In the Middle of the Storm

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There is a lone sunflower plant in our compost bin. It was planted in a pot and placed just outside our back door, but with all of the random pots and containers with plants and trees sitting around crowding the grill and smoker, Jason just picked up the sunflower pot and set it in the compost pile to get it away from everything else. And there it stands. Alone.

About the time the bud began to open to the light, we were placed with two foster children: a five year-old boy and a three month-old baby girl. We’ll call them Jack and Jill. Our family had been waiting for this moment to welcome the children into our home. Our kids were excited, Jason and I were giddy.

But excitement wears off quickly when life becomes difficult. In the welcoming of foster children we were not welcoming a fairy tale of acceptance and easy-going attachment. We were opening ourselves up to all of the pain and brokenness that these children carried with them.

Fear. Rage. Defiance. Medical Issues. Sensory Issues. Hygiene Issues. Day in and day out these things began to wear on all of us.

What is even more revealing is what fostering continues to show us about ourselves. We were putting ourselves in a position where these stormy days uncovered the lack of love in our own hearts.  In mine and Jason’s. And in my children’s.

On the third night that Jack and Jill were with us Jason was working his regular shift at the station, so it was up to me to put everyone to bed by myself.

“Are you going to protect me?” Jack asked me.

He had asked me this same question four times already and every time I had promised that I would.

“Will you tell God that I’m scared?” he said.

I would start to pray and then he would interrupt again with another thing to add.

“Will you tell God that I miss my mama?”

“Dear God, Jack misses his mama.”

And then he began to cry for her.

“Oh Father wrap your arms around Jack right now.”

Between sobs Jack added, “Will you tell God to wrap his arms around me for this many days?” And he held up ten fingers.

And of course I prayed. With a broken heart. But the bedtime routine went on for a long time. And I had four other children to put to sleep and they all needed me. And they couldn’t understand why Jack didn’t just go to sleep. And I was getting weary.

So I backed out of his room again promising for the fifth time that I would leave the door open and the bathroom light on and yes, in the morning I would give him something to eat. I tried to say goodnight to my boys, but Jack kept getting out of bed or screaming in fear that I hardly spent any time in my sons’ room for having to take Jack back to his bed so many times. By the time I made it to Addie’s room, Jack had miraculously fallen asleep on his bed, but I could tell that my daughter was troubled.

“Mommy, I’ve never felt like this before,” she began, she looked as if she were about to cry and I thought she was going to say something entirely different than what she said to me. “I want to just run into Jesus’ arms and let him hug me.”

Her words hit me deep and I breathed them in. Yes. Me too. I pulled her close and wept into her hair.

A week later the kids watched the backyard flood with water as the sky rained down. Jack was the one to notice the sunflower, as he had taken quite a liking to the bright yellow flower in the middle of the brown.

“Look! The flower is dancing!” he called out and all the kids pressed their faces in the glass to see the wild dance of the sunflower in the storm. My heart sank as I had grown attached to the flower myself. This storm would surely kill it.

But the next day the flower held its golden head high towards the heavens. It looked bigger  than ever. The storm had not killed it.

It’s been four weeks since Jack and Jill have come to live with us for a time. It feels like it has been one storm after another. Some days I think that I can’t go on. I am exhausted from sleep deprivation and constant trials. My children struggle to accept this new life and I am burdened for them. It feels like war every day. A fight to love. For all of us.

Just about every time I get in the car and turn the radio on I hear that David Crowder song in which Jesus continues to sing over me , “I am holding onto you, I am holding onto you. In the middle of the storm, I’m holding on. I AM.”

He’s got me. He’s got my children. He’s got my foster children. And this storm is not going to kill us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fostering a Ready Heart

We had gone away to the Piney Woods for the weekend. To a charming cabin among the pines and the oaks, with the dogwoods shimmering their silver, white blossoms amid the Spring green.

We met up with our best friends, Ken and Britt, and their precious boys. And we met two other families we had never met before, one of which opened up their parents’ cabin to us and all of our children.

And the children had the most fun, I think.  Nine kids ages three through nine (and one tiny baby) and all the dirt and woods to discover, a fire to be continually provoked, golf carts to be driven, and other such toys.

The last night, after the kids had all quickly fallen asleep in sleeping bags strewn throughout the floor of the game room, the adults huddled together on the outside deck. It was chilly and lightning flashed far from the cabin, lighting up the darkness of the woods. Coyotes called to one another mournfully. We passed around dried figs, while the men smoked pipes and we eased comfortably into conversation. Strangers becoming friends.

We began to talk about the orphan. One family had adopted from Ethiopia, another family had spent time working with troubled children who lived in group homes, another family had fostered and then adopted their son. It was when this family began talking about their son that my heart began to ache.

The mother talked about how adoption is not God’s Plan A. She talked about how difficult it was and is for their son to come to realize that he did not grow in her tummy as her other children did.  She talked about how the adopted child grieves for the loss of his mother and father, no matter what age he is when he is adopted.

I sat there in the darkness, right up next to Jason, and I wept soundlessly.

You see, we are so close to receiving our fostering certification. It seems it has taken us forever to get to this point, but we are awaiting the final home study walk through of our home. It has been seven years, this Spring, that I went to my first adoption conference and felt the tug on my heart to adoption. Seven years, another child, a career change for my husband, a move to a different city, living with in-laws, paramedic school, moving into our home, homeschooling, and watching God change my children’s hearts to embrace the orphan. God’s timing is important and He has been preparing us all along for this next chapter in our lives. And we are almost there!

But throughout the excitement of being so close, I am constantly sobered by the reality of what fostering entails. We have been blessed to know many people in our church and community who have fostered and adopted and as they share their stories with us, the truth is: IT’S HARD!!! On so many levels. The stress of adding another person or two to the family dynamic is immense, and then there is the exhaustion of caring for the needs, the spiritual warfare of dealing with children who have been deeply wounded, the grief of these children, and on and on and on. No. I do not expect it to be a walk in the park on a sunny day. I expect pain and frustration and problems.

But I also expect God’s presence. And His leading. His strength. His provision.

Just this morning I was reading a biography with the kids about George Muller, the missionary to Bristol, England who is known for his incredible dependence on God to meet his needs and the needs of the orphans in his care. I read about when George first introduced to his church his vision of starting an orphanage and choosing to completely depend on God for everything they would need. I read how many people scoffed at the idea, how this just wasn’t done in England. But it was when I began to read about those who supported George and how they began to offer their service and their possessions and their money, that I started weeping again (and this time not very quietly) that I had to pass the book off to Jason so he could finish the chapter and I could blubber away.

It was like God was telling me that we will not be alone in this fostering endeavor. Though it will be difficult, there will be support. And the support will come in different and unexpected ways.

On the day that we left the cabin in the woods, Jason went out in the rain on a four-wheeler to get some clippings of plants to try to root them when he got home. He cut wild grape vines and blackberry vines and other things because that’s what he likes to do. On my kitchen table I have the white dogwood flowers in a glass that Jason cut from a tree in the woods. They remind me that Spring comes after Winter.

I do not enter this road to fostering with blind eyes to the pain that it will bring. But at the same time I do not walk without hope. For who knows, but that Spring may come to a child who has experienced more grief than I may ever know.