” Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”  Teddy Roosevelt

Guilt is just the worst. That feeling of shame that suffocates your mind like a thick blanket. All those  thoughts of inadequacy, displayed in an open window for all to see. A Thomas who doubts, a Peter who can feel the waves at his knees as he tries to walk on water.

Let’s take a step back. On my return from a lovely holiday – the type that gives you the worst holiday blues – I was straight into work for the word that everyone loves to hear: audit. In preparation for this I was working so hard that I didn’t have time to check my phone. When I did, I saw six voicemails from an unknown number. For me, that can only mean one thing.

I instantly rang back, wishing the voice of my social worker would break the dial tone. When it did, I was told of the dark situation that had arrived at their door. This story left me feeling numb. The information I was told left me with more confusion and questions.

I have been fostering as a single carer for four years, providing respite and emergency care. So I should have this together by now, right? They were looking for a home for children. Immediately. Still being stirred by what I just been told, I offered what I could and outlined my availability. “Ok, I’ll get back to you if I need you. Keep your phone near.” But I never made the cut. My number wasn’t called.

As I drove home, processing the story of the children, I couldn’t begin to image what their world looks like. The fact that there are another 2,875 stories of children being taken into care in Northern Ireland is too much for my mind to wrap around, most days. My mind was like a rope being pulled at two ends,  holding the tension of grief and relief. Grief brought on by the heartache of the story and yes, relief.  That word is so hard to see written down, but if I’m honest, it’s part of how I felt.

I was relieved that I didn’t have to somehow muster the courage or the superhuman strength needed to cope with this story. Relieved that at this point, I didn’t need to dip my toe into their world, as I was afraid my clumsy foot would cause further devastation. How awful. How could I, a qualified counsellor and foster carer, think such a thing?

But the truth was, I was unsure of how to calm the storm of their emotions and uncertain that I had the sails to ride it. And how the guilt thrived in such an environment. It deeply embedded itself and began to flourish as it was watered by my condemning thoughts. How selfish I was. How incompetent I was. How ashamed.

These words bounced in and out of my head, minute after minute, hour after hour. They chipped my confidence and absorbed any small sense of competence I thought I had. But as I began to name what was happening, it slowed down a little. It’s at time like these when wise words from a close friend soothe  the soul: “Your fear is natural. But you didn’t back down, you offered what you could.”

The scriptures feel so alive in these moments. The words of truth seem brighter. Luke 21:1-4 explains the giving of the widows mite as: “She put in all that she had,” and in the story, in that moment, Jesus recognised this. There was no benchmark for ‘pass’ or ‘fail’, no deep judging voice stating: “Sorry, that’s not enough, we need more.” No sniggering from Jesus.

How easy it is to compare ourselves to those who can do more, give more and be more, leaving us feeling somewhat diluted. Though the widow may have felt it was an insufficient offering, Jesus cared not how much she gave, but that she gave. In that moment, she gave what she could.

Throughout all the ebbs and flows of fostering, I will offer all I can. I’m not sure that the tension of grief and relief will ever go, and that’s a good thing. When there is tension something is being stretched. But I hope that in such times, I will learn to let go of the comfort of relief and instead walk with courage.

Written by Julie Burgess

Julie volunteers as a champion with 'Home for Good' and helps lead young adults in her church in Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland. She works full time as a Wellbeing Officer in the interface area of West Belfast and is a trained CBT Therapist.

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