Tuesday, June 30, 2015

very big things

You know how when you're on the edge of a Very Big Thing, and it consumes all of your time and emotions and energy? That's me for the past three weeks. Nothing official to be said about this Very Big Thing, but it still is just overwhelming my inner life right now. So much so that I have not spent enough time dealing with the Very Big Things that my children are struggling with.

Today changed that significantly. We got to the bottom of some specific struggles with one of our children and made good progress towards helping another one of our children through their issues. I'm battling a bit of guilt tonight for not being able to push through to the root causes behind some of the most difficult behaviors, but mostly I'm just angry. Angry because it's not fair that children should hurt. It's not cool that I have to hold my children while they cry because another adult in their lives hurt them. It's not ok that little minds and hearts have to bear the weight of grown men and women's stupid decisions.

I don't have answers for my children. I know it's common for American families to have the parents be the ones to keep their kids "safe" and "protect" their children from all the crap that's out there, and to some extent, that's true, but in real life? In the messy everyday of broken lives? It's not like that. It's not all safe. I can't protect them from everything. I can, however, sit beside them and hold them while they cry. I can tell them I hate what's happened to them. I can tell them that it's not right and it's not fair and they deserve better. I can tell them they are loved, no matter what.

I wish today had been different. Sometimes I wish we were a 'regular' family with a white picket fence and Sunday School behavior and no outside weirdness. But then I would miss the beauty that happens when I get to see healing in front of my own eyes. I wouldn't get that bittersweet elation that comes when my kids share something really, really hard with me for the first time. I wouldn't get to appreciate just how far they've come, just how much redemption we're witnessing. And honestly, I wouldn't be who I am today.

Do I regret the stuff that's happened to my kids? For sure.
Do I regret that we did this? That we exposed our oldest two children to hard things? That we welcomed hurt souls into our lives? That we are now a family through the miracle of choosing to love one another rather than just through biology? Not for a minute.

So, in my weeks of Very Big Things, both for us and our kids, I am reminded anew of how appreciative I am of my family. How blessed I am that they call me their mama. How I would do this all again and again, and how I can't wait for the opportunity to do more Very Big Things together.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

missing pieces

Last Saturday, we went to an event with some other foster and adoptive families at a park. As we parked ourselves next to an older couple with four littles running around, we began to make some small talk. As she introduced herself to me, I recognized the name from the case file from my own children. My son spend his first and second stint in foster care in this family's home. I never expected that we would meet this woman, and beyond the written case details, we have no information or pictures from his time in care there. 

I had such mixed feelings while we talked to them about our son and what he was like in their home. When they talked about his older sister and their experiences with her, I just felt like they were discussing different children altogether. Not my son. Not his sister. These kids they were talking about were other children. Children I don't know.

Part of that is true. They are different now. They are unrecognizable as the kids who were in care during that time. Even their first parents comment on it. "well, he used to be such-and-such". Yeah, well. Some shit happened. (pardon my french) These are kids that went through unimaginable trauma and hardship, and they are different now. These are kids that have worked harder than anyone else I know to heal and learn to be part of a functioning family again, and they are different.

Conversely, though, they are the same kids. My son has bits of history that I still know nothing about. These people loved and cared for him when he was a baby. I will never have that experience. There are years of his life that I have no part of, and that's painful as a mama to hear them talk about how he was such a climber, that they'd never seen another kid climb like he did. It hurts my heart to think of the years that I couldn't care for him, the times when he might have felt alone and scared and I couldn't comfort him. It does my heart good to meet a woman who hopefully did comfort him and care for him. Who held him close and changed his diaper. I feel more connected to him and his story now.

We told him who this couple was, and he was fully present and fine. No visible reaction. He went over, gave her a hug, and ran off to play again. There was a time in the not-too-distant past when that wouldn't have happened. We wouldn't have been able to address the past in public, and he definitely wouldn't have been secure enough to give a stranger a hug.

We took a picture later. A memory both from the day, and a keepsake for our son to have forever. This is a piece of his story that is no longer completely lost to history. This couple, they are real flesh and blood people. They have names and now they have faces. Someday, I think he'll be appreciative we have this.

Foster care is just such a messed up system. It's hard and ugly, and kids get hurt both before they are taken into care and after as well. It is a hopeful pleasure to know that it's mostly filled with people who are really trying to do the best they can to help take care of children. My kids' stories are not over yet , but it is my very favorite thing to sometimes get those glimpses of victory. They might not be the people they're going to be, but they are definitely not the people they were.

Thursday, June 4, 2015


In a facebook conversation with a friend this week, I found myself answering her questions with unexpected candor. As much as I value vulnerability in my relationships, it surprised me that there were areas of my life, fears and dreams, successes and failures, that I had never said aloud to another living soul. Not my closest friends here, not my husband, not even in my journal, quite honestly. I suppose part of it is that no one has ever asked me the questions. Maybe half of the battle to vulnerability is believing that someone genuinely wants to know that part of you. But what's the rest of it? What would make me expose some parts of myself to someone who doesn't even live in my state anymore as opposed to the people I see every day, every week, or even every month or so?

I'm, too often, the person who doesn't know how I feel or what I think until I write it down. That's exactly what happened to me in this conversation with my friend. I read back what I wrote and was extremely glad that I had already pressed enter because some of it was so surprisingly exposed (at least it seemed that way to me) that I wanted to take it back. I'm going to guess that some of you are also familiar with this feeling I'm having: that feeling of being exposed and the gut reaction of wanting to clutch everything tight again, physically draw the words back into myself. 

In the aftermath of all this introspection, I'm left wondering why these particular things are things I've been keeping to myself. I'm wondering who I should've been sharing them with, if anyone. The older one gets, the more you know the value of having some secrets and maintaining a certain amount of privacy, particularly in our social media culture, and just because I can share something doesn't necessarily mean I should. I'm reevaluating my relationships and wondering where I can move forward with greater authenticity.

Are these things you struggle with too? What's holding you back from vulnerability and authenticity in your relationships? Are there things you haven't even voiced aloud to yourself that might need to be said aloud today? There's power in giving something voice. It takes courage, but it's the first step that's the hardest. Maybe you also need to give something voice today - if so, this is definitely a safe space. Leave a comment or email me.

Let's be brave together.

Monday, June 1, 2015

eyes wide open

A different week found me yet again sitting next to my son giving him news that I didn't quite know how to explain to him. This time, however, it was the news that after his friend, the one diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma, had surgery to remove a lymph node, the pathologist found no traces of lymphoma. At all. "So he doesn't have cancer?", he asked. I can clearly say no, yet I have no explanation why.

Was it an irresponsible doctor who tells parents willy-nilly that their middle-school-age son has cancer? I guess that's possible, although I'd like to believe doctors that work at fairly big children's hospitals do not operate that way.

Was it that blood tests and biopsies can be wrong? I suppose that's possible as well. I googled the likelihood of a false positive lymphoma test, and there's not a lot of them.

Or maybe, just maybe, it's that sometimes we pray for miracles, and God comes through in the way we're hoping. Maybe my prayers that God would show himself real to my son and to his friend and to their family were not just empty hopes. 

We don't live in an age where miracles of major caliber like that seem common. The things we call miracles are more often than not fortunate happenings. Not that God doesn't have a hand in happy coincidences and against-the-odds types of things, but most things can be explained away. This might be one of those things too, but I'd really like to believe that the God who cares about each little sparrow that gets smashed by my car because they won't fly out of the way (yep, that happened this week), cares even more about the hearts and minds and bodies of my son and his friends. 

So we continue on with baseball, with my son's friend on 1st base and the pitcher's mound game after game like we're used to. We carry on with the summer as if nothing happened and everything is fine. I'm just looking at things a little differently now. There are glimpses of heaven right there on the baseball field. God is there in the dust and grass, among the sweat and tears. (They're thirteen-year-old boys, so there's still some tears.) We can look back, and we can say just like Jacob of the Old Testament, "Surely God was in this place, and I didn't even know it." Walking with God is always a move forward, always a step towards having our eyes opened further. I want to live with eyes wide open, never forgetting that God is in this place too.

photo credit: IESA 321 via photopin (license)

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.