When love does not come easily

If I had a dollar for every time someone said the following words to me, we could probably pay off our house:

foster care love

"I could never do foster care because I'd get too attached."

I used to say that, too.

And then we did do foster care.  And I could think of a billion reasons not to do it anymore, but getting too attached was not one of them.

Can I be honest for a second?  It is really hard to love a kid who is not your own.  

There was something different about adopting our oldest, P, from birth.  I fell in love with that girl the moment I saw the top of her head in the delivery room and have loved her more every day since then.  When our foster daughter, K, walked into our home on January 6th, I immediately felt compassion toward her, but I did not feel love.  She has been with us for 107 days now, and on exactly 107 mornings, I have had to make a conscious decision to show love to her, even when I don't feel it.

People are quick to dish out advice, reminding me to love K the same way that I love my own children.  But here's the thing: She is not one of my own children.  I can treat her equally, sure, but I cannot force myself to feel a certain way.  When my own girls have meltdowns, refuse to obey, or scream in my face, I am most definitely annoyed and frustrated.  Sometimes, when K has done similar things, my blood has been absolutely boiling.  On the surface, my response is always the same, but inwardly, I have felt frustration with K to a far greater degree than I do with either C or P.  The inherent love that breeds patience isn't there with her.

For many weeks, I have been ashamed to admit this.  What is wrong with me that I am not attached and connected to her?  Am I cold-hearted?  This seems to come so easily for other people.  The problem lies in the last statement.  I cannot compare myself to the perception I have of other people who may or may not have ever been in a situation even remotely similar.

Foster care is one giant question mark.  Whether or not K will be with us in a week, a month, or a year is undecided, and we are just along for the ride.  Lately, though, it seems as if K may be moving on soon, and I've been a wreck.  The thought of her not living with us anymore has made me come to an important realization: I do love K!

Love is not a feeling.  It is absolutely, one hundred percent, a choice and a commitment that must be made over and over and over again. 

I don't get the warm fuzzies with my foster daughter like I do with my adopted and biological daughters.  But I do want the very best for her, and I'd give up almost anything to ensure that she has a happy, safe, good life with people who want those same things for her.

Loving my foster daughter has been anything but natural.  Love has not come easily, but perhaps the challenge of loving K has made my love for her more beautiful.  This love that has slowly developed over the last 107 days is deep and abiding, unchanged by her frustrating actions and by my feelings of irritation.  

We will likely only be a stop along K's path in life.  My hope is that K has experienced love in a very real way while she has been in our home, but even if she hasn't or doesn't remember ... I have. 

My own kids make me happy, and of course I love them.  (That's easy.)  But loving a child in foster care has made me understand Christ in a way that loving my own never could.  He gave his very life for infinitely frustrating people like me.  My own calling to love K pales in comparison.  So tomorrow, for the 108th time, I'll choose to wake up and commit to loving my foster daughter once again, even when love doesn't come easily.

Foster Care: A Hard and Beautiful Calling

foster care

At 7:45 p.m. on Saturday, January 6, I was upstairs doing "the bedtime marathon" with my husband and little ones.  Hair was washed, teeth were brushed, and we were on to our favorite part of the evening: stories.  I love reading to my kids, but even as my oldest sat in my lap, I was already thinking about snuggling with my husband on the couch with Netflix and a glass of wine - the makings of the perfect at-home date night.  

Also at 7:45 p.m. on Saturday, January 6, my phone was ringing on the kitchen counter downstairs because a sweet 2-year-old was sitting in our local CPS office.  When I came downstairs and saw an unknown 405 number on my screen, I knew immediately why we had been called.  Shakily, I pressed "play" and listened to the voicemail.  "Would you be willing to accept placement?"  It still seems strange that such a life-changing event begins with a phone call.

We said “yes”, and so began our foster care journey, less than a week after our home was open and less than an hour after that phone call.  

People have asked us how we are doing and what has been difficult about adding K to our family.  "Everything!" I often want to say.  "Everything about this is difficult."

But that's not entirely true.

Pride is easy.  I can, all too readily, fall into the trap that elevates our family above others who aren't doing foster care.  Along a similar strain, I can feel sorry for myself with absolutely no effort at all, believing the lie that others' lives are less messy than mine and becoming angry with those same people, who have done nothing to warrant my irritation.  

Compassion is easy, too.  If I can have compassion, anyone can.  As more of K's story unfolds, my cold heart continues to melt.  I hate what she has had to face in her short life.  This is not the way things should be when you're two.  I want better for her and for her family.  Saying "yes" on January 6 was both simple and obvious.  How could we not?

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What's hard has been saying “yes" every day since then.  Continuing to hear and obey this calling for our lives, even when our will is weak and the Voice calling us feels distant, is anything but natural.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer says, "When Christ calls a man, he bids him to come and die."  Foster care feels a lot like dying sometimes.

It's hard to have two two-year-olds.  Period.  God bless you mommas of twins.

It’s hard to explain this broken system to my four-year-old when I don’t quite understand it myself.

It’s hard to watch her cry for “mommy”, knowing that that person isn’t me.

It’s hard when very few people really understand how big this thing is that we are doing.  I didn't just birth a newborn, but we added a two-year-old to our family, which I would contend is equally consuming at times.  Most people expect us (and anyone else with a new foster child) to continue with life as it was yesterday, when it will never be that way again.  

It's hard to have family in Texas who is willing but unable to help because crossing states lines requires permission every single time.

It's hard for a Type A person like me not to have a plan.  She might still be here in six months, or she could go home next week.  Either way, I'll probably be among the last to know, just as I'm the last to be informed of team meetings and home visits which I'm supposed to attend.  It's selfish, I know, but I hate being at the mercy of everyone else's schedules.  (Selfishness- there's another easy thing.)

It's hard that her language is so limited.  

It's hard that our family is under constant scrutiny by the same people who removed K from her home.  I'm doing the best I can, but I live in constant fear that I've done something wrong.  I'm afraid that someone will think I'm not doing my job if she falls off the bench at dinnertime and bumps her chin or her head, as my own two-year-old does basically once a week.  

It's hard to have very little information regarding the child who is living full-time in my home.

It's hard to pour out my life for this tiny soul, to be the umbrella that she stands under, taking the rain ... and to be unappreciated for doing so.  She doesn't want me.  I can't comfort her like her mom can.  Her mom doesn't want me, or even like me, either.  I tell K every night before bed that I love her, and she never says it back.  Maybe one day she will, but it's possible that she won't.  Perhaps the hardest thing about all of this is choosing to love someone without expecting a single thing in return.

I've put my life on hold for the moment and am not taking any classes for dental hygiene.  I wanted to slow down this semester in order to give our family my full attention, because I know that what we are doing is important and needed.  And yeah, it's hard.  It's dang hard.  Knowing that it would be hard hasn't made it any easier, and sometimes I wonder if all of this is worth it.

But there are moments when it is also beautiful. 

There are these brief reminders that I get the privilege of doing for another what Jesus did for me: He welcomed me into his family, and he pursues me when I don't want him.  He provides for my basic daily needs but also goes beyond that and loves me, simply because He loves me.

Today, she laughed at me while I played with her.  

Yesterday, she and my biological two-year-old played blocks together ... without screaming or crying or stealing.  Yesterday, I didn't even scream or cry or steal ... all day long.

Last week, our friends rallied to bring us clothes, diapers, and food, reassuring us that we are not in this alone.  She has a built-in new family and set of friends who all adore her.

She knows three words in sign language that she didn't know when she came to us.

I get to be the one to give her experiences that she's likely never had before.

Even when they're all fighting, our own daughters LOVE having another little girl around.  Though everyone has had a rough adjustment, K really is a perfect fit for our family.  

Everyone tells the scary stories of foster care, and then everyone understandably gets scared away from doing it.  I want to tell the good stories, about how the most difficult things are also the right ones and how redemption can be found in the most hopeless of situations.    

This is a hard calling.  And it's so beautiful, too.

About Having Kids and Having Plans

In a life I lived many moons ago, I was productive.  I made lists and got stuff done.  Always.  Nothing stood in my way.    

After Piper was born, I loved her more than I thought a heart was capable of loving, and I also was so. very. tired.  Infants are incredibly demanding. Thus began the days of Never Getting Anything Done Anymore.  

My husband and I decided to wait until Piper was in Pre-K, when childcare would be free and she would be more self-sufficient, to start the adoption process again (now!).  God had another idea, and Caroline was born shortly after Piper turned two.  Then, I discovered the true meanings of "busy" and "distracted".  When people say that the adjustment of going from one child to two is far greater than the adjustment of going from no children to one, they aren't lying.  There is never a single moment during "life with littles" (except sometimes in the middle of the night, and even that isn't guaranteed) when someone doesn't need something. 

I've learned a thing or two about multi-tasking.

I've learned a thing or two about multi-tasking.

Having kids is challenging in the best way possible.   Sometimes I long for a morning to sleep in past 6:00, a date with my husband, the privilege of crossing just one completed item out of my planner, something tangible to show for the work that I do as their mom, or, my goodness, a single quiet moment(!), but I don't ever wish for my old life back.  My children force me to be less selfish, better with my time, more patient, and less tight-fisted with my money.  At the end of my life, I know I won't look back and say, "I spent too much time paying attention to them."  

One of the biggest lessons that my girls have taught me in the last four years is that children are not interruptions but opportunities.  I can choose to see them as plan-destroyers and remain in a constant state of annoyance when they sabotage my schedule, which happens about every three minutes.  Or, I can choose to see them as future productive citizens, friends, moms, wives, and disciples.  I get the primary privilege of raising them to be such.  Which item on my day's agenda could be more pressing than that?

Today, I got basically nothing done on my "to-do list."  But hey, my kids ate three solid meals, the house hasn't been burned down or flooded with tears, everyone is still alive, and we are all (hopefully) a little more kind and a little less narcissistic than we were yesterday.  I'm redefining "productivity," and I guess that makes today a pretty productive day.  

On the Other Side of Mother's Day

Holidays are hard.  

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Hallmark has made holidays impossible to ignore, but for many people, weekends like the upcoming one are full of family drama, bad memories, and loneliness.

I feel so blessed to be celebrating Mother's Day as a mom again this year, but I vividly remember how I spent several Mother's Days in a row during our infertility journey.  I wished that I could curl up in a hole and disappear until they were over. Even after we had moved through much of the adoption process, I was gripped by fear that our adoption would be disrupted.  The desire to be a mom was more real than ever, yet the actuality of being one was still uncertain.

Social media only deepened my sadness. Every post about pregnancies or celebrating a first Mother's Day was like a knife being stabbed further into my heart. In some ways, I was killing my own joy.  I could have turned off the computer, but there's something weirdly addictive about pain, isn't there?  I guess that a part of me wanted to stay angry at the people who had what I didn't, because anger is easier than grace.  Looking back on all of it now, I wish that I would have been more satisfied and less resentful.  I didn't have control of my circumstances, but I was allowing my circumstances to have entirely too much control over me.

While it is true that bitterness eats away at the soul, it is also true that even people who have legitimately mastered the art of contentment feel lonely and discouraged at times. That's part of being human.  If you're reading this and dreading going to that Mother's Day gathering (or Christmas feast or whatever) because you know that it will reopen wounds, give yourself the grace not to go. That really is a choice that you have. People might not understand your decision, but I promise that they aren't nearly as worried about your presence as you are.

Although I'm immensely thankful to be "on the other side" of Mother's Day now, a part of this day will always be tough.  Having two precious daughters does not erase the dark years when we walked through infertility and our marriage was a mess.  I'm sad when I remember my friends who desperately want to be mommas, but God keeps saying, "Not yet."  My struggle is years removed, but all of the feelings of those years stay fresh.  

birth mom and adoptive mom

I can't stop thinking about Anna, Piper's birth mom.  She has another daughter now, Piper's half-sister, who she is raising alone.  Sometimes I wonder if she ever regrets her choice to make me a mom through adoption.  I hope that Anna feels celebrated and loved today, but the reality for her is that Mother's Days are probably all filled with thoughts of Piper.  Birth mothers are not "lesser mothers" than adoptive moms, but I'm the one who gets to spend my days with Piper.  I'm the one who hears her call me, "Mom", yet I see Anna in my baby's face every day.  Even in her absence, Anna is an ever-present part of my life, and my heart hurts for her.

Looking back on the last several years, I realize that what I've been through has truly been God's kindness to me. (I've only recently been able to say that.) The seemingly endless period of longing to be a mom has given me perspective that I wouldn't have gained any other way, and it has made me a much more contented person today. Though I wouldn't wish my struggles on anyone else, I wouldn't change them.  If Mother's Day is a hard day for you, trust me; I remember.  Hang on, even when it hurts and nothing makes sense; there really is a brighter day coming.

A Quiver Full of Arrows: Thoughts on Family Size

I'm not sure we even made it out of our wedding reception without some form of the infamous question, "So, have you thought about kids yet?"

Well, to be honest, I've been married for approximately three hours, so no, all I have been thinking about is taking off this stifling dress and sitting on some beach somewhere with my guy.  

Then, before Piper's adoption was finalized, "(When) do you plan to adopt again?"

Maybe that will be up for discussion when my kid actually has my last name?

Or, in the hospital when Caroline was one day old, "Do you think you'll have more?"  

Right now, I can't even walk correctly, and my baby is making her existence known to everyone on the third floor.  Do I think I'll have more?  I think for now, I'll have more Phenergan and maximum strength Tylenol, please and thank you.

People mostly mean well or are trying to make conversation when they ask these types of questions, and I'm rarely ever offended by them.  

Timing is a funny thing, though.  

For example, it is completely appropriate to ask a lady if she's pregnant when she clearly is 9+ months along but a total disaster to ask her the same question if you're not positive that the extra pounds around her midsection are, in fact, a baby and not a burrito.

Likewise, it may not be the ideal time to ask a couple about children at their wedding, (or even five years into marriage when they don't have any children but, unbeknownst to you, have been trying for months).  In premarital counseling, we discussed having several children, but then we actually got married and had one ... and quickly reconsidered.

I have often felt guilty about not wanting to have a billion kids.  

My friend wants to have 4-5 children, and she would be a rockstar at it.  She recently posted a picture on Instagram with this caption: 

"Stepped in to start laundry.  Stepped out to find the baby feasting on marigolds and the toddler dumping water on his brother's head.  And somehow the underwear came off in the process too. Haha."  

There would be no laughing or posting on Instagram if this happened in my house.  There would probably be tears and time-outs, because I'm the most type-A mom you'll ever meet and my friend is a laid-back gem of a parent.  

I've wanted to be a perfect mom to many children, but I am coming to realize that being a good mother to two is okay.

"Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one's youth.  How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them!" (Psalm 127:4-5)

This verse is often used as reasoning for having 12 children, and maybe it implies that, but perhaps it doesn't.  The Bible is unmistakably clear about some things but slightly ambiguous about others.  I may get to heaven one day and realize that I was totally off base on this (in which case He would still let me in!), but I do not believe that "a quiver full" designates a specific number.  Otherwise, the verse would say, "Blessed is the man whose quiver contains ten children," which it does not.  

Perhaps people have "quivers" of varying sizes, in the same way that some humans are tall while others are short, and I have blue eyes while my husband has brown.  One way isn't inherently better than another; it's just the way we were made.  

It also may be true that certain arrows take up a considerable amount of space in a quiver, while others occupy little.  In our house, we have one precious arrow who takes up most of the quiver, so I'm convinced that some parents may have five children who require limited quiver space, while others have one who leaves no room for anyone else.  And that's okay.  Parents don't get extra gold stars on their invisible badges of honor for having more kids.  I'm not better or worse than the next mom because of the amount of people who live in my house.

Here's what I do know beyond a shadow of a doubt: Today is the only guaranteed day that any of us has to love exactly the children that we've been given.  What a waste of time to spend our days in judgment over others' family sizes or in regret over our own!

I've got two sweet little arrows, and my quiver is full.  For now.  Quivers have been known to stretch.