Dear (foster) Momma of a Stranger’s Child (letter #8)

You sat across from me; worry and sorrow dripping from your pores. Your mind wracking with concern. Your heart aching for an answer. You said, “I was told this is how the system works. This is what I should expect.” For a brief moment, I froze in my seat; my own heart plunging into despair. Dear (foster) Momma of a Stranger’s Child, the least comforting words you can hear are “This is how the system works.”

People say that to you, don’t they? They seem to just let it out without a care in the world. In the upside down that you are experiencing, there really are no care-free words. What you walk through each day is far from that.

I refuse to be someone who reminds you of how the system works. I won’t let you feel less validated or that you are in the wrong for having strong emotions. Actually, on the contrary, I welcome your feelings.

Dear (foster) Momma of a Stranger’s Child, it’s okay to feel sad. It’s okay to wonder when you will have to let go or when you can finally rest in permanence. It’s completely well with me for you to be human.

If anyone knows “how the system works”, it is you. Sitting through weeks (maybe even months) of training about how to care for strangers’ children, your own childhood is being explored. Your financial statements are viewed, fingerprints logged, and friends are called upon to give a reference. You are studied over and over again – watching each and every move.

You show up at meetings and speak the truth that needs to be shared – how the stranger’s child you are loving on is doing. Court hearings, therapy sessions, and visits with anyone who is related to the child are just a part of your new normal. Case managers, licensing workers, attorneys and therapists knock at your door. You prep the child for what is to come of the day, wipe away the tears, comfort the wounds, take the wrath of trauma and whisper hope to the Heavens.

As you sit back and listen to everyone discussing a child whose future is unknown, you want so much to voice your opinion and in doing so, you tremble with fear that someone might think you are “sabotaging” this whole thing. You gain the courage to speak but with anticipation of hearing “this is how the system works”.

Dear (foster) Momma of a Stranger’s Child, you deserve to be heard.

The reality is that you want so very much to see success. You are gutted at the thought of anyone living in despair. If you could, you would wrap the stranger, that has come into your life through a child, and nourish him or her with just enough healing and love to break the cycle and carry on. You desire to do this, even if it means a total loss for you.

There really is no other scenario in life where raw feelings of loss would be met with callous words. Would we say, “well, you knew it was coming”, to someone experiencing the death of a loved one? Gosh, I certainly hope not. Yet, in foster care, this is said a lot. These words do nothing to comfort. They fall flat on anguished hearts.

Dear (foster) Momma of a Stranger’s Child, don’t forget that while the rest of the world might be judging you, the child you are caring for is growing and changing BECAUSE of you.

It’s okay to get attached – don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Without attachment, there is emptiness. On the outside of love, there is stillness. When hope is left out, there is no future. This is how love works. It is unreasonable to expect anything less.

To love a child you may let go, is something that most people would not do. If this were easy, everyone would do it. Sure, all of this may be how the system works, but you know how resilience works, don’t you?

Stay strong, (foster) Momma. Never forget the impact you are making in this world. It has ripples. Those ripples become streams that soon turn into waves. It is more than just a “system”. It is our future.

For you, this is life. This is how you mark your place in the timestamp of history. Your love is changing generations.

Dear (foster) Momma of a Stranger’s Child, don’t forget that.

the “broken” system {it’s been one of those days}

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His information came to me in an email.  I opened it up, read the narrative, clicked on a video and my heart sank.  The 9-year old, Harry Potter look-a-like little boy, who my husband and I met at a birthday party over the summer, is in need of a family.

“Watch me do this!”, he said to my husband.  He giggled and played and just soaked up my husband’s attention.  We were there for another boy who was in foster care and now has his forever family.  We met this little guy by chance.

I called my husband and said, “Remember that little boy at the birthday party?  The one with the glasses?”  My husband knew immediately who I was talking about.  “He needs an adoptive family.  He absolutely adored you.”

“You are making me sad.  It’s just one of those days”, my husband said.

My husband also works in child welfare.  “One of those days” is a phrase that we have often said to each other.  I wish I could give you an exact count of the number of profiles of children in need of an adoptive family that I’ve read through the years.  A profile is a synopsis about a child in need of adoption.  One part of my job is to send out adoption profiles to my staff who, in turn, send them out to foster and adoptive families.

It breaks my heart to see repeat profiles – ones of kids whose profile is sent out multiple times in hopes of just one family that might show interest.  The majority of these kids are over the age of five, have significant trauma, and are a handful, to say the least.  However, behind their age, their behaviors and their histories, they are children.  They play dress-up.  They love Lego’s.  They still believe in Santa Clause and the Easter Bunny.

They yearn for a Mommy and Daddy who won’t leave.

I have worked in child welfare for over seventeen years now and I still fight back tears when I fully ponder what is going on with children.  I get angry.  I threaten to walk away.  I fight cynicism.  Yet, I remain.

Having worked in the system for so long, I have heard “the system is broken” more times than I can count.  Yes, there are many things about the system that needs to be fixed.  Yes, we have a lot of work to do.  I agree with all of this.  However, when I sign people up for foster care classes knowing that they really just want a baby or I see profiles of kids in need of a family sent out over and over again, I find myself wondering if it really is the system that is broken, or if it is just us.  Maybe what is broken is our perception of child abuse and neglect, our vision of how good we think adoption should feel and our systematic way of turning our heads away from the problems at hand.  It’s easy for us to say, “Someone will step up or someone might adopt that child.”  It’s much harder for us to say, “We will step up.  We will adopt that child.”

First, let me state that there is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to foster a baby.  My husband and I did this and we are glad that we did.  We got to experience the precious love of babies.  We watched them as they walked for the first time, called us “Mommy and Daddy” and began to explore the world.  We were also blessed to be able to adopt them.

Now that my kids are older and I walk every day in the struggles of their lives, I recognize that if they were in need of an adoptive home right now, their chances of getting adopted would be slim.  That reality breaks my heart.

Is the system broken?  Sure, in some way it is.  Are we broken?  Yes.  I wish that every single child and youth in need of a permanent family would find one.  I wish that more people would step up and say “yes”.  I so wish that people understood trauma better, age didn’t make a difference, adoption was understood as being hard and not rosy, and that each kid was given a chance at experiencing what it truly means to belong.

If we want to fix the broken system, then we need to take a hard look at our expectations and desires.  The kids in it are not perfect (no kid is).  They have experienced things that a lot of us haven’t.  Their brains have literally been changed by trauma (scientific fact).  They can’t change overnight.  They can’t undo what’s been done to them.  They cope the best they can.  They are often in survival mode.  They may not even realize any of this.  We can, though.

We can accept non-perfect kids.  We can learn how trauma changes the brain.  We can change our expectations of adoption.  We can empathize with children who have been forgotten and given back by too many people who promised forever.

We can understand that it won’t feel good all of the time and that a child’s history matters, but their futures matter more.

Their futures matter more.

I don’t believe for one second that God intends for children to be without families; not for one minute.  This is why after all of these years I still have days like this.  I know that Jesus leaves the ninety-nine to seek out the one.  I pray that we do this as well.  I still have hope, though.  I know that nothing is impossible and as long as there are children who need families, there are those of us who wake up day in and day out and do our best to end the scourge of abuse, neglect and children without families.

It’s been one of those days, but it will pass…until it happens again.

I Am the Least Likely

Your story - whatever it is - may be used to spurn future generations into faith

Can I take you back somewhere for a moment?  Like, way back…

Lying in my bed with my fat cat “Cupcake” resting nearby, nestled in warm covers, and dim lights, I wondered, “Maybe God knows I would make a horrible mother and that’s why this happened.  Maybe, it’s because I was a bad person in a past life or because I should have been born a boy.  Maybe, it’s because the doctor made a mistake.  Maybe….”

These thoughts raced through my mind shortly after my hysterectomy.  They ripped and raged at my heart.  I didn’t understand what a lifetime of barrenness would look like, but oh boy, did I believe that I was destined for shame, anguish and never being a mother.  I understand now that these dark whispers were not of God but of the face of darkness.  They were from the Enemy, who likes to nip and chew at every single vessel and cell of our existence.

I carried around this heavy blanket of thoughts for many years.  It seems odd to even call it a blanket, though.  When we think of blankets, we think, “warm, soft and comforting”.  However, like a blanket, these thoughts wrapped themselves around me and engulfed my body.  Soon, I began to cling to them – much like a child clings to a blanket.  After all, I was a child when barrenness knocked on my door.

These thoughts often brought shame, confusion and resentment towards a supposedly loving God.  Even after all of these years and being a parent, I still have moments where my mind escapes back to those nights in my bed and of the times where I could not stop the tears from flowing.  Besides, why would any loving Father ever allow this?

The truth is that I am the least likely to be typing this and to be speaking of spiritual freedom.  I am the least likely to work with children, promote the importance of adoption, advocate for foster children, share in support of foster families and play a small part in the molding of new families.  I am the least to be doing any of this.

The reality is that I had already envisioned a life minus anything to do with children.  It just hit too close to home.  I went to college and got a degree in Gerontology – the study of aging.  I didn’t want anything to do with children.  I even told my mom, “I don’t want to work with children; especially abused and neglected children.”

(I’ve since learned that we shouldn’t tell the Lord what we won’t do.)

I often recall those moments in time where I wondered what in the heck I was going to do about all of this trauma – medical and barrenness.  I believe that these are the times when the Enemy wants to steal progress and remind us only of what we struggle with, what breaks our hearts and where our fears lie.

Still….the Lord is there to hush those whispers and calm the waves of painful remembrance.

Ending up in child welfare (because the Lord closed every single door until the one to child welfare opened up), being around children, and working with kiddos who needed homes, forced me to confront that part of my life that I had always hidden away; never showing to others what I was dealing with.  This is why I am the least likely.

God takes the least, wipes the slate clean, clears the fog and reveals a truth that pierces through the darkest of places in our hearts.  It was He who put me in child welfare.  It is He who has kept me in it.  It is He who continuously reveals so much of who He is and who I am in Him.  It is He who hushed those horrible, slithering whispers that tried to capture a future without children.  It is He who took a hold of my barrenness and threw it off of me; declaring a new identity.

Imagine being bound by chains of self-doubt, grief, and angst.  Now, imagine those chains being broken.  This is what the Lord is capable of.

Yes, I am the least likely to testify that a faithful and all-knowing God took a hold of my barrenness and shaped it into what my life is today.  I am the least likely to proclaim that motherhood is important, infertility is not a result of being a bad person, and that God is out to punish us all.

It is just the opposite.  Listen closely.

The VERY thing that the Enemy used to devour my spirit, the Lord used to not only create a new life but also to fill it with exactly the opposite of what the Enemy desired. 

The Lord took what ripped my heart out and turned it into a lifetime of devotion of working on the behalf of children.  He took the biggest void in my life and blessed me.

What was meant to harmmeant to stealmeant to boundwas turned into a revelation of the all-consuming love of God.  It turned into that incredible feeling of true freedom – know that you are exactly who the Lord intended for you to be and that you are living out His story of your life.  Not only did it become a revelation, it evolved into a lifetime of doing the exact opposite of what the Enemy wanted.

Did you read that clearly?  A complete opposite of what the Enemy wanted.

If you ask me about the presence and proof of God in my life, all I would have to do point you to where I was versus where I am now, and that would be sufficient.  None of this happened by accident.  It still catches my breath.  It still feels so raw and real and beyond belief.  For me, the proof of the Lord is revealed daily.

My story.  My personal journey.  My medical problems, surgeries and barrenness turned into a testimony of what a truly loving and forgiving God can do.  My life is an example of redemption (over and over again), of the glory of God revealing Himself, and of answered prayer.  This is my testimony and I refuse to hide it away.

Yes, I am the least likely to proclaim the beauty of adoption, to advocate for children and to pursue the heart of God.  It is not by my works that I am a parent and an advocate for children in need.  It is the Lord who is working through my barrenness.  It is the Lord who has taken away my doubts about motherhood.  It is the Lord who declared Himself in my life.  It is He who has sustained me through working in child welfare as long as I have.

Friends, if you are going through something that is tragic, life-changing or appears to have stolen your future, I’ve been there.  I understand.  While I may not know your exact pain, I do understand how quickly life can change and how rapidly you can succumb to desperate thoughts.

Friends, in Jesus, nothing is impossible.  We are made new.  In Him, our futures are just getting started.  Don’t give up.  Your story – whatever it is – may be used to turn future generations to faith.  

 

If you met me many years ago, I would have convinced you that I am the least likely to talk about spiritual warfare and the faithfulness of God.  It is not that I didn’t believe in that stuff.  I just didn’t want to feel it.  I didn’t want to talk about it.  I didn’t want to do the hard work to discover myself and the Lord in it.  I wasn’t ready.

I am the least likely to share any of this, but… the Lord has this incredible habit of taking the least and using them to proclaim the full measure of His grace.

“I am the vine; you are the branches.  If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.  If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.  If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.  This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” -John 15:5-8

 

Things That Happen to Kids Who Age out of Foster Care

Oh, friends.  Writing this article broke my heart.  Working in child welfare, I’ve always been aware of some of the struggles that older youth face both in the system and once they age out of foster care (U.S.), but I never really took a hard a look at the statistics.

In my home state, I have seen a change in the way cases are handled.  We are putting more of an effort in developing safety plans to keep families intact.  We are aiming for and making increased placements with relatives and others who know the children.  The number of kids entering care has dropped significantly in my county.  However, there is still older youth who are aging out – whether prepared or not.

They face homelessness, pregnancies, risk of exploitation, and lack of resources.  These are just a few of the risks they deal with.  If you’d like to learn more, read this What Happens to Kids Who Age out of Foster Care.

If you want to help, consider contacting your local child welfare agency or advocacy group.  Get involved.  Become a foster parent or a mentor.  There are a lot of ways that YOU can make a difference!

Blessings,

Caroline

What Every Child Deserves

I volunteered to write an adoption profile of a teenager in need of an adoptive home for the Heart Gallery exhibit in Missouri.  Eager to write it, I read the information sent to me about this youth.

As I started to write, the words just would not come.  I sat there, my fingertips on the keyboard, notes by my side, his picture staring back at me, and I was profoundly moved.  Athletic, loving, determined, compassionate…these are the words used to describe this child, and yet, he does not have a family to call home.

My heart broke a little.  The tears started to well-up, and I was lost in the thoughts about what he must be thinking.

Is he wondering if his moment will come?

Does he lay in bed at night, staring at the stars, and think about his family?

Does he fear a future without a father, or a moment without a mother? 

As I stared at his picture, I prayed for him.  I prayed that a family, HIS family, would be found.  I prayed that the words I eventually would type would prick the hearts of families reading them.  I prayed that God would surround this young man with His love throughout life.  I also prayed that even if he never finds Earthly parents, his heart will be held captive by his Heavenly Father.

This is where heartbreak and hope meet.  These are the moments that child welfare gets very, very hard.  We go about our days completing assignments, checking up on people, returning phone calls, and attending meetings, but at the end of it all, we return home to our own families.

It is easy to get caught up in the trappings of the system.  Difficult situations, too much work with too little time, and a lack of appreciation for the incredibly hard job child welfare workers do, are all just a part of the game.  We go to work.  We do our jobs, and then we leave.

…But then…as I stared at his picture and looked at his eyes, I remembered that I was once a child his age.  I was once a teenager with hopes, dreams, and concerns about the future.  I was once a girl who had goals.  I wanted to achieve things in life.

I was not that much different from him, except for one major thing:

I had a family.  I had the same home to return to every night.  I had a mom who convicted me to achieve goals, and a father who came home every night.  

I had the soil to which my roots would grow. 

For this teenager whose feet have walked the earth just fifteen years, I pray that the same determination that has kept him alive through the years will wrap itself around him as he grows up.  I pray that the family meant to be his forever home will be captured by his image and his spirit.

I may never meet this child, but I’m so thankful that I can play a part (however small it may be) in finding him what every child deserves:

A soft place to land,

a vessel to grow in,

soil rich in wisdom for roots to grow,

and the warm embrace of a family.

*Please consider visiting the traveling Heart Gallery Photography Exhibits in your own state (United States).  The gallery has portraits and information about the children in foster care who are in need of adoptive families.

You can also visit:  www.heartgalleryofamerica.org

for my fellow child welfare professionals and foster families

I watched out the window as one foster family loaded three little ones into their car, spent time talking to the other foster family, and eventually drove off.  I thought to myself, “I bet those children have no idea that the family who has tucked them in bed the last few months of their lives will no longer be tucking them in.”

I do not blame the foster family – life happens, situations lean themselves to not being a good match, often trauma is so intense that it does not create a safe situation, and after all, we are all just human.  Sometimes, foster families have to let go of children they are attached to.

I watched the foster-mother wipe away tears from behind her sunglasses, and made a mental note to check on her after the weekend.  I listened to the case worker cry in the lonely confines of the bathroom, and then checked on her after she planted herself at her desk.

During all of this, my mind escaped back to when I was a new soldier in the awfully disgusting, seemingly inhumane, and never-ending war of child abuse.

My first “case” was a six-year-old girl with brown eyes, blonde hair, tomboyish temperament, and an infinity to act older than her age.

I received her file, which happened to be a very thick binder, on my desk the very first week I started my job.  “Here’s your first case.  She’s disrupting from her adoptive home”, my supervisor said.  “You need to find her another foster home that might be interested in adopting.”

In situations like this, case workers are left to scramble and search for a new family to be found.  I remember calling county offices asking…essentially pleading for a new foster family for the little girl to whom I had not even met.

Shortly after my frantic calls, I drove to her foster home..the one that promised forever…introduced myself to her…stacked her belongings in my truck…buckled her in…and drove her to the next foster family.

I literally remember every moment of this experience.  I can see the pictures on the walls of the family who gave her up, and I remember the awkwardly silent ride to her next home.

I also remember reading her file, and the many others that crossed my desk through the years.

I recall the initial trauma I felt when learning about the extent of abuse that had occurred in the lives of the children who had just started their own walk in the world.

I got angry.  I cried.  I wondered where the heck God was while all of this was going on.  I became motivated.  I worked a little harder than I thought I would.  I became passionate about the field that chose me.  I prayed.

The little girl whom I bared the responsibility of finding a family did get adopted by her new family. Even after she became comfortable with her new family, she would run and hide when she saw my white truck pull in the driveway.

I’ve been reading about the impact of child welfare work on social worker’s lives. Poor sleep, stressed relationships, depression, nutritional issues, weight gain, nightmares, and secondary trauma all seem to creep up in the lives of workers in the front lines of child welfare.  And, let’s be honest…social workers do not make a lot of money…at all.

Having been in child welfare as a professional for thirteen years, and a former foster-mother (now mother through adoption), I find myself with the ability to tuck away the painful reality of it all into a corner that I very rarely enter anymore.

I do not know if it is possible to process all of the information of tragic life stories that I have read through the years.  Sure, there are the moments of grief and anger that are witnessed as they unfold in the lobby of the office before my very eyes.  I still cry from time to time about the very nature of what is truly going on in the underbelly of our seemingly idealistic and happy communities.

Although I am weathered by the years, it really does not get easier.  It just becomes less traumatic, more expected, and a seemingly natural part of life.

That seems awful, doesn’t it?  Why in the world would child abuse and neglect become a part of life?

To be honest, if I dwell too much on it all – the sounds of children asking why they can’t go home with mommy, babies crying from feeling stressed during visits, and mixed up, lonely children being bounced from home to home – I end up getting angry.

I get angry that God would allow any of this.  I am reminded and aware of freewill, but it does not make me less outraged, less saddened, and less frustrated.

There are many opinions about children’s protective social service workers.  If there is media attention, it is usually centered around the one case of hundreds where something went wrong.  Attention is very rarely spotlighted on the day-to-day choices that case workers, juvenile court officials, child welfare attorneys, and foster parents have to make.

It does not capture the tender moments of social workers picking out gifts (often from their own money) for “their kids”.  It does not show the hours of work spent by workers in the field.  

Attention does not get up in the middle of the night to answer the “on-call” phone, travel to a meth lab in the middle of the night to pick up children who are confused and weary from the unknowns, or visit with adults trying their best to turn their lives around.  

It does not celebrate when permanency is achieved through adoption, or when children, whom desperately love their parents, are able to return to them. 

It does not hold a raging or sobbing child who seeks comfort from the stranger who just took her in.  It also does not lend an ear to listen to older youth as they wonder about their future.

Media attention definitely does not highlight the words of encouragement case workers, juvenile court officials, child welfare attorneys, and foster parents speak to the families and children who find themselves caught up in the system.

I have listened as people (whom did not know that I work in child welfare) slam foster families, children service workers, and the system as a whole.  I have been shocked by their opinions of how easily this war could be fixed.  I have also found myself wondering, “What are you, opinionated one, doing about it?   When have you called a child welfare agency to offer your time and talent?  Have you taken the time to care enough to bring a child into your home, support a family who is struggling, or advocate for change?”

For my fellow child welfare professionals and foster families in this unending plague of child abuse, remember this, everything you do matters…a lot.

“Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.” –Robert F. Kennedy

 

Dear (Foster) Momma of a Stranger’s Child (Letter #2)

Dear (Foster) Momma of a Stranger’s Child,

You are back there again, aren’t you?  You are back at that place of frustration.  Two steps forward; then, three, maybe even four steps back.  You are tired of being tired.  You are worn out from being worn out, and yet, you get up each day, put on the unseen mask of bravery, and enter the mission field that is within your own home.

Others say to you, “I could never do what you do.”  Sometimes, though, you wonder if what they mean is, “I would never do what you do.”  When you hear these words from others, you are not really sure how to respond.  A part of you feels the compliment; yet, another part of you feels a twinge of anger.  You may even wonder, “Why couldn’t you do what I do?  Why wouldn’t you?”

Dear (Foster) Momma of a Stranger’s Child, you are a non-celebrated soldier in a battle not of your own making.

When you started this journey, your lenses were colored with excitement, hope, and joy about the path to which you started on.  Now, after witnessing the distressing, painful, and tragic sickness that is child abuse, your lenses are dusty. You still believe in hope.  You still get excited.  You still have joy when celebrating the small, yet significant, steps that the children and birth parents are making.

Yet, you know that something has changed deep within you.  You know that there is no turning back to the person you once were.  The welfare of children, and the despair within our own backyards, is something that will stick to you for the rest of your days.

Dear (Foster) Momma of a Stranger’s Child, you are changing.  Your heart is turning to the things that breaks the heart of God.  

There are times when you wonder if you are really making a difference.  It seems like just when you finish cleaning up one mess, another one pops up.  You look at the beautiful, breathing, living mess in front of you, and you get angry.  You wonder what the little one in front of you would have been like if it had not been for the horror of abuse, the tragedy of neglect, and the pain of being invisible.

Your anger subsides, and you return to the thought that we were all (and maybe still are) beautiful, breathing, living messes.  You remember the days before you became a (Foster) Momma to a Stranger’s Child.  There were times when you took two steps forward, and then, three or four steps back.

There were times when you thought, “I could never do what they do.  I would never do that.”  You thought of the other soldiers and warriors in the battle against child abuse; yet, you may have never seen yourself on the front-line of this war.  You know that your Father in Heaven put your here, but…there are times when you question why He did.

Your faith has been challenged.  Your prayers have been heavier than usual.  Your cries to the Lord are filled with the salt of your tears.  Still though, you return to the belief that your actions may go unnoticed by those around you, but they are never unseen by the same God who created You, and the beautiful, breathing, living mess in front of you.

Dear (Foster) Momma of a Stranger’s Child, your faith is being stretched. Sometimes, it hurts.  Sometimes, it feels like He is not there.  Sometimes, you feel closer to Him than you have ever felt.

Just when you begin to wonder if you are really making a difference in this world, or start to question just how significant your role is, or you are grief-stricken time and again by the ashes of despair in front of you, you remember that great things come from the ashes. You know that your Savior chose to walk with those to whom are often ignored.

Dear (Foster) Momma of a Stranger’s Child,

Just when you feel like you cannot continue…

You see more steps taken than ever before.

You feel more brave than you ever have.

You witness the transformation of lives.

You have a breakthrough in challenging behaviors.

Your heart begins to heal.

Your soul recognizes this mission field to which you are called.

You remember that beauty can rise from the most broken pieces of life.

Dear (Foster) Momma of a Stranger’s Child, YOU are taking steps.  YOU are brave.  YOU are being transformed.  YOU are making breakthroughs.  YOU are healing.  YOU are a missionary.  And…

YOU are the beauty that is rising from the ashes.

Compassion

“I miss you, Mr. Bruce.  I wish you were still my therapist.”  

The words above are ones I heard today from my office.  I got up, walked down the hall, and found a chubby, 10-year-old boy looking up at my husband.  My husband is not a therapist, but a child welfare case worker, and we work at the same agency.  This boy had been on his case load for several years until he was recently transferred to another worker who could focus more on his adoptive recruitment.

The minute the boy walked away, tears started to well up in my eyes.  I could barely keep them in.  This boy, the one who missed my husband, is the same boy who my husband worried about, had on his mind long after work hours ended, and had a hard time letting him go to another worker.

This boy has no one, but case workers.  He has no birth family to connect to anymore.  He only has the people in his life who are professionally charged for caring for him.

His small, vulnerable hands reached out to staff members today.  He introduced himself, shook our hands, and used his little hands to make pictures for each of us. He needed this activity to fill his day until he met his new foster mom.  He seemed fine, and had some boundary issues, but overall, he appeared to be a sweet and resilient little guy.

As the day went on, I thought about the boy, what has happened in his life, what might or might not happen, how innocent he is in so many ways, and how empathy tends to rip out one’s heart.  I’ve been confronted with empathy and compassion several times this week.  Just a few days ago, I posted this quote on a friend’s Facebook wall:

“Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into the places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human.” ~ Henri Nouwen

My friend, whom I’ve known since junior high, is part of a group of citizens who are organizing meals for the homeless in our community.  During a recent lunch conversation, our thoughts turned to the idea of how helping others loses its “doing good for others feeling” and becomes an experience that causes full immersion into the trauma, poor choices, dysfunction, and despair of others.  I think my friend has hit “that wall”….that painful, raw wall of human experience.

It is a wall that I ran smack into when I first started working in the field of child welfare.  I was going to change the world.  I was going to find families for the kids who just needed to be loved.  I was going to make a difference.  To say I saw my role through rose-colored glasses is an understatement.  The first week or two were wonderful.  I was warmly welcomed by other staff members, and was slowly being introduced to foster families, and I was starting to get some “cases”.  By cases, I mean children.  

Then, I opened up my first file of documentation about the history of the children I was assigned to find families for.  There before me were the stories of gut-wrenching abuse at the hands of adults charged with caring for these little ones.  Within the stories were layers of neglect, past trauma, dysfunctional family systems, and lots and lots of despair.

The stories of child abuse were no longer stories.  They were images of innocence ripped away.  I wanted to pretend that what I was reading was not that bad….but….how could I?  How could I gloss over horrific sexual abuse, or babies being found laying in cribs among animal waste?  How can I ever forget the picture of a 4-year-old, blue-eyed beauty with staples in her head from the physical abuse suffered at the hands of her mother’s paramour?

I hit the wall.  My vision of the community I thought I lived in changed.  I entered the underbelly of what is really going on behind lots of doors, dark alleys, and drug-fueled minds.

I remember weeping at night about what I witnessed through the pages of life stories unfolding in front of me.  I had bad dreams…nightmares really.  I know I was going through what is typical in the helping relationship field.  Others before me had already hit the wall, and had successfully built their own resilient walls to shield them from the pains and problems of their clients.

The wall is necessary to get through the day, but it does not make us less compassionate.  Compassion forces us to go to places we would never choose to go on our own.  It kicks us in the gut, compels us to move, and pushes us to keep on “keeping on”.  There is a difference between a “do-gooders”, and compassionate people who seeks to make differences in their worlds.  Doing good does just that….it does good, but compassion does so much more.

Compassion reveals the gut-wrenching human existence that is part of life on Earth.  As a Christian, I believe that compassion leads us to the place where Jesus exists.  It puts us in the most broken of painful places.  It causes us to see others with fullness, not just splinters.

It is the place where Jesus calls us to be.

I’ve thought a lot about the little boy who looked up to my husband today.  I’ve thought about his future.  I’ve wondered how it is possible for him to even dream beyond tomorrow without the safety of yesterdays.  I’ve shed tears for him.  I’ve felt pain and worry for him.

If compassion can lead us to feel all of this, then surely, it can lead us to imagine the depth of how the Lord sees us.  Though broken in my vision of this little boy, and the others I’ve met along the way, I know that my human vision is nothing compared to the vision that the Lord must have for these children, and others in our world who have fallen on the downside of society.

Compassion calls us to wake up each day with the desire to grasp a glimpse of the lives of others.  It breaks our hearts, and stirs our determination.  Most of all though, it begs us to live a life walking in the full measure of the mercy we have been given, and to reach to others in ways that they see Him living in us.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Colossians 3:12 

God in the Midst

The LORD your God is in your midst; he is a warrior who can deliver. He takes great delight in you; he renews you by his love; he shouts for joy over you.     – Zephaniah 3:17

Recently, a foster-mother came into my office, shut the door, sat down, and started weeping over a decision, or lack thereof, regarding her foster child with-whom she has had since the child was a newborn.  This foster-mother has experience with the system and usually “rolls with the punches”, but this time, she was absolutely wiped out emotionally.

With puffy eyes and thick tears, she told me how the upcoming court case was going to be continued and very important decisions; perhaps the most important decisions made throughout the duration of the case, were not going to be made.  “How can they do this?”, she asked.  “What do I tell my family?”  I just listened to her, and tried to encourage her the best way I could at the time.

If the truth were told, sometimes, I really don’t know what the right thing is to say to foster parents who are grieving.  I’ve been there in that place of confusion and grief when fostering my children, but my babies did not leave my home.  They were not reunified and my life was tremendously altered by adoption.  I’ve learned in this field that sometimes the best thing to do is to say very little and just let people speak openly about their lives, situations  sadness, anger, and loss.  Most of the time, the answer or wisdom they are seeking can be found in their own thoughts if they are allowed to process them.

I agree with and understand the federal law that protects the birth parents rights to be reunified with their children. I too would want the opportunity to rectify my life situation so that I could have my children back.  I get that, but, I don’t understand sometimes why court decisions get delayed.  It frustrates me that children linger in the system for seemingly no reason; except that they are not able to reunified with birth family, or they are never adopted by families.  In this foster parent’s situation, the birth parents really have not been involved, and the little one that is so loved really only knows the foster family who has been caring for her every needs.

This side of me that wears skin, this piece of my heart that gets torn apart, the salt in my tears, and this gravity of the weight of the world we live in, wears on me.  It causes me to question where He is when children are being abused and neglected.  It forces me to wonder if He is near the grieving foster parents, afflicted birth parents, and parent-less children.  It challenges me to want to turn away from the field I’m in and wipe myself clean of it, and yet, how can I walk away from this?  How can any of us turn our backs when we live with the knowledge that children are being abused in our own backyards, and around the world?

I know the Lord is in control.  I know He loves these children more than any foster parent, adoptive parent, or birth parent could ever comprehend.  I know all of them really belong to Him, not us.  Our Heavenly Father holds our tears, whispers reassurance, and visually reminds us of His presence through His word, each other, and the wonders of the world.

The foster-mother who shed quiet tears in my office also knows that the Lord she prays to, lives for, and believes in, was sitting next to her when she got the phone call of the news she didn’t want to hear.  He was present with her when she sat in her car crying and wondering what she was going to tell her family.  He walked in with her to my office and listened while she proclaimed her grief.

The belief that causes my heart to feel less burdened by the sadness around is the idea that the God who breathed life into our lungs, is the same God who was present in my office that day a heart-broken woman entered my room.  He is also the same God who will be standing with us all when our lives come to an end.  He knows the end of our stories, for He has already written them.  He has claimed us as His own.

If there is anything we could all do for foster parents, birth parents, and children who are in the child welfare system, it is to reassure them that they are mightily loved by a Father who is present in each moment; each court date, each phone call, each sleepless night, each embrace, each joy, each hour of despair, and every moment they feel they cannot go on.  God is not absent.

God Is In The Midst

Never say Never

“Never say Never”

The words above were spoken often from the lips of my mom while growing up.  I specifically remember telling her, “I will never work with children; especially abused and neglected children.”  She responded with, “Never say never.”  I’ve thought about these words for years now.

I know that part of my rejection of the notion to ever work with children stemmed from my fear of getting too close to the raw emotions of infertility.  I thought that if I steered clear of anything to do with children, I would not have to face the jagged reality of never being able to bring a child into the world.  My studies in college were all about aging and the elderly population; in other words, NOT about children…never about children.

It was about twenty years ago when I told my mom that I would never work with children (especially abused and neglected children).  As I was sitting at a visit tonight with a couple considering becoming foster parents, the words “never say never” came up in the conversation.  I thought about these words that my mom stated to me through the years, and how true they are.

Just last weekend, I listened as two teenagers in the foster care system shared their stories with prospective foster parents.  My heart broke for these kids.  I wanted to grab them and say, “You are and never will be a throw-away kid!”  Their stories of rejection by birth parents, drug addiction, homelessness, and basically being completely independent of anyone else meeting their needs are ones that can cause great anger and frustration.  Again though, the words “never say never” crept back into my mind.

One of the teens is being adopted by his foster parents when he turns 18-years-old.  He will be adopted when he becomes a legal adult.  I’m sure somehow through his eight-to-ten year stay in the foster care system it was said that he would never be adopted, and never be part of a family.  The other teenager spoke about celebrating sobriety and accepting the Lord.  I’m sure too that at some point in this child’s life, someone thought he would never get sober, never make it in a family, and never accept the Lord.  I venture to guess that both of the boys have thought these things about themselves as well.

“Never say never” is a saying that tends to provoke us to be mindful of what we say, do, and feel.  I can boldly state that I never imagined working for a Christian ministry focused on meeting needs of children in foster care.  I never visualized ever sharing my story of having a hysterectomy as a child and infertility to anyone outside of my close inner circle of friends and family.  I never thought for one minute that my professional life would be filled with working with families who are struggling with infertility, or who are desiring to care for children desperately in need of love and stability.

I never, ever dreamed of being a parent to any child, let alone three children. While fostering my son, I really wondered if we would be able to adopt him.  I probably told myself “it will never happen”.  I also never thought I would adopt a little girl.  Now, at this age and with the great blessing of children and a full life, I never would have dreamed of bringing in, loving on, and caring for another baby in need of stability.  “Never” seems to be an Earthly reaction to what life can throw at us.

I want you to know that the Lord has spoken this into my life:  “You will work with abused children.  You will work in ministry.  You will share your story of infertility with anyone willing to read or hear it.  You will work with families who have also felt the cutting pain of infertility, and with those who attempt to bind the wounds that the world has left on children.  You will be a parent to a son and a daughter.  You will follow as I lead you down the path of taking in another child.”

It feels like a life-time ago that I stood in my mom’s kitchen declaring what I would never do.  She was right you know,….”Never say never” to what the Lord has planned for your life.

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” – Matthew 19:26