Foster Parenting AGAIN!

Zachary’s painting hangs in the hall with my other kids’ artwork. He has a baby box and photo albums and ornaments on my Christmas tree. Zachary lived with us for 13 months and 2 days. He came to us as a 2 year old underdeveloped, abused, neglected, terrified child. He had sorrow in his eyes like I’ve only ever seen in the very old or very broken. And he changed us forever.

After he left, I cycled the grief through so many explanations: this was the fault of man, it was God’s will, it was a tragedy, it was a purposeful path, it meant nothing good, it meant exactly what it was supposed to, it was my fault- it was because I wasn’t a good enough mom that he had to go, etc. Where I ended is where I’ve ended with a lot of things over these last couple years: I don’t know. I don’t have the answers for why we got to adopt Adam but had to say goodbye to his half-brother. I can give all the facts of the family dynamics and the reasons I was given- but as to why- I just don’t know.

It’s been 10 years since all of that. 10 whole years. And we have just come to the point of healing enough and stability enough to say we are strong enough to do it all again. We only had four placements before and so I always hate to sound like I know it all about this. I really don’t. I bet a million things have changed since we adopted Adam and closed our home to placements to heal and build our family and grieve Zachary. I don’t know much. And every child’s situation variables make all cases different. What I do know is that we are a little nervous and a little hopeful and a little excited all at once.

Foster parenting is very hard. Sometimes you have a kid who loves water in the sink but is terrified of the bathtub. To the point of hysteria and biting and fighting to not have to take a bath. Sometimes they scream-cry themselves to sleep for 67 days no matter what you do. And around day 32 you wonder if you’re crying too because you’re tired or if it’s really because their broken heart is breaking yours in two. Sometimes they have broken bones and you think how you’ve never imagined someone could look at a child with those big eyes and twist their arm until it cracked and you have nightmares imagining it after seeing the bruises and the bandages. Sometimes they can’t speak and they don’t understand that you want to know what they think because maybe no one has thought to ask them before. Sometimes they’re so hungry and even after they aren’t hungry anymore, they’re afraid you’ll forget to feed them tomorrow and they make themselves sick gorging and hoarding food just in case. Sometimes they’ve never been down a slide before- or on a swing. Sometimes they stare at you while you read a story for the 12th time with awe and love and you hope you’ve gained their trust but you know you’ll probably just have to start over tomorrow again showing them you’re safe. Sometimes you sit in a room with their family members who brag about how wonderful they are and you are internally screaming remembering the fear that child had when you dropped them off at their visit and the four days after the visit when they scratched and screamed and sobbed in confusion. Sometimes you also want to parent the parents and teach them all the things and fix all the situations. But you’re just a few people trying to change the whole world….and taking a great risk.

Because foster kids require great risk. The greatest risk I think; to love as a parent and lose a child graciously. To love as a parent and have zero control over what happens to their life. To love as a parent and not know if you’ll still see them tomorrow.

But love is always a risk. And that same risk is present in all our relationships we just don’t think of it the same. Tomorrow isn’t promised for any of my kids- or me- and howmuch am I truly in control of? The risk that is always required with love is worth the risk.

And don’t these kids deserve that same big, conditional, overwhelming love we all want and need?

So even though you all want to say (and some have) you guys are crazy. And even though you’re thinking about us having 5-6 kids in a 3 bedroom house. And even though you’re looking at my old minivan and wondering if I wouldn’t just rather have a nicer car instead…….You can just pray for us. You can just support us with love and good thoughts and, boy, do we love getting cards in the mail that say things like “you can do this!” You can come and hug the kiddos that come to live with us and show them that people are good and do puzzles with them and run around the backyard and read books. You can be grateful you have people and be people to some young ones who need us all. You can just smile and nod your head and pretend you don’t think we are crazy (okay, really we don’t care- we are kind of crazy). But as long as you do it with love, that works for us.

There are a million questions that go with this guys, I know. Do we hope to adopt again? (YES!) Are we worried about our kids? (Yes. We are going to be as careful with the risk as we can be.) Where will you put another kid? (Haha)  Do you have carseats and stuff? (Not yet. Got some you’re selling?)  Are you gonna keep homeschooling?  (Of course.) How old will the placements be?………so, feel free to message me and ask me. I don’t have all the answers though yet, haha.

What we do know: we start our training classes this week that are required for certification. And should everything go well reopening our home, we will have our homestudy following that, and begin taking placements in the Spring. We have some bunk beds to build (are you good at that, wanna come help?) and some room changes to make. We have some items to gather and some decisions to make.
A little nervous and a little excited and a little hopeful. That’s us.


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Re|learn Truth

It’s funny because sometimes you relearn a lesson you thought you knew, and you’re sure you’ve been trying to teach it to everyone else only to learn it was you that wasn’t getting it. 

This season of life has been so bittersweet: losses and gains have swirled together in such a strange way it’s hard to see where one ends and the other begins. Sorrow and love. 

We are settled in our precious house we love so much. Settled. A word I’ve been stretching toward for such a long time. It’s wrapped all around me, the peace I hoped homeownership would bring, delivered. I have a house. No landlords. The decisions and responsibilities are mine. This is what I wanted and I have it, along with no regrets. 

In the mix, though, is the second loss, facing a barrier I didn’t put in my path and can’t figure out how to get through. I pray and I pray and I pray and no answer comes through this loss so far. And I miss my friend deeply and now all her tinies. It’s not what I ever would have expected.


Speaking of expectations, we Ritters have also changed churches. Another loss and what a weird season this has been, you guys. A conversation with a ‘friend’ I thought was a given, forever friend, turned into a jumbled mess of accusations and character assassination and abandonment I still haven’t figured out or seen all the threads of yet. It’s something I’ve only experienced once before in my life, this death of relationship, and if you know me, you know how that turned out. Doors do close, you know. Some people refuse to work things out because it requires a humbleness of heart on both sides. They also refuse to even talk, despite how many times you ask or pursue them. What a weird experience.

Following the convo-turned-conflict (conflict?-unbeknownst to me), several quotes were shared that didn’t ring true and so we sought out answers about What Our Church Believed about the Gospel, eternal security, and grace…for the things  being quoted didn’t match what things had been said before, or what we thought we knew about this place we had poured our lives into for three years. And nothing was answered…vague responses to pointed questions aren’t answers. We asked to meet, no one responded. Gossip charged up and nothing was answered. We waited and we waited. We read letters and grew further confused. It felt like a dismissal, not “family”….. what a great disappointment after three years. 

And then we visited an old church for the first time in many years, simply hungry for communion with the saints and the comfort of this thing we call “church” in our culture. We knew we could trust the words that would be spoken no matter how long we had been away. And guess what happened? All those questions that hadn’t been answered at “our” church, all the blurry lines and confusions about what was being said were answered in that message spoken. The gospel was displayed and clear and true grace spoken AS A PART OF THIS REGULAR SUNDAY. And we remembered how it could be less of this daily angst-riden race of fear and worry and judgment and more like a resting in what’s already been done and what is true. We picked up some books and found my conversation that turned into a conflict displayed on the page, exactly as I had remembered it from my training years ago as a camp counselor, as I remembered it taught to me when I believed and chose to keep believing, exactly as it has always been true. And I realized I don’t need others to approve “my” theology, as it is written there in black and white, like it always has been. This isn’t mine, it’s Christ’s. And I find I’ve relearned trusting that Spirit voice inside me when it tells me something isn’t right, that being transparent is always better than being fake, and what I am isn’t who others say I am, but who Jesus says I am. Loss and gain swirl together but truth remains. 



The Tone of a Place

It’s not a boomerang, that keeps pulling us back to Tennessee.
But I don’t care if people say it’s that way.

I’m not so sure it’s even ‘home.’

But there is a time when you consider community. A time when you consider being known. 

More, there’s a time when you choose a tone of a place. 

Cities, small towns, every place has its own pros and cons. Every area has a tone some of which is inevitably negative and some of which is positive. You must choose a tone that suits you.

Bustling streets. Neighborhoods. Country air. Mountains. Disregard for physical characteristics. Proximity to colleges or factories. Access to art, music, and sophistication. Family friendliness. 

The culture of a place either draws you or pushes you out. 

For me, it’s difficult to live in a big city. It feels temporary. It feels like it’s temporary to everyone else as well. I know that can’t be true but it’s the feeling I get. The pattern is that family is second to single life and having a multitude of children is difficult and strange. It seems as though everyone’s roots are shallow and easily moved. 

The communities and towns that make up Northeast Tennessee have their deficits. They have their cons like everywhere else. And some of those are hard to deal with; pockets of racial tension, the forgetting there’s a bigger world outside our area, lack of world knowledge, larger cultural interest, or experience. 

But the pros of Northeast Tennessee include things like incredible views of the Appalachian mountains, accessiblity to nature- rivers and streams and paths to adventure abound, people who, in general, are kind to strangers. This area carries a sense of value for families, maybe even big families above small ones. Children are special and you can’t take yours anywhere without comments about their eyes, their manners, and how not to take their youth for granted. There is a gentleness here in the way people talk to and treat one another. There’s a tenderness toward life, that it be enjoyed slow and deep, like cider in the fall or lemonade in a sweaty glass on the front porch rocking chair. Sit down and talk awhile. Hear a story you’ve heard a hundred times before and still you laugh, for half the value in it is the telling, and the other half, the remembering. Spend more time and money creating something you could buy at the store because it’s how your grandmother did it. Every other young mother you know is growing her own food, and her kids are helping.  Backyards are big and kids are sent outside to create adventure and entertain themselves. 

I used to think in my youth that there was no culture here. 


Now I know that IS the culture. Southern drawls and banjo music and sweet tea in a mason jar and making a friend out of the lady behind you in the grocery line and remembering ‘the time’ and festivals to celebrate small town life and valuing children and homemade everything: this IS East Tennessee. 

And its tone, it fits me just fine. 



#actuallyhomeowners

So, you know, we moved to Indiana this time last year. You remember “From the Mountains to the City.” In  many ways, this was such a good thing. It gave us the chance to get to know Not the Mama’s family a lot more, we had some fabulous adventures, hello Children’s Museum and State Fair!… as if living in the 6th largest city in the US isn’t an adventure in itself.
But, the fact is, we moved to Indy out of desperation. Not the Mama had lost his job and our rent had doubled.  We debated and cried and talked and then we were offered free housing for a “year or two” by a family member who has an empty second house. In Indiana. We could live with them for a month or two at most and then move into that house. 
It wasn’t until we were on the way that we realized that the house wasn’t “livable”…in fact, so much so, we were never even shown the house once we got there.  The point is, our whole goal has been to own a house for so many years. Living somewhere free for a year or two would allow us to save money so we could have a down payment. After being denied financing in 2013, homeownership had almost become The Thing everything rotated around. The whole decision to move to Indiana hinged on that house. So, we moved to IN to live in a free house that couldn’t be lived in and ended up living with family for many moons. Until someone in TN offered us a house rent free for six months and the kids and I returned. You know the rest of that part of the story. (Cows! Generosity! Blessing! Back to Tennessee!)
Well, we knew our time on the farm was coming to a close and so we reached out to a realtor: we wanted to try again. Six months of no rent didn’t get us to a down payment but that and some other circumstances found us with So.Much.Less.Debt. We started searching houses…and in March, with only weeks to go before we had to move out of the little house on the farm, our realtor-turned-friend took us to see a house we loved in downtown Johnson City (not my ideal location) and her grandmother’s house she and her family had been remodeling (perfect location). We fell in love with her grandmother’s house and I guess the rest is history.
Fortunately, they let us take early occupancy of the house (I didn’t even know that was a thing) and we ACTUALLY CLOSED on May 6. I still can’t believe it’s true. It’s doubly special when they gave me a part of a yo-yo quilt Ms Hazel (whose house this once was) was making as her last quilt project. It’s in my kitchen now. 

Our adorable house is right in the middle of all three major towns around us. We are 20 minutes to ballet, 18 minutes to our favorite two restaurants, ten minutes from Greg’s job and just right here, so close to where most of our people reside. It’s not a big house, it’s a regular people house- we are regular people, in case you didn’t know. It has a huge beautiful yard that backs up to farmland (thank God for cows in my kitchen window view once more) and even a great front yard the kids love to play in and are safe in. They can climb trees and I can sit under trees. We are nestled in an older neighborhood where my neighbors invited us to a get together complete with gluten-free desserts and coffee (this is my love language) and kids ride their bikes down the streets and folks are out digging in their yards. There are flowers sprouting up in my own flower bed. The den is a fantastic room with a 10 foot brick wall and fireplace and rough-hewn barnwood walls. (Perfect for me and gives this cute place amazing character). Also did I mention a completely remodeled kitchen? Sigh.

But best of all, our time as renters is over.  This is OUR house. Our home. (And I’m never moving again, y’all.)

#actuallyhomeowners:
-never have to ask permission to paint the walls
-don’t have to worry about old ladies who don’t want their flower beds touched
-don’t have to worry about old ladies who want you to do crazy yard work (and still not touch certain flower beds)
-don’t have to keep up mini-blinds
-don’t have to stress when the kids scratch the floor (it’s already happened, y’all)
-can put as many holes in the walls as they want to

-get the chance to be stretched in whole new areas of responsibility

-don’t have to leave behind swingsets or things that wont’ fit in the moving truck (this is how we lost our grill, filing cabinet and several chairs and bookshelves)
-don’t have to move every year or have the worry of moving over their heads
-don’t dread the changes in leases or rent amounts
-get the chance to grow food (and flowers)
-never have to change their address or school zone again
-can say ‘this is my home’

  

And That’s Enough

I can’t wait for them to go to bed. It’s around 7 PM and I’m thinking- I just have one more hour until it’s quiet.  And then it’s 8:30 and it’s quiet and I’m wishing they were still awake. Only calm and adult-like, or maybe actually adults. I’m lonely.

I’m alone now, with the dog beside me on the floor.
Since October, my husband and I have lived in separate states. He has work there, but not enough to afford housing around the big, loud city in the flat, flat, flat land. And I have housing here in the mountains, with our people at hand, but he can’t find work. It’s one of the stranger in-betweens we have been in.

This time last year, Not The Mama had a well-paying job with a wealthy businessman, full of great promise and potential. We didn’t know a couple months later his boss would decide that vacationing was more important than paying a salary (or even a severance) and we would be without income. We didn’t know we would lose housing, twice. We didn’t know when we chose to live with Greg’s family that it would drag on and on without inclination of realistic income. Or that two weeks after we left, Momo would die and we wouldn’t get back in time to say goodbye. We didn’t know that just a few months later, my oldest friend would suddenly and shockingly pass away as well. And we would be living seperatly, once more living in a house that’s a temporary solution to a bigger problem, the prospect of moving a certainty. And soon.
I didn’t know I would begin to question if I could continue homeschooling. That I would worry that I would be forced to find a job at minimum wage and only spend a couple hours a day with them. That I would find myself questioning if could continue in some of circles without feeling as though I’ll never fit anywhere.

I didn’t know 2015 would be so hard. That’s what I mean. And I’m glad it’s almost over.

So here I sit, another night alone, the stress just tampered by the Christmas lights on the tree and the sound of sleeping children and the patter of the dog as he moves from spot to spot, the dryer humming steadily to catch us up on the laundry I let get behind for two days worth of haircuts and coffee dates and throwing a little birthday celebration for my friend’s three year old who will not remember her. I remember how I got here but I don’t know why.
A year ago I would have thrown my hands up and asked why. A year ago I would have dug through every last sin and ugly thought and blamed myself. I would have pondered and questioned and agonized. But that is for fools, I know. That is for Job’s friends and that’s for the past.
This is a season.
And I’ve had enough hard years, goodbyes and losses, difficult decisions, tough conversations and seasons almost just exactly like this one to know that they end. There is an ending to these seasons and beginnings to new ones. There will be a spring once more.
Today, twice, when people asked me how I’m staying sane, parenting four kids alone on little income, grieving deeply, wondering about the next day and the next job and the next year, I answered “who says I am sane?” without laughing. Because, really, I’m getting through. And that’s enough.

Sweet Meg

Megan loved Lifetime movies. I mean, we would watch them and discuss them 10 times. She literally lived off of coffee. So. Much. Coffee. She loved to eat cheesy bread and pizza. She loved the ranch dressing at Chef’s- and drinking Vanilla Coke. Jersey Mike’s was the way to her heart. She loved rocking babies, that was her happy place, truly. Anybody’s baby, especially her own babies. She loved playing video games. Megan could beat any Mario-related game…and has, several times. We even talked about renting a cabin in Gatlinburg for just me and her and taking only food, coffee and the Nintendo’s for a weekend-long gaming session uninterrupted by kids and chores.She could cook me (and most of us) under the table. She made the best dips and soups. She made the cleverest Walking Dead meals (chicken parm with olive eyes, anyone?) She loved DB football and the Florida Gators.
She was so funny but she didn’t know she was funny, and that’s the best kind, really. Megan loved holidays. Loved parties. She loved having people in her home, I think that may have been her favorite thing, a house full of people laughing and talking and eating. She loved her dog, Reba…and she is why we have our dog, Olaf. She loved patios and picnics. She loved watching our kids play together and imagined a world where at least one of her kids married one of mine and so we often called each other ‘the mother in law’. She never has met a stranger and every where you go with her, someone knows her, and to know her is to love her.
She loved Tim Johnson with a fierce, undying love ever since we were young kids who didn’t even know what love was. She adored her mama, counted her siblings as her best friends, loved time with her Grandma, her aunts and her cousins. She was their biggest fans.
Meg was a champion of the forgotten….she noticed the person alone in the corner, she recognized the lonely, the friendless, the lost, the orphan. She valued the people others had ignored.
She would not let you quit her. She would forgive over and over, she has given me grace so many times over so many years. And she literally would not let you remember the wrong you’d done against her. She loved so hard, so deep. I believe you could call her love true devotion, for once she loved you, she always loved you, through every flaw and every wrong.
Megan could get so ticked off…and be over it two seconds later. She would give you anything she had- her last cup of coffee, clothes, food, money- you would have to literally offend her to get her to keep whatever she had decided you needed. I failed at that a lot. Once she wanted it done, she did it. I’m sure you can ask Tim Johnson Emma Clark Marisa Moore Clark Russell Clark about that one.
Megan loves her kids. She loves Marlon so hard. I remember when she brought him to town for the first time and that look in her eye: completely devoted. She fought for that boy. It’s hard for me to even talk about it, to talk about Marlon, because is my boys’ favorite friend and I love him like he is mine, like I have shared in her love for him as a mom somehow. Megan, I will never let him forget all the days you had with him and how much you loved him. I will never stop loving him either and I look forward to a million more slumber parties and visits to bounce places and putt-putt and games and midnight movies and Michael Jackson dance-off’s. I will love you, my friend, by loving your boy, just like I promised you.
Megan loved being pregnant with Edie, loved expecting a daughter. She loves how much Edie looks like her (and has her sass!!!) Her mini-me with fair hair, we say. Edie is a special girl, she is special like her mama; she has never met a stranger, will make you laugh so hard you cry, and has that light- just like Meg. She was a dream come true for Meg and I know she will know it. I know she will grow all her days knowing what her mama gave to give her life and how very, very loved she is.
Megan was determined, I mean, DETERMINED to rescue Levi. When she overheard that he had been called undesirable, unadoptable, well, that was that. The battle armor she donned and fought for him she did. He knew her for such an unfairly short time but she is how he will know love, Megan is how he will grow up in a family. She gave him that. And that beautiful boy may only remember her through our stories, but tell the stories we will!
I will never forget Meg’s call when she had learned about Mila, her tiny mini-Marlon. You can’t know the work it takes to parent a child born drug addicted until you do it, or watch someone do it but Megan did it. She and Marisa and Tim have worked endlessly for that baby and it has paid off. Mila is bright and smart and beautiful and happy. You did that, Meg! You did that. Mila, your mama took such delight in you, you gave her so much joy. You’re a little spark, tiny friend, and you are loved so much.

Megan has been my friend over a lifetime. I remember the first time I talked her into going to Rascal’s, organizing something for our senior float (mostly that we were both cranky about it- she always said it’s because we had yet to discover coffee), talking about boys (uh-hum, Tim) and a million teenaged things. And then those talks morphed after some years into talking about diaper brands and ear infections and trading clothes for our kids.
She was a real person, with real flaws. Honestly I think she would hate for people to remember her as perfect or flawless. She might even have a few creative choice words about that. But she was doing her best and trying her hardest all the time. I believe that with my whole heart.
When I had surgery a couple years ago and developed an infection, she was there for me throughout that time, she changed dressings and helped with the IV’s. When I have had hard days, she’s been there. When I have had hard years, she’s been there. When I sat at my Momo’s funeral a few months ago, she sat right across the aisle from me. I wish I could see her face at everyone’s sweet words and memories of her. She didn’t value herself the way we all value her. She couldn’t see how lovable she was, she didn’t believe people loved her this much. She just didn’t know how beautiful she was. She just didn’t know. But now she knows.
She has been my cheerleader as long as I can remember. I never deserved her friendship and how very good she was to me. I will miss her every day.

Megan knew the Lord and she was never ashamed of that. If her life could stand for one thing, she would simply choose this- Love God and Love Others. And so we know our sorrow is not without hope and we will see you again my sweet friend

  
   
  
  
  
  

  
  

Let’s Make A Way For Them to Choose Life, Not Abortion

 

I think maybe some things need to be said. Here’s me throwing in my two cents.

I have a lot of friends on either side of every issue.
I like this about my friends. I like being challenged to consider what I really think and believe and why.
I like that I am not surrounded by people who all look like me, think like me, or even worship like me.  I think it is terribly sad when people only entertain others in their life who are in agreement with them.

And because I have this rich integration of people, I see.

When it comes to pro-life or pro-choice, I know very few who sit on the fence. And I have a number of people I call friends who are pro-choice, although I am not. And what I want to say today is that from time to time, someone will make such a darn good point, I can’t pass it up.

Being pro-life should not be limited to infants.
To those who believe in “the woman’s right to choose,” it is heinous that there are 500,000 children in America’s foster care system. There are half a million children in our backyards who have no home, no parents, no family. This is a number and a problem that is often ignored by those of us on all sides- but very much so in the conservative camp.
Ever heard a conservative talk about cutting free medical care to the poor? How about cutting food stamps?
Of course you have! So have I! I hear it constantly.
This is a contradiction, my dears. If you expect the woman living in poverty to NOT abort her baby because of poverty, you must help her live. This is being pro-life. She can’t feed the baby as he grows up without assistance.  So take away her welfare? And expect her to keep her child? This makes absolutely no sense, folks.

In fact, it makes less and less sense as you consider it, am I right?

Upon sharing that we would like to adopt from foster care again one day, perhaps when our kids are a bit older, we were told by a family member (a conservative) that we wouldn’t want to do that because we will want time to “spoil our grandchildren.”  This is part of the problem, folks.  Our life has revolved completely around ourselves for so long that we can’t even think about the meaning behind our words…we aren’t even ashamed of saying: “Don’t adopt again, it will take too much of your TIME, MONEY, FEELINGS. Don’t you want all that to yourself? It might be an inconvenience to take in an orphan.”

But people aren’t inconveniences.  They are people.

And so are unborn babies people.

Foster kids, kids in poverty, hungry HUMANS in this world are not SOMEONE ELSE’S PROBLEM.  They are my problem.  They are your problem.

This should all go hand-in-hand. Pro-life means Pro-LIFE!

I want Planned Parenthood defunded. I find it disgusting that tax dollars pay for their practices.  I find it depressing that women are desperate enough to abort their babies. I am not defending them. I do not support them.  I am saying that if we want to be a pro-life nation, we have to be a PRO-LIFE nation. We have to support moms who want to keep their babies and are homeless or jobless or need help in any way. Let’s make a way for them to choose life, not abortion.

We have to support foster care adoptions and foster parents.  We have to press our government to change laws that allow birth parents to be harassed, ridiculed, and even sometimes charged for abandoning their children. Leaving an infant at the hospital to be adopted should be an option that goes without penalty. Let’s make a way for them to choose adoption, not abortion.

We have to press our government to make foster care adoptions more available, to not leave adoptable children in the system for years and years without true plans for permanency. People should be able to adopt without so much trauma in our own country.  Let’s make a way for hopeful parents to choose adoption.

We have to support the creation of places that are like Planned Parenthood’s good side- free medical care and support for those who are living in poverty.
We have to bring light to the staggering statistics regarding abortion and the seemingly obvious targeting of specific races. We have to read the numbers and watch the videos and BELIEVE THEM.  And then change.