As new foster parents to three children under the age of five, one of our first moves was to find a family-friendly parish. I had grown up knowing the warmth and security of a church family, and I wanted my kids to have that same advantage. And yet, there are some emergencies that do not lend themselves to prayer chains, crises so deeply personal and potentially embarrassing that you can scarcely bear to whisper the need even to a best friend, let alone a “prayer chain.”
Last year was such an emergency for us, with one child placed in therapeutic foster care. Money woes, the death of a family member, job challenges … just about every dark cloud in the sky managed to position itself squarely over our roof. Some friends rallied around us, and I came to realize just how true it is that “friends are the family you choose.” Others — and it will always surprise me which ones — just drifted away.
A year later, I can look back with renewed appreciation for having survived the experience, faith and marriage intact. In time, I also came to appreciate — and learn from — the things we did to help us get through the rough patch, that I would recommend to anyone facing a similar challenge:
- Establish a gentle yet predictable routine for self care: exercise, healthy eating, and “down time.” This is not the time to put yourself on a strenuous diet or begin training to run a triathlon.
- Given the choice, try to find something to make you happy as you start and end every day. A favorite song, special coffee or tea, Keillor monologue … whatever it takes to put a smile on your face. It’s emotional currency in the bank.
- Simplify your life as much as possible, and avoid taking on any additional commitments. Even weekly choir practice might be too much, given how much of your time will be taken up dealing with the current crisis.
- Treat yourself with as much kindness as you would treat a friend under duress. Stress tends to hit in waves, so you may feel fine one day, and need a little extra support the next
- Find a spiritual outlet. Meditation, prayer, journaling, spiritual direction, go on retreat. Keep a visual reminder of the love and support of your support circle where you will see it. I asked my parents to light a candle at a local church, and send me a picture. When I couldn’t sleep at night, I could see the candle in my mind’s eye, and it greatly comforted me.
- If you start feeling overwhelmed, get professional help — be it emotional, spiritual, or legal support. Counseling may be especially needed, specially if you are coping with a child-related emergency, it’s important that you be able to have an outlet to help you process your own feelings, so you can be available for the child.
- Accept help when it is offered. If someone offers to make dinner, sit for your other children, or mow your lawn, say thank you and make a mental note to “pay it forward” when the time comes.
When was the last time you faced an emotional crisis? What coping strategies did you find most helpful?