Word of the Year(s)

Each new year brings new goals and new resolutions. Promises made to yourself of this year being the year you stick to a weight loss plan or pay off all your debt. Determination to read a new book each and every month, to wake up before the sun (or with the sun - depending on the time of year) and sip coffee while spending time in silence.

I've made so many resolutions and never kept them. It's easy to start a new year out with promise, but it's harder to stick to those promises. In 2015, I stopped making resolutions, and I started assigning a word to the year.

My word for 2015 was
We were deep into foster care, and we were living in uncertainty. Uncertainty and I have never really gotten along, and I wanted to run. I chose to stay. To me, abide meant to sit and wait. Abide called me to breath deeply and to be patient. Abide reminded me to stay as present as I could and to enjoy what our life looked like then.

So I did just that. I sat. I studied. I played with littles. I welcomed their biological mother into our home. I attended court dates and meetings. I offered help. When August 2015 came, I started to look for a new job. I had once thought that abide meant I needed to stay where I was - in my house and in my job and in that life - for the whole year. But what abide meant (for me) was that I needed to go where I was led and not hold tightly to what I thought my life needed to be.

It all happened so quickly - interviewing for a job and visiting Oregon. Then accepting the job and moving, all while saying goodbye to the littles.

My word for 2016 was
In the beginning of the year, I was raw and split wide open from the loss of the littles and also the gain of a new life in Oregon. I left friends and relationships in Oklahoma uncertain of what friendship and life would be like in Oregon. I said yes to offers of dinner at strangers turned into friends houses.

I cried so many tears. I sweated so much. I realized that I couldn't just power through any sort of loss. I relearned the power that food has over me, and I opened my hands and my heart. I fought through the desire to have everything picture perfect at all times. I focused on what I could - the changes I could make and the changes I could not. I stepped out into love - offering my support to friends who were adopting. 

I became the friend I had during some of the lonely times of fostering and the friend I had always wanted to have. I put away my blog and stuck to Instagram. I stopped tweeting and started living. I listened to countless books on tape and considered my life story (so far) and how I wanted the next year to look.

I said yes to trips with friends and trips alone. I said yes to cooking. I said yes to so many things, and I realized how much life better is when you say yes instead of no.

2016 led me to deeper relationships and community. Vulnerability saw me through marriage difficulties and provided me friends who are family. Vulnerability welcomed me into a place of being more known by others and of knowing myself more.

My word for 2017 is
There is so much of the world to see. There is so much life to be lived. I won't be able to experience it all or see it all in one year, but I want to start the process of learning about the world, it's places and it's people. I want to be open to the lessons that are out thre.

Discovering is not just about finding new places; discovery happens when you revisit places you've known before and forgotten. Discovery happens when you happen upon places you know well but with an openness of learning something else.

Discovery happens in the kitchen as I learn new recipes. It happens as I drink more water and feel the change in how I see and feel and move. Discovery happens in the gym as I run a faster mile or further on the elliptical than I have before. Discovery happens when I increase my weights and watch as new muscles take shape.

Discovery happens as I grow closer with friends and family. Discovery happens as my husband and I create more memories and come up with new goals for this year and years to come. Discovery happens as I learn more about myself and who I want to be.

I'm not sure where discovery will lead me in 2017, but I am excited to find out.


The Stifling, The Letting Go, and The Moving Forward

Just over a year ago, we experienced a loss. In many ways, we knew the loss was coming. We controlled the date that it happened and how it happened. We controlled it because it was already so ambiguous that I simply could not handle any additional unknowns.

I remember the day clearly. It was a Thursday. We were late in getting up and out the door. Usually, I would have been in a tailspin for that reason, but I wasn't then because I knew what was coming. It sounds ominous - maybe more ominous than it is.

We went out for donuts. My husband, me and the three littles we loved and stressed over and cared for and nursed back to health for two years. They really didn't know what was happening. We had talked about it some, of course, but it's hard to explain what the change means to three littles who can't quite understand concepts of time and space.

We splurged on extra sugar for the donuts. And then we watched as their faces got messy. We wiped down their chins and their hands for the last time, and we drove them to daycare. We had decided, along with their biological mom, that we would keep the day as normal as possible. They would go to the daycare they had attended for two years, and she would pick them up from there and then take them to her house. This had happened before. It wouldn't be a shock to the system.

The hardest part of the day was leaving the daycare knowing we would not be back, knowing we would no longer be the people they called if the littles were sick. Walking through the main office and back to our cars, I watched the drawn faces and the quivering lips of the people who had known, loved, and taught the littles for two years. They didn't quite understand why this was happening, and as overwhelmed and unsure as we were, we didn't know how to explain.

Additionally, in so many ways, it wasn't our story to tell. It still isn't. Our story involves two years of love and laughter and struggle and uncertainty. Our story does not involve the choices the state made or the biological parents made. It's taken me 14 months to understand and accept that.

the stiffling
I left for Colorado on a planned trip quickly after we said goodbye. But before I left, I sent an email to the littles worker and his supervisor as well as our foster care certifier and supervisor. I wrote incredibly difficult words with tears streaming down my face. I let them know that we were "done" and that the littles could not come back to our house after the weekend. I did this to control how the loss happened. I did this so that we could prepare for our next move. I did this so that the littles biological mother would have closure and certainty that her children were home. I did this because, until I sent that email, there was no certainty on when trial reunification would happen. I did this because, until I sent that email, there was every intention that the littles would come back and live in our home until I left to move to Oregon.

This was such a lonely time for me and for my husband. We both deal with grief so differently, and I wasn't able to be there for him in the way he needed me to be. And he wasn't quite ready to move forward and jump feet first into a new life and new reality, one that was absent of three littles who called me "mom" and called him "dad."

Over the past 14 months, we've discovered a new life. There are moments we miss them - so many moments, and there are moments where we realize our life likely would not look as it does now if they were still here. This isn't to say we minimize the impact they had in our life or minimize our ability to do things with them, but realistically, so much of what we have now would not be possible or feasible if we had three small children to care for.

When they first left, I hoped for text messages from their biological mother. Those were a reminder that we still mattered and that the littles were okay. They allowed me to breathe. I also searched Facebook for pictures and any sort of update - just wanting to know they were okay and healthy and happy. Then there were times when I received calls from pharmacies in Oklahoma letting me know that their prescriptions were ready to pick up. Those calls broke my heart. I had so hoped that maybe, just maybe, their parents had been right. Maybe they wouldn't get sick once they returned home and lived in a house without dogs. But they did get sick, and I often knew.

I reached out to their biological mother and to the caseworker asking that my number be taken off as the number to call or text about a prescription. And it was - I think.

Walking through this ambiguous grief has been just as difficult for those who love us. Maybe it has been even more difficult. How do you comfort someone who lost something that was never really theirs to keep? Foster care is always intended to be temporary. The hope is always for children to be able to return home safely. It doesn't always happen that way, of course, but that is the intention. Intention or not, saying goodbye isn't easy. And truly, if you pursue foster care the way you are supposed to, your heart will break when you say goodbye.

Love isn't fleeting. Love is messy and changes you and hurts when it leaves. And as much as I wasn't a perfect foster parent, as much as I think of all the things I did wrong, I know that I loved those three as well as I could and as hard as I could and with as much strength as I could.

the letting go
It took me several months to come out of a fog. While I pushed forward and ignored any thoughts of the littles, I couldn't fully make the leap. Work went well - as well as it can when you are a social worker. I found friends. I started to make a new life. My husband joined me two months after I moved, and we started the process of figuring out who we were individually and as a couple now that we were no longer parents.

The journey since our ambiguous loss has been a hard one. I can only truly speak to what it has been like for me. I can only truly speak to what I have learned and how I have changed. And I can say that I still have so long to go but that, for the first time in years, I am okay with that.

When we were fostering, I felt as though I were drowning. In August 2015, just two months before we said goodbye and 22 months after we first said hello, I was able to put to words the sensation of drowning.
I equate foster care with drowning. Any sort of life and help you get... You cling to. And sometimes you get greedy with wanting more because you are fighting for your life. When you are fighting for your life, you can't be bothered to think about much beyond surviving.

This has been reverberating through my head. As we have journeyed through foster care, lifesavers have been cast at us and hands have stretched out, but we haven't always recognized it or been able to reach back out because of the current and seaweed pulling us back into the ocean.

I don't think the sensation of drowning ever goes away - even once there seems to be stability.

There is also always the sense of possible loss looming. How do you prepare to grieve or actually walk through the stages of grief when you signed up for this knowing goodbye was likely? It's not cut and dry. It's just another way to drown.

But Jesus walked on water. He reached his hand out to Peter when Peter sank from disbelief. He does the same for those who foster. He's calmed the waters some for me and has taken the anger away, replacing it with sadness. Anger is easier... I can use it as a shield. But sadness gets to the root of my heart and allows me to feel.

I feel the constriction of lungs and the seaweed gripping my ankles as I fight against the current and stormy seas of foster care. But I also feel Jesus reaching out and holding me steady (once I stop fighting him) and teaching me how to float and how to swim again.

Foster care changes you. The change will stick, and you'll never be the same. That's what happens when you come face-to-face with darkness and light, when you catapult out of the safety of the boat and into the torrents of humanity.
(originally posted on Facebook.)
For many reasons, I wish I had shared this sensation of drowning sooner. I wonder what life would have been like if I had been able to articulate how difficult it all was instead of my words sounding as though I constantly needed and asked for more. Fostering was such a lonely season. We lost so many friends; at least, it felt as though we lost so many friends. It's possible that I pushed them away. Whatever the case, I learned something so important about myself. I realized I was stifling myself and alienating others. I recognized that this needed to change and that only I could change it.

the moving forward
I've been working on that for the past 14 months. It's a slow process - this changing and morphing into the person you want to be while forgiving yourself and others for past hurts. It's a process that's not quite done, a process that will continue for the rest of my life, a process that I have to constantly recommit to.

My life now is one in which I am learning to slow down. I am working to pry my fingers away from this sense of perfection. I am reminding myself of how important it is to struggle and that making mistakes is just as important as finding success. I am finding that I am better able to find God in the mess and the muck than I am in the perception that everyone else's life is perfect and mine can't quite measure up.

For the past year, I've stepped away from writing. I've dabbled some in posting musings on Instagram and in writing a few pages to my novel, but mostly, I have focused on other things. Rather than rushing, I have allowed myself to marinate in the beauty of life in the Pacific Northwest and in the importance of just living life in the moment versus feeling as though every bit has to be chronicled for the world to see. There's no longer this need to show everyone just how well or not well I am doing. Instead, there's perspective and growth.

As I look forward to 2017, I do so with open hands. 2016 came and I grabbed a hold of it, determined to make it fit what I thought I needed in order to get over the loss I experienced in 2015. 2017 is a reminder that sometimes the worst things in life bring the most beauty. Grief is stiffling, but the life that comes after the loss is often filled with more air and light than you ever could have imagined.


see you later...

In the future, I may return to blogging, but for now, you can find me on Facebook and Instagram.

This space served such a wonderful purpose for so long. And for that, I am grateful. I may take down specific posts in the future as some of it is no longer reflective of who I am. I don't want to forget where I came from or what I walked through, but I also want to be fair and honest in how life is portrayed.


Love, Grace, and Dislike for Foster Care

I lived in the same house for nearly 15 years. Rather, my stuff lived in the same house for nearly 15 years while I made dorm rooms and apartments and summer camp cabins my home. (In an effort of true transparency, much of my stuff still lives with my parents but in a different house; I don’t want them to throw any of it away, but it won’t fit with all my new adult years stuff.)

When my parents put my childhood/teenager home on the market, my closet door was covered with bumper stickers because, at the time, that was the thing. I remember there were also a lot of Journey stickers because that was also a thing. One of the stickers read “I’m not opinionated; I’m just always right.”

I knew everything back then as a teenager and then as an early 20something. And I made sure that everyone around me also knew that I knew everything. I was absolutely lovely.

It’s easy for me to say that was just a phase, but again, in an effort of full transparency, I am still very much this person when it comes to certain things. Most of those things have to do with social work and foster care, but this personality trait of mine also lends itself to my marriage and relationships. I am working on it because this trait isn’t quite as lovely as I once considered it to be (while everyone else held on tightly and hoped the phase would pass swiftly… So sorry this is who I am).

I don’t want to be a foster parent. Even though I clearly know everything about parenting and foster care (because CLEARLY). But really I sort of despise being a foster parent. It’s not that I dislike caring for the children or providing for their needs. This does occasionally get old, especially when I am trying to go to the bathroom or study and there is a never-ending, always off key chorus singing songs from “Frozen” or ones made up. Also? They never do this for my husband, but he is able to laugh and enjoy this torture done to me. It is simply not fair.

My issue with foster care is the system. I mean this as a whole and the smaller pieces involved.  It is against every fiber of my being to allow others to make decisions for me or mine. And when you foster, eventually the children feel like they are yours. It’s not that you want to sever any ties with the family that birthed them but more than you want to fight passionately and completely for only good things to come across these little lives.

I say little lives, and in the numeric age of the children, they are often little. But the experiences… So many of these “little people” have lived more lives than any of us could ever imagine living or wanting to live. Some have gone hungry for days, learned to cook before they could dress themselves, and cared for siblings that are just barely younger than they are. Then there is never-ending change, relationships lost, frustration and anger they have no verbal way to express, and the expectation from so many that they act like regular kids.

And the system doesn’t help this. If you know me at all, you know I can rant with the best of them about this system. I have plenty of ideas on how to fix it but some of those ideas simply are not appropriate for a public forum. (I was once told by a supervisor that I should never be allowed to speak to the press because of some of these ideas. I have, thankfully, gotten better at keeping some of these thoughts to myself. You’re welcome.)

Children were never meant to live these sorts of lives. And I don’t just mean the children currently in foster care but also the ones who exited foster care, had babies, and then watched as the system that hurt them swallowed up the little ones they had thought they could love enough to fix some of their broken places.

The system is not something that should exist. It shouldn’t have to. Though I am grateful it does because every child deserves the opportunity to live in a safe home and to know they are loved. Did you know that animal welfare came before child welfare? So many human lives that were seen as less important while animals were protected. Bless it all.

The system now hopes to protect, but the lines on this are so blurred. How do you know what is best for a child? Is it okay to remove constitutional rights from people by also removing their children and then deciding they are never allowed to parent again. It is just so weighty.

We aren’t called to judge. Only God can do that, really. But with foster care, there are court hearings and a judge presiding. There are overworked and underpaid attorneys and case workers. Many who specialize in the field of social work have left child welfare due to the system and the disgustingly low pay; instead, many states now employ anyone with a bachelor’s degree. I know because I was this person, and looking back now, I do not know how or why I got the job. This simply should not be the case. Knowing what I know now (thanks USC for making me a bit more of a know it all about foster care), I see that it is essential for those with a background in social work to be in this field and no one else. The things at stake are too precious and consuming for anything less.

I am grateful Jesus was present when I was a recent college grad with little knowledge of poverty or struggle. I also am keenly aware that God is good, and that those experiences have reignited this passion for foster care and the forgotten fatherless that is in my belly, heart and mind.

There’s so much talk of fatherlessness but so little action. I think that no one really knows where to start. I also think that, often times, people are afraid of the system in place and don’t want to anger anyone at the top. I’ve tried to do this, but since I have this personality trait of feeling I am always right, I have pushed the envelope professionally and such. I am so grateful God is good and seems to have a hand of protection over me, even though I am sure I cause him some headaches and lots of mutterings about “what is this daughter of mine thinking?”. I’m comfortable with that that…. I think.

Additionally, I think fatherlessness and poverty on American soil is easy to forget. We forget that these stories exist around us. We push them out of our mind. We stay in our bubbles and protect ourselves. We go on missions overseas to paint orphanages and play with children, but we don’t volunteer at the local shelters or purchase new linens or mattresses for the worn out beds. By no means do I want to elicit shame on anyone. I am just as guilty. I walked away from child welfare and the grueling work. I talked about things but didn’t honor anyone with the way I spent my time. I am in need of these reminders as much as anyone else.

So, yes, like I said I don’t want to be a foster parent. I am so tired of having to ask permission or so many things. I am exhausted from waiting on other people. And I really hate that there is no definitive plan to my life, that I can’t control or anticipate anything. I think God probably loves this because it is forcing me to run to Him and forcing me to trust Him since I can’t seem to navigate things the way I feel they should go.

I want nothing to do with this side of life. It would be easy to just move on, but I would never be able to forget. I wrestle with this daily and if I can even go one more day as a foster parent. Ask my friends and my husband. They know. They get the texts and the sobbing in the bathroom phone calls.

Of course, I don’t want to admit that I hate foster care. I don’t want this frustration to translate to any families. It is solely reserved for the system. I also feel quite guilty that I can’t be this adorable, ever affirming foster mother but instead fall into the category of “spicy with a side of salty” in how I operate. I also struggle when I am told how “amazing” I am because I feel like I am living this lie and double life as there is a war waging inside of me daily.

But I also believe it essential to admit my frustrations so they don’t fester and splatter, burning whoever is standing too close to the boiling anger I often have. Because my frustration with the system should not harm anyone walking life out with me. And because others need to know hos frustrating the system is. Those in the system need to know it is okay to be angry and to fight for something better.
I used to think everyone should foster. There is enough need for it after all. I completely retract that. This stuff is FREAKING HARD. And not all of us should do it. I daily wonder if I am even remotely cut out for it.

But we can all serve. We all have to step into it somehow to alter the system. The system has to change before any additional damage is done to the lives of parents and children and case workers and all those other people who somehow find themselves in the world of foster care.

Jesus never wanted systems to rule. He wanted people and love and grace. All those things should be a part of the system and humanize it in such a way that loving and lasting changes happen. If we can strengthen this generation, the next generations will be better off.

I may not be right about how to fix it all. (That was so hard for me to write.) Or right about my specific place in it all. And I get all too riled up and beyond with the system and the impact it has on my life. (Did I mention I am bent towards selfishness? Because I so am.)

Something has to change. I have considered this for so long. I have hidden from it. Chewed and wrestled with it. Cried out to God about it. Gone to the church about it. Waited for someone else to fix it. Begged for help. And still so little happens. 
Click above watch Remember My Story (Removed Part Two)
I want to try being less right and more open. I want to let go and open my hands up to Jesus. I want to see the world change so that foster care doesn’t have to exist. I want children to have full bellies and whole brains and mended hearts. I want all of this because it is essential to the world and because it is what every person and child should have.

I’m not lovely or meek when it comes to this all. I am a snotty and crying mess that tends to mimic the roars of a lion versus the baa’s of a lamb. I am never going to be lovely or meek; just ask my husband as he often (rightfully) blames my tendencies for any grey hairs poking through. But I am firm in my belief and resignation and desire to see real, true change take this world by storm.


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