Missional Living

I grew up in the church. It was, and is, an important part of my life.

Athena at church

Athena at church

In children’s classes, I heard about missionaries going to far away places. I learned there were abandoned children languishing in places I’d never been. I wanted to help. I wanted to go. I really wanted to be a missionary serving countless children.

Mothering is in my DNA. It’s the most natural instinct for me. I knew I could do it. And that’s what my heart set sights on. That’s where I expected to find children I would adopt.

Although my dad was in and adopted out of the child welfare system in Canada, I had no knowledge of it. That’s not something that came up in lectures at school or lessons at church. No one, in my vast community, had anything to do with that system.

It didn’t come to my attention until I was in my late teens. Discussing it with friends and family I was met with a great deal of resistance. Me going across the world to work in an orphanage was seen as noble. Me wanting to foster and adopt here in Canada was labeled as selfish. “There are lots of good Christian couples doing that.” The problem became the fact that I was single.

So I waited for that to change. When neither that nor my desire to parent vulnerable/abandoned children changed, I made a choice to step into missional living.

Eventually most of my family and friends came around. But it’s still a hard sell. The government graciously pays me to foster. Since I care for special/high needs kids I receive a bit more than average. The provincial government has come to recognize the challenge of adopting wounded children. They now offer a subsidy to adoptive parents. That enables me to remain at home working on connecting with my daughters and helping them to heal.

I’m very grateful for the financial support that makes my everyday life possible. I do my best to steward that responsibly. And add to it by making tutus, selling tea, doing some catering, making freezer meals for friends, editing manuscripts for fellow writers, and anything else that I can manage.

My children want for nothing and, hopefully, my efforts will instill in them a proper work ethic. Overall, we manage fairly well. But now I’m faced with the necessity of buying a new vehicle. Our careful budget doesn’t leave much room for that.

The daily struggles I share with you here aren’t glorious. Much of my mission is not. Some days it’s nothing more than meals and dishes in the midst of lots of anguish. The progress I make is slow and, at first glance, insignificant. Like my foster child not fully melting down over an unavoidable everyday task that usually undoes her. The fact that she argued, stomped her feet, and then eventually did what was required is huge progress in her own journey.

Parenting in this context is vastly more difficult than I ever

Athena at a princess party at the book store

Athena at a princess party at the book store

imagined. I don’t always do it perfectly or even well all the time. But I’m doing it. And that matters.

It’s not countless children I reach, but a small number who I walk with on a daily basis. Rarely is it picture perfect. But it’s an opportunity I can’t leave to lots of other couples. It’s one I am compelled to complete in my present state.

And, at the moment, it’s something I need your help with. We’re in need of a newer van to get us to things like church and princess parties and doctor’s appointments and what not. I appreciate the time you take to read my ramblings. And would appreciate your help as I forge on in this wonderfully unusual calling.

It’s not as exciting as heading overseas, but I can’t help believing that what I do matters. The lives I minister to matter. And I know you feel the same. Thank you for journeying with me.

Help Me!

Our foster child, J, continues to struggle. At times, she’s completely overwhelmed – like when the movie Mary Poppins was put on. She tantrumed for 2hrs over that. Even though I didn’t require her to watch it, she could not recover from the memories flooding her somehow connected to that movie. What happened I don’t know. Maybe J doesn’t even consciously recall. But the movie sent her into a tailspin. While screaming repeatedly, “Give me something to eat!!!” J smashed to pieces everything she had been given to eat.

But then there are days when J is exceedingly happy – playing at the beach then riding the carousel with Raine.

Sometimes it’s really great. Other times it’s really difficult. In those moments, it’s easy to lose sight of the reasons why I’ve chosen this path.

The other night as I was getting ready for bed, J called out, “Help me!” I rushed to her room. There she peacefully slept. In the morning, J had no memory of the outburst. But the cry continues to haunt me.

Like countless other children, J is struggling with the trauma of abuse. She’s suffering the loss of her family and life. Fear reigns in her body, soul, and spirit. She pushes against the safety and proper structure of being a child who is cared for. It’s foreign to J having a mom who is plugged in and steering her in the right direction. All of that makes J behave in a manner that keeps me at arm’s length.

Still, in the midst of all her resistance and challenges, the cry is clear, “Help me!”


A New Addition

It’s been more than a year since we had any foster children residing with us. There have been many weekend or week long visitors, but no one who was an actual “placement” (the word for when a child is placed in your home to live for, usually, an unknown period of time.)

I’d begun to think it would never happen again for us. There have been many calls. But most often, the CAS who has contacted my private agency will decide that I’m too far away from where they are. Or….I don’t know. It’s rare that they give much of an answer at all as to why they’re not picking me for the children in need of homes.

Then someone was out of options and picked us although the distance is great – nearly two hours from where the child originated. And a frail looking little girl came to our home. She’s about to turn 9 but is the same size as my 7yr old Raine – who isn’t all that big herself. The girls are thrilled to know they both wear size 6x clothing.

Our new friend is putting all the doll toys to good use. Previously the buggies ended up being used153 most often as race cars. But she and Raine happily pushed them to school when it was time to pick up Athena. Although it was a good thing Raine had a rain coat covering her doll, otherwise the thing would have flown out on more than one occasion since her pushing was much more like drunken go-cart racing.

Except that little J does not sleep at night, all is well thus far. She’s quiet as a mouse in her room but I have a hard time going to sleep unless I know all the children are. Hopefully as she settles in this will get better.

She seems to be happy and is enjoying her time with us, however long it may be.

I Eat Cake Alone

Yesterday I turned 38. It was supposed to occur without much fanfare. I’m looking forward to celebrating my 40th in a significant manner. But 38 didn’t seem to warrant much notice. I went to a meeting to figure out some next steps as a foster parent. The girls and I went out for lunch with my mom.

While eating a light dinner, my friend called asking if her foster child could come over. It’s a common call. The teen with FAS often finds life challenging. Usually she’s able to calm down when removed from the situation and brought to my house.

Last night that didn’t happen. The girl was especially angry about being with us. Everything in her wanted to make me feel the pain she was carrying.

“You’re fat,” she yelled at me several times. With no response from me, she decided to hurl a greater insult. “You eat cake alone! I know you do!” she spit the words as if this were the most vile accusation imaginable.

I wanted to laugh. “Yes,” I replied in all seriousness, “I do eat cake alone.”

“I know you do!” she repeated. “I know you eat cake alone!” There was a triumphant smirk on her Chocolate cake and coffeeface as though she’d caught me in something disreputable.

Having been in my home on a regular basis for 6 1/2 years this was the most damning charge she could bring against me.

I must confess, I eat a great deal of cake and – whenever possible – do so alone. It’s my reward after a long hard day. And most days are both long and hard. But I show up and most of the time do my very best. I think that deserves a continual celebration involving cake.

Things with our visitor unraveled further. The words she’d meant to wound me with, only made me laugh.

“It’s your birthday,” Raine cried as we sat in the dinning room while the teen threw books and toys around upstairs, “and she’s wrecking it.”

Eventually, when our visitor came downstairs and began throwing chairs and anything else she could get her hands on, I called 911. This was my first emergency call in 38 years. Standing in the doorway to the kitchen with Raine and Athena behind me, I felt there was no other option. The teen backed away from us a little. I could hardly spell my last name to the 911 operator. My hands were shaking and I was crying.

A fellow blogger criticized me because of my post about saying no to a child who needed a home. Her words played through my mind as my daughters and I ran to the car in pouring rain to wait for the police – no coats, no shoes – “some people just opt for the easy life”. This is not easy! I shouted at the unknown stranger who passed this judgment. As I told the woman in my response, which she had not approved, to say I’ve chosen an easy life is laughable.

I chose this. I decided to become a foster parent who specializes in caring for older, special needs children. Because of that police cruisers are parked in front of my house on my birthday when all I wanted to do was put the kids to bed and enjoy another piece of cake on my own. Easy is not the right word.

Nor does it sum up the decision I made to not let the teen back in my home again. The officers calmed her down. She took her medication and went to bed. In the morning she remained incredibly hostile towards me but did head off to her school down the street. I closed the door, having resolved she will never be with us again.

In the end her foster parents have had to make the same decision. As this girl tells her life story, no doubt there will be outrage when people discover after 6 1/2 years her foster parents and I, sort of her foster aunt, “gave up” on her. That’s how it will look to the casual reader of this child’s life.

As I sit alone tonight, eating cake, I am assured that’s not how my Heavenly Father sees it. He understands the full picture, something a single blog or solitary fact can’t capture.

The Gift of Concentration

Although Athena has not been formally diagnosed, I’m certain she has attention deficit disorder 012like her sister – and practically every child who has been in foster care. Sitting still is not becoming common as it should the older she gets. So we’re using a light weight (bean bag neck warmer) to keep her from jumping around during meals.

The early learning kindergarten program perfectly masks Athena’s lack of concentration. She moves from one activity to another without much investment in anything she does. Next year, I plan to homeschool her. But this year it’s nice to send her off to school on occasion so I can work with Raine.

Still, Athena ends up staying home at least one day a week. The main focus is on concentration. Shortly after she came to me at 20mths of age, the pediatrician said Athena needed to be taught to concentrate. “Put her in a high chair and give her some toys to play with for a little while.” I did. And did things like putting her in the high chair when meals were not quite ready. Athena would have to wait. She also stayed in her high chair when she was done and the rest of the family still ate.

Now, she stays in her room playing Legos each morning while I shower and dress. She’s making necklaces as part of her at home schooling. In addition to concentration, this helps with her fine motor skills which I wonder about sometimes.

I’ve been reading The Believers by Janice Holt Giles. It’s a novel about the early Shaker movement in America. Living communally, each member is given a monthly task – working in the garden, laundry, meal preparations, etc. For a month they devout themselves to this job. Then move on to another posting.

I worry I’m not up to the task of teaching concentration. I bake cookies while doing dishes, watching Dr Phil, and giving instructions on how to create button art (in hopes of occupying the kids for a few minutes). My house is a series of started projects. My room is forever turning into a disaster. I’m not overly organized or great at concentrating.

The Shaker lifestyle is becoming increasingly appealing as I evaluate my own way of doing things. There’s a great deal I disagree with in their theology but I enjoy the concept of being fully devoted to a single task. It’s something I’d like to incorporate into my own life.

Fail as I may, concentration is still a gift I’m working on giving my children and myself.