Won’t it Be Hard to Say Goodbye?

This is a question I have been asked by others, or have asked myself, fairly frequently. The way the question is worded varies, but at the core is the issue of risking your heart to care for foster children in your home for months, or a year, knowing that they may someday return to biological family. I have an answer to that question that I’d like to share with you, but bear with me as I set the stage.

The hardest thing that Erik and I have endured together and with our children has been the death of Erik’s mother. After Bethany was born, “Jojo” would drive down from Baltimore to our house in Leesburg, Va once a week, spend the night with us, and watch Bethany while I was working. This continued until we moved to Texas 4 years later. After our move, she flew to Texas frequently and stayed for extended periods of time. Largely due to my prolonged bedrest during my pregnancy with Nate, Jojo had lived with us in Texas for 6 of her last 12 months. As such, we were all very close to her, myself included, but most certainly Bethany, Bryce and Leah. During her final visit to our house, we were sitting on the couch chatting one night after the children were in bed. She turned her head in Erik’s direction and I inquired with confusion, “Jojo, is that a mass on your neck?” “Oh, it’s nothing,” she answered coyly, covering her neck with her hand. After much prodding, she reluctantly revealed that she had noticed a lump on the side of her neck during the past week or so. A few weeks later, after some testing back in Virginia, we had the answer. It was a shock to her doctors and to us – anaplastic thyroid cancer. Searching google (I mean I never see this kind of thing in pediatrics) revealed grim terms such as “extremely rare”, “very aggressive”, “no effective treatment”, “death within weeks to months of diagnosis”, and case descriptions along the lines of, “medical advice is usually sought when the otherwise healthy patient notices an enlarging mass on their neck”. Jojo died six weeks later.

Erik and I and our children were devastated. But, I have a reason for telling this story, and it goes beyond garnering sympathy for such loss. The six weeks that we had to say goodbye, and the months of grieving following her death, were some of the most precious, bonding times we had with Jojo and as a family. We expressed love more frequently, we held each other more tightly, I stopped sweating the small stuff and wasn’t even tempted to raise my voice when mud was tracked into the house or milk was spilt at the dinner table. Our eyes were turned from the mundane to the meaningful, and ultimately, the eternal. I treasure my memories of Erik speaking through tears at Jojo’s funeral. Even more so, I treasure seeing Bethany, tears streaming down her own face, hanging on every word as she watched her daddy speak such heart-felt words about his mother. That moment is still referred to as “the time we saw Daddy cry”. I cherish the times that my children, sometimes completely out of the blue, clung to me to comfort them as we wept together. And I hope they also remember my recurring reassurances that it’s good to cry and to grieve because it means you deeply cared for someone else. I will always remember the time Bethany prayed at bedtime, “Dear God, I know that you can heal Jojo, and I pray that you would heal her because we love her so much. But if you choose not to heal her, I know that you are good and I trust you.” She wiped tears from her eyes and rolled over and went to sleep. I left the room and cried. That is a life lesson I can’t teach my children from a textbook. I can read to them from God’s living word, about the bravery and faith of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who prayed a similar prayer as they were facing the fiery furnace in the book of Daniel. I pray in times of trial the truths of the Bible will be memorable to them. Nonetheless, I am confident that their life experiences, both good and bad, are what God will use to demonstrate his faithfulness to them and shape them.

I wish that Jojo were still alive, oh how often I have thought of her in these past six weeks. I know that she would have been here. Holding baby boy and cuddling little girl with a grandmother’s love and patience that seemingly knows no limits of time constraints and schedule demands. She had a heart for the homeless and orphans, largely due to her own tumultuous childhood which contained similar threads as those of many foster children. I can imagine the deep empathy in her eyes as she would have loved these children and cheered us on through the hard.

And so, finally, to my point and the question at hand: “Won’t it be hard to say goodbye to foster children, should that day come? And won’t fostering be hard on my own children?” Well, yes, it will be quite hard. But that’s not my answer to those questions. This is my answer: I’m not afraid of “hard”. I’m not afraid to expose my children to “hard”. See, I know the secret. Whether in hard paths that we choose (working in an ER – that’s another story for another day, taking in children who need a home), or hard paths that we are forced to walk (death of a loved one, such as Jojo, saying goodbye to foster children after months of giving your heart to them unconditionally), God uses the hard for His glory, and to sculpt our hearts in ways that define who He wants us to become. This can be painful. Very painful at times (I admit, I’ve only experienced a fraction of the pain this world has to offer). Sculpting requires hammering and chipping, which isn’t always pleasant. But in the end, God is producing in us a masterpiece. He is making us into something great – the likeness of Christ (biblical sanctification). And hard is part of the process. I don’t fear hard. I fear remaining a rough piece of rock that could have otherwise been used by God. By God’s grace, it’s the “hard” that makes it great.

(even Hollywood stumbles on to a biblical principle now and then)

“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” – James 1:2-4

“Work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” – Phil 2:12-13

When the Going Gets Tough …

… the tough quit blogging!  At least for a time, that is.  Well, let’s see.  We’ve now passed the one month mark.  A monument I was feeling fairly victorious about, until 5 of us (myself included) were sick at the same time last week.  In those days we realized we had no reserve.  I wasn’t sleeping well secondary to my own sickness, add on one sick infant, two sick toddlers and one sick six year old in the house and the chances of sleep or sanity became pretty slim.  Somehow, Erik escaped unscathed, and thank goodness!   Because the past month has been one of his busiest times at work, never getting home before 9 or 10, all culminating in a big release this week.  Yes, we have been counting that one down hard.  So here we were, I was sick and tired, kids were sick and clingy, spitting up, not eating well, whiny (take your pick), Erik was working like crazy, and I would say we were drowning.  If I could graph our relative survival curve since foster kids arrival it would be along the lines of honeymoon somwehere in the middle of the axis for the first week, a dip down to survival mode for the second and third weeks, a brief escalation into the “starting to thrive zone” for the fourth week, and then a crash and burn for the past week.  All non-essentials were halted – school was put on hold, meals were simple (if not fast food), and entertainment media became our life-sustenance (TV, video games to the rescue).

In my assessment this week of illness also coincided with, or perhaps catalyzed, the end of the honeymoon phase for our older children.  That’s been a harder one to swallow, yet I know the trial comes with exceptional teaching opportunities on sacrifice and unconditional love.  I have often thought over the past week that I am thankful that our foster children are not yet old enough to understand when my bio children say things along the lines of, “I don’t want little girl here anymore”, “she’s so annoying”, “I just want her to go away”.  In some ways I’m also glad that my bio kids can voice those feelings aloud to me, instead of keeping them bottled inside.  I’ve often remembered how annoyed they were at times with their once (well still) extremely mischievous two year old brother, Nate.  The supreme difference, however, is that they already had two years of history with him at that point, and they fiercely loved him, despite his frustrating typical two year old behaviors.  Little girl is sweet and so well behaved, but she is almost two, and her behavior appropriately reflects that.  Even Bethany, despite her fervent passion to help orphans, was starting to crumble.  She almost burst into tears this weekend in the middle of the sanctuary after church when I told her that instead of running off to play with her friends she needed to come with me to collect baby boy, little girl and Nate and get them to the car.  I don’t say that to embarass her or single her out.  The emotion she was expressing in that moment with her non-verbal cues is one that Erik and I and all of us have felt at some point over the past month.  As adults, we’re just better at hiding those emotions.  Thankfully, the sermon we had all just heard that morning was on James 1 (joy in trials).

Well, to make a long story short, we survived.  My mom lives close, and came to our rescue a few times.  She has not been licensed yet to watch our foster children, but she can watch our bio children – and that is huge.  Another friend came into town and spent the day feeding the baby and playing with little girl.  We’ve now emerged through the sickness, Erik’s project has launched (hopefully ushering in a more relaxed season at work), we are past the one month mark, homeschool is now back underway, every day what once felt out of control is starting to feel structured and routine, I’ve gotten to work a few shifts even, little girl now runs to me with open arms saying “Mama”, baby boy is growing and gaining developmental skills, our bio kids are still on the steady, but slow, trajectory of acceptance (despite some bumps in the road), we are slowly falling for these little people and seeing them as part of our family, and we are clipping away day by day closer to our fateful court dates.  All that to say, things are looking up!

Children have a way of expressing even the deepest of human conflict and struggles in ways that are light-hearted and innocent (remember Nate and his potty ponderings?).  I had a similar reminder of that this week, when I was pushing my cart through Costco and glanced down at my grocery list to find the usual Bethany addendum.  Although, this time I read the “Another”, got to the next word, and burst out laughing.  At the bottom, for the first time in two years, she had strayed from her signature “Another child” addendum and had penned “Another” … “dog”.  Okay sweetheart, I get the message loud and clear!  I think we all agree that our hearts and home are overflowing with more than enough children right now :).

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