the surrender of foster care

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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.

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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.

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my family: January 2016

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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?]