Family in Six-Part Harmony

For the moms out there who wonder some days if their kids will ever be good friends, it happens. This article was first published in 2007.  A lot has happened in those nine years.  My kids have grown up and are moving out on their own.  Family times together are much less frequent.  The pecking order changes from time to time, depending on who is home.  Yet this remains true: we are still friends as well as family.

six-part-harmony-shoe-house

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The house is quieter now, and things are finally getting put back to order. Ah, how I love the sense of serenity that is here following chaotic no-school days. After the kids have headed off to school and my hubby is at work, I tidy my haven and inhale the quiet.

The bedrooms upstairs are back in order (well, let’s just say you can walk through the rooms and covers are pulled up on the beds). We’re settling back into our daily routine, and the diastolic number of my blood pressure is going back down where it belongs. Ah, what cadence!

Yet, in the midst of the stillness, phrases and episodes permeate my thoughts. I wanted a Norman Rockwell home life and all participants in sync with the rhythm of family. I wanted a sonata of pleasant memories and positive experiences. I envisioned happy tunes and get-along-ability and “all hands on deck” when I called for assistance in the kitchen or with the laundry. I dreamed of grand crescendos of conflict resolution. I longed for days on end of perfect harmony and evenings with majestic symphony.

It doesn’t happen that way. Our kids argue over whose turn it isn’t to empty the dishwasher. They fight for the best seat on the sofa when we’re watching a video or having family devotions. They disagree over playing Monopoly or Dominos or playing anything at all. Some days it seems there is nothing but discord in our home.

I remember a trip to Williamsburg for a mini-vacation that began with sibling warfare when it came to choosing bedrooms. We, the parents, decided the girls would get to choose first. We had our reasons and we knew they were good ones.

When it came time to packing and loading for this trip, the girls had helped the most. In fact, they were practically the only ones who helped at all. Most importantly, in eight years of visiting this spot, the girls had not once had the room with the king-sized bed, master bath, and Jacuzzi.

Sarah Beth said she didn’t care (only because she didn’t want to hear about it for the rest of the week).  But Rebekah drew out her sword and dared anyone to defy her choice of the master bedroom with the king-size bed, TV, and Jacuzzi.

The brothers begged and coddled, trying to convince their sisters that they’d never use the bathroom and the girls could have it anytime they wanted. They didn’t want the Jacuzzi. They just wanted the larger room with their own TV so they could watch Virginia Tech play that weekend. Rebekah stood her ground and won. Indeed, she also won a new name from her brothers: Jacuzzi.

harmony-jacuzzi

Sarah Beth, sporting first-time glasses, wanted only to stay out of the fray and tried to diffuse the tension by not taking sides. She detested wearing glasses and her brothers knew she was wearing them for one reason: to be able to get contact lenses later. Because she wouldn’t defend them in having first choice of a bedroom, she was dubbed her own name: Catfish.

harmony-catfish

That evening the guys played Monopoly while the girls watched a video. Tension was still high because the guys had lost the battle of the bedrooms. Aaron was upset with one of his brothers who wouldn’t help him complete a set by selling St. Charles Place to him. Jerking his head back and placing his hands on his hips with specific emphasis, he spouted, “Well, fine, then!”

For the remainder of the game and for the rest of our vacation, anyone who didn’t “get his way” would respond in kind. Hands on hips and a toss of the head corresponded in sync to that one word: “Fine!”

For days on end, the brothers called their sisters by their new names: Catfish and Jacuzzi. Sarah Beth, who saw the situation as it was, handled it well most of the time, ignoring the obvious attempts of her brothers to rankle her.

Our girls are as different as the sun and the moon. After a few days of her name change, Rebekah responded with volcanic anger anytime someone called her Jacuzzi. The littlest guy grew weary of folks imitating his “Fine!” There was frustration and yes, some tears. The older brothers laughed at the tears and kept saying, “Fine!” until their father grew weary of the dissonance and decided enough was simply enough. He brought the clamor to an abrupt halt when he promised repercussions if the ruckus didn’t stop.

I have never been able to figure out what it is that makes a child want to continue teasing to the point of tears. I suspect that the culprit does not understand the pain he inflicts. My guys thought it was time for little brother (who had just turned eleven) to “grow up and be a man.” They thought the girls should be able to handle their nicknames because they were only joking. I suppose that teasing continues more because children, as well as adults, enjoy the power they experience as they inflict pain on someone else. Perhaps they think inflicting wounds on someone else will lessen their own pain.

Just as a cat continues to play with its prey, so some kids will torment and tease. There’s another name for that cat-and-mouse game, and it’s called sin nature. I can’t rid my kids of their sin nature, but I can help them rise above human nature and become an advocate for “being bigger” than that. I can encourage them to keep tuning so the notes they play as siblings will bring less discord and more harmony with each other.

I tried to coach my daughters to laugh at their brothers and play along with them. I encouraged the littlest guy to join in the laughter and use the same phrase on his brothers in fun. It worked when they followed the notes intended for harmony.

harmony-orchestra

“They’re only doing it because they know it makes you mad,” I told my kids. “They love to know they can control your emotions by making you angry. If you laugh at their foolishness, it will take the wind right out of their sails. If you laugh with them, they won’t be controlling you. Make it a challenge to see who can best whom,” I advised.

Now, in the quiet and calm of our house, I walk through the empty rooms, remembering. There is strewn luggage, a stash of laundry, and an assortment of books scattered over the floors of their rooms. I wonder how I managed to raise kids who will not pick up their clothes, and who don’t care if the shirts they wear are wrinkled from being buried under several layers of clothing.

I wonder what we did wrong to raise kids who still fuss and fight and make snide remarks to each other. I wonder why they don’t want to lend a hand in the kitchen or with the laundry—and why they complain if they do help. I wonder why it is easier to begin a war and continue the combat than end a conflict by laying down swords and improvising peace.

I wonder why, when the beauty of harmony can be so complete, anyone would want to continue playing off-key. I suppose it’s because the one causing the greatest discord is unable to hear other chords since he is intent on strumming his own rhythm. It seems easier to think someone else should match my chords than to make the effort to change my tune so we can all be in key. Why is it that we insist on singing our songs above everyone else’s?!

Then I remember the night we stayed up until one o’clock in the morning to play a complete set of Mexican Train Dominos. I recall that the next evening, we started the game earlier because everyone was eager to finish a complete set and bedtime needed to be earlier that night.

Or the evening Ben, Jason, and Tim played keyboard and guitar, singing together for hours. I remember the evening Sarah Beth made quesadillas-to-order for each person in the family, just because she wanted to please. Nor can I forget the day I came home from work and found that Rebekah had completed all the laundry (no small feat for a family of eight) by herself. I recall the day Aaron and Ben emptied the dishwasher together, talking about their favorite sports teams while putting half the things away in the wrong places.

I treasure the memory of the evening I found out someone wanted to drop in to see our new kitchen the next morning. Everyone pitched in, and in less than half an hour, our place was tidy and presentable.

I remember hearing “Jacuzzi” and “Catfish” and “Fine!” for days on end. I realize we’ve made memories, once again, just by taking the time to be together. Someday we’ll laugh at the memories of our clamor.

Those days when the gang was all together.

Our friendship as a family will have its share of discord and dissension. Even though we wear on each other’s nerves, for the most part, we like each other’s company. Those sour notes of Jacuzzi and Catfish will be a thing of the past.

Our harmony, though off-key at times, will improve with practice, and we’ll still be friends as well as family.

 

Three Things You Should Do To Get Ready For Baby

baby newborn

There’s more to do to get ready for a baby than just hang in there for nine months.

Dave used to say that he could always tell when I was getting close to labor. I kicked into high gear and tried to accomplish things that I had never bothered with before.

All my kids’ photo albums were updated (for the first time since the last baby, usually). I had this fear that if I died in childbirth, my kids’ photo albums would not have been up to date when their mama died. Horrible mother, you know.

The nursery (usually just a bedroom where other kids slept) had to be washed down and put in order. Baby clothes were washed and stacked. Diapers (yes, I used cloth diapers) were washed and folded neatly in the diaper stacker in the closet. The bassinet and crib were ready and the diaper bag with clothes for bringing the newborn home from the hospital was packed and ready.

In addition, I had my bag packed and ready – including my Rosebud salve, which guaranteed relief from nursing soreness.  My list with every person we needed to call was typed and printed – in order of importance, you can be sure. I was not about to be caught napping before this baby came!

Windows I had never cared about before suddenly mattered. Dirty socks under the bunk beds were rooted out and washed. I’m sure I washed every tennis shoe in the house (and can someone tell me why I thought a newborn would care about everyone in the house having clean tennis shoes?).

However, in addition to my frenzy, I also came up with some good ideas for caring for my family after the baby and I were home from the hospital (assuming that I survived childbirth, you know.)

Here are three things that were helpful for me to remember to do. It made life easier for me and everyone else in the family when the baby arrived home from the hospital.

 baby casserole

Food

In the last month, I prepared double batches of recipes so that, when the meals stopped coming from friends, I’d have a few things in the freezer. Easy, simple recipes that my kids liked: meatloaf, lasagna, chili soup, chicken casseroles, and sloppy jo for sandwiches were easy to double and freeze.

I made sure I had peanut butter and bread (what kid isn’t happy with a PB & J sandwich?) and lunch meat and cheese for my hubby. Canned soups were a given, along with plenty of crackers on hand. I knew if I was desperate, tomato soup with grilled cheese sandwiches would keep everyone happy.

Before my trip to the hospital, I picked up a few special snacks. Our kids loved animal crackers in their own boxes.  It was a small price to pay to make them feel special when my attention was more on the baby than on them. Special ice cream treats or other favors went a long way in making my children feel important when there was a new normal taking place in the house, especially if I declared it as special treat for being such good big brothers and sisters!

baby puzzle

Fun

I planned things for the siblings of the newborn – especially for the youngest who would no longer be the baby of the family. When our second son was born, my mother gave me a puzzle to do with my oldest while I was nursing the baby. The puzzle stayed hidden until nursing time. I’d put the puzzle on my lap, and all during nursing my newborn, my 18-month old stayed at my side, putting his puzzle together. We made the sounds of the animals and talked about the colors of the ducks and the cows. It kept him from wandering through the house getting into things. He was excited when it was time to nurse the baby because that was when he got to play with his new puzzle.

When baby number four was born, we had purchased books for the big brothers – and I read those books to the boys when I was rocking the baby.  Sometimes I put fun toys away a month or two before the baby was born, and then got them out when we came home from the hospital. Familiar not-seen-for-a-long-time toys were fun for our guys to connect with – and it gave them something new to play with.

Every time there was a new baby, the siblings got something new to do. For younger kids, a new box of crayons and a coloring book; for older kids, a book or a toy that took some time to assemble. I also had things on hand for later use. Choose things for each child and stash them away for a day when siblings are out of sorts and then bring out a surprise.

photo credit: Amy Showalter

Family Focus

Plan to give yourself and your family time to adjust once you’re home with your newborn. After the baby arrives, let everything else go. This is the time to relax and recover.

Everything is different  Even if the older siblings are excited about the new baby, there will still be adjustments, even for them. As the Mom, you will be more tired because you will have been up during the night. Your body will need time for recovering from labor and delivery. If you’re nursing, you’ll need additional liquids and nourishment. Your spouse is still your husband, and he needs to remain the most important to you.

For the first weeks, I tried to focus on the baby, myself, my husband and my kids. Story time each afternoon was a plus – it relaxed everyone and the house was quiet for an hour or two. Sure, the laundry still needed to be done, and floors needed to be swept. By  spreading out the work and focusing on what was most important for now, I found it possible to relax. As much as I could, I let everything else go.

When my family continued to feel important, the adjustment  came easier and their help was more readily given. My baby didn’t care if the house was untidy or the floor needed to be mopped. My baby and my other kids need a relaxed, peaceful mommy and not an immaculate house. I tried to just give them me.

We all have our own routines and things that we know are special to our spouse and our kids. Take these ideas with two shakes of a grain of salt, and tweak them for your family and your situation. Remember that there’s really no right way for a family to adjust to the arrival of a newborn. Do what works best for you, for your spouse and for your other children.

Be sure to take care of yourself. Everyone will benefit, especially you!

pinterest 3 things baby

 

Homemade, Hearthside Memories

Hearth: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hearth   In archaeology, a hearth is a firepit or other fireplace feature of any period. Initial usage refers to a place of warmth, heat, or fire, or ‘heat of earth’.

BFTH fresh out of the oven 1

There’s nothing like homemade bread baked  in an outdoor oven.  On rainy days, there’s nothing like the warmth from that hearthside!

I’m going back home again. It’s the changing-of-the-leaves time.  It’s apple cider and apple butter time. It’s Springs Folk Festival time, and I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

It’s true that I’ve already seen the hundreds of displays, craftsand craftsmen at this Festival.  I’ve watched glass blowing, log hewing, sheep shearing, horses on a treadmill, and women quilting.  I’ve listened to fiddle-playing in the woods, seen applebuttermaking over an open fire, and sat in the building where a play is performed or various groups and families sing and play a diverse assortment of instruments, music and songs.

I’ve purchased my share of relics and crafts to use in my home or as gifts. Yet while I’ll enjoy walking the trail and maybe hitching a ride on the hay wagon, I’m really heading home for one reason: to help bake home-mixed, homemade bread in an outdoor oven.    [Read more…]

Foster Parenting: Gardeners for a Season

 NOTE: To share this story, I am pooling from four other foster moms: Brandy, Joyce, Sue, and Suzanne. Collectively we have had over 110 children in our homes. Some of these children were “our own” foster kids and others were children we babysat, sometimes for a day or for several weeks, for other foster moms. Eight of those children have been adopted into three of these homes.

Nurturing Children of Another Mother

When I was a kid, my sisters and I liked to play with dolls in our playhouse next to Mama’s garden. We shopped for groceries in the field beside our house: daisies for eggs, Queen Ann’s Lace for fried potatoes, milkweed for fish, and clover for strawberries. We took our food to the playhouse and cooked, cleaned, churned butter, and played hospital or doctor. We baked pies, cookies, and cakes in the sandbox next to that playhouse.

Our Saint Bernard puppies were our children when we played church on the front porch steps. Cats and kittens alike were obligated to wear the doll clothes we put on them and were forbidden to jump out of the baby buggies in which we pushed them as we walked in and out the dirt lane.

When young mothers brought their children to our place to be babysat for a day, we fought over who got to hold the baby first. In fact, our mother finally started setting the timer on the kitchen stove so each one of us got our “turn” and we’d quit fighting over who got to hold the baby longer. We even had something we called “first baby business” – which was merely the right to hold a baby when it first arrived at our house. Upon hearing that we’d be babysitting, the person who called, “First baby business!” got first dibs on the baby. Mama never had to worry about children being cared for; we’d much rather rock and play with babies than clean bathrooms.

And, when a child became fussy, there was always another sister who was willing to take a turn. Babysitting was more fun and games than work, and I never considered the 24/7 responsibility that came with having children. In my not-completely-perfect childhood, foster care was never contemplated. I knew other foster families but, while it was a great idea, I never considered joining those ranks.

All I knew was that, if I ever got married, I wanted a bunch of kids. We settled for six – actually we ran out of money and I ran out of eggs and veins (and not necessarily in that order).

I was like other moms. You know, the ones who were going to be the best mom: ones who never lost patience and spent endless time reading to and playing with her kids; ones who were creative and full of energy and ideas and imagination; ones who fixed nutritious snacks and meals. Every mom wants to protect her kids from injustice and bad influences and corruption. So it never occurred to me, as a child, young married bride, or even a mother of young children, that I should open my safe, protected home to children from another mother for extended periods.

Our 6: Jason, Ben, Tim on the bottom; Rebekah and Sarah Beth in the middle; Aaron on the top

Our 6: Jason, Ben, Tim on the bottom; Rebekah and Sarah Beth in the middle; Aaron on the top

It was safe here. We knew how to plan and what to expect in the little garden plot of our world. Dave and I had tilled the soil and knew its constituency. Even though we were different, we had experienced similar church and childhood backgrounds. So it wasn’t likely that an unknown weed would crop up. We recognized them all and worked at yanking them out: selfishness, dishonesty, disrespect, laziness, sibling rivalry, and defiance.

Dave and I knew our kids and knew their genetics, personalities, and temperaments because these kids were products of both of us. We shared those same traits, although in varying degrees. Neither of us had to worry about negative influences from other gene pools or life experiences. We didn’t fight bad language or bad habits born from another father and mother. Even though our kids were different, they still functioned in predictable ways.

And so, even though parenting was difficult and frustrating and exhausting at times, life was good because we had our own little world that we had created and built and prayed about. Our garden was pretty secure, nestled away from the cross-pollination of others. We had shade, shelter, and plenty of fertilizer and mulch to keep our garden thriving. We knew what had been planted, and although there were difficult surprises along the way, we kept tending our garden and looking forward to reaping the harvest someday.

Then I joined the ranks of other moms (and their spouses) who felt called to raising seed that had been germinated elsewhere. There were other plants out there that needed a place to flourish; we reckoned with the fact that serving Jesus was more than just caring about our kids, our family, and our little plot in the world. Loving Jesus and giving sacrificially compelled us to look at ways we could make a difference, bring healing to others instead of focusing only on keeping our own from hurting, and give to enrich others rather than claiming what is for “me, myself, and mine.”

We wanted to make a difference. We also wanted to give back to God. We decided to become foster parents, so that makes me a foster mom. I’ve been one since the day I got the first call.

foster Held kids
Foster moms refer to it as “getting the call.” These moms never know when the call will come. Sometimes it comes at an inconvenient time, and the answer has to be no. But always, when the call comes, there is that tug at the heart. A foster mom who has shared her home with 63 children says, “I am waiting for the next call so I can receive more children into my home.”

A case worker shared about the night she took an infant to a home that was receiving a child for the first time. The parents and all six kids were up, waiting for the arrival: “Every light in the house was on, and it was 11 o’clock at night,” she said.  Every time I picture that scene, I want to cry.

A foster mom knows that, if the answer to the call is yes, it will turn her world upside down. Really upside down. Again.

Just when things are settling down to normal, an addition to the family brings uprooting and moving. Plants that were finding root someplace else are yanked out and placed in another garden, with a soil and climate unlike that from which it came.

foster butch braylen

Sure, this soil might seem better, but there is still uprooting and adjusting to a new climate that takes place. Plus, the already established plants feel the squeeze from additions to the plot.

When the phone call comes and the answer is yes, it means “I accept you sight unseen.” Sometimes that includes lice and poor table manners and behavior that one’s own flesh-and-blood kids never exhibited. Almost always it includes reciprocated love.

So while playing with dolls, puppies, kittens, and real babies as a child is fun and creates interest in mothering, it’s no comparison to the undertaking of being a mom or adding more troops to your brood by taking in foster children. It’s not all fun and games; in fact, it’s a lot of extra work.

brothers of different mothersPreparing a heart and a home for another foster child also means preparing a heart for good-bye. The hardest part, foster moms agree, is knowing that the children will someday leave (possibly returning to their own home).

Other difficulties include dealing with discipline issues and all the appointments that need to be scheduled. Foster moms spend more time in doctors’ offices than they did with their own kids: medical, dental, counseling, therapy, speech, PT, and family visitation. Meetings with principals and teachers as well as IEP meetings also take extra time.

Sometimes a foster mom goes along to visits where children are checked for sexual abuse. Somebody needs to hold the child’s hand, and she’s going to be there.

In addition, there are adjustments in their own lives and schedules, especially if the child has severe problems. The loss of privacy and control of one’s schedule never ceases to blindside a foster mom when newcomers enter her home. Nevertheless, like a woman in labor who immediately forgets the pain once she holds her newborn, foster moms forget the difficulty of that adjustment period when there are new shoots in the garden patch. When the call comes, they’re ready to take in more kids who need shelter and a place to be nurtured and grow.

foster ben and brittOther adjustments are finding new and creative ways to deal out discipline to these children who are not theirs. In addition, each child responds differently to consequences and reprimands. Sometimes it takes trial and error to figure out what works best for this previously unknown child.

Another challenge is visits the children have with family members. Just when things are getting settled and children are beginning to feel a part of the family, planned visits occur in order to prepare the children for return to their homes or else to another family member.

Behavior that is not acceptable can be weeded out with persistence and planning. Yet just when it seems it’s been cleared completely out of the patch, something sparks a rebirth of that weed. Visits with parents or family members can cause those weeds to crop up again. Acting out, disrespect, defiance, loudness, and tantrums are par for the course after visits with family members.

foster s and k

foster rubyfoster wynn and bray

Seldom recognized for loving someone else’s children as their own, foster moms diaper and rock and cuddle and love the children of another mother, and sometimes of another color. Especially with older children, it’s a fine line to walk when a foster mom is not the real mom.

A fourteen-year-old boy sobs on his foster mom’s shoulder coming back from his first visit with his mom. Why the tears? No one knows. But he finds solace and comfort in the woman who’s been “mom” to him for a few short months. His younger sister finally cries herself to sleep after another visit, all the while being cuddled and rocked by her foster mom for over an hour.

foster bray           foster dave and k,s        foster hats s and k

A foster mom of a three-year-old stays up most of the night after he has visits with his mom. He bangs his head against the wall so hard that his nose bleeds.

“I couldn’t leave him alone; I was afraid he’d hurt himself,” she says. She has to go to work the next day, but it doesn’t matter, for this little guy has wound his way into her heart, and she’s there for him no matter what it takes.

Foster moms know to clear their calendar the day of a visit – they’ll be dealing with anxiety, behavior issues, tears, and tiredness. Just as in the aftermath of a storm, they have to be ready to pick up the pieces of debris left in its wake. Again.

One foster mother Suzanne told me, “Love isn’t enough. I assumed it would be, but I quickly learned that wasn’t true at all. Love is essential, but so is training, new ways of parenting, and a professional support system.”

And, just as in parenting one’s own, Suzanne says foster parenting requires “a willingness to let go of any expectations you may have of the system or a child.” Again. Letting go of garden dreams, designs and plans is difficult – but it must happen for a successful season.

If a foster mom has kids of her own still at home, they will be caught up in the drama and will be affected. They’ll need to sacrifice. Again.

foster swimming pool

Our youngest of four boys became the oldest of four when these three boys came to live in our home.

Sometimes she’ll be caught between her own plants and these new seedlings. Sometimes her own kids have to make sacrifices – like the 15-year-old son who had to forgo getting his driving permit the day he became old enough because his eight-month foster sister was awarded to a family member that same day. The call from the social worker changed plans for his mom to take him to DMV. Instead of gaining a permit, he, along with his five siblings, said tearful good-byes to the infant who had been in their home for five months.

Suzanne’s children: 2 adopted and 2 biological. Since this photo was taken, they have adopted another girl.

For a mom with children the same age as the ones in her home, there’s the “risk” of negative influence. Children come with patterns of behavior that have been ingrained for years. Those patterns cannot be broken overnight or even over a few months. The safety net of family is stretched and issues surface because there are new little people in the house with a completely different set of experiences and a different way of looking at things.

foster deck door

inquisitive little people

 

Another difficult aspect involves dealing with truth. We consider ourselves truthful people. I told our kids the truth and expected the same from them. Imagine my surprise to find that a foster child could look me straight in the eye and tell me a lie with such seriousness that I had no doubt he was telling me the truth. His parents had modeled it so well that he thought there was nothing wrong with being untruthful. Telling a lie was more common to him than being honest.

foster slagel halloween

2 + 2 = 4

 

Suzanne, a foster mom, says, “Doing foster care well requires you to truly enter into a child’s and family’s pain. Although it looks different with different children, the descent into sharing a child’s pain always feels the same. It is HARD. Sometimes it means sitting for hours on the floor beside a little girl’s bed at night because she is too lonely and scared of me to be comforted or desire to be touched. Sometimes it’s meant cleaning poop off carpet, windows, and walls because a little boy didn’t have the words to tell us about his fear and trauma.

“Other times it’s loving a baby day after day, while even in infancy he chose to not love me back because I was not his ‘real’ mama. And there are times it means holding a child while he rages and screams for literally hours, knowing that he didn’t know what being loved by a mama day in and out was like, but still feeling rejected in spite of that fact. In the last year it’s meant bearing through days and nights of a baby’s grief-stricken screams, just waiting until she felt loved enough to be calm.

“And sometimes, it means loving mamas who didn’t know how to love their own kids well – taking them groceries, giving them pictures . . . . And sometimes it’s sitting through days of court until finally hearing a verdict that takes away parental rights permanently, a verdict that makes a child a legal orphan – unimaginable brokenness. Listening to stories of drugs and abuse, blood and guns, poverty and lack of education, prostitution and drugs – those are the dark days. Those are days when you wonder what qualifies you to be in this place, to have this calling.”

"Yes, Jesus loves me"

“Yes, Jesus loves me”

Yet, while tending a garden is hard and tedious labor, there are blessings as well. Harvest reaps the benefits of one’s labor, sharing the bounty with family and enjoying the succulent delight of newly ripened produce.

The fragrance of love is exquisite, even though it may be prickly.  There is a kaleidoscope of expressions in experiencing new things: a visit to the mall, a ride on the escalator, going out for ice cream cones, family time where everyone is included, meal times around the kitchen table, participation in a Christmas program, learning about the real meaning of Christmas or of Easter, learning to reach out to others by helping a neighbor with yard work, rippling laughter of play, and being tucked in at night.

foster pjs slagels

A visitor in our home, after hearing part of the story of the children we were parenting, said, “We don’t know what we have.” No, we don’t.

No, we don’t.

Our children can learn from having foster siblings in the home. They see the pain, the anger, and the wounds.  It helps them realize how blessed they are to have parents who will fight for them, who never give up, and who expect and believe the best in them.

Sometimes our kids have celebrated awards without us being present because of the foster children in our home. Giving up beds or bedrooms and sharing their parents with other seedlings is not always easy, but it’s necessary. And it is worth the energy expended.

our son with boys from two other mothers

our son with boys from two other mothers – play dough pizza

“I’ve looked into the eyes of an abused or unwanted child, and I know it’s worth it,” says Brandy, a mom of four teens who has three foster children under the age of five in her home.

In our foster family journey, we wanted to give back to God for sparing the life of my husband in an accident ten years ago. During evenings when playing the same card game over and over brought complaints from our kids, I reminded them that this was our Thank You to God. During days when the dishwasher has to be emptied more than three times, I remember that this is a way to worship God.

During nights of being awake repeatedly, rocking a child who is afraid she’ll be left alone, I have been so weary. When I remember why I am doing this, I can truly say, “Jesus, this is my thank You to You.” When I whisper those words, the tiredness doesn’t matter, and I realize that saying thanks to Him isn’t really thanks if it doesn’t cost me at all. The words “offer the sacrifice of praise” take on new meaning when I am weary and spent. [Jeremiah 33:11 Hebrews 13:15]

Suzanne also shares, “The God who sits beside us in our tears is the God Who is faithful to sit beside me during those long nights when I’m holding and comforting a hurt and lonely child. I get to be the one who doesn’t just descend into their darkness, but with God’s help, gives them a hand and helps pull them back out. I get to be the one who teaches a child what safety truly feels like. I get to be the mama who teaches a child who may have never ever known the love of a mama what it feels like to be loved unconditionally. I get to be the one who introduces a young soul to Jesus for the first time, even when I have no assurance that they will ever hear of Him from another person in their life.”

another baby to love

another baby to love

It’s been quite a few years since I played with my sisters in that playhouse with our dolls. At my age, I’ve rocked more children than kittens.  I’ve spent more time in church with real children than I ever did with the puppies on the porch steps.

I’ve spent more hours in grocery stores than any I spent collecting “food” in the pastures next to our house. I’ve baked more cookies and bread than any we pretended to do in our sandbox. My sisters love our foster children just like they loved the babies who came to our house. And our foster kids love them right back.

 

my sister Barbara loving one of of "my" babies

my sister Barbara loving one of “my” babies

Playing church at my home place was a lot of fun, and the memories are part of my life. Being the church to lonely, hurting children is even more enjoyable and rewarding, for we’ve seen growth as children have thrived in our home. Surely they will remember that, even though our garden wasn’t perfect, they were loved. We ourselves have learned so much. We have experienced grace that is more than sufficient and strength that is made perfect in our weakness. [2 Corinthians 12:9]

As Suzanne says, “I get to help change a child’s life, but really, truly, the best thing about fostering is how those little children change me. I am transformed by their strength and resilience, and I am undone by their pain and grief. I am reminded of everything broken in this world, and I am thankful that I know (and can teach them to know) the Healer.”

foster slagel by barn

Suzanne’s kids

So this Mother’s Day, I applaud the many women in the world who are moms to children of another mother – who give and give, love and love, and claim these kids as their own. I applaud the hearts of each foster mom, for even though her “children” leave, there is forever and always a part of them left behind – in her heart.