Today is the day. We say goodbye for now to our two little foster babies. Out of all the questions/comments we get about foster care, this topic is by far the most widely brought up.

“How will you let them go when it’s time?”

“Isn’t it going to be really hard to say goodbye?”

“Aren’t you afraid of getting too attached?”

“I’m not sure how I could do that.”

“What if you don’t agree with the situation?”

I’m not sure I actually have answers to any of these questions yet (except the attachment one – No, I’m not afraid of getting too attached. Attachment is what these kids need. I’ve got lots of resources in my life – and am actively seeking out ones for my kids – that will help my heart with the loss. In many ways, our family has been the front line of resources for the foster kiddos; we’ve provided much healing to them by allowing ourselves to get attached. And we’ll be ok!)

I think this is one of those situations where the verse in Philippians that talks about peace that transcends understanding is completely applicable. There are lots of reasons to feel anxious today. But I’ve already been feeling God’s peace and am praying that it will continue to guard my heart and mind.

It’s funny – one of the regular readings I do for my devotional time is from the IF:Gathering and their online bible study IF:Equip. Their current series is called, “A Fight for Faith”, and they are studying one mighty woman of faith from the Old Testament each week. Guess who is this week’s woman? Hannah. Wow – so timely. Our situations are quite different in that we are not saying goodbye to a biological child, but still I’m finding some great hope and encouragement in her story. One of the hardest things about foster care is that there is great uncertainty about the future and home life of the kids once we release them out of our care.  While intellectually I can grasp that I’m turning them over to God, and that God loves them way more than we do, and that they were always God’s to begin with, it’s still very difficult to not worry about what’s going to happen to them!

When I think about who Hannah was entrusting her son with, I wonder if she had the same worries? Yes, she was giving him to God, but the main human person who was going to be instructing him and raising him through his childhood was Eli. Eli was not exactly the paragon of great parenting – at least from an outsider’s perspective.  God was so displeased with his sons’ behavior that he promised to Eli that He was going to wipe out his whole family. (And little boy Samuel got to affirm that message to Eli as one of his first prophetic messages – such an easy first assignment!) As I’ve pondered this story over the past couple days, I’m just astounded anew at Hannah’s faith and ability to trust God with her beloved child.  I wonder what questions she got from other people – I don’t think human nature has changed too much since ancient times!

“You’re leaving your son with Eli? in the temple? What kind of a childhood will he have?”

“You do know who is in charge of the temple, right? Have you seen his other sons and what they’re doing?”

“You only see him once a year! Isn’t that hard? What kind of mother could give up her child?”

I’m sure there were a lot more ugly questions too – about little Samuel’s parentage, Elkanah and Hannah’s relationship, their motives, Eli’s motives, etc. But the main things that are recorded in Samuel’s story is about the faithfulness of God to Hannah, a chance for redemption for Eli, Hannah’s great joy in the Lord, and Samuel’s faithfulness back to God.  This gives me great hope!

While I’m sure I am going to have lots of tearful moments today and in the days to come, I’m going to try and come back to Hannah’s prayer in 1 Samuel 2, which occurs directly after she places her toddler in the arms of Eli at the temple. (bold emphasis mine)

And Hannah prayed and said,
“My heart exults in the Lord;
my horn is exalted in the Lord. 
My mouth derides my enemies,
because I rejoice in your salvation.

There is none holy like the Lord:
for there is none besides you;
there is no rock like our God.
Talk no more so very proudly,
let not arrogance come from your mouth;
for the Lord is a God of knowledge,
and by him actions are weighed.
The bows of the mighty are broken,
but the feeble bind on strength.
Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread,
but those who were hungry have ceased to hunger.
The barren has borne seven,
but she who has many children is forlorn.
The Lord kills and brings to life;
he brings down to Sheol and raises up.
The Lord makes poor and makes rich;
he brings low and he exalts.
He raises up the poor from the dust;
he lifts the needy from the ash heap
to make them sit with princes
and inherit a seat of honor.
For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s,
and on them he has set the world.

He will guard the feet of his faithful ones,
but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness,
for not by might shall a man prevail.
The adversaries of the Lord shall be broken to pieces;
against them he will thunder in heaven.
The Lord will judge the ends of the earth;
he will give strength to his king
and exalt the horn of his anointed.”

I’m forever thankful for the presence of these little children in our lives. I know we’ll all be processing how our family has changed since they came to us over the next several weeks and months. For now – it’s time for breakfast clean up and last minute packing.


Foster Care: Practical realities of government assistance

Well, we’re 6 months in to our first foster care case and there are some systems I’ve learned more about that I thought I would share. I have grown up in a fairly wealthy area, surrounded by generally conservative people and have not had much first-hand experience with the “welfare system”.  Now, my two foster children are eligible for WIC (Women, Infants and Children) and are on Medicaid. Here are some observations on these two programs.

WIC – I love it, generally! The sign up process was terrible. I had to come with the children to an office that wasn’t convenient.  The place where we did the sign up was completely inappropriate for young children, which was strange, since that’s a HUGE portion of the clientele that WIC serves. We were in this tiny cubicle with no toys, no door, chairs and desks to climb under, cords to play with, knick knacks and writing utensils in easy reaching distance from the 2 year old. It didn’t help that he is an extremely active child, who at that time, had practically zero self-regulation skills and did not listen to a word I said. It was trying…Then, we had to back to the waiting room once all the paperwork was finished to wait for the nutritionist. After a short wait, she called us back to weigh the kids and get an iron reading (read – prick his finger with a needle! was NOT prepared for that – thanks govt!). Then we had to go BACK to the waiting room to wait to be seen by another person.  Another wait, another call back to another office. Here, they explained the benefits and gave us our WIC cards, which work like debit cards basically.

Generally, I’m impressed by the scope of the program. They’re focused on helping families get the nutrition they need, so the parameters of what you can buy with your WIC benefits are pretty narrow. Some of it doesn’t make sense to me (like WIC doesn’t cover many of the blended fruit/veggie baby foods), but most of it does and it covers food that the kids actually eat – formula, milk, eggs, cheese, fruits, veggies, etc. The amount of fruits and vegetables they allot for a month for our 2 year old seems paltry – $8. But since I’m buying for a family of 7 now, maybe it’s just hard to pull out what of our produce expenditures he’s actually consuming.  I love that it’s a swipe card and that all the benefits are just on it. There’s no reimbursement to deal with – you just have to pay REALLY close attention to what you’re trying to buy with it and make sure the grocery store you’re going to takes the card. (Target doesn’t take them…not sure Wegmans does either). It makes checking out a bit of a nightmare though (plus I can’t use the self checkout!).  I’ve had to squash my slightly ashamed feelings as I wonder what people are thinking when I use these cards along with my regular credit card purchases and when I have all 5 kids, plus an ever-bigger baby bump with me in the check out line. Thankfully, if anyone in line around me has had any nasty comments in their heads – they’ve kept it to themselves. Pretty sure that’s God’s grace and mercy on them because this hormonal mama would probably lose it all up in their faces if I heard it…..

All the clerks have been super gracious and patient with the process, for which I am so grateful.  All the checkout workers at our local Giant in particular have been super helpful and understanding of my complicated check out system whenever I’ve come through. What a blessing!! Many also offered little tips on how to make the system work for me – like making sure I ran my Giant card on every purchase even though it wasn’t coming out of my pocket. This way, I’d get any related coupons on formula or baby food.  These coupons were super handy because some months the baby ate way more than WIC thought she would! It also counted towards my gas rewards points, which was awesome for all the extra driving we’re doing. Yay Giant!!

On to Medicaid – what a mess! I know our healthcare system is such a political hot button right now, and having experienced a tiny bit of working with Medicaid, I have MUCH more empathy for everyone involved with all the policy-making. The first doctor we saw under Medicaid was terrible. The kids were screaming almost the entire time he examined them (how exactly are you supposed to hear if a child’s chest is clear when she is screaming?!?). Then, the little boy had to get 5 shots and the nurse came in with no help and proceeded to stick him 5 times in the least efficient way possible. It was so, so traumatic. As quickly as I could I tried to get them seen by our family doctor. Our practice isn’t taking in any new medicaid patients, but my particular provider said that she would take the medicaid payments and see us anyway. Thank God for her! It was so eye-opening to see the limited options that are available for people on medicaid. The primary physicians were few and far between.  We had to find a specialist also and that took quite some time.

The explanation of benefits that come back to us have been baffling as well. We’ve yet to receive a bill for this yet, but one of them that came back said that while the immunizations that were received were a covered service, the person who stuck them with the needle was NOT included. Huh? So you cover the shot, but not the nurse who has to administer the shot? Who makes these rules? Who has to cover that expense? I know for a fact that the nurse spent good time preparing the vaccine in the correct size needle and then taking her time to make sure we were all ok after the sticking was over.  Mind boggling…

I think my biggest takeaways from this part of the experience is that you can’t really tell anything about a person’s story by how they buy their groceries, and that life is generally more complicated than is portrayed in most political debates about government assistance. There are no easy answers to how to build a social safety net. Any policy maker who makes it seem simple has just not done their homework.

Milestones and unexpected sadness

There are lots of things that I didn’t expect when taking on the challenge of being foster parents (that’s a whole other post though!).

Tonight an unexpected sadness came over me at a huge milestone that our little boy had. He came to us with very few words and very little communication skills.  He didn’t really call anybody anything – he mostly pointed and yelled or cried to get what he wanted.

He’s been steadily adding words to his vocabulary, prompting lots of praise from us.  Over the last few days though, he’s begun using my girls’ names (in his own unique pronunciation, but decidedly intelligible) and calling my husband and I “daddy” and “ma” or “mama”. That he is doing these things is so wonderful for his development. That he’s doing it with us instead of his  biological family is heartbreaking.

Since the plan is for reunification, we’re still adding our names on to the end of the daddy and mama for him to have some sort of differentiation between his two families, but still. My heart hurts for his heart to have to have this distinction in his life.

I hope his time with us is restorative and gives his brain and heart a path to health and healing. I also wish that this healing could come without scars, but I know this is not the way it works.  Still, it makes this mama’s heart hurt something fierce.

Stupid faith

I posted a couple weeks ago about saying yes to bringing two foster kids in to our home. They’ve now been with us for almost a month and things are kind of settling in to a routine.  There are still plenty of moments though that just leave me shaking my head at just what we’ve dived in to. 

When people find out what we’re doing, they’ve said things like, “you’re a saint,” or “you’re so noble/good/brave to be doing this.” One friend said what she was actually thinking and said – “You’re CRAZY!” 🙂 Basically, I tend to agree with her! 

There was one week in particular when I felt neither good, nor noble, nor brave, but utterly and completely stupid.  What was I thinking to say yes to a toddler and a baby? Why did I think this was the good time to do this? Did I hear God correctly? Am I doing what He called me to do? Is it supposed to be THIS hard? I’m so so tired and at the end of my patience with everyone in my family; this doesn’t feel like faith, it feels like stupidity. 

In Bible study though, we were studying the love of God. It struck me how utterly insane His plan to rescue us really is/was. His love for us is an irrational, over the top kind of love.  He came for us when we didn’t know we needed Him and when we were actively working against Him. 

We discussed how it seems easy sometimes to say you love God, but much harder to follow the commands to love one another.  We wondered why that is and how the two are connected.  Through this crazy, stupid faith journey that I’m on, I see exactly how they’re related. We are pouring our love into these children’s lives with basically no expectation of it ever being returned or of their birth family ever showing appreciation or even the hope that they will remain in our family for a long time.  My husband, my daughters, and I are being asked to love unconditionally in a way that I’ve never experienced before. And when I witness one of my daughters or my husband manifesting real love towards this difficult two-year-old, it is truly like I’m seeing the love of God in the flesh. 

So, yes, it still feels foolish and ridiculous this life we’re living right now. But I also stand amazed by the now daily glimpses I get of God’s lavish love and grace.  

Back in the game: we said YES!

I’m living a crazy life right now. It will most likely stay crazy for the foreseeable future as well. I can’t really predict what’s coming next. The Hillsong UNITED song, Oceans, has words that speak deeply to what I’m feeling at the moment:

You call me out upon the waters

the great unknown; where feet may fail

And there I find you in the mystery

in oceans deep my faith will stand.

A week ago today, He called us out upon the waters – we got a call from the county telling us that they had two little children coming in to foster care and could we take them. A 6 month old and a 2 year old. Deep waters for sure…

The song goes on to talk about how God’s grace abounds in deep waters and ends with a call for the Holy Spirit to lead us out into a faith journey that doesn’t have borders.  That’s where we are. For a control freak like myself, it is incredibly difficult to live day by day and just really not know THE PLAN.

Since there’s so much I don’t know, I’m going to focus on some things that I DO know –

I’m falling more and more in love with my family every day.  My husband is actually the best father on the planet (sorry about that everyone else…). His grace and patience with these two extra babies are amazing.  He rolls with the punches, doling out tickles or firm “no’s” when warranted, doing night feedings, changing diapers, etc. He’s caring for all of us so well.

My three biological daughters are jumping in with both feet. They’re feeding and playing with these babies, being big sisters, dealing with less attention from us, talking about their feelings, coming along for rides to extra doctor visits and court appointments. Watching them in action makes my heart burst.

I have an amazing community of prayer partners and people willing to step in to help with practical things.  People have brought dinner, made bottles, left stacks of diapers on our porch, brought kids home from school. People I don’t even know have been praying for us.

I also know that I have a good God. There are so many things that have happened this week that I don’t understand. But I know He has been working in our waiting and I still trust He has a plan. It sure doesn’t look like I thought it would – knee deep in diapers, formula, spit up and toddler tantrums. In fact, just a couple weeks ago, I told someone that it felt very strange that I was about to leave the land of MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) with my youngest heading off to kindergarten.  Guess God thought I wasn’t done.

Well, God – would love to see what’s next. We’ve said this first yes and are back in the game. Since it feels like we jumped off a cliff, I sure hope You’re at the bottom to catch us.