Wednesday, December 4, 2019
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 short-term...so 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
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
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?
Tuesday, July 16, 2019
But time marches on. We fostered another little boy for a few weeks, and then after he left we didn't get any calls from the state. Weeks went by. Months. No calls. My arms started to feel a little empty. I thought if the state called looking for a placement for another baby...well, I kind of hoped they would. I was ready.
Then it happened. A newborn was in the hospital and needed a safe home. Would we take him? Were we willing?
My heart was immediately invested. Yes! Yes, we would take him! But...we were on vacation. Can he stay with another family until we get back in a few days?
The case worker said yes. We told our kids they could expect a new baby when we returned home. My mind raced with plans. I'd have to get the bottles back out...set up the crib...see what size diapers I had under the bed...I couldn't wait to meet him. My heart was full to bursting. Then, plans changed.
Instead of moving the baby from home to home, the case worker decided it was best for him to stay where he was, with the family who had agreed to take him while we were gone.
He would not be coming to our house.
I would not be setting up the crib.
Why are we doing this? I wondered. Why did we sign up for this roller coaster ride? I prayed and asked God why this was happening but couldn't hear an answer over the roar of disappointment in my ears.
Three days after we got back, we got another call. No, not from the state. Not to foster. Instead, a nonprofit orphan-care ministry in Bozeman was bringing five kids from the Philippines to stay with five host families here for a month to meet other families who might be interested in adopting them. Five older kids who are running out of time to find a forever family. The program is called Summer of Hope. The kids were coming in a few days. But...one of the host families had to drop out. They needed another one ASAP. One that had a current home study and a foster care license and no placements. Would we do it? Were we willing?
It wasn't what I had planned. I could still practically feel the weight of a newborn in my arms, and now they wanted me to take a 10-year-old girl from the Philippines? My heart did this sort of gasping thing that feels like it's turning inside out. This was not what I had planned. This was not what I had planned!!!
A child needed me. Needed our home. Needed a hand to reach out and span the distance between spending the rest of her life in an orphanage and finding a forever family. Yes. Yes, we would do it. No, it wasn't what I had wanted. What I had planned. But yes, we would host this girl. And when she comes, we will advocate for her, be her champions, so this can truly be a Summer of Hope for her.
You know, sometimes plans change. I don't know what God is up to. Why He worked this out the way He did. But I know that no matter how hard it is, how much it hurts sometimes, having a willing heart and an open home is a great position to be in.
You never know what might happen when plans change.
Photo by averie woodard on Unsplash
Tuesday, June 25, 2019
It started with a "Daddy, I don't feel good" before we even got to camp. (And by camp I mean the KOA in Great Falls, which I know doesn't even qualify as camping to some of you, but we needed an easy place to meet up with my family and this was it.) Andy pulled over JUST in time for Simon to fling himself from the car and puke in the gravel on the side of the road.
It was all downhill from there.
We pulled into Site #6 at the KOA and stepped out onto a way-smaller-than-it-looked-in-the-pictures grassy area covered in dog poop. Right where our tent was supposed to go. You know what else was waiting for us where our tent was supposed to go? A yellow-jacket nest. Before I could even get the dog poop cleaned up, the horrible, vindictive buzzing creatures had zeroed in on the most vulnerable among us: poor Simon.
While Simon wailed in pain over two stings to the neck, I frantically tried to find some ice or something to give him. Why hadn’t I packed Benadryl cream? I’m a horrible mother. Then, another scream pierced the air. My sister-in-law limped over from neighboring Site #7 bleeding from her foot. She had stepped on - of all things - a tiny American flag pin laying on the ground pointy side up.
We’d been in camp less than 20 minutes.
The first night was miserable. Every hour the sound of my brother’s air pump whirred through camp as he re-pumped his air mattress, because it, too, had been punctured by the American flag. (This is the price of freedom, people.) Then, every time one of the kids had to get up to go to the bathroom…guess what? They couldn't get into the stupid building because the code on the door wouldn’t work. Not to mention that the man in Site #5 snored so loud we thought there was a landslide, and the drip hoses strewn willy-nilly all over the ground squealed like incoming missiles in the quiet of night. Needless to say, no one got much sleep.
So we were all exhausted the next day. But we were together, and that’s what camping is all about, right? Spending time as a family away from TV and cooking implements and clean sheets.
We spent most of the day at the Electric City Water Park in Great Falls and returned to camp with high hopes of having a better night. After all, we figured out how to shut off the squealing hoses, we stuck a rock in the bathroom door so no one would have to pee their pants, and my brother patched the hole in his air mattress. Things were looking up.
Then, in the wee hours of the morning, what was this? What are these strange sounds? Is the KOA being invaded by hostiles? Nope. A church group had come bright and early to set up a day camp in the field next to our sites, of course. Because the only logical place to hold a Bible camp is in the middle of a KOA while people are sleeping.
Did I mention the automatic paper towel dispensers in the bathrooms did not, in fact, automatically dispense? And that there was an overweight squirrel casing our supplies every time we turned around?
Anyway, our third day at camp was very strange. Everywhere we turned, there were little kids in matching neon green shirts doing crafts and singing about The Golden Rule. The hot tub at the KOA splash park was about as warm as the Gallatin River. And we caught probably a hundred yellow-jackets in the traps we set up.
But that wasn't the weirdest part. The weirdest part was that so many helicopters were flying back and forth directly overhead that we went to the KOA office to use their Wi-Fi so we could check and see if we had gone to war with North Korea. I am not joking. We thought World War III had started and we had missed it. We were relived to discover there was an Air Base nearby practicing maneuvers. Then we discovered someone from a neighboring site was working against us to keep those wretched bathroom doors closed. We didn't know who it was, but every time we stuck a rock in the door, they would come along and kick it out.
A mystery was definitely afoot.
And we had two more nights to go.
(click here for Part 2)
Wednesday, May 29, 2019
Before I was a foster parent, I had no idea what acronyms like TPR, FEM, or CASA* meant. No idea that a bio parent only had to be clean for a couple of months for reunification to be considered. Or that court proceedings regarding the life and future of a child I had raised as my own could happen without me being told about it until after. But that was life before.
Life before passed by without obsession over missed phone calls that could be from a social worker asking if I would take a placement. It passed without standing in the diaper aisle at Wal-Mart trying to remember if there were any sizes I didn't have stashed under my bed at home...just in case. And maybe I'll pick up these fleece sleepers on clearance while I'm at it because at any moment a baby might come to my home with nothing but the clothes on his back.
Life before did not include terms like "trauma-informed" or "attachment disorders." Life before was unaware there was a patch you could wear on your skin to monitor your drug use or that a follicle hair test could trace your drug use up to three months back. My life before did not see the vicious cycle people can be stuck in when they lose their driver's license but can't get a job without it but can't pay off their fines to get their license back without a job. Or the cycle of trying to get off meth by taking doctor-prescribed pills and then losing access to the pills and ending up back on meth to cope with withdrawals from the pills. None of that had touched my world...before.
Before I was a foster parent, my kids didn't know there were children out there being removed from their homes who would have nowhere to go if not for foster families. They had no idea babies could be abandoned while their parents dug through dumpsters looking for food, or that a traffic stop could result in an arrest that left a child sitting alone at a police station waiting for a social worker to pick her up and take her to a stranger's house.
But now they know. We know. And our world is bigger for it because it has to be.
Life before was less complicated. More sheltered. Easier. There was a lot I didn't know. And life before did not require me to open my heart to children and families who would break it to pieces.
That was before. But now? Now I'll only look ahead, because I can never go back to life before.
*Terminate Parental Rights, Family Engagement Meeting, Court Appointed Special Advocate
Tuesday, May 7, 2019
Or maybe it's just on my mind because I live with it every day. I don't know.
Anyway, I've noticed there seems to be a hierarchy regarding which invisible special needs are given accommodation and which aren't. The ones given consideration are typically the ones that are more tangible and/or easy to understand. Let's use a peanut allergy as an example. This is an invisible challenge (you can't see if from the outside), but just about anyone can understand it: You eat peanuts, you get sick. Don't eat peanuts.
People living with this challenge know it's not nearly that simple of course, but for the most part people who don't have a peanut allergy can still understand the problem and make accommodations. Here's a Kit-Kat bar instead of a Reese's. Here's a ham sandwich instead of PB&J.
But people are less willing to accommodate special needs they don't understand. RAD? APD? ELD? What do those letters mean? Trauma-informed parenting? What's that? Why can't your kid just do what all the other kids are doing? They don't look like there's anything "wrong" with them. They don't look like they have any "problems." And that trauma they experienced happened years ago, why is it still an issue?
Because the brain is a tricky thing, that's why. But that's not the point. The point is, invisible challenges should never be dismissed as imaginary just because they're hard to see and hard to understand.
Invisible friends are imaginary. Invisible special needs are not.
So if your child has an invisible challenge, I want you to know I see you. I see your child. Their struggle, and yours, isn't any less real just because others refuse to acknowledge or accommodate it. It isn't any less real just because it's invisible to most people.
But most importantly, God sees you. Nothing you do for your child goes unnoticed by your Creator. When you are snubbed by friends who don't understand your parenting, He is there. When you have to miss an event or activity because of your child's special needs, He stays behind with you so you are not alone. You are not invisible to Him. Your child's needs are not invisible to Him. Even if you're angry at Him for the situation you find yourself in, even if you blame Him...even if you don't think He exists...He sees you.
"The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." -1 Samuel 16:7b
Tuesday, April 2, 2019
Then the phone rings. Do you have room for another baby, CPS wonders. Or a set of siblings. Or a teenager. Well, do you? Can you take them?
Your heart constricts, the unforgiving fingers of all your responsibilities squeezing it tight. Your life is already full as it is. You already have three kids. Their parents were sent to jail, CPS says. Or rehab. Or worse. Please can you take them?
Everyone always says, "I could never do that." "I would get too attached." You know exactly what they mean. You can't do it. You do get too attached. And there go your chances of eating ice cream in peace, because you tell CPS yes.
A bag of clothes that smells like cigarettes sits on the floor of your house while you set up a crib or put sheets on a bed. A child watches, afraid. The CPS worker is long gone. You offer a snack or a smile or a hug. You wonder what you've gotten yourself into. But the day goes by, as days do, and all things seem possible in the light of day. You will love this child, you say. Your family will pitch in and make sacrifices. Everything will be fine.
Then night falls. The two-year-old who hasn't spoken a word starts screaming "Baby! Baby!" and reaching for his little sister when you try to put him to bed. He's never once asked for his mom or dad. But he refuses to be separated from his "baby." Or the seven-year-old huddles under her sheets, rocking back and forth for hours until she eventually wets the bed. Or the fifteen-year-old sneaks a knife from the kitchen to keep under his pillow, terrified of who might come for him while everyone else is asleep.
You want to lay down and rest, but you can't. Every muscle is poised to jump up and run to this new child in your home in case they need you. Your ears are strained to hear the slightest sound that tells you something is wrong. You stare into the darkness, praying to God and re-playing the question you've been asked a hundred times: "How do you do it?" You don't know. You add more questions: "How did I get myself into this?" "What if something terrible happens?" You begin to wonder if there are any answers. The darkness presses in.
Then something amazing occurs.
Something beautiful...and full of grace.
You see your new child's consumption of a few bites of eggs as a victory. You learn their middle name or their favorite color. You coax from them the smallest of smiles. You adjust. And all those questions kind of fade into the background as you find yourself once again trudging through your day--doing laundry, packing lunches, taking meat out to thaw for dinner--dreaming about putting the kids to bed early and eating ice cream straight from the carton. And you put one foot in front of the other and soldier on.
And that's how you do it.
One night at a time.
Wednesday, February 6, 2019
There are people out there right now making this correlation between foster care and abortion. They say the foster care system is a raging dumpster fire (they're not wrong) and since a lot of unwanted children are going to end up there, they're better off being aborted. They believe it's better not to be born at all than to be thrown into foster care, potentially abused, tossed around by the system, become screwed up, and probably start the whole cycle over again. And where will all those self-righteous pro-lifers be then?
I can see where they're coming from. Even King Solomon in the Bible, when he was overwhelmed by the tragedy he saw in the world, said that better than the living or the dead is "the one who has never been born, who has not seen the evil that is done under the sun." (Ecclesiastes 4:3) Better to be killed in the womb than face a life of tragedy and disaster, right?
Well, let's think this through. If it was better to be aborted than risk living a crummy life, then none of us would be here. I've had tragedy and hardship in my life. You have too. And there's more to come. But I don't wish my mother had aborted me.
Sure, it's easy for me to say. My parents had jobs and were married and wanted me and loved me. What about the unborn babies whose parents are drug addicts? Or whose parents just don't want them? What about the mothers whose lives will be made more difficult by having a baby? Isn't allowing those babies to be born just heaping more pain onto an already pain-saturated world?
Yes, actually. It's a messed up, broken world, and every child born into it will add to the brokenness. That is one hundred percent true. But every child also brings beauty and life to the world. And each one of us whose mothers didn't abort us, despite the hardships we would face, has something to offer. Later in Ecclesiastes 4 (verses 9-10), King Solomon says, "Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up."
That is a pity, indeed. And that is why every person who believes in giving babies a chance at life should be involved in helping others up. They should be advocates. Foster parents. Adoptive parents. Generous donors. Volunteers. Informed voters. Friends. Concerned neighbors. Lovers of all people. People of prayer. People who care. If you believe life is worth living, you should act like it. If you believe there's no such thing as an unwanted child, what are you doing about it?
Debates about foster care and abortion and women's rights and blah blah blah will continue for as long as there are people in the world. And people only have the luxury of debating such things because their mothers chose life, by the way. But when I hear people say a child is better off dead than ending up in foster care, all I can think of is this: The world will not become a better place by aborting more babies. But the babies who are born can make the world a better place.
Tuesday, January 8, 2019
Sounds simple, right?
Since becoming a foster parent, I've found that many people have incorrect assumptions about the foster process. Some people think that if a child is taken away, he can never go back. Some believe if you take a child in, you are automatically planning to adopt him. Some even believe the kids in foster care are given up or abandoned by their parents, rather than forcibly removed. (It *is* true that a tiny percentage of kids in foster care were abandoned, but the overwhelming majority are removed against the parent's wishes.)
At first, I wondered how people could have so many misconceptions. How do people not understand how this works? Why don't they get it? Doesn't reunification make sense? Then we went through a long, painful process with our first foster placement and I realized something important: Nothing about this makes sense.
In a perfect world, kids would always be able to reunite with their parents. Scratch that, in a perfect world, kids wouldn't need to be removed from their parents in the first place. But this isn't a perfect world, and reunification is not always the answer.
Now don't get me wrong. I believe in reunification. I believe parents should be given the chance to parent and families should be reunited whenever possible. I do. But the truth is, successful reunification is rare. The reasons why would take another whole post (and I might do that one day), but sometimes one of the biggest barriers to successful reunification is the fact the child has been taken to begin with: Once the child is gone, the parents lose the motivation that was keeping them afloat. Once the child is gone, they start to sink. Once the child is gone...chances go up that he's never coming back.
If this all sounds rather bleak to you, that's good. Foster care should never sound happy - there's nothing joyful about families disintegrating. About trauma. About loss. And on one hand, bleak is about the only word I can think of to describe this whole foster care business.
On the other hand.
Every time a child is removed, every time a parent says they will do whatever it takes to get their kid back and then disappears, every time the system bounces a kid around trying to find something - anything - that will help him, there is hope. Hope that this time it will work out. Hope that the systems in place will do what they were meant to do. Hope for reunification. Hope.
No matter how many times promises are broken, families are left in limbo, kids are jerked back and forth in a terrible tug-of-war...I still have Hope. And I don't think I could keep being a foster parent, keep caring, keep getting up every day, without it.
"We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield." Psalm 33:20