Pressing on through Fear


I've been afraid. It's been a year since my daughter walked out the front door in her bare feet. Those first few weeks I felt like I was walking through a fog all the time. There was so much going on and so much unknown. It was terrifying. Then DHS showed up on my front door step. Let me tell you friends, even when you know you are a safe home and you have nothing to hide, having a DHS investigation rips you apart. It's hard to remember to breath when the threat of removal of your children is staring you straight in the face. The man who showed up at our home that day was very kind. We welcomed him in and sat with him at our kitchen counter and responded one by one to each allegation made against us. We smiled, offered him coffee, and answered all of his questions honestly. He left and we picked up our kids from school. We got coffee from Dutch Bros, helped with homework, had dinner, and tucked our kids into bed. Then after everyone was asleep, I cried. Over the next couple of weeks there were many calls and two more people from DHS came to our home. They interviewed our kids and walked through our house. Since we were foster parents for twelve years and adopted three times, our kids were familiar with the process of having strangers walk through their home, and answering personal questions in a one-on-one interview. It's already intimidating enough to wade through this process to get your foster parenting license or become approved to adopt, when it's to defend yourself against allegations, it feels even more intrusive. This time we had to explain to our kids the reason they needed to be interviewed wasn't because we were adopting again, but because their sister accused us of mistreating her. This was a much different conversation. Our main focus was alleviating their feelings of fear. They had been on the other side of foster care, welcoming children into their homes and hearts who needed a safe place to stay. Never before had anyone suggested they might be in danger and need to leave their home. We reminded them to be truthful and answer the questions as best they could, and we assured them everything would be okay. Even when we were wondering ourselves what was going to happen, we kept speaking hope and peace into our kid's hearts. Time passed, allegations were proven untrue and we tried to move forward. The fog was still thick, but I needed to find a way to walk through it. At first there were so many people involved and so many phone calls. I felt like I was explaining our story over and over again. It was exhausting and honestly it didn't seem to make any difference. There were so many voices talking at me, but no one was listening to me. I felt like I was screaming and no one could hear me. If I thought there was a solution, I reached for it. If I thought someone could help, I called them. If I heard of a program, I researched it. It's a tricky thing to navigate when your child who is over 16 runs away. They can access many services for themselves, they don't need parental permission for a lot of things, and many programs require voluntary participation so you can't force them to do something they don't want to do. They aren't quite an adult so you feel the weight of that, but they are also not a little kid which means you can't treat them like one. I have felt stuck so many times this past year trying to figure out what is the best decision, the right course of action. I also still struggle with how other people and organizations handled the situation. To be completely honest I felt betrayed, judged, misunderstood, and abandoned. But dwelling on those feelings doesn't solve problems, and I have other children which means I still need to interact and work with some of those same people and organizations. I'm learning to let go and forgive. I admit some days are easier than others. At the end of the day I try to remember we are all human and doing the best we can even if we don't see eye to eye. In June of 2019 I partnered with a foster mom in the community to raise funds for weighted blankets for children and teens in foster care. That is how I ended up at 13 Nights On The River in a white booth advertising our new non-profit, Riverside Community Outreach (RCO). After the event was over as we were tearing down the booth and packing up our stuff, I was approached by a woman. We had never met before and she asked if we knew of services to help a teen girl who was friends with her son and living in her home. She didn't say her name, but I knew right away she was talking about my daughter. I felt like the ground beneath me turned to sand, and the fog around me started to close in. I smiled and talked with her for almost an hour. I shared some background information, thanked her for being a compassionate person, and gently let her know my daughter had a home and a family waiting for her to return. And I listened to her. I listened to her criticize and tear me down. She wasn't the first mom to question me and she wouldn't be the last, but she was the first to ask directly to my face, "What kind of mother?" Perhaps I will write more about my struggle with that question in the future, but for now I will tell you it feels like a sucker punch to the gut. It's important to understand what was happening. I was stepping out for the first time in the community as the Director of Riverside Community Outreach, literally, remember the big white booth? My heart and goal was to help families impacted by foster care. It was our very first night and a stranger came up and accused me of being a bad mom. In that moment, I felt so disqualified to be standing under my white booth wanting to help families in my community. It was so easy to believe the words of a stranger. I was barely keeping my head above water. I felt like a bad mom. When she stood in front of me and asked me, "What kind of mother?" my mind told me I should just give up now, because a terrible mother like me couldn't make a difference in anyone's life. The fact that my daughter didn't want to live with me proved how disqualified I was. I went home that night feeling very bruised and battered. Fear is a dark and ugly beast which can completely take over your thoughts and actions if you let it. Over this past year there have been many times I have wanted to write a blog post or share a thought on social media but have stopped myself out of fear. The work of Riverside Community Outreach has continued, but I have had my guard up when interacting with DHS and talking about my family. There have been opportunities for RCO to partner with the school district I have let pass by because I was afraid of interacting with people who knew one of my children didn't live at home, and I didn't want to face their judgment. In my desire to protect our non-profit and my family, I have kept both smaller than perhaps they could be. For the first time in my life I have not been open to adopting any more children, and I have not pursued local media coverage in the same way I would have for our non-profit. All because of fear. And friends, it's gotten out of hand. When my phone rings and it says, "Restricted," my stomach clenches in knots because when a call comes through from the local police department that is how it is labeled. Recently when covid19 caused the cancellation of school and the need for distance learning, our teachers called to check in on our kids and see what services we would need to be able to successfully have school at home. Each one of those calls came through as "Restricted." Thankfully the school told us ahead of time this would be happening so we would answer the calls and not screen them. Even though I knew that in my head, my phone rang nine times with the words "Restricted" and nine times my stomach clenched out of reflex...out of fear. Fear has been holding me back. Fear of: What if something awful happens to my daughter? What if DHS shows up at my house again? What if another mom confronts me when I'm out in the community? What if the non-profit we started gets a bad reputation? What if the police start calling again? What if I have to face more judgment from strangers? What if another one of my children runs away? What if people realize how flawed I am? Will they still read the words I write? Will they still let me advocate for children in foster care? Will they still believe in the non-profit I started? These are the questions that have plagued my mind and spirit. The truth is these fears could come true. DHS could show up on my front porch again. A stranger from my community could criticize me again. Knowing one of my children left home could cause someone to stop reading my blog. Something awful could happen to my daughter. Another one of my children might run away. The reality is even if I let fear dictate my life those things might still happen. I can't control other people's choices or the future by hiding away, losing sleep, or making myself sick with worry. And friends, I believe in the depths of my soul I have been called by God to serve vulnerable children and support families in Columbia County. So how do I move forward in spite of the fear trying to cling to me? I fill my heart and mind with the truth from God's word. I have spent my entire life committing verses from the bible to memory. This is mostly credited to my mom who made it a priority for my siblings and I to learn God's word. I am very thankful for her commitment especially when we weren't very interested in cooperating. One of the verses that has kept coming to mind over and over again is 2 Timothy 1:7. "For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind." The paralyzing fear that wants to take over isn't from God. Romans 8:1 reminds me, "There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. " 2 Corinthians 10:5 tells me to "take captive every thought." And Romans 8:31 bears the promise, "If God is for us, who can be against us?" I'm ordinary and flawed. My family life isn't perfect. Everything good in me is from my relationship with Jesus and His saving grace. I am compelled by His love to care for my family and serve my community. I am often scared. In spite of fear and because of my faith in Jesus, I will continue to step out and share my story. In the hopes you will see past imperfect and flawed me and be encouraged, inspired, and challenged to open you heart and home. ~Abby

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