moment of unnaming

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Last week I had my “welcome to Holland” moment.  I have been living here for months, but my emotions finally caught up and I was broken.  It hit me like a wave of truth.  This is real.  I have been coping with our different-than-anticipated life for some time.  Years, actually.  This latest twist has been challenging but manageable, I thought.  We have a good routine (truly).  Yet, it’s hard — both physically and mentally.

You don’t have to be a parent of a child with disabilities to know what I’m talking about. It’s the human experience to find ourselves in foreign territory.

Dan Allender calls these “moments of unnaming”:

But the story we are to live and write doesn’t truly begin until we face what we have lost and then turn to see the horizon of uncertainty ahead. Our story will gain momentum and depth only to the degree that we honestly embrace both loss and fear. … If we enter our story’s heartache, we will hear the whisper of the name that will one day be ours. Because we live in a fallen world, we will encounter abandonment, betrayal, and shame. These experiences are inevitable, but they also provide the context necessary for coming to grips with how we will live our lives. In the midst of affliction, we become either our truest or our most false self.

In those moments of unnaming, when we have lost ourselves, we must remember to return to our past redemptions to find God’s marks of glory on our abandonment, betrayal, and shame. We wrongly believe that we will be happy if we can escape the past. But without our past are hollow and plastic beings who have only common names and conventional stories. When we enter into our story at the point we lost our name, we are most likely to hear the whisper of our new name. Remember, God is still writing.

We have often been witnesses to God’s mighty hand this last year.  I wish we could share more specifics but, in His sovereignty, God knew that being foster parents would isolate us.  We simply cannot talk about a BIG part of our lives.

Moreover, we have decided to set up to more barriers to keep our kids healthy the next six months, in particular.  Walls may help prevent exposure to sickness, but they are also confining.  For me, I felt trapped this week: no sunrise coming over the wall.  Just a long, lonely winter ahead.

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I had to mourn that shattering of shalom.  Again, Allender reminded me that “tragedy always moves our story forward in a way that shalom could never accomplish.”

What grace!  Just when I started to think I understood that my life isn’t my own, God took me deeper.  Showing me more of my own weakness.  Showing me His power.

This is His work of conforming me into His likeness.  I am a new creation, yet I am continually being renewed.  I don’t need to see everything to get there.  He is the Author and Sustainer.

I need more of Him.

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

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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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this hair journey

I think about hair often.

Lately I’ve been thinking about how the community of adoptive families can be so helpful and supportive. We all want the best for our kids. Yet, when it comes to transracial adoption, talking only to other White moms about hair can sometimes give a new parent incomplete or even over-complicated ideas about hair care. Still, other times, the advice is accurate but not age-appropriate. We “try our best” but, in some cases, our best is simply insufficient. We need more tools. More resources. More help.

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In February, I joined an online hair care group specifically for transracial adoptive families. I deeply appreciate the thorough instructions and patient advice directly from Black women in this group.

 – I have learned I am doing some things well.

 – I have learned I need to gain more understanding (and practice) on some other things.

It’s been stretching but SO GOOD for my daughter’s hair!  Prior to joining the group — I watched YouTube videos, read natural hair bloggers, bought all the books. I would receive many compliments on M’s hair, but — secretly — I felt that I did not have enough knowledge to earn those endorsements.

Plus, basic hygiene is the role of a parent. I don’t like getting praise for doing M’s hair well.  It’s what I should do!

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I have more to learn (particularly related to culturally-appropriate styles and accessories), yet I have made progress in the last six months.

Most importantly, I have learned that daily care (and styles) need not be complicated.

We have tried to focus on healthy hair using the L.O.C. method (layering liquid, oil, and cream). Unfortunately, in the past year, my hands have started to react to oil. I originally thought it was just coconut oil but I seem to get teeny tiny blisters on my palms with olive oil and avocado oil too. They itch, feel dry, and eventually open. I’ve been wearing gloves (tried latex, vinyl, and nitrile) while doing her hair but haven’t been able to completely eliminate the issue. Plus, I don’t feel like I can stop using the products because they work so well for her.

moisturizing vs sealing oil.

I even started a hair journal to try to narrow down the cause but  I haven’t had much success. (I abandoned the hair journal a while ago.)

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The natural hair movement has done a lot to empower women to stop chemically altering their locks.  In the beginning of our journey, I sought advice from these experienced women who were giving tips to other adult women transitioning their hair to its natural state.  I made a big mistake when I transferred that advice given for adult women to my care of a child.  It seems obvious now.  But I did not understand what styles were age-appropriate for a toddler.  To complicate matters, many mainstream advertisers feature African-American girls in afros only.  (But loose hair is common for older teens only in most regions.)

I have tried to keep styles simple. I really have. But I find that puffs get dry and so tangled, and her edges get broken and thin when it’s merely smoothed back over and over. So, I prefer flat-twists: they hold all day (or three!) and I can put them in quickly and they are protected / moisturized AND (most important) she experiences less breakage. For now it’s what works.

Our goal is healthy hair. 

I want my child to love her hair. To learn to care for it herself. To know that she is wonderfully made.

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We are still on this journey. Still learning. Still taking advice (with more discretion!) for her sake.

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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. 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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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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Perspective of a Christian Foster Parent

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

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If you’ve been to SeaWorld, you are familiar with the “splash zone” (a.k.a. soak zone). Part of the show involves a giant killer whale intentionally splashing the audience with water.

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At these attractions, many people purposefully sit close to the action (some even wear rain ponchos). Others sit way up top, enjoying the show while avoiding the water.

A few months ago I told my husband that, as a foster family, I often feel like we are in the “splash zone.”  We are close enough to hurting families that we, too, feel the consequences of their choices.

It can be slippery and dangerous in the splash zone.

It’s interesting to me that in the Bible, immediately after chronicling the Heroes of Faith in Hebrews 11, the writer says in Hebrews 12:

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Sin so easily entangles us all, doesn’t it?

Even in faith and obedience, we need to be reminded that we live in a broken world. Remain on this course while keeping your gaze on the Savior. He is perfect, yet He stayed near sinners while on earth. He knows what it’s like to be in the splash zone.

As the Church gets close to our hurting neighbors, we see first hand that the Enemy devalues family. Satan does everything he can to pull families apart. He is like a giant killer whale. And foster families are getting drenched.

I get weary of being wet.  To be honest, I often want to move to the top row.

So I turn to the One who does not grow weary:

Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth
Does not become weary or tired.
His understanding is inscrutable.
He gives strength to the weary,
And to him who lacks might He increases power.
Though youths grow weary and tired,
And vigorous young men stumble badly,
Yet those who wait for the Lord
Will gain new strength;
They will mount up with wings like eagles,
They will run and not get tired,
They will walk and not become weary. 

              -The Bible, Isaiah 40:28-31 (NASB)

Our particular family is not anything special. We know we are actually quite ordinary. We are weak, in fact.  And YET the Defender of the fatherless says: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9).

This is where God has called our family for now. To remain in the splash zone.

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Lord, I come, I confess
Bowing here I find my rest
Without You I fall apart
You’re the One that guides my heartLord, I need You, oh, I need You
Every hour I need You
My one defense, my righteousness
Oh God, how I need YouWhere sin runs deep Your grace is more
Where grace is found is where You are
And where You are, Lord, I am free
Holiness is Christ in meLord, I need You, oh, I need You
Every hour I need You
My one defense, my righteousness
Oh God, how I need You

Teach my song to rise to You
When temptation comes my way
And when I cannot stand I’ll fall on You
Jesus, You’re my hope and stay

Lord, I need You, oh, I need You
Every hour I need You
My one defense, my righteousness
Oh God, how I need You

You’re my one defense, my righteousness
Oh God, how I need You
My one defense, my righteousness
Oh God, how I need You

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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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‘Tis the Season

Since the end of October, two new friends have joined our family. “M” has enjoyed playing with both of the little sweeties. Our house is fuller and louder. Our hands are full of good things. And, of course, this time of year is extra busy, in general, with holiday festivities.

I can tell “M” is worn out from all the activity around her. Most gatherings result in tears.

Here are some photos from last Sunday evening’s program at church:

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We have seen Santa three times this month already. The first time involved screaming, the second she stood quietly in front of him (but not close enough to touch), and the third . . . well, it went a little better:

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We may be tired but we can’t say we are bored! : )

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Merry Christmas from our house to yours!

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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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