Friday, December 18, 2015

2015: the ups and the downs


What a year it has been for our ever changing family!

We started the year off still working on getting our bearings with Baby Zee who had only been home for a few weeks. It was like we had a mini hospital in our living room, and looking back on it now it was quite overwhelming to say the least. But, as the days went on, we all got more and more settled in to our new normal.

But God.

Those words always crack me up....but they are always good!

In March we got a call about a little boy with CP who needed a home for a while. I know not the first thing about a child with CP, so this was quite the learning experience. "C" was a hot mess and quite a handful!

While "C" was with us we found out that Zee would be ready for his open heart surgery sooner than we had originally anticipated which was very good news, but also very difficult as many decisions had to be made. We knew that "C" would have to go back to his family as soon as possible with an extended hospital stay looming in our future. Luckily God worked it all out and he went back home with a couple of weeks to spare before Zee's surgery was scheudled.

And just like that Summer and open heart surgery was upon us. We went in to the hospital on June 23rd, and did not leave for a month. That was a really hard time. Due to complications Zee had to have not only 1 but 2 open heart surgeries. But God proved himself to be the Healer of Zees little body, and we were finally home at the end of July.

Zee is doing so well now! He is off the ventilator totally during the day and just has it as a back up at night. He is eating a drinking by mouth and getting stronger each day. Papa says he has a lot of catching up to do and he is surely working on it! I have not adopted him yet...but I will as soon as they let me!

Jojo is a hot mess. He started walking just before he turned 2 and now spends the majority of his days seeking out new ways to destroy our house. He still doesn't have many words but he communicates just fine!

Ella Mae fell in love with horses this year....more importantly she became a Christ follower at Rock the Block after hearing her brother share his testimony. She is such an amazing help with the babies!

Aidan continues to be a soccer super star but also loves to play football in the back yard and is really good at that too! He has a heart like no one I have ever known and I continue to be amazed by this sweet boy God gave me.

Papa & Emmy....well....if you know them, you should send them a note or a card or give them a hug. They have been absolute rock stars over these last few years and have supported me like I couldn't even have imagined on this crazy foster care ride.

Just in the second half of this year alone, we have welcomed "Miss V" (who is still with us), "Jake" (another boy with CP), "Bitty Baby" (who was only with us for 2 days) and now we have "Baby Jesus" (nicknamed because we picked him up at the live nativity).

So we currently have 6 kids in our home. This year has been nuts, but it has been richly blessed. I will leave you with some pictures....because what better way is there to tell a story!? 

Hoping that your family is richly blessed in 2016!


Zee turned 1
We celebrated Papas 70th

Jojo and "C"

Ella Mae broke her arm and fell in love with horses
Zee's surgeries
Jojo walks!

Aidan sharing his baptism video and testimony at Rock the Block
Ella Mae became a Christ Follower!

Zee came home and Jojo turned 2!

Beach trip!

Ella Mae and "Miss V"

Aidan and "Jake"

Aidan and Ella Mae had their tonsils out

Zee is disconnected from his machines!
Bitty baby

Soccer star

Zee and "Baby Jesus"

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Sex, drugs and middle school...and heart palpitations.

Yall. I am freaking out.

My oldest child just started 5th grade. This will be his last year before the middle school and then high school years start. I am not ready. Not ready!

"You better have 'the talk' with him before he starts middle school"
"Trust me if they haven't heard it already they sure will in middle school"
"Middle school is when the kids start experimenting with the drugs and drinking"

These are the things I hear and I tell you they are keeping me up at night and giving me heart palpitations. I am not equipped for this. Puberty? Not ready. Drugs? Sex? What?!?! No! My kids are sweet innocent babies. Just look at this picture of them sleeping! It is not time for this. It just can't be. No.

As I have been losing much sleep lately due to the debilitating fear of my kids growing up (xanax helps), I have started to develop some scenarios in my mind that could allow me to avoid the changes that are a comin'. I would love wisdom from those who have gone through this valley of the shadow of death (that's how it feels ok) before me:

Scenario #1: Exactly how much trouble would I get in to IF I just took my kids out of school after 5th grade and home schooled them? And by "home school" I mean just keep them at home and not do any of the school because I just can't. Seriously how long would it take for "the man" to realize I wasn't actually schooling my kids? And what would the jail time for that be? Like 3 months? Totally do-able if you ask me.

Scenario #2: How old do you have to be to go to trade school and can you take those classes on-line?

Scenario #3: Can we just skip all the "middle" grades and just start studying for the GED? I feel like there are online classes you can take for that like if you were in prison or something so I wouldn't have to teach them but maybe by the time the cops show up at my door they will have gotten their GED and I can be all like "haha too late".

Scenario #4: Work hard over the next year to have a law passed that would require all students from 6-12th grade to wear a body camera like the police do. Then if some little jerk tries to get my kid to try some crazy synthetic drug that looks just like candy I can pop up in that school like a spider monkey and handle it on the spot. 

As I have been going over all this in my mind, I begin to think to myself that maybe it won't really be that bad because I have really good kids. I do. People compliment them all the time on their manners and how sweet and kind they are and then the voice inside my heads gets all pitchy and starts to scream  "yeah that is what they will say when they get interviewed by Dateline because my kids have started a heroin factory or joined the mafia FOR THE LOVE!!!!"

Although I am leaning hard towards scenario #1 or #4 right now, I realize they are all flawed to some degree because no matter what I do, my kids are going to grow up. They are going to be faced with temptations and challenges and they are going to make mistakes. I just plain can't prevent that from happening. Dangit.

So what can I do?

-I can point them to Christ. Not a religion or a habit of simply going to church whenever the doors are opened, but a real relationship with the true and Living God. Real faith. A real love for Jesus and the Gospel. A desire to share that great Gospel with others.

-I can pray for God to guide and protect them....and trust that He will.

-I can try my best to SHOW them what it looks like to follow Jesus with my life. They are always a good example.

-I can spend as much time as possible with them, as long as they will allow it. I will let them sleep in my bed (because I can) for as long as they want to....because they won't always want to. I will cherish these years and make the memories. I can be intentional about being their mom but also about making sure we have lots of fun.

These two sweet kids have my heart in a big way and some days I just love them so much it hurts. Some days I want to lock them in a closet .....but that is neither here nor there.

Some days I wonder why on earth God saw fit to entrust these people to me, but I am so grateful that He did. I know one day I will stand before Him and answer for how I raised them....and that is a pretty big deal to me.

Tiny baby Jesus help me to raise these kids in such a way that I do not end up in jail and none of us end up on Dateline....or please just let them never grow up. Amen.

Anyone else having heart palpitations?



Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Want to de-fund Planned Parenthood? Get ready to become a foster parent.

I am literally typing this post on my phone while I sit at the hospital, so imma keep this one short and sweet.

Two things I don't get:

1. Why wasn't everyone all up in arms when we thought PP was just tossing these babies in the trash?
2. If abortions are not readily available then what do you think is going to happen to all those babies?

Let me be clear: I am pro-life. 110%.

What frustrates me is when the Church gets all bent out of shape about things that the world is bent out of shape about. Shouldn't we have been fighting this all along?

And let me tell you what will happen to those babies....IF they are born they will end up with families that don't want them and/or can't care for them. So guess what? They will end up in foster care. Maybe directly from the hospital or a few months or even years down the road.

So, find a Foster parent licensing class and start the process because we are gonna need you.

The church should be the solution not just part of the drama.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Baby Zees surgery and the oh so bummer no Chuganooga summer

MY plan was to wait and schedule Zees surgery in August after my bigs had started back to school. We made a summer bucket list complete with big plans for us and a personal goal of having lots of very intentional time with my kids rather than just letting our summer together coast by.

But God. I love those words by the way, even when they jack up MY plans.

We went in for a heart cath in late May to prep for surgery in August. The doctors came away from that procedure confident that he was ready for his surgery ASAP. Not a rush by any means, but he was ready. I prayed over that news and agonized with the decision of what to do. Sometimes making these BIG decisions as a single mom really blows. Just FYI.

The more I thought about it the more I realized that there were just too many "what if's" in waiting on surgery. What if his recovery took longer than expected and he was still trying to get better when RSV season comes along? What if something unexpected happens between now and August and he is too sick then for the surgery? So many things to think about. Ultimately I listened to God and scheduled the surgery for June 24th (smack in the middle of summer), trusting that God would work everything out.

People said "How long do you think he will be in the hospital?". My guess was 2 weeks although I knew it could be longer. I had a spreadsheet for 2 weeks worth of fun play dates for my kids, people to keep Jojo, meals from an awesome small group at church....everything was all planned out. Two weeks.

Two weeks quickly became a month. One open heart surgery became two. Complications were abundant. The spread sheet ran out.

My bigs and I have tried to do a "just us" trip every summer before school starts back. This year I promised them that we would make it happen. We would go to Chatanooga (Ella Mae has always called it Chuganooga) because they love it there. We would stay at the Choo Choo, spend mornings at the pool(s), go to the aquarium, catch frogs in the evenings at the lily pond.....and just have 24/7 fun. But it didn't happen.

Zee not only came home still on the ventilator (which I had high hopes of leaving behind), but also with a PICC line for IV antibiotics and an injection that had to be given twice daily. There was literally no way I could leave him, and taking him with us would have defeated the whole purpose. 

People often have concerns about how adoption and/or foster care will affect a persons "own kids". I hate that term by the way. Well, this summer it affected mine. They were disappointed. I am disappointed and I feel guilty. Bad guilty.

But here is the bottom line: foster care, adoption, mission work, being a pastor, leading a small group, serving widows, being a voice for those who cannot speak for themselves....whatever it is you do for God requires sacrifice. It just does. And the same goes for my bigs because they are on this journey with me. And they are amazing and the lessons they have learned so far and will learn in the years to come will always greatly out weigh any guilt I feel or disappointment they feel. Because what God tells you to do is always the right thing to do. Always.

And now that I look back over some pics from our summer, I realize we did manage to have a lot of fun together, in spite of me living in a hospital away from them for a whole month. Because God is always right. Always.

Catching lightning bugs
Zip line obstacle course with the BFF's
Visiting Zee at the hospital and playing at the Children's Harbor, which turned out to be one of their most favorite things to do this summer

Ella Mae rode her very first horse at The Red Barn

Aidan got a ball signed at a Barons game

I got to spend a whole weekend with the bigs at a hotel near the hospital...we even ordered room service

We had backyard VBS at our house with 20+ kids every day who heard the Gospel
Aidan was able to share his own testimony.....
.....which led his sister (and maybe even others) to faith in Christ
We celebrated Jojo turning 2 and welcomed Zee home from the hospital

And spent lots of time with our BFF's

We ended the summer with hand cranked ice cream with Aidan's soccer team
So I guess when you look at the big picture, maybe it was not such a bummer summer after all.



Monday, June 22, 2015

Zee's surgery: I had a come apart in church.

As I sat in church yesterday morning, all the stress and emotions I have been trying to control came crashing down. 

My prayer from the beginning of this journey with Baby Zee has been for God to be glorified. Not that I don't want that for the lives of all of my kids, but he is special. He is different. Because of his special needs, medical conditions, the whole ventilator situation and because of me being a single mom with a different color skin than his, we sort of stick out like a sore thumb. And I have always felt like that is a good thing. When people see me wheeling around my rolling ICU they notice us. And I want them to. When they ask me questions I am able to tell the story of how God brought us together, and I know He has already been glorified much in that respect.

However, now it is time for his surgery. 

We sang this song as he slept in my arms and I just couldn't make the tears stop.
And take my life 
Let it be everything
All of me here I am
Use me for Your Glory 
In everything I say and do 
Let my life honor You 
Here I am living for Your Glory

I pray daily for God to be glorified through Zee's life,
        but what I really mean is I want Him to be glorified through his healing. 

And that's when it hit me. What if that isn't God's plan?

Does my prayer change?

I thought to myself "Lord I feel like Abraham!" and then I thought "don't be so dramatic it's not like He is asking you to lay this child on an altar".......

Except that He is. This child. My life. His life. The lives of my other kids. All on the altar all for His glory.  

So, I will continue to pray for his healing but I will also continue to pray for God to be glorified, even if it is hard and even if it hurts. 

Please pray for this sweet baby who I love so dearly....



Friday, April 24, 2015

Foster Care Exposed: The uprising of all the single ladies

You know how people have all the excuses for why they can't do foster care?

"I work full time!"
"I would get too attached."
"It takes a special person to do foster care"
"I just don't have enough time."
"There isn't enough room in my house."

Well let me tell you something folks....there has been an uprising of single mamas taking on foster care....and they blow all of those excuses straight out of the water.

This post is plain and simple. We need to give praise to God for calling these women to glorify Him in this way....and we need to give props to them for simply saying YES.

Chasity: Accountant
Lana: Teacher
Erin: Physical Therapist
Stephanie: Speech/Language Pathologist
Allison: Teacher
Erin: Teacher
Karen: Executive Assistant
Ruby: Teacher
Connie: Teacher
Lori: School Counselor
Jenny: Teacher
Millie: Photographer
Mandie: Graphic designer/photographer
Jenna: Special Ed Teacher
Mary: School Counselor
Me: Financial Assistant/SAHM #onlycuzihaveanexhusbandwhopaysme
Amy: Teacher
Marissa: Teacher
Selena: Accountant/Controller

soon to be added to this list:

Chalice: Nanny
Amy: Nurse

I listed their occupations, simply to show that they are just normal hard working people just like everyone else.

Please keep these ladies in your prayers. They are taking on the hard work of foster care daily....and it isn't easy....but it is good.

It is the gospel lived out.

It is literally changing lives.

And it is worth it.



Thursday, April 16, 2015

Foster Care Exposed: Where do I start!?!

"I have always wanted to do foster care, but I just don't even know how to get started"

I hear this one a lot, so this is my best attempt to answer some of the very basic questions about where to start if you want to become a foster parent!

{PRAY} Foster care is not for everyone. Seek God first. Pretty please don't do it because your friends did and the kid they got was super cute.
{ASK QUESTIONS} Chances are you know someone who is or has been involved in foster care. Find a time to talk to them and ask them your questions! Granted, you may have to call them on the phone or follow them around at church as they collect all their kids, but we are passionate about what we do and want to help others get involved!
Here are some examples:
Who can / can't be a foster parent?
Here is a link to the requirements to foster through DHR. I know there are additional requirements with the various private agencies, but I am not aware of an actual list of those requirements. 
I (we) work full time. Can we foster?
Yes! The State will pay for daycare for your child(ren), but only at certain daycares. Your social worker can help you or you can call the ones in your area and ask if they accept payment from "Child Care Central".
What about medical costs?
Covered either by the bio parents insurance (rare) or Medicaid. Costs you nothing out of pocket.

Can I specify the ages of kids I am willing to take?
Yes. Some private agencies will not allow you to take a child who is older than the oldest child in your home. DHR is more flexible. But with either you can specify. 

What if I take a child who becomes a danger to my other children?
I think this is a VERY normal concern for those of us with kids already in the home. We have all heard the horror stories. If you need to have a child moved out of your home, just tell your social worker. You are under no obligation to keep a child who is putting your family in danger.

What if I get licensed but then something comes up with my family?
Another common concern. Simply let your social worker know that you cannot take any placements for a while. If you are with DHR they may still call you if they get in a major bind, but always put your family first and stand your ground. They will respect that.

What about school aged kids?
If a child comes in to your home who is already enrolled in school, I believe you have the option to keep them at their current school or move them to the school you are zoned to. This would of course depend on many things like the length of time they will likely be with you, location etc.

How much do foster parents get paid?
The State will give you what is called a "board payment" (i.e. "room and board"). For the kids I have had in my home, it is typically about $400 ish a month per child. (no one ever talks about this out loud I guess for fear that we will get accused of being in it for the money.....LOL....I personally like straight answers and facts so there ya go)

Will the biological parents know where I live?
No. You will have someone transport the child(ren) to and from visits (if they have regular visits with family). 
Can you adopt a child from foster care?
The goal is always reunification with family. However, sometimes that is not possible. In those cases you can adopt from foster care (more detail coming on this in a separate post).
{GPS} Once you have decided that the Lord is leading your family to become a foster family, you will need to take the GPS classes. There is usually an introduction week where you will get a broad view of foster care and learn if it is for you. GPS stands for "Group Preparation and Selection". I have never really understood this name, but that is neither here nor there. Here are some basics:

  • Classes typically last 11 weeks (1 class introduction and then 10 classes one night a week for 3 hours totaling 30 hours training)
  • They are offered through Lifeline, Alabama Baptist and DHR (you will have to call your county to get info on upcoming classes)
  • They are often held at a church and usually offer childcare   
  • The material for GPS is the same, no matter where you take the classes
  • The main goal of the classes is to teach you how to see fostering from the eyes of a child coming in to foster care, NOT how to change diapers etc. You will learn a LOT. 
  • You will complete the classes as well as get your CPR certification and fingerprints for background checks
  • Once you complete GPS, your "certificate" never expires. So if go through GPS classes today, but don't want to actually start fostering for another year, that is perfectly fine.
  • You can take GPS through ANY AGENCY and then decide who you want to get licensed with. For example. I took my GPS classes through Alabama Baptist because they had a class at a church that was very close to my house. Then I got licensed with Shelby County DHR.
{FINAL STRETCH} The amount of time this phase takes depends on you and your licensing agency. You will fill out lots of paperwork and have your home study and this process will look different depending on your agency. This is an example of some of the paperwork I had to do to get licensed with DHR.

-CA/N Clearance (Child Abuse and Neglect)
-Child Desired Form
-Confidentiality and Code of Ethics
-Criminal History Check Application
-Discipline Policy
-Financial Statement
-HIPPA agreement
-Physical Examination Sheet
-Immediate Relatives Sheet
-Compliance with Minimum Standards
-CPR/First Aid Certification
-Rabies Certification (if you have animals)
-Home Visit
-Copy of Automobile Insurance
-Copy of Home owner’s insurance

{THE BEGINNING} Once you are finished with all of the training and paperwork, your journey really begins. Foster care is hard, but these kids are worth it. Each and every one is fearfully and wonderfully made by God, and being able to serve them is truly a privilege. 

 “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in My Name welcomes Me....." Mark 9:37

I hesitate to even hit publish on this post because I know there are so many more questions that could be answered and information that could be given. If you have a question, feel free to comment and I will do my best to answer it. If you have additional information from your experience, please do the same!



Thursday, April 9, 2015

Foster Care Exposed: Private Agency or DHR?

I am starting a little series on foster care.

I have blogged about it before, but not in much detail, and the more questions I get the more I realize the need for clear and concise answers about how the "system" works.

So let's start with this question:

"Should I get licensed through a private agency or through my county DHR?"

Let me tell you my experience. I went through the training classes (called "GPS") to become licensed as a foster parent through a private agency. These classes are focused (as they should be) on seeing foster care from the eyes of a child entering the system.

The material for GPS is the same whether you take the classes through your local DHR office or through a private agency. However, over the course of the 10 weeks of classes, we were told additional information based on the experience of the people leading the classes. Things like "we are here to protect you from DHR", "if you ever see DHR on your caller ID, don't answer it and call your social worker", bascially making DHR out to be the "bad guys".

They also put a lot of emphasis on the fact that if I put on my paperwork that I could only take 1 child under the age of 2 (for example) that they would NEVER call me for anything outside of that. So hypothetically if a child that was 2 1/2 came in to care, I would not get that call.

They also told us that we would receive a higher board payment (the $ you receive for each child for food, clothing, housing etc) with this private agency than we would through DHR.

What we weren't told are the practical differences between fostering through a private agency vs. directly through DHR. Things that I would have liked to have known. 

I ASSUMED, that when they said we would never get calls in the middle of the night, that meant that the private agency was fielding those calls for us. Not true. They don't take calls after 5pm or on weekends. That is just one example.

Now let me pause here and BE VERY CLEAR: We need the private agencies. They take a GREAT burden off the State simply by providing so many options for training, not to mention the many many kids who have found safe and loving Christian homes through the services they provide.

My purpose with this particular post is very simple:

1. People should know the differences in private vs. state when they decide to pursue foster care

2. I want more people to understand the great need for more families to choose to foster through the State. Why?

Right now in Shelby County we have 28 foster families.

I don't know how many families the private agencies have. But I do know, that of those 28 families, all but maybe 2 are FULL as of right now.

That means that when those middle of the night or weekend calls come, those kids have to be placed with families that are already at or over their max, and sometimes they have to spend the night at DHR. 

The next morning, the private agencies are contacted and if they accept the placement, the kids are moved to a private agency home. But, unlike DHR (who has to care for every child who comes in no matter what) the private agencies have the right to choose which placements they take based on anything from: size of sibling group/ any special needs involved/ how complicated the case is legally/ whether the placement will be long or short term/ what they deem to be best for their foster families etc.

Here are some of the facts:

Differences in Private vs. DHR for Foster FAMILIES:

Differences in Private vs. DHR for Foster KIDS:

So, if you are considering foster care or are currently in GPS classes, now you know the facts (at least the ones that I know). God will lead many of you to get your license through a private agency and that is awesome! But those of us who are in Shelby County are really praying that some of you will decide to get your license with the State : )

*side note: you can take classes with a private agency and get licensed by DHR and vice versa

I know that this post will likely tick some people off but please understand, I do not consider myself to be an expert in this arena so if I said something that isn't true, by all means let me know. But, when God lays something on my heart, I will advocate for it in any way I can.

And remember that underneath all the facts are the children who come in to foster care....and God has called us to care for them.



Thursday, March 12, 2015

Church: we are overlooking the overlooked

Question: How many foster families thru DHR in Shelby County, AL are available and willing to take children with special needs? Just take a guess......

Answer: One. And it is me.

Church, that is a problem. A BIG BIG problem.

I know what you are already thinking...."foster care is hard enough I just don't think I could handle a child with special needs"...."this is just not what I am called to do"....."i have enough on my plate already"..... "these kids should go to someone with a medical background"....and on and on it goes.

Let me give you the facts. When a child with special needs comes in to foster care, their county DHR office searches their database and typically they find no where to place the child.....especially in the smaller counties. No one who has said "I desire to care for this type of child". The county will then contact private agencies like Lifeline and Alabama Baptist but they rarely have families that will take kids with special needs. Side note: if you are a private agency foster family you would have to specifically request to be contacted about children with special needs, otherwise you will never hear about them.

At this point DHR will send out a statewide email to all the counties in the State. This is the last ditch effort so to speak before the child ends up elsewhere. And by elsewhere I mean living in a hospital for their whole lives. Or a group home. Or a nursing home.

Zee was a statewide email baby. I won't even let myself imagine where he would be right now if I had said no.

So my challenge to the church is simple. We need more people to step up and care for these kids. They are right here under our noses and we can't ignore them. 

We can't simply sign up to be foster parents to the cute cuddly shiny new babies and toddlers and feel like we are doing all we can. Shouldn't we let God tell us which children he wants us to care for?

Just take a look at this "Child Desired" form. I imagine when most people fill this out, they are simply overwhelmed by the idea of bringing a child in to their home who will someday leave. And I imagine because of that reason alone, many families think they just couldn't handle a child with special needs. I get it. Trust me.

But my mind says...what if I had to measure up to a form to have God DESIRE ME. 

I waited patiently for the Lord;
    He turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
    out of the mud and mire;
He set my feet on a rock
    and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth,
    a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the Lord
    and put their trust in Him.
Psalm 40:1-3

(This form has since been updated because a certain person got on the phone with the people who made the form and told them that is was ridiculous and offensive and they needed to change it. Halleluier. )

If you are in process to become a foster parent, please consider opening your heart to the least of these! If you are a seasoned foster parent, consider updating your child desired form!

I know. This is not for everyone. But it is for me, and I will continue to advocate for these kids....because THEY will bless YOU more than you can ever imagine.