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. 

Monday, January 13, 2014

Fearless Love

As you can see, it has obviously been quite a while since I have written.  I wish I could say that I was traveling the world, curing cancer, and inventing an infant car seat that's actually light enough to carry without breaking a bone. But alas, I must confess that none of that has happened. It's just been the same old thing around here. Except for... not really so much.

To catch you up, Big and Little Sis, along with their Little Bro, went to live with their grandparents. I never did have an empty house, though. I had been available to keep infants this summer when I was out of school with the expectation that either the baby would have to move to another home once it was six weeks old, or the girls would be reuniting with their family. On July 2, I welcomed a four day old little boy, Skippy, into my home. He left on July 5 after court and then I received Kobe Wan Kenobi a few days later. He was pretty pitiful upon arrival, but perked up after a couple of days. He went to live with his aunt, whom I was able to meet. It's always nice in this situation to be able to meet the family members and get a good warm-fuzzy feeling about them. Then came Eyelashes. This child, well, let's just say... He is possibly THE easiest baby in the entire world and he has more women in love with him than Carter's got liver pills.

The girls moved out on August 15. Exactly one month after Eyelashes came to live with us. I am beyond blessed that their grandparents are very intentional about making sure that we're able to keep in contact. I've even been able to see them a few times and they're doing great!

So now it's just me and the ever-famous Eyelashes. And the dog. And the cat. We lead a simple little life. Or so I thought. On October 4, my social worker called with a strange placement request. I hadn't told her that I was ready for another placement, so when she started talking, I was a little confused. Then it all came back into focus. Skippy was being placed back into care and they asked for me. So of course, like any sane, 31 year old, single foster mama who's working full time... I said YES!! This wasn't just any three month old. This was Skippy! He was mine. And I was his. And he came on Saturday and everything was beautifully wonderful and peaceful and easy. Ummm... NO! 

Having two babies five weeks apart in age was insanity! However, things were just starting to settle down when he was sent to live with his grandmother. Eyelashes and I got back into our just-the-two-of-us routine. And then my phone rang again two weeks later. It was Skippy again. He was back, and so was the insanity, but I would have had it no other way. After three weeks and getting into a nice groove, Skippy left again, and this time it looked to (hopefully) be a permanent thing.

As Eyelashes and I got back to our old routine yet again, I realized that I had, within a four month time frame, loved and lost six different times. Which brings me to the title of this post...

Fearless Love

It seems like an oxymoron, doesn't it? Love, unconditional love, takes guts. You can't be scared when it comes to love. If you are, you will withhold parts of yourself that are essential factors in the equation. You will keep for yourself parts of your heart that you want to protect from vulnerability and the potential harm that could come if things "don't work out." It is HARD to love. It's risky and incredibly terrifying. 

There's one thing in particular that we tend to be most afraid of, though, when it comes to love. Loss. The loss of love is something that is capable of bringing even the strongest of us crashing down into a shapeless heap, hurting and longing for what once was, but will never be again. If you have ever been there, you know just how devastating that feeling can be. You know just how much of a basket case you can become. Just how desperate your heart can be to feel even one ounce of a bit better. And for that, you would do almost anything.

Is it that fear, then, that keeps us from giving our hearts over to love in the first place? If so, then I am up the creek without a paddle.

Please allow me to jump tracks right now, in the hopes that they will connect again soon...

One thing I, and almost every other foster parent I've ever met, cannot stand is the question, "But how do you keep from getting attached?" (Can I get an AMEN, fellow fosters??)

Let me explain to you what I'm thinking every time I get asked that question...
"If one more person asks me that question, I'm going to scream. And then vomit. And then go coo-coo-for-coco-puffs crazy. Would you bring your own baby home from the hospital and then keep yourself from getting attached to it just because you weren't sure if they would be with you forever? No!! That would be horrible. This is the same exact thing, but just different."

Simple, right?

I don't say that because I would like for people to continue to be my friends, and because some could somehow, possibly, just maybe find it rude. Instead, I usually reply with an, "Of course I'm attached. You can't not get attached."

Here's the truth of it, though. Nothing keeps me from getting attached. It's a child. They have been ripped away from their family and everything they know and love in life. They are not at fault, but typically blame themselves anyway. What kind of horrible person would I be if I just left a kid who is hurting and scared outside to fend for himself? 'Here you go, kid. Here's some food, but make sure you don't come inside the house. That's for family only.' I would expect every single person that I know to call DHR and report me for being a terrible person and to then hit me as hard as they can upside the head in hopes that it would knock some sense into me. So how is it any different if I don't love them? Am I any better if I let them into my home, but don't offer them love and comfort in, perhaps, the most terrifying and uncertain moments of their lives? NO! 

When I first started this journey, I didn't know it at the time, but I had a lot to learn about love. I remember thinking that I couldn't really say "I love you" to Little Man because I didn't really feel it yet. I said it anyway, but I can remember that it felt weird. Like I was a phony. We're taught from an early age not to say those three words unless you really mean it. (Are kids still taught that these days?) And I can guarantee you, if you've heard those three little words come out of my mouth intended for your ears, I meant it. I still do. 

What I didn't realize when I had Little Man was that love is a choice. It's not a feeling. It's a commitment. It's a promise. It's a lifestyle of servanthood and putting someone else before yourself. It's loving a child enough to give them what they need, even if it's hard. It's holding a child close and letting them rest in your arms when just 20 seconds earlier, you wanted to pull your hair out because of that same said child. It's building connections with a child's birth family so that they know that you are invested in their future. It's giving a child chance after chance to be loved on, hugged, snuggled, affirmed, kissed, comforted, and prayed over even when they give you chance after chance to go insane. It's loving forever, knowing that they will not be there forever. It's loving knowing you will lose the one your heart loves.

And now the tracks converge back into one...

Is it that fear, then, that keeps us from giving our hearts over to love in the first place? If so, then I am up the creek without a paddle. You see, as of now, I am not called to adopt. Just typing the words makes tears spring to my eyes and my heart starts racing. Because knowing that means that I know I will lose my love... over and over again. I will continually pour my life and heart into children just to pack their bags and take them to another home, another family. Although I've known this for the almost two years I've been fostering, it's never been as real, as daunting, as poignant, and as crushing as it is now. Knowing this means that I know that Eyelashes belongs to someone else. He is not mine and he never will be. So every time I get asked if I'm going to adopt him, a lightening bolt of dread shoots through me and I feel like I might suffocate. I feel as if I may die right there on the spot. Because I LOVE this child. He means so much more to me than words can express. But he. is. not. mine. 

I don't know when the day will come that I have to hand him over to another's arms. I don't know how I will survive. I don't know how I will make it through the heartbreak of losing the one I love so dearly, so deeply. I simply don't know.

But I do know that right now, my love is all his... and Skippy's, and Kobe Wan Kenobi's, and Big and Little Sis', and Little Man's... and countless more to come. 

Because, my friends, love is a choice. 

No matter how much loss may come, I still choose love.

Go, and choose to love.