in fact, make and keep. If you see us and our girls, life is continuing as normal. No congratulations are needed until adoption papers are signed. Then, we will party. 
Thank you so much for walking with us and for your understanding. 

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Be Brave

I've been thinking a lot about what it means for me to be brave. Time with a therapist every week will do that. Expose all your weaknesses and then you have to find all your good pieces again. Sara Bareilles has been singing her lyrics in the van to me every time I run an errand lately, and I keep hearing her words in my head. 

"Honestly, I wanna see you be brave." 

But what does my brave look like?

In my head I immediately picture wielding a bow and arrow at a giant attacking grizzly bear who apparently missed his lunch. I have no idea why this image comes into my head, but I must admit, I look pretty. darn. awesome. fending him off (thanks to my healthy obsession with graphic novels to feed my avid imagination and superhero tendencies in my subconscious). 

My real brave, though, is slightly more mundane. But still, it's real. And to me, sometimes in that moment? Maybe it feels just as big as fighting off a hungry bear. 

So what is my brave?

My brave is greeting my children with a smile in the morning, even when the house has already been torn apart, no one has done their morning chores, and I was awoken at 6 AM to the sounds of fighting and screams. 

My brave is answering the phone when the caseworker calls.

My brave is hugging my daughter close when she just spent all of her energy hitting me and screaming in my face in anger.

My brave is buckling and unbuckling five carseats to take my kids to where we need to go. 

My brave is breathing deep when my daughter yells at me that I'm not her mom. I'm not. But I'm trying my best.

My brave is realizing that my daughter who looks just like me is about to go to public school and I'm not ready for that yet. But she is.

My brave is pulling a stuffed bunny out of the toilet with kitchen utensils and not making a big deal out of it. 

My brave is accepting that my life is nothing like I thought it would be. And allowing myself to grieve. It isn't better or worse than I thought. But it is very different. My brave is resting in reality. And learning to enjoy my family just as they are.

My brave is walking into my house and seeing my children instead of the mess.

My brave is telling a friend the truth. That I'm actually not always "fine." That I could use some help.

My brave is listening to our family therapist.

My brave is brushing my teeth with water (again) because my toothpaste seems to have spread itself all over every surface of the bathroom. At least it smells....minty.

My brave is eating quesadillas for dinner again because the park was way to much fun to go home and cook. 

My brave is giving love to someone who is constantly pushing me away. 

My brave is closing my eyes each night, next to my best friend, knowing that tomorrow is going to be hard, just like today. But hoping for some joy too.

My brave is putting paint on that huge canvas. I may not really know what I'm doing, but it brings me joy.

My brave is majoring on the big issues with my kids, and letting the little things go. 

My brave is asking for forgiveness. 

My brave is asking for help.

My brave is going out of my comfort level to do something special with the kids, even if it doesn't go according to expectations. 

My brave is throwing all those expectations out the window, and being OK with reality. 

My brave is smiling at my husband, choosing to laugh instead of cry. 

My brave is being committed to my children for years without knowing the outcome. 

My brave is loving them no matter what happens. 

My brave is accepting that our family is different.

My brave is trusting that God is good. 

My brave is seeing the fear in my daughter's eyes when she is lashing out and drawing her close instead of letting my anger take control.

My brave is reading "just one more story" before bed.  

My brave is watching my husband drive away to work every morning, leaving me and five kids and a whole big day to fill.

My brave is holding my baby close and making him belly laugh, even when there are so many other things to do. 

My brave is watching my boy take his first toddling steps, knowing that they grow up so so fast, and feeling like I've already missed it.

My brave is choosing to love a child in their most unloveable moments. 

My brave is having another night at home instead of spending it with friends. 

My brave is making my kids laugh when I dance silly for them in public.

My brave is sharing my world with them, even on the days I don't feel like it.

Every day, I have to fight for bravery. Fight for joy. Fight for finding the good and the peace in the tough and chaos. I like to look at people (thanks, social media) and think that they have it so much better. That their lives have a lot less "fighting for joy" and it must just come naturally because look at that great selfie she just took! And I know that whether or not that is true, ultimately it doesn't matter. Because my life is full of ups and downs just like everyone else's. But it's in how I choose to view my life and live my life that makes the real difference.

Most days I fall hard and fail often. But even in my failures, I am still choosing my family. I am still choosing to walk the path that God has brought us to, trusting in His goodness and sovereignty. And though I am completely and utterly overwhelmed by the responsibility of nurturing and raising five little humans, I am also thankful that God has found us to be up to the task.

Your brave is going to look different than my brave. Maybe for you, it's finally seeking out that other mom at the park that you keep seeing and going over and saying hello. Maybe it's applying for grad school, or adding another child to your family. Maybe it means renewing the lease on your rental, or uprooting your life and moving somewhere new. Maybe it means hugging your child instead of raising your voice. Or laughing at the toilet paper trail that is running through the entire house and then moving on. Or getting dinner on the table in the middle of everyone melting down.

Maybe your brave today is just being confident being YOU, and not comparing yourself to anyone else. 

Whatever your brave looks like, I hope you are brave today. 
Even if no one else notices. 

Friday, April 24, 2015

Even when He asks the crazy.

This week has been hard.

Maybe it was because the first half of the week was filled with cold and rain. The cold got into my bones and the dampness seemed to suck all the remaining warmth out. I wake up the morning still tired. And food seems to have lost it's flavor.

About every three months or so this happens. And every time it does, it feels just as hard as the first time.

She lashes out. Becomes a whirlwind of quiet destruction. Books and toys and mattresses and dressers and walls are bashed and broken beyond repair. Her heart twists tight and turns to a block of stone. Unyielding. Holding its ground.

She won't meet my eyes.

She can't.

Can't let go. Must stay in control. Must survive.

It always comes on suddenly. Without warning. Without an obvious trigger to point back to and have understanding.

I react poorly.

I am overwhelmed. Arms full of children, four others who need me every minute of the waking day. How to I put four little lives on pause in order to sit with the fifth for as long as she needs? It feels impossible. And in the frustration of knowing that I can't do it perfectly, I lash out. And react and overreact. And overreact again. It isn't me anymore trying to help a scared little girl through life. It's a tired, overwhelmed angry person who just walked into a wall and is angry that the wall won't budge because I have other things to do and I don't have time for this.

I lose perspective. She loses all control. We battle. Long and loud. It lasts hours and then days and I cry into the phone and in my mom's arms and in my bed at night. Eric gives me counsel and I pay out money for practical training because really I wasn't born into this world knowing how to do this. Having a license to be a foster parent doesn't mean that we intuitively know how to parent children with trauma. I know nothing about this. It's been a year and a half and we are still floundering.

This is hard.

You think that you can just love them enough. That you can love them out of the behaviors. That if you provide just what they need then they will be ok.

It's not true.

You can love them with love that they have never experienced before in their entire lives. You can nurture them and guide them, but their past is a part of their story. And while who you start out as doesn't determine your future, it does play a part in shaping it.

A child who has been through trauma doesn't just get over it and move on.
It's more complicated than that. Their story is a part of them. Even all those parts that make you want to scream at the injustice and squirm in discomfort. It's still their story.

Today is Friday. The end of a long week with a lot of struggles. Ironically, it's the eve of my older sister's wedding day as well. I am tired, and taking a pause. Realizing that I need more training and need to do something about it. Need to figure me out in order to truly help her.

I'm reflecting too. Remembering that God loves us even when we are the most unloveable. That He adopts us as His even after we spend hours yelling at Him and blaming Him for everything wrong with our lives. He doesn't love us because of our behavior, good or bad. He loves us because we are HIS.

I understand this more with my biological children. The children that I grew in my body and birthed into this world and nourished with my milk. I love them because they are MINE. They were made from me, a physical manifestation of love made flesh.

It feels different with my foster daughters. They were never mine. They belong to someone else. And yet they arrived on my porch that one cold night and I instantly became their new Mom. Their second mom. I have no legal rights over them. We share no genetics. And when they ask if they are living with me for always I don't have the answer, but hope that what I say turns out to be true. It is true that their case is heading in the adoption direction, but it isn't there yet. And it is also true that should their case get there, we will be adopting them. But all of that remains unknown, because the court is slow and because birth parents matter. They rightfully get every chance the court can give to get up on their feet and do what is right. And so I hope for the children. That whatever happens, it will be in the best interest of the kids. And I pray that it will be.

So I love my foster daughters. I call them my own. But it is a growing love. It isn't that instant effortless, unconditional Mama love that comes upon you the moment you birth your infant and see his face for the first time. It is slower growing. It takes time and work and a lot of energy and whole lot of prayer. It takes connecting and bonding and failing and getting back up again and again and again. It takes asking permission to hug and asking forgiveness in humility and teaching how to look someone in the eyes and use gentle words. It is a love that is learning how to be unconditional. It's learning how to forgive when she yells that I'm a stupid, ugly Mama for two hours straight. It's learning how to deeply understand when she says she doesn't want me, but wants her other mom, even with all the problems and suffering that went with it. It's a love that is learning to love her because of HER, and because she is precious. Not a love based on her behaviors.

I want to love her like Jesus loves her. 
And I am so desperately thankful that I don't have to try and do that alone. Because Jesus IS love. And He already IS all of it's attributes for me. I just have to let Him love her through me.

And while this is the hardest thing that I have ever done, I would never regret taking in these two girls and loving them into our family. Because God has taken us in deeper with Him than I ever imagined we could go. All because He asked us something crazy, and we said Yes.

If this has given you doubts about ever being a foster parent, don't let it. Because God knows what He's doing. And the best thing you can ever do, is say YES to Him. Even when He asks the crazy.

Especially then.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Rising up

Eric and I have recently been really discouraged about not being surrounded by a community of people who are willing to make themselves uncomfortable in order to walk in obedience to Jesus. Being a foster parent, for example, can be truly isolating. Sometimes it feels like literally no one understands you or the heart behind what you are doing. In my experience, people automatically put me up on a pedestal as some sort of saint or super hero mom as soon as they meet me and say that sad little phrase, "Wow, I could never do that."

But the truth is, they probably can. They just would have to forgo some false views of comfort and security to do it. And kick that selfishness goodbye too.
(And, disclaimer: my kids can testify daily to the fact that I am no where CLOSE to being a saint or even remotely saint-like. Didn't all the saints have to be dead before they were even called Saints anyways? So no go on saint. But sometimes, the super hero does get some moments to shine.)

I have been a Christ follower for the majority of my life. I have met a lot of Believers, church goers, do-gooders, you name it. But in my adult life, I haven't often met a lot of people who are willing to give up their comfort in order to truly live out the words that Jesus spoke. Like literally, I probably only know a handful of these people. People who are willing to trade in a relatively easy, comfortable American Christian life in order to "do scary things" for the Gospel. To be brave enough, and take that scary step to serve out of the comfort zone. To serve, not the already blessed, but the least of these. The troubled. The hurting. The underprivileged. The underserved. The poor. The little girl with PTSD who's parent is in jail. The twelve year old boy who keeps running away trying to find a home that he was never lucky enough to have. The three-year-old bully who has an affectionate heart, but has only ever seen hate instead of love. The baby abandoned in the hospital. The middle aged woman on the corner holding up a cardboard sign.

A few days after Eric and I put into words the loneliness that we have been feeling for some time, an interesting thing happened.

Maybe it's my perspective that has changed, but maybe it's also the people. But in these past two weeks, I have seen a community start to rise up around us. People who are tired of the church small group self feed, everything unto themselves. People who actually want to stop talking and are closing their mouths and rising up and doing something. People who truly want to love their neighbors, even the poor ones (especially the poor ones), and love them well. People who's hearts are burning within them to be the voice for the voiceless, to be a Father to the fatherless, to feed the hungry bellies, and to clothe those who have none.

My friends, some near and some far, out of the blue are becoming foster parents. People I love are adopting children, both locally and internationally. My friend and her son regularly make lunches for a homeless shelter and pass them out in person. The women in my moms group go out of their way to provide a monthly meal for a group of teen moms in my neighborhood. Several other women and I have the awesome privilege to walk alongside these young women as mentors and share Jesus and friendship with them as they raise their kids while still navigating high school. Refugee families just arriving to the city are being housed and clothed and befriended by my friends. Parents from my kids park district preschool are coming up to me asking me for information on how to become a foster parent. Couples are sitting at our dining room table late into the night, sharing how God is moving them to make a change and love the undesirable.

I am in awe.
Friends, God is moving.
And I am so honored and overwhelmed and totally amazed that I am right in the thick of it.

So carry on, Saints. Carry on.