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.


Love like Jesus

There is something about fostering that I’m learning and have wanted to share. It’s something that I’m not sure gets talked about openly, because it’s a sensitive subject. I imagine it’s very hard to understand if you haven’t fostered or adopted, but I’m guessing it’s not unique to me. :-/

Before we stepped into fostering, the idea of caring for children in need just pulled at my heartstrings. For the most part, I thought that loving someone else’s child the way I love my own would come naturally. Especially since, for now, we have chosen to foster babies and toddlers. I just couldn’t imagine it being difficult to love a baby. Additionally, knowing that these children are coming from such broken places, I assumed the compassion I had would further fuel my love and affection.

I thought too highly of myself.

There are days when my affection does not flow naturally. My love feels forced and fake. I get irritated by behaviors that I didn’t contribute to. I forget about their trauma and being compassionate.

I am selfish and self serving.

Honestly, the thing that confronted me most (and God has been dealing with me ever so gently) is all the selfishness and pride that is bound up in my parenting. My kids aren’t perfect, but they are healthy, generally happy, mostly obedient, smart, funny, and beautiful. And though I KNOW that is all because of God’s sovereign grace and mercy, there are moments when I’m tempted to think, “Jason and I did such a good job. We are such good parents.”

Children in foster care come with so much hurt and brokenness and it manifests itself differently in each child. It takes awhile sometimes to see the unique God given beauty and wonderful characteristics that He has placed in them. They come dealing with trauma. They come with quirks. Right now we have a screamer. My point is, I have been enjoying my children and parenting out of the overflow of GOOD things. We haven’t had to walk through anything really tough yet with our children and so, for the most part, loving them, liking them, it’s been pretty easy. In foster parenting you are brought a child that has been hurt, had no structure, and no loving discipline. They exhibit odd and even frustrating behaviors that are not their fault, at that point you are confronted with your true motives in parenting. I’ll be honest, I like when our children make us look good. It is an “I will invest in you and you will yield a profit,” mentality, with the “profit” being you respond in a way that makes me feel and look good. I know, it is worldly and consumer oriented. I know that’s not what parenting is about. Children are not our accessories though often we treat them that way.

Here to serve, not be served.

“For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love.”
Galatians‬ ‭5:13‬ ‭NLT‬‬

God has revealed to me that if we are to be effective in fostering (AND parenting), we have to accept the good and the bad, the beautiful and the broken, just like he does.

Katie Davis makes a compelling observation in her book, Kisses from Katie:

It’s just different when it’s your own child who’s suffering. But should it be?…..I believe that this is a normal human reaction. I also believe it is wrong. I believe that every human being on this planet is God’s child, perfectly made and beloved and cherished by Him. I believe that His heart hurts, even more than mine when my baby is hurting, for each and every one of the hurting, dying, starving, crying children in our world. So I have to believe that if my heart was truly seeking to be aligned with the heart of God, that I would hurt for each of these children as well. But sometimes, I forget. Sometimes I’m busy. Sometimes hurting for my very own children feels like enough. I believe the world says this is okay. I believe it is wrong.

This was so very convicting for me to read. But I believe she is right! Not only have I thought it was okay to love or hurt more for my children but more selfish than that, I have been all about what is good, beautiful and easy, and when faced with the uncomfortable, bad and broken I realized how shallow my love is. Thankfully God has placed His Holy Spirit in me and THAT is what makes it possible for me to truly love. I pray my heart would continue to align with His so I can love like He loves. We are here to serve and especially in the hard, broken places. It’s our job to show our children and other people’s children and ALL PEOPLE how Jesus loves.

“For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.””
‭‭Matthew‬ ‭20:28‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Too big for me……

When the boys first came to us it felt a little crazy taking in two babies. After all, our original plan was to just provide respite for other foster families. After turning down three calls for other placements, when we were called about the boys, we couldn’t say no again. Almost exactly one year apart to the day, baby K barely cresting the one year mark and baby J barely out of the womb, I knew this would alter everything about our life. I mean taking in any child alters your life. After two months we are still figuring out a lot and trying to roll with a very inconsistent new normal. No day is the same. Outside of bedtime there is little that I can bank on going as planned. And this week we stuck our feet back into another year of homeschooling. Well if I thought I was crazy before I surely do now. To be honest I don’t really know how we’re going to do this. But as I was reading through the curriculum, organizing folders, preparing myself for our first day, and now having almost completed our first week, I am confident this is the right thing for our family and I trust God is going to make provision for us.

God does this some times ya know? He brings us to places and seasons where we think, “This is just crazy.” We might even be wondering if we need to step back from something or remove something from our plate. And sometimes we should. But other times I believe God brings us to these places where it’s so crazy that only He can get the glory.

Jon Bloom writes in his book Don’t Follow Your Heart, “When God chooses his servants, he tends to give them an oversized workload. Yes, God works for those who wait for him (Isa. 64:4), but you’ll note that waiting on God is rarely experienced as a leisure activity. It typically involves being placed in an overwhelming situation that requires a steeling of the nerves of faith to wait. Yes, we are to serve in the strength that God supplies (1 Pet. 4:11), but that serving can still push us beyond what we think we can handle to show that it’s God’s gracious supply, not our own strength, that is sufficient (2 Cor. 12:9) and to show that we hope in the God who raises the dead (2 Cor. 1:8–9).”

“Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.” 2 Corinthians‬ ‭12:9‬‬‬

I don’t “do it all” and I definitely do not have it all together. If I ever appear to be any of those things I can assure you it is NOT me and what you are witnessing is the manifestation of the power of the Holy Spirit. I AM weak. I can’t do this apart from Jesus. I have tried and it’s an ugly hot mess. “I need Thee every hour.” So I hope that whenever we or anyone sees the fruit of our labor that it would be so obvious that it is ALL the work of Christ through us. He gets all the glory. And on the days I become overwhelmed and wonder again, “Can I do this?” (Because for this melancholy those days will, no doubt, crop up) I pray I would look to my Shepherd and say as David did, “He renews my strength. He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name.” Psalms‬ ‭23:3‬

Flexibility, Compassion, And Grace

The days we have visits, sometimes, are our most difficult days. Lets just say my flexibility gets really stretched and challenged. To be honest, by nature I am not that flexible. No doubt this once very tightly wound girl has become more go with the flow but I still like schedules, preparation, and order. Those are all good things but when you are working with families that come from hard places sometimes you just have to chuck it all out the window and pray for grace. God is working on me in this area.

The Cancelled Visits

We have already experienced many of these. We orchestrate our entire morning around getting the babies ready; Timing everything just right so they are perky and pleasant for mommy and daddy and then we get the call, “They won’t be making it today.” Well yes, that can be irritating. I typically am thinking of the ways I can capitalize on not having two children 1 and under. “Maybe I’ll take my kids to the park.” “Maybe we can go to the library.” “Maybe I’ll bury my weary soul in Gods Word for the.entire.time..” “Maybe I’ll go grocery shopping, or clean, or take a nap.” All those awesome plans get jettisoned and it usually takes me half an hour to move on and figure out how to re-work my day. Not to mention the disappointment in the parents. All the thoughts that run through my head. Primarily, “What could possibly keep you from seeing your children? What is more important than spending time with these sweet little guys?”

The Visit and the Aftermath

On the days where we have “successful” visits the babies come home a mess. They are tired, over stimulated, and very fussy. They’ve been passed from person to person, some they don’t know, some they do. I can’t even imagine the effects this has on a 1 year old. How confused he must be….

Grace and Perspective

It would be very easy for me to develop resentment towards the parents in both situations and to become negative and lack hope in them. Yes I do see a difference in the boys when we’ve gone a week with no visits and they have kept a consistent schedule. Yes I do wonder if they’d be “better off” staying with us. I am sure these thoughts are natural. But as soon as I start thinking that way God reminds me that He is bigger than missed visits and disrupted schedules. That He loves these boys and their parents, too. That He has all power to heal and redeem and change the trajectory of an entire family. So I reject the hopeless thoughts and the compulsion to try and control and I pray for the babies and their parents. I ask God to give us opportunity to invest in the mom and dad and pour His love out on them as He has so graciously on us. And then I wait expectantly for those opportunities to arise.

A Lesson In Judging

Dear Woman at Walmart,

I sensed your disapproving glares as I was checking out. I’m so sorry I was holding up the line. I thought I had all my ducks in a row, all the right WIC vouchers set out accordingly but I’m pretty new to using this program and well it was a mess. I had all the dates wrong, didn’t know you had to pay as you go and additionally I had a newbie cashier who was as confused as I was. I smiled politely and apologetically and yet that stare seemed to draw sweat beads out of my body and panic within my chest. Maybe you noticed by my lovely wedding ring that I’m married. Maybe you saw this nice coach wallet my mother bought me and yes I do have an iPhone. Maybe you were wondering why your tax dollars are paying for someone’s groceries who obviously can afford life’s luxuries. I get it. I’ve been there. And today was a great reminder for me about not being a person who judges others. It’s not my place and I simply can not even begin to know the extent of a strangers situation. You see while you frowned upon me you didn’t know that I’m a new foster mom. That my family just brought in two sweet babies that need a temporary loving home. And while we welcome these babies with all the emotional and physical challenges that naturally come with fostering, the state would like to alleviate us some by assisting us financially. It’s not much mind you, but it’s something. So while I fumble through my WIC folder looking for that precious check that will supply my foster baby with formula, I hope you will now understand that not everyone takes advantage of government assistance. Yes, there is fraudulent use of these programs but there are birth and foster parents alike who use the help of our government as its intended to be used. And at any rate it’s not our place to pass judgment on who we deem should be using it or not. Our glaring looks of disapproval have never changed anything have they? Today I was reminded of how important it is to extend patience and kindness even to strangers. And it occurs to me now that while I felt like you were disapproving of me, maybe you weren’t. Maybe you had a very traumatic day. Maybe your harsh expression had nothing to do with me. Maybe my overthinking is just my own conscience reminding me of my own sinful judgment of others. Maybe I was simply seeing a reflection of myself in years past. Maybe I am the one who needs to get over myself and extend compassion to you. 🙂

“Be compassionate just as your Father is compassionate. Don’t judge, and you won’t be judged. Don’t condemn, and you won’t be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” Luke‬ ‭6:36-37‬ ‭

Foster parenting and your marriage

We are not seasoned foster parents. We may have done this once before but we are still newbies. So we don’t really have a lot of wisdom yet. But I would like to share some of our experiences thus far for other newbies or for those considering foster parenting.

Prepare to be unprepared.

We can plan, read, receive counsel and training until the cows come home but when you enter into a new season with unfamiliar dynamics there will absolutely be things that catch you off guard. Just like marriage or having your own children when the unexpected arises you might be tempted to wonder if you were “ready for this”. Satan would be the one whispering that lie to you. God called you to this, he is sovereign, you didn’t make a mistake, and he will equip you for every good work.

One thing that surprised me when the boys came to us is it really threw Jason and I off kilter. Obviously I expected that to happen to some degree with us all, more so with our kids. But for two weeks I felt like he and I were on two different planets. He was doing his thing, I was doing mine and I began having thoughts like “Umm, I thought we were doing this foster parenting thing together?” Jason’s always worked very hard, usually owning his own business, which allows me to stay home with our children. Naturally with me staying home I do a lot of the “leg work” within the home; cooking, cleaning, teaching, correcting, bathing, reminding, directing, etc. That is how it’s always been with our children and it’s always worked. But taking in two babies to make a total of five was a huge adjustment for me and I needed help. At first I tried to maintain all the order on my own. This only led to resentment and exhaustion. I started breaking down. I tried making it about Jason knowing what I needed from him. Isn’t it obvious?? Maybe. But God had something else in mind. After a few emotional conversations I finally realized that I needed to be humble enough to ask for help in whatever specific areas I needed it and also inquire about Jason’s needs as well. Now the doors of communication are open. The Lord has been gentle, faithful and definitely working on both mine and Jason’s heart.

For any other newbies out there: Be patient, be humble, and be open with your spouse about each other’s needs. Jason helps me by doing the bulk of grocery shopping or helping clean house. Since he’s not much of a newborn kind of dad you won’t see him doing night time feedings. But he will do breakfast with the other kiddos so I can possibly sleep an extra hour if I need it. He’s also great at taking the kids on car rides or to play outside just to give me some quiet time. We also try to make it a point to connect with each other on a more intimate level 2-3 nights a week. This is crucial! We are better parents when we are emotionally, spiritually, and physically connecting with each other. Every family will have different dynamics. Don’t be discouraged if you feel like you aren’t on the same sheet of music yet. It may take some time to figure out new schedules, roles and responsibilities but keep communicating and openly discussing what works and doesn’t work for each of you.

“So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor. Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you. Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith. Remember that your family of believers all over the world is going through the same kind of suffering you are.” 1 Peter‬ ‭5:6-9‬ ‭NLT‬‬

A Thank You And An Invitation

To the ones who are praying on our behalf, your prayers are felt and so appreciated. I know with out a doubt, there is no way we could do this with out prayer. Every time I hear “I am praying for you” or am sent a passage of scripture, my mind and heart are encouraged, strengthened, and directed to the One we are doing this with and for. Please keep praying!

To the ones who have brought us dinner, our bellies thank you. My restless body thanks you. And my children and husband are especially grateful for the back up cooks. It may not always occur to people that taking in foster children is a lot like bringing home a new baby. Especially when one IS a new baby 😉 We not only appreciate the night off from cooking but we love the company that comes with the meal.

To the one who babysat for us so we could take Caleb bowling for his 4th birthday, Caleb REALLY thanks you! 🙂 It’s tough being the baby prince and getting dethroned times two. But in truth, we all needed a breather, the time to reconnect as a family unit, the time to celebrate our little boy. Thank you for allowing us to do this with out dragging the little-bitty’s around a loud bowling alley. In fact, they thank you, too! They thank you for loving on them and keeping them in their new calm environment, on schedule, not a minute after bedtime. Everyone was happy! You are a tremendous blessing.

Thank you to the ones who have given clothing, blankets, bottles, pacis, car seats and money for all the other essential baby items. Because these sweet little guys came with absolutely nothing. And yes the state does reimburse for certain items but honestly, I haven’t exactly mastered going shopping with five kids so my sanity thanks you! Your generous example has been a source of edification and reminded us why we should be generous people. Thank you!

As my title says, this is not only a thank you but this is also an invitation to those who are wondering how they can be a support to children and families in foster or adoptive situations. These are just a few ways that you can be a huge blessing to a child and their care givers. If you know a foster family consider being a support to them in one of these ways. If you don’t know a foster family, consider going to your local DFCS office or a private Christian agency and asking if you can encourage and give to one of their existing families. This is something you could consider doing with your local church, small group, or even just a few friends. We are so incredibly thankful for all the ways people have loved on us and these two little ones.

I am linking Bethany Christian services because it is a national organization that likely you can connect with in your area. But there are several organizations like it so feel free to research and ask around and allow God to lead you to the right ministry. (We have chosen to work with the state this time.)

I’m also linking their Safe Families ministry. I have a good friend who is a host family. Consider being a host family or a host family friend. 🙂

If you have any questions feel free to ask me and I’ll do my best to answer.