Fostering Refugees – The Stigma that Scared Me

A few months ago, at the height of reports showing kids being separated from their parents at the border, Pete and I came across an opportunity that immediately felt like a calling. We were encouraged to apply for a license that would allow us to foster these children until they are reunited with their parents or sponsor family, and we both were immediately on board. Since we submitted our application we have completed 15 hours of in-person training, approximately 22 hours of on-line Foster Parent College training, and amounts of paperwork that exceeded all reasonable expectations.

Last night we finished laying our hearts and our home on the line for a 4-hour foster home inspection and family interview.

Things that went well:

  1. We’re now one step closer to offering a temporary home to the kids separated from their parents at the border. My heart is singing!
  2. Our house is cleaner, safer, and more organized than it has ever been before. Good luck opening any of our cabinets ever again. If you need surgery, we have a platinum 250 person first aid kit that will SAVE YOUR LIFE! If you’re on fire, head on over and we’ll extinguish it immediately!
  3. Pete and I feel closer as a couple after exploring our past, present, and future, our strengths and weakness, and our hopes and dreams for 4 hours with a complete stranger.

Things that could’ve gone better:

  1. We could’ve done without the live scorpion on Isaac’s bedroom curtain during the SAFETY inspection!
  2. Could’ve done without our Jack Russell fishing through the case workers purse to eat her hair clip.
  3. When I answered that we had no weapons, Isaac could’ve forgotten (just like I had) that I have a Samurai sword from a leadership conference many years ago. #compassionatesamurai
  4. Isaac and Sonoma could NOT have played their new giggle-inducing game, which consists of them repeating the words, “you’re a bad mommy, you’re a bad daddy.” #kidsarehilarious
  5. Isaac could’ve avoided using EVERY innocent toy as a weapon of some sorts. The Minnie Mouse blow dryer turned full pistol last night!

We know we’re on the right path and answering a calling as none of this feels burdensome. We are thrilled for the next step and to minister love to these kids at a time of such trauma and fear and loss. #allgodschildren

Last night was also the first time we made our decision public by posting on social media. Until last night the only people we had shared with were immediate family and those we asked to be our references.

Since my post last night I have had quite a few people reach out wondering when we made this decision. I’ve been thinking a lot about why I hadn’t made our decision public until now.

The first reason I haven’t been openly sharing this decision is because I didn’t want it to look like or feel like we were seeking accolades. I knew a lot of our friends would be excited for us and I didn’t want our decision to move forward, when the movement got tough, to be influenced by the desire to please others or make others proud. I truly felt like this was a calling from the beginning and I didn’t want to be motivated or feel pressured by external sources.

Secondly, and sadly, I have been tentative to share our decision because of the negative reactions I feared we would receive from some. Due to the polarized climate we currently live in I was worried that our commitment to foster kids that have been separated from their parents at the border would require us to defend ourselves. I have heard so much hateful rhetoric throughout the year that paints immigrants as nonhuman and undeserving of love and kindness, compassion and grace. I could barely stomach the idea that our decision may be received with this level of vitriol…or any level of disappointment whatsoever. I was preparing myself for conversations with people I love and care about that would strip away my respect for them. I was arming up for debates on what “kind” of child “deserves” help. I was expecting heartbreaking backlash from at least a few people in our lives and I was afraid of how our relationships would weather the storm. But, the truth is…once an issue is made personal, hearts often soften. Once there’s a face we can touch, and a hand we can hold, putting a voice to a highly debated and sensitive issue, the dynamics begin to shift. Civility is often restored when the matter in question lands in our own backyard.

We have received an outpouring of love and support since my post last night and although it appears that some are more excited about our decision than others, there hasn’t been any nastiness or uncomfortable pushback. I must admit that I didn’t give the benefit of the doubt and for that I’m sorry. I hope our decision will help bring a name and a face to the debate around the border. I hope our decision will humanize this issue versus politicize it. I hope our decision will remind us and others of the inherent value of all people regardless of ethnicity, country of origin, race, color, religion, etc. I hope and pray our decision will be heart changing and maybe even life saving for all of us who are a part of this process.

A Letter to Mormons

Dear Mormon Neighbors,

Having lived in Gilbert for most of my life, we have been visited by many young, passionate, Mormon missionaries throughout the years. Recently they have been offering their help with anything we may need assistance with. These exchanges always include the typical pleasantries where I thank them for their generous offer, and add that, “no, we don’t need help with anything at this time.” After their last visit however, as the young men pedaled away, I realized that I do have a request. A request that has been bubbling beneath the surface, unspoken for quite some time now. A desire that began formulating in my grade school years and has been refined since having children of my own. The next time a Mormon missionary asks if there’s anything they can do for me, I’m going to humbly and vulnerably reply as follows:

  • Please teach your children to be inclusive of my non-mormon children and please guide them to carry that inclusion past grade school, into middle school, and throughout high school.
  • Please encourage your children to sit with mine in the lunchroom.
  • Please permit your kids to invite my kids to their slumber parties, birthday parties, and weekend get togethers even AFTER my child has made it clear that he or she is not interested in attending fireside, seminary, or church with your family.
  • Please allow your teen to go with mine to school dances, athletic events, and group dinners trusting that just like you, my husband and I have done the best we know how to raise a teenager who knows right from wrong.
  • Please welcome my children into your homes and permit your children to visit ours.
  • Please ask your kids to consider how isolating it must be on “Seminary (extra credit) Days” for those kids who do NOT come to school dressed for church.
  • Please reflect on the fact that adolescents spend the majority of their waking hours comparing themselves to their peers, so when they recognize that it would never be “acceptable” to date your son or daughter or be your son or daughter’s best friend, it is, at best, damaging to their delicate self-esteem.
  • Please call to mind your younger years when your primary objective was to be loved and accepted for who you were without having to pretend you were someone else.
  • Please understand that my families faith also emphasizes the importance of loving others, giving of ourselves, forgiving those who have wronged us and seeking forgiveness when we wrong others, doing what is right and turning from evil, seeking a relationship with God, spending time in prayer, and living a life inspired by Jesus.
  • Please support your children in having open, vulnerable, honest, transparent, loving, kind, accepting conversations with my children about what they believe and why. In fact, while our kids are having that “grown-up” conversation, I also hope to enter into this depth of sharing with you…the Mormon parent.
  • Please know that I hold your child in the same regard as any other child who shares my family’s faith or who prescribes to no religion at all. Your child is special, and beautiful, and worthy of my love and caring regardless of doctrine or theology.
  • Please believe that I see our differences as an opportunity for us to grow together in loving-acceptance. God did not call us to tolerate our neighbors. I love and welcome you, your family, and your faith because we are all children of God made in His image. Your faith is a sizable component of who you are, and you are God’s creation with gifts and beauty and a soul that has the ability to positively transform my life with each encounter.

As these hopes for my children spill out, I realize that these are the same yearnings I had when I was too young to express them and they remain yearnings for me now. I would like to know my Mormon neighbors. I would like for us to share our celebrations and mourn our losses together. I would like to enter into deep relationships with you that allow us to celebrate our differences and lift each other up versus silently judging one another from across the street or the backyard fence. I would like us to hug and share dinners, and text jokes, and go to movies, and have pool parties, and discuss politics, and cry and laugh, and live life together. These desires have never been expressed because I never felt important enough to express them, but now that I have children there is nothing more vital than ensuring they have a deep sense of belonging to this village we chose to raise them in.

For decades now I have felt an invisible yet palpable partition between my family and our mormon neighbors…a silent criterion that has said, “we can’t be that close…we can’t walk this life together too often, we can’t be intimate friends unless we share the same faith.” I want to tear down this barricade and abolish this silent destroyer of fellowship. I fear we are forfeiting valuable friendships and life-changing communion with one another as we allow religion to segregate our lives.

We are not that different. Our children are not that different. We are all living in a beautiful yet broken world doing the best we can with what we have. With inclusion and acceptance we can lighten each other’s burdens and love each other through the brokenness. We are all damaged humans, so let’s be damaged together. As our fractured pieces are assembled together, we will transform into a magnificent and vast tapestry of vibrant hues and unity…we can weave our hearts into a community of “us”…dynamic threads of surviving souls stretching out to reach each other, love each other, understand each other….staying true to ourselves while supporting one another. Loved and loving! Fully belonging!

Sincerely,

Renee’ (your hopeful neighbor)

P.S. I am not proposing that Mormons are the only religious group that could receive a request comparable to this one, or that this applies to every Mormon. I’m also not assuming that I wouldn’t, myself, benefit from reading the same words and applying them to my life with regards to another group or an “other,” an “outsider.” I believe every religion and every denomination could benefit from being more inclusive, but I write this letter in relation to my own experiences and memories and the concerns I have for my children. My Jewish/Agnostic husband could write an identical letter, based on his history, and just change the greeting to Dear Christians or Dear Italian Catholics. We can all admit that it feels good to belong to a group, but too often it’s at the expense of living a life void of those who are different from us, and I believe this is a tragedy. It is exhausting to correctly locate and consistently remain in the good graces of the right “club” these days. Race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender, political affiliation, socio-economic status, neighborhood, state, coast, country, profession, and the list of ways we etch the invisible line goes on and on. I find that when I try too hard to belong to a particular group I lose sight of God’s vision for my life, which starts with loving “others” the way He loves me. We are created for community, and I believe our lives will always be richer if we truly follow God’s commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves. I pray that God will give us the courage to knock down walls, the strength to build bridges, and the grace to love with out qualifiers. I pray that my children will grow up loved and loving! Fully belonging!

Tao of Toddlers

My 2 year old son, Isaac was doing his very best to patiently wait for his cousin Brayden after a basketball game. I use the term “patiently” loosely, as Isaac was running the length of the gym , sliding feet first into the mirrored walls on each side, and then licking said mirrors, all while laughing hysterically. Then, Isaac spied his favorite thing….older kids doing something without him (how dare they!). Isaac is drawn to older kids like a moth to a flame, desiring to do everything they do regardless of how complicated or dangerous the activity might be. An adorable 4 y/o boy and 6 y/o girl were playing a game of tag, and Isaac immediately began his attempt to keep up, running as quickly as his little legs would carry him. He was completely oblivious to the fact that he was being ignored and was in no way a part of their game. It took a few minutes before the older boy finally acknowledged Isaac. This sweet, age-appropriate bossy boy, pointed his finger at my son’s chest and said, “we’re not playing with you. It’s just me and her playing…not you!” I watched from afar as Isaac tried to understand what he was being told. The boy attempted to confirm that Isaac understood the limits he had just set. He stopped pointing his finger and made the fatal mistake of raising both arms, shrugging, and saying, “ok?” This was the moment Isaac decided that a hug was clearly the appropriate response. Isaac gave both kids a big squeeze as if they had just nominated him President of their exclusive “We’re Older and Bigger Than You” club. Within minutes, the hearts of the older kids visibly softened as they began to make room for Isaac in their play. The older boy took Isaac by the hand, guided him to “base” and then taught him how to tag. My sweet son decided that tagging should be hugging instead, which they graciously tolerated. Even when Isaac began tagging his own reflection in the mirror, they laughed with him and then patiently redirected him to their game. By the end of the evening these 3 beautiful children were friends. My heart melted as I watched this loving interaction and I was struck at how 3 young children had innocently illustrated the power of loving-acceptance and kindness. I couldn’t help but think of my own life and the times I have reacted to others in a way that wasn’t at all what I hope to model for my son.

Watching these kiddos taught me:

  1. When we judge, we lose the opportunity to forge a new friendship
  2. We can be forgiven for our misguided behaviors and thoughts
  3. Someone “different” can teach us a new way to play the game of life
  4. Loving someone who has hurt us can heal more than one heart
  5. We must believe we’re worthy before expecting others to believe the same
  6. When we are vulnerable we find ourselves loving others before judging them
  7. It’s easy to love those who are kind to us. It’s courageous to love those who hurt us

I’ve hoped to model for my son a love for others that is fearless and authentic and vulnerable, but as I watched this evening unfold, I realized that these qualities already live and breathe in young children. They don’t need adults to demonstrate these virtues, they need us to foster and protect them, as they face the hurts and disappointments that come with growing older. What I thought was my responsibility to teach my son, was actually a lesson I needed to learn from him.

The next time I’m tempted to judge someone, I’ll think of these 3 children and remain open to experiencing a new (and possibly more joyful) way of approaching life. And, the next time someone tells me that I don’t belong, I’ll remember that the most appropriate response is to love them anyway!