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10/08/2014

learning to be brave

I want to be brave. I just don’t want to be brave sometime in the future. But I want to be brave right now in this moment and with every aspect of my life.

Maybe that statement is odd to you. After all, I am foster mom. Bravery is a part of my nature and blood. Except that it’s not.

When we started fostering, I believed I was brave. And it’s possible in that moment – the moment I said yes and accepted the placements we’ve had – I was brave. Except that bravery centered around my abilities and my strengths. The second things got difficult, and I questioned if I was even cut out for foster care, all of that bravery disappeared.

It’s a conversation Justin and I have had several times. He’s noticed this trend in my life and our relationship. I become sure about one thing and then convince him to join in. Then, when things get hard for me, I am immediately ready to throw in the towel and give up. He, on the other hand, is just then realizing that we are where we are supposed to.

I guess it’s a good thing we haven’t always been on the same page. I cannot begin to imagine what life might look like if we had just given up and given in to the feelings of failure.
Recently, I’ve been praying for bravery. I’ve been resting in Jesus and his bravery because I know my bravery (just like everything else that is mine) will fail daily. I also have joined a new movement – a community of women learning how to live bravely – called #fireworkpeople. And they also help me to want to be brave.

Even with praying for bravery, I’ve been hiding a lot. Thoughts pop into my head, and I commence writing an entire post all in my head. Within minutes of putting fingers to the keyboard, the post all but disappears and immense fear takes over. I can’t write this. I can’t share my heart. I could never express foster care the way it deserves to be discussed and described. And what about confidentiality?

Some of the fears are warranted. I want to be extremely careful with confidentiality. I never want to place myself, the littles, or my husband in a place where I have said too much or been too explicit about any one aspect of our lives.

Some of the fears are ridiculous. They are simply a way to remain hidden and to keep others out of the loop in somewhat grasping foster care and how to work through fears with foster care.

I’ve been open about the fact that foster care was much more difficult than I expected. I’ve shared some of the milestones – like making it 100 days with three toddlers in our home. We have another milestone coming up. 365 days of parenting three toddlers.

Many people ask how we are going to celebrate. And that word celebrate absolutely destroys my heart. Because I can’t celebrate the past 365 days.

Please don’t misunderstand. I’m grateful for the past 365 days. They have been the most fulfilling, difficult, beautiful, and messy days of my life. As difficult as the transition to motherhood has been for me, it has shaped me into a person I am much more proud to be.

That’s not to say that I don’t still struggle. I do. I struggle with immense guilt. I struggle with thoughts of never being enough. I struggle with the balance of work, school, marriage, kids, and not losing myself in the process. Every day brings some type of struggle. But almost every day brings some beauty with it. I say almost every day because, let’s be honest, sometimes it feels impossible to find anything good and all you do is count down to when the next day will start.

One of my struggles right now is how much loss there is with foster care. Foster care itself begins with loss – the loss of the child’s family, the loss of safety before the child comes into custody, the loss of stability, the loss of knowing what to expect (even if it’s harmful and scary). I simply can’t celebrate that much loss.
There’s another woman out there who is also a mother to the littles in the home. The relationship I have with her is a difficult one. It’s not about if we talk or how much we talk. The difficulty resides inside my head as I grieve her lack of presence in the little’s life. I also grieve that she isn’t able to experience the beautiful moments – like a one-on-one date with one of the boys and ended with us holding hands while watching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

A part of me still wants them to be able to go home. Because I know how difficult it will be for them to never again be a part of a biological family. And then a part of me is utterly terrified of the day they might leave.

The littles don’t belong to me. No child belongs to their parents, but especially within the context of foster care when I am sometimes nothing more than a place holder.

So as we approach 365 days of fostering and parenting three toddlers I am aware of the pain in my heart that may never recover if I do have to say goodbye. I am also aware of the fear I have with possibly not knowing what will happen to the littles should they leave my home and my house.  But I can’t remain in my fear. If I did, I would not be able to move forward, and if I remained in my fear, it would hurt the littles.

Foster care is not the child’s fault. No child wants to go through the trauma of abuse and/or neglect and then also the trauma of removal from the home and then movement through a volatile system. And yet the children pay the utmost price. A price that increases when adults and foster parents hide in their fear of what it would be like if they had to say goodbye to littles after caring for them for any length of time.

I don’t think I can say goodbye. But I know I may have too. That’s where Jesus’ bravery comes into play. He is so much stronger and able than I am. And if goodbye is what is said, then He will see me through, my husband through, our families through, the littles through, and the littles biological family through.

I type that all out, and again it seems like I am brave. That I’m almost superhuman. And yet my lip quivers and tears flood my eyes. Because I don’t really want to walk out this life of uncertainty and potential farewells. I also don’t really want to be so closely aligned to hurts and heartbreaks. Yet here I am.
I can’t hide from foster care. I tried for a few months. I remained distant. Instead of opening my heart as wide as it could, I let my care by minimal and hid behind graduate school and work. Something happened, and all of a sudden love burst and I couldn’t pretend to not really care about the littles. The moment that happened I felt every single thing.

Holidays are hard. Because I love these littles but my heart breaks for the families they aren’t able to celebrate with. I do what I can and involve the littles in whatever ways I can. This involvement, I feel, honors the littles and their history.

I think that’s how I see the 365 day mark. It’s not a moment to ignore. It’s a moment to honor because the littles deserve to know they are cared for and important. And by honoring them, I don’t celebrate the loss. Instead I acknowledge it and do my best to ensure that the littles know they are more than just this loss. Yes, they are in foster care. But they are also silly, stubborn, adorable, strong willed, and intelligent. That deserves honor as well.

I guess that’s what being brave is right now. The kind of brave I can only be with Jesus. The kind of brave that puts my heart on the line and welcomes inevitable heartbreak for the betterment of three toddlers.

9/24/2014

Not for the Faint of Heart

Life is not for the faint of heart. It's just not. At least life the way I want to live it, the way I feel called and compelled to live it, is not for the faint of heart.
Photograph by AW Photography
Of course there's a portion of me, bigger than I want to admit, that craves comfort. I want the job with every benefit imaginable. I don't want to experience other's pain and struggles daily. I want to come home and spend hours reading or watching TV, in my pajama's, and eat as much ice cream as is humanly possible without gaining a pound.

I want the newest iPhone. I want a closet full of shoes and bags and to live in an exotic city (read: not Oklahoma City). I want to travel and write and be asked to travel and write. I long to be known. Not in a personal way but in a way that I am recognized and that recognition fills my bank account until it overflows.

But when I am quiet, when I distance myself from the world, there's a stirring and longing in my heard to live life the way Jesus would have me. And that sort of life is not for the faint of heart.
I waiver on my heart's status nearly every day. Sometimes multiple times throughout the day. I spend time with Jesus in the morning (second week in a row of starting my day off with the Bible, which is a record) and rest in His presence.

But then I am rushing to dress three littles, play or read books for a few minutes, make getting into the car seats fun (which it never is), have a dance and sing along in the car (current faves: Shake It Off by Taylor Swift and Let It Go), unbuckle three littles and manage to get them all into their classrooms.

After that, there's work, email, grad school, practicum, and a million other items. Sometimes I seek Jesus out. More often, he is a passing thought. More often I'm concerned with not having an iPhone 6, not being thin enough, how much coffee I need to make it through the day, and reading emails while sitting at a red light.

It has to stop. At some point and preferably before I leave this earth and enter into heaven.
Photograph by AW Photography
The stirring and longing on my heart is there for a reason. I have gifts and talents. I have a purpose. I have a life that Jesus needs me to lead. Though I don't quite understand how or why, I have been placed exactly here and exactly at this moment. I have been called into a place where there are no borders, where I am overwhelmed on a daily basis and aware of my lack of strength, where I have no choice but to fully trust and rely on him.

When I listened to Oceans today on the way to work, the words slammed into me and the tears poured out of me. I so badly want to be in control of my life. I so desperately want to plan for everything that could happen and account for it all. And while I know that God has blessed me with forthsight and the ability to fight for the voiceless, I am not God. I am only me, the tiniest drop in the ocean, and I have to remember that God is bigger than any of my plans, any of my fights, and any impact I could have (or would have/should have/have had) on another's life.

9/18/2014

The Busyness of Summer

This summer was the busiest I ever experienced. Busier than the summer I worked multiple jobs. And than the summers I worked as a camp counselor. Busier, even, than the summer I taught in China. I didn't enjoy this summer. I didn't really live this summer. I survived.

Of course there were moments I'll never forget. Experiences I am beyond grateful for. But those experiences were overshadowed by long working hours, endless deadlines, mountains of reading, and practicum hours. In addition, we participated in an intensive 10 week initiative to learn how to better parent while the oldest child placed with us learned different techniques to help her regulate, express herself, and establish that she was in a safe place.
Those 10 weeks changed our lives. We walked in a broken, messy, barely holding it together family and walked out with newfound hope. I will always be grateful for the experience- for what it taught me but more for what A gained from it. She came alive in those 10 weeks, and she invited me fully into her world. I'll never be able to describe how much it means to share the relationship with her I do now. No matter what happens I will always carry love for her and remember her as my buddy. I'll always see her reaction to "The Little Mermaid" on stage and how she loved her first big girl haircut.

Yet, I felt like a failure during those 10 weeks. There was a sense of failure before the 10 weeks started, and there is still a lingering sense of failure. Not because of anything related to the sessions but more because of what I wrestle with - all of which became even more evident during this summer.

Filling my schedule up comes naturally. Being an introvert at heart, who desperately longs for time alone to recharge, you would think I would welcome an empty schedule. Instead I tend to pile on as many tasks as I can feasibly handle with a few more for good measure. I do occasionally say no. But I usually say "no" to the wrong things and "yes" to things that might not matter quite so much.

It took a few weeks after we finished the counseling and learning for this all to come to light. More than that, it took leaving town for five days and turning off all email notifications on my phone as well as setting my iPhone to "do not disturb" to fully comprehend just how busy I had made myself and just how it had weighed me down.

I can't really remember the last time I willingly took time off - even for just a weekend. I've certainly planned to take off and have told those around me that I was going to take off, but I haven't really practiced that. It's one of the reasons I feel I had knee surgery back in 2013 (beyond, you know, blowing my knee out completely).

The busyness of the summer was tearing me to pieces. It was wreaking havoc on my family, my marriage. I felt it every Saturday my husband played with the kids while I worked or studies. I felt it every weekday I ignored the kids to study. I felt it when they exclaimed they wanted to go "bye bye" with daddy but not with me because he was always a part of the most fun times.

All of it I did to myself. Some I could more easily step away from. Other aspects were more difficult to untangle myself from. We all make choices, and some of my choices led me to a summer of non-stop studying and paper writing on top of parenting.
I know what's important. At least, I like to think I do. I say all the right things, and I work to be as fully present as I am able. But my heart goes to the grades on my papers for meaning rather than looking at the life I am living and the people (little and big) living out life in front of me.

I had to take a final when we were on vacation this August. I was able to change the date of the final to our first night of vacation rather than the second night of our vacation. But still. As soon as we arrived at a beautiful resort, I rushed into the room and settled into the desk area to complete my final instead of enjoying the beauty and the silence that was time away with just my husband. It was truly the perfect picture of the summer.

Since returning from our trip, I've silenced some of the remaining busyness. I've stopped taking on so many duties at work. I've enjoyed time spent in front of the television. I've made memories with the littles in our home. I've even read a few books.

I've heard Jesus in the silence and the stillness that weaves through my daily life. During the most intense moments of the summer, I struggled to believe in his presence. I thought it was because He had forgotten me, but it was me who had silenced him while focusing on everything else. I made the choice to make time for everything but Him.

Getting out of town allowed me the opportunity to breathe. There was a noticeable change to my person. I rested. My head felt clear for the first time. The strength I depleted during the summer returned. I connected with my husband and held coherent conversations. I even got to meet Jen Hatmaker.
It's been a few weeks since we returned. I've battled the busyness. I've spent hours on the couch. I've continued to connect with Jesus. But my mind is swimming. I'm stuck between purging our house and de-cluttering with this intense desire to take on a million projects - spreading myself entirely too thin.

We're in a stage of a transition. I'm transitioning with school and my practicum. We're transitioning with the littles (always and amen). We're discussing the future and what we think that looks like (simply so Jesus can blow it up and show us just how wrong we were). We're engaging with other families and even more with orphan care. There's so much happening. And while I'm terrified that I'll get swept up in all the transitions and lose sight of the constants, I'm also terrified of remaining still and quiet. Yet I know the stillness and quiet is exactly where I'm meant to press in.

How do you bid farewell to your reaction to life when you have no choice but to just see your commitments through? How do you balance the quiet with the insisting assignments and projects? How do you invest where you are when there's also a future to plan? How do you engage in the life you've been given when the life looks wildly different than anything you dreamed?

If you've got the answers, I'm all ears. Until then, I'm going to try to rest, to plan my time wisely, and to make as many memories as I can..... (and maintain a 4.0 in grad school because I can't quite give that up).

9/09/2014

Oh wow. You are busy.

This post originally appeared on Not Quite Qualified on March 9, 2014. Like so much... much is the same and much is different.

I hear those words on a daily basis. It's usually followed by "I don't know how you do it." And I sometimes nod. Other times I want to cry and curl up in a ball and just hide under the covers to watch endless episodes of Parenthood for days on end. Somedays, I feel like I must be doing something right - that the fact that I can juggle so much is a testament to my personality.

We went to church today, and I was able to meet one of my sweet friend's mom's after the service. We talked about our littles and some of the day-to-day struggles, and after I delved a bit into my life, my friend's mom turned to my husband and asked him if he was the Stay-at-Home Dad. It was a sweet question and completely warranted. It's one we've wondered about endlessly, and we've decided for now that attending daycare (and therefore both working full-time) is the absolute best thing for our three littles.

Still, there is no way I would ever be able to begin to live my life were it not for my husband's support. He's given up more days and nights than I could ever express. He's taken all three kids to McDonald's PlayPlace or down the street to the park more times than I could even begin to count to allow me time to read and to study and to pick up the house. He shoulders so much in an effort to provide me a bit of sanity. Because when I'm not around the littles, I'm usually working or studying. It's rare that I get even a minute to myself. Unless of course I'm sick. And then I watched 12 episodes of Parenthood in one day.

It's not to say that we don't share the responsibilities. Because we do. And it's not to say that he doesn't also get time to himself. Because he does. But still, at the end of the day, Justin takes much onto himself and becomes second so that I can pursue social work and my master's degree in social work.

I wouldn't be able to do any of this without him. Not the piles of laundry. Not the endless dishes. Not the toddler themed dinners. Not the nighttime routines (which he did by himself last night so I could study). Not the sick days. Not the doctor's appointments. Not the court dates.

Often I think about giving it all up. About forgetting grad school specifically. And I wonder about the career path I've chosen. There are times I'm sure Justin wishes I would give it all up. But he would never ask me to or demand that I do. Because, somehow and some way, it works. this crazy, hectic, always going life, works.

We do get tired though. There are nights when we can barely crawl into bed. There are mornings when it hurts to wake up and times when we both feel sick from pure exhaustion. And we ask and wonder (sometimes out loud and sometimes silently) if we can truly do this for the rest of our lives.

Usually, when we get to the ends of our ropes, God does something to show us that He's still there. And then He lengthens our ropes - sometimes a lot and sometimes just a little. But always the rope is lengthened.

How thankful am I for that. How grateful am I that in those many, many moments of weakness and guilt and questioning Jesus is there to tap me on the shoulder and whisper (and sometimes yell) in my ear that He's bigger than all of it and that if I would just let go and focus on Him....

I spend most days feeling guilty. I feel like I am constantly taking time away from some aspect of my life. If I work too much, I lose out on time with the littles and my husband. If I hit my snooze button for an hour (or longer), I miss out on time with Jesus. If I eat dinner with my family, I might not answer a call for work. If I go to bed early, I likely will not finish all of the reading I have for grad school. It's a continuous cycle, and I feel lost inside of it - much like socks go missing each time a load of laundry is started. And yet, somehow, it's all alright. Just like it's okay for socks to somewhat mismatch, it's okay for me to go to work with no make-up and to miss picking up the littles from daycare. It's okay because I'm still here - doing the best that I can, just as every other mother and father does.

Jesus has been reminding me that guilt does not come from Him. He's also repeatedly showing me that He has brought me to where I am that and that He placed Justin in my life so that we could walk through this season (and many others) together. Jesus has also been reminding me that I do so much more than I think I do and that I do it for the benefit of my family.
I take care of much of the behind-the-scenes matters. I go to WIC appointments. I schedule doctor appointments. I pick out clothes. I manage to get all three littles to daycare in time for breakfast (most days). I do the laundry (most weeks). I wipe snotty noses. I know the tell-tale signs of littles who are getting sick. I rock the littles when they wake up at night. I answer calls from the daycare and coordinate with Justin on who is picking which sick little up. I dedicate time to my job, to people's lives. I read. I study. I write papers. I edit other's papers. And through it all, I love people.

I love my husband. I love our littles. I love my clients. I love those I work with. I love my friends and my family. I even love the people that often seem and feel unlovable (though I have to constantly go to Jesus for that one). I do a lot. I am busy. But we all are. And Jesus works in us and teaches us through it all.

There's no life that is inherently harder than someone else's or busier than someone else's. At least, that's how I believe. Yes, some schedules require a bit more maneuvering and creativity. Yes, some people fall on harder times while others seem to sail through life. Yes, some people get sick with cancer and those don't. But we are all given the lives we are for a reason. I would struggle to walk in the shoes of a stay-at-home mother of one, and she might stumble in my shoes. And that's a beautiful thing. It's a reminder of who Jesus is that we are not all called to live out lives that directly resemble one another.

The other thing that Jesus has been reminding me of? How beautiful it is to remain silent. How wonderous it is to listen. I'm still working on this one as I have a tendency to talk, talk, talk, but He's showing me that it's good not to respond and that it's okay to simply emphasize. And to remind myself, and anyone who might listen, that Jesus is over it all and that He sees our lives - how different and how similar they are - and knows what each of our specific needs are.

So, yes. I am busy. But so are you. And Jesus? He's the busiest of them all.

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