When They Reunite

We heard her before we saw her, a high squeal echoing across the parking lot. It is a universal motherhood truth that if you go any length of time without seeing your child, they will insist on rapidly growing during that period. It’s just a guarantee. The 5 weeks they spent apart turned her little guy into a big boy and she could not believe it!

My favorite thing to do when we bring one of our little house guests back to their family at the end of a hosting is to watch their expression. How does a young mind process the roller coaster they’ve just been on?  Leaving everything they’ve known to be normal and comfortable, settling in to our home’s routine not totally understanding where their parent is or what happens next and then finally being reunited with their parents is a lot. The reactions have been varied.

Sometimes a little one’s reaction to our saying goodbye can make walking away very difficult. But when this little cutie cuddled up into his Mommy’s neck and closed his eyes and smiled so big, we knew what we’ve always known. These little loves that come into our home are not meant to stay forever. They belong somewhere. He belongs with his Mommy. We love them hard and let them go. We let them go, but we never stop loving them.

We have spent four years practicing the art of loving well and letting go. Learning the differences between charity and servanthood. Figuring out what it means to walk alongside someone in their time of need instead of assuming we have a quick fix to solve their problems. Mostly we’ve learned how much we don’t know.

When you start serving people in crisis you do a lot of wondering why they don’t just dig themselves out of the hole they are in. As much as you try not to judge, you have all the opinions and all these ideas about how to solve their problems. “Just dig,” you say. That’s what you would do, right?

After some time, you learn that the tools you always had access to, and the training you just assumed everyone had on how to use said tools are not guarantees for everyone else. You assumed we all were born with the same set of tools: including that shovel. So dig. Dig yourself out. But you were wrong. Not only does this momma not have a shovel to dig….she’s never even seen a functioning shovel. So she doesn’t know HOW to dig. You can tell her until you’re blue in the face that she just needs to dig herself out but it’s not going to change anything.

I refuse to do that now. I’ve found it a lot more effective to hush my mouth and listen. When I listen, I learn that it’s nearly impossible to dig yourself out when all you have are your hands and it continues to pour rain so the ground stays wet. And there is no one around to help you up when you slip in the mud. Instead of saying “just dig” I’ve learned to show someone what a functional shovel looks like and tell them that if they need help digging, I’m here. I’ve learned that, instead of being all talk, it’s a lot more effective to just get in there and get a little muddy.

Today we said goodbye. And we don’t know what our little houseguest’s future holds. But we will love him and love his Mommy and walk alongside them as they learn and grow. And make no mistake about it, it will be messy. We will get muddy. But Jesus isn’t scared of a little mess. So I won’t be either.

 

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Guest Blogging-Safe Families

I am a guest blogger today for the amazing Lori Harris as part of her “What She’s Doing Now” series.

Lori is an inspirational woman who lives out Biblical Hospitality daily. Stop over and say hello….you’re really gonna like her!

What She’s Doing Now: Jesika Knight

 

Until the next blog…be blessed!

Hosting #21

Tomorrow marks 4 months since we picked up our current little house guest, baby R. She is our 21st hosting (CRAZY!) in the almost 3 years we have been with Safe Families. Our time as her host family is coming to a close and we are so excited about watching this family reunify! We are also excited to show her mommy, A, that we meant business when we said we would stick around long after the hosting.

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Baby R was 5 months old when we met her young mommy in a Starbuck’s and became fast friends. At that time, A did not have a stable place to live, spending much of her time in her car. She did not have any form of income, she was overwhelmed and teetering on the edge of sanity as she tried to juggle homelessness, family tensions, past abuse, full time college courses and a baby with literally no stable support system.

Fast forward and baby R is now 9 months old! She is pulling up on everything, scaling furniture, saying “mama” “dada” and “banana!” She has grown in size while her mommy has grown as a woman. For every milestone we have watch Baby R achieve, we have seen development in A as well.

Baby R will go home to an apartment that her Mommy worked hard to get. A will get her associate’s degree this summer. She has learned valuable lessons about managing money, about raising a baby, about the importance of taking care of your spiritual and mental health in addition to your physical health. But most importantly, we have been able to give her the gift of an extended family and she has given us the gift of growing our ever expanding circle of loved ones.

Has it been perfect? No. Has it been easy? Not even a little easy, friends. Has it been worth it? YES. YES. YES. For every second that fear has struck my heart because of the drama that inevitably comes with serving those in crisis, there have been many more seconds of my heart filling with pride and joy watching Baby R grow into a big girl and watching her Mommy grow into a woman.

There have been late nights and frantic phone calls and tears in these last 4 months. And we couldn’t have done it without our “people.” Our tribe. Our safety net and support. The ones who give us grace when we just can’t seem to get out of the house in time because our house guest just isn’t having it. The ones who respond to the “please pray right now” group texts. The ones who pick up extra clothes for a baby they’ve never seen or buy Christmas presents for a young mommy they will never know. You know who you are. But there is no way you could ever know how much you bless us over and over again. You are just as much a part of our work with Safe Families as we are. We could not do it without your selfless service and dedicated prayers. My heart will forever be grateful. Just thank you. Yes, YOU!

Will you join me in praying that this reunification is a successful one? That sweet A will feel confident in her ability to parent full-time again, that baby R will continue to grow and learn and develop close bonds with her mommy? We are so excited to see what God has in store for A and her baby girl and I hope that in a couple of years I’m able to update you guys on the huge progress that I have big hope they will continue to make!

Until the next blog…be blessed!

 

Rescued (part 2)

To read the first part of this two part series, click here: Rescued (part 1)

Leah was like every other newborn baby. Fabulously chubby cheeks, tiny little toes. There were diaper changes and bottles. There was very little sleep. Pushing through the exhaustion and loving on this brand new life who was starting fresh in the world was so good for my soul. I was waking every two hours with a fussy baby, and in the process my soul was waking up, too. The fog lifted. She brought so much healing to my hurting heart. That newborn baby smell alone is good medicine. During that period of time, one scripture stayed on my heart:

For everything there is a season... A time to be born and a time to die... A time to cry and a time to laugh. A time to grieve and a time to dance.” Ecclesiastes 3:1-4

It was Leah’s time to be born. And it was incredible. Even in hard circumstances, even with a hurting mommy. It was on purpose. That was easy to accept. As I embraced her “time to be born” I began to see the more difficult parts of that scripture like  “a time to die” and “a time to grieve” in a different light. Could those somehow be good, too? Yes. I think so. A life just beginning is meaningful, but a life well lived and then completed is meaningful too. It is right to dance and rejoice…but it is right to weep and grieve, too. Both are gifts in their own way. The good given to us by grace…and enough grace given to us to get through the bad. The aching in saying goodbye to a person or a season in our lives serving as a reminder that we were blessed to have had something so hard to let go of. The pain an obvious indication that we are in need of a Savior. Baby Leah was a precious reminder that somehow sorrow and gladness can coexist in the most beautiful way.

While we cared for Leah (and she in turn tended to our hurting hearts) Christy was diligent. Intentional with every moment she spent away from her sweet girl, we were soon called to a meeting with her family to discuss next steps. Christy’s family was understandably terrified to know there were “strangers” caring for their own flesh and blood. It was a miracle the way an hour together eased their fears. All of their hesitations were gone and they welcomed our help. It wasn’t anything we said or did. There weren’t words or actions sufficient. It was the grace of God alone that gave them peace. The moment we joined hands as one family and prayed for God’s direction is a moment I will hold on to forever.

While we shared our hearts, my concern for Christy grew. She would not join us or her family. She stayed in the car of the parking lot. After some time passed, I asked her mom if it would be okay for me to go out and speak to her. She agreed. The shame in that car was palpable. Christy wept uncontrollably. She was humiliated to share with her family that she needed Safe Families. She said she felt unworthy of our help and like a failure and an inconvenience. I joined her in the weeping as I reminder her that she was strong and courageous; that a mom who has the strength and selflessness to say “this is more than I can handle and I need help” is not a failure. She’s a hero.

She seemed to calm, but made it clear that she was feeling the separation and divide I spoke about in my first post. The one we so desperately try to avoid. The one that implies that the moms that utilize Safe Families are insufficient and the volunteers are superior.  I knew I had to get real with her. It was a risk. She may not want her baby being cared for by a person who actually DOESN’T have it all together. I had to let go of my pride and open up about the things I was learning.

“Christy-you are not a charity case. You have been a help to us as well. You should know that my Dad has brain cancer…stage 4…” I told her everything. I told her about my summer, and about my sadness. I told her about the way I saw death everywhere until I saw her baby and was finally able to see life again. I told her that we had set out to be rescuers but that she had rescued our family right back. She hugged me and said “I had no idea.” When she pulled away there was no judgement, no fear, and best of all no shame. There was joy. She smiled and said “God knew that I needed you and that you needed me, too. That’s so cool.” She was right.

You’ve heard me say it before and I’m sure I’ll say it again-Safe Families is messy work. It is hardly ever the case that a story wraps up in a neat, pretty bow. But I’m happy to say that after a couple of weeks Christy and Leah were reunited and stable. Christy is doing an awesome job parenting and we get updates from time to time on baby Leah. Where Leah has grown physically, Christy has grown in her confidence and in her joy. She has grown in her relationship with God and in her ability to trust others. And because of her, I have grown, too. At the heart of it, life is meant to be lived together. Those in seasons of joy and those in seasons of pain walking alongside each other. I’m so thankful to have walked some of my path with Christy and Leah.

Rescued (part 1)…

I have waited to write this blogpost out of respect for the Mommy we hosted for who valued privacy. It’s a long story so I will be sharing it as a series, part 1 today….part 2 tomorrow (or later this week…we’ve currently got a different little houseguest in our home and I’m working around her schedule!) I will not share pictures of this Mommy or her baby (although they are both beautiful). I will not share their real names. But their story, which became part of our story, is something that I have thought about frequently. And I’m excited to share.

When you have been rescued by a loving God-all of that love overflows and you find yourself wanting to be a rescuer in return. That is why I love Safe Families for Children. We don’t have all the answers, but we can reach out a hand to a family who is drowning and they can use our hand to pull themselves out of the water. Then we get to figure out the rest of it together. Hosting is the best way we can reflect what the Lord has done for us over and over again.

If we’re not careful, watching the weight of families in crisis can create a divide. Sometimes the trauma they have experienced is so far beyond anything I have ever experienced that I can start to feel separation. A hierarchy, levels of “togetherness” or who has been hurt worse is exactly what we do NOT want. We are all broken. We all need Jesus. Their sin is ugly, but so is all of mine and the blood that Jesus shed is enough to cover all of it. I try to avoid allowing that divide to creep in. Sometimes the Moms help me with that, like in the story  I’m sharing with you today. For the purposes of sharing, we will call the Mom “Christy” and the baby we hosted, “Leah.”

We got the text. The one from our Safe Families coordinator. “Call me, I need to talk to you about a potential hosting.”

And before I knew any of the information my gut reaction was “absolutely not.” I responded with a passive aggressive text about it not being a good time to host. In reality, I was hurting so deeply that I could not have imagined trying to pour into another family.

My Safe Families coordinator-sometimes seeing more in me than I see in myself, pressed in. She shared Christy’s story. We would need to pick baby Leah up straight from the hospital as she had just been born. Christy was scared and the description she gave to our coordinator of what she hoped for in a hosting only matched one family-ours. I knew it was God. I said a nervous yes and we prepared to bring a newborn home.

I had just spent the summer in Florida with my parents and sister, the majority of that time away from my husband and missing him dearly. Dad did chemo and radiation and we joined him for an oncology appointment. It was valuable time that I am still so grateful for…but it was a lot of hard. I was having a really difficult time transitioning back to our life here in Texas.

I have recently learned that if you don’t deal with your grief, your grief will deal with you. And it’s usually ugly. Well, my grief was dealing with me. The storm that had hit our family in April felt unrelenting and all I could think about was death. The uncertainty, not only of how long my dad had, but how long ANY of us had to live. How fragile our days are and how little control we actually have. God was faithful to offer comfort, but my soul continued to ache. Death. It was everywhere I looked. And I was so sad.

And then we walked into the hospital room.

I saw a scared Mommy and in her arms she held the opposite of death. New life. Staring me right in the face. I instantly loved them both. I forgot my own grief for a minute, I got down low on my knees by Christy’s hospital bed so that I could purposely look up into her face and I said “We want you to know that we love you already and we think you are so brave for being able to ask for help. What questions can we answer to help you find peace?”

And I swear to you that I myself came alive again in that hospital room. I remembered who I was. What my purpose is. And instead of being consumed with death, I became more determined than ever to live out that purpose for as long as there is still breath in my lungs.

 

What it means to host

It’s 4:00 a.m. and she cries. I stumble out of bed and prepare her bottle with eyes half closed. I’m not a morning person, but I find myself smirking at the sight of her sweet happy face. We sit for the bottle and I stare. All I see is her Mom. Bravery. Strength. Resilience. All these things pumping through her blood, encoded deep in her DNA. All these things visible to me…almost palpable…as she takes big gulps of formula. The more fond I grow of baby, the more fond I grow of mother. As her eyes get heavy again, warm and comfortable in my arms, I pray that her mom will know that type of security, too. I pray that soon she will know what it means to feel truly safe. To feel truly loved. I pray that God forges us together as family. That He will help us to trust her and her to trust us. I know that with Safe Families those relationships can take time. But I have seen God come through time and time again and so I pray these things with confidence.

This is Safe Families. A heart filling with love for a sweet little baby while simultaneously loving the baby’s warrior of a mother.

Sometimes it is 4:00 a.m. bottles and rocking baby back to sleep.

Sometimes it is hour long temper tantrums that bring you to tears.

Sometimes it is reading scared toddlers to sleep.

Sometimes it is picking nits out of a stranger’s hair.

Sometimes it’s Facebook pleas and text messages to friends for their old hand me downs when a 3 year old comes with nothing to wear.

It’s often play time and kids movies and rushing to church with extra little ones in the car.

It’s often baking their favorite treats and watching faces light up.

It’s often singing songs and giving cuddles and reassuring Mom that all is well.

But it is always, ALWAYS about love. Love for the little one. Love for the Mommy. Loving without condition because that is how we are loved. And that love changes everything. It just does.

Until the next blog…be blessed.

The Hard Yes

A year ago today, a tiny little girl with blonde hair and freckles on her nose, looked me in the eyes and said “My Mommy is far away. Are you my new Mommy now?” We had been with Safe Families for close to a year at that point, but it didn’t matter. I wasn’t prepared for those words. They wrecked me. I remember thinking, “What have we gotten ourselves into?” That sweet little girl made so much progress for the couple of weeks we served as her host family. Her grandparents got the respite that they needed so urgently and there story is one of happy endings. I’m so grateful for those. It was worth it to say the hard yes.

A precious little boy stole our hearts with his frowns turned smiles, his anger turned joy. We watched his vocabulary explode and his affection grow. And every sign of progress was the most beautiful mess because we knew he was thriving in our home but we also knew the environment he would return to. And there are still manic phone calls from his mentally ill mother in the middle of the night and their story is not one of happy endings…at least not yet. But it was still worth it to say the hard yes.

This summer I am entering a season of hard yeses that I’ve never wanted to say. But I will say them. Happy ending or not. I will say yes to the hard things because I am confident that God will comfort broken hearts and give strength to the weak. I will say the hardest yeses ever because I really mean it when I say that God is enough. Just God. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Are you in a season that requires a hard yes? Hold on, friend. A day is coming. He will wipe every tear from our eyes. No more death. No more mourning. No more sorrow. I am saying the hard yes because He is the one who has given me the breath to say it,

Not my will, but Yours be done. Yes.

Until the next blog…be blessed.