The Joy of Ministering to Birth Families

“We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.” Hebrews‬ ‭12:2‬ ‭NLT‬‬

One thing that I have found surprising joy in with fostering is connecting with the birth families. I say surprising for a few reasons. For one, I admit, I pretty much think about adoption with every placement right away. “Could we adopt this child?” “What would that look like for our family?” “How does their name sound with ours?” Fostering is about reunification though. The initial goal is not adoption. It can lead to adoption but that’s not the intended purpose. Secondly, interacting with birth families is scary at first. You never know how the relatives of this child are going to respond to you.

I really want to encourage those that are fostering or thinking about fostering to embrace the ministry of the birth family. Because these kids are coming out of hard, tough situations. Some really bad, horrific even. But that doesn’t disqualify their family altogether. Sometimes, yes, there are no suitable family members. Not one. And thank goodness for the beautiful act of adoption and for the families who step into that role. But a lot of times there is family. Family who has been loving or fighting for what’s right. Family that wants to break cycles of abuse and addiction. And this is a unique opportunity for those of us as foster parents. To give people the benefit of the doubt. To encourage. To uplift. To point them to Jesus.

Baby E has family that loves him. Family that was there when I picked him up from the hospital. Family that has been here for him long before I was and pouring into him in ways that make him healthy and happy in my care. They long for him. They have attended every court hearing and are fulfilling every requirement to have him placed in their care. Today we met with them at the park. They were kind and caring. They were attentive to Baby E. Their children were so thrilled to see this little guy. They showered him with love and kisses and snacks and toys. And Baby E was happy to see them. He knows them and he knows he’s loved by them. What a tremendous joy to see this family reunited with this baby boy.

I stated in my first post about Baby E that we must resist the temptation to jump to conclusions. We must. Every time. Every placement. We can’t allow prior experiences with birth families to dictate how we respond to future ones. Which is hard. But every placement, every family, needs fresh eyes of grace.

I don’t know how normal it is for foster moms to get a baby and within 3 days attach their name to baby’s name just to see how it fits. You start dreaming of their future with you, and yours with them. Obviously I do this. I’m not saying it’s wrong. In fact, I wonder if it is Gods grace in allowing this little one to be loved as naturally as I love my own children. But given the opportunity we must make every effort to connect with the child’s birth parents and/or relatives. We have to give them opportunity. It can be nerve racking, talking with strangers that YOU have their family member. Baby E has my heart but he has a few others even deeper than mine. And the more I correspond with his family and see these adults AND children that love and cherish him, how can I not want him to go home to them? It would be selfish of me to want to keep him from that. They’re his family. So when we think about the hard thing of letting them go, think about the times we are giving them back to the ones who loved them first. What a blessing in this child’s life that there ARE people who came before us, his foster parents, that are doing whatever it takes to bring him home with them. I recognize this is not always the case. Sometimes these children return to unhealthy environments. Sometimes we do need to advocate fiercely for their safety. But a lot of times we need to strive to encourage and support the birth family. Maybe in ways they’ve never felt it. Ways Jesus would.

Today Baby E’s relative asked me, “How do you do this? Is it hard when they leave?” And I told him through tears, “Yes. But I think about, what if no one did it? What if no one was willing to bring this child to a safe place because they were too concerned about it hurting when they left? I wouldn’t have had the pleasure of meeting E. Or meeting you. So I consider it worth it. And even though it will be sad when he leaves, it’s happy because he’s going to family that is striving to do what’s right for him.” I didn’t get to share my testimony of what Jesus did for me and how Jesus gives me the courage to do this and how Jesus mends my heart to do it all over again,…..yet. We have another visit for that. 🙂

But after spending that time with them I am so full of joy. Joy that comes from the love of Jesus. So Christians, foster parents, I implore you, to courageously, mercifully, and lovingly navigate the waters of foster care and birth families, for the JOY awaiting you. Because it IS so worth it.


Not So New Resolution

It’s January. I love the New Year. Does anyone dislike the New Year? I mean who doesn’t love the idea of fresh, clean slates. New mercies. New season. I can’t explain why a simple change of date and month causes me to feel so invigorated but it does.

I don’t have a resolution…. I don’t even have a word this year (or last year apparently!) I do have scripture though. God plopped me down in Ephesians and for a little over a week has basically said, “Stay put.” It started with Ephesians 4:29 “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up, that it may benefit those who listen.” I began refreshing my mind with this passage. Asking questions like “What IS unwholesome talk?” “What would or would not benefit those who listen?” And getting tough, convicting responses from the Lord.

One of the most memorable sermons I have ever listened to is one John Piper preached entitled, Make Your Mouth a Means of Grace. That pretty much sums it up. In any and every situation I want to ask myself “Is my mouth a means of grace?” “Am I imparting grace to the people around me?” It makes perfect sense for Paul to continue in that chapter with these words, verse 31 and 32 “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Jesus taught that “what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart,….” Matthew‬ ‭15:18‬ ‭ESV‬‬ Whatever we are holding onto in our heart is going to determine whether our mouth can be an instrument of grace. So that got me thinking…. when my mouth is NOT being a means of grace, what is the sin I’m holding onto? Is it resentment, a sense of entitlement, impatience, or unforgiveness? When my words are tender, humble, and loving, it’s because my desire is to love and honor Jesus. And when my words are uplifting, beneficial, and gracious, you can trace it directly back to Who is on the throne of my heart. But when my words are ugly, negative, harsh, or sarcastic it’s not a reflection of my love for Jesus, it’s just me unyielded to the Holy Spirit. This has been a powerful time, meditating on Gods Word and doing my own heart check. God has made me keenly aware of how desensitized I can become to my own sin, justifying these “little” grievances that are detestable to him. Bitterness, greed, resentment, envy, slander, etc. can infiltrate our hearts slowly and subtly and really begin to wreak havoc on our spiritual life and relationships. As I began reading these verses, fully aware that I’m not immune against these sins, I asked God to bring it all to light. Sometimes we have to pray that so we can confess and repent and truly “rid” ourselves of it all.

Bring it to light, Lord.

This morning I honed in on the beginning of Ephesians 4, verses 2 and 3, “Be completely humble and gentle, be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”

Does that not just knock you out of your chair? Thats a pretty heavy commission for us! I mean, every day I have to fight the inclination to be the antithesis of that passage. I love the people in my life but the fact is relationships are hard. If we’re honest, people we love can be annoying and hard to love sometimes. I know I can be!! My sinful knee jerk reaction to frustrating situations is anger. I get hot, physically, and my chest gets tight with angry feelings. And then if it doesn’t get dealt with properly I might just get bitter or resentful. You can usually tell this by whatever comes out of my mouth and it’s not grace. But I want to speak grace and life. In joyous times, in the mundane times, and in the uncomfortable, hard confrontations I want my heart to be right with God and my words to “build others up, so it may benefit those who listen”.

God didn’t put all this in his Word to make us despairing, feeling as though we can not possibly do this. He put it there because through Christ we are more than conquerors. I have experienced how powerful it is to pray through these passages. I have felt a complete shift in my attitude, outlook, and speech when I apply these truths to whatever is going on in my day. Be humble. Be patient. Bear with one another. According to their needs. Keep the unity. Don’t grieve the Spirit of God. Filtering my thoughts through those truths is the key. It also takes a lot of diligence! But God is faithful when we actively put our trust and heart in his hands. And it is life giving when we live according to his Word!

I’ll close with this because our heart, mind, and mouth are all connected. What we put in our mind nourishes our heart and soul. This year, as every year, I pray I would put more and more of the precious, life giving Word of God before me.

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Philippians‬ ‭4:4-8 NIV‬‬

For My Mom on Her Birthday

Today is my mother’s birthday. I haven’t written in a while but today I felt impressed to honor my mom here. Something about this year,… Maybe it’s the loss we’ve experienced and watched others experience. Maybe it’s being on the heals of Christmas when we reflect on the greatest Gift ever given. I just want to express how grateful to God I am for my mom.

I have always gotten really choked up when I listen to Taylor Swift’s song Best Day. My secrets out, I do enjoy listening to Taylor from time to time. I was playing it this morning and even though her story and relationship with her mom is different than mine, in this song she encapsulates the mother/daughter bond in a really sweet way. She communicates how much she looks up to her mom, how her mom has always been there for her, and how beautiful and strong her mother is. I would say the same of my mom on all those points. I don’t know if Taylor’s mom knows Jesus but my mom does and that makes each of those points all the more meaningful and beautiful.

Being the only girl and the youngest my mom really doted on me. She might even say too much, but I’ve always felt loved, cherished and adored in healthy proportions. And now as an adult I’m very aware of my mother’s unconditional love for me. This year in particular, in the wake of losing our baby my mom has been there for me in all the ways I’ve needed and at times when no one else could know I was in need. The Holy Spirit works through her to lift my eyes to Him. She’s one of the very few that sees my deep, dark, ugly places and she graciously, tenderly, gets my gaze back on Christ. She doesn’t just tell me what I want to hear, or what will make me feel better. She is honest, she speaks Biblical truth when I need it,….which is all the time. Her love helps me understand Christ’s love.

I look up to my mom more than any other woman in the world. And I know that my even being able to say that is a gift from God; A great testimony of his goodness and graciousness in my life. I could probably write a book on all the ways her life has positively impacted mine but I want to hone in on one thing.

My mom loves Jesus SO much. We all know that there are, actually, a lot of people that say they love Jesus. But very few people love Jesus so much that it changes their whole life. Jesus has changed my mom’s life and she is unashamed to live it for Him and His glory alone. Her love for Christ affects her marriage. My mom has shown me that a deep, lasting, Christ exalting marriage comes from abiding in Christ. It comes from living out truths like 1 Corinthians 13 and Philippians 2:3, “Do nothing from selfish ambition….in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” She’s shown me that the best thing we can give to our children is not only the knowledge of Gods great love for us but a life lived in response to God’s great love. My parents are 62 years old. To God be the glory, my dad has a thriving ministry at a local church and my mom recently “retired” from the orthodontics field. They could easily coast through the rest of their life as empty nesters, enjoying the fruit of their early labor. But instead of slowing down in this race they are picking up the pace, running harder. Recently they have responded to the call of caring for orphans and became foster parents. And it’s not duty for them, its delight. Of course it’s hard, but my mom shows me every day that even in the hard, when we obey God’s Word, and live sacrificially for others, we “count it all joy”. My mom’s joy and her example make me want to know and love Jesus even deeper. Oh how I pray my children say the same for me one day.

And this is the thing that makes my mom’s example so powerful, so Christ exalting. She doesn’t just talk about her love for Jesus, she lives it. When she’s encouraging me and speaking the truth of His Word, I don’t just acknowledge it and quickly forget it. I hear it and I want to live it, because she is living it. I see her joy in Christ and her joy in sacrificial love for others and I want to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us” with her. My mom gets Hebrews 12….. “fixing our eyes on Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. For the joy set before him he endured the CROSS….”  She gets Philippians 3:8 “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” And I am ETERNALLY grateful for this.

Mom, your godly example to me is truly priceless. There is nothing on earth that can measure the value of the spiritual inheritance that you have passed on to me. I love you so much, I still want to be you when I grow up 😉 and wish you the happiest birthday.

He Is Enough

“I was walking blindly into a new season, a place that didn’t line up with my plans and dreams for the coming new year. A place that I never would have chosen, never wished or asked for. But God’s promise to Abraham spoke to me. God wasn’t promising me ease. He wasn’t promising that things would go as planned. He wasn’t promising a world without trouble, without heartbreak along the way. He was promising me Himself.” Katie Davis Majors, Daring to Hope

If you are looking for a good book I encourage you to read this one. It was appropriate timing that this book arrived in the mail for me today.

Today I recognized that I still have some grieving to do. I told my mom that I was having a strange urge to cry that I didn’t understand. I’ve been “fine”. When my miscarriage has come up I have felt “okay.” But today it was like the flood gates unexpectedly opened back up and my heart is aching like it did the day I learned of our loss. This is still all so foreign to me. I’m starting to learn that when you experience loss, it never stops resurfacing. And sometimes you can handle it emotionally and sometimes you just can’t.

I long for another child. I long for our family to continue growing. It also doesn’t help that Caleb asks me every other day, “When will we get a baby?” He tells me he wants a brother, after all “Micaila and Ryann have a little brother. I want one, too.” I mean who can argue with that? We pray for God to grow our family (however he chooses) and right now I’m struggling to be patient as I wait on his revealed plan. Before I found out I was pregnant we thought God was leading us to adoption but that door closed. Then we were having a baby naturally,…….then we weren’t. Now we are waiting for a placement. Which isn’t meant to be permanent but I certainly wouldn’t mind lavishing all this love on someone temporarily. And yet, here we wait. And the thing God whispers over and over and over is, “In your grief, in your waiting, you have Me.” Because so often when I want something, good somethings, I tend to start thinking Jesus + said thing will make everything better, whole, satisfied. And I have certainly searched my heart wondering, “Is Jesus enough for me?” I want to say whole heartedly “yes!” I guess maybe that’s the point of this season. Maybe God keeps us in these places so we will truly understand deep down that He is in fact enough. He is enough when we have and enough when we have not. He is always enough and He is always good.

“His desire is for us- that we would know His love in these unexpected broken places and that we would know the true hope found only in His Son Jesus, the Lamb, who never, ever stops reaching out for us, who cups our pain in His nail-scarred palms and cradles our hearts close to His. He wants to be our reward.” Katie Davis Majors, Daring to Hope

The God Of All Comfort

On August 7th with great surprise and joy we found out that we were having another baby. Number 4! I was shocked and thrilled and a little bit scared all at once. The weeks that followed were filled with wonderful happiness as we gradually began sharing the news with loved ones. Over the Labor Day weekend I made a trip to Florida to tell Jason’s family and my siblings. It was wonderful having all that support and excitement.

At 10 weeks I went in for a routine appointment. I was looking forward to hearing the heart beat on the doppler this time. I had been having spotting, which was abnormal compared to my other 3 pregnancies. I also suspected I had a uti the week prior but there was no bacteria in my urine. It was strange all the symptoms and discomfort and yet no apparent reason. On my drive to the OB, as I sang “Thy will be done”, I had this strong sense that God was preparing me for sad news.

There is no heart beat.

I felt like the air was being sucked from the room. I immediately started crying. I have never lost a baby and have had 3 healthy pregnancies. But in the wake of that moment Gods presence was so near to me and Romans 8:28 just became even more personal.

Jeremiah 8:18 “You are my Comforter in sorrow, my heart is faint within me.”

I can’t even describe the deep sadness I have felt. Psalm 119:28 “My soul is weary with sorrow, strengthen me according to your word.” I have brief moments where I’m not crying but mostly I just keep crying. When I think about not seeing this babies face or holding him/her, letting that little hand wrap around my finger. Knowing that our kids will not be getting a little brother or sister. We have so much love built up for this baby and just like that, no heart beat. I’ve never known this kind of ache and grief. And yet I know my gracious Father will not waste it. I sense his strong comfort and peace, even in my ache and tears, I know with certainty “that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans‬ ‭8:28‬ ‭This promise doesn’t diminish my grief but it strengthens my hope in the midst of my grief. I can cry and rest in that promise all at the same time.

On top of finding out this very sad news we were faced with the decision of having a d&c done or waiting for my body to do what it should do. You have all these emotions and then you have to decide what’s next. It’s scary and confusing, mounted on top of trying to grieve this tremendous loss. I never knew all these details involved with having a miscarriage. I was really concerned over possibly having a d&c. I began asking for prayer that God would allow my body to do what it was designed to do in this situation. The next 2 days it all began to happen naturally. More tears, more sadness, but also gratefulness for God sparing me the decision of the d&c.

During this time we have had countless family and friends praying on our behalf and loving us in so many ways. It has been incredible knowing how many people have prayed for peace, comfort, and wisdom for us. And we have received all those things in abundance. I would say I have more of a bent towards depression and God in his great mercy has covered me with comfort and confidence during this difficult time. I didn’t know you could be so sad and at the same time be at such peace in Gods sovereign plan. I didn’t know I could have such deep grief and yet fully assured of Gods goodness in something so heartbreaking. It’s something that doesn’t even make sense to me and yet, it’s where he has me. I feel like a child crying buckets of tears while being wrapped securely in my Fathers arms while he whispers, “It’s going to be okay.”

My mom was able to fly in almost immediately. As a family we had a little burial and ceremony to honor this little life. As much as I instinctively want to shield my children from hurt, this time has deepened all of our understanding of compassion, thoughtfulness, the preciousness of life and of course love. We are closer now and I wouldn’t change how we’ve included them in our rejoicing and now in our grief.

I can’t express the comfort I have felt from the body of Christ. The cards, flowers, prayers, messages,…. there has been an outpouring of love as you have grieved with us. I haven’t had the chance to tell everyone, but others have shared for us and I have been told of ALL the prayers for us. Thank you for mourning with us and praying on our behalf. We are so blessed and grateful. I’ll end with this scripture from Habakkuk. I love the imagery of this passage and the message it’s conveying and its what I am praying over my heart. That even when I have precious things taken away, I can trust and rejoice in my Savior. Please pray with me.

“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior.” Habakkuk‬ ‭3:17-18‬

Lean not on your own understanding…..

I wrote this post a few weeks ago. When I got around to publishing I wasnt sure what to title it. And then it hit me. “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” Proverbs‬ ‭3:5-6‬ ‭NIV‬‬

I have written before on strange feelings that you experience in fostering children. There are so many. Strange not being necessarily bad, just weird, like butterflies in your stomach.

We had gotten to have our two previous foster boys with us for several days. Their grand parents were feeling under the weather so I was thrilled to offer some relief. We had little baby J a week and big baby K for the following weekend. I thought I was biting off more than I could chew. I mean 6 kids is one thing. But 3 of them under the age of 2 that’s another story. All in all it was a real treat. You really learn how to improvise with that many babies. “Here, have an appetizer while I fix your dinner. Puffs anyone?” Honestly the goal in my head goes something like this, “If we can keep the crying to a minimal it’ll all be ok. I’ll be ok. Here, have a go go squeeze.” I probably spent half our grocery budget in all that trendy baby junk but whatever, it works! And then Jason came home on Saturday with the big guns. Bubbles, chalk, and a slide. My hero! 😍

Back to the topic at hand though. As I watched Jason teach baby K, who is now totally a toddler, how to play teeball I felt mixed emotions. On one hand I felt a sense of happiness and Gods grace in this little guys life. Someone (us!) is teaching him teeball. Yet there is a sadness over the fact that we are filling shoes of his real parents. When I feed baby J his bottles and snuggle up to his precious face….. I feel privileged that I get to do this but I feel broken that his mommy isn’t. It’s good and sad all at once.

People often tell me, “I could never foster. I wouldn’t be able to let them go.” Honestly, it’s crossed my mind to respond, “Do you think I’m void of those emotions?” Usually I say something to diffuse the comment because I know people don’t mean what could be implied. A fellow blogger and foster/adoptive parent Jason Johnson has the perfect response, “Instead of letting the fear of getting too attached deter us, we should actually let the fear of these kids never feeling truly attached to someone drive us. These kids need people that are willing to love them enough to hurt for them if they ever have to let them go.”

We’ve only “let them go” 3 times so far and each time was different. We had our first placement (4 years ago) that we requested removal, that stunk. It was confusing trying to do what was right but fighting guilty feelings. Then we had a emergency placement. That was strange because two little girls came and went within a week and I have no clue how they are doing. Then came the boys. That’s been a roller coaster. In ways I have bonded with baby J like my own. And then there is K…. he has some quirks but something about him is equally endearing. I love these boys. God flooded me with peace when they left us. I pray for that peace to return. As their case moves forward and is coming to a close I am trying to grapple with what their future holds. I want to confidently place them in the sovereign hands of God but my mothering instincts and that pesky desire for control creeps in. I find myself wondering how all the choices that were made for them will effect them. I have this urge to spring into action, “What can we do?!?” And yet everything is out of my hands. And though Satan may tempt me to fear and worry, I am reminded Who’s hands they are in. And so I pray and I trust and I rest in the Fathers infinite love for those two little guys. And I cling to scriptures like this.

“Lord, you know the hopes of the helpless. Surely you will hear their cries and comfort them. You will bring justice to the orphans and the oppressed, so mere people can no longer terrify them.” Psalms‬ ‭10:17-18‬ ‭NLT‬‬