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Friday, March 29, 2013

Forgotten Fridays: Being the "Other Woman" (the foster mom)

Foster Moms, you have a hard job.  I know you know that.  Nobody gets into this thinking it will be simple and easy.  We instinctively know it’s going to be a challenge to win the heart of a child who has been through some kind of trauma, but I remember when it dawned on me why it was sometimes harder for me than it was for my husband.

Our first experience raising kids was when we were houseparenting at a children’s home.  We worked with boys ages 6-18.  I remember after a few months of this experience having the frustrating realization that Brian was having all the fun and I was dealing with all the emotional drama.  The boys were always looking for Brian’s approval and wanting to do “man stuff” with him- playing basketball, working in the garden, playing video games, or just hanging out with him.  He was like a celebrity.  I felt like I got the roller coaster treatment- sometimes they were so affectionate and sweet, some days they were angry and short-tempered.  And I often found that one came right after the other.  WHY?

It took me awhile to realize that for lots of these boys, having a trustworthy man in the house was almost a novelty.  The vast majority had grown up in homes headed by single women.  Brian was a new kind of figure in their lives.  They wanted him to love them and were very sensitive to his corrections.  It is so good for these kids to have a positive male presence in their lives.
But being the foster mom is different.  These kids HAD moms.  They had moms they loved and worried about and felt guilty for leaving.  They were used to fighting with a mom, used to dealing with an unpredictable mom (sometimes sweet and sober, sometimes angry and drunk), used to compensating for a mom who needed mothering herself.  Many of these women weren’t just intentionally making bad choices, they were the victims of abuse in their own childhoods or the cycle of generations of bad parenting.  These were women I loved.

So it was difficult for these boys to learn to trust me.  I had to be gentle with them, but 100% consistent in my expectations.  I had to be so conscious not to raise my voice or speak to them in anger.  I was physically affectionate whenever it was appropriate and encouraged them in their positive progress.  And just when I’d start to tear down some of their walls, they’d get angry and shut me out.

This is what it’s like when you’re “the other woman” in the life of a child.  When you’ve done all you can to build a relationship and establish trust, that’s when a child may start to feel guilty.  They realize they love you and that’s not a comfortable place to be.  Now you can hurt them because they care about you.  They’re worried their moms will know.

How can you overcome this hangup in bonding with a foster child?  For me it was always important to validate the love the child has for their parents.  As much as I could create a sense of camaraderie and teamwork between me and the mom I would try to do it.  If you set yourself up as the “good guy” and talk about their mother as though she is the “bad guy” you are asking for trouble.  Kids are hard-wired to love their moms and it takes A LOT to break that.  Thank goodness!  We moms frequently mess up and it’s a blessing our kids are as loyal and forgiving as they are.  Just remember, if you put yourself on one side and the mom on the other, the child is going to side with the mom and you’ll be standing there by yourself.  You need to be on the same side working for what’s best for the child.

It’s good to realize this woman is more likely to trust the decisions you’re making for her child if she knows and trusts your heart.  There is a big obstacle to overcome- you are loving her child while she has been told she isn’t good enough to parent right now.  She’s going to feel resentful, angry, hurt, and rightfully so!  You can make a difference in how she feels about this situation by treating her with respect.    Be kind.  Talk to her like a peer when possible.  If she knows you’re in her corner it’s going to be easier for her to support the decisions you’re making for her child and she’ll be able to give that child her blessing to thrive in your home.
This isn’t about manipulation.  This is about basic human dignity and treating people the way you would want to be treated.

For some of us we feel a righteous anger towards these parents.  We struggle with knowing what this child went through, the scars they will carry for the rest of their lives (physical and emotional) and we  can’t help but want to see the parents suffer or be punished.  I have totally been there.  And I still have moments where that wells up in me when I see the long-term issues these precious kids continue to struggle with.  I just want to remind you that these things rarely happen in a vacuum.  You may be feeling intense anger towards a woman who was a victim herself.  It absolutely doesn’t excuse her behavior, but sometimes it helps me to think about this woman’s childhood and the terrible coping skills she had to learn that helped her survive but have now handicapped her in dealing with her life.  There may be an appropriate time when you’re working with older kids to help them understand things from that perspective.  They may have their own anger they need help working through.  It’s okay to validate their feelings while helping them understand things from their mom’s point of view.  Even kids who express a lot of anger at their moms still need to know the positives about their parent.  It is difficult to think highly of yourself when you think so low of the woman you came from.  They don’t need to have an untrue or unrealistically positive idea about their mothers, but they may need your help interpreting the information they know to create a realistic picture of who she is.

I know there aren’t any sure-fire cures for feeling like “the other woman” in a child’s life.  This is a tough situation and it requires so much humility, discernment, and grace from foster moms.  I want to validate that if you’re feeling like this is hard- it is!  You can’t fix it, but doing your best to get on the same team as this child’s mother can go a long way towards helping both of them accept your role in their lives.

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, March 27, 2013

Advocate Wednesday: There's a Reason

As our family has been reflecting on Christ's death and resurrection this week, I've been wrestling with the knowledge that the crucifixion was no accident.  We could never have been saved without God's perfect plan to redeem us through His son's suffering.

"For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."  2 Corinthians 5:21

Its difficult for me to wrap my head around the idea that God has a reason for the children in foster care to be there.  He has them there as part of His plan for them.  The truth is that He has a plan for every blessing and every heartache that we go through. No incident has been overlooked.  There are no coincidences or luck.

For a young girl who has just been taken out of her home because her father was abusing her, perhaps being placed with a family who has loving foster parents will show her that she deserves to be loved and cared for.  For a mother who has had her children taken away from her because she has been using and selling drugs out of her home, perhaps working with a foster care worker who truly cares about helping her get her children back is just what she needs to quit using and change her life.

As foster parents, workers, and volunteers that truly care about what happens to these children and their families, we may never know why they have gone through such heartache and loss.  We can, however, rest in the knowledge that God's plan is perfect and He has a reason for everything.  We have the opportunity to plant a small seed of hope in the lives of so many that are hurting deeply and looking for answers.

Will you join us?

Current Needs in Charleston, SC


Anna Schumpert
Anna Shumpert
Forgotten Advocate: Charleston, SC

Anna and her husband Ryan are parents to one. God put orphan care on Anna’s heart early in her Christian walk and after adopting their daughter, He opened Anna’s eyes to the immense need for foster and adoptive parents in her own community. As her heart grew for those children, she wanted to do more but had no idea how just one person could tackle the huge needs of the foster care community. When she stumbled across The Forgotten Initiative on a friend’s blog post one day she realized that this was exactly what God had been preparing her heart for. 
“The more I learned about the foster care community and its brokenness, the less I was able to sit still and do nothing.”

Monday, March 25, 2013

Make a Difference Monday: Summit9


The Forgotten Initiative will be attending Summit9 on May 2-3 in Nashville, TN and would love for you to join us!  

What is Summit9?  
"The Christian Alliance for Orphans’ annual Summit has become the national hub for what Christianity Today recently called, “the burgeoning Christian orphan care movement.” Summit IX on May 2-3, 2013, at Brentwood Baptist Church in Nashville, TN is expected to draw 1,800 to 2,000 pastors, grassroots advocates, organizational leaders and church ministry heads. Alongside more than eighty workshops, the unforgettable plenary sessions will include David Platt, Randy Alcorn, Michele Bachmann, Bishop & Donna Martin, and other global leaders. Summit inspires, equips and connects for adoption, foster care and global orphan ministry."

To learn more about Summit9 or to register click here. 

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Advocate Wednesday: Hear from Denise in Prescott!

Our foster care licensing worker came over last week. In the course of our discussion, she told me about two little boys that were just taken from their home by Child Protective Services. It was the worst case of abuse that she had ever seen. The boys (ages 9 and 7) were black and blue with cuts all over their bodies and they were tied to a tree outside of their home by some irrigation tubing for days before a neighbor called CPS.

A few weeks ago they were at home with their families. Now, because of what their families have done and/or neglected to do, now they are...homeless...motherless...fatherless. And maybe, hopeless. They are practically orphans. Kids whose parents are alive, but aren’t present. Aren’t there to bandage their knee when they fall down, read them a story or tuck them in at night. Orphans. American orphans.

Somehow I wanted to escape the reality that this happened 15 miles from my nice, safe, comfortable home. I was horrified. I didn't sleep that night.

Yet we learn that most people believe that children are in foster care because of their own behavior. In a recent survey of public opinion, 45% of those surveyed believed children were in foster care because of juvenile delinquency when the reality is that these kids have been abused, neglected or abandoned. (by Kelly Rosati with Focus on the Family)

In Arizona as of March 31, 2012, there were 12,435 children who were placed in out-of-home care due to abuse, neglect or abandonment. That's a staggering number that seems to be steadily increasing.
Last week someone said “why are you working so hard? We're not saved by works.” I don't care to admit how deeply that wounded.

Of course I know that. It's clear in the Scriptures that we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone.

But Mark 8:35 teaches “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel's, the same shall save it.”

Isn’t the point that we want to give our lives away? Is that what it means to be centered on Christ, the God who so loved, that He gave?

Because only a life contemplating the love of Christ becomes a life acting the love of Christ. And love always moves. Loving first and foremost Christ. And loving others.

Who are you loving today?

Rodney & Denise Steidinger---
Denise Steidinger 
Rodney & 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.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Forgotten Fridays: It's not about me

I'm sick to my stomach.

The 12 year old boy that I used to tutor, I now mentor.  Me, a 23 year old girl, mentoring a 12 year old boy.  I've had reservations about this to say the least.  Tutoring was fine, easy, just focus on school work, but mentoring, and doing things with Timothy that I'm not a fan of OR even good at.  But I figured if it worked out to mentor him, I would.  God has a purpose.  I had already built a relationship with him while tutoring and he began to trust me more and more and began sharing more with me.

Two weeks ago we went to the library and he played games on the computer, he thought it was the coolest thing, his low expectations of going to the library were totally taken away.  He told me this week he wanted to play basketball.  Now if you know me, I am the worst person to play basketball, I'm talkin' no hand-eye coordination what so ever!  This took me many years to accept, but now, I'm okay with it, I just stay away from all things that may have the possibility of flying at my face.

Today I called around and was able to find a place we could play basketball.  For this boy I decided I would do it, I would go above and beyond my comfort zone to serve him and show him Jesus.  He was SO excited when I picked him up at school and told him we were going to play basketball.  We got to a church gym and shot hoops for about a half hour and then he decided he wanted to play an actual game of basketball, not just HORSE or PIG, like real dribbling, real fouls, real guarding and everything.... what?!  But of course, I did it.  I even TRIED to play well.  We were having a lot of fun.

We got back in the car to go home and his attitude completely changed.  He became very quiet and distant.  I tried to joke around with him, but he stayed still, head slumped, and wordless.  I asked him what was up and he stated the normal, "nothing," from a pre-teen.  He didn't want to talk about it, so I didn't push, I knew he would share if he wanted to.  Even earlier that day I asked him how school was... "Good."  How his foster home was... "Ugh, bad. But you're not my therapist so I don't want to talk about it."  I completely understood, he already talks to multiple people about his feelings.  I just stated that I was there for him if he needed me.

So on our way home, I then asked him another question about a girl in his class (he has a crush on her).  He answered my question and then proceeded to tell me I was never allowed to ask about her again.  I confusingly asked why and he said, "Because it's my life and I decide what people can ask me."  This hit me hard, I tried with all of my being not to burst into tears.  It was like a stab from my little brother when he would tell me he didn't like me or want to play with me when we were children.  I don't understand.  Did I do something wrong?  Did I say something and trigger something inside of him?

I've tried so hard to be myself around him, to let the person the Lord created, shine forth. As he got out of my car, I told him to smile and have a great two weeks.  He didn't make eye contact with me and said, "doubt it."  Then when I rolled my window down and said, "Timothy..." in a concerning tone, he picked up snow and said if I didn't leave he would throw a snowball at my car.  Okay, okay. I'll back off.

There is so much going on in his life and all I want to be is a support, not another thing to worry about.  When we were playing basketball, he was a child, he was acting like his age.  I have a feeling when we got in the car he realized we were going to his foster home, a place he doesn't feel comfortable, a place he won't even call home.  So instead of dwelling on what I may have done wrong, I'm going to focus on this boy and his heart.  Focus on lifting him up to our ever faithful Healer.  I know that Timothy will be 100% secure and safe in the arms of Jesus and that is my prayer, that the Lord will protect him and put a hedge around him as he is in this place, he will never call "home."

My mentoring relationship with Timothy has been difficult and very "uncomfortable,"  but that has been my prayer for a couple years now.  That my Christian walk will be an uncomfortable one, I know it's a dangerous prayer to pray but I'm all in for HIS purpose alone.  Mentoring has been a great reminder of all the hurting children in foster care.  Foster children know more than I will ever know about life, they know more pain and heartache than I may ever know.  If you want to be a support to a child in foster care, a vulnerable adult who has aged out of the system, or even a birth parent who needs a good role model of parenting, please contact us.  We need more people to love on these kids, to be part of the team that is FOR them not against them and to show them the uncomplicated and selfless love of Jesus Christ.

If you would like to attend a mentor training...
  • Bloomington/Peoria, IL area email Cassie@theforgottenintiative.org
  • To find a Forgotten Advocate near you to learn about mentoring in your community, click here. 

Jillian Kellenberger 
Jillian is currently studying social work at Illinois State University and will graduate with a Bachelor’s in Social Work in the spring.  About a year ago Jillian found out about TFI through Facebook and immediately felt a tug on her heart to do more for those who feel forgotten.  As she started volunteering for us, the Lord began changing her heart for the fatherless as well as “the forgotten” children in foster care.  Jillian has a passion to serve hurting and oppressed individuals by showing them Jesus’ amazing love.  She is now our very first intern and we are thankful she has joined our team!  

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Advocate Wednesday: He is inviting us into His work!

The Forgotten Initiative is fairly new in Columbia, almost a year old.  In my role as Advocate, this year I have chosen to focus most of my time on building a strong foundation for the ministry to succeed long-term.  For me, this has involved creating awareness about the ministry of The Forgotten Initiative, building relationships within the agencies, and finding partnering churches.  

In 1 Corinthians 12 we read, “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit.  And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord.  There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons.”  It goes on to describe what some of those gifts and ministries are, and then says, “But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired.”

One of the greatest things about my role is meeting all kinds of people - Jesus-loving, creative, compassionate, unique people!  As I build friendships with those who want to serve the foster care community, it’s been really beautiful to see the variety of people that God is bringing together to serve the needs of our area.  God knows our needs!  And He has equipped specific people “just as He desired” to come alongside the needy and serve.  What a privilege to watch the creative process that God is orchestrating!  Even more amazing is the fact that I am a part of His plan.  And so are you!  He is inviting us into His work. 

Practically, this means that anyone with a desire to serve can find a place.  The needs of the foster care community are so broad and diverse, that just about anyone of any age or gender can find a way to shine the Light of Jesus in this ministry.  I love that!  Often I have heard, “I want to serve, but I don’t know how.”  By assessing their skills and passions, it doesn’t take long to make a connection and suggest a service opportunity.

When I am thinking in my own perspective, I can be overwhelmed by the amount of need around me.  When I allow God to give me His perspective, everything changes as I remember the greatness of our God.   So, let’s be encouraged about the diversity that God provided within the Body of Christ, and let’s trust Him to meet every need!

Melisha Meredith
Forgotten Advocate: Columbia, SC
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.
“The Forgotten Initiative will be a great place to come alongside people in their journey with Jesus and lead them closer to Him.”

Monday, March 11, 2013

Make A Difference Monday: Project Sunshine Foster Home Edition!

Hello friends!  We are gearing up for something very special around here.  It's called Project Sunshine:  Foster Home Edition!

Project Sunshine: Foster Home Edition is a fundraiser and service project all in one! 
After children are removed from their homes they often wait for hours in agency rooms until a foster home is located. The rooms are also used for weekly visitation between the children and their birth parents while they are in care. Project Sunshine was birthed out of a desire to create friendly spaces for kids during this dark time in their lives.  
Project Sunshine: Foster Home Edition simply takes the Project Sunshine concept  and applies it to a foster parent's home and at the same time raises funds for The Forgotten Initiative! 

We'd love for you to Get Involved!  To LEARN MORE visit our project blog.  But before you to, meet the two families we have the honor of blessing through this project!

Project Sunshine: Foster Home Edition // Meet the Families from The Forgotten Initiative on Vimeo.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Forgotten Fridays: Twins!

When you decide to obey God's calling on your life, you really never know where that will take you. 

For me, the call began about 3 years ago. I became more aware of the world of foster care and felt led to learn more. From that came my discovery of The Forgotten Initiative and my advocacy through them here in Birmingham. Then, last spring, the time finally seemed right to take the foster parent training classes and finally at the beginning of January we were officially licensed as foster parents. 

Our vision for this was one child younger than our youngest. We felt like that was what "we could handle". And then the call came...twins. I was speechless. We hadn't even considered this. But here we were with 2 babies needing a home and us having plenty of room for 2. But could we do it?

We had a long weekend full of uncertainties and unlikely scenarios. And then God didn't just crack the door open for us to say yes...he blew the doors wide open. And meanwhile showed us just how much His people were willing to do to support us if we would just say yes. And so we said yes. 

A few hours later I held a precious little girl and boy in my arms and the journey really began. 

Yes, we're exhausted. Yes, it's tough to jump into being parents of 2 toddlers. Yes, there are difficult issues involved in being part of "the system". 

But also Yes, God is holding our hands every step of the way. Yes, our friends and family and church are loving on us in exceedingly generous ways. Yes, He is answering the prayers I pray in the middle of the night, on the heads of the babies, with our boys before bed...it's emotional, it's moving, but most of all it proves to me once again that when we step out in obedience, even beyond what we believe we are capable of, God is there doing more than we ask or even imagine, just as He promises.

Kristin Solomon 
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.

Click here to find needs in Birmingham, AL 

Monday, March 4, 2013

Make a Difference Monday: Mentor Training

In the beginning of February TFI had a mentor training. This was our biggest turnout for a training with 25 people showing up to learn more about this important opportunity to serve God and impact the world for Christ! We are praising the Lord for each and every individual that attended the training. We ask you to join us in prayer as we begin matching some of our new mentors to the children and vulnerable adults in need of someone to stand along side them and be a constant in the midst of a world of chaos.  

If you would like to attend a mentor training...

  • Bloomington/Peoria, IL area email Cassie@theforgottenintiative.org
  • To find a Forgotten Advocate near you to learn about mentoring in your community, click here. 

Friday, March 1, 2013

Forgotten Fridays: Question and Answer with a Caseworker

What do you want people to know about Foster Care? 

"The first and most important thing to know about Foster Care is that it is temporary . The first goal is and will always be that while we have removed a child in order to keep them safe, we are working on the goal of return home if at all possible. The 2nd goal if that is not possible, is to keep siblings together and also look at a possible relative placement. So every Foster Family has to understand it is not about them or a Social Worker . IT IS ABOUT THE CHILD."

What has the impact of TFI been on your agency or job? 

"It has been the best support anyone could imagine . We have had new people come forward to Foster and we have felt supported by people in the community for the first time. The clean up for our visitation rooms, it is great to watch the visits in our new rooms. The bags for the kids coming in, are like nothing we have ever had to give to our children. They are wonderful. The treats you sent for our little ones that are often hungry at the time of removal, and we can give them something to nibble on. From all the workers the home made goodies for our workers WERE WONDERFUL. This group has given to this Foster Care World and they are some pretty special people to us at this agency."

What is an ideal foster parent? 

"This is the person who comes in our door to help a child in need. This is the person who is able to love a badly broken child and will support the goals for that child."

What does a typical day, week look like for a foster care worker?

"It often is a long day and many days we are on-call for 24 hours. We truly never know what that on-call day is going to bring so while we may plan to stay in our office and work on piles of paperwork , our emergency’s that day will wipe out that plan in seconds. In this job not only are we working with a child in need, we are working within Court timelines for paperwork and state demands of this to happen within 5 days or 10 or 30 etc. Often times you will see workers failing to use up leave time because everything is very time sensitive in this job."

What is the hardest thing about your job? 

"Seeing an 8 wk. old child with more things broken in her body then weeks in her life."

Can you tell us a success story? 

"The child above is now adopted by the most loving family and she will never have this kind of pain again in her childhood. A little girl that is going home to her mother next week because her mother has been drug free for almost a year now."

Can you tell us about a case that was significant to you? 

"A young man that came into my life when he was 12 and he is all grown up, finished school and just last year got back home after his 4th tour of duty in Afghanistan . I, as a worker, am so proud of the man he is today."

Why do you do what you do? 

"One tiny life changes for the better and as a Christian that is what God wants me to do."

What do you want people in churches to know about foster care? 

"It is a roller coaster for anyone and many, I understand, do not want to ride this emotional roller coaster but Foster Parents are sooooooooo needed every day and guess who the best Foster Parents are for that child, we have found that people within a Church home often turn out to be the best families."

Do you feel supported in your job? 

"Not by the public but with this relationship with TFI it is like for the first time people in the public are starting to understand what we are charged to do for a child. NO FURTHER HARM."