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.  

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Goodbyes

I am getting ready to say goodbye to Baby Incredible. He will leave me in just a few short hours after spending the last 8 months or so with me. Even though I say I am getting ready for him to leave me, I can never actually be ready.

Although I did not give birth to him, I have been his mom, in every sense of the word, over the last eight months. Leaving him today feels like I am abandoning my own child. He is going to wonder where I am and why I’m not coming back for him…I keep telling him that I love him and that I don’t want to let him go. He may not understand, but I hope he feels my message.

Heartbroken is the adjective that comes to mind. Foster parents volunteer to get their hearts broken. They know going in that this is not forever, but they choose to put their heart “all in” to that baby anyway, to bond with them, and to attach to them, and to love them as if they were their own.

No words can fix such heartbreak, but God can. The most comforting words I have heard are these: “God can only bless a heart that is willing to be broken.” and “God loves this baby more than you love this baby.” Amen

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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Five Months

It’s been five months.  It’s been 22 weeks.  It’s been 154 days.  That’s how long I’ve had Baby Incredible.  I expected to only have him for one or two months, although I knew there was a possibility it would be longer.  I don’t know for how much longer I will have him.  And that feels strange to say.  I’ve had him since he was so little that it feels like he is mine.  In many ways he is, which is what makes it so hard to think about him leaving me.  

Some think I’m crazy or even masochistic for doing this knowing that this is only a temporary situation…and an indefinite one at that.  Sometimes I think I’m crazy or masochistic for the very same reasons. I keep going back to the book “Middle Mom: How to Grow Your Heart by Giving it Away” by Christie Erwin. One of the things she wrote that really stuck with me was that people always ask her how she does it. How she takes in children and loves them as her own, only to ultimately give them up. They often say that they could never do something like that. I have had people ask me the very same thing. I have had people tell me the very same thing.  What has stayed with me is her response. Christie says that if you are a person who says you could never do it, you are precisely the kind of person who is needed. She goes on to explain that in order to be a good foster parent, you have to give your whole heart to the baby or child, even though you know you are eventually going to be faced with the pain of loss. Talk about sacrifice. Being a foster parent is the closest I’ve ever come to loving like Jesus. And I certainly couldn’t do it without God. He is the one who led me to foster, and I have to keep reminding myself to go to Him when I am feeling the strain of being a single working foster mom. This is God’s plan, so I know He has my back.

Looking ahead, anticipating when Baby Incredible might go, worrying about what problems may arise between now and then (because this time around it seems that there is a “crisis” every time I turn around), wondering how this is going to play out, is only hurting me. It’s causing me to take my eyes off of God, to lose my hope and my faith and my trust in Him. God has an amazing plan for Baby Incredible’s life and an amazing plan for my life. My prayers need to be centered on those truths. I need to cherish the moments that I have now, for where I am right now is exactly where God wants me to be, even though I don’t understand it. He wants me to basque in every smile and giggle and coo. He wants me to enjoy every moment: every bottle I make, every cry I soothe, every diaper I change, every smile I induce, every song I sing, every time I rock him to sleep. I know that when he is gone, I will miss everything…even the sleepless nights and long commutes and things that I can’t do because I am providing love and care for a little baby who is so very special.

Is it going to hurt when he goes? Absolutely. Will I always wonder how he is doing or if he is in pain or what he is learning in school or who he is becoming? Yes. He has left an indelible mark on my heart. And for that, I am honored and grateful.

Trust Your Role

I was sitting here rocking Baby Incredible to sleep, thinking about all that has transpires today. Thinking about how I should be less defensive and less reactive in my heart, how I should be more loving and compassionate towards the birthparents and social workers. I was feeling down and sad about the reality of this situation and wishing I could do more, wishing that I could be more in the situation that I have been given.

This is when I heard God say to me: “Trust your role.” I didn’t hear him say it like an audible voice in the room but like a thought he placed in my head. I know it was from him because it is not something I would say to myself. It is full of grace and love and compassion like only God can give, and it was exactly what I needed to hear right in the moment. Trust your role. Keep doing what you’re doing, and God is handling the rest. Amen

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.