We closed our home.

Four years ago this week, I was scheduled to run the Tulsa Route 66 Marathon.  It would have been my sixth full marathon, and I had trained for it for months.  If all went according to plan, I could beat my previous personal record and finish in 3 hours, 50 minutes.

On Monday of Race Week, I found myself at urgent care with a nasty case of strep throat.  Undeterred from my race goals, I began taking antibiotics immediately and felt much better in a few days.  I headed to Tulsa that weekend, exhausted from a long week of sickness, but ready to accomplish what I set out to do several months before. 

Disaster hit at Mile 3 of the race.  Mile 3!  This never happened with so many miles to go.  I felt as though I was floating and on the verge of vomiting and about to fall asleep all at the same time.  I attributed these effects to the antibiotics I had been taking and willed my legs to run for several more miles. 

As the race dragged on, I was becoming more and more miserable, and it became increasingly clear that finishing the full marathon was out of the question.  Again, this never happened.  I never quit races.  My previous mode of operation had always been to keep putting one foot in front of the other, no matter what. For whatever reason that day, though, I listened to my body (or maybe it was the Holy Spirit).  When the road split, I tearfully made the choice to continue with the half marathoners, letting go of all of the goals I had prior to the start of the race.  I hated myself for it at the time.  Quitting was much harder than finishing would have been.

***

We are closing our home to foster care for awhile.  After Little Man left, our worker asked us when we’d be ready to accept another placement.  We told her that we wouldn’t.

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I hate that I just typed that. 

I had anticipated having many children in and out of our home over many years.  Maybe we still will.  Maybe in five years, we’ll be in a different season and ready to try this again.  But I didn’t anticipate closing so soon.  We still had a few more months to give before I start school full-time, and it feels like we quit.  Quitting was much harder than finishing would have been.

***

Two days after I failed to complete the full Tulsa Marathon, I took a pregnancy test.  For the first time in years, it was positive.  In that moment, I knew exactly why God and my body had been telling me to stop racing, and I was overwhelmingly grateful that I had listened to both of them.

***

I’m not there yet with our decision to take a break from foster care. 

Most days, I feel that we are making a huge mistake.  I have a defeating sense that we didn’t do enough … that we gave up … that everyone everywhere is as disappointed with me as I am. 

When I look at what we are doing (or not doing) from a logical stance, it makes complete sense.  My own capacity and limitations have become very evident to me over the past year, and while I often wish that they were different than what they are, I know that full-time school and full-time fostering are not an option for me.  I wouldn’t be able to do either well, and my family would suffer.  Accepting another placement without knowing how long the child will stay seems careless, when I know that the time we can dedicate to fostering is limited and the system is painfully slow.

This is the correct, logical decision.  However, emotions often speak louder to me than logic, and there have been some pretty noisy emotions lately telling me that I’m a failure.

***

A friend revealed to me last week that we have been fostering for almost a year.  Somehow, I literally had not thought about that until she mentioned it.  The last year has slipped through my fingers, and there have been moments when it feels as though my own life has been passing me by. 

There are good reasons for our family to take a break - good reasons that aren’t purely logical. 

Foster care requires far more than a willing heart.  I’ve poured out my life for the two kids who we’ve had in our home this year, which has simultaneously been a joy and a sacrifice.  Somewhere along the way, I lost a piece of myself.  In caring for these children, I didn’t care for myself (spiritually, emotionally, or physically).  As I’ve been accustomed to doing during marathon training, I ignored all signs that I was not doing well at all and kept putting one foot in front of the other.  My foster kids had everything they needed, but my own kids lost their patient mom, and my husband lost his loving wife.

Everyone talks about how children are resilient, and they are.  However, becoming a foster family is asking an extraordinary amount of two-and-four-year-old girls.  They loved both of our foster children better than I did at times and never showed them anything but grace and kindness, which has been extremely humbling for me to watch.  But they struggled in ways that they may never be able to voice, as their little worlds became increasingly unpredictable and their parents became increasingly unavailable. 

I know what a great dad my husband is to our girls, and watching him being a dad to two children whose own fathers were mostly MIA brought me to tears multiple times throughout the year.  He couldn’t have loved them any better than he did.  Foster care took a toll on him, too, though, and having two completely spent people in a relationship strains it, no matter how strong it was to start.  I almost lost my marriage once; I’m not about to lose it again. 

Death has, unfortunately, been a consistent theme in the lives of several close to me throughout 2018, and attending three funerals in the last four months has caused me to reflect on my own mortality and the shortness of life.  I’ve been thinking about the legacy I want to leave and wondering what people will stand and say at my funeral.  I want my children and spouse, more than anyone else, to say that I cared for them well. 

I don’t regret a day of our journey through foster care.  God called us to this and gave us the grace to be obedient.  Now he’s calling us to something else, and I must choose to be obedient again.  I know I won’t regret a day of being fully present for my home team over the next few months.

***

foster daughter

It is easy to become discouraged when I see other foster families living out their calling so well.  They make it look easy, and maybe it is for them.  Maybe, too, I don’t see everything.  Definitely, we are not them, and that is okayComparison is the thief of joy.  It is also the thing that sometimes keeps me from following the Lord’s will for my life because I am overly concerned with how that doesn’t always look like His will for everyone else’s.  I may never have a revelation as to why I listened to His voice this time which is on the scale of my pregnancy in 2014.  But hopefully, when I stand at the gates of heaven, I will hear His voice louder than ever, proclaiming, “Well done, my good and faithful servant!  You did all that I asked you to do.”  When that day comes, I know I won’t wish that I had run the race He laid out for someone else.

***

When our first foster child entered our home, she had so much shame that she would hardly look us in the eyes.  (I’m thankful to report that this was no longer the case by the time she left.)  She seemed consistently afraid that we would be disappointed in or angry with her.  I remember trying to talk to her one day early on in her stay, and she would not look up from her shoes.  I lifted her head, cupped her face in my hands, looked straight into her big blue eyes, and said, “K, I love you no matter what!”  In that moment, tears streamed down my own face as I realized that this is exactly what my Father does for me.  He lifts my head out of my shame, and although I can’t see His face today, I know that there is no disappointment or anger in His eyes. He loves me because I am His daughter, and not because I did or didn’t do foster care for a certain amount of time.  He says I’ve done enough, and that is enough for me.  Well, at least I want it to be.

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. 

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:

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"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.

I got married young.

This past weekend, we got away to an Airbnb for our eighth anniversary.  I'm 29, and we've already been married for eight years.  You do the math on that one.

Here in Oklahoma and where I'm from in Texas, marrying young isn't a complete anomaly.  Even so, my husband and I often get bewildered looks when we talk about how long we have been together.  {Apparently, they let babies get hitched in the South.}  

Everyone seems to have an opinion about what age is appropriate for marriage, but I don't think there is a black and white answer.  Age is often proportional to maturity level, but not always.

I was still in college when I married Andrew.  Looking back now, that seems crazy, but it's really no crazier than getting married and being in "the real world" would have been.  We had dated for three years, and we just knew that the time was right.  I'd like to offer a few reasons why, for us, marrying young was the best thing we could have done.

1.  Sex.  In light of our culture today, I realize that our decision to save sex for marriage is rare and strange, but it was important to us.  If we got married, we could have sex.  So we did.

2.  We knew that we would never be ready.  There are always more goals to accomplish, more places to travel, and more items to cross off the bucket list.  If we waited until the "right time" to get married, we probably never would have.  There is no "right time."  We didn't throw caution to the wind, but we also knew that we couldn't delay our decision until our uncertainty was 100 percent gone, because that day would never come.

3.  Our commitment to love each other, regardless of the situation, has held us together.  This particular reason stands out to me above all the rest.  When we were dating, we always had the choice to break up with relatively small consequences if things weren't going well (and we almost did on multiple occasions).  In 2014, five years after our wedding, we both believed that our marriage was not savable.  The shaky foundation that we had built up to that point completely crumbled, but we still had this piece of paper, this ceremony that our pastor had performed before God and hundreds of other people in which we had promised to love "till death do us part".  Initially those were not good reasons to try to reconcile our differences, but they were all we had at the time, and they are what kept us believing that divorce was not an option.  In the three years that we have stayed married since that horrible year, I have become increasingly more thankful for the vows that forced us to fight through those dark days to the peace and friendship that we enjoy now.

4.  We could have spent forever searching for the perfect person and never found him or her.  I am not naive enough to believe that I am the perfect wife for my husband, and neither is he the perfect husband for me.  We are both seriously flawed.  We fight.  We make each other angry.  He leaves his dirty clothes on the dresser.  I compulsively throw away important papers.  He forgets to wash his dirty lunch Tupperware.  I don't empty out the vaccuum cleaner when it is full of dog hair.  He farts too much.  I cry too much.  Another man might not annoy me in the same ways, but he would annoy me nonetheless.  I didn't marry Andrew because he is the perfect man for me; Andrew is the perfect man for me because I married him.

5.  We do more fun things because we are married, not less.  "Life as we knew it" didn't end when we said "I do".  Left to myself, I'd stay home alone and read books or write all day.  Left to himself, Andrew would play way too many video games and watch every Netflix documentary ever made.  Living together allows us to open up our home to others and be hospitable when it's easier to be lazy.  Having combined incomes provides more opportunities for adventures.  We never have to worry about finding dates to weddings, parties, or showers.  We shoot guns, see movies, play board games, watch car races, go hiking, run marathons, attend concerts and sporting events, look at Christmas lights, host dinner parties, and the list goes on.  We do those things because they are more fun with a best friend than alone, and because we push each other toward spontaneity rather than boredom.

6.  Burdens are cut in half when someone shares them with you.  The last eight years have brought more heartache than we ever expected, but Andrew has helped me through everything.  He cannot remove the circumstances, but he can listen and encourage me through them.  My first year of teaching, surgeries, infertility, and the loss of loved ones have all been easier because my husband has carried part of the load.  Likewise, our joys have been multiplied.  I'll never forget finding out about both of our girls and can't imagine celebrating the gift of life without my partner.

7.  We have become more independent because we are married.  This seems counter-intuitive, but it makes sense.  Being married has allowed us to make more decisions on our own and to become financially independent, things which would have been delayed had we continued living with parents or roommates.  "With great power comes great responsibility," but I actually enjoy being able to plan our meals and buy groceries, pay our own bills, own a home, have separate health insurance, and make the decisions that define adulthood.  We are our own separate family unit, and this has been a blessing rather than a curse.

8.  I'm not the first person to say this, but we get to grow old together and grow up together.  We spent our first year of marriage in a dumpy duplex that backed up to a high school parking lot, we drove an old car with a huge dent in the side, I was still finishing school, and we budgeted like crazy just to make it through student loans to the next paycheck.  But we were happy.  Now that we've been together for over a decade, I have gotten the privilege of witnessing my teenage boyfriend become a man, my precious husband become a father.

I guess what I'm trying to say is this:  Marriage doesn't require a huge savings account, perfect jobs, or a fancy house.  It requires two people who are committed to making it work.  Our story may look much different in twenty years, but the main characters will always be the same.

I got married at 21, and I have no regrets.