Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Foster Family's Family

Around this time four years ago, I informed my parents that I would be getting licensed to be a foster mom that spring. They never blinked an eye...

Since that time, I have fostered nine children and the majority of them have spent a good amount of time with my family and extended family. This time with family is incredibly important in the lives of these children. Please bear with me as I explain why you, as a foster family's family, have such a paramount support role in the lives of these children and families.

These children, the majority of the time, have been pulled out of chaos and have been dropped into a foster home. Now let me be clear... This event in their young lives has nothing to do with them. They were powerless in their circumstances, an innocent bystander who was devastated by the poor decisions of others. They have lost everything they know as familiar and find dear. They have been removed and separated from the people and things that they love. They are lost, hurting, and scared. And more than anything, they need a shelter in the storm. They need to feel safe, loved and protected. 

Will they have behaviors that are different than what you would expect out of your own children? Of course!! Just like the kids down the street from you are being raised in a different environment than at your house, these children are coming from a different environment as well. 

And this is where your amazingly exciting role comes in!!

It is no surprise that all children need to see healthy, stable role models. For kids who have come into care out of situations with unhealthy family dynamics, this may be the only opportunity that they have in life to see these healthy dynamics at work around them. They are now able to see how families communicate, appreciate each other, and love each other in a healthy and appropriate manner. They can begin to see that there are families in which a child can trust their family members to not hurt and take advantage of them. They can see what it means for a family to spend quality time together and have fun. In essence, they can see God's design for family at work...

So whether you are a grandparent, aunt, uncle, cousin, or second cousin twice removed to these foster kiddos, you have an incredibly important supporting role in the lives of those who will come through the home of this foster family!

With that being said, I understand that you may think your family members are weird or crazy for fostering. I know that sometimes there will be children who are difficult to deal with. I can sympathize with you if times are tough and your sister's family just took in a sibling set of 4 children, which is just not in your Christmas budget. I also am quite certain that this decision to foster may even make you feel like there's a strain on your relationship because things are just different now. 

But the most important thing that I can express to you is this...

Your family who is fostering? They need you! They need your support. They need your ear. They need your presence. They need your hugs. 

And their foster kiddos? They need you! They need your example. They need your love. They need your acceptance. 

Whether you agree with the decision that your family members made to foster or not, they need you. Even if you feel like they are making choices that will affect their forever kids' lives irreparably, they need you. If you feel like having extra mouths to feed at Thanksgiving or extra presents to buy at Christmas is just too much of a strain, they need you anyway. What foster families need is for you to put your opinion aside, and support them in their ministry, the amazingly brutiful (brutal + beautiful) ministry that God has called them into. 

And as the saying goes, "It takes a village to raise a child." 

BE. THEIR. VILLAGE.

P-Lee and Squeaker watching some tv.


Saturday, October 11, 2014

A Cautionary Tale: Watch Your Words

Let me tell you a story about a little girl. We'll call her "Annie."

Annie was a precocious child. Some said she marched to the beat of her own drummer. Her sense of humor was quite developed for such a young child, and she had a knack for sarcasm that sometimes bordered on inappropriate for her age. She enjoyed playing with friends, but sought out the company of adults more than other kids did. She enjoyed listening to them talk, and even tried to add to the conversation most of the time. At first, Annie considered herself to be a normal kid. Then her self perception started changing, slowly but surely. 

As far back as she can remember, Annie's mom had said the same things to her... "Don't be so annoying." "Annie, don't be obnoxious." "Don't wear out your welcome." "You're being overbearing, you need to tone it down."

Eventually, the words that Annie came to use to describe herself were annoying, obnoxious, and overbearing. Those words came to define her. She always worried about how people were perceiving her. She was always hyper-sensitive to any sort of sign, whether verbal or nonverbal, that she was irritating someone. 

By fourth grade, Annie was struggling with depression. She was incredibly good at hiding this, however. She learned early on that being "sad" wasn't really an option for her, so she learned how to fake a smile with her eyes. The eyes were the dead giveaway for a smile... If you could fake that, then you had it made. So she did. But Annie cried a lot, too. At night, when sleep wouldn't come because all of her failures of the day swirled around in her head, she would cry quietly as she prayed desperately for God to change who she was so that she wasn't so annoying, such a disappointment.

This secret world continued through her middle and high school years. There were two different Annies. The public Annie and the private one. The public Annie smiled and pretended that everything was great. Every now and then, she dropped her armor, only to pick it right back up again while brushing off any concern that the breech may have caused. And the private Annie? Well, she continued to berate herself for being so immature, so annoying, so obnoxious, so overbearing. She struggled to be truly present in her friendships because she was self monitoring so obsessively. 

Now Annie found herself in college. Away from all of those who knew her... A perfect opportunity to reinvent herself. She was determined that she would become a new person. One that people would actually like to be around. This was her chance, but she blew it. She showed her real self, she spoke too loudly, stayed too long, said something annoying, drove people away. Thankfully, she did have a group of friends who stuck by her side, that still do, but that didn't ward off the depression. It began growing and consuming her with a vengeance. Finally, in her junior year, she was brave enough to get some help.

As treatment for her depression began, Annie started seeing little changes in herself. She wasn't so paranoid that people hated her, she didn't think that every laugh was making fun of her, she no longer felt like there was a spotlight shining down on her that aimed to show her every imperfection. The depression no longer controlled her every moment, and she was able to relax and enjoy life a little bit.

But the broken record still played in her head... "Don't be so annoying." "Annie, don't be obnoxious." "Don't wear out your welcome." "You're being overbearing, you need to tone it down."

You see, from her earliest moments in life, someone Annie trusted and loved told her that she was broken. Annie knows that her mom loves her, wants what's best for her, and that she was merely doing what she thought was best in trying to mold and shape Annie into a "good person." But the damage was done. The constant reminders had become how Annie defined herself. How she still defines herself. 

Annie still struggles with her self image. She still worries about how annoying and obnoxious she is. She still pushes people away for fear of being too overbearing and that that would eventually lead to rejection. She continues to hold people at arm's length so that when they decide they don't really like being around her, the hurt won't be quite as intense because she's protected her heart. But the real damage is that Annie is living in semi-isolation, keeping herself from being in true fellowship with others. She longs to have that fellowship, the intimate friendships that she sees others enjoying, but it has been such a "no-no" for so long for her, that she's not even really sure she knows how to form them or keep them. She has essentially become an island. 

Moms and dads, teachers, mentors, counselors, adults in general... 
Let me just remind you of how incredibly important your words are. They will either be life giving, or life breaking. They will either affirm the preciousness of a child, or they will begin shaping them into something broken. What you say to a child now sticks with them for life. 

I encourage you to dig deep into yourself and find the words that your parents gave to you. I encourage you to listen to what you are saying to the children in your life. 

And please, I beg of you, don't set your child up to be an Annie. It's a long, hard road to walk.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Joy Is...

Dearest Baby Belle,

Can I be honest with you? There are many times I feel like a "real mommy;" like when I'm holding you, when I kiss you, when my heart squeezes in panic because I know you're sick...

But there are also many times in which I don't feel real; like when your birth parents are mentioned, when I get asked how long I'll have you, when I kiss you knowing that I'm kissing a baby that will never be mine.

I'm one day away from a retreat, a time of refreshing and soul searching. I'll get to see a lot of other foster mommies there, and I know that they'll see my heart, my fear, my real self... I treasure that. 

And then there will be a lot of adoptive mommies there, too. As much as I love them, I have to admit that I don't get quite as excited about seeing them. You see, I'm jealous of what they have. Jealous of their permanency, their ability to travel out of state with their little ones without getting permission from 55 different people, of their promise of forever with their babies. I'm jealous that they don't have to worry about someone taking their babies away, that they don't have to sit in the family court waiting room every six months... I'm jealous of their forever. 

Maybe one day it'll be my turn for forever. It'll be my turn to sign the papers and rejoice over the little one who has joined my forever family. But for now, I'll take the little joys that you give me.

The joy of seeing you smile when I open the car door and look at you in your car seat.

The joy of knowing you're okay, and that your illness that had me shaking in my boots was just a close call... Nothing more.

The joy of watching your eyes search the room for me when you hear my voice.

The joy of knowing that my arms, above all others, can quiet and calm you when you're upset.

The joy of seeing you explore facial expressions, your hands, and the things close to you.

The joy of seeing you keep an entire bottle down for the first time, or at any time. 

The joy that I get every time you grab my finger with your tiny little hands.

The joy of seeing you smile sweetly in your sleep.

The joy of picking out bows for each of your outfits.

The joy of snuggling you to sleep.

The joy of seeing how brave you are in the face of adversity.

The joy of you.  

You are a joy, baby girl. You will hear that every single day that you are with me. And I pray that you will hear that every single day after you're gone. You are a joy, not because of anything you offer, but because of who you are. You are amazingly crafted by a most loving Father, and every little part of yourself shouts praises to your Creator. 

Thank you for being yourself and for bringing me so much joy. 

I love you for always,
Mama Erin




Monday, August 18, 2014

Guest Blogger: Rachel Ashcraft

Almost a year and a half ago, I dropped Big Sis and Little Sis off at daycare knowing that they would be picked up by the Ashcrafts that afternoon. My brother and sister-in-law were getting married and the Ashcrafts were keeping the girls for the weekend. That was not the only time they kept them... Every few weeks the girls got to go spend time with Mr. Aaron and Mrs. Rachel while I went to meetings at church. They LOVED them... And the feeling was mutual. It was the Ashcrafts that set my mind at ease last summer when we didn't know if the kids would be able to be reunited with family and we knew they needed a home where all three of them could be together. These people hold a special place in my heart. Not just because they're fellow foster parents, but because they invested time and love into my girls. I know that they had a huge impact on the girls' lives and I love them for that. 

Rachel posted something today about their current placement that just spoke to my heart. I thought I would share the beauty of it with you... Happy reading.

Blessings,
Erin

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Written by Rachel Ashcraft. August 18, 2014. 

365 days with big sis and little bro. A year ago this Thursday (Aug 21, 2013), Aaron picked these sweet souls up and brought them to our home. This past year has been filled with joy, tears, exhaustion, laughter, disappointment, hope. I don’t know the end of the story. I only know that today, and for today, we continue to share life. I never knew what it meant to crawl through a day, wondering if my sanity would last through until tomorrow. I never really knew what it meant to pray just for today because that’s really all I can handle thinking about right now. See, I’m a planner. Everything has an end goal and an action plan to get there. Planning is laughable in foster care. Foster care is filled with unknowns and lots of people telling you to fix the problems that you had nothing to do with causing and that are impossible for anyone but Jesus to fix. Jesus has kind of wrecked my world this year, and I love him all the more for it. We are just beggars that have found the fathers table, and there’s nothing to do but lead other beggars to the table. Honestly, sometimes foster care is really bad for my health and I begin to doubt the whole thing – then I remember that the cross wasn’t good for Jesus’s health either. There are moments in the week that feel like death, but that’s when Jesus seems to meet us and remind us that he actually knows what sacrificial death is. I’m humbled. Again.

The kids have taught me so much this past year. 

--- I’ve learned that God is passionate about these kids. I’ve seen the peace that only Jesus can bring. When a child is crushed by something that’s happened and I hold them and tell them of a time that Jesus experienced that feeling. I see a little face light up to know that Jesus understands even when no one else does. A little voice asks, why don’t more people love me? And, the little one snuggles in to hear that Jesus also wonders why more people don’t love him.

--- I’ve learned that I desperately need support from others. We.Cannot.Do.This.Alone. I’ve found that I have some really amazing people in my life. My mom, “Grandmother from Huntsville” who endlessly supports and loves on these kids. My sister Melissa, who helps me with behavior plans and school meetings. My sister Brooke, who can check out a little heart that’s just heartbroken when there’s no convincing the little one that they don’t have a heart disease. The ways my parents and sisters support us, overwhelms me. My sister in law Kristin, who sends the kids letters. Our church family, who intentionally loves on the kids AND their birth family. Cheryl who brought me dinner once a week (even though she had a newborn) when they moved in and lets me drop the kids off without warning when Grandmom is in the hospital. Casey and Seth who have intentionally loved on the kids and shown them that they have worth. Laura and Melanie who let me cry uncle when the week has been overwhelming and I can’t get everything done for children’s class. Our social worker, who prays for us and the kids, advocates for the kids, and tries to help us find moments of rest. For everyone that prays for these little ones and God to work in their lives. To those mentioned above and others that have supported the kids in ways I can’t even share because it discloses too much of their story. You know who you are, thank you.

---I’ve learned to put aside fear of judgment to walk with these kids and meet them where they are. A daughter that’s significantly older than my marriage - a son who routinely throws tantrums in public. I’m best friends with the school principal. Our intentions and purpose in this walk are often misunderstood. Whatever. Ain’t nobody got time for other people’s opinions.

--- I’ve learned that my husband rocks. He is so patient and loving with these kids. All the children that have come through our home have soaked up all the moments they can get with him. There’s nothing like a loving and patient father to point a little one to THE loving and patient father.


Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Neverending Story

Everyone grieves differently. I believe that I grieve even more differently than others...

Most who are grieving are doing so because of one certain event, one certain season of their lives. The death of a loved one, a severe illness, a tragedy that reaches out and grips them and takes over their lives suddenly and completely. Their grief may lead them to seek comfort from others. Being surrounded by family and friends may be of comfort to them. They may even want to talk about their grief... Remember the person that they love so dearly, lament over the health crisis that is invading their lives in such a horrible way.

It seems that no matter what one does in their grief, how they react, there is one consistent part of the process... It is the desire of those that love them so help them find comfort and peace in their time of need. 

As each of my eight placements have left, I have grieved in their absence. Some of these children I have had for five months, some for two days, some for almost a year. But each of them has helped shape me into who I am today. Each of them was loved, IS loved. And each of them was (is) grieved. 

As each child leaves, as I'm left with an empty home and empty arms, my grief compounds. Every loss is a reminder of what once was. Not just with that child, but with all of them. Every time one leaves, it's like I go backwards and feel the pain of every departure before them. The weight of this can be overwhelming, unbearable, terrifying. 

In my two+ years of fostering, I have found that, for me, NOT talking about it helps. I don't want to share stories, to sit and regale memories of the "good ol' days." I don't want to answer questions. I don't want to hear the cliché responses that people seem to think will help. I just want to, in the midst of my heart shattering and lying in shards at my feet, pretend like I'm totally and completely normal, for once...

Yes, my façade may break every now and then. I may cry in front of you. I ask you for a hug... And nothing more. Just play my game. Humor me. Pretend with me that my life is completely normal.

For you see, this is the only way I can keep moving forward. I cannot continue to foster these children if I get bogged down in the muck and mire of self pity. I cannot accept another placement if I'm nursing festered wounds. If I am constantly looking to the day when I will lose a child, I will not have the courage it takes to accept and love them to begin with. 

I know that "studies show" that people who don't deal with their grief aren't able to heal completely. I know that the "experts say" to talk about it... Get it out so you can eventually move into the "acceptance" stage of grief.  To that end, I say this... Maybe one day I will. Maybe one day I'll be able to take the time to go through each stage of grief and deal with everything. Maybe one day...

But until then, there are too many children who need homes. Too many children who are being removed from their families because of abuse and neglect. Too many children who are more broken and battered than my heart will ever be. So for them, I will push the grief aside and wait for the phone call that will bring me my next little one to love on.


Monday, August 4, 2014

Anatomy of Grief

I have had some really great moments this summer. But the fact of the matter is that every single one of those moments has been overshadowed by dark, deep grief. 

I haven't written much in the last two months. I've wanted to. Even composed a few drafts that never got posted. I constantly composed excerpts in my head while I sat in the darkness. But most of them never saw the light of day. Most of them I can't even remember now. What I can remember is that they were a desperate attempt to do what I love, to write, without having to actually deal with the emotions that were sitting in my heart, just waiting to leap out of me at the first opportunity they saw. You see, writing is how I process. As verbal as I am, as much as I love to talk and sing, as much as I love to share... Writing is where I can actually figure out what it is that I'm feeling. Until the words come out onto paper (or a screen), they're just a jumbled up mess in my head. 

So today, my friends, I will deal with what has been waiting to spill out of me since June 18... The day everything changed...

A sweet friend at school asked me a question this morning... 

"Do you feel like your attachment to Squeaker is different than what you had with Eyelashes?"

Pretty answer: no. Of course not. I give everything I can to all of my placements and I love both of these boys just the same. 

That pretty answer is a lie.

So now I give you the truth of it... The real answer, the ugly answer: yes. It is incredibly hard for me to feel the same way about this little one as I did about Eyelashes. Is it fair to Squeaker? No. Do I feel guilty every single day? Yes. Incredibly. 

The weeks after Eyelashes left were bad. I never knew that life could get that dark, that pain could slice so deeply. The night he left I searched manically around my house for something that smelled like him. I needed him. I needed to hold him one last time, to feel his skin against mine, to breathe in his scent as he snuggled up next to me. I physically needed him, but he was gone. After searching to no avail, for everything had either been packed up and sent with him or had been just recently washed, I resorted to crying in the fetal position on the floor of his bedroom while clutching the blanket he had last slept with and cursing the freshness of the smell of detergent.

The truth of the matter is that I felt robbed. I wasn't sure of what, but I just knew that God had short changed me somehow. Is this really it? Is this all I get?? Am I to spend my life pouring everything I am into child after child just to have them ripped out of my arms in the end? Even now, just saying the words causes my heart to constrict. For I am still nursing this wound... I haven't figured out the answer yet. 

This unresolved issue became clear to me this morning at work.

Our new principal asked us to write down words that we thought of when we thought about the following things: Family, students, teachers, leaders.

I wasn't expecting what happened next... 

Revolving door

These were the only two words I could possibly muster to write under "family."

Really? Is that where I am? Is that how I view my life, my ministry? A revolving door? No permanency, no forever, just season after season of pouring into a child that is not mine, that will never be mine?

The pain of losing them is almost unbearable. 

The pain of my unfulfilled dreams is just as unbearable. 

I never questioned my desire to have a family... A forever family. It was set into the bedrock of my heart so solidly that I never doubted that it would happen. But it hasn't. And truthfully, I don't know that it will. The jagged edge of that longing, that unfulfilled desire, has me staring down a path that I know I shouldn't follow. A path filled with bitterness and broken dreams. Of wondering what it is that I've done wrong. Of jealousy as I watch my friends raise their little ducklings without worry of when the court will pluck them out of their nest. Of longing to have someone to walk down this road with me, to understand this calling. 

I never imagined the fall out that would take place after his departure. I never realized how deep of a cut the grief would be, of the open wound that it would leave exposed. Others had left before him. I thought I was prepared. 

I was not prepared. 

Every moment of every day, I still love him. I still long for him. I mourn the loss of his smiles greeting me in the morning, of his hugs and kisses. I grieve over the loss of a child that was never meant to be mine, but whom I loved all the same. There is no bandaid that covers this. Every smile is clouded by sadness. Every mention of his name is like a cut to my heart. 

I typically come to a tidy little conclusion when I write. I identify my source of angst, and begin to see what God is teaching me... How He is changing me to be more like Him.

Right now, I have no answers. 

All I have now are the very untidy questions that continue to plague me... Is this it? Is my heart destined to be forever loving and then forced to let them go? 

I. Don't. Know. But I wish I did. 



Thursday, June 26, 2014

A Moment of Tragedy

I am not usually one to hop on the bandwagon of pointing fingers when it comes to the guilt/innocence of someone who has been accused of a crime. Publicly, that is. 


The case of Justin Ross Harris, however, is inciting me to say something. Over the past few days, I have seen posts about this go from, "What a terrible accident," to now, "Crucify the SOB."


I don't know anything about Mr. Harris. I don't know what is in his heart. I do know, though, that every year, children accidentally get left in cars with tragic consequences. These consequences devastate families and change peoples' lives forever. I can guarantee you that probably 99.9% of the people who make this mistake grieve for the rest of their lives at that one moment of lapse in their memory. I'm sure they live in the world of what-ifs and if-onlys. 


Are there people out there who intentionally hurt their children? Yes. I live in the world of foster care and children who are abused and broken by those who are supposed to care for them. The majority of these incidents, however, are not preplanned and carried out methodically. They are emotional events. Bursts of anger, moments of frustration, the inability to deal with everyday stressors and the lack of alternative coping skills. No, these things are not right nor defendable. But please ponder the jump in culpability that is being made here. IF this man is guilty of leaving his child in this car on purpose, that is a level of evil that we don't even normally see in a world where we see evil things done to children all the time. 


I ask that you remember that in the US, we are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Please quit crucifying a man who has already had his life altered irreparably by his own mistake. Instead, start praying for him and his family as they deal with this loss. And pray that he gets a fair trial, which could now be impossible since the media has already started spinning the story with a guilty verdict.


This blog post that I found has some great insight on why we need to just step back and stop throwing stones.


http://www.the-cul-de-sac.org/2014/06/26/to-the-christians-crucifying-justin-ross-harris-with-their-comments/

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Saying Goodbye

I've already gotten his clothes out, ready to pack. His books have been packed for a few days. All I have left are his toys and a few odds and ends scattered around the house to gather and stuff in a box. Instead of doing this, though, I am sitting in my chair in the den waiting on the edge of my seat for enough time to pass so I can go get him out of his crib without waking him up from his nap. I need to hold him one last time. I need to smell him, rub his soft skin, kiss his forehead... I need to soak up what I can because in an hour or two, all I will have left are the memories from the last 11 months. I will never again hold him as if he were my own.

My heart lies in shards around me. Although I knew this day was coming, all I can feel is devastation. All I know is the deep ache inside of me that longs for my baby. The panic alarm inside of me is growing louder by the second. 

But even as the storm rages inside of me, I know that there is a still, small voice whispering, "Come to me, all you who are heavy laden... I will give you rest." I cling to that voice, that promise, that hope. There is no other alternative, for I cannot bear this on my own. 

Abba Father,
As my world falls apart, remind me of my calling.
As I call out in my despair, remind me of the hope that I have in You. 
As I stand among the broken pieces of what once was, remind me of the broken nature of this ministry. 
As I grieve for a child who will no longer call me 'Mama,' remind me of the terror that birth parents feel as their child is taken away. 
As I pick myself back up to continue walking down this road you have set before me, remind me that You are the healer of all broken things. 
As I cry in desperation, remind me that You know my heart and soul to a depth that I will never understand and You love me still. 
As I wake up tomorrow to a new wave of grief, remind me that You are the source of my strength. 
Lord God, remind me of Your power, Your love, Your sacrifice. Remind me of Your grace. For without it... Without YOU... I am nothing. 

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Guatemala: Part 1

Last Sunday morning we had a beautiful time of worship with out sister church in Guatemala City, New Jerusalen. A few minutes into the service, a Guatemalan woman came and sat in the empty chair to my left. It was Flor. 

Flor's story is not one that is unique, but it is heartbreaking. Last year, on my trip down to Guate in July, I sat in her house and held a sweet little baby girl who was almost the same age as Eyelashes. At that time, she was only two months old. This little baby was Flor's granddaughter. To be honest, this baby had not arrived under pleasant circumstances. She had been created under the most vile of circumstances. But she was there, she was theirs, and she was loved. 

It was providential that I met this family last summer. I have prayed for them daily by name. I have tried to follow them as much as possible through my contacts at the church. I even found out that the week after we had visited their house, they came to church and dedicated the baby. I knew things were hard for them, but they were making it. They had joined a faith family who had taken them in and offered support, a hand to hold, a shoulder to lean on.

And then the unthinkable happened. This precious baby girl passed away in May after an illness. She was 11 months and 9 days old. This family buried their baby on the Saturday before Mother's Day. 

Devastation. Guilt. Grief. An opportunity for bitterness to take root and flourish. 

Sitting next to Flor on Sunday and praying for her while she cried made me realize how incredibly broken this world is. Obviously, I have realized that before... But this was on a whole new scale. Not only is this world broken, but I cannot fix it. 

A few days after that church service, I sat in Flor's house, listening to her grieve the loss of her grandchild. By God's grace, one of my teammates had just happened to join our group and was able to speak words of comfort and encouragement to this grieving family. He spoke words of hope that could only be uttered through his own grief, his own pain. After a time of prayer, I had to hug these precious ladies, walk across the dirt floor of their small home, and walk away. And walking away is so very hard. 

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One of the hardest parts of this mission trip for me is letting go and not being able to fix broken things. I'm a fixer by nature. It's what I do. If I see something that is broken, all I can concentrate on is finding a solution, calling the right people, providing the necessities so that it can be resolved. I have dealt with the inability to fix things before in my foster care journey, but this is on a much a greater scale... A loss of a child, the threat of eviction, not enough food to feed the family, the threat of danger on so many sides, a dirt floor, no running water, a house that could possibly blow away in a storm... The list continues.

There are so many things in this life that I just don't understand. Why are children forced to sell their bodies to help a parent get drug money? Why are there children who literally have nothing to eat? Why is it that there are parents who cannot provide for their children, no matter how hard they try? Why are there babies who are not able to be treated for leukemia because their families can't afford the treatment and they were born in a country that doesn't have programs to help them? 

Unfortunately, this is life. For the majority of people reading this, this is not the life that we see on a daily basis, but it is life for billions of people around the world. These are battles that they fight every single day. Seeing these families is hard. Hearing their stories and being in relationship with them is even harder. But without the knowledge that there is another way of life... One that is not as comfortable or as convenient as our own.... We don't know the full story of what we're called to. We don't know our capabilities or who/what God may be calling us to fight for. In essence, we don't know who God has called is to be. 

If you have never seen the poverty and daily struggles that can make life a living hell for these families, I encourage you to get out there. Sign up for a mission trip. You need not even go far. There are communities around this city that need the light of the Gospel desperately. So go. See it. Experience it. For you will be forever changed. 

And if you have been, if you have seen it, experienced it... Then do something. Even if it's simply praying for the people that you met, do it. Never forget the faces. Never forget the stories. Keep them close to your heart. Bring them before the Father every single day. 

To N and L, you have no idea how much God used you on this trip. You were used by our creator to bring hope to a desperate family, but you also brought hope to me as I stand on the edge of inevitable loss. Thank you. I love you both and I am praying for your family's healing.


Sunday, May 18, 2014

Life Among the Unknowns

So what's happening now?
don't know.

How long will you have them?
I have no clue.

What's the plan?
I have absolutely no idea.

Foster care is a world of unknowns.

The lives of the children that I care for are not in my hands. The decisions about their little lives are not my decisions to make. It's up to a judge, a social worker, a supervisor, a GAL, a lawyer, a family member. 

Let me be totally transparent for a moment... This scares me half to death.

In my head, I know that God is ultimately in charge. He has these little ones resting safely in the palm of His hands. 

But I worry. I worry because we live in a fallen world. I worry because people who make decisions outside of God's will effect the lives of those around them... Of those whom they are making the decisions for. Even though I know that God is bigger than all of these people, I still can't remove this human element from the equation. The entropy that ensues when decisions are left up to fallible people... I am terrified that with one word, with one mistake, things will derail. And who, of all those involved pays the price for a bad decision? The child.

This is a broken system, with broken people, that make broken decisions, for children in a broken world. 

And even when you think it's done. The decision has been made, the approval has been granted, the plan has been written... Something else comes up that sends everyone scrambling back to the drawing board. 

We are now dealing with the scramble. No one knows what will happen. No one knows what life will look like for this little one in a year, six months, one month. I don't know where he will be, who he will call mommy, who will protect him. And I'm scared. 

cannot rest while everything is up in the air. I cannot let my guard down. I cannot be at ease. I cannot stop calling out to the One who knows this child better than anyone else ever will. Crying out for truth to come to light. Begging for this mountain to be moved. 

Please pray with me. Pray that this is resolved quickly. Pray that the right decisions are made. Pray that the facts are examined and God gives those involved in this situation clarity and wisdom. 

Therefore, don’t be afraid of them, since there is nothing covered that won’t be uncovered and nothing hidden that won’t be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the light. What you hear in a whisper, proclaim on the housetops. Don’t fear those who kill the body but are not able to kill the soul; rather, fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Aren’t two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s consent. But even the hairs of your head have all been counted. So don’t be afraid therefore; you are worth more than many sparrows. (Matthew 10:26-31 HCSB)

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. (Galatians 6:9 NIV)

Please pray with us through the unknowns.

         
Painting by Amy Vos McLeod.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

The Time Draws Near

The time is drawing near
When I will have to let you go.
It weighs heavy on my heart
Like lead to my grieving soul.

Lately I've been successful
At distracting myself from tears.
But as your departure looms ever closer
And the day is almost here

I find that just below the surface
My emotions are bubbling up
Sending tiny daggers of desperation
But at the same time, gasps of hope.

You are going to where God is leading
He is ordering your every move
You, dear child, are an intrical part
Of what God will one day do.

As much as it pains me to let you go
To hand you off to another
As much as I want you to stay in my arms,
To be your forever mother.

I can't be selfish and keep you away
From what God has called you to
For I only want the best for you
And nothing less than God's best will do.

You are special, little blessed one,
I've known it from the beginning.
There's a light in your eyes, a sparkle, a promise
Of the hope that you'll one day be giving.

As our time together begins to wind it's way down
I know what it is I will do.
I will pray over you and hug you close 
And thank my God for blessing me with you.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Not Mine

Precious Eyelashes,

I'm sitting in the middle of the living room floor watching and listening to you play. You're talking to yourself, or your toys, or me... I'm not sure which. When you do something you're proud of, you look over to me to see if I'm looking. Trust me, I'm watching. I'm soaking in every single second with you that I possibly can. And I'm so proud of you, baby boy. 

It grieves my heart to know that in just a few weeks, you will begin spending more time with another family. You will begin transitioning into their world, adapting to their schedule, getting to know them and love them. It will be them that you will begin to trust as you start your second year of life. Eventually, the memories of your time with me will fade. You will hopefully know me by name, know my face, but you won't remember the ten months you spent growing up with me. And that's okay, I have pictures enough for the both of us...

I do want you to know this, though...

I love you more than I need my next breath. I would give my life to protect you. You own a part of my heart that you will be taking with you when you leave. But you are not mine. I've known this from the very day I got you, July 15, 2013. I am not your forever family, but God has created another family just for you. He has orchestrated your every step in the first year of your life. It was no coincidence that you came to me, and it will be by His design that you go to the next stop on your journey home.

You are special, baby boy. You will go on to do great things in life. There is something in you that God will use to work wonders. I know this is true, for God has already worked wonders in my life through you. I will forever pray for you, forever love you, forever hold you tight in my heart. And when the time is right, I want to help you piece together the first year of your life so that you know where you came from.

There is no way I can explain how heartbroken I am that God didn't call me to be your forever mommy, but in time I know that we will both see that God's plan for us is so much bigger, greater, more spectacular and more amazing than we could ever dream of or try to orchestrate on our own. As a precious friend reminded me today, there is another baby out there who needs a safe place to grow, and that, for now, is what God has called me to. To love and protect, but to let go when it's time. So I'm holding onto you now with open hands. 

I still don't know what your future looks like, but I know that God has got it all in the palm of His hand. He knows you better and loves you more than I ever could. He made you. He has a plan for you. You are His. 

Thank you, sweet baby, for touching my heart so deeply. Thank you for teaching me how to be a better person. How to love more deeply, without the walls I normally erect around my heart. Thank you for loving me. You have loved me every single day that you have been with me... even when I felt unloveable. Thank you for being a picture of grace and unconditional love. You are more of a blessing to me than you will ever know.

Precious baby boy, you are my bestest boy, my favorite love... And I love you deeply... For always.


Monday, March 31, 2014

A Woman of Grace

As I drove through downtown Birmingham, I listened to her story. I interjected questions here and there for clarification, but for the most part, she just talked. She was unloading. She was telling someone her story.

Her grandmother raised her. She wasn't a nice woman, but at least she was there. Her mom split when she was little. She saw her mom sometimes on holidays, if she bothered to come around at all, but for the most part, she was absent. She never knew her daddy. Never even knew his name. After her grandma died, she tried to find her mom. To make some sort of contact. To try again. But she couldn't find her. She still looks in the phone book every so often. Just to see if her mom's name magically appears in there. But she's not hopeful. She has no idea if she's dead or alive.  Sometimes she pretends that her mom got rid of the drugs, found a nice man, and had a family. At least then she would be happy. Not suffering. Not like she was.

At first she started using because it was just something to do. It was easier to buy drugs in her neighborhood than it was fresh produce. Cheaper, too. But from her first hit, they took control of her body. They owned her mind. When she was high, she didn't have to think about being abandoned by the one who gave birth to her. She didn't have to think about what kind of ugly words and physical torment she would go home to that night... If she went home at all. She didn't have to think about what those men did to her. She didn't have to think about how ashamed she was for letting them touch her. They were her family. They were supposed to love her and take care of her, but that wasn't love. No matter what they said, she knew that wasn't love.

As the drugs took ownership of her every waking hour, she pursued them desperately. She stole, she begged, she even turned tricks to get them. And soon she found that she was experiencing horrors just to get what she needed to forget all of her horrors to begin with. The vicious cycle was in full form. She couldn't escape it. And then she got pregnant. But the cycle continued. She wanted to be a good mommy. She loved that little boy more than anything in the world... Except for her next fix. She always told herself that the next one would be the last one. And then she'd be done. No more. But it just kept extending into a longer and longer line of "the next one." Before she knew it, she was pregnant again. 

Several times she tried rehab. The boys were taken away a few times, but somehow she always pulled off getting them back. She loved them. They were her only reason to get any better. Her only reason to keep trying. Her only reason to breathe. And then the unthinkable happened to them. She did whatever she could to take care of them when she was on a binge. They were safer with someone else then with her if she were high, right? She could kick herself now for trusting. For thinking that it was okay to leave them there. But all she can hope for now is that they'll heal and that they can finally break the cycle of addiction. That they can be the ones to rise above. To be brave and face their horrors head on instead of continually running from them, even at the expense of those they love the most. 

So now she was fighting. She wanted her life back. She wanted to raise her boys and to know the joy and happiness of being a mommy. She wanted to be there for them. Unlike her own mother, she wanted to watch them grow up. And she was trying. Trying so hard.

A few weeks later, as she called to cancel another visit, I knew in my heart she was using again. There was nothing I could do. I knew that this would spell disaster for any chance of reunification for this little family. My heart broke. It broke for the spunky little man who wanted so much to be back with his mommy and his brother. It broke for her. Because I knew that she understood what this meant. She knew the consequences. And I was scared. Without them, what did she have to work for? To get better for? To live for?

The time came for a meeting. I went in not really knowing what to expect. I knew the plan. There were relatives who were going the extra mile so that the boys could be together again. They were taking the needed steps to make sure that they were prepared for the challenges that raising these two boys would bring. They were going above and beyond, in my opinion, to take care of family. But I didn't know how she was going to react. Surely this couldn't be a surprise to her. She knew better than anyone what consequences would come from her addiction. And so I sat next to her at the table, with bated breath, waiting for the meeting to start.

What she said both broke my heart and gave me hope. In her soft voice, calm and determined, she told an entire room of people that she had fallen. She was no longer able to control her addiction, and like so many times before, it now had control of her. But she wanted more for her boys. She wanted stability for them. A good home and a loving family. She wanted more for them than what she had ever had. She wanted more for them than what she could ever give them. And as she spoke, tears ran down her face. Silent, hot, desperate tears. Tears that told a story. A story of loss, pain, and the horrors of her life. But also of love, sacrifice, hope and strength. 

Never had I respected her more. Never had I hurt for her more. She was doing the hard thing. She was making a gut-wrenching decision to give her children what was best for them. She gave them up to save them. 

Sadly, she's still living as a slave to her addiction. But all hope is not lost. She has someone on her side. One who does not push for adoption because she knows that it would take away any faint glimmer of hope for her to ever get better. One who drives countless hours each month to make sure that the boys get to see their mommy. One who prays relentlessly for her healing. One who, after more than a year in her home, is still looking for a place where the boys' mommy can heal and recover. One who loves her because she loves Jesus. One who knows what it is to show grace. 

I want to be like her. I want to be the one who stands with the mommies of my little ones. I want to stand in the gap, to support, to love, to believe... I want to be a light when all they can see is darkness. I want to be able to look a mommy in the eye and say, "Carry on, Mama. You're fighting the good fight." 

So many of these mommies have never had someone in their corner. I can't imagine the loneliness that would come from knowing that absolutely no one believes in you. That the world condems you. That you are alone. 

I pray that more of us come alongside these women. That we lift them up and support them. Because after all... We all fall short, do we not? Whether it results in the loss of our children into the foster care system or not... We are all sinners who have fallen short of the mark. And we all need Jesus.


Sunday, February 16, 2014

Dear Mr. Eyelashes,

This Thursday you will be 9 months old.

Yesterday marked 7 months that you have been with me.

I am so helplessly in love with you that sometimes it overwhelms my heart and I forget to breathe. You are the brightest, most beautiful, loving child that I have ever met and I see a spark in your eyes that I know nothing will ever be able to extinguish. When you're asleep in your bed, my arms itch to hold you. When you're not with me, I miss you so much that my heart aches for you by the end of the day. I crave hearing your little voice. My heart skips a beat every time you look at me and smile. 

The past 7 months have been like a dream. It's almost as if I've been living a page from someone else's life. In a way, I have. 

You see, precious one, when the time comes, I will have to pack your bags. You won't know what I'm doing. You'll sit and watch me with your bright little eyes, never doubting my presence or my devotion to you. And you shouldn't doubt those things, because they will never waver. No matter where you end up, I will only be a call away. And while my devotion to you will change shape, it will never ever dissipate. I will always and forever love you, support you, pray for you, smile when I think of you. 

When the time comes, I will hand you off to another. One you will call Mommy for the rest of your life. She will adore you, love you, raise you, pray for you. 

I don't know if you'll ever remember your time living with me. How we snuggled for hours and hours. How I sang a special song to you everyday. How we danced around the house, tripping over the dog the whole time. How I rubbed your left eyebrow when you were sleepy in my arms. How we read books and watched shows about Alaska together. How I told you I loved you at least 68,000 times a day. How you grew teeth, learned how to sit all by yourself, realized you did like baby food, made new sounds almost everyday, felt a doggy's love, patience, protection and devotion, learned that the cat is never to be trusted when all you want to do is pet him, began rolling over and scooting, and so so much more.

Chances are, you won't remember those things. But I do hope that you'll remember that you were loved unconditionally. Please don't ever doubt that. Saying goodbye to you will be the hardest thing that I've ever had to do. Letting go of you and putting you in another's arms will rock my world. But I'll be okay after a while, and so will you. I will move on with life, just as you will. We will both learn that loving someone so deeply, only to lose them, doesn't shatter and destroy your heart. It shatters it so that when God picks up the pieces and puts them back together, He does so in a way that leaves more room than we ever had before. He grows our capacity to love so that we can do more, serve more, be more, love more.

At this point, I don't know what your future will hold. I do know, though, that I get at least a few more months of watching you grow and learn. A few more months of your snuggles. A few more months of your laugh. A few more months of your eyes. A few more months to love you even more ferociously than before. 

Mr. Eyelashes, you are my bestest boy, my favorite love... For always.

Friday, February 14, 2014

In Honor of the Dumb Little Flying Baby Who Shoots People in the Butt with Darts

You can call him Cupid if you want to, but I like the other name better...

So I've been pondering some things as of late. In my pondering, I've realized that there are some things I know about myself, and some things I don't. Today, on a day dedicated to love, and in honor of Cupid, I'm going to make a list of these things, but all through the lense of being single.

Things I KNOW for sure and for certain about myself:
1. Sometimes I'm okay with being single, and sometimes I'm not. So maybe this should be on my Don't Know list, but at least I know I waver between the two.
2. I'm not an ogre. I used to subscribe to the belief that I was a hideous beast, but I think that's only because that's what society tells girls they should believe about themselves. I've dropped that subscription, though. Now, does that mean I'm a super model? No, I like to eat. I think that nutrients are important for my body so that means you'll probably never see me on a billboard for Gap. Other than that little detail, I'm pretty. I like the way I look. Will everyone agree with me on that? No, but that's okay... Just don't tell me if you don't, please. :)
3. I'm relatively healthy. I can at least fend for myself. And if things go as planned, I'll be even healthier once I actually start eating better. (That's a whole different blog post in itself.)
4. I can be kind of funny. Sometimes. Once you spend a good bit of time with me, I'm sure the laughing probably ceases, but I can at least crack some good ones every now and then.
5. I am moody. Maybe it's because I'm a woman. Maybe it's because I've lived alone for so long. Maybe it's just the way God made me. I can even attribute this to being right there on the line between extrovert and introvert, but I'm not sure if that's the reason or not. The why of this can go on my Don't Know list, but I can go from feeling great and sociable one day to being a weirdo-loner the next.
6. I HATE yard work. It is a bane to my existence and I would rather chop my leg off than do it.
7. I am in no way, shape or form, a good housekeeper. My house is usually messy (clean, but messy) and I don't always put things away (or never, whatever...), but maybe I'll grow up one day and get better at it. I'm not holding my breath though.
8. When I buy into something new, I will be gung-ho for two weeks, and then I tend to fall off the wagon and totally forget about it. At least I'm good for two weeks, right?

Things I DON'T KNOW about myself:
1. As mentioned before, I don't really know for sure if I'm okay with being single or not. 
2. I have no clue why I'm moody at times. My mom calls it "peculiar" and says I get it from my dad. Don't tell her, but I think she's probably right. 
3. Sometimes I wonder what's wrong with me in that I have not yet gotten married, nor am I anywhere close to it.

Now, both of those lists could be much longer, but in the interest of saving you some time, and me some dignity, I stopped at that.

The rest of this post will be focused on #3 on the Don't Know list...
3. Sometimes I wonder what's wrong with me in that I have not yet gotten married, nor am I anywhere close to it.

Growing up, there was one friend that had a "list" that was longer than everyone else's put together. If you're a woman, you know exactly which "list" I'm referring to. If you're a man, well, I don't know. You may have one, you may not... I've never been a man, so I don't really know... I digress... This one girl, though, hers was long and detailed. Like, ridiculously long and detailed. We always kind of thought that her list was so long that she never marry because no guy would ever make the cut. Well, she's married now. I have no clue if her husband meets all of those requirements or if she decided against some of the pickier things on it, but I'm glad it all worked out for her, either way.

As for my list, I never wrote it out (that I can remember), but I do know that it was much longer back then than it is now. You may be wondering about what in the world would be on a 31 year old single gal's list... I'm glad you asked, because I'm about to tell you, so ready yourself...

1. He must be a Christian.
2. He has to either have all of his teeth or be willing to wear his teeth while out in public. (Really kind of hoping for the first option there, but hey... I don't discriminate.)
3. He must be open to foster care.

So when I think about it, it's encouraging that I only have 3 things on my list... That's amazing, right? Wrong. The kicker, it seems, is #3. 

I never imagined that I would have found my ministry before being married. I never imagined that I would be 31 and single. Ha! I was so sure that I would get married shortly after graduating college. I mean, depending on your definition of shortly, maybe I'm still within that time frame, but I'm thinking probably not. But the truth is, I know what God has called me to do. 

I am a foster parent. 

It's hard, frustrating, and can get very gritty and grimy in these trenches, but it's part of who I am. It's part of how I now define myself. And this, my friends, I am not willing to give up... Even if he has the most beautiful teeth I've ever laid eyes on...

I know that compromising on this matter will set me up for a lifetime of disappointment and knowing that I'm not operating in God's calling on my life. It's just not worth it.

So in conclusion, if you have recently had a conversation with your amazingly strong Christian neighbor/nephew/cousin/coworker/dentist/doctor/friend/son/brother/mailman who, with his full set of teeth, told you that he feels that foster care is his ministry and that he can't wait to be a foster dad... Send him my way. Otherwise, Cupid can keep his distance.

                    

Sunday, February 9, 2014

We. Need. You.

She has so many reasons to lose it, to let go and give herself over to her emotions... Grief, anxiety, fear, exhaustion, despair, and anger.

But yet, she has so many more reasons to stay strong. Love, hope, responsibilities, commitment, persistence, her kids... Her calling.

She walks into the room with her face showing the obvious signs of tears, a cascade of them. This is not a weak woman. This is a woman who spends more time on her knees for her children, both bio and foster, than anyone else I know. This is a woman who speaks the name and healing power of Jesus to the kids in her care. This is a woman to whom most of us in the foster care community look to for guidance, help, and encouragement. This is a woman after God's own heart. 

It's hard for me to see the tears, but it's not hard for me to imagine why she's crying.

Foster care is not for the feint of heart. It is hard. It is frustrating. It is scary. It is grief. It's children who have been hurt in ways that makes you want to throttle the person who did it to them. It's children who have never been loved and therefore don't know how to accept your love, no matter how hard you try. It's children who do not trust adults because they have been betrayed too many times before. It's families who are broken and hurting, angry, needy, desperate. 

Living in the realm of foster care is living in a state of perpetual brokenness. The fear of what might happen at their next visit. The agony of listening to a child weep for their mommy in your arms, while knowing they may never be with mommy again. The knot in the pit of your stomach as you wait in the family court waiting room to see what the judge has decided about the fate of the child that you love. The intensity of behaviors that happen when a child has been damaged and broken, and is looking for solace and comfort the only way they know how. The day that is fast approaching, in which you will send them off to a new home while praying that they continue to heal, are safe, and seek after God.

So as I listen to her cry on the row behind me, as I listen to her pray for the One to heal the little one that is so broken, I know where she is. I've been there and I'll be there again in the future. It's certainly not a question of if we get there, it's a question of when. The moment when all we can do is cry out to the Father, hoping for a miracle. 

No, foster care is not a ministry for the weak. It's not a ministry for just the few who have been called. It's a ministry for ALL of us. Foster parents need your support. We need your prayers. We need your hugs and encouragement. We need a community to help us raise this broken child, so that they are pointed to Jesus every step of the way. We need you.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Paradigm Shift: Switching out the Preposition

A few weeks ago, I posted this on Facebook...


It was much to my surprise that someone I grew up playing ball with told me that she wanted to get it for me. To be honest, it made me a little uncomfortable because I definitely had not actually expected anyone to actually get it for me. I have been learning the very humbling lesson of how to accept gifts, though, so I gave her my address and that was that.

Only, that wasn't that. I kept thinking about it. Why in the world would she even give that post a second glance? What prompted her to do this... To go out of her way and buy something so trivial for someone she hasn't seen since high school? I haven't done anything for her... Oh my goodness, I need to think of a way to thank her. Why is it that she thought about doing this for me and is asking nothing in return? THIS IS SO WEIRD!!

These questions continued to plague me. Maybe they bothered me so badly because I just didn't understand the 'why' behind it. I didn't understand it because it wasn't a part of how I operated. Not that I have some hidden agenda behind every gift I give, or every act of kindness I do... But I can assure you that, for the most part, they are not expectation free. There's usually something in it for me. Even if it's just a hug, a kind word, or even being a little but more respected in their eyes... There's something.

So after a couple of weeks had passed, my mind wasn't quite so occupied with my previous dilemma. Not to mention, snowpocalypse came about and pretty much everything else besides getting myself and the baby home safely was driven far far away from my brain.

Then yesterday came and I got a lovely surprise visit from Brooke. As I sat talking with my precious friend, she told me something that completely shifted my way of thinking.

We shouldn't do things for others, but to them.

I remember staring at her with uncomprehending eyes for at least three seconds before understanding unfurled in front of me. Everything I knew about serving others just did a complete 180 in the moment that I understood what she was saying.

As she was telling me about her situation, the picture became more and more clear. This precious friend was telling me that she had been hoping to get love and acceptance by doing little acts of service for someone. When that person didn't react in the way that she expected, when she didn't feel loved or accepted, she was left feeling hurt and betrayed. After God began changing her heart and showing her what it meant to simply serve others with no agenda, she began questioning her motives behind her actions. As she was able to start doing those acts of service without any expectations or even desire for something in return, she began feeling at peace with the situation. 

When we do things for others, there is some expectation of repayment. We may not even realize it, but we expect something in return from that person. Even if it's simply to be treated with respect or to receive a compliment, there's an expectation.

On the other hand, when we do things to others, there's no expectation of anything in return. For so long, the word 'to' in this capacity meant that the action was negative. Think with me for a second at the wording that usually accompanies these two separate prepositions...

"Did you hear? She just did the nicest thing for him."
"Did you hear? She just did the meanest thing to him."

When you do something not quite so pleasant to someone, of course you don't want any payback! When I was younger and my brother and I would get into a fight, we wouldn't do something mean to the other hoping that they would pay us back in turn. That would be stupid.

The flip side indicates that when you do something nice for someone, you would like to at least get a "thank you," if not something more. Whatever the motive is behind it, it is still doing the deed for gain. 

As I have been pondering this over the past couple of days, I've asked myself how in the world I would even know if my motive behind doing something for someone was purely out of love or if I had my own expectations attached to it. By my reaction to their reaction, of course. How many times have I done something for someone, no matter how big or small, and been disappointed by that person's reaction? Umm, 1,673,249 times. Or at least close to it. 

Although touch is my primary love language (I'm sure that surprises you), acts of service and giving gifts are my secondary ways to show someone that I love them. If I'm completely honest, I have to admit that most of the time, if the person that I am giving something to or serving in some way doesn't react the way I think they should, my feelings will be hurt. Now, that doesn't mean that I walk around weeping about it or that I show my disappointment outwardly in any way. Eventually, though, these little moments of disappointment will chip away at the relationship until I walk away, leaving it to crumble. 

This, my friends, is SO NOT FAIR to the other person. I am essentially expecting them to read my mind and do things the way I think they should be done. So... Note to self, Erin; people are not mind readers. 

This habit of mine will be something very hard to conquer. It is ingrained in us from an early age that when someone gives you something, you promptly give a thank you note. When someone does something for you, you look for ways to "pay them back." This also works in the reverse.

This, thank God, is NOT the model that Jesus lived out for us to see. 

Jesus didn't die for us, He died to us. He doesn't expect repayment. In fact, there's nothing we could ever do to repay the debt. There's no amount of money that would be large enough, there's no amount of service hours that would be long enough, there's no amount of good deeds that would cover that debt. The debt is too large. But the good news is that it's technically not a debt. If Jesus did expect repayment, it would be. But because it was given to us freely, free and clear of any future payback or expectations to be met, it is a gift. The gift.

Therein lies my motivation to give freely and without any strings attached.

~~~~~~~~~~

One of the funny things to me about God is His sense of irony. There is absolutely no way that the timing of this could have been due to anything but God...

As I walked up to my front door yesterday afternoon (after having had my hefty conversation with Brooke that left my mind reeling) lugging a giant school bag, purse, diaper bag, and car seat, I spotted a little box on my welcome mat. I honestly couldn't remember what I had ordered. Interest piqued, I opened it as soon as I got inside and found the object that had started the process of priming me to be ready to hear and take this new way of thinking to heart...




Ali, thank you for being a part of this... and coincidentally... I. LOVE. IT!!

Friday, January 31, 2014

Seeing God's Hand in the Little Things

Birmingham is still in the midst of the thaw from "snowmageddon", or "snowpocalypse", as most people are referring to our recent snow storm. If you are not a fellow southerner, the "antics" of southerners when we get snow/ice may amuse you, or even confuse you... Leaving you to wonder why in the world those southerners can't just learn how to deal with a little snow and ice.

I will not get into all of the reasons why the "snowpocalypse" happened and why a southern city's infrastructure is not made to handle it. Instead, I want to focus on the seemingly small and even trivial ways that I saw God's hand at work this past week. 

1. With literally thousands of children separated from their parents overnight Tuesday night (and even some on Wednesday), I was able to reach my 8 month old Eyelashes and pick him up before things got too bad to do so. I was able to leave school (my school) as soon as I got the call that his daycare was closing so that I could go get him. The roads were already starting to ice over, and I slid a few times on the very short drive to and from his daycare, but by golly... I got him!

2. As I was leaving to go get Eyelashes from daycare, I got to the door and decided to turn around and go look for some different shoes. I was wearing my tennis shoes, which have very thin mesh and are not exactly made for braving cold, wet weather. I ran to my classroom closet and searched for my rainboots, but all I could find were my furry boots, purchased from the high quality store known as Walmart. They stayed on my feet for the rest of the day and I cannot thank God enough that these cheapo, ugly boots were tucked away at school just waiting for me to need their warmth in the snow.

3. I got out of the parking lot! I packed myself and Eyelashes up a little after 1:00 and decided to go for home. I knew the journey would probably be long and arduous, but not having enough diapers or formula for the night, I also knew I had no other choice but to do so. Officer Martin gave me some tips on how to get out of the parking lot, which has a hill on both exits. I gunned it up the flatter of the two hills with gritted teeth and bated breath and began our journey home. 

4. In the three hours that I was in my car, I was in front of and behind people who were driving cautiously and were going slow on the icy road. This made me feel so much better, knowing that I was relatively safe with the people who were surrounding me.

5. When I finally decided to bail and walk the rest of the way home, I had an extra bag in the car that I could put on both arms, somewhat like a backpack, so that I would be a little more comfortable on our walk.

6. I had an extra blanket in the car that I was able to use to wrap Eyelashes in so that he wouldn't freeze. I was then able to use his fleece blanket as a makeshift sling and tie him to me so I didn't have to carry him the whole way.

7. Eyelashes slept the whole walk home! At this point, it was 4:00 pm and this is Eyelashes's favorite time to nap. So instead of fighting with an 8 month old to stay put in a sling, keep his hands in where it was warm, keep his hat on his head... He just slept. Thank God!

8. I got to see many people who were acting as good Samaritans... Pulling people up the hill with a tow line, pushing cars who were stuck, offering rides to walkers, businesses offering a place for people to warm up when they were cold... I saw the best of my city on Tuesday, and it was such a beautiful thing to see.

9. We. Made. It. Home. The trek through the snow was long and cold, but we were safe. I didn't fall on any ice (although I did slip a few times), we moved way faster than the cars on the road, and I learned that exercise won't, in fact, kill me. :) It was actually a pleasant walk, given the circumstances.

10. The most significant way that I saw God at work, though, was this... I don't need the next new thing to make it through the day. I don't need a new phone, even though my current one is horrible. I don't need a new car, even though it would be nice. I don't need trendy clothes or shoes to make it through the day, although I think we can all agree that I do need clothes and maybe some shoes. ;) All I really need to make it through the day, or a rough time, or a snowpocalypse, or anything... Is faith that God is seeing me through it and that He is in the small stuff. He orchestrates our lives in such a way that all we have to do is look past ourselves and we will see Him. 

I choose to look past myself. I choose to see Him. I choose to walk in faith.

So how have you seen Him lately?

Sunday, January 26, 2014

What Not to Say...

There are just some things I'm sick to death of hearing. Here are a few. Yes, everything on this list has been said to me multiple time by multiple people. Yes, you may have said one of these things to me... it's okay, I promise. And yes, my explanations may rub you the wrong way, but it truly is how I feel.

"I don't know how you do it. I would get so attached."
So I hate to sound like a sensitive little pansy here, but what that really sounds like to me is that you're implying that I have a gift of NOT getting attached to children, therefore I can be a foster mom. That's not a good gift to have, by the way... Just in case you were wondering.

"How do you not get attached?"
I do. Intensely. After a few hours. It's a kid who needs me and who needs love, there's no way to fill that gap for them without attachment. It would be incredibly unhealthy for them to not experience any attachment during this terrifying time of their life. And besides, they deserve attachment. Does it make it harder to let go in the end when they leave? Of course. But it's not about me. It's about them and the ministry that I have been called into and they have been placed into. It's about being a safe place and pointing them to the face of the Father. Without trust, I can do neither of those things. And with attachment comes trust. 

"How long will you have them?"
I have no clue. It may be 2 days, it may be 5 months, it may be a year or longer. I have relatively no input when it comes to the timeline. Not to mention, there are so many people and so many factors involved that the timeline may change daily. It's best to just take it one day at a time. (And while we're chasing this rabbit... "Why did the judge send them back?" I have absolutely no idea. I guess he/she thought it was best for the child. I was not consulted nor even present in the court room.)

"Are you going to adopt them?"
This is somewhat of a loaded question and it is something that I get asked a lot. The question itself does not necessarily bother me, because when the time is right, I will hopefully have a beautiful adoption from foster care story to write about and share with the world. With that being said... I think there's quite a bit that people aren't aware of that makes this question so difficult...
First things first, please never ever ever ask a foster parent this question when there are children present. 
These children have a birth family. They have a mom, dad, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc that they love and care about. Granted, not every child will have all of these people present in their lives, but for the most part, they have at least one and usually a combination of them. For most children in care, their foster family is NOT their forever family. Most cases have a goal of reunification and they may have family members working very diligently to get them back. There are children in care that go back to family members who are dedicated to their family's healing and restoration. We should cheer for that, celebrate it, shout about it from the mountaintops! And for the children who are not able to be reunified with their birth family... Yes, they may become adoptable. However, asking that very loaded (and quite personal) question in front of the children could very well demolish the bonds of trust that have been painstakingly built throughout the placement. 

I understand that many people ask this question out of sincere care and concern that they have for the child, and even excitement for the family who may be gaining a new forever family member. My advice to you is to let the family bring it up first, then you'll know for sure that they're ready to talk about it. If you just can't wait, ask in private. Away from children (foster kids and bio kids alike) and any other audience that will likely make the person feel put on the spot and pressured to give an answer that they are not yet ready to give.

"Why aren't you going to adopt them?"
If you do ask me the previous question, my answer, at this moment in my life, will be no. Please do NOT ask the why question. It brings about feelings of grief and guilt for me and it makes me feel like I'm being attacked for my decision. I am doing my best to follow God in this ministry that He has given me. I pray about every placement call I receive, every answer I give, and every decision that needs to be made along the way. Adoption is something that I pray about all the time. I know that when God gives me the go ahead, His answer will be made very clear and I will know without a shadow of a doubt that it is the step that I need to take. Until then, I wait. 

"You knew it was coming." (In reference to a child moving.)
It. Does. Not. Matter. I have journeyed into foster care with my eyes wide open. Make no mistake, I know they will leave eventually. That has no bearing on the fact that I will miss them and I will grieve in their absence. I hate to compare it to this, but would you ever say this same thing to someone who has just lost a loved one after a long illness? If you say yes to that question, you may want to take a good long look at your manners (or lack thereof).

"You can always just let them know if it's not working out and they can put them with another family."
Sure... Let me just add my name to the list of people who gives up on them. (NOTE THE SARCASM!) This is not a game. This is a child's life. Every time their life is disrupted, every time they have to move, every time they have to say goodbye to the familiar and start over again is another strike to any trust they may still have in the adults in their life. Many of these children come into care because of reasons that you couldn't come up with in your worst nightmares. They deserve healing, not another reason to distrust everyone around them. They deserve a place to be safe and loved, even if that comes with challenges. Are there reasons that a child may need to be placed into another home? Yes, there are, but it would need to be in the best interest of the child and based on their needs, not my own convenience.

"So what's this one's story?"
I really shouldn't talk about it, so please just don't ask that question. I know you ask because you care, because you have a vested interested in my family, but when it comes down to it... It really is the child's story to tell when they're ready, not mine.

"Why are they in foster care?" 
See the answer to the previous question.

Or even worse (like, a million-billion-trillion times worse)... "What did they do to be a foster kid?"
THEY. DID. NOTHING. A child is not and should not be defined by the actions that someone else has taken. Almost every child who comes into care believes that it is their fault that their family was torn apart. Do not perpetuate this belief by asking this question. I'm going to be completely honest with you... If you ever ask me this question, especially in front of the children in my care, I will probably not put myself or my children in the position to be around you again. It's too risky for their little hearts to be around someone who is so careless with words. 

"Parents who lose their kids shouldn't get anymore chances."
You should probably know something about me... I'm on the family's side. Ultimately, I will support what is best for the child, but these families need a cheerleader. Many times, these parents have no one that they can lean on or trust. They have no one that encourages them or prays for them. Many times, they are simply doing what they know to do. I do not defend their actions, but I will fight tooth and nail to help them heal and become a better parent. And who of us has not received 2nd, 3rd, and millionth chances? It's a good thing that God is more forgiving of us than we are of others...

"Welcome to motherhood."
I'm quite certain at I'm guilty of saying this... But let's just all come to an agreement that; A) my motherhood is different than yours so you can't welcome me to it, B) your motherhood is different than mine so I can't welcome you to it, and C) it may be one of the most annoying sayings in the universe.