Her Forever Family

It's been 20 months. 20 months of raising her from an infant to almost two years old. 20 months of nurturing, meeting needs, laughing and being silly, holding her when she cries. 20 months of uncertainty as to what her futures hold. If you've read my other two posts about fostering then you know this road has been an incredible journey of new depths of love, joy, questions and sacrificing. We've done so gladly.

So it is with great joy that I share we've reached the end of this journey. By the end of June, after her second birthday, we will adopt little girl and welcome her into our family permanently!

I struggle to put into words how I feel. Obviously I'm ecstatic! We all are. Our boys say "Sister! You don't have to leave, you get to stay with us forever!" To know the bond they've developed will continue warms my heart beyond measure. To continue to meet her needs is a pleasure. We get to watch her grow up. I look forward to sharing the story of this journey with her, of God's great love for her, of how precious she is.

This just feels so surreal. I have more work to do to unpack my thoughts and I have more to share regarding fostering. While we will move into an adoptive role as a family, I know we will continue to serve the foster community locally. I look forward to figuring that out.

I'm looking at her watch Daniel Tiger on TV while I type this at the breakfast table. She's happy. She's safe. After being born into a world of unknowns she now, finally, has a defined future. I love you baby girl and I always will.

Post Surgery

Yesterday's surgery is over. It all went well and my recovery so far has been fine. The doctor says he is very pleased with the procedure and thinks I'll heal up well. I struggled with some initial nausea due to the anesthesia but that seems to be behind me now. Pain is manageable. Most annoying part is having to breathe through my mouth.

The whole hospital experience was a bit surreal. I wasn't necessarily nervous, it was just the newness of everything and the waiting. While I know I was conscious I don't remember going into the OR because at that point they were already giving me doses of meds to help me relax. Next thing I remember was waking up in the recovery room. I'm happy to not remember anything more than that.

I have a follow-up with the Doctor on Monday which is when I'll have my splints and bandages removed. I'll mostly be resting until then and trying not to scare the kids too much.

Thank you for the prayers and kind words. It feels great to be on the other side of this thing now and your support has been fantastic!

Going Under the Knife

In Elementary school I got into a fight with another kid. The circumstances arose from some pointless squabble we had and for whatever reason we decided we should fight the next day during recess. By nature I'm not much of a fighter, but due to our disagreement, and because the rest of the school knew about it, I suppose I felt obligated to go through with it. This would be my first fist-fight but I wasn't too worried. He was smaller and I knew I could take him.

Of course, as fate would have it, he gets into trouble the day of the fight and has to stay inside during recess. So he calls in a ringer: a friend of his who was easily the same build as I was and now I felt my confidence waining. I had no beef with Ben, but the fight was set and it was too late for me to back out.

So we headed to the empty paddock beyond the border of our playground, the one away from the school and behind the trees, which helped hide our activity from the teachers. Kids lined the fence and Ben and I began the show. I didn't know what to do, again I really had no reason to fight Ben. We circled each other while the kids taunted us. Recalling it now it feels fresh but ultimately surreal. I didn't feel the need to throw the first punch. In hindsight maybe I should've.

I can still picture it. His face grimaced. His right fist clenched. The feeling of it slamming into my face as he nailed me with a right hook. A friend of mine told me I looked like William Dafoe in Platoon when he goes down after being shot (thanks, friend). I remember blood, but I don't remember the pain. I remember being angry. I remember getting him on the ground and "punching" him but not with much ferocity because I still couldn't bring myself to truly fight him, for the strangest reason, even though I had blood pouring down my face. It's a memory that is still with me and I have so many questions I'd like to ask my 5th grade self. But the short of it is, he won and my nose was broken.

I remember going to the school bathroom to clean up. I remember deciding not to tell my parents. That's the last thing I remember. The only physical reminder is a broken nose that I've had ever since.

In December of last year I decided to see an ENT about having it fixed. That spiraled into me meeting with a reconstructive plastic surgeon. This Monday I have my surgery to have it all corrected. He's repairing a deviated septum and re-centering my crooked nose. The procedure will take roughly 3.5 hours. It's all feeling very real to me now.

This is my first surgery. I know I shouldn't, but all I can think about is what my face must look like during those 3.5 hours. I don't dig slasher flicks. The whole thing has me feeling a bit squeamish. But it's the benefits of what I aim to gain on the other side of the knife that get me excited. Maybe, for the first time in what seems like forever, I can finally sleep through the night comfortably breathing through my nose. Maybe allergy season won't be so brutal. Maybe my asthma won't flair up as much while exercising. If only one of these three things comes true I'll dub the whole ordeal a success. Realistically I should see improvements across the board.

So here's to anesthesia, nasal splints, sleeping elevated for a week, bruises and a slew of meds! Maybe I'll use some of my recovery time and re-watch Platoon.

Answering My Foster Questions

Foster training provided a wealth of knowledge for us but obviously there are plenty of questions that are left unanswered during that period because the answers require first-hand experience. With this post I'd like to talk through the questions I had going into fostering and how they have been answered so far.

How will my kids take to having a foster child in our home?

I touched on this a little bit with my previous post, but I want to bring it back up again because this was one of the first questions that came up when we decided to start the fostering process. Our boys are awesome kids and generally very friendly. They have the typical moments you'd expect where they don't get along at times, but over all they are best friends and there's a brotherhood bond there that brings me great joy. I know part of that stems from the knowledge that they're part of the same family. So what would their response be to another child in our home, a baby at that, who would require a great deal of focus from both my wife and I? How much would they understand about who this child is and why we're doing this? Would they be jealous? Would they not treat him or her as equal?

Their response has been one of the biggest answers to prayer for us. From the beginning and to this day they treat baby girl as their sister. They've loved on her, never once acted in a jealous manner nor challenged why she's here at all. In fact they've both shown an enthusiasm and desire to have her remain part of our family forever.

At this stage they both have a good understanding of who baby girl is and that there's a chance she may have to return to her family. We've been upfront with them from the beginning that she has another mom and dad and that we're just taking care of her because she needs a safe place to stay. Sharing with them openly and honestly about what we're doing (in terms they would understand) has proved to be a wise decision.

How much information will the birth family have about my family?

Fostering thrusts you directly into the lives of strangers. From day one we were provided with a lot of information regarding baby girl's birth family and her life up until the day we took her into care. While having that information was helpful for us to have context about her, it was uncomfortable to learn certain facts about people we don't know. Then, going forward with the fostering journey, we knew we would have visitations with her family. We learned that those visitations would take place at a neutral location, CPS' office, which gave us peace.

We were unsure how meeting her family face-to-face would go, but thankfully everyone behaved in a civil and respectable manner. Conversations were brief as interactions at the visitations were limited basically to dropping her off and picking her back up. Over time we saw these moments as an opportunity to help baby girl's family, which leads me to share an important mindset we've had during this journey.

From day one we've understood our role and stuck to it, which is: to provide a safe, loving and nurturing environment for a child in need. This child is not ours and if her parents are able to make great progress and restore their ability to care for her safely, then that is worth celebrating! We did not get into fostering with our end goal being adoption, so our efforts were entirely in service to her and the hope of reunifying with her family. So, we sought opportunities to let her family know that she is safe and cared for, so that they would not worry about her and could focus on getting well. We used the short interactions we had with her mom and dad at visitations to communicate this mindset.

Will I have thoughts of quitting?

The more you learn about fostering the more you realize how hard it is. I often equated it to being on a long journey in which you can only see what is directly in front of your feet and that's it. You knew you were headed in some sort of direction, but most of the time you had no idea where you were going to end up. Having that many unknowns can be unnerving. Couple that with being up in the middle of every night with feedings and changing diapers of a child who is not your own and you can begin to see how easy the thought of "Hey, is this all worth it? This isn't even my own kid!" can creep in. But if I'm honest I had similar thoughts with our two boys who ARE our biological kids. :) Caring for an infant is a challenge. Period. It stretches you in ways you just aren't prepared for. So while times were tough I thankfully never entertained thoughts of throwing in the towel. I allowed hard moments to exist, I acknowledged them, and I moved on.

If I believe a child needs unconditional love from day one will I be able to go that far with one who is not my own?

This is a biggie. Huge. It's one we often get from other people. I mean, how do you love a child who is not your own and may be out of your life abruptly? Do you go all in with your love? Do you hold back part of yourself for safety sake?

When we had our boys I was amazed at how naturally the idea of "unconditional love" invaded my life. Getting up in the middle of the night to tend to him, to help my wife, to set aside other plans...wasn't that hard. Over time sure it becomes more challenging because the newness wears off and that degree of love becomes a lifestyle choice, because living sacrificially isn't natural. But now we were presented with a 3 month old who through no fault of her own was placed in a home of strangers. She needed the same unconditional love. All children do.

So we jumped. No holding back. You go all in. You have to, because she needs it.

And now, 17 months in, that's a lot of unconditional love. It feels like we're still falling from the jump we made, unsure what kind of landing we'll have. Sometimes people say something like "I don't know how you can do that. I don't think I could." I get that. Honestly it's hard for me to write out a plan on how I've been able to love baby girl fully for 17 months and still know that I'm not promised a future with her. All I can say is God showed up and has expanded my heart to possess the ability to love like this, like He does. I had to jump. He had to do the work of the heart.

What happens if we have to say goodbye?

The lingering question. We have not gone full circle with this placement and so we don't know if we will have to say goodbye. I don't like to dwell on it but I know I need to ponder it for myself but mostly for my family. I know the role I'll have to play in helping us mourn if she has to move on. We'll mourn for sure. It'll be incredibly painful. But I have hope. I have hope because God has already shown me a capacity to love that is beyond my ability and while I can't see the road ahead and I still feel like I'm falling, I know I'm not alone.

James 1:27 says:

"Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world."

With the faith I have in God I believe our service to baby girl and her family aligns with His will. I believe the work we're doing honors Him and I believe He is meeting us where we're at and providing for us. That explains my capacity to love. That explains why we can risk the thought of saying goodbye. That doesn't free us from pain. We are not promised that everything will work out exactly like we hope. But, we do have hope that the work we are doing now is helping to repair the trauma she's already experienced.

There is more to share, especially regarding the really hard realities of fostering. I will continue to share in the days to come. For those of you who are supporting us during this process, thank you! Your words of encouragement, offers to help and prayers are a blessing to me and my family.

I Am A Foster Parent

About two years ago my wife and I decided to officially commit to the process of becoming licensed foster parents. That wasn't the first time we considered it. Prior to our second child being born we began the process but were pleasantly surprised by the news that we were expecting, so we put fostering on hold. Two years ago he was 3 and we felt led to begin the discussion again.

As of today we've been fostering a little girl for almost 17 months.

I've been wanting to write about our journey with fostering for awhile now but have found it difficult to get started. I think I was hesitant at first because it was all so new and I was experiencing a myriad of new emotions that I felt blogging about it that early on would possibly be irresponsible. Then as time passed the shear amount of information that I wanted to share began to overwhelm me, so I shied away from starting. But I haven't been able to shake the desire to share, so without much of a plan or formal structure I'm launching into a series of posts which will discuss my experience so far.

How did it all start?

At the time my wife and I began discussing the idea of fostering we had one biological child of our own. We discussed the idea of having another kid, but we're also at peace with the thought of only having one. So the introduction of the idea of fostering from the beginning was never about having more kids or due to a lack of ability for us to have kids, though that is a fairly common reality for some people. For us the idea centered on wanting to help kids who need help. We saw an opportunity to open our home to kids who need a safe place to call "home", for whatever period of time that may be. The more we learned about the reality foster kids live in every day the more our hearts broke. Even though we were still young parents and figuring it all out, we felt we had a home we could share and more of ourselves we could give.

So we started the process. We knew very little about how to get started, so we contacted CPS and attended an initial informational meeting. It was shortly after this time when we found out we were pregnant with our second son. It was clear to us that we had a passion growing inside us, but God had a different time table for us. In retrospect we are so thankful for how the timing worked out. Not only because we now have two wonderful boys whom we love dearly, but also because of the extra years of parenting we then had under our belt plus better connections and friendships which would help guide us into a better way to begin the licensing process instead of going to CPS directly.

While the timing was better now for practical reasons, the decision to pick back up the fostering conversation for me personally was hard to make. My wife still greatly wanted us to do it and felt prompted by God to pursue it again. I still had the same desires to help kids, but I was getting used to the fact that we had emerged from the newborn fog and that our kids were old enough for us to stretch out our schedules and do things again which are just not easy to do when you have a baby in the house. But in service to the desires of my wife's heart and personal convictions to help kids I supported us picking back up the process and becoming licensed.

The Licensing Process

This time around we opted to align with a fostering agency. Through a recommendation we landed with Caring Family Network here in Austin and have absolutely loved working with them. CFN provides us training and leadership which has given us a great deal of comfort as we have been on this journey. The training we went through opened our eyes a great deal to what we were signing up for. We learned about what the fostering system looks like, how the state involved, CPS' role, and a lot of information regarding what the kids experience. Everything shared with us regarding the kids was the hardest to take in. Sessions on trauma and abuse broke us. The reasons why kids end up in the foster care system can be horrible enough, but to also hear how being in the system can cause trauma was an eye-opener. Sitting through these sessions and going through the material only solidified our desire to play our part. The licensing process took about seven months (due to our own pacing, it can be done faster) and in September of 2014 we became licensed foster parents.

At the start we decided to begin as certified Respite for foster families so we could take a smaller initial step rather than jumping fully into a placement situation. Respite is essentially babysitting for foster families. When you have a child you are fostering there are limitations as to who can care for that child in your absence, like if you needed to leave town for a wedding or just want to go on a date. We felt this would give us a snapshot as to the world we were about to jump into. We watched two girls for one day, but pretty much right after we were certified we started to get calls for placements. We decided we would welcome a child from birth age to 2 years old. There is a large need for foster families who are willing to take in teenagers or sibling groups, but we didn't feel qualified for that scenario since our own kids were still so young. The calls we were getting were for infants. It only took the first call for us to realize we needed to jump in rather than wade in gently. We'd come this far, it was time to go all in.

Those weeks when calls would come were nuts. Our house was ready, but there's no way to emotionally prepare for that experience. You're on the edge of your seat, knowing the phone will ring at any moment day or night. And when it did, we were told a little about the child and that we might need to be ready to welcome him or her in within a couple of hours. So you're on constant alert, starting to imagine what was about to happen, but then time would pass and we'd find that the child had gone to another home. This was exhausting, but eventually we got the call that would turn into our first placement.

Welcoming Baby Girl

The call came in saying there was a little girl who needed a home. She was about 3 months old and in the NICU due to a variety of reasons. Our second child spent a month in the NICU, so we already had experience with that (which we found out was a factor into why we were picked). After a weekend of my wife meeting her and spending time with her there at the hospital we welcomed her into our home.

For specific reasons I am unable to share her name or post a photo, so from her on out I will be referring to her as "Baby Girl". She was so sweet. We all fell in love with her right away. One of the biggest questions I had in my mind since the start is how my boys would take to having another child in the house, especially one who wasn't ours. I'm going to write a whole post about that and how we handle talking to them about what our family is doing, but I'll say from day one they were warm, loving, welcoming and just amazing! I was blown away. My wife and I wanted one of the reasons we did this to be so our kids could see a world beyond their own and serve together as a family. We want them to know that life is not just about themselves and a big component to the purpose of their life is to care for others.

We welcomed Baby Girl into our home in October 2014 and she's been with us ever since. I have so much to share about what that's been like and I promise to do so. My hope with writing about all of this is to help spread the word about fostering, open eyes & hearts, and for myself so that I can put the past 17 months into words. My goal is not to turn everyone into a foster parent. It's not for everyone and it's definitely not something you jump into lightly. But it has been an incredible ride for me and I'm thankful I chose to set aside some of my own comfort and live the life of a foster parent.