Beauty Out of Ashes

•October 22, 2014 • 3 Comments

Most of you know from previous posts that my husband and I are foster parents and that we recently went through something extremely difficult – losing our beloved foster daughter of 16 months. I can’t go into great detail, but because of our unique situation, I can honestly say the whole process has been the hardest thing we’ve ever gone through. However, like most horrible things, good can come from them. Lessons can be learned. Stories can be shared. Wisdom can be obtained. Inspiration can be spread. I can only hope my experience will be so fruitful. I believe in many ways it already has.

I wrote this memoir as a journey in grief and remembrance. Hopefully, it can inspire others going through the fire.

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“Beauty Out of Ashes”

My ten-year-old niece sits in my passenger seat, twirling her long, blonde hair, rambling about some movie she watched recently. I’ve kind of zoned out. We’re supposed to be having aunt-niece time. A twinge of guilt tickles the back of my brain but doesn’t register enough to matter. My mind wanders a lot these days.

I’ve only caught bits and pieces of the movie’s plot, but my ears perk up at the mention of the word ‘phoenix.’

“Do you know what a phoenix is?” I ask, hoping she doesn’t. I need a good distraction, like teaching my niece about the coolest symbolism in literature.

“Nope.” Her wide eyes invite me to continue, revealing her hunger for the interaction I’d been neglecting to give her.

“A phoenix,” I say in my teacher voice, “is a mythological bird that was said to have burned itself up in its own nest and then rose from the ashes, reborn and new. It’s used a lot to symbolize going through something difficult and then coming out of it stronger. It’s a symbol of hope. “

She’s silent for a moment. I can’t tell if she’s contemplating the information or if I just went over her ten-year-old head. Eventually she speaks, and her words are soft, careful. “Were you and Clayton like the Phoenix when you lost Aubrey?”

My breath catches. The familiar burning sensation shoots up from my chest to my throat, and the resulting hollowness is almost too much to bear. My eyes sting.

It’s only been a few weeks since my husband and I have been childless. Our precious foster child, whom we’d grown to love as fiercely as any biological parent over the course of sixteen long months, ever since she came into our lives at two months old, was no longer ours.

But what my niece doesn’t realize is we didn’t just lose our child, Aubrey. We lost our dreams of being a family. A family with her in it.

My mind races back to the first day I realized our lives were forever changed by this girl. We’d been foster parents before, but never for a baby. I wasn’t prepared for the nearly instantaneous bond…for the way I looked into her eyes and knew after three days that she was already “my baby.” And that I was her mother. As a baby she was entirely dependent on me, her caretaker. I was her world…so she became mine. There was nothing I could do to stop it.

And so the nest was built.

I remember one of her first family visits once we knew her leaving us was a possibility. After handing my crying child to a man I didn’t know, I stepped back into the house and stared at my living room floor. Her toys were strewn all over the carpet, but her voice was blaringly absent. Without her, the house was vacant. Too quiet. It was as though time had stood still, and my life was on hold, refusing to exist without her.

And then someone dropped the match.

It was a Tuesday. She knew something was up. We’d packed all her toys and clothes in front of her, and although we’d done our best to hide it, she’d seen us wiping away tears. She’d sensed our anxiety. And then, once outside, it hit her. Somehow, in her sixteen-month-old mind, she understood. She knew what was happening. Her arms suddenly clung to my neck, her body tense. The worker placed her in the car seat of this unfamiliar vehicle, and she sobbed, uncontrollably. With tear-filled eyes, she pleaded with me to do something. But I couldn’t. We’d been through so much. We’d fought a good fight. But in the end, I was helpless. My heart burned. I couldn’t breathe. This couldn’t be happening to me. To her. To us.

I couldn’t take anymore. I raced inside and collapsed, throwing my face into my hands.

And all I could see were the flames.

I managed to survive the next few days, staying busy, doing my best to hold everything in out of necessity…until I was finally faced with something I’d managed to avoid until then – being alone in our empty house. I was fine before I left from visiting my friend. But on the way to my empty home, I felt myself start to lose control. Nerves had me on edge. Something was off inside me. It was like my body knew my violent emotions needed somewhere to escape, and I could only keep the dam in place for so long. Once I got home, I ran to the untouched nursery, grabbed the edge of the unused crib, and released the unrelenting torrent of tears as I sank to the hard, wooden floor.

And it was then I knew…this was real. I couldn’t ignore it anymore. My whole world was in flames.

Then there were the triggers. A week later, I sat in our Life Group, passively listening to others have a discussion about normal things, when a little girl Aubrey’s age ran in wailing to her mother. She’d been hurt somehow, so her mother picked her up and held her. As I watched the mother comfort her sobbing child, an unexpected flood of emotion rushed through me. The sound of this girl’s crying was almost identical to Aubrey’s cry the day she left. The last sound I’d heard her make. Not only that, but why did this mother get to comfort her child, and I didn’t? I wanted so badly to hold and comfort my little girl wherever she was at that moment. But I couldn’t.

Then my nephew came over. He was a little older than Aubrey but still a toddler. As my husband and I sat on our couch watching TV with our feet propped up like we always did, my nephew came up to me with his toy. He leaned against my legs as he played, and déjà vu struck me like a blow to the chest. For a split second, she was there again. Everything was normal. But reality told me she wasn’t there, and it would never be normal.

Later that night when my nerves were still on edge, my husband’s foot fell between the cushions of the couch. He wrinkled his brow at me like he’d found something strange and reached in with his hand. A few seconds later, he pulled out a plastic spoon. Aubrey loved to pull out plastic spoons from the kitchen drawer and was always playing with them in the living room. He held the spoon out to me with a grin. A gift. I accepted it carefully with trembling hands…and then I lost it. It was an object she had touched. A memory we had shared.

And now it was lost in the flames.

Another week or so passed, my husband and I went out to lunch with our closest friends and their child. Though it was still painful, a lot had changed in my heart already. I shared with my friend how I felt like God allowed certain things in our lives because it was what we needed at the time. She said something to me I will never forget. A truth to which I will cling whenever doubt creeps in and I wonder Why? or Was it worth it? or Should we have done things differently? She looked me square in the eyes and said, “And you were what she needed. She needed you to be her parents, not just her caregivers.”

And just like that, I could see clearly through the flames.

The sudden clarity and shift of focus made me dizzy with emotion as I grasped what this truth meant. If our little girl needed us to become so attached to her that we thought of her as our own child in order to get the loving bond she needed in her first two years, even if it meant we would have to go through such a painful sacrifice in the end, then I was grateful we were able to do it…and I would do it all over again. I loved her that much. My heart hurt with how much I loved her.

And somehow, that made the flames okay. I could endure them for her. I would endure them for her.

I swallow hard before glancing at my niece. She’s still waiting for an answer. Were we like the phoenix? Had we risen from our ashes?

I return my gaze to the road ahead of me and take a deep breath, reigning in my tears for another time. “Not quite yet,” I say. “I think we’re still in the fire.”

But for once, as painfully true as that statement is, I’m okay with it. Because “yet” holds a promise. A promise that one day, when the flames have finally died down, I will rise up out of the ashes of my lost dreams, beautifully refined and new. I will look back at our journey and see not only how much I’ve grown, but also how it served a much greater purpose – to love on a precious girl who needed to be loved.

I pat my niece on the knee with a forced smile. “It’s okay, sweetie.” I return my hand to the steering wheel and hold tight, willing myself to believe what I’m about to say. “The fire won’t last forever.”

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What made Robin Williams so memorable?

•August 14, 2014 • 2 Comments

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Famous people die, often without a huge ripple, but Robin Williams’s death has shaken up so many of us, myself included. Why?

Was it because he was so remarkably talented? Was it because he made us laugh? And cry? Was it because we grew up with him and his movies and, therefore, attach him to our childhood or other fond memories? 

It’s a combination of everything, really. 

Many good actors have a few memorable roles where they’re able to create such magnificent art that they leave lasting impressions on all of those privileged to watch. But Robin Williams had several! Whether it was Good Morning Vietnam or Mrs. Doubtfire, his audience couldn’t help but love him as an actor and sympathize with his characters. He was just that likeable.

Still, I think the thing that distinguished him more than anything from the host of other great actors was his ability to create such amazing comedy AND drama within the same movie.

Comedy in movies is memorable. It makes us smile. It makes us forget about our lives for a little while. It creates lasting, fond memories of not just the movie but also the time period and context in which you watched it. There are many extremely talented comedic actors out there today, but Robin Williams was one of the best.

Drama in movies is also memorable and powerful. It stirs our emotions. It wakes us up from our complacent little world and makes us face issues head-on. It makes us human again. When a movie is powerful enough to stir your emotions and move your heart, the experience leaves an imprint on your soul that can help shape who you become.

For an actor to be able to pull off both comedy and drama, in so many movies, and to do it so amazingly well every time, is beyond incredible. And it’s why Robin Williams is going to be so greatly missed. We went on roller-coaster rides of emotion with him that we will never forget. He didn’t just give us laughter, and he didn’t just give us tears. He gave us both. Over and over again.

Here are some of my favorite moments of laughter and tears:

Good Morning Vietnam

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Laughter – There are way too many funny lines and scenes to repeat, but this is one of my favorites and probably most memorable lines. “Gooooooood morning Vietnam! It’s 0600 hours What does the “O” stand for? O my God, it’s early!”

Tears – The bomb scene and then the heated scene where he wants to report about the bomb and they won’t let him. “What are you afraid of Dickerson? People might find out there’s a war going on?”

Dead Poets Society:

Dead Poets Society

Laughter – The first class he teaches about poetry, he talks about how the Pritchard scale for judging poetry is “excrement.” Later he tells a student who read his pitiful, one-line poem, “Congratulations, Mr. Hopkins. You have the first poem to ever have a negative score on the Pritchard scale.”

Tears – Of course, the “O Captain, My Captain” scene at the end!

Mrs. Doubtfire:

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Laughter – Um…the entire movie

Tears – The courtroom scene when he loses custody of his kids is heartbreaking.

Hook:

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Laughter – His verbal fight with Ruffio. “You two-toned zebra-headed, slime-coated, pimple-farmin’ paramecium brain, munchin’ on your own mucus, suffering from Peter Pan envy!”

Tears – The end where he returns home, Granny Wendy says, “So…your adventures are over.” He replies, “Oh, no. To live…to live would be an awfully big adventure.”

Good Will Hunting:

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Laughter – Much of his exchange with Will, especially in the beginning, is witty and funny. He doesn’t stand out with hilarious humor in this movie; it’s more of a dramatic role for him. But his wit and humorous nature is still evident.

Tears – The park bench scene is amazing! “You don’t know about real loss, ‘cause it only occurs when you’ve loved something more than you love yourself. And I doubt you’ve ever dared to love anybody that much.” But the part that really makes me cry is where he actually gets to Will, telling him over and over that his childhood abuse was not his fault until Will breaks down in his arms. Pure art!

In case you were wanting a key to the movie title collage, here it is:

Good Morning (Bye) = Good Morning Vietnam

Robin Williams = from the cover of Good Will Hunting (I had to include my favorite!)

Thanks for = Too Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything

Awakening = Awakenings

Our = One Hour Photo (not his best movie, but couldn’t find “our” anywhere else)

Dead = Dead Poets Society

World = The World’s Greatest Dad

2 = Happy Feet 2

Cage = Birdcage

Our = One Hour Photo

Doubt = Mrs. Doubtfire

Dream = What Dreams May Come

Big = The Big Wedding

& = Mork & Mindy

Seize the Day = Seize the Day

To Friends and Family of Foster Parents

•July 31, 2014 • 1 Comment

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Being a foster parent sucks sometimes.

Not the opener you were expecting? Well, I’m just being honest.

We just recently lost our precious little foster daughter and are grieving as anyone would after losing a child. Our case wasn’t like most either. I can’t talk much about details, but let’s just say we didn’t let her go willingly.

Through the whole process, though, I have been overwhelmed and humbled by the hundreds of messages, Facebook posts and comments, and face to face interactions we’ve had from people who care and were affected as well. These interactions have ranged from people we barely know on Facebook to grandparents and my sister who lives next door. The comments have ranged from “We’re praying for you” to an emotional meltdown because of frustration and grief.

I always knew it would be hard on a lot of people when and if she left us because she touched so many lives, but I was still overwhelmed by how much grief people close to us were going through. Their grief weighed on my heart. I wanted to reach out to them and tell them what I was feeling, so, of course, I did what any writer would. I wrote a poem. 

If you’re a foster parent, please feel free to share this with your friends and family. If you’re a friend or family member of a foster parent, please read this as if they were saying it to you. You are loved and very much appreciated.

Angel walking in yard

To Friends and Family of Foster Parents

You didn’t ask to befriend the children of a stranger

To treat them like family

To show love to them though you didn’t yet feel it

To include them in a loving community they may have never known.

You didn’t ask to share your friends and family

To have them consumed by a system you don’t understand or agree with

A system that often hurts or even crushes them.

You didn’t ask to sit by and watch them suffer.

And you didn’t ask to grow attached to these children

So much so that they truly become family

Only to have them ripped from your lives.

You didn’t ask to deal with the heartache of saying goodbye.

But you did. And for that we are truly sorry and truly grateful.

For Those in the Valley

•July 4, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Everyone goes through the valley at one point or another, but for some it’s a very familiar place. Some have even been in the valley so long, they can barely remember what it looks like on the outside. I’ve been in the middle of my valley for almost five months now, and the trenches keep getting deeper and deeper. But this valley is not the end. There is life on the other side. We may not know how long it will take to get there, but we will eventually make it!

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“In the Valley”

In the valley you find us bleeding.
In the valley you see our tears.
In the valley you walk beside us
And give us strength to face our fears.

Valley Scar Closer

It’s in the valley where you’re most visible.
Your blazing glory shames the night.
For in the valley we realize our weakness
Gives you space to show your true might.

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By your grace we’ll reach the other side.
Then we’ll turn around and finally see
That with our blood and tears you painted a masterpiece,
And through its beauty we’ll be set free.

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Fostering and Attachment: Riding the Line Between Enough and Too Much

•June 12, 2014 • 5 Comments

Fostering and Attachment: Riding the Line Between Enough and Too Much

So they tell you in your training to TREAT YOUR FOSTER KIDS AS YOU WOULD YOUR OWN. Okay. That sounds great in theory. I mean, why wouldn’t you? You are their legal guardian and, essentially, their parent for that time, especially if they’re young. To treat them like some kid you’re babysitting long-term would be unfair to them.

But if you treat them like your own child, won’t you get too attached? That is the most common excuse I hear from people who say they “could never be a foster parent.” “I would get too attached,” they say. Or “It would be too hard to let them go.” Or on the flip side, “I don’t know if I could be a mom to someone else’s kid.”

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So HOW DO YOU GET ATTACHED ENOUGH BUT KEEP FROM GETTING TOO ATTACHED? I don’t have the answer. I don’t think anyone does. Each situation is completely different. All I can do is share my experiences. Being a foster parent three different times now, I’ve seen THE GOOD, THE BAD, and THE MESSY in regards to attachment, and I’ve learned so much!

In all three experiences I feel like there has been one common factor in determining how attached or not attached I became to my foster kids. And that is HOW TEMPORARY OR PERMANENT I VIEWED THEIR TIME WITH US TO BE.

Our first foster kid was 4 ½ years old, and we had him for only a month and a half. It being our first go-around and me not being used to having kids in the house, especially over summer break as a teacher, I felt like a babysitter who never had the privilege of going home. I’m ashamed to admit that when he finally did go home, I silently rejoiced and quickly settled back into my old normal life. The first placement is always the hardest, but knowing we were only going to have him for such a short time made it feel more like a temporary babysitting gig instead of being an actual mom.

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Our second experience as foster parents was much better. We took in two siblings, two and three years old, for eight months. At first, when we thought they would only be with us for three months, it felt temporary again, like our watching these kids was just a little disruption in our normal lives. Then we found out their stay would be much longer. My reaction to that news was not what I expected. I’d been so stressed adjusting to being a mother of two toddlers that the thought of having them a lot longer should have made me feel overwhelmed or frustrated. But somehow, I felt better. I realized what had been making those first few months so stressful. I’D BEEN HOVERING ABOVE MY LIFE, WAITING FOR EVERYTHING TO GO BACK TO NORMAL. When we knew the situation would be a little more permanent, I could finally stop hovering. This life with two precious toddlers was no longer a temporary disruption but my new normal. Once I settled into that idea, life was better. Because I was no longer a babysitter, but a mom. Even if I wasn’t their real mom, I was their mom for that period in time. Real motherly attachment came much more easily at that point.

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The faster you can ACCEPT the NEW NORMAL of your life, the faster you can ADJUST and ATTACH.

So that helped getting attached enough, but what about getting too attached? The main factor that helped with this was knowing the whole time they would be going home. WE KNEW IT WASN’T PERMANENT. The parents were doing what they needed to do to get them back and we could tell they loved them. I think when you know the kids won’t be staying with you permanently your mind erects a barrier in your heart that helps keep you from getting too attached. Like a self-preservation technique or something.

Was it still tough seeing them go? You betcha! I knew it was the right thing for those kids in that situation, which sadly doesn’t always happen, and that helped tremendously. But it was still hard, and I missed the heck out of those kids.

Gianna and Draydon Easter

Then we got a two-month-old, and our world ended. Foster moms told me having a baby is different. They weren’t kidding. DEVELOPING A BOND WITH A BABY IS ALMOST INSTANTANEOUS. And I don’t even like babies. With babies, you are their entire world. They are solely dependent on you. But my attachment to this little girl didn’t stop there. It kept growing. With each new day. With every new first. With every smile and laugh. With every hug and cuddle. With every bedtime story and song. As she grew closer to me, I grew closer to her.

I told myself in the beginning I would try my best to guard my heart. Looking back now, I have to laugh at my naivety. There’s no guarding your heart from the natural love that develops between a mother and baby. WHEN YOU ARE HER WORLD, SHE BECOMES YOUR WORLD.

Angel holding my arm

Still, it’s not impossible to keep a little healthy distance in your heart from a baby you’re caring for. I have a friend who was able to do that. Want to guess what the key ingredient was? She knew the whole time he was going home. Sadly, this time we did not get that luxury. Our baby’s case was up in the air as far as whether or not she’d go home. So, since there was always a chance her stay could be permanent, there was nothing to stop my attachment. She has become and is our little girl.

Angel with headband

Without getting into too much detail (since legally I can’t), we may lose our little girl. As I write this, we’ve had her for fourteen months. We are all she truly knows. I will say if she does end up leaving us my heart will shatter into a million pieces, and I will never be the same. Only by God’s grace will I recover.

It’s not over yet. But I can say with certainty that no matter what happens, I don’t regret being her mommy for the time I was allowed. The love, joy, and pride I’ve experienced being her mother and knowing I’ve made a huge impact on her life was worth every tear, every anxious thought, every sleepless night, every gut-wrenching prayer, and every heartbroken “Why?” cried out to God. The bond we’ve shared was what she needed. But it was also what I needed. And I will forever be grateful to her for that.

Angel walking in yard

Fit Friday – Low-calorie Microwave Berry Dessert

•April 11, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Do you ever have a craving for a berry cobbler or pie but don’t want to go through the trouble to make a whole dessert? And/Or you’re trying to be good, so that’s not an option anyway?

Enter  SUGAR-FREE PUDDING MIX and MICROWAVE to save the day!

I saw a recipe recently that used corn starch with berries in the microwave. I didn’t have any, but I did have sugar free pudding mix. It not only thickened the fruit, but it also added some lovely flavor! And at only 63 calories and 8 grams of sugar! Delicious! You can then top the warm, pie filling-type fruit with cool whip, sugar-free chocolate syrup, granola or other crunchy cereal, or my Greek yogurt based fruit dip (see recipe below). Either way, this dessert is easy, quick, and low in calories and sugar.

First, put your berries in a microwavable bowl. I used 1/2 cup blackberries and 1/2 cup strawberries.

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Second, sprinkle 2 tsp sugar free vanilla pudding mix onto fruit and stir it in until coated.

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Third, microwave for 1-1 1/2 minutes (preferably with a microwave cover because it tends to boil up). Watch it carefully. This is what it will look like.

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Last but not least, top with whatever you want or eat by itself. You’ll probably want to let it cool down for a few minutes though…unless you want to burn your tongue.

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You could use that cool-down time to make my fruit dip to use as a topping! It’s only 68 calories and 2 grams of sugar. This makes a pretty big portion, so if you used it with these berries, it would be more like berries and cream rather than a topping. You could do half. Here’s the basic recipe.

  • 2 Tbsp Plain, nonfat Greek yogurt
  • 3-4 Tbsp unsweetened almond milk
  • 1 Tbsp sugar free cheesecake pudding mix
  • 2 Tbsp Cool Whip light

Stir the first 3 ingredients together until lumps are gone. Then stir in the cool whip. (You can use any pudding mix with this for different flavors!)

 

LOW-CALORIE MICROWAVE BERRY DESSERT

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup berries (I used half strawberries and half blackberries)
  • 2 tsp sugar free vanilla pudding mix

Directions:

  1. Mix berries and pudding mix in microwaveable bowl.
  2. Microwave for 1-1 1/2 minutes.
  3. Let cool and top with your favorite toppings!

 

 

Teen Tuesday – Facebook is Life?

•April 1, 2014 • Leave a Comment

I just read this thought-provoking article written by a teen who, heaven forbid, doesn’t have a Facebook account! I have a Facebook account and have had one for a few years now, and although I use it daily, I am completely aware of the massive way it has affected not only my life but society as a whole and the way we interact as humans.

What she has to say is quite interesting and worth a read! Check it out! Click on the Teen Ink icon to take you there. :)

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