Pending Match

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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

 

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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

 

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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