Category Archives: Family

Fosterless

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A spoken word re-wind never finished:

 

I’m broken inside; screaming, I cry.

But nobody hears.

It’s deafening, this pain. 

I keep trekking for gains,

But I’m losing my stance,

trying to keep pace with this grief dance.

So much I didn’t know. So much I couldn’t show.

Trusted and loved, but it couldn’t last.

Too broken to keep, too rejected too deep.

Lost and alone, 

Turned 18 with no home.

I suffer from their choice, I’m left with no voice.

The system failed me, why couldn’t they see,

I was just young and alone,

Just wanting home,

the day I turned 18

Hope ended for me.

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“My Bursting Heart must find vent at my Pen” Part: 1

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If I know what love is, it’s mostly because of her.

Several times the last few months I’ve reached for my phone to call her, only to remember I can’t. She’s dead. On the way home from a particularly devastating doctor appointment a couple months ago, I actually pulled out my phone and typed in her name, as if I could still reach her.  But it’s no longer her number. I looked at the phone and just placed it on the passenger seat next to me and proceeded to talk to her, as if she was still alive and on the other end of the line, because I needed someone to talk to, someone who knows me and loves me and was willing to listen. It felt so good to see her name on my phone, even if it wasn’t real. And a few minutes later when the ache of the emptiness of essentially talking to myself stung more than the reality of her being gone, I pulled over and deleted her name from my phone. It was time. I cried.

So this is what it means to be an adult. To have to keep going even when the world feels cold and lonely. Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” — Alfred Lord Tennyson

Sometimes, when one person is absent, the whole world seems depopulated.—Allphonse de Lamartine

Losing someone you love really affects you. It won’t magically go away. Sometimes there’s pressure on mourning, so you stop (or maybe never had the opportunity to, because realistically, mourning has privilege attached to it, and not everyone is privileged to be able to). But it stays buried deep down and becomes a deep hole of ache.

That’s the thing when someone you love, really love, dies. Instead of going into every fight with back up (whether it be an academic, illness, or some other feat that requires a strong sense of support), you have to go in alone. Often without a soul even knowing you’re in the battle.

I miss her in all the places and things we did together. I miss her in the movie theater, with my can of off brand soda and two candy bars she’d let me pick out at CVS. I miss her at the grocery store when I see the Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal and Oreos she bought for our sleepovers.

There is no pain so great as the memory of joy in present grief.—Aeschylus

I miss her at Christmas, when she’d make the two of us lasagna and she always made me a stocking, filled with candy and little treats. I miss her at my old church, where we’d go to senior luncheons together (I could never pass up getting to hang out with all the older ladies.. and free lunch!). I miss Christmas shopping with her. She could out-shop me any day. I miss the smell of holidays in her house and the bright red lipstick that always left a little stain on my cheek when she kissed me (I sort of just miss being touched in general). I miss her on the roads she’d drive, our breakfast spot, her favorite restaurant, the pond she’d take me to.

Even places she’s never been, have memories of her. When I was in college, she was one of two people I ever received mail from. She sent me a package every semester. On each of the mission trips I went on, it caused her much worry that I would be leaving the country yet again, but I’d hear from all her friends how proud of me she was. It’s easier to miss someone at their cemetery because you’ve never been there together, but to miss someone at all the places and situations you were in together feels gut wrenching.

“The most important thing in life is to learn how to give out love, and to let it come in.”— Morrie Schwartz

She always told me she loved me. She knew how to love, practically and in her words. She knew how to love ME… how I would feel loved, before I was even aware how I feel love, probably because we both felt love in the same ways. Now I have a hard time remembering the last time I audibly heard it. And maybe that’s another hard reality of being an adult now, that you don’t get to hear you’re loved very often. But I know how to give it and say it, and I will continue to, even when it’s hard. Even when I don’t hear it towards me. She taught me that.

She loved mightily.

“The only thing we never get enough of is love; and the only thing we never give enough of is love.”— Henry Miller

No one has ever become poor by giving.
– Anne Frank

The anniversary of my grandmother’s death recently passed by. It was a quick day for me. I was pretty sick. I slept much of the day. I thought about her and still went about my remembrance celebration. This year, it was a peanut butter cupcake. I wrote my letter to her, because words mattered to her and I. I spent weeks trudging through the cards in various stores, trying to find the perfect one… because even though I have my own card business now, I wanted the perfect one, with the perfect meaning. It’s the only time in my life I can justify spending $6 on a card. And I sit at the bakery on the anniversary of her death, and I write her a note, part update, part longing, part grief. And I eat my cupcake, and I thank God that I had someone for a little while, and that He gave me it, her: stability, and warmth, and touch, and grace.

And I reflected about what parts of who I am actually came from her. I have never been like anyone I am biologically related, but this year, I knew I was like her in some ways. And I am so glad that some of her goodness carried over, to live on in me and through me.

She saw the best in me. And by seeing the best in me, she empowered me.

The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain. Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven? And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives? When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy. When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see in truth that you are weeping for that which has been your delight.”
— Kahlil Gibran

 

 

The power of being WITH someone can alter a life.

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The power of being WITH someone can alter a life.

Love is a hurricane in a blue sky
I didn’t see it coming, never knew why
All the laughter and the dreams
All the memories in between
Washed away in a steady stream

I always thought home was just a far dream; some wonderful concept that no one really lived up to. But I dreamed. And dreamed. And dreamed. Most nights, as a youth, I’d lay in bed and wonder what it was like to be cared about. I would imagine someone sitting by my bed at night holding me, hugging me. I would imagine what the words, “I love you” meant coming from someone who loved me. I’d imagine I was warm and cozy and that my blankets smelled of fabric softener. Anything that would allow me to escape my living nightmare for just a few hours of sweet sleep and peace in my dream world. And as I became a young adult, I stopped dreaming. I stopped hoping.

Love is a hunger, a famine in your soul
I thought I planted beauty but it would never grow
Now I’m on my hands and knees
Trying to gather up my dreams
Trying to hold on to anything

As a young adult, this world, this hollow pain and sadness grew. I mustered all the Christian perseverance in me that I could. I became good at smiling in public and weeping in private. I felt a difference in me, in my life. I looked at the Church and felt something about me was different then most others. I carried a sadness, an ache, a deep need and longing. And I pleaded for years for God to help fill this. Slowly, my ministry, my relationships, the little nook of the world I had created started to unravel. I was grasping for hope and I didn’t know it.

We could shake our fists
In times like this
When we don’t understand
Or we could just hold hands

You and me, me and you
Where you go, I’ll go too
I’m with you, I’m with you
‘Til your heart finds a home
I won’t let you feel alone
I’m with you, I’m with you

I sought help. A dear woman came along side me. For the first time in my life, someone stood near me and wouldn’t leave. She was there to see it through. You see, she’s one of the mightiest people I know. She loves fiercely and often gently. She sees. She hopes. Oh and she prays. On some of the hardest nights of my struggling to find words, to fight the terror that came with memories, the emotional strongholds, the physical flash backs, she sat next to me, she held my hand, she held my heart. She was my Ruth. She was not giving up on me. She wouldn’t let me go.

You do your best to build a higher wall
To keep love safe from every wrecking ball
When the dust is cleared we will
See the house that love rebuilt
Guarding beauty that lives here still

And I fought her at times, I fought her will. I fought her love. I doubted and questioned. I pushed her away, or at least I tried. My walls were high. The cost of letting another in was even higher. But she stayed. She slowly did the work of loving me, of taking bricks down gently, one at a time. She encouraged me in ways I would never have dreamed of, in ways that someone who really KNOWS you is able to. This was not easy for either of us and it was costly. It took sacrifice. It took bravery. It took love. I never knew such a love existed.

Some nights we’d lay in bed and just hold hands because life was painful. She wept for the pain that this life can hold and do to another. She expressed anger. She gave my a right to feel, to feel whatever I did, without a need to keep a wall, no matter how seemingly “ungodly” my feels appeared. She stayed by my side. Dinners, outings, holidays, birthdays, family days, everyday things, church events. She stood near me, often literally. The power of being WITH someone can alter a life. It did mine.

Who can say I’m left with nothing?
When I have all of you, all of you, yeah
In the way you’ve always loved me
I remember He does too

About a year ago, I drove by her old house. She had moved a couple weeks prior out of state. And I missed her terribly. I missed her whole family, a part of my family. It was a place I drew chalk pictures on the sidewalk with her kids. A home I spent countless dinners, lunches, and weekend afternoons at. I discovered new foods in her home. I discovered a new way of life. Her home was small, but it was warm. And I went back that day, just because I missed her.

I crept up the stairs to her old home and looked around her yard, for any reminder that she used to live there, for something to grasp, some memory that it all happened, that it mattered. As if this location held some power.

I looked in the window and saw everything empty. Nothing. I gasped, a little shocked. Shocked that this was just a house. And I learned that day, home isn’t so much about a location, a physical house. Home is a people. A people who get you, who know you and still want you. Home is the place you’re welcomed back into without needing a welcome. Home is a people that hold your heart when you’ve forgotten it somewhere along the pain of life. Home is a people who fill a house.

She gave everything she had to me. What was once used to harm me, doesn’t harm me anymore. Love covered that, revealed it, and is healing it. The love of God through her sacrifices, through her love. I know what it means to have a home. To be loved.

She gave me shelter for my wounds and she stood and held me many times when I was too weak, to shattered to hold my own heart.

Even though Jesus had the 99 sheep, He still would go back to find the one that was struggling. That one is worth much. Each one is worth much. Sometimes the cost of bringing one back is heavy. Oh but people are worth it. So worth it.

Love is rebuilding a home in me. What was once used to hurt, is now being used to heal. She saw beauty in me and called it out. Now I know what a home is.

31 Days of Writing: Home

On Family and Fostering: A Category of Other

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Let’s be honest, my FMF posts are never five minutes, but are rather serve as a prompt for me to think and articulate in raw, unfiltered ways. FMF is a way that my voice is heard, because in my world, I don’t have much a voice yet. But I am finding it. And learning and loving and healing in the process. So here’s my FMF:Alone

“I feel different. I don’t fit in any neat group or category. It’s hard to live in a no mans land. It feels invalidating. I feel like an invalid..I feel alone in a world I don’t understand.”

It’s what I wrote on August 18th, 2015 as I lay in bed trying to process more than my little heart knew how to. Processing the feeling of being “other”.

There’s no category for “other”. But I am an “other”. There’s no place for me to check off. I was not a state foster child, but I had many non relatives and a couple of relatives foster me through my child and young adult life, as my biological parents were unable to. I am not legally adopted, but I feel like I’ve been adopted into some sort of family-like situation. But I also feel the difference. And I feel invalid.

I still have my name. I did not get a new inheritance, a legal one, a new name. I am still the same. Still the same identity. I didn’t get to change my name, and sometimes, that’s hard. I don’t want it.

I don’t qualify for much aid that foster and some adoptees do.  In fact, one semester of my college I had my financial aid revoked because I couldn’t come up with the information on my biological relatives that they needed. I didn’t know how to get financial information from someone I hadn’t seen in 4 years, from someone who was unsafe.

I was vulnerable. I didn’t know who to call when my car broke down. I was anxious for months before each holiday wondering where I could live or stay during the colder months, and then, in college, if anyone was going out of town and would allow me to “house sit”. I didn’t dare expect to be welcomed into a holiday. Growing up I learned holidays were for families. And I didn’t belong to one. So holidays weren’t for me.

I didn’t know how to make a doctor’s appointment. I didn’t know how to open a checking account. I didn’t know how to use makeup or even a tampon.

When my car broke down 6 hours away from my college, I panicked. I knew no one in Pennsylvania. I had orientation for a job that night and was driving to start the school year off with this new job. I was 6 hours from where I grew up and still 6 hours from where I was heading. I NEEDED this job to make it through college. Because when you’re famililess, you have to make it financially on your own. If my car broke down, I’d miss orientation. If I missed orientation, I’d lose my job. If I lost my job, I couldn’t pay for college. If I couldn’t pay for college, I couldn’t live at college. If I couldn’t live at college, I would be homeless, again. 19 years old and homeless. Not to mention figuring out what to do with a broken down car in a state you don’t know.. oh yea and no cell phone, because I couldn’t afford one.

You see, friends, those of us that have been famililess as young people can’t call home and rely on parents to come through in emergency situations. I wanted to leave my state and go to college in another state. I even left full in state college scholarship behind because I felt so unsafe in the state I grew up in. I just wanted to move on in my life, to move past the pain and grief and fear. I wanted to feel safe. I wanted to thrive.

Family is everything

But it doesn’t work that way. Whether it’s a broken down car or a holiday break, I was always reminded I was alone in life. Sure I had some people who cared, but I was always, always at the mercy of others’ “hospitality” and generosity. I did not have the privilege of growing in a safe world where people can be relied on. People always had the opportunity to say “no” to me. I couldn’t expect to have a home for the holidays or that so and so would even answer the phone in an emergency. After all, aren’t we taught, “family first”, even in our churches? And people are full to the brim with their own family dynamics. They needn’t need mine. They didn’t want me.

I come across it daily whether directly or in another indirect way, “family is everything”.

Love does not divide or diminish when it is shared among a family, it increases.

But what about when your family is unsafe? What about when you need a family, but you don’t fit the typical model of family… you’re too old, too sick, too independent, to much work, not pretty, etc. etc. Where does someone who needs family, who needs a constant, stable place to belong, to be cherished and loved, to be encouraged, to mourn, to be taught, to cry, where does someone like that, someone like me belong in a world where “family is everything”?

To this day, when I have to fill out my medical paperwork, work paperwork, any official kind of paperwork, and it asks who my emergency contact is, I don’t know. I scribble down someone that I think loves me and cares about me, but truth be told, I wish I could write down someone that felt proud and confident in being my emergency contact, someone who knows me. My emergency contacts change from season to season. I long for some stability. Long to be known, in a family.

I don’t quite know if I’m allowed to refer to a non biological person as family… But I do, and I’m not sure if it’s okay. I am “other”. There’s not much written about people like me, the others. The ones who the foster system failed, who fell through the cracks. Through the concern of a few people willing to sacrifice a little bit of space in their life, gave me somewhat of a sense of stability and normalcy. But I feel family less in a lot of ways. Traditions, foods, words, heritage, memories are not with my biological relatives, but I have to have an attachment to them.

“What you say to people during death or loss matters. If you don’t know what to say, silence is OK. Hugs are usually great. “I don’t know what to say,” expresses a known truth for a horrible reality, or “I’m sorry for your loss.” Your job is to acknowledge the enormity of the loss to the individual or family, not diminish it. Be sensitive, take your cues from them, be slow to speak. L.O.V.E.”

So I have questions. Lots of questions and so few answers. I have grief. I have sorrow. And I have joy. I yearn for a place to call home. To be able to call someone on the phone and think, “I’m calling home”. I love Jesus. I love the Church. I really, really love people. And many, many good people have been a part of my journey in life. I do not mean to diminish that. I am grateful for the many temporary families I have had over the course of my short life and the ways that I’ve learned much through them and my time with them. I recognize that family doesn’t always mean forever. But my longing for unchanging family is there. And I am waiting, waiting on something I am not sure will be available to me. And I do believe God put it there and has protected it so delicately and purely.

So I am sitting here and I am trusting God to bring about something I am unsure of. I am waiting in the questions I am not sure will get answered. I grieve a loss and hope for joy in the process. And one day, not too long from now, I want to be a foster parent. And I want to be the kind of person who learns to speak LOVE, even when it hurts.

Saving Space for Others

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Somedays, some moments, some weeks I just don’t have a lot of hope. My mood can feel low. I lose the ability to communicate effectively and all I want to do is cry and be told it’s okay-it’s okay to unravel, it’s okay to fall apart, you’re still good, you’re still valued, you’re still wanted, and your grief makes sense. I can’t recall many who hold space for me like that-a safe place to enter into when I am able and ready; a place that’s available and willing to wait for me and to be a part of the process of this grief.

“I can see that you’re having a really difficult day and I just want you to know that I am holding this space for you. I’m here for you in whatever capacity you need me.”

I have learned a lot the last couple of years, about joy, and hope, and family, about loss, grief, suffering, and pain. The nature of being human means that we will make mistakes, we will hurt one another, even scar the same people we love. We are going to disagree with others, probably shame them at some points, judge and critique them in ways that steal their joy, their hope. I have done it. I’ve had it done to me. We will see and experience all heights and depths of joy and suffering.

  It’s hard work to get along. It’s harder work to bear with one another. It’s the greatest work in learning how to love one another. 

I’ve spent many months this last year waking up in the morning in tears, my stomach turned in knots, feeling sick from being unable to bring about peace and restoration in some relationships that I would like to. It’s a terrible, terrible, terrible feeling of loss and grief. Most people have their ideas of what you “should” do or what you “should” say in those situations. But I haven’t done much. Because I don’t know what to do. And I haven’t said much. Because I’ve been learning to listen. Listening to others puts out a fire. Defending myself causes the fire to rage. 

So I do what I think I need to. I send letters and emails. I say, “hey I was thinking of you and wanted to let you know.” I remind them that I haven’t forgotten them, that I still see them, and I still care. I find little ways to say, “I haven’t given up hope”. And I’ve found some peace. 

I have been called naive at times. I’ve been told that I should just let go and move on, but I can’t. There’s a stirring inside me that just keeps telling me to hold tight and to hold space for others. To have hope. To believe in God to bring about restoration and until then, to hold space for others, to give others a place to unravel and be a mess, as they are working out what God has for them, and to be available when they are ready, when we are ready. 

I have a friend who has a “screw you” mindset. She’s lovely. Really she is. She’s kind and a giver. But if she feels slighted and hurt, it is not easy for her to address it. She doesn’t often openly say it, but in her mind she’s written people off, and in doing so, has hardened a bit of her heart. She knows she does it. And somedays I have wished I could be more like that, less tender, more angry. I have wished I could just say “screw you” and move on. But I can’t. I have too great a capacity for hope. 

Hope is hard. I don’t always feel hopeful. I have a deep pit inside me that feels like my world is being pulled out from under me and shaken up. Not much feels normal or known. But my hope, this hope that Jesus put inside me, sees things not as they are, but how they can be. 

And it’s to that end I save space for other people. It’s to that end that I am learning to live in the angst of unsettled relationship struggles because I believe it can really be something beautiful eventually. And that kind of hope is a hope worth fighting for, even if naive. Five Minute Friday: HOPE

My people, they aren’t extraordinary

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I know we aren’t supposed to choose favorite people.. or at last I’ve been told. But I do. My favorites aren’t usually well known or popular. Even my most favorite kids I’ve ever worked with had some pretty intense struggles and behaviors- and you guys I wanted to adopt them (and still do) and maybe I will. Some of my most favorite people in the Bible aren’t the ones who you’d think. They aren’t the Ruth’s or Deborah’s or even Priscilla. My favorites tend to be Naomi, and Lot’s wife, and even Jezebel.

Maybe because they aren’t big, or well known. They aren’t very prized or cherished or admonished. Maybe because we don’t know, we really do not know what their lives were really like, what lead them to the decisions they made, how things could have been different for them or even how THEY would have explained their choices. Maybe they think much more like me, perceive this challenging and difficult world similarly as I. Maybe life was really difficult, people hurt them, others left. Maybe they grieved horrifically in ways that few others could even try to imagine, let alone relate to. Because that’s how I feel, and it’s not too hard for me to imagine they could have, too.

So my favorite people, they aren’t extraordinary. They have no super strength emotions or vitality. The are very defeat-able, have big deficits, and ache for things beyond their control of obtaining. One of my most favorite people was my grandmother.

Her name was Shirley. I owe any normalcy of a childhood to this dear woman. From giving us normal, regular meals, to movies and beach/pool days and toys, she sacrificed so my sisters and I could have some semblance of what our peers had. And not just in physical ways, but emotionally. She’s the only woman I can recall hugging me. She kissed me goodnight during out sleepovers and walked us to bed. That was a foreign concept to me. She let us pick out special things and asked us questions, like if we liked a specific food or movie, what we learned in school, how sports or art were going.

My grandmother smelled of musty sweet perfume and red lipstick. She loved velour and elastic waste pants, but man was she classy for an older women! Her skin was soft and she loved elephants. She had amazing stories of her childhood and family, of life during war and poverty, of being the oldest of 5 kids and of caretaking for her mother in her mother’s last years of life. Grandma Shirley was kind, compassionate, thoughtful, and sacrificial. She loved her friends as family and her family all the same. I loved to watch her relationships, the ease with which she connected with others. And she loved to talk on the phone (I did not get that trait).

My grandmother is the only person who ever asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. She used to say she believed I could be whatever I wanted. When I was really good in the artistic arena, she always complimented, same with sports and music. She never pushed me, but just believed in me, believed I was more the sum of my situation (which was difficult to say the least). As I was older as a teenager and no longer was able to live with my parents, she’d drive to wherever I was living to pick me up at least two weekends out of the month. She’s always end our time together with some “spending money”, and baked goods for whichever family I was staying with. Even those families came to love Grandma Shirley. She always showed up when she said she would. She loved to see me.

She cared well for her friends. Her friends loved  me. I often stopped to visit them in her apartment complex before entering my grandmother’s home. At her funeral, dozens of her friends hugged me and wepted. I told each of them stories that my grandmother had shared with me about them or our stories all together. I reminded them how important they were to her and how grateful I was that she had such wonderful friends. My grandmother was social like me, but also introverted too. She loved people deeply and individually and with all that her heart was able to.

When my grandmother passed away, I was immediately ushered into some kind of care taking role for others. I was even asked to give the eulogy and officiate the ceremony (the perks of being the only family member in ministry). It wasn’t until a couple years later that things died down enough in the relative drama front to feel like I longed for her, grieved her. She was my favorite. I know I was her favorite too. She began to follow Jesus a few years before she died. I celebrated a lot that Easter.

It’s been a couple more years since then. I celebrate her birthday each year. She always celebrated me in whatever way she could. So each year on her birthday, I head somewhere and I buy two cupcakes. I pick out a birthday card and I write her a letter. And then I eat both our cupcakes. Because I know she’d be happy I did. And my heart stays soft in it’s grief, even when I can’t remember what she looked like. And each Thanksgiving, the anniversary of the stroke that eventually killed her, rolls by I remember that holiday that I found her-the precious couple weeks I took the 50 minute drive out to her hospital daily to feed her and read her a Francine River’s novel nightly, and I bake her brownies and mail them to someone I know could use a little package surprise. Because that’s what she did for me. And I honor her memory and role in my life in such a way. And I write her another letter. Because words mattered to both of us.

Five Minute Friday: Favorite