Why we should do foster care again. Even though it’s nuts.

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On a day in November, just shy of her first birthday, our foster baby’s great aunt came to our house to take baby home.  It was quick, but not painless.

Our hearts were broken, just like we knew they would be.  But they are steadily mending, like we knew they would, too.  Baby’s aunt has called to tell us she is doing well, and she even sent some pictures.  This does our hearts tremendous good.  But…it is still difficult to think about loving a child again who isn’t legally mine, because my heart doesn’t know the difference.  A friend expressed it well, when she said her heart needed a switch.

As I have processed the why’s of engaging the broken foster care system, I have come up with the following:

We live in a broken world, of which the foster care system is a part.  God calls us to be his restorative agents of the broken things.  We are not equipped to do this emotionally, physically or mentally.  But He equips us.  He loves us and these kids.  Our hope is in Him, not the system.  When we pray over these precious children we are stewards of for a short (or sometimes longer) time, we believe our Father hears us, and is already working in their lives.  Furthermore, we are unable to love the moms and dads of these kids on our own.  But God gives us love and compassion for them, too.  I am amazed to see God changing my heart as I pray for our baby’s biological parents – that I feel grief for them, and hope God restores their lives, too.

As we all know, when we think we are sacrificing and helping someone else, God is usually helping us more than we could imagine.  When baby departed, she left expanded hearts in all our family members (and church members, too).  My kids, who didn’t necessarily love babies, loved her.  And we are all better for it.

Even though we don’t consider ourselves racist, we have had to admit we don’t understand what it is like to be a minority.  When my husband walked into a gym with a lovely brown baby to watch our daughter’s volleyball games, he felt the heavy weight of stares.  And it made him even more protective and loving towards that baby to know she would grow up feeling those stares sometimes, too.

Finally, baby’s caseworker wrote me about baby’s adjustment to her new home:

I am so glad that baby had the care that you and your family gave to her…..a big part of the reason that she has adjusted as well as she apparently has is because your family gave her a very stable, loving, nurturing nine and a half months of care.  She was, and remains, a very well adjusted little girl which has enabled her to make a smooth transition to where she is now.

When we left your house with baby, the aunt was feeling horrible because she saw how hard it was for baby to leave your family.  She said “you know this is a little bit right but it’s also a little bit wrong.”  And I don’t think she could have said anything more true.

Someday I may publish her picture, so you can see the little person who changed our lives.  But for now, be certain she is not a faceless statistic.  She is known and loved.

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Today.

Today was the day I drove to the top floor of a parking garage to meet my girl.  She was so excited to show me where she attends nursing classes, then do a health assessment for me.  Her enthusiasm overflowed, and I tried not to giggle and be serious.

Today was also our foster baby’s first birthday.  Her new mama sent me a picture of sweet babe smiling away at me.  It did my heart good to see her, but I also felt a deep tug.

Today ended by taking my youngest out to buy Christmas presents.  She loves to give gifts.   At the end of the evening, as we finished our sandwiches, she told me she would rather shop with me than with her friends.

Today was a good day.

 

Waiting, foster care edition.

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I read a lovely blog post about a mama waiting for her second child to be born, which made me think about my own waiting.

I am certainly not waiting to give birth – I will be 45 in December.  I am waiting for our foster baby to be placed with her great aunt, after she has been with us for eight months.

I got the call last week.  I saw a message from the baby’s caseworker on my phone, and called her back with a tiny hint of dread in my stomach.  A great aunt had filled out all the paperwork to be approved; we were only waiting on a background check.  This aunt lives in a remote city, and won’t see the baby until she is dropped off at her door.

The dread was now full-blown – I felt like someone had knocked the wind out of me.

So how did we get here?  To this place where this baby feels so much like part of our family, yet has never really been “permanent”?  There is nothing easy about the place we are in.  When I am feeding, bathing, dressing, chasing, tickling, singing or reading Where’s Kitty? to this baby, she is indiscernible from any child I have raised.

When I take her to the doctor, and have to check the box next to FOSTER MOTHER, I am taken aback.  It is the truth of our tenuous situation staring me in the face.  It is the same way when a visitation worker comes to drive her to her visit with her father.  And when her father came to her last doctor’s appointment, and I gave her to him so he could comfort her, even though my mama arms ached for her the whole time.

Part of me says, “Self, this should be somewhat of a relief.”  It has been a struggle to let go of what life was like before the baby.  My dreams for what certain ministries could look like at  church.  My freedom to  visit or help someone in the afternoons.  My sleep.  My ability to go out with my husband for a date without a state-approved babysitter.  My time.  My energy.  My carpet with no spit-up stains or toys lying about.  Mine.

But at the same time that I have struggled with letting go of MY SCHEDULE, my heart has went from being possessive of this baby, to knowing God’s best for her may not (probably isn’t) with us, to…maybe we should at least be willing to be her forever parents, even though that means our lives would definitely be taking a one-eighty from the Previous Plan.  When my husband looked at the baby two weeks ago and said he didn’t care if we were older, and he didn’t care if we didn’t have other little kids…he would keep her…I saw how much God has changed his heart from his historical, objective stance of, “Jen, we can’t adopt her if she already has a good home to go to.”

With all grief, it doesn’t hurt all the time.  I feel okay right now, choosing to trust God with her life, knowing he is good, and he loves her.  I pray he will put her in the BEST place.  For his glory.  For her faith to be strong.  That may not be with us, or other potential adoptive parents, but with biological family.

And God has sent us comfort, in the form of family sharing our grief; of friends at church asking about her, then hugging me when I couldn’t answer; and even a foster mama at Becca’s volleyball game whom I had never met:  she hugged me when I told her about the baby’s pending placement, and told me how hard it had been when all of their foster kids had been placed somewhere else.

We are definitely not the advertisement for foster care.  It has been HARD.  But.  So good.  I love my husband more when I see him love this little one.  My girls continue to cherish this little person, even if they know she is only here for weeks, instead of years.  My faith in the God who sees, who hears, and who acts with mercy and justice continues to grow, as I know in my gut, side-by-side with my grief of not being able to see this little person grow up, that he is in control, and I am comforted.  I am learning that loving Jesus in the ordinary, diaper-changing, toilet-paper unrolling moments is a worthy sacrifice, as much as going out and serving OUT THERE.  I am learning that what he calls us to do he equips us for.  If he intends for us to keep her, he will give us the courage and strength to parent a little one again.  If he intends for her to go somewhere else, he will mend our hearts.

This moment.

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At this moment, I am missing church due to a little person who is producing drool and snot at unprecedented amounts.  But I am thankful Maddie offered to drive to church with her little sister so I could stay home.

I am only beginning the watering of everything green (now half brown) outside, but am thankful for all the rain we received earlier in the summer.

I am lamenting summer is almost over, but thankful for all the places I have been, and looking forward to a Michigan camping trip.

Along with Summer-Almost-Over-Syndrome, I am a little excited as I do lesson planning, and see all the cool stuff I get to relearn with Bec this year.

Even though I got my clock cleaned at pitch last night, I am smiling as I think about playing on the deck by candlelight, warming up with a jacket and a bottle of milk stout we made with our friends that tastes fantastic!  I am amazed home brew can taste so fine.

Friday evening ended with a tired baby losing her patience with her grocery-shopping mama, but we had a great Chinese-Food-Sorting-Baby-Clothes impromptu date with another foster mama.  So thankful for the generosity in our community.

Thankful for the Sunchips the family left in the bottom of this annoyingly crinkly bag.

Thankful for how my husband loves people.

Thankful that even though the baby can’t breathe through her nose, she still smiles at me when I make faces at her.

Thankful the girls went water skiing with dad on a cold Friday evening, even though they wanted to stay home.  They came home with tired smiles and good stories.

Thankful my mom stopped in while I was making supper yesterday, and played with the baby so I could actually cook.

Thankful for a new baby boy that arrived today.

Thankful for dear friends, and their encouragement.

Thankful for prayer, and seeing the Holy Spirit change hearts.

Thankful that at any moment, I only need to scratch the surface to find so much to be thankful for.

The visit.

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Marcus’ nephew got married two weeks ago in Davenport, Iowa.  That’s a drive.  However, Davenport is half way to Bloomington, is it not?  At least that was my reasoning, and why most of my girls (poor Maddie was gone on a concert tour) had an opportunity to see Ashley and Matt’s hometown, as well as a sweet wedding.

It wasn’t like we did a whole bunch of stuff.  We were just with Ash and Matt.  The memories are still fresh:

Matt singing Broken Social Scene to Baby. 

Matt catching crawdads in the stream, and bringing them to me even though the big one pinched him mercilessly. 

Matt finding a granddaddy geode with Bec (8 inch diameter!).

Matt, Kat and Bec swimming for THREE HOURS.  Then coming in and lying down because they felt woozy.

Eating bagels at the restaurant A & M recently discovered, and watching the pouring rain outside.

Driving around Bloomington with Matt in the back of the vehicle, seatless.

Getting up and feeding the baby with Ash, and snuggling in her bed while we did devotions together.

Noticing Kat having heart-to-heart talks with her big sister and Matt.

Watching Matt study for his Yiddish class, finding out it is similar to German, and who spoke it.

Having dinner with A & M’s Israeli friends, and the husband’s mother who was visiting from Tel Aviv.  They brought a giant ho-ho that tasted heavenly.  They said they made it with crackers and an instant pudding they brought from Israel.  I don’t know how this is possible, but I am a believer.  Besides fascinating conversation, it was fun to see my oldest practice hospitality.  It is exciting and weird to want her recipes and see the way she blesses guests with her food and table decor (she irons napkins!).  Not sure where she gets this from.

Thanks for putting us up, A & M!

 

 

 

Living and active word.

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A moonlit night this week.

On Friday I read Joshua 6.  The new generation of Israelites have just been circumcised.  The manna has stopped.  They are called to defeat Jericho.  They’re raring to go, and are told to march around the walls of the city.  And don’t say anything.  And do it again on the next day.  And the next.  Wha?

It just dawned on me in this reading that there must have been at least some people of God that thought this was ludicrous.  How difficult it must have been to submit to a newly appointed leader, especially when he told you to defeat the enemy in this fashion.  Those folks would have needed some major faith and obedience, because this plan don’t make no sense.

It resonated with me more significantly this time through because of my sweet foster baby, and how I have to constantly give my perfect plan up to God.  And then I find myself doubting even MY perfect plan.  Placement with a grandma she has never met?  Terrifying.  Placement with us, and raising another girl while I am parenting 3 other teens?  Sorry, I must admit:  terrifying.

But how good it is to be reminded that like the Israelites entering the Promised Land, God is going before this little one, and fighting for her justice and mercy, even though I don’t know what the heck is going on.

After Joshua, the next chapter in my M’Cheyne Bible Reading Plan was Psalm 139.

 

O Lord, you have searched me and known me!

 

You know when I sit down and when I rise up;

 

you discern my thoughts from afar.

 

You search out my path and my lying down

 

and are acquainted with all my ways.

 

Even before a word is on my tongue,

 

behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.

 

You hem me in, behind and before,

 

and lay your hand upon me.

 

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;

 

it is high; I cannot attain it.

 

Where shall I go from your Spirit?

 

Or where shall I flee from your presence?

 

If I ascend to heaven, you are there!

 

If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!

 

If I take the wings of the morning

 

and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,

 

10 even there your hand shall lead me,

 

and your right hand shall hold me.

 

11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,

 

and the light about me be night,”

 

12 even the darkness is not dark to you;

 

the night is bright as the day,

 

for darkness is as light with you.

 

13 For you formed my inward parts;

 

you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.

 

14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

 

Wonderful are your works;

 

my soul knows it very well.

 

15 My frame was not hidden from you,

 

when I was being made in secret,

 

intricately woven in the depths of the earth.

 

16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance;

 

in your book were written, every one of them,

 

the days that were formed for me,

 

when as yet there was none of them.

 

17 How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!

 

How vast is the sum of them!

 

18 If I would count them, they are more than the sand.

 

I awake, and I am still with you.”

 

Psalm 139: 1-18

God knows the struggles I am having, and even more, he has knit our foster baby in her mother’s womb, and his works are wonderful.  He’s got this.  What a relief!

Sometimes it can be so difficult to hear God, so  I am glad we can hear him speak to us through his word.  Even through verses we’ve heard a thousand times before.

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

Hebrews 4:12

Morning diversion.

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I try to walk in the mornings to clear my head and pray before the day starts.  The temperatures and the wildflowers this week have been perfect.  Add fresh dew, and I can’t stop myself from trying to capture the magic.

We have had our foster baby for five months now.  I have been wrestling with God about what is best for her.  It is natural for mamas to be protective of their kids, and want them to be happy.  Sometimes we tend to think we are our little one’s saviors, and it is up to us to make sure our kids’ names are written in the Book of Life.

When I was telling my pastor about how hard it is not to have any control over Baby’s future (or the future of any of my biological children, for that matter), he said we tend to pray good things for our kids.  But he has started praying for the best thing:  that his kids’ faith would be greater than his own.  This statement went straight to the heart of my struggle.

No matter where Baby ends up in a permanent home, do I not believe God can call her to himself there?  Does she have to be with me in order to be saved (and safe and happy?).  No.  Therefore, God has been merciful in showing me how to loosen my grip on this precious life, as I ask him to hold her tightly.  I pray her faith would be greater than mine, and that his name would be glorified through her.

Loosening my grip helps me think about the role I play in this dear little person’s life.  I am her advocate, as my friend keeps telling me.  I need to make sure all the people involved in her case are informed, and aware of the problems surrounding her.  You assume they know things they don’t.  I am learning that a ward of the state needs someone to be a voice for them, and I am that voice.  I need to keep learning as much as I can to make sure this child is treated with justice and mercy.

God isn’t only taking care of the least of these through us, but growing the hearts of my family as well.  My youngest daughter didn’t have much to say about the baby when she came to live with us, besides pointing out how horrible her soy-milk spit up smelled (she had a point).    Now my youngest is responsible for making up a baby song (all of our kids had a made-up song we sang to them to cheer them up when they were sad).  She got up with the baby early one morning this month.  When I got up and saw her feeding the baby, I was shocked.  I asked her what was up, and she simply stated, “Someone had to do it.  You always get up.”  Then she handed me the baby, and went back to bed.  She now wants to hold her, and takes great joy from Baby’s newest developments (eating her first solid food the last 2 weeks has been a hoot).  I can almost see our family’s hearts growing, as our love for this baby permanently alters us for the good.  God uses humble things to do his mighty work.

So I am thankful.  Thankful for this little one I have the privilege of loving, caring for and praying for today.  And thankful for how he is molding and shaping our lives through her, even though knowing this is temporary is oh, so hard.