The Hite Girls In Texas: Community First! Village Part 3

It was September. We had gotten the chance to tell Pastor Josh a little bit about our discernment process, something we really wanted to do before we moved forward, so I finally felt ready to head back to Community First. We loaded up the van and began our 15-hour road trip to Austin.

Our girls knew we were planning to be in Tulsa for our trip. They just didn’t realize we’d only spend one night there. Once we were on the road, we decided it was a good time to start the conversation with them.

We turned down the music, probably Taylor Swift’s most recent album, and told the girls we wanted to talk to them about the rest of our trip. We asked them if they remembered the movie about Community First! Village, we had watched back in May. When we’d come home from the initial tour, we brought back a copy of the documentary that showed the village and how the model for community worked in their unique neighborhood.

The girls immediately remembered. They had loved the documentary and had actually asked to watch it a second time. They loved the stories about the neighbors and Kaylynn particularly liked Alan Graham, one of the co-founders who spoke quite a bit during the film. We told them we were going to actually go visit the Village as a family for most of the trip. They were excited!

Then, we eased into the second part of the conversation, aiming to choose our words carefully.

“We’re actually wondering if the Village could be a good place for our family to live someday. Daddy and I loved our tour so much, and we could picture our family fitting right in. We wonder if God is sort of giving us an invitation to join in what’s happening there in Texas, so we wanted to bring you this time to see it for yourselves.”

I don’t think they quite knew what to say. They were obviously shocked, just as we expected them to be. We continued.

“Sometimes, when we’ve taken a big step in our lives, we’ve had a super strong feeling. It’s sort of in our stomachs, and the feeling tells us to notice something really important happening. When we were at the Village in May, we felt that feeling. Kind of like God was trying to get our attention. Do you know one of the other times we felt that feeling?”

“When?” they said.

“When we felt like God invited us to become foster parents.”

They filled in the rest of the story because we’ve told them how our family had come to be many times.

“You waited for two girls who would be your daughters, so you said no a few times to other kids who needed a home,” Kaylynn said.

“Yep. And when we decided not to have babies come from my belly and to become foster parents instead, that was a big decision. It felt something kind of like this. And when they called asking us about those other kids who also needed a safe home, we felt like we should still wait for two girls.”

“Us!” said Kristin.

“Yep. We waited for you. This might be a time kind of like that. But we don’t know yet. It’s sometimes hard to know what God is saying, but we try to learn to listen.”

They got emotional, and I immediately wanted to clarify. I didn’t want to make them feel like we had to do big, bold things to follow Jesus. Most of my life has just been ordinary acts of obedience. Everyday decisions. Small steps. On a rare occasion, I have gotten a strong sense of God’s leading in order to help me take a leap.

“But you know what, even if it’s an invitation from God, I don’t think he’ll be mad at us if we decide not to move. God’s not like that. He might just be saying it’s a special place that we could be part of. I think he’d still be happy if we stayed in Peoria and kept our same house, our same church, and our same jobs. Either way, whatever we choose, God will be with us and we’ll be together. But we want to decide together, so we want you to see it. You can get to know the neighbors to see what you think, and we’ll talk about it a lot more.”

The conversation went on for quite a while. Kristin put her headphones on to listen to more music and perhaps, check out of such a heavy conversation, but Kaylynn had more emotions she wanted to process and more thoughts to sort through.

She shared how much she’d miss Pastor Josh, Breakfast Club, and our nearby family. She also shared about how neat it would be to live in a village that helps people who used to be homeless. It was, in fact, her dream.

When Kaylynn was in first grade, she was impacted by visiting our local Salvation Army on Christmas morning. That day, we took our Breakfast Club on the road and met our friends where they were staying at the shelter. This was the first time the girls saw where they lived. After we served, Kaylynn got into the car and told us, “I want to open a homeless shelter someday.”

It was out of left field to us, and we just listened as she shared her thoughts. She wanted everyone to have their own room, activities to do, and a swimming pool so they could all have fun together. She thought they needed more there than what she’d seen, and she was pretty determined to make it happen.

Months later, when she was asked by her first grade teacher to draw a picture of what she wanted to be when she grew up, she drew this:

A homeless shelter right here. Free.

We honestly didn’t know she was still thinking about that idea, but it seemed to be a pretty big deal to her.

For that reason, and many more, we knew that if we decided to make the move, it would be a family calling. We were looking forward to seeing how the girls could fit into the rhythms of village life.

We stopped in Tulsa the first evening to spend time with dear friends, and then traveled on to Austin the next day, with a brief stop for lunch in Waco, because while we were open to the idea of a tiny home, we also love watching those amazing spaces that Chip and Joanna create on Fixer Upper.

We arrived that evening in Austin, and stayed at the Community Inn, one of the micro-business on-site at Community First! where neighbors can work and earn a dignified income.

The inn is made up of tiny homes and RVs that are rentable. People from all over the country (and even the world) can book one through AirBnB. They’re all well-maintained and inviting as they sit at the front entrance of the neighborhood near the outdoor theater. The girls were so excited to spend a few days in our airstream with the booth that turned into a bed!


We spent many hours over the course of those few days getting to know a little bit more about the community. We shared meals and coffee with missionals and heard stories of how they had uniquely been called to live there. We chatted with neighbors at the Farmers Market and at the Community Table. And the girls loved hanging out with the chickens and goats and enjoyed watching Aladdin at the Community Cinema.

Somehow, they got ahold of my phone…

We spent time talking with as many people as possible, and especially loved meeting the members of the Mobile Loaves and Fishes Executive Team, a sharp and passionate group of people who were approachable and incredibly humble.

Everywhere we turned, we seemed to encounter hospitable people who were grateful to be part of something so special. 

Our girls jumped right in, as we thought they would. One of my favorite qualities both girls share is their ability to connect with all kinds of people. They have spent quite a bit of time around our church’s Breakfast Club ministry, and they’re incredibly friendly, wanting everyone to feel welcome.

Seeing them at Community First, where people aren’t just housed but are welcomed home, Dustin and I felt strongly that this move across the country would be a beautiful experience for our whole family. It would be a way to fulfill dreams that Kaylynn had been carrying in her heart for the last couple of years.

And while Dustin and I were definitely thinking about the ways our gifts and experiences could fit into the fabric of the Village, we were also aware that our girls had their own unique gifts to offer, right now. Those gifts weren’t something they would have to wait to use when they were older.

Instead, we could see their unique personalities – their joy and hospitality and love for people – immediately fitting in and filling gaps. They hugged neighbors they’d just met and introduced themselves to everyone. 

But our favorite moments of the trip were probably during the house blessing, when we were able to help welcome a new neighbor, Linda, into her new home. The neighbors gathered to read the house blessing prayers, and our girls handed Linda the traditional housewarming gifts for her RV. Then, we walked to her new home, prayed prayers of blessing, and she welcomed us in. She’d spent four years living on the streets, and she was so happy to finally have a place to rest and call her own. It was beautiful.

Our girls seemed to connect with her right away, and she chatted with us for awhile, sharing that she wasn’t in touch with her family. We didn’t need to hear the whole story to know that when our girls hugged her, just a little bit of healing happened. Their presence mattered, and they offered a gift that none of the adults there could have given – acceptance and love from children.

We spent the rest of our time at the village celebrating Kristin’s birthday and connecting with more missionals. One of the missional families who has four kids (yes, they’re all in a tiny home) helped us celebrate.

They put up balloons and streamers and the kids all played together like they were old friends, running from yard to yard. 

As we wrapped up the trip, we felt even more confident that this could be the next step for our family. We could picture our future, and it looked so bright.

Foster Care & Footed Pajamas

It’s 14 degrees outside as I write this, which is twenty degrees warmer than this morning when I was celebrating Valentine’s Day at our dining room table with Dustin and our girls.

It was a quick, fun morning, and while I wished I could stay home and avoid the cold, I was looking forward to coming into work. I reminded the girls we’d have a special dinner tonight to finish up our celebrations.

“What is it?” they asked.

“You’ll see!” I said as I hurried out the door. Truthfully, I’ve been looking forward to homemade pizza with heart-shaped pepperoni all week.

I got to work and had a busy morning, but this afternoon, I decided to check on our foster parent resource closet. I wanted to see what clothing sizes we need for kiddos who come into care with nothing but the clothes they are wearing.

“All of the sizes,” I quickly realized as I straightened up the few items that were left on the shelves.

As I refolded and relabeled a couple of sweatshirts, I noticed one particular pair of really snuggly pajamas. The kind with the feet and one-long zipper. My girls always insist these won’t be a problem in the middle of the night when they’re groggy and making their way to the bathroom. But knowing my younger daughter, I tend to imagine otherwise. So, much to their dismay, I usually opt for buying them two-piece pajamas.

These cozy footed pajamas really did look perfect for the bitter cold day we were having. And as I grabbed them to check their size and put them in the best spot on the shelf, I realized they were just a little bigger than what my 8 & 9 year old daughters wear – a size 10. The design was super cute – pink with polka dots featuring a cute cartoon-like dog that lots of elementary girls would probably love wearing.

I wondered which little girl would end up with them. Which little girl who was leaving her home at a moment’s notice would wear those pajamas as she climbed into an unfamiliar bed on her first night away from mom or dad.

I wondered how difficult it would be for our licensing team to find a placement for her. Would we have an available family who was willing to welcome a little girl who was most likely 9 or 10 years old? All of our homes are pretty full right now, not to mention the fact that in child welfare, 9 or 10 years old is considered an “older child”. 

But when I looked at those pink polka dot footie pajamas, I didn’t picture an “older child”. I pictured my girls, still young and playful, snuggled up in their bunk beds, surrounded by their favorite stuffed animals.

I pictured them happy and chatty, asking for their bedtime song and for Dustin to pat their backs. I pictured them settled and cherished and loved.

I thought about our good days together over these last almost five years. So many special days like today filled with laughter, small gifts, and over-the-top food. And I thought about our rough days – the ones filled with tears and big feelings and my expectations that are probably too high for everyone.

And then I said a short prayer while I held those pajamas. Nothing major. Just a silent one asking God to be tangibly near to the little girl that will wear those pajamas.

When I pray those types of prayers, I guess what I really mean is, “God, will you move in the hearts of the foster parents that this particular little girl needs. Will you help them and strengthen them and give them the courage to say yes? Will you help that sweet girl who is walking through some kind of difficulty right now to know that she is loved, even when life around her might be a mess? And somehow, can these pajamas be a tiny reminder to her that she is loved and cared for, not just by the family that welcomes her in, but by the God who created her? And will you help me in all those same ways?”

I guess it isn’t a simple prayer after all.

Foster care isn’t simple. Moving homes isn’t simple. Changing families isn’t simple.

But you know what is simple? Buying footie pajamas.

So maybe I’ll stop by the store on my way home, and grab a few pairs.

After all, they’re still little, and I’m so lucky to be their mom.

Moms Rock: Restoring & Reunifying Families

One of the things I love about supporting the foster care community is that everyone can do something to make a difference.

I sat in a meeting earlier this week to discuss an upcoming event at FamilyCore. It’s our annual Moms Rock Party and is designed to honor and pamper moms who are working hard to reunify with their children who have been removed from their homes. This event is held during the Christmas season, a time which can be incredibly difficult for families in all parts of the foster care system.

I love that our agency makes this celebration a priority. Case workers stay late to decorate, serve food, and show these women that someone believes in them. I’m excited to participate this year in serving these moms because I know that motherhood is hard work, even with an incredible support system.

Parenting is easily the most draining (and most rewarding) job I’ve ever done. I’m constantly readjusting my strategies, realizing my flaws, and apologizing to my girls for the mistakes I’ve made. (Research says that rupture and repair in relationships actually helps their brains develop, so no worries. They’ll be fine.)

And I have the added benefit of a supportive husband. He parents so well and is my partner in all things. I can’t fully imagine how difficult it would be to raise our girls without him, yet these moms are often navigating parenthood without a partner or any other support system.

Many of these moms experienced foster care when they were growing up. Some aged-out of the system without a family that would walk them through all of those “becoming an adult” moments. Some of these women struggle with addiction. Others have mental health issues. Some just don’t have anyone who they can rely on as “their people”.

And yet, they’re trying, daily. They’re showing up. For weekly visits with their kids. For parenting classes. For all of the services that they need to complete to be reunified with their children.

These moms love their kids. They may not currently have the skills or support system to parent well, but that’s why foster care matters. Support for these moms matters. Quality care for their babies in the meantime matters. Restoring and reunifying families matters.

I’ve experienced a few corners of the foster care system. I’ve seen the important work a church can do to come alongside those in the foster care community. I’ve personally navigated the intense joy and immense pain of being a foster parent. I now work behind the scenes at an agency that is aiming to strengthen families for a better community.

But I don’t know what it feels like to be the mom who is working as hard as she can to reunify with the kids she loves. I don’t know what it feels like to be alone and like the odds are stacked against me.

Of course, there are some moms who just aren’t capable of providing safety and meeting the minimum parenting standards to welcome their kids back into their home. But I fully believe that many moms (and dads) can absolutely do it. They simply need support, just like the rest of us.

So, if you’d like to be part of restoring families, I invite you to start today by helping us with our Moms Rock Party. Buy a gift card for groceries or gas. Collect winter gloves or hand lotion. Make a dessert or donate your time to paint some nails.

Our staff will spend the evening reminding these women that they matter. Their hard work can pay off. And, if they stay the course, their kids can come home. It will be a hope-filled evening full of dignity and celebration.

What We’re Learning to Do Differently

I’ve already written a post on getting our girls to learn to sleep, and yet, as I reflect on the last four years of parenting, it’s one of the areas I wish we’d approached differently.

You can check out my previous post Sleep Matters to see how I was processing this part of the journey a year and a half ago. There were definitely some things that we did well, and other things we’ve adjusted since I last shared.

One of the main things we decided to do a little differently is to lean into what our girls were asking for even if it seemed unconventional. One of our girls really wanted to be rocked. We’d try to convince her to just lay down in bed. We’d offer to just pat her back or lay with her. But she was persistent.

And we, the stubborn couple that we are, really didn’t want to “give in”. What if we started this practice and then she expected it every night? Isn’t she way too old for this? Shouldn’t she be able to just go to sleep on her own?

All of those questions, while normal, are loaded with fear. Fear she’ll be seen as weird or behind. Fear that others might judge us if they hear we’re still rocking our six (now seven) year-old. Fear that I’ll be here all night and won’t have time to myself.

I wish I would have asked myself these types of questions, “Is it in my power to say yes?” “Will this yes help her in the long run?” “What does saying yes mean to her?”

Now, I’m NOT saying we should respond “yes” to every single idea our kids have. In fact, this daughter is so incredibly creative and unique that she asks us to do all kinds of crazy stuff over the course of a day.

But what I am saying is that if our kids are asking us something repeatedly that could possibly help them, show them that we care, and remind them that we want them to ask for what they need, then maybe we should try to say yes more often.

So, we started saying yes to this specific request. Dustin would rock her for five minutes or fifteen minutes, or whatever she seemed to need. And she didn’t ask every night. Not even close. In fact, it seems like she’s asked less and less now that we’ve said yes a few times.

Sometimes, Dustin will now actually offer to rock her on nights when bedtime seems to be a little more anxiety-laden. She’ll happily crawl into his lap, and rock back and forth, calming down fairly quickly. Most nights, she doesn’t even fall asleep in the rocking chair. She just enjoys the time together with Dustin or me.

And my view has changed. Now, when I look at her in her dad’s arms or I pull her close to me for one more song, I tell myself – she’s finally experiencing a stage that she truly needed. I watch her soak up those feelings of trust, connection, safety, preciousness and love. And I celebrate the opportunity to say yes.

Cultivate Honesty by Creating Felt Safety

Honesty is hard.

Both kids and adults struggle with this practice. We avoid conflict because we don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings or make someone angry. We tell little white lies to get ourselves out of trouble. We say things we don’t really mean in order to look good in front of other people. We take credit for things that aren’t ours to claim. How’s that for a happy opening?

Our girls struggle with honesty just like many other kids. It isn’t necessarily just because they arrived in our family through foster care and adoption.

But one of the things we’ve learned in parenting them, is that more pressure or persistence on our part to find the truth can lead to the exact opposite behavior that we’re aiming to cultivate. While we want them to want to be honest because we’re a family and it’s healthy and it’s the way it should be, those reasons are not enough to convince a child whose come from a hard place to let their guard down and trust that things will be ok if they tell the truth.

And truth be told, forced honesty can be the worst. In our home, threatening consequences does little good and lots of bad. And while I was the kid who was afraid of what my parents would think if I lied to them, our girls are afraid of what we might do if they’re honest with us.

They’re afraid of what we might do even though we’ve tried to show them that we’re safe. 

We’ve been in seasons with our girls where lying seemed to be the biggest behavior we were dealing with, and honestly, we were TERRIBLE at dealing with it in a healthy way. I’m sure some of this comes down to our personalities, our own upbringings, and our high value on honesty.

Everything we did to combat lying seemed to fall flat, causing our girls (especially one of them) to pull back and go within herself. No matter how many times I’d say, “We know that’s not the truth. Just tell us what happened,” it seemed to have the exact opposite effect we were going for. She’d make up a different story or change a small detail. We’d inch by inch coax the whole story out of her, and sometimes by the end still not know if the story was fully true. While we wanted her full transparency, all she wanted was for us to stop asking her questions.

So, after much failure, tears on everyone’s part, and some research to understand what the heck was happening, we began to change our tactics.

Because our girls came from an environment in which they weren’t being taken care of well, they didn’t learn to trust their caregivers. And who could blame them? When needs aren’t being met by the one in charge of meeting needs, of course their brains develop coping mechanisms. They become self-sufficient and find strategies to get their own needs met, even if those methods are often unhealthy. They needed to depend on someone, so they learned to depend only on themselves.

So our invitation, as their parents, is to establish felt safety. The trick here, is that felt safety isn’t the same as safety. Caregivers may absolutely be certain that their kids are safe. The doors are locked. Everything is child-proof. There’s always food in the refrigerator, clothes to wear, and a warm bed at night. We don’t use corporal punishment of any kind. They won’t get hurt for telling the truth.

But our kids, whose body and brain knows all too well what it felt like to be unsafe, are easily sent back into survival mode – fight, flight or freeze.

So how do you know when your kid has gone into that mode when you’re trying to discover the truth in a situation? You start noticing your kids’ behavior changes. When she thinks she’s done something wrong, what does she tend to do? Does she start to clam up, hide in a corner, or lash out? 

And then, the real work begins. You regulate yourself. You remain calm and patient instead of trying to convince her that she should feel safe. You offer food or water to remind her that you’ll meet her needs. You notice that you’ve hit one of her buttons, that she no longer feels like you’re on the same team, and you find any way you can to show her that you are for her and with her. You go to her instead of calling her to come to you. You start with connection if at all possible.

And you pull her onto your lap, because you’ve learned through experience, that this is often the key.

You know she wants to push you away and to flee the situation when it starts feeling hard, but you resist asking another question about what happened and you just hold her. You remind her, through your actions and your words, that she’s precious, safe, and loved. And when she finally calms down enough, when her brain has reset a bit and she’s able to access her reasoning skills and get out of survival mode, you can start again, slowly and gently.

This is the hard work of creating felt safety.

This practice goes against almost everything that I want to do. I want to push. I want to convince. I want to use logic and reasoning to get her to be honest. But you know what? It NEVER works.

Even if I get her to finally break down and tell me what really happened, all I’ve done is wear her down and hurt our long-term relationship. I’ve shown her that I’m the boss, she needs to comply, and that’s just the way it will be.

So sometimes, on my good days, I stop. I let go of my expectations for her to just comply because she “should”, and I see that sweet girl sitting across from me. I notice her hiding within herself wishing she could come out. We sit together first, then talk calmly. She still struggles, and so do I. It’s difficult to break habits and learn new ways to handle ourselves.

But when we do, I can visibly see the difference in her. She leaves our conversation feeling relieved and settled. She often ends up singing just a few minutes later. I assume she sings because she feels lightness and freedom by being able to show up as her full self and be accepted and loved.

As our girls grow older, honesty is going to be even more important. Right now I can control a lot of what happens in our day-to-day life. I’m making some decisions for them about who they spend their time with and where they go. But soon enough, they’ll be doing more of those things on their own. Sure, I want to trust their decision-making skills, but most importantly, I want to be trusted by them. I want to be their safe place, not the ones they avoid when things are hard.

When something goes wrong, when they make a choice with consequences they didn’t anticipate, or when things they thought they could handle on their own get out of control, I don’t want their instinct to be, “I hope Mom and Dad don’t find out.” Instead, my prayer is that they’ll immediately think, “I really need to call Mom and Dad.”