Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Foster Parent's Rights



This was taken from Oklahoma's Foster Parent Bill of Rights.


For the full statement of rights see 10A O.S. § 1-9-119

A foster parent's rights shall include, but not be limited to, the right to: 
  • Be treated with dignity, respect, and consideration; 
  • Be notified of and be given appropriate training; 
  • Be informed about ways to contact state agencies to assisst in accessing supportive services for children; 
  • Receive timely financial reimbursement; 
  • Be notified of any costs or expenses for which the foster parent may be eligible for reimbursement; 
  • Be provided a clear, written explanation of the service plan concerning the child in the foster parent's home; 
  • Receive additional or necessary information that is relevant to the care of the child; 
  • Be notified of scheduled review meetings, permanency planning meetings and special staffings; 
  • Provide input concerning the plan of services for the child; 
  • Communicate with other foster parents to share information regarding the foster child; 
  • Communicate with other professionals who work with the foster child; 
  • Be given pertinent information regarding the child and family; 
  • Be given reasonable notice of any change in or addition to the services provided to the child; 
  • Be given written notice of: 
    • (1) plans to terminate the placement of the child with the foster parent, and 
    • (2) the reasons for the changes or termination in placement, and 
      • b. The notice shall be waived only in emergency cases pursuant to Section 7028 of this title; 
  • Be notified of the date, time, and location of all court hearings; 
  • Be informed of decisions made by the court, the state agency or the child-placing agency concerning the child; 
  • Be considered as a preferred placement option when a foster child re-enters foster care; 
  • Be provided a fair and timely investigation of complaints concerning the foster parent's certification; 
  • Be provided the opportunity to request/receive a fair hearing regarding certification retention or placement of children in the home; 
  • Be allowed the right to exercise parental substitute authority; 
  • Have timely access to an appeal process and to be free fromacts of harassment and retaliation; 
  • Be given the number of the statewide toll-free Foster Parent Hotline; and 
  • File a grievance and be informed of the process for filing a grievance. 



Monday, December 8, 2014

Welcome to the Roller Coaster, A Story of Grace


Below is my contribution to the book. Thank you for reading and sharing our book! 

A
s a mother of three young children, I felt overwhelmed at times, but so incredibly blessed. Our life was busy and full, but happy and content. Then I felt God pulling our family towards orphan care. I looked into overseas adoption, domestic adoption—any option besides foster care. I thought, “I could never be a foster parent. There is too much risk, too much hurt involved.”

However, God firmly told me, “It is NOT about you.” So we submitted to His will and began the process of becoming certified as foster parents. I understood that God wanted us to sacrifice our comfortable lifestyle for the sake of a child who had no other options. What I did not realize was how our decision to foster would impact the other side of the arrangement—the biological parents—and how I would be affected by that relationship.

The process that we thought would take 90 days took nine months. My husband lost his job and we could barely provide for our current family, but God said, “Keep going.”  We trusted in God’s plan, and eagerly prepared for the time when we would welcome a disadvantaged child into our home. We never considered that we might also invite the child’s parent to be a part of that transition. The whole point of foster care is to rescue the child from the unfit parent, right?

After a long nine months, we were finally certified and could not wait to get “the call.” “The call” came quite a few times for different children—five in all. We said yes to every single one, and each time the child was placed somewhere else before we could pick them up. Extremely frustrated, we called our caseworker. She listed about 20 children that we could choose to foster, and shared why they were in care. It came down to a newborn boy, which was what I had desired all along, or a ten-month-old little girl. We prayed about it, and God said, “Take the ten-month-old.” It is amazing to think how such a seemingly small decision could change our lives so much.

Grace was nine months old when she sustained a severe burn on her leg that prompted an investigation by Child Protective Services (CPS). Her mom was ironing on the floor, and being the curious little girl that she was, she crawled over to the hot iron while mom was not paying attention. Grace’s mom, Angela, was terrified that her baby girl was going to be taken away. She had aged out of foster care herself, and knew how traumatic and scary it was to grow up in the system.

Angela was on track to break the cycle of foster kids producing another generation of foster kids, having gone to college and joined the Army, where she served our country for nine years. She left the Army after suffering from severe depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. After being discharged from the Army, she continued to suffer from even more mental disabilities such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. She was homeless many times. She met a man 20 years older than her and began a relationship with him that led to her pregnancy with Grace at the age of 34.

Angela had always wanted children and thought that waiting until she was older was a wise choice. Now she was not so sure. Because of all the medications she was on, Angela could not sleep at night. She averaged an hour of sleep on a good night, and was often suicidal, checking herself into the psychiatric ward at the veteran’s hospital about once a month.

When Angela received notice of a complaint being filed with Child Protective Services and that she would be visited by a caseworker, she had a breakdown. For the safety of her daughter and herself, she needed to check herself into the hospital immediately. She was frantic and had no one to help her. Her family was in another state and was struggling with difficult circumstances themselves. She took the bus to the veteran’s hospital, which just happened to be next door to a children’s hospital. Outside, she saw a woman she had met a couple of weeks before. She told her friend how desperate she was and that she was having suicidal thoughts and needed to check herself into the hospital immediately. She asked her friend to please look after Grace until she got out, and the friend agreed. Angela signed a note of written permission for her friend to watch Grace and left for the hospital.

The next day, CPS went to Angela’s home to begin the investigation about the burn on Grace’s leg. When they arrived, no one was home and the landlord had not seen Angela or Grace, which was unusual. They tracked down Angela in the hospital and asked her where Grace was, to which she responded, “I don’t know.” Grace was now a missing child. 

Five days later, the friend who was caring for Grace saw a news story about the little girl and that she was considered missing. She immediately called 911 and CPS came to pick up Grace. She was now a ward of the state. Grace was placed in an emergency foster home, where she stayed with an amazing family until our family was chosen to be her long-term placement.

My heart was pounding as my husband and I sat outside the CPS building waiting for Angela’s visit to be over so we could bring Grace home. I could barely breathe knowing that we were about to meet our second daughter. We watched as Angela walked out of the building and got into someone’s car. Knowing nothing about Angela at this time, we slunk down in our seats, worried that she might see our car and follow us after we left. How silly and judgmental that seems now.

After Angela was out of sight, we got out of our car and walked inside. We nervously followed the caseworker upstairs and down the hall to where Grace was waiting. As we walked into a bright yellow room, we were met with the biggest grin and happy shrieks from Grace. I will never forget the moment my eyes met hers. It was as if I was seeing one of my biological children for the first time. I truly feel that God had shown her our faces because we were instantly a family. In our paperwork, the caseworker even wrote that Grace was playing and laughing with her foster parents immediately. We had no adjustment issues with her and our biological children were immediately in love with their new sister.

It was the end of October when Grace came to live with us, and when I heard her story, it was so familiar to me. After searching the Internet, I realized that I had read the news story about how she had come into state custody a week before we were certified as foster parents. When reading the story, I instantly had compassion for her mother, Angela. I had no idea how God was going to use that compassion to show His love through me.

The first time I met Angela was on a visit at the CPS offices. She came in looking very professional, with her hair done and a beautiful shawl around her shoulders. She brought shoes and clothes for Grace and two books about Jesus. I was anxious to reach out to her, and brought as many pictures of Grace as I could get developed. She was so gracious. After this visit, we communicated every day for a month by email. I later found out that Angela walked to the library every day to check her email for the pictures that I would send of Grace.

As Christmas approached, I hoped we could get together with Angela to celebrate. I had not heard from her in about a week, which was very unusual, so I checked with our caseworker to see if she had talked with her. She had not, but made some calls and discovered that Angela was back in the psychiatric ward at the hospital. Angela would be spending Christmas there. My heart was broken for her. Without a second thought, I told her that I would be there to visit her on Christmas Day.

At this point in our foster care journey, we had a total of six children. Three of them were biological, one was Grace, and the last two were a sibling set that we had unexpectedly taken in two weeks before. I was a very busy mama. Going to the psychiatric ward on Christmas Day was not something that I would have ever imagined myself doing. I asked my mom to go with me, and we wrapped presents and took pictures of Grace for Angela. I had no idea what I was going to do or say.

When we got up to the psych ward, it was so quiet. We could not find anyone who worked there and we had no idea how to get past the two sets of locked doors that led to the patient area. We considered leaving, but I knew that the Lord did not bring me there on Christmas day to leave without seeing Angela. Finally a nurse came out and went through all of our presents to make sure they were safe to bring in. A picture frame was not allowed because of the glass in it and a thick ribbon tied around a throw blanket had to be thrown away. I had never even considered that some of these items could be potential weapons or a means to end her life. We were finally cleared to enter the ward, and I nervously prayed for the Holy Spirit to take over.

We walked into the common area and I looked around for Angela. When I saw her, I barely recognized her. She had on hospital garments and her hair was pulled back in a do-rag. Her eyes were filled with sadness as I embraced her and wished her a merry Christmas. We sat down at a table and gave her the gifts and pictures of Grace we had brought. After she went through them, I updated her on how Grace was doing. I told Angela how much we loved Grace and that she was such a happy little girl. Angela was trying so hard to hold back her tears, and she was so grateful that we had come to visit her. She had never had visitors before.

The nurses and some of the other patients came up and told us how sad Angela always was and how happy they were that we came to visit and “love on her.” After we had been there only 30 minutes, it was announced that visiting hours would be over shortly and we needed to wrap things up. I asked Angela if I could pray with her and she graciously accepted. I cannot remember what I prayed, but the words that came out of my mouth were not from me. They were from the Holy Spirit, loving and comforting this deeply hurting woman through me while I held her hands and bowed my head with her. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed. Psalm 34:18

After Angela was released, we met at the zoo and celebrated Christmas and Grace’s birthday. I was able to get some great pictures of them together. She began attending church with me once a month and would wear her t-shirt with our church logo on it every time I saw her. After getting to know Angela better, our family began inviting Angela over twice a month for breakfast at our house and to see Grace. It was a little awkward at first, but the kids always made her feel at home, calling her “Mama Angela” and giving her hugs.

Angela was off and on in her relationship with Grace’s father. He had shown up to court only one time.  His rights were terminated early on in the case because of this. That was a blessing, since he had been abusive towards Angela many times in the past. Despite the fact that Angela could barely take care of herself, CPS was hopeful that if she got her medications straightened out, she could get Grace back. Over the next six months, though, it became evident that this would not be an option. She moved from her apartment to an assisted living facility. Her medications had made it so hard to function that she had begun having hallucinations again and was often suicidal.

The assisted living facility was close to our home, so we would go visit and pick her up for church or for a visit at our house. My husband and I picked her up for one of our court hearings in July. At this point, Grace had been in state custody for about nine months. Before we got out of the car, we said a prayer out loud, and asked God that whatever decision was made would be in the best interest of Grace. As we walked in, Angela was very somber. Our caseworker handed us each a copy of the court report and we read through it. I could barely hold back the tears when I reached the point in the report where it stated that, “Angela reports that Grace’s foster mom is her only friend.”  Shortly thereafter, our case was called. Our two minutes in front of the judge went something like this

Judge: Ms. Smith, I have in front of me a piece of paper that states that you are relinquishing your parental rights to Grace. Is that correct?

Angela: Yes, sir.

Judge: Ms. Smith, do you understand that by giving up your parental rights you have no say in medical decisions, where she goes to school, or anything else in the future?

Angela: Yes, sir.

Judge: Ms. Smith, did anyone threaten, coerce, or bribe you to sign this document?

Angela: No, sir.

Judge: Ms. Smith, do you believe that this decision is in the best interest of Grace?

Angela: Yes, sir.

Judge: By order of the court on July 11, 2011, parental rights of Grace Smith are terminated. We are off record now. Ms. Smith, I can tell that this decision did not come easy to you. I wish you the best of luck in life.

There was no doubt that was the hardest moment of Angela’s life and one I will never forget. Saying goodbye that day was so hard and uncomfortable. How do you react when the mother of your foster daughter just relinquished her rights so that you could adopt her? I hugged her and told her that I respected her so much for her decision and that she was now a part of our family too. I told Angela that I wanted her over for holidays and as many visits as we were capable of making. We invited her over for breakfast that following Sunday to reassure her that we were serious about keeping her involved in Grace’s life.

When I picked Angela up for breakfast that Sunday, she came loaded down with toys that she had bought at the thrift store for all six of our children. It was such a generous and thoughtful thing to do with her very limited income. The kids were so excited and showered her with kisses of gratitude. We had a huge breakfast of biscuits and gravy and lots of bacon, Angela’s favorite.

Before she left, I had her record her voice on one of those Hallmark books for Grace, so that Grace could hear her birth mother’s voice whenever she wanted to. Angela was very touched by that. We were moving that next week, so I let her know that it might be a few weeks before we saw her again, but we would bring her out to the new house soon.

When I dropped her off at the nursing home, the passenger door would not open for some reason, so I had to get out and let her out. I am so glad that happened, because it allowed me to give Angela the last hug I would ever give her. I looked into her tear-filled eyes for what would be the last time and said, “I love you.”

Three days after we moved into our new house, I got the phone call I had been dreading. My husband called and said, “Is your mom there? Go somewhere by yourself. I need to tell you something.” I went outside and stood on the porch. He continued, “Angela shot herself.” “What?!” I shrieked, over and over again. “What?! No! No! Why would she do that?!” Sobbing, I screamed, “She’s supposed to come over next week. We had it planned, she was supposed to come over! Why would she do that?” Logically, I knew why, and I knew it was likely to happen. But you are never, ever prepared for that phone call. 

I wept all day long. I wept for the way Angela’s life ended. I wept for Grace and that she would never have a memory of her birth mom. I wept for not calling or visiting her more often. I just kept saying over and over again, “I’m so sorry, Angela. I’m so sorry.”

The funeral was the next day at the nursing home. Other than residents, it was my husband and I, two of my dear friends, and our caseworker. My husband shared a little bit about our family involvement with Angela, what a good woman she was, and that she would be terribly missed. At the end of the service, we fittingly sang “Amazing Grace.”

The woman who ran the nursing home brought us letters that Angela had left for us. I never thought I would be a recipient of a suicide note. This is a portion of the one she left for Grace:

“To my daughter,

I will always love you. Mommy had to go. Your new mother will take good care of you. She will feed you when you need to eat, change your diapers and tuck you in at night. When you remember her, please remember me. I'm sorry I had to go. I couldn't deal with the pain anymore. Whenever you're alone, I'm there with you.

Love, Mommy”

The next few months were filled with lots of paperwork, and right before Christmas, we were blessed to finalize Grace’s adoption and give her our last name. It is still hard to believe that this part of our journey is over. The Lord taught me so much.

When we became foster parents, I had no intention of getting close to the birth parents. They were the “enemy” in my mind. This experience has changed the way I view all of them. They are hurting people who need love just as much as these children do. Many of them were victims of the foster care system themselves.  Angela was a beautiful person who loved her daughter very much. You may never know what a person has been through or is going through, so extend them the same grace that the Lord Jesus has given us, and love them with everything you can while they are with you. You just might be their only friend.

The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Matthew 25:40




Monday, October 27, 2014

Turning Point

I have a heavy, heavy burden for those who have heard false messages about salvation and think they are saved, yet they are not. I used to be one of them. I believed the message that all you have to do is pray a prayer, raise a hand and you will be saved. Salvation is so much more than that. The gate is narrow my friends. If you follow Christ, you should not look like the rest of the world. I have been drawn to the subject of true salvation for almost two years now. Parts of it have been very hard for me to swallow, but I do believe and accept what the Bible says regarding it. Please don’t take my word for it or anyone else’s for that matter. It is all in the Bible. Seek Him and He will reveal Himself to you.

Recently, I listened to a sermon by Francis Chan regarding salvation, repentance and receiving the Holy Spirit. My 8 year old listened to it with me and afterwards he asked me what it means to repent. I told him that it means to turn away from sin and go in the opposite direction. I gave him an example of how I repented when I began to follow Jesus. I told him that 4 years ago I began reading my Bible passionately for the first time in many years. I couldn't get enough Jesus. I explained how Mommy was not a very nice person before she started following Jesus. I would be mean to people who didn't live like I did or parented differently than I did. I told him how mean Mommy and Daddy used to be to each other before we started following Jesus. I explained to him that we believed in Jesus and we knew that He was God, but we did not follow Him or obey His commands. And that the Bible says in James that even demons believe in Jesus, so just believing in God is not enough to get you into Heaven. It was when we began applying the Word to our lives and being obedient that we received the Holy Spirit and truly became followers of Christ. The first act of repentance I did was write letters to those I had hurt with my words or actions. And I sent them. It was one of the hardest, yet freeing things I have ever done. It helped restore so many of my relationships. We began serving in the Church and the Lord revealed to us soon after that He was calling us to be foster parents. We tried to say no two times, but the Lord’s presence left us each time we did. We finally surrendered to His calling and will for our life because we couldn't stand to be without Him and look what He did with that.

The more we obeyed, the wider our eyes were opened to the Lord’s truths. Before this time, our faith was built on sinking sand, but NOW, we could not be snatched out of the Father’s hand no matter the circumstances. Please be assured that salvation requires repentance of your sins. If you have not
repented of your sins, you will not receive this incredible gift of salvation though Christ. You can’t be a follower of Christ and remain the same as you were before Christ.

Luke 13:24 He replied, “Work hard to enter the narrow door to God’s Kingdom, for many will try to enter but fail.”

John 14:15 Jesus said, “If you love me, obey my commandments.”

John 14:21 Jesus said, “Those who accept my commandments and obey them are the ones who love me. And because they love me, my Father will love them. And I will love them and reveal myself to each of them.”

John 14:23-24 Jesus replied, “All who love me will do what I say. My Father will love them, and we will come and make our home with each of them.

Acts 2:38-39, Peter replied, “Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This promise is to you, and to your children, and even to the Gentiles – all who have been called by the Lord our God.”

James 2:19-20 “You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror. How foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless?”

"Some people claim that we can be Christians without necessarily becoming disciples. I wonder, then, why the last thing Jesus told us was to go into the world, making disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey all that He commanded? You’ll notice that He didn't add, 'But hey, if that’s too much to ask, tell them to just become Christians—you know, the people who get to go to heaven without having to commit to anything.'

Pray. Then read the Gospels for yourself. Put this book down and pick up your Bible. My prayer for you is that you’ll understand the Scriptures not as I see them, but as God intends them." –Francis Chan, Crazy Love


Friday, September 26, 2014

Former Foster Mama...

2 weeks ago we closed our home. I had fought and wrestled with this decision for months while we waited for our adoption to finalize. Initially we decided to stay open, even taking another 2 year old for a month. While we had this placement, our newly adopted children were a little confused with DHS at our house and their foster sister leaving for visits with birth parents. They began to ask when they were going to have more visits and if they were going to be leaving as well. My husband and I were both stretched very thin. We were just in survival mode. After a Saturday morning of cleaning up diarrhea on walls and bedding, we made the decision to close. I cried writing the email and wondering where this 2 year old would end up while praying that we were just a stepping stone to the perfect family for her. The new foster mom contacted me and we talked and I had so much peace. This little girl is getting so much more attention than I ever could have given her. When she left and we officially closed, I expected to breakdown, but it never came. I am so relieved and happy to be able to focus on MY family! We get to choose who we want in our life and our children's lives now!! The freedom that comes with this will definitely take awhile to process. It's been almost 4 years with DHS constantly all up in our kool-aid. :) We are free!!! I can cut my kid's hair, leave the state, change my phone number... ahh, the list is endless!


Lord, my God. You sustained us these past 4 years. You provided for us. You gave us compassion for those who seemed unlovable. You gave us strength to endure and to forgive so many times when we thought we couldn't show one more ounce of mercy. You filled this house with love and laughter and Your Spirit. How thankful we are Lord!! In You, we can do all things! We can do all things with great love ONLY because You live within us. We are unworthy and undeserving of Your blessings, but You so greatly bestow them upon us. May Your name be lifted high always by our words and our life. My ultimate joy is found in You alone. May I never forget that truth.



Sunday, September 7, 2014

Our BIG Day in Pictures...










































A HUGE thank you to Allison at Poetry and Prose Photography for donating her time and talent for this wonderful occasion! 

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Sibling group of 3... their story.

I share the stories of my children to personalize foster care for those not yet involved. When you hear a child's story and can see their face, it changes them from a depressing statistic that you can just ignore to beautiful, innocent children that you can help. "Once our eyes are opened, we can't pretend we don't know what to do. God, who weighs our hearts and keeps our souls, knows what we know, and holds us responsible to act." Prov. 24:12

Lord, for every person who reads this, speak to them. Make this story real for them, help them to walk a mile in the shoes of a child in foster care. All children are of equal importance to You and they should be to us as well. Reveal to them their next step in being Your hands and feet to orphans. Amen.

We had 3 biological and 1 foster child all under the age of 6 before Ellie came to live with us. It was never our plan for her to join our family, but God's plan always trumps ours. I thought we were maxed out with 4 children in our 1100sqft, 3 bedroom house, so we were done taking in children, but wanted to help get a child out of the shelter for Thanksgiving. I contacted a foster friend and she connected me with a caseworker who was helping connect families with children. We were told that there was a very overweight 5 year old that was constantly bullied in school that would love to spend the holiday with us, so we happily agreed. A couple days before Thanksgiving we were told that little girl had found another family to spend the holiday with, but there was a 3 year old that we could take for the day. The first time I met Ellie at the shelter, I thought they must have gotten her age wrong when they told me that she was going to be 4 in a week. She was the size of a 24 month old, could barely speak intelligibly, couldn't run and could barely stand up for any length of time without her ankles giving out and falling to the ground. She did not want to be hugged and had the saddest eyes I'd ever seen.  We tried all day long to make her smile and laugh and she did... a few times. Most of the time she glared and yelled at the other kids or ignored me. I was looking forward to the end of the day and thinking that this little girl was definitely not a fit for our family, BUT GOD. After taking her to see Christmas lights, we drove her back to the shelter. I will never forget her screams as she realized where we were at. She clung to me with her little arms and legs holding on as tight as she could as she screamed over and over again, "NO! NO! DON'T LEAVE ME!"  Tears were rolling down my face at this point, knowing there was no way I could rescue this little girl immediately with it being Thanksgiving evening. As they peeled her off of me one limb at a time, I promised her that we would come back for her.
Thanksgiving Day

I didn't sleep for 4 nights. When I closed my eyes, I imagined how scared this little girl must be living in a shelter, knowing no one. I didn't know a single thing about her story. I didn't know if they would let us foster her, if she would be with us 2 days or forever. I didn't even know if she had siblings. We just said, "yes." We called first thing Monday morning and they gave us permission to pick her up that afternoon - an absolute miracle in the DHS/foster care world. Seth took 2 of the kids to go pick her up and I will never forget seeing her sweet, smiling face as she walked in our front door, only God knowing that she was finally home.
Then we heard her story. This was the 2nd time Ellie had been in DHS custody and this case was classified as "shocking and heinous," just like the case of our other adopted daughter, Hannah. Ellie was taken into custody at the age of 16 months because she was found wandering alone in just a diaper in a parking lot. Friends of mom's were supposed to be watching her. The place mom and Ellie were living at was with multiple people and it was covered in human blood, feces and had switchblades and axes on the floor. There was also no food in the home. DHS returned Ellie to her mother a week later. Fast forward 2 years... and this brings us to Kristian's story.
Right before
entering state custody.
The first day Ellie was officially our foster daughter, we found out that she had a 6 month old brother, Kristian James (KJ). He was staying in an emergency foster home. When they came into care, KJ was only 2 months old and was brought to the hospital for 2 fractured femurs and a fractured humerus.  2 months old. Not only did he have 3 fractures, but two of them were healing fractures, which means they were broken at an earlier date and his parents did not take him to be treated medically. It is still hard to wrap my head around this as I type. At least one of the fractures occurred during a diaper change and for over a year, KJ would scream and scream, every time I laid him down to change his diaper. KJ and Ellie stayed in a kinship home for 3 months, which is a home of someone the birth parents knew and recommended to care for their children. They were taken out of that home because the kinship family was dealing drugs out of the house, among many other things. The children were separated after that. Ellie went to a shelter and KJ went to an emergency home until we reunited them 2 weeks after we picked up Ellie. We now had 6 children under 6 in our tiny house, and God was almost tangible, His presence was so evident.
KJ was a quiet, sad and floppy baby for the first week we had him. He seemed depressed and almost like he was in a constant daze. I thought surely he had major delays, but almost miraculously after that first week, he perked right up. He gained 5 lbs in one month, started smiling and laughing and hasn't stopped since. 
Baby sis.
When KJ had just turned 1, I noticed their birth mom's clothes getting tighter and tighter around her midsection. Shortly thereafter we found out she was 20 weeks pregnant with a baby girl. Talk about a SHOCK. Honestly, it shouldn't have been a shock based on mom's history, but when that baby is most likely coming to live with you in a few short months, it's a shock. It was an odd feeling to know that quite possibly our future daughter was in someone else's womb. A womb that likely did not provide her with the nourishment she needed or the protection. Mom would have deep bruises on her body at some of the visits, that greatly concerned me. Our sweet Charlotte (Charlie), joined us at 3 days old. She was so tiny at just over 5lbs and she was in this huge carseat that DHS transported her in. Her big blue eyes were so wide and bright and I could not put her down. I was heartbroken for her birth mom that was holding and feeding this baby just hours before and now she was gone. Only those who have gone through this can understand the joy of having a new baby, but also the heartbreak of knowing this baby's mother was going through hell. It leaves you with a very unsettled soul regardless of the reasons the baby was taken into custody.
Ellie is almost 7 now, and my most attentive little helper. She adores helping with the younger children and has the most encouraging spirit. Just a month after having her, the caseworker was astounded at the changes and couldn't believe it was the same little girl. Since Ellie was almost 4 when she came to us, she has had the most difficulty bonding, but she has made huge strides in the past few months since visits with birth parents have been stopped. Her health is excellent and she requires no more speech, physical or occupational therapy.  

KJ is 3 and my most joyful child. He is full of energy and smart as a whip. He has no health issues from his past abuse, but I often wonder how it will affect him mentally when he is old enough to understand what happened to him.

Charlie is almost 2 and is a spitfire... still petite and as stubborn as she can be. She is a mama's girl and her favorite place is on my hip.
Oh, and do you remember the 5 year old we were "supposed" to get that Thanksgiving? I found out a year later that she spent that holiday with our pastor. How fun it was to share that their obedience in welcoming a child into their home, brought us 3 of our children. Only God. Love HIM.

Sometimes I worry about the future and some of the situations that adoptive parents and children face as they get older. But then God gently reminds me of how they came to our family and that He has plans that I can't even begin to imagine. Love these words of wisdom from Oswald Chambers, "God is my Father, He loves me, and I will never think of anything that He will forget, so why should I worry?" Thank you Abba for my 3 babies. What a gift they are from the Lord!
"Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows." James 1:17

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Gotcha Day!

 
Today we adopted our 5th, 6th and 7th child. All glory and praise is given to God! We feel so unworthy that God has blessed us with all 7 of these beautiful children to raise and call ours forever. Ella, Kristian and Charlotte have been mine in my heart since the day I laid eyes on them. To love, care for and desire to protect these children for the past 3 years while we watched helplessly as court battles and unseen spiritual battles were fought between DHS, birth parents, CASA and many others was the hardest thing we've ever done, no doubt. For this 1,110 day journey to be over for them and to give them our last name is the ultimate reward. We are not superheroes or saints, we are ordinary, weak human beings. We said yes to the call of orphan care and we loved like we weren't scared, endured and tried to trust. HE did the rest. He empowered, provided and protected us and the children. Our journey cannot be duplicated, but I have no doubt that the Lord can work miracles in your life too, if you choose to say yes.

LORD, thank you. We are unworthy servants who have simply done our duty.

"In the same way, when you obey Me you should say, 'We are unworthy servants who have simply done our duty.'" Luke 17:10

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

In Search of a Better Way

One of my absolute favorite parts about being a foster parent is the ease at which teachable "Jesus" moments come unexpectedly. We had a newborn and a toddler join us for the night this past week. As soon as they were dropped off, everyone started doing their part. The big kids welcomed the toddler, fetched baby gear and watched as I fed the baby. Everyone was just giddy to be the hands and feet of Jesus for these 2 little ones.

One new thing that happened with these placements was that my oldest daughter was very concerned about the birth parents, mentioning often how sad they must be that their kids were taken away. How precious for her to realize this aspect of foster parenting when most adults don't. It's easy to forget that most birth parents haven't lived a privileged life like us. A majority were raised in foster care themselves and/or abused and neglected by those that were supposed to protect them. Many have aged out of foster care because they were considered "too old to adopt" or "unadoptable." The statistics are awful for most who age out of care. A lot end up homeless, involved in sex-trafficking and/or in jail. The cycle of foster care continues for many when they end up young and pregnant with no support system. There has to be a better way friends.

The number of children in care in Oklahoma is growing by more than 1,000 every year. 3 years ago, there were 8,000. At the beginning of 2014, there were 11,400 children in state custody. Mentor, advocate, foster, adopt... the opportunities are endless. Listed below are some Oklahoma organizations striving to help in this area, click on the underlined text for their website.


Bethel Foundation for single moms - this is an incredible organization that I am personally connected to. Contact them for needed donations and volunteer opportunities.

OK Foster Wishes - (from their website) "OK Foster Wishes shows people ways that they can get involved with a foster child without the commitment of becoming a foster family. Most people don't know that there are many ways to help a child in foster care like mentoring, baking a birthday cake or buying a gift, or just taking them to the zoo for the day."

Breaking Chains & Mending Hearts - this is a new organization in the OKC area that is helping connect mentors with pregnant teens or teen moms in foster care while developing plans for a girls' home. "Like' their Facebook page for more info.

Stand in the Gap Ministries - "Stand in the Gap Ministries is a prayer-based, church-driven, small group movement, focused on helping a neighbor rise above overwhelming life challenges through a loving, spiritual family experience."

Infant Crisis Services - "Infant Crisis Services provides life-sustaining formula, food and diapers to babies and toddlers in times of crisis..." This organization is an invaluable resource for birth families and is always needing donations. Please like their facebook page for more info.

Next week marks the 2 year anniversary of the death of Hannah's birth mother who was a victim of many of the hardships I wrote about above. Pray for compassion, forgiveness and salvation through Christ for those who have had their children removed from their care. Everyone has a story and everyone is in need of a Savior.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Best Friends and Forever Sisters

Only God knew that these two girls, born 29 days apart in the same hospital to different mothers, would become forever sisters almost 7 years later. They love bugs, dresses and arts and crafts. Thank you Jesus for my "twins."







 

"Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up." Eccles. 4:9-10

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Opened Eyes

When Seth and I were seeking God and His calling for our life, we knew that adoption would be involved somehow. I researched international adoption and domestic adoption and was met with closed doors. I knew absolutely nothing about foster care, but was drawn to look into it after reading an article about how when children are removed from their home, they are often given a black trash bag to put their things into. By this small act alone, we are basically telling these children that their possessions aren't valued and neither are they as they are bounced around from placement to placement. It broke my heart. My eyes were open just a little bit. Then I discovered the crisis that we call the foster care system in Oklahoma. As followers of Christ, Seth and I were outraged at what was going on and the fact that NO ONE was talking about it, at least no one that we knew. Once our eyes were opened we could not be silent or sit passively by while innocent children were treated like statistics and ignored by the Church. So if I'm on here pushing foster care a lot, it's because I'm thinking that just maybe some of you don't know about the 11,000+ children in foster care in Oklahoma and the lack of good foster parents to help them. Maybe you're like us and all you need is to be informed and then you won't be able to sit by anymore and sleep comfortably at night knowing the pain and suffering many of these children are going through. Maybe your future children are waiting and praying for you to take that first step of obedience to God's command to care for orphans. My desire is not to guilt you into foster parenting with my posts, that would never end well... but my prayer is that you will seek God's will in this area and obey when He answers.

“Once our eyes are opened, we cannot pretend we do not know what to do. God, who weighs our hearts and keeps our souls knows we know and holds us responsible to act.” Proverbs 24:12

Sunday, July 6, 2014

A New Beginning

After rights were relinquished, we had 3 visits, 3 weeks apart with the birth parents. Our intentions were to continue these indefinitely, but as of now, we have decided to bring them to a halt. Our decision has been influenced by many things, but ultimately we believe this is what God wants us to do for the mental and emotional health of not only our adopted children, but for the whole family. We loved, prayed for and reached out to the birth parents for almost 3 years, many times when we did not want to, but because we felt prompted by God to do so. We have offered job help, parenting help and spiritual help countless times, with no acceptance on their part over the years. This quote that I read recently really encouraged me to re-assess and pray about their involvement in our family's life. "It’s part of my DNA to love others. Love them and not disappoint them. But I have to realize, real love is honest. Real love cares enough about other people to say no when saying yes would build up a barrier in the relationship. Real love pursues authenticity rather than chasing acceptance. We must not confuse the command to love with the disease to please.” - Lysa TerKeurst  I feel that my intentions have been motivated by guilt and the desire to "save" or "rescue" these parents recently, instead of what would be best for our children and our family. God can save their birth parents without my help and I've accepted now that I am not responsible for their salvation. I can plant seeds, love them and show them Jesus, but only God saves. Our adopted children began acting out with very noticeable anxious behaviors after visits with the birth parents and they soon taper off after a little time has passed. I believe that God wants our family to bond and our children to heal and begin anew.

Because of these decisions, we have also chosen to completely change their names. One of the greatest privileges and rights a parent has is to name their children. We want that for our adopted children too. Our 6 year old is very excited about her new name and we've discussed that whenever God did something great in the life of one of His people in the Bible, He gave them a new name. There are so many people who told us not to foster and if we had listened to them, these children would not be ours. I anticipate that many of the same people will disagree with our decision to change their names. I hope they remember that we seek God in our decisions, not men. We have peace and joy about these decisions and I trust that God will honor them.

Love this explanation I found about God changing names in the Bible.

"Why did God choose new names for some people?

The Bible doesn’t give us His reasons, but perhaps it was to let them know they were destined for a new mission in life. The new name was a way to let them in on the divine plan and also to assure them that God’s plan would be fulfilled in them."

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Find your life.


Today is the last day of Foster Care Awareness month. As I read Matthew in my Bible today and watched two of my adopted children play together in the front yard, God placed it on my heart to remind others of how we got to where we are today. God didn't bless us with a 7 bedroom house, 12 passenger van, financial resources and Seth being home part-time BEFORE we became foster parents. No, He blessed us in response to continued obedience, fulfilling this promise found in James 1:25! "But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don't forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it." We lived in an 1100 sqft house with 6 children for a year while Seth worked full-time in another city and then after work he would gut/remodel our new house until 11pm. If you are waiting until you have a bigger house, more money or more time to serve God, you are missing out on experiencing His miraculous provisions in response to your faith in Him and His promises. And if you're afraid of the risk to you, your family or your comfort, I ask that you spend some time meditating on Matthew 10:37-39 and determine where your love for Him who died to set you free, stands. "If you love your father or mother more than you love me, you are not worthy of being mine; or if you love your son or daughter more than me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it."


"He is so rich in kindness and grace that He purchased our freedom with the blood of His Son and forgave our sins." Ephesians 1:7

"And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus." Phil. 4:19

"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." James 1:27



Tuesday, May 13, 2014

New Placements - Questions Foster Parents Should Ask

This is such a great list, one that I didn't have when I first became a foster parent, so I wanted to share it with my readers. Thanks to the Foster Care and Adoptive Association of Oklahoma for providing it. A lot of workers, will most likely NOT know the answers to all of these questions, but hopefully they can get you contact info for someone who does. 

NEW PLACEMENTS - QUESTIONS FOSTER PARENTS SHOULD ASK

Why is this child being placed?

What is the previous placement experience(s) of the child?

What is the child's legal status?

What is the family situation?

What is the plan for the child? Expected length of placement? (most probably will not know the answer to these questions upon initial placement)

What will my role as foster parent be in the reunification plan? (Should always be to support reunification in every way possible if adoptive placement, ask about mediated agreement visitation/contact with birth family)

What is the child's understanding of why he has been moved/separated from his birth parents and/or prior placement?

Will there be a pre-placement visit? (Usually not if coming directly from the birth home).

Where are the birth parents & possible relative/kinship placements?

Give me a clear understanding of the rights of the child's birth parents and the plan for visitation. Who may visit? Who may not visit? Where does visiting take place? When? How often? Who transports? (Usually 1 visit/week supervised by a CPS staff member at a CPS office)

Have the birth parents been dangerous or threatening in the past?

Have the birth parents made complaints against other foster parents? I f so, what was the complaint?

Has the child made complaints against other foster parents? If so, what was the complaint?

Are there brothers and sisters? If so, where are they and what is the visitation plan, or plan to reunify them while in care?

Is the child in good health? Allergies, immunizations, dental care? What are the plans for current and immediate future medical and dental care? When was the last physical? Are there any food, medication, or animal/general allergies?

Is the child taking any medications at this time? Will there be written instructions regarding them?

School - What grade? Prior School Name/Address? School problems? Achievement level and/or any special problems? Enrolled in Special Ed or other special classes (GT, Speech, Alternative Education Setting)?

Does the child have any special behavior problems, unusual habits, or dangerous propensities? Ask about fear of animals if you have them in or around your home.

What will make the child feel most at home? What are the child's food likes and dislikes? Favorite toys, sleep habits, etc.

Religious affiliation? Is it important? Does foster parent need to make special arrangements to have child attend services, education classes, etc?

Does the child qualify for a special care rate? If so, when is the effective date?

Does the child have adequate clothing? Will there be a clothing allowance? If so, when can foster parent expect to receive the clothing allowance check? Ask the placement worker for details. Save all receipts for reimbursement up to the current limit.

What are your (placement worker) expectations of me (foster parent)?

What is the name and phone number of the supervisor of the unit overseeing the child?

Who is the attorney/CASA/GAL for the child? Name & Phone numbers.

What do I do and who do I call in case of a weekend or evening emergency? (BIG one if you don't have any thing that shows medical coverage for child)

When will I receive the following placement information? Medical Consent Form, Medicaid Card Placement Agreement Form (must include name of social worker, supervisor, payment rate, effective date, case number, and signatures.)

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Love like I've loved you.

I've been waiting for this journey with 3 of my foster children to come to a close now for almost 3 years. I'm not sure what I expected if and when it did happen, I guess no more visits, no more stress, knowing they are mine would ease any heartache and worry I had about the situation. I knew and prayed that if the birth parents relinquished, it would be an open adoption, but with an open adoption, especially the kind that I feel God is calling us to, there's not a lot closure for me. It's just more growing pains as I continue to learn to love like Christ and "share" these children that I've been praying to not have to share all this time.

We had our first visit since relinquishment recently and it went very well. We met at a park and we all hung out together as one big family. All 7 of my children hugged and interacted with the birth parents, which surprised them I think. They brought us diapers that they had leftover and mom thanked me many times, something she's never done before.
It would be easier for me to just be done, to sever all contact. But whenever I consider that option, I get knots in my stomach and am deeply convicted by the Holy Spirit. I truly believe that God is joining our families and I have to surrender to that. He is joining our family with a family that experiences hardships in a way that I will never have to experience and that I will never completely understand. He is calling us to minister and love not only the birth parents, but the extended family of the birth parents. He's been quietly speaking to my heart and filling it with compassion. I pray for God to bring me people to minister to, but when He does, I question Him, "Are you sure God? Share my family and blessings with them? Indefinitely?" As Christians, we often desire to help, but in a way that only makes us feel good, not in a way that might make us uncomfortable and challenge us. I DO want this. I want to be challenged and I want to grow closer to Christ. I want to learn ways to help and encourage poverty-stricken families and disciple them to become followers of Christ. I want this. (Preaching to myself here.) It's not about me, it never has been. It's about showing His love, grace and mercy.
Please pray for me and my husband. Pray that we can develop 100% genuine relationships with the birth family, relationships that don't feel awkward because love will outshine any other emotion or action. Pray for wisdom for us and that God continues to use us to share His story and His plan for the salvation of the world.
"This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you." - Jesus, John 15:12

Friday, April 25, 2014

The Process - Foster Parent Certification in Oklahoma


Foster parents are referred to as "bridge parents" by OKDHS. From OKDHS publications, Bridge Resource Parents are: "Oklahoma parents who foster a child, have adopted a foster child or both. Bridge Resource Parents keep a child/children connected to their kin, culture, and community and mentor the child's family whenever possible." It's important to know what is expected of you when you begin this process. The process is intensive for good reasons. There is a high rate of abuse for children placed in foster care. Some foster parents should NOT be foster parents. It's a good thing that these safeguards are in place.

If you are a complete newbie to foster care, you need to know that no matter what agency you choose, you will still have to deal with/partner with DHS. They are legally responsible for the children and your agency is responsible for certifying foster parents. You will have a caseworker from your agency and each child/case has a caseworker from DHS who manages the case and will do home visits monthly to check on the children.

In Oklahoma, the certification process has been privatized, so your first step is to find an agency.  Below is not a complete list, but it is the extent of my knowledge.

  • Tribal Certification - If you're Native American, you can get certified through your tribe and take only tribal children. You need to have a roll card for this, but the degree of Indian blood is not important, at least in my experience. There is a great need for tribal foster parents. 
  • Private agencies - Tallgrass, St. Francis and Angels are 3 of the agencies that received a recent grant to contract more foster parents. I have heard good things about them all. Make sure to ask your agency if you are able to foster more than one child from different cases, if that is something you might desire. Some agencies view it as a benefit to only have one child/sibling group per family and for some it is, but for our family God called us to a different task and we are thankful that we were able to make that decision and it wasn't made for us. 
  • Therapeutic Foster Care - From the OKDHS website, "TFC is designed to serve children ages 3 to 18 with special psychological, social, behavioral and emotional needs who can accept and respond to the close relationships within a family setting, but whose special needs require more intensive or therapeutic services than are found in traditional foster care." I have no personal experience with this, but I know that it is greatly needed as well. SAFY is one of the organizations that provides therapeutic care in Oklahoma. 
After you find your agency, they will walk you step-by-step through the rest of the process which will include multiple homestudies, fingerprints, background checks, physicals and driving records. Homestudies include a walk through of your house to determine if it's safe and what needs to be changed to make it safe. They do not expect your house to be perfect. I would definitely clean up, but do not stress too much about this part. The rest of the homestudy is an insane number of weird personal questions including, but not limited to: your parents, your siblings and your extended family. It is normal to not know the answer to some of these questions. Just be honest. Last but not least, your, ahem, 27 hours of "training." Training needs to be revised. Some of it is helpful, but I do not believe it prepares you fully for being a foster/bridge parent. I recommend reading the Bible as often as possible to prepare you. :) Seriously. 

Once all of your paperwork, homestudies and training is complete, which usually takes 3-6 months, you will sign your contract and you should begin getting placement calls within a week if you live in the larger counties, like OK, Canadian, or Tulsa. It might take longer in the less populated counties, but I am not certain of an average timeline for them. You will receive your first monthly stipend 1-2 months later. They pay them a month behind. I know a lot of people are curious about the amount per child that you receive and in Oklahoma it varies from $400-$565 depending on the age of the child. I hope this information will encourage some of you to take the first step by taking some of the mystery out of the process.

Love this quote by Amber Smart from the OK Foster Care Forum on 4/24/14:

 "Don't let the process get in the way of your purpose."

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Foster Parent's Rights



This was taken from Oklahoma's Foster Parent Bill of Rights.


For the full statement of rights see 10A O.S. § 1-9-119

A foster parent's rights shall include, but not be limited to, the right to: 
  • Be treated with dignity, respect, and consideration; 
  • Be notified of and be given appropriate training; 
  • Be informed about ways to contact state agencies to assisst in accessing supportive services for children; 
  • Receive timely financial reimbursement; 
  • Be notified of any costs or expenses for which the foster parent may be eligible for reimbursement; 
  • Be provided a clear, written explanation of the service plan concerning the child in the foster parent's home; 
  • Receive additional or necessary information that is relevant to the care of the child; 
  • Be notified of scheduled review meetings, permanency planning meetings and special staffings; 
  • Provide input concerning the plan of services for the child; 
  • Communicate with other foster parents to share information regarding the foster child; 
  • Communicate with other professionals who work with the foster child; 
  • Be given pertinent information regarding the child and family; 
  • Be given reasonable notice of any change in or addition to the services provided to the child; 
  • Be given written notice of: 
    • (1) plans to terminate the placement of the child with the foster parent, and 
    • (2) the reasons for the changes or termination in placement, and 
      • b. The notice shall be waived only in emergency cases pursuant to Section 7028 of this title; 
  • Be notified of the date, time, and location of all court hearings; 
  • Be informed of decisions made by the court, the state agency or the child-placing agency concerning the child; 
  • Be considered as a preferred placement option when a foster child re-enters foster care; 
  • Be provided a fair and timely investigation of complaints concerning the foster parent's certification; 
  • Be provided the opportunity to request/receive a fair hearing regarding certification retention or placement of children in the home; 
  • Be allowed the right to exercise parental substitute authority; 
  • Have timely access to an appeal process and to be free fromacts of harassment and retaliation; 
  • Be given the number of the statewide toll-free Foster Parent Hotline; and 
  • File a grievance and be informed of the process for filing a grievance. 



Monday, December 8, 2014

Welcome to the Roller Coaster, A Story of Grace


Below is my contribution to the book. Thank you for reading and sharing our book! 

A
s a mother of three young children, I felt overwhelmed at times, but so incredibly blessed. Our life was busy and full, but happy and content. Then I felt God pulling our family towards orphan care. I looked into overseas adoption, domestic adoption—any option besides foster care. I thought, “I could never be a foster parent. There is too much risk, too much hurt involved.”

However, God firmly told me, “It is NOT about you.” So we submitted to His will and began the process of becoming certified as foster parents. I understood that God wanted us to sacrifice our comfortable lifestyle for the sake of a child who had no other options. What I did not realize was how our decision to foster would impact the other side of the arrangement—the biological parents—and how I would be affected by that relationship.

The process that we thought would take 90 days took nine months. My husband lost his job and we could barely provide for our current family, but God said, “Keep going.”  We trusted in God’s plan, and eagerly prepared for the time when we would welcome a disadvantaged child into our home. We never considered that we might also invite the child’s parent to be a part of that transition. The whole point of foster care is to rescue the child from the unfit parent, right?

After a long nine months, we were finally certified and could not wait to get “the call.” “The call” came quite a few times for different children—five in all. We said yes to every single one, and each time the child was placed somewhere else before we could pick them up. Extremely frustrated, we called our caseworker. She listed about 20 children that we could choose to foster, and shared why they were in care. It came down to a newborn boy, which was what I had desired all along, or a ten-month-old little girl. We prayed about it, and God said, “Take the ten-month-old.” It is amazing to think how such a seemingly small decision could change our lives so much.

Grace was nine months old when she sustained a severe burn on her leg that prompted an investigation by Child Protective Services (CPS). Her mom was ironing on the floor, and being the curious little girl that she was, she crawled over to the hot iron while mom was not paying attention. Grace’s mom, Angela, was terrified that her baby girl was going to be taken away. She had aged out of foster care herself, and knew how traumatic and scary it was to grow up in the system.

Angela was on track to break the cycle of foster kids producing another generation of foster kids, having gone to college and joined the Army, where she served our country for nine years. She left the Army after suffering from severe depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. After being discharged from the Army, she continued to suffer from even more mental disabilities such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. She was homeless many times. She met a man 20 years older than her and began a relationship with him that led to her pregnancy with Grace at the age of 34.

Angela had always wanted children and thought that waiting until she was older was a wise choice. Now she was not so sure. Because of all the medications she was on, Angela could not sleep at night. She averaged an hour of sleep on a good night, and was often suicidal, checking herself into the psychiatric ward at the veteran’s hospital about once a month.

When Angela received notice of a complaint being filed with Child Protective Services and that she would be visited by a caseworker, she had a breakdown. For the safety of her daughter and herself, she needed to check herself into the hospital immediately. She was frantic and had no one to help her. Her family was in another state and was struggling with difficult circumstances themselves. She took the bus to the veteran’s hospital, which just happened to be next door to a children’s hospital. Outside, she saw a woman she had met a couple of weeks before. She told her friend how desperate she was and that she was having suicidal thoughts and needed to check herself into the hospital immediately. She asked her friend to please look after Grace until she got out, and the friend agreed. Angela signed a note of written permission for her friend to watch Grace and left for the hospital.

The next day, CPS went to Angela’s home to begin the investigation about the burn on Grace’s leg. When they arrived, no one was home and the landlord had not seen Angela or Grace, which was unusual. They tracked down Angela in the hospital and asked her where Grace was, to which she responded, “I don’t know.” Grace was now a missing child. 

Five days later, the friend who was caring for Grace saw a news story about the little girl and that she was considered missing. She immediately called 911 and CPS came to pick up Grace. She was now a ward of the state. Grace was placed in an emergency foster home, where she stayed with an amazing family until our family was chosen to be her long-term placement.

My heart was pounding as my husband and I sat outside the CPS building waiting for Angela’s visit to be over so we could bring Grace home. I could barely breathe knowing that we were about to meet our second daughter. We watched as Angela walked out of the building and got into someone’s car. Knowing nothing about Angela at this time, we slunk down in our seats, worried that she might see our car and follow us after we left. How silly and judgmental that seems now.

After Angela was out of sight, we got out of our car and walked inside. We nervously followed the caseworker upstairs and down the hall to where Grace was waiting. As we walked into a bright yellow room, we were met with the biggest grin and happy shrieks from Grace. I will never forget the moment my eyes met hers. It was as if I was seeing one of my biological children for the first time. I truly feel that God had shown her our faces because we were instantly a family. In our paperwork, the caseworker even wrote that Grace was playing and laughing with her foster parents immediately. We had no adjustment issues with her and our biological children were immediately in love with their new sister.

It was the end of October when Grace came to live with us, and when I heard her story, it was so familiar to me. After searching the Internet, I realized that I had read the news story about how she had come into state custody a week before we were certified as foster parents. When reading the story, I instantly had compassion for her mother, Angela. I had no idea how God was going to use that compassion to show His love through me.

The first time I met Angela was on a visit at the CPS offices. She came in looking very professional, with her hair done and a beautiful shawl around her shoulders. She brought shoes and clothes for Grace and two books about Jesus. I was anxious to reach out to her, and brought as many pictures of Grace as I could get developed. She was so gracious. After this visit, we communicated every day for a month by email. I later found out that Angela walked to the library every day to check her email for the pictures that I would send of Grace.

As Christmas approached, I hoped we could get together with Angela to celebrate. I had not heard from her in about a week, which was very unusual, so I checked with our caseworker to see if she had talked with her. She had not, but made some calls and discovered that Angela was back in the psychiatric ward at the hospital. Angela would be spending Christmas there. My heart was broken for her. Without a second thought, I told her that I would be there to visit her on Christmas Day.

At this point in our foster care journey, we had a total of six children. Three of them were biological, one was Grace, and the last two were a sibling set that we had unexpectedly taken in two weeks before. I was a very busy mama. Going to the psychiatric ward on Christmas Day was not something that I would have ever imagined myself doing. I asked my mom to go with me, and we wrapped presents and took pictures of Grace for Angela. I had no idea what I was going to do or say.

When we got up to the psych ward, it was so quiet. We could not find anyone who worked there and we had no idea how to get past the two sets of locked doors that led to the patient area. We considered leaving, but I knew that the Lord did not bring me there on Christmas day to leave without seeing Angela. Finally a nurse came out and went through all of our presents to make sure they were safe to bring in. A picture frame was not allowed because of the glass in it and a thick ribbon tied around a throw blanket had to be thrown away. I had never even considered that some of these items could be potential weapons or a means to end her life. We were finally cleared to enter the ward, and I nervously prayed for the Holy Spirit to take over.

We walked into the common area and I looked around for Angela. When I saw her, I barely recognized her. She had on hospital garments and her hair was pulled back in a do-rag. Her eyes were filled with sadness as I embraced her and wished her a merry Christmas. We sat down at a table and gave her the gifts and pictures of Grace we had brought. After she went through them, I updated her on how Grace was doing. I told Angela how much we loved Grace and that she was such a happy little girl. Angela was trying so hard to hold back her tears, and she was so grateful that we had come to visit her. She had never had visitors before.

The nurses and some of the other patients came up and told us how sad Angela always was and how happy they were that we came to visit and “love on her.” After we had been there only 30 minutes, it was announced that visiting hours would be over shortly and we needed to wrap things up. I asked Angela if I could pray with her and she graciously accepted. I cannot remember what I prayed, but the words that came out of my mouth were not from me. They were from the Holy Spirit, loving and comforting this deeply hurting woman through me while I held her hands and bowed my head with her. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed. Psalm 34:18

After Angela was released, we met at the zoo and celebrated Christmas and Grace’s birthday. I was able to get some great pictures of them together. She began attending church with me once a month and would wear her t-shirt with our church logo on it every time I saw her. After getting to know Angela better, our family began inviting Angela over twice a month for breakfast at our house and to see Grace. It was a little awkward at first, but the kids always made her feel at home, calling her “Mama Angela” and giving her hugs.

Angela was off and on in her relationship with Grace’s father. He had shown up to court only one time.  His rights were terminated early on in the case because of this. That was a blessing, since he had been abusive towards Angela many times in the past. Despite the fact that Angela could barely take care of herself, CPS was hopeful that if she got her medications straightened out, she could get Grace back. Over the next six months, though, it became evident that this would not be an option. She moved from her apartment to an assisted living facility. Her medications had made it so hard to function that she had begun having hallucinations again and was often suicidal.

The assisted living facility was close to our home, so we would go visit and pick her up for church or for a visit at our house. My husband and I picked her up for one of our court hearings in July. At this point, Grace had been in state custody for about nine months. Before we got out of the car, we said a prayer out loud, and asked God that whatever decision was made would be in the best interest of Grace. As we walked in, Angela was very somber. Our caseworker handed us each a copy of the court report and we read through it. I could barely hold back the tears when I reached the point in the report where it stated that, “Angela reports that Grace’s foster mom is her only friend.”  Shortly thereafter, our case was called. Our two minutes in front of the judge went something like this

Judge: Ms. Smith, I have in front of me a piece of paper that states that you are relinquishing your parental rights to Grace. Is that correct?

Angela: Yes, sir.

Judge: Ms. Smith, do you understand that by giving up your parental rights you have no say in medical decisions, where she goes to school, or anything else in the future?

Angela: Yes, sir.

Judge: Ms. Smith, did anyone threaten, coerce, or bribe you to sign this document?

Angela: No, sir.

Judge: Ms. Smith, do you believe that this decision is in the best interest of Grace?

Angela: Yes, sir.

Judge: By order of the court on July 11, 2011, parental rights of Grace Smith are terminated. We are off record now. Ms. Smith, I can tell that this decision did not come easy to you. I wish you the best of luck in life.

There was no doubt that was the hardest moment of Angela’s life and one I will never forget. Saying goodbye that day was so hard and uncomfortable. How do you react when the mother of your foster daughter just relinquished her rights so that you could adopt her? I hugged her and told her that I respected her so much for her decision and that she was now a part of our family too. I told Angela that I wanted her over for holidays and as many visits as we were capable of making. We invited her over for breakfast that following Sunday to reassure her that we were serious about keeping her involved in Grace’s life.

When I picked Angela up for breakfast that Sunday, she came loaded down with toys that she had bought at the thrift store for all six of our children. It was such a generous and thoughtful thing to do with her very limited income. The kids were so excited and showered her with kisses of gratitude. We had a huge breakfast of biscuits and gravy and lots of bacon, Angela’s favorite.

Before she left, I had her record her voice on one of those Hallmark books for Grace, so that Grace could hear her birth mother’s voice whenever she wanted to. Angela was very touched by that. We were moving that next week, so I let her know that it might be a few weeks before we saw her again, but we would bring her out to the new house soon.

When I dropped her off at the nursing home, the passenger door would not open for some reason, so I had to get out and let her out. I am so glad that happened, because it allowed me to give Angela the last hug I would ever give her. I looked into her tear-filled eyes for what would be the last time and said, “I love you.”

Three days after we moved into our new house, I got the phone call I had been dreading. My husband called and said, “Is your mom there? Go somewhere by yourself. I need to tell you something.” I went outside and stood on the porch. He continued, “Angela shot herself.” “What?!” I shrieked, over and over again. “What?! No! No! Why would she do that?!” Sobbing, I screamed, “She’s supposed to come over next week. We had it planned, she was supposed to come over! Why would she do that?” Logically, I knew why, and I knew it was likely to happen. But you are never, ever prepared for that phone call. 

I wept all day long. I wept for the way Angela’s life ended. I wept for Grace and that she would never have a memory of her birth mom. I wept for not calling or visiting her more often. I just kept saying over and over again, “I’m so sorry, Angela. I’m so sorry.”

The funeral was the next day at the nursing home. Other than residents, it was my husband and I, two of my dear friends, and our caseworker. My husband shared a little bit about our family involvement with Angela, what a good woman she was, and that she would be terribly missed. At the end of the service, we fittingly sang “Amazing Grace.”

The woman who ran the nursing home brought us letters that Angela had left for us. I never thought I would be a recipient of a suicide note. This is a portion of the one she left for Grace:

“To my daughter,

I will always love you. Mommy had to go. Your new mother will take good care of you. She will feed you when you need to eat, change your diapers and tuck you in at night. When you remember her, please remember me. I'm sorry I had to go. I couldn't deal with the pain anymore. Whenever you're alone, I'm there with you.

Love, Mommy”

The next few months were filled with lots of paperwork, and right before Christmas, we were blessed to finalize Grace’s adoption and give her our last name. It is still hard to believe that this part of our journey is over. The Lord taught me so much.

When we became foster parents, I had no intention of getting close to the birth parents. They were the “enemy” in my mind. This experience has changed the way I view all of them. They are hurting people who need love just as much as these children do. Many of them were victims of the foster care system themselves.  Angela was a beautiful person who loved her daughter very much. You may never know what a person has been through or is going through, so extend them the same grace that the Lord Jesus has given us, and love them with everything you can while they are with you. You just might be their only friend.

The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Matthew 25:40




Monday, October 27, 2014

Turning Point

I have a heavy, heavy burden for those who have heard false messages about salvation and think they are saved, yet they are not. I used to be one of them. I believed the message that all you have to do is pray a prayer, raise a hand and you will be saved. Salvation is so much more than that. The gate is narrow my friends. If you follow Christ, you should not look like the rest of the world. I have been drawn to the subject of true salvation for almost two years now. Parts of it have been very hard for me to swallow, but I do believe and accept what the Bible says regarding it. Please don’t take my word for it or anyone else’s for that matter. It is all in the Bible. Seek Him and He will reveal Himself to you.

Recently, I listened to a sermon by Francis Chan regarding salvation, repentance and receiving the Holy Spirit. My 8 year old listened to it with me and afterwards he asked me what it means to repent. I told him that it means to turn away from sin and go in the opposite direction. I gave him an example of how I repented when I began to follow Jesus. I told him that 4 years ago I began reading my Bible passionately for the first time in many years. I couldn't get enough Jesus. I explained how Mommy was not a very nice person before she started following Jesus. I would be mean to people who didn't live like I did or parented differently than I did. I told him how mean Mommy and Daddy used to be to each other before we started following Jesus. I explained to him that we believed in Jesus and we knew that He was God, but we did not follow Him or obey His commands. And that the Bible says in James that even demons believe in Jesus, so just believing in God is not enough to get you into Heaven. It was when we began applying the Word to our lives and being obedient that we received the Holy Spirit and truly became followers of Christ. The first act of repentance I did was write letters to those I had hurt with my words or actions. And I sent them. It was one of the hardest, yet freeing things I have ever done. It helped restore so many of my relationships. We began serving in the Church and the Lord revealed to us soon after that He was calling us to be foster parents. We tried to say no two times, but the Lord’s presence left us each time we did. We finally surrendered to His calling and will for our life because we couldn't stand to be without Him and look what He did with that.

The more we obeyed, the wider our eyes were opened to the Lord’s truths. Before this time, our faith was built on sinking sand, but NOW, we could not be snatched out of the Father’s hand no matter the circumstances. Please be assured that salvation requires repentance of your sins. If you have not
repented of your sins, you will not receive this incredible gift of salvation though Christ. You can’t be a follower of Christ and remain the same as you were before Christ.

Luke 13:24 He replied, “Work hard to enter the narrow door to God’s Kingdom, for many will try to enter but fail.”

John 14:15 Jesus said, “If you love me, obey my commandments.”

John 14:21 Jesus said, “Those who accept my commandments and obey them are the ones who love me. And because they love me, my Father will love them. And I will love them and reveal myself to each of them.”

John 14:23-24 Jesus replied, “All who love me will do what I say. My Father will love them, and we will come and make our home with each of them.

Acts 2:38-39, Peter replied, “Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This promise is to you, and to your children, and even to the Gentiles – all who have been called by the Lord our God.”

James 2:19-20 “You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror. How foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless?”

"Some people claim that we can be Christians without necessarily becoming disciples. I wonder, then, why the last thing Jesus told us was to go into the world, making disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey all that He commanded? You’ll notice that He didn't add, 'But hey, if that’s too much to ask, tell them to just become Christians—you know, the people who get to go to heaven without having to commit to anything.'

Pray. Then read the Gospels for yourself. Put this book down and pick up your Bible. My prayer for you is that you’ll understand the Scriptures not as I see them, but as God intends them." –Francis Chan, Crazy Love


Friday, September 26, 2014

Former Foster Mama...

2 weeks ago we closed our home. I had fought and wrestled with this decision for months while we waited for our adoption to finalize. Initially we decided to stay open, even taking another 2 year old for a month. While we had this placement, our newly adopted children were a little confused with DHS at our house and their foster sister leaving for visits with birth parents. They began to ask when they were going to have more visits and if they were going to be leaving as well. My husband and I were both stretched very thin. We were just in survival mode. After a Saturday morning of cleaning up diarrhea on walls and bedding, we made the decision to close. I cried writing the email and wondering where this 2 year old would end up while praying that we were just a stepping stone to the perfect family for her. The new foster mom contacted me and we talked and I had so much peace. This little girl is getting so much more attention than I ever could have given her. When she left and we officially closed, I expected to breakdown, but it never came. I am so relieved and happy to be able to focus on MY family! We get to choose who we want in our life and our children's lives now!! The freedom that comes with this will definitely take awhile to process. It's been almost 4 years with DHS constantly all up in our kool-aid. :) We are free!!! I can cut my kid's hair, leave the state, change my phone number... ahh, the list is endless!


Lord, my God. You sustained us these past 4 years. You provided for us. You gave us compassion for those who seemed unlovable. You gave us strength to endure and to forgive so many times when we thought we couldn't show one more ounce of mercy. You filled this house with love and laughter and Your Spirit. How thankful we are Lord!! In You, we can do all things! We can do all things with great love ONLY because You live within us. We are unworthy and undeserving of Your blessings, but You so greatly bestow them upon us. May Your name be lifted high always by our words and our life. My ultimate joy is found in You alone. May I never forget that truth.



Sunday, September 7, 2014

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Sibling group of 3... their story.

I share the stories of my children to personalize foster care for those not yet involved. When you hear a child's story and can see their face, it changes them from a depressing statistic that you can just ignore to beautiful, innocent children that you can help. "Once our eyes are opened, we can't pretend we don't know what to do. God, who weighs our hearts and keeps our souls, knows what we know, and holds us responsible to act." Prov. 24:12

Lord, for every person who reads this, speak to them. Make this story real for them, help them to walk a mile in the shoes of a child in foster care. All children are of equal importance to You and they should be to us as well. Reveal to them their next step in being Your hands and feet to orphans. Amen.

We had 3 biological and 1 foster child all under the age of 6 before Ellie came to live with us. It was never our plan for her to join our family, but God's plan always trumps ours. I thought we were maxed out with 4 children in our 1100sqft, 3 bedroom house, so we were done taking in children, but wanted to help get a child out of the shelter for Thanksgiving. I contacted a foster friend and she connected me with a caseworker who was helping connect families with children. We were told that there was a very overweight 5 year old that was constantly bullied in school that would love to spend the holiday with us, so we happily agreed. A couple days before Thanksgiving we were told that little girl had found another family to spend the holiday with, but there was a 3 year old that we could take for the day. The first time I met Ellie at the shelter, I thought they must have gotten her age wrong when they told me that she was going to be 4 in a week. She was the size of a 24 month old, could barely speak intelligibly, couldn't run and could barely stand up for any length of time without her ankles giving out and falling to the ground. She did not want to be hugged and had the saddest eyes I'd ever seen.  We tried all day long to make her smile and laugh and she did... a few times. Most of the time she glared and yelled at the other kids or ignored me. I was looking forward to the end of the day and thinking that this little girl was definitely not a fit for our family, BUT GOD. After taking her to see Christmas lights, we drove her back to the shelter. I will never forget her screams as she realized where we were at. She clung to me with her little arms and legs holding on as tight as she could as she screamed over and over again, "NO! NO! DON'T LEAVE ME!"  Tears were rolling down my face at this point, knowing there was no way I could rescue this little girl immediately with it being Thanksgiving evening. As they peeled her off of me one limb at a time, I promised her that we would come back for her.
Thanksgiving Day

I didn't sleep for 4 nights. When I closed my eyes, I imagined how scared this little girl must be living in a shelter, knowing no one. I didn't know a single thing about her story. I didn't know if they would let us foster her, if she would be with us 2 days or forever. I didn't even know if she had siblings. We just said, "yes." We called first thing Monday morning and they gave us permission to pick her up that afternoon - an absolute miracle in the DHS/foster care world. Seth took 2 of the kids to go pick her up and I will never forget seeing her sweet, smiling face as she walked in our front door, only God knowing that she was finally home.
Then we heard her story. This was the 2nd time Ellie had been in DHS custody and this case was classified as "shocking and heinous," just like the case of our other adopted daughter, Hannah. Ellie was taken into custody at the age of 16 months because she was found wandering alone in just a diaper in a parking lot. Friends of mom's were supposed to be watching her. The place mom and Ellie were living at was with multiple people and it was covered in human blood, feces and had switchblades and axes on the floor. There was also no food in the home. DHS returned Ellie to her mother a week later. Fast forward 2 years... and this brings us to Kristian's story.
Right before
entering state custody.
The first day Ellie was officially our foster daughter, we found out that she had a 6 month old brother, Kristian James (KJ). He was staying in an emergency foster home. When they came into care, KJ was only 2 months old and was brought to the hospital for 2 fractured femurs and a fractured humerus.  2 months old. Not only did he have 3 fractures, but two of them were healing fractures, which means they were broken at an earlier date and his parents did not take him to be treated medically. It is still hard to wrap my head around this as I type. At least one of the fractures occurred during a diaper change and for over a year, KJ would scream and scream, every time I laid him down to change his diaper. KJ and Ellie stayed in a kinship home for 3 months, which is a home of someone the birth parents knew and recommended to care for their children. They were taken out of that home because the kinship family was dealing drugs out of the house, among many other things. The children were separated after that. Ellie went to a shelter and KJ went to an emergency home until we reunited them 2 weeks after we picked up Ellie. We now had 6 children under 6 in our tiny house, and God was almost tangible, His presence was so evident.
KJ was a quiet, sad and floppy baby for the first week we had him. He seemed depressed and almost like he was in a constant daze. I thought surely he had major delays, but almost miraculously after that first week, he perked right up. He gained 5 lbs in one month, started smiling and laughing and hasn't stopped since. 
Baby sis.
When KJ had just turned 1, I noticed their birth mom's clothes getting tighter and tighter around her midsection. Shortly thereafter we found out she was 20 weeks pregnant with a baby girl. Talk about a SHOCK. Honestly, it shouldn't have been a shock based on mom's history, but when that baby is most likely coming to live with you in a few short months, it's a shock. It was an odd feeling to know that quite possibly our future daughter was in someone else's womb. A womb that likely did not provide her with the nourishment she needed or the protection. Mom would have deep bruises on her body at some of the visits, that greatly concerned me. Our sweet Charlotte (Charlie), joined us at 3 days old. She was so tiny at just over 5lbs and she was in this huge carseat that DHS transported her in. Her big blue eyes were so wide and bright and I could not put her down. I was heartbroken for her birth mom that was holding and feeding this baby just hours before and now she was gone. Only those who have gone through this can understand the joy of having a new baby, but also the heartbreak of knowing this baby's mother was going through hell. It leaves you with a very unsettled soul regardless of the reasons the baby was taken into custody.
Ellie is almost 7 now, and my most attentive little helper. She adores helping with the younger children and has the most encouraging spirit. Just a month after having her, the caseworker was astounded at the changes and couldn't believe it was the same little girl. Since Ellie was almost 4 when she came to us, she has had the most difficulty bonding, but she has made huge strides in the past few months since visits with birth parents have been stopped. Her health is excellent and she requires no more speech, physical or occupational therapy.  

KJ is 3 and my most joyful child. He is full of energy and smart as a whip. He has no health issues from his past abuse, but I often wonder how it will affect him mentally when he is old enough to understand what happened to him.

Charlie is almost 2 and is a spitfire... still petite and as stubborn as she can be. She is a mama's girl and her favorite place is on my hip.
Oh, and do you remember the 5 year old we were "supposed" to get that Thanksgiving? I found out a year later that she spent that holiday with our pastor. How fun it was to share that their obedience in welcoming a child into their home, brought us 3 of our children. Only God. Love HIM.

Sometimes I worry about the future and some of the situations that adoptive parents and children face as they get older. But then God gently reminds me of how they came to our family and that He has plans that I can't even begin to imagine. Love these words of wisdom from Oswald Chambers, "God is my Father, He loves me, and I will never think of anything that He will forget, so why should I worry?" Thank you Abba for my 3 babies. What a gift they are from the Lord!
"Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows." James 1:17

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Gotcha Day!

 
Today we adopted our 5th, 6th and 7th child. All glory and praise is given to God! We feel so unworthy that God has blessed us with all 7 of these beautiful children to raise and call ours forever. Ella, Kristian and Charlotte have been mine in my heart since the day I laid eyes on them. To love, care for and desire to protect these children for the past 3 years while we watched helplessly as court battles and unseen spiritual battles were fought between DHS, birth parents, CASA and many others was the hardest thing we've ever done, no doubt. For this 1,110 day journey to be over for them and to give them our last name is the ultimate reward. We are not superheroes or saints, we are ordinary, weak human beings. We said yes to the call of orphan care and we loved like we weren't scared, endured and tried to trust. HE did the rest. He empowered, provided and protected us and the children. Our journey cannot be duplicated, but I have no doubt that the Lord can work miracles in your life too, if you choose to say yes.

LORD, thank you. We are unworthy servants who have simply done our duty.

"In the same way, when you obey Me you should say, 'We are unworthy servants who have simply done our duty.'" Luke 17:10

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

In Search of a Better Way

One of my absolute favorite parts about being a foster parent is the ease at which teachable "Jesus" moments come unexpectedly. We had a newborn and a toddler join us for the night this past week. As soon as they were dropped off, everyone started doing their part. The big kids welcomed the toddler, fetched baby gear and watched as I fed the baby. Everyone was just giddy to be the hands and feet of Jesus for these 2 little ones.

One new thing that happened with these placements was that my oldest daughter was very concerned about the birth parents, mentioning often how sad they must be that their kids were taken away. How precious for her to realize this aspect of foster parenting when most adults don't. It's easy to forget that most birth parents haven't lived a privileged life like us. A majority were raised in foster care themselves and/or abused and neglected by those that were supposed to protect them. Many have aged out of foster care because they were considered "too old to adopt" or "unadoptable." The statistics are awful for most who age out of care. A lot end up homeless, involved in sex-trafficking and/or in jail. The cycle of foster care continues for many when they end up young and pregnant with no support system. There has to be a better way friends.

The number of children in care in Oklahoma is growing by more than 1,000 every year. 3 years ago, there were 8,000. At the beginning of 2014, there were 11,400 children in state custody. Mentor, advocate, foster, adopt... the opportunities are endless. Listed below are some Oklahoma organizations striving to help in this area, click on the underlined text for their website.


Bethel Foundation for single moms - this is an incredible organization that I am personally connected to. Contact them for needed donations and volunteer opportunities.

OK Foster Wishes - (from their website) "OK Foster Wishes shows people ways that they can get involved with a foster child without the commitment of becoming a foster family. Most people don't know that there are many ways to help a child in foster care like mentoring, baking a birthday cake or buying a gift, or just taking them to the zoo for the day."

Breaking Chains & Mending Hearts - this is a new organization in the OKC area that is helping connect mentors with pregnant teens or teen moms in foster care while developing plans for a girls' home. "Like' their Facebook page for more info.

Stand in the Gap Ministries - "Stand in the Gap Ministries is a prayer-based, church-driven, small group movement, focused on helping a neighbor rise above overwhelming life challenges through a loving, spiritual family experience."

Infant Crisis Services - "Infant Crisis Services provides life-sustaining formula, food and diapers to babies and toddlers in times of crisis..." This organization is an invaluable resource for birth families and is always needing donations. Please like their facebook page for more info.

Next week marks the 2 year anniversary of the death of Hannah's birth mother who was a victim of many of the hardships I wrote about above. Pray for compassion, forgiveness and salvation through Christ for those who have had their children removed from their care. Everyone has a story and everyone is in need of a Savior.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Best Friends and Forever Sisters

Only God knew that these two girls, born 29 days apart in the same hospital to different mothers, would become forever sisters almost 7 years later. They love bugs, dresses and arts and crafts. Thank you Jesus for my "twins."







 

"Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up." Eccles. 4:9-10

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Opened Eyes

When Seth and I were seeking God and His calling for our life, we knew that adoption would be involved somehow. I researched international adoption and domestic adoption and was met with closed doors. I knew absolutely nothing about foster care, but was drawn to look into it after reading an article about how when children are removed from their home, they are often given a black trash bag to put their things into. By this small act alone, we are basically telling these children that their possessions aren't valued and neither are they as they are bounced around from placement to placement. It broke my heart. My eyes were open just a little bit. Then I discovered the crisis that we call the foster care system in Oklahoma. As followers of Christ, Seth and I were outraged at what was going on and the fact that NO ONE was talking about it, at least no one that we knew. Once our eyes were opened we could not be silent or sit passively by while innocent children were treated like statistics and ignored by the Church. So if I'm on here pushing foster care a lot, it's because I'm thinking that just maybe some of you don't know about the 11,000+ children in foster care in Oklahoma and the lack of good foster parents to help them. Maybe you're like us and all you need is to be informed and then you won't be able to sit by anymore and sleep comfortably at night knowing the pain and suffering many of these children are going through. Maybe your future children are waiting and praying for you to take that first step of obedience to God's command to care for orphans. My desire is not to guilt you into foster parenting with my posts, that would never end well... but my prayer is that you will seek God's will in this area and obey when He answers.

“Once our eyes are opened, we cannot pretend we do not know what to do. God, who weighs our hearts and keeps our souls knows we know and holds us responsible to act.” Proverbs 24:12

Sunday, July 6, 2014

A New Beginning

After rights were relinquished, we had 3 visits, 3 weeks apart with the birth parents. Our intentions were to continue these indefinitely, but as of now, we have decided to bring them to a halt. Our decision has been influenced by many things, but ultimately we believe this is what God wants us to do for the mental and emotional health of not only our adopted children, but for the whole family. We loved, prayed for and reached out to the birth parents for almost 3 years, many times when we did not want to, but because we felt prompted by God to do so. We have offered job help, parenting help and spiritual help countless times, with no acceptance on their part over the years. This quote that I read recently really encouraged me to re-assess and pray about their involvement in our family's life. "It’s part of my DNA to love others. Love them and not disappoint them. But I have to realize, real love is honest. Real love cares enough about other people to say no when saying yes would build up a barrier in the relationship. Real love pursues authenticity rather than chasing acceptance. We must not confuse the command to love with the disease to please.” - Lysa TerKeurst  I feel that my intentions have been motivated by guilt and the desire to "save" or "rescue" these parents recently, instead of what would be best for our children and our family. God can save their birth parents without my help and I've accepted now that I am not responsible for their salvation. I can plant seeds, love them and show them Jesus, but only God saves. Our adopted children began acting out with very noticeable anxious behaviors after visits with the birth parents and they soon taper off after a little time has passed. I believe that God wants our family to bond and our children to heal and begin anew.

Because of these decisions, we have also chosen to completely change their names. One of the greatest privileges and rights a parent has is to name their children. We want that for our adopted children too. Our 6 year old is very excited about her new name and we've discussed that whenever God did something great in the life of one of His people in the Bible, He gave them a new name. There are so many people who told us not to foster and if we had listened to them, these children would not be ours. I anticipate that many of the same people will disagree with our decision to change their names. I hope they remember that we seek God in our decisions, not men. We have peace and joy about these decisions and I trust that God will honor them.

Love this explanation I found about God changing names in the Bible.

"Why did God choose new names for some people?

The Bible doesn’t give us His reasons, but perhaps it was to let them know they were destined for a new mission in life. The new name was a way to let them in on the divine plan and also to assure them that God’s plan would be fulfilled in them."

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Find your life.


Today is the last day of Foster Care Awareness month. As I read Matthew in my Bible today and watched two of my adopted children play together in the front yard, God placed it on my heart to remind others of how we got to where we are today. God didn't bless us with a 7 bedroom house, 12 passenger van, financial resources and Seth being home part-time BEFORE we became foster parents. No, He blessed us in response to continued obedience, fulfilling this promise found in James 1:25! "But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don't forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it." We lived in an 1100 sqft house with 6 children for a year while Seth worked full-time in another city and then after work he would gut/remodel our new house until 11pm. If you are waiting until you have a bigger house, more money or more time to serve God, you are missing out on experiencing His miraculous provisions in response to your faith in Him and His promises. And if you're afraid of the risk to you, your family or your comfort, I ask that you spend some time meditating on Matthew 10:37-39 and determine where your love for Him who died to set you free, stands. "If you love your father or mother more than you love me, you are not worthy of being mine; or if you love your son or daughter more than me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it."


"He is so rich in kindness and grace that He purchased our freedom with the blood of His Son and forgave our sins." Ephesians 1:7

"And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus." Phil. 4:19

"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." James 1:27



Tuesday, May 13, 2014

New Placements - Questions Foster Parents Should Ask

This is such a great list, one that I didn't have when I first became a foster parent, so I wanted to share it with my readers. Thanks to the Foster Care and Adoptive Association of Oklahoma for providing it. A lot of workers, will most likely NOT know the answers to all of these questions, but hopefully they can get you contact info for someone who does. 

NEW PLACEMENTS - QUESTIONS FOSTER PARENTS SHOULD ASK

Why is this child being placed?

What is the previous placement experience(s) of the child?

What is the child's legal status?

What is the family situation?

What is the plan for the child? Expected length of placement? (most probably will not know the answer to these questions upon initial placement)

What will my role as foster parent be in the reunification plan? (Should always be to support reunification in every way possible if adoptive placement, ask about mediated agreement visitation/contact with birth family)

What is the child's understanding of why he has been moved/separated from his birth parents and/or prior placement?

Will there be a pre-placement visit? (Usually not if coming directly from the birth home).

Where are the birth parents & possible relative/kinship placements?

Give me a clear understanding of the rights of the child's birth parents and the plan for visitation. Who may visit? Who may not visit? Where does visiting take place? When? How often? Who transports? (Usually 1 visit/week supervised by a CPS staff member at a CPS office)

Have the birth parents been dangerous or threatening in the past?

Have the birth parents made complaints against other foster parents? I f so, what was the complaint?

Has the child made complaints against other foster parents? If so, what was the complaint?

Are there brothers and sisters? If so, where are they and what is the visitation plan, or plan to reunify them while in care?

Is the child in good health? Allergies, immunizations, dental care? What are the plans for current and immediate future medical and dental care? When was the last physical? Are there any food, medication, or animal/general allergies?

Is the child taking any medications at this time? Will there be written instructions regarding them?

School - What grade? Prior School Name/Address? School problems? Achievement level and/or any special problems? Enrolled in Special Ed or other special classes (GT, Speech, Alternative Education Setting)?

Does the child have any special behavior problems, unusual habits, or dangerous propensities? Ask about fear of animals if you have them in or around your home.

What will make the child feel most at home? What are the child's food likes and dislikes? Favorite toys, sleep habits, etc.

Religious affiliation? Is it important? Does foster parent need to make special arrangements to have child attend services, education classes, etc?

Does the child qualify for a special care rate? If so, when is the effective date?

Does the child have adequate clothing? Will there be a clothing allowance? If so, when can foster parent expect to receive the clothing allowance check? Ask the placement worker for details. Save all receipts for reimbursement up to the current limit.

What are your (placement worker) expectations of me (foster parent)?

What is the name and phone number of the supervisor of the unit overseeing the child?

Who is the attorney/CASA/GAL for the child? Name & Phone numbers.

What do I do and who do I call in case of a weekend or evening emergency? (BIG one if you don't have any thing that shows medical coverage for child)

When will I receive the following placement information? Medical Consent Form, Medicaid Card Placement Agreement Form (must include name of social worker, supervisor, payment rate, effective date, case number, and signatures.)

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Love like I've loved you.

I've been waiting for this journey with 3 of my foster children to come to a close now for almost 3 years. I'm not sure what I expected if and when it did happen, I guess no more visits, no more stress, knowing they are mine would ease any heartache and worry I had about the situation. I knew and prayed that if the birth parents relinquished, it would be an open adoption, but with an open adoption, especially the kind that I feel God is calling us to, there's not a lot closure for me. It's just more growing pains as I continue to learn to love like Christ and "share" these children that I've been praying to not have to share all this time.

We had our first visit since relinquishment recently and it went very well. We met at a park and we all hung out together as one big family. All 7 of my children hugged and interacted with the birth parents, which surprised them I think. They brought us diapers that they had leftover and mom thanked me many times, something she's never done before.
It would be easier for me to just be done, to sever all contact. But whenever I consider that option, I get knots in my stomach and am deeply convicted by the Holy Spirit. I truly believe that God is joining our families and I have to surrender to that. He is joining our family with a family that experiences hardships in a way that I will never have to experience and that I will never completely understand. He is calling us to minister and love not only the birth parents, but the extended family of the birth parents. He's been quietly speaking to my heart and filling it with compassion. I pray for God to bring me people to minister to, but when He does, I question Him, "Are you sure God? Share my family and blessings with them? Indefinitely?" As Christians, we often desire to help, but in a way that only makes us feel good, not in a way that might make us uncomfortable and challenge us. I DO want this. I want to be challenged and I want to grow closer to Christ. I want to learn ways to help and encourage poverty-stricken families and disciple them to become followers of Christ. I want this. (Preaching to myself here.) It's not about me, it never has been. It's about showing His love, grace and mercy.
Please pray for me and my husband. Pray that we can develop 100% genuine relationships with the birth family, relationships that don't feel awkward because love will outshine any other emotion or action. Pray for wisdom for us and that God continues to use us to share His story and His plan for the salvation of the world.
"This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you." - Jesus, John 15:12

Friday, April 25, 2014

The Process - Foster Parent Certification in Oklahoma


Foster parents are referred to as "bridge parents" by OKDHS. From OKDHS publications, Bridge Resource Parents are: "Oklahoma parents who foster a child, have adopted a foster child or both. Bridge Resource Parents keep a child/children connected to their kin, culture, and community and mentor the child's family whenever possible." It's important to know what is expected of you when you begin this process. The process is intensive for good reasons. There is a high rate of abuse for children placed in foster care. Some foster parents should NOT be foster parents. It's a good thing that these safeguards are in place.

If you are a complete newbie to foster care, you need to know that no matter what agency you choose, you will still have to deal with/partner with DHS. They are legally responsible for the children and your agency is responsible for certifying foster parents. You will have a caseworker from your agency and each child/case has a caseworker from DHS who manages the case and will do home visits monthly to check on the children.

In Oklahoma, the certification process has been privatized, so your first step is to find an agency.  Below is not a complete list, but it is the extent of my knowledge.

  • Tribal Certification - If you're Native American, you can get certified through your tribe and take only tribal children. You need to have a roll card for this, but the degree of Indian blood is not important, at least in my experience. There is a great need for tribal foster parents. 
  • Private agencies - Tallgrass, St. Francis and Angels are 3 of the agencies that received a recent grant to contract more foster parents. I have heard good things about them all. Make sure to ask your agency if you are able to foster more than one child from different cases, if that is something you might desire. Some agencies view it as a benefit to only have one child/sibling group per family and for some it is, but for our family God called us to a different task and we are thankful that we were able to make that decision and it wasn't made for us. 
  • Therapeutic Foster Care - From the OKDHS website, "TFC is designed to serve children ages 3 to 18 with special psychological, social, behavioral and emotional needs who can accept and respond to the close relationships within a family setting, but whose special needs require more intensive or therapeutic services than are found in traditional foster care." I have no personal experience with this, but I know that it is greatly needed as well. SAFY is one of the organizations that provides therapeutic care in Oklahoma. 
After you find your agency, they will walk you step-by-step through the rest of the process which will include multiple homestudies, fingerprints, background checks, physicals and driving records. Homestudies include a walk through of your house to determine if it's safe and what needs to be changed to make it safe. They do not expect your house to be perfect. I would definitely clean up, but do not stress too much about this part. The rest of the homestudy is an insane number of weird personal questions including, but not limited to: your parents, your siblings and your extended family. It is normal to not know the answer to some of these questions. Just be honest. Last but not least, your, ahem, 27 hours of "training." Training needs to be revised. Some of it is helpful, but I do not believe it prepares you fully for being a foster/bridge parent. I recommend reading the Bible as often as possible to prepare you. :) Seriously. 

Once all of your paperwork, homestudies and training is complete, which usually takes 3-6 months, you will sign your contract and you should begin getting placement calls within a week if you live in the larger counties, like OK, Canadian, or Tulsa. It might take longer in the less populated counties, but I am not certain of an average timeline for them. You will receive your first monthly stipend 1-2 months later. They pay them a month behind. I know a lot of people are curious about the amount per child that you receive and in Oklahoma it varies from $400-$565 depending on the age of the child. I hope this information will encourage some of you to take the first step by taking some of the mystery out of the process.

Love this quote by Amber Smart from the OK Foster Care Forum on 4/24/14:

 "Don't let the process get in the way of your purpose."