Tuesday, May 5, 2020

A very fine line

When you're a foster parent, one of the easiest things to start believing is that you're "better." A better parent, a better provider. Better at meeting a child's needs. Better at communicating and keeping track of schedules. An overall better citizen of the world.

And of course it must be true, right? Because why would anyone take a child away from his parents and give him to you if you weren't "better?"

Foster parents and bio parents don't typically have much interaction. Visits with the child and other meetings are often set up specifically to avoid interaction, in fact, and this is a good policy most of the time. The current pandemic, however, has replaced in-person child visits with virtual visits and brought foster parents like me face-to-face with the people I'm tempted to believe I'm just so much better than.

Our current foster placement is only a few months old. He can't talk or hold a phone, much less facilitate a Skype call. So when he "visits" with his parents, I am there. When they talk to him and read him books and tell him how big he's getting, I am there. Not on the screen, but behind the camera, holding the tablet up so he can see and listening to his parents say they miss him so much. They want to hold him so much. They love him so much.

As I've helped my foster kiddo participate in these "visits" twice a week every week, I've grown increasingly uneasy. Those people on the other end of the call--whose faces fill the screen with smiles for their son--well, they're so...human. Just like me. Not monsters. Not psychopaths. Not imposters.

Parents. Like me.

Over the last few weeks, God has shown me that the line between where I sit behind the camera with custody of a child not my own and where others sit on a Skype screen wishing they could hold their son again is a fine line. A very fine line. And if not for the grace of God it could've been me on the other side. Could've been me laying awake at night wondering how many days it will be until I see my child again.

I can hear you thinking it: The state didn't take their son away for no reason. They must've done something bad. Something irresponsible.

You're right. They did. But their poor choices did not take away their humanity and make them somehow less than me. Just as there's a fine line between my side of the camera and theirs, there's also a fine line between thinking I've made better choices than them and thinking I am better.

If there's one thing the last couple months has proven, it's that things can change really fast. Life can be upended. People can suddenly find themselves in situations they never would've thought possible. When I hold this sweet little foster kiddo in my lap, I think about the fine line between me and his parents. The fine line between any of us and a whole different life. And I'm thankful to be where I am. In a better place than some...yes. But not better.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Too involved

This is what a woman said to me recently when she learned I was a foster mother: "I couldn't do it." She took one look at the baby in my arms - a baby who isn't mine but needs me desperately - and shuddered. "My heart would get too involved."

I thought about her words for a long time afterward. They're still running through my mind, actually. Is my heart not involved enough? Is that why I keep saying yes when the state calls me about taking in another child? Is that why the foster care life has not yet broken me? Because I've been able to keep my heart out of it?

My heart would get too involved. The more I think about it, the more I think that woman was on to something. She instinctively knew that if she got involved with a foster child her heart would also, and her heart shied away from that potential pain like a hand being jerked back from a hot stove. A warning rang out in her head: Danger. Danger. Heartache ahead. Don't get involved.

So what does that mean for me? As I write this, I'm snuggling a two-month-old baby whom I've only known a few weeks but already love. But when the woman I talked to made those comments, she implied (unintentionally) that my heart is not that involved. She implied that is the reason I am able to love a baby I know will leave me.

The truth is my heart is way too involved. Too involved to heed the warning of danger. Too involved to protect itself at the expense of a vulnerable child.

I don't mind what this woman said because her statement was honest and a hundred percent true. If she were to foster a child, her heart would get too involved. That's how it works. I can't dispute that. But I can challenge the idea that an involved heart is to be avoided at all costs. Because what in our lives is worthwhile without our hearts being involved?

I can also challenge the idea that you have to be the one to actually take a child into your home for your heart to be involved. There are many other ways. In just the past couple weeks, I have had a friend give a generous amount of money for my foster baby's needs, another friend babysit him on short notice, multiple people volunteer to drive him to one of his many appointments so I could stay home with my other kids, and a whole team of people set up a free dinner for foster families. Other people have purchased items like backpacks for kids in foster care, sewn blankets, and donated formula.

It reminds me of what Jesus said in Matthew 25: "Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me." If you read the verses before that, you will see he was referring to clothing and feeding and sheltering people. To visiting them in their distress, caring for them in their sickness, and welcoming them in. It's hard to do those things without getting your heart involved.

But what about the danger? The wailing alarm screaming "Heartache ahead!"? Well, that's a good question. A valid question. But I don't have much time to worry about the sacrifices required to foster, the unavoidable pain, the helplessness and frustration. I just don't have time. My heart's too involved in the task at hand. And I'd rather my heart be too involved than not involved at all.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Foster care math

He arrived on a Thursday evening, covered in sweat. He wore a shirt and jacket that were too small and a pair of shorts despite the freezing temperatures. He carried a blue and black blanket that reeked of...something. And that was all he had.

One outfit plus one blanket equals the sum total of his earthly possessions.

I peeled the sweaty clothes from his back and coaxed him into the tub with a yellow ball and bubbles. He did not speak or cry but only whimpered. I spoke quietly to him as I washed him, wincing at the abuse the scars on his body revealed - the story I could easily read in the size and shape of the marks. I pulled his two-year-old self out of the tub and wrapped him in a towel.

"Mommy?" he said.

Sometimes I wish my door did not open for vulnerable and broken children. That I could turn the lock and go about my life unaware of the need on the other side. But that is not my reality. Even with the door shut tight, I can hear those kids out there, crying for help. I can sense their presence. And I can't turn them away.

A phone call from CPS plus an empty bed plus a willing heart equals an open door.

He handed me the same three toys over and over until he grew tired and a wild look appeared in his eyes. I laid him down in our extra bed as his whimpering returned and assured him he was okay. Everything was okay. It was going to be okay.

"Mommy?" he said.

"No. Auntie. I'm Auntie."

"Night night," he said.

I stayed awake worrying. His placement with us was meant to be very short-term...so where would he go from here? Would he be safe? What was he used to doing? Eating? Did he have any allergies? Diseases? I had no way of answering any of those questions and there was no one who could, not even the case worker.

Too many questions plus not enough answers equals a terrible night's sleep.

Over the next few days, I did my best to make him feel at home. To give him as many hugs and kisses as he would let me, which wasn't nearly enough. I kept him clean and safe and fed and had him looked over by the doctor. I threw away his only possessions once I learned they'd come from a drug lab and replaced them with new clothes that actually fit and a new blanket and a giant stuffed dog he refused to put down.

Two weeks dragged - and flew - by and then he was gone. Moved to a different situation deemed by the state to be best for him. And I prayed God would watch over him wherever he went, but I also breathed a sigh of relief because my anxious hyper-vigilance was no longer required 24/7 and a hundred questions from every person I ran into no longer needed to be answered or avoided and no more poopy diapers needed to be changed. Phew. Life returned to normal.

But I could still hear him say, "Mommy?"

So I stocked up on diapers and wipes and am getting as much sleep as I can so next time I'll be ready to do it again. Because the sum total of a vulnerable child's possessions plus an open door plus a terrible night's sleep multiplied by the love God puts in my heart just for these kids equals a difficult and meaningful calling.

That's foster care math.