Could Mother’s Day be more complicated?

rock stack

What is it about Mother’s Day that makes it so full of emotional triggers? More than any other holiday, this one always feels especially complicated.

Last year as we waited for our first foster placement to come, I thought I’d feel something different in the coming year. I felt excited about the journey to come, even while the old triggers still gave little zings.

I thought I’d have a sense of arrival, of landing somewhere.

But, nope.

It’s a new year with new life circumstances. But instead of simpler feelings — I just have a deeper bucket of weird and complicated.

There’s deep gratitude. I’ve found myself making lists this week of women who’ve shaped my life at various ages and stages. And it’s not just the obvious — mom and grandmothers. There was the little old lady from across the street who picked me up from school three days a week while I was in 8th grade (and she took me out for icees nearly every time too), and the junior high history teacher who took me under her wing in the year my mother died and for several years afterward. My aunt Victoria taught me how to paint my nails (and I think of her every single time I paint my nails).

There were the church ladies who jumped in after my mom died. I wasn’t particularly a fan at the time, standoffish and awkward. But looking back, I’m touched by their efforts and the way they hung in with me and kept inviting me to things despite my reticence.

The college professor who mentored me and can be credited for J and I making it this long together. After one notable date, she looked at me and said, “You better let that boy know you like him, because he doesn’t know and if you don’t tell him — you’re not going to see him again.” (She was right, and I did. And here J and I are all these years later.)

There’s pride in the many women in my life who are tremendous mothers.

There are the old zingers that don’t go away even with a year of loving babies. Mother’s Day is a reminder of scars; there won’t be biological children, and there’s no simple or “normal” family story for us to celebrate.

I feel the loss of my mom this year in a new way. Maybe I just wonder what she’d be like as a grandma. Likely we’d make each other crazy, but still it’s a question. And I wonder sometimes if kids coming to our home are shortchanged by only having two grandparents. I was so blessed with the abundance of 5 grandparents who nurtured and spoke into my life.

And then there’s a new layer of awkward and complicated that I never imagined: how to navigate Mother’s Day as we think of us and think of first families for kiddos. I’m a foster mom, not actual mom. Temporary.

I’m okay with that narrative. But it gets tricky when people ask me how I’ll celebrate Mother’s Day or how I’m feeling about this day now that we’ve had little ones.

Mostly I feel awkward and would rather not make a big deal of the whole thing. And I don’t want to have to explain all the things and have others say all the reasons I should want to be celebrated or deserve to be celebrated.

Perhaps what I’d like most on Mother’s Day is respite from the expectations and personal questions. I’m too upfront when people ask things, and I don’t know how to simplify the answer to a socially acceptable shorthand because many things are true.

I am happy. I am thankful. I am still grieving — both my mother and a tiny. Meanwhile, I love our life fostering, and it is also very hard (and currently very exhausting).

Mostly I have no idea what I’m doing each day as I parent, and I live one foot in front of the other while praying for a deeper reservoir of grace and mercy than I can muster on my own efforts. God has come through so far, but it usually involves me feeling fragile and smashed open like an egg afterward. Grace and mercy aren’t cheap; they cost us something. Sometimes Jesus asks a bigger sacrifice than I think I have to give.

Most of all, I think I just look forward to Monday, when this day can be put behind me for another year. It’s just a day. I’ll survive it and all the feels it brings.

Anyone else have a deep well of complicated on this day? What’s your story?

Persistence as a guiding star

asphalt dark dawn endless

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Attempting to incorporate our faith practices into the rhythm of daily life, on Epiphany back in January, we adapted an activity from Traci Smith’s Seamless Faith. I purchased thin wooden stars from the craft store, and labeled around 20 of them, each with a different virtue. To make it fancy (since that’s a thing I do), I wrote in gold ink with artsy lettering.

Then, we read Matthew’s account of the magi following a star to find a young Jesus. After reading together, we had the little pick one of the stars out of the basket.

What was chosen: persistence.

J hung the star on our fridge. And we keep coming back to it as we hit bumps and snags in life this year.

Though the activity seems arbitrary, a bit like drawing straws or gambling, what I appreciate is how that persistence star helps us find meaning in life events the past few months. It’s become a guide for noticing the Spirit.

Rather than seeing everything as meaningless, I find myself asking — what does this teach us about persistence? Where can I grow?

Where is the Spirit working in this? Who am I called to be in this situation?

The virtue has been a flashlight — a thin beam of hope lighting a way forward in the dark.

When I felt chewed up and spit back out earlier in January and February, persistence became a way to hang in there in spite of the desire to run away. Persistence meant staying fully present all the way through to the end of a story, even when I’d rather rip off the band-aid early and be done with the nerve-wracking wondering and anticipation.

And it’s not that somehow I mustered up this capability through my own willpower. It’s the work of the Spirit, who somehow makes a way when there was none. Somehow even when I’d rather seal up my heart like a clam shell in anticipation of pain, the Spirit compels me to stay open, to stay soft.

Perhaps a small miracle, but I still claim it as miracle nonetheless.

Recently I wondered for the first time how this word might be a blessing not just for me, but for the little who drew it. I wept on the thought, but found it comforting as well. That even apart perhaps there’s something in this word still drawing all of us onward. Keep growing, little one. Keep persisting.

This Lent, persistence shapes this practice of writing. I read and write — with varying degrees of effort. Some weeks the words and ideas flow easily.

This week is not one of them. Today I’d rather hide and fritter the day away. But instead, I’m here. Slowly word after word appears, in spite of the inner critic harping on all that’s wrong with me.

Writing about persistence was not the tack I planned take. But all the other stuff I contemplated writing felt like an effort to fix things irritating me on social media. And that’s not a place where I show up as my best self.

It’s a middle road, this persistence post. It’s what is in me today. There’s some other drafts I’m working on for the next weeks, and I’m excited to see what develops there. But those things aren’t quite ready yet.

So today yet again, I’m still putting fingers to keyboard, attempting to be faithful to my best self and to my own commitment.

Showing up means seeing myself as a writer, even in the midst of doubt over my worthiness. It means practicing this skill that tangles me up as much as it knits me back together — often both at the same time. It means, despite the unhelpful self-talk, I choose to practice self-compassion and post anyway.

For you, in whatever season you find yourself, I hope you find the persistence to continue showing up where it matters for you.

Waiting in the wilderness

November Gray

Yet again, I find myself in a season of waiting.

This season of stasis, of living on pause, irritates me. It feels like an exile to the wilderness — dry and barren. Perhaps Lent is the appropriate church season for the sensation.

I waffle between sadness, anger and flashes of envy. And then, horrified by the not-so-nice feelings, silence and police them into submission (or so I naively like to think). I gave in finally and let the feelings express themselves in my journal. Perhaps now they can stop with the sneak attacks.

I want to whine, to rush things forward, to move beyond the space of discomfort.

Life feels like the March mud season outside. The world is brown, but I know crocus, tulips and lilacs are on the horizon. Green will sprout. But, I don’t know when, and I can’t rush it along. It’ll come, and as with every year, will surprise me with its timing and splendor.

It sounds nice enough to know spring will come as it always does, but the waiting is sandpaper rubbing on my heart and soul. Mildly abrasive and increasingly painful. Maybe it serves a useful purpose, but it still hurts. Will my heart be bleeding or soft and smooth when the wait is over? Time will tell, I suppose.

If you’re in the wilderness, stuck in the place between, you’re not alone.

The space between here and there is a difficult space to dwell. I’m no longer the person I was, and I’m definitely not in the place I’d like to go. There’s no going back, and I have little control over moving forward. We wait for the phone to ring. I hate this sense of powerlessness; it feels like weakness, and my weakness irks me.

When I wrote on this subject a year ago, I started to realize life is lived on the way from here to there. What I hadn’t fully grasped (and am still coming to grips with) was the fact that life is waiting — whether it’s in hope of some good thing or in expectation of something painful.

We spend so little time in the moments of arrival. This week I remembered that even after the phone rings I’ll start another kind of waiting. One train lands in the station, while another departs. I just trade out the event that I await.

The bulk of life is the space between — wilderness.

I can learn to make the most of the time waiting — or I can make myself bananas over not yet being in the place I want to be.  As I consciously think about it, I’d rather land in the former; as a matter of course, I want to lean into choices that open me to wonder and curiosity over bitterness. Even if it’s just for a moment, I want to be open to the possibility of joy springing up like a dandelion sprouting through concrete.

In this season, choosing life in the waiting means renewed dedication to reading, writing and creating. I’ve started scrapbooking again as a way of organizing our story of our first tiny. And I’ve picked up my crochet hooks again, working ahead on blankets for future littles as well as a project just for me. The busyness of my hands helps tame the churning of anxious thoughts. Plus, there’s a tiny thrill of accomplishment when I learn a new stitch and when I finish something I started.

Reading helps too; in the past few weeks I’ve had a chance to catch up on my book list. Highlights include Kathy Khang’s Raise Your Voice, Jonathan Merritt’s Learning to Speak God from Scratch, Rachel Held Evans’ Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water and Learning to Love the Bible Again, Nadia Bolz Weber’s Shameless: A Sexual Reformation, and Anne Lamott’s Almost Everything: Notes on Hope.

And all that reading fuels my passion for writing and checking in with my own story. I remembered my love of words, and how writing, for me, is a way of healing. I unearthed my sense of calling to write in public way, not just in the privacy of my journal.

I made a quick decision to write each week in Lent as I wrote that first post of things I didn’t know before fostering. It felt like something I needed.

And it was. But, I thought it’d be easy, not something that stretches my guts open and inside out each week. There’s fear with public writing and putting my story out there. Impostor syndrome sets in with a vengeance. Who am I to do this thing?

But in showing up despite the fear, I get a chance to grow into myself as a writer and to reclaim my voice.

Perhaps the newfound openness of time that burns is also opportunity.

And I’m going to frame it that way for my sanity. I get to choose the meaning for my story. Rather than squandering the time and seeing it as meaningless, what if it’s a chance for my growth?

I can hold the sadness and frustration of wanting to be a mom at the same time I say there’s a gift in this window of time to invest in myself as a writer. It’s an opportunity to answer the “what if” questions about my life now, instead of looking back in regret.

Perhaps that is the manna I’m looking for in this season of waiting. As I’ve said recently, we can’t always get what we want, but we can make the most of what we do have. And what I have right now is time to write.

What’s the manna for you in your season of waiting? What carries you into the next day? What would making the most of what you have look like?

Why Are We Foster Parents?

black hanging bridge surrounded by green forest trees

Photo by Kaique Rocha on Pexels.com

J and I field questions about foster care frequently. I’ve hinted at why we do it here, but never devoted an entire post to the whys of it.

So, why foster care?

The short answer: it’s the path that shimmered for us.

Fostering is not for everyone. It’s a roller coaster of emotions and chaos; every time you think you’ve plumbed the depths of it, another twist and dip appears. The appointments and parental visits wreak havoc on your schedule and family routines. County workers are in and out of your home. And in addition to all that, there’s paperwork to fill out for every rash, illness or incident. It’s parenting under a microscope. There are few factors within your control, outside of disrupting a placement.

But, for J and I, not fostering would feel like Jonah running from Nineveh. While our bodies can still handle a little less sleep and our home has room, we’re following this calling.

Listening to people who’ve fostered or adopted, everyone has a moment where something lit up on their particular fork in the road. Something shimmered. They heard something. They dreamed something. And they said yes to the call.

To be blunt, for us, it felt like the least creepy way to start a family; for me, it’s one of the roads that felt the least like buying a child.

There’s no safety guaranteed on the path.  We know that. We’re working for reunification first, which is a path that leads away from our self-interest. If a child can’t be reunified, we’d love to talk further about adoption.

We know as we welcome children into our home: this is all temporary until otherwise notified. And even then, nothing is final till the dust settles with the all court hearings.

There’s risk. It’s painful. But, it feels like a place where our hearts and a child’s need meet together.

We intended to have biological children. With three miscarriages, an ectopic pregnancy, and five and a half years of no pregnancies at all, that family ship seems to have sailed away without us. Maybe it’d be helpful to have a medical reason for the difficulty, but instead, like so many other devastating things in life, we have painful mystery.

For the kids coming through our home, life didn’t work out the way it was expected either. Something happened, and they need a safe place to grow while the adults in their lives work out some stuff.

Welcoming kids into our home is our way of making lemon meringue pie out of the lemons we and the kiddos hold. Lemon meringue is never my first choice for pie. Let’s be honest, it’s not even my second choice.

But, still we can make the best out of this life before us. We can’t always get what we wanted, but we can choose to make the best out of what we have.

What we have is open hearts and room in our home.

We’re not saints or superheroes or super strong. We feel extremely awkward when people try to tell us we are. We’re just regular people trying to build a life with what we have to offer.

As people ask how or why we do this thing that hurts, I’m reminded of a quote from  Richard Rohr’s book Simplicity, “On the spiritual path the enemy isn’t pain; it’s fear of pain.”

Maybe it’s a byproduct of my mom dying of cancer when I was a kid. Maybe it’s surviving the crucible of pregnancy losses and infertility. But, somehow, for me, the fear of the pain of goodbye is less compelling than the call to open my heart to kids.

We aren’t the children’s parents, but we can choose to care for them as best as we can for the time they’re with us. To paraphrase the artwork hanging in our dining room, together we can build a life we love.

And, we really love being foster parents, even as we still hope for a child to adopt some day.

Practice over perfect.

13a394e1-84c1-43e2-a059-f1dd91d35686.jpegWords came easily last week.

I thought the same magic would happen again. That I’d have another experience reminding me why I love writing.

And then, I tried to write yesterday and today.

I wanted the work to be fast and for the ideas that bounced around my brain like pinballs for the last few months to finally come to rest. I sat all day with journals and computer screen. I wrote words and words. I went for a walk. I sat in silence.

I waited for something to spark, for something to demand to be said.

Yet nothing came to me. All those words on a page aren’t ready yet. There are nuggets of value in there, but they’re not ready to be released.

Because the magic of inspiration didn’t happen, I thought about skipping the post altogether. After all, who would really hold me to this weekly commitment?

This thought came to me: I need to show up. I feel called to writing, and I’ve let this calling languish while I’ve juggled other priorities. In ignoring this process, I’ve missed connecting with my own story. I need this as part of my own healing and wholeness.

If all I can do is show up to my commitment today, it’s enough. I can learn. I practice my skills. Practice over perfect.

It took a crazy amount of effort to generate these few words. But, here I am.

If you’re in the grit your teeth and honor a commitment season of your life, you’re not alone. Sometimes showing up is what we can do.

But, the wonder is that sometimes showing up is enough. It’s authentic. We own our failures, we learn, and we can try again tomorrow.

I Didn’t Know…

010916 Love in small things

I didn’t know if I could love you when I first saw you. I panicked, thinking “What have we done?” The whole situation seemed overwhelming and too much to bear.

The next day, we came again to visit, and I chose to sit there in the hard space with you. I didn’t feel love or connection or magically maternal. I just felt scared, like taking a test I knew I’d fail.

But still, I chose to take responsibility for you. I committed.

Good or bad times, attachment or not, I will care for your needs the best I can for as long as I’m allowed. I can choose this, feelings or not.

And so we began.

I didn’t know you’d melt my heart. Somewhere a little over a month in, you looked me in the eye, seeming to ask, “Will you be all in with me?”  And I couldn’t help but say, “yes.”

I didn’t know attachment went both ways — as though some invisible string tied our hearts together. I worried so much about you connecting to us, only to find myself startled by your pull over me.

I didn’t know starting this journey with you would pull me into a perpetual roller coaster of emotions. Every time I thought I’d felt the depths of what I could feel, that somehow I’d seen all that this story could throw at me, something new would happen and the world would flip topsy turvy yet again.

I didn’t know you’d sleep through the night so early on or that you’d keep that nightly routine so easily. Thank you for letting Poppy and I get sleep too! You spoiled us with your easy nighttime sleep habits.

I didn’t know that childcare would be the easy part of fostering. The more difficult part was entering the very complicated narratives of everyone involved and doing it with grace, mercy and the benefit of the doubt. I wrestled with my internal stories about bio families, and as I attached to you, kept checking my impulse to make them “other” and to divide the world between us and them.

I didn’t know how hard goodbye would be. I worried so much for you, I forgot about us. We knew this day would come, even as our hearts hoped for a magical solution where everyone gets to keep wonderful you. I hoped professionalism and logic would slow the tide of grief.

I didn’t know the ways my feelings would defy my logic. How my head would understand and support what was happening while my heart screamed, “NO!”

I didn’t know how strongly I believed grace and forgiveness matter. And that if they mean anything at all anywhere in the world, they have to mean something here in this story too — even if my heart doesn’t want to understand.

I didn’t know that a weight would lift as you went out the door. That somehow the load was lightened, even as we wept.

I didn’t know how guilty I’d feel about the ability to breathe as you rode away from us.

I think it’s the finality of it all. We did what we could, and now there was nothing else to be done. We gave the best of ourselves, sent you off as well as we could, and the story came to an end.

We waited and waited with our breath held in hope for a different outcome. And we finally surrendered to reality. The worst part — handing you over and saying goodbye — came and went. The axe finally fell, and it’s time for healing for all of us. But, now our roads are separate.

I didn’t know my house could echo with the ghosts of your happy giggles and squeals.

I didn’t know how my arms would ache to hold you, and that for a few agonizing days I’d feel the phantom weight of you snuggled close in the crook of my neck.

I didn’t know I’d learn to hold new unanswerable questions: are you sleeping? Are you eating? Are you okay? Do you miss us a little? Or even a lot? Have you settled into a new routine? What new things have you learned?

I didn’t know how quickly I’d forget the sound of your happy chatters or the exact tone of your cries. Three days was all it took.

I didn’t know how hard I’d search for those sound memories, nor how sad I’d feel as the memories could not be recalled.

Tears streamed down my face as Poppy and I went to see the new Mary Poppins and Emily Blunt sang about where the lost things go. I didn’t know I’d find myself watching the song on YouTube over and over as I missed you.

I didn’t know I’d feel identity loss when you left. I forgot we wear identities like clothes. You left and somehow the “mom” cardigan was snatched from my shoulders.

I didn’t know I’d struggle with this identity loss. I never truly thought of you as ours. We bought a suitcase immediately after you arrived for that very reason. We loved you with the best of ourselves. In our weakness, we longed to keep you. But, we always knew we were foster parents, not your actual parents. And on the days we’d forget, we’d see that suitcase and remember — this is temporary.

I didn’t know that the “mom” identity felt like an essential part of me. With the loss of you, I also miss my favorite parts of me.

I didn’t know that losing you would also make me feel like the little matchgirl again. Watching families from outside while longing for that to be my story.

We finally joined the parenting club, and it felt lovely to belong as I swayed with a child on my hip. My nervous swaying finally had a purpose — it looked natural with you resting in my arms.

I didn’t know I’d find myself mentally reaching for you — as though you could know you were often in my thoughts. As if you could feel the weight of my yearning for you and know you weren’t forgotten or abandoned.

I didn’t know I’d wrestle with God like Jacob — struggling and refusing to let go until a blessing is granted. Only the blessing is not for me — it’s for you. I can’t rest assured that it is granted because I cannot see you.

Instead there is silence, and I long to know how you’ve grown. I hope you’re eating, sleeping, learning — even laughing. You’ve likely mastered crawling by now. And then I wonder too — did you make it to doctors and dentists appointments?

I didn’t know I’d check my email like I’d check my phone for messages from Poppy when we were dating. I didn’t know how disappointed I’d feel when no news of you came.

I didn’t know how fast Poppy and I would settle into old routines from the days before you. Just one short week after you’d gone.

I didn’t know that I’d have such complicated feelings about settling back into old routines. Grace. Guilt. Comfort. Fear.

I didn’t know I’d be nervous again for a new placement, that I’d ask myself the same questions I did before your arrival. Can we really love this new child? What if we don’t connect with them? Am I too old for this? Is the pain when they leave worth the journey?

I didn’t know how grateful I’d feel toward you for helping me believe we can do this again. We didn’t know how it would go last time, and yet small miracles happened along the way — enough manna to nourish us on the path each day.

I didn’t know if fostering would really be a calling for my life, or if it, like so many other things, would be an epic mistake. Walking in this sacred space with you helped me find my best self, and I’m so grateful that you were the one who started this foster journey with us. We’ve never regretted saying “yes!” when the call came about you.

And I didn’t know that we’d begin to feel ready for another child quite so soon. But, here we are — waiting again and ready. There won’t be another you, but we’re ready to see and greet the next guest who comes along.

Anniversaries and starting new chapters

Wally in the front seat

One of my favorite social media memories to pop up! Oh the joys of road trips with the Wall-nut!

 

Stories fascinate me. In particular, the way humans create narratives about our lives, linking the memories we frequently call to mind into a bigger picture about who we are.

And, so too, the role of Facebook memories in all this intrigues me. With over a decade on Facebook (When did I get that old?) , there’s oh so many memories to pop up on my “On This Day” feed. Photos of family meals, evenings out with J, vacations. The occasional odd story, like the spring when neighbor children stole about $600 worth of flowers out of the front yard in spite of repeated conversations with the parents (they didn’t care), buying the kids flowers for their own yard, and installing 6 foot deer fencing as a deterrent.

Then, there’s the anniversaries that catch me off guard — like last month’s reminder that it’s been five years since I stared up into the blinding operating room lights before the surgeons removed an ectopic pregnancy (and a ruptured fallopian tube along with it).

Five years since waking in a hospital bed, pregnancy hormones still flowing, no longer pregnant and minus a fallopian tube. The blonde, blue-eyed Jesus portrait on the wall mocked me as I laid there that night.

But five years down the road, the sorrow wasn’t wasted. Somehow that particular loss and my willingness to share my story cracked me open like chick emerging from eggshell.

I found myself in the writing. There was something profoundly healing in connecting with others in their own messy, broken middle stories. The middle story is where you can’t go back to where you were, but you’re not sure where you’re going yet or even how you’re going to pick yourself up to go anywhere else.

Somehow I forgave my body for not living up to my expectations, and I rejected the impulse to see my infertility as a badge of public shame.

Slowly two quiet convictions — that God doesn’t owe me for my years of good girl behavior and that God wasn’t punishing me with this crap hand of infertility — settled into my bones.

The ectopic pregnancy changed my life, like a punctuation mark. Recognizing the end of the sentence took a while (ahem…years). However, the process of story making as I grieved launched me into a whole new chapter, not just another sentence.

This past year we (finally) became foster parents after a long period of hemming and hawing and filling out stacks upon stacks of paperwork.

And in the busyness and routine of diaper changes, naps and bottles this summer, I forgot the anniversary as I happily went about the business of work and family life.

It’s the first time I forgot.

And then later that day Facebook reminded me of the anniversary as it highlighted my vague post about needing to find an easier way to get the hospital grippy socks that I love so much. (Yes, I love hospital socks. They’re fluffy, warm and non-slip — perfect for curling up on the couch with a book and a mug of lavender Earl Grey tea.) 

I felt horribly guilty for forgetting — as though somehow I failed as a mom for not thinking of the loss this year.

But now a month down the road, I think there’s a better explanation. It’s no longer a primary narrative in my story. It’s an important chapter, one that changed entire direction of my story, but it’s not the chapter I’m living anymore.

The stories I find myself sharing and the questions I’m asking have shifted to this new role of foster mother.

A new chapter began, and that’s the way life works. We die to things, thinking there’s no way life could go on after such an event. But, it eventually does, however much we might wish otherwise. Life springs up boldly, like weeds sprouted in concrete.

I’m so incredibly happy in this current chapter — even as I’m stressed, tired and generally overwhelmed like just about every person I know. Five years ago, I couldn’t see how the road would curve. I just kept putting one foot in the front of the other trusting the path to lead somewhere. Eventually, it did. And here I am now, still learning to simply put one foot in front of the other. Minute to minute. Day by day. Different questions, but similar process.