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.

Why I’m Learning to Talk to Strangers

Our girls are two of my best teachers. They see the world so differently than I do. They’re young, free, kind, and compassionate. They don’t always know what’s expected in situations, so they’re often unencumbered by social norms and pressures. 

Because of these things, our younger daughter, Kristin, talks to strangers. This is not just a once in a while thing. She actually seeks out conversation with people she does not know on a very regular basis.

Now, this probably sounds a little creepy, and at times it does make me nervous. I’m well aware that not everyone is safe, and some people don’t have good intentions. I want her to know the importance of safety and being with a grown up you can trust. But most of the time, she’s talking to strangers when we’re together, when she knows she’s safe, and when she wants to include someone.

Sometimes we’re at the grocery store in the checkout lane, and she just launches into a full conversation with the 17-year-old behind the register. Other times we’re getting out of our van in our driveway, and she runs out and immediately screams “hi” to someone walking past our house that she noticed as we pulled in. She chats with receptionists at appointments, patrons at the movie theater, and just about anyone she notices.

Sometimes, quite often actually, she chats with strangers at our weekly Sunday morning Breakfast Club. These are normally people who are experiencing homelessness, so our guests rotate regularly. Our guests are usually looking for a good meal. What they don’t know is that they’ll be welcomed with heartfelt conversation as well.

A typical morning at Breakfast Club

We arrive at 6am, and Kristin can’t wait to see her “best friends” a term she uses far too often for people she doesn’t know well. When she says, “best friend” she just means it’s someone that matters to her. It’s a sweet perspective and reminds me that we often just pass by the background players in our life. In coffee shops and restaurants, as we shop and as we work, it’s fairly common practice to just ignore one another.

But not my Kristin. She is a people-person. She sees the humanity in those around her and takes a genuine interest in them. She asks questions, sometimes about what they’re wearing, why they look sad, or who they’re with, and while Dustin and I are constantly trying to steer her inquisitive nature into appropriate social norms, we’ve decided we don’t want to crush it completely. 

Maybe it’s ok for her to go against the grain a little bit. Maybe it’s ok to ask how someone is doing and really wait for the answer. Maybe it’s ok if she shares a little bit of her own story with them. Maybe it’s better for all of us if we stop rushing past the other humans in our story, and we lean in a little bit for the connection that so many of us are craving.