Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Foster care math

He arrived on a Thursday evening, covered in sweat. He wore a shirt and jacket that were too small and a pair of shorts despite the freezing temperatures. He carried a blue and black blanket that reeked of...something. And that was all he had.

One outfit plus one blanket equals the sum total of his earthly possessions.

I peeled the sweaty clothes from his back and coaxed him into the tub with a yellow ball and bubbles. He did not speak or cry but only whimpered. I spoke quietly to him as I washed him, wincing at the abuse the scars on his body revealed - the story I could easily read in the size and shape of the marks. I pulled his two-year-old self out of the tub and wrapped him in a towel.

"Mommy?" he said.

Sometimes I wish my door did not open for vulnerable and broken children. That I could turn the lock and go about my life unaware of the need on the other side. But that is not my reality. Even with the door shut tight, I can hear those kids out there, crying for help. I can sense their presence. And I can't turn them away.

A phone call from CPS plus an empty bed plus a willing heart equals an open door.

He handed me the same three toys over and over until he grew tired and a wild look appeared in his eyes. I laid him down in our extra bed as his whimpering returned and assured him he was okay. Everything was okay. It was going to be okay.

"Mommy?" he said.

"No. Auntie. I'm Auntie."

"Night night," he said.

I stayed awake worrying. His placement with us was meant to be very where would he go from here? Would he be safe? What was he used to doing? Eating? Did he have any allergies? Diseases? I had no way of answering any of those questions and there was no one who could, not even the case worker.

Too many questions plus not enough answers equals a terrible night's sleep.

Over the next few days, I did my best to make him feel at home. To give him as many hugs and kisses as he would let me, which wasn't nearly enough. I kept him clean and safe and fed and had him looked over by the doctor. I threw away his only possessions once I learned they'd come from a drug lab and replaced them with new clothes that actually fit and a new blanket and a giant stuffed dog he refused to put down.

Two weeks dragged - and flew - by and then he was gone. Moved to a different situation deemed by the state to be best for him. And I prayed God would watch over him wherever he went, but I also breathed a sigh of relief because my anxious hyper-vigilance was no longer required 24/7 and a hundred questions from every person I ran into no longer needed to be answered or avoided and no more poopy diapers needed to be changed. Phew. Life returned to normal.

But I could still hear him say, "Mommy?"

So I stocked up on diapers and wipes and am getting as much sleep as I can so next time I'll be ready to do it again. Because the sum total of a vulnerable child's possessions plus an open door plus a terrible night's sleep multiplied by the love God puts in my heart just for these kids equals a difficult and meaningful calling.

That's foster care math.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Dangerous dreams

It's a risky thing to have a dream. Having a dream means leaving the relative safety of the sidewalk and stepping onto the unpredictable road of the unknown. I believe it was Erin Hanson who wrote these words you'll see all over Pinterest: "What if I fall? Oh, but my darling, what if you fly?" Flying is awesome. Flying is definitely the desired result if you take a leap of faith. But...what if you don't fly?


It's risky.

There's another inspirational saying from Pinterest that goes: "Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you'll still land among the stars." I used to love that saying. Yes, I thought. Dream big. Don't be afraid to fail. Shoot for the moon. I loved it.

Until now. Now one of the most ambitious goals of my life is actually within reach and I'm soaring above the clouds and dreaming big dreams...and the pavement looks awfully unforgiving from up here. Suddenly the stars feel less like a sparkly "almost made it" and more like the black abyss of space. Land among the stars? You mean where I'll die a horrible death and be swallowed up by the void?

Gulp. Thanks for nothing, Pinterest.

But dreams, no matter how dangerous, don't just go away. I've dreamed about and worked toward publishing a novel for many, many years, and recently I sold one of my books to Bethany House (a major Christian book publisher), and they plan to release it October 2020. A real book of mine. On the actual shelves of Barnes and Noble. On the bedside table of people all around the country.

But it's risky.

What if no one likes it? What if no one buys it? What if it's a huge flop and no other publisher will ever consider working with me again? What if my story offends someone? What if it puts everyone to sleep?

What if all the time and heart and sweat and tears and financial investment I've put into this comes to nothing? 'Tis dangerous to dream, indeed.

No, the wisdom of Pinterest doesn't give me much comfort when I consider my dreams now. But the Bible has this verse that says, "Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed." That's Proverbs 16:3. And that's something I can hold on to when I consider my dreams. This verse doesn't promise my book will be a best seller. Or that it will even sell a single copy. But it does promise that if I place my dream in the Lord's hands, to do whatever He wants with it, the outcome can be considered a success. Yes, even failure can be success when God uses it for His greater purpose.

It's still risky. I could still face-plant on the pavement. But I can trust that God will have a reason for that.

So here's to chasing big dreams in faith, and here's to everyone out there willing to risk the vast nothingness of space for just one shot at that moon. Just remember God's got this.

After all, He made the moon.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Top 3 Questions People Ask About Foster Care And Adoption

When people find out we have adopted or that we are foster parents, they always ask questions. Some of them are wildly inappropriate. Some of them are hurtful (as a friend said to me recently, "To be involved in orphan-care ministry is to be misunderstood."). But for the most part people have genuine and sincere questions that I really do want to answer.

Here are the top three:

1) How much does it cost?

Everything always comes down to money, doesn't it? But it takes so much more than money. It costs everything you have and everything you are. You can hold nothing back.

So the short answer to the question is "everything." The long answer is "it depends."

If you pursue foster care, the training is free, the state provides healthcare for the child, and you get a monthly reimbursement check to cover room and board for the child. But while the monetary commitment is minimal, the time commitment is enormous. You will be up at night comforting scared children. You will be spending hours on the road taking them to appointments and visits. You will sacrifice your comfort zone and your need for control and your personal space.

If you pursue adoption (outside of foster care), the monetary cost is often very high. It is not unusual for costs to reach $30-40,000. Most people do not have that kind of money sitting around. We sure didn't when we adopted. But did you know there are no-interest loans available for adoptive families? Grants and matching grants? Employee adoption benefits? Hundreds of fundraisers tailored to adoptive families? I'm told it's not good manners to talk about personal finances, but I'm going to do it anyway: when we adopted our daughter we received $16,000 in grant money and about $10,000 from fundraising efforts. We never could've afforded it otherwise.

So, how much does it cost? It depends. But you can be sure even when the state picks up the tab, there is still a price to pay.

2) How do I know if I'm ready?

People ask me this all the time and I still haven't figured out a better answer than "You don't." You didn't know if you were ready when you first started driving, when you got your first job, when you got married, when you had a baby, when you started a new job, when you bought a house. But you hoped you were. You did everything you could to be ready and then you held your breath, said a prayer, and dove on in.

If you're waiting for someone to come along with a magic wand and sprinkle Readiness dust on your forehead, it's never going to happen.

3) How can I be involved?/How can I help?/What can I do?

This question comes in many variations but the answer is always the same: be available. It's that simple and that complex.

If all your resources are maxed out on personal pursuits, you will have nothing left to give vulnerable children or families and organizations trying to help vulnerable children. And I'm not really talking primarily about money here (although you wouldn't believe the amount of joy a $25 gift card to Dairy Queen can bring an emotionally exhausted foster family). I'm talking about your time. Your love. Your thoughtfulness. Are you available? Or are all the days of your week already filled with all the many wonderful things you and your family want to be part of?

There's nothing wrong with those things. But if there's no breathing room in your life, no extra, what do you have to give? How will you be ready if an opportunity to help comes along? What happens if you become aware of a need you would love to help with, if only you had...more...time?

I'm not saying to give up gymnastics or art lessons or family bowling night or whatever. But for every yes, there has to be a corresponding no. So if you really want to help vulnerable kids, build some margin into your life. Choose your "yeses" and "nos" carefully. Be available.

So, what other questions do you have? What is the one thing you wish you knew about foster care or adoption but have always been too afraid to ask? Drop your question in the comments and click on this link to go to my website and download the Road to Adoption Guide, which answers the fourth most common question: Where do I start?