Saturday, August 2, 2014

Learning to be Faithful

One of the perks of being a teacher is summer break. I tell people it's what keeps all the teachers out of prison. A couple of months to recuperate and relax or catch up on all the things you let go during the year.

I was looking forward to my break, even with 3 little ones. I had days at the pool and park all imagined in my head. We got a couple weeks of that and then our littlest got sick.

So sick she ended up in the hospital for 12 days. Well, she wasn't really even sick that whole time but she could only get her antibiotic by IV so we were trapped. It was a hard time, but we got through it. I stayed 8 of the nights, my husband 3, and our UMCH case worker 1. One of our DFCS case workers asked if we HAD to stay at the hospital. It wasn't even a question in our head. Maybe we didn't have to but we were. Can you imagine leaving a 2 month old alone in the hospital?

One day I walked up to the baby's crib as a nurse was getting vital signs. The baby turned towards my voice and the nurse commented like she was speaking for the baby, "There's the lady who had me". I explained that I didn't have her, I was her foster mom. She said, "Well, she doesn't know that." No, she doesn't know. Even though it was a trying time for our family, it was a sweet time of bonding with the baby. Our life at home is hectic with 2 other littles, and this one was so young and easy and slept so much, we hadn't spent that much one on one time together.

We made it through and got discharged two days before our beach trip. We left the 2 babies with foster friends and took our daughter, her friend, and our 3 year to the beach. It was a wonderful vacation. Relaxing and restful. Just what we needed.

We came home and 5 days later we were back in the hospital for the same reason. Another 8 days then home with a picc line for another 6 days. When we were on the way back to the hospital I wanted to cry. I was so frustrated and worried. Then I was just at peace. I was learning about being faithful. Faithful to our commitment to this baby. This baby who doesn't know I didn't have her. Faithful to this baby who fully depends on us to meet all our needs. The song, "Great is Thy Faithfulness", was in my head all night. A great reminder of my Father who is faithful to meet all my needs.

I've needed repeated reminders. I'm quick to forget. I'm quick to worry. Another false alarm trip to the ER about sent me over the edge. Thankful for friends who have stepped in to help and let me vent. This journey is not easy. I'll be honest, I have moments that I think it's too much. I think about how easy my life could be if we weren't fostering. Then I think back to that hospital room. One day I was holding our baby and next door a 22 month old woke up from a nap and started to cry. She was alone. She was also in DFCS custody and had been there a few days. She didn't have a family yet. The nurses often kept her with them behind their station, but it's not the same. The comparison of one baby who was loved and one who was alone had me in tears. If we weren't fostering I wonder who would have my baby. I wonder if she would be loved. I wonder if they would have stayed.

I have no idea what the future holds for her or for how long we will be able to care for her. While we have her she will be loved and cared for. Her needs will be met. We will be faithful.

“Great is Thy faithfulness,” O God my Father,
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not
As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.
“Great is Thy faithfulness!” “Great is Thy faithfulness!”
  Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided—
 “Great is Thy faithfulness,” Lord, unto me!

Monday, May 26, 2014

Called to Obedience

People ask us why we foster and I've often said it's a calling. I'm not sure that's true. I'm not sure we're called specifically to foster children, but I know ALL believers are called to be obedient.

The Bible is filled with commands. "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you." Matthew 28:19-20. Does this mean every one of us is supposed to be a foreign missionary? No, but we are supposed to be making disciples.

Here's the verse that spoke to us when we started our journey. "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world" James 1:27. If this command is for all believers what does it look like in your life?

On one hand I can't expect everyone to become a foster parent. On the other hand when I see the statistics and I hear the stories of the children who they can't find placements for I want to scream and beg and plead. Every week UMCH is turning away placements. They only get called when DFCS can't find one of their own homes. Last week they had a call for a 6 month old and 16 month siblings. They were put in a receiving home, which is a temporary placement. After a few days of not being able to find a placement, they were then willing to separate them in order to find them a home. This is only 1 of tons of stories each week of children they can't find homes for.

I want to answer a few reasons I've heard why people can't foster:

I'm too old - We've met some amazing retired people who are still fostering. They even foster newborns. It blows me away.

I'm single - Again, we've met amazing people who are doing this on their own. I know it has to be hard, but they are doing it.

I have small children of my own - So do quite a few of our friends who are fostering. They're awesome. Amazing lessons they are teaching their children of selflessness.

My house is too small - Right now we have 7 people living in a 3 bedroom house. It's not ideal, but it's doable.

I can't afford it - We rarely, if ever, come out of pocket for our kids. If we do it's because we've chosen to do something special. We receive a per diem for their care which is sufficient. They have a clothing allowance that is adequate if you shop smart. Fostering with UMCH we have an additional monthly allowance that we can turn in receipts for extras like diapers, school events, or any other non food item. Most of the children receive WIC, so we don't pay for formula, which can be expensive.

I don't like children - Have you met my husband? Like he says, you don't have to like children to love them.

I'd get too attached - Then you'd be perfect! These children deserve someone who will love them and get attached. They deserve someone who is willing to be hurt in order to give them a safe place for a little while.

It's too hard/complicated - Sometimes it is. Most things worthwhile are.

I like my freedom - Luke 9:23-24 23 And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it."

The need is great. It's greater than great. There are over 8,000 children in foster care in GA right now. In 2012 there were over 1,600 ready to be adopted out of foster care. In 2012 there were over 14,000 churches in Georgia. I'll let you do the math. In 2012 over 23,000 children nationwide aged out of the system. On their own with no support system. You can imagine the statistics that await them. They aren't pretty.

Please consider what your role is. What does obedience look like in your life?

1 John 3:16-18 16By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 17But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

"Having heard all of this you may choose to look the other way but you can never again say you did not know." -William Wilberforce

Here's the link to see the number of children waiting to be adopted from foster care vs. number of churches state by state.
Here's the link with the statistics for the kids who age out of the foster care system.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Mother's Day

Today is Mother's Day. I have such mixed emotions about this day. It's a time to remember my mom, celebrate my mother-in-law, and be celebrated by my own children.

Usually my Mother's Day include 2 children. Last year, after we started fostering, it included 4. Two biological and 2 temporary children, who we love and miss like crazy.

Today I insisted on a picture, because this year I have 5. This time last week I didn't. On Thursday we were asked if we wanted to take a 1 week old baby. Our other foster children are 2 1/2 years and 8 1/2 months. I forwarded the email to Jimmy to share with him how crazy the question even was. Of course we couldn't take a newborn when we have a baby already at home! He didn't think it was crazy. His confidence in our ability to do this amazes me. I wasn't sure we could. I'm still not sure, but we are. That night they brought us this tiny little baby. So tiny that even newborn clothes seem a little big.

A few minutes ago I sat rocking this 10 day old miracle. She's perfect and beautiful. And I thought about Mother's Day. Not too far from where I live a woman is having her first Mother's Day with empty arms. I met her on Friday. She loves and wants this baby. Unfortunately, poor choices sometimes have huge consequences, so for now I have her baby. I'll do my best to love her and care for her.

The first few weeks of a baby's life are such a precious bonding time and she's missing that. It's not my job to judge her decisions or her actions that got her to this place. Right now I grieve for her. A mother without her baby. I pray she does what's required to get this angel home, and that this sweet baby will always be taken care of and loved.

Other mothers are facing this Mother's Day with the realization that their child isn't coming home. Some mothers have had their rights terminated. It's not a decision made lightly. What a terrible decision to have to make. What a terrible reality to have to live with. Hopefully, their children will find permanency and love.

So, like I said, a range of emotions. For all the mothers of biological children, adopted children, and foster children, may your 'children rise up and call you blessed.' (Proverbs 31:28) For those mothers with empty arms tonight remember, "The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit." (Psalms 34:18).

Monday, May 5, 2014

There's No Such Thing As Monsters...And Other Lies We Tell Children

Children come into foster care for a variety of reasons. Some are born drug exposed. Some are born drug exposed and go home with their parents anyway. Then they later come into care due to continued failed drug screens. Sometimes there is domestic violence or neglect. 9 month old babies weighing 9 pounds. 5 month old babies with eyes so sunken in you were sure they were from a third world country.

Adults often tell children things that are not true. Maybe because we believe it. Maybe because there's nothing else to say.

"Everything's going to be ok". Maybe. Maybe not. If you've come into foster care, something is definitely not ok with your world. Maybe it will be from here on, but the scars remain. Perhaps not physical scars. I imagine the emotional ones may be worse.

"Mommy and Daddy are doing everything they can to get you back". That could be true. I've seen that happen. I've also seen it not happen. Sometimes there are things that have a stronger pull than your children. I can't understand it, but I've watched it. Canceled visits. Broken promises. Tear-stained faces.

And then there's physical abuse. Broken bodies. Bruises and internal injuries. Obviously not an accident, but no one's talking. Babies being hurt by the people who are supposed to love them, or at least not protecting them from someone else.

"There's no such thing as monsters". The biggest lie of all. No, they don't hide under the bed and in the closet. They aren't furry and they don't have horns. But they are real. Unfortunately for some they look like mommies and daddies. They look like the one who should hold you and comfort you. Imagine your toddler being scared of you. Not scared of being in trouble. Terrified. Of you. Can you? I hope not. That's reality for many children.

There's no such thing as monsters? I disagree.

Sunday, May 4, 2014


"Okay". I've never heard that word said so sadly as I did on January 24th.

The night before a foster care worker had brought us a sweet baby girl. She was 5 1/2 months old at the time, and so very beautiful.

On January 24th our case worker came and so did a DFCS worker with our new little guy who is 2 1/2. He was fairly shy, but quickly warmed up to my daughter and I as we sat on the floor with him and played with some toys. Jimmy came home from work a few minutes later and walked in with a couple trucks for him. He loved that. He was becoming more comfortable, and even sat in my lap, but in his mind he was just visiting.

He had no idea he was starting over again. You see, we are his 3rd foster home. His 3rd new family since he was 13 months old. I can't even wrap my mind around that and what must go through his mind. Does he think this is normal? No wonder he calls everyone woman mommy and every man daddy.

After all the paperwork was done his caseworker that he knew started the process of leaving. She went to the door and asked him to come tell her goodbye. He quickly went to the door and said, "I want to go home". She knelt down and hugged him and told him that this was going to be his new home. He looked down and in the saddest voice I've ever heard said, "Okay". He'd resigned himself to starting over again. How is this your normal at 2 1/2?

That's all it took for us to want to protect him from every future hurt. He's the most amazing little guy. He has the brightest smile, the funniest laugh, the biggest eyes, and the sweetest heart. Of course he's 2, so he also has the drama, fall on the floor, let's have a fit when I don't get my way.

I don't know how long we'll get to love him. While we have him we'll try to love him well. I don't know through all his changes he's learned to love so well. Bedtime (for the most part) is such a sweet time. He adds our name to whatever he says. "Goodnight Daddy", "I yuv you, Mommy".

The name of this blog is, "It's Not About Us". This is what I'm talking about. It's about him. It's about all of them, the approximate 8,000 children in foster care, just in Georgia, at any one time. He may go home, that's not for us to decide. If he does, he'll be worth our heartbreak. He's had enough heartbreak in his short little life. He's why we do what we do.

"I am not afraid to grieve. I am afraid of what would happen to these children if no one took the risk to love them." -author unknown

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Our Almost Children

We've now had 6 foster children. Two are still with us. We've also had 5 "Almost Children". These are children they call us to take, we say yes, then another placement is found. There are various reasons, but usually because they've found a closer placement. Since we don't foster with the county, our kids can come from anywhere. That can make weekly visits difficult, and costly for the county who might have to provide transportation to visits.

The first "almost child" was 3 days old. A newborn! I was really excited. I'm baby crazy. We were really crazy because when we said yes we still had our 3 year old and newly turned 1 year old. We said yes anyway. He wasn't even named. We weren't sure if we were supposed to name him or if he would eventually have a name from his birth mom. Our biological kids are Cole and Cori, so our son wanted to continue the pattern and call him Cai, short for Mordecai. I could get on board with Cai, but Mordecai? I don't think so. I ran around getting the house ready, trying to figure out what we were going to do about another crib. He was coming at 3:00 pm. And then he wasn't coming at all. We were so strangely disappointed.

Then next time it happened was a set of siblings. The little girl was 3 and the baby boy was 5 months. Their names both started with M. M&M. She was not yet speaking and he was given a label of failure to thrive. I was a little scared, but hoped we could help them. This case was back and forth for a day or so. The limited space in our house was a problem. Once a child is 4, they can no longer share a room with a child of a different gender, even if it is their biological sibling, and there was a possibility this could be a long term placement. So many rules. They eventually found another home for them. My husband advocated for them - even with the problems, but they didn't come.

After that we accepted placement for our now 2 year old. That same day they called us about a 4 month old boy. We said yes. Baby? YES! They were coming the same day. It was a Thursday and I had an after school meeting. I didn't hear much in the meeting. After the meeting I started my scramble to get ready for new kids. Then the call came. The baby wasn't coming and our 2 year old was coming the next day. What a roller coaster of emotions. Later that night they ended up bringing us a 5 month old girl, and our big guy did come the next day.

Our most recent Almost Child happened today. We were asked about a 6 year old boy. I was really hesitant. We have 2, plus our own, in a very small house. They couldn't find another placement, so we couldn't say no. Well, we could have, but we didn't. He was going to come this coming Monday. Lots of thoughts running through my mind. How will we arrange the room? I don't really have an extra dresser. Our son is moving back from college next week. Then, once again, they found another placement. This time I felt like it was an answer to prayer. I was unsure this time. I prayed for another placement if this wasn't a good fit for us, or if we were overextending ourselves. That was a quick answer. Still, I know his name and I know some of his story. I wonder where he is going. Praying they will love him.

I guess we'll have lots more Almost Children. You'd think by now we would learn, but I had already told a bunch of people about our new guy. Then had to change my story. Until they are here it's never a for sure thing. It's hard to explain, but once you've heard their names and know their story, they capture a piece of your heart. I don't even know what they look like, but for a moment, after we said yes, they were our children...almost.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Today Was a Good Day

We got to spend the day with one of our previous foster daughters. Our biological daughter was in a play and she got to come see it. I gave her 2 options. I could pick her up early and she could go to church, then lunch, then the play, or I could pick her up just for the play. She chose early. We surprised everyone at church. They were almost as happy to see her as we were.

I realized the emotional journey we drag all our friends down in this process. We force all those close to us to have to say goodbye to children they also learn to love. They didn't choose this path, but we drag them along with us anyway.

It was so easy being with her. She was pretty easy as it was. We just got to be like the fun aunt and uncle. You want to sit in the very back of the car? Sure, climb over the seat. You want McDonald's for lunch? You bet! Ice cream after the play? Absolutely!

We never know when we say goodbye if we'll ever see them again. I can't explain what a relief it is to see her. She looks good. She seems happy.

Today was a good day.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Beginning Again

After our first two girls went home we put our house on hold. It gave us time to regroup and rest a bit. We weren't sure how long we would need. I had started a new school year and definitely needed some time to focus on work.

After 2 weeks we started getting antsy. We knew our agency was turning kids away right and left, which left us constantly feeling guilty. No one was pressuring us to re-open our home, we just kept wondering where all these kids were ending up. We finally decided on a date. Saturday, September 14th would be the day we would be available again. We had certain things going on that week that would have made a new placement difficult.

Friday the 13th came and we received a call. Guess they thought it was close enough. Did we want to take a placement of 2 more girls. This time they were 7 and almost 2. They were from the next county over. We never know where our kids will be from since we're with a private agency. Kids from that close by was like a dream. Transporting to visits wouldn't take an hour each way. Although it was a day earlier than we said we would open, we couldn't say no.

They came around 4:30. Someone they were familiar with brought them. The little one was ok if she was by her sissy. The 7 year old would sit for a little while and then pace the room. More than once she told us she felt like she had a knot in her stomach. Poor baby. Taken away from her family and dropped off with strangers. It's just worse when they understand what's going on. She was so incredibly brave. She only teared up once. Everyone left after all the papers were signed and there we were, strangers trying to get to know each other.

They pretty much came with no clothes. We were headed out to the first high school football game of the season to watch our daughter cheer. Before that we had to hit the store. An outfit or two would get us through until we could get a wardrobe. After Walmart and McDonalds we went to the game. We just decided we would just incorporate them into our lives and schedule as much as possible and see how it went. It went well.

The girls getting to stay together was a blessing. The older one was used to being a care taker and the little one didn't want sissy out of her sight. After a few days we were starting to get used to each other. Through various trainings we learn that each house has different expectations, so we tried to be patient as the 7 year old gave orders. She wasn't trying to be rude, it's just what she was used to. "Get her some milk, and get me some too." After I put my eyeballs back in my head I calmly explained that we didn't take orders from 7 year olds, but if she'd like to ask for some milk I would happy to oblige. She was quick to comply.

The almost 2 year old quickly became attached to us. It was a bit of a struggle for the 7 year old to give up being the parent. Once when we sat the baby in her bed for a minute because she was having a meltdown, her sister went and got her out of the crib. We had to explain that we weren't mad or hurting her, but we had to be in charge. She could just be a kid. There were tears and it took a bit for her to let go of that role, but eventually she did.

Our older one was not overly affectionate, especially with me. One night she was not feeling well and after getting ready for bed I asked if she wanted to lay on the couch until her little sister fell asleep since they shared a room. She said yes, walked into the living room, and climbed directly into my husband's lap. Sweet, sweet moment.

These sweet girls stayed for 3 1/2 months. Again we were told it would only be about a month because a family member would be taking them. Again that didn't work out. They ended up going to their grandmother. She was so happy. She was desperate for her grandbabies. The final permission was slow in coming. We waited until we had the final approval before we said anything to the 7 year old. She had already had enough disappointment. It was 2 days before Christmas. We asked to be the ones to take them to grandma. Since we already had Christmas ready for them their grandma and uncle suggested we go ahead and have our own little Christmas because they had bought Christmas gifts as well. We gave the news, packed bags, and had Christmas all in a few hours. The 7 year old really wanted to be with her Nana. We packed up the car and headed her way. Somewhere on the way we realized our 7 year old was crying. What a jumble of emotions. So happy to be going back to the familiar, and still sad to leave the normal of the past few months. Of course that made me cry.

We got to Nana's house and unloaded the car. We spoke for a few minutes and said goodbye. The 7 year hugged us quickly and ran out of the room. Nana asked if she was crying. I think she was quite surprised. She went to get her and told her to not run from her feelings. She was just incredibly sweet about the whole situation. We left and saw her Nana holding and comforting her through the window.

I wasn't the emotional basket case like I was when we took our first 2 home. Maybe I knew what to expect, maybe the shorter time they were with us made the difference. They were sweet girls and easy to deal with, easy to love. We keep their pictures up. We plan to do that with all "our kids". I don't want to forget any of them. Each of them becomes part of our family and part of our heart.

Their Nana has let us keep in touch. We text on occasion. We saw them a couple weeks after they went back to return some things they had left. We went last weekend to take our 7 year old a birthday gift. We plan to take her to our daughter's high school play in a couple weeks. I know we won't always be able to stay in contact with all the kids who leave our home. Some families won't want to, and it will eventually be impossible if we have high numbers of former foster children. We'll be happy for whatever contact we can have.

Thinking about our dark haired girls, who looked enough like us not to get stares in public, brings a smile to my face. I wonder as the years go by what I'll remember from each of our kids. Will I remember all their names, a funny or sweet story about each of them? I hope so. Each of them touches our lives and I would hate to forget that.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Social Workers

March is Social Work month, so it seems only fitting to post about the people who have helped us along in this journey.

We foster with a private agency. When DFCS can't find a placement in one of their homes they contact the private agencies to see if they have space available. They are still involved so we end up with 2 case workers.

I was completely intimidated by having to meet our DFCS case worker. DFCS gets a lot of negative press. I was expecting incompetence or rude and standoffish behavior. I've never been so happy to be wrong. That has not at all been our experience. It is some people's experiences, but fortunately not ours. We've had 4 different DFCS case workers so far and we've been happy with all of them. They've been kind, helpful, grateful, and easy to work with.

Our saving grace is our case worker from United Methodist Children's Home. Where DFCS caseworkers follow the children, at UMCH the caseworker follows the foster parent. That means we always have the same caseworker. She knows our family. She's become part of our family. She's the one we call when we need something, when we're confused, when we just need to vent. The amount of support we receive is unbelievable. Almost as unbelievable as the hours she works.

I can't think of another job that requires so many hours for not near enough pay or respect. Our eyes have been opened to a lot of things on this journey. Now when we hear a story about DFCS in a negative light, we have a different perspective. We wonder how many kids over their limit they are. I think they aren't supposed to have more than 12, but often have 20. How they often get the blame for decisions others make, including judges.

Realistically, we'll probably run into a difficult worker along the way. Hoping if that happens we are mindful of their job and how busy they are. Hoping we can remember to try to lighten their load any way we can.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Our First Goodbye

I have no idea how many times court happened. How many times we wondered if they were going home. We prepared countless time to say goodbye to our first girls. They were never ours to keep, and we knew that. That didn't keep us from falling in love. What we were told would be 30-45 days turned into 367 days.

One year and two days. That 10 week old baby had all her first year firsts at our house. We got her first laugh, her first word, her first tooth, her first birthday. We saw her crawl, pull up, and walk first. At the same time we were celebrating these accomplishments, we were heartbreakingly aware that her mother was missing them.

After a year of 4 hour a week visits with their mother we asked for a small transition time for the baby. Our three year old just wanted to be with her mommy, but we felt the transition was important for her little sister. 2 weekend visits were granted and then we took them home for good.

It was the day before my birthday. We packed the car with tons of their stuff we had accumulated over the past year, and then made the drive to their mom's house. She was home alone, the older siblings were gone. We carried all their belongings in and visited a few minutes with her. I had been holding the baby. I was doing so well. I felt strong. I knew I'd be upset, but hoped to wait until we left.

We said goodbye. I kissed the baby one last time and set her down. That's when I lost it. I burst into tears right in front of her mom. I so didn't want to do that. She'd missed her whole first year, and here I am crying that she is going home. I apologized and told her I was really happy for her. I meant it. I was. I am. She hugged me and thanked us. No idea what was going through her mind, but she was outwardly gracious.

We got back in the car as I tried to compose myself. Going out to eat was now out of the question as I was not fit to be seen in public. We stopped by the store and my husband came out with frozen pizza, chips, soft drinks, and cookies. I told him we were like a teenage girl after a breakup.

I loved my husband's Facebook status that night. "367 days. After 367 days our girls went home to their mom today. They had my heart after 10 minutes, so you imagine after 367 days. We will all love them forever. There seems to be good hope that we will be able to continue having a relationship with them. Time will tell. Right now I just feel, well, I don't know. I guess like I wish it could have been 368."

Although it broke our hearts to take them home, we wouldn't trade that year with them for anything. What an honor to have known them and watch them grow. Two little girls we would have never known existed, and we got to share in their lives. The night before they left we ran into a friend at a high school football scrimmage. I told her they were going home. She placed her hands on our sweet baby's head and said, "Oh baby girl, may God bless you all of your life". Yes God, please bless our girls as much as their lives blessed us.

"How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard." -Winnie the Pooh

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Honeymoon Is Over!

Our sweet girls came in August of 2012. We'd been through all the training. We were ready for the crying and sadness of the separation from the family. We didn't experience that. Our three year old was sweet and cute and funny and precious. She didn't tantrum when she left visits. She was compliant. She woke up each day with a smile. This foster care thing is pretty easy...

Then October came. I guess she was comfortable. Ever heard of the Terrible Twos? Whoever made that up never had a three year old. Our sweet, funny, silly girl changed. Tantrums like nothing I have ever seen came out of the blue. Screaming, hitting, kicking, and spitting were happening multiple times a week. It came in waves. We'd have some good weeks, then back into a cycle of screaming fits.

Intellectually we could understand how confused she was. How awful to be torn away and kept away from the mommy you want to be with. We felt for her. We wanted to help her. In the moment, with the screaming and the kicking and the spitting, it was a bit harder to be objective. The more upset we got, the funnier she thought it was. We tried to remain calm. We are the adults. We've had training. We have this all under control.

Until one Sunday morning on the way home from church. I don't even remember what set her off. She was mad. She just started screaming at the top of her lungs. Not words. Just screams. Loud screams. I tried to reason with her. I tried being firm. Then I did what every mature, trained adult would do. I just started screaming with her. Loudly. AHHHHH, AHHHHH, AHHHHH....It shocked her into silence for a moment. It shocked my husband who was driving. Thankfully, he didn't run us off the road. He started laughing. I started laughing. She continued screaming. Not my proudest moment.

Over the time we had her we learned to be less reactive. Sometimes it helped. Sometimes we were just worn out. It was exhausting at times. Our case manager gave us some wise words, "You can't fix in three months what she's lived for three years."

Through it all we loved her. We still do. A picture of her or a story brings a smile to our face. The way she loved her baby dolls. The new name she gave herself and wanted to be called. The way her smile could light up a room. The sassy way she'd put her hand on her hip for a picture. How she loved Taylor Swift songs and could sing every word to "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together". Her sweet little laugh. Her prayers at dinner.

This foster care thing is NOT easy. We're dealing with broken hearts. Confusion with no possible way to understand. I'm learning. I'm hoping to be better. Honeymoons are nice, but they end. Then you have real life. The good, the bad, and the ugly. We experienced a little of all of those. And as always, it was worth it.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Ready, Set, Go...

The phone call finally came. Could we take 2 little girls, ages 3 and 10 weeks? YES! We received the call around 4:30 in the afternoon. We were excited. We were unprepared! Since our kids were teenagers we had long since parted with all the baby paraphernalia. We chose not to go ahead and purchase all kinds of baby stuff when we decided to foster because we had no idea what age children we would get. That's where social media came to the rescue.

We can't post personal information about our foster children. We can't use their names or post pictures of their faces, BUT we did post they were coming and asked if anyone had anything we could use/borrow to get us started. Wow! What a response. I spent the next hour or so making a round trip around our town. I picked up an infant car seat from one house, a toddler car seat from another, a pack and play from a third, and toys and some clothes from a fourth. Another friend dropped off a baby bathtub and a diaper bag. Now we felt ready.

We had a little history and their names. We prepared for the reaction from a 3 year old being dropped off with complete strangers. They arrived at around 10:00 pm. The 3 year old was sleeping and the 10 week old was SCREAMING. She apparently had screamed the whole ride here. We brought her in, I took her out of the car seat and she quieted.

The 3 year was laid on the couch and my teens sat on the floor near her with some toys. She started to awaken but kept her back to us. She would shyly turn around and accept a toy and quickly face the back of the couch. There was no screaming, no tears. She fairly quickly warmed up to us.

We filled out the necessary paperwork and then we were all alone. In a matter of minutes, a family of 6. Trial and error becomes the new normal. We knew nothing of their likes, their schedules. They came with the clothes on their backs and a few things the foster care worker brought with her. Thank goodness for clothing allowances.

Bedtime was around midnight. It went better than expected. Our new 3 year old acted like she was on vacation. It was almost odd that she wasn't scared. She woke up with a smile. The first tears we saw were the next morning when she had to go with a transporter for a doctor's appointment. How I hate that part of it. Sending these kids off with strangers. You would never do that with your biological children.

I took the first day off, and my husband took the 2nd day to take them to court. There is always a court date within the first 72 hours. He met the parents. It was a slightly volatile situation. I can't blame them. They were upset to lose their children. Seeing your 2 little girls with some strange man can't be easy. Though they seemed upset, nothing happened. The father just asked my husband to please take care of the babies. He promised we would.

Though we had been through training, the real learning happens as you go along. Court dates are plentiful, all for different reasons. Many get continued, which basically means rescheduled for another date. There are weekly visitations, appointments, assessments, visits from case workers, and a whole new vocabulary to get used to. Adjudication, stipulated, deprived, and TPR are just a few.

We were told a family member would be getting approved to take them, and that process takes 30-45 days. We mentally prepared to have them for 30-45 days. That didn't happen. That often doesn't happen. Many times we mentally prepared for them to go home. Each court date I waited for the email to tell me what the verdict was. Since we don't live close to where they were from, my plan was always that I could get to the daycare before a case worker. That assured us that we would at least get to say goodbye. It doesn't always work like that. I was determined it would work like that for us.

Our first placement. 2 little girls who captured our hearts from the very beginning. I would love to share their pictures. They were a complete blessing to our family. We will never be the same. We learned how to love in a whole new way. It wasn't always easy. Some days it was just plain awful, but worth it. Worth the uncertainty, worth the behavior issues, worth the time, and miles put on our car each week. They were worth the heartbreak when it was time to say goodbye..

Saturday, March 1, 2014

I Could Never Do That...

Quickly becoming my least favorite thing is hearing anyone say regarding foster care, "I could never do that, I'd get too attached." Though it's not meant that way, it implies that we are robots who don't get attached to the children who live with us.

If people who WILL get attached won't foster, then who will? People who don't care much for children? People who treat children indifferently? People who don't celebrate the birthdays of their foster children? There are enough of those homes.

Sometimes love hurts. Children are being taken away from the only life they know. It's scary. It's confusing. My wish is for every one of them to find shelter with someone who is willing to be heartbroken. Someone who will love them. Someone who will learn all their favorites. Someone who will take pictures and celebrate their accomplishments. Someone who give them security and a sense of "normal" that they can carry with them into adulthood.

Thousands of children are in foster care here in Georgia. Our one private agency turns away multiple placements a week because they do not have enough homes. Not enough people willing to be hurt in order to love.

It's not about us. It's about them.

John 3:30 "He must become greater; I must become less."

Friday, February 28, 2014

Waiting for the Phone to Ring

We finally got our letter. We were approved! I felt like the phone would ring any minute. All through our training we were updated on how many children our private agency had to turn away due to nowhere to place them. But the phone didn't ring for almost a week. The placement has to be right for our available space.

There was so much anticipation. I was excited. Then I felt guilty. I felt like I shouldn't be excited because it was like wishing for disruption in a child's life. Many people have told me that was silly, bad things are going to happen anyway, but I still felt that way.

Late one night the phone rang. Caller ID is a wonderful thing. Butterflies. It was a caseworker wondering if we wanted to take a placement. We got as much history as the caseworker had and said.... no. The situation was so far above what we felt that we could handle, especially our first placement, especially with our own children in the house.

I couldn't believe the call finally came and we said no. Huge disappointment. Huge guilt. I still wonder where she ended up. Hoping she is getting help. Hoping she is loved.

Then we were back to waiting for the phone to ring...

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Tragic Privilege

When I started this blog my plan was to walk my way through our journey that started a year and a half ago. Today I attended a panel review for one of my foster children and decided to jump to the present.

A panel review (for those unfamiliar) is a meeting with court appointed people who review the case and make suggestions to the judge. Along with them today were the case workers, the parent, and me. This was the first panel review I have ever attended. It's informative. It's hard. You sit while these people speak bluntly about what is not being done. You feel for the parent. The parent of the child I am parenting.

I met her for the first time today. I was nervous. I always am when I meet my kids' parents. As soon as she walked in and smiled, my nervousness faded. She was kind. She was friendly. She was grateful that I give her pictures of her son. Her son who calls her mommy. Her son who also calls me mommy. To be honest, he calls most women mommy. It's a role way too many people have filled in his young life.

It reminds me of an adoption quote. Though he is not ours permanently it still fits. "A child born to another woman calls me mommy. The magnitude of that tragedy and the depth of that privilege are not lost on me." -Jody Landers.

It is a tragedy that foster care is even needed. But since it is, I'm grateful for the privilege to hear him call me mommy, even for a little while.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

In the beginning....there was a whole lot of paperwork.

The process for becoming a foster parent is not for the weak. What should you expect if you follow this path? Classes, training, paperwork (a LOT of paperwork), medical tests, and the dreaded home study.

We started with an orientation to get an idea of what we were getting ourselves into. Then we did IMPACT classes (this may be called something else in other areas) which you have to complete to be a foster parent. We had to be certified in CPR and first aid. We had to have clearance from our doctor saying we were physically capable of caring for children. A drug screen, TB test, and a syphilis test were also required. Yes, a syphilis test. That's always fun to ask for at the Dr. office. If you have teenagers in your house they have to have some of these things too. I recently had to take my 16 year old daughter for her syphilis test. I wonder how many times I mentioned it was because we did foster care? Not her most fun day.

The paperwork is immense. Personal questions - I mean really personal. Referrals - hmmm....who can I think of who will say nice things? Once this is complete they start the home study. I was a nervous wreck about the home study. In my mind people were coming in with white gloves to check out my house. Thankfully, that was not the case because we would not be foster parents. They gave me a list of what they would be checking for. I can follow a list. It's like a rubric we use in school. Do all these things, get an A. That I can live with. Working smoke detectors? Check. Medicines and cleaning supplies behind child locked cabinets? Check. Weapons in a safe? Check. Outlet covers? Check. First aid kit? Check. List of emergency numbers posted? Check. Drawing of house plan posted? Check (Still haven't figured that one out, but we have it).

The Home Study person has to come to your house 3 times. They meet with us together and they meet with us individually....including our teenagers. Yikes - no clue what they told her, but I guess it wasn't too bad.

When it's done, you wait. It takes time for them to write up the whole home study. You hear nothing. In my mind I'm thinking of all the reasons they won't approve us. Maybe I forgot to dust. Did I forget an outlet cover? The house is really small.

Have I scared you away? Hopefully not. This whole process took us 6-7 weeks. It takes most people a little longer but I happened to be on my summer break from school, so I was able to focus a lot of attention to it. I don't think they are worried about a little dust or a small house. Looking back it wasn't nearly as scary as I thought. These people want to approve you. They know how badly foster homes are needed. Of course, they want to be thorough to make sure the children are safe.

I can assure you that the foster kids will apparently be safer than my own kids were growing up. I doubt I kept outlet covers in and I didn't keep a first aid kit on hand. Somehow, they lived through it. There's a lot of rules, some which seem crazy...but that's a whole other post.

A lot of hassle. A lot of time. If only I could show you the pictures of the 6 faces we've come to love since then. Totally worth it!

Monday, February 24, 2014

Elizabeth Gail

30 years ago I picked up a book in the Christian bookstore where my aunt worked, and I fell in love. Not with a character but with foster care. The series Elizabeth Gail tells the story of a young girl who is in foster care who finally lands in a Christian home and is later adopted. Foster care was always in the back of my mind, but school, college, marriage, and biological children pushed it further and further back. My husband thought the idea was crazy and had no interest. I figured it was a nice idea, but not something I would ever be a part of. As we became more involved in church and my husband more involved in Bible study a verse jumped out at us. James 1:27  "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." We didn't know what that looked like in our lives. Were we supposed to adopt? We had stars in our eyes thinking of a baby girl from China. The cost of international adoption quickly brought us down to earth. We discussed foster care and felt like that was our direction but had no clue where to start. Friends of ours had begun the journey with United Methodist Children's Home so we figured we would start there. A year and a half later we have navigated unfamiliar waters, been frustrated, worried, unsure, and heartbroken. We've also experienced incredible joy as now 6 children have become part of our lives for different lengths of time. So, this is my story...of the hassle, the red tape, the frustrations that all pale in comparison to the incredible children we've gotten to share our lives with.