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

Embracing the Noise

joyful noises

Recently in the community I live in, there has been several tragic situations that have led to the deaths of children.  One toddler passed away following a valiant fight against cancer.  His family’s faith and their bold witness of it is extremely humbling.  Yesterday, two mothers buried their children at the same time.  All three siblings, their father, and a family friend died in a plane crash just minutes away from the local airport.  Just this weekend, I learned of a former classmate whose 18-year-old son passed away suddenly.

My heart feels so much sadness for these mothers.  I cannot imagine the despair they are going through.  I have known the pain and the notable silence of a life without children that my barrenness once caused.  But now that I am a mother, I cannot even wrap my head around going from sitting in a home that used to be filled with the chatter of a teenager engaging in an energetic conversation, a television in the background blasting a video game, or the imaginative sound effects children make when they play, to sitting in that same home that is now silent.  I cannot fathom what it must feel like to walk into a home that once housed children with great dreams, loving embraces, and inquisitive yearnings about life, that now houses empty spaces, thick tears, precious (yet painful) memories, wounded hearts, and sorrowful aches.

Sometimes I long for just one moment of complete silence in the home or the car.  Sometimes I wished my little ones could dial down the volume a bit; or at least, maybe not like the sound of their own voices quite as much as they do.  These recent tragedies in my community have helped me to keep it all in perspective though.

I will take the squeals, the laughter, the “I’m gonna tell mommy”, the fights, the cries, and the constant chatter.  I will take the background noise of a television that is too loud, or the bang of a drum from a little boy who thinks he is rock star.  I will take the non-stop questions of soon-to-be 4-year-old who still thinks it is never too early to get out of bed in the morning, or implores for her questions to be answered.

Actually, I am not just gonna take it.  I am going to embrace it.  I am going to remember the gift of noise.  I am going to be grateful for my Heavenly Father who has given it all to me.

I am going to embrace the noise.

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.

Six Years of Happy

Happy Birthday Bubby.  I love you so much more than I will ever find the words to express.  I am incredibly grateful to the Lord for choosing us as your parents.  I know I have said that over and over, but I suspect I will not stop saying it until my life on Earth has ended.  Just thinking about the person you are growing into, all of your strengths and sweet quirks, makes my heart leap with joy.

The night before you came to us, I prayed that the Lord would provide us with the opportunity to parent a baby.  We woke up that morning not knowing that by the end of the day, our lives would be forever changed.  He answered my prayer immediately.  We quickly rushed out the door to head to the hospital after getting a call from the local child protective services saying “can you be there in 30 minutes?”  Your first year was full of hope, tears, joy, fears, and the overall feeling of being a part of something bigger than ourselves.  We were caught between loving you desperately and the commitment we made to help your birth mother get you back.  We were sworn to protecting you; yet, we had to rely on others in your life to make the decisions on what was best.  We were broken down and humbled by the plight of your birth mother while glowing in the enchantment of who you were and by the Lord’s gifting of you.

I was so happy to have him for his first Christmas.

Your second year held the mixed up feelings of grieving for your birth mother and her loss of you while experiencing pure joy at your adoption.  Before your adoption, we did not know how long we would hold you.  We said “love you forever” as often as we could.  On that fateful day in May, we were given the blessing of you being ours forever.  So much was revealed to us during this time of life.  Your curly hair, sweet smile, and boundless energy kept us amused.  People were drawn to you.  Your charm and talkative nature took flight.

The outfit he was adopted in. We “tried it on” just a few days before his adoption to make sure it fit. Of course, he looked perfect in it!
sweet curls for a sweet boy

Year three…well…let’s just say that year three was a wee bit challenging.  Your God-given strong-willed determination was your shining accomplishment!  You  started to see more of the world with curiosity and fierce independence.  Music also became something you were quite fond of.  You welcomed a baby sister!  You announced it.  You told us that you would be getting a baby sister before we even knew.  I can only imagine how your little mind must have been spinning when your baby sister arrived on our doorstep.  You took it in stride.  You noticed your friends’ mommies had babies in their bellies; and yet, you never questioned why your sister was delivered to our door by a nice lady with brown hair.  You just seemed to understand that your mommy does not grow babies in her belly.

Age 3 with sissy
He was so excited to have a baby sister!

Year four was the year of music, Legos, and all things super-hero.  You often dressed up, grabbed whatever sword you could find, hop on your big wheel, and ride through the house in an attempt to beat the bad guys.  Sometimes you even sang songs about being a super-hero.  One of the sweetest things you said to me was “Mommy, you are my super-hero.”  When at home, you seemed to always have a drum stick and your dulcimer in hand.  Your songs were also about rock stars, Jesus, Christmas, God, and of course, mommy.  You performed just about every night for us.  You would jump out of the closet, proclaim yourself as a rock star, spin around, then sing and strum away.  My favorite song went like this:

I’m a little rock star…for Jesus…for Christmas…for God…and my family.

Here he comes! (I promise he has some form of clothing on)

Year five seemed to slip away so fast.  You took your first airplane ride, went to a strange new place called Disney World, rode rides that overwhelmed your senses, and shook with excitement when meeting Buzz Light Year!  Painting became a hobby for you and we discovered your natural ability as a gymnast.  You graduated from preschool, got glasses, spent extra time with your Papa fishing on the lake, and started Kindergarten.  You started referring to yourself as a “school-ager”.

He was so excited to meet Buzz!

Sometimes, I just sit back and watch the videos of you throughout the years.  My eyes well up with tears at just how special you are and also at how swiftly time has gone by.  I wish I could back and push a button to slow down time.  I wish I would have kissed you just a bit more before night-night, or let you sing me one more silly song, or picked you up one more time when you said “holdu holdu“.  You are starting to show your growth in the way you get just ever-so-slightly embarrassed if I try to kiss you around other kids.  But, at the same time, you still reach for my hand and put your head on my lap when it is just the two of us.

God has blessed us so much by choosing us as your parents.  You continue to amaze us, challenge us, stretch us, refine us, and love on us daily.  You, my son, are a precious wonder.  Happy, happy, happy birthday my sweet one…love you forever…

Thank You, Lord, For Giving Us Six Years of Happy

The Day After

I remember the day of September 11th when time seemed to freeze on the image of those two proud, tall, and shining buildings crumbling to the ground.  I remember the image of people running with anguish on their faces and their bodies covered in ash.  I remember people begging for their loved ones to be found.  I remember wondering how humans could have so much hatred in their hearts that they would choose death over life.  I remember the day of September 11th.

But…it is the day after September 11th that I remember as well.  I remember waking up, running to the television, and desperately hoping for a little good news.  I remember praying and pleading that more survivors were found over night.  I remember laying on the couch in a fetal position sobbing over the strangers whose lives were gone, feeling the heart-break for the families, and knowing that life would never be the same.

I remember getting ready for work, hopping in my car, and driving as if in a quiet trance.  Going to work after such a tragedy did not even seem right.  I was in graduate school full-time while working part-time at a pizza cafe, so asking people if they wanted cheese on their salad, pepperoni on their pizza, or a refill of their drinks seemed so trivial compared to the visions blasted on every television screen around.

I remember being annoyed by a group of ladies who seemed to be completely oblivious to what had just occurred.  They were laughing, telling stories…you know….just having a “girls’ lunch” while the rest of the folks in the restaurant spoke in hush, softened voices.  I wondered if they were purposefully ignoring the news or if they did not see how that fateful day affected everyone.

I’ll admit that growing up in the middle of America caused me to get a little used to things happening far off in the big cities or on the coast-lines.  This time though was different.  I remember calling my mom and telling her, I think life in America will never be the same again.”

Out of my own ignorance or false sense of security, or whatever it is one might call it, I never really thought an attack would happen to us.  But, it did.  I also knew that it was now just a matter of time before we would be headed off to war.  To be honest, this broke my heart and scared me a little as well.

Yes, I remember the day after September 11th.

Road to Joplin

Day 2 with Joplin flag

This weekend I had the privilege of riding in a cycling event called the MS 150.  Every  year hundreds, if not a thousand or so cyclists make their way to a small town in southwest Missouri to complete a 150 mile bike ride.  This is done to bring attention and raise funds for Multiple Sclerosis.

This was my third year riding in this event.  I always seem to walk away from it with a great sense of accomplishment.  It is also quite humbling to be cheered on at the start line by people who live daily with MS.  This year, a woman with MS said to us, “When you get towards the last few miles and your legs are burning, just remember me saying Thank You.  Just remember that you are riding for many of us who cannot.”  Then, at the finish line, the same man every year, bound to his wheelchair, holds his hand out with a medal dangling from it.  As one reaches for his or her medal, the man gently says “thank you”.  It is quite humbling and I hope to ride in future 150’s.

This year though had even more of an impact on me, but for a different reason.  This is the first year that the ride took us back to Joplin, MO after the deadly tornado which claimed the lives of so many in May 2011.  Last year, the ride had to be rerouted and completely taken out of the Joplin area due to the devastation of the storm.  I had been there about a week or so after the tornado struck, and was silenced by what I had seen.  Cars with windshields blown out laying on top of each other, buildings that looked like they exploded by the force of a bomb, houses upon houses crumbled up like sticks, and trees stripped completely down to the bark.  It was shocking.  Just shocking.  The city I live in is close to Joplin and we are so lucky that the storm did not rumble its way towards us.

Although my work has taken me back to Joplin a few times, I usually do not drive through the area where the destruction took place.  This year, the MS committee planned the route specifically to take us through some of the path of the tornado.  Before I entered this area, my legs were screaming, my mind was off in some other place, there was pain tucked right in between my shoulders, and I was ready to be done.  I had been in the saddle for about seven hours, and my own “saddle” was telling me it was time to get off.

However, this changed when I entered the area where that beast of a storm stole normalcy from the lives of so many.  The few trees that survived were mangled.  Their bare branches looked like hands reaching towards the heavens in desperation.  Others bent over, all leaning to one side; yet, fresh green leaves bushed out from whatever spot they could find.

As I got closer to the eerily flattened area where houses once stood, I thought about the families and children who once lived there.  I imagined kickball being played in the streets, children swinging from swing sets, families walking their pet dogs or washing their cars.  All of this wiped clean.  Sure, there were new houses being built and definitely the vision of new growth could be seen, but I just kept thinking about how much destruction took place on those grounds.  The names of streets had been painted on the roads.  The ground was completely stripped of grass. There were partially crumbled buildings still being torn down.  It just went on and on.

As I drew nearer to the “end” of the destruction zone, I became overwhelmed with emotion.  I thought about the mothers who lost their babies, the babies who lost their daddies and mommies, and all the others who never woke again on this Earth to see the sun rise.  All I could think was “so much destruction, so much despair.”

But there in that moment on my bike with nothing but my own thoughts, I realized, or at least was reminded, that the Lord is not a god of destruction.  He is not a god of devastation.  He is not a god of despair.  He is the God of regrowth, rebirth, restoration, and life.  He lifts up our heads.  He carries us through the storms.  He gives us life.

The next morning as 800 or cyclists gathered around to start day two of the cycling event, small Joplin flags were handed out to each of us.  We placed them in our helmets, on our bikes, or held them in our hands as we rode through part of what was named “Memorial Miles”.  With just the sound of wind, the breathing of fellow riders, and the hissing-like noises from spinning our wheels, we rode in silence in honor of those killed by the Joplin tornado and in honor of the courage it has taken for the city to rebuild.

This year the road to Joplin became more than just a cycling event that I love to participate in.  Yes, it was done in an effort to support those struggling with Multiple Sclerosis.  However, I left the event with Joplin on my mind.  This weekend turned into a reminder of the blessing of health, of love, of family, of home, and of our incredible Heavenly Father who restores, renews, and leads us to Life.

Motherhood Dreams

There she is. The picture above is from my daughter’s first dance recital.  It represents the ending of her introduction to dancing and, hopefully, the beginning of her interest in it.  It also represents something deeply personal for me.  It connects me to the dreams I had before becoming a mother.

As the recital was going on, I frequently looked around the room and noticed how proud the dads were of their little princesses.  I especially noticed the expressions of admiration and complete love the moms had while watching their little loves.  Watching their granddaughter dance brought back memories for my parents as well of when I was a young one twirling around on the stage.  Regardless of what may have occurred during the day, watching innocence on a stage brought us all back to what is truly important in life – children.

Children matter.

My eyes teared up while watching my sweet one dance around the stage.  I once dreamed of moments like this.  Growing up and into adulthood with the thought that I would never be a mother made me wonder about all of the precious little memories I would miss out on.  Things like watching a child walk for the first time, hearing the word “mama”, seeing excitement on Christmas morning, putting artwork on the refrigerator, passing on traditions, and watching recitals or various other activities.  My thoughts and longings were more than about not being able to have a baby.  I grieved over the possibility of not being able to explore talents, interests, and just life in general with a child.

I fretted over what my life would be like without children.  I wanted so much to pass on the good things I have learned in life and to steer a child away from the things that have caused me pain.  I believe that raising up children assures us that perhaps a little bit of us will linger on throughout life even when we have passed on.  If I never was able to do this, then there would not be any reminders of who I am after this life is over.  This is one thing about infertility that I am not sure a lot of people understand.  The simple act of watching a dance recital brought back the flood of emotions regarding my previous childless life.

Infertility is so complex and rears its ugly head from time to time when least expected.  But, in some respect, I am thankful that it catches me off guard.  I do not know if I would be able to run on the mountain tops with the full knowledge of how truly gifted I am to be a mother if I did not have the experience of being barren and walking through the valleys of infertility.

Thank You, Lord, for gifting me with the responsibility, hope, and simple joys of children.  Hold me accountable Father to Your will for my children.  Remind me, oh Lord, of my previous sorrow so that I will never take for granted the delight I now have.  Thank You, Lord, for walking me through the valley of infertility.  I praise You for running me along this mountain top of parenthood and for fulfilling my dreams.

PSALMS 127:3-5

Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him.
Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth.
Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. 
They will not be put to shame when they contend with their opponents in court.

JAMES 1:17

17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

MARK 10:14

14 When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these”