Category Archive: Foster Care

The Cranford Seven

I wake up on adoption days and feel the exact same joy as I do on wedding days. A new family is being created! It’s such a hopeful and profound commitment to *loving another* that I am overjoyed and sobered all at once. In January I had the privilege of photographing Amariah’s permanency as a forever member of the Cranford family. Matt and Elaine made true legally what was already true in their hearts. There’s simply nothing like witnessing those moments where a judge confirms that parents are going to give all right of an heir to this child. It’s incredible.

To watch Matt and Elaine’s family grow over the years has been the coolest. Congrats, friends, on your latest adoption day and thanks for letting me be a part of it. We love you, Amariah!

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Our Story of Raising an Only Child

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I’ve often thought that God made babies so darn cute so that their parents continue to take good care of them. I’ll never forget holding our first foster baby from 3-6:00am one night, her giant brown eyes following me in the dark, and my two competing thoughts were, “WHY AREN’T YOU ASLEEP?” and “Gosh darn it, you are SO CUTE.” The world tends to adore babies, and when you’re up in the night for three hours straight with a newborn, those compliments you receive on social media might be the only thing keeping you going. Well, that and coffee. But babies grow. The compliments fade. And eventually you have a kid with gawky teeth who is taking awkward school pictures that even retake day can’t fix. Everyone loves a baby, but not so much the elementary kid whose has teeth five times too large for his mouth. Mama, Grandma and your BFF still love that one.

I don’t get asked childrearing questions very often anymore and I think it’s because I have one child who is now 12. Oh, and maybe it’s because I do a lot of my living alongside someone who blogs about parenting. She’s a professional question-answerer so that makes sense. A lot of my parenting experience, however, is hidden and no one can see it. I did the math recently and realized that if God had answered many of my desires for children with “yes’s” rather than “no’s” Jeremy and I would have six children. One privately adopted, one biological, and the final four adopted from foster care. For sure we still have those six in our hearts, with only the first one being the child God has given us to raise for good.

Our plans, as hopeful as they were, didn’t turn into our reality. I’m still coming to terms with this truth. I allow little daggers to enter my heart, to pierce those old desires and entice me to “what if’s” and “if only’s.” I let the memes and defensive lines from large families hurt my soul. I wanted to be one of those large families. I read about people who have more children because they value sibling relationships greatly, and I struggle to not to be filled with regret. As capable as I am, providing a sibling for Livia was not something I could arrange. I hear jokes about only children, about how spoiled they are, and allow these asides to fill me with irritation. I didn’t plan on one, I want to shout. I had hoped for more.

There was Livia. And a baby miscarried. And a very temporary foster daughter. Two foster sons gone home by a judge’s changed orders. And a beloved foster baby reunified with his beautiful family. Six total.

But that’s only the six that reside most deeply in our hearts. There were more.

There was the baby boy we got incredibly close to adopting, only to have his parents choose the other couple. There was the teenager we prayed over, raised in absolutely horrific conditions who, in the end, required much more than we could give. There was the toddler we spent the day with a small town nearby, the one we bought a stuffed animal for and fed Runza fries to, the one given to another family within 24 hours of coming to live with us permanently. There was the three year old girl who needed a family, the one who the state placed elsewhere with no reason whatsoever given to us. And in between those cases there were calls upon calls with hours upon hours of waiting for information, prayers of all kinds being raised up for wisdom and perfect timing.

So when I read a meme supporting large families or see beautiful pictures of siblings loving one another, I think of our story and have to draw a conclusion. Here is the one I’ve settled on:

God has created my family. And he is pleased to give me one child.

One daughter. One twelve year old now in middle school. No siblings older than her, and no siblings younger. But this is our one, and she is enough. I felt God asking me that question, the question of, “What will satisfy you?”
“Will another child make you content?”
“Why is one not enough?”
“When will you be satisfied?”

In my tears and sadness I had to admit that one is enough. ONE IS ENOUGH. Though I’ve been a mother to many and will carry them forever in my heart, one is what he’s given to me to care for daily and that. is. enough.

We all have different stories and no two stories are the same. No one’s story can be read entirely via a Facebook status or a picture on Instagram. We all have hurts and we all have joys, and to compare our stories will never bring us satisfaction. At the end of the day I cling to God’s promises and the knowledge I have of his character. He is good, he provides for ALL my needs, he is never asleep on the job, and I will only find my hope and joy in him. Not in babies, as cute as they are, and not in big kids in all their awkward glory. No job can complete my spirit, no spouse is perfect like God, no amount of travel or fine dining or hobbies or education can ever fill up my heart. It’s a real challenge to keep my eyes on the Lord and trust him, but that’s the goal, that’s MY goal, and He is where my soul will always be refreshed.

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**Note: Each image above represents one of the other children God has given Jeremy and me, for short periods of time. I carried a baby in my womb to the Grand Canyon upon our visit to Arizona. I remember getting carsick as we drove mountain paths and more than once I chose vegetables over french fries even though that was not my norm. I now feel incredibly grateful for such an eventful short pregnancy as I recall the little life I carried at that time.

The black and white image shows Livia with her first foster sister. What a joy she was even as I was stretched by sleeplessness! The second photo shows Jeremy and one of the little boys we had the privilege to love for five weeks. We anticipated a much longer journey with them, and I believe this image was captured the night before they went home. It was a stunning departure. The final image shows Livia and me on a train ride with our last foster baby. This little guy had lots of people in his life who adored him and we got to walk through that experience with his family, which was a privilege all its own. I still count his reunification as a huge joy.

Champion for a Child

“Every child deserves a champion, an adult who insists that they become the best they can possibly be.” – Rita Pierson

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Every time I read of a drug bust or domestic dispute and there are children in the home, I know that a foster family is getting a call—often at a really inconvenient hour—to provide shelter, comfort and stability for a child. Sometimes a home is needed for a few days, and sometimes it’s for months, or for life. These kids are minors and have no voice here on social media, so yes, I am reminding the world that they exist. By no fault of their own they will find themselves in life-altering situations.

If you believe all children deserve a loving home, would you consider foster care? Think about it. Ask questions about it. Pray about it. And then act. ‪#‎fosterlove‬ ‪#‎champions‬

Remembering Shelli

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Shelli Graves was never bothered by my stress. Whatever my question or problem, she’d respond by either swooping into action or commiserating with me. That’s a beautiful thing, to have a friend who isn’t blown over by your emotions. And that’s the kind of friend she was to me. I still feel like she’s a phone call or text away, like I should be able to pick up my phone and get in touch with her within an hour. I miss her.

One of the last times I sat down and stared at a blank page on my computer screen was when I filled out the story of my last foster child for Shelli. So to sit here and talk about her in the past tense is a strange thing entirely. What I keep feeling is that Shelli = LIFE. For someone who had every reason to complain or decide to sit on the sidelines, Shelli was a mover and shaker. Shelli lived. As discouraging as her health issues had been lately, she still loved living.

I’ve known Shelli since I was a teenager. Sometime in our years at Covenant Presbyterian (where Grace Chapel is now on 40th & Sheridan) we became friends. Shelli became a friend of our family and that’s how I have long known her. Time passed and I got married and eventually adopted a child. I remember being on the phone with Shelli and our friend Brenda when my daughter hit age three and I could no longer figure out what I was supposed to do with the little strong-willed pistol. From their many years of working with children, these women gave me incredibly helpful parenting advice. They expanded the tools in my toolbox, if you will, and perhaps I have them to thank for preserving the life of my child—now a 5th grader who is doing well in spite of being three once.

I’d say that I knew, kind of, who Shelli was but I didn’t know her full scope of Shelli-ness until my husband and I began attending foster parent training classes with Christian Heritage. We got to see the REAL SHELLI. Shelli in action. Shelli where God used Shelli the most in Lincoln, Nebraska. It’s no exaggeration when I say that the death of Shelli Graves is an incredible loss for the children of Nebraska. It’s true; this woman was an advocate for them. She was a fighter. A connecter. She knew everyone and what she didn’t know she’d find out for you. She understood these children’s needs and—this is where we came in—understood the families who had chosen to love them. Shelli was an amazing support for foster parents. In her capable hands, I knew we could work through whatever challenges faced us in foster care. She was compassionate, wise, resourceful and forward-thinking. As I reflect on her character, I think God made Shelli just a little tougher than the rest of us so she could do this relentless work of advocating for foster children and foster families.

Shelli and I had coffee a few months ago. (This is a refrain many people could say, I bet.) Though our foster parent license expired with the state last fall, Shelli valued us. She coached us through four foster children—and the one permanent one we had already!—and she had a long view on serving the kingdom of God in foster care. She still felt like I had worth to Christian Heritage and wanted me to serve on the focus committee, that in turn would serve the foster families of the agency. Perhaps that is what Shelli was about more than anything: she could see worth and value in people. She didn’t discard others based on their abilities or perceived worldly value, she saw our God-given worth and was ultimately a great point of encouragement for me as well as for others.

I was diagnosed with RA about ten years ago, and though Shelli dealt with problems greater than mine, we still had a sweetness in shared body problems. Over our last Starbucks coffee and tea, we shared our misery at joints that hurt, wounds that wouldn’t heal well, stupid weight gain from health issues and all the vanity a normal woman has when her appearance is messed with. And yet, I left our time together feeling relief and even joy at our shared experiences. To talk with someone who really gets it, with someone who can both be honest and yet somehow still hopeful, makes all the difference in the world. Shelli’s kindness to me was expressed time and time again in these years that we’ve known one another, and she cannot be replaced.

All of us who knew Shelli will have a unique Shelli-shaped hole in our worlds now. Though I cannot text or call or see her for coffee again soon, I take comfort in knowing she’s with our Savior now and that soon enough I will join her in Glory. We’ll get those new bodies, perfect and whole and capable of climbing mountains and running races, together. Our hope is in Christ. Praise Him.

Being Exposed, Finding Mercy

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I had this trajectory in mind for my life, one where I’d gradually get wiser and more mature and more self-sufficient over time. I assumed that I’d age and develop all these great traits and that I’d need people less. Because, you know, I would have so much to offer people—and somehow that seemed to go hand-in-hand with being a pillar of self-sufficiency.

What I’ve discovered is that, yes, it’s true that maturity can come with more life experiences. And if one pays attention to those life experiences, there certainly can be wisdom gained. But it is absolutely not true that wisdom and maturity go hand in hand with independence. In fact, the opposite is true. In the Christian life, age and maturity leads to greater humility and dependence—first on Christ and second on people.

I first noticed my incredible need for others when we stepped into the world of foster care. We were thrust so far outside our comfort zones that I knew the only way we’d survive would be with the help of those around us. More than the hand-me-down clothing and more than the toys dropped on our front doorstep, we needed prayer. The spiritual truth of our fostering reality was that we were incredibly weak as we served children. In fact, I don’t know that we’ve ever felt weaker. Suddenly juggling the needs of foster children—and the many unknowns—we were also managing all the normal job, household and parenting duties as before. The need for others to pray, asking God for sustenance, felt huge to me. Somehow I knew deep down that I would need to ask for a lot, and thus I immediately set up a support circle who would pray when I asked them to.

A remarkable thing happens when people pray, and I can’t really explain it entirely because it still seems so mysterious to me. God listens. He engages, he dialogues, he answers. And in turn I’m drawn to see his hand of mercy in a new way. But when a need for prayer is opened up to an entire group of people, guess who else sees God’s gracious care? All those people. Together we’re drawn closer due to our communal neediness.

It feels really vulnerable to be the one asking for prayer. Sometimes I feel like a big burden when I ask those closest to me to pray for me. When everyone prayed for our foster kids, it felt easier on my pride because it wasn’t for me! How nice, right? If you know anything about my physical woes, then you know that I’ve had to ask for prayer time and time and time again. And if a large season of time goes by where I’m not asking, it’s because I’m not telling you something. That’s how many physical needs I’ve got going on—I need a lot of prayer. Each time I email a group of friends, it takes a huge dose of humility to press the send button. Deep breath in of need, deep breath out of pride. And in that need, God shows up. He shows up in the words of friends preaching the gospel to me yet again. He shows up in the acts of mercy shown to me by loved ones. He shows up in ways of healing that I’d never choose or imagine.

The trajectory of life isn’t one where I am full of so much strength and goodness that I never have needs. Rather, the trajectory includes my humility, which forces my knee to bow to God’s greatness and requires me to acknowledge the great depth of need I have in all realms. In this I get to see that God is good, all the time; all the time, God is good. And what a beautiful thing it is to see that goodness! I am sustained by his mercy.

Thoughts on Having the Last Baby

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After Baby Boy came to our house last summer, I began to embrace the idea that this was our last baby. As he grew out of items like the infant bathtub or changing table pad, I passed them off. I gave away the infant carseat. My house appreciated the decluttering, but so did my mind. Making a decision to not have any more babies was simple to make as we had a baby living with us. With a full heart and full arms, I was satisfied.

As it turns out, deciding when your family is complete is a thought process every set of parents has to go through. Whether it’s considered at age 37 or 47, it’s part of living really. Jeremy and I hold loosely to our plans but we make them nonetheless. We’re aware that God is the Author of our story, so if he calls us to be parents to a new baby in a few years, well then, that’s what we’ll do. I have a long-running joke (nightmare) that I’m going to have a Tami Taylor baby, which means we’ll magically procreate a little punkin when Livia turns 16. Don’t laugh; I can totally see that happening, can’t you??!

In the depths of parenting a very busy early walker, I fantasized about having time to myself. Small children can be SO busy—ours certainly was—and time alone was so very limited. Taking a shower felt fairly epic and not at all mundane, and having lunch with a friend became a test of wills and patience as little hands grabbed at our food and threw his own Cheerios on the floor. I kept meaning to make a list of things I’d enjoy doing once he was gone. Though I never did, I’m still amazed at how easy it is to prepare dinner for three instead of three plus a baby. My evenings are now much more relaxed with no visitation workers dropping by twice every night, no baby needing bedtime prep, and would you look at all that free time in which I can shower! Amazing really. We took dessert to a friend’s house a few weeks ago and sat with them until long after the sun set while my big kid entertained herself. Life without a baby has felt remarkably free of time constraints!

In the days after the Baby’s reunification, our friend Sarah and her daughter Rosie came to visit town. Rosie is half a year older than Baby Boy but her very presence reminds me the sweetness of having a little person around. As I prep dinner she squeezes her body between me and the countertop. She says “hold you” and puts her arms up so I can grab her. She sits nicely on my hip and is a gentle hugger. She’s excited to see me (“Bucka!”) and her laughter is infectious. Jeremy and I hear her voice and smile at each other—that’s how cute she is.

The reasons for not having any more babies holds firm. I still have old lady elbows that aren’t going to miraculously heal themselves. We’re now 37 and 44, for anyone who’s keeping track, and that’s on the older side to start over with an infant. And perhaps the biggest reason of all, our daughter turns 11 this week. While she’s a fantastic big sister, the age gap of 10-11 years is nothing to sneeze at. The last nine months we’ve often operated as two families… The daytime grouping of mom + baby while Liv was at school and the evening pairing of mom + big kid while Baby was at visits.

As I work through the emotions of reunification—happy, sad, up and down, back and forth—I am realizing that I’m also grieving this life milestone of having the last baby. It’s a weird one, I can’t say otherwise! But even as I see the end of our family-building years as it pertains to babies (big kids are another matter entirely) I know there are always children for me to love. I’m still a foster mom and goodness knows this world is full of children who need a bit more loving. I have nieces and nephews and I have millions of children at church to enjoy. Literally millions. (Redeemerites love them babies!) I want to be a woman who nurtures children well throughout the rest of my years and I’m reminded that I don’t have to be their mother to do that.

The Last Baby

I was going to type “The Baby” and then injected “Last.” Wow, that sounds kind of intense! But really, I think this will be the last small nugget we foster around here. There are loads of reasons why, but you have to take me to lunch to hear them all.

So I’m going to show you some pictures, okay? Because this baby boy is SO DANG CUTE. Boy, blog, have you missed out. Ready?

Here’s a shot of him climbing into an extra carseat in our living room. Isn’t he funny? Can you tell he’s proud of himself for conquering it?

Here’s another. He’s towering over the dog, who has his ears back as he wonders if the Baby will squash him. Baby is a solid 10 pounds heavier than Shiloh, and as you can see in this shot all those pounds are in his tummy.

Oh and this one! He’s chugging a sippy cup of milk. In a minute he’s going to throw it down the hallway. Cute. And strong. Never forget, this boy likes to throw things!

Oh and this one kills me. See him all cuddled up in Jeremy’s arms? The boys. They do love each other. The Baby hasn’t always liked to cuddle, but now he does. Every single time Jeremy walks in the room the Baby expects a daddy snuggle. Man, what that does to a woman’s heart!

Did you enjoy my foster baby photo album? I hope so. I’m sorry if this was confusing to you! Foster babies—though real flesh and blood—are pretty much invisible online. You can imagine how fun that is for a photographer mom, right?

Baby Seats & the Foster CARE Closet

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It looks like a theater for the toddler set in my living room. Five convertible carseats face my coffee table, marked and waiting for foster families from my foster mom support group to come pick them up. You see, I have the luxury of serving as a foster parent in Lincoln, Nebraska, which means that I can utilize the Foster Care Closet. It is my understanding that the typical foster family in the United States has to run out and buy new clothes—and everything else a kid might need—every time a new child comes through their doors. But in Lincoln we’re blessed with the Foster Care Closet, which means we can get five sets of clothing, diapers, winter coats, carseats, strollers and other miscellaneous items for FREE when a child enters our home.

Leigh Esau is the big heart and hard worker behind the Closet, which she began in her basement. Leigh’s got a fascinating story all her own. She has not only opened up her doors to foster children in Nebraska, but she’s adopted several as well. Her passion for children is now funneled into the Foster Care Closet where she and other works do their very best to serve kids in the system.

Today I don’t have to buy a carseat for our always-growing foster son. And neither do 12 other members of our foster support group. What a HUGE blessing this is to our families! Our foster children can ride safely in our cars and we don’t have to bear this financial burden as we seek to love these kiddos who need an extra doses of safety, permanency and security.

The Foster Care Closet is looking for folks to partner with them to the tune of $120 a year. This could be a one-time gift, or it could come in the form of $10 each month (aka two Starbucks lattes). Every bit of money that goes to the Closet will help support the needs of children who are wards of the state. Not everyone is called to have extra kiddos come live in their homes, but certainly there’s something each of us can do to help the children in our own cities. Supporting the Foster Care Closet is just one awesome way you can help.

Foster CARE Closet
643 S. 25th St. Ste 8
Lincoln, NE 68510
402-617-0667

www.fostercarecloset.org
fostercarecloset@fostercarecloset.org

*Mention my name when you make a donation and… I’ll be really proud of you. Yeah, nothing else will happen.

Fostering Parenting: An Explanation of the Gig

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Did you ever go to camp as a kid and make friends that you felt would last a lifetime? Or maybe you went on a missions trip or overseas with friends and you achieved this incredible bond. Perhaps it wasn’t a summer experience, but it was a semester or two or three with an amazing person in college. Whatever it is, you can recall that feeling of great camaraderie that perhaps led you to write back and forth for years, or ask them to be in your wedding party, or maybe even put them on your will as a godparent. In the same vein, maybe you’ve really gotten attached to a child you babysat on a regular basis or a friend’s child you watched for a weekend while they were out of town. You are connected still to that little one and enjoy watching them grow, perhaps liking all their pics on Facebook, or if they are old enough, now watching them develop a life of their own.

I’ve sensed others misjudging what I do and who I am as a foster parent, and so it’s my desire to clear a few things up. Those feelings of camaraderie and affection and enjoyment I described above are simply a reminder of what it feels like to care deeply about another person. We’re all capable of those feelings and most of us experience them. Some of us are parents or aunts or nannies and we intimately understand that deeply powerful bond you can have with a child. And that, my friends, is exactly what it’s like to be a foster parent.

Being a foster parent is not like having a job. As in, I don’t punch a time sheet and put on my Foster Parent apron and get to work on this kid. No, being a foster parent is fully parenting, going in the deep end of child-rearing with a child that more than likely will never bear my name, a child that will be reunited with his mother or father and then grow into adulthood in a house that is not mine. I don’t parent a foster child in a way different from parenting my permanent child; I can’t do that. It’s either all in or all out.

I’ve had people give passing glances to my foster baby and then ignore him. I’ve had people boldly inquire about my permanent child and not about the foster one. I’ve had people make assumptions about him and assumptions about the way our family operates. So let me unmuddy the waters: this kid is fully part of our family. We fully love him. And we fully support the efforts for him to be reunified to his biological family. We are not confused about that.

I shop for clothes for this child and I dress him multiple times a day, always wrestling him down to put on shoes and socks because holding still is apparently the Worst Thing Ever for a walking 10 month old.

I wash out those five Avent bottles a bazillion times a day—or so it seems—and they dry alongside the pink plastic cups and wine glasses the rest of the family uses.

I call and make a WIC appointments because formula is expensive and the state helps pay for his nutritional needs. I visit the health department every few months, sometimes disrobing the little dude and discussing his growth with a registered dietician. I then load up seven canisters of formula and 16 plastic cartons of fruits and veggies and then remind a Super Target employee how WIC checks work.

I sing hymns and lullabies to him at night because I want him to be comforted with music. I pray over his blessed baby head and ask the Lord to keep him safe always. I rock him in my arms and delight in those baby snuggles that come only when he’s tired enough to hold still. And I settle him in his bed at night, worry about the room temperature and will he be warm enough on this cold Nebraska night? I listen to the cries of rolling over and the sharper cries that summon me to his bed to pick him up and cuddle him once more.

This thing I do, this foster parenting, it is not somehow a separate conversation from my everyday life. It IS my everyday life. This child is as real a family member as any of us. Can you see how his life is not worth less than another Tredway’s life? He is real. And he is a foster child. Both things are true.

So whether you’re a visitation worker or a caseworker, a family support specialist or the head of a fostering agency, a friend or a neighbor, know that this child is part of our family. Know that he is fully embraced as one of us and that in our hearts he is our son, our brother, our grandson, our cousin, our nephew. He is our people, our clan. We will shower him with love as well as with ridiculous amounts of attention and praise. He may be here for a short time, but he is LEGIT. And whether you have advice on how he is raised or what kind of diapers he should use or feel like you should be allowed to touch his cheeks because they are full and chubby, please respectfully remember that you honestly cannot love him more than we do. For a time, we are his parents and sister and grandparents and aunts and uncles and we are committed to all that entails.

December 8

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Today’s picture made my heart melt into a puddle. It’s not technically something I love, but the subject matter trumps all technicalities. This before-school bottle brought to you by Livia and her giant heart. Though I thrive within a planned out day-to-day schedule, sometimes the baby wakes up and is hungry before the clock says it’s time. And when such a thing happens it’s incredibly helpful to have a sweet-hearted fourth grader around. Not only did the Babe get fed, he enjoyed lovies in the process. We believe in lovies around here. In fact, I have a Babe and a Pooch that beg at my knees for lovies on a regular basis. Oh Livia, you who made me a mother and showed me how big my heart really was—you’re the best.