Finding Resources for Your Child with Learning Differences

We sat down nervously across the table from her, wondering just exactly what was recorded about our daughter in the file she had opened before her. Before beginning she paused, peered over her glasses at me and said,

“It must be exhausting trying to teach this child.”

The words startled me, and at the same time I felt tears gather in my eyes and an intense wave of relief flood through my body.

It wasn’t just me!

I wasn’t crazy!

The daily struggles were real and measureable and diagnosable.

Every special needs parent knows this intense feeling of relief to sit with a professional and have them validate all the layers of complexity you walk through on a daily basis.

While there is no easy formula or three step plan for finding the right educational route for a child with learning differences, I do feel like I’ve learned a few things along the way during the past 7 years of parenting children with exceptional learning styles and challenges. Maybe these tips will help you, too.

  1. Trust your instincts. Ultimately, you know your child better than anybody else, and that’s important. If you feel like something is out of sync, you are probably right.
  2. Think outside the box. One of the first things you need to do is start viewing your child’s learning differences as just that…learning differences. This means they learn differently, not more than or less than their peers. It means that their brains process things differently than others and may need things presented to them in unique ways. Don’t try to fit them inside the mold of average. Be a student of your child’s unique, inquisitive, wonderfully complex mind. Study the way they see the world. Take the time to listen to their ideas, the way they describe their experiences and the things that interest them. Once you understand the way your child thinks, feels and experiences the world around them, you will be much better prepared to brainstorm what might assist them in learning and growing. Be warned, however, that you just may fall in love with the way your child views the world and decide you don’t want to fit them into a typical environment. This may prompt you to lead your child on an educational journey that looks very different than what you had previously pictured as success. For example, you may decide homeschooling, outdoor learning programs, a special needs classroom, online education or part time schooling is a better fit for your child than the typical structure.
  3. Do the research. While labels are not always necessary, I have found it is helpful to know exactly what it is that you are dealing with and sharing that information with others so that they can access the appropriate resources, funding, etc that may be eligible for your child. The label is less about diagnosing and more about finding an education path for your child. Don’t be afraid of the labels. They can help. Know the information needed well enough that you can summarize, elaborate and present it in multiple forms to anyone who needs to hear it and understand it. Be the expert on your child.
  4. Find an ally. Whether it’s a teacher, principal, pediatrician, educational assistant, therapist, social worker or special education coordinator, it’s helpful to find a professional who understands your child and is willing to advocate alongside you and hear your concerns. This person can often guide you in the right direction when it comes to finding solutions as well.
  5. Listen. Ask for input from your child’s current and past educators. Give them space to express their concerns, share the observations they have made and the ways they have attempted to intervene. Make sure you know what is working and what is not working, what alternatives have been tried or implemented and why. This is the part where you listen, not criticize or offer your ideas of solutions. Be humble enough to sit and learn without putting up your defenses.
  6. Be willing to give it a try. Most likely after you follow through on number 5, you are going to have some ideas and opinions shared with you that don’t quite match your own expectations or observations. Unless you absolutely know an idea is not going to work and have proof of that, be willing to give things a fair shot. It’s just as important to allow the system to attempt interventions as it is to find that long term plan. Each intervention is building the case for your child’s unique needs, strengths and weaknesses. They will be documented, observed and tweaked in accordance with the level of success they bring. This means finding help for your child involves a lot of patience, trial and error and frustration for both you, your child and their educators.
  7. Honesty. Be willing to be transparent about your concerns and goals. The more honest you are, the more likely it will be that teachers will find you approachable and caring. Admit when you don’t know what to do or where to find answers. Let them know when something just doesn’t feel right. Most of your child’s teachers are parents themselves, and you may be surprised at the journeys they themselves have walked with their own children or past students.
  8. Take ownership and be the advocate. I’d like to be able to tell you that you will find that one person who will do all this for you, or that you can do these things once and then it will be smooth sailing from there on out but that’s just not true. Ultimately, you are your child’s sole advocate and you need to own that and be ready to settle in for the long haul. There will be seasons where the intensity will lessen and you may be able to sit back and relax a bit, having found your child that sweet spot in their education journey where they are thriving or being carefully monitored by a gifted educator. But most of the time, you are the one who will need to monitor the interventions, strategies and progress of your child. Accepting that this is your position will give you confidence and courage to stay involved and positive on your child’s educational journey. It will help you to make the best decisions possible for your child, even if that means going against the advice of the professionals around you. They will come and go over the years, but you are the constant in your child’s life. Take that position with authority and think in perspective of that.
  9. Grieve. If all this just looks overwhelming and completely unattainable, maybe you need to take the time to just grieve. Grieve the loss of your expectations, hopes, dreams and misconceptions. Grieve the loss of innocence your child may have encountered as they struggled to fit in, be heard and seen. Grieve that life may not look the way you had planned. This does not make you a bad mom. In fact, this may be the key to really unlocking success for your child. No matter how hard you work to ensure your child is seen, heard, understood and thriving…children who do not fall into the category of “average” will at some point find themselves in a situation where their differences set them apart and make things more challenging. This can be painful and isolating, and if your child thinks you don’t understand their challenges or differences, they will not see you as their support when those difficulties arise. Your child wants to know that you are equipped both mentally and emotionally to understand their unique hard-wiring. So be real with them. Don’t sugarcoat the truth about their differences and don’t make all your decisions without their input. Let them know you understand that they are different and that you recognize how hard that is at times.
  10. Celebrate your child’s unique abilities and characteristics. Once you have grieved what might have been and acknowledged the ways that your child struggles, intentionally move on and start looking for the gifts, talents and characteristics they possess. Ironically, our strengths are usually merely the flip side of our weaknesses. For example, your child may struggle with impulsivity but it’s likely that same child is brave, curious and uninhibited by worry or fear. Perhaps your child struggles socially but is very accepting of those who cannot relate in typical ways. Take time to intentionally set aside the standard ways we evaluate success in children and look past those to the strengths your child possesses that may not show up on a report card or skills evaluation. Are they gentle, gifted with animals, intuitive to others’ needs, creative, athletic, resilient, dramatic? Your child may not end up at an Ivy League school but perhaps they will make an indelible impression on the lives around them through the unique gifts and talents they are equipped with. Let them know you see these abilities they possess and that they are just as important as literacy and numeracy skills. Create space for them to exercise their talents and encourage them to pursue their interests. Every child wants to be seen, delighted in and loved for who they are, aside from their abilities. This applies to your child, no matter what struggles they may face academically. So make this your number one priority. Before the daily reading, flashcards, fine motor exercises, speech therapy or phys-coeducational evaluations take the time to stop and just love the child in front of you. Their quirks, their flaws, their strengths, their beautiful individuality.

~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.

 

 

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

Every Life Matters

We’re just a couple weeks past Mother’s Day and my stomach churns every time I scroll through my Facebook feed.

Just a short week ago, we proudly posted pictures of our children, our mothers and our grandmothers.

We applauded women of all ages and validated the sacrifices they make to bring life to the world.

On Mother’s Day moms enjoyed breakfast in bed, flowers from their partners and tender thank you notes scrawled in preschool print. Everywhere we looked we saw the message that mothers deserve to be seen, valued and encouraged in their role; that what we are investing in is beautiful, irreplaceable and important.

Mother’s day proposes to us that women deserve to be recognized for the courage, resilience, and sacrifice they live out daily in their quest to give themselves to the next generation.

Mother’s day told women that they are strong, capable, remarkable and seen in a world that would have us believe otherwise.

But today, my Facebook feed stands in stark contrast to the messages of Mother’s Day.

Today women are saying,

We demand control of our bodies and our lives.

We are victims of a war against femininity.

We want a voice.

We deserve respect.

No one else gets to trump our rights.

All I can think as I watch friend after friend share outrageous, passionate, angry memes, posts and videos is…

Where are the women who, two weeks ago, valued life and motherhood? Where are the women who said they would willingly lay down their lives for the little people they birthed?

When my son was diagnosed with a brain tumor at 18 months, I would have given anything to take his place and go into that operating room myself. Instead I placed him into the arms of a stranger wearing a gown and mask and stood sobbing in my husband’s arms as he was carried away from me.

I would give anything to go back in time for my four other children and take the betrayal, abandonment and hurt they experienced. I would give my right arm in a heart beat if it meant I could erase some of that pain or change some of their first mothers’ choices that have led to such difficulty in life for them.

Every mother I know would throw her life recklessly on the line for her child.

So what changes so dramatically when a baby travels down the birth canal and lets out that first feeble cry? At what point do they magically become human and worthy of protection when a mere few months earlier we say their existence is only optional?

If life does not begin at conception, when does it begin?

At 10 weeks?

20 weeks?

30 weeks?

40 weeks?

And who gets to decide at what point a new life is formed enough to have rights of its own?

We go to great lengths to get prenatal care and help women make healthy choices during pregnancy.

Why does it matter if my children’s birth mothers exposed them to harmful substances in the first two months of their lives if they weren’t really classified as a life at all?

And what determines our value?

Who gets to decide which lives are valuable and which ones are discarded?

Are we put on some type of scale to determine our level of significance to the world to decide whether or not we hold enough value to deserve an existence?

Maybe it’s our level of dependence on another human being, our physical or mental capabilities. Maybe it’s our IQ level or emotional intelligence that should dictate our worth.

Maybe it’s whether or not our birth was planned, if we developed fully in utero or if we were wanted.

Who gets to decide?!

I care about this because the ripples of abortion are deeply personal to me.

Four of my children deal with physical, emotional and neurological differences that set them apart from their peers. They learn differently, they process differently, they see the world through different eyes.

Would you put them on a scale and rank their worth next to their peers in accordance with their abilities?

If life before birth can be evaluated and discarded based on certain qualities, why not after birth as well?

What if someone could have seen the extent of my children’s struggles and abnormalities?

What if the years of neglect, trauma, turbulence in foster care, unusual chromosomes, neurological damage, physical weaknesses and difficult family circumstances they were entering into were deemed to be too difficult?

What if someone had decided they were not worth it, not wanted, not valuable enough?

“They’ll just spend years in foster care when their teenage parents cannot care for them.”

“They will struggle all their lives; it isn’t fair to them.”

“Their mother isn’t ready to have a baby. She’s so young.”

Who would have protected their right to the beautiful, rich lives they live today? Who would have imagined the unique, irreplaceable talents and skills they bring to the world, my world, today?

Where are those women?

Where are the women who will sit day and night beside the tiny plastic bassinet in the ICU while a vulnerable premature baby fights for life, surrounded by wires, tubes and monitors?

Where are the women who will take in the child who has lost their first parents, been abandoned, neglected or abused, believing that the life they are taking into their care is worth the sacrifice of comfort, time and freedom?

Where are the women who will fight passionately for the rights of every human life to be preserved, protected and valued?

I Believe women should have rights…but not for women’s rights to be placed above every other human’s rights.

I don’t want my rights to trump the rights of my children, my husband or anyone else.

That is not equality and that is not the kind of world I want my daughters to grow up in.

I want to raise daughters who value their femininity and see the incredible ability for nurture, intelligence, beauty and life they bring to the world as women.

I want to raise daughters who are willing to lay down their comfort, sacrifice their freedom and discipline their minds and hearts to serve their communities, families and the world we live in.

Women who can both lead and follow.

Women who will travel across the globe to invest in developing careers for women living in poverty, to dedicate their lives to raising the next generation, to empower their husbands and sons with strength and integrity that only a woman can inspire in a man.

I am pro life because I believe life begins at conception and that God is the author and keeper of each new life.

I am pro life because I believe each new life is carefully crafted in the image of God, and therefore every life matters and that every life deserves to be protected.

I realize I have painted this picture very black and white. I know there is unimaginable pain, trauma and so many complicated layers to this issue. Probably some of you have been triggered very painfully by this post, and for that I am so sorry.

The pro choice movement would lead us to believe that a woman’s choice to abort brings freedom, healing and empowerment to women caught in impossible situations.

However, they leave out the reality that abortion accepts sacrificing the life of an unborn child is necessary and acceptable. The ramifications and ripple effects of that declaration are devastating.

The pro choice movement also fails to acknowledge the incredible physical, psychological and emotional trauma women experience post abortion. Abortion rarely improves a woman’s difficult situation, but instead adds another toxic layer of grief and loss. It emphasizes the results of trauma as a problem versus the trauma itself.

I don’t join protests, tout political jargon or support all the people, movements or bills that are passed under the name of pro life.

But I am pro life and I choose to stand firmly by the truth that life begins at conception and that every life has value.

~AF

“For You formed my inward parts; you covered me in my mother’s womb.
I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Marvelous are Your works,
And that my soul knows very well.
My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.
Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed.
And in Your book they all were written,
The days fashioned for me,
When as yet there were none of them.” -Psalm 139

Mother’s Day

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day.

I’ve been churning it over for a week now, trying to decipher what feelings bubble up in my chest when I think about this day.

I go tuck in each of the five children I call “mine,” pausing over each sleepy face.

I’m not his real mother…and I am so frightfully out of control of his future, even though he looks up at me trustingly with those beautiful blue eyes. I stroke his cheek and smile down at him as he says, “Goodnight, Mommy.” My heart constricts with pain and anxiety as I think about the unknowns rising like a mountain before us. He won’t be seeing his mother tomorrow or likely for a very long time. I hold that truth painfully in my chest as I creep softly from his room.

In my littlest boys’ room, I go to each little toddler bed. My baby has fallen into an exhausted sleep after our busy day and I’ve missed catching him awake. I wonder how many more things I missed today…it feels like there’s just never enough of me to stretch around. This child that I carried and birthed; I want to give him the sun and moon and all the realms beyond but all I can muster up is me, which never feels like enough. I struggle with guilt, wondering at the life I’ve given him even while I watch him laugh and play with his brothers.

The child who will soon be legally mine sighs and reaches for me as I come close. He’s my “hand full and heart full” and we struggled to stay afloat today. I press my cheek against his for an extra second, squeezing my eyes shut and praying God can somehow redeem the brokenness of his life, the feeble attempts that are mine and the friction between us. He gives the tightest squeeze and then pushes me away to grab for his comfort blankie. I would give my life for him, but my patience seems to hard to muster sometimes.

I tip toe downstairs to find my girls who have been scurrying from yard to house to barn all evening with excited grins and warnings not to look. My heart swells under their unconditional love. I soak in their hugs and draw strength from their steady affection. They don’t know how much I rely on them and how many times I pour out gratitude for getting to be their mother. They are growing so fast, and I love watching them flourish. We sent flowers to their first mom today, and chatted on the phone. We all miss her, and I wish we could be together tomorrow. It feels incomplete, somehow.

I sit down and stare at the screen, the house falling into silence around me.

Mothering has been so much more joyful and so much more painful than I ever imagined.

It has filled me with courage and strength and it has crushed me in defeat.

I have cheered on the sidelines, filled with pride and I have fallen on my face sobbing under the weight of it all.

More than anything, I have learned that no matter how my children may come to me, they are not really mine at all.

I keep running face first into the harsh reality that I have very little control over my children’s lives.

I am not enough, and I never will be.

The truth is, it is my own sanctification at work so many times in the hard, the pain, the messy of it all.

It’s humbling to realize that I’m not the teacher, He is. And he uses them; their disobedience, trauma, anxiety, carelessness, chaos, lies. To create in me a new heart, a new spirit, a breathing, living reflection of Himself.

But oh the texture and soul that these small humans bring to my life. How the Father has shown me His love for me through their lives. How He has grown in me a love so beyond my own capacity.

So what do I feel when I think about Mother’s Day?

I feel hopeful…that He who started something new will be faithful to complete and establish it.

I feel grateful…to be surrounded by my little tribe of witnesses who run this race at my side and offer life giving sustenance to my weary bones.

I feel honoured…to be chosen to love for a season or a lifetime; to invest in this next generation in the small ways I can and then to be a witness of the incredible ways He multiplies those feeble offerings.

I think sometimes I have made motherhood my idol, but God continues to bring me back again and again to the Truth of it all. How small I am, how great He is, and how much He delights in this beautiful, daily, messy sanctification.

I would do this all over again.

~AF

Why Reunification Matters

It’s what everyone wants to know.

Where is his family?

Why is she in foster care?

Doesn’t anyone love them?

How could a mother or father abandon their child?

I can see it in their eyes.

Pity, judgment and confusion.

“They’re better off with you,” they say.

“I don’t understand how a mother could do that.”

“Doesn’t that scare you?”

I wish I could show them the other side of the story.

I wish I could describe to them the struggles of growing up surrounded by addiction, poverty and domestic violence.

I wish I could capture the joy on my foster child’s face as they run into the open arms of their mommy.

I wish I could show them how he cries every time he has to say goodbye to his Daddy, and the way his daddy has to turn away blinking back his own tears as we walk out the door.

I wish I could show you the bags and bags of clothing Mom has given me or the toys Dad brings…their desperate attempt to try to fix things.

I wish I could show you the pain I see in their eyes and the longing for some understanding.

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The amazing thing about love is that it thrives even in the most unlikely environments.  Even surrounded by chaos, it takes root deep within hearts.  When yanked up, it bleeds out pain and raw anger at the injustice of it all.

You would be surprised to know that most parents of foster kids are a lot like you and I.  Moms and Dads who love their kids.

Sometimes love is not enough.

Love isn’t always enough to conquer addictions and poverty.

Love isn’t always enough to change the trajectory passed down through generations of abuse and loss.

Love isn’t always enough to heal the wounds of abandonment and rejection.

So much grace is needed to see past the behaviours to the cause.

For a parent who is at the end of their rope, social support programs are sometimes enough to pull the pieces together.

If  you know you are out of options, you will be willing to try almost anything.

But it takes a lot of courage to accept that someone else might know how to raise your children better than you.

It takes a lot of discipline to tear apart the fabric of your life and try to implement completely foreign patterns and habits into it.

Family-Intervention-Services

I don’t know many parents who would react well to being told:

“You don’t know what is best for your child.”

“You need help raising your child.”

“You need to change major things about your life to be allowed to continue raising your child.”

“You need to move.”

“You need to break up with your partner.”

“You need to attend support groups once a week.”

We ask big things of these parents.

And we are right to…but it doesn’t make it easy and it’s important that we understand what we are asking.

From their perspective, they often feel someone is trying to rip apart their family and ruin their lives.

It’s hard not to feel attacked and lash back in destructive ways.

But under all that, most of these parents love their kids desperately and just need some support to pull together the pieces of a life that has disappointed, wounded, ensnared and deceived.

We often make the mistake of setting unreasonable goals for these parents.

We want instant results.

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But real progress usually happens over time, with lots of support, plenty of chances and grace.

Sometimes the children will suffer during the interim…as they wait for their parents to become healthy enough to parent…and this feels unfair.

But I’m beginning to see that it’s so important that we don’t rush things.

At the end of this story, I want to be able to look that child in the eye and tell them I did everything I could to help salvage their family.

It’s so important that we, the foster parents, are the ones there to offer grace and let these moms and dads know that someone is in their corner.

I am still working at becoming this kind of foster parent.

They are often intimidated, frightened and bitter when they meet us…so it’s a big shift to show them that we are not the enemy.

But if we can…

Well…we might just be able to be the babysitter they call when that little one returns home.

We might just be that friend they text, send photos and vent to on a difficult day.

We might just be that ongoing support that every parent needs through the long days of parenting.

We might just get beach days and walks and playdates at the park.

We might never hear from them again, except to watch them grow from afar on social media, their eyes alight with happiness through the camera lens…

and in that moment…

even when it’s obvious that not all is perfect…

we will know it is right and good.

God came up with this perfect design and called it a family.

The blood bonds that run through our veins are powerful and precious and should be fought for fiercely!

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I know that it doesn’t always work.

And I know that it’s a bloody, awful mess in the process.

But if it works…

well…

if it works…

we have just done something extraordinarily beautiful.

It’s called redemption.

~AF

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