September 24, 2015
As of last week, our girl has been with us for a year and a half, and her future is still a question mark. In the whole scheme of messy, complicated foster care situations (and really, is there any foster care situation that isn’t?), hers appears to be more messy and complicated than some. No one seems to know what to do with her. I’ll tell you where we’re at, as of today:
I think one thing might happen, but if that thing doesn’t happen then I have no idea what will.
You’re welcome for the clarity.
I’ve been struggling with what to write for this eighteen month post. It’s hard to take stock of her growth as a person, of her strengths and weaknesses, because her life is always in such a state of flux.
Some people see the world through rose-colored glasses. Our girl came to us seeing the world through…I don’t know…some ugly color of glasses. Chartreuse-colored glasses? Lentil bean-colored glasses? Both? Sure, she saw the world through chartreuse lentil bean-colored glasses. Those glasses covered her world with a haze, the haze of manipulation and guilt and paranoia and entitlement. But after a while, she started taking the glasses off now and then, always keeping them close by, ready to put back on at a moment’s notice. As more time passed, she began leaving the glasses off for longer and longer periods of time, even forgetting about them sometimes.
She’s put those glasses back on now. She’s put them back on, and the people who gave them to her nod and give her the thumbs-up and tell her it was wrong of her to take them off in the first place. And we say “No no, honey, let’s take those glasses off and look at things clearly for a minute” but it turns out the glasses are also distorting how she sees us, so instead of seeing our offers of help and love, she sees us saying “Hey girl, we want to take away your glasses so that you lose sight of everything that’s ever been important to you.” We try to speak to her in understandable, loving ways, but much of the time it’s like we’re speaking another language. We have conversations where I think I’m doing a bang-up job of leading her logically from point A to point B, only to look over at her and see her bouncing around from point A to point Q to point 7 and 3 and XYZ and Banana. I say “Hey darling, track with me here. Please come back from point Banana.” “No,” she says, “I’ve got it. I know everything. By the way, my parents are going to buy me a pony when I go home. And we’re going to live somewhere fabulous and everything will be so wonderful and I can’t wait to leave you.”
A couple weeks ago she stayed with some friends for a couple days while Todd and I were out of town. One of the days was horrible. She argued and fought and shared inappropriate stories with the other children, and she refused to go to school for the first couple hours until she was bribed with candy and ice cream by both her teacher AND my (seriously wonderful) friend who she was staying with. The next morning, Maverick asked her if she’d been at school the day before because he hadn’t seen her in the line at the start of the day. “I was there,” she said. “I was waving and calling your name but you didn’t see me.” She said it so cheerfully, I never would have doubted her if I hadn’t known she was lying.
“Nope,” I said to her.
“Oh, right, I was a couple minutes late,” she said.
“Okay, I was a couple hours late,” she conceded.
The boys asked why, and she said she was sick, which was also not true, but I dropped it at that point. But she lied so easily, so seamlessly. A therapist she works with has observed that she’s made a habit of acting like everything is fine even when it isn’t. (Clarification: She’s VERY dramatic about little, day-to-day annoyances and discomforts. If you’ve kept up with our story at all you know this. It’s the big stuff that’s a problem. She can rock a freak-out over a perceived slight by another child or a mosquito bite or her homework, but when there are serious things actually happening in her life, she masks it.) That’s disconcerting. In an attempt to address this, she’s been presented with some strategies for externalizing how she’s feeling, even if she feels like she can’t share with another person. Her response to these strategies is to insist that she has no bad memories and no sad thoughts. Ever. I explained to her that everybody has at least SOME bad or sad memories, that that’s part of being human and living in this world. “But I don’t have any sad memories,” she said.
You don’t have to know her to realize that’s not true. I mean, she’s in foster care, so obviously she has at least one sad memory. And her heightened emotional state of late is also proof that her thoughts are often full of sadness and turmoil, despite what she claims. She spent several days last week crying abundantly because a painful experience from her past has been haunting her. That’s another problem with these glasses she’s put back on–they bring the ugly moments of her life into sharp focus, forcing her to look closely at them and relive them and embrace them, and she’s being told that they’re good and that they’re part of who she is and that she should never forget them. So she clings to them and sobs and shakes her head when I tell her that this is no good. And I tell her that these feelings are what we were talking about with the externalizing strategies, but again she shakes her head and talks round and round in illogical circles that don’t make any sense, and she refuses to deal with it because her new/old perspective tells her that these feelings, however horrible they seem, are actually good.
So. This is where we’re at, eighteen months in. If I’m looking through my own ugly-colored glasses, it can be so easy to get discouraged–for her sake (obviously–because all of this is just hard and yucky), and for the sake of myself and my family (because this stuff is exhausting). But that’s when I have to put on the glasses of the gospel, through which I see Christ’s redeeming work in all of life. Early on with her, we all memorized the first few verses of I Corinthians 13, the “love chapter.” Verse 7 says that love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. If I’m looking at things through my gospel glasses, discouragement isn’t the proper response, because my hope is not contingent on the ability of a little girl to rise above her circumstances, or on a system to make all the right choices, but on Christ, who has poured out his love on us. I can hurt for her, but Christ’s love propels us to keep bearing all things with her.
On a more positive note, she still takes the ugly glasses off sometimes. In fact, she’s had them off most of today. She and Maverick spent all afternoon and evening playing with his pet bird and singing and dancing to Broadway show tunes and being generally very pleasant and adorable and fun. We try to fill her up with encouragement on days like this, because we want her to place a higher value on these things than on the things that drag her down. We want her to delight in living life with peace and laughter, experiencing the joy of companionship, because these things are a picture of how God created her to be. We want her to see things clearly, and to think in right and healthy ways, to have moments with others that are pure and uncomplicated, so that she will believe someday that she can live life without her chartreuse lentil bean-colored glasses.
So well said. The day to day grind of bearing burdens is just that…a grind. It wears us down, makes us second guess, makes me long for something more comfortable.
I believe one of the most spiritually refining parts of fostering, for me, has been the reality that I am bearing burdens that …
a. I didn’t cause
b. I am not continuing to perpetuate
c. I cannot remove or fully shield from my foster child in order to limit ongoing trauma.
d. I may never reap the rewards from the hard work of the healing parenting that I am giving my foster child.
Sometimes I feel ripped off, mad, resentful.
But then I remember the cross. Thank you Jesus for not turning away from my burdens because You didn’t cause them. Thank you for bearing them even while I continue to voluntarily choose them.
Thank you for being an honest voice about the painful refining process that foster parenting can bring, but also the reminder that it is the way of Jesus.
Suzan, this made me cry! I need to read a post all about this–not growing weary because our example is Jesus who bears burdens that aren’t of his making. Thank you for this encouragement!
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