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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Celebrating My Parents

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To borrow a 90’s phrase, my parents are totally rad. I don’t write about them much, mostly because they loom so large in my life that it’s hard to do them justice on paper. Tonight I’m thinking about them because this is the big week when they celebrate their anniversary and their birthdays. I already did the good daughter thing and sent them a little something in the mail, but I think a blog post might be a better gift. (And I bet mom will cry when she reads this.)

You may not know them, but here are some of the reasons why my parents are so great…

  1. Mom is playful and funny. This woman’s got wit and a well-developed sense of humor — and a great cackle to go along with them. She kept us laughing when we were kids with what I can only call antics. My mom is a dignified woman but she’s not afraid to be goofy. More than anyone else, she can make me laugh so hard that I cry and gasp for breath. As I was growing up, she was a favorite with my friends. “Momma G” was often requested as a chaperone for school trips and I didn’t mind when she came along. That says a lot.
  2. My parents are generous. They probably won’t like me telling you this, but when our family had more money than we needed, they gave away the extra. They have always supported great charities and non-profits, not only with money but with their time. They’ve served on more boards and committees, and volunteered at more events, than anyone I know. Every Christmas Eve they hosted our pastors and their families for a bountiful dinner. Whenever there was a spare bedroom in our home, it was filled with missionaries on furlough, poor college students, or people in transition.
  3. Dad is a great confidante. He has always been someone I could tell anything to without fearing quick judgment or dismissal. Even when Dad and I disagree on a point or a decision, we can share our opinions and have a safe and helpful conversation. The way my father listens makes me feel valuable.
  4. Kim and Pam define encouragement. I don’t have childhood issues to work through due to unrealistic parental expectations. When I got a low grade on a test or assignment, they’d ask if I was prepared, if I gave it my best effort, and then they’d tell me that they believed in me and move on. They never made me feel guilty or indicated that I’d disappointed them. In fact, my parents often gently urged me to loosen my perfectionist tendencies and have more fun. The only time they ever gave me an ultimatum was when I was giving all of my time to extracurriculars and was neglecting my spiritual life. They told me that changes had to be made because nothing was more important than my relationship with God. Their own lives have proved that point.
  5. Mom models faithfulness to commitments. Pam has taught pre-school Sunday school classes almost my entire life. Of course there were challenging kids, flaky helpers, and days when she just wanted to skip church and sleep in, but my mother never backed out of a commitment just because her feelings changed. She knew people were counting on her — both the kids, other teachers, and the pastor — so she showed up. Every time. How many people do you know like that anymore?
  6. My parents gave me an awesome musical education. Music was always playing in our home and in our cars. My parents’ musical taste is so eclectic that I can sing along to Cat Stevens; The Beach Boys; Luciano Pavarotti; Joni Mitchell; Simon and Garfunkel; Etta James; James Taylor; any of the Jackson clan; Crosby, Stills and Nash; Frank Sinatra; The Four Tops and many more. I know Broadway musicals and can tell the difference between Brahms, Bach, and Beethoven. Like many parents, Kim and Pam forced me to learn piano. That torture is one of the greatest gifts they ever gave me. The ability to read music is a dying art, but since I learned how to read music, I’ve had some of the most exhilarating moments of my life making music with other singers.
  7. My dad is a storyteller. The grandkids always ask for Papa to tuck them in so he can tell them a story. He’s been weaving intricate stories about Chief Red Cloud for decades. (It’s probably the Ojibwe blood in him.) Dad’s gift lives on in my brother Brandon who spins great stories and makes up these spontaneous, rhyming songs for his daughters. I think dad’s love for story is probably why I love reading, acting, and public speaking of all kinds. There are few simple pleasures like telling a good story well.
  8. They’re still together. My parents don’t have a dazzling love story. (In fact, they way mom tells it, dad proposed in the middle of a casual conversation with something like, “So, do you think we should get married?”) But they do have stable love story, which might just be the best kind. If their marriage were a book, these would be some of the chapters:
    • Loyalty to one’s spouse is like being a Buckeyes fan
    • Parenting is cheerleading without the uniforms
    • The life-long friendship of doubles tennis and euchre table-talk
    • Adventure: sell insurance, travel far, drink wine, and find your husband conducting a band
    • Forgiveness: a kiss after another home project gone sour
    • Embrace your in-laws — Don’t bring up politics
    • Faith is obeying the call of God even when it leads to a desert and loss
    • Aging Well: Let her read. Let him play golf. Hold hands during the movie.

My parents are not perfect people, nor were they perfect parents, but they are easy to compliment. They know how much I love them and now you might too.

Happy anniversary and happy birthday Mom and Dad! May you have many more years together.