"I pray the power of the Holy Ghost will be with each of us—that we may think what we need to think, feel what we need to feel, and learn what we need to learn so we can do what we know we should do and ultimately become what the Lord yearns for us to become." - David A. Bednar
Today was a little rough. Actually, this past week has been more rough than usual. (And that's saying something) I think I've been feeling a little guilty for the time it takes to care for the foster kids and I worry that my biological children feel slighted or pushed off to the side. I had a team meeting on Monday, my foster son's school performance on Tuesday, a DSFS evaluation for two hours on Wednesday, and they've just increased the required parent visits to a total of four hours a week, plus preschool with mom so she can receive parental training with her own daughter which adds up to an additional 9 hours a week.
Now, I get that more parent/child time is needed since the end goal is to reunite these kids with their biological family but it makes the foster kids more emotional, more confused, more difficult to redirect.
I've been so concerned about making sure my own biological children don't feel neglected as I try to work through these issues with the fosters. I've forced myself to stay up past midnight several nights in a row because that's the only time I'll get to just scratch their backs one by one and talk to the children.
I asked some questions on our support group page and immediately a whole bunch of other foster parents chimed in to give their encouragement and validation.
A foster mom related, "One thing that one of my bio children said to me this past summer was, 'You don't know what it's like to share your mom with someone else!' Until that point, I didn't understand her frustration, now I am very careful with how much time is spent with each bio/adopted and foster children. It is a very fine line to walk so that your own children do not build resentment towards you. Foster Care is the hardest thing I have done in my life.
Dozens of comments came back where I knew I had a community who understood my concerns completely.
A couple of comments were a little more light-hearted like this one from a foster dad,
"We thought that as long as the foster kids were little, and younger than our bio kids, then there would be no problems. Bwahahahahaha!"
Others shared ideas of how to unify our family and nourish each relationship, to help create bonds with the bios and the fosters. I'm excited to try some of the ideas.
One particular woman's comments were so great that I had to visit her profile page. There, I discovered this cool photo I have displayed at the top of this post: "Sometime's you gotta fall before you fly."
*Sigh* - Jumping in with both feet can be a little scary.... It's the story of my life though.
"Courage is not the absence of fear; it is the ability to act in spite of it." - anonymous
Last night, I took Miriam and Kaylee to a world-wide broadcast of a meeting for all the women in the church ages eight and older. I also brought my 3-yr-old foster daughter in order to allow the boys at home to be able to "comfortably watch" their action movie while we were away.
At the church, my girls instantly found their friends and bounced happily into the open seats next them. They are always so thrilled to be around Hannah, Mia, and Oli. I was also very glad to connect with their mom, Carol, who is my dear friend,
After the meeting was over, Carol and her daughters climbed into our van with us to find a good place to grab some milkshakes and visit with each other more. I met Carol two-and-a-half years ago but it seems much longer than that.
My life is so completely different from when I first met her. I guess you could say her life is completely different too. It was great to share with one another some of the lessons we've been learning along the way. Carol has such a beautiful testimony of God and His involvement in our lives. She's incredibility compassionate, intelligent, and brave. I truly admire her! It made my whole day, my whole week, to spend that hour-and-a-half together -- just the two of us and our girls. I think I really needed that.
I'm grateful to know "that same sociality which exists among us here [on earth] will exist among us [in heaven]" - D&C 130:2
It was one of those family home evening lessons desperately thrown together at the extreme last second. (Most of my FHE lessons are like that.) I actually had the idea ten minutes before 6pm last night while racing through Rancho Market's produce section, grabbing ingredients for my other "desperately thrown together" dinner--fajitas. I saw the cute little tiny orange habenero peppers and thought, "How perfect!" I bought one. It was all I needed.
No, I didn't put the habenero into the fajitas. My plan was to use it for an object lesson about James3:6, "The tongue is a fire..." (You can see where I'm going with this.)
We read the scripture and watched two videos that had to do with fire: One where the fire was terribly destructive and out of control and the other, a nice cozy hearth with warm glowing flames safely in a fireplace. We asked the kids to tell us why James would describe the tongue as a fire and they all gave some great answers.
Then came the best part... I pulled the habenero out of a bag and challenged the kids to eat pieces of it. (Now, I can handle pretty spicy stuff but even I didn't realize how hot this little guy was going to be.) Kaylee thought it was one of those mini bell peppers that are often served with veggie trays and wanted to eat the entire thing. I still only gave her a small piece and she quickly ate it. A split-second later, all of the kids were in the kitchen screaming and downing gallons of water... (um... something that should never be done after eating a pepper that hot).
The screaming grew louder and more panicked as the kids couldn't figure out how to stop the burning. Kaylee was completely hysterical and could hardly stand on two feet as she withered and writhed dramatically on the floor in agony, cursing me for what I had done. I seriously didn't think it would be so bad.
I began passing out coconut oil for the outsides of their faces and bowls of ice cream to sooth their tongues. They all got double servings of ice cream, which I felt was a plus. The bonus dessert didn't matter in their eyes. No amount of refreshments would stop them from feeling betrayed.
To make matters worse, I couldn't stop laughing. And when they had all finally settled down, I remarked, "At least one thing is for certain. You'll never forget this FHE lesson!" They all smiled with agreement.
This little experience only reaffirms in my mind that some of the best things in life are unplanned, desperately thrown together, and completely last minute.
There's a new song out by MercyMe I wanted to share this evening. My hope in doing so is that it might be encouraging to someone who is consumed by despair from the burning flames of life's fiery furnace.
These verses strike my heart the most, The song is a prayer to God, one I think every Christian has felt at some moment in their life.
"It's easy to sing When there's nothing to bring me down But what will I say When I'm held to the flame Like I am right now I know You're able and I know You can
Save through the fire with Your mighty hand
But even if You don't
My hope is You alone"
This reminds me very much of the wonderful talk given By Dennis E. Simmons thirteen years ago, But If Not, especially the last two paragraphs.
We must have the same faith as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego.
"Our God will deliver us from ridicule and persecution, but if not. … Our God will deliver us from sickness and disease, but if not … . He will deliver us from loneliness, depression, or fear, but if not. … Our God will deliver us from threats, accusations, and insecurity, but if not. … He will deliver us from death or impairment of loved ones, but if not, … we will trust in the Lord. Our God will see that we receive justice and fairness, but if not. … He will make sure that we are loved and recognized, but if not. … We will receive a perfect companion and righteous and obedient children, but if not, … we will have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, knowing that if we do all we can do, we will, in His time and in His way, be delivered and receive all that He has."
We might not have the answers to some of our experiences right now. Time may reveal it or at least content our souls with not knowing. But one thing is certain - God loves us and will see us through every heartache as we seek Him.
Yesterday was awesome! For the morning part of St. Patrick's Day, I made green pancakes served with green milk. For the afternoon, the kids and I made green rice crispy treats and rainbow cupcakes. And for dinner, we had green deviled eggs, green grapes, cucumber wheels, and laab. (Okay, so laab isn't anything close to Irish.) Laab is actually a Thai dish but it has some delicious greens in it and it's one of my foster son's favorite meals. I'd actually say it's a comfort food for him because it reminds him of his mother. He was so delighted when he found out that I made laab. He gobbled up two big servings and then swung around the table to give me a big grateful hug. I was so glad to see him happy. Next week I'll make him some pho, one of his other favorites. I really need to learn more Thai and Vietnamese recipes,
After dinner, Joseph and I had the perfect date night-- We hiked the Y, drank green smoothies, watched a movie, and did other fun stuff. ;) We plan to make our Y hike together at least a couple times a month, maybe more. Joseph is really serious about planning for Timp this year. I'm so proud of him because this is completely out of his comfort zone. I really don't know what has gotten into him but I don't want it to stop.
I was so pleased with how yesterday went. Even the morning routine was quite smooth with none of the regular meltdowns from my foster daughter. The weather was amazing and the kids were all generally happy. It really was a good day... and I'll hang on to all the good days I can.
It's part of my routine now to take my foster children to visit their parents every Tuesday evening for two hours. Sometimes I stay and watch but sometimes it's too hard for me to stay. I learn so much about the children's behavior, the root of their desires, and the habits that seem to be ingrained in them.
Sometimes, I leave these visits feeling very angry and frustrated, wanting to knock some sense into the parents and show them just how much damage they have done. I want to force them to break the vicious cycle they've been in all their lives, somehow just make them stop. I have to remind myself to be forgiving and pray for their parents rather than become resentful.
A couple Tuesdays ago, my foster daughter left the visit with a gift from her mom: a little tiny coin purse on a chain that said, "Thou Shalt Sin". Mom knew that I wouldn't like the text - so as we were leaving, I was grateful when she said that it was up to me if I decided to let her daughter keep it. Of course, my foster daughter didn't want to give up her new gift, no way! So I let her keep it under the condition that she would let me "fix it" first. Her three-year-old mind didn't see the purse as broken but she willingly put it into my hands anyway.
I examined the purse and contemplated how I was going to "fix it". I saw it as an opportunity to teach a subtle lesson. I thought maybe I could insert a "not" between the "shalt sin" part but decided it seemed to be lacking core principle. Maybe I could just paint over the whole thing. I pondered on the commandments God gives us and why He gives them... and then I knew exactly what to do.
The next morning, I showed my foster daughter what I had done to the purse and she beamed with delight. She liked it so much better! (Since she can't read - I'm guessing it was mostly because of the pink letters.)
Even still, this experience is so telling. There are so many layers to it. I've reflected on the transition of thought that comes with three simple words:
"Thou Shalt Sin" - Making a mock of the commandments of God, viewing sin as real freedom, a message to flaunt, to celebrate rebelliousness.
"Thou Shalt Love" - An understanding of what God's laws really free us to DO and to feel. The foundation and core of Who God IS and what He wants us to ultimately BECOME.
I'm glad my foster daughter likes her purse better this way.
My husband and I went to see the movie Lion Saturday night. Nominated for a Golden Globe award, it's a movie about a boy named Saroo adopted from India by an Australian couple, John and Sue Brierley.
Now since we aren't adoptive parents, we are only fostering right now, there are some big differences, but this movie was much more impactful to us than it would have if we weren't in our current situation.
Being foster parents, Joseph and I have discovered hardships we never even dreamed of. When you bring these children into your home, you adopt all their trauma...and their entire past becomes part of your life. There is no escaping it.
Saroo was a beautiful experience for John and Sue. From the moment they brought him home, he was obedient and good-natured. They both bond very quickly with Saroo. But everything changes for the Brierley's when they decide two years later to adopt another boy, Mantosh, from India .
The scene where they bring Mantosh home and introduce him to Saroo has a completely different tone. Mantosh has frequent violent emotional melt-downs, screaming, flailing, and smacking himself. This realization is horrifying to Sue and John. This kind of trauma was not what they expected, especially after their first adoption seemed to be such a happy placement. Sue struggles to remain her natural cheery self. The energy required to care for Mantosh is an exhausting battle day after day that almost drains the life out of her.
Watching this scene filled me with emotion. I turned to my husband who related instantly too. He looked at me and lovingly squeezed my hand. Tears rolled down my face and I whispered to him, "It's so real. I get this, Joseph. I totally get her pain."
"I know you do." He said, squeezing my hand tighter, "I know."
When Saroo grows older, memories from his past begin to haunt him and he can't let it go until he gets the questions plaguing his mind answered. His emotional state deteriorates in the journey, worrying his adoptive parents greatly. He apologizes deeply to Sue, "I'm sorry... but you've adopted my past."
Oh, the lives of these children! So few realize the horrors they have experienced, how it plays out and affects everyone in their lives in so many varied ways. So few realize the energy it takes to help them heal from it all. But someone has to help them heal!
This movie, based on a true story, does an excellent job of creating new insights about adoption... yet, it's still a movie: There's only so much that can be fit into the film, only so much that can be told. There is so much more behind the scenes and between the lines.
Okay, I've got to be better at posting the positive things that I get to witness as a foster parent. This is one of them!
I actually think this it's the first he has ever crafted or made something in his entire ten (almost eleven) years of life. I mean, outside of any kind of crafty activities he has done in public school, I think this is the actual first time my foster son has crafted his own toy.
When he first moved here four-and-a-half months ago, he would get extremely jealous of Micah and all his creations. My foster son would make insulting remarks about his own ability and throw the tools down muttering, "I suck at this. This is stupid. I don't know how to do anything." Of course I'd try to persuade him that none of those negative comments were true but he'd stomp off and absolutely refuse to listen. I guess after a decade of being babysat 24/7 by video games and television, anyone's self-esteem is bound to struggle.
This is just a little wooden home he made from an old torn-apart bird house. On the right is a little traveling box he painted for his two Playmobile guys. I also showed my foster son how to use my wood-burning tool, which he loved. It's great to see him discover the fun he can have away from a screen in his face. He played with this for several hours with Micah.
Of course, Micah created his own hut too and made a campfire out of paper and markers. It was the perfect place for their Playmobile guys to hang out.
My foster son was so proud of what he made that the next day he took his little wooden house with him to his parent visit to show his mom. It's so great to see him get a spark of confidence. And that's all it really takes.
My foster daughter has regular hour-long, sometimes two hour-long, melt-downs every morning. She doesn't like to go to the bathroom or get dressed: She knows how to do it perfectly well on her own but it's always a power-struggle. Sometimes, she'll have several of these a day. She is used to a life with absolutely no rules and no boundaries whatsoever... so any correction, any asking her to wait, or any form of giving her instruction usually sends her flying into a full scale fit of rage. It's interesting, because in middle of her kicking, scratching and flailing, she screams at the top of her lungs, "I want you, Alicia!! I want you!!"
This desperate display of such contrasting desires goes on in most foster children: At the very same time they are acting out in horrible violent behavior, they are also pleading and begging for loving, affectionate physical reassurance... And let me tell you, it is the hardest thing to give in those moments.
For the past few weeks, our foster son has also had an increase of "tantrums"--displaying the same kinds of pushing away and pulling us in. He has started to lay around more, sitting and sulking about what is required in order to be able to play video games. He fights against every rule of our home--stomping, sassing, slamming, protesting... and seconds later he wants a big huge bear hug.
We were told about this common push/pull behavior from other foster parents, just didn't realize how extreme it would be and how hard to recover from.
I was pretty worn out after his tantrum last night and her morning melt-down today.
However, I feel the Lord blessed me with a compassion beyond my own ability. After she finally got dressed, I scooped up my screaming foster daughter and held her until she relaxed in my arms. I leaned up against the bedroom wall and slid my tired body to the floor, continuing to just hold her. She wrapped her arms around me and tucked her head deep into my shoulder completely silent. After about ten minutes, she pulled back to look at my face. I sighed wearily, "Sweetheart, you need to learn to relax and not panic so quickly. You know how to do these things. Please don't throw such a fit about it." She flopped back onto my shoulder again. It must be so hard for her to live in such a different environment.
Later, I found some little activities to take my foster daughter's mind off of her anxieties and also give me some space. After I could see she was content and calm, I walked down the hall and found Kaylee playing this song on the blue tooth, "Shooting Star" by, Owl City. I took a deep breath and listened closely. I don't think I had ever heard it before. I liked the lyrics and asked her to play it again.
We're going to get through this. "Fill the darkest night with a brilliant light."
I think this will be my song for the day.
My husband and I have been fasting and praying for greater compassion and endurance in this journey as foster parents. This new life had been difficult but we have felt blessings poured out upon us in miraculous ways. My husband and I have grown so close through all of this and have become quite the team. Joseph is the number one person I look out for and he looks out for me. I think the most common questions we ask each other throughout the day are, "What do you need from me?" and "What can I do to help make your day better?" Most of the time, all we need is a good long hug.
Now, I believe it's very important for mothers to invest their time with their children and I try to make it a point to give each child a little one-on-one as I go around and say good night. But one day (faster than we can imagine) all the children will be grown and gone... and the one person who will remain is my husband. My children will go their various directions, travel their separate ways, but Joseph and I will remain together. We know that if we can thoroughly enjoy and create wonderful intimate moments in all our current chaos, then how much sweeter our companionship will be after the dust settles!
I just read a portion of this talk given by Elder Nelson at BYU in 2000 called, "Identity, Priority, and Blessings." I love how he describes his relationship with his wife:
"Some people on life’s journey forget who they really are and what is really important. Without sure identity and priority, blessings that matter most are at the mercy of things that matter least...
...Through thick and thin, Sister Nelson and I have merged our identity and fixed our focus on our highest priority, our eternal marriage. Through the prolonged period of education and later medical practice, she could have complained about my schedule, but she never did. Our children did not feel they were deprived of their father’s time, simply because Sister Nelson never murmured. Their attitudes were shaped by her attitude. Every moment we were together she seized as an opportunity to provide a little bit of heaven on earth for me and our children.
Now our children are adults with little ones of their own. We enjoy extended family home evenings once a month with all available members of our family. At that time we also celebrate family birthdays. Many names are written on each birthday cake. After those gala gatherings are over—when peace and quiet have again been restored—Sister Nelson and I lovingly embrace each other, grateful that we never allowed anything to take higher priority than our love—husband for wife, and wife for husband."
Isn't that beautiful? Especially the part where he says that they never allowed anything to take higher priority than their love.
Today is the one day out of the year that gives us encouragement right there in its name. So that's my message for today, March Forth! No matter what you might be going through, no matter how battered or weary you may feel, don't quit, don't lose faith, stay true to your loved ones, stay true to the Savior, and it will all work out.
Well I don't think Yoda had it exactly right--Fear doesn't necessarily lead to anger. It's the denial of fear, the being too proud to admit fear, or just a completely unconscious fear that can lead to an unhealthy anger.
I've felt compelled to study the emotion of fear a little more lately mostly to observe the needs of each member of my family: my children, my foster children, my husband, and myself. Fear is a powerful emotion and can be extremely intimidating. But instead of running from it, we should seek to understand the cause of it in our lives.
I've noticed that Joseph has been studying fear too--searching talks and scriptures on the subject. We've had some great discussions together that I've really enjoyed. Last Thursday, we had a 3-way phone conversation from one of the supervisors at DCFS. He described some observations he has made with the foster children and how fear has been playing into their lives.
There's something interesting about fear... because when we don't face our fears or admit them, it usually leads to another, more frightening, emotion. I found these lines the other day that describe what I'm trying to say:
"A well-defended heart is always looking for a fight"
These discussions and these studies have been very helpful in opening our understanding to two little guests we have in our home. A couple of nights ago, we gained even more insight as we listened to an incredible story.
Joseph and I had our date night on Sunday this last week and had the privilege of attending a fireside where Sergeant Justin Garn spoke. Sergeant Garn described some of his experiences in combat. He said that fear and sadness are primary emotions and that anger is secondary. Even in a split second, when someone flies off the handle, it is almost always because they've ignored their primary emotion. Anger is always a choice and that it is usually used as a tool to hide fear or grief.
He described some dark times in his life during combat where he almost let anger take over his soul because he didn't want to face his fears or sorrows. It was a rude awakening to recognize the anger that almost swallowed him whole. He realized that it came from suppressing his fear and by not allowing himself to mourn.
"We all grieve in different ways," he said--we all mourn over different losses and changes in our lives--but we all grieve and we all mourn. And we need to allow ourselves to feel and express fear and sorrow, these primary emotions, to be real with ourselves and others. If we don't, then we often turn to anger--the biggest destroyer of peace.
He began to study his scriptures and pray everyday. He changed the music he listened to and prepared himself each morning by listening to hymns, songs that reminded him of the worth of every human soul. He felt a miraculous change come over his heart as he began to feel love even for those who would usually be called his enemy.
As Joseph and I listened to this incredible soldier speak, we heard a modern-day Moroni, one who did not desire to be a man of blood, one who delighted in the freedom of all people, one who truly loved God, his country, and his family. He had a magnificent spirit of humility and love about him.
During the fireside, our experiences as foster parents played in my mind. I thought of the extreme fits of rage our little foster daughter has on a regular basis. I thought of the difficult outbursts of anger our foster son displays too... And I saw them both a little differently. I could see more clearly what the social worker was describing last Thursday. These are two very frightened and sad children. It's helpful for us to understand this because it works more compassion and empathy into our hearts. They have not learned to come face to face with their primary emotions, instead they suppress them and have learned to go straight to anger. They don't know how to face their fears. They don't know how to grieve.
I'm so grateful for this fireside, for the phone-visit we had with the social worker, for the talks Joseph and I have been reading, for the scriptures that have inspired us... these are all in direct line with each other, witnessing to us that God hears our prayers and is teaching us what we need to know along the way.
I read this quote this morning during my personal study and quickly copied it down because I KNOW it's true!! This is my testimony: "I tell you this: God cares about you. He will listen, and He will answer your personal questions. The answers to your prayers will come in His own way and in His own time, and therefore, you need to learn to listen to His voice. God wants you to find your way back to Him, and the Savior is the way.God wants you to learn of His Son, Jesus Christ, and experience the profound peace and joy that come from following the path of divine discipleship." - President Dieter F. Uchtdorf