The Words That Change Everything

I realized I wrote this post several weeks ago and never published it. I hesitated to publish it now, as our little guy left us this week and we are grieving his loss. But the words are still true. “Thank you” still changes everything.

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No one is ever short on things to say when it comes to foster care.  Because foster care (and life in general) is hard, well-meaning people love to offer phrases like the ones below, which are supposed to make you feel better but really kind of don’t.

”I could never do that.”   (Yes, you could.)

”That kid is so lucky to have you!”   (It’s not lucky when a child is removed from his or her parents.)

”You must be a saint!”   (Um, have you seen this chaos that we call our home?)

There have been some helpful things too, though. 

”God sees you.” 

”I’ve been where you are, and it does get easier!” 

“I’m here to help if you need anything.” 

If you’ve said any of those things, bless your soul!  I have clung to your words more often than you know.

Do you want to know the words that have changed everything for me?  They’re so simple.

”Thank you,” 

and,

“We will never forget what you have done for him.” 

These words came from my foster son’s biological parents.

I know, I know.  Foster care isn’t about me.  I should be willing to make sacrifices and care for this human, expecting literally nothing in return.

But in addition to caring for a human, I am a human, which means that affirmation is life-giving.

thank you

Prior to Little Man, we had another K for several months.  Her mom would tell us things like, “I’m glad she’s safe”, but she never said, “Thank you”.  I don’t hold that against her; she didn’t owe us anything.  But every single day from January through May while K was with us, I wondered if what I was doing mattered at all.  We were only a brief stop along K’s path, and due to her young age and special needs, I feared then (and often continue to fear today) that my daily “dying to self” would be forgotten.  Maybe it already has been.  As much as that shouldn’t matter to me, it does.

I thought that Little Man’s parents would hate us, and I would understand if they did.  I would struggle to love, like, or even accept whoever was taking care of my children if they were removed from my home.  Perhaps they have struggled with those feelings, too, but they’ve never let them come across in our interactions.  They’ve shown us nothing but kindness and gratitude, which makes showing kindness and gratitude to their son infinitely easier. 

I’m tired The days begin far too early and end way too late, and I consistently feel overwhelmed and unproductive at the end of them.

Those words, though ... when I wake up with them ringing in my head ... I can pursue this often thankless calling for another day.  I’m reminded how much words matter and I’m challenged to be generous with mine.  Because in foster care and in everything else, “thank you” can change everything.

Small Things, Great Love

"You look like you've got your hands full!"

I'm never quite sure how to respond to this comment that I often hear when I'm braving the grocery store or the post office with my five-year-old and three-year-old daughters and eight-month-old foster son.  People say this even when everybody is "doing good listener", in the words of my three-year-old.

In these moments, I usually chuckle awkwardly and move on, but inwardly I wonder if I really look that ragged or incapable of managing the children in my home.

small things great love

Truth be told, my hands are full.  I love these small humans, but the weight of them often feels impossible to carry without dropping something or someone.  My heart is big, but my capacity is small.  

We recently received an email from our foster care agency, advertising a vacancy at one of the houses in their foster community.  These homes are specifically built for foster families who want to take in at least five foster children at a time (in addition to any biological or adopted children they may already have).  My heart immediately jumped at this opportunity, but my head quickly followed, and I knew that we couldn't make the move.

Our friends did.  I've lost count of how many children they have living with them at any given time.  It's a lot.  And they do it with such grace.  

Currently, our home is only open to babies, and we only take one at a time.  It's easy to feel defeated when I see these single moms who foster challenging teenagers, or the young families like us who take in large sibling groups.  It feels as though we aren't doing enough.  My hands are full with only one extra child, and I wonder if we are possibly making any sort of difference in the world as we "only, only, only..."

When I was a teacher, I was often reminded of The Starfish Story.  Do you know that one?  A young boy is walking along a beach covered with thousands of starfish.  Every few feet, he bends down to pick up a starfish and throw it back into the ocean.  An older man walks past the boy and stops to ask him what he is doing. 

"I'm picking up these starfish and throwing them back into the ocean so they can live," replies the boy.

"But there are thousands of starfish on this beach; how could you possibly make a difference?" the man asks.

Again, the boy bends down, picks up a starfish, and throws it back into the ocean.  "It made a difference for that one," he tells the man.

For that one.

I can't change the world.  I can't fix this broken system.  But I can continue to do small things with great love for this little life that God has placed in our home.

I can wake up and change eight diapers a day, clean spit-up, feed him another bottle, and throw in a fourth load of laundry (from today).  These are small things.  But I’m crazy enough to believe that those little acts, done with love, may forever change the trajectory of his life. 

Sometimes the small things feel big.  It feels big that random people are constantly in and out of our house, scrutinizing our parenting and assessing for safety.  It feels big that he's on WIC, so I pick through the baby food shelves like a fool who doesn't know what's what (because I don't) and then wait for the cashier to hand me my 17 receipts (literally 17; one for each item purchased) while everyone in line behind me watches and waits.  It feels big that we've stripped away everything but the essentials from our budget and our schedules so that we can provide well for Little Man.  It feels big to ask for help, to say "no" over and over and over again, and to be misunderstood. 

These are things I want to do for him, things that I've been called to do.  Sometimes these big-feeling-small-things are easy to perform with delight.  Often, they feel like dying.   

Dying so that he can have life. 

This is the gospel.  I don't live it out perfectly or even well, but I hope that one day, K and his parents see and know that I did these small things because of the Greatest Love that was shown to me in the face of Jesus.  With that perspective held in the forefront of my mind, the small things do feel less big ... but never insignificant.  

I Want Her to Have You: A Letter to Biological Parents Everywhere

Hey Momma,

She's five today.

You know this.  I feel sure that you've spent her last five birthdays mourning the loss of your child as we've celebrated her with cake, presents, and balloons. 

Photo by icon0.com from Pexels

Photo by icon0.com from Pexels

Every year, I notice more wonderful qualities about her.  She's smart, inquisitive, artistic, kind, compassionate, physically stunning, and athletic.  I did not give her these things.  I have given her a home and have done my best to provide for her needs along the way.  You gave her most of the characteristics that make my heart swell with pride when I look at her.

Sometimes I don’t understand her.  She sees the world through different lenses than I do.  Sometimes I don’t understand my biological daughter, either.  The amount of times that that child can spill something and get dirty in a day mystifies me completely ... until I listen to her father tell stories of when he was a child and did the exact same things.  When I hear about his upbringing, I can make sense of her behavior.  

I don’t hear such stories about my foster/adopted child.  So when she’s shy around new people, or meticulous about her drawings, or afraid of all costumed creatures, I don’t have any explanations for the way she operates.

I want her to have so many things.  I want her to have great friends, a happy childhood, loving teachers, faith to call her own, a man who loves and provides for her, and healthy children (eventually).  I want her to have this beautiful life, but at the end of the day, what I really want her to have is you.

I don't say this because I don't desire her or love her but because I do.  Sometimes I love her so much it hurts.  Even so, I know that you love her differently.  Not more than me, not less than me.  But you can give her a certain kind of love that I can't, because she came from you.  You two share things that she and I never will.

I’ll be honest; when I say that I want her to have you, I’m not totally sure how that is supposed to look.  Every situation is unique, and a large portion of her relationship with you is out of my hands.  In an ideal world, there would be no adoption or foster care.  I’m grateful that I have the opportunity to be “mom” to the children in my care, but the necessity of this system implies that we live in a broken world.  I get to live with and love on these kids, but certainly not because of any merit of my own.  This is not the way things should be.

What I am sure of is that a child can never have too much love.  She won’t be crushed under the weight of having two moms or dads, or extra siblings or grandparents.  And so, I want her to have you- healthy, healing, and whole- because she was yours first.

Gratefully,

A Foster and Adoptive Mom

Preferences, Convictions, and Commitment

I knew this would happen.

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I knew I'd drop my kids off at VBS at our old church every morning last week and miss that place.  I missed it bad.  My husband and closest friends could read it all over my face.

Two years ago, we became members at a different church, the church that we still attend.  Our decision was primarily fueled by the desire to stop commuting half an hour each way every week and to become part of a church body in our home community.  This change was challenging because I loved City Pres.  Had we left because we had been hurt or upset, the transition would have been easier, or at least more clear-cut.  

When we first started coming to Providence Road, I was encouraged to hear the gospel preached so emphatically and to be welcomed immediately by kind people who genuinely love Jesus.  But I missed so many other things about our old church that I struggled to worship in our new one, and still do at times.  I miss the hymns, the responsive readings, the paper order of worship that I could hold in my hands, the communion wine and the kneelers off to the side.  I miss the austere reverence that filled the building and the beauty of the building itself with that big red door, the stained glass, and the wooden arches.  I miss the size of the body and the variety of ages found in it.  I miss those sweet people, many who we've known for twelve years, many who walked with us through the most difficult season of our life together and watched as we renewed our vows in that 100-year-old sanctuary.  

What I have had to realize is that most of the things I miss about City Pres are truly preferences and not convictions.  We are convicted that we need to be in a church in Norman where the gospel is proclaimed boldly and shown to be essential in the lives of the church members and leaders.  That's it.  When Christ stands at the head of a church, all of the minor issues can go.  There is value in finding a place and remaining committed to it, even when more comfortable places exist.  If everyone quit things as soon as they became uncomfortable, no one would ever have children, finish school, runs marathons, or remain married.  

This is not to say that I've had any easy time dying to my preferences in honor of my convictions.  But, He does help my heart.  Two years later, I can honestly say that although I still miss City Pres, I love Providence Road!  As I've slowly loosened my hold on what I want, He has shown me how the gospel can break down all sorts of barriers to give what is needed, namely God himself.  I can love and serve at this church because it is His church and my preferences are secondary to His kingdom. 

5 Stars: Clinging to the only reviews that truly matter

5 stars

I'm an Achiever.

I didn't need an Enneagram test to tell me this, or possibly to tell you this either.  But since I'm an Achiever, I took the test anyway.

Ambitious.

Competent.

Driven.

Status-conscious.

Overly concerned with their image and what others think of them.

I have been this way ever since I can remember.  I drive myself into the ground to prove to myself, but mostly to others, that I am capable.  Worthy.  Accomplished.  5 stars.

This perfectionism plays itself out in virtually every area of my life.  I've convinced myself that I need to earn a 4.0, to qualify for the Boston Marathon, to wear a certain size of clothes, and to have those 5 yellow stars next to my name on the dogsitting website, on our AirBnB listing, and in my Etsy shop.

Reviews make or break me.

I didn't realize this until recently, when I mused aloud to my husband, "It would absolutely crush me if I got one bad rating on Rover (the dogsitting app)."

The words didn't sound so flat and absurd when they were just swirling around in my head.

"Really?" he asked.  "You let the opinions of others hold that much power over you?"

Yeah, I guess I do.  Or at least, I have.  I'm trying to turn a new leaf.

The thing is, I love caring for people's pets and humans and hosting travelers in our home.  I love hand lettering, writing, and crafting.  I want to excel at those things.  But admittedly, I often crave excellence so that people will notice and so that those 5 little stars remain perfectly filled.  Rarely ever do I work hard for the sole purpose of doing a good job.

More often than not, the most important jobs are unrated.  Nobody is handing out stars for being a great mom, wife, or friend.  Unfortunately for me, this can mean that these most important roles are shoved to the back burner to make room for less important but more visible ones.

On the rare occasions when my priorities are properly aligned, I still seek positive reviews and perfect ratings in places where they don't always exist.  

This is especially true in my role as a mom.  I take my kids to do fun activities, but it's more for my sake than for theirs.  I tend to care about my appearance (on social media and otherwise) at the expense of their little hearts.

When we were going through the application and home study process to become certified as a foster family, the case worker interviewed our five-year-old.  One of the questions presented was, "What do you like to do with your family?"

"I just like to be together with them," she answered simply. 

She always gives some variation of this answer when asked a similar question.  She never names "the Instagram moments," such as the zoo, the splash pad, or even our vacations.  "I just like to snuggle with Mommy on the couch," she says.

present over perfefct

My husband doesn't care if I'm a 4.0 student.  My friends don't care if I'm an AirBnB Superhost.  My daughters don't care if I'm the perfect Etsy shop owner or marathoner.  In fact, they don't even care if I'm the perfect mom.  They only care that I'm their mom.  

It's time to start letting those closest to me tell me who I am instead of striving for admiration that is fickle and fading.

My favorite book is East of Eden (John Steinbeck) when I have to name an adult book and You Are Special (Max Lucado) when it is permissible to name a kids' book.  

In You Are Special, the wooden Wemmick people walk around all day, giving each other ugly gray dot stickers or beautiful star stickers.  They make judgments about each other and hand out stickers accordingly.  Everyone wants to have tons of stars.  (This sounds familiar.)  One Wemmick, Lucia, has neither stars nor dots because "the stickers only stick if you let them".  Since Lucia cares only what her Maker thinks of her, she is able to let go of perfection and competition and discover true freedom.  

In the words of John Steinbeck, "Now that you don't have to be perfect, you can be good."

Good. 

That's a perfect goal for me.