Pending Match

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Asking For & Accepting Help

Does anybody else have a hard time accepting help, let alone asking for help? No, just me?! I always knew going into foster care and embracing the model of Foster the City of having support friends was going to be the more challenging aspect. Oh for sure, saying goodbye and walking through that grief were some of the hardest moments of my life, but in the day to day, inviting others in has overwhelmed me.

We just welcomed a new little one into our home, so we’re back in the new placement stage. Baby boy is our third little one in our home, and I don’t know how I would have finished this first month standing without the tangible and emotional support of our community. Coffee, dinners, lunch, breakfast, check in texts, postage stamped cards (I love getting mail that isn’t junk mail!), flowers, baby supplies, gifts for me, gifts for baby, sanity (masked) walks, and arms to cuddle baby (because his favorite place is right in your arms all.day.every.day)!

Just a quick glimpse into our first week: on his day of discharge I fielded 10 calls regarding his case. In the first 2 days home we had two social worker visits, and an extended doctor’s visit – all quickly followed in the next 6 days with a visit, multiple additional calls and emails, a court hearing, and a 90 minute phone meeting.

So those meals delivered meant my brain didn’t have to think of what’s for dinner, nor did we have to clean up from making dinner which, when evenings are hardest for baby, makes life so much easier.

Sanity walks provided me with accountability to actually get out and breathe, and offered adult conversation that wasn’t baby centered.

One friend dropped off fresh baked bread, and it became my daily bread for three days straight. Good bread and good butter will always be a go to comfort food.

Let me tell you something – my deep dark secret (OK, one of many) – this support, it brings me to my knees. Even though I just expounded on how meaningful and impactful this support is, my biggest struggle is in receiving this support. My inclination is to say, “We’re good. We’ve got it. Thanks, though.” On the flip side I love being able to be the giver. I take joy in providing meals, sending cards, and texting. But to receive it… it brings me to my knees; in humility and in praise.

One of the joys for me of working with Foster the City is to be an active speaker for our Interest and Launch Meetings, and the irony is never lost on me as I share about the impact of having support friends on your foster care journey. God and I often discuss the journey we’ve walked together and the absolute sense of irony that exists in so many areas of my life. Here’s the thing – as someone walking the journey of foster care as a foster mama, a support for others, and working behind-the-scenes for an organization championing for these vulnerable children, I can confidently say that tangible emotional and spiritual support really does make a difference. The national statistic says that 60% of foster families don’t continue after their first year or first placement. If it wasn’t for the support we received in our season of saying goodbye and in turn saying hello again, I’m not sure of the depth of my yes. There are many taxing parts of foster care – physical, spiritual, and emotional – and we need a community around us willing and able to show up.

One of our Foster Families recently shared that they prefer referring to their “team” as a “Support Army” because that’s how it has felt.

“We’ve just been overwhelmed by the way they’ve shown up. We could go on and on about the ways (meals, supplies, date nights, child care, prayer). One thing I’ve loved seeing is how they jump into action, they ‘deploy’ the moment we get a placement. When we got our first placement a few years ago; there were diapers at our door, clothes, formula, a stroller and this was all within a few hours. The intensity of that commitment was such a comfort, a simple reminder that ‘ok, they really are in this with you.’

We’ve seen it in the way our team prays, we’ve gone through some pretty harrowing experiences, and just getting that text from our team lead, saying, ‘OK, here’s what we need to be praying about.’ It’s been the reinforcements we need.” – Jeff and Kashelle

You can hear more of their story and the stories of their support friends in their own words HERE.

In addition to the practical support, foster families need to be supported by the practice of prayer. Foster care is a spiritual battle. The thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy but the Son of God brings life, and life in abundance. (John 10:10). The very fact that these children are entering care is a demonstration of that brokenness, and as foster parents entering into that trauma they need the protection of prayer.

By asking and receiving help from our community of support, I’ve experienced a depth of encouragement that has carried me through both the joy and sadness of foster care. I’ve forged deeper friendships, and enjoyed a vast array of meals. Furthermore, the little ones in our home have an army cheering them on in life, covering them in prayer, celebrating their life milestones, and rejoicing together when key moments happen. We’re not meant to do life alone, and I don’t believe we’re meant to foster alone. Not everyone can foster, but we can all do something. Take the help – say yes to that meal drop off, welcome an extra set of arms to cuddle baby, a fresh batch of energy to hang out with that teen; you might be surprised what it adds to your life.

A Challenge For You

*If you’re a foster parent or a potential foster parent and you don’t have support, especially as a Foster the City family, can I encourage you to ask for that help? It can be humbling, but there can be so much beauty in the ask. I’m linking to our Foster Family Information Form, and if you’ve never completed the form, please do it now. There are 19 different avenues of support you can check, as well as space to write in your own needs.

*If you’ve completed one in the past, and your needs have changed can I encourage you to complete it again.

We had one family recently share how their needs changed during this last year of the pandemic. She shared that being home all day with a preschooler was wearying, and in keeping safety a priority they weren’t using their support friends as babysitters, but the little girl needed a break from home. So, she reached out to one support friend who had guinea pigs. They created a time for the little girl to play on the front lawn surrounded by the guinea pigs, and those playdates made a tangible difference in the life of that family.

Another Foster Parent shared that initially she had thought asking for someone to walk the dog didn’t qualify as a need, and loved the idea of receiving meals. It turns out that the children in her care were incredibly picky eaters and the meals were going to waste, but that the dog was packing on the pounds! Needs arise as life happens, and every family’s needs look different. You never know what little things may add up, but getting support in those areas make a tremendous difference.

Questions to ask yourself
  1. What lightens the load?
    1. For some babysitting just isn’t an option, but there are innumerable ways to be supported.
  2. What are ways that make you feel loved?
    1. Think about the 5 Love Languages (Gifts, Touch, Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Acts of Service).
  3. Who is my Support Friend Team Lead?
    1. Rather than communicate with multiple people on an already loaded communication schedule, the support friend team lead serves to be the bridge between you and your support friend team.
  4. Who already exists in my circle of friends that I could invite in to be a support friend?
    1. Inviting Others In
Tips
  1. Figure out what works for you, your family, and support friend team in terms of sharing information.
    1. A shared Google calendar is one way to see at a glance what’s happening-meal drop offs, important dates (I like to share court hearings, visits, birthdays).
  2. Know your own boundaries.
    1. One family likes to cocoon for the first few weeks so they limit outside interactions.
  3. As your needs change, don’t be afraid to voice those changing needs.
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Partnering with a Grieving Child

Five foster homes inhabited by strangers.
Four languages shouting unintelligible words.
Three siblings separated and estranged.
Two parents ensnared in addiction and abuse.
One baby brother requiring protection.

His shadowed eyes stared warily into mine. Their depths held such sorrow… At 3 1/2 years old, this little man needed more than just a safe home. He needed a safe space to grieve and rage and cry and be loved through each big emotion.

Welcoming children from hard places into our homes and churches means inviting in their sorrow and grief as well. We are choosing to actively enter their pain and loss and anger. Families and churches will experience grief and a deep sense of loss as we walk with children in foster care. True stories of abuse, neglect, cycles of addiction, and broken families will break our hearts. Saying good-bye to children we love will overwhelm us with grief. We will struggle to comfort the children that remain in our homes after hard good-byes. In addition to helping our kids from hard places access professional therapy and counseling services, let’s be ready to comfort them as they grieve. Let’s take time to acknowledge their sadness and anger. Let’s sit with them in their sorrow. Let’s comfort their hurting hearts. Here are some activities to do together with children we love as they process grief. Instead of trying to “fix” things or “make things better,” let’s focus on comforting them and connecting with their hearts.

He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able give them the same comfort God has given us.
2 Corinthians 1:4 (NLT)

Grieving Together
  • Actively Listen
  • Take a walk
  • Quietly sit side-by-side
  • Cry together
  • Share a hug
Mourning Alone
  • Write letters to birth family
  • Process through journaling
  • Compose a Lament Psalm
  • Walk a labyrinth
  • Listen to music
Creating Memorials
  • Decorate a jar for “collecting” tears
  • Create a Lifebook or photo album
  • Frame a picture of birth family
  • Paint comfort rock or picture
  • Construct memory box
Providing Comfort
  • Say a prayer
  • Nourish with food
  • Savor a warm beverage
  • Wrap in a blanket
  • Read a story aloud
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Blog

Walking Through Grief as a Foster Parent

Experiencing Grief
Coping with the loss of a child in care

As foster parents, you have opened your hearts and home to vulnerable children in need. Often you have welcomed a child into your home who has experienced trauma, abuse, or neglect and you have taken on the large task of teaching them to trust, love, care and become responsible or independent by patterning such behavior for them. Attachment is often inevitable. Placement changes and transitions can be heart wrenching for you, your family, and the child in care. There is no way that separation can be made easy and painless. The following however, are suggestions for making the separation as positive an experience as possible.

For the Child that is Leaving:
  • Give them permission to express their feelings
  • In addition to accepting a child’s feelings, help them to identify them
  • Talk straight to the child about why they are leaving and where they are going
  • Make a life book or souvenir box
  • Share information about the child with the social worker so the best plan can be made for the child’s next placement
  • Give the child permission to leave you
  • Do not let the child “make” your reject them
For Your Biological Children:
  • Talk straight with your own children about the move and why
  • Give them permission to identify and express their feelings about the move
  • Communicate the positive aspects of the change
  • Allow your child to grieve
For Yourself:
  • Take time to sort out your feelings and think about where they are coming from
  • Allow yourself time to grieve
  • Talk to someone about your feelings
  • Work with the Social Worker and the family to speak about the steps of the transition
  • Establish what future contact could look like
  • Remember your good times and accomplishments
  • Plan time for a trip or a chance to “regroup”
  • Make a scrapbook of events and times spent together
  • Make an album with pictures of each child you have cared for
  • Start a garden in which you add a plant each time a child leaves your home in remembrance of the child
Consequences of Unresolved Grief in Foster Parents:
  • Emotional distancing / unavailability
  • Anger
  • Guilt
  • Depression and loss of energy
Who Unresolved Grief can Impact:
  • New foster placement(s)
  • Other foster kids in the home
  • Family members – spouse, partner, children
  • Self
  • Other relationships
Suggestions of Helpful Things You Can Do:
  • Talk about loss
  • Accept help and support when offered
  • Exercise moderately
  • Keep a journal
  • Be attentive to maintaining healthy eating and sleep patterns
  • Read
  • Listen to music
  • Seek spiritual support
  • Be patient with yourself
How to Support Others Who are Grieving
  • Be a good listener
  • Let them feel sad
  • Do not minimize grief
  • Do not be judgmental
  • Ask about their feelings
  • Acknowledge the pain
  • Be available when you can
  • Talk openly and honestly about the situation unless the person does not want to
You know you are recovering when…
  • You can laugh and enjoy being with others
  • Taking care of yourself is not only O.K., but it feels good
  • The future is not so frightening
  • You can handle special days without falling apart
  • You want to reach out to others in need or pain
  • You now enjoy activities that you had given up
  • You can share humorous memories without crying
  • Your emotional roller coaster is slowing down
  • You can actually see the progress you’ve made

Caution: Don’t get alarmed if you’re suddenly feeling the pain of grief again, this doesn’t mean you are regressing, these feelings will come up from time to time when you least expect them.

Additional Resources
Podcasts

The Forgotten Initiative: Saying Good Bye: Navigating Reunification as a Foster Parent
Offers thoughtful insights and practical tools to guide children through hard goodbyes with honor and intentionality.

The Forgotten Initiative: Good Grief: Navigating Loss in Foster Care
In foster care, we know we will be met by loss. God does not ask us to see our losses or our child’s losses as good. It’s not about minimizing our loss, and still, our perspective on grief matters.

The Forgotten Initiative: Walking Through Grief with Hope
A child’s foster care journey begins with loss, loss of what they know, who they love, and all that is familiar. Grief follows right behind and exhibits itself in various ways. As a foster parent, you and those close to you are also well-acquainted with loss and grief as the very nature of your role is to love and let go.

Books

A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis
An honest reflection on the fundamental issues of life, death, and faith in the midst of loss.


The Goodbye Book, Todd Parr
Through the lens of a pet fish who has lost his companion, Todd Parr tells a moving and wholly accessible story about saying goodbye. Touching upon the host of emotions children experience, Todd reminds readers that it’s okay not to know all the answers, and that someone will always be there to support them. An invaluable resource for life’s toughest moments.


In My Heart, Jo Witek and Christine Roussey
Happiness, sadness, bravery, anger, shyness . . . our hearts can feel so many feelings! Some make us feel as light as a balloon, others as heavy as an elephant. In My Heart explores a full range of emotions, describing how they feel physically, inside, with language that is lyrical but also direct to empower readers to practice articulating and identifying their own emotions.

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Blog

Fostering and Compassion Fatigue

If we, as doers of compassion, long to run the race (and not just the quick sprint) we can’t rely on our own strength. WE CAN NOT POWER THROUGH. God didn’t make us that way (proven in our neurological and emotional make-up) nor does he ask us to. Jesus stopped, Jesus had to consider His body, His mind, His Spirit.

Compassion Fatigue

It is not easy to work with people who have been exposed to trauma. Many who do can become weary. This weariness has been officially labeled “Compassion Fatigue.” It is also sometimes referred to as secondary traumatic stress (STS).

Compassion fatigue is a condition characterized by emotional and physical exhaustion leading to a diminished ability to empathize or feel compassion for others, often described as the negative cost of caring.

Many professional and volunteer workers are at risk of experiencing compassion fatigue. These include clergy, teachers, social workers, nurses, police officers, child protection workers and many more.

Signs of Compassion Fatigue
  • Are your thoughts irrational? There are studies that have proven if you are not moving at a healthy pace your brain will not function properly. This disruption throws off the chemical balance of your thought processes. Which disrupts critical thinking, rational thinking, problem solving and short term memory.
  • Are you overwhelmed with guilt? People who work in the world of care can often feel like they ‘don’t do enough’.
  • Are you isolating? Burn out can prevent connection. This could be the result of secondary or Vicarious trauma.
    • Both STS & VT mirror PTSD. : Vicarious trauma (VT) and Secondary Traumatic Stress (STS) are frequently used interchangeably to refer to the indirect trauma that can occur when we are exposed to difficult or disturbing images and stories second-hand.
  • Is your body giving you signs? Tenseness, exhaustion, uncontrolled emotions ranging from anger to sadness. Listen to your body. Don’t ignore cues your body gives you, (longer term signs) sleeplessness, weight gain or weight loss or other health issues. *The check engine light comes on and we OFTEN ignore it.
  • Are you avoiding God? The ‘numbness’ that can be associated with Compassion Fatigue can affect our willingness to come before the Lord.
Practical Rhythms for working through Compassion Fatigue
  • Be gracious to yourself, it’s OK not to be ‘fine’.
  • Confess to God. CRY out to God. Lament.
  • Confess to others. Have accountability (Friend, Pastor, Spouse, Counselor, Mentor or Spiritual Director). Share that burden. We aren’t called to carry these loads alone. As Disciples of Christ we know this to be true. Set yourself up with accountability within relationships.
  • Honor the Sabbath.
  • Consider the Trinity of wellness: As image bearers we are created in the image of God. The trinity of wellness matches up with the trinity of God: Mind, Body and Spirit. (Author Beverly Kyer created the 3 R’s for quick reference)
    • Mind (Release): Be aware of clues and disruptions.“confess” acknowledge, let go, speak truth in grace and humility.
    • Body (Reboot): Don’t ignore clues your body gives you. Be intentional about sleeping, eating, exercising. Pause, breathe, allow for clarity, allow for reframing. This allows your body to sync back up with your mind.
    • Spirit (Recharge): as compassionate workers we can often get focused on what God is doing through us and no longer give the appropriate space for what God would do IN us.

Resources For Compassion Fatigue

Books
Podcasts
  • Avoiding Burnout
  • Beyond Exhaustion, Creating Breathing Room as a Foster Parent: Sandra Stanley shares that the Foster Care road has been bumpy, filled with moments that have left their hearts both broken and encouraged. As foster parents, we come to this journey so hopeful, so ready to help and love, and yet when there is no margin— when the uncertainty overtakes you—it is easy to feel hopeless. Sandra offers hope in our conversation. We can create space in our lives so that we are not overtaken by this hopelessness. We can live and serve with joy.
  • Never Give Up Hope
  • The Adopting and Fostering Home: How to Avoid Compassion Fatigue: The children who enter into adoptive or foster homes are not the only ones who end up having to navigate trauma. Although adoptive and foster parents are the ones positioned to assist a child’s first-hand trauma, secondary trauma does exist and can become a challenge for parents. An informative chat with Katie Smith, a licensed clinical social worker and play therapist, Katie helps foster parents tackle the sometimes-overlooked matter of parents handling the trauma that emerges in their lives even as they parent.
  • The Gift and Necessity of Time Away with God: Dallas Willard once said, “If you don’t come away for a while, you will come apart after a while.” Ruth Haley Barton, author of Invitation to Retreat, joins Nathan to talk about the gift and necessity of retreat where we rest, unplug, and relinquish ourselves to God.

Deana Terrell for Foster the City

Categories
Blog Foster Parent

To send them home: The heart and hope of reunification

“The goal of fostering is reunification whenever safe for the kids.” That is the typical answer when asked “What is the purpose of foster care?” Most people in the foster care space hold this stance, and I do as well. But to grasp a life focused on reunification is weighty in itself. It is an uncomfortable calling that ushers someone into the unstable and unknown, away from comfort and assurance. 

 

Fostering, as I see it, is mainly a form of stewardship. Similar to the way we steward time, treasures, and talents, the children that enter resource family homes have been entrusted to us as parents for a season. A lot of times, the end of that season is unknown at the start, but that should encourage us to greater love in service, knowing the days are limited while not knowing the limit. Every moment is meaningful. Each meal can be a memory. Daily mercies matter more and more. With a perspective of “being parents as long as we are needed,” we can shift our focus from the “as long” part to the “are needed.” Instead of dwelling on a future time when the kids have been reunified, we can love them as much as possible today, for tomorrow will worry about itself. 

 

Admittedly, this is no easy task, especially as time goes on. There is a real possibility for thoughts to creep in that are not inline with stewardship: “What if they stayed with me forever?”, “These kids deserve the life I can give them,” or “I could do such a better job than their actual parents.” While they seem good-natured at first, wanting what we believe is best for the kids, they disregard one of the key elements of the foster system: coming alongside a family in crisis. Foster families have the privilege of being on the frontline for a family impacted by the foster system. With a mix of emotions running through their minds, one of the last thoughts biological parents need in these vulnerable times is to have to worry about a resource family trying to replace them. And likewise, regardless of the circumstances of removal, the children should be reassured that their placement home’s number one priority is for the children’s well-being, not whether they are a possible “forever placement.”

 

Some might assume if the kids are going to be reunified, then they should not get “too attached” because it will be too painful when they leave. While I do not believe many will argue with the very real grief that comes after kids are reunified, to not love them to one’s fullest extent would be a disservice to everyone involved. Viewing foster care as a time of crisis for a family, how could we withhold attachment to a child that just had their world turned upside down? Are we really going to invite youth into our homes but not into our hearts? We should hold the cross in high regard as a symbol of sacrificial love, laying down the fullness of our lives. We love in preparation for loss, not to avoid it. 

 

If we were to take a step back and think about the notion of limiting attachment because of a lack of permanency, we might find that there are other areas in our life where we would not do the same. Part of that might be due to an assumption of permanency that is not really there, but we just pretend it is. When it comes to fostering, we are given notice up front, tempting us to begin guarding ourselves. But we don’t have assurance that our best friend will be in our life 2 years from now, yet we aren’t preparing for that friendship to fizzle. We rarely have guaranteed employment 18 months from now, but does that mean we should enter our workplaces every day, greeting co-workers with our walls up? We might not like to think about it, but there is no promise of loved ones being present a year from now. And yet we are comfortable investing attachment into all of these areas. Granted, that is what makes the loss of them feel weighty, but I ask again, are not the kids in foster homes worthy to be invested in the same way? Loss is inevitable, so let us love as much as possible until reunification, then bring the loss before the cross.

 

So we’ve stewarded our time with them well, loving unconditionally along the way, but what happens after they leave? The closet is emptied and the last mess is cleaned up. Despite all of the training for certification, there is nothing that prepares a foster parent for the return to quiet after a placement, no matter how long the duration. The rhythms of making meals and tucking in are no more, even if the desire persists. You take the time you think you need to process, then you take a little more. You continually ask yourself why you do what you do, and hopefully come to the conclusion that you’ll do it again, at least once more.

 

Not every placement continues with contact. I’ve been truly blessed that I am still in contact with the two girls who entered our home almost a year and a half ago, staying for just 4 months, but I know that is rare. People say fostering shouldn’t be about growing your family. I say yes and no. Yes, they were reunified and no longer live with us, but I do believe our family grew regardless and continues to grow in reunification. It grew when they showed up to our baby shower, their mom included, to celebrate with us. It grew when we were invited to “Special Friends’ Day” at their school. It grew with every overnight and spur of the moment visit, knowing there was a mutual joy with seeing one another again. And in it all, we have loved them, near or far. 

 

For the times in between visits, and the time we wait for the next one, if it comes, we have to continually fight to trust that they are in good hands, neither ours nor their parent’s, but God’s. That is pretty much the only way reunification works. God places the children in our life for us to give everything we have, relying on Him for grace. And we continue to rely on Him once the kids have moved out. When we let go of the need to influence the situation and stop believing they are only safe or happy in our homes, we are freed to trust a King with an ever-watchful eye. If I continually worried about their wellbeing every moment since reunification, I couldn’t bear the weight of helplessness. It is only when walking in the faith of a Savior who was working in their lives long before I showed up, and will continue to do so long after I am around, that I can rejoice in reunification. I don’t do it perfectly, and I can stand to do it more often. For my sake. For the kids I have reunified. And God willing for the next ones I’ll help reunify. 

-FTC Foster Parent

 

Categories
Blog Foster Parent

I lost my life to find it.

The Christian martyr Jim Elliott is quoted as saying, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” This quote is a snapshot of what the journey of being a fost-adopt parent has looked like for me.

Let me be honest, I was clearly closed to foster care. I had my one biological daughter and that was enough for me, the expression of love and DNA passed down. In my mind, there was no way that I could love a child that didn’t come from me biologically. What was the point?

Since my wife (and I deep down) had such a desire to conceive more children we did all the stuff couples do. Testing, talking, paying money, more testing, and paying more money, and all the other stuff that comes from inside the measurable and controlled white walls.

Through our secondary infertility journey, I realized my wife’s deep desire to become a foster-adoptive parent. This was a scary squall to me. It was no longer about me because I was hell bent on staying in my boat no matter what. I love counting the cost. I can do it forever. I think first then leap, but never really leap. Why should I? I can always rationalize away “counting the cost” but it gives birth to what I’m ultimately after, security and control.

I don’t think that Jesus came to offer me a safe and controlled life but I subconsciously swam in this mirage of the Christian-American dream. I concluded that this is my stuff and I am not willing to share. 

Truthfully, it came to a point that I knew I would need to lay down my life for my wife or it would always be the elephant in the room. Lose my life to find it. I wanted to save my life to keep it, thank you very much.

My wife asked if we could take some classes about the dire need for “parents to take in children removed from homes.” Why would I want to upset the “shalom of my home” to bring in “little squalls not from me”? Am I crazy?

After attending these classes I became aware that one, this is a crisis and two, there were very few men attending these meetings. This bothered me. It was the women who were stepping up to the challenge and getting out of the boat. It was God who was slowly unclenching my hands gripped on the boat.

After the classes, I took out my anger by punching the center of the steering wheel with such great force that it set off the car horn indefinitely. “Where are the men!” I yelled.

This was God’s way of interrupting my quiet and safe life. The horn was God’s way of symbolically asking me to get out of the boat. Asking me to lose my life so I can find it, and so we did.

Today I have had the privilege to welcome children and a teenager into my home, and I have adopted two of them.

Becoming a foster-adoptive parent was nothing what I expected. I realize that I have love to give. My heart has room, just as God’s heart has room with his many mansions.

The bottom line is that jumping in the pool and getting out of the boat has changed the trajectory of my life!

Saying yes to children who need a loving home is saying yes to God. I have lost my life to find it but the gift is that we were meant for love, created by Love to give love. 

Although foster care has been challenging at times, I find that it is rewarding because it has shaped me. I have had to depend on Jesus, keeping my eyes on him amidst the challenges and joys.

Children do not ask to be removed. They have no choice, but I do. To whom much is given, much is required. Being a foster parent is not about me. It is about the children and the Lord who welcomes them in his name because I remember that Jesus is the welcome and the welcomer.

Jim Elliot was right. I am no fool because I keep nothing down here but I gain everything that I can never lose.

Doug

 

Categories
Blog Foster Parent

Un-becoming His Mom

Reunification is the first and primary goal of foster care and I believe foster parents can play a key role in championing biological parents on that path. The journey isn’t easy- it’s full of emotional highs and lows, but getting to witness a family restored is one of the highest honors in life. For 20 months I loved and cared for my foster son as if he were my own. There were many moments where I truly didn’t know what the outcome of the case would be. There were twists and turns around every corner, but I always held hope and prayed that one day I’d be able to confidently hand him back to his mom, knowing that’s where he belonged. Over the course of almost 2 years, the Lord opened the door for me to build a beautiful relationship with her. It started out slowly, but over time we became friends. She began to trust me and open up to me and I was able to support and encourage her.  By the grace of God and lots of grit and determination on her part, she successfully completed her case plan. Her son has been home with her for over a year now and I am blessed to continue being part of their lives. She has always assured me that she wants me in his life forever, but when he first reunified, the dynamics of our relationship shifted. Our roles reversed: she became the primary caretaker and was in control, and I was the one who was now having visits. I began to understand (to a degree) what she had felt while he was in my care. My house was empty and my heart ached for him. It’s not natural to temporarily raise a baby and then have to say goodbye. As much as I wanted him to leave me, I grieved deeply.  It was challenging in many ways and I had to figure out who I was again, outside of being somebody’s mom. Through growing pains/adjusted expectations I’ve learned to respect her boundaries. There’s a mutual understanding that the relationship is on her terms. It’s been messy at times, but we have so much love for each other. She affectionately refers to me as her “Baby Mama” and we talk often. I still light up every time they FaceTime or invite me to hang out with them. We’ve spent holidays, birthdays, and special occasions together. We’re family now! Every day that passes since I un-became his mom (I mean in the practical sense, because of course my heart will always have a mother’s love for him) gets a tiny bit easier. This current season of life feels a little more “normal”.  But then some days, a random memory will pop into my head and tears fill my eyes. Today it was walking up to my porch and remembering all of his things that used to be scattered about for our daily porch hangs. I miss being his mom so much. And I know that’s okay. It’s okay to be so glad he’s home, but also miss momming him. It’s both/and. I recognize how unique and special our relationship is. It’s truly a gift that she continues to humbly allow me in. Oh what joy it brings me to see them thrive!  I am immensely proud of the mother she is and am grateful for the journey we’ve walked together. I look forward to all the memories we’ll make over the years! -Foster the City Foster Parent
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Blog Foster Parent

What’s sown in tears is reaped in joy…

To longtime moms, and sometimes moms, and new moms, and waiting to be moms, and moms that don’t have children to call their own, but mother nonetheless – happy mother’s day. 

From as far back as I can remember I’ve wanted to be a mum, and 24 years ago, when I was just 15 I found out I couldn’t have children biologically. 

6 years ago my Dad died from a short but aggressive battle with cancer, he was 62 years old. He was an amazing Daddy, and I love him dearly. 

In the final month with my Dad, he looked me in the eye, and asked, 

“Do you have any regrets?”

I answered, “Yes,” with tears choking my throat, “that you’ll never see me be a mum.” He took my hand, looked me straight in the eye and tenderly yet firmly responded, “Oh, but Ellie I have. I’ve seen how you’ve mothered in a thousand ways. I know one day you’ll be a Mum, but I’ve seen you be a ‘mum’ to so many.”  

After my dad died, the idea of dreaming or hoping for a family felt far fetched. One too many “no-s” in a long string of very closed doors to growing our family had me very firmly in the “it’s just not meant to be” camp. It was a season of deep sorrow and seemingly never ending waves of grief. I was thrown deep into the valley, and there didn’t seem a way out. My dad was a pastor, I was raised in the church, and I loved God deeply and passionately… but yet here in this moment, having lost my dad and that deep desire to have a family, the last thing I wanted was the comfort of God.  It remains one of the darkest seasons of my life. 

Time, patience, lots of tears, therapy, and lots and lots of grace allowed me to turn back to God. I finally allowed him to lead me beside still waters, embraced the valley, and began the journey out. 

As my dear friend says, “God can take our deepest wounds and turn them into our greatest calling.”

I joined the team at Foster the City almost a year after my Dad died, and I spent the next 8 months consistently hearing the need for foster families. Not only was I hearing the need, I was sharing the need and a solution to the crisis of more children entering into foster care than there are homes and families to care for them.

And so, in January 2019 my husband and I began the journey to become a Resource Home/Foster Parents. 

While plan A of foster care IS reunification with the parents, then kinship care, the ask is to be open to both outcomes – reunification whenever possible, then adoption/legal guardianship. Knowing this, and knowing the journey God and I had weathered, I felt firm in my conviction that despite our desire to grow our family we could do this – we could say yes and then say goodbye. 

We’ve said yes four times, and good bye three, and yes we got too attached. Yes, each of those good byes has meant a piece of my heart is always missing. But, I wouldn’t change a thing, I wouldn’t take back any one of those yes-es. Even when one of those goodbyes brought me to my knees.

I did indeed become a Mama, four times over.  I was each of our babies’ Mamas for a season/seasons in their lives when they so fiercely needed a Mum (or extra Mum). 

And that deep rooted desire to grow our family? It’s a running joke that I should be more specific in my prayers, as indeed God has grown our family. In ways unexpected, and full of joy and sorrow (but isn’t that every family?!) 

There’s a Children’s book called “Plant A Kiss.” The little girl in the book plants a solitary kiss, and waits for it to grow. There are days where she doubts, and pouts, yet still she waters that kiss. One day, it sprouts and all gather to see. She declares that she will share, and those gathered are aghast for surely she should keep it for herself. But no, share she does, and from that one little seed of love, the bowl is filled again and again to overflowing as she joyfully distributes love. 

“Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.”

I have watered that kiss, that dream of motherhood with an endless flow of tears for years. 

As 2022 drew to a close, we did indeed see permanency, I did claim the official title of “Mama” to our darling boy. But long before the judge made it official, I knew what my Dad said in that hospital room was true – that the heart of who God had made me to be, a mother, had lived out in so many ways.

So today, as I celebrate Mother’s Day for the first time as a legal bonafide mother, I want to say Happy Mother’s Day to each and every one of you on the path of motherhood, whether it’s in full bloom, a seed freshly planted, or one that needs a little extra care this day.

With love,
Ellie 

Professional Photos from Laura Michele Photography, Kelsey Gann Photo, Anchored in Hope Productions



 

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Theology Thursday

Yātôm Week 6: Parting words for the journey ahead

Today is the final leg of our journey to discover what the Bible actually says about God’s heart for the fatherless. Over the past 6 weeks we have been studying the Hebrew word yātôm, translated into English as ‘orphan’ or ‘the fatherless.’ As we have studied how the Hebrew Scriptures use the word yātôm, four key themes have risen to the surface. And each theme has contributed greater clarity to the beautiful picture of God’s heart for vulnerable children: 

Theme #1: God will bring judgment on those who oppress yātôm

Theme #2: God will bring blessing on those who protect and care for yātôm 

Theme #3: God himself provides for and defends yātôm 

Theme #4: God calls his people to do justice towards yātôm because they to were helpless as slaves in Egypt.

Today we will look at the last key theme regarding God’s heart for the fatherless. And as you will soon discover, it is the perfect way to finish our study on the Hebrew word yātôm. 

Jeremiah 7 is one of those passages that everyone who desires to know the Bible should be familiar with. Chapter 7 is often called “Jeremiah’s temple sermon” because Jeremiah preached this message on the temple grounds to the people of God. Unlike many sermons in our day, Jeremiah 7 is not a warm, upbeat and encouraging message of hope. It is rather a word of warning that God’s people need to amend their ways or the Lord will bring judgment on the people and remove His presence from the temple. For those familiar with church history, it was the ancient equivalent of Martin Luther calling the church to repent and amend their ways by nailing his ninety-five theses to the door of the catholic church. 

God’s core problem with Israel in Jeremiah 7 is their hypocrisy. Throughout the week, Israel would commit grave injustice and idolatry. Then they would head to the temple to sing worship songs and offer sacrifices as if everything was cool between them and God. Jeremiah’s task was to announce a message of warning and potential judgment on the people if they did not repent of their injustice and idolatry and turn from their wicked ways to practice justice and righteousness.

Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel… “For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever” – Jeremiah 7:5-7

God’s problem with Israel was they were living a double-life. On Sunday they would sing songs to the Lord, then on Monday they would oppress the poor. One minute they are offering ritual sacrifices, but the next they are taking advantage of the widow and orphan. God had had enough. The warning was clear: change your ways or I will forsake you and your temple.

What is remarkable about this passage – and others like it in Isaiah 1 and Zechariah 7 – is how God details what true repentance looks like. It wasn’t enough for Israel to just say sorry and offer another sacrifice. Jeremiah says that the proof of a repentant heart is love and care for the poor. In other words, for Israel to truly amend their ways they needed to do justice for “the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.” Professor of Old Testament Theology Dr. Todd Chipman says it this way,

“Jeremiah was as concerned for the orphan as he was the state of the temple, prophesying that unless the people of Judah took up causes like justice for the orphan, God would come and remove not only the temple from Jerusalem, but them from the land.” (1)

This is a truly amazing reality! God was so committed to protecting yātôm that he was willing to forsake his own temple if Israel was unwilling to start loving and caring for the poor. God was unwilling to dwell with his people if they continued to oppress and take advantage of the marginalized. And what would be the evidence that Israel had truly repented and changed their ways? The sign of true repentance would be doing justice for yātôm. And this is our fifth and final theme: doing justice for yātôm is a marker of true repentance from sin. (2)

Jeremiah was not the only one proclaiming this message. Listen to how similar the prophet Isaiah’s call to the people of Israel was to Jeremaih’s, “wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes.” And how was Israel to go about purifying themselves? “Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause” (Is. 1:16-17). With remarkable similarity, Isaiah defines repentance in the same terms as Jeremiah – to bring justice to yātôm! As we conclude our study on the fatherless, I want to point out two life-shaping implications from this doctrine of true repentance:

1. First, true repentance is a whole-life action that leads to whole-life change. Biblical repentance is not only saying “I am sorry”, it is also saying “I will change.” The Christian who claims they have been forgiven by God must in turn forgive other people (Lk 6:37; Eph 5:1). The Christian who claims they have been adopted by God, must in turn care for the orphan (Jas 1:127). This is the very nature of salvation! The grace of God has appeared to all who are saved, teaching them to live a life of godliness, imitating the work of Christ (Ti 2:11-13).

2. The second life-shaping implication of true repentance is that we are all invited to repent and begin to defend and care for the poor. In some way, all of us have fallen short of God’s command to love the poor. And instead of trying to justify ourselves before God with a list of what we have done, Isaiah and Jeremiah invite us to repent of what we have left undone. Repentance is the first step in living a life of justice and righteousness before God. God’s mercies are new every morning and he is quick to forgive and empower all who come humbly before him to repent of sin and ask for help. It is the Father’s joy to teach his children how to love and care for the poor, especially yātôm.  

So there you have it. Five key themes that not only paint a beautiful picture of God’s heart for yātôm, but each one better equips us to love and serve children and youth in foster care. 

  • Theme #1: Because God is the one who brings judgment on those who oppress yātôm, my anger and lament of oppression is justified and I am free to love knowing that vengeance belongs to the Lord. 
  • Theme #2: Because God will bring blessing on those who protect and care for yātôm, I am invited to enjoy the deep, soul-satisfying joy of being with God in the work he is doing, getting a front-row seat to God’s redemptive work in the lives of the fatherless. 
  • Theme #3: Because God himself provides for and defends yātôm, I am free to love and serve children and youth in foster care because my confidence does not lie in my own ability to save and to heal, it lies with the Great Physician, the ultimate father to the fatherless and defender of the vulnerable. 
  • Theme #4: Because I myself was once spiritually vulnerable and in need of rescue, I have great empathy for children and youth in foster care and I am safeguarded against thinking I am the savior and main character of the foster care story. 
  • Theme #5: Because God is gracious and his mercies are new every morning, even when I fail to love, serve and protect yātôm, God offers me unlimited second chances through the gift of true repentance. 

May God’s word continue to be a lamp unto your feet and a light unto your path as you follow him on this beautiful yet challenging journey of caring for children and youth in foster care. 

Ryan MacDonald
Regional Director, SoCal

(1) Todd Chipman, Until Every Child is Home p.54.
(2)  
See Is. 1:17; Jer 7:5-7; 22:3; Zech 7:10.

 

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Theology Thursday

Yātôm Week 5: Don’t forget where you came from

I love the movie Lion King – I think it’s one of Disney’s best animated films. And any fan of the movie will tell you that the most pivotal scene is not – contrary to popular opinion – when Scar convinces little Simba that his father Mufasa’s death was his fault. The most pivotal scene happens after adolescent Samba has run away from the Pride Lands and bumps into a strange shaman named Rafiki. Rafiki attempts to offer Samba guidance, but Simba immediately writes off the deranged mandril primate as crazy saying, “I think you are confused,” to which Rafiki responds, “I am not the one who is confused. You don’t even know who you are.” At this point Rafiki reveals that he not only knew Simba’s father but claims he is still alive! Rafiki then leads Simba to the revelation that his father is alive… in that part of Mufasa lives on through him. Simba, in a moment of vulnerability, confesses that it is painful to remember his father’s death. And Rafiki, without skipping a beat, responds by saying, Yes, the past can hurt, but the way I see it you can either run from it or learn from it.” This sage insight is just what Simba needed to realize he was the rightful King of Pride Rock and it was time for him to return and take back his kingdom from the evil rule of Scar.

What happened in this scene has been played out in a thousand movies and sung out in a thousand songs. It is the pivotal moment when a character understands that the hardship of their past is – in the words of Rafiki – not something to run from, it is something to learn from. The basic message of these profound moments can be simply summarized in the common expression, “don’t forget where you came from.” The principle behind this expression is that the pain of our past is often the door to our future. 

This was just as true for ancient Israel as it was for Simba. In the last 3 blog posts we have been unpacking some of the key themes regarding how the Old Testament uses the Hebrew word yātôm (which is translated to English as “orphan” or “fatherless.”) And this week we arrive at theme #4 which is that God calls his people to do justice towards yātôm because they to were helpless as slaves in Egypt (Deut 16:12; 24:18, 22). This is God reminding Israel, “don’t forget where you came from.” God expects Isreal to love and care for the fatherless because they themselves were in desperate need of defense and protection while slaves in Egypt. Listen to how the following passage from the book of Deuteronomy puts it:


“You shall not pervert the justice due to the sojourner or to the fatherless, or take a widow’s garment in pledge, but you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this.”

Deuteronomy 24:17-18

God redeemed Israel from their helpless state as slaves in Egypt. He listened to their cry for help and responded in compassion. Israel, more than anyone else, should empathize with the powerless and the oppressed because they were once in the exact same state. God’s love for his people is not only a blessing to be received, it is an action to be imitated. Being loved by God is a transformative action! When you are loved by God, you are changed by God. As God loves you, you learn to love others. And as God abides in you, you have the love of God to give away. 

Because of this, God expected – even demanded! – that Israel would follow His lead and take concert steps to care for the yātôm among them. The Lord even gave detailed instructions about how to harvest grain and gather produce in a way that nourished and provided for the vulnerable within the community. 

When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat your olive trees, you shall not go over them again. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not strip it afterward. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I command you to do this.”

Deuteronomy 24:19-22

It is precisely because Israel was helpless and hungry in their bondage that they are now to be generous and compassionate in their freedom. And this “don’t forget where you came from” theme is not only found in the Hebrew Scriptures; it carries on throughout the whole Bible. In the Gospels when Jesus would heal, bless, redeem, and forgive he would often turn to his disciples and say, “go and do likewise” (Mt 6:14; Lk 10:37). And the apostle Paul exhorted the church in Ephesus to “be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us” (Eph 5:1-2). It is because Christ has given himself up for us that we are called to give ourselves away to others. 

This means for the Christian, foster care and adoption are simply a response to what God has done for them. Christians are the ones who were spiritually orphaned, yet now adopted by God into his family. And since God graciously brought them into his family, they are called to open their homes to children who need a family. 

The call to “not forget where you came from” has two significant applications that help to fortify and strengthen those who care for children and youth in foster care. First, it creates empathy. Followers of Jesus know first hand the experience of being vulnerable and defenseless. We too were those in need of defenders and advocates when Jesus, our great mediator, came to our rescue and spoke up on our behalf. It is only through the work and love of Christ that we have been reunited with our father in heaven. And second, it prevents us from feeling superior. The “savior complex” temptation is real. It is easy to feel like foster parents and advocates are the heroes of the social welfare story. But “not forgetting where you came from” provides the sobering and needed perceptive that apart from Christ we can do nothing! Every righteous impulse and kind act is simply the kingdom of God breaking out of a life submitted to Christ. 

Theme #1: God will bring judgment on those who oppress yātôm
Theme #2: God will bring blessing on those who protect and care for yātôm
Theme #3: God himself provides for and defends yātôm Theme #4: God calls his people to do justice towards yātôm because they to were helpless as slaves in Egypt. (Deut 16:12; 24:18, 22)

Ryan MacDonald