December 31, 2012

Resolutions


I resolve to ADVOCATE, to use my voice, however small and insignificant, for the defenseless, innocent, fatherless child.  May I courageously speak up at every opportunity.  (Psalm 82:3)

I resolve to BELIEVE that the Lord will provide for me, even when I feel lonely in the path that He has chosen for me.  It is not for everyone, but I am so thankful that He has called me to this journey, and I know that He is walking with me every step of it.  (Joshua 1:9)

I resolve to CARE for every child He brings into my home, no matter how unlovely or unworthy.  Sometimes the greatest blessings can come from the most unexpected people!  (Luke 6:35)

I resolve to DEPEND on the Savior’s grace and forgiveness, especially when the accuser reminds me of my inadequacies and parenting failures.  (Lamentations 3:22-23)

I resolve to ENJOY the children that God has led into my life, believing that they are a part of my family in His perfect timing for His specific purposes.  May my face be filled with smiles as my heart is filled with joy!  (Proverbs 15:30)

December 21, 2012

A Lesson in Humility


Seventeen years.  
45 different children.  Tens of thousands of unforgettable moments experienced, challenging conflicts resolved, feeding schedules perfected and complex behavioral issues researched and figured out.  Young lives literally saved with tender nurturing and attentive care.  So where is the sure confidence I should be feeling?  Why am I unable to find the sense of pride in my accomplishments?

Perhaps it is because I am sitting at the well-worn table in my slightly cluttered kitchen, and across from me is a woman I have never met before, questioning, probing, prying into every imaginable area of my life.

“What was your relationship like with your siblings when you were younger?”  Oh, right, do any siblings always get along perfectly when they are growing up?  And anyways, what on earth does that have to do with who I am today?

“What age were you when you first started dating?”  What kind of answer is she looking for?  If I was quite young, she might question my moral convictions.  If I was older, she might think I was too sheltered and couldn’t possibly understand the experiences of today’s teenager.

“What kind of parent are you?  How do you plan to discipline the children in your home?”   Well, of course any kind of physical discipline is out of the question for a foster child.  I strive to be strong yet not over-bearing, consistent but not too strict, loving and kind without being too permissive.  Is it even possible to find that perfect balance?

The palms of my hands are a little sweaty and I can’t help but feel nervous and insecure, as if this is an interrogation in the principal’s office, and with one wrong word she just might yell, “Aha!  I caught you!”  It’s really a simple, standard home-study.  However, in the midst of this tedious process, I am receiving a lesson in humility.

December 14, 2012

Defending the Orphan


She is a well-known public figure . . .  strikingly beautiful, invariably poised and impeccably dressed.  And incredibly famous.  In fact, her name is recognized around the world, familiar in nearly every household.  Wherever she goes, she is surrounded by an entourage of personal attendants, her bodyguards protecting her from people who are trying to get a glimpse of her.

Most people in her position would have simply secluded themselves in their well-appointed, professionally decorated mansion, immune from the troubling social issues that exist.  But not this woman!  She wanted to do something, to make a difference in her world.

So she does something that was previously unheard of from someone of her social stature.  She rescues a child, a little boy who had been abandoned by his parents. It didn’t matter to her that he did not share her ethnicity, that his skin was a different color than her own.  She brought him into her home, and welcomed him as a part of her life.  She became his mother, and loved him as a son, completely and unreservedly.

The news spreads quickly . . . “Have you heard what she has done?  She saved that child!  She is truly amazing!  What an inspiration and role model she is!”

Now instead of a life of unimaginable poverty, he has everything a family of affluence could possibly lavish upon him.   Instead of being raised in an illiterate, uneducated family, he is now attending the best schools, is being taught by the finest tutors, and has access to every academic and extra-curricular opportunity he could possibly want.  His bleak future has been replaced with infinite promise. 

Everyone who hears of what she has done has similar reactions:  What an incredibly fortunate boy he is to be adopted by this generous, compassionate woman!  It’s hard to even imagine what his life would have been life if she hadn’t saved him.  And what a great example she is setting for other affluent people in our country.  Everyone has watched this very public figure adopt her son, and look how many other families are following in her footsteps.  What a hero she is!

November 28, 2012

R & R - Waiting with Purpose


The ringing of the telephone interrupts my day.  Actually, the telephone often interrupts my day.  It’s practically a requirement for being a foster parent.  I never know exactly what to expect when I hear that familiar sound, so like Pavlov’s dog, my heart has been trained to give an inevitable little leap. I say a quick prayer, take a breath, and answer it.

This time, it is indeed a social worker calling, informing me that my current foster child will soon be leaving.  The date has been confirmed for her to be admitted to a long-term care facility.  I experience so many conflicting emotions in the next 30 seconds, that it’s almost impossible to describe them all. 

November 21, 2012

Called to Love


The warm spring day began like any other normal day, or at least that’s how the little 1-year old saw it.  She climbed out of bed and toddled down the hall in search of food and her mommy, though not necessarily in that order.  She banged on some pots in the kitchen while her breakfast was being prepared, and she babbled happy sounds while munching on her banana.  The world was ready for her to explore that day!  The sweet child had no way of knowing that this would be the last “normal” day she would ever experience.  In one moment, in one minute of careless neglect, her life would forever be changed.

The sun is setting in the sky, and the little girl finds herself at a party with her mother, a noisy gathering of people talking, laughing, and eating.  Everyone is too busy enjoying the beautiful evening to pay much attention to the small child weaving in and out of their legs.

I wonder what that is?  It looks like my bathtub at home, but a lot bigger and full of bubbles.  Oh, and it’s warm too.  Tee hee!  Look at me splash!

Like toddlers everywhere, her innocence and over-confidence make a dangerous combination.  As her chubby hands reach further out, her unsteady legs lose their balance, and before she even has a chance to cry out in surprise, her head is submerged and the warmth envelops her.  Her lungs, desperate for air, find only water instead.  She flails desperately for a minute or two, and then is still.   That is the last memory she will ever have.

November 13, 2012

The One I Needed


“Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.”  Matthew 6:8

I found myself in a terrible place I never expected to be.  A dark, awful situation that filled my heart with terror and my eyes with tears that just wouldn’t stop.   “Oh, God!” I pleaded, “Please, please make this not be real.  Please let this all be a mistake!”   How would I possibly endure this?  I wasn’t even sure I could endure it.   Then I looked into the tiny, beautiful face of the child on my lap, and knew that I didn’t have a choice.  Somehow, in some unthinkable way, I would have to be strong.  For her, I would need to press on.

October 31, 2012

A Love that Multiplies


The sound of the tree frogs’ throaty chirping fills the balmy air, and a slight breeze blows off the bay after a sudden downpour.  In the distance I can just make out the rhythmic drumbeat blaring from someone’s cheap radio, and I can smell smoke from a nearby cooking fire.  Every sense reminds me that I have left the familiar world of my suburban home far behind.  I have arrived on the beautiful island of Jamaica.

No, in spite of the idyllic setting, this is not a relaxing vacation.  On the contrary, my family and I are taking a week out of our busy lives in order to work and serve at a school for deaf children.  It’s a full week of construction and maintenance projects around the campus while the students are in classes, and games, activities and crafts during their free afternoon and evening hours.  It’s a week I’ve been anticipating for months!

Yes, the climate is much more hot and humid than what I experience at home. Yes, the people here have darker skin than mine.  And yes, there are various cultural distinctions that I don’t always understand or particularly like.  (That legendary “No problem, Mon” attitude can be frustrating for a task-oriented person like me.   I am tempted to call out, “Come on, people, we have a schedule to keep.”)  It is obvious in so many ways that the destination for this mission trip is a foreign country.

October 11, 2012

Why Wait?



It happens everywhere, usually when I least expect it.  At the market.  At church.  At the doctor’s office.  People look at me and say, “I’ve always wanted to become a foster parent (or adopt), but . . .”   And then they begin explain why they never have.  Many, many people have the desire to love an orphan, and truly believe in their heart that it could be their calling.  Unfortunately, there are hundreds of reasons, especially here in our affluent, “pursuit of happiness” country, for why the good intentions never quite materialize into actual reality. 

Okay, let’s be honest.  If you or I personally met a child whose one and only dream was to belong in a family, who only wanted to know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of a parent’s love, would we really be able to look into those hopeful eyes and say, “I really want to adopt some day, but right now my life is so busy.  You know how it is, driving my kids to soccer practice, piano lessons, and dance classes.  I mean, it’s a full-time job just getting dinner on the table and getting through the evening’s homework, not to mention how crazy things are at work right now.”

And then could we really continue with our justification?  “And I’m so sorry, but I really can’t afford to adopt you.  After all, we have our family vacation to Disney World coming up later this year, and pretty soon it’s going to be time to replace our second car.  Would you excuse me for a second while I take a sip of my Starbucks Grande Pumpkin Spice Latte?  Anyway, as I was saying, I really do hope to adopt.  Some day.”  Of course it would be ridiculous to try to explain our decision-making process that way, and it sounds so harsh.  However, every time we put a “but” on the end of our sentences when talking about fostering or adopting some day, we articulate the priorities in our life, the treasures in our heart.

October 3, 2012

Two Voices: Which One Will I Believe?


“Beep!  Beep!  Beep!”  My alarm clock blares at an ungodly hour, sometimes even before the sun itself is awake, demanding that I leave the brief escape of sleep in order to face the responsibilities of the day ahead.  Even before my eyes crack open and my feet find the floor, my mind is already racing ahead to the list of tasks before me, a list that I know before I even start is way too long to complete.  A mother’s life is naturally busy on any given day, but add in the stress of having a child in the hospital, and the responsibilities soon become overwhelming, almost paralyzing.

My voice says, “How can I possibly do this?!  It’s too difficult!”

God’s voice says, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” (Genesis 18:14)

September 22, 2012

A Chance to Thrive (Part III)


A New Start

“You need to hold my hand in the parking lot, Sweetheart.” 
“Hey Buddy!  Don’t run in the store!” 
“Whoa!  Stop touching, Big Guy!  You might break something!”

No one who sees the lively, active, energetic three-year old today would ever possibly guess that he had experienced a difficult, almost unthinkable infancy.  That just two short years ago, his chances for survival were next to impossible.  It’s like looking at a “before” and “after” make-over photo; you have to look twice to believe it’s the same person, and even then the resemblance is barely recognizable!

September 16, 2012

A Chance to Thrive (Part II)

The Discharge
Nothing, not any experience or doctors’ descriptions, could have prepared me for seeing this little boy for the very first time.  Underneath all of the wires, tubes, probes and bandages, I could just barely catch a glimpse of the frail body lying limp in the hospital bed.  His yellow-hued eyes barely glanced at me listlessly as I greeted him in my sing-song voice that I tend to use when talking to babies.  He gave no reaction whatsoever when I attempted to stroke his stick-like arms and legs.  I now understood what “Failure to Thrive” looked like.  And I was instantly afraid.  What if he died before an organ became available?  What if he did get the transplant that he needed and healed physically, but remained emotionally damaged because of all the trauma and lack of nurture during the first year of his life?  What on earth had I just agreed to?

September 8, 2012

A Chance to Thrive (Part 1)


The Dilemma
“I’m sorry, but there’s nothing else we can do.  Our goal now is to make him as comfortable as possible until the end.”  The doctor stood at the child’s bedside, uttering the words as gently as possible, terrible words that no parent ever imagines hearing.  The tiny, frail little boy had just celebrated his first birthday  - if you can call lying in a hospital bed hooked up to monitors and tubes a celebration – and had long ago been labeled “Failure to Thrive.”   The disease that raged through his fragile body during his first year of life had simply been too much of a struggle for him to continue fighting.  He had given up on his desire to live, and now, apparently, the doctors were giving up as well.

August 20, 2012

A "Real" Family


“We don’t really consider him to be a part of your family.”  When my daughter heard those words recently, referring to the foster child who has lived with us for 2 ½ years, she wept bitterly.  And why wouldn’t she?  She, herself, had once been a part of the foster care system before she had been, by God’s grace and providence, adopted into our family.1  What message was this respected adult now communicating to her?  “The only reason we consider you a part of a family now is because a judge signed a document and declared you to be.  Before that day, it didn’t really count.  You didn’t really belong.”

My heart aches and I can’t help but cringe when I hear people, even upright, God-fearing people make comments like that.  You know that feeling when someone makes an unexpected remark, and you have the perfect response?  Three days later?  Here’s what I wish I would had the clarity to articulate at the time:  If we aren’t “really” his family, then who is?  The mother who rarely showed up all those months of his infancy that he spent in the hospital, and who hasn’t seen him at all in almost two years?  The grandmother who will only agree to fill that role if she is financially compensated to do so?  It’s not his fault that he was born into a family who were unable to care for him, only to then be stuck in a flawed system that continues to delay making a permanent decision about his future.  He didn’t ask to be raised in these circumstances, with the title of “foster child” perpetually hanging around his neck.  

And if all the things that mothers do for their child – getting up with him when he’s struggling to breathe in the middle of the night; snuggling with a well-loved book after a bubbly bath and a creamy massage; teaching him the proper way to hold a fork and insisting that he eat his peas before getting dessert; training him to pick up his toys at the end of play-time; hearing the little voice declare, “I love you, Mama!” as I’m preparing his favorite snack – if doing those things don’t qualify me to “really” be his mother, then what does?

August 12, 2012

Teenagers: My Reluctant Calling


Taking in teenagers?  No way!  They are unpredictable, impossible to control, and maybe even dangerous!  I am more than willing to care for babies and toddlers, and I would consider fostering school-age kids, but definitely no teenagers!  Such was my perspective when my husband and I first began our foster parenting journey almost 17 years ago.  And actually, who would have blamed me?  Getting used to being a mother is challenging enough, but at least when you have a baby, you get a chance to become secure in your parenting role as the baby grows and matures through the different stages of childhood.  But to jump right into the parenting experience with a teenager?  That would have been incredibly overwhelming for even the bravest adult!

Okay, so this is, like, so lame!  You would think that after spending most of my 16 years in this stupid foster care system, that changing homes and getting to know different families would be no big deal.  But really, it’s not like it’s getting any easier.  I mean, how am I supposed to even know what to expect any more?  Is this placement going to last just a few months like the last one?  It’s such a bummer that I won’t even get to stay at the same school this time!  And I hate my social worker!  She didn’t even let me say goodbye to my boyfriend!

I first met her at a family event that our agency had planned.  She had recently moved in with a foster mother that I knew, a fairly inexperienced single woman who had agreed to take this difficult-to-place teenager.  When we were introduced, I could tell from the girl’s sullen expression, her arms folded tightly across her chest, and her mumbled responses, that this party was the last place on earth she wanted to be. 
My heart gave a brief flutter of compassion when I learned of her sad life in the foster care system, her birthmother always doing just barely enough to prevent her parental rights from being terminated, but never quite enough to prove she could be responsible for raising her daughter.  

It’s so annoying when people ask me personal questions.  Like I really want to talk about the fact that I’ve never had a permanent family.  Sometimes when I’m by myself I try to remember how many different homes I have been in, but I’ve pretty much lost count.  Maybe 10, but it could have been 12.  Anyway, who cares?!  And I really hate answering questions about my mom.  People always think she’s some loser who couldn’t take care of me, but I know she’s really been trying.  The last time I heard from her she said that she has a new job, so maybe soon I’ll be able to live with her again.  Ugh!  How much longer do I have to listen to these people?  I really wish we could just leave so I can go back to my new room and be left alone.

Despite that small stirring of sympathy I felt for her, I mostly remember thinking how brave that woman was, welcoming this aloof, sulky teen into her home.  Wasn’t it uncomfortable always trying to make conversation with someone who obviously didn’t want to talk?  Thank God I’m not in that situation!  I truly love my little foster kids, and I’m even learning to relax about the tantrums and messes.  I’m just really glad that God has called OTHER people to care for the bigger kids!

July 31, 2012

My Village

 
My girlfriend’s kitchen.  Over the years it has been used to strengthen my body and, more substantially, to nourish my soul.   Its walls have eavesdropped on my stories of drama, heart-break, frustration, and victories.  The box of tissues on its countertops have faithfully stood at attention, waiting to absorb my sudden, unexpected tears.  In addition to the kitchen’s frequent role of providing comforting food and steaming cups of coffee, it has also been the venue of wise counsel humbly dispensed, earnest prayers sincerely offered, and warm hugs eagerly supplied.  It has gradually become my haven, the place where my heart runs to find refuge.  My girlfriend’s kitchen is like a protected sanctuary in my little village, a place where I can relax, refuel, and be reenergized for another day in the foster care jungle.

The ancient African proverb accurately and succinctly states:  “It takes a village to raise a child.”  While I don’t necessarily support the modern-day principles that have been applied to that proverb (i.e., that parents need government-funded programs and so-called early childhood development “experts” to correctly raise well-rounded children), I whole-heartily agree that we as parents need the support, encouragement, and wisdom from others in our community, in our “village.”   

July 23, 2012

Is Love Enough?

 
From her earliest memories, she recognized that she was not quite like other people.   Somehow she knew that childhood is supposed to be full of laughter and wonder and joy, yet she experienced none of those things.  Mostly she felt lonely, but where was the instruction booklet on how to make friends?  Her mother’s tone of voice just then . . . was she being honest or sarcastic?  That expression on her classmate’s face . . . what did that mean?  While other girls her age were experimenting with make-up and giggling about cute boys, she found herself getting lost in an intriguing sci-fi book or sketching elaborate animals that had human-like faces.  Her inability to connect with people left her feeling isolated, but she never could quite figure out what to do about it.  Eventually she just accepted the fact that the dark cloud hanging over her life was there to stay.

As a young woman, the thought of bringing a newborn baby into this sad, confusing world was unthinkable.  However, because of her strong belief that God created the life that was growing inside her, placing her child for adoption with a stable, loving family was her only option.  The only way she could think of to give her child an opportunity to live a normal life.  It was entirely possible, of course, that the child would inherit her unique characteristics, her Nature if you will, but she sincerely hoped and prayed that the right Nurture in the right environment would be stronger than the genes that were being passed along to her offspring.  That love would be enough.

Through nine long months she persevered in her commitment to offer her child a better life than the one she had experienced.  Battling her doubts and fears, trying to comprehend the deep loss she knew she would feel, and turning a deaf ear to her mother’s plea to keep the baby, she remained resolved.  And when that day finally came when the new life entered the world, she wrapped him carefully in a tiny blue blanket, and with a mixture of grief, relief, and hope, placed him gently into my waiting arms.

July 5, 2012

"Are You Planning to Adopt Him?"


“Are you planning to adopt him?”  It’s an innocent question that is often directed my way by well-meaning friends and curious strangers alike.  He regularly rides in the shopping cart that I push through the local market, obvious to everyone who sees us that we belong together.  He sits on my lap during the church service every week, clearly a part of our family for the past 2 ½ years.  He perches comfortably on my hip during every conversation, plays near my feet while I’m working in the kitchen, and sits at the table coloring during our homeschool hours.  Undeniably, we are every bit as connected to each other as any other mother and child.  The only difference is that he is black and I am white, which makes it instantly evident to every observer that we do not share the same gene pool.  Yes, it doesn’t take long at all for people to ask, “Are you planning to adopt him?”  I frequently hear that question, but oh, how I cringe when I do!

June 24, 2012

Your Honor


Your Honor.
Although the chances of meeting you in person are very slim, possibly non-existent, I often think about you and the powerful impact you have in the lives of the foster children who are in my home.

I am not an attorney or a legal assistant or even a court reporter, nor am I personally acquainted with anyone who is.  In fact, I don’t know very much about the legal system at all.  Whenever a court hearing is scheduled for the families of my foster children, I sit expectantly by the telephone at home, sometimes unsuccessful in the virtue of patience, waiting in anticipation for news of the hearing’s outcome.  My opinion will not be taken into consideration.  My perspective of the situation has minimal significance.  So I must completely entrust the lives of my little ones into your capable, knowledgeable hands.  Hands that hold the gavel as it decisively bangs onto the bench, setting in motion decisions that will have permanent ramifications.  I have no say or influence in those decisions, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I am silent.  I often use my voice to pray for you.

June 13, 2012

Unanswered Questions


The boys and I wait patiently at the county social worker’s office, watching the clock slowly ticking 5 minutes, then 10, then 20 minutes past the appointed visitation time.  In anticipation of seeing their birthmother, the 12-year old had proudly brought his report card with straight A’s to show her, and his 10-year old brother brought some artwork that he had drawn, complete with hearts and a stick-figure boy holding hands with his stick-figure mom. 


Every Wednesday afternoon we sit in this room with its outdated furniture and bilingual public-service posters on the wall, the boys squirming in their seats with excitement about seeing their mom, me wondering what to think and feel.  I know that if she doesn’t come, they will be terribly disappointed.  Should I gently remind them not to get their hopes up?   If she does come, they will be loaded up with candy and cheap toys, and their mother will be unable to prevent their unrestrained energy and boisterous behavior from getting out of hand.  Should I calmly admonish them beforehand to be on their best behavior?  Either way, whether their mother comes for her weekly visit or not, experience has taught me that I will be facing some behavioral challenges for the next few days:  either from their anger at being broken-hearted once again, or at their frustration and confusion from being reminded that they cannot live with the woman they love.  Unfortunately, there isn’t a single thing I can do to change the situation.  So I wait quietly with them, saying nothing.