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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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.