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Reunited – Foster Care Thoughts

September 14, 2016

 

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This is a photo from when I taught them how to lick the brownie batter off the mixers. I have to say, I’m pretty proud to have done it.

 

I just got a Facetime call from our Janie and Jordan. It’s not unusual for them to call, though it has happened less frequently since school started. What was unusual is that it was Jordan calling. I hadn’t spoken with him since August. He shared with me the most exciting news…Mom has moved back home! He told me with pride and a big toothless grin (he’s lost two teeth since he lived here). After five months of separation and supervised visits, she’s back with her children.

He handed his phone to his mom who was a completely transformed person. When I had seen her last, she seemed like a shell of a woman. Devoid of smile or personality. She seemed lost, alone, and hopeless. This version of mom smiled and told me how Jordan asked specifically if he could call his Foster Mom because it had, “been too long” since he’d talked to me. She thanked me for loving her children well and for taking such good care of them. She asked how I was feeling with the baby and told me that she hopes many good things come to our family. I got to tell her how happy I am that she can return home to them and to affirm how wonderful her kids are and how much we loved being able to be a part of their lives.

When Janie and Jordan went home, I mourned the loss of my title as a Foster Mom. It had quickly become such an important mantle to me. The fact that Jordan still calls me his Foster Mom (Janie refers to us as Sabrena and Josh) is so sweet to my heart. Having any lasting role in their lives is an absolute privilege.

These conversations are unusual in the larger scheme of foster care. The fact that we stay in touch with our foster kids, that their parents support this contact, is unusual. The fact that older children have a positive association with us and care to continue to talk to us even though a desire to completely “erase” this period of their life would be developmentally normal, is unusual. It’s the work of Jesus, and there isn’t anything else that can be said about it. When lightness shines into the dark and warmth spreads were desperation lives, it’s the transformative power of the gospel. Jesus died to bring this warmth. He offers it to me freely. I am so grateful for his gift and so humbled that our family can be used to share this light with others.

Janie and Jordan’s family is still not completely reunited. Baby brother has not been returned to his family. I have no new information about this, but I can tell you that they feel his absence every day. I can tell you that it has to be a heavy burden on mom and dad to be home together but not completely reunited. Will you continue to pray with me for this family? Pray that their case would not be bogged down in logistical difficulties. Pray that they would be able to continue to work their case plan and that things would not be slowed down arbitrarily. Thank you for sharing this burden with us over these past months!

 

25 Weeks With Baby GIRL Deal!

September 5, 2016

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How Far Along:
 25 Weeks (as of today, no current picture)

Size of baby: Acorn Squash

Total Weight Gain/Loss: 15 lbs

Maternity Clothes: It’s more challenging to dress for work in a limited wardrobe! Hoping to get some staples for my wardrobe tomorrow but have been enjoying getting things from the maternity section of SWAP.com

Gender: She’s a girl!

Movement: We have a ton of movement now! She is especially active in the evenings or when she’s feeling squished. Josh still hasn’t felt her externally yet but I’m looking forward to that.

Sleep: I usually wake up once per night but it’s like sleep walking. I’m getting an average of 9 glorious hours per night and I’m completely aware of how awesome this is!

Miss anything? I miss doing regular yoga. I also miss wearing my cute shoes. My feet hurt so badly that I have to wear tennis shoes all the time, even to work. It’s pretty humbling.

Cravings: I like Tonight Dough from Ben and Jerry’s a lot.

Symptoms: I tire much more quickly than I used to and it takes much longer to recover when I over do it. My hair is much less oily than it used to be! My feet hurt when I wear regular shoes.

Looking forward to: Having Josh be able to feel her kicking!

Best Moment this week: Hosting people for Josh’s birthday.

Labor signs: None, thank goodness!

It’s a….girl!

August 25, 2016

Josh and I weren’t in agreement about whether we wanted to find out baby’s sex. I thought it might be fun to wait and see when we met the baby. He wanted to know right away. I agreed, after a while, that it would be good to know. Then I waffled on when I wanted to find out and how to let others know. Then about who would get to know and who would need to wait. These are big moments, moments that I had held in my heart for a long time while I dreamed of having a baby of our own.

In the end, we found out together at the Doctor’s office on August 2nd, at 20 weeks. It was strange because we weren’t sure if we understood the technician correctly. At the end of the appointment, we tried to verify, and she said she was 90% sure that the baby was a girl. We were both very surprised because we were just SURE that the baby was a boy.

We went directly to Carter’s and bought the most precious baby girl things you can picture. It was funny to see what styles we picked out separately! We wrapped those items and took them to lunch where we shared the news with Josh’s side of the family.IMG_1049IMG_1046

Later that evening we told my family via a google hang out! It was perfectly full of accidental admissions and technical difficulties.

Then we had tons of fun telling friends via a private Facebook live video. We created a secret group and invited the same friends (from all over the world!) that we would have wanted at a gender reveal “party.” I was a little nervous that our friends would find it cheesy or strange, but I think everyone had fun! We asked people to take photos of themselves and whomever they were watching with. It was so joyful. I think that’s the thing I’ve been most surprised by, how excited others have been to celebrate WITH us!

About a week later, after telling some more sweet friends in person, we released a video that we’d taken with those same friends! It felt like a wonderful way to let others in on the secret.

 

In the end, I’m so glad we found out and that we shared it in stages. Knowing she’s in there, calling her by name (that will remain an internet secret until she arrives). Collecting little treasures for her room, these things are moments we’re holding tightly to as we prepare for her arrival.

13 Weeks with Baby Deal

June 15, 2016

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How Far Along: 13 Weeks

Size of baby: Pea-pod! It weighs about an ounce

Total Weight Gain/Loss: I haven’t been weighed since week 7 so I don’t know.

Maternity Clothes: I’m wearing them and enjoying it in the HOT Georgia summers. I have a black tank top with polka-dots that I like best

Gender: I don’t know but this week I feel like maybe a girl?

Movement: About two weeks ago we got to see baby on an ultra sound and he/she was be bopping around flipping, moving and dancing! I haven’t felt the baby move internally yet.

Sleep: I’m sleeping A LOT and sleeping hard.

Miss anything? I miss being able to not have to sleep two or three times during the day.

Cravings: I didn’t recognize it but Josh says I’m craving donuts. I’ve asked for them three times in the last month.

Symptoms: Exhaustion. Lots of extra tears.

Looking forward to: Hearing baby’s heartbeat next week.

Best Moment this week: Announcing our pregnancy online! It was truly overwhelming to have so many people rejoice with us.

Labor signs: None, thank goodness!

Baby Math….

June 12, 2016

You might have seen that our Internet world has exploded over the last couple of days as we announced the impending arrival of our first Baby Deal! Yes, it’s true, we’re pregnant! It’s still weird but it’s also wonderful and exhausting. If you’re like us you be blown away because this news seems crazy on top of ALL the other news we’ve had lately. I thought I’d do some clarification.

In brief: In the last 12.5 weeks: Josh started a new job, we became respite foster parents to a 7 and 11 year old, we closed on a house, we became full time foster parents to a 7 and 11 year old, we found out we were pregnant, I finished my 1st year at UGA, we said goodbye to our foster children, I got in a car accident, we bought a new car, and survived the first trimester. Oh yeah and we’re packing because we’re moving for the 2nd time in 11 months.

Fall 2015 – We took the first steps toward becoming a part of the Foster Care system. We stopped actively preventing pregnancy. We considered whether this was crazy but knew that we both felt very strongly that Foster Care was part of God’s plan for our family.

Early Spring 2016 – No baby yet. We continued to move forward in anticipation of growing our family through Foster Care.

April 6 – We became Foster parents for the first time. (Read more here).

April 8 – We closed on our new house! This seemed so anticlimactic after the craziness of getting the kids.

April 12 – At Josh’s request, I took a pregnancy test after being one day late. I just knew that this was due to stress from becoming an instant family of 4. SURPRISE! One week after becoming foster parents we found out we were 4 weeks pregnant with our own baby.
Shocked. Dumbfounded. Bowled-over. Surprised. Scared. Excited. OVERWHELMED.

Baby weeks 4 – 8: Not nearly as bad as they could have been. Lots of napping. Some discomfort. A little queasiness. Full of end of semester, end of school year stuff. Full of announcements to the kids, our family members,  and friends.

May 20/21Saying goodbye to Janie and Jordan. This was such a mixed time because we were very sad to say goodbye to these two little people that we loved and cared for but we were also relieved to know we wouldn’t have to break placement because of baby.

Baby weeks 9-12: I think I may have been almost asleep or actually napping for most of this time.

June 1 – Car accident. I was was so scared that something would be wrong with baby. I went to the Emergency Room and we were treated to a 20 minute ultra sound where we got to see baby looking like a BABY! The first couple that we had, it was more in its jelly bean/gummy bear form. This time, it had arms and legs, wrists and ankles, feet, toes and fingers! It flipped around, responded to me laughing and even stretched all the way out. Baby was fine and I, miraculously, did not have near the physical reaction that I have had in previous fender benders.

June 6 – After much consideration, we purchased a new car: Toyota Highlander. This was a very stressful and overwhelming process. We are glad it’s over and very happy with our vehicle.

June 10 – We told the world about Baby Deal in a video!

If you’re tired just reading this, you’re in good company. Here is to hoping that the rest of this pregnancy is less eventful than the beginning!

 

Going Home – Foster Care Thoughts

June 12, 2016

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We had been counting down to our court date – May 20th for over a month. We talked over and over about how there would be three possible outcomes.

1. Go home to mom and dad’s house
2. Go to another family member’s house
3. Stay with us here in Athens.

This court date was especially important because we were hoping the investigation into baby brother’s injuries would be completed and charges would be filed.

As we marched toward the court date, the questions grew more and more difficult. Hours of questions late into the night. This was exhausting and so difficult. They were all fair questions but there were no fair or easy answers to give to them in return.

I marveled at how they could maintain any semblance of normalcy as we went about our day to day activities.

The last two weeks before court were very crazy. The kids had several important meetings with lawyers and psychiatrists. We had phone calls with updates that contradicted each other. We had a stand off about whether the kids would have to be at court despite being lead to believe that we’d done everything to successfully avoid them missing the last day of school.

Josh and I took a four day trip to Virginia and the kids stayed with some of our care team members. We debated about taking that time away because we knew that it would be possible that we would miss the last few days of the kids being in our house.

In the end we decided to go because you just can’t live in a perpetual state of hesitant reaction to the possible outcomes of court dates in Foster Care. You have to live your life.

It was a good trip and friends and our foster care agency rallied around J&J to take them to graduation ceremonies and award ceremonies where they were both honored! Foster Kids, winning awards!

The day of court came and we lost our battle with whether the kids would need to go. They were, however, able to attend part of the last day of school. They had a very difficult time sleeping the night before, as did I. Our wonderful case worker, Kathryn, attended court and I met her there. I’m not going to go into all of the details but some very unexpected things happened at court which changed our case. Often, the authorities will take action at court because they know all parties involved will likely be there. Thankfully, I missed most of that action and the kids were completely unaware.

One wonderful, unexpected thing that happened at court as that baby brother was there! The kids hadn’t seen him in 7 and a half weeks (tons of time for a tiny baby!) and they were absolutely overjoyed to get to spend several hours with him. They loved that I got to meet him, too. He looks JUST like his big brother Jordan (not his real name).

We were the only ones having court that day so it was just me and Kathryn in the waiting room with J&J’s family and extended family. It was awkward. It could have been much worse, of course, if we had very negative interactions with them or if the circumstances of our case were different. After about an hour of waiting it seemed likely that the kids might be going to a family placement. There was an aunt and uncle willing to care for the kids who were already in the process of being approved. Approvals are tricky though and can sometimes take months. This was a welcomed possibility because we hoped the kids would be placed with family before school started again for their sakes and so that Josh and I would have some time just the two of us before the arrival of baby Deal (more on this in a future post).

This aunt and uncle approached me in the waiting room and asked me all about the kids. We talked for about 20 minutes and I told them everything I could about what it’s like to live with them and what kinds of things they like and don’t like. It was very encouraging to know that the couple caring for them wanted the kids to have a good time and cared about them as individuals not just responsibilities.

After this conversation, and an initial brief period in the court room. Things shifted. The conversation changed. Lawyers and case workers shuffled back and forth from meetings and looked over paperwork. Dates and times were being discussed but it was like hearing whispers at the end of a long tunnel. We still didn’t have much of an idea of what was happening at all. My heart felt like a YoYo.

When we went back before the judge, the outcome rang clear. The kids would be returning home to Dad’s custody, as soon as possible. I am TRULY thankful that our case worker and the kids’ Guardian Ad Litem (representative) stood behind the kids’ desire to have a day to return to Athens to pack their things and say goodbye to the friends they had made. The family, who was so appreciative of our care, over and over, agreed to this and before I knew it, it was all over and I would be dropping the kids and all of their things off a day later.

Someone told the kids before I had a chance. Janie was crying when I saw her. I later found out this was due to her learning that baby J would not be returning home with them. We drove back to Athens and started the process of saying goodbye. This included a sleepover with our closest Foster friends. A trip to the park to meet up with church friends and care team members. A trip to the movies that we’d been talking about since the first week and a lot of bitter sweet goodbyes.

We took lots of pictures together and prayed together for our sad and tender hearts. My foster care bff Tati rode with me as I returned the kids home. They slept the entire hour ride. We got to their house and Dad unloaded most of their things. They gave me a hug and that was that. We got in the car and drove away from them and that crazy, near 8 weeks of being their Foster Parents.

In an unexpected blessing, Janie face timed me later that night. I think that was the single most relieving part of the whole experience.

When I dropped them off the weight of whether this would be a final goodbye ,or just one more step in our relationship, was oppressively heavy on my heart.

Hearing from her helped me to know that the channel is still open and they were truly influenced by our time together. There is a lot that I haven’t covered in this post like how I was holding up emotionally or what it was like coming home without them. I hope to write about that in those topics more in the future. This is what I have to offer for now.

 

Could It Be Worse? – Foster Care Thoughts

May 10, 2016

I have been wonderfully overwhelmed with so many people who have taken on our burdens that I shared in the last post about our first family visit. Knowing we are not alone in this reality has made a significant difference in our ability to continue to serve Janie and John, even when the personal cost is so high. I feel compelled to add just one more thought to my last post.

Even with the brutal reality of this situation and this system, it could be worse for our children. Can you imagine what it would be like for the kids to have the experience I described and then come back to a Foster Home where nobody even asked how the visit went? A home where they aren’t served comfort foods or taken to the park to be distracted by something other than the giant holes in their hearts. A home where they don’t have clean, well-fitting clothes waiting in their drawers. A home where their personal items aren’t respected. A home where their tears aren’t acceptable and “bad attitudes” are punished. I hate this situation for our kids but I am glad that it’s easy to see how our involvement in providing a safe, stable home is helping — even when we feel so helpless.