Welcome Pooh Bear!

JacksonObservant readers will have noticed that there are only 6 children in the banner picture, but the name of the blog is “Seven on Earth.”  That is not because I have been negligent in updating the picture.  It is because little Pooh Bear was not allowed to have his happy smile distributed as bits across the Internet.  You were missing out. 

We were in one of the most difficult periods in the adoption process with little Pooh Bear:  The Waiting Period.  The rest of the phases involve you and your lovely bride doing something (assuming you have a lovely bride).  Not so the waiting period.  There is nothing to do but wait.

All of the paperwork, the background checks, the home study, the planning meetings are all over and done.  The petition has been filled out, duplicated, signed, notarized and filed.  Then you wait.  You know it won’t get done in a couple of weeks so you can relax for the first few months.  After that, every trip to the mail box is a cycle of “today could be the day” followed by “nope, not today.”

Well, today was the day.  The plain, unremarkable manila envelope was in the mail box.  Contained within that envelope was the paper we have waited months for.  Pooh Bear’s adoption decree!  The Lord has been faithful beyond our understanding, but we truly are blessed to overflowing here.  We officially have seven children in our quiver now.  It truly is the closest thing to heaven I can imagine.  It truly is Seven on Earth.


All In

We had a pool when I was growing up. I remember clearly that my siblings used to jump right in, where I would sit on the edge for what seemed like an eternity. I hated the shock of jumping into cold water (and I still do).

Unfortunately, some folks approach parenting, especially foster or adoptive parenting, the same way I approached the pool as a child.  Generally the rationale that I have heard is that they want to see if it is something they can handle first. Or “it depends on the kid” they might get.

This post is really about being All In for Foster and Adoptive parents, but I will cover being All In for all of your children in another post.

For parents, not All In with their Foster or Adoptive children, you might have made statements like, “These are our children, and this is my foster child.”  Or “He/She’s a foster kid.”  Or even, “I have two children and a foster child.”

Do you see a pattern yet?  I can guarantee the children get the message after the first statement.  They get it loud and clear.  There are “your” children, and then there are the “third wheels.”  Your biological children will get the message that the other children are second class.  So will the other children.  You are teaching something harmful and dangerous.

If you are currently doing Foster or Adoptive care please take the following test:

  1. Have you ever found yourself getting frustrated with your foster or adopted child because of the sacrifices your biological are having to make?
  2. Have you ever found yourself reacting more defensively when your biological children were hurt by your foster or adopted children?
  3. Have you ever had second thoughts because the foster or adopted children are more work or have more problems than you expected?

If you answered yes to any of those questions, you are fooling yourself.  You are not “All In.”

Here is another way to look at it.  If you found out that your biological children were suffering from cancer, wouldn’t you do everything in your power to learn about how you could help them and provide every opportunity for them to get well?  Why is that Foster and Adoptive children do not merit that same kind of dedication from you?

The short answer is, they do.  When you sign up for Foster or Adoptive care, you are agreeing to be their parents for them until the Lord sees fit to do something different.  If the children placed in your home by some legal means don’t merit that same kind of dedication as they ones placed in your home by birth, then you need to change your thinking and fast.

Children that come into your home via foster or adoptive placement are going to fight an uphill battle all their lives.  You are making the hill even harder by tripping and pushing them down as soon as they start.  In short, you, the God given source of support, encouragement and protection are in fact undermining discouraging and attacking them in subtle ways that you probably don’t see, but they surely do.  You are slowly poisoning them with your double-minded thinking.  If you think you are saving them from abuse when you are not All In, I have news. You are the new abuserYour family will follow your lead.  You set the tone and culture of the home.  If you are not All In, they won’t be either.

If you want help on how you can get your thinking changed, please post a remark and I will do what I can for you.  If you are just not sure, please do some deep soul-searching soon before you do more damage to the children you are supposed to be protecting.  Your children deserve better.

If you can’t get All In, then I have one piece of advice for you:  Get out.

Bittersweet blessings

We recently learned that Little Z (pending all of the paperwork shuffling and such) will be joining us as a permanent member of the family.  On the one hand, we are all overjoyed to have him stay with us as long as the Lord will allow as a member of the family.  His soon-to-be brothers, sisters and Mother and Father couldn’t be happier to be able to enjoy every moment of his blossoming life.  It is such a joyful and mesmerizing experience to watch little ones grow.  Every day is a new discovery for them and a new discovery for us.  They are learning about this marvelous world God created, and we are learning about the amazing little person that they reveal with each passing experience.  From that perspective it would seem we couldn’t be happier.  Indeed, if that was all that was in play, that is precisely where we would be.

Unfortunately, there is more to it than that.  For each child that joins our family and blesses us with a new ingredient in the grand recipe, there is a mother and father that are missing out.  They are missing out on all of the little “firsts” and discoveries that this child they brought into the world will experience:  The first haircut, the first smile, the first rollover, the first tooth, the first bike ride, etc.  They are also missing out on all of the smiles of adoration and giggles that these precious little ones give out with such glee.  It is true, they are also missing out on the challenges of helping the child find his or her way and deal with all of the complications that those bring (and those can be mind warping and heart wrenching sometimes).  However, there is deep reward in that as well. 

To add to the bitterness of the situation, usually a child joins our family in this manner because the mother and father could not, or would not overcome some unhealthy situation that would have been even more unhealthy for the child.  This could be anything from drug and/or alcohol addiction to mental and/or emotional disorders.  The trouble is that most people end up in that condition because they are having difficulty coping with something in their life currently, or in their life past.  Unfortunately, whatever it was that drove them there has been compounded with the interest that they are not able to raise their own child(ren).  Now the possibility of escaping the bindings that hold them, just became slimmer.

It is because of this perspective that is always before us that we enjoy the Bittersweet Blessings of these little people that bring such joy to our family.  We count every moment a blessing because we remember well, that “but for the Grace of God, there go I.”  Blessings are always good for us, but so is fried liver.  They always make us better people, but they don’t necessarily always taste great going down.

With Family Court who needs reality TV?

It will only take a day in Family Court (well really only a few minutes) for you realize that, for the most part, we live compartmentalized little lives.  We live in neighborhoods with people like us, we work with people like us, and we shop with people like us.  We all do.  That is why I think Reality TV is so popular now.  People are able to watch someone else’s life that is so different from their own, and watch the train wreck in progress.  The next day their coworkers will opine on the injustice of the latest episode and make bold predictions or give confident advice for the next episode.

The problem with all of this, is that we tend to forget that people that have lives radically different from our own, really do exist.  When Beautiful and I first attended Family Court 7 years ago with our first Foster Case, we were shocked.  I mean chin on the floor, close my jaw with my free hand kind of shocked.  We thought Jerry Springer was all staged (and it might be)!  We could not believe that there were real people who lived like this.

Here is a sampler from family court to give you an idea what I am talking about:

  1. The first case involved a 17-year-old in foster care that was desiring to be released.  The complication here is that she was also in foster care with her infant daughter.  Digest that for a bit.
  2. The second case involved a young man who was approximately 12.  There was joy here because they were making plans to reunify him with his mother.  The joy was dampened when I realized that this young man was well acquainted with the courts, and he was not yet a teenager.
  3. The third case involved two children (not present) where the parents were informed of the future dates in which a Termination of Parental Rights hearing would be held.  Essentially, this means that their case plan for reunification has failed and the parents are unwilling to accept that they are not getting their lives together.  The parents displayed no emotion as the dates were discussed and seemed more relieved to simply leave.
  4. The fourth case involved a young mother of an infant (her second son). All parties agreed on the circumstances that cased her baby to come into care.  If that were not humbling enough for the young mother, she also endured a paternity discussion in which one potential father (not her long-time boyfriend) denied he was the father and claimed he was not the only option.

Again, this is just a sample, and these cases are real.  Real people with real problems.  I am convinced, if the people who watch Reality TV spent a day in the Family Court gallery instead, our country, would be a very different place.  Reality TV artificializes people’s problems.  It is time we recognize that real people with real problems, need real solutions that frankly, our government cannot offer.

Foster Care is not Adoption (although it could be)

A recent conversation reminded me of a common misunderstanding related to Foster Care.  Most people are aware that Foster Care is not Adoption.  However, most assume (and children adopted through foster care further reinforce this impression) that Foster Care is just a different way of adopting.  It is not.  It is something much more, and it is vitally important.

There are many reasons that a child may come into Foster Care.  At the core, the child’s care givers are not able to care for them.  Whether those care givers, were parents, grandparents, legal guardians doesn’t matter at this point.  The point of Foster Care is to provide the child a safe, nurturing place to grow and thrive while their care givers inability to care for the child is addressed.  There are a number of parties involved in the process.  The judge(s), social workers, GAL and attorneys all have important roles, but the foster parent is in a unique role.

When Beautiful and I went to the introductory meeting for Foster Care, I was skeptical about a number of things.  When I heard the speaker explain the concept of Shared Parenting in Foster Care, the lights came on for me.  Shared Parenting in Foster Care is a concept that we have found to be widely misunderstood and even where it is understood, it is often undervalued.  Shared Parenting is based on an exchange of information between the birth parents (or care givers) and the foster parents.  It is primarily intended to help the child adapt while in Foster Care, and to enable the foster parents to have the most relevant information possible in caring for the child.  It is also designed to help the birth parents gain a comfort level with “the system” as they experience more cooperative and less combative interaction (see this article for a good summary of the concept).

The other benefit, and this is the one that truly excites me about the approach, is that it is an opportunity for the foster parents to come alongside the birth parents and help them turn their lives around.  Social Services will warn you about getting in over your head, and rightly so.  Most foster parents are not trained to handle all of the things that might have gone sideways in the birth family’s lives.  But, if you are willing to view the birth family as people and demonstrate a genuine interest in them as people, you will find that there are those that will readily receive the support, encouragement and advice that you have to offer.

I can assure you, there is nothing more humbling or heartbreaking than to have your children taken from you because you are not capable of caring for them properly.  Some birth parents will react in anger to that and simply take it out on you, but there are others that will seek to change for the benefit of their children.

When I think back to that first introductory meeting, and reflect on all of the cases we have been blessed to be part of, I realize how naive I was.  The stakes are far higher than I realized, and the possibility for impact is much deeper.  In Foster Care you have the ability to be in a place to help someone make life changing steps in the right direction.  How many times do we get an opportunity to come alongside someone that is truly motivated to change their lives?

There are many ways we can invest ourselves in this life.  Very few of those will stack up in value to this.

Foster Care A to Z

It is hard to give a complete and accurate picture of Foster Care even after you have done it for over seven years. However, we recently had an experience that does a fairly good job of capturing part of it.

Three weeks ago we received a called for ‘A’. A sweet little baby of 4 weeks. He was positive for exposure to a controlled substance (mom was “using” while pregnant). Since mom was living with dad at the time, he could not go home with either. Consequently, he was placed with us. ‘A’ was a sweet young man and the entire family adored him, but he was also extremely “high maintenance.” The particular drug that mom was using has a history of altering young brains to the point where they are constantly agitated. That was ‘A’ to a T. We all poured our hearts and best efforts into him and he was thriving. Five days after ‘A’ arrived, we attended court. Within minutes we learned that he was being placed with one set of grandparents (the others had two of mom’s other children already). They were thrilled. We were heartbroken. Even so, we understand that our role is to love the children as long as we have them. God only knows how long that will be for any of our children.

Back to ‘A’. One of the things we really like about the system here in NC and one of the primary reasons we decided to help is the concept of Shared Parenting. We love the concept of helping the biological families learn how to care for their children so that they can be reunified. Success rates are low (even in our family, 5 of the 6 children we have fostered were all adoptable because of failed plans).

Because we love the concept of Shared Parenting, we were resigned to the Lord’s will for ‘A’ and started preparing for the transition to fully support the birth family with everything we learned and all that we acquired for little ‘A’. Each family member grieved his loss in their own way. Beautiful struggled to get through the packing of his belongings. I struggled with the notice we would send to our wonderfully supportive church body and family. The children struggled with understanding how this all worked. Bright Eyes asked about him for days after he was gone. She understood he went to grandparents, what she wanted to know is why she didn’t get to go, and when he was coming back. Thunder, the big cuddly bear, no longer had his routine of getting up first to hold him. He has slept in every day since the day he left.

We will likely never know how much the grandparents absorbed in those heady moments in the conference room as they received their new grandson. We do know that several weeks removed from the meeting, they will fully understand how much work he is, regardless if they understand why, or how to really help him. We continue to pray for ‘A’ and there will always be a place in our hearts for him.

It took a little while for life to return to “normal” as we caught up with the little things we neglected with a new little one in the house. We were relieved to sleep again, and we were all able to get some projects accomplished.  All of us would have traded our “normal” in a heartbeat if it meant that ‘A’ would return, but that was not to be.  A week after normal finally settled in, we received the call for ‘Z’.

The story of ‘Z’ is as similar to ‘A’ as it is different. He too was exposed to controlled substances in utero and was born positive. However, the substance that mom abused does not affect the child in the same way. He will likely be exactly like P.C. when he is older and will have his own set of challenges, but for now, he is as peaceful and content as what you imagine Christ in the manger to be. Once again, we are pouring ourselves into him with everything we have, because it is what our Lord has called us to do.

We have court on Thursday and we may learn that once again, the little bundle of joy was just passing through, but we may also learn that mom has decided to give him up. Either way, our job and our response will be the same. He will be loved and treated like he is part of the family until the day that he leaves (whether that is a few weeks, a few months or  when his time has come to enter glory with a head full of gray hair – assuming he has hair then). That is what we are called to do and we love every minute of it. I will take the sleepless nights, the broken hearts and frustrations of working with a system that sometimes cannot bend itself to help the little ones. I will take all of it and rejoice because I know that if we can show Christ’s love to one little one, or one parent, even in the tiniest little glimmer, then we have accomplished something eternal.

That is Foster Care A to Z. There is nothing like it.

Parenting – Leaving your fingerprint in eternity

Parenting is one of the most unique experiences of being human.  There are numerous metaphors that we can apply to help us understand it or relate to it at a deeper level.  However, at some point, they all fail.

Almost everyone would connect with the concept that our children bear a physical expression of the love of the parents.  That is because it is easy to see that little Johnny has her eyes and his nose.  It is my opinion that God made it that way to draw our attention to something deeper that we are normally to dense to notice.  Through parenting, we are leaving part of ourselves behind in eternity.  Not this tent of a body that we drag around, but the entire being.

It is true that 2 members of my pack do carry reflections of that 3 mm of skin derived from Beautiful and I, but they are all so much more than that.  To reduce any of them to their genetics is to rob them of the true value of their being.  I believe we are Trinitarian and as such parenting is a continuation of the creation process.  It changes phases throughout the years, but the process does not end until I draw that last breath and go home to glory with our Lord Jesus Christ.

Parenting is that glorious process of working the fertile soil that God has placed before you that a great harvest may be yielded.  That harvest is the children in your life, adopted, fostered or otherwise, honoring the Lord with their lives.

All of creation will be redone and only God’s Word and people will remain.  Through parenting we are affecting eternity. Not only the eternity of our children, but the eternity of the lives that will be touched by them and then by those they touch, and so it goes.  The ripple effect of parenting is profound and sublime.  It truly is leaving a fingerprint in eternity.