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Archive for the ‘Foster-Care’ Category

When Minh Ho was born in Korea, it took a whole month before doctors began to realize that something was wrong. He appeared normal, except that his color was not right. It was later learned that Minh Ho was born with a single ventricle, or basically half of a normal heart.  His pulmonary valve and arteries were genetically flawed as well. His birth mom was a teenage girl who handed him over without even knowing he had a heart problem. It was his foster mother who took him to the doctor who discovered his heart defect.

Minh Ho had two open-heart surgeries in Korea.  The only caregivers in his life were paid; he didn’t have a family. This was a child with a very poor prognosis; in fact, he wasn’t expected to live more than a year or so. The only possibility for any sort of repair to his heart was in the United States.

A young American military couple heard about Minh Ho. God led this couple to do something hard — something radical in this world’s eyes. They adopted a child who, even with intervention, would probably not live long. The enlisted man and his wife gave this child something he could not yet appreciate, not because of what he had to offer them, but because of what they could offer him…a family…a family for Minh Ho no matter what would lie ahead.

When Minh Ho came to America (and Texas) to join his big new extended family, it was a day of joy and celebration. A place had already been prepared for the little boy with half of a heart and he got a new name…Benjamin. Through the years to come, Ben has endured more surgery, more needles, more medicine and some days when it was a struggle just to get enough air. But there have also been many, many good days as well.

Ben has a family. He loves his family and enjoys reciting every name. He has even gotten to ride a school bus and open presents on Christmas morning and see the faces of all those he loves singing “Happy Birthday” just to him. God’s solution for orphans is a family. Grace revealed through adopting a special needs child produces blessing beyond measure for those who are called.

Almost three years ago, Ben got very sick. The doctors said it was time to bring in hospice; they believed that they had done all that could be done for his heart. But thankfully, God’s plans are not our plans and after six months of hospice care and then a flu which left him in nearly a coma-like state for 10 days, Ben woke up, saying, “I want spaghetti!!” I think I will always think of Ben when I hear the word “spaghetti” and then I will be reminded how God is the One who gives life and no one else. Ben ate a huge plate of spaghetti that day. He recovered and has now been with us now for three more birthdays and Christmases. You see, Ben is Robin’s and my grandson. His mom, who risked her heart to love and graft this child into our family, is our daughter. His dad, our son-in-law, has served our country in the Army now for almost eight years.

As I write this, Ben is lying in a hospital bed next to me, waiting for a CAT Scan to determine if he may have a blood clot that needs attention. We never know when he might leave us…but the Bible teaches us that the Lord has all of our days numbered and that we cannot add one. Life and family are precious every day. Ben’s mom and dad have walked in faith and given Ben something that the Lord gives to spiritual orphans and physical orphans more and more through His church…a family. Ben’s mom and dad are like so many involved in orphan ministry…ordinary people who give action to their faith by loving the least of these.

This week on FamilyLife Today, Dennis and Bob will be interviewing other folks who have walked in faith…special friends whom God is also using to love orphans and those needing a family. On Thursday, September 16th and Friday, September 17th, you will not want to miss the powerful stories of how God is working in orphan ministry. You just may hear through these stories what God’s invitation is for you in ministering to fatherless children.

Ben, who is now five years of age, told one of my sons this week, “Jesus is going to ride with me in heaven in a red car!!”

Jesus is coming soon for all of those who are called the Children of God and joint heirs with His beloved Son. When Ben rides with Jesus in that red car one day, it will be a very painful day for his family. We will miss him more than we can imagine right now. But I know that he will be there when we get to the banquet of the Lamb and I’m sure he will be eating spaghetti with that huge smile of his.

Paul

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Last fall, we were part of a life group through our church that looked at God’s heart for orphans, and His desire for His people to care for them through adoption, foster care, and orphan care.

One Sunday afternoon, we invited three adult adoptees from our church to come and share a little about their experiences growing up.  As we listened, it was fascinating to me to see to the contrast, especially between the two young women who shared.  Both women were adopted as babies.  One had a family that seldom talked about adoption.   One had a family that talked about and celebrated adoption.

One of the young women was in three homes by the time she was seven months old.  Her family didn’t discuss adoption very much while she was growing up.  She said it is hard to explain, but she still struggles in some ways as a result of being in three homes and she has a hard time talking about her experience growing up as a child who had been adopted.  She is pro-adoption, but it just isn’t something that she talks about easily.  Interestingly, her job now entails counseling kids in foster care.

The other young woman was placed for adoption at birth.  Her family talked about adoption all of the time and were very positive about it.  She is, in turn, very positive and open and comfortable talking about her experiences.  After working several years as a child abuse investigator for L.A. County DCFS, she is now working for an adoption law firm, counseling birth parents and working with adoptive parents through the birth and placement of the children.

The contrast made me think of my own family and the way we talk about adoption.  With six children, all of whom came to us through foster adoption, and five of whom were already adopted , we want to make sure our children view adoption in as positive a light as possible.  We don’t want them to ever feel like adoption is something to be ashamed of or something to hide.  Because of this, we shout it from the rooftops.  We make it a point to talk to people about the joys and blessings of adoption wherever we go, and we make it a point to do so in front of our kids.

I’m sure there are some that would disagree with our approach, but if we see adoption for what it really is…part of God’s redemptive plan to bring restoration to His creation as He places hurting and lonely children into families, then how can we be anything but positive about it?  How can we not tell everyone we see?  It’s a glorious thing God does when He places a child into a home and gives that child a mom and a dad to love and care for them.

Last night we repeated a ritual that we’ve been doing for years.  We celebrated the fourth anniversary of the date our daughter Aruna moved into our home.  My mom made Aruna a three-layer coconut cake.  We all went around the room and named things we appreciate about her.  We told her “Happy Anniversary” repeatedly throughout the day.  In our family, we celebrate our children’s homecoming days as much as we celebrate the anniversaries of their adoptions.  I think it has something to do with the way we view Psalm 68:4-6, which says: Sing to God, sing praise to his name, extol him who rides on the clouds — his name is the LORD— and rejoice before him.  A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.  God sets the lonely in families, he leads forth the prisoners with singing; but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.

The psalmist is singing to God and praising Him, declaring Him to be Father to the fatherless.  And then, he tells of God’s great works, with the first example being how God sets the lonely in families.  If the psalmist is praising God for setting the lonely in families, should we not praise Him for placing our children in our home?  Of course we should…to do otherwise would be to discredit God’s plan for our children, our family, and His creation.

Celebrate your children’s adoptions…celebrate adoption for what it really is.  Praise God for placing your children in your home.  And while you’re at it, shout it from the rooftops.  Your children are watching.

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Terri and I have observed a lot in our ten years in foster care.  We’ve certainly seen the best and worst of the system, and we’ve experienced heartache and blessing alike.  One of the biggest concerns we continue to have is that there are many foster parents that are involved in the system for what certainly appears to be selfish motivations.  It is our prayer that foster parents such as these will move on, and be replaced by foster parents motivated by the Gospel to not only care for the kids, but to love them unconditionally.  So many of these kids have suffered a great deal of trauma…they need parents who will stick with them when things get difficult, rather than keep them at arm’s length, or have them replaced at the first sign of trouble.

Thankfully, in our ten years of involvement, we have seen the Holy Spirit move among His people to become engaged in the system like never before…to become what the church was intended to be (and used to be) to the orphans and waiting children among us.

One recent Wednesday night, we were part of an informal gathering of people (mostly from our church) in which families interested in foster care and adoption could ask questions of families that are already a part of the system.  It was a very non-threatening forum in which these families could explore some of the issues, concerns and questions they have.

I was so encouraged as I listened to the conversation as it was very apparent that not only were the prospective foster/adopt families interested in getting involved, but they were interested in getting involved for all the right reasons.  Their concerns and questions reflected a real desire to do this the right way – God’s way, and to do it out of a motivation rooted in the Gospel, and to do it regardless of the personal cost.

I also loved hearing the perspectives of the other families that are already involved.  Both couples have experienced the heartaches and the blessings that come with being a foster parent.  Both have experienced real pain in loving these children so near to God’s heart.  Yet, as I listened to them, it was so evident that in spite of the personal cost, they have been obedient to God’s call on their lives, and that they have put their trust in Him through the trials and joy alike.  As one of the foster dads put it so succinctly, “This isn’t about us.”

He’s right, and it’s a reminder we often need.  It’s not about us, as much as we want it to be.  It’s not even about the kids, as much as we want to make it at times.  It’s about God.  It always has been about God, and it always will be.  And as long as God wants to work to redeem orphans, His children must join Him in that work.

No matter what it costs us.

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By now, you’ve likely either seen the movie “The Blind Side”, or you at least have it on your must-watch list.  Released in Fall 2009, the movie tells the story of the Tuohy family, a well-to-do Christian family in Memphis, Tennessee, who took in and adopted a homeless, traumatized teenage boy named Michael Oher.  With the love of his new family and the help of others, Michael went on to football stardom at the University of Mississippi and eventually the NFL.

On today’s FamilyLife Today broadcast, hosts Dennis Rainey and Bob Lepine interview Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy in the first of a three part series airing through Friday.

In part one, called Sharing the Power of Cheerful Giving, Sean and Leigh Anne talk about their childhoods and their early marriage and discuss how God has used their experiences to make them the people they are today.  They talk about how God wants to use us to bless others, which is simply what they did with their son, Michael, in giving him an opportunity to blossom into the person that God created him to be.

To listen to the broadcast, and to read the entire transcript, click here.

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In two earlier posts, I shared about how Terri and I have occasionally put excessive limits on the children we were willing to take into our home as foster children.  I shared that on each of those first two occasions, God redirected us to be open to the children He had for us, rather than the ones we had in mind for ourselves.  And, naturally, on both occasions, when we submitted to His will, we saw that what He had in mind was infinitely better than what we had imagined.  We never would have adopted four of our children had we not abandoned our desires, and submitted to God’s will for our family by being open to the children He wanted to place in our home.

I do think that whenever you open your home to a child, you need to use wisdom.  If you have young daughters, for instance, it might be unwise to take in a teenage boy who has been sexually abused.  That’s common sense.  But the problems come when we start letting our own personal desires dictate whom we are willing to take into our home, and whom we are not.  We really need to go into this with our hands open to what God has for us, not just open to what we think we want.

Well, in spite of the four physical reminders of God’s goodness and grace sitting at our dinner table every night, Terri and I once again decided to close our hands a bit when we told our social worker last fall that we were open to taking in another child.  We specified this time, though, no babies – we were done with the middle of the night feedings, etc…  We asked for a child 2 years and older.  Now, most agencies would be thrilled to have a family that is willing to take in a child over 2, but then, on November 9th, our agency got a call for a six week-old child who needed a home.  Our social worker called our home and talked to Terri, telling her that based on the information she had, this would likely be a very short-term placement – as little as a few days, in fact.  We know the foster system well enough to know not to count on such things, but we also know and trust our social worker enough to know that she was giving us the best information she had.

Terri told me that we had been asked to take in a child who was a month and a half old.  Evidently, I hadn’t had coffee yet, because I know I heard her say a year and a half.  In my mind, it wasn’t 2, but it was only six months away from 2, so surely it wouldn’t be so bad.  We called the social worker and accepted the placement.  It was only on the way to the county office that it became clear to me that this child was only 6 weeks old.  To be honest, I was a little bummed out…okay, I was very bummed out.  This wasn’t the plan.  We were not going to take in a baby this time around.  We thought we had made that clear.  Yet, we had accepted her already, so we couldn’t go back on our word.  And besides, maybe it really would turn out to be just a few days.

We brought her home, and well, a few days turned into a few weeks.  Naturally, the few weeks turned into a few months.  We were in court for her case yesterday, and it is looking more and more likely that I will walk her down the aisle one day.  I would love to share a picture of her, but she is still a foster child, so I have to keep her name and face private for now.  Trust me on this, though – she is beautiful, she is precious, she’s a part of us…and we are so thankful that I hadn’t had my coffee when Terri came to tell me about her 8 months ago today.  Once again, God took our desires and redirected us to be open to what He wanted.  And once again, what He had for us was better than we could ever imagine.

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Having learned our lesson — that God is in charge, and we’re not — with our adoption of Chris and Ant, you would think Terri and I would move forward in wisdom and not put so many conditions on the children we would or would not take into our home.  Then again, you would be wrong to think that.

After we adopted Chris and Ant, and after we took a short break from fostering, we opened our home again, taking in Ashley, who was twelve at the time she moved in, and fourteen when she was adopted.

Then, in the summer of 2006, we decided to open our home again, but this time, we once again decided to put parameters on the child we would be willing to accept.  The lessons learned from almost losing Chris and Ant because of our own self-imposed limits were distant memories, or maybe they were lurking and we just decided to ignore them.  I’m not sure.

Regardless, we asked our agency to be on the lookout for a baby for us.  We had never done that before.  Terri especially wanted to take care of a baby, and she actually had a pretty sound reason for wanting to do so.  She figured that one day our kids would likely have babies.  And like many first-time parents of babies, they would likely have questions.  And like many parents who have questions about childrearing, they would likely call us and ask us what to do in certain situations.  Well, Terri didn’t really want to have to say to our kids, “we don’t know what to do…call us back when they’re four.”  She wanted to be able to help our kids with their babies.  Noble.  Practical.  Not exactly selfish.

Still, the result of us acting on our desire meant that we called our agency, requested a baby, and pretty much eliminated most of the children in the foster care system from consideration.  Because of our long track record with our agency, our social worker told us she would keep an eye out for a baby.  It wasn’t long before we got the call – they wanted to place an eight month-old baby girl with us, a baby that was likely to be adopted.  The baby was placed in another home for a few days while we got the room prepared for her.  We saw pictures of her.  We shopped for her.  We anticipated her arrival with excitement.

Then, as things often happen in the foster care system, plans changed.  The woman who kept this baby over the weekend decided she didn’t want to give her up.  She had fallen in love with her, and for the first time, had decided she wanted to adopt.  We were deeply saddened by the unexpected turn of events.   To add insult to injury (that’s how we, in our self-absorption, saw it at the time), our social worker told us that she had gotten a call about a “problem six year-old” who needed a home. We had expected this sweet little eight month-old, and now instead we are being asked to take in a problem six year-old who was hitting the other children in her current home, and was having tantrums that lasted up to eight hours – on a daily basis.

In addition to our sadness, we were a little bitter.  We questioned God.  After all, we had adopted three older children, which everyone knows are generally harder to place than infants.  Didn’t we deserve to get what we wanted?  In a word, no.  We didn’t deserve anything of the sort.

We had forgotten what this is all about.  This isn’t about us building our family to look like we want it to look…this is about God using our family to accomplish what He wants.  There is a huge difference.  And what we didn’t see at the time, but did soon enough, was that God didn’t have an eight month-old for us at that time.  He had a six year-old whose options were running out, a six year-old whose social worker said they might have to place in a group home if they couldn’t find a family for her soon.  A six year-old who had been deeply hurt by recent turns of events in her life and was crying out to be noticed…and loved.

Our oldest had lived in group homes while in foster care, though when she was much older than six.  A group home is no place for any child, let alone one as young as six.  So again, God was compelling us to realize that He was in charge, not us.  Again, He was asking us to abandon our pre-conceived notions of what we wanted in favor of what He wanted.  We gave in.

Aruna came to us on August 10th, 2006, and she was adopted on April 2nd, 2008, which was the 5th anniversary of Chris and Ant’s adoption.  She had some adjustment problems, and she had a few of those hours-long tantrums we had heard about and braced ourselves for.  Ultimately though, God’s love touched her heart, and she began to change.  Today, she is a straight-A student who has just finished the 4th grade at our church’s elementary school.  She loves to sew.  She loves to play video games.  She loves to get on her oldest brother’s nerves, and frankly, she’s pretty good at it, too.  She hasn’t had a tantrum in years.

As I mentioned, this adoption journey we have been on for over a decade is about God and His plans, not us and ours.  God is simply not concerned with our plans.  He isn’t concerned with how we want our family to be made up, or what we want it to look like.  He is about fulfilling His purposes in the world, and as we discovered yet again, His way is always better.

We also rediscovered another truth about God back in 2006 — that He is a loving Father who loves to give good gifts to His children…and does so in abundance. Seven weeks after we were blessed with the wonderful gift of our daughter, Aruna, we got a call from our social worker.  A two day-old baby girl was in need of a family that would foster and likely adopt her.  Two days later, on September 29th, we brought her home from the hospital, and on August 14th, 2007, we adopted our first baby, Hallie.  We made a million calls to our parents and other friends asking advice during her infancy, and we are now in a much better position to answer our children’s questions about their babies one day.  We’re also in a better position to answer our kids’ questions about problem six year-olds one day.

We smile as we think back on those months in 2006 when we again wrestled with God and were again brought to our knees, first in submission and repentance, and then in gratitude and awe.  Our lives are forever enriched and blessed by our precious Aruna and Hallie, and we cannot imagine what life would be like if we had gotten our way.

What an amazing God we serve.

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Who’s in Charge?  Part One

In our home, we will celebrate July 4th this Sunday like many Americans.  But the next day, July 5th, is going to be a day of celebration that for us will easily surpass the 4th.  July 5th will mark the 10th anniversary of our sons, Chris and Anthony, coming into our home, as the first two of five (and soon to be six, Lord willing) children that we would adopt from the foster care system.  And as much as I anticipate celebrating with great joy, I am sobered by the reality that if had been up to my wife and me, it never would have happened.

We were newly certified foster parents at the time, and like many, we had placed parameters on the children we would or would not take.  We were fairly open in terms of the basics – age, gender, number of children, race…but we had been clear about one thing.  We were not interested in children whose cases were unlikely to lead to adoption.  In our minds, we didn’t want to “simply foster”.  We wanted to adopt.

God allowed us to hang on to that condition for a couple of months.  We were limited, of course, in that many of the children who come into the system are likely to be reunified with birth family, and we had essentially cut ourselves off from ever having a chance to care for and love those children.

Then one day, in late June of 2000, while visiting us in our home, our social worker asked us a question that seemed innocent enough, but it was a question that challenged us to be open to what God had, not what we thought was best for us.  He asked us if we would be open to a placement that would not likely lead to adoption.  It may have been Glenn’s voice, but it was clearly the Holy Spirit speaking, asking us who was in charge…us…or God.  Terri and I looked at each other and said the only thing we felt we could say — that we would not necessarily be closed to it.

Glenn left our house and went back to his office.  Within fifteen minutes of his leaving, he called us.  Two brothers, ages 4 and 5, were in a temporary emergency foster home and were in need of another foster home. They could only stay at the shelter until July 5th.  He didn’t even know their names yet.

Glenn told us the boys would likely not be adopted, and that they could be in our home for as little as five days (they had a court hearing scheduled for July 10th at which birth relatives might show up and ask for custody).  Terri asked if they could sleep in the same bed, since the bedroom we had set up for kids had a double bed and a crib in it, having been set up that way for a previous placement that never happened.  Glenn said no, they would each need their own bed.  Terri asked if that meant we would have to go out and get two twin beds for what could essentially be five days.  Glenn said yes.   Terri told him she would talk to me and call him back.

We were torn.  We didn’t want to say no and possibly get on the agency’s bad side by turning down these kids.  At the same time, it seemed like a lot of work and expense to go through for what could be only five days.  What was the point?  The point was, of course, that we were wrestling with God.  Were we going to do things on our terms, or were we going to be open to be used by God for His purposes, no matter the cost and inconvenience to ourselves?  Was our foray in foster adoption about us, or was it about God?  Those were the big picture questions that we only saw in retrospect.  At the time, we simply saw the little picture question – would we take in these two brothers that needed a home for perhaps five days?  Put that way, we felt we just couldn’t say no.

We said yes.  We spent the next few days preparing the room for two boys that would very likely be just fleeting memories one day.  And then, on the morning of July 5th, Glenn brought them to our home.  We’ve all heard the cliché of love at first sight, and we acknowledge that it can happen in certain contexts, but we also know it doesn’t happen often.  It happened to us on July 5th 2000.  I don’t attribute it to anything other than the fact that God knew Chris and Ant would be our sons, that He had planned it that way, and so He had begun knitting our hearts together long before they stepped out of Glenn’s car and into our home.

The five days turned into weeks, which turned into months, which turned into years.  On April 2nd, 2003, these kids that we almost turned down, became our legal sons through adoption, formalizing what God had ordained long before.  We think back and are so thankful that He allowed us to wrestle with Him, and we’re even more thankful that we lost.  Did we learn our lesson from all that?  For a time, yes, but then we’ve gone back to putting conditions on subsequent placements as well (more on those in parts 2 and 3), demonstrating yet again that our sinful hearts always think we know what’s best.  Thankfully, we have a gracious and patient God who always reminds us that this is His plan, His story, and that when we submit to His will, and allow Him to use us as He wants, the blessings are more than we could ever imagine.

These past ten years with Chris and Ant have been an adventure.  Of course, there are times we would all love to forget, and times that we will treasure for the rest of our lives.  Through it all, we’ve been so blessed to see them grow into the young men they are becoming.  Anyone who knows them will tell you that these two kids that almost weren’t ours are pretty amazing guys.  Terri and I can’t imagine what life would have been like without them.

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