August 26, 2016

Such a Joy!

A picture, so they say, is worth a thousand words.  But every once in a while a picture needs a thousand words to explain it!

A few days ago I posted a picture on social media, a photo my daughter snapped of me feeding a baby with two other children climbing on my lap and another little guy getting ready to give me a hug.  The caption reads, Such a joy!  And it is 100% true!  In that one moment, there is nothing else I would rather be doing and nowhere else I would rather be!  My days as a foster parent are often full of smiles and kisses and snuggles.  It truly is the #bestjobever!

What the picture does not show, however, and what the caption does not fully describe, are the people in the picture.  The real-life people with real-life struggles, doing the best we can to love one another.  Individuals, sometimes even strangers, whose lives are being intertwined to create this thing we call family.

Although the precious baby I am feeding is only 3 months old, he has already lived in 3, soon to be 4, different homes.  Most babies, when they are hungry, loudly demand that they be fed.  Immediately.  They innocently enter this world, expecting to be safe.  Assuming that their needs will be met.  Not this little one.  His cry is not really a cry.  It is more of a weak, half-hearted squeak, almost as if to say, What’s the point?  I’ve been passed around to so many different arms, that I have no idea who will feed me next.  I don’t really know who I’m crying for.  

His little nervous system is so deprived of love and nurturing, that his way of coping with the uncertainty in his life is to sleep.  Just sleep and sleep and sleep.  Very little eye contact.  Fleeting smiles that last barely a second.  He is in desperate need of a mother who will consistently come for him when he calls.  Whose nurturing, dependable presence will let him know, over and over again until he is able to understand, that he is loved and treasured and adored.  With every inch of my heart, I want to provide  that for him!

The little girl sitting next to the baby on my lap is a year old.  Since she is used to being the youngest in the family, she is the one feeling the most displaced.  Whenever I hold the baby, she comes running to join us, almost as if to say, Don’t forget me!  Make sure to hold that place on your lap and in your heart just for me!  Normally confident and independent and just a little bit sassy, the appearance of the baby in our home has caused her to instantly become clingy and whiney and demanding.  She does not yet understand that my heart is so overflowing with love, that there is plenty to share.  I need to be extra patient and tender with her while she is figuring it all out.

Behind her is the 7-year old.  In one moment he is proud to be the big brother, asserting his authority as the experienced one in the family.  But in the next moment he feels compelled to revert to infantile behavior, as if to say, don’t you dare deprive me of one bit of your attention.  Thus, the lap.   Even though he is much too big for it, he is right there with the little ones, laughing and bouncing and asking for more.

We generally expect that when a new foster child or adopted child is placed into a family, there may be a difficult adjustment period.  New children need to get used to a new home with different routines and unfamiliar standards of behavior.  Unshared history, inside jokes and long-standing traditions. 

What we do not always anticipate, however, is that often times the previous children in the family are the ones who struggle the most.  Suddenly they have to re-determine their place in the new configuration, in the new definition of what used to be their family.  And suddenly they are forced to share everything.  Everything!  There is now someone else invading their space, playing with (and sometimes breaking or stealing) their toys, vying for their parents’ attention, trying to ride their bicycle.  It’s a lot to ask of a kid!

So I explain to my 7-year old son, as best as I can, how some kids in the world do not have parents to take care of them and keep them safe.  They do not have a warm bed to sleep in or nutritious food to eat.  Maybe they do not have any toys.  Since God has given us so much, I explain, it is important that we share what we have with people who do not have anything.  Okay, he consents reluctantly, I’ll share one racecar.  Just one.  It’s clear that generosity and compassion are not innate character qualities in young children.  The bickering and arguments and rivalry come as no surprise.  But then I overhear him later saying to the 3-year old, I wish you could be my brother.  I am going to miss you when you leave.  Such a beautiful moment!

Standing next to me in the picture is a little guy who is getting ready to give me a hug.  He has actually given me lots of hugs during the 24 hours that I have known him.  You see, he, just like his baby brother, has been displaced and disrupted multiple times.  During his brief life, he has called so many female figures Mommy, that the word has lost all meaning.  He hangs on me and hugs me and kisses me every few minutes, as if to say, Maybe if I’m cute enough and charming enough and affectionate enough, you will let me stay.  Believe me, Buddy, there is nothing I would love more!

The picture also does not show the rest of the story.  The parts of the picture that are purposefully cropped and left to the imagination.  The unglamorous, un-romanticized parts.

Off to the side out of sight is a little guy, carefully cropped out of the picture to protect every inch of his identity.  At his birth mother’s insistence, I do not post, comment, ask for prayer, or even mention him on social media.  No matter how well I have cared for his every physical, medical, and emotional need for the past six months, often at great personal inconvenience, I am still, from her perspective, the enemy.  I can’t really blame her, of course.  She is overcome with grief that her child has been taken away from her.  How can she simply accept that another mother is caring for her beloved child?

Foster parenting is not for the faint of heart.  It is not for people who need everyone to like them or for those who need affirmation and praise.  Thousands, possibly millions of moments and acts of service will never be seen or noticed or acknowledged.  It requires giving of oneself, expecting nothing in return.  Or maybe even receiving criticism and unfair accusations in return.  It is, in every sense of the phrase, a selfless act of love.  I frequently need to remind myself, when I am tempted to be disheartened, that I work heartily for the Lord, and not for anyone else.  He is the One I am serving. (Colossians 3:23-24)

Let’s not forget the foster mom in the picture.  In this priceless moment, my heart (and my arms!) is overflowing with love!  There is nothing else I would rather be doing and nowhere else I would rather be!  That beautiful moment, captured in a photo, reminds me of why I love being a foster parent!

However, this is just one moment in a day full of thousands of moments.  Moments alternating between bickering and laughter, tears and hugs, chaos and calm, gentle words and raised voices, exhaustion and renewed energy. 

It is just one cropped picture in a whole house full of strewn toys that, in one minute can’t possibly be shared, and in the next minute are discarded on the floor.  Breakfast dishes still in the sink, the oatmeal hardened on the sides.  Soiled sheets waiting to be washed after last night’s accident.  My coffee cup, reheated five times already that morning but barely touched.

I am just one person.  One person with one lap and two arms and 24 hours in a day, the same as everyone else.  When abandoned babies need to be fed and snuggled, that takes priority over loading the dishwasher.  When traumatized 3-year olds need reassurances that mamas don’t leave, my arms need to be used for hugs instead of mopping floors or cleaning bathrooms.  (Believe me, if anyone offers to mop my floors or clean my bathrooms, I will always say yes!!)  I would love to have a clean and tidy and organized house, the same as everyone else.  It’s just that, for this season at least, I love something else more.

So that’s the story.  The whole story, complete with brokenness and real people and everyday life.  I am human, the same as everyone else.  I struggle with discouragement and weariness, and I get overwhelmed by noise and messes.  I get impatient with whiney, clingy kids.  There are children in my home who are very broken, and sometimes there is nothing I can do to fix it.  And sometimes, I humbly admit, my faith falters.

And yet, for some incomprehensible reason, God has called me to this role called foster parent.  Instead of a silent spectator, He has allowed me the great privilege of being an active participant.  He has temporarily entrusted me with His most treasured possessions!  It is such a pleasure to love these innocent children who so desperately need to know that they are loved.  It is such an incredible honor!

And occasionally, frequently even, He opens my eyes to see the beauty of a moment.  A moment that is a priceless, unimaginable gift!

Being a foster parent is such an honor.  Such a privilege. 

Such a gift. 

Such a joy!

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