April 30, 2016

When the End . . . is Not the End

I never could understand why foster children move through so many different foster homes.  Why foster parents don’t just try harder.  Why they don’t stay committed to the child they welcomed into their home.  Why they call the social worker and ask him or her to find another placement.  I always wondered what makes them admit that the story is over.  

Until it happened to me.

It all starts, innocently enough, with a flight reservation.  My husband’s job requires that he frequently travel, often times to faraway places like China and The Netherlands and Brazil.  So this time, when he is invited to speak at a conference in Dublin, a city in the enchanting country of Ireland, I jump at the opportunity to tag along.

Because of the difficulty in finding respite care for our foster children and the detailed planning that requires many hours of my time, I don’t often travel with my husband on his trips – either business trips or vacations.  In fact, it’s been more than three years since we traveled together, usually resorting to our familiar role as a Relay Team.  So now, I am filled with anticipation at the prospect of sitting on the same airplane, staying in the same hotel room, and exploring the same beautiful country together with the man I love!

I had (sort of) forgotten how stressful the preparations are, but I am quickly reminded that getting a foster child ready to be placed in another home, even for a week, is not as easy as it sounds.  Documenting his daily routine and medical care requirements.  Copying his insurance card and custody letters.  Listing all of the legal and medical contacts in case of emergency.  Making sure all of his medications are refilled so they don’t run out while we are away.  And trying to fit these added tasks in between therapy appointments, visits with his mother, and the normal frantic busyness of a household full of young children who require constant attention.

But first, I will need to find a suitable foster home where he might stay while we are gone.  Therein lies the biggest hurdle of all.  I ask every licensed foster parent I know, hoping and praying that he will be able to stay with someone familiar.  He has already experienced such turmoil and upheaval in his short life, that I want to spare him the unnecessary anxiety of staying with strangers. 

However, despite my most diligent attempts, not one foster parent I know is able to care for him, even temporarily.  Some families do not have a parent who can stay home with him, and because of his medical needs, he cannot go to daycare. One family is currently caring for other foster children and do not have any more space.  Another is in the process of moving to a new home.  One is having health problems, one has a lapse in their relicensing, one will be out of town that same week, and one doesn’t feel comfortable caring for a child with special needs.  I do get a glimmer of hope when a friend graciously agrees to care for him, but she is licensed with a different agency, and the lack of communication and collaboration between my agency, her agency, and my foster child’s county makes this option all but impossible.

Maybe I should just give up on my travel plans.  Cancel the plane reservations and just forget about the whole thing.  It would mean losing a considerable amount of money that I had paid for my non-refundable ticket, but that would be a small sacrifice compared to these constant roadblocks and continual frustrations!

But perhaps the end . . . isn’t the end after all.  Just days before we are scheduled to leave, our agency finds a foster family in another county who is willing to care for our dear boy.  I’m not too thrilled that he will be staying with someone I have never met, but I am thankful that the Lord provided this resource.  After a few e-mail exchanges and phone calls with this delightful, enthusiastic foster mom, I am confident that he will be welcomed and well cared for in her home.

The travel day is jam-packed with preparations and details, including a last-minute appointment with my 7-year old son’s transplant team before dropping him off at my friend’s house; a three-hour round trip drive to drop off our foster child at the home of his respite provider; a stop at the social worker’s office to get a travel document for our baby foster daughter (whose passport had just arrived that morning!), and a frantic dash to the airport to catch our early afternoon flight.  I sit on the airplane as it taxis down the runway and think to myself, I hope this trip is worth it!

Not even 24 hours later, safely tucked into our hotel room on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, I receive a desperate text that no parent wants to receive:  my friend is in the Emergency Room with my 7-year old son. Apparently he had been riding his bike at top speed down a steep hill and ended up hitting a tree, which resulted in a broken elbow.  (According to him, it was really fun . . . And then it wasn’t.)

Oh, my poor boy!  He is there in the hospital with his injury, writhing in pain, scared and confused, and screaming for his mama; and here I am thousands of miles away!  Should I cut my trip short and return home?  If only I had just stayed home, none of this would have happened.

After several lengthy discussions with my dear friend, the cost of the long-distance phone calls hardly relevant, I decide to stay in Ireland.  She is fully competent and dependable, and loves my son almost as much as I do.  She devotes herself whole-heartedly to comforting him and coordinating with all of the doctors involved in his care – a whole team of doctors and specialists who are concerned, not only about this current injury, but also about the sedatives and pain-killers that are going to adversely affect his complicated transplant issues.  I am so, so thankful for my friend, who is willing to set aside all of her plans for the remainder of the week in order to care for my child until I return.

The vacation passes in a blur of breath-taking beauty and magical memories.  But I would be less than honest if I don’t admit that never for one second during the remainder of the trip do I stop thinking and worrying about my son back home.

At the end of the week, I leave the fairy-tale world of Ireland behind, and am immediately hit with the burdens and responsibilities of my every day life in suburbia.  The vacation, as they say, is over.  The toppling pile of mail that had accumulated while I was gone needs to be tackled, the refrigerator and kitchen cabinets need to be restocked, the suitcases emptied and stowed away, the clothes washed and returned to their respective bedroom closets, and the droopy plants watered. 

But before I can do any of it, my first priority is to hug my son who has been counting the days until I return home, and listen attentively while he recounts every detail of his injury and his week without me.  And hold my clingy, whiney foster child who has just returned to my home and is trying to readjust.  And admire my teenage daughter’s favorite photographs that she had taken on our trip.  And calm the baby foster daughter who had accompanied us and is now sleep-deprived and jet-lagged.  And, and, and . . .

Any opportunity I have to rest, however, will have to be postponed.  Bright and early the next morning, just one day after returning home, as soon as I settle my son into his home-school routine, I take my foster child for his weekly visit with his mother in a county located an hour away.  While I’m waiting at the social worker’s office, my son’s home-school teacher calls me on my cell phone, and before she says a word, I hear his frantic screams in the background.  Ow!  Ow!  It hurts so bad!  I want my mama!!

I am heart-broken.  I walk to my car with tears of guilt streaming down my face, and I think, What in the world am I doing?  My son needs his mother, and here I am at a social worker’s office so that my foster child can have a visit with HIS mother.  I can’t do this!  Enough is enough is enough!  I quit!

I hate the word “Disruption.”  It is every bit as ugly and frightening and traumatic for a child as it sounds.  It’s something that other foster parents instigate, ones who clearly aren’t as committed as I am.  Ones who give up much too easily.  My husband and I resolved early on, years and years ago, that we would never send a child away, and yet here I am doing exactly that.  What other choice do I have?  I am one person, with limitations and frailties and my own family who needs me now.  Especially now.

I contact the social workers involved, and fight the guilt that is growing stronger by the minute.  This poor little boy has been through so much in his young life, and now I will be the cause of even more distress.  More uncertainty and chaos and confusion.  More reasons for him to distrust the adults in his life who are supposed to take care of him.

But I know my Heavenly Father, and I know the unceasing grace that He extends.  Deep in my heart I force myself to remember that He isn’t going to be mad at me or think less of me or be disappointed in me.  I often hear that God can use our ability, and He loves to use our availability.  And now, apparently, I will need to trust that sometimes He may choose to use my inability.  That He is perfectly capable of providing for the needs of this foster child.  Of accomplishing His purposes without me.

Several hours later, still frantically trying to fit everything into my day, my foster child’s visit has ended, and I am now at an appointment at Orthopedics Trauma, discussing with the medical team whether or not my son will need to have surgery on his elbow.  It has been one week since the original injury, and because of the excruciating pain radiating into his fingers, there is concern that the injury has caused some nerve damage.  When do the hits stop coming?  When can I stop for two seconds and just be a mom?  When does this story end?

It is late in the evening when I finally have a free minute to take a breath and check the many phone messages, texts and e-mails that I had received throughout the day.  And there, right on my phone, is the most astonishing message from the social worker . . . the family who had provided respite care for our foster child while we were away had fallen head over heals in love with him!  They had called our foster agency earlier that day, letting them know that if ever there was a need for him to be moved from his current foster home, they would be more than ready and willing to welcome him into their family!

You just never know when you’re right in the middle of a God story.  Watching events unfold that only He could orchestrate.  I hadn’t known this family before, but God did.  He knew that, during all my searching for another foster family, this was the one.  They were the perfect ones to provide respite care for this child.  He knew that they would welcome him into their home and love him as their own during our vacation.  He opened their hearts, even before the need existed, to care for him as their foster child.  He knew that if ever I was going to be relieved of the guilt of disrupting this placement, that I would need the assurance that another family would love him.  My Heavenly Father knew what I needed, even before I asked Him.  (Matthew 6:8)

And yet, perhaps the end . . .  isn’t the end after all.  The story continues to change and unfold.  

It’s been four days since my conversation with the orthopedic doctors.  My son is now tentatively moving his fingers, which hopefully means that he will not need surgery.  Hopefully his elbow is on the mend.

It’s been four days since the communication back and forth with our foster agency, and our foster child is still here, still living with us.  His bright smile and indomitable spirit brings such sweet joy to my weary heart.  Perhaps I was too quick to quit.  Perhaps I just needed a reminder that God will provide – not only for the needs of my foster child, but for my needs as well. 

I don’t know how this story ends.  I don’t know how long our little foster child will be with us.  But this I do know.  I need to simply accept that some days will be more frenzied than others.  And to be okay with that.  Every morning the Lord’s mercies are new, and every moment, especially in the crazy moments when I feel like crying out, I am only one person here! . . . is a new opportunity to trust Him.  To know, with complete confidence, that He will give me enough strength to complete the tasks He has given me.  That He will give me enough love for the little ones in front of me.  That, in spite of my inabilities, His plans can not be thwarted.

Every disheartening frustration.  Every non-refundable airline ticket.  Every painful injury.  Every “wasted” hour in the car or at an appointment.  Every child’s clamor for attention. . . Every one of God’s promises.  Every unsettled child finding comfort.  Every unexpected phone call.  Every foster family’s open arms.  Every faithful friend . . . They are all pages in the story that He is writing.  They are all reminders of His love and provision and grace.

Each new day, each unexpected moment is part of a God-story . . . regardless of how it ends.

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