Growing Family

We get to parent four wonderful kids right now. This summer we added two of them to our permanent family. Ai and Am have shared our home for 22 months and they now share our last name. M is a great big sis!

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The kids are growing so fast! These pictures were taken in last month and they have already changed a lot.

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above photos by Laney Mae Photography

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Elaine and her husband, Joey, are licensed as an adoptive family and foster home in Ohio.

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April Eleventh

Eight years ago today, I was returning home after our rehearsal dinner. It was my last night as a single person. Our wedding was the next day! My heart was full of excitement and anticipation about what might lie ahead for me and Joey as a couple.

Five years ago today, we assembled a wooden bunkbed in one of our empty bedrooms. We had just completed our pre-service training and submitted an application to be foster parents. We would begin our home study process in the coming months. Our weary hearts clung to hope and trusted the Lord for what might lie ahead for our household.

Tonight, as my faithful husband studied for an exam in another part of the house, I drank hot tea with our three young kids. We sipped our peppermint drinks from mugs that Joey and I received as wedding presents. My 4-year-old reminded me that, earlier in the day, I had suggested we might bake a cake for what she called our “celebration day”. I agreed that should be on the agenda for tomorrow while Daddy is at work. Then, I helped the two oldest climb into the bunkbed and held their hands until they fell asleep. I prayed for all our kids, with my heart full.

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Lately, my heart is stirring. It’s nestled in a place between feeling “carefree in the care of God” while also restless for the Day our broken world will be made new.

As I wait, I look back on my adult life.

When one’s days are long and a dry season seems to linger, it’s good to step back and remember what God has done (and is doing). He is good! He is orchestrating our lives for His glory. The LORD is sovereign and holds all things in His hand.

“The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.” Proverbs 16:9

On this anniversary eve, I trust my life to the One who is directing it.

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Elaine and her husband, Joey, are licensed as an adoptive family and foster home in Ohio.

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problematic Foster-to-Adopt mentalty

Foster-to-adopt is not a term that our agency uses. The licensing specialist who initially worked with us made a point to say, “That doesn’t really exist.”  She emphasized that, in Ohio, a family can be licensed to foster and also be licensed to adopt at the same time. Some people confuse this with fostering IN ORDER TO adopt. Motive aside, the foster parent is obligated to support reunification since the goal of state involvement is typically to reunify the child with birth parents.

To say that a case is “foster-to-adopt” (while the child is still a foster placement) is problematic. And, unfortunately, many less-than-ethical agencies use this term when marketing to potential foster families (hopeful adoptive families).

First, in my opinion, using this term sets up the foster parent (temporary caregiver) to make comparisons. Many caregivers will think, “Life is ‘better’ in my home because this child will have more ____ while here.” That type of thinking is a slippery slope. Realistically, a caseworker is not searching for a better home. She is connecting the birth family with resources so that THEIR home becomes safe, healthy, and stable and – therefore – the child can return home.

I believe kids need foster parents who love without hesitation, who pray for their first families, who dream and empower the children to reach their potential. They need cheerleaders. They need caregivers who focus on the children’s needs, not solely the adults’ desires for a permanent parenthood.

Second, it sets up perspective adoptive parents for “false hope” and heartache. Plain and simple: if you want to adopt, private adoption is the ideal route for you. Not foster care. A foster parent’s job is to support reunification. Foster families are always “Plan B” only AFTER every possible means of reunification (or kinship placement) is exhausted.

I understand those longings for children. And I understand the hurdles to adoption. But foster care is not merely the cheapest route to “forever” families. (I don’t like that term either.) The mission of state foster care is to help the whole family, not just the kids.

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Third, in my personal experience, when a birth parent learns that we are licensed to both foster and adopt, he or she feels insecure about our intent. They often think that we secretly hope they will fail. Our attempts to encourage and support reunification are sometimes met with skepticism. And I get it. I would hate it, too, if I felt like every slip up was quietly celebrated. No thanks!

This last point bothers me most. I know that many birth families WANT to do better. They may not know HOW to do better. They need help. And, for them, temporary foster care will likely do what it’s intended to do: To offer the support they need to change the course of their lives.

For these reasons, when we are asked if we are a “foster-to-adopt” family, I immediately say no. And yet we have adopted from foster care.

And we would like to adopt again, probably from foster care.

But we are NOT fostering in order to adopt only. I struggle to communicate that difference that when we talk about our family’s situation.

I absolutely support adoption if reunification is not possible. Nevertheless, the term “foster-to-adopt” can create division and misconception. And, sadly, it’s often misused for that reason.

This document does a good job explaining the role of a child welfare agency.

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Elaine and her husband, Joey, are licensed as an adoptive family and foster home in Ohio.

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healing relationships

As I stood in the kitchen, I could hear “M” playing in her bedroom. Little Bubby was playing in the room too. She was talking to him, but he was not listening nor even looking at her. She was pretending she is the mom and he is the dad — and she was telling him all about their baby.

She didn’t care that he’s distracted in parallel play. She didn’t care at all that he wasn’t really playing with her.  But she did shut the door to prevent him from wandering away.  She simply does not want to be alone. She needs a friend.

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Our little 3-year-old needs people near her all the time. She constantly asks if she can get in the pack-n-play with Baby Sis.  If she isn’t near one of them, she is resting her hand on me. She needs community and to connect.

Sometimes, as parents, we operate as if children do not need family.

Humans are designed to need healthy, consistent interaction from Day 1. Unfortunately, many children do not get that care.

This past weekend, Joey and I were able to attend a parenting conference.  In particular, this training focused on children with difficult pasts: any child who had a stressful infancy or childhood; any child who had experienced trauma, abuse, or neglect; any child who was harmed by someone that should have protected him or her; any child who was exposed to drugs or alcohol in utero; even any child born prematurely who was unable to be held while in NICU. Children with these histories, are impacted neurologically. Simply put, their brains do not respond in the same way a child’s brain with a healthy beginning does.

Adoptive parent Terri Coley said: “A child from a hard place needs much more than a safe place to live.”  The premise of the training is this: Relationships heal what relationships harmed.

Deep healing takes intentionality.  Dr. Karyn Purvis said, “There is no quick fix for a child who has been harmed. … If you understand your child’s needs and you’re able to give it, tremendous healing can occur. It’s gonna take time.”  She recommends Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI).  It’s a balance of structure and nurture (Eph. 6:4).  It is purposeful parenting.  TBRI requires me to invest myself in my children.

I recently told a friend: “It’s tough to be an introvert with clingy kids.”  I recognize (and do my best to overcome) my natural tendency to seek Me Time.  Even though I want to connect with the kids, I sometimes get “lost” in the day-to-day tasks.  This is nearly every parent’s struggle, too.

I get it: Parenting is hard.  It’s exhausting, even when you have the resources you need.  For now, I am so thankful for a preschooler who reminds me, “I need you!”  Or when her actions say: I need my family!

I know that she will stop asking one day, “Mommy, will you hold me?”  Yet she will always need connection in an age-appropriate way.  As God enables, I will strive to meet her emotional needs.

Keep up the good (hard) work, moms and dads! Your kids need you. 🙂

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Elaine and her husband, Joey, are licensed as an adoptive family and foster home in Ohio. 

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absence and presence

Tragedy is part of our families’ stories. Our children’s stories.

Josh Hamby is an adoptive parent living in Africa. He wrote a piece at The Archibald Project that is worth your time.

Here’s a sample:

“Sin and grace, absence and presence, tragedy and comedy, they divide the world between them and where they meet head on, the Gospel happens.” – Frederick Buechner

I can’t think of a better way to describe adoption.  . . .

The call to explore adoption shouldn’t be centered around what we want. It’s a last resort for a child who has experienced tragedy. (And while I’m here, can I say those kids aren’t marketing materials? Because they aren’t, so stop using them as such.) The higher on the priority list the needs of the child are, the lower on the list of options adoption becomes. This makes adoption an extremely difficult and unglamorous journey. It isn’t always the best option, and thus we put ourselves at risk for pain.

I use that Buechner quote because I believe that’s where adoption lies – in the middle of sin and grace, absence and presence, tragedy and comedy. Sin means men and women suffer from poverty and struggle to provide, absence of family is a reality for abandoned children, and tragedy is what we can call those and every other example in the book.

But grace is what awaits all of us who seek refuge from sin. It walks alongside a single mother struggling to provide and instead of taking her children from her, tells her that keeping her children is a possibility worth pursuing. Presence is what every child deserves to feel – whether from biological family or adoptive. Comedy is joy in the resolution – whatever that ends up being.

If you have the desire to adopt, I encourage you to bathe it in prayer. Hold your motives with open hands so they may be formed and shaped to look more like the Father’s heart. Adoption isn’t for every family and it isn’t for every child.

And maybe that’s the whole point. Maybe the adoption journey, as hard as it is, doesn’t always have to end in adoption. But by grace and by God, if it ends in us looking more like Christ, it is well.

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Read the full post HERE.

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Elaine and her husband, Joey, are licensed as an adoptive family and foster home in Ohio.

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Of Loss

My experience as a foster parent is limited. We have cared for only nine children and, by the providence of God, we adopted one of those children He placed in our home. During these past four years, though, I have learned that foster care and adoption involve transition and change. And, usually, loss too.

Even though I know it comes with the territory, I don’t always feel prepared for these changes.

  • I hurt with fellow foster parents who are heartbroken for the kids who have left. I hurt with foster families who are doing all they can to allow a child with challenging behavior to remain in their home.
  • I hurt for birth families who are struggling during the separation.
  • I hurt with children who are away from their birth family — whether temporarily or permanently.

The losses are real. The pain is real.

Sometimes I feel completely surrounded by hurting people.

Even in adoption, I know it is not win-win. Our beautiful daughter has been with us since birth. I realize I have that privilege to raise my feisty girlie because her first mother doesn’t. She will always be regarded with respect in our home — I feel a deep debt to her as I raise our daughter. Yet there is a void in our daughter’s life and in her birth mother’s life.

I can’t imagine the sorrow (sprinkled with comfort, in some cases) that a birthmom feels when she sees her child loved and cared for by another woman. That struggle could become unbearable. (I know each adoption is different. The circumstances and agreements are different. Some children enter a new family after relinquishment, others after removal by the state. I’m not an expert. But I am calling us ALL to feel with and hurt for one another.)

Hurting people often act in fear. They do or say things that they wouldn’t otherwise. There’s a common saying: “Hurting people hurt people.”  And it’s true.  Foster families (both the caregivers and the other children in the home) endure it often.  Although it still hurts, understanding WHY a person is behaving a certain way helps us to empathize.

“Everyone needs compassion, a love that’s never failing / Let mercy fall on me …”

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I don’t respond well to accusations, snide remarks, or rude behavior.  YET I know I could be that person making those remarks tomorrow (or today) if I let my focus shift away from what God has done and is doing and onto myself.  I could easily be the anxious one.

In these challenging times, God calms my spirit and reminds me that He is sovereign:

“If anyone does attack you, it will not be my doing;
    whoever attacks you will surrender to you.

“See, it is I who created the blacksmith
    who fans the coals into flame
    and forges a weapon fit for its work.
And it is I who have created the destroyer to wreak havoc;
     no weapon forged against you will prevail,
    and you will refute every tongue that accuses you.”  Isaiah 54:15-17

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God is the Sovereign One! He is with me. He cares. My well-being is His concern.

I like what Matthew Poole’s commentary says: “Both the blacksmith that makes all warlike instruments, and the soldier that uses them, are my creatures, and totally at my command, and therefore they cannot hurt you without my leave [i.e. permission].”

My pastor just finished a series in Esther. He put it this way: “Esther affirms the providence of God. Nothing just “happens” in life. In fact, if just one event could occur outside of the sovereign influence and care of the Lord, then we could not trust Him. But it can’t. The Lord is in control of everything” (Seeing God When You Can’t See God, February 1, 2015).

Even in transition. Even in change. Even in the midst of loss, God cares.

Understand this: That difficult person in your life is placed there by God. “His life, his strength, his skill, are all in my hands, and he can do nothing which I shall not deem it best to permit him to do. . . . I bare [i.e. confirm that I] made him, and he is wholly under my control and at my disposal” (Barnes’ Notes).

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Life, in general, often involves loss, death, estrangement, removal, change.  We cannot escape heartache in this broken world.

I am learning to let myself fully feel loss and to grieve with / for my children and their first families. I don’t always do it well. But I know we can learn from one another. We can listen and remind ourselves that God is at work in and through these circumstances. One day He will make everything right again.

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Elaine and her husband, Joey, are licensed as an adoptive family and foster home in Ohio. 

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In the Waiting

In 2014, we experienced several changes in our home and in our hearts: Part 1 (read Part 2 here)

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This past spring, we asked Children Services to put us on the bottom of their call list. We were still willing to provide foster care but we were evaluating if it was best for our family long term. We felt “M” did not understand all the comings and goings of her friends.

We needed time to process.

You see, on one hand, we always expect that the new children in our home will be here temporarily. We know that’s the goal of foster care: we provide a safe environment so that parent(s) can work through issues. Then, the children return home (or, sometimes, to a family member).

However, we also know that our little family is not “complete.”  And we have room for more children in our house. Moreover, we want another child to be here permanently. And, in many ways, we are ready for consistency.

So during the spring and summer we were more purposeful in reviewing profiles of children around the U.S. waiting for “forever families.” We prayed over them and submitted our Home Study to various caseworkers. We read several Child Study Inventories and discussed if we COULD care for certain challenges and, ultimately, if we SHOULD. During that time, we saw many doors close. So, in the Waiting, we continued to look at photos of children and wonder how God would meet their needs. Moreover, we grew more comfortable adopting an older child.

In the Waiting, we also started an adoption savings account (yet we do not feel this is the time to pursue private adoption). Still, we added a few dollars here and there to the account as we waited.

In the Waiting, we continued to get phone calls from Children Services and welcomed new kids into our home. By the end of the summer, three children had left our home in four months’ time. We know their Creator cares for them, and we continue to pray for their families (and keep in touch!).

By fall, we were still in the Waiting. Our home is modest but it has room for more children. At that time M’s bedroom had one bunk bed while the spare bedroom contained a crib and changing table on one side and a desk with my dusty craft supplies on the other. That other side was starting to bother me. I felt like I was just storing tools and pretty paper that would never get used. I was not annoyed that the “stuff” was getting neglected — no, I was bothered that the space could be used more purposefully.

Once day, I told Joey that we need to clear out my supplies and prepare the room for children. In faith, we should get ready.

“Are you sure?” he said.

Yes, of course. I was embarrassed it took me so long to realize where my priorities laid. One weekend, I sorted through the piles and kept some things that I could use in my pocket scrapbooks. We moved a small desk to our (now cramped) bedroom and I started giving away the rest. I was in a different season when those supplies were purchased, and I was delighted to share them with others who can use them now.

(The following day, we accepted a baby and an unborn sibling. So the room project went on hold for several months — and we were still in the Waiting.)

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Six weeks after we rearranged the rooms, our pastor said something that resonated. He gave words to what we were feeling:

Don’t equate waiting on God with inactivity. Waiting on God means we submit to God and invite Him to lead us, work in us, and work through us.” –Pastor Brad, Esther 5 Sermon on December 7, 2014

That statement echoed what the Holy Spirit had been whispering to us. Act in faith. Trust that God is who He says he is and that He will keep His promises.

In the Bible, Hebrews chapter 11 lists accounts of people who acted in faith and were commended for it. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the men of old gained approval. … And without faith it is impossible to please Him” (Hebrews 11:1,2,6).

Here, at the end of 2014, we are still in the Waiting.

In the Waiting, we will continue to care for kids. We anticipate what God would do with our home as we get things “in order” for whomever He will bring to us.

Go to Part 2

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Elaine and her husband, Joey, are licensed as an adoptive family and foster home in Ohio. 

 

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Hold on. Watch and see.

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“Because the people God uses don’t have to know a lot of things, or have a lot of things — they just have to need him a lot.”

The Jesus Storybook Bible, page 210

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This week I have caught “M” singing parts of Steven Curtis Chapman‘s song “The Glorious Unfolding” when it comes on the radio.  I smile.  It’s interesting because, when I first heard the song, I cried.  When I hear it, I often think about adoption and birth mothers.

The song is really about life turning out differently than you imagined. But that is okay. God is the Storyteller!

I have needed that reminder lately.
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Lay your head down tonight
Take a rest from the fight
Don’t try to figure it out
Just listen to what I’m whispering to your heart
‘Cause I know this is not
Anything like you thought
The story of your life was gonna be
And it feels like the end has started closing in on you
But it’s just not true
There’s so much of the story that’s still yet to unfold
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And this is going to be a glorious unfolding
Just you wait and see and you will be amazed
You’ve just got to believe the story is so far from over
So hold on to every promise God has made to us
And watch this glorious unfolding
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God’s plan from the start
For this world and your heart
Has been to show His glory and His grace
Forever revealing the depth and the beauty of
His unfailing Love
And the story has only begun
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And this is going to be a glorious unfolding
Just you wait and see and you will be amazed
We’ve just got to believe the story is so far from over
So hold on to every promise God has made to us
And watch this glorious unfolding
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We were made to run through fields of forever
Singing songs to our Savior and King
So let us remember this life we’re living
Is just the beginning of the beginning
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Of this glorious unfolding
We will watch and see and we will be amazed
If we just keep on believing the story is so far from over
And hold on to every promise God has made to us
We’ll see the glorious unfolding
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Just watch and see (unfolding)
This is just the beginning of the beginning (unfolding)

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Elaine and her husband, Joey, are licensed as an adoptive family and foster home in Ohio. 

 

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Caring for Baby with Prenatal Drug Exposure

In our state, all perspective foster and adoptive families are required to complete a checklist of characteristics as part of the home study.  Couples and individuals must determine the “type” of children they are willing to consider.  Questions include: gender, age, race, family history, medical conditions, mental and emotional health, education, personality, behavior, etc.  It’s lengthy and (for us) overwhelming as every possible condition is considered.

One section that seemed particularly intimidating was related to maternal drug use.  The form distinguished between babies born addicted, babies who had positive toxicology screens at birth, and babies with prenatal drug exposure. At our initial licensing, we did not understand the differences. We checked “will consider” to each.

Now, three years later, we are NOT experts by any means but we have learned what works — and what does not — for infants with these birth histories. The first few weeks are very challenging; controlling the environment is critical. 

I no longer hesitate to accept newborns with drug addiction. We can give them a stable, loving start so they’re prepared to return home when it’s time.

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We were particularly helped by a handbook developed by PICC. We were trained using their therapeutic handling principles, including baby wearing, swaddling, and controlling environmental stimuli.

I’m a big fan of swaddling for all babies! I love little baby burritos..

I am not qualified to offer medical advice. I do, however, want to offer a few suggestions based on our experience. AND I’d love to get feedback from other foster and adoptive parents on what has worked for you! Please comment below!

For these newborns with difficult backgrounds, the symptoms will vary. The type of drug, the length of use, frequency of use, and the nutrition of birth mother are all factors.  Do research on the particular drug, if possible (resources linked below).

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Signs and Symptoms might include:

-tremors /jitteriness

-pronounced Moro reflex (feeling of falling when the baby throws arms out and stiffens to support self)

-increased muscle tone

-sometimes difficult to comfort and settle

-over-active and agitated

-severe colic

-sensitivity to light (hiccuping, sneezing and frequent yawning are signs of over-stimulation)! This can be the biggest tip off that you need to reduce stimuli.

-exaggerated sucking reflex

-loose stools

Finnegan Scoring System is used to assess these babies before discharging home with caregiver. Many are treated with morphine while withdrawing. Ask your hospital about your newborn’s score. (Our local hospital requires score of less than 8 every 4 hours prior to being discharged.)

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Tips for Caregiver:

-swaddle

-wear baby in wrap or carrier close to parent’s chest (frequent skin to skin contact is great too)

-offer pacifier

-dim lights at home

-reduce noise and fragrances in the home (we are SO GRATEFUL when our friends do not wear perfume or scented lotion)

-hold baby in “C position” (bend knees upward toward chest and curl back forward slightly)

-soothe baby by moving him up and down (vertical rock) in head-to-toe movement (keep baby swaddled and in C position); some babies like to be in a swing but bouncers are often too stimulating

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Resources:

Toolkit for Children Prenatally Exposed; distributed by Macomb Intermediate School District. I found the chart most helpful.

Pediatric Interim Care Center (PICC), (their handbook was helpful or try these therapeutic handling tips!)

The Happiest Baby on the Block

The Nature of Nurture : Biology, Environment, and the Drug-Exposed Child

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Elaine and her husband, Joey, are licensed as an adoptive family and foster home in Ohio.

 

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unworthy

Last night I thought about how hard it is to show gentleness, kindness, and patience with those people “unworthy” of love. You know, the people who make life really difficult.

It’s tough to swallow that we actually think certain human beings are unworthy of love. Humans: those Christ died for! Me! You! We were still in our sin when Christ gave His perfect life as a ransom payment for people who did not want Him.

And, if I’m honest, I still struggle with that me-centered thinking. I often want to cry out, “Give me only easy things, God. Ok? Oh, and I still want to make a difference please. Thanks!” My own selfish intents are evident. I fight my flesh to yield to His ways, not mine.

As a foster parent, I am always thinking about the children and families we know and those we don’t know – yet. I often wonder who will be in our home next month or next year. How long will we be foster parents? Will we adopt again? I remembered 104,000 children in foster care are waiting to be adopted. Many of those “hard to place” children are teens or have disabilities. Children with cognitive delays. Children with physical needs that require lifelong treatments and care. Children who will wait for a permanent family due to neglect or abusive early in life.

I believe all life matters. I wonder if one of those waiting children is the “right” fit for our home.

Then I got an email this morning about a special needs toddler who needs a forever family. “Give me only easy things, God. Ok? Oh, and I still want to make a difference please. Thanks!”

Can we do this? Should we do this?

I ask questions. I wait. I pray. I am reminded that I was once unworthy but the Rescuer changed me. He made me ready to serve. And so I continue to wait and pray but I am now saying, “Use me, Lord.”

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Elaine and her husband, Joey, are licensed as an adoptive family and foster home in Ohio. Learn more about Joey and Elaine.

 

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