Monday, May 16, 2016

lovegrief


I know, I know. Words are few around here of late. I've been trying to figure it all out, I suppose. My life seems segmented, like I'm just living in a series of snapshots, waiting for the whole thing to flow a little more freely than it has been.

Saying goodbye to Little Man has been much more difficult than I ever imagined. He is not the child we have had the longest, he is not the child with whom I've bonded the deepest, and above all, he is not the child that we want in any way, shape, or form to be ours forever. We are thrilled beyond expectation that he is returning home to his family. His mom is a rock star, and I cannot say enough good things about her. His brothers and sister adore him, and he is loved deeply. I think that's why I've been caught off guard by the depths of the grief I'm feeling. I've spent entire weekends in a sobbing mess, unable to really even function normally. I drop him off and immediately want to spend the entire time he's gone in bed, shut off from the world. In the meantime, I feel neurotic about how sad I feel. Is it normal? Am I having a nervous breakdown? Why on earth am I sad when I want him to go home so badly?

I think part of it is the intensity of the time I've spent with this particular child. He has been a challenge, maybe one of the biggest challenges of my life. I have been physically and emotionally exhausted for the nearly eight months he's been with us, and I think some of this heavy grief is just let-down from the overwhelming experience I'm getting ready to be done with. I think part of it is the intense joy he's brought to my life. He is the happiest of children most of the time, and his smile is absolutely contagious. His 'lub you, mama's make my heart lift with delight.

When I picked him up tonight, he was so happy to see me, yet the minute we turned off of his road, he was asking to go back. Seeing his little smiley face in my rear view mirror, hearing him ask if we can sing 'down to the ribber', watching him clap his little hands, all of that fills me with immediate joy, followed by stinging tears. I find myself taking mental pictures of every memory, hoping not to lose it forever.

We've sent kids home forever, and their time with us seems mostly lost now. Every once in awhile I'll get the stab of a fleeting memory, but it's always tinged with regret that I don't remember more. I don't remember how they smelled, what their voices sounded like, how their hair felt in my fingers. So when I hold him tight as he falls asleep, clinging long after he's drifted off, I'm trying to capture all those things in my mind, knowing that it won't be long before Little Man's memories are gone to me too.

I don't know what it feels like to lose a child to death. I only know that this feels like hell. I have only days more as his mama, and I want to stretch out every minute even as I want to rip the band aid off and get it over with already. My relationship with him as it is will die. A permanent, irrevocable death. I might get to see him again; I certainly hope that's true, but when I do, I'll be the stranger again. Maybe I'll never see him again. There are no guarantees in this business. Maybe his mama will text me a picture, like the one we received of a former foster child this week, and I'll feel that loss all over, or maybe I'll grieve because we don't know what happens in his life and I will never hold him in my arms again. I want to be able to see what he grows up to be. I want to know that his curiosity and his mechanical skills take him far. I want to know that he won't forget us, even as I know that he definitely will. I want to tell him I'll love him forever, because that's true, but I know he will likely not believe it because of the pain that will come from our separation. I want now and the future, and it is grief because I have no right to that. That's not why we do this, and that's not what the outcome will be for us.

Maybe at some point I'll give up my frustration with myself for not knowing if this is even ok to talk about or write about or frankly, even feel. Maybe at some point I'll be able to do this whole thing with more grace and more peace. Or maybe, this is grace and peace. Maybe feeling intensely is how I do this well. Loving with abandon, heart open, and still knowing that every time I do, it will get broken again. I'm figuring this part out still. This broken-hearted snapshot will someday merge into the rest of the pictures of my life, and I pray that, in the end, my life's art is beautiful. I pray it looks like love. I pray it looks like Jesus.




Friday, April 8, 2016

I am held up


Easter Sunday, I sat in a church packed full of my family (minus my brother who was literally pulling someone out of a burning building that day) to celebrate the Resurrection as well my youngest son's decision to be baptized. The most beautiful thing about that day actually wasn't even either of those things. It was that I sat in that church building not just with my immediate family, but with my children's family as well. Their first mama, their sister, their sister's parents...all of us there together at the request of our son who wanted to share that momentous day with his entire family. When we sang about letting the chains fall off and the gates of glory opening wide, it was enough to nearly make me leave the room in tears. 

The next few days though, I held children as they processed, yet again, through their past in tears. Redemption doesn't come without a cost. For my children, the cost has been high. There's so much pain and confusion to process through even as we see healing occur nearly daily. It was an emotional week, both highs and lows, and I was grateful to sit there with them. Honored to hold them up when they felt the pain would take them under.

This week, I got to be the one held. It was one of the very worst weeks. I failed at being the parent I know I can be, the one that my children need. To be fair to me, they weren't all that successful at making great choices either. It was a rough week all around: emotional and traumatic, both for me and for them. I've cried more than I wanted to. I've yelled more than I wanted to. I've been angry. I've been graceless. I've been hurt and oh so lonely. I felt like I might break. I'm pretty sure my children think I'm already broken.

Yet. There's been joy. There's been grace-filled moments. There's been love. There's been a serendipitous lunch meeting with fellow mamas going through the same kinds of things. And at the very moment when I was not sure if I could make it through this week intact, there was a friend.

Friends are hard to come by, I'm sure you'll agree. A friend whom you can fearlessly text with all the vulnerability you can muster and say, I think this is it, this is the moment I break...well, that friend is a treasure indeed. All of the reasons that keep me from truly baring myself to others pale in the face of a friend who responds with immediate prayer, with a Scripture and a song to guide you through the darkness.

It's not just platitudes. While it's encouraging to be told that God is with you, it's convicting to be told to fear not. To trust. To BELIEVE that God is with you. Particularly when you know that you haven't been living that way at all. A friend who'll encourage and convict in the same breath? That's a real friend. One that, even though she lives hundreds of miles away, is God's perfect grace in your life for that day. I am held up. In much the same way that I hold my children as they process their pain, telling them truth when they want to believe the lies, I am held up tonight by a truth-giving friend. I am blessed and grateful beyond measure.


Thursday, March 24, 2016

faith like a child


This coming Easter Sunday, my youngest son will be baptized, celebrating the part where death does not get the final word with the very picture of new life. It seemed appropriate to revisit this post from 2012. I wish that my tight-fistedness around my children's faith had eased more than it has, but I find myself still rehashing some of these same thoughts this time around. Today, I'm thankful for a God who is faithful to bear with all my control issues and for a son that is practically jumping out of his skin with excitement over Easter Sunday this year.
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Yesterday was my daughter’s birthday.
Yesterday my daughter was baptized.
Birth and rebirth.

Maggie has been asking to be baptized for over a year. True confession: I really didn’t want her to be baptized. We had put her off time and time again. Seven years old (still) seems too young to me. Does she even realize what she’s doing? What will it even mean to her at this age? Isn’t she well below the so-called age of accountability? Are we taking this too lightly by ‘allowing’ her to do this?

Here’s the problem with that thinking: she understands. As best she can.
God doesn’t require complete adult intellectual understanding to work in our lives. He definitely doesn’t require that of us in order to follow Him.

She wants to follow Jesus with all of her little seven year old being.
She wants other people to know that she wants to follow Jesus.

Who am I to quench that spirit in her? My hang-ups are exactly that, my hang-ups. Jesus works in all of our lives individually, including my children. I want to manage their lives, their behavior, sometimes, unfortunately, even their relationship with Christ. But it’s their relationship with Christ, not mine. Fortunately for me (and others), I’m not the judge of other people’s relationships with Christ. Not even my own children’s. I remain faithful to teach them, to guide them, to pray for them, to love them with Christ’s love. That’s my part. All the rest of it – well, that’s God’s part.

God’s been doing His part in my daughter’s life.

We came home from a day-long event, beginning with her baptism, celebrating her birthday lunch, and spending the evening with family we see far too little. When we got home, a news story awaited us of a family in our community involved in a car wreck. The mom was high, crashed her car with Maggie’s little classmate in it. They are physically ok, but immediately a dozen other stories pop into my head. Ones where other kids make fun of this little girl, where others don’t want to be her friend, where my daughter, my impossible, stubborn, fit-throwing, seemingly self-involved daughter comes home to tell me that she doesn’t understand why these other kids are mean. That she is friends with this little girl. That they sit together at lunch. That this little girl gets ‘moved to yellow’ nearly every day, but “I still like her.”

Disclosure time? I’ve met this little girl. I totally get why other kids aren’t nice to her.
But not my Maggie.

God’s presence in her life has helped her see the intrinsic value of others. God’s presence in her life has given her compassion, a voice for the oppressed even in her own little community.
She knows who she is.
She knows whose she is.
She knows that she wants to follow Jesus all of her life.
She knows the God we sing of in her favorite song, “You Never Let Go”, is real. She knows He’s never gonna let go of her.
She’s learning to show that to others, and for her, that includes her desire to be baptized into and in front of the faith community that helped teach her these very truths.

Even a child shall lead them. Yesterday, as she was dunked into a feed trough from Tractor Supply by her father and her grandfather at the front of our little sanctuary, I learned afresh that even a child, my child, can lead me into a deeper understanding of and love for the God who won’t ever let go of me either.





Friday, March 18, 2016

tangled up threads


We are in a slow countdown of final days with Little Man. Bureaucracy means sometimes it takes longer, and we can't ever count on anything, even a semi-official timeline. I'm struggling to know what direction to take the littles I spend my days with. How much effort do I put into training, into routines? How much do I love him? How tight do I hold him? How do I prepare him for the impending change?

I simultaneously want to hold him tighter, never letting go, and just rip the band-aid off already. Feelings are complicated by the fact that Little Man is just hard right now. He's not badly behaved really, but he is a super challenging two years old. He requires constant supervision. Literal eyes-on constant supervision. The rest of our family is suffering through this stage. With Wendell working out of town frequently, I just don't have the amount of attention to give to the other children that they need because of the need to be with the littlest at all times. So I want him to go. I want him to stay.

It's hard to take him to visits and see a functioning, happy family. It makes the delay of sending him home feel senseless. I get why we're going slow. I support a slow transition. I also hurt for his mama. She's done everything she needs to do and then some. She's motivated, and I think she's capable. And yet I'm worried for her. I'm worried for the kids. I think they might not be safe. I also think they will be safe. 

I think all of these things simultaneously. It's both and. All of the feelings about foster care and reunification and loving children like my own and my forever kids' feelings and much more wraps around me like a messy crochet of tangled up yarn. I can get bound up in the knots and tangles, or I can continue to sort through, finding the beautiful pattern in this tapestry we're weaving. I can remember that I have purpose here. Even today. Even in the final countdown. I can't just lose these days because I don't see the point in working hard anymore. God put me here, this day, in this family, with these children, for a reason. I am not Little Man's foster mom by accident. I have every day until he is moved from me to give my all.

Every moment holds purpose.
Every moment holds hope.
Every moment is love on display.



photo credit: Stephanie's love heart. via photopin (license)

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

Case changes come fast and furious in the child welfare system. Sometimes they're unwelcome. Sometimes they're long-awaited. I'm not quite sure where I should land on this latest case development with Little Man yet.

I sat in a team meeting a couple weeks ago with Little Man's mom, the caseworker, Little Man's mom's attorney, and the foster care unit supervisor. Team meetings are where the case plan is gone over, amended, adjusted, and measured. It's a place where everyone can put all their cards out on the table and figure out what's best for the future for the families involved.

I have sat through dozens of team meetings, and never a single one like this one. A typical team meeting, from my experience, goes a little like this (ok, so this might be a little hyperbolic):

Review of case plan points
Caseworker: How's the job?
Parent: Umm. Well, I tried to call about a job, but they didn't call back.
Caseworker: Why haven't you been going to visits?
Parent: Well, one day it was raining. I don't like the bus.
Caseworker: What about this point of action?
Parent: umm.... well....yesterday my cousin came over and he smokes dope and he stole my stuff.


Point being, there are case plans that parents have to follow to get their kids back. My experience is that there are fifteen excuses per point, some valid, some invalid, some just flat out crazy. This does not reflect poorly on the parents' love for their children. We have yet to be involved in a case where the parents did not love their children intensely. It's just that sometimes people don't know what real love should look like. They do the best they can with what they're given, and honestly, there are so many odds stacked against poor parents whose kids are in the system that it seems like a miracle that anyone ever is reunified with their children.

This past case meeting though? Not like that at all.
Caseworker: How's this point?
Little Man's Mom: Done.
Caseworker: What about this task?
Little Man's Mom: done.
Caseworker: Did you do this part?
Little Man's Mom: Done. Here's the documentation.
Caseworker: So we're going to start transitioning your kids home. You're awesome. You did everything you're supposed to. You are ready.


Seriously. Point after point, she demolished that case plan. She has literally walked from one end of the city to the other several times a day to get her stuff done so her kids can come home. She walks to visits in the cold. In the rain. She is seriously my hero. Things are stacked against her, and she works and works and does her best. 

Does this mean I have no concerns for Little Man's future? For sure, not. People have different standards of living, they have different values, and that's not an exception for our families.

Does this mean I am completely fine and excited for Little Man to leave? Umm, that's a big fat no too. I am excited. I am excited for his mom. I am so happy that I got to meet her. I am excited that this family, scattered across four different locations, will be reunified in a safe and healthy home with services to support them as they work to make their future better. But. I feel the sadness rise up daily now. That anticipatory grief...the pain I know is coming. I want to clench tighter. I want it all to last longer. I want there to be years left of delight with this child instead of months left.

I am so excited to be a part of this particular story. Even though it ends with my grief. It also ends happily for one family. Not pain-free, but definitely happily. This is worth it. Every single bit.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

visits, chaos, and breathing easy

The past three and half weeks have found us struggling through new reactions to visits from Little Man, an obnoxious 90 lb. teenager of a puppy dog who thinks it is the best game in the world to race out of our door and run away from us through the whole neighborhood, and another child who is in a funk, unable to be motivated through either consequence or reward. It's been exhausting, literally, since we're not really sleeping at night for three days following Little Man's visits with his family. 

In our state, families are legally required to be given four hours of visitation a week once their children have been removed from their care. Usually this is done in two 2-hour visits each week. Sometimes, it's done in one big chunk, four hours once a week, but typically when kids are littler, they try to split them up so it's easier on everyone. 

When you live 25 minutes from the visitation center, two hour visits become a real pain. It takes me 10 minutes minimum to get six children, two in car seats and incapable of loading themselves, in the van and ready to go. It takes around 10 minutes on a typical visit to unload and get Little Man into the visitation center, sometimes much longer if we're waiting on his mom to get there. By the time I figure in loading and travel time, it is a ridiculous waste of time and gas to drive all the way back home during the visit. All of this means that we spend from around 5:30-8:30 every Wednesday and Thursday in the van. There's only so much grocery shopping I can do during those hours, and since it's dark this time of year, we can't even get out and stretch our legs at a park. It's wearing on all of us.

I will say that I do prefer this back to back schedule, however. What a typical visit schedule has looked like for us in the past includes the day of the visit plus two days of reaction from the child due to the visit, maybe one normal day, and then we're back to a visit day. So basically six days of the week are tumultuous and difficult. This way, we have two visits days, still around two reaction days, and three days of normalcy. It's far superior, I think. 

It seems quite likely this case will be stretching on for quite awhile yet. DJFS has custody of Little Man until October of 2016. When I think about doing this for most of the next year (and maybe longer), it makes me feel something akin to despair. Two days of our week, pretty much gone indefinitely. I wonder why we agreed to do this. How anyone in their right mind thinks this is a good idea. I see people's reactions when I tell them what the schedule looks like, and I know they wonder why and probably think it's dumb that we would subject our family to this kind of a schedule. It's not just visits, it's also home visits and team meetings and extra doctor appointments, all fit in with the rest of our five children's school and extracurriculars. There is not one night during the week where we do not have extra stuff to do. I get it. It's crazy. Our idea of normal family life has definitely changed. We now aim for two meals together at the table a week - and often are not succeeding at that - instead of the five to six that we were eating together before. We spend as much time in the van as we do together in our living room. 

There's not much I can say to make this seem normal. There's not a ton of defense I can give that this rigorous of a schedule is good for our children. All I know is that we believe this is what we're supposed to be doing. We believe Little Man's health and safety is worth all of this. We believe that love is worth the fight. 

I haven't been that successful at breathing easy in the middle of this chaos of late. I've been blaming it on the schedule. I've been blaming it on the kids. I've been blaming it on the system. Truthfully, though, it's my fault. My focus isn't where it belongs. There's only one way to breathe easy, and it's His breath in my lungs. When I continue to try to do this all out of my own strength and mental capacity, I will most assuredly fail. So this week, moving forward, I'm breathing in grace, breathing out praise.

All of it for Love.


photo credit: command central via photopin (license)

Sunday, January 10, 2016

more




My unexpected hiatus from blogging now over, I find myself with eight billion things to say and write and not enough time to do so. This year sapped the vitality out of my creative life to say the least. This past year found us in one of the darkest years we've had in a really long time, yet still my year was full of joy. In spite of those joys, it's a year I'd rather not repeat again.

I always choose a word for the year, and honestly, sometimes it's a stretch. I work so hard to land on something, and then I spend a lot of the year being dissatisfied with the word that I've picked.

This year was not like that at all. There was no struggle. No soul searching. I was in the shower, and a word just dropped into my head. A word that I never in a million years would have come up with if I'd had to work at it on my own. 

More.

Really? After the amount of pain and grief that my schedule has caused me this year? After the stress and difficulty due to adding to our responsibilities? After bringing yet one more child into our home? More??

Yet, as soon as it entered my head, I knew this was it. This is the year that I no longer settle. Last year was hard, and if I had to think of a word to describe it, it would be this: adequate. What a word, right? Not exactly how I want to be describing my life. Adequate. This year, I don't want that to be the word that comes to mind when I attempt to describe my past year. Adequate is the worst. More is the future.

I don't want to settle for a pretty close relationship with God. I don't want to expect normal things from my spiritual life. I don't want to pray for miracles while still not truly believing that they'll happen.

I don't want to settle for a good enough marriage. I love my marriage, but why in the world would I just decide that it's good enough? Why wouldn't I want more from it? This year, I'm not settling for the comfortable relationship that we've had.

I don't want to settle for being a good enough mom. For being mostly ok. I have so much more within me to give to my children. I want more for them. I want more for me.

I am not settling for just enough. Or good enough. I want more. There IS more.

Along with the word, Scripture was right there at my ready. Guiding me into the calling for my life this year. 

"Now to Him who is able to do far more (MORE!!) abundantly than all we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus, throughout all generations, forever and ever, Amen."Ephesians 3:20-21

As one of my favorite teachers, Beth Guckenberger, likes to say, "God writes the very best stories." The stories I want to write seem fine, until I see what God has in store. He has more for me. He has more for my family. He has more for my marriage. He has more for my church. There is so much more than I can ever think or imagine or ask for. I want to access that this year, and the great thing about this particular scripture is that it tells me exactly how: according to the power at work within us. That same power that raised Jesus from the dead is already within me. It's not that I'll be able to do more or get more or have more all on my own, but it's because Christ lives in me. He's already given me everything I need which makes it all that more ridiculous that I've settled for just adequate.

MORE is the promise I'm claiming for this year. I am unbelievably excited for what it holds. The stories have already begun to unfold, in my life, in my husband's life, in our marriage, in our church. I cannot wait to see what God has for us. I cannot wait to bear witness to the resurrection stories, to the glory. It's all for Him. 

Remember not the former things nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing, now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.Isaiah 43:18-19

I don't have to live in the adequacy of this past year. Neither do you. God is doing a new thing. It is already springing forth, if we can just SEE it. He is making beauty from ashes, joy from mourning - living water in the desert and wastelands of our life. There's more for you too this year, dear friends. Seek it out with me? Be hopeful. All of God's promises are yes in Christ Jesus, and it is Jesus Himself that is the Amen. 

More.
Yes and Amen.