Sunday, January 26, 2014

Feeling Incredibly Frustrated

This is probably more of a FB type status update, but I don't like to air some things on FB.  Since I think there are only a few readers of my blog, it seems safe here.

Without going into detail, I said to Brent this morning (not directed toward him), "The only thing worse than being alone is thinking your not alone when really you are."  Expectations suck!  I know that, and I try not to have them, but I'm human and I do.

This will pass, probably in about an hour when I'm more frustrated with my statistics assignment than my current frustration and after I pray a little more and remind myself of all my own imperfections and how much I want to be so much more to others than what I am . . . and how I let people down I'm sure way more than I know . . . and how the frustrating thing that happened was probably not intentional . . . etc.

Well, that's enough of my pouting.  Off to do stats.  I told myself that if I finish fast enough, I should have enough time for a run before family night and before time to work with Jason on his school work. I have too much to do to sulk :)

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Being a Social Worker

Some days I really wish I could just be the stay at home mom I once dreamed I would be.  Some days I don't know what I would do if I didn't have the opportunity to serve the population that I have had the privilege of serving for the past almost 20 years (scary that it's been so long).  I guess in reality I wish I had the best of both worlds . . . work part time as a social worker and the rest of the time as a mom.  I was able to do this for a long time, so I try to remember that and count my blessings.  Maybe one day it will happen again.  Who knows?  I do pray for that all the time.

Being a social worker, though, has taught me so much, and I am so thankful for the lessons I have learned.  I wanted to talk about some of them.

1.  I have no idea what it feels like to be truly alone and to have no one to lean on who is not getting paid to let me lean on them.  The thought of that, which is reality for many of the people with whom I have worked, is heartbreaking.  We should all take note of who might need us and be the person who they can lean on, even in small ways.

2.  People's past is part of who they are; it cannot be ignored.  For some, that past is unbearable.  It is paralyzing.  It makes a person get stuck in a cycle that they have not idea how to exit.  I need to have empathy.  As with everyone, I have had some significant pain in my life, and there have been times that I have felt "stuck", but not in the same ways.  Trying to hear or even imagine (if people will not share) what a person's life may have been like changes my response to their behavior.

3.  On the same note, people have a responsibility to not let their past ruin their future.  When I was working with youth who aged out of foster care, and even now when I'm working with older teens (or advising the social workers who I supervise), I used to say something like, "I am terribly sorry about your past, and you have every right to be hurt and upset by it.  It is paralyzing and I understand that you do not know anything different, but it's time for you to make a decision.  You can change your future.  You are not responsible for your past, the pain that happened in childhood, but you are responsible for your future, and you need to make the necessary changes to prevent the cycle."  It's hard for some.  No matter how much they hear this, they cannot get out of the rut.  They need people to help them.  They need scaffolding, and the scaffolding might be needed for a long time.  How can I help provide that support?

4.  Sometimes we feel like we are without money; we don't know how we are going to pay the bills, but we have no idea what it is like to live in poverty.  I have never had to wonder where my next meal is going to come from.  Even if I didn't have a penny to my name right now, my pantry is overfull.  We complain all the time about there not being anything to eat in our house, but our refrigerator is overflowing with leftovers.  I have been in homes where there is not enough food for the next meal, where the heat is not working and it is freezing outside, where the parents cannot afford diapers for their babies.  Are they making unwise decisions with how to use their money?  Sure they are.  Haven't we all?  It's just that our unwise decisions don't affect us quite to the same extent.  When I was a new social worker, I used to get so angry about people who were on food stamps but had a nice big television and Dish TV (that was new and popular back then).  It seemed like such a poor use of money . . . and it was.  Then I had one of those "plank in the eye" moments and realized that I have my luxuries that I should probably forego, and I indulge when I shouldn't.  (The main one for me happens to be eating out when we shouldn't).  It's easy to judge, and I need to be careful about that.  This has been a huge lesson for me.

5.  Kids love their parents, and parents love their kids (with a few exceptions, I'm sure).  And we need to support that in whatever appropriate way we can, even when we cannot understand it.

6.  Without the hope of Jesus, I do not know how people heal from their pasts; however, salvation and placing your hope in Jesus does not immediately alleviate the pain and change the behaviors that exist as a result of the pain.  It is a process.  Working in the private faith-based sector, I see so many people who do not understand this.  They say two things, "If I show the child love, he will appreciate it and change," and "If the children knows Jesus, he will not act like this."  The first is just not true.  My children do not always show appreciation for the love I show them; why should these children who have experienced so many let downs from those who should have loved them most?  The second is a process.  I stumble and fall all the time, letting down the God that I love and serve, but He loves me anyway and he helps me move forward from that point.  He remains committed to caring for me.  He also remains committed to caring for them (foster children).  Foster parents are sometimes quick to let children go.  I always think, and have said several times, "It's a good thing God doesn't give up on you like you are giving up on these children."  Harsh?  Yes.  True?  Yes.  My coworker likes to say, "It is easy to love the lovely; it is with God's love that we love the unlovely."  Such a true statement, which leads me to . . .

7.  I need to work harder at loving the unlovely.  It's not easy.  I have worked with really difficult people, people who have been really hurtful to others (namely their children but also just others in general), people who have terrible habits and addictions, people who are just downright mean, people who are completely irresponsible or lazy and don't seem to have any motivation to do any better, people who are dirty and don't smell good, people who have threatened me or hit me, people who have damaged my property (I still have a big dent in my van from a client who denied it happened), and the list goes on and on.  I'm not going to say I have loved all of them they way I should, but I have been given opportunities to practice loving them, and in some of those cases have grown to care very much for people who at first I thought I could not stand.

I'm sure there are many more lessons that I could list, but these are the ones that come to my mind now. I am who I am today partly because I have worked as a social worker with a population that many never have the opportunity to know.  God has used this to change me, to make me more of a servant and to make me more aware of people's stories.

Through FB I am able to keep in touch with some of the people from my past.  Last night I was given an opportunity to provide some scaffolding to a past client.  This time I am being a person she can lean on just because I want to do it, not because I am getting paid.  This is one of those people who from the moment I met her, I did not know how to love her.  And because of her behavior, I had to be very firm with her, which made her mad.  Yet today we have contact, and I was able to offer her some simple help, which will hopefully make a huge difference in her future.  On top of that, I am one of the few people she knows who loves Jesus, and I have the opportunity to be a witness to her very hardened heart, which if softened would make an even bigger difference in her future.  Over time God softened my heart toward her, and I have had many opportunities to show her His love as a result.  I am just so thankful!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

I Changed My Mind . . .

Today the most difficult part of parenting is letting go.  We just got home from dropping James off at LAX to go back to Haiti for five months.  I hoped it would not be as hard to let him go this time, but so far, I was wrong.  I hope the return to the new normal is easier than establishing the new normal because the letting go was no easier than it was in September.

I'm so crazy proud of James, but it sure would be easier to have him a few hours away as opposed to a flight over an ocean.  We had a wonderful day celebrating his birthday early with just our family and then taking him to the airport.  With the exception of his luggage being overweight and having to make some adjustments and the fact that we forgot his medication, and by forgot I mean forgot to go to the pharmacy and pick it up.  Emotional stress can do ridiculous things to a person.  I spent much of this week making sure we had all of the medicine here before he left, and then I forgot to go get it at the pharmacy, not realizing it until we pulled into the airport parking lot down in LA.  Praise God he has enough to get him through the next six weeks.  We can figure something out between now and then to get it to him.  Thankfully we know quite a few people that go in and out of Haiti.  We ate lunch at Buca di Beppo, then had cookies and ice cream at Diddy Riese and headed to the airport.

As we drove home I just kept remembering stories of James as a little child.  He was so young when he asked Jesus to be his savior, but his understanding has always been so solid.  He was a normal kid with sin issues that had to be addressed, and he frustrated us and made us crazy at times, but he had such incredible understanding about God and Scripture.  He asked unbelievable questions.  I would often have to call Brent to help me answer James's questions, and sometimes Brent would have to tell James he needed to do some studying before answering.  Even as a grade school student, he pointed out things in Scripture I had never noticed.  Now as he spends this time serving, he is being able to put that knowledge into practice in ways that he could not here in the United States, and it is fantastic to hear his stories and watch him continue to grow.  I am excited for his future and proud of who he is.

To continue on a little from my last post, with prayer and several discussions with different people, we made a decision to pull Jason out of his current school and put him in a charter school that is kind of a hybrid between home schooling and traditional school.  He will go to school at least one full day a week, maybe two and another half day.  We are waiting to have his schedule finalized.  I am excited at the opportunities he will have in this educational setting.  I hope and pray that it is more suited to his personality and learning style and that it is the best decision for him.  It has been a hard path, but we feel at peace about it and so does Jason, which is huge.  He is my socialite.  He can make friends with ANYONE, and his friendships are important to him, so pulling him out of the school where he cultivates those relationships everyday was not an easy decision.  We are committed to supporting him in maintaining those relationships and are excited for the new ones he will make.  On another note, I'm nervous about the home schooling side of things, especially with my work schedule, so prayers are appreciated.  Brent and I will be tag teaming the educational part.  I know we can do it, but it is not going to be easy.

It's during these trials that I am so thankful for a God who carries my burdens and on whom I can rely to carry me.  I have been holding on to 1 Peter 5:7, "Cast all your cares on Him, for he cares for you."  I don't know what people do without these promises.

Here are a couple pics from today.  We are so blessed!

Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Most Difficult Part of Parenting . . . At Least for Today

Educational Decisions!  And actually this has been probably the most difficult thing for me in all of parenting so far.  I have said before that it is a good thing children don't go to school as soon as they are born because I think I would have quit having children after James.  I found it difficult from the very beginning, and it is not one of those things that got easier over time.  From deciding how to do school (public, private, home) to helping the kids succeed after the decision has been made, I find it all overwhelming.  I have tried all three routes, so I know the pros and cons of all, and I find positives and negatives in each.  I have children for whom school comes easily and children for whom it does not.  For those of you who have not experienced the latter . . . count your blessings and find compassion for those who have children who struggle.

Today was a rough day.  One of our kids really struggles in school; two actually, but one more than the other.  Report cards arrived this week.  I had been dreading it, praying that the hard work at the end of the quarter paid off, praying even as I opened the envelope and began to read the letters.  But my prayers were not answered the way I wanted.  I dreaded talking to the child, but Brent and I knew we had to do it.  It was crushing.  Through tears we began to discuss other educational options.  I have been down this road many times.  Ever since we entered public school, we have had many discussions about home schooling again, especially with this particular child, but I think there are so many things to weigh, and in our case, I don't know that it is a family decision.  If I bring one home for school, I don't think that means it is best to bring all of them home, but it does add additional stress and new dynamics to our already busy life.  I'm willing to do that, though, for the success of my child, if I know that is what is supposed to be done, but there is no writing on the wall.

I remember being faced with educational decisions when James was about to enter pre-kindergarten.  There was a new Christian school in Bartlesville, and they offered scholarships to families in ministry.  We had already been paying for daycare, so we had it in our budget, and I was excited about the small classroom size (1 teacher to 5 students, if I remember right).  I also worked for the school system as did my mother-in-law, causing some reservations about the school James would go to.  It seemed the right move to go to this private school.  James and Jason stayed in school there until after James completed 5th grade.  During James's sixth grade year and Jason's third grade year, I decided to home school.  We were in transition, planning our move to California but not knowing exactly when it would take place.  Our budget was tighter, and we did not think it was wise to continue to pay for private school (even if they were very generous to us in terms of scholarships).  When we moved to California, we made the decision to put the boys in public school.  We heard great things about the elementary and junior high schools in our neighborhood.  I was not working full time, so I had plenty of time to volunteer at the schools.  It gave all of us opportunities to develop relationships with other people.  I still believe it was the right thing to do.

My kids are very social, and they are strong in their faith.  They have all been a light in the darkness in their schools, and we have had some incredible moments hearing from their teachers about the impact they have on other students and even on their teachers.  It's been incredible!  For us this impact cannot be ignored when we are considering our schooling options.  God calls us to be salt and light.  The school is a great place to be that (not the only place, lest a reader misunderstand what I am communicating) but a great place and quite honestly, an easy place.  People from all different walks of life are all around and you have at least common ground in that you share the same school.

Home schooling the year I did it, though, was incredible, incredibly hard at times but incredibly rewarding, too.  I learned so much about James and Jason, and I was able to teach them things they would not have learned in school.  We struggled at times, but we enjoyed each other and grew in our relationship, and I would not trade that year for anything.  I always wanted a year to home school with David and Sarah, too, but God has not made a way for that yet.  As I opened that report card and felt that terrible sinking feeling in my stomach, I was again reminded that I do have decisions that I can make with regard to my children's education.  Freedom is a great thing!  So as I sit here, ideas are whirling through my mind about what is the best thing to do for this particular child.  And the truth is I JUST DON'T KNOW.  I wish I did, but I don't.

Academically I think my child can be more successful if I was home schooling him, but losing the influence he has in public school and the social aspect, which is such an important thing to him, is not something that I can ignore.  So I am left trying to make some big decisions.  I had a friend one time give me great advice, which was to walk through the doors until God closes one.  For now, I guess we will walk through more than one open door and see of God closes either one.  In the meantime, we have to be diligent to remind our child that he is amazing, and God has incredible plans for him.  His academic standing does not change that.  It is incredible how bad low grades can make a person feel . . . it's a killer for the self-esteem.  We have to compensate for the loss.  I remind him that God cares about his effort and about his heart; the actual grades are not important, but society does not acknowledge that, and unfortunately society's judgment of outcomes impacts a person's feeling about himself or herself.

We are traveling a difficult road at the moment, though not as difficult as some, I know . . . I'm thankful we serve a God who cares about all of these things and who loves us even if our grades are subpar!!!  We do not have to perform a certain way to be loved and accepted by Jesus!