Stressful. Unpredictable. Crazy.
When asked what three words describe the past 365 days of 2016 these were the ones that jumped to mind. I knew going into this year it would be full of surprises, stress, and major life changes but I did not realize the FULL extent of what would really happen within these past 12 months.
It was a year of learning how to adapt to new circumstances, learning to lean on the Lord when everything felt like it was falling down around me, and learning to love broken and hurt children with everything in me. It has been quite the year and as ready as I am for it to be over I feel myself a little more emotional than I thought I would be.
From the first month of 2016 we knew we would be walking into a world of unknowns. We knew we would be taking a little boy into our home and begin parenting him for however long the Lord wanted us to. I expected to be stressed, tired, and overwhelmed with caring for a child that needed so much but what I didn’t expect was for the Lord to take my heart and soul and destroy it so He could rebuild it back up. Yes, 2016 was full of changes but the biggest one came in the form of personal restoration.
There were so many days during our first few months as parents that I threatened to quit this life of fostering all together. In the first month alone I proclaimed I couldn’t do this, that it was too much and the Lord clearly misspoke when He said we needed to open our lives and hearts to these children. I was on the verge of demanding our home be closed as a foster home and it took a lot of people coming around me to convince me otherwise. Even then I proceeded on with a bitter and angry heart. So much of 2016 was spent searching for answers while angry at God.
As spring rolled around I felt less distraught with the Lord and more dull to the emotions and feelings that had overwhelmed me for the past 3 months. That’s when the Lord once again turned our lives upside down and we said hello to our sweet Baby Girl. I know I’ve said this so many times but she was what I needed to know that I WAS capable of being a foster mom. She was an answer to a prayer that I didn’t even know I was praying and she was and still is the thing that has kept me on this insanely difficult journey. Until her I didn’t know what it was like to bond or attach to a child. I had never bonded with E, nor have I to this day, and that was the hugest part of my struggle all those months, trying to love a child that only was attached to his biological mother. When she came the love and feelings that they say you get when you see or meet your children for the first time overcame me. The Lord used her to piece together so much of the broken pieces of my heart.
May and June brought a lot of answers to questions about our own fertility struggles. We went through seven different tests to see what was the cause of our infertility. At the end of all of that we still did not have answers. “Unexplained Infertility” was what we were told. “Just keep trying.” the doctor said and that was that. We opted out of pursuing any treatments and trusted the Lord would give us a child in His timing. Though we knew His timing was everything the Lord spoke to a coworker of mine during the summer in her prayer time and gave her a word for me. He told her that my womb was open and a child would be born to us biologically. An overwhelming sense of peace came over me that day and from then on I have not once doubted His plan for our family.
As the summer quickly approached and we finally got a grasp on handling two children we moved into a new and much larger home, allowing us to be able hopefully open the doors to more children. Little did we know we wouldn’t be saying hello to more kids but we would be welcoming my sister in to live with us while she took a gap year. Adjusting to life with another adult in the house took some getting used to but it’s been one of the biggest blessings of the entire year. She has allowed me to find so much more strength and peace while we go through the ups and downs of foster care.
With a new home came new friends. The need and desire to have a community of other mothers living this ever changing life was deep and the Lord once again answered that prayer. I knew the day we were accepted by our landlord to rent this home it was for a reason and while I have yet to see the full extent of that I do know one of the biggest ones was because of who resided in our new neighborhood. Another foster family who I met through another sweet foster friend of mine lived just down the street and they became a huge blessing in a time of both celebration and need. This new community of friends gave me so much hope and perseverance for the future, something I had needed and prayed for for almost a lifetime.
Summer came to an end and we finished it off with one big trip to Las Vegas. A week without kids gave us a chance to renew our marriage, something that had been stretched in more ways than I could imagine since welcoming two children into our lives. The cool thing about this trip is that we got to meet two other foster families that did respite for our little ones while we went out of town. Getting to know a little bit more about them and seeing their love for our foster children was such a delight. Knowing our community of families was growing reminded me that we were not in this alone.
As school started back up in mid August so did other changes. Baby Girl was officially ordered to be moved out of state with her great aunt and uncle. We said our first goodbye in late August and were able to meet these amazing people that we now consider family. Since our goodbye many of you know that we’ve struggled immensely in our everyday lives. The grief of loving a child so fiercely and seeing them leave cannot be put into words and Josh and I both struggled to make it through the next few months. Many times I questioned whether or not I could do this again, and truthfully I considered closing our home, but once more the Lord showed up and gave me strength to get through some of my darkest days.
Fall (better known as hurricane season for Floridians) quickly approached and we prepared ourselves for E’s departure to his mother. She was now close to completion of her case plan and we knew it was only a matter of time before we would say goodbye. Through the grace of the Lord I was able to form a relationship with E’s mother again, something I had fled away from a few months prior. As we became closer so did the date for reunification. Our hearts were ready, not only for him to be back with his momma but for us to be able to open our home to another child.
As we accepted multiple new placements they all fell through. One after another and yet we had no idea why. December would be the month that would give us our answers. On the weekend before E’s reunification everything fell apart. By that Sunday we now had him and his brother in our care. Life just seemed unreal at this point. The same day we took both boys into our home was the day our church family debuted a video depicting our journey the past 11 months with E. The video was viewed over 8,000 times and reached people all across the nation, yet all I could think about was how it was now a lie. My heart worked through all the emotions as my brain tried to process just what was going on. We were now truly in the trenches of this messy and confusing system.
As I have navigated the past few weeks I’ve learned that the unexpected really should just be expected. The second I didn’t think things could get any more complicated a bomb was dropped on our family just two days before the New Year. Although the details of this major life change are not yet able to be discussed just know that our boys could use your prayers. Their case took a crazy turn and more than likely they’ll be with us for at least the immediate future. This has been 2016.
If you add in a few Disney trips, becoming a staff writer for a foster care blog, a new car, changing teaching positions, some court hearings, a hurricane, and a whole lot of doctor appointments, home visits, and Target trips that about sums up the past year. It’s been a year filled with a whirlwind of emotions and struggles coupled with immense joy and love. I have been stretched and grown, tossed and turned, and reminded that in a moment’s notice life can change drastically. 2016 you’ve been a tough one but I thank you for strengthening me and reminding me I’m tougher than I realize. 2017 I hope you’re ready because I’m coming at you full force.