Two weeks ago I finally received that phone call I’d been waiting on. Officially, we’d just become licensed foster parents. And I’d waited seven years. Seven years to receive that phone call. That is where our journey to become foster/adoptive parents began.

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My Disney version had me, a smile plastered on my face, a heart so overflowing with love and snuggles that I could fix anything, save everyone, erase the bad past, be the hero. I can’t tell you how many times I’d pictured the scene. A child arriving at our door, siblings even. The door swings open, our smiling family waiting behind it, open arms for a big embrace. The children outside that door, they smile as well, of course, so happy they are to arrive. Somehow, in my picture to save the children of the world…somehow, I forgot the brokenness, the heartbreak, the deep wounds, the traumatic rip from family. I forgot the reality, and the ugly truth.

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That week also marked nine months of three little additions to our home. There isn’t one single second of that time that has looked like that picture I’d held in my head. The day my own nieces and nephew had to walk through that door…a fairytale shattered all around me…probably no one was smiling. Though perhaps I tried, I don’t remember.

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Later in the week, after the phone call, we pulled the popup out of the driveway, the eight of us, and headed into western-end counties we hadn’t yet covered in my pre-kinship care goal to experience all 100 of North Carolina’s counties. After a day and a half of having my husband there with us, grilling, zoo visiting, staying at the campsite with the kids while I visited the bathhouse, he had to leave us for work.

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There I sat, in front of the campfire, full realization that I was in the woods, in the dark, without the easy comforts of my home, utterly outnumbered even by the children under five. This could be total disaster.

My mind flutters to that moment in the courtroom. That moment everything changed and I realized just what we were taking on. And there would be no turning back.

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Wilderness, literally. That’s where I was. I hadn’t taken on this much before. I didn’t know if it would work out. There would be no easy exits if things went awry. As the kids fell asleep that night (thank you, Jesus), one in my arms and my fire crackling before me, it wasn’t lost on me that the past nine months…the wilderness of my life. And I would take on this camping trip the same way I had taken on those months. If nothing else, one. small. step. at a time.

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Arrowhead Campground is situated on a hill on the edge of 5,000 acre Badin Lake. It lies in one of North Carolina’s four national forests, the Uwharrie. Horseback riding and off-roading subcultures are present in and around the campground. Canebrake, a horse camp, is just around the gravel bend. Off-roading trails are maintained throughout the forest. 4×4 jeeps came in packs throughout the campground. One large group, mud slung across lifted tires, a perpetual game of corn hole going, flew a blue stripe American flag at their site across the loop and had themselves a very different sort of good time than I.

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A shooting range, also in the near vicinity. My closest neighbors, the ones who set up their cozy tent for two while we were away at the zoo and from whom I noticed the “oh, hell” look when we all piled out of the van, spent an afternoon there shooting. (I’m proud to say we were not the loud, obnoxious ones on the campground. I hope they were grateful…I sure was.)

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The east side of Badin Lake is bordered by 50,000 acre Uwharrie, which lies in Montgomery, Davidson and Randolph counties.  A short, paved loop for hiking and biking circles the campground. From our site it leads to a 5.6 mile lake trail, a rocky, rugged, somewhat hilly path just at water’s edge.  The still lake water, a lovely green hue. Dogwoods in bloom, the woods a bright green with the onset of early spring. Only a few buildings dot the horizon I could see. Occasionally, a boat sped by, to or from the ramp that sits just below Arrowhead. Eventually, it found a quiet spot to throw out a pole, and all was undisturbed again. Until a certain two-year-old tripped on a half-buried rock and her shrieks tore through the silence.

Weeks of relative quiet, movement in a good direction…errupted by days of sadness, attacks, complexities…

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Other campgrounds are situated within the Uwharrie. At Arrowhead, the showers are hot and the fire rings are large. The bathhouse is nicer than most, perhaps to make up for the fact that there is no water hookup. Our site, 25, is one of the best, view-wise. There is drinking water access directly across the camp road. Bathhouse, however, on the exact other side of the loop. Have you ever dumped a pee pot every morning?

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We spent one day in Randolph County at the Asheboro Zoo, about a 45 minute drive from the campground. Because we have a yearly family membership to the NC Aquarium, all eight of us received free admission.

Random blessings from those who have eyes to see the need…

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We spent one full day only at the campground, hiking the trails, digging up rocks (I literally just found a backpack full of rocks someone snuck back), playing in chilly streams, catching tadpoles and crayfish and itty bitty baby skinks so new to the world you could see through their translucent skin to the developing organs inside. So cool.

It was lovely and picturesque and adventurous.

But the truth is, camping with children who still need naps is…challenging. Camping with a mama who’s camping with children who still need naps is…risky.

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The ups and down…yeah, we had them. The tantrums and loss of self-control…those too. Battle scars…well, just a few. Unpredictable weather, technical difficulties…only slightly, thank goodness.

And yet, every second of the roller coaster is…worth it. In a world growing in the disconnect, we connected out there in the Uwharrie. With each trip, with each struggle, connection multiplies. Appreciation deepens. For running water, for learned abilities and practical life skills, for the earth and creatures around us, for each other, as we stumble along together. What may seem at first an opposing force (the natural world, difficult people, complex situations, heartbreaks, deep wounds) may actually be our greatest ally, our refining tool.

It may be, if we let it.

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A young woman whose own situation recently fell short of Disney quoted me Charles Spurgeon just hours ago…

“I have learned to kiss the wave that throws me against the Rock of Ages.”

Yes, that’s it.

I ventured on that solo portion of the trip mostly how I’ve ventured through life these past nine months. One small step at a time. One foot in front of the other. Because I don’t know what lies even a few feet ahead. Today, I am utterly blind to the challenges that will present tomorrow. And I don’t even feel qualified to handle any of them. One minute on this rocky path the sun is out in all its warmth, and in the next moment, all goes dark and cold.

And so, though I go on a bit blindly, because life with children, life on the road, life in foster care is a life that cannot be put into a box, a life of uncertainty and daily question marks, I walk forward in faith. Because that’s all I’ve got. Faith that the sun will light again, just in time to illuminate the way.

Thankful for the wave, crashing me towards something far greater than myself.

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