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

Simplifying Childhood

Moving our family to a little falling down farm on the edge of town has been an adventure in so many ways.

This move was birthed out of a myriad of desires, passions and ambitions.

One of those was the desire to give our children the gift of a simplistic childhood.

I grew up on a dairy farm in Wellington County where I spent my summers crawling over straw bales, running barefoot through the yard, nestling fluffy kitten fur up against my cheek, climbing trees, eating apples plucked from our orchard and wading through muddy creeks.

I had no idea how magnificent this childhood experience was or how much texture and depth these experiences added to my life.

I didn’t know that I was learning to take risks as I rode my bike down the barn steps and balanced precariously upon barn top beams, determined to keep up to my older siblings and cousins.

I didn’t know that the wide variety of sensory experiences were contributing to brain development as I felt mud between my toes, rocks beneath my calloused feet and dirt under my hands.

I took for granted the way I could walk out the doors and roam free for hours, with no specific goal or destination in mind, just freedom to be and explore my world as I wished.

Every summer my skin would turn brown beneath the sun’s warmth, my dark hair deepening to hues of auburn and chestnut.

I thought it was normal for children to sit high in the branches of a pine, bare legs swinging, to make forts in the barn loft or catch frogs in the pond.

As I grew and left my childhood behind, I left many of these simple pleasures with it.

Now, I look at my children and I would give anything to be able to give them a taste of the life I once lived. Not only because of my own fond memories but because the more I learn, the more I realize that this kind of environment nurtures healthy, happy children.

Children are meant to be able to learn and explore and fall and laugh. They are meant to experience freedom and follow their curiosity and dig through the layers of a richly textured world.

So how do we do this?

How do we give our children the gift of simplicity, setting them free from the demands of a society who would want to categorize them, sit them down, mold them into tiny adults?

  1. Let them play. They are little for such a short time, and for some reason we feel we need to organize them; sort them into categories, grade their achievements, nudge them toward accuracy and reality. But children have rich, creative minds. They see the world differently. Good and evil stand in stark contrast, and they will recreate this in their play. Every little bug in the dirt or tattered leaf or knobby stick can be studied, delighted in and recognized to be something magnificent. Give your children space to play freely. Do not fill their time or their rooms with too many toys that will entertain them and tell them what they should do and how they should do it. Instead, give them a bucket of plain wooden blocks. Dump out a bin of Lego builders. Leave some paper, crayons, glue and scissors on the table and see what they create. When they bring you their stories and structures and collections, admire them for what they are. Ask them questions and let them decide what they have created, don’t assume or pass judgment.
  2. Give them structure. This may seem contradictory to play, but really it is what makes the play possible at all. Children thrive when they are surrounded by comforting absolutes. Too many variables make children, especially young children, feel vulnerable and unsure therefore discouraging them from following their naturally inquisitive minds because they are too busy worrying about what they might need or miss. Predictable meal times and bed time routines are essential and create a rhythm to your days that wraps them in security and comfort. Knowing what to expect their days will look like, generally of course, helps children to relax inside those parameters and busy themselves with the great work of childhood…play. Children who feel safe can explore and create and learn.
  3. Take them outside. Snow, rain, sun, sleet…let them experience it all. Nature is full of endless entertainment for children. Mud puddles, trees to climb, birds nests, caterpillars, water, ice and dirt. Invest in mud suits, rubber boots, warm clothes and ratty old jeans that you won’t mind getting torn and ripped. Give them shovels, containers, watering cans and buckets. Go for walks both on sidewalks and off; a walk to the park and a hike through the bush can be equally exciting for a child. Let them get messy; let them take risks, even fall down and hurt themselves every now and again. Eat outside, read outside, play outside and even nap outside. Go to the beach, the park, the forest, the farm, the backyard. Build a sandbox, set up a bucket of water or a plastic pool, ride bikes, blow bubbles, go barefoot. All these experiences feed the soul of a child. Not only will this environment be beneficial to their brain health but it will also give them the best chance at being healthy emotionally and spiritually.
  4. Give them rest. This includes physical, emotional and mental rest. Create a solid, dependable, practical bedtime/nap time routine and stick to it. Kids need plenty of sleep. In fact, ironically it seems the more sleep they get the more sleep they need. Tired kids will have a hard time playing or resting well. Try to balance your day with both active and restful activities. For example, an hour or two of outside time might be followed up with some stories on the couch. Playing play dough might precede going to the grocery store or some other outing that is more chaotic. If older kids complain of being bored, don’t become too anxious about filling that space for them. It’s necessary for them to learn how to enjoy their own company and not be afraid of the quiet. Teach them how to be able to sit and look at books, to be still and watch a tiny ant carrying his disproportionate load, to breathe in deeply in and out and feel their muscles relax from head to toe. Surround them with quietness, peace and stillness regularly.
  5. Involve them in responsibilities. Kids love to help when they feel they are wanted and needed. There is nothing that can replace the pride of knowing you have done a job well. Provide plenty of opportunities to work both alongside you and independently. Participating in family chores fosters responsibility, healthy self image and gratitude. Teach them to cook and do laundry. Don’t shy away when they sigh at being told once again to unload the dishwasher or help set the table. Praise them for jobs well done and send them back to redo jobs done haphazardly. Will they thank you down the road? Probably not. But that is beside the point. They are learning they are a part of something. They are seeing the real life in front of them and will start to notice what others around them are doing. You will know you are on your way when they thank you for doing their laundry, unloading the dishwasher or picking up their scattered shoes.                    

Children need so much from us, and yet so little. They require huge quantities of our emotional and physical presence with them but they require so few resources to truly grow and thrive.

We cannot travel the world today and give their little eyes the sights of the Great Wall of China, the Eiffel Tower, the Grand Canyon and and Cliffs of Moher…but we can go outside and see the birds and feel the mud under our rubber boots and watch our chickens peck away at the rinds of a cantaloupe.

We cannot afford private music lessons to entice their musical little minds toward Mozart greatness, but we can turn on some nursery rhymes and beat to the rhythm on our homemade drums.

My preschoolers are at home with me. They do not play in sensory buckets every day, practice lining up at the door, learn rhymes and riddles for every activity or get exposure to early learning curriculum….but I can let them help me bake muffins, teach them how to zip their jackets, sit on the floor and build towers of blocks with them or read them story after story.

Reminding my mother heart of these time-proven child raising truths has helped me to refocus my parenting on what is most important. When I fall into despair because I cannot possibly do it all, I can come back to this and remind myself of what I can do today that is valuable.

-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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The Always Good God and Foster Care

It’s been a stressful season.

Moving, sickness and the chaos of the holidays.

In the middle of all that, we got news that one of our little ones may leave us.

Gut punch.

No matter how many times you remind yourself as a foster parent that all this is temporary,

you cannot prepare yourself for the nausea that hits when you think about them leaving you forever.

Especially to someone they do not know.

Far away.

Foster care reminds me over and over again how little control I have over my children’s lives.

They are not mine.

None of them.

They are really just on loan to me, some for a very short time, some for longer, but all on loan to me.

They were created by an infinitely wise, sovereign God who has plans for them that far exceed my limited scope of vision.

I want to protect them.

I want to keep out all the hurt, disappointment, betrayal and fear.

I want to prevent them from ever feeling lonely, misunderstood or anxious.

But I forget this is how we grow; this is the shaping of our souls.

It is through the pain and the wounds of our lives that our hearts reach out for the One who can heal, restore and make room for the fruits of the Spirit to take root and grow.

I would like to be able to say that my ‘temporary’ children always leave my home and return to healthy environments.

I would like to be able to say that my prayers for their well being are answered every time; that I get to see happily ever afters for each one.

I would like to be able to say that I always know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I made a difference in the trajectory of their lives and hearts.

But the truth is…

Sometimes kids return to very difficult circumstances.

The answers are rarely easy or clear, and wading the muddy waters can leave me feeling anxious, betrayed, angry and afraid.

The prayers I pray over these little people every night, the tears that fall on their hair and the desperate cries for help sometimes feel like they are hitting the ceiling.

I often feel alone and misunderstood by friends, social workers and professionals.

I am often tempted to play the power that is placed in my hands in the wrong ways, and I vent too often on others instead of going to the One who is in control.

But the truth is…He IS in control.

I woke up the other morning at 4am with the future of my son weighing on my chest.

I stared into the darkness, willing my heart to embrace the rest that I knew could be mine, but my heart fought it.

An hour and a half later I finally got up, grabbed my Bible and settled into my favourite chair. My mind swirled in a thousand different directions but I purposefully flipped the pages and found the book of Job.

Disciplining my heart to be still, I reread the words I have read so many times before when it feels like life is in utter chaos.

Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said: Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?”

[Job 38:1-4]

I pour over the words, reading and rereading; letting them seep into my soul and take residence there; a fledgling plant sprouting its roots.

Who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb, when I made clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed limits for it and set bars and doors, and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?

[Job 38:8-11]

Who provides for the raven its prey, when its young ones cry to God for help, and wander about for lack of food?”

[Job 38:41]

Do you give the horse his might? Do you clothe his neck with a mane? Do you make him leap like the locust? His majestic snorting is terrifying. He paws in the valley and exults in his strength; he goes out to meet the weapons. He laughs at fear and is not dismayed.”

[Job 39:19-22]

Is it by your understanding that the hawk soars and spreads his wings toward the south? Is it at your command that the eagle mounts up and makes his nest on high?”

[Job 39:26-28]

And I fall to my knees in worship and surrender.

Who then is he who can stand before me? Who has given to me, that I should repay him? Whatever is under the whole heaven is mine.”

[Job 41:10-11]

And finally in chapter 42 my heart resounds with Job’s.

I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know…my ears had heard of you but now my eye sees you.”

[Job 42:1-5 Paraphrased]

I can fight it, I can grapple with the conflicting realities around me, but it will not change the simple truth that God is in control.

I flip back to Jeremiah and let my eyes fill a little as I read the words I’ve highlighted long ago; my favourite verses to pray over all my children but especially for my ‘for a little while’ kids each night.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

[Jeremiah 29:11]

He is good.

He has promised it.

Always.

When I see His goodness, and when I don’t.

When he moves the mountains, and when I watch them tower above us.

When he carries me through the waters, and when I struggle against the waves.

He is a good, good Father.

I bow my head and I give it to Him.

The worry.

The fear.

The pain.

And in that tattered place of rest there is hope.

I stop and buckle into the nearest chair later listening to the lyrics of the song that has carried me through so many waters these past few years.

My hands are trembling as they raise and my face crumples but the tears crack through the walls of fear and doubt and anger.

I will do this a thousand times over until my heart believes.

Trust In You

by Lauren Daigle

Letting go of every single dream

I lay each one down at Your feet

Every moment of my wandering

Never changes what You see

I’ve tried to win this war, I confess                                                                                      My hands are weary, I need Your rest

Mighty warrior, king of the fight

No matter what I face You’re by my side

When You don’t move the mountains

I’m needing You to move

When You don’t part the waters

I wish I could walk through

When You don’t give the answers

As I cry out to You

I will trust, I will trust, I will trust in You

Truth is, You know what tomorrow brings

There’s not a day ahead You have not seen

So let all things be my life and breath

I want what You want Lord and nothing less

When You don’t move the mountains

I’m needing You to move

When You don’t part the waters

I wish I could walk through

When You don’t give the answers

As I cry out to You

I will trust, I will trust, I will trust in You

I will trust in You

You are my strength and comfort

You are my steady hand

You are my firm foundation

The rock on which I stand

Your ways are always higher

Your plans are always good

There’s not a place where I’ll go

You’ve not already stood

When You don’t move the mountains

I’m needing You to move

When You don’t part the waters

I wish I could walk through

When You don’t give the answers

As I cry out to You

I will trust, I will trust, I will trust in You

I will trust in You

-AF

What I Didn’t Know Before Adopting

There are a lot of things I didn’t know before adopting.

I love that God protects us from too much knowledge.

Out of His love, he gives us just what we need to take the next steps;

Too little and we’d be stumbling around in the dark in confusion.

Too much and we would be overwhelmed by the magnitude of it all.

Before I became an adoptive parent…

I didn’t know that sometimes I would wonder what my life would be like if we had not chosen adoption as a way to build our family.

I didn’t know that I would be jealous of the natural bond between my friends and their children.  Healthy, established, natural-as-breathing bonds.

I didn’t know that I would feel guilty sometimes.  Guilty for being the one these children call Mommy, the one they run to, cry to and love so unconditionally.

I didn’t know that my worldview would shift to encompass the pain, trauma and injustice of my children’s early life…and that sometimes this would leave me feeling a little numb.

I didn’t know that sometimes I would feel all alone in this…like when people talk about what their kids were like as babies, how they have friends over to play or how great they are doing in school.

I didn’t know that sometimes I would be angry with the world, the church, the school, the neighbours, my family…for not understanding my children…or me.

I didn’t know that sometimes I would be most angry at myself for not being able to parent these children the way I want to.

I didn’t know that at times I would forget all about adoption and foster care, until someone comments on how tall my daughter is, how young I look to have a preteen or how busy I must be with all those children!

I didn’t know how much my extended family would have to give up when we decided to grow our family through adoption, and how grateful I would feel towards them as they jumped in with two feet alongside us.

I didn’t know how personally I would take my children’s birth stories and how deeply I would love their biological families.

I didn’t know that our social worker would become one of my favourite people; someone I feel safe with.  I didn’t know I would consider her a friend and look forward to her phone calls and visits.

I didn’t know how grateful I would feel towards the people who invest in our children’s lives, whether for a week or a lifetime.  The people who throw their hearts into loving my children bless me in the deepest way possible.  I am so thankful to have family and friends who have literally dropped everything to be present in our lives and help us care for these children.

I didn’t know how proud I would be to be called Mommy by my daughter or how humbled I would be when she curls up by my side and says she missed me today.

I didn’t know that I would become a homeschooling mom for a while…and love it.

I didn’t know that I would be the one sitting in a counselling office and across the table from a therapist, instead of my child.

I didn’t know that even after three years of living in our home, my children would not always feel safe, and that I would not be able to fix that.

I didn’t know that choosing adoption in some ways meant choosing isolation.

I didn’t know that I would need a whole new toolbox for parenting and that I would learn to constantly read my children’s body language and behaviours to monitor for overstimulation, trauma triggers and attachment issues.

I didn’t know that I would sometimes wonder if my children were really with the right parents.

I didn’t realize how much time and energy I would spend advocating for my children and how often I would feel misunderstood as a parent.

I didn’t know that love alone is not enough.

I didn’t know how many things would become insignificant in life.

I didn’t know how much grace I would need on a daily basis to do this parenting thing.

I didn’t know how many new people I would meet because of adoption.

I didn’t know just how much I did not yet know!

And for that I am so grateful.

But despite all this…and knowing it now…still I will choose this again.

Because the joy far outweighs the pain.

The truth finds it’s way through the lies.

The grief dissipates into healing.

Beauty from ashes.

~AF

 

 

 

If You Can’t Adopt…

So many people are in situations or circumstances that make it impossible or difficult for them to pursue adoption.  While I campaign and advocate openly for MORE FAMILIES TO ADOPT I certainly realize some families are not able to pursue adoption for a variety of reasons…and shouldn’t.  Unfortunately the landscape of our culture is also making it more and more difficult for Christian families to adopt as our values and ethics become increasingly controversial to society at large.

So what can you do if you are not able to adopt?

How can you obey the biblical command to care for the orphan? (Psalm 82:3, James 1:27, Isaiah 58:6-10)

1. PRAY

Old, young, middle aged…even children can get involved in this way!  Through this season we’ve committed to praying with our children for waiting children needing families.  I’ve seen such a space open in their hearts just in a few short prayers as they connect with these children.  Prayer changes hearts and it changes lives!

  • Pray for the waiting children, waiting families, newly adoptive families, and tired adoptive families in the trenches.
  • Pray for more adoptive families to step forward!
  • Pray for wisdom and perseverance for families wading through the trauma adoption brings.
  • Pray for courage for families facing difficult adoption realities.
  • Pray for healing for the children.
  • Pray that through the next month the church would rise up and meet the challenge of thousands of children needing homes!
  • Pray that the Christian families currently undergoing the home study process would be approved to adopt!  Pray that they would not be excluded from consideration due to their faith.
  • Pray for the social workers, judges and other professionals on the front line deciding the fates of these children.

2. BECOME A RESPITE HOME.

To become a respite home you will go through the typical foster care training and assessment, but as a respite home you will only commit to the time you have available.  It may be one weekend a month, every weekend, one day a week or one weekend a year!  Whatever time you have can benefit a foster child and family.

Children in care are dealing with big emotions and big life changes which often show themselves through big behaviours!  It can be a huge relief to have a weekend off for a foster family to regroup, catch up on sleep, visit family or just relax and rejuvenate for the work God has called them to.

Likewise, respite homes are encouraged to act more like a ‘grandparent’ in the child’s life.  Relax a bit on the structure of the child’s life and just have fun.  My girls have very fond memories of some respite homes they spent time in on weekends during their years in foster care.  These people, though only in their lives for brief periods of time, built fond memories with them and helped them to feel like they had a larger, extended family outside of their foster families.  They still talk about them today.  One couple in particular advocated strongly for our girls to be placed together instead of separately for adoption when they cared for them on weekends.  We are very grateful to them!

This role is perfect for an older couple who may not be prepared to take on a child full time, a family busy raising their biological children or a single person who may not have the resources or time to commit to full time parenting.  Also, if you’re considering foster care and would like to ‘ease in’ a bit…this will give you a taste and some experience before forging ahead full time.  Many times the agency will set you up with the same child or children so that you can form a relationship and become a safe haven in the child’s life.  Most children in care look forward to these “sleepovers”.

3. SUPPORT A FOSTER OR ADOPTIVE FAMILY IN YOUR CHURCH OR COMMUNITY.

There are so many ways you can bless a foster or adoptive family in your church or community.  Take a look at the time, skills and resources you have to offer and then just ask the question, “How can I use these to support a family on the front lines of this ministry?”  We are so grateful for our extended family, friends and church community who have supported, loved and prayed for us through our adoption journey.  It is so important to feel like you have a village behind you!  These are some of the ways that people have blessed our family:

  • Hand me down clothes, toys, etc.
  • Babysitting – so thankful for people who have volunteered to babysit…even when our children are not easy to care for – so that we can have a date night!  Being foster parents means our babysitters need Criminal Record Checks and agency approval.  It means a lot to us when people do this for us so we can leave the children for an hour or two!  There are also many appointments for children in care so having a babysitter available to take some of the children while you go to the dentist, doctor, paediatrician, school meetings or visits with birth family is a huge blessing.  We also have family members who have went to even further lengths to have their homes approved to be able to keep our children overnight as well.
  • Meals – freezer meals, leftovers, take out or gift cards…we are thankful for them all!
  • Gifts – When our daughters first joined our family one couple blessed us by giving us Canadian Tire gift cards specifically to buy the girls each a new bike and helmet.  Not only did it mean the world to us, it was special for the girls to realize so many people they’d never even met cared for them and wanted to bless them.
  • Accompaniment travelling to appointments.  In those first months we had to travel over 3 hours just to see the girls’ paediatrician.  It was a huge blessing to have a friend come with me so that my husband wouldn’t need to take off work.  6 hours on the road, 2 very active girls and a stuffy doctor’s office were a less than appealing prospect until my friend added in her company, some fun toys and snacks.
  • Taking an interest in the children’s lives.  Like any other parent, we want our children to have a broader world than just us.  It’s a huge blessing to know someone else is investing in our children’s lives alongside us.  It’s also really important for the child to build as many healthy relationships as possible.
  • Ask how it’s going.  Acknowledge the extra layer in their family dynamics and give space for them to talk about that.  You might be surprised at what their normal looks like.
  • Point out the progress or positive things you notice in the child’s life.  It is so reassuring and comforting as the parent to hear something good about your child.  It can help affirm progress, encourage during a difficult season or just remind you that you are not alone in this when others notice your child growing and maturing.
  • If none of these ideas fit…just ask!  Ask how you can help, and observe their family to see if you can spot a need.  They may feel vulnerable at first accepting your help but if you prove to be a safe and nonjudgmental support they will gladly welcome your assistance!

    4. EDUCATE YOURSELF.

    I cannot stress this one enough!  So many adoptive parents and children who have been adopted have been hurt by the ignorant words of someone around them.  Words cut deep, and for many adoptive families every conversation about adoption is full of landmines.  As an adoptive parent, I know that sometimes I read into things too deeply, and I apologize for that.  I certainly want to understand when comments are made out of ignorance…however…you must understand that the stakes are often a lot higher than you think!  An off hand comment overheard by a child can plant deep seeds of fear, shame or inadequacy.  So be aware!  Listen to the adoptive families around you and follow their lead in how they discuss their child’s history and challenges related to adoption.  Don’t ask for more information than they are willing to give, as it may be sensitive, but at the same time take an interest in the child’s life.  If there are diagnoses or behavioral challenges, don’t jump to conclusions!  There is very likely a huge part of the story you are missing.  They need your encouragement, understanding and support…not your criticism.  Also, know that parenting advice is rarely helpful to families parenting a child with attachment disorder, trauma or neurological differences.

    5. VOLUNTEER

    Similar to providing respite care, public child protection agencies are always in need of volunteers.  With thousands of children in care and not nearly enough foster homes to accommodate them all, agencies are often scrambling to meet the needs of the children.  As a volunteer you will need to complete a short screening process and be approved.

    There are many opportunities to serve such as:

  • Driving children in care or their families to appointments, visits with birth family, school, etc.
  • Holding babies in the NICU who have been apprehended but not yet placed in a foster home.  After spending 2 days and 2 nights in the NICU with one tiny baby I know first hand how big a need this is!  Many of these babies are withdrawing from drugs they were exposed to in utero and in severe pain.  They desperately need the one to one care a nurse does not have time for.  They need eyes that will see the dirty onesies, hands to cream the raging diaper rashes, arms to hold them firm and walk the halls for hours as they cry and cry.  They need someone to go out and buy them sleepers.  They need someone to hold them and feed them and make sure they are getting enough nourishment.  Our particular little baby spent most of his hours at the nurse’s station as he had no one to care for him before we showed up.  No infant should be that alone in the world.
  • Completing paperwork for childcare workers
  • Organizing events

In the foster and adoptive community we often hear, “It takes a village to raise a child.”  This is very true.  While it may be possible to do it on your own, it is so much easier and so much better with support from your friends, family and community.  Ask God to show you how you can be a blessing to foster and adoptive families.  You will be richly rewarded for any time, money or resources you pour into this ministry!

What I’ve Learned About Halloween

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 witch 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 thought, allowing their littles 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