home study #1

home-scenes-newD600-1

today we had our first home study on this journey to become licensed foster care parents for refugee minors.

we sat around our table with a licenser and her supervisor, happily chatting, receiving instruction, answering questions, talking about why this is  road we’re walking in the first place.

and those reasons are so anticlimactic, so matter-of-fact.

and right now this entire thing feels so abstract, so far-off, so difficult to imagine.

part of me wants to do what i always do when i have Big Life Questions and want to anticipate and understand them: that is, i want to Google it. i want to devour articles and blogs and stories from others who’ve walked this road and been brave enough to share about it in a real way. but the google search results are yielding limited results, since the fostering of refugee foster kids is in so many ways a different animal than the fostering of american kids in the american system, and also less common, which means i haven’t been able to find a single blog/account/personal story of someone who has gone before us.

thankfully, we know a few families personally and we can pick their brains.

but really it might be best that i can’t piece together a detailed sketch of what this will be like: how it will feel to have him/her/them sitting at our table in the dark, quiet evenings, sharing a meal of food that i’ve learned to make just so that they’d feel a bit more at home, watching him/her/them play with my children in a manner at first tentative then surprisingly familiar, driving him/her/them to and from school, trying to communicate around language and cultural barriers, waking up to see his/her/their brown-skin faces greeting me.

how old will he/she/they be? we can’t seem to settle on a particular profile of The Sort of Kid(s) We Want, because we believe the Holy Spirit will tell us Yes or No on a case by case basis and really we can make anything work for a little while. and this sort of foster care is usually always just for a little while.

which leads me to wondering what it will be like to have him/her/them be here so briefly, requiring an opening of our hearts and hands and home to love and sacrifice, only to leave again, so soon and to such unknown futures.

the licensers told us today that the real need is for families who are open to taking teenage boys. boys will stay longer than just a few weeks because they are not transitional like the younger ones who are in pursuit of living family already in the country, but whom have no one else to go home to. they need a family that will stick with them for a long haul.

an african or south american teenage boy? for years? can we begin to imagine that?

tonight i told Hazel that daddy and mommy have been talking about having other boys and girls come live with us in our house.

me: “what do you think of that?”

h: “i think…good.”

me: “do you think it should be a boy or a girl?”

h: “a boy.”

me: “do you think it will be a big boy or a little boy?”

h: “a BIG boy!”

me: “like vivi’s big brothers max and ib (they are 15 and 16 years old, respectively, and one of them is a refugee from the Congo)? do you want a boy like that?”

h: “yes!”

i won’t read too much into that, but she’s been known to be weirdly prophetic in the past. i bless her open heart. later she exclaimed,”he come live in mine house with ME! i love mine house so much!”

what we love

what we find delight in as children — before we are self-conscious enough to realize that there are “cool” things to like and “uncool” things to like — can tell us some things about who God has designed us to be. so i thought i’d take a moment to record some of those things, both for myself and for my kids.

what i remember loving as a child:

horses, mud, catching frogs and toads, playing in the water, beautifying tiny spaces, exploring in the woods, making up games, imagination, blueberries, canned mushrooms,  rice with parmesan cheese, kittens, dressing up in my grandmother’s vintage lingerie (haha), cousins, forts built of blankets, riding in boats, taking pictures on my 110 film camera.

this is what i see hazel loving:

water (pouring it, being immersed in it), “mine gus,” helping mommy with cooking or cleaning, wrestling, cooking in her kitchen, picking raspberries and apples, sandbox, two over everything (two babies, two covers, two pillows at every nap and bedtime), carrying books around the house from here to there, people (both new and familiar), dancing, going for walks.

this is what i see gus loving, young as he is:

grabbing stuff (anything within arm’s reach), being cradled in my left arm as he drifts off to sleep, outside, leaves and grass, avocado, peek-a-boo, being carried in a sling or in someone’s arms, playing quietly alone on the floor with small toys, kisses from mama, anything hazel does (except for when she squeeze him too hard or slaps him in the face).

(inspiration for this post came from here.)

 

 

he leans in

daddy-hugs-2

he grabs either side of my face with his chubby hands and, grinning, lunges into my neck for a hug. if he’s sitting on the floor playing, he reaches his arms up to me, or leans into me to indicate that he would like to be picked up. if another person is holding him, he grins widely when he sees me, and leans toward me, with grasping hands, for a transfer into his mama’s arms.

be still my heart. my boy who leans, sometimes falls, into me.  what beauty.

yet, in other ways, he is happy to be left alone. after being held awhile he fusses and squirms and twists as he tries to move from my arms. then when i set him down on the floor with a few objects nearby for grabbing, he returns instantly to a perfectly contented state, even if i go to the next room, out of his sight. and at bedtime, he no longer wants to be held as he falls asleep, but indicates in no uncertain terms that he’s ready to be laid down in his crib where he can fall asleep on his own.

i suspect he’ll have a bit of an introverted tendency. i get that.

yes, he’ll be my leaning-in introvert. a healthy, and perhaps rare combination.

 

“do self, mama”

hazel-and-the-popcorn-2more and more often this is what she insists upon. sometimes her insistence comes through a fit of tears as she pushes me away, insisting that i absolutely DO NOT help her.

this makes life easier in certain ways, but it also makes me a bit sad. not because i want her to depend on me for everything for the rest of her life, but because in those moments of dependence, we necessarily connect. we are close — usually in physical contact — as we cooperate to reach the up-high object, to pull on her pants, to put another serving of food in her bowl, or to move her into or out of her bed.

now, in this independent streak, instead of the necessitated physical connection, i must choose a new way to connect. as she does the action, i stand nearby and watch. i marvel at her capability. i giggle at her tiny body with the too-big toddler head as it navigates new challenges. i praise her successes.

sometimes, after she’s had a go at it, she changes her mind and admits, “help, please, mommy.” and a little part of my heart rejoices. i  move in to hold her hand, lift her small body, slip on the shoe, or reach the unreachable.

and — as in so many aspects of this mothering job — i see another parallel here, a picture of how it is with my Papa and me. i imagine that He, too, though he is pleased with my maturity and growth, has a certain pleasure in helping me. in those moments when i surrender my independence and solicit His help it means that we necessarily connect at that point. He gets to have me closer in that moment than in many other moments. so i resolve to more often say, “help, please, Papa” so that we can touch one another.

ps: she praises, me, now, too. when i sweep the floor or pick up the toys, i hear a small voice say, “good job, mommy!” or, “great, mom!”

when you buy a house that’s too big for you

moved-in-717-15

well, it doesn’t feel too big. in fact, it feels spacious and open and rather wonderful.

but the objective reality is that it really is too big. 6 bedrooms for a family of 4 is really a bit too much.

so when you find yourself in possession of such a house, and when your heart belongs to Jesus and He enlarges it in such a way that you have room in it, too… then you start to wonder about how you might be able to fill that house, grow that family.

  • will you have more babies?
  • will you adopt a baby? a child?
  • will you invite a college student to live with you?
  • will you foster a child in the US foster care system?
  • will you foster a refugee child? or one fleeing to the US to seek their parents?

each of these become real possibilities, as you’re pouring over adoption blogs, listening to the stories of folks in your community who’ve been foster parents, and keeping an eye out for a young person who might benefit from a family to live with for a season. and you keep asking God to lead you into the particular way that He has designed for you to fill that home and that heart of yours.

you find that as you move forward with this you don’t feel like an emotional crusader, intent on rescuing “those poor orphans” about whom you feel heavy-laden with anguish and worry. instead, you’re surprised to find that you’re rather matter-of-fact about it: you say, “we can do this, and this matters to God, so why wouldn’t we do it?”

you hope that doesn’t sound flippant or naive; for it is neither.

this comes after knowing about the hard parts, the stories that are really terrible and have not yet seen the fulfillment of the hoped-for redemption. this comes knowing that there will be a million small deaths to die every day, a lot of discomfort, and a lot of exhaustion. this comes knowing you will be changed.

but a lesson a wise woman taught you long ago is this: there is joy on the other side of obedience. and you have seen that truth demonstrated in your life enough times by now that you’re willing to believe it will be true in this case, too.

you also know that God provides everything that His people need to do the things He asks them to do, both emotional and practical. He will provide the bigger car and the extra beds. He will provide the spirit of adoption in your heart.

so you leap…

legacies

717-scenes-1i’m slowly reading a really wonderful, water-for-the-soul book that my sweet MIL recommended called Desperate: Hope for the Mom Who Need to Breath by Sarah Mae and Sally Clarkson.

at the end of one chapter, the authors challenge the reader to intentionally write down five legacies she wants to leave for her children, then to think about how those can be intentionally built into the family culture and daily rhythms.

so i thought i’d share what i wrote (it’s a lot more than 5)!

  1. A conversational relationship with the living Christ, in which they speak to and hear Him
  2. Curiosity and compassion toward those who are different than they are (instead of judgement and fear)
  3. A practice of rest and sabbath
  4. A rested confidence in their belovedness
  5. Trusting yeildedness to obey God’s will and call, even when it seems scary or foolish
  6. The ability to ask good questions & knowledge about how to seek out information and answers
  7. Sharing meals around a table & appreciation of real/whole food
  8. A practice of hospitality
  9. An understanding of Church as the family of God (not a Sunday event)
  10. Stewardship and basic life skills competency (e.g., thrifting, cooking, creating order, budgeting)
  11. Enjoyment of music and silly dancing
  12. A tendency to see and savor beauty and to create beauty
  13. Using their voices to ask for what they need and to advocate for those who don’t have a voice
  14. Interdependence and problem-solving together
  15. Simplicity and minimalism

Next, i went through and wrote out a few practical ways that I can begin to embed each of these legacies in our family life and model them to our kids at this particular stage of their development. I know that the particulars of how we communicate these values to our kids will change as they grow older. For now it’s a lot of modeling; of showing them a certain kind of “normal” that will feel natural to them for their entire lives!

It was really exciting to do this exercise. And I have a simplified list of these values posted on our fridge now, in language that might be understood by a toddler. Each one begins with “We are a family that __[insert value here]_____.” Having these big picture goals in sight and in mind really adds another layer of meaning to the nitty gritty of our days, reminds me of why we do the work we do, why we live where we live, and why we’ve chosen the spiritual family that we walk with. It challenges me to model values that are part of my best self, and to do it consistently and joyfully.

Have you ever done something like this? I’d love to hear about your experience with it, or what your own hoped for legacies are!

loud

tent-play-2

from first contact with H this morning, i could tell it was going to be one of those days. those days when we’re fighting each other almost every step of the way: she pushing the limits, me losing my cool, back and forth and over and over again until i long to put her to bed or lock her away in a closet.

she is my strong-willed spirited child. she is LOUD, this child. there is nothing quiet about her, except for the first 5 minutes of meeting a new person. she sings loudly (and off key), laughs maniacally, shouts her requests, screeches in the car just to make noise, and demonstrates affection with something bordering on smothering. when she is mad or upset, she cries dramatically and with sometimes shocking endurance. her very loudness wearies me, an introvert prone to sensory overload. sometimes i just want so badly for her to tone. it. down. fortheloveofGod!

but this is how He’s fashioned her to be. and her voice — which is loud and confident — will be such an asset to her one day if, God help us, we can shepherd that in her well.

in some ways, i can learn from her. how wonderful that she sees it as her right to demand our attention, our assistance, our provision, our affection. she is confident in her status as our beloved daughter and so she knows that she can ask for what she needs (though we must teach her how to ask with respect and gentleness) and accept a favorable reply. though her sense of entitlement assertiveness irritates the heck out of me sometimes, i’ve been wondering lately how she might be able to teach me something about how i approach my Papa.

so today. today was one of those hard days. the sort that you feel as though you’ve barely survived. you collapse on the closest soft surface after putting her to bed and thank God that you didn’t say or do anything too terribly regrettable in response to her button-pushing. we’ve survived the day.

tomorrow i hope we’ll connect from our hearts, and we’ll dance a little more harmoniously.

10 (affection from babies)

at some point, the affection became purposeful. i remember the first time. we were playing on the floor of the nursery and suddenly she just nestled her head into my neck and stayed there. quiet. soft. i was seated in a rather uncomfortable position, but i felt like i could hold it forever if she would only remain nestled there that way. which she did for many moments. my heart melted afresh.

and since then, this is more common. “do you have a kiss for mama?” i’ll say, and she’ll immediately push her head and face into my chest or my face. she does the same for her baby friends miles and landon and lilia. and sometimes she pats my back or my chest or my face with such affection and a light in her eyes. you can tell she is actively — purposefully — expressing love. i don’t imagine it gets much better than this.

tonight tim tried to put her to sleep for the night while i was away photographing an engagement session. but i returned to find her still very much awake. at the sight of me she flapped her arms, smiled, and began scooting toward me, then lay her head in my lap. tim reported that even as he had been snuggling her for 20 minutes with hopes of her falling to sleep, she suddenly started making raspberries at the 15 minute mark. she just wanted to be cuddled and close and playful, not to go to sleep. it’s hard to resist a cuddly baby. and so i guess we kept her up a little later tonight than we “should” have.

i’m okay with that.

woulda-been 1st birthday

i don’t have a photo for this post because i never got to see her.

but today she would have been one year old, had she been born on her due date, had she been born to me at all.

she was born instead into Jesus’ hands, a necessity i do not pretend to understand. still, i like to know my firstborn is with Him.

i was walking around the neighborhood this morning with my sweet niece and hazel (delight of my heart), and we ran into a neighbor whom i know also lost a baby this spring, and that baby would have been born about now. we’re not close, so i didn’t bring it up, but i felt this sympathy of a hidden understanding between us: she perhaps grieving on this day when she would have become a mother; and i grieving for the 1st birthday that would have been. ironically, this person has a puppy — purchased in the wake of that loss — whose name is the same as the one i had given to my firstborn. they don’t know this.

there’s a lump in my throat today, and i have slipped into tears already twice. somehow, i didn’t expect this. but a friend has suggested that today we bake a cake and celebrate that baby’s birthday…and though i hadn’t planned on so intentionally stopping to commemorate her, it feels right. i think we might do that.

 

but things come full circle, don’t they?

you see, yesterday was the one-year anniversary of finding out we were pregnant with the incredible little person known as hazel june. my daughter.

a little family time

moving to Michigan, though a clear and confident choice, had the sad side-effect of moving us several hours away from most of our collier family, though closer to one branch of it. still, we’re about a 6+ hour drive from all of tim’s brothers and sisters-in-law, our nieces and nephews, and tim’s parents. and because we’re in MI and most of the rest of them are concentrated in WI, we know that in most cases, we’ll be the ones to do the traveling.

BUT this past weekend was a beautiful exception to the norm. this past weekend, tim’s three older brothers and their wives and kids came from Sun Prairie, WI (Nathan and Kristen), Milwaukee (Dan, Jess, Sam, and Eli), and Pittsburgh (Ben, Lisa, and Sophia) to be with us in Grand Rapids. four gentle giants of brothers, four sweet sisters-in-law, three charming cousins, and two baking buns in the ovens… all together for a short while. some of the crew stayed over at MY brother and sister-in-law’s house across town, but during the days, we all assembled at our little west side house, filling the rooms to bursting with all those bodies. we extended our dining room table and had a family style brunch together, the cousins bounced on the air mattress in the future nursery, the grown-ups caught up on one another’s lives and interests, we walked to a mexican restaurant for dinner. and on saturday night, we divided by genders, so that they Sisters could throw a mother blessing shower for me, while the guys babysat sleeping toddlers and talked about fatherhood.

and we’re all richer. it’s a gift of such generosity for them all to come out here and be with us in this way, in these final weeks leading up to the birth of our daughter. and we feel so loved by their commitment to making the trip out in order to see us in our new digs.

their visit, btw, came about a week and a half after a visit from tim’s “little” sister, Amanda, and her friend Kelsey. they set up camp with us for a handful of days during their college spring break, keeping us entertained with their wonderful senses of humor, putsing around the house with us, and jumping in on conversations and prayer times with some visiting boiler room pilgrims. i think amanda is one of the coolest 20 year olds i know, and i wish she’d transfer out here to finish her degree. 😉

anyway, here’s some photos of the collier weekend…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

and more can be found here.