Walking a Hard Road

We’ve got a meeting at the end of this week to discuss the reunification of our foster daughter with her birth family. 

There are a lot of emotions going on right now. On the one hand, this morning as we drove to school, I prayed for each of our family members and for our foster daughter’s family as well. Which we have been doing for two years. And I had the thought, Why are you surprised that prayers are being answered? Except, if I’m being honest, those prayers were more for the benefit of my foster daughter than because I had any faith. Anger and unforgiveness has kind of made me only able to make a blanket prayer, God be with them. But at the same time, I’m proud of her birth family. It’s been a long hard road and they’ve worked hard to overcome some really big obstacles. 

When I’m dealing with some big tantrums and crazy behavior, I find myself thinking, Well, at least this will no longer be my responsibility. But then sweet moments happen and I think, what is our family going to look like without this child smack in the middle always stirring things up? And I worry about my other kids’ grief that they will have to process. 

And I wonder, how on earth are we going to come up with a smooth transition that will produce the least amount of trauma? How much assistance do I offer to make this easier for my daughter? How much assistance will hinder her bonding back with her family? How do I make sure she knows, beyond all doubt, that I will always love her and I am always going to be her mom, and I’ll always be here for her if she needs me? How do I step back from primary caregiver to friend of the family? 

I don’t know. 

I have no regrets. But I hate this. 

I’m sitting here in my living room while I write this and I looked out the window and saw a bunch of birds swooping through the early morning gray sky. This verse came to mind. 

Matthew 10:29-31  Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

This is what I have to cling to in faith. That Jesus loves my foster daughter even more than I do and he has his hand on her life. My job is to say yes to whatever love and care God needs me to offer this child, but I also have to let go when he says it’s time to let go. Though maybe not a complete release, just a loosening of my hold. 

I try to look forward into the future, and fear shows me all the things that could go wrong. But faith requires me to stay in the moment. Right now what am I required to do? I’m required to give her birth family another chance. And I’m required to walk with them through this process. I don’t know how it’s going to turn out, but I know what I have to do today. 

All prayers are appreciated as we walk this road. 

Our Adult Children

This past week I’ve had converstaions with not one, not two, but three different people about Grown Up Children. About how we need a support group for parents in this stage of life. How our adult children need a support group as they recover from our poor parenting. About shifting our approach to our children and learning how to truly let them go to be adults. 

This is a touchy topic for me. I struggle with feeling a lot of guilt, shame, and bewilderment as I try to navigate this stage of life. The bewilderment comes as I realize that all those promises that people gave you… If you just homeschool, if you have daily devotions, if you eat all your meals together as a family, if you just stay connected…If you do A, B, and C, then you will produce a child who enters adulthood gracefully. They will be wise. They will make the best decision every single time. They will have a strong direction for their life and they will pursue it in a straight line, from the moment they graduate high school. They will teach Sunday School and be one of those people that others count as a Great Role Model. All you have to do is A, B, and C… All of these promises are empty. But I think they are empty because they are working off the wrong assumptions. 

I think, as young parents, we start off with unreasonable (wrong) expectations. Maybe, we remember how responsible and mature we were as young adults, and we presume that we are going to make carbon copies of ourselves. Or maybe, we had a rough start in life, and so we parent with the express purpose of making sure our kids don’t turn out like we did. Either way, we tend to forget that these children we are raising are their own person. They have their own strengths and weaknesses. They have their own free will. They have their own lives to chart out. We are called to train and equip our children. Teach them the difference between right and wrong. Teach them about God and all that his Word says about him. Teach them all the skills they need to succeed in our culture. But, what they do with all that information, that’s their choice. And it is not a reflection on us what they choose to do. 

I think we get really hung up on our own self-consequence when it comes to our grown up kids. We tie their behavior to our own self-worth. My grown up kid is doing things I don’t agree with. It must mean I was a horrible parent. My grown up kid is struggling. I have failed. My friends and family don’t agree with the lifestyle my grown up kid has chosen, they must all think I did something wrong. Woe is me. 

And this comes back to letting go of our grown up kids. Our grown up kids are now adults and the decisions they make are on them. Yes, we made parenting mistakes. Every single parent in the world has made and will make parenting mistakes. It is part of the curse of Adam. We are all sinners. We sin against our kids. But every person hits an age where they have to decide what they are going to do about it. They have to make the decision that yes, they have hit adulthood with some handicaps. They have wounds, poor training, perhaps trauma that they now have to work through so that they can get on with their lives. But, they are the only ones who can get on with their lives. Their parents can ask their forgiveness, go to therapy with them, make penance, but in the end, it’s still them who have to do the hard work of overcoming and moving on. 

As parents, it’s hard to accept that. I feel shame and guilt for all the ways I messed up. I’ve thought long and hard about it, and I can give you a pretty concise list of all the things I wish I had done differently. I’ve been trying to make a point to express this to my grown up kids. Own my mistakes. I did this and this and I’m really sorry. Please forgive me. Some of those mistakes will have life-long effects on my kids. But, unfortunately, I am no longer in a position to get them the healing they need to recover from those wounds. They have to pursue that on their own. All I can do is keep loving them, keep being there, and pray like crazy. And be humble enough to accept the fact that God’s grace covers these sins too. 

I have two grown up kids right now. I think they are amazing. I am over-the-top proud of them. They’ve made their own choices and continue to do the hard work of just muddling through, trying to figure things out. Young adulthood is messy. There is no way I would want to go back and live that time of my life again. I am confident that God has his hand on their lives and I am proud to be their mom. 

But, I’d like to add, their progression through adulthood has not looked anything like I thought it would. And that’s not good or bad. It just is. Their story is just beginning, and I’m learning how to step down from Parent-in-Charge to the new role as Chief Cheerleader, Back-up Support, and Prayer Warrior. 

Fat Fridays: Me and the St Croix River

So, today is more of a story, but I feel like it works for Fat Fridays because this story would never have happened if I had not started a weightloss/exercise journey and got the confidence to try more strenuous activities.

I just got back from a three day river canoe trip. Woohoo! A three day river canoe trip with all my children (minus the oldest two), several nieces and nephews and assorted aunts and uncles, and our dog. Double woohoo. 

Will I ever take small children on a river canoe trip again? No.

Will I ever take my dog on a river canoe trip again?  Also No. 

Am I still glad I went? Definitely!

We did a twenty mile stretch on the St Croix River in Maine. It’s on the border with Canada which made for the interesting situation where you can only get out of the river on one side. Look! There’s Canada! Don’t touch! 

We had five canoes. One wooden, four aluminum. My husband made homemade paddles for all the kids ahead of time. We had a total of six tents while camping. We were a good size group. 

So, I looked up the St Croix River on the internet a day or two before we left and I found this description that said the St Croix had class 1 and 2 rapids and was a perfect river for beginners. “Light-hearted rapids that make the trip fun and enjoyable!” Yeah. Ok. I can say with all honesty, that I spent three days in high-adrenaline mode, heart racing, with the feeling that I was fighting for my life and the lives of my children almost the entire time. Which is kind of silly. As I pointed out to my children, in an effort to sooth them, the water itself was not that scary. If we had come to the river to swim or tube it would not have been intimidating. Even in the very worst rapids, I was able to get out of the canoe and stand in the water as I wrestled our boat off of large rocks. It just feels scary when you’re in a narrow boat and it feels like you’re going to tip over at any moment. 

We did tip over. All of our boats. Except one. Yay Uncle Mike and Auntie Asanuo! (And on the last day I put my two youngest in their boat in an effort to save them from any more trauma.) We had one boat severely crippled on the second day, so we had to distribute it’s load to all the other boats. Another boat sprung a bad leak at the end of the second day. But we were able to patch it. The younger kids did NOT enjoy tipping over. To put it mildly. (Pro-tip, from about eight years old and up the kids did fine. We had one seven year old do great and another, not great, younger than that, it was a bit much.) (But they all rallied at the end and claimed that they enjoyed themselves…Mostly.) 

We camped two nights. The first night was idyllic. We had a great site all to ourselves. The camp cooks made an amazing gourmet tinfoil dinner. My husband got to show his nephew a bit about fishing. I took lots of pictures and felt very content with life. 

The second night we showed up at four in the afternoon to the campsite. We had just had a long traumatic day. Everyone was wet and shivering. We had two kids wrapped in emergency blankets. Two crippled boats. Moral was low. There were two campsites, but a guided tour group had got there first and they had spread out into both campsites. My husband went and asked if there was any way we could squeeze into one side, as we had cold children, crippled boats etc. The tour guides said no. We could go across to the Canada side (illegal) or we could go another four miles to the next campsite. I was not thinking happy thoughts at that moment. 

We assessed our situation and knew we could not go farther. One of our group walked downriver to see if there was a place in the woods we could just make do with. We sat there and waited as we figured out what to do. In the meantime, the group from the guided tour spoke up and told their guides that they should make room for us and group peer pressure won the day. The guides came back and said they would move over and give us a campsite. We said we would greatly appreciate it. When we got into camp, we hung up a line for wet clothes right at the edge of camp and created a privacy screen and then attempted to keep our kids a little more quiet and kept to ourselves. The guides did come over several times and offered assistance with anything we needed, so it turned out ok. But it was awkward. That night I retreated to bed at seven and left my husband to wrangle kids. Which he did admirably. 

The last day was short and only had a couple rapids that we all, with our new skills, went through with very little problems. 

Accolades. I can’t finish this without handing out some awards. 

The dog gets DOG OF THE YEAR award. Every day he got back into the canoe. He didn’t try to run away. He didn’t fight us. He just got back in. Even though he knew what was coming. He didn’t panic while he was in the boat, except to stand up every time we got into rapids. Which you really can’t blame him. I’m sure it was just survival instinct kicking in. The knowledge that he needed to be ready to abandon ship at any moment. So yeah, I’ve got the best dog ever. 

My teens get TEENS OF THE YEAR award. My seventeen year old proved to be a very competent paddler and we made a great team. She stayed calm, jumped into the river multiple times with me as we freed our canoe. I was super impressed. My fifteen year old did great and she was willing to get into the canoe with the twelve and thirteen year old boys (ok, I bribed her, but still, she was willing to be bribed). The teen/preteen boat had very little skill and hit almost every rock in the river and capsized quite a few times. BUT!! They stayed cheerful and had fun with it the whole time! YAY preteens/teenagers!!! 

My little kids get BEST KIDS EVER award for loving us and forgiving us for getting them wet and cold. And they did their best to have fun and stay positive. YAY KIDS!!

All of my inlaws get the BEST INLAWS EVER award. We had some rough spots and it could have got ugly. But everyone stayed calm, there was no complaining. Everyone did their part cheerfully and went above and beyond what was necessary and we all ended up with a great trip. YAY INLAWS!!

And of course my husband gets HUSBAND OF THE YEAR award. Cause he made it all happen. And he’s just awesome anyway. 

And me? I came away with a giant dose of confidence. Yeah. I’m pretty sure I can do anything. 🙂

We are Done!

Today was the kids’ last half-day of school. Got up early, took the kids to school for the last time, took my virtual student by the high school to drop off her text books, went and picked up kids from school. We still have a drive-thru 5th grade send-off that we have to go to this afternoon and then we are officially done. 

What a year. 

Red days for high covid numbers. Red days for gun violence in the neighborhood. Finding clean masks every day, collecting the dirty masks every day. Signing homework folders every night. Never ending car lines for pick up. Lots of debates about virtual school, masks, school safety. Lots of tragedy. Five students dead this year. Trauma. School lockdowns.  

Art projects. Kids excitedly practicing their Spanish from their new Spanish class. Watching my first grader grow in her ability to read. Seeing my fifth grader blossom as he walked into leadership positions. New friends made. Projects finished. Presentations given. Awards won. Recognition for good sportsmanship. Classes completed. Lessons learned. 

So, I say thank you to all the teachers who made the best of a crazy year. Thank you to all the administration who made the best decisions you could. Thank you to all the support staff that cleaned and cooked and loved on the kids. 

We made it! We never have to do this year again! May the next school year be peaceful and easy and a walk in the park in comparison. 

We’ll see you all again in the Fall. 

More Tragedy

This past Monday our community, school, family walked through yet another tragedy in a year that has been full of them. My daughters’ highschool had an “officer involved shooting” in the school. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigations wanted to make it clear that this was not a “school shooting” where someone has brought a gun to the school with the intent of hurting people at the school, but was rather the result of a police officer engaging a student who was suspected of having a gun, and gunfire was exchanged. A police officer was injured, but is recovering, and the student is dead. 

For our family, we had an entire hour, from the moment the highschool was put in lockdown at the end of the school day, until we managed to get everyone home, that we had no idea what was going on. All we knew was that there was danger, a really big situation, and my daughter was in the building where all this danger was happening. 

The school district did not communicate with the parents during the whole thing which made the fear worse. Monday night I wrote the school district, voicing my complaints about the lack of communication with parents, and they personally called me the next day to apologize and say that this was an area they were going to improve in. 

My elementary school kids were also put in lockdown, (the school is relatively close to the high school) moments before they were to be dismissed. The teachers at the elementary school did not know what was happening, just that they were in a hard lockdown. They presumed there was imminent danger, and their fear and stress leaked over to the kids they were watching. My 1st and 2nd grader were crying when they finally were released to come get in my car. They told me later that they thought they were about to be shot by a bad guy. 

After I finally had all my elementary kids in my car, we then had to maneuver through police barricades until we finally found an access point where we could get to my daughter who was waiting at the high school for me. And during all of this there was a police helicopter swooping overhead making us all feel that we were in a war zone. 

When we got home I wouldn’t let the kids play outside because the helicopter was still present, making circles over our house (we live close to the highschool) and I had no idea if the helicopter was actively looking for someone in our neighborhood. So the kids huddled inside, looking out the windows, waiting for the danger to pass. And I sat, scanning all the social media and news sites I could find, trying to get information on what was happening. 

My husband came home early and I walked into his embrace and as he held me, I felt everything going black in my head, and was sure, for a moment, that I was going to faint. Rumors were flying and we heard that our principal, a man I admire, might have been shot. Was the office staff all wounded? How many people were dead? At one point in time I just hid in my kitchen and cried. Trying to avoid the kids, not wanting to increase their stress by having a complete breakdown myself. 

It took quite a while for all the details to come out. And now, On Wednesday, we still have not heard the name of the student who has died. And my daughter is supposedly supposed to return to school tomorrow, but I have a million questions, and none of them have been answered yet. 

Yesterday I gathered up all the kids, emailed all the elementary teachers telling them my kids would not be in school, and we left town and spent the day with my parents. 

Yesterday I would say that my stress level was at ninety-five out of a hundred. This morning I think I’ve got it down to maybe a forty? 

Yesterday morning I was feeling pretty horrible. Angry, agitated. I sat down and found myself rocking back and forth. Good grief. I was also feeling a lot of condemnation. Look at you! Where is your faith and your peace? And I had to stop and speak some truth to myself. You have just gone through a very stressful situation and your body and emotions are responding to that. You have to give yourself permission to recover from this. And, God is still good, and still in control, so we are going to cling to that and give ourselves some time to decompress and recover. 

So, Wednesday morning, I’m doing better than yesterday, but still feeling a bit shell-shocked. 

I haven’t even started processing the situation at our school, but I feel like I at least got the rocking boat of our family back onto calmer waters. 

What Does it Mean?

John 14:21 Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”

 

I just read this verse this morning. The phrase, “will be loved by my Father” stood out to me. And the question, What does it mean to be loved by the Father? 

 

I was staring off into space, thinking about this, and my phone gave me some kind of alert, and I glanced down at my phone and saw this Picture that I had taken and was using as my screensaver. 

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It was from a walk I got to take a couple weeks ago when we were visiting a state park. My husband watched the kids while I took a solo jaunt in the woods. It was a beautiful walk. The kind of scenery that spoke to my soul and gave me joy. Nothing overtly breath-taking, just beautiful woods and greenery and light filtering through the trees. 

 

I looked at this picture and thought, this is what it means to be Loved by the Father. He created this beautiful world and then he arranged for me to be able to be out and about in it. 

 

I smiled at this thought, and then looked up. My daughter was just standing by my chair. No reason. She was playing her Minecraft, and decided that standing by my chair was a good place to play. I looked at her beautiful pixie face, her dark hair pulled back into a messy bun that a model would envy, her eyes so bright and intelligent. And I thought, this is what it means to be loved by the Father, a houseful of amazingly sweet, intelligent, fun children. 

 

A bit later, I was trying to deal with the mystery of why my washing machine was making noises and yet the power was turned off, and even when I tried to turn the power back on, it wouldn’t turn on, and yet the machine continued to make noises. I called my husband. Walked through some different steps over the phone with him, then when a large electric spark erupted while I was attempting to plug the machine back in, I just walked away from the whole thing. No laundry today. I’ll wait for you to get home and figure this out. 

 

And I thought, this is what it means to be loved by the Father. He has given me a Godly, wonderful husband who loves me and who takes care of his family. (And fixes washing machines!)

 

I thought about the question some more…What does it mean to be Loved by the Father? I suddenly remembered last night. I was watching an online class on trauma and how it shapes children’s minds, and different strategies to help bring healing. One of the first steps they gave was, Understand Yourself and your Own trauma. And I realized, that’s exactly what God has been doing over the last several years. Putting me in a place where I can understand myself better. Understand my own history. And now, from that understanding he is putting me in a place where I can help others who need healing from their trauma. 

 

And that is what it means to be loved by the Father. He not only blesses you, but then he gives you opportunities to take those blessings in order to bless others. Like one of my pastors likes to point out, in Genesis 12: 2-3, God blessed Abraham, so that he could bless others. 

 

What does it mean to be loved by the Father? 

 

I think it’s one of those questions that can be given a different answer every time you ask it. Tomorrow my list would look different. Yesterday, I would have told you that being loved by the Father was about living in community with others and the richness that brings to your life. The day before that I would have said that being loved by the Father was about his Amazing Grace no matter how much I mess up. 

 

Today, I think I will end with Peace. It’s peace. Knowing that I am loved and taken care of. Knowing that all things are in his hands. Not striving. Just Peace.

 

I am loved by the Father.