“I could never do that!!”—You might be right.

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This isn’t going to be the most positive post; honestly I am learning a lot the past few months & I think in the early years of my fostering I was a little more idealistic. I believed we were all capable of loving and letting go, even though I suspected most people wouldn’t choose to risk their hearts in that way. And I believed that most people had good hearts despite the facts saying otherwise. So when the comments came which they always do when you foster I answered from that place of idealism. When someone would say “I could never foster because I would get too attached”, I would answer “Well it is hard because you get attached but you could.” Or when they would say “I just couldn’t take it if they left”, I would say “You would make it through because God would see you through’. And when a person would say “I couldn’t deal with the parents or family members or having people in my business”; I would say “trust me you could, it wouldn’t be easy most days but you could”.

I said all that because I believed it and also because I hated it when someone painted us as “special’ because we chose this path. I also said it because I believe with God we can do far greater things than we imagine & that part is still true. But recently the others things don’t slide from my lips quite as easily anymore because honestly I see foster parents who shouldn’t be fostering or need to take a hard look at themselves. Because they got into it for the wrong reasons or they’re too prideful to open up their lives fully to workers & parents & extended family or they’re stuck in their own way of doing things and unwilling to change. They’re trying to fit a square peg of a child into the round hole of their family & they just refuse to bend or stretch themselves. I see people who have no respect for the heritage or culture of a child; who have no respect for the family ties even when those ties aren’t completely tangled. And I see people unwilling to break, unwilling to even slightly acknowledge they might not know what the right thing for this child is.

Of course I only know this because I experienced it myself. My family aren’t saints; we felt all those things at some point. Thought we had it all figured out, but we did our best to bend and to open our lives as fully as we could. Of course that’s when some would chime in and say “that’s because you were called to this and its take someone special to do this”. Heck I wish that was true; I would love a good ego stroking, but the fact is we’re not special we just had enough go on in our own lives to not think were all that. And we saw the way God loved us & thought if He could love me like that then we can give it our best to love someone else that way too. That’s not special, but yeah I guess that is somewhat of a prerequisite to fostering, but that’s not some super human trait.

So now when someone says “I could never do that!!”, I’m likely to answer “You might be right” because I don’t think everyone is cut out to foster or adopt anymore. And when someone says “I could never let them go because I would get to attached” I will probably not say a word because if your foolish enough to think any of this has anything to do with you, well you might be right, you probably couldn’t! Because your going to have to love someone & it not be about you. Your going to have to open your hearts to people you don’t necessarily think deserve compassion and your going to have to bite your tongue when everything in you wants to scream & you will have to open your door when all you really want to do is hide away for the day. Then you will have to meet other people who will be completely different then you, but your going to have to be kind and compassionate to them because that’s just as much a part of fostering as taking care of the child. In fact if your a believer or at least believe in making this world whole & healthy in any way then you will have to eventually let the savior complex go and come to the realization that the child is only the tip of the iceberg of who your being called to love while fostering. And when your worn out, angry or have cried yourself to sleep then your going to have to wake up and do it all over again. Every day. And for no money because fostering is not a paycheck as any real foster parent will tell you. Oh and your heart will get ripped to shreds; yep because that’s a part of it too. You will bond with a child and look at him or her in their eyes and you will think to yourself “This is my child, I love them, they can’t possibly leave, nothing could possibly be better to their well being than being with us” & then you will hand that child into the arms of another person. Unless of course God sees fit to agree with you on this one child. But for the ones where that doesn’t happen you might actually have to face the fact that you were wrong. I have. They not only survived but thrived with someone else. Or maybe they didn’t; maybe they went home to a bad situation & they suffered something they shouldn’t have. Well guess what you might have to swallow that hard pill also & never be able to make sense of it.

I know what your probably thinking…..”I could never do that!!”. You might be right.

But you might be wrong too, you might can do more than you think.

If your currently fostering you might could change the way you foster, the way you love the family, the way you think about them leaving, the way you think about the ones that left. You might could let this life change you & stop fighting it so hard.

If your thinking about becoming a foster parent you might could hit the pause button & ask yourself some hard questions. Why am I really doing this? Am I willing to support the family? Am I willing to love a child & every single person that extends from that child? Am I willing to sacrifice…. my comfort, my children’s comfort, all of it? Are you willing to hurt? You are; ok now ask yourself that question again.

And if your one of the people that say “I could never do that!!” well you need to hit the pause button & start looking at yourself hard because like it or not life is already asking you to do these things. Everyday your asked to love people that could die… husbands, parents, children, friends. Everyday your living in a world with difficult people who you might not think deserves your compassion yet they do. Everyday your meeting new people who you can either shut out or let in. Everyday your faced with the decision to live for yourself or to live for something greater than yourself. And everyday you have to face down the parts of yourself that are prideful, angry, intolerant, certain, settled, comfortable, & unkind.

nicole

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Let your guard down

image_567452681628886If your like me your knee deep in holiday festivities, but when adoption or fostering is part of your story there is a wound that sits tender on days like today. At the back of your mind amidst all the chaos and beauty is the mom or dad of the child you love who never quite got it together or who are trying their hardest but their success means your loss. Or maybe it’s the knowledge that there are siblings this child will never know or who are separated through no fault of their own.  It could be that tomorrow you will be back to visits, meetings and appointments but you really just want to hold onto today and pretend it all away. Or there is someone that has come forward on the child you want to be your own & if you were honest you wish they’d go away. Whatever it is, it’s there, a fracture that runs deep and threatens your picture perfect Christmas.

And again if your like me it’s enticing to want to put a wall around your heart; to protect yourself from the fear and heartache that threatens to overtake you. To shut the door to everything else, to put up your guard and manage it all by withholding or withdrawing. Heck you might even have well meaning friends or workers telling you to do just that. After all you’re the one meant to protect this child, protect your family, protect yourself. But Christmas and what it stands for breaks down walls & opens doors wide. It stands guard over the places & things we try to protect not to save them from the outside world but to guard them from us. See if left to our own devices we would destroy the best things holding onto to lesser things, but you can let your guard down and open yourself to it all. To the gift of new friends & family that might be found in the ones that came forward. To the gift of kindness that comes from making that phone call or sending that picture to the parent who is trying or the gift of forgiveness and prayer for the ones that didn’t or couldn’t. To the gift of love and compassion for the children you may never know, the siblings who are not in your care but who are forever tied to you.

You can let your guard down and let the fear and heartache grow dim in the light of Him or just let it be what it is, maybe even let it overtake you and change you.

Let your guard down and let the fracture heal or become a part of your new normal, a picture perfect Christmas story that’s not based on what you would like it to be but what it is… real, raw and true.

 

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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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