Courageous Love Photo Gallery

Courageous Love Gallery at Big Momma's Coffee House (Missouri)

Courageous Love Gallery at Big Momma’s Coffee House (Missouri)

May is National Foster Care Month in the United States, so I thought I would share briefly with you about a project I have been involved in.  I was asked to write the adoption stories of a handful of foster families for a local exhibit put on by a photography studio.  The exhibit, titled Courageous Love, was dreamed up by the owners of Freedom Photography.  They too are foster/adoptive parents and live each day knowing the eternal difference that families make when bringing foster children into their home.  You can read their story here:  Colors Don’t Matter.

The gallery is going to be a traveling one and will be hanging on the walls of various businesses and community centers around the area that we live.  The hope is that it will draw attention to the needs of children in foster care who are waiting to be adopted, and to encourage people to consider becoming foster/adoptive parents.  My family was also featured in the gallery, and we were really blessed to be a part of it.

Here is the one of my family:

photo (69)

As I spent each night writing out the stories of how God has used these families to open their homes to children, I could not help but be reminded of the importance of obedience in faith.  The choice to step out in blind faith, cling to the hope of a living God, and prayerfully care for His children, were themes that jumped out at me while I wrote the stories of families.  It was amazing to see how the separate journeys of the children and the adoptive families crossed paths to unite and become a part of each other’s lives forever.

The photographers thanked me immensely for helping them out with this project, but to be honest, I count it a blessing to be a part of it.  Getting glimpses into the lives of some special children, and special parents, reminded me that a life lived within the full measure of His presence and the hope that lies within, is a life well-lived.  Story after story spoke of the prayerful desire to fill their homes with children while also meeting the needs of the most vulnerable in our community.

If you would like to take a peek at the photos, click on the link below to be taken to the website.  The stories of each family are found next to their images in a black thumbnail with white writing.  Click on it to enlarge so that you can read it!

Freedom Photography Courageous Love Gallery

If you are a photographer or know someone who is, here are some ways that you can help out foster families and kids in the system:

  • Offer to take senior pictures for free for teenagers in foster care
  • Offer discounted photo sessions for foster families and foster children
  • Suggest to other photographers to get involved with galleries such as the one described in this blog post
  • Put brochures up in your studio about the needs of foster children
  • Offer to take pictures at community events that feature foster families

Above all, let’s all pray without ceasing for the over 400,000 children and youth in foster care in the United States.  Nearly 115,000 of them are eligible and in need of adoptive families.

Just Be

photo (55)Dear mothers and fathers, you are raising the next generation of mothers and fathers.  You have the most important job in the world, so don’t allow yourself to feel as though your role is invisible or doesn’t matter.  You are the architects of future family systems.

You are the builders laying down the foundation for generations to come.  You are the soil that roots take hold of.  You are artists who painfully work each day sculpting, refining, and creating the masterpiece that your children are.

There is no audience more important than that of children.  They watch you, they listen to you, and they move with you.  If you sway one way, they will follow.  If you give up, they may never try.  If you conquer a mountain, they will climb up after you.  If you finish the race, they will yearn to cross the finish line as well.

If you embrace faith, then let them see you live it out.  If charity makes your heart beat, then be charitable to them and in front of them.  If you value friendships, then teach them to be a good friend.  If humility is something you desire for them, then be humble.  If you know you have been captured and saved by grace, then be gracious.  If hope is all you have, then grab on to it with all of your might so that your children will recognize what it is to have a hopeful heart.

Strength can be spoken in many forms and languages; all of which children can hear, see, and feel.  There’s the strength you find yourself holding on to when holding them in the middle of another sleepless night.  There’s the strength used to put one foot in front of the other, to pick yourself up after you’ve fallen, and to cling on to when striving for a better future.  There’s also the strength needed to admit when you are wrong.

Courage is needed when learning how to let go, so let go, dear mothers and fathers.  Let go of bad habits that ruin your health and your hearts, relationships that are degrading and devaluing, and regrets that have become your bondage.  This bondage you wrap yourself up in has a generational impact, so stop it before it clings to your children, and your children’s children.

Find your voice and speak it loud.  If you favor kindness, then speak kindness loud enough for children to hear.  Speak it into the darkest of places, into the hardest of hearts, and into the lives of those who need it the most.  Soon, your children will speak it as well.

Yearn, dear mothers and fathers, yearn to make this world a better place for your children and your children’s children.  Yearn to be the dad you never had, or the mother you wish you would have had.  Yearn to be the kind of parent your children want to grow up to be.  Yearn to be their example of a life lived well.

Don’t stop believing in yourself and what you mean to the little eyes, beating hearts, and little ears that look up to you.  You don’t have to be a perfect parent, but you must be a present parent.  Don’t ever lose sight of how much you mean to your children.  You mean the world to them.  You are the world to them, so don’t forget that.

Dear mothers and fathers, parenting is the hardest job you will ever have.  It will test your limits, break your hearts, and exhaust your bodies, but don’t give up.  Be the parent you want your children to be.  Be yourself – they love who you are.  Be genuine, authentic, and comfortable with who you are so that they too will feel safe in their own skin.  Be strong and be courageous.  Just be, mothers and fathers, be the architects, builders, soil, and artists of future fathers and mothers.  Just Be.

Beauty in the Storms

Sky in Missouri Monday night Photo credit:  Clarissa Weter

Sky in Missouri Monday night
Photo credit: Clarissa Weter

It’s almost embarrassing to admit this, but lately I’ve been in a little bit of a pity-party kind of mood.  That habitual escape of self-loathing has never helped me, and if anything, it tends to create guilt for ever doing it in the first place.  I hurt my leg a few weeks ago and have not been able to run or ride my bike.  My house is always in chaos with three young children.  The necessity for me to show up at work each day with a smile on my face is hard to do.  Finances are tight due to adding another child.  I even feel a slight envy in my heart over the vacation pictures of numerous friends on Facebook.

I went to bed Monday night prepared to be woken up from the stormy night that was expected.  We had our blanket, flashlights, diaper bag, extra shoes, and bike helmets lined up by the nook of a hiding place under our stair well just in case of a tornado. Thankfully, the storms died down before they entered the area that we live.  I woke up in the morning feeling worn down with my leg hurting and thinking about all I needed to accomplish at work that day.

I picked the baby up and shuffled into the living room.  Barely awake, I made a pot of coffee and secured the baby in his high chair for his morning snack.  I could smell the coffee percolating while I sat there and stared at the laundry pile on the chair next to me.  Pretty soon I picked my tired body up and filled my cup of coffee.  It is rare when I get a chance to watch the news in the morning, so I took advantage of the moment.  I flipped to one of the major news networks to watch the coverage of the tornado that struck our neighboring state.  Pretty soon I could taste the salt of my tears that were meandering their way down my face.

During this time, my daughter got up and sat next to me on the couch.  In that moment of quietness with just the faint sound of the news in the background and the taste of my tears, I thought to myself, “What are you doing? What are you thinking even beginning to feel that you are owed something, or that you don’t have enough?”  I felt shame for the pity-party I had been toying around with for the past few days.  I felt guilt for not trusting the Lord with the areas of my life that are causing stress.  I felt disgusted and sickened for taking what I do have for granted, and for desiring more.

The images of the destruction, neighbors and family members searching with desperation for their loved ones, crumpled houses, a flattened school, and the numbers of the victims and injured scrolling at the bottom of the television all stuck to me like glue.  They punched me in the gut.  They shook me up.  They took my breath away.  Truthfully, they should do this.  It is easy to get caught in the trap of gluttony and greed.  It is even easier to allow the blessings of life to turn into things that cause stress.

The heaviness I felt in my heart was soon replaced by the thought of this simple truth:

The love of Christ and redemption found in Him can never be destroyed by the wrath of storms.  The promise of the Lord is the only thing that will never go away.  Our homes may be destroyed, our children may pass away, our jobs may be dissolved, and our health may deteriorate, but the Cross will always stand.  He will always stand.  

After these thoughts bombarded me, I finished my coffee, leaned over and kissed my little girl, and went about getting ready for the rest of my day.  I know I will always need reminders of the promise of salvation.  I also know that I will walk the tightrope of trappings of an Earthly life.  I know there will be days where I just want to pull the covers over my head.  There will be storms that rage in my heart, my mind, and my life.

The pictures in this post are of the sky over Missouri following the tornado in Oklahoma.  It was beautiful to look at.  The sky following the Joplin tornado was eerily beautiful as well.  It makes sense though.photo (63)

 It is in the storms of life that the true beauty of faith in Christ is revealed.  

Stuck in the Middle

vinyl-decal-sticker-8951It was December of 1987 when I received my keys to so-called freedom by turning 16-years-old, and getting my driver’s license.  I drove through the quiet streets of my neighborhood before coming up to a stop sign. I stared at the traffic going back and forth in front of me.  I remember staying there for quite some time in fear of pulling out onto the busy street.  My mind was racing with thoughts like, “What if I hit a car?”, “What if a car hits me?”, and “I can’t do this. I’m too scared.”

I got up the courage, checked for traffic, and then hit the gas pedal.  I made it safely into the center turn lane and let out a big sigh of relief.  There I was, a new driver, sitting in the center lane on one of the busiest streets in my town.  I knew I had to make a decision.  I put my blinker on and waited….and waited….and…..

In that moment, panic came over me.  I was stuck in the middle lane.  I was scared to pull out into traffic to join in the line of cars, but I knew I could not go back the way I came.  The only way out of this situation was to either take my keys out of the ignition, and walk away, or take a deep breath, hit the gas pedal, and go.

Both options had good things about them.  Taking the keys out and walking away would have been a little easier on my nerves.  After all, I only lived a few blocks away, and could have walked home so that my parents could go back with me to get the car.  I would have not had to face this big challenge either.  The other option of hitting the gas pedal and pulling into what I perceived as a dangerous, yet exciting adventure appealed to me, if only I could build up the courage to do so.

After sitting in the center turn lane for what felt like a very long time, I sat straight up, grasped the steering wheel, checked for traffic, looked to the side, and hit the gas pedal.  I made it into the lane of traffic just fine.  Excitement came over me once I knew I had successfully overcome the fear.  I spent the rest of the night driving around and listening to music.  My new adventure of freedom as a teenager had just begun.

I have thought of this experience many times throughout the years.  Often, I have felt stuck in the middle of a difficult decision without knowing which way to go.  On one hand, turning back and continuing with the same direction feels comforting.  On the other hand, taking a leap of faith and beginning a new journey is quite exciting, and could lead to multiple open doors and a growing sense of His presence.

Are you stuck in the middle of some life decisions right now?  What would you accomplish if you were fearless?

Sometimes in life, you just need to get the courage up, hit the gas pedal, and go!  Regardless of what you decide to do, make sure to listen to the Lord’s leading.  He will not lead you into on-coming traffic that is harmful.  It may feel uncomfortable at times, but the same God who formed you in your mother’s womb is the same One who will see you safely to the other side of the road.

Blessings to you on new adventures in life!

God in the Midst

The LORD your God is in your midst; he is a warrior who can deliver. He takes great delight in you; he renews you by his love; he shouts for joy over you.     – Zephaniah 3:17

Recently, a foster-mother came into my office, shut the door, sat down, and started weeping over a decision, or lack thereof, regarding her foster child with-whom she has had since the child was a newborn.  This foster-mother has experience with the system and usually “rolls with the punches”, but this time, she was absolutely wiped out emotionally.

With puffy eyes and thick tears, she told me how the upcoming court case was going to be continued and very important decisions; perhaps the most important decisions made throughout the duration of the case, were not going to be made.  “How can they do this?”, she asked.  “What do I tell my family?”  I just listened to her, and tried to encourage her the best way I could at the time.

If the truth were told, sometimes, I really don’t know what the right thing is to say to foster parents who are grieving.  I’ve been there in that place of confusion and grief when fostering my children, but my babies did not leave my home.  They were not reunified and my life was tremendously altered by adoption.  I’ve learned in this field that sometimes the best thing to do is to say very little and just let people speak openly about their lives, situations  sadness, anger, and loss.  Most of the time, the answer or wisdom they are seeking can be found in their own thoughts if they are allowed to process them.

I agree with and understand the federal law that protects the birth parents rights to be reunified with their children. I too would want the opportunity to rectify my life situation so that I could have my children back.  I get that, but, I don’t understand sometimes why court decisions get delayed.  It frustrates me that children linger in the system for seemingly no reason; except that they are not able to reunified with birth family, or they are never adopted by families.  In this foster parent’s situation, the birth parents really have not been involved, and the little one that is so loved really only knows the foster family who has been caring for her every needs.

This side of me that wears skin, this piece of my heart that gets torn apart, the salt in my tears, and this gravity of the weight of the world we live in, wears on me.  It causes me to question where He is when children are being abused and neglected.  It forces me to wonder if He is near the grieving foster parents, afflicted birth parents, and parent-less children.  It challenges me to want to turn away from the field I’m in and wipe myself clean of it, and yet, how can I walk away from this?  How can any of us turn our backs when we live with the knowledge that children are being abused in our own backyards, and around the world?

I know the Lord is in control.  I know He loves these children more than any foster parent, adoptive parent, or birth parent could ever comprehend.  I know all of them really belong to Him, not us.  Our Heavenly Father holds our tears, whispers reassurance, and visually reminds us of His presence through His word, each other, and the wonders of the world.

The foster-mother who shed quiet tears in my office also knows that the Lord she prays to, lives for, and believes in, was sitting next to her when she got the phone call of the news she didn’t want to hear.  He was present with her when she sat in her car crying and wondering what she was going to tell her family.  He walked in with her to my office and listened while she proclaimed her grief.

The belief that causes my heart to feel less burdened by the sadness around is the idea that the God who breathed life into our lungs, is the same God who was present in my office that day a heart-broken woman entered my room.  He is also the same God who will be standing with us all when our lives come to an end.  He knows the end of our stories, for He has already written them.  He has claimed us as His own.

If there is anything we could all do for foster parents, birth parents, and children who are in the child welfare system, it is to reassure them that they are mightily loved by a Father who is present in each moment; each court date, each phone call, each sleepless night, each embrace, each joy, each hour of despair, and every moment they feel they cannot go on.  God is not absent.

God Is In The Midst

Every Day is Mother’s Day

I can’t imagine a more apropos way to spend time this weekend than watching my oldest child fulfill a wish he has had for a while.  He got to fish in his very first fishing tournament with his Papa.  He’s been fishing for just about as long as he’s been walking, and is finally old enough to enter children’s tournaments.

IMG_2086I was so anxious and excited while waiting for him and his Papa to return to the dock for the weigh-in.  As I saw their boat pull up, I quickly made my way to them with my camera ready.  I was trying to gauge the expression on my dad’s face to see if the caught anything.  My son is quite lucky that his Papa happens to be a retired professional fisherman who is extremely well-known in our area.  My son is also quite fortunate that his Papa lives on the lake, and absolutely loves fishing with his grandson.

IMG_2103I also remember my son’s birth mother asking if we would teach him to fish.  She didn’t know that my dad is an expert on the lake, but I assured her that our son would learn how to fish.  As they docked the boat, I learned that my son only caught one fish – a nice sized Crappie.  Even though it would not win him any money or a trophy, the smile on his face from catching a fish in a tournament and the experience of the day is far more valuable.

IMG_2129Since it was a kid’s fishing tournament, they let the children weigh any type of fish in.  Here is my son telling the emcee of the tournament what he caught the Crappie on. (In case you are wondering, he caught it with a spoon.  For those of you who do not fish, a spoon is a lure, not something you eat with!)  He also told the emcee about his Papa.  The emcee and organizers of the tournament happen to know who his Papa is, but my son told them anyway.

IMG_2142The only prize he won was a give-away of cleaning supplies, and three small bags of baits.  He thought that was pretty awesome.  My daughter, and the baby also seemed to enjoy watching their older brother take part in the adventure of the day.  I even let my daughter dip her toes in the cold lake!IMG_2085photo (62)

You might wonder what this has to do with Mother’s Day.  Well, as I am still trying to figure out this complex thing called parenting, I learn day-by-day that every day is Mother’s Day.  Every moment is one more moment of seeing life through the eyes of my children.  Each joy they get from the simplest things lights my heart up just a bit.  Each accomplishment, each wish come true, and even each disappointment reinforces to me that it is so important to allow my children to learn through life experiences.

There is not one day as a mother that is no less or no important than the next.  Each day is an opportunity to appreciate my children and the gifts that they are.  Each day grants me the wisdom to learn from the mistakes I have made.  I also believe each day allows a window into how my mother felt raising me.

Yes, I believe every day is Mother’s Day.  

It would be completely remiss of me this Mother’s Day weekend to not mention the fact that my children were adopted out of foster care.  Most readers of this blog know this, but it’s a fact that shouldn’t be forgotten.  I know the circumstances of their birth parents, and it doesn’t fall too far from my thoughts about the kind of lives they potentially would’ve had if not protected by a child welfare system.  

In honor of my children, I encourage all of you to consider what you can do to help a foster child in the community you live in.  You can make a difference.  The simplest acts of kindness do not go forgotten.  Be bold, be kind, and be a hero to a child in foster care!

I still think of you, birth mother

I still think of you, birth mother.  You are always with me.  Each embrace, each kiss, each smile, and each moment of growth, I think of you.  This week marks the fifth year since the adoption of my son…our son, and yet; I still think of you.

It seems like a lifetime ago since we talked about him.  I remember our talks while taking turns rocking him.  We were in love with the same child.  Our love for him opened the door for our relationship.  You are the one who started loving him the moment you knew you were expecting.  I’m the one who prayed for a child to love. How could we have known that while I was praying for a child to hold, you were carrying my future son?

How can I ever thank you, birth mother?  How can I ever tell you how grateful I am that you chose life?  Because of your life-affirming choice, I am raising a bright, energetic, and spirited boy who filled the paleness of my dreams with color.  Your son was my first baby.  Your son was the answer to my deepest longings of the heart.

Your son is the embodiment of a life lived outside of oneself.

It is not a mistake that our process to get approved as foster parents took nine months; nine months of our child forming in your womb, nine months of our anxious thoughts, nine months of your difficult circumstances, and nine months until we met for the first time.

I remember that the first thing you said to me was, “So, that’s what you look like.”  Your words humbled me, birth mother.  There I was, a stranger, embracing your son, holding him in the middle of the night, and caring for his every need.  While I was doing this, you were wondering who I was.  My prayers to our God was for His will to be done, and for His strength to get us through whatever path we would end up walking.

I know that our path was probably the easier one.  Yes, we worried, we cried, and we prayed, but we ended up keeping your son.  We ended up becoming his forever family, his mommy and daddy, and his future.  Yes, we had it easy.  You, birth mother, you walked the difficult road.

You, birth mother, you must have felt the pain of loss that first Mother’s Day without the acknowledgement of him.  You, birth mother, must have felt an ache in your heart that went unfulfilled.  You, birth mother, must have longed for a different outcome; and yet, you did not fight the decision that was made.

You and I both had our hands tied.  We both had to adhere to the decisions made by others about the child we both loved deeply.  Together, we both had little control.  Together, we both had hopes of raising him.  Together, we both loved this child.

I still think of you, birth mother.  I still wonder how you are doing.  I still see you in him.  I still think of your kindness to me. There I was, a young foster-mother holding your son, and yet, you embraced me. You were kind to me.  You were interested in me, and you thanked me for the love I gave your son.  I don’t know if I could have done that.  I don’t know if I could have been as kind as you were if the tables were turned.  I just don’t know.

Thank you, birth mother.  Thank you for the courage it took to not fight the inevitable.  When I was told that you had decided to not fight the courts anymore, I fell to my knees in grief and in joy at the same time.  I cried over the hardship of the decision you must have made.  In that moment, I knew my life was forever changed.

In that moment, I knew that you truly loved your son.

It has been five years since your son became mine forever.  It has been five years since tears fell from my eyes while the judge was announcing our adoption.  You were on my mind that day, birth mother.  Our journey together ended that day; although, it will never really end.  As long as our son has life, I will think of you.  You will always hold a place in my heart. I will always remember your smile, your laugh, and your kindness.

Your son…our son…is a treasure.  He is a delight.  He loves dirt, bugs, art, gymnastics, basketball, and fishing.  He is always coming up with the most creative ideas out of simple household items.  He is a willful, curious, loving, and loyal boy. Oh, he has his moments of challenging us, but he is a wonderful son.  He is a child that has left his footprints on the hearts of many.  He means the world to so many, and is richly loved.

I still think of you, birth mother. I still see you in him.  I still think of our talks,and the mutual love we held for our son.  I’m doing my best to raise him in a way that will honor the difficult decision you made.  I want him to be a man of integrity, a man that nurtures life, and contributes to goodness in this world.

We have a beautiful son, birth mother.  Thank you, birth mother, thank you.