Deliverance.

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This sweet girl is back into a tumultuous situation. Shortly after I wrote the last blog post, her dad called us during a breakdown and asked us to take her home with us on a full-time basis indefinitely while he tried to figure out how to make a safe home for her and get his life in order. With his encouragement, we enrolled her in preschool here and she’s been living with us since January 19. The days are crazy but it has felt so right having her home with us in a safe and structured environment.

Meanwhile, her dad is trying to sell his house to move away from her mom who is an unsafe person and has been pursuing them in various ways for quite a while now, I guess. He has his own issues and struggles to break himself away from the unsafe lifestyle and relationships that would harm Midge. We are giving Midge a soft place to land while he tries to get all this together, and after he’s ready to bring her home he wanted us to be her full time daycare providers and put her in our local elementary school in the fall for kindergarten.

We enjoyed a few weeks in this false sense of security…that there might finally be a stable living arrangement and a way to move Midge past all of the craziness in her little life. Yesterday, this all fell apart. Her dad was seeking a restraining order against her mom, and the judge at the restraining order hearing heard a short bit of testimony from Midge’s parents and with this small bit of information, overturned the previous judge (who’d been looking at years of information) about what should be happening for Midge’s safety. The new judge over the restraining order hearing ruled that Midge should begin unmonitored full weekend visits with her mom starting next weekend. The judge also opened an inquiry into Midge’s safety and a court appointed investigator will now be speaking with all the previous social workers and case managers to determine what should happen next for Midge. Knowing her mother quite well and having had years of experience with child protective services, we have no confidence that Midge won’t be jerked around, kidnapped, traumatized, or harmed in this coming season. We have no idea what will come next for our baby.

The phone call came around 2p.m. yesterday, and the rest of the day was a blur of disbelief, outrage, and fear for the future as I trudged through the motions of parenting my five until bedtime. This morning I am blessed to have had several hours in prayer to process it all, and God met me here in my pain. I am no longer fearful for the future. I feel like God has given me the gift of a glimpse of the whole picture that He sees. He is not surprised or fearful or impotent. He holds the whole situation in His all-powerful hands. He loves His little girl and no one can snatch her from His hands. The LORD himself watches over us, the Bible tells us, and it says that He does not slumber or sleep. He’s not wringing His hands because of the incompetence of the county workers and judges and humans who seem to control her fate. I really feel like God has shown me that this is the beginning of the end of her captivity to this life of darkness.

This morning I took Midge to preschool and she asked me to stay for chapel. I said I would. Confident in her mommy’s promise, she dashed off to the swing, where she began pumping herself higher and higher. I watched the joy light up her face. She had no worries in that moment. I stood there and prayed, “LORD, deliver her. Deliver her from this life of fear and chaos and darkness and bring her into Your light and freedom and safety.” In that moment I knew that we are headed into the final rapids for Midge. The LORD is delivering her, will deliver her, in fact He has already delivered her from her bondage and we just need to sit back, hold on, and trust Him as we watch it happen. Someday she will look back and claim this verse from 1 Peter 2:9 as she sees His faithfulness in her life: “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of the darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.” I have a sudden feeling of victory as we are privileged to watch God save our baby from the darkness of her circumstances.

Even as I feel that freedom and confidence, I remember that His ways are not our ways, and that a hundred years here can be like a second in His timing. I think we’ve had these few weeks of rest and preparation with all five of our kids firmly planted in our home to prepare us for the rough road ahead, like the rest before a grueling race. And I know that although I am confident in God’s victory in Midge’s life, it’s more likely to be months and years of struggle ahead, rather than days and weeks. I am praying for perseverance and confidence in God’s plan even as we watch it unfold through bumbling decisions by imperfect people. I am praying for an unwavering faith in God as we hold our baby’s hand as long as He lets us hold it physically, and even after that we will hang onto her hand in our hearts. “We know that the LORD will maintain the cause of the afflicted, and justice for the poor. Surely the righteous shall give thanks to Your name.” Psalm 140:12

Midge’s future is not a mystery to God. He let us all rest up here together in preparation for the rapids that are now upon us. But we don’t need to doubt whether she’ll get through to take hold of the freedom that lies at the end of this ride. We don’t need to worry about what we should say and what we should do, as if her future lies within our human hands. “If God is for Midge, who can ever be against her? Since He did not spare even His own Son but gave Him up for Midge, how will He not also graciously give her all things?” Romans 8:31-32 No matter what terrible decisions are made and who makes them and when, we must be confident in our God’s love for his daughter. We have seen it over and over again through the unbelievable circumstances in her past. This is God’s child, and I believe he loves those who are oppressed and in trouble with more strength than we can possibly imagine. And no matter what incompetence and danger she faces in the coming times, “I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing shall be able to separate her from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our LORD.” Romans 8:38

I pray for the faith and perseverance we will need to walk beside our daughter on this treacherous road to His victory, His safety, His deliverance, His freedom. I pray for strength of heart and mind, not to be fooled by the enemy’s plan to discourage us and make us fear for a child who is held firmly in the hands of an Almighty God. I pray for protection over her body and heart, that the scars that come from this road might be the kind that fade with time and love. I pray that God will deliver her gently, and as quickly as possible, knowing at the same time that His methods and His timing are perfect for her and may be different from ours. I pray for wise counsel for us when God calls us to play a part in her fight. I pray for comfort for us all as we are tossed by these coming waves, knowing that ours is a God who has the winds and the waves at His command. When we get scared and doubt, may we hear Jesus telling us amidst the storm, as he did in Mark 4:40, “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?” and may we hear that rebuke and once again walk in the victory that we know belongs to our family and our daughter.

I pray for my family as I generally crack under the emotional pressure and often bring it out in impatience with my kids. I pray for my physical health and strength as these fostering stresses have regularly wreaked havoc on my body. I pray for each of my children, that God would be working out something amazing in each of their lives through this trial. I pray for Greg as he tries to captain our ship with grace and love through these storms. Most of all I pray that God would keep our baby in His loving arms, safe with Him, wherever she may physically be. I pray for the swift return of Jesus, that we might all gather around the throne of grace and spend eternity in paradise with Him, making all the troubles of this life look like but a breath, as He says in the psalms. And through all this I am thankful that even as I pray, I already know He has answered, is answering and will answer it all. “Surely I am coming quickly. Amen, even so, come, LORD Jesus! The grace of the LORD Jesus Christ be with us all. Amen.” (Revelation 22:20-21)

Family Update :: January 2015

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This blog has obviously ceased to be a regular place of reflection for me. Four months since the last post?! At least it’s apparent that I’m not trying to win anyone’s approval, which is a good thing when it comes to online living, I think. I started this blog as a place to focus on the beautiful things in life. In the midst of a life of toddler parenting I craved beauty and peace in the chaos, resulting in posts about photography and crafts and the golden moments plucked from a hectic life. Then it became a venting place about our fostering and a place to grasp the faith that upholds us. I wonder what the future is for this spot. For today, it’s a place to share my thoughts about what’s going on in our family these days.

Big thought #1: We’re probably going to move Anthony out of the Spanish Immersion program. I love the program overall and it’s been amazing seeing Tyler become bilingual before our eyes. But Anthony has so much stacked against him: serious speech problems, probable ADHD and Sensory Processing Disorder, a non-existent academic foundation to build on, and difficulty handling challenging situations without melting down. As I’ve been substituting in the Spanish Immersion program often this year, I’ve become progressively more worried about whether Anthony will be able to take it…and that’s in the second grade immersion class! I see what Tyler’s doing in third grade and get seriously concerned. Not to mention that if he stays in the immersion program, I’ll be driving kids to four different schools once he’s in 4th grade, which will be right about the time school will be getting really hard. Will we be kicking ourselves in a few years if we don’t move him? He’s such a sweet kid and so enthusiastic about learning when it interests him. We’re thinking the Spanish component just might push him over the edge in a few years. But in immersion you can’t move in the middle elementary grades because you’ve missed out on too much English learning. (It evens out around Jr. High, when the immersion kids score higher on both Language Arts and Math portions of standardized tests than even the straight English program kids do. Amazing!)  Anyway, I’ve been pondering it, Greg is really leaning towards pulling him out, and we have a meeting with the teacher and principal soon.

Big thought #2: We’ve offered to put Midge into our local elementary school starting next fall in kindergarten and keep her M-F at our house. Her dad was initially thrilled with the idea. We’d give her a high performing school to go to, do the homework routine, take care of discipline, school interactions, and structure while he’d be fun daddy on the weekends and whatever weeknights he felt like taking her out. I’m not counting my chickens before they hatch. Yes, he was excited about it the first time I brought it up, but I told him not to make any decisions right away but to think about it. The last time I talked to him (not about that), he purposely brought up that he’s cracking down on discipline with her and that she’s been much better. I got the vibe that means he’s hoping he can handle her on his own. He says he is worried about their local elementary school which is super low performing, and he’s worried about her behavior. She’s become completely spoiled and out of control, wreaking havoc at both home and school. It’s bad enough that her preschool teacher tells her dad that her behavior at this age is a huge red flag (I agree! If she’s out of control at preschool, how will she be at age 12?!) But I’m not revisiting the subject until he gets a job (supposed to happen in February) and thinks about putting her in full time preschool/daycare. In the meantime, we’ll pray and let him see how things go with his best efforts at discipline at home.

Big thought #3: Christmas vacation was really great. This is the first time I was not aching to send the kids back to school before it was time. That alone marks a huge victory in our “new” family! Behaviors still come in waves, but overall, things are worlds from where they were a year and a half ago. I am SO thankful.

Big thought #4: Parenting kids adopted from foster care is hard. The relationships are so fragile – not anchored in years of attachment forged through sweet infant years. It often feels like rock climbing… just when you feel like you’re getting somewhere, you fall off the rock and it seems like you’re at the bottom of the cliff face again. You’re not really at the bottom, and if you look back at where you came from you’ll see it, but it still feels like it. Every day is a new chance to try to parent these kids well. And every day I fail them in some way or another. Yes, I know it’s like that for all of our kids, bio, adopted, and foster, but it’s especially fragile for the fosters, who are still trying to figure out if you’re really going to love them through all the mistakes (theirs and mine). Each of my mistakes is tearing down a delicate relationship that’s been so tricky to build. At first I thought if I tried harder, I’d do better, and there is an element of teeth-grinding effort necessary. But I also latched on to this verse: If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. Old things have passed away. Behold, new things have come! If I want to show the kind of unconditional love and grace that Jesus offers, I need to be abiding in Jesus, not increasing my own efforts. I’m aware of two things: the way I love these kids will shape the way they think God loves them. That’s a huge burden. But secondly, God assures me that if they are meant to be His children, nobody can snatch them from His hand. I’m so thankful for that.

Please be praying for our family. That we’d have the wisdom to make the hard decisions and the love and grace to wrap around every child every day.

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Judging Other People’s Children.

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Before we started fostering, I knew I would have to let go of people’s opinions about my parenting, about my kids’ behavior, about my family dynamics in general. This knowledge does not mean I have accomplished the task.

I like for people to think that my kids are wonderful. I like recognition for the non-stop effort I put into my parenting. The consistency and the creating and keeping of standards are all very thankless hard work and the resulting good behavior was something that gave me a great feeling of accomplishment, especially when compared with other people’s children! Ha! Being a stay-at-home parent can be a job without many checklist-able accomplishments, so having pleasant, well-behaved children was a good payout…before we started fostering. Even at our pre-certification training classes, I realized that letting this go would be one of my number one difficulties!

Now we are a family of seven. Two of my kids have experienced trauma for 4-6 years in the form of caregivers who completely lacked stability and parenting skills and didn’t put kids’ needs first, to say the least. One of my kids still buries her head on my shoulder sometimes, crying, “I don’t want to have two houses anymore. I want to stay here!” but she also lights up when she sees her birth father and goes home to him happily. She’s living a split life and is too young to process the big feelings. My other two children have been traumatized by the chaos, uncertainty, emotional upheaval, and even violence that have come into our home via fostering. Heck, I see my own trauma come out sometimes in my worst parenting moments, and I’m 38 years old! They say PTSD is more common in foster kids than in war veterans, and I believe it. I even see flashes in myself that shock me. If I can’t even master my mild trauma all the time, I should realize that it is way harder for my little ones to do it.

So now instead of being the one who is judging other people’s children, I’m the one whose children are being judged. There’s some irony for you. Payback, I guess. I found this unfortunate verse a few years ago when I experienced it firsthand: Whoever digs a pit will fall into it; if someone rolls a stone, it will roll back on them. Proverbs 26:27

I’m sorry if my children aren’t perfect. I’m sorry that my children don’t obey all the way, right away, with a good attitude (which, incidentally, is one of our family rules.) I’m sorry if you feel like you’re parenting your two or three year old in such a way that they will never turn out as unruly as my 4, 6, 7, 8, and 10 year olds can sometimes be. Ironically, I thought the same thing when my kids were 2 and 3, too. There’s something truly condescending about how you look at my children, knowing that yours could never do such things when they get older. Such things as fighting bitterly with annoying siblings they’ve had for only 16 months. Such things as throwing massive tantrums because they can’t handle the emotions that the past years have brought to their lives. Such things as disobeying parents because maybe those parents have been battling with another child all day or all week and that certain child hasn’t been priority #1 today, or even lately. Believe me, we see these misbehaviors and deal with them when you’re not watching. Yet somehow, our children still aren’t perfect like yours, and we’re not perfect parents like you are. Somehow, we can’t predict what our children will be like in the future like you can.

I CAN, however, see how far our children have come and find hope for the future. Sure, my sweet little bio sons have gone through some rough times in the past four years, and they’re coming out of it with scars and with strength.  Yes, two of my kids are scrappy survivors with some shocking behaviors, but their behavior this year is a night-and-day difference from their behavior last year! And sadly, my littlest has to continually adjust to going from a home where she is spoiled to one that has standards of behavior. And that’s hard, but she’s slowly adjusting. You wouldn’t believe how far they’ve all come.

The cool thing about wisdom is that it also brings humility. I can see that if my family is fighting a battle that outsiders don’t know about, maybe others are doing the same thing. Perhaps that family is dealing with the loss of a parent through death or divorce. Maybe those kids are struggling with being bullied at school or in the neighborhood. Could that family be dealing with serious medical issues that require painful interventions all the time? Or did those parents get a new job or have a family situation that is making consistent parenting a real struggle right now? Maybe just managing everyday life with two kids on not enough sleep is more taxing on that mother than I could possibly know. Everyone has different strengths. Just because parenting comes naturally to me, doesn’t mean it comes naturally to everyone. Just because 5 kids doesn’t seem overwhelming to me, doesn’t mean that one kid isn’t pushing that mom to her limit.

When Jesus came upon a woman of questionable reputation being harassed by a bunch of judgmental townspeople who wanted to stone her, he said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” I’ve got my own issues and my kids have issues, too. That’s life. Especially a life of following God, where the fire of everyday struggle brings our imperfections embarrassingly to the surface. That’s where God and we can deal with them and clear them away, like the dross being purified out of the gold. I was a much better parent before I had kids, and I was a much better Christian before I started following God into the hard places. Being “better” isn’t the goal. Being purified, being holy, being more like Jesus IS the goal.

So when it comes to other people’s kids and other people’s lives:

BE KIND, FOR EVERYONE IS FIGHTING A BATTLE YOU KNOW NOTHING ABOUT.

It’s called grace. And that’s something Jesus was really into.

Two and a Half Months of Silence?!?

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Of course, that’s web silence, not real life silence, of which I’ve had none.

I was sitting in the family room getting some post-kids-bedtime relaxation while Greg’s out playing tennis, but I just got the urge to come here and share. Things are really going well around here. I dreaded this summer, although not quite as much as I dreaded last summer. But we have two weeks to go, and it’s been good.

Jake has turned a corner. For almost four years he has struggled. Our organized, predictability-loving, rule-following, introverted firstborn had it rough being a foster brother living in a world of unpredictability and chaos…can you imagine?! It seems like now that he knows how our life is going to look for the foreseeable future, he has settled back into being himself. That delightful, easy-to-be-with self that we thought maybe we’d driven away by becoming a foster family…he’s back! There have been days that I just shake my head in amazement and joy to see that following this path didn’t ruin our little boy. We always trusted that God knew what Jake needed in his life to prepare him for his future, but it’s great to see him happy again. Thank you, LORD! I’m curious to see what He has in mind for Jake’s future in teaching him so young how to handle hardship.

I feel like I should write about Tyler here, but there’s nothing new to say. He’s wonderful. He always has been wonderful. He rolls with the punches and gets along with everyone. He’s enthusiastic and easy-going and affectionate. He has been the child who kept me going during many months. Tyler is the rock…and he rocks.

The big surprise: seven year old E. I don’t want to jinx it, and we had one bad week this summer with tantrums and defiance and such, but that’s been it. Her behavior has completely changed. COMPLETELY. I am in awe just typing it, and I hope it’s not just a fluke. She is handling it when we don’t give her what she wants when she wants it. She is handling it when we don’t entertain her. She is taking no for an answer. All of this with flashes of attitude followed by…get this…controlling herself! We compliment her on it constantly. We made a point to keep her very busy this summer with morning camps and such, and we are planning to continue this strategy when school starts because it takes a village to raise this girl. She still struggles when artwork or school practice work isn’t perfect, which makes me nervous about her return to the classroom. But to think back to where we were when she first came, and even around February/March…amazing. Wow. We continue to pray for bonding times with her, but it is SO much easier to bond with someone who isn’t dissolving into an uncontrollable fit all the time! It’s hard not visualizing how I thought it would be to have a daughter this age and then comparing it with how it actually is. But I’m looking back at the progress we’ve made…one year made a huge difference…three more months even more…maybe when the adoption is finalized she’ll breathe a sigh of relief and really settle in?

Speaking of the adoption, it hasn’t happened. It was supposed to happen this summer but somehow someone didn’t remember about a certain evaluation to be done so it could be put into a report and placed in a file to go into another report to be presented to us in order to move forward. The evaluation has now been done and is working its way from desk to desk at the social services agency. Someday, somebody whose job it is to call people to set court dates will give us a ring and set one date of a set of three, I think, that we need before the adoption is finalized. But this isn’t at all frustrating. I’m sure glad that we have shared all kinds of psychological, educational, behavioral, and medical information with the county so that they can write it up into an official report to give all that information we gave to them back to us and say, “Here are these kids we want to tell you about. Do you want to adopt them?”

On to Little A. He is a piece of work. I don’t know what we’re going to do with him. He has flashes of complete anger and violence, and then minutes later is the sweetest, cutest, winningest little guy in the world. And those dimples. I love this boy. And he drives me crazy. I don’t think I’m going to solve this in two weeks so I’m not going to try. I’m going to wait until he goes back to school and deal with whomever he turns into then. No point in coming up with new discipline plans and strategies only to use them for a few weeks. We’ll hunker down and weather the flashes of rage with the discipline techniques that have been working well for us in the past (and even with him, until three weeks ago, or so), and then we’ll regroup in the fall. I guess it’s always going to be somebody having trouble when you’ve got a family of seven. Right now he’s it.

Midge is here! Sleeping upstairs for the third night in a row as I type. Not permanently. But we’ve been seeing her for a few days at a time this summer. She went camping with us and she’s going to beg her dad to let her do it again next week. Her dad is falling apart, in my opinion. Nothing that concerns us about his parenting, but about his inability to draw the line with Midge’s mother now that the courts are out of their world completely. We hate it. He’s giving mom overnights and trusting her not to drive with Midge or do anything to endanger her, despite her complete inability to show she can be trustworthy. We think he’s just overwhelmed with being a single dad, so we keep offering to take Midge whenever he wants us to, but he can’t quite seem to juggle everything. There’s nothing we can do, because if we report any suspected wrongdoing or incompetence to the county without really knowing what’s going on and without knowing whether they’d remove Midge again, we know he could easily cut us out of her life completely. So far, we haven’t been scared for her safety, thankfully. I just don’t know what’s going to happen. Again, we’re in a totally powerless situation where we just have to pray and leave her in God’s hands. And I have no idea what’s going to happen when she starts preschool again in the fall. Sigh. My baby. While I can, I’m enjoying every minute with my spoiled-rotten, can’t-take-no-for-an-answer, I-don’t-know-how-to-share, wonderful little girl.

So we made it. Two weeks left of summer and we’ve survived. Not even that, I think we’ve actually done well. I’m hoping to start substituting this fall at the kids’ schools and I’m working on a single subject Math credential to go with my multiple subject elementary teaching credential. I’m competing in a triathlon this Saturday, which should be good for a laugh at my expense! I trained very regularly from January to early May, at which point I got bronchitis and pneumonia which lasted a month, got busy coordinating our school’s Teacher Appreciation Week, and then it was summer with no time to train sans children. So I almost didn’t follow through with my triathlon goal. But as my good friend pointed out, I probably won’t regret it if I do the triathlon, but it’s very possible I’d regret it if I didn’t. So here I go. School days, substituting, credentialing, scheduling fall kids’ activities, adjusting my parenting strategies as our family schedule changes…such is life around here. And looking towards the future with hope.

 

“You’re going to lose the ship, but all of the people aboard will survive.”

Title taken from the end of Acts…maybe Acts 23 or so? When Paul is going through still more hardships, including years of wrongful imprisonment and an impending shipwreck during stormy seas. Literally.

Our stormy seas are figurative. We are dealing with serious regression around here, with our foster kiddos returning to daily behaviors including defiance, tantrums, violence, disrespect and disobedience like we haven’t seen since their first months here. I spend most of my time splitting up fights, separating children, making sure those children stay separated, then going back and checking on the children who aren’t having a consequence at that moment, then going back to the first children and talking with them about their choices and reinstating their privileges, and then starting it all over again, with some kicks, screaming, and throwing of someone else’s valuables thrown in here and there. All the while attempting to keep my own temper and not let my buttons be pushed.

This morning as I was walking by our beautiful reservoir, God brought the above passage to mind. He reassured Paul with an angel, which seems a little more definitive to me. God, if you read my blog, I would really like an angel to come to me in my dreams and tell me the same thing. But as the angels have remained silent thusfar, I’ll just trust that the Holy Spirit brought this to my mind for a reason.

Our family will survive. The ship will not. What that ship is, I’m not sure. My best guess is that the “ship” is my own plan for how our kids’ childhoods should look. I’m thinking that God is shattering my own utopian ideals for my five kids’ childhood experiences. I’m supposed to trust that His plan for their early years is better than mine. That somehow His infinite knowledge of past, present, and future is more comprehensive than mine and He will give my kids the life experiences they need in order to fill the roles He has for them later in life.

He has been faithful. He is faithful. And according to the Bible, He will be faithful to complete the good work He began in us.

Of course, we just talked about the staggering extent of Paul’s faith in difficult circumstances at our Women’s Bible Study yesterday. Sometimes God is just a little bit too ironic for my liking.

 

Family Updates Are Few & Far Between.

It’s difficult to write here when things are sliding backwards. I don’t want to over-share my kids’ struggles, yet I don’t want to act like everything’s rosy when it’s not. So instead, I have just keep my mouth shut (or in this case, my fingers still!)

I will say that God has worked amazingly in my heart in the past five weeks. I woke up on February 1st, the nine month anniversary of our kids joining our family, and decided I’d had enough of my pity party and my selfish behavior. I didn’t like my life and there was no sign of it getting better if I didn’t change myself. And for whatever reason, the Holy Spirit began working that day. I know when we pray that God always answers: yes, no, or wait. I’ve been in the ‘wait’ category for several months, harboring bad feelings towards my situation, my kids, and even towards God, all while praying for improvement.

I have turned a corner. At ten months in, I may not be the most fabulous mother to my children, but I’m a lot better than I was five weeks ago. There’s a lot more compassion, and a stronger will to fight for these kids and our relationships. I’m hanging onto my bible time and my 1000 gifts devotional and thankfulness list, along with a devotional a good friend gave me for people in difficult life circumstances. All of that to keep me clinging to Jesus, along with daily doses (sometimes twice daily!) of a few ‘parenting kids from hard places’ books that remind me of how I’m supposed to change my thinking and my parenting techniques for these kids.

Meanwhile, Jake has been improving in his behavior. This fostering business has always been hardest on him, and he exhibits behavior that is straight out of our  trauma training sessions! I guess when you like routine and predictability and are a sensitive kid, being a foster brother from age 6-10 is traumatic! Tyler has always been the easiest with all of this. But this past week he’s had a rough time. Greg and I realize he needs a little more one on one time and are hoping to do that soon. Our five year old A. has been getting better at school and home. If only I could stop showing my frustration with him, he might be able to stop his defiance! (My frustrated voice is definitely one of his biggest triggers.)

As for our six-year old E., things have come to, as our social worker calls it, “a point of crisis.” Her current school situation is not working for her at all. In foster parenting-speak, her chronological age is 6.5. Her social age is about 11. Her academic age is about 5. And her emotional age is about 3. You can see how difficult this would make things in a first grade classroom at a school full of people (adults and children) expecting her to meet the academic standards and negotiate the social/emotional situations of a 6-7 year old. We’re working with the school staff but aren’t optimistic about them being able to meet her needs right now.

Thankfully, God showed up at just the right time to make me more empathetic to her feelings and open to different options for meeting her needs. Not everyone understands her special needs, but as long as Greg and I do, we have the responsibility to do whatever is in her best interest while also considering the family as a whole. We’ve been praying for about a month about what to do and have been talking with the professionals who will have to approve the decision since she’s still officially in foster care and we can’t make parenting decisions yet!  In just the past week, I’m feeling a bit more sure of where we’re headed. Next week I will have a little more information and hopefully we can feel confident with whatever we decide.

Every time I think about our family, I think of the tag-line at the beginning of the old Jon and Kate Plus Eight reality t.v. show: It might be a crazy life, but it’s OUR life. Yep. That’s us.

At the End of Ourselves…

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the rest of the family’s breakfast (mine was an egg over, you guessed it, beans, rice, tomatoes and chicken)

At the end of ourselves is where we find God. Or so I’ve heard. And maybe today I experienced it.

This morning I was at the end of myself. To be honest, I was at the end of myself yesterday, and when I didn’t get to eat the heath bar covered brownies and one of the children pushed my buttons in a seriously annoying way and there were five needy children at bedtime and I was tired and realized I hadn’t gone for a run all weekend, I was done.

I almost ate that brownie. I was this close. I even considered putting a call out for solidarity/support onto our little 7 challenge Facebook group. Then I decided that no, I should just not tell them and make this my one cheat of the month and nobody need find out about it. Then I distracted myself, like all good toddler parents know how to do, and then I lay down on the couch to watch t.v., because thank goodness media and food months aren’t at the same time. And then it was bedtime. And I was not going to waste my one brownie cheat if I had to immediately brush away that delectable chocolatey flavor. Phew.

I was jolted awake by one of my darling children at 6:00 a.m. on a non-school day because, as he put it, “I have a really bad bloody nose and there’s no more toilet paper!” by which he meant, I’ve used a whole roll of toilet paper for the three bloody noses I’ve had during the night because I use two feet of paper to blot my nose one time. If bloody noses were an anomaly in our house perhaps I’d be a bit more compassionate. But two nights ago I was awakened at 2:00 a.m. by a different child to clean up the bloody nose mess she’d made in the bathroom. And Greg has dealt with at least one child’s bloody nose every morning this week. If any more fluids come out of these children’s bodies, I might have to move out. We are not amused.

Of course, I had been reading a parenting book last night and felt encouraged to start fresh with trying not to lose my temper with the kids. Needless to say, I didn’t last through my first three minutes awake.

So I came downstairs to Greg and began crying for all the bloody noses and the fighting and my inability to stop getting frustrated and the fact that it was a non-school day and Greg not only had to work, but also had a meeting that would keep him out until after the kids’ bedtime. So Greg comforted me for a second and then tried to solve my problem, which forced me to sniff up my tears and proclaim rudely, “I’m going for a run.”

And I hadn’t run in four days, which is not good. But the path was deserted and the moon was bright and I was outside in God’s creation. My thoughts swirled angrily for a while and then turned to wondering. And whining to God about why He took away my easy little comfortable-parent-of-two-bio-kids-life and gave me this hard one that I often don’t like in its place. And seriously, God, now I can’t eat brownies, either?

And good old Job came to mind. He gives and takes away…blessed be the name of the LORD.

Maybe I hit rock bottom. Maybe I realized once and for all that the easy little life I had was given to me by the LORD as a gift. And it’s His to take away when that serves His greater purpose. And if I don’t have a calm home here anymore and if I can’t eat sweets (yes, by my own choice, but I really did feel led by the Holy Spirit to start this 7 fast) so what? And all of the sudden I realized what hope we have in heaven. And I thought of all those people out there who don’t have that hope when they’ve lost everything, and I don’t mean brownies and comfortable lives. I mean when they’ve lost children or health or jobs or marriages or seriously big things. I can’t imagine life’s difficulties without that hope.

The longing for heaven is what I found on my run this morning. And some perspective. I came around a curve and saw the sunrise reflected in the water of the reservoir behind our neighborhood and it was beautiful. I paused for a moment and thanked God. Within a few minutes it was light and that beauty was gone. It was a moment given just to me from my creator who is my heavenly Father.

Consistent gratitude has been missing from my everyday life for the past few months.

If I am eating only seven foods this month, what is that in the grand scheme of things? If parenting and enjoying my home is much harder now, what would be the alternative for the two kids who bring much of the chaos? They’re already considered “older children” in the world of adoption. Add to their ages their race, that they’re part of a sibling pair, and that they’ve both been labeled to have violent tendencies, one has asthma and speech problems and the other a serious heart condition, and you’ve got two kids who’d be bopping around foster and group homes their whole lives. Can I really be that selfish to wish for a brownie and some quiet hours on the couch?

So I ran home with a changed heart and a new hope. The hope of heaven and the hope that we have on earth in Christ. That I should not grow weary of doing good for in due season I would reap if I didn’t lose heart and didn’t give up. And that the Holy Spirit can work in families with broken people. And that I could withstand those chocolate croissants I had baking in the oven for the kids as a special treat.

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

Parental Rights Were Terminated.

I can’t believe it’s only five days until Christmas. So much has happened since I last posted…I know it’s no secret that I’m barely keeping this blog alive. But that’s reality: life gets busy and I’m okay with that.

The big news is that the trial happened for E and A on December 9, and miracle of all miracles, they terminated their parents’ rights! We couldn’t believe it. Apparently, they asked the social worker if we would be open to becoming only legal guardians for the kids so that their mom could keep on trying to get them back. She informed them that there was no way we would be open to that, and that if they did that, they should be prepared to find the kids a new home because she didn’t think we would keep them. She was right, but I’m glad I didn’t know about any of this beforehand! I have never heard Greg speechless until the moment I called him to tell him that the rights were terminated.

So we haven’t had visits for two weeks, which has been amazing. There will be a goodbye visit the day after Christmas with their birth mother, and I don’t know what’s going on with their birth father. It’s strange to call them “birth parents” but as E informed A, that’s what they’re going to be now. She has a best friend two doors down who was adopted as an infant from foster care, and apparently they had discussed this during a playdate at some point. I’m thankful that we know so many adopted people at school and in the neighborhood, so that it doesn’t seem strange for our new little ones.

The kids are doing really well with it. E was upset the first night, as she really thought her birth mother was going to get her back (because she had been telling E this at visits, apparently.) And she’s really upset that she won’t ever see her old friends again. But after that first night, we haven’t seen any mourning. I know that will come in waves over the next few years.

As for A, he was thrilled to hear he was staying with us forever. He wasn’t really paid much attention to at his old house. E calls for so much attention that I think A was just an afterthought in the corner. Nobody played with him or spent much time with him, I don’t think. He has never once said that he missed anyone or anything from his old house, family, life. How sad. But now he’s here forever and couldn’t be more pleased to have brothers and a family who love him and pay attention to him.

And we have seen Midge once a week since Thanksgiving! We met up with her and her dad at Disneyland last Sunday, and she’s coming over for the day this Sunday, when we will open her Christmas presents with her. Her dad informed me today that the dreaded horrible social worker who was taken off the case has now weaseled her way back in. It is the worst news I could have heard. This woman is determined to keep Midge in limbo forever and to give her mother more and more visitations all the time. Couldn’t she just leave the poor baby alone and let her try to lead a normal life? No. She can’t.

We are grateful that Midge’s dad seems to be willing to let us help him with her quite often. I would love to get to the point where we have her at least one day a week on a regularly scheduled basis. It would give him a break, because she rules the roost over there and can drive him crazy, and it would be good for her and for our kids, who all miss their sister.

When people ask me how many kids I have, I say five. She will always be my baby, no matter where she lives. When a parent divorces, they don’t disown their child just because they live with a different parent now, do they? If asked for more details I tell them my kids are 3, 5, 6, 7, and 9, but my 3 year old lives with her dad right now. All true, and definitely more accurate than saying that I only have four kids.

Merry Christmas to you all! I will be here trying to survive the two and a half weeks of the kids all together, trying to get along. The Christmas festivities are all new for E and A, so it’s been extra fun this year seeing it all afresh through their eyes. And I can honestly say that I’m looking forward to what the new year may bring!

A Week Off, or a Week On?

When your kids have a whole week off for Thanksgiving, do you cheer or moan? I’ve done some of each this week.

Jake and I had a great cub scout campout last weekend and I had a beautiful hike by myself today, both of which gave me some distance from the children that was much needed. Clingy children and a little too much sibling ‘togetherness’ can suffocate me! The good news is that several times in the last few days, E has played successfully with the other three for up to an hour. This is a major victory! Although the things they’re playing are a little wilder than I’d like, maybe I can see the light that E could become part of the sibling group play time. Thank goodness.

She’s Gone (Again.)

Midge’s dad didn’t want to wait to pick her up today, like we’d talked about earlier this week. He came last night and got her. He’s acting strange and I don’t know what he heard about what we reported to the agency. We couldn’t, in good conscience, keep our concerns to ourselves. I’m guessing something was said about us at court. I’m going to call the social worker and request a copy of the court transcripts. (We can only get those because we are de facto parents.)

When he took her, he mentioned that they’d be busy until after the holidays. Then he mentioned something about Thanksgiving, so hopefully he meant that we could see her after Thanksgiving.

In any case, apparently the judge mandated two visits a month for Midge WITH US. Huh? I’ve never heard of a judge ordering visits with foster parents. I have no idea what that’s about. Maybe the social worker can clear up what happened yesterday at court.

As for the stages of grief, I’m firmly in the denial stage.

We Interrupt This Great Idea With The Loss of Our Baby Girl.

So it was a great idea to really consolidate the things I can tell people I need help with when they ask if they can help out. And I still plan to do it, but as it turns out, God was already planning to take a big load off of us.

Midge will probably be leaving us again on Saturday.

Turns out that Social Services has cleared up (in their minds) the reason that Midge was removed this last time. Hasn’t really cleared up our concerns, but since when were foster parents’ concerns ever important? Even when we’ve parented this girl for about twice as long as either biological parent.

And on top of that, we’re not really sure where our relationship is with Midge’s dad right now. We couldn’t in clear conscience not say anything to Midge’s attorney and social worker about our concerns, but if it gets back to him that we are concerned, he could very well shut us out of her life completely. And who knows what he’s been told already. Just today he told me that he’s going back to his old church instead of coming to ours, where he’s been coming sporadically for the last few months.

And to think that I was honestly thinking that this really might be the last chance, like everyone so gravely said it was at the “Team Decision Meeting” a few weeks ago, where the only members of the “Team” who matter are the birth parents. Who’s on Midge’s team over there at the county?

So there you have it. Our schedule is clearing up suddenly. But don’t worry, I plan on having plenty of extra meltdowns to deal with from E, as she fell apart last time Midge left. Should be fun. So there will be plenty of need for that help we were talking about yesterday…

So You Want To Help? Part I.

I posted a link on facebook to this great blog post about ways to help families adjusting to new kids in the home. It’s funny how everyone jumps up to volunteer to bring meals and help out when a newborn baby arrives, knowing that newborns suck every minute out of the day, and the minutes leftover belong to the big sisters and brothers who still need some mommy and daddy, too. But people don’t often realize that bringing home bigger kids is just as hard as bringing home newborns. I realize how uniquely we are blessed to have a wonderful church, school, and neighborhood community who has rallied around us and wants to help us when things are hard!

When our car broke down and our other car couldn’t hold all our kids, neighbors and school friends jumped right in to carpool our kiddos. When I’ve been overwhelmed during these three years of fostering we’ve had family and friends who have taken any combination of our children off of our hands for hours or days just so we could breathe. We’ve had flowers delivered after sad court verdicts. We’ve had friends donate their timeshare to our family as we grieved the first loss of Midge. We’ve had neighbors who’ve brought over a sandwich in the afternoon, asking if I’d eaten lunch yet today, and when I stopped to think, I realized I hadn’t. We’ve had meals delivered and bathrooms and kitchens cleaned by loving family members. And we’ve had SO MUCH PRAYER and babysitting and friendship that it overflows.

We’re in a “just hanging on” place again right now, and I know there have been so many people asking me how they can help. It’s a hard question to answer: I think I need a clone.

Because the foster kids just need healthy doses of Greg and I. They need to feel secure that we’re not going anywhere and that we love them all the time. They need to go through that toddler-aged clingy time of trust vs. mistrust because they’ve never gone through that with us, and perhaps not at all. They need us to be constantly available to them so they can be assured that we’re trustworthy, and in theory, that will help their negative behaviors decrease.

And guess what Jake and Tyler need: more of us, too! Surprise! Most families have a hard time balancing the needs of their traumatized kids with the needs of their biological kids, especially in the beginning, and we’re no different. While Jake and Tyler are securely attached, they do still need parenting and encouragement and time without the other kids and reassurance that we’re still there for them, too.

Plus we all need time with each other to bond. I’m trying to be more purposeful about seeking out activities that help me bond to E. And I’d like to be purposeful about finding activities that help Jake bond to E, also. So in my fantasy world, I’d love to be able to take Jake and E out to do something fun on a regular basis, just so that Jake can begin to associate pleasant feelings and memories with her.

And while all of this ‘being present’ and ‘patient with clinginess’ and ‘available for the kids’ and ‘manufacturing bonding opportunities’ (not to mention ‘dealing with mega-tantrums and other behaviors’) is happening, I do need to keep the house running and drive the kids to school and visits and cook and clean and make time for the therapy and social worker appointments and such.

But I realize that the last paragraph is the one part that I actually can delegate out. So I’m going to try it. Hopefully within the next couple of days I’m going to put together a list of particular ways that people can help our family. I’m thinking that if we can get just a little bit more help in the next six weeks, maybe we can make it to Christmas and feel a little more secure in our family relationships.

Stay Tuned for Part II: The List.

She’s Back…

I know there are a few of you who only know what’s going on around here via blog, and I’ve let you down. Last week I started a post, thinking I’d tell you about my fabulous getaways to Portland and Santa Barbara and my pondering thoughts about our two older foster kiddos.

But then we got the phone call Monday night…Midge is back in our house. She was reunified with her Dad for a week. (Let me recap: removed in fall 2010. With us for two years. Reunified with Dad for 8 months. With us again for 2 months. Reunified with Dad for 1 week. Back with us now.) We don’t know much and we have no idea if this was really the “last chance” (doubt it!) but we do know that she’s here probably until late November and that she has a new social worker. PRAISE GOD!!!!!

Yes. I’m shouting that. Maybe this woman will bring some sanity, clarity, neutrality, and fresh perspective to this case and get Midge into some stability, whether with her Dad or with us.

Please pray for our family. Jake is a mess. E is a mess (our 6 year old foster daughter). Midge was fine for a few days and is now a mess (this timeline is consistent with the last time she came back to us.) Tyler is a breeze, thank goodness. Little A is about the same as ever…sometimes adorable, sometimes terrible. But parenting this brood this week has been quite a job. I’m so thankful for all of my family and friends and their prayers.

I’d say I’ll update soon, but I’d probably be lying.

By the way, the other kids’ court date is this coming Tuesday. According to their new social worker, there are lots of holes in the case, services that should have been provided and weren’t, which could result in a six month extension on their case. Oh joy. Just one more thing to think about.

It seems like every year I tell myself that by Christmas our family will be settled in and set in stone. Yet again, that’s not going to happen. We shall see.

Five Month Fosters.

I know this blog has been sorely neglected, but that’s just a fact of life around here. Just like the housework is being neglected and the big jobs like closet cleaning and backyard maintenance and catching up with that friend you meant to have over to dinner six months ago.

I’m behind.

The kids, on the other hand, are not being neglected. I’m spending just about every waking moment interacting with one or more of my five, teaching them how to navigate life in this new family we’ve created. Five months with our new foster kiddos and I can definitely say that their negative behavior patterns are decreasing rapidly. Five weeks with Midge home and she can once again stay in time out, take no for an answer, obey (now & then) and follow our routines (mostly).

School is in full swing and I’ve finally gotten a handle on how to do homework with a kindergartener, first grader, and second grader, two of whom can’t read and all three of whom doing their homework in spanish, which isn’t a first language for any of us. (The fourth grader is on his own for homework…phew!) There’s lots of driving with all the school drop offs and pickups (we have too many car seats to be involved in a carpool right now) and not to mention visits five days a week. But at least we’re into a rhythm.

But none of that describes the discomfort I have with where we are right now. I had expected to be more emotionally attached to our newest kiddos by five months in, and it’s still something I’m struggling with. Older child adoption is definitely something where you fake it ’til you make it, I think. We’re putting in the work of the action of loving, knowing (hoping?) that the feelings will come with time. The decrease of difficult behaviors makes it easier for us to begin to form the attachments you want to have within a family, so I’m thanking God for that. And we have seen so much progress with sibling relationships! I think the problem is my self-imposed timeline and thinking that I am “behind” when it comes to feeling attached. Another friend mentioned that when there’s still the uncertainty of foster care it’s harder to form those long-term family bonds. So hopefully when their court date happens in November we will know one way or another about whether they’re here long term or not. Maybe that will accelerate our attachment, too. We’ll see.

So between the non-stop activity at our house and the difficult feelings that I don’t want to place out there too much for the world (and my kids in the future!) to read, I’m just keeping this blog a little quieter than usual. And that’s fine with me. We’ll probably only have Midge another week or so and then the family dynamic will change once again. I’ll just take it one day at a time.

I Never Would Have Thought…

A year ago I never would have thought I’d be in the position I was in today. And I never would have thought that what came out of my mouth could possibly come out of my mouth.

Midge has been back with us for three weeks and there are another three weeks until the court trial where the judge will decide whether to reunify her again with her father, terminate family reunification services, or start up new case plans for her parents.

So today Midge’s attorney’s assistant met with me and told me what the other workers are recommending. The two social workers on the case both are recommending that Midge reunify with her father and have something called CRISP, which means Conditional Reunification with Intense Supervision Plan or something like that. Basically, they think the reason for this most recent removal wasn’t serious enough to keep her from her dad, but will watch the future carefully.

Which is pretty much what Greg and I think. Midge’s dad spoils her and doesn’t parent her at all like we would, but she has never seemed unsafe or not taken care of unloved in the last eight months that she’s been with him. The removal was for a technicality and really shouldn’t have happened.

So the lady tells me that Midge’s attorney’s office wasn’t ready to agree to any reunification any more, and that they were thinking of going for completely stopping the family reunification services. (Translation: if they got their way, Midge would be ours.) Then she flat out asks me, “Would you be opposed to Midge reunifying with her dad and having the CRISP?”

And all I can honestly say is, “No, we’re not opposed to it.” As much as we’d love to keep her, and as much as she should have been ours a year or two ago, what happened this time around isn’t right and it wouldn’t be fair to her dad to act like he’s failed to prove he can’t take care of her. Because he hasn’t.

So I’m guessing that on October 16 we’ll be saying goodbye to our baby yet again.

But you can bet that I’m calling her dad and holding this over him! I’m telling him that the way he can thank us for making this path easier for him is by keeping Midge safe and making sure we get to see her often. After all, she’s part of our family, too.