Christian Family, Follower of Christ, Foster Family, Foster Life

You Are the Answer

IMG_1129

My heart is a big mix of emotions. My office today is our empty foster room. I’m not sure why I did this to myself except that I felt God leading me to lean into the ache of my heart. Not just for missing our girl. When you love a child for 16 months through their most significant seasons of development, it is such loss. And unfortunately, I am a psychologist so my mind tells my heart that she will have abandonment issues. And my heart cannot bear that burden. I must give her to Jesus again and again. Because if anyone knows that Jesus gives children much grace for the failures of parents, I do. He heals. Because He healed me. So I know there is hope for our girl. Because just like I had family stand in my gap, so does she. And my parents know that none of my words are in bitterness, but with the greatest gratitude for the work of Christ in both my life and theirs. It is my own story that has led me to stand in the gap. It is the circumstances of my childhood that fills my heart with compassion for these children.

My hurt is not only for her. And perhaps somehow for the childhood I did not have, which comes in unexpected waves of grief. But for every child who walks this same road. Who does not have what God knows they need. And for the selfish neglect of His church to stand in the gap. We cannot claim His name if we do not carry His heart. We have loved our own comfort and convenience more than Christ. And these kids have paid the price for our self-consumed lives. This is not His fault, it is ours. We cannot ask Him why these things happen to these kids. Here’s the thing. They have lost parents because we have not been in our communities leading them to Christ. And we have not come to their rescue to love them as Christ when their parents cannot.

There are so many myths about foster care. We cannot arrogantly look down on bio parents for their addictions and choices when we have not been there to help them out of their pit and walked with them towards Jesus. It is a myth that they can just get it together. We also cannot assume that entering foster care is the trauma because for these kids, being in the neglectful, abusive home is the trauma. We also cannot assume that entering the home of a stranger, even though it may be better and safer, is not terrifying. It is it’s own trauma. Another myth is that these are bad kids. No, they come from bad circumstances that have resulted in bad consequences and resulting behaviors, through no fault of their own. And the most damaging myth is that kids are resilient. They have the potential to be resilient, but resiliency requires relationship. I could nerd out on verbiage like ACE’s and the lasting adverse impact these children face. I will refrain. Here is what you need to know. Through safe, stable loving relationships, these children can have hope-filled futures. Your role re-wires their minds and brings healing to their hearts.  We want to see things black and white, but when it comes to the mess of sin, it is not. It is both and. It is trauma to stay in the chaos and it is trauma to leave the chaos. It is all trauma because it is all not God’s good and perfect design. These myths must stop being our excuses to excuse God’s expectation of us to enter their chaos. God does have an answer to this mess and it is us.

This is love, that we lay down our lives. We do not love Christ because we have not loved the least. We have kept these kids from coming to Christ because we have not been His hands and feet of safety and protection. We have not opened the doors of our homes. And He says it would be better for us to tie a millstone around our necks and drown in the sea. You see, we want to blame the parents. When we are the ones with Christ. Thus, our silence is the more sinful. Because we know what He has commanded. But we have settled for a self-righteous religion, foolishly believing that if we live our upstanding moral lives, then we are living obediently to our Savior. It doesn’t take much reading in the New Testament to learn that Jesus condemned such pride.

Church, we must repent of our sin. We will answer to Him. These kids are paying the price for our pride, this love of ourselves. We are our own idols. May I have the liberty to say, our own kids are our own idols. As if they have more value because they were born to us “good” people. Have we forgotten the gospel we claim to believe? That we were once just as lost and dead and wretched? The love of Christ leads to sacrifice, submission and surrender. Anything less is a false illusion and sin.

Start somewhere. First in your own heart. There is no productivity in comparison and pointing and blaming. If we each take personal responsibility in our sin of neglect, true change will begin to take place. Ask God where you have been selfish, ask Him to turn your heart towards Him, ask Him how He has called you to step out in obedience to serve these kids. Ask God to reframe your perception of fostering, from burdensome to beautiful. Yes it is certainly hard because these kids are from hard places, but you are seriously doing brain work! Then take the step of asking questions to those of us in the trenches, begin having conversations and praying with other believers about how you can join together and actually BE Christ. Then just do something. This isn’t just “my thing.” This is Jesus’ heart so it must be all of ours.

And let me end with some grace. I realize that much of our disobedience is simply due to a lack of awareness. That was us for years. But once we become aware, we are responsible. My heart is that all of us as Christ followers are without excuse. Further, our lack of willingness may also be due to lack of support. That is my second goal, that by bringing awareness, an army of support is forged. Lastly, know that God knows what you can and cannot do. There are seasons and how you are called now may look different than in another season. May I lovingly say, though, that obedience always requires sacrifice. So examine your heart to make sure you’re not confining your calling to what you think you “can” do. Christ followers have the singular calling to lay down our lives. As with us, God is currently moving our foster advocacy in a new direction that will actually allow us to better serve these kids in a greater capacity and is a better fit for this season of our family. He will ask you to step out in obedience in the way that YOU can best serve these kids, with your gifting and circumstances and even your own story. But it will all push you out of your comforts and require great sacrifice.

Follower of Christ, Foster Life

I’m Not Wired for This

img_2661-e1551807220740.jpg

Here’s the thing. I’m not a sit down and play kind of mom. Read books? Yes, every night. Teach my kids how to do chores and responsibilities. That’s my jam. Play? I’ve never been that mom. Ever. A few minutes is about all I can do. My 3 bio’s were so close together in age that they were built-in play mates, so it was never really even noticed that mommy didn’t play much with them. But the reality of parenting a child from trauma is that their greatest need is constant closeness, attention and affection. And for me, that is absolutely draining. Big kids, WHERE ARE YOU??? I NEED YOU TO PLAY WITH HER!!! Here’s the other thing. I also prefer being alone. Seriously. My people know, stay out of my kitchen if I’m in there. If I’m getting ready in my bathroom, please for the love do not get in my space. Being around people for any length of time sucks the life out of me. Loud and crowd sends my senses spiraling. All I know is, my wiring is weird. I own it and embrace it. But it’s not necessarily a fit for being a foster mom. This past two years of fostering has forced me to do things out of my normal. It’s forced me to do things out of what fits my personality. And it’s fostered a deeper understanding of myself.

It’s taught me that the purpose of knowing how we are wired is not so much to narrowly define the space in which we are willing to operate. Because if what we do and how we do it is only within the limits of how we feel comfortable and what comes natural to us, then we’ve not really given God much room to use us in ways where only He can be glorified. I’ve always thought that understanding my personality was simply to guide me into the kind of career and activities and relationships that fit me. The thinking that obviously, God made me with this wiring so only these certain things and areas are mine to live. What these last two years of doing what’s so far outside of myself has taught me is that when God shoves me outside of the safe lines of my personality, it is the understanding of myself that informs me of how I will struggle and how I will be strong. It is self-awareness that informs me of what my self-care must be. Let me give you an example. My enneagram 5 self screams at me saying, MAKE THIS STOP. You see, parenting trauma is exhausting. And my personality type has very low emotional tolerance. It’s like the difference of an ocean and a dry river bank. Don’t you dare touch the few drops of water available to me. The greatest fear of my wiring is being depleted- you asking too much of me. So everything in me says, this child is asking too much of me. However, instead of me saying no to being her middle mom, I acknowledge the limits of myself. I realize what I have to do to self-care and must keenly be self-aware. I admit when I have simply met the max of what I can give and ask for help. What she needs and who I am simply do not match. But God has no yet released me from middle mothering her. So instead of saying, “oh this can’t be my calling,” I continue to say yes by leaning into Christ to be sufficient for me. I trust him to be my source because even though my well of emotional capacity is shallow, his is bottomless.

img_2664.jpg

We’ve misunderstood the purpose of all the personality things. Yes, I certainly believe it is wise, for example, to see that if we are introverted that an extroverted career may not be our best decision. But we cannot put such narrow limits on what God asks of us. We’ve actually used our wiring as boundary lines of how and where we are willing to serve God. But what about Moses? A man with a speech impediment called to speak before pharaoh. Gideon, the most unqualified match, called to be a mighty warrior.  God is going to ask you and me to do things that are entirely against who we are because He wants us to experience more deeply who He is. And He wants to use us in ways that can only He can receive the glory. So rather than placing limits on my obedience, as I am obedient, I begin acknowledging my personal, unique limits within the yes. Instead of placing restrictions on my obedience, I realize how my unique wiring will respond within the yes, how I will have to refuel and how I will have to rely on others. Rather than limiting our availability to God based on our ability, we are informed about ourselves for the purpose of knowing how we will need Christ to strengthen and sustain us as we do this thing that we literally do not have the capacity to do. “I could never do that” is almost like a dare with God. “Oh really? Let me show you just what I can do in and through you.” Saying yes to the things outside of ourselves is how we experience his limitlessness in our limitedness. It is how we experience his sufficiency in our insufficiency. It is how we learn to live dependent upon the depths of who he is rather than the boundaries of who we are.

And so last night, we bonded over baking. Because it’s more tolerable to me than playing. It’s like the balance, or maybe compromise, of my capacity and her need to be close and connected. And when we are done, I have to go be BY MYSELF for a few minutes to decompress. But for 30 minutes we measure and stir and pour and laugh and lick the spoon. Because what she needs matters more than me staying within my lines and limits.

img_2669.png

 

Foster Life

Saying Yes to Grief & Grace

IMG_0121

Isn’t it crazy, there are times God actually expects you to believe what you say you believe? That He is always all good and sovereign and working all things for His good, eternal purpose?  But my heart doesn’t want to trust that right now. I would rather just keep control.

Today was the one year court date for our foster daughter that we’ve had nearly 8 months. She will be going home soon. Too soon. And my heart has never felt such pain and such peace. Right now, I do not feel brave. Right now my faith is small. Right now my heart is scared and I would rather know that I am the one keeping her safe rather than trusting that God will.

And yet, as I sit here in her room, alone and sobbing, I am reminded once again that He loved her first. And her Father is clearly telling me to wrap her mom, yes her mom, because I am only the temporary mom. The mom who saw her first steps and was up for months of sleepless nights with cutting teeth and sickness and terrors and the mom who heard her first words and watched her become a toddler. I am the mom who now must wrap her mom with the grace my Father has given me and the support she needs to succeed. Not knowing if she’s actually ready for this. Because our daughter, her daughter, needs her mom to make it, to do this, to be mom.

Giving grace means deep grief for my heart. Grief knowing that overnight, our temporary daughter will not know what happened to her temporary family. The family she has known as mommy and daddy and “babbi” and “li” and “bubba” (translation: Abbi, Eli, Evan) for nearly half her little life. We will be out of her life and her gone from ours and she is too young to understand why. And the psychology education in me knows that her mind will experience even more trauma as a result and the mom heart in me does not know how I will survive this.

Right now, I hate foster care. This system is so broken. Parents are so broken. Leaving these kids so broken. And my heart broken. Right now, I do not know how to trust that God is in control of this mess. But I must trust Him to be in control of my heart. And I must trust that He did hear and answer our cries that He would do what is best for our temporary daughter. And I must lay down my pride of trusting myself that I am what is best for her. And trust that just maybe, not only was His purpose for us to be temporary family in her story, but to be part of her mom’s eternal story.

To be honest, I don’t want to do this anymore. I don’t want to feel this brokenness or go through this insanity, anymore. What God is whispering to me, though, is that I did not say yes to this child for my sake or even for her sake but ultimately for His sake. I say yes to the joy and the grief and the pain, because of His purpose. I say yes to this messy broken process because of His greater story. I don’t do it confidently, more like completely weak and wavering. I can’t even say that I do it willingly, more like kicking and screaming. None of us are cut out for this chaos. None of us are strong enough for this stress and sorrow. And our family will have to take a season to grieve and to rest. Because I will not lie, this has been hard, she has been hard. But there is no one good at this or equipped for this, we all only have the ability to do this by Him and for Him and through Him. So all of us can say yes to this, somehow, someway. Because His grace is sufficient even when we are not. And today, I ask you to say yes to this crazy by simply praying for our hurting, tired hearts and the future of our precious temporary daughter.

“He is before all things and by Him all things hold together.” Colossians 1:17

Foster Life

Why Have We Allowed This To Happen?

IMG_8034

Visit days are hard days. Our foster is the one who has to travel, even though our foster is not the one who chose to move away. To visit a parent that, honestly, they do not really know. Nap time will be missed. Our evening will be filled with a fussy baby. Our night will be disrupted with a restless, scared baby. Because visits trigger trauma. I don’t have an answer for any of this. I don’t know how DHS can better do the work to reunify while protecting the child from further trauma. There are certainly things that can be done better. Much better. But the truth of the matter is that this whole thing is messy and there are no simple answers.

Here’s what I do know. We are all part of this problem and we are all going to pay for this problem. All. Of. Us. Christians who are too comfortable and preoccupied to stand in the gap for a child. Extended families who didn’t step in for the safety of a child sooner. Society, because we have said you are only worth what you contribute. Because the large percentage of these kids will age out and fill our prisons and homeless shelters and welfare system and repeat the cycle. Churches who were too busy growing numbers and sitting safely inside their walls rather than penetrating their communities with the gospel to reach the parents of the children who are taken away. All of this could have been prevented. If we had done what Jesus commanded. But we didn’t. We preferred our walls and our pews and our programs. Because people are too messy and broken for us to mess with. We would rather sit in condemnation and criticism of these parents for not having their lives more together like ours. Never considering that maybe they never had anyone teach them anything or any better. Because they come from a broken mess themselves and are so broken that it all seems normal. And the drugs are the escape from the mess of their life. And we will be held just as accountable for their actions because we did not give them the hope of the gospel. We did not get into our communities with recovery and life skills and mentoring and truth wrapped in hope and love and grace. No, we would rather sit in our Sunday spot and feel safe and secure and self-righteous. Yet, our Savior says, “if you have loved the least of these you have loved me.” We are filled with sin and we will stand before His throne one day and answer. How do we not see that our souls were once just as lost and unloved and broken and ugly as the lives of these parents in which we stand is such condemnation? Yes, there are parents who choose the drugs and the sex and the broken life over their child. But, can we please just get off our pedestals and ask why? Why would they make that choice because the choice is an indicator of the condition of the heart and we are people who should know, all of life is a heart issue and we know the One who gives a new heart and a new hope and a new home. Have we ever considered how hard it is for the ones who really do want to get their life together to get their life together? They cannot afford a car or rent, but they have no where to live other than the hell hole they are in and they can’t even afford an outfit for a job interview and if they could get some undependable friend to give them a ride to the job interview and an employer actually took a chance on them, they would get fired in a week anyway, because they had no way to get there. And if someone did take a chance to hire them, it would be a minimum wage job and they don’t know how to budget their money to make ends meet.

This child who I just dropped off at daycare only to be picked up by a DHS stranger and driven far longer in a car seat than what this child should have to ride to sit two hours at a fast food restaurant with a mom she barely knows. One day, this child will know. The foster teenagers who age out. They all know. They know they are not wanted. Because we’ve based our value of them on the choices of their parents. Our lack of action has said to them, “We do not want you because of who you came from.” How dare us. Because we have a heavenly Father who declares, “I will call she who is unloved, beloved.” Yet, we have not loved them with His love.  These children are hard. They are hard because they have been traumatized and forgotten and neglected. They are hard because they have gone hungry and they haven’t had water in months, or ever, for a bath. Then they go to school with kids who are clean and cute. Who can get the grades and the academic accolades but they know when they go home, they don’t have food and their mom will be strung out and forget a dad, who knows what guy will be there tonight. So grades are the least of their concern, survival is. Yes, they are angry and hard and exhausting. Because they are hurting. Their hearts are broken. And they don’t just need our stuff. Yes, donate your clothes and your things to help a child. Many days, that’s how a foster parent makes it. But can I lovingly say, they need our hearts more. They need someone to look at them and say, I want you. The greatest pain a human heart knows is that of being unwanted. And we are sending thousands of broken hearts into the world with that reality. The reality of being unwanted. Not merely disliked by some classmates, like our kids might experience. Literally unwanted, by parents and entire communities-these children know and we have confirmed it to them. They are unwanted. At the very least, not worth the effort. These children need to know that their parent moved heaven and earth to get it together. And that we held them up and helped them along because they cannot not do it on their own.

We have made our own children matter more. Ensuring our own have every opportunity in the world. Yet, we have created a world for our children where they will now have to coexist with a population of broken, messy, angry, shut-down souls. That will become citizens who think they have no worth and who see no worth in the ones who didn’t see them as worthy. Adults who repeat the cycles their parents modeled for them, because no one showed them any different. People who fill our prisons and our streets. And our kids will be standing in the same spot of condemnation as us, wondering why those people don’t have it together like them. Because that’s what we’ve taught them.  But my child and your child do not have more worth and value than these children simply because they were fortunate enough to have parents who could provide for them. We all stand in equal worth before the Maker of Heaven and Earth.

As Christians, we are a people that base our entire belief system on the truth that God is Creator of this world. But His perfect world was destroyed by sin. So He sent His son to rescue us. Do we realize that means this child, too? I wrestle with the why. Why does He allow this to happen to these children? Yet, God has reframed that question more accurately for me: Why have WE allowed this to happen to these children? Because God has told us this is a broken world-that is the reason for the need of our entire faith. And in this broken world filled with broken hearts and minds and lives, there are broken parents who make broken choices. But, the gospel says, I make all things new. The gospel says, I set you free from your broken bondage. Not, “I will make your life look as good as mine”-this is not some social ladder garbage. These parents and these kids are not our projects and they do not need our pity. They need us loving them they way Christ has loved us. Otherwise, we are all frauds. Because Jesus says, “If you do not love, you do not know me.” The gospel is about the heart because when the heart is made new, the soul is set free from sin.  And every one of us would be any one of these parents had we known the reality of their stories and circumstances and not been rescued by our Savior and not had homes filled with hope and love.

This broken world means parents are going to make broken choices. And Jesus made it clear that we are to enter the brokenness. He has called us to be what they cannot be and choose not to be for their kids. And we are called to help them learn to be what they do not know how to be for their kids. God did make a way for all of this whole mess not to happen: Us. And this is all only going to get worse. Until churches and Christians begin to step into their communities to reach parents, meeting them where they are and patiently walking with them to Jesus. Until churches and Christians decide that all children, even the unwanted ones, are worthy and worth it. Until churches and Christians decide to get their hands messy and be the feet of Jesus by stepping outside the comfort of their good lives and church pews.

I realize, I really do, that not everyone actually can foster. Although, I think more can than what are willing. But just start somewhere. Start by becoming a certified volunteer that can tutor or mentor a teen foster child. Start by becoming a respite foster parent. Start by becoming a CASA advocate.  Start by launching a foster family ministry in your church. Start by taking a meal to a foster family. Start by asking Jesus to open your eyes so that your heart is broken and moved to action. We will answer to God as to why these children do not believe they have a Heavenly Father who loves them, because they saw no evidence of Him through us.

 

Foster Life

WHAT FOSTERING IS TEACHING ME AS A FOLLOWER OF CHRIST

IMG_6663

The personal love of God.
Fostering as a Christian is greater and deeper than simply giving a child a safe place during the most traumatic season of their life. It is standing as an intercessor on their behalf. Accepting and understanding the personal love of God has always been a struggle of mine. I know God is love and I know He loves us. But it has been hard for me to personalize and internalize rather than generalize His love. He has been so graciously patient in helping me grow to learn His love for me.  What has begun to transform my own personal struggle with this truth has been witnessing how God intervenes for our foster placements. As we desperately intercede for our foster children, as we worry and pray and panic and cry out in desperation because we know, this child is NOT OK and NO ONE IS LISTENING, God moves and mightily says, I AM. There isn’t a way to express the burden a foster parent carries. On top of the endless documentation and paperwork, the all. the. time. DHS visits, the fire drills and the child constantly out of sorts because the second you get them settled into a routine someone who is not taking care of this child is deciding visits and changes in the case so this baby is never sleeping, the doctor visits because this child is sick all the time and the record keeping and the keeping every loving thing in your house locked up. On top of staffings and court dates and attempting to build a relationship with the bio parent who is the reason your life is now such a wreck. On top of keeping up to date on your own CEU’s and health and home inspections and cpr and first aid (so when exactly am I supposed to do all of that???) Oh and let’s not forget a scrapbook for your foster (what, my own 3rd child doesn’t even have one of those…) On top of taking care of your own kids and family. The foster parent carries the weight of the trauma this child is facing. It is a crushing burden. We preach to ourselves:  today, just survive today. But we never know how many today’s there will be. Because today changes in an instant in this broken system and all the work you’ve done to provide stability, safety and sanity for this child can be undone in a second. There are days we collapse to the floor in exhaustion not knowing if we can do this one more minute. Because our sanity is one more sleepless night or text from dhs about another change gone and it won’t be our foster child needing therapy, but ourselves. And just when we think we are about to call it quits, God steps in. No, it doesn’t always happen that the case goes the best way. But when I have begged God to bring truth to light on behalf of my foster child, He has, in His timing and in the best way possible. And something about seeing God love my foster child so strongly and specifically has radically changed my grasp on His love, for me. He does see me, He has proven so in seeing my foster children. And it has been the loudest whisper to my own soul of His fierce love of me.

IMG_7468

The sacrificial love of God.
Nothing has exposed my selfish nature more than fostering. I just want to sleep. I just want normal-my normal. I just want to be left alone and not hold this needy baby one more second. I just want my morning coffee and routine, just once.  I don’t want to have to figure out childcare just to take my teenagers to the movie. I don’t want to deal with all of this extra work. It’s a hassle and it’s hard. But one morning,  when I as catching a quick moment in God’s word, my reading was in Isaiah 53. And it hit me and humbled me.

“He Himself bore our sickness and He carried our pains.”
“The punishment that brought us peace was on Him.”

As a foster parent, I am bearing the sickness of this child’s trauma. I am carrying this child’s pain. What brings peace to this child is painful to me. It cost me my “normal” life. What did I think Jesus meant when He said, take up your cross? What did I think when Jesus said, lay down your life? What did I think living out the gospel meant? Because according to this passage from His Word, it most certainly does not mean, have your perfectly peaceful normal life as long as you go to church every week and are of good moral standing you are living the gospel.  To live as Christ is to die. To foster is to carry the punishment of the choices of another person so that this child can have peace. To foster is to carry the pain of this child so that this child can feel some sort of peace. And  Jesus walked all the way to the cross in order to bring me peace. He took on the sickness of my sin. He carried the weight of my shame. He laid down His life so that I could live. He gave up Himself. No it isn’t fair that I am carrying the burden of a parent choosing not to care for their child. No it isn’t fair that this system is broken and messy and many times makes this whole thing harder. But this child, this child chose none of this. This child made none of these choices. And yes, for this child to have peace it is painful for me. But carrying their pain in order for them to have peace, that is simply a glimpse of the gospel. And regardless of the stress and sacrifice of it all, what we as the foster parents endure holds no comparison to what the foster child endures. Rejection. Grief. Confusion. Anger. Brokenness. Trust and Attachment Trauma. Fear. Instability. Yes, when I compare the sacrifice to my normal, it seems and feels and IS significant. It is most certainly a death. A death to my world and my convenience and even my sanity. But it is small in comparison to the loss experienced by the child. We as foster parents are not martyrs and we are not victims. We are simply living out the sacrificial love of our Savior.  And so in exhaustion and weakness and brokenness, we get up and we keep walking this journey. Because if we want to follow Christ we must do so with a cross.

IMG_3993