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Friday, December 6, 2013

Forgotten Fridays: Loving What You Cannot Keep

“I could never be a foster parent. It’s great that you can do it, but I could never love a child and then give them up.” 

This is truly the most common phrase any foster parent will hear (well, either that or “Hey, we need to change the visitation schedule for next week”). Through the years I have had varying responses to this phrase. 

“Yeah, it’s tough. But it’s worth it.” 

“Foster parenting isn’t for everyone, that’s for sure.” 

“You know, it’s not like they just show up and you have to hand back the child. You do have some warning to prepare yourself.” 

But now I just feel tired of this conversation. We are in the hard work of foster care. We are in the risk and the unknown and the sleepless nights. We have dug in strong with this precious bundle of child because we are in it for what’s best for her. When I hear “I could never love a child and give them up” what I really hear is “That baby isn’t worth loving.” That baby I’m snuggling and singing to and taking to doctor appointments and dressing for visits with her Mom just isn’t worth it to you. You might feel sad when she left or your kids might be confused or you’d be upset at a system that didn’t protect her. I get that. I really do. It is a hard job and the truth is, it doesn’t make sense for us to take it on. The risks of almost certain heartache and the costs to our family would never make sense if foster care were just a math equation or a list of pros and cons. While we have seen happy endings, we know that they are not the norm. 

So we don’t make a decision about foster parenting based on what would be easy for us. We make a decision to love these kids because what is the alternative? I had a friend just recently take a two year-old boy although her family had said they wouldn’t be taking any new placements. They heard this little guy was on his way to a shelter because there wasn’t a foster home available for him and they decided to intervene. That is the alternative. When we say “that would be too hard for me” we are choosing a life of shelters and foster families who deal with the heartache of foster care by choosing not to love or attach to these kids. It is precisely BECAUSE it is so hard for us to love and lose these children that we SHOULD be investing ourselves in foster care. No child should grow up in an environment where they aren’t loved and cherished even if that environment is only temporary. 

If you’ve talked with me much about foster care, you’ll know that I don’t think it is for everyone. There are LOTS of legitimate reasons why it may not be right for a particular family at a particular time. I am also a big advocate of families knowing their boundaries and only taking kids that they can safely parent. Saying yes to a child out of guilt when you know you aren’t best suited to meeting their needs is damaging to the foster family, the child, and also to the reputation of foster parents in general. While we can’t all do everything to help every child, each of us can do something. Maybe that’s fostering teens or babies or maybe it’s supporting the foster families in your community by providing meals or diapers or getting licensed to provide respite so a foster family can get a break and recharge. There are lots of ways to be part of the solution for foster kids. 

My plan is that we will not always be taking in kids as our family grows and we get older. But as long as the need is there, we want to be available. I remember once consoling myself during a particularly hard day with my two two year-olds a couple years ago (two of our kids are 9 months apart) by telling Brian, “We won’t always have two year-olds.” He said, “Well. . . actually, we might always have them.” As Jesus said in Mark 14 “The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want.” Foster children will always need care. The two year-olds may always be with us. And that’s okay with me. But my goal is to recruit YOU so as families reach their limits, new families are there to step up. My hope is that instead of caseworkers having to decide between placing a child with an already overburdened family or a shelter, they would have options of loving and willing families so they could pick the best fit. This would help foster parents keep from burning out and would also allow children to be in the family that can best meet their needs. 

Foster parenting is hard. It is stressful and painful and full of the unexpected. We don’t do this because it’s fun. We do it because kids need love and because we know the joy of loving children, even the ones we cannot keep. This is what it means to be the Body of Christ. If you only love things you’re promised you can keep, what would you love? Our biological children come with no promise of long life or close relationships with us. Our spouses can fail us in all kinds of ways. And who of us would say, “We wanted to get married, but then I realized at some point one of us would die and leave the other one alone and I couldn’t handle that.” We know that investing our lives in another person carries with it the possibility of future pain, but we invest anyway. Opening yourself up to love a foster child and their family is no different. 

Love is always a risk. And it is always worth it. 

---
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/ 

Monday, December 2, 2013

Make A Difference Mondays: Generosity

A letter from a foster care worker to her Pastor during their series, "Generous. All In." 

"I just wanted to sent you an email thanking you for the generosity that our church gave to the local organizations today.    

I am a local foster care social worker.  Earlier this month I received a case with four boys who were removed from their home due to poor living conditions.  As I was preparing to meet the four boys in their foster home for the first time, Jami walked into our agency with tons of book bags donated from a local church.  I stopped her and thanked her for the awesome work that she does with The Forgotten Initiative.

When I went to meet the four boys for the first time I brought new book bags full of supplies for each of them.  The boys were so excited to have their own brand new clothes and supplies.  Their foster mother told me later that the boys are extremely protective of their book bags, because they've never had anything in such great condition that they could call their own.  

Soon after that, when I was over at the biological parent's house of the four boys,the parents asked if I knew of any place where they could get free cleaning supplies. Their living conditions were probably the worst that I have ever seen.  I suggested local food pantries, to which they replied that food pantries only supply windex. The services on generosity inspired me to take action.  I knew immediately this was God's way of calling me to be generous.  The parents got into my car and we drove to the closest store.  At the store I purchased cleaning supplies for them with my own money.  They were so thankful that they actually cleaned up the bathroom that same day. 

Recently, this biological mother shared with me that she is getting baptized this month!! She has also started participating in a small group at her church! It's so amazing to see God transforming people. 

It's awesome how God has lead me to a career in which I can share with broken people about His forgiving and unending love!      

I know that my story might be small to some stories you have probably heard throughout this series, but I just wanted to let you know that this series has compelled me personally.  I am constantly using my job as an opportunity to evangelize to the broken and lost people that I work with everyday. However, now instead of just talking about God's goodness, I'm showing them God's goodness."  



Friday, November 29, 2013

Forgotten Fridays: Painful words from youth in foster care...

“It seemed that every time I turned around I was being moved from home to home. For a while I didn’t even know if I would be staying the night at some places. After a while I had this dream in my head that I was on a highway and it seems as if the road never ends and my bags are packed in the car. I have no idea where I’m going and it seems like I’ll never stop moving.” – Dominique, Illinois

“For me a typical birthday in foster care depended on what foster home I was in. I remember ones that had no meaning and were barely celebrated and on the other hand I remember ones that were fun and exciting, because the foster family cared enough to remember and take the time to celebrate.” - Angela, Oregon

“When I won the Youth Spirit Award, it was exciting.  And I have won many awards and things at school, too.  But every time I walked up to receive my award, there was no family there to see me get it.   Other kids had a mom or a dad to watch them get their award.  It should have been a happy occasion.  But for me… I wish I had a family there for me.” – Anna Maria, Connecticut


Make a difference in your local foster care system so we as the Body of Christ can help end these traumatic experiences for children in foster care. 

Visit The Forgotten Initiative to learn how to serve in your local foster care community! 



Monday, November 25, 2013

Make A Difference Mondays: Revival

The good news of the Gospel is that God came down and made my problems His. How do I reconcile walking out the Gospel if I don't make the problems of others mine? 

We belong to each other. We all belong to Him. It is what the Kingdom of God was designed for. Bearing one another's burdens. People tell me ALL. THE. TIME: "You cannot save them all!" That's right. Actually, not a single one; but that's not what I was designed for anyways. What I can do is lighten the load. I can come along side. I can feed, clothe, and shelter. I can defend and educate. If I am not using that with which I am blessed to bless others and if I do not use my position to lift others, then what is it for? 

A life spent on yourself is a wasted life. 

This week I was trying to help a young pregnant woman find housing. I called one of the local churches and received an 82 page document referring other local resources that could help. That was all they could offer.

We have the opportunity to be the hands and feet and we blow it all the time. We have the opportunity to make the Gospel real and we cannot be bothered. 

We long for revival and the words of Isaiah still ring true...

 "If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
    with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
    and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
    and your night will become like the noonday.
11 The Lord will guide you always;
    he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
    and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
    like a spring whose waters never fail.
12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
    and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
    Restorer of Streets with Dwellings." - Isaiah 58: 9-12 


I used to think that feeding the homeless or clothing the naked or visiting the sick made me a "good Christian" - whatever that is - but really, that just made me a decent human. Christ calls us to something bigger and more final. Death. When we settle for this lukewarm brand of Christianity, this self-insulated life, we are doing something worse than selling ourselves short. We are selling The Gospel short.

The good news is that when you die to yourself, your plans and your comforts, you truly do find life. I can say with every one of my deaths I have found so much more life, so full it is bursting at the seams. Dizzy and pulsing. More gut-wrenching and more spirit-filling. Life harder than I could have imagined yet better than I would have ever expected, because it is so out of left field and miraculous I would have NEVER dreamed it.  

He is using me. I see it all around me now. Not because I am good, but because He is Good. He is weaving my story, my insignificant thread, into the stories and lives of others in this incredible master tapestry of redemption. He is bringing revival in my dead heart.

---

Rachel Clarke 

Rachel has been married to her husband for ten years. In the last three years, she has raised eight children as a foster parent. Two of those can now call her a forever mama. She is grateful for the grace of God. She has a passion for writing with honesty and raw emotion. She is terrible at grammar.

To hear more from Rachel, visit her blog at: 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Advocate Wednesdays: You are Needed

In the county where I live the numbers are staggering and there is even a bordering county that is in worse condition. There simply are not enough foster homes.  We have children going directly to group homes because there are no open placements in foster homes.  But that is only half of the story.  As Christians, we need to know the other side. There are children in foster homes that are still not getting the love and attention they need.

Have you considered fostering?  Do you have an extra bedroom or maybe even a place to add a bed in another child's bedroom? Do you have less than five children under 18 living with you? Do you have love to give?  Then you have a home for one of these kids.  Your home is good enough.  They need you! It doesn't matter if you are young and single, a busy married couple, or grandparents.  They just need your stability, safe environment and love.  They need a family.

Even more so, these children also need to know our Savior.  As a foster parent, you have an opportunity to leave an eternal impact on the children in your home.  Will you please prayerfully consider becoming a foster parent?



“I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home.  I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.  The King replied, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters,
 you were doing it to me!”  Matthew 25:34-40

---
Wendy Pace
Forgotten Advocate: Greenville, SC
Email Facebook 
Wendy and her husband Jim have long had a passion for orphan care. Life, homeschooling and raising their three children has kept them busy. Yet God has continually drawn them back to some form of orphan care over the years. While attending the Wait No More conference, again the Lord called. With the support and help of dear friends, Wendy stepped forward answering the call. She believes the Lord is moving strongly in the hearts of His people to take care of those who have been forgotten in the past.

“When we have a heart for what matters to Christ, a natural response is orphan care.”

Friday, November 15, 2013

Forgotten Fridays: Foster & Homeless College Students

Please pray and help support Jessica (and other foster & homeless students) in her petition to change colleges' regulations to keep foster & homeless students from staying in their on-campus student housing during breaks (with nowhere else to go) throughout the school year.  Jessica is focusing on her own college, but this issue is happening throughout the nation.  Do any of the colleges in your state have the same regulations?  

                                                       SIGN JESSICA'S PETITION

Aquinas College: Provide safe housing for foster and homeless students during break periods, especially during the cold winter months

As an unaccompanied homeless youth, there were many barriers to getting into (and staying in!) college. Now that I'm lucky enough to be in my senior year at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, I'm about to face another challenge this winter break: I'll have nowhere to go when campus housing shuts down for winter break.
Because I was a homeless youth when I was finishing high school, college was a goal that I was not sure I would ever reach. Sure, I had thought about it, and knew that continuing my education post high school was one of the greatest keys to building a future for myself. I was excited when I was able to apply for and was accepted to a small college in my city, Aquinas College. While there were many challenges, with the help of a great organization in my community, Arbor Circle, I was able to secure on-campus housing and started at Aquinas College in the fall of 2010. 
Since then, there have been numerous obstacles faced and countless challenges overcome. But one of the main barriers remains: housing. One of the most tricky situations for foster and homeless students in college is what to do for break periods. Conceded, this is also a difficult situation for schools. Aquinas College provides opportunities to rent on-campus apartments during the summer months, and allows international students and in-season athletes to maintain their housing over fall and spring breaks. However, homeless and foster students are not included in the spring and fall allowances, and are left without options for the two-to-three week period during Michigan's cold winters.
Colleges across the country have combatted the issue of break housing in multiple ways. Some have chosen to keep one housing unit open for the break to provide shelter to these students. This cuts down on the utility use for the college, and is one of many ways that the college could ensure safe and stable housing for a very vulnerable group of students throughout the year. Last year, I spent part of my winter break sleeping outside on campus and I know that I don't want to face the same experience again this year -- and I'm sure there are other students who also fear the same.
As a senior, I am anticipating to graduate this upcoming May with a double major in Sociology and Community Leadership. I have overcome many challenges, and cannot wait to dance across the stage in celebration of the work that I have done. However, it is my greatest hope that students who are in situations similar to mine, including several freshman with whom I share a dorm currently, are alleviated of this one major barrier during their college years. Plus, there are thousands of other students -- some who are homeless, some who were in foster care, others who have lost their parents or guardians -- who are also affected by this issue across the country. I am so proud to be an Aquinas College Saint, will be even more proud to be an Aquinas College Alum, and would be so beyond grateful if my Saints would put forth the effort to show that they are proud and supportive of students like me, as well.
Thanks for signing my petition, and as always-- GO SAINTS!

~Jessie McCormick

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Advocate Wednesdays: Happiest Birthday...

One afternoon,  during my little ones’ nap times, I was sorting thru my little stock-pile of birthday goodies, preparing for my youngest daughter's upcoming 2nd birthday - a princess party!  I've always loved birthday celebrations.  I had a childhood full of beautiful birthday cakes, parties with friends, and gifts.  As a mom, the tradition continues for my children. 

As I sit smiling and thinking of ideas and savoring the joy of planning for my sweet and sassy youngest daughter, my phone buzzed.  One of my favorite social workers had texted me a message about a couple of "her kids" who had upcoming birthdays.  As we texted back and forth, the stories of these girls unfolded.  Both of these girls have been abused all their lives.  It's difficult to look past their behaviors and see the real girls inside.  Their walls are thick and high.  But their sweet social worker hasn't given up on them.  They will be 17 and 14 this year.  Their social worker and a staff member from the residential program will be the only guests at their celebrations this year.  No family, no calls, no gifts.  As I look at the pile of things I've been collecting and readying for weeks, my heart breaks for these girls.  Where is a mama to love these girls like that?  To show them their lives are worth celebrating?  I immediately commit our ministry to helping their social worker celebrate with them.

"Marissa"  is turning 17 and will be aging out next year, and likely will not ever have a chance for even life in a foster family before her final birthday "in the system" next year.  When asked what she wanted for her birthday, she thought her social worker had a cute shirt on and asked if she had any old shirts she could have.  For her birthday present.  An used shirt.  So what did she receive for her birthday?  Two of the ever-popular monogram pocket tees with HER initials on them. 

"Karla" is turning 14 this year.   She's hopeful that she may be able to "graduate" from the program and live in a foster family home soon.  She received a monogrammed large duffle bag and makeup bag for her hopeful journey to a family.

Their social worker was overwhelmingly encouraged by the personalized gifts and excited to take them with her to the celebration!  She promised to update me with the girls' reactions.  I prayed and prayed for these girls.  I prayed THIS birthday would be their best yet.  That these small acts of service would show them they are loved and prayed for by a whole community.  That they are deeply loved by their Creator. 

Sure enough, the texts came in about a wonderful party for these girls.  It was indeed, their best birthday ever.  Pictures of a sweet girl with a balloon covering her face, because she was brought to tears, she was so happy.  And pictures of beautiful smiling face, and the first time her social worker had ever seen her smile.  I was humbled to be a part of something that seemed like such a simple thing for me to do, but had such an enormous impact on these girls.  Jesus is showing me and convicting me of donating my very best.  After all, when we give and love and serve the least of these, it is always Him to whom we give and love and serve.  Would I give my second best to the King of Kings?  Certainly not.  I'm so grateful for precious and generous givers who long to see that these forgotten are loved well. 

---
Becky Smits
Forgotten Advocate: Knoxville, TN
Email Facebook 
Jeff and Becky have 4 children.  After a couple years of fostering and eventually adopting, they still had a desire to continue to help the children in foster care, minister to the social workers in their community, and support other foster families they met along the way.  They were always saddened when their foster children arrived with either the typical "garbage bag luggage" or simply just the clothes on their backs.  When Becky received an embroidery machine for Christmas and saw a Pinterest "pin" for Shelter Bags, the idea of personalizing bags for children entering foster care began.  The ministry flourished and blossomed in meeting needs way beyond that, and they are now so grateful God orchestrated becoming part of such a kindred ministry with TFI!  Becky desires for more families to know about foster care and how God is calling them to use their gifts to impact the foster care community for Christ.

“I want to show the world the love You gave me, I'm longing for the world to know the glory of the King.  I want to live like that, and give it all I have.  So that everything I say and do points to You.”  - Sidewalk Prophets

Monday, November 11, 2013

Make a Difference Monday: Opening Our Hearts to Birth Mamas

Life is busy and wonderful all rolled into one these days. Sometimes as I look back over the past year, or even 6 months, it blows my mind how much my family dynamics, my focus, my mind and heart has changed. When I first began fostering, (5 years ago) I really just wanted a sweet little baby to adopt and keep forever. I used the infamous line of, "I could never foster a baby and give it back, it would be too hard on me". However, as time has gone on I have a completely different view on the whole thing. 

Our first placement was Skyler (at 2 days old), and fortunately, we did keep and adopt him. He has been an amazing addition to our family. But... we have also had several others that we got to love on, attach to, bond with and they did move on. There have been several little loves that we have had to say "good bye" to, but not one we would not have cared for if we had known then that that would be the out come of the situation. We currently are fostering a little guy that we got at 6 months old and he (last month) turned 1. He is gorgeous, happy, funny, snuggly and stole all our hearts from the get go! We knew shortly after taking him in that we would be more than willing to be his "forever family" if that became an option. Well, to spare some confidential case details and make a long story short- there is a chance that he will be going home in the long run. Here's the thing- it doesn't devastate me. I love him like I am his mama, however, the way my heart aches for where his birth mom is in life, I pray daily that she can get things turned around! I pray that I can be used, in any way, to help her know she is not alone and that she CAN do this! 

Reunification is always the initial goal in all cases in the Arizona foster care system. And, to be honest, in looking out for the child's best interest... being able to be raised by their mother and knowing she did all she had to do to have them back, would be just that. It's such a bitter sweet process- foster care. But the way it has taken my eyes off of me, I feel more blessed then any child that was able to come into my home. They received our affection, a warm bed, meals, and support- but I got a whole new heart... towards them and their mothers. As much as I love them and desire to keep them, they will always love their mothers and desire to have her holding them. As much as I want them to be my child, they will always be hers. 

One of my older foster sons has left me a few "love notes" on how much I mean to him, he calls me "mommy", he cuddles with me and (even after having been in time out a few times over) tells me I am the best mom ever! However, he also asks me if his mom can just give him "just one more hug"!?!? She hurt him, put him in harms way, neglected him and even abandoned him... yet, in his heart, he will always love her and have a bond with her as his mother!  

Being a mother can be hard, and if you are one you know this first hand. Now try imagining being one having been born addicted, abandoned by your parents, raped repeatedly, aging out the system with no one to turn to, going from guy to guy to merely have a place to sleep at night, and using just to make all your memories and pain disappear for a short period of time. Some of these moms don't deserve to be written off until they have been given the chance at mothering that they deserved from the very start, but never got. They haven't had the love and support of a family, the stability of a home, or even been told how valuable they are- that they actually deserve better! 

So, if you are a mother, and you don't feel, at this time, that you can open your home to a child... why not opening your hearts to walking along side a mother? Being a support, a voice of hope and an encouragement. I have found that completely giving of yourself... somehow leaves you more full and complete. Probably because -that's what we were created to do. 

Foster care is extremely sacrificial, 

yet in such a rewarding way.

---
Michelle Dahlman 


Michelle is a sewer/crafter, blogging newbie and music lover that enjoys family time, painting, and bike riding. She is a mother of 4 amazing blessings (3 biologically and 1 adopted through fostering). Her and her husband Chris are currently foster parents to 3 little ones.

Michelle has always had a heart for children and grew up in the church community. However, after hitting rock bottom and getting real and personal with God over the past couple years, her heart for the broken and forgotten became way more of a calling and a passion! She has learned that being a "Christian" is not just about a set of "rules" but is a daily calling, a lifestyle that represents Christ, and a relationship so deep that your heart breaks for what breaks His!

Michelle is currently starting up a ministry in her church to engage the body, their hearts and skills in reaching "the forgotten" and with a daily prayer to be an example, to her children, of a servant’s heart and to be used to the fullest for Gods glory.

To follow Michelle's journey visit her blog at www.hiscommandmyhands.blogspot.com