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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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!

 

 

 

Ask and submit.

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I haven’t written for a while, and life keeps zooming on and on.

These pictures are of Kat’s earrings, hung on a string like a clothesline.  She got the idea from Ashley’s old display.  Oh, my girls and their big earrings.

What has weighed on my mind the last five weeks is the how we lift our prayers up to our Father in heaven, yet submit to his will:

“Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”  (Luke 22:42)

It seems like a dichotomy to pray for our foster baby’s permanent family, yet watch circumstances unfold that do not seem like they could be the best for her.  So hard.  I know life is full of many trials, and in this moment foster care is the event that magnifies our need to trust God with it all.  No matter what my limited vision can see.  I need to hold my hands open, willing to submit to him, yet struggling to understand how he will weave this seemingly broken thread into his magnificent Story.

In A Praying Life, Paul Miller actually gives us a diagram on how we should ask God, based on Jesus’ above prayer.  He says we tend to mess our prayers up in two ways:  we don’t ask, because we don’t want to be disappointed.  We keep our eyes on the ground waiting for God’s will to descend upon us like a huge boot.  Or, we demand of God.  We ask selfishly, not willing to concede that God knows what is better for us.  The antidote is to ask boldly as Jesus did: “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you.  Remove this cup from me.”  (Mark 14:36)  And to surrender completely:  “…Yet not what I will, but what you will…”

I understand this is true in my mind, but my heart still struggles with it, and may until I am face to face with my Savior.  But I am okay with that.   I think that is what faith is all about.

 

 

Change of pace.

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The pace of life has changed since I became a foster mama last week.  I wasn’t worried too much about how life would change; I only knew I was willing to love this little baby until she is placed in her permanent home.  It finally struck me while I was at the optometrist with Maddie an hour before the baby arrived:  With one day’s notice, we would be welcoming a new life into our home.  There would be no planning, and certainly not 9 months of anticipation.  It is rather difficult to grasp the unreal quality of such a huge event occurring so quickly.

I have been spending much more time at home, not up to the hectic pace I had acquired before Baby came.  But I usually find slowing down is a blessing, and suits me well.  Loving on, praying for, and even cleaning up poo and spit-up all seem like worthwhile endeavors at this point in time.   God is making our hearts bigger through this, and changing us in ways we don’t comprehend yet.  We thought we were doing this for her; but what she has already done for us is priceless.

 

 

Hoar frost and raising older kids. No connection implied.

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A couple of weeks ago we had a frosty fog.  It made for an absolutely breath-taking morning, but you had to get out with your camera while the gettin’ was good.  All the lovely hoar frost melted away quickly after the sun finally broke through the mist.

When not observing lovely weather formations outside, I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about how to reach the hearts of my kids-still-at-home.  Parenting ain’t over until its over.  Just because they are all (fiercely) independent, doesn’t mean I can check out, even though sometimes they may wish it so.

I generally recoil at guides that make parenting look like it is easy if you just follow These Five Simple Steps.  I relied too heavily on parenting manuals when my children were young, and probably didn’t focus on the right things.   (The good news?  God even offers grace to parenting know-it-alls!)  When my oldest was in junior high, I knew I was in trouble.  The only recommended book I could find about this stage was Shepherding a Child’s Heart.  You know what it said?  It said the relationship you have with your child at this age, and that you continue to develop, was what would help them make wise decisions.  What?  Relationship?  I just wanted obedience.  I thought.

But now that my kids are older, I can definitely see what the book meant.  If I don’t have relationships with my children, why should they listen to me?  When I give them Godly counsel, I want them to trust the deliverer of the good news.

So, relationship.  How?  What if you don’t really like your kids?  Too bad.  You need to try to build a relationship anyway, or at least not lose any ground.  I have a few things I keep in my mind as I do this, and I will set them down for you.  I hope this is helpful, even though I definitely do not guarantee your kids will love you and turn out perfectly if you follow these suggestions.  (This manual doesn’t exist.  Sorry.)

1.  Pray.  Who can change your kids’ hearts?  God.  Not you.  You think you can.  Anxious about them?  Pinpoint why you are anxious, and pray more.

2.  Be there.  I try to get home before my kids get home from school.  This is when some of my kids like to download about their day, and I want to be there to hear it.  Plus, they like it when I am home.  When I am not, they sometimes call and ask, “WHERE ARE YOU?”, kind of accusatory-like.  I understand we can’t all be home when our kids get home.  But make a point of “being there” when you are with them, instead of nodding your head and staring at your computer screen while they are telling you about their exciting (to them only, sometimes) day.  Our actions speak louder than words.

Off the topic – I once read that kids learn a lot more from what they hear us saying on the phone than when we speak directly to them.  Ouch.

3.  Ask.  Sometimes we don’t have chatty kids, or they are going through a non-chatty phase.  Ask them questions that require more than a one-word response.  Sometimes you’ll get something, sometimes not.  But you are taking the time to ask.  I think that is important.  I decided to buy a bike several years ago, and I encouraged my non-chatty kid to buy one, too.  She did, and our discussions and relationship started on the bike trail.  Setting aside time alone with her gave us the right environment for words to flow.  Another daughter wrote me a thank you card for a present, and included that she really liked our time alone in the car on the way to school.  I didn’t think that was important time, but it is to her.

4.  Love your spouse.  Do I want my kids to feel secure?  I don’t do that by putting my kids first.  My kids feel secure when they know I love Dad, and vice versa.  How do I show them this?  I kiss my husband in front of my kids.  I give him a squeeze.  I tell him I love him, even when the kids say “Ewwww.”  We don’t argue about serious issues in front of the kids.  (Yes.  There have been been public disagreements.)  It is better to wait, and discuss the issue later when we have cooled off, anyway.  We go out on dates.  We show our kids our marriage is a priority.  When the kids used to ask us why we had to go out, we told them, “Because we love you.”  So there.

5.  Listen.  A lot.  I want my kids to come to me with problems.  I don’t want to freak out.  Absorb, pray and respond.  Oftentimes I hear a child out.  I think and pray about any issues they bring up that need addressed, then I calmly go back and discuss.  I admit, I will give unwanted advice, and I even get in their face sometimes.  But I do really try to be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger.  Whew.

6.  You are not your kids’ friend.  You are their parent.  You don’t need to make decisions only to please them, or be afraid they won’t like you.  You should respect them and try not to exasperate them, but you aren’t running for a popularity contest.

7.  Responsibilities and freedoms.  If your kid is doing well with their current responsibilities and freedoms, give them more.  If you have no reason to say “no”, say “yes”.  Sometimes I don’t want to say “yes” because it creates discomfort or a hassle for me.  But if my kid has made wise choices, then I give her a little more rope.  She may fail.  But I look at my own life:  what have I learned from failure compared to what I have learned from wise advice?  Gulp.

8.  Repent.  If I mess up, I ask forgiveness.   If I see my husband sin against our kids, I gently and privately encourage him to repent.  It hurts, but in a good way.

9.  Pray with your kids.  This can be difficult.  It is easier to pray with younger children, but as they get older, it can seem kind of awkward.  I am trying to get better at this.  If my children have a need, I try to remember to pray with them about it, as well as counsel them.  Why not show them I am really making an effort in my own life to go to God first, instead of only going to him when I have exhausted my own resources?  Should be so easy.

This is not an exhaustive list, but the items are ones I have been thinking about the most about during these stages of my daughter’s lives (22, 19, 16, 13).

Something else I have been thinking about this week is the counsel I give others, including my kids.  In Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, Paul Tripp had made two important points so far.  The first one is that our biggest problem is sin.  Regardless of how people have sinned against us, because we are sinners, we will respond to our hurts sinfully.  We need to repent.  We always need pointed to our Savior.  Secondly, the Bible isn’t an encyclopedia, with topical answers to our problems.  The Bible is a story of redemption.  We can’t take a verse, apply it to our lives as we see fit, and go on our merry, self-absorbed way.  We need to look at the big picture all the time, and see how verses fit into that picture.  We also need to use this picture of redemption in our counsel,  and pray some more.

On the other side.

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My mind is end-of-weekend groggy, knowing I should prepare some things before the week begins, but having no motivational means to follow through.

So instead of being productive, I will share this picture of a sweet friend having coffee with me on my couch.  This friend and I are completely different.  She is artsy.  She is a dreamer.  I most certainly am not.  I am the detail.  I am the administrator.  I am the sometimes-cynical scrutinizer.  She just laughs and tells me what a good pair we make.

We joined our church plant 4 years ago, barely knowing each other.  Our church has been through much since then.  On the other side of the crisis, I can say God has been faithful, and has forged deep bonds between the folks here.  My friend and I showed up at our church’s prayer time, and also were in a small group together.  Since then, I have grown to love her and her kids.  They are like family to me.

Another avenue to deeper relationships has been through our pastoral search committee.  A task that could have been drudgery, instead became a place where people from all walks of life  built admiration and respect for one another through our pursuit of a common goal.  We just celebrated our successful search with a reunion party (including new pastor trivia!) for all the search committee members and spouses.  Who does that except through the grace of God?

Recently I told someone that even if I would have known the difficult things our church would encounter, I still would have joined.  I wouldn’t trade the way I have seen God’s hand at work and the relationships he has forged for the world.

Perfect flakes. Prayer. Paderewski.

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We had another delightful sprinkling of snow this week.  At times the flakes were huge, and looked fake (Kat said the inside of a baby diaper?) as they piled up in layers on the ground.  I tried to take pictures of the backyard to document the awesome spectacle, but I captured nothing.  I needed some contrast.   Rebecca didn’t want to go outside because it was 18 degrees, so I caught Katherine before work.  In a few years, my husband will be the only one around here to model. Watch out!

Paderewski was a Polish pianist who in 1919 served as the first Prime Minister of independent Poland (1860-1941).  He has nothing to do with this post, but I needed another “P” word.  You are welcome for the trivia.

I wrote a note to a new friend the other night giving her some insight into my day, and realized how long it had been since I sat down here to actually write something besides a photography reflection.  I also noticed another friend on Facebook expressing her horror at reading her old blog posts, and wondering if she could delete them.  It reminded me of when I started this blog several years ago, because I always had ideas bouncing around in my head, ideas that leaked out onto little slips of paper tucked into nooks and crannies, and I wanted to develop some of them in a more purposeful manner.  Since then, photography has become an easier way to express myself here.  It is much more difficult to write down thoughts for me, not because it is hard to write, but hard to put ideas out there, and wonder where they will end up, and how people will respond.  Posting pictures can be that way, too.  I see beauty worth sharing, and I want people to share in that beauty, too.  Ideas seem more personal, and I am more sensitive to possible criticism.  Silly, I know.  But that is how it is.  Perhaps, as Keller says in his little book, The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness, our egos are empty, painful and fragile.  Writing puts my old ego to the test.  How often it fails, if my identity isn’t in Christ.  Oh, how long must this battle wage?   I already know the answer.  (Jesus, come soon!)

On another note, I have been praying a lot lately.  Reading A Praying Life constantly challenges my praying status quo, and increasingly  I want to run to the Lord with my anxieties, little and big.  Discussing prayer has been beneficial, too.  Reading a friend’s blog about asking, and talking to another prayer warrior about her Moms in Touch meetings have inspired me.  Instead of sharing their prayer requests, they begin by praying through their requests.  Why do we all waste time talking about requests, when we could all talk to the Father about the requests, and everyone else can listen and agree?  Seems so easy.

One item of anxiety the last three months has been Kat’s new relationship.  The anxiety doesn’t come from us deeming this particular male unworthy of Kat (sorry, but they are all seemingly unworthy at this point), but that she is actually in a relationship.  Our youth pastor summed it up, as is his practice of doing.  He said the two major decisions you make in life is whether you live your life for Christ, and who you will marry.  So watching Kat embark on this journey is very… interesting.  We feel like we have control over our kids’ behavior to an extent when they are small.  When they are adults, we realize we have no control whatsoever.  We can advise, we can love, we can be faithful – but the best thing we can do is pray.  I am praying specific prayers about this relationship.  Not prayers that would make my life easier for the moment, but prayers I think will be beneficial for this relationship to grow in the right direction, and focused on God.     So what happens from here?  More prayer.  I am sure I will feel more anxiety about this, and many more things in life.  I hope that my reaction to anxiety is instantly prayer, knowing that is the only profitable outcome of anxiety.  And it is also an emotional and physical way to “give over” these situations to the only One who has control, and wants us to see Him lovingly work through our prayers to bring glory and honor and praise to His name.