This Is Your Home

“Home wasn’t a set house, or a single town on a map. It was wherever the people who loved you were, whenever you were together. Not a place, but a moment, and then another, building on each other like bricks to create a solid shelter that you take with you for your entire life, wherever you may go.”  – Sarah Dessen

Since the first day our children were placed with us we’ve tried to make them feel at home, and not just at any home, but their home.  When they arrived we had their names and pictures up in their rooms.  We had new sheets and comforters on their beds.  We wanted to create an environment where they not only felt accepted, but an environment where they felt comfortable.

Over the first ninety days we feel like we have had some success.  And yet, even with some success we still see uncertainty in their lives.  We were reminded of that tonight as our 9-year-old foster son came around the corner from the kitchen and said, “Mr. Keith, I fixed your trash bag.”  He was referring to fixing the bag in the trash can.  He started to walk away and then I called his name and said, “hey buddy, you didn’t fix my trash bag, you fixed your trash bag, because this is your home too.”

It sounds so simple, but we think it is impactful.  It reminds him and his siblings that for this season they are a part of our family and this is their home. They may not readily accept it.  In fact, they may never accept it, but we are not responsible for their response.  We are responsible for being proactive to help them feel at ease and at home.

With so much uncertainty in a foster child’s life, it is up to the foster parent to create an environment that allows the child to feel safe, comfortable, and accepted.  Here are a few ideas we have come up with;

  • Create a space that is their own.  Easiest place is probably their bedroom.  Allow them to hang up pictures, pick out paint colors, etc.
  • Hang up pictures of your foster children around the home.  (Our extended family (grandparents) even chose to do this too!)
  • Hang up their art work, report cards, and other items that might be important to them.  Refrigerator recognition makes most children feel valued.
  • Help them unpack and hang up their clothes (if they will let you.)
  • Plan meals around food items they like.
  • Have them help you shop and cook.
  • Take them on ALL family trips that your own children would go on.
  • Ask them how they want you to refer to them in public.
  • Make sure they have their own things and that they understand those items will always be their items.
  • Give them chores around the home, so that they feel a part of the family.
  • Allow them to pick out family activities.  Empower them to have a voice, just like all family members should.
  • Allow them to decide what they will call you.  It empowers them and allows them a comfort level with you.  Three of the four foster children in our home now prefer mom and dad.  The fourth one is still comfortable with Mr. Keith and Mrs. Staci.  Both are okay with us!

As we do this, we hope the things we do will be, “but a moment, and then another, building on each other like bricks to create a solid shelter that they can take with them for their entire lives, wherever they may go.”

We would love to hear from other foster parents about different ideas they have tried to create a ‘home’ environment for children who may only be around for short season.  Feel free to share in the comment section below.

Snuggle Time and Love

Early on in our six-year old’s life we began a tradition called ‘snuggle time’.  Essentially, it is the time right before going to sleep where we lay in bed and snuggle her.  It was something that quickly became a favorite of hers and she would often tell us, ‘I’ll always be your nuggle-bug’.  Yes, nuggle, instead of snuggle.  This tradition has carried over to our second child and she appears to like it as much as her older sister.   We also started night-time devotionals and prayer with our daughters at an early age.  Something they are still quick to remind us of if we ever forget, especially on the nights they are avoiding sleep!

Since coming to our home in October our four foster children have been exposed to devotional, prayer, and snuggle time.  And, while we do not ‘snuggle’ them.  We do make a point to do devotionals and pray together.  Then we give each of them big hugs, tell them how much we love them, how proud of them we are and then we tuck them in to their beds.  And, if we ever forget, much like our biological daughters they are quick to let us know.

Funny thing is, these practices are just habit for us as parents.  And yet, tonight our 9 yr. old foster son asked Staci, “why do y’all give snuggles?’ Staci explained it is our way of showing love to our girls and then proceeded to ask him, “Didn’t you’re mom and dad snuggle you when you lived at home?”  He thought about it for a long time and then said, “No, but when I get home I’m going to teach my dad to tuck me in and read the Bible.” 

His statement is humbling and reminds us that they are watching how we love and how we parent.  It reminds us that our love will extend back into their home.  That our actions as parents now, will be reflected by these children when they are reunited with their biological parents.

These are the nights and statements that make what we do worth it, while also breaking our heart for the children we have grown to love.

If and when these children get to go home;

  • We hope their parents understand how precious these little ones really are. 
  • We hope their parents learn to tuck them in and read the Bible.
  • And, we hope these children remember what it is like to have a mom and dad make them feel important every night before bed. 

In this life we never know how our love will impact others.  But, this we do know…..Our love has already begun to create change beyond the present!

Chosen, A Mother of Six

“From Paul, God Himself chose me to be an apostle and He gave me the promised life that Jesus Christ makes possible.”  2 Timothy 1:1

Being a mom of six isn’t always easy.  There is always laundry to be folded, dishes to be washed, messes to be cleaned up, hugs to be given, stories to be heard, hurts to be fixed, snacks to be made, and love to be given.  But, this is the promised life that Jesus has made possible for me.  He has fought for me to be given this life of endless laundry and dishes, because I have been chosen (for now) to be the mom of an additional four children who are all beautiful inside and out.

This life of endless hugs and ‘I love you’s’.

This life of pouring myself out into others, but getting so much more back in return.

This life of continual blessings.

A life that can be hard at times, but then I’m reminded that I have been chosen, and, for me, that makes all the difference in the world!

Storybook Endings

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For most teen girls, the opportunity to attend a prom is seen as a magical time when they have the opportunity to dress up, fix their hair, and be a princess for the night.  But what happens to the girls who can’t afford to purchase a nice dress and enjoy the magical evening?  One young lady asked this very question and decided to do something about it.  Rachel Smith, a senior at Canyon High, had been a part of service projects in the past and had always wanted to lead one herself, but had never had the opportunity until this past May.  That is when her parents attended an event hosted by Arrow Child and Family Ministries, and learned about the need for the Amarillo community to wrap their arms around young people in the foster care system.  Her parents came home that evening and shared everything they had learned with her.  She knew then she had to do something for these young people.

But what could she, a senior in high school, do to help these children?  That is when the idea of “Storybook Endings” came to her and she began to put in motion a plan to assist teen girls who found themselves in the foster care system during prom season.  As she began her senior year in high school, Rachel began organizing, publicizing, and advocating for other teenage girls to donate their old prom dresses so that girls in foster care would have an assortment of dresses to choose from for their prom in the spring of 2013. Rachel was blown away by the incredible responses by other girls and teachers in her school.  Over the span of a few months she was able to collect over 60 prom dresses and recently she delivered the dresses to Arrow Child and Family Ministries, a local non-profit organization that serves foster children in local foster homes, adoptive homes, and in an Emergency Children’s Shelter.

Wanting to change the world is not a new thing for Rachel, in fact, she hopes to major in Social Entrepreneurship in college and her ultimate goal is to use her skill-set and the skill-sets of those around her to better the world.  Organizing “Storybook Endings” would give her the opportunity to make an impact in the here-and-now, and serve teenagers in foster care, a group who are often forgotten by the rest of society.  Rachel stated that her idea for “Storybook Endings” came from the thought process that for every young girl, prom-time should be a time when they can wear a dress that will make them feel special.  In addition to gathering dresses, Rachel is working on collecting books for children and teenagers in foster care, creating for them a complete storybook ending.

Rachel Smith is proof that everyone can do something to serve others. Her story reminds us that we are never too young to begin changing the world around us, even if it begins with one dress or one book at a time. Everyone deserves a storybook ending, especially children who have already faced so many hardships in life.

To learn more about Arrow Child and Family Ministries and how you might be able to serve children in Foster Care, log on to Facebook at www.facebook.com/arrowamarillo or contact Keith Howard at 1-806-335-9138 or keith.howard@arrow.org

We Needed a Father…

Since God has a Son of His own, and such a Son, how wonderful God’s love in adopting us! We needed a Father, but He did not need sons. Thomas Watson

Take a moment to let the quote above sink in. The Father did not need us, but He CHOSE us. He had an amazing Son. He had no reason or need to fill a gap or void in His life. He was already fulfilled, and yet, we needed a Father. Our foster care journey has never been about filling a void or need, it has always been about children needing a home. Our spiritual adoption causes us to act, our Father moves us to respond, and our lives will have no greater cause than to be poured out for those who need it most.

God didn’t need our sin, our brokenness, our rebellion, and our failure. He did not need our disrespect, our acting out, and our behavioral issues. But, He knew we needed a Father who could handle all of that and still love us, redeem us, and create all things anew in us.

He had a Son, but you and I were fatherless, so He chose us!

There are over 400,000 children in the Foster Care system nationally. You may not need a son or a daughter, but there are children and teenagers out there who need a home, a parent, a role model, a mentor–there are children who need to know that someone has chosen them.

Our adoption should always cause us to act and move as those who have been graciously and overwhelmingly adopted.

Adoption Disruption…Let’s be Honest

Let’s be honest.  God is perfect, His character is perfect, His creation was intended to be perfect….but, WE created brokenness, confusion, selfishness and imperfection when WE, as humanity, made a decision in the Garden to choose that which was not good for us.  It was in that moment that the original plan, intent, and perfect creation of God was broken.  We did that, not God.  So, when the world is in chaos, disease is rampant, and nature is groaning, let us not blame or presume that it is God’s plan.  Instead, collectively we should own up to it; lay blame where blame is due…..on us.

In the ‘Christian’ Adoption & Foster Care world, one of the most overused and non-theological statements often utilized is, “We prayed about it and we feel God has released us from this child.”  Just today I spent 20-30 minutes listening to a fellow adoption co-worker share her heart, brokenness and righteous anger over a “perfect adoptive placement” that ended with “well, we prayed about it…”  Where does that fall in line with the character of God?  Don’t get me wrong, this is not a “throw stones at others” kind of thing.  I am very aware of my own sin, my own brokenness, my own selfishness, and the imperfect choices I have made.  This is more about, not bringing God into a conversation and/or giving him credit for something He is not about, such as adoption disruptions.  We cannot claim God wove the adoption together in one breath and in the next claim God has released us from such a commitment, because let’s be honest, it just didn’t work out for you, your spouse and/or your family.  Every broken placement, failed adoption, unfulfilled promise creates further trauma in the child whom ultimately is the one to carry the load of consequences for such broken choices.  So, please don’t hide behind the God card because it is convenient and gives you peace.

So, what do I tell adoptive families currently in training?  I simply tell them that if they ever get to a place humanly that they make the choice that a child can no longer stay in their home then I need them to tell me humanly why they are making that decision.  Please do not bring God into that conversation, because tossing aside the “least of these”, “fatherless”, and the “orphan” is not part of God’s DNA.  It simply does not match up with the God of Scripture or the Redeemer of the Gospel.  So, own up to it.  Humanly admit where you are at.  That is the place where true and open dialogue can begin.

God’s original plan was broken by us, and since then, He has been on a path of rescue, redemption, restoration, and adoption.  None of which align with the statement, “We prayed about it and God has released us…”  That statement aligns with the popular belief that whatever God calls us too should fit neatly into our lives without any mess, any consequence, any hardship, or any heartbreak.  Which, if you’re wondering, also doesn’t match up with the God of the Gospel.

25 Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. 27 And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

28 “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? 29 For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, 30 saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’ Matthew 14:25-30

Count the cost friends…because, there are children, in need of adoptive homes, counting on you.

****As a professional in the child welfare field I have seen times when an adoptive placement has broken down for some pretty damaging reasons, such as sexual abuse, physical abuse, reactive attachment disorder that was previously undiagnosed and several other reasons.  This post takes all of those things into account and is not meant to be a blanket statement over every adoption disruption, but more of a call to all who would consider the adoption path.  Be mindful of what God is calling you to, commit to that, and pray.  But, ultimately if it breaks down, evaluate that breakdown, humanly accept it, and never blame or give credit to God for the disruption.  He is perfect and He makes perfect choices; we are imperfect and we make imperfect choices.

Not All Are Called, BUT All Are Called

Let us explain…We do not believe everyone is called to be a foster parent or even an adoptive parent, but we do believe EVERYONE is called to DO SOMETHING.

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” James 1:27

There is not a lot of wiggle room in this verse, ‘pure and faultless is this…” So, if all are called, how can all be involved?

  • Prayer – Absolutely the #1 thing you can do is pray.  Pray for the ‘fatherless’, the ‘orphan’, and the child in foster care.  Pray that they would experience hope, healing, stability, and love.  Pray for the families on the foster care or adoption journey.  Ask God to encourage them, uplift them and provide for them.  Pray for the biological families that no longer have their children.  Ask God to redeem, heal and restore their broken lives. Pray for the case workers, social workers, agency workers, and state workers.  Their job is a selfless one and usually has high ‘burnout’.  Consistency in this piece is essential to consistency for the children they serve.  So, PRAY!
  • Support – We can almost guarantee you a local foster family would LOVE to have support from their friends, family, and church members.  They already understand their the ‘crazy ones’, but they sure would love for people to understand and accept their so-called ‘craziness’.  So offer support via becoming an approved babysitter for them, becoming an approved respite care provider, taking them a meal, being a listening ear, and most importantly affirm they are on the right path and not just crazy!  **most states have requirements for babysitters/respite care workers for foster children and most families do not like asking their families/friends to go through the process, be proactive and offer, so they never have to ask.
  • Awareness – Educate yourself regarding the needs of local and global orphans.  Find ways to plug-in and be a part of the solution.   Engage local agencies and learn more about their heart and their passion for serving children.  There will always be ways to volunteer, provide support, and help create more awareness.  The Christian Alliance for Orphans website has a million resources to educate and engage, www.cafo.org. So grab a cup of joe and start the awareness journey.  **be careful or you might become one of the ‘crazy ones’.

As God’s adopted children, we believe taking care of the child in foster care and the global orphan is a part of our spiritual DNA.  Unfortunately, without exposure to the need many people never experience an awakening of that part of their spiritual make up, and yet, we are all called.

We guarantee you somewhere in the world tonight a child prayed, “God, help me..”  Your adopted DNA is awakening and yearning to do something, so go do it, another child can’t wait.

 

Foster Care..Really?

Often times when individuals or couples talk about their decision to become a foster parent they hear things like,

“I couldn’t do that. I could never love a child and then have to give them back.”
“Oh, that takes a special person.”
“You’re a better Christian than me.”
“It takes a strong person to do that.”
“But, what about your own children?” and “Why?”

Here are a few of our thoughts regarding such statements.

We are not special, nor better Christians.  In fact, our brokenness, failure, and lack of being a ‘perfect Christian’ has often times paralyzed us from moving forward.

We believe it will hurt like CRAZY to “love and release,” but if we do not do it, then WHO will?

We believe all we have is from God and belongs to God; including our home, our resources and even our CHILDREN.  So why would we shelter them–when God has given us the opportunity to expose them and teach them to live out their faith visibly and wholeheartedly?

We believe obedience is never easy, comfortable, convenient, nor safe.

As for the “Why?”

We believe our story is one of adoption and as adopted children of God, we must live out the love, mercy, grace, hope, and adoption that has been given to us. (Romans 8, Gal 4:5-6)

We believe it is mandated in Scripture for followers of Christ to take care of the “least of these,” “fatherless,” and “orphan” in some form or fashion. (Matt 25:31-46, James 1:27, Psalm 68:5-6)

We believe God has continually broken our hearts for and exposed us to children who need someone to love and protect them, while giving them a safe place to heal.

And, then there is the current Need,

  • Approximately *400,000 youth in the United States will go to bed tonight in a Foster Home, Emergency Shelter, Residential Treatment Center, Psychiatric Hospital or even in the office of a state case worker.
  • Approximately *101,000 youth are lingering in the foster care system, waiting to be adopted.
  • Approximately **600,000 youth are served in the U.S. foster care system every year.

The numbers are HUGE and such numbers are sometimes hard to wrap our minds around.  So, we went searching for the need in our own city and we found that there are over 360 youth in Foster Care, and within a 2 hour radius of our house, there are over 1,000 youth in foster care from all the surrounding communities combined.  That is our backyard, our community, and our children.

We are imperfect, inadequate, and not really special at all.  But, we have a Father whose heart breaks for these children and He seeks to find strong, loving, and safe homes for each and every one of them.

A local Pastor recently prayed, “Father you are the author of a better story…”  We believe this and we believe our lives are the tangible pages that He seeks to write His story on.  We also believe children in foster care deserve the opportunity to have their ‘better story’ written——It is our hope and prayer that our family may provide the pages for such a story as we move past ourselves to love and serve others

*http://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/cb/afcarsreport20.pdf

**http://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/cb/trends_fostercare_adoption2012.pdf