I got that from her

Why do the most amazing conversations with my kids happen in the car? I swear.  They do.

About two months ago, I was riding with my kids and Alivea started asking me questions about her birth parents.

Mommy, do you know anything about my birth father?

No, not much, baby girl.  I know he is African American.  That’s all I know.

That is all I know.  It’s sad.  These conversations are sad and hard and I have this strange mix of feelings every time we head down this path.  My first thought is that I am going to vomit and my second thought is one of gratefulness.  I am so glad that my daughter feels safe and knows that she can ask me these hard questions.  She has a lot of questions.

Mommy, do you know anything about my birth mother?

Yes, sweetheart, I know that she loved to sing and dance.  I know that she loved to do hair.

That is about the extent of what I know about her birth mother.  I literally have an 8×11 sheet of paper with blanks like you would fill out on the first day of school.  This sheet of paper is all I have of my daughter’s birth mother, her first mother.  It’s all I have of the woman that carried her for nine months. It’s all we have.

I could tell Alivea was struggling with this conversation and what I had told her.  She started crying in the back seat.  It was a hard cry.  I asked her if she was okay and she said through her tears

“Mommy, those are all the things I like.  I’m thinking I must have gotten that from her.”

And I melted into my seat.  We cried and I reassured her that yes, she probably did get those things from her birth mother.

I was keenly aware in that moment of just how strange this adopted life is.  I felt like I was watching all of this from above my car or something.  I had this sense that if Alivea was my biological daughter I would be jealous that she had this affection for another woman, for another mother.  But it’s not like that at all.

Alivea is my daughter.  Through and through.  There is no denying that or taking that away.  There is no undoing it or covering it up.  Alivea is also A’s daughter.  Through and through.  There is no denying that or taking that away.  There is no undoing it or covering it up.  And I wouldn’t want to either.

This woman.  This woman I have never met gave me the greatest gift in the world.  I’ve actually started to grieve for A.  I know that she made her choice and she didn’t make it lightly but I also know that her choice had consequences.  And not just consequences for Alivea.  I live with those everyday. I’m suddenly more aware, as Alivea gets older, of the consequences for A.

The other night Alivea sang in a talent show at church.  She sang a portion of Elton John’s “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?”  She’s never sang a solo before in front of such a large group of people. When it was almost her turn, I was watching her on the front row and she was shaking and I knew she was crying.  I made my way up to the front row and tried to make her feel better.  She was so scared.

I ended up having to go with Alivea up on the stage and hold her hand through her entire performance.  And I cried like a baby through the whole stinkin’ thing.  Because I’m a baby and because my baby was singing “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” and because I could feel the love.

I was so proud of my daughter.  She did something brave and scary.  She did it even though she was scared.  She did it even through tears and uncertainty.  And I cried myself to sleep that night.  I cried myself to sleep thinking of the woman, who gave Alivea life, and yet who is missing all of her life.

I cried because she has not seen the way this little girl carries her baby brother around on her back.

I cried because she has not listened to Alivea and Mia giggle at the silliest things at 10:00 at night when they are supposed to be sleeping.

I cried because she missed Alivea’s performance in the Nutcracker last year.

I cried because she hasn’t been here for the skinned knees and learning to ride a bike.

I cried because she missed hearing Alivea gasp when she saw the Statue of Liberty.

These are just a few of the things she’s missed.  She will miss so much more.

I cried because she is missing out on knowing one of the coolest kids on the planet.  She is missing out.  But with that truth also comes the truth that if she was here, I wouldn’t be.  If she was here, my husband and I wouldn’t get to see and experience all of these things.  That is one of the hard truths of adoption.  Our joy and our love and our adventure and our family- all of those things- are because of brokenness and heartache and pain.  We carry those with us everyday.

My husband and I have the best of A.  We live with the best of her everyday in the form of this little girl and I have to think that almost 11 years ago when A was filling out this paper, when she was writing down that she loves to sing and dance and that she loves doing hair, that she was probably wondering if her little girl would love those things too.  She was probably thinking about all of the things she was going to miss.  She had to be aware that the choice she was making was a hard one and would continue to be a hard one for years to come.  Every birthday, every holiday, every first day of school.  She knew she would miss those.  And yet she did it anyway.  Scared and trusting, she did it anyway.

We are forever grateful.

 

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Building Relationships

The first children placed in my home long-term were two-year-old twin boys. I was still wide eyed and optimistic about my skills in single parenting. As it goes, my first few nights with them were a whirlwind. I dove head first into learning their food preferences, communication styles, and the very best snuggles in the rocking chair at bed time. Before I knew it I was smitten. 

 

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Early on I worked hard to build a relationship between me and the boys’ parents. With the case worker’s blessing I was able to supervise a number of visits, coordinate therapies around mom and dad’s schedules, and make co-parenting decisions with them. We celebrated successes and overcame challenges together. It wasn’t always easy. There were times they wouldn’t show up, or we would disagree, or miscommunicate, or any of the other things that come up in relationships. Through the ups and downs, working together for the wellbeing of the children was a truly beautiful experience as a first time foster parent.

 

When the boys went home I worried about the road ahead for them, but I knew they were right where they needed to be. And let’s be honest, I was due for some R&R. I am blessed to continue to be a part of their life as we bond over the daunting task of raising toddler boys. We make a point to schedule park dates and sleepovers. The twins know I still love them and sometimes I am able to give their parents a break. My son misses his “brudders” as he affectionately calls them and hates being an only child. It has been so good for them to continue to see each other and still have a relationship, even if it looks a little different now. 

 

We recently had dinner with the boys and their grandparents, and talked about their first day of Kindergarten! They are thriving and using words like “predator” and “cocoon” to tell me about a caterpillar. I was misty eyed watching them play together and reflecting on how far we’ve come in just three years.

 

In the midst of all the uncertainty in fostering, the opportunity for relationships to form is crucial. Reunification is the beauty of Christ’s redemption for his children unfolding before our eyes, and what a gift to have a front seat!

 

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Worry, Worry, Worry!

“Worry, worry, worry! What makes you worry?”

It’s no secret that foster care is HARD. It’s hard on everyone; Foster children, parents, foster parents, siblings, foster siblings, grandparents, everyone.

Yes, Shane & I signed up for this heartache but in doing so we thrust those we love the most into this life of heartache as well.

As parents we want to protect our children from pain. But at the same time we never want to shield them from pain if it means costing someone else not to know what it means to be part of a family and loved unconditionally. 

Today I found this project in Allison’s book bag:

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(I worry if **** stays our forever family.)

She loves her brother so much. He is her sidekick 100%. I know it would absolutely kill her if he left. In foster care we always talk about reunification as a main goal. We have always told our girls that we don’t know what his future looks like. It’s still hard for kids to grasp. Heck, it’s still hard for me to grasp some days. I want my kids to understand life is about doing hard things, even if we know there’s a potential outcome of a broken heart for us. Love is hard. Foster care is hard. However, choosing to love isn’t.

Alisha Signature

 

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Two excuses to not become foster parents

Guest post as part of our National Adoption Month series: Post by Gena Thomas
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About four million Americans go on missions trips every year,[i] many of which are to orphanages. We go overseas, hold HIV positive babies, take pictures of them, and then fly home. We tell our American friends and family about how great it was to hold them, how awesome it was to love them, and we smile upon our remembrances. But all too often, that’s where the story ends. We may have changed some dirty diapers for our ten days there, but we don’t do it on a daily basis. That would be messy. What handle for ten days in a foreign land, we don’t want to do daily. But we could. Maybe we should. Because while the calling to foster care may not be on everyone, the calling to care for the vulnerable in some form is a universal Christian calling.

Nationwide, according to the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) in 2013, there were 402,378 children in foster care, and 101,840 of those children are waiting to be adopted. In North Carolina, there are almost 9,000 churches. According to Children’s Defense Fund, there were 8,828 children in foster care in 2012.

Two excuses to not become foster parents:

1.      Saying Goodbye Would Break My Heart

Finding what mission God has for us in our own context begins with eight words: “Lord, break my heart with what breaks Yours.” Though this may be a common prayer among Christian circles, do we really understand the implications of it? If we pray for our hearts to break with what breaks the Lord’s heart, we are implying that we will align our emotions with the Lord’s. One of the most common reasons people tell me they cannot become foster parents is the fact it would break their heart when they have to goodbye to a child they’ve become attached to. I thought the same. But that didn’t hold up for long. It started to feel like a selfish desire blocking me from allowing my heart to break for what is breaking God’s.

I heard the phrase, “Break your heart, not your calling” over and over again by pastor Teri Furr. She explained it to me:

Garments are very significant to callings throughout the Bible, especially in the Old Testament. The rules for the high priest, spelled out in Leviticus 21, dictate that a priest is not to tear his garments under any circumstance. This was counter-cultural to the mourning process, because the norm was to tear garments and cry aloud. However, the priest had a higher standard set for him. No matter how difficult the circumstance, a priest could never tear his garment even in mourning. The priest’s garments were even sewn so that it would be difficult for the priest to tear, meaning it couldn’t be done in haste. The message of this for us is that regardless of circumstances or struggles, we are never to tear our calling. We are always priests. In Joel 2:12-14 (NIV), it says, “’Even now,’ declares the Lord, ‘return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.’ Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity. Who knows? He may turn and relent and leave behind a blessing … .”

If we really want the Lord to break our hearts with what breaks His, we must not think we can walk away unscathed from the process. Our hearts represent our desires, dreams, and goals, including our selfish, human desire to possess children.

2.      Dealing with Biological Parents is Too Messy

Another reason not to become a foster parent is the stigma that the children are marred by the baggage of their biological parents. There is a very negative perception of the biological parents whose children are taken away. They are drug users, sexual abusers, child neglecters, prone to violence, and impoverished. My husband, Andrew, reminded me recently that our reason for foster parenting cannot be because the system needs good parents. “The same bad that is in the biological parents is in us too,” he said. “We have the same potential to fall into those traps.” And if that’s the case, the same potential good that is in us, is also in them. If we believe in the gospel, we must believe that change is always possible. If the gospel can change a serial killer into an evangelist who writes half the New Testament, there is hope for all of us.

What creates orphans to begin with? Whether by things in their control or things out of their control, a mother or father or both are no longer a part of the child’s life. The root cause of what creates an orphan differs in every case, but what is the same is that at one point in time—even if only at conception—there were two human beings who created a third. This means that the whole picture involves at least three human beings. Still, the focus is often only on the child. As Christians, we have to recognize the innate dignity within each person in the picture. We also must admit that the ideal situation is for all three people in this family to be reconciled to each other. Reunification may sound too much to overcome from the viewpoint of the foster family who has to say goodbye, but ultimately, it is the essence of familial reconciliation—though it isn’t always the end result.

If we really believe in reconciliation, and if we really believe in allowing God to break our hearts for what breaks his, we are compelled to seek out ways to lay down our selfishness and make our communities stronger.

[i] David Livermore, Serving with Eyes Wide Open.

 

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genathomas-1_1Gena Thomas is an author, blogger, and faith wrestler. She was a missionary in northern Mexico alongside her husband, Andrew, for more than four years, where they played a lot of soccer, hung out with a lot of youth, consumed insane amounts of caffeine, and struggled to redefine the word missionary. Gena holds a master’s in International Development from Eastern University. She is the author of A Smoldering Wick: Igniting Missions Work with Sustainable Practices, and she hosts #JustMissions, a monthly Twitter chat on missions. Find out more about her at www.genathomas.com or find her on social media @genaLthomas.

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This is pure joy in foster care.

Guest post as part of our National Adoption Month series: Post by Sarah Harmeyer

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Pure joy.

There are moments like that in foster care. Moments your heart bursts with love and fullness.

Moments the smile just won’t leave your face.

It’s those moments, those soul-soaring gifts from our kiddos that we cherish long after the child leaves our arms. It was like that one night with one of mine.
My new-to-speaking kiddo was having a tough day. When he’d first come to me, he’d been non-verbal, but now, months later, he was starting to open up. He was learning words and trying to communicate and overall making very good progress, but today had been hard. He’d visited his family in the morning. It had been a success, but he had returned sad, clingy and just all around “off”.

The back and forth is always so hard on kids, especially when they can’t talk about it. I felt for him, but without knowing the cause, all I could do was be there and comfort him as best I knew how. Physical proximity helped. We spent the rest of the day together and by evening all he wanted to do was go to bed.

As I prayed for him and tucked him in bed that night he perked up. He got the biggest grin on his face, stood up in bed, clapped his hands twice and yelled “AMEN!” I died laughing! Knowing this wasn’t something we’d ever done with him, I looked at his glowing face and asked, “Did your Mom teach you to say Amen?” He was so happy! Like a cartoon character grinning larger than possible, he said, “Yah!” I’d hit the nail on the head and he wiggled back into bed so I could pull the blanket up over him.

It melted my heart – him bringing something special from his family into ours. And that one small connection – the joining of his two worlds somehow smoothed the bumps of the back and forth. He went to bed happy – cheerfully thinking about his family instead of feeling “off” like he had all day. And that knowledge, well, that just made my insides glow.

The next chance I got, I told his family about this, and his mom thanked me for praying with him. She had indeed taught him to say “AMEN” and was so glad he was getting to use it even when he was apart from her. As I saw her smile and her shoulders relax I imagined she was feeling the same joy I had the night her son navigated our two worlds with love.

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Sarah is a foster and adoptive mom with years of experience in both education and foster care. She writes about real life as a foster parent on her site www.ParentsOfFosterCare.com and is passionate about helping others know what foster care is really all about.

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And still I am abused

Guest post as part of our National Adoption Month series: Post by Paige May

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I have been punched, but it didn’t leave a mark. I have had my ponytail pulled in anger, but I have a lot of hair. I have been lightly stabbed with a piece of glass, but he was just joking around. I have been cornered and had to push my way out, but I shouldn’t have stood that close to the wall. I have had countless things thrown at my face to either hurt me or be disrespectful to me, but they bounced off.

None of that hurts as much as the words. The words are worse. The words hit my heart and bury themselves there. Most abused women use these words to shape their identity. Slowly they feel less and less of a child of God and more and more of a complete failure. My abuse is different.

My abuse makes me put up a hedge of protection around my heart. The hedge isn’t so that the words can’t get in. They get in. The protection is so my love doesn’t get out. Every time I lower my defenses and let some love out, I get hurt and retreat. And still I am abused.

My abuse is against everything that I believe in. I purposely surround myself with affirming and respectful people. I use social media to condemn the hateful rhetoric that leads to this type of abuse. And still I am abused.

My abuse is counter-cultural to my marriage. For almost a decade my husband and I have worked hard to focus on Jesus in guiding our marriage to mutual respect. And still I am abused.

The strangest thing about my abuse is that I chose it. When we took a foster placement of my preteen son last year, there were no reports beyond “he isn’t good with women.” It was less than 48 hours before we recognized that was a huge understatement.

He called me “her” for months. I was always a pronoun, rarely a name, and never “mom.” We were in a meeting when someone asked what he called us and my husband said “mom and dad.” I learned that he had been calling him “dad” behind my back and had been calling us both “mister and misses” to my face. The day he said, “well mom made me do it!” was a milestone as it signified that he saw me as mom even in his anger.

He started with property destruction. He took my adorably decorated house and turned it upside down. Flipped beds and chairs. Poured cups of water and bottles of lotion out on the hardwood floor. Ripped frames off of the wall to smash them. For about a week he destroyed my office desk every night. He took a baseball bat to my car with no success, but destroyed my lawn chairs in a few swings. He found a pair of my shoes and purposefully put them in motor oil that had leaked out. The first few escalations we tried to comfort him. “What’s wrong? How can we help?” Shortly after that we recognized that was exactly what he wanted so we locked up all of the fragile stuff and ignored his escalations. The property destruction stopped almost overnight.

He moved onto physical abuse. He would grab my hands and manipulate them while I got out his morning medications. He would lean on me so hard that I would lose my balance as I tried to walk away. He would hit my stomach as if I was a punching bag. He bit my arm because I wouldn’t let him in my room. We had to call the cops multiple times to keep him safe. The agency decided to make us one of three families who were trained to restrain kids. Eventually we had to say that we would call the cops every time he hit us. It took one time for him to know we were serious.

He moved onto verbal abuse and we have been here for the past 9 months. Verbal abuse isn’t illegal and it sure is effective. Quickly he identified that I did not like to be talked to like I was of no value. He told me that he was going to kill me and live with just my husband because he liked my husband. He regularly yells at me for doing something I didn’t do. He will ask me for something and I will get it and once I get it he will yell at me for getting it for him at all. He will trivialize any interest I have in things. He will dismiss my feelings because they don’t match his own.

After months of verbal abuse driving him to school, I would regularly just stop speaking to avoid saying hateful things. I told him I was choosing to not speak and I hear “good, I like it when you’re silent.” It was as if his abusive father was sitting in my back seat.

I have to return to that thought; that I am not fighting this preteen, I am fighting Satan. Satan twisted the heart of the father that abused my son and I can’t let Satan use my son to twist my heart. I have to stay focused on my Heavenly Father. I have to remind myself that He doesn’t want me to stay silent. He doesn’t love my husband more than myself.

My son has an attachment disorder that makes attaching to me nearly impossible. His brain tells him that mothers are dangerous and he needs to push me away as hard as he can. My brain says not to love people who hurt you so much. Every time I think I attach to him, his disorder takes us back to the beginning.

When I give other people a snapshot of what I experience, they are shocked. “But he is such a sweet kid!” Over and over I feel like people nod and smile to my face and whisper parenting suggestions behind my back. If only I was more strict. If only I was more gentle. Attachment disorders are not the same as behaviors. His brain has been altered. This is not a battle of wills. It is a battle of a broken heart.

To the ordinary parent, I must sound crazy. Why would I put up with this less alone choose to adopt him? The answer is easy. God never told me to give up.

The hard part is continually running towards the Father so that I feel safe enough to lower my defenses and love my son in a meager attempt to mirror the unconditional love that He gives us.

I know that I am not alone. Neither are you.

 

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It Just Makes Sense

Guest post from our National Adoption Month Series: Post by Stephanie Erwin

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In just a moment, it happened.  I fell in love with a sweet little boy, and two weeks later, he was in our home,  under our care.  Sure, we had talked about fostering – in abstract, “someday” terms, but this….this was REAL, and this boy NEEDED us.  Right then. Us, not anyone else.

Little Man had multiple medical needs, and his mother had a bad situation “blow up” on her, as I came to understand much, much later.  This little guy didn’t have a place to go, didn’t have anyone that could handle his needs….  I happen to be a nurse, and happen to have my own daughter with severe special/medical needs.  Little Man had been brought to my hospital as DSS didn’t know what else to do…he wound up in my friend’s assignment.  She was having problems dealing with the feeding pump that provided Little Man’s feeds and called me, knowing I had extensive experience with the pumps.

I walked in, and this beautiful, sweet little face looked up at me – smiled…..and my heart was his.  My brain started spinning, and I spoke with the Social Worker in our department – I was like – “I can take care of him – I have everything he needs and can take him home right now” – thinking it was just going to be a few weeks or maybe a couple of months at the most….The Social Worker made a couple of phone calls, and I proceeded home after work and sat down my ever-patient, kind and loving husband.

“What are we going to DO with him?” That was his only question after I laid out the situation.  “We’re going to love him and make sure he’s safe” was my answer.  A few more phone calls, a couple of home visits, a bunch of questions, and two weeks later he was temporarily ours.

It just made sense.

We were blessed to have nurses care for Little Man while I was at work, and he folded into our lives pretty seamlessly.  Not that things weren’t challenging, and don’t for a second think we did this all on our own…  Weeks turned into months turned into a year… We got the rest of the story.  We got to know Little Man’s mother. We discussed what would happen if we needed to step in and adopt him, and we prepared as best as we could for whatever the County decided.  We prayed for the best outcome, and watched as the wheels of foster care turned ever-so-slowly towards returning him to his Mom.

Thirteen months later, we tearfully said goodbye to our Little Man as he went back to his mother. A joyful thing as it was the right thing to have happen.  A relief in some ways, admittedly – had he come to stay with us permanently, I would have had to stop working to make all his appointments and meetings and such.  A heart-breaker as we had come to adore him.

A few months later, a phone call here, a text message there, and not only Little Man, but also his mother, returned to our lives.  This time, as a kind of second daughter and first grandson – since we would never have our own grandchildren.  Since their return to our lives, we have gained another grandson, and get to see both our boys, and their mother and her boyfriend, on a very regular basis. We’ve become “Mamabear and Papabear” to all of them.  And it all makes perfect sense….

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Stephanie Erwin is a Registered Nurse in the Emergency Department. She is the mother of a 23 year old daughter with Cerebral Palsy and myriad other medical issues, an avid camper, quilter, and lover of all things essential oil/aromatherapy.  She lives with her precious daughter, beloved husband, dog, cats, horses, chickens and goat in a small slice of heaven in North Carolina, where her former foster son, his baby brother, and his mother and her boyfriend are around nearly every week.

 

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