A Crazy Idea

               A few months ago, as I went on one of my morning walks with the baby bouncing along in my front pack, I prayed for wisdom and direction for this thing we call Foster the Love MN.  Each morning prior to this, I beseeched the Lord for churches to get involved in caring for their own foster communities in real, practical ways.  This morning, however, a crazy idea formed in my head.  What if we mobilized 10 churches, in just one county, to scatter and gather 50 items each, to pack 100 placement bags together?  I immediately thought of the repercussions of this (i.e. speaking at churches, going to visit pastors (yikes!), and “selling FLM”- I am NOT a sales type of person).  Why do these scary ideas pop up in my head with such a persistence?  I knew my God could do this, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to be the one to lead such an endeavor. 

                A little later that morning, my new pastor’s wife came over with some of her kiddos for a visit we had planned the previous week.   As the children ran around the backyard, we sat and chatted as women do about life, family, and of course, foster care.  Even though we were interrupted countless times by our kid’s various needs, we eventually realized that God had given us some of the same passions in life.  This was made abundantly clear when she shared that her biggest dream was for churches to work together to reach out and serve their communities. Immediately upon hearing this, I was reminded of my morning’s crazy idea.  Apprehensively, I responded by sharing this idea with her and secretly waited for her to smash the idea, so I could be free of its implications.  Instead, however, she shook her head and told me I was thinking “too small.”  She told me I needed to ask for 100 items, and that her church would host the event.  This idea was much larger than I was comfortable with, so I responded that I would need to fervently pray about this opportunity for the next week or so.

                In the weeks following these events, I began praying with my kids for 10 churches.  Slowly, the details fell into place, and we were finally ready to take the leap of faith to start inviting churches.  After confirming with our pastor that we would trust the Lord to provide 10 Ramsey County churches, we got to work praying, sending out emails, and visiting churches.  The first church we visited was very encouraging and supportive of our event.  The pastor handed out snacks and drinks to my kids and told us his church would love to participate.  We piled into our van on that hot, humid day, pumped and excited to continue our circuit of churches, and hopeful that maybe getting to 10 wasn’t impossible after all! 

                We kept visited churches, 3-5 at a time, a couple of times a week- as much as my kids could handle.  The kids would ask me “did they say ‘yes,’” after every encounter, and often I was encouraged by our conversations, so I could answer positively.  However, we were not getting many churches who readily agreed to join us for the special event.  Many churches said they liked the idea, but were busy with other ministries already or would love to participate at a different time.  I totally understood and these answers- it is not like foster families are the only worthwhile ministry (far from it!).  However, I began to get discouraged when we only had two churches confirming their attendance a month.  We had been praying several times daily for 10 churches, but as I looked at the circumstances, I eventually stopped praying out loud that we could do this.  A couple of days passed, and my oldest son confronted me on my lack of prayers.  “Mom, you have been forgetting to pray for the 10x10!”  Ashamed, but still discouraged, I asked him to pray for me that night.  For the next few nights, he reminded me again until I began to regularly pray for 10 churches again. 

 I treated the kids to a new restaurant we found while visiting churches.

I treated the kids to a new restaurant we found while visiting churches.

 

                This time, the Lord brought our confidence back as more churches started stepping up to the challenge.   Two churches, in particular, really boosted our spirits because it was so evident that God’s hand was leading them to join us.  The first church, I met as I attended a funeral for a birth mom whose kids I had had in foster care a few years before.  This pastor shared the message of the gospel so clearly at the funeral that I couldn’t help but speak with him afterwards about how thankful I was for him agreeing to do the ceremony.  As we talked, he shared about his daughter-in-law’s recent adoption through foster care and how they would be so excited to hear that we have a foster care ministry in Minnesota.  His church ended up saying “yes” to FLM 10x10 and invited me to speak at their evening service! 

The second church came as we prayed specifically for pajamas one night.  I knew that the responsibility of getting such specific sizes and genders of pajamas was such a daunting task that I really worried whether we would ever get a church to take that role.  Anyway, this particular night, I told the kids we were going to do something difficult.  I took a deep breath and asked that God would give us a church to take buy the pajamas.  Then, I ended my plea with a desperate “PLEASE!”   The next day, I received a Facebook pm from an individual affiliated with a church I had not even asked about joining our event.  The person asked if we still needed churches (um, yes), and if so, could she lead for her church (of course), AND were pajamas still needed as one of the items (WHAT????).  The hairs on my arms stood out like a cactus and I immediately asked my kids if they remembered us praying for a church to take pajamas the night before.  When they agreed that we had, I knew this was a holy moment!  We stopped everything (our homeschool) and spent time to rejoice, pray to thank God, and sing praise to the LORD. 

                As event drew nearer, we had just 2 churches left.  I had thought about “cheating” and asking other churches from outside of Ramsey County to contribute, but I felt the Lord telling us to wait and trust.  I remember receiving a phone call from our pastor’s wife asking where we were at in terms of how many churches were left and if we would want help from our church to cover the missing items.  It

was tempting, but I said “No, I want to wait and trust that we will get all of the churches we need.”  That same day, we received our 9th and 10th churches!  Every time I found out that a church said “yes,” I would shout, “READY…NUMBER…8!” or whatever number we were at.  When we finally reached 10, I think my kids were almost as glad that they didn’t have to hear/see me do my little (or loud) announcement as they were that we had finally reached our goal.  However, going through the whole process of trusting and waiting and biting my nails and wondering what ifs, I wouldn’t change that crazy idea on that morning walk a couple of months ago.  We have all learned so much, and through it, many more people have gotten to hear about how they can be a part of supporting and serving their foster community. 

Katie O'Neil
WHAT DOES FLM DO BESIDES PLACEMENT BAGS?

This week we received an email from our partner-Fostering Love Project- saying they were wondering if we could use the extra pack n’ plays, cribs, highchairs, and baby gates they had.  After shooting off a quick email to our county workers letting them know of the request, we suddenly had five foster families asking for baby items!  Knowing we didn’t have enough items as requested, I updated our current needs page and prayed we would be able to meet each family’s need.  Watching God work things out this week has been pretty A-Mazing!

 

     The first family we visited needed a crib for their foster baby.  Since cribs are not easy to put together, I offered to help set it up while a few of my kids played with the other foster children in the home.  We knew their ages ahead of time, so we brought a few items from our placement bags to give to them.  As I worked to put the crib together (they aren’t that simple… ok!) with this single foster mom, I learned that she didn’t have a car, or school supplies for her kids, and that she was starved for adult conversation.  Before we left, she made me hold the 8-month-old baby (ahhhh! Melt my heart!) and the kids waved us off as if we were good friends.  On the way home, my adopted daughter shared how she absolutely loved going there because she was able to tell the girl her age that she was a foster child once, too.  She also told me that when she showed the girl the gift we got her, she was so excited about the fact that it included crayons and markers.  It was a way bigger deal than l even imagined. 

 

     The next day we had planned to go to this church event for kids that was giving horse rides out for free.  I knew this foster mom couldn’t drive, so I thought that maybe she would be interested in getting out with the kids for some fun.  I made the phone call a bit apprehensively, not knowing what she might think of the invitation, but I am glad I did.  She heartily agreed to let me come pick them up, and we all had such a great time there that she wondered if we could do it every week!  Her foster kids wanted to plan a visit to our house and the girl even asked my daughter if she could be her friend.  By the next day, this foster mom called me to say that she was telling all her neighbors about her new friend now (me).  How neat is that to be in such a position through FLM to build a relationship in such a short amount of time— one that will hopefully continue for years to come! 

 

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     As I dropped off other baby items this week, I always asked if the family had any other needs and handed them a brochure of places they could go to for help (just a shortened version of the one on the website since I am realizing how many families don’t have access to internet).  They always thought of something, which is great because that is why we exist- to serve and support the foster community.

      There is one more story I HAVE to tell about another drop off this week.  This foster family had asked for a crib and a pack n’ play on Tuesday, but I had to wait until Friday evening to bring the items over because I was waiting on the provision of a pack n’ play (remember my prayer for meeting these needs?  Well, this was one of them).  I had 2 cribs at home.  One was big and bulky and the other was small and light enough to be transported without being taken apart.  For some reason, I decided to go with the one that needed to be assembled.  At 6 pm on Friday, I was finally able to obtain the pack n’ play and thus be ready to make the delivery.  I remember saying a quick prayer for God’s direction and as I headed over to this foster parent’s house.

      The address sounded familiar, and when I drove up to their house, I realized they lived two houses down from a good friend from church!  At that point, I started really getting excited about what God was going to do.   When I arrived, the foster parents informed me that they really needed a toddler bed because they were getting a 2 and 3 year old at 7 pm!  I was pretty disappointed that I didn’t have what they needed, but they assured me it would be fine, and so I went to work putting the crib together.  Thankfully, this crib was much easier to assemble than the last one.  As I got to the end, I realized to my delight that it was a 3-in-1, meaning it was a toddler bed!!!  Just as we pulled the sheet on the mattress and laid it down on the bed, the doorbell rang and in came their new foster placements.  My kids and I made a quick exit so they could get acquainted and walked out to the van only to realize that we were now blocked in the driveway.  This was kind of embarrassing, but I made the most of it by calling their neighbor-the one I knew- to tell her about this foster family.  It just so happened that this neighbor was home and had been planning on visiting this family because they had JUST MOVED IN a few days prior!  She had a meal in her freezer and offered to bring it to the foster family the next day.  Things ended up working out just fine once the people who brought the kids over to the family left.  I ended up chatting with the foster mom for quite a while afterwards, getting to meet the foster kids, and letting her know that her neighbor was going to bring her a meal.  The foster mom was really thankful!  It made my heart glad to know that she had a neighbor who would reach out to her and keep up a relationship.  That is what we are all about!

 

 

 

Katie O'Neil
JUST LIKE THAT...SHE'S GONE
 She loved her kids!

She loved her kids!

It has been an emotionally exhausting week for me, so I haven't posted in a while.  I had been praying about how to continue sharing my birth mom's story, but the answer I received was not what I expected... or wanted.

Last Tuesday at 5:30 in the morning, my husband woke me up to tell me I needed to look at a text message that came in at 3 am from this mom's oldest daughter.  The message read, "I lost my mom tonight she is gone in heaven she died at midnight."  This was such a shock to see!  No one saw it coming.  No one knew what to do.  Five kids living with a single mom all lost the one who was their caregiver.  These little ones (2, 4, 7, 10, and 20) who have endured the trauma of foster care not once, but twice, now are orphaned.  All I could think about was that I wanted just one more conversation with this mom before she died.  

That day was a blur of activity.  I called two friends to watch all 8 kids for me, so I could be available for the family if they needed me.  I wasn't even sure if they would want me to come, but I just prayed for God to use me in whatever way He chose.  At about noon as I was driving away from having dropped off the kids, I received a text from the oldest daughter again, asking me if I would let the youngest boys, their dad, and his mom (who was watching them at the time) know what had happened to her mom.  I was shocked!  They didn't know?!  

My prayer for being available for God to use was being answered in a way I never, ever wanted it to be- and quickly.  I immediately called the grandma after getting her number and asked her for her address, so that I could share the news in person.  Then, I prayed.  And asked for prayer.  And took some deep breaths.  I had 20 minutes to prepare.  

When I arrived at the grandma's house, I was greeted at the door with searching eyes.  She knew it was bad news.  I hugged her weak body as I let her know the awful truth and helped her to a seat.  Then, one by one her three sons (whom she had called came home when I told her I was coming over) came into the house.  Each took the news in his own way, crumbling under the pressure of the grief.  The last to enter was the boys' dad.  He came in, looked directly into my eyes and asked me to tell him that she was ok.  I couldn't.  I had to tell him she was gone.  We all cried and hugged and the 2 year-old started wailing.    

There are so many questions they asked me as they tried to process.  How will they explain it to the kids when they start asking where their mom is?  Who will get to take the kids?  Will I fight for the boys to stay with them?  Will CPS get involved again and remove the kids?  I didn't have all the answers, but I did let them know I would do all I could to make sure the kids were in homes where they would be loved and cared for, and that I would help them in any way that I could.  

After four hours of helping them process, interacting with the boys, and then bringing the dad to and from the mom's house to pick up the boys stuff and look for birth certificates and social security cards (unsuccessfully for the boys at least), I headed back to pick up my own crew.  I remember telling the kids as they all piled into our big old van that I was so grateful that I had had the opportunity- through foster care- to tell this mom about Jesus.  It occurred to me then, that I was the ONLY one who ever shared the gospel of Jesus with her in a way she could understand.  She had been to church and read some of the Bible in the past, but she had told me last year that she never understood the messages or what the Bible said until I took the time to share it with her.  We prayed then and there, thanking God as a family for allowing us to be a part of her life for the past four years.  We had no regrets...and that felt GOOD.


Before last week, I was going to write a few posts about how our relationship grew over the years.  Now, it doesn't feel appropriate anymore, so I will just share the important details. It really began when we had invited this mom and dad to church with us, so that they could get extra visitation hours.  At the time, I thought it was a shot in the dark, but they eagerly took us up on it.  They came and kept on coming while we had their son in our care.  After he went back home, the mom and I kept in contact and started meeting for Bible studies intermittently.  Over the years, she asked for parenting advice, help with managing her household, and how to implement what the Bible says into her everyday life. It was all such a gradual process with two steps forward- one step back, but each time we met, I tried to share a little more of why I cared for her so much and how Jesus love is greater. 

You see, I have been forgiven by this wonderful man who I don't deserve to call my Savior.  I cannot get away from this body full of sin.  It is continually before me, and I deserved punishment for my selfishness, my bad attitudes, my hurtful words and actions, my rebellion.  It separates me from our holy and perfect God.  However, God loved me so much (I don't know why) that He sent Jesus to pay the horrible price- the punishment- for my sin on the cross.  He took the punishment and sin on his own body, so that all who put their hope in Him can be saved from God's wrath.  All of God's anger at sin came down on His own Son instead of me- and anyone else who will humble themselves, repent of their sin, and believe in His forgiveness.  This is such good news that I had to share it with my foster kids' mom.  She loved it and it gave her hope and strength.  Now, it gives me hope and strength knowing that Just Like That...She's Gone, but one day, I believe, I will see her again in heaven!

 

Katie O'Neil
SOLIDIFYING THE RELATIONSHIP

         

          The time for the 7-day visit had finally arrived.  I paced in anticipation of sharing the news about the newly found lump on the 2-month old's chest.  It was the first time I would see the baby's dad and the social worker assigned to his case.  And, I had to let them all know what I had seen... and felt.  

          The meeting started off well with introductions and an outpouring of loving kisses for the baby I had in my care.  Then, the father asked if he could hold his son.  Of course he could, but what happened after that took me by surprise.  He started crying big heavy tears of relief under his big shaking shoulders.  He finally had the chance to hold his baby close for the first time since they had been separated.  Apparently, there had been few visits up until his son had come to my house, and none for him!  I will never forget his pain and his thankfulness to us for lovingly caring for his precious boy and helping him to gain weight.  It is sometimes hard to see parents for who they really are when we just hear bits and pieces of their sorted past, but this love and affection- I could not deny it.  And, I suddenly realized that I didn't want to break it up.

          The meeting went on as I waited for just the right moment to share the news with them, but when was it?  Ever?  I wanted things to just be as they were with the parents lovingly doting on their little son (who was growing chunkier by the day).  At some point, I couldn't hold it in any longer, and I took the mom aside when there was a lull in the conversation to show her and ask her if she had seen the lump before.  She hadn't.  Soon, everyone was surrounding the little one, and I heard myself say that I wanted to take him and his parents to the doctor as soon as our meeting was done.  I felt so worried for them that I knew, as a mom, I would have wanted the same offer.  I would have felt so helpless to have had to wait at home while some other person brought my son in for a very important appointment.  I was scheduled to work that evening, but I just knew I would have to call in.  The social workers were surprised by my offer.  Typically, parents are allowed a certain number of visits a week for a certain number of hours.   However, they agreed that we could give the parents a longer visit, supervised by me, if that was what I wished.  I did.

          Instead of going to work, I drove with the parents to the closest urgent care.  There were quite a few other patients before us, so I had plenty of time to hear their story.  As I listened to these parents share the details surrounding their son's scary birth and how horribly she was treated when she went in for an emergency surgery a few days afterwards (for excessive bleeding), my heart melted.  His placement in my care was a precautionary measure for previous drug use.  This couple had endured so much pain both physically and in being separated from the one they loved.  I just prayed that when their son's name was called, they wouldn't have to hear any more bad news.   

          I let the mom hold her son throughout the appointment.  The doctor was very understanding and actually had some surprising news for us.  He said that he thought it was a kind of birthmark that sometimes gets thick like this, but eventually fades after a few years.  We were all so ecstatic to hear this!  I had no idea birthmarks could present in such a manner!  The ride home was so much more relaxing, and even though it was quite late, I knew I would sleep much better too!  

          I have a very bad memory, but this night is etched in my mind so clearly because it changed me.  I saw birth parents in a new light.  I saw them as real and raw and... scared and vulnerable.  I think they were changed too.  They realized that a foster parent can care and help and be trusted.  After this night, her visits were much more relaxed- no more puking in my bathroom.  She watched me interact with my kids, playing ball in the back yard.  She noticed how we did life together, and she wanted to know why we did this thing called foster care.  Well, we have lots of reasons, but the most important one is because of my relationship with Jesus.  My relationship with Him has changed me to see people differently.  I had a need for someone to love me, regardless of how I had messed up in my past.  Someone did.  It was Jesus.  It was He who took my punishment on the cross so I wouldn't have to bear it.  I couldn't bear it.  In doing foster care, I want to share this hope that I have with people who desperately need to know that they can be changed by Jesus Christ and have a new life of forgiveness each day.  Just like me.

 

Katie O'Neil
A HEARTFELT CRY FOR HELP

Her insurance elapsed due to miscommunication with her Adult Rehabilitative Mental Health Service (ARMS) worker.  Now, she has no worker, no insurance for her and her five kids, and must navigate the system alone.  It is tough.  The requirements for regaining insurance are just a mess of dead ends and road construction detours.  She has to gather all of her kid's birth certificates.  Sounds easy, but the last two babies- now 4 and 2- were in foster care and have never had birth certificates.   The cost is $26 a kid.  Not affordable.  Social security cards, on the other hand, are free once she's gathered all the information they require- which is proving to be another battle and lots of driving to the SS office with nothing to show for it.  On top of this, money is tight because paychecks from child support are suddenly behind.  She is getting desperate.  She prays to God for help, for someone to come and show her how to make use of the dry goods in her pantry.  Then, she throws a birthday party for her daughter and invites my kids.  She makes a meal and two cakes, a real accomplishment for her since regular, everyday tasks are so daunting.  We are the only ones there to celebrate her daughter's birthday.  

As I stood bouncing my baby and chatting with her kids and her daughter's dad, I realized just how difficult things had been lately.  I had had both of her boys for a couple of months as my foster babies, and, in both instances, things resolved quickly and she regained parental rights.  That was 2 years ago.  I turned to the mom and congratulated her on preparing such a great party.  She beamed at the compliment; she is not used to getting any praise.  Then, I remembered I had told her I would help show her how to make rice. "While I am here, would you like me to show you how to cook rice?"  I asked when there was a lull in the conversation.  "Yes," she responded quickly while running over to her cupboard to show me her meager stock of supplies.  Something within me prodded me to ask, "And would you like me to show you some things you could do to cook with what you already have?"  She just kind of looked at me dazed for a moment before agreeing.  I didn't really think anything of it.  Sometimes she can be hard to understand with her bells palsy or when her dentures are out, but I just went on to teach her a couple of things while the kids played in the backyard. I left grateful that I had a chance to help support her as a mom once again. 

In the morning, I got the most precious text from her saying that the reason she didn't know how to react to my offer of help was because she had cried out to Jesus the night before- for help to make her food stretch.  I was humbled to have been the answer to that prayer.  I didn't feel like I had really done much, but to her it meant God still cared about her and heard her cry for help.  I rejoiced with her and let her of God's word: "I prayed to the LORD, and he answered me. He freed me from all my fears." Psalms 34:4.

Kirsten Solberg
GETTING MESSY

                   My pastor is preaching through the book of James, and this week he dug into the second chapter.  In his introduction, he shared a story about a mega church getting ready to welcome their new pastor for the first time.  They wanted everything to be just right to honor him and show him their best.  Before the service started, a homeless man wandered in and took a front row seat to see the action.  He smelled from days of not showering, wore tattered clothes, and had a scraggly beard.  The people of the congregation thought he was so offensive that they asked him to move to the back of the church where their new pastor might not notice him.  Finally, the moment came when the new pastor was to take the stage.  To everyone's consternation, the homeless man slowly made his way to the platform!  As he did, he peeled off his mask, revealing himself to be their new pastor. 

                  This story is a great attention grabber, but what is really scary is how many times we act just like that congregation.  We say we love the homeless, the prisoners, the vulnerable, the...dare I say... foster families, but do we actually go to where they are to help?  Or, as churches often do, do we make another fun outreach event to share the gospel and hope the hurting will come to us.  This happens.  I know this to be true.  Only the regular attenders show up, and they call it outreach or missions, just because they shared about Jesus.  I hate to burst the proverbial bubble, but that is not outreach.  It is "in-reach."

                                      "Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold
                                      ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy clothes comes
                                      in.  If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes
                                      and say 'Here is a good seat for you,' but say to the poor man,
                                      'You should stand there' or 'Sit on the floor by my feet,' have you
                                      not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with
                                      evil thoughts?  Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God
                                      chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in
                                      faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love Him?"
                                      -James 2:2-5

                 Back to the sermon.  It was a good sermon.  We talked about what it meant as a family on the way home, and then we went about our Sunday plans.  At six that night, I received a short text from a friend saying "I need help.  Do you have any time tonight?"  I did have time.  We were just hanging out enjoying family time and looking forward to a relaxing evening.  Even though I felt a little pull to keep the night free of plans, I knew she must be desperate and instead answered, "How can I help?"  I was right.  She was in trouble.  A small fire...firemen came to check in....they saw too many fire hazards....CPS (Child Protection Services) was called and would be coming to investigate in the morning...the kids would be taken again, since that is protocol for immediate removal once children have already been removed.  I took a deep breath, and my husband could see the urgency of the moment.  We had a short family meeting and decided I would go with the three oldest kids to help clean, while my husband stayed home with the youngest five.  

                 We got to the house and there were boxes and loads of laundry all over the living room and eat-in kitchen.  Packages of food lay over every counter space including the stove area and dishes were piled high in the sink and sitting in large tubs were more dishes scattered about.  I popped my head in to ask where she wanted us to start, and we got to work right away.  As I was taking down a ceiling fan that was too close to the bunk bed and unscrewing the makeshift blankets that were covering the windows that were nailed shut, she came in and asked for a hug.  She started to break down in thankfulness that someone had come to help relieve her from all the stress, but was able to pull it together when I met her gaze with compassion and a determined nod as if to say I wouldn't give up on her.  I have to admit, I did have thoughts of whether I should have just stayed home and let CPS come, maybe that is what she needed?  However, I quickly dismissed them, knowing she is a good mom who loves her kids, but just needs help with managing her time.  She also had been going over to care for her elderly mother who had recently been in the hospital.  I dismissed those negative thoughts and instead prayed that God would use this messy situation to yet again help her see her need for help.  His help.  

                   We worked for hours- sorting socks, doing dishes, clearing off all of the countertops and loading our van full to overflowing with trash and extra boxes of stuff she needed to declutter.  The questions came from my kids. Is she going to lose her kids again?  I don't want my friend to have to go into foster care!  Why can't she keep the house more clean?  It doesn't look like we are making much progress.  Should we just stop now?  Will we be able to take the kids if they do have to go into foster care?  I didn't have great answers for all of these questions.  I just knew that whatever happened, I was supporting my friend in the best way I knew how.  Whatever happened, I wanted her and the kids to know that Christians are there for her.   Regardless.  

                     After three hours at her house, it still looked hopeless, but I packed my weary preteens in the van (or should I say jam packed them in) and set off for home.  We prayed and I reminded them of that morning's sermon to love people- real people- for real.  That is what they did.  A true life lesson.  

                    To wrap up these events, we found out the next day that my friend had been cleared from the cps investigation!  She had found some other help and worked the entire night, even replacing the bathroom floor to be ready for the 8 am dreaded social worker visit.  I was proud of her determination and stamina in the face of impending disaster.  It would have meant so much more trauma for her kids, and they are already suffering from the effects of the last two removals.  I am glad I chose to stand by her in her time of distress.  It was messy, but getting messy is what Jesus did.  He became weary, but continued to help and pray and show compassion.   It is our desire at Foster the Love MN to do the same.  Reach out if you are hurting.  Help out if you find yourself available.   

Katie O'Neil
ADOPTION DAY

He turned one today.  I just sent a picture to his birth mom.  It was one of those classic, first birthday pictures of the baby in the highchair eating cake.  He had the cutest smile, but I sent the text with some trepidation because I also let her know about yesterday's adoption.  

I began to wonder how his birth mom might feel about not being here for is first birthday, or any of his firsts.  Would me reminding her make her feel bad all over again?  Would she like to see that he is happy and well loved?  She has told me that she likes it when I send her photos, and I have always done so without thinking twice about it.  However, today's message was different.  The information about his adoption that I slipped into the text made it so.   

I remember back to almost a year ago when I scheduled his first doctor appointment for just days after we had picked him up from the hospital.  Since he was a born a month early and was down 11 ounces from his birth weight of 6'3, I had to bring him in for weight checks right away.  The social worker on the case gave me his birth mom's number and told me that I could invite her to his appointments.  I considered her offer and, in light of how well things turned out for my foster baby girl the year before, I decided I should give this mom a good chance to.  What better way to support her than to let her have as much baby time as possible?

My offer for her to come to the appointment turned into me driving to pick her up and bringing her there.  I guess that was to be expected.  Yes, it was awkward driving up to her place of residence, with her baby in my 15-passenger van.  It felt weird trying to make small talk during the 20 minute drive, too.  She didn't open up at all, but merely answered my questions with as much brevity as possible. 

In the doctor's office, I was careful to give her, the birth mom, as much dignity as I could.  I let her undress him, hold him, feed him, and answer as many questions as possible.  The question part was the difficult part.  Some questions, like how the labor and pregnancy went, she was obviously capable of answering.  Others, though, like how he was sleeping, feeding, and pooping/peeing, were questions I had to answer.  I always felt bad having to answer these details when the birth mom is in the room, and this time was no different.  On the way home from the appointment, I handed her a communication book and told her that I would write a weekly update for her to know about her son's progress.  I asked her if she would like pictures throughout the week too, and she said "yes."  I am glad when I can do whatever I can to make it a little less traumatic for the parent.  And, I do mean little.  

She seemed like she would be a great mom with what I observed over the course of the next few appointments and visits.  However, after 3 months she decided to give her parental rights over to us at the 90-day hearing.  Her reason?  She didn't feel like she had the support to raise him.  Honestly, I was sad and happy. I was sad that she didn't allow me to help her get the support she needed.  I offered, but she was too stuck, in too deep, or something.  I don't know, but I wish I really did.  On the other end, I was happy because I had fallen in love with this little guy.  I know we aren't supposed to as foster parents, but I can't help it.  He was such a great baby- our easiest so far- and that is saying something!  I continued to send pictures out of my own volition, but she didn't ask for them.  She has sometimes responded that she appreciates my text updates, so I keep doing it whenever I think about it.  However, I still can't get over what she said about needing support to keep him.  I had specifically offered to help, but I think she needed someone outside of the equation.  I wonder how often this happens...    

 I can't do anything about her situation now, but I can share with others about Foster the Love MN and hope and pray that birth parents reach out to us so we can connect them with people who can walk them through their dark journeys.  I hope that in sharing this, other foster families will think about ways to help support their foster kid's birth parents, too.  You can let them know about us.  We want to serve foster kids, foster families, AND birth families!

 

 

 

Katie O'Neil
WHAT DOES HELPING A BIRTH MOM LOOK LIKE?

           A few weeks ago, I received a text from this mom friend I have been sharing about, and I want you to hear what she has to say.  I have her permission to share because she wants to help other birth moms get through these tough situations and encourage those in a better place right now with how to help.  Here is what she wrote: "I want to thank you for encouraging me to go to church and helping me to follow through by being there because of my anxiety.  But that is something I should be doing every Sunday anyway!  So I want to thank you for your guidance; I really needed it.  Last week I went [to church] cause I wanted to go.  I want to follow God's way.  I have a long road ahead of me, and I'm not always going to make the right choices.  But, I want to keep going and learning.  I went [to a different church] last week to show that I am not going to church just for you...I am going because I want to" (and then she added these crucial ending words)  "Thank you for not giving up on me."  (That text totally made my day and is the reason I love working with birth families so much!)   

          Why do I share this?  I want you to see how building relationships with people is so rewarding to both individuals/families- both in the temporary and the eternal.  This wasn't a one time gift that brought this relationship about, but a series (over 4 years) of visits, doing life together, texting advice, encouraging, praying with and for, and boldly sharing what Jesus has done in my life and how He wants to do it for her as well.  It took perseverance through the tough times when I thought my words were falling on deaf ears, but I kept on serving and caring and sharing anyway.  Many times, my only reason for continuing was because I knew that Jesus never gave up on me when I failed over and over, so how could I give up on her.  That would have been hypocritical.  

               In the next several blogs, I plan to share how this relationship all began and how it grew into what we have today.  There are some AMAZING stories, so you won't want to miss them.  For now, however, I will share my first memories of meeting her through foster care.

           We got "the call" for a two-month-old baby boy a few months after our first foster child left to be adopted by a relative.  He came from a shelter home where we were told the mom was doing great and most likely would be getting her children back soon (the other children were with grandma).  When the baby arrived, I remember picking him up and thinking "Wow, he is so skinny!"  His legs were like thin sticks attached to this cute little body.  Since he just turned two months, I scheduled his well-child visit right away and was shocked to find that he hadn't really gained any weight since being born.  Undeterred, I cared for him as I did my own children, and he quickly gained weight and began to look more normal.  Since his mom wasn't considered "dangerous," we allowed her to visit us at our home.  I still remember the first time his mom came for a visit.  She was so nervous that she got "sick," literally.  It was heartbreaking to see.  I could tell that she loved this baby dearly and cared for him so well.  

           Since the visits worked out so well for her to come a couple of times a week to see her baby, we offered to host the first meeting, with all of the workers and the parents, in our home.  We had never done this before, so I was excited for them all to come.  Just before the meeting, I gave her baby a bath and started putting his clothes on him when I felt and saw- a lump.  Immediately, the blood drained from my face.  I examined the spot more closely and saw that it was next to his left nipple and a bit bigger than a quarter.  My first reaction was to bring him in to the doctor right away, but the visit was scheduled in about an hour.  I think he had been with us for a little over a week at that point, and all I could do was think about why I had never seen the lump before and how I would tell his mom.  Needless to say, my excitement gave way to heavy anxiety as the time approached for the meeting to occur.  

         Now, I am going to do something very mean, or so my kids tell me when I end a chapter in a read-aloud-book.  I'm leaving you with a "cliff hanger."  Hey, in my defense, it was a cliff hanger for me too, so we are even!  You will have to read the next blog to find out what happens...  But I want you to remember "The Lord works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed....the LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  He will not always chide, nor will he keep His anger forever.....As a father shows compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him." Psalms 103: 8-9;11

 

          If you have a story of how you have reached out to a birth family.  Let me know and I would love to include it here on the blog!

 

Katie O'Neil
CHANGE OF PLANS

       She invited me a month in advance to go to a self-defense karate class with her.  When I agreed, she was so overjoyed that is just made her day!  I thought it might be a fun relationship building experience, and a night out without my kids factored in to my decision as well, thanks to my hubby!  

       The day finally came and about two hours before I was going to leave for karate, I started getting anxious mom texts from my friend.  Each text revealed more and more frustration over her children and the difficulty she was having managing their behaviors.  She eventually seemed so distressed because they wouldn't get in the car for their karate class (which was scheduled an hour before ours), that I threw out the offer to come and pick them up on the way.  She agreed right away, so it confirmed to me just how tough the situation must have become.  

 
       As I drove the fifteen minutes into the inner city where she lives, I prayed for wisdom to help her get her children to obey and get a move on, since they were already late.  I'm sure my jaw was clenched a bit tight too, as I mentally prepared to use my mom-is-in-charge voice.  While I parked on the street out in front of her house, I could see my friend and two of her daughters sitting unhappily on the front steps.  Going up the walkway, I heard banging from inside and could see chairs overturned and stuff all over the front entry behind them.  "We are outside waiting for her to cool down," my friend explained.  In a moment, I assessed the situation and asked, "Would you mind if I went in and talked to her?  Why don't you take the girls to karate and I will come later."  She didn't protest but only let me know I was going to see quite the mess.  Undeterred, I took a deep breath and entered "the battle zone."  I've done this many times with my own kids with trauma and FAS behaviors.  I have to admit, though, I was a bit scared about what I had just committed to do.  Thankfully, I had been building a relationship with this daughter, taking her to the MN Zoo, swimming, and teaching her cooking and such.  I was hoping that would be to my advantage. 

       I prayed again as I walked into the house looking for the troubled young woman.  I realized quickly that she had gone downstairs, so I settled in to making myself useful by washing the dishes that were piled in the sink, on the countertop, and on the tables.  Soon, the young woman I was supposed to be helping huffed passed me and tried to make a quick exit.  I reminded myself that I was in charge, so I turned around to face the angry girl and just as I did so, the Lord reminded me of what my husband had been reminding me lately- everyone wants to be heard.  After a quick commanding mom voice stating, "You are staying here with me," I asked her if she could tell me how she was feeling and what her point of view was on the situation that had escalated out of hand.  At first she screamed her answers.  However, I persisted, put my hand on her shoulder, and asked for more detail so I could understand.  I acknowledged her pain and hurt feelings and just listened as she poured out all of her woes.  Once I saw that her body had calmed down, I invited her to join me in washing dishes for her mom while we talked.  She agreed and the transformation I saw in her demeanor was beautiful to see!  

       When we finished with the dishes, this young woman sheepishly looked into my eyes and asked if I would help her clean her room after her outburst.  She wanted to make up for handling her frustration by destroying things and show her mom that she was sorry.  I agreed and hoped that her mom wouldn't be too upset with me for missing karate and spending time with her daughter instead.  I tried to stay as neutral as possible, helping her daughter to see more than just her own perspective and giving her ideas of how to understand when she is being triggered and what to do to keep calm.  We made a plan together to work on better communication in the future and that seemed to relieve her.   

        Somehow, at the end of the night, we got talking about "good" and "bad" people.  I shared with her that I was definitely not good, not good enough to get to heaven.  I think that caught her a little off guard.  But, I went on to explain that none of us are perfect or can ever be good enough.  That is why Jesus, the only perfect person to ever live, died to take the penalty that we deserve for our sins. This young woman wanted to make up for her wrong behavior by cleaning up, but we can't clean ourselves up.  The only one who can do that is Jesus.  

             I took her to DQ for a treat after all of our work, and she kept thanking me for listening to her.  She said she needs that.  Someone to listen to her.  My plans for the evening had changed completely, but I didn't mind.  I would do it again to see the peace on her face as we said our long Minnesota good-byes that night.

 

"Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; convict, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and instruction. New American Standard Bible. preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction." 2 Timothy 4:2

 

 

Katie O'Neil
REUNITED RED TAPE

         

REUNITED RED TAPE

            As I listened to the young woman who had seen the effects of her siblings being removed, I heard the pain of family trauma.  Rebuilding broken trust and navigating interpersonal relationships within a divided family is difficult.  Couple that with extended family taking sides, gossip, and shunning, and they have a mess of much more than just playing 52-card pick up!  Next, enter in government red tape, and it feels as if no one is there for help and support.  Imagine now, trying to bear the weight of that for your mom when you are twenty and you stay at home to help babysit.  You don't have the money for college.  You want to get a job, but there is no insurance to help with transportation and you are not sure if your mom will get you there on time.  You are worried about how everything will go at home when you are gone.  Your mom says you eat too much, which is a problem when food is scarce.  This is tough stuff to hear!

             I can't just sit and listen without my mind racing in ten different directions about how I can help.  I always want to fix the problem.  Let's do this, right?  Well, it proved to be more difficult than that.  I set aside a day to help this woman's mom, my friend, go through the hoops to regain insurance.  We only had an infant, 2, and 4 year old between us.  First stop was to get birth certificates.  After waiting an hour for our number to be called, I gave my friend my credit card when her number was finally called and, once again, walked her young active boys up the stairs and down the hallway to keep them out of trouble.  When I came back, she was standing there telling me that the office only takes cash or check.  Ugh!  I forgot about that government rule!  No worries, our next stop was in the same building- the WIC office (it stands for Women of Infants and Children where mothers can go for food).  Well, this too turned out to be a dead end as we realized they were only open once a month at this location.  Instead, I called and made an appointment for a different WIC office on another day.  The kids started to fall apart at this point, so we called it quits and headed back to her house.  What did we accomplish? Nothing.  Well, almost nothing.  At least the paper work was done anyway...

            Fast forward to a couple of days later.  Take 2.  Same three kids.  I picked her up and headed to WIC.  Check in went quickly, and we were soon escorted into a small office.  Once we were settled, I offered to take the kids to the waiting room area to play.  Then, it happened.  My friend came out to speak with me privately.  She had a look of concern across her face as she asked me to vouch for her.  The staff wanted her to prove that she had custody of her kids.  "Could you let them know that I have my rights back?" she asked hopefully.  I nodded and confidently told her I would settle this.  I could feel anger rising in my chest as I walked the few steps to the office.  My friend has had her kids back for almost 2 years!  I had even taken her to WIC after the kids were back in her care.  Why should she have to deal with this stuff again?   How can she give proof when she doesn't have insurance?  "I am going to prove it to them," I told myself, "even though I don't have any "proof" to show them anymore."

                 I walked into the office to see that a supervisor had taken over for the staff person and was occupied searching her records for information on my friend.  Immediately, I let her know I was a foster parent, and that I could indeed vouch for my friend having full custody of her children back.  The supervisor apologized and said it was all a mistake and that she had just found the documentation.  I continued to let her know I could give her phone numbers of people to call, but she just nodded her head and kept on searching her computer screen.  It was very odd.  I could tell she believed me, but it didn't look like she had the information that she said she had.  The rest of the appointment went as usual, and finally, getting the birth certificates after that went without a problem.  However, I couldn't get that interaction between my friend and the staff person/supervisor out of my mind.  Why was it that all I had to do was go in and say I was a foster parent and then everything was ok?  Did I look more believable because of my appearance?  What if my friend had gone alone?  Would she have been turned away?  Maybe!  How would I feel if someone didn't believe me that I was the parent of my own kids?  Oh, I have had many frustrating times when, for about a year after adopting a child, doctors offices and such always asked proof, and the system is so slow, that I had very little to show them but their old names on old insurance cards.  It is VERY frustrating.  Yet, I didn't feel the shame like my friend faces.  Her own flesh and blood kids- she has to prove they are hers.  "It hurt," she told me after our day of accomplishing our goals had ended.  Yes, I agree.  It shouldn't have to be so.

"Love must be sincere. hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor in serving the lord.  be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer." Romans 12:9-12

 

Kirsten Solberg