Wednesday, December 17, 2014

foster care to adoption


We are at the end stages of our foster care journey with Sweet M. The inefficiency of the child welfare system will never cease to amaze me. For this case, the most clear-cut case they could ever hope or ask for, it will still be 18 months from placement to permanency. That is too long. They’ve had permanent custody of Sweet M since July. There is no reason that adoption shouldn’t have occurred early this fall. Except. Inefficiency.

In our county, after permanent custody has been awarded to the state, the case is supposed to move from the foster care unit to the adoption unit. This necessitates a change in workers. They have 30 days from permanent custody to have the initial matching meeting. A matching meeting involves the adoption caseworker, along with a supervisor, and perhaps a committee of sorts. I’m not exactly sure of all the players since potential parents are never invited to these meetings. At that meeting, if there are multiple applicants to adopt a particular child, they will sift and choose the best candidates. They may not choose a final candidate at that first meeting. However, in Sweet M’s case, there were no other applicants. Just us. They didn’t advertise her (as is supposedly legally required) because there is no reason. No other family would beat us in a matching meeting because we are already her family and there are no other extenuating circumstances (siblings, etc.) that would jeopardize that, if that makes sense.

We were matched within 30 days. We met the adoption worker not long after that. She didn’t officially even have the case, but she started to take over monthly home visits and such. She didn’t have the case file yet, but she began to fill out all the reports she was required to complete. One of those was a large family assessment, since we have more than four kids. She came to interview all of the children separately to find out how they felt about our family, about Sweet M, about the adoption, etc. Apparently your children’s feelings and thoughts don’t matter unless they have at least three siblings. I’m, frankly, super confused by this requirement.

Fast forward months. She still didn’t have the whole case file. When a child moves toward adoption, the workers have to file with every single place she has ever been or received care. Every hospital, every doctor’s office, every therapist’s office, etc. This takes some time to gather. In our county, they will also make copies of the original birth certificate and social security card for our records. Once adoption occurs, the child is issued an amended birth certificate. Or as I like to call it, the paper of lies. This birth certificate lists the adoptive parents as the birth parents. The location is where the adoption takes place. The birth date, however, is still the same. So the farce is that we were, according to this piece of paper, there for the birth of our child. False. Also? We’re not the birth parents. In some states, if you have been adopted, you do not have the right to have a copy of your original birth certificate. In some states, you aren’t even allowed to get it as an adult. I have so many feelings about this state of affairs, and they are too numerous for this post. Suffice it to say, I am not a fan of this system, and I am eternally grateful that our county takes the time to make sure that the kids who leave their care have access to their original documents.

Once the case worker got the full case file, we had to take Sweet M for a psychological evaluation. Basically an attachment assessment at this age. Guess what? She’s securely attached to me. Surprise.

After that report made its way to the caseworker’s desk, she dropped off the whole file to us, and the next day we went in to sign the adoptive placement papers. This makes it all very official and yet still not official. It’s essentially the go-ahead to file in court for the adoption finalization. We have to sign a gazillion papers that say we’ve received all the information about Sweet M, that we know her special needs, that we’ve agreed on an adoption subsidy, that she will receive Ohio Medicaid until 18, etc. It takes awhile to make it through all the paperwork.

After we left the agency, we went straight to the attorney’s office for him to work on his part. Signed more papers there, made sure everything was correct for the amended birth certificate, and then we went back to our car with full hope that things would move along quickly.

It’s been two weeks now, and we still have no court date. All we’ve received is confirmation that in spite of all assurances to the contrary, the final report is still not done and still not filed with the court. There’s been quite a number of heavy sighs and more than a few angry tears in the past week or so at this house. It’s just so frustrating to count up the months and realize that by that time we finalize Sweet M’s adoption, she will have been with us 18 months. 18 months for the easiest case the agency could’ve asked for. 18 months of them knowing this was going to be the outcome, yet 18 months of them not preparing for it. Sometimes the system just astounds me. I’m not surprised by inefficiency in government usually, but then sometimes I am just taken aback by how truly terrible it is. It doesn’t truly matter since Sweet M’s placement was never at risk, and she’s been safe and secure with us the whole time. She certainly doesn’t know any of this has occurred. Still. If I were in charge……

So here we are. Still waiting. Yet still convinced this thing we’re doing is worth doing no matter the headache, frustration, and cost. It’s worth it all. She is worth it all.

photo credit: Julia Manzerova via photopin cc

Saturday, December 6, 2014

endless hope, relentless joy

November ended and December began with a hard clap of strife and stress for us here. Busyness and necessary truths collided with a force that I didn’t exactly anticipate. Foster care craziness, adoption delays, job changes, financial difficulties, and the endless amount of time I’ve been spending in my car hauling children from activity to activity has worn me thin.

The thin places are where God is meeting me these days. Not always in the way I want him to, but He’s there nevertheless. He’s having me deal with some hard stuff – fears I wasn’t completely in touch with, sins that I haven’t been completely willing to let go, health that is never completely up to my standards of excellence, a world that seems to have gone mad with oppression and greed, and children that will always show me where my weaknesses are.

And then there’s my friends. Maybe one of them is you? Friends who are dealing with far worse health than I, friends who just can’t seem to catch a break financially, friends who are unemployed, divorcing, hurting, grieving, walking through the hardest days of their lives….and isn’t this what Advent is all about? That desolate time of expectation before that vulnerable baby entered our world with an act of violent love to revolutionize this whole broken world. That’s the longing I feel tonight.

Hallelujah. I can still sing it.

Friday, November 21, 2014

five things I want my kids to know about death

origin_8982962023We had an exhausting past weekend as we said goodbye to my great-aunt at 87 years old. Combine that with the fact that my husband was out of town for all of that weekend, and I’ve been running on empty for awhile. I thought I was doing ok until I got the text that Wendell was on his way home from the airport. The older two were watching TV, the next two down were asleep, I was putting the baby to sleep, and by the time he got home, I was pretty much out for the night. This doesn’t seem like that interesting of a story, but it was 7:30. Some of you hadn’t even eaten dinner yet. For a girl who struggles to go to sleep before midnight, it was a fairly significant event. I think my brain said, “hey. he’s almost here.” and then shut down. The end. So tired.

I’ve been thinking a lot about our past weekend and the previous few weeks during which we anticipated my aunt’s death. This was the sixth viewing/funeral we’ve been to this past year as a family, and the only one where there were several other children. Apparently it’s not too common to take your kids along to funerals or viewings. I think it’s so important for my kids’ upbringing to be exposed to death and mourning, so I compiled a short list of the things I want to teach my kids about death. I will be the first to admit, however, that my children have been fortunate in that we have not attended the funeral of a child or the funeral of someone who died from violence. Those things will bring up new questions and new problems, and let’s be frank, I don’t have the answers for those things. I can’t tell them why God allows children to die, why violence sometimes seems to win…but I can teach them about death as a part of life. These are everyday lessons I want them to learn.

1) Dying people are not scary.
I watched my four-year-old climb up right beside that hospital bed in the room where my aunt took her last breaths and take her hand like there was nothing to it. She started right in with a one-sided conversation, no fear at all. It was the sweetest little thing, made even more striking by the fact that they didn’t interact like that regularly. I never want my children to fear the elderly or the dying or the vulnerable. Don’t be scared. Just love them.

2) Death is not convenient.
With very rare exceptions, death cannot be predicted. So you change your plans. You skip practices, games, holiday dinners, working on your house, work, school, and even sometimes vacations. (Unless your ticket is non-refundable and the rest of your family can still go. But then you feel bad about it.) You show up. If you know the person who died, but not their family, you still show up. They want to see the people that loved their loved one. If you don’t know the person who died, but you do know their loved ones, you show up. That’s what makes us people. We share one another’s loads. We grieve with one another. Even when we don’t know what to say. We come and we give a hug and we cry together. If you can travel to the location, you do so. Don’t be scared. Just show up.

3) Death is a lot of work.
So you do it. If it’s not your loved one, you do the work. If you’re part of a church, then you move chairs and you set up tables and you ask what else needs to be prepared for the funeral. You make food for the after-funeral dinner, and even more importantly, you serve at the after-funeral dinner. You do this EVERY TIME you possibly can because someday it’s going to be your family member, and someone else will need to do it for you. If you’re not part of a church that does this kind of thing, then you make food for the family. Not just the immediate family, but the ones who don’t live in that house too. They all are tired and overextended with the purchasing of funeral clothes and time off work, and everyone could use a break. Make them dinner. Clean their house. Do something. Don’t be scared. Just step up.

4) Death is not scary.
This one was really brought home to me on the way home from my aunt’s viewing. The kids asked about the body which led to a conversation about embalming which led to burial which led to cremation which led to my older children deciding on their death and funeral wishes and wanting to know mine. It wasn’t icky. It wasn’t weird. It was just a conversation about the natural progression of life. People die. We grieve. We remember them, but we move forward. As they are exposed to death, it will only serve them to be better equipped when someone very close to them dies. I don’t want them to be paralyzed with fear when that inevitably occurs. Don’t be scared. Just keep on.

5) Death is not the end.
The last lesson is the most important one of all. The night we got the call that my aunt had finally passed, my Maggie said, “Do you know that Aunt Esther never learned to drive? When she was getting ready to learn, a pig ran across the road and the car, and then she was too scared to ever try. I bet right now she’s driving a golden car with wings.” Facts of that story are maybe not completely verified, but Maggie understood the point. Aunt Esther still lives. The minute she left this earth, she gets to be present with Jesus. Something deep within my kids’ souls knows this to be true. I’m not sure if it’s just my own indoctrination of our faith beliefs (possible, but I honestly can’t remember us talking about this aspect of death much) or if it’s just this innate part of us as humans that knows that there is more to us than just this earthly life. Eternity is planted in our hearts, and my kids know this to be true. Death is sad. Death is painful. But don’t be scared, sweet children: Love wins.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

things I learned in the dark

Sweet M has been sick since Labor Day. Until the past week or so, she was up multiple times a night, every night. One of those awakenings would typically last anywhere from 2-4 hours. I think I’m handling it just fine, but then she sleeps through the night one night and I can’t. I’m not the kind of person who can get completely up and do productive things while battling insomnia, so I’ve been lying in bed, listening to a lot of Roseanne Cash, and learning some things in the dark of night.

origin_35466035061. While battling extreme embarrassment over my affinity towards the game, I just can’t quit you, Candy Crush.

2. I’m pretty sure I can now diagnose your diseases solely by looking at the location of pimples on your face. Thanks, face mapping.

3. Jesse Thorn’s voice is now more familiar to me than my husband’s, thanks to Judge John Hodgman and Bullseye.

4. Reluctantly and with enormous amounts of skepticism, I have done an inordinate amount of research on essential oils and their usages resulting in a hefty purchase of said oils this month. Two things: I think Young Living might also be the work of Satan so I used a different company, and also, I really don’t believe all the hype. We’ll see…..

5. JoJo Moyes has become a favorite. Me Without You was terrific, and the best I’ve read of hers so far. Eerily timely, given the Brittany Maynard news coverage. The Kindle is an insomniac’s best friend.

6. Virginia wine country vacations are expensive.

7. Maybe closer to home would be cheaper? Or maybe not. Hocking Hills has some crazy expensive cabins and inns, although you apparently can get a whole Scottish inn experience there. I bet that’s experiencing a significant growth in profits as a result of the whole Outlander situation.

8. In spite of my fear over the future, in spite of the pain-driven tears, in spite of the anxiety-fueled gulping breaths and heart palpitations, and even in spite of the myriad of frustrations and things unsaid between us at any given moment, lying beside my husband at night is the safest place I know.

(Full disclosure: I’m a verbal processor, and if my sweet husband is reading this right now, he is thinking with horror: “how could possibly be ANYTHING unsaid???”)



photo credit: Moe M via photopin cc

Sunday, October 26, 2014

when you doubt

DeathtoStock_NotStockI think I believe in this miracle-working God who makes everything sad come untrue and sets the captives free and works it all for good, but then life intersects. Sometimes it’s all more mud than it is glory.

People get cancer…and instead of being healed and fighting the disease back to remission, they die and leave behind their children to pick up the pieces.
Cars crash…and there isn’t the angel that visits the scene to pull out the body before it is crushed.
Marriages crumble…and sometimes they don’t have this wonderful redemption story. Sometimes they just end.
People are hungry…and sometimes no one comes to give them food. Sometimes they just die of starvation.
Children are brought into this world…and sometimes they aren’t protected by the people who are supposed to protect them. Sometimes those people hurt them instead.
People work all of their life, as hard as they can…and sometimes they never, ever get ahead. Sometimes they end in as much poverty as they started.
Children are adopted…and sometimes it doesn’t end happily ever after. Sometimes the adoptive home is worse than the first family they had to leave behind, and they are ripped yet again from another family only to spend years in foster care and age out of the system with no family at all.

Sometimes things don’t end up the way we want them to. Sometimes things don’t end the way we think God should make it end. Sometimes He just doesn’t intervene. I don’t know why. I can’t explain that. I know I love Him. I trust Him in spite of it. My eyes are on You, Jesus, but boy, do I have some questions…

Saturday, October 18, 2014

the hair of humility

These past two weeks have given me another silver hair. I have pulled my single silver strand with dedication for a couple years now, last night being no exception, but then this morning, I looked in the mirror to see another shiny metallic glint in my part line. My first showed up during the trauma of our foster care journey with our two youngest permanents. I suppose this one could be attributed to a gift from the upcoming finalization of the littlest’s adoption, but I tend to think it’s from the stress of the past couple months. Wading with your children through their deep stuff all the while battling some deep stuff of your own will age you quicker than anything.

origin_3718841972I realized some heavy truths this week. Mostly that my angst and grief over my child’s difficulties are largely just all selfish feelings about me. I feel like I’ve failed. I feel like if I were better at my job and my life that we would not have these problems. I feel like I’ve done all the wrong things. I’m afraid people will think I’m a bad parent. I’m afraid that I am a bad parent.

Really, though? My son’s story is not all about me. It’s his story. I get to walk alongside him through it, and I hope that I help more than I do harm, but in the end, it’s his story. Only his.

I am not his savior.
I am not his rescuer.
I am not the person who will make all things right in his life.

I love him.
I protect him.
I advocate for him.
I teach him.
I pray for him.
I am on his side.

From now on, when I look in the mirror and I see that second silvery thread, I will remember I am his mama. And that’s the end of it. I do everything that a mama should do. The outcome? It’s just not up to me. Even if he never heals in the way I hope and imagine, it’s not about ME. This isn’t about what I do or don’t do, how I feel about it all. This is my son’s story, and the redemption and restoration and rebuilding that I work for in his little life is really just up to One who loves him more than I ever could.

So that hair up there? It’s just a little reminder of who I am NOT. I think I’ll call it the Hair of Humility.

(That I will continue to pull out whenever it appears. So I’m vain. Some things can’t be helped.)

Saturday, October 4, 2014

make me brave

IMG_9375Earlier this week, I spend a full hour googling cabins and spas and small inns, dreaming of a quiet retreat, somewhere to recharge and rest for just a bit. I’m sure part of it was the relentless heat of summer’s end, part of it also the relentless demand of a large family. Even in this heat, the leaves have been falling, but instead of that being the joyfully anticipated harbinger of my favorite season, this year it’s feeling just a little bit like death and fear.

In the flush of victory of a successful beginning to the school year, we are watching our son deal with demons that we haven’t seen exhibit themselves in years. Learning how to love him well has been a constant struggle, and if I’m to tell the truth here, it’s been more failure than success on my part. I’m not telling those of you who are parents anything that you don’t know, but there is no greater piercing than watching your children suffer, particularly the kind of soul-crushing suffering that makes your heart break wide open. If you’re the mama of a child who has come from a hard place, you also know that when most people, even your friends or family, want to tell you that the behaviors are normal, that things are to be expected, you know there is just a level that is deeper for your child. Yes, the behaviors often look typical. It’s usually the reasoning behind them and the depth of it that is different. That’s the muck we’re wading through right now, even while we celebrate the enormous victories our sweet boy is experiencing at school, at church, and at home. He has worked so hard to come this far, but it is a definite reminder that the pit is just as deep as it has always been even if we don’t go there as much or stay there as long.

I get him in a way that I’ve never before. I’m struggling with some deep stuff too. The underlying fear that fuels a lot of my emotions has come out in my actions more than I’d prefer. You’d think as an adult, I’d have a better handle on that, but this fall, I’ve been daily confronted with my own weaknesses. For instance, I’ve felt better than I’ve had in more than 2 years for the bulk of this summer, but suddenly my hair is coming out in giant handfuls and my palpitations are keeping me up at night again. I think it’s just stress, but there’s always that undercurrent of fear that I’ve enjoyed as much good health as I’m going to ever have again. We’re also beginning one of the biggest life changes our family has ever experienced, and I’m gripped by the uncertainty that surrounds it. I’m overcome by my own resistance – there’s never been anything that I’ve wanted to do less. Yet I know it’s right, and I know it’s God. So I can’t say no, and I’m just honestly a little ticked off regarding the whole thing.

I spent a lot of time this week bemoaning my son’s attempts to run away (a new tactic he’s been trying of late). But really. Do I have the right? Isn’t that what I’m longing for at heart too? To run away? The hours I spend daydreaming about escaping my life for a time, the hotels and places and pretties that I pin while I long for a vacation where I can forget about my trouble…is that so different from my seven-year-old just taking off down the street?

Just as I follow him down the road through the neighborhood while he walks off his anger so he realizes there’s no place he can run to that we won’t follow him, that there’s nowhere too far that we won’t love him back home…that’s what my Jesus is gently, gently saying to me too.

If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.
Psalm 139:9-10

I will never leave you nor forsake you.
Joshua 1:5

Any of you want to run away and escape too? Is it just that time of year? What I do know is that this is the time, right here, right now, where we need to be brave - my sweet boy. me, and maybe you too. Walking forward into the unknown, where our feet may fail, trusting that we walk in a living hope that will never fade or perish, that will not put us to shame. Trusting that we follow Love who already made a way for us. Leaning on the One who is for us, not against us. Strong and courageous, I am stepping forward into the deep. Not without fear, certainly; I am still crazy afraid, but I’m headed to where I have no choice but to let it all go in surrender.

Isn’t that what true bravery is? Doing the thing you’re scared to in spite of the risk?

Jesus, make us brave.