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)

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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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He is enough.

 

Bath toys and diapers and blankets…oh my!

That is me just sitting here on the floor in my living room, looking around and listing the land mines that are littered about.

Two weeks ago we welcomed into our hearts and home three little loves. Our home went from a huge farm house, just me and my sweet husband, to a giggling home full of diapers and love. We are the “right now” parents to the three amigos. Three loves two and under. And our lives will never be the same.

Now that we are past the first week of adjustments I feel I can truthfully say that we are doing wonderfully. If you saw us in the first week however, man, am I sorry. Both Chris and I were walking zombies…the three amigos were full of every emotion…and all five of us were trying to figure it out. Moving forward we recognize it will be a never ending phase of figuring it out, but we now have a good base. We trust each other.

One of the most interesting and challenging parts of being a foster parent is learning about your toddler. This handsome and funny two year old is now my responsibility. And instead of having two years to learn who he is, what he likes and dislikes, where his insecurities lie, or how I can best love him, we have a twenty minute car ride to our house. Praise Jesus for the grace he gives us as parents!

There are many many unknowns in Foster care, but this I do know, Jesus gives enough. There is nothing that I can do in my own power. When I try to work within my own power I fail miserably. But Jesus. He knows. He gives. He is enough.

Nothing could have prepared me for this stage of life. No training classes, or advice from others, or endless books I read. There is no way I could have known how many doctors we would need to see, or how much laundry I would do, or how truly tired we would be. So I am thankful for the promise of 2 Corinthians 12:9,  “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” He is enough.

We will never know how long a child will stay in our home, but this we do know, while they are here they are to be loved 100%. Not because I have 100% to give at all times (seriously, the physical touch is about to be the death of me!), but because we are called and commanded. And because in my weakness…He is enough.

They Called Me Mommy.

“Um, Mommy, I love you.”

His little curly head was tucked right under my chin at 5:43 in the morning and I knew that morning snuggles would be my favorite. We had only met less than twelve hours ago but that little voice meant it when he called me mommy and told me that he loved me. I knew we would soon need to get ready for church, but for now we will be still.

Going into this placement we knew that our days were numbered, but that wasn’t going to stop us from showing them big love. We had J and J for 8 days. A short respite for their current foster family. Foster families use respite care for many different reasons. Sometimes foster kids are not allowed out of state/country for various reasons and the family has a trip planned. Often families use respite care to take an emotional break to allow them to continue on. We feel extremely blessed to be able to provide this little break for families in our area while loving little ones with big feelings.

 

One of our main goals in becoming Foster Parents is to make sure every child, regardless of how long or short they are in our home, feels loved and safe and celebrated. This week with a 5 and 4 year old meant lots of snuggles, farm outings, Jesus songs, and an (un)birthday party. What a blessing to love little people!

For 8 days, they called me mommy.

Daddy would read books and tuck them in. Mommy would rock and sing. We would pray. And they were safe. This was our beautiful life.

And now they are gone. Back to a loving foster family who also loves them. We will always be a part of this story God is writing for their lives, but for now we will do that with prayers from a distance.

If you’re interested in following along with our day to day journey follow us on instagram @forthesakeofbeautiful .

 

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Third Trimester.

Third Trimester.

It’s almost time.

Nesting tons.

Crying more.

 

We have three bedrooms (mostly) ready to receive children. The paperwork is nearing the end and sooner than we know it our big house is going to get a little fuller.

Buying our home was a dream that started before we moved back to Illinois, before we were married, and before my sweet husband even had the fuzzy start to facial hair. Growing up, Chris had said plenty of times how neat it would be if someday he bought the “grey block house” down the road and fixed it up to live in. Once we were married and looking for farm homes (first in Tennessee, then in Missouri, and most recently in Illinois), we would always compare the property to the land the Reynolds have lived on since the 1800’s. Little did we know just exactly how perfect is the timing of our God. The “grey block house” is a three story stone home that sits on the county line surrounded by cornfields and pasture. It has a large barn (that Chris’ great-grandpa and grandpa built in the 40s) and several other out buildings on the property. The grounds are covered with juicy strawberries, blueberry bushes, apple trees, grapes, and many other snacks to munch on while playing outside. The home was built in 1913 and has the original wood floors, corn stoves, and many original windows. It’s the kind of place you walk into and know it is full of life and stories. And it is all ours.

One of the best features of this beautiful place is the five upstairs bedrooms. When we started the process to become foster families one of our main prayers is that we would have the ability to keep siblings together while their parents work to get them back home. Many times siblings are split up because of a shortage of beds in any given foster home. We knew with five bedrooms we would have the space to keep larger sibling groups in tact! Praise the Lord! For the past month we have worked hard to maintain the integrity of this beautiful home while also getting it prepared to take on a new mission as a safe place for the hurting. And now, in our “third trimester” of foster care prep, our prayers are stronger than ever.

Both Chris and I have seen God work mighty miracles in providing for us over the last six months as we embarked on this journey to foster care. The prayer and tangible gifts have been such a blessing to our souls. It has been such a process and at times quite stressful and disheartening…but at those moments are when we feel the village supporting us. I can literally feel the presence of prayers surrounding us. Like a barrier between us and the worry/anxiety/fear/hurt that the enemy wants us to feel.

My spiritual gifts (both to give and receive) are gifts and words of encouragement. Man, how my cup is full! Furnishing three kids rooms (five beds total) is no easy task…yet we have seen God’s had in that as friends have come together to make sure our little ones are loved before they are even known. Support is such a key part of what makes foster care tick. I challenge you to find a way to support the foster care community in your community because without the support we have, I am sure we wouldn’t feel this peace.

For us, as it does most expecting parents, the third trimester brings on a ton of waiting. We still have a decent amount of running around to grab needed items and make sure our freezers are full. And there are a million check lists on our kitchen counters. But mostly, it just feels like waiting. I’ve decided that the waiting is beautiful. Because in the waiting I find quiet and in the quiet I find Jesus.

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Join us in prayer:

-For last minute details and purchases to be finished.

-For our hearts to be quieted and softened for the days ahead.

-For our children who are loved but not yet known by us, but loved and known by God.

-For the foster families in your community who may be overwhelmed, tired, or weary from the waiting.