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Tag: foster care

How A Foster Mom Prepares For Both

I find it very ironic that we are almost to our court date for our foster buddy in the middle of hurricane season.

I watched the reports of the impending storms, first with surprise and mild amusement, gradually turning to shock and gravity that moved me to purchase supplies like batteries, candles, bottled water and non-perishable foods. The text messages flew back and forth between my Northern mother and sisters to me, teasing and begging me to pack up with such a good reason for a visit. All the while I never stopped keeping watch on the weather screen, and I never stopped praying.

So it is with foster care and court dates.

There is a child in my home who arrived on my doorstep eleven months ago tomorrow. We call it “Gotcha Day,” a term among the foster community that marks the day your child came into your home. We celebrate that day like a birthday or other big holiday, using that timestamp as a reference to earmark the hurdles that have been overcome, the memories you have made… and inside my mind, I am marveling at the person *I* have become since having “caught” this child and begun walking this path through the unknown.

Eleven months is a long time to have a child in your home, biological or otherwise. They grow and change so quickly, and if you blink, the moment of time has passed and all you have left is the memory if you were lucky enough to be present when it happened.

To watch this child grow in this time has been the greatest challenge and privilege I have ever experienced in my life; more challenging than raising five kids and owning several businesses while living six hundred miles away from all our family and everything we ever knew while growing up. I thought I had it all in the bag and was killin’ it at my max capacity there. I had found a balance that I could live with, peace in the middle of the chaos of life, and was ready to call it good. Enter foster buddy, and hold on to your hats; it was destined to be a wild ride…

In this time, we have gone through so many things together, both me and him, and our entire family and him. When we talk about family memories from the past, it is often hard to differentiate if he was there or not. In so many ways, it seems like he always has been. His humor has become like ours, his speech has become like ours, his expressions of love and kindness have begun to match ours, and his love for life and being part of something greater than himself has grown in his heart and mirrors that part of us. On the flip side of it all, the tantrums are beginning to fade, the screaming is turning into using our words, and signs of affection and true tears expressing real emotion are peeking through and even overriding the violent tendencies that shocked and rocked my world these eleven months ago.

Just like a hurricane.

When you are living through a storm, you hope and pray that you have the right supplies for every potential disaster. As a mom, you analyze every angle of the crises, imagining each person in your care, how the storm will affect them, and what you can do to help ease the pain of the potential conflict. I laid in bed awake for hours in the days before the impending horrible Hurricane Florence, imagining worst case scenarios for my family, willing myself to remember foster buddy’s treasured Minion blanket should we have to evacuate, knowing he has never slept a night without it since he has been in care, and dear God, do not forget his melatonin gummies, or we will all surely die of misery. (I’m certain that is a real thing.)

The crazy cycle of gearing up for the storm continues. It would never end if not for God’s grace and the wisdom to know when to lay it all down. You could spend thousands of dollars at Lowe’s and Walmart, and countless hours constructing shelter safety and evacuation plans. And some of that is absolutely necessary and important.

I have spent countless hours in communication with our case workers, family members, counselors and therapists in preparation for this court case. I have taken notes and sent emails and put in blood, sweat and tears waiting for this appointed day. The cost is unable to be documented, nor do I want to know. Job? What job? My work schedule had become so sporadic and undependable our team graciously turned to sending emails and stopped making phone calls. When I would get to work and ask if there was anything urgent before I got started, they would gently remind me of my inbox and let me know the deadline before I looked it up. Once I put the pieces together of what I had not done and how it was directly affecting their daily lives, I would find them and apologize profusely, only to get a kind smile as they brushed it off as no big deal.

It was a big deal. The way every person in my life was showing understanding and compassion was a big deal. Because when I was sitting on that cold, hard bench in the court room, listening to painful testimony of a broken family, I needed to know there was a greater mercy outside those doors once I walked out of there. The way my office girls covered for me at the office, having watched me just sit down to my desk to tackle one of those projects weighing me down, only to receive a phone call from the in home counselor and need to be excused to hear her latest insight. Or the times they offered to pick up food for me so I could work through lunch at my desk because DSS was coming for a home visit that afternoon and I would have to leave early.

It was hard to know which part of the storm we were in: the winds picked up and the rain started down, and we just kept doing what we needed to do. When it was ferocious and loud and scary, we hunkered down and gathered our kids and just kept praying and loving on them. I don’t remember an exact eye of the storm if you asked me to name it right now, but there were windows of grace when we needed it, where funny moments and laughter broke through to our new normal and reminded us that there can be joy in the storm… there should be joy in the storm… we just need to have the courage to look up.

When I look up, it makes me pay attention to something other than my immediate circumstances. It makes me listen. I asked the Lord why it has to hurt so badly to love a child that is not your own because you may have to give them back someday. He reminded me that even the children he had already given me biologically were not my own; they belonged to Him, and he gave them to me to raise them right, and give them wings to do all He has called them do to. The same goes for this child, as well as any other that come through my door.

My hackles went up when I first heard this reminder, and I opened my mouth to argue with the Lord. Before I could muster an argument, I heard a verse from Job over my own thoughts: The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21)

I don’t know what the future holds for my sweet foster buddy. Honestly, he seems so much my own son that tears spring to my eyes as I write these words. I think of every one of my beautiful children, and my heart is overwhelmed with gratefulness that they have been entrusted to me to teach them, train them, and be the reason for their growth in every way. I realize that I don’t know what the future holds for any of them, or any of us. Not one of us are promised tomorrow. It is all.so.precious.

do know the God that we serve, and I have gotten so much closer to Him through this season that I would not trade my heartache or loneliness in that journey for any of the precious moments that I have cried out to Him for wisdom, grace and understanding with this child. I never would have had a greater need to cling to Him had it not been the challenge that this new life brought. He met me there, in that time, in that place, and carried me through that journey in ways I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world.

The God that we serve is merciful, kind and good, and remains that way no matter what hurt and pain we may see in this world. If we hang in there by faith long enough, we will see Him redeem our life and situation, and give us double for our trouble. The last chapter of Job is what I hold on to: “…The Lord restored his fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before.” (Job 42:10)

Cleaning up after a storm is exhausting and overwhelming. It can feel hopeless, pointless and even impossible.

But when help arrives on the scene, in whatever form it may take, First Responders, supplies, equipment, finances, food or fellowship, it brings so much more than the actual help it offers: it brings Hope. There is no way to measure Hope. And when Hope comes, and help comes, and we have the promise that what He takes away cannot be measured in what He will replace it with, we can take that deep breath, put that situation in His hands, and know that His plan will work all things together for good, if we just release it to Him knowing it’s a burden we were never meant to carry.

Here’s to hoping that your Hurricane Season is filled with hope, joy and peace, and your aftermath brings new life and love more abundantly.

I’ll keep you posted on mine.

Love, Tara


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.