Saturday, November 19, 2016

Building a Family: Part 11

May 2014

Goodbyes are often on the horizon for foster families.  Within the span of ten days, our family of six has been reduced to four.

Hope Child's birth father has worked his services and is able to regain custody.  We are excited for her to grow up with him, but goodbyes are still hard.  Our prayer is that she has finally found her forever home.  We pack her up, once more.  #somuchpink
Mr. Apple Jack is also moving to live with relatives.  I am feeling all the feelings.  This is the first placement we have had where adoption was a possibility.  It was a slim one, but it was there.  And he was with us long enough to call us "Momma" and "Dada."  This goodbye leaves us raw.

We pray over Mr. Apple Jack and the CPS caseworker just before we buckle him into his carseat one last time.  I am ever thankful Patrick works at a place that understands the needs of foster families and allows him to take the rest of the day off.  We need to be together.  As we watch him drive away, the girls cling to us and the tears begin to flow.

We go inside and huddle on the couch.  Tears slowly fade.  The rest of our day is spent close to one another.  Movie watching.  Talking.  This is therapeutic for us and our girls.  I cannot recommend this highly enough for other foster families.
Since beginning this road with our family, many have expressed their fears about us getting hurt.  Very valid concerns.  We have been hurt.  Fostering is crazy hard stuff.  But we are not alone in our sorrow.

You keep track of all my sorrows.  You have collected my tears in your bottle.  You have recorded each one in your book. Psalm 56:8
God has called us to it.  It is worth every tear.

Last paragraphs taken from previous post.

Tips for When Foster Children Leave

1. NEVER pack them up in trash bags.  That stigma is horrible.  Always use boxes and suitcases.
2. DISCUSS with the child where they are going.  Tell them as much information as possible.  This helps with their anxiety.
3. PRAY with the child and the entire family one last time.  Thank God for the time you had together.  Pray protection and love and Jesus for them in their new home.
4. CRY together once the child leaves.  The other children in your home need to see that to mourn is natural and healthy.
5. BE TOGETHER for the rest of the day or weekend.  The children in your home need to know you are still a family.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Building a Family: Part 10

March 2014

Unfortunately, the life up of a child in foster care is all too often one of constant upheaval.

At this point in our journey, we still have not met our Joey.  He has been in a stable, loving home for six months when a family member is found.  What one thinks should be a joyous reunion is, in fact, two strangers meeting.  This will be his third home, his third family in a year.  His life is turned upside down once more as he makes this transition.  Was he scared?  Did he miss the woman he had come to know as Mama?  What was his first night like?  Thinking on that time in his young life makes my heart hurt.

Around the same time in our home, we are witnessing a similar scenario in another precious one's life.  Our phone rings with shocking news: Hope Child has come back into foster care.  How is this possible?  Her life seemed to be all in order.  This child has had another front row seat to the brokenness of our world.

Would we be willing to take her back?  No need to even think twice.  We welcomed her in, even though we knew it would only be for a short while.  The post below was my heart at this point in our journey.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

This is My Story

Last Sunday during church, I held our foster daughter in my lap.  Usually she is happy to play with the other kids at children's church.  This week she was fearful.

She snuggled into my arms and quietly sat listening.  My momma heart swelled as we began singing a hymn from my past.

     This is my story, this is my song,
     praising my Savior all the day long;

I have joyously belted out this song innumerable times from the second row of church.  Watching my momma play the notes on the old piano.  Waiting for my daddy to get up and preach.  Sitting beside my grandmother.  Church filled with family and friends who loved me.

This is my story.  My legacy.  It was not perfect, as no one's life is.  But I was loved and knew the love of a gracious Savior.  Isn't that all that truly matters?

     this is my story, this is my song,
     praising my Savior all the day long.

I rested my head on Hope Child's golden hair and tried to sing, but I was choking on the words.  Her story?  How foreign it has already been from my own.  Heartache deeper than the ocean.  Loss of the bitterest kind.

When you love someone, their story is joined with yours.  Their pain is felt in your deepest soul.  This beautiful little girl's story has shattered my own.  I will be forever indebted to her for this.  This opening of my eyes and heart.

Hope Child's story cannot be rewritten, but we can help her turn the page.  It will not be perfect, as no one's life is.  But we can write love and the love of a gracious Savior on her heart.  Isn't that all that truly matters?

It makes singing the final verse of the song possible:

     Perfect submission, all is at rest;
     I in my Savior am happy and blest,
     watching and waiting, looking above,
     filled with His goodness, lost in His love.

If you are interested in helping a child in foster care write love on the pages of their story:

Friday, November 11, 2016

Building a Family: Part 9

At this point in our foster story, our lives are busy.  We drive to parent visits each week.  People are in our home all the time: Arrow, CASA, CPS, Ad Litems.  Our world has been taken over.  It is a hassle, but it is worth it if one child is safe.

The girls ask constantly, "Will we get to adopt him?"  As always, we answer, "He is our brother every day he is in our home.  God decides where his forever home will be.  God has already chosen who will be our forever children."

And God did know.

For now is when you were born, our precious youngest child.  On the day of your birth, we were loving another child, but we were already praying for you.  Each night we prayed for your safety.  We prayed you had food and love and a warm bed.  We prayed the Lord would keep you, and He did.

The repost below speaks of our hearts during this season.

36 Hours Notice

Well, we have reached a milestone.  Mr. Apple Jack has been with us for one fourth of his short, spunky life.  In that time, he has become our son.  Most mornings begin with his voice on the monitor, "Mommy?  Daddy?"  A far cry from the child who would stay in his bed for hours after awakening.  No one used to come when he called.

We are there for things like birthday parties, playing outside, and smiles.  Lots of smiles.  We rejoice with him over each new learned word and give about a thousand fist bumps a day.

We are there for things like the flu, shots, and poop.  Lots of poop.  We soldier through the terrible two tantrums knowing we may never see the fruits at the end of this phase.

He comes to us when he is hurt.  When he is scared.  When he is happy.  Our cup runneth over with love for this little boy.

But somewhere on some desk of somebody is a home study.  These papers are Mr. Apple Jack's future.  Our future.

"He's probably leaving.  You'll get 36 hours notice so you'll have time to pack up his things and say goodbye."

Oh.  Thirty-six hours.  How kind.  It makes me think of the Dread Pirate Roberts in The Princess Bride:

"Good night, Westley. Good work. Sleep well. I'll most likely kill you in the morning."

In the movie, Westley has to wait three years before returning to Princess Buttercup.  At least it hasn't been that long.  We've been waiting in this crazy reality for the past six months.

I am a doer.  Sitting and waiting just does not work for me.  So, how do we prepare for the very real possibility our son may be leaving?

1.  Pray.  Please join us.  God knows this little boy's future.  Our job is not to save him.  Our job is to love him.  We know this in our heads.  Pray for this to be written on our hearts.  God is sovereign.

2.  Prepare for the transition.  Our first days with Mr. Apple Jack were difficult.  We knew nothing about him.  Likes.  Dislikes.  Fears.  We were going into it blind.  In an effort to make his possible move smoother, we created this All About Me sheet.  Our plan is to fill one out with as much information as possible each time a child leaves us to go to a new home.  Other foster families - feel free to use it, change it, make it your own.

Printable version: All About Form

Labels to pin onto items.  Printable Version: Favorite Things Labels
Blank labels to pin onto items.  Printable Version: Blank Labels

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Building a Family: Part 8

November 2013: Our hearts have healed.  We find ourselves awaiting another phone call.

Mr. Apple Jack

He came to us late one night.  Beautiful curls.  Almost two years old.  With a heartbreaking story.

Having witnessed much and suffered even more, our first goal was to make him feel safe and loved.  He fell into our family so naturally.  Like he was always supposed to be there.  His laughs.  His smiles.  It was like music in our home.  So easy to forget that he is not truly our child.

Reality strikes the morning of his first parent visit.

I slowly pack up the kids.  Every fiber of my being screams against this.  On the drive there, my mind is racing.  What is he going to think when we send him back to his dragons?

She is waiting as we pull up.  All excited.  My girls openly stare.  I know the questions are welling up in them.  He hesitantly walks to her.  Seemingly unsure if he is supposed to go with her or stay with us.

We have to drive away and leave him.  With her.

My oldest spoke my fears:

"Mommy, isn't that the lady...?"

"Yes, baby.  We think so."

"Then why are we leaving him with her?"

My heart is so heavy I can hardly speak to answer.  I force myself not to cry.

"Because we have to baby.  The CPS lady will be with them the whole time.  And so will God."

We pray together.  There in the car.  For this new love of our heart.  Facing his dragons.

The song that keeps swirling in my head is "In My Arms" by Plumb:
Clouds will rage and,
Storms will race in.
But you will be safe in my arms.
Rains will pour down.
Waves will crash around.
But you will be safe in my arms.
For a while I felt this was my song to Mr. Apple Jack.  I didn't know what would happen to him tomorrow or the next week or month or year, but I knew while he was with us, he was safe.
But the more I look, the more I see.  He is not safe when he is in my arms.  He is safe when he is in God's arms.  He loves him more deeply and truly than I will ever be capable of.
Foster parenting is no-joke-hard.  And the hardest part is learning to trust God.  It is easy to pray for God's will to be done in the life of a child.  It is harder to mean it.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Building a Family: Part 7

Healing comes.  It is a slow but steady thing.  Our prayers turn to our next child.  For the Lord to protect them and keep them.  For Him to ready us for them.

We are on a break from fostering while moving into our new home and starting the school year.  Just being us and being together is what our hearts need.

September 2013

To us, this is a normal day.  Before work, Patrick attends his first Donuts with Dad with Kindergarten Abby.  Susannah is at Gigi's house to play.  I'm teaching school.  At the end of the day, we say our family prayers of protection for our future brothers and sisters.  We talk, as usual with our girls on how the Lord already knows who will be in our family.

To our Joey, this is the worst day of his young life.  People he does not know come into his home.  They say he cannot stay.  This is the protection we have been pleading with the Lord for, but to an infant's mind?  Seven months old and ripped from your mother, your grand parents, your home.  What must your have been thinking?

God's blessings come.  You are graciously placed with a lovely foster mother.  One we would unexpectedly cross paths with in the future.  She introduces you to our shared Lord.  For that, we are forever in her debt.

That night we prayed for you, even though we did not know who you were.  God was healing our hearts.  He was saving your life.  What a mighty God we serve.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Building a Family: Part 6

This post was written after our Hope Child left.  We thought this would be the end of our role in her story.


Monday, November 18, 2013

The First Goodbye

What do you say to a child that has become your own, as you pack up all her things?  How do you make a child's brain understand you are not abandoning them - like everyone else?  We spoke to her of this relative she did not remember.  We prayed this family would love Hope Child.  That they would love God.

The momma in me was dying.  I rocked this girl to sleep when she was too scared to be alone.  I washed her dirty clothes.  Wiped her tears.  Played with her.  We were there as she threw temper tantrums and when she laughed.  How could I give up this child?

Surrender was the only thing that got me through.  Not surrendering to CPS or the family, but surrendering to God.  I am not the author of this precious darling's life.  God is.  He has a plan for her.  I prayed for God to press this on my heart, and He did.  I had such a peace.

Even still, carrying her inside the CPS building was tough.  I was taking this child of my heart to someone else.  Someone related to the people who had caused her so much pain.  We had been praying.  Praying crazy hard.  That this family would be God-followers.  That this family would know how to love.

We got to be there when they met Hope Child.  She clung to us.  We stayed for a long time.  Playing.  Talking.  She slowly warmed to them but stayed right beside us.  As I spoke to the new family I saw their love for God and their love for Hope Child.  We cried together over answered prayers.

When it was time for us to leave, Hope Child would not let us go.  And there went my heart.  Ripped out.  We decided to all pray together.  And something wonderful happened.  I felt the presence of God.  His peace descended upon me.  He must have done the same for Hope Child.  As soon as the amen was said, she let go of us and ran into the arms of her family.

God showed up that day.  He answered prayers.  My cup overflowed.

And as soon as we got in the car, our eyes also overflowed.

The girls still talk about Hope Child.  We have been very open and honest with them.  At six and four years-old, they have lots of questions.  Questions I never thought we would be faced with so young.  Questions I am still wrestling with.

But most of them have the same answer, "I don't know, but God knows.  He is in charge of Hope Child's life.  We have to trust God."

Help me Lord to do this.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Building a Family: Part 5

The following is a repost of what I wrote the day before our Hope Child left.  We were so glad to know she was going to family, but we were heartbroken at the thought of not knowing her as a sister.  We were a muddled mess of emotions.


Monday, August 12, 2013

Hope Child

She came to us with almost nothing.  A few dirty clothes.  One small blanket.

No one wanted her.  We wanted her.

And now, after almost a month, she is leaving us.  A family member has been found.  I thought I would be devastated, but I have such a peace about this.  She will grow up with cousins and aunts.  People who can tell her stories about her grandmother.  Sing her the lullabies of their family.

We know God is sovereign in Hope Child's life.  He knew our home was where she needed to be for this season of her life.  We trust He still is in control of her little life.

But tomorrow is going to be hard.  Isn't that the way loving usually is?

Abby-Momma loved her right from the start.  Our natural nurturer jumped in head first showering this neglected child with more attention than she had probably been shown her entire life.

Susannah...well let's just say there was a bit of a territorial battle.  We prayed for love to come.  And boy, did it ever come.  One day out of the blue, she gave Hope Child one of her Hugsies.  I cannot convey to you the depth of love that means for this small fireball.

These are our three girls.  Soon to be two.  Pray for them tomorrow.

When Hope Child came to us, Patrick was away at youth camp.  Oh, how he wished he could have been here.  When he did finally meet her, I think it was love at first sight.

What could be sweeter than a daddy with his little girl?  Hope Child had never had that as a constant in her life.  She thrived under his love.  Running to him.  Hugging him.  Begging him to, "fly a fairy."

She called Patrick "Daddy" last week.  Pray for him tomorrow.

And me?  I have no ability to love half-heartedly.  Hope has stolen my heart.  I don't think I will ever be the same after tomorrow. 

Pray for me tomorrow as I say goodbye.  As I comfort my family.

She came to us with almost nothing, but she is leaving with so much.  No one wanted her.  We wanted her.  But most importantly, Jesus wanted her.  We gave her a picture of our family and the Jesus Storybook Bible.

We fully believe God has great things for this Hope Child.  Tomorrow we plan to pray with her family when we give her to them.  Pray for her family tomorrow.

I know tomorrow is going to be hard, but love is hard.  And this love is what God has called us to.  It is what God has called us all to...

"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress..."  James 1:27

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Building a Family: Part 4

Foster Care & Biological Children

Prior to foster care, life was pretty simple.  Two kids.  Two parents.  Even Stevens.  During licensing, our kiddos had been real troopers: not complaining when they had to have yet another babysitter for us to attend more trainings, coming along to classes, giving up their playroom, even helping downsize their massive toy collection.

Tuesday morning our girls woke up to a new reality.

A reality that forced us to abandon our Man-to-Man coverage and move to a Zone defense.  Life would never be the same for our family.  Susannah's status was changing from "baby" to "middle child" - a fate only other middle children can truly understand.  Abigail, who was always in charge and did not handle change well, was being thrown her first curve ball.  How would they react?

It was beautiful to watch.  They were so tender.  So gentle.  They folded her into our family seamlessly.  Hope Child became one of us.  She had been lonely for so long.  Now, her cup runneth over.  We had evolved from merely foster parents into a foster family.

Was it all easy?  Good gracious, no!  Hope Child had so much hurt.  So much pain.  There were tantrums, meltdowns, family trips ruined.  Through it all, Abigail and Susannah loved her with that unimaginably strong love that only sisters can give to one another.  Slowly, healing came.

People frequently ask us about fostering, "What about your girls?  Isn't it hard on them?"

It can be, but we see our purpose as parents different from most.  Our primary parenting goal is not to protect our girls from the world, but to prepare them for it.  We want our kids to be lovers of the unloved.  To be healers of the broken.  That requires opening ourselves up to pain and loss.  When we do, we also receive grace unmeasured.

If you are considering foster care, but have concerns about your biological children, please hear me: it is perfectly fine for you to have reservations.  If God is calling you to foster, He will work all things out according to His great plan.  I'd love to sit with you over a glass of milk and a plate of cookies to talk and pray.

Prepping Your Bio Kids

1. Set up clear expectations.  Who will be sharing rooms?  Will discipline change in your home?
2. Listen to their fears and help address them.  Ask them what they are worried about.
3. Let them help: paint or decorate the bedroom, make a welcome basket or card to leave on the nightstand.  They need to know they are part of this ministry with you.
4. Pray as a family each night that God would prepare you for whatever and whoever He has for you.

Building a Family: Part 3

It is an odd feeling, waiting for a call from CPS.  To be ready to help, but not wanting the horrors of child removal to be a reality.  Perhaps this is how paramedics feel?  Glad to be useful, but wishing their job to be superfluous.

The phone rang the first night of youth camp.  There was no possible way My Darling Youth Minister Husband would be able to leave.  I was single parenting it for our first placement.  My momma and sisters jumped into the deep end with me, heart first.  They came with help and clothes and love.  I could not have done it without them.

It was late when she walked into our home.  Silent.  Big blue eyes staring in disbelief.  Her caseworker was kind, but clearly ready for me sign the paperwork so she could go home.  Approximately four thousand signatures later, I was left with a shell-shocked four year old little girl.  To her, I was just another stranger on a day where strangers took her away from her momma.  Her home.  Her life.

Our first night was hard.  She was deeply traumatized.  Unable to sleep.  Fearful of being in her new room.  Was she scared of being alone or of the dark?  Had she never slept in a bed before?  Maybe she just missed home.  She was too scared to share her feelings with me.  The only way to calm her down was for her to be held and rocked.

Now, we are those parents who let our girls cry it out, so they would sleep through the night.  I also come from a long line of unapologetic "suck it up" parenting.  But not this night.  She did not need tough love.  I sat in our rocking chair with her that whole first night.  The same chair I rocked my two girls in.

I recall rocking and praying for them as babies with such hope and joy in my heart.  But rocking this child was so different.  My heart was breaking.  She had seen so much.  Experienced such deep loss.  My prayers were for healing and peace and comfort.  Heavy tears fell as I prayed for myself and my family to know how to love her.

Oh, to live in a world where there is no need for child protective services.  Until that day, people are needed.  People with open homes and hearts.  People willing to inconvenience themselves for the life of another they may never give their last name to.


Tips for the First Night:

1. Greet the child on their level.  Shake their hand.  Look them in the eye.  They need to know you see them as a person worthy of your attention.
2. Introduce yourself and all household members (including pets).  If kids are already asleep or someone is not home, show them a picture of the person.
3. Tour the house with them.  Don't forget to show them the bathroom.
4. Offer them a snack and a drink.  They need to know you will meet their physical needs.
5. Paperwork can be done last.  Put the child first.  Many caseworkers will want to get in and out as fast as possible, but they are not the ones in charge.  This is your house, and your primary goal is to make a child feel safe.
6. Pray with all your might.  You are gonna need it!

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Building a Family: Part 2

Easter 2012: God had won us over.  Next up, getting licensed.  Sure.  Easy-peasy.  BAHAHAHAHA {deep breath} ha...ha...ha.  Alright, it's not that painful, just time consuming.  But I totally get it.  Gotta filter out the wackos somehow.  The paperwork became our Everest.  We thought it had to be completed prior to attending training courses.  "Neigh," says the horse, but we did not hear him.

February 5, 2013: Y'all, y'all.  It is almost a year later and we are just now taking our first class!  Why?  We could have started much sooner, but we were dragging our feet.  Were we scared or just that busy?  Maybe both.  Or maybe God knew.  See, our Joe was born in February of 2013.

For the next four months we drove to training courses.  All the time.  As in, we lived at the Arrow Child and Family Ministries office.  Without family to help with our girls, this phase in the process would have taken even longer.  Want to help out future or current foster parents?  Babysit their kids while they go to training classes.
May 29, 2013: Paperwork in order.  Training complete.  TB tests.  Shot records.  CPR.  First Aid.  The final hurdle is in our sights, but it is a doozie - the dreaded home study.  Good gravy.  It is an intense, in your home, all up in your business, four to five hour interview.  That's a long time for a gal like me who struggles with appropriate conversational filters.  You can read about our home study here.

July 8, 2013: By the grace of God, we passed!  Our license hangs proud on the wall, a testament to our professional parenting status.  Apparently, we were just amateurs before.  I jump each time my phone rings.  Is that our agency?  We have heard story after story of hurting children and had that terrible sense of helplessness wash over us.  Not anymore.  Now we would be able to enter into that child's story.  We could begin writing new pages with them.  Pages filled with safety.  Love.  Food.  God.  And so, we wait.

If you are working toward your license, take heart.  The end is nigh.  Or at least a little nigher than it was in 2012.  And read this book.

Image result for the connected child

If you are even remotely considering foster care, I HIGHLY recommend you attend an informational meeting.  Our local agency usually holds theirs the first Tuesday of each month.

Want to catch up?  Building a Family: Part 1

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Building a Family: Part 1

In the beginning of the Hill family, there were two girls.  One girl was girl was just like her daddy.  The other was just like her momma.  We thought this was the end of our little family.  Life was great.
Photo Cred: Sarah Grace Photography

Then God.

Anyone who knows that God Guy can tell you, he is not one to leave His plans unaccomplished.  We thought our family was full, but He knew.

The Lord slowly started bringing adoption to us.  Acquaintances had adopted.  Aren't they so nice?  Good friends began fostering.  We could never do that Sermons started springing up.  Umm...God are you talking to us?  A guest speaker visited our church from a foster agency.  Ok, so are you for real about caring for the orphan, God?

Things were adding up, but most importantly, God was speaking to our hearts.  The hurting child would not leave us.  We agreed to a time of personal prayer before we came to a final decision.  I remember those weeks as being some of the hardest of my life.  I am what one might call a bit of a talker, so to not speak about this to anyone but God was KILLING me.

Easter 2012 is when we decided we would discuss it as a couple.  I knew what God was speaking to me, but I did not know where my lovely Patrick was in his heart journey.  Graciously, he had heard the same from the Lord.

Our journey was just beginning.  The family we thought to be complete?  Not even close.

 Husband or wife, if you feel the call to foster or adopt, but your spouse does not:

  1. Remember: God gave you to your spouse first, not your current or future children.  Honor them.
  2. Pray for God to match your desires to that of your spouse.  You may find God changes their heart, or He may change yours.
  3. Begin serving the hurting children in your area in other ways: babysit for a foster family, donate to organizations that serve foster children, make cookies for your local CPS office and pray for their employees, ask CPS what their needs are.