Monday, September 24, 2012

Family: Fluid, Fragile and Strong

I asked my sister, Callie, if she would write a post about her family's experience this past year.  Callie, Jason and Vincent have opened their home and their lives in foster care.  They are in a transition time now - expecting a baby after 8 years - and getting ready to say goodbye to the four foster kids who have been theirs this year.  I have been deeply moved watching their journey of love.  
Here is what she wrote.

Soon our kids will leave our home, for them the only home they have ever known; for the littlest ones the only family they have ever known. I will have to face myself, and whether or not I really believe that the joys and struggles of this year have made a lasting difference, as I release them into a merciless world.  As I pack their thing-- each day, choosing something else to sort out, separating theirs from ours, them from us—I am grieved for them.  Grieved for their loss of life here that they have grown to love so much, and for the feeling of safety and security that has allowed them to thrive and move towards wholeness as children.  With no idea of what lies ahead for them, only intimate knowledge of what is behind them and the pain and confusion that has followed them through their time here with the constant goal of reunification to the life from which they came, I grieve this loss for them, deeply.

              When I think back to their first days in our home, tiny little strangers, emotionally and physically shattered, their entire identities built around struggling to survive the pain, I remember the relief that we all felt.  This was not yet their home, but a place of shelter in a storm.  At that time, I saw our home as a place of respite for these children, a place to heal wounds, to find rest, and to feel love.  Today I am struggling to return to that mentality.  Today we are a family; this is our home, and all of the visible wounds have healed.  We have moved so far beyond a place of rest that there is new life among us - literally with the addition of a newborn brother straight from the hospital now a healthy and abundantly happy eight month old - and also universally inside of each child.

            Much of this transition has been fluid, natural, and seemingly ordained by the grace of God.  Our gifts have directly correlated with their weaknesses, and our extended family and community has welcomed them with no reserve.  
Some of it has been extremely difficult.  We have felt isolated, alone and underwater, we have made critical novice mistakes, and we have struggled to see the forest through the trees. 
All of it has been transformational.  Each child is visibly transformed.  Their behavior, their medical status, their developmental and cognitive functions, and most importantly, their identity as valuable children who are worthy of love, with a place in the world and people to call their own.  I can see this so clearly, like a gift that we have given them; I can see how we have facilitated this massive change, like ripple in the universe, I can feel the difference that we have made.  For today. 

            But what about tomorrow?  Tomorrow (next month or two) Jason and Vincent and I will, with the grace of God, welcome into our family a baby brother.  We will return to the life that we knew before fostering, with the addition of our newest member, and the change that has occurred in our hearts as we cared for these children will remain with us as we continue on as a family towards whatever life has in store.  This is our blessing, to have each other, along with our extended family and community, to know health and strive towards it, and to put each other first in order that can move through life as a family.

But for the children who will leave our home, I can’t help feeling like our blessing is their curse.  Their tomorrow looks like a whole life of change and uncertainty.   Their tomorrow looks like losing their place in this world with no promise that they will ever know another.  Because Jason and I are committed to continuing to provide a healthy and balanced life for all children in our home, we have to untangle their identity from our own, and send them on to whatever life has for them.  If we don’t, a reality that we daily struggle with, then we are compromising the integrity of our home, the safety and security of our family, and the possibility that we could survive as a family to provide respite to our own children and other shattered children in the future.  Our weaknesses have become their weaknesses, our ability to continue to provide for their extraordinary needs has been depleted by time.  The demands of a fragile and emotional pregnancy, and the impending reality of another baby coming home loom large. 

            As I have considered this decision, there have been many moments where my own inadequacy, and the lack of immediate community involvement in our daily lives have felt crushingly disappointing.  I badly wish that I could do “it all,” even to the point of questioning the Lord and his ability to do what I cannot.  I feel responsible for these children and their future, even though I have known from the day that they came into my life that my window would be fleeting, and they were sent here like a breeze to blow in and then out again on their way to their somewhere.  All of their transformation seems so fragile, even reversible, when I imagine them back in the life from whence they came.  Unbearably fragile and reversible.  It sets me back to know that I cannot prevent their wounds from returning, their new-found spirit of life from failing to thrive, and their new sense of value from being destroyed by those who they will call their people, whose own wounds run deeper and have festered longer than these children’s who have inherited that pain.  Why can’t I do it all?  For my family and for them, and for their family, and the next family to come?

            Because I cannot, I have also wished throughout this process that I could find a way to share my feeling of responsibility with my community, with my family, my church, the Church.  I have wondered many times if our feeling of isolation is another of our failures, or if it is the failure of the body to recognize the ministry that we have immersed ourselves in.  If the future of these children, or even greater, of all children, were the responsibility of those who walk with Christ, were the ministry of an organization of families like a church, propping up the organization of one foster family like ours, could we sustain?  Would the month or two or six that our children will continue in the foster system waiting for permanent placement, if continued in our home, make a difference?  And could the active participation of the church in this field of mission make that happen?  Could their growth have been compounded, their understanding of love have multiplied, and our family’s feeling of isolation been negated had there been an understanding of this ministry in our community of ministers? 

            While it is myself and my limitations that cause me the most doubt, one of those limitations has been my ability to effectively share this journey with those whose might have ears to hear and hearts to sow in.   This is something I will strive to do better, not just for our future family and the children who we will encounter in our fostering journey, but for every family that sets themselves aside to be a place of respite for shattered children around us, and also for every child who finds themselves in a shelter from the storm of their life. 

            But today I will do my best to offer another day of respite for my children.  They will wake up in their very own beds to the excitement of the light of another day, like yesterday and the day before.  They will find their clothes stacked clean in outfit sets in the same place they were the morning before, take pleasure in the caring hands that bathe them and braid their hair in which they take enormous pride, and we will all make our way around the city together to school, therapies, never-ending doctor appointments, church on Sunday, joyful visits with our extended family and tumultuous visits with theirs, and back home again, where they can’t get in the door fast enough to retreat from the day, and like the putting on of a healing ritual they will enthusiastically settle into their evening routine. 
I wish you could see it.  It’s a sight to see.  All of these tiny strangers in one big family, on their way to different.  It’s a sight to see. 

We may not be their family for tomorrow, but we’re here today, committed to this window and just as unsure and frightened for their tomorrow as they are. 

            So, soon we will release them into a merciless world, but into the hands of a merciful God, who has entrusted us with their care today, and is limitless to provide for them tomorrow.

God, in your loving mercy, hear our prayer.

On October 6 we are going to "shower" the Hansons with messages and love...
If you'd like to participate in an online shower for Jason and Callie, or send them a message, follow the link           

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