Feeling a little vulnerable about posting this. But according to Brene Brown vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change. So here I am. I hope you connect with this in some way.
I remember feeling this pull inside of me. I needed to meet with him. I was sitting on the pew in Chapel, at Aylen Lake, Canada. I was probably thirteen. This chapel is a wooden shelter sitting on top of a hill in the woods overlooking the beautiful lake. As I sat there not truly listening to the sermon, I felt a need to leave and meet with God. So I told my mom I had a stomach ache and I walked the pine needle covered path back to our cottage and down to the dock. It was a sunny day. The sun made the lake look like it was dancing with crystals on its surface. The world was silent. I remember talking to God and crying and understanding him so perfectly clear in that moment. He wanted freedom for me.
I remember when my family got back from the chapel and I told them I wasn’t really sick they were kind of upset with me for leaving the service. I immediately felt silly and too emotional and dramatic. And so I don’t think I ever left again. I think I’ve been sitting in the pews listening to the same sermon again and again everyday.
You see, I’ve always been too much. Too loud. Too crazy. Too emotional. Too eccentric. Too odd. Too intense.
This world conditions us to hide these traits. Because god forbid we sacrifice normality for freedom.
I have so many examples of this…
In middle school I carried my school books on my head during lunch making funny faces and laughing with my dorky friends only to find the cool kids that were in their usual circle staring and laughing. So I stifled my humor.
In elementary school I was listening to a song outside and I felt the urge to jump in the lake with my clothes on just to feel the cold cool water. I just wanted to feel freedom and happiness and being wild. But I got talked out of it by a friend and felt silly again. So I stifled my joy.
I got told skinny was beautiful so I stifled my hunger.
I got told guys like girls with tighter clothes and bleached hair so I stifled my dignity.
I got the vibe from others discomfort that going that deep into ones own soul was too much, so I stifled my heart.
But then one day I met God down at the dock of our old lake cottage. I was listening to a song in the cottage, crying over a breakup where I had spent the entirety of it stuffing my personality and wishes deeper inside of myself until I didn’t recognize what they were anymore. And he told me to dance. It was pouring rain. I had done my makeup nicely. Straightened my wavy hair perfectly. Was wearing nice, put together clothes. But all I could hear was “dance, Nan.” So this time I shut the door behind me and I danced in the pouring rain. I felt my mascara run down my face, I felt my straight hair curling again, I felt my chest rising and falling with every breath of life I sucked in like I hadn’t had air for the longest time and I saw her for the first time since meeting with God on that dock. It was Nan. And he was begging her into freedom again.
Since that day I have been trying more and more to walk out of the chapel. To find my place next to God and to find the place where I allow myself to be seen, to be vulnerable, to be known. And I have come to the realization…I am too much! And I am ok with that. Because God is ok with that. And when I’m with him…I’m just enough. So take off your shoes. Take your hair out of it’s perfect spiral curl that you perfected. Wipe that makeup off. Look God in the eyes and say, “I am here.” And let yourself fully be who you are. And don’t you dare let anyone stifle the spirit you have inside of you. Because we’re all too good at being perfect, so let’s be good at being free.
One night this week I was overcome with anxiety. Getting in my car seemed a little dramatic so I left the baby with my husband and ran downstairs to the garage. A room I particularly loathe due to the abundance of camel crickets and lawn equipment.
I crouched down and held onto the side of the old stroller and sobbed. At times my breath came in gasps and I wondered if I was having a panic attack. I remembered how last year I would gag with nausea when things got particularly stressful as a foster parent. We were going through a difficult time with a teenage foster son.
I hadn’t felt nauseous in a while but I did that day after court for our foster baby. And as I sat on my ankles in that damp room, with the stacks of Bob Dylan CD’s and the rows of paint cans, I cried out. God. Don’t forsake me. Don’t hide your face from me. I cried until there were no more tears left.
Then I went back upstairs, got the baby ready for bed and read books with my daughter. I had felt like I couldnt breath but I took the next breath. And so the night went on.
I wrote the above last summer on my blog when we were going through a particularly difficult season as foster parents and I never published it. Maybe I didn’t want anyone to think I was losing my mind, though those closest to me knew how greatly the court case was affecting me. How much I cared for this little baby and what happened to him. I wanted him to be safe and I didn’t have that control. It’s a hard place to be and it can feel all-consuming.
As I write this today our foster baby is still with us and his case has greatly improved. So it feels like we are in a much better place. But for the past few years it’s been tough trying to fulfill this calling to help children in need.
Maybe you’ve thought about being a foster parent but you aren’t in that place right now. You might know how great the need is and want to help but aren’t sure how you can. I wanted to share three ways you can support foster families. Hopefully these ideas will give you a little insight into what a family in your group of friends, church or community might need.
1) Throw A Shower
Often foster families are licensed for more than one child or have decided they are open to receiving placements of different ages. So it’s nearly impossible to plan for every child who may come into your home. Often children arrive with nothing but a trash bag of clothes and sometimes they come without anything. We picked up our baby from the hospital and went home with only the outfit he was wearing and a bag full of blankets hospital volunteers had donated. We spent over $1000 that first week just getting basic things we needed. I was SO grateful for friends who gave me bags of baby clothes from their attics or sweet relatives who sent clothes or dropped by with an outfit or bottle warmer. We had less than 6 hours from the time we got the call to the time we brought baby home. So that’s not a lot of time to prepare.
Yes, maybe it feels strange to throw a shower for a child who could leave at any time. But foster parents are required to send anything bought for the child with the child if they leave- so not only are you helping a foster family but you are also helping a biological family in need. And, the stipend for foster care is low. Many assume it covers everything and foster families are set. Families who want to truly provide for the child in their home end up spending A LOT of their own money. As you do with your kids. And when kids are coming and going this can really tax a budget.
And isn’t every child worth celebrating? Hosting a quick get together is such a sweet and supportive way to show you care and are ready to embrace this new child. Don’t know the family well enough to give a party? Handing them a gift card is also a wonderful way to show your support. And is so appreciated.
2. Treat a New Placement like a New Baby
When your sister had a new baby you probably brought over a meal. Or maybe offered to babysit her other kids so she could get some rest. No matter what the age of the new foster child coming into the home, foster parents could use some help. Between trauma the child has experienced and getting no sleep because a child is scared of their new bed to signing up for new schools, going to new doctor appointments and navigating home visits, bio parent visits, shared parenting- all in the span of the first week- foster parents are exhausted. We had a couple from our church that we didn’t know well drop off a pot of soup and salad one night after we brought our foster baby home. We so appreciated the effort and thought. Can you become a respite babysitter? Often it just takes a background check and you are approved to babysit so the foster parents can take an evening off.
A call or text means so much and instead of saying, let me know how I can help (we’ll never let you know – it’s too awkward!) just say, I’m thinking of dropping off a pizza tonight in case ya’ll could use a break, is that ok? And this is also appreciated even when the child has been in our home for months. Sometimes that’s when a lot of foster parents can get burnt out trying to care for children from hard places. It often gets better- children get more settled, routines get established- but sometimes it gets worse.
Kids who are now in a safe place step out of survival mode and then the difficult behaviors start up. We’ve all navigated the tantrums in the store- but magnify that by 100 when trauma is involved. It can be hard and we need to know we are doing a good job. Once my sister mailed me a care package with the essential oil Valor in it. Just that name made me tear up. I wasn’t feeling brave- I was scared that foster care was becoming too hard. And her sending that made all the difference.
3) Watch Your Words
This one is hard, because I have had so many well-meaning people say hurtful things. And I know they didn’t mean to be hurtful! So I wanted to tread lightly- but still let you know what’s important to hear and not hear as a foster parent. First, we can’t share details of the bio families. So asking if the baby was born on drugs – or where the parents are- or what they did- it’s best just to avoid these questions. Especially in front of the kids. Even young kids can understand that it’s not normal to not be with their birth families. And questioning the details in front of them makes them feel like THEY aren’t normal. I had someone ask a previous teenage foster son how he liked his “new” parents. Actually, he would much rather have been with his “old” parent, his bio mom, and again- the question made him feel like there was something wrong with him.
I always introduce my foster kids as my sons or daughters. Because at that moment, that’s what they are. So when you are speaking to them or about them, treat them the same way. And let’s avoid the horror stories. The ones about friends who fostered or foster kids you read about in the news. Foster care is nuanced and every case is different. Just because you saw on CNN that a teenage foster child burned down the foster families house does not mean every teenager in foster care would do that.
Another question I get asked all the time is, are you going to adopt so- and- so? The reality of foster care is we often don’t know. And some families are fostering just to foster and not to adopt. Again- saying this in front of the child is a definite no. They know deep down that their futures are up in the air. Some want to be reunited with their birth families and some would like to adopted. But they don’t have a say in the matter and neither do we. So a better question would be, how can I pray for you?
And that leaves me with the last point, which I’ll just leave under this one. Pray! I cannot tell you how thankful I am for ALL the prayer warriors who pray with us and for us. Even people we don’t know well will let us know they are praying for us. It means more than you can know.
Support for foster parents can make all the difference in whether these families continue to foster or give up because it gets too hard. You play such an important role as supporter. I often think of my extended family as a foster family too- because they are helping and encouraging us and that’s a ministry in and of itself.
I’m not a morning person by nature. I’m a two cups of coffee and maybe I’ll talk to you kinda person in the morning. Some days it is three cups and a shot of espresso but whose counting…
Unless I’m on vacation. Then I can’t wait to wake up. I’m like a kid on Christmas morning. I can’t wait to see what the day holds!
But everyday mornings, I’d rather hit snooze. Then one day it all changed. As the girls got older, started sleeping better, I started to see I valued my mornings. I learned I love sipping my coffee and watching the sunrise. Reading my devotional and having some alone time before the craziness that is our lives starts.
I read the book, “The Artist Way” last year. The author suggests doing what is called morning pages. You simply write down whatever comes to your mind. Not documenting your life. Not to pass down to your grandkids or to be published. Never to be read again. It’s like brain dumping on paper. The author, Julia Cameron says any thought that causes anxiety that is left in the brain creates chaos and turns off creativity. I have found by simply writing down my thoughts, however dumb to me or petty, it is so relieving. I have come to really enjoy that time. And I leave feeling refreshed. Something that has been bothering me greatly feels less urgent. I can think more clearly about it.
Julia Cameron says, “The morning pages miniaturizes our Censor. The Censor is part of our leftover survival brain. Any original document pretty dangerous to our Censor. Morning pages will allow you to detach from your negative Censor. It may even be going to seem like a grumpy cartoon character. Doing your artist date you are receiving opening yourself to insight, inspiration, guidance.”
I have found that taking the time, even if it is five minutes, even on my most stressful crazy days sets the tone for my day. I usually read my devotional, do my morning pages and end in prayer. Just taking that time every morning has been so helpful in maintaining a better stress level and having a clear mind.
You can use any notebook for morning pages. It takes a little bit of time to get used to just writing what comes to your head and not journaling. But once you do, it really is amazing how therapeutic it is. If you are worried about people reading what you write and it is inhibiting how freely you share, take the paper you wrote on and trash it. Ball it up, burn it or tear it to shreds. Remember, the goal isn’t to document but to free your mind. And once that starts to happen, you will start to notice a difference in how you feel about mornings too.
Enjoy the sunrises of life friends! And a good cup of coffee.