Not the End

 

15 months ago, a little girl joined our family through foster care. She was on the verge of turning 9 but the size of a 5yr old. I can’t say she’s grown much. But she has been completely transformed. And so has our family.

J brought a peace and unity to Raine and Athena. The three girls connected on the deepest level. Their days were spent playing joyously together. Raine has become so much calmer and can even whisper now. (If you’ve ever met Raine you know she pretty much always sounded like she was speaking through a megaphone.) Athena has grown in confidence and will actually hug people – something she wouldn’t do with anyone but me prior to J’s arrival.

There have been struggles as J deals with all the emotions that come with foster care and the reasons a child must be there. But she’s embraced a measure of healing. The girl here now is nothing like the one that arrived 15mths ago. She’s taller – though still needs to gain a significant amount of weight – happier, and more at peace. I’ve not been a perfect parent to her. But she knows she’s loved by our family.

And that’s why the news that J almost quite certainly will be leaving us August 19 caused Athena to run away from me crying. It made Raine go quiet. Eventually, Athena asked if I could take down the pictures we have up of J around the house. Once she’s gone, Athena doesn’t think she’ll be able to bear seeing the face of her lost friend.

The news of J’s departure isn’t really a surprise. It’s something that’s been a year in the making. Her mother has finally met all the requirements necessary to have her children returned. The social worker expects the judge to confirm this in court next week. Then J will need to go.

This is the heartbreak that keeps many from entering the world of foster care. The truth is not every child fully enters your heart. Often their brokenness keeps you from getting close. Sometimes in spite of your best efforts, there’s no connection with a child in your care. So every departure may not be completely heartbreaking. We’ve had some children with us temporarily or for a length of time and the moving on hasn’t been hard.

But in the case of J, there has been a deep connection. Her absence will hurt every member of our family. And, no doubt, the loss will affect her as well. It’s love that has changed each one of us as we’ve grown together. Whenever J’s social worker comes to visit, she’s always on the verge of tears seeing the relationship that has evolved. It saddens her to know it will come to an end. This isn’t the outcome that seems best. It’s not what we were expecting. And it’s not what we want.

Still, it is always possible in the world of foster care. So we bless J as she prepares to move from us. And I pray that Jesus, the one who calls us to love the needy, will comfort my children as they say good-bye. They’ve loved J so well. Their unconditional acceptance has enabled J to discover the beauty within herself. That revelation will go with her – that she is loveable, that she is valuable and to be treasured. Those truths are not coming to an end even though it appears J’s time with us is. She will take with her the deposits we’ve made. And we will keep the imprint of her on our hearts.

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We are Not at War

“We are not at war,” is something I find myself saying quite often. It was my 9yr old foster child who introduced the concept. She was sent to her room for being very disrespectful to me one day. With a history of explosive behaviour, it’s best to have her in the safety of her room when this sort of anger starts to bubble up.

In her room, we talked about why she was upset. Her response to being removed from the game she was playing with the other kids was, “Now you’re going to pay. You’ve blocked me from doing what I want so I’ll block you from doing things.”

“That’s not how it works. I’m the parent and you’re the child. There are consequences to how you behave because it’s my job to teach you the right way to interact with people,” was my explanation.

J disagreed, informing me, “We’re at war. You do something to me and then I do something worse to you.”

“We are not at war,” I assured her. “We’re not enemies. We’re really on the same side. We’re both trying to make your life as wonderful as it can be.” The truth is, being a child in foster care who has suffered a great deal of trauma, there is a limit on just how wonderful things can be. J is often overwhelmed by emotions that are far from wonderful. But there’s still the possibility of carving out a degree of wonderful in the midst of what she’s going through. There’s always that possibility for each of us.

“No,” she argued. “We’re not on the same side. We’re at war.”

“I am not your enemy,” I answered. But in the moment, we certainly seemed to be on opposing sides. I was struggling to pull her out of the darkness wanting to overtake her. J was adamantly opposing my efforts. In truth, we are not at war. We are not enemies. Yet so often I find myself in the midst of a battle zone as I fight against fear and insecurity. It arises in the children; it comes out in me. There’s a fear in loving, in being together. That’s what we’re fighting against. But we are not warring against each other.

Raine was quick to pick up J’s philosophy. And my new mantra has become, we are not at war. We are not warring against each other as J and Raine suggest when they find my correction unwelcomed and, as far as they can see, unnecessary. It’s not something to put on a plaque but something I say more than you can imagine – like when Raine is sure she needs to put on underwear from the dirty clothes bin when it’s time to go to church. We’re all on the same side and we’re all fighting against the things that seek to derail us. As I say it, taking a deep breath, I remind myself we’re not enemies. We’re working together on something wonderful.

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All Dressed Up with Nowhere to Go

Seems the word “party” is a huge trigger for our new foster child. Yesterday we went to my mom’s for lunch. Little J had a great time with my nephew, niece, sister, and mom.

And at first she was very excited to attend my mother’s graduation today. Then Raine and Athena started calling it a party – because there would be food after the ceremony. Getting ready, J became increasing anxious. Outside, she refused to get in the car.

I should have stopped then and there, but I really wanted to go to the graduation and it was too late to make arrangements for a babysitter. So, I forged forward. Got J in the car. Got her buckled. Traveled about a block before I had to pull over because J unbuckled. She was also screaming, kicking, and throwing things. We pulled over three times before getting on the highway. For some reason I thought we could make it. I wanted to make this happen.

After five minutes, I had to pull over to the side of the highway. J insisted that she was going to move immediately to a new home “that doesn’t go to stupid parties”. She kicked, screamed, and said if I took her to the graduation or my house she’d harm herself “and tell the social worker you did it, so that I don’t have to live with you anymore.”

We stayed parked on the side of the road for about 10 minutes. Raine, Athena, and I cried. We really wanted to go to the graduation. Mostly the kids wanted cake. I really wanted to be a normal, supportive daughter. But, having chosen this path, my life is not normal. I can’t always be the person I want to be. That’s just the way it is.

So I got off the highway and headed home.

J continued making threats. Her detailed plan of harming herself involved jumping off the dresser in her room. The only problem with that is that there’s no dresser in her room. When informed of this, J said she’d find something to jump off of and kill herself. Then I’d be sorry.

“Mom will loose her job if the foster kid is dead,” Raine pointed out.

At home, I sent Raine and Athena inside. J and I stayed in the car for a while. She didn’t want to hear anything I had to say. So I just started praying out loud.

Eventually we managed to move inside the house. J cried and cried. “It’s not my fault I’m in foster care. It’s my parents. I didn’t do anything wrong.” I agreed.

When she was ready to listen, I explained that even though it wasn’t her fault she has a choice about what her experience in foster care will be like.

“Mom’s seen kids act way worse than you,” Raine said. “This is what she does for her job. Screaming won’t get you moved.”

That caused J to shed the bravado she’d taken on since we left the house an hour ago. “I don’t really want to go,” she responded.

I explained that she would not be moving for outbursts like that. Her previous foster mom was a veteran with 25yrs experience in the field. It’s clear she did her best with J. But sometimes kids are unresponsive – especially when they first come into care. The decision for J to move was complicated and prompted by an outburst similar to the one we just experienced. After 5 months in that home, J told the emergency on-call social worker she wouldn’t stay any longer. And that’s how she ended up with me, after a few nights in a group home.

And so, here we are. The nearly 9yr old is under the impression that she can leave anytime. It’s a detrimental view because it will keep her from putting roots down anywhere. Though I don’t know how long she’ll be in care or how long she’ll be with us, it’s likely to be a while. Blocking herself from growing where she is, does J no good. As I prayed many times in the car with her, this is a season of growth. J has the opportunity to be a child and learn how to interact with the world in a new way.

I laughed at her attempts to frighten me with her screaming. I’m not scared. I’ve done this before. I may be all dressed up with no where to go, I may have mascara lining my cheeks, but I’m not scared. I know I can do this. And I know J can move out of anger and grown in peace and joy.

To make amends with Raine and Athena, J let them play with her toy sticky feet she got from the doctor’s. J apologized with sincerity and regretted her decision to keep us from the party. While she recovered in her room, Raine and Athena played – all dressed up with no where to go.

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