They see you

I went to the elementary school one morning before work to finish the registration process for my youngest daughter, Sydney. She’ll be in third grade this year. That’s hard to imagine, but alas this is our fourth time to register at this school. I was just going to go alone and then to work. However, Sydney woke up and wanted to tag along to see if any of her friends were there. We did the usual – went through the line from one station to the next. In the gym near the stage was the same table as each year before it – PTA.

I don’t really have the time to be involved in PTA, but I do buy a membership each year. It’s a small way to contribute and our PTA does an excellent job at our school. I filled out the information and paid my $5.50 membership fee for the year before we moved on to another room for more paperwork to be checked. As we were in yet another line, Sydney asked me what the PTA was. I explained to her that it is an organization that supports the school through programs and events. They help buy school supplies for each class. They support teachers by providing breakfasts for birthdays and holidays. They use fundraisers to buy equipment for the school. They produce and sell the elementary school yearbooks. She looked at me with a smile and said “good job, Mom. I’m proud of you for paying to be part of that.”

It was a simple thing to do, but it struck me how Sydney viewed it. She didn’t see it as only 3 minutes of my time and paying a fee less than lunch would cost. She saw it as contributing to her school community.

This can be said of so many things we do. We seem to waste so much of our time worrying about what we get wrong with our kids. Did we say the hard things well? Did we raise our voices too much? Did we let too much slide? Did they have a good, fulfilling summer? Are they getting enough experiences? Will they be ready for life after high school or college?

I was talking to a longtime friend recently and she told me about an article that stated kids usually remember the smallest things and tend to look right past the ones we think are big. I think that’s so true. I remember my mom chasing me with the vacuum cleaner and making the chore a game. She’d chase us and tell us we better hop up on the couch, bed or table so the monster didn’t eat our toes. When she got past that spot, she’d tell us to hurry up and run to another spot. When the washer would get unbalanced and shake uncontrollably, my mom would hop up on the washing machine with me and say we were on a rocket ship. That maybe happened twice, but I remember it like it was a daily routine. Yes, there were big arguments and difficulties. I remember some of it, but not like I remember sitting on that washing machine with my mom. Yes, I remember small, fun things about my mom. I also remember her passion in standing up for people of varying education and abilities are strong. I remember her buying me extra school supplies and telling me to subtly share with those students who didn’t have any. I remember her telling me not to talk about or make fun of two kids in our class with lice. I remember her allowing my friends and me to each lunch in her classroom so we could relax for 25 minutes. I remember her cooking for countless friends. I remember her bringing my best friend with us on our vacations. I took notice of what she thought were simple things.

So what are your kids noticing? They are watching. They see you use a week’s worth of vacation to volunteer at their summer church camp. They see you getting to church early to help set up snacks or greet those entering church. They see you stop in the hallway and pick up a piece of trash that was left behind by someone else. They see you say hi to the older person in the grocery store who is probably going home to an empty house. They see you pay for the $1 drink of someone behind you in line. They see you make up a song about chores. They see you send $3 extra for a field trip so another child can also attend.

They might not tell you that they are proud of you, but they are. So hold up your head today. You are doing better than you think.

Finding hope in ‘home’

A couple of years ago I found myself longing for “home.” Although I’ve lived in my current town for a combined total of 15 years, I needed connection to the area where I was raised. It had been a tumultuous few years, and I felt this sense of longing for the familiarity of my childhood.

I had just come through a long, difficult journey of taking care of my ill parents and ultimately burying them. My mom was diagnosed with Stage IV kidney cancer, only to die 6 weeks later. My dad was already very sick with kidney disease and on dialysis. We spent the next 14 months working with him, making sure he had what he needed. He tried to do well, but his grief and pain was so extensive that it caused a lot of hurtful words and feelings. When he died it was a sense of grief and relief. We were so sad to see him go, but so relieved that he was no longer in such pain, both emotionally and physically.

So eight months after his passing, I was left with this longing for the home I once knew. This wasn’t necessarily my actual house, but the place that shaped me. Sydney had a few days off school in October, so I decided we would travel to the Oklahoma Panhandle, where I spent my first 18 years.

The road “home.”

We spent the night with the parents of my longest friend. It was so lovely to be in their home again, remembering so many moments I had been there in the past. We visited another longtime friend of my family’s, as well as my kindergarten teacher. It was all so wonderful and brought a sense of home back to my heart. We drove by my childhood home, as well. It was a whirlwind 24 hours, but I was so grateful that I went.

The thing that really tugged at my heart was such an unexpected stop in our trip. It was a grain elevator in the town I called home. The population is probably less than 200, and it’s not much to see. However, there was a grain elevator that became quite popular. It was very old – built in 1929, but was officially condemned as it started to lean. It would even shift with the direction of the wind.

Gilbert and his hardware store.

Since we were there, I wanted to see the grain elevator. I didn’t know how long it would be there, and I wanted to get a glimpse. It was across the street from a hardware store, which the owner still opens twice a day for coffee and sodas, or basically to chat with other community members. Everything in his store was exactly the same. It was as if I had stepped into a time machine. When I told him who I was, he remembered me. My grandma lived in that community for many years, and I spent countless days at her house and riding my bike to the hardware store for a soda in a glass bottle. It was the stuff of which nostalgic movies are made.

We then stepped outside to look at the grain elevator. The rain had just subsided, and the sky was beautiful. The Oklahoma Panhandle hosts some of the most magnificent skies, by the way. The grain elevator was more amazing in person, as I could hear all the creaking and moaning as it kept its balance to stay upright, despite its huge leaning. The way it stood just awed me. It really said a lot about where I grew up and the people who made me. I felt blessed to have called this tiny town and community home.

The leaning grain elevator of Oklahoma.

It truly spoke to my heart in a strong way. We may go through mighty storms and winds, but God holds us up. With God by our sides, we may lean or sway, but we don’t fall. We may endure what we feel are the worst of times, but those times will strengthen us to endure. Others may just be watching and waiting for us to fall and crumble. We may be forever changed, but we still stand. The outside may look damaged, but our core and our faith keep us from completely toppling over.

I know it was just a grain elevator, but in that moment, it was what I needed to start my grief journey from years of hardship and grief. The road “home” truly led to healing.

I’m so glad I went to that little spot in the middle of the Oklahoma Panhandle when I did. The grain elevator was later burned down and demolished because of safety concerns. That happens in life, as well. Sometimes there are things that were once beneficial to us that we need to put behind us. What was once helpful can become harmful. So that leaning grain elevator in a town nearly forgotten by most continues to teach me.

Angels Among Us

I never thought much about school supplies. Sydney has been in elementary school for a few years, and while the list grows with each year, we could handle it. Only buying school supplies for one person also made it easy. So when two junior high aged girls became part of our family, all of a sudden things were different. Our finances were all over the place that summer all ready. We hadn’t originally planned on taking in two children, and the needs added up quickly.

Shortly after the girls were placed in our home, we heard about a local event for foster families. We live in the Texas Panhandle so the local chapter of National Angels for us is Amarillo Angels. I was already familiar with the organization, as our church life group had been part of their Love Box program. This event was a nice of fun at the Discovery Center, as well as receiving free school supplies. I knew we’d only do foster care a very short time, so I thought we should utilize the resources available to us while we could.

When I told the girls where we were going, Sylvia was not impressed. She felt that people who did things for foster care kids didn’t truly care – that they were simply trying to make themselves feel better. She also figured the school supplies would be cheap, generic and not age appropriate.

Discovery Center – July 2018

We had a nice time at the Discovery Center and were met with warm smiles and greetings. When we left, we stopped to pick up our school supplies. We were given six large bags filled to the brim. It took all of us to carry them to the car. Once we got home, we took inventory of the supplies. We had name brand items that were great for junior high kids – binders, highlighters, pens. There were also things for Sydney going into second grade – markers, glue and facial tissues. We had to supplement the supplies, but that generous gift saved us hundreds of dollars at a time things were already financially tight.

A few weeks later I was going through the bags of supplies and noticed something I hadn’t previously seen. There were five notes – each one individually addressed to a person in our family. John and I read our notes and gave the girls theirs. Sydney brought hers to me to read with her since it was in cursive handwriting. It was a lovely note thanking her for sharing her parents with her new sisters and encouraging her. The note also read that God sometimes gives us big, hard things, but turns them into blessings. She smiled from ear to ear as I read each word. She then got some tape and placed the note on her mirror in her bedroom. A year later and the note is still attached to the mirror. She says she likes to read it when she’s having a difficult day. To her it’s a reminder that she is seen, heard and loved. Although she was never in foster care, someone took a moment to make sure she felt just as special as the kids who were new to our family.

That’s what I so cherish about National Angels, although I’ve obviously bias toward Amarillo Angels. They focus on supporting the entire foster family.

Pumpkin Carving – October 2018

A few months later Amarillo Angels helped us again. A local church life group wanted to hold a pumpkin carving day for a few foster families. John had to work that day so I took the three girls to the park for some fall fun. There were only three families at the event in order to keep it fun and manageable. The families in the church group supplied the pumpkins, carving materials and snacks. It may have seemed like a small thing to them, but it meant so much to me. I had wanted the kids to carve pumpkins, but was apprehensive. The pumpkins and supplies can add up fast when there are three kids. Plus, with John working on the weekends, supervision would be solely up to me. I wasn’t super excited about overseeing three kids with sharp objects. I’m also not known for my graceful knife skills. The hour and a half we spent at the park that cool, fall afternoon, were priceless. It was so comforting to me personally to have the support of this church group. It was a treasure to see the families love on my girls and offer me some support as a parent.

Nearly five months after that original trip to the Discovery Center was adoption day for Sylvia and Nici. As we were being interviewed by a local news station, Sylvia was very quiet. The last question the reporter asked was, “What is something you learned in your experience that you would like to tell older kids in foster care?” Sylvia spoke up quickly. She said that she wanted other kids, especially teens, to know that people actually care about the well-being of others and genuinely want to help. I teared up as I thought about how the simple love and support of Amarillo Angels, as well as others, had changed her heart.

You will often see things about National Angels and Amarillo Angels on my blog and social media. Because I’ve been on both sides of what they do, I have a very special connection for them.