10 Ways to Support a Foster Family
(without having children live in your home!)

09 August 2017

It takes a village, y'all. For much of the past year as foster parents, Danny and I were drowning-- occasionally coming up to sputter and gasp, but mostly in over our heads. Were it not for our incredible "village" of friends, family, neighbors, and even strangers, we would have completely sunk.

Now we find ourselves in a much simpler, less demanding season-- the house is in order(!!!), I went to the dentist(!!!), cooked dinner twice already this week(!!!), went for a run(!!!), and took a shower(!!!). We are breathing easier again and, for the first time in a loooooong time, beginning to look beyond our own immediate neediness to the needs of others. I feel a new passion/compassion for helping other foster families thrive by playing the supportive role that was so critical for our own survival last year.

It struck me that many people want to help foster families but simply don't know how. Being on the receiving end only a few weeks ago, I think I can provide a few ideas. :)

10 Ways to Support a Foster Family
(without having children live in your home!)

1. DO SOMETHING. "Let me know if you need anything!" comes from a great heart, but the reality is that most people who are drowning don't have time to think about the best way you can help save them. They just need you to do it. 

2. FEED THEM! My cousin, Liza, recently shared about a retreat center in which guests were welcomed to meals with these words, "Around here, we enjoy food as God's love made edible." I wish I had an exact number, but in our 13 months as foster parents, we had no less than 50 meals dropped off at our doorstep. 50+ people who made God's love edible for our family. 50+ nights we weren't eating chicken nuggets or frozen pizza.

Don't ask if they need food-- trust me, food is always always always welcomed (especially in disposable containers that don't have to be returned, and if you really want to go over the top, throw in a few paper plates too). ;)

3. GIVE THEM A BREAK. Take the kids to a park, to the library, to a movie, whatever, so the parents can have a few minutes to themselves. We had friends/family take our foster children on hikes, to their house to make cookies, for slumber parties, etc.

Many people are unsure about rules/restrictions that may apply for babysitting a foster child. Ask the parent! Each agency has its own set of rules, but for us (DHR) this was not an issue. Anyone we trusted could watch them/take them for outings. This was a HUGE help.

4. CLEAN THEIR HOUSE. Or send a cleaning service. I would've killed for this last year, so it's going on the list. ;)

5. SEND THEM ON A DATE. Parenting is exhausting, foster parenting is insane, and marriages can suffer. Offer to watch the kids so the parents can go on a date, and if you really want to go overboard, send them with a gift card. :) We had several friends, family, and neighbors who offered to watch our kids on a regular basis, and I can't tell you what a gift this was!

6. OFFER YOUR SERVICES. Get creative! This can be fun! Do you cut hair? We received free haircuts from both a retired hair-stylist and a local hair salon. We felt so pampered! Do you shop? An incredibly thoughtful friend bought all our school supplies so I wouldn't have to wrangle my kids around Target in search of No. 2 pencils and glue sticks (meanwhile removing the Legos and Oreos that flew off the shelves into our cart). Do you walk/drive? Two different neighbors walked/drove our foster kids to school every single morning after Owen was born thru the end of the school year (umm, like 7 months, y'all). Do you mow yards or tutor or fix cars or make amazing cappuccinos? I guarantee your services would be appreciated if you simply offer.

7. SEND A PACKAGE (OR LETTER!). Danny's Aunt Sue, who lives in Florida, never met our foster children but sent regular care packages filled with stickers, books, crafts, and individual gifts. The kids LOVED finding packages on our doorstep and could always guess it was from Aunt Sue! They also lit up whenever they checked the mailbox and found a letter with their name on it. Pretty amazing how a little note and a $0.47 stamp could make a child (or adult) ;) feel so loved (let alone a displaced child in a stranger's home).

8. SHARE YOUR STUFF. When we became foster parents, we were given boxes of beautiful hand-me-down children's clothes, a furniture set for the kids' bedroom, toys, and two strollers-- most of which came from people we had never met but who had heard we were a foster family and simply wanted to help. What's collecting dust in your basement could be a tremendous blessing to someone else-- pass it along!

9. LISTEN. Ask how they are doing and be prepared to get an earful. When they stop to breathe (or wipe tears), follow up with another question. Do this over breakfast (see #2) and you've got a winning combo! ;)

10. PRAY. Pray with them. Pray for them. Tell them you are praying for them. Then actually do it. The night our foster kids moved out, some dear friends and leaders from our church called Danny and me to a special meeting so they could pray over us. They listened (see #9) and wept with us. And then they prayed. This simple act touched us deeply, and we felt unbelievably loved.

There you have it. Foster parent, if you find yourself drowning, know you are not alone. You are amazing and doing a great work! Be willing to accept help (you know you need it!), and feel free to pass along this handy list to anyone who offers their services. ;) And kind, helpful, wonderful friend, if you find yourself in a smoother season like me, look around at who might benefit from your help and let this list prompt you to action.

We Signed Up For This

21 June 2017

We knew this day would come. When we signed up for foster care, we knew that one day we'd welcome children into our home, grow to love them as our own, and have to say goodbye. We knew it in theory, but no one warned us it would hurt this much.

This morning I was "mom" to two kids who woke up at 7:00 am on the dot and went quietly out to the living room to read books in silence until I came out. Two kids who said "please" and "thank you" for their breakfast and took their dishes to the sink when they were finished. Two kids who read books in my lap and built a fort on the couch and made a lego city on the playroom floor. (Two kids who were also sent to time-out, let's not paint this picture too rosy!) Two kids whom we've grown to love (and fought to love) for over a year, who have truly become part of our family, and whom we are really, really proud of. And then, with a simple lunch break "Transfer of Families," they were out the door with their new "mom" and "dad"-- their "forever family"-- and we were left with our memories and tears.

This morning Jane woke up in her crib singing, "Z-, Z-, Z-, Z-" (foster sister's name) to the tune of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. Five hours later, she hugged her goodbye and cried, "I will miss you Z-!" We didn't even know she understood.

People say, "I could never do foster care. I'd get too attached." As if there are people like us who can do it without getting too attached. Danny reminded me of C-'s first foster mom who bawled when she hugged him goodbye last year-- a seasoned foster mom who has said goodbye to dozens of foster kids, and she cried too. Apparently it doesn't get easier with experience. Apparently "too attached" is just part of the deal.

And yet, THIS IS WHAT WE SIGNED UP FOR. Want to love kids who are sometimes (often) hard to love, who will rock your sweet little world and in the end break your heart??? Dotted line here.

Maybe we were fools. But in the midst of the loss, I can't help but think of all we gained.

We gained two children who opened our eyes to some tough realities, stretched us beyond what we thought we could handle, taught us that love is costly and even impossible in our own strength, made us laugh, brought so much life and energy (sometimes too much) ;) into our home, and opened their hearts to love us.

Jane gained two siblings whom she adored and who loved her so genuinely in return. Her world was opened to forts and trampolines and creative play and so much laughter. 

Owen gained countless kisses, lots of love, and in a deeper sense, a home in which he was not the center of the universe. While sometimes we felt bad about this, I think even from infancy it has helped to shape his easy-going, social nature, and for this I am thankful.

Z & C gained a stable, loving HOME and FAMILY for the first time together. And while I hate to think of them having to start all over with a new family now, I rejoice to think we were the link to their FOREVER family, and I have to believe that our part of their story mattered.

Our marriage gained depth and strength as we stood by one another and held each other up through some incredibly tough times. This year reinforced what a great team we make and just how thankful I am to be Danny's wife, to walk through all of life with my best friend.

Our family gained a richness/realness as we all learned how to give and receive love, even when it didn't come naturally. We gained humility for being "that family" in the grocery store or at a restaurant, and we learned to be slower to judge and quicker to extend grace to others.

We gained community as we were surrounded and loved on by so many people. New friends, old friends, family, and people who were dropped into our lives for short seasons just to serve and bless us it seemed-- each stepped up at just the right moment. We could not have survived this past year alone.

Would I sign up for all that again? Absolutely. The loss is great, but we have gained overwhelmingly.

Will we foster again? Honestly, we're not sure. Possibly/probably so, but our hearts need some time to heal, to reset and to figure out where to go from here. For today, we just need to cry.

Sunday with Owen - 7 months

28 May 2017

At 7 months, Owen is...

PLAYFUL. He loves being tickled and playing peek-a-boo and, most of all, hanging upside down. Seriously, it's his favorite.

SOCIAL. He's happiest when he's around people/getting attention/in the same room where all the action is. This works out well since alone time is hard to come by and there is no shortage of "action" in our house these days. ;) He loves playing with his big sister, Jane, and already seems to know how to push her buttons.

TOUGH. He had a double ear infection last week and we hardly knew it, except that he wasn't as smiley as usual. Seems like he's a pretty resilient kid.

HAPPY-GO-LUCKY. This is the face we see most of the day, as long as he's not hungry, tired, or in pain. I love how generous he is with these smiles, and I hope he continues to find reasons to smile all the days of his life!

LOVED. Owen Daniel, we're so glad you're ours! Happy 7 months!

Sunday with Owen - 6 months

30 April 2017

Owen hit 6 months today, which seemed like an appropriate occasion to update the ol' blog (considering it's been half his life since he got any attention on here). ;)

Owen is such a happy little guy. Unless he's hungry or tired, his default expression is something like this-- an "all-in" smile which he generously gives to anyone who will lock eyes with him. 

Or this-- a mischievous tongue-out-and-up-to-no-good smile, which we expect to see often in the years to come. ;)

Can't get enough of those smiles (except maybe at 4 am)... we're still working on that.

Quite a charmer, that boy. The church nursery workers love him. His older sister on the other hand was complimented just last week on her impressive screaming endurance... ;)

Jane adores Owen and can make him belly-laugh more than anyone else. I love watching their sibling bond deepen as he grows older. I think they'll be buds. I did get my first glimpse of sibling rivalry this week, a whiny "Mom, Owen kicking me!" in the same tone of voice as all siblings in the history of the world have said to their mother. I guess I should get used to it. :)

We're so thankful for all the joy he has brought to our family these past 6 months. 
Happy Half Birthday, buddy! We love you so!

Tuesday with Jane - TWO

28 February 2017

Jane turned two this month, and I know I'd regret it if I didn't take a moment to pause and document a bit of her blossoming personality these days! 

At two, Jane is... 

INDEPENDENT. She likes to do things by herself ("I do it self!") and has strong opinions about what she wants-- and doesn't. She follows the big kids around and desperately wants to go to school. "Du-bai!" (good-bye) she says as she walks out the door.

TENDER-HEARTED. When her big (foster) sister had the flu last week, Jane quickly went to her room and came back with her own special blankie to give to Sister. "It's okay," Jane said, patting her back. Jane also has a soft heart toward animals and babies, and she is such a sweet big sister to baby Owen.

FASCINATED BY TINY THINGS. Jane looooves anything small... tiny buttons, tiny stickers, and tiny stuffed animals (tiny pandas in particular). "Awww, so tuute (cute)!" she'll say every time, making a tiny motion with her hands.

EVER-THE-DIVA. She picks out her own clothes each morning, and of course no outfit is complete without accessories! She changes shoes multiple times a day and never leaves the house without her purse, sunglasses, and usually at least one of her little "friends."

SILLY. She has a great sense of humor and makes us all laugh with her funny expressions. Her public personality takes on a much more serious tone, but at home she is a total goofball. :) She brings us so much joy!

AMAZINGLY DETERMINED. For at least six months, Jane screamed a solid 30 minutes every single night going down to bed. We tried everything we could think of (good cop, bad cop) and were completely at our wit's end. In the midst of our frustration with this stubborn child, my dad offered a different perspective. "I wonder where God might lead her someday that will require such determination!" I am reminded that often our greatest strengths are also our greatest weaknesses, and that channeled in the right direction, this strong-willed girl might be equipped to face some great challenges with courage and strength. (*She has since stopped screaming-- miraculously all it took was leaving her bedroom door open!-- and now shows her strong will in other areas which we are still working on...)

HOSPITABLE. She shares her bed with at least nine regular friends-- Maisy and Minnie, Max and Humphrey, Big Panda, Tiny Panda, Snowman, and most importantly, Bunny and Blankie. Each friend, at Jane's own initiative, takes a turn coming out for breakfast each morning, sitting on the table next to her (adult-sized) bowl of oatmeal. 

SMART. Yet another way she takes after her father! :) I just gotta brag on this girl for a minute-- she can (kind of) count to 10, (mostly) sing "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star," and (50%) recite the alphabet. Her exploding vocabulary amazes me, and she seems to have a great curiosity for language. She'll often stop us at the dinner table and ask, "What talking to?" (What are you talking about?) or want to know the meaning of a new word/phrase. Yesterday at the grocery store, I told someone that they could go ahead since they had only a few items, and Jane looked up at me and asked, "Go ahead means?" And she still talks about the time she heard a man speaking another language on the phone. I wonder if someday she might learn another language herself!

OBSESSED WITH MICE. Well, two mice in particular-- Maisy and Minnie. I don't think she's ever seen a real mouse, in which case her opinion might change. But she did meet Minnie earlier this month and was completely smitten.

Oh Janie Bear, we can't imagine life without you in it! We're so thankful for these past two years and for all the joy you bring to our family. Happy 2nd birthday. We love you, sweet girl!!

SWO - 3 months

05 February 2017

Owen Daniel-- what a happy little guy! This picture captures so many things right now: the perpetual spit up all over his clothes (and chin) that mama never bothered to wipe off. The beloved green Bumbo perched up on the kitchen counter where he can watch all the action. That "all-in" smile he is quick to flash at anyone who will make eye-contact (sometimes even a photograph will do). And his diva-sister's sunglasses, proving just how easy-going and LOVED he is! :)

When he smiles really big, he sticks his tongue out the side of his mouth. My social, never-met-a-stranger, older brother, Austin, had the same trademark when he played sports... I have a feeling Owen might take after Austin in more ways than one!

Besides the green Bumbo, Owen's other "happy place" is this piano mat. He kicks the keys to make music, but I think his favorite feature is the little mirror, which is always smiling back at him. :) Occasionally he has to make room for his big sister...

But of course she always smiles back at him too. :)

It's been so much fun to see Jane and Owen interacting more. She loves "decorating" him with her toys or sunglasses, updating me on his status ("Owen happy, mom!" "Owen cry, mom!"), giving him "tiss hug," and making him smile. And every time after he wakes up, she says to him in the cutest little voice, "Good nap, Owen? Yeah!"

Happy 3 months, Owen! We love you!

SWO - 11 weeks

15 January 2017

I know, I know, it's been a while. But after all of the holiday travels and festivities, we continued the "spirit of giving" in our home by generously circulating strep, bronchitis, pink eye, stomach virus, roseola, and ear infections. Suffice it to say, "blog post" has not risen above "survival" on my to-do list. But after some antibiotics and a few solid naps, we are back among the living and wanted to share some snapshots of our dream baby, who managed to avoid it all.

Since my last blog post (over half of Owen's life ago), Owen has been a busy little guy. He went on his first airplane ride to Indiana...

celebrated his first Christmas...

and even went to two Christmas concerts (one of which we had to take him to the back... because he was snoring too loud). ;) 

And if those last three pictures are any indication, he's still sleeping like a champ and maintaining his status as the easiest of our four. ;)

Owen Daniel, do you have any idea how much JOY you have brought us? You gave your first "laughs" to dad yesterday, your "coos" are music to my ears, and when you look up at me after nursing with that cheeky, adoring smile, I absolutely melt.

Happy 11 weeks, Owen! We love you so!