5.27.2011

pink, pink, pink!

The icing on the cake (the cake being our great weekend!) was getting to have our 20-week sonogram. Half-way there! What a blessing- Baby L was perfectly healthy.

Hello, world!
Of course along with the sonogram we got to find out Baby L's gender...

Bart's co-workers decorate his cubicle the following day after we find out the exciting news!
Now Bart is on the look-out for a pink fly fishing rod and looking forward to having a little girl cuddle up in his lap. I'm having visions of long-distance runs and gym workouts with my future workout partner as well as dressing her in some cutesy little outfits. Adele will be one loved kiddo and she will have a fantastic older brother to show her the ropes!

5.26.2011

5 years and counting...

May 13, 2011 marked our 5 years of marriage! What better way to celebrate than to enjoy our great city together? It's been rare that we get to spend time just the two of us lately, so we had been looking forward to our weekend for a while!

Our dear friends, the Whitsons, took J-Man for a few days while we had some fun! Let me just say, our home felt so empty without our sweet little guy!

During the weekend we each got to choose a few things that we each wanted to do.

My Picks:

1. Breakfast @ Flip Happy
Food trailers abound in Austin! Flip Happy's crepes are always a great treat.

mmmmm...maple syrup crepe!
Scotty tries to dress like my husband after Bart is seen in public wearing his blue Guy Harvey shirt, looking even more like "kin".
2. Dinner @ Chang Thai

3. Shopping for maternity clothes. Much needed! My wardrobe was quickly shrinking!

Bart's Picks:

1. Kayaking on Town Lake
 

2. Queso @ Austin Java

3. Buying a new fishing pole!
Not exactly what he had in mind when he said he wanted to fish for "catfish"...
4. Steak @ Salt Grass 

And we're looking forward to many, many more happy years together!

5.19.2011

what if the Church took over the foster care system?

A few months ago I had the privilege of spending time with a family who was very different from myself. This family is originally from India and is devoutly Islamic. Their lives are built around their religious beliefs and convictions. To give you an idea of the extent of their devotion- the wife regularly wears a burka in public and the family is coaching their young son to memorize the entire Koran. It is a healthy thing for me to step outside of my familiarity at times and to be challenged in my thinking.

During my visit with them, the husband was very intrigued to learn about the foster care/CPS system here in the US. After sharing an overview of how the system works, I had asked him about India's system. I was surprised to learn that India does not have much of a CPS-type, government-run system in place. My first thought was, "These poor kids! How are they taken care of when their family isn't able to or the family makes choices that prevent their children from being cared for?!" His further explanation made me hungry to learn more. He shared that the culture in India is structured in such a way that families take care of one another. It is culturally appropriate to know each other's business and intervene when necessary. If a family is not able to care for their child/ren, then the extended family or a neighbor steps in and takes the child in.

I realize that not all of India operates in this way. I've read too much about the "red light district" and child trafficking to be too naive that children in India are safer than those here in America. This idea challenged my thinking though. I become so used to the fact that our government can (and should) step in and help children in need. As believers though, this cannot be our hope. Our hope is in Christ, therefore we are the ones who are to step up and serve the least of these around us, not sit back and critique the government's performance on this.

What if the Church did, in fact, step up and eradicate the need for a government-run foster care system? Food for thought...

He only is my rock and my salvation,
My stronghold; I shall not be shaken.
On God my salvation and my glory rest;
The rock of my strength, my refuge in in God.
Trust in Him at all times, O people;
God is a refuge for us.
- Psalm 62:6-8

5.16.2011

fostering in atx. family #3

Michael and Stephanie Whitson
STARRY Foster Parents


This family just might be on my list of "heroes"! Although I know that they would humbly say that they are simply being obedient to what God has called them to. The placement that they refer to as being very challenging, was in fact, very challenging. I am so proud to get to foster alongside of them! They have been a great source of knowledge and support for Bart and me as we have started our fostering journey over the past year.
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How did God lead you to fostering?
God led us to fostering through a series of events. It started with giving both Mike and me hearts for children and missions. Shortly after we were married and I could not find a teaching job in the Austin area I ended up watching my aunt's kids who I realized were in severe neglect. Feeling obligated to turn her in to CPS I knew that the kids needed somewhere to go and family would be the best place. Since I was staying at home and had some odd ball jobs that were not paying an "income" I decided we could probably take 2-3 kids out of her 7, if the kids ended up being removed. This was a pivotal moment for us realizing that perhaps we would be foster parents one day. Over the next few months God worked in our hearts and created a series of events that assured us that he wanted us to foster.

How did you decide on your agency?
We originally went to a CPS meeting about becoming foster parents. Throughout the meeting they taught us about different agencies and how to find one that worked well with our needs. We went home and decided we wanted a Christian based agency. After all, we were trying to follow God's plan for our lives and wanted a strong support system. Reading about STARRY we instantly knew it was our first choice. Not meeting some of the criteria created by STARRY (age, married 2 yrs, etc.) we were not sure if they would allow us to work with them. God willing they gave us a shot and we have been with them ever since.

Describe your experience as foster parents so far...
It has been hard. Our first placement was so terrible even most respite families wouldn't take the kids back. Those 2 girls were split 6 months after being in our home due to problems. The oldest needed a higher level family. Today they are back together and we still see them on occasion. We had the youngest for 3 months after her sister left. We have been foster parents for a year and have had 10 kids, totaling in 4 placements. The 3 placements we had after the girls all ended up with family about 4-5 weeks after receiving them. I can say we have had some GREAT kids. Once we survived our first placement our other placements seemed to be a breeze! Many of the kids were so grateful to be with us they never acted up even for a second.

What are some things that potential foster parents should know?
It takes a village to raise a child, you need a strong support. There is no way we could have done this alone and without calling in babysitters and respite every now and then!
Even if you have the kids for only 4 weeks it's still heart breaking to see them leave.

It's worth it. As much as you teach the kids they might teach you more and open your eyes to things in the world you didn't even know were possible.

As much as you want to be friendly with bio parents it's best to keep distance and stand firm with CPS and making visits work for you. If something makes you uncomfortable stand firm and make your case manager defend you- that's what they are for! What works best for us is leaving the visit when it is over and not visiting extra. Oh yes and for us we made the rule that parents are not allowed to buckle the children it the car, it can mess with the routine that took so long to develop.

What has been the most difficult aspect of fostering? How do you cope when times get challenging?
Kids leaving.. It's so sad and most people don't understand how the kids really become FAMILY.
When times get challenging we would usually call on respite and go on a weekend get away alone!

What has surprised you about fostering?
 How hard it has been. I thought I knew about kids through training, teaching and nannying but kids who have never had rules are super hard the first 2 weeks to teach. Also, sometimes the kids are so scared when they arrive it is equally as hard to teach them how kids are allowed to act. I never could have anticipated how hard it would be. It is well worth it though. I was just as equally surprised at how much we could love them. :)

5.09.2011

fostering in atx. family #2

I haven't known Cat for long, but I have known her long enough to know that her heart to serve the Lord and serve children is deeply sincere.
Here is Cat's story. I hope that you are encouraged and inspired by her words as I was.
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I honestly believe that I have always wanted to 'foster', even before I knew what that meant. as a child in a neglectful home I often daydreamed about what kind of caregiver I wanted and dreamed of one day being such a person. when I was blessed with a child of my own, I called upon those daydreams and tried to parent as I'd wanted to be parented. it was so freeing to simply focus on trying to discern what my child's needs were and then fulfill those needs. I loved watching my child overcome the many obstacles she was born with. I was also at peace in allowing her to be who she was and progress at her own speed.


because of the extra time and energy we needed to focus on our daughter, it was a few years before we were ready for our next child. we joyfully opened our hearts to the many children who'd already been born and simply needed a family to belong to. being able to provide a soft place to land and perhaps one day, a permanent home sounded like an honor to us.

we researched the process and decided we definitely wanted the extra assistance an agency could offer. we knew we'd have a lot of questions and would rest easier knowing someone was just a phone call away. STARRY stood out to us because of the amazing community outreach they provide. they do not just serve children in foster care, but try to prevent children from ever needing foster care. their parent umbrella ministry, Children at Heart Ministries shares that mission to build up families; one of the ways God teaches us about love.

while we were going through the licensing process, we provided respite care for two sets of siblings. we loved the children, but found the learning curve of adjusting from one child to three, overnight, to be steep. we also recognized that we were in this for the long haul and providing short-term care did not match up well with our parenting approach.

at last we became licensed and were excited to finally begin our journey. we prayed often as we knew that there was much we did not know. we asked God to bring us the right child at the right time; we left it all up to Him. the very next day, a Saturday, we got a call about a boy in a somewhat unusual situation. he needed to be moved from his current foster home because the family could no longer foster. his new location also needed to remain unknown to his bio family. he was a year older than our chosen age range, but his very thorough psychological evaluation encouraged me that this boy wanted success; he wanted to break through the cycle. he sounded like an amazing kid that would be a great fit for our family. we said, "yes".

weeks of waiting went by as the Placement team worked through the process and presented their choice - us - to the judge. he said, "no". we weren't discouraged as we knew God was in charge the fat lady wasn't singing yet. we kept our trust in God as we said, "yes" and "no" to several more children. none came to us in that month since being licensed. we rejoiced on the day CPS called our agency again asking if we were still available; that first boy we'd said, "yes" to needed placement!

he arrived with a grin big enough to outshine his outgrown clothes and lanky, underweight frame. shopping, school, doctor's visits and long drives to family visits; thank goodness for the joy of the 'honeymoon' period usually experienced with new placements. he got along fantastically with my daughter and we reveled in having a fuller dinner table. our days were super busy, but we experienced a "good" tired at the end of each day. then, everything changed when our boy learned that he was going home and overnight visits became weekly. his behavior deteriorated quickly. it was as if he wanted to fail. he challenged every boundary, rule and expectation he could fathom. coaching, encouragement and even consequences did not have much influence. we felt deflated; like there was no success to be had. as long as he did not want it, there was nothing we could do to help him achieve it. a very difficult and exhausting transition time began. having weekends "off" were only a small consolation. I found solace in comprehending that we were experiencing only a taste of how God must feel when we make poor choices, even though he's waiting, ready with all resources if only we'd receive.

seeing the "system" in action only underscored how complicated it can be to determine what is "best" for a child in care. sometimes the law intended to quickly reunite families or terminate parental rights can rush things and keep a child from fully benefiting from their time in foster care. this is where I simply fall back on my faith and choose to believe that even the little bit of time I've spent with the child has made a difference. I hope that the seeds I've planted will remain and perhaps even be watered along the way. I think about the big picture and how truly short our lives are in comparison to eternity. I imagine myself 100 years from now, rocking on the porch, reflecting back on my life. my goal is to have no regrets. knowing that I've given my best, albeit far short of perfection, is what I'm shooting for. I dream of being really lucky one day and getting to see our hard work come to fruition.

our boy is still with us for now. no word on when he's going back home, only that he is. well... the fat lady still isn't singing so stay tuned :o)

5.08.2011

national foster care month

 

I enjoyed putting a few minutes aside today to indulge in a book- a luxury that I haven't enjoyed in a while! I found this great excerpt from Baby, We Were Meant for Each Other by Scott Simon and thought it was fitting historical "did you know?" for "National Foster Care Month".

In 1909 President Theodore Roosevelt convened the first White House Conference on the Care of Dependent Children, which called for the gradual replacement of orphanages and foundling homes with placement in families. Roosevelt called families "the highest and finest product of civilization" and insisted that children were entitled to nothing less.
- Baby, We Were Meant for Each Other by Scott Simon

A few personal stories from "alumni" of the foster care system:



Ways to get involved whether you have a few minutes, a few hours, a few weeks, or longer. This list is a great place to start exploring ways to make a difference.

5.04.2011

child abuse awareness month

Child Abuse Awareness Month was last month, but of course, this is something that we should remember and fight for year round. Here is a video made by Starry highlighting the work that they are doing to stop child abuse in Round Rock and the surrounding areas.



Almost 700 confirmed cases of abuse and neglect just in Williamson county last year. Devastating.

celebrating Easter and new memories

I'm sure you've heard the annual joking during Christmas time of "I'm not buying my kid any more expensive toys! They seem to enjoy the boxes and the wrapping paper so much more!" Well, this is the case in our home all year round. J-man's current activities of choice include: turning over the recycling bin and emptying all the plastics, banging a plastic piece from his baby bathtub on the hardwood floor in the kitchen (it makes a fantastic sound!), and pulling books off of the bookshelf and of course taste-testing them.

J-man does actually enjoy his toys as well. Combined with his new crawling and pulling-up skills, he enjoys the world now being at his finger-tips. He can now take full command.

Another recent highlight for him was his first Easter! Even though we didn't get to celebrate as planned because of a surprise virus (starting with me and then rotating among the three of us!), we still enjoyed our day together. We read a Spurgeon sermon together and reflected on Jesus's resurrection. J-man enjoyed opening up his Easter basket that was given to him by some wonderful volunteers from a church that serve Starry regularly.



The basket full of goodies! Books, a new sippie cup, linking toys, a onesie, and plastic eggs!
Bart and I do have a confession. As we were helping J open up his Easter basket, we found some chocolates hidden inside of the plastic eggs. Per doctor's orders, J is not yet allowed to have chocolate. He's not quite there in the solid food stage. So, what were we to do? The only choice that we had was to high jack them from our 8-month old. Sorry, J-man! We'll make it up to you!

Bart helps the little guy explore all of his gifts!

We topped off our day of fun and worship with J's story time, reading the story of the resurrection from his kids' Bible. What a sweet moment for Bart and J-man to share. Before saying good-night we sang Phil Wickam's "True Love" together.


One of history's greatest moments.
J-man gets more fun by the day it seems. I know parents say this repeatedly, but it is so true, it is a blessing to watch a little one develop and grow. And they grow so fast! Sometimes I feel like I can just watch the synapses fire and click in his little brain as he figures things out on his own. It also seems that I find my mind daily wandering to the thought of "I remember feeding you in the rocking chair only a few months ago and you were only this big!". The joys of being a mom, even a foster mom!