Fostering Afterword

“How has this experience changed you?”

That was the question a friend asked me about my first foster placement. My brain spun, searching for an answer, but I couldn’t find one for him. Months later, I still can’t. I know I’ve changed, but knowing how I’m changed is not that important to me. Right now, I’m focused on mending after a season of trauma.

Trauma scrambles the brain and the emotions, making truth-telling so much harder. This story has been locked inside me for months; I’m just starting to find words to pray. I’ve tried to write about my experience, even just for my own processing, but the story was locked up tight behind a wall of confusion and tears. Things are finally loosening up and now I want to share a bit of my story with you.

When I took in a young girl last year, I also took in her history. It was fed to me by social workers and therapists in tattered and disjointed pieces that, when gathered, told a story that no child should have to live. There were generations of family dysfunction, major traumatic events, and a chain of broken promises and misplaced blame. Every adult in this girl’s life failed her in big ways. Past trauma and present uncertainties made her anxious, angry, scared, and depressed. Those big emotions led to difficult and unpredictable behaviors, and to some unsafe situations. Every day was a battle. I fought for her and she fought me.

She was desperate for her family, for love, and for a sense of control in a fractured life, but she would have none of that. A judge determined the course of her future. She would never have the life with her family that she desperately prayed for every night at our dinner table. In her loss and grief, she could not accept the love I offered her. It wasn’t personal — I’m simply not who she wants. Somewhere in month four she declared me a primary villain in her tragedy and began to lash out in both passive-aggressive and openly aggressive ways.

I want you to know that love her. Yes, my heart broke over her history, but my love did not grow out of sympathy. I love her because of who she is underneath the PTSD and challenging behaviors. I wish you could have seen and known her as I did in her purest, happy moments. (And I weep that pure, happy moments were so few.) For all her quirks and difficulties, she was goofy and hilarious, shy yet curious, courageous and sweet. She enjoys lip-synching, spontaneous dance parties, YouTube, slime, drawing, unicorns, science, and hip hop music.

I battled for this brave, precious girl every way I knew how. I did my best to parry her behavioral and emotional sword thrusts with calm, patience, empathy, compassion, redirection, healthy boundaries, and reassurances of understanding and love. I tried to teach and show her that I was her ally, not her enemy. I tried to build up her sense of safety and stability. I advocated for all aspects of her wellness — physical, mental, relational, emotional, and spiritual. I sought the advice and skills of experts. I kindly but firmly battled a frazzled case worker who didn’t take our crisis seriously because, apparently, there were emergencies that took precedent. Maybe if things other than hearts were breaking, the case worker would have responded appropriately.

I spent every inner resource I had seeking help, but the stress of our daily life was too much. She was stuck and heartsick. I was stuck and physically depleted. Help wasn’t coming. My hardy immune system failed, succumbing to three major infections in two months. You can only live and battle hour-by-hour for so long. Eventually, I made the most difficult call of my life. I asked them to find her a new home.

In the foster care world this is called a disrupted or failed placement. I hate those words. I hate this reality. I hate that I had to make that phone call.

I hate that children are victimized. I hate that adults are weak and selfish and broken and sick, and don’t or can’t protect their children. I hate that trauma can rewire the brain and while healing is possible, I hate that it is slow. I hate that the best therapies we have don’t always work. I hate that “the system” is underfunded and mismanaged. I hate that social workers suffer an undue burden when all they want to do is help, and I hate that they don’t or can’t always help.

But most of all, I hate that she might hate me.

I mourn that she couldn’t accept my love and that she couldn’t love me back.

I wish that love was always enough.

I am heartbroken that our story together ended this way. I wanted more joy for her. More healing. More friends. More stability. More laughter. More smiles that reach her eyes. I wanted my home and family to be a place where she discovered so many more good things. Now I fear that she’s left my home with only the aftertaste of rejection and remembers nothing of the good and the love. So now I surrender my broken heart and broken hopes to God. I picture her future in God’s hands and pray that there will be overflowing goodness there.

I’m a bit broken but I’m also healing, slowly. I’m through that first, overwhelming wave of grief where you can’t think or see straight. Now I contend against the smaller (and sneakier) crashes of grief. They’re like waves at the beach that look like nothing on the surface but suddenly smack you off-balance, pull you under, and spit you out on the sand. I’m being swept over right now. I’m crying as I write this, dashed hopes stinging my eyes like salt water.

As hard as this was, I know a few things. There was and is some good in this story.

I know this was not a failure of love or resolve. I did everything I possibly could to keep us together and keep us well, but I’m not Jesus. I’m not super-human. I’m not a mental health professional or a child development specialist. I’m just a Jesus-follower who was called to work for justice by loving a vulnerable child. I’m an ordinary woman with a big heart and a spare bedroom and lots of time and life I want to share. So I got licensed and trained. I opened my home and fought wholeheartedly for as long as I could. But I’m human. I have limits and I reached them. It’s good to know your limits and to listen to them. I did my best, and my best was very good, but she needed more than I am equipped to provide.

I don’t regret that I spent my life and love this way. Sometimes good, valuable things are monumentally painful and costly. I know that I didn’t make the wrong decision — to be a foster parent, to love her, or to make that phone call.

So here I am. I’m a post-failed-placement foster parent. I’m rung out and a bit salty but getting back on my feet. I’m changed though I can’t say how. And I’m healing, though the process is slow and lonely. I know I’m going to be ok.

Everything I Cannot Do Alone

I’ve been fostering for five months now. There’s a reason they mark our certificates with the title “therapeutic” foster parents. These days, I’m in the thick of that therapeutic part. Last week, a friend told me that I look sleep deprived. Surprisingly, I still get 8-9 hours of sleep a night on average, but now I deal with much more stress.

I was reflecting that I simply could not manage my new life without the help of others. I’m trying to keep up on handwritten thank you notes, but the reality is I have very little time and brain power to spare. So I’m going to take some space here to name and thank as many of my teammates as I can. Maybe it will give you a little window into my world.

To my “support friends” team, a group of individuals from my church who are committed to offering practical and prayer support. Thank you for grocery deliveries, dropping off dressers, hanging out with the kiddo when I have evening meetings, the hugs on the church patio, your faithful prayer, IKEA trips, detailing my car, and most especially for those of you who took the kiddo for the weekend so I could go on a retreat!

To Parent Child Connection, my foster/adopt support group. Thank you for making me meet you for coffee to process the hard things. For offering your homes as places of respite. For letting me vent and not being alarmed, but “getting it.” For helping normalize my daily life and these wild emotions. For helping me benchmark what is “normal” in the foster world and helping me discern what I truly need to be concerned about. For sharing your own stories, failures, and successes.

To all the women who brought a meal the first two months. It may have seemed strange to bring a meal to a family who does not have a new infant, but this support helped me greatly when I was overwhelmed with details and paperwork and drives back and forth to the county offices.

To Sarah and Jake. Thank you for listening. For caring with your hearts and hands. For sharing your trampoline and your wine. For random dinners and Christmas Eve movie night. For Costco runs, and meat, and gifts of homemade ranch dressing. For bedtime back-up, and music therapy, and Thai lunches. If I were a scuba diver, you’d be my air tanks.

To Leslie G. Thank you for shopping for school supplies that first week when my head was spinning. Your easy friendship is constantly refreshing.

To the Zeisler family. Thank you for puppy therapy, holding my spare key, checking in, praying, and for keeping your door open to us.

To the Bell family. Thank you for Christmas lunch; we needed a place to go and make the holiday as happy as possible. And for loaning us a ski outfit for winter camp!

To Alma, Carolyn, Rolana, Holly, Jana, and Roslyn. They say the future success of foster kids directly correlates to the number of safe and loving adults in their lives. Thank you for truly loving this girl and changing her future.

To the Krehbiel family. Thank you for moving into my apartment complex and then sharing your home, your cookies, your baby, your movies, and your hearts with us. Please never move away. And please keep going on dates so I can have regular baby therapy.

To Jessamy. Thank you for mending that wretched Halloween costume 86 times.

To the Neschleba family. Thank you for gifting us a bigger dresser. The girl’s got clothes!

To Kip, Paul, and Jake. Thank you for being my on-call handymen when I can’t or don’t have time to fix something myself. The doorknobs, grill, towel bar, and front door are all working well.

To PWP, my women pastors support group. Your constant humor, love, and encouragement make ministry easier to bear at church and home.

To Ruby and Amy. Thank you for December 27-29. For using your air miles to spend those wide open days with us. For keeping us occupied, and positive, and laughing, even when we lost the car in the parking garage.

To Stephanie. Thank you for checking in so often. For making the time to call me across our 3 hour time difference and amidst your 3 kids and a random work schedule. For remembering me in prayer. For being there when I need you.

To Liz and Monica. Thank you for making our yearly reunion a priority. For your laughter now and across these 20 years of friendship.

To my fellow pastors and Jerry. Thank you for listening to this new and often bewildering story. For your patience when I cry. For your encouragement. For your continued energy in ministry.

To Alyssa, Blanca, Krissa, and Kylie. Thank you for sharing your expertise, tips, and reading lists with me (for free) via text, messenger, and over lunch. I’m so blessed to have friends who are social workers and therapists.

To my family. Thank you for your support, even if you had, or still have, concerns about me fostering. For the ‘welcome to the family’ care packages, Christmas gifts, and birthday cards. For your prayers, listening, compassion, and love. I know my decision impacts us all, so thank you for giving me the room and grace to follow God’s call on my life, even when it’s on the wild side.

I may be single, but I am not fostering alone. Each and every one of you mentioned here, and those I’ve forgotten to name, are an integral real part of our daily lives. You sustain me. Thank you.

 

Love, from a Mom

You may have noticed that Pastor with a Purse has been pretty quiet this year. I’ve been spending a lot of what used to be my creative writing time praying, resting, and scooping up fresh motivation.

But life has also fundamentally changed. The good news is that I’ve accepted my first foster care placement. Those of you who have been with me for years know that I began this adventure back in 2008. There’s been a lot of discerning and waiting and praying and preparing to turn the dream of fostering into a real person who now shares my home and life. You can read more about how and why I got here in Mother One Day and Today is the Day. Now, I can say with profound gratitude and a dash of trepidation–the wait is over.

Almost four weeks ago, on an ordinary Wednesday, I got a call about a young girl in need of a new home. We met on Friday and she told her social worker that she wanted to live with me for two reasons: I’m nice, and she wanted to go to church. She visited my home on Sunday and she moved in on Monday. Two days later we had her registered at her new school.

The past month has been a flurry of phone calls, appointments, social worker visits, emergency team check-ins, back-to-school night, emailing teachers, finding new healthcare providers, and adjusting to our new normal.

I’d love to chronicle all the new experiences, struggles, joys, and fears, but one challenge of being part of a foster care story is that I can’t legally share any details about her on the internet and social media. There’s a chance that one day she may legally be my daughter, but there’s also a likelihood that she will be a temporary daughter. Only God knows that bit–the big, uncertain future–but I’m content to live each day simply focusing on her needs here and now.

Rather than fret about things I can’t control, I’m focusing on the fundamentals like her knowing I will always feed her and provide her with clothes and school supplies. Academic “success” in the pressure cooker of Silicon Valley? That doesn’t even make my list of top 25 priorities.

I’m tossing aside conventional parenting expectations to meet the most basic and important human needs: to feel safe, to be loved unconditionally, to build trust, to care for our bodies and our hearts, to know what to do with the nasty emotions that make sneak attacks and leave us reeling, to be free to be a kid after your childhood is stolen from you, event by painful event. If I had to do a 30 day review, I’d say we are doing pretty darn well.

There are so many feelings and so much exhaustion. Here’s what I posted to my Facebook wall last night as I lay curled up in bed, limp and weary but wired:

This is the most significant thing I’ve done with my life to date. I’m mostly living hour by hour, flexing my life around the ever-changing and delicate needs of this precious human that has taken over my house and my time and will likely take over my heart. I sink into my beloved mattress at my new bedtime of 10pm and gulp in the stillness and quiet, and take lots of deep breaths and think–this is so big, and good, and scary, and fun, and motivating.

I’m doing ok, good even. We’re alive and safe and functioning well (despite a head cold for her and a virus for me and a wicked heat wave all over the holiday weekend). We are laughing over board games and our hundredth game of Uno, learning to let loose as we lip sync to Selena Gomez, taking bike rides and shopping trips, braiding hair and negotiating what clothes are age appropriate, and tackling homework to mixed reviews. There are so many thoughts and feelings and appointments that my brain is now constantly leaking details, but what is most important in this life is not being forgotten.

Each day feels a bit like standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon–you know, the parts of the park where there is not a guard rail or even a frayed rope between you and the sheer cliff? It’s wildly beautiful, awe-inspiring, and terrifying all at the same time, but that’s life.

So now it’s 42 minutes past my bedtime and my eyes are telling me I’m too old and too parental to be up this late. So, off I go to the wonderland I call sleep. 6am comes too soon, but there’s never been a better reason to get up early.

Before I became a parent, I worried that I would feel constantly watched and judged by other people’s expectations of my child or their expectations of me as a parent. I also worried about whether I would feel like I was constantly failing. I so often see Facebook statuses and blog posts and articles about family life where moms are tossing about “mom fail” jokes, which I suspect often cover insecurity.

What has surprised me most in this new, wild place is that I feel nothing but satisfied with my efforts. I’m far from perfect. I don’t know nearly as much as I could to help this child thrive. But I’m giving her and myself heaping amounts of grace. There’s freedom to learn, and wide columns for mistakes. There’s open range to ask questions so we can both do better next time. I’m often shaking before some of these new challenges, but I keep looking back at all I’ve overcome in my life and remembering all I’ve seen God accomplish through my simple obediences, and then I’m able to move my trembling feet forward.

I guess I’m being brave. In case you didn’t know, that’s not just for children.

Half the time I have no idea what I’m doing. I’m texting friends and professionals a lot for perspective and advice. I’m asking for prayer regularly. I’m asking for practical help more. But at the end of the day it’s me and her and the Holy Spirit in our little home now packed with a second life’s worth of goods and baggage. So I’m telling myself every day–this is important. You are doing well. She is safe. Build from there. That is good. That is enough.

So Pastor with a Purse may have gone quiet, but there’s a whole lot of good going on under the surface. Hopefully I’ll be back soon to share with you more victories and more of what I’m discovering.

Until then my friends, be brave. Be obedient to your call even when it seems crazy and outlandish, and even when people you love discourage you with their concerns. Give yourself an embarrassing overabundance of grace in new and wild places. Never forget what is most important.

Love,
Corrie, the new mom/mum/mama

 

Today is The Day

In 2008 I lived in Pennsylvania and worked long hours in college student development. In the few spaces of quiet and solitude in my busy life, I noticed an unexpected theme.

Whenever I listened to the radio I heard bulletins about the huge need for foster homes in my area. Recruitment billboards blanketed our country roadways. These ads pinched my soul, but I ignored that pinch for several reasons: I was single, young, lived on a college campus, had a low income, and worked irregular hours. I thought I was far from an ideal foster parent candidate. So when I heard and saw those ads, I just prayed. I prayed for the children in need, for their social workers, for foster parents to step forward, and kept living.

But then something strange happened. I started having dreams where children were calling to me. Sometimes it was one voice; other times a few. And here’s the kicker — the kids called me mommy.

In my life up to that point, I remembered the content of four dreams. Four. (I’m sure I dream often, but I can’t recall them when I wake.) So when you remember a handful of dreams in 28 years and then you regularly dream about children calling you mommy, you start paying attention.

My mentors urged me not to ignore this, as odd and unsettling as it was. So I talked to God about it. I waited and listened. After a few months of billboards, radio pleas, the dreams, and the inner pinch, I began to see it all as an invitation. An invitation to what, I didn’t know, but I decided to honor it as something, and took action.

I attended a foster care information session to hear more about the need in my county. There were some brutal statistics and compelling stories that left me rattled. After that I prayed more and looped in my family and closest friends. I continued processing with mentors. A few weeks later I signed up for training classes. I was still unsure of what I was being invited to do, but I hoped the process would help me figure that out.

20160429_230447_001On February 5, 2009 — after months of classes, interviews, paperwork, and home inspections — the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania licensed me as therapeutic foster parent. I started the process feeling curious and a bit afraid of where this might lead. By the time I was licensed, my curiosity had morphed into a profound sense of calling.

For me, becoming a foster parent is about doing Kingdom justice. God grieves that children are abused, neglected, and traumatized. For as long as there has been brokenness in the world, God has called his people to care for the vulnerable, especially children.

America — one of the richest countries on earth per capita, and the country with the most Christians — has over 400,000 children in the foster system. A quarter of those children could be adopted today. TODAY. And yet so many of our vulnerable children are stuck in the system and have little hope for a permanent home. In the county where I live, there are currently 1,300 foster children and only 150 active foster families. Foster youth are at much greater risk of becoming victims of human trafficking. Up to 33% of foster children who age out of the system will become homeless.

Not only does this grieve God, as an adopted child of God, it hurts me.

I cannot do nothing.

 …learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. Isaiah 1:17

A lot has happened in my life since 2009. I’ve been waiting for the right time and place to go through the licensing process again. Now is that time. During this long wait, I’ve observed and supported friends who’ve both fostered and adopted children through the system. I’ve read a stack of books on childhood trauma, abuse and neglect, and the developing brain. I’ve watched every documentary I can get my hands on. I have my eyes wide open.

I’ve seen how difficult, uncertain, and painful fostering can be. But my fears have crumbled under the strength of my resolve.

20160430_135554 (1)Today I began the licensing process again. I hope that by September I’ll be sharing my life and home with a child in need. And if the circumstances are right, if the state permits and God wills, I’ll adopt that child so she or he can have a safe and stable home forever.

Foster caring is not a fairytale. It’s not a story where I will be a savior. It’s not an “easy way to build a family.” It’s not a simple solution for infertility, and it may not be a healthy choice for an unmarried person who just wants kids.

Caring for vulnerable and wounded children requires sacrifice. It disrupts comfortable lives with waves that can ripple for months, years, and even decades. It amplifies stress and causes pain and heartache. It makes uncertainty part of your daily life. It requires all the patience, attentiveness, compassion, and strategic thinking we adults can muster. But I believe all this sacrifice and effort are worth any risk.

Vulnerable children are worth everything we have to give.

I’m not doing this to be noble; I expect this will be the most difficult thing that I will ever do. I’m doing this to obey God’s call on my life. I’m doing it because it’s a branch of God’s justice that I am well equipped to join.

To be honest, I have concerns. How will I handle the first or fiftieth public tantrum? How will I adjust to more eating-in, less sleep, and following a strict budget? How will I respond to the criticism of others who don’t understand what it takes to raise a traumatized child? Will my work suffer? What will I do if my child becomes violent?

I’m concerned, but I am not afraid. I feel courageous. And that can only be the work of the Holy Spirit.

I’m also wise enough to know that I cannot do this alone. Thankfully, God has placed me in a church that has over 15 foster and adoptive families. I also have incredibly supportive parents. My closest friends are on standby for middle-of-the-night phone calls. But I also need you.

I need you to pray for me. For everything.

I’ll need your favorite kid-friendly recipes; your hand-me-down clothes, bikes, and books; and whatever parenting hacks you can pass on that might simplify my life.

I’ll need your encouragement and your hugs. I’ll need you to listen to me vent and doubt and process. I’ll need your calm logic when I’ve reached the end of mine.

I’ll need you to keep me laughing. To help me not sweat the small stuff. And I may even need you to cry with me.

Please keep me close.

Only God knows what the next months and years hold for me. But today is the long-awaited day that something new begins. However my life and my soul are challenged and changed, I hope that I will be able to help at least one vulnerable child.

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