Friday, August 26, 2016

From Work to Home and Back Again: A Mom's Tale

I didn't know much, but I knew that one day I would be a stay at home Mom. I had known that from the time I was pretty young. I never felt pressure to do so and in fact my own Mom had worked part time outside of the home most of my growing up years. I just knew that was what I wanted to do.

I decided at orientation day, after registering for my first semester at SOU that a traditional 4 year college was not for me. After spending a few more years working at a local coffee shop that I had been working at since I was 16, I decided to try something that had always fascinated me. Phlebotomy. A dear friend of ours had just gone to school and then been hired at a lab and encouraged me to do the same. I was pumped. I nailed every test and quiz and practiced drawing blood on my supportive family and friends. I immediately got hired at a integrative doctors office and began my career as a Phlebotomist, Shortly after being hired they began to expand and I set my eyes on becoming a Medical Assistant for the new Endocrinologist in town. I was trained on the job and loved the new challenges it brought and I would spend the next few years there working full time.

Trevor and I had been married for 5 years when we decided we wanted to expand our family. I left work just a month before Jack made his nearly 4 week early arrival. It was an incredibly hard adjustment, not really going from working to being home- but caring for an early baby with reflux and the sudden feeling of isolation. On the hardest days when I was lonely, crying and holding a crying baby I would think..."Would I rather be at work right now?" The answer was always no. The hardest, craziest days at home would always be my personal choice over working outside the home and having someone else holding my baby for me. I just couldn't fathom it. And so we trucked along.

A mere 2 1/2 years later the twins were born. I was now home with 3 kids under 3 and it. was. crazy. I was a wreck at times and loved my breaks away from the chaos...but I couldn't keep away long. I'd rather the chaos than the feeling of being away from them.

It was hard. Not just emotionally. but financially. We went from a double income and no kids to a single (pastor's) income with 3 kids really fast. We rented for 7 years, we said no to a LOT of extras and we had a lot of financial setbacks due to necessities for our family. For us, it was worth it. A million times over.

So, here we are 8 years and 2 months since I left my job outside of our home and we are entering a new season. A season where all three of our boys will be full time in a wonderful local public school. I really can't believe we have arrived at this point, but we are here. It made sense for me to look for work outside of the home again and so at the beginning of summer we started talking about what that would look like. One thing led to the next and now here I am, just a few short days away from starting work again. I have the great opportunity to work part time at my boys school. It's so fantastic I can still hardly believe it. Getting to be where they are, and home when they are home including breaks and's just amazing. Being that it's part time I still get to do the volunteer work I've been doing as well, and even coffee dates with friends and lunch dates!

I am looking forward to this new adventure, this new reality for our family and this next season. I would be lying if I said I wasn't sad my boys were at this stage, or nervous about re-entering the workforce after 8 years. Those things are normal, and I will walk through it all with my biggest fan of a husband.

The past 8 years at home have been some of the hardest, best, exhausting and yet most rewarding moments of my life and I am so thankful I got to be with my kids every single day- raising them, holding them and being there for every first. The hardest, ugliest days were still worth it.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Good Parts of Saying Good-Bye

I've shared so much about the heartache of saying good-bye to our foster son. But honestly, having him here was really really hard.

There have been a lot of good things since he left and I wouldn't be telling the whole story if I left those out.

I was in a pretty dark spot for awhile when Little Man was here. I wasn't able to do the things that keep me afloat and I was struggling. So many people were willing to help, but I didn't even know what to ask for, or how to ask it. After he left we talked a lot about what sort of things would need to happen if we were to take another foster child in. There would be things we would have to do differently if we were going to not just survive in it, but thrive. It's so important to have the hard and honest conversations about how this sort of thing affects you and your family, otherwise you set yourself up for burnout and failure.

Jack really started to hate school. He's an amazing student, extremely smart and has lots of friends, and yet getting him to school became a battle all of the sudden. He started having stomach aches and I got a few calls from the office. He may not have been able to verbalize everything he was feeling, but what we got out of him was that he was at school and Little Man was home with me, and even his brothers were only in school for a short amount of time. He was feeling left out, sad that he was away from me and he wasn't angry at Little Man but he definitely felt the transition of this in a different way.

The boys miss Little Man a lot, and ask about him often. Jack even asks if we can adopt him. There was not a lack of love and acceptance, and only once did one of our kids say they were annoyed by him. That doesn't mean it wasn't hard to share not just their space, but their time with another child.

We've loved the freedom again to just pick up and take off, go on a trip or head out of town to the beach for the day. I don't miss changing diapers. I don't miss the mess of a new eater and I was so over making bottles! While I loved rocking him to sleep, I missed my sleep. Our boys are great sleepers, and for the most part have always been. I took that for granted!

Since Little Man went back with his Mom, we've been much more in tune with each of our kids needs. We've been more intentional and it's been a good time for us to evaluate. I've also been able to be a lot more honest with myself about what I'm capable of, as a stay at home Mom of three (then 4) boys and the kinds of things that I need in my life to be able to function in a sane way.

It's a tough balance. Figuring out the part that says "sacrifice will hurt" and also "don't kill yourself or your family". It looks different for every family, and while I don't want to scare anyone away from doing foster have to be able to honestly asses what you and your family are capable of long term.

As we move forward in evaluating our lives and schedules, it's important to us we continue to have those honest talks and stay involved in some way. The need is desperate, I cannot stress that enough. We hope to be an example of a normal family with young kids that took a leap of faith and despite the hard parts--it was worth every single second.

Even if we didn't have the relationship with Little Man's Mom that we do, it would be worth it. I'm so thankful for the added bonus of our continued involvement. I am looking forward to seeing what God does.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Two Months Later

It's been quiet around these parts. Sometimes writing things down is so good for my processing, and other times I have to process first before I can write anything coherent.

According to my last post we were preparing to say goodbye to our foster son. Preparing is a funny word. When I prepare dinner I have the ingredients at the ready, but there is nothing at the ready in this sort of situation. You wash the clothes and sort out the ones that he still fits in and will go with him. You fold and store the ones he has outgrown in his time with you, remembering each outfit and thankful you took so many darn pictures. You set aside the one pair of footie pajamas he came in, sniffing in the smell of them and tucking them in a special box. You sanitize the toys, boxing up the ones that are his and putting the others away in case another little one comes to stay for awhile. You then ask your husband to remove every item in the home that would remind you of him, the gate, the high chair, the bottles and diapers... because if it's there after he is gone, every time you look at them it will punch you in the gut. You do leave his picture on the wall, the one you took and the one made into a Mother's Day gift. You don't erase him, you honor and acknowledge his space in your home and in your life, if even for a few short months. You watch the window for the social worker to pull up in the state car and remove him from your arms. You rock and rock and sing and pray and squeeze and hold tight until she comes.

That is the preparing you can do. There is no preparing your heart for the feeling of loss that comes. You have mothered a child. You've attended to the midnight cries with soothing rocks in the comfy chair and warm bottles. You've sung the goodnight song, said the prayers and the scripture over him. You've done the doctor visits, the antibiotics, the care of wounds. You've been the arms he's come back to after visits with him Mom, you've been the safe haven and the routine and schedule he's depended on. Your kids have bonded to him like any other new sibling, your family has embraced him as their own. Your church family, scrambling to hold him or see him- to love on him. You have given birth to a kind of love in your heart you didn't know existed. A new kind of love that represents a new characteristic of Christ, one that doesn't even make sense because you are loving a child that is not your own, nor will he ever be yours....and yet you go all in because you don't know how not too.

You've done the dance with social workers, judges, attorneys, and extended family. You've shown grace when you wanted to curse. You've advocated for him and been protective of him while also championing his mother and that has not been easy. You have put your own feelings aside, and trusted God to write this little one's story. 

And now you must relinquish him. You will no longer have a say in his care, his future, his life. You were a middle mom. You served your part for a time and now that time has come to an end and while the daily routine of caring for him ends...your heart does not stop caring. It can not, will not stop the loving, caring, aching for this child because that is not how love works. And there is no preparing for the hurt and grief you feel when that separation happens. 

It's been just over two months since we said goodbye and although we are still in touch it is so very different. To go from Mom to friend, to watch and not step in as he's given food too old for him or starts to run out into danger. To give his Mom space to learn to mother him while also not just turning a blind eye. Carefully choosing words that encourage and guide instead of judging. Walking the line of support and care, while creating boundaries for us all is a whole new sort of balancing act.

His eyes light up when he sees us. He knows us. I pray someday he will know just how much we loved him and still do...and why we loved him the way we did. This is the good and hard love we are called to. 

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

A Letter To Our Foster Baby: Preparing To Say Goodbye

We knew your time with us would be temporary. We knew that whether it was a month or a year, at some point we would say good-bye to you. We knew it would hurt. We knew that it would be difficult no matter when the good-bye happened, but we also knew there would be no way to fully prepare for it.

I will never forget when you were dropped off at our home. 7 months old, wide eyed and curious. I can only imagine what was going on in your head. I think I was just as wide-eyed and curious as you were. The next few weeks were such a blur, I'm thankful I documented your days with pictures. My how you've grown.

You got two teeth while you were here. You learned to walk and say your first words.

I want you to know, you were afforded everything our own children were while you were with us. Every bit as much love, as much care and every bit as much prayer. We sang you the same songs we sing to our boys every night when we tuck them in. We picked out your own Bible verse to pray over you, and we often said it through tears. My Mom made you a Lovey, just like she made one for our boys and you instantly attached to it, seeking the same comfort from it that they do.

You were tenderly rocked to sleep on the nights you cried out when we couldn't think of anything else to do. You were tended to with care and concern during the several sicknesses you endured while you were here. You were a part of our holiday traditions, our "framily" time and birthday parties. You were a part of our training for races, church life and everything else. You were never treated like anything other than a child of ours.

We did not hold back in our love, or in our fervent prayers for you, or in our supplying you of everything you needed. You have not wanted for anything. We have asked the Lord to intercede on your behalf, we have asked Him to protect you and to draw you to Himself. We have asked that no matter where you go from our home, you will know deep in your soul that you were loved here and that as deep as our love goes for you, the Father loves you that much more. We pray you will seek Him and find Him in the days ahead.

Little Man, our boys have loved you from the moment you entered our house. They have never treated you like anything other than a brother. They've been protective of you, thoughtful about you and they have loved you with a love that we had never seen. You taught them how to love in a whole new way and they are more like Jesus because of it.

You will leave a void in our hearts. My heart is already breaking into a million pieces at the thought of you not being with us, but I do not regret for one moment saying "yes" to this, and "yes" to you. You are worth the pain in my heart, you are worth the sacrifice we've made to love you big, and hard, and without strings attached. You deserved to be loved so much that it hurts. You are not a mistake, or an accident, or a problem- you are precious. You have a hope and a future and we are grateful to have played, even just a small part, in your life.

You, my sweet changed us. You showed us what it really means to have our heart broken for the things that break the heart of Jesus. You have shown us that it is possible for things to be hard and good, and ugly and beautiful all at the same time. Your little life matters.

We will grieve you. It will not be pretty, but we will do this again for another little one because there are more of you out there that deserve this love. And we will pray that others who have watched us open our hearts and home to you, we will pray that they will choose to say "yes" as well because there are so many like you who need to be loved hard, and fully and we will tell is so worth it.

You are so worth it.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Wounded Birds: Caring For The Least Of These

We came upon an injured robin at our doorstep. He'd been hopping along, but as Trevor grew closer and he did not fly away we saw his wing was damaged.

I quickly googled "what to do with an injured bird" and we placed him on a towel in a box very gently and closed the lid.

I called our local wildlife rescue and they asked us to bring him in. Our boys hopped in the car with Trev and they made the trek 45 minutes away. 

That might seem like a lot for a bird, but we felt it was important to teach our boys that we care for animals too, and a suffering bird matters and that there are really cool places that exist to rescue and rehabilitate animals from the wild.

They handed the box over and Trevor took them for an ice cream treat for a job well done.

I messaged the refuge today, hoping for an update on Mr. Robin. Unfortunately it wasn't what I'd hoped for. He had suffered a severe compound fracture in addition to a dislocated wing and couldn't be saved. While we are so sad, we are glad the little guy didn't suffer more- as I'm sure a cat would have gotten to him quickly. 

It didn't really end the way I had hoped or wished for, but if we had known he wouldn't make it we would have still picked him up and driven him to get care, we would have still taught our boys to be responsible and caring and to seek help for wounded ones. Despite the ending we did not plan for, the 2 hour trip on a Sunday afternoon wasn't wasted.

Today was the first day I've really thought hard about when we have to say goodbye to Little Man. The reality is we will say goodbye. It could be rather soon, or it could be awhile from now, but that day will come. We'd like to hope that we would be hopeful about where he goes from here, we'd wish for the best possible for him and we'd like to see a future before him that is full of joy and possibility and healing. The truth is, we may not like where he goes from here. We may have concerns and worries about where he goes to when he leaves us and those are beyond our control.

You want, ever so much, for this to be a bridge between brokenness and healing but the reality is you may not ever get to see that healing. You may not be privy to that information or it may not bring the wholeness you prayed for in your time. We cannot say yes to foster care if we can only handle the "good" goodbyes. The ones that reunite a healthy family that has worked hard, or the new forever family that offers so much love and redemption you couldn't have asked for more. These happen, but the other kind happen to. The returns to family that make you question the system over and over again. The returns that make you weep in fear for the future of the child who you loved while they were in your care. Some returns do not offer the hope of healing you so desperately want to see.

Would we say no if we knew when they left us it was not for what we hoped? If we could have seen the future and saw the continued heartache and loss a child would endure, would we have still stepped in to offer comfort and peace in the midst of that storm? Absolutely. Because that is not the reason you foster. It is not about happy endings.
It's much bigger than that- there is a bigger story you are a part of- a bigger Hope to hold on to and that is what you cling to when the water seems muddy and you're broken for these children. You must cling to the hope that the story doesn't end there- 

So you love. You love hard and big and you provide comfort and safety and you go all in- because you do not know what may lay ahead, you battle for them while they are in your care and trust as they leave your nest there is Someone who watches over them and cares for them more than you ever possibly good and He knows all about redemption and restoration and He is still writing those stories...

Friday, April 1, 2016

The Day I Tried To Quit

Today I wanted to quit. Little Man woke up with a yucky nose- we just can't catch a break. It's been 8 weeks since placement and we've not gone more than 10 days without some sort of sickness with him. He's miserable when he's sick, obviously and when babies are miserable so are the parents. He still wakes up in the night- we are exhausted.

People ask us all the time how long we will have him, but that's just not how foster care works. You aren't given children and told it will be "x number of days". You really have no idea, and even when you might start to, things change in the 11th hour and you just have to go with the flow. Nothing is concrete or absolute. It's all so day to day.

I had to pull out of the Avenue of the Giants Race completely. First I pulled out of the Half-Marathon, after my concussion and broken toe I knew I wouldn't be ready to train the way I wanted for it. I switched my registration to the 10k and then I decided I wouldn't be able to even do that. There is no margin for me to train. No margin for the things I had been doing. To say I was upset is an understatement. I couldn't even talk about it with Trevor because I was so teary. Sure I could walk the whole thing, but I'm stubborn and I want to do it the way I planned to do it- I don't like feeling like I didn't meet the goal I had so I'd rather not go half...bottomed.

The reality is, some days I cope with my new situation better than others. Some days I'm pretty okay with this new life and some days I struggle to make it to bedtime without a breakdown. It can just be so very isolating and there is nothing I can do to change it, nothing anyone else can's just a reality.

So I told Trevor I quit. When he leaves us I'm done. I can't do this anymore. It's just too hard.

And then Kristen Welch from We Are That Family wrote a blog and published it the same day. The title of the blog?  For When We Are Too Tired To Keep Going - the section that made my eyes well up said "How many challenging marriages and hard parenting seasons and difficult jobs and acts of wild obedience have worn us out and begged us to walk away. Let’s face it, sometimes quitting is easier. But often, digging in and pushing past our weariness is where we meet a holy God that says, Come unto me and lay your burden down.
And then He fills our arms with Blessings and says this is why you must not stop."
Yeah, okay so that was timely.  And then, later that day Ann blogged, about their journey this past year and about their road to adoption. Yeah, I cried some more. 
"Sometimes — The story isn’t going how you planned, but that isn’t a reason to stop trusting that the story has a plan. Sometimes, turns out? You clearly not being enough  —- is what makes the enoughness of God most clearly seen."
Oh for the love...okay I get it already.
But a few hours later, on Instagram, Angie Smith shared about a rough day she was having, missing her Charlotte and feeling the prompting of the Holy Spirit when to where she was buried, and posted a video of her driving by it with the beautiful spring in bloom and the song that played? 
The song that is Little Man's, the one he fell asleep to in my arms that first night and the one that speaks over him...even though you are lacking in an earthly father right now- Jesus is the Good Good Father who provides all you will need. 
So, I won't quit. I will keep on, trusting that my not being enough is what shows Jesus most clearly to others, and trusting for Little Man and that our God is a Good Good Father, who provides all we need. 

(*Update since my "I tried to quit day"--  I emailed the race director and said I still wanted to do the 10k, even if it meant walking the whole time--stubbornness be darned)

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Hard But Good: Honesty (Foster Care)

Hard but good. That's sort of the best way to describe the past 6 weeks. So much has been hard, and yet so much has been good.

When we got Little Man, Trevor had such a bad cough he spent the first 5 nights on the couch so his coughing didn't wake up the baby. Shortly after that, Little Man cut two teeth the same week he came down with a cold (I think he was starting this before we even got him). As his cold worsened the Doctor confirmed my suspicions that he had developed a double ear infection. He was miserable. Screaming, difficult to soothe, which I think the removal from his home only amplified, and would honestly downright yell at us throughout the day and especially during meal times.

Four days after we finished his antibiotics for the ear infection, he contracted Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease (HFMD) most likely from the visitation center we take him to three times a week. Three days later, Camden got it and three days after that both Jack and Christian got it as well.  In the midst of that I, having not left the home in days and days somehow got a bad cold. I think my body just gave up.

I knew this would be tough, this foster care thing. I just didn't expect that our first nearly 6 weeks would be filled with constant sickness. The HFMD is super common, super contagious and can often be pretty tame despite the fact that you kind of have to wait it out a few days before going back out in public. Little Man's case of it was severe, and because of the every three days someone new got it...I'd been inside my house for 12 days with a sick child, leaving my walls only once in the past 9.

I've been more emotionally, physically and mentally drained than I can remember.

Despite our getting Little Man on a regular eating and sleeping schedule, we have yet to have any consistency in our new normal what with a new sickness popping up every other week. The realities of our sacrifices have been showing up here and there, ones we didn't really realize would happen I don't think. Or at the time maybe seemed small in the scheme of things.

I'm such an extrovert and I get my fill when I'm around people, especially people I love. You can usually find me every Wednesday night with the teenagers at church where I help lead a Table Group. It's often the highlight of my week and it's something I've had to say no to for right now. Little Man's bedtime does not work with Wednesday night schedule. That has been really difficult for me.

 I miss my quiet mornings after the boys go to school where I sit with my coffee, Bible and a book and soak. I miss being able to just head out for a run or walk without worrying about a nap schedule or pushing a jogger. I miss my early morning weekly walk with my closest friend.

Trevor and I haven't been on a date in almost 9 weeks. Some of you may say "that's nothing!" but for our marriage we identified a twice monthly date out as being vital to the health of both of us, our marriage and our family.

Ya'll that's been hard. But the good.....

Little Man's CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) called the other night to check up in him and us. I explained what the past nearly two weeks had been like and she said "You Foster families open your homes up to so much when you take in a child, sickness is one of those things. Another area your family is sacrificing for Little Man's foundation and future and I can't thank you enough. You are making a difference and I'm so sorry it's been so tough, but thank you."

It really was the encouragement I needed. Fostering is definitley isolating as it's extremely hard to explain the world to someone who isn't in it. I love being able to share and talk with people about it, but it is just hard to relate to. One thing that's been amazing in all of this is the incredible support we've received from friends and family. From the clothes, diapers, toys, wipes and formula being dropped off, to meals brought to our home, coffee delivered to my doorstep and numerous other blessings including our van being fixed and that bill unexpectedly paid in full. 

Saying yes to people offering to help isn't easy, but I have said yes on nearly every occasion this past 6 weeks to things people have offered and not only has our family been blessed because of it, the people who have done it have said it's been a blessing to them. Sometimes we just forget, it's not always about us.

As I was rocking and singing (he's too young to know I'm tone deaf) to Little Man the other night, weary from the days inside the house with sick children and a sick me...I remembered what we said to God. That we would do anything he asked of us. We would be used in whatever way he wanted and that we wanted to make a difference in the Kingdom for him. Right now that looks like taking care of Little Man. For this season, this is what "anything" looks like. And he is so worth it. His life is worth the hardships, the inconvenience and the jacked up schedule for a season. And yes we are eager for a healthy household and a new routine without sickness to be formed, but...Little Man is not a mistake, he matters and wherever he goes from our home...we pray that what he experienced here, the love and security and prayers over him would follow him all his days.