One Relationship at a Time

I was on a work meeting at Foster Village today, and we were discussing the barriers for many of the biological families we get to walk alongside as they work hard to reunify with their children who are in foster care.

While the exact circumstances surrounding the cases are different, we definitely see a common theme: the parents don’t have the support that many people (myself included) rely on to make it through when life gets difficult.

When they arrive at their initial meetings or first court date and are asked who they have for support, far too often the answer is “no one”. In fact sometimes, these moms and dads don’t even have someone they can list as an emergency contact.

No one. No parents or siblings. No friends. No coworkers. Not a single person identified that they could turn to.

For many of us, we can immediately begin to tell ourselves stories about why this must be.

“They push people away and have burned so many bridges.”
“They deal with substance abuse.”
“If they’d just get treatment for their mental illness, things would be easier for them.”

On and on and on.

And these stories could be true. But in the last several years, I’ve begun to tell myself a different story about these moms and dads.

After getting to know some incredibly strong people who have graciously shared with me, after learning about systemic failures and generational cycles of adversity, I can now see it differently.

After working with and raising kids who have spent time in foster care, now, when I hear about someone who has no support, I imagine them first as a child.

I think about the person’s connections to their family when they were little. What happened when biological mom was growing up? Could she depend on her family then? Was she shuffled through the system too? Did her own mom deal with substance abuse? Did she have any model of what healthy parenting or family systems could look like? Did she age out of foster care and now she’s part of that grim statistic that says the cycle will continue?

I wonder…

And then I remembered this blog, Dustin wrote last year about our time getting to know those who have been homeless, and the same thing rings true. Sure there are lots of other circumstances and barriers that can lead to homelessness, but the lack of supportive relationships is a major component in nearly every story.

All of the real obstacles of life are way more difficult when we’re walking through them completely alone. And it wasn’t meant to be this way.

There is a chasm between how things are and how they should be in this broken, beautiful world we call home. And I sense that chasm nearly every single day. Maybe you do too.

For some of us, feeling that chasm hurts. It haunts us. It can leave us feeling debilitated and can push us toward disengagement. When entire systems are broken and so many people are suffering, it can just feel too overwhelming and too painful. We may think of real solutions and policies and reforms that could help but also feel powerless to make a real difference.

For others, noticing that chasm energizes us. For the enneagram one “reformer” in me, the possibility of helping to create a better world pulls me forward with an almost physical force. I am compelled.

It’s why I do the work I do at Foster Village. It’s why our family has chosen to live at Community First! Village among those who have been chronically homeless. It’s why we launched A Faithful Presence to help Dustin do this neighboring thing full-time, so we’d have more capacity to do it well.

But it doesn’t take an organization to begin telling ourselves a different story about the circumstances of those who are walking beside us in this world. And it doesn’t take an official organization to show up as a friend for just one person who might have given up on looking for an emergency contact.

We can be doing this right where we are. In the neighborhoods we live in. In the churches we attend. Where we work. Where our kids go to school. Where we shop. Where we play.

In every corner of our little worlds, there are fellow travelers making the journey completely alone.

When we notice the gap, tell ourselves a different story, and then show up, we can be part of remaking this world into something better – one relationship at a time.

Making it through the Month of May

As I’m writing this post, Dustin, the girls, and I are in the front yard on our fairly busy street. The girls have been riding their scooters for the last couple of hours, and we took a break to eat some takeout on a picnic blanket. It’s been a good evening.

Kristin is currently screaming, “Hello! How’s your day going?” to every single group of people that passes by our home. 

It’s a beautiful weather, so she’s had quite a few people to talk with, or perhaps “talk at” is more accurate. Most people just smile, barely acknowledging she’s spoken to them.

So she usually just asks again a little louder, “How’s your day going?”

If they don’t respond, she then proceeds to share about how her day is going. “We love summer!” or “We’re riding our scooters!” or “My cousin gave me this helmet,” were some of her go-tos tonight. She’s an extrovert and just happy to see people.

The last people to pass by were a little more chatty. They’d been by once before, and this time upon their return, she let them know she loved their dog, their shoes, and their shirt.

“You’re so sweet,” they told her.

“Yep,” she replied. “I was born sweet.”

Her joy is contagious, so normally by the time people have finished listening to whatever she has to share, they’re smiling a little bit more. I think she feels satisfied.

As for me, I’m trying to get a hold of everything that’s swirling in my mind. So, I’m writing. Outside of talking Dustin’s ear-off and making unending to-do lists, writing is my way to process the constant deluge of thoughts. It’s not so much a plan as it is a broad outline of expected efforts and outputs. (This is growth for me.) I know this isn’t necessarily the time to be making goals, but I also know that our life requires us to show-up, so here are the areas that seem to need most of my attention. (Of course, this is all subject to change because we’re living through a pandemic, and some days all I want to do is eat cheese and watch Gilmore Girls.)

School – As I’m sure many of you are, we’re basically counting down the days to the end of this school year. The girls have done a pretty good job staying focused even with everything that’s happening in the world, but I’ve found my motivation is fairly unpredictable. Some days, I’m ready to dive in and teach, and other days we play some games, cook together, and call it a day. Our homeschool philosophy has always been pretty flexible as far as curriculum. We’re open to a variety of experiences and learning opportunities, so as we head into the final stretch of the year, we’re giving ourselves, and our girls, lots of grace.

Parenting – Our focus for the last two years in parenting has been this: become a stick-together family. When we’re flourishing and when we’re floundering, our aim is to find some way to actively stay on one another’s team. We get curious. Look for the need behind the behavior. Work on our own emotional regulation, so we can help the girls with theirs. Talk regularly to stay on the same page. This area of life can’t really be compartmentalized. It shows up in the middle of every other aspect of life, especially right now, because there are no good boundaries. Everyone is together all the time. Parents, I see you, and I’m with you. You’re doing such good, good work.

Home Projects – To be completely honest, I’m not as excited about this part of this month. I don’t mind chores or projects in general, but painting, deep cleaning, and home improvement stuff really isn’t my jam. Give me a pile of dirty dishes or a closet to organize, and I’m all set. Ask me to do some yard work, and you’ll hear some grumbling. But alas, being an adult isn’t always fun so projects are on the horizon. Hopefully we’ll be ready to list our home by the end of the month!

Community First! Village – One new addition to the to-do list for this month is getting serious about Dustin’s new role at Community First! Village. While we’re still wondering about our official timeline for our move, we know our next step is to invite our people to partner with us in this mission.

Dustin is looking forward to devoting his time to the Village and aiming to raise enough support to be onsite full-time. We see this ministry as the next step in his pastoral calling (and mine), and while it’s a new place, a new people, and a new way of doing life, there is also a deep sense of continuity with our current life. We have a deep love for God and for people and an ever-increasing commitment to being bringers of justice and good news to everyone.

By committing himself to full-time missional life, Dustin will be able to lean into the areas of ministry where he feels most at home, especially pastoral care and spiritual direction. His gentle, steady presence will be such a fit for this new role, and I’m incredibly excited to see the ways God will continue to move in and through him at CF!V. Just as he’s done over the last decade in local church ministry, Dustin will still be using his gifts to care for people as he helps them connect with God and one another.

We’re excited about the opportunities for him to care for both our new neighbors who were formerly homeless and our fellow missional residents. While those who are centered in society often receive spiritual direction and pastoral care regularly, these types of conversations and spaces aren’t always available to people on the margins. He’s looking forward to creating room for our neighbors to explore spiritual questions & dialogue, to dive into scripture together, and to try out spiritual practices individually and corporately. We know that the main part of Dustin’s role will be providing an attentive, relational, faithful presence. This will mean adapting to the needs that arise, and I’m confident Dustin will do that with grace and peace.

We are honored to be joining such an amazing group of people who call the Village home and we know we will be challenged, encouraged, and loved in ways that we’ve never experienced before. As with any new ministry role, flexibility and sensitivity to God’s leading will be essential, and we’re open to finding our best fit as we continue to get to know this new community.

So, this month, we’re working on a website, talking with potential partners, and praying for this next season. We’re looking forward to continuing to share our journey at the Village and are trusting that God will help us find some partners in this ministry who have hearts for those on the margins. 

If you’re interested in learning more about Community First! Village, we’d love to share with you! Leave a comment or send us a message, so we can set up a time to chat.

Living in the In-between: Community First! Village (Part 4)

There’s this thing I started learning when we were foster parents. It was this weird way of living that required us to be fully present and invested in our girls, fully loving and devoted, fully committed to their growth and their schooling and their best interests, while also knowing that they might not stay.

It was a strange way to live. Some days, I’d forget that there was a court system or that our future was completely in someone else’s hands. Some days I’d forget that these girls, who we tucked in every single night, weren’t ours forever. It seemed ridiculous (and a little unbearable) to imagine anything else.

But other days, the lack of control and absolute uncertainty would get the best of me.

I was standing at the clearance rack in Target. (Remember when we could enjoy walking the aisles of Target?) I was looking at the sweet little summer dresses and trying to figure out what size the girls would be the following summer, so I could buy some clothes in that size and put them away.

All of a sudden, I felt paralyzed. Why am I planning for next summer? What if they aren’t with us? What if they go back to their biological family? What if their little feet aren’t around when they get big enough to fit into these flip flops?

I started crying, overwhelmed at the truth of our situation. I was not in control. I wasn’t ever going to be in control. All I could do was choose to be present and to be faithful. So I bought the dresses and flip flops, put them in the bin in our basement labeled for the following summer, and reminded myself that God would be with us and with them no matter how the future unfolded.

I’m a pretty practical person, and I didn’t really see another good option for actually living life. Sure, I could have just taken things day-by-day or court date by court date, never getting ahead of the uncertainty that loomed over our home like a cloud labeled foster care.

Or, I could do my best to live, right in the middle of it. I could acknowledge my lack of control and live into the reality that is true for all of us – we never had control to begin with. Some seasons and situations just make it more apparent.

It’s really not unique to foster care. We’re all, right in this very moment, living in the middle of an unprecedented situation – a pandemic – but I don’t actually think uncertainty is unique to this season either. We never had certainty to begin with.

Somehow, I’ve convinced myself at times that I have control by clamping down on my timelines, my plans, and my contingency plans for when those plans fall through. Sometimes, when my privilege, my abilities, and my sheer luck overlap, I feel like I can decide how the future will go. But I really can’t. I can’t control what happens next. I can’t control when the stay-at-home order is lifted, or our church finds their next pastor to replace me, or the job that I’m hoping to have in Austin gets the grant that could fund my would-be salary and make our move more possible.

So we’re doing our best to live in the in-between. And I sort of feel like we’ve been doing that for a while.

It’s been a pretty weird twelve months. Last May, Dustin and I took a tour of a village in Austin, Texas that would change the course of our family for the foreseeable future.

We visited that community again in September. We loved our time there with our girls.

Dustin and I went back in February and were officially voted in as missional residents right after we returned home. We shared the news on Facebook in early March and hoped to fill in the details the following week.

But then, things in the world changed.

I can’t even remember the timeline of how everything officially unfolded, but I remember watching the news and realizing we needed to start having conversations about what we were going to do for church when things in Illinois started shutting down.

So, as many did, we went into fix it mode. We learned Zoom. We revamped our Sunday Services. We checked in with our people. We set-up virtual pastoral care opportunities and food drives and mask-making efforts for the organizations we regularly serve.

I started working my second job from home as well, talking to potential foster parents over the phone. Completing online training. Figuring out how to support current foster parents without being able to see them in person.

We already homeschool, but we adjusted our schedules a little bit to focus more on fun and connection. We’ve cooked more. Baked more. Walked more. 

We’ve been doing our best to be present to the season, to adjust to this wild, weird world we’ve all found ourselves in, and to support and lead our church the best we can. I’ve been so grateful that we’re still here to serve our community during this time.

But for many practical reasons, we also have to keep thinking about what steps we need to take in order to relocate. We feel confident about where this ends: when the timing is right, we’re transitioning from Imago, and we’ll be moving to Austin to join in what God is doing there.

I’m hoping to secure a job that allows me to continue serving the foster care community, and Dustin will be raising full-time support to devote his time, energy, and pastoral presence to the Village. 

We’ll continue to homeschool our girls, using a flexible schedule that will fit our non-traditional lifestyle. We’ll be living in a tiny home, a 399 sq. ft. space that will be an adjustment and an adventure all rolled into one. We’ll be plugging into a new faith community, Austin New Church, and adapting to life away from our families who are mostly in Illinois.

It’s a huge transition, and we feel so much peace. Even in the middle of this, we feel a deep, unrelenting, confirmation of the decision that we’ve made.

So, what’s our timeline?

Well, as everything is right now, it’s up in the air. We were originally hoping for sometime in June, but now we’re thinking it could be more like the end of summer. We’re aiming to be flexible, while still working toward that future.

This time, we’re confident in the what; we just don’t know the when. And we’ve never been in a great hurry. While we’re here, we’re here.

Living in the in-between.