That moment when.

So July is our one month of summer break.  We do school on a more year round schedule, but July, oh July.  We play.  Part of that time I take the kids to visit family.  We spent this past week in Topeka and Kansas City and had so much fun.  Until.

Tuesday evening we drove down to Shawnee to meet up with my in-laws who had been watching my baby while the “big” kids and I spent some time in the sun.  We ate at one of my kids favorite places, where trains deliver food to your table.  I had been fighting a headache all day, and the noise and chaos of the restaurant pushed it into severe migraine territory.  So, my very gracious mother offered to drive my van back up to my sister’s house with all five of my kids and my niece, and my sister became my driver in a very quiet and calm car.

We stopped at the gas station next door and she ran in to get me some ibuprofen.  I took it and as we were pulling out of the parking lot, I lost it.  Like everything in my belly, including the medicine.  So she went back into the gas station while I sat half in, half out of the car and got me more ibuprofen and tissues.  We sat there a while until I knew I could keep the medicine down for more than a few minutes, and then she started driving me home.  About halfway there we received THAT phone call.  My mom had been hit by a drunk driver with ALL of our babies in the car.

I want to stop here and reassure you, ALL of my kiddos, and my niece are okay.  My mom is okay.  The van is even still drive-able.  God’s hand of protection was clearly evident in so many ways.  But man, oh man, was this momma a MESS.  You can tell me until you are blue in the face that my kids are okay, but I need to touch them and see them for myself.  I need to hug them and know their hearts are okay too.  All I could think was “I’m not there, I should be there”.

When we were given the location of the accident, we realized they were hit within view of the gas station we had sat at for so long.  We left a different way and never saw them.  Why did God not make me look around, why did my sister not lift her gaze when she walked out of the gas station?  Why did we not see it?  My sister and I beat ourselves up about it as she drove the excruciating 20 minutes back to Shawnee.  We called our husbands.  We held each other up.  When we finally made it back, we still couldn’t get to them as they were in the middle of a very busy street and we had been asked not to park in the middle of the road as well.  So we waited, able to see the van, but not get to our kids inside.  We waited in the same parking lot I had thrown up in 45 minutes prior.  We debated running across this high traffic road.  We talked about the blessings in the midst of this.  I cried.  A lot.

Warren’s parents had seen the accident when it happened, so they were with both my mom and the kids when we couldn’t be there.  And after a thorough inspection by one of the officers, it was reported that all the kids were safely strapped into their respective car seats (yes, all 5 of my kids are still young enough to be in some form of car seat :)).  My niece was also with them, and though I know she was shaken herself, she was a comfort to them.  And in the end, I realized, that if my sister or I had seen the accident and been there right away, that my body would not been able to handle it.  In the 45 minutes that I wasn’t there, my headache and nausea had subsided.

It’s like God knew we needed to not be there.  He used this time to remind me that in the moments that I am not present with my kids, He is.  He kept them safe, allowed other loving adults in their lives to be there for them, and allowed them to have a positive experience with law enforcement.  Without me.

It would be really easy to close ranks and promise to never not be there again, but there is going to come a day when more often than not I am not there.  When they start driving themselves, hang out with friends without mom around, and when they go off to build their own lives.  I don’t want to live those moments in fear.  I am grateful to know that when I am not there, He is.  And that He can provide support for them however He desires.  There will be times when there will be damage.  Physical, emotional, life altering.  But HE sees them.  He loves them.  He has them in the palm of His hand because they are His treasure.

When I finally got to hug all of them, they were indeed, okay.  My baby was fast asleep in his car seat.  My two year old was happy to see me.  My seven year old asked if I was okay.  There were tears when the kids saw for the first time the damage to the car, but not out of fear for themselves, but out of sadness that the van they refer to as “Johnny” was “hurt”.  My four and six year olds excitedly showed me the stickers the police officers had given them for being brave and told me about having to tell the officers their full names.  They were so proud.  They all told me about having to push the triangle button in the car, the one that is only for emergencies, and how GG had to call 911.  They showed me how much they had taken in of all the talks Warren and I have ever had with them about safety.   I was blown away by their bravery and compassion.  It is always a humbling moment when your kids teach you.

Warren’s parents were gracious enough to help drive everyone back up to my sister’s house before returning home.  Warren took the night off work and drove down, and we headed home the next day.  Johnny is still “hurt” as of now, but I am pretty sure he will be as good as new soon.

 

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We are not a “White” Family

So race is not something I tend towards discussing online.  In general I have seen it fuel hate instead of repair hearts, so I have steered clear.  Obviously we deal with race issues as a multi-ethnic family, and this specific issue has been on my heart a long time.  Please know that this post comes from a place of love for my kids, and for people in general.  This is my experience, so if you can’t read this with an open heart, please just stop now.

Conversations about the different skin colors in our family have been happening for years, but lately I have had a few conversations that helped me to really identify how I want to address these questions in our family.  We have always celebrated who God made each of our kids to be, found ways we are the same, ways we are different, and encouraged our kids to love themselves and know that we love them just as they are.  But something my son said to me a few months ago has continued to resonate in my heart.

We were sitting in the living room, I was feeding the baby, and M looked up at me and out of nowhere announced that he was part of a “white family”.  My head snapped up so fast and before I could stop myself I said, “We are NOT a white family,” probably a little sterner than I should have.  I went on to explain to him (a lot more gently) that we are so blessed that God knit us together as a family with different colors.

“Aren’t we so lucky to have lots of colors in our family, M?”  I think this is the first conversation that ended with him actually being content with my answers.

A week or so after this, I was meeting with a friend and race came up again.  She asked if it bothered me when people ask, “don’t you just see them as your kids and not as black or white, don’t you just stop seeing their color after a while?”  That question has always bothered me, but I couldn’t put my finger on exactly why until then.  Yes, I see them all as my kids, and I love them all.  But no, I am not color blind, and I really don’t want to be.  I see their skin.  I see the beauty of both my black skinned and white skinned children.  I see the beauty in the brown skin of kids who have left my home.

I think for so long, those of us white people who want to make it clear that we are not racist have adopted this color-blind attitude.  But it is a lie.  You can’t really tell me you don’t see color.  And why would you not want to see it?  Instead of ignoring the differences in my family, I want to embrace them with purpose.

I am hopeful that this will always leave the door of communication open with my kids concerning this.  Because we do live in a world where racism exists.  As a family, we have already faced it and our kids are young.  We know that the future will hold hard things.  I don’t want them to be blindsided by hate because we did not teach them in love.

So, yes, I see skin color.  I am not ashamed.  I am glad that I see it.  I am glad that I see my kids for who they are completely, skin, eyes, hair, feet, hands, hearts.  And I hope they always feel seen by me.

We are a beautifully mixed up family of colors, and I can’t imagine it being any other way.

A year.

When I think about it, it feels like a blink and a millennium all wrapped up in one.  It has been a year.  A year since I have had the heart to write again.  A year since we said goodbye.  A year since God gave us a new life to love.  A year.

I guess I should start with some background.  After sending our momentarily returned foster sons off to live with extended family (still a decision I am 100% behind, I believe it is God’s best for them), we let the dust settle and found a new perspective on where we were in our journey.  We saw the good, bad, and the ugly that was left behind in our own kids.  Especially in the ones who had already been through so much.  So many questions.  It was a blessing in that there was a wide open door to talk with them about each of their own stories, but it is a painful one where you tread carefully and pray that their hearts won’t be destroyed.  Conversations where every word is measured, weighed, and sifted.  Adoption is a beautiful thing, but it is also a broken thing.  Watching the realization that their birth moms were still living, but that the door to reuniting with them was closed, come to life on one of my son’s faces was excruciating.  We continue to walk through processing that gently and lovingly with him, but it is a wound I can not heal.  I can not be his birth mom.

Our kids were hurting, I was hurting.  But God is good.  He took those hurt hearts and pointed us in a direction so different than where Warren and I had walked through most of our marriage.  He pointed us inward.  Focusing on what we have.  And He gave us more.  We found out we were pregnant in June and made the hard decision to close our foster care license in July.

I struggled with regret the moment I sent the official closure notice.  I knew it was what we needed to do, but the voice in my heart and my head would not let go.  Had we done the right thing?  Who is going to show up for these kids?  Knowing what we know about the needs for good, loving, supportive foster parents for kids made it hard to feel anything but awful about walking away, even if only for a season.  I struggled with telling anyone we had walked away.  I felt a bit like a fraud I suppose.  By nature I am a problem solver and a mover.  I don’t like sitting in one spot for too long, and I certainly don’t like watching a need go unmet.  It took me a really long time to get to a place where I felt good about this decision that God had already shown me was right.  Our kids needed us to be a family.  To focus on this family, to give them time, to give us time.  Foster care is our hearts.  That has not changed.  We pray that some day we will be able to do it again, but now is just a different season of life.  I have to trust that other people’s hearts will be moved to fill in the gap for these kids.

So here we are, in a more settled season.  It has been a bigger blessing than I could have ever imagined.  There has been time to just be.  My heart for my kids has grown, and signs of healthy attachment and growth in them has been evident too.  Not just with Warren and I, but with each other.  Watching that sibling love melts this momma’s heart!  The hard questions are still there.  I don’t think there will ever come a day where our answers will be sufficient for them, but I am also embracing those questions more.  We know that having this dialogue with them is so important.  There have been more hugs and snuggles.  More I love you’s.  More accomplishments and more time to work on the struggles.  It has given me time to focus more on praying for my kids and time to work through forgiving myself for the times when I haven’t been a stellar mom (which is more often than not).

There is so much I want to say, so much to share.  But for tonight, just know, whatever season God is bringing you into or through, embrace it.  Even if, like me, it is a season that is hard to accept.  He isn’t finished with you yet.

Thank you

So April was an interesting month in our home.  We had a full roller coaster of emotions and I have million things running through my head that I need to process, but I think that the most important thing we can do when our world flips upside down is to count our blessings.  So I want to take a moment to say thank you to our village, and to the villages connected to ours.

Thank you.  Thank you for letting God use you in our family’s life and in the lives of the kids that come into our home.  Thank you to those of you who cooked us food.  Because of that I was able to be present with all 8 kids instead of worrying about dinner.  Thank you to those of you who showed up with stuff.  Toothpaste, sheets, pillows, towels, mattresses, dressers.  Thank you for buying time for me by taking care of the little things as we prepared our home to double in size.  Thank you to those of you who helped financially.  We did not have to worry about money through this.  That was a HUGE blessing that allowed us just to focus on what was important.  Warren took almost 2 full weeks off work to make this work for our family, and we survived.  That is a big deal.  Thank you for praying for us.  That was felt and still is.  Thank you for notes of encouragement and kindness.  We have received cards from people I don’t even know, but who know someone in our village.  Thank you for helping watch our four kids when we needed it.  Thank you for framing a room, for finding and buying a van, for hugs, for kind words, for loving us.  Thank you for being the hands and feet of Christ showing up for us.  We are immensely grateful.

Occasionally I am asked to sit on a Q & A panel for new foster parents.  Warren and I had the honor of doing that last night alongside two other wonderful people in our foster care world.  One of those people reminded the soon-to-be foster parents to remember that while we chose this crazy life our support system, our family and friends, they didn’t.  I am grateful to say that even though each of you, our family, our friends, our friends of friends, did not choose foster care, you have supported us through it.  Thank you for being a part of this wild ride.

On that note I want to say a special thank you to our families and close friends.  Those of you who know ALL our kids.  Thank you for loving them even though you will most likely lose them.  When kids leave I am often caught up in my own grief.  I choose that grief, but you don’t.  Yet you grieve anyway.  Thank you for grieving alongside us when things are hard.  Thank you for rejoicing with us when things go well.  I know that some of you have a hard time watching us support family reunification.  I get it.  It’s hard.  And you don’t get to meet them, to see the attachment that is there.  Thank you for trusting that we are advocating for what we feel that God is showing us is best for each child in our home.  Please know we see you.  We love you.  We are ever so grateful for you.

Thank you also to all of you who live directly in this crazy foster care world who walked alongside us, alongside our kids.  To all of you at KVC, thank you.  You are more than an agency to us.  To our caseworkers, especially a very special lady who sat on the panel with us last night, thank you.  I cannot express enough gratitude for what you do.  To our fellow foster parents who support us even when they are struggling, thank you.  You amaze me.

Although my kids are not old enough to read this, I want to say thank you to them as well.  I have been astounded at the compassion I have seen in my three oldest kids.  At three, five, and six, they have already seen more change and trauma in their lives than most adults have seen.  I believe that it is precisely because they understand what it feels like to have their world ripped apart and no voice to stop it, that they have the capacity to love beyond their years.  Perhaps it is also that God knew that living in this family, they would need it.  There are many times I am reminded that I can learn from my kids, but these past few weeks I have been blown away.  J did a great job loving on everyone too :).  Mommy and Daddy are so proud of you for letting God use you to show hurting kids His love.  Thank you.

Lastly, I want to say thank you to four boys who have forever changed my life and heart. You will never know all you have done for me.  People tell me that you were lucky to have Warren and I, but the truth is the opposite.  You have walked in and out of our lives more than once, and in those times you have taught me so much.  You have taught me to be a better mom, to love better, to understand trauma better.  You have shown me how to be compassionate, patient, and the importance of calm in a storm.  You have made me a better person, and I am honored to be your KK.

 

It’s not about us.

So I have been called a saint a lot lately.  Let’s make this very clear, I am not.  I am not better than, more patient, more loving, or somehow holier than anyone reading this.  I am, however, prayed for, supported, loved, encouraged, and blessed.  I do, however, know whose I am and whom I am, and most days that is enough.  I know who holds me when my heart is shattered and who gives me the ability to keep walking.  Having said all that, I want to talk about the crazy line we walk.  This love fully, hold loosely life.

Some of you know that we are currently caring for some kids who have lived with us before.  We went from 4 to 8 kids because I got THAT phone call.  The one that says kids you already know and love need a home.  The kids that drove me to therapy when they left us the first time.  The kids that will drive me there again because saying goodbye a second time will not be easier.

I think any foster parent would tell you they hear, “I couldn’t do that, I would get too attached,” more times than they can count.  The truth is we do get attached.  We do love.  We do hurt when we have to watch them walk out our doors.  We allow our hearts to be shattered over and over again because the truth is, this is not about us.  These kids need us to love them enough that it hurts when they go.

I’m not saying everyone should be foster parents just because it isn’t about you.  We wouldn’t be surviving right now without the people around us who are supporting us, people who have brought or sent food, who have dropped off necessities, who have helped financially, who have encouraged, who have prayed.  We are blessed beyond measure in that, and I am so grateful, because it allows us to say yes.  Yes, we will take them.  In the same breath I whisper God, I need you to show up.  And He does.

Yes, we are living a crazy in between life with 8 kids right now.  Yes, we are supporting them moving onto family.  Yes, even though it will break our hearts.  But we are not saints.  In the end of it all, I gain so much  more from saying yes.

2 am

I thought this would be easier to document, but I am struggling through the tears.  Even after all this time, I miss them.  Warren and I often say that foster parenting is like living on an emotional roller coaster.  The highs and lows come close together and you never really know where the next turn will take you.  But the ride is always worth it…

***Names of our boys have been changed to protect them and their families, for those who know our story and these amazing kids, please help us in protecting them***

11pm

A phone call woke us.  It was the on call worker from our agency.  They needed to find placement for 4 boys, now.  We lived in a small 2 bedroom duplex and were only licensed to take two kids.  They couldn’t find anyone who could take all four.  We agreed to take two of them immediately.  Wide awake, we started preparing.

11:30pm

Second call.  Confirmation that two boys would be coming to live with us.  Which two?

12pm

Third call.  2 year old and 6 month old.  Alex and John.

2am

The intake worker brought them through our front door.  I will never forget that moment, the moment I first laid eyes on them.  Alex was so tiny, the intake workers had put his older brother’s coat on him and he was swallowed up in it.  He was holding a bottle and looked terrified.  John was rolls of cute baby-ness sitting in the carrier the worker had brought him in. We knew nothing.  There was no information on what had happened, not on where their brothers were, not on what the plan was.  But there they were, just needing to be told everything would be okay.

I remember filling out paperwork and asking where they had been for the last few hours.

“They have been sitting at the office waiting.”  I remember being told that Alex had not spoken a word.

I remember how tired they were, I remember how grateful I was for the few clothes that had already been given to us as we got them ready for bed.  I remember how easily they slept.

And I remember being terrified and excited, overwhelmed and joyous all at the same time.

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The first week was a rush of figuring things out.  What kind of formula do we need?  Where on earth do we find a doctor who accepts new medicaid patients (at the time, we did not know their current doctors)?  What is Alex trying to tell us when he yells no at the refrigerator?  Has John eaten solids?  If so, which ones?

The first visit with their mom came in the second week.  It was also the first time they got to see their brothers again.  I remember writing their mom a letter introducing us and crying over it wondering how I would feel in her shoes.  I remember pulling up in front of the apartment complex with 2 kids that, although they had only been with me briefly, I was already willing to die for.  I remember how nervous I was.

I walked the boys up the steps, met their brothers and their brothers’ foster mom.  I met the visitation worker.  These things happened, but they are more of a blur.  The picture crystallized in my memory is when the apartment door opened.  She had eyes for no one but her boys.  With tears streaming down her face, she held them.  And they held her.

She had a long road ahead of her, but in my heart I knew in that moment that she would fight or die trying.

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Alex and John lived with us for 12 months before their other two brothers, Michael and Dane, moved in with us as well.  I learned more about how to love well with these boys than I had in a lifetime.  Six months later all four boys were reunited with their mom, who worked hard to get them back.  We are grateful to be able to see them still, and to see their mom continue to fight for them.

(reverse) attachment

It has been a bit.  The holidays hit and life just swept me away.  We have had some great adventures over the last few months and a lot of family time.  It has been good for this momma’s heart.  My kids got their first taste of the ocean over Christmas break thanks to some great aunties, and their overflowing joy was a delight.  My heart has been pretty full lately, and I am so thankful, because this has not always been the case.

Even as I sit here, knowing this is what I need to write about, I am hesitant.  This is close to me.  I have been wounded.  But I also know I am not the only foster/adoptive or even biological parent to deal with this, and I think we need some freedom to know it is okay.  I’m going to call it reverse attachment.  In the foster/adoptive world there is a huge focus on attachment.  Children who have been through trauma, especially those who have had multiple primary caregivers, don’t know how to attach to people in a healthy manner.  It is a BIG DEAL.  It affects every relationship in their lives, their ability to love healthily, sympathize, empathize, and in some extreme cases can affect their ability to see any difference between right and wrong.  We take classes on it, spend time reading books about it, use up countless hours of therapy dealing with it.  Teaching these kids to have healthy relationships take a willingness to commit to them no matter how bad it gets.  It is a process that takes time, patience, consistency, and grace.

But that isn’t what I want to discuss here.  What I want to talk about is often left unspoken and assumed.. What I want to lay on the table in broad daylight is the attachment issues that foster and adoptive parents can have with kids they take into their homes.  That’s right.  We don’t just magically immediately attach to every kid that walks through our doors.  There I said it.  Phew.

I want to clarify that I am talking about an authentic attachment or a strong parent/child bond.  I choose to love every child that walks into our home, it is hard to not care about them (which, is why we do what we do), but that is a far cry from the swelling up, overwhelming love that is a parent’s love for their child.  That bond is deep.  With some kids, I get there easily, with others it is a much longer road.  With some, you may not have them long enough to ever get there.

We chose to foster first.  I think that is part of why I struggled with this so much for so long.  Having a baby myself has been a very freeing experience.  I have a deep bond with him, but it developed naturally.  He grew in me, came out of my body, snuggled, loved and completely, unquestionably, depended on me from day one.  It has allowed me to forgive myself for not loving more deeply and authentically faster with our other children.  I didn’t get ten months of them growing inside me.  Shockingly, it IS different.

My oldest child has been with us for 3 1/2 years.  Warren, my husband, and I chose to love her from the moment we heard about her.  We have loved her every day since.  There are days we do a great job and days we don’t.  But it has not been until this past year that I have felt that deep bond with her emerge.  It has been a beautiful unfolding between us, but it wasn’t something that happened right away.  I am unutterably grateful every day that she is my daughter, it is an extra blessing that the mother-daughter bond is blooming.  It is a giddy new mother feeling I get every time this bond grows.  I want to brag about her the way you would with a newborn, but its a weird position because most people don’t understand why I am just getting here.  Honestly, most don’t know that I wasn’t here from day one.

She isn’t the first kid in our home that I have struggled in my heart with.  The babies are easier.  You get to cuddle and bond.  When your relationship with a child begins in the middle of trauma it is challenging, and just like some days in a marriage, love becomes a choice.  Most parents don’t begin their relationship with a child when they are a distant teen, or abused and suicidal.  It is hard to build authentic bonds with severely neglected children, or children who have been moved so many times that they have developed reactive attachment disorder.  It takes time, it takes healing, it takes a whole lot of choosing to love.

The desire of my heart here is that if anyone reading this is struggling with a kid…be encouraged.  You are not alone.  Don’t give up on a kid because your bond isn’t developing fast enough, and certainly don’t beat yourself up about it (or allow others to).  Choosing to love is love, even if those heartfelt feelings aren’t there yet.  You are making a huge difference by not giving up on that child.  You can not force an authentic bond.  Give it space and time and give yourself grace.  When the authentic parent child relationship begins it will be that much more breathtaking.

The reason I hear most often from people who say they are interested in foster care, but are scared of it, is that they will get too attached.  And don’t get me wrong, you do.  Reuniting kids with their birth parents, no matter how awesome, is heart wrenching.  You pour yourself into these kids.  They become your family even if that bond isn’t fully developed yet.  But man, oh man, I think that may be the best reason I have ever heard TO foster…

When all is said and done, it is ironic to me that when I look back on the kids we have been blessed enough to parent for a time, the ones that were harder to “attach to” are the ones I miss the most.

***For a little giggle after all this seriousness….

A while back, the state of Nebraska begun having all foster parents sign a document stating that they will not get attached to the children in their care whenever they take in new children.

I mean…..seriously.

It takes a village with heart…and patience…

I’ve been brainstorming a lot lately about how to get more people involved in foster and adoptive care.  No, I don’t mean how to get more foster parents, although that is needed too, but just getting people involved.  Not everyone is cut out for foster and/or adoptive parenting (not everyone is cut out for parenting period) and that is okay.  The last thing I want to see more of in the foster care system is people who take on kids only to disrupt the placement because it just isn’t working.  That isn’t good for anyone, especially these already hurting kids.

As a side note, if you do feel that foster care is something you are interested in, however, pull up a seat and let’s talk.  That need is real.  We are currently on hold and I still get calls. I would be honored to talk with you about the realities of foster care and how we have seen God carry us through it and bless us abundantly….but back to the point…. 

What I do mean is there is an abundance of need in the child welfare system and it isn’t just for more foster parents.  There is a big broken system out there made up of thousands of kids, social workers, attorneys, foster care support, visitation workers, and biological parents just crying out for help and maybe for a little compassion and understanding.  So here are my thoughts from my time in “the system”.

Caseworkers/Social Workers:  This job is H.A.R.D.  I haven’t done it and have no desire to whatsoever, but I sure do pray for them.  These are the people who are legally responsible for all the kids in care as well as their biological parents on their overflowing caseloads.  If you want a job where you get yelled at ALL.THE.TIME. by EVERYONE you have to work with….well, this job is for you.  These people do it for the kids, the families, the broken.  They are not paid nearly enough, nor do they get enough time off to deal with the trauma they wade through daily.  The ones I have seen make it through more than a few years are truly amazing people.  They are gems.  You know who you are.

How can you help?  Pray for them and say thank you.  If you live in Lincoln, drop by the DHHS office at 16th and Old Cheney(ish) and say thank you.  If you don’t, look up where your local caseworkers are, some states are run through DHHS and some are run privately.  Send food.  Send flowers.  Send kind words.  Their work is confidential, so I am not sure that any kind of volunteering would be feasible (although they could use it), but in my experience encouragement coming from outside their coworkers/supervisors is extremely appreciated.

The kids:  If you aren’t a foster parent there are still a lot of things you can do for the children.

You can become a CASA (Court appointed state advocate) volunteer.  This organization uses volunteers to advocate for the children in court.  We have had a great experience with them with one of our cases.  They are present solely on behalf of the child and their voice is taken into account by the judge.

You can join the foster care review board if you live in NE (if you don’t, check what is available in your state).  These boards follow assigned cases and review them regularly to make sure they are progressing as they should.  If you are not aware, a big problem in child welfare is how long these cases drag out.  Again, the input of these boards is taken into account by the judge presiding over the case.

You can volunteer for events through local foster agencies.

You can provide respite (breaks for the foster parents).

You can pray for them.

Foster Care agencies:  These guys have a tough job too.  They are present as a support/advocate for the foster family and children.  They aid in matching children with appropriate homes, provide support in those homes, help mitigate with other parties in the case, problem solve, etc., etc., etc..  They are who I call first whenever I have an issue.  They need volunteers to help with childcare for events put on for foster parents, they need monetary donations for Christmas presents for teens (Toys for Tots generally covers the little kids), they need prayers, and they need thank yous too.  There are MANY agencies out there.  Lincoln alone has at least 5.  If you want an idea on where to start helping, you can contact an agency directly.  I think they would be flabbergasted to have someone just call in to offer assistance.

Foster and Adoptive Families: As this is where I live, instead of giving you a list of things you can do, I want to give you the list I carry in my heart of moments where people were the hands and feet of God in our life.  Parenting is hard.  Parenting other people’s children is very hard.  Parenting children with trauma can be isolating and lonely.  Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t trade it for the world…the rewards greatly outweigh the hardships.  But if you asked any foster or adoptive parent if they thought parenting those who are un-biologically theirs is the same as parenting biological children, I do believe you would hear a resounding no.

So here is my “highlights reel” as chronologically as it gets…

  • When we got our first placement of 2 brothers, we stayed home from church for a while, mostly because we were just surviving.  When we finally started going again, our little 2 year-old wasn’t able to cope with going to nursery.  One of the ladies who runs the counter of the nursery let him be her buddy for months so we could attend church.
  • Because our family lives out of state it took a long time to get them cleared to be able to watch our kids.  A couple from our church that we were building a relationship with asked what they needed to do to be able to babysit, and they followed through and gave Warren and me a few much needed breaks.  This is a huge need for foster parents.  If you know someone who is fostering and are willing, please offer.  They won’t ask because it requires a background check, and depending on the agency and caseworker, may also involve a home inspection.
  • When we found out we were getting the other siblings of our two boys, the ladies in my small group at church threw me a “baby(kid) shower”.  They brought grocery cards and gifts for the boys, extra bath towels and other necessities.  I still cry thinking about this.  It was a poignantly touching moment in an overwhelming time.
  • In order to take in these guys we had to move, and quickly, to a bigger house.  Our small group jumped in and made that possible.
  • When our boys were reunited with their biological mom, my MOPS group sent me flowers and a card.  There are no words to express how much my heart needed that.  It is a hard place to be when you know that God is rebuilding families and it is good, but loss is still loss.
  • After the loss our extended families felt, they still were on board with us taking in more kids.  I want to take a moment to say thank you to our family for loving these kids as their own.  We are grateful for your willingness to journey with us.
  • When another friend offered to be able to babysit by getting background checked.
  • When we took in our last placement, I was serving with MOPS, and some ladies on the leadership team brought meals.
  • And over all….those who prayed with us, cried with us, and loved on our kids.

To those of you who have filled my highlights reel, you know who you are, and I appreciate you more than words can say.

I think many of these highlights overlap into families adopting from overseas, but I won’t speak for them (you guys feel free to comment away!).  They have kids who have come from broken places as well, and they get to go through culture shock to boot.

The Biological Families:  In the midst of all of it, it is easy to forget the biological parents.  Pray for them as well.  They are struggling, and should not be written off.  They need love and support.  The ones I know come from hard places and are fighting their own trauma/addictions/grief/etc.  I am often reminded that except by the grace of God, that could be me.

There are so many other ways to get involved.  Many other people who are a big part of this broken system keep plugging away and loving kids and families. So as we walk through national child welfare month and national adoption day I want to encourage you to get involved somehow, somewhere.  It may not be life changing for you, but it will be for someone.

Unbroken…

It was a busy day.  Last minute rushing and not a lot of thinking things through type of day.  My head hurt and I just wanted the bedtime for kids moment to come (and maybe magically happen all by itself).  It was a dance night for L, and I had forgotten she was supposed to wear her Halloween costume.  She had chosen to be a mermaid this year.  Not so “dance-able”, so I told her to pick one of her dress up outfits.

She came upstairs with the yellow princess dress she had just gotten for her birthday from Grandma.  As I helped her get dressed I noticed multiple tears and rips that had already been made by her brothers’ use of the dress.  I said something about it, and she replied, “It’s okay Mommy.  It’ still pretty.”  We got the tights, the shoes, and the dress on and started to head to the truck.  She ran back inside to get her crown–also broken by her brothers.

We got loaded up and as I took a breath I looked into the rear-view mirror to make sure she was buckled safely.  In her ripped dress with her broken crown, she sat there beaming.  So excited to go to dance all dressed up.  Uncaring that her brothers had used her things and broken them.  Unaffected by imperfections.

In that moment, I fell a little more in love with my daughter.

For those of you who know L, you know she can be rough.  We have had more than our share of hard moments.  She has had a tough life.  For what she has been through, she is the most unbroken girl I know.  She carries a heart that has somehow escaped being jaded by people.  She generally sees the beauty and not the ashes.  I could learn a thing or two from her if I slowed down and paid attention more often.

Tomorrow, she will let her brothers use and abuse her toys and dresses again just because it makes them happy.  She will help them with whatever they need if they ask.  Yes, she will fight with them as all big sisters do, but she will still love and give unconditionally.

As she got out of the truck to go into her class she asked, “Mommy, what princess am I again?”

I told her, “princess Belle.”

But dear one, you are so much more.  You are Princess L, daughter of the Most High King, Father to the Fatherless, Healer of the Broken.  And in moments, you reflect His light effortlessly.  I love you.

The (not so) beginning…

As we near our 5th anniversary as [foster, adoptive, birth] parents, I have found myself looking back and wondering how we got here.  We are SO blessed.  Blessed to have survived, blessed to be a part of each kids journey, blessed to know fellow workers in the system with huge hearts, blessed to love, blessed to be loved in return.

In the past five years we have had 8 kids, said 4 goodbyes, adopted 3 and birthed 1.  We have had 9 caseworkers, 5 visitation workers, 4 county attorneys, 3 GALs, 4 foster support workers, 2 judges, 2 adoption attorneys, and a CASA volunteer be a part of this journey.  We have been to countless family team meetings, court hearings, and foster care review board sessions.  We are so used to people touring our home, it just comes naturally at this point.  I think about all the lives that touched ours in the last five years, and I am just grateful.  We have met some amazing kids AND some amazing adults.

After C became an official Kittler this past March, we decided to take a breather.  We had four kids 5 and under in our home and some underlying trauma issues that needed to be addressed with some of them.  I was also dealing with some health issues and we were moving again.

We have since settled into our new home and nothing explosive has happened in a while.  Life is steady.  In fact, my sister in law wrote in my last birthday card, “here is to a year with no major life changes”, and I thought, we could use that.  For the first time since this journey began I can feel my own feet on solid ground.  We have a schedule.  We are homeschooling.  I am even doing things just for me.  I feel like I can breathe.  I won’t lie, after the last five years its a little boring.  But a good I have time to just snuggle my kids boring.

Last week took us from boring to high alert.  We were asked to consider taking in a set of siblings that have been bounced from home to home and are now separated.  If there is one thing I could fix in the system it would be this.  These kids need stability.  They need each other.  Warren and I talked, we prayed, we asked for prayer, I cried.  A lot.  We weighed their need against the needs of our children.  We wondered if we don’t take them, who will?  I struggled with God trying to discern whether saying yes just because it was the right thing to do was enough.  And I struggled with wanting to know in my soul that I wouldn’t be saying no just because it would be hard and scary.  We asked our two oldest what they thought.  We discussed how to make it work and if it would.  In the end, with heavy hearts, we said no.  Partly because one of our kids was not on board, but mostly because I could just sense God making it clear to my heart that our family still needs time.  Time to bond, time to heal, time to grow together, time to just be with God before we jump back on the roller coaster.

I am grateful that we know our foster care journey is not even near complete, but there is a fullness in my heart in taking this break.  It is necessary to keep on going.  Our kids need it, we need it.  Slowing down is hard for me.  Walking away from kids I know we could take in, but shouldn’t, that is hard too.  Sometimes the hard thing is saying no.

We have decided to keep our license open for the interim as we want to continue to walk in the reality of the need and never forget.  Even though saying yes to listening is difficult when we are pretty sure we can’t say yes, it helps us remember who we are, whose we are, and what our purpose in all this is.  If we aren’t taking placements, we can pray.  We can help carry the burdens of those who are.  And who knows when that phone call will be for the kiddo or kiddos that God tells us to say yes to again.

So this is a new beginning for us.  Not sure how long it will last, but here we are.  And this blog that I set up in August of 2014, well I am finally doing something with that too.  People are always telling me I should be writing down “those moments”.  So I hope this space can be a little of that, an encouragement to get engaged in the needs around you, and maybe a few twists and turns down the memories of the past five years.  In moments, for those of you who live in the foster care world, it will also serve as a “thank you” for all you do.  YOU ARE AMAZING.