Empty Arms….

Then....

Six years ago today, the single most difficult event in my foster care and adoptive journey happened. And my life, my family and my ministry would never be the same.

Excerpt- Chapter 18- “The Middle Mom – How to Grow Your Heart by Giving it Away”..

The manuscript was complete, the editing was done, the printing and publishing quote was in, the graphic artist was chosen for the cover, and it seemed that everything was on go. However, exactly one month, three days and eight hours ago, things changed. Another story happened, another piece to the puzzle, another strand in the tapestry of my ministry, another chapter in my story, and it has to be told. Even now, as I sit with my hands on the keyboard, I’m not sure I have the strength to tell this story. I feel the knot in my throat; tears well up in my eyes and my heart beats faster as I anticipate actually seeing this chapter in print. Nevertheless, if I am going to do what I set out to do in the beginning of this book, that is to truly be transparent, to lay all my cards on the table, then I must conjure up everything that is within me–all of the truths the heavenly Father has taught me–in order to let my heart spill out onto this page. This is the story of a little girl I’ll call Baby B.
I will never, ever forget the day I got the call about B. Jeff and I were sitting in a parenting conference at our church. Serenity’s adoption was still not final, and we were fostering her one year old brother at the time. As I sat in the conference with my cell phone on silent, I looked down and saw that I had received a call from Serenity’s caseworker. “Interesting,” I thought, “on a Saturday.” I excused myself and went to the foyer to return her call.
“Everything is fine with Serenity’s case,” she said, “I just wondered if you knew of anyone, Christie, who would be willing to take a five-week-old baby girl?”
“Well, not me!” I thought. “Who do you think I am, the old woman that lives in the shoe?”
“I can’t think of anyone right now,” were the words that actually came out of my mouth, “but, I will make a couple of phone calls to see if anyone I know can take her, and I’ll call you right back.”
I made the phone calls, but had no success in finding a family for this baby. So, I did what I considered the next best thing, I asked Jeff if we could take her for the weekend. He looked at me as he often does when I come to him with one of my emotional schemes, but as usual he agreed that we would take her for the weekend. I would call the caseworker on Monday and she would find a permanent placement for this baby.
I immediately went into “baby mode.” I left the conference early, rushed home to get my infant car seat and headed to DHS. There, in the arms of the caseworker was the most beautiful newborn baby girl with curly hair and chubby cheeks and all dressed in lime green.
“Uh-Oh.”
I’m sure I don’t need to tell you what happened next. On Sunday night Jeff looked at me and said seven words that would change my life:
“You want to try this, don’t you?”
As crazy as it sounded, taking on another baby with the chaos of a preschooler with ADHD, an incredibly active one year old and four other children going in four different directions, I found myself saying yes. I really believe it was my heart answering, not my mouth. I knew deep down in my soul that this was our daughter and she belonged in my arms; I just didn’t know for how long.

The event that brought Baby B into foster care was horrific. Though by God’s grace she was not harmed, it was a violent act that could have been catastrophic. That truth made me hold her tighter and love her deeper. It also filled me with a deep resolve that no one would ever, ever be in a position to hurt her again.
Little did I know how tight my hold on this precious one would become, how deep my love would root and how intense my resolve would tunnel down into the very core of my being. Baby B was the perfect baby. She slept like a log. She was content. She spit up a lot, but hey, nobody’s perfect! She was a little “snuggle bunny” who was so easy going. We began to notice that she seemed a bit too easy going. She would sleep long hours at a time and never seemed to wake during the night, even with the high pitched screams of our one year old son. Jeff and I became very concerned about her hearing. We had her hearing tested; she failed. We had her hearing tested again; she failed again. We went to a specialist and had her hearing tested; she failed.
Bless her heart, she will probably be in therapy later in life for all the ways we tested her hearing ourselves: loud screams, sudden whistles, books dropped on the floor, her name broadcast at mega decibels from every part of the room. And yet, she wasn’t hearing us. Although I know many people thrive in and through their deafness, I couldn’t help but grieve as I thought about her life without sound. For some reason, it was her not hearing music and our voices that grieved me the most. Jeff began to pray that God would take care of whatever was causing the problem or just miraculously heal her as only He could do. When she was five months old, we returned to the specialist to have her tested again; she passed. God had done it; our girl could hear!
Next, B’s difficulty with swallowing almost required a feeding tube. And because of the months of not hearing, she was speech and language delayed. But other than that, she was growing and was way ahead of the curve in height and weight. She had her own fashion sense (okay, I had my own fashion sense for her.). She looked beautiful in lime, orange, and fuchsia–and even better in a combination of the three. And as with any girl that resides in the Erwin household, she never left home without a bow. Everywhere I went people talked about how gorgeous she was. Our family bonded with her quickly and deeply.
B’s case was complicated by the incident that brought her into care, by mental illness and by a history of family members that didn’t get along. We began a roller coaster ride that was all too familiar to us. A few weeks after she came into our home, it seemed as if she would be leaving us to go and live with a relative, but then the tracks turned downward, and that plan was scrapped. Paternity was established, and she began visits with her biological mother and father as well as with a couple of extended family members. The tension within the family was palpable, and the internal hostility infiltrated the whole case. As time marched on, it seemed as if there was no straightforward plan for the future of this baby.
Meanwhile, we loved every minute as B was growing and changing. We hung on every little sound that eked out of her mouth. I learned that styling her hair, which was so very different in texture from Serenity’s, was a breeze. We watched her learn to crawl, to pull up, and play patty-cake. We were there when she got her first tooth and then a mouthful of teeth. (She drooled constantly. Jeff said that wherever she crawled, she left a trail, like a slug.) We cheered as she took her first step, and we hosted her first birthday party where everything from her dress and bloomers to the two cakes were pink and green polka dots. We watched as her love for books bloomed, and our hearts overflowed as we observed the way she tenderly rocked her baby dolls. She loved her blankets, so we bought every ultra soft blanket we could find. She would pull them all into her crib at night and be lying on top of the blanket mountain in the morning. When she was tired, her blanket would go up to her face and her thumb would go into her mouth. She even adopted one of Serenity’s silk dresses as a pseudo-blankie. She’d grab any purse, bag, infant carrier, whatever, and throw it over her arm like it was a genuine Coach or Dooney and Bourke, and she was a princess!
We had the distinct pleasure of being her favorite audience as she learned to dance with the grace and humor that only a one-year-old can. We laughed our heads off as she and Serenity performed their musical theatre, complete with a boom box and High School Musical CD, for all of us as we sat in the living room. I was the recipient of her first kiss as she leaned into my cheek and smacked “MMMM-MA.” B and I were inseparable as we shopped, ran errands, picked up kids and moved the Heart Gallery together. Cara called her “pipsqueak.” When Chase and Caleb came home from college on the weekends, she would run into their arms with a huge smile. Connor loved her with an undying love. Serenity loved to mother her, almost as much as I did. The small group of newlyweds that Jeff and I lead on Sunday nights nurtured her, loved her and fed her every week. She would move from one set of arms to the next and always knew that the guys in the group were the softies who would feed her the most! They felt like they were her extended parents. B was well loved, and we were all well loved by her.
The decision was made by DHS and the courts to terminate parental rights. All of the parties in the case were on board in a passionate unified way that I had never seen at DHS. (Except the birth parents attorneys of course, who wanted her placed with a relative.) We made our way to court for the termination hearing, fifteen months after B came to live with us. Arguments were made, questions were asked, positions were taken, and the outcome, the very destiny of this child’s life, was left in the hands of one woman: the judge.
Although I haven’t said it up to this point, I’m sure you have read between the lines and know our position: This is our daughter and we want her to be our daughter forever.
It is very important to note that when reunification had been the goal, we were on that team. But, once the goal in B’s case was changed to adoption, our hearts and minds turned towards adoption as well. I had picked out her name months before (okay, maybe my heart had “turned” a little ahead of schedule). Cara and I had kept the name to ourselves for awhile before letting Daddy in on it– Emme Camryn. Granted the “C” name wouldn’t be first this time, but it would be there nonetheless. I looked on the Internet one night to see what Emme meant and it was defined as “whole, complete.” “It’s a sign,” I thought. Once B is added to the Erwin gang, our family will be whole and complete: Three girls and three boys– a modern day “Brady Bunch.” I rehearsed the names of our new family over and over in my mind: Chase Sullivan, Caleb Saeger, Cara Elizabeth, Connor Scott, Caroline Serenity and Emme Camryn. Wow! That had a ring to it.
No new court date was set; all we had to do was wait for the judge’s ruling. All we had to do was wait for the judge’s ruling. For five weeks we waited with bated breath.
It seemed like any time I ran into anyone involved in the case from DHS they would say, “I don’t think you have anything to worry about, I can’t imagine the judge deciding to do anything but terminate.”
On a Wednesday afternoon, I was loading B and Serenity in the car to head to the dentist’s office. My cell phone rang, and my life would never be the same. B’s attorney was on the other end of the line.
“Christie, the judge has decided to send B to the relative,” she managed to mutter. “I’m sorry.”
To say I was in shock would be an understatement of epic proportion. I fumbled with my purse and the diaper bag, clumsily got B out of her car seat, grabbed Serenity’s hand and nervously led them back into the house. “I’ve got to call Jeff,” I thought as I dialed his number.
“They are sending B to the relative,” I heard myself say, all the while wondering if I was really saying those words.
“I’ll be right there,” he said. And he was. Chase was home from college working at Jeff’s office. He, too, was at my side in a matter of minutes.
I paced. I cried. I held my baby daughter tight. I saw confusion in Serenity’s eyes.
“How am I going to do this?” I shouted. “How are we going to do this? I can’t call the kids at school and have them come home. Cara can’t drive with this on her mind,” I reasoned.
When I finally got the caseworker on the phone, she informed me that the relative wanted B immediately. The caseworker was devastated, as well, and wondered what I wanted to do. I told her that there was no way I could drive my daughter to a strange place with all of her worldly belongings and leave her. She would have to pick her up.
So, for the next three hours, I gathered her things. I washed her clothes and cried, I picked up her dolls, stuffed animals, and her little bike and cried: I held her blankets and “silkies” tight and cried: I organized her precious books, packed all of her clothes and cried. I sent Jeff to the store for extra diapers and an extra duffle bag and cried. I wrapped myself around this precious gift that God had entrusted to me and wept. I could not imagine my life without her.
The hour that followed is forever etched in my mind. Our family gathered for a prayer time. Jeff cried out to the Father amid silent sobs and sniffles. B didn’t have a clue what was happening, and I am sure wondered if her entire family had gone totally insane! She wandered from person to person as Daddy prayed. My parents came over and held us. My six-year-old nephew came to say goodbye. The caseworker arrived and the boys loaded the car. It was time.
And time stood still. I will never forget the utter hopelessness and helplessness I felt as Jeff and I made our way to the waiting car with our daughter. Our entire family was on the porch. I felt as if I was moving in slow motion. I put her in the car seat, buckled her in tight, and kissed her. My weeping was uncontrollable. My heart was shattered. B looked at us with a question mark as we told her how much we loved her and shut the door. The car drove away with my hopes and dreams inside.
There are no words to describe what these last weeks have been. We have lost something priceless. We have lost a daughter. At this point in time, there is nothing anyone can say or do to change that. We have experienced a death of another sort; on one hand there is a sense of finality and on the other, no closure.
It seems that with every store I enter, there is a reminder of the emptiness, of what I am missing: the baby food aisle, the toy section, everything at Baby Gap and even looking at the shopping carts makes me hyperventilate. Cara says I have made friends at all of my favorite stores, and I really can’t disagree with her. I tend to stand out with my babies, which leads to great conversations and opportunities to share my heart. I was in Target not long after B left when one of my store friends asked me where my baby was. I told her what had happened and with open arms she embraced me, told me she was so sorry, even called me “Boo” and said, “You just don’t look right without your baby”.
We have never had this kind of grief. “Yes, you have,” you may say. “It’s in the book!” The grief caused by the loss of a child, yes. But, not the grief caused by the loss of a child that we thought would be ours forever. We had known in all of the cases up to this point that the child would either be adopted by a forever family or be returned home to his/her biological family; but this time it was different.
I have seen snapshots of B in my mind at every turn: her face as she took our hands in hers while playing patty-cake and her tiny pursed mouth as she tried to say “roll it up”, her little round bottom grooving to the music, her thumb in her mouth as she put her head on my shoulder, her eyes peering over the baby bed watching Jeff’s morning routine and him kissing her as he left for work, her horrified look when she feared our Golden Retrievers would run into the house and eat her alive, her crinkled lips and turned up nose when she tried a new food, her chubby little hands reaching out for me, the excitement in her eyes when we picked her up from her Sunday school class, and the list goes on and on. At night as I move in the darkness towards my bed, I run my hand along her bed rail and imagine her little hands holding on, waiting for me to pick her up. I have literally had to catch my breath with grief. There have been times when I have paced around the house uncertain of what to do. I have written down Scriptures about hope and strewn them throughout the house. The loss is palpable. The future uncertain. Her destiny unsure.
Unsure by my measuring stick, but there is One to whom nothing is unsure. One to whom no future is uncertain. One to whom there is no coincidence, no happenstance, no “luck of the draw,” no karma or kismet, to whom nothing is a fluke. In the midst of it all, He has been here. He has wrapped His arms around me and held me tight. When I shouted aloud to Him, “I don’t trust this situation!” He whispered back, “But you can trust Me.” He has seen the ugliness of my despair and felt the literal aching of my arms just to hold my child. He has known my doubts and fears, tolerated my questions, witnessed my selfishness and disillusionment, felt my heartbreak, caught my tears and yet purposed in His heart to work out His plan in me, even when my purpose, my passion, my calling, and the course of my life seemed unclear. And for that I am eternally grateful.
Though this case is not over and, really, anything could happen, in spite of it all, I am eternally grateful for something else. I am grateful for a “weekend baby” who captured my heart and the hearts of my family; a baby that regardless of proximity, is our daughter forever, period. Nothing and no one can take that away from us. I pray that in her tiny heart she will always sense our love, feel our prayers, and be able to grasp how deep our commitment to her was and is. And one last thing I pray: that this is not really the end of this chapter, that there will be more of this story to tell, more supernatural events to recount, and in the end all of the glory will shine on the heavenly Father who is “able to do far more than we would ever dare to ask or even dream of– infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, or hopes.” (Ephesians 3:20 The Way, The Living Bible)

Published in: on December 4, 2014 at 11:37 pm  Comments (2)  

Today….


Hopelessness is something that we have all felt at one time or another. Honestly, I cannot imagine the hopelessness that permeates the entire foster care experience for hurting kids. Unless we ourselves have lived it, there is no way to internalize the angst and fear and trauma that living life as a ‘foster child’ brings.

I received a message this morning that suddenly took me to a place of brokenness and tears. It was a message from an adoptive father about his child. It was a message of hope and redemption; of struggle and victory, of passion, compassion and power. It was a message of encouragement and a battle cry to continue the fight. It was a message of change. It was a message about hearing and obeying; about getting out of your comfort zone and getting your hands dirty on behalf of a vulnerable children who’s only hope may be ‘us’.

This message did something else…..it brought strength to my heart and resolve to my soul to keep fighting, to keep praying, to keep pushing and to never ever give up until we reach zero.

And so, today, will you pray with me for 12 year old Cody? Pray that God will allow someone to see his photo and be moved to action on his behalf. #shootinforzero #nomorewaiting #justtakesone

 

CodyW (1)

Published in: on September 24, 2014 at 8:26 pm  Comments (3)  

Wrecked.

One powerful thing about the beautiful photographs that dot the panels of our heart gallery is that you cannot walk away from them and refuse to believe there are parent-less children in our own back yard. You cannot look into the faces of these kids without thinking about your own children and internalizing the deep hopelessness that comes with having the ‘world’ know you need a family.
The reality is even harder than that. We are in a battle. We a fighting for the very lives and futures of vulnerable kids with no voice. But the bottom line is that many of them choose not to be adopted; they have had enough of the ‘system parent’ and are ready to break free and try life on their own terms. I firmly believe that they cannot know the long term effects of that decision; to be alone without support, nurture or guidance. What can we expect when they have been bounced from place to place; from home to home with a simple phone call, when no one and nothing is permanent in their lives? How can we ask them to understand the importance of a family when they have never had a functioning family to call their own?

And I wonder what the fact that we have over 100,000 kids/youth waiting in foster care in the United States says to those kids/youth about the church, about God, about His power and provision.What is it going to take to wake up the body of Christ in a way that no one can explain; definitive, impenetrable, ruthless and undaunted; on a mission that won’t rest until every single child has a family?

We cannot look the other way. We cannot wait for someone else to do it. We cannot cross our fingers, cast a broad prayer and hope that things work out. We have got to put our hands to the good work, lay our hearts on the line, take a risk that will cost and think outside the box. The longer we put off our James 1:27 command, the longer a child has to wait. There is just no other way to say it.  A remnant can’t do this job; it’s going to take an army. I believe that the God of angel armies is calling, entreating His people to stand up, denounce selfishness, throw off procrastination and bury apathy. It’s time for all of us to ask boldly what our part is and then quickly obey. I know we will be blown away by the blessings that come as a result of our obedience and compassion!HGG_25

Published in: on June 13, 2014 at 10:32 pm  Leave a Comment  

Little Girl Lost

Last week, in the middle of the chaos of our Disney Extravaganza preparations, Caryl and I took a little journey. We squeezed it into an already full day; a day that was awash with shopping, gathering, delivering and calling. I picked up some flowers and Caryl and I caravan-ed to a small cemetery; a place we’ve been together on several occasions. We were there to mark an anniversary that was anything but celebratory.

Six years have past since she and I shared what would be a life changing, ministry heightening experience. Six years ago, we sat at the bedside of a precious, almost 2 year old little girl as she lay dying as a result of a horrific act of physical abuse. We loved her, even though we’d never met before we walked into that hospital room; even though we had never seen her with her eyes open and never would, even though we had never heard one word come out of her sweet little mouth or seen her run and jump or smile. We loved her. And what we shared that day was almost too much to bear.

As we approached her grave, one that is now marked with a beautiful headstone purchased with donations from some special people, all of the memories came flooding back. This child needs to be remembered. This child needs to be honored and valued and held close. This child deserves for someone to stand up with great passion and say that what happened to her was a travesty. This child deserves justice and retribution. This child deserves to be known.

My heart aches for her and what she missed. My heart aches for us and what we missed by not getting to know her or what she would have become. My heart aches for all of the other children who are in the same circumstance she was in and who, if someone doesn’t intervene, will find that their only way out is HER way out. It is time for this world to wake up; to take responsibility for our children. It’s time for us to quit judging the why’s and how’s and put our hands to the good work on behalf of hurting kids. It’s time for open hearts and open homes. It’s time for selfishness to give way to a selflessness that only the Father can give. Lives are at stake. Futures hang in the balance.

I am better for having ‘known’ her. I am changed. I am challenged. May you always be with me little one and my your life and death be the impetus for my continued push for the right forever family for every single waiting child.

 

*Note-If you have read “The Middle Mom” you will recognize this story about Kee Kee (name changed). If not- here’s the chapter in its entirety:

Chapter 17-The Wrap Up

 

As I wind down my writing, I am reminded of that day fifteen years ago when my foster care journey began.  To say that my life has changed dramatically since then would be a classic understatement. I have a beautiful nine-month-old foster daughter sleeping in another room, a precocious four-year-old running around entertaining everyone, three teenagers who are a constant source of joy, blessing and encouragement, and a very supportive grown-man son away at college. There have been a million tears cried, thousands of diapers changed, hundreds and hundreds of bottles made, and I have been blessed to be a temporary mother, a middle mom, to over forty foster children. But, one thing hasn’t changed: God’s call. Sure, He has refined it, transformed it, overhauled it and pushed it to new levels beyond my wildest imagination, but the premise is the same: “It’s time for you, my child, to put some ACTION behind those empty pro-life words.”

 

I was in the final stages of writing this book when a disturbing thing happened. The Lord took me to a place I had never been before, a place that was so dark, so very painful and yet such a reminder of why I have swathed myself in this ministry. For the sake of privacy, I really cannot go into the “what, where, when, why and how” of this situation; but for the sake of a little girl I’ll call KeeKee, the story must be told. Through a supernatural circumstance, I found out about KeeKee: she’d been brought to a hospital in our area as a result of abuse. She wasn’t even two years old yet. She was comatose. She was brain dead. She was alone. My heart reacted like a mother’s. I asked the DHS worker if I could go and be with her (all the while wondering if I was really capable of going and being with her). The worker asked me with a surprised tone in her voice,

“Christie, is that what you want to do?”

“No.” I admitted, “it’s not what I want to do; it’s what I have to do.”

I told her I knew that Caryl, Donna, and Jan would be willing to help as well. A couple of hours after my conversation with the DHS worker, she and I met at the intensive care unit. I wasn’t prepared for what I saw. There was Kee Kee; a beautiful, frail, angelic little girl. She was hooked up to every machine you could imagine with tubes coming out in every direction. I loved her from the minute I saw her. Although I would never see her with her eyes open, would never see her smile or hear her laugh, would never get the opportunity to have her skinny little arms wrap around my neck or her round little lips kiss my cheek. I loved her. I could not hold back; I immediately went to her side and began what would be a three-day ritual of rubbing her tiny face, holding her tiny hand in mine and telling her that everything was going to be all right. I felt my heart sink, I was nauseous; I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs, “How did this happen?” But, deep in my spirit, I knew that this was a divine appointment; it was no coincidence that I was at KeeKee’s bedside. It was hard for me to wrap my mind around the fact that unless God intervened in a miraculous way, she was going to die, because lying there, she looked as if she were sleeping: so peaceful, so contented as the rhythmic motion of the ventilator and the air puffs of the warming blanket masked what was really going on. Caryl and I went back later in the day and stayed and stayed and stayed. We couldn’t leave her. We tried to comfort each other, but nothing made sense. We just cried and prayed, cried and prayed. The next day, Jan joined us as we all spent the day at the hospital. The time came to do the neurological tests to determine whether or not there was any brain activity. Would we like to be with her while the test was done? Of course we would; we were her family now. The world stopped as the doctor unplugged the ventilator and hooked up the oxygen. Hovering around KeeKee’s bed were two doctors, two nurses, a social worker, and the organ donation team director along with Caryl and me. For ten eternal minutes, sixteen eyes gazed at the tiny abdomen. I felt myself saying under my breath, “Breathe, breathe” between silent prayers for God to work a miracle. For ten minutes the abdomen lay flat; the tiny body, limp and lifeless. I didn’t know if I could stand there, if I could hear what the doctor was going to say.

“There is no brain activity, I’m sorry,” he said. With those words a sense of resolve came over me. I would never be the same. I prayed that my ministry would never be the same.

Caryl touched my shoulder and said, “Let’s ask the doctor if we can hold her; I want to hold her; she needs someone to hold her”.

The doctors were so gentle with us, so compassionate. They told us they had hoped that someone would hold her. In a few minutes the nurses made all of the arrangements; a rocking chair was brought in, the tubes and machines were adjusted, and KeeKee was placed in Caryl’s arms. I will never forget that moment: the sight of Caryl cradling this beautiful innocent child, the sound of Caryl’s weeping as she laid her body over KeeKee’s, enfolding this little one in her arms, all the while rocking and promising her that we were there and we loved her. I remember thinking that KeeKee looked like an orphan from another country, one that you would see on television, but as my mind snapped back to reality, I realized that we were right here in our own city, living out this nightmare! And then, it was my turn. Lord knows, I have rocked a lot of babies. This time was not like any of the others. The depth of grief and despair was beyond my comprehension. The sense of loss was almost unbearable. The needlessness of the moment, the tragedy, and the heartbreak of what this tiny little girl had been through in her short life all flooded my thoughts. Then the resolve came to the surface again. I whispered to Kee Kee, “Your death will not be in vain, little one. I don’t know what God wants to do with this, but your death will not be in vain.” I sang to her and held her close. I wanted her to know we were there.

Jan, Caryl, and I made our way to our favorite children’s clothing store. We all love to shop. We all love baby clothes. We love to tell each other about great deals and about beautiful new lines of clothing that will look great on our girls. But on this day, shopping was not a welcome activity, and shopping for a dress for KeeKee was anything but joyful. It was devastating, but KeeKee deserved the best. We prayed as we entered the store that we would find the perfect outfit for her, and we did: a beautiful white sundress with pink smocking and angel sleeves, ruffled socks and panties and a pink bow. Jan found a beautiful cross bracelet that completed KeeKee’s “going home” outfit.

The day KeeKee died, I wrote these words about my feelings, “One part of me wants to shout this from the rooftops, for all of the world to hear–the truth about the injustice and how we as a society let her down, but the other part of me wants to keep this so close to my heart; an intimate part of my being, so close that I never, ever forget the face of a little girl who endured months of the worst that life had to offer, but ended up in the arms of the One that will never let her down.”

The organ donation team was so empathetic. The director knew that we had only known KeeKee for two or three days, and yet somehow she seemed to understand our deep love for her. She asked if we would each like a copy of KeeKee’s hand prints. We were expecting the ink pressed hands that the hospital makes for you when your baby is born. We were in for a surprise. What we got were clay-embossed handprints framed out in beautiful wood frames. The details of the hand prints made us cry: the tiny fingers, the distinct lines and wrinkles, and the imprint of the Band-Aid on her right thumb. My heart broke as I held the frame close, and yet there was something so comforting about having it, about getting to keep it forever.

Several days later, Jeff joined Jan, Caryl and me at the funeral home before KeeKee’s service. Once again, I was struck by how perfect, how beautiful, how at peace KeeKee looked, and I almost thought I saw her breathe. The outfit was perfect, perfect for a little princess joining the heavenly choir of angels; a little princess that may not have been on this earth long, but made a lasting impact on a group of mothers that were honored to call her “daughter” for a short while. A week later, I wrote: “Today I asked the Lord to keep KeeKee’s memory in front of me, not in a morbid way, but in an inspiring way that keeps me motivated, always fighting, always changing, always moving and always advocating for children like her.”

Tomorrow I will make my way to KeeKee’s grave, in honor of her second birthday. I pray that God will use her life to once again transform my life and deepen the roots of my ministry.

In closing, I have to ask some profound questions that, when answered with a look at the Father’s blueprint, could rock our nation and change the course of history for thousands of children who are invisible to most of humanity. Nevertheless, these children deserve the best that life has to offer, the best that comes as a result of God’s grace flowing through the hands of those of us to whom much has been given. How many children like KeeKee would have loving families if Christians really acted like Jesus? How many birth parents would see the love of God in Christian foster parents who love their children as their own? How would our government react if the foster care system was flooded with all of the foster parents it needed because the church stood up and was counted? What would happen if there were no children waiting to be adopted because God’s people decided to bridge the gap? How many children would find forever families and ultimately be ushered into God’s forever family? What an incredible testimony that would be.

I have to thank the Lord for allowing me the privilege of being a foster mom and adoptive mom. I have to thank my family and friends (you know who you are!) for joining me on this journey; for their love, support, encouragement and shoulders to cry on. I have to thank my precious children, Chase, Caleb, Cara, Connor and Serenity for not only supporting me, but for taking on this ministry as their own and passionately ensuring that we continue our pursuit to allow God to use us in the lives of children in our state. And I have to thank Jeff, my one-of-a-kind husband, who has been my rock, my advisor, my therapist, my fortress, my protector, my comedian, and my incredible partner in this ministry and in life!

I am looking forward to the continuation of this journey. My life has been richly blessed because I have seen the miraculous. The naivety that I once owned has long gone away. This world is sinful, this world wants to destroy, this world wants failure and complacency, but we as Christians have overcome all of those things! We have the distinct honor of bringing freedom, restoration, success and genuine love and dignity to children who richly deserve to experience life the way the Maker intended. I heard a quote recently at a meeting regarding foster care, a quote of unknown origin: “If not you, who? If not now, when?” There may be no one else. There may be no other time. Is this your time to embrace God’s purpose and plan for your life as it relates to the orphans in your community? Won’t you join me and make a difference in the life of a child? They are counting on us. The “who” is you. And the time is now.

May 2014 3 040

Published in: on June 3, 2014 at 9:54 am  Comments (7)  

My Encounter with a little Miracle

Something beautiful happened to me today in the middle of the craziness that is my life right now. I had been in a planning meeting for “Walk for the Waiting”, stopped by the bathroom and was singularly focused on getting out the door and on to my next meeting; a speaking lunch at Family Life with Immerse Arkansas and The CALL.

As I neared the front door of the building, I noticed a mom carrying an infant car seat (which always grabs this baby lover’s attention!) with two small girls lagging along behind her. One of them stopped in her tracks and refused to go out the door. I took hold of the door handle and looked down directly into the eyes of a precious angel who looked back at me, smiled, and immediately reached out her thin little hand and grabbed mine. My heart welled up within me as I told her how beautiful she was and that if she wanted me to, I would walk out to the car with her. She didn’t miss a beat, and off we went! As her mom loaded the car seat into the van, I asked my new friend her name. “Miracle” she said and jumped into the backseat.

I waved goodbye and jumped into my own vehicle. After answering an email or two, I pulled out of the parking lot and saw this family’s van parked in the middle of the street at the entrance to the lot. I stopped too, and realized that the mom had her head in her hands and was crying. I rolled down my window and asked her if everything was alright. She shook her head and waved on orange flier. She had gotten an eviction notice, had 10 days to get out of her apartment, had her water turned off yesterday, is a single mom with five children one of whom is 4 weeks old, can’t go back to work for a few weeks and she only gets $75 a week unemployment.

The Lord made clear to me what I needed to do; so I took the money out of my purse and handed it to her along with a piece of paper to write her phone number on. I told her I would see if I could find some help for her.

As I drove off, my thoughts turned to what had just happened. It was as if a path was forged in the center of a day that had no margin. And that path reeled in my emotion and tuned my spiritual ears back to the Father’s frequency. I’ve been ‘around the block’ many times with situations like this and the plethora of needs that come with situations like this. But you see this wasn’t about my perception of this woman; not married, 5 young kids, packs of cigarettes littering the floor of her van, kids in inappropriate car seats, and on and on. It was about my heart being tendered to who SHE is and what she needed. It was looking into the faces of her children and knowing I had to help and it was an honor for me to help. It was putting aside cynicism and judgment and allowing God to show ME the big picture. I am beyond grateful for a glimpse of the Father today in the face of a little girl named Miracle.

Published in: on April 10, 2014 at 10:32 pm  Comments (1)  

Maybe sometimes you don’t need to pray about it.


As Jeff and I were talking tonight, he mentioned something our pastor said this morning at the men’s prayer breakfast. He was alluding to Henry Blackaby’s teaching that ‘when God is doing something, you just need to get in on it!’ (my paraphrase!) There are some things that God just says ‘do’. I started thinking about that statement as it pertains to the fatherless, to modern day orphans around the world and in our own backyards.

Why would we need to pray about meeting the needs of orphans? Why would we linger and languish over God’s will and plan for these precious ones? Why would we beg Him to speak to us about what we should do, when He has already written it out in black and white. “Pure and undefiled religion is this; to visit widows and orphans in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” James 1:27

Sure we may need clarification as to what that verse looks like in our individual lives. We may need to pray about certain children or situations or to intercede on behalf of the system, but the command is there and it’s up to us to obey or ignore. I wonder how many times I have used the excuse ‘I need to pray about it’ when the answer is crystal clear. Could it be that our spirituality is getting in the way of our service and our obedience and our passion and our life-change? Could it be that we sometimes complicate things that are so incredibly simple?

When it comes to waiting kids, maybe it’s time to hear the Father’s command and heed it. Maybe He’s waiting on us to act on what He has already told us to do. And then, when we do, He will bless us beyond anything we could imagine and confirm in us His good and perfect will for our lives and the lives of precious children.

Just thinkin’……

 

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Published in: on April 10, 2014 at 12:19 am  Comments (5)  

Don’t waste the ‘wait’.

I talk to a lot of foster and adoptive moms. ALOT. There is something about being in this ‘sisterhood’ that binds us in ways that are hard to explain. We just seem to ‘get’ each other. There is comfort in knowing that another human being understands the heights of joy and depths of despair that define foster care and adoption.

There are so many characteristics of the process that foster and adoptive mothers share. One of the hardest begins with a ‘W’ and ends with an ‘ing': Waiting. Waiting has got to be the thorn in the flesh of adoptive parents (especially) around the world. Just hearing the word sends chills up the spine, brings tears to the eyes, causes the heart rate to climb and the breathing to become shallow. Waiting is hard. Waiting is relentless. Waiting is uncomfortable and frustrating. Waiting is hard to understand and grates on our nerves. Waiting is inactive and seems inefficient. Waiting is powerless.

But what if waiting could be something else? What if in our waiting, we found out more about who we are and who God is? What if in the waiting, bonds were build and lessons were learned and strength was gained? What if because of the waiting our hearts were filled with love and awe at the provision once it came?

God has a plan for the ‘wait’. He is never early and He is never ever late. He is right on time. The problem comes when He is not on our time. (I’m preachin’ to myself now!) Once we internalize the truth that His timing is impeccable, we can move on to opportunities we might miss if we don’t embrace waiting.

We can learn to rest both physically and spiritually. We can learn patience and self-control. We can spend time in faith-building, vision-launching prayer that without the wait, might not be built or launched. We can be seasoned with hope and anticipation and ultimately see God as the good father He is with a plan for us that is so much better than we could ever imagine.

Let me encourage you if you are waiting to bring a child home, for a foster care placement, for a child to return to you, or for an adoption to be finalized: just rest. “Be still and know that He is God”. Take time for yourself and your family; prepare your home and your lives for what He is about to do! Open up your heart and your mind to God’s plan for your family and trust Him. I promise you, you won’t be sorry!

erwin_14

Published in: on April 6, 2014 at 11:13 pm  Comments (1)  

Embrace the Urgency

This has been a rough week. There, I said it. My emotions, my spirit and my determination have all been flat. I have felt the weight of oppression resting squarely on my shoulders. I know that the enemy would like nothing more than for me to stay right where I am, pulled up to the table at my own little pity party, impotent to act on behalf of waiting kids and wallowing in the muck and mire of the enormity of the task before me. I am inadequate for the task at hand. I am incapable of casting the vision that God has laid on my heart. There is no way that I can move anyone to adopt.

I’ve thought a lot about Moses this week; about his inadequacies and how he told the Lord all about them. His story is marked with miracles; laced with highs and lows, successes and failures, sin and triumph. God gave him a vision and in spite of his frailties allowed him to soar and literally change the world. I love thinking about ordinary men and women; people that God has lifted out of the mundane and set purposely on the road to a higher calling.

I know that calling; I know it deep in my heart and down to the very depth of my soul. I have heard it whispered breathlessly in my ear as I’ve cradled struggling babies and sensed it in the quiet grief and loss that define foster care. That call has resonated somewhere in the recesses of my being in times when I have felt all alone and have wrestled with my own fears and failures. The call is there. The equipping is there. The provision is there and the Provider is there. I need to be ready and available; open and longing; excited and engaged; hopeful and anticipatory. But I do have to move. I do have to put my faith into action. I do have to get my feet wet and my hands dirty. And as I do, He will continue to move in ways that awe and perplex me; encourage and captivate me and push me further and further into the supernatural adventure He has set before me.

Dream Big. Pray Bold. Stand Firm. Press On.

Published in: on February 22, 2014 at 12:46 am  Comments (2)  

Daddy’s are so important!

Serenity and Jeff just left for their first ever father/daughter dance! And although my ‘dance team, dance all day til you drop’ daughter may be a bit surprised by the interesting dance moves of her ‘I was raised a Baptist-nuf said’ father, I know tonight will be such a great memory for both of them. (The irony is that the dance is hosted by her school-Arkansas Baptist!- in a facility that is named after her grandfather-my dad!)

As they headed out for dinner at a fancy restaurant, where the dad of one of Serenity’s good friends is the head chef, I couldn’t help but think about how blessed Jeff and I are to have six amazing children and a beautiful daughter-in-law. Not a day goes by that I don’t rejoice in the Lord’s blessing. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t difficult times, challenges, disappointments and stress, but even in the desert places, I am beyond grateful.

Seeing the pictures of Serenity and Jeff brought another thing to mind; kids in foster care who don’t have the ‘luxury’ of having a father. Nine years ago when Jeff and I made the switch from our ‘cushy’ foster care gig at an incredible agency :) to the state, we began to notice a disturbing trend; not one of the kids that came into our home had a father that was present, let alone engaged in the process. Jeff realized that for many of these kids, he might be the only father they would ever have. What a sobering thought and huge responsibility, that out of their entire lives, these kids might only have a father for 3 months or 6 months or a year. After each child left our home, Jeff would put a snapshot of them in the front of his Bible so that he could pray for them.

Many times, when I speak, I talk about the importance of men, of fathers, in the lives of kids in foster care. Women are often (not always) the initiators of the foster care process; we’re emotional, motherly and wrecked by the pictures, videos and statistics. We draw our husbands in and the Lord moves them to action as well. But it is critical for men to realize that they are not playing a passive role in this process of parenting children from ‘hard’ places. They are crucial in instilling love, strength and appropriate ‘father/child’ dynamics into the lives of foster children. They have the amazing opportunity to be a picture of the unconditional-loving heavenly Father; maybe the only picture.

Tonight, I’m grateful that like our other four children, Serenity and Edward have a daddy that loves them, provides for them, and pours himself into them. He sacrifices, encourages and presses them to be all that God wants them to be.

Arkansas Baptist Father Daughter Dance!

Arkansas Baptist Father Daughter Dance!

Published in: on February 1, 2014 at 7:26 pm  Comments (1)  

Just thinking….

Last night I had dinner with my Aunt Kaye and my cousin Beth. We met to celebrate my aunt’s 70 birthday. She and my mom are very close; so close in fact that my middle name is Kaye and her daughter’s first name is Christina. As we were talking, she mentioned that when she was in college at Ouachita Baptist in the late 1960’s, she was called to office of the dean of women and asked if she would be willing to room with the first African American woman to live in the dorm at Ouachita. She agreed. She went on to say that she had actually made an appointment with the dean sometime before that to talk about why their school was segregated. This was so interesting to me because my grandfather (a precious godly man) was raised in a time of intense racial inequality and because of that was prejudice himself.  I asked her how and why she became so passionate about this issue. Aunt Kaye answered with a simple statement. A statement that was simple, yet so profound, “Because it just wasn’t right.”

Racial equality has come a long way since my Aunt Kaye’s days at Ouachita, but we have still got a long way to go. And now, for me personally, this fight is personal. As the mother of a black daughter and son, I’m in the ring now, and the gloves are on. Several weeks ago, two of my friends (who also have African American daughters) and I took our girls to a play. As we opened the door of the theater and began to walk through the sea of people, (light-skinned, perfectly dressed people), my face began to heat up and my heart began to pound. We are used to stares and questioning glances, but something about this was different; these looks we harsh, condemning and judgmental. We moved the girls through the lobby and into our seats. Thankfully, they were oblivious to what had just happened, but as I settled in and tried to process what I had just seen, an overwhelming sadness came over me. It’s not the first time and regrettably it won’t be the last that I’ve seen this look on the faces and in the eyes of strangers as they try to figure out our story. And I have to say with my Aunt Kaye, “it’s just not right.”

You see, my daughter who has skin that is darker than mine, is not just any ten year old, she is a priceless gift.  I want her to be a godly woman of character, faith, compassion, transparency, joy, forgiveness, passion, purpose and unconditional love. I want her to be judged by what she brings to this world; the changes she is able to make and the light that shines through her into the darkness. And I want my son to be a man of God.  I want him to be a man who fights for justice and truth, who knows who he is and Who’s he is.  I want him to be a man of honor, integrity, morality, humility and joy; a man who will use the trauma of his own past to change the future. I never, ever want either of them to be defined simply by the color of their skin. I want my children, all six of them, to have the opportunity and the passion to become all that God has created them to be; to live life abundantly, purposefully and with great joy.

So today, as I contemplate what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. lived and died for, I realize that I am not only grateful to him for his pursuit of equality, I am indebted to him and those who followed for setting the stage so that Jeff and I would even be allowed to bring our son and daughter home.

 

erwin_37

Published in: on January 20, 2014 at 11:55 am  Comments (4)  
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