Deliverance.

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This sweet girl is back into a tumultuous situation. Shortly after I wrote the last blog post, her dad called us during a breakdown and asked us to take her home with us on a full-time basis indefinitely while he tried to figure out how to make a safe home for her and get his life in order. With his encouragement, we enrolled her in preschool here and she’s been living with us since January 19. The days are crazy but it has felt so right having her home with us in a safe and structured environment.

Meanwhile, her dad is trying to sell his house to move away from her mom who is an unsafe person and has been pursuing them in various ways for quite a while now, I guess. He has his own issues and struggles to break himself away from the unsafe lifestyle and relationships that would harm Midge. We are giving Midge a soft place to land while he tries to get all this together, and after he’s ready to bring her home he wanted us to be her full time daycare providers and put her in our local elementary school in the fall for kindergarten.

We enjoyed a few weeks in this false sense of security…that there might finally be a stable living arrangement and a way to move Midge past all of the craziness in her little life. Yesterday, this all fell apart. Her dad was seeking a restraining order against her mom, and the judge at the restraining order hearing heard a short bit of testimony from Midge’s parents and with this small bit of information, overturned the previous judge (who’d been looking at years of information) about what should be happening for Midge’s safety. The new judge over the restraining order hearing ruled that Midge should begin unmonitored full weekend visits with her mom starting next weekend. The judge also opened an inquiry into Midge’s safety and a court appointed investigator will now be speaking with all the previous social workers and case managers to determine what should happen next for Midge. Knowing her mother quite well and having had years of experience with child protective services, we have no confidence that Midge won’t be jerked around, kidnapped, traumatized, or harmed in this coming season. We have no idea what will come next for our baby.

The phone call came around 2p.m. yesterday, and the rest of the day was a blur of disbelief, outrage, and fear for the future as I trudged through the motions of parenting my five until bedtime. This morning I am blessed to have had several hours in prayer to process it all, and God met me here in my pain. I am no longer fearful for the future. I feel like God has given me the gift of a glimpse of the whole picture that He sees. He is not surprised or fearful or impotent. He holds the whole situation in His all-powerful hands. He loves His little girl and no one can snatch her from His hands. The LORD himself watches over us, the Bible tells us, and it says that He does not slumber or sleep. He’s not wringing His hands because of the incompetence of the county workers and judges and humans who seem to control her fate. I really feel like God has shown me that this is the beginning of the end of her captivity to this life of darkness.

This morning I took Midge to preschool and she asked me to stay for chapel. I said I would. Confident in her mommy’s promise, she dashed off to the swing, where she began pumping herself higher and higher. I watched the joy light up her face. She had no worries in that moment. I stood there and prayed, “LORD, deliver her. Deliver her from this life of fear and chaos and darkness and bring her into Your light and freedom and safety.” In that moment I knew that we are headed into the final rapids for Midge. The LORD is delivering her, will deliver her, in fact He has already delivered her from her bondage and we just need to sit back, hold on, and trust Him as we watch it happen. Someday she will look back and claim this verse from 1 Peter 2:9 as she sees His faithfulness in her life: “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of the darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.” I have a sudden feeling of victory as we are privileged to watch God save our baby from the darkness of her circumstances.

Even as I feel that freedom and confidence, I remember that His ways are not our ways, and that a hundred years here can be like a second in His timing. I think we’ve had these few weeks of rest and preparation with all five of our kids firmly planted in our home to prepare us for the rough road ahead, like the rest before a grueling race. And I know that although I am confident in God’s victory in Midge’s life, it’s more likely to be months and years of struggle ahead, rather than days and weeks. I am praying for perseverance and confidence in God’s plan even as we watch it unfold through bumbling decisions by imperfect people. I am praying for an unwavering faith in God as we hold our baby’s hand as long as He lets us hold it physically, and even after that we will hang onto her hand in our hearts. “We know that the LORD will maintain the cause of the afflicted, and justice for the poor. Surely the righteous shall give thanks to Your name.” Psalm 140:12

Midge’s future is not a mystery to God. He let us all rest up here together in preparation for the rapids that are now upon us. But we don’t need to doubt whether she’ll get through to take hold of the freedom that lies at the end of this ride. We don’t need to worry about what we should say and what we should do, as if her future lies within our human hands. “If God is for Midge, who can ever be against her? Since He did not spare even His own Son but gave Him up for Midge, how will He not also graciously give her all things?” Romans 8:31-32 No matter what terrible decisions are made and who makes them and when, we must be confident in our God’s love for his daughter. We have seen it over and over again through the unbelievable circumstances in her past. This is God’s child, and I believe he loves those who are oppressed and in trouble with more strength than we can possibly imagine. And no matter what incompetence and danger she faces in the coming times, “I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing shall be able to separate her from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our LORD.” Romans 8:38

I pray for the faith and perseverance we will need to walk beside our daughter on this treacherous road to His victory, His safety, His deliverance, His freedom. I pray for strength of heart and mind, not to be fooled by the enemy’s plan to discourage us and make us fear for a child who is held firmly in the hands of an Almighty God. I pray for protection over her body and heart, that the scars that come from this road might be the kind that fade with time and love. I pray that God will deliver her gently, and as quickly as possible, knowing at the same time that His methods and His timing are perfect for her and may be different from ours. I pray for wise counsel for us when God calls us to play a part in her fight. I pray for comfort for us all as we are tossed by these coming waves, knowing that ours is a God who has the winds and the waves at His command. When we get scared and doubt, may we hear Jesus telling us amidst the storm, as he did in Mark 4:40, “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?” and may we hear that rebuke and once again walk in the victory that we know belongs to our family and our daughter.

I pray for my family as I generally crack under the emotional pressure and often bring it out in impatience with my kids. I pray for my physical health and strength as these fostering stresses have regularly wreaked havoc on my body. I pray for each of my children, that God would be working out something amazing in each of their lives through this trial. I pray for Greg as he tries to captain our ship with grace and love through these storms. Most of all I pray that God would keep our baby in His loving arms, safe with Him, wherever she may physically be. I pray for the swift return of Jesus, that we might all gather around the throne of grace and spend eternity in paradise with Him, making all the troubles of this life look like but a breath, as He says in the psalms. And through all this I am thankful that even as I pray, I already know He has answered, is answering and will answer it all. “Surely I am coming quickly. Amen, even so, come, LORD Jesus! The grace of the LORD Jesus Christ be with us all. Amen.” (Revelation 22:20-21)

Family Update :: January 2015

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This blog has obviously ceased to be a regular place of reflection for me. Four months since the last post?! At least it’s apparent that I’m not trying to win anyone’s approval, which is a good thing when it comes to online living, I think. I started this blog as a place to focus on the beautiful things in life. In the midst of a life of toddler parenting I craved beauty and peace in the chaos, resulting in posts about photography and crafts and the golden moments plucked from a hectic life. Then it became a venting place about our fostering and a place to grasp the faith that upholds us. I wonder what the future is for this spot. For today, it’s a place to share my thoughts about what’s going on in our family these days.

Big thought #1: We’re probably going to move Anthony out of the Spanish Immersion program. I love the program overall and it’s been amazing seeing Tyler become bilingual before our eyes. But Anthony has so much stacked against him: serious speech problems, probable ADHD and Sensory Processing Disorder, a non-existent academic foundation to build on, and difficulty handling challenging situations without melting down. As I’ve been substituting in the Spanish Immersion program often this year, I’ve become progressively more worried about whether Anthony will be able to take it…and that’s in the second grade immersion class! I see what Tyler’s doing in third grade and get seriously concerned. Not to mention that if he stays in the immersion program, I’ll be driving kids to four different schools once he’s in 4th grade, which will be right about the time school will be getting really hard. Will we be kicking ourselves in a few years if we don’t move him? He’s such a sweet kid and so enthusiastic about learning when it interests him. We’re thinking the Spanish component just might push him over the edge in a few years. But in immersion you can’t move in the middle elementary grades because you’ve missed out on too much English learning. (It evens out around Jr. High, when the immersion kids score higher on both Language Arts and Math portions of standardized tests than even the straight English program kids do. Amazing!)  Anyway, I’ve been pondering it, Greg is really leaning towards pulling him out, and we have a meeting with the teacher and principal soon.

Big thought #2: We’ve offered to put Midge into our local elementary school starting next fall in kindergarten and keep her M-F at our house. Her dad was initially thrilled with the idea. We’d give her a high performing school to go to, do the homework routine, take care of discipline, school interactions, and structure while he’d be fun daddy on the weekends and whatever weeknights he felt like taking her out. I’m not counting my chickens before they hatch. Yes, he was excited about it the first time I brought it up, but I told him not to make any decisions right away but to think about it. The last time I talked to him (not about that), he purposely brought up that he’s cracking down on discipline with her and that she’s been much better. I got the vibe that means he’s hoping he can handle her on his own. He says he is worried about their local elementary school which is super low performing, and he’s worried about her behavior. She’s become completely spoiled and out of control, wreaking havoc at both home and school. It’s bad enough that her preschool teacher tells her dad that her behavior at this age is a huge red flag (I agree! If she’s out of control at preschool, how will she be at age 12?!) But I’m not revisiting the subject until he gets a job (supposed to happen in February) and thinks about putting her in full time preschool/daycare. In the meantime, we’ll pray and let him see how things go with his best efforts at discipline at home.

Big thought #3: Christmas vacation was really great. This is the first time I was not aching to send the kids back to school before it was time. That alone marks a huge victory in our “new” family! Behaviors still come in waves, but overall, things are worlds from where they were a year and a half ago. I am SO thankful.

Big thought #4: Parenting kids adopted from foster care is hard. The relationships are so fragile – not anchored in years of attachment forged through sweet infant years. It often feels like rock climbing… just when you feel like you’re getting somewhere, you fall off the rock and it seems like you’re at the bottom of the cliff face again. You’re not really at the bottom, and if you look back at where you came from you’ll see it, but it still feels like it. Every day is a new chance to try to parent these kids well. And every day I fail them in some way or another. Yes, I know it’s like that for all of our kids, bio, adopted, and foster, but it’s especially fragile for the fosters, who are still trying to figure out if you’re really going to love them through all the mistakes (theirs and mine). Each of my mistakes is tearing down a delicate relationship that’s been so tricky to build. At first I thought if I tried harder, I’d do better, and there is an element of teeth-grinding effort necessary. But I also latched on to this verse: If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. Old things have passed away. Behold, new things have come! If I want to show the kind of unconditional love and grace that Jesus offers, I need to be abiding in Jesus, not increasing my own efforts. I’m aware of two things: the way I love these kids will shape the way they think God loves them. That’s a huge burden. But secondly, God assures me that if they are meant to be His children, nobody can snatch them from His hand. I’m so thankful for that.

Please be praying for our family. That we’d have the wisdom to make the hard decisions and the love and grace to wrap around every child every day.

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Floundering Feeling of Freedom.

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For the past four years, being a parent and foster parent has been all-consuming, leaving no room for dreaming, planning, doing anything else. Now that kids are settled in school all day, post-foster-placement behaviors have diminished quite considerably, a routine is somewhat set for our visits with Midge, and the adoption of E. and A. is coming upon us rapidly, I am looking ahead with this strange sensation of possibility and freedom.

I’ve just walked into a buffet and I don’t know which way to look first. It’s overwhelming, wonderful, exhilarating, scary, and exciting all at once. All of the following thoughts swirl through my mind, each one as insane as the last. They are all daunting and improbable, yet step-by-step possible if I put my mind and energy towards them. I have no idea where to place my efforts, so I flit from one to another depending on the hour and the day. And then I feel guilty because shouldn’t I be picking one thing and putting all of my time and energy into it until it gets done, rather than an hour here and an hour there until my progress is almost unnoticeable? I don’t know what to do, but I’m excited about doing it!

  • I’m going to take up backpacking, something which I have never desired to do until this summer, when I decided that Tyler and I should backpack camp in the Channel Islands (Tyler being the hardiest camping partner of my crew.) Then I watched Mile/Mile and a Half, and realized that backpacking the John Muir Trail, a 211 mile trek through the Yosemite/King’s Canyon area is something that I MUST do. Now I’m finding myself reading trail memoirs, researching backpacking methods and learning about things I never thought I’d want to know.
  • Along the lines of “something I never wanted to do before but now find it essential”, I finished my first sprint triathlon 2 weeks ago. I’m not sure what came over me, but last December I realized that I needed to do it, despite my former almost sedentary lifestyle. I did it slowly, but I finished, and it was such an emotional and spiritual experience for me. Now I’m thinking that triathlon training should continue because it will help me get in shape for backpacking as well, and I’m thinking of dragging a few friends along with me for next year’s triathlon.
  • I’m going to reorganize my entire house, purging every single room, closet, and item until we have just the bare essentials to survive and thrive here, while still being able to keep up with the cleaning.
  • I’m working on getting my Single-subject Mathematics teaching credential. I’ve never wanted to teach Jr. High or High School before, and suddenly it’s my goal. Are you detecting a pattern? I was an elementary school teacher and loved it, but knew that teaching elementary with young kids at home wasn’t a good lifestyle combination for me. But teaching one subject (and it’s one of my favorites and was my specialty when I was teaching before) sounds doable, even appealing. I realized that I don’t want to get used to having all my daytime school hours filled with me-me-me or with volunteering for the PTA. I’m going to give this a shot and hope to study and take my Math credential tests this fall. Something about trying to reach kids and make a difference in that awkward stage of life is compelling to me.
  • I’m ready to reconnect with my husband. I don’t feel like we’ve been disconnected for the past few years, rather, we’ve been busy keeping this ship afloat so long that I think we haven’t stopped to notice how great our spouse is to just BE with. Mine is so great, in fact, that he is actually showing interest in the crazy backpacking idea. And if you know him and his desire for comfort, you know that is a big deal…him wanting to do it just because he knows I want to. It brings me to tears just thinking about that. He’s a great guy. I’d like to hang out with him sometime.
  • I’m working towards healthier cooking and eating for me and my family again. It’s a lot of work to research, pursue, and cook the most healthful foods for this crew of six or seven. I have to be prepared! I need a new freezer for our grass-fed, humanely slaughtered meats, since our last one stopped working this spring. I need to get back into planning our meals out each week and using recipes again! I need to figure out how to let the kids get involved, especially E. who is constantly asking to help. I need to figure out what foods can help with the digestive and energy problems I’ve had for the past few years. I need to get going on this!
  • I’m pumped up about studying the bible. I’m teaching at our women’s bible study again this fall and enjoy digging into the real study time required for that. I bought a study about the life of David that I wanted to do this summer, but couldn’t quite find the time for. I need a routine for this! I want to be found “in Christ” and “abide in Him” and see the fruit that results in my life.

I turned 38 on Sunday. Do you think I’m having a mid-life crisis? Is this why so many things that were formerly so detestable to me are suddenly appealing, to the point where I’m almost magnetically drawn to them? There’s something about finally having the breathing room to look to the future after four years of barely staying above water. It reminds me that I want to be taking steps in the direction of God’s plan for my life, and I want to be healthy enough to experience the joys of following that path when the joy comes. There’s nothing so wrong with that, right?

 

 

Two and a Half Months of Silence?!?

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Of course, that’s web silence, not real life silence, of which I’ve had none.

I was sitting in the family room getting some post-kids-bedtime relaxation while Greg’s out playing tennis, but I just got the urge to come here and share. Things are really going well around here. I dreaded this summer, although not quite as much as I dreaded last summer. But we have two weeks to go, and it’s been good.

Jake has turned a corner. For almost four years he has struggled. Our organized, predictability-loving, rule-following, introverted firstborn had it rough being a foster brother living in a world of unpredictability and chaos…can you imagine?! It seems like now that he knows how our life is going to look for the foreseeable future, he has settled back into being himself. That delightful, easy-to-be-with self that we thought maybe we’d driven away by becoming a foster family…he’s back! There have been days that I just shake my head in amazement and joy to see that following this path didn’t ruin our little boy. We always trusted that God knew what Jake needed in his life to prepare him for his future, but it’s great to see him happy again. Thank you, LORD! I’m curious to see what He has in mind for Jake’s future in teaching him so young how to handle hardship.

I feel like I should write about Tyler here, but there’s nothing new to say. He’s wonderful. He always has been wonderful. He rolls with the punches and gets along with everyone. He’s enthusiastic and easy-going and affectionate. He has been the child who kept me going during many months. Tyler is the rock…and he rocks.

The big surprise: seven year old E. I don’t want to jinx it, and we had one bad week this summer with tantrums and defiance and such, but that’s been it. Her behavior has completely changed. COMPLETELY. I am in awe just typing it, and I hope it’s not just a fluke. She is handling it when we don’t give her what she wants when she wants it. She is handling it when we don’t entertain her. She is taking no for an answer. All of this with flashes of attitude followed by…get this…controlling herself! We compliment her on it constantly. We made a point to keep her very busy this summer with morning camps and such, and we are planning to continue this strategy when school starts because it takes a village to raise this girl. She still struggles when artwork or school practice work isn’t perfect, which makes me nervous about her return to the classroom. But to think back to where we were when she first came, and even around February/March…amazing. Wow. We continue to pray for bonding times with her, but it is SO much easier to bond with someone who isn’t dissolving into an uncontrollable fit all the time! It’s hard not visualizing how I thought it would be to have a daughter this age and then comparing it with how it actually is. But I’m looking back at the progress we’ve made…one year made a huge difference…three more months even more…maybe when the adoption is finalized she’ll breathe a sigh of relief and really settle in?

Speaking of the adoption, it hasn’t happened. It was supposed to happen this summer but somehow someone didn’t remember about a certain evaluation to be done so it could be put into a report and placed in a file to go into another report to be presented to us in order to move forward. The evaluation has now been done and is working its way from desk to desk at the social services agency. Someday, somebody whose job it is to call people to set court dates will give us a ring and set one date of a set of three, I think, that we need before the adoption is finalized. But this isn’t at all frustrating. I’m sure glad that we have shared all kinds of psychological, educational, behavioral, and medical information with the county so that they can write it up into an official report to give all that information we gave to them back to us and say, “Here are these kids we want to tell you about. Do you want to adopt them?”

On to Little A. He is a piece of work. I don’t know what we’re going to do with him. He has flashes of complete anger and violence, and then minutes later is the sweetest, cutest, winningest little guy in the world. And those dimples. I love this boy. And he drives me crazy. I don’t think I’m going to solve this in two weeks so I’m not going to try. I’m going to wait until he goes back to school and deal with whomever he turns into then. No point in coming up with new discipline plans and strategies only to use them for a few weeks. We’ll hunker down and weather the flashes of rage with the discipline techniques that have been working well for us in the past (and even with him, until three weeks ago, or so), and then we’ll regroup in the fall. I guess it’s always going to be somebody having trouble when you’ve got a family of seven. Right now he’s it.

Midge is here! Sleeping upstairs for the third night in a row as I type. Not permanently. But we’ve been seeing her for a few days at a time this summer. She went camping with us and she’s going to beg her dad to let her do it again next week. Her dad is falling apart, in my opinion. Nothing that concerns us about his parenting, but about his inability to draw the line with Midge’s mother now that the courts are out of their world completely. We hate it. He’s giving mom overnights and trusting her not to drive with Midge or do anything to endanger her, despite her complete inability to show she can be trustworthy. We think he’s just overwhelmed with being a single dad, so we keep offering to take Midge whenever he wants us to, but he can’t quite seem to juggle everything. There’s nothing we can do, because if we report any suspected wrongdoing or incompetence to the county without really knowing what’s going on and without knowing whether they’d remove Midge again, we know he could easily cut us out of her life completely. So far, we haven’t been scared for her safety, thankfully. I just don’t know what’s going to happen. Again, we’re in a totally powerless situation where we just have to pray and leave her in God’s hands. And I have no idea what’s going to happen when she starts preschool again in the fall. Sigh. My baby. While I can, I’m enjoying every minute with my spoiled-rotten, can’t-take-no-for-an-answer, I-don’t-know-how-to-share, wonderful little girl.

So we made it. Two weeks left of summer and we’ve survived. Not even that, I think we’ve actually done well. I’m hoping to start substituting this fall at the kids’ schools and I’m working on a single subject Math credential to go with my multiple subject elementary teaching credential. I’m competing in a triathlon this Saturday, which should be good for a laugh at my expense! I trained very regularly from January to early May, at which point I got bronchitis and pneumonia which lasted a month, got busy coordinating our school’s Teacher Appreciation Week, and then it was summer with no time to train sans children. So I almost didn’t follow through with my triathlon goal. But as my good friend pointed out, I probably won’t regret it if I do the triathlon, but it’s very possible I’d regret it if I didn’t. So here I go. School days, substituting, credentialing, scheduling fall kids’ activities, adjusting my parenting strategies as our family schedule changes…such is life around here. And looking towards the future with hope.

 

“You’re going to lose the ship, but all of the people aboard will survive.”

Title taken from the end of Acts…maybe Acts 23 or so? When Paul is going through still more hardships, including years of wrongful imprisonment and an impending shipwreck during stormy seas. Literally.

Our stormy seas are figurative. We are dealing with serious regression around here, with our foster kiddos returning to daily behaviors including defiance, tantrums, violence, disrespect and disobedience like we haven’t seen since their first months here. I spend most of my time splitting up fights, separating children, making sure those children stay separated, then going back and checking on the children who aren’t having a consequence at that moment, then going back to the first children and talking with them about their choices and reinstating their privileges, and then starting it all over again, with some kicks, screaming, and throwing of someone else’s valuables thrown in here and there. All the while attempting to keep my own temper and not let my buttons be pushed.

This morning as I was walking by our beautiful reservoir, God brought the above passage to mind. He reassured Paul with an angel, which seems a little more definitive to me. God, if you read my blog, I would really like an angel to come to me in my dreams and tell me the same thing. But as the angels have remained silent thusfar, I’ll just trust that the Holy Spirit brought this to my mind for a reason.

Our family will survive. The ship will not. What that ship is, I’m not sure. My best guess is that the “ship” is my own plan for how our kids’ childhoods should look. I’m thinking that God is shattering my own utopian ideals for my five kids’ childhood experiences. I’m supposed to trust that His plan for their early years is better than mine. That somehow His infinite knowledge of past, present, and future is more comprehensive than mine and He will give my kids the life experiences they need in order to fill the roles He has for them later in life.

He has been faithful. He is faithful. And according to the Bible, He will be faithful to complete the good work He began in us.

Of course, we just talked about the staggering extent of Paul’s faith in difficult circumstances at our Women’s Bible Study yesterday. Sometimes God is just a little bit too ironic for my liking.

 

Family Updates Are Few & Far Between.

It’s difficult to write here when things are sliding backwards. I don’t want to over-share my kids’ struggles, yet I don’t want to act like everything’s rosy when it’s not. So instead, I have just keep my mouth shut (or in this case, my fingers still!)

I will say that God has worked amazingly in my heart in the past five weeks. I woke up on February 1st, the nine month anniversary of our kids joining our family, and decided I’d had enough of my pity party and my selfish behavior. I didn’t like my life and there was no sign of it getting better if I didn’t change myself. And for whatever reason, the Holy Spirit began working that day. I know when we pray that God always answers: yes, no, or wait. I’ve been in the ‘wait’ category for several months, harboring bad feelings towards my situation, my kids, and even towards God, all while praying for improvement.

I have turned a corner. At ten months in, I may not be the most fabulous mother to my children, but I’m a lot better than I was five weeks ago. There’s a lot more compassion, and a stronger will to fight for these kids and our relationships. I’m hanging onto my bible time and my 1000 gifts devotional and thankfulness list, along with a devotional a good friend gave me for people in difficult life circumstances. All of that to keep me clinging to Jesus, along with daily doses (sometimes twice daily!) of a few ‘parenting kids from hard places’ books that remind me of how I’m supposed to change my thinking and my parenting techniques for these kids.

Meanwhile, Jake has been improving in his behavior. This fostering business has always been hardest on him, and he exhibits behavior that is straight out of our  trauma training sessions! I guess when you like routine and predictability and are a sensitive kid, being a foster brother from age 6-10 is traumatic! Tyler has always been the easiest with all of this. But this past week he’s had a rough time. Greg and I realize he needs a little more one on one time and are hoping to do that soon. Our five year old A. has been getting better at school and home. If only I could stop showing my frustration with him, he might be able to stop his defiance! (My frustrated voice is definitely one of his biggest triggers.)

As for our six-year old E., things have come to, as our social worker calls it, “a point of crisis.” Her current school situation is not working for her at all. In foster parenting-speak, her chronological age is 6.5. Her social age is about 11. Her academic age is about 5. And her emotional age is about 3. You can see how difficult this would make things in a first grade classroom at a school full of people (adults and children) expecting her to meet the academic standards and negotiate the social/emotional situations of a 6-7 year old. We’re working with the school staff but aren’t optimistic about them being able to meet her needs right now.

Thankfully, God showed up at just the right time to make me more empathetic to her feelings and open to different options for meeting her needs. Not everyone understands her special needs, but as long as Greg and I do, we have the responsibility to do whatever is in her best interest while also considering the family as a whole. We’ve been praying for about a month about what to do and have been talking with the professionals who will have to approve the decision since she’s still officially in foster care and we can’t make parenting decisions yet!  In just the past week, I’m feeling a bit more sure of where we’re headed. Next week I will have a little more information and hopefully we can feel confident with whatever we decide.

Every time I think about our family, I think of the tag-line at the beginning of the old Jon and Kate Plus Eight reality t.v. show: It might be a crazy life, but it’s OUR life. Yep. That’s us.

At the End of Ourselves…

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the rest of the family’s breakfast (mine was an egg over, you guessed it, beans, rice, tomatoes and chicken)

At the end of ourselves is where we find God. Or so I’ve heard. And maybe today I experienced it.

This morning I was at the end of myself. To be honest, I was at the end of myself yesterday, and when I didn’t get to eat the heath bar covered brownies and one of the children pushed my buttons in a seriously annoying way and there were five needy children at bedtime and I was tired and realized I hadn’t gone for a run all weekend, I was done.

I almost ate that brownie. I was this close. I even considered putting a call out for solidarity/support onto our little 7 challenge Facebook group. Then I decided that no, I should just not tell them and make this my one cheat of the month and nobody need find out about it. Then I distracted myself, like all good toddler parents know how to do, and then I lay down on the couch to watch t.v., because thank goodness media and food months aren’t at the same time. And then it was bedtime. And I was not going to waste my one brownie cheat if I had to immediately brush away that delectable chocolatey flavor. Phew.

I was jolted awake by one of my darling children at 6:00 a.m. on a non-school day because, as he put it, “I have a really bad bloody nose and there’s no more toilet paper!” by which he meant, I’ve used a whole roll of toilet paper for the three bloody noses I’ve had during the night because I use two feet of paper to blot my nose one time. If bloody noses were an anomaly in our house perhaps I’d be a bit more compassionate. But two nights ago I was awakened at 2:00 a.m. by a different child to clean up the bloody nose mess she’d made in the bathroom. And Greg has dealt with at least one child’s bloody nose every morning this week. If any more fluids come out of these children’s bodies, I might have to move out. We are not amused.

Of course, I had been reading a parenting book last night and felt encouraged to start fresh with trying not to lose my temper with the kids. Needless to say, I didn’t last through my first three minutes awake.

So I came downstairs to Greg and began crying for all the bloody noses and the fighting and my inability to stop getting frustrated and the fact that it was a non-school day and Greg not only had to work, but also had a meeting that would keep him out until after the kids’ bedtime. So Greg comforted me for a second and then tried to solve my problem, which forced me to sniff up my tears and proclaim rudely, “I’m going for a run.”

And I hadn’t run in four days, which is not good. But the path was deserted and the moon was bright and I was outside in God’s creation. My thoughts swirled angrily for a while and then turned to wondering. And whining to God about why He took away my easy little comfortable-parent-of-two-bio-kids-life and gave me this hard one that I often don’t like in its place. And seriously, God, now I can’t eat brownies, either?

And good old Job came to mind. He gives and takes away…blessed be the name of the LORD.

Maybe I hit rock bottom. Maybe I realized once and for all that the easy little life I had was given to me by the LORD as a gift. And it’s His to take away when that serves His greater purpose. And if I don’t have a calm home here anymore and if I can’t eat sweets (yes, by my own choice, but I really did feel led by the Holy Spirit to start this 7 fast) so what? And all of the sudden I realized what hope we have in heaven. And I thought of all those people out there who don’t have that hope when they’ve lost everything, and I don’t mean brownies and comfortable lives. I mean when they’ve lost children or health or jobs or marriages or seriously big things. I can’t imagine life’s difficulties without that hope.

The longing for heaven is what I found on my run this morning. And some perspective. I came around a curve and saw the sunrise reflected in the water of the reservoir behind our neighborhood and it was beautiful. I paused for a moment and thanked God. Within a few minutes it was light and that beauty was gone. It was a moment given just to me from my creator who is my heavenly Father.

Consistent gratitude has been missing from my everyday life for the past few months.

If I am eating only seven foods this month, what is that in the grand scheme of things? If parenting and enjoying my home is much harder now, what would be the alternative for the two kids who bring much of the chaos? They’re already considered “older children” in the world of adoption. Add to their ages their race, that they’re part of a sibling pair, and that they’ve both been labeled to have violent tendencies, one has asthma and speech problems and the other a serious heart condition, and you’ve got two kids who’d be bopping around foster and group homes their whole lives. Can I really be that selfish to wish for a brownie and some quiet hours on the couch?

So I ran home with a changed heart and a new hope. The hope of heaven and the hope that we have on earth in Christ. That I should not grow weary of doing good for in due season I would reap if I didn’t lose heart and didn’t give up. And that the Holy Spirit can work in families with broken people. And that I could withstand those chocolate croissants I had baking in the oven for the kids as a special treat.

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess :: in the trenches of food month

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After my pre-7 Costco run: produce for juicing and pleny of my 7 foods for the month!

I’m halfway through my first month of seven and it’s starting to get old. The first week was way easier than I thought it would be. I think that’s just because we’re still getting into the swing of things around here after Christmas break and we’ve been so busy. This second week hasn’t been that bad, but I’m beginning to tire of my foods. If only I didn’t feed the rest of my family so well, I wouldn’t have to see the yummy things everyone else is eating without me!

My problem is that I really do like food. I like planning a new menu for each week. I love variety and there are hardly any foods I don’t enjoy, so I regularly change our family dishes to keep things interesting. I like so many different vegetables and sauces and savories and sweets! Oh, sweets! I love you. And butter and cheese, I was so close to putting at least one of you on my list of seven foods.

That’s it: only seven foods for a month. Choose wisely, I advise you, if you ever take on this foolish task. I’ve been completely happy with my choices of rice, beans, chicken, eggs, spinach, tomatoes, and apples. Considering nutrients and possible food combinations, my list has been ideal. We can use olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper for seasoning, but still, there are no sweets! No coffee treats or cheese to jazz up my beans or my salads. Sun dried tomatoes and apples in every form have been my saviors. But even still, after two weeks I’m kind of over it. In addition to water, I am drinking juices made at home so that I can try out the juicer I’m borrowing from my dad.  And even with the incredible motivation of juicing being the only mode for me to eat non-7 foods, I’ve only had juice three times, so that tells me whether buying my own juicer is worth it! Guess not.

It would be easier for me if I really felt my spiritual life being shaken up by this 7 food fast. I’ve fasted from sweets before while praying for direction on certain life decisions, and while skipping sweets is a serious sacrifice for me, it’s easier when I have a defined purpose in mind. This 7 fast is a little vague and open-ended for me. “Taking away excess to make room for the Holy Spirit to work” isn’t quite as specific as I’d like. How will I see the Spirit move? What changes will I feel happening? Will I truly feel more compassion for the world’s poor, who live on much less food than this every day? I am happy that I lost five pounds in the first week (I also started my triathalon training that same week, so there’s that) but losing weight isn’t my goal here so it’s not helping me feel motivated. I haven’t given up on the spiritual shake-up yet, but I’m still waiting.

I’m committed to this for the long haul, so I keep plugging along. Me and my apples, my freeze dried apples, and my applesauce, all of which I had in the same afternoon at Disneyland with the kids. I will admit that after that Applepolooza, as my friend Toby called it, I was a little appled out.

Two weeks down, two to go. I’m hoping to reflect here in the middle of each fast and at the end, just to see the progress I’m making over the seven months. Right now, I’ve got a chicken carcass on the stove creating homemade chicken broth, to which I’ll add (what else?!) rice, beans, diced tomatoes, spinach, lemon, salt and pepper. Yum and yawn, all at the same time.

Holy Spirit? Where are you at?

7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess :: Introduction

I'm into month one now. Can you guess one of my seven foods?

I’m into month one now. Can you guess one of my seven foods?

I mentioned that I’ve been in a weird place for the past few months. I think its a combination of things going pretty well from the outside yet things still being difficult behind the curtains. When the kids’ parents’ rights were terminated in December (and even before that when it looked like it would happen soon), I realized that this is my life. Home life is not easy anymore, so being home is not the haven it used to be. Spiritually, I was feeling a winter season coming on after a very exciting summer and fall harvest-type season in my spiritual life. I recognized that if I didn’t find something to shake me up a bit, some goal or something to work on, I could easily slip away in the wrong direction. It’s so easy to atrophy towards lives that are different from and seem easier than the ones God calls us to.

Enter: Seven : an experimental mutiny against excess, by Jen Hatmaker. I read this book over a year ago and while I enjoyed her writing, I didn’t feel at all inspired to try something similar in my life. Of course, I think we were probably in the throes of losing Midge at the time, and life was full of stress, visitations, emotional upheaval and uncertainty. It was no time for any more challenges than the one we were living. Plus, some of the challenges seemed too daunting while others seemed irrelevant to me. 

A month or two ago, one of the women from our church posted on Facebook about the book, and many others responded. Pretty soon a group of women who wanted to try the seven month challenge had formed, and without reviewing what I was in for, I signed up, looking for something to shake me up a bit in my physical and spiritual life. 

While seven is an experiment in eliminating excess from our lives and Hatmaker sets her own rigid rules for each month, the focus is supposed to be on spiritual formation and compassion for the poor. Readers can challenge themselves in the same way as the author or make their own rules, but the goal should be the same: more of the Holy Spirit and less of our own indulgences ruling our lives. 

A one month fast of some kind in the following areas of excess: Food. Clothing. Possessions. Media. Spending. Waste. Stress. 

I saw the group forming on Facebook and I was in. I AM in. I am going to be in for the next seven months. What the heck was I thinking?

Summer So Far.

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We are exactly one third of the way through summer vacation at our house. In general, I am the parent who lives for the summer vacation days! I love the freedom and lack of structure that allows me to scoop up the kids and go on an adventure when the mood strikes!

This is not that kind of summer.

The week before school got out, I realized that this was going to have to be a totally booked up, totally planned out and overscheduled summer if I was going to make it through. The kids just aren’t adjusted to each other well enough yet to allow for many unstructured hours of playtime. Lack of scheduling ends in the three boys playing together, E complaining that nobody will play with her (never mind that she spends all the playtime trying to change or ruin their games) and there’s just bickering and annoyance all over the place. And since I need to be directly supervising all of their play, why not be out doing an activity somewhere so that at least we’re not destroying the house only to have to clean it up again?

So we haven’t had a full unscheduled day yet, and it’s going pretty well. I am booked up with at least one activity every day through the end of July. This week is VBS, next week we’re visiting my first three foster kiddos at their house a little over an hour away, then the kids are going to Grandma’s for an overnight. The next city over from us offers free recreation camps at local parks and we’re going to one of those next week as well. We’re taking advantage of the dollar movies that they offer around here for kids, too. And in August I’ve signed three of the kids up for a day camp…one for ballet, two for soccer.

I’m not a fan of rushing here and there, but I’m also not a fan of refereeing fights between the kids all day long, either. I’m hoping that if we do have these kids for the long run, by next summer the four of them will have bonded with each other enough that I won’t have to have another booked up summer like this again. This morning I saw Jake and E (the worst of the two bickerers) get along for the first time! Jake built a lego castle for E out of her birthday legos, and they were working together to try to keep Tyler and A from destroying it. (Do you see how I can see a victory even among the fighting of the morning?!)

Yesterday was a bad day with lots of tantrums and impatience and a cancelled visit for the little kids, which took away my two hours of respite and relaxation. We also had a visit from our case manager who told me that the kids’ parents’ services were terminated at court on Tuesday. There is a hearing set for November when they expect to terminate the parents’ rights.

The court has been asked by the dad’s attorney to look into the kids’ grandparents as guardians, but nobody expects them to pass the home study. Greg and I are at peace with whatever happens…God will keep these kids here if He wants them here, and if He does that, He will make a way for us all to attach and grow and thrive together for His purposes. They are nice kiddos and have accomplished an amazing amount of adjustment to boundaries and functional family living in only two months. We expect to see lots of growth and attachment and watch the bonds of family grow between us over the coming months. And if God moves them to the grandparents, we will always pray for them and wonder whether they were able to survive that lifestyle intact as fully functioning members of society.

One day at a time. That’s how we’re living this summer. A messy house, a lot more t.v. than usual, more money spent on camps and outings and distractions, and one day at a time.

Visitations and the Future.

When I wrote the last post, I really thought the kids might be leaving us soon thereafter. The social worker called me from the county the day I sent the letter and when I mentioned that I wasn’t monitoring, she said, “Well, we’ll have to look for another placement for the kids unless the FFA steps up to monitor.” With a heavy heart, I told her that was okay if that’s what they needed to do.

And now it appears that visitations are all settled and arranged! The FFA and the county talked it out, and a county supervisor is monitoring both of one parent’s visits and even transporting the kids home after one of the visits (because we couldn’t transport home on the day they picked.) The other parent’s visits are temporarily not happening…nobody knows yet how long that parent will be unable to do visits, if you get my drift. (My fellow foster parent calls it a “county vacation.”) Could that be part of the reason that the social worker has changed her tune and is stepping up to get the kids to stay with us? There is another court date next week. I wonder if anything will happen then?

So there you go! The kids are staying with us for the foreseeable future, and neither county nor FFA are even talking about the possibility of them being moved anymore. They are both registered for the fall at Tyler’s school. I am going to begin the process of getting their insurance group changed now that I know they’re here for a while. Tyler’s Spanish Immersion Program is a wonderful opportunity for them, especially if they do stay here permanently. What a gift to be able to preserve your cultural heritage and language even if you’re living with a non-Mexican non-Spanish speaking family! For kindergarten, A has already been accepted into the program for the fall, and E was moved to number one on the waiting list for a first grade spot, thanks to the great principal and staff there.

Praise God. He makes things happen when they are in His good plan.

Nine Days In.

There are so many things I’d like to write about, talk about with experienced mamas and foster mamas, vent about, and complain about, as well as celebrate about! It’s been nine days since our new kiddos came and I am tired.

So I’ll just check in here to say that overall, things are going better than I had probably expected. The kids are still in full honeymoon phase when it comes to behavior, which has given us some time to bond before they let it all hang out. The sibling situation, however, has been tougher than I’d expected. Well, if I had really thought about it, I would have expected it to be this tough, but I was so focused on being worried about the kids’ trauma behaviors that I hadn’t spent much time thinking about how the four kids would need to adjust.

So we pretty much have non-stop bickering most of the day. Sometimes we’ll get a break for 15-20 minutes where everyone’s getting along, but pretty soon, “He’s being mean to me!” “No, you’re being mean!” “No you are!” “No you are!” rings through the air. The two firstborns clash the most. I imagine it will be several months until everybody settles in to their new place in the family and learns how to push and not push each other’s buttons. Each kid is used to the dynamics of the family unit they’ve been living with, and they’ve been completely comfortable in their previous roles. It’s going to be a long few months.

I’m thankful for school. The timing I had hoped for is exactly the timing God gave us…a few months to settle in before we attempt the summer vacation with full days together. Right now everyone gets a break from everyone else for part of the day. I think this is especially good for Jake, who thrives on routine and is notorious for having a tough time transitioning to new things. The littlest guy is settling in fine at home when everyone else is gone, which is nice. The afternoons are pretty hectic, with everyone wanting to play with everyone else, but everyone wanting everyone else to play exactly what s/he wants to play and how s/he wants to play it!

But things are good overall. Super tiring, but good. Bedtimes have been much easier than I’d hoped, so Greg and I collapse on the couch and are free after about 8:15ish. We need the break and are so thankful for it. Right now the rest of the family is upstairs watching Wreck It Ralph for some down time after a full day. Everyone’s already jammied up with teeth brushed and showers and baths are done. I’m looking forward to the couch with my book club book tonight.

Life is very full, very hard at times, very frustrating, and very fulfilling. I know we’re doing what God made us to do, so that makes it feel right.

It’s Beginning Again…

We’re headed out in an hour to pick up our two new foster kiddos! It is so terrifying to bring kids into a somewhat peaceful home. Especially older kids. Because no matter how great they are, it’s still a big adjustment, and if there are big behavior issues, which there usually are, it’s an even bigger adjustment.

AND the usual fostering nonsense is already beginning…they told us Tuesday that the parent visitations which were supposed to be two hours once a week for each parent are being increased to two hours twice a week for each parent. Really? At the two year mark? We haven’t even had the kids placed with us yet and we’re already dealing with undocumented heart conditions, parents being much more in the picture than we thought, increased visitations, and I don’t know what else.

BUT Greg and I have really both felt from the first week that this is the match God wants us to take. God sure is tricky. We told Him a few months ago, “Okay. We won’t quit. We will take kids again, but here are our conditions,” and gave Him and the county a list of criteria. He then matches us with a sibling pair that fits perfectly and makes it clear to both of us that these are the ones. Only then does He reveal that one has a major heart condition and that the father may be able to work his case plan and get them back despite the long time frame. Oh boy. I thought Greg would bail when those two red flags came up. But we both still felt God’s leading to take them. And then a few weeks later, He reveals that they’re doubling the parent visits which makes us fear that the social worker may be crazy like our last one. AND they tell us that they were mistaken…parental services have not yet been terminated like they originally told us. Really?! And still, we don’t feel like we should stop the placement. God, You are a tricky one, getting the right kids into our home by whatever means necessary, even by withholding important information until the last second.

So we head into this placement which involves a ton of family members who at any moment could step up and decide to take the kids back. A placement which doesn’t look promising for adoption, like we’d wanted. It’s possible, but we won’t get our hopes up. (She says now, before they’re in our home and become part of the family and her sanity and impartiality depart forever.)

Anybody have any suggestions for blog nicknames for these kids? The girl is 5, almost 6, and the boy is 4. I’m guessing it will be a while before I write here again as things settle down.

First Glimpse!

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We met the kids last night! What cuties they are…wild and crazy cuties that I’m sure will be a handful if we bring them home!

I say “if” because I’ve never seen social services move so slowly! Maybe my expectations are off because we got our first two boys within hours of being certified as foster parents. And we got Midge right away from an ESH home when they called us, too. But these kids’ Auntie told social services in February that she wanted them to move into a foster home, and it’s now mid-April! There was a change of social workers in there, which always drags things out, but still.

I also say “if” because there are two big things for us to consider when accepting placement of these kids.

First of all, it would very much be a foster placement rather than an adoptive placement (at least initially), as the father has worked his case plan and reunified with them once before, and his sister, their Aunt whom we met last night, is hopeful that he can do it again. I don’t know whether the county places any weight to the fact that he tried once and lost custody again or not. I think it all depends on the social worker because the time frame should be winding down with the 18 month hearing coming in a few weeks, but we know from experience that the social worker is really the one who decides whether to keep delaying things until reunification can happen (in this case, for the second try). We would be a concurrent planning family just like we were with Midge…willing to adopt if things work out with them in our home and if reunification doesn’t happen. Again, it all depends on the social worker and if she sees the goal as reunification or as permanency for the kids. (For perspective, Midge’s first social worker viewed the goal as permanency for the child once parental services are terminated, which they already have been in this case. Midge’s second social worker sees the goal as reunification with both parents at all costs, and worked to extend things and still is working towards that goal.)

We had hoped to get a sibling pair who had no visitations and whose parents were out of the picture. We’re realizing that wish is pretty unrealistic. Still, we would have liked to have a little more certainty about the kids’ future than we do in this case.

Secondly, the little girl has a major medical condition related to her heart that is not in her file or was not communicated to our agency. We know the diagnosis but not the complete medical details, and she has no restrictions other than taking several medications three times daily. But it is definitely something that took us by surprise because it should have been in her file. Her brother also has been diagnosed with a heart murmur, which would be something to keep an eye on, especially with the family history of this particular heart disease.

You remember those “check boxes” on the agency’s placement forms? We would never have checked the box for this medical condition! But isn’t that how God works? Sneaking a kid under our radar just because He wants to?

As I was standing with Tia, talking to her about all these things, I thought for sure that Greg would halt the whole process when I told him either one of these huge curveballs, never mind both of them! But I am amazed at how we are both on the same page and ready to move forward with placement despite both of these things that we had hoped to avoid. That is yet another sign that God is working in us to move us toward His plan for our family’s next step of faith in this journey.

So there you go…we need to decide in the next few days if we’re willing to go ahead with the placement. Greg and I both still feel right now that this is the match God wants for us, so unless we suddenly feel otherwise in the next few days, we will go ahead with it. We don’t know the timeframe but will keep you posted.

Please pray for us. Specifically that if this is not the plan God has for our family, that He will make it clear to us in the coming days. And we are thanking Him that at the very least, He is allowing us complete unity in this decision so far. What a blessing, and it’s not one I take for granted!

 

Placement Call

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sunrise from in front of our vacation house in kapa’a, kauai

We’re back from a beautiful week in Kauai and as soon as I can get my pictures edited, I will post some more here. I’m a little distracted, though, because after a month of waiting, we finally got a placement call!

Some of you know how strange it is to get THE CALL (or THE EMAIL if you’re in an international adoption!) You’re on the list and waiting for your next kiddos and caller ID says it’s your foster family agency calling. Your mind races and you wonder if they’re just tying up loose ends from your last case, asking questions about something totally unrelated, or if this is the placement call you’ve been waiting for. It is. They are calling about a sibling pair. A boy, age 4, and a girl, age 5.

So much has gone into making this moment a reality. You’ve gone through the agency checklist and identified the issues and behaviors you are willing to accept and those you are not. Of course, there are no guarantees, just like with our biological children. The agency cannot know every situation in the child’s history, nor can they predict how they will react in your family or what will happen in their future. But we go through the checklist (fire-starting, harming animals, NO. diabetes, delayed developmental milestones, YES) and tell them the ages, races, and genders we’re open to. For us it is any racial makeup or gender combination (boy-boy, boy-girl, girl-girl) for two kids under 7 or 8 years old. I know it sounds strange to those outside of the foster/adoption community to bring a child into your home without knowing much about them, but isn’t that what we all do when we get pregnant and have biological kids, too?

We are so hoping that we will be able to adopt our next kiddos and not have to go through the loss that we did with Midge. But in foster care, you just never know. On one hand, you should be rooting for parents to get their lives back together and for them to be able to take care of their children. On the other, what the county says is adequate parenting doesn’t always mesh with what we think is adequate parenting. In the end, in foster care, you just have to pray and trust that God will bring you the children He has planned for your family for whatever amount of time He sees fit. We will look at this next placement as a foster placement. The case has not closed and the parental rights have not yet been terminated. The county can make their predictions, but in the end, only God knows what will happen. Luckily, He loves us and these kids even more than we do. They are all His children after all, aren’t they? Even the ones we claim as our own.

So this week we are hoping to meet the kids and the Aunt with whom they’ve been living off and on over the past two years. We need a little bit more information about their visitations and where they are in the court proceedings before moving forward. Once we get a chance to talk to the Aunt and meet the kids (a rarity before taking a foster placement!) things could move forward very quickly! It’s such a strange thing, thinking that you have other kids out there and you wouldn’t even recognize them if you met them in the aisles of Target. Foster Care and Adoption are so strange and emotional…feeling such a strong tie of love to people whom you’ve never even met.

It’s scary and exciting. And hopefully it’s soon! That is, if they haven’t already been placed with someone else since our phone call on Wednesday, which is a distinct possibility. Wouldn’t that be something, to finally get the call, go through the stages of apprehension and fear and make your way towards excitement, only to have the kids placed somewhere else? I wouldn’t be surprised, really.

This is foster care.

Here’s hoping for a beautiful ending.

To all who mourn, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the LORD has planted for his own glory.   -Isaiah 61:3

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just the four of us…in front of our vacation home in kauai! i didn’t really think about the fact that two chairs are left for the forever kiddos God will bring to us…whether this week, this month, this year, or just sometime during this lifetime! who knows when our family will truly be complete!