Adoption Myths

  1. My love will fix everything. While your love will certainly be instrumental in bringing healing to your adopted child, love alone cannot meet all your child’s needs. You will need support, education, qualified professionals and new parenting tools in order to help your child adjust to their new family.
  2. The child will be grateful to us for adopting them and show us that. While they may have moments of gratitude toward you for adopting them and may even express that to you, you should not expect this from them. Adoption begins with the loss of a family and home. That is not something that a child should ever have to feel grateful for or appreciative of. It may take a very long time before your child is able to come to terms with the grief, hurt, anger and rejection they feel. Giving space for those feelings is important.
  3. She was so little, she won’t remember. Unfortunately, trauma impacts the brain and body in ways we are just beginning to truly understand. Even prenatal trauma can affect the way a child thinks, processes and learns. Trauma triggers are a real and unavoidable reality for a child who has entered your home through adoption. While your child may have no retrievable memory of early abuse, neglect or trauma, her body and brain will remember and give voice to the struggles she has endured.
  4. I will “fall in love” with them immediately. You might. You might have an initial feeling of affection, overwhelming love or protectiveness. Or you might just feel like this child is a stranger or intruder in your home and family. You might even feel resentful sometimes of the way they have interrupted your life and normal routines. There may be times you strongly dislike the child and the ways that they make you feel and react. Bringing a new person into your family will involve some growing pains for all of you.
  5. I will have a deep sense of satisfaction and reward for making this choice. Or if you are a Christian, you may buy into the lie that you will be more spiritually mature or blessed because of your choice to adopt. While there will certainly be moments of great reward, much of the time you will struggle to feel like you are truly enough for this child. The emotions, behaviours and needs they bring to your family will be challenging at times. They will likely resent you and challenge your authority as they grapple with the changes being forced upon them. A sense of reward is not what will keep you going through the tough days. Instead, you need to be firmly grounded on the truth of why you are here and what you are doing.
  6. I will always feel compassion toward my child’s biological family. My friend, there are times you will struggle deeply to feel compassion and empathy toward your child’s biological family. There are times you will be angry on behalf of your child and yourself. It is not easy to forgive the people who have hurt your child. It is also not easy to justify the love your child will most likely feel toward these people who have harmed them. You will have complicated emotions about your child’s first family and it’s important to find a safe space to process those. Anger, grief, jealousy and love are all normal feelings. Having those feelings does not make you a terrible person, it just makes you human.
  7. Adoption is second best. While it’s true that adoption is always a result of loss, God has this incredibly beautiful way of rearranging our lives based on human failure and sin. When we wander off the path, we are not forever stuck in ‘second best’ for our lives. Instead, God is able to bring about a fully restored version of our lives. This means that while adoption is painful, it is also full of joy and hope and beautiful redemption. Adoption brings a child who has been hurt into the loving, healing atmosphere of a family. Adoption brings new opportunities, new places and new people. This post-adoption life can be full and beautiful. Generational addictions can be broken, poverty alleviated, relationships restored and bruises healed. While I don’t believe God intends families to be torn apart and separated, I believe He is fully capable of mending our children’s lives with such care and beauty that they are transformed into something even more full and complete and glorious than they would have been without this complicated thing we call adoption. Celebrate it!
  8. My child is lucky to be adopted. Your child is not lucky. They have lost some of the most important pieces of their identity. Their family of origin, their medical history, their memories, their name and control over their story. While they may have left behind awful realities, that does not in any way mean they are ‘lucky’ to be here with you. They are chosen, deeply loved, wanted and protected…but not lucky.
  9. Struggling with infertility? If you adopt you will get pregnant! While this seems too bogus and obvious to even take time to discuss, you would be surprised how many couples who have biological children after adopting get these sorts of comments thrown at them. As if adopting somehow miraculously opened the womb or solved the medical complications. Maybe they never really struggled with infertility at all! It was all some sort of mental delusion. Really!? I don’t know why so many people who struggle to conceive end up having a biological child after adopting, but I do know that I’ve heard many of their stories and what they say are words like…His perfect timing, surrender, beautiful, divinely orchestrated, blessed. I think that the way God brings about our desires and dreams and even worst fears is planted in the truth that He knows what is best for our lives far better than we.
  10. Everyone will love my child. On the contrary, once the honeymoon period has passed and your neighbours and friends and family settle into normal with this new child, you may just find that you discover who your true friends really are. Bringing a child with a history of trauma, interrupted attachments, learning differences or behavioral issues into your friends’ lives is uncomfortable. You will find yourself in awkward positions having conversations you didn’t want to have and needing to offer grace and be offered grace over and over again. You may lose some friends, and you may gain some. You might decide to move to another town, school, church or neighbourhood. Seek out the people who will love your family unconditionally and be honest with them. Remember they are learning too. Forgive others the way you want them to forgive you.

10 Things to Know Before You Start Fostering

  1. This is not about you.  Foster care is about bringing your family to a child and their family, for a season that is not determined by your own desires or ability to provide for this child.  Your wishes will not always be granted.  Your advice will not always be followed.  Your opinion will not always be asked.  Your feelings, your family, your schedule and your time will not always be considered.  Entering this world means you are agreeing to put this child’s needs above your own and that you are committing to working alongside a government agency that will ultimately have control over this child’s life and sometimes it will feel like yours as well. 
  2. Foster care is not a pathway to adoption.  While sometimes children will need a new permanent family to care for them, that is a result of much more than just a child being in foster care.  If you are committing to foster care, it’s important to realize that this will most likely end in you saying goodbye to a child you deeply love and care for.  The goal is for biological parents to receive the support they need to raise their own children.  As foster parents you need to be ready to focus your energy and support in that direction, not in building your own family.  I still have to preach this to myself every single time a child enters my home and leaves my home. It is so hard to see past the complicated aspects of each situation to the broader picture. As a society we need to be focused on equipping parents to parent, not on removing children from their families and placing them in new ones. Adoption is a band-aid solution to the larger issue. There will never be enough homes for all the children living in vulnerable situations, but if we can equip parents to parent intuitively and responsibly we are starting to heal the huge tear in the walls of the family structure.     
  3. It will hurt.  Saying goodbye will always hurt.  Playing the part of the parent who stands in the gap will feel uncomfortable.  Watching a child go through painful transitions will leave you helpless.  Hearing your child’s story will tear you apart and make you feel anger and pain and fear like you’ve never felt before.  Loving another parent’s child will hurt.  What you will quickly discover, however, is that your hurt quickly pales in comparison to the hurt experienced by your foster child and their biological family.  Their hurt will become your motivation to love, protect, honor and keep doing the next thing.
  4. Trauma matters.  Children who enter your home through foster care have always experienced trauma of some kind and will need to be parented differently as a result of this.  You need to understand how trauma, even prenatal trauma,  impacts a child’s neurological, physical, emotional and spiritual health.  This is crucial.  It cannot be a side thing.  This knowledge of trauma must be the foundation of your parenting philosophy with these children.  So do the research, find the facts and adjust your expectations accordingly.
  5. It will take time to feel like you love them.  Sure, you may get that adrenaline rush of love and protection and passion when they first enter your arms, your home, your heart.  But it will quickly be followed by a feeling of fear and dismay and ‘what have I done?’  This child will be a stranger to you for the first while, and that is okay.  You will feel like a babysitter before you feel like a parent.  Then one day you will wake up and realize you would die for this child and that you cannot remember what it was like without them in your life.  Don’t beat yourself up when you struggle to attach. They are dealing with the same challenge. Remember that and let it lead you toward compassionate responses.
  6. Know why you’re here.  Some people will love you and others will hate you for being involved in this system.  The opinions will come, sometimes when you least expect and often from those you did not ask.  They will have stories, warnings, accolades and flattery to offer you.  Learn to let them all slide off your back, both the love and the hate.  You know you’re not a hero and you know you’re not a villain.  The admiration of those looking in or the hate of those scarred by it are all irrelevant when it comes to you and your story.  You have made this decision based on many factors and their opinions are not one of them.  Know why you are in this and remind yourself of it often.
  7. You will never really be ready.  You won’t ever really be prepared to bring a stranger into your home or have a social worker tell you how to parent.  You will never really be ready to meet your child’s biological parent and calmly face their anger and hurt.  You will never really be ready to have your home, your family, your life and your past dissected by someone you hardly know to try to gain ‘approval’ from a system you barely understand and definitely don’t trust.  You will never really be ready to be spit on, kicked, screamed at and falsely accused.  You will never really be ready to hear the hard parts of their stories or find the words to explain heartbreak, abandonment, shame and abuse.  You will never really be ready to say goodbye to a child you have loved and fought for and protected.  Please don’t wait to be ready, and don’t be surprised when every last thing about foster care leaves you feeling like the breath just got snatched from your lungs.  Believe it or not, this is normal. 
  8. You don’t have to ride the roller coaster.  There will be highs and lows and promises and demands and fears and failures.  These emotions and words and desires can send you spiraling through loops, soaring on hope and crashing in despair.  Know that you do not have to take that ride!  You can be wise, and discerning and prayerful.  You can hold your heart close and your words in check.  You can take one day at a time and refuse to make promises you can’t keep.  This is not being jaded, this is guarding your heart in the best of ways.  Loving a child in foster care well requires a deep commitment to truth and a resolve to take only the step right in front of you.  It is so tempting to run ahead, join the blame and shame game or throw your hands up in frustration.  Stay the course and keep your heart safely moored to the One who can steady you.
  9. You will need support.  This might be your church family, your parents, your neighbours or your life group.  It might be therapists, teachers or doctors.  It doesn’t really matter who it is, it just matters that you have them.  People who see you and love both you and the children you bring into your home, unconditionally.  People who will babysit, listen to your frustrations and fears, encourage you to keep going and point out the flaws in your perspective.  People who will tell you when to take a break and support you when you say yes anyway.  You are going to need people you can share the hard stuff with and know that it’s not going any further than their ears.  When the stories are hard, the day was long and the court dates are looming…you need someone to call.  Find your people.  Not only will you need them, but the children you bring into your home will be richly blessed by having a community around them.        
  10. There will be easy days. I know, after all that I just said this feels a little odd and unexpected. But it’s true. There will be days you forget that child is not your biological child or that they will one day leave your home. There will be days when the routines feel seamless and the love comes easy and it feels like a match made in heaven. There will be days they are regulated and calm and you can parent them the way you would parent a biological child. There will be days you look down and feel a love so deep it overwhelms you. There will be days that feel normal and predictable. These might be common or they might be that one in a million feeling, depending on the child and the circumstances. But they will come, I promise.          

Are you ready to say yes to this adventure of love and loss and grace? I would love to walk alongside you. Send me a message or email. It is hard but so worth it!

~AF

FATHERS

I see you, biological father.

I see the way you turn your head away and blink back tears as I walk out the door with your son’s hand in mine. You feel defeated, ashamed and angry that the world has turned on you. I know, and I’m sorry. I know you have made many mistakes and that you are paying a high price for the sins you have committed. I know you feel small and unheard and rejected. Know that your son doesn’t see you that way. He only sees his Daddy and the way your strong arms swing him up high into the sky. He only sees the way you get down on the floor and play cars with him, laughing at the roaring, zooming, crashing noises he makes as he vies for your eyes and attention on him. This unconditional love he has for you is a gift. I know you feel like you don’t deserve it. None of us do. But take it anyway, and let it form in your heart a vow to be the very best man you can be. I want him to have you in his life, but it’s you that has to do the hard work.

I SEE YOU, foster dad.

I see the struggle in your eyes as you say yes to yet another child’s presence in your home. Another little mouth to feed, another heart to gently lead toward healing, another set of hands tugging at you for time, attention, affection and comfort. You sometimes feel like you’re drowning, and like you can’t keep up to the constant, crashing waves of this thing called foster care. You attach, you let go, you grieve and you provide…and most of this you do quietly, steadily and alone. I know you feel the pressure to be the rock in a constantly changing tide, and I wish you knew that you are! It’s okay to let down the walls sometimes and let the sadness, anger and worry seep through. You are not the Hero in this story, and it’s not all up to you. It’s okay to say no, to crumble a bit, even to feel detached from the little people that fill your home. I get it. They are little strangers to you. You are enough just the way you are. They don’t see the struggle, they only feel your intentional choices to love them. Your gentle arms around them, the silly voices you use to read their bedtime stories, the familiar, comforting smell of dust and sweat on your neon shirt as you walk in the door at the end of each day. Your presence speaks louder than all the doubts and fears that you carry on your shoulders. Your choice to love even when you don’t feel it is what makes you the good father that you are.

I SEE YOU, biological father.

The way you cannot meet my eye and the agitation in your face. You are angry and defiant, and I get it. It isn’t fair and you didn’t see this coming. You are losing the fight toward reunification and it’s eating you alive. Your daughter plays alone in the corner, ignoring your presence. You feel awkward and unsure as I enter the room. I cannot condone your behavior and I’m tired of your disrespect. I am fighting against you and we both know it, but you should know that it breaks my heart to see this. I never wanted this for you, or for her. I read the sparse details of your story in her social history and I weep for you that night into my pillow. I weep for the rejection you have faced, the addictions you have succumbed to and the anger that has taken you captive. You feel like a victim and you will not let them win this time. I wish you understood that you are losing everything that is important to you. I wish I could tell you how she stares at the pictures of you, how you are still there in her nightmares and her prayers. Your impact has been devastating; but still, you are her father. You are the one who gave her those beautiful blue eyes and the defiant tilt of her chin. She carries your wild craving of adventure and sarcastic sense of humor. She is fragile right now, and she needs protection, but you will always be her father. It’s up to you what you do with that.

I SEE YOU, adoptive dad.

The way you tenderly kiss her forehead and tuck the curls behind her ear. I see the way your eyes light up when he runs to you and the way you stop and turn to his little voice. I see you running alongside her bike, guiding his hands on the fishing rod and shouting out words of encouragement as they take turns gripping the bat in their hands. I see the way your shoulders slump a bit when I tell you about their father’s visit today and the hesitation in your eyes when they call you Daddy for the first time. I see the pain that you carry alongside the incredible joy, and the quiet hope that burns in your eyes. I see you tying skates, paying the extra therapy bills and changing diapers. I see you teaching her to drive a car and placing your hand on his shoulder when he comes home angry, disillusioned and scared. Their lives are out of your control and I see you living in that tension every single day. It is beautiful the way you are choosing to walk beside them even when the cost feels incredibly high. Your significance is far beyond measure. They will never know how much you sacrificed for them, but it matters.

I SEE YOU.

The Dads who are failing, floundering, and tenaciously fighting for these vulnerable children.

You matter.

You are important in this story.

You will not be forgotten.

-AF

Goodbye, Hello & His Goodness in the Uncertainty

And while the world slowed, we said goodbye.

In the middle of a worldwide pandemic, with all our normal routines suddenly readjusted, we did the bittersweet lasts. As usual it ended abruptly, not quite following the carefully constructed plans we had made…but we did get to say goodbye.

For almost two years our foster son was ours to love, care for, delight in; but now he has moved on. He leaves a hole in my heart that looks like the shape of his face, the sound of his voice and the presence of his animated, lively personality in our home. His leaving holds all the typical emotions of foster care; sadness, frustration, fear, surrender, peace and even relief that the chaos of transitioning is over. Unlike sometimes, it also holds new relationships forged with birth family, the hope of continued connection through the months and years and the sound of his voice on the other end of the phone.

As seems to be typical in the story of our family, we simultaneously grieve and look ahead with anticipation. As one child leaves our home, my womb swells and pulses with the life of another.

Sometime in the next two weeks we expect to welcome this new wee life into our world and we are all so thrilled! The past nine months have flown by in the whirlwind of family life and it is hard to believe we are already here, on the brink of our new forever. I can’t help but stop and smile at the timing of it all, and breathe in the sweet relief of once again seeing how perfectly God orchestrates these stories in our lives.

While so many things about this season of isolation, social distancing and elimination in the world have been inconvenient, it has also been a season of much needed rest and intimacy for our family, especially as we said goodbye and realigned our identity as a family of six instead of the seven we have been for so long.

I am so thankful for the sweet, uninterrupted time we have had together these past few weeks.

Seeing my children’s heads bowed around the dining room table over crafts, schoolwork, Lego structures and board games has been so good for my heart. Dirty hands and faces planting seeds, splashing through the creek, gathering eggs and riding bicycles. So much time to make memories together, to enjoy the quiet and to soak in the first hopeful signs of Spring. Freedom from schedules, obligations and social requirements.

We had our first bonfire, dressed in mud suits and mixing smoky hot dogs with dirt and the last remaining snow piles. We’ve taken walks, raked leaves, done Science experiments and moved our hens into their outdoor enclosure.

It’s been far from perfect; there have been tears, short tempers and insane amounts of glue and tape. There has been screaming and lack of impulse control and interrupted sleep and more screen time than I’d like. But still, it has been exactly what we all needed in this season of loss and growth.

I didn’t plan on bringing this little one into the world in the midst of homeschooling, social distancing and medical fragility worldwide, but I see the goodness of it all and I’m grateful.

I didn’t plan on having our foster care transition plan moved ahead by weeks and to suddenly, in the space of a weekend, realize we were at the end and it was time to say goodbye. We didn’t have the physical support and monitoring of our social workers that I had pictured as ideal, and I felt far from ready…not that you ever really get there anyway.

But still, I see His goodness in the details of this season and I trust that despite the questions that want to hold my heart hostage He has got these circumstances and this precious child I love securely in the palm of His hand.

He is not the least bit surprised, fearful or disappointed.

He is absolutely Sovereign over it all.

My stretched, shifting womb with the heartbeat throbbing inside.

The tears in both our eyes as I hold him and tell him how very much he is loved, my heart breaking with his as we try to understand our new reality-apart instead of together.

The spreading disease that makes us all suddenly stop and see the world’s fragility through new eyes.

And it’s enough.

Trusting that He is Good and Sovereign is enough to carry me through this and every season of life.

-AF

How to Say Goodbye

“I could never do that. I could never let them go.”

This is still the most common response I hear in regards to foster care.

I get it, and I always try to respond by validating that fear, acknowledging that it is hard and messy just like you would expect, and that I have said and felt the same thing!

However, I also try to follow up that conversation by gently pointing out the reality that it’s really not about us as the adults or our fear of grief.

God had to gently lead my heart to a place of realization that whether or not I felt equipped to handle the pain really had nothing to do with it. If he was asking me to love these children, it was a matter of obedience and faith, not a question of how much it was going to hurt.

But still…how do you say goodbye?

How do you do all the lasts with a child you have poured your heart into?

Last bedtime story, last day of school, last time brushing his teeth, last time braiding her hair, last time snuggled on the couch watching a movie, last bottle, last diaper change, last I love you, last kiss on the cheek?

Believe me, I notice every single painful moment of those days.

How do you willingly walk them out the door of your home back into the place they have been hurt, or possibly into a brand new reality that neither of you is familiar with?

While I’d like to say reunification usually ends in a child returning to a safer, more secure, more healthy home environment…if I’m honest most of the time the situation they return to is far from ideal. Most times the standard reached is the bare minimum, not the best case scenario.

As a foster parent, you walk a tightrope.

On one side you are the strongest advocate and most consistent presence in the child’s life you are caring for. Your voice needs to be heard and part of your job is to speak your perspective into the situation whenever possible.

This can, however, fool you into believing you should have the right to control the outcome of this child’s future, which is false. You are often the last to find out and last to be consulted when it comes to important decisions being made about the very child you love and care for on a daily basis. Despite being the main caregiver for your child, you have zero legal authority to make decisions for their future unless you’ve officially been invited into that process by the court. You are given information about the child’s family only on a need to know basis, and you only have a few pieces of a very complicated puzzle, which means that often you are not equipped to decide what is truly in your child’s best interests when it comes to their family situation. You may or may not be allowed to be present at court hearings and planning meetings. In many ways, your job is much more specific and defined than regular parenting.

In this way foster care is radically different than parenting biological or adoptive children who are in your home permanently.

One of the most difficult parts is recognizing that you need to stay in your own lane, and often that means trusting others to make decisions you desperately want to make yourself. It means acknowledging that you do not have a right to all the information you would like and that others may know important pieces that you are missing. It means trusting that people who hardly know your child may have more insight into what is best for them than you do.

As we go through our days, my foster son feels like just another one of my precious tribe. I pack his lunch, wash his clothes, read him stories and delight in his accomplishments. I put his artwork on the fridge, hold his hand in the parking lot, buy his favourite snacks and plan his birthday parties. I attend parent teacher meetings, advocate for class placement and make charts to motivate him. I know the classroom songs that will guide him through putting on a thousand winter clothing articles, accompany him on field trips, intuitively know when he needs to use the bathroom and start collecting the next size up of clothing.

But simultaneously, I am constantly reminded to hold him with open palms.

I consult his social worker on important decisions, advocating strongly but respecting that it is ultimately up to her. I fill a photo album of pictures of his birth family and talk to him regularly about them. I look into the future and am very aware that his presence in our home is a question mark, not a guarantee. I keep track of the clothing and toys that come home from visits the best I can, knowing I will need to know which ones belong to him, not my other children, if he leaves our home. I file all the reports and pass along all the doctors notes, dentist prescriptions and report cards. I ask permission for haircuts and need someone else’s signature on almost anything that needs to be signed.

All of these things and a thousand others remind me constantly that he is not my child. While this does not necessarily make the goodbye easier, it does put it into context.

The hardest goodbyes involve little hands reaching out for you, screaming as you turn and stumble away, powerless to comfort them. The easiest involve carefully planned transitions, a gentle phasing of one normal to the next as you both adjust.

I have said goodbye to a child sobbing with the pain of it all and I have said goodbye to a child with a deep sense of peace and relief, aching at the loss but knowing that it is right and good.

Usually the end comes into sight long before it’s actually there, and as a foster parent, you learn the signs. Even my children can sense when a child’s case is moving toward reunification.

Grief can begin before the goodbye.

Your heart starts to surrender before your arms let go.

You find what you can do, and you pour yourself into that.

It might be advocating at school so that your child will go home with all the supports they possibly can get.

It might be gathering clothing for the next two years, packing boxes to send home to that single mom so that she will have one less thing to worry about for the next while.

It might be filling photo albums to send, buying gifts or recording every last detail you can think of about the child’s likes, dislikes, preferences, routines and habits.

It might be doing everything you can to build a strong relationship with the child’s permanent family, letting them know they are not alone and you will be right beside them cheering them on.

It might be night after night of tears and prayers and giving that child back into the Father’s hands again and again.

You will learn how to put on a brave face, because her little eyes are searching yours and more than you need to cry you desperately long to reassure her and keep her safe.

All parents, at some point, will be thrust into a situation that feels like more than you can handle.

But somehow, God’s grace is there and pulls us through those deep waters in ways we can hardly fathom or clearly remember later.

You can’t do it, until you have to…and then you do.

Mostly it is a walk of trust, choosing to believe in God’s goodness and sovereignty in the middle of my own fear, doubt and pain. Remembering that His view has much clearer perspective than my own in the grand scheme of eternity.

(And sometimes it involves curling up in a ball and crying your eyes out.)

That’s how we say goodbye over and over,

and somehow keep our hearts in tact.

AF

The Inconvenience of Foster Care

“For my family, foster care has not been traumatic or overwhelmingly hard.  Mostly it has just been inconvenient.”

His words found their place and settled in my heart, and have come back to me often in the past couple of years.

This is a statement I resonate with.

My family does not have the dramatic stories of some foster families, a truth I am grateful for.  We have not dealt with the levels of trauma that many families have.  Foster care really hasn’t been that difficult for us compared to many families’ stories…

But inconvenient?

That I can identify with.

It’s inconvenient to go through the adjustment period…again…as a new child enters your home and brings disruption, pain and lots of unknowns.

It’s inconvenient to rearrange your schedule, your time, your routines and your life to accommodate another child, their family members and the many social workers and therapists who come in and out of their lives.

It’s inconvenient to love someone else’s child and worry about their future and their past and their present…and have very little control over what decisions are made.

It’s inconvenient to give up hobbies, time with your children and spouse, predictability and peace in your home.

It’s inconvenient to deal with the many hoops and red tape of working under the supervision of a government agency.  Medication lock boxes, safe sleep protocol, finding approved babysitters and running to extra meetings, training workshops and appointments. 

All of these things can feel inconvenient, inefficient and cumbersome at times.  

Sometimes in the inconvenient moments I long for the easier, the quieter, the more predictable.

I have to fight back the feelings of resentment at times when I find myself running after one child after another at the beach, instead of being able to enjoy watching and playing with my children.

I have to fight back the feelings of resentment when I realize I can’t ask my good friends to babysit without them going through the process of being approved by our agency.

I have to fight back the feelings of irritation when it seems everyone’s schedule but mine has been made a priority to arrange meetings or access visits or appointments.

Did I really sign up for this?

But then I watch my son playing with his brothers, laughing and running around, saying “See that?  See that?” every time someone does something he finds extra remarkable.

I see my daughter snuggle up beside her newest foster brother, cheek to cheek.  He gently strokes her hair and she smiles at me shyly, reveling in the love of being a big sister who is adored.

His teacher tells me my daughters both came to check on him during the day the first day I send him off to Kindergarten and my heart swells with pride and love for their gentle hearts.

My son’s biological Great Grandma sends home a plate of muffins after his visit, one for each of us, and everyone happily accepts the special treats from “GG.”

We go out and people constantly smile at my two blonde boys, asking, “Are they twins?”  I look at them through their eyes and it doesn’t look like inconvenience.  It looks like double the blessing.

His teacher messages me and tells me they are absolutely blown away by the progress made over the summer and I am so grateful for her encouragement.

Yes, foster care is inconvenient.

It can be painful,

especially the goodbyes.

It can be hard work and filled with feelings of being misunderstood by the people around you.

It can be downright exhausting when they scream their pain at you, reject your safe arms and sob out the injustice of it all.

It can be monotonous and mundane when it’s diaper after diaper, bottle after bottle, visit after visit with a tiny, newborn stranger in your arms.

It can feel annoying and intrusive to invite professionals into your family to tell you how to parent, where you can go, what you can do and to clog up your schedule with appointments and meetings.

But it is worth all this inconvenience for the lessons learned, the beauty exposed through pain and the world welcomed in.

Would I give up on it all for the sake of my comfort back?

No.

Mind you, there are seasons to take a break.

There are seasons to reclaim peace and tranquility.

There are seasons to quiet the chaos and focus on rebuilding the walls.

It’s okay to choose rest for the weary.

But to live a life void of inconvenience?

Well…we all know that kind of life is the dullest of lives.

In the inconvenience we find beauty, adventure and the deepest joy.

 

 

Halloween and the Gospel

October.

The air grows crisp and all around us the earth shows signs of death as it crawls into hibernation.

Thanksgiving comes and we roast turkeys and eat pumpkin pie, surrounded by family and friends.

The yard disappears beneath heaps of brown, orange, red and yellow leaves; vibrant even in their death.

Pumpkins, spiders, ghosts and witches appear everywhere.

Storefront windows, flyers in the mail, calendar pages and even the search bar on Google.

Before we know it another month has gone and Halloween night creeps up on us.

Many Christians will stop and think twice as this holiday approaches each year.

Most of us know people who refuse to have anything to do with the holiday, wanting no association with the darkness, evil and greed that tends to accompany it.  They will turn off their lights tonight and maybe pull their kids out of school for the day, wanting to avoid creepy colouring pages, classroom haunted house projects and ghoulish themed dances.

Most of us also have Christian friends who will choose to celebrate it with no reserve, allowing their little ones to troop through the streets dressed in costumes ranging from princesses and robots to mummy brides and blood smeared skeletons.

How should Christians approach this holiday?

Is there room for compromise?

Does it matter?

I’m not going to answer those questions for you, but what I do want to do is share with you what our family will be doing tonight and why.

While this is not right for every family it works for us at this age and stage.  I have been the parent searching for the ‘right fit’ for this holiday in years past so I wanted to share in case it might be helpful to others trying to make these decisions.

In years past we have held in-home costume parties, trick or treated through our neighbourhood, collected food for the local food bank and handed out candy to neighbourhood friends.

What we’ve settled on the past couple years is a family movie night with a bowl full of candy.

When trick or treaters come to the door we answer cheerfully with a smile and something like,

“Sorry, we actually don’t celebrate Halloween but I hope you have a fun night!”

In coming to this decision for our family, these are some of the things I have learned.

  1. There are many reasons Christians site not to celebrate Halloween, but not all of them are biblically accurate reasons. 

    For example, many people choose not to celebrate because they are afraid of the darkness associated with Halloween or they believe in common superstitions about this night and it’s origins.  As people who have been redeemed and saved from Satan’s power, we no longer need to fear him.  He has already been defeated and there is no power on earth, even on Halloween night, that can undo Jesus work on the cross to save us from this bondage.  (1 John 4:4, Colossians 2:15) I am certain he is busy on Halloween night, but only because he is busy every single night of the year.  We are taught as Believers to be on guard, watching for him and being prepared for his attacks any time, any where.  (1 Peter 5:8)

  2. Halloween presents many opportunities for teachable moments with your children.

    You’ll miss these if you choose to avoid the topic altogether.  If by chance you live in the type of neighbourhood I did as a child, on a farm in a Mennonite community, you might be able to watch this holiday go by with very little notice.  For most of us, however, the approach of Halloween in the local Dollarama alone will provide plenty of discussion material.  If blood covered mummy masks make you uncomfortable, figure out why that is and tell your children about it.  Whether you are choosing to participate or not, you probably have some opinion on whether or not your seven year old daughter will go out dressed as a “mummy-bride” for instance.  Try to figure out how to explain to your children, even your very small ones, what you are uncomfortable with and why.  Make it as clear and simple as possible without teaching them to be judgy about their friends and neighbours who may choose differently.

  3. Don’t over dramatize the little things. 

    If your Kindergartener comes home with a picture of a witch they coloured at school today, please don’t tear it up and throw it in the garbage.  Take the time to compliment them on the wonderful job of colouring they did and leave it at that.  If in following days they decide to start dressing up in witch costumes or including zombies in their imaginary play time those might be opportunities to sit down and discuss darkness and evil and set some boundaries, but the colouring page is just that.  A colouring page.  A four year old is probably not ready to hear about the origins of Halloween, modern day witchcraft and Satanic symbols.  You telling them will only scare them or unintentionally fascinate them with the subject.  Similarly if you are going to quote scripture, make sure it is simple and truly significant to the topic at hand.

  4. Don’t take a firm stance too quickly one way or another.  

    I’m grateful for the years we had with our daughters to grow into this decision we’ve come to.  Not only does it make me more confident in the decision we’ve come to, it also allowed time for them to grow into it as well and align their values with ours gradually.  It was a wonderful opportunity to model prayer, seeking scripture and listening to the Holy Spirit in our personal lives.  It’s also been a wonderful opportunity to model respect and grace to Christians who may choose something entirely different than us.  Knowing how to navigate differences of opinion inside our faith community is a skill I am passionate about teaching my children.  We also try to take this year by year, leaving room for some changes to our tradition if needed.  For example, one friend shared with me how they had not previously celebrated Halloween but she felt that this year they had a unique opportunity to reach out to many of their neighbours by taking their children trick or treating door to door in their new neighbourhood.  We’ve also had years where, as a foster family, we have other people’s children in our home for Halloween.  As temporary guardians, we don’t have the right nor would it be helpful to cause unnecessary offense or animosity inside already complicated relationships.  Sometimes there may be church activities or neighbourhood parties you feel comfortable joining while other years there may not be.  Be willing to model wisdom to your children by making thoughtful, well informed decisions on a case by case basis.

  5. Be confident in your decision and share it freely.  

    If you’ve decided not to trick or treat with your family, like we have, don’t be afraid to say that.  Be prepared to share in clear and simple language, with a smile on your face, what you’ve decided and why.  It doesn’t have to be judgy.  It doesn’t have to be bashful.  It doesn’t have to be complicated.  If you know why you’re doing what you’re doing, you don’t need to feel intimidated.  If they want to know more, they will ask.  Otherwise, keep it light and don’t share more information than they want to hear.  Encourage your children to do the same.  Give them simple, clear language they can use with curious friends, neighbours, teachers, store clerks, etc.  They will pick up on your attitudes quickly.  If you are hesitant to talk about it or fumble over answers, they will do the same.

  6. To follow that up, make it easy for your kids. 

    Yes, I said easy.  One of the reasons we’ve chosen to celebrate in this particular way is to give our kids the opportunity to practise standing for something they believe in that goes against the cultural norm.  However, I’ve learned that it’s important to choose these opportunities wisely with age appropriate expectations in mind and to offer plenty of grace for your children.  They are only kids and Halloween is a hot topic among children.  If you are going to make rules about what they can and can’t do make sure you are accommodating them as much as possible.  For example, I wrote a brief note to my child’s teacher this year briefly explaining that we don’t celebrate Halloween and asking if my daughter could be accommodated in the classroom with fall/non-spooky activities this week.  When my kids described an optional second grade class haunted house activity happening at nutrition break I encouraged them to make their own decision about what they felt was appropriate.  I chose not to take my boys to the library story hour this week since it was going to be Halloween themed and they didn’t have costumes.  When my daughter hid behind me, embarrassed, when the cashier asked about her Halloween costume, I cheerfully explained that we don’t celebrate so she wouldn’t have to.  We don’t trick or treat but I still buy a wack of candy and we have a fun family night instead.  I’m not trying to make it hard, and I’m happy to take the blame if they are not ready to try to stand up for my decisions to their friends, teachers, etc.  I’m the parent, not them.  Make it as easy as possible for them to do what you’ve required without more humiliation or struggle than necessary.  This will set them up to be more likely to make their own hard decisions in the future.

While I’m writing this my daughters have come home from school.  One of my daughters has told me about the second grade haunted house she decided to attend.

“It wasn’t actually scary, it was just little kids, ” she says to me.  I nod and smile, accepting her choice with no judgment.  She carries on, talking about the pumpkin she carved and the conversation she had on the bus with her friend.

“We don’t celebrate Halloween.  We just stay home and eat candy,” she told him.

She tells me she was surprised when he said, “I wish I could do that tonight because it’s going to be wet!”

We laugh together and she explains that he is dressing up as one of the Star Wars characters.  I let her chatter about what she would dress up as if she were going trick or treating tonight.

Then we talk about what movie we will watch.

My other daughter comes home and tells me about what her art teacher told them.  She’s wondering if I have a picture of her deceased grandfather.

“I know it’s not really true,” she says, a little embarrassed as she explains how you can tie a string to a rock or jewel and hold it above the picture.

“If it swings this way then it means the person is alive or something and if it swings this way it doesn’t…she said there was a person in her family who died in a war…”  I wait patiently, letting her finish the story.  She is curious and I can tell she thinks it would be fun to try.

I remind myself she is a kid and not an emerging Wiccan.

I explain briefly in simple language what the ritual is about and why it’s not a good idea for her to try, despite it sounding like a fun little activity.  Then we talk about the truth of the gospel.

How her grandfather loved Jesus and was saved.

How we can know exactly where he is and that he’s safe.

How the Bible tells us the truth about life and death.

Yes, Halloween is complicated and as Christian parents sometimes it would feel easier to disengage from the conversations that it inevitably initiates.

But I truly believe we miss out.

We miss out on opportunities to breathe life, truth and grace into the lives of those around us, including our children.

We don’t need to be afraid.

We don’t need to be embarrassed.

So tonight, whether you are out in the cold engaging with other trick or treaters in your neighbourhood, handing out candy to costumed children, helping out with a church party or sacked out on the couch watching a movie and eating Snickers,

I hope you experience freedom, truth and the transforming power of the gospel.

Because that is for every day of your life.

Including October 31.

~AF

When God Asks Me to Step Out of the Way

I’ll never forget what it felt like to place him in his car seat one last time; to gently fold all his little baby clothes and tuck them tenderly into the blue Rubbermaid box. Each little onesie, blanket, bottle and soother had been lovingly and carefully selected by me, but here I was placing them in a box to hand over to another mother.

The infant photo shoot my sister had done for us had been printed and placed into a little album alongside the clothes.

His favourite blanket was tucked up beside his face and I had made sure not to wash it for the past week, hoping the smell of my skin and our home, the only home he had known in his short life, would linger on it while he adjusted to his new home.

My heart staggered when I thought of all the things I couldn’t possibly begin to pass along. How I knew just how he wanted to be held, what he was needing or whether or not he was full after a bottle. The way to hold him in the bathtub, stroke his cheek while feeding him or when to use diaper rash cream. A million things I had learned about this sweet boy, but here I was saying goodbye.

That first goodbye was the hardest.

After one last kiss, I stumbled through tear-filled eyes and sobs out of the room and out of his life.

I don’t know if I prayed in that moment, but I know that in similar moments of surrender since, I have cried out, “God, how could you let this happen? Don’t you see?”

I have believed the lie that a social worker, a judge, a system or a biological family member was in control, despite knowing intimately the God of the Universe, who spoke creation into existence.

I have believed the lie that He is not enough; for me or for my children.

I have grappled with faith and fear, unable to fathom how a future without me could be the answer; his best yes for this child I adore.

These past few months I have had to bring my heart time and time again to its knees in surrender, choosing to place my trust and my attitudes squarely in the hands of the One who sees it all and simply place one foot of humble obedience in front of the other.

Sometimes, as foster parents or as biological parents, God asks us to get out of the way.

Sometimes His very good plan for my child doesn’t include me or my ideas, passions, advocacy or protection.

Sometimes God’s very good plan for my children involves pain and grief and loss.

What does a parent do when God asks us to move out of the way so He can accomplish His purposes without us?

I know some of you are walking this road with your children.

Maybe it’s your young adult child, who is walking a road you never imagined or dreamed for them. They don’t want your help or advice or comfort. They need to figure this out on their own, and you are helpless.

Maybe it’s your child with learning differences or social struggles; you drop them off at school every morning and you wonder if you are doing the right thing. They are miserable, angry and struggling to stay afloat, but you know this is a battle you can’t fight for them.

Maybe it’s medical difficulties that are robbing you of the control and protection you long to give your child. You have to watch them endure poke after poke, procedure after procedure and you ache to take their place but instead all you can do is cradle their small body in your arms and squeeze back your tears.

Why would God allow this to happen?

Oh, sweet Mama.

I know the pain that rips at your heart and the way you writhe against the surrender.

I know the way you beat your fists against His chest and struggle to fight your way back from the chaos.

You don’t need to be afraid of your smallness in His presence.

It’s time to rest in His abundance.

He is able;

Abundantly able, to do more.

Yes, more, precious friend.

More than you’ve asked.

More than you’ve dreamed.

More than you can even begin to imagine.

Now we can only see glimpses through a dirty, broken window pane.

But one day,

one sweet day,

Hindsight will be perfect.

This present reality will fall into place in the radiant glory of His magnum opus, His great work, in not only our tiny scope of vision but in the vastness of the entire universe and all of time from beginning to infinite.

Trust Him.

Put one foot in front of the other, one day at a time and walk in sync with His spirit.

It is there alone you will catch a glimpse of just how great and good His plans are.

-AF

The Next Right Thing

Do the next right thing.

This phrase has been pressing into my heart, playing over and over like a song on repeat. 

I hear it on the days when I am being pulled in a thousand different directions.  I hear it on the days that are too quiet and I am letting myself worry about the future, the past, and the present.  I hear it when I am overwhelmed by the many unknowns and intimidated by the things I know.  I repeat it like a mantra at 6 o’clock when I’m exhausted and there’s still a thousand things to do.

Just do that next right thing in front of you.

If I never get a chance at tomorrow, or that next breath…it will only be the present that really matters.

Slow down.  Hold the baby longer than you need to, just to be sure he’s really sleeping peacefully before you get up. Take in the scent of his baby skin and the way he grunts as he settles into blissful sleep. 

Stop. Get down on the floor to see that Lego structure he has created, the artwork being shoved into your hands or the ladybug crawling on the ground at your feet. 

Don’t let the chaos overwhelm you. Focus on the job in front of you or the small thing you can do right now to make a difference. Fold one load of laundry, commit to sweeping around the kitchen table or grab the opportunity to nap while the babies are sleeping.

Just find that next right thing.      

This is sometimes how I survive the roller coaster of foster care.

Tomorrow may be terrifying.

Tomorrow may be painful. 

Tomorrow may change everything. 

But right now, there is a diaper that needs changing.  There are little hands that need to be held.  There are noodles to scoop and smiles to return.  There are clothes to fold. There are bags to pack, pictures to print or hugs to give.

Do the next right thing. 

Do not waste this moment because the next one looks so hard you can barely breathe. 

This moment, this now that you are existing within, is just as important as whatever will happen next.  The little moments make up something valuable; they make up a life.

Most of life happens, not in the brightness or in the darkness, but in the medium light of a regular day.

Emily P. Freeman

If you are like me, you have a hard time with the small, ordinary moments of faithfulness. There is adrenaline for the highs and lows and a determined, resolute fire burning in your gut when faced with the giants of the world.

But when nobody is looking and it’s three o’clock on a Monday afternoon, well…that is when it’s hard to see your way through. That is when it’s hard to take a deep breath, solve yet another spat gently, get up off the couch, or choose carrot sticks over a chocolate chip cookie.

But those ordinary moments are ultimately what make you who you are and determine the course of your life.

Want to get in shape, eat healthier, be more productive, spend time with your kids, or improve your marriage?

It happens when you choose the next right thing.

One foot in front of the other, one choice at a time.

It has been said that God has not promised us strength for tomorrow, next week or the coming year. He has only promised us the sustenance, courage and resilience for today.

This moment.

Now.

So take a deep breath, my friend.

Focus your eyes on what you need to do and find your next right thing.

~AF

Titus 2 Women, Faith & Motherhood

When my son was diagnosed with a brain tumour, I felt like the world shifted on its axis.

I had never been more terrified and unsure of who I was or what life meant.

During that season, I felt the Father love of my God like never before. I felt Him carry me and my family through that season in the gentlest of arms, with no expectations of me other than that I would simply let him hold us and trust His goodness.

However, on the tail of that I experienced a spiritual desert season of anxiety, anger, loneliness and uncertainty.

Everything I believed suddenly needed to be held to the light; examined and tested by the fires of doubt within me.

I wanted to curl up in a ball and hide from the world.

It felt big and scary, and I had no idea which way I should turn next.

It was in this season that a good friend of mine invited me to join her women’s group.

Hungry for communion with other Christian women and longing to become a prayer warrior for my children, I accepted the invitation, having no idea that God was about to do a work of redemption in my soul.

Most of these women were much older than myself, well past the stages of parenting and marriage that I was struggling through. We came from a variety of denominations and faith families, and there was really no common thread that wove us all together outside of our Jesus.

But this group of women welcomed me into their prayer circle and picked me up out of the dust. They took the pieces of my broken, bleeding heart that had been battered to shards through the storm of the past year and gently starting piecing me back together with the truth, grace and love of the gospel.

They wept with me, prayed with me and bolstered my spirits. They laughed with me, gave me wise advice and honoured me in my feeble efforts to strive for something greater in my parenting, my marriage and my walk with Jesus.

In short, they were Jesus to me. In a time when I desperately needed support, God led me to this incredible group of women and used them as a channel to heal me, teach me and offer me joy through new friendships.

Over tea cups, desserts and our Bibles we worshipped, repented and grew together.

When I walked into that space every Wednesday evening I knew instinctively that here, I was safe.

These women are my sisters in Christ;

My fellow warriors on the front lines of enemy territory, claiming back our children, our marriages and our identity through the power of His words spoken into the quiet of a cozy living room.

Titus 2:1-6 says,

“Teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live…then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.”

When I read those verses, I think of these women in my prayer group. I think of the wisdom I have glimpsed as I’ve listened to them share their stories and prayed alongside them for their middle schoolers, teenagers and young adult children. It’s comforting to know they have walked this road ahead of me and that I am not alone as I muddle through each new phase. Their humility and courage inspire me to keep putting one foot in front of the other; to love my children well while they are here with me, to model patience and kindness in my home, to be a woman of strength and grace.

I also think of my own mother when I read these verses. She modeled so much kindness, generosity and integrity to me as I was growing up. She willingly set her own needs aside to care for my siblings and I, day after month after year after decade. My childhood memories are rich because of her constant presence in our home, faithfully going about the mundane tasks of life on a farm with five children. So much of what I know and believe about motherhood, my identity as a woman and my Kingdom work was instilled through those early years.

I think about my cousin who I lived with as a young adult while dating the man who is now my husband. The two years I spent in her home watching her navigate early marriage and parenting young children left a deep impact on my life. I’m so grateful for the authentic, generous, humble presence I observed her to be in her home. She taught me so much about respect, kindness and courage to do the right thing even when it is not easy. So many little patterns in my marriage and parenting trace back to her mentoring.

There are so many more I could name. My mother in law, my grandmothers, older women in the church and my neighbourhood who have poured into my life, often unknowingly.

I like to think of all these women as my Titus 2 women.

They bring texture to the fabric of my life. Their experiences, perspective and fire-proven faith give me confidence that I, too, can emerge stronger, wiser and gentler on the other side of adversity. The stories they carry with them plant seeds of wonder and curiosity in my heart; to travel, to experience, to delight in the world around me.

It’s so easy to find the people most like ourselves and camp out there in that comfort zone, but I want to keep intentionally seeking out women who are older, wiser,more mature than I am. I want to have a heart that is teachable and brave enough to pursue growth.

As I move into my thirties, I want to be aware of the young women around me who are observing my own fumbling attempts and open my heart and home to them as well.

I believe there is so much wisdom and beauty to be found in multigenerational friendships.

What have you learned through friendships with older or younger women in your life?