the “broken” system {it’s been one of those days}

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His information came to me in an email.  I opened it up, read the narrative, clicked on a video and my heart sank.  The 9-year old, Harry Potter look-a-like little boy, who my husband and I met at a birthday party over the summer, is in need of a family.

“Watch me do this!”, he said to my husband.  He giggled and played and just soaked up my husband’s attention.  We were there for another boy who was in foster care and now has his forever family.  We met this little guy by chance.

I called my husband and said, “Remember that little boy at the birthday party?  The one with the glasses?”  My husband knew immediately who I was talking about.  “He needs an adoptive family.  He absolutely adored you.”

“You are making me sad.  It’s just one of those days”, my husband said.

My husband also works in child welfare.  “One of those days” is a phrase that we have often said to each other.  I wish I could give you an exact count of the number of profiles of children in need of an adoptive family that I’ve read through the years.  A profile is a synopsis about a child in need of adoption.  One part of my job is to send out adoption profiles to my staff who, in turn, send them out to foster and adoptive families.

It breaks my heart to see repeat profiles – ones of kids whose profile is sent out multiple times in hopes of just one family that might show interest.  The majority of these kids are over the age of five, have significant trauma, and are a handful, to say the least.  However, behind their age, their behaviors and their histories, they are children.  They play dress-up.  They love Lego’s.  They still believe in Santa Clause and the Easter Bunny.

They yearn for a Mommy and Daddy who won’t leave.

I have worked in child welfare for over seventeen years now and I still fight back tears when I fully ponder what is going on with children.  I get angry.  I threaten to walk away.  I fight cynicism.  Yet, I remain.

Having worked in the system for so long, I have heard “the system is broken” more times than I can count.  Yes, there are many things about the system that needs to be fixed.  Yes, we have a lot of work to do.  I agree with all of this.  However, when I sign people up for foster care classes knowing that they really just want a baby or I see profiles of kids in need of a family sent out over and over again, I find myself wondering if it really is the system that is broken, or if it is just us.  Maybe what is broken is our perception of child abuse and neglect, our vision of how good we think adoption should feel and our systematic way of turning our heads away from the problems at hand.  It’s easy for us to say, “Someone will step up or someone might adopt that child.”  It’s much harder for us to say, “We will step up.  We will adopt that child.”

First, let me state that there is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to foster a baby.  My husband and I did this and we are glad that we did.  We got to experience the precious love of babies.  We watched them as they walked for the first time, called us “Mommy and Daddy” and began to explore the world.  We were also blessed to be able to adopt them.

Now that my kids are older and I walk every day in the struggles of their lives, I recognize that if they were in need of an adoptive home right now, their chances of getting adopted would be slim.  That reality breaks my heart.

Is the system broken?  Sure, in some way it is.  Are we broken?  Yes.  I wish that every single child and youth in need of a permanent family would find one.  I wish that more people would step up and say “yes”.  I so wish that people understood trauma better, age didn’t make a difference, adoption was understood as being hard and not rosy, and that each kid was given a chance at experiencing what it truly means to belong.

If we want to fix the broken system, then we need to take a hard look at our expectations and desires.  The kids in it are not perfect (no kid is).  They have experienced things that a lot of us haven’t.  Their brains have literally been changed by trauma (scientific fact).  They can’t change overnight.  They can’t undo what’s been done to them.  They cope the best they can.  They are often in survival mode.  They may not even realize any of this.  We can, though.

We can accept non-perfect kids.  We can learn how trauma changes the brain.  We can change our expectations of adoption.  We can empathize with children who have been forgotten and given back by too many people who promised forever.

We can understand that it won’t feel good all of the time and that a child’s history matters, but their futures matter more.

Their futures matter more.

I don’t believe for one second that God intends for children to be without families; not for one minute.  This is why after all of these years I still have days like this.  I know that Jesus leaves the ninety-nine to seek out the one.  I pray that we do this as well.  I still have hope, though.  I know that nothing is impossible and as long as there are children who need families, there are those of us who wake up day in and day out and do our best to end the scourge of abuse, neglect and children without families.

It’s been one of those days, but it will pass…until it happens again.

Six Years Away

Son,

Six years away.  This is all I can think about right now.  As you turn twelve, the thought that we only have six more years until you are a (legal) adult keeps coursing through my mind.  Oh, my.  Time fleets and flutters its way through our lives, especially when we are not paying attention.

We fought hard for you.  I want you to know that.  I don’t mean in physical words spoken out loud for others to hear.  I mean in words whispered and cried out to our Father in Heaven.  It wasn’t that our fight was just about you.  Perhaps, just perhaps, it was also about us, about our own desires to become your forever parents, for an answer to the barrenness in our lives and for the abundant clarity of it all that only the Lord can bring.  We also spoke those words for your birth mother.  Please believe this.

Six years away.  In this short amount of time, we will face obstacles.  We will deal with middle school angst, puberty (I know….SO embarrassing), first loves and high school antics.  As your parents, we will worry and fret about you becoming a driver.  We will always worry a bit about you.  Sorry.  That’s just how it is.

Son, only six more years until we release you into the world.  There are moments when my heart just can’t take it.  I think fondly back to our early days.  Sweetness seemed to follow you everywhere you went.  Your curiosity about the world, whimsical expressions and overall silliness absolutely captured the hearts of many.

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In so many ways, I still think of you as that little Mamma’s Boy that you once were.  I know.  I know.  You are growing up.  You don’t need me as much as you once did.  You grimace and get embarrassed at me…often.  Here’s the deal, though.  I may embarrass you at times or get on to you about things, but I will never not love you.  Ever.

Six years from now, you are declared an adult.  Where has the time gone?  What happened to yesterday and the day before that and the day before that?  I used to believe that fostering you and not knowing what was going to happen was the hardest part.  I now know that witnessing you grow up, dealing with the issues we have faced, and watching you crawl closer and closer to leaving is the hardest part.

I never understood the idea of half of my heart living outside of my body until I wrapped my arms around you.

If able to, I would go back and repeat each and every single day just to hold you and capture those moments one more time.

There is a lot of life to be lived between now and then.  I know this.  I also know that even though you will be an adult sooner than we are prepared for, you will always be our little boy, our first baby and one of the most important parts of our lives.

Son, on your 12th birthday, I want to say that I love you more each day.  I am proud of you.  I adore your quirks (even when they drive me crazy).  I appreciate how you methodically think about Every. Single. Thing.  I crack up at your goofy laugh and the many excuses you can come up with to not clean your room.  It pleases my soul to see your gentleness with animals.

It both breaks my heart and fills it with joy to watch you grow into the person you are.  For you, kiddo, are a good human being.  You, son, are a blessing.

Happy Birthday, Bubby.  Love you forever.

Only six years away…

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You Can Catch More Flies With Honey {let’s talk advocacy}

You can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar.Let’s talk advocacy, shall we?

This week, in particular, my own Mamma’s words have been on my mind.

“You can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar.”

While at one of my children’s meetings for services through the schools, I kept these words close to heart.  Yes, I needed to be firm in what I wanted and hoped for the school to provide my child; however, I also needed to remind myself that the teachers sitting in front of me have their own families, their own insecurities, struggles they are facing, wishes and dreams.  The teachers sitting in front of me have a gazillion other students to care about and teach.

If I had chosen to walk into the meeting room with the expectation and attitude that they had to drop anything and everything else they were doing for other students and only give their attention to my child, then I would have failed in advocating for my child.  In other words, I would have not gained any ground with these teachers if I had approached them in a hostile manner.  Instead, I was gentle, kind and understanding of their own schedules and expectations.  By doing this, I was able to successfully advocate for my child’s needs.

In nearly every aspect of life, the ability to advocate for oneself and/or for someone else is an awesome opportunity and responsibility.  Becoming an advocate through your profession or personal life requires conviction, steadfastness, and the unwavering hope that what you are saying or doing will make an incredible difference in your life or the lives of others.

When people become foster parents, they learn about the difficult and diverse parts of the role they play in the lives of children.  They are asked to be parents but also asked to be professionals.  They are asked to work as a member of a team but also to never sway from their advocacy for children placed in their home.  This can be a challenge, but my goodness, what a remarkable experience in life; to care and advocate for abused and neglected children.

It really is a God-oriented role; applying the words of Scripture in caring for orphans and the least of these, doing so in the name of Jesus and being a living example of what it is to follow through on a calling in life.  

However, in the area of advocacy that foster parents must navigate, emotions can be all-consuming.  At times, they can be overwhelming.  Foster families are the ones wiping away tears, cleaning up messes, showing up at the school and doctor’s appointments, and speaking words of wisdom and encouragement into the ears of children.  It may be easy to think, “It should be simpler than this” or “It’s obvious what needs to happen” or even, “That case manager or attorney or therapist (insert any role) just doesn’t care about children.”

The reality is foster care cases are NOT simple.  Things may seem obvious but the law and statutes dictate what professionals are required to do.  They have to show reasonable efforts in reunification even if these efforts drag the cases out.  By not making effort and not documenting it, the entire case can crumble.

In the seventeen years that I have worked in child welfare, I have yet to find one professional in the field who doesn’t CARE for children – not one.  These people are smart, multi-talented and could totally be making more of an income in another field.  Yet, they have CHOSEN to work in child welfare.  They have chosen the long hours, late nights, and missed time with their families.  Their wages do not at all represent that sheer amount of work and responsibility handed to them.  However, they continue to carry on with the audacity of believing they are making a difference one life at a time.

If you are a foster parent or find yourself in a position that you are advocating for a child, please remember these things:

  • If your advocacy includes demeaning or disrespecting other people, it is not advocacy, it is bullying.
  • If your advocacy doesn’t take into consideration all of the legalities, then educate yourself. 
  • If you are advocating for a change in the law, policies, or processes, keep in mind the responsibilities and rights of persons affected by what you are pushing for.
  • If your advocacy is focused more on your own feelings and less on the role of being a foster parent, then do a “heart-check”.
  • If your advocacy is done in way that makes others question your motives, then perhaps, you should be questioning them as well.
  • If you are a Christian and stating that foster parenting is a ministry in your life, then by all means, act like it.  Pray about your upcoming meetings.  Consider how Jesus would treat others if in the same position.

I have found that in advocating for my own needs, my family and the clients I have served through my years in child welfare, more often than not, the “sweeter” I approach the task at hand, the better I am to “catch” the attention and respect of others.

Most importantly, I am able to look back on my own foster parenting experience and know that while I may have been told “no” or decisions may have been made that I didn’t agree with, I am able to tell my children that we (my husband and I) treated everyone on the team with respect, that we were kind to their birth parents and that we understood the value and importance of the laws in place.

If you find yourself full of fury at things happening or not happening in your (foster) child’s case, please, take a deep breath and remember the words of my Mamma.

“You can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar.”

 

 

 

 

6 Lessons I’ve Learned From My Beautiful Children

I wrote an article for Adoption.Com recently regarding the lessons I’ve learned from my children.  It seems that as each year unfolds, I find myself learning more and more about children, adoptive parenting, parenthood (in general) and myself.  Thank, goodness!

1. Children have the desire and right to know where they came from. Adoption is a part of our language. Despite the openness or maybe because of it, our children feel comfortable about asking us questions. They know we may not have all the answers, but we welcome their questions. My kids taught me that history is important, and it is okay (more than okay) to want to seek it and understand it.

2. Children don’t expect perfection. They yearn for presence. I have found myself comparing the parenting of others to my own. I have carried guilt and grief over not showing my best side all the time to the kids. The truth is that my children do not expect the “best of me” all the time.  Instead, they just need “all of me”—my time, my love and my presence.

3. Resilience matters. My children did not have the best start at life. They each suffered less-than-ideal womb experiences (and describing it that way is being gracious). They each have struggled in various settings, socially and academically. We have had multiple specialists, medication regimes, and evaluations. Despite a few odds being against them, they are all incredibly fierce in their own ways. My children have shown me resilience, and I do my best to show it to them as well.

4. Love is greater than biology. I know that seems like a no-brainer, and if you are a parent through adoption or provide foster care, you live in this truth. It is hard to fully explain to people, who question the ability to love a child not born of them, how deep and true loving an adopted child is. Sure, there are areas and kinks that must be worked out. There might be lots of behavior problems and attachment issues, but sometimes, these things only deepen the feeling of love and protection. I have experienced this and continue to do so as my children get older.

5. Parenting does not have a one-size-fits-all standard. In our family, we allow certain things to fly. Our schedule is different. We are stricter about bedtime than other parents we know. We must advocate in a different way per the needs of our children, and we discipline in ways that others may not understand. It is not wrong, and it may not be completely right, but it is what our children need.

6. Adoption is a humbling experience. The statement, “Those kids are lucky to have you” often stops me in my tracks. Sure, they are safe, and we do our best to provide them stability and love, but I do not consider what they have experienced in their lives to be lucky. Instead, the reasons they needed adoption are heartbreaking. I know that while my husband and I strive to be the kind of parents our kids need, we will never be able to replace who their biological parents are, nor do we want to. So, yes. Adoption is humbling.

For the full article, click this link:   https://adoption.com/6-lessons-learned-from-beautiful-children

Blessings,

Caroline

Love Is Not (always) Enough

As someone who works in the field of child welfare (and as an adoptive parent), I have been afforded many opportunities to train folks just coming into the foster care arena.  It is really inspiring to see people, from all kinds of walks of life, choose to step towards children in need.  It continues to convince me that despite a lot of junk in the world, there are still amazing people out there.

During the initial foster parent training, I have heard people say things like, “I’ll just love it out of them” or “All they need is love”.  This is in reference to trauma and behavior related issues.  In my head, I’m thinking, “Well, bless your heart.”  And, I mean it.

Seriously.

Bless your heart for wanting to love on children.

is not (always) enoough) (5)However, love is not always enough.  This is where rubber meets the road and is a hard pill to swallow.  I know that goes against just about everything that most of us have been raised to believe and even what we teach our children.  But, it is true.  Love is not enough to erase years of abuse and neglect or genetic issues or any other struggle a child has.  If love were enough, I suspect there would be a decline in child abuse and neglect cases as well as a decline in substance abuse or any other issue that causes turmoil in one’s life.  We all know people whose love was unwavering; yet, their child succumbed to bad choices.

This post is not meant to be disheartening.  Of course, love is powerful and feeling loved is crucial.  However, if one enters into child welfare and expecting all the feels of goodness and sweetness, it will be a very disappointing and bumpy ride.  It is child abuse and neglect that lands children in the system – not warm, fuzzy, feel-good rainbow kind of moments.  Don’t forget that.

We must stand up and speak out for children.  We must wrap our minds around the fact that while love is powerful, alone, it cannot solve the issues at hand.  It takes resilience and courage.  It takes flexibility, sacrifice and humility.  It takes the willingness to recognize that we have a lot more to learn than we believe we do.  It also takes a whole heck of a lot of humor.

In caring for abused and neglected children, love (in itself) may not always be enough.  It can, however, set the wheel in motion towards a journey that meets the pain and hardship of others head-on.  It can stir hearts and minds in the rendering of waking up each day with a passion to seek and serve children in need.

 

Loving children means meeting them where they are at; RIGHT where they are at.

There isn’t a better example of this than Jesus.  He met people where they were at; the outcasts, the lost, the sick, the hungry, the dead, and us.  With love, He chose to discipline and in love, He chose the Cross.  He chose to stay where He was supposed to and He did it out of love, but He also did it because He know what He needed to do.  (Thank you, Lord!)

It may not feel good to say that love is not always enough, but let me tell you, this Momma has lived this truth.  Right now as I’m typing this, my thoughts are to where I had planned on being.  I had been scheduled to be in the Ukraine.  Yes, you read that right.  I was asked to travel to the Ukraine to train Ukrainian foster families who have taken in children with very little to no resources.  However, I had to cancel those plans.

One of my children has been struggling with anxiety and a variety of emotional and behavioral issues.  Loving this child is not enough to keep this child stable.  I had to ask myself some hard questions.  Do I leave for a two-week trip to another part of the world knowing that my child is struggling?  How would my absence affect this kiddo (who does struggle with some attachment stuff)?  What would happen if, in my absence, everything breaks apart and my child ends up suffering because of it?  

I really wanted to go, but just simply loving my child regardless of where I was on the planet would not have helped.  I chose to say “no”.  I have found that when it comes to parenting children whose beginnings of life were not exactly ideal, it has taken more than love.  Love is obvious, but what seems to overrule my life as a parent is fortitude, understanding, the willingness to learn, the desire to change my own parenting style, and whole lot of grace and empathy.

For those who are seeking to become foster or adoptive parents, set your love aside for a moment.  Take all that energy bound up in desiring to love a child and put it to use.  Use it to build up a pool of resources.  Use it to open your mind about what works for children who come from difficult circumstance.  Use it to persuade yourself to tweak and adjust your expectations and parenting style (which will evolve as time goes on).  Don’t set love aside, of course, but take the same intensity and use it to seek knowledge about how to help children heal.

Love is not (always) enough.  LOVE IN ACTION, well, that has no measure.  It will look different for you and I.  If you truly want to love a child who comes from a hard place, then you must understand that LOVE is a VERB.

It has to be.

 

For any future foster or adoptive parent reading this, I’d love to hear from you.  Ask me anything.  I can be brutally honest, but I think that is what you probably need to hear.

 

 

Happy Father’s Day, Dad (jumping in the deep end)

Father's Day

When I was 3-years-old, my dad threw me into the lake and yelled, “Kick, kick, kick!”  My mom was not pleased (to say the least) as he scooped me out of the water.  He did this to teach me how to swim, to not be scared, and to learn what to do should I find myself in the water again.

When I was five-years-old, my dad pushed me off and ran behind me as I learned to ride my bike without training wheels.  “Peddle!”, he yelled as I excitedly conquered riding on two wheels.

When I was 9-years-old, my dad looked up at me on the diving board of the deep end  and yelled, “You can do it!” as I did a gainer off of the board.

When I was 11-years-old, my dad held my hand as he told me I would never have children.

Waking up from my hysterectomy, in a daze, I saw him and the doctor standing over me.  The courage and strength he must have carried just to mutter those words overwhelms me.  It breaks my heart and fills it with pride all at the same time.  Actually, I do not recall one time waking up in the hospital without him present.  Even as an adult, if I have a serious medical issue come up, he is there.  He has always been there.

As we celebrate Father’s Day this weekend in the US, the times my dad has told me to “jump” or held my hand when I needed it the most, have flooded my mind.  My dad is not perfect.  He was not as a young father and he is not as a grandfather but he is always there and always giving his two-cents-worth (or more).

I can come up with a thousand words to describe my dad but that would make way too long of a blog post and I’m sure you would get bored with it.  I’ll just say this.  My dad is loyal.  He is opinionated (even when you don’t want to hear it).  He has a soft heart (even if he doesn’t want others to know it).  He is exactly the kind of Earthly dad that I need (even if that irked me as a teenager).

Throughout my life, I have had this notion; this juxtaposition that I need to be careful and brave all at the same time.  I have carried this feeling that life is precious but also worth taking a risk.  I learned this from my parents – especially my dad.

When it has come to making decisions that might elate and break my heart at the same time, I have always tended to go for it, despite the risk.  When it comes to expressing my opinion even if it means being misunderstood or ignored, I have usually leaned towards just stating it.  A big part of this is the faith I have in God; my Heavenly Father, Keeper of my Secrets, Whisperer of my dreams.  Another part, of course, is my Earthly Father; my dad.

As I get older and watch my parents get older, I have come to recognize the full measure of what it is to have a dad (and a mom) who are still active in parenting.  They give me advice.  They help around my house.  They celebrate special events.  They cry when I cry.  They laugh when I laugh.  They worry…just like I suspect I will when my children are adults.  I know our days are numbered.  I know that one day, I will wake up without my parents to call or cry to or just be there.  It is becoming more real as we all traverse this crazy thing called life.  I do not know how many Father’s Days I will have with my dad but I do know that each and every one is special and that I appreciate him more and more as time passes by.

Looking back on life, he has always been there.  When we fostered, he was immediately at my door step the minute we accepted our children into our home.  As a grandparent through adoption, he has never wavered in his love for my kids.  Not once.  Not for a second.  Never.

Back in 1983 when my dad held my hand and whispered truth and encouragement into my ears, I would have never guessed that we would be where we are today…three kids…three lives touched by adoption…three lives influenced by my dad…hearts that were once filled with grief, now at peace.

On this Father’s Day, to my dad, I want to say, “Thank You”.  Thank you for throwing me in the lake at 3-years-old.  Thank you for pushing me off on my bike ride at 5-years-old.  Thank you for yelling “You can do it!” when I was 9-years-old.  Thank you for digging through your own grief and finding the wisdom to tell me at 11-years-old that I would never have biological children.

As an adult, when considering choices in front of me, I usually go with the attitude of “go for it”.  I know this came from my dad.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad.  Thank you for encouraging me to always jump into the deep end.  

Foster Care Aware: 10 Things to Know

ARE YOU FOSTER CARE AWARE_

I’ve been a little MIA lately when it comes to social media and blogging.  Lots of family stuff, end of school year angst, and various other things have taken a good portion of my mind and mental energy – which is okay.  Life (I mean REAL life, not social media, etc) should always take a front row seat in our lives.  Right?

May is National Foster Care Awareness Month.  Of all of the months for me to check out, this one should not be it.  I have worked in child welfare since 2001.  In a lot of ways, I’m a hardened veteran.  In other ways, I’m still learning and discovering things about the work at hand.  Two out of my three kiddos began their lives outside of the womb in foster care.  So, yeah.  May should not be a month that I decide to take a sabbatical from this writing experiment that I like to call a blog.

Since we are just a day or so away from it being the last of May (didn’t mean to rhyme that…), I couldn’t let the month draw to a close without saying something.  When considering foster care awareness, it is hard to fully explain and include every detail of the system at large, and the life experiences of foster children, biological parents whose children are in custody, child welfare professionals and foster parents.  It is impossible.  Each case is different.  Each state may have differing expectations.  Every single person whose life has been touched by foster care has a unique story.  It would be impossible to sum up all there is to know about foster care.

However, I have pulled together a list of facts to help people become “Foster Care Aware”.  Here it is:

  1. There are approximately 430,000 children/youth in the US foster care system.
  2. Approximately 117,000 children/youth are currently available for adoption in the US foster care system.
  3. There is a federal law that governs the state’s response for when a child is brought into care.  It is the Adoption and Safe Families Act (1997) and requires 15 out of 22 months of efforts for reunification with a child’s biological parent(s) once he/she enters into foster care.
  4. In order to be a foster parent, one must submit to background screenings, training, reference check and a home study.
  5. In a lot of foster care cases, emphasis is put on placing a foster child in the home of a relative or close family friend.
  6. Foster parents play a key role in the success of a case.  They need to be active participants and are encouraged to be mentors and supporters of their foster child’s biological parents.
  7. Close to 20,000 foster youth age out of the system each year without a permanent family.
  8. Single persons can foster!  (Actually, some kiddos do better in single parent homes.)
  9. Anyone who is interested in becoming a foster parent should research, ask questions and learn about trauma and how it affects brain development and overall functioning.  I highly recommend this website –Empowered to Connect
  10. There is a high need for foster families who will take in large sibling groups, older youth and children/youth with special needs.

As National Foster Care Awareness Month draws to a close, I hope this list helps to spread the awareness of key factors of foster care.  The saying goes, “It takes a village to raise a child.”  I couldn’t agree more.

In foster care, it does take a village and we welcome you to be a part of it.

Author’s Note:  The statistics noted in this post are from the Dave Thomas Foundation.  Learn more at:  Dave Thomas Foundation

It’s Been a Long Time, Birth Mother

It’s been a long time, birth mother.

Today marks the tenth anniversary of the adoption of our son; yet, in many ways, it feels like it was just yesterday.  I often think back to when you and I were taking turns rocking him during visits.  Is this what other mothers formed through adoption think about?  Is this how other mothers formed through adoption feel?  In many ways, we are stuck in those first moments when little souls entered our lives.  In other ways, we feel far away from those moments.

To look back through this past decade, I still fondly remember the laughter we shared.  I also remember (with great appreciation) the tears we mutually shed in those last days when you were his “legal” mother.  Although the years have come and gone, I truly and honestly think of you all of the time.  You gave birth to this special and wonderful kid.

He is as loyal as they come.  He hardly ever (I mean rarely) speaks ill of anyone.  He makes friends wherever he goes.  He does not care about outer appearance or “coolness” or any of those things.  I’m not even sure if you realize this but you are the same way.

When we were fostering and working with you, you did not judge us.  You did not care what we looked like or if we were “cool” or not.  You completely accepted us for who we were – just some random couple who decided to become foster parents and won the jackpot by getting the call to become foster parents for your baby boy.

It’s been a long time, birth mother; one decade since the gavel fell, I looked into the eyes of our son and I knew he was home…forever.

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the day after our “forever” day

As a mother through adoption, I go through many emotions – elation, exhaustion, humility and guilt.  Is it fair that I get to raise the son you grew in your womb?  Sometimes, I don’t think it is.  How in the world did I get so lucky?  When people tell me that I have blessed his life, I negate that.  The truth is that he has blessed mine.  So much.  This truth never leaves my side.  It beckons me to remember the magnitude of adoption.

Yes, it’s been a long time, birth mother.  The first moments I saw our son are forever sketched into my memory.  They are real and tangible; as if they just happened.  I suspect, or at least, hope that they will forever stay that way.

I have had people tell me that we were so kind and good to you while we were fostering.  We tried our best, given the awkwardness of the situation, but you made it easy.  You were kind.  You were good.  You accepted us.  You even referred to me as his “Mamma” a few times.

During his adoption hearing, with the backdrop of sniffles and tears from our family and friends, you were on my mind.  When the Judge meticulously went through the case and our son was officially declared “ours”, you were on my mind.  While we celebrated that special day and all that it meant, I went to bed thinking of you.  Even now, a decade later, I often go to bed thinking of you.

I will never be able to thank you enough for that.  I will never be able to repay my gratitude of how you treated us.  Instead, I pray and hope that I am raising our son (yours and mine) to become an adult who repays kindness to this world.

It’s been a long time, birth mother.

Yet, it feels fresh and anew each day.  As I watch him grow up, I think back on that blonde, curly-haired, happy-go-lucky little guy and I just become so overwhelmed.  Who knew that one little boy could grab a hold of my heart and history and change it in an instant?  He means the world to us, to our parents and to his Father in Heaven.  I know he means the world to you.

Looking back over the past decade, I have failed many times.  I have succeeded at others.  I have cried.  I have laughed.  I have wondered if I am doing this whole (adoptive) parenting thing right, but…I have never questioned the love you have for our son.  Not once.  It breaks my heart and swells it with love at the same time.  It is an essential truth that will always resonate deep within my heart.

It’s been a long time, birth mother; a long time since you and I took turns rocking him during visits. 

Children who enter our lives through foster care and adoption have a funny way of grabbing our hearts.  Sometimes, we are blessed enough to have birth parents who grab our hearts as well.

You did just that.

 

 

 

I Am the Least Likely

Your story - whatever it is - may be used to spurn future generations into faith

Can I take you back somewhere for a moment?  Like, way back…

Lying in my bed with my fat cat “Cupcake” resting nearby, nestled in warm covers, and dim lights, I wondered, “Maybe God knows I would make a horrible mother and that’s why this happened.  Maybe, it’s because I was a bad person in a past life or because I should have been born a boy.  Maybe, it’s because the doctor made a mistake.  Maybe….”

These thoughts raced through my mind shortly after my hysterectomy.  They ripped and raged at my heart.  I didn’t understand what a lifetime of barrenness would look like, but oh boy, did I believe that I was destined for shame, anguish and never being a mother.  I understand now that these dark whispers were not of God but of the face of darkness.  They were from the Enemy, who likes to nip and chew at every single vessel and cell of our existence.

I carried around this heavy blanket of thoughts for many years.  It seems odd to even call it a blanket, though.  When we think of blankets, we think, “warm, soft and comforting”.  However, like a blanket, these thoughts wrapped themselves around me and engulfed my body.  Soon, I began to cling to them – much like a child clings to a blanket.  After all, I was a child when barrenness knocked on my door.

These thoughts often brought shame, confusion and resentment towards a supposedly loving God.  Even after all of these years and being a parent, I still have moments where my mind escapes back to those nights in my bed and of the times where I could not stop the tears from flowing.  Besides, why would any loving Father ever allow this?

The truth is that I am the least likely to be typing this and to be speaking of spiritual freedom.  I am the least likely to work with children, promote the importance of adoption, advocate for foster children, share in support of foster families and play a small part in the molding of new families.  I am the least to be doing any of this.

The reality is that I had already envisioned a life minus anything to do with children.  It just hit too close to home.  I went to college and got a degree in Gerontology – the study of aging.  I didn’t want anything to do with children.  I even told my mom, “I don’t want to work with children; especially abused and neglected children.”

(I’ve since learned that we shouldn’t tell the Lord what we won’t do.)

I often recall those moments in time where I wondered what in the heck I was going to do about all of this trauma – medical and barrenness.  I believe that these are the times when the Enemy wants to steal progress and remind us only of what we struggle with, what breaks our hearts and where our fears lie.

Still….the Lord is there to hush those whispers and calm the waves of painful remembrance.

Ending up in child welfare (because the Lord closed every single door until the one to child welfare opened up), being around children, and working with kiddos who needed homes, forced me to confront that part of my life that I had always hidden away; never showing to others what I was dealing with.  This is why I am the least likely.

God takes the least, wipes the slate clean, clears the fog and reveals a truth that pierces through the darkest of places in our hearts.  It was He who put me in child welfare.  It is He who has kept me in it.  It is He who continuously reveals so much of who He is and who I am in Him.  It is He who hushed those horrible, slithering whispers that tried to capture a future without children.  It is He who took a hold of my barrenness and threw it off of me; declaring a new identity.

Imagine being bound by chains of self-doubt, grief, and angst.  Now, imagine those chains being broken.  This is what the Lord is capable of.

Yes, I am the least likely to testify that a faithful and all-knowing God took a hold of my barrenness and shaped it into what my life is today.  I am the least likely to proclaim that motherhood is important, infertility is not a result of being a bad person, and that God is out to punish us all.

It is just the opposite.  Listen closely.

The VERY thing that the Enemy used to devour my spirit, the Lord used to not only create a new life but also to fill it with exactly the opposite of what the Enemy desired. 

The Lord took what ripped my heart out and turned it into a lifetime of devotion of working on the behalf of children.  He took the biggest void in my life and blessed me.

What was meant to harmmeant to stealmeant to boundwas turned into a revelation of the all-consuming love of God.  It turned into that incredible feeling of true freedom – know that you are exactly who the Lord intended for you to be and that you are living out His story of your life.  Not only did it become a revelation, it evolved into a lifetime of doing the exact opposite of what the Enemy wanted.

Did you read that clearly?  A complete opposite of what the Enemy wanted.

If you ask me about the presence and proof of God in my life, all I would have to do point you to where I was versus where I am now, and that would be sufficient.  None of this happened by accident.  It still catches my breath.  It still feels so raw and real and beyond belief.  For me, the proof of the Lord is revealed daily.

My story.  My personal journey.  My medical problems, surgeries and barrenness turned into a testimony of what a truly loving and forgiving God can do.  My life is an example of redemption (over and over again), of the glory of God revealing Himself, and of answered prayer.  This is my testimony and I refuse to hide it away.

Yes, I am the least likely to proclaim the beauty of adoption, to advocate for children and to pursue the heart of God.  It is not by my works that I am a parent and an advocate for children in need.  It is the Lord who is working through my barrenness.  It is the Lord who has taken away my doubts about motherhood.  It is the Lord who declared Himself in my life.  It is He who has sustained me through working in child welfare as long as I have.

Friends, if you are going through something that is tragic, life-changing or appears to have stolen your future, I’ve been there.  I understand.  While I may not know your exact pain, I do understand how quickly life can change and how rapidly you can succumb to desperate thoughts.

Friends, in Jesus, nothing is impossible.  We are made new.  In Him, our futures are just getting started.  Don’t give up.  Your story – whatever it is – may be used to turn future generations to faith.  

 

If you met me many years ago, I would have convinced you that I am the least likely to talk about spiritual warfare and the faithfulness of God.  It is not that I didn’t believe in that stuff.  I just didn’t want to feel it.  I didn’t want to talk about it.  I didn’t want to do the hard work to discover myself and the Lord in it.  I wasn’t ready.

I am the least likely to share any of this, but… the Lord has this incredible habit of taking the least and using them to proclaim the full measure of His grace.

“I am the vine; you are the branches.  If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.  If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.  If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.  This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” -John 15:5-8

 

“It’s Not About You.” {it’s about love}

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We were in love the minute we saw him.  The nurse rolled up a little, round peach of a baby and announced his name.  The crazy and surreal experience of waking up without a baby and going home with one is something that foster parents can relate to.  By the end of the evening, we were mesmerized by him.  Our hearts were completely captured and dare I say it?  We were instantly in love.

Fast forward 72 hours.  After a weekend of parents and friends stopping by to visit and discovering the joy of caring for a newborn, I received a call.  When you are a foster parent and the number of your case worker shows up unexpectedly on your phone, there is a bit of anxiety that runs through you body.

“Hello.”

“Caroline, I just want to let you know that we found a relative and I think she’s going to pass the home study so it looks like we will be moving him in about 90 days.”

“Oh.  Okay.  Great.  I’ll be at the next meeting.  Thanks for letting me know.”

“Goodbye.”

…Silence…

As soon as I hung up the phone, I stood in front of our little one asleep in his crib and then, I collapsed.  With hands held high and knees to the ground, I said, “Lord, your will be done.  Your will be done but if this is your will, you have to carry me through this.  You have to help me through this.”

Tears.

Shaking.

Hands held high hovering and praying over the baby that we had fallen so much in love with.

In that miserable and silent moment, these words were whispered,

“Caroline.  It’s not about you.”

Wait…what?

“It’s not about you.”

This moment in time will forever be sketched in my mind.  I was vulnerable and tired and just felt that FINALLY I had a baby I could potentially believe was mine.  I knew that there were no guarantees with fostering.  I knew that this child was not “ours”.  I also knew that we had to do our due-diligence to support the biological parents and hike the terrain of foster care.  I knew all of this, but I did not fully realize how this whole experience was never about me in the first place.  It felt like it was supposed to be about me.

I know that sounds selfish.  I know it seems backwards.  I also know that it is very human to feel that way.

The Lord spoke to me while I was a crumpled, weeping mess in front of a sleeping baby that was already loved by two mammas.  He gently reminded me that fostering was not about me.  This carried me through each moment, step-by-step, until our adoption almost two years later.

Now, nearly nine years following our first adoption, these words still linger in my heart.  Two more kids; many years of laughter and of joy, of thankfulness and questioning, I still hear, “It’s not about you.”

Our three beloved children are wonderful and unique.  They are wanted and precious.  They are “ours” through and through.  Yet, it is not easy.  We deal with behavioral issues.  We manage medications.  We answer tough, heart-breaking questions.

We have extreme defiance.  We have hyperactivity and impulsiveness.  We have a learning disorder and developmental delays.  We go to bed weary.  We worry and wonder what the future might bring.

We get rejected.  We seem to live through it all.  Somehow.

We do this all because it’s not about us.  It’s never really been about us.

I’m not the kind of person who will ever paint the realities of life in a rose-colored glasses kind of way.  Doing so is a disservice and I just don’t think it’s right.  Folks, adoption is hard.  Raising kids with extra needs is hard.

There really is no comparison to that of a broken-hearted Mamma;  one who wants to transfer her own lessons learned from her Mamma but can’t seem to do it because the messages are not well-received, don’t seem to apply and do not take into consideration the needs of her children.

Despite the struggles and the daily trials, I get up each day believing that, “Maybe, today is the day that he will do things more independently.  Maybe, today is the day that she will open her heart and really listen to me.  Maybe, today is the day that he won’t have meltdowns.  Maybe, today is the day that we will have peace in our house.”

You know what is profound to me?  I know that what I experience is minimal compared to the heartbreak that the Lord must feel.  I wonder if He feels the same way when we (His children) reject Him on a daily basis.  I wonder if He thinks, “Maybe, today is the day…”.

When thinking about the unique experience of parenting through adoption, I know that there is a deep connection to our own relationship with God.  We are adopted.  We reject Him.  We struggle on a daily basis with following Him.  We fight.  We spit.  We struggle.  When Jesus hung on that dreadful and glorious Cross, it wasn’t about Him.  It was all about us.  Jesus took the hard road and He did it for love.

When Jesus hung on that dreadful and glorious Cross, it wasn't about Him.If there is one message that needs to be spread regarding foster parenting and parenting via adoption, it should always be that it is never about us parents.  It is always about the children we are fortunate to raise, despite the hardships.

Our example is Jesus.  He took up the Cross for His children and for love.  He did the hard thing.

May we all do the hard things because it’s not about us.

It’s about love.

“It’s not about you.”  Yes, Lord.  I’m thankful for that.