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This is a week of “anniversaries”. Yesterday was my parents’ 39th wedding anniversary. What a blessing it is to have parents who have worked at their relationship and remain happily married. I am truly grateful to them for their love and example. Today is the one year anniversary of the day my wonderful husband proposed to me. I am in awe of what God has done in our relationship since we began dating, and I am so happy to be married to my best friend, the love of my life, and the man God chose for me to do life with.

Fiive days from now is one year since the day my second and last foster baby went home. Since he went home, I have had contact off an on, feeling blessed at getting to still be a part of his life, or at least a party to it, no matter how minimal or sporadic the contact. After several months of not hearing from him, I got a few pictures and word about how he is doing. Details aside, the situation is less than perfect, but from what I gather, he is happy and safe. It goes without saying that I miss him, and I hope that one day soon hubby and I will get to visit him.

Whenever I receive pictures of Baby Incredible or hear news about how he is doing, I share it with my family and friends. When a baby spends almost a year of his life with you, everyone becomes attached. This is so good for the baby. Forming bonds with people who love him help him to form neuropathways in his brain that will last for a lifetime and have the potential to help him in more difficult and trying times. It is also hard on the people because in a fostering situation, those bonds are not always lasting.

After sharing the latest pictures with my dad, he sent me this e-card. I cried happy tears. To have a father who loves me that much and who cares about me that much and who knows how to express that to me is a blessing beyond blessings. Happy Father’s Day, Daddy-O. I love you, and you are a gift to me.

Love is Like a Stream

When I get a little emotional, my right eye begins to “leak”.  It’s like a little stream, but just out of that one eye.  I’m not sure why it happens that way, but it does.  As I was sitting in my bedroom in the Ikea “rocking chair” that was given to me by a friend who was moving, long before I had any idea I would be a foster parent, my eye began to leak.  I wasn’t alone as I sat rocking, my eye stream activated; Baby Incredible was lying on my chest.  He’s almost getting to big to do that now.  His legs curl up under him, and his arms hang off of the side of me.  

The first time I put him down for his nap, he woke up as soon as I left the room.  When it was clear he wasn’t going to go back to sleep, I went in, cleared off the rocking chair that had clothes piled on top of it…after all, what’s the use of it when there’s no baby in the house…and plucked him out of his crib.  He lay on me as I rocked, his ear against my chest, listening to my heartbeat.  We were both quiet.  I played with his hair, a little buzz cut now, his “jewish curls” gone.  His eyes fluttered, and my right eye leaked.  

I thought about how God knows just what we need, how he made the ultimate sacrifice for us, sending his Son to die on the cross, how all of my “sacrifices” for Baby Incredible pale in comparison to that.  I thought about how God knew exactly what I needed in that moment, and God is so amazing that it was actually what Baby Incredible needed, too.  We both needed each other, to have that skin to skin contact, for him to hear my heartbeat and for me to hear his breathing and smooth his hair and skin.  I don’t know if his mom rocks him when he is at home.  I know they don’t have a rocking chair.  I can’t imagine on her doting on him as much as I do when he’s here.  This is a gift for both of us.  

Everyone always tells new moms to sleep while the baby sleeps.  It is advice that seems to make sense.  New moms are sleep deprived and have a very demanding little human whose needs come before their own; moms need sleep.  This advice that sounds great in theory, doesn’t work out so practically.  There is laundry to be done and dishes to do and floors to be swept or mopped.  A lot of times, laundry or dishes or floors trump sleep.  Sometimes, though, holding your sleeping baby trumps all of that.  It is true for all moms that you never get that time back, but for this former foster mom, it is truer than true. I will never get back that opportunity to hold him a little longer while he sleeps, and I only get that opportunity once in a while.  

When I was a little girl, I had a lot of ideas about how my life would go.  Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be a “co-parent”.  Never did I picture sharing my little boy with another family, one who gets to call the shots.  That’s really what I have become.  Where I once was a foster parent, now I am a “co-parent”.  That said, I am grateful beyond words that I still get to be in this little boy’s life.  Actually, it is a miracle of God that I am able to be a co-parent of sorts.  This kind of thing virtually never happens.  God is definitely working in this situation.  I am grateful for all of my friends who have prayed for Baby Incredible and me and his family.  I am grateful for those who continue to pray.  This is one amazing little boy.

It’s interesting to think about the way I once pictured my life in comparison to the story God has written.  When I was a little girl, I thought I would be married by the time I was in my twenties.  That’s when my mom and dad got married, in their young twenties: my mom was 20, and my dad was 21.  I thought it would be easy to meet my “prince charming” and that we would have a fairytale wedding and have a few years to enjoy some time together before we started having babies.  I thought I would begin having kids when I was in my mid to late twenties, and I thought I would be well into the rhythm of being a mom by the time I was in my thirties.  None of the messy realities of adult life ever entered my consciousness.  I never thought about not meeting my prince charming or not having kids before I turned thirty or of foster care or adoption or co-parenting.  My picture was that so many things were difficult for me during the kid part of my life that things had to go easier in the adult part of my life…easier, no.  Better with God, yes.  

God has given me an amazing man to live the rest of my life with, and I get to marry him in 77 days.  Although fairy tales are not real, God has given me such a phenomenal story that it feels just as good to me as if it were a fairy tale.  Erick, my incredible beyond words fiancé, and I have been through more than most engaged couples and have learned and grown so much through it.  We have each been on a journey that has been tying us closer and closer together.  None of that would have happened the way it has without fostering being in our lives.  God knew.  Every time I am fearful of what lies ahead for us, I think about God’s plan being bigger and better than I could ever ask for or imagine.  Even in all of my ideas of what my adult life would be like, I never pictured that I would get to marry my best friend, that he would propose to me in such a well planned, well thought out, and romantic way, singing a song to me before he asked me to marry him.  Never did I think that we would get to have the courtship and dating relationship and engaged relationship that we get to have.  Never did I think that I would have such amazing friends and family around me during such an important time.  I am truly blessed.  

God is never finished working until Jesus comes.  “…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 1:6

Vulnerability

To write well in this true life, journal, memoir, autobiographical, blogging genre, you need to be vulnerable.  I have not been ready or willing to do that since Baby Incredible left my care.  Today, amidst a vast array of feelings, I began to experience these little “nudges” I always feel just before I write an entry, so here I am, messy and emotional and not at all sure that anything worth reading will come out of this exercise in transparency and vulnerability.  

Baby Incredible left a lot behind at my house and in my heart.  I have constant reminders of him.  The stroller is still in my car.  His pack and play is still set up in my living room.  The boppy hangs from it, looking sad.  His crib and changing table are still in my bedroom.  The changing table is still stocked with diapers, wipes, and diaper rash cream.  I find pacifiers everywhere: in old purses, in my car, in my garbage disposal, under the couch, or in my silverware drawer.  Every once in a while I will find a baby cereal puff on my floor.  The jogging stroller peeks out from behind the big comfy chair in my living room, one I used to sit in all the time with him and with Little Dude.  Funny that I never sit in it anymore; I didn’t realize that until just now.  His diaper bag sits on a small ottoman near the door, still filled with some of his stuff but also now with some of my things piled carelessly on top of it.  The foam mats I used to put on the floor for him to sit and play on are leaning against a piece of furniture in my living room.  His high chair is used for practical things like a small table fan that I can point at myself while I do the dishes in my hot kitchen.  The baby swing that I’m not sure what to do with swings the slightest bit when I have the swamp cooler on or a breeze comes in from outside.  There are ice cube trays of frozen pureed baby food still in my freezer and a smattering of bottles still up in my cabinet.  There is a box of baby oatmeal on top of my refrigerator.  Sometimes I swear I hear him crying from the other room.  

Baby Incredible left his little fingerprints all over my heart.  Am I sad?  Yes.  Do I miss him? Yes.  Do I understand God’s plan in all of this?  No.  But I do know that he has a plan.  Knowing what I know now, would I go back and change my mind about fostering Baby Incredible?  No.  Not in a million years.  I gave him all of the love I could give in the first eight months of his life, and I would do it all over again.  I pray so much that God will watch over him and give him a wonderful life in which he gets to have a relationship with God.  

I am learning so much in all of this.  As I am trying to learn to grieve this loss, I am learning that I am sad not just about Baby Incredible.  This loss has brought up other things for me…truths that have deep roots in my heart.  Babies and young children have always a source of comfort for me.  I have loved them and felt really at peace when around them.  I used to think I felt that way because I was “in my element”.  It is in more than that.  Babies have been a peace, a comfort for me, in a social world that was very anxiety producing for me.  I felt the safety of acceptance and unconditional from them, something I didn’t often feel with people my own age.  In essence, I am grieving the loss of that as well.  I got to feel that while Baby Incredible was in my care, and it was wonderful.  Now I am trying to learn to get that acceptance, love, and worth from God.  

There are miracles in this story, too, for which I am so grateful.  Since I took Baby Incredible back to live with his parents , he has come to visit me a few times and vice versa.  (This is part of the reason why I keep his things out at my house.)  His parents see the value in me still being a part of his life.  Praise the Lord.  I love that I still get to see him and be a part of his life.  The plan is for him to be one of the ring bearers in my wedding.  God is good.  

The Best Mother’s Day Present

This past Sunday was my first Mother’s Day.  Last year at this time, I was just asking advice and beginning the certification process to become a foster mom.  What a difference a year makes!

Baby Incredible has been with me for a little over six months now.  In that time, he has grown a lot, and so have I.  I love him so much and constantly want to kiss him and make him smile and laugh.  He is such a wonderful blessing.  

Anyhow, the day before Mother’s Day, Baby Incredible had an unmonitored visit with his birth mom.  As I’ve alluded to in the past, Baby Incredible’s birth mom has not been the easiest person to work with.  She has a lot of ups and downs and has often tried to exert her power when she feels like she is too out of control of the situation.  Our journey has been tumultuous.  Despite this, I knew I wanted to make her feel special on Mother’s Day.  Baby Incredible is her son, and if he is important to me, she is, too.  I gave her a heart shaped coin purse with Baby Incredible’s picture on it and a twelve by twelve framed enlargement of one of my favorite photos of him.  I attached a simple card to the front that said, “Happy Mother’s Day.  I love you.  Love, Baby Incredible.”  

When I arrived to pick Baby Incredible up from his unmonitored visit with birth mom, she presented me with a card and gift.  She wished me a Happy Mother’s Day, and we shared a hug, a first for us.  

Later, I read the card…it was the best first Mother’s Day present I could have received.  In it, she genuinely thanked me for taking care of Baby Incredible and for helping her to grow up a little as well.  She wrote that she could never express the gratitude she has for all I have done.  She went on to say that although she told me once before that she wasn’t in this to make friends, she wanted to keep in touch with me “after this was all over” because I have played such a major role in Baby Incredible’s life, and she knows that he loves me a lot.  And at the end, she remarked that I had been such a gracious woman.  

Wow.  God is working.  What an amazing miracle that she wants to stay in touch.  This gives me hope that I will get to see him grow up a little, that I may get to visit him.  That is never a given when you are a foster mom.  God is working.

 

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Being Refined is Painful

Thoughts going through my head right now: 

  • This isn’t fair.
  • I’m just trying to help.
  • Why am I doing this?
  • What could I do differently to keep you from acting this way?  
  • I am sacrificing so much to help your child.  I would walk through fire for him.  I would do anything for his good, yet you treat me like I’m the enemy.
  • Flawed systems that hurt children…flawed people that hurt children…hurt people, hurting people.
  • Every time I turn around, there’s another issue…one that you have fabricated. 
  • You are a crazy maker.
  • You are only hurting this situation that you are supposed to be helping.  
  • Children trying to raise babies.
  • You care more about being right and being in control than you do about the kids.
  • Addicts need boundaries…so why are you enabling?
  • You repeat yourself five times, a statement that I already heard.  Would you please answer my question?

If none of these thoughts make sense to you, then you’ve never had much exposure to the foster care system.  These are all thoughts swimming in my head after the conversations I’ve had today.  Birthparents who are acting out, social workers who don’t understand what they are doing (and many times do more harm than good), and fellow foster parents who are in the battle with me.

I say that I am being refined because above all this is a spiritual battle.  As Pierre Teilhard de Chardin wrote: “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience.  We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”  I am feeling my humanness today.  Where are my scriptures about being above reproach and turning the other cheek?  

  • “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” – Matthew 5:44
  • “That’s why I take pleasure in my weakness, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.” – 2 Corinthians 12:10
  • “Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach.” – 1 Timothy 3:2

It is so hard to be complained about, accused, and generally disliked by someone for whom you are doing so much.  As Anne Shirley says in Anne of Green Gables: “It is a terrible injustice to be falsely accused.”  It is even harder to face that person and treat them with love and respect like the Bible commands.  Jesus did it.  He did it when he was being falsely accused and mocked and flogged and spit at.  He endured all of those things for us.  I am doing what I am doing for Baby Incredible and for God.  I am being refined to be more like Jesus.  And it is painful.  I can feel very alone in it, but that is where I need to turn to God.  Only he can carry me through all of the feelings I have about what is being said and done.  Only he can help me to love all of these people like he loves them.  

In the meantime, I am still doing this for two reasons:

  1. I love Baby Incredible and want him to have the very best start possible.
  2. “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.” – James 1:27

And refusing to let the world corrupt me.  If you are reading this and you pray, please pray for me.  I want to be more like Jesus even when I am faced with people who make that difficult.  

 

What Is Your Lens?

Tonight at church we were asked what our lens is.  How do we see the world?  What is important to us? How are we living that?  How do we want to live that?  The sharing was done in a big group format with at least 100 people present.  Not everybody shared, of course, and for me, that is a difficult forum to share in, although I have done it before.  I did appreciate the question, though, and part of me did want to share.  As I thought about what I might share, I realized that I do need to share, and this is the forum for me, at least for the moment.

It’s funny, because I teach a personal development class to pre-teens, and this is one of the topics we discuss: Paradigms.  What are your beliefs?  What is your point of view?  What is your perspective?  While I give examples from my life to them as I teach it, I haven’t seriously turned the question on myself and reflected upon it during a time when I don’t have a class of forty pre-teens.  

What is important to me?  What is my lens?  There are several obvious answers that first came to mind, but I feel like the obvious answers fall under a less immediately obvious umbrella.  

My lens is: Do hard things and inspire and encourage others to do hard things.  

Why is this my lens?  Because the theme of my life has been just that.  The obvious answers to the lens question were teaching and fostering, which you could basically simplify into one answer: children.  But in order to become a teacher and a foster mom, in order to remain in those roles, I’ve had to do hard things, things that I haven’t always wanted to do.  For heaven’s sakes, I work for two of the most complained about systems in the United States: the public school system and the foster care system.  If that’s not doing hard things, I don’t know what is!

So, why children?  I didn’t have the easiest childhood.  It’s not because I didn’t have two loving parents or because I had any kind of abuse or anything like that.  Things were just always hard for me.  I had an undiagnosed anxiety disorder for 20 years of my life, which affected me socially, academically, and emotionally.  The challenges that I faced caused me to constantly have to do things that were hard.  I’m not talking about hard things like singing the national anthem in front of a stadium full of people or running for class president or running a marathon, which I did do later in life at the age of 30. I’m talking about hard things like answering a question when the teacher called on me in class or trying out for the high school basketball team or going to a school dance or even going outside to play at recess.  I couldn’t shy away from doing hard things.  If I did, it would mean never leaving the comfort of my home.    

My difficult childhood is the chief reason I became a teacher.  I had so many teachers who were angels here on earth for me.  Mrs. Kuykendall, Mrs. Raymond, Mrs. Niednagel, Mrs. Rodal, Mrs. Jones.  Many of them saw tears and comforted an often scared and emotional little girl or pre-teen or teenager.  They made me feel loved and like I wasn’t crazy and like everything would be okay.  They inspired me to want to be that for someone else.

Fostering was born of a desire to be a parent, a maternal instinct that I’ve had for years, a love of  babies that rivals that of most people I know.  It became about the most selfless act I have ever attempted and about learning to become a little more like Jesus.  It became about loving a baby so much that you feel like they are your own and then giving them up to their parents or family members or adoptive parents and trusting that God has a plan for them, a plan to prosper them and not to harm them, a plan to give them hope and a future.  (Jeremiah 29:11)

So, my lenses are inspiring and encouraging people to do hard things, doing hard things myself, and taking care of children in the public school and foster care systems…always with God as my guide, loving, obeying, and serving him.

 

 

 

There are Superwoman Days and then there are Wonder Woman Days

Some days I wake up feeling ready to face the day.  Maybe I don’t feel totally rested, and more likely than not, I didn’t get enough sleep, but I feel pretty good.  I take Baby Incredible to daycare and head off to work.  As things come up in my day, which they inevitably do, – being a middle school teacher means being ready for the unexpected – I handle them with confidence and grace and wisdom.  Maybe a kid throws up all over my classroom floor.  Maybe a parent sends a five paragraph letter, addressing some concerns.  Maybe the fire alarm goes off unexpectedly, prompting an unplanned drill.  Or maybe, it’s just a “normal” day with preteens: teaching and redirecting and laughing and disciplining and lesson planning and paper grading and dress code violations.  I end my day at work and get to see Baby Incredible and his heart melting smile.  We go to whatever appointments we may need to attend that day, and then we come home to prepare for the next day.  When I have spent some time with him and then rocked him to sleep, I get a little time to myself before I get some shut eye.  Those are the Superwoman days.  The days where I feel amazed that I have been able to accomplish so much and do it with peace and joy and a seamlessness that can only be attributed to God working.

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And then there are days like today.  The days that may even start out as Superwoman days but end up being Wonder Woman days.  On Wonder Woman Days I end my day feeling as if I was hit by a mac truck.  I wonder how I ever accomplished all of the things I did.  I wonder how I didn’t say something completely inappropriate or mean.  Sometimes I wonder how I let that inappropriate or mean thing fly out of my mouth!  I wonder why on earth I’ve taken on so much.  I wonder when I will get a break.  I wonder how I will make it through tomorrow.  I wonder if I am on candid camera.  I wonder just how much more I can handle, and then I shudder at that thought, thinking it may cause something else catastrophic to happen.  

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On Wonder Woman days, I need to pray with my friends.  I need to cry.  I need my boyfriend to bring me dinner at 8:30 at night because I haven’t been home but a few minutes and have zero energy to make myself anything, even if there were groceries in the house.  I need a hug and to be told that everything is going to be okay and that I’m doing a great job.  I need to be reminded of why I’m doing this and that God is in control of every last detail in Baby Incredible’s life story.  I need people to make me laugh.  Today, I got all of those things after my Wonder Woman day, and I feel truly grateful and blessed.  Thank you to those of you who loved me through my Wonder Woman day.  You know who you are, and you are blessings in my life.