Thursday, April 25, 2019

A letter to the foster parents who take our place.....

May will begin our 7th year fostering.  Or it would have.  Our foster journey has looked nothing like I thought it would.  I envisioned a house that was a revolving door of kids, and maybe even a bio parent here and there.  We would be a safe place for awhile and pour into everyone involved.

Our very first placement put that into perspective.  Not only did he not leave for 7 months, but his birth mom was never healthy enough to recognize me as foster mom.  She would always ask if I was the caseworker or the judge at court.  Then, our next 2 placements became Norman's and all preconceived notions officially went out the window.  Our next 15-20 placements did eventually leave and most were success stories.  I couldn't imagine not being a foster parent.

Until now.  It's a new feeling.  The feeling of being at my limit for the time being.  I honesty never understood when people said that before.  I should've had more sympathy.  Maybe it's the fact that I still can't seem to get Henry's insurance needs sorted out.  Maybe it's the fact that he is still not as healthy as I hoped.  Maybe it's the fact that I only keep getting older.  Maybe I am just making excuses?  Who knows.

I do know this.  If our house is going to close, someone else needs to open.  I still get texts and calls, so the need has not gone away.

And here is what you need to know:

  • Caseworkers will always be late to pick up or bring home from visits.  Why?  Because they are timing lots of transportation requests and often giving the parents a little extra time so they can finish up some work before leaving.  It's a part of it.  Go on about your day and try not to sit at home and complain.  It won't help.  
  • There will never be a perfect outcome.  Never.  Kids going home?  It will be the best of a bad situation.  Kids staying in care longer?  It will be hard on everyone involved.  Kids going up for adoption?  This is the least desirable outcome in an already bad situation.  It means parents couldn't get healthy and family didn't feel safe, or capable, of coming forward.
  • The system is hard for birth parents to navigate.  Like it or not, the system is much easier to navigate for foster parents than birth parents.  Parents want to get their kids back quickly?  We give them 3 visits a week while expecting them to hold down a job.  Hard to do for anyone, near impossible if you just got a minimum wage job and are scheduled certain hours.
  • You will be required to have a decent home, open it at a moments notice, prove square footage, practice evacuation plans, keep a fire extinguisher on hand and provide a safety plan for a bird bath.  Kids however, can return home to mattresses on the floor.  File this one under, you may not understand it nor like it, but it is part of it.  
  • Your friend group will look different.  You will retain some of your old friends and you guys will be closer because they get it.  But some will fade away and that's okay too.  You will also make new friends who are your "foster peeps."  These friends will be on hand for rants, raves, and irrational thoughts.  Such as running to the border with your newest placement because you suddenly can't imagine life without them.  Even though you just met them 10 minutes ago.  These same friends will also pick up said child, when in another 10 minutes you can't wait for them to leave.  
  • You will become an expert on everything.  Literally everything.  Kid crying too much?  They must not have been sung to in utero.  Kid hits too much?  Attention seeking.  Every other behavior?  RAD  
  • You suddenly have a wardrobe of t-shirts with catchy sayings.  "Just Say Yes," "Yes. They Are All Mine," "Foster, Adopt, Mentor,".....you get the picture.  
  • You mourn when some kids leave.  Like, really mourn.  It often feels like a heavy brick on your chest that you can't get off.  You can't help but imagine how life might be different for them if they stayed.  
  • Some kids you mourn their situation, but not them leaving.  
  • You may think their birth parents shouldn't smoke before their visit.  You may think they shouldn't feed their child Takis or Fire Cheetos.  You will be so tempted to send out any and every email you can think of giving your reasons why.  Refrain from that.  Be the child's advocate but pick your battles.  Continue to pack healthy snacks for visits and let the mom choose.  Everything is out of her control right now.  Let the child eat Takis.
  • This is not God's plan for the family.  In a perfect world we wouldn't have foster care, adoption, caseworkers, juvenile judges, etc.  But we do.  When you are tempted to quit because it's hard or different than you thought....remember that.  This can't be "good" because it's out of God's will for the family.
  • You can do it.  You will succeed.  You will change lives.  
We can only close because others open.  We are committing ourselves to navigating these waters for Henry.  We've switched from the broken world of foster care, to the hard world of adoption.  We will fight for him and make sure he has every opportunity possible.  Maybe we will re-enter the other side one day, but for now we are passing the torch.  And we wouldn't trade our journey for the world.  

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

On the Other Side......

Last Saturday, Annalise got hurt and it happened so fast I didn't even realize she was hurt.  Her and Grace were playing and she slipped and fell and was bleeding pretty badly.  When it first happened, I really thought they were fighting, so I came ready to tell them to calm down and work it out.

However, the closer I came the more I realized these were screams of pain.  I quickly handed off the baby to Addison and Trey and called a friend to come over so I could take Anna to be checked out.

After she got out of surgery we found out the extent of her injuries.  We were honestly looked at quite suspiciously because it was such a "freak" accident. Like, case study type injury.

The next morning I was in our room and I heard someone mention having the social worker come check us out to make sure everything was okay.  My heart dropped.  I knew what it looked like to have someone prying in your life and it was nothing I wanted to be a part of.

Long story short, we were actually cleared after we spoke with another surgeon and they never called social work, but the reality is there are several reasons for this.

Reason #1:  I could communicate clearly what happened and my 7 year old could communicate clearly as well.  She is smart, articulate, and calm.  She was under a lot of stress, but she is my kid who handles everything like a boss.  Our stories were the truth and matched.

Reason #2:  I had a big support group there.  My parents were in and out, J.O.'s mom, my friends, and pastors from my church.

Reason #3: We are middle class Caucasians.  Don't like this one, that's fine. But it's true.

The bottom line is, we did nothing wrong.  This was truly a once in a lifetime, landing a certain way, hitting a toy just right, slipping, type injury.

Most of the time, parents who have their children taken into care have some part of their story that doesn't add up.  Maybe the child was home alone and shouldn't have been.  Maybe the mom had been drinking and was too scared to admit it.  Maybe someone was in the home they know shouldn't have been there.  There are a lot of factors that play into things.

But one thing I know is this....it's an unnerving feeling when you think someone with power may not believe you.

Which is the reason I am even writing this post.   Who can we extend grace to today?  Maybe you are adoptive parents and it's your child's birth parents.  Maybe they aren't the "big, bad wolf" we have in our mind.  Maybe you have some kids in your school or church and the difference of a big support system would make a world of change.  Maybe you are just reading this and thinking "Tamra should watch her kids closer."  And honestly...you may be right.

Who can you root for today that given the same situation, might have had a different outcome?


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.