Monday, February 27, 2017

Changing Our Perspective.

I learned early on in the world of foster care that knowing their story is one of the most beneficial things we can do. Their story gives you a better picture and greater understanding of what these little humans have been through. Stories are powerful they have a way of connecting us. We may never experience what someone else has been through but we have all experienced something that made us feel the same emotions.

At first glance our story is easily dismissed, in the checkout line I am an unwed, pierced, tattooed mother of four, based on the range of skin tones I am guessing at least two baby daddys. With that narrative I am easily dismissed and judged on a good day, much harsher assumptions are made if any of my kiddos are melting down mid shopping trip. With that perspective our story is easily overlooked.

I have realized that sharing our story takes our situation from presumed bad choices to a beautiful story of redemption. Sharing our story shows others what is possible. Sharing our story reminds me how faithful God has been through this all. Sharing our story reminds me of why I do this. Sharing our story validates what my children have been through.

I was talking this weekend with another foster mom, we were talking about how it all can be perceived. Our children’s meltdowns, behaviors, coping skills can be hard to deal with at times. She said sometimes it would be nice to wear a shirt that said, “I don’t know why they are crying I have only had them 3 days.” The assumption that foster children are bad, dangerous, broken and ruined children all allow for us to shrug off that they all have stories, stories that deserve to be heard, known and validated.

Stories have a powerful way of changing our perspective. We are given the chance to see the angry salesclerk differently when we ask how their day has been. Behaviors that are frustrating and inconvenient suddenly become more understandable when I know what they have been through. Choices of a birth parent suddenly become slightly more clear when I realize they were a foster child who never got that loving home.

We are complex beings and our story shapes us into who we were, who we are and where we will be. It is our story that shapes our personality, our dreams and what we want. Our story reveals to us our view of God, our career path, our coping skills and how we relate to others.

I am learning to be generous with my story, even the messy parts. I am learning to slow down and listening for others story even in brief interactions. Our stories are still unfolding and the greatest thing we can do for others on this life journey is listen to them, honor your story, honor their story..

Monday, February 20, 2017

Outgrown.

Two weeks ago, we purchased a home and we packed up the space where we became a family these past three years. We are settling in and each day that comes to a close leaves us feeling like we are home. I awake each morning feeling so blessed paired with a little bit of disbelief that this beautiful home is ours.

Creating space is one of the things that delights my soul, stacks of boxes and beige walls currently consume thoughts. My thoughts feel a bit overwhelming and chaotic these days. Each box put away, wall painted and picture hung soothes my soul, 1:30am has become my quiet, creative companion.

Our new home was built in 1900 so it has all of the charm of structures built in those years. It has more space and rooms than we know what to do with it, the wall space alone is mind blowing. We have managed to fill this home that easily doubled our square footage. Our furniture is familiar and filled with so many memories yet this space still feels unknown.

This past week I covered my living room floor with all of my pictures and wall hangings on the floor, one by one picking up the things, trying to group them deciding what would go where. Those items don’t quite seem to fit this new space, what this space requires is different. The space I am creating here will feel different, it is the same stuff but the way it is displayed changes everything. I have tried to recreate spaces of my old home in my current space and it just doesn’t fit. The actual structure of our new space is different, each room tells a different story.

Packing up the place I called home for 4 years showed me just how much I had changed. I began this journey into foster care in that space. I brought home my crew to that home, Little One took her first steps in that home and Little Guy came home from the hospital to that space. That space evolved quickly as my interior design style changed from modern chic to Montessori preschool.

I am thankful for the walls that held us as we became a family, grieved our losses and celebrated so many things. It was the space I became a woman, where I found my voice and confidence. It was the space that I dreamed big, conquered fears and fell in love. The walls there have heard so many hearts. The last four years there have been the most pivotal years of my life, I changed so much there.

Over the years we had outgrown our space, no longer do we fit into the walls we once did. Therefore we must keep moving forward, we can not step back into the life we once had, we can not stop nor can we stay in the season we once dwelt. We have to keep growing and looking forward for the opportunity, we have to experience new things, create new memories and create new space.

We can not step back into what we were or where we were but we can take those lessons along with us as we move forward. Those experiences prepare us for the things to come. As we develop our new space, I am thankful for the things to come, what I will learn, what will change me, the new memories we will make. We will create a space where more hearts can be shared, more children can be safe and where we can just celebrate.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

In the Midst of Pain...

Little guy had his 2 month check up this week with that came four vaccinations. As we waited for the nurse we cooed and chatted, swapping stories. He was so happy, the nurse came in apologizing for what she was about to do. There had been a staff debate over who had to come in and give him his shots no one wanted to because he was so cute. During my time as a mom, I have pinned a 5 year old to the exam table, screaming and a 7 year old to the dentist chair, screaming but nothing prepared me for this.

As he laid on the table I leaned over him hoping to distract him from what was about to happen. I held his hands as we sang a song, he cooed and smiled. Then it happened and in a flash a new emotion came across his face, one that I have fought so hard to avoid. A new neural pathway was created, this one was pain.

As he cried out in a way I had not yet heard in his two months of life, I realized how protective I am over this tiny human. Realizing I have channeled a lot of the mama grief of the Crew’s story onto this little guy. All I wish I could have and would have protected my crew all those years, I have put onto this little baby.

As a foster parent it is easy to allow circumstances to be the force that moves you around. I have learned what I can control and where I can channel my strong emotions. I can not control our future, how visits go or the timeline. I can love well, create space for healing and protect them with the fierceness of a mama bear.

Trauma parenting changes your perspective, you are always looking deeper, beyond, seeking healing, freedom and options. I feel that I never just take anything as surface level, I assume that there is always something greater behind it all. I wonder do those early months of shots, set for us the deep rooted pathway that leads to many of us dreading doctor offices. Once those pathways are created, even with healing they never fully get erased.

Just this week some trauma was triggered in our home the pain that came out was great. The tears cried came from a deep place of hurt. A place I thought had found healing, it reminded me the road to healing is so very long and hard. Those places of hurt are set, while we do our best to heal we realize that sometimes our resources are limited and that at the end of the day, it is our reality of a broken world.

Jesus is the only hope, He has set in motion that glorious redemption plan that brought my little family together. This little family that has lots of layers, wounds and more baby mamas than I know what to do with. I know that I can not go back in time and change the past nor can I protect these little ones from all the pain or sorrow this life can bring. I can, however be the comforting arms that hold them when the pain of this world invades and the voice that whispers hope over their heavy little souls.

The moment the nurse was done I scooped him up, bringing him close to my chest. I comforted him as our tears blended, my mama heart wants to make it all better. It took some time, eventually he calmed down and went back to cooing and smiling as if nothing had ever happened. Sometimes the best we can do on this road of healing is just hold them, meet them where they are at and cry with them. When the time is right we move forward, on to the next layer. 

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Finder Keepers.

“Will you get to keep this one?” This question is born from a place of curiosity and lack of understanding of the system. That question is hard, tough to answer and the very thing foster parents silently struggle with daily.

Foster parents daily lives are lived in a place of losing our hearts to sticky little hands. Our “job” is to love them as if they are our own, while reminding ourselves they are not in fact ours. Before answering, I always hesitate a moment, that question is my reality check. I often get swept up in the beautiful chaos of our everyday lives that I forget these four little souls did not come from my womb. That question reminds me of my reality, the future with my babies is at the system’s mercy.

Each court hearing, moved TPR hearing and call for the return to a birth home are things we experience that remind us we aren’t living the fairy tale version. I have had to learn to find my peace in the midst of it all, my version of it is well. We are trained in foster parenting classes that reunification is the goal. While I see such value in keeping our children rooted to their biological family, it is a goal that is hard to reconcile in my heart.

Foster care is such a risk, the reality is that it hurts like hell. We hand out pieces of our hearts to these little ones to carry around, some for a week, others a year and some forever. We spend our time balancing ourselves between being in love, dealing with trauma triggered behaviors and the reality that our days together are numbered.

The risk is great, the ache is real but the reward is priceless. Nothing compares to the joy you feel when you see a little tattered soul come alive. Asking the question of whether we get to keep this one or not is not our question to answer. This reality keeps a lot of people away from the foster care system, the fear of it all feel too great.

These past three years I have learned that the goodbyes never get easier. It doesn’t matter if I have had them 7 days or 7 months, I hate goodbye, I grieve them leaving our home and dread the void left behind. That level of grief shows that I invested and poured in. Actually I don’t want to ever be okay with goodbye, keeping myself in that safety reveals, there is no risk in that.

I want to love this world well. I want to jump in with both feet and my heart, because these kiddos deserve that kind of love. They deserve to have people grieve when they leave, they deserve people who care enough about them to cry.

My heart will always want them to be forever in my home, it is how I am wired. Having to say those hard goodbyes and letting little ones come and go has taught me that what is left behind is more love. I don’t know if I will get to keep this one or what our future holds, that reality haunts me. What I do know is that a little dimply smile reminds me that every “yes” to them and for them matters.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Questions about Foster Care.

I have been given a lot of opportunities lately to share our story. Our story is one of my favorite things to talk about, it is filled with God’s goodness, personal development and lots of really cute kids. Each time our story is shared I am flooded with questions. Here are a few of them.

What started it all for you?

My journey into foster care has been a long one coming. It started in my childhood home watching my mom raise my sister who had no biological connection to her. As a child I would secretly hope that someone would leave a baby on my doorstep, I was intrigued and inspired by stories of people in third world countries opening their homes to orphans, collecting them from boxes on the streets and raising them as their own. In our home our door was always open, friends were always over and holidays were a mix of blood and non-blood “family.”

Early December 2013, what I assumed would be a pretty typical week. Sunday, we had a guest speaker at church, she was talking to us about foster care on behalf of a local ministry. Monday, I pass by a billboard asking me to become a foster parent. Tuesday a radio ad about becoming a foster parent. Wednesday meet someone new, they happened to be a foster parent. Thursday meet another set of foster parents. Friday, finish the week out nicely with an article in the paper about foster care and the great need in our community.

I also could not escape the song “Oceans,” it was my own personal soundtrack. The line that haunted me was “...lead me where my trust is without borders…take me deeper than my feet could ever wander, where my faith can be made stronger.” When I notice a common theme I slow down and pay attention.

I noticed the theme but what I was supposed to do with it? There was something there and I just couldn’t shake it. The following week while having coffee with my friend, Keeva, I briefly mentioned the fact the foster care kept coming up. She shared with me that she had a friend who had stepped into the life of a single foster mom a few years before, she fanned the flame that was flickering in my soul.

Feeling inspired, that night I went home and began to research the foster care laws for my state and discovered, I was a great candidate. I decide to press in, not being able to shake the feeling that I could do something. I went to an informational meeting and the next thing I knew I was enrolled in classes and well on my way to a license. Could I do this? I was more than qualified, the things I assumed disqualified me, did not. The things I viewed as inadequacies were not in fact not shortcomings but realities, things I only needed to work around. I was beginning to realize that I did in fact have the tools I needed, singleness being one of them.

Obviously the ideal goal is reunification with the family. How do you keep that in mind while also investing in the kids? How do you approach that, knowing it really may not be in the best interest of the child to return home?

I have done this well at times and not well at times, I have lots of thoughts about this one. As foster parents it can be easy to feel superior or better than birth parents, that is the easiest way to be miserable. Reality is we are blessed that we have found other coping skills besides addiction or abuse. I must love whole heartedly but with an open hand, the juggle of that is so hard and comes with practice. You will have moments where you see how painful loving these little ones is and the ultimate challenge is realizing in order to truly love your kids you must also love their parents, you can not separate the two. There will be moments where you question is it worth it? I came across this quote early on in my journey, “I am not afraid to grieve. I am afraid of what would happen to these children if no one took the risk to love them.” This journey is not about us, it is about them. We will be uncomfortable, we will grieve, our hearts will break, they must, this system as a whole exists because of brokenness. Foster care and adoption is the redemption work and that reality is messy. You will spend your days seeking Jesus to find the peace allowing you to say, “it is well.” Any moment you invest in a child, is no small or wasted thing.

What was the response from family and friends?

I have had people that knew me before I was mom, who journeyed through the beginning stages. I have people who now pour into my family, not knowing us before. I had people that celebrated and supported what I was doing. While others questioned if being a single mom was the best option for these kids. I had people who made comments about how I would “never find a husband.” I had friends who grieved the good old days when I was single. I found people who I shared the vision early on with, they circled me and walked with me. As time went on I shared a little more and more people walked with me, while some stopped. Now I share our story to the world, now I find people who are like minded and understand the journey of foster care. I have people approach me out of the blue who feel the tug of foster care. I have surrounded my crew, with a community who pours in.

How long did the licensing process take?

Each state is different, my state was 10 weeks of classes (3 hours a week; total of 30 hours) and then I got my license about 6 weeks after completing my classes. Getting your actual license depends on a lot of factors (paperwork, background checks, etc), it can take up to 3 months to get your actual license.

Were you initially foster to adopt or just as time went on?

I was actually foster care only until the second to last class, I felt I needed to be adopt as well. Changing it during the classes was as easy as checking a box, changing it post classes was a bit more of a hassle I suggest just doing both even if you aren’t ready to adopt right away. The greatest mistake I made, was not believing I was the best parent for my children, I still struggled with being single and forcing that on them. It almost caused me not to adopt them. Be confident that if God is calling you there, He will keep showing up and supporting you, even into adoption.

Do you work or stay at home?

The foster care monthly stipend allowed me to step back from a full time job to about 30 hours a week. Allowing me to be the one who drops off and picks up at school, the mom who is home on weekends and day offs. I have had to learn the balance or work and home. Choosing to put my work hat on and focus on that during those hours. Striving to steward my time well when I am home with my crew.

How did/do you navigate being a young, single, foster/adoptive mom? 

I viewed singleness as a negative attribute as a foster mom, I was wrong. Actually it became a strength, some kids do better in homes without a mom or dad depending on the abuse they endured. My kids did better not having a male in our home at first, giving them a chance to heal, bond and grow. I said earlier that we have surrounded ourselves with a large community who pour into us. Men and women, who come into our home and just love on my crew. My friends are awesome and will come to me after my crew is in bed. I am an extrovert, so the change of being locked in my home at 7pm every night was a huge adjustment. I just changed my social calendar and brought it into my home.

How do you decide whether to say yes or no to a placement?

There are so many factors that go into this. Know your “family” know what you can and can’t handle. I have 2 dogs and I chose to never take someone who had a history of pet abuse. When you get a call for placement you are also given a list of known behaviors, don’t let that be a huge turn off. Consider it and how it will affect your home, but don't let the fear of it sway your decision. My children had a large list of behaviors, many of them I never have seen but there have been others behaviors that were a surprise. I also pray about each open bed in my home and I set really firm boundaries about what I am willing to take. This last November, I said no to 13 calls that were not right ages or fits, then one month later I got the call I had been praying for, and I got my baby boy.

Any other questions out there?