Her Story Too

I could see it in her eyes.  The disappointment.  She didn’t say a word, but I knew what she was feeling and thinking.

Adoption is coming soon. In the midst of all the preparations, our soon to be adopted children were asked by their case manager what they wanted on their adoption day cake.  Our biological daughter, who has been on this journey the entire time, desperately wanted to be asked as well.

She wanted to have a voice in the celebration and the cake decoration decision.  She wanted to be a part of the story, a part of the day.

She is 9 and as much as she gets it, she still struggles at times.

Later that evening, I pulled her to the side and I asked her how she was feeling.  She simply stated, “I want to be able to share the story too.”  It makes sense.  We often hear people talk about how the foster children are having their story rewritten with adoption.  While that may be true, we cannot forget that biological children are also having their stories rewritten. 

She was four or five when she began encouraging her mother and me to become foster parents.  To be a “mom and dad for kids who needed it.”  My career had led to her being around the foster care world her entire life.  To her, taking in kids was the natural thing to do.  At her young age and in her innocence she didn’t fully comprehend all the things she might or might not be giving up.  She just knew we had to do it.  Over the past 3 years we have seen her share her home, her stuff, her parents, her friends, her grandparents, her holidays, her extra-curricular activities, and almost every faucet of her life with four other little people who needed it.  She has never blinked.  She has been a champ through it all.

So much so, that I think we, at times, have forgotten how much her life is different.  This has become our normal. But, in our desire to heal the wounds of those we have brought into our home, we can never forget the sacrifice she made to take this journey. 

I think that is why she wanted to be included in the cake decision.  Because, this isn’t just about the children gaining a family, it is also about a 9 year old giving her family.

She is brave.  She is kind. She is pure.  She is love.  And, she reminded me tonight that this is her story too.

It was a reminder I needed more than she’ll ever know.

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10 Things Foster & Adoptive Parents Have (Probably)Heard

1.) Why would you do that?

2.) Which ones are “your” children?

3.) What are you going to do with that hair?

4.) Are they all yours?

5.) Oh, that is so great! Could you not have your own children?

6.) You are so brave to do this.

7.) Really, they are all yours?!?!

8.) You are such a good person, a saint!

9.) I could never do that. I would get too attached.

10.) What about your biological kids? Shouldn’t you be worried about them first?

I put this list together for a speaking event last year, where I spoke to a group of foster parents. I thought I’d take a moment to write the statements down and share with others.

At the conference, we all agreed we had heard these things said before and then we laughed. As foster parents, we have to learn to laugh. We have to understand that the rest of the world may never get us and what we do. The statements are rarely ill-intentioned, just often misinformed.

What we have to remember as foster and adoptive parents is this; It is through our journey and the pages of our lives that the rest of the world discovers the beauty and messiness of foster care and adoption. We are the book through which the world is learning and educating themselves.

So, when we get one more question, one more stare, or one more misinformed statement directed at us, just smile (or laugh) and then remember the potential impact our story and journey could have on future generations as the world learns more about foster care and adoption through us, and in that, others might just decide they can do it too!!

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.

Just The Foster Parent

A few weeks ago my wife and I sat in a courtroom along the back wall and listened as several individuals gave their opinion about a case involving four precious children in our home. We were silent spectators.

Well, not exactly silent.  My wife made several beneath her breath comments as the children’s attorney made inaccurate statements about the case and the children.  It became very apparent while we were sitting in that court room, that we were in fact, just the foster parents.

The judge had an opinion.  Even though he hears hundreds of cases and has never met the children.

The CPS worker had an opinion.  Even though their contact is limited to one visit a month and most of their information is provided by us.

The biological parents and their attorneys had an opinion.  Even though the only reason we were sitting in that room at that moment is because somewhere along the line they failed miserably and needed us to take care of their children.

The children’s attorney had an opinion.  Even though during the 26 month process he has never met the children, nor us.

And yet, there we were, sitting against the back wall of the court room, spectators of all that was occurring regarding the four children whom we feel we know best.

We get it.  Biological families matter.   What we are not sure everyone else gets is this, foster parents matter too.

As not only a foster parent, but a director within a foster care agency I can recount many stories from foster parents who go to a court hearing or a permanency meeting without a voice.  I can go through several cases where a foster parent was opposed to reunification and that somehow made them the bad person.  When in fact, it just makes them a parent who cares.  I could tell you about time after time when a CPS worker has pulled the “We are CPS–Kings of Child Welfare” card on one of the families I serve.  But, I do not need to tell you all of those stories.

What I want to tell you is this—-We are not just the foster parents.

We are humans who have opened our hearts, our homes, and our families to serve children who need it.

We are moms and dads who take parenting seriously.

We are individuals who have real emotions that we can’t turn off just because the case is going a different direction.

We are people who do the messy work of foster care, long after a home visit, therapy appointment or court hearing has ended.

We are advocates for the children in our home.

We strive for their best.

We care deeply and passionately about the children in our home.  Our lack of agreement with an outcome does not make us wrong, it just means we are passionate about the little lives at stake.  Because to us, it is not just another case, but it is a child with dreams, passions, fears, hurts, wants, needs and someone has to fight for and protect that child.

We are not against the biological parent.  We just don’t have as much time to be worried about them, because we have their child to take care of, and frankly, that is more important.

So, Judge, Case Worker, Attorney, and other important people, next time you’re making big decisions, please remember we are not “just the foster parent”, but we are the very people who know the kids the best and we care greatly about what happens in their case.  Even if we don’t agree, our voice matters.

– the Foster Parents

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.

Looks Like a Foster Child

This past summer we moved into a new neighborhood which meant our children would begin a new school.  At the start of the school year our children were anxious about what the new school would be like.  Would they make friends?  Would their teachers like them?  Would they be able to find their classes?  All very common concerns when a little one is being asked to start something new.  On the flip side the school and teachers had no idea who we were and how the make-up of our family came to be.

Recently a teacher of one of our daughters learned she was in foster care and upon hearing that, she said, “I had no idea she was in foster care”.  Why?  Because, “she did not look like a foster child”.  Selfishly, we were glad to hear that.  In fact, it was a momentary dang right moment. You know, “dang right she doesn’t look like she is in foster care, she is our child and looks like our child.”

The dang right moment was fleeting, because as advocates and parents with a heart for foster care we began to ask ourselves, what does that mean?

What exactly does a foster kid look like?

Unfortunately, society has their opinion.  Foster children are supposed to look sad, they are supposed to have behavioral problems, they are supposed to look disheveled and have clothes on that are too small or too large, or maybe a little too outdated.  They are supposed to be distracted and disobedient.  In fact, they might even look like a little criminal in a child’s body, because after all that is who they are, right??

No, that is not who they are.  Our kids are beautiful, smart, caring, handsome, curious, resilient, funny, strong-willed, courteous, and  thoughtful.  Our children are survivors.  They have seen many things, but are hopeful for a better future.  They are children who just need love and acceptance.  Not pity, judgment, or sympathy.

We hate that there are foster parents out there who have perpetuated this image by not making sure their foster children have all they need clothing and hygiene wise.  We hate that the stereotype of foster children being behavioral problems is perpetuated by a lack of understanding within the educational system regarding how trauma affects the brain in a child.  Ultimately, we hate that society has painted an image of what a “foster child looks like.”

People often applaud us for being willing to “do that”.  By “do that” they mean fostering.  But, we are not the heroes.  The real heroes are the children in foster care who walk out into the world every day looking to hold their head high and find love and acceptance all the while hoping someone doesn’t just write them off as a foster kid, especially because they look like it.  

Yep, you’re dang right our kid doesn’t look like a foster kid.  That’s because she isn’t.  She is a hero, a little girl who has taken the worlds best shot and is still standing on her own two feet.  In fact, that looks more like courage and resiliency if you ask us. 

 

It only takes a ‘yes’…

It had been a busy week and I was very ready for the weekend.  In fact, it was 4:30 on a Friday afternoon and things were beginning to wrap up nicely so I could go home.  That is when the phone call came in.  The call from the state asking if the emergency shelter our organization ran had room for 4 children.  I looked at the schedule for the weekend and quickly realized we would be out of compliance on 3 shifts and we had no one to fill those gaps.  Well almost no one, there was me.  Knowing I was the only option, I put the worker on hold and this is what came next. (brutal honesty)

Me: Jesus, what should I do?  I’ve worked all week and I’m ready for the weekend!!!!

Jesus: (not audibly, but very profoundly) Are we really having this conversation about your weekend being disrupted?  These children have had their whole lives disrupted.  You know what to do.

Me:  Crap! I’m not asking you anything else Jesus!!

I picked up the phone and told the worker we would accept the children into our shelter.  I then called my wife and asked her to go pick up pizza’s for the children in the shelter, because I had just taken these new children and I was headed to the shelter to keep it in compliance until 11:00 PM. My wife’s mom happened to be in town, so Staci ran and picked up pizza’s and even brought ingredients for making cookies.  She served beside me that night and was there when the children arrived at our shelter. 

Fast forward two months.  We now had our foster care license and we were preparing to take children into our own home.  Our plan of keeping sibling groups of 2-3 together had now become a plan to keep a sibling group of 4 together.  Can you guess which 4??

Yep, the 4 I almost didn’t take, because we didn’t have the staff and I didn’t want my weekend to be inconvenienced by working.  But, instead I said ‘yes’ and now 21 months later those 4 incredibly awesome and precious children still live in our home and are a big part of our family.  We have no idea what the future holds, but we are thankful we said ‘yes’, even though my selfishness clearly wanted to say ‘no!!!’. 

What will your ‘yes’ be?  Your ‘yes’ might just be what the world is needing today. 

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