Thursday, September 20, 2012


I think becoming a foster parent is kind of like the first time you carve a pumpkin. You open up it up, and you know it's going to messy, but you don't really know what you're in for until you thrust your hands into the goop. It's kind of fun, kind of gross, kind of uncomfortable, and far more messy than you could have imagined. 

At some point in the process you realize that you've got a thick layer of slime up to your elbows and you're not sure it will ever come off. This is a crucial moment. Some kids start to cry. Some beg to be done, leaving the task to be finished by someone else. Others take a deep breath, use their shoulder to wipe the hair and pumpkin slime off of their forehead, and dig right back in.

Surprisingly enough I haven't shed many tears thus far. I'm pretty sure I was in shock the first three weeks. I'm due for a sobbing breakdown any day now.

This foster parenting thing, this odd version of motherhood, the whole becoming a parent overnight to two children who were raised (or, not raised) thus far by someone else's messy.

These children we have been given to love and care for, they are precious and they are oh so broken.

It's been a year since they were separated from their mother. They had a foster family they loved, but when the couple's dream of pregnancy came true they decided the boys were more than they could handle. They had all three, M, J, and their brother, W, who's just a year older than M for nine months. They had talked about adoption. J, the oldest was ready to change his name.

On the way to the CPS office the foster dad told J, who was asking why they couldn’t live with them anymore, that they just really wanted to have their own kid.

The boys spent the next two and a half months in a shelter. It should have been much shorter, but a home for all three was impossible to find, considering their emotional/behavioral issues and the level of care needed, on top of simply being a sibling group of 3 with no toddler or baby in the mix.

Their case worker finally decided to separate them, keeping J and M together, as the middle brother, W’s, needs/issues were more severe.

The boys have been separated from their brother for 8 weeks. They’ve been living with us for 5. In the last two and a half weeks they have had a visit with the brother and a visit with the mom and the brother together. Both visits have resulted in horrible behavior from little M, both at home and at school. He’s angry, confused, and completely heartbroken.

Most of the time my heart is broken for him. But when he’s screaming in my face, or running around the doctor’s office like a maniac, all I can feel is anger and frustration.

And despair. Complete despair.

I don’t know if these children can be restored to wholeness. I don’t know if they’ll ever have the wonder and delight of a healthy child, or if it’s too late.

This does not make sense considering my belief structure, my vocation, or the God I love and serve, who I believe does truly work in the world, redeeming and healing and restoring all of creation.

Some days I am more hopeful than others. Lord, I believe. Help me in my unbelief.

So that’s the emotional, messed up, because-of-what-they’ve-been-through kind of stuff. And then there’s all the regular parent stuff.

Parents, I have to say I really had no idea just how much work, how much time, how much energy and effort it would take. I thought I knew, but I didn’t. 

The Kids' Room: Updated Version
I clean my house and a few hours later it looks like a tornado hit it.

I’m pretty sure the kids change clothes 5 times a day, because that’s how much laundry there is to be done.

And I truly had no idea how much contact I would have with human waste.

There is much, much more, but the reality is that parenting in general is very hard work. So add in years of abuse and neglect, learning disabilities and emotional disorders, piles of paperwork, regular visits to therapists, doctors, and psychiatrists, and the simple fact that these children are not bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh…I don’t even know how to finish this sentence.

I’m up to my elbows. The reality is setting in. I’m not breaking down or giving up, but I am moving forward with tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat.

I wish I would have written my first post-placement blog post at a more joyful and hopeful point in this journey, like at two and a half weeks when I was at the grocery store getting food for the first week of school lunches and the lady checking me out asked how many kids I had. I answered, “Two.” It was a moment.

There have been many wonderful, joyful moments. And I know there are many more to come. But right now it really just feels like a big mess.

So this fall, whenever you or your kids find yourselves elbow deep in pumpkin seeds and orange slime, think of us, and all the foster parents out there, and say a little prayer, for hope, for strength, for perseverance.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

This. Is. Happening.

On the roller coaster of life, I’m at that point at the top of the highest hill. We’ve been clicking up the slow side with great anticipation and now we’re in that one brief moment when you can look around at the view, take a deep breath, and brace yourself for the exciting ride.

On Thursday of this week, we will get our first placement of foster kids! (Cue the balloons, happy music, and confetti!) This. Is. Happening. And I am so incredibly excited!

We have met the kids who will be coming into our home and they are very sweet, rambunctious little boys. Unfortunately, I am not allowed to share their names on a public blog such as this one (or photos, here or on Facebook, so sad), and I will have to be very careful about what I do share. But, they are brothers, ages 4 and 9, and we’ll just call them M and J.

We got to meet the boys on Wednesday. They came to our home for a pre-placement visit, to see if it would be a good fit. Because this is not an emergency situation (the boys are in a shelter and have been there since June), they can take a little more time to find the right home.

M and J were pretty sure they had found the right home.

They spent some time playing in the “Kids' Room” under their CASA worker’s supervision, while we talked to their case worker downstairs. J (the 9 year old) found a notepad and a marker, climbed up to the top bunk of the bunk beds and wrote a little note, “I like this house”.

By the time they left, “I like it here!” and “Can we stay!?” were said out loud multiple times. And, of course, it took the boys about half an hour in the same room with my husband and they were already in love with him. I can’t blame them.

It was so strange, though. 

After they left I didn’t feel the way I thought I would feel when all of this finally happened. Maybe I was protecting my heart because the case worker still had to approve and officially request us for placement. Maybe I was just overwhelmed by it all. But instead of being full of joy and excitement, I was almost numb. All I could really feel was nervousness. It was like the reality was finally setting in and I wasn’t sure how to feel about it, or if I was really ready.

We were expecting more of an emergency placement situation, where they just call you out of the blue and bring you the kids that same day. We were ready to wing it…not to have to think about it, not to have to make sure it was the right fit.

My numbness didn’t last long, though, and while the nervousness lingers, it's very much in the background. I awoke early the next morning, around 5am, my head spinning with thoughts of M and J, excited, happy thoughts about their first days in our home. (And this was before we received the official request for placement!)

Over the next couple of days, encouraging words from family members and their excitement to be family to M and J brought on happy tears and filled me with confidence and joy.

John and I had the privilege of spending the weekend with some of our dearest friends, our last kid-free weekend for a while, and I can’t think of a better way to have spent it.

That was followed by an incredible Sunday evening with Nexus Community. It seems the investments of time and energy we’ve made over the last year and a half in the apartment community where our church meets have finally begun to pay off. New people are coming and excited to be there. One new mother told me tonight she has looked for two years for a church, and finally, in Nexus, has found a community where she feels she belongs. God is at work in our church, and it is so exciting to be a part of it!

I have a growing church, incredible family and friends, an amazing relationship with my wonderful husband, and this Thursday I’m going to be a mom. I’m pretty much on top of the world.

That’s how it feels on top of the roller coaster, right? Just before the big drop. I know it’s going to be a wild ride, but I am so ready. Bring on the speed, the twists and turns, even the loops that turn you upside-down! This is going to be the ride of our lives!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Licensed and Ready

So, I have some news...we were officially licensed on July 24th for foster care! This means that any day now we could get the call and have children placed in our home!

We are so relieved that the licensing (hoop-jumping) process is over, and super excited about what's ahead. And then there are all kinds of thoughts and emotions about what it will actually be like. Who will our first kids be? How old? Boys or girls? What will they have been through? Will they be more sad, or more angry? Will they like our dogs? Will they like us? Will we be able to help them?

And then there's that looming question...Will they try to burn our house down? 

We’ll hope for the best and pray for divine intervention for the worst!

John likes to say he wants us to get the “really messed up” kids. This, I believe, is a reflection of his hopeful perspective on humanity and genuine care for others, which often turns the “bad kids” at his high school into his best and favorite students. It also may have something to do with remembering himself as a kid and knowing what it’s like to go through tough family situations. I’m so glad he’s my partner in all of this. He is truly amazing, and he’s going to be an awesome dad.

I try to think about our kids and where they are right now, what they’re going through. But it’s hard because there are so many possibilities. We could get kids who transfer out of another foster home, or a shelter or group home, or we could get kids who just got removed from their own home, possibly while mom or dad was getting handcuffed and put into a police car. We could get kids who have been abused, or abandoned, but still feel really sad and angry when they get removed from their homes. We could get kids whose parents or caretakers have recently died and there was no one else to take them in. The possibilities are endless.

And then I get to thinking about whether or not our first kids will be the kids we’ll end up adopting someday. Will we have them for a month? a year? forever?

While these questions are tough to wrestle with, they aren’t nearly as scary as they seemed about a year ago when I first realized what we would be signing up for if we did foster-to-adopt.

After the “trying,” and the messed up pregnancies, and the hospital visits and hopelessness and all of that, John and I began to talk about the possibility of shifting gears and looking into foster care and/or adoption again. It seemed that foster-to-adopt was the way we were compelled to go, but we needed to learn more.

We went to an informational meeting and it was there that they explained how foster-to-adopt works. You’re a regular foster parent first and foremost, but they will try to give you kids who are likely to become available for adoption in the future, and you’ll also be considered as a possible parent for other kids who come up for adoption who aren’t in your home. Chances are you’ll have a good handful of kids go in and out of your home before you get the kids you’ll eventually adopt.

But here was the kicker, that night I learned (or finally grasped) that the intention and goal of the foster care system is “to return each child to his or her family of origin.”

Now, this may make perfect sense to you (because it does make perfect sense), but in the emotional state I was in, longing so desperately to be a mother and still deeply feeling the pain of our losses, the idea of taking a child into our home, and then giving them back, sounded like self-torture!

The ride home from that meeting was not a great one. John was so excited and ready to get started. I was heartbroken and distraught. There were frustrated words and tears and silence.

That night I laid awake in bed, my mind spinning. I had to make a decision. Was I going to agree to pursue this or not? Tears flowed down my face as all the emotion of the past year washed over me. I was overwhelmed with sadness. Was this it for me? The only way I could be a mother? Really, God? Take children who have come from terrible situations into my home and my heart, mother them for a little while, and then give them back to their actual parents. That’s my only option?

Of course, there were other options. I could try to convince John to let me “try” again, despite the hospital debt and the still looming health concerns. I could see if he would be willing to simply pursue adoption without fostering. I could do nothing for the time being and just wait. But somewhere deep inside I was being drawn, clearly and strongly, toward foster-to-adopt. It wasn’t that it was my only option, it was the conviction that this was what God was calling me to do.

And I was mad about it.

So God got to hear all about how unfair it was, and what I wanted, and how none of this made sense. He listened to my fears and my frustrations and my guilt for not just wanting to love and care for these kids in need, despite what I was giving up.

And that was it, what was making me so emotional over this decision. It meant that, at least for the next couple of years (and possibly forever), I was giving up the dream of getting pregnant and having a baby. This thing that I had wanted to do so desperately, that I had put so much into pursuing over the last two years, that I had hoped and waited for all my life…I was giving it up.

I was the girl who couldn’t wait until it was my turn to make the big announcement to family members and friends, to do the big reveal of if it was a boy or a girl, to listen to a heartbeat inside my swollen belly.

I got excited about new clothes that would likely pass for early maternity later. I looked in the mirror and pictured myself with a growing tummy, looking forward to charting the growth with those side-shot pregnant-belly pictures.

I imagined what our baby would look like, and grow up to be like, what kind of awesome combination of John and my genes God would weave together. I dreamed of holding that baby in my arms, rocking it to sleep in the quiet hours of the night, loving him or her with my whole heart. We would share all of the special moments of life together, from all their firsts, to their school days, to the “I do’s” and the grand kids.

All of that I was giving up. I was letting it go, slowly and painfully releasing my tight grip, finger by finger.

By the morning, it was finished. I had cried and kicked and screamed, and wrestled with God, and finally let go. I was ready for something new, for whatever God had in store for us. And that is when my joy began to return.

“Weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning” – Psalm 30:5

I’m not saying I never felt sad again, or questioned God again, because I certainly have. And I’m also not quite ready to give up the possibility of ever trying to get pregnant again. But I can say with full confidence that I am ready for this adventure of fostering-to-adopt! I am willing to table all the rest and move forward with this now.

I’m even excited about walking with a child through the experience of foster care and being reunited with his or her family, extending grace and love to parents who lost their way for a little while, hoping and praying with the children that their parents will be redeemed and their families will be restored. And when I think of the children who we’ll go on this journey with and eventually will adopt, becoming their forever family…well, that excites me just as much as the thought of getting pregnant ever has.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

I Want To Be A Mother (Poem)

This poem has been in the works since May. I started it anticipating Mother's Day and working through those emotions. With our home study tomorrow I thought it would be a good time to try and finish it. Hopefully we will soon be closer to this hope and dream coming true!

I Want To Be A Mother

I want to be a mother, but I’m not,
Not yet;
Not because I haven’t tried, but because I’ve been denied
Denied this privilege, this beautiful vocation
Of bearing, birthing, cradling, cuddling, nurturing
Adoring, loving
A child.
My heart has been broken and broken again
By the quiet search for another heart beating
Only to find nothing,
No life inside
My hopeful womb.
And the man who gently holds my hand
My rock who will forever stand by me
Shares my pain
But can’t possibly understand
The deepness of my desperation,
The intensity of my longing.

I want to be a mother;
I’ve never known a moment when this was not true.
Every particle of my being longs
To reach out and love
The way that only a mother can.
I was made for this.
How is it that this gift of life
Seems to be given
So freely
To the unprepared, the addicted,
The so very young?
To those who will be quick to abuse,
To neglect, to abandon?
And then there are those
Who choose to dispose of the life that is growing
Without ever knowing what they’re giving up
Until it’s too late.
This is a sorrow I do not know
Nor do I envy,
And while I can’t pretend to understand
I will not hold against you a decision made in pain and fear,
Perhaps even in love.
Sisters, we are broken.
But there is hope,
And there is healing,
And there is life
In the One who heals the broken,
The Restorer of all things.

I want to be a mother.
I’m not one yet,
But I will be.
My eyes have been opened
To see
The many children
Who are longing,
Hoping, waiting, and praying
For just what it is I have to offer;
What I long to do and be
What I was, truly, made for.
It may not be the way
I had originally imagined
But I anticipate the joys I find
Along this new path
Will challenge
My wildest imagination.

I want to be a mother and I will be!
Because I can!
Because I was made to!
Because not to
Would be to deny
An undeniable part of who I am.
I will nurture and adore
I will challenge and cheer on
I will comfort, cuddle and care
Like only a mother can.
I will love
Until it hurts
And I know it will.
But this endeavor,
This journey,
This adventure in motherhood
Will be
The best thing
I have ever done.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Developing a Heart for Fostering

I didn't grow up wanting to be a foster parent. I grew up wanting to be a mother, a great one, just like mine. This is a desire that has only grown greater with time.

I was one of those newlyweds…on birth control (faithfully, John, I promise!), but kind-of, sort-of, sometimes secretly hoping for an accidental pregnancy.  I hated taking the pills even though I knew it was wiser to wait. I mean really hated them, 'despised' might be a better word. 

My friends talk about all the things they want to do before they have kids, I just want to do all the things you do when you have kids. Call me crazy, but it just sounds like fun to me.

I remember talking with John early in our dating years about our future kids, coming up with names, the silly, love-struck college students we were. I think we talked about possibly adopting at some point, it’s definitely been on the radar for both us since our college years.

As time went on, it became clear that John’s desire for children was very much a far-into-the-future thing, and he began to strongly favor adoption over having biological children.  He had all kinds of good reasons that sounded very Kingdom-of-God-esque. I figured it would wear off eventually; he’d grow out of it after a few years. It didn’t happen quite like that.

Our first two years of marriage we lived in Kansas City. I was in seminary and we chose to buy a home and move into the seminary neighborhood, a lower-income area of town where we were by far the racial minority (at least we fit in as far as income was concerned!). Oh, those wonderful days on E 65th Street.

Side Note (just for fun): We had a shooting on our street while we lived there. Sad of course, but no reason to freak out, it was drug related. Just don’t try to get an IOU for drugs, or steal things, or beat up or shoot anyone else and you’ll do just fine in the ghetto, no worries.

A few months into our marriage, we met some neighbors, two teenage boys. We invited them over for dinner one night, and then the next night, and after that we kind of became their second home. 

We did homework together, played games, cooked and cleaned up lots of dinners, went out for ice cream, went to a couple Royals games, and had all kinds of adventures (including the time they "borrowed" our car and wrecked it). They met many of our family members and friends and became affectionately referred to by all as "the boys". 

They loved our dogs, and I think they grew to love us as well. We certainly grew to love them. 

That experience, the love and space that just naturally opened up in our hearts and in our home for those boys, made us think much more seriously about fostering or adopting someday. There was something about it that just seemed right. It fit who we were and who we were becoming.

A year or so after we moved from Kansas City to Denton, TX, I was really getting anxious to begin the parenting process. At this point we were pretty sure we would foster and/or adopt at some point in our lives, but we weren’t sure if we should try to have our own first or start with fostering. We went to an informational meeting about foster care. 

They told us if we wanted to have our own we should try that first. So we did.

John, of course, was still not so keen on the idea of having a baby, but he was willing to try because he loves me…and he figured once they were five or so it would be okay.

It’s strange to think how willing I was, way back then, to start with fostering. It was going to be quite the journey to get back to that place once the “trying” began.

Friday, May 18, 2012

About the Blog (Round 2)

Reading through my first "About the Blog" post feels so strange. It’s almost as if this writer is someone else, so young, so hopeful...naively anticipating the adventures ahead, charging forward, or perhaps skipping, with reckless abandon. I want to tell her she’s about to face the darkest, most difficult moments of her life, but to keep on looking for that green grass. And that she’s strong, stronger than she knows.

When I first began this blogging endeavor my husband, John, and I had recently acquired a sixteen-year-old, his sister, Logan. This was not exactly what I had in mind for my first attempt at parenting, but you do what need to do for family. In fact, we were prepared to make this a semi-permanent situation, planning to move to a new home with space to house his mother as well. What actually happened was a little different. Logan lived with us for two months, difficult for all of us, but also some very good times. Then I got pregnant. And it's what happened next that took our happy little adventure of life into something like the scary tunnel in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. But we'll get to that.

When I wrote that first blog post in January of 2011 I was only a few months into my first pastorate. Nexus Community had been born and we were full of life and hope, about to plant ourselves in a poverty-stricken, crime-ridden apartment complex on Forest Lane. I am pleased to report that I am still the pastor of this church (thanks be to God!) and we are still engaged in this mission.

I have learned that being a pastor is a difficult job, planting a church is even harder, and leading a group of middle to upper class white folks to be the church in a context like this one is just plain crazy (as well as awesome, tiring, frustrating, and beautiful). I’ve also learned that when you are completely drained of emotional energy and clueless as to why you’re in the position you’re in, the same Spirit who led you there comforts and sustains you, and continues to breathe life into your weary soul as well as into your weary church. 

Nexus Community is still alive. Jesus Christ must be. This is not the only evidence I have, but it is evidence enough. And there is more to come.

The final major element of my life when I started this blog was that John and I were in the process of trying to get pregnant. This part didn't make the initial entry for obvious reasons, but it wasn't long before this blog became a space for me to express my feelings of grief and loss, and to search for hope and joy in the midst of it all.

I had an ectopic pregnancy in March, then a molar pregnancy in July.
Same song, second verse, a little bit louder and a little bit worse.

Actually, it was a lot worse. The spring and early summer had been about recovering and moving forward, but as the summer days grew longer and we were hit with this second round of loss and pain, darkness settled in over my heart and I became one among those who are simply surviving.

And that is when the writing stopped. Not just the writing, but all creativity. Every ounce of creative energy I had left was used for the church, and they can tell you it wasn’t much.

I also didn’t sing. Not in the car, not in the shower. It wasn’t until a couple of months ago that I noticed I had stopped, and only because I had started again. It was like when you open up boxes after moving to a new home and find yourself delighted at their contents, remembering the precious and beautiful things you had hidden away. What a wonderful feeling to have joy flowing through my veins again, rising up out of my soul, dancing through my vocal chords, onto my tongue and lips, and out into the world.

But before there was singing, there was what seemed to be an ever-deepening sadness.

Just a month after the second failed pregnancy, weeks after the surgery to remove it, I received an early morning phone call reporting that my husband’s other sister, Nikki, had passed away. She was older than Logan, but much too young for her life to have come to an end, younger than their brother, Brandon, who had lost his life less than a year before.  I was asked to share the news with John, who I knew was still in the process of grieving the loss of his brother, struggling to keep it together enough to be strong for me through the loss of these two pregnancies, and now this.

The John and Jen who lived from September of 2011 to March of 2012 seem like different people entirely than the people I know us to be today. They were so broken. The tragedies of their lives had risen up like a wall between them, each of them pounding on it desperately, trying to get through to reach the other, resentfully unsuccessful. We both knew the other was there, that our love was true and persistent, but it was as if we were inmates separated by the bars of our own personal prison cells of sorrow.

I can’t pinpoint the day of our release, but am thrilled to tell you that we are imprisoned no more.

It was really more of a long and treacherous journey, from the darkness of those sorrowful days to the joy we’re living in now. And there were many turning points along the way, but the biggest and most significant was our decision to become foster parents.

The story of this journey is the story I now plan to tell, along with the new stories of what is about to begin…this July. I’d better start writing!