Tag: family

The Moment I Realized Things Were Not The Way They Used To Be

It wasn’t until I saw the selfie that I realized where we had arrived.

For much of the eighteen years that Tim and I have been married, I have felt alone.  By that I mean that in the things we have had to do both in business and family, I have been lonely. In those times and in every one of those moments, God has met me there and I have had peace.  And the blessings and gifts I have experienced from doing what He has called us to do is immeasurable in so many ways. 

But it has made me tired.  So, so tired.  The kind of tired that makes you weary, and the past few years, adding foster care and all the emotional weight that has brought has literally made my shoulders physically ache.

In the beginning years, it was new and exciting, the whole world in front of us and it was whatever we colored it to be if we just painted enough of the canvas.  I was young, Tim was strong, and we faced so many challenges head on, always expecting great things. Together, we created a beautiful life and a beautiful business, and once I knew I made my parents proud, had my pastors’ blessing and felt God smiling at me, I was good.to.go.

I don’t know where along the line that I started to lose my spunk. I constantly attended business meetings, stayed involved in the community, and juggled the growing children in my home throughout that time.  I even belonged to a “for women only” business referral group to try to ease some of the alienation I felt in the business world.  It helped to be able to become friends and colleagues with other like-minded business women, and I found a safe place to share my business challenges and frustrations, but when home life added up and I had to choose to hold the fort down at home over the last couple years, even that went on the back burner so I could bring peace back into the war-torn place we had once called home.

Being a stay-at-home mom can be so lonely.  Being 600 miles away from your family can be so lonely.  Being a business owner and a woman can be lonely.  Being a foster parent can be lonely.

I faked my brave for the sake of the children in my home that were depending on me.  I forced myself to do the things that a mom should do, and went through the motions of everything a wife should be.  It worked for the most part, and every morning I would just ask the Lord to help me to do what He wanted me do to, and show me how to live life the way He wanted me to. It was a tough spot to be in no matter how I diced it, and someday I will write more about the challenges we faced in that time that made it so heavy and so dark.

One snapshot of one day would maybe sum it up best if I tried: about a year and a half ago, I shut the front door to our home after a visit from our social worker regarding our little buddy.  We were about five months in to his stay with us, and the case was taking a turn for the worse.  Would we consider adopting him? Tim was out of town on a field trip with our older two kids, and there was no need to answer immediately anyways, we still had many months to go before anything would become permanent, and in the world of foster care I had already learned that things we thought were permanent can shift completely upside down in a moment, even until adoption. But that was not what was hurting my heart. Our little buddy was still struggling so hard and so bad, life was a constant war.  His anger thundered through the air in our home and his cries of rage deafened the voices of peace we were used to.  He could not sleep through the night; he would often sleep walk or have night terrors. If I was not home to tuck him in, every night like clockwork around 2AM he would come find me and I would have to walk him back to bed. Tim and I had not slept through the night in months, and our home had been invaded by an angry stranger who could not unpack his grief at the door.  We had to leave our home if we wanted any peace or rest, and such a situation was so unnatural and opposite of what I had worked so hard for so many years for.

I shut that door as the case worker drove away, and leaned my hand hard against the door frame. I stared at my arm, a scar still healing from where my buddy had clawed me in a rage.  It still hurt, though it was far more in my heart than physical. “God?” I wondered out loud. “Could this really be you? Could this really be the future you have in store for me? Because it doesn’t look like a hope and a future.  It looks awful.”

He did not answer in that moment.  Instead, I received a call on my phone.  It was the bank.  They wanted to know when we were going to pay the house mortgage because (in case I hadn’t noticed) we were over 30 days past due.

A part of me died inside when I hung up from that call.  Debt is something I have always hated with a passion, and I struggled to reconcile how we could have late bills while honoring our word to the things we promised to pay. Business had been so low for so long, and health insurance and liability insurance had sky rocketed, and we were scraping at every end of every line just to make payroll for our team. I thought about each one of them as the checks went out, and each family that money supported.  Tim and I had gone without a paycheck for so long I didn’t think we would ever be stable again.  My new dream became survival. And even then it seemed more like a nightmare.

There were rays of sunshine that would come through in the moments that seemed the darkest. Friends and team members would unknowingly speak hope at the perfect time, or our children would step up and amaze us with their help at home or at the shop, and breakthrough after breakthrough, no matter how small, kept me getting out of bed each morning.

Tim was taking on more and more of the financial management of the shop as I had nearly dropped it all like a hot potato as foster buddy had needed so much more than we could have ever planned for, but suffice to say with so little sleep and so many challenges, we were miles past Hot Mess Haven, and seemingly headed Nowhere Fast. We were looking at nearly one hundred thousand dollars in unsecured debt and I struggled to see anything past that.  I both admired and resented him that he still had the audacity to hold on to his vision for expansion while we so desperately needed a miracle. Or a hundred thousand.

But he did.

He would talk about future plans and try to explain how it would be laid out, and I would just stare at him incredulously, trying to decide if he was genius or crazy.  My future plan was “when can we afford some groceries?”

What a pair we were.

One day he was explaining to me another aspect of the expansion, and listing all the ways it would be profitable and streamlined and better and all the things he had researched and been learning.  I listened and tried not to squash him, and chose my words so carefully so as not to exclusively focus on the debt we were drowning in, nor how bleak our current situation was. “That’s great, babe,” I managed to choke out. “But how are we going to pay for all that?”

Right in that moment there was a knock on our office door, and it was a friend from church we were happy to see.  We were not extremely close, and with the conversation we were having I was feeling very vulnerable, so when he asked some questions about our business situation and financial issues, I panicked a little.  Tim opened up to him, and I just kept listening and holding on.  By the time he left he explained that he just felt to ask us these questions, and did we mind giving him a few days to sort some things out and get back to us? We were mystified.

Within the week he came back to us explaining he had taken out a loan in his name at a very low interest rate, and we were welcome to pay off all our unsecured debt with it and just write him a monthly check to pay it off over the next three years.

It was the stuff that the greatest Hallmark movies are made of, and we sat still, dumbfounded, at what this meant for us and our business. It was unbelievable and miraculous and incredible and overwhelming all at the same time.

After that, it seemed like the happy snowball effect took place pretty quickly.  Sales were up a little more, our team was rallying and pitching in and getting better all the time, and paychecks started steadying to where I did not have to log in the mobile banking app right before I walked in to Walmart anymore just to figure out how much money I had left to spend.

Tim kept learning, sketching, and dreaming his same dream, holding on to his same vision.  “I’m on board” I told him some nights as we drifted off to sleep. “But I can’t hold on much longer; I need some rest.”

I held on and went through those motions, doing all the things to love my husband, my children and my team well.  I hunkered down and pulled long 14-16 hour days as Tim traveled to conferences, sat with mentors, read about new laws and changes in the industry and finally filled out applications and created presentations to move forward. The date was set for the first County meeting.

My heart wasn’t exactly in it.  I was doing this thing out of obedience to my God and out of respect for my husband. I was just so tired of being alone and carrying that weight of moving mountains when it was just the two of us.

But this time we were not alone.

My oldest daughter at home, Abby, was holding the fort down with the younger four so we could attend the first County meeting.  Our oldest son Andrew was riding in the seat next to me as Tim drove us across the street to pick up our 90 year business partner and landlord of the service center, Mr. Lloyd Hodges.

What a motley crew we were, the four of us headed to the other side of town for this meeting.  My anxiety was creeping in as I prepared for the same-old same-old of having to be the strong one and sit beside my husband and play the part and do the things that needed to be done to get it done. I had done it before, I would do it again, but boy was it getting old and oh-my-Lord was I over playing this part.

But when we pulled in the parking lot, I saw the truck of one of our technicians, and there he was, smiling and waving as he climbed out to walk in with us. The sight stopped me in my tracks. “What’s Travy doing here?” I whispered to Tim.  “Oh, I just mentioned in a team meeting what was going on with the County, and invited all of them to come, so he’s here to show some support.” My heart swelled. We had offered and invited our team for years upon years to participate in events and things, and never really got much of a response.  This was such a heart warming moment.

Before we could walk in to the building, another of our girls joined our crew and hugged us hello. “The others will be here in a minute,” she smiled.

Others? Others as in who? The others on our team apparently. Once seated inside, it wasn’t five minutes later before our front office girl and her best friend, who also worked with us in the past and recently moved on to a field more related to her future degree. I was floored. I turned around to whisper to her: “Olivia! What are you doing here?!” She smiled and shrugged at me.  “I wanted to be here! Besides,” she winked, “This is the coolest thing happening in Franklin County in years. And it’s good experience for my field…”

I was speechless. I faced forward a moment to process, and heard another shuffle.  Our lead mechanic and his wife were seating themselves in the row next to our girls.  I couldn’t take it anymore. My heart felt as though it would burst. I managed “hellos” and “thank yous” and turned forward because the meeting was about to start. And also, I had no idea what else to say.

Our first technician Travy grabbed his phone and crouched in front of us all. I watched that selfie click with this flood of people all smiling and laughing, and felt as though I had moved in to a different dimension.  Where had we gone? I was too stunned to process it all.

The meeting went without a hitch and we were allowed to move on to the second approval meeting, scheduled six weeks from that date. Nervous and excited but oh, so giddy, we all laughed and cheered and made fun of each other and let out sighs of relief in that parking lot that night. So.many.things.were.accomplished.that.night.

The magic and miracles of that evening carried me through the next six weeks as we prepped and prayed for all of it to go smoothly.  I’ve been doing this thing too long to think that I should let my guard down before I see the final score, but all signs pointed to “Go” and I felt the old anxiety fall off a bit as time came closer.

Suffice to say, that second meeting could not have gone more smoothly.  Mr. Lloyd drove himself this time because he was coming from a doctor’s appointment, and Drew swapped with Abby so she could have a chance to see what was going on for all the times she has held the fort down.  Travy couldn’t come this time because he was getting his house ready for Baby Girl #1 to arrive, but his brother and our craziest technician came in his place, skipping dinner with his wife and daughter with promises to catch up with them later. Our girls came again, smiling and excited, also bringing another friend of theirs we have known through Life for years.  She was also cheering us on from the row behind. The icing on the cake was when our painter brought his girlfriend, though I think they were smiling more because they were with each other than because they were cheering for the team.  Tomato, Tomahto.

As Tim took the selfie that time just before the meeting started, it occurred to me what that picture stood for in my mind.  It was people showing up, and rallying for their team.  It was that they believed in our dream. Maybe even more than I did during that dark time.  Actually, I’m sure it was more than I did during that dark time, and I am so very grateful for that. They had more faith in us than I did, and that picture meant all the things I felt but could not say.

And I knew I could not say that I was not alone anymore.

Maybe the greatest point of all? I did not feel quite so alone anymore.

In seventeen minutes the entire presentation was delivered, approved, adjourned and we were back out in to the parking lot for the last time, headed to Dairy Queen down the street to celebrate. The girls were the only ones available to party, but we went just the same.  We ate ice cream and French fries and burgers and rehearsed the whole night’s events, chatted about upcoming colleges and we laughed way too loud for a very long time.

When we got home, we took a victory lap around the property and saved it to our Instagram Stories forever.  I’m sure there will be many more announcements and press releases and expansion plans laid out, but for tonight, this much is enough.

I just needed to mark the moment that one great thing was accomplished, and finished tonight. The weight is lifted, the meetings are done, order is established, and the season is changing. 

After we did our lap and pulled into the driveway, Abby asked if she could go for a walk to catch the sunset alone. She had had a tough day watching the kids earlier, and the weight of all that had happened this evening was not lost on her either. We excused her to have her moment alone, and chatted with Drew about how the kids had behaved while we had been gone. He laughed and gave us a play-by-play on a couple highlights of the naughty boys, then how it all came together.

Foster buddy had struggled this week with some old behaviors creeping in, and though we were pretty sure we knew why it was happening, it was still hard on us all.  Drew told us that as he tucked the boys in, he prayed over our buddy that God would help him to listen better to Mom and Dad, and that he would not have such a hard time trying to obey. Half asleep and bleary-eyed, foster buddy mumbled out loud, “I think you will have to pray that one a hundred more times before I can do that, Drew.”

Drew just tried to encourage him the best he could and said, “Well buddy, God just wants you to try your best every day, and I don’t think you’ve been doing that, so just try that and you’ll be good to go.”

Satisfied, foster buddy snuggled in to bed and went to sleep.

As for me? My mama heart exploded over Drew and this moment they had together, and I had to fight everything inside of me to keep from rushing upstairs to wake our little buddy up and grab his shoulders and look right in to his sleepy eyes and say, “Wow, buddy. I can promise you will never be alone. It may be hard and you may feel as though you will never get the hang of this thing, but you just need to do your best and know that you will never be alone.”

That’s how I heard the Lord answer me tonight, anyways. All because of a selfie.

Part VI

The Dental Side of Foster Care

I know I’ve mentioned before about all the appointments and meetings that come along with saying “yes” to a child in foster care, but one of the harder things I’ve faced in the years we have fostered is the dental work itself.

Of course they tried to explain in classes about the appointments, and if you decide to work with an agency they will tell you that they like you to be there for your foster baby as often as possible for appointments, but will certainly assist in transportation for the ones you cannot be there for.

Because there will probably be so, so many.

I don’t know why the dental part is so overwhelming for me. I mean, all the other appointments are there, too: counseling or play therapy, FAPT meetings, VEMAT assessments, behavioral assessments, school meetings, psych evaluations, doctor checkups, immunizations, eye doctors, specialists and more. There are so, so many. And they all take time, planning, scheduling, (then lots of times re-scheduling), driving, stress, gas and money.

All the children in foster care have government health insurance which means that they have some type of Medicaid, with a provider company above that, ranging from Anthem, Optima, Virginia Premier, or others. You can also request a change in that provider if a doctor you need changes their policies or switches which companies they work with. That does not cost you anything, and your case worker does all the paperwork for you to make the switch.

We have never paid a dime for any one of our foster babies’ medical bills, and if I ever got a bill in the mail for something our foster kids needed, our case worker handled all of it from the minute I handed her the envelope. That part is really so, so easy.

Finding a doctor you love (or even just trust) that accepts the insurance your foster child has and is close to where you live can be the tricky part. Maybe it is because we live in a small town, about 45 minutes away from a big city, that we struggle with this very often, and maybe because we have to travel that far to see our dentist… maybe that’s why I have so much issue with the dental appointments.

But truthfully, we face that issue with every one of the needs I listed above… they are all in the big city, and when you find one you like and start building a relationship, you’d better hold on tight and pray they don’t switch practices or insurance policies or offices, because then you start over. And you’d better realize right off the bat that they are already over-booked, over-stressed and under-paid… and you will wait a VERY long time for your appointments.

Now I will say, once we have our appointments’ scheduled, we have seldom sat in the waiting room more than 15 minutes. Truly remarkable for the schedule they keep. But I have also gone 10 months out to schedule a 6 month cleaning, and waited 8 months just to get a newly discovered filling taken care of. Those times required more questioning phone calls back to the office to clarify if there was anything sooner, and analyzing the need to make sure it wasn’t an emergency… they are just so back logged, it is hard to take a number and wait in line, especially when you see so much neglect that you are trying to catch up on.

I LOVE our foster babies’ dentist. She is incredible at what she does, a tiny spitfire with an accent that gets harder to interpret the more emotional she becomes, and it’s all because she genuinely cares so much about her patients. She considers every one of them her “babies” and loves on each one she serves, even more so lavishly on our foster babies. (She calls ALL the foster babies her babies.) She thrives on giving them the best care, and genuinely invests herself into their situations, asking each time how things are going, and always ending with hugs and high fives.

I wouldn’t give her up for the world, especially when I know she has been there for us since Day One in such a complex case.

By the time Little Buddy got in for his first appointment to analyze his mouth, she explained that he would be better off with surgery to complete the work, he was so little and the worked was so complicated.

I had never heard of such a thing.

She explained that his insurance would allow the surgery only through age 5. After he turned 6, it would be through nitrous oxide (snoopy nose) in house for every treatment, broken down over the course of 18-24 months as he could handle it.

I signed the paperwork as fast as I could and she put him on the schedule as fast as she could. She promised to save as many teeth as she could, and I promised to take care of them the best I could.

The morning I brought him to the hospital, so early the air was still biting my lungs, he stepped over the threshold to the automatic sliding doors, stopped dead in his tracks, and looked up at me frozen in a pale-faced stare, clenching his minion blanket and said, “Wait, no, am I getting more teeth pulled?”

More teeth? What was he talking about, more teeth? I had only told him that his dentist was going to “fix” his teeth or “work on” his teeth, we never talked about pulling anything, and she was going to save everything she could… I stumbled through some reply and got him to come with me, though his anxiety level was through the roof. (His behavior at any appointment has got to be left for a whole separate blog post, the anxiety and triggers and memories are so unbelievable.)

We got registered and made it to the prep room. I told them what he said, and they pulled up his file: Little Buddy had been in for surgery before, indeed: nearly TWO YEARS BEFORE when he had BARELY TURNED THREE.

He remembered it all, and there were actually notes in the file of how awful his recovery had been, a terrible scene with his parents as he woke up from his anesthesia. And here I was today, now graced with the task of re-wiring his mind to believe that this was going to be good for him.

I never prayed so hard in a waiting room in my life. And our dentist never worked so hard in her life either, I am sure. In the end, she did have to remove three teeth, one so badly abcessed she could not believe it had not ruptured up until that point. Truly it was a miracle that we got it out when we did. The rest were caps and fillings and repair to the surgery from before. They warned me he would be exhausted, irritable and possibly nauseous for the rest of the day.

We had known that Little Buddy hated eating ice cream when we first got him, but now we knew why. I was so mad at myself, feeling so foolish: why did I not catch this problem? I had already raised five kids… I should have known better. I wrestled over and over. I mean, he had NEVER once complained about tooth pain. The nurse in recovery told me that was very common for these babies: they have never known a life WITHOUT tooth pain, so how could they address the feeling they had grown accustomed to, and most likely built up a tolerance to?

I was overwhelmed.

I drove him home in silence, floored by this universe I had never known existed. My mind and heart with all the foster babies that live like this daily…

We pulled into the driveway at home and my sons were playing outside in the sun, an unexpected sunshine warming everything a little extra that day. They ran up to the vehicle to say hello and check on Little Buddy. I turned around to caution them all on his condition, reminding him to take it easy and come inside and rest…

He was jumping out of the vehicle, completely oblivious to me. “Tag, you’re it!” he shouted to one of the other boys. I started to call him back to me, then stopped myself to watch for a moment. He was doing fine. He hadn’t puked the whole way home and he was happy to be home. The boys were happy to have him. So many moments of his life had already been defined by “not normal,” I needed to take a moment to accept this miracle of recovery and let him have the gift that he so greatly needed: to be left alone to be a boy without a label, to combat a horrible memory with a good one, to let the sun melt away the darkness and cold he had come out of…

and let the healing triumph the pain he had come from.

The surgery was just enough to take care of immediate issues and address as much decay as possible.  She put caps on what she could so his mouth really looked great when he got home.

But the caps cannot cover the things underneath forever, and they cannot replace the brittle enamel from lack of nutrients and minerals.

Boys will be boys, and in time we had our share of more dental drama: caps popping off, crowns eroding, teeth chipping and fillings loosening.  To this day Little Buddy only ever told me one time that a tooth hurt, and that was when a crown broke off near the front and exposed a tooth pretty largely.

Back to the dentist we go each time, and each time she loves, analyzes, checks, double checks, makes notes, works hard, schedules more, gives high fives… and we go on with the next part of our life.

I think because my mother raised us to always take care of our teeth, maybe that’s why this part gets me so good.  She would daily remind us to brush our teeth, insist we do it again, send us upstairs to brush a third time if we were headed to appointments or special occasions…

When I was in grade school, we were already in the van on our way to school when she asked if we had all remembered to brush our teeth.  Ugh.  I could not lie to my Mama.  I choked out a “no” in the middle of my sisters’ cheery “yeses” and I saw my mother’s jaw clench from where I was sitting in the back seat and felt my stomach drop to the floor.  Without a word, she dropped off my sisters at school, drove me home, waited in the van while I ran up and scrubbed my teeth like the world depended on it and jumped back in the van a changed girl.  It never happened again. And it forever changed my opinion of the privilege of having beautiful strong teeth.

Little Buddy says he did not even own a toothbrush before we got him.

One time he shared that he was so scared that his new teeth would grown in broken and black and yucky.  I reminded him of all his hard work he has been doing, brushing all the time, flossing, visiting the Dentist and letting me help him.  I pointed out his two front teeth, now coming in strong and white.  We talked about vitamins and how we get strong teeth, and that our appointments were almost done to get all the work done he needed to get him on the right track. Then I told him how he’d only need appointments twice a year for cleanings as long as he kept taking care of his teeth, and we would help him do that.

Of course there are conversations about spacers and braces and jaw alignment and all the things.  Those will come in time.

But we have been working so hard to heal his mouth for two years now, and to see the Finish Line and almost “normal” appointments on his list of reminders as he leaves the dentists’ office feels like a real victory in ways I cannot explain.

What I took for granted as a young child was truly a gift in the way I was raised, and I am so close to reaching that place with a child that seemed was impossible to happen.  And if we can give him just one more gift of “normal” that he never had before, I count that privilege as my gift.

And I know my mom and our dentist do, too.

How I spent this summer wrangling bio and foster babies…

6, 7, 8 and 9.

It is nearly biologically impossible to have this amount of children in this age order as siblings under one roof, but here we are today, and I promised myself I would write this moment in time while it still existed.

Three of the four of my Irish Quadruplets are less than 17 months apart.  I’ll give you a moment to let that sink in.  None of them are twins, and like any mother of any children can testify, none of them are the same. (I also have two teenagers, ages 13 and 15, but this post is not about them right now, so I’ll just use them for one moment to paint a more accurate picture of our family.)

They have different personalities, different needs, different backgrounds, and all of them are at different developmental levels.

It is awesome when the laughter floods my house because they all hit the same funny moment.

It is a nightmare when the differences seem to fill each moment with chaos and strife.

I thought about designing a t shirt as my stay-at-home-mom uniform, and the phrases on the back would vary depending on the situation.

Some days would read “Superwoman,” “Killin’ It” and “#winning at #momlife.”  After all, keeping four kids in that age range alive, healthy, growing and happy is no easy task.  Throw in my two teenagers with “teenage” interests and social schedules to boot, and I am sure it is a supernatural feat to keep us all going.

More days though, it feels like my t shirts should read “Referee,” “Damage Control,” and “Survival 101”  for my uniform.  Not that I want that to be my anthem or my theme song, it just seems to end up that way. Complete with yoga pants that have cookie crumbs, peanut butter smears and unidentified sticky substance (slime, silly putty and glitter glue, anyone???) all over them.

One of the things I could not have known before signing on for foster care was the amount of appointments that we would have on a monthly basis.  When we first got little buddy, it was a madhouse rush to get all the things under wraps: doctor, dentist, psych evaluation, counseling and vision check to name a few.  Then each of those visits turned in to more for follow ups, fillings, specialists, changing therapists and picking up glasses.  All the while we are taking monthly training classes as therapeutic foster parents to continue in the education we needed for these kids, and multiple home visits per month to satisfy DSS and agency requirements.

At first, I ran on adrenaline, proud to cross these things off the list, privileged to be the one to sit next to little buddy as he saw clearly for the first time through glasses, and intent on getting him healthy and settled as we worked to reunite him with his parents.

After awhile, the 45 minute drives to visitation and appointments and waiting rooms with a traumatized, scared and stubborn four year old started to wear off the adrenaline rush.  My sense of accomplishment slipped in to exhaustion, and my overwhelm with court dates and counseling and more dental work started to take its toll.

My other kids were missing me, and what had started as a “let’s just get little buddy situated first” had turned in to a year long of patterns that defined me as an exhausted mom who was shutting down everything they wanted to do. I toggled between what I knew I *had* to do and what I wanted so badly to do.

When things started looking more permanent and we saw some progress with our little guy, we started to laugh more about our situation than cry.  We could do a few more things as a “normal” family,” at least enough to fake out anyone who stayed ten feet away for just long enough, and a smile had come to his face that made us start to hope he could be happy with us after all. We had hope, and that makes all the difference in darker times.

We had hope, and that makes all the difference in darker times.

Then we faced just one more tidal wave before we could forge ahead as a family: his sister also needed a Forever home, and we had initially gone in to fostering with the hope of adopting a sibling set, not wanting siblings to be separated if they ever needed to be adopted.

It seemed like the answer was plain as day: we had room for a little girl, her age range was right about where we hoped, she even wanted to come with us when asked, and it lined up with what I had seen in my heart oh so long ago.

We were petrified, but all signs pointed to “Go.” We signed the papers for her, and she moved in almost one year to the day that our little buddy had first come.

The challenges we faced in the months after she moved in were so different than I ever could have imagined.  It wasn’t Little Sis that was struggling so much; she was still in the honeymoon phase, trying her best and adjusting, probably shell shocked from her fourth move in a year. 

It was Little Buddy.  He was a mess.  He went backwards in progress almost 180 degrees and he was unrecognizable.

I stared at him one moment in the middle of a raging tantrum, almost as a spectator observing a sport, and instantly I understood what had happened: We had invaded his Safe Place.  We had destroyed his Safe Haven.

Of course we didn’t really do that, and we didn’t do it intentionally, but this was his perspective: the last time he had lived with his sister, he was living in a nightmare.  He was alone, afraid, in pain and confused. We brought him in and scared him to bits with our light, love, laughter and learning.  He was just starting to believe that he could try to trust us, and here we went reminding him of his past life by moving his sister in. For keeps.


We were back to nightmares, sleep walking, violence and anger.

My husband often says to me, “I wouldn’t believe it myself if I didn’t see it myself.” And in my heart of hearts, I was so grateful for the chance to be able to walk him through this fear at the age of 5 and 6 rather than have him keep it bottled up inside until he was twenty something and have it reflect in those relationships or stressful situation in adulthood.

It was still so hard, and every day the cure was the same: patience, love, training, repeat. Over and over again.  It seemed impossible.

And then one day he started to smile again.  And we started to breathe again.

And now we have four children ages 6,7,8 and 9 that laugh again.

There are days that I would give anything for a break from the daily shenanigans.  Everything from laundry for 8, cleaning a house full of that many, cooking for even more, to all the daily Life Trainings at 101.  Things like “wash your hands,” “no potty words,” “try that again” and my favorite catchall that I use in my trying-to-be-sweet singsong voice, “Kiiiiiindness…!”

The bigger obstacles that turn a mom into part therapist would be an even better break.  Like, what if someone else just came in during a major meltdown and started practicing all the skills to talk the Littles off the cliff? I would LOVE to preserve some of that emotional energy!

I would settle for help with homework for an hour, dinner prep any time (even just putting the ingredients on the counter counts…!), or someone to stick a hot coffee in my hand and switch it to a hot tea when that one runs out.  I’m not picky.

This summer with so many Littles with so many challenges was one of the hardest I’ve ever lived through yet. When I talk myself off the cliff, I can remember that next summer, each of them will be one year older, one year more settled, and one more year of walking farther past the dark times into the light.

If I was in a place that I could have coffee with that honest friend who would tell me what-for when I needed it, she would remind me that at one time this was the very thing I had prayed for, cried for, asked God for.  Two more Littles that I could love into their best life, and help live their dreams once they were healed enough to realize what they were.

I would have never known that it would’ve looked like this, but here we are in the moment:

6,7,8 and 9.

 Part 3

Tell Yourself to Set Aside Three Years of Your Life

I sit here this evening telling myself this is a biased statement.

I mean, when you go through training and they tell you state law mandates one year before a decision must be made for these children in care, you think, “okay, that’s cool, no matter how hard it is to see it through, it will only last a year.  Anyone can hang in there for a year, right?”

But just because a law is in place on paper doesn’t mean it plays out that way in the system.  Especially a broken system.

Our case worker, our Family Consultants, even our guardian ad litem have all commented over and over again at what an unusual case we have, and how this never happens, and hopefully it will all be over soon.

They are trying to be supportive and kind and all the things because they know they can’t fix it.

I appreciate that.  I really do.  I have never seen people more invested in the well being of children that are not their own.  The hours they work, the things they have to do that were never listed in their job description, and the stuff they have to put up with sometimes in indescribable.  They can’t unsee the horrors.  They can’t undo the abuse or neglect.  They can only stand in the space of the in-between with that child and hold that moment with them so that they are not alone.  That is what our case workers have done, and I thank God for them every day.

Three years in the foster care community and I can now say “I have seen some stuff.”

I have friends in Pennsylvania that have finalized their adoption after three years and one month.  I have friends here in town that have gone two years and eight months. I have friends online that had two girls given back to their father, only to come back into care to her for another year and the conversation is heading back to dad again, but no one knows because it’s all uncertain.

I have another beautiful friend who took in a baby girl shortly after we said yes to Little Buddy, and that little girl is now completely adopted and that foster mama went back in the ring to give another yes to a brand new baby boy, though we cannot know his future outcome yet.

And here’s the thing: we did not say yes to our Little Buddy thinking he was The One.  We did not say yes with the condition that we could keep him forever.  As a matter of fact, there were days I prayed that God would send a relative or open a door where someone more qualified or someone who could give him more attention would want to take him, and there would be an instant connection and I could just play a part in his journey.

Mostly, I prayed for his biological Mom and Dad.

I prayed for them as I tucked in Little Buddy, and I prayed for them as I hit my knees in the morning.  I knew their lives were hanging in the balance, and I knew these kids’ futures were at stake.

A child is designed by God to be with his or her parents.  To sever that tie and separate that child from their parents creates a trauma that no child should know, and creates a grief that cannot be undone.

To be the one to try to graft that child in to another family is the work required by a craftsman gardener trying to create a special hybrid of a one of a kind plant. It takes, painstaking patience, perseverance, constant care and attention, and a willingness to keep trying even when it seems impossible.

When the twelve month window in care came up and bio Mom and Dad were unable to care for the children, the day came when their rights as parents were legally terminated and the permanency goal changed to adoption.  It was what we wanted because we knew it was best for the kids, but it was everything we didn’t want because we knew a God-designed family was about to be broken up forever, and the pieces were going to need to be painstakingly put together in other places.

Well meaning friends and family would congratulate us, and we knew what they meant: we knew they were happy that these kids would not have to grow up in abusive or neglectful situations.  We understood that, and it was probably the best they could say.

But in my broken heart and emotional wreckage from sitting in courtrooms for hours and hugging a woman as she sobbed on my shoulder to please take care of her babies… it felt NOTHING like a congratulations should feel.

We did not win ANYTHING.

In time, we realized once again that we did actually win something: we won the chance for these children to be raised safely and securely.

But have you ever heard the cry of a mother who is being told that she will not legally be the mother of her babies anymore, nor see them again…?

I did for the first time that day. And I had to stand in the space that held those children between what family they were being taken from and stand firm until they were ready to walk into the family we were offering.

They were grieving.  They were petrified.  They were so conflicted.

And so was I.

The next year was a play of a broken system that we are still tripping through and over.  There were paperwork snafus and court appeals and lots of strife and confusion. There were kids settling in to a new normal where, even in their grief, they were starting to move away from fear and into laughter and joy.  We saw smiles and felt relief. There was hope.

We were heading in to year two, so why were we not out of this system and contemplating what type of party we would throw to celebrate the adoption, and did we want to remain certified foster parents?

I remember the day I was home visiting upstate New York, and my mom and my sisters and I chatted over tea, cooked lots of food, corralled lots of kids and tried to catch up on life.  I blitzed through some pieces of the case to give the highlights of where we were at in the adoption process, explaining the appeals process and overburdened court schedule full of delays and dates scheduled months out, and my older sister looked at me incredulously and commented, “Geez, Tara… and we wonder why more people don’t foster or adopt?”

Her comment shook my world because I knew it was true.  And she could see the reality from six states away.  Here I was, trying to set the world on fire for foster care awareness and adoption through foster care, and my very own journey was showing a harsh reality that I could not imagine anyone would want to sign up for.

The longer the kids stay in the system, the harder it is to heal.  The kids (as well as the adoptive family) need permanency, closure and peace.

The monthly home visits from the caseworker can’t stop. The bi-monthly visits from the Family Consultants from our agency can’t stop.  The weekly reports of trauma behaviors can’t stop.  The monthly reports of Medicine Logs and Money Disbursement can’t stop. The counseling, therapies and paperwork on those can’t stop.

So you see, our newly created family is not excused for the next leg of the journey and cannot turn the corner until the madness stops.

My eight year old daughter arrived in our home knowing she would be adopted and here “forever.” She knew it would take time for the paperwork, though we never gave her specifics, and months after she continued to struggle with calling us “Mom” and “Dad,” she explained flatly: “When I see the paperwork, then I will cal you Mom and Dad.”

She wasn’t being rude.  She wasn’t being unreasonable.  That was her established mile marker of trust that she was using to acclimate herself.

Ten months officially in our home and at least six more to go before any sign of paperwork is complete, and we are in a log jam. How can we move on when her mile marker is nowhere to be found on the road signs???

The tension of the Unknown is unbearable in our home these days.  We are in the waiting time for more appeals and the kids cannot know or process what they are standing in. They are longing for finality and permanency and the chance to be kids without appointments or visits or different last names.  My biological children want their mother back, because they see that she is so immersed in it all that her shoulders are aching from keeping such a widespread family together.

I imagine that the Master Gardener had to negotiate for more strength in his body as his aching back tried to make him give in and quit as he grafted that branch in to a tree that had never been placed together before. If he gave up on the branch, it would die, the healthy cut tree would be forever damaged and scarred, and the world would never know what the hybrid of adoption and what could be created when you graft one in to another.

I know that I know that I know that God has called us to run this race and finish this course. I know then that He will grace me, equip me and strengthen me to do the very thing that He has called me to do.

The walking it out part, the longer than twelve months part, the unusual circumstances of our situation… all of the hard stuff, that is the faith part.

And that is why I say, plan on three years.

Because truth be told, it is a lifetime journey, but stepping out of a broken system into a new lease on hybrid life is a gift that only the Master Gardener can give someone.

I am believing for your hybrid journey today.



 Part 2

It can take a long time to find your “yes.”

This morning while I was looking for photos to add to the piece I wrote on “Things I Wish I Knew Before We Started Fostering, Part 1, Adoption is free through foster care” I could not scroll back far enough to find the content I was looking for.

I knew the day we signed papers for little buddy was November 3, 2017, so I scrolled as fast as I could to get to November 2017 in my Camera Roll.

The photos I was looking for were not there.

I was looking for the photos I took as Tim and I completed our foster care training, selfies I so happily took as we progressed in our journey to become certified foster parents.

They were not there.

It took a few moments of confusion to remember why, and that’s what I want to share with you here now.

The reason those photos were not there in November of 2017 is because we had been certified since February 2017.  We had started the classes and paperwork in November of 2016, and it took nearly three months for the final background checks to clear.

It was ten months between the time we were approved and the time we said yes.

Please read that line again and think about it for a moment.

Then let me tell you this: we had gotten calls asking for us to take certain ones. Many calls. The first day after we were approved, I got an email asking if we would consider a five month old medically fragile baby girl with heart issues that would need to be staying in a hospital hours away for many months.

A part of me died as I read those words.

That was a real child, with a real purpose for her life. And I had busted my tail to get approved so fast, the urgency was just so great in my heart, I was so completely confused when that urgency stayed in my heart… but none of the information I was getting lined up to bring me peace that this was my “yes.”

What was wrong with me?

I could not deny the feeling in my heart that, as badly as I wanted to save this child and be the “yes” to end the phone calls for the agency looking for a family for her, she was not my “yes.”

My heart was heavy for weeks after that, and to this day every time I think of her, my Mama’s heart pauses to say a little prayer for her and the plan that God has for her life.

But I had never experienced any part of this Foster Care World, and the newness of it washed over me like cold hard water when all I wanted was a hot bath.

How was I going to reconcile these thoughts with my heart?

In the days after that email, I learned many things about myself and God. I had to acknowledge the parts of me that were people-pleasing, saying yes to others even when I knew I was strapped for time, money and other obligations.  I had to acknowledge the parts of God that were never-changing.  I knew the vision He gave me that day about my kids, and I knew the vision I had for my family. I re-read my reply email about that baby girl many times over the next few weeks. I knew I could not physically even do the job for her, leaving my four children ages 4-13 at the time to spend days at a hospital hours away.  I knew I couldn’t leave my husband or my job, I knew it wouldn’t even be best for her, that her life would be a “duty” to me rather than a joy.  I knew that in my heart.  I knew it in my heart of hearts.

But it still hurt to reconcile.

No one in any phone call or email ever made me feel bad or guilty about any of my “no’s.  And I know why now: They don’t want you to say yes to something that will eventually end in disruption and sadness and failure.  They want you to say yes to the ones that you know are right for you, because you are the one who has to live it. And that child has to live with the wounds of another move, another placement, another trauma, another rejection.

And still the calls came.  Another baby girl, this time needing medical care for the rest of her life. Then an 11 year old boy who was living in a group home for boys and needing a forever home. Then a brother and sister duo ages 9 and 11, not even officially declared “foster” children but headed that way so would we consider them?

I considered them.  I considered them all.  They were lives to be cared for, I was “certified” as a therapeutic foster parent and trying to be obedient, and months into it, starting to feel foolish for how often I just said “no”…

A couple times I got emergency respite calls, which were calls asking if we could take in children within that day, many times within that hour, because the foster home they were in either had an emergency happen in their family, a teenager needing some breathing time away from his foster parents, or a possible accusation that had to be cleared before the kids were safe to stay there.

Each time I got these calls, I can see where God had intervened.  I would ask the questions for the amount of kids, the time needed, and ask if I could call them back to check with Tim. By the time I called the agency back, even if it was less than ten minutes’ times from when I hung up with them and ran to find Tim, they had either found another “yes” or worked it out another way.

I was both parts relieved and disappointed.

We said a few little “yeses” to respite care throughout that time, on calls that I had more than a few minutes to make the decision, and some visits were planned out even a couple weeks in advance so we could meet the kids and get ready for them. We got to spoil the sweetest little three year old boy for a weekend, and another time twin autistic six year old boys for a week.  We ended up more changed than they ever could have been.  It was amazing.

Towards the end of our Waiting Time before we said “yes” to Little Buddy, I was starting to really analyze what was going on, and wondering why I wasn’t getting the call that would let me know that this was “it”… was something wrong with my way of thinking, or was something wrong with my process? What had I seen in my heart so long ago, anyways?

Still God was silent.

I called a few of my closest foster and adoptive mamas to help me check my heart. They loved on me and encouraged me, and when I finally heard them out, I hung up thinking I was ready to just let God do His thing, and I would say “yes” to the next call I got as long as it was healthy for our family. One mama just broke it down so simply: “Just go meet him!” She said so full of life and excitement.  “What have you got to lose?”

Those words stuck with me as summer turned into fall, and I was starting to think I had missed out on the plan God had for us.  Month after month, we attended training, and whenever there was a guest speaker, they’d ask us to go around the room and tell them how long we’d been fostering, and how many kids we currently had in our home. It was so embarrassing.

Around the room, all we received were comforting, understanding and encouraging smiles, thanking us for our honesty at the hesitations and “no’s” but it was months into fostering before I realized why that honesty was so important.

The majority of kids that come in to care are hurt from so many different ways in life already.  The very fact that they are removed from their home has created a trauma that they will never forget.  You can also assume* they have Reactive Attachment Disorder, a condition that causes children to have trouble “attaching” or forming healthy relationships, with others.  If you truly want to help that child, you will see that the greatest help in their healing process is time, stability and patience.  You need to be committed to getting them the help that they need, and asking for help as you step outside your comfort zone and realize you do not have all the answers for what they need.  If you are not “all in,” that child suffers not just from your lack of help but from a second-time rejection, that even the people who are legally supposed to care for them are not. 

Children in the court system can move from foster home to foster home an averageof 4 to 6 times. Some children will move more than 15 times

Foster Care Statistics | – Kinship House

So I am glad for the “no’s” and the Waiting Time we went through before we got our “yes.” I know I needed to learn so much more about myself than any book could teach me, and so much more about God that any other experience could have shown me. I watched what the waiting process taught our kids, and it was a lesson I could never teach them on my own.

And when I scroll backwards in my camera roll nearly a year past the time we said our first full “yes,” I know I can use that part of our journey to encourage the rest of you that sometimes, the waiting process is the greatest part of what God is trying to accomplish in your life, if we are just brave enough to hang in there long enough to see it through.



*When I say “assume” they have RAD, I mean to say that we must treat every child with the mentality that their ultimate healing will come from time, patience and stability. RAD is becoming more and more common as people are understanding the way trauma affects brain development, and an official diagnosis, though important, does not negate the fact that children immediately have a need for these healing points in their lives.

Part 1

Adoption is free through foster care.

This to me is the biggest missing piece of information in the adoptive community, and in our country in general. For years, (even as a teenager), if I ever heard anything about foster care or adoption, I had only heard people complain how expensive it is to adopt, how the legal fees are so great that only “rich” people can afford it… so I believed it, and stayed away.

In 2016, I really felt a stirring in my heart to adopt two children.  I did not know who they were, or how to go about it, but I saw them in my mind and knew I had to find them.  (I will share that whole story in another blog some day.) I felt it so strongly that I ran on adrenaline to answer my questions as quickly as possible, and make it happen because I felt this sense of urgency, this sense of now.

I started by literally cold-calling social services, explaining that I wanted to adopt two kids and asking how to go about that.  They gave me a list of classes to take, agencies that could help, and recommended that we become foster parents first.

Foster parents?! No way. We were petrified.

One Week Prior:

I will always remember the day I shared with Tim about the dream I had seen in my heart.  I sat him down, shared with him what I saw, explained how I felt, and told him that this was what I felt we needed to do.

I had never gone out in left field like this before, knowing so surely that we needed to do something, without Tim first either knowing or having some type of confirmation in his gut that verified my feelings.  And it had certainly never been about adoption.  We had never even discussed it, except in maybe fleeting emotional moments of wishful thinking in our 15-plus years together.  It had never been the right time, our babies too little, our businesses too demanding, our schedules too full.

But now I knew.  And I needed him on board.

He was quiet, thoughtful and he heard me out. He did not doubt anything I shared, but again, this really was left field.  He was usually the visionary.  He was usually the dreamer. Here I was, completely turning the tables on something we had never really considered before. He finally answered, “I know you hear from the Lord, Tar… How would it ever NOT be God to adopt?”

(I do seriously love that man.)

We were still petrified.

So we set up some parameters we both agreed on so we would feel safe in our newfound adoption journey: we would never foster, and it would be never be local. After all, what would we do if we ran into these kids’ parents at Walmart, or on the soccer field?  What if they showed up at our house or their school? And the thought of giving them back after we loved them so hard? We couldn’t bear it.  We knew our limits, and we knew we were wise to stick to them.

And God laughed and laughed and laughed at us.

After that phone call where DSS suggested fostering, we knew they weren’t hearing from the Lord (all sarcasm here), so we talked to a friend in church who was involved in social work her whole life and had recently retired. She spent hours on the phone with me listening to the vision I had for our family, and offering her advice. She suggested the best way to adopt these kids was through foster care. She listed off agencies to call and resources to use in our journey. I listened as my blood ran cold, thinking of the worst case scenarios Tim and I had feared. 

The worst case scenario I had in mind first off was hanging up and relaying the information to him.

I scattered notes all over a scrap piece of paper as she talked, my heart beating so fast I could hardly process. Why in the world was fostering a good idea to these people?!

She calmly explained it all.  When these children come in to care, they need a safe place to land.  They need a place to heal when they are ready, and that healing process is not pretty.  It is beautiful in an upside down sort of way, but it is not pretty. It is a process.  And the purpose of foster care is supposed to be (always, always, always) to try to reunify these children with their biological parents. The process is messy, painful, and very often long and drawn out.  If we were to swoop in as adoptive parents and just pick a child out of the available pool and move them in, how did we know if they were the right fit?  How would we know if they would be happy with us? How could we tell if we all “clicked” if we just jumped in cold turkey?

I understood her logic but this was rocking all that was safe in my world, all that I had explained away in my head and justified under the banner of righteousness.

And there was still the big, looming question I did not have the guts to ask: How much would it cost?

I remember driving through town the Sunday afternoon I had first “seen” my kids and known what I needed to do. The sun was shining, my heart was on fire, I was so full of hope and excitement and life, nothing could stop me.  But the cost?

“Okay Lord,” I remember praying as I drove. “I know what you want me to do, but how much am I believing You for? $10,000? $20,000? More?”

We really had no savings to speak of at that time, and I had several friends who were in the process of international adoptions and others who were going through a private agency for a baby. They were raising and saving upwards of $30,000 to make their adoptions happen, and the international ones required extended stays out of the country that we just knew were not the path for us to take. I had already brought four babies into this world and married my husband with a bonus baby out of the gate… there was nothing in me that wanted another baby, especially when ours was still in preschool.

So the unspoken question hung over my head like an unsolved mystery, weighing me down and hiding in the dark like a missing puzzle piece because I did not have the guts to ask it out loud.

I didn’t want it to come across the wrong way: “How much is it going to cost?” How could I ask that when we are talking about children, living breathing hurting souls that need homes, and I am asking how much it is going to cost me?

Of course I didn’t mean it like that, but I was so afraid of how it would come across. The only people who asked questions like that were the ones who were in foster care for the wrong reasons… right? 

How far would you go to save a life, Tara?

I needed an answer because I needed to know how much I was believing God for.

In my phone call with my church friend that night, as we went through all the earth-shattering reasons why my safety logic with Tim was all wrong for all the right reasons, she just so happened to mention the fact that if we went the path of foster care, our adoption would be free.

I was sure that I had misheard her. Free up until what part, then?

It was free.  All attorney fees and legal fees were handled by the state.  What’s more, the state would give us a set amount of money to help us care for each child, and some of that money would stay with the child after the adoption. And oh by the way, they could keep their state health insurance and get two free years of local community college paid for by the state.

I will elaborate more on some of these points as we go on in the series, but I felt like this was the most important one to get out there, maybe because it was the biggest stumbling block for me.

I was afraid to ask, maybe for the right reasons, but I have wanted to explain that to every person I have ever met who seemed interested in adoption since that day.

If more people knew, maybe more people would consider it possible.

Please let me close all this with the understood catch-all that I am speaking from my story only, what I have been through in our beautiful state of Virginia. I am pretty certain that legal fees are covered across the nation regardless of state, but some states do differ in their support post-adoption.

Please also hear my heart that I support EVERY adoption of EVERY child that needs a loving forever home. If you choose international adoption, or agencies that work with birth mothers, or even private adoption… hallelujah and praise the Lord!  God knows that I am forever grateful for the sweetest Ukranians I have met through their adoptions in to the United States, and I will snuggle and freely babysit any little one that comes in to this life any which way they come, foster, biological, adoptive or otherwise.

I just know that I didn’t have to worry any more about money after that day and that conversation. And my hope is that you won’t either.  May you find the courage to take one more step toward the dream in your heart today, and may fear start to fade like dominoes as you face your next giant today.


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July 8, 2019

Today would have been my Grandma’s 85th birthday. Her death just over four years ago was the heaviest grief I had ever encountered until that point in my life.

I knew it was coming. She had been unexplainably sick for quite some time, and though she was the strongest woman I knew, she was fading fast. She was serving Meals on Wheels, donating time and money to every cause that came her way, all while champion cheering for her entire family of six children all with multiple children.

Her life was a beautiful mess, and even after I moved six hundred miles away, she answered the phone every time I called to catch up, filled up my soul’s bucket with phrases like “You’re such a mess” and “For cryin’ out loud” and always ended with an “I love you, my doll face.” If I got her laughing good and long, she would say “You are a peach.”

I lived for her words, and they soothed me when I was so homesick and feeling far away. Every thunderstorm I was home, I would sit on my porch and call if I could. She gave me a love for all things in the garden, camping and bare feet, though I cannot tolerate a fraction of the outdoorsy hard work she did. She was tough as nails and made each child feel as though they were her favorite.

I remember the night I was sitting on my couch watching a movie with our whole family. All at once I felt this weight come on me, so strongly and I knew it was about my Gram. I excused myself from the movie and went upstairs to my bedroom, shaking and asking God what was going on. It was so strong and so real, I felt that at any moment I was going to get a call that she was gone, but that just didn’t seem right. I sat there until I could control my voice and called my aunt who had been spending the most time with her. She was very kind, but I could tell by the tone of her voice that things were not looking good. I hung up in disbelief, trying to reconcile this news with my invincible Gram?

It wasn’t a few weeks later that I knew I had to go see her. Tim didn’t even bat an eye lash, kissed me and the kids good bye and let us go on what the kids thought was an early summer vacation.

In many ways, it was.

My parents work so hard to make every moment count when we are together, even if that means having pedal cars and snacks on the driveway as we drink tea on the porch and watch the sunset.

My mom kept my kids at home that day so my sister and I could go visit my Gram, resting at home about 50 minutes away. We sat on the porch just like old times, laughed and caught up, but she was so tired she asked to go for a nap. I had never heard that before and pushed through my frozen fear to fake an obedient smile to make her comfortable. I changed her sheets and helped her upstairs, kissed her good night, scrubbed her fridge while my sister cleaned the yard, and we left in quiet awe.

I went one more day that week, taking my daughter Abby. Gram had gifts waiting for Abby that she still treasures to this day, and we sat and visited until my aunt came to pick her up and bring her to her own home because Gram was just too weak to be left alone. I saw her car pull up the driveway and the tears just sprang out of my eyes. I wasn’t ready to say good bye. Even writing this memory now unlocks more tears at the reliving of this moment. She must have seen the panic in my face and I reached down to hug her good bye, trying to be brave. She pushed me back to look me square in the face. “It’s okay, darlin’. We will see each other again. We will see each other again.”

A week later I was driving my two oldest babies back to NY to plan her funeral.

After the first tidal wave of grief washed over me and I had to begin the next chapter without her, I found a new, huge void in my life as I began our journey in to foster care. I had no one to call to hash my fears out. No one to give practical common sense advice. No one to remind me that I had a secret weapon, my biggest fan. She was gone, and I grieved and limped along some more, reminding myself that I knew “what she would have said,” and that had to be enough.

When our foster buddy came in acting more like a wild animal than a child, I missed her to laugh with me through my tears of unbelief and exhaustion. As the battle raged long and ugly, and we were asked to consider keeping him, she wasn’t there for me to ask how I could live a life like this so hard for so long, and did she think it would ever get better? When they told us his sister would need a permanent home as well so would we consider that, she could not answer the phone to hear me out, let me cry, then tell me to take a deep breath and put my big girl panties on and save the world.

Through those dark moments of grief and loss, I remembered her last words to me. Even as I sobbed until my eyes were swollen. I could still see her face so clearly, so assuring I couldn’t help but believe her.

And I knew exactly what she meant.

She wasn’t speaking about seeing her again at 20 Calais Avenue in Cheektowaga, NY. She was explaining that we would be together again in the next world, and the peace I saw in her face told me it was as true as any promise I’d ever heard. It was my eternal hope that I would see her again.

And I held on to that with everything in me.

Instead of calling Gram on her landline (716-824-8003), I looked up to Heaven with my broken heart and swollen eyes and asked the Lord what it was He wanted, what it was we were supposed to do. I cried and listened and waited and listened some more. Moment by moment, He was faithful to meet me there and answer me. Although I was still grieving and lonely and afraid He filled in the gaps and kept me together when I would have fallen apart.

The book of Hebrews talks about the great cloud of witnesses that are the ones who were faithful to have gone before us, and that they can look down and see and cheer us from Heaven. (Hugely Paraphrased.) But as I sought the Lord to strengthen me and tell me what to do, you’d better believe there were moments I knew that I knew that I knew that I heard my Grandma’s voice, what she would have said and always her cheering me on.

Time went on and God met me in tangible ways too. He brought my tribe together, better and stronger than ever before. A family who rallies around to love and support these kids as their own. A church family that has stepped up and out of their comfort zones to accept my foster children as if they were my own, and miracle after miracle that turned bare survival to a hope and a future that I could dare to believe I could not just live with, but build a legacy with.

Today she would have been 85 years old. I nearly forgot what day it was in the holiday haze and traveling shenanigans and exhaustion of summer juggling of work and kids at home…

“Good morning, M-O-M,” peeped my foster buddy around the bathroom corner where I was getting ready.

I froze and tried to play it cool. “What did you say?” I teased.

“Good morning, M-O-M” he said louder, more clearly.

I could barely scarce to hope today was the day. Seriously, less than 18 hours before, I had hidden myself in that same bathroom to steal an uninterrupted phone call with my mother and chatted about a Disney trip I had shared I wanted to take the kids on. “I just don’t know” I told her, conflicted. “All the money and supposed to be the trip of a lifetime, maybe we’re not ready yet? I can’t bear the thought of going through all of it to be walking down the road to Magic Kingdom and hearing “Tara?” or “Miss Tara?” along with “Mom.” I just don’t think our family is ready yet. Mom sympathized and encouraged and listened and cheered me on. We would discuss it another time when I could think about it better. But the conversation was a raw truth on my broken heart that evening.

Now here stood this glowing, smiling face, still a little sleepy but so nervous and excited, non-matching pajamas and holding his stuffed panda he had “won” at the video arcade with my parents last week.

“I don’t know who you’re talking to,” I teased some more as I chased after him into the kitchen. “Are you talking to me?”

“Yes!” he shouted between giggles! “M-O-M! M-O-M! Mom! Mom! Mom!” he could barely get the words out for his nervous anxiety and happy giggles and wiggles that come with big emotions when you’re six and scared.

I could hardly process the reality of what I was standing in. His little voice didn’t even sound like his own because I had hardly heard him use that word in the twenty-some months he had lived with us. I had held him in my arms since he was 4, and he will not even share our last name until he is well past 7, but here he was, trusting us enough to call himself a member of our family. Today.

My other sleepy kids that were around to hear him cheered and laughed and teased. “Hello, Brother,” my sons all mocked. “Hello, Sister,” they teased back and forth. I exchanged glances with my daughter Abby over and over in those moments. Was this actually happening? Was it just a fleeting moment? Would it end?

Who knew? And who can even promise any one tomorrow?

I’ll take this moment while it lasts, please.

I stepped off the porch to walk to work, four of the kids playing marble works outside on the porch as I said good bye.

A chorus of “Bye!” “Bye, Mom!” and “Love you!” all followed me down the stairs. And then, the smallest voice of all spoke up so clearly: “Bye Mom! Love you, too!”

Happy Birthday, Gram. Love you, too.

When it first started looking like Little Buddy was going to be staying with us long term, maybe even permanently, we called in the heavy hitters for help to keep our family together. We had made progress in many ways, but the weight of the trauma, emotions and behaviors we were living with day-to-day would not be sustainable long term. Read: we were barely surviving, and knew we couldn’t last as a forever option without some expert help.

In-home counseling began, and I realized I was about to change more than any one else in the family. I had already been humbled a million times over with tantrums in the grocery store, case workers knowing all our drama, and having to say “no” to things I wanted to do simply because I couldn’t leave the helm of the ship for fear of falling off course. It was a heavy load. But letting a complete stranger in to my home for hours each week to analyze our family and figure out how to make it work? Whole ‘notha level of humble. But we were desperate, and willing to try anything at that point, so that superseded any reservations that may have remained regarding my comfort level…

She arrived with smiles and compassion, though she was so strong I couldn’t comprehend how she mixed the two traits. Somewhere in between Mary Poppins and the finest drill sergeant, she observed long enough to know where to start: by teaching us how to see through little guy’s eyes.

We had already taken the classes, we had already done all the training. We proudly had the certificates that dubbed us “Therapeutic Foster Parents,” but nothing prepared us for what it’s actually like on the battle ground. Practicing your skills while under fire is very necessary though exhausting. And sometimes, you trip and make a mistake. Or you just run out of endurance. Either way, when you call “Man Down!” and someone shows up on the rescue field, you never forget that face.

We learned how to put the Problem in the middle, not any one of us family members. The problem was not me, or Tim, or one of my kids… the problem was that we needed to understand what language this hurting child was speaking. He literally was delivered to our doorstep from a completely different world. He had only known hunger, fear, fighting and pain from the day he was born. He was now immersed in food, love, kindness and care for the first time… and it was literally scaring him to death. Our world was so foreign, and it did not make sense to him. Put yourself in another world where no one can understand you and you don’t know how to communicate what you need. Let me know your reaction, and I’ll tell you that’s what it looked like here.

Little guy knew anger. That is the only emotion he knew. If he was scared, he got angry. If he got hurt, he got angry. Frustrated? Anger. Tired? You get the picture.

Our family had watched and fallen in love with the Disney Pixar movie Inside Out, a cartoon that follows a little girl’s thoughts as she goes through a family move across the country. Inside her mind are several key characters: Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Fear and Anger. We laughed and cried at the movie. We quoted lines from the movie. Never did we imagine it would help us walk through this hard journey.

In home showed up each week carrying a bag full of treasures and crafts and games, and one day it included Mr. Angry Man. The Mr. Angry Man. The one from the movie that we all identify with yet must try every day to control. Little man became enamored with him. We placed him on top of the refrigerator and the goal was to keep him up there where he belongs. If someone started struggling with controlling their anger, it was everyone’s job to bring it down off the fridge as a reminder to control the anger and get it back where it belongs.

It was hard, at first. Little guy flew off the handle so fast sometimes it was hard to even begin to practice the new concept. Sometimes his level of anger seemed to swallow the small plush toy. There was nothing to laugh about with a boy who could shake the house with his anger. In fact, I related to sadness many times more than anger during this season. But we kept trying. We never gave up. Sometimes, it worked enough to deflect the issue at hand, and we were able to re-route and keep going. Then it became more common and more of a habit.

We knew we turned a corner the day the kids all got into a scuffle in the main room. Tim got loud and started lecturing them on their list of wrongdoings, and standing there in the middle of the floor was little guy, staring past Tim and pointing to the top of the refrigerator where he could not reach, but surely somebody needed to bring Mr. Angry Man down, because that was the deal. I cringed for the way it probably looked to Tim, the youngest child in the family seemingly disrespecting his father figure at such an inappropriate time, but my heart rejoiced for the purpose behind it: we were recognizing anger, and working to keep it where it belonged.

It has been many months with Mr. Angry Man in our house. If he could talk, I cannot imagine what his perspective would be. He watched the tantrums lessen, the laughter grow, the heaviness lift a bit, and light shine more. Other emotions are getting words now, too: sad, upset, happy, and a couple of my personal favorite faux pas, “avoking” for tattling when one is provoking, and “prostrated” when trying to explain an overwhelming and frustrating stuation.

In the middle of all these months and the heaviness of steering such a ship in a long storm, I got so tired. I have learned a hard truth, that there is no measure for emotional exhaustion. When my babies were little, my mother would try to encourage me, “It’s just a season; it won’t always be like this.” I tried to believe it, even on my hardest days. Bringing this guy in made me remind myself the same advice, though this time it was much more tricky. No one can measure growth and healing from the outside, except when the light breaks through.

I did the only things I could think of to do during that time: give up more of me. The job I loved was now a scattered act of piece mealing papers, projects and events together, and I was too broken to try to keep up any type of façade for any one at that point. Working from home and late at night became some of my only options, and exhaustion often mocked me for what I could not complete.

Ironically, three months after our new guy moved in, I won such a highly esteemed award through our local Chamber of Commerce, the Female Visionary of the Year. I was beyond honored at the nomination never mind the award itself, and floored at the bizarre twist of circumstances that now had me feeling like the exact opposite of that recipient: my vision by then was to survive the day in front of me, and sleep through the night.

That next year I continued to give up more and more for my home and my family. Less meetings, less follow up on projects I had waited years to start working on, less involvement in the hands-on part of our business that really is so rewarding. I silently faded into the background, doing what I could from behind the scenes, from a laptop at home, or from my phone during long hours in waiting rooms for counseling sessions for my guy. It wasn’t just him: there were four other kids with eye doctors, check ups, dentists, homework and projects to be taken care of, growing and changing right before my eyes, and I was not going to fail them. I was going to do it well, even if it meant cranking praise and worship music every moment I had unaccounted for to fight bitterness, loneliness and grief for the life I had given up.

Mama was right: it was just a season, and every season does change.

The day finally came when in home came for our weekly visit and asked little buddy if he was ready to say goodbye to Mr. Angry Man. He was shocked and appalled. “What?! No!!” was his initial response. But as she explained that she had just met another little boy who was very much like him, she wanted to try to help him with Mr. Angry Man just like it helped our family, and he reluctantly agreed it was time to say good bye. As I brought him down off the fridge, I silently thanked our old friend for standing strong in times when I could not. He was faithful, and I was so grateful to see him go. It was time.

Dinner was a little quieter than usual that night, but my thoughts on this Rite of Passage may have been drowning out the kids’ normal banter. Something was different in our house, but I’m willing to say it could have been me.

Bedtime came around and as I was buzzing up and down the flights of stairs for forgotten blankies and stuffed animals, filling diffusers or doling out melatonin gummies, I saw a missed text message from a work friend I hadn’t seen in years, and all it read was “CONGRATULATIONS.”

It took a moment, but all of a sudden I remembered: we must have won.

I had seen the nomination a few weeks before that TNT Auto Body Repair and Service Centers had been nominated for Small Business of the Year by the Chamber’s Annual Awards this year. I was so flattered yet again, but we have been nominated many, many times before. The award always goes to an incredible business, and I count it a privilege to even be mentioned with some of the winners in the past. They have amazing businesses and run their company with dignity and class. It is an honor to be nominated, and TNT had only ever been nominated, never actually won. We joked about how we must be like the greatest Hollywood stars that never actually win an Oscar; it didn’t make our team any less amazing, but the Oscar would be nice to have on the shelf…

I went back up the stairs to read a story to the kids, musing about this news. Here I was, so immersed in taking care of my family that I could not even attend the dinner, drowning in court proceedings, counseling sessions and doctor visits so numerous I gave up so much of my job and learned how to work in crazy ways in crazy times… and this would be the year we actually won.

I’m so sure I audibly heard the Lord laughing at me as I trekked up the stairs that night.

It is He that does all things well, not always me. It’s His plan and His ways that are so much greater than mine. I could not be more proud of our team that has grown in both skill and numbers this year. They have taken our dream farther than Tim and I ever could on our own, and we are still not finished yet. We broke records this year that in the middle of my hopeless lonely walk this year I told myself could never be broken, and never would be broken because I was too busy on the home front to help get us where we needed to be. Oh, those voices.

But the Voice of Truth spoke up that night. It spoke as I handed off Mr. Angry Man to say good bye to that chapter, and it spoke again as I read that text from my long-lost work friend. It spoke as I held and prayed for my six beautiful children living under my roof, and it spoke as I drifted off to sleep that night.

The season is far from over, but there are signs of better days to come. If ever I’ve seen the Lord challenge me in my walk with Him, I have learned once again that if you can give it up, you can have it all.

My hope for you as you read this to be encouraged that the day will come when you close one chapter, and see fruits from another season you have sown in, even when it may seem impossible. That is the God we serve.

Love, Tara

I had heard the expression “Smoke and Mirrors” many times in my life without thinking much about where the original phrase came from. If I think about it as a child, I imagine one of those Carnival Fun Houses, where you walk in to the House of Mirrors section and try to figure out which way was the right way out.

I hated those things.

I would have been the one to run in to the attraction full force with my two sisters, each of whom were much more adept and graceful than I was. My older sister smart and quick-witted, thinner and physically strong, able to think and prance her way through that maze without a hitch, time and breath leftover to taunt me and send a few digs mocking me along my halted way. My younger sister so full of life and light, young enough to not have ever counted the cost, not ever needing to, whooping and hollering with glee at the adventure before her, barreling through with bravery and excitement, too overwhelmed at the chance of a new venture to be afraid… and too young to think of me, stuck and left behind, alone.

Maybe it was the mirrors I hated the most. I was the heavy child of the sisters, “big boned” they used to call me, maybe in the hopes of easing my already-fragile self esteem. “She’s so strong” they would say. “Such a hard worker.” Sometimes I accepted those words as a compliment, honored to be a part of the legacy my 6’ 4” grandfather left me. But with my buck teeth growing in with a gap so large I could put a popsicle stick through it and the perm-turned-frizzy hair of the eighties, it was difficult to see how I could ever measure up to the girls on the covers of the magazines we had laying around the house, never mind my sisters who lived with me day and night. I avoided mirrors as often as I could, yet now here I was entrapped by them in a “Fun House” seemingly on every side.

Maybe it was the smoke I hated the most. White clouds coming from unseen sources blocking my view to find the way out. Sometimes the noise from the cheap machines as the air was released was enough to make me jump. If I rushed ahead to catch up, inevitably I would smash my glasses-covered face into a wall of mirror, bend my wrist too far back as I ran to catch up and hit another wall too hard, or catch my harachi sandal on the grated metal between mirror sets. If I lagged behind carefully, I lost my sisters, my only friends in that scary place, and found myself alone. It was too close to the horror movie I had accidentally watched in the third grade, and coupled with the hated mirrors and the loss of my sisters, this was pure torture.

Time heals many things and maturity helped alter my perspective of that awkward stage in life. My heart grew to care for young children who found themselves in similar scary places in life, and I determined to walk as closely with my own kids through those moments in life to help the little girl who remained hidden away in my heart of hearts.

We could not be more proud of our own biological children as we have walked the path in becoming foster parents. As “normal” parents who see their flaws and failures each day, it was a daunting task to think we could bring even more children into our home and maintain some semblance of peace and order with all of us growing together. Surely our flaws and failures would multiply as we added even more children with even more complex situations???

But obedience won over fear, and each day we stepped out in faith was another day of victory down in the books. Oh, the flaws, failures and shortcomings were constantly evident, but the growth, change, laughter and love that flowed out of it all was nothing short of a miracle. Our kids were soaring as foster siblings and growing in to amazing human beings to boot. Each moment we saw our children bond with the new ones was enough to burst our hearts wide open with a pride that cannot be explained with words. Watching love win has no greater reward on this side of earth.

Of course housekeeping issues as well as heart issues would crop up from time to time. It is inevitable in a house of seven or eight people. And out of those heart issues, we would address them as quickly as we could and try to move on to the next great memory.

But one dynamic kept us tripping through the entire foster care journey, no matter the amount of thought, prayer and tactics tried. Our nine year old son, a natural born leader full of as much sour as sweet, life and spunk, was wrestling with the life he had been given when we took in the five year old foster buddy. This young leader also happens to love order, and thrives with knowing the letter of the law. We had demanded obedience with each and every one of our biological children, and doled out appropriate consequences until each was properly trained. So what the heck were Mom and Dad doing in these apparent hostage-like negotiations mixed with compromise, discussions and near bribery with the newest and smallest member of the family? The thought was maddening to him, and his almost OCD tendencies were pushed to the edge time after time.

With the teenagers, we were able to share more of the brutally honest truth of the family situation and the reason “why” we treated littlest buddy in a different way than they were raised. We let them watch the videos on trauma in foster care, and explained the classes on what parts of the brain are affected by abuse and neglect. We even used the teens to help us train our foster buddy, showing him how authority can be good and trusted when he depended on me too much for too long as his only source.

But how do you explain to the nine year old what domestic violence looks like? How do you teach him age-appropriately about substance abuse and addiction when all he sees is an ungrateful five year old who has a tantrum when you tell him he has to take turns at Hide N Go Seek? When he is the reason Mom is too tired to play a game after the littlest have been tucked in? When everyone else has to play by the rules since Day 1, but foster buddy gets a learning curve and hall passes that defy every fiber of justice in his nine year old being?

We have been trying to course correct this heart issue since foster buddy came. The bedtime conversations and tears are too many to count. The prayers have been endless, but the solution had not seemed to arrive yet.

We have been planning for the arrival of a sweet little foster girl for the past few months. She fits very well in to our family and she will soon need a forever home. She has come to stay on weekends as we shuffle paperwork and make plans that ease the transition for all involved. She loves to come home with us, begs to stay, and it seems that our entire family feels the same way. Each cautious step we took seemed to be a green light that kept us moving forward in that direction to grow our family.

But a Nagging Fear in the back of my head reminds me daily of the Unfinished Business we have left unsettled with the nine year old in our family. Who are we to bring yet another child in to our home to upset the apple cart when we don’t even have the cart righted from our last addition? That Nagging Fear caused me to flash forward ten years in my Parent Mind and play out a horrible scene in my head where my strong leader son is now 19 and screaming at me about how I ruined his life and was never there for him, how I chose other people’s kids over him, and I loved him less through it all.

That vain imagination caused my heart to thud in my chest and hot tears come to my eyes. I played it out many times as I drove in my van alone, left to my own thoughts. I wrestled with what I saw as obvious green lights for our little girl to move in versus this unfinished business I so desperately needed answers for.

I cried out to God louder. I listened longer. I waited to hear that sweet, Still, Small Voice tell me what to do and how to go about it. I would leap in to action the moment I heard His answer.

He said nothing.

I waited longer.

He stayed silent.

The day came when our sweet little girl was coming for another weekend visit and there had been some hot tears and squalling the morning before school as our foster buddy, squeamish and disassociative from a parent visit, provoked our nine year old to anger by taking a precious toy and ignoring his pleas to return it, rather chucking it farther away in a careless gesture. Conflict is never pretty, but morning conflict under time crunch is always a guaranteed ground shaker.

We patched things up enough to get to school and practiced forgiveness all the way. As a mom, these scenes were making me weary, and causing worry about this future green light appearing in my mind. Granted, the conflicts were lessening as foster buddy grew to learn right from wrong and healed from his past, but we were still far from a walk in that park, so what were we thinking trying to add to the mix already…?

These questions stayed with me all through the day, and before my muddled brain had sorted any of it out, it was already time to pick the kids up from school. As I drove, I prayed: “I’m not ready, Lord,” I told Him. “I have too little answers to know who to be, and how to be.”

I turned on a back road to take a short cut to the school, and a sign caught my attention: “No Center Line” the orange sign blazed in my face.

That back road had been undergoing major paving renovations throughout the month, and the road itself had gone from something that would have reminded you of Afghanistan to a smooth ride in the country in that time. It was so nice and quiet, we went from avoiding it to gladly driving on it. But it hadn’t been finished yet, and so the sign warned us to be careful, there was no center line to guide us on the way. That sign had been posted for quite some time now, but today I saw it for what felt like the first time.

The sign clearly read “No Center Line” and that should have been the end of the story; my warning, my direction, and the cause of my next behavior.

Except it wasn’t true.

There was a center line.

Somehow in that time, someone had come along and painted the center line in. It was there, fresh clean, bright, clear as day. But the sign still showed otherwise.

Except it wasn’t true anymore.

There was a center line.

I drove the rest of the way to the school focusing on the revelation that sometimes the signs are wrong and we just need to keep going to get to our destination. We only need to have faith and let the right Voice, the Voice of Truth, win over the other voices of doubt and confusion.

I found my peace for the moment, got the kids home and picked up foster sissy for her weekend visit with us. It was fun, it was challenging, and it was exactly what we needed to do. We did life, did it the best we could, the best we knew how, and prayed for grace to cover the rest of it.

Sunday evening came and it was time for sweet sis to leave again. We packed her up with hugs all around and promises to see each other next week. We quickly showered the two littlest monkeys, tucked them in and tried to wrap our minds around Monday prep and what the older three needed. I was so winded from the excitement of it all, I sat down on the nearby shoe bench to hear what the older ones needed. Nine year old buddy smirked a dimple smile and sat down on the bench next to me, which he does not often do without a purpose. “What is it?” I asked, smiling just from looking at his face in spite of my exhaustion.

“Mom, I think I know why God brought these kids here,” he stated as clear as an address to the nation.

Stunned, I looked to Tim, and Abby and Drew froze in mid-lunch packing action in the kitchen.

“Tell me,” was all I managed to choke out.

Matter of factly, he held up one finger on one hand: “One, He brought [foster buddy] to help teach me to control my temper, and Two, He’s bringing [foster sissy] to teach me how it feels when someone bosses you and you don’t like it, so I can learn how to be a good leader.”

He blurted it all out so quickly to get it off his chest before he could change his mind in pride, but there, it was spoken. The words were out and it was obvious to everyone in the room, the revelation was clear and out in the air, spoken and formed and shaped. He looked as though a load were lifted from his shoulders, and relief flooded his face.

I was speechless, unprepared and stunned in disbelief at the words I had just heard.

“Shiloh!” Tim’s voice boomed through my tizzy. “That is incredible!”

“Oh my word, buddy,” I managed to choke. “I am so proud of you.”

We all talked for a bit about how the greatest leaders learned first to be great followers, and tried to encourage him in everything he was sharing. My brain was hot from spinning, and dizzy with the depth of what had just happened.

That little girl who tripped in the Smoke and Mirrors Maze had found her way through once again, yet again. In spite of the voices that scorned and the thoughts that imagined, in spite of the ugly and flawed and botched image in the mirrors, in spite of the fear of the smoke… the sign was wrong. There WAS a center line. And only by the grace of God and some faith the size of a mustard seed were we able to keep moving forward until we got our answer.

God did not answer my prayer directly through these past eleven months. Some things kept me going, and kind, timely words or glimpses of hope helped me see in the distance, but God chose a different way, a better way this time: He spoke through my nine year old son, giving him a gift greater than I ever could have myself, which in turn was the greatest gift I could have received myself.

And I think another piece of my tiny, hidden heart was healed in the moment I heard my son tell me that he understood some purpose for his pain, and some reason for his struggle. Because at least I knew in that moment, he had the right Source, and we were all headed in the right direction, through the maze, in spite of the mirrors, and despite the outdated sign for the roads we were traveling, where we surely would have gone the wrong way and panicked had we not checked the Truth for ourselves.