I find it very ironic that we are almost to our court date for our foster buddy in the middle of hurricane season.
I watched the reports of the impending storms, first with surprise and mild amusement, gradually turning to shock and gravity that moved me to purchase supplies like batteries, candles, bottled water and non-perishable foods. The text messages flew back and forth between my Northern mother and sisters to me, teasing and begging me to pack up with such a good reason for a visit. All the while I never stopped keeping watch on the weather screen, and I never stopped praying.
So it is with foster care and court dates.
There is a child in my home who arrived on my doorstep eleven months ago tomorrow. We call it “Gotcha Day,” a term among the foster community that marks the day your child came into your home. We celebrate that day like a birthday or other big holiday, using that timestamp as a reference to earmark the hurdles that have been overcome, the memories you have made… and inside my mind, I am marveling at the person *I* have become since having “caught” this child and begun walking this path through the unknown.
Eleven months is a long time to have a child in your home, biological or otherwise. They grow and change so quickly, and if you blink, the moment of time has passed and all you have left is the memory if you were lucky enough to be present when it happened.
To watch this child grow in this time has been the greatest challenge and privilege I have ever experienced in my life; more challenging than raising five kids and owning several businesses while living six hundred miles away from all our family and everything we ever knew while growing up. I thought I had it all in the bag and was killin’ it at my max capacity there. I had found a balance that I could live with, peace in the middle of the chaos of life, and was ready to call it good. Enter foster buddy, and hold on to your hats; it was destined to be a wild ride…
In this time, we have gone through so many things together, both me and him, and our entire family and him. When we talk about family memories from the past, it is often hard to differentiate if he was there or not. In so many ways, it seems like he always has been. His humor has become like ours, his speech has become like ours, his expressions of love and kindness have begun to match ours, and his love for life and being part of something greater than himself has grown in his heart and mirrors that part of us. On the flip side of it all, the tantrums are beginning to fade, the screaming is turning into using our words, and signs of affection and true tears expressing real emotion are peeking through and even overriding the violent tendencies that shocked and rocked my world these eleven months ago.
Just like a hurricane.
When you are living through a storm, you hope and pray that you have the right supplies for every potential disaster. As a mom, you analyze every angle of the crises, imagining each person in your care, how the storm will affect them, and what you can do to help ease the pain of the potential conflict. I laid in bed awake for hours in the days before the impending horrible Hurricane Florence, imagining worst case scenarios for my family, willing myself to remember foster buddy’s treasured Minion blanket should we have to evacuate, knowing he has never slept a night without it since he has been in care, and dear God, do not forget his melatonin gummies, or we will all surely die of misery. (I’m certain that is a real thing.)
The crazy cycle of gearing up for the storm continues. It would never end if not for God’s grace and the wisdom to know when to lay it all down. You could spend thousands of dollars at Lowe’s and Walmart, and countless hours constructing shelter safety and evacuation plans. And some of that is absolutely necessary and important.
I have spent countless hours in communication with our case workers, family members, counselors and therapists in preparation for this court case. I have taken notes and sent emails and put in blood, sweat and tears waiting for this appointed day. The cost is unable to be documented, nor do I want to know. Job? What job? My work schedule had become so sporadic and undependable our team graciously turned to sending emails and stopped making phone calls. When I would get to work and ask if there was anything urgent before I got started, they would gently remind me of my inbox and let me know the deadline before I looked it up. Once I put the pieces together of what I had not done and how it was directly affecting their daily lives, I would find them and apologize profusely, only to get a kind smile as they brushed it off as no big deal.
It was a big deal. The way every person in my life was showing understanding and compassion was a big deal. Because when I was sitting on that cold, hard bench in the court room, listening to painful testimony of a broken family, I needed to know there was a greater mercy outside those doors once I walked out of there. The way my office girls covered for me at the office, having watched me just sit down to my desk to tackle one of those projects weighing me down, only to receive a phone call from the in home counselor and need to be excused to hear her latest insight. Or the times they offered to pick up food for me so I could work through lunch at my desk because DSS was coming for a home visit that afternoon and I would have to leave early.
It was hard to know which part of the storm we were in: the winds picked up and the rain started down, and we just kept doing what we needed to do. When it was ferocious and loud and scary, we hunkered down and gathered our kids and just kept praying and loving on them. I don’t remember an exact eye of the storm if you asked me to name it right now, but there were windows of grace when we needed it, where funny moments and laughter broke through to our new normal and reminded us that there can be joy in the storm… there should be joy in the storm… we just need to have the courage to look up.
When I look up, it makes me pay attention to something other than my immediate circumstances. It makes me listen. I asked the Lord why it has to hurt so badly to love a child that is not your own because you may have to give them back someday. He reminded me that even the children he had already given me biologically were not my own; they belonged to Him, and he gave them to me to raise them right, and give them wings to do all He has called them do to. The same goes for this child, as well as any other that come through my door.
My hackles went up when I first heard this reminder, and I opened my mouth to argue with the Lord. Before I could muster an argument, I heard a verse from Job over my own thoughts: The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21)
I don’t know what the future holds for my sweet foster buddy. Honestly, he seems so much my own son that tears spring to my eyes as I write these words. I think of every one of my beautiful children, and my heart is overwhelmed with gratefulness that they have been entrusted to me to teach them, train them, and be the reason for their growth in every way. I realize that I don’t know what the future holds for any of them, or any of us. Not one of us are promised tomorrow. It is all.so.precious.
I do know the God that we serve, and I have gotten so much closer to Him through this season that I would not trade my heartache or loneliness in that journey for any of the precious moments that I have cried out to Him for wisdom, grace and understanding with this child. I never would have had a greater need to cling to Him had it not been the challenge that this new life brought. He met me there, in that time, in that place, and carried me through that journey in ways I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world.
The God that we serve is merciful, kind and good, and remains that way no matter what hurt and pain we may see in this world. If we hang in there by faith long enough, we will see Him redeem our life and situation, and give us double for our trouble. The last chapter of Job is what I hold on to: “…The Lord restored his fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before.” (Job 42:10)
Cleaning up after a storm is exhausting and overwhelming. It can feel hopeless, pointless and even impossible.
But when help arrives on the scene, in whatever form it may take, First Responders, supplies, equipment, finances, food or fellowship, it brings so much more than the actual help it offers: it brings Hope. There is no way to measure Hope. And when Hope comes, and help comes, and we have the promise that what He takes away cannot be measured in what He will replace it with, we can take that deep breath, put that situation in His hands, and know that His plan will work all things together for good, if we just release it to Him knowing it’s a burden we were never meant to carry.
Here’s to hoping that your Hurricane Season is filled with hope, joy and peace, and your aftermath brings new life and love more abundantly.
I’ll keep you posted on mine.