Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Veterans Day Reflections

My awesome-possum dad, Tom Foster, served four years in the Air Force during the Vietnam Conflict.  He would sometimes tell us stories sometimes about being in the military, but they were always about funny stuff- how the drill sergeants would act (have you ever cleaned out the inside of your toothpaste tube nozzle?) and how he was well-prepared for the military, because he had been raised by Juanita (his mom) and three older sisters.  He was used to being told what to do. 😉 Sometimes we would hear about crazy stuff he and his buddies did (ask him about putting the giant snake in the trunk of the taxi) and the food he liked best.

He never talked much about the darker side of war, other than to tell us about the man named on his POW/MIA bracelet.  Dad was an airplane mechanic crew chief, and he got to know the pilots that flew in his planes well.  One of them flew out on a mission one day and never came back.  On a family trip to DC when I was in elementary school, Dad made a rubbing of his buddy's name at the Vietnam Memorial.  He didn't talk much about it; we didn't ask.

But this year my boss's daughter was looking for vets that she could interview for a project in her history class, and she asked if my dad would be willing to participate.  He did and after the interview she sent me the transcript of the interview.  I was eager to read it.  Most of it was more or less what I expected to see, but one part of the conversation took me by surprise.  That was Dad's perspective on sending troops to war.

Dad and I don't agree on a whole lot politically, but what he said in that part of the interview is something I can get behind with all my heart.  I'm posting it here (with his permission).  

K: Is there anything else you would want my generation, or people in general, to know about the Vietnam War?

T: I think I maybe already shared it, but let’s don’t get into a war sacrificing and risking the lives of Americans if we aren’t there to win it. Doing it for just political reasons, or financial reasons, is wrong. Those are no reasons to have a war....  I just think that if we are going to get involved in a war, we should be in it to win.

K: I really like that perspective a lot. Thank you so much for helping me better understand this part of history, and thank you for serving our country.

T: You bet! And, just a little thing for you. If you would, don’t forget. Don’t forget your history, history is so important - the old stuff that happened years ago. But I was always told that if you forget your history, you are bound to repeat it down the road sometime. Never forget that.

K: I won’t. Thank you so much.

I don't always agree with where we have troops and why, but I am always thankful for those willing to serve.  It bears repeating that if we're going to ask people to literally risk their lives, the very least we can do is support them as fully as possible.  Go big or go home.  If we're not in 100%, we should be 100% out. 

On this Veterans Day, I'm thankful for the service that the men and women in our military, and their families back home.  I'm thankful for my Dad's willingness to serve, and so grateful that he came home.  And most of all I look forward to the day when all wars will cease and there will be no more tearful goodbyes or heartbreaking notices from foreign lands.  Lord Jesus, come soon!

Just a baby!

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Leslie and the Russian Birthday Party

I spent the first semester of my junior year of undergrad studying in Russia.  There are more hilarious, confusing, and otherwise-noteworthy events during that semester than I could ever write down, but some rise to the surface, even two decades later.  Here's one of my favorites.

Leslie and the Russian Birthday Party

For six weeks of my semester in Russia, I lived with a wonderful Russian host family (see them in the picture?  Are they adorable or what?!?).  Papa Zhenya (who often shouted randon German words at me in an attempt to communicate) and Mama Vera (who offered me tea and/or food nearly every time she saw me), and their children Masha (a high school senior) and Little Zhenya (maybe 9 or 10?), welcomed me into their tiny, 2 1/2 bedroom apartment with an abundance of enthusiasm and zealous hospitality.  From the moment I stepped into their home, I was family.  And if you know anything about Russian culture, you know that being family makes all the difference.

As family, one event I got to be part of was a birthday party for a life-long friend of my host sister and her cousin (who visited us often).  The friend lived in a small industrial city, an hour or so outside of our GIANT city of Nizhni Novgorod.  Masha, her cousin Tanya, and I headed there together the morning of the party.

We walked/bussed/trained/walked to Tanya's family's one bedroom apartment first.  Yep, you read that right.  This family of four shared a one bedroom apartment.  We would spend the night there after the party rather than return to NN so late.  Tanya's father and little brother (her mom was away for some reason which was probably explained to me and which I probably didn't understand) were warm and welcoming in bold, Russian strokes.  Lots of noisy greetings; lots of excitement to meet me (an American), lots of offers of food and drink.  If you ever need an ego boost, I recommend this experience.  

After a couple hours, the three of us trudged through the snow to an identical apartment in an identical apartment building, just a few hundred yards away from Tanya's.  In this tiny apartment's kitchen and living/dining rooms were crammed about 20 people, most of them around my age.  No one but Masha spoke English, but this was about 10 weeks into my time in Russia, so I could at least manage the standard greeting and getting-to-know-you stuff.  Masha was a great interpreter.

Until she and Tanya left.

For over an hour.

I never understood fully where they went or why (not understanding things is pretty standard when you live in a foreign country), but in the meantime I was in an apartment with a group of total strangers, not one of whom spoke English.  It was hot and crowded; loud and overwhelming; and it was an experience of a lifetime.  Everyone was fascinated by me (in spite of my mostly non-verbal state).  I was a foreigner.  I was an American.  I was a native English speaker.  I was INTERESTING!  Masha told me later than some of the people I met there had never before met a non-Russian.  

Think about that.  It's pretty humbling and surreal to be someone's first-ever experience of a foreigner! 

One guy in particular assigned himself as my new interpreter, in spite of the fact that he knew about five English words.  You can see him sitting next to me in the photo below (I'm in a red shirt), toasting the camera.  When someone would speak too quickly for me to understand, he would chide them and tell them to slow down.  He spent LONG minutes trying to say things to me in English...generally just random words.  :)  Eventually someone came up with a Russian/English dictionary, and he commandeered that baby the whole time.  I did a lot of smiling and nodding.  Occasionally, he would encouraged everyone to back up a bit, so as not to crowd me.  He constantly tried to get me to eat and drink various things.  Just about the time I thought my brain was going to start oozing out of my ears, Masha and Tanya returned, and the party began in earnest.

Into the already-crowded rooms came more and more people.  I believe the final count around the table was 20 or 21.  The table had been placed in the living room- the biggest space in the apartment), so we were surrounded by a couch, a tv, and the rest of the living room furniture.  To get up from the table, you had to stand on the seat of your chair and step over it onto the furniture behind.  But we weren't getting up; we were too busy eating and toasting.  Russians are not slouches when it comes to putting out a good spread for a special occasion!  There was food for days.  And drinks!  The men drank vodka (of course!) and the women drank white wine.  I drank juice (along with the couple children there), thanks to the community contract I had signed for the study abroad program.  

My unwillingness to consume alcohol seemed to be a personal insult to my dear protector.  He tried and tried to convince me to try just a sip!  "Eet ok, Lyehzlyee!  No problyem!  Nooooo problyem!" ("It's ok, Leslie!  No problem!  Noooooo problem!")

When we were all stuffed to the point of explosion, and more hard liquor had been consumed than I had ever witnessed in my life (I had not yet lived in China at this point), the table was cleared, and then removed.  The parents and younger siblings of the host family left the rest of us and headed to bed.

The photo above is Masha, Tanya, and the little sister of the birthday girl, singing one of the many songs I heard that night. We played some party games; they danced (by this point I was struggling to stay awake), and eventually the whole crew decided to go for a walk.   It was nearing midnight, but it was snowing, which made it easy to see as we walked.  After a snowball fight we all returned to the apartment and said our goodbyes.

Masha, Tanya, and I, along with Tanya's boyfriend and my personal protector, returned to Tanya's home.  We were all staying there for the night, and then we would take the train back to the city the following morning.

At this point you might be scrolling back up to verify the number of bedrooms in this place.  One.  One bedroom.  It had two twin beds in it.  Counting Tanya's dad and brother, there were seven of us staying overnight.  I figured Masha, Tanya, and I would get the bedroom, and all the guys would camp out in the living room.  But that's because I'm an American.  Were I a Russian, I would have known better.

I would have known that the most honor is shown to the guest least-closely related to the family ( you know; they are the most properly "company").  So the blood-family members (Tanya, her dad, her brother, and cousin Masha) shared the living room.  We three guests (the boyfriend, the friend, and the American) shared the bedroom.

When you're studying abroad, there are some things you do not mention when you talk with your mom.  Like how that one time you shared a bedroom with two drunk Russian men you'd just met a few hours before, and how they slept in their boxers, cause, you know, that's what Russian men do, I guess.

But in reality, the worst part of the whole event was when Masha explained the sleeping arrangements, and everyone stood around laughing good-naturedly as understanding dawned on my face as the two guys started stripping down, and I began to blush.  In the morning I woke up to my protector, thankfully once again fully clothed, rolling up his pallet of blankets and encouraging me, with broken English and lots of sign language, that it was early and I should go back to sleep.

As our crew I rode the train back home, I knew that attending that party had been a gift for me.  That trip was a special glimpse into the Russian culture that not many foreigners have the privilege of experiencing.   I came home totally exhausted, physically and mentally, but the whole event was more than worth it!

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

What's Happened So Far

So, how does fostering work, you ask?  Here's a simplified version, according to what I know thus far (translation: this isn't advice and in a year or so I'll probably shake my head at the quantity of things I didn't know or understand when I wrote this.  Such is life.).


First, I talked to everyone I could who has fostered.  I heard about various experiences, and they all reinforced my understanding that the system is a mess and there is a lot about it that is really, really hard.  But most of them said it was worth all the hard. 

I keep being impressed by this thought: these kids don't have a choice.  I look at the system and I think, "This is too...

...too messy
...emotionally draining
...physically draining

And my next thought is always that I can choose not to help, but those kids can't choose not to need help.  This thought steadies me.

Next I jumped online and started looking at the agencies in my area.  And then I checked out the DCS website.  I completed and submitted a bunch of online forms to be contacted for more information.  I slowly pieced together (I think) the fact that DCS (the department of child services) is the hub.  They get all the cases of kids that need fostering.  Then they place those kids with foster families in two ways:
1. directly to foster parents who were licensed through DCS 
2. through LCPAs (licensed child placement agencies) who license their own families.  Some kids end up in facilities rather than homes.  I haven't yet learned when and why that happens.

Anyway, I've chosen this second route of using a private agency for several reasons.  First, the DCS is understaffed and overworked and fostering through them directly means that everything is "government work".  Like, reimbursements take months to process, and case managers are worked off their feet.  But the biggest difference for me is that my LCPA is an openly Christian organization.  Not only will I have the support of their staff, but they are like-minded and I get the added bonus that they serve as go-betweens between me and DCS for many things.  So they absorb some of the irritants that come with working with the government.

[note: this isn't a political statement about this government or any other.  it just is]


So, after talking to the DCS, I decided on using a private agency.  And after speaking with people from about five different agencies, I spent a couple weeks praying about the right agency.  My prayer team was awesome in supporting me.  Eventually I settled on an agency and contacted them to get the process started.


So far I've completed and returned a survey about my experiences and philosophy about parenting; had an initial interview; taken 12 hours of RAPT classes (resource adoptive parent training); and I'm currently working to gather various things to complete my application packet.   But never fear; there are only about twelve million things to do.

Yesterday I got fingerprinted!  Did you know they don't use ink?  So fancy.

Today I set up an appointment to get my kitties vaccinated against rabies.  I thought about pointing out that my cats never come into contact with any other animals, but decided not to die on that hill.

Since I have well water, I have to prove it's safe.  Apparently the fact that I've been drinking it for three years doesn't qualify as proof.  And I guess that's just as well, since my first test came back "unsatisfactory".  (so diplomatic)  So I'm in the process of bleach-shocking my well and we'll try again.  So excited that I get to pay that testing fee at least twice.  (please note sarcasm)

Meanwhile, I've been garage saling and watching Facebook Marketplace and creating a baby registry (because they don't have foster kids registries) to try to get my house ready to handle kiddos.  I plan to request girls who are in full-day school and not older than 6th grade, at least to start with.  That narrows the "what I need" list down significantly, but it's still a pretty wide range.  So I'm focusing on the basics and will have to fill things in as I go.

Another step is to get a "child care plan" in place, so I've started researching child care options near me.  Depending on what time the kiddo(s) gets picked up for school, I may need before-school care.  I will most likely need after-school care of some sort.  I toured a center today.  It was a little surreal.  I felt like at any moment, someone was going to approach me as say, "Hey, you're not supposed to be here!"  :)


And around all of these steps, I've been praying.  There is no part of this new ministry-adventure that I expect to be able to do well on my own.  I fully expect this to be one of those situations where if God doesn't show up, it's not going to work. 

And while that's a little scary to think about, I also think it's exactly where God wants me.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

A New Ministry: The Why

Since I last wrote, God has been doing big things in my life and I want to update you on them!

Short version: I'm going to be a foster parent.

Long version:  The Why

Though I've always wanted to adopt some day, I've always dismissed the idea of raising children in any capacity as a single women.  It was something I wanted to do after I got married.  My default position was that kids are best served by two parents, and single parenting should be reserved for un-chosen circumstances (the death of a parent or divorce).

However, over the past five years I've slowly been coming to the conclusion that I might never get married.  It's possible, of course, but at the moment that is nowhere near happening.  And as this realization was dawning on me, so too was the concept that maybe single fostering is actually a good thing, and something I could do.

Single parenting is not ideal, of course, but no fostering situation is ideal, is it?  Ideally a child could be safe and cared-for by their own parents in their own home.  I can't offer a child a home with a father and a mother, but I can offer a home where they will not be abused or neglected.  The bar, friends, is not high.

But let me be clear- I'm not pursuing fostering because it's logical or I feel duty-bound.  God has asked me to do this, and so I am.  I'm believing Him to work in and through me, to make me enough for the kids that He brings me.  As the saying goes, "God doesn't call the equipped.  He equips the called." (see Hebrews 13:20-21)

Plus, my last name is Foster, so I figure it was destiny.