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.


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!”


Time Does Not Heal All Wounds

Raine age 3

Raine age 3

This month marks 4 years since Raine came into my care. It’s something she’s been looking forward to for a very long time. The child, with a depth forced upon her by tragic circumstances, found significance in being with me longer than her birth mother.

But as the specific date draws near, emotions have derailed any positive feelings Raine might have expected. This past Saturday, I witnessed the life we used to live. When Raine’s eyes opened, she started screaming at everyone and about everything imaginable. This went on for nearly an hour in the morning then started again in the afternoon. Come evening she decided her room was unsuitable for sleeping in and that she would “absolutely never be sleeping anywhere near anyone named Athena ever again.”

I wanted to be calm. I wanted to be something other than what I was inside which was just plain fed up. It’s been a long time since life looked like this. How did I make it through that year and a half? “It nearly broke you,” a friend recently informed me. “I don’t think you have any idea how stressed you were.” In truth, I did. But I didn’t realize how evident it was to everyone else. I scraped by – pushing myself to love and embrace my daughter even when I didn’t want to. Occasionally, I shouted back in response to her irrational ranting. Later saying, “I wasn’t shouting just speaking really loud so you could hear me over all the noise you were making.” Raising my voice is something I was incapable of until I became Raine’s mother.

In the midst of the turmoil following the adoption, there was nothing I could do but ride out the storm – keeping my eye on who Raine really was. Under all the anger she heaped on me was a little girl who’d just lost her family forever. It didn’t matter to her that she now had a new one.

Since her room was unsuitable, I somewhat calmly told Raine to get her pillow and blanket. When she did, I marched her down to the basement. With visiting foster children, there were no other rooms available. Despite her pleas for help because “the basement is really creepy” don’t feel the need to pity her. We live in a newer home. The space is mostly finished and nicely put together. Raine was settled on a lovely futon in the warmest area of our home. She was hardly being mistreated, though an hour of screaming would give you an all together different impression.

My latest goal is to stop rewarding bad behaviour with increased attention. But after I got the other kids to bed, I did go down to see her because the screaming was getting on my last nerve.

“I wish someone else had adopted me,” Raine said when she’d calmed down a bit. This was something new. Nearly always in these moments of rage, she wishes to be back with her birth mother. I can understand that. It makes sense and I can stand being compared to an actual person. However, an imaginary perfect family that is happy to hang out with Raine while she screams at them and barks demands is someone I will loose to every time.

A lengthy discussion ensued. Early on, Raine admitted, “Whenever I act like this it’s because I’m thinking about my birth mom.” I acknowledged the pain and fear she’s carrying then assured her there is a way to be free. It will take time. But time alone won’t heal her heart. We’ve walked together for four years. Raine is not the brazen, defiant 3yr old who walked into my house. Most of the time, she’s quick to obey. She’s learned to love and think of others. She’s learned to share – even the tastiest of treats. When she first arrived, if anyone came near her while she was eating Raine would snap. Driven by the memory of lack, she was like a dog with a bone. My friend and I rejoiced the first time the little girl walked home from Tim Horton’s with her timbits. Normally, she’d devour them before they were even paid for. It’s been a gradual transformation caused by Raine’s choice to trust, a great deal of prayer, and my flawed determination. Time alone hasn’t brought her to this point. Time alone will not move Raine to complete healing.

In our conversation, Raine began describing her apprehension. This was the first time she’d ever spoken of it. Never sharing the details I knew, I assumed Raine had forgotten or blocked the memory. Dr. Phil’s warning not to ask children to deal with adult situations ran through my mind as Raine asked me to fill in the details of the vague framework she described. I suppose it’s too late. When apprehended just before age 3, Raine had already experienced more than most adults. She’s overheard social workers discussing details of her life that have left her confused and angry.

WP_000156For instance, she heard her birth family was living somewhere in a hotel. The terms around that word told me it wasn’t a good situation but all Raine heard was hotel. For quite some time she was furious to be stuck with my rules and limitations while she imagined her her family enjoying a Jacuzzi tub, swimming pool, hot tub, sauna, and all you can eat breakfast. She’s been to hotels in Niagara Falls. My friend and I regularly go with all our kids. It’s fun and the rules are lax. Raine really resented being in our dull home while her birth family was living it up in a hotel. Finally I had to paint a clearer picture of where they were.

Saturday evening, I answered the questions and painted some more pictures all the while wondering if it’s right. Honesty feels right. But Raine is 7. I tried, as always, to give her the truth while honouring the parents who brought her into the world. “Your birth mother’s heart is hurt. That stopped her from taking care of you.”

“Why doesn’t she just go to church?” Raine wanted to know. “Does she even know about Jesus? He can help her.”

“She knows about Him. And He’s trying really hard to help her,” I answered. “People have to choose to work with Jesus to heal their hearts. You’re choosing to work with Him. That’s why your heart is so much better than it used to be.”


The Truth About Mother’s Day

Now that the fanfare’s over, let’s be honest. Mother’s Day can lightstock_82211_max_user_637824be hard for a lot of people for a lot of different reasons.

At breakfast Raine asked if I thought her birth mother was sad when she lost her. “I’m sure she was sad,” I answered. “Losing a child is very sad.”

“Do you think she cried?” was the next question. No doubt she did. She may even have been crying yesterday.

There are so many others who mourn on Mother’s Day – women who haven’t been able to have biological children. A friend in my teen years was adopted. Occasionally his mom and I would sit down for a cup of tea. I’ll never forget the day she broke down crying. She was completely devoted to her four adopted children. But there was still a sting that she hadn’t been able to give birth to them herself. Then there are women who have never obtained the title of mother in any form.

I read a post about one woman’s church asking moms to stand on Sunday. Flowers were given out in celebration of Mother’s Day. The past few years my church has given a donation to a charity caring for women in lieu of gifts on Mother’s Day. But when there were gifts, they went to all women over 18yrs. I remember the years of longing before I became a mom. I can imagine the sadness of being singled out on an already difficult day.

Then there’s the reality that, for some, there isn’t much to celebrate about their mothers. The truth is parents fail. Some in small ways, but others do so completely. Being a foster parent, I know this all too well. Not only do some parents fail to provide the love and security needed while their children grow up, they also fail to provide an example worth replicating. So, when grown, who do you turn to for advice? Who do you imitate as you raise your own kids? Besides being nothing like your parents, how do you know you’re doing a good job?

If your mom’s failed in big ways, a day celebrating her might just be too much. That’s the truth.

So if you know of someone in any of these situations, maybe next year ask them or the Lord how you can ease the pain of Mother’s Day. As glorious as it is for many, the day falls short of happy for more people than you realize. This year, for the first time, we were able to move past the pain and enjoy being a family. Praying for you if that wasn’t the case. Praying the God of all comfort will wrap you in His arms. Let Him reveal to you, the truth that you are loved.