Friday, April 10, 2015

dear birth mom

Dear Birth Mom,

You're young. So, so young. You're beautiful. You're brave.

I've seen you. I don't know if you know that I've seen you, but I have. You have these exquisite, high cheekbones that I honestly wish I had too. You smile, and you look happy, but I know that you are hurting and scared.

I've heard that you're smart. Everyone says you're cunning. You've been mistreated, and you've had to learn how to survive, so you know just the right things to say and do to protect yourself.

Today I thought I might see you. I thought I might get to know what your voice sounds like. I thought we might cry over the same things at the same time across a table from one another. On opposite sides of the struggles, opposite sides of the solution, but broken over this child who we both love in the only ways we know how. I thought we might feel awkward. I thought we might both be angry. We might both find that it's possible to love, and be grateful, and be full of fight all in the same moment.

I thought I might have to explain. I thought I might have to tell you that you are important to us, to this daughter that we share. That you'll be important to her for her whole life, and because you gave her life you'll always be important to us. You chose life. You chose her. You wept when they took her from you, and nobody helped you cope with that loss. They just told you to try harder. To prove yourself worthy. I hate that for you.

Here you were in the pit of agony that it must be to have a child, newborn and wrinkly, sleepy and warm, fully trusting and ready to love, with that sweet smell that's unlike anything else in the world… anything… yanked right out of your arms by people who told you that you'd failed again. Here's your checklist. Do better this time, and check those boxes faster-- or else.

But nobody ever checked their boxes for you. You weren't shown how. You were failed.

Today, I wanted to tell you that I can check those boxes for your baby, but I want you to check some too. I want to share that list with you because there are some things I can never be to her. I wanted to invite you into what could be a long, hard, but joy-filled road to healing. I wanted to invite you to help write a different story for your child. I wanted to empower you to choose what was never chosen for you. But that's not exactly how it happened. I didn't get to say anything. The lawyers did.

Your lawyer did a good job. She did her job well, and she should have. She stood strong for you and tried to say that it doesn't have to go this way. She tried to give you hope, to help you fight for one more chance. But I heard that hope got snatched right away from you.

People started listing all the times that you messed up. They just sat there and read your mistakes in your face, and I'm sorry. They had to. There wasn't a way around it, but I'm so sorry. 

I have made mistakes. We all have. We are ALL broken and just trying to do better. None of us is good. Not one. If my mistakes weren't forgiven, weren't erased, weren't forgotten, weren't let go of or dismissed, but they were tossed in my face and they cost me my children… I would crumble. I would absolutely come undone. I wouldn't believe that I could do anything. I wouldn't think I should. I wouldn't be able to try.

Who holds a record of wrongs? Not Love. Love doesn't do that. But the State does. They have to. You probably didn't experience or feel any love today. You probably felt shame. You were reminded that you failed, and you were reminded that everyone in your past failed you, too.

And when they reminded you of all the times you've failed… you picked up a pen.

I confess I wanted you to pick up that pen. I wanted you to sign those papers. But not like that. NOT LIKE THAT. I'm sorry. I'm so, so, so deeply sorry. With that pen in your hand you asked what you could get. What might still be yours. They told you that we love your daughter. That she has a good home, and that if she stays here we would still let you see her. They told you that some strangers would give you permission to see your own child. I'm sorry. I feel like screaming it. I'M SO SORRY. It wasn't what I imagined. It happened all wrong.

I've been imagining this all week. It's gone so many ways in my head and I've tried to think through every detail. I stood in my closet this morning and felt paralyzed. I told my husband that I didn't know how to dress. Do I dress like I would for court? Formal, professional, conveying a sense of respect for the building we're in and the honor it holds… or do I dress more casually because I don't want to seem haughty or sterile when I meet you? I don't want to distance myself from you in this moment. It was dumb, but I thought about how every detail about today could possibly make you feel and I felt awful in all of it.

I'd imagined a moment when you finally said we could come in. I imagined that maybe you'd want to see us, to meet us. You knew we were just down the hall. You knew we would come in if you wanted us to… but would we just be two more people to tell you that you'd failed? Wouldn't we just remind you that you made mistakes? I'm sure you thought so. But it's not what I wanted for you. You were hurting. You were broken. You were being broken by all of those people who were handing you back all of your wrong choices… as if those things hadn't hurt you enough already. Who wants to meet someone in that state? Who wants to be that vulnerable in front of new people?

But I didn't want to throw your mistakes at you. To tell the truth, I wanted to hug you. I would have been terrified. Probably would have broken into an embarrassing sweat, and cried all my makeup right off… but I wanted to be brave and offer you all of the tenderness I could, because Honey someone should have. Someone should have long ago. And I'm sorry.

I wanted to tell you that I'm sorry. I wanted to thank you for making this child. I wanted to tell you how crazy-super-impossibly-hugely important you will be to her for her whole life. I wanted to tell you that I think you're brave to show up today. To show up alone. Totally alone. I'm terrible at being alone, and terrified when I am. You looked so brave to me. I wanted to tell you that we want to give your child everything that you should have had. Everything that everyone deserves. I wanted to ask you to trust us, but to let you know that as a mother I know that sounds crazy. To trust someone else to raise your child? Insanity. A mind can't wrap around that kind of nonsense. That's unimaginable. But I wanted to ask you, to invite you to share a story that looks so different from your own, but so different from ours too.

Instead a woman with a very strong personality who does this stuff day-in and day-out with an unusually loud voice and high level of energy went back and forth between us. She pushed us both. She figured it out, and we both spoke through her to one another. I felt like I needed a minute. I bet you needed one, too.

You broke. The strain was too much. The cost of your mistakes far too high and nobody would let you forget it. You signed, you cried, and you left. You left before they gave you the picture I'd brought for you. You had to get out of there. I don't blame you.

We both cried. That loud lady caught me crying and asked if they were happy tears. I wanted to kick her in her knee. No, they're NOT happy tears. How could they be? This isn't at all what love looks like. This isn't how I want to handle anything with anyone, EVER. This feels just as dirty as the sin that got us all here because a young girl's choices were used as ammunition against her. That's evil… even if it's in the name of "best interest" for a helpless child.

I live every day in a place where I've been told that I'm smart, strong, capable, forgivable, worth helping, worth knowing, worth loving. My parents both loved me as best as they could. My childhood mistakes didn't follow me because my parents never let me make ones big enough to stick. They protected me. The same man who loved me as a girl loves me still. He's strong for me, he forgives me, he helps me, he's gentle with me and he still wants me. After all this time and all my mistakes my friends and family are still here. And, I'm safe. I'm a slave to nothing. I'm free.

I am not a slave to sin. I'm not a slave to the things that whisper in this world that they will satisfy. They won't. I remember them. I was young, but I remember those things trying to convince me that they would make me feel what I wanted to feel. Sometimes I still hear them whispering. But there's One who gives all, freely, and with full satisfaction. Real Love is all that will ever satisfy. Love keeps no record of wrongs and my record is clean. Not because I'm good, but because I'm loved. You are too, though. You have been bought at the highest price. You've been loved more deeply than you can imagine. You've been given the extent of all of the love in the world… but you've been lied to and told it's not for you. You've had demons whisper in your ear that the things they can offer will be better. There is nothing better. Nothing.

After I learned how things went in there today to convince you to pick up that pen, I wanted to go stuff my face with some tacos, lay in bed, cry, and hold that little brown baby that we both love while I read God's Word. I'm afraid for you, though. I'm afraid of what things you were longing to do to find relief from the depths of pain that you had to go through today. I pray that those lies don't entice you further. I pray that the weight of what you felt today doesn't crush you. I pray that somehow, in all of this, you feel the love that we have, that we want to have for you even in our own sin and fear, and ultimately the love that God has for you.

It's not over. We're all waiting. Nothing we signed is real today, and won't be for a few weeks or possibly longer.

But you picked up that pen today and you took a step toward what I believe is something that took an immeasurable amount of bravery to do. You aren't finished fighting, and no real mom would walk away without trying everything she could so I don't blame you, but for the steps you took today I want to say…

I'm grateful.
I'm proud.
I'm hurting.
I'm hopeful.
I'm scared.
I'm nervous.

Most of all though, I'm sorry. I wish you were still tiny. I wish you could start over. I wish I could help. I wish so many things for you, and even though I wish the best for your daughter, and I believe the best for her can be here… I wish it hadn't happened that way today. I'm sorry, and I love you. I hope you let me love you.

With deepest sincerity,
The Other Mom

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

more of the "I couldn't"s

[this sweet, soft image is here to distract you from the gritty content below]

"I mean, I love other kids, but not like I love my kids... so I just don't think fostering and adopting is for me." 

"I just don't think I could love another child like I love my own." 

"It wouldn't be fair to the child, because I know I couldn't love them the same." 

Y'all... my blood boils when I hear these. Hot. Bubbles right through my veins and I taste the salty, rusty taste on the inside of my cheek from my silent biting that is my best attempt at self control. AND, you'd think it ticks me off because it's not true, because the love is just the exact same. But, that's not the whole reason I get irked. I get mad because it's kind of true. People say it to us like we're over here just throwing love around like it's confetti... but it's hard work. It's a secret that foster moms talk about together, huddled in quiet corners, not wanting everyone to hear because it makes us feel like big fat failures. We have to build the love. It's not immediate and perfect, and mushy and fulfilling, and OURS right away.

The love doesn't FEEL the same. Remember when we talked about that? I'm real with you guys here. We want it to. We want all of those moments with the babies who weren't ours to begin with. We want the wash of hormones that makes us feel all mushy gushy and forget the hardness and the frustrations of parenting. We want to feel exactly the same levels of everything with our fostered and adopted kiddos that we felt when we held our slippery, cheesy, screaming, ten-months-of-waiting-but-still-brand-new, born-to-us, born-of-us, little babies to our chests the day they were born. We want it all. But it's not ours. 

We try.
We reach.
We stretch. 
We hope.
We desire.
We grow.
We learn.
We cry.
We question.
We doubt.
We struggle. 

...we love. We CHOOSE love. When we want those moments-- those bliss-filled moments of overwhelming emotion that come so easily with our born-to-us babies-- we have to choose them. We have to make them. We have to pull them out of thin air sometimes. 

Not because these babies [even if they're 16 yrs old they're babies, k?] are unlovable, or horribly smelly, or awful, or anything other than just kids... but because there's a piece missing. A piece that should be there but isn't because sin broke it, stole it right away from these children and it never belonged to you or me to begin with. 

Want to feel those sweet connections with that child who's so foreign to you? It doesn't just come over you. It's not something you can just decide to feel... but you can help yourself get there. 

Want to feel those feelings? 
Do the things. 

You have to do the things of love to get the feelings of love. Because we all know, love's not just a feeling. It's a choice. It's action. 

So, we do the things. The things of love eventually bring the feelings of love, too. When we want to feel all connected, when we know we're not, we have to draw near, press in, reach out. See, when your born-to-you baby does certain things, looks like that man you love with all of your heart, seems so familiar, seems so YOURS... you draw in because the feelings tell you to. The feelings woo you. This thing we're doing is sometimes sort of backwards. We have to woo the feelings to come to us. When we want to feel the feelings, we do the things. 

Babies born to us grow in us. We grow together. Our bellies grow big with the days they grow in us. Our breasts grow full to fill them. Our tears well up and over when theirs do. We are grown together. Naturally. Organically.

Then someone drops off a stranger's child on your doorstep. A stranger whose body grew big, too. Her breasts got full with what that child needed, too. Her tears probably ran the day she met her child, too. But something broke along the way. Their growing together didn't work quite the same. Maybe she grew to love something else more. Something that told her it would love her back, but it didn't. It lied to her. It wooed her away from her child. But that child still needed it all. Still needed to be growing with someone. Still needed all of the love that the Mama should be able to give. 

But here that child stands... on our doorstep. Asking, "Can someone love me? My Mama tried, but she couldn't. Can these people love me? Can we do the growing together? Is that possible?" 

Child, yes. Oh my soul, YES! You are worth the love. All of it. It got broken, but we want to help. 

When we want to feel the feelings, we do the things. 

When we feel disconnected, we intentionally connect.  
When we feel like we're holding a stranger's child, we hold them a little closer. 
When we feel like they aren't ours, we kiss them and sing hymns over them.
When we feel like what they're doing is so different and confusing, we invite them to do things with us.
When we feel like giving up because some days the feelings are so different and so hard, we scoop them up and plant kisses on them while we teach our hearts to memorize their smell and the way their hair tickles our noses as we breathe and hold them close. 
We hold them close and pray for them. 
We rock them. 
We play with them.
We read to them. 

We do the things... and you know what? The feelings come. 
They do, friends. 

These precious children aren't unlovable. There's nothing wrong with them [that wouldn't be wrong with us if we were abandoned, neglected and abused at our most vulnerable times]. There's nothing about them that makes them any harder to love than our born-to-us babies [because let's be real, our born-to-us kids aren't perfect and can be absolutely difficult sometimes]... except we have brokenness in us. Brokenness that lies to us and tells us we should only love what's ours. What looks like us. What smells like us. What we're used to. What feels familiar. What we've grown and built. What feels like me. Mine. 

Sin. That's what I believe it is. You might believe it's some leftover animal instinct or something, but isn't that just as bad? Aren't they both things to overcome? Things we know are poison to us living higher and better? 

Ever asked a couple who went through rocky times how they mended their marriage? They drew in. They pressed in and did the things of love so the feelings of love would come back. I promise. You might have married someone and felt head over heels, but what about when those feelings fade? When that person changes [because we all do]? Do you say, "oh, I guess I just can't love him/her like I loved the old him/her so probably marriage just isn't for me." No. I hope not. You press in. You find the love again. 
Because love is a choice and the feelings are the result of the choice. Not the other way around. 
We're supposed to love others the way we want to be loved, and the way we love ourselves [luke 10.27]. You know one way you love yourself? You love your children. They're yours. You love them because they're yours. If we're loving others like we love ourselves shouldn't we love children who need parents, children who aren't ours, like we love our own? 

But that feels weird, not like love. But when we want to feel the feelings, we do the things. 

This isn't just Jesusy stuff, either. I mean it is... because all truth is His truth... but the world is catching up to what God's already told us to be true about love. For example this excerpt from an article in Psychology Today: 

"Many people assume that the link between emotion and behavior is one-way: Emotions shape behavior. You love him, therefore you kiss him. You hate him, therefore you hit him. This view is incorrect. In fact, the relationship is reciprocal. Much of the time, behavior actually shapes emotion.
Ever wonder why so often the actor and actress who play a couple in a movie fall in love on the set? Multiple processes are involved, to be sure. Both are usually young and attractive. They have much in common. They hang around each other a lot. All these are known predictors of mate selection.
But they also do love scenes together. They have to act like people who care deeply for each other. They look into each other's eyes, they touch each other. They act out the behaviors of love. No wonder the emotion of love often follows."

When we do the things of love, we invite the feelings of love. All of it. We grow it, we feel it, we give it, and we get it. And, when you're connected to a source of unending, unconditional, uncompromising, real Love... the Lover of our souls, then you won't run out of it. You won't run dry. You won't fear. Perfect love casts out all fear [1 john 4.18]. 

So-- try this on. Just say it to yourself out loud:
Our children are so fantastically amazing because they're born to us! To AMAZING WONDERFUL ME! They're just like me in so many ways so I can love them so freely. They're adorable and I can just build my life around them because they're half me, and half that man/woman whom I love and am smitten with. You're welcome world, for the gift of MY kids. MINE. MINE. MINE. Those other kids? I couldn't love them the same. I shouldn't even try because I just know I couldn't. I only have that kind of love for the things that belong to me. 
Feel icky? Feel shameful? Feel wrong? That's what my ears hear whenever people say "I just don't think I could love another child like I love my own." 

Plus, would we say that to our kids' faces? Would we dare to look at them and say, "Mommy and Daddy only have enough love for you and your brother/sister. We love you, because you're ours, but we just couldn't love anyone else like we love you." Imagine their little faces. Would they look at you with questions? What if they asked "Why, Mama?" Does that not punch you in the gut? If they asked "why?" what on earth would we say? But what if they just took it? What if they just ate it right up and began to think that they are more worthy of love than others? 

My kids haven't looked at me yet and said, "You know, it's easier to love my brother/sister than it is to love this baby because she's not ours." We told them that for today we have a baby sister. She might get to stay, she might not, but for today she's our baby. You know what they did? They fell in love. They adore her. Isn't there something pure and precious about that? They love a baby, as a sister, just because for today this child is here as a sister. What sweet freedom they have in their hearts, and oh that we could find a measure of it in our own hearts too!

I'm not saying it's easy or the same-- this love. But I am saying this thought is the absolute wrong perspective and motivator. None of us are perfect love-givers. Hear me! None of us are loving exactly like we should. A lot of us feel like we're just trying to keep from drowning in our best efforts. We aren't any different from you or somehow more magically able to love, except that we've said yes to doing the things. The hard things. The uncomfortable things. The things of love. 

Love isn't ours to give or not give. Love is a command

Don't think you have enough love to give to children who aren't yours? Then you're choosing not to without ever really considering that maybe you could. You're choosing not to draw from and trust the ultimate Love-Giver. And it's a shame, because love grows, and it gives back, even when it isn't "the same." So, please don't let that be the thing that holds you back. Ask yourself the hard questions. There are legitimate reasons for some folks to say no to opening their homes... but this... this "they aren't mine so clearly I couldn't love them right" thing can't be the reason. Can it? 

Monday, January 5, 2015

2015 and the 50/50

[this has nothing to do with what I'm writing... but it's funny]

2015. Baby Girl has been with us 6 months now. Half a year. 

The beginning of this new year is a bit different than any I've experienced before. With every past January, I've had a pretty decent idea of the big milestones that were to come, and about when they would happen-- graduations, weddings, births, moves, etc.-- or totally caught off guard by the things you could never expect-- deaths, accidents, promotions, surprise pregnancies [let's be real y'all], a new Starbucks opening closer to your home [a girl can dream].

2015, though. 

I know that this year is likely to bring big answers about Baby Girl's future. If she stays or goes. If she goes we'll live, we'll be remarkably sad but we'll keep living. My kids will grieve too, and we'll all weather that storm together because we've known it could happen since before we even met her, and we've been real about the possibility in our family. If we find out that she'll stay we'll rejoice. We'll settle in. We'll talk about futures. We'll buy stock in the company that makes Aquaphor. 

The best thing I can relate this feeling to is the feeling I had when we knew, going into a new year, that James' former company was struggling and there was a chance he could be laid off. It was 50/50. We wanted him to stay, but we knew things would be fine if he didn't and he'd find a new job. We had a some savings, and we were prepared.

Then it happened. He went to work on a Tuesday, and he called me just a bit too early in the afternoon.  He shouldn't have been coming home yet, but he was. He'd been laid off. After almost ten years with a company, they cut him. We were in the not-so-good half of the 50/50 we knew was coming. Not that saying goodbye to a child is comparable to losing a job. Far from it. But, that feeling of uneasy suspense, knowing that we don't control the decision that is coming, but that will impact us so greatly, is sort of the same.

I know that we might have to kiss her sweet, soft, chubby little brown cheek and say goodbye... but we also might be told that we'll get to kiss her little face forever. Total HOPE, with a healthy, underling understanding of reality. [This weird dichotomy of emotions is why I stress-eat tacos and had to buy new pants. Welcome to foster parenting. You will need new pants.]

Regardless of what decisions are made, or what happens to any of us, we will praise God and look forward. The verse that I'm clinging to for 2015 is: Mark 9.24

“I believe; help my unbelief!”

In Mark 9.14-29 there's this dad. He comes to Jesus with his child. His boy. He explains that the child not only has seizures, but that he believes he's been possessed because at times he's physically forced into fire or water as though something is trying to kill him. Regardless of speculation about whether this could be something medical, psychological, or truly demonic, it doesn't matter. When we consider this boy's dad.... when we put ourselves into his shoes... does it matter? No. What matters here is a father pleading with God to save his child. To fix the mess. To make it right. To heal. To restore. To HEAR him, and in His compassion, to step in. That dad. Oh, goodness! That poor papa. Imagine being him. FEEL his plight. He's standing there. Jesus is in front of him, and he wants nothing more than for his child to be made whole, to be healed, to be safe and well. He's probably been told by anyone who was deemed qualified to help that his child was a lost cause. That his seizures couldn't be stopped. That he would suffer like this forever. He was probably tired. Right exhausted by the constant concern. He was desperate. He was afraid. He knew that this was the only thing left. Nothing else had worked. He probably didn't honestly believe, 100%, beyond a shadow of a doubt, with all of his heart, without reservation that his child would walk away healed. That he'd never again have to hold his child's convulsing body in his arms, and pray that this wasn't the one that would take him. That he could sleep, without fear that he would wake to find that his precious son was compelled into flames or into depths during the night. Rest. Rest probably didn't seem real to him at all. [mad props to Matt Chandler for making this so real, beginning about min. 39 in this sermon

BUT... he asked anyway. He WANTED to believe that his child could be healed. That he could rest. That this struggle and fight could end. He wanted to believe. His belief might not have been solid. Might not have been all that it needed to be after so many disappointments and so much uncertainty, but his desire to believe was true. His want to believe was 100%. His longing to hope was sincere. 

“I believe; help my unbelief!”

Faith is a gift. It's a gift from God, from the Spirit. We aren't faithful because we are just so capable of mustering this strength to believe up inside of ourselves. We're faithful because we're given faith by the Spirit, because faith is grown in us by The Grower who honors even our tiniest attempts to trust Him.

So, I pray that throughout 2015 my faith is grown. And along the way, I plan to pray:

“I believe; help my unbelief!”

Regardless of what side of the 50/50 we fall on with Baby Girl, I want to trust fully that God is in control. That if she stays, He faithfully delivered her to us because we were the right family for her. Because in our own mess God saw that she could grow and fit here, and in His goodness He entrusted her to us. If she goes, I want to believe that He knew she wasn't to be our daughter. That she didn't belong here forever, but that He would do a work in her life wherever she goes. And, I want to believe that in that loss, The Healer could heal my broken heart. 

“I believe; help my unbelief!”

Friday, December 5, 2014

it's not the same

Another post to answer a question I get all the time. The question is simple. But the answer is so complicated that I think I'll give up butcher it just trying to get the idea across. My own answer... and I'm not sure that words can adequately describe what I feel. 

"Do you feel like she's yours?" 
"Is it the same... like do you love her just like your other kids?" 
"I just don't think I could love another child the same as I love my own." 

Not everyone I know in the foster/adopt world had biological children before welcoming waiting kids into their homes, so maybe the answer isn't the same for us all. Maybe there isn't a "right" answer. Here's the best one I've got for now though- 

No, I don't feel like she's mine (yet), but 
I feel in every way like I'm her mom. 

Imagine that you're at home with your spouse, about to climb into bed after a long day of work and caring for your family. Then imagine that same night someone hands you a stranger's child. Imagine that you parent that child for a few days, get into a new groove as a family, try to navigate the newness of it all, then people start asking you, "Do you feel like that child is yours?"or "Do you love him the same as you love your other kids?" Your answer would probably be, "uhhh, no, it's not quite the same.... it doesn't feel the same....because this is a stranger's child." 

Here's the thing, though-- everyone wants to hear us say that it's the exact same. When they ask you can almost feel the eager desire they have to hear that it's the same coming over you like a mist. And because people are searching to hear that everything feels the same, we feel icky admitting that it feels different. See, foster parents are literally reminded every day in about 3,296 ways that these children are NOT ours. We can't raise them however we please. We can't nurse them, snuggle and sleep with them, homeschool them, or even care for their health the same as we do for our biological children. There are rules upon rules that keep us from behaving like these children are ours, and the reality of that is only a reminder that they aren't ours. 

No, I don't feel like she's mine (yet), but 
I feel in every way like I'm her mom.

So, while I don't feel like she's "mine," I do feel exactly like I'm her mom. I feel the same amount of "momminess" toward her that I do toward my three little clones. I feel like I'm the one who knows her most deeply. I feel like I'm the one who cares for her every need all day long and mothers her. I feel like she needs me. I feel like she looks for me when strangers hold her. I feel like she picks my voice out of a crowd and turns her head to find me. I feel like I know her little secrets, like how to keep her bottle just right so she doesn't break her latch and swallow a bunch of air, and how she arches back and turns to the side when she's tired, and how to get a real giggle out of her. She's a hard sell on a giggle. You gotta really work for it. 

See, I am her mom. Today. Today, in every way except the I-grew-her-in-my-body-and-birthed-her kind of way, I AM her mom. So, I don't feel like she's "mine," but I do feel like I'm her mom. I hope that doesn't sound as crazy as it feels. 

The question sometimes takes a more pointed, harder to answer turn though. "Do you love her just like your other kids? Like, is the love the same?" 

Do we love them? Oh, heavens yes! Is the love "the same?" I'm not sure. That's the part that I have a hard time expressing. 

But, if I can be real for a moment, and we can be raw with each other for the sake of growth in our understanding... I don't know that any mother would say her love for each of her children is "the same." The amount of love? Sure. No one kid trumps another. No one kid is more loved than another. But, isn't the love different? Unique in wonderful and sometimes challenging ways with each child individually? It's always the same sacrificial, unconditional, always-and-forever love that mothers have for their children, but our emotions, affections, and connections with each child develop over time based on who they are, who we are from year to year, and how our relationships grow and blossom.

My love for my children FEELS different. There. I said it. 

When Owen was born I thought I would feel this amazing connection, this mushy-gushy-over-the-top kind of ooey gooey love for him. He was my first baby, after all. But at first I didn't. I had the baby blues pretty badly. I didn't feel much besides the uncontrollable urge to cry constantly for two weeks straight. Everything felt overwhelming. I felt like I'd failed in about 27 different ways because his birth didn't go like I'd hoped, I wasn't able to nurse him right away like I'd hoped, and he wasn't the kind of person I'd imagined. I'd never met a baby like Owen. He wasn't snuggly and he didn't seem to need me on a mommy level. He was ridiculously alert, and not at all newbornish. He was the most analytical newborn I think the world has ever seen. He wasn't looking at us with emotion or wonder or contentment behind his eyes... but with precise questions. He had questions, and he wanted answers. He knew he could do things before he was able to do things. All of this "knowing" in him led to sheer frustration in the tiniest baby. I didn't get it then, though. I asked doctors for answers. They said he was fine, and some babies just aren't happy babies. What...? I didn't know who he was. I just thought I was a terrible mom, which led me to feel even less like I was connected to him. 

[all the time you guys, all.the.time]

I had a friend who'd parented 20-something kids (foster, and bio) at that point look at me one day and say, "Kate... he cries a lot. Like, a LOT. He's not an easy baby." I'm pretty sure I cried on the spot. I'm pretty sure she'll never know how liberating her words were. She'd parented a bajillion kids... so coming from her I felt like it was a legitimate claim. Another friend who'd spent a lot of time with Owen said, "I feel like he's not actually crying, but like he's yelling. Like he's just frustrated." She was right. That's how we all felt. Until he spoke perfect sentences at 13months old to tell us just how frustrated he was about everything around him. I'm not kidding. He was a tiny talking baby and it was alarming.

As he got older and we all learned that he's not a touchy feely kid, but an in-his-head kind of kid, we all grew more in love with him because our understanding of who he was grew. We quit being confused, and started being astounded. At the risk of sounding like an annoyingly braggy mom, he's brilliant. Like, kind of scary-smart. When we realized he was a brainy baby things started making some sense and we fell more in love with him. We loved him from the start, don't get me wrong. Please don't miss that! I loved my child before he was born. I would have traded my life for his in an instant. My world changed when he came into it. But, the love didn't feel like I'd expected it to, because I didn't understand him. As I grew in understanding and appreciation, and relationship with him as a person, the way I felt love toward him grew too. 

Then there were my other two bio-babies. I didn't struggle with baby blues when they were born. My pregnancies, deliveries, and early days with them were easier. They weren't frustrated little balls of babies, but your average I-just-want-to-be-snuggled-and-fed kind of babies. The way things felt with them was really different. Even the way I love Hadden is different simply because he's my last [born-to-me] baby and not my first. I was eager to see Owen grow and I encouraged him. I find myself babying Hadden because I cling to every last day that he will be little knowing that he's definitely in all likelihood my last bio-baby. And Eliza-- I'm way more mushy and tender with her than with the boys, because that's who she is! You look at her cross-eyed and she turns into a puddle of tears. Sweet child needs to be loved differently or she'd be an absolute wreck all the time. My relationship with each child is different, so the way that we feel and express our love is different as well.

Because I had different starts with them, I have a different love story with each of them. I connect with them differently because [guess what?!] they're different people. I show them my affection differently, and had to learn how to communicate that to each of them in ways that they wanted to receive it. And they each love me differently, in their own ways. But I'm the same mom to all of them. 

So, if we can be real with each other, I think we could admit that we all LOVE differently. We love deeply, wholly, as fully as we know how, without reservation, and with all of our hearts... but it doesn't always feel or look the same. That's the thing about love, though. To love, truly love, you have to be all in, but that doesn't mean that things feel the same with every person you go all in for. When I met my hubby I didn't love him like I do today. I grow more in love with him as I learn more about who he is and see more of who he's becoming. I loved each of my kids from the moments they were born, but OH how my love for them has grown! 

Just when you think your heart might BURST from the immensity of the love you feel for these people, it just gets bigger and deeper and wider and fuller and heavier and more and more and more. 
And so it is with this sweet, brown, little baby. 

Someone handed me a stranger's baby. 
I loved her from the moment she was placed in my arms
... but I love her more, and differently, and more uniquely, and deeper as she grows. As we grow together.

I didn't have the usual 9 months of loving her before I met her. Feeling those kicks. Hearing her heartbeat. Choosing her name. Knowing that she would have a certain combination of my familiar features and my handsome man's features. I didn't get that. Someone handed me a stranger's baby. 

Every adoptive parent I know says that things feel different when adoptions are finalized. Not because they had guarded hearts, or didn't want to love fully while they were fostering, but because it's reality. To feel like she's mine, not just like I'm her mom, but like she's mine wouldn't be based in reality. It would be fantasy. She's not biologically mine. She's not legally mine. She doesn't belong to me in any kind of official way, today.  But my heart isn't guarded. I WANT to love her in every good, tender, caring way I know how. I pour into her just like I pour into my older three, but it still feels different. 

It feels different because it is different, and I don't think that's bad. I just think it's different, and different scares people. People want to hear it's the same. But, "same" isn't what we're doing here. What we're doing is different. We're chasing after Jesus through this. I'm told that the way that I love this baby is the way that I love Jesus. 
“Then [they] will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’  -Matthew 25.37-40

Who is more "the least of these" than children who have been abused, neglected, or abandoned and have no safe place to go or safe person to care for them? This isn't "the same." This is the business of God fixing broken things. Where He restores people to each other. Where He, in His unimaginable goodness, authors new endings to stories of hurting generations. He is doing hard work, and it's not "the same" as the work He's done through us and the children born to us. It's different, and it feels different, and that's okay. 

I think when Baby Girl can talk... if she's still here... she'll likely tell you that things feel different to her. We don't treat her any differently [except the skin and hair routines... it's DIFFERENT y'all!], extend or express our love any differently, care for her any differently [outside of following the rules we're bound to right now], but I bet you that her experience as a child in our family will feel different to her than to our older three. 

Friends-- you CAN love a child who's not born to you. It isn't "the same," but it's just as wonderful as loving your biological children. It's different, but amazing, and sanctifying, and grows you in ways you can't imagine. 

People want to hear that it's the same. 
But it's different. 
Different isn't bad. 
It's just different. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

"i could never do it"


This is my second post [and I'm sure not my last] about the things I hear almost daily as a foster parent. #1 on that list is "I could never do what you're doing." I understand why most people say it, but I wonder if they do-- if deep down they feel the weight of their words. Hear me-- I'm not judging. I don't do anything perfectly, and I'm an absolute mess of a person, so I'm not judging. I'm just here to offer some perspective, and to ask some hard questions from this side of the table.

Let's not be afraid of the hard, messy, uncomfortable questions. Let's look them in the eyes and try to see what they really reveal. Maybe they reveal the very answers that are quick on our lips... or maybe, when we sit and let them sink right down deep into us, we'll find that they settle on answers that aren't so simple. Let's be brave and see?

Haven't we all experienced loss or heartbreak? 

Has someone you loved died? Have you stood by a grave and felt the hollow place where that someone used to be in your life? Have you sat in a funeral service and cried tears of deep sadness, knowing that you can't call that person anymore and hear even a "hello" on the other end of the line? You can't hug them tight around the neck and inhale in the smell of peppermints, a pipe, perfume, gardening soil, or whatever it was that undoubtedly marked that special person for you. They won't see your children grow up. You have questions you wished you'd asked that will be unanswered this side of Glory. You would give quite a lot to sit with them for just one more coffee, right?

But would you give it all up because the loss is too much? All of the love? Would any of us say that the pain of loss isn't worth the joy of doing life with those we've loved? Give up the things you learned? How that person helped you grow? Would you undo the whole experience if you could, just so that one person could be a stranger to you and your heart wouldn't be scarred by the suffering of their loss?

I hope not. Because there's value in suffering. We like to think that suffering is some unimaginable evil to be avoided at all costs, because happiness is what we're after as Americans... but friends, that's a shame. That's not real living. Love is risky, and sometimes it leaves marks.

Haven't we all said goodbye to a dream or an idea we cherished?

Didn't we all once have a dream that we hoped with all of our hearts would become reality? Maybe you loved someone and thought you'd never part, only to break up and realize it never would have worked. Maybe you wanted to pursue a career only to sacrifice it because it wasn't realistic, or other things took priority. Maybe you'd built a wonderful life for yourself and it fell crumbling into the temporary bits that it was, but in your heart you'd staked forever upon it.

But, did it crush you? Are you still going? Oh, it probably left all kinds of scars and wounds, and maybe you're still healing from those times... but did it undo everything about you? You might have stopped for a time, spent time in mourning that relationship, that dream. Maybe. But you're still here.

There's value in suffering.

Not some "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger" kind of pacifying notion, either. But that IN the suffering, in the depths of drippy sorrow, in the wrenching pain of heartbreak we find truth, love, encouragement, perspective, growth, and even comfort that we never would've known without it.

For me, my faith plays a huge part in my view of suffering, sadness, loss, and grief. I think Tim Keller says it wonderfully when he says:
“Christianity teaches that, contra fatalism, suffering is overwhelming; contra Buddhism, suffering is real; contra karma, suffering is often unfair; but contra secularism, suffering is meaningful. There is a purpose to it, and if faced rightly, it can drive us like a nail deep into the love of God and into more stability and spiritual power than you can imagine.”   
-Walking with God through Pain and Suffering 

So, will it hurt if Baby Girl leaves our home? Unimaginably, yes. I'm sure I'll be a mess for days, weeks, months even. I don't know how it will look... but I know it will rip up my heart if it happens.

But it won't be the first time that my heart has been hurt. And it surely won't be the last.

My faith isn't in my own ability to weather the storm should it blow our way though, because I'm absolutely weak. I'm an emotional mess even on a good day where nothing goes wrong [crying is a gift of mine, like I'm an expert]. But fortunately I have a God who I've leaned on in seasons of suffering and He's never been anything less than tender and faithful to deliver me through it all. My weakness only affirms for me that He is able to not only sustain me, but to refine and grow me through painful situations.

If you have faith too, then don't you believe that He's big enough, kind enough, loving enough, and faithful enough to enter into your grief and grow you out of it?  
If you've said, "I just couldn't do it," are you really saying, "I don't believe that The Healer could heal my wounded heart?"  
If you've said, "I just couldn't do it," are you really saying, "I don't believe that The Redeemer could redeem a broken situation?"  
If you've said, "I just couldn't do it," are you really saying, "I don't believe that The Restorer could restore me to wholeness after I've been broken?"  
If you don't have faith in God, and you've said, "I just couldn't do it," are you discounting, forgetting, or dismissing that you've endured loss, hurt, and pain before and grew through it to where you are today? 

Bottom line, folks-- We're grown ups. Adults. Bigger and stronger than these precious, vulnerable children whose lives are battlefields. Many of these kids enter into foster care with diagnoses like PTSD [post traumatic stress disorder]. You know who gets diagnosed with that? Soldiers. Men and women who are in war. Who watch people die. Who are surrounded by tragedy. Oh... also children. Children. Can you imagine? What must they have endured, suffered, seen, and felt to end up with PTSD? Children. 

You're a big person who's lived a lot of life, but chances are you haven't lived anything near what these little people have.

Here's the hardest question:
[did you think it had already been asked?]

Does protecting your grown-up heart take priority over helping vulnerable and hurting children who live right under our noses? 

Fostering isn't for everyone. I don't think everyone who says no to fostering is motivated by fear or selfishness. Truly. But, "I just couldn't handle it if they went home" can't be our #1 reason, right? Maybe fostering doesn't work for your family for a number of very real reasons, and that's okay.  

It's okay. 

But if the questions above reveal that your hesitation is, at its core, just fear of a potentially broken heart, afraid of saying goodbye when we all say goodbye to those we love... maybe dig a little deeper? Maybe look those questions in the eyes and see if you might be braver and stronger than you think? These precious children are having to be far more brave & strong than any child should have to be. 

PS- if you're afraid you might not be able to love a stranger's child... stay tuned. That's a post for another day.

Friday, November 21, 2014

they're not lucky

"She's so lucky to be with you!"

"She's blessed to be in your family."

"That's one lucky baby."

Every one of those phrases, and many more like them, were said to James and myself when we welcomed Baby Girl into our home. People have great intentions. What I think they mean when they say these things, if I can be so bold as to decode their words to reflect what I'm assuming are their thoughts, is something more like:

"You have a great family, and I'm sure she'll be safe & well-loved with you all."

But every time someone says one of these well-wishing, congratulatory phrases my heart cringes because of the words.

Children in foster care are far from "lucky." 

Are they lucky that their moms and dads couldn't or wouldn't care for them properly? Are they lucky to come from generational cycles of abuse or slavery to addictions? Are they lucky that they have been ripped away from their loved ones [however many bad choices their parents make, they are still their parents, and children love their parents]? Are they lucky to have had their worlds turned upside down by a government agency that they don't understand? Are they lucky to be dropped off at a stranger's house, by a different stranger, where they are told they will live now for an indeterminate amount of time?

They're not.

Foster children really don't feel lucky, or blessed, or even better off to be shuffled into even the best of foster homes.

They feel small.
Without control or voice.
Out of place.
Like they're forced to live with strangers.... because they ARE.

We know that these situations are safer, healthier places-- but they don't. Being fed a vegetable for the first time in their lives might be horrific and awful for them. Sleeping in a bed ALONE [which is a CPS requirement] might feel lonely and terrifying for children who normally sleep in a bed with their parents. Your dog might scare the dickens out of a child who grew up in a home without one.

It's foreign. It's traumatic. It's uncomfortable. It's not their choice.

It wasn't too frustrating to hear this first time through though, because this baby doesn't know any better. I wasn't angry or upset that people said it, because I didn't have to be.... this time. Baby Girl came to our home straight from a hospital, in one of the heavy, striped, ubiquitous swaddling blankets we all know so well, with little plastic bracelets still on her ankles. She never really knew much besides us, and she was too young to register the words being said around her.

I praise God that she was spared from the experiences that her biological siblings endured before they were removed and her family was offered help. Coming to our home probably wasn't much different than what all babies experience when they leave the hospital and head home for the first time. She was sleepy, strapped in a car seat, likely told goodbye by her young Mama who bent her sore-from-having-a-baby body over her to give her one last kiss, then she later awoke in our home to the sounds of paperwork shuffling and the blurry figure of a bearded white guy changing her diaper on our kitchen table at 2:30am.

So really, the words weren't wounding for us or for her. But they did make me want to rant a little cringe.

If you greet or try to encourage a foster or adoptive family in the future, especially if the child is present, please choose different words. Don't say they're "lucky" or "blessed." They're not.
Children whose parents love and care for them by making healthy, responsible, and safe choices are lucky and blessed. 
Foster children are smack dab in the middle of a world of brokenness and hurt. Instead, ask the foster parents how you can help. Welcome the child with a smile, learn his or her name, pray for that child, and think about how this strange new life must feel to them.

For now, we're the lucky ones. The blessed ones. Lucky and blessed to get to squeeze and love this juicy little baby for today.

we're foster parents

** written June 27th, 2014 **

Last February James and I began the process of becoming licensed foster parents. It's something we'd talked about since before we were married, I worked with a foster/adopt ministry for just over 4yrs, and it actually wasn't the first stroll we'd taken down the path of getting licensed [but that's another story for another day].

After a lot of classes, paperwork, appointments, childproofing, and otherwise prepping our hearts and home, we did our home study. After doing our home study there were a few more things to fill out and a few more changes to make to our home.... then we waited.

Today we got the call from our agency, Covenant Kids, and we were told that we are officially foster parents now in the state of Texas. It's been months of work, and classes, and babysitters, and nerves, and prayers, and it all culminated in one really uneventful moment on the phone. I at least felt like there should have been a balloon drop, or some confetti.

I was immediately relieved [you're basically waiting to get a pass/fail on your life as parents, so it's a little unsettling], and filled with hope and joy. Something we've prayed about, worked hard to accomplish, and felt called to do was finally happening!

Then it hit me. I'm a horrible person. I mean, I'm over here partying in my heart because I was just told that I'm a foster parent... but the only reason anyone is ever a foster parent is because of tragedy. This isn't the Dickensian era of orphans anymore. This isn't that both parents contracted some form of influenza and died, and there are no living relatives, and the kids just need parents now, but they've otherwise been well loved and cared for until then.

In all likelihood, these kids technically have parents. Their parents are statistically likely to be enslaved by some illegal or abused substance, have a criminal record, and possibly even have been in foster or kinship care at some point in their own childhoods. These are orphans, but their parents are quite alive, and usually quite aware of their existence.

We live in a time of horribly broken families, and the parents of these children are broken as well. They are hurting, trapped, undervalued, addicted, depressed, unnoticed, marginalized... without help. Children shouldn't suffer the consequences of their parents' poor choices, so the State intervenes and places them in safe homes, with stable families, until a safe place is found or created for them with their biological families, or until those options have been exhausted and they are placed for adoption.

We shouldn't HAVE to do this. We shouldn't BE foster parents. Those children should never be put in those positions to begin with. Those parents should never be in those positions. People should all be loved and valued, cherished and cared for, encouraged, helped and uplifted, supported and understood, nurtured and guarded, protected and guided.

All people.


Every. Single. Human.

Today, I'm excited to officially be called a foster parent, but devastated by the very necessity of the role.  The dichotomy of emotions isn't something I think I can really convey.

I can't imagine how my heart will both break and soar when we welcome a child into our home. Today we begin to pray for that child, whoever he or she might be. Pray with us?