Links in the Chain- How the ChainBreaker Can Also Be the ChainMaker

It’s been 3 weeks now since we gave up two of our foster sons to another family, and it’s time to finally write about it. It’s been a particularly hard blog to get my head around because there’s just so much I want to say- and I haven’t really been able to figure out how to say it. There’s so much we learned about fostering in general, but there’s even more I learned from a spiritual perspective. Even just now sitting here, I think there’s too much to write all in one blog- so….. welcome to part 1. Ha! (Enjoying my real-time writing decisions yet?)

Anyhoo, yes. Let’s dive into how 2019 started for us and what God has taught our family (and me especially) through this crazy-fostering-thing we’re called to. But to start, I need to give you some background so bear with me for just a bit.

Six days before Christmas I got a call from DFS asking us to take two brothers, a 7-year old with Down Syndrome (yes!) and his little brother who was 5. I felt a little leap in my spirit that usually doesn’t happen when we get calls. I immediately called Gabe at work and told him “I want these boys.” Much to my surprise and his credit- he told me we could pray about it. Now, for those who don’t know, timing is everything when you get a new placement. Often these poor children are literally sitting in the office of the case worker who is desperately trying to find them a family as soon as possible. So minutes are precious… hours are long, days are almost unheard of.

We had just hours to decide.

Imagine trying to weigh taking in two new children (to add to our other 4), one with Down Syndrome (to add to our other two with special needs)- not knowing their story, not knowing their behavior, their needs, how long we’ll have them (the average time spent in foster homes in MO is around 18 months), how it’ll affect not only short term but long-term plans, etc. etc. etc. It’s no small thing to decide upon… prayer is literally all you can do sometimes.

After an afternoon of talking extensively and praying, we decided (with much trepidation and convinced we were crazy) to take them. I called the worker only to find out they had just been placed with another family. Okay God- that settled that.

Fast forward 3 weeks.

My phone rang- another placement call I thought. It was. But not just any- it was for these two boys again. Apparently it wasn’t working out with the family they were placed with. I called Gabe again to see what he wanted to do. God love that man! He immediately noted that God had put them in our path a second time- basically how could we say no? Hours passed… we prayed again…. we talked again… we questioned our sanity again… and ultimately we said yes…. again.

Taking these kiddos was going to drastically change our life. Schedules, meals, outings, vacations, school pick-up and drop-off… almost every facet was going to be altered in some way. After all it’s no small thing to have six kids that young- with that many medical and developmental needs. But, clearly God had asked us to take them- so there was no going back now. Our hearts and minds were set and even among the crazy-factor we felt totally at peace with the decision.

Until five weeks later on a Saturday morning when I found myself sick, frustrated, bleary-eyed from lack of sleep, bawling on the floor of my bathroom- crying out to God, quietly and rather ashamedly asking Him to release us from the boys. This was the opposite of peace. I couldn’t do it anymore- no, we as a couple couldn’t handle it, our family-unit couldn’t maintain the current status quo. God I just can’t anymore, I tried, I failed, forgive me but please release us I found myself quietly sobbing to Him.

Please know that these boys were (are!) precious. They were not bad boys. But they were hard. They had been neglected so badly that many normal rules of behavior and conduct were completely foreign to them. Their medical needs had been met marginally at best. The boy with Down Syndrome was non-verbal, a wanderer, and didn’t sleep. They had never spent longer than a few months in any one school due to being moved around so they were hopelessly behind academically. And, truth be told, as previously noted, six kids is a lot. In this case, it was too many. Not one was getting the time and attention they needed or deserved. Both Gabe and I were walking zombies from lack of sleep and trying to keep up with the <very> special needs of our three designer-gened kiddos. It was just too much. Despite our church, the school (their teachers were amazing!!), our family and friends- it was just beyond what we could handle.

And I HATED the feeling of failure… and being yet another family to pass them along.

Yes, that Saturday my heart broke. Panicking for some wisdom, I flipped through my phone for someone, anyone who could offer me not only a sympathetic ear but some sage advice. Keep them despite the situation? Let them go and step out of God’s will? Something felt off, wrong, no peace could be found and that was alarming. So. Many. Questions.

I scrolled past family, I scrolled past best friends, I scrolled past regular friends… and landed on a lady who I’ve actually never met in person, but who has become a good online friend and fellow writer. Out of nowhere I texted her to see if we could chat. She immediately responded, I called, and long story short- through her words God released us from these precious boys. It turned out, she and her husband had fostered from a long time (who knew?? GOD knew…) and they had been in a very similar situation (whaat?!?) Her words of wisdom and experience washed over me like a cool balm to my agitated nerves. I indeed felt released. I felt God had stirred my soul, perhaps even cause my illness in order to bring us to a point of surrender. Chances are, we would have missed Him in the mess of following Him so we needed an intervention. We had put our heads so far down to walk this path that I think we forgot to keep seeking Him.

The rest of that afternoon God put countless people in our path through ‘random’ phone calls and texts that both assured and encouraged us that we weren’t stepping out of His will for us and that His plan was still being accomplished.

At this point I need to digress to a parallel story for a second. Rewind to only three days after we originally took the boys in. Gabe and I went to a marriage retreat and had to put the boys into respite. We had a hard time finding someone on such short notice to take them, especially with the special needs child. Finally their case-worker found a family, we dropped them off and three days later picked them back up. As I was loading them into the car, a seemingly passing conversation would turn into a vital link in this crazy chain. The lady told me that her daughter, who is a teacher is a nearby school district, had come to visit her during this respite and was pleasantly surprised to run into the two boys, both of whom she knew from school last semester. The daughter told her mom she was so relieved to hear they were in foster care and she couldn’t wait to tell the other teachers that they were safe- apparently the entire school had been super worried about them (knowing their living situation) and after they just didn’t come back to school one-day… well….. the questions and worries abounded. Especially for the older one’s special ed teacher, (we’ll call him Mr. Smith) who was particularly fond of the boy. The lady told me that Mr. Smith wanted to let us know that if the boys were ever to come up for adoption and we couldn’t or wouldn’t take them, that he and his wife would be interested.

Okay, so back to the main plot- fast forward now to the Saturday of woe (let’s call it D-day at the Douglas’s) around six that evening I get a random text from an unknown number. This is Jane Smith, my husband Mr. Smith used to be _____’s special ed teacher. We heard you may need to find another placement for them. Do you think we could have them? Who do we need to call?

Mic drop… or phone drop in this case.

This family, who we later found out had wanted these boys for years, who had been praying about adopting them, who knew their backstory and their needs, who God had been perfectly situating to take them in- called US to ask if they could take them. I’m telling you you can’t make this stuff up. It’s GodStuff! He was making links, laying the framework for this pairing, for months if not years.

Released from that duty, with the futures of these dear boys firmly and supernaturally taken care of, you’d think all’s well that ends well. Except I took the break in events to take a deep breath and get…. frustrated…

What was the point? Why, after five weeks of complete and utter life disruption, would You take them away now? I don’t get it God. Did we mishear you to begin with? Were we never supposed to take them at all? Why such a short time? Did we do something wrong? What was the POINT of it all? Questions and frustrations swirled. I was grateful, but (like all good {ex}flight-nurses…) I needed to debrief and figure out what went wrong.

It turns out… nothing did. it all went right.

Because what I learned, what God allowed me to see as He graciously pulled back the curtain just a bit on His plans, is that He doesn’t just break chains without providing new chains of protection.

What I learned is that as God was breaking the chains of their little lives of abuse, drugs, living in tents, hunger, thirst, and chronic neglect- He was also remaking chains of protection, love, safety, and security.

I learned that with each link broken from the old life, He was linking a new chain for their new life. The last day they saw their mom, nobody knowing whether it would be their last visit or not to see her… was also the same time that God was preparing their new, forever family to take them in. The last time they got to see their ‘new’ teachers in our school district (again, nobody knowing it would be their last parting) would make a link to go home to be with their new dad (who, incidentally, was the older boy’s special ed teacher!… because GodStuff).

What I’ve learned is that the God of closed doors and opened windows is also the God of ChainBreaking and ChainMaking. He never takes without replacing with something better.

The links to their old lives obliterated made way for the links to their new lives forged.

What I learned is that we, in that seemingly short time, were a link or two in their new chain. We were there for several of the breaking of the links in their old chains; we provided hugs and cuddles and explanations and prayers for bewildered and hurting little hearts. We were the link that got them to their forever family. Our family and friends who loved them, provided meals for us, watched them, asked about them, prayed for them each helped build new links in their new life. His teachers, their school, our neighbors, their case workers, our church- everyone who took an extra minute to acknowledge them, love them, pour into them, care about their welfare- in short, everyone who stepped out to be Jesus’ hands- forged a link in their new chain. (And to all of you special people who may be reading this… thank you… from the bottom of our hearts and on behalf of two very special boys- what you did, no matter how large or small- made a difference.)

So…. there it is. And just like that, though our part was small and just the very beginning of a new chain, our links were important. Just as everyone’s is.

Dear ones, my dear, dear friends. We are all links in God’s great chains. He’s breaking chains and making chains with US. We ARE the links. From the earthly temporal straight up to the heavenly eternal, God’s doing His thing bridging the vast chasm from death to life. Take note today of who’s life you are a vital God link in. Find the people you’re supposed to be linking towards God. Find the people Christ is using to help break their old and making their new. Be the chainbreaker and chainmaker in the Father’s hands.

Be obedient. Be brave.

Be their link.

Read Part 2 of this blog here

6 Super Practical Ways to Support the Foster Families in Your Life

Our family was led to fostering around a year and a half ago and to say this ministry is not for the faint of heart is the understatement of the year. We recently took in another group of two sibling brothers, which put us at 6 littles- all under 7 years old- 5 boys, 1 girl, 2 with Down Syndrome, and 1 with Noonan Syndrome. (Feel free to read about the craziness of that world in another blog I posted a few weeks ago.) But I digress- as we were desperately trying to keep our head above water with these new kiddos (and I do mean keeping everyone alive… seriously, read that blog!), our church and friends came around in a big way. I’m not generally a person who reaches out for help, and truth be known I should’ve asked for more help earlier on with this current situation, but it became clear to me as people came around us that there are some especially helpful things our friends did that helped keep us sane.

The following is a brief list of ways to bless the socks off the foster families in your life. It’s by no means complete, and it very much veers towards families with a lot of littles in particular. But the basics of blessing are certainly there and I can personally attest that they will be most welcome!

If you’re a foster family, please feel free to add to this list in the comments. The more ideas the better!

  1. Pray for us. Let me put it a different way… PRAY! The A, number 1, most important thing that I ask for on a daily (sometimes hourly!) basis is prayer coverage. We need it over our marriages, our sanity, our bio children, the house, the cars, the kid’s schools, the kid’s teachers, the foster kids, the foster’s bio parents, the case workers… you get the idea. None of this is possible in any way shape or form without a whole lotta grace, mercy, protection, and patience. If there’s nothing you feel you can offer in tangible ways… prayer is always something we can all do. It’s not a ‘throwaway’ gift, it’s not something to be taken lightly. I know from experience that I covet the prayers of those who love us and our family. Don’t take that huge way to support us for granted.

  2. Babysit- maybe not <all> the kids, but however many you can handle. We currently have six ourselves, and believe me we’d never push those numbers on anyone. But to have someone take a couple just to relieve the pressure for a few hours is always a God-send. Date nights for couples, an hour or two for a single parent, these precious minutes you can give us are invaluable to our sanity and often give us that extra bit of energy that we need to push on for another day. Better yet, become an official respite provider and get paid to do it! Ask your foster families for info about taking a class for respite. They are often quite short and easy to get licensed with (depending on your state). It’s always so much easier to know that we have family and friends watching our kiddos versus complete strangers. You can imagine how much easier a transition back and forth in caretakers it is on the fosters too!

  3. Bring on the food- even with state aid, let me just say ain’t nobody in this fostering thing for the money. Kids are expensive! Of our six kiddos right now, five are boys- and though they are young these little guys can quickly eat us out of house and home. When we took in the latest fosters, a sib group of two, several of our friends and neighbors brought over meals. Not unlike a meal-train for an invalid or new baby. These meals, especially on the onset of new placements were life-savers for this momma! Not only did they save us a but of money for food but they saved me an entire evening of cooking. That’s huge! Don’t have time to cook (after all, who <really> does)? Order us some pizza. Send some gift cards our way. Eating out with a large family is at a premium these days- it’s a luxury that most can’t afford regularly- a restaurant gift certificate is a treasure!!

  4. .Keep an eye and ear out for physical needs- often new placements create necessary logistics that foster families have to meet in a very short timeframe. Whether it be a set of bunkbeds, more linens, a full set of seasonal clothing or shoes, a car seat, extra dishes, or a simple toothbrush- bringing an entire new person (or people!) is no small thing to do. Thankfully there are usually many fostering resources to help with these needs, but it’s highly dependent on the location. Being on the lookout for good company sales, yard sales, or maybe what you’ve got stored in your attic can be a lifesaver for these families.

  5. Offer to run errands- depending on the number and ages of the kids in the foster home, running even the simplest of errands can become a small circus (or in our house, feels like its nothing short of the Secret Service planning an overseas mission for the President- the logistics can be insane!) Pick up their groceries, take the car to get it’s oil changed, grab the dry-cleaning, or offer to drop off the kids for soccer practice. Often I’ve found myself desperately needing just a loaf of bread and gallon of milk but the sheer logistics of getting all the kids in and out of the car to the store is just not worth the effort. What should be a quick 15 minute trip to the store becomes an hour+ ordeal- with varying levels of crying, fights, and momma exasperation. Taking 30 minutes to run an errand for us is golden and we’ll be forever in your debt.

  6. Use your gifts and talents- I probably don’t know you personally, so I’m not sure what particular giftings you have- maybe you’re a wiz with the lawn mower, you just love to walk dogs, you’re coffee lover who has a knack for knowing when that mom or dad needs some joe, you’re a thrift store connoisseur who can’t away from a great deal, you have a special relationship with laundry and you understand each other well, maybe you’ve blessed with extra tickets to that show or game, perhaps God’s given you an abundance of finances and you have a heart to give… whatever it is, be keen to use the gifts and talents God’s given you to bless others. You just never know what small or simple thing God can mightily use you in the lives of these families and kids.

(For those of you in the SW MO area, the following are a list of sites and services that are fantastic resources for foster families. Donating time, money, resources, and even just stuff to these organizations is tremendously helpful to many, many foster kids and families all over the region)

For the Kids- Aurora, MO

Sammy’s Window- Springfield, MO

The Cleaning Closet- Mount Vernon, MO

The Walk-In Closet- Pierce City, MO

Finding God In... FOSTERING

Dear ones, we're about half-way through this amazing series. I hope you have been greatly encouraged by the testimonies of those who have shared part of their stories with you. As a slight reprieve, I want to feature a post this week about fostering. Gabe and I are foster parents and we met this amazing lady when she taught our licensing classes. I would in no way categorize fostering as a 'dry-season' or a dark place... however most of the children that we get to love on and bring into our families are in extremely dark places (or have been in the past.) What they have been through is no joke (as you saw with Lizzie and her post last week.) But God is, of course, in this whole process as well. And I am pleased and privileged to have my friend Dana share a bit of her family's journey.

 

The ONE.

Foster Parenting is not something I grew up dreaming of doing. In fact, it only came as a result of a really tough personal season of “laying it A.L.L. down”. Growing up, I always knew I would be in ministry, and for many years I was sure I would be a missionary to the nations, touching hundreds of lives. And for a season I did just that. Until God me into something unexpected. He called me to the ONE.

Through a season of unplanned detours, both career-wise and heart-wise, my husband and I ended up putting down roots in Missouri in the summer of ‘07. We moved with a specific passion and goal in mind: to foster teenagers. And not just any teenagers, but those with severe emotional challenges suffering from the effects of unspeakable trauma. In short, God has called us to parent those who are facing their last chance to have family. When children experience abuse and neglect at the hands of those who are tasked with protecting and providing for them, it wreaks havoc on their mind and emotions. Couple that with the often-traumatic experience of being brought into foster care and shuffled from home to home, our young people learn quickly they cannot trust a single soul except for themselves. Many of the teens who come to us have not really been parented at all. No curfews. No respect. No good night kisses. No boundaries. No peace. No soccer games. No safety. Just Fight Flight and Freeze in FULL operation mode. Cue the challenging behavior.

This can all get very overwhelming, to say the least. My husband and I often feel inadequate, worn out and ill prepared to handle the tremendous brokenness that meets us at our door every time a new young person moves in. Until I remember the ONE. There is something about Jesus’ story of the 99 that is both life giving and perplexing. The fact that Jesus would leave the 99, to find the ONE, speaks volumes to me on a daily basis about what we do in our home. In all honesty, my family could use our resources elsewhere and probably touch and encourage many many more than we do today = the 99. But instead, He asks for my focus to be on the ONE. The ONE. When I let myself think about how powerful that is, I am stirred deep within at the honor it is that He allows us to have access to the ONE.

The ONE who spent her entire life being sexually abused by a step parent who was supposed to love and protect her. The ONE who was passed off to a local pimp at 11 years old because her “mom” was done raising her. The ONE whose step dad murdered her mom – who instantly became an orphan. The ONE whose parents consistently chose their addiction over their own child over and over and over again. The ONE has a face, a name, a story, a soul and a purpose. The ONE was fashioned by the Creator in her mother’s womb and He has not abandoned His desire for her despite the hell she has endured. The ONE is called. The ONE has a destiny. The ONE can and will be redeemed. This is why we foster. For the ONE.

 

To find out more about the amazing ministry that Dana and her family have, please check out their website www.dogwoodranch.org