I know, I know. I’m a terrible blogger. Last you heard from me I was waiting to be approved as a foster parent, and it’s eight months later and I’m on my second placement, who has been with me for almost two months!
So here is a quick life update and some lessons I’ve learned along the way:
I apologize in advance for the length of this blog, I’m covering a lot of ground here! And if you would like more timely updates, Instagram is where it’s at.
I was approved as a foster parent by the state in late August and received 2-3 phone calls in early fall for placements that I had to say no to, or that I said yes to and they ended up finding a different home to place them in. Saying no is tough, guys. I mean, I’m supposed to open my home to anyone and everyone in need of a safe place, right? But one thing anyone involved in foster care will tell you is that if you aren’t the right fit for a child and you take them anyway, you are doing a disservice to that child. So when I got those calls, I asked the Lord to make my decision very clear, and He did—through the advice of the social worker and through His whispers when it just didn’t feel right. Sometimes it was because I was going out of town the next week for work, sometimes it was because they had special medical needs I just can’t tend to as a single, full-time working mom. But it was never easy to say no and I had to cling to the knowledge that God has them and will work it all out for good.
In mid-October, I began house hunting and found a cute little house that had been renovated by flippers on over an acre of land for a reasonable price. The inside was a dream—fully renovated, one story, open concept, white cabinets, granite counter tops, dark floors, grey walls, 4 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms so I had room for a guest room, an office and a kid room (with an en suite so they don’t have to share with guests!). The only issues I had were the weird angle of the roof and the major need for landscaping. So I figured I’d rather the construction be outside the home than inside, and I put an offer on the house. It was almost immediately accepted, and I began the crazy process of paperwork and packing and researching ways to make this outwardly bland, awkward house a home.
During this time, I put myself on hold for a foster care placement until I settled in and got the home prepared and approved. It would have been so chaotic for a child to enter a home in the chaos of packing, go through yet another transition, and even have to change school districts once we moved. So we all agreed (my FaithBridge Family Consultant, Home Study Specialist, family, friends and myself) that it was the best plan.
Over the holidays, Mimi, my last remaining grandparent, passed away after battling dementia for the last few years. It was late on Christmas Eve and we were in Gatlinburg when we got word, and we jumped in the car on Christmas morning and drove back to Atlanta so we could head down to the coast of Mississippi the next day to prepare for her funeral.
It’s in these moments that everything becomes so real. The finality of it all. It hurt to watch Mimi suffer with dementia, but we still had good days and really good visits, and I am oh so glad that she lived so close to me for the last year and a half of her life. Having spent my entire life (outside of college) 5+ hours away from any grandparents, I was honored to be able to visit and care for her at her memory care facility, in her greatest time of need. But it wasn’t until a few days later, when we started sifting through old photographs for the slideshow of her life, that I realized just how sick she had become. And how glad I was that she was at peace for the first time in a long time.
On a Thursday night in mid-January, I got a call for a placement and it seemed like the perfect fit. A few hours later, nine year old M walked through my front door and the first thing her social worker said was, “Are you a vegetarian?” I said no and she said, “Good, that’s all she wanted to know.” And so I showed M her new room and she immediately started rearranging it to fit her needs and style. That first night, after we had signed all the paperwork and her social worker and my family consultant had left, I tried to make us pancakes and for some reason the batter wouldn’t mix properly, so we jumped in the car for a late night trip to Waffle House.
We spent the weekend getting to know one another, registering her at her new school, snuggling with puppies at the pet store, playing board games, buying new clothes and making plans to go to the zoo. She was a really good kid who loved helping me cook and wore superhero capes everywhere we went, and I felt my heart tying itself up with hers. On my way to pick her up from her first day of school on Monday, I got a text that simply said, “I may be coming to pick her up tonight” and my heart sank as so many questions filled my mind. Turns out, her biological grandfather had been working to get his home approved by the state, and when she moved out of his county, he rushed and pushed the state so he could get her back.
Reunification. It’s the primary goal for children in foster care. But even though it may be the best thing for the child, it is never easy. Even if it has been only four days.
Four days with a kid and it took me 2 solid days to get over it. But now, looking back, I am so glad that I met M. She taught me so much, and she is such a sweetheart who still calls to give me life updates and ask about Penny.
Two weeks after M left, I got another call for a placement of an 8 year old little boy. Two hours later, that little boy was standing at my front door and so began the whirlwind that is DJ. DJ is FULL of energy. He’s funny and so so smart. He loves Michael Jackson and knows more about basketball and football than any kid I know. He loves hugs and snuggles and he talks back and has an attitude like any other kid. He is a great self-corrector. When I tell him not to say a word or do something, if he accidentally does, he almost always corrects himself before I can. He’s traumatized and it shows in multiple ways, but he is growing and changing and learning and I am watching him heal and watching Jesus make beauty from the ashes.
People tell me that it takes a special person to be a foster parent. I do think it is something God calls certain people to, but I don’t want anyone to think I am anything special. I mess up every single day. I get frustrated too quickly and I am stubborn and I don’t share control well. But God is teaching me so much about unconditional love and healing and patience and saying ‘yes’ to more and not giving in to guilt. He is teaching me that He doesn’t expect me to be a perfect parent, but that He does expect me to be an instrument of healing, safety and comfort for a child who needs it.
I got an email from a student at Truett-McConnell recently, who wanted to interview me about my experience with foster care. I thought I’d finish by sharing some of my answers.
- What are the main reasons that children are put in Foster Care? Neglect, drug abuse, abuse
- What are the main needs of children in Foster Care? Therapy, stability, consistency, structure, clothing, toys, school supplies, hygiene products, and of course unconditional love
- What are some struggles of Fostering? Being a single mom will never be easy—I don’t get a break often! And the different ways children express trauma are hard to watch and experience. Also, when you feel like you have tackled one issue, another one pops up. Not to mention the state is slow-moving and does not communicate well. So sometimes you feel like you’re out there on your own, just cleaning up someone else’s mess.
- What are some good things/blessings of Fostering? I get to fight for these kids and be their voice when they don’t have one! And for the most part, they are just kids. They bounce back easily and learn how to handle their “big feelings”, they need love and attention, they’re funny and silly. It is a blessing to have them in my life! And, in some scenarios, being able to pour into the birth parents is a ministry in and of itself.
- What are some important things that anyone wanting to get involved in Foster Care need to know? You’ve got to have a lot of patience and flexibility. You have to die to yourself daily and learn how to pick your battles. And you have got to be stubborn and fight for these kids. It won’t be easy. In fact, it will be very difficult. But there will be really great days, too. And you’ll get to see the Lord work in the hearts of children who may never have heard about Him. And you may get to be a part of breaking cycles of poverty, drug abuse, etc.
Also, play therapy will be your best friend.
- What are some of the best ways to share the Gospel and minister to children in Foster Care? If you are a foster parent, read the Word with them, pray with them each night, get them involved in church, etc. If you are wanting to show love to children in foster care and are not a parent, get approved as a babysitter and take them to a concert or a church event, talk to them about how God loves us NO MATTER WHAT.
- What are some ways that you have seen God work through families fostering or in your own life as you have been involved in foster care? Our church has a huge foster care ministry. Because of that, we have an incredible community of foster families that can learn from one another and meet one another’s needs. I have seen the Lord provide in multiple ways through this community of care. I’ve also seen families reunited because of the hard work of foster parents, pouring into birth parents and children and fighting hard for them in court. I truly believe that children who walk away from one of our families are set up for success in life because of the community of care, the importance we put on the gospel, and Jesus’ ability to make beauty from ashes.
- What has God taught you through helping and ministering to children in foster care? Gosh, so much. That even when I feel like I am doing a terrible job at this, the child just needs me to love them, even when I don’t feel like it or am frustrated. That life isn’t always fair, and this should never have to happen, but sometimes God just calls us to clean up other people’s messes. That children are resilient and really smart. That there is a definite cycle of poverty and abuse and I want to do everything I can to make sure the children who come into my home break that cycle. That Jesus is our only hope to get through this together, and praying together every night about issues we’re experiencing is vital. That I have to be better at encouragement and praise. That I need to SHARE control with the child and not expect them to just do what I tell them to all the time without any say so. I could go on and on…
- What are the biggest needs you have as someone who is fostering? Typically, babysitting and respite care are big. Especially since I’m a single parent. I can’t even go get a hair cut without taking time off of work or getting a babysitter. Thank the Lord for our free, monthly Foster Parents’ Night Out at the church! Also, meals and clothes, or gift cards. When I first get a placement, I typically have to purchase a lot of clothing. I can’t keep clothes of all sizes and genders in my home, so it is somewhat of a rush to get items quickly after they enter my home. Also, just providing a meal every now and then is helpful. The church actually does a Meal Train for 3 days a week during the first month of a placement. So that is SUPER helpful.
- Did you ever struggle with the idea that your child will go back to their parents? I do. Especially when I don’t know if the parents are the best option. It worries me that they will fit back into that way of life and follow their parents’ footsteps and never reach their full potential. But I have to trust the Lord that He’s got them and trust the courts to make the right decisions.
“No one expects us to love them flawlessly, but we can love them fearlessly, ferociously and unreasonably.” – Bob Goff, Everybody Always