Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Questions People Ask

I was at Titus' school for a Trike-a-thon and had baby boy with us. A sweet lady came over to see what I had in my "pouch" (sling).  After the ooo-ing and ahh-ing, she asked how old he was.

"Two weeks," I replied.

"Two weeks!? Wow. You don't look like you just gave birth two weeks ago."

Well, that's a relief.

I don't usually advertise the fact that he's my foster son, but to escape the lie that I squeeze into regular jeans 14 days after childbirth, my conscience demanded that I fess up. After I explained, again, (because I've repeated this scenario a dozen times since he joined our crew) came all the questions.

But honestly, I don't mind the questions. Answering them is a platform of sorts. A chance to talk about what we've learned and promote the big, big need for foster parents.  It's an opportunity to educate and dispel myths on a subject I've become passionate about. So bring 'em on. My guess is that since strangers and church members and best friends and everyone in between have questions about how fostering works, others might too.

Disclaimer: This will undoubtedly be my driest and dullest post. (We can hope, anyway). I operate more in the realm of storytelling and persuasion and anything that involves emotion. Straight facts with little commentary give me flashbacks to writing research papers. The horror. I get all worked up about being inaccurate and incorrect and saying something that will make social workers revoke my foster license.

But I can well remember the hours I spent online when we began considering foster care. It was a huge unknown. In all my life, I've never had a personal relationship with someone who was a foster parent, or a foster child. I had no framework of experience through which to filter my questions, no one to ask about the process, no flesh and blood person to fill me in on what life might look like if we took the foster care route. And the greatest desire I had was for information on this great unknown. Trying to wade through government sites of garbally gook was barely helpful. What I needed  was someone to answer my questions in everyday language and give me real life examples.

So in the spirit of providing information for those who are curious, or considering foster care, I give you the following questions I get most often and how I usually answer them.
(Keep in mind, I'm usually less sarcastic to people's faces.)

Question #1 - Are you going to keep him?

As if it were that simple. The short answer is, "We have no idea."

By it's very nature, fostering is designed to be temporary. The long term plan for most children who are brought into custody is for reunification with the birth parent(s). The child is not an orphan and parental rights have not been terminated, therefore the child is not currently adoptable. His parents aren't dead-just unable to care for him due to abuse, neglect, or failure to provide. So the Child Protective Services places him/her in a foster home with the hope that they will only be in custody until the parents are deemed able to care for the child again. Of course, in cases of extreme abuse, the plan is not for reunification.

So, when a child comes into foster care, most of the time they are not up for adoption. They may eventually become adoptable (more about that later) but for the time, the state has custody and a temporary placement (foster home) is found until they are returned to their home, to a close family member, or become adoptable.

When the social worker asked us if we wanted to foster our new addition, we knew that our future with him was highly uncertain. He may be with us a short while, many months or his status may change at some point to adoptable. At which time we would sign on the dotted line. But at this point, only One knows "if we are going to keep him."

Question #2 - How long will you have him?

Pretty much the same answer as #1. There is no way for us to know. The biological mom has 14 days from the time he was brought into care to name relatives she would like to be considered as a family resource-someone in the family who could take custody of him. After a family resource is named, DHR begins the process of determining if that person is able/fit to take him. They look at many of the same things that were considered for our foster care license- home inspection, income, background check, interest in the child, etc. This process takes several weeks, more if the family resource lives across county lines. If the family resource checks out as a good option for him, he may only be with us 4 weeks or so.

If the family resource does not get permission for custody, then he will potentially stay with us until he is either reunified with his birth mom, or he becomes adoptable.

Question #3 - Why was he removed from his parents?

Can't talk about it. Not as in, it's too emotional. But for confidentiality purposes. This little guy doesn't need that aspect of his story shared with the masses. Some people don't know how to respect the delicacy of that information. In order to protect him, and his birth parents, we keep this (generally) to ourselves.

Question #4 - What are the chances he will go back to his biological mom?

It depends entirely on her. If she does all the things the court has asked her to do, the chances are high. Alabama believes (in theory anyway) in the preservation of families. In other words, the court system and human resources work to reunify children with their families. But the road to that actuality is very difficult for many parents. The cycle of sin is nearly impossible to break for countless moms and dads who have had their children taken away. It is obvious to me that our little guy's mom loves him. The question is, can or will she take all the steps necessary to earn the confidence of the social workers and court system.

Question #5 - At what point would you be able to adopt him?

The general guideline is to give birth parents one year to get their act together. If the parents do not meet all the court orders and deadlines during those 12 months, the court will (usually)begin a "permanent plan" for the child. In order for our little one to become adoptable, the court would have to terminate parental rights. However, some courts are more inclined to do that than others. Many simply want to give the birth parents every reasonable chance to get their child back. Which means the child is in foster care for longer. If parental rights are terminated, we would get first dibs on adopting him. Even if he does become adoptable after that year (or so) the process to adopt takes time too.

We're relatively new to this whole process and still have loads to learn. My perspectives and answers to these questions may change dramatically as we actually live this thing out. If you are a seasoned foster care veteran, by all means share your answers to these questions in the comments field. The educational process is fluid and we need your input! If you're a rookie like me and curious about a question I didn't address, ask that too.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

And Then It Got Real: My First Foster Care Experience

Our local Baptist Association was hosting an Easter egg hunt for foster families. They were kind enough to include prospective foster parents in on the invitation. I was relieved when I pulled up and saw two other couples from the GPS (foster care certification) classes.  I was a newbie and totally felt like it. Seeing other newbies I could band with turned down the awkward dial. 

Foster mom's were pulling up in minivans and SUVs with multiple kids of different races piling out. As I watched little ones toddle around with Easter baskets bigger than they were, I began to think about how real this whole thing was becoming. These were actual souls, no longer case studies or statistics. Here were babies and preschoolers and big kids who had found a safe haven in the homes of loving families. They were protected. And happy. And doing normal little kid stuff. The weight that we might be embracing one just like them in a few weeks settled like a heavy quilt. Just warm. And not burdensome. 

I stayed for only 45 minutes knowing I had another normal little kid event to attend (Titus' first game of the season!) then started saying my goodbyes. Several social workers from our county were there that day, and on my way out one asked if she could talk with me.

If you've read previous blog posts, you might assume nothing would shock me at this point. I should expect the unexpected. We all should. We serve a mysterious God who is a master plot-twister. And that day, He did it again.

"Beth, we got a call yesterday. There was a baby born Friday who we will  have to take into care on Monday. Would you and Nathan be interested in fostering this baby?"

One heartbeat. Eyes bulging.


The easiest and quickest yes I've ever uttered. 

I vaguely remember asking if it was a boy or a girl, but at this point my IQ had dropped dramatically and I was having trouble forming sentences. A baby boy, she said.

EEEK!  A baby boy!

I got a few other details. But that was it. My brain was trying to compute a baby boy joining our nest. THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW. I don't even remember saying goodbye. And I definitely forgot to get her cell number. Did I buckle my seat belt after I got in the car? How do you start this thing?! Tee ball, game, Beth. Get it together and drive! You can wig out later.

I remember zilch about the drive to the ball field. Except that about half way there I started questioning my memory.

Did I hear her correctly? Did she mean this Monday? As in not tomorrow but the next day!?

I speed dialed my friend Machelle who I hoped and prayed was still at that Easter Egg hunt. "Machelle, this is Beth. Is Felecia still there? Hallelujah. Could you ask for her number. Wait. That's weird. She might not want to give me her personal number. Would you give her my number and ask her to call me as soon as she has a chance? It's REALLY important. Great, thanks!"

Cause that didn't raise an eyebrow at all.

As I walked toward the ball field from the parking lot like a zombie, another thought struck me.

Maybe I should have asked Nathan about this.

I stared at my son in all his cuteness playing ball and my husband rocking the coach role, but mentally I was elsewhere. Trying to figure out what the heck was going on up in here. We were only 8 weeks into our training. A baby boy was moving in? On Monday!? By my estimation, this whole scenario was at the very least 2 weeks earlier than I had expected.

I should stop expecting.

Those games only last about 30 minutes. Hallelujah, amen. Because I needed to talk to my husband NOW. The teams shook hands, kids came by for snacks. I did the, "Great job, Titus!" spill. Nathan gave me the "How did it go?" eyebrow raise.

And then I lowered the boom on his orderly and predictable world.

Something about sharing the news with Nathan forced reality to set it. And with reality came the excitement. You've heard of nesting. I went into hyper-nesting. My mind racing with what all needed to be done.  I had a crib. But that was the extent of the baby gear at my house. No bottles. No car seat. No changing pad. No nothing. I had enjoyed 36 weeks of preparation for my two biological babies. I was looking at 36 hours at best for this one. How was I going to get everything I needed in 36 HOURS?!

Shortly after we left the ball field, I gave my friend Katrina the news. Three hours later she bust up in my driveway, SUV loaded down with baby gear. Later Calli came with even more stuff. Bless the hearts of mom's who keep everything and are willing to share! They totally tended to my heart with their generosity and prevented wide scale panic since I was down to around 30 hours at that point.

The next day (Sunday) was a blur. I didn't talk about our news much to church members. Quite frankly I was beginning to wonder if I had dreamed the whole thing. It was a packed day from beginning to end which left no time for hand wringing or anxiety. We just did life. With the knowledge that we could be gaining a family member the next day.

Monday morning came. Titus out the door to school and a kiss to Nathan on his way to work. I remember him saying, "Call me if we have a baby. I'll come home."

I love that guy.

I performed the worlds fastest house cleaning, dressed Anna and dashed to the grocery store for FORMULA and DIAPERS. By 11am I was home wondering if this was really going to happen.

Shouldn't they have called by now? If nothing else but to confirm I would be home? Maybe they decided to take him to someone else. What is the protocol for this sort of thing?!

At 1:45 pm, the phone rang.

"Beth, what's your address?  We're on our way to the hospital and then we'll be straight over to your house."


It struck me then.  That fragile three-day-old wee one was being picked up by strangers, only to be transported to a stranger's home, to be cared for by strangers.

Begin heartbreak. And tears.

30 long minutes went by before I heard Gracie barking alerting us to outsiders on the premises. It was raining. One social worker was holding an umbrella over the other as she tried to maneuver the carseat out of the car. I ran over and bounced around them like a chihuahua. Eager to help but not wanting to take over too quickly.

And then he was under my roof. In my living room. And I got my first look.

No words. Just big, deep emotions.

The stranger transport people stayed about 20 minutes. As my friend Jenna described it, having appliances delivered often demands more ritual and paperwork. I signed nothing. Knew nothing. Save his name. And the immediate, overwhelming desire to nurture and protect this tiny one.

How long that role would belong to me was a mystery. A great unknown that would dominate my thoughts in the days to come. But that first night with him brought one certainty. He was now a part of us. Our history. Our story. And we were a part of his.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

A New Direction. Again. Some More.

After Nathan and I changed course to pursue domestic adoption, and then had the surprise visit from the Haitians, we settled into Christmas celebrations and anxiously waited for a phone call from our state agency to fill us in on next steps. 

We are not good waiters. 

Not like as in a restaurant. As in waiting. For stuff to happen. For people who have the information to tell us what our lives might look like in the future. So after a week, we called them. They reported that the next step was to take a mandatory training class which would take place some time starting in January.  They would call and let us know when. 

Ehhh. More waiting. 

In the meantime, we had plenty to discuss.  Like if we were going to be adopting or fostering. Seven years earlier when we had first discussed raising children who were not ours biologically, I had informed Nathan that I was not interested in fostering. My reasons were similar to many you've probably heard before. Reasons you might state yourself. Mainly, I didn't think I could have a child placed in my home only to have it removed later. How could I love and nurture a child and then let it go? Possibly likely back to a home situation I felt was unsafe or unsuitable. I couldn't fathom how I would navigate that kind of heartache.

On the way back home from a trip to Kentucky, we stopped to see dear friends who had adopted the year before. We were excited to catch up with them and meet their daughter. Since we were at the beginning of the adoption process, we annoyed them with questions. At some point they asked if we were considering foster care or adoption only. Nathan looked at me with that you answer this, it's your hangup look. I remember Rebecca mentioning that they were interested in fostering when their daughter got older. And then she made a statement that has stuck in my head ever since. "Some kids just need a soft place to land while their parents get it together."

Hmmm. I chewed on that for a while. And prayed about it.

I told God again how unsure I was about loving a child and then sending it off into the unknown. That it would break my heart to give one up that had become a part of my family. That I struggled with the unknowns and possible transitory situations that came with fostering. That I wasn't sure I could handle my home becoming a revolving door of children. 

And then He said something really profound.

This isn't just about you, Beth.


But He was right. This isn't about what is comfortable for me (for the love, this process is demolishing every comfort zone I've ever embraced). Or safe. Or easy. Or assured. This isn't about what will keep my heart feeling warm and fuzzy. 

This is about the least of these. This is about children up the road from our homes who are living through hell. Who are scared. And beaten. And molested. And broken. Who simply need a consistent parent figure to say you are worth it. You are worth me possibly getting my heart broken in the process of loving you. You are worth my home being turned upside down while we all adjust to each other. You are worth extra laundry, extra cleaning, extra doctor visits, extra homework, extra diapers. Jesus died for you, precious one, so you are worth the room in my heart and life to love you. Even if it's only for a time. Even if a little piece of me dies if you go away. 

Nothing about following Christ is tame or safe. We've decided to change directions from adoption only, to fostering too. That ain't safe, folks. It's not safe for my heart, or our checkbook, or our social life, or my sanity! I might get broken in this process. Every person who currently lives in my house will suffer. But if we suffer for another, we might look a little more like our Savior. And I want soo much to look like him. I want to love like He loved. With no thought of self. In order to redeem another. 

I'm not saying every Christ follower is called to foster. Or adopt. The least of these are everywhere we find humans who are overlooked and mistreated. You won't need to look long or hard to find a vulnerable life of some kind to minister to. Jesus said whatever we do for them, we do for Him. And Worthy is the Lamb.

But let's stop shying away from serving them because we want to protect our hearts. Our hearts are already secure. They are eternally tied to the One who's heart bled out for us. He can help us deal with a broken heart. Let's put our hearts on the line for those who don't know Christ. Because it's not our hearts that are in danger. 

It's the infant who crawls around in a home with dirty drug needles on the floor and isn't fed or held or changed. It's the 4 month old baby girl who is slammed against the wall during a domestic dispute and the 2 year old who saw the whole thing. It's the 13 year old girl who is being targeted by sex slave organizations because she has no one who cares where she is or what she is doing. It's the 7 year old boy who hates the weekends because the only time he gets fed regularly is at school. 

It's their hearts and lives and eternity on the line.

Not mine. 

Friday, April 11, 2014

Letter to a Captive

Baby Girl, 

I see your self condemnation and it grieves Me. You needlessly hold on to sin and guilt, for I have not required it. On the contrary, I have provided a way for you to be free. I alone possess the key to your chains, but I give them to you. I am not your warden. I am your Rescuer. Liberty is waiting. Turn the lock and walk through the door to Me.

You think of me as a beast waiting to devour you. It is not so! Rather, I am the Lion of Judah. Here to defend you. There is no foe my equal. I will fight them all. For you. 

You wallow constantly in the atrocious sin you committed. The secret to waking from that nightmare is not complicated. Simply believe Me. Believe Me when I say I've removed your transgression. Your sin is no more. Yes it was hideous. Yes it was criminal. If it had been minimal would a cross be necessary to pay for it? But I have removed your sin as far as the east is from the west. There is no sin I can not pardon. For I am the judge. 

And I declare you innocent. 

I died so you can live. So LIVE. Live everyday in freedom from your past. The only chains it has on you are the ones you give it. The Evil One wants you hindered. He foams at the mouth to have you paralyzed in fear and condemnation. He promotes the lie that you are not worthy. That you disgust me. I moved heaven and earth to tell you otherwise. Ignore him. Listen to me! You have already cried rivers of repentance. Now dry your eyes and look to me. Take hold of the forgiveness that I freely offer. But I will not force it in your hands. Gifts must be received

Stop comparing yourself to others. Are they holy? Do they hold eternity in their hands? You think they are good and acceptable to me because of what you see on the outside. You assume I accept and bless them because of their righteous deeds. Their righteousness is to me as filthy rags. The same as yours. You will never stand in my presence based on self righteous acts. You will stand or fall based on your belief in my Son. When you believe Him, I will impute my righteousness to you. You will be right with me because I have made you so. Refuse to see yourself as shameful and less than. Open your eyes to how I see you. Blessed and highly favored.

I love you. I want to spend every day with you. Flee this captivity and let me show you life abundant. I will mount you on wings like an eagle. 

And for the first time in years, you will soar with me. 

Your Father

Thursday, April 10, 2014

He Ate My Spaghetti

Seven days after I bowed the knee to God's clear directive to drop international adoption and pursue domestic adoption (read about it here), the unthinkable happened.  

Anna had been sick that weekend.  By Sunday morning she was better, but still not herself. I battled with whether to take her to church and finally decided to keep her home, thinking one more day to rest might be the better choice.  Sending Titus on with a friend, I started tidying up the house and had the wild idea to prepare some lunch. (I never cook lunch on Sunday's. We eat sandwiches, or leftovers, or whatever we can scrounge up.)  

At 10:57 a.m. my cell phone rang. Nathan's name on the caller ID. I nearly panicked. Something must be wrong for him to call three minutes before he was supposed to be up front giving the welcome. Quite the opposite. 

"Honey, do we have lunch plans?" He asked with voice shaking, the words coming out on top of each other. 

"I don't think so, why?"  

"Bill Howard and Jimmy and Renel just walked through the front doors of the church." 



Side note: We knew Renel (read about why he is special to our family here) was scheduled to have surgery in Dothan, Alabama the next week. He had fallen and injured his jaw as a little boy long before he arrived at Alex's House. Not having access to health care when it happened, his jaw healed incorrectly and he had been unable to open it more than an inch ever since. Bill found a doctor in the states that was willing to do the surgery for FREE, so he got medical clearance for Renel to leave Haiti. Having flown into Atlanta the night before, they woke up Sunday morning and headed south on I-85. When they saw the signs for the Valley exit, Bill remembered that we lived here and made the quick decision to surprise us at church. Surprise is one word for it. 

I told Nathan to invite them to our house for lunch. Praise be to Jesus, I HAD MADE SPAGHETTI.  

We hung up quickly and I danced a jig. My heart thumping like I had run a marathon.  (Who am I kidding?  My heart thumps like that when I run across the yard.) I looked at Anna and said, "Do you want to go worship with Haitians?!" Ten minutes earlier I was convinced we should stay home. But when would I ever have another chance like this!? Besides, it wasn't like she had the Chicken Pox (I kept telling myself to get over the guilt).  

I had to go. I longed to see that boy I had loved from afar and I wanted every minute I could get.

My adrenaline level was through the roof.  Which was a good thing since it was 11am and church starts at....11am!!  I commenced to darting around like I was on speed. Traded my sweats for some jeans (good thing the folks at Valley First aren't formal, or superficial) and smeared on some makeup in under 90 seconds. I looked like I had asked a ten year old to give me a make over, but the excitement totally eclipsed any care in the world. 

I snatched Anna off the couch in the middle of her Dora episode and wiggled her into pants and a shirt. Forget brushing her hair (or teeth!). Shoes but no socks. No jacket in December (why, of course I'm fit to adopt children, Ms. Social Worker). Let's GO!!! I hurled her into her car seat and drove like a raging New Yorker (as if they might dissipate into thin air of I didn't get there NOW!) while applying lipstick at the same time (actually it was a lip pencil, where on earth was my regular lipstick?). Yanked Anna out of the car (Don't feel sorry for her, she thought the whole thing was great fun. Having never seen me move with such speed, she was both amazed and amused.) and darted in the side doors. Only twelve minutes late.

Just before I walked into the sanctuary, I paused and took a deep breath so I wouldn't have that "I rushed to church because the Haitians are here" look. And because this was B.I.G.

Renel was in that room. And I was about to set eyes on him.  Who was this stalker in my head, so obsessed with seeing and touching him? What kind of maniac acts like that? One who had dreamt of raising him, or one like him, for a long time. There was no time to process the insane irony of how seven days earlier I had sacrificed that very dream and bent to the will of the Master.  

That would come later.  

I opened the door and walked in. Chris was already up front leading worship. Expecting them to be on the row with Nathan, my heart skipped a beat when I didn't see them there. Smiling slightly and trying to act fake normal, I took my place next to Nate. He mouthed, "They're over there," while pointing to the right. I cut my eyes and attempted not to turn my head too much. Stink. I couldn't see over Mike. I restrained myself from stepping up on the pew to get a look. Pursuing my lips, I hoped that I hadn't missed the "shake hands and greet each other" part of our service that usually comes after the first or second song. The screen in front of me displayed words which I had zero ability to make sense of. Worship at our church is usually a time of sincere adoration and communication with the Father.  That day I simply converted oxygen into carbon monoxide and took up space. 

FINALLY we finished the song set and Chris said those beautiful words I had been itching to hear, "Greet someone and tell them you're glad they're here this morning." Yes! I hadn't missed it. I made a beeline to the right and caught my first glimpse...just before a church member cut me off to give me a hug, telling me she was glad to see me. "You too! Err, see you later." Back on track. Make a hole, people, coming through. Another hugging church member. This one only got a smile. And another. For the love, I never realized how hug-y this church is! (Normally, I'm all about some hugs and stuff, but I was on a MISSION.) 

The waters parted and I got my first good look. Heart. Melted. Walking on over and smiling like a love-struck teen, Nathan introduced me. I shook their hands vigorously, and in that enormous moment all I could do was nod like a bobble-head and repeat over and over "I'm so glad you're here!" Anna was on my hip, snot running down her face.  

I wanted nothing more than to wrap my mama arms around that gorgeous dark skinned boy, but his shy smile and wide eyes made me think he was already more than a little overwhelmed and maybe I shouldn't freak him out any more.  

Along with the overwhelming joy of being so near to him, the reality of what he was experiencing hit me like a punch in the gut. Haitian orphan. Speaks no English. Accustomed to zero technology. White people everywhere. Cars. Planes. Hotels. Billboards. His first everything American. Our culture is a far cry from the simplicity he is used to. Poor baby. I wanted to shelter him. Keep his innocent eyes from seeing the stuff we hoard. The excess. The pursuit of more. The commercialism.  What must he be thinking?

He was probably wondering who the crazy bobble-head painted white woman was, and why she would't let go of his hand.

I reluctantly made my way back to my pew and impatiently sat through the rest of the service. Have no idea what Nathan preached on that day. At one point I even thought to myself, "Come on, honey, wrap it up." I look back and wonder how he even had the presence of mind to preach. Heck, for all I know he didn't make any sense at all.  I didn't hear most of what he said. 

Church was finally over. I darted over to my Haitian guests and made sure they were coming to lunch. Getting the affirmative, I pushed my kids out the door and into the car. There was stuff at home I needed to shove in closets and under beds before they arrived. I've never before wished we lived in a smaller house, but that day I did. We don't live in anything massive or fancy.  In fact it's a 1907 fixer upper. But it's roomy and comfortable. And the toys. Heavens, the toys. They're everywhere. Our wealth was a dragon breathing down my neck. Right or wrong, I was embarrassed over our affluence and possessions. 

Standing at the stove buttering bread, Nathan's voice floated through the back door as it opened. And then Renel walked into my kitchen. Again, resisting the urge to envelop him in a huge embrace, I gave him a benign side hug and pointed to the picture we had on our fridge of him.  He grinned a big lopsided grin and I nearly came undone. Taken the Christmas before when we sent his Christmas present, the staff at Alex's House had included it with a thank you note, it had been on our fridge ever since. 

We led them to the living room and the men folk made small talk. Titus immediately tried to strike up a conversation with Renel. After a minute or two of blank stares from him, Titus came over and whispered, "Mom, why can't he talk?". Hmm, how to explain language barriers to a five year old? "Go get some Hotwheel cars. I bet he speaks that language."  

Sure enough, they were rolling cars back and forth to each other before I could blink. The next thing I knew they were in Titus' room playing. When I peeked in to check, Titus was showing Renel how to mark days on his superhero calendar (practically a ritual at our house, the kid likes to know what day it is....funny because I never know what day it is).

I set the table and called everyone to eat. My emotions were gurgling just below the surface. What I wouldn't give to have those gangley legs under my table always. I couldn't take my eyes off of him. He ate slowly, but finished every bite. Meanwhile, my spoiled American children whined, "I don't like spaghetti. Can I have a sandwich?"  I tried to remind myself that they had no idea the child they were eating with had gone years on the brink of starvation. That they were just acting the way we all act without the knowledge of what other's endure. Still, I was mortified.

Time was slipping away and I could feel him doing the same. The conversation around the table was slowing down and Bill mentioned that they would need to head out soon. Titus asked if he could show Renel the swing set and trampoline.  Imagine.  He had never seen a swing set.  Or a trampoline.  

He was so funny on the trampoline.  Kinda like Gumby.
Note Anna's shoes--on the wrong feet. And white??
Minutes later we watched them back out of our driveway.  And I had a come-apart. Sobbing in my bed for most of the afternoon, I could not make sense of what I had just experienced. 
He had been in my home.  Where I thought he belonged.  I grieved it all over again.  I grieved for that child. For days.  On the heels of the enormous high, came a deep low.  I couldn't move his plate and cup from the table where he had left it, and dared anyone else in the house to touch it. For four days.

I poured my heart out to God.  I begged him to help me understand it all. The timing. The visit. His will. The beautiful glimpse of *my* Haitian child in our home, among our family. One of us for two breathtaking hours. He let me cry and whine and question. He silently held me while I wrestled and wailed. 

And once I was spent He said,

"My thoughts are not your thoughts, and my ways are not your ways. Just like the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways. As the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return without watering it and making it flourish, so is My Word that goes out from my mouth; it will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it."  Isaiah 55:8-11 (paraphrase mine)

God may do something with the time we spent with Renel that I can't anticipate. How it fits into the larger picture, I have no way of knowing. But finally, after He spoke, I had some measure of peace and could see Renel's visit for what it was.

A gift of the rarest kind. 


Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Answering the Adoption Question. Part Four.

How does one eat an elephant?  One bite at a time.  Apparently that is the only way I can tell this story, too. Small chunks. Stay with me, or don't. Some will find common ground, others won't. It's here for those who need it. Chomp, chomp!

December 1, 2013 - We were in Hartford enjoying a visit with my family. The cousins were having big fun together. As the oldest, my nephew Lane was the leader of the pack. His sister Brooklyn was the baby and at almost one, so stinkin' cute I could have eaten her with a spoon. Both of my kids doted on her that day.  I remember thinking how much fun it was to watch them interact with her. At one point I commented to Nathan, "Could we have a one year old?"

"I don't think we can just produce one," he said, "but we could potentially adopt one."

Time stood still.  He said the "A" word. We had not been using the "A" word. Not in months. (Find out why here.)

With that one uttered word, the silence around adoption was broken.  

And then came the torrential rainfall of the word.  For a week solid it poured into my mind relentlessly.The radio. A fiction book I picked up to read. Mom calling to tell me about little ones in her preschool who had been orphaned. Blog posts shared on Facebook. 

Out of the blue two friends who live in different states that I rarely talk to sent messages asking where we were in the "process". (I hadn't let them in on the fact that there was no "process" at the time.) I couldn't get away from it. And for the first time in months, it was all I could think about.  

After seven days of this onslaught,  I decided I should mention it to Nathan. 

It was Tuesday. We were putting up the Christmas tree and talking about what our family would give Jesus for his birthday that year. In the midst of the ornaments and excitement, I say something like, "Umm, Nathan.  I've been thinking about adoption again".   

After Titus and Anna went to sleep that night, Nate and I sat on the couch and discussed the "A word" for the first time in months. Before turning in, we prayed about it together. Once the "amen's" were said, I thought, "The last time we prayed like that, we moved to Alabama".  I knew God was moving.  But I had no way of knowing how fast He would go! 

December 8 - The following Sunday. I was standing where I always do on Sunday mornings around 11ish. The front row. During worship, we sang "This is Amazing Grace". One of the lines says; "He makes the orphan a son and daughter". I  get all choked up when we sing that part.  Every. Single. Time. But that Sunday, I also had a fleeting vision of a row full of children. I kinda laughed in my spirit. Really, Lord, a row full? That's funny.

After a busy Sunday morning at church, the four of us came home and crashed. Everyone laid down for a nap, but I couldn't fall asleep. (Weird. I'm a champion napper. It's one of my spiritual gifts.) I shuffled into the living room with my half-read fiction book in hand (the one I randomly picked up earlier in the week that coincidentally featured a main character who was adopted...had no idea) and sat in my rocking chair. I read a little, stared at the tree, listened to Nathan and Titus snore on the couch, and generally thought about how wonderful and perfect our life was. I was completely satisfied in that moment with our life and how everything was turning out. I felt deep, deep peace.

Nathan roused a little later and we decided breakfast for supper would be divine after our lazy afternoon.  I was standing at the stove burning frying bacon when Nate said, "I think I'll go out and check the mail while you're working on that. I forgot to yesterday." When he came back in, I glanced over to see what he had in his hands. Double-take. It was a plain manila envelope. The kind they sale at Walmart everyday. It had no unusual markings to set it apart. Just our handwritten address.  

But I knew immediately what was inside it.  

I stared a hole through Nathan as he was pulling out the stapled packet of papers it contained. 

"Did you request another application from Chambers County DHR?" I asked. 

"No. I have had zero contact with them since last August," was his reply. Chills covered my body as he pulled out an application identical to the one I had tossed in the trash months before. 

Then...a still, small voice whispered to my spirit, 

"This is what I want for Christmas"
And I knew.

Nathan asked if I wanted to fill out the application after the kids went to bed.  Usually my response to that would have been something like, "Have you lost your MIND? Not until we pray and fast. And seek godly counsel. And search the Holy Scriptures." But with absolute calm and certainty I simply said, yes. 

Yes, let's pursue domestic adoption.

So we stayed up late documenting everything about us on the 20 page application. We mailed it in on December 9 and waited impatiently for them to contact us about what to do next. 

Meanwhile, on the following Sunday I got the most unexpected phone call of my life

Answering the Adoption Question. Part Three.

By now you're thinking, "Gah! Will it ever end?" Sorry, dear readers. I'm not known for my brevity.

September 2013 - The first picture Nathan sent me from this trip was of the entire group of kids who live at Alex's House.
Can you even stand the cuteness?
I wept when it came up on my screen. I looked at those darling faces and longed to hug and kiss them. Nathan took an Auburn baseball cap to Renel and had the chance to spend time with him. Such an amazing thing considering the last time Nate saw him he was homeless and hungry standing on his parents' grave. Who was this smiling, healthy child? Such a transformation.
That smile does funny things to my heart.
War Eagle!

On the fourth night of Nathan's trip, I had put the kids in the bed and was escaping into Pinterest world. (Funny thing about Nate's trips; the housework is greatly diminished and my free time after 8pm goes up! Probably in part because we exist off of pb&j and cereal while he's gone.) My phone buzzed alerting me to a new text. I guessed it was Nate with his usual nightly report of the day. One solemn sentence stared at me from the phone:

"Tough news about adoption."

"What do you mean?"

"It doesn't look possible from Haiti for us."

The questions started flying and my fingers could barely keep up. Neither could my heart. How could this be possible? 

I could bore you with the details that I didn't believe that night, but long story short, a Haitian adoption was not going to happen.

On September 10 I began to grieve for the child I would never hold in my arms.

Starting that night and continuing through the fall, I went through every stage of grief.  The shock that followed the text. In the weeks to come I hit denial, sure that there must be some way. All things are possible with God, right? I kept looking for a loophole, an exception.  At one point after Nathan returned home he was explaining to me (again) the reasons it was not going to happen. I said, "I guess we will just have to move to Haiti!". My heart clung to the desire for a Haitian child and refused to let go.

As the leaves turned colors and gently made their way to the ground, I slowly settled into acceptance. But with it came the questions. Had I heard God wrong? Adoption had been the catalyst for our move to Alabama. Were we out of God's will? Did others think we were all talk with this adoption stuff? Just following the latest Christian trend? 

I wrestled with how my life was going to look. Titus was off to kindergarten and with just one at home  I had been expecting to throw myself into paperwork and home studies.  What should I do with myself?

One day in late October I was going through a stack of papers. I came to the information packet Nathan had requested from DHR back in August containing the application for domestic adoption. I took one look at it, and promptly threw it in the trash. " Us four and no more." I thought. 

I remember the anger and pain just seeing it brought to my heart. I still wanted my Haitian child, even though I had come to terms that I wouldn't have him. 

When I look back on that fall one thing stands out vividly in my mind; the silence surrounding the "A" word. Other than the first couple of weeks after Nathan returned from Haiti, we did not talk about adoption. At all. Period. This was a topic that had been so commonplace in our home, our children understood the concept by the time they were three. But for several months, it was an off limits topic.

Nathan tried to bring it up a few times, but bless him, it was a dead end conversation. He had no idea what I was struggling with. My grief was so internal, I had not even shared it with him. I held that hurt close to my heart. It was a secret place and I wasn't ready to let anyone into it. Just me and the Lord wrestling it through

But He seemed strangely silent during that fall, too. Until early December. 

When He nearly blasted my ears off.


Saturday, April 5, 2014

Answering the Adoption Question. Part Two

February 2012  - Nathan led a second mission trip to Haiti. This time it was solely through Alex's House. (If you are looking for mission trip opportunities click here!) On the last day, the group was driving to the airport but took a quick detour to see the mass grave from the earthquake. Seeing two young boys who looked hungry and ragged, they stopped and offered the snacks and water they had stashed in their luggage. 

Renel and Remy and an adult brother.
Story told, the boys were orphans. Their parents had died in the earthquake. The very ground they were standing on was likely their parents grave. Nathan was grieved and broken all over again. The group drove away, but sensing that the Holy Spirit was prompting, they made a u turn.  Bill and Patrick (directors at Alex's House) got information about who the boys were staying with and where.  A few weeks later, Renel and his brother moved into the safety and security of Alex's House!  (Read the full heart moving, tear jerking account via Alex's House.)

As Nathan came home and shared the story we both felt an incredible connection to those boys. We became Renel's sponsor through Alex's House. We sent money monthly and presents at Christmas. We received letters and pictures and returned the same. And we hoarded secret dreams of bringing them into our home. (Read about the day I fed Renel Spaghetti AT MY DINNER TABLE, YA'LL!)
One of our last Sundays at FBC Fort Sumner.

September 2012 - We packed, and cried, and said goodbye to the dearest place west of the Mississippi. After two days of driving across five states and three time zones, we pulled up to the house we had chosen with our (current and future) children in mind. We dove into "settling in". Knowing we needed to give our family some time to adjust to the move, we decided to put adoption on the back burner for six months. During that time, we still talked about adoption, but didn't do anything to move forward.

March(ish) 2013 - Time to put this adoption dream into gear! I began to research, again.  Agencies this time. I talked to friends who had adopted and combed the websites of the agencies I liked most. As I did, one aspect of adoption came into clearer focus: the COST. Before this point in the process I had seen the numbers, but not being a "numbers person" the figures had made absolutely no dent in my thinking. As Nate and I began to discuss how to fund this thing, we both defaulted to our normal responses.

Nathan worried. Calculated. And worried some more. I simply ignored the reality of our finances and declared that "God would provide". I knew amazing stories of how God miraculously delivered the funds for other adoptions. If he was leading us to adopt, he would give us what we needed to adopt. I wanted to proceed with the process despite the fact that we had a minuscule amount saved. Nathan did not. He felt strongly that we needed to have a safety net in savings before we set out into the unknown. We both worked harder to cut corners and save more. I secretly prayed God would help Nathan see the light and step out in faith (prideful much?). We kept saving. Continued talking. Prayed hard. Had some tense conversations. And by the time summer arrived....we were still broke.  

And still longing for our Haitian child.

August 2013 - We were on the way to Hartford to visit family for the weekend. The kids had fallen asleep and Nathan and I were lost in our own thoughts with the radio droning on in the background. A commercial(?) of sorts came on in between music sets. A female voice advocating for children in the Alabama foster care system. She stated the number of children in the state who were currently adoptable. 261. I darted my eyes over at Nathan without turning my head. Is he hearing this? I wondered. A few minutes later he asked, "Did you hear that?"

We were both flabbergasted. We had no idea there were so many children in our state waiting to be adopted. Looking back, I guess I assumed that most of the children removed from their homes were stuck in some kind of foster care purgatory. 261 waiting to be adopted?!?

We talked about it that night. The need.  How we could meet it. But I kept going back to the desire to adopt FROM HAITI. I had been dreaming of a black child for two years. Nathan, though, was really interested in this new development. I didn't have much time to think about it over the weekend as we were at a reunion of sorts with my family(read: doing manual labor at "The Mawmaw's" with all the cousins). Twice during that weekend I walked in on Nathan grilling my aunt and my cousin (who both work for DHR) about details on domestic foster care and adoption.  He is nothing if not thorough.

By the time we returned home Saturday, he was sold. Already looking at mini vans and planning how to rearrange the kids' rooms to accommodate more beds. I told him several times that I simply was not ready to switch from a Haitian adoption to domestic. He didn't push. He never does. He simply asked if he could request more information from DHR. I figured I would give him that much. What difference would it make?

A week later the information packet arrived in the mail. Complete with an application attached. He looked at it all. So did I. I felt deep emotions over those kids, I really did. But I still saw a Haitian darling when I closed my eyes at night. So after a few days, the packet got moved to "the stack". (You know. The stack of junk on top of the fridge or side table that sits and simply collects more stuff to deal with.) We were busy.

Nathan was getting ready for his third visit to Haiti.


Friday, April 4, 2014

Answering the Adoption Question. Part One.

We're at the point in the journey where people are beginning to ask about the journey.  Here's my take on how this thing moved from a conversation, to quite possibly the scariest step of faith I've ever taken...

May 2006- Nate and I got married. Adoption was a part of some of our earliest discussions. I have a vivid memory of one of them. We were in the kitchen of our seminary housing on Sandage Avenue in Fort Worth. (Sounds like a lovely was the ghetto. Multiple episodes of COPS were filmed in the blocks surrounding ours.) We were waiting on dinner to burn finish, and in the meantime planning the next two years of our life including when to have a baby. (We had been married like two weeks. Tell me other newlyweds engage in this insanity.) We both mentioned that we would like to try for biological children, but whether we could conceive or not, at some point we wanted to pursue adoption. I don't remember the specifics about all that was said, but one aspect is etched in my mind: Nathan was really interested in fostering and I was adamant about adoption only.  

January 2011 - Five years, three moves and two biological babies later (turns out I'm Fertile Myrtle)... It's 8pm and I've been going head to head with a strong willed 2 year old for 12 hours while simultaneously rocking/feeding/changing a 3 month old. Sitting in Titus' room, I'm attempting to stuff said 2 year old into footy pajamas while he thrashes about as if they are made of acid. Anna's lying on the floor screaming. Probably because she's wet and cold. Because I haven't gotten her pajamas on yet. Because I was a rookie and didn't have the sense to dress her first. Nathan had been at work (pastor) all the live long day, and then to a missions committee meeting.  He walks in and sits dreamy eyed on the floor, zero recognition of my angst and exhaustion showing on his face.  

I look at him like Why aren't you helping me?!

He misinterprets my look as How was your day, dear?

He picks that moment to reveal, "I want to lead a mission trip to Haiti in August."  

Oh, really?

(Disclaimer: I lived 22 drive hours from free childcare/Nanna and Nanny. I was sleep deprived and spent nearly every waking minute in our house with creatures who eat their boogers and cry/fuss/whine/argue 8 hours a day. Be gentle with your judgement as you read my response.) 

My retort to his heart for missions?  "Fine. You go save the world. I'll stay here and raise all these children!"

As if there were more than two.  

I remember nothing about the rest of that night. Other than the way I stewed on the injustice of Nathan traveling the world with fun adult-types doing exciting work while I potty trained and bottle fed all by myself. (I had entitlement issues...way past that, surely.)

I wish I had known then that God was going to use Nathan's trip to Haiti to wreck our hearts for orphans and change the trajectory of our lives. 

Maybe I would have been nicer.

August 2011 - Nathan takes his first trip to Haiti.  By this point I've repented of my self serving attitude and am playing the role of the supportive wife. As a part of the mission trip, he visits two orphanages in Port-Au-Prince.  One we simply called the "bad orphanage" and the other was Alex's House. The children at Bad Orphanage were underfed, mistreated, unsupervised and exploited. Example: on one of Nate's visits, the children had found a dead cow head, drug it to the orphanage and were attempting to get meat off of it to eat. 60 children. Because they were starving. Nate and the other men on the trip had serious conversations about taking the director on a long trip off a short bridge.  

I love Nathan's Indiana Jones look here!

Alex's House, the good orphanage, was a totally different story. The children there were loved, fed, obviously well taken care of and taught about Jesus! (Check out the story of Alex's House here. Spoiler alert: you'll want to adopt them all.) Nate met the director, Bill Howard and discussed the orphan problem in Haiti. His heart was shattered at what he had witnessed. As he came home and showed me picture after picture of the poverty, the emptiness, the need, I was broken too. We both struggled to eat, knowing the conditions of so many there. We looked around at our stuff and knew God had not given it to be hoarded.  We looked inside at our hearts and saw the selfishness, and cried rivers of repentance. One thing began to dominate our conversations; adopting a child from Haiti. 

We began to do what everyone does when they consider adopting. We Googled. And Googled. And Googled some more. We bought the book, "Adopted for Life" by Russell Moore (Moving and informative! I highly recommend it.) and read scores of blogs. As we read and researched one thing became clear: this was going to be a daunting task and would require more of us than we could anticipate. Support from family would be crucial. We began to wonder if it was time to take the Lawrence clan back east.