A church. A family. A home.

This evening my heart was completely flooded with joy and praise. And before I go further, let me just interject that today has been HARD. Like WAY hard. So before you get some unrealistic picture from what I’m about to paint…. Picture it all amid several melt downs (including one of my own), a dirty house, a few bite marks,….at this very moment I have a screaming three year old that doesn’t want to sleep because four books was not enough. It’s been hard but you guys God is good even in the hard, amen? The kids and I gathered around our kitchen island (seriously, I can’t believe we are still squeezing the six of us around this thing and there is a dining table four feet away that seats eight! Haha!) I served everyone their plates and Caleb said “And now we can pray!” and Micaila said “Yeah! You’re right, lets pray!” I asked them who wanted to be the one to pray and they all were saying “Me! Me! Me!” This may surprise you all. I mean I AM a pastors daughter, why is this such a big deal? Well I have an even bigger shocker, it’s a big deal because it’s NEVER happened. My children have NEVER wanted to pray at the dinner table. When I have tried to encourage them to, they mostly look down and hope I don’t press to hard.

In April, we visited a church in our small town. This was like our last effort and if it didn’t work out I figured we would just have to move. They were the most genuine welcoming people I had ever been greeted by. They didn’t just give a casual “Good morning, nice to have you.” And assume “You’ll figure the rest out.” They warmly welcomed us, made sure we knew of every event, activity, and appropriate class we could be a part of. Basically, they went great lengths to assure us that they wanted us there.

We’ve visited a lot of churches and one thing I have learned in the process is how important it is to WELCOME visitors. I know. It’s hard. You feel a bit awkward. You wonder if they even want to be spoken to. We have got to get over our own comfort and church cliques and ENSURE people feel welcomed by the body of Christ.

So we tried a Sunday school class and were so impressed by how committed to being in God’s Word this group of adults was. It wasn’t a social hour, it was an hour meant for edifying each other and growing in grace and knowledge of our Lord. And our kids went to class and they thoroughly enjoyed it as well. We recently have been able to start going on Wednesday nights. And we are becoming more and more connected to this church and I see how God is working in the life of this church and my life and my children’s lives. It was not that long ago that Caleb told me “I don’t want to go to church. I don’t like church.” I was heartbroken. As a child I LOVED church. I loved my church family. I loved GA’s and youth, and camp and growing up in church. And I was so discouraged that our children (and me and Jason for that matter) were not connected to God’s people like I had always been.

Last week my kids all shared with me how they wished church was every night. And tonight, hearing their desire to commune with the Lord and thank him for our food and family, I’m just so grateful for God’s faithfulness. We had to hang in there to finally connect with a healthy church. There were times I wanted to give up. Rainy Sundays that I was just fine staying home. But the Holy Spirit kept pressing and pulling and reminding me “You need fellowship with Christians. You need the church. Don’t give up on my Bride!!” I never thought finding a church home would have been the struggle that it was. And I’m so thankful for His grace in that difficult season and for how He has brought us here with this church body.

Link to a previous post on our journey to finding a church. https://familyofgrahams.wordpress.com/2018/02/26/my-struggle-with-church/

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Boundaries in Adoption

Hey look at that! A Two-fer. 😉 The elephants moved from upstairs to the pool so I figured, hey I can lifeguard and blog at the same time! Night swim, woohoo! Love having a pool. 🙂

One thing I am learning in our foster to adopt journey is the importance of boundaries. There are so many dynamics you can not possibly anticipate in adoption and every situation is unique. Most of the people in our life simply will not understand what we are navigating. They will try to understand and they will BE “understanding”  (and I am SO grateful for how understanding and compassionate people have been) but that’s different from actually living it and truly getting it. And that’s okay. There are  hundreds of experiences I will never personally walk through and wont be able to understand. What I’m learning though is that this means I have to be honest, direct, and fearless about what I believe (and what I have sought the Lord in) is best for our family.

I have been trying to be very sensitive and open to the boys great grandparents. We have always said we would want them to remain in the boys lives. And they will. But I’m praying over what will be a hard conversation with great grandma because honestly, we just need some space. It’s so vital that the boys bond to us and see us as their parental figures. Since the boys moved in the great grandparents have visited every week. About a month ago the caseworker expressed concern over the frequency of their visits so early on and offered to step in but I didn’t think this would be necessary. I just like to handle my concerns and conflicts personally. I truly believe that in every relationship we should be the one to confront people not send someone else to do it for us. I know this situation is different, but I’m really wanting to maintain a good rapport with great grandma and I think the key to that is open, honest communication. Plus, I fully recognize how difficult this is for her. She cared for her great grandchildren for a year and a half, day in and day out and now they are here. To some degree I know that heart break. I know she misses them terribly. And yet, they are young, they have been through so much, and seeing her so frequently prevents them from settling in. In some ways I believe its hindering them from healing and fully attaching and moving forward with their lives. So while I’m extremely empathetic toward her, my responsibility is to them. Please pray I would have the courage to express my concerns. Pray I would do so tenderly and lovingly and that she would hear my heart and love for these boys and understand.

Another boundary area I didn’t anticipate encountering is our traveling or people traveling to us. When you have children coming from hard places, consistency and routine are VITAL. When you change the schedule or add something new, sometimes they do great and sometimes they absolutely cannot handle it. And you will know by their behavior. All kids can get thrown off but it’s just a different beast when you have children who are being adopted. My big kids, I can basically say “suck it up buttercup!” but with my little guys, I have to treat it sensitively and carefully. When we went to the beach the boys did pretty well. I did my best to maintain the schedule we keep at home. After our trip to the beach we had family come and stay with us. By the end of their stay we had a full fledge BITER. Both boys are pretty off but one is definitely exhibiting some concerning behaviors. It’s summer, the time to travel. I wanted to go to Florida and I also had plans for our family to come back again…. Basically everything is getting put on hold because we have to get back to normal and help our little guy handle his big emotions. It stinks RSVPing “No” to my sister in laws baby shower, and “No” to a friend’s daughter’s birthday, and telling my sweet family “Hey, umm, I love you but can you maybe not come?” I mean that’s hard. I don’t want to hurt anyones feelings or come off like I don’t care about their special events and milestones. But we’re only a couple months in to a huge adjustment not only for ourselves but for these boys. I keep telling myself “It’s like having a new baby. No, twins. That come with DFCS, great grandparents, and a mixed bag of bonding and behavioral issues.” And they are completely worth it all. So to those in similar adoptive situations, the boundaries you have to set may surprise you but be open, be honest, and be fearless! These kiddos are so worth it!

We are on a seriously steep learning curve here. I know we are doing this all so far from perfectly and I pray people know we mean well as we stumble through the journey. I pray these boys especially know how loved they are. The other night, J was having a hard time getting to sleep, and it was one of my finer mothering moments. I went up and rocked him for like 20 minutes and just sang every worship song I could think of, plus Never Enough from the Greatest Showman. And then I prayed over that little guy and that God would continue to be so merciful in his and his brothers life. That He would step in all our many parenting gaps and all the broken places that everyone has left in their little lives. And I prayed they would know the Lords fierce love for them. And that he would equip Jason and I to love all our kids in ways that direct their hearts to Him. I am such a mess sometimes you guys and my prayers have been desperate for God because I cannot do this without Him. Maybe you are feeling a bit like me today…. Just desperate for God to be present in your parenting. Tonight I am just praying that I would not neglect meeting with my Heavenly Father. I need my Good Shepherd to lead and guide me otherwise, I am utterly lost with out Him.

The Journey Continues

Well happy July everyone! It’s been several weeks since I’ve written here and boy is there a lot I’d like to share. Today was one of those days that I wasn’t sure I would make it through. For starters we are in the throws of potty training and all in all K is doing GREAT but on the days that he poops his pants and decides to finger paint his crib…. Oh and bonus, the power went out as I discovered the mess and I got to learn how to clean and disinfect in the dark. Yay! But I’ve got the little ones safely in bed and currently can hear my big kids above me having a blast jumping off furniture. Sounds like someone might fall through the ceiling or possibly a baby elephant. (Two story home owners feel me?) I don’t know what it is about tough days that bring me to write….. although it IS one of the healthier options to decompress. I guess I fear you will think we only ever have tough days and that’s not true at all.

In fact, we’ve had some very good days. In the middle of June we spent a glorious week at the beach. It was the boys first trip and our first trip as a new family. The boys absolutely loved the water and sand. Our extended family loved them. And it was a very needed time of bonding for us all. We had each other day in and day out and I didn’t realize how much we needed that week together. In fact I would strongly encourage families who are adopting to consider planning a vacation specifically for a special time of bonding. I wish I could share pictures but since they are not legally ours yet I still am not allowed to do that. I also am out of storage on my blog here. :bummer:

I wish we were still at the beach. But alas, we are home and reality is in full swing. Upon returning I was made aware that our boys biological mother requested visitation. Since DFCS has yet to terminate parental rights, (they have filed three times and keep messing up paperwork) she can not be denied this privilege. We went a few weeks with no action and then I received a phone call from a transporter who would pick the boys up and supervise the visits. My heart sank. It feels so wrong and unfair. All because of “policies” the system allows these children to be yanked around and thrown into confusing situations that will only deepen their trauma. While I’m trying to build and strengthen the boys trust in me as their mother, caregiver and protector now I’m having to put them in a car with a stranger, to go have play time with another stranger, who will claim to be their “mommy”. I don’t mean to come off harsh but I struggle to call her their mother when she hasn’t been a mother to them for two years. Their great grandmother was their “mother” for the last year and a half. (which is another story) This is all just hard and I’m human and oh so fallible. I did the best I could to explain to K that he was having a visit with someone he may remember and that a helper would come to take him and brother. I told him they would play with toys and then the helper would bring them home. And then I cried in private and called out to my Helper. I know God is sovereign in all this and it’s another opportunity for us to rely on and trust in Him. Thankfully, the boys did well and it sounds like the visit went something like when they get dropped off at the church nursery. They played and were pleasant and excited to come home to me, mommy. Please pray that the TPR hearing would be expedited quickly. These children need normalcy and stability and consistency. And as long as we are waiting for rights to be terminated all of that is very difficult to have.

I have so much more to write about. I am learning SO MUCH in this foster to adopt journey. Like boundaries you must set, conversations you can’t avoid, things you just have to say no to, and so much more. I also have some fun stuff to write about like how we acquired a puppy, a pig, and two bunnies in one month. And tomorrow is Calebs 6th Birthday! I hope I can get a birthday letter in for that boy. Heck I hope I can get his birthday in period! This momma is off her game lol. Lesson number 465 in the adoption journey…… Grace. Grace. Give yourself lots of grace.

Hope Renewed: Part 4

Part 4

It’s crazy. So much of this journey has felt long. We have had to wait. They have had to wait. Wait for answers, wait for case plan decisions, and wait for direction  from the Lord. And the waiting is not over. We still have so far to go. But we’re in! We’re pursuing them, pursuing making them our boys. I already catch myself referring to them as “mine” or “ours”. I tear up just thinking about it. I feel like in the midst of trying to decide there were some fears that came with the unknown. But the moment we decided so much of that fear has been crushed! God is infusing my heart daily with more love and trust and confidence. I know we will face challenges, opposition even, but, “The Lord is my Light and Salvation, whom shall I fear? Whom shall I be afraid?”

re·new verb

past tense: renewed; past participle: renewed

resume (an activity) after an interruption.

synonyms:       resume, return to, take up again, come back to, begin again, start again, restart,…

When you look at the definition of renew, I think you’ll understand why I chose the title, Hope Renewed. So much of our story with the boys has been “come back to” and “start again”. And so much of their story is about “beginning again”. Of course I wish the world was not the way it was, that children didn’t come into foster care, and that life altering decisions weren’t so complex and messy. Of course I wish they had not experienced so much disruption in their life and no I can’t understand why it all happened the way it did. But then there is hope. There is Jesus Christ. I thought about titling this “All Things New” because that is the hope we have in Christ, that he IS making all things new. Where sin has broken and torn and messed up, Jesus steps in and offers hope and healing. And that’s what he’s doing in the boys life and in ours.

April 10, 2018….. That date probably holds little significance to you. I forgot how significant it was for me, for our family. The Lord didn’t though. I want to share with you one of the most gracious, amazing confirmations I believe we received from the Lord about adopting these boys.

We got a call March 23rd that there would be a permanency hearing for the boys on April 10th at 1:00pm. The permanency hearing will be to officially move them to our home and begin the adoption process. The following Sunday I went to put that event in my calendar on my phone. On that day, at that exact time, I had entered something else. Eight months ago I had put on my calendar for April 10th that baby was due. Ironically the default time was 1:00pm. I mean seriously? How in the world is it possible that these two dates, established eight months apart, after everything we’ve been through, would land together? Because God is just that cool and sweet and awesome. I got chills and tears and could not believe how specific God would be in our future and in theirs. I believe with every part of me he is redeeming and healing all these pieces of their life and ours together. And this is just the beginning of it.

So as my sweet friend so appropriately put it, I am “nesting”. Baby shower anyone?? Hehe! We’ve been having fun rearranging rooms and I love hearing Caleb talk about how he “will not sleep in his new room till the boys get here”. He asks me every day “When are we adopting the boys?” and he also very excitedly informed me, “Now that we are adopting K and J we will have enough kids to play manhunt!” I think he’s excited to get some brothers.

This is not the end of our story though. Please keep us and them in your prayers. Pray for our relationship with the great grandparents. We didn’t always know if we would adopt the boys but we did always know that God was using us in the boy’s lives and in the lives of their family. Pray for strength and wisdom as we jump back into parenting toddlers. Pray that the boys would integrate into our family, both immediate and extended. Pray for protection during the adoption process because we still fall under “adoption legal risk” as they are not officially “freed” for adoption yet. Which basically means it’s not over till the court says it’s over.

I am so honored to get to share this amazing story of God’s faithfulness through fearful, unsure, slow learners like ourselves. It’s been awesome to write and reflect on all the ways God sustained us when we wanted to quit and orchestrated His will through the doubts and fears and imperfect steps of obedience, faith, and trust. I can’t even tell you all the ways I look back and see his hands, “Oh, now I understand…” I look forward to writing “Part 5” and we are so grateful for your support and prayers.

Hope Renewed: Part 3

Part 3

From October-January we did not receive a placement. I rested, I grieved, I took steps in healing, I spent lots of time with Jesus, I stayed up late with my family, we traveled to Florida A LOT, I ran, I read, we rejoiced throughout the holidays,…… we slowed way down for a season and it was good.

During this time God overwhelmed my soul with peace. Peace about our loss. Peace about the boys. Peace about the future and His will.

Then we got the call about baby E, who was precious and delightful. He was good medicine for this girls grieving heart. I quickly unleashed all this stored up baby love on him and enjoyed (most) every minute he was with us. He was soon placed in relative care and all was quiet and slow again.

In February, 2018, we were on our way home from Florida. Great grandma calls needing someone to watch the boys. They had to be removed from their adoptive placement and DFCS is no longer considering the family for permanency. They are back to square one, looking for a forever home for these two little guys. Everyone is shocked, the boys and grandparents are a bit traumatized, Jason and I are bewildered. “Lord, what are you doing? What’s your plan here?” At this point, Great Grandma and Grandpa are emphatic, they do not want to put these babies through any more trauma. I don’t blame them. My heart hurts over all the upheaval in their short lives. She expresses to me that the only family (outside of them) she would consider for the boys is us. She knows we’ve been through a lot, is sensitive and not pressing us for an immediate answer.

So we start praying and talking and praying.

Throughout this process I’ve learned a valuable lesson as it relates to adoption. It’s not always immediately crystal clear. Maybe some times it is, but in our experience there has been just A LOT of working through it, questioning, hypotheticals, etc. We want to do what is in their best interest and we can’t just automatically assume that’s us! I share that to encourage the ones considering adoption that didn’t get the “lightning bolt” moment or “know instantly this is my child”. I’ve heard those phrases a lot in fostering and adoption circles and it made me wonder if something was wrong with us because that was not our experience. We’ve known we LOVE the boys, but we had to really work through if we were the best family for them.

As we continued praying and talking through this again, and learned more details of what happened I did wonder things like, did we made a mistake the first time? Did the boys have to go through all that? What was the point of everything that happened? Did we just need more time? I’ve said it a hundred times and I’ll say it a hundred more even at the risk of sounding cliché, God works in the most mysterious ways. It’s not cookie cutter, it doesn’t always make sense to us. We take one step at a time, striving for obedience, trusting God with the outcome, and sometimes it doesn’t look how we expected…. And we just keep walking, taking the next obedient step of faith.

All we knew was God was still weaving their story with our story which kept drawing our eyes to HIS story.

We had a lot of concerns to work through before we would fully commit. The situation we are in (having relationship with biological family) made me wonder how that would look in the future. How do we navigate this relationship?  Would they respect and support our decisions as parents? Would we agree on waiting till the boys are old enough to tell them their story? Would they allow people in their life that we aren’t comfortable with? Will they finally let us cut baby K’s hair? It wasn’t just a matter of adopting the boys. The great grandparents and all their history are part of the deal, too! We start spending more and more time with K and J and it becomes more clear. Peace and confidence are growing stronger as we talk more about adoption. Each time we’re with them, each time we get in God’s Word, every time we pray, every time Jason and I talk, the only reasons to NOT call these boys are own, are fear driven, selfish or worldly. But you guys, we have JESUS. “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” 2 Timothy 1:7 Fearful, selfish, or worldly reasons don’t work! Our hearts begin shifting into “Yes” mode. I start asking the great grandparents some of the tougher questions. There’s this miraculous unity between the grandparents desires and ours. Every step we take, every question we ask, God is affirming our yes.

(to be continued)

Hope Renewed: Part 2

Part 2

Fostering was different for me following the allegation. I wasn’t naive anymore. I knew what hurting, desperate people were capable of and willing to inflict on innocent people. I was overwhelmingly anxious every single time baby K bumped his head or got a bug bite. I continually placed my fears in the Lords hands. Often times these fears kept me from the joy and freedom I once knew, as I anxiously tried to prevent toddler injuries. It totally went against my “free range” parenting method that my children flourished under. It was hard but ultimately it allowed me to exercise an area of my faith that needed strengthening.

In December of 2016 the boys were placed in relative care, with their great grandparents.

I wrote about saying goodbye.

I’ve written about how we’ve maintained relationship with them.

Their great grandparents have relied on us for relief and we’ve been more than happy to provide it. When it was obvious that these boys could not be reunified, we all started wondering what their permanency plan would be. At their age the great grandparents knew they could not provide the level of care the boys needed. Our family had formed quite a bond with these boys. We loved them, our kids loved them, it all just seemed to fit. From May-September of 2017 we were having conversations about us possibly adopting them. There were still a lot of loose ends in their case plan, paternity to prove, parental rights to terminate, and so on. I felt very strongly that this was God’s will for us to pursue adoption, we just had to let it work itself out.

During that time Jason was very busy with Papa Johns and a partner in a new contracting company. We had baby C who, to no fault of her own, was very emotionally taxing for me. I was caring for all these kiddos, in large part on my own and had a lot on my plate. I was fixing my coffee one morning and suddenly felt weak. I knew I was about to pass out. Fortunately I made it to the couch and avoided serious injury. When I came to, I was freaking out. I had been eating fine. I hadn’t been sick. I was really concerned about what had caused me to collapse. I felt horrible. My chest was super tight. I was on the verge of throwing up. We tried going to the walk in clinic but they instructed me to go to the ER. After they ran every test possible (and we racked up a pretty hefty bill) it turned out I was severely dehydrated. Obviously we were relieved, but I was puzzled. I have never been dehydrated. How did this happen? And what good am I to all these kiddos if I’m neglecting my body and it’s shutting down? Doubt was starting to creep in. Was it too much? Could I handle all this?

Then in August we got our surprise positive pregnancy test. I was excited, but also freaking out. We’re talking about adopting two boys, 1 and 2 years old, and now I’m pregnant! We would go from 3 to 6 children in less than a year. Were we ready for that? So many questions loomed. I mean I questioned EVERYTHING. Myself. My husband. God. My motives. My faith. We didn’t know what to think. We went back and forth trying to figure this out, wrap our brains around our situation and what to do. And then I lost the baby. My heart was hurting and broken. Because I had never suffered a miscarriage before, I wondered again about my body. I know I didn’t do anything wrong and I was in good health, but these experiences left me feeling weak and fragile. At that time we decided to back away from any major decisions. I wasn’t in a place where I could confidently move in either direction. I didn’t want to say no or yes. And it wasn’t just about me, it was about everyone, including the boys. Again I wondered if I was in a place of being able to give everyone the care and attention they would need. I just needed time to grieve, heal and process.

During that time, their great grandma called to tell me that some relatives came forward and want to adopt the boys. What could I be but excited? The boys needed permanency and stability. This family wanted to give that to them. Of course I had moments where I doubted and wondered. “Is this family right for them?” “What about our family?” “What’s in the boy’s best interest?” But I laid all those concerns over to the Lord. I entrusted them to Him and prayed for them; their protection, their future, their salvation.

I reminded myself that in this ministry, so often, loving them is letting them go.

(To be continued)

Hope Renewed: Part 1

I have been working on a story. A true story. A story about our family and two little boys we’ve grown to love and care for. A story that has unfolded in miraculous ways. It’s God’s story and you will notice his sovereign merciful hands, patience, attention to detail, and amazing love. This story has been happening for awhile and within each post you will find links to click on and read about what he has been orchestrating for several years. I have broken it up in parts to make it easy to read. I am excited to have written this all out and I pray you are encouraged by how great and mighty our heavenly Father is.

Part 1

When Jason and I decided to get back involved in foster care, we intended at first to only be a source of respite for other foster parents and possibly take short term emergency placements. Our experience with fostering in 2013 was eye opening and we felt this time we had a better understanding of our capabilities and limitations. And then I got a call about a long term foster placement. I felt compelled to say yes but I needed to see if Jason felt the same way. I told him the information I was given and he said “If you think you can handle that then let’s do it.” So we said yes. The irony is Jason was still under the impression it was “short term.” It wasn’t till a couple days later that he realized there was no end in sight.

Already, God is intervening and orchestrating for these little lives to make their way to our home.

June 24, 2016 two baby boys came into our life. If you’ve been following our blog you likely remember them. Baby K was 13 months old, all chunky and sweet, and baby J was 1 month, 5 pounds and as frail as I’ve ever seen an infant in person. They needed safety, compassion, care and love. Their family history is hard, broken and full of sadness. In the beginning we made great efforts to support reunification. I wrote their mother a note of encouragement. I gave her my phone number to call and text. We tried to be as open and supportive as we could. It was a challenge. They missed visits and court dates and weren’t doing what it takes to get their babies back. And then they became hostile.

One evening I was cooking dinner and a DFCS worker shows up at our home unannounced. I cheerfully welcomed her in, thinking she’s just doing a pop-in visit, to quickly discover she was with Child Protective Services. She was here to investigate US. I was shocked. I didn’t understand. I burst into tears. Baby K, who was just learning how to walk, had taken a spill which resulted in a bruise. I assume out of vengeance, his parents called CPS. It was an absurd allegation.

For a brief moment Jason and I considered closing our home. Here we are trying to help and now we’re being attacked. How could we put our own family at risk? But this is exactly what the Bible told us to expect. Persecution, suffering, slander, ….. There is a cost when you choose to follow Jesus. Had we counted it? Did we trust Him? Did we believe Romans 8:28? Were we willing to take the risk, to put ourselves out there? Were we going to live out what we claimed we believe? Or were we going to shrink back in fear, when it gets difficult, hard, uncomfortable, and painful? We wrestled. We worked out our faith with fear and trembling. Through the power of the Holy Spirit and the mercy of God we chose to press on; To not give up on fostering, these little boys, or their broken family.

Once again, God was intervening on behalf of those babies, to keep them in our care.

After our home was cleared of the allegation we moved forward with a bit more wisdom and a lot more caution. I had boundaries now, my walls up a little higher. I continued to pray for the boy’s parents, but things only got worse on their end. We continued to deal with their irresponsibility, missed visits, and lack of progress. I prayed for the boys future. I worried what it would look like. Would they end up perpetuating this cycle of addiction and abuse. I asked God to be merciful in their life.

(To be continued)