Friday, August 15, 2014

Throwback Thursday

As usual, I am laying in bed, head swarming with thoughts I wish to pen. 

(Is that expression even valid anymore? I'm definitely writing this on my blogger app on my iPhone.)

Ok... So thoughts I wish to iPhone out to you.

First, today is throwback Thursday. And I don't feel like I have to reach back very far to feel like I'm back in the past.

The past where I wore cute clothes. The past where I had time to exercise every day. The past where I slept a whole.freaking.night.long. (What is that even like?!?!? It's been so long it seems...) The past where I'm a strong motivated business women. The past where I had just two kiddoes, and was unsure if we'd ever add a third.

The past ... As in a week ago.

The changes in the last week are obvious.

I wear less make-up. My hair is always in a pony. I have absolutely no idea how to even make a phone call. I am so tired, I incorrectly gave out my social security number AND my husband's cell phone number -- twice. My bedroom has a discernably larger amount of boy's clothing in it. My dishwasher has way more bottles than I have ever (ever) used before. And my fridge has way more yummy, prepared meals than ever. (And yet, I'm definitely not cooking.)

And my heart has grown so much bigger because I get to love on one dear, sweet, insomniac little baby.

TBT -- and it was exactly a week ago we got the call about Baby Z. A week ago I nervously kept my kids at Ryan's softball game -- counting the minutes till we could meet Baby Z. 

A week ago, we packed up the kids at 9 pm to drive out and meet him. And a week ago, exactly at this time, I emailed our social worker to let her know ...


Baby Z hasn't been with us for a full week yet. But it seems that everything, everything has changed. 

Some for the good. 

And some for the bad.  (I miss you Jillian Michaels!!)

I have so much to share about this week. What (very.very.very) little I can share about him. Whether we plan to adopt again ... About how you can help foster kids when you can't foster. And what it's like to "parent" a baby after trying for so long, and grieving so many losses.

So my head is spinning, full of blogposts I long to write. But my baby is sleeping (hallelujah!) which means I should too.

So I will leave you with this:  please pray for Baby Z. For his bio family. For his other family (namely, us Lewises.) Pray for wise doctors, on-it social workers and judges, and doctors with discerning eyes and hearts.

Pray for Baby Z, that no matter how or when, he will end up in a safe, loving and nurturing environment.

And pray that when it is time, our family will have the strength to let go.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

There are more Jenises out there

Photo credit: FBI photo

This week, our community held its breath.

We faced some of our worst fears. We whispered prayers to whatever god we believe in. And we watched, and waited and waited, and waited. 

Soon, it wasn't just our community hoping and praying for a little girl -- a stranger to many of us, yet we thought of her and prayed for her as though she were one of our own. The entire nation joined us ... waiting, hoping and praying.

And today our worst fear was realized. 

Precious 6-year-old Jenise Wright was confirmed to have been murdered, after being reported missing late Sunday night.

Maybe because my Maddy is so close to her age. Maybe because her home is literally a 5-minute drive from my house. Maybe because the murder of a 6-year-old is just unthinkable. Maybe because I drive by the police and FBI cars, police tape and "Road Closed" signs on my way home from the store. 

Whatever it is, this little girl has been constantly on my mind, in my heart, and in my fervent prayers since I learned about her disappearance on Monday. 

During this week, I have been checking the news, reading reports, and watching all the status updates as the search for her grew. I kept my eyes peeled everywhere I went. I wondered if she was scared, alone, in pain or already with Jesus.

And I held my own daughters tighter ... Praying gratitude over their very real presence in my life. Their deep breathing at night became a miracle. The minutes with them were not to be taken for granted.

Yet as I grieve this little girl I never knew, a thought keeps coming to the surface, and I just can't shake it. 

There are more Jenises out there

We don't know all the facts about her murder. We don't know all the details about her family. But I think that it is a fair assumption that her parents allowing their 6-year-old to wander the neighborhood without any real knowing of her whereabouts ...  or even awareness of when she was entering or leaving the house ... put this child at risk. 

She was a vulnerable child. 

And there are many others just like her. 

These are children we don't hear about because they are removed from their homes before they disappear or are found murdered in the woods. 

I know these children exist because the day police found Jenise's remains, we got the call to take a vulnerable child into our home.

Here is a baby whose story could have made headlines ... But thank goodness it didn't. 

And yet, I wonder about if it had. 

I wonder what your response would have been had you come to memorize the features of his face from watching the news every night, instead of seeing my Facebook posts with his updates. I wonder if I would have seen the same sentiments that I have seen posted on Facebook as friends rightly expressed outrage at the apparent neglect of Jenise's parents. 

"Precious baby girl," I read this week, "If they find her, I would adopt her and give her the love and care she deserves."

A justifiable sentiment. 

But then I have to wonder ... Would you really?

Would you carve the necessary weeks out to do all the training needed to be a licensed foster home? Would you lock up all your medicine, adjust your parenting practices, and put privacy aside as social worker after social worker inspects your home and reviews every. Single. Detail. About your life? 

Would you fill out an an obscene amount of paperwork that makes giving birth look like a walk in the park?

Would you take the risk that you may care for a child with all you have, knowing that any day they could be taken from your home? Will you make room for them in your budget, set a place for them at your table, and carve away your precious time for doctors' appointments, specialists and court proceedings?

You see, it's easy to be outraged when we hear of child abuse or neglect. 

It is easy to cry, to mourn, and to wish that things had turned out differently. It is easy to believe that had they been in our home, they would have been safe, and loved, and cared for. 

It is, however, quite a different thing to actually take that child into your home, and make sure that they are safe, and loved, and cared for.
And I guess what I want to know is ... Are you willing? 
Ryan and I had about 12 hours to make our decision. I could not escape the fact that as I was devastated to learn of Jenise's death, here was another vulnerable child -- another potential Jenise. 

Would we say "no" as taking a child right now is not convenient? Would we choose our lifestyle of comfort over a lifestyle of sacrifice?

This is what we wrestled with. 

And to be honest, it really came down to principle. We had no red flags in taking this child ... Just a pretty solid belief that this is what we need to do ... Come what may. 

I do not write this from a spirit of "look what we're doing!" I write this from a scared, trembling little heart. A heart and will that are desperately relying on God to empower our family, strengthen me as a mom, and fill in the gaps for us where we fall short. 

I write this knowing that our community around us ... The love, the support, the prayers ... Make it possible for us to say yes. 

I write this from the humble knowledge that this burden to care for a child really is so light. Other Christians are being called to stay faithful even as their children are being beheaded, their wives are raped and abducted, and their husbands as killed. 

What is our service to God in light of such sacrifice? 

And yet. It still matters. It matters a lot.

To be honest, the timing is not perfect. The finances are not perfect. And, to be oh-so frank, Ryan and I are FAR (f     a     r) from perfect. 

Week don't have all our stuff together. I still haven't registered Maddy for school or gotten Leyla's new social security card yet. Just like every mom I know, finding balance feels elusive sometimes. 

In short, taking on another child right now is far from convenient. 

But then again ... Being neglected by your parents and at-risk for abuse and even death is not convenient. Being abandoned at a drug house is not convenient. Being let down by person, after person, after person until you've lost all faith in God and humanity is not convenient. Being raised by a 5-year-old sibling because your parents are strung out on drugs is not convenient. Being born drug or alcohol addicted is not convenient. Being forced to move in and out of homes by the whim of some almighty judge is not convenient. Being forced to have weekly visits with your abusers (albeit supervised) is not convenient. Not knowing where you belong, being separated from your siblings, and standing out in school are not convenient.

Being at the total whim of a broken government system is not convenient. 

We feel for these children. As we rightly should. By all means, let us have compassion and grieve for their losses.

But I urge you to do more. Let us not just feel. Let us act.

I get that we cannot all be foster parents. I get it. But I think there are those of us out there that need to step up. We need to get our homes ready, take the classes and bite the bullet to commit. So when a child like Jenise comes along, we are ready.

If you absolutely cannot be a long-term foster parent, ask yourself what you CAN do. Maybe you could do receiving care (short term care between 1-4 weeks). Maybe you could do respite care? Maybe you could donate clothes or no-longer-needed baby items to families doing foster care? Maybe you could make that family a meal when they receive a child into their home? Maybe you could commit to praying for them, babysit for them, or call them and really listen to how they are doing? 

Of course, foster kids aren't the only ones at risk.

Maybe you are sponsoring a child. Maybe you are volunteering with at-risk youth. Maybe you are helping support victims of sex-trafficking. Maybe you are delivering food or clothes to children in Africa. Maybe you have adopted a child from an orphanage. 

But if you are not doing anything yet ... Ask yourself? What are you willing to do? Where is God calling you to help? Where can you use the time, money and resources you've been blessed with to make a difference?

If you chose to foster, you should know:
The foster care system is broken. The situation will likely not be perfect. There is a real risk that you may end up with a broken heart. You will wonder some days what on earth you were thinking when you signed up to do this. There will be loss, heartache and fatigue. 

But there will also be one more guarantee. 

You are making a huge difference in the life of one of God's precious children. Your standing in the gap could literally save their lives.

There are more Jenises out there. 

And I want to know ... Will you join me in doing something about it?


*If you chose to research foster care (woo hoo!), I would urge you to get licensed through an agency. In many cases, this is absolutely free. We went through Youth For Christ, and cannot recommend it enough. The social worker on the child's side represents the child (as they should.) Your case worker in the agency will represent your family, and will make sure that you understand everything the social worker is saying. They will keep you up-to-date on licensing requirements, offer trainings, and be there as a very real support to your family. So definitely, definitely, go through an agency. :)

Monday, August 4, 2014

Making room for gratitude -- Making room for God


There are 2 things I don't really love ... 

Watching TV. 

And window shopping. 

It's not that those things don't bring small pleasures in the moment. Trust me ... I love great design, especially in updated houses and darling clothes. 

But I have noticed that setting out to see things I cannot afford breeds ugly discontentment in my heart. 

Perhaps it doesn't cause it ... But like sugar with candida, it fuels discontentment's parasitic growth until I'm overcome with a desire for something I don't have. 

Suddenly all those cute summer dresses I bought last year just aren't enough for that upcoming business event. The house I have done my best to decorate on a budget just isn't stylish or functional enough. My body -- which just hours earlier felt strong and attractive as I exercised, hoisted my daughters in the air to their delight, and wrapped my husband in a bear hug -- suddenly feels less than. 
My muscles could use more toning. My legs are too lumpy to look good in a bikini. My hair is too thin and short. My face is too scarred from acne. My womb is too jacked up to give life to babies.

And so it goes. 

This insipid distaste for the things that once delighted me seeps in quietly, masked as ambition for more. 

When I have that promotion ...

When our income can keep up with the lifestyle I want ...

When we are in a position to buy a house ...

My spirit begins to insist that I deserve more than God has chosen to give me at this moment. It is a fool's pride.

While ambition and striving have their place (as do promotions and buying houses), my motivation must be for something greater than me. Greater than that next big thing. Greater than private school, and fun vacations, and an unlimited grocery budget. (Or shopping budget.)

There must be more room in my life. Not for more stuff. But for more gratitude. For more of God himself.

I must ask myself ...

Where is my gratitude that my family is safe and sheltered in our home when I am jealously eyeing that renovated kitchen on HGTV?

Where is my heart when I'm so keen on noticing my many flaws, instead of delighting in my good health, strong muscles and bones, and a body that enables me to do almost anything I want to do?

What would God say to me as I jealously watch others' pregnancies progress to babies, when He saved my daughter Madelyn, and blessed us undeservedly with little Leyla?

When I start nitpicking, I must chose to breathe a silent prayer of gratitude. 

Lord, even as my home doesn't reflect all that I want for it... You have provided in abundance. We are blessed beyond measure. And it helps me look forward to the home you, the ultimate designer, have created in heaven. 

Thank you for my health ... My heart that pumps blood, lungs that breathe in your fresh, foresty air, and legs that -- while lumpy -- still take me everywhere I need to go. 

Lord, thank you for allowing me to be a mom. Even as I may always struggle with my lack of fertility, thank you for bringing my husband and kids into my life. Thanks for keeping my other babies safe and happy with you in heaven while I wait to meet them. Thank you that you will use my suffering in some way to bring you glory and serve others. Thank you that my pain won't go to waste.

As I breathe in the truths of how rich I already am, I pray that you would fill me up even more with the realization of your many blessings in my life. 

May thankfulness, a spirit of abundance, and unending gratitude mark my character, and hem me in. May it keep out ugly jealousies, quiet discontent, and an attitude that tells me that you have not given me enough.

May my heart be glad ... 

Even as darling clothes call my name from behind the thick glass at that sweet little boutique.

Even as I appreciate the creativity and fabulous design that went into their granite countertops in the kitchen, beautiful soaker tub and hardwood floors. (Not to mention that fabulous backsplash!) 

May the only call for more in my heart be that of needing more of you.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Fostering-to-adopt: Our story, Part 3, The Big Reveal

For my part 3, I'm so excited that Deanna (Leyla's first foster mom) agreed to co-write this post with me.

Up until this point, our lives were very much separate. They were foster parents of a darling almost-1-year-old. We were licensed foster parents with no placement and no prospective placements, who just so happened to babysit their daughter a few times.

And then life -- OK, God -- threw us together in this crazy plot that none of us could have written on our own.

Before you continue with my Part 3 (and Deanna's Part 4), be sure to catch up on our stories.
My Part 1 and Part 2.  And Deanna's Part 1, Part 2 & Part 3.

And now . . .  the big reveal.

The next part of the story has no logical order of events. It gets all jumbled up in my head when I
remember it, because I’m pretty sure it all happened simultaneously. And really fast. It happened really fast.

In January, we met a new respite family: the Lewis family. Dropping Leyla off for the first time we met Ryan and Rachel and their sweet daughter Maddy. Conversation flowed easily and we were confident in the loving care Leyla would receive in their home. It was such a treat to receive pictures and updates and an occasional question via text message while we were away. They were able to watch Leyla for us on a few more occasions that winter.

 I'll never forget when the Gemmers first walked through our front door and into our lives. We talked easily enough, crowded together in our entry way by discarded coats, shoes, a huge suitcase and a tiny child strapped into an infant seat. 

Laundry was spread all over my living room (but I think it was at least folded.) I felt self-conscious suddenly. What if our home . . . what if WE . . . weren't good at this? What if we weren't enough somehow?

In spite of the copious amounts of laundry, the Gemmers never let on that they were uncomfortable leaving Leyla with us. As much as I enjoyed the small talk, I was ready to get that sweet baby into my arms. :) 

As I mentioned in my previous post, it did not take long for me to fall completely head over heels for Leyla -- and feel in my heart as though she were already mine.

A few days after Leyla came home from one of these respite visits, I received a call from her social
worker checking in on a few things. Before we hung up, the worker asked me how the weekend at the
Lewis’ had gone, and I just knew.

From the tone of her voice and the way she asked the question, I knew that she had the Lewis’ file on
her desk and that they were in consideration to be Leyla’s forever family.

I had quite a bit of traveling coming up, and in between my trips, we had respite planned for Leyla. I think we had her for about 3 different visits over a few weeks.

I remember going to our MEND leadership conference in Texas, and I looked at the pictures of Leyla that I had on my phone from our visits each night before I went to sleep. I was smitten. I was pretty much counting the days until she could be with us again.

Ryan decided to take the First Placement class that we needed to take to keep our license current. Sigh -- more training. At least this time, we both didn't have to take it. Which freed me up to work my business, and take care of my traveling. 

During this time between respites, I was taking a 36-hour class required for our foster license and,
though most of it was very interesting, it little had to do with the baby in our care. So I spent a lot of
time in class cross-stitching, listening, and thinking about our sweet girl.

One night I went home and suggested to Darin that maybe we shouldn't keep Leyla until she was legally free. That every day she was reaching new exciting milestones and wouldn't her forever family be sad that they missed them? That every day she was becoming more attached to us, and wouldn't that make things harder on her in the long run? That maybe there would be a family out there willing to take the risk and take her now?*

Turns out Ryan Lewis was in that 36-hour class with me. Even though I didn’t have any official
information, my gut knew that their file was on our worker’s desk. I knew that they were a lovely family. I knew that we had connected. I knew bits and pieces of their story of infertility and loss. I knew they were completely smitten with Leyla. I knew they had an empty crib.

I wondered what God was doing.

*Leyla was not yet legally free, and wouldn’t be for quite a few more months. This meant that while
adoption was looking likely, there was still a chance the biological parents would be given more time, a smaller chance that would be granted custody, and still opportunities for a relative caregiver to come forward.

The night I got home from my trip, I was sitting at my computer. I'll seriously never forget this moment. You know how you remember exactly where you were when you found out Princess Diana died? OK, kinda like that. Except . . . no one died. But the memory is seriously vivid.

It was really late at night. Ryan was about to head to bed. He had just finished his foster care class. And then, he drops a bombshell on me.

I really wanted to stay quiet, I really did. I asked God to hold my tongue and let him work. But I also
didn’t want this amazing family to get away. I knew I didn’t get to choose Leyla’s family, but I really
wanted it to be this one. And so when I look back I don’t know if what I did next was right, but it is what it is.

I don’t remember the specifics of the conversation, but after class one night as Ryan and I were chatting, I told him that Leyla was likely headed towards adoption, but that our family was going to continue to do foster care, and therefore were not available to adopt. We left it at that, but I knew a seed had been planted.

The phone call I received from Rachel within hours of my conversation with Ryan confirmed that.

"So, uh, the Gemmers are not adopting Leyla," Ryan mentions before he heads to bed after a long night at training.

Shock. Silence. A billion questions at once. And then tears. Lots and lots of tears.
Someone might have thought someone had died. But they hadn't. 
I cried for Leyla. I cried for this little girl who had already lost once, and would lose again. I wondered how she could cope, being away from the only family she ever knew. The loss of a second family was too much it seemed for someone so young, vulnerable and small. 
I never judged the Gemmers. Not once. But boy did I mourn for Leyla. 

Since Ryan could not answer any one of my billion questions, I called Deanna just as soon as I could. I can't remember if it was that night, or the next morning. But I knew that yesterday wouldn't have been soon enough.

I didn't know what the plan was for this baby. But I knew I wanted to be a part of it.

I needed to know why they weren't going to adopt. 

And then, I wanted to know if we could.

We met up for coffee a day or two later and while carefully skirting the line between sharing
information, and keeping confidential things that were meant to be confidential, I told her much of our journey, and she shared a lot of hers. I told her that it would be a risk to take Leyla with the hopes of adoption, but I also shared my reasons for feeling now would be the right time for her to move.

We met at Starbucks. Deanna came in her adorable yellow peacoat. She was so put together, so immaculate. Even as I tried to smear my makeup on in an acceptable manner that morning, I still felt disheveled. It was not so much an outward thing, I don't think. It was more like I was having the most important interview I would ever have, for a job "title" that one does not normally interview for. How could one ever feel prepared enough to talk to the current mom of the baby you hope to adopt?

We discussed as much as we could legally without crossing any lines. It's hard in foster care, because until you're "in" . . . there is so much you are not allowed to know. 

I remember she had a friend sitting at a table next to us. She introduced us, and the whole thing felt awkward. How does one say, "Hi, I'm Rachel, and I'm trying to learn from your friend here if we might be able to adopt her baby." Deanna instead introduced me as a new friend, and the old friend had no idea what Deanna and I were up to.

I think I drilled Deanna on everything that I could. And she answered guardedly when necessary, openly when allowed. I learned why they weren't adopting. I shared with her my stories of loss. It turned out, we had lots in common. And (I think) we just generally liked each other, and were excited at the prospect of what God seemed to be up to.

But everything still rested in the hands of our social workers. And until our social workers officially asked us to adopt, our hopes and plans could have been for nothing.

The next few weeks are sort of a blur, but basically our agency and our social workers were clued in that Rachel and I were on the same page. There were so many conversations that I really can’t tell you how it all went down. Maybe Rachel remembers?

Yep. I  remember. For about a week, I knew the Gemmers weren't adopting, and I was hoping for a call from our social worker. Meanwhile, Ryan and I were already thick in the throes of deciding whether we would adopt if we were given the opportunity to do so. We had our dear friends and family praying a TON about it.

I was in the bathroom, getting ready for the morning, when our social worker called. She let us know that the Gemmers wouldn't be adopting, which I already knew. She asked if we would consider taking in Leyla now, with the goal of adoption if the parental rights were relinquished.  (YESSS!!!!)

I gave her all the right answers, like "We'll have a lot of questions we need to discuss with you." And "Ryan and I will have to do a lot of talking and praying." The truth is, I really could have given her an answer right then. Ryan and I had already decided that we would be Leyla's potential adoptive parents, and were ready to take her in. But I didn't want to sound like I was making a casual decision. And Ryan and I did decide that we would hear ALL the details on the case first before we gave our final decision.

We were invited to come to a meeting with all the players in her case where we would go over all the details on her case, as well as her prognosis and any medical issues or delays she might have.

I do remember one final hurdle before the Lewises fully committed (although I was pretty sure it was just a formality at this point), was a big meeting at my house. It was Leyla’s 6-month review with the Holly Ridge Center and their birth-through-3 early intervention program. This was my status update that afternoon:

Displaying Untitled-1.jpg

It was a great meeting where we were able to celebrate the amazing progress that Leyla was making,
and address some of the new challenges we were facing.

And ultimately the meeting gave the Rachel the confidence to know that she had the skills and the
support to mother Leyla well.

I already knew she had the love.

She’d had it from the first day she met her.

Sitting in the Gemmer's home, surrounded by strangers with a little girl playing at my feet, was a very surreal experience. I listened to all the experts (the Gemmers, of course, and the physical therapist.) I learned fully of her background and prognosis. As many questions as I could come up with, they disclosed as much as they knew. 

And at the end of the meeting, I told them.

"We want to be Leyla's parents. And we're willing to take her in now."

The only thing that was left was to tell Leyla's biological parents of her move into her home. And to plan out her move into our home over the next few weeks.

 Keep posted for Parts 4 & 5: Transition.