Hoop Dreams & A Boy

True confession,  I’m 35 and I’m a little bit on the chubby side.  Okay, who am I kidding?  I’m fat.

My hoop dream days have long passed me by.  On a good day I can still get a little rhythm in my shot and maybe do a thing or two with the dribble, but those good days are rare.  In fact, they are very rare!

Long ago I let go of the impressive intramural games and men’s league games I played in during my early twenties.  I am but a shadow, albeit an overly large shadow, of that guy.  The funny thing about those games was usually this, I always played better when my girlfriend (now wife) was in the stands.  It was a pride thing.  I wanted her to know the guy who just dropped the most points was leaving with her.  It was a little pride, selfishness, love and arrogance all rolled up into a basketball.  In that moment, I wanted her to feel pride, so I played for that pride.

That was then, but fast forward to now….

To give you some background, out of all of our children, our son has struggled the most with his foster care and adoption journey.  It is hard for him to embrace the idea of new parents and not going home, as it is for most children in his situation.  So everyday we fight for his heart and we love without ever knowing if the affection will be returned.

Recently he invited a friend to spend the night.  At one point I found them outside playing basketball, so I joined in.  We played H-O-R-S-E.  I won.  We played P-I-G. I won. (They are only 11 years old, but don’t rain on my story!) Then we played 2 on 1.  The two kids verse the fat guy.  About half way through the game, it hit me.  I wasn’t playing for fun (although I was having a blast).  I wasn’t playing to win (although I wanted to win).  I wasn’t even playing “because that is what good dads do”!  I was playing for his heart and his pride.  With every move, every dribble, and every made basket it was like I was the 20-year-old kid, back in college, playing for the girl in the standsExcept this time I was playing for the heart of a boy on the pavement next to me. 

His friend kept saying, “Man! Your dad is so good!”

Inside I kept saying, “Yes, I am..let me love you, let me prove how much I want to be your dad.” 

Swish….I’m good enough.

Behind the back, between the legs…That was for you.

Off the glass…Game time.  Do you see me?  Do you see how much I want you to enjoy being my son?

It was a surreal moment and easily the single most important time I’ve ever picked up a basketball in my life.

Adoption is coming. 

Game Time.

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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

#DisconnectToConnect

Do you like social media? I do.

I love to post pictures of my children, share insight into my passions, and like my friend’s status. I feel inclined to retweet a great blog post or article. I dutifully share quotes and statistics that call others attention to the needs of humanity and the brokenness in our world.

I like to look at my friends pictures, utilize the networking platforms within social media, and randomly creep on people’s profile pages (true confession).

I enjoy watching videos, checking my newsfeed, following the retweeted ‘tweet’ back to the original source, taking the latest challenge and sharing with others ways they can be involved.

But, what if I like social media so much, that all I ever do is like, share, and retweet? Will anything be different? Will I have done my part to create change?

The geniuses behind the social media movement would presumably say, yes.  On some levels, I would agree.  Social media has given me a platform to educate and encourage others about foster care and adoption.  It has given the non-profit organization I work for a way through which we can tell our story, call people to action and solicit donations.  I see the value in social media.

And yet, I am afraid.  I’m afraid my generation, my peers, my friends, and even I may be using social media as the easy way out, even unintentionally.

We sit at home, in our office, along the pews at church, or at a coffee shop, click a button, type a post, write a blog, and believe we have changed the world.

Boom. World change. Easy.

Or is it??

It is not as easy to physically go into our communities and find those who need our “hands and feet” to bring them good news and help. It is not as convenient to step out of our lives, disconnect from the created reality of social media and step into the messiness of those around us.  Maybe they don’t need another like or share.  Maybe instead they need a friend, a voice, resources, a listening ear, a ride, a jacket, a meal, our talents or even our homes.

If we are not careful, we will just become a generation of social media activists.  The poor will still be poor, the sick will still be sick, the hungry will still be hungry, the lonely will still be lonely, but our laptops will be warm while our coffee cups are full.  Generation fail. 

What if our newsfeeds currently full of bathroom selfies, beach selfies, gym selfies, church selfies, bed selfies, dog selfies, and  food selfies suddenly became saturated with selfies of widows, orphans, the elderly, the homeless, our neighbors and the downtrodden. Or, what if, selfies really weren’t needed anymore because our desire to be liked had been passed over by a desire to serve, love, comfort, and bring hope to others, all the while fulfilling needs within ourselves that we subconsciously had buried beneath one more post, picture, like, share and retweet.

I like social media, I really do. But, if I’m honest, social media can become a crutch through which I cover up my obligation to help others by just giving them a quick click.

So here you go, take this challenge, disconnect to connect.  You can like it, share it, retweet it, hashtag it or hide it, but in the end, please disconnect for a bit, go out into your community and use your life for real change, real purpose, and real connection.

Boom. World change.  It’s just that easy.  The world is waiting for you.

#worldchangebeginswithyou

“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”   – Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

 

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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They Are Precious In His Sight

Every year we celebrate a man, Martin Luther King Jr., who courageously fought for equality for generations past, present and future.  We highlight his courage, his love, and his character.  We look around and high five each other, because ‘we’ve’ come a long way.  And yet, most days are but a poor reflection of what truly should be.  We seemingly gloss over the ugliness of reality with catchy quotations spread throughout the social media world, while overlooking the messy brokenness that still wrecks entire communities. 

To understand some of this, one must only look to the numbers presented within the foster care system.  Numbers, frequently quoted in relation to a term known as ‘disproportionality’. 

In 2011, more than half of the children entering foster care in the U.S. were children of color.

Black or African American children are disproportionately more likely than other children to be reported, investigated, substantiated, and placed in foster care.  – Children’s Rights (www.childrensrights.org)

Does that quote catch your attention?  Now, we can all start cranking out excuse after excuse about why this might be the case.  Some of which may be valid points, as such, a lot of deep issues are built into disproportionality.  But, let me tell you about what I often struggle with as an advocate and professional in the child welfare field.  I struggle with the reality that there are a significant number of foster and adoptive families, who simply do not want an African American child.  Here is a list of things I’ve heard over the past nine years,

  • We are open to other races, but not African American.  We are just not sure we could effectively meet their cultural needs.
  • We are open to other races, just not African American.  We do not feel we would know how to deal with their hair and skin care needs. 
  • We are open to other races, except African American.  We are worried our extended family may not accept them.
  • We would prefer not to be placed with an African American child, because we are not ready for the questions people might ask us when they see us out in public.
  • We would prefer a Caucasian child, so that they will look like us.
  • We really want to have a placement soon, but we are willing to wait until it is a Caucasian child. 
  • We are open to bi-racial children, as long as, one of the races is Caucasian and the other race is not African American. 

Yep, I didn’t make any of these statements up.  Can I tell you something else?  Most states struggle to place African American children in adoptive homes.  In the state that I live, work, and foster in, children of minority races above the age of 2 are classified as ‘special needs’ adoptions and subsidies are provided in hopes of encouraging families to adopt such children. 

But wait, take a moment to read this beautiful quote from Dr. King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech,

“….one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers….”

Let that sink in.  No really; pause, reflect, and let the beauty of that statement soak into the depths of your soul. Now ask yourself, why do we so often avoid the African American child in the foster care system?  Oh, we will take the Hispanic, Caucasian, or even Asian child, but “dadgum, we just don’t know how we’d parent that African American child.”  What the ___________?!? (you fill in the blank)

Now, to be fair, I could have written a completely separate blog (and, maybe I will) about all the beautiful stories I have seen of transracial fostering and adoption.  Families who love the children in their home, despite any differences in race.  Of moms and dads seeking out anyone and everyone they can find to give them information regarding what hair and skin products work best for ‘their child’.   Families celebrating differences and aspiring to immerse their child fully into their cultural heritage.  But, today, in the midst of all the quotes, posts, and reflections my heart stopped instead on the ‘why?’

We have come so far, but, ‘why’ are we still not there?  We can do better America.  Child after child in the foster care system needs us too. 

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

***I realize this is a heavy conversation and all parts of the conversation cannot be worked out and stated in a simple blog post.  I also respect families being honest during the licensure process about their personal limitations.  Regardless, as an advocate for children in foster care, I feel this is a topic to highlight, address, and bring to light. 

If you want to learn more about ‘disproportionality’ in Foster Care ask Google, or click on one of the links provided below.

http://www.ncjfcj.org/sites/default/files/Disproportionality%20Rates%20for%20Children%20of%20Color%20in%20Foster%20Care%202013.pdf

http://www.casey.org/Resources/Publications/pdf/RacialDisproportionality_ES.pdf

http://www.ncjfcj.org/resource-library/publications/disproportionality-rates-children-color-foster-care-2013-technical

http://www.childrensrights.org/issues-resources/foster-care/facts-about-disparities-in-foster-care/

https://www.childwelfare.gov/systemwide/cultural/disporp/

http://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/cb/afcarsreport19.pdf

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

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….