It Has Been 6 Months

6 months ago, I answered the phone and my entire life changed.

We said yes.

It seemed crazy. It still does.

But we said yes.

 

Back then, my ear pressed against the phone, I wasn’t sure I could say yes. I wasn’t sure I could do it.

“6 months” they said.

6 months I told myself. I can do that. We can do that.

Well.

Here we are.

6 months.

 

…………………………………………

Summing up what we have learned in the past 6 months would be almost impossible to do in words.

We have all learned, we have all grown.

Our girl, our Heavenly- she is thriving. While it has been a very steep learning curve for her, I could not be more proud of her and what she contributes to our family. From the first days of total unknowns, to coming out of her shell and charming one and all with her vivacious personality. On Sunday she declared that she was so thankful she gets to live with us.

The first months were hard (gosh darn it they are still hard)- we struggled with food, with sleep, with TV and with creative brain engagement. We struggled with bonding and dealing with BIG emotions and handling trauma and learning how to respect elders and how to wash dishes and how to get an allowance. We have been through all of that together.

Theo and I- we are still adjusting to parenting a pre-teen that isn’t ours. So many conversations, so many eye rolls, so many tears. So many prayers. We have butted heads more over parenting Heavenly than our other two children combined. It can certainly take a toll on a marriage, but we have decided to band together, work through our differences and I can say that we are better for these past six months than ever before.

Tera is pretty sure that God has given her the best big sister in the whole world and she wants to be Heavenly when she grows up. What Heavenly does, Tera does. What Heavenly says, Tera says. It’s adorable and comical and melts my heart.

Kiah is still indifferent- as in, he knows no difference. Heavenly has been a part of his last six months and therefore she has always been a part of his life. It’s one of my favorite things to see them play together- the dark skin and the white skin, the coarse curly hair smushed up right against the wispy blonde hair. Oh, my heart.

…………………………..

Those original six months that they spoke of? Yeah, not happening. We have been given an additional 6 months (at least) with our girl ūüôā

Several weeks ago we had a big meeting and it turns out that even though six months have passed, we are still at square one. It’s as if no time has passed and we are no closer to having a resolution to the case.

Honestly, Theo and I are struggling with this- it’s a large burden to bear. I can’t go into any detail on the blog, but there are some big prayers needed in this situation. I weep as I write this because the situation is all so heart-breaking and I have come to deeply love and care for the one whose heart is most broken. Sin is so ugly, guys. It’s so harmful.

So in conclusion? We are fairly well adjusted. We still have our moments. Usually once or twice a day…but better than the hourly moments we were having at the beginning. We are burdened and struggling a bit with the details of the situation, and we would really appreciate prayers for the whole situation.

 

 

 

The 4 Most Common Struggles in Foster Care

This might be a bold statement, but I’m going to go with it.

There are four things that every foster care situation struggles with. Regardless of the details of the situation, the reason for removal or the present circumstances of the child…these struggles will be present in the home.

  1. Sleeping
  2. Eating 
  3. Triggers
  4. Visits 

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A Marathon with No Finish

 

On May 14th, our precious daughter came to live with us.

At first, the case seemed simple and the quoted 3-6 months seemed completely doable.

We put our feet to the pavement and began 100% supporting reunification.

For those of you who don’t know, reunification is when the child eventually gets to return to their biological parents.

Many people who are not familiar with foster care assume that children are removed because the parents are absolutely useless humans who have abused, neglected or otherwise harmed their children. Unfortunately, this DOES happen, but very rarely. More frequently, the parent is stuck in the throes of addiction and is not able to parent at the moment. The entire goal of foster care is to remove those children for the time being and place them in a safe home while the parent works a case plan that puts them back on track in the world for parenting.

Some parents need well over a year to work this case plan due to the severe addictions they struggle with, or due to how deeply life has hurt them. Some parents don’t need too much time and are able to find the community resources and get themselves back on their feet. Although the timeline varies, CPS usually gives parents a year to make progress on their case plan. Depending on the situation and how much progress is made, there is often a 6 month extension. This is why so many kids stay in foster care for so long. Breaking the chains of addiction does not happen overnight…it can take years. So many of these birth parents are fighting with all that they have. The fight is long and hard and painful, but they sure do love their kids. Addiction is tough, guys. And I’m not just talking about addiction to hard drugs like meth and cocaine. I’m talking about addiction to self, addiction to being needed by an abusive spouse, addiction to drugs, addiction to medications, addiction to despair. It is a broken world and we are finding ourselves in the midst of a broken system, just hoping that we can bring hope to someone along the way.

Heavenly has now been with us for four months and we have made no progress on the case plan. A plan that should have been easily conquered is left untouched, and we are discouraged.

Would we adopt Heavenly? Absolutely, if she wanted to. If the case ever came to that.

But that is not the cry of my heart. The cry of my heart (and everyone involved in this case) is that Heavenly goes back to live with her Mom. We are fighting for it. We are FIGHTING for it. I am working to build a relationship with her Mom, one that will endure longer than just the time that Heavenly is in our home. We are doing the best that we can with the time that we have with her in our home, training her and teaching her and trying to give her all the love in the world while she faces this incredibly difficult time. We are giving our all. All of it.

It’s not that we don’t love Heavenly or want her around. I don’t want her to reunify so that she will leave my home. When she does leave, it will be a time of broken hearts around here. But the brokenness of foster care is that she doesn’t belong in our home. She belongs in her own home. So we FIGHT for reunification.

And yet, it feels one-sided. Here we treasure and cherish and sacrifice and love on this girl. And it’s not without it’s own rewards. But at the end of the day I have to fight the negative thoughts about how one-sided this feels. Why does it feel like I am doing all the work? All the mothering? All the parenting challenges and joys? I have to fight the frustration and anger and bitterness and discouragement on a daily basis.

So here we are, 4 months in to the quoted “3-6” months. There is absolutely no end in sight. This is not a rarity in foster care, but even as I met with the case worker, she said this is the case that she expected to actually go through to reunification in no time at all.

And yet here we are.

I feel like I’m running a marathon. I’ve trained and I have water stations and porta pots and friends cheering me along the way. But the only difference is that this marathon has no finish. I’m stumbling along at mile 15, exhausted and worn out, discouraged and losing hope. And I tell myself that I only have 11 more miles (2 months) to go. But then I realize…there is no stated finish to this marathon. If the 6 month mark is mile 26.2, it’s looking like our marathon will just continue on past that mark. I don’t know where the finish line is, and I want to drop from the exhaustion of that thought.

So, friends…will you pray? Will you pray for Heavenly’s birth Mom that she will able to face her case plan and have the strength to complete it? Will you pray that I will not shy away from a relationship built with her? Will you pray that the gospel will be heard far and wide in this case? Will you pray a bold prayer that that reunification will happen- and soon? Will you pray for the many parents whose children are in care, that they would hear the gospel and be able to fight through the chains of addiction?

And will you pray for us, the foster parents? We are running this marathon and feels like there is no finish line. It is exhausting and wearying and it takes its toll. Will you pray that we will have endurance? Will you pray that we will love without abandon and put aside bitterness and frustration? Will you pray that we will be willing to build relationships with the birth parents and encourage them through this difficult time in their lives? And will you please pray that we will face each day with the strength that comes not from us, but from the author and finisher of our faith?

 

A Testament of the Goodness of God

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power if from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” – 2 Corinthians 4:7-9

Last week was a very, very challenging week.

And yet as I look back on it, I can see nothing but the goodness of God. I cannot even wrap my mind around how He did what he did. I wanted to share this story because it is a testament of the goodness of God, and I want it to encourage others, too.

 

 

On Monday morning, we found out that we would most likely be losing our license and losing our Heavenly.

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Why We Have Chosen to Foster When Our Kids are Little

I want to start this post off with a HUGE disclaimer: foster care is a serious commitment and one that should not be taken lightly. It’s a hard road to walk and only a family who is fully being led to do it should do it.

I do not expect every family I run into to become foster parents. I do not think that’s even slightly realistic. However, I wanted to address something that has come up frequently in the last three years that I have been in the role of foster parent.

Many, many people tell me that they would really like to pursue foster care….when their kids are older.¬†Now, I totally get it. It makes sense- older kids are more independent, can defend themselves against the words and actions of kids from tough backgrounds, older kids are usually out of the home for long periods of time during the day, and are just far less demanding and hands-on than younger children. Plus, young children are EXHAUSTING and adding foster children to the plate does not seem feasible.

But I think that there are downsides to fostering while having older kids, and they are not talked about as often. Sometimes it seems that the people I talk to are using this idea as an excuse- thinking about becoming a foster parent is terrifying, and putting distance between us and that decision with the age of our kids helps bring comfort to the idea of doing this job.

Listen- there is no formula for the perfect time to become a foster parent. What works for one family absolutely will not work for another family. What works for our family will not work for yours. However, if the Lord has called us to fostering, he will also provide for us every step of the way- whether our kids at home are younger or older.

Perhaps you are thinking about doing foster care, but you aren’t sure that having young kids while fostering is a good idea. I just wanted to share several reasons that having young kids while fostering has worked so well for us. Again, I do not think that these are blanket statements, and while they are true for my kids, they may not be true for yours. But perhaps there is someone out there who has really felt led to pursue foster care but have heard so much about waiting until the kids are older because it will be “easier” then. I have not found that to true, and I am so thankful that we have chosen to be involved in the foster care system while our kids are younger.

  1. Kids are a healing balm in the bandaid of foster care.¬†Every child in foster care has been through trauma- this might be reoccurring trauma, or perhaps it is just the trauma of being removed from their parents and their home. I have found that foster care doesn’t often solve these problems, but instead slaps a bandaid over it, hoping to heal the wounds of the child and the family. Both children we have taken in through foster care have bonded almost immediately with our biological children, and have therefore felt almost immediately comfortable in our home. I can’t imagine how much different and harder the bonding and comfort level would be if we didn’t have younger children in the home to ease this transition. Even if foster care doesn’t solve the deep set problems, I have found that my children are like healing balm to the child who is going through this difficult time.
  2. Kids are a bridge to the¬†birth parents.¬†With both children I have fostered, the biological parent has relaxed immediately upon seeing me with my biological children. Abi’s Mom even commented: “I know that you are not trying to take her from me because you already have your own kids”. Heavenly’s Mom held Kiah the entire PCP meeting. Again, it makes everyone just a little more comfortable and relaxed when there are cute babies in the room. It allows people to have conversation and ask questions and see one another as people and parents, not just statistics. And, yes, both birth parents of my girls have indeed met my children.
  3. Kids are resilient. Another reason that fostering while the kids are younger is because they just take it for what it is. Did my two year old grieve when Abi left last summer? ABSOLUTELY. But she is resilient and bounced back after just a few months. She still talks about Abi and loves looking at pictures of her, but she easily understands and accepts that these children coming into our home are here for a short time and then will move on. Of course, as our bio kids grow older, we will continue to reevaluate if the grief and constant goodbyes are having ill effects, and proceed carefully.
  4. Kids are accepting.¬†One of the hardest days of foster care is the first day. An absolute stranger is brought into our home and we are expected to parent, love and provide for this child who has probably had the worst day of their life. I find that with my young ones around, this transition goes so much easier. They throw open all the cupboards. share their toys and are more than happy to give a tour of the house. Tera plopped down in Heavenly’s lap almost immediately, asking to be read a book. They don’t ask what her past history is or what behaviors we can expect or why she doesn’t have any clothes. They don’t ask what happened to Mom or why her Dad _______. They just see a new sibling and are good to go.
  5. Kids are equipped.¬†I truly believe that if God is calling a family to foster, he is calling the entire family, parents and children- older or younger.¬†Our sweet Tera is an introverted and on paper would be a terrible foster sister. She doesn’t do well with new people, she doesn’t do well with change. And yet she does fabulous with all the ins and outs of foster care. I can’t help but watch her and know that God gave her some special coping skills for being a foster sister.

Bonus: It is so good for my kids.¬†My own biological children have already learned so much through this journey of foster care. They have learned what helping is, what sacrificing is and what it’s like to literally be the hands and feet of Jesus to those who have nobody else. They are learning that life isn’t always easy for everybody, and that the whole world doesn’t have to revolve around them for it to keep spinning. They are learning how to share time and space and toys and how to be accepting of everyone no matter their language, skin tone or background. I assure you that for every moment of questioning why we would do this, I am so thankful that my kids get to participate in one of the greatest love stories in the world.

I know that whatever your family circumstances, if God is calling you to foster care, he will lead you through it. It’s not easy to find the balance of wisely protecting our biological children from the harms of the world while taking in children with ‘colorful’ pasts. There is no magic formula of what is right and wrong, and to be honest it’s always terrifying. I hope that this post does not come across as condescending, but instead will encourage you to think about foster care with biological children in a slightly different light.

 

I’d love to hear from you- if you are a foster parent with biological or adopted children, how do you manage the age dynamic? How old were your children when you started fostering and what are your thoughts on this? Have you ever mixed up your birth order?

Please, as always, feel free to reach out to me with any questions that you may have. You can leave a comment here or on any of my social media accounts as well as by sending me an email at [email protected]

For those of you who are new around here, we are Theo and Suzanne Hines. We began the process to become foster parents just two years into our marriage. Shortly after beginning the process, we became pregnant with our first daughter, Tera. This was totally planned and expected- we always wanted both biological children and to use our home and our lives to foster children as well. When Tera was 13 months old, we got our first placement- a newborn baby girl (yes, the girls were 13 months apart!). Several months into fostering Abigail, we got pregnant with Kiah. Also totally planned and rejoiced over. When Kiah was 7 months old, we welcomed our 10 year old foster daughter Heavenly into our home. We currently have Tera, Kiah and Heavenly and still maintain contact with Abi, too! Yes, I know that we are crazy blessed.