Sunday, November 29, 2015

To my (almost) 9 year old

Dear Trae,

On Tuesday you will celebrate your 9th birthday and I'm so excited to be spending it with you. This is the third time we've been able to celebrate your birthday together and, while this one won't be as elaborate as the first one we had together (you remember, the ninja turtle party for which I scanned Pinterest for weeks before), it is no less precious for me. 

You see, Son, with every one of your birthdays I marvel again at your miraculous life. You didn't have the easiest start in life, and the next four and a half years were probably even more difficult for you. I have a hard time even letting myself think about some of the things you endured during that time. But, endure you did. And along the way you developed a determination and resiliency that I envy. Because of your hearing and language issues, things don't come as easily for you as they do for others. But you never make excuses; you just work harder and use your other senses more. I watch you as you keenly observe the world around you in an attempt to make sense of it, and I'm amazed every time you master a new skill just by watching others ahead of you. 

Your determination still manifests itself as defiance a lot, and that's a struggle I imagine we will battle for the rest of our lives, but you are learning to channel it better. Just this weekend you told me you want to act more like a big boy and make better choices. I pray that is the case because, frankly, our battles wear me out sometimes. But I never want you to lose that determination completely. I just pray you learn to use it more productively. 

God has big plans for you, Trae. I know you remember your early years in ways you can't express yet. But someday you will have the words to talk about how those years shaped you into the person you are now and will be in the future. I pray your experiences will never make you bitter but will, instead, make you appreciate each opportunity you are given. Not because your dad and I "rescued" you from anything (PLEASE don't ever give us that credit), but because God himself had His hand on you from the beginning. Your story could have gone many different directions, and I will never understand why you had to travel the road you did, but I am so grateful you are ours at this point in your story. 

On this day every year I also think about the mother who gave you life. Although I will never understand the reasons why she made some of the decisions she made, I will be eternally grateful to her for your life. I don't doubt her love for you and I hope you don't either. She simply didn't know the best way to keep you safe. I am sure at some point you may want to reconnect with her in some way and I pray our relationship is such that I am not threatened by that, but instead am secure enough to help you in any way I can. 

My greatest wish for you this year is that you will continue to discover all the ways God loves you. You are just beginning to grasp the message of salvation and I pray costantly that your dad and I can adequately convey that message to you. It would be the greatest privilege of our lives to lead you and your brother to an authentic relationship with Christ. But, as I said before, words aren't necessarily your strong suit. So we are trying our best to SHOW you the gospel through our lives. And we fail constantly, but I pray you see enough of us depending on Him that you want that for your own life. Because, in the end, that is the key to it all. He is what sees us through the moments when our different backgrounds clash with yours. When your behaviors are more than I can handle  and I respond in a way that isn't helpful or glorifying to Him in any way, His mercies are what allow us to start over the next morning. And He is enough to overcome my failings and yours.

I am so proud of everything you've accomplished this year. Your reading has improved, you are understanding math more (even those tricky word problems), and you are becoming a leader in your classroom. You had a good baseball season and your golf coaches were amazed at your natural abilities. You are athletic and funny and you are a loving, caring big brother (when you're not trying to tear Will's head off). So, here's to 9 years old. May it be filled with chicken on a bone, vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce, and more blessings than you can imagine.

Love, Mom

Monday, November 23, 2015

Thank You Notes--Tonsillectomy edition

For those of you who follow me on FaceBook, I apologize for the steady stream of posts regarding my son's tonsillectomy. It's kind of been an all-consuming thing around here. But, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I've decided to give thanks for all the things I've enjoyed during the last week of being held hostage, uh, I mean tonsillectomy recovery. With apologies to Jimmy Fallon, here are some thank you notes.

Dear soft foods,
Thank you for being so smooth and squishy that any member of our family can eat you. Thank you for soup, and noodles, and noodle soup, and scrambled eggs, and Ramen soup. And also for ice cream. Yes, we tried to eat something that wasn't soft one night while we served the patient some soup, but we will never forget the death stares that caused. So, thank you for bland textures. And for overlooking the fact that I snuck out of the house yesterday to eat chips.

Dear Netflix,
I knew we would probably be watching a lot of TV during this recuperation. I underestimated, however, how much we would watch THE SAME THING on TV. Thanks to you, Netflix, we have unlimited access to Power Rangers. Which includes, but is not limited to, Power Rangers SPD, Power Rangers Mega Force, Power Rangers Mystic Force, Power Rangers Turbo, and probably Power Rangers, The Early Years. Yes, thank you, Netflix. Without you, I might have actually enjoyed a TV program.

Dear pain medicines,
Thank you for serving us so faithfully the first few days when the patient's pain was actually quite minimal. You were there every 3 hours all night long when we all should have been just sleeping. But everyone told us we would need you and we needed to stay ahead of the pain, so you were there. I'm still not sure why you chose to start betraying us about 4 days into the recovery, but thank you for the multiple fights you now cause daily. Mixed Berry Kool-Aid with an Ibuprofen shooter or Sprite laced with Tylenol are cocktails no bartender could come up with, but it's what we now resort to several times a day. Followed by coercion to actually drink the mess. So, thanks, pain meds. You work beautifully, but can't you just come in a flavor that's a little easier to disguise?

Dear nurses,
Thank you for what you do and for the loving way in which you do it. You have been given the spiritual gift of mercy and I am truly grateful for that. Recently, I have come to realize how difficult your daily jobs must be. Because I have realized I could NEVER be a nurse. You see, PTs have other qualities. We are much better at saying, "suck it up and do your exercises!" But I now understand that just yelling at a 5 year old to "suck it up and take your medicine" doesn't really work. Yes, I hug him and speak softly and try to empathize with how much I know he must be hurting, but my mercy has its limits. My husband has always said I am a horrible nurse. Now I know he is correct.

 Which brings me to my final thank you note.

Dear Baby Boy,
Since you came to us when you were 3, I never had the joy of an infant. Which meant I also never had the sleepless nights. Thank you for helping me to relive your infant days by waking up crying inconsolably every 1-2 hours. I do feel sorry for you when you wake me up, but that dissipates a little when you are back asleep 60 seconds later and I'm still wide awake thanks to the adrenaline you've caused me to release. I am usually able to fall back asleep. Just in time for you to wake up and do it all again. Thanks for that, son. Years from now, when you are a soundly sleeping teenager, I'm going to periodically run into your room and scream and the fall quietly back to sleep.

Finally, some serious thank yous. Thanks to all the friends who have called or texted to check on us. Thanks to the deliverers of ice cream and toys and movies for him, and treats and coffee for me. Thanks to my in-laws for taking a turn watching the kids so we could escape the house some last week. And thanks to my husband who can be tough when needed (see the aforementioned medicine fights), but who also can be incredibly tender when the situation calls for it.

I already had huge respect for parents of kids who require daily meds or who are dealing with serious illnesses, but this gives me a whole new level of respect. This will all be over in a few days. And that's definitely something to be thankful for.

Ready or Not, Here We Go

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March 19, 2013.  The day we met our children for the first time.  The most earth-shattering day of our lives, but in many ways, it was also one of the most ordinary.

The night before (after the initial meeting with DHS), Pam and I exchanged a few emails and decided the next afternoon would be the best day to meet the boys in person.  As I recall, the weather was supposed to be cold and rainy the rest of the week and that day (a Tuesday) was going to be our best chance to have good weather.  We agreed to meet at a local park where the boys were already comfortable, and we agreed that we would be introduced as nothing more than "some friends of Mom and Dad".  (Yes, they referred to them as Mom and Dad. Which shows you how much those boys were loved and accepted in their foster home.)

Of course, we were "friends of Mom and Dad" so the meeting was much less awkward than if we hadn't known the foster parents at all.  We spent a little time catching up with them, and then we just played.  We had been warned that the little guy might have a hard time warming up, especially to Rodney because he was typically more comfortable with women.  But soon the two of them were playing on the swing like they'd been friends for years.  Since Trae has a hearing impairment, one of our concerns was about how hard it would be to understand him.  That fear quickly dissipated when we realized we understood most everything he said.  And we certainly didn't have any worries about them physically after watching them on the playground.  Trae's natural athleticism quickly came out as he flew across the monkey bars.  He was 6 at the time and had no hesitation when we asked if we could take his picture and play with him for awhile.  Not to be outdone by big brother, Will also wanted a turn on the monkey bars.  He was 3 at the time and only wearing 18-24 month clothes, so he required a little assistance.  I still have the video of helping him cross those monkey bars for the first time.  And I can't watch it now without a silly grin on my face.  It was very easy to imagine myself as his mom.

After playing for about an hour, we just knew.  We were supposed to move forward with getting to know these boys a little more.  So we got goodbye hugs from both boys and let their foster parents know we would be contacting them soon.

On the way home, we made the phone calls we had simultaneously been anticipating and dreading.  We each called our parents to let them know we had met the boys that might become our sons.  I say we had been "dreading" it because we would be lying to say we weren't concerned about how they would receive the news.  They knew we were in the process of adopting, but they had no idea we had even received information on these two boys.  I'm not even sure they knew we were considering TWO children.  They also knew we were open to considering children of a different race, but actually telling them we were going through with it was a different story. But, like parents do, they celebrated with us and anxiously waited for us to send them pictures.

Later that night, we also set up our next date.  The following Saturday we spent time with just them and us, no foster parents.  We went to a local arcade (think low-end Chuck E. Cheese) and then to supper at Steak and Shake.  The arcade was about a 30 minute ride from their house, and we laugh now about the fact that there was TOTAL SILENCE from them the entire car ride.  I can only imagine the thoughts that were running through their little heads as we drove away.  I'm sure it was a mixture of confusion and "what the ????" Finally, as we pulled in the parking lot, Trae broke the silence with "Chuck E. Cheese!! I've been here before!" and from then on we had a great time.

After that first "date", we gradually moved into overnight visits.  And then one night became two, and weekend visits turned into week days and weekends, and then finally they were living at our place more than they were in their foster home.  We had a few bumps along the way trying to figure out the transition, especially with Will who was quite attached to Pam, but overall we couldn't have asked for it to go more smoothly.

Finally, just a few weeks later, we set a move-in date.  We had originally planned to transition them into living with us full time after school was out for the summer, but things were going so well that we didn't really see the need to drag out the process that much.  So the date was set and we started making plans to make these boys ours forever.
           Our first meeting, March 18, 2013

To be continued....
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The Messy Middle

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Remember those whiny years I talked about before? The years in Pocahontas were filled with a lot of those.  On the exterior, we couldn't have been better and, in many ways, things were wonderful.  We had good jobs, good friends, close relationships with our families, a house, and even a cute dog.  We traveled, ate at great restaurants, went where we wanted, whenever we wanted and were loving life.  When people asked the inevitable question, "when are you gonna have kids?" we would always respond with, "we're too BUSY to have kids!" And for many years, that was true.  Kids would be great if they happened, but we certainly weren't stressing about it.

Eventually, I turned 30 and we decided it was probably finally time to make it happen.  After all, kids wouldn't slow us down too much.  And we always planned on having them.  Truthfully, I had been ready for awhile but it took Rodney some time to get on the same page.  But then, it didn't happen.  And then, it still didn't happen.  And because that was a pretty painful time in which Rodney and I both spent some time in what we have since labeled "the pit", we are going to leave it at that.  Suffice it to say, neither of us was our best self during that time.  How our marriage survived those years is a testimony to the grace of God and the fact that both of us were just too stubborn to do anything else.  Looking back now, it was also the prayers and encouragement of some faithful friends that sustained us and helped drag us out of the pit.  Outside our home, our lives continued to look pretty great.  I started a new business ("this IS my baby! I don't need another one!"), Rodney went back to finish the degree he never finished, we won awards and accolades, got involved in every civic organization that would take us, and tried to act like we were FINE! (That's a word I used a lot.  Which a friend finally told me meant, "Freaked out, Insecure, Neurotic, and Emotional")  But inside, things weren't quite as glorious.

In retrospect, the event that could have ended us, turned out to be the event that saved us.  Rodney decided to move to Conway.  Without me.  He decided UCA was the best place to pursue his Master's degree, but because he would only be there for a year or two, we decided the best move was for me to stay in Pocahontas and continue to build my fledgling business.

Together, and separately, we had to decide what that meant for us. Were we better apart or together? Were kids ever gonna happen and, if not, could we be okay with that? Who were we going to be if all those plans we had for the future didn't come to pass?

Somewhere around the fall of 2009, I decided the downward spiral had to stop. Remember all those grand plans I had initially? I gradually decided that maybe, just maybe, I needed to stop planning for awhile and just let life happen. Living alone, I had plenty of time for reflection, and I came to appreciate a lot of things in a brand new way. I missed my husband because, through every challenge, he remained my best friend. I had lots of healthy relationships and, even if God never saw fit to bless us with children, I was still okay.  I had family that loved me and, more importantly, a God who hadn't forgotten me. And while I couldn't make myself feel fulfilled any more than I could make a baby just magically appear on my doorstep, I could trust that maybe, just maybe, His plan WAS for my good and His glory. Even when it didn't look like that with my earthly eyes. 

In the meantime, I needed to take back control of what I could control and I started with my health. You see, while my world seemed to spiral downward, one thing I did VERY well was amuse myself with food. Bored? Eat! Depressed? EAT! Celebrating something? EAT!!! So, without much of a plan except for, "eat less, move more," I started that journey. And what I found along the way would lead to the greatest plan I never intended.

to be continued 
Click here for Part 3

Fall, 2009

In the Beginning...

Like all good stories, ours began with a chance meeting.  In the case of me and Rodney, it was second grade.  Yes, we were those people who met in elementary school.  I'd love to say it was love at first sight and we've been together since, but honestly I didn't even remember him being in that class until we talked about it much later.  I do, however, remember this awesome time in our lives
Prom. 1992.  We were madly in love (or maybe not; that seemed to change from week to week) and we were confident we were both going to do amazing things.  A year later, I went off to Lyon College, Rodney headed to BRTC (and later UCA), and we began laying the ground work for our awesome, well-planned lives.

Fast forward to 1997.  After a few more break ups and make ups, we finally said 'I do."  Three weeks later, we had settled in Conway and I started physical therapy school with no idea (but grand plans) about what the next few years would hold.

After PT school, I got the job of my dreams doing pediatric physical therapy in Russellville for a company called Friendship Community Care.  Rodney was working in real estate by this time and we had decided that Conway would be our home for years to come.  We had great friends, a great church, and were making great plans to raise our kids in this wonderful town.

To this day, I don't know what made him flip the switch.  But I remember exactly where I was when it happened.  Christmas, 2000 we spent our break in Pocahontas with our families.  And I had never been so glad to be headed "home" to Conway.  As I recall, I think we spent almost two weeks away and I was ready to get back to my job and our friends there.  And then he dropped the bombshell, "I think we should move back to Pocahontas."  Say what?  "We've always said we might move back someday.  And our families are there.  And we can raise our kids there. And build businesses there. And....(sorry, I think I had blacked out by this point and didn't hear any of his other fabulous reasons.)"

And, so, despite my protestations, we made the decision to move.  After all, I didn't really have a choice after he called a pediatric physical therapy clinic, asked them if they were hiring, arranged for me to have a phone interview with them, and THEN told me about it.  So, with a job, more grand plans for the future, and our families cheering us on, we headed back home to live those lives we started planning back in 1992.

(to be continued)
Click here for Part 2

Sunday, November 22, 2015

7 Questions You Never Ask a Pregnant Woman

Thanks so much for the overwhelming response to our story. It is my prayer that it encouraged you as well as entertained you. Our journey was far from smooth, but there is nothing about it I would change knowing the outcome it brought us. I also want you to know that I'll be blogging soon about some of the challenges we've faced along the way and still face when it comes to parenting kids who come from challenging situations. But, today, I wanted to share something a little different.

So, with tongue firmly in cheek, I present to you 7 Questions You Never Ask a Pregnant Woman (also known as 7 things people hear all too often when they announce they're adopting).

1) You're pregnant? Congratulations! But couldn't you adopt your own children?

This one tops the list for couples who don't have biological children. Frequently, yes, couples have struggles with infertility prior to making the decision to adopt. But that isn't always the case. Sometimes a couple has decided to adopt BEFORE attempting to have biological children. Or perhaps a couple has just seen the need for adoption. Regardless, and ESPECIALLY in the case of a couple struggling with infertility, they probably don't want to discuss it with you. If you are a close enough friend, you most likely already know their struggles. If not, then just remain curious (which is a nice way of saying, it's probably none of your business).

2) Aren't you afraid your biological baby will have problems?

This is one no one ever asks a pregnant woman, but adoptive families hear all the time. While it is true that children who are adopted often come with a unique set of challenges, it is no more guaranteed with an adopted child than it is with a biological child. As a matter of fact, for a couple who is adopting an older child (and not a newborn), frequently the child's needs are known before the child comes home. Biological kids sometimes don't come with the same information.

3) What if your biological kid doesn't look like you?

I have brown eyes. My mom has green eyes. While I have many of her mannerisms, I don't necessarily look like her even though we have the same skin tone. My children have brown eyes like I do. They just happen to have darker skin and hair. Regardless, it's just cosmetic. (And, yes, I realize this is oversimplifying trans-racial adoption. I'm just saying, for couples who are willing to adopt children of a different race, they've already thought about it.) Next question.

4) Why would you get pregnant when there are so many kids who need good homes in this country?

This is the one that people who have adopted internationally get a lot. It can also be phrased, "why would you go to Africa (or Haiti, or Russia, or....) when kids here need homes?" Simple answer, "because that's where my kid was." Everyone has their own reason why they adopt from where they adopt. Regardless of that reason, they are providing a loving home for a child who needs one and that is the most important thing.

5) Doesn't it cost a lot to have a bio kid?

Oh, yes, the money thing. Adoption can be expensive. Or it can be almost free (if you adopt through foster care). Giving birth can be expensive (especially if it involves infertility treatments), but it's rarely free. People usually find it off limits to ask about another family's finances. Unless an adoptive family willingly tells you how much it's going to cost and asks you to contribute, they would probably you rather not ask.

6) Are you sure you can love your bio kid like you do an adopted kid?

I have a friend who answered this one beautifully. She says, in some ways, she loves her adopted kids MORE than her bio kids. Because the bio kids just came to her, but she had to FIGHT for her adopted kids. And there's just something about fighting for something (whether it's fighting for their custody, their trust, or their attachment) that makes you cling to it even harder. Any parent with more than one child will tell you that their love for their children may be different at times, but it is no more or no less for any of them.

7) If you get pregnant, I'm sure you'll adopt right after that.  I hear that happens all the time.

This is my personal favorite. It usually goes like this, "my cousin's sister's friend adopted and RIGHT AFTER THAT found out she was pregnant. They just relaxed and quit worrying about it and then it happened." First off, see question number 1. If a couple has struggled with infertility, they have probably labored over the adoption decision for a long time. And, while there may still be hope of a biological child in years to come, that is not why they are adopting. They have made the decision to become parents now and this is not a "second best thing" to having a bio kid.

As I've said, if you are family or close friends with someone who is adopting, then you're probably in the circle of trust and can ask these questions. But unless you're sure you've earned that trust, the most appropriate response is just "Congratulations! I'm so excited for you!" And then mean it. Because that couple that just announced it is just as excited as that couple that just announced their pregnancy. And they are probably also more nervous. So hug them, cheer them, pat them on the back. Just don't immediately ask them things they may not want to tell you.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Forever Day

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Snow.  That seems to be a recurring theme with our family when it comes to important events.  There was the May snow the day the boys moved in, and there was snow for a week prior to December 11, 2013.  If anything could make us second guess adopting, being snowed in for almost a week with two wild boys could certainly do it.

Somehow, we all survived that week and the 7 months that preceded it. And, so, 23 months after our adoption journey started with that first email, and approximately 810 days after our boys entered foster care, we headed for the Washington County Juvenile Center.

Our parents managed to make the trip from Northeast Arkansas despite the snow still on the ground.  I actually worked that morning because I had already missed so many days due to inclement weather. I'm not sure I actually performed any quality treatment that morning, but I was at least there in body, if not in spirit. The boys were still out of school so they stayed home with Rodney and didn't fully comprehend the significance of the day.

Finally, a little before 3 o'clock, we entered Judge Zimmerman's court room.  I'm not sure what I expected from that, but it was almost anti-climactic.  The boys had been given new teddy bears by our wonderful adoption specialist (she had even picked out one for Trae that reminded her of what he looked like with his hearing aid headband) and they were asked to name them.  After talking to the boys a little, Judge Z asked them what they were naming their bears and she officially signed bear adoption certificates.  Then she asked us about our intentions to adopt the boys, verified their new names, and then they were ours.  We posed for a few pictures with the judge and with our families, and it was all over.  The years of praying, wishing, and hoping, had come down to that moment. We were their forever parents.

We had joked before that day about possibly pulling over on the way home to provide some discipline that would not have been approved by DHS (yes, we said we might pull over and spank them....just because we could!), but that was completely unnecessary. As a matter of fact, both boys cuddled up with their new bears and fell asleep on the way home.

That evening we got to celebrate our full circle moment.  Surrounded by our families, the boys' foster family, our adoption specialist, and our friends, we celebrated our very first Forever Day.

One of the highlights of that day was finally "unveiling" the boys on social media. While they were officially wards of the state, we were prohibited from sharing their faces publicly. Which meant many of our friends who lived in Northeast Arkansas had never seen their faces without various digital stickers covering them.  I have to admit, I actually had a great time tempting people with various glimpses.  Sometimes we would cover them with stars or simple blue dots, but other times we used a funny nose and glasses or they wore actual masks. But that day we got to show off their beautiful faces and reveal their brand new names.

As I reflect back now on the journey to that day, I am overcome with how God perfectly ordered every step.  There were many surprises for us along the way, but He was never surprised by one of them. As a matter of fact, when you look at the timing of the boys coming into care, the date of their TPR (termination of parental rights), and the timing of us pursuing adoption and finally becoming an open home, the dates line up pretty perfectly. If things had proceeded at OUR pace, I don't believe they would have ever been OUR boys.

I won't go into all the reasons the boys ended up in foster care, but it is safe to say it happened because we live in a broken world where people don't always care for children in the way they should.  But, in His sovereignty, what was intended for evil, He used for good (Genesis 50:20). And that could pretty much sum up our entire journey to becoming parents. There were many times along the way when the enemy could have gained a foothold and destroyed us all. Thankfully, God wrote a different story. And, with every opportunity I have to tell that story, I will give Him all the glory.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Seven Months of Second Guessing

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Snow in Arkansas in May. Know what's more unusual than that?  Rodney and Kristi becoming parents.  And both those things happened on May 3, 2013.

Yes, we woke to snow that Friday morning in May.  And that afternoon we completed the boys' move into our house.  The previous evening we had actually moved most of their stuff in, but that afternoon we picked them up for the last time at their foster parents'.  You know those kids you hear about that are in foster care and come with nothing?  Yeah, those weren't our boys.  They may have come into care with very little, but they left with a TON of stuff, which was more evidence of exactly how well-loved they were while in the care of Nathan and Pam. 

At the time we were living in a 1300 square foot condo, and to say it was transformed overnight would be an understatement.  In addition to two very loud boys, we were suddenly overwhelmed with  Legos and action figures and costumes (oh my!). Our days of three loads of laundry a week were over. Our nights of dinner and a movie were no more.  And we couldn't have been happier about it.

We were having more fun than we'd ever had, but to say it was a completely easy road would be a lie. We talk now about how blessed we were with a relatively smooth transition, but there were times that were just flat-out HARD.  We were rookies and we were dealing with professionals when it came to things like fit throwing or refusing to comply. We had a little experience with these things when we were in the transition process, but when they were ours 24/7 we had no choice but to figure out how to deal with those things in our own way.  On top of that, our hands were somewhat tied in the discipline area because the boys were still in the custody of the state until the adoption was final.  So we had more than our fair share of fits, tantrums, and tears (and the boys had a few, too). 

One of the hardest battles we fought at the time was one I now find the most humorous.  During that summer, both boys rode to work in Siloam Springs with me every day; Will was enrolled in the preschool where I worked and Trae was attending the Boys and Girls Club in Siloam. This seemed like a great idea logistically and, in my head, was also a great way for us to bond on the 45 minute drive every day.  What I underestimated, however, was the power of a shoe sailing past my head as I drove 70 mph down Hwy 412.  Not to mention the ability of a 30 pound 3 year old to get out of his 5- point harness EVERY DAY.  We tried not driving unless the seat belt was buckled (which made it more than a little difficult to actually GET to work).  We tried taking away privileges.  We even tried BUNGEE CORD to hold the harness shut (he was little--not dumb; he figured that out before we got out of Fayetteville).  These boys were smarter than we were and had much more experience than we did. But somehow all four of us survived that first summer.  

Despite our bumps in the road, we were actually faring pretty well.  The boys bonded to us fairly quickly and started calling us Mom and Dad just a few days after moving in, which was a major answer to prayers we started praying when we first decided to adopt.  We just forgot to pray for wisdom in how to get them to not throw shoes.  

I would love to say we quickly smoothed out those behaviors and now we have sweet angel children.  But I would also love to say I'm a millionaire.  Some things just take more time than others.  Parenting is tough. Period. And parenting kids who come from hard places and don't completely trust you is really hard. 

Our first seven months were the learning experience of our lives. I second-guessed just about every decision I made (Did I discipline wrong? Are they in the right schools? Should I have said that? Will they still love me if I make them keep their shoes on?).  What I never second-guessed, though, was whether or not we had made the right decision. At the end of every day, I went to bed exhausted.  And I thanked GOD that He was giving me the privilege to be their parent. Every tough moment and every tear was forgotten as soon as those brown eyes looked into mine and said, "I love you."

And, so, even with all the second-guessing, there was no hesitation on the day the adoption specialist came to our house and said, "We'd like to set the adoption date for December 11. Does that work for y'all?"

May 3, 2013 (thanks for the pic, Pam!)

To be continued....
Click here for the next chapter

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Amazing "Coincidence"

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Coincidence--a remarkable occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way. You might also call it serendipity.  Or favor.  In our case, we just call it a God-story.

Way back in 1997, I started physical therapy school at the University of Central Arkansas.  Newly married, I should have probably been spending any free time at home with my husband.  Instead, I reverted back to my college habits and immediately jumped into the world of intramurals.  Flag football, softball, even soccer, you name it, I was there. It was on the intramural field I got to know a fellow PT student named Nathan.  He was pretty newly married at the time too and his wife Pam often came around to cheer him on.  Over the next two years, we got to know them a little better as Nathan and I finished school.

After graduation, we all drifted our separate ways and I really had no idea where Nathan and Pam ended up.  So, imagine our surprise when, on our first day to visit our church, we immediately ran into Nathan.  We caught up a little about where we both were professionally, and then we again went our separate ways. On our way out of the parking lot, we happened to notice Nathan and Pam leaving with SIX boys in tow.  To our surprise, there were 4 blonde ones and two others who didn't quite look the same (one of these things is not like the other). "Hey, look!  It looks like Nathan and Pam have adopted a couple of kids.  How cool!"  And that was the end of it.  So we thought.

So, how in the world does this rabbit trail lead us back to our adoption story?  After that night at On the Border, we called DHS and told them we wanted to move forward and find out a little more about the boys in that email.  From there,  they set up a disclosure meeting.  We had no idea what we would be walking into, other than that we would receive more information about these boys. Armed with little more information than that, we walked into the Washington Co. DHS office on March 18, 2013. And the first people we saw were Pam and Nathan.  Those boys we had been praying for for so long (even before we received the first piece of information about them), had been living with those friends we had met almost 16 years before.  So, while we were praying they were safe and protected in a loving foster home, they were living with people we already knew and had no reason not to trust.  Later, we also discovered they were praying for us all along when they were praying the boys would find the perfect forever family.

You can imagine how we felt God confirming our "yes" when we walked in and saw them.  And that gave us a confidence we needed when we started staring at the mounds of paperwork the DHS workers set in front of us. Not to mention the sheer number of people in the room.  There was a case worker, an adoption specialist, a mental health professional, a CASA worker (with purple hair!), the foster parents, and probably others that I can't even remember.  We can look back on the experience and laugh now, but to say it was overwhelming would be an understatement.  I am not exaggerating when I say that each boy's file was 3-4 inches thick. And we had approximately 3 minutes to look at these files before all the talking began.  Everyone in the room spoke about the boys and what type of home they needed.  They talked about the challenges each boy came with and the ways they hoped the boys could flourish in a stable environment.  We learned they had already made great progress in the home of their fantastic foster parents, but that there was still a lot of work to do.  And then, without even another minute to look through those stacks of paper, they asked us if we wanted to move forward.

Looking back now, I can't even remember what we said.  I think it was sort of a mumbled, "uh, okay" (because that's what you say when you think God is saying "GO" but all you really wanna respond with is "SLOW DOWN!").  We quickly exchanged email addresses with Pam and agreed we would work directly with them to come up with a time to meet the boys for the first time, and we walked out of the office with promises to call the adoption specialist in a few days and let her know our thoughts about moving toward adopting.

In retrospect, I imagine we felt similar feelings to what parents feel when they find out they're pregnant.  There was some shock, some fear, and some unexplainable excitement about what these children would look like and act like when we finally met them face-to-face. We talked more, prayed more, glanced through the overwhelming paperwork (which included everything from medical records to therapy notes), and we quickly agreed that nothing was there that could scare us off yet. Just like parents-to-be sometimes do, we even stopped on the way home to look at what kind of furniture we might put in a boys' room one day. In pregnancy, however, you have 9 months to prepare.  In our case, we had 24 hours.

To be continued...
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Wednesday, November 11, 2015


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In January, 2012 I began a tradition of setting a word for the year.  Instead of a New Year's Resolution, I decided to focus on a word that I wanted to define my year.  If 2010-2011 had been my years of refining, I wanted 2012 to be the year of "forward." 

In early January of that year, I sent our first initial email to DHS letting them know we wanted to begin the process of becoming an adopt-only family.  It was a radical shift for us because no longer did we feel compelled to "have a baby" but instead, we felt God leading us to "parent a child."  We knew that adopting through foster care meant we would most likely not be receiving an infant and that we would be entering a new, unknown world, but we were confident enough to keep marching forward until God either closed a door or led us down a different path.  

Logistically, our decision to adopt also meant another big move.  By this time, Rodney had moved to Fayetteville to pursue his Ph.D. We were making it work by seeing each other every other weekend, but clearly that wasn't the ideal situation for becoming parents.  So I made the decision to leave my business, and my comfortable hometown, and to move to Fayetteville.  God helped make it clear that we were making the right decision by almost immediately providing me with a new job with Friendship Community Care, the same company that gave me my start as a PT. 

I started my new job in May and in July we started the 30 hours of training required to become adoptive parents through the foster care system.  We did our training through an organization known as the CALL (Children of Arkansas Loved for a Lifetime).  While the training was the same training required by the state for all potential foster and adopt families, it was done from a Christian perspective.  The mission of the CALL is to "educate, encourage, and equip the Christian community to provide a future and a hope for children in foster care in Arkansas."  Out of that training came a wonderful support system for us as we journeyed (and continue to journey) through the world of foster care and adoption.

In August of that year we completed our home study and a month later our file was in the hands of a state adoption specialist. Knowing all the children in Arkansas who needed loving homes, we assumed "the call" would come quickly. Little did we know, God had other plans. And so we waited, we made phone calls inquiring about available kids, we used our contacts (remember that state senator I helped get elected?), and we prayed. Finally, in Februrary, 2013 we received a call and then an email. Containing a picture of two boys who, despite not looking much like us, we couldn't get out of our minds. 

To say it was love at first sight would be a vast oversimplification. Yes, they were cute and their stories were compelling, but to say it was an easy choice would be a lie. We had reservations about a lot of areas. Yes, race was an issue. We "thought" we were ready to become a multi-racial family, but with that decision comes a lot of social and relational ramifications that we didn't know if we were ready for. And every child in foster care comes with a past. Were we willing to accept these children along with every possible scar they would bring with them? And so, we prayed. A lot. And we listened, to each other and to God. And then we sat down one night (over chips and salsa at On the Border), and we said a tentative yes. And the story God had in store for us from that night on was greater than anything we could imagine.

To be continued...
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Our first picture, February, 2013

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Just Keep Moving

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Just Keep Moving.  It's the phrase that became my running mantra and, in some ways, my life's mantra for a time.  Despite my busyness, I had been living a stagnant life.  I was moving, but not moving forward.  I did all the right things (Bible studies, regular church attendance, membership in service organizations, you name it), and I even "prayed" about my future a lot. But, in retrospect, what I was actually doing was just complaining to God about things.  I wasn't actually listening to Him and DOING anything about it.

In my case, it started with taking control of my health.  1 Corinthians 9: 24-27 says:

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.  Every athlete exercises self-control in all things.  They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.  So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air.  But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

I am a physical therapist, and since I preached to people every day about taking control of their own health, I had to start with myself.  And so I did.  I committed to nothing more than logging everything I ate and making time for some sort of exercise for 20 minutes, 3 or 4 times a week.  That was the plan.  Nothing ground breaking or earth shattering.  Just eat less, move more. And gradually the pounds starting dropping off.

Why was this different than all the times I had tried to lose weight before?  The only difference I can point to is that when I committed, I didn't tell a soul.  No one.  Not even my husband.  It really became something just between me and God.  Unlike all the times before, I wasn't looking for anyone's approval but His.  If He told me to be self-controlled and to practice what I preached, then I was going to do my best.  If others noticed, then so be it.  But it wasn't for them.  It was just between me and Him and all I had to do was follow His direction.

And you know what?  That one difference, just a small change of mind, made ALL the difference.  "Working the plan" (another phrase I often used) became something I could do in other areas of my life.  Just one small step after another.  I didn't have to make grand plans and set lofty goals in order to be successful.  I just had to take the next step God put in front of me.  It was really quite simple.

On the health front, I started walking 20 minutes at a time.  And then I started running, not long and not fast, but just a little.  And then a little more.  And then, out of nowhere, I found myself registered for a half-marathon.  And God again just showed me all I had to do was follow a plan, take one step at a time, and "just keep moving."

Professionally, I also took the next step in front of me.  I started teaching at a local community college.

Socially, I stepped out even further.  In June of 2010 I met a woman about my age who was running for state senate.  By late August of that year, I was managing her campaign and traveling with her every week to various campaign events.

Again, I had no end goal in mind.  I was just following.  One step, leading to the next step, and then the next.  Before I even understood where He was taking me, I began to realize that God was developing gifts and talents in me that I wasn't even sure existed.  I was getting more confident speaking in front of people.  I was using my spiritual gift of encouragement in real and practical ways.  I was relying on Him every step of the way because I didn't have my own agenda to pursue.

In his book, On the Anvil, Max Lucado talks about three types of tools.  One type is rusted, worn out, and in the scrap pile.  Another type is on the anvil, being heated up in the refiner's fire and shaped into a more worthy implement.  The third type has been through the fire, and emerged sharper and more fit for use.  By the end of 2010, I felt myself emerging from the fire.  Refined, reshaped (literally and figuratively), and ready to pursue whatever next step was in front of me.  

As it became increasingly clear that bio kids weren't going to happen, we decided that perhaps the next step was adoption.  Initially, we looked into domestic infant adoption, but quickly learned the logistics of that were just not right for us. We have close friends who have gone through that process and have beautiful, wonderful families as a result.  It just wasn't for us.

And so I became okay with not having kids.  I say that now and think I must have been delusional, but honestly, God had worked so much in my life that I was okay with or without kids.  If He led me to them, I would go.  But if not, I was trusting He had my best interest at heart.  

I was also learning to trust my husband more.  Despite being separated by miles, our marriage was growing closer.  Not being in the same physical location forced us to communicate in ways we never had before.  When a phone call is all you have, you have to learn to listen.  And when you only see each other on weekends, you don't take those visits for granted.  We were each becoming more confident in ourselves as individuals, and we were also deepening our relationship in a way we should have done years before.  So, when Rodney said, "I think we should look more into adoption" I trusted him enough to say, "okay."  And, with that, we started down the road that would stretch us, try us, and, ultimately, shape us, into the family we are now.

To be continued...
Click here for Part 4
                                               St. Jude Half-Marathon, December, 2010

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Foster Care Friday

Note: Wow. You've blown me away with your encouraging comments. I wrote most of these blogs before I ever hit publish on the last one, but your encouragement makes me think perhaps I should cut to the chase a little quicker. However, more than just telling my story, I want this blog to encourage and inform about the worlds of foster care and adoption.  So, today begins what I'm hoping will be a series of interviews with fabulous foster and adoptive parents.

As I continue telling my story, one of the central characters you will soon meet is my friend Pam Jowers.  Pam and I first met many years ago, but have become very close in the last 2 1/2 years.  She is an accountant and lives in Northwest Arkansas with her husband Nathan and their four sons.  Their first placements were two brothers that I now proudly call my sons.  With that, I proudly introduce you to Pam.

How long did you foster and how many children did you foster during that time?
We fostered for 3 years and had a total of 6 foster children during that time.  Our longest placement was almost 2 years, and our shortest was just a few weeks.  We also provided respite care on a couple of occasions. 
(Note: Respite care is usually a very short-term placement where the child returns to another foster placement once they leave your home.  For example, if a child's foster family needs to go out of state for a period of time and can't take the child with them, then a respite family can care for the child until the other family returns. Or, a family just needs a short-term break from a difficult placement.  There is always a need for these short-term families.)

Why did you make the decision to open your home to foster care?
Mostly the huge need for foster parents.  We have been blessed with so much that we wanted to be able to help others and provide children with a loving family, even if it was temporary.

What was the greatest challenge to you as a foster parent?
Learning to navigate the system.  It's such a broken system and sometimes things happen that just don't make sense.

What has been the biggest blessing to come out of your experience?
We have been blessed to see all 4 of the kids that we had for long term placement flourish.  Two of them were adopted into a very loving home.  We have a great relationship with them and their parents and get to see them on a weekly basis.  Two of the others went back home with their biological families and are doing very well.  We have also been able to keep in touch with them.

Can you share any humorous anecdotes from your foster care experience?
Although it wasn't really humorous at the time, the biological mom of our first 2 boys loved to bring them lots of sugar, chocolate, tea, and Mountain Dew to her evening visits with her 2, already wild, boys.  She even brought Reese's Pieces to one of them who was allergic to peanut butter.  Talk about getting the caseworkers fired up!

What effect did foster care have on the children already in your home?
Foster care was a great experience for our children.  They took on the responsibilities of having extra kids in the house and they were very compassionate for their situations.  A lot of times, they were much more patient with the struggles that we had at times than we were. 

How did your extended family respond to your desire to foster?
Our family has been very supportive of our decision to foster.  I'm sure they think we are crazy, but they mostly kept those thoughts to themselves and always treated our foster children like their own!

How do you respond to people who say, "I could never foster because I would get too attached"?
We have always had the mindset from the beginning that we are only a temporary placement for these children.  Did we love them?  Of course. We still do!  We fought hard for the best interests of the kids in our care.  But we also know that we were not the "best fit" long term for any of the kids in our care.  That made "letting them go" a much easier process than most would think.
What advice would you have for someone considering becoming a foster parent?
Have a good support system.  Have patience with the foster care system.  Try to always remember the situations your foster kids come helps when it comes to having patience with their less than desirable behaviors.  Added from Nathan:  Remember the big that start out as little hellions can turn into sweet little guys! (I think I may know to whom he's referring)
As you might imagine, I owe Pam a great deal.  She and her family taught my boys what a loving, stable family looked like and for that we are eternally grateful. I know it wasn't always easy for her (I've seen the videos of my little "angels" that prove otherwise!), but we couldn't have asked for a better "middle mother" for our boys.

Thanks for taking the time to read this blog.  Please feel free to share it with others who might be considering foster care or adoption.  And if you have any questions, please email me at

The Jowers family (including a couple of extras). December, 2012