Faith over Fear but Not Being Foolish

love is greater than fear

“I’m scared I’m going to get the virus.” His chocolate eyes looked up at me as he mumbled these words. “Don’t be scared” I said to assure him. “Remember when I told you guys that we need to have faith over fear but not be foolish?” This is why we are staying in the house as much as we can. “Okay…”, he said before relaxing into his bed.

Faith over fear but not being foolish. I’ve done my best to teach my kids this thought while also clinging to it as well. It’s hard, isn’t it? Not hard to be faithful. At times, not hard to be foolish (although we can do a really good job at being quite foolish). The fearful thing – yeah, that one. It’s a challenge to not fear.

Even as believers, our minds wander into the world of “what if”. I know I’ve found myself wondering what life would look like if I got this virus or if anyone I treasure does. These meanderings of my mind do not help. They don’t keep us safe or prevent us from getting exposed to it. Instead, they remind me of just how human we really are; how vulnerable we are.

Friends, this is what I have experienced in my life and believe: we may be strong and healthy one day, then completely broken down the very next day. Our physical bodies – flesh and bone – are Earthly. Our soul is not. And maybe that is one of the main consolations we can hang onto at this time.

Instead of focusing on what is going wrong or our fears, perhaps, focusing on what is going right would do our souls well. In my city, a Facebook group dedicated to helping each other through this has revealed so much. I’ve lost count on the number of times people have offered to shop for someone else or give advice on how to remedy a situation. I’ve woken up to messages checking on my family and have exchanged lots of “I love you’s” this week.

Faith over fear but not being foolish. In some respects, watching the chaos and ashes unfold around us reminds me that the Lord can make beautiful things out of dust and ashes.

Love is greater than fear. What a gift that is to witness.

Momma-in-Waiting (Part 6)

Momma-in-Waiting, I remember you.

It’s been years but you’ve never left my mind. Standing behind a brochure-covered table at a conference, you made your way over to me. I recognized that sheepish grin. One filled with grief and forced onto your face. Your hands grazed over the brochures about adoption; nervously picking one up.

Before you knew it, your friends showed up. Excitement and eagerness written all over their faces. “Here, take this one!” they exclaimed while pushing the brochures onto you. “You should call them!” You stood there, frozen, politely telling your friends that you will think about it.

I wanted to grab you and run away. Take you far from the pain and the pressure. I couldn’t though. Instead, I was a witness to the turmoil you surely felt. As your friends moved on, you paused for a moment and looked up at me. I said, “Call me sometime if you have any questions or need to talk.”

Momma-in-Waiting, your well-meaning friends have no clue what you’re going through.

They try but will never be able to fully meet you where you’re at. That place is reserved for those moments of anguish. You know this far too well.

Momma-in-Waiting, I don’t know if you ever called me.

I talk to so many people throughout the day. Ones just like you. Calling out of curiosity, wanting to learn about adoption, but fearing the answer might not be what they need to hear.

It is hard navigating this strange new land, isn’t it? You dreamed of being a mommy. Married the love of your life and soon, baby-talk became a part of your conversations.

And, then. Nothing. Silence. Negative test after negative test.

You became fraught with worry. That worry turned into frustration. Frustration turned into despair. A few friends know and reach out to you, but don’t know what to say so they overcompensate with philosophical statements and impulsive reactions.

Others become silent. Their silence is nothing compared to the stillness you come to home every day. Your home isn’t filled with the giggles of children. The spare bedroom you once dreamed of becoming a nursery sits empty. Sometimes, you go in there and visit for a while. Laying on the floor and looking up at the ceiling, you imagine the joy that could fill that room. That room is one of emptiness but also of hope.

Hope creates courage. Courage generates resolve. Resolve produces tenacity. Tenacity gives rise to overcoming. And, sweet sister, you can overcome.

Momma-in-Waiting, hold on to that hope.

Let it be a guiding light.

It will carry you far.

Life Lesson: Having Faith

Here’s another Tuesday Night Teaching that I did with my kids. This one is called, Life Lesson: Having Faith.

“Having faith in God means that even though we cannot ‘see’ him, we know he is there. Faith is believing in what we don’t see. Can you actually see love?” My kids nodded that “no”, we don’t really see love.

“What about smells? Can we ‘see’ them?”

Giggles…”Well, maybe sometimes….”

“Okay, but you get the point.”

I looked at my daughter and reminded her of the times she thought God wasn’t listening to her prayers because she didn’t see the answer. I then spoke to my kids about feeling distant sometimes from God, especially when times are hard.

“There are moments when we are going through rough times and we really don’t feel or see that God is near us.”

I took three sheets of wax paper and held them up so that they blocked a cross hanging on our hall.

“Remember, the cross represents God. Can you see the cross now?”

“Not really”, they said.

“Okay, there are other times when things aren’t quite as bad but you still wonder where God is.”

I removed one sheet of the wax paper.

“You can barely see God, right?”

“Yes.”

“Let’s say things are maybe a little bit better but still a little cloudy and you’re not sure if God is near you.”

Removed another sheet of wax paper.

“The cross is becoming even more clear now, right? Okay. Now life is great and we’re moving along…”

Removed the final piece of wax paper to reveal the cross.

“Do you see that the cross was there the entire time, even when you couldn’t see it or when it was a little hard?

This is what it means to have faith in what is unseen. No matter how bad things get in our lives, even when we cannot see him clearly, he is there.”

I then read Hebrews: 11:1:

“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”

Explaining faith to children can be hard, especially for extremely literal kids! I’m hoping that this visual lesson helped them to truly believe in what is unseen; to have faith in God during times in their lives when the view is cloudy and when it is clear.

Life Lesson: Having Faith – this one is for us adults, as well.

A Caseworker’s View of Removals

Author’s note: This is a guest post from a child welfare professional. It is necessary to seek out the perspectives of everyone involved in the foster care system, and to learn a caseworker’s view of removals.

Removals. There are many definitions of the word. Sometimes, removals can be good things; such as the removal of a brain tumor, or a pesky rodent in your crawl space, or the removal of an unwanted weed in your garden. Other removals can be tragic; such as the removal of a parent from the home due to death, or the removal of a pet from a home due to neglect, or of a teenager’s cellphone due to poor grades (tragic to the cellphone-dependent teen).

But what about the removal of children from their homes? Some may say tragic. Others may say good. I would like to share a story about the removal of children from their home, and let you decide. 

I worked a case recently where our office was sent orders to remove three teenagers from an unsafe situation. Upon arriving to the home to carry out the removal of these youth, it was sudden, pure, chaos. Myself and my co-worker arrived at the home with law enforcement where all three youth were inside the home, supposedly planning their escape.

Lots of pleading and knocking on the door. Kids were in shock, screaming, crying and shaking uncontrollably. Eventually, we were able to get the kids placed. It was 2:00 am when placement was made. I got back to the office at 3:30 am. All together, the removal and placement of the kids took six hours – basically, an entire night.

The following day was a holiday, so our office was closed. I tossed and turned as I tried to sleep. I kept thinking about how traumatic the experience had been for those youth, and for myself and the other worker. During our 6 hours with them, we were called “monsters”, we “stripped them of any self-respect and dignity” they had, that we take kids for a paycheck, we didn’t care about them, we made their lives a living hell, and that we were useless workers.

Six hours of belittling and degrading. Six hours of holding back tears. Six hours of feeling so sorry for what they were experiencing, that we couldn’t feel sorry for ourselves. We were hungry, tired, and trying to make trauma-informed decisions for youth who could’ve cared less what we felt. 

I laid in bed awake the next day worried sick. From adrenaline rush to total exhaustion, I wondered if they were okay. I thought about them being dropped off with strangers, going to a new school, and how they were visibly shaking walking into their foster home.

I couldn’t sleep. I laid awake for hours thinking about how I could’ve better handled the removal. If I had said enough encouraging words…if I fed them enough…what my next encounter with them would look like. If I felt all of this…. what were they feeling? This is a caseworker’s view of removals.

I drove to work the following day; into the parking lot so slow you would’ve thought it was ice covered. I hesitated to turn my car off. I sat there in the parking lot and cried. I didn’t want to go in. I didn’t want to be a “monster” as those youth had put it. I didn’t want to participate anymore. It was very clear that I had secondary trauma from that removal. Some would give us accolades for removing those youth from a neglectful and abusing home life, but I have some questions to pose. 

What could we as a society do to prevent removals from happening? What could we do to provide proactive services to at-risk families? What could we do to provide supports to youth in crisis? What could we as a society do to assist workers who do have to work with childhood trauma, thus often incurring secondary trauma?

What extensive damage may we unintentionally cause that could possibly be worse than remaining in the natural home with supports? Did we really provide all preventative efforts?

Please pray for these youth, and any other youth who are at-risk. Please pray for workers who have to work with these families on the daily basis who see and hear more than one could typically stomach. Please pray that doctor, juvenile officers and law enforcement officers can see the whole picture and the lasting impact that may come from signing those papers.

A caseworker’s view of removals is often heartbreaking, and I ask that you please pray for guidance on how you might help this broken system. 

Podcast Interview and Thankfulness

Hey friends – Just a little note about a recent podcast interview and thankfulness.

It was 1983 when the words infertility/not being able to ever give birth first became a part of my vocabulary. People just didn’t talk about it, then. Not.At.All. To think of women (and men) throughout centuries who suffered in silence makes me ever-so-thankful for where we are now when it comes to this topic. We still have a long way to go for it to be understood, but we have made significant progress.

Recently, I had so much fun on a podcast called: Foster Care – An Unparalleled Journey. You can listen to my interview by clicking here.

As an adolescent, I knew that I had a lot to say about it but also wanted to keep it hidden out of shame. I thought, “maybe one day, I will write a book”, but it was a burden to carry, becoming heavier as each year passed. When given the opportunity to tell it now or write about it, I still feel a measure of the pain unpeel itself from me – even after all of these years.

Reminded of what the Lord can do with hardship. The Enemy can’t stand for us to be free of the things that were meant to bring us suffering. He would rather us live in misery, sticking to the labels we often give ourselves.

Keep speaking of those things. Keep walking in faith. Keep believing. YOUR story matters.

I also just want to say a big, “THANK YOU” for those of you who have reached out or have read my posts. Your kindness truly means so much.

The 11-yr-old girl I used to be would not believe how far we’ve come; how far she has come. She would be thrilled and dance with joy.

She would also be so encouraged and thankful for you.

!983 – in the hospital well into my recovery

a hope for the future

Have you ever met a kiddo without a hope for the future? I have. After having been in foster care for several years, a 12-yr-old boy was assigned to my caseload. One day, I asked him, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” He looked me straight in the eyes, shrugged his shoulders and said, “Eh…I figure I’ll either be in jail or dead by the age of twenty-one, so does it really matter?”

Speechless. It took me a moment to gather my thoughts.

“Don’t put that out there! There are all kinds of things to be and do when you grow up!” (I said this to encourage him but to no avail.) Shrugging his shoulders again, he said, “Well, it’s probably true.” Conversation ended.

Years later, I found out that after he aged out of foster care (because he was never able to be matched with a family), he ended up committing a non-violent crime and was sentenced to prison…right around the age of twenty-one. I have no idea if he is out or not, but even after all of these years, I wonder if he ever found his place, or better yet, found himself, in this world.

Trauma defined his life and identity. It filled in the lines between his growing years. It slapped a label on him that was nearly impossible to peel off. Had he been able to connect with one consistent adult (other than child welfare professionals), would his life have turned out different?

YES. I ABSOLUTELY BELIEVE SO.

How can we, as a society, help kids like him?

We need:

  • Families interested in fostering kids over the age of twelve, including sibling groups with mixed ages.
  • More funding for programs designed to target at-risk youth and provide them life skills, opportunities to explore jobs and support.
  • Trauma-informed base of knowledge into any program, school or other sites who provide care, in any capacity, to youth.
  • Churches to educate themselves and get engaged with systems that might make them uncomfortable. (Jesus doesn’t ask us to be comfortable, anyway. Can I get an ‘Amen’?!)
  • Purpose-driven resourcing for at-risk youth. Meaning, behind every action that is taken with this population, make sure there is a purpose that will drive them towards a better future.
  • Mentors!! We absolutely need adults to step up and seek out ways to get involved. I’m not going to lie. It isn’t pretty all of the time and you may not think you are making a difference, but every small action can lead to big leaps for these kids.

If there isn’t a mentoring program in your community, find out how you can start one. Talk with various agencies who work with at-risk kids and ones in foster care. Consider if your small group at church could provide support. Speak to your schools about what they might need. I am a firm believer that when at-risk youth (in or out of foster care) find connection with at least one adult, their chances of success greatly improve.

Kids deserve to have a hope for the future. We can help get them there. I believe that!

Life Lesson: Apples to Apples

In continuing life lessons for my kids, I decided to focus on loneliness. For fun, I’m calling my lessons, “Tuesday Night Teachings“. They look forward to Tuesday nights and ask, “Are we going to have a Tuesday Night Teaching?” This one is called, “Life Lesson: Apples to Apples”.

We sat around the dinner table and took turns telling each other what we are thankful for. It was a pleasant sound to this mom’s ears to hear my kids talk about being thankful for people in their lives, including our family.

This conversation about being thankful for each other was a perfect lead-in to tonight’s lesson.

“Don’t leave the table just yet. I want to talk to you. I saw something on Facebook that made me really sad. A guy lost his pet cat and asked for help finding it. He said it was the only thing left in his life. It made me cry for him because he later found that his cat had gotten hit by a car. I thought about how lonely he must be without his pet – especially because he said that his cat was really the only thing left in his life.

There are a lot of lonely people in the world.”

Passing the bowl of apples around, I asked each person (including myself and husband) to pick the one that is the most appealing to them. There were six different apples in the bowl. Each of us grabbed the one that we wanted and then took turns telling why we picked that apple.

“Now let’s all take a bite of our apples.”

The kids giggled a bit. My oldest son joked about thinking he might have swallowed a part of the core.

Lining the apples up next to each other, I said,

“Look at that. They are all so different on the outside, but look at the inside. They are the same. People are a lot like apples. God created us to be unique in our skin color and size. We each have our own ‘flavor’ but on the inside we are the same.

Do you notice that there is one apple that wasn’t picked? That is how some people feel. For instance, some people are left out because of the way they look or the color of their skin or for other reasons. On the inside, they are just like you and me.”

I ended the lesson by talking with my kids about how loneliness is a big problem in our world but if we can get past what is on the outside of a person and look at the inside, maybe we can help each other not be so lonely.

I’m really hopeful that each little nugget of wisdom about God’s truth seeps into their pores; creating a future filled with a genuine love of others. God doesn’t ask us to necessarily like everyone but he does ask us to love one another.

This God-kind-of-love sets the lonely into families.
It sees us from the inside out.
This God-kind-of-love can change generations.

I believe that.

John 15:12: “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.”

(Life Lesson: Apples to Apples – what other ways have you used to teach children about loneliness?)

Seasons of Change (Life Lesson)

A few months ago, I started weekly lessons with my kids on Tuesday nights. Although I’ve taken a break for the holidays, I plan on returning to “Tuesday Night Teachings” after the new year. My kids really seem to enjoy them! Here is one lesson that I taught called, “Seasons of Change”.

I started off by reading Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 to my kids.

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

Looking towards my children, I said, “Dad and I have been talking a lot about how much we’ve changed since we were younger.”

One-by-one, I placed the leaves on the table and asked, “What is this?” Each time I pointed to one, they said, “a leaf”.

“Yes, and look at how much the leaves have changed. In life, you will go through a lot of seasons and changes. There will be some days that you feel ‘green’ and happy and other days where you may feel ‘yellow’ or sad. Sometimes, you feel ‘red’ or angry about things going on. Just like these leaves, you will change and go through different times in your lives.

Do you notice that even though a leaf started off green, it ended up red, and even though it went through this season of change, it is still a leaf?” Nodding their heads in agreement, “Yes!”, they said.

“The cool thing is that even though there are changes, the leaf is still exactly what God designed it to be. YOU are as well. Regardless of what you go through or how you change, you were born a child of God and you will always be a child of God.”

Ending the lesson, I explained that this is one of the most important things to remember in life. The only constant is God. When everything else around us changes or when we go through different seasons, God remains the same.

If there is one thing I can hope to teach my children, it is this:

Regardless of what experiences they endure or the seasons of change they go through, I truly desire for them to know just how deeply they are loved by God, how they were created with a purpose, and that they will always be one of His kids.

Ramen Noodles and Trauma

Photo credit: A. Dudley

A few days ago, I shared a story on my blog Facebook page (@barrentoblessed) about ramen noodles and trauma. Yes, ramen noodles and trauma. My cousin is a foster parent who recently adopted four siblings. She and her husband are also fostering the fifth sibling.

Here is the post as written by my cousin:

“Tonight, after 2.5 years of living here, my oldest son sat down at the table with this. He was about to chow down when I stopped him and asked what in the world he was doing.

He said, “I made myself dinner.”

“But it isn’t cooked. I can cook that you know.”

“Well, I wanted to eat something I used to eat a lot with my old family.”

So we sat down and I asked him to tell me about it. He said that they wouldn’t feed him due to being passed out (you can guess why) and he would have to make dinner for himself and his brothers (2 and 4 months when they came to us). He said that all the money they had would be spent on cigarettes and other fun things and so he would find change in their van and would buy Ramen packets at the store down the street (at 6!!!!).

He said he didn’t know how to boil water, so he would eat it like this. And, he actually grew to like it. So, he would break it up for his sibling, and would try to make bottles for the baby (at 6!!!!!!).

Guys. I asked him to make me some. And, I sat there beside him and crunched it down with lots of water because it’s not great…and he just started talking about how the first time I made them ramen, he wouldn’t eat it and I told him I remembered. He said it’s because it reminded him of his ramen packets and he didn’t trust me (big thoughts for 9!).

He said he isn’t sad he’s not with his “old family” (his words) anymore, but that sometimes HE LIKES TO REMEMBER HOW STRONG HE HAD TO BE.

I write this so everyone knows, trauma isn’t healed quickly (sometimes never), an adoption doesn’t erase the past or the memories, kids can change, they will change with love, and to never give up on a kid because “they are hard”. And then, I walked away in shock, in sadness, and so so so proud of how strong my baby is. He’s so wonderful. And, we love him so much.”

I ended it by saying this:

“Friends, THIS is the life experience of kids who come from hard places. THIS is living a trauma-informed life. We can’t imagine what kids from hard places have lived through. It is not just about one act of abuse or neglect, it is about living in survival mode and doing it day in and day out. It is about making sure younger siblings are also surviving, even at the expense of childhood.

Trauma infuses itself into every pore. Kids just don’t forget it. Their brains and bodies won’t let them. Those of us privileged enough (yes, I said privileged) to enter into the lives of children with hard life experiences must be willing to sit down, eat uncooked ramen noodles and listen. We must not give up.

Our kids didn’t.”

Something about this post shook people up. Before I knew it, the post took off and soon became viral – with a reach close to 18 million people, over 9,000 comments and over 160,000 shares. Good Morning America featured it on their website.

People were sharing their own stories of trauma, eating ramen noodles as children, and their experience with foster parenting kids who come from hard places. Overwhelmed. Surprised. Shocked by it all. I felt all emotions in just a short span of time.

Childhood trauma adversely affects children over a span of their lifetime. Trauma doesn’t happen overnight. It isn’t healed overnight. The more we listen to children, seek to understand their stories, and connect with them in a loving way, the better they WILL heal from trauma. I believe that and science proves it.

Was it kind of neat having a “viral” post? Yes. Thrilling to be featured by Good Morning America? Absolutely.

Do you want to know what really stirred my heart, though?

Witnessing love pouring out. Reading thoughts of people seeking to understand trauma. People sharing kindness, hope and prayers for children as well as foster families.

Imagine it – a world where hurting children are met by embracing love; where every child can call home a safe space.

Just picture it. I do. This is my hope. This is my prayer.

on this day of thankfulness

On this day of thankfulness, my childhood has been on my mind. Maybe, it is because my daughter is now the age I was when I had my hysterectomy. Sometimes, I see myself in her. Curious. Strong-willed. Lover of fluffy things. Empathetic. Other times, I don’t.

Barrenness rushed in like a thief in the night. It didn’t just steal from me at that time, in that present moment. It kept stealing each and every day as I grew up. A stalker. A shadow that didn’t go away. A reminder of what was missing.

On this day of thankfulness, I’m reminded of the power of restoration. That somehow, grace had the audacity to chase me down, prove me wrong and breathe love and life into my soul.

Thankful for a loving Heavenly Father who took my physical, emotional and spiritual brokenness and flipped the script.

Lightness out of darkness.

Fruitfulness out of barrenness.

Gratitude replacing grief.

On this day of thankfulness, I am truly blessed.