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?

Dear Biological Family

There are a few things we would like you to know. 

Your children being taken away from you was not their fault.  They did not ask to be neglected.  They had no choice in the matter.

You get to see your children once a week.  Please, please enjoy your time with your children.  No doubt, they look forward to visits all week.  But, then when you are not engaged or choose to be grumpy with them, it makes them feel like crap.  Do you know who is there to pick up the pieces when you treat them bad and break their hearts?  We are, the foster family. 

Your children want you! They do not care about the money we spend on them or the trips we take, or even where we go out to eat.  They only want you.  So, this isn’t a competition, you win.  At least, we hope you win.

We are not your enemy.  In fact, foster parents aren’t the enemy.  We are here to love and keep your children safe until you can get it together and start making mature decisions that have positive impact on your children’s lives.  We are not here to judge you, belittle you, or talk bad about you.  In fact, we are here to cheer you on!  We are here to build you up in your children’s eyes, but also have the hard conversations with them when you choose to make a bad choice.  Even in that, we try and keep it positive.  We want them to believe in you!  Oh, it is hard some days, really it is.  Because remember, we are the ones picking up the pieces and defending their little hearts.  So fragile, so hurt, so confused.  We don’t understand the choices you have made, but we also have never walked in your shoes and lived  your life. 

We need you to hear this.  Your children are so incredibly precious that nothing should ever be placed over them.  You should fight for them, sacrifice for them, and give all you’ve got to get them back!  Until then, we promise to love them so deeply that it will hurt when they leave.  We promise to keep them safe, secure and surrounded in love as they walk through this journey.  We promise to protect them as if they were our own biological children, and honestly we treat them as if they are.  We promise to be there to pick up all the pieces that were broken and put them back together as best we can, even if it is really hard sometimes. 

No, neither of us could ever understand what it is like to have our children taken away from us, but we do know how to love, protect, defend, and sacrifice for your children like they are our very own. 

We are rooting for you.  We want you to succeed.  Your children want you to succeed.  Please make the right choices, cherish the moments you have with them, and understand that no matter what, you are their parent, and that makes you special to them and to us.

Sincerely,

The Foster Parents

 

It’s Okay to Suck, Really It is.

As Foster Parents we have heard it several times, “Oh, y’all are amazing!!  I don’t know how you do it!!” 

True Confession:  Sometimes we suck as foster parents.  There you have it.  Real life.  Transparency.  Open book.

We wish we didn’t.  We wish it was fairy tales, cotton candy, and white picket fences.  But, let’s face it.  When we willingly opened ourselves up to take on four children that we did not have anything to do with for the first 20 months, 5 years, 7 years, and 9 years of their lives we opened ourselves up to a BIG task!

From day one, we began to take on the stress of their trauma, the frustration of their boundaries, their struggle with food issues, and the heartache of their hearts.  

We willingly chose to do something fundamentally in contrast to our human nature side that shouts ‘protect yourself, protect your family, protect your nice little life.’  Why on earth would we choose to reject that shout?? Because, we hate playing it safe, and well, we hate white picket fences!!

But, that does not make it easy. 

We get asked the same question 20 gazillion times!  Not 19.999999 gazillion, literally 20 gazillion.  Most people’s patience runs out at 11 gazillion, so give us some props people.  Just last week we had a 10 minute conversation about glow sticks and if they would make your skin light up if you busted it open.  After answering the question 17 times, there was absolutely no redirecting, NONE, I tell you.  They just kept going and going and going.  What the crap?!?   At that point, one of us (whom shall remain nameless) said, “We are done, and now we will never get that 10 minutes of oxygen back EVER, thank you.”  Therapeutic?  No.  But, we are being transparent, right? 

Food issues??  Oh man, these are hard!  Some of it there is no rhyme or reason too, they simply Will. Not. Eat. It.  As parents, one of us understands this a little, the other one is a ‘eat what I give you kind of person’.  So, do we always make the best decisions with food issues?  Nope.  But, the children never go hungry!!  So, pat us on the back, right?

When we have been told for the 37th time that a parent was arrested for stealing from the very store we are walking through, our heart will usually do two things.  First, it will break that a child had to experience that and secondly, it gets mad that a child had to experience that!  Seriously, last night, while at Target we went through our whole family with one of our foster kiddos asking the question of, “Have they ever stolen anything?”  Rest assured Nana, Gigi, Papa, Gramps, Uncle Paul, Aunt Jessica, Aunt Christal, and Uncle Tim you are all free and clear of any theft charges.  We do our best to love the biological family, but dang if their choices don’t occasionally piss us off a bit! 

Let’s see, what else makes us not so awesome?  We raise our voices, we get frustrated, we feel burn out, we wonder why we can’t be more therapeutic, we ignore questions  after they’ve hit their 20 gazillion max, and we don’t always respond in the way that each individual child needs in that exact moment.

But, you know what?  It’s okay.  God didn’t call us to be foster parents because we were perfect (well, one of us is, the other not so much!). No, He called us because He knew we would say ‘yes’.  And, most days, a ‘yes’ is hard to come by when He wants His people to do something really, really hard! 

It’s okay, because we love.  We love like crazy! 

It’s okay, because we admit our wrongs.  We are a family of grace and forgiveness and ultimately, that starts with us, the parents (suck!).  If they see us admit failure, they are more likely to understand it is safe to do so too.

It’s okay, because we are committed.  We are committed to see the lives of these four kiddos changed. 

It’s okay, because even when we are frustrated with the biological family, we know they love these kids, just in their own way.  And, it’s okay if that is different than our way.

We are okay, because He called us.  We are, broken, flawed, unworthy, struggling, and yet, useable. 

What we know is this:  It is okay to not always have it together, to struggle, to lose our patience, to get frustrated, to be stressed, and to not always respond therapeutically with every single question.  No family is ever perfect, including ours.  We are just willing to learn how to be better parents and love these kids better, even when we are not very lovable ourselves.

So, on the days we suck, we remember, it has never been about us, but it has always been about them and Him and that is more than enough to get up and try again. 

NOW, NO. MORE. QUESTIONS ABOUT GLOW STICKS!:-)

-Howard, party of 8

To Fix or Not to Fix…

Most of us like to ‘fix’ things.  Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean you want to fix things in the physical/structural sense.  I, for one, have very limited skill when it comes to tools, carpentry, mechanical and/or work revolving around such.  Likewise, I have very limited interest in ever really learning. 

And yet, most of us would be hard pressed to disagree with the fact that we all have this built in desire to ‘fix’ something in us, in others, or in our world,

  • our weight
  • our appearance
  • our attitude
  • our life situation
  • our job situation
  • our spiritual walk
  • our relationships
  • local/national politics
  • world issues
  • And, on and on and on…..

So, is it any wonder that most of us inherently address fostering the same way?  We want to ‘fix’ the child and in the process we forget that it is just a child, with a lot of brokenness inside them.  Most of which, we have very limited capacity to touch, if we don’t first accept, love, receive, admire and affirm who they are ‘unfixed’. 

As foster parents, we can get so busy in the ‘innocence of fixing’ that we forget we are just called to the journey.  God enables the ‘fixing’ in His season, but more importantly, in His timing.  (This can be really, really, really hard!)   

The reminder to myself:  Don’t miss the journey, because you are too caught up in the ‘fixing’.  Model love, model boundaries, model appropriateness, model acceptance, model patience, model trust, model healthy relationships and one day, maybe,  just maybe that kid you started out trying to ‘fix’ will be the best adult he or she can be. 

Let the journey continue…….

 

Parenting Individuality With a Touch of Trauma..

As we pulled up to the amusement park, we heard a sweet voice in the back seat say, “When do I put on my swimsuit?” My wife looked at me and then turned around and asked, “Do you not already have it on? Where is your swimsuit?” “No, it is at the hotel”, came the response, along with a very confused look.

The simple instruction to our five oldest children prior to getting dressed earlier that morning was, “kiddos, be sure to put your swimsuits on under your clothes.” This child heard the direction, but had failed to do so. So, what were we to do? Is this a life lesson moment? Perhaps a logical consequence of, “Well then, no swimming for you!”?

We headed down that path, but then, we stopped. My wife and I looked at each other and asked, “What was our role in reminding her?” It sounds simple, it really does. But, the deeper discussion we were having was not about swimsuits, but more so, about where our 6 year old was functioning due to the trauma she had experienced in her life.

We’ve been to the trainings and even read a few books, but for it to come to life, we had to own it, understand it, and respond properly to it.

What did we have to own? We had to own the fact that trauma almost always stunts development. So, while we were hearing our 6 year old say, “she forgot”, in reality, it was the 3-4 yr. old child in her speaking. This was in contrast to our own biological children. They’ve grown up with limited trauma, they have developed properly (whatever that really means) and have an understanding of our expectations and we have an understanding of their capabilities.

We both agreed that due to where she is at, we probably should have given her a reminder and followed up to make sure it was done. We even purchased her a swimsuit at the amusement park, so that she could enjoy the time with all the other children. If you know us, then you know this action is contrary to who we are as parents, but that is what foster care has done for us. It has taught us to be different, much better parents. It challenges us to get out of what we think is right and really invest in what is right for ‘this child’.

Here is what we know, trauma almost always stunts development. It messes up boundaries, it alters brain development, and it wrecks trust.

We also know, that when we parent with a clear understanding of ‘WHO’ each child is, we are able to be more effective, more caring, more attentive and the headaches that follow statements like, “no, it’s at the hotel…” begin to come less and less, because our expectations and understanding evolve to meet that specific child’s needs. The expectation of “you’re six, so you should act six” will lead to a lot of frustration for both the parent and the child. The action of, “I’m your parent and will meet you where you are.” will always be a game changer in dealing with children from backgrounds of abuse and trauma.

So, what are your thoughts? Have you seen how trauma has effected the development of a child and have you catered your parenting style around that?

You liked the frosting, I liked the cake!

It is crazy how fast time flies…..Just yesterday we were 14 and 16 hanging out in Yukon, Ok.  I thought you were beautiful and you thought I was cute.  My friends told your friends, and your friends told my friends.  Of course, you had a boyfriend, so we had to get rid of that joker.  Nevertheless, who would have thought back then, that we would be here now?

Our first ‘official’ dating day was June 14, 1996.  We played capture the flag with the youth group and we held hands in the back seat of the car on the way home.  My heart was racing, even though I played it cool.

What a first date we had, right?!?   Our parents dropped us off at the Dollar Movies, Cable Guy (horrific movie and probably why I still hate Jim Carey movies), but you were beautiful, innocent, sweet, and amazing.  I just remember staring at your legs thinking, “those have to be the most amazing legs in the universe.”  I can say that now that we are not teenagers and can’t get in trouble!

And, that first kiss on a dark bus while on a youth group trip to Mexico, breaking all the rules!!  I might have been every Youth Pastor’s worst nightmare, even though I was the ‘good kid’.  Of course, isn’t it always the ‘good kids’?  And, we were two of the best!

3 proms, endless dates, long phone calls, taco bell, cruisin’ in the Mercury Tracer, basketball games (where you cheated like none other!), youth group outings, college dorms, sharing cake (you liked the frosting, I liked the cake), college classes together, friendships, breakups, falling in love all over again, all of which, led us to April of 2002 when I dropped to a knee and asked you to marry me….

And, then we went and did it, tied the knot, took the leap, passed the point of no return and what a day it was, June 14, 2003…..or blur, as everything seemed to move so quickly!  But, the pictures look amazing!  And, you were BEAUTIFUL!

Now, 10 years later….we’ve had 2 incredible little girls, fostered 4 amazing kiddos, purchased a home, sold a home, moved 3 times, had 3 dogs, 3 guinea pigs, a gillion fish, 3 birds, 8 vehicles, several vacations, one super fast jet ski, you’re still BEAUTIFUL……and, we aren’t done yet!

Happy 10th Anniversary beautiful lady!  You are the one who has shown me what mercy, grace, love, and awesomeness looks like!  Here is to at least 50 more years!  Much more than that and we will be racing wheel chairs down the nursing home hallways and I know you’d cheat, so let’s just shoot for 50!

I love you more than you’ll ever know!!

So, We Will Love

Our imperfect human side always tries, and often succeeds, to get in the way of what God really wants from us as parents.  As worldly creatures we like being better, doing better, and getting more done than the next person. We want to prove our worth in others eyes.  As foster parents, we want to show our kids this is what “good” parenting looks like.  We want them to see our “normal” and we want that to be their new “normal”. 

But, in reality, we are not any better than their biological parents.  While we do not abuse our children physically, emotionally, or sexually.  Nor, do we  neglect our children, but, we still sin.  And, sin is sin in God’s eyes.  Therefore in His eyes, we are really not any better than the parents we are supposedly protecting these children from.  Our judgement of the biological family, for the choices they have made and make, is clearly just as wrong as the choices they have made and are making.

We are beginning to  understand more and more each day that we are not only here to love the children, but also their parents.

At the end of the day, God has called us to love and protect these beautiful children.  We get to play an important role in their lives for now.  Our goal should never be about how much better of a parent we are than their biological parents.  Instead, the goal should be love.  We are here to show these children they are special and they are loved.  To show them they make our world crazy better every day!  We get to kiss their hurts, celebrate their accomplishments, praise their great works, and tuck them into bed every night after we pray for their mom and dad.

Our imperfect human side wants to make this about us.  But, God’s plan has always been to make this about the children.  And, in that, the biological parents are a clear extension of their children and God’s plan for redemption.

So, we will love.

We will love not only the children, but we will love their mom and dad.  We will pray for them.  We will root for them.  We will encourage them.  And, we will remember, this journey is about love, grace, and mercy for all involved.

– Howard’s Party of 8

Ponderings about Spring, Newness, and Clutter

We love Spring.  The sounds of the air.  The earth reblooming after a dormant winter.  The signs of new life.  The celebration of resurrection.

The freshness of a new season.  A time to reflect and prepare for all that is new.

But, in order to prepare for all that is new, we sometimes have to spend time cleaning out and decluttering our lives from all that is old.  Somewhere along the way, we have convinced ourselves that more is better.

  • more activities for our children
  • bigger homes
  • better cars
  • more items to fill our homes
  • more commitments in our lives
  • more hours at work and less at home

But, what if true contentment is found in the less?  What if our children really do not need another sports team, band, ballet to participate in or student council to run for?  What if we don’t need another 50 to 60 hour work week to prove our worth?  What if all they need is us and all we need is them?

  • game nights
  • family vacations
  • weekend trips together
  • daddy/daughter dates
  • cooking and making messes together
  • family devotional time together
  • father/son weekends
  • mommy/daughter outings
  • fishing trips and camping trips
  • nights away from cell phones, laptops, and electronics
  • days spent at the park, picnic lunches and duck ponds
  • movies nights and snuggles before bed

Have all of these things been exchanged for one more practice, one more tournament, or one more weekend away?  Or, has Facebook, cell phones, Twitter, text messages and Instragram suffocated the families ability to connect?  Have we determined that our worth is in our jobs and not in our family?  Or, as parents have we determined our worth is in the success of our children, so what is one more activity really going to hurt?

Spring is a time for newness, freshness, and a time when the dormant comes to life.  But, in order for the dormant to come to life, sometimes we have to toil the soil, brush back the dead and cluttered and give the new seedlings room to find sunlight, raindrops, fresh air, and the crisp breeze.  Then we can sit back and watch nature do what it does best; come to life and blow our minds with it’s ability to create beauty.  Much like our children have the abilty to do.

Spring is a time for resurrection.  What does the clutter of our lives teach those around us about Christ?  2 Corinthians 5:17 states, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”.  Has the new come?  Has the old gone?  Is our value in Him, or has it become more about us, what is our’s and what we do?  We tell our children their value is in Christ, but do we affirm that to them through our lives and their lives with the things we prioritize and cram into our schedules?

Is it time to declutter?  If so, what better time than now?  Our children learn their example of expectations and clutter from us, their parents.

As Spring blooms, what example will we set in decluttering our lives and freeing our family from the ‘rat race’ expectations of our society?

Just the ponderings of us, the Howard’s-Party of 8….We’d love to hear your feedback.

Messy Redemption

Redemption is messy.  Being a part of the redemptive story hurts.

We knew this going into foster care.  Even so, somehow, we convinced ourselves there would be times where we would be able to compartmentalize the brokenness, pain, and heartache.  Yet, being an effective foster parent, does not allow for one to compartmentalize, it means we willingly take on the pain, heartache and brokenness.  Trying our best to carry the burdens of the children in our home.  To be their protectors, caregivers, keepers, and defenders.  Much like Christ has done for each of us.

It doesn’t get easier.  No, in fact, it only get’s harder as we go deeper with the children and hear more about their story.  It only hurts worse as we see their biological parent fail them week in and week out.  Even if the children just blow it off as, “dad must of just been tricking us”, when they don’t get the much anticipated present they were promised last visit.  We get mad at dad, but then we remember,  he is broken and lost.  We are too.  He needs redemption.  We do too.  We remember, redemption is messy.

Yet, it is worth it.  Because we know redemption is in the works.  We know the story being written is greater and more unimaginable than we could ever imagine.

Redemption is messy.  But, the new story being written is beautiful.  We do not know what the next chapter holds, but we know we are ready: pain, heartache and all.

After all, this journey is not about us, but about them and Him, and redemption.

The Human Factor

In the beginning, we agreed that we were all in as a couple when it came to Foster Care.  We knew we would love a child or children for a season.  We knew we would empty our hearts, knowledge, and compassion into every child that came into our home.  We would get attached, we would love until it hurt, and then when it came time to say good-bye, we would say good-bye and share our grief with each other.  We still believe this, we still own this, we are still walking this.

But, nothing ever really follows our nice laid plans, right?  The Human Factor always throws us a curve ball and leaves us standing there wondering, what the what?!?

We tell ourselves on a daily basis, reunification with biological family members makes sense.  It is good for children.  We’ve read the stats, we’ve heard the research–reunification leads to less trauma long-term.  We know it, believe it, and own it……then, BAM, the Human Factor says, ‘but, what if?’

  • What if we are the better placement long-term?
  • What if biological parents continue to make selfish, detrimental choices?
  • What if biological parents never own their mistakes, only repeating the cycle?
  • What if they don’t protect these most incredible gifts?
  • What if they don’t love them?
  • What if they quit their job, because their simply too tired and the job is too hard?
  • What if they can’t maintain stable living?
  • What if they don’t help them with homework?
  • What if they don’t go to ‘Open House’ at the school and let their child show them every single thing in the room, including the stickers in their locker?
  • What if they don’t believe in them?
  • What if they don’t provide meals, clothing, and other items needed for them?
  • What if they choose their needs over their child’s needs?
  • What if they drop them off with complete strangers, over and over and over again?
  • What if they are just too tired to be a parent that day or night?
  • What if they don’t properly fasten them in their car seats, making sure their most precious possessions are always safe?
  • What if they don’t teach them to cook?
  • What if they don’t play catch in the yard, draw pictures, and laugh until their sides hurt as a family?
  • What if they just suck as a parent?
  • What if the children are just a status symbol and a way to get another check?
  • What if they don’t take the  children to church?
  • What if they don’t show the boy how to treat women and show the girls how to respect their bodies and hearts?
  • What if they don’t model an appropriate relationship, so their children know what love and happiness really looks like?
  • What if they use drugs?
  • What if they never ‘get it’?…That these children are truly God’s greatest gift to parents.

Our brains tell us, reunification is best, but our hearts are thrown off by the Human Factor that takes a journey of its own.

Regardless, four months in, we are still owning this, believing this, and walking this.  Now, if someone would just tell that stupid Human Factor to shut up and leave us alone!!

– The Howard’s – Party of 8