the surrender of foster care

IMG_6498

The feeling comes at weird times. Like today as I was digging through some clearance items at Carter’s and saw a shirt in Philomena’s size that declared in sparkly letters, “Best Big Sister Ever!” I stood there internally debating whether it would be appropriate to buy it for her. Aside from the improbable superlative [I mean, what exactly is the criteria and investigation to prove the best big sister ever?], technically Philomena is a big foster sister, which is truly different than a natural, biological sister. Would it be dishonest for her to don said shirt around town?

Obviously, this is a silly train of thought. No one would actually care if she wore that shirt. But as I stood there, these musings reminded me that I would never be able to dress my daughter in a cute shirt like that to announce a pregnancy to the excitement of friends and family. Even if we are blessed to adopt J and N someday [God-willing!], it won’t be a big surprise to anyone.

As I placed the shirt back on the shelf, I had a pit in my stomach, tears in my eyes, and a thought in my head that recurs often: “this is just another surrender of being a foster parent.”

Like the shirt, some of the surrenders of foster parenting are really quite trivial. Like not being able to send out a Christmas card (technically, we could have, but we wouldn’t have been able to include J and N’s picture, nor use their full names, so that would have been a lame representation of our family). Or for my social-media-loving self, not being able to post pictures and videos of the children is more difficult for me than I’d like to admit. Then there’s the utter embarrassment that occurs when I always seem to get in the grocery line of the checker who is new and doesn’t know how to process a WIC check for formula, so the inevitably long line behind me is held up, as the employee calls for a manager.

IMG_6514

And there are other surrenders that are a little more profound. I wish I could nurse N to promote bonding and give her all the nutrition and goodness of breastmilk, but alas that will never happen. Also, Ryan and I have a long list of names that we absolutely love and that have meaning for us, but we will never be able to use them: if we adopt J and N, we think it best to keep their given names, even if the names are ones we never would have chosen ourselves.

Then there are the greatest surrenders. Like not being able to baptize our foster children. We long with every fiber of our beings to pass on the faith that gives us life and defines us, but until the children become ours, we cannot give them this gift.

This strikes at the heart of all of this: J and N are not our children. Not yet. Maybe someday. Maybe never. But, coupled with this reality, is the concurrent reality that on a day-to-day basis, they indubitably feel like our children, especially now that their biological parents’ legal rights have been terminated. We feed them, comfort them, heal their wounds, teach them how to be human. We treat them no differently than our naturally-born daughter, but still it is different.

This post probably sounds like I am complaining. Well, I suppose I am kind of complaining. Sorry. I am a broken, weak, selfish person, and this whole situation is hard on my nurturing heart.

And yet, I think this is part of why the Lord has led us to this particular path of parenthood. All of these surrenders are good, so good for me. I tend to think I am in charge of my own life, that I can control everything. But, I can’t. And I shouldn’t. The Lord is teaching us the type of letting-go that we’re often too stubborn to do on our own.

Yes, foster care demands a lot of surrender.  However, every aspect of our lives should be subject to the same abandonment. Only in this renunciation of our own plans, our own wills, can He truly work His beauty.

IMG_6492

my family: January 2016

IMG_6505

I love re-reading the little Philomena updates I used to sporadically write. I realized the last one I did was well over a year ago. It makes me tear up now, because so much has changed in her life in this time.

And the changes are the type that are beautiful, but so difficult when you are in them. I am not just talking about Mena here. I have been refined and stretched more in the past year-and-a-half than I ever thought possible. Last night in prayer I kept getting the image of this huge, jagged boulder. It was being slowly, painfully chipped away. So slowly. So painfully. And yet, in the end was this small, sleek stone that you couldn’t help but marvel in its smoothness.

I don’t think I need to spell out that analogy for you, now do I?

[I intended this post just to be a general update on the past few months, but now I’m getting all deep, huh?]

When I wrote this back in July, I felt so empty as a mother. I was at the point in which every moment of every day reminded me of my insufficiency. I didn’t think it possible for me to handle even one.more.thing.

Our Lord has a way of taking this kind of emptiness, fear, and vulnerability and doing something unimaginable.

In this case, it came in the form of newborn baby N.

IMG_2063 bw

The first week of October we received this unexpected gift, the full biological sister of J. We don’t know what is going to happen in their futures, but we know their presents are inter-twined with ours for a reason, so we are clinging to our foster children with a fierce love.

That said, suddenly becoming a family of five was very overwhelming for quite awhile. It wasn’t until about December that we started to feel the fog lift a little. And there is no way we could have survived those first couple months without all the extraordinary help from our friends and family. Sometimes I feel a little guilty about how good we have it.

Blessings without number; mercies without end.

***

Philomena turned four on Christmas. Goodness gracious. [Are four-year-olds still considered toddlers? Or are they called “preschoolers,” even if they don’t attend preschool? I feel like I should know these things!] Four is looking eerily similar to three, in terms of challenges. And yet, she has these fleeting moments of maturity that give us a glimpse of hope. For example, just now Ryan came into the office to ask me if I asked Mena to sweep the pine needles from the (still up!! we’re working on it!!) Christmas tree, because that is what she was currently doing.

I hadn’t.

And there’s the fact that she takes her picture “chore chart” very seriously. If she remembers she didn’t make her bed, she immediately runs upstairs to remedy the situation. Also, now she sometimes lets J walk in front of her when we’re going up the stairs. That might not seem like much to you, but she is obsessed with being the one in front, so it’s momentous here in our casa.

IMG_6495

In general, she is still very head-in-the-clouds and imaginative. She usually has some dress-up outfit on at any given time, and she can easily play by herself for hours. I do a *little* bit of not-really-but-kinda schoolwork with her, which she absolutely adores. I have no doubt it has very little to do with learning the sounds of letters and is much more attributed to having one-on-one time with her usually preoccupied Mommy. We also read “chapter books” with her now before bedtime (one chapter a night), and I think it is the favorite part of the day for all of us.

IMG_6497

Philomena was really “into” Advent and Christmas this year. I don’t think my heart could have swelled more than with her off-key rendition of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” every night around the Advent wreath.

***

is 20 months now, and there are almost no words to describe his wildness. He has this astute radar that tunes into exactly what he shouldn’t be touching or doing, and he goes after such goals with an enviable fervor. I am constantly finding him on top of the dining room table or running off with my phone or trying on Philomena’s most-favorite princess shoes.

He gets frustrated very easily and throws countless (extremely short-lived) tantrums throughout the day. His speech development is a bit delayed (in that, he doesn’t really talk at all, but he has quite a few baby signs), so we think that is the main reason for said tantrums. At least, that is what we hope.

IMG_5341

HOWEVER…he has one of the kindest hearts I have ever encountered. Seriously. He is obsessed, so obsessed with N. From the first moment he laid eyes on her, he has been giving her kisses and cuddles. Granted, this affection pretty much always goes too far, and she ends up screaming at the top of her lungs, as I sprint across the room. But it’s the sentiment, yes? Also, if any kid anywhere (even strangers at Target) starts to cry, he gets this very concerned look on his face and goes over and gives the child these very heartfelt strokes.

And he’s weirdly helpful when he wants to be. He likes to bring me N’s diaper and take his plate to the counter. And after he hits or bites Philomena, he gives her gentle pats of affection to make up for the offense.

IMG_6433

In all seriousness, J has gotten very attached to us. He is indubitably a Mama’s boy. He actually cuddles with me before and after naps (this never happened when he first came to us), and when he is upset (which is often), only my hug can satisfy him. Many of his tantrums result because he can’t sit on my lap or I can’t hold him in that moment. And when I do pick him up, he burrows his head into my shoulder and holds onto me with an unnatural strength. This has earned him the nickname from Ryan of “koala.”

***

is three months of chub and happy. She is nice and plump, with those thigh rolls that make my motherly hormones go crazy. She is starting to vocalize so much, and she can baby-smile on command like the best of them. She actually is an amazing night sleeper, but basically doesn’t nap for more than 20 minutes at a time. C’est la vie. You can’t have it all.

IMG_6491

***

As for me and Ryan, we just kind of hang out all day. I am always on top of the housework and never stress eat or stay up too late. We read dozens of books about which we have stimulating conversation.

Not.

Like I said, life is difficult. But the good kind of difficult. Ryan is taking on three (!!!) classes this semester, along with working full time. I predict he will be just as calm and cool as he usually is about all of it. And that is said without even a twinge of sarcasm. The man is as close to a saint as anyone I know. Or maybe a robot, because he essentially never sleeps.

Since I have so much free time, I decided to take on a few work projects. Like writing another entire textbook. And teaching a master’s course in the Fall. I can assure you I will approach all of this neither calmly nor coolly.

But, the Lord is making me into a smooth stone. So there’s that.

[I just realized that this blog read like a Christmas letter. Unintentional, I assure you. Happy Holidays?]

 

surviving #thethrees

surviving the threes

As I was carrying Philomena to bed last night, in between her hiccups as a result of a major crying session just minutes previously, she whispered to me, “Mommy, tomorrow I will listen and obey. I will!” With tears in my own eyes, I held her closely, caressed her hair, and said, “oh, my sweet girl, I know you will. It is so hard, but I know you will try your best tomorrow.”

Sigh.

So, “the threes” are completely draining my motherly self. Honestly, for us, I think it’s more than just her mere age. The gift of a younger foster brother has taken its toll on her. She was the center of our family and our extended family for her whole life until now. And I know the experience of gaining a sibling is a universal struggle; however, in her case it was even more difficult. All of a sudden, she had a BIG, crawling, rough-housing, toy-stealing baby in her life. There was no gradual transition from a little newborn.

I don’t want to go into too many details, because she deserves a certain amount of privacy from her overly-open, blogging mother. However, let’s just say that her adjustment has been rough. We have had days in which it feels like an alien is inhabiting my sweet girl’s body, and she does and says things that just seem so awful and foreign to her disposition. As much as she truly loves J, she can be terrible to him. And as much as I know she loves us, she has moments in which she disobeys and talks back. Like most three-year-olds, I suppose.

However, added to all of this is our parental guilt that we are bringing all of this upheaval into her life, but J very well may leave us one day.

Double sigh.

But! The good news! Things are getting better. So much better. Seriously. We’re far from the ideal, but for the first time in six months, I don’t feel like I have been run over by an emotional truck at the end of every day.

I thought I’d talk a little about how things got better for us. How’s that sound?

I want to be completely clear that is not meant to be an “advice” article. I mean, I am a freaking novice when it comes to parenting. This is my first child at the age of three. Most of my friends have parented through this age at least twice; I wouldn’t dare pretend to have some sort of special knowledge or ability other mothers don’t possess. Because I don’t.

Rather, I am writing this mostly for myself, so on those days in which I want to pull my hair out and just hide in our bedroom whilst drinking wine and watching Netflix, I can remember what really does work for our daughter. It’s to remind myself that disciplined, loving parenting does, indeed, reap results and that virtue is not going to develop through bribing and threats.

In other words, this is a reflection, not an exhortation.

surviving the threes 2

I totally recognize that one, two, three years from now, I will probably look back at this and laugh heartily at how “big” these little problems were. That said, when you’re in it, the difficulties seem almost insurmountable.

This should go without saying, but this is what has worked for us. Every child is a unique creation of God, with his or her own strengths and weaknesses. Thankfully, Philomena’s temperament is naturally very sweet and compliant…she just forgets that sometimes. ;)

[FYI at any given point of any day you could probably find me not following these guidelines. I am also veeeeeerrrrry much a work in progress. Most days I need someone to discipline me.]

1. Eye contact at eye level. Goodness gracious, I can be terrible about this. I have such a tendency to yell at her from another room, or talk to her while I am doing something else, like cleaning dishes or reading on the computer. Nevertheless, when I stop what I am doing, crouch down to her level, and look her in the eye and ask her to do something/stop something/etc. it can make a world of difference.

2. Speak positively. Or, Never say no to something reasonable. This is simple, but Mena really responds to it. For example, I try not to say, “no, I can’t play a game with you right now.” Instead, I replace it with, “sure, I’d love to play a game after J goes down for his nap!” Or, “yes, we can play outside after it cools down later today.” This has salvaged many potential melt-downs.

3. Affirm specifically. Words of affirmation just happen to my primary love language. Ryan and I have a strong suspicion that this is also Philomena’s way of feeling loved. Although we definitely try our best not to fall susceptible to the “good job!” or “you are smart!” traps [see here and here and here and here], we try hard to praise her specifically in the moment. For example, “I really liked how you listened and got on your pajamas right when I asked.” Or, “I know it was hard for you to walk away instead of hitting him when J was pulling your hair. Thank you!”

IMG_1777

4. Name emotions and have empathy. We’ve been doing this quite a while. Even before she could say the word, Philomena could do the baby sign for “sad.” However, this has taken on another level now that she is feeling so many new emotions. Now, we’re helping her use more complex words like “jealous” and “frustrated.” Also, we’ve found that for her a little bit of empathy goes a LONG way in learning to control her own emotions. Like, “it is really hard to wait for something! Sometimes I don’t like being patient either.” Or, “it really hurts when J bites me too. I wish he was old enough to know better.”

5. The do-over. This takes a lot of discipline and patience on our part, but we have really seen results. When she misbehaves or speaks rudely, we’ll simply say, “let’s try that again!” or “how would a sweet girl ask for that?” It is definitely easier to give into her whining or just ignore the poor behavior, but it’s not better for her in the long run.

6. Speaking softly and calmly. I will admit that this is probably my numero uno personal difficulty. By nature, I am a yeller. Heck, even my “normal” voice is as loud as most people’s yelling. And yet, I have a very sensitive daughter who responds much better to normal talking than to raising our voices. And like my favorite professor in college said regarding classroom management: “never yell, because they can always yell louder.” The same is true for a toddler.

IMG_1744

7. Giving her space for alone time. And Giving her special time with us. Philomena is almost-definitely an introvert, but since she’s been inadvertently “competing” with J for my attention, she was feeling the need to be around the two of us all the time. I could tell this was emotionally draining for her, especially because she doesn’t nap every day anymore. I started encouraging her over and over again to go play by herself in another room. I kept it very positive and made it clear it wasn’t a punishment. I usually frame it like, “it looks like you don’t want J getting into what you’re playing with. How about you go to the other room by yourself for a little bit, so he won’t bother you?” It took a few months for her to really embrace this, but I can definitely see a difference in her disposition when she gets some alone time.

I also try…really, really try [and fail a lot!] not to use the time J is at a visit with his birth family or down for a nap to “get things done” around the house. It is so tempting, because I can’t even empty the dishwasher with the tornado-of-crazy that is our 15-month-old. Instead, I have been making a conscious effort to make really good use of one-on-one time with Philomena by reading her books, playing games, doing art projects, etc. She even feels special when I ask her to “exercise” with me. [This is probably due to the fact that we greatly limit her screen time, so even a YouTube pilates clip is exciting for her. Oops.] For obvious reasons, this kind of special attention has been great for her.

8. Choices. “Do you want to brush your teeth before or after you get your pajamas on?” “Do you want to eat your lettuce or your carrot first?” “Do you want to put away your toys now or in five minutes?” You all know this approach. And it works for a reason.

9. Affection, affection, affection. When she blatantly disobeys us, deep-down she wants love. When she hits J, deep-down she wants love. When she whines and throws a fit, deep-down she wants love. How do I know this? Because that is what all of us want and need. This doesn’t mean we excuse her bad behavior or turn a blind eye to the necessary consequences. Instead, this means that after she has a “do-over” or she apologizes to J, we give her plenty of hugs and kisses. We love her through the struggle. This sounds kind of hippy-dippy and easy, but it’s not. This is because when she needs my affection the most is when it is most difficult to give it. Those moments I just want to scream at her and leave the house are the moments I should be opening up my arms to give her a big hug.

10. Teaching her apology and forgiveness. This is a two-way street. I apologize to her and ask her forgiveness when I lose my temper [which is more often than I’d like to admit]. I expect the same from her. I don’t see this as a lessening of my authority; instead, I see it as modeling humility, which is the true strength.

11. Prayer. This one should have been listed first, but whatever. For months, Ryan and I were praying for Philomena and her difficulties. Then, one day it dawned on me that I wasn’t praying with her about them. So, one morning instead of just mentally asking the Lord for help, I said aloud, “Philomena, let’s pray together that we can have a good day!” I will admit that sometimes she is feisty and says no, so I will just pray aloud for her. Ryan also has been encouraging me to ask our miscarried baby, Gerard, to pray for us: I think this is very beautiful and efficacious. I am convicted that when we added specific pleas during our family prayer time for our relationship with Philomena and her behavior, this is when her actions (and my reactions) turned a corner.

Alrighty, this may be my longest blog post ever…sorry/not sorry? Thanks for sticking with it. What are your thoughts? Any attitudes or helpful tidbits for #thethrees?

IMG_1746

what I wish I’d known

Awhile back, Grace at Camp Patton hosted a series from some wise mommy bloggers titled, “What I Wish I’d Known” about motherhood. For some reason my cynical self was oddly moved by their words. I think what struck me the most was the wide range of advice offered, from the trivial to the profound. [If you haven’t read the series yet, please do yourself a favor and stop reading this banal post and go over there for a while.]

Anyway, it got me thinking about what I wish I had known about motherhood before embarking upon this journey. [Ugh. “embarking upon this journey”- so corny]

And what came to me was this: what I wish I would have known about motherhood is just how bad I would be at it sometimes.

Let me be clear that I did not make that statement out of some kind of false humility or self-deprecation or a desire for compliments. Simply, it is true: some days I am a bad mom.

11149520_831391880273531_3440153879973705962_n

What makes me incredulous is that I never expected this to happen. I mean, what did I think, that my concupiscence would suddenly disappear the day I gave birth? Nope. I am still the same self-centered, flighty, emotional, slothful, quick-tempered person I was before Philomena (and now J) entered my life.

I wish I would have known that there would be moments when I would lose my temper with my sweet girl for such a minor offense. I wish I would have known that there would be days in which I would totally “phone in” with motherhood, instead of being actively engaged and present. I wish I would have known that there would be times in which I would consciously choose to zone out on the Internet, rather than play a game with my child. I wish I would have known that I would repeatedly call my husband at work in tears, because I had messed up again and again and again.

I wish I would have known all of these things, so I wouldn’t be obsessed with my failures when they happen.

We all have that distance between “the person I am” and “the person I want to be.” Lately that great chasm has absolutely plagued me. I have hours, days, weeks in which I become obsessed with my insufficiencies and my brokenness, especially in motherhood. I think this is partially due to the reality that my very identity is wrapped up in my wife-ness and mother-ness [are those words?]. I feel that when I fail as a wife and a mother, I fail as a person.

Indeed, it is a grace to see one’s faults (truly!); however, it is the father of lies who cajoles one into being obsessed with said failings.

When all I see in my motherhood are my sins, my faults, my less-than-ideals, then there’s no room in my vision for Christ. Deep-down, I know that in my insecurities is right where Jesus wants to be. He desires to transform those awful parts of me into something beautiful. But when I focus merely on my faults, then I forget about the Answer to these faults.

This is not an excuse to sit on my spiritual ass, and say, “well, we’re all broken, so it’s okay if I’m a bad mom.” Of course not! By God’s grace, we are to raise saints. And that means nothing, if we ourselves are not striving for sainthood. But what I am coming to realize is that when I focus just on the struggle and not on the goal, then all I will ever do is struggle.

Marriage and motherhood are like those mirrors that magnify your face and show every flaw, every pore. Those mirrors are totally freaky, but goodness knows I can pluck my eyebrows so much better with them. The Lord uses our vocations to refine us, and it really hurts at times. Nevertheless, I can see in the three short years of my motherhood His challenging me to embrace virtues I had no idea that I lacked.

And you know what? Even on the bad days, my daughter and foster son see my sincerely asking for their forgiveness. Even if I over-react nine times out of ten, there is still that one time that I bite my tongue and say a prayer. These moments impact them too, even if it is not conscious for them right now. This is part of what we want to teach our children: that all of us are broken and fallen, but the virtue is in embracing the cross, getting back up again, and keeping our eyes on the victory.

Yes?

what I wish I'd known about motherhood

“Nobody can go off to battle unless he is fully convinced of victory beforehand. If we start without confidence, we have already lost half the battle and we bury our talents. While painfully aware of our own frailties, we have to march on without giving in, keeping in mind what the Lord said to Saint Paul: ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’ (2 Cor 12:9). Christian triumph is always a cross, yet a cross which is at the same time a victorious banner borne with aggressive tenderness against the assaults of evil. The evil spirit of defeatism is brother to the temptation to separate, before its time, the wheat from the weeds; it is the fruit of an anxious and self-centred lack of trust.” – Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, “The Joy of the Gospel”

summer 2015

I’ve never been a big summer person. I mean, of course as a student for 16 years and a full-time teacher for 8 years, these months had the distinct appeal of sloth socially acceptable relaxation. Nevertheless, my disposition and inclinations lean much more toward the coziness of Fall or the vitality of Spring.

IMG_3343

But there’s something about this particular summer that has struck me. It has just been very summer-y for some reason. It’s not like we’ve been to the beach or gone to an outdoor movie or even the pool that much. Maybe it’s that Ryan and I finally own a grill [took us long enough, eh?] or that there have been some days that have actually been cool enough to get outside.

I don’t know, and I suppose it doesn’t really matter. All I know is that I like it.

Travelling has been pretty low-key too. At the very beginning of summer, I took a solo trip to Ontario to see some longtime girlfriends. It was a delightful time, marked by wine, endless conversations, and a sudden cold snap [of course you would do that to us, Canada]. Then, last week all of us went with Ryan’s family to a wedding in Illinois to see his cousin get married. Philomena and J were both adorable, and the bride and groom seemed so happy. Of course, our kids were the only ones at the reception, so they dominated the dance floor [by “dominate,” I mean ran around like the crazies they are, and then demanded to be held for multiple songs before running around some more.] We also have planned a little trip with my family to a lake in Oklahoma, so that should be nice and relaxing-ish [hopefully!!!!!!!] .

Anyway, I thought I’d share with you some of my favorites as of late:

Perfect Summer Dinner: grilled chicken sausage [this roasted red pepper sausage from Costco is our current fav] + grilled zucchini and bell peppers + a hearty, legume-based salad [my black bean and quinoa salad is still a fav, as is this lentil salad, which lives up to its lofty name]

Perfect Summer Drink: We decided to be cliche, and christen the Moscow Mule as our official summer imbibement. And imbibing we have been.

Perfect Summer Snack: Fruit. All the fruit. Seriously. It is so cheap and amazing this time of year. [Second runner-up is homemade popsicles.]

IMG_1635
Perfect Summer TV Show: For some reason, my TV-watching gets really fluffy during the summer. Ryan and I are weirdly into “The Next Food Network Star.” [Jay and Eddie will definitely be in the finale, but the third person is a toss-up for me.] However, if you’re okay with something more intense, we both surprisingly enjoyed Netflix’s “Daredevil” [warning: very violent].

Perfect Summer Album: Sufjan Steven’s “Carrie and Lowell.” Really, this is a terrible summer album. It is full of melancholy and longing, which are the opposite of summer, but I haven’t stopped playing it since about April. So, for me, it’s the best. Listen at your own risk.

Perfect Summer Reading: I actually haven’t had much light reading this summer, so I don’t have any summer-y recommendations. What about you? I mustered my way through Anna Karenina, which was grandly poignant, but far from fluff. I also caught up to 2007 and read Sarah’s Key in less than 48 hours. It was an easy read, but its (depressing) subject matter is not your typical summer fare. I think next I’m going to re-read To Kill a Mockingbird, in order to join every other middle-class American in reading Harper Lee’s new novel [which is getting very mixed reviews, unfortunately].

Alright, that’s it. Go get yourself a popsicle and run through the sprinklers.

too attached?

I do not think anyone reads this blog who is not my Facebook friend [actually, I don’t expect anyone to read this anymore, since I’m not exactly Ms. Consistent with posts]. However, in the off-chance you do not know me in real life, here is a quick update on fostering. We had a beautiful newborn baby girl with us for three weeks, but then she went onto another home (for good reasons!). Currently, we are blessed to have had an 11-month-old boy “Baby J” as part of our family for a couple months now.

J Edited Easter 2

It’s too bad I have to censor his face, because it’s a cute one!

Baby J is chubby and jolly. He has freakish strength. He is ridiculously active and into everything like nothing I’ve ever seen. He is an absolutely voracious eater. He is already beginning to climb places he shouldn’t. Basically, the polar-opposite of his big foster sister. We wouldn’t have it any other way.

Like all children in the foster system, his future is pretty precarious. Obviously, I can’t go into details [not even vague ones! Sorry.], but it looks like he will be with us for at least a couple more months, and beyond that is a big question mark.

One comment Ryan and I hear over and over and over again is: “Oh, I could never foster. I would become too attached to the child, and it would be too hard to see him go.”

I never know how to react to this statement. From my perspective, it seems like people are giving us not enough or too much credit.

On one hand, are you saying that we won’t become attached? Are we heartless robots who can separate our emotions from the beautiful child we treat as our own?

Or on the other hand, are we just so saintly and super-human that somehow we can love and be vulnerable with a child, but then just easily let him go without difficulty?

Trust me, neither is true. With both of our foster babies, we became strongly attached immediately. And I can guarantee you that if Baby J leaves our home, it will be a tragic, devastating, life-altering event for both of us.

So, how do I answer such a statement?

Recently, a friend related what a friend of hers who fosters always replies: of course it hurts when they leave; if it didn’t hurt, then we wouldn’t be doing our job correctly. That response really resonated with us. Every child deserves to be loved until it hurts. Every child deserves parents who are willing to give of themselves, to put him before their own needs and wants. And yeah, this hurts.

Yet, we are not doing this for ourselves. If someone goes into any kind of parenthood—be it natural, foster, adoptive—for oneself, to be personally fulfilled or to satisfy some internal void, he or she is bound to be disappointed. As any new mother or father can attest, parenthood is radically about the other. The same goes for fostering. It looks different than natural parenthood, but the inherent “other-ness” about it is still there.

Don’t get me wrong, there are moments when fostering does, indeed, feel great: that moment when Baby J recognized me in a room full of people and gave me a smile, when he nuzzled his head into my shoulders in a (very!) fleeting moment of affection, when he got hurt and immediately crawled onto my lap for comfort. Nevertheless, there are just as many moments of pain: trying to comfort him during a screaming spell but not knowing how, dropping him off at his weekly visits with his birth family, waking at night in panic and not being able to fall back asleep for hours, because I am so worried about his future.

Yes, I suppose all those people are right: we have become too attached. And yet, I think that’s how it should be.

“I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.” Bl. Mother Teresa

waiting

waiting

It has been a long, often frustrating road of red tape; however, our house was officially licensed for fostering in October. We held off on actually activating our profile as foster parents until I had healed more fully from my surgery. As I have been feeling great these past few weeks, the other day we decided to tell our case worker that we were ready to take in a baby.

And now it’s time to wait.

Five weeks? Two days? Three months? We have no idea how long it will be until we receive a placement. Even though we are hoping to receive a child into our home, it is with the grim understanding that it will only happen through an awful circumstance that surely will be traumatic for the child.

Ryan has detailed a little of his journey to our decision to foster. I suppose this is the time to explain mine. Like he said, both fostering and adoption have been on my heart for a very long time, since I was a young child, in fact. During our engagement, Ryan and I discussed adoption, even specifically foster-to-adopt. However, getting pregnant two months after we got married put that idea to the side for awhile.

It didn’t return to my heart for a couple more years. I have a distinct memory a few weeks after our miscarriage in which I was rocking Philomena to sleep and praying fervently for the future of our family. Very clearly on my heart I sensed God telling me that there was a bigger plan at work in our lives, specifically adoption. Immediately I told God that I would be open to the idea, but I needed a year to try have another natural child before we could take any concrete steps to pursue this route.

The year that followed was certainly a spiritual and emotional roller coaster. Doctors, fertility treatments, painful let-downs every month. And yet, there was something profound happening in my soul. It is hard to explain, but it was deeper than all of the disappointment and tears. I was heart-broken, but I sensed God using the brokenness to build something beautiful. [Does that sound corny? Sorry.]

We were experiencing it differently, but God was working similarly in Ryan. He was so strong, so certain that all of this was for a purpose.

Around November of last year, Ryan and I started talking seriously about adoption. I remember a specific Sunday morning we were just talking about the possibility at the table after breakfast, and both of our eyes filled with tears. They were the kind of tears that aren’t out of sadness, but rather a sign that we knew this moment was of utmost [eternal?] significance. Ryan took my hand and said, “I’m all in, Sarah. If this is what God wants of us, I’m in.”

We looked into a few different adoption options, but honestly we only ever seriously considered foster-to-adopt. Many people pursue this route, because it is a lot less expensive than traditional adoptions. Of course that was a factor for us, but even more we knew we wanted to take in a child that may be overlooked by others. We wanted to take on an innocent person’s sufferings as our own.

Finally in May we began the classes and the mounds of paperwork to be certified as foster parents. It was during this process in May and June that God worked on my heart once again. At first, I only wanted to be open to children who were already free to be adopted. However, the Lord used some circumstances beyond our control to change me. It’s a long and ridiculous story, but basically the odd layout of our house meant that we only could be certified to take children two years old and younger; they actually would prefer us to take children under 12 months. [Originally we hoped to take in children four years and younger.] Because the process to be free for adoption is so long and drawn out in the foster system, very few babies [maybe none?] are already free for adoption before they are 12 months old.

Basically, if we wanted to continue this process, we would have to be open to just-fostering, which means we would take in babies whom we may or may not be able to adopt some day. Ryan was completely open to this, and it was through his witness that I too became open.

I remember talking in the car after one of the classes, and he said something like, “even if we only have a child for one month or six months or whatever, we can still show him unconditional love. He won’t be old enough to remember it later, but it is still objectively good for him.” Then on another evening, I made some whiney-selfish comment to Ryan like, “but, after having a child in my home, I couldn’t bear to give him back!” And Ryan immediately responded, “It’s not about you! It’s about the child. He is not yours. The child is ultimately the Lord’s, and he is still someone else’s son or daughter. It is not about what you want; it is about what is best for him or her.”

He was right, sooooo right.

We went from “we feel called to adoption” to “we feel called to foster, and maybe God will allow us to adopt one day.”

One thing that I always knew for certain was that I didn’t want adoption to be a “consolation prize” for us, a “lesser” choice to having natural children. I wanted to be certain that we were called to this, regardless of our infertility. I can honestly say that we are in that place right now. I am certain God used our inability to have another child to bring us here, but He did, indeed, bring us here. I am certain that even if I found out tomorrow that I was pregnant, we would still take in a foster child if we received the phone call that very same day.

When a baby is placed in our home, we have no idea how long s/he will be with us. He or she could be part of our family for two weeks, two months, even two years, and then returned to the birth family [which is always the preference of the foster system]. Or, we could have him or her forever. Accepting this precarious unknown has taken much surrender on our part. This surrender is only in theory now. God only knows the difficulty of the reality of it.

And thus, here we are. Waiting.