The Lamp and the Light

Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.  Psalm 119:105
Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path. Psalm 119:105

I’m exhausted from the day.  It is not that I’m physically exhausted, but emotionally exhausted.  Our hearing was heard today to obtain custody of the precious little one who has come to live with us.  I fret over his future, and yet, I love his birth mother as she too is a child I once carried around as an infant.  My husband and I petitioned for guardianship of the baby because we love him and we love his birth mother, his grandmother, and his great-grandparents.  We are all family, and family matters.

I’m exhausted from the day.  I had to be on the witness stand to testify as to why I would be a good home for him.  I had to prove myself, my experience, my relationships, and my stability.  This is not the first time I’ve had to do this.  Being a former foster parent felt like a constant attempt to prove myself as being worthy of being a parent.  I have not cared for a single child that has come to me free of legal strings attached.  I’ve had to testify and show the courts and other powers-that-be that I am capable of providing and loving on a child with-whom I’ve already taken into my home, cared for, and loved on.  I’ve had to prove myself, and yet, the Lord already approves of me.

I’m exhausted from the day, but, I have this sense of inner peace.  I know that my God loves this precious little one more than I can ever imagine.  He commands this child’s destiny.  He has written his past, his present, and his future.  He sings over this baby, and He rejoices over his growth like a proud daddy.  The Lord, and His word are the lamp upon his feet, and the light upon his path.  Truthfully, He is the lamp upon all of our feet, and the light upon our paths.

I’m exhausted from the day, but also at peace knowing that the Lord would not set me and my family upon this path if any of this didn’t matter to Him.  I sat in the court room today at the table with sweaty palms, quick breaths, and a rolling stomach.  I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and welcomed the Lord into the courtroom.  I said softly to myself, “Lord, be with me.”  Although nervous and uncertain what the Judge would think, I felt great strength knowing that God was with me.

I’m exhausted from the day, but not worn out.  I know this fight, this passion to protect, and this path has been lit by the light of the Lord, and the choice to love the way He wants us to.  I know that He is the lamp upon which my feet walk, and that each step forward may feel like it is in darkness, but not for long.  I know that He will light the way.

Custody was granted for us today.  This little babe that we love is with us for now at least.  Custody may be temporary, and I may not know what the future holds for him or for his place in our family, but I know who holds his future.  I know to trust the Lamp that will guide the child’s feet, and the Light that will brighten his path.

I know in the depths of my being that the Lord loves this precious baby more than I could ever imagine or fathom…now that is something that refreshes my soul.

Say What You Mean, Mean What You Say

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I was running a little late yesterday picking my son up from school.  Up to this point, we have had a fairly routine pick-up schedule.  I arrive about ten minutes before school lets out, park in the same area, walk in to the main doors, and wait on a bench until I see his smiling face walking down the hall towards me.  Yesterday though, I was about ten minutes late from my usual pick-up time.

As I approached the door, I could see him sitting on the bench waiting for me with a slight look of worry on his face.  He was searching through the small crowd of parents that had gathered in the front entrance.  When the door opened, and I entered the building, he swung his head around and with a gleeful sound, he said, “Mommy!”  We hugged, he told me about his day, and we made our way to the car.

I’ve been thinking about the look on my son’s face when I saw him through the door looking slightly distressed over my absence, and then again, at his joyful expression when he saw me.  The thoughts that have come from this brief and somewhat insignificant moment is this, It matters that we keep our word to children.  It matters that they can rely on us to be there for them, and that we do what we say we are going to do.”

I couldn’t help but think about the kids in foster care that I used to work with as a case manager.  Many were promised things by their parents and others that never came to fruition.  Parents did not get clean from drugs, work their treatment plans, or “get them back” like they told their children they would.  Several of the children meandered their way through the system (and many still do) moving from home to home without anyone committing to caring for them long-term.  They were continually let down by the unfulfilled promises of adults.

Many of the kids have been failed often by adults in their lives even prior to entering foster care.  Too many of them have never had anyone stick around long enough to help them lay down roots to a firm foundation for their future.  One of the keys to successfully working with children in the foster care system is to say what you mean, and mean what you say.  It also is vitally important to do what you say you are going to do.

My son’s look of relief upon seeing me yesterday after being just a few minutes late to pick him up reminded me of what I really already knew.  Our responsibilities as parents and as adults is to keep the well-being of children in the forefront.  The way we treat them, keep our word to them, and be intentional in their lives will shape their future, and in many ways, will shape ours.

Heavenly Permanence

For my last post in recognition and celebration of National Adoption Month, I wanted to write something so bold, fresh, and new that everyone would want to become a foster and adoptive parent.  I wanted to try to list every well-known person (alive or deceased) who has either been adopted or who has adopted children.  I considered writing about persons in Scripture who were considered to be adopted, or at least, raised by persons other than their biological parents

I realized, though, that none of this compares to the incredible and profound blessing of our adoption by our Heavenly Father.  Through the sacrifice of His son and our acceptance of Christ as our Lord and Savior, we have been given an Eternal inheritance, and the promise of His love and His care.  We are sealed  by His grace.

The word permanency comes up often in child welfare.  Permanency refers to the goal of achieving something permanent in children’s lives.  I like to refer to it as the final place a child gets to call home.  We talk about the goals to attain permanency for children in the system all of the time.  Well, with the Lord, the goal has already been met and achieved!

Our permanency is in Heaven!  Now, isn’t that something to celebrate!!

“I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.” -2 Corinthians 6:18

Welcoming children, Welcoming Him

And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.

-Matthew 18:5

I love working for a child welfare agency that is not only Christian in name, but in acts and philosophy.  The agency has been involved in the social welfare of children since 1886 and has evolved through the years as societal changes have occurred.  Although our services have developed through the years to meet the needs of children and families, our priority and reason why we do the work has not changed.  We know that we can serve the Lord by ministering to children who are hurting, youth who are struggling, and families who are broken.  We also believe and have witnessed the great miracles that occur in the lives of children and families through the love and acceptance of Christ.

One aspect of my job is to speak to families who have expressed an interest in foster care and adoption.  Like my husband and I, many families go into fostering with a desire to parent children and know that fostering is an avenue that could lead to adoption.  There are others who see it as a way to give back to children or their society.  Most of the Christian families I work with feel the Lord calling them to be foster parents and to adopt a child out of foster care.

Thinking about these families leads me straight to the Scripture noted above. Our Heavenly Father loves children.  They are near and dear to His heart.  One cannot also overlook the fact that He wants us to be like children when it comes to our walk with Him.

I really do enjoy witnessing the love of Christian families that is poured into children in need of foster and adoptive homes.  To see and know that change is happening in children’s lives is what keeps most of us in the field of child welfare going.  The Lord stirs the hearts of people so that they can minister to His children through fostering and adopting.  

Welcoming children in the name of the Father is a blessing.  Families who feel the Lord calling them out to become foster and adoptive parents are able to learn so much about their own personal journey with Christ.  One such foster parent who was hoping to adopt the child she was fostering, said to me, “The Lord reminded me that they are all His children.  We are just taking care of them.”

It is statements like the one above that confirm my personal belief that when people do what they are called to do, especially when it comes to caring for children, the Lord blesses them with His wisdom, His grace, and His power to withstand many trials.  When the Lord whispers His plan and His calling into the lives of others, they are able to whisper His love into the lives of children.  When one welcomes children, they welcome Him.

Let Them Love You

One part of my job with the agency I work for is to recruit foster families.  I show a brief documentary about a foster/adoptive family to prospective families as part of this effort. The images and story of the family gives a brief yet insightful glimpse into the life of a typical foster home.  It also does a great job of promoting and showing the struggles and work, yet joy that is found in being a foster family.

My favorite part is an interview with a 16-year-old boy who was residing in the home as a foster placement   I’m not entirely sure of his whole story, but I get the feeling that he had been passed around a lot and moved from placement to placement.  In his interview, the teen describes moving into the family’s home and how much he liked it.  He then moved on to giving advice to families who want to foster and adopt out of the system.  His words “Let Them Love You” are ones that are hard to forget.

At first, I thought he meant for children to let the foster families love them, but then I realized that he meant foster and adoptive families need to let the children love them.  Sometimes, it seems foster families give in too quick when a child does not attach right away, or is not the right fit for their home.  The matching of families and children is so difficult when placement is needed immediately.  I also understand the complex and sometimes severe issues that cause disruptions in and out of homes.  However, I just can’t get his words out of my mind.

I have heard many people say “I could never be a foster parent because I would get too attached.”  I know the pain of being attached to a child, yet having to step one foot at a time into the unknown.  I get it.  Despite the hardship of it all, the children need attachment.  They need for families to love them to the point of not wanting to let them go, but they also need families who will recognize that reunifying with birth family is extremely important.

There are over 1000,000 children and youth available for adoption in the United States Foster Care System.  Many are children with medical, emotional, and behavioral challenges.  Many are part of large sibling groups.  Many have meandered through the system without ever setting roots anywhere.  Many are like the teenager who spoke on the video I described above.  Too many are not anywhere long enough to be allowed to love anyone.

I think the best thing those of us working within child welfare could do to make it better is to listen to the kids who are living life in a system made up of judges, case workers, lawyers, and temporary parents.  They have so much to offer us if we just took the time to listen.  We need to hear to their words and take heed to their insights.  We need to give them the opportunity express their hearts and feelings just like the teenager on the video.

We need to let them love.

It Just Takes One Family

“There are no unwanted children, just unfound families.” The National Adoption Center

I have this quote taped to my desk at work.  I believe it to be true; however, it can get discouraging when children end up growing up in the system because families are not found.  There is a push for placing with relatives and for searching out extended family members who may not even be aware that children have entered custody.  I agree that this should be a priority when it comes to finding relatives for children who have lingered in care for too many years.  Sadly, it does not always happen for them.  I know of several children who came into care at age 10 and exited out at age 18-21.  Basically, they grew up belonging to a system, but not a family.

Then, there are those stories that are so incredibly encouraging, and remind me that “we” (meaning those in the field) should never give up on finding permanent families for children.  I know of children who came into care between the ages of 9-12, their biological parents rights were terminated, and they lingered in the system for several years until meeting that one family that made all the difference.

When I did direct case management work I had a girl on my case load who came into care at age 9.  She spent several years wandering between foster homes, disrupting out of some, being promised adoption by others, but never really connecting with any of them.  One day though, that all changed.  She met a young set of foster parents who provided respite for her.  Their connection was almost instant.

A few months after she moved in, the foster mom called me and told me that this girl was making infant noises at the table and asking the mom to feed her with a baby spoon.  The foster mom was not panicked, but wanted to understand why this teenage girl would do this.  I suggested (I’m no expert) that perhaps it is because this girl had always been the mom to her younger siblings.  She never had the chance to be mothered.  I offered that the foster mom should just “go with it” for a few more weeks to see if it subsides.  Sure enough, a week or so later, the girl stopped doing this and went back to feeding herself like a 15-year-old should.  Her foster family adopted her right before her 16th birthday.  Instead of moving from one family to another, she stayed with a family of her own.

Another situation I know of involved a foster family who desperately wanted to adopt a little girl between the ages of 0-3.  They had been matched with a little one, but that situation did not work out for them for several reasons.  I had sent out a profile of a 15-year-old girl who had been in care for a few years.  She was bright and wanted to attend college, but truthfully, the odds were against if she stayed in the system much longer.

After reading her profile, the foster family called me and asked to learn more about her.  Imagine my surprise when they inquired about her!  I think I needed to clarify that she was 15 years and not 15 months old!  After meeting her and being interviewed by the professional team, the foster dad called and said words that have stayed with me for years.

“Caroline, we may not have bought her first Easter dress, or been around for her first Christmas, but we realize that there are many firsts that we can give her.  I will be the first father she has ever had.”

This conversation is one of those nuggets of goodness that I hold on to while working in child welfare.  They did go on to adopt her and the last I heard, she was doing extremely well in school and preparing to look at colleges.  Her dreams are being realized because of one found family.

I have said over and over again throughout my career in child welfare that “it only takes one family”, and I believe this.  This is the reason why the quote from the National Adoption Center is pasted on to my desk at work.  Part of my job responsibilities is to forward profiles of foster children in need of adoptive homes to families who are hoping to adopt.  Just this week, I have already forwarded around 5 or so profiles. As I do this, I think to myself “it only takes one family.”

One family can make the difference in the life of a child.  One family can provide the soil to which a child can lay down roots.  One family can offer the encouragement and structure needed that will start the child on his or her path to college or a career.  One family can show by actions and words what it feels like to be a part of a healthy home.  One family can help to break generational cycles of abuse and neglect.  In the same tone, one family can potentially make a generational change in the lives of children.  And, one family can model the grace, love, and acceptance that we all long for.

 

The Love of A Family

Here’s another amazing story of the blessing that is adoption!

Johnovan, TJ, Valery, Addelyn, Arianna, and Deandre

This is the story of TJ and Valery, along with their children Arianna, age 9, Johnovan, age 8, Addelyn, age 6, and Deandre, age 6.  Their family has been enlarged and enhanced by adoption out of the foster care system.

TJ and Valery had 2 biological children when they decided to consider adoption.  Both pregnancies were extremely difficult. Valery was on bed rest for 22 week for their first daughter, then 6 weeks for their second daughter.  Their third pregnancy sadly ended in miscarriage.  It was during this difficult time that they realized their longing for more children.

They decided to pursue international adoption and did a tremendous amount of research   They kept hitting road block after road block and felt that perhaps their path needed to change.  After coming across websites about foster care and adoption, they chose to sign up for fostering classes.  Within a month, they were well on their way to becoming a licensed foster home.

Shortly after being licensed, Valery learned of 2 boys possibly in need of an adoptive home.  Valery was able to speak to the foster-mother of the boys and decided to become their primary respite provider.  Respite is a service that foster families do for each other – like babysitting.  The family provided respite for several months and enjoyed getting to know the boys.

In July of 2011, TJ and Valery were invited to attend an adoption staffing for the boys.  There were 2 other families that were interviewed as well.  Adoption staffings are part of the selection process through the foster care system.  A staffing is a formal interview with potential adoptive homes and the team members who have been involved with the case from the beginning.  Two days passed until they got the phone call they had been waiting for.  TJ and Valery were selected as the adoptive family for the boys!

The family finalized their adoption in June of 2012!  The boys now have a family to call their own and a place to grow their wings.  This is what all children deserve.  The family did not stop at adoption though as they continue to provide foster care to children with higher level of needs; such as emotional and behavioral issues.  Even before being matched with Johnovan and Deandre, they provided foster care and helped reunify children with their birth parents.

Growing up, Valery had the goal of eventually being a foster/adoptive parent.  She had friends in the foster care system and hoped one day that she too would provide a home to children in need.  TJ was a little more slow to warm up to the idea.  However, with the wonderful support of their extended family, their decision to become foster/adoptive parents was one that they do not regret.

The biggest joy they get out of parenting their children is watching them achieve milestones in their lives.  One of the boys struggled immensely in reading and had fairly severe behavior problems at school.  Through the efforts of Valery advocating for his needst, he is doing very well and has made tremendous strides.  She believes that love, attention, security, and “good ole’ fashion” mothering have played parts in his success.

The biggest challenge of their experience so far has been understanding and parenting children with behavioral issues that are directly tied to the chaotic home environment and/or abuse and neglect the children have experienced.  They have learned that progress may be slow, but at least it is progress!  Plus, a sense of humor is key to enjoying each other’s diversity and the unique factors that make up their family.  TJ and Valery urge others to consider taking in older youth who are in the foster care system.  They love babies, but have found that older children add so much to a family, and need stability in their lives.

Foster care and adoption has taught them to be more open-minded about people and to empathize a little more with parents whose children are throwing tantrums.  Valery knows now that one’s experience as a child may shape his or her approach to parenting as an adult, and one really never knows what someone else has been through in life.

TJ and Valery believe they are like most families.  They are busy running the kids back and forth for their extracurricular activities, and breaking up fights between siblings.  They have those parenting moments of praising each other for tasks well done, and getting on to each other for tasks undone.  They look different and come from different pasts, but they are family.

In Valery’s words, “We’ve got our ups and downs and sometimes the downs feel really down, but then something wonderful happens and the love of our family pulls us all back together again.”

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  -1 Corinthians 13:7

Just a Bag of Clothes

It had been a long day for my husband after waking up at the crack of dawn and driving several hours to see a child on his caseload who is in a residential type of setting.  My husband came into the kitchen after getting home and I could tell by his expression that something was amiss.  He was sad and the look on his face told me that his heart was heavy.

“I went to see “Billy” (not the actual name of child) today.  I took him a bag of clothing.  You should have seen the look on his face.  It was just a bag of clothes and they really weren’t that great.  He was so happy to get it.”  My husband was trying to cover his emotion while telling me this story.  I told my husband that it sounded like he was happy to get them and it was a good thing to do.  My husband then went on to say, “I know, but “Billy” doesn’t have a family.  He doesn’t have a home to live in.  He doesn’t have anyone, but he was thrilled to get a bag of clothing.  He has nobody.”

Sadly, this story is true.  My husband is a case manager working with abused and neglected children that have been brought into the foster care system.  “Billy” is one of those kids who disrupted out of his potential adoptive home due to behavioral issues and is now living in a residential setting.  This child has lost his birth family due to abuse and his sibling is getting adopted by his foster family soon.  “Billy” truly does not have anyone except for my husband.  Despite continuing efforts to help him control his behaviors and to find a permanent home for him, it is quite possible that he will grow up in the foster care system.

My husband hit a wall that day after work.  I have seen it time and time again with case managers.  I too have hit that wall.  The wall I am referring to is the moment when the harsh reality of the work at hand slaps one in the face.  It is easy for all of us working in the field of child welfare to get caught up in the paperwork (trust me there is a  TON of it) and the tasks at hand.  It is challenging when one feels torn between what the federal and state laws require and the gut feeling about what truly may be best for a child.  The job requires one to work with people who are broken or, at least, have broken hearts.  I do not know of a single person involved in child welfare who has not been changed by his or her experience.

The stories of kids like “Billy” are ones that often go unheard or unknown except for those working closely with them.  In my experience, these children are usually quite grateful for clothing and other basic necessities.  I have seen Christmas wish lists from foster children that have a few toys, but mostly have items such as jeans, socks, coats, and hygiene products.  They actually have to be encouraged to ask for things other than the basic needs.

For my husband that day, the act of taking a bag of clothing to a foster child as part of his duty became so much more.  It served as a reminder that there is much work to do in serving children.  It served as a reminder that there are too many children like “Billy” living in our country who literally have no one to call mom and dad.

It also served as a reminder that many of us have been blessed with the gift of stability, protection, love, and a family.  My hope is that this post stirs something in your heart.  My hope is that you will look up organizations in your community that work with foster children and explore how you can get involved.  You never know how the simple of act of taking a bag of clothes to a child in the system could make an impression on that child’s heart.

Enough to make a difference

I asked God, “How much time do I have before I die?”
He replied, “Enough to make a difference.”
— Unknown

Call me strange, but I enjoy browsing through quotes on various topics of interest.  I love it when a quote catches my eye and causes that silent but golden “aha” moment.  The quote above is one of them.  I have often wondered “Am I really making a difference in this world?”  “Do my actions, whether part of my job or not, really help to create something new and hopeful for someone else?”

Through my years working in social services, I have heard many social workers say the same thing when questioning if their footprints (I’m not talking carbon footprints) on this Earth are making positive differences in the lives of others.  Social work is incredibly draining.  It is both a blessing and a burden.  Those of us in the child welfare field go to work knowing full well that our “job demand” really does exist because families are in crisis, children are being hurt, and lives are in chaos.

I have heard that once child welfare (whether as a foster parent, juvenile officer, or case manager) “gets in your blood”, it is hard to get it out.  I believe that.  I suspect that even those who have left the field continue to think about the children they worked with who may now be young adults trying to make it in the world.  Often, I think about the children I have worked with over the years.  I wonder how they are.  I wonder if they ever got what they were looking for…although so many did not even know what that was.  Did I really make a difference in their lives?

I like the quote above because it reminds me that each day is a new opportunity to make a difference in the world.  It reminds me of the absolute responsibility and beauty of life itself.  The joy of living is also tied into the duty of sharing that joy with others.  The grace of waking up each day feeling safe and loved is a gift that deserves to be shared with others and is just enough to make a difference.

Sunny Days and Ice Cream Cones

Working in child welfare for any amount of time forces the rude awakening of the troubles we have in our society and the daily struggles that too many children have in the United States.  There are children who are fatherless, motherless, or both.  Many are taking care of their baby siblings even though they are babies themselves.  Some can tell you how to prepare a crack pipe because they have witnessed it in their home.  Others do not understand boundaries or safety because they have never been kept safe.  Infants are born with the addictions of their mothers; or at least, the exposure of poor choices made while in the womb.  If you do not believe or understand this, then I encourage you to spend a day with a child abuse and neglect investigator.

It is deeply troubling when I hear people dismiss children as if they carry no purpose.  I have written about this before in my post Where is Your Treasure?

ALL children are vital to this world.  ALL children are precious in the eyes of the Lord.  He loves each one as if he or she is His only child.

They teach us to forgive quickly, to slow down, to laugh, and to dream.  They see things through the lens of innocence.  They have great purpose in this world.  Not to sound cliché, but they are the future and the potential fulfillment of all things good in this world.

When I took this picture of my daughter above at a family get together, I could not help but think about what the life of a child should be made of.  Their lives should be filled with love, silliness, warmth, and parents.  Their lives should be enveloped in family, memories, shelter, encouragement, and safety.  They deserve days filled with the warmth of sunshine, the laughter of playmates, and the sweetness of ice cream cones.