Thursday, January 31, 2019

Sunshine and Rainbows

On my last blog post about adopting, I made a comment about this journey not being all sunshine and rainbows.  But then I filled your Facebook feed yesterday with picture perfect pictures and smiling faces of a little baby who was adopted as an infant and came to us from the hospital.  So I have felt this burden to make sure as an advocate for these kids, I clear up a few things.

  • We will begin our 7th year of fostering in May and out of 20+ kids there have been 5 total that have gone up for adoption.  Our girls, Henry, and 2 others.  5.  Let that number sink in.
  • In 6 years of fostering we have only brought 2 babies straight home from the hospital at birth.  Henry, and one who only spent one night with us.  Our first placement was 4 weeks old.  Still a newborn but not straight from the hospital.
  • The majority of our kids have reunified with family members or parents.
  • Henry is number 7 and there's been one born recently.  He has a half sister who went to live with her father, 5 half siblings (these 5 have the same mom and dad) who are in an adoptive placement, and 1 born in December who is currently in the care of birth family.
  • Henry was on track to leave us and go with his birth dad.  His case was kept completely separate because termination had already happened on the others and reunification with his father was the plan.  I  had actually built a good relationship with dad so I could help out after he left.  
  • I couldn't send him to daycare for the first 8-9 months.  Like it was court and doctor ordered because he was too fragile.  This meant I worked, had 4 other kids, and had to work out his schedule as well.
  • Henry was diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.  FAS is currently a leading diagnosis only behind autism.  So I decided instead of keeping this as some dark and dirty secret, awareness is key.
Why do I tell you all of this?  
  • Because bringing a newborn home from the hospital and adopting them a year later is not the norm.  
  • Because if you foster to eventually adopt a newborn, you may get tired of waiting.  I would've waited for almost 7 years and let me tell you something...when you are fostering just to hopefully get a newborn you can keep, you won't make it 7 years.  
  • Because sometimes all we get are the pretty pictures on Facebook and we don't get the real picture behind them.
Am I thrilled Henry is a part of our family?  Absolutely!!  Do I foster babies/kids in the hopes they will stay with us forever?  Absolutely not.  That's called adoption.  And there is a huge need for adoption with older kids and sibling groups.  We choose to foster, pray for reunification, and pray for restoration in families.  And most of the time, that is exactly what happens.  

Friday, January 25, 2019

Surprise! It's a Boy......

We are officially adopting again.  Next week in fact....

I would love to say it's been a quick and easy 9 months type pregnancy, but that would be a lie.  It has been anything but easy and nothing with the state is ever quick.  However, the time has officially come.  Next week we will make it official on paper to raise, love, support, and empower this little guy the best we know how.

On New Years Eve 2017, we got the phone call asking if we would take a 10 day old baby leaving the NICU.  In true Christian fashion I was hesitant because I LOVE sleep.  Like, I look forward to getting back into my bed as soon as I leave it.  And newborns do not sleep.  Not to mention, our teenager with her baby had only recently left so we just needed a hot minute to recoup.  But, as often happens, my no turned to yes and I agreed to take this 4 lb tiny thing.  J.O. was out of town on a ski trip with the 2 oldest, so I figured this would serve as a nice welcome home present.

Well, the baby became critically ill before he was released and began a month long NICU stay from New Years Eve until January 22nd.  We visited him during this time and I remember thinking then, man this is going to be hard to let him go.  But, as only foster parents can do, I shifted my mindset each week and started slowly building a small relationship with his biological father.  We began the all too familiar dance of parenting him while preparing to hand him over.

In the fall of last year circumstances changed, and we began the shift from foster parents to forever parents.  We didn't officially finish paperwork until December and decided we would let the world know when there was a date on paper.

This little guy is a miracle.  You may not ever know what all he has already had to overcome just to be with us today.  If you are ever struggling with your faith, come read his adoption file.  The day he was almost discharged to us he had to be able to sit in a carseat for 60 minutes without his respiratory rate going down.  He made it 57 minutes and it tanked so the doctor wouldn't release him.  Overnight, they discovered he had a critical intestinal issue and the nurse told us he wouldn't have survived at our house throughout the night.  And this only scratches the surface of his amazing journey.

Now, don't get me wrong.  This journey has not been all sunshine and rainbows.  In fact, we still aren't certain about a lot with his future, but one thing I know is this.  The same God that protected him from being released too early from the hospital, is the same God today.  He literally plucked him out of a situation meant for bad, and we will spend our lives helping it be worked for good.

Do we adopt because we have this overwhelming desire for tons of kids?  Um no.  Do we adopt because a loving and Holy God once saw our overwhelming situation of sin and picked us up, dusted us off, and called us His own.  Absolutely.

It's not easy.  Man it's not easy.  My social life is non existent, I (sometimes) text people on the phone instead of seeing them, and most days I am very sympathetic to moms who hide and eat chocolate or drink, but it is so very worth it.

So get ready to see lots of pics of the cutest boy (alongside Trey) you ever will meet.  And just know that what those pictures don't tell, is there is a lot of fight in that tiny little body.  And we want you to know this sweet boy....your mom and dad have a lot of fight too and we will make it our mission to go before you every step of the way.

Monday, October 22, 2018

I Quit......

At church our Pastor started a sermon series about people that have given up on religion.  You know the people I mean.....people who attended church as a child, but now wouldn't be caught dead anywhere near one.  People who have denounced any form of organized religion, prayer of any kind (unless we are praying over the mega millions), and religious authority.

When I first heard about this series, I immediately thought of friends and family members who have walked away.  I thought of the reasons and how the church (and the people) have failed them over time. But then, I realized this series was really about me in some sense.  It was also for the people who sit in the pew week after week and are unchanged by the message of the Gospel.  

I have been out of church before so I get it. I went to college and didn't really make a conscious effort not to attend church, I just didn’t even care enough to really consider it.  To be honest, I made some great friends with people who cared about me a lot and none of us met in church.  That kind of threw everything I thought I knew about church out of the window. These people were nice, funny, caring, and one of them was even my future husband.  In fact, they were a stark contrast to the people I had met in the church growing up.  They didn’t try to nitpick everything and find hidden fault in Every. Single. Person.  I didn’t really make an effort to “quit religion” but it just happened.  That’s the scary part.

As an adult, I entered into a relationship with Christ and realized church was actually something I enjoyed going to.  I didn’t have to hold on to the bitterness of the past and found myself in a church I could grow in, form relationships with people, and raise a family.  I was an adult with a new love for Christ and His church.  As our family dynamic began to change with fostering, the relationships we made in the church, and with other Christians, were the only things that sustained us.  We made a commitment to “do life” as closely as possible with several friends and allowed our thinking to be changed by the Gospel.

But over time, that began to dull once again. I became the type of Christian that showed up weekly and became irritated that the music didn’t make me feel super spiritual.  I mean, I wasn't even tempted to raise my hands.  Annoying.  So I became irritated at everyone else.  It couldn’t be a problem with me.  No way.  Preaching a little boring?  Ugh.  I mean, surely he could have read a little less Isaiah and used a few more videos. 

Someone made me a little uncomfortable talking about the miraculous way God moved in their life?  They got a little too charismatic?  I better pick that apart quickly.  They want me to volunteer again?  There are 6 paid staff people.  Surely, one of them can.  And so on and so on.

Slowly over time, nothing impressed me, everything irritated me, and I found myself being the most religious person I knew to give up on religion.  I sat in the pew week after week and left completely unchanged.  And the scary part is….I didn’t even realize it. 

Sure, I felt sorry for the oppressed.  Broken for them?  No.  Hearer of the Word?  Sure.  Doer of the Word?  No.  Reading the Bible?  Sure.  Allowing the Bible to amaze me and change me?  No.  

To be honest, this is where I live too often as a committed, church going Christian.  Why would anyone want what I have?  What stands out to them?  How do I love differently?  How do I resist the urge to sit in a pew and be unmoved week after week?  How do I resist picking apart someone's personal testimony and story, simply because it makes me uncomfortable or forces me to think differently.

It's hard!  It's an effort that forces me to continue to learn, grow, and think differently.  I imagine I would have felt so out of place in the early church!  I can't be satisfied being stagnant and luke-warm.  It's in those times that quitting seems easy and continuing on seems far too complicated.  

People are messy.  And human.  And imperfect.  But, when we wrap all of that up in the context of the Gospel, it's a beautifully broken mess that I would much rather be in the middle of than on the outside looking in.  

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Tattoos and Racism

Wondering what the above have in common?  Well, nothing.  Except they are two things I encountered in the last 5 days that I consider life changing.

Let me explain.  I do not like tattoos.  I never have.  95% of my family have them and I have just never been interested.  My dad and I have been the hold outs.....stay classy dad.  But, a few weeks ago God really laid a word on my heart.  And the word was multiply.  I have been so convicted that we can do great things, work hard, be kind, but if we die and there is no one who carries on what we began....what is the point?  The multiplication principle is pretty simple.  J. O. and I can foster for years, but what is the point if that ministry dies with us?

So, I mentioned this word to my friend Kellie and told her I had a picture of it tattooed on my wrist.  Then, she shared with me her vision of a tattoo but she hadn't wanted to tell me because she knew I thought they were dumb.  Now, there is one thing you should know about me.  When I get something in my head I do it.  Like right then.  So once I agreed on doing this, I just needed the free afternoon and a tattoo parlor.  And I found both on Wednesday afternoon......right before Wednesday night church.....  I wouldn't recommend that, but hey.  I am still employed so I consider it a win.

I went to this tattoo parlor alone and got this word on my wrist.  And I find it no coincidence that the "t" in the word looks like a cross.  Even though that wasn't the design.  But, I love it and I may want more in the future.  So sorry J.O.

That brings me to the racism portion.  I went to Branson last weekend for a retreat with other foster and adoptive moms.  Now, I like a lot of things but this ranks pretty close to the top.  To get to stay at a super nice resort, with people who think a small family is 4 kids, is the best.  And one of the best things they do is build in down time.  We get 3 hours of nothing on Saturday afternoon.  Now for our friends that know Kellie and I, they know we typically watch slightly inappropriate movies during this time.  You know.....movies that aren't PG.  But this year, the place had removed this option from our room so we were forced to do something else.  So we shopped.  And the place we went was awesome.  It was a stand alone shop with amazing shoes.  Rows and rows of shoes.  We quickly found several pairs and headed to the check out.  We paid for those amazing shoes and were about to leave when the topic turned a bit awkward.

The owner began to tell us how big Branson had gotten.  We were surprised and he continued.  He told us that his daughters 5th grade class had 13 classes.  We were surprised again.  So then he started in on what a safe town it was.  We were glad.  Then he told us it was because the class as a whole had only "2 black people".  This feels dirty to even type.  Then he said they were also lucky because the Hispanics had moved in to open restaurants and work.

Man....they were a lucky group these 'whites'.

And I would love to tell you I had a great comeback.  Something like "well, between our Hispanic and African American kids maybe we can help diversify this town" or even something simple like "wow, just because we are white doesn't mean we think this way."  Now, Kellie did say, "man that's sad."  And I shook my head and looked appalled but ultimately I had no words.  We left and both couldn't believe it.  We were shocked, saddened, and disgusted.

So I guess the point of this rambling blog is this.  How dare you.  How dare you think because I am white I share your racist views.  How dare you think because I am shopping in your stores I want to hear your opinion.  How dare you think your view is okay.

Until we decide to break the stereotypes on races, ethnicities, genders, and dare I say tattoos......God help us all.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Put the toy in the box.......

Where do I begin with the youngest female in our house?  She's all things cute and whiny.  She would much rather cry than look at you, cry than talk, cry than figure out why she is actually crying, and so forth.

But when she came to us at 10 mths old, she never cried.  In fact she never made a sound.  She ate and slept and was of course classified as a "good" baby.  But as she got older I was very suspicious that she didn't hear well.  I couldn't really put my finger on why but I just knew it deep down.  We went to doctors and she always had fluid on her ears so after 2 sets of tubes they decided to test her hearing.  However, she was so young they couldn't get an accurate read but wanted to continue to follow up.  In March, she finally made it through the entire gamut of testing in the audiology booth at Childrens.  She wore the ear buds, showed responses to sounds, and sat still for 45 minutes of testing.  Which is no small feat at 4.  And it showed what I have always suspected.  That she has hearing loss at a certain decibel.  Thankfully at the speech level she hears what we say, but when she gets to high frequencys she can't hear in either ear.  This affects the "th" and "s" sound and random things like an airplane jet, birds, etc.  She is in speech and will have to learn certain words by tongue placement and watching people speak.  She will need preferential seating at school and so forth, but all in all it's not a big deal.  The hope is it will remain stable and not progress.

However, when we were in the booth last week (we are now there often for follow up screens), I was amazed at how loud the sound was she couldn't hear.  It is the high frequency so imagine a loud beeping noise in the room.  I kept sitting there and finally even reminded her to place the toy in the box when she heard the sound (I am sure the audiologist loves me).  I really wanted to say, "come on now Grace, surely you hear that."  But she didn't.  In fact, it's amazing because the lowest pitch sound that I would have to strain to hear, she picked up immediately.  It was the loud screeching noise that was obvious she couldn't hear.  I often wonder if she thinks my voice never sounds shrill.  I bet she wonders why my face sometimes is red but I am making no noise.  Kidding.  Kinda.

Anyway, when I got home and was explaining all of this to J.O., I couldn't help but imagine if this is how God must feel with us All. The. Time.  He must wonder why in the world we can't hear what He is saying.  Why do we sit there and look around confused when we hear Him.  Or refuse to move when we hear Him speak.  How often must He be thinking...."come on now Tamra, surely you hear that."

This summer has been crazy.  I will be honest, I was in a funk at the beginning of it.  I don't like things that are unstructured, I don't have kids that handle things that are unstructured.  I had an attitude and kept wondering what was so wrong.  It took me far longer than I want to admit that it was because the noise was so loud in my ear and I kept ignoring it.  Choosing not to hear it.  The voice that told me what was wrong.  That I was spending far too much time on myself and busyness and far too little time with Him.  I can't lie.  I hate getting up early.  I just do.  So for now, I carve out time while I am getting ready by listening to worship music and a John Piper Podcast.

For now, this has lessened the ringing in my ears that says "Why can't you hear me?  Why are you not listening?  I am here.  I am faithful.  I haven't moved."  Sometimes we just have to realize the toy has been sitting on the table for far too long.  It's time to pick it up and place it in the box.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Putting the baby in the basket...

I shared a post on Facebook earlier this week with this title.  All I could think of was some sweet friends of mine facing a hard situation with the foster child they mentor.  This kid is turning 18 and determined to walk away from all things DHS.  Sign himself out.  Be on his own.  Etc, etc.  Now, these friends are not naive.  They know what comes with that.  They have tried to set him up with a transitional program, been a sounding board for advice, and given tough parenting advice along the way.  But, alas, they can't make the decision for him.  And the reality is, he will sign himself out.  Have hard time after hard time and likely end up on the streets or living from place to place and never really settle.

As I read the article I thought of Anna's situation briefly....but nothing much.  This is how I function.  I am pretty self sufficient and just kind of keep things to myself.  It's why up until a week ago only about 3 people knew the date of Annalise's surgery.  I figured there is so much more going on in the world, and this is just something minor.  Check it off the list and move on.

And like with most things, I just kind of put it to the back of my mind until today.  We met with the child life specialist, anesthesiologist, gave blood, and toured the ICU and regular rooms.  It was there it started to hit me.  Not just that my daughter was having surgery, but that she was having a follow up surgery to something I was not a part of.  Something that I had no part of in the beginning.  They kept saying things like....."you will go down and give blood because she will likely need a transfusion...but she had that last time" or "this surgery is slightly less invasive than last time" or "we have the OR booked for 6 hours, but this one will likely take less time than last time" and all I could think of was....this is our first time!!  This is our first time touring an ICU room and hearing that siblings will need to meet with child life before they see Annalise because it will be scary.  This is the first time I have sent my child back to have their head cut open and things in various places fixed, filled in, and reshaped.  I am the mom who doesn't like it when their kids wake up from ear tubes.  And we have had 7 pairs of those between 3 kids.

This mama doesn't put babies in baskets.  This mama has a very hard time with the fact that she wasn't around for the first major surgery.  This mama ignores situations until they hit her in the face.  This mama accepts no help and always looks at the fact that there are things out there much worse than what she is facing right now.

But it doesn't change the fact that Monday I will put my baby in a basket and send her off.  She will be in the hands of a neurosurgeon and plastic surgeon and I have no doubt she will come out on the other side just fine.  But so many parents don't have that reassurance.  They put their babies in a basket and have no idea of what is waiting on the other side.  They pour into a teen who decides to walk away from it all.  They put their baby in a basket and send him floating down a river because it's the only thing they know to do.

All I know is I spent some time wallowing.  I wallowed over the fact that I can't compare this surgery to the first one.  I don't know how invasive that one was.  I wasn't there to comfort her when it was over.  And so much more.  But....I am ready.  And willing.  To put my baby in a basket. Because if there is one thing I know for sure, it's that this child is primed to do great things.  She may not lead people out of Egypt one day, but she will move for God in a mighty way.  That I am sure.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Baby Girl A....

J. O. and I are a great team.  We really are.  We have been an open foster family for almost 5 years now and we know the age that works great with our family.  The age that is slightly younger than Grace, but older than teeny, tiny, baby.  That age.  We never really settled on the exact age, but we both have it in our heads.

In these 5 years, we have probably had around 4 infants and 10 or 11 toddlers.  The youngest infant was 4 weeks old (if you will remember, we had him for 7 months and I was awake the entire time) and the oldest infant was Grace at 10 months.  We would probably call this age range our "sweet spot."  Anything from the 6-9 month range.  These babies typically sleep through the night, they take bottles on a schedule, they are old enough for child care, they smile, laugh, and are beginning to move, they are just more fun.  They have graduated from the "oh my goodness is the baby breathing" stage, to the " oh wow...that's a real smile and not just gas pains" stage.  They are fun.  If you are lucky, you can even teach these infants token words like "mama" "dada" "ball" "dog" and so much more.

But unfortunately, we have only had a handful of these.  We get mostly toddlers.  You know these kids.....they are ages 1-3.  They are opinionated.  They can't really talk.  They are learning to walk so they are dangerous.  They are trying to decide if everything they see is food.  They are basically a literal, walking, time bomb.  One minute they are happy, one minute they are sad, one minute they are ready to punch you in the face.  Toddlerville.  This is where we have lived for 4 1/2 years of our fostering.  I have changed more diapers that should've resulted in a toilet being flushed than I care to think about.  You know these diapers.  The ones that are on the cusp of potty training, but they don't quite care.

Then, last night I got THE call.  The call for a newborn being discharged from the hospital.  They had a foster family lined up for today, but they needed a stand in.  So I did it.  I knew what this call meant.  It meant I would be up all night.  I knew it meant a baby who might spit up all over me and my bed.  I knew it meant a baby who would be more shriveled than cute.  But I was excited.  Addison and I started mentally pumping each other up and we started the waiting game.  DHS pulled in around 8:30 and Addison and I started chest bumping, high fiving, and running out to meet the car.  We could do this.  And then little baby girl Adams was dropped off.  She was tiny.  She was So. Brand. New.

And I got something I have never gotten before.  The hospital discharge papers.  And it told every little thing.  It told about how many times mom had given birth before.  It told about the strongholds that were gripping mom by way of drugs, alcohol, and tobacco.  It told a story that was so very different than any discharge papers I had ever seen before.  And I slowly felt my love of sleep roll out the window.  I settled in for a night of holding, feeding, rocking, cuddling.  But....I wasn't expecting the other emotions that would accompany this baby.  Around midnight I turned off my alarm that I had set to wake the baby to eat.  I knew it wouldn't be necessary.  I got her out of the pack-n-play that she was in and laid her on my chest.  She started moving closer to my chin, and I let her settle in and I prayed for her, and her mom, for the next umpteen hours.  Between feedings, diaper changes, and her grunting, I just prayed.  I prayed that I would never get in my "sweet spot" and quit seeing the hurt.  I prayed that I would never become so complacent that I didn't think this was hard anymore.  I prayed that as we enter our 5th year of fostering it would be my most memorable yet.  Not because we add more kids in and out.  Not because more people see what we do.  But because we bring kids in from circumstances that we can't imagine and we put them under our chin and we physically hurt too.