She Leaves a Little Sparkle Wherever She Goes

Kristin Joy-

Today you’re 7! I can hardly believe it.

You’ve been with us almost half of your life now, and I’m not sure how we ever got along without you.

Your joy is infectious. Your compassion is authentic. You love babies and taking care of people, and I love watching the ways you make the world a better place just by being you. When I was looking for a gift bag to put your presents in, I couldn’t resist the one that said, “She leaves a little sparkle wherever she goes.” It’s just the absolute truth, my girl.

We celebrated with your favorite things this weekend – special treats, baby doll accessories, and a ballet leotard

so you can turn on that classical music you love and practice dancing for endless hours in the playroom.

And then, we got to the cake.

When we went to our friend’s first birthday party in May, you were enthralled by the smash cake experience immediately asking if you could do that on your birthday. Your eyes lit up as everyone cheered on our little toddler friend and laughed as he dug his hands into that cake.

And I wondered to myself, “Did you have a smash cake when you turned one? Did you try to blow out your candle and open presents with your little hands and light up the room with your beautiful smile?”

Oh how I wish I could have been there. I would have loved to see those early years, my girl.

So today, for the final part of your 7th birthday celebration, I made you a smash cake.

We sang you “Happy Birthday” and you blew out those candles, and then I told you to dive in. Your seven-year-old eyes lit up with pure joy, and just as you do with all parts of life, you enjoyed the moment to its fullest. You smashed your face into the cake and shovelled it into your mouth by the handful.

I am so happy to have shared that moment with you.

I’m learning that part of this parenting thing means doing whatever it takes to parent each of my girls in the unique ways that you each need. In doing that, I become more of the parent that I am meant to be, and you are able to grow and thrive and move ahead.

And today, Kristin Joy, I think our whole family grew a little bit closer by watching you smash that cake between your hands. Because even though this might not have been your first smash cake, it was your first smash cake with us, and we’re grateful we got to share the moment with you.

With all my love,

Mama

 

 

 

how the journey began

 

I remember the Facebook message she sent to a few ladies at our church.

My friend had been contacted by another state’s child welfare worker. Her husband’s relatives had hit some rough spots and our friends’ nieces had been removed from their home and were in need of a place to live. She and her husband were on the list of “kin” to call, a practice that is done in most situations when families can’t stay together due to abuse or neglect.

My friend – the beautiful, selfless, young woman, with two girls at home who were 2 and 3 – was asking this group of women via Facebook message – what should she do? Should they say yes and offer for the girls to come live with them? It looked like it would be a long-term placement leading to adoption, and this wasn’t something either of them were expecting, let alone planning for.

The group message went back and forth a little bit, as each of the women within the group offered our two cents about a situation none of us knew much about.

And even though we were uninformed, we loved our friend, and made sure she knew we’d support her in whatever ways we could.

When our friends made the decision to move forward with the process of welcoming the girls into their home and their family, our church was there to support them.

One Saturday afternoon while our friends were at a foster parent training class, we broke into their home, as any loving church family would do.

We brought in bunk beds, rearranged furniture, decorated walls, and made sure all of the girls would feel special in their home. We worked quickly, aiming to be done by the time our friends got back from their class. I’ll never forget their reaction when they came into their home. Tears and laughter and so many hugs. It still goes down as one of my absolute favorite days.

Our little church had found a practical way to come alongside this brave couple and their two (soon to be four) daughters. We didn’t know much about foster care or trauma, but we recognized the courage of our friends as they stepped into an unknown future for girls they’d never really known. That type of commitment and love made us all want to do something.

A few weeks passed, and they welcomed their nieces into their family. Now, a family of 6 with no relatives in the area for support, Dustin and I began to help out in little ways. We met them at the hospital one evening when their oldest girl had swallowed a penny. We babysat, so our friends could connect to a weekly small group and have date nights. I even got to attend “Grandparents’ Day” since their kindergartener didn’t have a grandparent in the area who could come.

Dustin and I were four years into our marriage at the time, and we hadn’t made any decisions on whether or not we’d have kids someday. We had been focused on graduate school, working a few part-time jobs, and just enjoying our twenties without the responsibilities that kids would certainly bring. But we had lots of experience around kids, and it felt pretty natural to offer help in this way.

It was a sweet season of our life, and when we decided to move back to Illinois just a couple of years later, saying goodbye to those precious girls was one of the hardest parts. They had become family.

When our friends said “yes” to their two nieces joining their family, I had absolutely no idea that the course of my life was being altered forever. But that is exactly what happened.

Their willingness to step into their girls’ story has forever impacted ours. The family we have built, the church we attend, the jobs that we love are ours, in part, because of the decision they made to open their hearts and home to two little girls who needed a forever family.

We watched their family walk a foreign road, and their living, breathing, demonstration of what it meant to love compelled us forward. Dustin and I could see a path in front of us that was different from anything we’d considered before. Their faithfulness will forever be a mile-marker in our foster care journey.

And once we began to dive deeper into understanding the foster care system as a whole, we simply could not look away.

Healing Through Relationships

My life has been so full these last few months that I haven’t had much space to share more of our story. Here’s a post I wrote recently about how healing for children from hard places comes through relationships.

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Last week, my husband and I spent thirty hours in a three-day training about parenting children from hard places. The course was designed to equip us to train other parents who are doing the tough but important work of parenting children from hard places. The training was informative, difficult, and incredibly beneficial, and I can’t wait to pass on the information to other families in the foster care and adoption community.

More than that, however, I want to pass on this information to those who are interacting with children in all settings. Our schools, our churches, and our community organizations that serve children and teens would benefit greatly from understanding the effects of trauma on the developing brain. And while I could get into the science side of this, and I hope to in future posts, I want to start with the basics.

Relationships are at the heart of God’s…

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sleep matters

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I don’t really remember the specifics of our first few weeks together as a family. It was all so different and completely consuming. And while the girls continued to call us Mom and Dad, it felt a whole lot like an ongoing babysitting gig. Was that normal?

There were moments that these strange feelings would cause slight anxiety in me. I dealt with the fear that I’d never attach in the way I was “supposed to”. What if I never felt like their mom? What was being a “mom” supposed to feel like? Who could I talk to about this? I mean, I signed up to enter parenthood this way, so I really shouldn’t be complaining…

I knew I felt responsible for them. I wanted them to succeed. I was cooking and cleaning and keeping up with their laundry. I did their hair in the mornings before daycare and tucked them in at night. We gave lots of hugs, answered lots of questions, and adjusted to our lives not being our own anymore.

And while it all felt a little bit weird, we kept going.


Mornings were hectic. Bedtime was exhausting. Sleep was elusive. We knew that parenting was hard and that stepping into parenting this way would be even harder, but we didn’t have a barometer for anything. We weren’t friends with anyone who was fostering. We overthought and questioned everything that was happening, trying to figure out if any or all of it was “normal”.

We were going to appointments, meeting with their case worker, sitting in court rooms, and figuring out sibling visits (which proved to be really difficult) all while trying to learn the ins and outs of who our daughters were.

And we weren’t able just to focus on bonding because we wanted to make sure they got into good patterns of behavior in our home. We had to find some balance of discipline and correction alongside the task of establishing trust and connection. It seemed so hard to do both. Had we been placed with a baby, we’d still be exhausted, but we wouldn’t have to jump right into rules and consequences and registering for Kindergarten. We knew we’d been thrown in the deep end, and it was time to learn to swim.

Everything we had read (which wasn’t an awful lot) told us to establish routines and stay consistent. So in the midst of chaos, I tapped into my inner rule-follower – who loves lists and plans and knowing where I’m going – and got to work. Dustin is really good with structure too, so this part made sense to both of us.


The first thing that was apparent was that bedtime needed an overhaul.

Even though we had been sticking to their routine and had kept their bedtime consistent, they were definitely not settling in. As soon as we’d say goodnight and close the door, the cycle would start. They’d get up for a myriad of reasons, or no reason at all. Over and over again we’d put them back to bed. We tried being gentle. We tried being firm. We tried rocking until they were more tired. We tried incentives. Nothing seemed to work.

Once we got them to stop coming out and we thought they’d finally fallen asleep, we’d hear them talking. Sometimes an hour or two after we’d said “goodnight” one of them would sneak out of their room and just sit at the top of the stairs, waiting for us to find her.

And though we were trying to get them to bed between 7:30 and 8pm, by the time they were actually asleep, it was closer to 9 or sometimes even 10pm.

Once they had fallen asleep, the middle of the night interruptions began. Most nights, our younger daughter would leave her bed several times and make her way to our room. I’d wake up to her just standing there, next to my bed, just looking at us, saying nothing. No questions. No words. Just staring.

I wondered if she was fully awake. Maybe she was sleep-walking or had woken up from a nightmare. She was in a new room of a new house with new parents. The fact that she wasn’t waking up screaming was actually surprising, and yet this wandering around thing was unsettling and exhausting. Was it normal for a child to wake up this many times a night? Shouldn’t she be able to self-soothe? Did she ever turn-over and just go back to sleep on her own?

And why did they wake up so early? How could they possibly be rested enough to get up?

One thing was clear – we needed a solution. This wasn’t working for any of us. I woke up to every sound, every night, feeling hyper vigilant, unable to relax, adrenaline pumping through my veins.


As my number of hours of sleep plummeted, so did my spirit and my ability to cope graciously.

I was frustrated that we couldn’t control the situation. I was frustrated that they weren’t getting the sleep they needed. I was frustrated that we weren’t getting the sleep WE needed.

I know, I know. Typical kids. Lots of kids find every reason possible to get out of bed. They need a drink of water. Another hug. Another question. A sibling is in the room, and they want to chat. They wake up in the middle of the night and get up early.

But there was something in both Dustin and me that said this whole thing was different. While it looked the typical, it just wasn’t. Trying to convey the nuances of our situation to other people was super difficult, and I found myself becoming angry when people would minimize the issue or explain it away as common place. While I didn’t yet know our girls well, something told me that this was something more.

So we tried everything we could think of, some conventional tactics and some specifically for kids from hard places.

We made the room darker, hoping they wouldn’t wake with the sun. We bunked their beds for less distractions, so they couldn’t see one another at eye level. We stopped playing quiet music and started using a sound machine. We ordered a weighted blanket that was supposed to help with anxiety. We spent more time rocking them hoping to create a deeper bond. We diffused lavender oil. We did massages before bed.

And we ordered a cow clock.

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If you’re not familiar with the cow clock, it’s a cute little clock/nightlight that lights up a cow that is either awake or asleep. We’d set the clock to sleep when we tucked the kids in, and when the cow woke up the girls were allowed to get out of bed.

Honestly, I wasn’t sure how it would work. They had obviously been trained to just crawl into bed with their former foster parents when they woke up early (even at 4am), and that was going to be a hard habit to break. But we knew that for the long-term, sleep was essential – for them and for us. So we got serious about it all.

We started by being firmer. Maybe they were just testing boundaries with us. New home. New rules. Testing limits would make sense.

So, we did the normal bedtime routine, then sat outside of their room after we’d close the door. We’d listen to see if either of them were talking. If/when we heard voices, we’d open the door and remind them “It’s quiet time.” Close the door. Listen again. Remind them again.

We’d wait some more. One of them would inevitably come out the door, needing nothing in particular. One of us would immediately say, “You have everything you need. It’s time for bed.” Over and over and over and over. Gently at first and firmer as they continued.

Somtimes we just escorted them back to bed, kissed them goodnight again, and left the room silently. They’d know we were there for them, but we wouldn’t give much interaction.

One night I remember sitting on the floor outside their room, utterly exhausted. I looked at Dustin and broke down, tears streaming down my face. “Why won’t they sleep? How long will we have to do this? I can’t keep waking up with them. It takes me an hour to go back to sleep and then they are up again.” It was like having a newborn, except that they didn’t need to eat or a diaper change. And they could walk to find us. And they “should have” figured this out by now. And I didn’t yet feel quite like their mom. And it was just so, so hard.


As I reflect on those first couple of months, I wish I could have been more gracious in the middle of the night. I remember hoping that we could somehow, through amazing attachment practices, get them to stay in bed and get the sleep they needed. I remember praying that they’d start respecting our words and reminding myself not to take it personally when they refused to do what we asked.

And somehow, the combination of it all seemed to start working. Firm consistent, boundaries at bedtime and in the middle of the night. Putting them back to bed over and over and over again. Talking about the expectations every single evening and celebrating in the morning when they made progress. We stuck to the plan and finally just got through it.

And we still love that cow clock.

Because of this whole process and the months it took get us where we are, we still consider our girls’ sleep schedule a top priority in our family rhythm. I’m sure this has been hard for some of our friends and family to adjust to, but truth be told, when we stick to the plan they are phenomenal sleepers. They go to bed so well, almost every single evening. They stay in bed all night and get up when their alarm goes off.

It makes going out in the evenings difficult, since they go to sleep so early, but we just offer to host so that we can still be connected to people. We have to get creative when we travel since they really need it to be dark to sleep well, so we bought sleep masks that we keep in the car and use at hotels. They love them and they work so well. We travel with the sound machine and weighted blanket and that wonderful cow clock. And if they are sleeping in a new environment, we try to use lavender oil to help them calm down before bed.

We know this is a season and that someday (hopefully) they will be able to manage this part of their lives themselves. But for now, the discipline of it all is so worth it – for everyone.

Not all parts of parenting work like this – just come up with a plan, adjust as needed, stick to it and see the desired outcome. So for the time-being, I’m celebrating the victories, looking at the progress that we’ve made, and depending on grace for the rest.

For my friends who chose to love…

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For my friends who chose to love…

As I write these words, you are attending your last court date with your sweet little boy who is almost six months old. You’ve known for a while that today would be the day he returns home to his dad, and he’ll leave your arms almost as quickly as he came into them.

I can’t imagine the mixture of emotions you must feel. So much joy and grief all rolled together. It’s incredibly amazing what human hearts can handle.

I wasn’t there the day you received the call to go pick him up from the hospital, but I’m sure that day was a mixture of emotions too. Excitement and fear and so much anticipation for a whole new way of life with a whole new little person in your family.

Those of us who sign up to become foster parents don’t fully know what it will feel like when the children who are looking for safety, belonging, and love are placed in our home. And for those of us who’ve never parented before fostering, the whole thing is even more of a whirlwind.

Yet, I’ve watched the two of you step into this role of Mom and Dad with such grace. You’ve blossomed over these last six months, and I’ve loved having a front-row seat. It’s been so natural to see you as parents, and I’m confident you are some of the best. You are inspiring and faithful, and I’m honored to call you friends.

I know you’ve been tired, as any parents of an infant are. Your routines changed and your priorities shifted, and you’ve loved that little boy with everything you have.

Over the last month, as you’ve shared the plan for his transition home, my heart has hurt for you, knowing that there is no way for me to help, no real way for either of you to prepare yourself for the days ahead. You’ve continued to love and care for and devote yourselves to your boy, because there is no other choice.

So thank you. Thank you for saying yes to to love knowing that it could end with grief. Your willingness to step into his story has not only changed his life but has impacted all of those you know, and I couldn’t be more proud to call you friends.

You are loved by me and by our Father, and I believe today He is saying to you, “Well done, good and faithful servants.”

family day

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The girls moved in on a Sunday afternoon. They had toys and clothes and games, all of the things that had accumulated over the course of the last year-and-a-half, packed into the back of their foster dad, K’s, truck. We helped unload it all, piling the boxes and bags into our living room and stacking them haphazardly against the wall. I couldn’t believe the amount of stuff they had, and I found myself becoming overwhelmed by the sheer volume of it all as the pile grew and grew.

“We’ll put some of this in the basement and bring it up little by little,” I told myself hoping that having a plan about something tangible would help me maintain some type of control over a completely-out-of-my-control day.

Looking back, I now realize that out-of-control thing is a universal feeling. “Welcome to motherhood, Christina. Control isn’t happening, unless it’s self-control. And you’ll be working on that for decades, I presume.”


The truth was, our girls were entering our home with more stuff than they needed. They had been provided for and loved well for the last year and a half, and we were incredibly grateful.

At the same time, they were lacking so much. The very fact that their life was being shifted to a different location with an entirely new family indicated this harsh reality. They got to bring all of their stuff along, but they were leaving behind everything that was safe and stable.

From an outsider’s perspective, I’m not sure anyone would have been able to tell what an immensely difficult day that was for them. Their behavior was fairly typical for little girls who were doing something new, and they were pretty much caught up in the excitement of the day.

But when I look back on that day, I’m filled with mixed emotions. There was so much joy that afternoon as Dustin and I put the final touches on the girls’ room. I felt confident in our steps toward building a family, and we felt God with us.

And because it’s such a joyful turning point in our lives, we celebrate the day annually. We call it our Family Day, and the girls love the celebration each March. We make a really big deal out of it, giving gifts, planning special outings, and spending time reminiscing about our family’s story. It’s a beautiful day that speaks to redemption in many ways.

Yet there is also sadness intertwined into the fabric of that day. Those little girls, who are now our now precious daughters, were dropped off at our home, once again hoping to find a place to belong. They lost their family, again. And this time, they’d be leaving their brother behind as well.


For the first few minutes, their brother was excited to see our house, and the girls were thrilled to show him. Yet being a little older, it soon became clear that he understood enough to know that the day wasn’t just exciting. I could see it in his face and hear it in his questions. He wanted to know more about the circumstances. Why couldn’t they just stay together? If the girls couldn’t stay at S & K’s, couldn’t he just join them now at our house?

I wasn’t sure who was supposed to take a shot at answering his questions, and there were no simple answers anyway. I figured this was something his parents needed to talk to him about, and I didn’t know if this was the time to do it. It broke my heart and made me so uncomfortable. In a weird way, I still felt like I was breaking up a family. I knew the reasons and they all made sense, but it was just so, so hard.

The reality was, that he didn’t have to leave the parents he called Mom and Dad. They wanted to give him the attention and structure that he needed to thrive, and they knew with just him at home, they’d have much more to give. With all of the factors in play, this was the best solution for everyone.

But having to be separated from one another is always going to be a difficult part of our girls’ stories. There’s just no way around that.

The three of them had weathered the harshest of storms together and had relied on each other through those early years of turmoil. I imagine that their brother protected them and provided for them the best he could during those years when their parents’ weren’t able to.

And on that day, their stories diverged, creating separate lives in separate families.


After all of their stuff was brought in and the girls had taken everyone on the full tour, I wasn’t quite sure what to do next. There was no manual, no plan, no guidance, in this transition that was in front of us. The caseworker wasn’t there overseeing the transition to make sure we were doing it correctly. And as someone who likes things to be done the right way, this was unnerving to me.

It was a hard enough situation to get through. The least we could have had was someone who had experience which such things, there, encouraging us or helping us in some way. Is this the best the system could do? Connect two families, and then give them the responsibility and freedom to come up with a plan on their own? There has to be a better way.

But there we were. Two families, forever-linked, fumbling our way through a transition that none of us knew how to navigate. S & K were saying goodbye to their girls, and we were becoming those same little girls’ parents, right then.

We walked S, K and their brother, to the door. They reminded us about a few more things that we might need to know, hugged and kissed the girls, got in their truck, and headed back to their house.

And while I felt like we had done a decent job of slowing down the process over the prior few weeks, that moment still felt so abrupt.

Just like that, we were a family of four.

“try again with gentle hands”

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Parenting has led me to continually ask Dustin, “Does this all just feel like a crap-shoot? Like we’re just making it up as we go?”

His normal response. “Yes.”

Mine. “Ok. Good. At least I’m not alone.”

And while parenting is just so much trial by fire, along the way in the last two and a half years, we’ve found a couple (of the hundreds of approaches we’ve tried) that have had some results in shaping behavior.

One of the recommended ways to deal with kids who have experienced trauma is to use a technique we like to call “try again”.

 

It’s basically a way to stay connected with kids while helping them learn the expectations of the home. Instead of following misbehavior with an immediate consequence, it gives the child a chance to correct the behavior immediately, doing it over in a way that is acceptable. It’s a beautiful technique that has proved to be incredibly beneficial to us.

“Try again with gentle hands.” “Try again with kind words.”

When our daughter demands we read a book rather than asking if we would read a book, we prompt her with,

“Try again with asking words”.

“Will you read me a book, please?”

“Sure!”

Simple, right?

Riiight. Because parenting is simple. Ha!

Let’s take it up a notch. Perhaps you have a child who likes to run down the church hallway while adults carry their non-lidded, piping-hot coffee to the sanctuary.

If “use walking feet” is the instruction for the church hallway, and she runs, we (hopefully) calmly say, “Come back and try again with walking feet”. If she runs again, we give her the prompt again, and let her try again. Two to three times usually does the trick on that one. It’s a little tedious, but it teaches and hopefully prevents her from being scalded by a hot cup of joe.

For benign scenarios like walking in a hallway or asking to read a book, this has proven to be a simple, somewhat easy way of shaping behavior.

The difficult parts come when the scenarios have more emotion involved.

For instance, when one of our girls uses her hands in a mean way, either hitting or grabbing from the other, we would love to be able to use this technique every time. We see it’s effectiveness. It diffuses the situation. It gives grace. It teaches.

But it’s so hard when our own emotions are triggered by the particulars. It feels easier to just raise our voices, separate them, and take away the toy they are fighting over so we gain a little peace and quiet. (I use this example, but it’s actually a rare one in our home.) Our girls tend to get along remarkably well. The patience of our 7-year-old is astounding at times. She’s a gift to our family and a sweet sister.

Anyway, here’s a situation that we deal with multiple times a day, every single day. Let’s say my daughter is being sassy and talking back to me instead of doing what I’ve asked her to do. It feels easier to just say “No! You will not talk to me like that. Leave the table.” I want to lay down the law. I want her to obey. I want her to remember I’m in charge and that she isn’t allowed to talk like that.

And that may all be true. I do want her to learn to listen to instructions. I want her to choose kind words even when she doesn’t feel like doing what someone in authority has asked her to do. And I definitely want her to understand that her actions have consequences.

But this whole “try again” way of parenting requires me to dig a little deeper. Parenting with this connection in mind requires me to remember that she is another human being with emotions that are far more complex than she’s capable of expressing with words.

And this way of parenting requires that I recognize my own emotions that are in the game as well. I’m feeling frustrated and disrespected. I’m sometimes feeling hopeless, like everything I’m doing isn’t helping her learn to make better choices. So, I can either demonstrate what it looks like to deal with big emotions calmly, or I can give in to my natural way of behaving and freak out. She’s going to be soaking in whichever one I put on display.

And let me be clear, I fail at this daily. I react more often than I respond. I lose my cool and let my desire to control usurp my deepest desire for connection. The worst parts of me can bubble right to the surface when the little people I am raising don’t just do what I ask them to do.

But sometimes, on good days, I dig deep. I hear her sassy words and the tone that triggers, and I breathe first, just one good deep breath. I remind myself that she is little and I am big. I reach into my parenting arsenal (which seems to be small and ever-changing) and pull out “try again”, prompting her to live up to the expectations that we have, giving her a chance to practice in an environment that is safe and forgiving.

“Try again with kind words.”

It doesn’t change the fact that we expect her to be respectful and to listen to directions. I think we actually have really high expectations in our home (which is probably not surprising). So, if “try again” doesn’t work after a chance or two, we head to the “thinking chair” and make space for her to calm down and think things through.

The “thinking chair” is an alternative to time-out in which we sit with her instead of asking her to go. This also takes time. I have to stop eating dinner to go sit with the daughter who just triggered some emotions in me. And if I’m not in a really good place, I don’t actually feel like doing that.

But most days, and especially in the first couple of years, we sit together. Silently.

I don’t immediately start asking questions or bring up ways she could have done things better. She’s already shown me that she needs some space to breathe, and I could often use that space as well.

So sometimes, we breathe together. “Smell the roses.” “Blow out the candles.” In through the nose. Out through the mouth. Reset.

Dustin and I know from all of our training and reading that it’s better (if possible) to keep the connection rather than cutting it off, especially with kids who’ve experienced abuse and neglect. They’ve already been separated from family, and these kids often don’t understand that they did nothing wrong. The turmoil in their lives has nothing to do with them. And yet, for little minds, who are just learning to piece the world together, cause and effect aren’t always clear. If things fell apart before, what’s stopping it from happening again? Can adults be trusted to stick with them?

So, it’s our goal to help rewrite that story of family. As authentically as possible, while honoring their parents’ efforts in whatever way we can, we attempt to cultivate something different.

In our home, family means staying. Family means talking through the pain. Family means trust. Family means love, no matter what.

The Jesus Storybook Bible says God loves his children with a “Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love.”

We’re aiming for our home to reflect that beautiful love.


 

By the way. We’re not super smart, as I’m sure you may have guessed. We found all of this wonderful information and so much more (that we haven’t put into practice as much as we’d like) from the book The Connected Child and the Empowered to Connect Conference. The late Dr. Karin Purvis was a phenomenal practitioner of Trust-Based Relational Intervention and her work with kids from hard places is absolutely wonderful. I cannot imagine a book being more impactful in the life of a foster parent.

 

 

a sleepover, shower, and support

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We went to the girls’ daycare on the Monday morning after we had met.  

The girls were happy to see us when we arrived. They showed us their room and introduced us to their friends. They loved their “school”, and it was clear that their teachers knew and loved them well.

Along with S (their foster mom), we filled the teachers in on the family transition plan. Dustin and I definitely wanted them to stay enrolled there, even though it wasn’t super convenient to our home or jobs. At least they’d have one area of consistency in their ever-changing lives.

 


On Thursday evening, we picked the girls up from their house and took them back to ours to have a two-day sleepover.

We grabbed their overnight bags, a couple of their favorite toys, and their little hands. K secured their car seats. They said goodbye to K & S and climbed into the backseat of our car. 

Neither asked very many questions about what was going on, and our younger daughter was incredibly quiet. (If you know our girls at all, you know this is odd.) We knew they were uncomfortable, which was to be expected, so we continued to talk, play music, and prep them for the fun we had planned all weekend. What else could we do? 

The truth is, our younger daughter is quite the talker. She’s vivacious, spunky, and hilarious. It’s only when she’s uncomfortable that she clams up, shows less emotion, and becomes much more shy. We didn’t know that about her then, but looking back, it is so clear. She was terrified.


All things considered, it was a fun and exhausting weekend together. The girls took a while to get adjusted to their room, which they were thrilled about having, so bedtime was a bit of a chore, especially the first night. Dustin and I slept terribly, wondering if they’d be ok in their room, if they’d need anything in the middle of the night, and if we were doing any of this right.

They were up on Friday morning by 5:30am, which was ridiculously early by our standards. So we snuggled on the couch and watched some Netflix together as half of us guzzled coffee. 

We spent the next two days just doing random things together. It didn’t feel as much like parenting as it did babysitting, which we were accustomed to, so things went fairly smoothly. Dustin spent years being a manny, so he’s particularly good at finding ways to keep kids entertained.

When it was time to take them back on Saturday evening, the girls were sad to say goodbye to us but so happy to see S & K and their brother.

We had 8 days to get ready for their official move.

The following weekend, our friends put together a party for us – a “baby shower” of sorts.

There was delicious food and cute decorations. Our closest friends from church surrounded us with gifts and cards and words of encouragement. We felt so loved and supported.

If we hadn’t already believed we could do this, their belief in us had given us the extra confidence we needed to enter that difficult new season. With friends like those, we at least had a shot at making it through. 


Many foster families have supportive communities around them. The catch is that sometimes the good friends who love and support us in many other parts of life, don’t know what to do when someone enters the foster care adventure. There are so many unknowns and obvious uncertainty.

So how can family and friends come alongside those who are fostering, especially knowing that the family dynamics are ever-changing? What are the most helpful ways to reach out? 

My first suggestion is to ask good questions. Listen to the particulars of their story and the unique situation for that family. They may not need a party every time a new child comes into their family, but there are most likely needs that you can meet.

They might need help with transportation for other kiddos who are in their home, so that they can be home with their new addition(s). They might appreciate meals to help make weeknights a little easier. They might need babysitting, so they can attend a foster parent support group. They might need help mowing the lawn for a week or two so they can spend their time helping their new kiddos get acclimated.

They might appreciate physical items like diapers or wipes for a baby that arrives with only the clothes on her back. They might need extra beds or dressers or car seats when they say yes to a sibling set they weren’t expecting.

Sometimes, like everyone, foster parents have a hard time asking for help. They know they are the ones who have “signed up for this”, so it can be hard to reach out or even accept help.

So lean in and listen and don’t take “we’re doing fine” at face value. There isn’t a single foster parent I know that doesn’t at least need encouragement, prayer, and lots of hugs. 

This type of presence will mean the world to them. It’s a gift to have people who are unconditionally “for you”, especially in the midst of an overwhelming, broken system. Without our people in the process, I’m not sure we would have made it through.

becoming Mom and Dad

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After we initially said “yes” to our girls, there was a little wiggle room in terms of the transition schedule. We decided to meet them at their house where they were most comfortable. We planned to have dinner and spend some time just getting to know them and their foster parents.

I was incredibly nervous as I was getting ready for that evening, and as we pulled into their neighborhood, Dustin and I grabbed hands and prayed one last prayer together.

“Help us connect with them.”

When the door opened, the girls were excited. (They still get super riled up when we have guests over.) Their foster dad (K) and foster mom (S) greeted us, and we were off – playing and interacting with the kids who are today our girls. We ate spaghetti and attempted to play a game together. We watched them dress-up and dance to the music from Frozen. I braided their hair. We took a tour of their home as they talked about their toys and clothes and beds. We took a few pictures together.

They called us “Mom” and “Dad” immediately, which was not something I was expecting at all and was in no way indicative of their understanding of what was happening. In fact, the girls didn’t know why we were there. They didn’t know the plan yet. As far as they knew, we were just safe adults, and safe adults were called Mom and Dad.

It was precious and confusing and heartbreaking all at once. Mom and Dad should not be fluid concepts for kids. Mom and Dad should be specific people who have been there from the beginning. They should be steady and present. They should be trustworthy. They should be permanent.

But the “shoulds” were left behind a long time ago, and this 3 and 4-year-old girl were working within a new reality – a reality in which they adjusted and adapted based upon circumstances that were thrown at them. Somehow, they were still so sweet and happy and full of life. And these girls, who loved their home and their family, had no idea how much their life was about to change.

Even today, I know I can’t fully understand the sadness and fear they must have felt as life changed, once again, forever.


 

After all of the activities, it was the girls’ bedtime. K & S asked if we wanted to do the bedtime routine, which seemed a little crazy since we had just met them a couple of hours prior to this. And while it seemed odd, we figured we’d be doing it soon enough anyway. So we went upstairs with them.

They knew what to do. Brush teeth. Put on pajamas. Sing songs. Read stories. Pray together. We rocked them both. It was a sweet night that I’ll always remember.

We came downstairs, and asked S & K lots of questions, as many as we could think of. Those questions didn’t even scratch the surface of the things we’d end up needing to know about the girls. They had a whole life established that we were coming into and disrupting in a major way.

There were basic questions: What did they like to eat? What time did they wake up? What were their favorite books and toys? When were their birthdays?

And there were deeper questions – about their first few years of life, their parents, their extended family, their future. There were so many unknowns. How could we possibly catch up this quickly?

So, after plenty of questions it was time for us to leave. We said goodbye to S & K, made plans to see the girls again the next week, and headed home.


 

When the girls talk about that night or about how we became a family, they don’t remember it very well. So we explain it like this:

“God knew that we were waiting to be a mom and dad of two special little girls. And he knew that you, two special little girls, needed a mom and dad that would keep you safe and give you all of the time, attention, and love that you need. So when S & K realized that everyone needed something different, Miss Caseworker called us and told us about you. We told her – yes! We want to meet them! We’ve been waiting for them!”

And that simple explanation is best way I know how to say it. We had been waiting for them.

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on your sixth birthday

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You’re six today, Sweet Girl! It’s pretty hard to believe.

Though you don’t quite understand months and weeks and even days all the way, you’ve been living with much anticipation knowing your birthday was approaching sometime soon. We’ve checked the calendar so many times this month, as you’ve found the day where I’ve drawn the cake and written your name. I bought presents and made pancakes for breakfast and we filled our upstairs with balloons for you to find when you woke up. I hope you feel celebrated and loved, because you really, truly are.

Many mamas are able to vividly remember the day their babies entered this world, but that is not our story. I didn’t spend time with you during the middle of the night feedings or diaper changes. I didn’t see your first smile, first steps, or first words. I’m not the only mom you’ve ever known, and that makes our story heartbreaking and heartwarming all at the same time. That’s how this world works so often, little one. Two huge emotions at the same time. You know this well, since your emotions are big and real and easily seen and heard by those around you. I love this about you and can’t wait to see the ways your sensitive heart is used in this world. What a gift to feel so fully.

So how do I describe you on this 6th birthday of yours?

You’re spunky and persistent and sometimes your dad and I just look at each other and wonder how someone so small can be so incredibly funny.

You’re empathetic and kind. You love babies and toddlers and the elderly, basically anyone who seems like they might need your help. You are quick to notice when others are hurt, and literally run to grab ice packs and band-aids.

You are an actress – able to pretend for hours with just a few toys because your imagination is actually your playground.

You are joyful and silly and you leave an impression with everyone you meet. Just today, two individuals from our church reached out to see if they could bring you a gift. You’re so easy to fall in love with.


 

Before you went to sleep last night, when the Bible story had been read and it was time for you to climb into bed, you grabbed your pillow, turned to me and said,

“Mama, will you rock me?”

And for the last time, I rocked my five-year-old for a moment and reminded you that I will rock you for as many years as you want. If that’s the place that makes you feel safe and secure and at peace, then crawl on up, Sweet Girl, I’ve got a place for you.