Monday, May 18, 2015

mother's day musings



Mother's Day comes at a price for me these days. I, the lover of all things celebratory and all holidays big and small, have come to dread the coming of this particular one. There is no day more poignant to me as I parent three children who are separated from the mothers that brought them into this world. The kids don't seem to notice the struggle yet. That angst will likely come later. After church, this past Mother's Day, I listened to my son talk to his mom on speakerphone. She asked him about his plans for the day, and he tells her that after Grandma's house for lunch, he's going to come home and get out the Mother's Day presents he made for his mama. Me. That mama.

I don't know what went through her head at that moment, but it was like a knife to my heart. I'm sitting in the front seat of the minivan thinking, 'oh, I wish he wouldn't have said that. How do I get him out of this particular section of conversation?" It's painful. It's painful for her. It's painful for me.

I've been finding such joy in my children lately in spite of the end-of-the-year crazies which have now set in, but every moment I take pleasure in just who they are comes at with a little pang. My joy is at the expense of another's pain. There's no way around that truth. Inevitability and safety concerns and all of that aside, our family came to be because another family was broken. So our family is broken too. The older I get, the more I find myself more willing to sit in the tension of messiness like that. It's ok if we're broken. I don't have to fix it. I don't have to fix it for myself, and as much as I want to, I can't fix it for my children either. They might have to learn this lesson younger than I'd prefer, but learn it they must.

Later that week, I logged on to facebook to find a message that I was sent on Mother's Day from one of my children's moms. Sent after that painfully awkward phone conversation. It was one of those Hallmark-y memes with the sappy words and pictures of roses along with a personal wish for a Happy Mother's Day. Followed by a thank you. Thank you for being such a good mom to my kids. This from the woman who gave birth to our children. The one who doesn't get to spend these holidays with them anymore. That's pain I can't imagine, and yet she thanks me, their everyday mama. There is no mother's day wish that I have ever received that meant more to me than this one this year. To be validated by the woman who loved and parented my kids first? To have her think that I'm doing a good job? We're partners of sorts, she and I. Untraditional, sure, and right now it looks more like a relay than a side-by-side partnership, but our mamas' hearts are knit together for we love the same children with everything we have. I want her to like me. I want her to think I'm doing a good job. I long for her approval. I want to honor her with how I care for our children. I want to build a strong foundation for redemption. Redemption is coming. I believe it will be so. These dry bones of broken families will come alive, by the very breath of God. He has spoken, and He will do it. (Ezekiel 37)

This might be a resurrection song long delayed, but it is one I plan yet to sing.



photo credit: Noelridge Tamron_033 via photopin (license)

Monday, May 11, 2015

how far love can go


Saturday was my birthday. I went to breakfast with my dad. I spent the day at the ballpark watching my sons play baseball. I went to dinner with my sisters, ate on the patio, and thoroughly enjoyed my lobster cakes, espresso creme brulee, and that lovely white wine that I've already forgotten the name of. Then I came home, sat on the couch beside my thirteen year old son, and helped him process through the news that we had received the night before: one of his teammates, a favorite friend in fact, had been diagnosed with cancer. Not how I would ever choose to end a day of celebration.

My reassurances from the previous months about the likelihood of this friend actually having something serious are now proven false. Our hopeful predictions about the outcome of his coming treatment and recovery seem a little shallow right now. I realized anew that I am so ill-equipped for this parenting thing. I want to tell Ben all of the right happy answers, but we know life isn't like that. I want to give him concrete reasons and explanations, but the truth is, I don't know why. It's not fair. Probabilities aside, I can't promise he'll be fine.

Yesterday, there were tears and prayers and more tears. Today, there's anger. I get that. I wish it were different. Everything in me wants to take away the hard, even though I know that's not best for anyone. But it's my child. I still want to erase the hurt. I want to tell him Jesus makes everything all right.

Instead, what I can do is sit beside him while he cries.

I can give him grace when he's angry.

I can pray with him to the Healer even while I let him research the medical possibilities to his heart's content.

I can listen and be ever grateful that he still wants to process through things with his mama.

I can be with. And I can hope and pray that he learns how to do it from my example because his friend is going to need the same kind of thing. I get to teach Ben that reaching out to hurting people isn't some sort of project, it's friendship. It's compassion. It's following Jesus even into the hard places. It's love.


Friday, May 1, 2015

loving the lonely


Sometimes you get a glimpse of the future that will never be. You know what I mean? The glimpse that shows you what the future would have been like if...

Learning to love the newest pseudo-family member during the past six months where he lived most of the time with my parents gave us just that. So much like our Brenden, we were instantly drawn to him. Watching him try to navigate his new adulthood without the tools that he actually needed to so was difficult. Kids age out of the foster system every day in this country, and while this young man still was eligible to receive some benefits from the county until 21, it is eye-opening to see what truly can happen in the lives of those for whom the system has failed. And I truly believe is a failure to have a kid reach adulthood with no place to call home.

Imagine growing into adulthood with no family. None. Your birth family is out of the picture, and you've had too many foster placements to have a home to truly call your own. No one ever said, "you're mine. For life." The loneliness of that just breaks me. No one should have to do life alone.

Imagine growing into adulthood where no one has given you the skills to succeed. No one helped you fill out your first FAFSA, your college applications. No one encouraged you to investigate a trade should college not be a good fit. No one taught you how to hold down a job, how to interact with a boss, or even how to talk with coworkers. No one ever said, "hey. Are you coming home this weekend? Bring your laundry." According to the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, this happens to approximately 24,000 kids every year. Most studies will tell you that kids who age out of the system are more likely to end up without college degrees, unemployed, homeless, or in prison. And this year, I met and loved one kid for whom that is likely to be his future.

He moved into my parents home with nothing but the clothes on his back, and he left, for a variety of reasons, basically the same way. My husband drove him to the place where he was staying that night with all his earthly belongings in the car. It's hard for me to even write about, thinking about this young man we learned to love, but also, I'm still remembering our own son's entrance into our home. We were his sixth move that year. SIX. In one year. He came with a garbage bag of clothes and a toy tool bench. For the first several months he lived with us, when we would tell him the caseworker was coming for her monthly home visit, he would go to get his shoes. Had to be ready to go, you know, because she comes to move him from home to home. Imagine that for your entire childhood. How could you ever function as a capable, healthy adult if this was how you grew up?

So this week I'm grieving. I'm grieving for this young man we now love. I'm praying for his safe return back to my parent's house. I'm praying for his safety, for his future. I know his story isn't done, but I'm praying that our part in his story gets to continue. I miss him. But I also grieve for the more than 20,000 other kids facing the same reality this year. I'm grieving for them while they are lonely tonight, while they are wondering where their next meal will come from or where they will sleep tomorrow. I'm grieving for them while they are in prison. And above all, I'm grieving for the little boys and girls that they once were - the ones who stuff their belongings in garbage bags. The ones who grab their shoes when the caseworker comes. The ones who never have an everyday mommy and daddy that stick around for good.

Those kids? They are my kids. I just get to stop the cycle with the three that are sleeping in my upstairs right now. I get to tuck them in every night, assuring them that I love them. I get to take them to see old caseworkers, to visits with their first families, to therapy appointments, and all with the assurance that I will take them, I will stay with them, and I will bring them home again. Their future is with an everyday family that will be there for them no matter what, no matter when, no matter.

May is National Foster Care Month. Sometimes I feel like I'm beating a dead horse with my constant calls to action, but maybe this is the year that you sign up to stop the cycle for one kid. Just one. That's all it takes. 



Saturday, April 25, 2015

the song of my heart

DeathtoStock_Medium8My daughter decided to become a songwriter this week. She dragged around several notebooks, wrote a couple songs, and then came to me just two hours later with the question, “do you think if you’re a songwriter, you can get song-block?” I’m not sure about that one, but I know that I’ve been fighting writer’s block for quite some time. Not in the sense that I have no words at all, more in the sense that I have too many words, too many feelings, too many questions, and to write them all down feels both like a betrayal and like too enormous of a task to even begin to undertake. Tonight, however, the words won’t stop flowing.

I came back from the Created for Care retreat this year with an assurance in my spirit for what’s next for our family. I didn’t expect to have that question answered quite so definitively while I was there, but during that whole weekend, speaker after speaker, session after session, I knew without a doubt. The long drive back home, while my friend and I discussed a billion and one other things, it just sat in my soul. When I got home I told Wendell, and we really didn’t even discuss it. Two or three days later, he says, “yep. That’s it.”

That’s how we found ourselves across the dinner table from one of our children’s birth mom and dad last night. Our kids have been asking for visits. We’ve been waiting for the right time, and this was it. I have no doubt that the decision to pursue this now was the right one, but I will admit that my dreams about what this is all going to look like are a long way from being realized. I can talk a good talk about family restoration and breaking the cycle and all of those things I hold so dearly to my heart, but the reality is way more messy than it is beautiful. (It was very beautiful, so that should give you an indication of the depth of the mess.)

In my benevolent adoptive parent mind, we are the ones who are making the grand gesture of increasing the openness of our adoptions. In some ways that’s oh so true. We do hold almost all of the power in these relationships. We have no binding legal agreement, and frankly, even if we had an official agreement, there are very few courts that will actually uphold it. We get to say when visits occur, if they occur, what they look like, who gets to be there…we get to say all of it.

The thing is, we just can’t control the outcome. We don’t get to say how our children feel about it. We don’t get to dictate how their first moms and dads feel about it. We don’t get to command the presence of said parents. That part was fairly hard for me, honestly. I, with my grand gesturing, am turned down?  Why wouldn’t a parent want to see their child? That’s an outcome I didn’t anticipate.

I also wasn’t prepared for all of those feelings that came rushing back. I was totally ready with all my answers and quality listening skills and compassion and validation for my kids’ thoughts and feelings and questions. My own, however? Kind of took me off guard. I wasn’t prepared to leave the visit angry. I wasn’t prepared to have to re-process some of that grief I thought I had long buried. I think because our kids are in such a good place right now, because I knew that this was absolutely the right thing to be doing at the right time, because I have researched and read, trained and been supported for this very thing, well, I think I thought it meant that everybody was ready for this. Maybe everybody else was ready for this, but clearly I was not.

This morning my friends checked up on me. This is what we do, these warrior mamas and I. We remember one another’s hard days. We feel the pain for one another’s kids. We text and message and pray unceasingly because we’re walking this rocky difficult path together. One friend, though, summed it up best with a simple text amidst the complicated, feelings-filled, messy other texts: “Jesus. We need a lot of Jesus…” There’s nothing else. We have only so much to offer, honestly. It’s a pittance in the face of all this brokenness. There’s nothing else to give. Nothing else to say.

This week my writer’s block might have lifted a little in the wake of an emotional outpouring. If I were 10 years old with Taylor Swift aspirations, I could write a song about the angst of it all. I am a little older though and wise enough to know that songs like that are best left to those whose souls they inhabit. The song that I’m singing tonight is the only one I know that holds the power to break these chains. The only thing I know that brings beauty out of these ashes. The only way where we get to shake off the dirt and glimpse glory:

Jesus.

 

photo credit: Death to the Stock Photo

Friday, March 20, 2015

resurrection song: reunified

A couple weekends ago, I sat with tears flowing freely listening to a mama share her story of the day she gave birth to her first-born and subsequently relinquished him for adoption. The same day. That little conference room became a sanctuary while we listened to her pain and processed through our own. It brought me back to another conference room that I sat in, with a group of social workers, therapists, and administrators while they decided that the mama sitting across from me at the table would not be permitted to take her own baby home from the hospital when she was born. The mama’s flaws were enumerated for everyone in that room to evaluate, and she was deemed unworthy. She was judged, and she was found wanting. I remembered my own anticipation of the days when my children were born and felt the despair that surely that mama must feel thinking about the day she would labor in vain.

235183990_05d1c6d95a_oFast forward to 10 days after that same baby was born, I’m with this mama in the waiting room before a team meeting at the agency when the person who had actually taken that baby home from the hospital to care for her entered with that baby in arms. The first time this sweet mama had seen her baby since the day she was born. I’ve never in my life seen the kind of grief on a face as that mama’s face right then. The rawness and holiness of that moment caused the rest of us in that room to literally have to look away. It felt obscene to watch. Witnessing a family in the middle of death like that still makes my stomach clench and my whole body shudder.

Something shifted inside me that day.  I didn’t get that warm fuzzy feeling that you get when you help someone out. I came away from both of those days broken and grieving, for this woman I had grown to care for, for her children who were blameless in all of this, for a system that makes terrible decisions like this, and for this messed-up world where things are broken and sometimes never get put back together. This is a painful messy section of the world that our family has entered into.

My willingness to stand watch with this woman during the time when her family was being torn apart, my willingness to sit and weep with her while she tried to put things back together, those things are the very things that positioned me to be in a place where we’re now facebook friends – she and her extended family and me. I get to see happy status updates celebrating little kids’ milestones. I get to see pictures of birthdays and holidays and everything in between as they make their way together. This is the story I get to bear witness to now. It’s not just a story where all that there is is brokenness and death. I have plenty of those stories too, but this is a story that ends with this baby and her sibling back with their mama. That’s a story I want to tell again and again and again.

Reunified.
Reconciled.
Resurrection.

 

photo credit: P1070515-1 via photopin (license)

Monday, March 16, 2015

the rest of the stories

This might be a little later than promised, but here are some of the other beautiful stories shared last weekend at the Created for Care conference. A couple of these are just other stories written by the mamas who shared since not all of the stories read have been published online. The vulnerability it takes to read something aloud to a couple hundred mamas is far more than it takes to put your words online, and all of these women were brave and inspiring that evening. I am still just so honored to have sat among them. Take some time and read their stories, I think you’ll be glad you did!

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A Different Kind of Labor – Megan Atwood

God of My Children – Rebecca Radicchi

She Calls Our Names – Kristin Semmens

My Journey Explained in a Single Day – Jennifer Eber

A Much-Needed New Perspective  – Larisa Maibach

His Story – Natalie Cooper

 

 

 

photo credit: Project 365 #317: 131114 Microphone via photopin (license)

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

slow bloomer

I was honored to read this story at Created for Care (an adoptive mama retreat) this past weekend at an event where around 12 of us shared stories of our journeys through adoption. There were lots of different perspectives offered, and tomorrow I’ll share some of the stories we heard from the rest of the participants. For today, here’s mine…

grape hyacinths in snowWe started foster parenting mostly because we wanted to grow our family. We enjoyed our training, and boy, did we think we knew a lot. We had two kids already, and, honestly, we thought we were pretty ok in the parenting department. We felt called to this path, we had righteousness and Jesus and, oh, so much love on our side. We settled down to prepare for a wait for just the right needy child to enter our home. It never occurred to me that we were the needy ones.

The spring day when we got the call, it was a shock.  I did, even in my excitement, think to mention an important fact to the worker, “Umm. But we’re not licensed yet.” And with our first true glimpse into the “laws” governing this system we were entering, she says, “You will be in twenty minutes.”

We were so excited and anxious and terrified and downright na├»ve. We dropped off our kids at the grandparents and drove to the waiting room of the local medical clinic. That’s where we met those children for the first time and picked them up. I still can’t even believe that’s how they transferred those children to us - in the middle of a waiting room completely packed with sick kids and tired families, in full view of all those curious eyes.

Regrettably, I was too nervous and excited at that moment to truly see those two hurt little kids. It didn’t even cross my mind what children who had been taken from their mama by a police officer from the scene of an accident and then escorted to a medical facility where they were examined before sitting in the waiting room for two strangers –STRANGERS - to pick them up must be feeling. Why didn’t that trauma occur to me?

The first night, we went to Target to buy socks and underwear for these two little bodies who literally came with only the dirty clothes on their backs. My husband set down the two-year-old, and within a second, he was gone. Sprinting. My husband ran to the front doors so he couldn’t get out, and I ran as fast as I could the other direction, finally catching up to him across the store. His sister said, “When he does that at home, mommy whoops his butt.” And in that moment while the adrenaline rush was fading, there was no judgment on my part towards that mama – ‘I bet you do, sister. Solidarity.’ In my mind, he was running from safety to utter stranger danger, and there was barely a passing thought for his perspective…that he was running away from the danger. WE were the strangers.

There were countless more moments like those over the next three months. Moments where I was too inexperienced, too scared, too busy to notice all of the ways they were telling me of their pain. In my defense, I hadn’t yet read The Connected Child. I hadn’t gotten to sit through trainings with Jayne Schooler. I was broken and prideful and simply uneducated. I would do so many things differently now. I would slow down. I would listen to their actions, realizing that they couldn’t use their words. I would help them heal in ways that I was incapable of doing then. Now, I know what it means when I see kids act out because of fear and insecurity and anger and confusion or when a kid requires not a single moment of discipline during three whole months of parenting. I would know better how to respond when 10 weeks in, the littlest came down the stairs, looked at me full in the face, and said, “Are you my mama now?” I would do better.

On that dreaded last day they were with us, I got dressed while the oldest watched me from my bed. I put in some beaded hoop earrings. “I love your earrings. They’re so pretty.” she said. “You wore those earrings the day we came to live with you.” I didn’t even remember, but that’s the thing that burned into her little memory. She proceeded to tell me every single thing I was wearing that day, picking the items out from the closet as she went.

I have flashes of memory, images from that day imprinted forever. But so did she. I can’t help but wonder what pieces of that terrible day and the ones that followed are still there in her head. Does she remember more than my beaded earrings and my outfit? Does she remember that I kneeled beside the window with her that evening while she wished upon a star? Does she remember the subsequent nights when I taught her to pray? Does she remember that I sat beside her bottom bunk for hours that first night until she fell asleep, holding her little hand, because that was the only part of her she wanted me to touch? Does she remember that even though I didn’t know how to help her heal that I loved her intensely? Does she remember Jesus?

We loaded them up into the backseat again. We drove them to their aunt’s house where they were going to live with their dad. He and their aunt left us with them in the backyard. I am forever grateful for their thoughtfulness, their gracious gift of that moment of privacy. We said our goodbyes through stifled tears, knowing that they didn’t really understand that this was forever. We got back into the car and drove home, clinging then, as we still are now, to the promise of our tender God – “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11)

You know what I know now, six years and seven foster placements later? I’m not the rescuer. I’m not the healer. Love isn’t enough. I’m just as broken as those little children that enter my home. I’ve spent a lot of time praying those seeds I planted will grow even if I’m not there to tend them, but what I know more than anything is that I’m the one who is being changed. I’m the one with too much pride, with weak knees and a faltering heart that God wants to bud and flourish. I can look back at this story and grieve the opportunities I missed (and I do. oh, how I do), but in the midst, I can be thankful for how far He’s brought me. I might be a slow bloomer, friends, but He who promised is faithful.