I looked down at the horse crap on my empty pant leg. “More crap, just what I need,” I thought. Being an amputee with an empty pant leg, I had closed my car door while unknowingly shutting my pant leg in the door of the car and then traveled all the way to Quarryville, PA that way. I can imagine the chuckling cars behind me seeing my pant leg flapping in the wind. If you are familiar with our area you will know the horse crap on my pantleg means I had driven over the remnants of horse droppings from an Amish horse and buggy. As I looked down at my pant leg splattered in brown and smelling even worse I felt I had taken just about all I could handle. Now I was to grocery shop and spend the rest of my afternoon smelling like the crap I felt like. Great.
Just a week or so before this our foster child T was moved from our home into a hospital setting for both self-harm and assault. I had spent 4 days with him living in the Emergency Room while the mental health team sought a therapeutic and behavioral hospital that could receive T with his particular set of circumstances and requirements. The closest and first available that they found (6 days after our initial showing up at the Emergency Room) was in Missouri. As I sat in his bedroom packing his bags and belongings, my heart was breaking. I was so sad and so full of grief. Tears poured like a river down my dry cheeks and if you know me at all you know crying is not exactly my forte. I can handle A LOT, but this was just too much.
I remembered how I had told so many people over the time of our fostering, “SOMEONE has to love these kids. If God is big enough to bring these kids to us and take them away; He will be big enough to heal our hearts when they break.” The words came so easy; walking them out was a different animal altogether. How did we go from discussing the possibility of adoption to having him hospitalized and removed from our home in one short month? The events leading us to this place were so traumatic that it all seemed a blur. Honestly, it still does.
Ultimately, even children have responsibility in choosing their actions. T’s mom signed off her rights to parent him and within that next month he lost his mental capacity to deal with life. We ran him to four or more appointments every single week, sat through tens of hours of counseling with him, and nothing seemed to help. I understood some of his anger may have been directed at me as misplaced anger towards his mom, and we talked about that. I explained that he could cuss at me, scream at me, punch a pillow when he was mad, anything…except attack me or himself physically, try to stab me, or sexually assault me. He didn’t stop. Counselor after counselor tried to make it clear that we could work through all of the abuse he suffered, the sexual behavior displayed, the anger…but he had to know he could NOT put his hands on me or commit self-harm or he would be moved to a higher level of care. Still, T made the wrong choice. And you know, while he did have some responsibility in this, he was only 8. This could be any one of us or our children if raised in the particular environment and under the extreme abuse he suffered. This could be any of us suffering malnutrition to the point that our brains stop developing correctly and we have mental illness. Yet at the end of the day, this 8 year old was up to my chin already and going to get bigger and being an amputee I knew I could not fight him off much longer. Besides, what if he pushed me down the steps or took me by surprise? When we started locking our bedroom door to prevent stabbings at night I felt like I had become a prisoner in my own home and could no longer be the sole care for this child.
Being in the midst of dealing with my pain and grief was one thing, but then realizing that other people had opinions about our situation really put the icing on the cake. “When one kid is removed from their home…maybe that is the kid. But when two kids are removed, well, is it the kids or is it them?” Well THAT I was not expecting. THAT hurt almost as much as having this child we loved and adored and planned to adopt removed from us. And you know what hurt even more was that it was said by a Christian, in our very own family of believers! Ouch! As if we didn’t already feel guilty about what happened, as if we weren’t discussing on a daily basis for hours at a time if there was anything we could have done differently. As if we are so fickle as to simply walk away from a living and breathing child that needs a home and set of parents more than any other we have personally encountered in our entire lives? Again, OUCH!
We felt that we had not only brought the mission field to our doorstep, but we invited it into our very own home. We eliminated all privacy to ourselves, all chance of recharging mentally/physically and any respite, all chance of “taking a break” from the missionary work we were doing. No chance of just showing up on a trip and leaving again. We really thought that the church and body of Christ would understand the dynamics of having the mission field in your very home more than anyone. Clearly, we were wrong to assume. Eight months of literal 24/7 care had brought me to a place of sheer and absolute exhaustion. I would say that it had brought me to my knees…but on top of everything else I only have one knee! Parenting is one thing, foster parenting extremely abused and neglected children is a different beast that combines all of the normal parenting problems and adds the manipulation, conniving, outbursts, violence, and lying that the child masterfully learned to simply stay alive in their environment prior to coming to you. I should have been on steroids to prepare myself for this!
So while people began talking about our situation, I knew that legally I was not even able to say anything in my own defense. Worse than being gossiped about, I found, was having no control to defend yourself or present the truth. Wanting to protect the children’s privacy and honor our contract with the government I found my hands very tied for one of the first times in my life. Back when we got married less than a month after being engaged many people gossiped about me, assuming that the rush was because I was pregnant. It didn’t bother me because I knew in my heart that within the standard nine months people would see we had no children and any gossip would be proven untrue. This time, however, I really could not see justice playing out in my favor in any immediate or forthcoming capacity.
This is where a huge internal struggle came into play for me. I removed myself from the church setting and decided my heart needed to heal. There were three people in my life I decided that were safe to share details of the past eight months with, and seeing the entire picture those three people were able to extend grace and reassurance to my weak and fleshly soul that we had made the right choice in getting more help for T than we could provide. I know I am well equipped in trauma education and processing trauma. What I was not equipped in were genetically driven behavioral traits, mental illness, and, well, Kung Fu. Fighting off physical assaults from a 12 and 8 year old really was not a good position for an amputee on crutches to be in. Realizing my own limitation here was really a challenge for me to accept, remembering that I was not responsible for the well-being of others…God was. Did I trust Him? Another Ouch!
The part that was pretty tough I think in this situation was knowing that it wasn’t all bad with these kids. We had some pretty great moments, especially with T, who was with us longer. We went on vacation with him to the Rockies and the Beach, we introduced him to eating out, he got to bowl and golf, get his first pair of cowboy boots, his first set of brand new clothes, and the little things like swimming lessons and summer camp that caused him so much joy. He learned to climb a tree, cook a meal, play with neighbor kids, and explore nature. Being raised neglected, we taught him how to use utensils (rather than put your face in your plate), how to use the toilet, how to bathe, how to have your hair cut the way you want it, and how to express yourself using words. There were so many great moments with T and it was seemingly unbearable to imagine those as being “all for nothing” and “over with forever”. We simply wanted to believe that we were more important than just a temporary provider for T.
We are still processing some of these emotions and thoughts about T. As of the date of this writing he is still in the hospital in Missouri. He is not doing very well, he has made some false allegations about his time with us (which were investigated and closed as untrue), he had cockroaches in his hospital room and has been moved a few times, has not had a haircut since the beginning of November, and has been making a lot of bad behavior choices. Is this the help that we wanted for him? No, but that is the system he is a part of. We cannot even advocate for him any longer because we are, as I was told, “no longer a party to this case”. Just last week we were discussing whether to get the training needed to try to get him back here in a higher level of care, yet we realized again that it is not what we are meant to do. All that we can do is maintain contact at the extent the county (who retains custody of all four siblings) allows, support and encourage him to live the life we tried to show him, and pray for him.
So was it all for nothing? Sometimes it has felt like that. We poured heart and soul into a child and never will see the fruit of that. Picking up the phone to hear his little voice cursing like the moon was blue, hearing his stories of fights and altercations, hearing the false allegations he has made, it feels so dark. It feels like he has regressed back towards the environment he was removed from. But in our hearts we have to remember that eight months to a child is a lifetime. He had eight months of our love, our influence, our caring. He learned what it was like to be treated like a human being for the first time in his life. He learned what it meant for a man to go to work and for a home to have a freezer full of food, and how to grow that food in a garden. These are not lessons he will easily forget, at least that is what I choose to believe. However small, we stepped into the life of this child when no one else would. We kept him for the season that God wanted us to, and we will continue to support and pray for him in the way God allows us to. We are not as important as we think we are, unfortunately, but God has this in control.
So what about all those judgments and gossips, the ones that I can’t refute? Even with T gone, they will think what they want to think and speak as they choose. I need to remember that for each of these there were ten or more people in support and acting in kindness. I was vacuuming and feeling sorry for myself with this situation the other day. I was saying, “Lord, you will get to show people that make a mockery of you one day that you are Lord of Lords, but when will these people see the truth about me?” And it hit me, like a ton of bricks, “He remained silent” (1 Pet 2:23). Jesus himself, the most innocent man that ever walked the earth was on trial being wrongly accused and said not one word in self defense.
Job, who suffered unbelievable hardship and strife and grief, hammered God with questions and God did not defend himself. He simply reminded Job (paraphrased in my own interpretation) that he is the great I AM. I remind myself of this a lot lately. I am sad because not only have I not been able to have my own children, but now I have lost the children that I tried to parent. But again, God is the I AM, not me. He will work this all together for the good of those that love Him. I believe I love him. I believe the children we had love him too.
So, I may not have been wrong in how I navigated the system and this situation of foster care but I know one thing for sure, I am not a blameless person. I am not perfect nor innocent. I am not all-knowing and I did not create and knit people from the womb. So therefore, as I stand, I will move forward resting in the truth of knowing that I am no greater than the one I follow, and do not need to defend myself. It is a true place of peace and freedom and one that I am on foreign ground navigating. I cannot hold my brother’s and sister’s in Christ to a standard of not judging me when I myself cannot cast the first stone. The Lord is Just. As long as I can stand clear before him then I must allow myself to be humbled on earth and not exalt my reputation in pride.
Ultimately, this entire experience has changed me immeasurably. My heart used to be worn on my sleeve and no longer is that true. I am no longer quick to speak, quick to agree with others, or happy to simply nod and smile even when I disagree with something. This has made me slow to judge and quick to understand that most people can only operate in a certain capacity, and I must accept that. It has shown me that there are people living like this, right here in Pennsylvania, and that the mission field does not have to be afar. Petty drama and whining seem to be a new “zero tolerance” thing for me seeing how these children lived and suffered with no one interfering for 11 years. And I now hate Evil. Up until this point I had never truly had a hatred for evil, but now I do. And I avoid it at all costs, wanting no part in seeing the outcome and degradation that comes from such a lifestyle. This has been a case of watching first hand the sins of the fathers passed to the children. It isn’t as many preach it to be (that God himself punishes children for the sins of their fathers) but rather the fathers and mothers themselves inflict the evil of their own sins on their children. And it is the children that suffer.
So just as I was able to shop with horse crap splattered on my pant leg, smelling crappy, feeling worse,and defending it to no one; I most assuredly can carry on and receive the next child meant to come to our home whether for a month or year or longer without defending or explaining. And I hope T never feels the need to defend or explain all of his background either, as long as he does the best he can.
T will be moving soon into a group home that is therapeutically equipped to handle his situation. I will pray day and night for him and believe with all of my heart that the Lord will intervene in the life of this child. Being removed from mother and left by father, may he not continue to see the consequence of their sins in his life but instead learn to experience the blessing of love. Yet, he will have a choice, and I know one thing for sure, I do not judge him or speak ill of him no matter how he turns out. Between the system, genetics, his upbringing, and mental capacity, I have a new respect for the term “perfect storm”. May God be with Him.