Trauma is tricky.

Trauma is tricky. It is unpredictable and rude. It shines through without mercy. It effects all who are in its reach.

Loving children with trauma sometimes is almost unbearable.

We work so hard to build a routine to avoid trauma triggers, but despite our best efforts, sometimes it is simply unavoidable. Even as we prepare…we try to wish it away. We use our happiest voices and our biggest smiles and brace ourselves for the inevitable meltdown. And my heart breaks time and time again.

Oh how I wish we lived in a world where my children didn’t have to experience trauma triggers almost daily. Where everyday tasks like dressing and bathing and going outside didn’t bring big feelings to my small people. But this is our world, and together we will navigate it.

Today I responded with words of sweet encouragement as my toddler was truly frightened without warning. I wore earplugs as we did bath time. I laid on the floor and cried as I prayed for peace for a little body.

Foster care isn’t glamorous. Most of the time it is hard to see progress. We have two steps forward and nine steps back. But we will keep smiling and hugging, reading books and praying, because they are worth it. Our love may not cure the trauma, but every day I will try a little bit more.

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Christmas Treasured in my Heart.

“But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.” Luke 2:19

I believe this is one of the most beautiful parts of the Christmas story. Mary, a teenage virgin mother, just gave birth to the Messiah. Around her are animals and visitors worshiping her little baby, it smells weird, it’s loud, and maybe she was a little overwhelmed (she just gave birth in a barn for goodness sakes). But I imagine Mary sitting back and taking it all in, treasuring and pondering in her heart, and my spirit is filled.

This was my first Christmas as a mother. And as I watched my sweet children decorate cookies, open presents, and wonder at Christmas lights I started to understand a sliver of the emotions Mary must have felt. Amongst the hustle and busyness and flu that hit all five of us there was a peace and pondering in my heart. I had so much joy watching others love on my babies. We loved sharing the magic and excitement and singing happy birthday to Jesus.

Baby got to experience his first Christmas with more snuggles and tissue paper than he could ever want. Sister opened a baby doll that cries until you give it a bottle and has yet to set her down. And brother carried enough excitement in his face for the whole family. It was a Christmas of navigating big feelings and needing many breaks. Our babies each needed a little extra love and Chris and I were exhausted by day’s end. It was wonderful.

We may not have next Christmas together…but I’m taking a page from Mary’s book and treasuring every moment in my heart.

For every today.

Tomorrow isn’t promised.

This short quote is true for every living being. But it is so much more prevalent in the foster care world. Everything we do with our children could be our last. Our last vacation, our last holiday, our last bedtime routine.

For us, we head into the Christmas week knowing it is possible we may be childless for Christmas. The reality is that we have a court date a few days before, and court could go many different ways. Which makes this Christmas unlike anything we’ve ever experienced. It makes me want to make every activity we do “extra” magical, because we may not actually get Christmas, or I may never know how another Christmas is for them for the rest of their lives. But it also makes it harder to get fully in the spirit because heartache may be right around the corner.

Most days, our lives look exactly like any family with multiple small children. We change approximately 25 diapers, fill 492693 milk cups, and snuggle bad dreams away. But some days we are reminded of why we are here, why our children are here, and how broken our world can be. These days I take a hot baths and remind myself that Jesus is bigger than our broken system and hurting world. I cling to the truth of scripture and ask for more grace to get through the next day.

If you’ve encountered me in person, and asked about our case, you probably heard me respond with “We will love them hard for as long they are ours”…or something along those lines. While I’m saying it to you, I’m also saying it to me. Because we don’t know if we will have tomorrow…but we will love them as hard as we can for as many today’s as we have.

Grief. Two years later.

Grief.

“a. deep sorrow, especially that caused by someone’s death.”

Such a tricky word that encompasses so much, yet feels too small to cover the feeling it brings. If you are walking into the Christmas season with grief in your heart, I feel you.

Today, it has been two years since I received the word that my father was missing. Tonight, it will be two years since mental illness ended his life.  I was a thousand miles away and within minutes my life changed forever. Walking into “the most wonderful time of the year” while also feeling like I’d rather skip it is my new normal. And I know I am not alone. I know there are friends around the globe wishing they would wake up and Christmas would be over because it’s a chore to fake joy every day in December.

The strange thing about grief is that it looks so different on each hurting person. My grieving process probably looks different from your grieving process. My siblings and I all grieve the same loss differently. It is important to remember that it’s quite okay if your grief looks different from those around you. The first few months after dad left I had to figure out how to be okay with what my grief looked like. Because I despised the random outbursts of tears in the middle of coaching, the need to take hour long showers to catch my breath, or the canceling of activities. None of those things are who I am, but who grief turned me into. I am thankful for an amazing support and counseling to get me through those horrible months, but grief never really goes away, at least it hasn’t two years later. However, in the grief there is also joy. And in the hurt, there is also peace. And in the missing, there is also remembering.

 

“For everything there is a season…A time to cry and a time to laugh.
    A time to grieve and a time to dance” Ecclesiastes 3:1,4

 

My mother has used a phrase since we started this journey as suicide survivors. She reminds us often: God Wins. God wins…period. Grief is a battle. Sometimes, it is an every day battle. Sometimes, I can go a whole week without needing my dad for something. But regardless, we grieve, God wins.

I know I have many reading this who never had the opportunity to meet my loud, dry humored, Disney movie loving, sports talking, thing fixer of a father. I ask that you read my speech from his memorial service (click here). I believe it paints a clear picture of what he meant to each of us who knew him. It does not seem fair that he left this world before more people could have him in their life. It pains me that I do not get to experience him whispering to my babies or building cribs for the loves who come into our home. But when I picture my dad in heaven I imagine him holding all of my friends babies who never made it to their arms, and I am once again grateful for him.

Thankful for hope and waiting for heaven.

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(Jimmy and baby Amber. May 1991)

On rising up…

Before becoming foster parents, you are required by the state to take a 27-hour course in which a majority of the material is geared around how to parent a child who has experienced trauma. You watch videos of various scenarios, role play different techniques, and discuss possible daily outcomes. There is required course reading and a list of suggested books on trauma behaviors and how to parent them. You are reminded that no matter the circumstance surrounding the removal, the removal from the home is trauma enough for a child.

And then, at the end of the course, they hand you a child who has experienced trauma and ask you to parent them.

It does not matter how hard you work to be prepared. It does not matter how many blogs you read, mentors you sit under, or audio books you listen to in your car. Nothing can fully prepare you for the days ahead.

When you see me and say, “I could never do it”, I want to say “me either”.  I simply am not enough for trauma behaviors. I could not handle typical two-year-old mixed with hurt and fear and confusion. I could never do the days that visits are canceled and I have to find a way to explain that to a confused toddler. I could never sit through three months and counting of screaming through getting dressed, bath time, and diaper changing because of something terrible that adults did. I could never rock a perfect baby to sleep every night knowing that someday he will probably never be in my arms again.

But we do it anyway.

Because these sweet children are going to be in foster care whether or not we do anything about it.

Because there are over half a million children in foster care in the United States.

Because God has given us gifts and talents and called us to love on the least of these in his name.

So, I will learn about trauma. When new behaviors start to surface, we will cry together, call someone wiser than myself, and work it out. We will lay on the floor doing deep breathing exercises until panic attacks subside. I will sit with my babies through the disappointment and though the breakthroughs. I will put aside my fear and insecurities for the sake of healing.

It is time to start asking practical questions and getting involve. Never hesitate to ask where to start…I have never met an orphan care advocate who didn’t want to share her story. As Christians we must rise up to be a part of the healing process.

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5 Practical Ways to Stand Up for your Foster Care community.

Stand up for Foster Care!

This Sunday is Stand Sunday! Even if you aren’t at a place where you feel God is calling you to open your home for foster care, there are so many ways you can Stand Up and do something for the foster care community. Foster families have the same “busy stuff” as other families (work, school, sports, church) with added time-sucking stressors (bio family visits, court dates, endless doctor appointments). Foster care can be such a lonely and isolating ministry. There is so much we cannot talk about, and it is hard to understand unless you have been there. However, there is so many different ways to be a support team and wrap arms around foster families!

 

5 Ways to Stand Up for your local foster care community:

1)    Set up a meal train.

This is such an easy and practical thing when a family gets a new placement. The day after we got our kiddos a dear friend set up a meal train. She brought a meal that day, and then others followed suit for several weeks we had a few meals a week. It was glorious! While trying to get to learn about a new little person (or people) the last thing I want to do is spend time away from them making dinner. By setting up a meal train you can let many different people bless the foster family!

2)    Diaper drop off.

If you know a foster family just brought some littles into their home, diapers are a super practical and tangible way to be a blessing. When our three came into our home we automatically had three in diapers! No time to shop, or prepare, or ease into it. We were so blessed by a few friends who brought baskets full of different sized diapers to our back porch.

3)    Become a respite provider or babysit for a foster family.

Respite: a short period of rest or relief from something difficult.

Friends, foster care is difficult. Court days alone drain everything from within me. If you have a heart for foster care but know you are not at a place to take long term kids, respite would be an amazing way to help! Sometimes foster parents just need a night away…or a vacation. In Illinois you don’t even have to be background checked to babysit. (many states are starting to adapt prudent parenting standards)

4)   Donate items you are no longer using.

Many foster families in our community have been blessed with like-new items their children have outgrown. Bicycles, cribs, highchairs, etc. Getting your children involved in deciding what you can donate is a great time for conversations about giving! If you are unsure about how to go about getting your items to these families, just ask me, I would love to get you connected to an organization wherever you live.

 

5)    PRAY.

Above all, keep the foster care community in your prayers. I love receiving messages of prayer and scripture. Knowing I have support all over the country in the form of prayer is extremely encouraging. Pray for foster families, pray for case workers, pray for biological families, pray for these precious children.

 

This is a brief list of ways to start getting involved. I would love to hear the unique ways you are Standing Up for the foster care community in your local community!

 

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It’s getting good.

Today is a day I never want to forget…the day I had a thoroughly enjoyable day with my children.

Foster care is incomparable to any other experience. All three of our small children came to us with hurts and stories. Stories that take time to unwrap, especially because all three are non-verbal. But today. Today my two year old put four words together on his own. My one year old sat playing by herself for more than ten seconds. And my baby fell asleep without me having to jump through hoops. We are in our seventh week together, and there have been many pleasant and enjoyable moments, but today we had a major breakthrough.

Today, instead of being frustrated at every turn, collectively we were able to have conversations and giggle and breathe.

We had an assessor in our home this morning that kept telling me that my one year old princess had “such a sweet personality”. There has been countless people in my home to meet my children and I can honestly say this is the first time the word “sweet” has been used. Not because she isn’t, but because it took a while for her to trust me enough to be sweet when there were strangers in our home.

This is a word of encouragement for those in the thick of foster care and a peak into our real life for those who are not. Friends, it gets good! So many moments in those first few weeks I would cry out and doubt my ability to make a difference. If you are drowning in behaviors and hurt…it gets good. Don’t get me wrong, my children were not angels, and the assessor got to see why she was there, but it feels good to have turned a corner and know we are making big strides in these little people.

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