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.

 

 

before we met

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While we were waiting and the months were going by, I started to wonder if we needed to widen our parameters for saying “yes” to a placement.  We’d only received three calls in five months and had turned them all down fairly quickly.

But at the same time, we weren’t necessarily in a huge rush. Dustin and I knew things would be really different soon, and we did our best to enjoy our freedom. We went on dates. Slept in. Hung out with friends and hosted parties. We took a road trip to San Diego in January to see our friends who were living out there. Honestly, while we were waiting, we just continued to live our lives as normal, sometimes forgetting that at a moment’s notice our whole life could change.

During the first week of February 2015, I got a call from our licensing worker asking if we’d be willing to foster 3 kiddos – a boy and two girls. The girls were within the age range we were looking for and the boy was a little older. While I was starting to feel a little antsy about saying no, I still felt like this wasn’t the right “yes” for us.

I said no, but told our licensing worker to let me know if they couldn’t find a placement, and we might reconsider. I didn’t hear anything the rest of that day and assumed they found another home that was a better fit.

About a week later, she called again.

“Would you be willing to take the two girls we talked about last week? The family they are with has decided to continue fostering their brother but would like the girls to be moved so that they can keep up. The goal is still to return home, but it’s looking more and more like this situation will end in adoption.”


 

Like the good Father than I know He is, I believe God began preparing all of our hearts for the journey of our family well before this phone call.

During the early years of their lives, when those two precious girls were born to parents who were not able to adequately care for them, our eyes were being opened to the deep levels of need in this world. We were learning more about vulnerable people groups and those on the margins of society. We began to read about the orphan crisis around the world and the deep need for foster parents in our own cities in the United States.

When we clearly felt God’s urging to pursue our own family in an unconventional way, we were living in Oklahoma and our girls were already living the earliest days of their stories, which were not yet intertwined with ours. It’s still sort of surreal to think about.

I remember praying with Dustin during those pre-fostering years – for God to be with our future children in a special way. We were aware that they had probably already been born, and that in those very moments that we were praying, they were likely experiencing trauma in some form. Our prayers were for God to comfort them, make himself known to them, and keep them close. I don’t fully understand the way that prayer works or how it all fits together, but I know that those early prayers connected us to our daughters in a deep way, and I believe that God was with them when the circumstances they were facing were beyond what any child should encounter.


 

The licensing worker continued, “So what do you think?”

This seemed like a great fit for us, but I was super tentative to say yes to splitting siblings. I shared that concern with our worker. She let me know they were going to be separated from their brother for sure since it was best for him to stay if he could rather than having to move again. She was doing her best to at least keep the girls together, so they weren’t split into three different homes.

I told her I’d talk to Dustin and let her know for sure, but it seemed like we would be saying yes. It wasn’t an emergency situation since they were in a safe home, so we had a little time to talk it over. She said the family would like to remain in the girls’ life as grandparent figures. In fact, when I first heard the situation, I thought she said they were the girls’ grandparents – stellar communication apparently. Anyway, Dustin and I hadn’t thought about what it would be like to parent kids who had siblings in a different home, but we were open to the idea.

After a short discussion with Dustin about the situation, we both felt that this was the right yes. I called her back, and we agreed to welcome the girls. I felt equal amounts of terror and peace.

Our licensing worker gave our phone number to their foster mom. She called me later that day, and we made plans to have dinner at their house to meet the girls. A week and a half later, on February 21, 2015, we met our daughters and our lives were changed forever.

 

“no, no, no, no…YES!”

IMG_6050.JPGI remember receiving our first possible placement phone call from our licensing worker. It was the day she was scheduled to come to our house for the final time before we were officially set to welcome children. She’d be checking to make sure we had some of the basics in place: smoke alarms, fire extinguishers, water temps that weren’t too hot, etc. She was scheduled to be there at 4pm that day, and at 10 that morning she called to ask if we’d be open to fostering 3 kids. Um… Panic.

While I haven’t worked in the foster care field, I can only imagine how hard it must be to make these types of calls to prospective foster parents. These workers have to push because they have to find good homes for kids, and sometimes there just isn’t a home/family that is going to fit the exact criterion they are looking for. They still have to find a home, and they still have time restraints. I’m sure they hear “no” often, and it must be difficult. This explains why we’d be called about a placement before they had completed the final home inspection.

In our city, Peoria, when children come into care, the first agency on DCFS’s list (which is on a rotational basis) gets called with the open case. Once they receive the case, the agency now has about 45 minutes to find a suitable home for the children involved. 45 minutes. If they don’t find a home in that amount of time, the case gets moved to the next agency on the list to search through that list of homes.

This 45-minute window does not account for any children who are already in foster care and need to be moved from their current foster home. This is called a disrupted placement and could happen for a variety of reasons. A job change. A marriage in crisis. Big behaviors in a kiddo that a family isn’t equipped to handle. A needed time of refreshment. Issues between kids within the home.

These workers have to figure out where to move those kiddos as well as work under the time-constraints that come with children who are being removed from the only home they’ve ever known. What a difficult job.

For that first placement call, the one at 10am on the day we were to be licensed, I politely declined, wondering if saying no was now going to bump us down the list of potential placements. I didn’t want to have a negative label or be seen as “unwilling”, but I also knew that taking three kids that day was not the wise thing to do because Dustin and I had spent lots of time talking through possible scenarios.

Going in thinking that you just want to “help some kids” is a sweet thought at first, but the more I learned about the foster care system, the more I realized that that type of blissful thinking is often the unintended recipe for what could have been an avoidable disaster. I suggest having these important conversations while you are going through the required foster parenting classes. It’s best to have had these conversations in a calm environment, without the pressure of a precious kiddo’s story being shared with you.

It’s good to have some filters in mind before you’re standing alone in the church kitchen making 240 hot dogs for the Fall Block Party that you are in charge of, trying to decide if you should welcome an infant with some medical needs into your family in about an hour. (real life) The answer that day was also “no”.

So, while you’re learning about trauma and reunification plans and the system’s ins and outs, here are some filters that I suggest thinking through:

What is your best contribution? What are you (and your partner/spouse) capable of doing? What can you bring to the foster parent table that is unique?

Are you uniquely positioned to care for a child with special medical needs? Maybe you could say yes to a kiddo who requires extra doctor’s appointments or feeding tubes.

Are you open to parenting children who might need therapy for behavioral issues? What about kids who start fires? Teens who run away? Kids who have been diagnosed with a mental illness? There was a really specific list of all sorts of behaviors on our forms, and Dustin and I talked through all of them ahead of time.

How many kids are you open to?

This isn’t a question of just having enough actual space for kids, which is something to be considered, but it also entails thinking through your emotional capacity, work schedules, day care options, support systems, and parenting experience.

What kind of trauma are you willing to take on?

This is always a big one to consider, especially when there are other children in the home. While there are some times when you won’t know the types of trauma a child has faced, most licensing workers will be able to give you a little bit of an idea if there has been reported neglect, physical abuse, or sexual abuse. If one of those seems like a really difficult thing to navigate based on your own upbringing, the current ages/genders of the kids in your home, or any other reason, it’s good to be honest with yourself and your licensing worker.

We landed on 2 being our preferred number of kids to start with and really wanted siblings if possible. We didn’t want to be out-numbered (we have no biological kids by choice) and wanted them to have someone else to play with. We prefered girls and we were open to several special behavioral needs, but would be saying no to severe medical needs. It felt very weird to think through all of this, like at some level we were discriminating against certain types of kids. But at the same time, we were so grateful to have taken the time to talk about specifics. It gave us the space to be prayerful, intentional, and realistic about our capacity.

Another key component for us, and something I recommend for to-be foster parents, is to leave space for God’s grace. If we were all going to just say yes to things WE’RE capable of, then I think we’d all just say no to parenting in general. His grace is always a factor and gets us through when we take on a more than what we can handle.

Once you’ve thought through the factors, decide who will be able to stick to the plan and not be overly eager to say yes when you get a call. In our particular situation, we said no 4 times before saying yes, and I was the one to do that each time. In fact, I said “no” to our girls the first time around, which I’ll share about next time.

Thanks for reading!

 

 

 

Noticing God in the Voting Line

I didn’t expect my voting experience to be a spiritual one. I’ve never been super into politics and have even exercised my right not to vote a time or two. And while I know and believe that everything is spiritual at some level, most times I just like to get stuff done. Today, voting was just one of the many tasks on my to-do list.

So when I pulled into the parking lot at my polling place and was immediately overwhelmed with emotion, I was caught off-guard.

At first, I thought it might have been anxiety. It’s no secret that this election has been tough to get through. But as I approached the door, I realized I wasn’t feeling anxiety about the outcome of today or what the future holds.

I was feeling inspired and encouraged.

The first person I noticed was a woman with braces on her legs who was almost at the entrance. A man ahead of her was waiting at the door to hold it open for her and then for me as we entered the building. Then, I noticed a woman in line helping direct another voter to his correct polling place. She was using her phone to look up the location, and then gave him directions, making sure he understood where to go.

Once in line, I noticed an elderly women, who had probably voted in countless elections, slowly making her way into the building. Behind her, I noticed a young woman who may have been casting her vote for president for the first time.

I continued to watch people, which is really one of my favorite things to do. In fact, I often feel closest to God when I am around groups of people, just taking it all in. I love sitting in coffee shops and watching people come in and out, going about their daily lives.

Usually I’m too busy to realize that those around me aren’t just a backdrop to my story, but once in a while, when I give myself the space to just sit and watch I begin to notice what is actually true. The people around me have their own relationships and emotions and real lives being lived right along side mine, intersecting with mine for a moment or two as we wait for our coffee or brush past each other to find a seat.

And today, at my polling place, this was another one of those moments – an opportunity to notice God around me by noticing the beautiful people who are my neighbors.

There was great diversity in that line to vote, and I’m sure our ballots looked much different in the end. But as we waited, before the ballots were cast and our political lines were officially drawn, our shared humanity was most evident. We were just people, waiting to do what we all believe to be important, reaching out to one another by holding doors and giving directions.

And I was reminded that God’s image, the imago dei, is in each of us. That his goodness and beauty and love is there. And one of the things I want my life to be about is noticing, standing up for, and calling forth that image of God in those around me every day. Because the truth is, no matter what tomorrow brings, we’re in this together.

Becoming Parents: The First Phone Call

Today is a turning point. This morning, I made a quick phone call to a local agency and scheduled a meeting to talk through the process of becoming foster parents with the dream of adopting one day. After months and months of thinking, talking, praying, and dreaming about our future family, today we took the first small step in a long, slow, and complicated process.

When I got off the phone, I quickly posted to Facebook that we are signed up for our first meeting. I was excited, and I wanted to share. I soon realized that my post was sort of like the pregnancy announcements many of my friends have posted. Actually, it was probably more like a “we’re trying to conceive” announcement, the type of announcement that I don’t think I’ve ever seen on Facebook. Needless to say, we are in the very early stages of becoming parents, and yet today, the reality of that set in a little bit more than it ever has before. With one phone call, I began feeling more fully the joyful anticipation of becoming a mom.

Dustin and I don’t plan to have any biological children. In fact, we have never tried to conceive. Maybe that is over-sharing for some of you who are reading this post, but I think it’s an important aspect of our journey. I know there have been times I have talked with adoptive parents or friends who have been adopted, and I wondered how their journey to become a family began. So, I just thought I’d be open from the beginning.

For a myriad of reasons, some of which I will share in future posts, we have felt pulled to pursue a family in a different way. I’m sure our decision might raise a number of questions from people, and I’m sure that neither of us would have perfect answers to those questions. I’m also confident that this is the right thing for us, and I am incredibly overwhelmed by the love we have already felt from our friends and family.

In reality, the process of becoming foster parents did not really begin today. I have felt God tugging at my heart, gently guiding me toward this future for quite sometime. Today is just the first tangible step. And with that one phone call, something inside me shifted.

I’m nervous, excited, and so overwhelmed for what this year holds. I have a feeling it’s going to be the beginning of something beautiful.

For Dustin: Celebrating 7 years

So here’s a brief summary of the first seven years of our marriage:

We’ve experienced lots of school. First, you (or should I say “we”) finished your undergraduate senior paper. Then we both finished grad school – earning three Masters degrees between the two of us and far too many student loans. We learned to support one another through so many papers and projects, and also learned that we really never want to go back to school.

We’ve been a part of three churches (four if you count that weird time when you were almost on staff but then you weren’t), and we’ve made some dear friendships along the way, learning how true it is that a church really is the people and not a building or a worship service.

We’ve had LOTS of jobs – some just paid the bills and some utilized our greatest passions. We’re learning that it’s a really unique and ideal experience when a job does both.

We lived alone as a couple, then with a roommate, then two roommates, then back to one, and now on our own again. We’ve learned to see the value in both.

We’ve started and hosted a handful of small groups and have heard so many people’s stories over coffee or dinner. We are continually learning what it means to be in community with others, how to be vulnerable and authentic with people, and how to walk through the joys and hardships of life with friends that have become family. 

We’ve worked together, partnering on many projects and events, and have learned how to agree and disagree with one another as co-workers.

We’ve spent an incredible number of hours with children – neighborhood kids at Hands and Feet, friends’ kids as we babysat, church kids as we led children’s ministry, and of course through our other jobs – you as a manny, and me as a daycare teacher then a therapist. We became an aunt and uncle. I think we’ve begun to learn a little about parenting from afar. We’ve at least learned that we weren’t quite ready to start that journey in those first seven years.

We talked about having biological children and then began learning about orphan care. Now we’re getting ready to start our family through foster care and adoption.

We’ve taken many road trips, mostly to see family or attend conferences, and we’re learning to take time away for just the two of us.

We’ve argued over lots of stuff – some big issues and some small – and I think we’re learning how to argue better, more fairly and with more respect for one another.

We’ve forgiven one another countless times and laughed together many more.

We always joke around about being so different, and I think in many ways this is true. Our personalities are almost completely opposite, and we come from very different families. Even so, in these first seven years, I’m learning our greatest strength is our ability to work as a team. We’re truly better together, and I look forward to navigating the highs and lows of this life with you by my side.

7 Years

Inspired by “Kisses from Katie”

I just finished my first book of 2012, and it was fantastic!  This year, I resolved to read two books a month for 12 months. For some of you that may seem pretty easy and for others it may seem ambitious. For me, it’s achievable but will definitely force me to be intentional with my time and not just flip on the television when I have free time.

The book I just finished is “Kisses from Katie”, the story of a young woman who moved to Uganda to follow the call of God upon her life and along the way ended up becoming the mom to 14 adopted girls. I had come across Katie’s story on her blog over a year ago and was reminded of her story again when I saw that she was one of the featured speakers at Catalyst in Atlanta last year.

This book, a vulnerable account of her struggles and fears and joys, was incredibly challenging and inspiring. I found myself being so convicted. Convicted for my lack of love and my lack of compassion. Convicted for my lack of understanding of our world’s great needs and convicted for the complacency that keeps me from truly learning about those needs. It’s so much easier to just check-out on Pinterest than to read a book on the horrible conditions that people, God’s people, live in all over the world.

I am so ashamed that 99% of the time I am perfectly ok with just shielding my eyes from the hurt and brokenness in this world, and I don’t want to be ok with it anymore. I don’t want to be ok with living the same life that I’ve always lived and doing the same things that I’ve always done just because I like my life and I am blessed enough to have been born in the United States. I don’t want to forget the words that Katie wrote in this book about the extreme disease and poverty that engulf Uganda. I don’t want to erase from my mind the fact that there are 143 million children in this world that have no mother or father. I don’t want to forget the way I felt when I read the last page of her book. The feeling of wanting to make a difference.

I loved this book, and I loved the way that Katie shared her story. Katie, who has done some pretty amazing things in the first 22 years of her life, seems extremely humble and grounded. She takes no credit for what God has accomplished through her life – for all the children fed, clothed, bathed, nursed back to health, and taken in as daughters. She has a deep knowing that God has done all the work and seems honored to be used by God in such a way.

But Katie is also bold. She challenges her readers to take seriously the commands of “loving our neighbors as ourselves” and “caring for widows and orphans”. She writes, “My family, adopting these children, it is not optional. It is not my good deed for the day; it is not what I am doing to ‘help out these poor kids.’ I adopt because God commands me to care for the orphans and the widows in their distress. I adopt because Jesus says that to whom much has been given, much will be demanded (see Luke 12:48) and because whoever finds his life will lose it but whoever loses his life for His sake will find it (see Matthew 10:39).”

She explains that the road to accomplish those things isn’t always easy or expected. She’s vulnerable, as she describes the pain with which she said good-bye to her old life – her family & friends, her prospects of going to college, her big house in an upper-class neighborhood, and her plans to marry her high school sweetheart. But she’s also extremely open about the immense joy that she has gained by being in the center of God’s will for her life. She wakes up knowing that each day will be challenging and full of surprises as she cares for 14 little girls and runs a non-profit organization – Amazima Ministries, but she’s confident that He will carry her through it and continue to use her as she remains faithful.

I can’t imagine how overwhelming the situation in front of Katie must be. To daily see so many needs and know that she can’t meet them all. I’m familiar with that feeling in my own way. The feeling that there is so much hurt and pain in this world, and I’m only one person. Sometimes that overwhelming feeling can be paralyzing to me. It can keep me from doing anything because I wish I could do more.

Katie talks about this feeling in one of my favorite sections of this book.

She says, “I was angry because I believed, and still believe, that the God who created the universe did not create too many children in His image and not enough love to go around. And I wanted to do more. I wanted to help them all. God whispered that one is enough. He assured me that He would hold the others while they wait for someone to come along and give them their milk and their medicine. He doesn’t ask me to take them all but to stop for just one, because, as I do for “the least of these” I do it for Him (see Matthew 25:40).”

She continues, “Today, that anger is gone, though sometimes I still have to sit with the Father in my sadness and brokenness over all the hurt in this world. Sometimes I still have to cry to Him and ask Him why innocent children must suffer and beg Him to move people to action. Still we as a family just love the ones with whom God has entrusted us as best we can. We let Him hold us as we hold the little ones He has given us to look after. We do what we can do, and we trust Him with the rest.”

Katie’s story reminded me of the impact that just one person can make, and she reminded me that God isn’t calling us all to start non-profits and move to Uganda and write books.

But He is calling all of us to love the one right in front of us and to love that one radically – the way that Jesus loves each one.

“We do what we can do, and we trust Him with the rest.” I think I’m up to that challenge. Are you?

Oh, and you should definitely read the book. It’s worth it.