Category Archives: faith

Homeschool Year 10 – A Day in the Life

I have an app on my phone that causes me to have the competing emotions of happiness and sadness daily. You may have heard of Timehop? After beginning our tenth homeschool year last week, a few pictures from 7 years ago came across my screen. 2011. Foster was in 2nd grade, Katie in 1st grade, Theodore was almost 4, Parker had just turned 2 and I was 7 months pregnant with Jonah.

I think there were about 6 pictures but I found myself analyzing everything. The place we lived at the time, the school books they were working in or toys they were playing with. It was a homeschool day-in-the-life but I wanted more! I wish I’d taken a picture of myself with my ginormous belly. I barely remember those days. I remember them but I can’t transport myself back to feeling the same, when I only had one child who was beginning to read and still had someone in diapers. When I had fatigue and hormones and very little patience. When we were still adjusting to the loss of Chris’s mom and the fact that his dad was about to remarry. When Chris was new to his job at the airport and our purse strings were pulled extremely tight. Scraping by to feed and clothe and house a family of 6 (almost 7).

It’s the looking back that affirms our choices. We can ponder and speculate all day long the “what-if’s” of life and try to feel confident in what the future will hold, but the looking back reassures me that while at the time it felt too difficult to be good, that God did honor our choices and is continuing to care for us and give us an abundant life. If someone had said to that tired, overwhelmed, burned out, struggling momma that she’d be mentally and emotionally strong enough to become a foster mom, I’m sure she would have said you were crazy. Or that she’d have the courage to homeschool her children through high school! At that time I was still trying to figure out how to get someone from reading c.a.t. to reading chapter books. Oh the stress!

Today I stalked my children and took some day-in-the-life photos. In another 7 years, I’ll be able to look back and praise God for what He was doing, what He was teaching all of us on those days.

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Who called you?

Our most recent emergency/temporary foster placement was a 4-year-old girl who in a 5 minute span, asked me to sing “Jesus Loves Me” twice, asked me “who called you” and told me she “didn’t like it here”.

She was in our home for approximately 36 hours. She came after midnight with a small trash bag of dirty, smelly, stained, ill-fitting clothing and a few stuffed animals to which she didn’t seem particularly attached. The department also brought one of those care packages that non-profits and churches have been giving lately. It’s a large, pink sack with a child-sized blanket and pillow, some new toiletries, notebook, crayons, small toys and new stuffed animals.

She also had 4 clean adult-sized pull-ups with her because she was so heavy that even the largest child’s pull-up wouldn’t fit her.

When we get these calls, as I did at 9:45pm on an average, busy summer evening, I was already a little hyped up. We had gotten another call at 8:15pm while arriving to pick up my oldest son and his friend from soccer camp. So, call number one was for a 3-year-old boy, 5-year-old girl sibling set. I pointed out to the placement worker all the ways that we would be going outside of department rules to take them. She said she wanted me to call my husband anyway. And that she would call her team leader and make sure it was doable. She said she would call me in an hour.

I spoke with my friend when I dropped off her son and let her know that we could be getting kids in the middle of the night and asked if she could do the morning run to the day camp our boys were attending. Of course, she graciously said she would.

The hour came and went and I texted the original worker who had called and asked if they had found a place for the 2 children. She said they had but that she was about to call me about a 4-year-old girl.

When she called, I heard the details and my heart started to break a little.

They arrived from a county an hour away about 12:30am. She was a beautiful, biracial child. I was able to get her to sleep by 1:30am.

I, however, laid on the couch, praying and trying to sleep. I cried out to God. And the most common question for me is “why Lord?” Why does it get to this point? This child clearly needed an intervention in her care years ago. At 4 years old she weighed more than my almost 9-year-old son. I was sick. It’s not fair. I admit, I do try to love and pray for birth parents. And I am fully committed to bio families staying together. Even if that’s an aunt and uncle or grandparents. I want any child to be able to stay connected with their family of origin.

But. This is not okay.

By the time she was crying herself to sleep the second night, she was saying all kinds of things to me. Asking all kinds of questions that I cannot answer. “When will I see my mommy again?” “Why am I here?”

Chris, Foster, Katie and I spent an hour debriefing the past hours while she cried herself to sleep. We had to ask ourselves hard questions. And it’s not just as easy as “we’ll keep her and make her better”.  We have to trust what God shows us. We have to trust how he’s built our original family and how he’s equipped each of us.

Placement let me know this morning that they found her a permanent placement. The description sounded like exactly what she will need.

I fell on my knees before God. Thanking him for continuing to do a work in me and my family. For shaking us to our core with a front row seat of this pain and brokenness and reminding us to be wary of our pride and feeling like our family is the place, with the answers, for every child. Because there is only One who can truly have those answers. As much as I want to minister and serve these precious children and families, my greater desire is to never get in the way of what God is trying to do in their lives.

When you go through deep waters,
I will be with you.
When you go through rivers of difficulty,
you will not drown.
When you walk through the fire of oppression,
you will not be burned up;
the flames will not consume you.

                                                                –Isaiah 43:2

 

 

Hard wait

I sorted clothes today at one of our local foster care closets. I helped a teen boy, 15-years-old, pick out some jeans and shirts. I had him laughing because I was teasing him that his favorite color must be gray. I offered him a sweater and told him he’d look like Mr. Rogers. Once I had made him smile, I didn’t want to stop. I wanted to say, “Hey, I get that life really sucks today. But hang in there.” But I didn’t.

Driving home from volunteering there today I was overwhelmed with some really big feelings. Monday of this week, we got 3 calls for teens in less than an 8 hour time span. Tuesday and Wednesday of this week a teen that is very close to our family was texting me, sharing that she’s having a bad week. Then Thursday (today), I meet this young man at the closet.

He wasn’t in school today because he just came into care with his siblings.

So, yeah. Big feelings.

My own teenage son and his siblings aren’t in school today either. They’re not even doing schoolwork here because they are on a trip with their grandparents. Getting to swim, ride bikes, play laser tag. They are eating junk food and watching too many movies. They’re making memories and getting loved on.

They aren’t standing awkwardly with adults asking them what size they wear and handing them used clothing and shoes and a coat that’s a little too big. They aren’t wondering what tomorrow will hold. When they will see or talk to their parents? What will school be like now?

This is painful. This wait. I know now isn’t the time for us to take in teens from foster care.

And I know, logically, that because our family is big and that often times sibling groups come into care together, that getting a call for a single child isn’t going to happen as often. I get it.

But, friends, this is a hard wait. Knowing, meeting, seeing all the children that need care and feeling like we can’t just say, “yes, bring them here.” It’s heart-wrenching.

So I am continuing to lean on truth. And help where I can.

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1st Birthday and Going Home

Pipsqueak turned 1 year old in September. We were able to have her first birthday party here at our home with her new mommy and daddy. She spent one last night with us on her birthday and then headed home with them the next day. I think it’s safe to say we all miss her. Some of us more than others (Parker asks about her almost every day).

I’ve gone through a rollercoaster of emotions over the past 2 months. I kept hoping they would hurry and call with another child who needed us but I see now that God knew I needed a little breather.

Her adoptive momma keeps me posted with pictures and videos, asks me questions about what to feed her next and whether we’ve gotten a new foster kiddo yet. I think it helps in some ways to still have the contact but in other ways its hard to see *my* baby hitting all these milestones without me/us to see them and be there for her.

The thing is she’s not mine, not ours and we know that. I am so thankful that God allowed us to have her for a year. She was placed in our home for exactly 365 days. That’s pretty crazy in the foster care world. I feel like everything about Pipsqueak and her time here, God had perfected from the beginning. His ways are not our ways and seeing that in such a tangible way has grown me closer to Him.

Foster Parent Conference 2017

We were able to knock out a ton of training hours this past weekend. Now we have until next June to get one last hour and we can do that online! It’s one less DCS induced stressor that won’t be hanging over my head. (Still need to get the dog’s shot records up-to-date…shh…)

The best thing about the weekend was just getting to be with Chris. He is rarely the only person I need to pay attention to and it’s a luxury when that can happen. We spent 14 hours in training or listening to keynote speakers, so there wasn’t a ton of free time. We did get to hang out with another foster parent couple from our neck of the woods on Saturday night. Sunday we cut out early so we could go visit some family at their church.

I had been holding my breath waiting for September. I needed this trip and I needed for our little foster baby, Pipsqueak, to get some good news about going home to her forever family. Her first birthday is this month. I was wrestling with God trying to push and push and getting frustrated at His lack of compliance. (I’m not sure why the ruler of the universe won’t just do what makes my life easier…but He doesn’t.)

What was making things harder for me, personally, was that every day I was feeling more like I can’t let this human go. If she starts walking, if she starts calling me “mommy”, if she cries when I leave her in the nursery, I’m not going to be able to do it. I felt like I was ready to let her go. And I had accepted her being adopted by her forever family 6 months ago. So she needed to just go NOW. Which is when I like things done.

God is so gracious. Patient with my impatience. He had worked it all out ahead of time and I just needed to trust this is all in His timing. But, man, foster care will take you through the ringer. Two months before we were to leave for the weekend conference, Pipsqueak’s family had planned to come and keep her over the weekend, then hopefully take her home right after her first birthday. Speaking about this and not divulging too much is a fine line. Basically, they live FAR away. They can’t just pop in and get her when they want to, or be here at the drop of a hat for court or visits.

Then just a few days before we were to leave, I get a text from her forever mommy that says that a certain DCS office has still not sent some extremely important paperwork to the licensing office. At that point, I had to just give it to God. I had to accept that His plan was greater than mine. That she would take her first steps with us. That it could be another month or three before they finally got to take her home.

Have you ever had one of those experiences where you wanted something so badly and you are praying and waiting and thinking it’s never going to happen and then you finally let go and it does? That’s what this was like.

Literally 42 hours before we left (I was counting down, don’t judge), I got a text saying that licensing had received the packet and was coming to visit their home 2 hours before they needed to leave their state and head to ours. It was a miracle. THEN the next day, shortly after we arrived at the conference I got a call from Pipsqueak’s caseworker, letting me know that ON HER BIRTHDAY we were going to have her last CFTM (big important meeting) and that she would be placed with her forever family.

You guys, God. I just sit in awe and wonder of His GRACE, MERCY, LOVE.

Because I got that call, I was able to relax and enjoy the time with my husband. And we were able to begin to talk about what it will be like to let our little Pipsqueak go. We were able to start processing together the changes it will make in our family and for the big kids.

God is so good. 21368707_10212821857768999_2279935667135562710_o

When a parent quits

Having Pipsqueak in our home, our firstborn turning 13 recently and an ongoing family drama has made this a difficult and reflective season for me. I look at her tiny little face, her big blue eyes and sweet smile and repeatedly think, how? How does a parent just quit? I laugh with my son, his sense of humor becoming more mature – his take on life more adult-like than child-like and I am baffled again. How can any parent quit? At any age?

But parents do quit. They quit all the time.

Sometimes they really don’t have a choice. Their addiction overtakes them and they put that before the well being of any other person around them including their own children and families. Sometimes they become ill and lose their fight and leave their children through death.

But most of the time, they do choose. A woman who chooses abortion over adoption is a parent who quit. Who said, “You are not worth my effort.”

A father who walks out on his family and doesn’t fight for time with his children is quitting. He put his needs, wants and desires above that of his children and family.

Many kids who are in foster care have parents that are working hard to get them back, but there are some who’s parents do quit. They quit trying to go to the meetings, the visits, the court dates. They do not show up when things are hard and ugly.

So how do parents live with themselves? How can they just quit on their kids? And what affect does this have? Do kids really care? Do they know? We naively think that a baby won’t “know” if she’s been without her birth mother. That she won’t remember or realize.

We think older kids and teens will be fine if dad walks out. They’re almost grown, right?

Wrong. When Pipsqueak gets a little older, when she’s 10 or 12, she’s going to know. She’s going to feel that loss, she’s going to know there are unanswered questions and missing pieces of her puzzle. When that teenager is consumed with doubt and trust issues, he or she will realize, this is because dad walked out.

Even as an adult, the pain that hits you when your parent quits is a different kind of pain. It’s a rejection of who you are as a person, of your worth, your place in the world as “child”.

Last fall, my own dad decided that politics were more important than a relationship with me or my children. He decided that his right to be right was more important than love, commitment and family. It has been a hard pill to swallow.

In some of my darkest moments, God has spoken to me and He reminded me that one of the greatest times of pain and suffering for His own son came when Jesus was crying out in pain on the cross. That moment in time when he was separated from God and felt the rejection of his Father.

I do believe there is a deep cavern in all of us that can only be touched and filled by God’s spirit and love. It’s the first need.  We are made to be in harmony with our creator. Our spirits don’t rest until we find that with Him.

The second need is to be connected. We literally grow into humans inside of another human. That basic need of attachment does not leave us.

 

About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”
                                                                                                                  -Matthew 27:46

 

 

 

…that time I spent the weekend with Trappist Monks

(This is the first post about my experience at the monastery. There will be at least one more.)

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Months ago, my friend Jennie asked me if I would be interested in going on a writer’s retreat with her. A little background is required here. Jennie and I met each other because our boys were on the same soccer team. She was the reason I did the first NaNoWriMo challenge (the month I wrote my first novel). Our boys have become fast friends and so have we. When she asked, I thought it was more of a hypothetical. I think it was around when I turned 40 which made me proclaim all kinds of craziness. Go on a writer’s retreat, even though you’ve never published a word? Sure! Why not?

She explained more as the months went by that it was a weekend retreat at a monastery, a SILENT retreat. She started to ask me more specific questions about when I could go, would the weekend or week work better. At this point, I realized she was serious. So I made a commitment to go. This was the bravest leap I’ve made in a long time. Yes, a weekend trip like this was harder to muster the courage for than becoming a foster parent. Years ago, when I was unattached and young and should have been brave, I had a dear friend ask me to take a cross-country road trip. I chickened out. I didn’t want to make that mistake again. I wanted to experience something new.

I had already spent the month of July ridding myself of distractions, increasing focus and attempting to cultivate self-discipline. I was more than ready to embark on a weekend of silence.

The Monastery hosts silent retreats for anyone and everyone. When you arrive to check in, you pass this piece.

 

From the moment we entered and were greeted by Father Seamus, we were indeed received with kindness and hospitality. Father Seamus sat in his full monk attire, at an unassuming front desk. He asked our names and told us that they never ask where people are from or why they are there. They don’t expect to know if you are a believer, a catholic, an atheist. He said we were welcome to attend as many or as few daily prayers as we’d like. He cracked a few jokes about no one keeping track and you don’t get “extra points” if you attend all the prayers. He was charming, sweet and inviting.

We had arrived right before the 12:15pm prayers so we decided to attend those and then attend our first silent meal. There were signs posted about where silence was expected. For the most part, Jennie and I both respected this, only daring to giggle and laugh from time to time when we were alone in the elevator. I can’t speak for her but I felt the silence needed to be kept in order to get the full experience of this weekend.

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I didn’t do a lot of research on the monastery or the monks before arriving. I had clicked on their website (in 2016, even Trappist Monks have a website).  I really had no idea what to expect. We were given keys to our very basic accommodations. We had our own rooms and were told that visiting in one another’s rooms was discouraged. Everything about the weekend lent itself to solitude and silence.

I had everything I needed to survive. I had brought my laptop, camera, phone and plenty of books to read. Because I didn’t do a lot of research and planning, I didn’t have many goals for the weekend. I didn’t think I had an agenda. However, we had just gotten our full approval to become foster parents so I did think “I should have my phone on, just in case…” I also had quite a bit of school planning and researching that I needed to do online so I thought my laptop would come in handy. I was hoping to be able to roam the grounds and practice using my camera, instead of just being an iPhone photographer.

So, really, I did have an agenda. I felt a small twinge of panic as we drove closer to the monastery and my phone did not have service. About an hour away from the monastery, I could no longer use the maps or send or receive texts. For the rest of the weekend, the only time I could receive or send texts was when I was in the retreatant house library. It was the only location that had Wi-Fi and their hours were limited. So now I had no phone to distract me and a computer I couldn’t use in my room. Then, soon after going for a walk and snapping some great pictures, I realized I’d remembered fresh batteries for the camera but had forgotten a memory card.

I had wanted to have an unplugged, silent, peaceful experience and God was setting me up for just that.

(This is the first post about the silent weekend with the monks. More to come!)