Interesting. Complete Strangers Hate Me.

hateI’ve discovered a world I kind of wish I didn’t know about. It’s the world where everyone hates foster parents. I happened on it by clicking on an article about foster care, and came across a mean, hateful commenter. Then I clicked on her picture and into the hole I went.

It’s a universe where people talk about how foster parents want to steal your children. And foster parents aren’t screened and are all abusing children. And they’re just taking other people’s kids to make money. Also, it’s a world where the state is only taking children from homes to make money. (I’m not really sure how that’s even a fiscally sane suggestion.) And the state is just lurking around the corner, dying to take children from good parents.

I don’t live in this world. I don’t even understand how people think this world exists. I found myself wanting to get in there and defend foster parents everywhere. And explain to people that no one is sitting around wishing to destroy perfectly happy families by plotting to take their kids. And explain that the state doesn’t MAKE money by taking children. The state has to PAY for everything for these kids, it’s a drain on funds, not a boost to state funds.

But in the end, I didn’t. Mostly because people with that much hatred usually can’t be reasoned with, but also because those people probably have heart-wrenching stories. I know this system doesn’t always work, and ultimately, this system is manned by imperfect people. And there are spiteful people inside the system. Just because I haven’t come across these kinds of people, personally, in my county, certainly doesn’t mean they aren’t out there. So, the fact that organizations exist to help parents fight for their rights is a good thing.

Then, on top of it all, I ended up watching a video of some show called What Would You Do, where the premise is a foster mother, sitting with her biological child and a foster child, treats the foster child in subhuman fashion, so other people around can see how horribly this foster child is being treated. The point is to see what the people around them would do, but all it did was feed some idea that foster parents treat their foster children like complete crap, and treat foster care like a job. There’s even one point where the biological daughter actress says, “How much money do you make to take care of him?” The mom actress answers, “Over seven hundred dollars. That’s why I only let him spend four dollars on his dinner. More cash for US to spend!” First off, I don’t know who makes that much money on a single child, must be nice. Second off, what a ridiculously heinous caricature of foster families. And, once again, I was treated to a comment thread about how horrible foster parents are because all they care about is making money off children and abusing someone else’s child. And it wasn’t even a real video, it was ACTING.

This hatred is disturbing on many levels.

How many people will watch that video and decide they don’t want to be foster parents because they don’t want the world to see them that way? So, we already don’t have enough people stepping up to do foster care, and ABC or NBC (whatever channel it was), is putting up productions that will keep people away from caring for these children. Great.

And I never would’ve thought there was anyone in the world who thought I went into this to steal children from families. For heaven’s sake. Why can’t we live in a world where people aren’t so given to extremes? Of course I don’t want to take children from perfectly happy families. But I sure want to be there for kids who need a place to stay. And I want to be there for parents who just need an ear or a little guidance. I mean, I know a lot of foster parents at this point. I can honestly say, although I’ve never met perfect foster parents, I’ve never met one that was in it to steal children.

I have met plenty of them who pour out their lives to help children with no family to go to. I have met biological parents who need help, and I’ve heard of parents that should never have access to their child again. To say that there is no need for foster care is to ignore the fact that in the last couple of years, in our area alone, we’ve heard stories of a mother putting her murdered child in a freezer, a father throwing his five year old over a bridge, and endless numbers of heroin addicts found comatose in their cars with their infants and toddlers screaming in the back seat. What do these people think SHOULD happen to these children or their siblings? Should society ignore them and let them suffer in silence?

No. There is a need for foster parents and this system, no matter how horrible a time some people have had.

So then, on the one hand, people have a tendency to act as if foster parents are perfect saints. “Oh, I just can’t believe what you do.” “I just don’t think I could do it.” They talk about foster care as if it’s a job only for the most wonderful of people.

Yeah. It’s not. It’s for nice, normal, flawed people. People who just want to help kids.

On the other hand, now I know there are these people out there who believe I’m evil incarnate, prowling the planet, just wandering around, looking for kids to take from their homes, so I can get rich off the misery of children and good parents.

Yeah. It’s not that either. First off, foster parents have absolutely nothing to do with taking children. Again, they’re just people who want to help kids.

It was a depressing read, and video. To hear people spew such vitriol about me was hard to take. I mean, obviously it wasn’t about ME specifically. But it IS me. I am a foster parent. And I wish these people could understand that, no matter how bad one situation was, the people they dealt with aren’t everyone in this system.

All foster parents aren’t abusing children. Some children are in homes filled with love, for the first times in their lives.

All foster parents aren’t “in it for the money.” Some children are in homes with people who are stretching every dollar, in every which way they can, just so they can care for someone else’s child.

All foster parents aren’t trying to take someone else’s child. Some children are in homes with adults who will do everything they can to help the biological parents reunite with their child, if that’s the best thing for that child.

All foster parents aren’t making their families at the expense of other families. Some children are in homes that expected them to be there for a short time, but end up keeping them because they love them and want them to have stability when their parents can no longer have them.

I know there are bad foster parents out there. There are terrible case workers. There are terrible judges. There are horrible child protection officers. There are horrible attorneys. And guardian ad litems. There are bad people in every single industry, in every single part of the world.

But that doesn’t make us all horrible people, with bad intentions. It just means that, like all jobs, sometimes a bad one squeaks by and taints the whole bunch. There are wonderful people working in this system. I’ve met incredible foster parents, terrific case workers, fabulous lawyers, and selfless guardian ad litems. And all of them have one thing in common: they want to help a hurting child find a safe place where they can grow and develop, surrounded by people who love them. Yes, sometimes that means they can’t stay with their biological parents. Some biological parents just aren’t SAFE for their children. But often times, in fact over half of the time, these people are doing everything they can to help biological parents find the resources they need to get their children back.

I guess I’ll get used to a whole bunch of strangers hating me for being a foster parent. The kids we’ve helped are worth it.

I Am His Mommy

In every way that counts. mom baby hands

Sometimes, when I look at him, I can’t believe he wasn’t born into our family. He looks like us – and I don’t mean just because he’s the same race. I mean he physically looks like our biological children. He laughs like us. He’s grumpy when he doesn’t eat, like us (well, honestly, I’m not grumpy when I don’t eat, but the rest of us are – ha). When we brought him home from the hospital, we had no idea how much like us he really would be.

I swaddled him and rocked him. I held his shaking body as he struggled his way through withdrawals. I wiped his little butt that was so riddled with rash that it bled, one of the side effects of being born addicted I had never heard of. I watched with a worried heart as he remained unresponsive to anything around him for so many months. I longed to see just a hint of eye contact, or a smile, months after he should’ve been doing those things. I constantly worry about the long term problems that could linger, long into his childhood.

I also marvel at all his firsts. I cried like an idiot the first time he laughed, because I had been so worried it would never come. I laughed for weeks when he army crawled everywhere because he was so good at it that he didn’t see the point of crawling like a normal kid. Now, I cringe when he walks because he’s still not very good at it, as his several little bruises will attest. I cheer like a crazy woman when he puts his face in the water, and floats on his back in the pool, because I know we’re one step closer to being safe around water.

I spend every waking moment, and many “sleeping” moments with this kiddo. We are inseparable. Literally. I take him everywhere. And as Mother Day approaches, I know that this year, for the first time, I will be mom to four, instead of three, whether that’s true in the eyes of the law or not. This Sunday, as I relish the lavish gifts I just KNOW my family will shower me with (Ha), I will be mommy to four. Nothing will be all that different, I suppose. We will laugh, my family will make fun of my housekeeping skills, and my kids will mock me. But this year I am mommy to a baby again, and maybe I’ll be able to trick, um, I mean teach, this one to appreciate my less than adequate cooking skills. But if I can’t, he will soon join in on the mockery of mom, because he is my kid, in every way that counts.

He belongs.

But sometimes I look at him and am painfully aware that I am not his mother yet, and that uncertainty hangs over our household. Every once in a while, I’ll see a glimpse of one of his biological parents. A little look here, or a little look there. And I’m reminded that at any moment, something could change, and his little life could be turned upside down. Sometimes he’ll do something so unlike my children that I think, ‘there’s that nature vs. nurture thing happening.’ And sometimes he’ll do something that makes me fear that somehow, in some way, I haven’t done enough to make up for the trauma of not going home with the person he resided in for the first nine months of his little life. The more I study about infant trauma, the more convinced I am that the very first shock these little ones experience, is the least considered when helping them cope in life, but perhaps one of the most important.

And as Mother’s Day approaches, I can’t help but think about his biological mother, and the pain and agony she must be experiencing. There are so many times that I can’t understand her decisions, but there are just as many times that my heart breaks for her. I cannot imagine what it is like to be so enslaved to something that I can’t stop it, even for my child. I cannot fathom the anguish of heading to the hospital with all the hopes and dreams of motherhood about to come to fruition, and then leaving empty handed because I’ve been deemed unacceptable. I can’t imagine the guilt. I can’t imagine the shame.

I can’t imagine.

And I know it’s easy for people to see these parents who can’t care for their children as throw aways or undeserving of pity. I have spoken to people, in my quest to help them, that said maybe they’d be worthy of help once they’re working a job 80 hours a week and proving they want to work to ‘help themselves.’ I’ve come across countless programs that would help, if only they had insurance. For a country full of people that say they want to deal with the drug epidemic, I’ve heard a lot of people say things that seem heartless and harsh, but not a lot of stepping up with suggestions that actually help. I’ve heard people say they don’t deserve help, because of what they’ve done to their child. But until you’ve poured yourself into one of them, I suggest reserving the harshest of judgments for other things. These parents are, often times, just as lost as the children they’ve put into the system. Sometimes the help is not there.

Sometimes the only thing left to do is give up your child.

I long to commend this mother in a way that doesn’t come off as self-serving or condescending. She’s doing the hardest, bravest, and most selfless thing I’ve seen in a long time. She’s putting her child’s wellbeing over her needs. She’s thinking of his long term health and happiness, instead of her own feelings. It is sacrificial. It is love. It is motherly. And in the end, I’m grateful that she is able to see past her own wants, and instead, put her child into my arms. Because I, too, love her child. I, too, will sacrifice my self for this sweet baby. Because at the end of it all, I, too, am his mother.

This Mother’s Day I’m reminded that although often times we identify God as Father, He also describes Himself as mother. Verses like, “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you,” and “I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them,” remind me that He loves and cares for each and every one of us, in the same way we mothers love our sweet children. We feel but a small piece of what He feels for each soul He has created.

He loves me as I obediently answer His call to love this little one, even when it’s hard.

He loves this child’s other mother, who He longs to call adopted, if only she will turn to Him. He understands her pain, because He, too, has lost a child to this world.

He loves her. He loves this child.

He loves.

Confessions Of A Foster Mom

I feel an honest post coming on, and quite frankly, it’s a little scary. That is not to say my other posts have been less than honest, but opening up about struggles is hard because it can backfire. You could end up with a “my word, she’s a horrible person” reaction, or a “poor pitiful thing can’t pull herself together” reaction, or, worse still, a “they let her do foster care?” reaction.

I’ve had a rough couple of days, brought on completely and totally by self pity. I realize this, and it doesn’t really help. Ha. I feel what I feel, and all I can do is pray, and obey my way out of it. That’s it. My problem is this: I’ve had multiple things to do, and a one year old doesn’t make those things happen with ease. Frustration sets in, and builds, as each thing doesn’t get done, or goes slowly. And I just find myself getting angry. Now, I’m not angry at the sweet, precious, adorable one year old who is just being one. No. I’m a little more rational than that. I’m angry at the whole world! Ha. I’m mad that parents don’t care for and sacrifice for their own children. I’m mad that I’m the one who has to cover for them. I’m mad at a system that doesn’t work well. I’m mad that I’m supposed to be almost done with child rearing and instead I’m starting over. I’m mad that I don’t have the back of a twenty five year old, meant for carrying sweet babies. And then I’m mad at myself for being mad about all this stuff that I can’t change.

This anger doesn’t equal regret. I wouldn’t change a thing. And I know these feelings are momentary. But still, I struggle with this idea of changing everything I thought my life was going to be, for what it is now. While it’s true that I gain so many unexpected joys out of this sweet one God has brought to us, it’s also true that some things are lost. And some of those things are pretty big.  For instance, my husband and I, in young, ignorant bliss, purposefully had children when we were young, broke, and stupid, because we didn’t want to be old parents. We wanted to be young when our kids left home, so we could still do fun stuff after they left. Of course, we were too young to realize that having kids early would make it nearly impossible to afford that fun stuff, but that’s totally beside the point. When you start over at our age, you certainly won’t be young when the nest is empty, but you are likely to be the old people at ‘kindergarten cry day’ about whom everyone wonders why “grandparents” are sobbing over the child’s first day of school. Only, we’ll obviously be the PARENTS. The super old parents.

And doing something with my art and writing was finally within reach. I was working on the third of five pieces when this little bundle came our way. The third piece still sits, unfinished, in a corner. My novel, first draft, still sits in my computer, untouched for months because it was a little hard to string words together after seemingly endless nights of comforting a baby withdrawing from drugs.

I’m reliving my early mothering years. You know, when you wondered if you would ever pee by yourself again, or if you’d ever slow down. Only now I’m not in my twenties, so I’m not quite as cut out for it any more. Plus, I’ve already done those years. I just didn’t know I’d be doing them again.

Another thing, I just have to say, I was one year away from not having to cook any more. I mean, when kids are around, you have to feed little people. Starving them isn’t really an option if you want to keep them. However, husbands? Yeah. They can fend for themselves, and the state isn’t coming to take them away if you don’t feed them. One. Year. Away.

Maybe this is God’s way of making sure my husband gets food?

Rats.

So I’ve been having a pity party for myself for a couple of days. I’m sure my family can tell you I’ve been loads of fun to be around. More than once I’ve heard, “Are you mad at me?”

No. I’m not mad at you. This week I’m realizing that my life is a little different than I expected, so it’s making me grumpy.

Then my family went to the beach for the first time this season, to watch the sun set. And I watched my kids and my husband run in and out of waves with this sweet little one. And I saw his amazement at the sand and the water, his thrill at the rolling wabeachkidves, and a little of that frustration melted away. Replaced, once again, with the joy of watching this little guy discover the big, wide world. I was reminded anew that our life isn’t always about accomplishing the things we think are important, but is instead about relationships. Who you love along the journey.

Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?” And all I can think is what a sweet, precious cross He has called us to bear. And I look at his cherubic face as he digs his little toes into the wet sand, and I marvel that God has chosen our family to love him. I laugh when a big wave finally makes its way to the shore and shocks him as it drenches his shorts.

And I realize that’s how I feel. A little shocked that the wave came in stronger than expected, and the drenched pants take a little getting used to. But once the initial shock wears off a bit, there’s nothing but delight in splashing around the shoreline with people who love you.

This Child Calls Me Mommy

It’s both profoundly sad, and extremely joyous, simultaneously. It speaks to everything both terrible and beautiful about this world we live in.

As I sat in the middle of the night, once again, rocking this child through a rough night, I couldn’t help but think about how much his biological mother has missed. There’s nothing more horrifying than the idea of a mother not being able to care for her own child, and then having it taken from her. The fact that our society is so calloused to the horrors of the need for the foster system should give us all pause. These forgotten children are certainly in crisis, but the impact of the crisis in the lives of American adults is almost never spoken of. Thousands of men and women in our society are losing their children because they are abusive, drug addicted, neglectful, or unable to care for their children. These people are often times victims of our broken society themselves, stuck in a place they don’t know how to leave. This is not to take away responsibility for the choices people make, I’m a huge proponent of paying consequences for choices.

But until we see the adults in this system as people in need of OUR help, we are only dealing with the symptoms of the problem by simply taking their children. And we have to take their children, because they need protection. But it continues to grow, out of control, and there are too many children. There are not enough families to care for all the children in need of a home because the adults in their lives are broken. Our drug epidemic grows, practically unchecked. Mental health issues continue to get swept under the rug. Abusive behaviors are ignored until they’re so obvious they must be dealt with, until a hurting child must be taken.

As a Christian, I cannot help but grieve for the state of our country, and the ineffectiveness of the church. We live in a country that continues down a path that leads to the destruction of families, but we rarely take notice of the real impact it takes on individuals. Sure, plenty of people lament how society isn’t as “Christian” as they want it to be, or how everyone wants to take “God out of the public square.” But how often are the people complaining about these societal ills stepping up and doing something about it in the life of a hurting individual? How often are our churches actually putting plans into action to deal with the people who are so wrecked by our society’s removal of God? How many times are these things seen as “someone else’s problem?”

And the church builds her buildings, and runs her programs, and sings her songs, and complains about how the world ignores God. All the while, the people God longs for His church to reach fall through the cracks of the system we pretend isn’t there. We have to quit denying the truth of this. If the church was doing what it was supposed to do, our society would not look like it does.

Or we would have enough homes for the children who are waylaid by our inability to impact the world.

DSC03068So, as I comfort my sweet little one, I mourn for his mother. For his broken family. For our inability to adequately deal with our community’s problems.

But then I let the joy of this little one’s presence in my life wash over me and I am overwhelmed with love. I am grateful for a God who loves this little guy, and loves my family, enough to lead him to our door. I had no plans to take this little guy into my home for so long, and I certainly never knew how far he’d crawl into my heart, but I’m so overwhelmed with thankfulness for the opportunity to hear him call me mommy.

I don’t know how everything will work out in the court system with our little guy, but I know this: he is a perfect, living, breathing picture of the gospel. What happened in our family when we took in this sweet, little child is exactly what happens when our loving God wraps His arms around us and adopts us into His own family. Romans says, ‘For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.’ We, too, were in need of someone to care for us and rescue us from the consequences of bad decisions. He has taken us in, clothed us with the righteousness of His Son, and made us heirs with Christ.

I joke with my kids about how they’ll have to split their twenty dollar inheritance four ways if this little guy ends up in our family for good. Quite a sacrifice on their parts. Ha. But when I think about what followers of Christ stand to inherit, it is truly overwhelming. But more important than what we will one day inherit, in the future, is what we get to be a part of in the present. We get to be the hands and feet of Jesus, impacting the world for a God who loves individuals. Every single one of them. There’s just no way to contain the joy that comes from being who He wants us to be. Our family gets to see a continual example of the gospel, lived out day by day, and it only grows more beautiful, the more I think about it. I will not always get every single thing right, but I can determine to get the big stuff right. Be His hands, His feet, His voice. I can commit myself to trying to get it right.

We have to start getting the big stuff right.

Frustration Is The New Normal

Sometimes the frustration is just overwhelming, and there are no words to express your complete disgust with an inadequate system that doesn’t always put children first. gavelInstead, often times, the adults are the focus of the system’s attention. The very adults that put their children in the horrible situation in the first place.

Watching court, as much as possible with a wiggly one year old, I saw case after case file through, and watched discussions focused around what the adults were doing and how they could be helped. Then, almost as an afterthought, the question was asked, “Are the kids in a safe place?” Everyone agreed that the kids were in a safe place, and then on to the next case.

While it is extremely important that adults fix themselves, I sat there wondering about all the kids in those cases. Did they have a good case worker? Did they have a good guardian ad litem? Was anyone getting THEM help and counseling? Are kids really fine when they’re in that situation? Sure, they may be physically safe, but their worlds have been turned upside down. And yes, in the long run, sometimes helping parents helps kids. Sometimes it just doesn’t.

But the court system focuses on the rights of parents, often without thinking about what would be best for the kids, and that’s a completely new frustration. I just sat through a situation where every single person involved with the kiddo, including the parents, thought one thing would be finished and done in court. Then the parents’ lawyers happened. I’m quite sure that they would say they were doing what was in the best interest of their clients. But they just put a big, fat delay in a case that could be done and over with, because they’ve spent five minutes reviewing one of their many cases, and instead of moving the case along, they just delayed the inevitable. Is a child lingering in foster care better for anyone? No. Not even the parents, who are in a horrible place, want that. But lawyers.

So the system moves along, but the kid, and the foster family, drift around in uncertainty. And it’s not just this one case. I recently spoke with the foster parent of our first placement. She’s STILL stuck in the system, two and a half years later, because a mother, who refuses to work her case plan, is continually given chance after chance to change. Meanwhile, this sweet child cannot move on and be adopted by the family she’s with, because a mother, who refuses to do what is necessary to get her child back, instead makes it impossible for her child to move on to stability. Why is this even a possibility?

All these thoughts run through my head when I sit in court. And these aren’t the only things to be frustrated about. There’s more. Few foster parents show up for their foster kid’s court dates. I often sit through case after case where the state and the parents discuss the fate of children, but the foster family isn’t there. Granted, I’m often there when I won’t even be addressed (interestingly, often nobody cares what a foster parent thinks about what’s going on with the child – add that to the list), but I want to know every single detail of what is being said about my kiddos by the lawyers for the state and the lawyers of the parents. I want to watch how the judge reacts, not only to my case, but to other case in front of the court. I want to know exactly how the judge treats the cases in front of her, because I want to know the best way to get what’s best, for my kids, out of the system. Every judge is different, and every case is different, so I want a good feel for how the judge reacts.

What’s frustrating about this is it seems to show that very few foster parents are interacting with the parents of their foster kids on any sort of deeper level. I fully know that sometimes situations make that impossible, but I really wish I was seeing more foster parents coming along side the parents of their kiddos, as the parents navigate the system. Until foster families see their work in foster care as helping entire families, instead of just children, people are going to just keep rotating their children in and out of care. I know it seems contradictory to have just complained about the system focusing on the adults more than the kids, but foster parents helping biological parents IS focusing on the children. If half our kiddos are going back to their homes, then we better doggone interact with the parents and help them learn how to be better at their jobs, so that our kids are going to safer, healthier homes. Why aren’t more foster parents taking the time to help their kids in this way?

Welcome to the new reality. Fostering just comes with new ways to be frustrated.

However, we need more people willing to add this frustration to their lives. The system is overwhelmed with these families in crisis, and there simply aren’t enough people stepping up to cover. Talk about frustrating! If you have EVER even had an inkling of a thought about being a foster parent, now is the time to sign up for a class. You’re not signing on the dotted line by taking the class, you’re simply exploring what it entails and whether you are actually called to be a part of it.

I know the idea can be scary. I know there’s often times absolutely no way of knowing what has happened to a kid. How bad it might be. But that’s all the more reason to take the plunge. These kids need people who won’t give up on them. People who will see their problems as coping to the crap life they’ve been handed, instead of seeing them as discipline problems. At our last (never ending, eternal) training conference, a person involved in the juvenile detention system spoke. He talked about how years ago, before the kind of training we were doing, he used to see the kids in the juvenile system as kids who needed to respond correctly to authority. He would come down with the hammer for slight infractions, expecting that eventually they’d learn that authority is to be respected. Then, after training, he began to instead see them as kids who were responding to life with the only coping skills they had. Running, talking back, violence . . . theses were all things they were doing to SURVIVE, not rebel. He began asking kids, and searching for, what they needed in crisis moments. He began seeing them as survivalists instead of disciplinary problems, and he trained his entire team to see them the same way. Their incidents of violence, running, and harmful behavior plummeted. The incidents of back talk sky-rocketed. Ha. But what they were learning was to communicate with words, often spicy words, but they were using words. All it took was adults who saw them as kids with needs instead of problem kids.

This is what the foster care system needs. It needs adults to step up and make up for all the adults in these kids’ lives who have let them down. This is how the system becomes less frustrating. Adults who will figure out what the needs of children are, and then fill those holes. Sometimes they just need to know someone cares. Sometimes they need someone who won’t give up on them, even when it’s hard. Just one baby, one toddler, one middle schooler, or one high schooler. One more kid out of the system and into a home where they can be loved on.

One kid. That’s all. Help one kid. If enough people find the room in their hearts and homes to help one kid, all the kids have someone. You don’t have to wrap your mind around helping all the kids in crisis. Just one.

One is enough.

You, In The System

gearsIf you decide to go into this crazy little world of fostering, don’t forget that the system is a behemoth, and way slower than you are. Things that you would think should be over and done with are going to take months. Your sweet one isn’t the only one in the system, so multiply your kiddo by thousands. And it’s a really big deal, this system. We’re operating in a world that is deciding the fate of a family. And sometimes it’s really hard to determine what the right thing to do is. And taking a child from its parents, even for a short time, is already such a disruption to the child’s life, that once they’re in your home, you really do need to make sure the next decisions are as permanent as you possibly can. No kid deserves being yanked around from place to place.

And then there’s this (which I remind my family of regularly when things go slow, and it’s really frustrating): the system SHOULD be slow. I don’t think any of us really want to live in a place where it’s easy for the government to take a child from a parent. Yes, some parents’ rights should absolutely, beyond a shadow of a doubt, be terminated. But it should take some time, and it should be done only when there is no other choice.

Of course, the state’s definition of no other choice and our definition are going to be world’s apart, at times. And that’s when there’s another thing we must all wrap our minds around: sometimes you are going to have to fight for your little one, because no one else is going to do it. I’m glad I haven’t had to be at this point, because we honestly have had incredible case workers, lawyers, and guardian ad litems so far. We’ve never had to fight against the system by ourselves, because we’ve always had a team of people on our side fighting for our kiddos. And we’ve all been on the same page about what to do. It’s a blessing, because some of the stories I hear from other foster parents, in other counties, aren’t quite so lovely.

My point is this, I guess: you, the foster parent, are the only one living moment by moment with your kid, so trust your instincts about when to make sure they get back to the home they came from, or when you need to fight like crazy to keep them in yours. But please remember how big of a deal it is for a parent to lose a child. Every child that comes into your home does not NEED to be removed from their parent. Sometimes all that parent needs is a little support, a bit of guidance, or to learn some skills they were never taught. Not every parent whose child is in the system necessarily should’ve had their child removed in the first place. Remember, sometimes the state gets it wrong.

It breaks my heart that so many people that I encounter, who do this work regularly, are so surprised that I am so interactive with the child’s parents. Every single family that enters the system should be working with an entire team that is focused on doing what is right for that individual child and their family. How on earth foster parents can know whether the child should go home, if they refuse to interact with the parents, is beyond me!

If you are going into foster care to build a family, that’s a beautiful thing. There are SO many children that need you. But please remember that not every child that comes through your door is going to end up as part of your family. Over half of them are going to go home. Use your influence in the system to help build up the families you will encounter that just need a little help, too. Save your home for the children that really, truly need that safe place filled with love.

This is a hard thing to do, because the most important thing you can do for a child when they enter your home is love them like they are your very own. This is how they grow and heal, no matter the reason they’re in your house. But part of loving them like your own means you will get attached to them . . . because you love them. Just remember that part of loving them means sometimes you love them back to their parents.

I’ll never forget how hard it was to say goodbye to the first little baby we had for a few months. She was such a little sweetie. Guess what? So was her mom. I was so happy for mom when, after the first court date, little bit went straight home with her mother. Was it painful to let go? Yes. Did that mom need help she wasn’t getting from the system? Of course. Was that mom grateful that someone in the system took the time to see her situation and help her get her child back as quickly as possible? Absolutely. She stayed in touch with me for almost a year after her child was back home.

You know who else was obviously happy? That sweet baby. Now, she was only four months old when she came to us, but that four month old did not sleep through the night one single time at our house. She was up several times a night, and restless. She wasn’t unconsolable or fussy, just couldn’t sleep well.

Her first night home? She slept for ten hours straight. That child just wanted her mother and couldn’t be fully settled until she was at home.

Sometimes you may end up their family. But sometimes they need to be home with their parents, and you will be the person that needs to make sure that baby ends up in the right family.

Living Easter

cross.jpgEaster Sunday brought so many wonderful things. Fun family photos around the flower cross, a great time with my teenagers in Sunday School. Heck, I even got to church on time AND had the little one dressed in his cute Easter outfit. However, an unexpected word, and I’m saying word because I don’t want to say slap upside the head, from Jesus made for squirmy worship.

I think it started because of a book I read for book club. In the book, The Passion of Mary-Margaret, by Lisa Samson, the main character regularly sits and chats with Jesus. I mean physically. Outside of the novel world, it seems a little unbelievable, but it worked for making a great story. Ha. Anyway, at one point in the story, Jesus asks Mary-Margaret to do something she doesn’t want to do for another person. She struggles with the task, but then sees that the person she’s doing it for is now Jesus to her.

Well, I have regularly felt that fostering puts flesh on Jesus. Every little thing you do for the little one, you have done for Him. It’s one of the wonderful things about foster care. Suddenly, there’s an object of your faith alive and physically right in front of your face. Matthew 25 says, “Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You something to drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or without clothes and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and visit You?’ And the King will answer them, ‘I assure you: Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me.’”

Even in my more frustrating moments of fostering, it’s easy to remind myself that every little tear I wipe, all the endless nights, dealing with the system, wandering through the unknown months, disappointing interactions with schools and other adults, even the dirty diapers . . . all these things, it’s easy to look into those sweet eyes of a little one and remember I do these things for Christ. I’m even thankful in the midst, sometimes. In the early days of our little guy, when being there physically for him required sitting with him and holding his shaking little body into all hours of the night, I was grateful for the tangible way to minister for Christ. I remember being so amazed at how loud God is in the middle of the night. So present when you need Him most.

All these things were running through my mind as I read the book for book club. I nodded in appreciation as the main character saw her acts as ministering for the love of her life, Jesus. All these thoughts were running through my head as I worshipped Easter morning, thinking about the sweet, little fat legs running around in the nursery, as I sang songs to the One I love so much. I thanked Him for being alive, and real, and asking me to do what I didn’t see myself doing not so long ago.

And that’s when He smacked me. Because what I didn’t tell you was, as I worshipped, the person sitting to my left was our sweet little guy’s biological mother.

And just as clear as day, Jesus whispered in my ear, “And I am her, too.”

And the tears flowed, because I had forgotten.

The night before, when she had texted late in the evening saying she was coming to church, when she hadn’t joined me in such a long while, my heart skipped a beat. I wondered why? Why now? Why the change? Will this affect the baby? Will he remember her? Will he respond to her and if not, will it hurt her feelings? Will it upset him? How will seeing him after all this time affect her? What will it make her do?

At the beginning of this placement, it was so easy to wrap her into same category as the baby. In the beginning, I was helping her get her baby back and helping her was helping him. But as time went by, and the case plan didn’t progress, everyone’s focus rightly shifted to his needs and what was best for him. As the goals for the case plan changed, I didn’t notice my attitude changing. The more removed the parents were from my day to day life, the easier it was to forget that the Jesus I love, loves this woman the same way He loves her sweet baby. He looks at her and weeps when she chooses the needle over health. He longs to help her when she can’t pull herself out of emotional pain. He died so she could choose Him over addiction.

And He choses to show her that love through me.

I was reminded of the woman who washes the feet of Christ with her tears. In response to her act of love, Jesus says, to the one judging her, “Therefore I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven; that’s why she loved much. But the one who is forgiven little, loves little.”

Inside this baby’s mother is the potential for deep love for Christ. She will have the capacity for an incredible love for Jesus if He is able to break through her darkness and
pull her into the light. My hand must reach into that darkness and show her the way. I may not be able to drag her into the Light, after all, she will have to choose that way herself, but I can certainly point the way. And I can’t point the way out to her if I have forgotten that she, too, is Jesus. She also offers the opportunity for ministering to the least of these.

Once again, Jesus reminded me that there is so much pain and sadness on this planet and there is so much work for His church to accomplish. And often times, it’s sitting right next to us on the pew as we worship.

Don’t miss Jesus while you sing to Him. Listen to Him whisper, and be His hands. Don’t forget Jesus as you go about daily life and remain far removed from the very people He longs to reach. Move around and be His feet. Don’t ignore Jesus because you are focused on good things because it’s easier. Look around and see with His eyes.

Jesus is in your life in a tangible way, you just have to notice Him and choose the way of the cross.

Small Tidbit, Huge Implications

One of the things we have to do in order to be re-licensed for foster care every year is endure, um, I mean, participate in training for a total of 16 hours. For the past couple of years, this has been done online, and while still kind of annoying, at least I have been able to collect hours in my sweats, sitting on my sofa with a Diet Dr. Pepper and snacks. This year, it is now mandatory that half the hours are done in person.

What this means is I now have to get dressed, drive a long way to some far off place, interact nicely with other humans, and sit through an entire session, whether the presenter is fascinating or not. And, for this past weekend there was no childcare provided, so I also had the joy of dragging a one year old to 11 hours of streaming conference speakers.

This doesn’t really have much to do with anything except the fact that I kind of just wanted to vent about how I really wish I could do all those hours online. Ha.

And I heard an interesting little fact at this conference that I think anyone who cares about children would be astounded by.

sad babyThey did research on infants, about six months old, where they had moms interact with their babies for a few minutes. Then, after engaging with the baby with positive action and facial expression, the mothers were then told to put on a completely straight face. No emotion. No interaction. Just deadpan staring at the baby. It was interesting to watch the baby go from slightly annoyed, to utterly confused, to completely devastated that mom wasn’t interested in them any more. Watching the slow meltdown just made my heart break for the little guys who live in homes where this is actually the norm.

But even more interesting than that was this: they put the baby in a room with a stranger and had them do the same deadpan, no emotion face. It was very frustrating for the babies to get no feedback from adults, even an adult they didn’t know, and they often ended the time in tears.

But the most fascinating thing about all of it was the fact that TEN MONTHS LATER they brought the baby back in. They put them in front of a screen and started scrolling through random pictures of strangers. Without fail, EVERY SINGLE baby turned away from the screen, and most showed other visible signs of distress, when the picture of the stranger they encountered ten months earlier came across the screen.

I’m sure I’m not the only one shocked by that. All these years, repeated over and over again, is the sure truth that babies don’t really remember things, they’re resilient, they’re not going to be overly distressed at being moved around. And while instinctively these things don’t seem true, I’d submit that experiments like this prove the exact opposite. Babies not only remember something as small as a stranger who seems to not like them, but they remember the distress they felt, and experience it again to some extent.

Imagine what this means for the little ones who are treated this way at home, by parents, on a constant basis. Imagine what this means for the little ones who have addicted parents, who not only don’t pay attention to them, but go into weird states of highs when they do drugs and the baby is around. Everyone thinks that physical abuse is the thing that would harm kids the most, but I would suggest that the neglected child has every bit as much reason to live in a state of fear and confusion.

If you’ve seen this video, you’ve probably already felt revulsion at multiple aspects of the situation. Teens so used to their parents completely flipped out on drugs, partly entertained and partly repulsed by it, is horrifying on so many levels. How many times have those kids experienced this that it doesn’t scare them? That they’ve become calloused to it? How can those parents put their kids through that? Why hasn’t anyone intervened?

All of those questions swirl around, but now add this thought to all that. What if the parents weren’t parents of teenagers, but instead had a one year old in the room? Can you imagine the confusion and distress a little one would encounter in a situation like that? Now, add to that the idea that they will remember it for many months, and that it likely happens over and over. These little kiddos are living in a constant state of distress.

We, the church, must do better at helping these little ones. Whether that means intervening and helping the family before the system is involved, or whether it means taking these small ones into our homes. We must do a better job.

I know it’s easy to ignore things we don’t see. But our society experiences the ramifications of abuse and neglect constantly. Eventually it WILL come to your doorstep. Your kids will become friends with one of these little ones, or grow up to marry one of theses little ones, or God forbid, be impacted in negative ways. Without intervention, these children will grow up and repeat what they’ve learned. They will face life with increased odds of being addicts themselves, they will be disproportionately criminals and homeless. The situation is just too big to ignore any longer.

And some of these sweet babies have already grown up and are now the teenagers that drift around the system, in a world that doesn’t want them because they aren’t cute, sweet babies any more. They may be tough on the outside, but inside they are the same little abused baby with the unfortunate luck of having too much time pass by. We have to start seeing these teens for what they are: hurting children with no one who cares about what happens to them.

We have to be the someone who cares.

YOU have to be the someone who cares.

 

Yep, I’m Selfish

But I’m still thinking about all those teens in the system who age out and have no one to call family.

And I’m still thinking about how many people, sitting in our churches, have a family to offer them.

If we don’t step up, open up our hearts and homes, and make a place for these kids, the problem is just going to grow. The statistics are overwhelmingly bleak for these kiddos. They don’t have much of a shot without someone willing to be there for them.

We know that James tells us pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world. The question isn’t knowing what to do, it’s whether or not we will do it. 

What keeps us from doing it?

Let me tell you what I struggle with every single day, in the middle of it, because the other day, someone said to me, “I feel like I want to do this, but I just keep struggling with selfishness.”

Guess what? Me, too. Constantly.

I never had any intention of having a little one for a long length of time. Heck, the reason I thought taking newborns in would be a good idea was because they come and go before they get to the moving stage. Someone in their biological family is very likely to take them, or if their parents don’t want them, there’s always someone longing to adopt a new baby. For our fostering situation in the beginning, outside of losing a little sleep, newborns were a breeze. They’re quiet, pack up in a sling, and go with you wherever you need to go. Going to church? Stick that baby in a sling. Going to a football game? Stick that baby in a sling. Driving to see your kids four states up? Put that baby in the car, and then get the sling. They don’t move, they only eat formula, and the worse thing you’ll encounter is a stinky blowout from time to time. Honestly, every single reason I started taking newborns was based in the selfish desire to not have to chase around a little one, and I didn’t want to upset my schedule.

Even when we were starting out and planning to take in older teenagers, there was the slight bit of selfish me saying, ‘It’s only for a couple of years, and then my life will be back to normal.’

So, struggling with the idea of not wanting to change your life is not only common, it doesn’t really go away. Because in the end, isn’t that what often keeps us from ANYthing God is calling us to do? We don’t want to change. He calls us to witness to that coworker, we don’t want to alter their impression of us. He calls us to speak up when we see some injustice, we don’t want to rock the boat. He calls us to the mission field, we don’t want to leave our comfortable country. He calls us to a deeper understanding of Himself, we don’t want to make the time.

This is the never changing struggle of being human while trying to be a disciple.

So, please don’t wait until you feel completely unselfish about your life before you will consider whether you should be taking in a foster child or teen.

Take a look at some of these guys and girls. Lucan-2This is just the tip of the iceberg. These are just the few who get their pictures posted, just from my county alone. Click on their pictures, and read a little bit of their story. Look at their faces, like Lucan here, and consider the stats about their chances of success without someone listening to the call to discipleship, and the call to be a forever family to someone with nobody. And I know not everyone is called to foster care forever, as their forever ministry. Heck, I don’t even think I am. But I know there are a lot more people being drawn in this direction that aren’t taking the steps to make it happen because there are just too many kids in need of family.

I love those commercials for adopting older kids that talk about how you don’t have to be perfect to be a foster parent. They’re so good. And one of them ends with something like – and I’m paraphrasing here, ‘You don’t have to be perfect to be a parent, there’s a kid that is dying to put up with your imperfections.’

I keep thinking back to the note my youngest put on my bathroom mirror when she was trying to convince us this journey was our family’s. “Taking in one child won’t change the world, but for that one child, the world will change.” And how much more this statement rings true for those teens who still wait on SOMEone to show them what real family and real love looks like.

Change the world for a child.

Forgotten Teens

It occurs to me that because we happen to be fostering a baby right now that most of my thoughts have revolved around little ones. But the tiny guys aren’t even the most needy kids in the system. And for some people that’s good news because they can’t imagine doing diapers again!

Imagine what it must be like to have gone through a couple of (or a few) foster homes, maybe never really clicking with any one particular family, maybe spending a little time in a grouplonely home, and before you know it, you’re graduating from high school, and entering adult life. Imagine navigating the process for going to college without any parental help. Imagine having to learn to balance a bank account and pay bills, with no adult input on how to do these things. Imagine your first holiday out of the system, with nowhere to go. No place to call home. No people to call family.

This is what thousands of young teens face as they age out of a system that never found them that forever home. They enter a system that is supposed to help, and instead: only one quarter of them even start college (but only three percent of them will graduate with a degree), another quarter of them will be homeless within four years of leaving the system. They are five times more likely than the general population to experience post traumatic stress disorder, and seven times more likely to be addicted to drugs. A full 71% of the young women that age out will be pregnant by the time they are twenty one, and 75% of the young women leave the system and end up relying on government services for their basic needs. You can see why so many of the teens that age out never attend college, and why so many of them end up repeating the same mistakes in life that their own biological parents did. A life with no constant adult guidance, and no ongoing love, makes for pretty dismal odds of attacking life with a high level of success.

This is where so many people who can’t imagine fostering little ones should be able to picture themselves stepping in and helping out. Older couples, whose own children are in college or already grown, often underestimate the wisdom and knowledge they’ve gained from already raising their own children. Or they don’t even think about how much the smallest things they do know could help a kid who literally has had no one to teach them what most of us consider the simplest of concepts. We often do the day to day adult things in life without thinking about how we figured out how to do them.

Eighteen years isn’t even a quarter of a life. There are a lot of years left after high school, and facing those years with no one but yourself to count on has to be overwhelming and debilitating. Heck, I STILL call my mom or dad for life questions and I have my own adult children calling me. I remember when I was first married, and was going to get my own car insurance, spending an inordinate amount of time on the phone with my mother trying to figure out what exactly I was supposed to be doing. Frankly, I just wanted my mom to do it for me. I didn’t even understand what the amounts and coverages meant, much less how much of it I needed for myself.

I get these same calls from my oldest as she’s trying to figure out the world of health insurance. How’s she supposed to know what some of the terms and conditions mean when Congress can’t even seem to figure it out? Ha. And even though my mom didn’t buy my car insurance for me, and I won’t make the final decision for my daughter, put yourself in the unenviable position of not even having anyone to call to try and figure some of the stuff of life out with. Envision what it must be like for these thousands of kids who can’t even pick up a phone and call an adult to ask what to say when they go for their first job interview. Or imagine one of them actually doing the hard work to get into college, but then having absolutely no one to call when they need a little extra help, just to be able to stay in school.

The reality is this: these kids need even more help than the little ones in the system because they’ve been put out into the big, wide world without a safety net, ill equipped to navigate the road to keep from making a big fall.

And these are just the every day things. This doesn’t even begin to touch on what it must feel like to face life utterly alone in the world. Sure, eventually they will figure stuff out, maybe they’ll find a spouse who has a family that will eventually take that empty spot away.

Or maybe they won’t. Maybe instead they’ll just float through life on the edges, in and out of relationships, because they never learned how to do that either. They never learned what it was like to have a knock out, drag out argument with someone, and then do the hard work of making up, because they never had anyone love them enough to do the hard work. So, instead of communicating and working things out in relationship, they cut and run. Because that’s all they’ve ever known.

Now, imagine the difference you could make for just one of these kids. Picture yourself taking one of these sixteen or seventeen year old kids into your home, and giving them the slightest introduction to real relationship before they’re sent out into the real world to give it a go on their own. Just think about what a difference it would be for them to have an adult that has shown them what real love looks like, what it looks like to have someone to count on in the hard times. To have someone to call family, after so much time without one.

And I haven’t even touched on what a difference sharing the love of Christ with these kids would mean for them. Because even in our moments of weakness, when we fail them, He never will. And I’m sorry to say (not really), but this is absolutely something some people are one hundred percent called to be doing, and instead they are ignoring the call. That seems an awfully bold thing to say, but I know it is true. The church is here to be His hands and feet, and if there are teens facing the world alone without family, that means somewhere, someone is ignoring God’s call to move.

Because I know He hasn’t forgotten them.

We have.