Supporting Foster Care

Substance abuse is an important issue to me personally, because of my own experiences and those of friends and family, but in my opinion, it should be for everyone.  Because as we’ve seen with heroin and crack, a drug problem has the ability to devastate a community rapidly. Also because 1 in 10 Americans struggle with it, which means it’s probably a personal issue for you too.

May is National Foster Care Month and if you don’t care about the problem of substance abuse for any other reason, care about it because of this.  Because while not all children are placed in foster care cases are due to an addicted parent, it is often the precipitating factor.  The number of children in foster care has been rising over the past 5 years, mainly because of an increase in drug use. (Addiction Epidemic Creates Crisis in Foster Care).

According to a government survey, in 32% of foster cases, drug abuse was the listed reason for removal from the home. Neglect was the number one reason, and caretaker inability to cope and physical abuse were numbers 3 and 4 respectively, (AFCRS report, 2015) but that statistics is misleading because neglect, inability to cope, and physical abuse are often a result of a parent’s addiction. Some statistics estimate closer to 61% for infants (Parental Substance Abuse, p2).

Last winter the Wall Street Journal wrote a horrible but informative article, “The children of the Opioid Crisis.”  We can imagine that people who are high won’t be able to properly care for their children, but knowing there are kids living in houses with buckets of vomit everywhere and feces smeared on the wall is unacceptable. It’s also important to remember that substance abuse is a much bigger problem than the current epidemic.  This 2014 article, “Substance abuse a top reason children are removed from homes” focused on the influence of Meth on the Kansas foster care system.  Before that there were the same horrible stories about crack, and before that it was heroin again.  Through all the epidemics, alcohol has always been the substance most commonly abused, and though it is legal, it is equally capable of destroying a family as any hard drug. The fact is, if more people were sober, there wouldn’t be so many kids in foster care.  We wouldn’t be worried about a shortage of foster parents, or a generation being raised by their grandparents, or the psychological fallout that these children are suffering from due to abuse and neglect.

If you think you’re community is immune to these problems, you’re wrong. Statistically, Virginia is one of the states that has been least affected by the increase in drug abuse, but even in the beauty of the Shenandoah things have become worse.  According to the Northern Shenandoah Valley Substance Abuse Coalition the amount of children in Foster care due to parental substance abuse in the  Winchester area soared from 5 cases in 2012 to 42 in 2015.  (Northern Shenandoah Substance Abuse Statistics). One local foster care agency told me that parents who have been recently trained all have children placed with them already. That it only took a few weeks for her to be desperate for more parents to be trained.

During the month of May, please commit to praying for these children. Focus on the Family has compiled a prayer guide to help people understand the needs and problems of foster care and how to you can pray for them here: Foster Care Prayer Vigil  

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Pray for the children to feel love and to find homes that will accept them unconditionally.  Also for the caregivers who are under stress, and for the birth parents sobriety. But also we can pray for the many people behind the scenes working with and helping these families: those providing respite care, the caseworkers, people recruiting and training foster parents, police officers responding to calls, churches who support these families, counselors, teachers, and the communities leaders and government officials overseeing it all.

But don’t just pray for the people already involved, pray for your part too.  It could be as big as opening your home up to a child, or as thoughtful as helping with the cost of clothing, school supplies, or Christmas presents. Many Grandparents that have kinship care are overwhelmed, now trying to raise their grand kids when they were ready for retirement. Offer them help, bring them dinner or babysit for free. Foster children often struggle in school because of the trauma and instability, so if you can tutor, offer your services. Or if you have weekends free, volunteer with the state to provide respite care. 

Speak up for this issue in your church and with your friends, because together we can do more to support the families that take kids in.  Pray for it as a community, and for how you can support their parents recovery, so that the family can have hope of being reunited. Fight for these children, because these kids need it, and our communities need them.

Good Friday for Parents

When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing by, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold your son!” John 19:26 NKJV

 

The biggest struggle for me as a mom has been learning to handle my anger, which is hard to admit, but I know that many, many other moms have this struggle too.  Most of the anger is unrighteous, my own impatience with their immaturity and behvaior, and for that I beg forgiveness.

But occasionally, when a child is rebelling knowingly and without remorse, the anger is closer to righteous, making it harder to deal with and understand.  The root of it is heartbreak, angry that they’re rejecting the rules that I set for them in love.  I’m angry that they don’t they’re not rebelling against me, but against God.  That they’re hurting themselves- compromising their honesty, friendships, or some other essential part of their character.  

The weird thing for me to realize this lent is how natural these feelings are. Really this is the story of the entire Old Testament, with God as the Father and the Israelites the child that learned every lesson the hard way.

Their story starts blissfully in the garden, His creation abounding with the joy of newborn innocence.  In Adam and Eve’s ignorance they were incapable of sin.  Their bond with God as close as a baby resting on a mother’s chest. Peaceful, harmonious, perfect.  I bet they even had that delicious newborn smell radiating from their foreheads.

The bond suffered as they bit into the apple.  With knowledge comes pride; He may be God, omnipotent and loving, but still they thought they knew better.  Suddenly there were consequences and an independence they weren’t ready for. God could have been angrier. He had warned them that sin meant death, but He could have chosen to smite them on the spot, to start over, but He loved them. And what loving parent doesn’t choose mercy the first time their child knowingly rebels?  He set the consequences, but He also promised them they would get through it. That someday He would reconcile it all and all that was lost would be restored.

But the bliss of newborn innocence was forever lost.  As with all toddlers, lawlessness began to reign supreme in their collective conscience. I am thankful that in actual parenting, the flooding of the world and fire-bombing of cities is hardly metaphoric, that spankings or timeouts are enough to discipline an act of rebellion.  In their sin His anger may have raged, but far above it all his love remained.  A Rainbow was given in assurance; a sign of that he would never give up on them completely. And promises were made. Promises that were bigger than the number of stars in the sky.

Finally the day came, in the elementary age of their existence, when His chosen people were ready for law.  Many knew it already in the depths of their heart, that obeying Him was right, and ignoring Him was wrong. But they were ready to have it written in stone. Ready for the independence of knowing the rules all at one time, without the constant explanation of why they needed to be followed.  Some days they listened perfectly, and sang beautiful songs of praise. Walls fell down and battles were won.  A beautiful king, a man after God’s own heart,  led the people to a golden age of trust and obedience.  A temple was built, unparalleled in grandeur and beauty.  Wisdom was not only given, but also received.  People came from foreign lands to bare witness to this beautiful relationship- the bounty of blessing between a creator and His chosen people.

If only all the days of this stage were that beautiful, for anyone who raises elementary children knows they will only be ruled for so long before they assert their own will back.  It doesn’t matter that your knowledge exponentially exceeds their years, or that their disobedience causes destruction mostly to themselves.  You love them so much, you can’t help but feel angry.  As they grow, the crimes become more bigger, the consequences more serious.  The lectures begin to last longer and the punishments grow more severe.   But their hearts are increasingly their own, and they aren’t so easily swayed.  You dole out the consequences and they cry.  They listen and reconcile to your love, but it’s almost the very next day when they make the same mistakes again.  

So it was with the Israelites, they broke the law as soon as it was written. With their increasing knowledge of the world, they clung more and more to other people’s ways, to Baal and to other idols.  It worked for everyone else, why would it not work for them? They didn’t want to be set apart, to be special anymore. Even if it was the truth, even if it meant blessing and joy.  They just wanted to be normal. To eat, drink and be merry like the other, ordinary nations of the world.  

After so many prophets and repeated warnings with zero repentance, it was time to follow through with the consequences.  No more would God protect them from their insolence, and the nation was exiled.  Like grounding a teenager, He emptied their city of its treasure and took away their privilege.  God was furious, as any parent would be.  How could they be so ungrateful? After everything He had done for them, how could they be so careless with the grandeur of His blessing? How could they still not know who He was, and how much He loved them?? Because surely if they knew, they would not continue to behave this way.

It took 70 years, but after the time apart God was willing to rebuild the trust again, surely they learned their lesson this time.  He wasn’t expecting them to be perfect, but he assumed they would be faithful.  The nation, now in its young adulthood, was also ready. It was time to rebuild and say it was sorry.  At first, things were glorious.  They started rebuilding the temple, sweet psalms of praise on their lips again. But after a while it was clear this nation was not an innocent, penitential child anymore.  They were different now, self-righteous, overly confident in their ability to follow the rules, unaware that it was no longer God, but themselves that they worshipped. They assumed they knew it all, so God stopped telling them otherwise.  He was done showing them his anger, letting them feel the wrath of his displeasure about their choices.  They had always been stiff-necked and no matter how many times he punished them for it, He knew part of them always would be.  The only hope to reach them now was by unleashing the fullness of His love- by making good on the promise of redemption. He would crush their enslavement to sin to truly be reunited.

But the time was not yet right.  He would love them from a distance while they aged, vigilant for the moment to offer them mercy and forgiveness. But, oh! How He loved them, more than any parent could.  Though they continued to misrepresent and ignore Him, He loved them so.  

He had loved them silently for 400 years when the time had finally come.  He knew His truth would largely be rejected; that most people’s hearts would still be too hardened to understand.  But he also knew every bit of the Israelite’s character.  He knew all the hairs on its head, and he knew that among them were enough pure hearts to carry out his plan.  He would need one crazy guy to announce it. Someone who wandered the wilderness eating bugs. It would take one humble virgin, betrothed to an heir of the great King David and 12 faithful disciples.  Sadly, one of those disciples would have to be corrupted, but that was how the prophecy was written.  He would need others to support the servants in their moment of desperation, maybe a woman, a harlot. Someone who would be redeemed from so much evil, and therefore be able to receive the moment of truth when the others had lost all hope. These would be the most lowly of people, sinners, uneducated, and from nasty parts of town.  But God knew, through these people- this tiny, faithful remnant of his chosen nation- he could fulfill his promise to Abraham, to bless all the people of the earth.

Our good, good father foresaw every detail, and it went exactly to His plan.  But the plan was brutal.   In order to save one child he would have to sacrifice another, the one that was the Word.  The one that was there in the beginning.  ‘All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.’ (John 1:2-5)

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It is hard to fathom as a parent.  The story is so relatable up to this point.  The anger that stems from rejection, the pain and frustration, the difficulty remaining patient with people who are incapable of accepting the truth.  Parenting is a heart-breaking endeavor, and that’s terrifying.  To think that the fruit of your womb, that you would sacrifice your own life for without a second thought, could possibly grow up and reject you. That they could embrace the normality of the world over the eternal joy you are trying to impart to them.  We try not to live in this fear, but it always looms in the future, waiting for us.  The time will come when they’re young adults too, and your feelings and consequences will no longer sway their heart. They will make their own decision to follow God or the world.  There is wisdom, that if you train them in the way they should go they will not depart, but there are no guarantees. For if God can’t control the Israelites, then what hope do we have?

Before I had children, surrender was easy.  Take my money, for I really didn’t have that much. Take my house, because there are other places to live.  Take my stuff, it doesn’t make me that happy.  But I’m eternally grateful that I’m not Sarah and Abraham, because ‘sacrifice your child’ is not a commandment I would be willing to follow. But God asks all of us to trust him with our children, that he will at some point reveal himself to them on their path. Even if that path leads them to some very dark and dangerous places.

How could God ask that of parents? 

As Jesus hung on the cross, almost all of his followers had fallen away. But of course His mother was still there.  A mother wouldn’t be scared by the sacrifice of her home, the loss of her dreams, the denial of the crowd, or the hatred of the world.  I’m sure she sat there sobbing, how could God do this to her? How could He reward her obedience with so much pain? How could He call Himself merciful? When you kneel next to her at the cross, you seethe with these questions to.  This wasn’t how things were supposed to be, her family and yours, they were supposed to have happy endings.

As Jesus hung from the cross, looking down at Mary, He knew the pain behind those tears.

Woman. Behold your son.

He knew. It’s a weird thing for a weeping father, in the form of a son, to be looking down on the son’s grieving mother. What can He say to her other than behold? Behold. I know your pain exactly. See me as I suffer through it with you.

If that was the end of the story, that would still be more heartbreak than any human parent could endure, but the pain of His story continues through all of humanity.  Of people who feel His love, who see His works, acknowledge His presence and still continue to walk away.  It continues with you and me, knowing His salvation, but choosing something less.  It is no wonder that there is more joy in heaven when one sinner returns, than for the 99 who have never gone astray.  Because after that much painful heartbreak who wouldn’t ditch all self respect to display their jubilation over a prodigal son.   

Parents, God knows your anger, and He knows your heartbreak, too. But today He says it is Good. It’s a Good Friday because He loves us that much. Because He loves being your father still.  Because every ounce of frustration and pain was worth it for you, and it was worth it for me. 

Holy Week Part 2: Citizenship

For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Philippians 3:20

My boys are 2, 5, 7 and 9, which means the days here are filled with a lot of whining and bickering. Even when they’re playing well together, because of their ages and maturity, it’s a fact that at some point people will end up in time out.  It’s one of the most difficult things for me to tolerate as a mother, I used to think Jesus was incredibly harsh when he said, “O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you?”(Matthew 17:17), but when all four of them are fighting over something as common as a single Lego piece, I totally get it.

It’s weird how the concept of time as a child is both fleeting and eternal. If I ask them to share a toy for 5 minutes they’ll pout and cry because it’s too long. It’s as if in 5 minutes, the whole world will have ended and their chance to play with it will be gone forever. But they also feel like they’ll be kids forever; they can’t imagine a day when they’ll be grown and fully responsible for themselves.  When the squabbling gets to the the point of parental intervention I try to explain to them how their perspective is too narrow; that in 10 years that Lego will be in the trash but their brother will still be here, so share…value the lasting relationship over the trash. They hear what I’m saying, and I think they even recognize it as truth, but their understanding of time won’t allow them to fully believe this wisdom.

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When I look at the kids, I see that they’re actually lucky to be fighting over something as unimportant as toys; I wish my conflicts were as petty as pee on the toilet seat or laundry on the floor.  As an adult,  I’m more capable to fulfill my desires, and far more severe to people who would stand in my way.  I can even make it look admirable, like if I’m fighting for something for my kids, or more time to pursue my dreams, or a fun vacation I worked hard for.  Armed with a good argument, I dare you to get in my way.

The constant debate throughout the whole country proves that no one is immune.  Between the political battles and the incessant media coverage, even the most peaceful people let somebody else piss them off last year.  Many people had excellent points, and were fighting for good things- high moral standards, peace, prosperity, justice, etc. Don’t we all desire these things? What sane person wouldn’t fight to make that happen? But through all the angry carnage, only stronger division was accomplished.

 

Today in the gospel reading (John 12:20-26) Jesus makes one of his harshest statements of all, but apparently of the greatest importance since he repeats it several times and all four gospel authors made note of it.  “He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:25) It’s verses like this that made a lot of people throughout history think Jesus was crazy.  It’s no wonder that by the time He got to the cross He was all alone.

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It has become so ingrained in our culture to love life, to seek the pleasure that it offers, that it’s become cliche- “live life to the fullest,” “seize the day,” “stop and smell the roses,” “live for the moment!”  It’s not that we should stop doing these things necessarily, I still believe time on earth shouldn’t be wasted. But maybe if we really understood how this world is not our citizenship, if we understood that we have an obligation to servant-hood and a life eternal, maybe we could rise above the petty conflict.

Like my kids, I know heaven is what the future promises, but I don’t understand it, nor can I fully imagine the promise that it brings.  When I deal with conflicts, I see them here and now, and if they don’t get solved I feel like I will surely die a miserable and unhappy death. Maybe even in the next 5 minutes.  And yet, at the same time, I also feel like I will be here on this earth forever and therefore ensuring my place in it must be a top priority.

People tell you all the time how fast parenting goes, and it’s true. When I look back to the beginning, I’m stunned that I’ve been at this for almost a whole decade. But the actual day in and day out feels like an eternity. Like they’re never going to grow up and be responsible and move out. Even though I’ve moved a lot, I still always have the feeling like these friends, these relatives, and this place will always be my home.  It’s this very human perspective of time that makes us cling so hard to the bits of joy when we find them and make us so ferocious toward anyone and anything that would try to rob us of it.  It’s hard to remember that there is joy eternal when your neighbor’s dog is barking outside your bedroom window all night long. Or that someday the dog will die, and there will just be you, not getting along with the person you were commanded to love.

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On this second day of Holy Week, remember your citizenship is in heaven, because too many people have lost their way to the cross by being caught in a petty argument over their citizenship here.   We’re following something eternal, and in ten years, or twenty, or once you’ve truly died and are hanging out with Jesus, will you still be glad that you fought so hard to get  your way? Maybe, in the light of what’s coming, it will be more important to be loving than to be right.  Maybe today it will be okay to lose out on the piece of this earth you’ve been clinging to, because He promised, whoever hates these things gets to keep following.

Promising Winter

My children’s only complaint about our old house was the lack of snow. All winter we would read books like The Snowy Day and The Snowman, or sing about a white Christmas, and the children would pine for those experiences. They counted down the days until the winter solstice, and then were angry with me when they woke up to green grass.  I felt sorry for them, being born in Virginia where winter is so unreliable. When I was their age we lived in Colorado and Wisconsin, and the amount of shoveling you would have to do was the deciding factor when choosing a house.  I never dreamed there were places where you would have to refinance the house in order to take the whole family snow tubing, or sign your kids up for the hockey team. Being unable to provide the beloved weather related memories that I had as a child is the suckiest type of mom guilt.

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Last year, the boys weren’t keen on the idea of moving to the mountains. It was far from their friends and our church.  They loved the farmland we lived in the middle of, with all the tractors and cows and flat, empty dirt roads for bike riding. Compounding their grief, I also decided that moving was the perfect excuse to finally take all of their tacky, moldy plastic yard toys to the dump.  So, to make up for their hurt feelings, I promised them  snow.  I reasoned with them that they wouldn’t miss their icky wagon or cracked slide because they would be so busy sledding and having snowball fights. It was irresponsible of me, since our winters are prone to menopausal style hot flashes. In this instance, however, I was lucky and either their prayers were answered or I was punished for my foolish promise. Last winter we had more snow than I have ever had in all my life. We went sledding so much the kids were almost sick of it…and then we had a blizzard that dumped three more feet.

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Snow is the best AND the worst when you live with little kids on a mountain. I despise the 30 minutes it takes to help everyone find and put all their snow clothes on, and the other 30 minutes it takes to get them all off again. Their slushy boots leave tracks all over the house, despite my constant barking to take them off on the door mat. Their playtime always ends in shrill, panicked screams that echo throughout the neighborhood- all because one tiny snow crystal touched somebody’s wrist or ankle.

Despite all of that, the time we all get to play together in the snow is all the best parts of motherhood. Games, adventures, cooperation, and smiles, all occurring with all four children,  simultaneously.   It almost feels like an injustice, that my husband is off hard at work while I’m home sledding down the biggest hill ever, taking turns with my little ones so they don’t crash into a tree.  Even the older boys, who don’t want my help as much anymore, will still invite me to help finish their igloo or create an Olympic bobsled track. I’m allowed to relive the innocence of catching snowflakes on the tongue, and the sweet, thawing relief of a cup of hot cocoa.

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In the backdrop, the beauty of the mountain soothes the stress that has built up from playing the never ending game of “where is my boot/mitten/sock/hat/glove?” Without snow, the Shenandoah forests are menacing in the winter. The leaves disappear and all that’s left is a tangled mess of gray brambles and vines. Somewhere hiding (hopefully) deep within that mess are sleeping bears and snakes. The whole thing is regularly shrouded in a thick fog, (https://myapplemountainlife.wordpress.com/portfolio/misty-mountains/) dampening the air and our moods. But the snow masks the foreboding appearance by covering it in the color of purity and innocence. It reflects sunlight into the shadowy gloom, clearing the air and scaring away thoughts of danger.

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Even though our elevation is only about 2000 feet higher than our friends, our house is usually about five degrees colder. This year we’ve had a freakishly warm winter, but my promise to the kids still keeps. Most of the snow we’ve had this year is ‘special snow’- when our house had snow but the lowlands did not. If you ever wondered why school was cancelled when all it did was rain, it’s probably because of neighborhoods like mine. It hasn’t been much, but enough to justify the purchases of boots and snow pants for everyone. We’ve been savoring it, mostly because it’s so warm and the experience is fleeting.  I’m glad that even with the weather fluctuations, I ended up not being a total liar.  The kids still complain that we haven’t had a white Christmas, but I don’t dare make promises on that one.  Maybe we’ll just road trip to Grandpa’s house, instead.

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Misunderstanding Mother’s Day

It wasn’t until I became a mom that I realized I had completely misunderstood mother’s day.  I had always seen it throught the eyes of hallmark and floral shops, as a day to make mom feel special, spoiled and adored.  The frustrating part was, though, that no amount of Hallmark or roses would suffice.  I bickered with my mom regularly growing up, but I was wise enough to realize my life existed because of her willingess to sacrifice for me.  No trinket or homemade card would ever be able to compare to that.

I assumed that despite my inadequate gift giving, it was an awesome day to be a mom- and that someday I would revel in the excitement of adding a new holiday to my calendar.

The first year I was celebrated I loved it, because my son was just a baby, and so far parenting had been all sacrifice and very little reward. The second year I felt totally akward, since I had absolutley no clue how to navigate the terrible two tantrums. I thought maybe the gifts should be returned since I was clearly not cut out for parenting. For the last five years though, I have really just wanted to go for a walk and cook dinner…which is sort of what we do every other day.

This year, my mom wanted to visit and of course I was excited. I was also immediately stressed out because I had a busy week, and a small budget, and I knew whatever gift I came up with wouldn’t compare to her greatness.  But than I realized something about her that I already knew was true for myself…

I realized that once you become a mom, Mother’s Day is a day to celebrate the fact that you have children. It’s to rejoice that you have been trusted with the responsibility of raising the next generation. It’s for remembering, that despite your complete lack of ablility and qualifications, God thought you fit to care for these specific beautiful people in your house.

There is often drudgery in the sacrifice-  sleepless nights, poop, laundry, stress, barf in your hair, etc.- and its nice that Hallmark has made a booming industry out of thanking moms for that. The part that the cards leave out though is the defeat. I mess up parenting everyday. I set a poor example by losing my temper, forgetting things that are important, or not listnening when I should.  Nothing will reveal your personality flaws or push your patience more than parenting. And absolutely  nothing is worse than watching your kids absorb one of your bad habits. There is no “Dear mom! Im so glad you taught me the s-word” in the card aisle.

What I really want to celebrate is that despite my worst shortcomings, my kids love me anyways.  I want a holiday to adore them for sharing forgiveness with me like halloween candy. The true gift given is that I’m not entitled to their trust, but they will still barrel down the scariest of slides if I hold them in my lap. The real honor is to look at each one of them, wonder at how unique they are, and realize how much they’ve grown- inside and out.

The best Mother’s Day gift is a day to marvel at the magnificence of being a mother, which is something you could never give your mom through chocolates or flowers (Although she will cherish them, because they’re from you). The best gifts you already give her naturally, by loving her, forgiving her, and trusting her, every single day.