one year

I can’t believe it’s been a whole year. But in some ways it’s like my brain knows it. A few weeks back an Amber Alert went off and the piercing sound almost crippled me. It was like all the suppressed memories from that week flooded to the surface in a moment. I felt like I was reliving those 3 days, almost for the first time. When an extreme tragedy takes place it feels like your life is now divided into two chapters, like a before and after- nothing will ever quite be the same. You are numb for so long initially, it’s almost like a protection because you could never handle it all right away- it would take you out. I know my mind read those reports, I saw the autopsy and attended the memorial service but it was mostly done on autopilot. God gifted us with a clarity in the moments it was necessary to make decisions and I believe the Holy Spirit carried us through the rest. The honest truth is when we really stop and think about all we walked through, it leaves us breathless. It is a deep ache and there is a righteous anger. It is incredibly hard to swallow on every level and I think it always will be, to some degree. There are so many things nobody knows, they don’t need to know. But we lived this, and it’s multifaceted and layered. We are slowly opening up to feel it. To process and own the reality.

A lot of this year felt like a blur. It was so public with articles and news constantly pumping out the latest updates and stories. It almost did feel like we were reading about someone else’s life sometimes, or maybe I was just wishing we were. We jumped headlong into our adoption process and that took every ounce of strength I had left. It was a new fight- ready or not. It felt like the nitty-gritty, how-legit-is-your-faith marathon on the heels of deep sorrow. But God was there, giving us pieces of hope to hold onto each week. You can know things in your head about life, grief, God. But it’s a whole different thing to practice what you preach-to live out what you say you believe. Did I really trust the Lord and believe He would equip me to walk forward into more hard? After such extreme grief there was a choice, to keep loving and give an obedient yes. No matter the cost. There was a deep, resounding yes in my spirit- against all odds- to give this all we had. I’ve never been more sure of anything in my life really. When you love you always risk suffering, but healing is found there. In the sacrifice, in the laying your life down, you find abundant life.

On this year anniversary I initially felt disappointed that I am not where I hoped I would be- which is such a silly thing to say. I put expectations up and was surprised that I in fact feel worse after a year. But that’s because I am feeling. And I want to continue to feel and to love, to give my life away for what matters. I want to retrace this year and all I’ve learned about this dance of grief and hope. God has been so present and faithful.

Tribute to J

From the time I was very young, I always wanted a son. I remember having a baby doll I named John and thinking there was some kind of magic between mothers and sons. When we did get pregnant I was actually quite surprised to find out I was having a girl! 

A couple months after Eleanor was born we took our first long term foster placement. That was you, J. The worker told me you were the cutest baby boy they had ever seen. And you were, but we could see the trauma and pain under your smile right away. I wanted you to love me as much as I loved you, but you screamed and resisted the affection. I had never seen an angry baby before or even knew it was possible to have as many feelings as you did in that tiny body. You were sick so we checked off every box and made every appointment to get you healthy. But we couldn’t heal your soul, we didn’t know all your history or the wounds you carried far too young to understand. You wanted your Mom and Dad and we were just strangers. Sam did such a good job at loving you, he did everything in his power for you to know you were safe and taken care of. Honestly you scared me and I didn’t understand you yet. I was a brand new Mama with two babies and I was just overwhelmed. 

But we knew you needed us. We knew you were supposed to be here. So we held you and kept showing up. I can laugh now at how many times you projectile puked all over me at 5am. You liked when I wore you in the carrier so we took lots of early morning walks just learning each other. We treated you like our own son and you were accepted as just that by our community of family and friends that fell in love with you so very quickly. You charmed strangers on the street with your infectious smile. 

Without me even realizing it time was passing and all of our walls were coming down, trust was being built. You started to see me as your Mom, a safe place. I was never sure if I was doing a good job, but I begged God for strength to love you well. I prayed over you each night and sang songs and scriptures over your sleeping body. I prayed for your family and your future and my heart softened to see it all as a gift, to be part of another’s story in such a deep, transforming way. I messed up so many times, but God kept pouring out grace on my tired weak self.

Hearing your first words, seeing you crawl and walk and give hugs and kisses was such a gift and a celebration. None of it came easily and it was like waves of healing seeing you thrive. You were so full of energy and passion as a toddler. You would raise your eyebrows and point and gasp when you saw something you were excited about. You loved to clap and raise your hands when any music came on. Your most favorite things were dinosaurs, splashing in water, Sam, balloons and our cat, Agnes- I’m with you on all those dude. I can hear your amazing laugh all the time in my head. Eleanor still loves watching the videos of you two just baby babbling back and forth and running around chasing each other, my little unconventional twins. 

God taught me so much about His love for His kids through you. The love that pursues and chases us even when we resist and it’s not reciprocated. The love that leans into the hard and painful and remains faithful in its commitment. He chooses us over and over and His love changes us when we encounter it.

I’m still heartbroken that I had to say goodbye to you twice, that your story ended so differently than I thought it would. You would be turning 3 years old today. But I know it’s not the end, you are now living in the constant presence of that love.  Your name means “to flow down” and references the Jordan River in the Bible. Your short life is having a ripple effect spreading far and wide, flowing down and touching so many hearts. I have countless letters and emails from people who loved you and were impacted by your story, which is God’s story. I want to try to see through my pain and live unoffended by God, worshipping him through the mountains and valleys. I want to remember what a privilege it is to call you my first son. We love you always Jordan. Can’t wait to see you again.

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Easter thoughts

Easter feels hard this year, I’m wrestling with so many feelings. I think the main being anger if I’m honest. Last year at this time I was in a good relationship with Jordan’s birth mom, I invited her to church for Easter Sunday and she said yes, until I was on my way and she changed her mind. It’s hard not to wonder if things would’ve been different if she came.

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I had so many expectations of how this would all go, I wanted a beautiful reunification story. I wanted the cycle to be broken and the boy I deeply loved to always have that safety and security, knowing a Mother’s love. I wanted to stay in their lives and partner with a family being restored by God. I wanted my daughter to always know her “brother” and spend birthdays and play dates together. But instead she asks me “hey Mom can Jordan come over today?” And I choke back hot tears and have no idea what to say. How to explain this mind blowing tragedy that befell us. She is too young for this. I think I am too.

I imagined our foster journey so differently - caring for many children, maybe adopting one or two. Advocating for the voiceless and reunifying others with their parents. I started this off passionate and fiery, I wanted to partner with God and pour my life out for the kids that needed us. Now we aren’t quite sure where we stand, how we can keep fighting for this cause we know is so worth it, but has worn us down to the bone. I’m confident we are not finished, but it’s a struggle not to become jaded. Our story is a tough one, and I wrestle with thoughts everyday of how I’m going to explain it to my precious girls. We were abruptly thrown into the middle of a storm, came up for air for a quick second and then entered another, fighting to adopt baby sis. I’m one hundred percent sure it’s where we are supposed to be, but man, I am tired.

The grief seems to compound some days and I’m sifting through the layers as life moves swiftly on. I know God is good and faithful. He has never left us. Not once.

Sometimes he allows us to sit in the mourning, Jesus sat in the garden the night of his betrayal and asked if there was any way the cup be taken from him. He felt the full weight and heaviness that night. He came and walked in our humanity and was a man “acquainted with grief”. I don’t think my strong emotions surprise him, he gives permission for us to be in that place. He died so that we could forever have that nearness of the Father. I’m so thankful for that, I don’t think we would have made it through this season with out the “peace that passes understanding” the bible speaks of. I miss Jordan more than words can say right now, and I wish he was with us. But he is celebrating in heaven, as safe and as joyful as he could possibly be.

This Easter, I’m humbled even more so by the death and sacrifice of Jesus. God willingly gave his son, a depth of pain I’m not even close to! He went through gut-wrenching pain so that we could be free and have life with him forever. We can now grieve in this life but with HOPE. My pastor recently preached a message about being in hard seasons and feeling like God is silent. He referenced the Saturday before the resurrection, Jesus had been crucified and everyone sat in their sorrow. They had so many questions and deep grief and they didn’t know the end of the story...that Sunday was coming! We all have those seasons that feel like “saturdays”, the trials and storms that this fallen world come with. But it’s not the end. Yes I’m hurting and questioning and grieving, but I’m also rejoicing because I know the REDEEMER.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a LIVING HOPE through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead
— 1 Peter 1:3





Marked

It’s hard to put into words what the last two months have been like for us. It was a horror we never, ever imagined. The morning after Jordan was found, I woke up to News vans outside of my house. Voicemails were being left and I had 400 friend requests on social media. The reporters were wanting a story from the Foster parents. More details had come to light, that he had only just reunified with his birth parents a couple months before. Most of his life was lived here and people wanted to know more. I never saw that part coming, really. I guess I should have but there was no time to. My blog and photos from facebook were being shared everywhere and we were a pretty hot topic across social media and eventually National News. It felt like I became famous for something nobody would ever wish to be famous for, on the worst week of my life. Our grieving and mourning time was hijacked, and we were scrambling to figure out how to navigate this. We are both so not “spotlight” people, so this was rather terrifying. Thankfully we have the most amazing church family and community and they came to our side in an instant. I disabled social media for the time and we had our lawyer friend give us some advice on how to handle everything being so public. It was all way too much too soon, but it put us in action mode. We decided to make one, short statement to the media, addressing what had happened. The whole thing felt surreal, I knew I wouldn’t be able to be of any use so Sam took the speaking part and I stood by his side crying on TV for all to see. I didn’t really mind, it was my hearts desire to speak the truth and not let the media make up their own story and twist things if we could help it. I also wanted to offer some photos and let people catch a glimpse of who Jordan really was and what the majority of his life was truly like. It broke my heart to see these horrible pictures of him circulating online. You could see the pain. They just weren’t him, the boy we raised full of big personality and an infectious grin.

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The rest of the week was a blur of painful news articles, each one seemed to sting more than the last. The ways he was failed by everyone as soon as he left our care. Thoughts flooded my mind. Did I not advocate hard enough? What could I have done to stop this? Every fear I had after he had left was true. Thoughts were interrupted as friends came and went, helping prep for a memorial service our church held in his honor. Both our Moms flew in to help which was a huge gift, especially to our daughter. Thankfully she is too young to understand, but smart enough to know something was off. I received a crazy amount of text messages, phone calls, letters, emails and porch drop-offs. Our home looked like a flower shop, which was the only thing that brought a smile to my face in those first few days. The outpouring of love, food and gifts blew my mind. Everyone was SO incredibly kind to us and we are still very humbled by that. I started to journal a list of my favorite stories from those first few weeks because so many beautiful things happened and I never want to forget the way we saw the Lord move even in the darkest days. We could feel the tangible presence of God holding us and even though our hearts felt shattered, we were not alone.

By the second week I started to feel weak and exhausted, my whole body hurt. We hadn’t really been able to be still and just process the tragedy that had just occurred. We took a break from our phones and tried to have some quiet family time. Sam’s work was so gracious to give him time away. Things just kept piling up. We were being asked to be interviewed by so many different people all over the place. I thought the statement would make most of that go away, but it seemed to just add to everyone’s curiosity. On top of that, so much of the case and broken system were being put on display, it seemed to have the world fired up along with us. Although I appreciated support in certain areas, it began to feel like an immense burden on top of my grief. So many foster families seemed to think we had some sort of ‘golden key’ to fixing Foster care and we were given this voice, whether we wanted it or not. People from the investigation wanted to speak with us, as well as higher-ups in the system and State reps. It was obvious changes needed to be made and maybe we could help. It felt like the biggest privilege and also the biggest burden. This problem is so incredibly multi-faceted, I can’t even begin to explain. Everyone seems to have an opinion and become an expert at pointing fingers, but it’s just not helpful or productive. Some nights I wanted to scream, because I felt like I didn’t even care anymore. I wanted to crawl under a rock, not rise up for justice. My baby was just murdered and nothing will reverse that, it was a sickening reality.

After some time passed however, it was hard to ignore all that God was doing. We live in a broken, sinful world and I don’t blame God, nor do I think He caused it, but I do believe he is the great Redeemer, the Healer. I’m still processing a lot, but I can recognize the beauty in the midst of pain. Jordan’s death seemed to have a ripple effect I never expected. In fact, I expected the far opposite. I remember thinking ‘nobody will ever want to foster or hear my heart after they see this story’. But to my surprise we had the biggest Orientation that same weekend after his service, and more sign-ups for Guardian ad litem and foster parents they’ve seen in a very long time. People were rising up asking what they could do and how to get involved. I’ve sobbed as I received so many letters expressing how our story has changed them and made them want to make a difference as well. I’ve been able to share the Lord with hurting people in ways I would have never guessed. There are many days I don’t want any type of platform, but I’m trying to use this moment the best I can, even if we are still in the middle of trial and hurt.

The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it
— John 1:5

We have been marked, this is our story now whether we want it or not. It’s been freeing for me to know God can handle all of my raw and ugly emotions. He lets me weep and have waves of righteous anger, but he doesn’t want me to stay there. Grief is a journey, but we know the Healer. He will take us by the hand and lead us forward, eyes puffy and knees shaking. I’m praying for the strength to speak truth where it is needed and be obedient to the places He is calling us to next. I know we are not done.

amber alert

I’m convinced I will never be able to hear another Amber Alert without cringing. I can remember the moment so vividly. It was Sunday morning and I was still in pajamas, sipping coffee and just looking at pictures of my friends’ new baby on Instagram. The alert popped up on my phone screen and I read it, “Jordan Belliveau B/M 2yo”. My stomach tightened as my eyes re-read the details 5 more times and I gasped louder than I meant to. I’ll never forget the way my husband came rushing over and looked at me. I couldn’t even speak, I just handed him my phone with uncontrollable tears streaming. I kept shaking my head No, this can’t be my baby. I feel like in that moment I already knew he was gone.

Sam was running late to lead worship at church and was hugging me and asking me what I wanted to do. Did I need someone to come be with me? Should he stay home? I was in a total fog. I told him I would drop off our daughter at church with friends in the nursery so I could get myself together and just be alone. I wanted to go talk to the Police officers on the case, it was the only logical thing I could think of. My mind was racing and my hands were shaking as I was trying to text out emergency prayer requests to our people and call the investigator. I couldn’t stop pacing as the reality set in. Nobody seemed to care about speaking with me or give me any kind of information. After all I’m nobody, I just raised him his entire life. I have never felt so helpless and panicked. I scoured the news, which was not hard because this story was everywhere and fast. The mother was claiming he was kidnapped and there was a big, long story but the whole thing just seemed off. I knew most, if not all of it was a lie. But that didn’t really matter, if he was still alive somewhere.

The next two days were the longest of my life. We had people praying from all over the world, that he would be found safe and sound and truth would be revealed. I couldn’t eat or sleep, the pain was too much and the unknowns were absolutely terrifying. I felt like I should be out searching with the local groups, but I think I just knew deep down that we weren’t going to find out anything remotely good. My Mother in law offered to fly out from California the following day. We took her up on it, not knowing at the time how desperately we needed that. Or maybe we did know. All I could seem to pray was “oh Jesus help” as the tears came burning down. I tried to keep myself together for other people and I tried to take hold of the hope they seemed to have for me. I knew my family needed me to be ok, but everything felt so not ok. New developments seemed to be released every couple hours and the story continued to change and grow. Everyone started to agree that it seemed the Mother had something to do with it, that her story was made up. They had dogs searching and dive teams in all the nearby waterways, I had to put my phone down before I went insane. But I knew I wouldn’t get updates unless I looked on Facebook and local news, it was the only time I questioned not having cable. Every detail hurt deeply, but I felt like I had to know. And then on the third day as we sat down for dinner, I got a call from two different friends confirming our worst nightmare. He had been found, dead. His Mother had confessed and was arrested for first-degree murder.

I will admit in those first moments the primary emotion was anger and shock. I was mad that other people knew my boy was gone before I did. It wasn’t fair. My heart didn’t want to believe it, maybe they are wrong, maybe it’s not him. Sam was in the other room with our daughter feeding her, but he knew. I didn’t want to face him, but I took a deep breath and my heart shattered as I watched him fall apart. Somehow God gave me strength in that moment to take care of business, I quickly packed a bag for our girl so that Sam could take her to stay with a friend for the night, luckily only a few minutes away. We just couldn’t lose it in front of our almost-two year old. I made Sam promise me he could drive safely and begged God to protect them as they drove away. I felt like I was going to throw up or faint. Cars of our dear friends were pulling up to my house and it hit me so hard that this was actually real. I can barely remember that next hour, it was full of tears and lament, prayers and hugs. Sam came back and we were left to grieve together, it was the deepest sorrow I have ever experienced. We knew our lives would never be the same after that night.

You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book
— Psalm 56:8 NLT

Dreams

Our last goodbye was both painful and freeing. We are adjusting to being a family of three again, almost for the first time really. It's so unnatural to go from more kids to less, typically people add children and this just felt odd! The noise and stress level have been cut to a third, which is so nice but also amplifies the loss at times. I've cried at random moments- seeing dinosaur pajamas, having a neighbor ask where my boy is, or hearing a nursery rhyme song that drove me crazy for months. It's been a mixed bag of emotions, but overall there's been a healthy detaching that needed to happen and a lot of sweetness. It has been wonderful to have one on one time with my girl and be able to bond and have fun together. Family outings are simpler, as are most things going from two toddlers to one! We wanted to take the summer to see family back home in California and just breathe and heal. My hubby turned 30 and we had out first kid-free overnight trip which was such a blast!! And we also just celebrated 6 years of marriage! (Woo-hoo!). I adore that man.

The big question of course is "so are you guys going to foster again??". I will admit when I was asked that the day after he left I felt like saying "umm, can I have a hot minute to take a breath!?" But I know everyone means well and they are just curious, which is totally fine with me. The answer was always yes, it was more of a when thing. Sam and I agreed to take a few months off to have a break and just talk and pray about what was next for us and I think that was a wise decision. Part of me could've just jumped immediately back in, because the need is SO great right now and my heart just aches for these kids, but you also have to listen to the Lord and take care of yourselves before you can pour out. And sometimes your husband is the voice of reason and that's a good thing. It's so important to keep your marriage healthy and be united in these big decisions. So with that being said, we enjoyed a slower pace and had some raw and honest conversations together and with God. I had so many little things spinning in my brain. Things like us being a military family and we may have to relocate in a year or two. Or what if I get pregnant? We really want to be, but the timing was rather humorous last go around. My sister is having my niece soon and I want to travel home and see family, how am I going to work that out? Do I even have babysitters or support for all the doctor appointments, court dates ect?? Maybe I should just focus on Eleanor and trying to have another baby biologically...people are going to think we're crazy wanting to do this again. Clearly I could quickly come up with a pretty long list of reasons why we shouldn't do it. But then I also had just as many thoughts from the other side, the big one being we feel so called to this ministry. And though it was hard and painful, it was so worth it the last time, and I know it would be worth it again. Our time in Florida may be limited and we have a chance to serve and love right here and now. (Not to mention Junie is obsessed with babies...and that may actually be an understatement.)  

I actually was praying one day before our California trip and told God, I wanted Him to make this obvious to me and give me such a strong peace if we were going to jump back in. I was feeling a little hesitant and fearful. So I asked for a dream or a sign, not to sound like I'm in charge or bargaining with God, but I had recently read that story in the Bible about Gideon. In short, Gideon wants to be 100% sure God is speaking to him about going to battle and fighting the Midianites so he puts out a fleece of wool and says "if this is really you, the fleece will have dew on it in the morning but the ground will be dry". It happened exactly that way the next day, but he goes even further for confirmation and basically says "ok, God don't be mad at me...but could you do the opposite this time and have the fleece be dry and the ground be wet??" And you know what? God did that for him! I love that story and it almost made me laugh out loud, because aren't we so like that in our humanity? We want to be so sure about everything before we go for it. God doesn't always work that way, but sometimes He allows us to ask because we are His kids and I really like that. So after my Gideon moment in prayer, what do you know but I have a dream a few nights later about foster care. I'm not a dreamer normally, I always have a hard time remembering them and I'm not even sure I do dream often. But it was there and it was vivid, and I could recount all the details and it freaked me out. Because I wasn't actually expecting to get one! And for a second I wasn't even sure I wanted God to tell me to go for it so quickly. Who is actually ready for fostering?! It's like volunteering to intentionally walk into a storm, so naturally there's some hesitation, especially if it's not your first rodeo and you have an idea of what's coming. But sure enough I had a few more dreams in the weeks following, and I had to throw my hands up in surrender. Because His plans are ALWAYS better. Scarier maybe, but better. And I know that I can trust Him deep within my soul. I think we are equally excited and terrified, and that's ok! Let the adventure begin...

But God doesn’t call us to be comfortable. He calls us to trust Him so completely that we are unafraid to put ourselves in situations where we are in trouble if He doesn’t come through.
— Francis Chan

bittersweet

We are now days away from our final goodbye. I feel like I'm currently in a bit of denial. If I could count the number of times I've been told he is leaving us in the past 16 months only to see it change or fall through, it would be a big number. People keep asking me how I'm doing emotionally through this journey and I feel like the answer is complicated. In a way I feel ready, the delays have only made the pain prolonged and it hasn't felt very fair to anyone to keep doing what we are doing when the judge has reached the decision. In the last month or two I've had to do some serious advocating, and push back on decisions that I knew were not in his best interest. I often felt very alone and angry, how do you fight a system that is so fundamentally broken? There were so many frustrations that occurred over a short amount of time that it had taken my eyes off of the fact that he was leaving, I felt like I didn't even have time to be sad! We were in this limbo period that seemed like it may just go on forever and I was so weary! I felt like I was giving 110% with no end in sight and I knew I couldn't keep this pace. But eventually, we got some answers and it was like a wave of relief...accompanied by some shock. He was going much quicker than we thought and the transition plan had again changed. My mind quickly wandered to different thoughts...I thought of my daughter, who has only known her "brother" and our daily routine together, how will she handle this? I realized a few of my family members never even got a chance to meet him. Is he going to think we abandoned him? Will he even remember me? How weird is it going to feel only having one child again? Should I make a memory book or send him with gifts when he leaves? How do other foster families handle this part? This is our first reunification, our first goodbye. I want to just stop all the swirling thoughts and forget what is right around the corner. I want to eat large squares of good chocolate and laugh at a funny show like The Office, sounds like good coping right? 

But here is the thing. I have an unshakable peace from God, I know He is faithful and He sees us, all of us. Overall I am thankful. Yes, I know I will be so emotional and we will all grieve in our own time. I will not sugarcoat how hard this time will be, its a huge transition. But the good really does outweigh the hard, and deep down I KNOW that. I'm reading the Reframing Foster Care book by Jason Johnson and it has me in tears daily. The parallels he draws between this ministry and the gospel is enough for me to want to be a part of this for a long time. It is so humbling! My friend said recently that often our season of wait is God's season of work. That really helped me hang on in the last few weeks. During all the waiting time, I developed a closer relationship with his mom. God restored that in a beautiful way that I would have never guessed. We text each other regularly now and send photos. We share this child during the week and it has the potential to be awkward, but instead there has been a lot of love and coming together. And I even got to hear the words my heart needed more than anything else...that she would like to stay in touch after he goes back to her! She recognized the bond we have and she actually thanked me and told me I was a wonderful mother. If that isn't answered prayer and the kindness of God I don't know what is! I have cried so many happy tears seeing her succeed and love her son. The whole thing is bittersweet and that is ok. There are things that can still cause concern and of course I don't fully know if she is ready to be a Mom, this process is messy and some days I'm so fearful! But I have to give that to the Lord. We all had to learn how to parent in the beginning and we are never done learning. If we stay humble and teachable God can work with that. I'm comforted knowing she loves him and has fought so hard to get him back. We always want children to be with their parents whenever possible! So this is a good thing, even if it may not feel good. God gives us these little glimpses into His redemptive work and we get to be His hands and feet if we are willing. We may not ever see the whole picture or get the full story until eternity, but we can know He is the one weaving it together. SO good and SO hard.

In the end, our call in foster care is to fully love these kids while we have them and to accept the costs we may incur as worth it in light of the gain they stand to receive. We choose the pain of a potentially great loss if it means a child has received the gain of an infinitely great love. This is what Jesus has done for us...
— Jason Johnson- Reframing Foster Care

Transition

It's been a few months now, of my head knowing something and trying to make my heart follow. Of constantly explaining our status to other people and verbalizing the good, the things I know are true, but then struggling to believe them myself. The comments of "oh I could never do that, I could never give a child back" can sting during times like this. Because I often do feel the exact same way! How can I give this boy back who I have raised for over a year? The boy that calls me "Mama" and has only really known our family. I know every tiny detail about him, what calms him down, makes him laugh...the long list of quirky things us Moms just know because we spend every waking hour with our kids and love them more than anyone else. How can I just stop this role of protector, advocator, nurturer and trust that he's going to be ok? What if I never get to see him again? How can we go from being a family of four, to not being that? Lately when I think about the future, it has a bit of a question mark. It's a strange thing to have your number of children be a fluid concept, but that's the norm of a foster family. It is ridiculously hard and emotional, no matter how strong of a person you are. 

As a foster parent you know your role is most likely temporary. And you have to keep reminding yourself that God is sovereign and knows what is best for these kids. They are HIS. I don't want to let my fear and possible heartbreak be my reason not to take part in this. It's just too important of a ministry! And the beauty outweighs the hard. I've been trying to get past the why's and just ask God what He is doing and what my role is. How can I continue to love and pour into this child while he's still in my home? What prayers or scriptures can I speak over him? How can I build relationship and show love to his biological family? Granted, those are not necessarily things I FEEL like doing, but it gives purpose to this pain and shifts the perspective for me to see God working.

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Right now things feel chaotic, there are so many visits and back and forth for him and he doesn't handle it well. There isn't an end in sight just yet so it just feels like this long marathon where they keep adding an extra mile when you think you see the finish line. I'm doing a lot of the driving and let me just say two toddlers in Florida traffic is anything but fun! I'm battling my own emotions and constantly dealing with the tension of wanting his birth mom to succeed and have this beautiful redemption story of breaking the cycle and getting her boy back. But then some days selfishly wishing she would fail or make a mistake so we might get to keep him and know he's safe forever. My mind can start spinning with thoughts like "we've done all the hard work, and now she just gets to waltz in and reap the benefits!" or "we're so much more stable and he already thinks I'm his Mom, this isn't fair". And the reality is, it isn't fair. Fostering is HARD. I could sit up on a pedestal and judge his parents all day long, but it's not my place. They are his birth parents and they are broken people just like us. A friend of ours asked my husband the other day how he could specifically pray for him during this time. His response hit me hard because it was simple but so wise, he said "pray that I would stop being the judge". 

 I have a lot of interaction with his Mom these days and it started off very awkward. I would try to make small talk and she would give me one word answers. I don't really blame her, I'm sure it's intimidating to face the "other mom" who has basically raised your child. I can only imagine the feelings of resentment or inadequacy that have been harboring, where she can only see me as the enemy. But I wanted to try my hardest to show her we are both on the same team. I was getting discouraged about it and I felt God tell me to invite her to church with us on Easter. My first thought was "oh heck no!", but I finally did it, expecting a quick decline and you know what?...she said yes! I was floored, and also embarrassed about how many times I miss those promptings from the Lord because of my own pride or fear. Long story short, she didn't actually make it that day, but it was a huge turning point for us. I continued to express our love for her son and her family, and always try to emphasize that we want them to be together and we are excited for her progress. She is slowly softening towards me and we've had some really good conversations lately, which is total answered prayer! If I could see her come to know Jesus, that would be the greatest gift I could imagine. But even if I don't see that happening now, it's worth it for me to sow these seeds and let God handle the growth. 

It is such a privilege that we get to forever be a part of his journey and him ours. I may never understand certain aspects of our case, or fully agree with some of the decisions made, but I know that we worked hard to love and protect him while he was with us and be his voice whenever we could. Many days ended in tears and frustration, but God was so faithful and He didn't let us quit, even when we wanted to, and I'm so glad.

‘Your success as a foster parent isn’t measured by your capacity to produce some certain set of outcomes, it’s determined by your willingness to be faithful along the way and to trust that in the beauty, struggle, joy and heartache of it all the journey is worth it, that Jesus is beautiful-and that so is what you’re doing for these kids
— Jason Johnson

Court days

I have only been to court a handful of times in my foster parent journey, but it's enough for me to say I hate it. I'm hoping one day I will go there for an adoption and that will be a taste of sweet after experiencing all the bitterness. But I know even in adoption, there is loss. Hanging out at the courthouse just brings it all right in front of your face- the loss, the pain, the brokenness. I heard a saying once "hurt people, hurt people" and that immediately came to mind the first time I was there. Often in foster care there are cycles, generational sin that continues down the family line unless someone breaks that pattern. There was such a tangible sadness in so many peopIe's eyes and just an overall somber mood. I made eye contact with a young mom, her sunken body and scabbed face demonstrated her drug choice. She was yelling at a case worker and causing a scene, the first of many I witnessed that day. It's such a large, sterile building, with echoing hallways and a mixed bag of people. Normally I like people watching, but not here. Ive decided it's best to just pray while I wait my turn. Our court dates seem to be more frequent now that our foster son has been in the system over a year. I've been wondering if the 'I'm gonna puke' feeling goes away after you've been coming here long enough. 

I always tell people court tends to be surprising. You go in thinking you are up to speed and kind of know what's coming with your case, but it ends up turning a different direction and some random piece of information always seems to come out of the woodwork. It's best to go into it with zero expectations, which of course is nearly impossible as a Mama bear who is fighting for these kids without a voice. Emotions are high as they should be when you love and care for someone so deeply. The trick is keeping those emotions in check and surrendering your plans and scenarios to the Lord, who is sovereign and has a plan that may look very different than yours. Court makes you feel completely out of control! You would think the foster parents would have more of a say, or be asked for more input, but in my experience that's not the case. My husband handles these things far better than I do, I tend to bite my lip and do a lot of head shaking, sweating and heavy sighing while I listen to things unfold. 

This past hearing almost sent me over the edge. I realize I'm a newbie and I probably sound overly dramatic to the seasoned foster families who have been through all the drama time and time again, but I always want to be honest here.

 I can't share as much detail as I wish I could, but basically there had been such little progress and effort being made on the parent's part, that we were at the point of discussing terminating rights and going the adoption route instead. We had been asked a few times if it came to that, were we willing to adopt. That was not an easy decision for me, I wrestled with it for a number of reasons, but came to the conclusion that we absolutely would if his parents weren't able to get him back. The whole team seemed to be prepping for that call to be made as we entered the courtroom that day, but I quickly realized the attorneys and judge were going the opposite way. There were all these bits of information surfacing and I wasn't sure any of it was even true, but lets just say it had the whole room in shock. Adoption was off the table, and we were headed quickly toward reunifying with his Mom. I felt like I couldn't hear anything after that, I was trying to hold it together but my hot tears were streaming and I just kept looking at Sam with my mouth open like "what is happening??" Once again the roller coaster analogy is relevant! We walked out in a fog and tried to get a better idea of the madness from our Case worker, but things still made little sense. I felt angry and protective, but tried my best to be polite and just ask for some clarification. In the end she basically said anything can still happen, but this is where we are headed as of now and we have court again in a month. 

I don't want anyone to get the wrong idea, I'm aware the goal of fostering is to reunify families. I'm praying I can get to a place of being supportive and excited for her, it's just the way things unfolded and what is being considered progress is hard to swallow. I've raised this baby, he calls me Mama, and I want him to do more than survive. I don't want to feel like we are sweeping things under the rug or rushing the process because we need to close a case and make a deadline. This is his future we are talking about and I will be his voice wherever needed. I feel like it's ridiculously hard for me to come out of the mindset of 'we are adopting this child, he's going to be in our family forever' to 'oh never mind, he's leaving in a month and you don't have a say'. I felt like I was punched in the stomach. My head knew this is what fostering was like, but my heart was getting a real workout and I didn't feel ready. Deep down I knew I could get on board for whatever God had in store, I just needed some processing time. And thai food!! Our court day tradition is getting takeout and some ice cream, it just makes sense. 

I held my babies close that night and tried to pray for my own heart, to not get in the way of God's plan for them. I know the Lord is okay with my tears and confusion. This is hard stuff. Later that week I read this verse and used it as a lock screen so I remember that we serve a God who loves to bring beauty from ashes and heal and restore what is broken.

Oh Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord is steadfast love, and with Him is great power to redeem.
— Psalm 130:7

Joy

It's officially January 1st, 2018. A new year, with a clean slate and endless possibilities. I know a lot of people tend to roll their eyes about setting goals and coming up with new year's resolutions, but I've always enjoyed the process of simply reflecting on the past year and then asking Jesus what He wants this coming one to look like. I usually try to get a word or a phrase that He might be pressing on my heart, and then come up with a few practical applications to make my life just work better. I get my husband involved and always greatly appreciate his input. Most of what he said this time had to do with time management and intentionality. Now I know everyone loves the word intentional these days, but I don't think that's a bad thing! Especially when you're raising little people (2 one year olds over here!) or you're just being pulled in a thousand different directions and have so many potential distractions to suck up your time and energy. If we don't reevaluate from time to time, we just run around feeling frazzled! So this week I'm asking for fresh faith and a renewed hope and strength. Because 2017 was rough! There was so much good in it, but it was by far my most challenging and refining season. 

When I first sat down to reflect on the year the words that were coming to mind were exhausted, insane, hard, surviving. I couldn't even remember what I did all year, it all seemed to revolve around babies. I think the majority of my time was on the floor playing, cleaning up spit up, changing poop, getting babies to nap or go back to bed, or saying "no, don't take her toy" for the billionth time. And then there was the overwhelming drama of foster care and the broken court system, and a child in our home that seemed to just bring chaos and heaviness. But then something stirred in me. I felt like God kept telling me the word for this year was joy. I decided to get out my journal and jot down a list of all the good that happened this year. And you know what the list was long and it was a quick heart change that I so needed.  It really is true that a thankful heart is the key to joy. This year we celebrated 5 years of marriage and grew to love and appreciate each other in more ways then we can count. It was our hardest year, but also the richest. We rented our first real house, signed another 4 years in the Coast Guard, traveled to California for some sweet family time, my sister in law (who I adore!) moved here to Florida to be near us, we made some precious friends, and stepped up to serve more in our church family. Not to mention, saw our foster son heal, grow and thrive, and our daughter learn to share us and welcome him in. They both turned one and learned to crawl, walk and even talk a bit. We are SO blessed.

Last year around this time I felt like my word was obedience. We were stepping out into new, scary things but trying to hold God's hand and keep putting one foot in front of the other where He was leading. I wanted to be faithful in the mundane everyday things, and that proved to be no easy task. I think overall we were faithful, but our joy was lacking and there was a little too much striving on our own strength. Too many days were spent exhausted and snappy with each other. I've been frustrated with our little guy's case, and filled with anxiety over his future. I hate how long everything takes, and all the back and forth...some days I could scream! My heart almost couldn't handle making the decision that we would adopt him, but then having no idea if or when that could even happen...everything about foster care makes you feel out of control. Court is coming up, and I feel like I'm getting bitter, like I'm going into self-preservation mode. And I don't want to live like that. I know my kids both need me now, day to day to be fully present and in love with them. They need me to teach them about Jesus and HIS love for them, and to lead by example. I know that I will not always 'feel' like being joyful, but I want to continue to ask God to fill me with his joy and not allow circumstances to dictate that. Wrapping up my prayer time that day I read a verse in Isaiah and clung to it. 

You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace
— Isaiah 55:12

Happy New Year friends! Thank you for all the love, encouragement and prayers for the journey. God is so faithful and I know there is so much good in store for this new year if we do not grow weary. 

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awkward normal

Today I don't like foster care. My heart feels like it's on a never ending roller coaster ride- one that jostles and whips you around and has a thousand loops and no end in sight. The kind you are excited for as you wait in line and get on but then once you're at the top you're wondering if it was all a big mistake. You're clutching on to that bar and bracing yourself, you have moments of fun and laughter while you catch your breath, but then your stomach lurches again on the next turn. 

I compare fostering to roller coasters and marathons, both of which I hate, so I should probably find some new metaphors! But the fact is, I actually love being a foster mom. It's been one of my greatest joys and toughest challenges. (And we are only a year in!) The emotions have really been smacking me in the face lately though. A lot of people see the good side, the sweet social media posts and the post nap time moods. It can look easy to just rescue these kids that come from trauma and shower them with love and form that attachment. Who wouldn't love a sweet innocent baby?? On a bad day, I should probably raise my hand (Insert guilt). But it's not always about the child, it's more so the awkward new normal that foster care just is. It's the constant changing and unknown. It's the fact that court becomes a familiar place and you know way too many legal acronyms. You plan your week/month around visitation with the bio-family, home check-ins from case managers and doctor appointments. You start doing research after bedtime on how to handle trauma behaviors that you learned about in class, but didn't actually anticipate seeing first hand before you had your morning coffee. You are expected to love this child just like your own, but you are reminded almost on a daily basis that they are not. It's a strange balance and it's a lot to ask of a person. Every time an update comes I have to get my head around the "new plan", sometimes it sounds like he will be here forever, other times they act like he could leave tomorrow. There is always a  relative popping out of the woodwork that he may be placed with. In the beginning I was hoping for that relative, I wanted to see some sort of finish line because this was so much harder than I thought. I needed a countdown to endure the craziness. But then you attach and build memories together and your mind goes towards the possibilities of being a forever family. There are days I think I just have to adopt this child, and there are also days the thought of adoption absolutely terrifies me. It's hard teetering back and forth on that line. But I know that's what fostering is. It's the radical risk-taking love that promises to give and maybe never receive. It's what we hear on Sunday mornings but is so against our flesh.

It's revealing parts of me that are ugly, and sometimes I want to blame the ugliness on "foster care". Or just the fact that I have two babies, just seems like a good excuse most days. I was never this erratic before right guys?! God will use any trial to refine us and bring all the yucky stuff to the surface so He can find the gold, its painfully good. 

My friend text me this verse at just the right moment, and it's been on my heart ever since.

My friend text me this verse at just the right moment, and it's been on my heart ever since.

We have a lot of big court dates and meetings approaching us and I'm frustrated and confused. The waiting is hard. I would absolutely love your prayers dear friends, I can't share all the details but it can feel like a lose-lose situation sometimes. My heart truly breaks for his Mom, the thought of her rights being terminated forever if she can't make progress on her case plan. But there sure are days I feel like it's what's best for him and my Mama bear side kicks in fiercely and says "he's MINE, I've raised him and kept him safe!" I don't feel like being the bigger person and continually reaching out, its exhausting. It would be SO much easier to pretend his parents weren't around. But that's not the reality and my husband has graciously reminded me that we've had a strong conviction since the beginning to love them through the mess. It can be truly awful having a front row seat to someone else's journey through pain and brokenness...it hits way too close to home having their child as you watch! Nothing can prepare you for those emotions, and it is SO hard to explain to your friends or family who may have more of a detached view. It's easier to judge and just write these parents off. Praying this week I was reminded that it's not a losing battle, though it may feel like one. We serve a God of redemption and making beauty from ashes. We see the mess and the chaos, and we have a thousand questions, but He is always working behind the scenes! I want to be able to trust that His plans are good, for all parties involved. This year of pouring out my heart and soul is not a waste, no matter which way the case goes, no matter how I "feel" (which may be pretty crappy some days). God calls us to love and serve people and He sees it differently than the world does. It's in the choosing and in the hard, the loving on purpose and with intention. I honestly don't know how to love like that, but I'm going to keep grabbing the Lord's hand and taking the next step forward.

Those who sow in tears will reap with shouts of joy. Though one goes along weeping, carrying the bag of seed, he will surely come back with shouts of joy, carrying his sheaves.
— Psalm 126:5

Birthday boy

Our little guy turned 1 a few weeks ago. It was a sweet day, full of mixed emotions. Our friends offered to host a party, where he ran around chasing balloons and went to sugar-heaven with his first ever cupcake. I remember when he first came to us, I thought his birthday seemed so far away and I wondered if he would even still be with us by then. I would think how much easier life would be having two toddlers instead of two infants. Some of you laugh, but they were both tough babies! So here we are at the one year mark and we've been raising him for 7 months as our own son. Is life easier now? Yes, in many ways it is...but also no. He is doing really well in our home, many people remind me of the transformation he's gone through and it actually helps me gain perspective when all I can see are the meltdowns and hard days. It's easier in the sense that we have built that love and trust with him, we've learned each other and it's been a process, he's a tough cookie. We have so many memories together now and have really become a family. Our daughter sees him as her brother and truly loves him, even if they push each other over and take each other's toy every two seconds (I'm pretty much a referee by day.) We've witnessed many first milestones, comforted him when he's sad, been by his side for sicknesses (which seems to be wayyy too often!) and injuries...the day-in day-out nitty gritty parenting stuff that children need to thrive. He's been with us over half of his little life, his first word was "dada" and I know he sees us as his parents. But honestly nothing about this has been easy. I still cry often and feel like I'm spread too thin. We are nowhere closer to knowing what's going on with his case, but we've had a heck of a lot of drama and shenanigans that I can't speak of for privacy reasons. He still has a lot of anger and fire in him that is unsettling for his age and daily tantrums that make me cry out to Jesus for help. Our marriage has never been tested like it has in this season, but it's also never developed the strength it has either. We recognize that foster care is battle. There is a brokenness and heaviness that just comes with it, you're knowingly stepping in and saying this child is worth my fight, worth my prayers, worth my love and pain.

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I think one of the hardest parts of foster care is having a heart for the biological parents. I so desperately want to see them through the lens of Christ and commit to praying for them and being their cheerleader along the journey. In our training and classes you repeatedly hear the term "co-parenting", which is the ideal scenario where the foster parents come alongside the biological family and give them support and help them succeed and be able to parent again. I loved that idea and I still do, the thought that families can be redeemed and get their children back and have a happy ending. That we could play a part in that and actually see the change firsthand. It definitely can happen, but the truth is it's SO incredibly difficult. Often the parents see you as the enemy and want nothing to do with you. Or you give it a try and realize you are being tricked or manipulated. Recently we were burned pretty badly and I still have feelings of anger and distrust that I need to surrender to the Lord, or I can get pretty snarky. It's such a tangled mess of emotions! Here is this child that you love, and part of that child is his or her parents. You want what is best for them, and of course God's perfect design is for families to be together, to STAY together. But something happened that severed that, and that thing can't be ignored. That is why they are with you. So as a foster parent you have to be careful, to guard your heart but don't close it off. I don't want to be naive, my number one job is to protect this little baby and advocate on his behalf any way I can, even if that means hurting the parent's feelings or saying the hard truth in court. But I also don't want to stop showing the parents love and grace, the same that I have been shown. Unfortunately that is SO much easier said than done, a lot of the time I'm just trying not to cuss or go off on a 2 hour rant to my husband on all the reasons they suck and how unfair this whole thing is. 

I've been realizing I have an opportunity to pray and stand in the gap for these families that are lost and hurting. As a foster Mom I get a lot of comments from people on the daily that can come off rather offensive or ignorant, whether that is on purpose or not. Sometimes they make me angry, but most of the time I try to use it as an opportunity to just talk about my own experience or thoughts on the subject. A lot of them are along the lines of "wow he is so lucky to be with you, his parents must be such awful people. They don't deserve him". Or "how can his parents not love him?". But the truth is, he's not lucky, he has been through more in his short life then any child should. Yes, we are so thankful he is here and it's a blessing that he is being loved, cared for and safe. But the whole reason foster care exists is just downright sad. And no, his parents are not awful people, and they do love him very much. They are super young and have had hard lives themselves, and they are making bad choices, they're in pain. If I even step into his mother's shoes for a second and imagine having Eleanor taken away from me, it is almost too much to think about. I wish more people would encourage me to love them, rather then jumping to conclusions. It is far from easy, I think those same thoughts about them often and sometimes I just want to scream "look at what you are missing! Your son is so worth it!". It's heartbreaking and sad to see people choosing other things over their child. Sometimes parents aren't able to get better and then adoption becomes the goal. I would love to adopt one day, but until that is on the table I almost don't want to let my mind go there.

For now I'm called to love him day by day, and use this time to cover him and his family in prayer, and let Jesus do the work. Happy Birthday big guy, God has incredible plans for you!                                                                     

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, to give you a future and a hope
— Jeremiah 29:11

6 weeks

I probably got two hours of sleep that night. Two sick babies. A sick husband. It was just a snotty, coughing mess over here and I was in the deep end of overwhelm. I honestly thought it was a big mistake, our choice to foster. Everything just seemed like WAY too much. Nobody was sleeping, but almost everybody was crying. It didn't seem fair, here I was stepping out in faith and being obedient and we were just drowning. Can't we catch a break God?! My heart was ugly those first few weeks. Our little dude came to us with so many more issues then they told us about. Welcome to foster care. And on top of it all was just very sick...which in turn got all of us sick, including my 3 month old baby. That was honestly one of my biggest fears coming into this, as silly as it sounds. When you're a new mom and its your first baby you just feel crazy protective and any little thing can be a big, scary deal. Sam was on night shift, which meant I got to handle the "witching hour" and bedtime stuff by myself. I say this a lot, but it was total crazy town. Eleanor did not want to share me whatsoever, especially teething and being sick. Yet I had this other baby with a laundry list of issues, who desperately needed my love and attention too. I'm leaving out many details because of confidentiality with his case but I'm sure it's not hard to imagine I was very tired and busy...and a little shocked. So much so that I completely forgot to pay rent that month! Or eat dinner. I would collapse into bed at 10 some nights and realize I hadn't eaten since noon. And I was still wearing the same sweat pants from the night before, which now had an array of new smells and stains. Ha!  

Sam was truly amazing that first week. Like super-Dad. He seemed so much less phased then I did, he just kept saying it was going to get better and he knew we were supposed to do this. He prayed for us when I couldn't, made me eat breakfast, still cracked jokes and gave me lots of hugs. Which is a good thing, because I was trying to think of ways to call it quits, lack of sleep will make you emotional and borderline crazy! It is no exaggeration that I cried everyday, sometimes multiple times a day. One morning my body was actually twitching because I hadn't slept a good stretch in so long and I just had so much anxiety. Are we ever going to feel normal or be able to make this work realistically? I felt like the worst person ever because every time he threw a fit (which was SO often those first few weeks!) I felt anger and annoyance at this baby. I always imagined I would just love him instantly and have that attachment, but it wasn't coming easily. It felt like all work, all sacrifice. And man, did the enemy use so many lies to discourage me! It's so true that a lot of fostering is spiritual, you are taking on the brokenness and darkness of the system and it is so tangibly heavy. I quickly realized I needed to pray like every few minutes just to get through the day. Thankfully I had an amazing church family and friends who were so wonderful to come along side and encourage and help us during the transition. I had ladies offering to do "bedtime" with me until Sam was able to switch back on to day-shift. All of you Mamas know what a gift that is!! They even brought us meals, which blessed me more then they will ever know. We probably would've had cereal most nights if not for that! I was so humbled by the love we felt and God was so very gracious to me as I dealt with my raw emotions. One night I was feeling so done, we had gone to yet another doctor appointment and received quite the regimen to get this little guy all better. I called a friend who is also a foster Mom and told her I just wasn't sure I could do this thing well. I'm a mess. Both babies just need me so much and I'm really struggling with Mom guilt! She spoke truth over me so sweetly and assured me that God had led us here and is equipping us to handle it. She said every foster family has to get through the first 6 weeks, because that is the hardest part. The adjustment period where you feel like you're going to die...but you're not. You just have to take it one day at a time and trust that it will get better. So I decided I could hang on a little longer. 

I took it day by day. Sam told me to even break it up hour by hour if I needed to, and sometimes I did. He was able to get back on the day shift and was now home around 3 to help with the evening hours. Praise Jesus! And sure enough, I realized my friend was right. I did feel like I was slowly getting into a rhythm. There was some routine going on and each day was new. I started with a lot of coffee, prayer and a long morning walk with my babes (I think all my neighbors get a kick out us, we walk a LOT). I could breathe again and laugh more through the chaos and exhaustion. One week I was actually the one encouraging Sam, which was a nice change. I would ask God every morning to give me a deep love for this baby, and I can just now say He really has. We are bonding so much more and making some really sweet memories together. We've all had to adjust to our "new normal" and it's still pretty darn hard a few months in. But honestly two infants is going to be hard no matter what! When I step back and look at the big picture, the privilege that we have to take in a child that needs love, safety and stability- it is so beyond worth it. I hope I didn't discourage any of you reading if you are thinking about fostering. I just want to be real and honest always. This is hard stuff and it does come with sacrifice, but I'm so thankful our daughter is going to grow up knowing we want to try our best to live out the gospel and share what we have with others. We are not perfect people, but we can do this ministry with HIS strength. Our flesh wants to scream and say we can't, or that we just don't feel like it. But when we are weak, He is strong.

Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better then we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.”
— Romans 8:28 (MSG)

 

 

twins...sort of

I was up doing a middle of the night feeding with my daughter, which was nothing new but my mind was racing. I was talking to God about foster care, questions and what-ifs just spilling out. Part of me was glad it was still on my mind, I had this fear that once we had our baby it might be easy to slip into a comfortable routine and just keep putting it off, or even change our mind altogether. But that still didn't make it any easier. Wouldn't everyone think we were crazy?? We have a semi-high maintenance (call it fussy, gassy, colic-whatever! She's been tough folks) infant who is only a few months old. Plus Sam is military, he still does short deployments, we are so far away from all our family...we live in a small apartment...we have no idea what kind of child we will get or what needs they will have. Will that really be good for Eleanor? We don't really even know what we are doing as parents yet. Yeah we should wait...right God??

Sam pretty much told me whenever I was ready he was on board. We were so in love with our baby girl, she was our world and those first few months of becoming a family were SO sweet (fussiness and lack of sleep and all!). I'm thankful we didn't jump in sooner, because God knew we needed that time to rest and bond. We knew our hearts would only grow from here with the capacity to love more children. Still I wrestled with the decision so much. I couldn't let it go, yet I also couldn't get myself to jump in and go for it.  When Eleanor turned 3 months and I felt like I had gotten through the hormonal rollercoaster giving birth puts you through, I actually felt a lot of peace. It didn't make much sense, but Sam and I both felt so strongly like we were simply supposed to do this. I ended up getting a phone call out of the blue about taking a placement when Sam was on a two week deployment...and no, I didn't accept I'm not THAT crazy! Haha. But it gave me the push I needed to call and put our name on the list when he got back. It was terrifying. Not even a few hours went by before we started getting those nerve wracking phone calls. We said no to a few, because we wanted to be sensitive to the fact that we do have a baby and certain cases just wouldn't work for us right now, as hard as it is to ever say no. We really needed this decision to be led by the Lord. A few days later they asked if we would be open to an almost-6 month old boy who was being disrupted from another foster home. We asked a bunch of questions, prayed together and called back minutes later with a timid Yes. We were set up for babies right now and we had said we would prefer under 1 years old, seemed like a good fit. He would be here in the morning.

The emotions you feel leading up to the arrival are unreal. I was so scared, yet so excited I just couldn't sit still. I'm about to be a Mom of two. We cleaned the apartment like 3 times (since ya know, 6 month olds are really impressed by my throw pillows being fluffed and the mirrors being shiny), got a few last minute baby items from our church friends and waited. I'll never forget going outside to meet the case manager and seeing this little curly haired baby grinning at me, snotty nose and all. She handed him straight to me and it just seemed surreal. I felt like she gave me no information, which isn't exactly true but it was extremely minimal! She just handed me a baby and a small bag and it was like "any questions?". Ummm yes like a thousand. But this is foster care and I knew that. However there is such a difference between knowing something and then actually living it. She was gone in a flash and we just stared at this little dude, wondering so many things, but knowing it was now our job to learn him. He was ours right now to love and care for, no matter how long he was with us. We had TWO BABIES. Was this real life? Sam and I just kept looking at each other and laughing, because there really weren't words yet. He had to go to work in a few hours and it was just going to be me here. Next time I will have him take the day off for sure, but we are newbies so this is all good practice for the future. I had to just remind myself to breathe and pray short prayers that day. I decided to take them on a walk, him in the stroller and her in a wrap strapped to me. The fresh air and sunshine felt so good and they both seemed pretty happy so it was a win-win. This lady looked at me funny from her balcony and called out "Are they twins??" This was my first day and I didn't know what to say really. I replied "No...but it feels like twins!" with a laugh and she just looked even more confused. They were two months apart and both under 6 months...it hit me like a ton of bricks. I basically have twins. I'm insane. But at the same time I couldn't deny this is exactly where I was supposed to be.

 

 

Eleanor's birthday

Giving birth really is indescribable. While I was pregnant I did a ton of research (probably too much actually!) and talked to anyone I could about their "birth story" and experience. I wanted a natural birth so badly, if circumstances allowed, and I was going to prepare myself the best I knew how. We were blessed to live 10 minutes away from a birthing center and the day I found I was pregnant I set up my first appointment with a midwife. It seemed like the perfect fit since my husband wasn't quite on board with having our first child at home, and I wasn't too on board with a hospital setting. We loved our midwives and everything about the place! I can't recommend birth centers enough! I kept telling people it's like a cozy hotel. They made us feel so comfortable and educated about pregnancy and birth, we took classes and had appoinments (which to me felt more like chatting over coffee with a friend...how cool is that?).

When I hit 39 weeks I really thought I was going to have her any day. It consumed my thoughts and made me very antsy! You start thinking of every scenario like "what if my water breaks during church and I die of embarrassment?" or "what if I can't get a hold of my husband at work and he misses the birth?". But soon, I had reached my due date...then passed it by a few days and still no baby. I was getting annoyed. You feel tired, uncomfortable and huge! And I think what had me most concerned was that if I hit 42 weeks I had to be transferred to a hospital instead of the birth center...I was not about to let that happen! So I took everyones silly advice (once you reach your due date people feel the need to text you everyday with tips on how to get the baby out. Some days its funny, and other days you want to throw your phone.) Anyway, my sister in law Kailey was on her way from California to try to make it for the birth. She has had 5 kids and she's just one of my favorite humans ever! I was praying she could be my doula, but she only had a few days to stay with us. I went to my 41 week appointment and they confirmed my fear...I wasn't dilated and there was no progress. So we went on a long, hot walk (this is sweaty Florida and I'm a whale at this point) and Kailey gave me a pedicure that night. She said "just wake me up if you go into labor tonight" and I laughed sarcastically like "I wish!". 

Sure enough...bam! At 3:30am my water broke, which I hear is actually kind of rare. I woke up Sam, who sprung out of bed and called the midwife. She told us to go back to bed and rest because it would be a long, slow process. Well that was far from the truth, ha! Contractions began right away and they were strong and close. I kept thinking I was supposed to be playing cards and cooking, while I had this early labor part. But no, I was soon throwing up and then hunched over the exercise ball doing all my breathing and calming methods from class. I couldn't believe the pain was this intense already and I kept thinking "if I have to do this for 20 hours I will surely be dead". I did all I could to get through the next few hours, I got in the hot shower, timed the contractions on a fancy app, held Sam's hand, bounced on the ball and basically writhed in pain on the bed like a crazy person...all while breathing long, slow breaths and closing my eyes. Sam thought I should continue laboring at home, we didn't want to get to the birth center and have me be at a 3. But I just kept telling him "I think we should go soon, wake your sister up". Kailey came in to watch me go through contractions...she's done this a time or two so she knows! Eventually I told her I felt pressure in my butt and that seemed to be the magic words. We were off and into the car in 2 minutes! The contractions were so strong and painful, I was in my own world just trying to breathe and hold off on pushing this baby out in my tiny Nissan. I couldn't believe I already felt like I needed to!! I had no concept of time except for the fact that the sun was up. It was the worst drive. Ever! I hobbled into the center and the midwife checked me. At this point I think everyone was worried I was just being a wimp and had a lot more time to go. But hallelujah I didn't...I was at a 10!!! I believe her exact words were "welllll, your cervix is gone!", which really threw my husband off, but she cleared it up showing him 10 happy fingers and started filling up the tub. Ive never seen him so excited and giddy! Looking back it was so precious, but at the time I didn't have any energy to spare a smile. I had always wanted to have a water birth, but I never imagined arriving and immediately getting in the water and pushing!

I pushed for about an hour and a half. I have definitely never felt anything like that in my life! So. much. PAIN. Haha! But it was an empowering pain and it gave relief a lot more then contractions did. I remember when her head was crowning I said "ugh this is so uncomfortable", which had everyone chuckling and agreeing it was probably more then uncomfortable! Sam's encouragement and excitement really got me through, he blew me away the whole time. Best birth coach ever! I knew this was the moment we had been dreaming of and it was all going to be worth it to meet our sweet girl. I could do this, God designed my body to do this. Sure enough, her head finally was out and a few moments later her body! I delivered an almost 9 pound baby naturally...in water! It was truly, truly amazing. Sam kept calling me a badass, which I thought was so funny, but you do kind of feel like you could do anything after that. It was pure magic as they set her on my chest and I saw my husband tearing up and beaming-that first time Dad glow that you just want to remember forever. Eleanor June was born at 9:50am and she was 8.13 and 21 inches long. My total labor/delivery was like 6.5 hours! They felt the need to remind me I should be careful next time or I just might have her at home. After a few minutes Sam got to cut the cord and they gave her to him for some skin to skin time while I got checked and cleaned up and into the bed. The three of us got to snuggle together and let us be.

I will remember that painful, wonderful day for the rest of my life. The day I became a Mom. The day our prayers were answered and we were a family. Thank you Jesus for this gift. I won't take it for granted.

Respite

I had just hit the 7th month of pregnancy when we got the official phone call we had been waiting for...we were officially licensed Foster parents in the state of Florida! Woo! It was such a relief to hear those words we had worked for, waited for, prayed for. To see this dream and calling become a reality that we had to fight for. The phone calls immediately began, and I got a quick wake-up call. They were so heavy and overwhelming-on top of already being a little hormonal and very pregnant! The placement lady tells you a quick, often very heartbreaking overview of the child and the current situation and then simply asks if you can take them. It feels gut wrenching to say no, you feel like you would do anything to just make it work and not have to bare the thought of a sweet baby staying the night in an office or hotel room while they frantically try to find an open home. I felt confused and stuck...on one hand I wanted to jump in and say yes to every call, I mean after all God had clearly called us into this and this is what we had signed up for! But on the other side of things I'm so close to birthing our first child! It's not just about me anymore, I have to make a wise choice for our family. Was I being naive that I could do both?? The enemy tried to flood my mind with fear and doubts, and sometimes I will admit I took the bait. Sam and I talked things over, prayed a LOT and I just cried and wrestled with the weight of it all. I told the Lord one morning I would do whatever He wanted, whether that be to take a child in now or to wait, I just needed some clarity.  Not even an hour went by and we got a phone call to take a respite baby!

Respite care in the foster world is simply giving another foster family a break. Sometimes that means the family is going on a trip and not able to take the foster child with them, other times its for a family emergency, or simply just to support and let them take a deep breath. It can be anywhere from a couple days to a few weeks. We got asked to take a 7 month old boy for a couple weeks. My initial response was a little hesitant and prideful, something like "I want to do the real deal, not a babysitting gig". But I was quickly humbled as I realized how gracious the Lord was to give me an answer to prayer so quickly and allow us to get our feet wet and feel like we were still helping this ministry. I felt a lot of peace as we said yes and prepared to pick up the little guy. I was all smiles! He turned out to be the world's cutest baby (I think God was really trying to hook us in! haha!) It's truly amazing how attached and protective you feel so fast! After a few hours I was ready to keep him forever and just make sure he was loved and safe. It was the strangest thing to pick up a random baby from someone and become their full time Mom for a short time.

My routine quickly revolved around playtime, feedings and naps. I would never have traded that sweet time, it went by much too quickly. Having a foster baby on my hip, while carrying our own inside of me was a constant reminder of God's faithfulness. Seeing Sam jump into the Dad role and have so much fun, just increased my excitement about the future. It wasn't all sunshine of course, there were diaper blow-outs, crying spells and lots of projectile spit-up...but it was a quick glimpse into our life and it filled me with joy! Little dude ended up re-unifying with his birth mom and I got a very tiny taste of how hard the saying goodbye part of fostering is. I felt like a baby for crying and feeling so nervous when I dropped him off, I didn't even have him very long! But this is a huge part of foster care and it was so good for me to see. All you can do for these kids is love them hard while you have them, pray over them and trust that God has their lives in His capable, sovereign hands. 

While I don't know exactly how it's going to look from here on out (we are still on the list as available for respite and short term placements until baby comes), I do know I can trust in His plan for us and not try to jump ahead and figure everything out. We've been able to talk to other families about starting fostering and share our story. And there have also been opportunities for us to babysit for a foster family in our church. Either way we are so excited to be a small part of this ministry, even if it has looked different then we envisioned. Our little girl is just weeks away from being born and I truly can't wait to soak in this blessing and the wild ride of motherhood!

 

limbo

I feel like the last few months have been an awkward stage of limbo. There have been so many big things we're anticipating, but none of them have happened as I thought, and it's been breeding a yucky spirit of discontent in me. We've been waiting for our foster license to finally be official, we are currently house hunting (which quickly turns into a full time job!) and our sweet baby is due in just a few short months! I've been frustrated, feeling like I can't settle because I don't know whats going on...maybe part of that is the "nesting" thing they talk about in pregnancy. I would love to blame it all on that, but it's mostly because I'm a restless human trying to form all these great plans on my own, forgetting to rest in the presence of Jesus and trust HIM to take care of our day-to-day. I was very humbled the other night in my prayer time, just realizing that every single thing I'm "stressed" about is actually a wonderful thing, a beautiful answered prayer. Sure the timing of everything can seem slightly overwhelming and maybe the answer didn't look like I thought, but when I pause and look up I just have to be thankful. I was reminded that it's a gift and privilege to care for these children that will soon enter our home. It's a gift and privilege to be even considering buying our first home together (even if the process has quickly worn me out and our realtor is sick of my voice!). And the biggest gift is that we will soon have our first baby girl, Eleanor June and become a family. I know that this season is precious and I need to soak it in. I'm feeling God's presence in a whole new way as this baby grows and dances around in there!

6 months preggo

6 months preggo

Another thing that has come to my attention in this limbo season is how quickly I run to other people, before I come to the Lord. We all have our "tribe", the people we feel comfortable texting at 2am, the ones that let us vent or give us advice when we need it. It's a huge blessing to have those people, don't get me wrong! It's just the fact that we often run to them first, when really we need to be still and listen to what God would say above anything else. It's so not easy, especially because listening for the Lord takes time and attention, that we can be so unwilling to give when we are frazzled or in crisis. I care so much about other people's opinions and how they perceive me, why do I value that so much? I've let people sway me even in our choice to pursue fostering. Even when I clearly knew it was from the Lord and felt His peace, when I took my eyes off of Him I got fearful. Fearful that people were right, that maybe it was going to be too hard. Maybe it will hurt our family and I won't be strong enough to handle such heavy burdens. We get cloudy and confused when we let too many voices in, even the well-intentioned ones.

I was reading Galatians 1:10 which says "Am I trying to win the approval of human beings or of God? Am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people I would not be a servant of Christ". 

I want to be more intentional about bringing these things to the Lord and hearing His voice as we make decisions. I'm not the author of my story but I know the One who is and I want to surrender to Him and His plan....because it's the best!

 

oh baby

I have always wanted to be a mom. I never really had huge career plans, I just knew I definitely wanted to get married and have a family. Lately, I wasn't totally sure how my motherhood journey was going to begin. We had taken the Foster plunge (see last post) and as much as I wrestled with that decision, eventually I felt like I was right where I was supposed to be. It was a wonderful feeling. Right away doors were opening with unique opportunities, and our licensing process was moving really quickly. Part of the reason for that being that we got connected to a family that was looking for a foster home for a sweet baby girl. It was looking like it may even turn into adoption. As many of you know with the foster/adopt world, I can't give much detail, but basically things were looking like we might be getting our first placement rather quickly-and it was blowing my mind that she could possibly be our daughter. We met her and lets just say my heart melted. And then my husband held her and it melted again into a pile of sappy mush! 

Time passed and we continued through the foster process and hit a lot of red tape with getting "baby girl". It was a lot of up and down and I felt pretty emotional about it, even though not a whole lot had even happened. My husband says it was a good "welcome to foster care" introduction for us! While all this was going on Sam left on a two week deployment for work. Now this is the big story twist...I had this weird feeling I was pregnant. I've had that feeling way too many times before and it always ended in disappointment so I was not wanting to even take the test. But I took one look at my calendar and realized how late my period actually was and gasped! So I took it. And it was an instant positive! I was shaking like a leaf and just staring in disbelief. I wish I could say I started twirling around and praising the Lord (I mean this is THE moment I've been waiting for!) but I actually just felt shock and confusion. It was almost like a "is this a joke?" moment. I just could not see how this was God's perfect timing, it seemed insane to me. I had finally surrendered my desires and taken this big step of obedience, towards a ministry I was becoming so passionate about. We were in the thick of our paperwork, and also thinking we might be getting this baby in a few weeks! I didn't think I could do both. I didn't think Sam would want to do both! (and why did I have to find this out right when he is going to be gone for 2 weeks?!)

my DIY mug to surprise the hubs

my DIY mug to surprise the hubs

Somehow I kept this news from Sam until he got home...and let's just say that was the longest 2 weeks of my life! I just had to tell him in person and see his face. It was truly worth it=) By the time he got back I had settled down a bit, I had some time to process and let God speak to me. I felt so guilty for not being completely thrilled and ecstatic right off the bat! Sam however, did have this reaction so I was able to redeem that moment as I told him and we got to do the happy dance together! God is so good like that. I really am SO incredibly thankful for this precious gift and answer to prayer!! Seeing Sam react in such a positive way and be so excited about having a baby, and still be confident about our fostering decision was a beautiful thing for my heart...he is such a gem! While I was praying one day God had reminded me of how I had prayed for twins. This of course wasn't quite what I had envisioned, but hey it'll be two babies! I had to smile when that was one of the first things my husband said when I told him. He said "well wow, this will be like twins honey! Pretty cool". Soon after this we found out that we would not be getting "baby girl" after all, but we are in fact having a little girl in October! (*tears of joy*)

I've been saying lately that God sure has a sense of humor. And while I know that is true, He is also sovereign and knows what is best for us in every way. He knew the timing and details of our fostering journey and this pregnancy and He is not shocked. He has led us here and will equip us to handle the children he places in our homes. I was listening to a podcast this week and she had a quote she had heard that said "God will not lead us where His grace is not capable of keeping us". I know some people think we are a little crazy for going through with our license while pregnant, but my response is that God often calls us to super crazy things. Things that are way out of our comfort zone, things that require us to lean on HIS strength and grace in new ways. This is how we live out the gospel. There are still a lot of unknowns, but HE knows and His perfect love drives out fear.

the foster plunge

I'm really afraid of heights. To the point where I cried on a ferris wheel...and almost passed out on a hot air balloon ride. Its not my strong suit, but I have noticed that the more I step out and do these seemingly terrifying things, I become less afraid and more confident. Sure, my knees still shake a little, but I get more used to the feeling and I can remember all the times I've sucked it up and been brave. I've come to find that a lot of experiences involving heights are pretty worth it! I used to hate flying, but it gets me to my family and friends and saves me driving 2500 miles. Also, that hot air balloon ride was breathtaking and a memory I'll never forget. Along with many other hikes and climbs my husband talked me into, you just can't beat a view sometimes!

I feel like my walk with the Lord is similar in a lot of ways. He asks us to do something and we quiver in fear or pretend we didn't hear Him. But those times we obey and see that the end result is something truly beautiful, we get a dose of courage and excitement. Those moments build our story and we can look back and see how God came through for us in the past and that He is more then capable of handling our future.

Sam and I have always talked about adoption even when we were dating. I remember saying a year into our marriage "if we couldn't have our own children I think I would be fine with growing our family a different way". I soon realized that we did not so easily get pregnant, and I don't think I realized how painful the process would actually be. We wanted to have kids so badly and every month I felt crushed and a bitterness was growing. Everyone around me was pregnant and you just never think you are going to be the one struggling with infertility. We had recently moved to Florida and plugged into an awesome church. I was online one day and read an article about foster care and adoption. It got my wheels turning and I felt like God was trying to get my attention. I felt like the timing was strange and even a little rude, here I am in pain and you are wanting me to look into this?? I told God I would need some confirmation. Well sure enough that sunday at church it just so happens to be Orphan Sunday (what are the odds?) and the worship leader and his wife share about foster care and the huge, staggering need in our county. I'm instantly crying and having that heart thumping moment where you just know God is prompting and convicting you. They talked about a Christian organization out here called A Door of Hope and I was so drawn in by their mission statement and approach to foster care. I had never seriously considered fostering or even totally knew what it meant so it was all pretty new and overwhelming. I shared my heart with Sam later that day and he was very open, but a little overwhelmed himself. I decided to not be too pushy or crazy, as us wives can be, I knew God would bring us to a united decision if it was really what we were supposed to do.

So fast forward a week or so of me trying not to be totally consumed with all this. Its like once I heard all the crazy statistics, like babies sleeping in hotel rooms with case workers because they have no open homes for them, you just feel like you have to do something. I was wrestling with it too though, I kept asking God "are you sure this is the right thing?? Because parts of it seem really awful and painful! I don't think I'm strong enough, I've never even been a Mom!". But all the while I continued to watch Youtube videos, read every foster blog I could find and stalk a few Instagram foster moms for advice! I felt like I couldn't sleep some nights, I was getting excited and humbled at how God was breaking my heart for kids that weren't even mine. I met up with Alicia (who spoke at church and was currently getting involved herself) and asked her a million questions. She has become one of my dearest friends out here and I will always be thankful for the way she encouraged me into this! I explained that my biggest fear was giving these kids back, that it might be too torturous for a couple that so wants a family. I was more comfortable with the idea of adoption because its permanent. Fostering is just so unknown. So risky.

The day we finished our classes and training

The day we finished our classes and training

Once Sam had time to pray and process everything, I saw him jump on board so quickly. We watched the promo video for Door of Hope and he cried (a rare occasion!) and shared his thoughts, which was just what my heart needed. I didn't want to push or convince him into this so I had kept my mouth shut for a while and let God work. And boy did He! As soon as we signed up for the Orientation it was like a whirlwind, but we felt SO much peace. I thought for sure Sam would get scared off, but it was quite the opposite. We both felt like we found such a tangible way to serve the Lord and this ministry is kind of "up our alley" in a sense. It's hard to explain to people sometimes and I'm not being naive, I know it will be an enormous challenge that will knock me to my knees. But I also know God has given us a love for working with kids and He can use our past hurts and trauma we've been through, our testimony, to make a positive difference. This agency is truly wonderful and everything is centered around the gospel, which I love. They teach that we are missionaries on a battlefield, and it won't be easy, but it will be worth it. They got us into fast track classes, we did mountains of paperwork and homework (no joke!), scheduled our home studies and had our interviews. Parts of it seemed absolutely crazy to me, like our licensing specialist taking the temperature of our hummus and jam to make sure our fridge was just right. But hey! I didn't really care, all for the cause.

I'm not gonna lie, its already been an emotional journey and we don't even have our first placement. I know we are on the cusp of something wild and crazy, and the enemy would love to sneak his way in and make me question it all. But we have really seen God work in the big and small details. When He asks you to do something, He is faithful to strengthen you for each day and pretty soon you feel like your excuses and fears are no longer valid! This will be a risky road and we will most definitely get our hearts broken, but that's the point. These kids need love and stability and attachment, even if for a short time. So here we go, cheers to new heights!