I've dreaded this post. In fact, I have said many times I was not going to write it. Writing has been so therapeutic to me during the last three years as our family has transitioned to living out radical faith through foster care and ministry, but this past week as I stood crying in our bedroom I told my husband I didn't want to write about this. His response is what I would have expected “This is the stuff that needs to be written and the stuff people need to hear."
Our stories of foster care are much less about children that enter our home and much more about our own challenges, growth, and molding that come from our journey. When we said yes to two little girls, bringing our family total to 6 children under 10, I knew there would be challenges and difficult days, but I did not comprehend the overwhelming sense of drowning I would experience.
Having a large family is not the same as having foster children. Not to discount any large families (because I KNOW any number of children can be challenging). When you birth children, you do not normally birth trauma. To say “yes” to foster children means you embrace the trauma that's been living around them, into your home. It means saying “yes” to doctor appointments, sickness (a lot of sickness), services, court and visits with family members. It means figuring out where they are developmentally and attempting not to squelch whatever growth was happening at home at the same time trying to guess your way through routines and their previous norms. I knew all this - and it still attempted to drown me.
A good friend of mine recently called me a "hustler" and I was caught off guard, but I think in a lot of ways its true. I'm a go-getter with high energy and high capacity. There are LOTS of things I do poorly, but I know myself well enough to know how to look at a situation and engage. I can normally find a rhythm. But two days into our family of eight I realized I had reached my human capacity. That should be ok - that should be normal, but I struggled with the reality. No matter how early I got up, no matter how much prep I did the night before or how organized I was - my reality was not attainable and I could feel myself sinking. I had a ton of support, more than any other foster parent I know, but it did not change the sense of panic.
Each night when my husband and I went to bed I would be so frustrated and emotional about my feelings of failure and he would tell me that "all the kids are sleeping, everyone was fed, everyone got to where they needed to go, they are all happy - that is not failure." But it didn't matter how many people told me I wasn’t failing...the feeling stayed. It wasn't until a friend sent me a text that read "It takes a humble and brave person to admit "defeat" - I know it feels that way," that I allowed myself to crumble. It feels like defeat because mediocrity is not ok for me. To provide my family mediocre care, give my husband left over time in the evening, give my job mediocre attention, upkeep my home in mediocre fashion, all left me with tons of feelings of defeat.
The facts are that our family said yes to a need and we met the need and God is glorified through our obedience. I know that. The reality is that I needed to be reminded that my limitations are God given and though my heart desires to say yes more, God has also built in wisdom of when to say no. (I don't know why that hurts so much, but it feels like a sucker punch). The limitations He built into my flesh is His way of defending me. He already knows I cannot keep saying yes – He is not surprised.
A great friend told me the other day that even if I would have known all the facts and the heartache and exhaustion that would come, I would have still said yes. I don't know if that is true - I like to think she is right. Even though I feel like my failures and inability to succeed in the way I desired to succeed is raw and vulnerable, I know it is as God intended. The last few weeks have been the hardest, darkest, most challenging thing I have ever embarked on - but God provides enough grace even then. Even if my answer was supposed to be no, I have no doubt He will honor our sacrifice and the love we provided in our weakness.
A friend was over with her mom helping me get all three babies’ lunch and down for naps (see this insane support I've had??) and she said "You know this is not normal - to have 3 babies all six months apart is not normal, so why are you so hard on yourself that you can't do it?" I was then reminded of my gentle and kind husband’s response of how it is the verge of sin that leaves me angry when I can't attain something outside of my limitations. (OUCH). But it is true. When I rely on my own grand ideas of how life will look and then grow frustrated when the reality is less than ideal - yes, I think the heartache I feel is bathed in my own sinful pride.
These sweet babies will be with us for another week or so before moving along in their journey. I will cry - a lot. Sometimes when we say yes to sacrifice, we desire to give to others, but the process is really just our own hearts being transformed to be more like Christ - and that is not a glamorous process.
Melissa Jackson has been married to her college sweetheart, LD for 14 years and they reside in Charlotte, NC. Melissa is a biological mom of 3, an adoptive mom of 1, and sometimes a foster mom and host mom to exchange students. They also share their home with Melissa's parents. Their home is an ever revolving door and they are so thankful to be able to live with hands and hearts open to whatever God calls them to. Melissa has served on staff at churches as well as in leadership roles as a volunteer and has a passion for providing opportunities for others to be the hands and feet of Christ. Melissa began documenting their life of radical faith after her husband left corporate America to do ministry and they became foster parents. More about their journey can be found at www.crazywildfaith.wordpress.com