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….

 

 

 

 

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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.

Just One Sunday, Really??

In a few weeks, individuals throughout the global church will focus on something near to the Father’s heart, the orphan.  For this, I’m very thankful.

But, I’m also saddened and heartbroken.  You see. I cannot begin to wrap my mind around why the orphan is only worth one Sunday in churches worldwide.  I have a hard time understanding why the church chooses not to preach about our role and responsibility to the orphan on an ongoing basis.  Is the orphan not our problem, our responsibility, or our call?  Has scripture misled us all these years?  Was God not serious when he clearly told us what ‘pure and true religion’ was and is in James 1:27?

I have been attending church for all of my life.  During that time, I’ve heard three messages on our responsibility to the orphan.  Yes, 3, that’s it! The first was in 2008 when I stood before the congregation I served in Waco, Texas, and preached about God’s heart for the orphan. Prior to that point I had never sat in a local church and heard a message regarding the church, the orphan, and our role to serve as followers of Christ.  How ironic it is that we like to celebrate our own adoption into God’s family, but rarely do we call people to reciprocate that same love, commitment and sacrifice to be a family for someone else

Do you know why that is?  I don’t.  But, I tend to think it is because we don’t like messy, life changing mandates to be placed on our lives.  We like clean, simple, concise calls that only stretch us so far and guess what??  Often times, church leadership is not immune from that same desire.  After all, if they call their people to serve in that capacity, what does that mean for them?  Will God call them to do the same?  So, we avoid preaching things that might get extremely messy.   Instead we preach on the simple; the things we can control, manipulate, or quantify.

It is sad.  The church was never intended to be God’s pep rally; we were intended to be His hands, His feet, and His body.  Instead, somewhere along the way we convinced ourselves that salvation is all about our experience with God and not other’s experiencing God through us.   And when it’s about us, it is easy to forget them; the orphan, the fatherless, and the lonely.  When we are busy fitting God into our lives, it is easy to forget that He wants our lives to be all about Him.

The work of the orphan is messy.  The orphan forces us to stare directly into the brokenness of our world with all of its sin, selfishness, heartache, disease, poverty, addiction, homelessness, neglect, abuse, generational cycles, failure, and struggles.  And none of these fit very neatly into our calendars on our iPhones, or our Sunday morning ‘experiences’.   So, we avoid it.  But, we shouldn’t.

Underneath all that brokenness is God in action.  He is the God of the orphan, of you and of me.  He is the God of adoption and sonship.  He is the God who defends the fatherless and sets the lonely in families and He is the God who calls all of us to follow Him on this journey.  He never promised it wouldn’t be messy and heartbreaking, but He did promise the redemption story would be worth the ride.

On November 2nd, I’ll applaud those churches remembering the orphan and at the same time my heart will be heavy wondering, what if?  What if the church really rose up and heard God’s heart?  How could we change this world, but more importantly, how could we change the life of that one orphan in Africa, that one foster child in America, that one child abandoned, or that one teenager ‘aging out’ of the foster care system?  How could we live out our adoption and act like adopted children who have love to give, resources to pour out, and a life ready to be interrupted?  How could we join God in doing what He is already doing, loving the orphan?

Join me. Say a prayer and ask God to rise up the Church on behalf of orphans worldwide.  And, then ask God to move you and I to join Him, our Father, in this cause, a cause that is near to His heart.

 

3 Simple Steps to Get Involved Today:

Educate:  Connect with local groups who serve foster children, learn about the needs they have from the smallest to largest.  Connect with a family who has fostered or adopted.  Spend time understanding their heart, the process, and their needs.  Connect with organizations that serve orphans on a global scale.  Listen to their needs.  Basically, spend time becoming familiar with the orphan on a local and global scale.

Pray:  Ask God what it is He would have you to do.  Not everyone is called to foster and/or adopt a child, but we are all called to do something.  Ask and then listen.

Engage:  Whatever it is you feel He is calling you to do, do it!  If we wait around for someone else to do it, who is to say it will ever get done.  The orphan needs me and you to obey and do whatever it is God is calling us to do.   Education and prayer will only go so far without action.  Get involved and do something.

P.S. I’m a big fan of Orphan Sunday, http://www.orphansunday.org and the Christian Alliance for Orphans. I hope you will be too.

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…….