Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Harder Than I Ever Knew

Someone recently asked me what fostering was like. I immediately said, "Foster care is harder than I ever knew. And the blessings are bigger than I ever guessed!"

Even just writing those words, I am almost in tears.

I am friends with many foster care parents around the nation, and in order to protect the privacy of my personal fostering situation, I am going to share my thoughts and feelings while using illustrations from many families' circumstances. Please do not take any illustration from this post and apply it to my personal situation or the personal situation of my foster sons' family! However, each of these illustrations is genuine and recent, from a fostering family whom I personally know.

Fostering children is an emotionally excruciating experience.

On the one hand, in order to care well for the children, a person must care about them. Love them, even. Especially with young children, they can't wait for love. They can't wait for someone to treasure them. They've already been through trauma, or they wouldn't be in foster care. Healing from trauma begins when they start to trust someone again. It takes time. It's not an easy, straight, or simple path.

On the other hand, you can't get "too attached." I'm not sure how a foster parent would avoid getting attached to their foster children, but the reality is (and the hope is) that the child(ren) will be leaving the foster home to return to their parents. I know of many foster parents who walk the tightrope of loving their foster children with the hope of adopting them and praying that the child(ren)'s family is successful in reuniting their family. What a difficult situation!

Sometimes a foster parent will sit, rocking a baby to sleep, and wonder at the love that flows through him/her for this child. And sometimes that same foster parent will leave a courtroom, crying at the knowledge that the same child will never again sleep under his/her roof. It's a roller coaster that is controlled by everyone except you!

I have found that foster parents almost always love their foster children's parents. Foster parents root for birth parents! They cheer them on. They talk about them positively with their foster children. They want the biological parents to succeed in their case plan, in their sobriety, in their quest to reunite their family. Obviously, there are cases of abuse so heinous that the foster family cannot be positive about birth family, but even in those cases, I know foster families find positives to say to their child about their birth families. I know one adoptive family who speaks of an unknown birth father, saying that "If he hadn't stepped up to claim you, you wouldn't have been enrolled in the tribe. And if you hadn't been enrolled in the tribe, we never would've met you!"

And because foster parents cheer on birth parents, it is extremely painful for the foster parents when the birth parents fail to show up for visits, get arrested for their fourth or fifth DUI, say hurtful things to the child(ren) during a visit, or disappear for weeks (or months) on end. It's painful because they care about the parents, and it's painful because the foster families deal with the fallout from the parents' failures. The questions from small children, "Where is my mom?" (The answer: "I don't know. I wish I did, but I don't. I do know that I am here, and I will stay here, and I will take care of you."). The tougher questions from older children, "Why doesn't my dad care enough to call me?" (The answer: "I don't know. I wish I could control his choices, but I can't. I do know that we love you and will take care of you for as long as you are here.") And the toughest questions, "Why does my dad drink so much?" or "Why is meth more important than we are?" (The tougher answer: "Addiction stinks, Sweetheart. It's very hard to make good choices when a person is addicted. I'm sorry addiction has taken your mom/dad.")

Foster parents deal with the aftermath of a visit where the child is told that the foster parents "are not your real family! You don't have to do what they say!" Foster parents deal with the aftermath of a planned visit where a parent does not show up. Sometimes, this is the fault of the parent. Sometimes, this is the fault of the system, which should be protecting children from these situations. Foster children come home confused, angry, and scared. They throw temper tantrums, steal, smear feces on walls, run away, and refuse to comply.

Being a foster parent is emotionally excruciating.

But the blessings! Oh, the blessings!

The foster family sometimes gets to see the child(ren)'s family remake itself into a healthy whole. And even if that doesn't happen, the foster family sometimes gets to transition into an adoptive family. And sometimes the adoptive family gets to maintain relationships with the birth family... in fact, sometimes the adoptive family and the birth family become one big family, which is such a blessing to the child!

Not to mention the day-to-day blessings of rocking a baby to sleep, of soothing an aching toddler, of watching foster children experience their first real Christmas, their first trip to the ocean, their first entirely new outfit...

Foster parenting is one of the toughest things I've ever done.

Foster parenting is one of the best things I've ever done.

It is a wild ride, with wide swings of emotion and expectation. I thank God for the opportunity to do this task, to fill this role, to be this foster mom. And I ask Him for the strength to hang on through the wild swings!

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Both Sides Now

I have been involved in the adoption world for more than thirty years, having completed my first adoption in early 1987. All three of my adopted children came to me through the foster care system. Each state's system is different, as is the child welfare system here on the reservation. But I think my experiences would translate for most adoptions in most places.

There are two "kinds" of adoption: open and closed. And of course, there is a continuum between those two choices. One of my older children has had no information about and no contact with their birth family. That child is now an adult and knows almost nothing: no medical history, no information about the situation of their birth, nothing.

 My other older child came to me with little information, but it was enough to locate their birth mother when the child was eight years old. The child and I each wrote a letter to the birth mother, and she wrote back, sending precious newborn photos and copies of pages from a journal she kept while pregnant. She wasn't interested in meeting at that time, but we exchanged letters and photos from then on. When our child was about 14, the birth mother wanted to meet, but at that point the child wasn't interested so we continued to communicate via the mail.

At 19, our child and their birth mother were both ready. We met at a neutral place, with the birth mother's husband and two young children. Immediately, we were family. My child had little siblings, a stepdad, and most-importantly, another mother. At one point, we two moms turned to each other and said in unison, "She's so much like you!"

My now-grown child still has a wonderful relationship with both of these families: birth and adoptive. This grown child can turn to both families for support and advice. We do not compete or get jealous; we're just all family.

Our younger child came to us as our granddaughter. I have the blessing of having a picture of her in my arms the day she was born. We knew her before she came to us as a kinship foster child, and we knew her birth family, at least somewhat. Her birth family has become family to us. Think of it like a marriage: When we marry, we gain our spouse's family-of-origin as our family. The same happened when we adopted our granddaughter: We gained her family-of-origin as family! It's nine years later, and we all identify as family, as far as I can tell.

And oh, the joy of this completeness for our daughter! She knows who her nose comes from. She knows her siblings on both her birth mom's and her birth dad's sides. She knows her birth parents love her, and our daughter loves her birth parents. She sees her birth parents, siblings, grandparents, etc. as often as we return to the Midwest. It's just as important to all of us for her to see her birth family as it is for me to see my family or my husband to see his!

I heartily support open adoption like this, unless there is a grave safety concern for the child. I'm sure there are activities that our daughter's birth parents participate in that I would rather not have as influences for her, but they want the best for her, too, so they don't bring those influences into their visits with her. No one is perfect, and we all want what's best for this child.

There are certainly particular situations where contact with birth family is unsafe for a child, but in most situations I've seen/heard about/been involved with, healthy boundaries can be established and contact can be maintained at some level.

I have experienced adoption from the adoptive family side for over 30 years, and I have experienced much joy in this. In the past year, though, I have begun to experience adoption from the birth family perspective. The joy is much less here, and the conflict much greater. I've known this, theoretically, but lately I experienced it more personally. Two sets of our daughter's siblings, one on her birth mom's side and one on her birth dad's side, have entered the foster care system in the past year. In one case, we requested to have the children placed here with their sister and were denied; the children were placed in a non-family foster home. In the other case, a nearby family member took the children into their home.

In both of these cases, the system gave the birth parents a case plan and asked them to comply with certain expectations. In one case, the court has already found that the birth parents did not comply with the case plan and the parental rights were terminated. In the other case, the birth parents still have a certain amount of time to show significant compliance or the parental rights will be terminated.

From the perspective of the birth family, this time... We have watched as beloved siblings were taken away from known loved-ones and given to strangers. We have nervously asked if we could possibly maintain a relationship with our daughter's siblings/our grandchildren, aware that the adoptive family had the power to completely sever that relationship. We have anxiously awaited a court's determination of who these much-loved children would call family. We have visited our daughter's siblings in a new home, where they call a different woman "mother" and have tried to explain to our 10-year-old why they couldn't live with their previous mother, whom she loves. We have watched as our daughter processed the possibility that her siblings' names would change and how confusing that is for her.

And in the midst of all this, we were asked to take in our foster boys. To love them with the uncertainty of how long they will stay. To support their parents in their journey to reunite with their children. For our daughter to adjust to having siblings in the house, knowing that she will grieve their leaving, when that day comes.

Through all of this, I have come to believe deeply that children belong to themselves. When we act like only a portion of their story (that we like or that we are a part of) matters, we rob them of part of themselves. As either party in an adoption, we need to treasure the whole child, all of their story, even the parts that do not include us.

The joy of becoming a parent through adoption is accompanied by the grief of losing a child for the birth family, of losing a family for the child. Even in open adoption, that loss is genuine. Surely we want the child to share the joy, but it's also essential for the adoptive family to validate the loss for the birth family and for the child him/herself.

As we Christians move toward foster care and adoption as a way to care for "the least of these," (Matthew 25:40), we must be deliberate in our acceptance of the child's whole story. We must include as many of the players in our children's previous lives as is safe. We must not act like these children belong to us. They are God's, and He has orchestrated each day of their lives, including those days which do not include us. Their birth story is just as much theirs as their adoption story is.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

His Rest

I need my sleep. Ask anyone in my family. My mother will tell you of the toddler who would fall asleep in her soup. My brother will tell you stories about how crabby I got if I didn't get enough sleep. I remember going home at night in high school, long before the cool kids gave up. My older children would tell you of nights that they told me to go to bed because I was losing my cool. I just seem to need a lot of sleep to function well.

And, as you might guess, sleep has been a scarce commodity here at the Kautz House in the past couple of months! Having three children, teaching full-time in our home, leading AWANA, and teaching Sunday School makes for one busy mama! I find myself getting up at 5:00 or 5:30 AM to catch some quiet time for a bath and Bible-reading, or to prepare for my students.  Instead of taking a quick nap in the afternoon, I am supervising trampoline time or reading dinosaur books. I have more laundry, more sweeping, more cooking, and more care-taking of children with the wee boys in our home.

Sometimes, at bedtime, I'm cleaning one more toilet, scrubbing one more floor, or folding one more load of laundry. And I'm tired.

Really tired.

But, in the middle of reading Hebrews 4 one morning, I found these words: So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works as God did from His. (Hebrews 4:9-10).  And the words "God's rest" resonated in my soul. God's Rest sounded so peaceful and renewing. I needed that!

So I began to pray for God's rest. I prayed that I would have the energy to take on the next task, through God's rest. That God's rest would flood my soul and body and mind. That instead of getting whiny and crabby when tired, I would seek His rest. 

It works! 

Truly! I have found reserves of peace and energy that I've never had before. I have been able to manage my exhaustion and have reserves to continue on. Not that I'm not tired, I am. But I'm not overwhelmed by it. Praise God!

He will provide whatever it is that we need to do His work. You can trust that. So can I.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Teaching Prayer

One regret I have (among many) in raising my older children is that I never taught them to pray. My own life was far from faith during the time they were little, and teaching them to pray was not on my agenda.

It was a totally different story almost 9 years ago when our now-10-year-old came to live with us. My husband was in seminary, and my faith life was active and growing. On our very first date, my husband had said, "Could we pray together before we go?" Our prayer life was/is essential to our marriage; we have been very blessed!

So our daughter was taught from Day One to pray. We talked to her about prayer being "talking to God," and a person could pray anytime. God would listen. God cared. And she has developed a faith that is deep and real; it shows in her life. We pray with her each night, and I listen as she prays for her birth parents, her siblings, her friends, the child we sponsor through Compassion International, and for herself. It is good.

When we were asked to foster the two boys, we asked about faith instruction. It was fine, the social worker said. Because they are foster children, we haven't sat down to instruct them about our faith and prayer, but because they are living in our family, they have heard a lot of prayer. They go to church and to Sunday School with us. We do not disrespect their culture (they are Native) or their parents, but simply by living as part of our family, they are experiencing our faith and prayer life.

And oh! Is it sweet! The preschooler began to ask to say the prayer before meals or at bedtime after only a couple of weeks. He prays, "Thank you, God," and then he lists everything he is thankful for. Like this: "Thank you, God: potatoes, Mom, books, school, brothers' visit, Sister (their name for our daughter), bed." It gives us such insight into what he values! And I know God is listening to him with love and grace.

The toddler has recently begun chime in with a list of things he likes: "Doweeya (dinosaurs). Brother's name. Doweeya. Doweeya. Sister." But his favorite prayer word is "Amen." He will say "Amen" through the entire prayer! I've noticed he says "Amen!" with special enthusiasm if the prayer is going longer than he would like. And especially at mealtime (He likes to eat).

The long-haired dude in the middle is my husband... lol!
Today, the toddler stayed in church with me while the other two went to Sunday School. About two-thirds of the way through the sermon, he started saying, "Amen. Amen. Amen!" He finally said, fairly loudly, "Amen, Papa!" There were a few chuckles, and then he settled in for the rest of the sermon, eating blueberries as slowly as I could provide them peacefully.

God is blessing us so greatly through this fostering experience. One of the sweetest blessings is the growth of faith in each of us. It is precious to see our daughter including the foster boys in her idea of family. It is amazing how God provides for us, as parents: insight, patience, love, acceptance, energy, and everything we need. The support we've received from our congregation and from our friends is delightful. And of course, seeing God at work to grow faith in the little guys is a blessing. Pray on!

Saturday, October 21, 2017

The Village It Takes

I have never been so mindful of the adage, "It takes a village to raise a child," as I have been this month. We said "yes" to fostering two preschool boys without having anything in place to make room for them in our home, our day-to-day lives, or even in our car!

We moved the "spare bedroom" into what used to be my glass shop and more recently the reading nook for my older school kids. Now it is our spare bedroom. There is enough room for the bed and that's about it! But we still have a spare bedroom, and we'd love for you to visit us.

The upstairs bedroom (that used to be the spare) now has two toddler beds, a dresser (anchored to the wall!), a rocking chair, and a bunch of toys. The dresser is full, as the boys came with lots of clothing, and our ten-year-old shared her entire collection (which was quite extensive) of Ninja Turtle toys.

And two car seats have been installed in the Chile Bus. The Chile Bus is a 7-passenger van that my stepdad gave us for the students I teach, so that I can take them all skiing and on field trips. It is now in much more common use because our Subaru is small for five.

Those are just the changes made in the first 12 hours! Then our friends heard that we were fostering. Near and far, they asked what we needed. At first, I didn't even know! Then I realized that we were lacking warmer clothing for the boys, and I suggested winter clothing. I mentioned healthy snacks to another friend because it's hard to avoid packaged, processed junk food.

Over a thousand miles away, a friend with twin sons mailed an enormous box of winter boots, coats, hats, shirts, and even some toys (and a special gift for our 10-year-old). Another friend met me with a huge bag of long-sleeved shirts and sweatshirts. I can't even begin to know how many apples we received, along with many other healthy snacks! We are all so blessed.

A dear Christian friend, the mother of one of our daughter's pals, very deliberately offered to take all three of our children for several hours every Sunday afternoon to give us time to be a couple and time to do the chores that are almost impossible with three underfoot. Another sweet Christian sister handed me a couple of folded-up bills and whispered, "Use it for whatever you or the boys need."

Our village. I am so thankful to God for our village! And it has really opened my eyes to ways I can be of service to those around me in the future.

If you are not in a place to become a foster family, find a foster family and offer something. Offer time by running an errand. Offer grace by holding a screaming child in the back of the church (or by sitting with the one(s) who are not screaming!). Offer a gallon of milk or a box of homemade granola. Offer a gift card to a kid-friendly restaurant. Or babysitting so the parents can go to a non-kid-friendly restaurant! Give a pat on the back to an older sibling in the family.

And if even those offerings are beyond your ability right now, offer prayer support to the family (and let them know you're praying for them!). Fostering can be difficult for the new children... and for the existing family. It can also be a delight! Lend an ear for joys and frustrations.

So, thank you to our village. Thank you to those who pray for our ministry here on the Jicarilla Apache Nation. And thank you to all the foster families out there taking in children in need!

Monday, October 16, 2017

An Unlikely Anniversary


When Brad and I got married ten years ago (October 16, 2007), we never in a million years would have dreamed that we would celebrate our tenth anniversary on the Jicarilla Apache Nation in New Mexico, with three children under our roof! We intended to serve God in a church in the MidWest, near our parents and grown children. It was a prudent plan: Me teaching and Brad preaching in a small town.

But as God often does, He had different plans. Better plans. Infinitely, eternally, better plans. A year and a half after we married, we adopted our 2-year-old granddaughter. I stopped teaching to be home with our new daughter, and we adjusted to living on one income and to parenting together. We thought differently about our future, no longer being "empty nesters." Instead of pursuing my career goals, I tried to provide the best experiences for our daughter.

When God called us to serve among the Jicarilla Apache, we were surprised. As we went through the interview and visitation process, we became more and more certain that this was God's call. We moved our daughter and ourselves here more than four years ago. It has been a delightful place to serve! God, of course, knew what He was doing. Brad is a terrific pastor for this place, these people. My skills as a teacher have been put to use well as I homeschool our daughter and five Jicarilla children.  I am leading a very successful AWANA youth ministry program. We have all grown in our faith and our faithful service.

Even a month ago, we anticipated our 10th anniversary being much like the past nine anniversaries: The three of us going out to eat somewhere nice, stopping somewhere to take some family photographs. One difference was going to be "our party," as our now-ten-year-old called it. She loves to celebrate! We decided a while back to celebrate with our friends at church, inviting our friends in the community, as well. I've been making table decorations and buying supplies over the past few weeks.

But yesterday morning, we were juggling three children as I tried to finish the salad and get the hot food warming up safely. While we talked to the gathered group briefly, thanking people for coming to celebrate, I was holding a wiggly two-year-old who wanted to EAT. As Brad prayed over the food and our marriage, our ten-year-old was hanging onto the hand of an unhappy four-year-old wailing to be "set free." Instead of sitting and visiting through the afternoon, I changed small soiled clothes, chased down children, and said, "No more sweets!" to three.

This is a most unlikely anniversary for us. We are too old for preschoolers; we are even too old for elementary schoolers! We are far, far away from our families, when we had wanted to stay close as our parents age. But we are not disappointed or dissatisfied. Several times today, one of us looked at the other and said, "Who would've thought...?!" But not wishing for it to be different.

We are serving God as He calls. We are here in New Mexico, happily. We are permanently parenting a ten-year-old, delightedly. We are foster parenting four and two year olds for an uncertain amount of time, willingly and joyfully. Life is not simple and clear-cut. God's call is often messy and sometimes unexpected. But His call is always good.

Always.

Good.

So jump right in! Follow His call. Trust that He will provide all that is needed.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

A Dozen Dinosaurs

A couple of weeks ago, I said to my mother in a phone call, "There's not really anything exciting going on here. Kind of boring, I guess, but we don't mind." She agreed that "boring" was a good thing...

And then life happened. We were asked to consider being foster parents for two boys, ages 2 and 4, for an undetermined amount of time. We prayed. We talked. We included our 10 year old. We prayed some more. Then we said, "Yes."

That "yes" was based on Scripture:

Jeremiah 22:3 says, "This is what the Lord says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place."

Matthew 25:40 says, "And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me."

That "yes" was based on prayer. On knowledge of what happens to children when they don't have a stable, consistent home. On trust that God would provide... energy, finances, security...

No longer is life "boring!" Our house is filled with loudness, laughter, tears, and prayer. We would ask for your prayers as we parent these two, in addition to our 10-year-old. That God's grace would cover us all as we adjust to life as a bigger family and the boys adjust to life with us. That God would provide all that we all need to follow Him.

On the day after the boys arrived, I wrote this:

Tiny socks
And little jeans
A moment to reflect
On what this laundry means...
It means that God has worked in us
To want to spend a life in service
To put our time, energy, and more 
Into what God has in store
Instead of what we want to buy
Or have or do
The reason why
is God has loved us
Beyond all measure
And has made us His earthly treasure
And we, instead of hoarding here
Are to bring heaven's love near
With our humble feet and hands
To be where this laundry lands


Today I took a dozen dinosaurs, six ninja turtles, and two horses to church... along with two little boys and a half-grown girl. It was a joy and a blessing!