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.



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.