When Grace Appeared

Grace

Photo credit: AJ Garcia

 

Wow, it’s been a crazy few months! Most of you know my husband accepted a new position with his company early this year. This opportunity came with the requirement that we relocate to Tennessee. After 12 years in Oklahoma, this was an exciting, but emotional time for the whole family.

Late last month movers packed our house, and the kids and I caravanned down I-40 towards our new adventure. It all felt a bit surreal.

We purchased a home in our new town, and this wise momma (please note the sarcasm,) thought it would be a great idea to have painters paint the interior of our new home the same week we moved in. Oh, and not just paint the interior, but SMOOTH the ceilings.

Because is west Tennessee, popcorn ceilings are still a real thing y’all.

This sounded like a good theory in my head. A month ago. While moving was still a theoretical thing.

Note to self: Moving into a new home with two road weary and emotional children is not the right time to have painters demolish the house.

But demolish they did. We lived in a proverbial sea of plastic sheeting covering every square inch of the first floor. Our family was relegated to the second floor for TWO weeks. We had to eat out for TWO weeks, because heating a stove up under plastic sheeting is apparently a fire hazard.

I’m happy to report they finished the job beautifully. My kids are only slightly traumatized from the move, demo, and the fact that they have a mom who harbors unrealistic expectations.

In the middle of all of this mess and chaos, I threw myself a pity party one Sunday morning. I was standing in my kitchen drinking a cup of instant coffee, because I couldn’t find my coffee pot.

All I could think was, “We made a mistake.” One of my kiddos was not liking school. The other missed everyone we knew. My house was a wreck. We knew practically no one. And on and on it went.

My good friends, Panic and Anxiety, were just about to take up residency when my doorbell rang.

Opening the door, I saw our sweet next door neighbor, who happens to have kids the exact age of my two. She was smiling and holding out a box of donuts.

“You’ve probably already had breakfast,” she said. “But we wanted to bring you donuts!”

In my emotional, slightly weepy state, I reached out and hugged her. I was careful not to overwhelm her with my morning breath.

All I could manage was a feeble thank you.

In that moment, I knew why she was on my doorstep. It was Grace, pure and simple. Grace showed up in the form of my neighbor, holding a box of donuts. Grace that said we were going to be ok. That there were kind people here too.

I closed the door. Took a deep breath. Said a quick prayer of thanks.

Panic and Anxiety would have to move in another day. Grace was taking up residency here.

A Diagnosis of Itchy Feet

Itchy feet

Wichita Wildlife Refuge

 

As a kid, I lived in 20 different houses by the time I was 18. Saying we moved a lot was a bit of an understatement. To be fair, after our move to a farm in Oklahoma, we stopped moving.

I actually got to stay in one place for 7 years. Amazing.

With that many moves under your belt, you get used to new adventures. It’s one of the reasons I went to college out of state, away from anyone or anything I knew. I craved another big change.

After college, I bounced around, and started a career. In my late 20’s, my husband and I put down roots in a rural town, and have been there ever since.

But, here’s the thing.

I still get restless for an adventure.

So, what’s a wanderer to do? Travel. A lot.

In fact, it’s so important in our family, we budget for it every month. We drive old cars, and don’t have grown-up toys. All this so we can traipse around in search of adventure.

It’s worked pretty well.

But the kids are getting older, and they’re figuring me out.

The other day my sweet girl asked if we were going to move. She overheard her dad and me talking about the possibility of downsizing. So we could travel more.

That’s totally normal, right?

I told her I didn’t think so. I explained we were just talking.

Then she dropped a bombshell on me.

“I talked to Dad about it,” came her matter-of-fact statement.

“He told me you moved a lot when you were a kid. So, it’s hard for you to stay in one place.”

“He said you have itchy feet. It’s okay. I understand.”

After I stopped laughing, I hugged her. As funny as her “itchy feet” explanation was, I realized she spoke the truth.

All of these years later, I finally have a diagnosis for what has plagued me as long as I can remember.

It’s itchy feet.

It’s the reason I start planning vacations as soon as we get home from our last. It’s why the AT and PCT are both on my bucket list. I crave exploration, discovery, and unscheduled time surrounded by my tribe.

This world is full of terrible, beautiful, horrific, and holy things. I want to see them all. I want to meet the people who live there. Learn about their stories. Write down bits of their words, so that time will not fade their memory.

I only need a pen, some paper, and of course, comfortable shoes.

Children Who Foster

kids walking

 

Dear Children Who Foster,

 

We see you. We, foster parents, who receive the pats on the back and the “God bless you’s,” we know your unnoticed sacrifices.

We know the way you freely give up your rooms, your toys, your parents, and your home. We watch you graciously sit at the dinner table each night, fully realizing that the “least of these,” is sitting next to you.

We see you lending a listening ear to a foster sibling dysregulated and scared. We know you hear stories far too mature for your age. And though we try hard to shelter you from those stories, we know you quietly shoulder burdens of worry, anxiety, and fear.

We watch you daily live out sacrificial love. We watch you struggle with anger and long for life before foster care.

We hear the uncertainty in your voice when you ask why they were taken from their parents, and if you could be taken from yours.

You, Children Who Foster, are the true warriors in the battle for the hearts of foster children. It is not the foster parents, the case workers, the lawyers, the CASA’s, therapists or judges. Though all of their work is admirable, they accepted their roles by choice.

You, on the other hand, were thrust in this fight. You were placed on the frontlines armed only with innocence, tolerance, optimism and a vast ability to love completely.

You are at the heart of this story. As parents we worry how it will all turn out. We ask ourselves questions like, “Will they resent us later for this?” “Are we ruining their childhood?” “Is this even fair to them?”

But even as the questions swirl, we watch your growing resilience, and your understanding that this difficult work is important.

Every time you field questions about whether they are your “real” brother or sister, or why they are living in your house, your quiet, simple answers attest to the wisdom in your sweet spirit.

So, on the days you’re overwhelmed, please remember, you are seen and you are loved.

Thank you for what you do for foster kids. You are the true heroes of foster care.

 

Love always,

Foster Parents

When Answers Seem Far Away

creek

I’m looking out the window at the creek behind my house. It’s a clear, crisp day, and the water sparkles in the sun. Just past my property, the creek narrows, hooks to the right and then disappears.

If you didn’t know, it appears the creek must end just beyond the curve. I thought that too, until one day, shortly after moving in, I put my kayak in the water and went exploring.

While the creek narrows significantly at the turn, once you’re through a series of S-curves, it levels out. Paddle beyond that for a while, and the creek opens into a very large lake. It’s a lake with a little island, home to birds and other wildlife.

But, looking from the back of my house, the creek shows no hint of the beauty that hides around the curve.

It’s kind of like life right now. We’re looking at the curve, and the path appears too narrow to continue on. Or, even worse, we’re not sure we can handle what’s on the other side of the turn.

We have hit what author, Seth Godin calls, “the dip.” The dip is the point in the journey when most people give up. He says what separates those who overcome and those who don’t is the dip. The ones who overcome get through it.

Simple, right?

Sitting in a therapist’s office this morning with one of my little loves, the dip feels like a valley. It’s intimidating, all of this therapy, training, and the endless paperwork that accompanies each new thing.

As a seasoned mom, this is all new territory for me, and I’m overwhelmed. Just before the session, a crazy, panicked feeling sets in. I want to throw a white flag in the air, and call the game on account of rain.

Answers seem so far away. And even then, I’m not sure if I will like the reality of them.

As the therapist sits down with me one on one to discuss things, she talks about having fostered and adopted; about how she’s been there.

She tells me about the observations she’s made. She begins to validate everything my husband and I have noticed.

Suddenly, I feel tears well up in my eyes, and I choke out the words, “So, we’re not crazy?”

She smiles, looks me in the eye as she leans closer and says, “You’re not crazy.”

She reassures me that there is a way forward. She’s been on this journey hundreds of times before.

Just like that, I get to glimpse what might be around the curve. Hope flags a little corner of my heart.

And answers don’t seem so far away.

A Day in the Life

image

It’s 6:30 in the morning. The sun just started brightening my room. I can hear the kids rustling around the living room, attempting to be quiet.

I hear my 7 year old loud whisper to my 5 year old, “Be quiet! You’re gonna wake them up! They said we could only wake them up if someone was on fire!”

Let me put this in perspective. First, we are on vacation at the beach. Second, I just want to sleep in until 7. And yes, I may have used the, “You can only wake us up if someone is on fire,” line.

The two of them continue to loud whisper until they are joined by their sisters, Loud, Louder and Loudest.

With a sigh, I elbow by husband and mumble, “They’re up.”

“Yeah, I was trying to ignore them,” he says with a pillow over his head.

We spend the next 5 minutes bantering over who gets up, and who gets to sleep 10 more minutes. I win this morning.

Later, as I drag my half-dead self to the kitchen in search of the coffee pot, I’m greeted by my extremely chipper children. One of them wants to know when we can go to the beach.

This scene has been repeated every day on our vacation. As I stand at the counter and sip caffeinated sanity, I steel myself for the next child who asks the same questions, just in a different way.

Since there are five of them, I am asked this question in a continuous loop. Instead of doing what I’d like to do, which is bang my head on the counter, I turn my back to the kids, sigh and look towards heaven.

I mumble to myself, “Lord, Jesus give me strength.”

This line is my daily mantra, often said in an exasperated tone. I’m fairly sure God understands. Or has a laugh or two at my expense.

After a whirlwind breakfast, we then start our morning game of, “Can everyone find their clothes?” Sometimes, all five kids manage to get dressed in appropriate clothing, complete with socks and shoes.

Alas, this is not to be the morning. Just a few minutes in, one kid is yelling that he can’t find any pants, and one is crying because their tennis shoes “feel weird” on their feet.

My husband and I go from child to child acting like parental firefighters, seeking to douse the situation with love, understanding, and a healthy bit of sarcasm. It’s the only way we survive, people!

Once everyone is clothed and shoes no longer “feel weird,” we clamor out the door and down to the beach. Each child is prepared with buckets and shovels.

We hit the sand in a sort of blitz attack. Hermit crab and sandpipers scurry for their lives as our small army of children scream and run in all directions.

The hubs and I find a nice piece of driftwood to park ourselves on. We feel victorious just getting everyone to the beach with clothes on!

For almost three hours, the kids entertain themselves by building sandcastles, hunting for shells, or locating stranded jellyfish on the beach. Really, I’m not making up the jellyfish thing.

They are blissfully happy. No one is crying. Laughter is plentiful. Some of my kids, who have never had a vacation, much less seen the ocean, are just in awe to be out here. Life is so very good.

As I stare at the ocean waves, I think, “Yep, this chaos is worth it.”

I settle back in to enjoy a few more minutes of bliss.

That is, until the hubs nudges me back to reality with, “Hey Babe. It’s almost lunchtime.”

Lord Jesus give me strength.

Big Little Firsts

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We never intended to foster older children. You know, because big kids have big kid problems, and we were only slightly prepared to handle little kid problems. The end.

But, life has a way of turning your plans upside down and challenging your perceptions. Which is exactly what happened to us. Our hodgepodge family is now made up of kiddos from ages 5 to 12. Everyone 8 and older is referred to as the “Bigs.” Under 8’s are called the “Littles.”

After less than a year being a foster family, here is something I wish I had known about fostering Bigs.

They have firsts too!

I had this silly idea that somehow fostering older kids meant you missed all of the important first milestones in their life, those essential bonding moments. Now, I’ve learned that a child’s life is full of firsts, at every age.

Some of the firsts we’ve been blessed to be a part of were first bicycle, school dance, band concert, camping trip, and vacation.

One of the best was the first time our Bigs tried Sushi. It was hilarious! There were squeals of laughter and shouts of, “You try it first! No, you try it first!” They were relieved when I explained we were eating cooked Sushi, not the raw kind!

The other was the night we camped underneath the stars to watch a meteor shower. They had never been camping. They’d never seen the way a million stars light up the sky when there’s no city lights around. Six kids, laying down, looking at stars. You could’ve heard a pin drop.

We’ve learned a lot from these Bigs. We’ve learned they are not so different from Littles. They want to be heard. They want to feel safe. They want somewhere to belong.

I’m glad life got in the way of our perfect plans. We would have missed so much. Because in the daily chaos and drama of our motley crew, life would be missing something without the laughter, crazy antics, and wonder of our Bigs.

Firsts are important at any age, even if it’s squealing about who’s going to try the Sushi.

Hard to Hang Around

Large family dinner

Feeding seven!

After five short months as foster parents, we almost feel like veterans. Five months, and many additional children later, we are learning to do life as a family of many.

Even as I type those words, it seems mind boggling. Five short months ago, I had an organized life. A nice home, good marriage, and a few kids. It was perfect!

So, since we do crazy well, we jumped in with both feet. We initially said we would take one. “Just one,” I pointedly told our social worker.

And then God laughed and laughed.

Our one turned into many, and now we are officially, “hard to hang around.”

What does that look like?

Well, it means we routinely get stares from strangers. I have been awkwardly questioned by well-meaning store clerks, “Are they all yours?!”

Buying in bulk is like a part-time job, since my children can eat exactly 515 lbs. of fruit a day.

Someone is always sick, and the school has my cell number on speed dial. The conversation usually starts, “Hi, Jenn. It’s the school nurse. So sorry to call you again…

We no longer eat on real dishes, but instead have planted a small tree farm on our property, in hopes of replacing all of the trees we’ve killed through our use of paper products.

The washer and dryer are always running, and the electric company gives out a corporate bonus every time we pay our bill.

All joking aside, life is pretty nutty around these parts. To our friends who have hung in there with us, “We love you!” For the others who have hunkered down with a bowl of popcorn to watch the show, “We would too!”

On the days when someone has stepped on my last nerve, or my sanity is hanging on by a thread, I try to remember our why. And, then the crazy makes sense.

I am married to a living, breathing testament to the power one family can have in the life of a child. For that, I’m forever thankful. This crazy life? This is our legacy.

When I remember that, I can take a deep breath, and wade back into the chaos for a while longer. Though I may be counting down the hours until bedtime!