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Friday, December 28, 2012

Forgotten Fridays: Do.Right.

I’ve been struck with a perspective adjustment recently- the “rightness” of our actions doesn’t mean the outcome will be pleasant.  I was thinking about this as I read through a fellow adoptive mama’s words of grief about a child who has chosen to reject her love.  Does that mean it was wrong to adopt him?  I thought about it again with a friend who is loving a baby for just a brief moment of potentially days or weeks before Baby lands in her permanent home.  This will be an act of love and sacrifice that may hurt.  Does that mean it isn’t the right thing to do?  And multiple friends who have committed to little ones they would love to keep forever, but their primary goal is reunification with a potentially troubled biological family.  These friends are passionate about what is best for these children they have come to love as their own, even if that means they suffer the pain of letting them go.

I am so scared that as the Body of Christ these families are the exception instead of the rule.  How many times do I hear somebody say, “I would never be a foster parent because I couldn’t bear it when they took the child away.”  I have perfected the understanding head nod, but inside I want to scream.  Do you think these amazing women- women who are changing foster baby diapers, dropping foster kids off at school, making foster kids’ dinners, loving adopted children who have come from places so dark they don’t even know how to accept love- are so cold-hearted they won’t be devastated by the loss of these children from their homes and lives, or by their rejection?  I know each of these women will be broken hearted when and if that day comes.  I know I was broken hearted when boys we houseparented had to leave because of their own poor choices or decisions made by their parents.  I was doubly broken hearted when we had to leave that job and I had to cry with them about the break-up of the family we had created.
So because it is painful to love and to lose, does that mean we choose not to love?  God forbid.
We choose to do what is right because it is RIGHT.  For no other reason.  Not because it feels good or because it will be so rewarding.  Sometimes we may not see that reward until we see The Father’s face and He explains to us why we had to walk that road.  But I would rather suffer the heartbreak to be obedient than to run away from pain and miss the joy of loving who God has called me to love.  If Christians are too afraid of pain to risk loving children they can’t keep and whose futures they can’t control, who will?  If we aren’t willing to do what’s right just because it’s right, what do we expect other people to do?
We do what’s right.  We do it without expecting to understand the ultimate outcome.  We do it with an open hand for what God’s plan might be.  We do it even when other people fail to understand.  We do it when it’s hard and when it costs and when we don’t want to.  We don’t do it because we’re martyrs or holier than thou, but because we’re motivated by obedience and a heart of compassion.
Cultural Christianity might try to convince us that health and wealth are the goals of our salvation.  We may want to believe that if we’re doing what God wants we will never be sad or experience loss.  We might try to avoid anything that could potentially cause our family pain and imagine we’re doing it because “God wants us to be happy.”  But I think we’ve missed the point of the Gospel if our lives become an exercise in protecting our happiness and personal comfort.
When faced with a decision- pray, use your God-given discernment, seek wise counsel, and then do RIGHT. And if that decision leads to what looks like sadness or pain, that doesn’t make it less right.  It might just confirm you were exactly where God wanted you to be.
Bless you, Mamas, in the thick of the fight for your children’s hearts.
Bless you, Mamas, loving children you cannot keep.
You are my heroes.

---
Maralee Bradley 

Maralee is a mother of four pretty incredible kids ages six and under. Three of them were adopted (one internationally from Liberia, two through foster care in Nebraska) and her fourth baby came the old fashioned way.  Prior to becoming parents Maralee and her husband were houseparents at a children’s home and worked with 17 boys during their five year tenure. Maralee is passionate about caring for kids, foster parenting and adoption, making her husband a fairly decent dinner every night, staying on top of the laundry, watching ridiculous documentaries, and trying to do it all for God’s glory. Maralee can be heard on My Bridge Radio talking about motherhood on “A Mother’s Heart for God” and what won’t fit in a 90 second radio segment ends up at  http://www.amusingmaralee.com/ 

Friday, December 21, 2012

Forgotten Friday's: the torment of the cross

From what I can tell, I am in the thick of things right now.  I guess you could say my foster care journey is heating up.  I am feeling the pressure, the strain.  I am crying out to God for strength, for perspective, for wisdom!

As I stand in the gap between this sweet little baby girl and the parents that God has given her by birth, I am frozen in fear. 
I love her.  I really love her! 
She has become a daughter.  She has become a sister.  She has become a granddaughter.  She has become a niece.  She feels like ours, yet we know she is not.  She may leave. 

As a mother, I am not sure I can hardly grasp that thought.  My humanness screams that this is unfair.  Unfair to me.  Unfair to her.  But is this true? 

Wouldn’t this baby want me to never give up on her mother?  Wouldn’t her ultimate dream be that her mother be healed?  Is it unfair to the mother for me to give up on her too quickly? Is it unfair to this baby girl?

I encourage the mom to do what is right.  I give her hope.  I tell her all things are possible through Christ.  I hang up the phone feeling like I lied.  I don’t want to give her hope.  That is not what my flesh wants.  My flesh wants her to go away and let me protect this precious child. 

I hear God silently whisper to me….
“mom’s salvation is just as important to me as the baby’s.”

How on earth will we survive this journey? 

The answer is clear when I read the scriptures.  In our flesh we will die, but through God’s grace and spirit, we will survive.  He will give us everything we need.  God will use ME to save the lost.  I can hardly comprehend this in my flesh.  This is meant to be painful. 
It is the torment of the cross that leaves me desperate for Jesus, yet THAT is exactly where I want to be.        
---
Jessi Esterling picture of kids standing
Director of Operations
Jessi and her husband Zach have two sons and are also foster parents. As a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and the former Director of Foster Care at the Children’s Home Association of Illinois, Jessi has worked in the foster care arena since 2003 where she experienced the overwhelming needs of this community. Jessi began volunteering for The Forgotten Initiative soon after its founding and in December 2011, she became the full-time Director of Operations.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Advocate Wednesday: Hear from Champaign County, IL!


Yesterday I had the opportunity to deliver Christmas gifts to an agency for Intact Families in our community. A local agency had identified families in their “intact” program who are actively engaging in services such as parenting classes, anger management, and counseling in order to bring positive changes to their families. Many of these families live in poverty and are unable to use the few resources they have to buy Christmas gifts for their children. A local church put out this request and church members adopted children to shop for and brought wrapped gifts the following Sunday.

When I first started this advocate journey, I didn’t know what the term ‘intact families’ meant. Now I know what it means, and now a local church in my community understands the term too. And Praise God they responded to the need! 
 
This is one of my favorite things about The Forgotten Initiative… one way we desire to mobilize the Body is by teaching them about the need.  Each time I meet with a caseworker or a foster parent, I learn something.
 
Yesterday I learned that the number of “Intact” families can change abruptly. . families are always being added to the program and sometimes children in these “intact” families enter the foster care system.

Each gift from this local church had a tag that said the family’s #, the child’s age, and whether or not the gift went to a female or male. As I sorted through the pile of gifts, I couldn’t help but think about the 22 families and the 56 children that were represented… the reason the gifts were there was because an agency expressed a need and a church responded to that need.  

It's that simple.  Learn the need, tell the need.  Hear the need, respond to the need.  Simple, but with an enormous impact as we share the love of Jesus.

Merry Christmas from Champaign County!



Jen Young and familyJen Young
Forgotten Advocate: Champaign County, IL
Jen Young has a passion to share with others the hope and joy she has found in Christ. Jen worked as a Helping Coordinator for a non-profit organization that offered different resources to the local poor but when her daughter was born, she left her job to become a stay-at-home mom. Through her own journey of parenting and a close friend’s foster care experiences, God began showing her His heart for the foster care community and now Jen serves as a Forgotten Advocate. She and her husband Matt have two children.

Click Here To Find Needs in the Champaign, IL Area

Friday, December 14, 2012

Forgotten Fridays: Big boys need love too


I am an advocate for foster care. No, seriously. It is so beautiful to me how many of my friends have gotten their foster license probably just so I'd quit hassling them about it. I believe so strongly in getting involved in caring for the needs of hurting children and I'm not sure how everybody else doesn't just have this same passion. I will talk to people in the library, strangers at the mall, your local church- I will talk to anybody, anywhere about foster care.

A lot of the people I talk to these days are young couples. I have kind of my standard spiel I give that's designed to help families think about foster parenting in ways that will not burn them out, protect the family they already have, and meet the needs that are out there. I advise families to only take kids younger than their youngest child. So if I'm talking to young families, this means I do a lot of advocating for the babies of the foster care system. Our two little ones came to us as infants not even able to sit up or crawl and my love for them makes me a bulldog about finding other families who will help the helpless. I also talk about babies because I think they reach into our hearts past our stereotypes of "foster children". We can see them as innocent victims more easily than when we look at teenagers. I also do a lot of talking to stay-at-home moms and I think there is a unique need for those women to take on the needs of babies too young or sick or insecurely attached to be sent off to daycare.

But all the while I'm talking about the babies, I'm thinking about My Boys. Not my sons, My Boys. Before becoming foster parents my husband and I spent five years as houseparents in a group home setting. The house could hold eight boys, but we usually had six or seven at a time. Let me be sure and clarify- these kids were not technically foster children, but were boys placed in a residential group home setting by their parents (who retained all parental rights) to keep them from entering foster care. During those five years we had a hand in helping to raise 17 boys. These kids were between the ages of six and eighteen during their years with us. We were responsible for not just their home life, but also their schooling because this place worked on a homeschool model where the houseparents functioned as the primary teachers. So right now I spend my time telling people that not every foster child is a fifteen year-old boy, but I am very VERY aware that some precious kids ARE fifteen year-old boys. And they are every bit as valuable and in need of love as the little ones.

So there are some things I'd like you to know about the big boys who are in need of a safe place to sleep tonight. This is one of those moments I'm glad I'm writing and not public speaking because there are tears in my eyes right now thinking about the faces of these boys I have loved.

Big boys need love, too. I will never forget watching a segment on a local tv show where a reporter was talking to a seventeen year-old who was available for adoption. The kid said he liked to hunt and fish and the reporter said he must really want a dad he could do that stuff with. The boy looked down and said pretty quietly, "And I want a mom, too." It still makes me weepy. Older kids know they've been neglected or abused. They know their families have chosen drugs or the bad relationship over being parents. And they know they need a mom. I had one student who lived with us who could be tough to connect with. I found myself sometimes avoiding interactions with him. One day I had a realization that I can only credit to the Holy Spirit. I remember thinking- if I don't tell him I love him today, that means he went an entire day without being told he was loved. That was a terrible thought to me, but it's the reality for a lot of kids right now. Kids have gone to bed tonight without anybody telling them they are worth loving. You know what? You could fix that.

Big boys want to protect you. When we first took our job as houseparents I was just 22 years-old. Did I mention our oldest student was 18? We could have been in high school at the same time. So I was worried that maybe I was putting myself at risk of physical harm to be living with these older kids from troubled backgrounds. A couple months into houseparenting I was walking in front of an outdoor mall with six of My Boys. I was concentrating on keeping them all together and under control, so I was totally oblivious to what was going on around me. The boys were really quiet for a couple minutes and then one turned to me and said, "See those guys over there? They were looking at you. But we starred them down." What a reversal from what I was expecting! Not only were these boys not intent on harming me (or anybody!), but they were protective of me. I also found this was true with the parents of My Boys. They may have troubled pasts or run-ins with the law, but when they appreciate what you are doing to keep their child safe, you can have no better advocate. They want to protect and defend you because you are loving their child. The majority of them became my friends and are women (and one dad) I am still in contact with to this day. (Of course there are exceptions and kids may cause physical harm to their foster families or families may be hostile. I just want to say that that is not always the case.)

Big boys will steal your heart. I once had a 13 year-old boy run by me and slap a post-it-note on the textbook I was reading with another student. On it he had written, "I wish you were my mom." I don't care what drama that boy caused during our houseparenting time (and boy did he cause a lot!), I loved him. I love him today. And he's still causing drama! You may think the babies are so cute or the toddlers are so funny, but these teenage boys can be as endearing as anybody. There were several boys (and one precious girl from the girls' house next door) over the years that if their parents had consented we would have adopted immediately.

Big boys are helpful and interesting. Seriously! They are at a great stage of development where you can help shape their ideas on love, marriage, work ethic, faith, EVERYTHING! I had one boy who would consistently get in trouble each week just so he could "suffer" the consequence of having to spend what should have been his free time cooking and cleaning with me. I'm sure there were better ways to handle that situation, but I had a lot of fun making banana bread with him every Saturday and he learned a lot about how to keep a house of twelve people running. He lived to please even when self-control was hard to come by.

Big boys are wise. We had a lot of kids come and go over the years and it seemed like we were often having the same conversations with them about how to handle the disappointments of having parents who struggled. One day when three of our younger boys were weeding a garden together I overheard our newest boy saying how his mom was going to buy him a dirt bike. Before I stepped in to clarify things for him, the two "veterans" (they were probably 9 and 10 at the time) started to talk to him about how their moms had made promises, too. They gave him the most kind and loving talk about how moms love you and want you to be happy, but they can't always do the things they say they can. It's amazing the depth to these boys who have struggled to understand their situations. That wisdom comes at a great price.

I miss My Boys. I'm thankful for the wonders of Facebook because I'm able to have contact with most of them. There are a couple I'm not longer in contact with- some because I can't find them, and some because they don't want to be in contact with me. I assume they feel ashamed of the decisions they're currently making and they don't want me to find out. It breaks my heart that they don't understand I will ALWAYS love them. This point was brought home to me in May when we got news that one of our first students had committed suicide. His brief life was complicated, but he had always kept in contact with us and we considered him family. His loss was felt greatly in our home.

This experience loving these boys has helped me to understand God's love in a deeper way. Even when I make decisions I'm not proud of, God continues to offer love. The space I put between us because of my shame is so unnecessary because He longs to draw me closer. And to think the love, the compassion, the forgiveness, the joy I feel for My Boys is just a fraction of how God feels towards them and towards me!

So when you think about what kind of child might be just the right fit for your family, don't dismiss the thought of an older boy! You might just miss a great blessing God wants you to experience. 

---
Maralee Bradley 

Maralee is a mother of four pretty incredible kids ages six and under. Three of them were adopted (one internationally from Liberia, two through foster care in Nebraska) and her fourth baby came the old fashioned way. Prior to becoming parents Maralee and her husband were houseparents at a children’s home and worked with 17 boys during their five year tenure. Maralee is passionate about caring for kids, foster parenting and adoption, making her husband a fairly decent dinner every night, staying on top of the laundry, watching ridiculous documentaries, and trying to do it all for God’s glory. Maralee can be heard on My Bridge Radio talking about motherhood on “A Mother’s Heart for God” and what won’t fit in a 90 second radio segment ends up at  http://www.amusingmaralee.com/

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Advocate Wednesday: Relentless Joy

 I used to dream, as a little girl, of that time when I would proclaim to all “Oh, everything is so perfect. My kids are perfect. My marriage is perfect. My desires and goals are all on schedule. Perfection. I am on top of this life. I have found JOY in “my perfection“.

Then as time goes on, and life really unfolds I have grown empty and unfulfilled striving for joy, in perfection. Those ideals have disappeared and my eyes have been opened into a world of hurt and pain. A world covered in sin and darkness. As I spend time, snuggled in the truth of the Bible, it comes alive. I am moved from the deepest parts of my soul, to “see” there is a much deeper way to live beyond “self.” The desire for perfection becomes less, and the desire to live for Christ, and as Christ did, is what I long for. The feeling of true joy is found.

God shows me that my own strength is of no value now, but only by his grace and power ,I become less and he becomes more. I have learned that true “JOY” does not come from perfection, but comes from embracing and allowing God to lead you through trials, suffering, and bearing one another’s burdens.


In the past seven years, my husband and I have been an active part of our county foster care system. Through the last seven years we have opened our home and hearts to six amazing lives through foster care and adoption. And God has blessed us with the responsibility of raising seven beautiful children. This year, 2012, we were able to finalize the adoption of our one -year-old son James. This also completes our family for the time being, as we raise seven children nine-years-old and younger. “Relentless joy” are the words I would use for our journey.
Relentless means to be steady or persistent. When I entered the realm of fostering to adopt I quickly understood, that developing a “relentless” spirit, was the only way to survive . Foster care involves 100% selflessness. There are no guarantees to what the future holds. The course has so many up and down moments. Court dates, judges, caseworkers, therapists all hold their entitlement to the “case”. You want God’s will to be done, yet the powers of evil seem to be waiting around ever corner. My eyes were forced toward Jesus during the unknown. You hold, and daily nurture, a soul or souls, this child or children. You help give them life and stability, as the future goes unknown. Relentless love.


Joy can be described as an emotion evoked by achieving or getting what one desires. Adoption day was joyous! So blessed to say we have seven awesome kids. A desire came true. But, there is a greater story behind that. A deeper journey God took my husband and I through, to see and feel that joy.


For me, joy came as God has walked me through caring for my son, born with cleft lip and plate. The late nights of special care, the doctor appointments, the over night stays in the hospital, and giving without knowing 100% if I would ever call him my own. God showed me true joy as I laid down my rights, to care for his needs. It took fifteen months before we knew he would be ours. 


Joy came, as we cared and fought for our two little girls for three years. Three years of protecting and giving it “all” so they could be saved from more physical and sexual abuse. Now a lifetime to recover and to plead for God to heal them, as we all see the effects of those first years. Reactive attachment disorder lingers in our home, but we still cling to the hope of healing, as God is our ultimate physician. God has allowed me to see “joy” in my circumstances.

Our Ben didn’t come home from the hospital on schedule, when I thought he should. We waited four very long months to see God move and make way for his arrival in our home through foster care and then adoption. Those four months, I would wake and come downstairs, a bundle of tears praying for God to keep him safe in the “unknown.” Joy comes in the morning. (and Ben literally came into our home at 6am from the police station.) And my two other little bundles of “joy” came from a world of drugs that resulted in low birth weight and a fight for survival.


Nathaniel came into our world a beautiful 4lbs and stayed for six months, two days before Christmas 2010, we were told he would be leaving us and taken to another state, to a “kinship home”. After bonding and loving him for six months that was an unbearable feeling to live with. For two long months we waited, until in court they decided we were able to keep him in our home and then adopt him. 

Our little man James was the surprise of a lifetime as I was already caring for two young babies. At one pound, he came into the world and needed “us” along with our other six children. And God gets the glory and gave us true “joy” as we spent more time at the hospital in the evenings as our other children slept. His needs were great, and my husband and I, were able to see joy through the trails of caring and meeting the needs of our family.

True joy comes through the trails and hardships in life. When we choose to give of ourselves for another there will be hardship. We have to desire more of Jesus Christ in our lives, and less of ourselves. I have never felt the closeness of my Savior, as I have in the past few years, as I have fallen to my knees as “a mess” because perfection could not be found. The biggest blessing I found in my mess was true “joy”. Thank you, Jesus for showing me, relentless joy Thank you for finding me where I was at and showing me who you are through salvation.

May you see and feel great joy this season and pass it on relentlessly!


---
Krista 


Krista is a wife and mother to seven children ages 9 to 15 months. Her and her husband are passionate about adoption and helping the "fatherless".Their eight year-old-daughter is their "belly" baby, and their six other children were adopted through the state foster care system. They have adopted three sibling groups on their journey. Krista and her husband have seen the need and importance in keeping children together. The last six years of their lives have been filled with compassion and a "burn" inside to help. Stepping out to hold, love, and touch a child who has been orphaned due to circumstances beyond their control, allows for an opportunity to see a "soul" and "value" given by God. Krista and her husband have seen the needs of their community and it's foster care system and it is "much". Their desire is to see God move in their area
as He leads us to help and love on the least of these.


See local needs in Northumberland, PA



Monday, December 10, 2012

Make a Difference Monday: Thank You!

We love hearing from you and not long ago, we received this encouraging email from Samantha.  My friends, THANK YOU.  Thank you for being His hands and feet.  TFI did not put together these journey bags, YOU did.  We celebrate with you as we watch God move! 

Got my tshirt today! Thank you so much, I love it! I love the work you guys do! My husband and I are foster parents and have 2 sibling brothers placed with us right now! They both received journey bags. The younger one was in the hospital for a few days so he got his later but when we picked up his brother he had his journey bag and he held onto it for dear life that first week. We still use it as a bookbag for our "things to do while out and about" You guys also re-did the visiting rooms at the agency where we are licensed. Makes me so happy knowing how much love and care and sacrifice went into those rooms so these kids have nice warm fun rooms to play in while they visit mom and dad.

Thanks again,

Samantha


Friday, December 7, 2012

Forgotten Fridays: A "My Story" Post

My Story

I was listening to moody radio back in May and I heard about the foster care program and everything you where doing to help. I felt the need to tell my story. 

I am now 20 years old, and I entered the foster care program four months after I turned six.  I've stayed in multiple foster homes, group homes, ect.  My half sister and I were adopted when I was ten years old by a family who seemed to care enough, along with a six month old boy I learned to call my brother.  However, when I turned twelve going on to thirteen, my adoptive father had different ideas for me.  I was no longer his little girl, but I was his toy.  He never raped me, thank God, but he did destroy my trust and self esteem at the time.  I reported his doings to a family doctor, which called me a liar and sent me home.  My adoptive mother did not believe me either, and neither did my sister at the time.  I was placed in a foster home and was bopped around until I was seventeen , where again I was adopted by a family who I thought loved me as well.  But a few months after my eighteenth birthday they told me to get out because I was attending a church they didn'’t like.  Also, because of the fact that I was eighteen, and they could no longer claim me on their taxes. I know by the story it seems like I was a bad child, always causing problems.  In my teen years I was a good kid, I mean sure I did normal teen stuff like not doing my chores all the time or something but nothing major. I listened and didn'’t give attitude. I did well in school and had many friends. I am now in church, where I met my wonderful husband who I married in July and his family has taken me into their home and showed me a family life.  I am doing well and I believe everything I went through was to bring me to God and to find the man God had planned for me.  It was a long bumpy road but it was worth it...

To share YOUR story click here.  

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Advocate Wednesdays: All the rights of inheritance

I never tire of hearing the judge proclaim the words, "All the rights of inheritance"
as he instructs the adoptive parents of the significance of bringing a child into their family through adoption.

It rings in my ears and in my heart as a beautiful reminder of what the Lord has done for each of us who have trusted in Jesus for salvation.  Adopted into His family - forever.  With all the rights of inheritance.

November 18th - National Adoption Day - A day of celebration for so many children and their forever families.  I was invited to a press conference and was there to witness the first of many adoptions in courtroom J3.  The family's story was amazing.  A dad - raising his step daughter.
A mom - who adopted her nephew many years ago.  Now married and wanting children of their own. But God's plan for them was not what they expected.  When they could not conceive, they knew they were going to grow their family through adoption. 

They planned to add 2 children to their family. But, again, God's plan for them was not what they expected.  This couple opened their hearts and home to a sibling set of 3 (ages 3, 2, and 1) and a 15 year old young lady! Now here they were, surrounded by friends and family (and a whole host of media personnel, social workers, and politicians) becoming a forever family. What an honor to be part of their day.

I sat there as the judge announced the children's names. With each one the courtroom erupted into cheers and smiles! Their new teen daughter beamed from ear to ear. Her beautiful smile said it all. "I belong. I have a family. I am loved."
I cried as the family presented their new daughter with a promise ring. Her mom said, "this is our promise to you - to love you forever."
Not a dry eye in the courtroom. (I think even the cameramen were tearing up)

When they were being interviewed by the media, the dad was asked why he was so emotional. Through tears he said, "I just love these kid so much."

It was beautiful. I think of our heavenly Father saying of you and me, "I just love these kids so much." and "My promise to you - to love you forever."  Adoption is such a beautiful picture of what the Lord has done for us.

"Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called the children of God!"
1 John 3:1

This was my second year at National Adoption Day.  This was the 8th finalization I was blessed enough to witness.  It never gets old.  I will never stop celebrating with those who add to their family through adoption.  And may I never stop celebrating the fact that I was adopted into the greatest forever family imaginable.  With all the rights of inheritance.

"...but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, "Abba, Father."
The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit
that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs -
heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ."
Romans 8:15b-17a

----

Becky 

Becky and her husband Dominic have five children and are foster parents. When their hearts were burdened by the enormity of needs in the foster care system, they desired to be a voice for the fatherless. As an Advocate, Becky has a front row seat in watching the Body of Christ use their gifts and talents to share the love of Jesus with the foster care community. 

See what's happening in Bakersfield!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Make a Difference Monday: When it's not as it should be

Starbucks is a good place to sit back and observe people.  Today was no exception.  In the corner was a young mom with her little girl - no more then 6 months old.  She was holding and cuddling her daughter, all the while speaking with her - loving on her and playing with her.

It was just as it should be.

But I couldn't stop my thoughts from going to the child who has had nothing as it should be

For the baby who is now 10 years old, who never had a parent sit and cuddle with him, telling him how special he was.  The 8 year old who was told he would never amount to anything.  The 13 year old who has been abused more times then she can recount.  The 25 year old who has no one to call on during this 'most wonderful time of the year.'

It just breaks my heart! 

What are we going to do about it?

Did you know that the first step in becoming a foster parent is to find a local agency and ask them to enroll you in foster parent training courses?  These courses are designed to bring awareness of what becoming a foster parent would look like and help you determine IF this is something you would consider. 

Will you consider taking these classes?  Will you take a chance and allow your eyes become opened?  Please prayerfully consider this. 

"Feed the hungry and help those in trouble...  Then your light will shine out from the darkness and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon.  Some of you will rebuild the deserted ruins of your cities.  Then you will be known as a rebuilder of walls and a restorer of homes."  Isaiah 58: 10, 12

 
 
------
Jami
 
 
Jami is married to Clint and is mommy to six, three of whom they adopted from foster care. It was through a difficult season of waiting that the Lord drew Jami’s heart to those who feel forgotten and in April of 2011, she founded The Forgotten Initiative.


To visit her personal blog visit: www.lifewithapersonalgod.blogspot.com

Friday, November 30, 2012

Forgotten Friday's: Welcoming Jesus

The first time I preached after we welcomed our children into our home, it was during the Advent Season. I mentioned to my husband in passing how I related to Mary in a totally different context, not just as a first-time mom, but as a foster mom, and he asked me to expound on that in the pulpit.

Honestly, I found her story anew because I was a special kind of desperate. In the early months of fostering these three special and beautiful children-Tabbitha, Heather, and Ty-I felt overwhelmed, unprepared, and even panicked from time to time. Foster care can be an extremely lonely and frustrating venture, so I went looking to God's Word for the encouragement and motivation to keep persevering in the sacred task of rebuilding little lives caught in the devastation this fallen world has to offer.
I found hope in a most unexpected place: the Innkeeper's Stable.

As I revisited that timeless tale filled with promise and hope for all God's people, His presence assured me that I truly wasn't alone: God chose Mary to mother Jesus, and I found fellowship in her story-a young mom who probably spent most of her days with an acute awareness of her sinful heart as she fostered Jesus.

Sounds familiar.

Only for her, it was much more complicated as the child in her care was PERFECT.

Mary did not go looking for a great big assignment from her Creator. In fact, she had her own plans and dreams when God interrupted her life with one visit from a special messenger. Mary represented EveryWoman, and gave depth to the belief that all people, including those who are poor in spirit (like me) could host the Son of God in their hearts, and maybe even their homes.

The last two years have taught our family so much, but the greatest lesson of all? Letting love open the door of our home and our hearts has been such a means of grace to us. We have seen Jesus eat at our table. He has given us sticky kisses, and His laughter has echoed down our halls.

I still have moments of doubt and fear even as we look forward to our Gotcha Day in January. God is so faithful to remind me of another player in the story of Jesus' birth-the Innkeeper...the owner of that Middle Eastern Motel. Remember him? The guy didn't exactly roll out the red carpet for the pregnant lady!

He couldn't figure out a way to make room for a chance to entertain the One who lived and breathed redemption's song.

What he missed.

What I would miss if I hadn't made room or found margin in my life for Jesus and all the ways He comes to me. The most prominent way is through our children and as He promised in Matthew 25, when we care for them, we are really tending to Jesus. There is no greater joy than to look into their eyes and see that God is near.

God used a young foster mom to help orchestrate the most blessed event in History, as she welcomed Emmanuel, God With Us.

Two thousand years later, we can either act like that innkeeper-finding no space for Him, or like Mary, who opened her whole life as an invitation for Him to dwell.
The promise is real, and the forgotten ones are waiting to bring us nearer to the heart of the Most High.

"Whoever welcomes a child like this in My name welcomes Me."



---
Lauren Alexander is a storyteller, preacher’s wife, and mama passionate about foster care advocacy. She lives for finding victory through the pages of Scripture + dancing with her babies. Read more about The A* Team's adventures at www.ateamfamily.com

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Advocate Wednesdays: Melisha in Columbia, SC


I have been a Forgotten Advocate for almost five months, and that time has overlapped with our “waiting time” to become foster and adoptive parents.  One of my greatest joys in these past few months has been simply to be used by God to serve the foster care community in ways that I never thought possible.  God has amazed me!

Early November, I was able to share about TFI and our city’s needs in a local church.  I walked away with twenty-five names of people that were interested in serving and many of those people were specifically interested in mentoring.  Interestingly, TFI Columbia does not currently have a mentoring program, but I walked away from that building thinking, “God, You are obviously up to something here!  Please help me to steward well these people who want to serve.”  Feeling slightly really overwhelmed, I emailed the TFI leaders for advice and the contacts I have in my local DSS to assess the need.  A very excited worker emailed me back saying she was “thrilled beyond words” to get my email.  What a great encouragement to see God connecting the dots and begin the work of meeting a desperate need!  I feel so honored to be a voice for the needs around me, in the name of Jesus.

I’ve been stewing over this verse for several days: “But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God” (John 3:21 NIV).   That phrase “done through God” could also be stated as wrought, performed, worked out, or produced by God.

I can plainly see that God’s hand is at work in and through me, as I desire to walk in His truth and light.  However, John 3 pinpoints our greatest goal: For those around us to plainly see that every good thing in our lives is a work of our mighty and gracious God!

---
Melisha 

After having two biological children, Melisha and her husband Ryan, began the domestic adoption process and through this experience, God moved them to also pursue foster parenting. They serve full time in campus and family ministry through GraceLife Church. As a homeschooling mom, Melisha’s motto is “Make disciples!” She is excited to do this in her family and in every opportunity God gives her.


Monday, November 26, 2012

Make a Difference Monday: "God doesn't need us to be ___________"

"God doesn't need us to be supernatural, He needs us to trust and obey."  

On Sunday, my pastor Mark said these words and they have stuck with me.  I'm so thankful this is the case.  I am so thankful He uses selfish, imperfect, messed up folks like myself to do His work.   I'm also thankful for How he continues to challenge and convict me of my selfishness but only in a way that is grace filled.  Whenever I am chastised by the Lord, I feel hope and loved.  When I'm being guilted and condemned by Satan, I feel hopeless.  But that's another post entirely. :)

On today's Make a Difference Monday, I want to encourage you with my Pastor's words.

"God doesn't need us to be supernatural, He needs us to trust and obey."

Do you believe this?

Do I?

How often do we try and wait to serve until we feel its the 'perfect' time, the 'perfect' circumstances, the 'perfect' version of ourselves?  God doesn't call us to have it all figured out.  He doesn't call us to be God.  He calls us to trust and obey.

What is that thing.  That feeling, that question, that cause that you can't get off your mind?  Maybe it's time to just take the next step and trust Him - even when, no, especially when you can't see how it's all going to turn out.

Please let us know if we can pray for you.  We would be honored to partner with you in prayer!

"God doesn't need us to be supernatural, He needs us to trust and obey."

And that's today's, Make a Difference Monday!


------
Jami
Jami is married to Clint and is mommy to six, three of whom they adopted from foster care. It was through a difficult season of waiting that the Lord drew Jami’s heart to those who feel forgotten and in April of 2011, she founded The Forgotten Initiative.


To visit her personal blog visit: www.lifewithapersonalgod.blogspot.com

Monday, November 19, 2012

Make a Difference Monday: Gifts of Purpose



During this holiday season there are so many things to spend our money on...gifts to buy... stockings to stuff.....

What if we as the Body of Christ gave a gift of purpose this year? 


2012 Gifts of Purpose Promo from Lifesong for Orphans on Vimeo.


This year the catalog features a gift that can benefit the foster care community through the TFI First Response Program. 

Urgent needs arise quickly for those in the foster care community. First Response was created to provide a way for these immediate, physical needs to be met 100% of the time through the Body of Christ.

Why First Response?

We want to follow the James 2 model and show the love of Jesus to those who feel forgotten by meeting immediate, physical needs.

James 2:14-17 "What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, "Go in peace; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

First Response is also a great way to help prevent the trauma of unnecessary transition for children, like Kaylee who is featured in this years catalog.  (link to the catalog is below) 

Through the First Response Initiative we seek to help:

1. Teens aging out of the foster care system are left with little to call their own – giving them no jump start into independent living and making it very difficult to succeed.

2. Grandparents or other relatives are the first ones called on when children are removed from their homes. Though these "relative foster parents" are often physically unprepared to care for these children, many choose to bring them into their homes so that the children remain with family.

3. "At Risk" Families often struggle to meet unexpected, physical needs of their children, thus causing them to be at risk of having their children removed from their homes and put into the foster care system.

4. Foster Parents are often called to take in children with only a moment’s notice – leaving them little or no time to prepare.

Will you consider giving a gift of purpose and supporting TFI First Response? 

To donate: Click Here
(make sure to mark your donation specifically for First Response)

To view the entire Lifesong Gifts of Purpose Catalog and to read Kaylee's story: Click Here

Your financial support and prayers make our mission possible!  Thank you!!


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Advocate Wednesdays: Finding My Calling

Today I just wanted to share a recent experience that has taught me an important lesson—that we are not responsible for everything.
God has called us each to different ways of serving Him.
Several months ago we went through the process to be approved for foster care. We had signed up for emergency short term care or respite.  That’s what we felt called to do and what we thought our family could realistically handle.
We then received a request to take a baby in. long term. I wrestled in my heart.
How do you say no? What would Jesus do? It’s a baby! Why doesn’t anyone else say yes? How can we say no?
I talked to my husband and he wasn’t quite sure but said to do what I felt was right.  So I said yes.
( a lesson to be learned right there!)
I went down to pick the sweet child up and as soon as I held them in my arms, I knew. This was not the plan for us.
The child was beautiful and sweet as could be.
But I knew that I was so far outside of God’s will that I was physically sick. I prayed. I called friends who foster to help me work through my feelings to make sure that I wasn’t just emotional or overreacting. I prayed some more.
The next morning I called our social worker (who also happened to be a Christian) and just completely shared from my heart how I was feeling. That I said yes because I just kept asking myself what would Jesus do and how could I not say yes.  Her response?  “Charisa, you are not Jesus”  No, clearly I am not. :) 
My lessons? 
A lesson in humility for one. It was a very humbling experience for me.
God calls us all in different ways to help the children that He loves. My calling (for now) is through respite and support of those who are called to foster.  If I fill my plate up with stuff that He hasn’t called me to do then I can’t do the things He has asked me to do—or I can do them but not do them well. 
Just because He has called others to serve in one way doesn’t mean that’s how He has called me.
It is so easy to compare and measure ourselves against others.
Every single part is important and needed—whether it’s offering respite, encouraging foster parents, filling journey bags, loving on social workers or praying. It’s all worthy!
What has He called you to?
P.S.  One of my best buds has that sweet child and it is clearly where they need to be. I see them often and am loving watching them grow into a family. Now I can do what I am CALLED to do---provide respite and support to a family who is called to do the actual fostering.

~Charisa
Forgotten Advocate: Augusta County, VA Charissa Knight Family picture

Charisa and her husband Greg have 5 children (two of whom they adopted from Ethiopia). Charisa’s was first introduced to foster care as a 6th grader, when she became best friends with her neighbor who was a foster child. Her heart for the orphaned and oppressed compelled her to become a Justice Advocate for IJM and to do more for the foster care community but she wasn’t sure how. When she stumbled upon The Forgotten Initiative, she knew that this was her answer.

“I have been blessed to watch the local church community come together and open up their hearts to the children, families, and workers affected by the foster care system.”
Find Current Needs and Events for Augusta County here.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Forgotten Fridays: Hear from a foster dad


Back to the Future...

If you are reading this now, it is because your mother and myself, agreed now was the right time. When I wrote this several years ago, we had no idea what the "right" time would be- no special insight, no clinical training, no crystal ball. All we knew is that it would come, and that we would know it in the way we know when to plant the garden, or when to go fishing, or even when to wake up in the morning- that our collective intuition would plot a distinct course. And so now, the signs are unmistakable and impossible to ignore any longer.

The time has come.

This letter isn't some secret revelation as both of you were old enough to recall inklings of your beginnings when you were adopted into our home- you both knew another mother and father before our paths crossed. Rather, it is an explanation of our motivations then, our fears now, and our hope for you both to find peace despite your current strife.

These are thoughts to which written words are better suited- words requiring more careful thought than casual correspondence, and which add some distance between speaker and audience- space and time to contextualize them with proper emotion. And that is why we chose this way.

Through no fault of your own, seemingly diabolical circumstances were thrust upon you. The mother and father you first knew couldn't care for you the way parents should. There are many reasons for their failures then, but insufficient fondness for their offspring was not one of them.

They loved you. And, they cared for you in the way they had been cared for themselves.

They cared for you the best they could.

This happened to you as we were beginning to accept that our family had stopped growing. We had other children who had come and gone. We had other children we had tried to make our own. We had failed with them all.

We had given up.

And then, the call came. It wasn't some fairy-tale or Hollywood script of love at first sight for you or us. For good reason you were wounded and we were wary. At first, our decision to keep and raise you wasn't because we immediately felt some overwhelming emotion.

Because of our faith in something more, we made a decision to love you.

The feelings came quickly, however. Soon, we loved you as our own seed and wished for you the same blessings as we wished for the two brothers and one sister you inherited. We shared tears and laughter and everything in between. You became one of us.

And, we became part of you.

Still, the nagging conflicts about who you really are simmered inside.

And now, you have lived with us for all these years and know us as mother and father. For this we are thankful. But, we know the curiosity of your past has compelled a search for a potentially different tomorrow. And the selfish truth be known, we wish the relationships of today outweighed your compulsion to begin that quest. Knowing this is not the case, however, we are content in your journey to wherever this road leads.

You have our blessing to discover all that you want to know.

But, please always know that our home is your home and that it feels empty without you. Please know that we will always love you no matter what your destination. Most importantly, always know that a greater, Heavenly Father loves you more than any mother of father ever could and has prepared a home for you beyond your wildest imagination.

We hope only that you remember your time with us, that as days pass you will think about your time here with fond recollections. We hope that you will continue to honor the God we all serve with your words and decisions. We hope to be part of your lives no matter what happens and that you find a peace in this life and a home in the one yet to come.

Most of all, we hope that when we are gone,


you will hold sacred the space around you,

because of a familiar spirit

that lingers about the air

our lungs once breathed...






----
Jeff Jordan

Jeff married his high school sweetheart 20 years ago and together they have three biological children and two daughters whom they are adopting from foster care. He shares from his heart and personal experiences in hopes that those who read will see the Father's heart.

Read more from Jeff at: www.jeffjordanblog.com

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Advocate Wednesday: Are you fully convinced?


My family and I had the privilege of going to a Christian Childrens Home called Casa Vida y Esperanza (The House of Life and Hope) in Magdalena, Mexico in October for a long weekend. They have a campus of about 7 homes that have each taken in children, with the mission of mentoring young lives with the truth, love, and hope of Jesus Christ for today and forever. This includes meeting their physical, mental, and spiritual needs through education, training, and the security and stability of a home life.  

While we were there, the director received a phone call that 4 children needed a place to go. No known father and their mother had been gone for 3 days and was not coming back. These children ranged from age 9 to 1, and had lived alone for the past 3 days.

I witnessed the director share with different staff members the situation with some form of the question “could you take 4 more children into your home?”

It wasn't a question of should we take them.

I had the opportunity to go with one of the staff members to the store to pick up some basic necessities for these children: socks, underwear, shoes, diapers.

Within hours, the children were dropped off at Casa Vida y Esperanza...not knowing one person there.

I was amazed to see the willing hearts of the staff....people were shuffled around and a home and a family was created that day.

The impact of what had happened did not hit me until we were back home again.

I had recently been studying through Romans 4 about the faith of Abraham. The Scripture says speaking of Abraham in verse 20 “No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.”

Then came the question: Are you fully convinced that God has the power to do all he has promised you in Christ?

I have wrestled with this question for weeks now! I didn't feel like I could answer that with a resounding “YES”!

I want to....I realize it's pretty easy to say “yes, of course”, but also realize the difference between saying that with my mouth and then my thoughts and actions not communicating the same.

I am thankful that my family and I had the opportunity to see the power of God and faith lived out in the lives of passionate people with servant hearts. Thank you Jesus! Thank you CVE!

 
 
Denise Steidinger
Forgotten Advocate, Prescott AZ
 
 
Rodney & Denise SteidingerRodney & Denise have 3 daughters and after attending the Focus on the Family “Wait No More Conference” their eyes were opened to the great needs in the foster care community. They are so thankful to be a part of the TFI family - to share these needs with the body of Christ and to play a role in making a difference for this community.
 
 


Monday, October 29, 2012

Make a Difference Monday: God's perfect timing, wheel chair ramp story continued....

Remember how God is providing for the family needing a wheel chair ramp?  What an amazing goosebump story!  If you didn't catch the beginning of the story this is definitely one you will want to read.  Click here to catch up: Part One: God's Perfect Timing!

One thing I am sure about is that God is in control and continuing to guide this project!  Here is the current update:

I got an email last week from the volunteer that agreed to lead the project (Jeremey).  In the email Jeremey explained that the project is a much bigger task than what he originally thought. He asked me to pray and help with putting the need out because this was going to take a lot of money and resources to accomplish and he couldn't do it alone.

Jeremey told me of how he had met with the family and learned that the foster father was an unbeliever prior to the accident, but through everything that he had been through he had come to know the Lord!  Hearing this, I can only dream of what this project could do for this new bliever in showing him the Body of Christ.  Praise God for such a great opprotunity!

Jeremey went on to say that he has made progress with getting the building permits and is in the process of making a list of all of the materials needed.  His estimated amount that we will need is $1700 to complete the project.  He asked me to pray and get the word out about the need.  But at the end of the email, there was another BIG request:   

"We need a volunteer with excavating equipment." 

Now, being a girl and not having any experience with this sort of thing, I went to my knees in prayer asking for God to bring the right person for the job.  This whole project just seems so much bigger than all of us.  How in the world was God going to arrange all of these details?

On Wednesday of last week, I carpooled with a friend to work and was telling her about this need.  To my great joy, she offerred to help.  Later that day she called her son and her son provided us with a name of a good friend that owned an excavating business.   

I prayed.  I made a phone call.  And guess what?  This Tuesday.....tomorrow.....the owner of the excavating business is meeting Jeremey at the home to look over the job and create a plan to donate his equipment and services for FREE!! 

God is so good.  Great things are happening!  What will God do next?  Are you part of the plan? 

We still have funds to raise in order to purchase the supplies and would love your help! Just mark your donation "Project Sunshine Peoria!"   Click Here to Donate    


Thrilled to be serving with you,

Jessi

Jessi and her husband Zach have two sons and are also foster parents. As a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and the former Director of Foster Care at the Children’s Home Association of Illinois, Jessi has worked in the foster care arena since 2003 where she experienced the overwhelming needs of this community. Jessi began volunteering for The Forgotten Initiative soon after its founding and in December 2012, she became the full-time Director of Operations.

To Find Other Current Needs in Bloomington/Peoria, Il: Click Here

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Advocate Wednesday: The Needs Are There...

Effective ministry begins and ends with service.  Jami's post from Monday couldn't be more true.

The needs are there.  They vary from city to city, from agency to agency, but they are there.  As we have formed relationships here in Birmingham, the needs have been more clearly outlined for us.  There is a rhythm to them as the seasons change and different needs get highlighted.  But they are always there.

It can be overwhelming...over 500 teens needing Christmas gifts, 1000+ kids needing school supplies and uniforms, agencies being totally out of diapers, visitation rooms needing cleaning and organizing... and on and on.

And yet, as the needs are related to us, we put them out there to our friends.  And consistently needs get met.  And not only are physical needs met, agency workers are encouraged.  They feel less overwhelmed with the needs and more confident that they will be met.  Foster parents know they are not alone as they begin the journey and are provided with some clothing or a bed for the child now in their care.  Children start school on time, maybe for the first time in their life, because they have the proper clothing and supplies.

Sometimes it is a small gift, pajamas for a toddler, and sometimes it is larger, bringing a child into your home, but every time it is a comfort to others, an encouragement to others, and most importantly, an act of service and obedience to our God who tells us over and over to take care of children in need.

If each of us will continue to be in tune with the needs and willing to take steps to meet the needs that are presented, we will consistently make a difference in the foster care community and the significance of this should never be underestimated!

Seek justice, encourage the oppressed.  Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.  Isaiah 1:17

--- 
Kristin

Kristin is married to Shane and the homeschooling mom of two boys. God gave her a passion for “the fatherless” as she read His word. For two years she prayed and waited for God to show her what her next steps were and when she learned about The Forgotten Initiative, she felt God was leading her to action.

Find current needs and updates in Birmingham, AL!