Foster Care & Adoption

One Brave Mom’s Foster to Adopt Journey

Melanie Parent’s foster to adopt journey is one of love, heartbreak, deep faith and godly community. She is brave & courageous & one of my heroes. She told me once that she could only consider this journey because she has such an amazing village who loves her well. May we all learn from her experience & strive to create villages that so beautifully surround, support & love all the Melanies & Sophies in our churches.

My foster and adoption journey started after a mission trip to Panama in 2012. I’ve volunteered with my youth group for many years but on this particular trip God stirred in my heart the call to adopt. I’m not married and wasn’t even sure I wanted kids of my own but when God begins to speak who am I to say no? So after much prayer and seeking advice from my people, I decided my answer was YES. This yes started my journey as a foster mom through the state. Because I’d be doing this as a single mom, fathers and sons from my church stepped up to say they would be constant role models for these sweet children. My church invited me to conferences to make sure I was prepared and prayed with me when the doors I thought were the right ones seemed to close. They also connected me with people who I believe God placed in my life to work out a plan that far exceeded anything I could imagine.

I was approved as an official foster parent in June 2013. 8 months later, DCS placed a 3 1/2 week old baby girl in my home! Oh the excitement! My church family rallied around us with calls and texts to see what our immediate needs were. Friends brought us dinners and diapers. One friend from church brought me lots of baby girl clothes and stayed to put away all the clothes and diapers in the nursery. That first night was rough. Sweet girl only slept for about an hour at a time and cried most of the night. I have to say I threw up the next morning, exhausted and overwhelmed about all I had just been entrusted with. My yes to God had just gotten real! I knew it was impossible without my village. Our youth minister and his wife came over that day and held baby girl while we both got some much needed sleep. It was then I knew we would be ok. God would continue to provide. In the next few months, we began our new normal. I knew there was a good chance this little girl would not be staying with me forever. She had a great aunt in a different state who loved her and wanted to take care of her. But getting her there would mean lots of court hearings and decisions by judges. In the meantime my heart fell in love with this precious life that was depending on me. I loved her fiercely and I cried about letting her go. I again turned to my church family for prayers when her future seemed uncertain and prayers before court hearings and prayers when it felt like my heart could handle no more. They sat with me for long mornings at court. They shopped with me to occupy the time during birth family visits when I wasn’t invited to stay. The time came to entrust someone else to care for this sweet little girl who had been mine for almost 4 months. Again my church surrounded me. They prayed and spent time with me so I wouldn’t be alone in a now very silent house. Slowly the healing began.

You may have noticed by now I have not mentioned baby girl’s name or told you much about her “story”. With both of my girls, I’ve had many people ask me “so what’s her story”. While this seems harmless, it makes us feel as if you’ve just asked us to tell you the deepest darkest secret of our child’s soul. Those details aren’t ours to tell and we don’t always know the facts. We do know there is brokenness. The details aren’t important, just know they are in need of love. 

God wasn’t finished with this journey. Four months later, I got the call for a 2 week old baby girl named, Sophie. My church family showed up with just as much excitement as before! They went with me to the hospital and packed me dinner because I was way too excited to remember to eat! They brought food and pulled out the newborn clothes and put away the bigger clothes (since I couldn’t bring myself to do that in the months before).

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Melanie & baby Sophie surrounded by some of their village.

I was smitten from the beginning. This time I was told she might need an adoptive family. I was more than happy to be that family, but again this would mean lots of court dates and judges and uncertainty. No matter where the journey lead, I knew my church would walk with me. I remember friends consistently checking in and asking what they could pray for specifically. Most of the time people didn’t ask me “how are you doing?’ because they knew sometimes it was a roller coaster of emotions and I might just need a hug and someone to cry with me. They celebrated with us over baby milestones and made Sophie feel like she had lots of extended family. 🙂 I remember walking to my car one Sunday morning and finding diapers and milano cookies on my hood. I didn’t have to purchase the first pack of diapers until Sophie was 4 months old!! Our church’s children’s clothing sale ministry allowed me to shop early and gave me a credit to use at each sale. Just another wonderful way they could encourage and support me in my fostering journey. My life group prayed over big court dates and checked in after to see what decisions had been made.

After 13 long months I got to adopt my sweet girl!! It was a great day of celebration! Sophie and I had 54 people at the courthouse that day to celebrate our new family. I had a good friend who volunteered to photograph the occasion. They also threw a brunch afterward, complete with yummy food and monogrammed cookies. My church has continued to wrap around us. They threw an adoption shower for us to fill our home with toys and books. It’s a little unconventional to throw a shower for a toddler but my church did it so well. 🙂 We recently moved to a house with a big backyard for her. I had mentioned to a friend at church that I planned to buy a swing set for Sophie at some point. A few weeks later, I had come home from a youth group trip and my mom told me to check the back yard. I opened the door to find the coolest swing set, already assembled and ready to use. It even had a toddler swing! I looked at my mom and said, “Oh you shouldn’t have!” and she said, “I didn’t. It was everyone at church!” Many families from our youth group pitched in to get us the perfect housewarming gift.

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Standing room only during one court date.

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The village who came to support and love Melanie & Sophie on their “Gotcha Day”!

Typing that story brings tears to my eyes. It will always be a reminder of how my church family answered the call to take up the cause of the fatherless and show more love than I would ever know alone.

I chose to foster and adopt because LOVE. These children need love. I need love. God is love. So as God has commanded, Be Love. Whether that’s being a prayer warrior for a foster or adoptive family or meeting physical needs. We need people who will walk with us throughout our journey. These kids need us all on their team! Together we can help heal hearts.

 

Defending the Fatherless

Callie Lillard joins our conversation today as we explore serving the often overlooked in our churches. I’m grateful for her passion and lifelong work to serve children & families journeying through foster care & adoption. I’m grateful for the practical ways she encourages & challenges all of us to support & love these families. But mostly, I’m grateful for her heart that loves God and seeks to follow His command to love the “fatherless”.

“Defending the fatherless” has been a part of my life ever since I can remember. When my mom was growing up, her parents opened their home to children in foster care and later to pregnant young women who were planning to place their babies for adoption. My grandfather, who was an attorney, volunteered his legal services to families who were adopting. When my older brother and I were eleven and six years old, respectively, our parents dove into their own foster care journey by saying yes to a newborn baby who needed a home for a little while. On Christmas day 1990, my mom left our family get-together to go to the hospital, and she returned with a tiny pink bundle who was most certainly everyone’s favorite gift that year. That kind of day soon became pretty normal for our family, with many more babies passing through our home over the next 22 years. I was eight years old the first time my parents took me with them to serve at a children’s home in Kingston, Jamaica. In 2001, when I was seventeen, I gained a brother through adoption, and in 2003, a sister.

Foster care and adoption were just what my family did. It was our thing. Anyone who knew us knew that. It wasn’t until I was in my mid-twenties that I really began to understand that it wasn’t just our thing; it was the church’s thing. Or at least it was supposed to be.

“Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” Isaiah 1:17

Caring for the fatherless is not a suggestion; it’s a command. One that’s repeated over 40 times in scripture. It’s not just a command for those who feel “called.” It’s a command for the whole church. We are all called. If we call ourselves Christians, we must respond. All of us.

I have good news for those of you who are starting to sweat. You don’t have to foster or adopt to care for the fatherless!

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If God’s not leading you to foster or adopt, He’s probably leading you to serve those families who are. No one understands “it takes a village to raise a child” more than foster and adoptive families. We need people in our church to come alongside us and help us give these kids what they need to heal. Maybe that looks like bringing a meal once a week. Maybe you’re good at math, and you could offer to tutor a child who’s struggling in school. Maybe you could provide respite care or free baby-sitting for tired parents who need a night out. Maybe you could help a foster parent entertain their kiddos on those long days spent at juvenile court (and encourage a struggling birth parent in the process!). Maybe you could donate financially or plan a fundraiser for a family who’s adopting. Maybe you can be a prayer warrior for a child or family. Maybe you’re a photographer and could donate your time to your state’s Heart Gallery or offer to do free sessions for children in foster care (do you know how many former foster kids have childhood photos of themselves? Just about zero.). Maybe you could help meet a child’s emotional needs by helping pay for counseling that’s not covered by insurance. Or maybe you could help meet a parent’s emotional needs by offering to pay their way to a conference or retreat (or by babysitting while they attend said conference or retreat).

Another important aspect of supporting foster and adoptive families in your church is recognizing that our kids have some unseen special needs. Our kids have all come to us from hard places. What looks like misbehavior to most may actually be survival skills that our kids used when they couldn’t trust an adult to meet their needs. They need us to teach them how to replace those unhealthy survival strategies with healthy ones. Many of our kids have been exposed to drugs or alcohol in utero or suffered abuse, neglect, or trauma. Or all of the above. And every single one of them has suffered the loss of their first family. These events have changed the way our children’s brains work. Instead of inquiring about their stories, ask us how you can help meet their needs.

Fostering attachment and building trust is a huge focus for families with new arrivals…and maybe even for those who’ve had their children for years. Let our families participate in church activities according to our kids’ needs. Our babies may never be in the nursery, and our big kids may need a parent to come with them to VBS. It’s not that we don’t trust you with our kids; it’s that we are trying to teach our kids that they can trust US. We get that it seems a little weird to you (it did to us once, too), but trust us – we have spent lots of time trying to learn how to help our kids heal. Help us help them by encouraging, supporting, and believing us, even when our parenting seems a little “out there.” And we would LOVE it if you wanted to educate yourselves about our kids. Attend a conference with us or ask us about resources we use (Empowered to Connect is a good place to start). We want you on our kids’ team!

One year on Orphan Sunday at our church, an elderly woman approached our ministry’s table after service. We had a sign-up sheet for our email list but she didn’t have an email address. She wrote down her phone number and told one of our volunteers, “I can’t foster or adopt, but I’m an artist and I can give free art lessons to children.”

This woman got it. She understood that God commands all of us to care for orphans and vulnerable children. And she was willing to use the gifts God gave her to respond to that command. This is “taking up the cause of the fatherless.” This is the gospel made touchable. And you don’t have to foster or adopt to be a part of it.