Shouldn’t it break our heart?

kelly-sikkema-530092-unsplashPhoto by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

A few days ago, I was talking to someone about ways to help vulnerable children, and I suggested she look into becoming a Court Appointed Special Advocate, or CASA. This was my on-ramp to foster care, and it is a wonderful program with a significant impact. She said she had looked into it, but was hesitant to get involved because she was afraid it would break her heart.

Well, yeah. The stories will break your heart.

Shouldn’t we want them to?


It seems to me that we have two options when faced with suffering in this world: we can choose to ignore it, or we can choose to enter into it.

Ignoring it is definitely easier. It’s less painful for us and certainly requires less sacrifice. And whether we intentionally push those uncomfortable feelings aside, or whether we simply let ourselves be distracted by other things, the effect is the same.

But the stories don’t become any less heartbreaking just because we pretend they don’t exist.

The alternative is to enter into suffering. This is the more awkward path, more uncomfortable, far more painful. It will require a lot more out of us and our families.

This is the choice than Christ modeled for us. He saw our suffering, and it moved Him to compassion and to action.

So, then, this path, where we choose the hard things and walk with the people who are caught up in the midst of them, this is the choice we have to make if we want to be more like Christ. Instead of running away from those who are suffering, we run toward them – not because we enjoy having our hearts broken, but because we want to be where He is.

Break our hearts, God, for the things that break yours.

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I like vacation me.

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Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash

Two weeks ago, my little man and I spent a wonderful week at the beach with some family and friends. We played in the sand and the waves and the pool, and the only thing I really had on my to-do list each day was to ensure that Micah got his nap (because every mom of a toddler knows that naps are the key to a good vacation).

It was wonderful. We walked nearly everywhere we needed to go, and sometimes we stopped to climb a fallen tree or watch the turtles and the ducks, just because we could. I left my phone in my pocket or in my beach bag and let others worry about capturing the photos. I stopped trying to get more done and use my time wisely, and I listened to Micah’s stories and enjoyed his sweet, funny little personality.

I like vacation me. Vacation me is relaxed and unhurried. Vacation me focuses less on planning and to-do lists and more on soaking up the moment in front of us.

Fast forward to a week later, and I was back to juggling full-time employment and single parenting, trying to manage job responsibilities and a sick toddler and preparation for surgery on my hand later this week.

It wasn’t long before I caught myself in those same old patterns – hurrying Micah along and trying to squeeze productivity out of every pocket of the day and responding more and more to his requests with, “just give me a couple minutes to finish this!”

I’m not kicking myself for making to-do lists or trying to get things done. We don’t get to live in vacation mode all of the time. There are more responsibilities here at home, and that’s okay, because those things bring me great joy and purpose, too.

But what if it was possible to hold on to just a bit more of vacation me? What if I slowed down and stopped rushing everywhere? What if I stopped trying to get so much done and instead looked at my to-do list to figure out what stuff I didn’t need to do? What if I dropped everything else when Micah said, “here, mama, you be the cheetah and I’ll be the rhino?”

So today, I didn’t hesitate when he asked me to hold him before his nap. I left my phone in another room and rocked him until he fell asleep, and then kept rocking even after he had drifted off. I can’t help but think that I only have so many days left when he will ask for this, so I ignored the things I was planning to get done during his nap and just watched him sleep.

I think that’s what vacation me would have done.

Lifting broken arms

This summer has not been what I expected it to be.

My two little foster loves left at the end of May, so I honestly expected that we would enter into a season of rest. I’ve gotten used to the ebbs and flows of this foster care life, and after several months that stretched me to my limit, I was ready for a bit of a break.

Instead, I’ve found myself dealing with medical issues, including an injury that will result in surgery in a few months, saying goodbye to my sweet dog Dakota, confusing court decisions, some challenging and frustrating work situations, and watching people I love walk through soul-crushing stuff.

There have been good and beautiful moments, too. Joyful moments with my family, life-giving hours with friends, frequent reminders that God is good and that he loves us extravagantly.

But yet, not what I expected. And given the choice, not what I would have planned.


I raise my hands often in corporate worship. It’s a natural response to worship for me, and not normally something I’m at all self-conscious about. But this week, as I lifted one arm wrapped in this brace that protects my hand until I can have the surgery to fix it, I felt awkward and uncomfortable. Like I was taking this broken limb that was the source of so much frustration and even anger, and I was holding it up on display.

I’m like most people, I imagine, in that I would much rather people think that I’m capable and that I have my stuff together. It’s not that I want to lie or pretend to be something I’m not, but there seems to be a difference between not hiding the brokenness, and lifting it up on display.

I know God tells us that his power is made perfect in our weakness, that his glory is made known in the midst of these jars of clay. I would still rather you see the messiness after I’ve cleaned it up a little, at least wrapped it up in a neat little package full of greater meaning.

But sometimes life is just hard. And sometimes the search for greater meaning is exhausting. Today I’m choosing to remember that my God is faithful, in any season, and that I can come to him, brokenness and all.

And if all I have to raise in these moments are broken arms, that’s enough.

Rewriting the script

For years, I’ve told people that I can’t keep anything alive that can’t bark or cry when it’s hungry.

I made all kinds of excuses – genetics, lack of training in outdoor things as a child, seasonal allergies. Whether the reasons were valid or not, I still believed the script: when it came to plants, I couldn’t do it.

Except this year, I have plants growing in my backyard that are actually producing food.

It feels good to rewrite the script every once in a while.

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For the foster mama who is saying goodbye.

This right here? This is the hardest part.

Oh, to be sure, there are a lot of hard things. Being a foster parent is difficult and rewarding in about 1 million different ways. But saying goodbye to a child you love, no matter the circumstance? This is by far the hardest.

This is the part the scares many people away. “I could never give them back,” they say. “I’m not strong enough.”

But you, my friend, looked that fear in the face and decided it would not hold you back. You chose to love anyway, knowing that great heartache might be coming. You believed that it was worth the risk.

Maybe you don’t feel very strong right now. Maybe you don’t feel brave. Maybe there’s a part of you still hoping for the call that says they’re wrong and that this child that you have grown to love is not going anywhere.

And yet, deep down, you know that even if that were to happen, there would still be loss. It’s not a simple thing to reconcile, but sometimes the very best thing for the child you love isn’t you.

And sometimes, you may wonder if this move really is the best.

But, my friend, this is where faith comes in. Because as much as it may seem sometimes that our beautiful children are tossed around by circumstances or at the whim of a broken system, we know that there is a God who loves them without reservation and who still holds them in the palm of His hand.

So we place our trust in God, choosing to believe that He is in control of all things and that He meant it when He said He would never leave us, nor forsake us. We believe this for our children, and for us.

It’s the only way I know to get through the hardest part.

Just because it’s hard, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it.

It’s been a year since I started writing for adoption.com, since I started calling myself a writer.

But the truth is, I was a writer long before someone paid me to do it. Sometimes it was in a journal, written just for me. Sometimes it was a blog for others to read. Often it was partially composed pieces of things on a scrap piece of paper or in a note on my phone or just in my head.

I had this crazy idea that in order to be a thing, you had to be compelled to do it all the time. It had to flow, naturally and with no great amount of effort. That’s not me, not when it comes to writing anyway – so until that external validation came, I didn’t claim the title.

I can generate ideas like nobody’s business. My phone is filled with possible topics and random phrases and the occasionally paragraph that I could turn into a complete blog post or article, if I was willing to sit down and wrestle the thing into words that make sense. But the time and mental capacity to do the wrestling is in short supply in this season of my life, so I save the effort for a few circumstances.

Writing has reminded of something that I know is true throughout life – just because something doesn’t come easily, just because it’s hard, it doesn’t mean you’re not supposed to do it. Parenting, all kinds of relationships, work, travel, ministry – all of these things require effort. Most of the good stuff does.

And just imagine how boring life would be if we only did the stuff that came easily, anyway.

Sunday

We had a rough morning yesterday.

It shouldn’t have been. It’s the only morning of the week we don’t need to be somewhere early, so there should have been time to get up slowly, for the kids to play and not just get dressed-eat-get out the door. I made breakfast that involved more than using a toaster or pouring cereal in a bowl.

But still, no matter how many times we do it, the work of everything in between waking up and getting into the car felt like it required too much. Too much refereeing, too much negotiating, too much reminding and redirecting. By the time I climbed into the driver’s seat and realized that we would be late yet again, I was frazzled and frustrated and very far from the patient and loving mom I want to be. I wondered if all of the effort was worth it.

But we went anyway, and I walked into that worship service and sang, and I was reminded that when He “silenced the boast of sin and grave,” that covered my anger and impatience, too.

And then I loaded everyone up in the car for the drive home, and the kids started talking about what they learned, that Jesus can do anything. And of course that means He can somehow use my humble attempts at loving these children well.

And just like that, there was the reset and perspective I so desperately needed.

No one’s behavior magically got better. In fact, by the time I went by a drive-thru for lunch (because I may have gotten a new perspective but I was still tired) and got everyone in the door, I had dealt with enough whining and flinging arms and legs that I sent everyone straight to bed for a nap, myself included, and left the food on the stove to eat when we woke back up.

And the point of this story, what I want you to know, is this:

For those of you who, like me, are deep in the throes of motherhood, whether you are trying to parent children from hard places or you are just simply outnumbered,

Or maybe you just feel like you are often failing at whatever thing you’re called to do,

God is using you. Now. Even in your mess.

And also, don’t underestimate the power of a good nap.

Being brave and being unafraid are not the same thing

Nearly nine years ago I decided, somewhat on a whim, to travel to Russia to spend some time with friends who were living there. This was a pretty big deal for me, since my international travel experience up to that point had been limited to quick drives with family into Mexico and Canada as a kid and one missions trip to Puerto Rico when I was in high school. Any overseas flight would have been a brand new adventure, but this was especially true since I was traveling alone. I had a 14-hour layover in Vienna on my way there and planned to travel into the city while I waited for the second leg of my trip.

One of my friends asked me shortly before I left if I was excited about the trip. I told her I was, but honestly, that I was more scared than excited, especially about the trip into Vienna. I still remember the way my answer caught her off guard, because it would never have occurred to her to be nervous about something like that. She was a seasoned international traveler and an explorer by nature. Leaving that airport to venture into a new city might not have been an especially brave thing for her to do, but it was for me.

Here’s the thing I’ve learned about courage: being brave isn’t about not being afraid of something, it’s about being afraid of something and still doing it. I don’t think it takes courage to do what doesn’t scare you.

The people I admire the most aren’t the ones who show up fearless and full of confidence, ready to tackle whatever is in front of them. The people I admire the most are the ones with white knuckles and trembling knees who show up anyway.

Slowing down

We’re in the car when it starts raining, and I want to dart out of the car and run inside as fast as I can.

He likes to stick his tongue out to catch rain drops and wants to find the biggest puddles for jumping.

Every day he teaches me about slowing down, taking my time, and enjoying the little things.

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What this foster mama really wants from her people

I’m not entirely sure how it happened, but somehow on this foster parenting journey, I’ve managed to find myself in the middle of a whole lot of awesome, supportive people. I’ve got family members who put up with the chaos that foster care thrust into their lives, friends who lend me a listening ear and offer practical advice when needed, and a whole host of other foster parents who really get it. I’ve had people drop off meals and clothes and baby gear, and show up to move and assemble furniture. All of these things are wonderful blessings and I can’t imagine how it is possible to do this alone.

But the best gift, the one that really gets me choked up, is when my people love my kids.

Here’s the thing I need to be honest about: every child is beautiful and absolutely worthy to be loved, but not all of them are easy to be around. Trauma and neglect has a very real effect on a child’s temperment, behaviors, and even physical appearance (think: hygiene). And while it is of course important for kids to know proper manners and respect for other people’s things and how to load the dishwasher and bathe correctly, sometimes we need to start with things like self-worth and positive coping skills.

So if you really want to know what foster parents want or need, or at least this foster parent, here it is: love my kids anyway. Be a safe, judgement-free place for us to be no matter what my kids throw at you. Put up with their weird and annoying and sometimes rude behaviors. And if you want to take it a step further, teach your kids to do it, too.