Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Lessons from Our First Placement (So Far)

We are on night 6 of our first foster placement, which does not exactly make me an expert. What it does make me, however, is raw, humble and honest.

I have been hesitant to post because I have a strong conviction about fairly representing our experience so far--and frankly, trying to accurately portray the roller coaster of emotions--while observing appropriate privacy considerations--is a challenge.

There have been some very difficult moments. Children cannot help what they are born into and yet their hearts, minds, emotions and very lives are molded and shaped by it. Witnessing up-close the impact of an adult's decisions and struggles on a young child's life is frustrating.

This is not like parenting my own children. I am wonderfully free of some of the strongholds of fear, pride and guilt that trip me up with my trio...but I am picking up pieces, filling in gaps, trying to earn the right to be heard through love and consistency, all while knowing this child may only be in our lives 10 days. God has been faithful to remind me that HE is the Savior of this child...not me. HE has a plan. HE can redeem this story. I am to be faithful to my part, but not be so bold as to think it depends on me alone.

There has been personal cost. I have had to disappoint friends and family members, cancel plans and make myself available for whatever this little person may need. The first 24 hours were especially gut-wrenching and bathed in exhausted, frightened tears as I mourned that loss of some of the comfort of my former life.

As I have chosen to be honest about my fears and inadequacies to a few close friends, I have been blessed by their support, prayers, presence and comic relief. I generally prefer not to be 'needy,' but my community has loved us well.

This is not a Disney movie. The child in our home isn't gushing with gratefulness to be here. He has been through a lot and yet is young enough to not grasp the uncertainty of his future. He is far more concerned with his survival than my feelings. I can't say I blame him.

But because life is generally equal parts hard and beautiful, there have been moments I wouldn't change for the world.
Hearing our little friend's guttural giggle.
Introducing him to silly string.
The fact that he refers to me as "JenniferScott" while simply calling my husband Dad.
R's admission last night that watching this makes him realize "it is really hard to be a parent sometimes."
Hearing my children pray for this child--watching them choose to love him with tenderness and compassion.

The questions and insights from K,P & R have shown me how the Lord is really working in their hearts. The love and patience they have each displayed has made me weep. Even as children, they have found their role in serving. K has been the perfectly peppy mother hen--with an easy, hospitable demeanor.

R has taken on the role of big brother, teaching baseball, football, ipad apps and rock climbing with kindness and enthusiasm. P has appointed himself academic coach--bound and determined to teach our young guest to read--crying frustrated tears tonight that after a 15 minute lesson his charge was not making enough progress.

As challenges frequently do, this week has brought strengths and gifts to the surface in each of us that may not have otherwise been used or recognized. I see my husband for the incredible leader, supporter and defender of our home that he is. I see my children for the young lady and gentlemen God is developing them into--and I see in myself a strength that only comes from struggle, admitting my inadequacy and leaning hard into Him.

This is hard and we are tired, but it is also sweet and God is good. We don't often hear all of those statements linked together, but it is the reality of life--and especially when it comes to broken human hearts--hard isn't always bad, just as comfortable isn't always good.

We know this is where we are supposed to be. God called us here and that is enough to propel us forward into the unknown.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Talk

On a perfectly ordinary Wednesday night in April, during the 6 minute commute from our home to church, the announcement came abruptly from the backseat.

"Mom, I have a lot of questions about Santa Claus."

P has started this conversation 4-5 times in the last 18 months. Each time I assured him I would answer his questions honestly, but I wanted him to be certain he was ready to know.

"The answers to these questions take a lot of the magic and wonder away. Are you sure you are ready for all the mystery to be gone?" (His reply a couple of months ago was hysterical. "I think I can tell where this is headed. Can we wait and talk about it again when I am twelve?")

Ryland & I have shaken our heads time and again at the fact this has all gone on so long. We are a family that frequently talks about hard things: the birds and bees, race relations, poverty, social justice...and yet, this is a subject our children have been hesitant to explore. So, we have let them lead us in terms of readiness...trusting we would know when the time came.

Last night, there was a different tone to P's inquisition. I gulped with the recognition that it was indeed time. And, of course, his brother and sister were in the car, we were running late and my husband was out of state.

I told him I would answer his questions when we got to church. Repeating my reminder "I will always tell you the truth. I just want you to consider whether or not you really want to know," I parked, called my husband on speaker phone and offered any child who wanted to the opportunity to leave the conversation to go ahead into church.

P looked relieved. He's been trying to work out the details and logistics of Santa for years. R's eyes were wild with curiosity and a tinge of panic. I am not sure he had ever considered that there might be more to the story.  K was on the fence. She wouldn't make eye contact. The look on her face was uncomfortable. She started to exit the car, but changed her mind.

There inside my Suburban on the curb outside First Presbyterian Church a rite of passage unceremoniously occurred. With the rapt attention of 6 eyes and 3 hearts we talked about the truth of Santa...that there IS magic and wonder in a game that millions of people join together to play where the point is giving without getting any credit. Their dark brown eyes lit up with a new excitement over being old enough to be trusted with the secret.

"I hope we get foster kids at Christmas. I can't wait to help make Christmas full of surprises for a little kid."

As the waves of knowing passed over them, realizations happened and questions came rapid fire.
"So, wait, that time when..."
"OH! So you..."
"I wondered why..."
"And the Easter Bunny..."
"...and the tooth fairy..."

There were giggles and grins..and a couple of admissions that revealed I wasn't always as slick as I thought I had been.
"This year I saw a text about..."
"One time when I was looking for something I found..."

Honesty was cleansing and cathartic. I had dreaded this day for a decade. Would they feel lied to? Respond with anger? Would they question their faith if I revealed this had been a game?

But the conversation was actually bonding not dividing. Dialogue had put us on the same team. They were old enough to 'get it.' It's not a trick, it is a tradition that uses wonder and fun to teach how amazing it is to give without concern for getting credit.

K observed, "You and Dad really worked hard and we never knew to tell you thank you."

And then, after a strong emphasis on the fact that parents, not other kids, should be the bearer of all this news, I sent them into church. After recapping with my husband via phone, I exhaled and went to the grocery store.

When I picked them up from church an hour later there were a couple more questions, but the mood was light. They scurried in the house and turned on the Wii. There was laughter as they started dancing hip hop. I snapped a picture in my mind then on my phone.

Childhood had not come crashing down in an instant. No, it is a process. One layer at a time as we slowly grow toward adolescence. The dancing reminded me there is still plenty of joy and whimsy remaining.

And last night as I made my 'tuck in' rounds and checked on every little heart individually it was clear it was ok. I couldn't help but smile as I was turning out R's lamp and he looked up sleepily and asked, "...reindeer?" I pursed my lips and slowly shook my head no. He grinned wistfully.

Growing up is indeed bittersweet, but this memory is being filed away as mostly sweet.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Just Dance

This weekend my children rediscovered the Just Dance Wii game they received for Christmas. After listening to their giggles and karaoke for a few songs, I wanted to play. To the delight of my daughter and the horror/amusement of my son, I grabbed a controller.

(P thought he was blackmailing me by taking pictures. He has yet to learn I have no shame.)
I have played before, but not the songs they were choosing, so I was totally reliant on the on screen-examples for my part. To further complicate things, each of us had our own specific dancer to follow. In some parts we were synchronized, in others our moves were complementary or contrasting. There were even some group moves that depended on each getting their respective parts just right.

I was tempted to check the score or to look left and right at how those dancing with me were doing--but all of that required taking my eyes off the one who was leading my dance, which resulted in disaster. I could not perform my part AND keep track of everyone else. I had to stay focused and just dance.

I was reminded that taking months off from working out does make a difference at 40 by the burning in my shoulders. Who knew a Wii game could be a legit middle aged work out? But there was a more basic message, one that seems especially important to me as I stand on the edge of 'life as I know it' and a venture into a new chapter.  Lately my moves feel as awkward and clumsy as a middle aged Mama trying to dance to hip hop. :)

In life we have parts to play, different moves choreographed by the same Father, meant for an ultimate purpose that we don't usually understand in the moment. Sometimes our movements are in unity with those around us...and other times we are called to step out and do something different. 

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.  To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
I Corinthians 12: 4-7 ESV

To perform our role with excellence, we must avoid the temptation to look around, keep track of the score or compare ourselves to the people around us. We must keep our eyes on our guide.

"Pay attention to the ministry you have received in the Lord, so that you can accomplish it." Colossians 4: 17

May we fix our eyes on Him, trust Him as He leads us one move at a time and, as cheesy as it sounds, just dance.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Conversations with an Alien

Several months ago a wise friend introduced me to the concept of conversations with an 'alien.' Before you run away from the computer certain I have finally lost it, hang on. She described how she imagines trying to explain certain human tendencies to someone trying to make sense of people.

For example:
Me: "My feelings are a little hurt that I wasn't invited to do such-and-such."
Alien "I didn't realize you enjoy that activity."
Me: "I don't."
Alien: "I thought you were already committed to something else at the same time."
Me: "I am."
Alien: "So, you are upset because you were not invited to participate in an activity that you don't enjoy on a date you could not have attended?"
Me: "Exactly."

You get the idea.

Honestly, we haven't really needed an alien in the last several years because having kids in the house has offered a similar perspective. Answering the probing questions of  a 6 year old trying to make sense of the world has levelled me more than once.

Now that our children are growing up and the lure of the world's version of things is getting stronger, I decided it might not be such a bad idea to invite a one-eyed green man into our home too. (Etsy, I love you!)

We made his debut recently during a conversation about 4th grade social hierarchy. I had the kids try to explain 'popular' and how/why certain people got to decide what others should think is cool.

I know it sounds silly, but I appreciate that this whimsical guy takes some of the pressure off some conversations that might otherwise feel judgmental or stressful. It gives us a non-threatening way to boil issues down to their simple roots--a 'time out' of sorts in otherwise emotional conversations to regain perspective.

And, frankly, I have found myself having a couple of perspective-rendering conversations with him too.

Just a little thing...but I like it & thought I'd pass it on.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Easter 2015 (in pictures)

What a fulfilling Easter celebration we enjoyed this year! While there is still a twinkle in the children's eyes at them mention of the Easter Bunny, R announced this was the last year he would be leaving a basket out for the big eared gift deliverer. (To which P replied, "Are you kidding? I'm leaving out a basket until I am 40!" That's my boy!)

We also had NO TAKERS on formal Easter Egg Hunting Saturday. (I did manage to get them to engage in one quick backyard hunt when money was involved. But since I am cheap and the prize egg was only $1, it didn't last!)

My heart hurt a little over this 'outgrown' tradition, but loved the time we spent as a family on the trampoline instead. Casual clothes, giggles and an impromptu pile of love. 

There was also great delight in attempting to play basketball with raw eggs...oh, ten year olds...
Saturday night saw the visit on out of town friends--hours of backyard play, marshmallow roasting over the firepit, blankets and BBQ.

Sunday, after basket reveals and the early church service and Sunday School we journeyed down to Atlanta for the treat of lunch with both sets of grandparents and the gift of time with my Grandmama Dobbs.

I am grateful to my gracious mother-in-law for her gift of hospitality...this gorgeous setting and delicious shrimp & grits!

After lunch we had lots of time outside enjoying sunny Spring weather.
 (The fact that this photo is waist up disguises the muddy barefeet that had just been in the creek catching frogs...better than an Easter Egg Hunt in my girl's book!) 

Church, food, family, Spring sunshine and barefeet...a fitting celebration of the full LIFE of grace and love we have because of Jesus.

My heart is exceedingly grateful <3>

Monday, April 06, 2015

The Tug o War of Too Much, Not Enough

I have become an accidental field researcher in tweendom in recent months. In addition to having three versions of 'almost 11 year olds' in my home, I have served as co-teacher of a 5th-6th grade girls Sunday School class since the Fall. Many of my peers are muddling through the new adventure of parenting pre-adolescents, so I hear common concerns and fears. 

Social awareness is budding. While this is a normal part of the growth process, with positive points like the death of habits like nose picking and dirty faces, there are other implications. Our children are developing opinions about haircuts, wardrobe, how photos depict them. Stories I once told freely are now carefully weighed for how they may reflect on self esteem and image. 

Little people who once burst with personality and freedom in their own skin have begun to turn in a bit in social situations. They are beginning to ask themselves: Am I approved?  Where do I fit? Am I like everyone else? I have observed two extremes in this age group: attention seeking or shrinking. Both hurt my heart a little.

As I was thinking about it this morning, I realized that some of my angst about this change is that I know it sticks around for decades in many hearts. At 2am I found my middle aged heart in the epic tug-o-war of "I am TOO much and just need to calm down a bit" and "I am not enough, so full of inadequacy. I've got to get it together."

image borrowed from CBS
Suddenly, I am that twitchy tween...two extreme versions of the same self. " I am TOO (fill in the blank: hyper, expressive, flighty, passionate, radical, opinionated)... I need to be MORE (fill in the blank: organized, quiet, circumspect, thoughtful, traditional, lighthearted...)" While I understand that reading social cues and being self aware can be healthy to overall maturity and growth, when taken too far it is ineffective. An exhausting internal struggle renders me tangled, frozen and crippled. Additionally, when all of my energy is focused inwardly on how to improve myself and other people's experience with me I have become self absorbed rather than others' focused. What starts with good intentions leads to too much concern with self image. Focus on self eclipses focus on love and purpose. 

I laid awake early this morning with an exhausting dialogue rolling around in my brain: I should quiet down about this. I am making people uncomfortable. I can tell from the look on so-and-so's face when we talk, she has no idea what to do with me. I need to step it up in this role. I should be doing more in this part of my life...So-and-so serves quietly and gracefully. I can't shut up. Why did God wire me to be such a communicator? Ugh! Dial this down. Dial this up. Quiet down. Go off the grid a bit...

I realized the tug o war has pulled me into the mud. I am serving my pride not my purpose. And now more than ever, for the sake of my own heart as well as all the tweens in my life, I want to model a peace in my purpose, a humility in my attitude and a resilience in my concerns about what other people think. 

Right on cue, I opened Beth Moore's Children of the Day. "No one else can fulfill your calling. Other people can do what you have been called to do, but child of God, they can't be you doing it. That's what makes your footprint here unique." 

Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing. Ephesians 2:7-10 The Message

As insecurity and fear threaten my peace and cause me to question my equipping for this next phase, I need to hear these words. My chant should not be "I'm too much...I'm not enough" but "He is enough, I must trust."

"We don't need to look like any other human on this earth. Jesus rejoices in the version of us that loves Him with everything in us." -Beth Moore

So I am recommitting to buckling my seatbelt and getting comfortable in the story God is writing in my life, to be the woman He is sanctifying me to be, doing the work He has led me to this place to do. Empowered by Him, at peace in my skin, I will exhale the insecurity and follow Him expectantly into this week and the days to come. 

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Lessons As We Wait

Greetings from In Between Land--that space where we know that our lives are about to be changed drastically, but don't know exactly when or how. All paperwork has been completed. The physical inspection of our home has occured. Fingerprinting, drug testing, pet vaccination proving, medical exams and classes have been completed.

Yesterday we had our first (of three) home study meetings--several hours of healthy conversation about our backgrounds, motivations,  marriage, parenting, fears. There were realizations even throughout our discussion of how God has been actively weaving our stories--even our hurts and disappointments to prepare for this place. The hand of Providence is in the business of sweet redemption.

Tomorrow we have the second of third meetings and the final one is scheduled for mid-month. Then we wait for a report to be written, reviewed by multiple people and approval that will formally open our home to receive a child (or two) in crisis.

Meanwhile the doer/nester/planner that I am wants to be preparing. Frankly, without details on age, gender, timing or number of children the only thing I can prepare is my heart. So, I have been spending a lot of time in the spare bedroom even though there is nothing there to do but straighten coverlets for the 150th time and pray for the heads that will one day be in those beds.

The reality is beginning to sink in that while I am 'preparing' my heart and home, a child or children is experiencing the trauma that will lead to their relocation. It is a hard truth to hold. So I pray. The temptation is to pray for the protection of my heart and God is redirecting it to pray for the protection of those little hearts that I do not yet know.

I have also had the opportunity to do some respite babysitting for a local little guy as the details of his new school enrollment get worked out. He's been through a lot and his behavior sometimes makes that rather apparent--especially when he is overwhelmed in public. During a visit to a medical clinic this week he was triggered and loudly mounted a very angry and emotional protest. Frankly, had it been one of my biological children I would have come undone. There was no ignoring the noise. He attracted a lot of attention. Drawing on lots of recent training from Dr. Karyn Purvis' The Connected Child (and miraculous patience from the Lord) I knelt down and dealt with the issue. It worked. Crisis averted.

I couldn't help but shake my head. I handled him better than I ever would have handled a similar situation with my own children. Why? Because I knew the employees knew he wasn't mine. I didn't fear their judgment. I didn't experience parental guilt or shame. I had no pride to tangle me up. I was parenting instead of performing.  I was not capable of handling the situation without relying on the Spirit. My flesh had no choice but to get out of the way.

It made me gulp. Oh the realization that there is still so much 'self' tied up in my parenting.

Free from self-induced encumbrances of performance, pride and fear I was able to see this child for what he was--hurting and confused--and to ask God to show me what he needed most in that moment. Turns out, Me-free parenting is far more effective!

Why am I not looking at my biological children through this lens more often?
My children are my responsibility but belong to God--with stories He is writing, fears and struggles only He really knows. Why wouldn't I lean hard into Him for guidance and strength?
The goal is not for these children to make me look like a good Mama, but to reflect that He is a good God.

This process is long, but there is so much I am learning to lay down--starting with my control and pride...and it is good.