11/10/2013

Foster Care and Pride Don't Mix

I've desperately wanted to give up foster care and parenting every single day over the past seven days. I've felt as though it just wasn't for me. That I was never cut out to be a mom.

I have missed my old life every day as well. I've longed for just two hours alone with my husband, for the chance to sit down at a restaurant and eat an entire meal and drink at least two glasses of wine. I've found myself easily frustrated and wondering why we even got into foster care. I've thought that I'm doing more harm than good in the three littles lives.

It's been a rough week. Not that any of the {almost} four weeks that we've had Baby T, Little C, and Little A have been easy. Because they haven't been anything but terribly difficult.
All mom's feel this way. At least that's what I've been told. Every mom feels inadequate and as though they aren't exactly cut out for guiding little people through the ups and downs of toddlerhood, childhood and adolescence. But it's been hard for me to truly believe that anyone really understands just how inadequate I feel.

I was talking venting to my mom about it all. And as I did so, I mentioned that it wasn't just up to me. That there was Justin to consider and how good he is with kids. Because he is an amazing dad and does so many things much better than I ever could.

He's the only reason we haven't given up. I'd be out the door and on my way to a life of fancy freeness if it weren't him to remind me, usually gently and sometimes not so gently, that we are here, in the midst of the struggle and the darkness, for a purpose and that we are not to run away.

We're realizing more and more, though, that we need help. And here's the thing... I hate to ask for help.

I know everyone says that. Just like everyone says they are terrible parents. But the truth of the matter is, asking for help is the most difficult thing for me. And when I do ask for help, if someone says no in a certain manner, I take it personally. That no tells me there is something wrong with me. It's not that that person doesn't really want to help; rather it's that that person doesn't want to help me.

It's pride. And a lot of other ugly things. And God is ripping it all to shreds.

I'm not at a place where I am ready {or able} to stay home and not work. I'm also not at a place where I am willing to give up graduate school. Because if I did either of those things, I would resent and regret it for the rest of my life. I refuse to let more resentment and regret infiltrate my life.

So I need help. Which means I need to get over myself and over this pride and suck it up when people say no (even when the way they do so hurts) and ask for more help.

The help we need is sometimes spur of the moment - like this past Friday when Baby C couldn't go to daycare due to a fever and rash.. All a product of his allergy to penicillin that we didn't know about. That's one thing that sucks about foster care; you have no real clue about any of the medical history.

Other times the help is tangible and something easily planned for. Like meals and laundry and cleaning our house.

Regardless of what kind of help it is, I can tell you that we need it all the time. Just this weekend, Justin and I began discussing how we might pay for someone to help us approximately 20 hours per week. We also, just tonight, began discussing having someone clean our house on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. We also need help with laundry.

There just isn't enough time to do everything. Having three littles, all with their specific needs, is time consuming and daunting and exhausting. Add into the three all the past traumas and you get a recipe for sleepness nights and more darkness than you could ever expect to see in such small people. And oh the laundry and toys everywhere. I am jealous of all the people who have just one child; they have no idea just how good {and easy} they have it.

Justin and I so appreciate all the prayers. We need those, too. We need them constantly. But our tangible needs are there, too. I'm just hopeful and prayerful that somehow those tangible needs will be met.

So please join us in praying for the following five specific items. There are more. When you're fostering kids and in the midst of the sort of life we are, there are always more, but I figure five is enough for now. And feel free to reach out to us with solutions for the things we need; I'm lying down my pride {and will remind myself to continue to do so - hourly} and reminding myself that God will meet us where we are and that it's good to ask for help.
  1. Part-time help. Approximately 20 hours a week (maybe less) and preferably for cheap (or free!). Someone consistent so our littles don't have to experience too much change.
  2. House cleaning. At least bi-weekly if not weekly. Preferably cheap (or, again, free!).
  3. Laundry service. This is the bane of my existence and one of my least favorite things in the entire world.
  4. Meals. It would be incredible to not always have to worry about cooking. This would also ensure that Justin and I actually ate dinner because most nights we take a few bites and give the rest to the littles.
  5. A new car {no, but seriously...}. Preferably one that seats 7. Something like a GMC Arcadia.

11/04/2013

The Truth About Being a Foster Mom

This past week has been hard. Difficult. Excruciating. {Nearly} Impossible. Exhausting. Rough.

I've wanted to give up nearly every day. In fact, had it been up to me, I would have.

It all started on Wednesday night. We had our first.. episode.. with Little A. I had a feeling, a rumbling in my gut that told me, things were not going to end well that evening. At first, I thought it was just my negative side. Or the side of me that just wanted to be at home rather than at our church's celebration. Then, after Justin arrived with the littles, I knew it was more than just that side of me.

I tried to change my attitude; though, to be honest, I didn't try quite as hard as I could have. But we realized (a little too late) that our littles were not yet ready for such a big outing, one that took them away from their schedule and thrust them into an entire universe of unknowns.
When we got home, the unknowns continued. Justin and I are still rather new to this whole parenting thing and this whole foster parenting thing, and as newbies, we have quite a lot to learn still. This includes how to handle unknowns when arriving home. {Note: It does not involve trying to bribe children with cookies and milk and television/movies.}

Little A is still learning how to effectively communicate, and we are still learning how to understand and communicate back. Wednesday night showed how much we all have left to learn.

Wednesday was the second day I felt as though I weren't sick after a Sunday and Monday of feeling rundown and nauseous.  But that ended that evening.

I felt like I took on every emotion Little A had and felt it in my {lack of an} immune system. I was run down. And run over as though an 18-wheeler plowed through me. That all continued into Thursday, and I ended up at the doctor where I was diagnosed with an ear infection, strep throat {apparently my tonsils were utterly grotesque - so much so he didn't need to test me to confirm it was strep}, and an upper respiratory infection.

Needless to say, I spent the next 72 hours on the couch, alternating between tears and sleep, shivering and sweating, eating only chicken noodle soup and struggling to swallow. It was not pretty.

Being sick and trying to parent is virtually impossible. Especially with Little C on antibiotics from an ear infection diagnosed the weekend before and Baby T being placed on antibiotics the Friday of my sickness for an ear infection. Needless to say our house was not the most enjoyable this week, and my husband is an absolute miracle as he cared for me and for three kids predominantly on his own all week and weekend.

Did I also mention I have still been working - other than when I was on my death bed? And that it's midterms as well? Whoops.

I feel like I'm failing at everything I do. Work, {foster} motherhood, graduate school. Life in general.

And while I may not be doing everything as well as I would like, I'm still doing it. That alone should mean a lot. And it does.

Life might be easier if I took something out of the equation. Working. Or graduate school. Even foster parenting. And last week I was ready to take something out of the equation. My husband, however, stopped me. He shouldered the burden and the responsibility. He nursed me back to health. He held our family together. And he joked with me that my "not good enough" for graduate school will likely translate into a B paper instead of an A paper {which is still up for debate}.

So many people have said we're doing a great thing. That they're proud of us. And I want to tell them that it's all a facade. That really we're floundering and struggling. Because, here's the thing, I do not have it all together.

I get mad. I bite my tongue - almost until it bleeds. I clench my teeth. I use the wrong tone. I get quite exasperated. I cry {a lot}. I cringe when the kids wake up before 7am. We eat too much macaroni and cheese. I don't push vegetables {because the kids won't eat them}. I buy canned fruit. Frozen pizza and frozen lasagna have become staples. Little A's hair is constantly messy, and Little C's jeans sometimes fall off when he walks. I go three to four days without washing my hair.

And I daily {multiple times a day daily} ask for forgiveness. I also pray - like all of the time.
Foster care isn't for the faint at heart. Not only are you parenting but you are parenting kids who don't really belong to you, who might leave the next day, whose history you'll never quite get.

But life also isn't for the faint at heart. Nothing is.

So I'm going to stand firm - at least tonight. Tomorrow I might be filled with tears, wrestling a stuffy nose and crying out to God. But tonight, I'm going to remember that He is present and thank Him for a husband who is strong enough to tell me no and strong enough to nurse me back to health with lots of chicken noodle soup from Chik-Fil-A.

{Thank you to everyone who blessed us over the past week. Thank you for the dinners, the prayers, the hugs, the text messages, the Facebook posts, and the understanding. I'm overwhelmed by your thoughtfulness.}

10/29/2013

Two Weeks In

This Thursday, October 31st, marks two weeks since our worlds were turned upside down by three children ages 3, 2 and 1.

Some things we knew to expect. Other things we had no idea. All of it has been more than worth it.
We have been blessed by our community, blessed by friends, blessed by family, and wrapped in a sort of love that words simply can not explain. There have been dinners provided, free babysitting, clothing donated, diapers delivered, car seats installed, and gift cards/money received. The prayers have been felt and continue to be felt and needed.

In the past two weeks, we've ventured out to Chik-Fil-A and the park as a family of five. I have managed to get all three littles dressed and to school (by myself) by 8:30am. Justin has managed to get all three little to sleep by himself; he has also managed to pick up all three littles from school (by himself) and has ventured out to the McDonald's PlayPlace with only the three littles. Clearly, he is the braver of the two of us.

We constantly (or maybe I just constantly) find ourselves wondering how we can keep this up. Three littles, two dogs, two full-time working adults, and one part-time graduate student. And yet... Here we are.

We made the decision, before these three walked into our house, that we would be committed. To them and to the plan that DHS decides to pursue. When asked how long we will have these three, our answer is silly but honest "a few months to forever."

And really, it could be just a few weeks. There's simply no knowing. This is both comforting and terrifying.
At the end of the day, it's not up to Justin nor I to save these three. It's not up to any foster parent to save any child. All we can do is stand in the gap and love the children in foster care with a fierceness that stays with them long after they leave our homes - even if they don't quite understand that love or remember our names or faces.

Our three littles, Baby T, Little C and Little A, were apprehensive (at best) when they first walked through our doors. Their eyes were wide, and it was evident that they didn't know exactly who we were or what was happening. Justin and I decided to call one another by our first name's when talking to the littles and talking about one another to the littles. They, however, decided we were Mama and Daddy.

All three have come out of their shells in the less than two weeks we've known them and loved them. We've discovered Little A loves to dance. She only falls asleep after I tell her a story and pray with her. She asks where I am if Justin picks them up at daycare without me. She will try any vegetable but spits out anything that isn't corn (and also picks through her food when I hide vegetables in it - like spinach in spaghetti and peas in macaroni and cheese).
Little C got sick over the weekend with a double ear infection. He is the most sensitive of the three, so we're trying to tailor our parenting to better meet his needs. He likes to fall asleep with someone stroking his hair (or his face). His favorite food is strawberry yogurt and he will lick the container empty.

Baby T is just now 18 months. He is still crawling though he will take the occasional step so long as he thinks no one is watching. His favorite thing to do is play with the remote controls and mess up whatever Little A is watching and also to crawl up and down the stairs. He also likes to "race" me up the stairs at night. He will eat just about anything, but he loves to feed the majority of his food to our dogs.

The past {almost} two weeks have been anything but perfect. I constantly feel as though I'm in over my head. I question every parenting decision, every conversation, and even the outfit choices. I wonder about the birth parents and how they're handling all this transition. I pray multiple times throughout the day.

It would be easy to walk away. Easy in the sense that life could return to normal. I could study whenever I wanted. It would be no problem to simply run out for dinner or for ice cream or for coffee. We could enjoy date nights throughout the week.
But the thing is, even with as stressful as this all can be, the last thing I want to do is walk away.

I have a lot of peace about our decision to foster these three. Justin regularly remarks how this all feels as though it was meant to be, and I have to agree. We're not looking too far into the future and are instead enjoying now and enjoying the stability we can provide for Baby T, Little A and Little C.

10/16/2013

Jumping Back Into Foster Care


I stumbled across the Mother Theresa quote pictured above a few days ago, and it resonated with me. The words reminded me of how important it is for us all to live missionally and reach out to others. Then, I listened to a sermon regarding the purpose of life by Jen Hatmaker on Sunday morning, and it hit me in a way I needed. Both Mother Theresa's and Jen Hatmaker's words were a reminder that we are created to do things - not to just think about what we should do or to find our calling in work and home life. But instead we find our calling in Jesus and then we go do.

On Sunday evening, I sent an email to our foster care worker and explained that we were ready to open our home back up. We requested one child but said we could consider two children under the right circumstances.

The call came Monday morning - not even a full twenty-four hours since our re-commitment to foster care. There were three children - all under the age of three. And then the question "would we consider taking them?"

I wanted to say no. But I also found myself wanting to say yes. Sometimes you have moments of clarity and all of sudden you just know this is an adventure you are supposed to take. This was one of those moments. I explained that we would likely be open to two children but that I wasn't sure about three. I said I would talk to my husband and see what I could discover about child care.

And then I took to Facebook. Within minutes, I was flooded with tangible support from friends. Offers to help clean, offers to cook, questions of what do we need, and I knew we couldn't say no. I also found a daycare, within minutes of our house, willing to take all three children. It took a few more hours for my husband to call back, and when he did, he said he also felt like he couldn't say no.

So we said yes.

The children are supposed to be placed on Thursday evening. We still don't quite have everything we need. Some items we had before have gone missing, and we are trying to replace those while also trying to acquire more big ticket items - like a toddler bed, a dresser and changing table combo, car seats and a glider/rocking chair. And then there are the items we will need lots and lots of - diapers, food, bottles, formula, milk.

It's not the children being placed with us that is overwhelming me. It's the money and the things. It's all the questions of how are going to afford this or that. I understand the concept of God giving me (and us) the strength to do all things, but I struggle to grasp the concept of Him also providing in other ways.

So I'm leaning into Him. I'm praying for wisdom. And I'm just praying - period. Because this journey we're taking is not one to be entered into lightly. This journey is not one that makes any sense. And this journey is one we wouldn't have picked for ourselves. God, though, has picked it for us.

We wouldn't be taking this all on if it weren't for the friendships we've been blessed with. In the past 10 months, we've grown close to so many and found true community with some of the most generous and caring people. We've also received grace and offers of assistance from friends of the old. And we've been overwhelmed - knowing that God's hand is truly on this adventure.

Neither Justin nor I like to ask for help. We'll gladly take it but reaching out and saying "hey we need THIS" is not something we're particularly good at. Our pride is being left out in the cold now, and we are actively seeking help. Just last night, Justin said he doesn't feel guilty asking for help now - not like we have in the past - because this is an instance in which we'll need more help than we could ever even ask for.

10/11/2013

The 7 Challenge - Day Eleven {Food}

Today is the eleventh day of the 7 Challenge and the twelfth day of The Nester's 31 Day Challenge. I consider writing each and every single day, but words continue to fail me. It seems I am going through an identity crisis of sorts with writing and with blogging.

You would think that after so many years of writing and of blogging (or at least keeping an online journal of sorts) this wouldn't happen. But what I'm learning and discovering through my own personal mutiny against excess is that there is nothing that I can do to feel prepared for every single life situation. I also am learning that I will never be done growing or changing or learning who I am.

Life is rather settled right now. My husband and I are enjoying our house. We're spending time together, and time apart, and searching both of ourselves. We're both realizing that life needs meaning. Not a meaning that comes from anything I could do or that he could do. But a meaning that comes from a God who loves us enough to bring discomfort to our lives and loves us enough to go after all the heart issues that we like to hide from.

There was a time when I craved settled. When all I wanted was to come to a point in my life where everything was going well, where I didn't have to worry about the future, where I was able to simply breathe and live my life.

Now? I'm craving change. But I don't want just any change. I want the change, the adventure, that God is calling me to.

The problem is that I don't exactly know what the change and adventure is. And I'm hesitant to dip my toe into just any change or adventure for fear of getting hurt and for fear of chasing after the wrong thing.

I'll never really know what the change and adventure is that God has for me, though, if I continue to reside in my settled life. If I simply wait for clear direction, the kind that lends absolute certainty to what my next steps should be, I'll live the rest of my life being settled, safe, and not truly learning what God has in store for me.

It comes out in a million little ways. School. Discovering my calling in social work. Foster care. Adoption. Even weight loss.

All of these things I first did because I wanted to do them. But there's no point in any of these things without first looking to God.

I want to work hard at school to bring glory to Him. I want to work in the world and provide a light of any kind to the people I come into contact with. I want to draw my strength to foster from Him. I want the stories of our adoptions (and oh how I am ready to adopt sweet babies) to reflect His story of adoption. Because adoption is not just about the baby but it's about every individual involved.

And weight loss? It's not so I can look a certain way but so that I am healthy and can carry out His calling on my life for as many more days as He might give me.

7 is a stepping stone. An annoying one at times but a stepping stone still. It's the first, and only, time I've truly sought God in a tangible way. A tangible way in which I'm living out my faith every single second of the day.

Six years ago, as an almost college senior, I traveled to China and needed to depend on God there, but in a way, that was easier. I was out of my comfort zone. I was forced into a new land where I was a foreigner. I needed God to make it through that. I didn't have any comforts to fall back on or any luxuries to seek out. I had an uncomfortable bed, clothes that I left in Beijing due to being stretched out, and no way to escape.

But here? I have a comfortable bed, Amazon Prime, a shopping mall, and the list goes on. I simply can not turn to those things; I have to turn to God. I need His strength to keep me from turning to those things. I need His strength to guide me through the next several days as I continue to eat foods I'm struggling to like.

I'm thankful for this journey. A little frustrated and wishing I had ice cream or cheese listed on my 7 foods. But knowing that God is breaking me apart and piecing me back together in the ways he sees fit, make the frustration disappear and remind me it's better to eat the 7 foods I've chosen then to try and finagle my way out of this mutiny.

Does God have you on a journey? The answer is yes - even if you don't know exactly what the journey is. Lean into Him. Listen to His voice. Bid adieu to all distractions. And trust that, even though it's difficult and even though it may not make complete sense, everything will have a purpose.

The more we lean into Him, the more we give to Him, the more He will lean into us and give to us.

10/09/2013

The 7 Challenge - Day Eight {Food}

I want to move. I don't want to sell our house and hunt for a new one. I simply want to move.

I'm ready to pack a small suitcase (two max) and move. Leave every single belonging here and just go.

I'm trapped by the amount of things we've accumulated. I'm trapped, more specifically, by the amount of things I've accumulated. All these tee-shirts I can't seem to part with. Bookcases filled to the brim with books (all stacked in numerous ways just so they'll fit). Shoes that I really shouldn't (or don't) wear but hold onto because they're cute and because I might just wear them in the next few months years.

My house is a wreck right now. And not because we don't clean it. Because we do. But because there's too much here. The pantry is a mess. Our bedroom is always in a state of disarray. And our closet? Don't even get me started.

I'm only on the food portion of 7. And yet I find myself looking at my life and seeing, even more clearly, the need and desire to trim back in every other area of my life.

These things do not matter. I have more Keurig K-Cups than two adults need. I have countless DVDs and Blu-Ray movies I have not watched since purchasing. And my bank account? We've have 39 separate transactions since the month started. That's entirely too many for only two people especially when we are in the midst of mutinying against excess.

This isn't the first time I've felt this sudden urge to flee and take next to nothing with me. I've felt it (and ignored it's existence) many a time before. The thing is, though, I can not keep ignoring this urge. Because when I ignore it, I eventually purchase more things I do not need.

Justin and I were blessed with the home we live in. We picked out the floor plan with the sole purpose of caring for children. We've decorated bedrooms for the same reasons. But right now, those bedrooms are empty, and we're left wondering what our next steps will be.

At some point, we have to stop wondering and we simply have to start doing. It's the same thing with letting go of items. At some point, I have to simply do it.

I've invested so much time and energy into accumulating things. I have an armoire bursting with tee shirts and shorts. My husbands dresser drawers are also overflowing with tee shirts and shorts. This all after we've gone through our things and given multiple bags of clothes away. But instead of living with less, we go out and consume more.

So I could leave. I could pack a bag or two and leave the rest of it behind. But I would just go out and spend more money, buy more things. It's better for me to go through every room of our house and bid adieu to the items. It's better for me to stay and to not consume - as hard as it will be.

10/07/2013

The 7 Challenge - Day Seven {Food}

I'm hangry. Not starving child hungry (obviously) but hangry.

I'm also feeling a tad bit guilty regarding the two Pumpkin Spice Latte's I drank - one from Starbucks and one from McDonald's.

And I'm tired.

Hangry, guilty, and tired. All on the last day of the first week of month one of the seven month 7 challenge. Or all on the first day of the second week of month one of the seven month 7 challenge. One brings me closer to the end, so I guess it's a glass half full way of looking at things.

Hangry, guilty, and tired doesn't really bode well for the west of the upcoming week or for the rest of the month. It's a far cry from the joy I felt this weekend. Instead, it's steeped in reality. A reality of saying no to yet another placement - this one an emergency situation for four children. The reason we said no? I had class all night.

After class, I overwhelmed Justin with the need to figure out what we're doing with foster care. I want to know what ages, which gender, and when right this moment (or right that moment). Guess what? We still don't know.

This is when I need a direct line to God where I know He'll pick up and verbally respond to my questions. This is when I also need to take a moment and just breathe and remember that God's just a bit bigger than I am and might know exactly what His plan for my life is.

I had a conversation with a dear friend of mine today, during the twenty-minute break from class when I left my house in search of coffee. I was driving home with the McDonald's Pumpkin Spice Latte (since we live in the suburban country and the one local coffee shop closes at 8pm) and we were discussing writing.

I let her know I was jealous of her writing. And that I was glad I was her friend before she made it big because then I can really be her friend. (I also told her how excited and proud I am of her lest you think I am really that inconsiderate.)

And she said she loved getting to see me live out my passions. I glossed over that statement (sorry, Laurie) and went on to talk about how I was also passionate about writing and how hard it was to not be able to just do everything all at once. But I considered her words through class and then after class. Because I am living out my passions. I am living out my calling. I am stretching myself at work and in school and stepping into roles I never knew I would play.

I'll pick writing back up eventually (novel writing that is). And maybe something will happen with it in the not so distant future. Until then, though, I'm going to try to remember to breathe and allow myself to live in the moment God has for me.

I'm also going to try to not be so hangry all of the time. But no promises on that one.

10/06/2013

The 7 Challenge - Day Six {Food}


On Saturday morning, we attended an equipping. In attendance were other community group leaders and individuals who serve our church (and the other two {soon to be three} congregations). Shelley Giglio spoke, alongside two other women who attend and serve at Passion City Church in Atlanta.

Going into the meeting/equipping, I had no idea who Shelley Giglio was. I knew of the Passion movement but knew nothing about the people behind it. I'd heard of Passion Church but again knew nothing about the behind-the-scenes. I also considered not attending. I thought of reasons not to go. But there was something (and someone.. {ahem, Justin}) who reminded me that I should go.

I was so blessed on Saturday morning. I was also greatly convicted. And I left with a sense of continued desire - a desire to do more and be more than I have been. It's the same desire God has been stirring up in me for the past several months. It's the same desire that has pushed my heart and my life into the throws of foster care and adoption.

Listening to Shelley and the others speak awakened a love for people. I've always loved people, but I've also been hardened through my time in social work. It's so easy to just see the bad, to only expect the worst, and to feel like you know exactly what will happen.

Justin and I left Saturday knowing we didn't want to play it safe any longer but that we weren't quite sure what that meant. It's something we will be wrestling with all week. How do we make sure that we aren't taking on too much? Is there a point where it's okay to say "no" and what is that point?

When I went to bed last night, I did so praying. I wanted to hear from the Lord. I wanted clarity as to what we were to do, and I wanted it in an obviously large way.

I didn't get that clarity. At least not in a way of a booming voice telling me exactly which path to follow. Instead, I received a sense of thankfulness when I woke up this morning and sat down to breakfast - eggs with tomatoes and chicken breakfast sausage (and coffee).

So many weeks have been spent rushing around and rushing through a drive thru. Our normal Sunday mornings involve rolling out of bed 30 minutes before we have to be out the door for church, stopping at Panera Bread, and eating a bagel smeared with cream cheese (the smearing done while sitting in the parking lot). We call it a tradition. I'm not sure it's quite that, though.

Panera Bread was, in the not so distant past, one of the six or seven times we would eat out on weekends. We ate out a total of three times this weekend. A little gluttonous while participating in The 7 Challenge? Perhaps. (PS: I did stick to the 7 friendly foods. My own "council" and I decided fried sweet potatoes counted so I consumed a lo of those and a few chicken sandwiches.) And the eating out from this weekend? It was really the first of any eating out for the (short) life of this challenge. There was a time when we would eat out nearly every day of the week. For me, that included breakfast and lunch, too.

We got into a rut. Or a routine. However you want to view it. That rut and routine (and an expensive one at that) involved questions like "What do you want to do for dinner?" and "Should we eat what we have or go out?" More often than not, we'd choose a dinner out even though our fridge had food in it, our pantry was stocked, and the freezer was overflowing. Maybe it was the convenience of it all. Or maybe (most likely) it was the need to somehow find worth, meaning, and identity in the act of leaving the house and going to a restaurant.

I liked getting up over an hour before church today. I had a chance to wash dishes, wipe down the countertops, cooks my breakfast, and sit in silence. I enjoyed my food and enjoyed my coffee and enjoyed what God is doing and teaching me through this time.

I also liked eating dinner at home Saturday night and tonight. I loved that we sat down at the dining room table and enjoyed our food. I love that we're breaking the rut of rushing through a drive thru and eating fried food while sitting on the couch. I love that I have to be intentional about what I eat and cook - that my first instinct is now to go to the refrigerator versus the question of "What do you want to do for dinner?"

We've found a love for sweet potatoes, chicken and spinach. Strange to say it, but when you spend so many meals wondering what to eat and always wanting something "different", it's hard to imagine liking simple foods. But we do. We're just hoping we don't completely dislike these simple foods come November. (The dogs are also enjoying the scraps of sweet potatoes someone {not me} is feeding them under the table and right before the dishes are rinsed and dropped into the dishwasher.)

Today is only day six. There are twenty-five more days. And then there's the next month. If God has already refreshed me and taught me so much, I am at a loss for what the next days and months will hold.

10/05/2013

The 7 Challenge - Day Five {Food}

I don't quite know how to explain the "why" behind the 7 challenge. So when people ask me, I stumble over my words.

It's this thing. And it lasts for like 7 months. We're on month 1, and we're just eating 7 foods. Then we'll have one month where we just wear 7 articles of clothing.

It is those things, but it is also so much more.

God has been wrecking me the past few weeks. He's tearing away everything I find (or have found) my identity in. And He's begging me to look to Him for my identity. He's calling me to a life of more. Not a life of more stuff or more food, but a life of more meaning. A life of purpose. A life lived out for Him, a life lived following Him, a life lived with purpose and intention.

I don't know exactly what it looks like. Just like I don't quite know how to explain the "why" behind the challenge. I'm constantly stumbling over my words and stumbling over the works. I'm messing up, asking for grace, receiving that grace, and learning how to live the rest of my life out knowing I've been (repeatedly) touched by grace.

I don't think the 7 Challenge will solve everything. But I do feel like I am gaining more clarity.

The more I strip away the more I can hear Him. The more I stop seeking my identity in things the more I can be lead by Him (and by my husband). The more I pray the more I can take the steps He would have me to take.

Right now, I'm getting there one avocado, one apple at a time. Next month, I'll get there one pair of jeans, one cardigan at a time (and laundry multiple times a week). Then, I'll get there by saying no to the need to spend money in more than 7 places.

Every step of the way, Jesus will be there, guiding me and teaching me how to let the "right things" die.

10/04/2013

The 7 Challenge - Day Four {Food}

I thought the 7 Challenge was going to be easy. Not to put Jen Hatmaker down or anything (because her book made it obvious that it wasn't easy). For whatever reason, I decided it was going to be easy.

Not easy as in I could do this every day. But easy in the sense that I wouldn't have to stretch myself too far. There would be some hard days but overall I would feel accomplished. I would overcome. I would succeed at the 7 Challenge without breaking a sweat.

Y'all, it is only Day 4 and already I am wishing I were doing The 7 Experiment, not The 7 Challenge, and only eating 7 foods for one week. Because that would only be three more days. I would have a rough time surviving those three days, but it would only be three days. Instead, I have 27 more days.

27 more days, y'all. THAT'S NINE TIMES MORE THAN JUST THREE DAYS.

Clearly I'm losing it. The headaches are setting in. My stomach is a little upset over avocados every day and plain chicken. I'm missing Diet Coke something fierce. I'm having long, internal monologues over what constitutes as bread.

For example, while I was driving around the city today, I had the following conversation:
What's for lunch today? Chipotle sounds good. I could eat a burrito bowl without the rice. Even though rise and bread are similar. They're both made from a grain. And if I got brown rice, it would be like eating whole wheat bread since they're both brown. But then I couldn't get tomatoes because I said tomatoes OR bread. And I just don't think I can do chicken, tomatoes and guacamole only. Unless... Could I make lettuce look like spinach when I took a picture of it? After all, spinach and lettuce are both green leafy vegetables.

That's nuts. Rather than deal with any guilt about what I might eat at a restaurant, or have to physically restrain myself from ordering a Diet Coke, I proceeded to drive home and ate a lovely chicken breast with smashed avocado on top of it.
It was delicious. Or at least that's the story I'm sticking to.

Oh how I wish I could say that this is the first time I've ever incorrectly assumed something would be easy. But it's not. Rather it's been a running theme in my life for the past few years.

I thought weight loss would be easy.

I thought recovering from knee surgery would be easy.

I thought, having been a social worker for 5+ years, that foster parenting would be easy.

Those things have been and continue to be difficult. And I've tried everything I can think of to take the easy way out.

With weight loss, I've tried South Beach, I've tried Weight Watchers, I've tried Herbalife. And nothing's worked. It's not that anything is wrong with those programs. I've just tried to make them into something they're not.

About a week before the 7 Challenge started, my loving husband came to me and said he was concerned. He has watched me try and fail and then sometimes try again (and sometimes not try again). He knows my heart. He knows me.

I ignored him and told him this time it was different. That the 7 Challenge was not about weight loss. It was about Jesus.

I am eating my words now, y'all. That's probably the only reason I'm not switching to The 7 Experiment versus The 7 Challenge. It's probably the one thing that stopped my internal monologue today and guided me home for lunch.

There's no way I will make it through this next month if I lean only on myself or try to just white knuckle it. And I have to stop looking forward at the months to come and instead focus on the month of right now.

I can apply that to my entire life, really.

Nothing is going to be "easy" but the hard work will be well worth it. Jesus is much better than my own strength (and much, much stronger) so it's better to depend on Him. And I am here right now. It's time to enjoy the right now and not just think about the what next.


The 7 Challenge - Day Three {Food} + What 7 is Teaching Me about Foster Care

{Please note: I wrote most of this post before I took a nap on the couch last night and then forgot to wake up until this morning.}

Can I be completely honest? I ask because there's always that part of me that doesn't feel quite right with opening up. And I ask because I need to remind myself that it's okay to be open and honest with things.

The past few months have been incredibly hard for me. I've heard it said that becoming a foster parent forces you to realize the things you both like and dislike about yourself the most. I can attest to just how true of a statement this is. And even though we're not currently fostering, we're still foster parents, and I can tell you that I continue to realize just how much there is for me to work on.

There's a huge push in Oklahoma for more foster parents. The number of children in state custody is outrageous, and there are not enough beds for any of them. Not only that but there are over 300 children simply waiting for an adoptive home, 300 children hoping someone will want them and call them theirs.

And it's good. It's good that so many want more to foster. It's good that the Church is rising up. It's good that there's talk of how non-foster parents can support those who are called to foster.
But foster care is hard. When you open up your home, you also open up your life. And not just the present moments and the future moments, but the past as well. A past that you, as the foster parent, have to have dealt with at some level. A past that has made you who you are. A past that may be vastly different, or eerily similar, to the children placed in your care.

You also realize just how much you need people. I'd guess that it's the same for biological parents and adoptive parents.

I don't like needing people. Sure I enjoy friendships and laughter. I enjoy deep, heartfelt conversations. But I don't like having to open up my life in such a way that when I call I have to do so to ask for help. It eats at me and sticks with me for weeks. Or it used to. I can't say I actually enjoy those calls now, but I'm more okay with them than I ever really thought I would be.

I need to be healthy, too. That's why the 7 Challenge is so important to me right now. I've lost weight since starting it on Tuesday. And I feel better. I also feel like I'm starting to get more clarity. Amazing how that works.

I don't think I've necessarily been completely unhealthy during our journey with foster care. I just don't think I was fully prepared. But I also don't think anyone can ever be fully prepared.

We've been talking a lot about when we'll start fostering again. We've discussed ages, numbers of kids, and how it will effect our lives. And y'all, I'm ready. But I am also terrified. Not because of the thought that they may leave (that's not under my control so I just have to trust that God always knows best). And not because of how exhausting it will be. It's a terror that stems from one simple thought (or not so simple thought): what if I'm not good enough?

That's where this sudden need to simplify comes into place. It strips me of all the items I've found identity in. It strips me of all the preconceived notions I have about how life is supposed to be. 7 is helping me to focus on now. To focus on who I am in Christ and to let who I am in Christ be who I am always.

7 isn't easy. Neither is foster care. None of it is. But that doesn't mean it isn't still worth it.

10/02/2013

The 7 Challenge - Day Two {Food}

Apparently, I can not say no to Turkey Tom's from Jimmy John's, Potato Chips from Jimmy John's or Oatmeal Raisin Cookies. I can, however, say no to bottled diet coke and diet dr. pepper. I'll celebrate that small victory over commiserating my failing to stick to the allowed foods.

The day started off early and well. I had a meeting in Tulsa, so I was on the road by 6am - all so I could see Laurie's shining face. And eat homemade scrambled eggs with grape tomatoes (which were delicious). If only I could have (or would have) packed a lunch instead of simply eating what was provided at the day's meeting.

I also consumed more coffee than initially planned. And some of it came from Starbucks (in the morning) and McDonald's (in the afternoon). I figured the money spent on much needed caffeine, which resulted in my being able to stay awake for the entire drive, was well worth it.

I felt a lot of weightiness today. A lot of thoughts about how am I going to do this for 30 days. Wondering if I can even make it through this month let alone the six that follow. I could choose to do each challenge for only a week, but I feel so convicted in needing to do all seven for a month each. It's time to leave my comfort behind.

There's only way I am going to make it through this month and the months that follow. And that only way? Lots of prayers. The trouble with that is that I struggle with my prayer life. I don't want to struggle, but sometimes (a lot of times) it feels as though nothing is happening. I get distracted by the million thoughts running through my head. I feel selfish for praying through things. And I feel like I'm not quite "Christian" enough for my prayers to matter.

But I know they do matter. There's no such thing as needing to be a super Christian for your prayers to be answered. It's time I release that mindset, forget about the wonders over whether or not I measure up as a Christian, and simply pray.

That's what I worked on driving back from Tulsa. Or at least it's what I planned to work on. A two-hour trip seemed like the perfect opportunity to pray and let God do some work. Except that as soon as I got in the car, I froze. I had a hard time even thinking through what my prayers would be. And I found myself not so sure about what I wanted from my prayers. Or how I wanted to pray. I overthought every bit of it.

And then, I stopped at McDonald's where I ordered a large, vanilla iced coffee, considered eating Chicken McNuggets and settled for a low-fat ice cream cone instead. That was a reminder of why it's time to turn to 7 and to turn away from excess.

It's the excess that's blocking me. I have too many options, too many ways to distract myself. Too many opportunities to busy myself with things other than prayer. It's time to limit those options, to lessen those distractions, and to just slow down.

There's movement in the Church right now. People clinging to Jesus and asking for radical things to be done. There's change in foster care. And hope for the future. And all of those things are deeply on my heart. But I can not do any of those things alone. I need Jesus.


Food is never going to be enough. Not even the Jesus approved, trans fat free, fried in peanut oil Chik-Fil-A. Not even the avocados I am still excited to consume. And never the gloriousness that is Jimmy John's #4.

But Jesus? He's enough. More than enough. He's everything I need.

10/01/2013

The 7 Challenge - Day One {Food}

I didn't cheat today. Even without having any real groceries in the house this morning. And even though I was running late all day. Even when I went to the grocery store, on the 1st, at 2:00pm without having eaten lunch.

Guess that means I can just stop the challenge now. I overcame every single challenge that could possibly present itself. Right?

Oh. Wrong. I'm not doing this challenge to prove something to myself or to overcome things. I'm doing this challenge to move a little bit closer to Jesus. Guess that means I'm not quite done.

It took me a little while to figure out what 7 foods I was going to eat. And by a little while I mean a few weeks.

Starting this challenge wasn't something I just decided to do on a whim. It's something I have considered ever since I first read Jen Hatmaker's book about 9 months ago. And even though I've had plenty of excess (hello buying a new house, new car, new MacBook, new iPhone, new iPad mini, and the list goes on), I've constantly thought about simplifying. I just have never really done anything about it. Until now.

Jen Hatmaker admits that she is an extremist. And I am too. God often has to hit me over the head with a 2x4 multiple times for me to get something. And even after I get it, I often forget it. Then the process starts over again.

I've been extreme with weight loss (hello South Beach and Herbalife) and seen traction in the way of weight loss. I've been extreme also with weight gain (hello Chik-Fil-A and Panera Bread every single day for a week). But I've never been extreme with simplifying. And I figured now is as good a time as any to use my extremeness for something good. I figured now is the best time to let God work through the extremeness.

These are the thoughts that have been in my head for months. I just quieted them with vanilla lattes, diet cokes, and macaroni and cheese. But at some point, thoughts like these simply can't be quieted. Also, oddly enough, at some point your hips get a bit too wide for all your pants.

I know this is the right time to do the challenge because I have prayed about it. God has orchestrated it all (including blessing me with other people who will be miserable right along with me). It doesn't mean that the timing is what I would have picked. But I'm not Jesus, so I don't know best.

Jesus knows best. And Jen Hatmaker knows best when it comes to which foods to eat for a whole month. I am following her lead and eating the same 7 foods but with a few exceptions.
My foods are: Chicken (of any kind) - Can season with olive oil, salt and pepper. Maybe a little garlic. May also eat chicken sausage. Avocados (guacamole is included). Spinach. Apples. Eggs. Sweet potatoes. Tomatoes OR Bread (can have one or the other but can not consume at the same time).

This morning I ate three eggs. For lunch, I ate two avocados, a whole package of all natural chicken lunch meat, and a piece of fresh baked bread (from the grocery store not from my house). For dinner, we had spinach (which I BLANCHED!), sweet potatoes, and roasted chicken thighs. And then I ate an apple for dessert.

All of my food tasted like real food. I bought everything organic, and as much as I hate to admit this, there is a huge difference. Apples taste like apples. And the spinach was so good. The chicken... My husband said he would be okay with eating the chicken a lot which is good since it's going to be my only meat option for the next month.

I also have more energy. Amazing what lots of water (even if it does have flavor added to it) and real food will do, huh?

I started the day with quiet time, and I am going to end it the same way. Because ultimately I am making more room for Him. I'm making space so that He can work in me and speak to me. I'm cleaning out the cobwebs and turning from all the things I've used to block Him out.
"I won't box Him in or assume I know what He'll say. I'm not going to project my goals onto His movement. I have simply said: "Jesus, may there be less of me and my junk and more of You and Your kingdom." I will reduce, so He can increase." - Jen Hatmaker, 7

9/30/2013

The 7 Challenge - Body Won't Break Style


Tomorrow is October 1st. It is the first day of my (scary) entrance into the world of The 7 Challenge.

What is The 7 Challenge? It's this crazy idea Jen Hatmaker created. An experimental mutiny against excess. And because Jen Hatmaker is destined to be my best friend (even though my attempts to "stalk" her in March failed), I decided it was time for me to take the plunge and stage my own mutiny against excess.

What are the 7 things? Here's a quick breakdown (thanks Barnes and Noble!). Food. Clothes. Spending. Media. Possessions. Waste. Stress. They would spend thirty days on each topic, boiling it down to the number seven. Only eat seven foods, wear seven articles of clothing, and spend money in seven places. Eliminate use of seven media types, give away seven things each day for one month, adopt seven green habits, and observe “seven sacred pauses.”

I'm starting with food. One - because that's what Jen did. Two - because then I can enjoy Thanksgiving when November rolls around. And third - because I need to stop eating Chik-Fil-A.

I've always struggled with my relationship with food. And I'm realizing how much I struggle with my relationships with other things too. I want to break the struggle. Not just because I want to lose weight. I hope that happens (I kind of need it to happen) but that's not the main point.

The point is to stop looking to over things for fulfillment. The point is to truly simplify (and not just talk about simplifying). The point is to let go and then let God.

I've done a lot of crying over the past few weeks. Because of grad school, because of work, because of changes in our family situation. And I've done a lot of trying to fill up the emptiness with things. I've prayed some, but I haven't really prayed. I've just depended on my Chik-Fil-A to get me through.

And my diet coke, too. (I am not getting rid of coffee. That would be cruel and unusual punishment to everyone who ever interacts with me. I am, though, going to limit it to coffee at home instead of coffee from Panera Bread, Starbucks, Wild Hero, and the list goes on...)

But I can't keep doing that.

You know that saying about how insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results every time. This smart guy named Albert Einstein said those words. And y'all?
I'm guilty of it. I'm guilty of thinking I can eat Chik-Fil-A six times in one week (and yes, that did just happen last week) and lose weight (and no, that did not happen). I'm guilty of thinking that there will always be money in my bank account. I'm guilty of thinking that I honestly need a fourth grey tee-shirt or fifteenth cardigan. I'm guilty of uttering the words "There is nothing to eat" and "I don't have anything to wear."

I'm insane because I kept expecting different results. I keep thinking I can just want to simplify or want to be healthy or just kind of try but not really give anything up.

I don't want to be Albert Einstein's definition of insane. And I don't want to just kind of try. I want to die to myself and live a life that is unabandoned. I want to reflect Jesus in every stinking thing. So I'm taking the challenge.

I'm excited to (mimick/copy/stalk/pretend to be) Jen Hatmaker as I take on this adventure. I'm excited to blog about how hard it is to give up Chik-Fil-A, how much I dislike spinach, how much I miss diet coke, how much I want cheese, how I don't know how to tell if an avocado is ripe, and eventually how much I miss the plethora of cardigans just hanging in my closet.

I don't promise to be perfect. With blogging or with adhering to the challenge. But I am going to try. Not only that I am going to depend on Jesus as I embark on this fast and I'm going to give him my life in a way I never have.
“If a fast doesn't include any sacrifices, then it's not a fast. The discomfort is where the magic happens. Life zips along, unchecked and automatic. We default to our lifestyles, enjoying our privileges tra la la, but a fast interrupts that rote trajectory. Jesus gets a fresh platform in the empty space where indulgence resided.”  - Jen Hatmaker

9/24/2013

Just As Lost As the Next Girl

18 days ago we went from a "family of four" to a family of two. After three months of being foster parents, my husband and I went back to just being husband and wife.

There were a lot of tears. A lot of questions. A bit of anger. Some relief (though I hate to admit that). More tears. And more questions. The why's behind our sudden change back to a family of two aren't really that important. At least not when it comes to sharing my story. The why's are important. But the why's will not make themselves known.

I've found myself second guessing a lot over the past 18 days. I've found myself placing all the blame on myself. Maybe I tried too hard. Maybe I didn't try hard enough. I should really learn how not to say stupid things. I should have been gentler. If only I could have been more present. How could it have been so hard when we felt like it was the right step for our family? I probably didn't pray enough or trust God enough. I leaned on my own strength too much.

Those thoughts alone are enough to drive me crazy. And then you add graduate school for social work plus a job in the field of social work, and I'm a big bag of crazy still - 18 days later.

I have peace, though. A peace that truly surpasses all understanding because try as I might I simply can not understand why I'm okay with all this (as okay as I can be) when I feel like so many things should have been handled differently.

We took a family vacation in August. A seven-day trip to Michigan. We left behind the humidity of Oklahoma, (most of) the stress of work, and we replaced it with a cool breeze and a chance to simply breathe. My husband and I both remarked how much of a family we felt while on that trip. I think that made the sudden loss sting even more.
There was a part of me on that trip that wanted it to be just the two of us. There was a part of me that wanted it to be just the two of us a lot. Not because I didn't like having a family of four but because I had no idea what I was doing. And because of a lot of circumstances. It was harder - those three months - than anything I've ever done, but it was also so rewarding.

We're taking a break right now. I'm in my first semester of graduate school. My husband is working rather consistent overtime. We're both still exhausted from the last three months. So rather than jump back into a family of four, we're taking a break and praying.

I feel selfish for taking a break. There are well over 10,000 children in Oklahoma's foster care system, and instead of rushing to their rescue, I am taking a break. I'm denying placements because of a lack of child care and because of hurt and exhaustion. And so I feel selfish and guilty.

But I know I'm not those things in this instance. (I'm those things plenty of other times though!) Because it's not that we don't want to open up our home. Rather it's that we need to let God repair our hearts and fill us with more strength.

I love my husband more now. I loved watching him parent. I loved that he was often the voice of reason (though I did not love the fact that I needed a voice of reason). I love his patience, his determination, his selflessness, his resolve to be kind and gracious.

And I'm excited to embark on another adventure in parenting with him - when the time is right. We have another 41 days until we can't take any more time. So as much as I am ready to know, and as much as it pains me to say no to placements, I am going to take however long we need and wait for direction only God can give us.

7/21/2013

just passing through

We celebrated a very special birthday of a very special child this weekend. It was a few weeks late, and the party itself was put together at the last minute. (I have a long ways to go in the world of motherhood.) But still it came together beautifully.

One of the hardest things with foster care is the knowledge that the kids you care for, shop for, pray over, and love are never really yours. It could be said that no child is every really yours as there is never a guarantee on what will happen. But this is even more true with foster care.

Knowing they aren't yours, recognizing that they could leave at any time, is terrifying. And heartbreaking. Because for the time they are in your house you do all the things you would do for your "own" child. (And if you don't, then you shouldn't be a foster parent.)

We had a cake for the party. Minimal decorations. A fruit dish, a veggie tray, and Chik-Fil-A nuggets. There were drinks as well, and lots of laughter. It was a combination of friends from church, our family, our kids birth family, and friends from OKDHS. Without the two kids we've been entrusted to care for, many of us had nothing in common.

And yet we all spent just over two hours together at the park. The sun blazed down around us, but we were protected by a pavilion. A nice breeze came off the pond, and we found enough things to do to actually entertain a 2-year-old (and slightly overwhelm her by the amount of gifts she received).

It's hard not to be attached. To not want to interject ourselves as the family. But what I continue to find, mostly by reminding myself and our teenage foster daughter, is that we are here to serve whatever role it is that these two girls need. If that's to be a foster mom only, then that is what we are. If it's to serve a role of NiNi and PopPop, as we do to the 2-year-old, then that is what we are. Our relationships and purpose are not clear. And that's okay - so long as both girls can look back at this point in time and know they were fiercely loved, fiercely protected, and put first.

Every person deserves those things. I would say every child, but I am learning, more and more, that the teenager we have is not a child but a young woman. And it is my job to ensure she has all the tools she needs to continue a successful life long after my direct presence in her life has disappeared.

It's hard to be in this position. To sometimes be the most hated person in the room. But it is also worth it when I catch glimpses of smiles, when I hear the way a 2-year-old stakes her claim on me as "my {her} NiNi," when I watch our family touch others with our story, and when I realize that by laying myself down I am opening up a whole new world and creating a life for myself.

My entire life is overcome with a need to care for the orphaned and the fatherless. And while exhausting, I simply can not see any other way. I want every birth mother, birth father, adoptive mother, adoptive father, foster mother, and foster father (as well as all the other important relationships) to know they matter. Because we all do matter. And how blessed for a child who was once fatherless to all of a sudden have so many people who fiercely love them.

7/09/2013

the most hated person in the room

I am the social worker. Often I am the most hated person in the room. The one responsible for ripping families apart and placing children into foster care. I take recommendations to the court and am then at the mercy of the judge and whatever decision he may make. I have been the social worker for almost five years now. It is a role I never meant to play, and yet, it is a role I know I was born to play.

I am a foster parent. A non-relative kinship foster parent caring for a 17-year-old and a 2-year-old. Often I am the most hated person in the room. The one who is not quite a parent but also more than a friend. I care for a child who does not belong to me and work with a broken system. I hear insults hurtled my way and am constantly reminded that I do not have a family of my own. That I am not the "real" family to the children in my home.

My entire life is foster care and adoption. When I go to work, I do so as a social worker. Both for a private adoption agency and then also at a state run group home. When I return home, it is to foster care where I provide all the necessities to a child that could be gone tomorrow.

There are times when I wish my life were different. Time when I wonder why God has etched foster care and adoption so deeply into my heart. Times when I truly wish I had a real desire to have a normal family - the kind of family that involves marriage and then a baby that looks like me in the baby carriage.

But I do not have that desire.

Instead, I desire to have children who look nothing like me. I want the sort of family that makes no sense to anyone else. I want to invite children of all ages into my home and love them the way Jesus loves me knowing that they might walk away from me or be taken away from me. I also want to love the broken families - the ones that have somehow wound up in the broken system that is foster care.

And I want to love others like me. The ones that struggle daily to not snap at the children that do not belong to them. The ones that aren't sure how to handle a screaming and crying child that can not be consoled following a visit with their "real" family. The ones who never meant to do this but were thrust into foster care.

God has placed a burden on my heart. It is one I can not ignore even though I have tried and tried. It has been just over five years since I first became the social worker, and I have spent every day of the past five years running from the field. Once I stopped running in June of this year, God allowed my heart to burst for those who find themselves fostering and adopting as well as for those who find themselves in need of foster care and adoption.

It has been just over a month since we received placement of our two girls. A month of adjustment. A month of conversations. A month of trying to be a mom while also making sure not to take place of the birth mom. A month of my heart breaking for all the other children who do not have a place to call home. A month of wondering if I can truly do this. A month of praying and allowing God to lead more than I ever have.

And in the days of being both a foster parent and a social worker, I have seen that it works. I have seen changes in our girls. I have felt my heart swell with pride when the 17-year-old explained that my entire life is foster care and adoption. Not because it's me but because ultimately God gets the glory in the story. And because my story just might speak to someone else and spur in them a desire to help.

We do this because He has called us to it. I am able to foster because He has given me the strength. I am able to be the executive director of an adoption agency because He has blessed me with the knowledge and experience.

I have no idea where this adventure will take me. It could be to graduate school at the University of Southern California. It could be eventually back to the Oklahoma Department of Human Services. It could be somewhere else entirely.

Wherever it takes me, I am prepared to be the most hated person in the room because I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that God created me to be both a social worker and a foster parent.

6/02/2013

I thought foster care would be easy. I thought that opening up my home would come naturally.

After fives years in the field of social work, I had it down. I knew what to expect. I knew how to respond. I could juggle life, work, friends, and having kids. There would be unexpected things, of course, and I wouldn't always be perfect. But I would be able to handle it all.

In case you hadn't already figured it out, I was wrong. Completely and totally wrong.

5/05/2013

no one else is coming

honoring Dr. Deb Shropshire
A little over a week ago, I joined over 100 Oklahomans for a Foster Care Forum. It was a last minute decision bred of more unexpected time off following knee surgery and the sudden need to be a part of anything that had to do with foster care, adoption, and the orphan crisis. I volunteered and greeted people as they came in. And I reconnected with several past colleagues and friends.

For whatever reason, I was called to the world of social work and child welfare immediately following my college graduation. In fact, I was offered, and then accepted, my first adult job before even graduating college. Armed with a degree in journalism, a desire to change the world, and wide-eyed optimism, I began my career in social work at the age of 22.

A lot of people didn't expect me to last a year. But I did. I lasted just under two years in permanency before accepting a job recruiting and retaining foster parents and adoptive parents. I still can't tell you why I took a job in child welfare. It doesn't make any sense.

I never really knew about the orphan crisis or the need for foster care growing up. I knew people who were adopted but that was about it. Still, I always had a desire to help people. I wanted to make a difference and had dreams of owning a ranch on the beach where kids with nowhere else to go could live.

Looking back, I now know that the dream was placed on my heart by God. He has called me to social work, to foster care, to standing in the gap and doing something that looks odd to a lot of people. He has taken a girl who grew up never knowing abuse or neglect and decided that she is to be the mother to countless children who have suffered countless hurts.

I've often wondered why I want to foster. We get asked that question a lot. I don't think there's a really good answer for it. And I don't necessarily think it's something we just want to do. Rather it's something that we feel we have to do.

One of the speakers at the Foster Care Forum said something that has stuck with me. To be fair, ALL the speakers said things that have stuck with me. But there's one thing that has stuck with me more.

It was a story told by a woman who ventured into foster care by taking a child home from the shelter for the Christmas holiday and then took two other children home for a weekend. She talked about the kids they cared for and how their stories touched she and her husband. And then she said this "I realized that no one else was coming." (Thank you, Susan Binkowski, for this.)

Right now, in Oklahoma, there are over 10,000 child in state custody. Over 10,000 children who have been neglected or abused and sometimes both. Over 10,000 children who won't sleep in their own homes. Over 10,000 children who won't wake up tomorrow morning with their birth parents.

And no one is coming for them. Social workers will seek out family members to take the children. And if there aren't family members, they will look for other people those children may know like teachers or friends. About half of the children in state custody will be placed with kinship foster families - these families who get calls in the middle of the night and of the day begging that they take placement of children who only want their mom and their dad. These families who will care for these children and try to make sense of why they're put in this position and try to figure out how they will pay the bills and feed extra mouths.

But what about the other children? The ones who don't have any relatives who can be approved or any other non-relative connections who are willing to take them. For them, no one else is coming.

People need to come. People need to open up their lives and invite in the mess that is foster care. People need to open their eyes and see the devastation that exists. And that's why we're fostering.

We're one of the foster families that is considered a kinship foster family. We're not related to the kids we're taking in, but we know them. We know their story. And when we heard they didn't have a place to go, we contacted OKDHS and said we would take them.

Our classes started on Saturday. It's the second time I've taken the classes. I took them a little over a year ago for my job, and so I was a bit bored on Saturday. I knew the material, had seen the videos, and I was just going through the motions.

We broke for lunch and went to a little Mexican restaurant. On the way to the restaurant, I commented to my husband that I wish we had invited the couple sitting next to us to have lunch with us. They aren't kinship. They're one of the ones welcoming in children they know nothing about, and I wanted to talk with them more.

God had other plans, and just after we ordered our food, we noticed a couple who was in our class sitting down at another booth. And we invited them to eat with us.

They were a kinship foster family and had taken in three children of the wife's sister. They were tired and broken down and in need of support. They needed someone who understood and were trying to wrap their minds around how they ended up as a kinship foster family. So we talked for over an hour. We let them spill their hurts and their frustrations and tried to offer some sort of support, some knowledge. We just tried to love them and tell them that we got it.

I realized then how much God has done to bring me to this place. I saw His sovereignty as we were able to be there for this family, to be the church to them and to stand in the gap along side them.

Foster care is hard. And it hurts. It makes you realize all the things about yourself that you ignore. It ostracizes you from society. People start to look at you differently. And you will lose friends.

You will always just be the foster family. You'll be the safe place for a child to sleep, but they will likely always want their parents. You will be the one to deal with anger and rage following a visit. You will also be the one to say positive things about a birth parent after they miss or cancel a visit. You will invite a child into your family and your life all the while knowing that they will choose their birth family over you.

You may not be considered a real parent. People may call you just a foster mom or a foster dad. And it will hurt. Because it's true and because you miss those kids, as difficult as they are, every single time they choose their birth family over your family.

But you will do it. You will do the sleepless nights and the angry outbursts and the parents who think you are trying to take their children. Because if you don't... then who will?

And, as Megan Dunham said, if it doesn't hurt so much then you haven't done it right.

4/24/2013

FREEDOM

I struggle with letting go.

I also struggle with holding on.

It's a struggle that is deeply ingrained in me. I can't seem to release the plans I had for myself. I cling tightly to the things I once thought were important and fight against all that God has laid before me. I miss the days of yesterday when things seemed a bit simpler.

And I long to go back. To change words that were said. My words and the words of others. I overthink mistakes I've made and relive hurtful conversations. And sometimes, with all that, there are more mistakes and more hurtful words. Mistakes that I make, hurtful words I say, and also the actions of others that pierce my heart.

I've been quick to judge sometimes. Quick to jump to my defense and wonder why it is that things are happening. But God's been restoring me lately and has sought to repair those hurts by reminding me constantly of the hurts I've caused others and then helping me to reconcile those things with Him.

And I've had to let go. God has pried my white knuckles from relationships, from the past, and from what I decided the future would look like. He's wiped the slate clean countless times and reminded me that He loves me enough to give me a future that is more lovely than anything I could dream up.

I've been blown away lately. Truly blown away. But I've also found myself drifting into dark places where all the joy that surrounds this time in our lives is threatened to be taken away. The darkness has not won, though, and it never will. Because God's light shines brighter than anything.

It all sounds so cryptic. And while I long to spill all the details, I know it's my own humanity that longs to spill the details. The truth is that the details don't matter. What matters is that God has taken every ugly thing and used it to make my life more of a reflection of Him.

I want that more than I've really ever wanted anything. I want my life to reflect Him at all times. And by staying in a place of hurt and anger, I don't reflect Him at all. In fact, I hide Him and all that He is doing in my life.

Yes, there is a place and a time to seek counsel. To sit down with other believers and spill my heart for them to see and help to heal. But that place is not one in which I am filled with judgement. That time is not one in which I'm seeking justification for how I feel. Rather that time and place is when I've cried my tears and truly want to move on.

I'm moving on now. With grace. And with help from a God who knows better than I do and is so much stronger than I could ever be. And it's hard. It's harder than anything.

I constantly remind myself to pray. To pray for myself. To pray against any anger or hurt. To pray for the people I feel hurt by. To prayerfully seek forgiveness for any hatred in my heart and for any pain I've caused others. To pray for guidance, for continued strength to move forward, and for a clear path. To pray for knowledge.

There's still a long ways to go. By no means am I where I need to be. But God has been beyond faithful. He has given me peace when all I feel is hurt and anger and a passion that threatens to boil over into something else. He has placed people into my life who have spoken truth and given me the ears to hear the truth when on my own I would plug my ears and ignore anything that was said.

He has reminded me of His forgiveness and what that means. He's given me a heart for prayer in which He calls to mind different people and I pray over them. He's given me a vision for the future and taken away that anxiety that threatens to claim me when I think about how different the future looks for me.

I could say that this all has to do with foster care and embarking on this journey of motherhood. That would be true. I know God is pruning me and breaking me of my habits and filling me up with love so that I'm a little more prepared to be in the position of being a mother. But there's so much more to it.

He's raising up a new person. He's reminding me that the person I once was is no more. And while I've known that for years, I've never truly accepted it to be truth, and so I've found it hard to move past certain issues in my life. Like weight loss. He's telling me that it's no longer okay for me to hide or hold on but that it's time to let go and simply let God.

Of course, letting go and letting God is never simple. It's anything but simple. Because it takes away any resemblance of control we once thought we had.

I don't remember the last time I had true control. Between knee surgery and embarking on an adventure to become foster parents and moving congregations and opening up our lives to become community group leaders, I've been more dependent on God and on others than ever before. And while I still crave control (and have a ways to go until I fully relinquish control), God has shown me how in control He is and has taken care of every single need I have.

There's freedom in that. It's a scary freedom but still it's freedom. Freedom to believe that it's okay to let go. Freedom to forgive. Freedom to be forgiven. Freedom to open myself up to loving others. Freedom to listen to what others have to say. Freedom to bare my heart. Freedom to not judge.

And that freedom is so much better than holding on and never letting go.

4/22/2013

frequently asked questions - foster care

1. How old are the kids you're planning to foster?
One is a teenager and one is a toddler. And both are girls. My poor husband is going to be outnumbered. He has already requested that friends be his alternate caregiver.

Me? I can't wait to buy clothes for both the kids. My poor husband may need to get an extra job or two in addition to having an alternate caregiver.

2. What made you want to foster?
I've been a social worker for about 5 years now. And since the beginning, I've known I wanted to foster and adopt. There are so many wonderful kids who simply need to be loved and told they are worth something.

We (meaning I) had planned to wait for another year to begin the process, but God apparently had other plans.

3. Do you want your own kids?
I understand this question. It comes from a place of curiosity (I think), but it's always a hard one to answer. I tend to get a little overly passionate when it comes to foster care and adoption, and sometimes I take questions personally.

For me, it doesn't matter if I birth a child or if someone else births the child. They can still be my child even without shared DNA. That being said, I'm going to consider any child that comes into our home my child. And I'll care for them as I would care for my own child.

As far as getting pregnant? I don't know.

4. When did you know that you wanted to be a mother?
I never really wanted to be a mom. I never understood it, and I thought that I would spend my days without children. And then this need for foster parents became very clear to my husband and I, and all of a sudden, I was a mom.

5. What is the hardest thing about fostering?
Our kids aren't in our house yet, so that's hard. The other thing that is so hard is how thankless foster care feels. We have an amazing support system through our church and the close relationships we have with members of our church. But there are a lot of people who don't seem to understand why we're fostering. I want to be able to explain it to them but I tend to get a bit overly passionate, so I'm letting God work on my heart and my tongue so that I can talk to people in a way that will really reach them.

6. How can you foster knowing the kids may leave?
How can I not? Foster care isn't about me or what I'm doing. I'm not doing it for myself. I'm doing it because every child deserves to have somewhere to call home. And I'm doing it because God has called me to. Also I'm not amazing for doing it; I'm simply obedient. And really my life is the one that will be changed more than a child's.

I know not everyone is called to foster, but we're all called to do something. God is the one who will provide guidance on what that something is. And these kids, these wonderful and amazing kids, need as much help and whatever kind of help people want to give.

Someone from our church bought paint so that we could turn our spare bedrooms into homes for the kids. Someone else from our church is going through the painstaking process of taping off chevron and stripes in the rooms. Another friend from church is hemming a prom dress for a girl in foster care. We have friends who have offered to be alternate caregivers and help us bolt furniture into the walls. Justin's grandma gave us a crib. One of the therapist's from my physical therapy donated a small suitace and clothes for the teenager. And countless people are actively praying for us.

Those things mean the world to me. Seeing so many people come together to help us and love on our kids reminds me of what the church is meant to be. I love that we all get to be the church to one another and to kids who may never have known what love is.

7. You get paid for fostering, right?
I hate this question, too. Because it hurts me - cuts me to the core. I know people ask because they don't understand. And I want to educate people. However, I feel like there is such a stigma attached to being paid for foster care.

Do we receive a stipend? Yes. And it all goes back to the kids. We also will receive help with daycare. I equal it to taxes for couples with their own biological children. When you have kids, you get a tax break. When you pay for daycare, you get to write some of those expenses off. We won't get a tax break or be able to write off expenses.

Also, we're not yet approved, and we won't be fully approved when the children get placed. Which means we won't receive the stipend. And I almost don't want the stipend. I know it will help, but I already consider the kids as ours and as such I will do everything I can to care for them - regardless of the stipend.

There are some people who foster for the money, and it makes me sick. These kids are people. They deserve to be loved and not seen as a paycheck. Also the stipend is nothing, so I can't comprehend how or why people would do this for the money.

8. Why did you have a shower?
Because we wanted to celebrate. It doesn't matter that the kids are already born. They deserve just as much celebration as an unborn child. And we wanted to include people in our lives - to show them what we're doing and why. We also wanted people to have the chance to meet our kids. This question hurts me because it makes me feel like I'm worth less than someone having a child biologically, and it hurts me for the kids we're getting because I want to provide as much as I can for them.

I'm so blessed to have a friend who got it and threw us a shower. I loved getting to fellowship and show off our kids. I also loved that other friends brought their foster children. I held one little boy and fell deeply in love with him and his 8-month-ol chunkiness.

And we have a lot of needs. This is our first time becoming parents, and so just like any first time parents, we need things like bottles and cups and playpens and toys and clothes and diapers. We still have a lot of those needs and are on the look-out for good deals. Some of our needs were filled on Sunday, and we are so grateful.

9. What do you need?
We still need diapers. And a stroller. We also need a bedding set. And toys. I would love a second playpen, too. And that's just for the toddler. For the teen, we need things like a hair straightener and a comforter set. I could honestly continue the list, but the stuff isn't the most important thing. Yes, it helps, but love and support and friendship and prayer are more important. God has called us to foster, and so I know He will provide. We're registered at Target and Babies R Us, and I plan to look for similar items at garage sales.
9. What do you wish people knew about foster care?
A lot.

I wish people were more accepting. I wish more people would talk to us about our decision to foster. I wish that people didn't think it was so weird. I know it's different and confusing and that people have a hard time understanding it. But I'd love for people to truly talk to us about it.

I also wish people knew how common it is. Since we announced our decision to foster, we've been able to meet others who share a similar heart, and I've loved getting to know those people and have loved that so many people have come alongside us to help us and support us. It brought me so much joy on Sunday to see that happen.

I also wish people understood how little these kids often have. It doesn't matter how old they are; they still have needs. So many kids in foster care move with just trash bags full of belongings. They store some things at offices because they can't take everything to their new "homes" and often those "homes" are not permanent so they lose more every time they move. That's one thing I want to make sure of. I want every child, especially our soon-to-be kids, that this is their home.

I also wish people knew that they could do something. Really do something to change lives. And I wish people would talk to me about it more. I would love to be able to share my heart.

linking up with lauren for heart + home today.

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