Today, we visited our first foster son (Lil Guy) who we returned back to his biological mother. It seems being able to visit your former foster child is not typical (for many reasons, I’m sure). We developed a good relationship with his parents and they invited us to stay in touch with them and visit. So we finally did today. It’s hard to believe it has only been three weeks since he left us because it feels like months. Honestly, we weren’t sure what to expect – what it would be like or how we would feel.
When we first walked into the room, a family member was holding Lil Guy. We approached him and he just looked at us observantly for a couple of seconds but he made no sound, expression or movement. I asked him, “Do you remember us?” Then a very big smile beamed across his face. He reached out with both of his chubby arms and leaned towards me for me to hold him, while his mother said in the background, “Of course he does.” Next he saw a familiar stuffed animal he used to play with in his room. He smiled at it, grabbed for it and played with it like he used to. We played with him on the floor for a while. He kept crawling towards us, reached for us and climbed on us. I played a silly game with him that used to always make him laugh very hard; it still made him laugh. He saw our second foster son as well who was his little brother for about three weeks when we had both of them. He immediately reached for our second foster son, plucked the pacifier out of his mouth and tried to stick it in his own mouth. He repeated that four times! It cracked us up. It was so wonderful to see him again. He grew a lot in the last three weeks, and he has a head full of hair now. He is doing well and the mother is taking good care of him. She is making the best out of what she has and seems to be doing it wholeheartedly. His living place is a communal environment with lots of people around. It was clean and well managed. We’ve heard that cases like Lil Guy’s don’t often end up as success cases. We’re glad to see God’s blessing upon him and his mother to make him the exception. My wife and I were encouraged to see how well he was doing and told him once again that we love him and are proud of him.
Of course, leaving him was difficult again. After giving a round of hugs, the mother invited us to come back, even to visit regularly. As we were saying bye to Lil Guy, he had that look on his face again like he didn’t like what was happening. We don’t know if we will or how much we will continue to visit him. We’re just not sure yet. All of this is new territory for us, so I think we’re taking it a step at a time for right now. We want to do what’s best for the child and we want to be sensitive our own spirits. But the hour we spent with him seemed to lift his spirit, was affirming to the mother and brought a lot of joy to us. Plus, he was very happy to have his old toy again!
Many of you know from my last post that we had to return our foster son, Lil Guy, back to his biological parents yesterday (Monday) and many of you responded to my wife and me with compassion as you sensed the weight upon on our hearts over losing him. Thank you. It really felt like losing a son. Both of our eyes were puffy yesterday from the continuous sobbing. Last night, I had the inclination to make today a mournful day – relax, chill and allow myself to be somber. Until, I remembered that it would be our second foster son’s 1 month birthday the next day! As many of you know from a previous post (Foster Dad 11), we were asked two and half weeks ago to accept another foster baby, whom we call “Peanut.” When I realized it would be Peanut’s 1 month birthday, I decided that being sad would have to wait. The next day was a day to celebrate!
We still had a real reason to be sad, but we also had a real reason to rejoice. The sadness is still there over losing Lil Guy from our care, but the rejoicing for Peanut’s growth and life should also be there. While the sadness is real, I don’t have to be in that space. I can choose to be in the space of rejoicing, which is just as much a reality as the sadness. To allow the reason for sadness to compromise the reason for rejoicing would be a tragedy and a mistake. I don’t know if this sounds a bit schizo. But I think life doesn’t always serve us one meal at a time; rather, it sometimes throws the whole buffet menu at you where the moments of sorrow and of joy bump into each other. When they do, we have the freedom to choose where we want our souls to be in those moments. I reflect on the wisdom from Ecclesiastes that reads: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven… a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance” (Eccl. 3:1,4). It’s important to recognize which season we are in. We often don’t get to choose what season occurs anymore than we can choose the weather. But we can choose how to dress for the weather that we’re in – we can choose to respond to the season given to us in those moments.
I’ll have time to still be sad. But today was Peanut’s one month birthday and we had to celebrate his life. To allow our loss of Lil Guy impede on Peanut’s life would be wrong to Peanut, and it would be wrong to us for when real reasons to rejoice are offered to us we should embrace it and dwell in it. Throughout today, my wife Ellen repeated three times, “Peanut needs us.” I think Peanut was counting on us to celebrate him! And I’m so glad we did. There’s a time for everything: a time to mourn and a time to dance – a time to mourn the leaving of a beautiful little boy whom we loved as our own with all of our hearts, and a time to dance over a beautiful one-month-old boy in our arms whom we love with all of our hearts. Knowing when to cry and when to laugh is important for the sake of our own souls and for the sake of those we love.
Dear Lil Guy (as we have affectionately called you in our home), how do we say good-bye to you? In these last 8 months and 1 day, you were a part of our lives as we were a part of yours. You were part of our family. You came to us as a 4 lb 9 oz baby with all kinds of labels placed on you and you leave us as a 20 lb baby with so much happiness. When you came to us, you entered a home not only of love but of prayer. Every night I, your foster dad, placed my hand upon you and prayed for God’s grace, wisdom, love, and protection to cover you. We believed you were a miracle from God.
People have told us that you were lucky to have been received into our home and cared for by us. But I’ve come to think that we were the lucky ones. You were such a blessing to our lives. You brought joy and warmth into our home. You reminded me of the simple and significant value of laughter. You taught me new perspectives on grace and redemption as we watched you heal. Everyday we watched you grow. As you grew in every way, we knew you were triumphing over the odds you faced. You reminded me of the meaning of perseverance. You represented hope to us. You had so much joy in you. You touched other people around you with your infectious smiles and laughs. We will miss you dearly. We were the lucky ones because of you.
Though your time with us was short, we are privileged to be part of your story at the beginning of your life and we are humbled that you were a part of ours. You do not leave us without many tears coming from us. We will never forget you. Though you may not have memories of us, we hope the love, prayers and hope we poured into you will leave a permanent mark upon your soul. We are glad to have been given this opportunity to love you. As you leave us, I hope you know that we are so proud of you. You have already done so well in life. You keep doing what you’re doing.
As you continue your journey in life, know that there’s no trial too big for you to handle if God is at your side. Keep him close. He loves you more than you can possibly imagine and he desires to be near you. Seek wisdom, understand faith, discover the meaning of grace and above all know the reality of love – both in receiving love and in giving it. And remember that true love often has to come and be given with sacrifice. Wherever you are, you will remain in our prayers.
We love you from the bottom of our hearts. We’ll miss you. We are so very proud of you.
Your foster Mom and Dad,
Brian and Ellen Chan
(This letter was included in the end of Lil Guy’s two volume “Lifebook,” an album of photos and words of encouragement that Ellen and I put together, which gets sent with him. The court ruled today on reunification. My wife and I have been balling our eyes out today. It’s incredible how significant and meaningful 8 months and 1 day can be – not only to the child but also to us).
When my wife and I first started foster parenting our first foster baby, our focus was on raising and nurturing this baby in need. We divulged our time, energy, attention and affection into the child. We educated ourselves about what the child needed. We paid close attention to his special needs. We worked hard at getting the services he needed to aide his growth and development. We took him to every appointment. We ran to him when he cried. We laughed when he laughed. It was about being parents to a baby in need of loving parents. What we were doing and why we were doing it was clear to us. As parents, loving the child was our purpose. But what happens when the purpose changes – when we’re no longer called to be his parents? That’s the hard part.
Somewhere in our journey as foster parents, the game changed for us so-to-speak, as reunification became more tangible. At once we thought our calling was purely to the child, which it was at first. But a new purpose became apparent which was not only to the child but to his family. Our calling went from giving grace to the child to being agents of grace to building the child’s family, even if that family would not be us. To love a child not our own as our own meant loving him back into his family. Even though reunification was in the back of our minds, in the thick of parenting our practical focus was purely on the child. Then suddenly a new purpose dawns gradually over the horizon of foster parenting, requiring us to re-shift our focus to aiding the making of a family.
Is this the case in life? You set out on a journey with one clear purpose in mind and you pour everything you have into it but somewhere along the way a new purpose as noble as the first emerges, beckoning your equal embrace. The hardest part I think is being in that in-between space where you are shifting purposes wholeheartedly. And you know you have to because if you stay stubbornly committed to the first purpose solely would undermine the new purpose.
I find that an art in living is having the honesty to recognize when the purpose in a journey has changed and having the sacrificial courage to embrace the new, apparent purpose without thinking that you’ve betrayed the first. Times change, as they say. Purposes can too. The purposeful change is mental. It’s emotional. It’s spiritual. It’s practical. It’s relational. It’s an awakening, and sometimes a rude one, that makes you wonder, “What happened? What am I here for?” While the second purpose is as noble and worthy as the first, the change is nonetheless difficult, sometimes excruciatingly so. It’s difficult because you were so committed to the first purpose. It’s difficult because while you don’t regret pouring into the first purpose and continue to believe in its worthiness, it still feels like you’re abandoning something dear to you – even a part of you. It’s difficult because while you cognitively knew reunification was the goal and a possibility you still devotedly received this child as your very own and shifting in that devotion feels like a surrendering an essential part of you. It’s difficult because the changing of purposes sometimes hurts. But perhaps the change from one purpose to another is part of the art of living a good life marked by wisdom and grace, and you know somewhere in the recesses of your conscience that to not make that change would result in the detrimental betrayal of both purposes.
About 7 weeks ago our county social worker warned us about losing our lil guy to the biological parents. Then the social worker asked us if we would foster again. She told us that we did such a good job that she wants to see us do this again. Our initial response was not an outright yes. We hesitated because of the heart-wrenching drama and the holes in the system we’ve seen. Since that conversation we have been emotionally and mentally preparing ourselves to surrender this child that we have loved, nurtured and raised as our own. No one could tell that he was not our child because we treated him like he was ours; and he needed to feel like he belonged to a family. We haven’t lost our lil guy yet, but we’ve emotionally prepared ourselves for that loss. We already cried, told him how much we’ll miss him and started the process of preparing for his transition, because once the judge or the Department gives the green light to return the child to the biological parent(s) it will take effect immediately (as in that day). So we’ve been cherishing him, caring for him and saying our good-byes to him all at the same time.
But over the last several weeks, my wife and I have been talking about whether we would do this again. Our foster social worker suggested we should join a support group. I kiddingly said, “Just give us a rebound baby.” My wife and I considered the future, what we’re up for and if we want to go through this drama again. Our conclusion for the past few weeks was we would do this again. My answer to the question “What do you do when you loved and lost?” is “Love again.”
I don’t know anyone who has not loved and lost. The big question on the other side of that experience is will you and can you proceed from there to experience love and give love. Many who get burned in one experience will fearfully avoid another experience or at least be very guarded about entering into it. But I think one of the greatest strengths in life is to love and love again. Yes, you may get burned. But I think the risk also qualifies the genuineness of that love. It’s because I have something to lose that makes my voluntary love for someone that much stronger and purer. Love without cost is convenient and easy. Loving and losing is not a regret of the past but a mark of your capacity to love. Love then is not simply a reaction given to the object of your affections but it is a quality coming from within you. 1 Corinthians 13:7 says love always perseveres, that is it endures. My wife and I will choose to endure in love. To love and lose will be part of our story but it will not be our defeat, for to love again is our triumph.
So just two days ago, my wife calls our foster social worker to ask if we qualify to take in another foster baby while our current one is likely transitioning out of our care. We were simply inquiring. Then the matching social worker called us yesterday afternoon, saying there was a 10-day old infant needing a family. His issues and needs were pretty much the same as our lil guy but his circumstances were much more severe and dire. So we said, “Yes!” We drove an hour and a half to the hospital with Lil Guy, where a good friend met us there with a new car seat she helped us purchase from Target, spent over two hours at the hospital to consult with the nurse and sign papers with the emergency social worker, and came home with a 5 lb little boy whom we have affectionately nicknamed, “Peanut.” Call us crazy, but we chose to love again.
What does Father’s Day mean to me, especially since we were just warned a week ago by our social worker that our foster son might be reunified with his biological parents soon? Yes, that’s right, it’s very probable she told us. It’s not definite, but we should be ready for it. Yet I don’t look upon this Father’s Day as what I may lose, rather as the joy of celebrating because this Lil Guy came into my life. What do I embrace this Father’s Day as a foster dad?
Lil Guy is now 6.5 months old and in the last three months, we received particularly more compliments about how well he is doing. Medical professionals, physicians, assessors and random strangers remark about how healthy and happy our baby looks to their delight and surprise. A family friend we met for the first time who was also a nurse commented, “He looks so healthy and happy. I could not tell that he was drug-exposed. You did a really good job!” Especially in light of the impending date of our baby being reunified with his biological parents, my wife and I relished in the many compliments about the good job we’ve done with him. One waitress at a restaurant yesterday said to Lil Guy, “You made my day because you’re so happy!” We’ve devoted time to him overcoming his challenges by playing with him, doing exercises with him, singing to him, talking with him, reading to him, tickling him, taking him to places, exposing him to a plethora of creative stimuli, soothing him, giving him a safe place to rest and covering him with more affection than he would ask for. We helped an “at-risk” baby overcome and triumph over his brokenness. I’ve seen first hand the power of nurture over nature. I’ve seen the reality of how love truly heals. Someone once said to me, “If you love him, he’ll grow.” So all the compliments from people about what a good job we’ve done have been deeply meaningful and all we did was love him as our own. Even my mother said to Lil Guy, “You are so lucky to have them care for you.”
But I pondered on whom were the ones truly blessed. I often times feel like the fortunate one. He helped me to be a better person. He showed me a tangible meaning of redemption. He helped me be more selfless, more giving and more loving. He showed me the meaning of miracles as he grows, laughs and develops each day. He amazes me by the joy he regularly brings to strangers with his smiles and the healing he brings to those who are hurting. He helped me understand God’s love more fully. He reminds me that miracles are still real. Perhaps one of the greatest blessings he gave to me is the privilege of loving a son who was not mine as mine, and through that I learned a deeper meaning of grace. He smiles at me, plays with me, talks to me, and laughs with me. And today, he gave me my first Father’s Day. Thank you, Lil Guy.
Can’t believe our Lil Guy is 6 months old today! We feel like we’ve already been on a full journey with him in these first 6 months of his life. So as Ellen and I were thinking of how to celebrate with a 6-month old baby, we tossed around the ideas of taking him to a fancy ice cream parlor (though he can’t eat ice cream), throwing him a big birthday party with lots of friends (though he wouldn’t know what was going on) or getting him a cake with candles at a neighborhood BBQ we were hosting anyways (though he can’t blow out candles or eat cake). Then Ellen suggested taking him to the Aquatic of the Pacific aquarium in Long Beach and that was the perfect idea! When he was only 2 months old, I took him to a pet store to look at fish and he was mesmerized. So we went to the Aquatic of the Pacific and he was excited to see the colorful fishes, jellyfishes, giant eels, giant lobsters, sharks and Lorikeet birds! His eyes got big. He looked at the fish intently; the fish looked at him intently. The fish swam up to the glass; he reached out and touched the glass. He bopped up and down with excitement and his eyes bounced from one fish to the next. He was captivated by the humongous glass tanks filled with blue water teeming with aquatic life. It was a perfect day to celebrate 6 months of his precious life.
6 months. The journey of watching him grow and develop has been incredible. To see what he was like before to who he is now has amazed my wife and me. I have new appreciations for terms like grace, redemption and restoration. While we are his present family, his future family is still to be determined. My wife and I have determined that being a part of his journey in life so far has been a meaningful blessing to him. But lately, I’ve been thinking that it’s just as much the other way around. I could say we are a part of his journey during this first year of his life to bless him, but often it really feels like he’s joined us in our journey during the middle of our lives to bless us.
What does a routine of fostering look like? The foster parenting life is full of appointments! On top of the normal parenting of feeding the child, helping the child to develop, basic medical needs, and loving the child, typical appointments for “at-risk” babies in fostering include: county social worker, foster agency social worker, MAT assessment, HUB medical physician, regional services, physical therapy, occupational therapy, child psychologist, WIC sessions, mandatory foster parenting training requirements, and up to 9 hours of visitations for the biological parents (that are broken up into 3 visits)… and foster parent support groups (if we can squeeze that in). Some of these are one-time appointments. Many of them are regularly weekly, bi-weekly or monthly appointments. A lot of support is set in place for our foster baby.
Yes, it’s a busy life to foster parent one lil guy. As foster parents, our lives are about a lot of running around, taking the baby from one appointment to the next. I have to admit that my wife and I have plenty of moments when we shake our heads, roll our eyes and say, “Another appointment? How are we going to do this?” This little baby is running our lives! Then we play with our baby, hug his pudgy body, see him smile at us with glowing joy and laugh with him over silly things, and while the tiredness, pressures and stress don’t dissipate, we say to ourselves, “He’s worth it.”
As the case for our foster baby progresses, it is with joy and sadness that this could be the first and last mother’s day that my wife gets to celebrate with this foster baby. Of course, we’re proud of the parents and rejoice for the child if he gets to reunite with his biological parents. But it will leave a hole in us. So how do we celebrate a mother’s day where the child is not technically ours because we have not adopted him and where his future could very likely not involve us? My wife said to me a couple weeks back that this mother’s day won’t feel like a real mother’s day. But it is a REAL mother’s day for her and I had to make sure we celebrated it! It is real because she has been mothering this baby for the last five months since he was practically born; nobody else has been mothering him but my wife. But to write this tribute about my wife, I have to back up and explain why I am so proud of my wife as a mother.
My wife was pregnant out of wedlock when she was 19. I celebrate her courage in carrying the baby to full term on her own and birthing her. I celebrate her sense of responsibility in putting the baby girl up for adoption when she knew she couldn’t provide for the baby and when she thought the baby would have a better life in the care of an established, loving family. I celebrate my wife for making that sacrificial act of love of surrendering her baby girl for the baby’s sake, which was an excruciatingly difficult decision as it would be for any mother. I celebrate my wife for maintaining a relationship with her biological daughter while she grew up with her adopted family. I celebrate my wife for faithfully developing a wonderful relationship with her biological daughter over the years. Her biological daughter is now a beautiful woman of 20-years-old and a college student who got accepted to CSU Long Beach. We are so proud of her! I celebrate my wife for being her biological daughter’s best friend, where her daughter regularly confides in her. I celebrate my wife for foster mothering this incredible baby. I celebrate my wife for all the compliments she receives from the many professionals who assess and serve this baby who is labeled “at-risk”; they tell my wife that this baby is so healthy, happy, well-developed and sociable, and that it’s due to the love and nurture he has received. I celebrate my wife for continuing to mother this baby whole-heartedly even with the understanding that we may likely “lose” him from our lives; I celebrate my wife for loving at the risk of great loss and pain. I celebrate my wife when people ask her, “How do you emotionally hold back since you might not keep this child?” and she replies with saying, “I don’t hold back.” I celebrate my wife for saying to me that if this baby returns to his biological parents, she would be ready to take in another child.
My wife is not the kind of mother in typical circumstances. But she is one incredible and awesome mother nonetheless! As a mother, she has permanently marked at least two lives for good in ways that only a mother could do. I celebrate her for the choices she has made as a mother out of a big mother’s heart. So on this mother’s day of 2013, I celebrate my wife as one awesome mother who impacts lives. We celebrated all weekend and she said tonight that she didn’t want this to end. That’s how it should be. Here’s to you, Ellen.
Did you notice babies know how to cry without being taught? But smiles and laughs are responses we try to stimulate in them by nurturing happiness into them and modeling laughter for them. Why is it that babies automatically know how to cry but laughter is something we teach them.
I remember our foster baby’s first actual tears, which made his crying all the more real. Even before he had tear ducts, he knew the behavior of crying. I also remember my wife’s and my anticipation of his first smile. We tried tickling him once but he didn’t know what that was. I made millions of funny faces at him. We smiled at him all the time. We said endearing words to him. We showered him with affection. We played with him. We also discerned the not-real smiles. You know, those facial twitches that weren’t genuine smiles. We wanted our baby to smile (without the pressure, of course). And then it came, that first smile with emotion and later that first giggle with delight. And, we as parents swoon over that. We feel proud as parents to introduce the emotion, response and reality of joy into a child’s life!
Babies remind us that we are readily aware of our brokenness as humans when we come straight out of the womb. We have no problem crying as soon as we enter the world. As infants, we grasp a sense of hardship, struggle and pain. We somehow know that life won’t be easy and we are not whole. As adults though, we become wittier in covering up our brokenness. I can’t say we’re always wiser about dealing with our brokenness as much as we just become wittier in faking our brokenness. In essence, we are less honest about our brokenness than when we were babes. Then, like trying to learn to laugh, we go through life in search for happiness. We look for that good, which the ancient philosophers spoke about. But like infants who need others to teach them how to smile and laugh, we’re supposed to discover that joy is not something we spontaneously discover by ourselves. We need others to show us, pour into us, and give to us. We need family, friends and, most of all, a savior. I think we’re all striving to have those genuine smiles in a humanity that too readily knows sadness.