There are certain words that seem to convey more emotion than others while carrying connotations almost impossible to express.

As we near our first anniversary as foster parents, I would add “Mommy” to this list.

When we first welcomed a long-term placement into our home, I did not have a moniker preselected. On their first night, I introduced myself as Jennifer but told the girls they were free to call me Jennifer, Jen, Jen Jen, or “anything else you think would suit.”

I will never forget the glee from the second-grader when she announced, “I’m going to call you Kaitlyn!”

We settled on J.J., and that stuck for a couple of weeks until peer pressure from our three biological children seemed to lead them to join the crowd in simply crying, “Mooooom” when they needed my attention.

A month or so later, as I was tucking them in bed one night, one of the girls lovingly hugged me and whispered, “You are the third best mommy I’ve ever had.”

I couldn’t help but giggle. Third best. Once again, foster parenting had trampled my pride.

And more recently, as we process through next steps in permanency with our girls, I have been struck with the barbed retort to discipline, “You aren’t my real mommy anyway.”

It is true. I am not the “real” mommy, but I am their “right now” mommy…with hugs, meals, encouragement, correction and all the responsibilities and joys that it brings.

I pray that God is using this time to redeem, reframe and redefine the role of “Mommy” for these girls, trusting that whether I’m “real,” “third best” or “right now,” the Lord will use me as a vessel to show them His love and care.