Friday, August 26, 2016

as you are

[[ credit: Sarah Barrow ]]

Morning by Morning new mercies I see.

I have been so deeply convicted lately about my heart toward my children sometimes. Hold on if you're gonna go with me in this, because it's gonna get gritty and real. If you're a rainbows and unicorns kind of person, this isn't for you. You got this. Go watch Netflix.

I have a tendency, as I think many of us do, to put yesterday's junk on today's plate. We all do it, right? When the battery in your car died this morning, you close your eyes tightly and hope it starts up this time as you turn that key. When your child throws a fit about beans on their plate, you take a deep breath and gird your loins for battle, knowing the wrath you will face when you set that plate before your sweet little cupcake and his gaze meets the pile of legumes you've so insultingly offered him.

We all do it.

"She's my relative who always _________."
"That's the cashier who never __________."
"He's my neighbor who _______________."
"She's my kid that ___________________."

You fill in the blanks. It isn't necessarily a bad or wrong thing, expectations are real, but it CAN be.

I put my kids' yesterdays on their tomorrows. I do it big-time.

In the foster/adopt world we like to talk about "trauma." It's a real thing for these kids… and for us. These kids have memories and expectations, realities of the past that have taught them how to see the future, how to see big people, how to see men, how to see pets, how to feel about food or busy places, touches or smells, dark rooms and certain sounds. Their past experiences deeply affect every part of who they are in their little bodies and souls… but it doesn't have to forever. Part of our job as foster parents is to help re-write their expectations with them. With each thing we do in a good and right way, we are overwriting the trauma memories. It doesn't have to affect them forever.

It doesn't have to for us either, Parents. 

For me, it plays out in different ways. But I'm noticing it most with Clover. She had a rough start in life. Really, really, rough. The first photo I ever took of her, and one I took a month later looked like two completely different people. Almost no real resemblance. She changed so much, but was still in a rough place. Her start in life wasn't fair. I tell my kids all the time that "fair isn't a thing," but that justice is. Her circumstances reeked of injustice. At first my heart felt all of the feelings that it should- tenderness, sorrow, compassion, empathy. But guys... with every scream it got harder.

For about 3m my world was full of just screams. Hours. Hours and hours of screaming for seemingly no reason. If one more well-meaning person in a soft and inquisitive tone asked me if I thought if she "could maybe have reflux?" I was gonna cut someone. [Sidenote- she didn't, and doesn't.]

We weren't sleeping much, we didn't have the sweet snuggles with every feeding, but a wrestling match that took 45 minutes just to get 2 ounces down. We had 4 others at the time who were little and loud and silly and naughty and needy and we were wiped. We had appointments and paperwork and visits and special formulas and therapies and more we were learning to navigate. We were in a hard place.

That hard place though, was also the beginning place. This is how we met. We met Clover in the midst of all of it. We met while she was miserable. We met while she was doing what babies do when they're miserable— scream. We were miserable too. Our beginning was- in full honesty- miserable. For all of us.

Now, things are different! PRAISE THE LORD. Very different. For 3m straight she screamed. Then… she didn't. We saw more and more moments where she was present. She was borderline happy. Almost actually content.

WE had trauma memories. Us, the adults. We did. We put her yesterdays on how we felt today. We were seeing her as she had been, not as she was today. When we looked at her, when we walked toward her crib to get her, when people asked what she was like, we drew on 3+ months of misery, not on how she was in that moment. She's almost 6m old now, and I am seeing the cute little baby that everyone else sees. But it's still a choice. We have to consciously choose to not feel yesterday's feelings today. We have to outgrow our own trauma memories and pour mercy and grace over the experiences attached to these little people in our lives.

Since I've noticed it so strongly in my current situation and my history with Clover, I've started to notice it in littler ways with all of my children.

When I choose to start fresh, to offer the newness of today to my kids, to let go of my expectations and enjoy them as they are, here, today, in each moment— how much more blessed my time with them really is!

How unfair life would feel (and sometimes does) if we weren't seen as we are, as we've grown and changed, but only as we were. I wouldn't have a single friend, y'all! They'd not want a darn thing to do with me because my list of mistakes and bad qualities stretches on and on.

It's not that I intentionally woke up and DECIDED to think "Ugh, today will be full of all of the crying and this bottle will be impossible to get down, and that other kiddo is going to break that rule again, and the really hard work I've done with this kid won't stick because nothing ever sticks, and where's my coffee…."

Nobody plans it, it just happens. Some folks are blessed with all of the happy, blissful, optimistic, rainbows and unicorns thoughts. Maybe that's you! If it is, stop and pray right now and thank the Lord because if there's one thing having 6 kids (really my first 2 drove this home for me) has taught me it's that we are hardwired to be who we are, and our nature is our nature from day one. We can do work, and we can have ups and downs. We can even have biological superpowers that block out the negative truths and make us see our past experiences in a dreamy haze [hello hormones!], or even our current experiences [cue the people who think their baby is the cutest and he totally looks like Gollum- you've met them]. Hormonal fogs aside, growth, change, whatever- for the most part- we are who we are. My inquisitive child has been inquisitive from day one. My content child has been content from day one. My dramatic child… my sensitive child… my gentle child… my stubborn child… my smart child… my kindhearted child…. my funny child… my athletic child…

You get the idea. We are who we are. Go ask your Granny, your Auntie, your Mama, your Mammy, (thanks, Macklemore) and they'll likely tell you they see qualities in you today that were still there just the same when you were bitty. If you're naturally positive and easy-going maybe this isn't an issue for you because of your God-given nature. Thank the Lord, man. Thank Him. 

For the rest of us, we gotta choose it, and it's hard. It's hard work. But- it's like flexing a muscle. The more you do it, the easier it gets, and the more rewarding the experience becomes. Don't let your memories rule your heart or mind. CHOOSE today. Morning by morning, new mercies we see, and therefore- new mercies we can offer. We are given, so that we can extend. It's hard, still some days harder than others, but with each day that I choose to see my kids as they are, not as they were, I am more blessed by them, more in love with them, more proud and affectionate, more of all the good things.

And, if it's work for us, for our big, grown-up hearts, how much harder must it be for these little tiny people who learned their "yesterdays" so early? We are all battling together.

"No one is strutting through foster care; we're all limping in some way - certainly the kids, their families, case workers, the "system" and even (sometimes especially) us. At some point we come to the realization that it's not so much "us" helping "them" - it's just "us," together - all uniquely broken, wired for struggle and worthy of grace." 
- Jason Johnson

Thursday, April 21, 2016

we're getting a 7yr old

We're getting a 7yr old boy. We already have a 7yr old boy. That's "twin" 7yr old boys. Six kids. We never thought we'd foster boys after Corinne came to us, and we never thought we'd foster kids over 3yrs old. WE never thought so, but I have a feeling it was decided for us long ago.

My heart has been restless for weeks now because of the foster care crisis happening in our area. Lots of kids, but not lots of homes. There are so many factors at play between policy changes, big staff rollovers, tragedies in the news, investigations into departments… it's just a perfect storm and the only people caught in it without shelter are the children.

Children. They've done nothing wrong.

I know and love lots of these little ones. They're my friends' kids. They've come into our lives, into our church, into our community, into our classrooms, and we love them. Horrible things have happened to them. I know kids who…

  • have cigarette burns on their bodies
  • were beaten with extension cords
  • were forced to eat dog poop
  • weren't fed 
  • had adults touch them in unspeakable ways
  • still smelled after multiple baths because they'd not been bathed in so long
  • needed dental surgeries because their teeth fell out from neglect and malnutrition
  • came into care with open, bleeding, untreated wounds
  • were in elementary school but were left responsible for their siblings' wellbeing and safety
  • were born addicted to drugs and abandoned in the hospital
  • were completely abandoned at public transportation stops
Not just that I've heard about them. I know them. They've sat in my lap, played with my kids, eaten dinner with us, shared our things, and they call me Ms. Kate. I can match precious souls to the stories I just listed. 

Make you sick? Mad? Sad? 

Make you want to help? I hope it does. Please, say it does. Please. You can help. 

We're saying yes to Clover Baby's half brother. He's 7, sweet, and probably very sad and scared. He's being separated from his 3yr old brother because there are no homes that can take them both. None. Not one. They've been looking all week. For legal reasons (among others) we can't take the 3yr old. Foster homes can only have a total of 6 children in the home. We only have one spot left and there are rules about ages so that small children get the care they need, so we aren't able to say yes to the 3yr old. 

This boy has been torn from his family and put with strangers, in a strange city, at a strange school, and will also be torn apart from his brother who he has been with always. He's old enough to understand some things, to have questions, fears, and big feelings. 

And I'm terrified. What if I mess up? What if I don't have the right words or the right answers? What if he doesn't like us? What if he doesn't get along with our kids? I could, quite frankly, fill a whole day with my "what ifs" and never use the same one twice. 

When we were asked if we'd take him, I immediately had 392 thoughts about why it's not going to work… but not one of those thoughts could I bear to utter to his little face, or, bigger still, to the face of my Lord when I stand before Him and give account of my life. 

"Well, it would be even harder to get in and out of our vehicle and he'd fill the last seat in it." 
"It would mean all 3 boys would have to share a room." 
"He might know things and say things we don't want our kids exposed to." 

I couldn't even utter my own objections because they felt so flimsy on my lips. I picked up my phone, called James, and told him we'd been asked. All I did was lay the situation in front of him to see how he responded. He sat silently for a moment and then said, "I mean… we don't have a GOOD reason to say no. Not one that actually matters enough or that we can't work around." Unity is a beautiful, wonderful gift. 

We called our agency, got the approval, said yes, and the worker was elated. He has to be separated from his brother, but at least he could grow with his brand new baby sister. It's the smallest of consolations in the most broken of situations. 

We sat down with our children and explained, prepared for "I don't want to share," and "but it's MY bed" and "for how long?" but instead we got excitement, empathy, meekness and willingness to be flexible. Now, they're kids- how long that will last— who knows, but, their immediately open hearts encouraged me. 

Here's where I'm resting—

How do we know the will of God? First, we refer to scripture. And He's made it VERY clear through much of the bible that caring for orphans is a command, that caring for orphans and vulnerable children is at the very heart of who He is. That we should love people, even if it's hard or uncomfortable. (Psalm 68.5-6, Deut 10.18, Psalm 10.14, James 1.27, Deut 14.29, Matt 25.40, Mark 12.31)

So, we're looking at something that was put before us, and is at the heart of God. When you are asked to do something that is good and right, and you don't have a real, sturdy reason to say no, I feel like that means you say yes. You say yes to the good and right things, and if it's not what the Lord has for you, in His goodness, He will protect you from it. Not everything that's good and right is good and right for everyone at the same moment, and the Lord knows what is best for us at each moment. Saying yes to good and right things isn't sin, but it might not be what He has for you, specifically. If you say no though, you might be being disobedient.

I'd rather be mistaken than disobedient, and I've learned that when I pursue good things but it isn't the path God has for me, He redirects me and guides me out of my good intentions into what He knows is better. I trust that He would do that here if it wasn't right for all of us. We said yes, and tomorrow afternoon a sweet, scared, 7yr old boy will be at my door. And, truthfully, I'm terrified.

Please pray for us all, mostly for him and his bother who will be going to another home.

And, please forgive me when I'm never on time again. 

Monday, March 21, 2016

they remember

Today, my heart fluttered in my chest, and I think everyone in my home felt for just a moment some faint pang of panic over memories we share. 

This morning I texted the worker who is filling in for the investigator assigned to Clover Baby. See, last Friday they called and asked if they could send someone to get her for her first visit with bio parents, but she already had an appointment with her attorney at that time so they said they'd reschedule. This morning, about 9:00am, I texted the worker and asked her to let me know when visits would be scheduled so I could make her an appointment for her 2wk well-check that wouldn't interfere with the visits. She responded and it went like this:

CPS: Can we come this morning to get her?
Me: What time?
CPS: The visit is at 11. The worker is on the way. Is that ok?
Me: So she'll be here around 10? I just need to know when to have her ready.
CPS: That's correct. And it will be a man. His name is ______
Cool. I had less than an hour to get her ready, pack her a bag, make sure there were instructions written out about her feeding schedule and some other specific special care she'd need, ALL WHILE getting C ready to meet her speech therapist who would be at my house within the next 15 minutes.

I laughed it off because in my experience this isn't really that unusual. I was just grateful they were sending a transporter and not asking me to load up my whole crew and rush her to Dallas. What if I hadn't texted to ask in the first place? Haha. "Oh, heeeeey strange man here to get my baby with no notice, c'mon in!" Sometimes you just have to laugh.

BUT- the point. The point here is what I totally failed to do. CPS surprised me, failed to give me notice, and in my haste to get her ready I failed to give notice to the two other people in my house at the time who have experienced the loss of a foster child too. I didn't prepare them. And friends, when that very kind man grabbed our little Clover Baby in her seat and headed out the door my children were suddenly at my feet, at the window, running back and forth asking me hurried and worried questions—

"Where is our baby going?"
"Why did he take her?"
"Who is that man?"
"Will she be back?"
"Is she going to live with someone else?"
"Can we say goodbye?"
"What are they doing with her?!"

When Jellybean left it was SUDDEN. It was a text— "bring her and all of her belongings to the visit as new placement has been secured for her." It was heartbreaking and unexpected and not even how a typical discharge goes. It was traumatic for us all.

On a deeper level than any other foster child, we had instant relationship with Jellybean. We knew she would come into care. C's bio family still had other children in CPS custody, and we knew the situation wasn't improved. She was our child's sister. She was from the same place, the same family, born in the same hospital, assigned the same workers, the same same samesamesame. That's how it felt, so to some degree our hearts half expected the same outcome. We had prayed for her and prepared for her and planned for her. We'd left our "foster spot" empty for her knowing she was due in January. We felt all kinds of feelings for her and prayed hours of prayers for her before she was ever even born. We felt all of those feelings for the three weeks she was with us. We smiled at the thought that just maybe C would get to be with her actual biological sister for the rest of her life. What a gift that would have been to her, to them both!

When I got the text telling me to have her things gathered and to turn her over to go to another foster family I fell apart. So sudden. For no reason. No reason that made sense. No reason that many involved approved of, but rather vocally opposed. It didn't matter. She left.

We always knew our kids could experience that, and we'd told them, even specifically about Jellybean, that she may not stay forever. That we just offer kids a home who need a safe place and a mom and a dad for a while. We reminded them when it was relevant, and sometimes in the quiet of the afternoon when nothing much was happening I would call those little ducklings over to me and gently remind their tiny hearts that the little sister they loved might go be someone else's sister someday, and we were just loving her for each day that God allowed her to be ours.

They would nod their round little heads, those chubby cheeks pulling into a half smile, and let me know that they remembered. Sometimes they'd stop right there and fold their little dimpled hands together and pray a prayer asking God to let her stay. I wouldn't stop them. I prayed the same prayer, and clearly it worked with Corinne. We had hope, but we tried to stay grounded in reality.

Then she was gone.


It felt like a death. I've done the death thing. I've done the mourning and the loss and the grief and it's taken many shapes throughout my mere 29 years. I know that my practice with grief, my previous journeys through those valleys of loss and sadness helped me navigate this one. I felt depressed. Not clinical depression, but a reasonable depression that would follow the loss of a child. I was angry and sad and even scared for what it could mean for us in the future that she was gone. We mourned her, but we also grieved the loss of part of Corinne's story. This child who is ours, but wasn't always, who is like us, but isn't, who calls me Mama, but will learn she has another Mama somewhere… she lost so much that day and didn't even know it. There were layers to this grief just like there always are with any loss. I'd been through it, James had been through it, and we'd weathered the years after each heavy hit just trusting in Jesus that someday all of the sad things would come untrue and we'd delight fully in what we can only glimpse in part now.

But our kids hadn't journeyed. This was their first loss. Their first deep sadness. Their first journey to cling to all of the good things when everything seems sad and scary. We talked a LOT. We had midnight tears in beds. We had little ones say things like, "can you put that carseat away somewhere because it makes me think of [Jellybean] when I see it and it makes me sad." We encouraged all of the feelings to flow and the truths to be shared and the hurts to be spoken out loud. These tiny hearts learned the heaviness of grief very early, and only because we invited the danger into our home. We said yes to the risk. We knew, and we knew they would likely be hurt by it. Many a night has this Mama stared at the ceiling speaking truth to my heart over the desire to wrap them up and shield them from the hurt, to guard ourselves against the risk, and to close our doors to the dangers of love.

But, I genuinely believe my kids will be better for it.
"Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us." -Romans 5.3-5
When Clover Baby went out our door this morning I hadn't stopped to explain to my kids that this was a normal visit, that she would get to be held and loved for a couple hours by her other mom and dad. She's got a mommy whose tummy she was born out of, and she wants to see her and smell her and kiss her and love her just like we get to, so she'll go there and then this nice man will drive her back home to us… was what I should have said. Instead I said, "y'all go play upstairs because I've got a lot to do this morning." Then the doorbell rang, and they came down just in time to see another baby sister loaded up, with a bag of stuff, being handed to another stranger, and of course their tiny hearts were filled with all of the fears and questions that ride on the heels of fresh grief.

I called those little ducklings to me, squatted down and looked in their big round eyes, and I said, "WOAH! I should have told you guys earlier but I forgot. Can you forgive me? This baby WILL come back. This baby is going just for a ride to see her other mom and dad, and then she's coming right back today. I PROMISE."

You know the craziest, scariest, most comforting, and unbelievable thing about it all? 

They trusted me. Completely. Instantly, and without hesitation. Their countenances calmed, their eyes got a little less wide, and those little ducklings waddled back off to play without another word about it.

Oh, that I could trust the Father so easily when He speaks to me.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

new year | old fear

Things are all dark and unknown in the womb, yet we all felt safe there once. We had no control, we knew no answers, it was dark, and we were content and comfy there, right?

Babies are so content with that feeling that we try desperately to recreate that for them when they come out. We swaddle them. We shield their little peepers from the bright sun. We use white noise machines. They liked the dark, tight, unknown place. We all did once. But then we grew and….. yikes.

When did that happen? At what point did we decide that darkness and not knowing is terrifying? I don't remember some precise, life-changing moment when it became a thing for me, but geez— has it!

People ask me if it feels different now that Corinne is adopted.


I feel free. I feel in the light. I feel like I can move, and breathe, and sleep, and enjoy things, and not be constantly anxious, or unsure, or stressed.

I'd love to tell you that I felt perfect peace and rested confidently in God's sovereignty at all times of that journey. Ha! I didn't. I believe God is sovereign, and I believe He's good, but that doesn't mean that everything that happens FEELS good, right? So, that's where I felt I was. In the darkness, in the not knowing, and generally freaking out and eating a lot of junk food because I didn't know how I'd feel the next day, or the next, or ever.

Fostering, to me, felt like sitting a dark room. Pitch black. And people would come in and out all day, but somehow never open any doors, so I never saw the way out, and nobody EVER flicked on a switch or told me anything. Sitting in the darkness, knowing nothing, powerless to make my own path or know what the end looked like, or even see what was going on around me.

At some point I thought to myself about how I felt, and then I thought, "shouldn't that be like a womb? Why is it so hard? Why do I feel so dark about this darkness that I'm in?"

Because I have forgotten how to be a child.

"At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, "Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of Heaven?"
He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them.
And he said: "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." 
matthew 18.1-4

There's spiritual value in "becom[ing] like little children." When I think of how the 502 days of fostering Corinne felt, it felt dark, and like I was powerless, and most upsetting of all— like I didn't know things. I'm convinced that I don't need to be in control. God has proven that to me. I'd make a horrible God, but He's a good one, and I am not Him, and things are GOOD in Him, so I don't need to be in control.

But my struggle really was in the not knowing. I wanted to accept whatever God's will was… but I needed to know it. The darkness felt oppressive. I just wanted to see what was coming, what would happen, just to prepare my heart and feel settled one way or the other. I just so desperately needed to know the things. All of the things. But I sat in the dark.

See, though, little children don't do that at all. Not even a little. They wake up, they play, they eat, they find comfort in their parents, they struggle to learn and accept discipline, but they don't feel trapped in a dark room because they don't know how their lives will work 502 days from now.

They trust. They follow. They know that we are right there to help them if they just call out. They are okay with only having a "lamp unto their feet, and a light unto their path." Me? I want to turn on my brights. I don't want to see today's path, I want to know what to do with my heart forever, beginning today.

We're gearing up to do this thing again. I'm not sure when exactly, or exactly what it will look like, but we know we aren't finished. And, I'm walking a fine line between feeling more prepared now that I've done it once, and also more terrified than ever.

We've been through something dark, and twisty, and difficult [and really we're still in it because adoption always has its foundations in brokenness, and that fight to overcome and heal doesn't end when the judge bangs the gavel], so looking at doing it again is different this time.

I KNOW how I will feel.
I KNOW how much I'm not like a child.
I KNOW my heart and my shortcomings the depths of my own sinful heart.
I KNOW what it feels like to be grown through this, and while it's good, it's hard, and I'd be lying if I didn't say it hurt too.

My struggle is needing to know. I'm a total lunatic. I can't stand not-knowing.

"Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me."

I feel an unquenchable need to know the things. An almost paralyzing need to know. I'm weak, and if I'll admit that, then it's easy to place my trust in the One who is strong, the One who KNOWS THE THINGS, just as a little child knows he's weak and trusts his parents will protect him.

Instead of feeling like I'm putting on my gloves for round two and getting to feel strong and pumped— I know I need just the opposite. I need to remember how to be like a child. To trust. To rest. To learn to walk through each place with tiny steps, not sprinting to the end or chewing on complex questions, or feeling strong, but relaxing because I know I'm weak, but cared for by a tender, yet fiercely strong Father.

Lastly, I find it delightfully paradoxical that these kids who come from hard places have to grow up before their time, deal with hard truths and needs that only big hearts should have to handle… yet in order to serve them well, we have to become like little children, trusting, and not scared of being in the dark, but comfortable in the womb-like darkness of not knowing the outcome because we know we're protected and loved by our Father. What a beautiful place to meet and grow together. Right in the middle of childhood.

Friends, I've just told you all about how dark and hard it felt… but we're doing it again. Hear that? YES, it's hard… but not so hard that the joy of it is lost. The goodness we find in the love our family has for this child far outweighs the fears and trials of it all. This could be true for you, too! Could this be the year that you do hard things, sow in tears, and reap abundantly in joy? If you think it could be, let's talk! 

Sunday, October 11, 2015

moved by compassion

I almost can't watch TV anymore. Half the shows are criminal justice shows, and it's too real. My child came from a home where those stories are REAL. Just 45 minutes from my front door. What if she'd stayed there? What about the other kids in that environment? It's real.

It's not "entertainment," but heartbreaking REALITY. 

In the New Testament, when Jesus does something to help someone, we often read that he was "moved with compassion." This isn't just a feeling of sadness, the Greek word here, σπλαγχνίζομαι, is a fuller word that means that your insides, your organs, are upset by what you've seen and you are so uncomfortable that you have to DO something. It's not "I feel sad" but "I'm suffering with you because of what I see and I HAVE to help, I'm MOVED to help." 
Pictures like the one above tend to disgust us, make us turn our faces away. They make us wish we'd never seen them. But what if it wasn't a picture? What if you opened that closet yourself and saw that little girl, 8yrs old but the size of an average 2yr old? Would you turn away? Would you close the door?
No. You'd reach in. You'd reach into that filth and pull out that little girl because she's REAL. You'd be moved with compassion to help. You couldn't turn away if you were right there. 
Dr. Amy Barton of Children's Medical Center Dallas says, “Unfortunately, we see many kids like this — children who come in who have injuries of multiple ages,” she said. “This means that this child has been injured several times over a period of time, and people may have seen, but because they didn’t intervene, they [the children] are now in the ICU. The severity in Dallas is worse, honestly."
From a 2011 Dallas Morning News Article by Sarah Kraemer, "Last year, 33,000 cases were reported in Dallas County, and 6,000 of them were confirmed. Each week, Barton sees between 20 and 35 abused children, with injuries ranging from bruises to broken rib cages and skull fractures."
This Dallas based doctor sees 20-35 abused children per week. PER WEEK. 

Where do those kids go?
To foster homes in the Dallas area.

Who speaks for them besides their attorneys? 
CASA workers of counties like Dallas, Collin, Denton, etc.

Could you be moved to help? Does it just make you sad when you hear that kids in your town are locked in cages, starved, beaten, sexually abused, born addicted to drugs, and more, or are you sick to your stomach about it and feel the need to help?
The thing is that we don't see it. Not really. We live in our sterilized suburbs. We know the stories are out there, but we aren't moved to help because they aren't in front of us. But we're grown up people with grown up hearts, right? 
What if we CHOOSE to open those proverbial closet doors? What if we choose to be the ones who see them? What if we, instead of happening across a closet door, stand, holding open our own front doors, waiting to help?
Could you be a foster parent? Maybe a CASA? 
Could you be feeling, deep within you, moved by compassion to do something?

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?