Foster Care Literally Rips My Heart Into Shreds

Foster care literally rips my heart into shreds.

I never understood what it meant to be a foster parent until I became one. It’s more than just being a safe place for a child; it’s parents who are broken, children suffering, and families shattering before your very eyes. It’s a dark and desperate world.

I sat in my car sipping on a Coke and enjoying a chicken sandwich from Arby’s while I waited in the parking lot for one of my girl’s visits with her biological parents.

Tears caught me off guard as they fell down my cheeks. I couldn’t help but think about the biological parents that were in visiting with a child who knows me as “momma.” These parents are humans. They have made some really bad choices but they have hearts and feelings and need redemption just like me.

They visit their child 90 minutes per week, and I have her 24/7. I know her favorite foods, her bedtime, her fears and favorites – and they don’t. I pick her up when she falls and soothe her when she cries. I read to her every night and sing her lullabies. I get all the sweet moments of watching her grow…..

But in this moment, as the visit ends, she reaches her little arms back toward them. I see the pain in their eyes of knowing they can’t take her home with them today – and my heart rips out for them and for her.

Her time with them is short, and as she gets back into the car with me, she still isn’t mine-she is theirs. I am left with the big emotions she feels-the extra tears, the tantrums, the holes to fill.

But it’s her little heart that is paying the ultimate price. And, my heart rips to pieces because in this foster care world, no one comes out unscathed, and ripped out hearts are everywhere.

#fostercare#brokenhearts 

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Adoption Day

I would never have imagined in my wildest dreams that my life would look like this.

In high school I was voted “most likely to succeed” and thought I would have a booming entrepreneurial business, be married and have kids by age 27.

In college, I changed my projected age for marriage and kids and thought maybe the kids and husband would come sooner.

Then, college passed right by me, and so did age 27. My singleness loomed, the career started, and no husband pursued, so I kept waiting and living, and not getting any younger.

The call to foster care hit me upside the head after years of working as an advocate for adoptive and foster children.  I knew that “one day” would come and I’d be a foster parent and adopt (and, of course, I’d be happily married to my prince charming-and rich too!)   But, when that “one day” was right in the middle of my busy world of travel, ministry, and singlehood, I just had to do a double take, close my eyes and dive straight in.

I’d take one child. How hard could it be?  Then, parenthood greeted me after one easy “YES” from a phone call from my foster care placement agency.  I mean, I didn’t have stretch marks, morning sickness, or have to buy maternity clothes, and yet, I got the honor of being a MOM!   So, I dove in to the parent visits, caseworkers, medical appointments, diaper changes, up half the night single mommy life and the wild adventure of foster care.   And, I loved it! 

One child became two, two became three, and then three—well, three became four.  I was single and a mom of 4 kids!  Like a slow heating pot reaching boiling point–my love and bandwidth to care for children slowly expanded to a roaring boil.

My first placement, a little 3 month old baby girl stole my heart at first glance and when I knew she was adoptable, I adopted her.

How was this single woman, who had once stated she would never foster or adopt without a man by my side, now a full-time forever mommy to a beautiful baby girl!? I imagined the first baby adoption was a unicorn (a one-in-a-million rarity) and since I had already achieved perfection with her, I secretly believed my marriage life had to be right around the corner.  I expected Mr. Wonderful would come riding in on a white horse to whisk me (and my baby) off into the sunset.  And, together we would foster and adopt more children.

Then, 7 months ago, in the middle of Covid-19 (and still single),  my oldest foster love suggested she and I pray together from Sunday to Sunday in expectation of a surprise blessing for our family. So, we prayed.  Sunday rolled around, and nothing seemed to come from our fervent prayers.  But, 3 days later, when my phone rang everything I had felt that past week became ever so clear.  A call for an infant baby girl.  Of course my answer was yes.  And as God would have it, the baby I had just invited into my home, was born on the last day we prayed. 

A few weeks in to fostering the sweet newborn, the birth mom asked me to adopt the baby. Though that isn’t the typical foster care story, last Friday she became my forever daughter.

I wanted to share some pictures of our special adoption day and parade and introduce to you— baby Eisley Lorel Hope Goodnight.

As an adoption present, days after I adopted Eisley, a friend started a Go Fund Me to help my family purchase an SUV/Mini-Van for our growing family (because, well, I don’t own a vehicle!).  Thank you so much to Sarah for setting this up and to each of you who’ve played a role in sharing the page and donating.  You are making this “Adoption Day” an extra, extraordinary day! https://gofund.me/8ee21ba7

Wrapped in Love and Chick-fil-A

I love eating chicken. And, when that chicken comes to my doorstep from someone who simply wants to say, “I see you and I care,” the chicken just tastes better–like it has been heaven-kissed.

I find myself, like most mommas, scrambling in the evening hours to throw a dinner on the table. Some days I’m super prepared and have my crockpot roaring with barbeque drumsticks, ready to be consumed by the little hungry people at dinnertime. But then-and I think you’ll hear me when I say– other nights I open the freezer, stare blankly, hope I haven’t eaten the last taquito, and then when I realize I have, I grab the carton of eggs, do a thank you dance to the chickens who are feeding my kids, and we eat brinner (breakfast for dinner)…….. AGAIN.

It’s somewhere between a sibling visit, a caseworker calling, a doctor’s appointment, answering a thousand questions, a gymnastics leo that needs washing, scheduling a bio parent visit, attending a court appointment and cleaning up yet another spill of milk on my kitchen floor that I quietly scream…… CAN I DO THIS?!

Then, it happens…..like the Biblical icon, Moses, who was weary and tired as he stood in the middle of a war, with arms lifted up, carrying a burden for a people that he couldn’t carry alone—

My phone rang. “Sundy I was just thinking of you, can I bring you and your family dinner tonight from Chick-fil-A?”

The burden lifts. The chicken dance ensues. And, like Moses, in the middle of his war, my arms are lifted through the love and support of another, who reminds me I’m not alone.

If you are interested in “lifting the arms” of a foster parent and the children they love–you can! Reach out to a local foster care agency in your community to volunteer or ask about local needs you could help meet. Or, to discover how to start a Foster Crew, (wrap around support ministry through your church) please email fostercrew@onemorechild.org.

Let’s wrap lots of love and Chick-fil-A around foster children and their families!

He Received A Family Worth Celebrating

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I pushed my cart intently through the craft section at Target, grabbing poster board, streamers, glow in the dark party favor balls, and crazy gold glitter glasses heralding the words “Celebrate.”

My dear friends were adopting.

The 21 month old little boy who was joining their forever family held a special place in my heart. I cradled him in my arms when he was just a few days old. I prayed fervently for his forever adoptive family. And, through the beauty of the foster community, he and my daughter, Emmie became best buddies. This little guy even attended my Emmie’s special adoption day, and he stole the show being the cutest and cuddliest baby in the room.

Now, today was his special day.

I logged into a Zoom call and, with my 2 year old repeatedly saying “Hi” to a judge who couldn’t hear her or see her (but she thought he could), my girls and I watched intently as Baby J was united in law and in love to his forever mommy and daddy (and 5 super cool new older siblings).

Adoption. It’s my absolute favorite thing on the planet. It’s the way God chooses to answer our innate need for belonging. It’s His love being poured out bountifully to draw us into intimacy and family. It’s His heart for us, to let us know we are not meant to be alone. It’s ultimate acceptance, and God’s design to call the orphan home.

Hours later with signs, streamers and silly string in tow, we were ready to CELEBRATE. A parade was set up by Fostering Hope, a foster care support ministry at Fruit Cove Baptist Church, and cars circled the neighborhood beeping horns and cheering–throwing candy, popping confetti, shooting silly string and celebrating Baby J as his life was forever merged with his new family.

In one moment, in the eyes of God and man, Baby J received a new name and a new family, and the gift of love and acceptance– I would say that is something worth celebrating!

Life Under Construction

Everywhere I looked this past week, something was a mess. Lumber and nails everywhere, my bedroom furniture was in my hallway, and my littlest angel’s crib was in pieces stuck somewhere in the middle between a dearly loved rocking horse and mounds of stuffed animals. My garage, which normally is neat and semi-orderly, was full of big saws and toolboxes and looked more like a Lowe’s Home Improvement Store that a tornado had just blown through than the garage my little Hyundai calls home most nights. And, if you have been wanting to take a trip to the Sahara Desert, come on over, because I have more sand in my garage than the desert does.

My little townhome was getting a floor make-over, old carpets ripped up and beautiful new vinyl wood flooring laid in its place. But, in order for me to get the new, dreamy looking hard wood floors, construction must take place.

I hadn’t prepared for the mess that this little “three day project” would leave my life in. In the middle of the Covid-19 lockdown, maybe the worst time in all of history to have to have to “get out of the house”, I was trying to keep the kids alive and occupied away from the construction zone. We ate fast food until I think I heard my 11-year-old say she didn’t like hamburgers anymore, drove a gazillion miles to let my littlest one get a life-saving nap in her car seat bed, and drove across the city to find open parks, but kept finding closed ones.

My little “three day project” took longer than expected, and by day seven I was beginning to look at new, move-in-ready homes, and even called my momma once to see if I could move back in with her.

My home was under construction. And, as the saws buzzed and the hammers pounded, I knew my life was too.

Our lives are constant construction zones. There is always room for improvement, things that need fixing, upgrades possible, and renovation that is happening. But, construction zones are messy, they take time, and they require a Master Builder.

If you are in the middle of a mess and see opportunity to make some changes in your life, I invite you to let the MASTER BUILDER, do HIS work, and give you the “upgrade” YOUR LIFE needs! It may be a little inconvenient, take longer than you want it too, and you may want to stop construction in the middle of the process, but, just remember, when the work is done, YOU will be better for it!

Philipians 1:6- Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. 

I’m Single, Is Fostering Right For Me?

I love kids.

I think kids like me.

I want kids.

These are a few kick-starter prerequisites to becoming a FOSTER MOM, and you just checked yes to all of them. But, wait, you have one little hurdle, and you’re processing, is this hurdle too big to overcome? Should this hurdle keep your Foster Mom dreams at bay? Or should it be the catalyst that propels you into the Foster Mom life feet first?

YOU ARE SINGLE.

Four years ago, in the midst of my singleness, I couldn’t shake the idea of being a foster parent. But, I also couldn’t shake the reality that I was single, working a full-time job that kept me traveling and on the road a lot. And, to top it all off, years before, I had made a secret self-vow, I would never…foster or adopt as a single. I mean, every child needs a Mom AND a Dad, right?

The foster care system needs foster parents. Over 400,000 children in the United States are in foster care, and children are coming into the system every day. The world is broken, and children are sadly at the brunt of the brokenness.

The foster care system is in desperate need of beautiful people who are caring and patient–loving people willing to open their hearts and homes to children (of all ages) who are coming from hard places. A foster parent plays the important role of providing a safe place for a child, a place where a child can be unconditionally cared for and loved.

Take care of the orphan and widow in their distress. Those words in James 1:27 kept me from stopping my ever-increasing desire to become a foster parent. Jesus didn’t omit any race, ethnicity, social status, or single person from His plea. He simply told us this is what we are to do. Then with these powerful words he put the stake in the ground–caring for the orphan is “TRUE RELIGION.”

I can’t imagine my life without the title of Foster Mom next to it. Turning the “single card” into the “mom card” comes with great sacrifice and, yet, the greatest reward. So, if you want kids, like kids, and kids like you–and you just can’t shake the feeling that you should be a foster parent–jump in on the journey, and join the rest of us Jesus-loving Mommas who want to change the world for a child!

For more information about starting your foster care journey please reach out to your local foster care agency in your county. If you are in Florida, contact One More Child at foster@onemorechild.org or call 1.855.512.4453.

Her Grief Healed Me

Grief. The last few weeks, amidst the COVID-19 crisis, I’ve heard the word a lot— many are grieving—grieving loss of jobs, normalcy, graduations, weddings, Senior years, proms, vacations, friendships, family they can’t see, and the list goes on and on……..

Six years ago, like an eighteen-wheeler barreling out of control through a car-packed interstate, my life was hit full-force by grief. My brother died of cancer. I stood at the grave of two dear uncles. And I walked with some of my closest friends as their son also battled cancer and entered into Heaven. As if this wasn’t enough, during those short months, a special personal relationship ended.

For a while, the grief was overwhelming.

One particularly difficult day, I sat alone in my home crying when my phone rang.

On the other end of the line, my dad said,  “Allison needs us, and I think YOU are her answer.”

When I first met Allison on the streets of Eastern Europe, she was fourteen and the most spirited, kind-hearted, angelic girl. I loved her immediately. I loved her even more as her story unfolded. She was an orphan. Her orphanage, in a very poor village, was closing. Allison had nowhere to go but the streets, an extremely dangerous place for young girls in Eastern Europe where human trafficking is rife. Her future was scary, to say the least.

But, as I left her that day, I felt God whispering that he would use me to help her. I had no idea how that could possibly happen. She was in Europe. I was in America.

Several miracles, including a summer hosting program, opened the door for Allison to visit my Oklahoma family for a few weeks. She was getting a once-in-a-lifetime trip to America, and I was getting to see this sweet girl I had fallen in love with. We were all excited!

While Allison was in Oklahoma, the deep sadness in her eyes haunted us. She wanted a forever family but believed she was too old to be adopted. With her 16th birthday right around the corner (the cut-off for being adopted out of Eastern Europe) she was right. The odds were against her.

Desperate to find a family for this special girl, my mom advocated tirelessly and talked to God relentlessly. (Mom and Dad were deemed “too old” by European authorities and I was “too single”.)  But Mom’s prayers prevailed. And, On Allison’s 16th birthday we got another miracle—an American family signed the papers to be Allison’s forever family!

Occasionally, my family would hear from Allison, with her cute broken-English accent and sweet gratitude for our family’s efforts on her behalf. We rejoiced at the answered prayers of a child who’d wanted a family, and now had one. Never in a million years did I expect God to ask me to help Allison again. But, he did.

Sadly, just a few years later, Allison’s adoption failed, and she was once again orphaned, homeless, and hopeless.

My dad called again. This time, he asked, “Can she stay with you?”

I looked up at the empty, spare bedroom in my town home and thought, “God, is this why that bedroom is empty?”

Even in my brokenness, God desired to heal others who were also broken. So, Allison came to live with me.

“God Heals the Broken-Hearted and Binds Up Their Wounds.” Psalm 147:3

Over the next six months, Allison’s life changed. She smiled again. She loved life again. And, she began to hope again. Something else happened, too. I began to smile again, love life again, and hope again.

As followers of Christ, we are called to bear with one another in sorrow–to suffer with those who suffer.  It’s been said that God never wastes a hurt. I believe that our own sorrow better equips us to bear that of another.  Amazingly, as I shared Allison’s pain, I, too, began to heal.

In the middle of my deepest suffering, God used me to bring hope to another. In the midst of YOUR sufferings, He can and He wants to use you too. 

A Good Day

Some days are just GOOD! And, today was one of those days. I snuggled in bed until midmorning with my youngest and read books, I think I kissed her a hundred times and thought about the blessing she was in my life. I added chocolate chips in my cereal and divulged in the “I shouldn’t haves” of life, chocolate for breakfast. It’s Sunday, and Sunday’s give me some freed-up brain space to think kind and blissful thoughts about my children-and extra time to eat chocolate for breakfast.

As my biggest girl was getting ready for church, she came in and offered to dress the 2 year old and change her diaper (I told you this was a great day). Much to my joy my biggest girl picked out matching outfits for them to wear to church. And, I was reminded once again, why being a girl-mom really is my favorite!

There was no fighting on the way to church or whining. The sermon was on-point, and the children were learning about Jesus. We came home to give my youngest a nap. I had a leisurely talk on the phone with my mom. I searched online for some athletic shorts for my big girl who just started track and needed shorts in a length that are longer than Daisy Duke would wear, but maybe not Jams like I used to wear in the 80’s. It seems like ‘Bermuda’ sells hard-to-find shorts, so wherever Bermuda is, I’m excited to travel there and buy my girl some decent shorts!

During my call with my mom, my oldest called me outside and showed me her artwork, a driveway full of hearts and flowers- a Mom flower, Big Sis flower, Little Sis flower, and then, there it was, the heart that took my day from good to great-an “I Love You Mom” heart.

Once the gift of “driveway heart art” was given, I started thinking of ways to bless the giver. And, so I brewed a fresh pot of tea, and though it normally stays sugar free, I knew the big girl who had just drawn me flowers and hearts loves sweetened tea, so I added a few big heaps of sugar to the tea and presented it to her in a big pineapple glass complete with straw. On days when I’m really wanting to bless her, I drop by Chick-Fil-A and buy her the sweet tea–tea I’m certain Jesus must love as much as she does! But, today, she had my brew. And, she loved it.

I didn’t want the good day to end so after the littlest woke up from her nap, I packed a beach bag– and off we went on a little adventure. It was really too cold for the beach, but in my eagerness to please the little beings that make my life really awesome, we went anyway. I envisioned tossing a Frisbee, sitting on a blanket and giggling while we listened to the waves roll in. I was confident there would be no water contact because it was only 65 degrees outside-and much too cold for water play.

But the minute my 11-year-old’s toes hit the sand, she came to life. She danced, twirled, leaped and giggled and ran straight into the freezing cold water. Her absolute joy kept me from screaming, “You are going to catch pneumonia! Get out of the water!” Today was such a good day, and somehow I believed immunity was on my side. I just knew it was.

As we walked away from the beach, my 11-year-old had an encounter with reality. The cool night air hit her cold, dripping-wet 4’6” frame and she shook like a Caribbean rumba dancer!

I went into “mommy rescue” mode. So we went to Marshall’s (because for me, a good day has shopping and a sale in it) and found a cute pair of leggings and a Justice t-shirt on the clearance rack. 

Over burgers and raw peanuts, in her cute new dry clothes, the conversation turned toward love. I doted on my oldest, sharing what a great big sister she is to my youngest. My heart gripped with angst thinking of the day the oldest may leave me and concern, too, for my baby girl who has fallen head -over-heels for her new big sister. To clear the uneasy air, I gave a half-jesting, “I’m never going to let you leave.” And then, I choked back tears after she replied, “Good, because I never want to leave.”

As the day came to a close and bedtime prayers were said, I thanked God for such a wonderful day. I praised my big girl and let her know that today had been a really good day. She smiled in agreement, and then with a sheepish grin, she remarked, “you smell like you’ve been sleeping in a barn-you need a bath.”

Foster care, and this mom life, have all the “feels”– some days are good days, and some days are HARD- and some days, you get told you smell like you have been sleeping in a barn.

Keep “Momming” and Loving……. Every Mom Day, is a Good Day!

He Ate From A Trashcan

He ate out of my trashcan, and I couldn’t hold back the tears.

I was babysitting for my dear friends who are superstar foster parents. The 2.5 year old little boy had only been in their care for a few days. They brought me a pizza, and dropped off four littles for me to love on for the evening.

The 2.5 year old’s big dark eyes, stared timidly at my dinner table. I handed him a piece of the cheese pizza, and then he asked for another, and another- enough for an adult. He also ate Goldfish crackers, and some fruit. I knew my little visitor had eaten more than he should, and I questioned whether I should have limited his pizza eating a little sooner. I didn’t want him to be sick.

His foster mommy warned me he may try to overeat, so after dinner, I placed the leftover pizza on top of the refrigerator, high out of his reach. I tossed the other children’s crusts and bits of remaining pizza in my trashcan and walked away to tend to another child.

As I turned around, the precious two-year-old was standing at my trashcan, eating the thrown out pizza. My heart clenched, my tears fought hard to stay inside their sockets. And, flashing through my mind, I could see his little life, the short-years he had lived, and what must have caused him to get to a place that warranted eating from a trashcan. In his little life, he had been hungry, his belly had hurt from the pains of hunger, and he learned that there wouldn’t be enough food, if any food at all.

In the state of Florida, according to Feeding America, 1.1 million children are considered food insecure and do not know where their next meal is coming from. That daunting statistic didn’t faze me until it became personal–until one of those children was eating at my table and from my TRASHCAN!

Jesus tells us that the poor and the needy will always be among us. But he also compels us to do something about it. On this day, the poor and the needy sat at MY table– and he was the most precious little guy. My eyes were opened. And, my heart was too.

A moment like this dempands action. I couldn’t ignore it. This moment had to change me forever, for the better.

So, I made it my mission to bring change for children—children like my little brown-eyed visitor.

“For I was hungry and you gave me food. I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you took me in……” Matthew 25:35

You and I can represent Jesus to the poor, the hungry and neglected. And, here are a few ways YOU can make a difference:

  1. Become a foster parent. Contact your local licensing agency in your county to find out if fostering is right for you.
  2. Donate to a local child hunger organization. (I love OneMoreChild.org, they provide meals to hungry children and families in the United States and abroad).
  3. Volunteer. Pack/serve meals for hungry children at organizations like OneMoreChild.org and Hunger Fight, and get your friends and family to help.
  4. Pray. Ask God to open your eyes to the broken, hungry, and hurting in a bigger way. Pray for those who are hungry to be fed and to have an encounter with an amazing person like you, who could show them the kindness of Jesus.

Please. Would you make it your mission, too, that no child should ever again eat from a trashcan. Whatever you are able to do, please do something—today!

The Princesses and The Palace

Two spunky little sisters sashayed across my threshold. They were 4 and 2 years old, full of their own little thoughts, feelings, and attitudes. And, I do mean atttitudes! Within 24 hours, I realized it wasn’t me that was ruling the roost, but two toddlers. They tantrumed, bossed me, and demanded my attention at every waking moment. I had to get control, before they took my keys, car, and credit cards and headed on a Thelma and Louise escapade.

I had no idea what the two little girls had endured in their past, my job was to keep them safe and love them until the foster family chosen to take them permanently returned from out of state.

I was determined that when I turned “Thelma and Louise” over to their new family, that I would not look like I had just lost a catfight with Nellie on Little House on the Prairie (I know, I’m showing my age, but seriously- Little House on the Prairie is a classic!).

I had to get control. So, I threw up a hail Mary prayer and begged God to give me wisdom. That’s when it happened…….

My home became a Palace, and these two toddlers became subject to my “Queenliness.” Only princesses could live in this Palace with the queen, and Princess etiquette was expected and must be demonstrated at all times We wore tiara’s, we talked in English accents, and drank our apple juice with our pinkies lifted high (though I’ve recently learned that I taught them terrible etiquette and lifting the pinky is rude and elitist).

But, before my eyes, these two tantrum-throwing toddlers, transformed. Maddening meltdowns that had previously lasted for 30 minutes, were quickly defused whenever the Queen gasped, “Oh, but princesses don’t act that way!”

When the little girls became drill seargents demanding and commanding me, the Palace doors were once again opened, and the Princesses were invited to rejoin the Queen in the Palace. Behaviors quickly adjusted, and the two happy Princesses lived with me in my palace day after day, after day.

Then, the day came, where the girls would leave my Palace and move to what would become their forever home. The precious new foster family asked me for all my tips to help the girls’ transition. My response, “How do you feel about turing your home into a princess palace?” And, so, the well-behaved, and highly adored little Princesses went from one Palace to another. Where, my prayers for them were answerd. And today, they still live there, happily everafter.

You see, we are all princesses living in a castle. But life beats us up mentally, emotionally or physically, and we may quickly forget our priceless, princess position. We may tantrum, get bossy, and act in ways that are unbecoming. It’s in those moments that the Palace doors swing open, the King beckons us toward the throne and reminds us that we belong in this Palace, because we are daughters of the Heavenly King.

So, today, straighten that crown, give that heart a pep talk, and resume your princess platform!

Pinky cheers to you!