The Gift of Community

Normally our 9yr old foster child is at her birth mother’s on weekends. Because of this, J has only been to church with us a handful of times. The last occasion was a total disaster.

When J decided not to go to her mom’s this weekend, I understood but was nervous about how she’d cope. Raine and Athena were singing in the children’s choir Easter morning. I worried J would prevent us from getting there because of a major meltdown. Happily, she rose and got ready without any issues. In fact, all the kids did so well getting out the door (usually our greatest challenge) that we arrived at church early.

J hadn’t eaten her bagel and pear during the drive. She and I sat down in the foyer while Raine and Athena went to their final practice. It’s rare for J and I to be alone. She loves my daughters and always wants them around.

Saturday, while we were waiting in line for pancakes at a local maple syrup bush, J ran through the nearby pine trees with Raine and Athena. The three form a neat little pack. I was struck by how special it is to find a place where you belong. J has shed much of her insecurity and found a place of joy. She is loved and she loves. It’s a gift to have a tribe to run with. I grew up with a sister and friends who nurtured my spirit and soul. That has been on my list of experiences I’ve wanted for my kids. I rejoice that Raine, Athena, and J have that.

As J and I sat in the foyer, people began wandering in for church. Many faces were familiar to me. They knew J was my foster child. Though most had not met her, they stopped to say hello. The grandmotherly women, put their hands on J’s shoulder. Looking her in the eyes they welcomed her. Some told her she was in a blessed home. Others told her she was lovely. Everyone had a smile and kind word for her.

She’d done nothing to warrant their attention. J was simply sitting there eating a bagel (or not eating since she’s been reluctant to eat after being at her mom’s over March break). The people knew her status and went out of their way to speak into her heart. They honoured her with kindness not because of anything she’d done. She has no connection to them. They aren’t her grandmother. They bear no responsibility to her. Yet, they made a point of connecting deeply with her. I watched J’s spirit and soul drink in the love and acceptance lavished upon her.

It took everything in me not to cry. Growing up in the church, I’ve known this kindness all my life. Until today, I’d not appreciated the magnitude. There are so many things I want for my kids – adopted and fostered. A home church has always been on the list. Growing up, that was my community. There were families in my neighbourhood who also went to our church. We spent time together during the week and saw each other on Sundays. I realize there are many other ways to build community. But I doubt there is another place where a dozen people will stop to speak to the heart of a child because they know she’s living a displaced life. Today, J received the gift of community. She was loved, accepted, encouraged, and affirmed simply for being there. It was beautiful and exactly what she needed.

Thank you.

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My Orphan Heart was Given a Name

When she came to me, Raine knew her name. She’d always introduce herself by her first and last name. At the point of adoption, she struggled with gaining a new last name. I received a great deal of resentment from her. She didn’t like being adopted and certainly didn’t want her last name to be changed. I pressed on, wondering if I should have refused the change or made her last name a middle name so Raine could hold onto that portion of her past. In the end, that frame made me uncomfortable. I knew it wasn’t ideal for her to hold onto the past. But I also knew that being adopted was costing her dearly.

Raine struggled with the loss of her family of origin. And for what felt like a very long time, she resented her new last name. I thought of my sister who, caring nothing for marriage most of her life, entered into the institution after her son was born. His arrival made her want to have their family unified under a common last name. Giving Raine my last name gave us a recognizable connection. It mattered, though she didn’t know it in the moment.

Now, years later, she can’t recall the first last name she bore. It’s gone from her memory and she values the name she has. It means she belongs to me and, finally, her heart is able to rejoice in that reality.

When I decided to adopt Raine, several people said, “You’re crazy! I’d never do it. She’s so wild.” She really was. But I had a vision of who she could be. In the midst of all the nay-saying, a friend dreamed that during a Sunday morning church service Raine was at the pulpit saying, “I used to be so wild but Jesus healed my heart.” In the challenges following the adoption, I clung to that dream.

“Are you sure you’re ok?” our pediatrician asked more than once in those early days. Raine ended up on medication and it took quite a while before we got to the right type and dose. Sometimes I wasn’t ok. But I had a vision of where we could be and was willing to do the work. There were days my willingness didn’t line up with my ability in the moment to manage her rage and resentment. Still, not wanting that vision to become a fantasy, I pressed on.

There are things that remain obstacles, like Raine’s intense fear of abandonment that surfaces whenever we’re apart for more than a couple of hours. And that’s why you will find her in unlikely situations, such as when I’m catering an event at the church or yesterday when she and Athena came along to an all day seminar by Arthur Burk. The topic was “When Your Call is Blocked.” Watching Raine quietly colour all morning then watch movies in the afternoon while I listened, I realized my call may not be as blocked as I had imagined. I’m called to help my children heal and reach their full potential.

“Your children are so well behaved,” was the comment we received through out the seminar. It took most of the day for me to accept the truth. It’s easy for me to cling to that old label of wild, difficult, or challenging. But it’s time for some new labels. Calm and peaceful are the words most often used to describe Raine these days. Of course there are still times when anxiety overtakes her but that’s no longer her constant state.

After the season of struggle, I’m now able to catch my breath and see just how far we’ve come. Marvelling at the transformation, I was brought to tears when this song was sung at church this morning.

Your love made a way and let mercy come in

When death was arrested and my life began

Now, ash was redeemed only beauty remains

And my orphan heart was given a name

My mourning grew quiet and my feet rose to dance

When death was arrested and my life began

 

 

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Raine learning to skate with my sister (Feb 2016)

Live Your Life Filled with Joy and Wonder

This is the phrase I’m keeping in mind. Social workers have informed me that studies show weakened immune systems in children who have been in foster care and a tendency to be accident prone.

For six days Raine has been under the weather. Her appetite is gone and she’s not her usual energetic self. Refusing to admit she’s unwell, Raine keeps making up silly excuses for her symptoms. For example, she’s arguing that the bathtub is now dreadfully too small for her 8yr old body. Because it’s so painfully small, her head is hurting from trying to washing her hair. Despite the statistics, she doesn’t know much about being sick.

The last time she suffered was at age 3. Shortly after receiving the required flu shot, she came down with the flu and step throat. Then there was the time she burned her leg our first Christmas after the adoption took place. That healed remarkably fast without a trip to the ER.

In the midst of Raine’s lingering flu like illness, Athena managed to give herself a black eye. She has a way she likes to do things. Something mimicking modern dance or creative movement is how Athena goes about the house. While retrieving a stuffed seal from the floor, she somehow managed to cut her eye on the dinning room chair. No one knows exactly how since the rest of us were upstairs. Athena’s scurrying feet and tiny howls made me think she needed to go the bathroom. (Often she waits until the last minute then runs around in circles, panicking at the thought of not making it to the toilet in time.) I was about to shout, “Get to the bathroom,” when I realized she was crying.

Rushing downstairs and gathering Athena into my arms, at first I didn’t realize she was bleeding. She buried her face on my shoulder and I managed to calm her. When she lifted her head there was a stream of blood coming from the corner of her eye. I mentally prepared for our first trip to emergency. Staying calm, I put Athena down and went to get the first aid kit. With a bit of pressure, the bleeding stopped. The cut was much smaller than I expected. Athena assured me she could see perfectly fine – and found my constant questioning and testing annoying.

Later when I put Athena to bed, I tried to discover if she’d been afraid when she got hurt. The idea didn’t make any sense to her. “I wasn’t scared,” she told me. “Jesus was there standing right behind me.”

Well, that’s a crisis averted, I thought to myself. Athena isn’t gripped by fear or anxiety. She’s still dancing through the house and happily eating meals on the chair that maimed her. Her eye is swollen and black – but not in an overly noticeable way I’ve been told. Of course it is noticeable to me.

Looking at it, I’m filled with joy and wonder. It’s a miracle that the injury wasn’t more serious. And it’s a miracle that it’s been years since Raine was sick. In the midst of illness and injury, I’m filled with joy and wonder.

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Athena’s still happy and eager to make me laugh

 

 

Remember

remember your creatorRecently, my mom discovered several boxes from my youth and young adult years. Sorting through them, I was reminded of who I used to be.

I grew up in a large, lively church. My teen years were spent mostly at church where I was involved in everything from choir, youth group, weekly Bible studies, to putting on puppet shows for children’s church. When not at church, I would babysit for families from the church and cross stitch.

The boxes contained fabric and patterns that I used to make my own clothes and items for friends. And a great deal of cross stitching equipment. This is how I spent my youth.

I had a wide circle of friends from church. Some stayed on the straight and narrow, many veered off into another world. They drank, did drugs, and other things I dared not try. At the age of 10 I read the Bible from cover to cover. The verse in Ecclesiastes about remembering your Creator stuck with me. I wrote it in notebooks and on scraps of paper I put up around my room. This was the challenge I put before myself, to remember my Creator in everything I did – especially in my youth.

Looking back, I have no regrets. I lived a chaste life that others often ridiculed. I didn’t mind. My eye was set on a prize. I knew remembering my Creator would please Him. That’s what mattered to me.

I had a wide circle of eccentric friends. They were musical and comical. They were at times creative and serious. We laughed together a great deal. It was so much fun. Sadly, it was long before cellphones and social media. I was so busy enjoying myself, I didn’t stop to take pictures.

This is the youth I want for my kids. I realize it’s a different world today. But I think there’s still room for remembering and valuing the Creator.

Proclaiming Liberty

This year, my church is declaring a Jubilee. The announcement came while I held my friend’s foster baby. The words spoken by Jesus,

 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He has anointed Me
To preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”

Luke 4:18-19 (NKJV)

took on a new meaning for me. Suddenly I saw the captivity this baby had been born in to. The child welfare system is, unfortunately, necessary. I won’t dispute that reality. It’s a sad truth. There are situations children need to be protected from. Before he drew breath, this little one was caught up in the system.

As necessary as it is, the system is just that – a system. It’s not an ideal situation for children. Social workers, for the most part, do their best to make the right decisions. Foster parents, hopefully, pour love and nurture into these precious lives. But the system is cumbersome and often difficult to navigate. Decisions and directions don’t always appear to be in the children or family’s best interest.

2yr old Athena - November 2011

2yr old Athena – November 2011

When Athena came to me, she had been diagnosed with an unusual genetic mutation. The specialist insisted upon reconstructive surgery. But the system decided against it. Athena’s head was noticeably misshapen. Her one eye was recessed and it was unclear if she would be able to see properly as time went on. The decision didn’t appear to be in her best interest. As the foster parent, there was nothing I could do but pray and love her. In the end God has reshaped her head. Her eyes are aligned, though one remains slightly smaller. Had I been her legal mother, I would have decided on surgery when the world renowned geneticist insisted it was the best course of action. But Athena was subject to the decision of a system. Among other things, that system was bound by the challenge of legal custody. At that point, they were still trying to connect with the birth family – who were living in another country. The system didn’t have the authority to take medical action in a situation that was hardly routine. I am eternally grateful for Athena’s healing.

It was a miracle. Followed by an even greater miracle – that she was released from the system. Now that Athena’s adopted she has a parent – me – who has legal authority to make decisions for her life. And those choices are based on love and a desire to do what’s best for Athena. The system is unable to operate under that mandate. There are rules, regulations, and budget realities that make it impossible.

Athena & mommy - October 2014

Athena & mommy – October 2014

It’s a necessary system. But it’s a system. This year, as my church focuses on Jubilee, I’m praying for the release of captives. Foster children are captive to a system. Even operating at it’s absolute best, a system is no substitute for healthy, loving parents. So I’m praying this year, children will be released from the system into healthy, life-giving families. First and foremost, I’m praying for birth parents to come to a place of health. If at all possible, this is where kids should be. Should that not be possible, I’m praying for adoptions to occur at an exponential pace.

It was 9mths from the time my daughters became available for adoption until they were officially “placed” with me for adoption. (In our case, since the girls were already living with me, the placement was just a visit from the adoption worker that involved paperwork making the adoption official.)

9mths in the life of a child is a very long time. There are families waiting to adopt. There are children needing to be adopted. Let’s pray that comes together miraculously fast. Let’s pray that this year, many children are released from the captivity of the system into healthy families who can care for them to a degree the system can’t. Because even operating at it’s absolute best, a system is no place for a child to grow up.