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Monday, July 29, 2013

Make A Difference Mondays: Rejoicing with the Angels in Heaven

A little over a month ago, Baby K's father tried to take his own life after he had sat in a prison cell for over 6 months with no visits from family or friends. Little did he know that God had reached down from heaven to call one of the most unlikely people to go and minister to this man. The week of his suicide attempt, I felt an extreme sense of urgency to get Seth to the prison to speak with him. Seth had a very hard heart towards Baby K's dad which was understandable due to the reason he was in prison. God performed a work in his heart though and in a very short time created compassion from hate. Seth has been to visit him about 5 times now and each time we are blessed with stories of changes in his life.

Today, Seth and two men from his men's group went to visit Baby K's dad and two other prisoners. These two other prisoners are 18 and 23 years old. They told the men's group that they had seen such dramatic changes in Baby K's dad after Seth's visits, that they wanted to receive visits and prayer as well. These are two men who are in prison for violent crimes. What an amazing God we serve that we get to be a part of this. I am in awe. I told Seth tonight that if nothing good came out of us fostering after this point, the changes in the lives of these men are all worth it. Also today, Baby K's dad officially told Seth that he accepted our Lord Jesus Christ as his Savior and is now following Him. Instead of dying 6 weeks ago, Baby K's dad has been reborn in Christ with new hope and a new mission. I can't believe I get to tell a story like this. God is so good.  Please continue to lift our family, Baby K's dad and now these other two prisoners up in prayer.

"I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent." Luke 15:7 

Elizabeth Pedigo
Elizabeth is a happy stay-at-home mama/foster mama to 7 children under 7. She is passionate about living her life to glorify our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. She loves mamas and babies, real food, alternative medicine, and natural childbirth. She has a husband who blesses her beyond anything she deserves every day and supports her in all the crazy things she does. God is so good.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Forgotten Fridays: She is Just Like Me

Ten years ago while living in Virginia Beach my husband and I prepared to become foster parents.  We loved children and wanted a large family. As an adopted person myself , I felt called to open my heart and home to children not born of me . A few weeks after completing training I discovered I was pregnant with our third child. Eight months after our son was born I was expecting again. We put off becoming foster parents for a while, quite a while.

Last summer we once again went through foster parent training. After 16 years of parenting, two foster parent training programs, a background in early childhood development, and an extensive home study I felt prepared to foster/adopt a child. What I was not prepared for was how I would react to meeting and interacting with our foster child’s birth mom.

We received a call about a little boy on August 6th, 2012. I picked him up and marveled at this precious child of God. He was so beautiful and vulnerable. I thanked God for choosing us to care for this child and asked for His help and guidance. I promised to trust in His will for us and accept the challenges that would come our way. God knows I have a strong will and a thick head. He warned me from the beginning that what He would ask of us would be hard. The little boy’s name was Isaac.

Two weeks after Isaac was placed with us he was scheduled to have a visit with mom. I had the option of having a worker bring him to his mother but I felt it would comfort her to see me. A few days before the visit, Isaac’s mom gave the social worker a bag to give me. It contained baby shampoo, nail clippers, tooth paste, clothing and a blue bunny. I imagined this young mother gathering her only child’s belongings and bagging them up for me, a stranger. I thought of how scary that must be. Did she think I wouldn’t have clippers for his nails? Did she worry I wouldn’t get him what he needed? I knew I needed to reassure her and let her know he was being well cared for. I started a journal and took pictures of Isaac to give to his mom.

On the day of the visit I was nervous. Isaac’s mom was waiting in the visit room so a worker took him back. I didn’t get to meet her but I felt a little relieved. I figured she would resent me and things could get ugly.

After Isaac’s visit was over, a tearful young woman hurried out the door. I stood in the lobby not knowing what to say or do. Somehow she knew who I was and  raced towards me. I didn’t move as she threw her arms around me and gave me a hug. As she did this she dropped all the pictures I had given her and we both awkwardly scrambled to gather them. I told her we would take good care of him. She hurried off and I stood there bewildered by the complexity of all that I was feeling.

You see, when you read about a person in a report and look at a list of their problems it’s easy to feel superior. It’s easy to justify why this child should be with you instead. I have a husband (a Godly, professional, hard working husband!), I have an education, a nice home, my children are in private school or home schooled and I have a supportive community of family and friends. My children play instruments, they are involved in sports, they volunteer at church and in the community, they are well rounded and polite!

What I did not expect was looking into the eyes of a tearful young woman and realizing that she was just like me. She was a human being in need of God’s mercy. She was a mother who desperately loved her son.

There is a house in my neighborhood I love. It’s a Spanish style home with beautiful landscaping. An older woman lives there and does much of the yard work herself. You can smell the mulch and compost. The soil is rich and dark and there is always something in bloom. I see her out in her yard often, watering, pruning, transplanting and thinning. It’s obvious this woman loves her garden and takes pride in her yard. I noticed something unusual the other day when I walked by her house and it made me think of Isaac’s mom.

On the outside of the garden wall there is a lily growing. It’s growing up through the concrete and doing quite well. This lily doesn’t have fertilizer, regular watering, mulch, or the time and attention of a person  tending to it. Yet, this lily perseveres. I think of what God asks of us. “To those much is given, much is required.”

Every advantage I have is a gift from God. I have been given fertile soil. If I feel discouraged, I make a call or send an email and I am covered in prayer. I don’t know what it’s like to go hungry. I have too much food and need to be careful not to eat too much. The food I buy is local and organic and I have the audacity to feel proud because I choose (can afford) to feed my family this way. I have heat in the winter and air conditioning in the summer. If my car breaks down I fix it. I am blessed. If God judged me, selfish sinner that I am, the way I am inclined to judge others I would be in big trouble.

Imagine not having enough money to feed your child. Imagine having to do it alone. Imagine not having an education. Imagine being shamed by an illness or situation you unwillingly find yourself in. Imagine having someone tell you that you are not fit to care for your child. Imagine not knowing there is a God that can make all things new. Imagine not knowing about forgiveness and redemption.

We are called to be the hands and feet of Christ. The woman at the well needed compassion and mercy. I believe we can answer God’s call by showing kindness to those in need, not only to the child but also the parent.

As for Isaac, he was returned to his mother after spending nine months with us. She is working to improve her situation and has allowed us to stay in her and Isaac’s life. We see them weekly and hope to maintain a lifelong friendship.

Heidi Rizzo
Heidi is a quirky mother of four delightful children. Or is it the other away around? I forget.  She and her husband moved to Staunton in 2011 so their oldest daughter could attend Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind. She is a home schooling mom and spends much of her time

looking for misplaced items. The Rizzo’s hope to expand their family and can’t wait to see what God has in store.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Advocate Wednesdays: Hear how the Lord brought Jaclyn to TFI

When I first heard about TFI, I was pregnant with our first child and a friend was on the committee for organizing a picnic to let the community know about TFI in Champaign County.  My husband I and volunteered to make and donate a couple things for the raffle.  I loved what TFI stood for, but with a baby on the way I didn’t want to get too involved or over-commit.  We went to the picnic with a three week old baby, still in the ‘dazed new parents’ state.  We ate dinner, talked with some people we knew and left.  We didn’t even stay to listen to Jami Kaeb speak about TFI. 
            Then there was a Project Sunshine that came up.  I thought I would love to go and help and paint, since I really enjoy that.  But, once again I ended up using the new baby/parent excuse since I had no one to watch my daughter.  In reality I’m sure if I had actually asked someone they would have gladly watched her.  It was just easier to not do it. 
            As time went on, I would help with First Response needs and things like that.  Which really meant, I wasn’t getting involved beyond spending money and spending about ten minutes at the store.  I was content to just keep doing that and in my head, used the excuse that we lived twenty-five minutes from town and that my daughter hated being in the car as my excuses as to why I wasn’t doing anything more. 
            Eventually my youngest sister, Jillian, joined TFI as an Intern in Bloomington.  My family would get to hear so much about TFI through her.  In Elgin, my hometown, my mom became involved when a new advocate started up there.  God really started working in my heart at this point.  I felt I really needed to start doing more and a good way to do that would be to help support Jen Young, the previous advocate.  I knew this would be a great way to serve.  When Jen felt the Lord calling her to step down as the advocate, I strongly felt it was just my place to support whoever the new advocate was going to be.  I was content with that, but God was not.  Jami and Jillian approached me about becoming the advocate, and God started doing more work on my heart.  Eventually, I came to the realization that He was calling me to be the advocate for Champaign County.   I knew it wouldn’t be easy, especially since we are expecting our second child in January as well as the whole transition aspect of taking over Jen’s role.  I’m still slowy meeting with the agencies, learning their needs and trying to get them filled.  I will meet with the final two agencies this week and I’m thrilled that I’ll be in the maintenance aspect of those relationships instead of the initial contact state.  There is still a lot of work to be done, but I’m excited about it, mostly because I’m out of my comfort zone quite a bit when doing work for TFI and that’s really good for me.  I’m getting to meet so many new people and learn so much about the foster community.  I can't wait to see where God takes TFI in Champaign County!

Jaclyn Blunier 
Jaclyn and Travis are parents to a two-year-old daughter and have a baby on the way, due in January!  They love their role as parents and Jaclyn is thankful for the Lord's guidance in bringing her to the advocate role in Champaign County, IL!  The Lord began working on Jaclyn's heart when she was a new mom but as a lot of us do, she pushed away the burden she began to feel for the foster care community.  When her sister joined the TFI National Team, Jaclyn could no longer turn a blind eye to this forgotten community.  She felt a deep burden on her heart and knew the Lord was calling her to action to step into the advocate role and she is thankful for God's provision as He brings her out of her comfort zone.  

Find Needs in Champaign County, IL

Monday, July 22, 2013

Make a Difference Monday: Isaiah 58:6-12

“Is not this the fast that I choose:
    to loose the bonds of wickedness,
    to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed[a] go free,
    and to break every yoke?

Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
    and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
    and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?

Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you;
    the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.

Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
    you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’

If you take away the yoke from your midst,
    the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,
10 if you pour yourself out for the hungry
    and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
then shall your light rise in the darkness
    and your gloom be as the noonday.

11 And the Lord will guide you continually
    and satisfy your desire in scorched places
    and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
    like a spring of water,
    whose waters do not fail.

12 And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
    you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,    the restorer of streets to dwell in."  

--Isaiah 58:6-12 

Friday, July 19, 2013

Forgotten Fridays: Do. Right.

Originally posted on Friday, December 28, 2012

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/ 

Monday, July 15, 2013

Make a Difference Monday: A Journey Bag Story!

Originally Posted on Monday, February 18, 2013
From a foster parent in Augusta County, Virginia:
"I just wanted to let you know that we received a new foster care placement yesterday – a 2 1/2 yr old girl. She came to us with a small bag of summer clothes and a journey bag. She didn’t say much all day and looked pretty scared/withdrawn whenever we tried to talk with her. At one point we decided to check out the journey bag and see what was in it. Well, the pink and purple bracelets and sock monkey overwhelmed her! She smiled from ear to ear and just kept asking if they were really for her. She LOVED them! What a joy for us to see that gift bring her so much happiness on such a scary day. We just wanted to thank you and your team of volunteers for their thoughtfulness and let you all know that it is so appreciated."
If you are interested in doing a journey bag project with your church or small group, we would love to get you connected to the need! 
To find an advocate near you: Click Here

Friday, July 12, 2013

Forgotten Fridays: What will you do when they cry?

I sat on my front porch this morning and gave many thanks to God.  Thanksgivings for my family, my mentors and close friends, for every Advocate that has joined with TFI to serve the foster care community and so many more.

And yet there are still times when I feel lonely, down, and hurting.  Sometimes I feel misunderstood or unappreciated.  I know I'm not alone in this.  I remember one particular evening when I was really struggling.  I fell on my face and cried out "God if you are real, then show up now!"  It wasn't long before the Lord reminded me of all the people in my life who supported, prayed for, and loved me. 

My friends, I know God is real.  I know He is real because He has shown up in my life in many ways but often it is through His people.  I see Jesus through their lives.  I feel Jesus because they serve with their hands and feet. 

But what about the women who has found herself pregnant again and has no one?  What about the young man who just aged out of foster care and is on his own, in every sense of the word.  What about the child who waits for hours in an agency office because there are no available homes?  What about the caseworker who is stressed, overwhelmed and literally has no one to turn too?  Or the foster parent who is struggling and feels misunderstood.

What about them?  What about when they cry out, "God if your real, then show up now!"  Who will show up?  Who will reach out with His hands and feet?  Who will show Jesus to the forgotten?

We don't have time to waste!  Foster parents giving up because they have no support.  High caseworker turnover which means more rejection and change for kids who are already hurting. More then 250,000 kids coming into foster care each and every year.  20,000 kids aging out without being adopted.  104,000 still waiting for a forever family!  We don't have time to waste.

“I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do.”  Helen Keller

Jami KaebJami Kaeb is a dreamer and a coffee lover!  She is married to Clint and the mother of six – soon to be seven through a Ugandan adoption.  It was through a difficult season of waiting, that Clint and Jami's eyes were opened to the foster care community.  They became foster parents to three siblings who they eventually adopted and in April of 2011, Jami founded The Forgotten Initiative.  Jami views life as a great adventure with Jesus and desires simply to know Him more and share His love with those who feel forgotten.

Follow Jami's personal blog at www.lifewithapersonalgod.org

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Advocate Wednesdays: The Reality of Aging out Youth

I sit here burdened, broken, pained, crying for those who are being neglected, broken and trafficked all across the world.  Last night I watched a documentary, “Nefarious:Merchant of Souls.” A documentary focused on human trafficking all over the world.  I continue to weep for these women and children who are having their bodies sold, young women who are growing up in orphanages and trafficked by the director of the orphanage because no one will notice when she is gone; children who are being sold daily by their own parents.  How can this be?  How can this be a world we live in?  I have been so naive  thinking bad things happen in other countries but not where I live. Does the human trafficking stop before it hits the United States?  Absolutely not.  There are children daily aging out of the foster care system without a family to guide them to make positive career choices, without a family to show them Jesus, without someone telling them they are worth so much more than selling their bodies and being manipulated by the sin in this world.  We as believers, as children of God, are called to reach out to these individuals.  We need to help save them from the destruction that is calling their name once the government no longer supports them.  Please join TFI in praying for ways to serve these vulnerable adults from continuing the cycle of family destruction that has predestined their life before their birth.  We must stop turning a blind eye, get in the trenches, help set the captives free and share the hope in Jesus to these vulnerable youth. 

“You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.”
― William Wilberforce

Scary statistics:
"Each year, over 27,000 youth “age out” of foster care without the emotional and financial support necessary to succeed.  This number has steadily risen over the past decade.  Nearly 40% had been homeless or couch surfed, nearly 60% of young men had been convicted of a crime, and only 48% were employed.  75% of women and 33% of men receive government benefits to meet basic needs.  50% of all youth who aged out were involved in substance use and 17% of the females were pregnant." (Data retrieved from http://www.ccainstitute.org/why-we-do-it-/facts-and-statistics.html

Jillian graduated from Illinois State University with a Bachelor’s degree in social work. She has a heart for the orphan and those who feel forgotten. Her role with TFI began as a volunteer, a year and a half later she serves full time as administrative and advocates support. Jillian has a passion for loving and reaching out to those who are hurting.