One (Selfish) Reason Not to Become a Foster Parent

When it comes to foster care, I can’t begin to count the many times I’ve been told, “I admire you so much. I could never do that because I’d get too attached.”

Oh please!

As if I don’t get attached. As if we haven’t cried when foster kids left our home for good. As if I don’t wake up in the middle of the night with a burden to pray for a certain former foster kid. As if I don’t spend time praying for that child to be safe and protected – and to know he is loved. As if I don’t care what happens to my kiddos.

As if it’s easy to invest time and sweat and energy into a kid who will one day walk out of my life. Forever.

As if I don’t care or miss them. As if it’s fun to have a former foster kid walk past me at Wal-Mart and act like she doesn’t notice me. As if during the annual parade downtown when a kid rides right by me and turns his head the other way – as if that doesn’t pull at my heart.

I get it. I get why foster kids find it hard to acknowledge their foster parents. We are a reminder of the day their world ended. We are the reminder that they went to school one morning and ended up in our house that night, then woke up the next morning with their world upside down in this house of a stranger they had never met before. Ever.

We represent that horror, that pain, that abandonment. In addition, sometimes our presence calls for a divided loyalty.

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There was the day my grocery cart met a stepmom’s cart in the cereal aisle at Food Lion. We smiled and chatted for a moment before I noticed Little Miss hiding behind stepmom. Little Miss who used to call me mom peeked out from around the woman she now called “mom”, not sure what to do because I was her “mom” before stepmom ever was.

Little Miss gave me a tentative hug, but it was obvious she didn’t quite know how to respond. I was the one who rocked her to sleep at night, cuddled her for hours after visits with her real mom, and accompanied her on a visit to a specialist. It had been a few years, but she remembered and didn’t know what to do with me as her new mom and I chatted. So yes, sometimes seeing me conjures up images that bring divided loyalty. What is an eight-year-old supposed to do with that? How am I supposed to bridge that gap with her and let her know it’s okay to love her new mom, even though I’ll love her still?

Yes, call me too attached, but I get why former kids don’t know how to respond sometimes.

You know what?  

“Getting it” doesn’t make it a piece of cake.  I get it. Yet there’s still that tug in my heart when eyes fail to connect with mine.

So yes, I get attached.  You can call it too attached if you want.

You know why we do this? It is not for the court system, the social services system, or for ourselves. We do it for the kids. If we were doing this for us, then we’d be saying, “No thanks; I’d get too attached.”

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You know what we’re really saying when we say we’d get too attached?

We’re really saying we’re just too selfish. We are saying that we have a right to not experience any pain from a loss. We have a right to cling to what is not ours. We have a right to possessing instead of losing. We have a right to invest and then be around for the return on that investment. We’re saying that we’re glad God the Father was willing to send His Son to die for us – but we’re not willing to die to ourselves to make a difference or to help bring life to kids.

When we focus on becoming too attached, we are forgetting that these kids need a safe haven we could offer, they need to be shown that there’s another world where folks still try to do things right. ‘Another world with real families who love each other instead of yelling, who tussle and tangle in fun more often than in anger. Families who are still intact and work at keeping it that way. Families who are free of drugs and booze and cursing and constant bickering. Families who love Jesus and want to make a difference in the world around them. Families who are willing to experience the pain from loss because they know what they’re doing can change a child’s world.

We’re not doing this for anyone else’s admiration. It is not about us. It’s about them.

We’re doing it for the kids because Eternity does matter.

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I can’t fix all the problems or all the kids. But I can be a part of helping to fix one (or more). Like the little boy who was picking up starfish along the shore that had been deposited by the waves. When asked why he did this (because if he couldn’t save them all it wouldn’t make a difference), he replied as he tossed another one back into the ocean, “It makes a difference to this one.”

So yes. We do it to make a difference to one child – or two, or three.  You can, too.

Go ahead and make a difference in the life of one child.

It’s true that sometimes we don’t make as much of a difference as we’d like. We don’t have enough time with the kids before they go back to their old haunts or to some place new. But we can come alongside parents who want to do it right and who just need that extra push and applause when they make good choices.

So go ahead. If God calls you to do foster care*, say yes. Then go ahead.

Go ahead and get too attached.

Before you sign up for the opportunity, reckon with the fact that it will take both parents to do this well. It will take the support of your kids if they’re still at home. It helps to have extended family and a church family who love your foster kids as well. We are blessed with a church family who loves our foster kids and applauds them as much as any doting grandparents or uncles and aunts.

Think of the difference that Christian families could make in their communities if only they were willing to widen their circle and make room for other stragglers who need a place to call home. How much easier would be the life of a social worker if she knew she had more than enough homes waiting with open hearts and open arms to welcome a child who needs to be saved – families who are anxiously waiting to become too attached.

Think of the difference you could make if only you weren’t afraid of becoming too attached.

 

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*Not everybody is called to become a foster parent. There are, however, things you can do to support foster parents. Foster parenting is hard work, and sometimes foster parents  need “a break.”  You can be that “break.”  You can sign up to qualify for respite care so you can babysit for an evening or longer. You might not be able to do this 24/7, but you can lend a hand and a heart by helping those who do. If you can’t do respite care, you can provide a meal when you know a foster family is having a tough week; you can provide a certificate for a kid-friendly restaurant in town so the foster mom can have a break from cooking. There is always a way to help. Trust me – the money foster parents receive from the state does not begin to cover expenses. Every time we have had foster kids in our home, our income didn’t cover expenses. But then, we don’t do it for the applause or the money.  We do it for the kids. You can help others do it for the kids.

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One True Fragrance (in Marriage)

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Roses. I do like roses and their fragrance.

‘Especially on our anniversary, my birthday, on Mother’s day, or any other time in-between. Especially other special times, like the births of our babies – I like roses.

I used to tell folks that when I wanted a dozen roses, all I had to do was have another baby.

While it’s true that roses were waiting for me six times over when I got back to my hospital room from Labor and Delivery, it’s also true that I don’t get roses for every birthday, every anniversary, or every Mother’s day. Just sometimes, and sometimes in-between.

After all these years, he continues to splurge. He keeps saying that he doesn’t know how much longer we’ll have each other and he wants to have no regrets, so I’ve quit fussing about the cost.

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You know what makes the roses so special? 

The fact that, on any other day when there are no roses, my man is in my corner. Any other day when I’m unkempt and the house is a mess, he helps pick up the pieces and puts me back together again.

Any other day when there is no wafting fragrance in the house, he becomes the fragrance by serving me, again.

The man’s rather imperfect, and no one knows it better than I.  But then, so is his wife. Imagine that. He can verify that, but he won’t broadcast that because, he says, we are one. To speak negatively of me is speaking negatively about himself because we are on the same team. Even so, in a world of strife where so many marriages have dissolved or  are falling apart, we are blessed.

Like so many other marriages, ours could simply be a statistic.

It’s not that we’re so smart or so special. It’s that God – and the way He tells us to do marriage – is.

When you go to God for help, when you really seek for wisdom, when you truly apply what you know to do even when you don’t feel like it,  you  will find that marriage can be done well.

There have been days when I’ve stormed the gates of Heaven, asking God to show me how to understand and love this man. Every time I have asked, He has given me answers.  ‘Not that I always liked the answers or felt like following the directions, mind you. But every time I’ve asked for wisdom, He has given what I needed. ‘Trouble is that sometimes we just don’t bother to ask or we just don’t really don’t want to know.

Our marriage bed is not an array of roses minus thorns.

It’s a fragrance that comes when the petals are crushed as  becomes us.

It’s a fragrance that comes when making love is not so much about “everything is perfect and we’ve got it all together” as it is about “even though we are frustrated with each other, we are still committed to each other; so tonight making love to you is a great way to emphasize that commitment.”

I always thought I’d want a summer wedding, but that didn’t happen. Does that matter now? Not at all. That’s how it is with marriage. The things on the “must have” list, many times, are no longer important and really weren’t that important in the first place. What really matters is commitment.

I figure some folks are tired of hearing me say that, but it’s true. If more people truly believed it, there would be fewer marriages floundering by the wayside.

In a small town in western Maryland over thirty-two years ago, in the church where my parents were married many years before, we tied the knot. Amid freshly-fallen snow, family, and friends, we celebrated. With flowers, music, family – and with God – we were wed.

Life happened, and now our kids are grown and mostly on their own. Life happened, and it is still happening. As life happens, we still celebrate. I still enjoy roses and their perfume. Most especially, I enjoy the fragrance of commitment.

Most especially, we continue to celebrate the greatest fragrance of all: the true faithfulness of God.

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How I Lost My Car, Not My Keys

lostEvery one of us has lost our cell phone, our car keys, or our house keys – and sometimes it seems we’ve lost our minds. Usually, we blame it on misplacing them.  Some days they’ve been right where we’ve put them, but we just couldn’t find them because we forgot where we put them. When we found them, they’d been there all along.

There was the day a few years back, however, when I lost my car. The really sad thing is that I was the one who parked it there. When I came out of my house to go to my neighbor’s to pick up a cake, the car was missing.  So, apparently, was my brain.

That morning, I’d met my daughter in Riverdale and parked my car in the parking lot of Food Lion. We’d traveled forty-five minutes to attend a benefit auction. Sarah Beth had spent the night with her cousin and a friend at her aunt’s house. We’d discussed meeting her at the house and parking my car there. Later, we’d decided it would be quicker for meeting and returning to have the car in a more central location.

We spent a rainy day at the auction, where I purchased colorful mums for my flower beds this autumn. We came back the same way we’d gone, only I was driving this time.

A friend who had been with us was in the front seat and my daughter had fallen asleep in the back.  When we came through  Riverdale, I kept on driving, never thinking about my car.

A few hours later, I was heading to my neighbor’s house to pick up a cake for a get-together that evening.

When I went to find my car, it wasn’t there, so I took the Jeep. On my way to the neighbor’s, I called Jason.

 

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“Where is my car?” I asked him.

You need to understand that my kids have, at times, “taken” my car without my knowledge. Usually they’ve cleared it with their father, but usually, no one bothers to tell me. I thought this was one of those times.

“Mama, I’m in Danville and I don’t know where your car is,” he said cautiously, probably wondering if I had really lost my marbles this time.

“Oh that ‘s right.’Sorry about that,” I told him.  I know where it is.”

Quickly, I called my sister-in-law. I thought since we were both going to the same place that evening, maybe she could bring the car when they headed in our direction.

“Your car isn’t here,” she told me. I could hear the question in her voice as she explained her recollection that my gal had left her house that morning and was going to meet me in Riverdale. I’m sure she also thought her sister-in-law had lost her marbles.

“Oh, I am so stupid!” I exclaimed.  “Never mind.  I know where it is.”

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The next morning at breakfast I told my gang about the loss of my car – how I’d called two people before I remembered where I had left the car. How did I manage to forget where I had parked my car?

I don’t know.

My friend and I were in a deep discussion on the way home and picking up that extra vehicle was the farthest thing from my mind. I’d stopped to fuel the car I was driving and drove right past Food Lion where my car was parked.

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I guess the next time I can’t remember, it will be time to park my brain as well.

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Surprised by Grief

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Grief hits us sometimes when we least expect it.

There is no easy way to walk through that mountain of heartache and pain. Within a six-week span in 2010, Dave and I became orphans when I lost my mother and he lost his father. That first year, like a tsunami, the waves of grief came and went, leaving us surprised by grief.

This story tells a little bit about our journey in losing Pop Slabach – and what it’s like to experience the faithfulness of God. It was written eight months after we buried Pop. If you’re grieving, don’t be surprised at the grief that hits you from time to time. Like the waves of high tide, grief will hit you full force, knocking you down. Then, surprisingly, the waves will calm down and you will experience low tide again. A few days later, you’ll be knocked down again as more waves invade your soul. Each time, the waves won’t be quite as high or as strong. Each time, low tide will bring respite. In time, healing comes even though the empty ache is always there.

Surprised by Grief

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I have been surprised, again, by grief. 

Sometimes I am blind-sided because it is least expected.  Other times, I am more (somewhat) prepared. Like this past week. Prepared? I really thought I was. Surprised again?  Yes indeed. Again.

Three years ago this month, we moved into our new kitchen.  It was a six-month process from start to finish.  In late spring, Pop came from Ohio to help us get started.  Ever since we bought this house, Pop fussed about our upstairs steps. They were too narrow and too steep.  He was a contractor, and he would never have built steps like that.

Never mind that our house was built in the 1920s and other folks who lived in this house and raised their kids survived those stairs.  Never mind that those stairs never bothered me. They bothered Pop, even if he didn’t live here. Never mind that Dave said he wasn’t going to undertake such a project.  If no one else was going to do it, then Pop would, because somebody had to do it.  And he did.

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Tim came from Christiansburg for a week to work for his older brother and help his father. The kids thought climbing a ladder to get to the upstairs would be great fun for a few days. I slept downstairs for two nights because I was not going to climb a ladder to go to bed. Going up wouldn’t have been so bad, but coming down in the middle of the night in case of bathroom necessity was out of the question. Pop just smiled when he saw me come downstairs the morning of taking-out-the-stairs-day with my stash of clothes.

The three stooges ran into more than a few snags doing those steps. (Why am I not surprised?) Fortunately, we were going to lower the ten-foot dining room ceiling anyhow, so the steps could extend into the dining room. Other discussions took place, and once they pulled off the job and worked on something else for a while as they ruminated how to solve problems with those steps. You could see the wheels in Pop’s head just a-turning as he worked out the problem in his mind.

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Pop and Tim also took out the four windows in the east playroom and installed patio doors in their place.  Never mind that we didn’t have a deck and wouldn’t have one for another year; those doors were installed as plumb as possible considering the age of the house and the uneven floors and ceilings. Pop’s only regret that week was not having time to help take out the wall between the dining room and the playroom for the new kitchen.  Every time he came to visit, he had to come check the progress. Once I even told Dave that it seemed Pop came more to see the house than to see us!

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Born and raised Amish, Pop came from a culture where parents did not compliment their children verbally; to do so might instill pride in their offspring. Yet he’d tell other people about his kids and what they were doing, and we knew he was pleased. The first visit he made after we were (finally) in the new kitchen, he walked from wall to wall, ran his hands up door frames, opened and closed drawers and cabinets, checking for ease and making sure things were level. That carpenter-look was evident as he cocked his head, squinted his eyes, and eye-balled everything. While he never came out and said so, it was obvious he was impressed with the completed kitchen and the fact that his son had done the work — and done it well.

Eighteen months later, he came again — this time to inspect the deck Dave and the boys had built Thanksgiving weekend. Our sons followed him around as he ran his hands across the railing, pushed on boards with his shoes, and listened to them tell their version of helping to build the deck.

And always, there was the discussion about our next project: making a master bedroom and bath out of the upstairs sun porch. Some day.

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                                              Pop with his bucket truck.

This past February, Dave decided it was time. We moved everything off the sun porch (my attic) and they knocked off the outside walls and began building the floor. We talked about seeing if Pop could come to Virginia again and help with this project. We knew he would because he had as much as said so. Dave knew his father’s experience would be invaluable and he’d enjoy the work. It would take some engineering to build the floor so no support would be needed below since we were extending the addition.

Before Dave made that phone call to set a date, Pop had a massive stroke.  Nine days later, he went to Heaven.  You know the first thing I thought about when we knew that, barring a miracle, Pop would not get better?  That sun porch addition. How were we ever going to do that without Pop?!

We didn’t — for six months.  The “addition” sat there all summer, covered by a black tarp. We’d pull it up on sunny days and lower it when it rained. Like a massive curtain, we had to find our way through that tarp when we wanted to get inside in pouring rain. I confess I was getting pretty tired of that tarp slamming me in the face when I tried to find my way with bags of groceries in tow.

It helped when Dave and I talked about the reason for the tarp. Continuing the addition was too painful at the moment. Oh sure, Dave could have made himself complete it. Yet waiting allowed him time to process his pain. Dave’s grief was more important than any addition on our house, and I was more than willing to wait.  [It helped that cash flow was a little low at the moment as well. :-)]

I came to realize that the black tarp symbolized our grief. With the loss of Pop, we had lost a dream. Sure, we would miss him as the father, grandfather, and great-grandfather of the family.  For the immediate future, we missed his expertise. On “sunny” days, I’d didn’t think about it much and Dave didn’t mention losing Pop.  Then, like a stormy cloud, the grief surge would hit again.  I wondered — some days — if we’d ever get the addition finished when I observed another gale as it sent more grief waves. Yet I knew the question was not if, but when.

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And I asked my Father to help me remember to hide under His wings instead of fighting the storm.

A few months ago, that tarp was pulled up for the last time. Walls, windows, insulation, sheet rock, (most) electrical, and (some) plumbing are complete. Paint choices have been made and the floor has been ordered. The job is still not done, but we’re nearing completion.

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           The addition that Pop never helped build.

Last week, on October 27th, we remembered Paul (Pop’s middle son) on the 12th year anniversary of his arrival in Heaven. On the 28th, Pop celebrated his first birthday in Heaven. I watched the tsunami of grief hit Dave – and felt its aftermath in me — as my husband finished sheetrock alone.

I have been surprised, again, by grief. How can finishing sheetrock bring such pain?!

I have found that remembering brings healing. I have learned that acknowledging releases pain. I have experienced reprieve as I have hugged the Rock and basked—again—in the goodness of God, even in my grief.

Pop would say, “We go on.” And we do. It still hurts, but we go on. We go on, because the God we serve is a Shelter in any storm, a Haven for any heartache, and a Comfort in every care.

Dave reminded us yesterday that our grief and its aftermath of fear, dismay, and human weakness find a solution in Isaiah 41:10: “Fear thou not, for I am with thee; be not dismayed; for I am thy God; I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.”

On that promise, we walk through our grief even though we continue to be surprised by grief. We go on, and we are not alone.

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