What Foster-Care Did To Our Children

Yesterday, our oldest child turned 14. We survived the first year of parenting teens, and we have many, many more to come. Actually, it’s not fair to say we “survived.” It was another exciting year watching this oldest man-child grow into the person the Lord is creating him to be. We actually stand in awe of the Lord’s work in him. He’s a smart, talented, witty, and caring young man who is digging into the Word, studying apologetics, and learning how to boldly share his faith with others. Yes – HIS faith: his assurance. The young boy who listened intently to my explanation of Scripture so many years ago and then bowed his head in our kitchen and prayed, “God, I’m as BAD as the baddest bad guy, and I need You to save me from my sins and be the Lord of my life”…that boy…is a man, and he’s already one of the strongest men I know.

He was 11 the day we pulled him and his brothers aside to tell them what the Lord had been impressing on our hearts about foster-care/adoption. He was 12 the day our first placement arrived. He is our dare-devil, adrenalin junkie, brave-heart child. He’s the one ready to hop on a plane with me and head to another country to live, or hop OUT of a plane with me and skydive for the thrill of saying we did it. I know he gave our proposal some thought, but I don’t recall any hesitation from him. When presented with the need, he and his younger brothers united with us in saying YES. Yes – we will take this next step. Yes – we will see what we can do to make a difference. Yes!

We started trying to prepare the boys for what foster care might look like (though we only knew what we had been told). We explained the circumstances and situations that could cause kids to come into care, and we told them that once we had a child/children in our home, we would not be free to talk with them about those circumstances. Even as we prepared to move forward, we feared what it might do to our kids to be exposed to peers who had experienced trauma they’ve never even heard of. We wondered if our foster-children might divert needed time and attention away from our sons. Worse yet, we wondered if they could end up hurt (physically or otherwise) by a foster-sibling. We feared the boys might grow to regret our choice or resent our ministry. We questioned if this was the “right” thing for our family, and then we looked at our sons and thought – what if it was THEM who needed a safe place? These children in need of homes are just like our children, and our children would be scared, and confused, and traumatized if all that they know was ripped away from them.

When the call we had awaited finally came, it was not quite as we imagined. We had prepared our spare room for a school-aged child. We kept the décor neutral, but hoped it might house a little girl. When we found out the need before us was for not one, but TWO babies, we were stunned. One of our sons showed reluctance, “I don’t know about babies…it seems like they would be a lot of work.” After assuring him he would NOT be asked to do diaper duty, we moved forward with our YES with only a couple of feet dragging. When the day came to meet our babies, it was love at first sight for the boys. I thought the honeymoon period of doting big brothers might come to a screeching halt after a few days, but here we are nearly 2 years later, and not much has changed. Some of our fears were realized…our kids have been faced head-on with circumstances and situations they never would have been exposed to apart from this ministry, but it’s okay. Lots of people wonder (as we did) what foster care will do to their kids. Of course, each family’s experience will be different, but we found that foster care did more FOR our family than it did “TO” us. Here are a few of the things foster care has done for our kids:

  • It has taught them to serve. From day one, there was squabbling among our boys over who was going to GET to help little sis with her shoes, or who was going to give baby boy his bottle. We whispered many prayers of thanks for that type of “fighting” and helped them learn to take turns.
  • It has given them a glimpse of the past. Reverting back to our baby days allowed us to share many things with our sons that we would not otherwise have thought of sharing. As they giggled at new word attempts, baby smiles, and efforts to jump “high” by a toddler who was firmly planted on the ground, they would ask “Did WE do that?”…. “Did I ever…” and the questions went on and on. We were able to share with them that pretty much every scenario they were observing was something that they too had experienced.
  • It has helped them to see beyond themselves. Suddenly, there was a heightened awareness in our home of the need to pitch in and help. Momma and Daddy had always had full time jobs and meals to fix, laundry to tend to, dishes to do, but now it was all being done with another very HUGE task of parenting babies placed on top of it. The boys recognized this and learned to jump in to help without being asked. They asked questions, observed, and learned how to care for the “littles” well. They offered to help with household tasks and showed great patience and understanding for their sleep-deprived Momma. They also learned to see and respond to the needs of their youngest siblings without a second thought. Finally, they grew more aware of the plight of foster children and more able to be sensitive to young people with special needs and life struggles.
  • It has made them sparkle. Having a little girl in the house means finding glitter in random places. While the boys don’t love discovering glitter on their clothes or their skin, I have to admit this has been one of the best parts for me. When I have to reach over and brush a fleck of glitter from my husband’s cheek or my son’s shirt, I am immediately filled with gratitude for this funny little reminder that God has blessed us with a girl. Her shoes, her clothes, her hair bows, her personality…SOMEthing almost always has at least a touch of glitter. Our journey through foster care has made these boys sparkle figuratively as well. The challenges we have encountered, the worries we’ve shared, and the times we’ve spent together in prayer have drawn us closer to the Lord and closer to each other. We have stood amazed watching the Lord work in and through these sons of ours to make them not only willing and kind big brothers, but also genuinely loving and compassionate.

If you wonder, like we did, what foster care might do to your kids, I cannot guarantee you that it won’t cause them pain and discomfort. (Our guys have experienced both because of our choice to foster.) I can’t promise they won’t struggle or that everything will be easy. I will say, however, that through the stretching, the changes, and the unknowns, you just might see a beautiful side of your children you haven’t yet discovered, and maybe…just maybe…they will sparkle.


Wait Well

I’m skipping ahead a bit to share this part of our story, but this week is the anniversary of Grandma’s accident (referenced in this post). She has recovered, and it just seems fitting to reflect

(May 2016)

“…and pray for us – that we will wait well,” I told our church family as I finished my prayer request. Sigh. There are lots of things I don’t do well, but waiting has always been near the top of the list. I really want to be a patient person, and motherhood has certainly helped me become more patient than I used to be, but I have SO far to go. Maybe you can relate. Maybe you’ve endured waiting: waiting for a positive pregnancy test, waiting for direction, waiting for a job, waiting for the doctor’s report, waiting for a wayward child to come home. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting.

On the other side of the wait, we usually either find the answer we hoped for or the one we dreaded (we’ve experienced both), but even so, there’s often something comforting about the end of the wait. The waiting room of life is like a treadmill: we aren’t really going anywhere, but we’re getting more and more exhausted by the moment. I’m pretty sure this is why Isaiah says “they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.” The verse brings hope of renewal and strength: “they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.” I always pictured a beautiful eagle flying over a cliff when I heard that verse. What a nice image of strength. It was a verse I heard often and rarely thought twice about – until it hit me. After a period of significant waiting in our lives, I found myself soul-weary and utterly spent. It was only then that I realized the significance of the “wait” in this verse. Of COURSE “they” need to be strengthened….they’ve been WAITING. Waiting. Is. Exhausting. It makes me think of the heart-wrenching hours spent in the ICU waiting room after Grandma’s accident. Our family and others were glued to our seats in that room: separated from the beeping machines, tubes, and wires, that kept our loved ones going, but ready at a moment’s notice to step to their sides or to hear from a visiting physician. Some kind-hearted volunteers do their best to keep that waiting room stocked with COOKIES. Why? Because they want to do something to help. They know that waiting is difficult work.  My dear friend, and others like her, put on brave faces and “hold down the fort” while their spouses serve our country overseas. I watch her with wonder because I know how bad I am at waiting. My husband has sometimes been late coming home, but I’ve never had to wait for months, or a year, or more for his arrival. Waiting. Is. Exhausting. Praise the Lord that He renews our strength. I’m quite certain that if you have been in the perpetual waiting room of life for very long, you too long for that renewal and the ability to simply function without exhaustion.

As foster parents, we find ourselves not only in the Land of the Unknown, but also in the Waiting Room on a regular basis. Between governmental regulations and parental choices, very little can be predicted about how each individual situation will play out. I’m afraid we sound a bit like a “regular” at a restaurant ordering “the usual” when our weekly prayer service rolls around.  For months, we said, “Please pray for the situation with our little ones. We should know more next month”. Seriously. For months, and months, we’ve said we will know more “next month”. At first, it was that we were told they would be leaving us to live with grandparents. This news came only a month or so into our time with them. Next (seven months later), the goal was changed to termination/adoption. Subsequently, one parent began to show promise and progress, so visits became longer and limitations lifted. We were told that “next month,” overnight visits would be requested, and we tried to prepare our hearts for the possibility that they really may be going back soon. Instead, the next month revealed new information and the suggestion that reunification would not be an option. Month by month, our wait progressed until we reached our 16th month with our precious babies. Here is where the termination process began to reach completion – except for one continuance – which left us with none other than another “month” of waiting. Now that the process is fully complete and parents have heart-achingly and lovingly laid down their rights for the good of their children (and ours), you would think that the wait is over. It’s not. There’s more. There’s always more. More processes. More extended relatives. More waiting.

From the outside, people look at us and say “Wow! You are handling it so well!” We’re not. The truth is, we’re an exhausted heap of fainting and weariness, but we KNOW the Lord will renew us because He does it every time. He gives us grace for each step of the way, and strength for each moment. We don’t always notice or appreciate it as immediately as we should, but He is always faithful.

Author Linda Ellis wrote an inspiring poem familiar to many. It talks about headstones on graves and how the “dash” between birth and death is what really matters. The important thing is how we “spend our dash”. The same could be said of the Waiting Room of life. We are often most focused on the outcome – what we consider the “answer” to our prayers. We’re eager to get to the end so we can stop waiting. My friend, I speak to myself as much as to you when I say Yes – Waiting. Is. Exhausting. BUT – take heart! Sometimes the beauty is in the waiting. Look around you and see the cookies. Take comfort in knowing that others are waiting too. Trust the One who holds us even as we wait, and surround yourself with people who will pray for you and help you to wait well.

It’s Not Easy

We often talk about how our “littles” slipped right into our family as if they belonged here from the start. Our older boys took just moments to learn how to be big brothers to itty-bitties, and for us, parenting babies came back as easily as if we’d never left that stage.  It’s true that it FEELS like that, and it WAS in many ways, but the reality is, there were some hard times too, and there will be more.

Even as I allow my mind to drift back to the hard parts, I do so with the understanding that our first foster placement was a cake walk compared to the heart-wrenching, volatile situations many foster families encounter. We know that so many of our friends have seen RAD, ODD, extreme anxiety, medical complications, severe delays, and the list goes on and on. We get that, in comparison, our situation was easy. It’s just that even easy – in the world of foster care…still isn’t really easy.

It’s not easy to teach a child to love and trust us when the foundation for such essential responses hasn’t been laid.

It’s not easy to balance correcting a defiant child with gently consoling a child who has anger within his heart that he is too young to comprehend.

It’s not easy to have mere hours to arrange child care before a new child arrives, or to stay up in the night with an infant – yet have to put in a full day’s work without the privilege of maternity leave.

It’s not easy to hear people make comments that are hurtful or judgmental of us or our children, regardless of their intentions.

It’s not easy to hold an inconsolable baby in the night wondering what part of her past might be contributing to her unsettled heart.

It’s not easy to share children with the offending parents while having basically NO rights of our own in the process. It’s not easy to love said parents as we learn more and more of their circumstances. (Praise the Lord, His Grace covers it all – even the hard stuff.) It’s not easy to figure out when to speak up and when to remain silent, and it’s not easy to drop everything for visits, meetings, court dates, etc and to feel the need to smile and shrug it off as “no problem.” It’s not easy to see the tension build before a visit and the attitude shift afterward for a little one who doesn’t have the vocabulary to match the confusion. It’s not easy to let go of a child I’ve committed to love and care for as my own…so that they can join whomever has a “right” to see them.

 It’s not easy to be faced with pointed questions we’re not supposed to answer or with disdain and judgement of the biological parents we are striving to love.

 It’s not easy to live day to day knowing that at any moment, we could lose them…because they are not ours to keep.

It’s not easy to wait for permission for little things like haircuts, babysitters, and traveling out of state.

It’s not easy to experience rejection in any form from children who so greatly need what we desire to give them.

It’s not easy to be a foster parent.

This list was difficult to make because how can I write only a portion of a list that really goes on and on and on? HOW could we possibly be so passionate about encouraging others to foster if it’s so hard?

The answer is simple: it’s not easy to be a child in foster care.

So what can I do to help?

A Leap of Faith

–Originally written July 2014–

It all started with a deep love within each of us for children.  We knew we wanted to have kids, and we started to talk about adoption early on.  It’s such a beautiful picture of Christ’s love for us.  When our third son was born, we fully agreed that we were finished having kids and decided that IF we ever wanted a girl, we would just adopt.  We both knew that was something beyond our budget, but not beyond our hearts.  Off and on over the years, we (mostly I) explored various adoption avenues, but we were always faced with the undeniable conclusion that we could not afford it.  What a sad conclusion for people who are willing, but that’s just the way it is.

In January of 2014, our interest and research began again after a beautiful sanctity of human life Sunday that highlighted the amazing story of my dear friend, Ann Janel’s life. (http://annjanel.com/?p=1388 http://www.bbcbolivar.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/1.19.14_sanctity_of_life.mp3) The testimony shared reminded me once again of her adoption through a local “Children’s Home”.  Hmm…. What is this place? Does it still exist?  Do they still provide adoption opportunities?  As I began investigating online, I was shocked to find information about “state-custody adoption” and the repeated statement that such adoption involves “little to no cost to families”.  I never knew there WAS a route like this.  It seemed too good to be true (and it is in a way), but after sharing the information with Jeremy and investigating further, we decided to attend an informational meeting to find out more.  In February, we talked to our children once again about their feelings on adoption and our desire to add to our family in this way if the Lord saw fit.  They responded beautifully, and through questions and curiosity, agreed that our family could be expanded if this was God’s will.  We proceeded with our secret mission to learn more.

The meeting brought more questions than answers, and the weeks that followed involved more research, phone conversations with a representative from this state-contracted agency, and prayer.  Lots and lots of prayer.  My “plan” was rocked.  My “ideal” was shattered. The “too good to be true” was revealed, as the truth sank in that most state-custody adoptions take place through foster families.  I knew about fostering.  I have friends who have served in this way, but they are stronger than me.  I did not sign up to have my heart, my husband’s heart, or my kids’ hearts shredded. I kind of knew that there is more to adoption than just redemption, but I had never faced it in quite this way. I had read the posts and insights of my adoptive friends, and I suddenly started to “get” a little of what they were saying.  Besides the beauty, there is another painful side to adoption.  There is loss – GREAT loss for both parents and children. There is hurt.  The words of the gentleman who conducted our informational meeting continued to ring in my head, “It’s really not about us at all.  It’s not about what kind of child or situation WE want.  It’s a question of what child needs us.”  I’m sure that’s not an accurate quote, but that’s the gist of it.  Whatever his words really were, he challenged my selfishness – my desire for a “pretty” adoption – my desire for my desire.  To me, the idea of adoption was much more ideal than fostering. For Jeremy, adoption was not yet something he was ready to commit to, but fostering did not scare him. We were on different paths with the same destination. We did not sign up for the training that began in the spring because we were still searching – still trying to figure out if this was something to pursue or if it was yet another closed door. The problem was, no matter how much this opportunity contradicted MY intentions, I could not really say the door was closed.  If Jeremy was opposed, that would be a sort of closing of the door, but in spite of my fear, I really didn’t want that.  I don’t know what I wanted at that point.  I guess I just wanted to know what God was doing.  (I’m still wanting that, but He somehow just keeps me leaning. Leaning towards Him –  trying to figure it out.  I suppose that is by design.)  Sporadically, over the next several weeks, we discussed the things we had learned. We talked through the logistics of the situation, and we prayed.  There are some very clear thoughts the Lord brought to my mind through various sermons and lessons from His Word during this time.  I recall distinct phrases in my mind: I thought you were willing. Why WOULDN’T you? Whatever you have done for the least of these, you’ve done for Me. When my pastor talked about understanding God’s will for our lives and how sometimes, “God’s will for us is just OBVIOUS because it’s clearly stated in His word,” my heart was IMMEDIATELY  prompted to recall care for widows and orphans in their distress. Why WOULDN’T I??  This wasn’t Pastor’s purpose, nor his thought at all, but it was just ONE example of the ways the Lord pricked my heart.

When June rolled around, the agency rep called to see if we were interested in the 10-week training session starting in July.  My first thought was I am! I wonder if Jeremy is. I approached him to let him know of the call and laughed out loud when his first response was: Tuesdays work great!

We are now trying to prepare our minds and hearts for the unknown.  We are trying to help our well-sheltered kids understand (in vague terms) the circumstances that may bring children to NEED to stay with us. We are trying to prepare for the ministry that may lie ahead for us.  We are trying to agree that “the goal is always reunification” with the birth parents. We are talking, praying, planning, wondering, and watching to see what unfolds before us.  It is POSSIBLE this may be a path to adoption.  It is POSSIBLE we may have to love a child only to lose him or her.  It is POSSIBLE this will be the hardest thing we’ve ever done in our lives, but it is POSSIBLE this is God’s will for us, and so, we say Yes, Lord. We don’t know exactly what this means, but we’re trying to be content with what we DO know: class begins in two weeks, and our God is good….ALL the time.

~Julie G.