"For You O Lord are a shield about me, You are the glory and lifter of my head. Psalm 3:3

"For You O Lord are a shield about me, You are the glory and lifter of my head. Psalm 3:3

Friday, October 14, 2016

Dear Little One Leaving Some Day

I had been asleep for an hour or so, fatigued and tired, leaving to-do lists to wait and climbing into bed quickly asleep.  I close my eyes and I see the vivid image so real.  I've left her somewhere.
In a car seat, abandoned in a parking lot, lost in the bed...and no matter how many endless hallways I run down, I just can't find her.  I wake up, gasp and cry all at once.  Tear off the sheets frantically looking for her, flipping on lights and running into the next room where Chris sits on his lap top.  This time, I'm crying and looking up the staircase fumbling over my words "What, where, don't don't we have something to take care of? Am I missing something? Isn't there something else?"  He's slow and soft to speak, we've been here many times before.  "Meg, you're having a nightmare.  Everything is okay."  More frantic rambling and more assurance until finally I come to and realize I've done it again, and yet he just sits there looking at me with tenderness and a bit of sadness.  I calm down and walk back into the bedroom reasoning with myself, consoling myself all is well and it was just a dream, she's not forgotten.  A quick glance at the monitor to see her little body and find my way back into bed.

She's not forgotten.  She will not be forgotten.
A few months earlier Chris was away on business and my phone rang.  In the shuffle of soccer practice and making dinner on the other end of the phone call was the directive that Child Protective Services needed us to come to the next city over and pick up a baby.  Literally hitting the breaks and halting my thoughts, I hit pause and rattled off my usual questions.  Gender, name, race, health...anything?  She responds it's a girl and when I ask again for her name she fumbles and pauses then admits that she just can't remember.  The reminder of the endless, harsh and dark reality those who suffer in silence breathe in and out daily.  How can she possibly keep track of names when the overload of abused and neglected files pour over her desk like a river that never ceases? An hour later I pull into a gas station parking lot off the highway and somehow we, the caseworker and I know each other's cars.  We get out, introductions are made, paper work signed and we meet for the first time...this little life and me, us.  Head back to our town and the pause button lifts and life resumes.

Dear Little One, our story begins and we are pressing in, clawing for justice and mercy until some day you leave.  But not today.  Today you are ours.

After a week or so the adrenaline wears off and full swing of pace and life consume yet here you are, my darling.  Waves and waves come of pieces of the story, your story of where you came from, why you came to us and the unknown that lies ahead.  With every meeting my subconscious wants to pull you in even deeper to our world.  The day dreams and heart wanderings of a mama, of Halloween costume ideas, what to get you for Christmas, first day of Kindergarten pictures, who you will become some day.  The caseworker's binder closes and the reality of your future is speculated and so quickly my mind shifts to desperate priorities of safety and basic care.  Forget costume pictures and vacations, I just want to know you're going to live and that no one is ever going to hurt you.  The caseworker continues and with every word he speaks week after week, fear rushes and seeps into my heart.  Reminders that we have no say and no control, we are merely a pending limbo to keep you until you leave, and that day could come tomorrow or in a year.  The meetings end and pause resumes until the next wave.  Go make dinner, check homework, and cup little faces coming home from school and take a step closer into desperate grace because it's the only thing that sustains.

Sitting in church and hearing the chorus, believing truth with every part of my being but this lump in my throat is growing by the minute, I feel like it's always there...park play dates, soccer side lines, stoplights.  How do you sing and raise your hands saying let my life be undone for your glory, when the unraveling and undoing starts with that phone call to come to that gas station?  Praise lifted up is the only refuge but the enticing lure of numbness fights for my heart all the while.  His strength sustains and His mercy triumphs but this thing, this cost of bringing in babies and letting them go doesn't get any easier.

Prayers groaned and wept in the secret place move mountains but we've been here before on the brink and the finality of letting go.  When I still ended up standing over my daddy's coffin while the preacher praised his new young wife for her bravery and the grief came so strong I could hardly breathe.  The cost of grief and letting go, the price on a heart that dreams and hopes for the future regardless of reality only to be hushed by release.  Release that forces you to lay down what was to come and the present reminder of the permanent.  Where's the hope in this darkness?  Where's the freedom and joy we sing about when fear slowly wraps itself around my neck and into my sleep?  The anchor of truth holds steady because my weakness outweighs my capacity. But the fight remains and some days I feel yet again face down in the arena.  Is it worth the cost and worth the heartache over and over again?

Darling, the unknown and the decisions being made for your life that check a box on paper and comply with policy yet it would never be a consideration for my own children.  I keep coming back to this question I hear daily and ask myself constantly, how we just can't do it because we'd get attached and I just couldn't let them go.  I don't know much, I'm far from experienced or acquired expertise in bringing in babies coming from a life of horror, little bodies full of substances only to let them go.  I want a short answer, one tied up in a pretty bow that sits well in conversation, in my world.  That answer hasn't come and I'm beginning to think it doesn't exist.

In the moonlight hours I stare at your face and wonder if you will ever know who we are?
Will you remember how we couldn't wait to get you home and into our pajamas, wrapped in our blankets that smell like us?  How you're life is worth more than a gas station exchange?
The cost is worth it and your value is immeasurable.  And if your attachment depends on the very thing that hurts us so deeply, then it's been worth it.
If you live because everyone at that hospital and social service team bravely followed protocol and saw the red flags and made sure you lived, then it's been worth it.
If your tender, brave daddy, the one who came home that winter day and told me my daddy has died, if strong, safe love like that filled and changed places in your foundation that will forever impact who you are, then it's been worth it.

Dear Little One Leaving Some Day, we don't know what's to come but we know we have today.  We know we have today to do everything we can to pour the mold for the little girl, the woman you will be some day.  We will hold you, rock you, sing to you.  We will sweet talk you silly until you smile and cackle.  Take you to the pediatrician, the park, to church.  We will tell you the story of the day you became part of us and come what may, you will always have place here in our home and our hearts.  In the immeasurable uncertainties and heartache, you, our darling are worth it.

So here we sit 2 years into this journey and the answer is simple and only by His grace and sovereignty walked out a day at a time.  Why sign on the dotted line for the hardest and saddest road I've ever been on, one that stretches beyond comforts and limits and takes us as a family on a journey of unknowns into a dark reality of a broken system and desperation of the innocent?

It's worth it.  Every time.  It has to be.

Little One, you're worth it all and worth it all a hundred times over.  I think about it all the time, every day, what it will look like to let you go some day.  Today, I praise your Maker it is not that day.  Today you're ours and you're safe and loved.
Today you smell like us, like a warm bath and honey lotion.
Today your sounds echo off the walls in the house and your scent is the sweetest thing we know.
Today and every day moving forward you're a daughter of the Most High King, an heir to the throne.

Today and every day you are worth it.  We've counted the cost and you're worth it every time.
And the day you leave this house, you'll still be worth it.
And when the day comes and you're gone and we can't smell your sweet scent and hear your beautiful sounds, we will know the pain and the familiar process of release...

You our darling, will still be worth it.

Monday, May 2, 2016

How It Works, Foster Care Logistics

Your phone rings and on the other end is your caseworker, sometimes CPS (Child Protective Services) and sometimes your agency caseworker (agencies contracted through your local DHS, Department of Human Services).  It goes something like this, "Hi, we have a child...can you take them?"  Now here's where the detail-oriented side of me begins to pace and fidget, where are the details?  Gender, age, reason for removal, how long will they be in the system?  Well, that just depends on so many moving parts.  And since this process is an untamed beast, let's at least try to start from the beginning and let's attempt to shed light on what many don't know about this process, myself included, until recently.  From FAQ's to the constant stream in my own mind, a dialogue and a snapshot into our experience but by no means would I try to put this beast in a box.  The beast doesn't fit and I would in fact say that she is on a pendulum track and she can swing back and forth at any given moment, driven by media, circumstance, reality, and government funds.  So I'll try to simply explain it as it stands today through my lens and meager knowledge.

Why is a child removed?
This answer goes in so many directions, there's no simple response here.  Typically in Oklahoma it's neglect, followed by abuse and then the offshoots from that, failure to protect, negligence, babies testing positive for substances at delivery and so on.  Teachers, nurses, doctors and folks in those fields are required by law to report suspicion of any of the above.  Referrals can be anonymous to the DHS hotline, police can be called, including principals and supervisors as well in the reporting.  Once so many referrals are made and/or if the circumstance given is extreme enough, the child(ren)/baby is removed, but not before an extensive and quick process of "telephone".

A game of telephone.
DHS is the mothership and she has many extensions, one being CPS.  So upon question of should a child/baby be removed, CPS contacts the the District Attorney (or Assistant DA).  The DA/ADA files a motion, goes before the judge and petitions for the removal of the child.  The judge either grants or denies the petition and based upon that, the child is/isn't removed.  The DA/ADA communicates back with CPS and they move forward.  In emergency situations, police make the call to DHS and/or the court, the same procedure follows.

Where the child is coming from?
Was this a home removal, meaning the child is or will soon be removed from their home?  Is that "home" their biological family's home, a kinship (family member) home, another foster home?  Could it be from the hospital because a mom tested positive for substances and they've decided the baby can't go home (because yes, babies who test positive for drugs go home with their moms every day)?  Again depending upon the situation, the answer to all of the above is yes.  How that plays out always looks different.  Police and DHS can show up at schools and take kids from there, they can go into the actual homes and remove them.  Foster parents walk into hospitals, emergency rooms and CPS offices every day and pick up children/babies.  Really it can happen anywhere.  They come to you with nothing or in some cases, a trash bag of a few items.  They come in the morning, noon, and night.  There's no rhyme or reason there.  Bottom line, they're coming from a place that for whatever reason isn't safe or capable of meeting their basic, bare minimum needs.

Services in the home.
Mentioned earlier, removal is a last resort for many situations.  And DHS strongly upholds the policy to keep families together.  For so many reasons I won't get into, they first explore the option of in-home services, classes (parenting, anger management, substance abuse etc.) and other means of support to prevent the child(ren) from being removed, taken into custody.
Next they explore kinship (family members) to see if they pass state background checks, if so, the child is placed in that home while home studies and more paper work are completed.  In many cases, kinship isn't an option, many can't pass a background check.  Again, the basic concept of in-home services is the state making their greatest effort to equip, rehabilitate and support parents while keeping their children in the home.

Once a child is removed and placed in a foster parent's home or local shelter depending upon the child's age, a series of hearings in the court take place.  Once the case moves from CPS into DHS in the area of permanency, the foster parents are able and encouraged to participate in hearings, parent visits, family group conferences (I'll explain those in a bit) and any other meeting environment presented.  The biological parents are given an ITP (individual treatment plan) that addresses objectives for various areas (substance abuse classes, obtaining/sustaining employment and residence, weekly urine analysis etc.).  Basically, the state's plan to assist in reuniting parents with their children.  Despite what may seem obvious, DHS seeks reunification in most cases.  Placement of a child in the foster home remains unless kinship comes forward, the placement is "blown" (child runs away, child harms others in the home etc.), or the parents complete their ITP.  At that point the child is reunified.  If the parent doesn't complete their ITP a variety of scenarios play out.  The court can grant more chances and extended time for parents to comply, parents can relinquish their parental rights, the case by default moves towards termination (parental rights legally severed), adoption, and sometimes the child is continually moved into other foster homes.

How long will you have them?
I get this question a lot.  It's a question I asked with our first baby and I so quickly learned there's no answer and even if you think you have a general time frame, the answer I can best give is that anything can happen.  It can be a day or years.  Every day you wake up knowing something can change and DHS can come get the child.  We have learned to say, we have them today but not for forever.

Parent visits and family group conferences.
Parent visits are arranged by the DHS worker, you can transport the child weekly to the designated meeting place (for us it's a DHS office 30 minutes away) or the state can transport them (usually along with other children) for you.  Visits can last from 1-2 hours, 1-2 times a week.  I'll also say not every case includes parent visits.  Sometimes children are abandoned or bio parents are not permitted to have visitation by the judge.  For me this was a sleeper gut punch, I had no idea how sad a DHS lobby could be.  Parents trying to engage with their kids, some parents not at all participating.  Babies crying, confusion, brokenness, anger.  I'll never forget the first time I watched a toddler be pried away from his daddy's arms and by looking you can easily assess the abuse and neglect there, nonetheless that baby didn't want to let go.
Family group conferences are meetings set up by DHS to include all parties involved in the case, DHS caseworkers, supervisors, agency workers, foster parents, biological parents and therapists.  I've seen these be peaceful and productive and then I've seen them be hostile and leave you in tears.  The goal is unity and working together as a team, knowing all parties involved.  (Side note: this is my litmus test for how judgmental and ugly I really am deep down.  Truly putting all your chips in and sitting at tables with parents who have neglected, beaten, abandoned, and subjected their children to horrific things.  Being for them and coming from a genuine place of respect and support?  Some days I get there and other days I don't.)

So are you adopting her?
I get this question a lot.  The answer today, is no.  There are foster homes that have the title "foster to adopt", these folks are my personal heroes because their heart is all in and on the line.  It means that should the case move from the goal being reunification with parents and/or the possibility of kinship being an option for adoption is ruled out, is your home willing to keep the child with you with adoption being the next step?  If your home isn't "open" for adoption, then DHS quickly moves to find that home and usually begins that search from day one.  For us in this season, we are just a foster home.

Adoption through DHS.
You can adopt children/babies through DHS and there are lists and lists by county.  White, female babies tend to be the top request.  The older children get, the more problems (medical, social etc.) and race all come into play.  I have friends who have fostered, some even fostering sibling groups, and when the parents were unable to comply and/or relinquished their parental rights, they simply moved the file into the adoption extension of the DHS mothership and it moves fairly quickly.

"Aging Out" of the system.
Here's a topic that's not talked about much and honestly, it's a sad addition to the already heart breaking reality of the system.  I'll give a scenario here so it's easier to grasp.  Max is 6 years old, he's removed for domestic abuse and severe neglect.  He's the middle of a sibling group of 5.  He's removed at midnight and can't stay in the shelter so he sleeps on a cot in a CPS office until they can shuffle him out the next day.  He's separated from his siblings because most homes can't accommodate sibling groups.  So he starts acting out and harming the other kids in the home.  He's seen so much violence and drug use he begins acting out at school.  Foster mom says she can't handle him anymore so he "bounces' (quickly moved without explanation or transition) to another home.  This home is only in it for the monthly stipend ($500/month per child from the state to cover needs) so he shares a room and a bed with 5 other foster kids, none of who are being cared for in any way.  DHS ends up removing all of those kids for further neglect and he bounces again.  His parents are long gone and it's made clear to him he's unwanted, invaluable, and an inconvenience.  One day he wakes up and he's 14 years old, living in a group home (state housing for teenagers, usually low income accommodations) and before long he's getting into trouble with the law and ends up in juvenile jail until he can go back to a different group home.  At 18, they open the front door and wish him good luck with life.  This is called aging out.  Most of these kids end up back in jail.  Most repeat the behavior that got them removed from the first place (drugs, violence or worse) and a fraction end up becoming the homeless population in society.  A dark chapter in this even darker story.

Answers in foster care.
Bottom line, there are no short answers or pretty answers in foster care.  And there's also no silly or dumb questions, I would say and hope that any time people are curious, foster parents are willing to give answers to the best of their ability.  Every state is different, every case is different and therefore every lens from a foster parent is different.

Why do you do it, I never could.
I'll end with the most common question.  Why do it?  If at the end of this isn't a rainbow, it isn't adoption and instead an exchange for desperation, grief, and discomfort...then why do you do it?  Follow that up with the truth that dwells in all of us, I never could.  I can't pick up battered kids from emergency rooms, rebellious teenagers from shelters, or babies trembling from meth withdraws in NICU's.  There's nothing heroic or superhuman about it.  There's nothing about my calendar, weaknesses, or abilities that differ from anyone else.  I yell at my kids, burn dinner, bounce checks and screw it up every single day.  Everyone has a different destiny on their life, different capacity, different season to step into someone else's mess.  For us, our family in this season with our capacity, this is the way we are choosing to step in.  Whether it's a day, month or longer, I believe that love sown in deep doesn't return void.  I believe we fight not against flesh and blood but against an enemy seeking to still kill and destroy.  And if for a brief moment we can step in and somehow absorb the destruction in His might and pray into hopelessness, then I'm all in.  It's the laying down of the reality that we can't do this and it's just too much, because it's true.  But I trust in the beautiful exchange that He promises of beauty for ashes, oil of gladness for mourning, and hope for despair.  I won't settle for anything less than standing firm and fighting for those who suffer in silence.

How it works, how does this beast work when its passengers are helpless and broken?  The tracks that it runs on are shaky but they're the best it can do for now.  More and more we get into this, I see the desperate need for the church rise up because the government can't tame her.  Foster care logistics are smooth and simple on paper but when that phone rings, papers go out the window and you quickly come to understand you're fighting something bigger than yourself, beyond what you can imagine or handle.  I trust Him, I trust what He's doing and how He's moving.  I trust Him with her life even though I can't see what's ahead.
How it works is, you trust in the One who is who He says He is and that He will do what He says He will do...and you jump.  Because she's worth it, worth it a hundred times over.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

When They Leave {Foster Care}

I've rehearsed it a hundred times over in my mind, that this isn't forever, it's only temporary.  Maybe if I rehearse it enough and somehow convince myself to agree with all the moving parts that contribute to this messy solution of her world, maybe then it won't hurt so bad and my heart won't break into a thousand pieces the day they come take her away.  When these two realities of her world and my insulated bubble run parallel and she's in your home and deep in your heart, at times you can forget the hell she comes from.  You keep it compartmentalized and claw for the control and order you don't have and then one day, these two realities intersect.
Yeah that upbeat little song strums on the radio about His goodness and faithfulness.  We carry on about the day with our agenda until I see the glow on my phone and recognize the number, knowing all to well it's because on the other end of that phone are words that oppose all we've fought for.  And I know He's good and I know He's in the business of putting things back together and I've seen Him work this broken craft into beauty, but right now I can't see through the darkness, this hard battle and truth be told, I don't even want to.  I'm face down in the arena of this fight and I don't know how to get up and lack the energy to even desire upright movement.  I crave control, answers, and following quickly behind, a numbness to hunger to draw close.

And Your faithfulness seeps into the smallest places of my being, beauty for ashes, oil of gladness for mourning, mantle of praise for my heaviness.

This phone call wasn't supposed to come, the one that says she's leaving us.  It's not what she needs, not what I asked for, and it's not what I've cried out to Him for this whole time.  I know what's best for her, I know the specifics of these realities she faces and I know more than I wish I did, that none of these options are even close to highest and best.  They just can't happen, there's no way it's even conceivable and even if it were, today and tomorrow wouldn't be the day because these things take time and she's not ready.

But these phone calls that come, the ones that say to pack her bags and get her paperwork together because this baby leaves tomorrow.  Those phone calls, they don't follow the rules of logic nor do they consider what she needs or how I feel.  Nah, those phone calls come when you least expect them and you learn to pull your car over quick because hot tears fall whether you want them to or not.  You turn your shoulder so those little faces don't see from the backseat, you stammer to ask as many questions as you can to make some sense out of what's about to happen.  Keep pulling the neck of your shirt up to catch the tears and mess coming down.  Everything is coming down, everything I trusted You with.  Suddenly fighting for strength and self control just to walk into a store for stamps, groceries, carpool.

Didn't You hear me all this time?  In the early hours of the day when I rose early expectant, assured You wouldn't let her go back?
Didn't You hear me as I held her little body and contended for specifics and stood on promises anchored in hope that You would do what I said she needed?
I know what's best here, not You.  

I know how to pack for temporary things, but learning how to pack to release them, yeah I'm not cut out for this.  Go ahead and strip away all comfort and control that's usually clung to when you leave your child with a babysitter or summer camp.  Leave that on the floor because details don't matter, feeding schedules concern no one but me, and you can pack her up well but know she's never coming back.  You scramble to do her laundry to give her back, your desperate search to make sure it's all there because when you find it days and weeks later, the heart breaks deeper.

And then you hear her cackle from the other room, innocence and unknown awareness for what's coming.  One day you will be here and tomorrow you'll be gone all under the false impression that because you can't talk we shouldn't function in any other capacity other than making an exchange.  So we do, we make those plans to meet and hand you over.  And I'll stand there in a hot heap of mess sobbing on the sidewalk, they'll shake their heads and try to assure me of things they can't promise.  You'll start to cry and I'll absorb that deep hurt in my gut that I'm signing the dotted line in agreement of this decision.  I'll beg them to please keep her safe, please don't let anything happen to her.  And their sympathetic nods and empty words make it worse as I slip back into my car.
Now put the car in drive and go forward.  Go wash soccer jerseys and spellcheck book reports.
How do you do that, when these two realities keep intersecting?

My grace is sufficient, My power made perfect in weakness.  
I'm the hope that holds you, the Stronghold that sustains you...and her.

Subconsciously aware of my immense weakness and only in that place does His strength continue to rise up.  You remember that you signed up for this fight and begin to acknowledge the ugliness brewing to the surface deep in my soul.  More than that, you learn how to see her empty car seat the whole way home and you learn that you have habits of glancing at her every few minutes.  You think you hear her and you learn to remind yourself that she's gone.  You learn to walk into your house and see an empty crib, unused bottles, and pockets of your schedule she once consumed.  You learn to fight for hope and fight the tension between mercy and desperation for the home receiving her to stay in contact with you.  Whether you wanted to be or not, suddenly aware that bubbling to the surface a stench of self righteousness and arrogance.  These are the people I ignore in grocery store lines, choose not to see on street corners, shake my head at in restaurants.  Disgust, judgment, hatred.  Somewhere along this journey I've bought into the lie that I'm better than them, that somehow their sin is worse than mine.  Now go and be light in the darkness and push up your sleeves because it's just as much my mess as theirs.
No you're in this now and your chest deep in messes you didn't make and you're following in line with a system that sent up its flag years ago but no one is coming, no the only thing coming is more kids, more darkness, more broken families.

So you go upstairs to tuck them in, your own babies needing you and unaware of what transpired today.  You've helped with homework and written notes for lunches, dishes have collected on the counter and your babies safely drift off to sleep.  And you come back downstairs sweeping the floor and all the while my heart lies in a heap of mess, waiting for a tender love to overwhelm me.  The fight continues in our hearts to not forget Your promises, not to forget His extravagance of kindness undeserved but yet awaits to be the source of all that we are.

You sit there counting the cost of it all as darkness knocks on the door and closes in quick, the invitation for going completely under awaits clothed in fear and disgust.
And You come and speak softly to me.  As the voice of the accuser comes on in a mirage of loud and strong, His whisper pierces sharper than any two edged sword and goes straight to my heart.

Her story doesn't end here.  You O Lord are and always will be her hiding place, because it's who You are and it's what You promise her.

It began with a yes and the real question here isn't what it has cost me but rather what it would've cost her if she had never received our love, Your great love, in the middle of inconvenience and discomfort the yes that brought her into this new, deep love.
Because what if what He says is true and what if He has begun and work and He isn't finished?
What if it's true that everything prayed into and sown into her life doesn't come back void but returns to her some thirty, sixty, hundred fold?
On my darling, what if He has set you on a new path and time in the heavens is on a different time table than I can comprehend?
What if this fight truly isn't against flesh and blood but against the dark spirits, against the enemy whose place in the end of this story has already been foretold...you lose, you've already lost.

And this invitation to trust in You, to trust that somewhere in this we can find You and You will be who you say You are and do what You say You will do, in desperation to grab ahold of faith in the unseen and stand firm in hope.  To trust in the Father in a process that feels like a vicious cycle of bringing in only to let go.  Because manna falls from the sky each day and I want to store it up and satisfy my hunger with logic and control, I want to know how this ends and I think the best place for her was with me.  Yeah You meet me in that place every time and You know me.
That it's not about being strong or super human but instead the leveling to the ground of how weak we truly are so that in that desperate place He can silence the enemy and call us deeper into a place of intimacy in the secret place.  Chasing down every thought captive and demanding it to align itself with the word of truth and settle for nothing less than a hope for the impossible.

And when they leave, oh yes Jesus Your faithfulness to find me in that place time and time again, we can all be found there.  Grateful to carry hope beyond existing realities and believe in Your higher ways that are not my ways.  Come find me and work this out for her good, I can't see through the ashes but I trust You when it doesn't seem possible.  Your nearness to her is her only good, it's my only good.
Fighting hard to stand firm and trust that this is worth it, we know it is.  Sufficient grace that imparts strength to call out what doesn't exist in front of us.  A love and a rescue that collects a thousand pieces and begins healing again and again.

Because great it Thy faithfulness, morning by morning new mercies I see.

"I thank my God every time I remember you,
In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because your partnership in 
the gospel from the first day until now,
being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will
carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus."
Philippians 1:3-6  

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Our Journey

The other morning I met a dear friend for an early coffee.  She's a mama herself, a missionary recently moved back to the United States, a nurse, an incredible wife and lover of Jesus.  Her heart is gold.  Her life pursues the Father's heart for the orphaned, for the helpless.  Honored she would want my time and would want to discuss foster care.  Her heart has so many questions and fears, the same ones in fact I've had or currently still wrestle with.  From the details of daily rhythms to the broader scope the of the image of a foster parent.  What does she look like and how does she do it?

Subconsciously I've got this answered.  For me the image of a foster parent from the outside looks like some sort of saint.  A person with endless patience and compassion.  Possibly a large home, lots of open space in her calendar and heart.  No time for nonsense like shopping for expensive shoes, no desire for a $5 Starbucks drink, she's way above that stuff and content at all times.  She's sold out to the cause, maybe she takes care of herself but maybe she just doesn't have time for superficial things like make-up and hairspray.  She's got one thing on her mind, the orphaned.  Foster care.  And in that she's relentless and consumed, praying day and night for this child's life meanwhile seamlessly pursuing birth moms and blessing her case workers with homemade bread.  These babies come in and out and because her heart it strong as steel, made out of something thicker and tougher than most, she can release them into hard places and the next day receive another one into her home.  All the while she's getting dinner on the table and leading the torch in her community for this high need in dark places.  That's a foster parent, the measuring stick and the ultimate goal of duplication.

I used to think that's who she was.  That's what it takes to become a foster parent and unless you can somehow emulate her, you're just not cut out for this.  And I'll go ahead and not only completely miss the mark to measure up even close to anything about who she is but I'll also stay paralyzed because not only can I never become that woman, I've got this list of questions coated in fear and answers that don't come in pretty packages and sometimes the answers never come.  And sometimes I like shopping, overpriced coffee, and my house is busting at the seems as it is.  So why on earth would you even think about being a foster parent?  I think every foster parent can answer this differently because no one person has the exact same journey.

After I left that early morning coffee I got to thinking about our journey, our story thus far, only 18 months in.  How did we get here?  Where did it all begin?

For anyone, for any dream walked out, the seed is planted before time began, while we were in wombs of our mamas growing the Maker was writing plans and destinies.  And we can look back over the years and see the investment, the pivotal moments whether good or hard, the people that marked your life for forever, all of it used and an invitation to come in closer to who He is and what He's called us to.  That one day He would use all things for our good and put His beauty for ashes into our hands to step into places we never thought possible.

September 8th, 2014 I sat across from my husband in a booth and casual date night talk took an unexpected turn with one question from me to him.
"What would you think about foster care?"  He looked up from his plate and quickly responded "Uh yeah, sure."  He further explained that he would be interested in the discussion of fostering.  I had never entertained the idea of foster care.  Adoption?  Of course.  Foster care?  No way.
He kept eating and I was shocked at the topic matter now on the table.  I asked if I could look into it, do some research and he said yes.  So that night I stayed up pretty much all night.  I read every article, blog, and document I could get my hands on.  Statistics, records, percentages on anything and everything to do with foster care.  I woke up the next morning ready to go with my arsenal of my findings and next steps.  I convinced him if we wanted to position our family to say yes to the Lord, then we should just go ahead and be ready and by be ready I meant, be approved.  I had already found the perfect agency for our family, memorized their phone number and mission statement.  Normal approval, paperwork, home studies, back ground checks, personality tests, training, doctors' appointments etc. takes around 6 months.  More convincing that it would be at least half a year before we had to do anything.  He nodded in agreement and went to work.  Two months later there was a state seal of approval on our file and our home was deemed open for placement and we were officially waiting.  A week later I was comfortable on my couch, kids had been tucked in, about to enjoy some ice cream and that phone call came for our first placement.

Looking back at that story, I have a few thoughts and answers to my then questions at the time.  The basic common fears and concerns that by no means are absent from my heart but rather the constant pursuit of where we land on the spectrum today, tomorrow, for the unknown to come all the while counting the cost and knowing the end result is letting go.

Someone told me once that I needed to count the cost of foster care.  Make sure I know and have thoroughly considered what it will cost me and my family.  I now have an answer to that.

It will cost you everything.  

Your time, calendar, comfort, convenience, money, sleep, energy.  Not even addressing how and what price your heart pays.  How you learn to sit in meetings and hear beyond horrific realities about siblings and birth moms and you're the only one sobbing at the table because to them, they've heard it before and the norm is no longer alarming.  The cost starts to settle in and these two realities of my life and this other dark world slowly start bleeding together.  This so called cost and high price, for a long time I think I had it backwards.  I had full focus on me.  And so my answer comes just now, over a year in.

It's not about me and what it will cost me.  It's about these babies, these children and what it will cost them if we don't step in and love them.  

I'm not talking about rescue, I'm talking about the love and sacrifice to bring them in for a season without having my questions answered or my life unaffected by that choice.  My job isn't to rescue them because I can't, it's not that simple.  It's impossible.  But the bringing them in part, the answer is they will wait in that place until someone can open a home, a crib, a heart.  They'll stay in homes starving, sleeping in police stations, curled up on cots on CPS office floors, shaking in NICU's while drugs leave their bodies, waiting for a yes.  The yes that unlocks the bondage of their hell, the setting aside of comfort, convenience, and ease to take a step closer to the innocent.  Not asking to be the doorstep they come to but knowing we just happen to be.  High cost unfathomable to consider because the answer is nothing is unscathed.

And the letting go.  It's as hard as you imagine it would be, anyone who has let go can attest to that.  When you let go knowing they're going into dark homes or even when they're going into good homes, the release of a baby or a child is gut wrenching.  So this pain, this unthinkable letting go part of the deal, how on earth do you do that?  A year ago I didn't have an answer but today I do and I realize my answer could change a year from now and each person may have a different response but today here it is.

These babies and children need the love, attachment, safety, and care more than my heart needs protection from the pain of letting them go one day.

It's that simple.  That's how you let them go.  It's nothing to do with that woman who has a heart of steel and is all things consumed in foster care.  That lady, the one who can't be bothered with such silly things as lattes, I'm not her and I never will be and He's not asking me to be her.  I'm only me, with the heart and set of tools, imperfections, and immeasurable failure on a daily basis.  My heart is weak, vulnerable, fearful and selfish.  There's nothing that allows me to give them back any different from the next person.  Gratitude for His design that it's not about me and it's all about Him.  The One who promises strength in weakness and healing in the broken places.  And for all of the unanswered questions, the why's, the endless frustrations and grief, comes a desperation to crawl back to Him as cry out for mercy, more of whatever He has for me.  Learning to let go from that place and there's nothing easy about it but Jesus help me, it's worth it every time.

So our coffee ended and I walked away feeling like I talked too much, gave some really raw answers, rambled on about things that she hadn't asked about.  Not wanting to sound convincing or pushy that I know what's best for her precious family or that she should do this thing of fostering.  But I walked away knowing He's moving and stirring it up.  That this thing of bringing in the innocent pierces darkness with light and it shakes the gates of hell.  Desperate for the promise that light always wins over darkness.  The cross, the blood poured out for my rescue, for our rescue, the same sacrifice is carried in our hearts daily.  Wherever we are planted and whatever we set out to do, we are enough and when we aren't, oh how lovely the hands of the Father who equips and empowers for His glory and greatness.

Every family's journey looks different.  How incredible and creative that He would make it so.  Faithfulness of the Lord we can look back and see how hard it's been, knowing more trials are coming and choosing to trust Him when we can't see a way forward.
Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God's spirit is right alongside helping us along.  If we don't know how or what to pray, it doesn't matter.  He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs and aching groans.
He knows us far better than we know ourselves, our condition and keeps us present before God.  That's why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of
 love for God is worked into something good.  
Romans 8:26-28