To the Fathers of Foster Care

Dear Fathers of Foster Care,

I see you.

I see the way you turn your head away and blink back tears as I walk out the door with your son’s hand in mine. You feel defeated, ashamed and angry that the world has turned on you. I know, and I’m sorry. I know you have made many mistakes and that you are paying a high price for the sins you have committed. I know you feel small and unheard and rejected. Know that your son doesn’t see you that way. He only sees his Daddy and the way your strong arms swing him up high into the sky. He only sees the way you get down on the floor and play cars with him, laughing at the roaring, zooming, crashing noises he makes as he vies for your eyes and attention on him. This unconditional love he has for you is a gift. I know you feel like you don’t deserve it. None of us do. But take it anyway, and let it form in your heart a vow to be the very best man you can be. I want him to have you in his life, but it’s you that has to do the hard work.

I SEE YOU.

I see the struggle in your eyes as you say yes to yet another child’s presence in your home. Another little mouth to feed, another heart to gently lead toward healing, another set of hands tugging at you for time, attention, affection and comfort. You sometimes feel like you’re drowning, and like you can’t keep up to the constant, crashing waves of this thing called foster care. You attach, you let go, you grieve and you provide…and most of this you do quietly, steadily and alone. I know you feel the pressure to be the rock in a constantly changing tide, and I wish you knew that you are! But it’s okay to let down the walls sometimes and let the sadness, anger and worry seep through. You are not the Hero in this story, and it’s not all up to you. It’s okay to say no, to crumble a bit, to feel detached from the little people that fill your home. You are enough just the way you are. They don’t see the struggle, but they feel your gentle arms around them. They hear the silly voices you use to read their bedtime stories. They smell the familiar, comforting smell of dust and sweat on your neon shirt as you walk in the door at the end of each day. Your presence speaks louder than all the doubts and fears that you carry on your shoulders. Your choice to love even when you don’t feel it is what makes you the good father that you are.

I SEE YOU.

The way you cannot meet my eye and the agitation in your face. You are angry and defiant, and I get it. It isn’t fair and you didn’t see this coming. Your daughter plays alone in the corner, ignoring your presence, and you feel awkward and unsure. I cannot condone your behavior and I’m tired of your disrespect. I am fighting against you, and we both know it, but you should know that it breaks my heart to see this. I never wanted this for you, or for her. I read the sparse details of your story in her social history and I weep for you that night into my pillow. I weep for the rejection you have faced, the addictions you have succumbed to and the anger that has taken you captive. You feel like a victim and you will not let them win this time. I wish you understood that you are losing everything that is important to you. I wish I could tell you how she stares at the pictures of you, how you are still there in her nightmares and her prayers. Your impact has been devastating; but still, you are her father. You are the one who gave her those beautiful blue eyes and the defiant tilt of her chin. She carries your wild craving of adventure and sarcastic sense of humor. She is fragile right now, and she needs protection, but you will always be her father. It’s up to you what you do with that.

I SEE YOU.

The way you tenderly kiss her forehead and tuck the curls behind her ear. I see the way your eyes light up when he runs to you and the way you stop and turn to his little voice. I see you running alongside her bike, guiding his hands on the fishing rod and shouting out words of encouragement as they grip the bat in their hands. I see the way your shoulders slump a bit when I tell you about their father’s visit today and the hesitation in your eyes when they call you Daddy for the first time. I see the pain that you carry alongside the incredible joy, and the quiet hope that burns in your eyes. I see you tying skates, paying the extra therapy bills and changing diapers. I see you teaching her to drive a car and placing your hand on his shoulder when he comes home angry, disillusioned and scared. Their lives are out of your control and I see you living in that tension every single day. It is beautiful the way you are choosing to walk beside them even when the cost feels incredibly high. Your significance is far beyond measure. They will never know how much you sacrificed for them, but it matters.

I SEE YOU.

The Dads who are failing, floundering, and tenaciously fighting for your children.

You matter.

You are important in this story.

You will never be forgotten.

-AF

Titus 2 Women, Faith & Motherhood

When my son was diagnosed with a brain tumour, I felt like the world shifted on its axis.

I had never been more terrified and unsure of who I was or what life meant.

During that season, I felt the Father love of my God like never before. I felt Him carry me and my family through that season in the gentlest of arms, with no expectations of me other than that I would simply let him hold us and trust His goodness.

However, on the tail of that I experienced a spiritual desert season of anxiety, anger, loneliness and uncertainty.

Everything I believed suddenly needed to be held to the light; examined and tested by the fires of doubt within me.

I wanted to curl up in a ball and hide from the world.

It felt big and scary, and I had no idea which way I should turn next.

It was in this season that a good friend of mine invited me to join her women’s group.

Hungry for communion with other Christian women and longing to become a prayer warrior for my children, I accepted the invitation, having no idea that God was about to do a work of redemption in my soul.

Most of these women were much older than myself, well past the stages of parenting and marriage that I was struggling through. We came from a variety of denominations and faith families, and there was really no common thread that wove us all together outside of our Jesus.

But this group of women welcomed me into their prayer circle and picked me up out of the dust. They took the pieces of my broken, bleeding heart that had been battered to shards through the storm of the past year and gently starting piecing me back together with the truth, grace and love of the gospel.

They wept with me, prayed with me and bolstered my spirits. They laughed with me, gave me wise advice and honoured me in my feeble efforts to strive for something greater in my parenting, my marriage and my walk with Jesus.

In short, they were Jesus to me. In a time when I desperately needed support, God led me to this incredible group of women and used them as a channel to heal me, teach me and offer me joy through new friendships.

Over tea cups, desserts and our Bibles we worshipped, repented and grew together.

When I walked into that space every Wednesday evening I knew instinctively that here, I was safe.

These women are my sisters in Christ;

My fellow warriors on the front lines of enemy territory, claiming back our children, our marriages and our identity through the power of His words spoken into the quiet of a cozy living room.

Titus 2:1-6 says,

“Teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live…then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.”

When I read those verses, I think of these women in my prayer group. I think of the wisdom I have glimpsed as I’ve listened to them share their stories and prayed alongside them for their middle schoolers, teenagers and young adult children. It’s comforting to know they have walked this road ahead of me and that I am not alone as I muddle through each new phase. Their humility and courage inspire me to keep putting one foot in front of the other; to love my children well while they are here with me, to model patience and kindness in my home, to be a woman of strength and grace.

I also think of my own mother when I read these verses. She modeled so much kindness, generosity and integrity to me as I was growing up. She willingly set her own needs aside to care for my siblings and I, day after month after year after decade. My childhood memories are rich because of her constant presence in our home, faithfully going about the mundane tasks of life on a farm with five children. So much of what I know and believe about motherhood, my identity as a woman and my Kingdom work was instilled through those early years.

I think about my cousin who I lived with as a young adult while dating the man who is now my husband. The two years I spent in her home watching her navigate early marriage and parenting young children left a deep impact on my life. I’m so grateful for the authentic, generous, humble presence I observed her to be in her home. She taught me so much about respect, kindness and courage to do the right thing even when it is not easy. So many little patterns in my marriage and parenting trace back to her mentoring.

There are so many more I could name. My mother in law, my grandmothers, older women in the church and my neighbourhood who have poured into my life, often unknowingly.

I like to think of all these women as my Titus 2 women.

They bring texture to the fabric of my life. Their experiences, perspective and fire-proven faith give me confidence that I, too, can emerge stronger, wiser and gentler on the other side of adversity. The stories they carry with them plant seeds of wonder and curiosity in my heart; to travel, to experience, to delight in the world around me.

It’s so easy to find the people most like ourselves and camp out there in that comfort zone, but I want to keep intentionally seeking out women who are older, wiser,more mature than I am. I want to have a heart that is teachable and brave enough to pursue growth.

As I move into my thirties, I want to be aware of the young women around me who are observing my own fumbling attempts and open my heart and home to them as well.

I believe there is so much wisdom and beauty to be found in multigenerational friendships.

What have you learned through friendships with older or younger women in your life?


Pro Life Meets Grace

I wrote a post a few days ago entitled “Every Life Matters.”

In it I shared my passion for the pro life movement and my firm belief that life begins at conception.

I believe everything I said but it left me with an unsettled feeling that I couldn’t shake. Something just didn’t sit well in my heart.

Was it fear of how others would label me? Discomfort at placing myself so entirely in an unpopular camp? The Spirit’s promptings of the airs of self righteousness that trickled through my words?

Those things for sure, but there was more.

I finally realized, it felt unfinished and unsettling because it was.

This was only half of the story.

I firmly believe that life begins at conception and that from the very first second that life should be protected, advocated for and fought for.

But I also believe that being pro life means advocating for, protecting and fighting for the lives of women, not just babies.

It means not ignoring the stories of the women who feel abortion is their only option, and allowing those stories to drive us to hard questions.

It means advocating for real, viable solutions and accessible support for women struggling with mental health issues.

It means supporting local pregnancy centers in their goal to give women support emotionally, physically and spiritually whether or not they choose to carry out their pregnancy to term.

It means crossing social, economic and racial barriers to reach the hearts of women living out realities I don’t understand or cannot identify with personally.

It means fighting for laws that will offer protection and healing for vulnerable women.

It means grieving with them.

It means listening to their stories and not offering unsolicited advice or uneducated options.

It means offering truth, grace and support to women who have chosen abortion in the past or are choosing abortion now.

It means choosing words and actions that bestow dignity and value on women who are considering abortion.

It means raising young men of integrity who will treat the women in their lives with respect, dignity and honor.

It means surrounding our daughters with both men and women who will protect, empower and validate them to live out their fullest potential.

It means supporting struggling mothers, getting involved in foster care, providing permanency for children who need to leave their first families.

It means grace.

Grace that humbly admits I have few answers to the difficult situations women find themselves in leading up to this decision.

Grace that acknowledges we live in an imperfect, marred world where sin and darkness berate, abuse and destroy.

Grace that sees my own brokenness, fragility and sin.

Grace that covers, forgives and redeems.

Pro Life meets Grace when Jesus enters the scene.

Jesus offers us life abundant, regardless of the wreckage of our lives.

He infuses hope, courage, resiliency and beauty into our mess.

As a Jesus follower, and a pro life advocate, this is the message I want to carry.

~AF

Every Life Matters

We’re just a couple weeks past Mother’s Day and my stomach churns every time I scroll through my Facebook feed.

Just a short week ago, we proudly posted pictures of our children, our mothers and our grandmothers.

We applauded women of all ages and validated the sacrifices they make to bring life to the world.

On Mother’s Day moms enjoyed breakfast in bed, flowers from their partners and tender thank you notes scrawled in preschool print. Everywhere we looked we saw the message that mothers deserve to be seen, valued and encouraged in their role; that what we are investing in is beautiful, irreplaceable and important.

Mother’s day proposes to us that women deserve to be recognized for the courage, resilience, and sacrifice they live out daily in their quest to give themselves to the next generation.

Mother’s day told women that they are strong, capable, remarkable and seen in a world that would have us believe otherwise.

But today, my Facebook feed stands in stark contrast to the messages of Mother’s Day.

Today women are saying,

We demand control of our bodies and our lives.

We are victims of a war against femininity.

We want a voice.

We deserve respect.

No one else gets to trump our rights.

All I can think as I watch friend after friend share outrageous, passionate, angry memes, posts and videos is…

Where are the women who, two weeks ago, valued life and motherhood? Where are the women who said they would willingly lay down their lives for the little people they birthed?

When my son was diagnosed with a brain tumor at 18 months, I would have given anything to take his place and go into that operating room myself. Instead I placed him into the arms of a stranger wearing a gown and mask and stood sobbing in my husband’s arms as he was carried away from me.

I would give anything to go back in time for my four other children and take the betrayal, abandonment and hurt they experienced. I would give my right arm in a heart beat if it meant I could erase some of that pain or change some of their first mothers’ choices that have led to such difficulty in life for them.

Every mother I know would throw her life recklessly on the line for her child.

So what changes so dramatically when a baby travels down the birth canal and lets out that first feeble cry? At what point do they magically become human and worthy of protection when a mere few months earlier we say their existence is only optional?

If life does not begin at conception, when does it begin?

At 10 weeks?

20 weeks?

30 weeks?

40 weeks?

And who gets to decide at what point a new life is formed enough to have rights of its own?

We go to great lengths to get prenatal care and help women make healthy choices during pregnancy.

Why does it matter if my children’s birth mothers exposed them to harmful substances in the first two months of their lives if they weren’t really classified as a life at all?

And what determines our value?

Who gets to decide which lives are valuable and which ones are discarded?

Are we put on some type of scale to determine our level of significance to the world to decide whether or not we hold enough value to deserve an existence?

Maybe it’s our level of dependence on another human being, our physical or mental capabilities. Maybe it’s our IQ level or emotional intelligence that should dictate our worth.

Maybe it’s whether or not our birth was planned, if we developed fully in utero or if we were wanted.

Who gets to decide?!

I care about this because the ripples of abortion are deeply personal to me.

Four of my children deal with physical, emotional and neurological differences that set them apart from their peers. They learn differently, they process differently, they see the world through different eyes.

Would you put them on a scale and rank their worth next to their peers in accordance with their abilities?

If life before birth can be evaluated and discarded based on certain qualities, why not after birth as well?

What if someone could have seen the extent of my children’s struggles and abnormalities?

What if the years of neglect, trauma, turbulence in foster care, unusual chromosomes, neurological damage, physical weaknesses and difficult family circumstances they were entering into were deemed to be too difficult?

What if someone had decided they were not worth it, not wanted, not valuable enough?

“They’ll just spend years in foster care when their teenage parents cannot care for them.”

“They will struggle all their lives; it isn’t fair to them.”

“Their mother isn’t ready to have a baby. She’s so young.”

Who would have protected their right to the beautiful, rich lives they live today? Who would have imagined the unique, irreplaceable talents and skills they bring to the world, my world, today?

Where are those women?

Where are the women who will sit day and night beside the tiny plastic bassinet in the ICU while a vulnerable premature baby fights for life, surrounded by wires, tubes and monitors?

Where are the women who will take in the child who has lost their first parents, been abandoned, neglected or abused, believing that the life they are taking into their care is worth the sacrifice of comfort, time and freedom?

Where are the women who will fight passionately for the rights of every human life to be preserved, protected and valued?

I Believe women should have rights…but not for women’s rights to be placed above every other human’s rights.

I don’t want my rights to trump the rights of my children, my husband or anyone else.

That is not equality and that is not the kind of world I want my daughters to grow up in.

I want to raise daughters who value their femininity and see the incredible ability for nurture, intelligence, beauty and life they bring to the world as women.

I want to raise daughters who are willing to lay down their comfort, sacrifice their freedom and discipline their minds and hearts to serve their communities, families and the world we live in.

Women who can both lead and follow.

Women who will travel across the globe to invest in developing careers for women living in poverty, to dedicate their lives to raising the next generation, to empower their husbands and sons with strength and integrity that only a woman can inspire in a man.

I am pro life because I believe life begins at conception and that God is the author and keeper of each new life.

I am pro life because I believe each new life is carefully crafted in the image of God, and therefore every life matters and that every life deserves to be protected.

I realize I have painted this picture very black and white. I know there is unimaginable pain, trauma and so many complicated layers to this issue. Probably some of you have been triggered very painfully by this post, and for that I am so sorry.

The pro choice movement would lead us to believe that a woman’s choice to abort brings freedom, healing and empowerment to women caught in impossible situations.

However, they leave out the reality that abortion accepts sacrificing the life of an unborn child is necessary and acceptable. The ramifications and ripple effects of that declaration are devastating.

The pro choice movement also fails to acknowledge the incredible physical, psychological and emotional trauma women experience post abortion. Abortion rarely improves a woman’s difficult situation, but instead adds another toxic layer of grief and loss. It emphasizes the results of trauma as a problem versus the trauma itself.

I don’t join protests, tout political jargon or support all the people, movements or bills that are passed under the name of pro life.

But I am pro life and I choose to stand firmly by the truth that life begins at conception and that every life has value.

~AF

“For You formed my inward parts; you covered me in my mother’s womb.
I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Marvelous are Your works,
And that my soul knows very well.
My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.
Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed.
And in Your book they all were written,
The days fashioned for me,
When as yet there were none of them.” -Psalm 139

Mother’s Day

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day.

I’ve been churning it over for a week now, trying to decipher what feelings bubble up in my chest when I think about this day.

I go tuck in each of the five children I call “mine,” pausing over each sleepy face.

I’m not his real mother…and I am so frightfully out of control of his future, even though he looks up at me trustingly with those beautiful blue eyes. I stroke his cheek and smile down at him as he says, “Goodnight, Mommy.” My heart constricts with pain and anxiety as I think about the unknowns rising like a mountain before us. He won’t be seeing his mother tomorrow or likely for a very long time. I hold that truth painfully in my chest as I creep softly from his room.

In my littlest boys’ room, I go to each little toddler bed. My baby has fallen into an exhausted sleep after our busy day and I’ve missed catching him awake. I wonder how many more things I missed today…it feels like there’s just never enough of me to stretch around. This child that I carried and birthed; I want to give him the sun and moon and all the realms beyond but all I can muster up is me, which never feels like enough. I struggle with guilt, wondering at the life I’ve given him even while I watch him laugh and play with his brothers.

The child who will soon be legally mine sighs and reaches for me as I come close. He’s my “hand full and heart full” and we struggled to stay afloat today. I press my cheek against his for an extra second, squeezing my eyes shut and praying God can somehow redeem the brokenness of his life, the feeble attempts that are mine and the friction between us. He gives the tightest squeeze and then pushes me away to grab for his comfort blankie. I would give my life for him, but my patience seems to hard to muster sometimes.

I tip toe downstairs to find my girls who have been scurrying from yard to house to barn all evening with excited grins and warnings not to look. My heart swells under their unconditional love. I soak in their hugs and draw strength from their steady affection. They don’t know how much I rely on them and how many times I pour out gratitude for getting to be their mother. They are growing so fast, and I love watching them flourish. We sent flowers to their first mom today, and chatted on the phone. We all miss her, and I wish we could be together tomorrow. It feels incomplete, somehow.

I sit down and stare at the screen, the house falling into silence around me.

Mothering has been so much more joyful and so much more painful than I ever imagined.

It has filled me with courage and strength and it has crushed me in defeat.

I have cheered on the sidelines, filled with pride and I have fallen on my face sobbing under the weight of it all.

More than anything, I have learned that no matter how my children may come to me, they are not really mine at all.

I keep running face first into the harsh reality that I have very little control over my children’s lives.

I am not enough, and I never will be.

The truth is, it is my own sanctification at work so many times in the hard, the pain, the messy of it all.

It’s humbling to realize that I’m not the teacher, He is. And he uses them; their disobedience, trauma, anxiety, carelessness, chaos, lies. To create in me a new heart, a new spirit, a breathing, living reflection of Himself.

But oh the texture and soul that these small humans bring to my life. How the Father has shown me His love for me through their lives. How He has grown in me a love so beyond my own capacity.

So what do I feel when I think about Mother’s Day?

I feel hopeful…that He who started something new will be faithful to complete and establish it.

I feel grateful…to be surrounded by my little tribe of witnesses who run this race at my side and offer life giving sustenance to my weary bones.

I feel honoured…to be chosen to love for a season or a lifetime; to invest in this next generation in the small ways I can and then to be a witness of the incredible ways He multiplies those feeble offerings.

I think sometimes I have made motherhood my idol, but God continues to bring me back again and again to the Truth of it all. How small I am, how great He is, and how much He delights in this beautiful, daily, messy sanctification.

I would do this all over again.

~AF

Simplifying Childhood

Moving our family to a little falling down farm on the edge of town has been an adventure in so many ways.

This move was birthed out of a myriad of desires, passions and ambitions.

One of those was the desire to give our children the gift of a simplistic childhood.

I grew up on a dairy farm in Wellington County where I spent my summers crawling over straw bales, running barefoot through the yard, nestling fluffy kitten fur up against my cheek, climbing trees, eating apples plucked from our orchard and wading through muddy creeks.

I had no idea how magnificent this childhood experience was or how much texture and depth these experiences added to my life.

I didn’t know that I was learning to take risks as I rode my bike down the barn steps and balanced precariously upon barn top beams, determined to keep up to my older siblings and cousins.

I didn’t know that the wide variety of sensory experiences were contributing to brain development as I felt mud between my toes, rocks beneath my calloused feet and dirt under my hands.

I took for granted the way I could walk out the doors and roam free for hours, with no specific goal or destination in mind, just freedom to be and explore my world as I wished.

Every summer my skin would turn brown beneath the sun’s warmth, my dark hair deepening to hues of auburn and chestnut.

I thought it was normal for children to sit high in the branches of a pine, bare legs swinging, to make forts in the barn loft or catch frogs in the pond.

As I grew and left my childhood behind, I left many of these simple pleasures with it.

Now, I look at my children and I would give anything to be able to give them a taste of the life I once lived. Not only because of my own fond memories but because the more I learn, the more I realize that this kind of environment nurtures healthy, happy children.

Children are meant to be able to learn and explore and fall and laugh. They are meant to experience freedom and follow their curiosity and dig through the layers of a richly textured world.

So how do we do this?

How do we give our children the gift of simplicity, setting them free from the demands of a society who would want to categorize them, sit them down, mold them into tiny adults?

  1. Let them play. They are little for such a short time, and for some reason we feel we need to organize them; sort them into categories, grade their achievements, nudge them toward accuracy and reality. But children have rich, creative minds. They see the world differently. Good and evil stand in stark contrast, and they will recreate this in their play. Every little bug in the dirt or tattered leaf or knobby stick can be studied, delighted in and recognized to be something magnificent. Give your children space to play freely. Do not fill their time or their rooms with too many toys that will entertain them and tell them what they should do and how they should do it. Instead, give them a bucket of plain wooden blocks. Dump out a bin of Lego builders. Leave some paper, crayons, glue and scissors on the table and see what they create. When they bring you their stories and structures and collections, admire them for what they are. Ask them questions and let them decide what they have created, don’t assume or pass judgment.
  2. Give them structure. This may seem contradictory to play, but really it is what makes the play possible at all. Children thrive when they are surrounded by comforting absolutes. Too many variables make children, especially young children, feel vulnerable and unsure therefore discouraging them from following their naturally inquisitive minds because they are too busy worrying about what they might need or miss. Predictable meal times and bed time routines are essential and create a rhythm to your days that wraps them in security and comfort. Knowing what to expect their days will look like, generally of course, helps children to relax inside those parameters and busy themselves with the great work of childhood…play. Children who feel safe can explore and create and learn.
  3. Take them outside. Snow, rain, sun, sleet…let them experience it all. Nature is full of endless entertainment for children. Mud puddles, trees to climb, birds nests, caterpillars, water, ice and dirt. Invest in mud suits, rubber boots, warm clothes and ratty old jeans that you won’t mind getting torn and ripped. Give them shovels, containers, watering cans and buckets. Go for walks both on sidewalks and off; a walk to the park and a hike through the bush can be equally exciting for a child. Let them get messy; let them take risks, even fall down and hurt themselves every now and again. Eat outside, read outside, play outside and even nap outside. Go to the beach, the park, the forest, the farm, the backyard. Build a sandbox, set up a bucket of water or a plastic pool, ride bikes, blow bubbles, go barefoot. All these experiences feed the soul of a child. Not only will this environment be beneficial to their brain health but it will also give them the best chance at being healthy emotionally and spiritually.
  4. Give them rest. This includes physical, emotional and mental rest. Create a solid, dependable, practical bedtime/nap time routine and stick to it. Kids need plenty of sleep. In fact, ironically it seems the more sleep they get the more sleep they need. Tired kids will have a hard time playing or resting well. Try to balance your day with both active and restful activities. For example, an hour or two of outside time might be followed up with some stories on the couch. Playing play dough might precede going to the grocery store or some other outing that is more chaotic. If older kids complain of being bored, don’t become too anxious about filling that space for them. It’s necessary for them to learn how to enjoy their own company and not be afraid of the quiet. Teach them how to be able to sit and look at books, to be still and watch a tiny ant carrying his disproportionate load, to breathe in deeply in and out and feel their muscles relax from head to toe. Surround them with quietness, peace and stillness regularly.
  5. Involve them in responsibilities. Kids love to help when they feel they are wanted and needed. There is nothing that can replace the pride of knowing you have done a job well. Provide plenty of opportunities to work both alongside you and independently. Participating in family chores fosters responsibility, healthy self image and gratitude. Teach them to cook and do laundry. Don’t shy away when they sigh at being told once again to unload the dishwasher or help set the table. Praise them for jobs well done and send them back to redo jobs done haphazardly. Will they thank you down the road? Probably not. But that is beside the point. They are learning they are a part of something. They are seeing the real life in front of them and will start to notice what others around them are doing. You will know you are on your way when they thank you for doing their laundry, unloading the dishwasher or picking up their scattered shoes.                    

Children need so much from us, and yet so little. They require huge quantities of our emotional and physical presence with them but they require so few resources to truly grow and thrive.

We cannot travel the world today and give their little eyes the sights of the Great Wall of China, the Eiffel Tower, the Grand Canyon and and Cliffs of Moher…but we can go outside and see the birds and feel the mud under our rubber boots and watch our chickens peck away at the rinds of a cantaloupe.

We cannot afford private music lessons to entice their musical little minds toward Mozart greatness, but we can turn on some nursery rhymes and beat to the rhythm on our homemade drums.

My preschoolers are at home with me. They do not play in sensory buckets every day, practice lining up at the door, learn rhymes and riddles for every activity or get exposure to early learning curriculum….but I can let them help me bake muffins, teach them how to zip their jackets, sit on the floor and build towers of blocks with them or read them story after story.

Reminding my mother heart of these time-proven child raising truths has helped me to refocus my parenting on what is most important. When I fall into despair because I cannot possibly do it all, I can come back to this and remind myself of what I can do today that is valuable.

-AF

Why Reunification Matters

It’s what everyone wants to know.

Where is his family?

Why is she in foster care?

Doesn’t anyone love them?

How could a mother or father abandon their child?

I can see it in their eyes.

Pity, judgment and confusion.

“They’re better off with you,” they say.

“I don’t understand how a mother could do that.”

“Doesn’t that scare you?”

I wish I could show them the other side of the story.

I wish I could describe to them the struggles of growing up surrounded by addiction, poverty and domestic violence.

I wish I could capture the joy on my foster child’s face as they run into the open arms of their mommy.

I wish I could show them how he cries every time he has to say goodbye to his Daddy, and the way his daddy has to turn away blinking back his own tears as we walk out the door.

I wish I could show you the bags and bags of clothing Mom has given me or the toys Dad brings…their desperate attempt to try to fix things.

I wish I could show you the pain I see in their eyes and the longing for some understanding.

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The amazing thing about love is that it thrives even in the most unlikely environments.  Even surrounded by chaos, it takes root deep within hearts.  When yanked up, it bleeds out pain and raw anger at the injustice of it all.

You would be surprised to know that most parents of foster kids are a lot like you and I.  Moms and Dads who love their kids.

Sometimes love is not enough.

Love isn’t always enough to conquer addictions and poverty.

Love isn’t always enough to change the trajectory passed down through generations of abuse and loss.

Love isn’t always enough to heal the wounds of abandonment and rejection.

So much grace is needed to see past the behaviours to the cause.

For a parent who is at the end of their rope, social support programs are sometimes enough to pull the pieces together.

If  you know you are out of options, you will be willing to try almost anything.

But it takes a lot of courage to accept that someone else might know how to raise your children better than you.

It takes a lot of discipline to tear apart the fabric of your life and try to implement completely foreign patterns and habits into it.

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I don’t know many parents who would react well to being told:

“You don’t know what is best for your child.”

“You need help raising your child.”

“You need to change major things about your life to be allowed to continue raising your child.”

“You need to move.”

“You need to break up with your partner.”

“You need to attend support groups once a week.”

We ask big things of these parents.

And we are right to…but it doesn’t make it easy and it’s important that we understand what we are asking.

From their perspective, they often feel someone is trying to rip apart their family and ruin their lives.

It’s hard not to feel attacked and lash back in destructive ways.

But under all that, most of these parents love their kids desperately and just need some support to pull together the pieces of a life that has disappointed, wounded, ensnared and deceived.

We often make the mistake of setting unreasonable goals for these parents.

We want instant results.

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But real progress usually happens over time, with lots of support, plenty of chances and grace.

Sometimes the children will suffer during the interim…as they wait for their parents to become healthy enough to parent…and this feels unfair.

But I’m beginning to see that it’s so important that we don’t rush things.

At the end of this story, I want to be able to look that child in the eye and tell them I did everything I could to help salvage their family.

It’s so important that we, the foster parents, are the ones there to offer grace and let these moms and dads know that someone is in their corner.

I am still working at becoming this kind of foster parent.

They are often intimidated, frightened and bitter when they meet us…so it’s a big shift to show them that we are not the enemy.

But if we can…

Well…we might just be able to be the babysitter they call when that little one returns home.

We might just be that friend they text, send photos and vent to on a difficult day.

We might just be that ongoing support that every parent needs through the long days of parenting.

We might just get beach days and walks and playdates at the park.

We might never hear from them again, except to watch them grow from afar on social media, their eyes alight with happiness through the camera lens…

and in that moment…

even when it’s obvious that not all is perfect…

we will know it is right and good.

God came up with this perfect design and called it a family.

The blood bonds that run through our veins are powerful and precious and should be fought for fiercely!

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I know that it doesn’t always work.

And I know that it’s a bloody, awful mess in the process.

But if it works…

well…

if it works…

we have just done something extraordinarily beautiful.

It’s called redemption.

~AF

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