The journey to reunification is never an easy road. The emotional toll of the process is draining, yet there is beauty in the restoration of families. Today, I get the honor of introducing you to a dad who has walked a very difficult road but has been an overcomer in many ways, including working through the foster care system to reunite with his precious little girl. Jay's story is incredible. He shares what his life was like growing up and how he found himself involved with the foster care system. And as a special treat, Liz, the foster mom who cared for his little girl, joined us in the conversation too! She shares what it was like to meet Jay for the first time, and what their relationship looks like today. This conversation was an encouragement to my soul, and I know it will be for you too.
I love being in the host seat week after week. Each conversation and story is an invitation toward growth and understanding! Today is no different, as my guest, Peter Reeves, shares his perspective. Peter is a pastor, leader, husband, and dad. He and his wife stepped into foster care over a year ago after battling years of heartbreaking infertility. Peter recognizes that his perspective is uncommon; he's a black man raising white children. He shares what that's like with us, but he also isn't defined by this. I can't wait for you to hear him talk about how he intentionally navigates being part of a multiracial family in 2020.
There is a lot of pain and turmoil throughout our nation for our black and brown brothers and sisters. I've been wrestling with it, trying to be still and listen as I continue to learn. I've been having conversations with friends who are gracious to share their experiences with me. As a white adoptive mom of brown and black kids, I know that I have an added responsibility to prepare my kids for what culture may say to them. I realize that I can't speak to them from my personal experience on this specific issue, which is difficult for me. I already hurt for them with the pain and loss they experience surrounding their adoptions, and knowing that they may also be affected by racism hurts. I'm thankful for tools like Trillia Newbell's children's book, God's Very Good Idea, that help me frame our conversations around God's truth. In our conversation together, and in her book, Trillia centers her thoughts about race and diversity around God, his good designs for people, where it all went wrong, and why there is still hope.
Today we're diving into foster parenting expectations! Austin and Larisa Savage, a great young couple, joined me in the studio to talk about what their foster parenting experience has been so far. They are one year in, and their story comes with a unique twist, but one thing is for sure, foster parenting has not been what they expected! Preparing for the unknown is hard, but I think this conversation is a great step in the right direction. I often say about adoption, "Expect the unexpected." The same is true for foster care. Refining expectations is the name of the game! Austin and Larisa have walked where you are going, or maybe already are, and they're ready to share their experience with you!
Two hearts moving towards the same end goal at the same speed isn't always the way it works itself out in marriage. God has wired each of us differently, and there is beauty in that. And yet, when one spouse has a deep passion that the other doesn't share to the same degree, it's challenging to know how to move forward. We see this in the decision of whether or not to become foster parents. Sometimes, both spouses agree, but more often than not, God nudges one spouse forward before the other. What do you do then? Jason Johnson and I have some thoughts that will help you navigate this windy road. It never feels good to be the nagging spouse, and it also isn't fun to be the one being nagged. We can actually come out stronger and more united as a couple if we're willing to slowly take steps forward in this important decision, and we're ready to share more about what those steps are.
Today's conversation is hard. I just need to tell you that from the get-go. Foster care always comes with some level of brokenness—that I've come to recognize. I wish that brokenness wasn't a thing. I wish we were living in a world that didn't know sadness or pain. As I listened to Bianca tell her story of enduring sexual abuse and then entering foster care, I felt the heaviness with her. She suffered at the hands of those meant to protect her, and her story doesn't have the ending that I wish it did. Yes, Bianca has gone on to do incredible things, to achieve in ways that showcase her commitment and drive. I wanted more closure for her. I wanted justice to work itself out in her story. I wanted Bianca to tell me that though she experienced incredible pain and shame because of sexual abuse, that she has been vindicated under the law. I am thankful for Jesus working in her life. I am thankful for the therapy she received. I am thankful that she sees the purpose in her pain, that God showed her she had to keep going, to be a beacon of light to others. I am thankful for the education and success she has had. And I grieve that she suffered. I need you to listen with me, to sit with me in her story, so that we can walk away with a better understanding of how we might be able to step in, to identify warning signs for other children, and to know how to walk with victims.
The last few months of various levels of isolation and quarantine have been a challenge for all of us, I know. For my family, the additional time together hasn’t always yielded the best results. We’ve been more impatient with one another, struggled through some conflict, and had to problem solve in new ways that we didn’t have to before quarantine. Yet, ultimately, we all feel safe and loved.
But this is not the case for so many in my community and around our world. For many families, the level of stress has soared to its highest levels. With employment changes—either forcing parents home or leaving parents unemployed—the toll on family life has been hard. Combined with fewer outlets for childcare and extra activities, families are at risk and have fewer eyes on them to make sure everyone is safe.
As we move towards the school year—whatever that looks like in your area—more kids will be seen and heard. With that lens, my friend and today’s guest, Molly Evans, talks about how to spot warning signs of abuse and neglect. It’s not easy to talk about, but if we’re going to care for families, it means speaking up so that more support can be given.
We became a big family suddenly through foster care—growing by 3 kids in 5 months and doubling the number of children in our home. Not long after, we added one more to our crew through our second international adoption, rounding out the total to 7 children. Growing up, I wanted to be a mom, but I didn't anticipate I'd be a mom to 7! Parenting has its unique challenges. Parenting children who have experienced trauma has its challenges. And parenting 7 children comes with its own level of chaos. I can say for certain that I don't do it perfectly; I've learned some tips and tricks along the way. So, if you're like me and trying to create order in your home and need new strategies, this one is for you. You don't have to be a mom of 7 to implement these tips. Choose what's right for you and your family. I had the chance to share this message at The Replanted Conference last fall, but I want to let you in on it, too. We are better when we share with one another.
Since his very first memory, life for my guest, Gaelin Elmore, has been about the struggle for control. He couldn't control his parents' addictions. He couldn't control whether he went into foster care. He couldn't control where and with whom he was placed. He couldn't control what happened inside the home. He could only control his own behaviors, so that's what he held onto tightly. It was a way to cope, to temporarily ease the pain. What Gaelin didn't anticipate was that there were people, and far greater, a God who was worthy of his trust. He didn't have to be the one to muster up the strength on his own, but God in his kindness was there, holding him through all the hard. His trauma displays itself in relationships with people still, but Gaelin is not without hope, and he's running hard after the one who was in control the whole time.
I don't know what it's like to struggle with infertility, and it may or may not intersect with your story, but here's what I do know, the emotional, physical and spiritual pain that comes with infertility is worthy of our conversation. We have to go there. We have to talk about it, because it's a reality for so many foster and adoptive parents or those considering it. We have to be givers of grace to each other, willing to sit with each other in the pain without trying to solve the problem. It could be easy for those of us who are passionate about foster care to jump to a fix of "you should become a foster parent" for our friends struggling with infertility, but that may or may not be their best option. So, hear me in this—that’s not our intent. Today, we're diving into Caroline's story of infertility simply to open the conversation of how to determine if that is the right next step for you and how we can compassionately walk with our friends through infertility.
With the demands of parenting, time spent connecting with your spouse can easily be moved to the back-burner. It's a slow progression of choices and unintended consequences of decisions made. You intend to have that conversation with your husband, but with the caseworker coming over for a home visit today, it gets pushed lower on the priority list. Interruptions bring a change in plans, and suddenly, you haven't been able to have a date night in months. In our foster parenting journey, and now, raising a big family, I know my time with my husband, Clint, is so valuable. I am so thankful for our time together when it comes every other Tuesday night, but early on, I wasn't as good at protecting that time on the calendar. I allowed it to be moved, thinking we could make it up at some other time and then another week would pass without an intentional time to connect. I recently talked with Jill Savage about this, and why it's actually good for our children for us to invest in our marriages.
Abuse is not okay. As I listened to my guest, Desiree Moore, share her story, saying, "I'm sorry" didn't feel like enough. Adopted at the age of three, she suffered at the hands of those who were supposed to be her protector. She wanted to escape but didn't dare speak up. Foster care entered into her story at the age of seventeen as a welcomed relief. Throughout her journey, though, she longed to meet her biological mother. Years spent fantasizing about her and what that relationship would be like left her feeling confused and disappointed when the time finally did come for them to meet. I was so proud of Desiree for sharing, and I know that what she learned in meeting her mom will help us too.
I loved summer growing up! It was a break from the typical day to day structure of school—full of new adventures and opportunities that there wasn't time for during the school year. Sure, it wasn't all perfect, but overall, I loved the possibility that each summer brought. There were so many things to look forward to. This year, our summer has started early, and it's not feeling quite the same—for me or for our kids. Summer has started, well, with stress. It's started with a lack of stability and security as we look towards the unknown. For our kiddos who have experienced trauma, summer, and particularly, this summer brings fear. My friend, Kristin Berry, and I talk through what this season is like for our children who have experienced great loss in their lives. We can have a great summer; it might take a little more planning and a whole lot of grace.
Today's conversation with my guest, Monica Hunter, was a gift. We talked about hair and skincare, and in that, we explored how to help our children feel valued and loved. There is beauty in coming together to care for one another. As a foster and adoptive mom of a multi-racial family, I've had to ask so many questions, and I'm thankful for people like Monica who are willing to jump in and share their knowledge. We need spaces where we don't have to fear making a mistake but can simply learn with others together. I want my children to know I care about them, and part of that is showing them that I care about the hair and skin that God uniquely gave each of us.
I met Helen at Replanted Conference, and as I talked to her, I knew I wanted you all to hear her story too. To hear from those who have walked through foster care is a gift to us all; we need the perspective of those who have lived it. Helen's life had a tragic start when her father passed away at the age of three. With her mother unable to care for her, she entered foster care and was placed with a relative. Tragically, her mother died when Helen was just six years old. Right from the get-go of our conversation, my heart hurt for her childhood—the snapshot of memories painful to bear. Bounced from relative to relative and again several times more, Helen shares the journey she's lived, and I'm so encouraged by where she has landed today. I can't wait for you to hear how she's continuing to find hope and healing now as an adult.
It's time to celebrate! The Lord has graciously allowed TFI to be part of supporting the foster care community for 9 years! It's been a joy to walk with people who are passionate about Jesus and the foster care community as they launch and lead TFI Advocate Ministries all across the United States. Seriously, our Advocates are some of the best; they see and show up for agency workers, foster parents, vulnerable adults, and children involved with foster care, and not only personally do they do that, but they mobilize the church to do that too! The movement is multiplying, and I could not be more honored to be on this journey with so many great leaders. Because I love you and our Advocates so much, I want to share an inside look at the types of conversations our team gets to have each day. Listen in as Advocate Support Director, Jillian, chats with Kara, our Advocate in Northwest Oklahoma, about ministry and lessons she's learned throughout her 6 years as an Advocate.
This conversation was special—Clint has been by my side since the beginning of this foster care journey. He's been my cheerleader. He's believed in me. He's given me the freedom and push to stretch in ways maybe I wouldn't have otherwise. He lifts me up when I need it and brings me back down when I need that too. Together, we've grown as we caught the vision of how our family could serve in this foster care space, how our church could walk alongside this community, and even bigger, how we could encourage others across the US who wanted to do this work too. Man, it's been a lot of fun! And it's been hard. But, as we recount it all, we see the blessings. When we look back at the last ten years, it's clear the Lord has been working in us. I'm so excited for you to hear more about how faithful God has been through this unexpected road of foster care.
This was my first time meeting and getting the opportunity to talk with Cameron Lee Small, and it did not disappoint. Cam gets adoption. As a Korean adoptee who grew up in Wisconsin, Cam now uses his experience to walk with adoptive families as a clinical counselor. As we talked, I kept nodding my head in agreement. Cam wants to help people understand they are seen, heard, and to know that they matter—that they are not in this alone. It’s the same message I believe in for TFI and for my own family. Through our conversation, Cam helps identify fears when foster care moves to adoption. In naming both the good and hard emotions our children feel, we can begin to help them heal. That’s the goal in all of this today—to learn to walk with our children so that their story can move them to a place where healing can begin.
What a conversation! Tricia was once a teen mom, and now supports teen moms through Teen MOPS. Tricia understands what it’s like to walk through the teenage years while also trying to care for a new little one. Guilt and shame can feel like an everyday companion. For many youth aging out of foster care, pregnancy as a teen is a reality. In our conversation, Tricia offers compassionate wisdom to help us support both teen moms and teens in foster care. Whether you are a teen mom, walking alongside a teen mom, or raising teens, this episode will leave you encouraged to press on. Tricia has been where you are.
As I walk this parenting journey, I grow more and more thankful for teachers who lean into my kids. The student-teacher relationship can be a sweet one. For some students, teachers may be their only trusted adult. Needless to say, the impact of a caring teacher has the potential to be huge. My guest, Amanda Van Allen, is one of those teachers that loves her students in big ways. So, when she saw not only one student’s educational needs, but a greater need as it related to family, she knew her own family could do more to care for this student. Today, we’re talking about jumping into the role of fictive kin—taking on the characteristics of a family relationship for a child in the foster care system. It’s a role that more teachers are being asked to consider, and Amanda had some incredible insights about what she learned from going from teacher to parent in a matter of days.
Sitting down to talk with Sandra Stanley this week was a privilege!
She and Andy have journeyed down this road of foster care for the past ten years and have so much wisdom to share because of it. Much like my own story, they became aware of the need to care for children in their own backyard, and this awareness led them to action. We see this all the time at TFI—awareness leads to action. Sandra shares that the road has been bumpy, filled with moments that have left their hearts both broken and encouraged. As foster parents, we come to this journey so hopeful, so ready to help and love, and yet when there is no margin— when the uncertainty overtakes you—it is easy to feel hopeless. Sandra offers hope in our conversation. We can create space in our lives so that we are not overtaken by this hopelessness. We can live and serve with joy.
In terms of foster care, Tori has experienced it all. Entering the system at age four; reuniting with her mom; seeing the effects of mental illness; entering the system again; moving to twelve placements; living in a group home; and finally making the decision to emancipate, Tori’s life is one of ups and downs. At moments, she wanted to be out of foster care, and at moments, it was the best option she had. Tori is real and raw and helps us learn what life in foster care is really like. We have much to learn.
Foster care begins with loss—a family broken, unable to be together. This reality weighs on biological parents who long to be reunited whether that’s a possibility or not, children who are trying to make sense of all that is happening, caseworkers who care deeply for both the biological and foster families on their caseloads, and foster families who struggle to know how to help the kiddos in their homes navigate this hard journey while also managing their own emotions. Loss feels anything but good. And yet, our guest, Trisha, an adoptee and adoptive mom, brings a message of hope to us. Rooted in the promises of God, we can mourn loss and see our grief as a gift.
Emily Schmidt opened the coffee shop of her dreams, a shop she called The Cracked Pot. People came to get quality coffee; they lingered; they built community. As a Christ-follower, though, she saw the potential for her shop to be used for something more. She learned about youth aging out of foster care and realized she could be part of their story. She could use her coffee shop for kingdom purposes. Emily’s story is an encouragement to reflect on what God has given each of us and a challenge to consider how we can use our time and resources for others.