Prior to 2010 I didn’t know the true meaning of “community.” That is, the idea of a servant-minded group of authentic people who truly care about me and sacrifice for me. Since my own family doesn’t operate this way I had no idea that complete strangers would actually do this! People I barely knew taking the time to bring clothes, toys, food, and books for the boys when they arrived. People I just met coming to organize my pantry and fridge. People I know loosely via social media sending Costco shipments to my door. And countless people from word of mouth sending boxes of diapers and fulfilling Amazon wish lists. BLOWN AWAY was I. I would’ve cried from being so touched but my emotions were shutdown as I was in full operational mode trying to figure out life with a 6-month-old and a 2.5-year-old thrust into my care.
Foster care, no foster care, single, or married COMMUNITY is essential to walking out life with Christ well. We can’t do it alone. We can’t do it only with a spouse. Iron sharpens iron after all. We need people different than us. People that look different, talk different, vote different, and believe different. We need it all. We need it to fully understand the hardships others face. We need it to have compassion for others. We need it to reduce fears, clear anxiety, and bring peace and unity to this world. We need it so we don’t remain ignorant and unaware of our biases.
How did I grow my community? Well, it’s changed a lot over the last decade. My first real community as a single person I found coming out of DivorceCare and my time at Gateway Church. Over time this small group mixed with a second layer of community found through the Christian singles country-dancing scene. Yes that does exist here in Austin! 😀 Eventually my core community fell apart and that’s when I was determined to find a church home. Here comes Mosaic Church Austin. I was excited to find a church with such diversity, authenticity, and a singles community. I immediately dove in by joining a community group and serving in Children’s ministry and the Singles ministry. I attended anything and everything I could introducing myself to everyone I could. I was always reaching, always striving, always trying to make connections and get to know people. It was hard work, but so worth it.
Additionally I hosted a second exchange student during this time and was honored to be able to influence another young life and leave my imprint on her heart. International exchange students are a fantastic way to open your eyes to a new culture and the coolest way to grow your community overseas. I highly recommend it! It also gives you the opportunity to influence their perspective on Americans. They think we are all overweight, junk-food-eating, gun-loving people ya know? 😉
Eventually I became a foster parent and the turnout of people who came to my aid was unbelievable! I also kept people updated on the licensing process through social media. So when J and X arrived with only the clothes on their backs, the out-pouring of help was the most amazing thing I’d ever witnessed! I would walk to the park with the boys and return to find my sidewalk so filled with stuff for the boys we couldn’t reach the front door! Multiple times! I had so many boxes of diapers arrive I didn’t buy a diaper for 3 months! I had people come to hold Baby X while carrying things upstairs to try and organize my small townhouse. I had someone cook weeks worth of meals and put them in my freezer. I had someone bring shelf organizers for my pantry. I had another person assemble chairs, move bookshelves, and install baby proofing hardware. When I needed a regular-sized crib, a friend from high school donated her old one and two other acquaintances picked it up from her, brought it to my house and assembled it. The list goes on and on….
Of course, there were times where my community felt desolate. After time moved on and the boys stayed (no one knows where these foster care cases will go and how long the boys would stay) the people and help faded pretty rapidly (people assumed I had it figured out – wrong!!). At the 6-month mark I was desperate for more help so I reached out again. As someone who is very independent and can handle most things alone, always asking for help was a BIG shift. But I quickly realized it would be the only way for me to survive and for me to remain mentally healthy. Thus, I asked my community who would be willing to come help with the boys on a routine basis (so I wouldn’t have to ask each time!). Sure enough, I had routine helpers and weekend helpers signing right up.
Three years and an adoption later, I still fight hard for community. For me personally, I realized it’s essential for my survival. I don’t have parents or siblings in which I do life with or confide in. That kind of emotional relationship just doesn’t exist for us. My singles community has become pretty desolate. However, my community of married couples with kids has grown. That’s the tricky thing about single-mom-life….where do I fit in? Sadly, I don’t really have a home that fits well. Thankfully I have a couple, great single mom friends to do life with as well. And so I have to keep reminding my married community that I need help. I need someone to take my kids away for a little while. I need someone to help me make tough decisions. I need emotional support. And my boys need male role models.
Community can blow your mind when they show up but community can also crush you when they don’t. I’ve most definitely been on both sides. As a single person I crave for someone to call, text, or ask how I’m doing. I desire people to see me, care about me, and listen to me. But I’ve learned two key things:
You have to BE the friend that you desire. You can’t expect someone to just listen to all of your problems and you not ask about theirs. You can’t expect someone to put in all of the effort and you just sit back and receive. You must give too. Give A LOT if you want true friendship to grow and last. Keep reaching out, keep asking, keep pressing in, keep sacrificing. It’s going to suck sometimes. You may feel like you’re always reaching and no one is reaching back. But this is only a season my friend. And yes, it may feel like a never-ending one.
And then there is Jesus. He is your best friend. He is your peace and comforter. He sees me all the time. I know, I know, this answer can get old quickly. I know, people praying only but doing nothing for you gets old too. But I choose whether or not I sit in my own bitterness or to sit with Jesus. I choose Jesus because ONE DAY there will be no more tears. ONE DAY Jesus will redeem all of my hurts and bring me to a place where my only thought is to worship Him. And I can’t wait.
Four years ago I thought trauma was merely an event that happens to some people and some not. I thought, it’s too bad that you had to go through a traumatic event but you just move on, right? Time heals all wounds, doesn’t it? Well, that’s not the case at all for childhood trauma. A developing brain is dramatically impacted by trauma which can lead to mental illness or a myriad of other problems into adulthood. There are many studies and research to support this but one talk I would highly recommend is Dr. Nadine Burke Harris’ Ted Talk for starters.
How Trauma Looked at the Start
When J arrived he was just a few months shy of turning three years old. Now that I have a 3-year-old (X) who’s been with me since he was six months old I finally realize the depth of the bond and attachment a 3-year-old has with his caregiver, the fears he has now that he is fully aware of his surroundings, the total lack of control of his emotions and the extreme need to be calmed and comforted when upset. I truly cannot fathom how emotionally damaging it would be for X to be removed from me and handed over to a stranger right now. And yet, that’s exactly what happened to J. It breaks my heart when I sit and think about what J experienced.
But did I see the trauma when he arrived? During the day, no signs whatsoever. J was happy, sweet, and seemed to be soaking in all of the new, exciting developments each day. He never had a tantrum or was angry. He never got frustrated. He just went with the flow. The only times he would scream or cry is if I left his sight or…..nighttime. When the night came he woke up screaming and crying every few hours. The situation was deceiving because during the day he seemed fine so he is fine, right? Well not at all. His emotional state was shutdown. He was in “survival mode” living in fear and operating in the lower part of his brain. You know how your kids are usually much better for their teachers at school and then when they get home they are an emotional disaster? That’s because you are their safe person and it’s a good thing! Well I wasn’t J’s safe person yet. He was holding it all in for me during the day. And when you’re operating in the lower brain the upper brain cannot function so learning and cognitive function is prohibited. Read The Whole Brained Child to learn more.
Trauma also looked like sickness. My kids were sick weekly for months. The first month I took more sick days than days I actually worked. This was brutal. At first I thought it was just their first exposure to daycare (and it was a big daycare) but later I realized that trauma lowers immune systems. So trauma looked like ear infections, bronchiolitis, gross coughs, vomit, and LOTS of running noses. The humidifier, saline spray, diffuser, and Nose Frieda were a daily occurrence. Thankfully after a couple months we were in the clear and rarely get sick now.
Trauma also looked like sadness. As time went on, we saw their biological parents once a week for 2 hours. At the beginning J was very confused and didn’t want to leave them, but it was never really that bad. He never threw a tantrum or even cried very hard. Strange, right? When it came time to transition them back to their parents (8 months later) and they saw their parents for longer and longer (including overnight visits), J was an emotional mess. Sad and crying more than I had ever seen (he was 3.5-years-old at this point). And then when the reunification failed and bio mom and dad suddenly disappeared from their lives, J was an even bigger mess. He had been in play therapy but I didn’t see much impact. I had to explain to him why he didn’t get to live with Mommy and Daddy. I had to explain to him why we can’t see them anymore. It was heartbreaking. He carried a heavy sadness around for at least 6 months.
How Trauma Looks Now
J is now 5.5 years old. X is 3 years old. For X, I haven’t seen anything noticeable yet. Although trauma can happen in the womb and for sure during the first 6-months of his life, thankfully it seems like they met his basic needs during that time. But for J, things are more complex. He lived in an unstable environment with a detached, depressed/anxious mom and a dad who would leave for days at a time and was physically abusive to his mom for almost 3 years. And that’s only what I know. There could be so much more that I don’t know. I know that he was fed and I know that they loved him. But I also know that they didn’t talk to him, they mostly sat him in front of the TV (including PG-13 superhero movies), and he witnessed domestic violence. Multiple neighbors reported a baby outside alone and crying without much clothes. That was my J.
So for him I can see small things with his brain that are not normal. Even though he’s been with me 3 years now he still mimics little brother, follows little brother, wants everything little brother has (or any child has) all the time, and he just can’t seem to take initiative or decide what he wants on his own. When we visit my parents and their cousins he reverts to a baby talk or a REALLY LOUD voice (seems to happen anytime he’s nervous or wants attention). He laughs and smiles when being scolded sometimes. He holds in ALL of his emotions until I tell him it’s okay to cry and then he lets it out loud and hard. And now that X is 3 years old I am seeing the enormous differences in what a “normal” 3-year-old development level should be vs. how J was when he arrived. J had no words I could figure out and X has an enormous vocabulary and sometimes speaks in sentences better than J does today. It’s been fascinatingly alarming. J’s been in play therapy since he was 3.5 years old but I never saw much change. Mostly it helped me understand why he does what he does. Because he missed those years where mimicking is normal for a baby he was simply doing it now. She also prepared me that there’s a good chance when he hits adolescence he will run away to find his birth parents. DEEP BREATHS…
How Trauma Affects Future
I went through the Family Minds Intervention with Dr. Tina Atkins, PhD which is a trauma-informed, psycho-educational intervention that increases parents’ ability to be reflective, to mentalize; to see inside their own mind and that of their children. This class was pivotal for me in understanding what the future of kids who experience trauma looks like. And it is very sad. The stats for foster kids ending up in jail, homeless, having depression/anxiety/bipolar or more severe mental illnesses is heartbreaking. Even kids that get into loving, safe homes. And so how do I handle this with my kiddos?
Become trauma-informed. Once I fully understood the brain science behind it all, something just clicked and so many of my past experiences in relationships suddenly made sense. It was like a light switch had been turned on for me. I view every person differently now including my kids.
Overly compassionate. It’s important to have extra compassion for foster kids. You don’t know their history but you know they’ve experienced at least ONE extremely traumatic event – removal from their homes and loss of their entire family in an instant. How would you feel if that happened to you? And so I do my best to live by “you never what he/she has gone through (or is going through)” and give all the grace and compassion I can. Believe me, I fail at this plenty, especially with my own kids who love to push my buttons, but I am trying.
Speak LIFE. As often as I am able I try to speak LIFE-giving words to and over my children. I call Jesus to cast out any past trauma or wounds, to break any generational sin or trauma, and to heal any brokenness in their brains or hearts. I speak it when I pray with them or over them daily. I call the Holy Spirit to protect them, fill them with peace, joy, and unconditional love. Over J I speak confidence, leadership, and independence. Over X I speak obedience, kindness, and gentleness (full on #threenager mode).
Trust God. It’s a hard statement to accept, but my kids are not my own. They belong to our Heavenly Father. Thy will be done, not mine. I only have so much control over their future. In the end, they will make their own choices. But I vow to do my best to give them the best chance at a joy-filled life, to teach them about love and Jesus, and to inspire and encourage them to be the best versions of themselves.
Since I was not adoption-minded when I started fostering it wasn’t until I had my boys over a year (and decided to adopt them) that I learned so many wonderful benefits of adopting through foster care! Here are the fascinating facts about adopting through foster care in Texas.
Adoption through foster care is FREE if your foster child meets ONE of these requirements (this qualifies them for Adoption Assistance which includes many of the items listed further down):
6 years of age or older
2 years of age or older and a member of a minority group
Have a diagnosed handicapping condition
Member of a sibling group or joining a sibling in adoption
All legal expenses for the adoption are reimbursed. In fact, the state essentially paid ME to adopt! Read on….
I “hired” an adoption lawyer to handle all of the legal paperwork, but the lawyer is essentially provided for me. I chose someone who directly bills the State so I paid absolutely nothing, no reimbursements needed.
I get the honor of changing their names, if desired. Just like you chose the names of your kids, I got to do the same! I decided to slightly alter one of their first names, gave them new middle names, and of course their last name changed to mine.
They are issued new birth certificates with their new names and only me listed as the parent. Talk about a whole new identity!!
I will receive a monthly subsidy from the State of Texas until they each turn 18! The amount is approximately half of what I received for foster care.
They receive FREE health insurance through Medicaid so I don’t need to add them to my health insurance unless I want it as supplemental.
Because of Medicaid they receive free school lunch (depends upon your school district).
They will receive college tuition reimbursement to any state college in Texas! I see future Longhorns in our midst! This also includes advanced degrees.
The year in which the adoption is consummated you can file for an enormous adoption tax credit! Over $12,000 PER KID (it changes slightly each year)!
OK, so I’m over 10 now but a perk I discovered after I wrote this the first time is a FREE YMCA of Williamson County membership! Plus half off the member price for any additional programs. I never knew swim lessons or joining a soccer team could be so cheap!
See? Look at ALL THE PERKS of adopting through foster care!! ☺️🙌👏🙏 No need to wait. No need to spend tens of thousands of dollars or even book a flight anywhere! There are so many kiddos right here right now. Please refer to DFPS Adoption Assistance website for more information about this program.
What I didn’t realize when I started heading down the foster care path is that the children taken into foster care are supposed to have their first visit with their biological parents within the first 48 hours of being removed. Sounds crazy, right? Let’s rip you out of your parents arms only to take you to see them 48 hours later but only for one hour and then let’s rip you out of their arms again. And then let’s repeat that once a week re-traumazing you each time, OK? Sounds highly dysfunctional, right? Well that’s how foster care works.
Now every state, every county, and every case is different. In child endangerment cases visits may not happen right away (or at all). If mom/dad are incarcerated then there are no visits. There may be no mom/dad in the picture and visits may happen with another relative. Though visits are ordered there is nothing enforcing the parents to show up so you may have a case where they never show. Visits usually start out taking place at a CPS office with an “observer” in the room with them. If you have a case from another county (very common here in Austin since surrounding, more rural counties just do not have enough foster parents) then you might drive hours to take your foster child to their visit. You may drive hours and then the parent no-shows. The visits may involve other siblings placed in other foster homes, kinship homes (a relative fostering a child), or adoptive homes. It’s a total mixed bag of possibilities including many I didn’t cover.
Our case? Well the judge in fact called it the “Hallmark case” praising the parents for their efforts. They came to probably 98% of their court-ordered visits. So every Saturday morning at 8:00am I dropped off the boys at a CPS office just a few minutes away and I picked them up at 10:00am.
The First Visits
Our first visit happened one week after the boys arrived. Per guidance from the CPS Case Worker I drove up to the back of the CPS office and handed the boys to another CPS worker we had never met. Until CPS gave me the “clear” that the parents were not hostile then this is the protocol so there are no run-ins in the parking lot or lobby. I was full of anxiety. I mean, these two babies were just thrust into my arms a few days prior and now I’m handing them off to a total stranger! Well, turns out, in foster care, there is a lot of handing your foster kids off to strangers. It’s really sad. If you’re a parent today, I’m pretty sure that is something you would not do. But in foster care, it seems like a normal expectation. And yet they are supposedly trauma informed.
The next week, guess what? Another CPS Case Worker we had never met came to get them. I also never knew what went on during the visits. No one could tell me. Our case worker was never there so I couldn’t get information on what the parents were like or whether or not it was “safe” for us to meet. Once the boys were brought back to my car they seemed fine though; no one was crying or visibility upset.
In typical CPS style, the visits moved to a different CPS office with no back door option but still pretty close to my home. I couldn’t get a hold of anyone to figure out what I should do. By this time my CPA Case Manager had met bio dad and her impression was not alarming so I went forth and walked into that office with the boys. I was eager to meet them after all and ensure them that I am on their side. Now, I have no idea what mom and dad look like but I nervously wait in the lobby. And then in they walk. Just imagine how awkward is this moment. Imagine, three weeks ago your kids were taken from you and placed with a woman you knew nothing about. This woman is caring for your kids. You have no idea if she’s doing a good job or a bad job. You have no idea if your kids are terrified or not. You have no idea what she’s feeding them (if she’s feeding them). I can’t imagine what was going through their minds. I would’ve been a mess. But these two acted like nothing was a big deal. I shook dad’s hand and introduced myself to both of them. Neither seems overly excited to see their kids. Everything was status quo. J hugged his dad (only dad) and then I handed X to dad. Mom seemed to hang back. We stood there awkwardly for a minute until thankfully someone came out to rescue us from the awkwardness to direct them to a room. And then I left.
Two hours later I walk into the lobby to find them all waiting for me. Bio Mom immediately stands up, holds out 6-month-old Baby X to me football-style saying, “I think he’s tired.” I scooped that baby right up! I smile and try to make small talk and help her feel at ease but THIS. IS. AWKWARD. I was perplexed to say the least by her demeanor, her timid/nervous body language, and what seemed like she wasn’t too thrilled to see her kids.
During these visits I had a fascinating discovery. When I would pick up J (almost 3yo) from daycare he would show exuberance on his face (sometimes call me “daddy” because that is the only word he knew for caregiver I guess) and run to me with joy right into my arms. When I took him to visit with his mom and dad he just stood there with a calm smile. So you may think this means he doesn’t feel as comfortable around them or doesn’t love them as much, but that is not the case at all. The next time I observed Mom and Dad instead of J upon arrival and that’s when I realized it was all about the adult’s response. Mom and Dad didn’t show any excitement in their body language. There wasn’t even a smile all the time. Sometimes they seemed a little angry or sad but always tired. They were always tired. Well when I pick up J from daycare, guess who’s acting like its the BEST PART OF MY DAY?!!?? That’s right. And J was just reciprocating my actions. Fascinating isn’t it? I began to realize how every move I make was teaching him how to respond.
I longed to know these young parents. After all, they are the two most important people in my little boys’ lives! I wanted to know everything about these boys but how could I ever fully know them if I didn’t know their parents? Reunification is the goal in foster care and the boys deserve to have the best life possible so then the only way to truly achieve that goal is to build a relationship with the bio parents. It all started with a letter. For the first couple months my interactions with the parents were brief, awkward hello’s and goodbye’s. I always made sure to smile, make eye contact, and say something positive about their boys each time. But how do I reach them? Thanks to a seasoned foster mom who had the brilliant idea to send a note each week with the boys! And so, each week I wrote about the milestones and fun anecdotes and shared bits of my story here and there. I told them why I decided to become a foster parent. I ensured them I was for them not against them. I told them I wanted to know more about them and that we were praying for them. And we were. Every night I prayed for them with the boys. And J prayed for them too. I always spoke positively of them around the boys and was always rooting for them. And when it got hard, when I got angry at the circumstances, I reminded myself that these parents are just grown up versions of these kids except that they weren’t removed and they weren’t fiercely loved and protected by anyone. There is plenty of grace for them too.
And then one week, not only did I hand them a letter, Dad handed me a letter! And my heart was so full! On a folded up piece of notebook paper was their handwritten story. I sat in my car reading as fast as possible, taking it all in, tears flowing and then suddenly it was like time halted – the chaos, the sleeplessness, the sacrifices – and it all became worth it when I read, “Thank you. We trust you and we are so glad it’s you.”
After months, letter-writing turned into visits with me instead of at the CPS office. I advocated to CPS and the Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) for a Sunday visit that involved them attending church with me and then having a visit together afterwards so that’s what we did. What a joy to have them sitting in church with me! Words cannot describe! I used every opportunity to get to know them, support them, and show them that I cared about them (not just their sons). And when it came time to transition the boys home, I invited them into my home so they could experience the life their boys were living the last 8 months, learn their routines, and feel what it’s like to be part of a healthy, loving home. A home that puts dinner on the table. A home that smiles and hugs. A home that puts the boys’ safety and well-being first. Yes, they sat at my dinner table. Yes, they gave the boys a bath in my bath tub. Yes, I was all in. And I saw Mom and Dad open up. They started to ask questions and wanted to learn from me. How strange did I feel telling them how to parent their own kids?? SUPER STRANGE! But ultimately I was honored because they wanted to do better, they were trying, and it was a privilege to be a part of their story.
Just 2.5 hours after learning about J and X over the phone I saw a stranger getting out of a van with a child and I rushed to meet them in the parking lot. Two CPS workers I had never met arrived. One held a very round chubby baby (X) wearing only a plain white onesie. The other introduced me to the toddler (J). He was SO CUTE and smiley! I just remember thinking they looked so “normal.” Not sure what kind of picture I had in my mind!? 🙂 With them was a diaper box filled with a teddy bear, a small blanket, a Paw Patrol Chase stuffed animal, a foam toy airplane, 1-2 bottles with random bottle parts, a 1/2 can of formula, one diaper, and a couple shirts and shorts for J (all I found later because we are directed to put any items in the garage and then thoroughly wash before using).
While in the parking lot my Case Manager from my CPA (Child Placing Agency) arrived (who I also had not met yet!). And thus we all piled into my small-ish 2-story townhouse to do paperwork for the next hour. The first thing they tell me? The parents were positive for amphetamines and methamphetamines. Hmmm…..funny how they left that out, isn’t it?! I am not sure on the mishap there but now everyone is here in my home, the boys are here, what am I to do? No time to think about if that would’ve changed my mind or not but to me overcoming a drug addiction seemed like a much bigger challenge for mom and dad versus having an unkempt home and lack of supervision. I was a bit perturbed with my CPA (or CPS?). Not sure who was at fault.
I signed what felt like more papers than when you buy a home but in this case three copies of everything! Whilst trying to listen to the CPS worker explain legal things that I am totally clueless about J is running and jumping around on the couch like a wild animal. He doesn’t say any words, just gibberish. I must’ve told him to “sit down” or “no jumping” at least 20 times. Meanwhile, the other CPS worker is holding Baby X. By the way, did I feel weird about CPS sitting at my house?! You bet I did! “CPS” has such a intimidating, scary connotation in my mind. I wondered what they had seen at the boys’ house. I wondered what mom and dad were like. I wondered what the home looked like. I wanted to know everything! But I didn’t get anything. I don’t know what they like to eat, how they like to sleep, what they like to do, how they like to be held or rocked……nothing. I had no pajamas, toothbrushes, diapers or wipes. My first thoughts were, “So do I feed them dinner now?!” “They have no clothes! What are they going to sleep in?!” “I need diapers!”
The rest of the evening was a total blur. What I can recall:
The CPS Case Worker helps me figure out their clothing and shoe sizes for each so I can activate my social media network with needs.
The CPS Case Worker left to get some clothes, toothbrushes, diapers and wipes from the CPS office since it was closest by.
Tomorrow my CPA Case Manager would stop at their agency (further away) and bring me more things.
The three women leave my home and then it was just a baby, a toddler, and me. It was definitely like WHOA!
Trying to talk to J was like communicating with someone who speaks a foreign language (no, he was not speaking Spanish). He has alternate words for things that make no sense. I take him to the fridge and show him things to figure out what he wants. He can’t even say water or milk. It is bizarre to say the least! The one word I can understand is “daddy” which is what he called me.
They both seem content. No one seems scared. They seem to go with the flow.
Friend(s) arrive with groceries, diapers, formula, etc.
I give them a bath checking their entire bodies for any bruises, cuts, or any signs of physical abuse (this is required). I don’t see anything that seems serious but of course I feel way out of my league! How am I supposed to know?!
I wish I could say I remember more but this was Day 1 of 6 weeks of massive sleep deprivation. If the first night was like any of the following it went like this:
Tell toddler to stay in his bed so I could put baby to sleep. Yeah that never worked.
Rock baby to sleep.
Lay with toddler until he fell asleep.
Go to sleep in my own bed (you are not allowed to co-sleep with a foster child).
Anywhere from 1/2 – 2 hours later, toddler wakes up screaming. Lay with toddler until he falls asleep again.
Baby wakes up crying. Rock baby back to sleep. While doing this toddler wakes up screaming again.
Put baby down and go back to toddler’s room. Lay with him until he falls asleep.
Go to sleep in my own bed.
Rinse and repeat the entire night.
The Next Two Weeks
Needless to say the arrival was rough. I wondered how I was going to survive living on only two hours of broken sleep per night. I spent all night going back and forth from room to room. My house was complete and utter chaos. The beauty of social media and my church community was in full swing bringing piles, bags, and boxes upon boxes of things to my door daily. We would leave for a morning walk to the park and return to my sidewalk FULL of toys, books, boxes of diapers and more! J must’ve thought it was Christmas every day! I remember his disappointment the first time someone arrived with nothing in their hands.
I wish I could thank every single person that dropped off items for the boys but I have no idea who all of you are. We went from having nothing to having an abundance. I didn’t have to buy a diaper for four months! My tiny townhouse was packed to the brim. I even had a friend send me a Costco order of bulk-sized chicken nuggets, almond butter, Himalayan pink sea salt and more. Another friend came to organize my freezer and pantry because it was insane. Others came just to help sort and organize all the things that arrived. I felt like I was living in a tornado of people and things swirling around me in massive fog of sleep deprivation.
During this time I managed to:
Find a daycare that takes CCMS (the government subsidy so daycare is free) and has immediate openings for both and infant and a toddler and enroll them.
Find a pediatrician that takes Medicaid plus open to new patients and take them to their first checkup.
Complete all required foster care paperwork.
Email work that I can’t come back to work anytime soon (I ended up taking off two weeks).
Acquire carseats and learn how to install them.
Attend our first CPS Visit with the biological parents. I dropped them at the back door for the first two visits until I got the “clear” that it seemed safe for us to interact.
Try not to die.
The Next Four Weeks
Waking up to a screaming, scared toddler multiple times a night was the worst. I expected the 6-month-old to wake up but not the almost 3-year-old. The mistake I made? Treating him like an almost 3-year-old. A child with a history of trauma and neglect just cannot be held to the same standard as their peers. Let alone you add the fact that he is living in a unfamiliar home with a complete stranger! I didn’t even know if he was potty trained (he came wearing underwear but what about overnight?). We didn’t even know whether to call him by the long or short version of his name. Something I wouldn’t be able to ask mom until 3 weeks in. He couldn’t say his own name. What child cannot say “mommy?!” THIS CHILD! He couldn’t understand anything I said to him.
I had to do something about his fear during the night. We had a routine, we had all the nighttime things (light, sound machine, diffuser, etc.). You name it, we had it! With my return to full-time work I HAD to get more sleep so I decided to take the mattress off of the top bunk in his room and sleep on the floor of his room (because per foster care requirements I cannot co-sleep with him and he cannot sleep on the floor of my room, he has to be in a bed). And that’s where I slept for the next four weeks. And little by little he went from:
Waking up and screaming 3-4x times -> Waking up, not screaming, but coming to lay with me (I woke up with him curled up around my legs several times!) -> Waking up and laying at the very end of his bed (closest to my mattress) -> Waking up and sitting up to look for me -> Not Waking Up -> Me sleeping on the top bunk the last 2 nights -> Me back in my own bed!!!
I really thought that I would have a mental break, have a seizure, or even die because of the lack of sleep. It was horrific. I couldn’t remember ANYTHING anyone said to me. I told my boss I couldn’t make any decisions at work. I was afraid to reply to any email knowing I would say something crazy! I was in complete chronic zombie mode with no relief in sight. Only twice during this time did I have an amazing friend who offered to SLEEP AT MY HOUSE and endure the outrageous night shift of no sleep and crying babies. I closed my door, turned on my own white noise, and slept all night!! Looking back, I would’ve had more people on standby!
I am not sure what I was thinking when I said yes to a baby and a toddler. I usually joke that only a crazy person would do it! But somehow we survived. When I was hit with excruciating sciatic pain shooting from my low back down to my foot, the Lord miraculously healed me. When I didn’t think I could go on, my community rallied around and prayed and helped. My boss was gracious. My God is good. People always say to me, “I don’t know how you do it!” But the truth is you really can do more than you know. You just have to step out in faith, take a little risk, and go for it!
Stay tuned to hear about what it’s like to meet the bio parents, how I gained their trust and built a relationship with them.
There is nothing more exciting in the foster care licensing process than to get your first placement call! It’s THE. CALL. you’ve been waiting for! Some people wait hours, some wait months (or even a year), I waited four days!! There is SO MUCH build up to this moment: Who am I going to get? Will it be a boy or girl? How old will he/she be? Am I going to get a baby? What will they look like? Will they have any injuries? It’s a total mixed bag of excitement, joy, fear, and anxiety. Many people are handed a child who has been physically abused with bruises on their body or broken bones and this is something I was scared to encounter.
During the licensing process you figure out your requirements such as: how many kids, age range, gender, medical needs, religious restrictions, and race (if any). Additionally you fill out a lengthy questionnaire regarding the kinds of behaviors you’re OK with. This list alone scared me a little bit. It asked me things like, am I OK with a child who sets fires?! Or smears feces on the walls! Or makes sexual advances toward others? It was really heavy for sheltered Lisa. And so I felt OK not checking most of those. I have to know my limits and boundaries so I can provide the best care for my foster kids. Foster kids are categorized into Basic, Intermediate, or Advanced based on their behavior or medical needs. I was licensed for Basic, up to two children ages 6-months-old to 5-years-old (no other restrictions). I also made it clear with my CPA (Child Placing Agency also known as foster agency) that I wanted a case that would allow for visits close to home (I didn’t want to drive to Temple, Bastrop, or South Austin on a weekly basis). This doesn’t always work out but it’s just another one of those things that did for us.
I am often asked why I took in two children at once as a single person. I was totally naive is the answer!!!! 😀 One time someone I just met said to me, “Two? Wow, overachiever are we?” when he found out I had two foster children. I am not easily offended but that stung a little bit. I decided to become licensed for two because sibling sets are the most common scenario in foster care. The majority of cases involve many siblings or half-siblings (all the way up to 10 or more!). The thought of separating brothers or sisters because a foster home would only take in one child just didn’t seem right to me. My CPA informed our class that if you are only open to one child then you could be waiting a while (not that I was in any rush but that proves the point about the need for siblings). I had years of childcare experience, nanny experience for 6-month-old twins, and overall I felt like I could handle two so then I should handle two. My CPA informed me that if I was licensed for two, I would definitely get two because that is just where the need is. And thus, two it was!
It was Fourth of July weekend 2017 and over the past few days I had decided last-minute that I needed to paint the “nursery.” I am that girl that can’t stand white walls! And at least I was smart enough to realize that once a baby arrived I would have no time! So I was touching up the paint when my phone rang SUPER LOUD!! My CPA advised me to change the ring tone and set it to LOUD when they call so that if it rang in the middle of the night (very common) I would wake up. I had to make sure I had my phone with me with the ringer turned on at all times, because if you miss THE CALL then they’re just going to call the next person on the list! So now my phone is screaming at me. I am upstairs, my phone is downstairs, how fast did I run down the steps?! My elderly basset hound didn’t know WHAT had just happened!
This was probably the most exciting, adrenaline-pumping phone call I’ve ever received! My CPA starts telling me about two boys aged 6-months-old and 2-years-old (closer to 3-years-old) who are living in a mobile home just outside of Austin. Mom and Dad are both in the picture. The home is unkempt, there are numerous adults living in this home, including a room with a locked door where no one knew who lived there (WHAT???). The boys were being removed due to neglectful supervision. She starts telling me bits of information they gathered from mom such as the boys have no allergies, no medical concerns, normal births, eat usual foods, etc. No signs of abuse but of course always possible. No other siblings. First CPS involvement. It seems oddly very straightforward. That’s where an experienced foster mom would’ve asked more questions!! But I didn’t know what to ask. 🤷🏻♀️ In my mind I was thinking that this didn’t seem like all that big of a deal, so this should be a quick and easy case. And so I said:
Me: So when do you need to know my answer?
CPA: I will call you back in 10 minutes.
Me: 10 minutes?! 😱
CPA: Well, actually you could take more time, but we are waiting for your answer. It’s really odd…normally a call goes out all agencies at once but for some reason they called us first and we called you first since they fit your profile.
Me: You can call me back in 10 minutes.
Now I had planned to pray and wait for an answer from God but my excitement and adrenaline was pumping so fast I couldn’t even THINK! I mean it’s the FIRST CALL!! So I called my mom. We discussed the situation and she tells me yes to take the boys. Now looking back I do not know why I called her, why she told me that, and why I listened to her because she offered zero help when these boys came. I was thinking she’d be right by my side (she loves babies and did in-home infant care in our home my whole life) but she never came once. Even though I had told myself (and others) many times that I would NOT say yes to a baby and a toddler (because I know how hard that would be) when my CPA called back I told her “YES!” Maybe it was the adrenaline talking, maybe it was because the case sounded simple, maybe it was because my mom told me to say yes, maybe it was the fact that this call only came to me, or maybe it was because God designed it as so.
Me: So are they coming today?
CPA: Yes, they are actually at their home now and will come straight to yours. They should be there around 7pm.
Me (looking at the time: 4:30pm): OK….. 😳
Now the next couple hours are a total blur. It went something like this:
Finish/clean up the paint and tools in the nursery. A baby is coming!!!
Call friend(s) on standby to make a grocery store run. I have no idea what I told them to get! Probably diapers, wipes, formula, kid food, etc.
Pull out the bin of toys I collected from my mom (she never throws away anything).
Clean up around the house.
Call/text people the exciting news!
Eagerly stare at the window awaiting their arrival!
And then in pulled a van. The babies have arrived! 😃
When I started fostering in 2017 I realized that nearly everyone I knew thought I had adopted kids! I even had people congratulate me! 😀 NEWSFLASH: Don’t congratulate a foster parent when a foster child is placed with them. You’re basically celebrating the fact that a child was in such a reckless situation that they had to be rapidly removed from their home, their parents, and in most cases all of their possessions. On top of that, they are thrust into the arms of a complete stranger. We totally get your intentions but just imagine how much fear that child has. Yes, it’s a good thing that they are now in the arms of a safe person, but that is from your perspective, not the child’s. Most children, no matter how bad things are at home, do not want to be taken away from their mom and dad. So instead of congratulating a new foster parent, ask how you can help.
Here’s some of the questions (and my answers) I got at the beginning of my journey:
Wow, you adopted kids?! No, I did not adopt these kids. That would be a permanent situation and foster care is temporary. When children are removed from their homes due to neglect, abuse, drugs, etc. they go into a licensed foster home like mine for a temporary situation until the case is closed.
Are you going to adopt them? I am licensed to adopt but I have NO CLUE what will happen. I don’t determine the outcome of the case and I cannot predict what life will be like 9 months-1.5 years from now. I don’t even know what will happen tomorrow. They could be removed from my care and returned to their parents at a moment’s notice if the judge deems it fit (and it happens all the time). I’m doing my best to keep a temporary mindset.
How long will you have them? I have no clue. The biological parents have up to one year to prove to the judge that they are fit parents. The judge can also grant a 6-month extension to that one year (and continue extending it which is how kids end up in foster care for years). The judge could terminate their parental rights at any time. It’s all up to how the parents are doing, what CPS recommends, and what the judge decides. ANYTHING can happen.
OH, the kids see their parents?! Yes, the kids have weekly, 2-hour, supervised visits at a CPS office with their biological parents. It’s different by county/case/etc. Some parents never show (because they are incarcerated or unknown whereabouts) therefore you won’t have visits. Or you may have visits with a grandparent or other relative instead. In my case they were 95% consistent through the entirety of the case which is part of the reason we started transitioning them home to their parents. The 2-hour visits turned into “supervised” visits with me instead of at a CPS office and then into 4-hour unsupervised visits and then overnight visits.
Have you met their parents? Yes, I see them every week and just recently started sending letters each week with updates on the boys. Yes, the first meeting was extremely awkward. But I broke ground with them and we are building a relationship now.
Aren’t you going to get attached? Ummmm…how could you not?! When they leave it’s going to break my heart and crush me to pieces, but I have a God that is greater than all that and He has shown me that He can put the pieces of my heart back together and He will do it again! In the end, I weighed my temporary pain against the life-long pain that these kids would endure if they didn’t get into a safe and loving home. When you do that, there’s no question about what to do. And to all the Christians out there, the bible directly calls us to take care of widows and orphans. These are our orphans right here in own city (kids get removed EVERY DAY). The bible doesn’t say “when the time is right” or “only if you don’t get attached” or “after you have your husband/wife/bio kid.” There are no ifs, ands or buts about this.
Can you become a licensed foster parent as a single person? Yes you can!! Here’s a fun graphic.
What does it take to become a licensed foster parent? In the State of Texas you must meet the following requirements:
be at least 21 years of age, financially stable, and responsible mature adults
provide relative and non-relative references
home study which includes visits with all household members [This is a DEEP dive on your family history. Be prepared to share EVERYTHING including traumatic events and broken relationships. The person conducting the home study could be at your house for a few hours.]
criminal history background check and an abuse/neglect check on all adults in the household
adequate sleeping space (they need to have a room)
agree to a nonphysical discipline policy
fire, health and safety inspections of the home (fire extinguishers are required on all levels of the home, tagged yearly)
CPR/First Aid Certification
TB testing as required by the local Health Department for household members
attend 20 hours or more of training each year to learn about issues of abused and neglected children
I would personally add to this list:
Select a foster agency. You have a choice whether to be licensed through CPS or to be licensed through a foster agency. At the end of the day it’s the same license but with a third-party foster agency you have the added benefit of resources, support, and a case manager to help you navigate the process.
Emotional, mental, physical and spiritual stability and maturity. You gotta deal with any past traumas and work through any lingering emotional issues. If you don’t, they are going to rear their ugly heads during this process. Kids know how to get under your skin and push every button. Get a therapist on standby! 🙂
Community. This journey is going to be much harder than you expect. If you think you have people, get more people! This could be family or friends. In my case I had no family interested in being a part of my journey so my church community was essential. I kept people informed and updated throughout the process and my community really rallied around me in the beginning. I used social media to share my experience and had people way back from high school donating items to my boys and offering to help! It was amazing!
Drop any expectations. The process is completely unpredictable. You truly have to be ready for anything! You’re going to get burnt out. You’re going to get frustrated. You’re going to feel like you’re the only person advocating for your foster kid(s). You can’t expect to adopt. You must stay reunification focused until the goal is changed. You can do this!
How long does it take to become licensed? The answer to this question lies mostly within your control. How fast do you want to get licensed? I think there have been people who have done everything above within a few weeks because of their immediate need to take on a placement (such as a kinship placement). Generally, I would say a few months. I took my time to make sure I was fully prepared and walking within God’s will for me. Also, I had an international business trip which delayed the start of my training until the following quarter and I decided to buy a new car which stretched the process out across 6 months.
Wow, that sounds like A LOT. How did you do all that? I’m a Do-er, an INTJ, and an Ennegram 1 and 8 so if you know anything about those personality types you know this type of thing is right up my alley. I like challenges, I like accomplishments, and I like winning. 🙂 Becoming a licensed foster parent can be a lengthy process but if you think the licensing process is a lot you’re going to be way over your head when your first placement arrives. There’s a lot of paperwork and upkeep that is required when you have a foster child (along with caring for the child(ren) with trauma). So think of getting licensed as the training ground needed to prepare yourself for a life-changing experience not only for you but for another life. It’s a good thing the process is so thorough.
I am interested, what should be my first step? If you’re reading this you already have a good start (and are much better prepared than I was)! Secondly, attend a free DFPS Foster/Adopt Information Session. You can find one here. Also start to let people know that you’re becoming a foster parent to begin building your community.
The final step in my licensing journey was to purchase a new vehicle. I was driving around a Honda Element which I loved and served me so well for 8 years but I knew that infant car seats were tricky with the clam-shell doors. My search for the right, used Toyota Highlander lasted much longer than I expected thus my foster licensed came through and I still didn’t have a car! But on the very next day the perfect one finally popped up at a San Antonio Lexus dealership. With Lexus service they drove the car up to Austin and I purchased it on the spot! I called my foster agency that night and they activated my license in the system which means that you’re ready to get a call. Four days later the call came!
Just 5 years ago I didn’t really understand foster care. I didn’t know how kids entered or left foster care. I didn’t know that kids spent years upon years in the foster care system because things are so massively broken. I was oblivious to the enormous drug crisis and need for foster parents. I was living in my little Christian bubble still trying to heal from past hurts, find community, and wait for a husband. I was naive to the dark reality of what’s happening to people right here in our neighborhoods. The drug crisis is real. Neglect and abuse is everywhere. Early childhood trauma is life-threatening. I was ignorant. I thought I was walking with Jesus but truly I was just hanging out until He brought me the right man so that I could start the next phase of my life.
At any one time there are 400,000+ kids currently in foster care in the USA
In Texas this number is 51,400 kids (8,000 in Central Texas/Austin region).
The 125,000 kids mentioned in the image above means that their biological parents’ rights have been legally terminated, all biological family has been eliminated as an option, and these kids are just waiting for someone to say YES to becoming their Forever Family. Ready now! And yes, most likely it will be free.
In Texas this number is nearly 7,000 kids.
In Texas 18,600 kids were removed from their homes in 2019 (3,000 from the Austin/Central Texas region).
In Texas there are only 1,400 foster homes (152 in Austin/Central Texas however only 89 homes open to foster care without the guarantee of adoption). We sure need to up this number folks!!
In Texas 20,000 kids exited foster care in 2019. This is an interesting stat because it doesn’t tell me how they exited (adoption, reunification, aged out of care, etc.)
We were 1 of the 6,100 adoptions consummated in 2019. So that leaves about 14,000 kids that were reunified with family or aged out of care (based on the previous stat)??Perhaps one of my fellow foster moms who better understand the system can comment.
May is Foster Care Awareness Month. It’s important for you to be aware of foster care because it is ALL AROUND YOU. If you think you don’t know a foster parent or foster child you’re probably wrong. I thought I didn’t too but once I entered this world I was pleasantly surprised to find a good amount of foster parents (even other single ones!). So if you think it’s only for “those kind of good people,” it’s not. It’s FOR YOU, especially if you call yourself a Christian. It doesn’t mean you have to be a foster parent, but it does mean you are called to play a role in this crisis.
There are roughly 50 million married Christians in America. There are 428,000 kids in the foster system. That means if only .00856% of Christian couples decided to foster we’d no longer have a system. I’m fostering because not even .00856% of Christians are willing to foster.
From as early as I can remember I lovedbabies (and babies love me!) and I longed to be a mother. It’s hard to explain how deeply this desire defines me which is how I know it’s from God. “Mothering” or care-taking is ingrained in who I am. I never had that big Something I Want To Be When I Grow Up. I just wanted to be a Stay At Home Mom. I was going to be the best wife and mother. But then life didn’t turn out as expected. So instead I babysat for free A LOT, I lead children’s ministry for toddlers in church, I volunteered at YoungLives camps watching babies of teen moms around the clock, and I even left corporate America for a year to nanny full-time for 6-month-old twins. The more babies the better! 🙂 Ultimately I let the Lord re-shape my traditional desire to one that more glorifies Him. I landed on foster care because it would be temporary. I wasn’t ready to create a permanent family without a man by my side. I could use all my mom skills for a while to love on a baby that so desperately needs it and then send him/her back! 😀 Right??!!! This is exactly how foster care works [insert sarcasm]. I mean, after all, no one dreams of becoming a single parent.
The Impact of Trauma
My first baby step into the foster care world was attending a class called Empowered to Connect. Gateway Church Austin was hosting the class as part of their Restore series but since the class description was for foster and adoptive parents I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to go. I reached out to the leaders and they let me sit in on the first class so I could decide. So here I am, the single girl with no kids sitting with three married couples with foster/adopt children discussing child trauma and behaviors. #awkward But I loved the content so I signed right up! The class is very discussion based and surprisingly I was able to contribute based on my experiences hosting teenage foreign exchange students (no I did NOT use my dog for any examples!) 😀 #NeverCompareYourDogToAChild
The class had us read The Connected Child by Kathryn Purvis and this book CHANGED MY WORLD. Everything I thought I knew about parenting was flipped on it’s head (I grew up in an authoritarian home after all). My perspective of my own childhood completely transformed (I realized how much I had lacked emotionally/relationally). My eyes were completely opened to a way of life to which I was oblivious. Babies who suffer from trauma are different. Their brains are different. It doesn’t matter that they don’t remember the traumatic events because their brains sure do. Survival mode (when you’re functioning in the lower brain) is a real, chemical experience in your brain that prohibits the normal cognitive functions (upper brain) from working. Kids who live in abusive/neglectful homes live in this state of survival mode – they don’t know when is their next meal, if someone will comfort them, when they might get abused next. Their brains cannot learn because they are stuck in the lower brain. As a human, becoming trauma-informed is necessary. Check out The Whole Brained Child to know more. Understanding how critical were the first three years of my own childhood helped me better know myself and therefore make better choices. Understanding the four attachment styles and what happens to a child when his/her needs are not met (see image below) helped me better manage my own relationships and become a better friend, daughter, and parent. After completing this course I suddenly had more compassion toward my parents, toward past relationships, and toward every human being. It groomed me for maintaining that empathy toward my kids’ biological family no matter what. Because, the thing is, you never know what someone has gone through. You don’t know what trauma lived in their childhood (and potentially still in their brains) or if they have ever experienced the love of a parent in their entire life. You just don’t know. If you do one thing to educate yourself on trauma, please watch this Ted Talk: How Childhood Trauma Affects Health Across a Lifetime.
The Orphans are Right Here
I don’t know about you but when I hear the word “orphan” I picture a starving child over in a third world country. Yes orphans are everywhere. Some have parents, some don’t. Some are taken away from their parents such as the case of foster care. Some have parents whose legal rights have been terminated (this means they can be adopted). The Bible is filled with verses of caring for orphans. God commanded it, Jesus talked about it. You can go ahead and google that. He is the Father to the Fatherless after all. As a Christian I am called to care. I am called to participate. I am called to support. I am called to at least be aware. I know foster care might sound scary. But these are our kids. This is our problem as Christ-followers.
All the Pieces
I took baby step by baby step toward becoming a licensed foster parent. At each step I checked in with the Lord to be sure I was on the right track. I wasn’t in a rush (and, yes, secretly I was hoping He would bring me a partner so that I wouldn’t have to embark on this difficult journey alone). With each step I took the more joy I felt, the more fulfilled I became, and the more it seemed that God was validating my steps. The more I learned about trauma the more my perception of my own history began to transform. I began to understand why all the messy broken pieces had happened. The bitterness about what He “allowed” in my life faded. There was a purpose in it all. The heartbreaks gave me the experience and compassion for this wild journey. Everything became clear. This was the mission for which my Heavenly Father had designed me. And thus I continued walking it.
Every Person Deserves A Loving Parent. Period.
I don’t know your history but more than likely as a child you had at least one person in your life who was good to you, who provided for you, who didn’t do anything to make you doubt their love for you. You weren’t constantly worried about your safety or when your next meal would be. Neither was I. I have no idea what it’s like to live in that state. I have no idea how different my life choices would’ve been. I don’t know how differently my brain and heart would be today. But now I know a few people that were raised that way, including my kids’ biological mom. She changed my perception of people. As I began to learn about her world I was filled with grief for the life she never got. Not only do my kids deserve a loving parent, so does bio mom and bio dad. So does every human being no matter what awful things you think they may have done whether in childhood or adulthood. They deserve a chance to make a good choice. The sad reality is many kids in foster care never get lucky enough to land with a loving family who commits to them no matter what. They age out. They grow up. They get pregnant. Their kids go into foster care. You may think the cycle ends by rescuing a kid from foster care. It doesn’t. That’s why I chose not only to love my foster kids with every ounce of my being but I also loved bio mom and bio dad. And I still grieve for what they have lost, and what my kids’ have lost. Change a child, change the world right? Humbled to be a part of four people’s stories here.
This is why I chose foster care. I am blessed enough to be able to choose foster care. Each baby, kid, or teenager removed from their parents’ home didn’t get to choose.
Jesus + Therapy + Finding friends in the same boat + Cutting off dead branches + Protecting my environment + Fighting for community + Worship and the Word
= My Recipe for a Restored Life!
What was I coming back from? In my late 20s I suffered an immense amount of loss. Loss of my marriage, my identity, a dream, an entire family of people who loved me more than I had ever felt before, followed by a series of dark, unhealthy circumstances that in total stole about 5 years of my life (those stories coming soon). My healing journey took another 4 years (and of course is on-going). There were no easy or overnight miracles for me. I was the sad, depressed girl who was striving to be restored with very little results. I would read stories and testimonies of how God came through for people and wondered why God never showed up for me. I sat in the bitterness and anger. So if that’s you, I want to tell you to HANG IN THERE! There IS hope, there IS light coming, just keep pressing on! My healing process was lengthy, but so worth it. Now looking back, I can see why He didn’t come to my rescue sooner. He was training me for something greater.
I want to start an organization where I can fulfill the financial, physical, emotional, and spiritual needs for many children who are suffering and unloved. I will create a foundation for them to stand on, give them hope, and lead them to prosper.
My Personal Mission Statement, 2012
How did I get there?
Life coaching and Therapy. A new friend and Christian life coach took me on as a pro-bono case. We worked through defining my identity and creating a personal mission statement. And thanks to my extreme brokenness I helped her create a course for those who have suffered from loss. See what God did there? My suffering created something beautiful that would be used to help many others. And of course therapy, therapy, therapy. I was unemployed and found a Christian place with a sliding scale. #noexcuses She helped me uncover all sorts of behaviors and patterns from my past. I’m not sure why so many people are so adverse to therapy. I’m pretty sure Jesus was the only perfect person to walk this Earth! Even during #stayhomeworksafe you can find therapists meeting clients virtually. What are you waiting for?
Mind renewal. Since logic, reason, and analysis is so ingrained in me this component was HUGE. I believed I had become a sad person. I was a bad person. I was a failure. That God wanted this depressing life for me. I didn’t deserve joy. I had lost all hope. How did I turn it around?
Joyce Meyer taught me how to renew my mind. That speaking truths out loud can replace the lies. I know this may sound silly but IT WORKS. Did you know you can actually rewire your brain?! YOU CAN! Believe me, I objected whole-heartedly to this concept but was willing to try anything at this point, and it worked. To this day, speaking truth out loud is most powerful tool I use. If you’re skeptical, I challenge you to try it for 30 days and tell me that you don’t think differently. Here are some examples of my truths:
I am a beautiful, loved child of God. He loves me no matter what I do.
I am never alone. I am part of the family of Jesus Christ. I am in the trinity with the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit, therefore, I can never be alone. Where ever I go I am in family, and it’s eternal.
I repent from complaining and focusing on negative thoughts.
I choose to enjoy this stage of singleness.
Even if I never have babies I will still worship you because you are a GOOD GOD. My ultimate satisfaction is in You.
How did I come up with my truths? EASY. Write down all of the lies you are saying to yourself. And for each one, write a Truth (God’s Truth, not yours!). And to go further, find a scripture that supports your truth. Another fun step is to burn that list of lies! #noturningback
Janice Seney taught me that I’m created in God’s image (three parts just like Him):
The Physical Man who tells you when you’re tired or hungry.
The Soul Man who tells you you’re sad or angry.
The Spirit Man who tells you what God says about you. Such as: you’re a beautiful daughter of the Most High King! You are worth it! You are worth fighting for! I am fighting for you every day!
Which man are you listening to most often? Try to take those physical and soul man thoughts captive and ask “What is my Spirit Man saying?” I bet He’s saying great things about you!
Spiritual healing. I was in a season where I was extremely angry at God. Angry that He didn’t change my husband, angry that He let my marriage fail, angry that I naively got mixed up with the wrong crowd, angry that all of these awful things were happening to me and I was a dysfunctional mess.
Spiritual Mentor. Boys and Girls, you must, must, must get older, wiser people speaking into your life! If you want to grow closer to God, grow in spiritual maturity, or grow in any area, go find an older, wiser mentor. Set up goals and a meeting schedule and soak in all the goodness of our previous generation. I love my “spiritual mom” and I am so blessed to have her in my life. She helps fill in the gap of my emotionally unavailable mom.
Inner Healing. Healing from your past helps you move forward. If there’s any unforgiveness as far back as when you were a child, this prohibits you from fully and freely living out the life to which Christ has called you. Inner healing helps with this. It may also sound hokey (I used to be the captain of that boat!) but I cannot deny what healed me. Jesus healed me through inner healing techniques such as Bethel’s Sozo (there are places in Austin that use Sozo too, see links at bottom). I realized I had lots of unforgiveness toward my parents and siblings for not being there for me ever, toward my ex-husband for not holding up his end of the marriage bargain, toward God for abandoning me (or rather feeling this way), and toward myself for numerous things: negative thoughts, poor decisions, being so naive, not communicating better, not seeing the signs, etc.
Environment Protection. Here’s another one I thought was total hogwash. Thankfully I had women in my life who knew about this stuff who pushed me and kept me accountable! Turn off that negative news, celebrity gossip, stop listening to those fake pop lyrics with swear words and derogatory terms, say goodbye to anyone who is not speaking LIFE into you. Stay away from complainers, negative talkers, gossipers, liars, and shallow people. STAY AWAY. FAR AWAY. Cut off them branches and don’t look back. Fill your ears with worship music, Jesus podcasts, and people who encourage you on the right things but also willing to call you out when you go astray. Fill your eyes with joyful images and words of Truth instead of false worldly images. I said goodbye to rom-coms, any overly provocative movies/shows, and all the news which only seemed to tell about the horror in our world today. I admit, I have been sucked back into the news because of COVID-19 and it has been draining me. Thankfully I have a dear friend who is always shooting me powerful, encouraging YouTube sermons (see links below) so I can refocus my mind. Facebook/Instagram got you down? Stop following EVERYONE and instead follow only good, uplifting, Jesus-minded folks (some names below).
Worship. If you think that we are just “singing in church” on Sundays I have some news for you – YOU ARE MISSING OUT BIG TIME!! How do I know? Because that’s all I thought it was too until one day I felt this overwhelming feeling of love wash over me. I used to be the girl looking at everyone else raising their hands and feeling awkward. I used to be the girl wondering why people look so excited and happy when singing. I used to be the girl longing for whatever they had. But year after year, nothing changed for me. And then one day I was visiting Shoreline Church standing there in worship and like a rush of a wave I could not hold back the tears. I grew up in an emotionally detached home so stuffing emotions and holding back tears is like clockwork for me. But this time someone else took over. The Holy Spirit took over and He wanted me to feel what His love feels like. After worship they followed up with baby dedications and I continued to sob (feeling so embarrassed too!). I was 32yo and longing to be a mom so deeply that it hurt to my core. I cried through this entire church service, while I walked out of the building, sitting in my car, driving to see a friend, and then during lunch with that friend because I was so worried something was wrong with me because I COULD. NOT. STOP. CRYING. Looking back, this was the moment that the Lord broke through to my heart. A heart that had been so numb from all of the pain of the past few years. Everything changed from that point forward. Singing in church became beautiful worship to my Father who loves me more than I could ever imagine. I sing and soak in every word. I weep during worship (with no more embarrassment!) most Sundays now because His love is THE SWEETEST!
Journaling. Whether you like writing or not journaling is such a healthy tool. Some ideas on how to use it:
Prayer. I have a hard time praying because my mind wanders. This allows me to stay focused so I write out all of my prayers. It also helps to work through that list of people you said you were praying for!
Gratitude. When I was Queen Negative Nancy all I could see/feel/hear was the bad stuff. I had to force myself into thinking positively again. Write down 10 things you’re thankful for each day. If you need to, do this at the start and end of each day! For me, personally, I spend the first part of prayer time thanking God for all the things big and small, obvious and not-so-obvious.
God Moments. My journey with God took awhile. I would hear all of these miraculous stories and overnight transformations but instead of giving me hope, it made me angry. So angry because I was doing all the things for so long with no transformation to show for it. We are talking YEARS! But eventually, it was my time. That’s the thing with God, He’s not interested in our timing. He already knows the divine timing of our journeys and it probably doesn’t align with yours. And once I had little God moments I started documenting them in my journal. This means that when I am back in that negative zone feeling like God has forgotten about me, I can go back and remind myself what He has done personally for me written in my own words. Eventually little God moments turned into BIG God moments!
The Word. Word. Word. Full disclosure: I am not good at reading the Bible. Although I shouldn’t speak that over my life that is how I feel most of the time. I grew up Catholic so I didn’t start reading it until I was an adult. And it’s HARD for me. So I have soaked in group bible studies by Beth Moore, BSF, Bob Goff, etc. (links below). The structure and accountability is the right learning format for me and it helps me absorb it and remember it. Bonus that you end up with new friends too! If you’re like me I have a great tip: Before reading, pray and ask the Holy Spirit to give you eyes to see and ears to hear His Word, to take in what He wants you to, and to interpret it with a Jesus mindset. This actually does work! At the start of 2020 I began The Bible Project bible reading plan in the YouVersion app and it’s been going really well. They have these amazing, easy-to-follow videos along the way that help break up all the reading. I mean, how many animal sacrifices and cubits measurements can one read through?!?!
The Fight for Community. I feel like I am on Life #5 in regards to people I love and my community. I’ve learned that going through trying times will make or break your friendships. Some will continue to reach out and support you, others will fade away. That’s the tricky thing about depression….you can’t reach out, you can’t see a way out, you just exist. Those friendships where I was the one initiating and inviting disappeared. When I was on Life #4 I was a new single and finally found myself a new community at Mosaic Church Austin. I pushed my way in by serving on the Singles Leadership Team and mKids. I poured my heart into growing the Singles ministry and we exploded in numbers. I talked to those who looked uncomfortable and alone. I put together happy hours, dinners, lunches and numerous social events inviting person after person after person always trying to bring new people together and foster new friendships. It was a beautiful time of connecting Christian singles around Austin. I broke into that community, put forth the effort, and took the initiative in order to build deep friendships. Then I became a foster parent and single mom in Summer 2017. When a baby and a toddler were handed over to me my life went into a tailspin and into survival mode. As the foster kids stayed longer and longer, my circle of single friends became lighter and lighter. I continue to fight for community now with married folks with kids (Life #5). I educate them on the weightiness of real single parenting (not just when your spouse is traveling), hardships of foster care and trauma, and continue to tell them what I need even though they may not ask. Some days I get tired of asking. But I know if I don’t I could easily slip back into a dark, lonely place.
Healing could come for you through an instant miracle or it may take years of work like it did for me. I guess I’m stubborn and thus I took some breaking in. I look back now and each person, each season of friendship, each unfortunate circumstance played a part in me becoming the woman I am today. It prepared me to deal with the uncertainty, sadness, and weightiness of foster care. It kept me compassionate when I was dealing with my kids’ trauma of their past and their biological parents. It laid a foundation for me to stand on when times get tough again. Because they will get tough again.
He will never lead you into the path of a freight train, but He’ll meet you in the carnage should you choose that route. He will never veer you from your destiny but should another path seduce you He can turn a long, ugly road back home. When you find yourself unwelcome where you thought you’d been sent, He’ll help you move on. If you walk life out with Him day to day and season to season, even what seems like the most futile detour will end up taking you to a spot where a piece of your puzzle hides.
Additional Tools & Resources
Here’s a hodgepodge of things I did (and still do) and love! Feel free to contact me for more details.
Any Beth Moore bible study. She really dives deep into the Bible and brings it home in a way that you remember it. LOVE HER. You can find a local church hosting a study and just go! I met some of my closest girlfriends at these studies. Option 2: Skip the videos and work through the workbook on your own.
Anything Tony Evans (did you know he’s the chaplain for the Dallas Cowboys and Dallas Mavericks?! Just a little fun fact) or any of his children (Priscilla Shirer, Chrystal Evans Hurst, etc.). I read my first Tony Evans book, Kingdom Single just a couple months ago and it was EXCELLENT! A MUST read for any Single! All of the Evans’ family video messages are on YouTube. Soak in that TRUTH!
John Bevere on Instagram. I very recently joined Instagram and still not sure how to fully use it but I started following all these great preachers/bible teachers and they really put out great nuggets of truth!
My Go-To worship: I just ask Alexa to play Bethel Music Radio or Elevation Worship on Pandora and I’m golden. I have her play it in the evenings when I’m cooking dinner for the kids to try and keep us all sane.
Do you have any great resources you’d like to share? Please share! I would love for this to become a one-stop shop when you need some encouragement.