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.

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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.

Stop saying you aren’t creative

I used to say that I wasn’t creative.

Of course, most people who know me in real life know that isn’t true. Even I know it isn’t true, now. But fifteen years ago, if you asked me if I was creative, I would have said no. I would have believed it, too.

I think what I really meant, was that I wasn’t artistic. I couldn’t draw or paint or sculpt or compose music.

But this is the problem with saying that you aren’t something, because now you have made that thing true. You’ve limited your definition of the word, and you’ve limited yourself, and you’ve given yourself an excuse to not even try to be the thing you say you aren’t.

Maybe, just maybe, art and creativity has a much broader definition.

Facing a problem and thinking through potential solutions requires creativity.

Juggling all of the demands on our time and attention requires creativity.

Taking someone else’s idea and figuring out if and how it might apply to you requires creativity.

So, if you ask me if I am creative, I will say yes. Both because I am, and because I want to be.

First the brokenness, then the healing

When I was 13, I spent a week in an orthopedic hospital following scoliosis (back) surgery. I don’t remember a lot from my time there, between heavy duty pain meds and my single-minded focus on my own situation (note, self-centered 13-year-old), but my parents had a lot of opportunity to talk to other patients. One I remember in particular was a lady from Greece. One of her legs was significantly shorter than the other, and she was there to have it lengthened. To do this, her doctors literally broke her bone and move the two parts a little farther apart each day, and as her body tried to heal the break, over time, her bone would effectively be lengthened. The process sounds both fascinating and horrifying to me, but it illustrates a seeming contradiction that I’ve found to be true in foster care as well: sometimes, something has to be broken before it can heal.

Ripping a child away from everything that is familiar to them – their parents, their home, their routines (whatever they are), sometimes even their schools and their siblings – is an act of trauma in itself. Social workers know this, the courts know this, and foster parents know this. This is why they fight so hard to come alongside a family with services and yet leave it intact, because the decision to remove a child from a home should never be taken lightly.

Sometimes, though, it is the right thing to do. Sometimes, when faced with a choice between the trauma of removal and the risk of allowing a child to remain where they are, the removal is the lesser of two evils. Sometimes, the brokenness comes first.

But always, always the hope is that the healing will come – ideally, for the entire family, but if not, at least for the child.

When there are no good answers

I sat there with her for several hours. Some of the time, a lot of time, she slept, so I browsed Facebook or sent emails or filled out paperwork, just to fill up the time until my shift was over.

But it was too bright and too noisy and not always easy for her to sleep, so I leaned on the side of the bed next to her and stroked her hair. Or I held her in my arms and rocked back and forth, much the way I do with my son, though truthfully he fits more easily in my lap.

And I sang softly to her as she slowly drifted off to sleep, over and over, words that I could only pray would bring some measure of peace and comfort, even if she doesn’t understand them.

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me…

This journey through the world of foster care is hard, tragic. Definitely heartbreaking. I believe in a God who desperately loves us, who heals and redeems, but sometimes those things feel so very far away, and there is no good answer, no way that makes sense, no path that feels right.

In Christ alone my hope is found
He is my light, my strength, my song…

And so I sat, right there in the brokenness, and I sang the songs my heart always comes back to when I need to remember – He loves and He redeems.

How deep the Father’s love for us, how vast beyond all measure
That He would give His only Son to make a wretch his treasure…

Even when there are no good answers.

Margin

A year ago, I was as busy as I think I’ve ever been in my life. The number of things I was juggling on a regular basis still amazes me, and I’ll be really honest – it’s a miracle that more things didn’t fall through the cracks. I had four kids, including an infant. Three of us were either on crutches, limping around in a brace, or wearing a boot. At least two of my kids were processing some major life stuff, and I had just found out I would need major reconstructive foot surgery (all while I was wearing a boot on the other foot). I was in survival mode and not operating at my best in any capacity (mom, friend, daughter, sister, or employee).

Fast forward eight months. Two of my kids moved on to their forever home, surgery was over, and I felt like we were finally in a season not just of recuperation, but rest. I had scaled back drastically on my commitments, and there was space in my schedule! We didn’t have something going on every night, or even most nights of the week! I didn’t feel like I was constantly playing catch up with my to-do list, and I could even plan ahead, and dream, and do fun things! I felt free.

One of the things I’ve been learning lately, is that despite my tendency to self-identify as extremely left-brained, there is another side to me that needs to be nurtured. And what the right-brain side of me needs most, is margin. I need white space around the edges of my commitments. I need time on our calendar that isn’t structured. I need a daily to-do list that can actually be accomplished before the end of the day (and not just in the last second before bedtime, either!). I need empty drawers and cabinets and space in the closet.

When I fill my home and schedule and life to the brim, there’s no room to breathe, but more importantly, there’s no room to adjust to the changes that will inevitably come. Things like illness and minor inconveniences cause more stress than they should. I’m less likely to respond to a need that I could otherwise meet easily. Even good and exciting opportunities are tempered by the amount of maneuvering I have to do to fit them in.

Protecting this margin is a constant battle, but it’s worth it.