It’s time to ask the big question

What do you do when everything is stripped away from you? The people, things and activities that filled your life are removed indefinitely and your world is reduced to a virtual reality.
 
How do you feel when the fragility of life is laid bare? When death is all around, and you don’t know who will go next. When the data is scary and the prospect of loss is real.
 
There is a tangible feeling of loss and fear gripping the world right now. And there is real tragedy. What we do with these feelings and experiences may well define not just our time in isolation, but our entire future.
 
20190702_203338If ever there was a time to consider what really matters, it’s now. As the death toll climbs we are reminded that this life is ‘but a vapor’. It’s beautiful, yes – but so transient. Everything we hold dear here, even life itself, will come to an end. So now is the time to ask – what is the point of it all? And is there any hope?
 
Let me tell you – yes. There is hope. And it’s found in the God who knows first-hand just how broken this world is.
 
Jesus Christ was a real man. Not only that, he was the flesh-and-blood representation of God. He came to earth and tasted our brokeness. It brought him to tears. It filled him with compassion. And because he wanted to rescue us from this mess, Jesus died. Why? Because someone had to conquer death for us, and he stepped up to the plate. You see, death was our only option, until Jesus came along.

And now death is not the end of the story! Jesus did not stay dead. Countless witnesses confirmed – at great personal cost – that Jesus rose back to life. Now he is our living hope. He is alive, and we can share that life with him.
 
The Bible tells the whole story in a lot more detail, but the crux of it is this: God loves people with an incredible, mind-boggling, crazy deep love.  God loves people so much, that he took the death we should have had, and exchanged it for the gift of eternal life.
 
There is a lot of fear these days.  So let’s face that head on.  Let your fear take you to this essential question: if I die in the coronavirus epidemic, what happens next?
 
Let me tell you – there are two options, and only one is worth having.  Freely offered to you – today – by the living, true God – is an eternal life of more joy than you have ever experienced before. Waiting for you, if you accept it, is a love deeper and more unconditional than any you’ve ever known or imagined. It’s a ‘get-out-of-jail-free’ card; an offer of hope for something beautifully better to come.
 
But God will not force you. He will let you decide for yourself. Perhaps, though, he wants to catch your attention right now, and remind you that this broken life is not all there is. There is more to come, and it will be better than you can imagine.
 
He’s waiting for you, longing for you. Will you take him up on his offer? Will you give him your all in this life, and reap his all in the next?
 

“For this is how much God loved the world — he gave his one and only, unique Son as a gift.

So now everyone who believes in him will never perish but experience everlasting life.

God did not send his Son into the world to judge and condemn the world, but to be its Savior and rescue it!”

How to homeschool through Coronavirus: words from a seasoned home edder

In 1996, at 11 years old, I left school for good. My family moved and I began my own homeschooling journey, which got me through GCSEs, A levels, and finally graduating with a First Class degree (via the Open University).

In 2006 my son was born. He is 13 now, and has never been to school.
In 2008 my daughter was born. She is 11 now, and has never been to school.

And now, in 2020, the whole world is suddenly forced into joining our fabulous world.

There are so many things I want to tell you all.

Don’t worry. Enjoy it. It’s easier than you think. Don’t replicate school at home. Prioritise. Choose joy. Keep boundaries. Stay active. Read lots.

My list could go on. But the reality is this enforced ‘homeschooling’ cannot and will not be a true reflection of home education in normal life. Because life is not normal right now.

In normal life, home edders meet up regularly in groups to walk, learn, or just hang out together. You don’t have this option. In normal life, home edders do not have the pressure of tests and standards to meet, because going to school in the future is optional. You may not have this luxury. In normal life, home edders have at least one parent who wants to be homeschooling their kids.  You might not want this at all.

Yet here you are. Here we all are. So how can you make this work? Well, the possibilities are almost endless. You could do everything from unschooling to hiring in online tutors for every subject. The following are my suggestions, based on years of experience in child care, tutoring, youth work, fostering and home educating. For ease I have split my advice up by age groups. But one of the huge joys of home education is the ability to tailor it, so take everything here as an idea and a springboard, and mix it up to fit your family.


Preschoolers: 3-5 years

This one is the easy one. You’ve heard it said that play is children’s work. Now all you need to do is believe it! Encourage play in all its forms:

  • Creative play, like these great No Mess art ideas.00000IMG_00000_BURST20200210121807207_COVER_2
  • Imaginary play – build a fort under the table, play cars, put dollies to sleep
  • Physical play – rough and tumble, roly-poly, skip, dance, jump, tickle, chase and laugh
  • Nature play – walk as often as you can, play in the garden, look for birds, bees, flowers and trees, make use of the National Trust’s generous offer of free entry to many outdoor spaces
  • Music play – get out the intruments or improvise with pots and spoons – get loud and enjoy it
  • Story play – read books like there’s no tomorrow – the more the merrier

Try to keep your patience. Yes, it’s hard. But it’s way more fun than getting stressed. Try to not mind the mess in the day. Clean up at the end and relax while the kids are in bed. Try to keep your boundaries. No means no. Get that clear now and the rest of your days will be so much more peaceful. Try to say yes as much as possible. Live life to the full.


Early primary schooler: 6-8 years

Okay, now we can add in a bit more structure. One of my favourite quotes for homeschooling this age group is “structure time, not content”. Put a loose schedule in place, something like this:

DSC_02527am: Wake and get ready for the day
9am: Go for a walk/play in the garden
10am: Learning time
12pm: Lunch
1pm: Play time
4pm: Screen time
5pm: Dinner
6pm: Reading time
7pm: Bath & bed

You don’t need to set particular learning goals or tasks. During learning time just let them choose something they are interested in, and as long as it has educational value, it will do them good. It could be baking, art tutorials, researching a topic, doing a work book, reading, building, playing with instruments. Don’t forget they still need lots of play time at this age, and lots of time outside is good for every age. Make time to read to them, even if you are working from home. It’s so good for them, and it’s so special for you too.


Older primary schoolers: 9-11 years

Here is where you might start getting nervous. Breathe. You can do this. At this stage my days looked something like this. We had some set work amidst our flexible lifestyle, and here are some great resources we used around that time:

  • Language:  Duolingo is free and fun, and focuses mainly on vocabulary. We also used Michel Thomas and Paul Noble books and audios, which were great for conversational learning. Also check out your DVD collection – many Pixar and Disney films have other audio options, and watching your favourite cartoon in the language you’re learning is a great way get your ears tuned to the language and pick up some vocab too.
  • Maths:  Kahn Academy has some great videos, and is also free to use. Life of Fred is costly, but if you think home ed might be something you’ll do for the longer term then it’s really worth the money.
  • English:  A Kindle is a great way to access free classic books which can be read together or alone. Writing a journal, writing stories and writing letters are great ways to keep English skills going, and about all we did at that stage. There’s also a great website called Brave Writer which offers short courses that could be perfect for short term home edders.
  • History:  Historical fiction is an easy and engaging way to learn about history. Apart from the obvious Horrible History series, other series we have enjoyed include Roman Mysteries and My Story collections.
  • Science:  This is one of the trickier subjects to do at home, without investment. One website we liked at this stage, which offered science amongst other topics, was Education City. They do offer a 21 day free trial, so it’s worth a look. We also liked playing Anatomix.
  • Geography:  Games and story books are great ways to get in some geography. We especially liked Geografunny, The Boy who Biked the World, Around Europe Snap and Atlas Adventures.00100lrPORTRAIT_00100_BURST20200212152715216_COVER

This age is also a great time to zone in on the subjects your child is really interested in. After all, if they have a love for something particular, chances are they will end up working in that field. So why not give them some extra time to invest in following their passion. We have done this in different ways – sometimes dedicating a whole day each week just to doing the thing they really love. They learn so much, and enjoy it too – bonus!


Secondary schoolers: 12-16 years

Things can get a bit more serious now, and people often ask how I can teach my kids things that I don’t know. The truth is, I can’t. But we live in an age where information is at our fingertips. Even if your libraries are closed (sadness!), books and the internet are a great place to learn a lot. Help your kids to filter out the junk and teach them how to search for good information. If you don’t have good books at home, then order some from Amazon. My teenager does several online courses at the moment, but the things he doesn’t learn from them he learns from books, documentaries, conversations, good quality science and history magazines, and the internet. He knows WAY more than I do about most subjects. He also has quite a full schedule of work these days. Unfortunately most of the good quality resources for this age are expensive and/or require long term commitments, so it’s harder to find things that work for a temporary homeschooler. If you’re in this situation, and don’t have enough homework set by your school to see them through, try supplementing with these suggestions:

  • Set a project for your teen to complete, that lines up with their interests. For example, I’d set a project to illustrate a set of Greek myths for my art-loving history-geek son, or a project to create an elaborate wedding cake for my bake-off aspiring daughter.
  • Find or buy a set of documentaries/TV programmes which interest your teen. Simon Reeve does some great travel documentaries that are packed full of geography and culture; David Attenborough, of course, has fantastic nature programmes; even series like MasterChef, Bake Off or The Great Pottery Throw Down can be very informative and inspiring.
  • Teach some life skills. Academics are not the only thing we need for adulthood – try using this break from traditional school to let your teen take more responsibility around the house, and perhaps learn some new skills too. Do they know how to do the laundry? Cook a couple of meals? Wash the dishes thoroughly? Empty the bins and get them out for bin day? Clean the bathroom? Vacuum the house? Wash the car? Make a budget?
  • Invest in some good books on topics your teen is interested in. Amazon delivery may be slower than usual, but there is still so much available. And again, investment in a passion will always pay off, even if you’re only on this homeschool journey for a short while.

00100lrPORTRAIT_00100_BURST20191225144017528_COVERRemember, even at this age being outside remains important. Your child may be missing regular sport activities, and keeping active will help keep them fit and healthy. As long as guidelines allow it, try to get outdoor activity in at least three times a week. A long walk, basketball in the garden, kicking a ball on the field.  Do what you can, when you can – it’s really worth it. And another secret – you can still read to your kids, even at this age. I do, and we all love it!

 

 


You can find out more about home education in my older posts. Check here for all my home ed related posts. Here are the ‘days in the life‘ series. Here are some posts about resources. Here are some posts about whys and hows. If you have any questions, please do feel free to comment.

Lastly, try to enjoy this unique gift of time with your children. Many times people have said to me that they could never homeschool, because their kids would drive them crazy. This makes me sad. If that is you, then I urge you to re-evaluate. I think, on reflection and giving it a chance, you’ll find out just how much you not only love your kids, but like them too.

The hidden guilt of foster carers

You may have heard that being a foster carer is rewarding. You may have heard that it is challenging.  You may have heard that there is grief in saying goodbye. You may have heard that there is joy in knowing we were there when it counted.

But have you heard of foster carer guilt?

I hadn’t. In fact, even now that I’ve been fostering for over two years, I’ve still never heard anyone mention it. And to be honest, this is the first time I’ve talked about it, too.

20190518_124027 (1)I have a little love right now. He came to us straight from hospital, at one week old. I remember his perfect little face on the day he came home. Now he’s seven months old. He’s sleeping through the night, rolling everywhere, sitting like a champ and devouring any solid food he can get his cute, chubby little hands on. He is a real smiler, but still a little wary of strangers. Yesterday he woke from a nap to find two people visiting he didn’t know, and he clung a little tighter and tucked his head against my chest. Today I read him a book, and half-way through he turned his face up to check out mine, reminding himself that I was still there. You see, I am his safe place.

In fact, right now I am his everything. My home is the only one he’s ever known. My arms the ones he’s happiest in. My voice is the one that calms him. My family is his family.  He trusts me totally, completely, utterly, unquestionably.

And what shatters my heart is that I know I have to betray his trust.

He is not mine to keep. I know that – but he doesn’t. And now as the assessments draw to a close, and the court date creeps up, the guilt overwhelms me. Because I have to give him away. And as much as that will hurt me, the thing that I can’t bear is how it is going to hurt him. How his little innocent heart, which believes I will protect him from everything, will be so deeply and irreparably hurt by me.

Please don’t be quick to jump and tell me not to feel guilty. Don’t say it’s not my fault.  Don’t remind me of the good I’ve done and how that will set him up so well. Because in my head I know these things. I know them. But however true they are, they can’t change the facts.

Foster care will always, always be second best. And moving these already broken little people on to yet another home will always, always cause even more trauma. It’s unavoidable. It’s not my fault, yes – but I am still caught up in the process. And it is still me who has to look into those sparkling eyes, so full of trust and love – and know that one day soon I will hand over ‘my’ baby, and leave him.

And he will cry for ME. He will search for ME. He will feel abandoned by ME.

So yes, I am guilty. And I am heartbroken. And so incredibly sad and sorry for the unfairness of this world. But there is hope. And faith. And love. And in the truest, wisest book ever written we are told that love is the greatest.

So I will keep loving as many babies as God brings my way.  I’ll love them fiercely and unreservedly. Because that’s the only – and best – thing I can do.

Equipped for life

Sometimes I feel like I am balancing so many things.

Homeschooling. Fostering. Tae Kwon Do. Parenting a teen. Housework. Parenting a pre-teen. Teaching. My own spiritual life. Cooking and health. Admin. Friendships. Writing. Supporting family. Creating a Spirit-filled home. Research and learning. Being a wife.

I truly love every single of one these parts of my life. (Well – maybe not the housework so much…) And when people ask how I am, I always answer – truthfully – ‘Busy! But good busy.’

Yet whilst I love the blessings of these varied callings, there are times when I feel like I haven’t got enough to give fully to each one. Recently I’ve found myself feeling like I’m not living up to a high enough standard. Guilt creeps in, and I worry that I am dropping a ball somewhere. There is so much more I could do, if only I put in more time.

But time is limited.

And the thing is, God knows that. He knew that when He called my family to foster; when He blessed me with an ASD and ADHD child; when He inspired me to write: when He placed a passion for Tae Kwon Do in my heart; when He entrusted me with a home, family and friends. He knew that when He gave me every additional purpose in my life, and He didn’t miscalculate my time or abilities.

Peter, a friend of Jesus, wrote that through ‘God’s divine power’ we have everything we need, both for this life and for eternity. And in Hebrews 13 we are reminded again that it is God who equips us to do His will.

So yes, of course there is more I could do. But God knows what is enough. If He has given me a work to do, He will see it through and supply what I lack. I don’t need to fret at what I can’t accomplish. Instead, I need to trust in Him to meet me in my weakness and perform His own feats of strength. When I take my tasks to Him in prayer and ask for His grace, wisdom and strength, I am relieved of the pressure to perform. Instead I can delight in what He has entrusted to me.

I am balancing so many things. But God is steadying my hands.

10 funny/not-funny foster care problems

We’ve been doing this fostering thing for nearly 18 months now. In many ways I still feel like the new kid on the block. We’ve only had six little loves, and there are veterans out there with 30+ to their names and in their hearts. But all the same, I’ve learned quite a lot over the past year and a half. Here are ten unexpected ‘problems’ that I’ve discovered come with the territory as a foster carer. Some are funny. Some not so funny.

Maybe, if you know a foster carer, this will help you to understand a little more of their crazy life.

  1. The complete inability to plan ANYTHING

    Let’s say you want to book a family trip to the zoo a few months in advance. You probably have a good idea how old your children will be in any given month. In fact, you probably have a good idea how many children you will HAVE in any given month. This, friends, is a luxury I no longer enjoy. I know I’ll have at least two… but will I have three? Four? Will one be a baby and exempt from entrance fees? Will I have 7-year-old triplets? Only God knows – literally.

    Or let’s say you want to arrange to go for a walk with friends next Thursday. Thursday is your free day, so you know you can do it, right? How lovely. Thursday was my free day, too – until one quick phone call changed contact plans and now my Thursdays are full. Cue me cancelling my plans… again.
  2. Your life becomes a series of acronyms

    “I need you to meet with the CSW, IRO and HV at the LAC review next Tuesday. You will be discussing the recent care plan change from Section 20 to ICO, with a view to a FCO. We will also be discussing the upcoming IRH, which was mentioned at the PPM we had a few months ago. Your SSW will be there to support you, and a FSW will be there to support birth parents. You can bring FC6 & 2 with you, as we can arrange care here. If the courts rule for a FCO we would like to arrange a meeting with you and an ASW to discuss where we go from here.

    “Got that?
  3. Being the mom… but not

    I cook their meals, clean their clothes, wipe their bottoms. I teach them to talk, take them for their first swim, steady their hands as they learn to walk. I comfort them through teething, get up in the night with them, nurse them through illness. I read goodnight stories, get sleepy morning cuddles, tickle them till they giggle. I can read their faces better than anyone, understand their incomprehensible babble, and pick up on their subtlest cues. In my heart, I am their mom. But the problem is – I’m not.

    I send them off with strangers to visit their parents. I teach them to love another instead of me.   hand them over when I’d rather keep them close. I build in their now, so others can share in their future.

    I’m their mom – but I’m not.

  4. Getting the names wrong

    You know that thing you do as a parent when you try to call your kid, but call the wrong name first? Maybe you say, “Come here Jon – Davi – Lewis.” Well, my list of names is growing longer very quickly.

    “Come here, Ash – Am – Mar – Eliz – Bri – Luc – Ame – Charity…”By this time next year I might just call all kids by one generic name to save on memory space.  ‘Jo’ sounds good.
  5. The joy of the UNANNOUNCED VISIT

    So we all know the mad tidying up we all do before visitors arrive. But what if that visitor was a social worker? And what if, in addition to the 100 odd scheduled visits a year that social workers made to your house, there was also the promise of one unannounced visit a year. At any time a social work may just appear at the door, ready to record their findings of the state of your home and kids?

    Yep. Oh-so fun.
  6. The conflict of feeling new and experienced all at the same time

    When a new child comes to live with us, it’s like having, er.. I don’t know… a new child. Crazy, but true. And if that child is a baby, it’s like having a new baby. Obvious when you read it, right?  But the thing is, no one treats you like that. No one cooks you meals, asks if you need help, or sympathises with the demands of a sudden extra body in the house. (Okay, not strictly ‘no-one’. Some very wonderful people in our lives go out of their way to check if we need anything. If that’s you, know just how much it means to us. Thank you.)

    But at the same time, you’re not a new parent. And the longer you foster, the more experienced you are. You get used to constantly dipping in and out of parenting a variety of ages. You become experienced at dealing with different stages of childhood, because you’ve just done it so often and so recently. You don’t want people treating you like the newbie – you’ve most likely got more experience than them.

    We’re hard to please, us foster carers.  Sorry about that.

  7. Storage!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Now I know here in England we’ve all got small houses and not enough space. We all need more storage. But seriously, foster carers take this to the extreme. In addition to the stuff our core family unit own and need space for, in our house we also store:

    a full size single bed; two toddler beds; a cotbed; a moses basket; bedding for all those beds; three chests of draws; a wardrobe; two carry cots; two pushchairs; two car seats; a booster seat; a playmat; a bouncer; a walker; a toy ring; two play mats; a baby bath; a highchair; a nappy bin; two nappy bags; a night-light; a baby monitor; bottles; dummies; toddler cups, plates, and cutlery; bibs; girls’ clothes from newborn to age 6; boys’ clothes from newborn to age 6; toys and games suitable from newborn to age 6; spare suitcases; memory boxes; contact bags;

    I think God gave us expandable walls.
  8. Awkward introductions

    It used to be easy – “Hi, nice to meet you!  These are my kids.” Not any more. ‘These’ aren’t always ‘my’ kids. Sure, it doesn’t matter if I’m just meeting you in passing. You don’t need to know that one (or two) are not really mine. But what if you’ve moved to the area and you’re joining my social group? Do I tell you now? Do I tell you later? Do I just let you figure it out? And what if I’m signing a borrowed baby up for a mother and baby swimming group? It’s just so complicated. Maybe a more experienced foster carer has a good system worked out, but I’m still floundering in this one.
  9. Knowing too much

    We did a lot of learning before becoming foster carers. Then we went through the assessment process, where they put us on a course to learn some more. Then they require that we do a minimum of five training course/books a year, every year. Then we started fostering actual children, and the REAL learning began in earnest.

    Suffice it to say I know an awful lot about attachment, trauma, loss, and transitions, both in theory and practice. The trouble is, I know more than the professionals who I rely on for help. So when it comes to transitioning a child from my home to another, I am often helpless to make things better. I know what needs to be done, but there are too many others in charge who don’t know, and my voice is not enough to get it done.
  10. A really long prayer list and a head full of dreams

    The more kids we have, the longer my prayer list gets. By the time I’m 40 I think it’s going to take me all day just pray for each child.  This a good thing.  But time consuming.

    And my nights. They are filled with dreams of the little loves we no longer have in our homes, but are still in my heart. Here they visit me, sometimes happy and sometimes distressed. It makes for heart-achey sleep.

So there you have it. Ten things I’ve learned in eighteen months. But for all the ‘problems’, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Fostering has been the biggest blessing our family could have asked for, and we are so thankful God entrusted us with this beautiful life.

From loss to hope

Loss.

This one word sums up so much about foster care. First there is the children’s loss: they come to us to so full of it. They’ve lost just about everything by the time they move in – family, home, familiarity, possessions, belonging, security, trust… the list goes on and on. And then there is our loss: the empty hole in our hearts every time we let go of a little one we have loved as our own.

Loss hurts.

20180925_114603Last week we said goodbye to our fifth little love. Letting go just doesn’t get easier. But loss was not a part of God’s orignal plan. In the garden of Eden, there was no place for loss – all was perfect and so, so good. Yet now we live in a world marred by sin, and loss is rife.

But God was not content with loss. Instead, He decided to suffer the biggest loss of all, so that He could win us back and put an end to all loss and pain for good. Jesus Christ, the human personification of God himself, lost his connection to the God-head when he chose to die in our place. Of all the losses this world has seen, none can compare to this.

And now loss is not the end of the story. Jesus rose back to life, conquering death for us all. Now we can exchange loss for gain. We can exchange hurt for hope. We can exchange emptiness for fulfilment. Despite this broken world, God can work all things for good. He can turn the bad on its head.

This doesn’t mean that loss itself is good. No – the loss inflicted on the kids I love is painfully wrong. Desperately unfair. In no way good. But because God IS good, He can turn it around.

When we began this life of foster care we chose to embrace loss. We are priviledged to be co-workers with God, a part of turning bad into good in the lives of the children entrusted to us. And as we feel the pain of our own losses, God steps in and walks alongside us. He turns our tears to joy, gives us peace that passes understanding. As we follow His will, the richness of His presence in our lives makes the sorrow seem small.

Truly, we can do all things through Christ, who strengthens us.

The power of one gentle spirit

On Wednesday 28th February my dear Granny Merle went home to heaven. She went gently and gracefully, just the way she had lived here on earth.

It was long before I was born that Granny’s life was reborn. She became a Christian when my dad was just a teenager. Her conviction that Jesus Christ was real changed her life for good, and her life response to this conviction changed generations more lives to come.

Granny had her share of hurt in this world. As a young woman she became a single mother to four children. Later she was forced to leave the homeland she loved to start a new life in a new country. In her last years she was afflicted by a cruel motor neuron disease, which slowly robbed her of all independence and replaced it with constant discomfort and pain. Yet she bore everything she suffered with the most humble and loving spirit; never complaining, always grateful for what she had.  (Philippians 2:14)

Granny’s Christianity was a lived out faith. She was not a passive pew-warmer. Granny knew that the truth she had discovered was something that needed to be shared, and one way she did this was by going around the neighbourhood and inviting anyone who was interested to Bible studies, to learn more about the good news she had found. It just so happened that she knocked on the door of a lady called Margaret, a post-Buddhist agnostic who thought Christianity was a hypocritical fairy tale. However after throwing all her favourite trick questions at these Christians, and finding surprisingly sensible and irrefutable answers, Margaret eventually came to realise that this Jesus of the Bible was indeed real. Because of Granny Merle, Margaret and her children became Christians, too. Later on Margaret’s daughter would marry Merle’s son, and become my parents. What a rich heritage.  (1 Peter 3:15)

A life transformed by Jesus should look like love in action, and this is exactly what Granny Merle’s life was. Unable to find a job once she moved to England, Granny did find herself lots of spare time. She wasted none of it. For a while she became a Betterware representative in order to bring in a small income, and as she delivered catalogues to her neighbours she became aware of many lonely, elderly people in her local area. For years Granny faithfully visited and befriended these isolated folk, caring for them until they passed on, infusing their lives with joy and love.  (James 1:22)

At home Granny was characterised by gentle kindness. It was impossible to visit without her making you feel loved. Her servant-heart, generous nature and always gentle voice were standard, and all too easy to take for granted. But the effect of her constant, daily tender love was profound, and has influenced all her family and friends for the better.  (Ephesians 4:2)

Granny has left a legacy of love which has spread across generations and to people across the world. Her faith in God has poured down to her children, her grandchildren and her great-grandchildren. Her gentle spirit has touched the hundreds of people who knew her, no matter how briefly. She was truly a reflection of the love of Jesus, and she made the world a better place.  (Psalm 103:17)

The beauty of Granny’s gentle and quiet spirit will never fade. The power of her humble, gracious love will go on transforming lives. Thank God for Granny Merle.

 

Granny Merle

‘Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel— rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.’  1 Peter 3:3-4

 

 

Becoming

A friend of mine put up a quote on Facebook recently, which really spoke to my heart:

God doesn’t give you the people you want. Instead, he gives you the people you need – to teach you, to hurt you, to love you, and to make you exactly the way you’re meant to be.

As a foster carer people often tell me that I’m doing an amazing job. They watch me hold, love and let go of children that I long to keep. And in one sense, they are right. I am doing an amazing job; it’s an amazing privilege to step into a child’s life and form part of their story. But I am not amazing.

We have just come to the end of a three month placement. E, age 6, and B, age 2, came to us last November, a week after our first little love went home. They had had a life full of trauma. E told us things so nonchalantly. Things that a 6 year old should never even know about, let alone experience. B was terrified of simple sounds, and she spent the first night screaming for hours, not knowing why she had suddenly been taken from everything she knew and put with strangers.

The first week was a big adjustment, but we took it in our stride. As time went on the girls began to relax. They began to feel safe. They began to open up, and this is where it got really hard. After three weeks E began to show us just how much damage the trauma had done to her. She became everything we had been told to expect during our foster training, but experiencing it in real life is something different. We began to have daily meltdowns over nothing, where E would scream, kick, hit, throw, pinch, spit, bite, and generally try to destroy everything. These meltdowns could last up to two hours, and could happen several times a day, especially during weekends and holidays. She just couldn’t process all the awful, awful things that she had experienced, and she was letting us know the only way she knew how.

‘Theraputic parenting’ is the term we use to describe our way of dealing with foster children. PACE – Playfulness, Acceptance, Curiosity and Empathy: these are the tools we use, built on a foundation of love, firm boundaries and total acceptance. There were many times when I was being scratched and hit that I was able to respond with deep empathy. When I could look in E’s eyes and tell her that I knew she was hurting so badly, and that’s why she felt like she needed to hurt me too, and that was okay. There were times I could respond to spiteful words with humour and diffuse the situation. There were times when, yes, I was doing an amazing job.

But that’s only half of the story. There were many times when I did not want to deal with another meltdown, and wished the school day was longer. Many times when E’s deliberate attempts to hurt and provoke me, succeeded. Many times when patience was not a virtue I possessed. Many time when despite knowing it was not her fault, I felt like it was. There were times when, no, I was definitely not amazing.

Guilt. I am not the perfect foster parent that I want to be. Confusion. I truly believe God called me to this job, and that He has equipped me for it – so why can’t I do it better?

This morning I listened to a podcast by a very dear friend of mine, who was talking about why he believes ‘just be who you are’ is a message which means well, but does people a disservice. It stunts our growth and stalls us in our current place of imperfection rather than helping us move into who we are meant to be. No one is perfect. And although we are all created unique and wonderful in our own ways, we are not yet the best version of ourselves. God put people and situations in our path not only so we can help them, but so we can grow.

The difference between a master and an amateur, they say, is that a master has made many more mistakes. As we wait for the next broken lives to come live with us, my prayer is that I will have learnt from my mistakes. That next time I will be more of who God has called me out to be. That I will love better, and be a truer reflection of God’s grace and mercy.

sketch-1518116393277

Foster love: why I can’t let go, but choose to anyway

So many people have said to me over the last few months, as we have been approved as foster carers and had our first placement,

“Oh, I couldn’t do that. I could never hand them back!”

I get that. I totally, totally get that. I used to say the exact same thing myself, when friends of mine became foster carers and I watched them take in these precious, tiny babies then let them go again after investing so much. How could they do that? I just knew I couldn’t.

But here’s the thing. Anyone who just ‘can’ will probably never make a good foster carer.

Because fostering is not just about taking a child into your home. It’s about taking them into your heart. These are kids who have suffered things you and I really can’t imagine. Kids who have been abused, neglected, rejected. When they are taken into care they need someone who is willing to love them fiercely, wholeheartedly. They need to be loved as if they were your own. And yes, that means when they leave you will be heartbroken, because it will feel like letting go of your own children. But that is what they need. They need to matter to someone. They need to be loved so hard by someone who never wants to let them go. They need to be worth someone’s heartbreak.

Having said goodbye to our first little love last week, I have had my first taste of heartbreak. She wasn’t with us long, but we loved her completely. Since she left I keep thinking I hear her. I woke last night thinking she was crying for me. I keep thumbing through photos of her, missing her so much.

There is an undercurrent to that phrase “I couldn’t do that”. It’s almost as if, without meaning to, people assume that the only way to let go is to love less. That somehow we must love less, if we can handle saying goodbye. And I’m not blaming anyone – remember, I said the same thing myself. It’s just that I came to realise that my own heartbreak was nothing in comparison to what these children are going through. If they have no choice but to live through trauma, fear and broken relationships, surely I can give of myself in order for them to experience uninhibited love, no matter the cost to my own heart?

So we will keep loving each child who comes into our home as if they were our own. And we will endure the heartbreak of saying goodbye. Because they need us to love without holding back, more than we need to be spared the ache of letting them go.

Seasons

Life has found a peaceful rhythm recently. We’re in a season of (relative) rest. Since January this year we have had more time at home and fewer pressing commitments. It has been a time of strengthening family relationships and finding time to pursue interests and education more fully.

Princess working in the sunshine. Window seat for the win!

Prince and Princess have settled into a routine of waking, personal devotional, Morning High Five, then on to Learning Fun. By the time I finish my own personal time with God and come downstairs they have usually started on their work. They have always been good at working independently, but this season has seen a real step up in this. It seems I have hardly noticed them getting older, and all of sudden they are Big.

Big is good. Big is exciting. I love the people my Littles are becoming. But I have to confess – I really miss the Littles, too.

Our days are a mixture of learning independently and together. We do the hard things together, because it’s so much more friendly with two. We do the fun things together, too – read-alouds, walks, picnics, games, day trips, play-dates, church. But we also have time to work, play and rest independently, completing our own tasks and following our own interests. Our days are rich in love and fun.

Enjoying this season; preparing for the next.

I’ve had more time this season for reading. As some of you know, we had been pursuing the idea of adoption over the past four years. This journey took a twist earlier this year, and we are now part way through fostering training and assessment. This season of rest has allowed me to spend more time learning about how to help the types of children who may come in and out of our family in the future. The reading has also helped me develop skills, understanding and new ways to help Prince and Princess during time of anxiety, sadness and change. My favourite book so far is Building the Bonds of Attachment – a great read for anyone interacting with traumatised or challenged kids on a regular basis.

I don’t know when the next season will come, or what it will bring. I suspect it will be much fuller – in both trials and joys. But for now we are soaking up this season, full of its own beauties and blessings.

To everything there is a season,
A time for every purpose under heaven
(Ecclesiastes 3:1)

« Older entries

%d bloggers like this: