Loss + Gain = Adoption

A reality is sinking in for our family.  The reality that adoption via foster care only becomes possible through the tragedy of loss.

Loss of family, loss of parent(s), loss of familiarity, and the loss of what is known.

Yes, adoption is beautiful. Stories are redeemed. Lives are restored. New chapters are written.

But first, loss occurs. There is a decision or a moment when the original plan is fractured or broken. The heartache of that is often times messy, especially in foster care.

Many well meaning friends and family say things like (and, that is okay);

“Those kids are so lucky (blessed) to have your family..”
“I bet those kids are really thankful they have y’all.”
“What you are doing for those children is amazing..”

In theory, yes, they are in a better home.  Safe, secure, and cared for.

But, that does not make the loss any less painful or tragic.  The emotions are still raw and real.

I received a text message this week.  It said, “at 4:00 PM I’m signing the papers to extinguish (relinquish) my rights.”  I called the number back, shared my heartache for the choice that had to be made, and promised I would do my best to protect, love and care for his children.  Then I prayed for him and with him.  I asked God to walk with him through his heartache.  I also asked God to walk with our children through their loss, and ultimately redeem all that has been broken.

He cried and my heart sank.

Yes, we are thankful (blessed) to have the future opportunity to adopt four beautiful children, but in the end, our gain, was only made possible by their loss.

The redemptive story in our home begins with a loss.  As parents we must understand that, we must own that, and we must prepare to walk through that.

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Foster Care – Step 1 – Count the Cost

 “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’ – Luke 14:28-30

In the years leading up to our decision to jump head first into foster parenting we really thought we had “counted the cost”, and yet, two years into this journey we have learned so much about the real cost of fostering.  We’d like to share with others what we have discovered.  This is for those thinking about fostering, those in the middle of fostering, and those who may just be sitting on the sideline watching others.

The Cost of Inconvenience – Your life will largely be flipped upside down by the journey to foster.  Do you like your nice, safe, well-scheduled life?  Then maybe you shouldn’t foster.  Sounds crazy right?  Foster care advocates telling you not to foster.  But seriously, this journey will inconvenience you, your family, your kids, your schedule and everything you hold dear as “normal”, so if you are not willing to change, bend, and be flexible then we are almost certain that being God’s hands and feet for the least of these may not be your cup of tea.  The goal of foster care is not to make your life convenient.  In fact, you are asked to sacrifice your convenience on the behalf of a child whose whole life has been inconvenienced by abuse, neglect, and trauma.

The Cost of Giving Without Reciprocation – Do you need to be affirmed?  Do you need a child to tell you how awesome you are?  Do you need them to want you and love you?  Well, that might not be the case with a child you foster.  You see, you are not their hero, you are not their first choice, or even their new mom or dad.  Sure you are the one taking care of them and providing for them, but they may never be able to adequately respond to everything you “have done for them”.  If you think you will need that affirmation and this journey is about you, then we are afraid it will end horribly, not just for you, but more importantly for the child or teenager you are serving.  As for giving.  Have you ever given so much it hurt, only to have to get back up and give again? Yes? No? Just so you know, foster care is a lot of giving, hurting, and getting back up, because there is a child who needs you.

The Cost of Your Family – Do you think all of your family will agree with your choice?  Nope.  Some family members will not be on board.  They may be completely unsure as to why you would want to bring “that kind of child into your home.”  They may think you are taking time away from your “own kids”.  And, you know what?  They are right.  The foster journey will cost your biological kids time and resources.  Hopefully it will also stretch them at an early age and teach them what following Christ really looks like.  Yep, it is more than Sunday School, worship songs, and cute dinner prayers.  Our first week in, we almost believed the lie.  We were laying in bed, staring at the ceiling and we asked each other, “have we ruined our children’s lives?”  We had two kids and we added 4 more kids through foster care.  We had outnumbered them!!  They went from the majority to the minority overnight.  The enemy wanted us to believe we had ruined their lives.  And yet, in that moment, we also knew Jesus was saying, “Nope, I never asked you to protect your kids.  Keep going.”  Others have not always agreed with us, but that is okay, because Jesus did. Boom!!

The Cost of Your Sanity – Bureaucracy. That one word alone will send chills down your spine.  Have you ever parented a child with 100 other people telling you how to do it?  They create a new form, rule, regulation on a regular basis.  We have three case worker visits every month, one CASA visit, family visits every week, and therapy appointments throughout the month.  Our schedule is dictated to us at times. Did we mention trying to schedule medical and dental appointments with Medicaid? Short summary, a joke.  Then there are 6 children in our home.  They do a pretty good job of chipping away at our sanity too.  Just because you are a “good parent” doesn’t mean you will be a good foster parent. Count the cost of all the interference that you will walk through in this process.  We’ve seen several families give up, because they didn’t want to deal with “the system”.  Children and families lose out when you don’t go into foster care understanding that your sanity may disappear.  The good news, we’ve proven we can still parent pretty dang good even without our sanity!!

The Cost of Your Life – Foster Care cannot just be something you do, it has to be who you are.  A parent who has chosen to love, care and give all of yourself on the behalf of a child who needs you.  You don’t want this to inconvenience your life, your schedule, or your kid’s lives?  Well, then do the future foster child a favor and don’t even get in the foster parenting boat.  They need individuals who will be willing to give their lives.  Wait, it seems like we’ve heard a story about a God who did the same for us, right??? Oh yeah, Jesus.

This post is filled with truth, sarcasm, and some more truth.  What we hope people understand is this, foster care will cost you a lot!  Does that make it not worth it?  Never.  We would sign up again, 1,000,000 times.

We do want individuals to understand there is a need to count the cost.  We are not just “trying out kids to see if it works.”  These are real little people, who suffer real consequences when we decide we cannot do it anymore and disrupt the placement.  We recently read that research states “every move causes 6 months of regression in a foster child.”  Wow.  These kids are not being given the chance to count the cost, but they are certainly paying the costs. 

So, this is our wisdom to you, you, and you.  Count the cost friends.  These kids are too important for you not to.

Trust, Rescue, Redemption, Love and Sacrifice

Foster parents aren’t super heroes. We don’t wake up and put on capes and go save the world. In fact, if our lives were a movie, it would be full of messiness, doubt, failure, and a lot of heartache. And yet, even in the midst of all that, a hero does emerge and His fingerprints are visible all throughout foster care.

Foster Care Teaches Us to Trust God

“For our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name. Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in you.” Psalm 33:21-22

Without fail the number one thing foster parents hear on a regular basis from friends, co-workers, family, strangers, and church members is this, “I could never do that. I could never love a child and then have to give them up.” You know what? Neither can we. But, it really isn’t about what ‘you’ or ‘we’ can do. It is about what God wants to do through us. For Him to be able to do that, we have to be willing to trust Him. Foster care teaches us that it is okay to not have full control of outcomes, because we were never asked to write the ending, we were just asked to play a role in the middle chapters. Do you know how crazy it can make someone if they don’t know how the story ends? Let me tell ya, crazy. So, we learn to trust. There are hundreds of thousands of children out there who need a family to love them for a season. They need mom’s and dad’s to say, “I got you, right now.” But, too often people sit on the sideline and say, “I can’t, I just can’t..” To open your life to foster care, you have to trust that God knows and cares about the ending even more than you do. You have to learn to trust Him, when agencies, individuals, friends and biological families let you down. Trust pushes individuals to believe God will see it through, despite the pain, messiness, and uncertainty they will experience in the process.

Foster Care Reflects God’s Heart for Rescue

“He brought me out into a broad place; he rescued me, because he delighted in me.” Psalm 18:19

When Adam and Eve took the bite, rescue was set in motion. God’s plan has always been to rescue His people. That has never changed. Foster care is clear evidence of the fact that He is still in the business of rescuing His kids from the worst situations. It is the visible, tangible process through which He calls His people to join Him in the process of providing rescue for children who most need it. It is easy to get jaded by the world, look up and see many horrific things happening and ask, “Where is God in all of this?” We’d challenge you to look for Him in foster care; a place where countless individuals give up their personal agenda’s to take on God’s agenda of rescue. You find Him in the sibling group taken from the drug house in the middle of the night, in the baby experiencing withdrawals from drugs in the NICU, and in the child taken from a home with no food, no water and no electricity. God swoops in and rescues His kids. Rescue is in each and every story. We are called to be His hands and feet, but if we do not show up, then who will?

Foster Care Reflects God’s Heart for Redemption

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” Romans 3:23-24

God is most definitely in the business of redeeming individuals and families. Foster care displays that time and time again. Foster care is about second chances and the most difficult thing about seeing someone get a second chance is there will come a time when you don’t believe they deserve one. That is when God teaches you about your own redemption and He reminds you that you really didn’t deserve a second chance either. In foster care God acts to redeem His family, both in the physical and in the spiritual. Biological parents get a horrible rap, sometimes deserved, but in reality a lot of them are just people who have made a bunch of mistakes, like you and I, and they need redemption. They need a God to speak deeply into their souls beyond the poverty, the addictions, the habits, the failures, and the brokenness and say, ‘you are mine and you matter’. Foster care reveals God’s redemptive work, in His timing, and in His own way. Being a foster parent also teaches us that our redemption is constantly at work and that all of us are in need of a second chance.

Foster Care Reflects God’s Heart for Love and Sacrifice

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:12-13

Ultimately, foster care teaches us to love in ways we never ever thought was possible. It pushes us to love others, our children and ourselves in a whole new light. Foster care teaches us to turn to God for the strength to love on days we do not think we have any love left to give. Being a foster parent rewires our hearts to look past behaviors and directly at a child, understanding they are a precious creation of the creator and reminding us to love them as He loves them. It also teaches us what it is like to sacrifice our own life for that of another, a child. Foster care brings Christ’s words in Matthew 16:24-25 to life, Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” During this journey, our selfishness, our desires, and our agendas are held accountable in light of God’s love and sacrifice.

We do not know how our journey will end, we haven’t been given the pen to write the final chapter, but we know this, we are thankful we chose to say ‘yes’ to God, when it would have been much easier to say, “Get lost. Foster care is for someone else.”

Trust, rescue, redemption, love and sacrifice are each woven into the fabric of foster care. As foster parents, we will never get to wear a cape, but we have been able to watch the real hero of the world do His work and show us His beauty and that is more than we could have ever imagined.

Can I tell you something? I’m SCARED!

It is about to get real!  I mean really, really real.  You see, I’m the kind of person who doesn’t like to worry, and if I can put it off until tomorrow I will.  So, when people have said to me, “I could never foster, because it would hurt too much when the kids went home”, to be honest, I just didn’t think about it, because that ‘going home’ bit was a distant reality.  It wasn’t something I cared to worry about at that moment.  But, I can’t put it off any longer, that ‘day’ is just around the corner and if I’m blatantly honest, then I’d tell you I’m SCARED!! 

I’m scared about a lot of things.  Will our kids be tucked in every night?  Will they get three meals and good snacks every day?  Will they get lots of hugs?  Will they be told how special they are?  Will they get the care they deserve and need?  Will they have someone there to help them with their homework or do a craft with them?  Will someone be there to throw the football around with our little guy?  Will someone give them the special character band aids when they fall down and scrape their knee?  Will someone protect them from the things they have seen and experienced in their past?  So many random fears are running through my mind right now.  But, you know what?  I’ve decided this isn’t so much about me being scared or my own fears, instead it is really about my ability to trust.  Can I trust God with these children?  Do I trust God enough that I believe He can keep these kiddos safe even when I am no longer in the picture?  Even when I am no longer their mom??

I love that God has been able to use me, a simple mom, in His greater purpose.  I love that He has been able to use our whole family (immediate and extended) to write a love story on these children’s hearts and vice versa He has used these kiddos to write a love story on our hearts!  And, even though, this next month might bring A LOT of  heartache, I can honestly say I’m glad God picked me to love these kiddos.   

The day is fast approaching when I will not be able to put off the hurt and heartache of saying goodbye to these four amazing kiddos and I pray that when that time comes I will be able to put ALL my trust and faith in God.  I pray I will be able to rejoice in seeing a family reunited and take heart that we were able to be a small part of this beautiful and messy redemption story.  I pray that God will take my hurt, fear, and lack of trust and exchange it for His peace. 

As my husband and I have said time and time again, it is not about us, but about God and these beautiful children and if I’m honest, I just need to trust Him with writing this final chapter, because it is about to get real….

 

 

 

 

Chosen

Adoption can be messy. Adoption can be hard. Adoption can be difficult.

During the journey of adoption, especially the adoption of older children, I believe there are times when families wrestle and struggle with several questions.

Questions such as;

What if this child never calls me mom or dad?

What if this child never accepts being adopted by us?

What if this child never chooses me?

We like to be chosen and affirmed, right? We enjoy walking in relationships where the feelings are reciprocated. As parents we are not immune from these feelings. So, when we take in a child who brings with them vivid memories of their family and their past with hopes to return home, it is easy to get sideswiped with such questions and fears.

As current foster parents our personal story is not at a place or point of adoption, but looking forward we have found ourselves asking these same questions outwardly and inwardly. Our human side wonders about the ‘what if’s’ of the future, uncertain how our story will play out. Our selfishness is concerned that children in our home may never choose or accept us as their mom and dad. In our vulnerability we wonder will we ever be enough to heal all the heartache, pain, and trauma caused not only by the temporary separation, but by the long term termination of the parental rights, if in fact that were ever to occur.

As I wrestled with these questions this past weekend God whispered these truths deep into my soul, “I chose you, with no guarantee you would ever choose me back. I loved you, with no guarantee you would ever love me back. I pursued you, with no guarantee you would ever pursue me back. I gave my life for you, with no guarantee you would ever give your life for me.” And, then it made sense again. This journey is not about us, but about God and the children that have been placed in our home. This journey is not about whether or not a child chooses us, but it is about our decision to choose them. This journey is not about whether a child calls us mom and dad or Mr. Keith and Mrs. Staci, but about our decision to call that child our own.

Sometimes we need to be reminded again and again that we have been chosen before we ever start believing it. Scripture reminds us of God’s choice, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit–fruit that will last–and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.” John 15:16.

God has chosen my wife and me to love these children in our home. He has called us to go and bear fruit that will last. We are able to choose the children placed in our home, because we have been chosen by our God.

It should never be about whether or not a child chooses us as their parents. After all, God has always chosen us, without any guarantee of whether or not we would reciprocate that choice.

If we get to a place of adoption in our journey, will the children in our home at that time choose us? Who knows? But, what we do know is that we will choose them, like God has chosen us and with that we can move forward and love freely, even if we remain Mr. Keith and Mrs. Staci for the rest of our lives.

Capturing the Past…

As a child, I moved around A LOT. My dad was in the Army and for the first fifteen years of my life we were at the mercy of wherever the military decided we needed to go. Every time we moved, a moving company would come in and pack up all of our possessions and take them to the next destination. It was always a cool day when the moving truck arrived at our new place and we were able to unload all of our stuff. My childhood was filled with He-Man action figures, GI Joe’s, race cars, Ninja Turtles, Lego’s and Micro Machines! At least, those were the go to items I enjoyed playing with the most. It was like Christmas morning each move-in day!

Today, I can still drive to my parents’ house in Yukon, OK, walk into their garage, climb up the rickety latter leading into the attic and pull out box after dusty box while unpacking my childhood. It’s still there, I still have the opportunity to relive my past and bring it into the present. In fact, recently my parents brought a couple of boxes to Amarillo for me to go through. We found every note Staci wrote me in high school tucked away in those boxes. I’m sure one day our children will love reading through those!

Such great memories. But, what if I couldn’t touch, feel, and connect with my past in tangible ways? What if the moving truck never showed up at our new place and I had to start all over, again? What if I couldn’t go look through all the yearbooks from my childhood that still line the bottom row of my book shelf? What if my childhood was just a fragment of memories without any real item to connect the past to the present?

Unfortunately, that is the reality for thousands of foster children every single day. In our home, one of our foster kiddos neatly tucks away new gifts and special items into her suitcase my parents gave her this past Christmas, hoping to hold onto each item. Another of our foster kiddos takes his yearbook from last year, everywhere! At this point, I know his elementary school staff probably better than any other parent, because he constantly quizzes my wife and I on names and faces as he carefully looks through the yearbook over and over and over again. Our other foster kiddo tucks all of her prized possessions away in her special drawer, so that they don’t get lost or damaged. In fact, our three older foster children all have ‘special drawers’ in their rooms. They want to keep everything and I mean everything! But, it makes sense right? What would you do if you were 6, 8, or 10 and the only items you had from your childhood were the items you had gathered since entering foster care? Wouldn’t you want to protect them, hoard them, and keep them safe? Wouldn’t you want to make sure you didn’t lose anything? Now, I’m not saying every item they own goes unfazed. They have lost and broken items in the past twelve months. But, understanding where they are at and where they come from definitely comes to light when you see your ten year old take his yearbook to bed with him. They just want to be kids and remember their childhood. They came into care with just the clothes on their backs. They’ve had a long line of moves in their short lives, but unlike myself, no moving truck showed up to pack up their stuff and then meet them at their next destination with everything they owned. They moved and left stuff behind.

As foster parents it is part of our role to help them rebuild their childhood, not just emotionally, but also through material items and memories. Here are a few ideas that we believe provide meaningful ways children in foster care can ‘capture’ a glimpse of their childhood.

Lifebook’s. These books are intended to be created to capture memories. Such as, report cards, school pictures, birthday pictures, letters, achievements, artwork, and so many more items. We have a close friend who makes 2 picture books for every child in her home. The books are a photo record of their time in her home, complete with cute sayings, milestones and tidbits about what was going on in each picture. She sends one book with the child and keeps one on her coffee table. In fact, if you were to show up at her house today, you would be able to flip through the pages of all the adorable kiddos she has had come through her home in the past few years.

Special Drawer. Encourage the child to have a special place in their room for all their ‘really special’ items, such as, letters from parents, special toys, or clothes. Give them ownership over their space and their room.

Family Pictures. Try to get a picture of the biological family, possibly at a weekly visit. Buy the child a frame or photo board for their room and help them hang up pictures of their biological family. Not only do you validate that child, but you also validate that their biological family is important to you too!

Menu planning. Allow them to help you plan the menu with things they loved eating with their biological family. Too often foster children have to ‘change’ to fit in to the foster home. That is stupid. We should change to fit into their lives as well. Create a ‘recipe book’ of the things they have liked at your house. For example, one of our foster daughters LOVES guacamole! Her brother has already told her she won’t get it at home, because their parents do not know how to make it. So, why not create a ‘recipe book’ for them to take all the recipes of the foods they loved back home?

Clothes shopping. Allow them to help you pick out their new clothes. Believe me, I HATE shopping, but don’t you remember how it felt when your parents took you shopping and let you buy new clothes. I felt like a million bucks in my new Nike’s back in the day!

What other ideas have you tried? What other ways have you helped a child in your home ‘capture’ the memories of their childhood while they were with you?

Patience is a virtue, pssssh!

Dear God,

So, my patience level may have been exacerbated today! They say patience is a virtue, but when that virtue gets overran by an army of six small children, two dogs, and a one messy house–all bets are off! Let’s see, I did okay when the puppy had an accident on the floor and by accident I mean #2, say it with me, POOP, blah!! I felt like I was a rock star when the bathroom sink overflowed, flooding the bathroom, the cabinet and the hallway for good measure. Plumber?!? Pssssh, I’m a mom, who needs a plumber? Besides, it was just water and could be soaked up with a couple of towels, what’s another load of laundry in our home, right? Nevermind, that my husband later found a full basket of SOAKED wash clothes still neatly stacked in the cabinet below. Oops, did I miss that? Next, one of my kiddos came home from their parental visit dejected because their parent wasn’t overly kind and didn’t really want to help them with their homework, I stayed pretty positive. Well, I started to explain maybe dad didn’t know how to do it, but that is when my husband caught my eye. You know the eye, the ‘not another word’ eye. What?!? I’m just being honest with our kiddos! God, aren’t you the one that wants me to be honest allllll the time?? Even if I didn’t get my say, we were able to go over the homework and our kiddo was able to feel huge success after learning how to do the work and blowing right through it. How’s patience as a virtue so far, right God??

Then it happened. I heard hysterical screaming coming from one of the back bedrooms. I went into the room to find one of our children throwing a HUGE tantrum because they did not get what they wanted. What did they want, you ask? The child wanted to use the kid’s bathroom. Really? So, instead of processing, ‘hey, there are two bathrooms, if I really need to pee then I ought to head to the second one”, the child stood right there in front of me and pee’d through their clothes all over the floor. In light of honesty and transparency, my first thought? Are. You. Freaking. Kidding. ME?? Second thought, walk away. So, I did. I left my husband to deal with it.

I know, I know….this child has been through a lot of trauma in their brief life. I know this child has not had consistency and sustained love. I know problem solving is hard for this child and that in times of conflict they regress back to a younger stage in their life, but when that child looked at me and pee’d all over themself, I got to be honest God, I sucked at being your ‘hands and feet’. I couldn’t do it, so I walked.

Did I pass the patience test today? Nope. But, there is always tomorrow right? You see every day I struggle with the questions like, will I be there for them when they need me? Will I love them like no one ever has before? Will I have the patience for the questions, the homework, and the mistakes? So many tests. So many factors out of my control. But, here is the crazy thing God. These kids, just like you, are so loving and kind. These kids, just like you, are so forgiving when I mess up and make a mistake. These kids, just like you, love me when I lose my patience!!

On the worst of the worst days I get unconditional love, grace and forgiveness. Who knew being a mom of six kids, two dogs, and living in a messy house could get you so much in life? They say patience is a virtue. I say patience needs to be quiet and take a backseat, because there are 6 kids, 2 dogs and a messy house calling my name right now!

Catch ya later God,

Your kid