Thursday, May 28, 2015

Laying It on the Altar

Written by Erin Whidden 



My sweet little roly poly baby had been with me since August. From the beginning of her placement, whenever the question of adoption was broached (as it inevitably is), my answer was always a firm "no." But as the cold of winter began to give way into the newness of spring, my heart began to change. I knew God was putting something more on the table for me. . . more than "just" fostering. . . I began to contemplate the idea of adoption. Let me be clear, this was not a decision I went into lightly. I came up with what seemed to be a million reasons that adoption was not a good choice for me right now. . . and they were all great reasons. But God didn't let up. He kept impressing it on my heart that I was to say yes to the possibility of adoption for my baby. Until finally I did just that. . . I changed my firm "no" to a hopeful "yes." 

With a court date quickly approaching, I was hoping and praying that the "family friend" who was seeking custody of my sweet BB would lose interest, be scared away, or otherwise be found unfit. I prayed and prayed that this baby I loved, this baby I said yes to would become mine forever. But I've learned in foster care that nothing is ever a given. Even if they tell you it's a done deal, things can still change. 

So I tried to protect my heart, but I think I was already too far gone in my fantasy of starting my forever family. I had our adoption day picture ideas already worked out. . . matching outfits with a smiling toddler at my knee holding a vintage chalkboard that shared our good news of forever. 


I had a plan of secrecy all worked out so that I could tell my church family about my beloved's adoption with her surprise baptism. I wanted more than anything to watch a judge sign the papers that made my sweet girl mine forever. 

And even as I daydreamed my way into being a mommy, 
BB's court day was inching ever closer, robbing 
me of my ability to breathe. 

The week before court was a nightmare. I had already had a rough spring and my anxiety and fear were at an all-time high as May rolled around. Anxiety and fear turned into despair as I found out some information that devastated me. In order for my baby girl to stay with me, it would take a full on miracle. I found myself wanting to spend every spare second holding and loving on my baby, but found myself busier than ever and not able to relax and enjoy our time together when we were at home. And to add insult to injury, I was committed to a small group (Life group through Church of the Highlands) and the retreat was schedule for my last weekend with my lovey before court. Are you kidding me? I was more than irritated at the timing of this retreat, but a commitment is a commitment, so I sent my baby to respite care for the night and headed downtown for the retreat exactly a week before heading that same direction for court. 

On the way to the retreat, God showed me the gravity of the sacrifice that was made by both the Father and the Son in order for my relationship with Him to ever be restored... Jesus was sent by His Father, out of a place of perfection and beauty, to live in a putrid and hopeless place. I can only imagine the heartbreak that God the Father must have had as He sent his Son to a place where He knew He would be tortured and killed. 

And then I was reminded of Abraham... He waited for decades for God to fulfill His promise of a son, but he never lost faith in his God. Soon enough, Abraham's camp was filled with the joyful giggles of his long-awaited son as he played. I can see him now, bouncing little Isaac on his knee and then pulling him in tight for a hug. But the day came when God asked the unthinkable of Abraham. He asked him for his son. I don't know that I could comprehend the grief and desperation that he felt as he tied his child to the altar, fully intending to make the ultimate sacrifice to his God. Yet, there in the bushes, God provided a sacrificial ram instead. He also showed me the story of Hannah. She was barren and dejected. She prayed for years to have a child. God answered her prayers and she gave birth to Samuel. After he was weaned, Hannah took her only child to God's temple, offering him back to God... to be raised in the courts of the Lord. I imagine that it took every ounce of her self control to walk away while her child called out after her, not realizing that God was ordering his steps. The heartbreak and depression she must have felt as she arrived back home without her child. The utter loss that she suffered so that God's will for Samuel's life would be accomplished. 

I arrived at the retreat a sobbing mess. I was physically and emotionally spent from my week. I was overcome with anxiety, fear and despair. But as I left the retreat Friday night, after many tears and fervent praying, I went home knowing for certain that God loved my BB more than I ever would, or could even comprehend. He sees her, He knows her by name, and He is preparing her for a future that will glorify His name. I felt at peace that God would go before me. He would prepare the path for court, and we would be okay. As hard as it would be to let go and trust Him, I had to do it. 

I know without a shadow of a doubt that there is something incredibly special about BB. God has a plan for her life. She will do mighty things for Him. And if I'm not the mommy who is set apart to prepare her for this, then it's time for me to let go. It's time for me to be okay with taking her to the temple courts and letting her be raised so that His will for her life will be accomplished. 
Let HIS name be praised. 

I truly wish that I was writing this while my baby sleeps in the other room. I prayed that she would come home with me. I hoped that I would be the mommy set apart to raise her. But I'm not. 

A week and a half ago, I handed my sweet baby off to a stranger and I drove home from court by myself. I have cried myself to sleep more times than not and I have longed to wrap my arms around that sweet girl every second that she's been gone. It hurts to lose a child. 

But I can say without hesitation. . . even though my hopes and dreams of "forever" with my baby will not come to fruition, 
His name be praised. 

I am grieving, but He gives me strength for each new day. And with each new day comes the possibility of a new little life to love on until it's their time to move on. Whatever my forever may look like, I'm just glad He's at the center. 



Erin Whidden is a dear friend and single foster mama in Birmingham, Alabama. Please follow her blog Fostering Fancies to keep up with her journey.








 

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Some Things I Wish You Knew...

Written by Rachel Ashcraft 

The above photo was taken at Rachel's church, where members were invited to come forward and write how Jesus has broken the chains in their lives. One of their foster children wrote the words along the bottom edge "Jesus gave me a foster family."  Then he drew a picture of their family.



Things I want Christians to understand about Foster Care:
  
1. Our God is a God of reconciliation 

• Throughout the story of the Bible, God makes clear that he desires to reconcile his people to Him and to reconcile people to each other.

In a risky project He sent His son incarnate to earth to live and die for us. Then, through resurrection He invites each of Jesus’s disciples to follow the path of the cross - to live a crucified life so that Christ’s work of reconciliation in his kingdom may continue through us. The God of the universe invites us to join in his work of the kingdom. Was God’s way successful? Was it a good idea? What is worth it? In this time of the kingdom being here but not yet fully here - God has not succeeded by any earthly standard of success. Jesus said, “The gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” - Matthew 7. What if God had to have a certain “success rate” to make Jesus’s death and resurrection worth it to Him? Do we really appreciate and understand all God has done for us? Did that stop Him from recklessly pursuing us?

No, “God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” - Romans 5.

 • It seems that in the church we are often too concerned with numbers, with earthly definitions of success.

We are sinful and fearful. We fear that our homes will become unsafe, we fear that foster care will negatively impact our own families, we fear that the children in our care won’t be changed because of our efforts, we fear not making a difference, we fear the inevitable grief that comes from letting go, we fear having to get our hands messy walking with birth family.

We fear. But God says over and over to his people, “Do not be afraid.” 

He promises He will be with us - Do we believe Him?

2. Christ changes the story of family 

 • Much of the time people fear foster care and involving themselves with it because “how will it affect my family and kids?”

In the American church, we often idolize things that are meant to be good - but not our gods. Family is one of these - family is good - but it is not God. 

• Once, in an effort to understand family through God’s eyes - I studied each time family was discussed through the Bible and what I found rocked me to the core and challenged every goal I had for my life. You may think it’s silly I didn’t realize this before but be gracious with me - we are all works in progress. In the Old Testament, a high emphasis was placed on people’s biological families. Genealogies were important, the family blood was important. Miracles often included the birth of a biological child. This was the way God blessed and showed favor to his people - through their biological children. I assumed this continued in the New Testament but it doesn’t. The last miracle pregnancy that was desired was Elizabeth with John the Baptist - who came to prepare the way for Jesus. And, the very last biological birth miracle was an undesired pregnancy that brought about Jesus. After that, there are no more miracle births in scripture. There are guidelines for having a Christ centered family, but the emphasis is entirely on Jesus’s Kingdom and what I have come to call Kingdom Family. Everything is about bringing the good news of Jesus to the world and serving and sacrificing for others.

Jesus calls his followers is family and we are a family in Him. This narrative is so strong and the contrast from Old to New Testament so stark that I do not believe avoiding foster care or other ministry in an effort to make our own biological families lives comfortable will be met with much understanding from the Lord.

When I finished the study and had typed it up, I said to my husband, “&@^$, God is serious about this.” We were always going to be foster parents, “Later, once we’ve had our own kids and they’re older, when we’re a little more secure financially” and we realized, that wasn’t going to cut it. Life is a vapor and we can’t waste it pursuing our own comfort.

Jen Hatmaker says in Interrupted, “All of a sudden, I saw my exact reflection in Peter: devoted but selfish, committed but misguided. And that is not going to be enough. It won’t suffice to claim good intentions. Saying “I meant well” is not going to cut it. Not with God screaming, begging, pleading, urging us to love mercy and justice, to feed the poor and the orphaned, to care for the last and least in nearly every book of the Bible. It will not be enough one day to stand before Jesus and say, “Oh? Were You serious about all that?” 

3. “I could never……”

This is just a pet peeve of foster parents.

Here’s the thing, we could never do foster care because: “we get attached, it’s too hard, the government is all in our business, I can’t handle all the behavior of kids from hard places” We get it - we don’t feel like we can do it either. 

But, we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength and we are crucified with Christ and the life we now live - we live through faith in Him who loved us and gave Himself for us. We just show up, we just continue to say yes despite feeling hopeless on our own, and God sees us through it. Of course, “you could never” but “God can always”.

I know the fear of loss, but we don’t just avoid life because we will one day die. We don’t avoid marriage because our spouse may die, we don’t avoid having children even though they may run away from our guidance, they may choose not to have anything to do with us, they may die a tragic and early death. Our lives are laden with grief and loss - we live in a broken world. But, trying to avoid loss does the opposite, it ensures it - because the only way to eventually avoid loss is to commit yourself to God’s Kingdom and restoration in his kingdom. Eventually, we lose everyone in our lives and the only hope is God’s Kingdom.

Saying, “I could never because I’d get too attached” limits the glory of the full restoration of God’s kingdom. We are trying to trust in ourselves to stay safe and happy instead of jumping all in with God. So what can we do? - God expects his people to join Him in the project of reconciliation and bringing about his Kingdom in it’s full glory. As the church body, we must remember that Jesus met us in our mess. We need to be ready to get messy with families that need Jesus just as we do. 

 --- Would you consider intentionally nurturing the foster families and the children they bring into their homes that attend your church?

Ask foster parents what they need. We all need different things- some of us need help with physical things like diapers, food, clothing. Some of us have spent night after night comforting a frightened child and we need someone to come sit with our kids at our home so we can take a nap. Some of us need someone to come sit and fold laundry with us, some of us need someone who’s approved to transport the children to visits, extracurricular activities. Some of us need help with childcare. Some of us need coffee. Lots and lots of coffee. We pretty much all need people willing to meet us where we are. We are drowning in this ministry and sometimes even making it to a foster event is beyond what we are able to do. We are called to be a Kingdom family, and that means we must rely on intentional relationships and not just programming to love and uplift each other. Intentionally befriend a foster family and join their walk.

--- Would you consider noticing the lonely at your church? Step out of your comfort zone and away from the people you know, look around you, get off your phone. Search for the overwhelmed single mama, the special needs child who needs acceptance, the poor that may feel out of place, the person who’s fighting addiction, the scared child in foster care that has seen too much brokenness in their lives already, the foster family that isn’t sure how they are going to make it through the next hour?

---We are not all called to do the same things, we are meant to be a full body and not a collection of arms. Not everyone is meant to be a foster family, but everyone is called to work towards reconciliation especially among the least of these.

In America, the temptation is to make our churches a collection of appendixes - a group of people who were maybe relevant once, but have become so ingrained in what is safe and secure that we have lost our original purpose. Would you commit to praying daily for God to reveal the way he wants to use you in his kingdom?

And, would you pray for courage to follow Him where he calls you?

-- Christ is not safe, his path leads to death. If our lives look no different than the world around us, if we sacrifice only what costs us nothing, we are the elder brother in the story of the prodigal son - we want the father’s blessings but none of his character. Because the church is made of sinful people, we are tempted to become like the elder brother and not the Father. We want to judge the prodigal son and not work for and rejoice with his reconciliation. Let us be a people that seek out to restore the prodigal of our cities to the father and to ourselves. 

Would you pray for God to show you where in your life you may be behaving like an elder brother and not like the Father? Let us all seek to know more of the Father and to have our hearts broken for what breaks His?



Rachel Ashcraft and her husband, Aaron, are licensed foster parents in Birmingham, AL. She's thankful that Jesus met her in her own sin and mess and that He teaches us to love others in the same way.








Sunday, May 24, 2015

When I Want to Give Up

Written by Anna Brooke Cosper


My heart is heavy as I write. My soul is weary. My body tired. Sometimes I want to quit. To give up. To ignore the world around me. To shut out the children so desperately crying out, because it’s so hard to love them as they kick and scream and rage against us. It’s so much easier to give up. Just say you tried, but failed. Right? 

Oh how lucky we are that God did not give up on us. God did not ignore us. God did not shut us out. When we were crying out, when we kicked and screamed and raged against God’s will, He never gave up on us. Yet, how quick we are to give up on them. 

I just want it all to go away, so their lives can be normal. But their life will never be normal. They will always fear being taken away from what they have known. They will always fear the unknown. Their trauma, their scars, their wounds will never go away. 

They have to live with it 
for the rest of their lives. 

It was so easy to ignore them before. To pretend that they didn’t exist. 

But now they live beside me. Now they eat with me and sit next to me during church. Now it is our job to pick up the shattered pieces of their little lives and try to piece them back together. Because now they call me sister

I hear people say they simply couldn’t do what we do, because they just couldn’t love them and have them leave. If we don’t love them who will? We don’t have enough people in this world willing to get hurt, willing to give their hearts away for these kids. We have too many who give up, who ignore them, who leave this job to others, and who don’t recognize these children as children, but as cases… just another story on the news. It’s just easier to ignore it. 

But once you hold that crying child in your arms, once you love them only to have them taken away, once you feel that pain, that aching pain in your heart, longing to be comforted, you finally understand why you don’t give up. You know that if you give up, that’s one more child without love. One more child having to wonder if her cries are heard in the raging waters of this world. If they matter. If they mean anything. 

So, that is why I don’t give up. that is why I push forward in this unending journey. That is why I write for these children, who desperately need a voice. Because God didn’t give up on me. God didn’t ignore me. He did not shut me out, so I have no right to give up on them, to ignore them, to shut them out.

Because I am loved, I am to love them also.  



Anna Brooke is a 13-year old homeschooler who lives in north Alabama with her family. She has five older siblings, and (currently) two younger foster siblings. Her dream has always been to be a stay-at-home mom. She started blogging at the age of 12, out of a desire to be a voice for children in care. She is a sinner saved by grace and considers it a great gift to be able to love children in foster care, and to be their sister. Anna Brooke is a simple girl who enjoys reading, cooking, gardening, and working with her hands. She loves her family and she loves her Lord. She is a girl desperate for Jesus and loves sharing him with the foster children within her home. Please visit Anna Brooke's blog and encourage her as she shares her heart with the world.






Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Freedom to Choose

Written by Tabitha Watts




One day, my father was drunk and fighting with my mom, and all of us kids were there, watching, as usual. My father saw us watching and became angry. He demanded that we choose, right then, whether to live with him or our mother. I had never stood up to my father before because that usually led to a beating, but this time was different. I told him that I wanted to live with my mom, so he ordered me to leave. After years of abuse, at that moment, I was strong enough to know that I did not want to live the life my parents had chosen. At the age of nine, I understood that I had the ability to make better choices. Although I did not know these words at that time, I now realize that hope, along with persistence, hard work, and dedication are the qualities I need to achieve my dreams.

I’m 24-years-old now. By the time I was 16, I had found security and stability again in my life. It was actually offered to me much earlier, but it took me a while to understand that. My third set of foster parents, who took in my two sisters and me “for the weekend” when I was 11-years-old, stayed with all of us through all our tough teen years and eventually became our legal guardians. I even left them for a few years and lived in group homes, thinking I could do better. But they just waited on me to come back. And I did. I’m grown up and independent now, but I need them as much as ever. They love me, and I know that now. 


But the memories are still there…

As I child, I dreamed of doing what other people would consider “normal things.” I imagined regularly attending church, like the kids I saw when I occasionally went to church with my grandmother. There, I saw kids going to Sunday School, learning about Jesus, making things, and playing on the playground. Normal things, but things I did not get to do. One day a pastor came to our house to convince my parents to go to his church. My father refused, but agreed to allow the pastor to take my siblings and me to church. I achieved my childhood dream of being a normal kid in Sunday School, and every week, I was able to rest my head on the lap of a woman named Ruth during the church service. Even now, it makes me cry to remember the hope that those little things gave me for my future.

Sometimes, the traumatic memories flood in unexpectedly….


I am walking home from the school bus stop. Mom had told me to go
 to our friend’s trailer right across from ours. 
I think it was my aunt’s daughter’s place. 
I walk on the dirt and rocks, and while I'm walking I see police officers everywhere!
 I am only 10-years-old, and I’m trying to figure out what is going on. 


My mother told me that my sister told her boyfriend 
what had been going on at home. 

I was appalled! 
I thought I was the only one that this happened to. I thought he did that to me by accident! 
But now I know it wasn’t an accident!

I see my older sister walking back with her boyfriend holding her. 
As she comes closer, I see that she is crying. 
She never used to cry. 
I know something really bad is going on. 
My brothers aren't home yet.

I'm really confused. But become bold and tell the policemen what happened to me. They stare and my mom says, “Are you serious?”


I turn to my mamma and say, "Yes, mommy! That's why I was underneath the bed when you woke daddy up this morning. I pretended to fall off the bed onto the floor and under the bed so you wouldn't think anything."


We all walk back to our trailer to gather some clothes for the week. Suddenly, my mom 
tells us to hurry and go back to the other trailer because our father is coming home. 
We all race back to my cousin’s trailer and lock the doors. 


When he walks in, he's furious when he sees our trailer a complete and total mess. 
In our rush to gather stuff; our clothes are everywhere. There is no room to see the ground. 
He bangs on the door of my cousin’s home.

"What the hell is going on?" 
He tries to get in, but can't.

Then... I'm not sure exactly what happened. 


All I know is my sister’s boyfriend, only a teenager, both destroyed and saved my family. 
He is the one who reported our family secrets to the police. Who knows where we'd be if my sister didn't trust him enough to tell him what was going on. 
 



It’s funny. Not all my memories are bad. Sometimes, the flashbacks remind me that not every moment of my childhood was destructive ....


I’m a young adult and I am walking to my apartment after I get off work. The rain calms. I notice a pink bucket and puddle of water that surrounds it along with a few other things that my neighbors have out for their children to play with. There is a pink and white playhouse, a kid’s red and yellow picnic table, a small brown trampoline, and a few other random toys. 

Anyway it reminded me of a rainy day when I was 10, and I still lived with my biological family in that same trailer park where the police were that day our lives changed.

The rain. The toys. They suddenly remind me of a particular day when all of my family seems so incredibly happy. My brothers and sisters and the neighbor’s kids all get out some random toys to play with in the rain. There is this huge mud puddle that you could almost swim in. We all love to play in it!

Even my father was outside playing with us. And he wasn't even drunk. My mother was there too.

It’s a random happy memory. 
Sometimes the smallest things remind me of my past.

I had two more big dreams as a child. I wanted to play soccer and help take care of babies. Once I moved in with my current guardians, I was able to play soccer on a community team and eventually played varsity soccer for my high school, so I have achieved that dream. I have always been attracted to babies and played with dolls until I was almost fourteen. I only stopped then because my niece was born, and I had a real baby to nurture. Before I knew what career I might choose, I knew that I wanted to work with babies. I began searching for a career that would allow me to work with them and decided I wanted to become a neonatal nurse.

My sister and I were the first in our biological family to graduate from high school and attend college; something we could never have dreamed of in our early life.

Some of my dreams haven’t yet come true. College was tougher than I expected because I had lost so many opportunities to learn when I was younger. There was a huge gap. I survived through a few years, but that dream is on hold now. I’m still persevering, but in ways that I hadn’t anticipated. I have been involved in intensive therapy to help me overcome my losses. I’m about to marry a loving man. I also take care of my fiance's son.

And I followed in my guardian’s footsteps and have adopted a beautiful baby girl. I brought her home from the hospital and I adore her.

No matter how difficult my life was, I now have to stop and think about all I have and how far I’ve come. I have a great support system. I am eternally grateful to God and my legal guardians, who were there through every aspect of my life, for the opportunities they gave me. Without them I honestly don’t know where I would be.

You can’t ever erase everything. No matter how good your life may be right now, there will always be some memories that you can never forget, no matter how hard you try. But now, I have the freedom to choose the course my life will take. And I choose to view my traumatic past as part of my history. I will not let it determine my future.




Tabitha Watts is a real life hero. She's a stay-at-home mama and resides in Birmingham, Alabama.











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Monday, May 18, 2015

Love 'Em and Let 'Em Go


Written by Jennifer Clarke


I’ve always been open to adoption.

But there are two things I said I would never do:

1.)Adopt a child here in the States.
2.)Be a foster parent.

Don’t worry, I have nothing against American children. My hesitancy was never about the kids. It’s about their circumstances.

You see, I grew up in the 80’s and 90’s hearing way too many horror stories of people who had adopted children in the U.S. only to have the biological parents knock on their door or serve them court papers six months or two years or five years down the road, demanding them back.

I had seen plenty of eyewitness news stories of the devastation imposed on the adoptive parents and the children as they were wrenched from each other’s arms, with tears trailing down their cheeks as they sobbed.

I didn’t want that to happen to me.

Love them only to lose them?

Take care of them and then hand them back?

Dry their tears and change their diapers and read them books and wipe their noses and help with homework and say prayers and give baths and administer discipline and give hugs and cook and clean and comfort and teach and admonish…

and then give them up?

No thanks!! Who in their right mind would sign up for that?!

I’ll just go the international adoption route,” I said.

That way all biological ties to the child are far, far away and I can rest easy at night,” I said.

And look at me now…

Foster mom to three boys. Boys who look like they belong in our family. Boys who are acting more and more like they belong in our family. Boys who now seem in every way like they belong in our family.

But beneath our hugs and our smiles and our squabbles and our routines and our love is the realization that they’ll probably leave one day.

Chances are, they’ll return to their biological family. It may be in a month. Maybe in six. Maybe in a year. I have no idea.

So what changed my mind?

Well, it was a long process, to be sure. And it required a lot of molding on God’s part.

And a lot of stretching on my part.

Which is also God’s grace. So it wasn’t me.

It was all Him.

But here’s one of the most important lessons that wrought a change:

There are no guarantees with any child.

And when I try to consider my old attitude from God’s perspective…

well, it starts to look pretty presumptuous.

Because in reality, my own children aren’t really my own, either.

I’m not guaranteed the next second with my biological children, much less the next hour, or day, or month, or year.  But that doesn’t stop me from pouring every ounce of love and care and nurture, and blood and sweat and tears into them anyway.

And so I began to realize how supremely selfish it had been for me to refuse food, shelter, and love to a needy child just because I wasn’t guaranteed tomorrow with them.

I had fooled myself into thinking I would love them too much to let them go.

But the truth is, that’s not love at all.

The parent-child relationship is an incredibly strong bond. I believe God created it that way.

But sometimes we erect it as an idol…

preserving it and guarding it and fiercely protecting it at all costs

instead of seeing it for what it really is: a sacred calling to raise children for Him.

It’s not about me at all. I’m just the means through which God wants to make disciples of my children

and any other children in my care.

And so whether I have them in my home for an hour or a day or a month or eighteen years…

and whether they’re biological or adopted or foster…

I’m going to love them with reckless abandon.

Because I’m not guaranteed tomorrow.

And I’m going to point them to Him.

Because that’s really the point anyway.


“…you do not know what tomorrow will bring.
What is your life?
For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.
Instead you should say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live & do this or that.’
As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.”
James 4:14-16



Jennifer Clarke is a foster mom and author of the blog A Divine Encounter and also moderates the Grace & Truth weekly link-up. Please visit her blog and encourage her. Also follow her blog on Facebook.








Friday, May 15, 2015

The Other Side of Foster Care


Written by Jason Johnson

We met her for the first time in a downtown courtroom - the same place we would see her for the last time nearly one year later. Although we most likely will never know her beyond that, a piece of her will always be a part of us - literally.




It was the first court hearing since her baby girl had been removed from her custody by Child Protective Services and placed in our care a few weeks earlier. Given the particular circumstances of the case, the judge would soon inform her she was on track to losing her parental rights over her child. While the law was right and just that day, the emotions were equally raw and real. She was devastated - the demons in her life she could not get out from under were deep and destructive to both her and her baby. We were overwhelmed - wondering how our world could be so broken that an entire legal system must be set up to protect abused children from those who might harm them. Files lined the courtroom that day, each representing a case in which a child needed to be protected and a parent needed to be disciplined. Stacks of broken stories filled the room. We were there to participate in just one.



Difficult doesn't describe it - standing for the first time with the mom of the baby the state had placed in our home and we were now loving and raising as our own. Wondering what she was thinking and feeling, what her life was like that led her to that point and bothered by the fact that no one loved her enough to help her - to stop her from destroying herself and prevent her from ever being in the position she now found herself in.

Our worlds couldn't be more different. The contrast between the two was magnified that day as they collided for the first time. One of relative ease and privilege and opportunity now standing with one full of brokenness, hopelessness and tragedy. How could we live in the same world but come from two very different ones at the same time? More than that, why was this cold, sterile courtroom the first time our worlds were ever intersecting? How come no one was there for her to help prevent her from ever being in the position she was now in - how come we weren't there for her, or there to help any of the other hundreds of stories stacked around the room that day from ever getting to that point? What kind of world were we living in that allowed us to become so disconnected from or ignorant of their worlds?


THE OTHER SIDE OF FOSTER CARE
 
Fostering abused, neglected and marginalized children is by nature reactionary - a necessary response to circumstances often requiring swift, immediate and sometimes severe measures to protect the rights of the vulnerable. It is a good and right and just solution to a very real problem - but it is not the only solution, neither is it the ultimate one.

On one side of foster care is the need for us to respond to the plight of these kids and intercede on their behalf. It's right and honorable and a reflection of the heart of God to secure and protect the rights of the helpless and hopeless. On the other side of foster care is the need for us to proactively respond to the brokenness of families and intercede on their behalf to ensure that their children never become foster kids in the first place. This too is right and honorable and a reflection of the heart of God to bring healing to what is broken and hope to what otherwise is destined for destruction.

Throughout the last 20 months of loving and raising this precious baby girl in our home, the joy of having her and now adopting her as our own is never void of the reality that maybe, just maybe all of this could have been avoided. The first time our baby girl's mom met a follower of Jesus who loved her and wanted to see her life healed and restored and her daughter grow up in a safe and loving environment should not have been in that courtroom chaperoned by lawyers and standing before a judge. Perhaps long before our worlds collided that day something could have been done to prevent that day from ever happening. Perhaps rather than simply responding to the consequences of other peoples brokenness we have a responsibility to proactively engage them in the midst of it - to bring healing and hope and to help minimize, if not render null and void all together, repercussions perpetuating themselves any further. 




In the end, perhaps the call of the Church is not just to foster abused, neglected and marginalized kids but also to help prevent them from ever becoming abused, neglected and marginalized foster kids in the first place. Let's be both the back door response to the need that exists while at the same time proactively work to close the front door on any new children being removed from their homes and adding to the stacks of files that, in God's ideal, should never exist in the first place.

 
 
Thank you to author, Jason Johnson, for allowing me to share
The Other Side of Foster Care. Jason and his wife, Emily,
have four daughters- the youngest adopted through the foster care system. Jason travels the country preaching, teaching and advocating for a movement of the Gospel and adoption in the Church. Please visit his blog for more information on his ministry.




Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Follow Me


Written by Stephanie Hixon

In 2011, the Lord spoke clearly to me that I was going to be a Foster Mama.

I was about to turn 40, I had a very busy social life, I was very active in my church, I was single with family living out of town, I lived on a school teacher’s salary – and I had no desire to be a Foster Mama.  Zero, zilch, nada.  So my story isn’t exactly like the one described in Mark 1:16-20, where the first disciples immediately responded to the call of Jesus when He said “follow me”.  Oh no.  I clung tightly to the safety of my net.  It was after a lot of crying, arguing, worrying and questioning that I responded – finally able to release my net and say “Yes Lord!  Send me! 

Once I stepped into obedience, the Lord supernaturally changed my heart.  I began to search the Bible to see His heart for the orphan, and it became crystal clear that every Christian is called (and expected) to care for the orphan.  Every Christian.  Selah.

In May of 2012, I started my 10 week GPS (Group Participation and Selection) foster parent training class, jumped through every single hoop put before me, and got “the call” around noon on October 18, 2012.  Since that day, I have had the honor and privilege of being Mama Steph to two incredible daughters and one amazing son.  Do I still have a lot of crying, arguing, worrying and questioning?  You bet I do.  Are my children worth it?  Absolutely.

There are many ways for God’s people to respond to the fatherless, but I’d like to share some practical ways that the Church can respond specifically to foster care.  Becoming a foster family is obviously one way, but it is not the only way!  The truth is, as a single foster mama, I have not been able to attend a small group or serve at my church in two years.  There are many times when I have to drive through a fast food joint to grab dinner on the go, because this tired mama just can’t think about fixing supper.  Sometimes I have to send my child with a transporter who has a broken car seat, and simply pray that my child arrives to his visit safely.  There are ways you can help.

How can you respond to the call of every Christian?


  • Prepare a meal and take it to a foster family.  Foster families aren’t like your typical family.  We have to juggle life between family visits, court appearances, social worker home visits, and numerous other requirements.  A home-cooked meal is always a need!
  • Attend a training and become a transporter for foster children.  Being a transporter offers numerous ministry opportunities!!  You are able to minister to foster children, foster parents, birth families, and DHR.  The impact you can make as a transporter is immeasurable, and it is a huge need.
  • Become a substitute caregiver for foster families.  Foster families can’t simply call a college student to come babysit their kids for a couple of hours.  Babysitters must meet certain criteria in order to keep foster kids, and every foster family needs someone to call so that they can attend a small group, grab dinner with friends, or simply go to the grocery store alone!
  • Participate in a GPS class in order to become a respite family.  Respite families are able to keep foster children overnight, but they are not full-time foster families.  This is an excellent way to minister to both foster children and foster families!  Respite is a vital part of helping full-time foster families stay refreshed.
  • Mentor and support birth families.  The heart of God is to restore families. Therefore, reunification is always our hope and our goal.  Lifeline is beginning a new “Birth Family Mentoring and Support Training” (http://lifelinechild.org/birth-family-mentoring-support-training/), where you have the opportunity to come alongside a birth mother or birth family and provide prayer support, lay counseling, accountability and emotional support as she/they walk through this process.
  • Commit to pray for foster families, foster children, birth families, and DHR social workers.  Seek out a foster family at your church, and commit to wrap around them in prayer and support.  Foster families can feel “unseen” by the church – it is incredibly important for them to feel supported by their church family.
  • Support foster care programs financially.  There are way more foster children than there are Christian foster families.  The Lord is speaking to the hearts of more and more Christians every day, and more and more Christians are stepping into obedience to the call and desiring to become foster parents.  Foster programs, like the foster program at Lifeline Children’s Services (http://lifelinechild.org/help-orphans/donate/), require financial support in order to meet the demand so that these families can be trained.
  • Support The Forgotten Initiative (http://www.theforgotteninitiative.org/).  TFI exists to “bring joy and purpose to the foster care community”.  They have many opportunities to serve foster families, foster children and DHR – such as redecorating family visit rooms at DHR, hosting diaper or car seat drives, blessing DHR workers with a luncheon, hosting donations for Christmas gifts or school supplies, and much more!

Pray today and ask the Lord how He would like for you and your family to respond to caring for the orphan.


Stephanie Hixon is a dear friend and a single foster mama. She's an amazing woman and lover of Jesus. She has been a licensed foster mama for nearly 3 years and resides in Birmingham, Alabama.



Friday, May 8, 2015

Lullaby

Written by Shannon Hicks



I cried when it came on the radio again tonight.

I wonder if I always will.

It was the anthem of our time together, Little One, the drum-beat that I hope somehow made its way deep into your bones.  Deep into your heart.

How he loves us.  Oh, how he loves us.  Oh, how he loves.

Day and night, rocking and walking and snuggling, I sang you all kinds of songs about Jesus, but always this one.  It was ours.

I chose this one on purpose, Little One, not because it is my favorite song of all time, but because if there is one thing I want you to know, one thing I want you to remember, it is this.

He loves you.

I miss you, Little One.  The way you rubbed your face back and forth against my body when you were tired.  The way you quieted in my arms– your heartbeat, your breath synching with my own.

I love you, Little One.  I fell hard and fast the moment that I met you, the moment that I first held you—tentative because you were so, so tiny, the moment that I kissed your head and it all felt like pretend.

In my mind, our time together was too short, but my mama-heart knows that for your mama, it was so very long.  And for you, Little One, it was just a blink that, if all goes well, your conscious mind will never even remember.

I hope I helped you learn that the world is safe.

I hope I helped you learn that someone comes when you cry.

I hope I helped you learn that mamas can be trusted.

I hope I helped you learn what it feels like to be loved, treasured, cherished.

You were never mine, Little One, in the same way that even my own daughter isn’t mine.

You were made for Him.

You are His.

Know this, Little One, if you remember nothing else.

As much as I love you, as much as your mama loves you, he loves you more.

How he loves you.  Oh, how he loves you.  Oh, how he loves.



Shannon Hicks is a fellow foster mom and authors a blog, Adoption Grace and Life. Please visit her blog for more poignant stories of her path in foster care.






Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The Other Mother

Written by Beth Lawrence


 

Since day one, many have asked about The New Chick’s biological mom. And for all seven of the months he’s lived in my house, I’ve put off writing about her. But, there is a season for everything, and a time for every purpose under heaven. 

The first time I saw her it was in the Chambers County Courthouse. I looked up from admiring the five-day-old baby who was snug against my chest, and saw her walking toward us. I knew her by the tears pouring unchecked down her face. She humbly asked me if she could hold him, and I began to wonder at the world I had just entered.

As I unswaddled all five precious pounds and placed him in his mother’s arms, I realized this entire endeavor was going to require more of my heart than I had expected. I felt all at once tremendous pain for her, and ferocious protection over him. 


Those two emotions would only swell with the passing weeks. At times, they were at war within my soul. 


Someone commented on her right after he came to us. They posed a question, that was really more of a statement, along the lines of how could anyone do what she has done. The person went on to make her out as a total sinner and me a total saint.


I just blinked and ashamedly said nothing. But inside was a raging inferno.


There is nothing fundamentally different about her and me. The only thing that polarizes her life from mine is that I was given a gift when I was six.  


The gift of the Holy Spirit when I was adopted by The King.


Without that gift, I would have been her. I would have chased this world and let it have its way with me. I would have made costly decisions-- looking to all the wrong things to make me feel happy and all the wrong people to make me feel loved. I would have given myself to a man way too early and gotten pregnant and had a baby. 


It would have been me watching the social workers walk out of the hospital with my first-born son, still sore from giving birth to him. 


It would have been me wondering where they took him.
And who was holding him. And what was going to happen to him.

It would have been me facing every parent’s worst nightmare.

It would have been me.


But Jesus.


I won’t lie. There’s another side to my feelings about her. It’s not jealousy. Or competition. It’s more like looking at her and wondering if I will be her in a few months. 


I fear the pain she’s already lived through.


Handing my baby over to the social workers to be cared for by strangers. Wondering where he is and if he needs me. Missing his firsts and wanting him so desperately it hurts. Fearing that he wants Mama, but can’t have her.


I hate the notion that her success will mean my greatest loss. And just as much I loathe the idea that if she fails, I somehow win. 


Because if he goes back, I’ll curl up and die for a while. But if he stays, I’ll grieve with the knowledge that she’ll do the same. Either way, pain will be thick. 


It’s true that she and I are very different. I was adopted and she wasn’t. She brought him into the world and I didn’t. I know him in ways she doesn’t. 

And every time I say “Come to Mama” I am reminded that there is another.


But in this we are the same. 

She and I are both the other mother.




Beth Lawrence is Wife Supreme to one good looking preacher, and Queen Mother to two bios and one foster. She has a knack for helping women feel less crazy while inspiring them to pursue Christ like crazy. Please visit her blog, Just Beth, and follow her on Facebook.