Thursday, February 20, 2014

His Handwriting

My favorite part of reading books is getting to know the characters. I love stories where you have to read and read and read to get to the heart of the person and their motivations and their history. Where it is unveiled one piece at a time, even sometimes agonizingly slow at times. Of course, that's how a good writer tells a story because who wants to keep reading when the whole thing is laid out in the first chapter, right? As I write this I feel stunningly aware of what a brilliant author our Heavenly Father is. He keeps me on my toes, keeps me wanting to know more, to dig more, to turn the next page. I used to feel confident that I knew it all, but now I am confident that He knows it all, and sometimes He allows us to see the pages of our lives unfold like a beautifully, well laid out manuscript full of His handwriting and plot lines.

Maybe it is just me, but I have moments in my life in which the memories play like the protagonist's  flashback. One such memory takes me back a couple of years ago. When we first moved to the community we are in now I was blessed with a new friend I met through an old friend. This friend had been college roommates with one of my dearest long time friends and when she found out I was moving to the same town she decided we had to meet. I'm so thankful we did. She became a fast friend and encourager.She also had 3 kids close to the same ages and instantly hit it off. Sadly, not too long after that her family moved out of town. It was sad for us, but a great opportunity for their family. And later I would realize, it would be important for me, too. 

Soon after they moved something big happened in their lives. They became foster parents. It started with twin boys who eventually were adopted by another family. Then, they would take in two sisters. They would also provide a loving home for another little boy in transition. Did I mention all of these children were under the age of 2??? They brought their expanding family to visit us one night and we all went to the park for the kids to play. While there, pushing babies in swings, she shared that they found out the mom of the two sisters was expecting again and the decision had already been made that the baby would be taken away. Their options were either to also take in the baby or set up scheduled appointments for the girls to see their sister. Of course, they began preparing for another baby. Even as we shared that night there was already a tugging at my heart. Of course I admired my friend. Of course I knew that what she was doing was absolutely needed. And even as we shared that night they got word that the baby was on the way and their trip was cut short to head home and prepare to add a newborn to their family.

I was in awe. I can honestly say that I had never considered fostering. Never. Josh and I had talked about adoption one night when he came home from an event he had been at where they talked about orphan babies in China who don't cry anymore because they've resigned themselves to the fact that no one will answer them. So Josh and I cried for them that night. But we knew that if it was something for us, it would be far in the future. I knew I could not foster. How could you let yourself care for a child knowing that they would most likely be taken away from you? Even as a social worker I said from the days I was in school that I could not work with kids. I knew my heart would not be strong enough.  And yet, now I was seeing it in real life, and I was looking at children and they were real people and I was being told that they had lived in more homes in their 2 years of life than most people live in a lifetime. And not just different houses, but with different families.  And they were real people. 

Slowly fostering came onto my radar and I couldn't get it to leave. Not too long after that visit a neighborhood boy who, for all intensive purposes lived at my house, became involved in a child abuse case. I panicked wondering what would happen to him and where he would go. And it hit me, maybe he could stay with us. The case was resolved before it got to that point, but again the issue of fostering was brought before me. The need. The real people. 

Around this time the decision was made for me to go back to work full-time and that it would definitely not be the time to foster. I can't lie. I was not thrilled about going back to work. I loved teaching dance. I loved being able to go to my kid's class parties and take them to the park on days they were out of school. It was going to be a big adjustment. Then, it took what felt like forever to find a job. And my confidence was low. Re-entering the workforce after a 4 year break, during a time of economic hardship is not easy or confidence boosting. My heart became set on a social work position at the hospital that is 10 minutes from my house and 5 minutes from the school. I had it all planned in my head. My experience was in medical social work. It was going to be perfect. I made it to the final interview believing I had the job. I didn't. I was bummed and I hung out in my pj's for a few days, and then I went to the workforce center and applied for another job. And I got it. And it was working with kids. And it was new and different and a lot to learn and a lot  for our family to adjust to. And sometimes it has been sad and stressful and I've seen things I wish I could unsee and handled situations I never knew I would be tough enough to handle. And two things happened. My confidence grew. Confidence that if God calls you to do something, He will equip you to do it. And my burden grew. My burden for children who do not have healthy, functioning parents to care for them. Children who've known abuse and instability and fear. And I've wished with all my heart that some hugs and smiles could fix it, but they can't. I learned that I have a  passion for these kids that has created a boldness and bravery in me that I had never experienced. 

The thoughts about foster care continued to creep in and out of my mind only to be chased away by fear or doubts. Then, a few weeks ago, I was overcome by them. I could not stop thinking about it. I received an e-mail about an upcoming meeting and a month full of classes to be certified. Josh and I had continually talked about it being something we might do in the future, but there are some things we felt like we needed to get taken care of before we could. Even though we had that conversation and I knew those things were not done yet, I became an emotional wreck over the whole thing. I couldn't explain it. I cried every time I talked to Josh. We had long, deep talks. I kept asking him what was wrong with me. I'm sure he was asking himself the same thing! What I felt was urgency. That I needed to do something about this now. My prayer all along had been that I would know it was time when Josh was ready and that he knew it was time. So I couldn't figure out why I felt this way and he wasn't there yet.

Out of the kindness of his heart (and probably the fear of my insanity) he agreed to go to the orientation meeting with me to get some information. Then, the day came. It was a snow day. Polar Vortex and all that stuff. Craziness. Anyway, I wasn't sure if they would still be having the meeting because of the weather. I wasn't able to get ahold of anyone at the church where it was supposed to be held. Normally I probably would have just been relieved to feel like that was a sign I wasn't supposed to go and I could hang out in my pajamas and read a book, but I still had that feeling. Josh could tell. I'm sure I had the crazy eyes going on. He offered to get on the webpage of the organization offering the classes and see if it said anything. It didn't say anything about the classes. But what he did find was a job opening. A job opening for someone with my degree who also had experience building relationships with churches. Wow. Who knew being a preacher's wife might have a perk. :) A job whose responsibilities include recruiting, training and supporting foster families. 

Now you might think that I had a moment of "OH! This is what the urgency was about!" But I honestly didn't think I had a chance of getting the job. I e-mailed an application just to see. I got an e-mail back saying it didn't go through. Things were really busy and crazy at work when I got back so I didn't even think any more of it. Then, the next Monday I was home with Sarah because she was sick. I decided I would try to send my application one more time. Just to see. Within 30 minutes I had a phone call and an interview scheduled for that Wednesday afternoon. My head was spinning. I couldn't even fathom it. I am someone who had waited months during my last job search to hear back from people and this happened this fast! I wasn't even sure that I really wanted this job or that I wanted to leave my job. But I couldn't help but be a little excited about the possibilities. Cautiously excited. 

I scheduled a last minute hair appointment with my SIL and bought a new outfit. You know, the important stuff. Wednesday morning it occurred to me that perhaps I should have spent as much time preparing for interview questions as I had getting my hair colored. :) The interview was going to be in Tallahassee so I planned to leave work after lunch. However, there would be other plans. It hit me that my wallet had been stolen a couple of weeks before and I still had not replaced my driver's license. What if they needed it at my interview? So, I was going to just go in to work late. Turned out the DL place opened even later than I thought. Didn't matter. While I was waiting for it to open the school nurse called to tell me that it looked like the scrape on Kate's knee from where she had fallen off her scooter over the weekend was infected now. And her eye looked infected to. And I remembered asking one of Kate's friends who stopped by to play at the house what happened to her eye and she said, "Oh, it's just infected."  Awesome. :) So, I went to the school and Josh and I decided to take her to the dr. We hung out there for 2 1/2 hours. At that point I knew I would have to leave straight from there to get to my interview and I still didn't have my license. During this time my supervisor sent an e-mail saying she was going out of town so she needed my timesheet a day early. I could only do it at my office. 30 minutes away. She also sent another e-mail saying we needed to bring 32 files to our meeting that week. I thought the dr. was going to have to treat me for a panic attack. Thankfully, she corrected herself that it was only supposed to be 3. Whew! 

I felt torn about leaving Kate so pitiful, but Josh assured me he could handle it. I took off for my office praying I could run up to my office without seeing anybody or having to answer the phone. I did my timesheet and headed out as fast as I could. It finally hit me that I was going to interview for another job. And that I was not going to have time to stop for lunch on the way so  my stomach would probably be growling uncontrollably during it. :)  

During the interview they asked why I wanted to work in that field. I told them about my friend and the impact her family has had on me. I shared my crazy story of the urgency and the website and knew that if they hired me after that it would be a God thing. When we finished the interview they said they would be praying for the person the LORD had for the position and I could honestly say, "Me, too" even if that person wasn't me.

I didn't let myself feel confident. I felt like the interview went well, but I have known the disappointment of hopes set high. I also was overcome with the importance of this job and the responsibility. It would be a challenge. For me. For my family. I prayed that if I wasn't supposed to have it that God would close every door. He certainly had on jobs in the past. 

To wrap up this long story, I was offered the job. I am both thrilled and terrified. I have no doubt this will be a job that will require God's strength being made perfect in my weakness everyday. I have so much to learn. I am bracing for the challenges and longing for the rewards.  I feel blessed to be entrusted with the job of supporting and training everyday heroes and I feel dependent on my Savior to give me strength and wisdom and faith. Mostly, I am just living in awe of the author and perfecter of my faith! He was writing some chapters I didn't see coming. :)

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Parenting Is An Endurance Sport

Hello there! My name is Emily and I use to blog here. :)

I wish I could give you a really awesome, exciting reason that I've not been blogging. That I've been off traveling the world, or writing a book or somethin' like that. But the truth is that in place of what use to be my "blogging time" you will now find me sprawled on the couch trying to keep my eyes open and wondering if I should fix a pot of coffee at 8:30 pm because, life. Because I want to read one more chapter in my book or have a coherent conversation with my husband or actually do the night before routine the night before. 

But that would require energy so I just drag myself to bed instead. These last few months have been a struggle for me. I don't do winter well. And y'all, we've had a real winter. Like, I've actually had a reason to wear my scarves and not just for fashion purposes. Over the last couple of months I've had some hard conversations, made some hard decisions, watched people I love deal with hard things, had my wallet stolen, and right now my new vehicle is waiting to have it's first parts replaced. On top of it all the Fidler 5 has done a marvelous job of sharing. Sharing germs, that is. It honestly feels like someone has been sick at my house every week since November. All of these are little things and I constantly remind myself how blessed I am and how good things really are, but sometimes the little things add up and seem bigger. It's those times when you feel like you can't catch a breath before something else happens. 

The other night I was watching the Olympics and there was some event where guys were skiing cross country, but occasionally they would stop and shoot at a target. So weird. I'm still convinced 13 year old boys came up  with all of the winter sports. Except ice dancing. Anyway, it is almost painful to me to watch these cross country skiers. I've never been skiing, but I've walked uphill in the sand at the beach carrying coolers and chairs and children and to me. And I imagine that is what cross country skiing must feel like. I always feel relieved for them when they can pick up their arms and just glide downhill for a minute. Makes me feel better. :)  But soon they are going uphill again and I think, 'Isn't it enough that they are skiing for 94 miles?'  But nope, they gotta go uphill. And they have to shoot a target. And does it ever end? And then it does and these people, these Olympians who spend every day of their life training for this, fall out on the ground. And I'm so happy for them that it is over that I want to lay in the snow with them and make snow angels.

Because that sport, is an endurance sport. It's not like the "Flying Squirrel" event where these guys go flying off of a slope and land a minute later. This goes on. and on. and on. 

Endurance is hard for me. I'm good with now. Impulse. Crisis. Hostage situation. Whatever. As long as it is quick. As long as I know the pain/fatigue/embarrassment/fear/heartache/whatever will be over soon. But it's when those things last. When there is no end in sight. When you know there will not come a time to neatly put a sticker on a chart or mark a check in a box that it is completed. The hard stuff. The never ending stuff. 

That's why I've decided parenting is an endurance sport. I think it is best if we just call it what it is. Because I think we become disheartened and disillusioned when we prepare for a 40 yard dash and then we realize it is a cross country event. We tell ourselves "as soon as they sleep through the night", "as soon as they're potty trained", "as soon as they can get themselves ready". We totally envision ourselves leisurely lounging, sipping on coffee, finishing complete thoughts. Just recently we've been looking at new couches and I seriously started considering a light colored fabric like I don't have 3 children + 50 more who hang out at our house and 2 dogs. I had drifted into the dream world where my kids are all completely self-sufficient, never spill a drink (good luck with that since their adult parents are the worst offenders with that) and never drop a permanent marker on the furniture. 

Now, before I go any further, please do not feel that I am saying my children are a huge chore that I'm just trying to survive. I know that is how it sounds. I love my children dearly and raising them is the greatest blessing and responsibility I've ever been given. But what I'm saying is that some roles and responsibilities are for a season, but parenthood is for a lifetime. 

For those in the potty training, spaghetti throwing, never sleeping phase-I want to give you hope. That season does come to a close. Your house and your mental state will hold up better than you think. :)  But, then you move into a new season. We are currently in the season of teaching children to do things for themselves and to be happy for their friends when they win contests you really wanted to win and trying to avoid the hospital as bikes and scooters and skates seem to be extremely dangerous for the Fidkids. For me this season has meant balancing work and motherhood and church responsibilities. And some days it honestly does feel so much easier than those early days of diapers and babies being And then I have a day like I had this last Saturday and I am reminded that I have not reached my destination. I am still on the course and sometimes it feels like going uphill in the snow.

On Valetine's day my MIL kindly asked if the kids could spend the night with her. So, we got a date. I think it is the first time we went out on Valentine's Day as a married couple ever. For real. But Saturday morning I got a text that Kate was throwing up. I loaded up in the church van (because remember my vehicle is waiting on a car part. :)  and headed to pick up the kids. Kate got sick again before we left and PRAISE GOD for my MIL who had the forethought to give me several plastic bags to take with me. My mom had goodies for the kids she wanted to give them and she was willing to brave the germs so went by her house. After sharing germs  visiting with her and my brother and his fiance and my niece,  Kate got sick again. I got her changed and cleaned up and we took that as our cue to leave. My poor brother, who used to have his own bout with motion sickness, was standing at the van holding the bag for Kate while I loaded myself and all of our stuff up.

 I went as fast as I could go in a 1990's 15 passenger van and we made it to Mexico Beach where traffic came to standstill. A gumbo festival was happening and apparently that meant no one could drive above 1.5 mph through there. I think you know what happened. We're stuck in traffic. Kate starts puking. Sarah and Eli are throwing plastic bags at her like they are bombs set to explode at any moment. Kate finished puking and kindly placed the used bag on Sarah's arm rest. Sarah proceeded to flip out. I began laughing. Hysterically. Like the hyena laugh people do when the men in the white jackets are coming to get them. There was literally nothing else to do at that point. I had a flashback to a time when my brother had gotten sick on a trip and my Dad, who had the weakest stomach ever (and who I inherited it from) also freaked out and pulled into an Applebee's parking lot and threw the bag in a bush and drove off. I couldn't even get to a bush, y'all! 

I felt so guilty because my baby was so sick and I could NOT stop laughing. I knew that it was just another version of sobbing, but my poor child will grow up talking about the time she was puking her guts up and her mother was laughing hysterically. 

But the point is- I did not jump out of the van and run away. I did not say ugly words. I did not join in the puking. And that might not count for much to others, but for me it was progress.  I remembered my Dad with the weak stomach and was reminded that I also have a somewhat weak stomach, and yet here I was, accepting a bag of puke as my daughter flung it at me. And I thought of a time when my marriage was new and we had just adopted our first child, our cocker spaniel Abby. And Abby ate Fruit Loops and proceeded to throw up little mounds of rainbows all over our 25 square foot apartment. And I called my husband at work and told him he would have to come home to deal with this situation because me and my weak stomach certainly could not. And in that moment I realized that just like those cross country skiers I have been training for over a decade now, often going uphill and having to stop occasionally to shoot at targets. I have come a long way. But that's the point. It didn't happen overnight. It's an endurance sport. Things that felt absolutely impossible with my firstborn I could do now on 2 hours of sleep walking backwards in heels. (Or something like that.) 

This job is not for the faint of heart. Or weak of stomach. I've found that there are two camps of people you talk to. The ones who idealize parenthood and only remember tea parties and bed time stories. And those who warn you of the impending doom of parenthood. I prefer to see parenthood as a lifetime in training with occasional falls and losses and frequent, though sometimes small, victories. It's not necessarily a race to be won, just one you are trying to finish. You are trying to get these little people who've been entrusted into your care from Point A to Point B and the plan is that you will all be stronger, more capable when it is over. It is easy to become overwhelmed by all you don't know, all you mess up, all you don't have. Sometimes we just have to breathe and pray and trust God to equip us in the moment. As He equips us in each moment we become a little stronger, a little wiser, a little more capable. And as our kids begin their own journeys through life maybe what they need to see is not that we are perfect, but that we can endure. That even in the not so wonderful moments of life, we will still be there to comfort their heart and hold their hands or bags of puke, or whatever. :)