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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The Look of Love

love hurts

Last weekend, at a visit our 9yr old foster child was told in 2mths she’ll be leaving us to live with her mother. Her dad’s certainty contradicted everything the social worker and I have said. In truth, there is no way of knowing what will become of J. Everything is still very much up in the air. But it’s quite certain, nothing is certain at this point.

J returned home quite distraught, likely heightened by the fact she was only fed M&M’s for lunch. She was starving and angry. It wasn’t long before she was melting down.

“If I’m leaving, I want to go now,” she said in the midst of her tantrum.

I reminded her that bad behaviour is not going to get her moved from my house because we really want her to stay. And it is a good place for her right now while we wait to see what will happen.

“Then I’ll kill you all so I can go,” she went on. “My dad told me you have to be 12 to go to kids jail. So I won’t get in trouble for killing you. I’ll just get to live somewhere else.”

Seems dad was a wealth of information.

I let J scream out her frustrations. Then she went to bed and, I assumed, woke up in a better frame of mind. Then at church, J decided she didn’t want Raine sitting near her. Raine ignored this demand and sat in front of the girl. J began kicking Raine’s back. Raine shouted at her to stop. J didn’t so Raine hit her. And both girls erupted. Or so I’ve pieced together from the Children’s Pastor and the girls themselves. I was paged and came to collect my unruly children.

I do appreciate the team who work in the children’s department. I know they go out of their way to manage and have often kept Raine when she’s well outside the range of acceptable behaviour. Their commitment to my kids is incredibly valuable. It grants me a brief time of peace each week as I take in the service. Despite their best efforts, the teachers could not separate and calm J and Raine.

I gathered them and Athena from the classroom. J didn’t follow me up the stairs but took off running. When I went in search of her, she was in a hallway huffing and puffing. To my instructions to come upstairs, J answered, “I’m not leaving with you. I’m going to behave so badly that I move somewhere else today.” We reviewed the fact that bad behaviour won’t get her moved – I’m committed to caring for her as long as necessary.

“I don’t want to go in 2 months. I want to go now!”

“You’re not going anywhere today. And probably not in 2 months,” I answered. “Your dad doesn’t have the ability to decide what will happen. He and your mom have been asked to do certain things so that it will be safe for you to be with them. If they do those things, a judge will decide if you go to live with your dad or your mom. But for now, you’re staying with me.”

She came to the car – kicking and scratching all the way. I drove to a nearby park, letting Raine and Athena play while J screamed and kicked inside the car. Then it was time to go out for lunch and shopping for Athena’s birthday. J pulled herself together. And managed the rest of the day without incident. At bed, she snuggled close to me and talked all about how much she loves being at our house.

It would be easier if love didn’t manifest as death threats when the possibility of leaving comes up. It would be nicer if love wasn’t a wall of hatred brought up to distance herself in the face of potential separation. But this is the look of love when you come from a place of brokenness and fear. This is how I know my care and investment have made a difference. This is the look of love in foster care.

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