Adoption, Community, Fostering, Raising Warriors, Self-Care

How to expand your family without going crazy (aka: receiving a child well)-For adoptive/foster families and their support systems!

(Whether you’re a parent, an adoptive parent, a foster parent or you know of such crazy folks, please take the time to read this!  It takes a village to raise a child and some kiddos just naturally require a bigger village. Please be the village for someone else!)

So you have a new kiddo on the way. Congrats! I’ve mentioned how difficult it is to make the HUGE decision to say yes or no to a phone call, so yay you! You’ve made one giant leap of faith into the unknown- or if it’s not your first rodeo: the slightly known with millions of variables!

If you are fostering, you most likely have minutes to prepare. If you’re lucky, you have a few hours to wrap your mind (& household!) around the transitions that are about to take place. If you’re adopting, you may have years to anticipate yet it still seems to catch you by surprise that the time is now. I’ve felt the eagerness to meet and love and protect a sweet soul while at the same time fearing my own limits and inability to “do it all.”

Friends, I’d like to propose to you that YOU CAN ASK FOR HELP. And here’s how!

How many people have told you “Let me know if there’s anything I can do”?? And you respond with a blank stare thinking “I’m not even sure I know what to do, but if I ever have the capacity to multitask AND delegate, I’ll let you know!” Well, here’s a few options for you to respond with:

1. “We eat food. Can you make food? Fine, can you order food?”
Now, I know you can do this yourself, BUT YOU DON’T HAVE TO! No matter who comes into your family (age, number, gender, length of stay) you & your family will still need to eat. This is one big thing off your to-do list when you have no idea what each day or moment will look like. Ask a friend to make a meal-train, let your mom/grandma/neighbor bring freezer meals, suggest that anyone- no EVERYONE- could order you take-out.

2. “Can I have your ID and Social Security Number?”
Are these kind folks free of a criminal background? Do they truly care about you and your kiddos? Every parent/couple needs a break once in a while – a moment to get away and take deep breaths or just to take another kid somewhere without siblings. Jump on the fact that this person just offered their help, send in some quick paperwork to the caseworker and TAKE ADVANTAGE of an extra set of hands… even if you’re not tired…yet. No doubt they would love to sit in your house during naptime and let you walk (or run!) around the block. Or perhaps you could drop your chilins’ off for an hour or two of grocery shopping WITHOUT HELP! If your placement is too old for a babysitter, a sort of mentor-ship or “godparent” relationship could be in order. They could spend time cooking or playing a sport or learning a trade together. I’m not above asking a friend to take my bio kids on a one-on-one date so they can refill their buckets, too. What if you even let a friend hang at your place for dinner & a movie with the fam and you stole a date night with the hubs!? *Gasp!* Put these kind folks on your respite caregivers list and refill your bucket before you reach dire straights.

3. “My stockpile is dwindling”
Foster or expecting parents often have the any-minute-a-kid-could-come-and-I-want-to-be-ready stash. At the last minute, you know the age & gender & hopefully most of the needs of your kiddo, but generally speaking I can always use a refill of toothbrushes, shampoo, Tylenol, water bottles/sippy cups, soft blankets, pre-packaged snacks, and miscellaneous clothes & shoes. These are tiny comforts I want to offer a child as a introductory peace-offering of sorts. If a kid can find some small sense of security just from having their own necessities right away, I want to bring it! Don’t hesitate to ask for these trivial purchases or more specific items if you can. I bet a friend wouldn’t think twice of grabbing a few extras next time they’re out and it will save you a midnight run!

4. “My family needs two of me, think you could be a clone?” or quite possibly: “Don’t leave me alone!”
There are plenty of days any parent feels isolated and half-crazed from overwhelming tasks and limited hours in the day. “Why do all of my kids need to talk all day and then still want stories at bedtime?” All the while the toilet is plugged and the sink is overflowing and by the way, “Kids, we’re having Pajama Day tomorrow since 2/3’s of you don’t have any clothes left.” (Let’s not even question why my darling boy hasn’t run out of underwear yet… or EVER.) How about some community in this moment!? How much could it hurt to have a friend wash dishes WITH you and then fold laundry. And what if we cooked dinner together or even ate together in the midst of our crazy? Honestly, the odds are that this friend wants to love you well but is feeling their own version of “half-baked” at the same time. Let’s DO life together!!

5. “I need encouragement.”
This may be the hardest one! Who wants to admit that they can’t do it all? It’s so hard to confess to someone that you may want to quit loving because it hurts or that you can’t face one more tantrum and come out the winner. PLEASE use this response with A FEW (more than one!) trusted friends/family members! You need someone who will see you crying in the back row at church and deliver a Venti Latte with a hug the next day! You need someone who will send a love note via snail mail that gets lost and finally arrives on JUST the day you need a pick-me-up. WE ALL need calls and texts saying we are being prayed over and believed in without prompting. We need to know our arms are being lifted when we can’t hold them up a moment longer.

Soooooo… You’re probably thinking of someone who’s asked this exact question recently. Go back and get them. Let them help! Really & truly. You’re allowing them the blessing of being a part of something miraculous and fulfilling in a way they maybe never would have been able to. Not everyone is able to welcome a precious child into their family right now but everyone IS called to love the orphan and the widow in their own way (James 1:27).

Fostering, Hearing from God, Honesty, Prayer, Raising Warriors, Self-Care, Simplifying

Defining the Season You’re In

I don’t know about you, but I often think of life as divided into ever-changing seasons just like my beloved Michigan. I love LoVe LOVE having all four seasons in *almost* equal parts. I love to see the new growth in spring with the hopes of warm weather and something {ANYthing} green. Summer and it’s sunshine blow me away with endless opportunities to be outdoors and do life with the people around me. Fall brings on the cozy, soul-food, fall sports weather and glorious colors. Then winter inspires me to be more whimsical and playful as the whole world turns white and crisp and enchanting with each snowfall.

Yet somehow, as much as I love change I also have a little trouble with it. I kinda don’t want where I am to end. I enjoy something new. I even seek it out- like anticipating the changes in weather every few months or calling my girl Marilee for spur-of-the-moment hair makeover. But when it comes to actually walking through a life change, I flounder. I look for affirmation that I’m moving in the right direction. Then I hold out for one more *something* from my previous season like a last summer bouquet in the fall… just in case. Am I alone here?

Here’s my real-life example of difficult change: Our family was a licensed foster family for several years. When our family closed our foster license it was a huge change in seasons. We had been working towards our license or taking placements for so many years! It was a vision that became a mission that became our everything. We ate, slept {or in our case DIDN’T sleep!} and breathed advocating for children in their hour of need. It was a trying, beautiful, and soul-shaping season for our whole family. Then it stopped. It was our decision, but that didn’t change the fact that I woke up wondering what I was going to do that day since I wasn’t “changing the world for one” anymore.

Obviously, we still had kiddos in our lives that needed us to change the world each day- both biological and adopted. And honestly, I still carry each one of those foster kiddos with me in my heart every single day! But the season had changed without me putting into words a vision for the next season.

Wishing it was Summer in South Haven but it’s Mid-December?

My dearest friend Megan tells me “The way you end one season is how you start another” and that’s true! We ended foster care stunned and aimless so we entered our season of rest {as we’ve now defined it!} the same way.

To say that we all floundered for a bit is an understatement. But after a little while, we were able to celebrate the accomplishment of that amazing season. We took a little trip and told each other “well-done!” We had set out to change the world for one and ended up with 6! Six kiddos that we got to love and hold and tuck in at night and pray for for the rest of our lives whether we ever see them again or not. Each of us also grew personally and in relationship with each other and with God. Those are pretty good reasons to celebrate! We let loose and got goofy and adventured in the wilderness all while eating really good food… and that was a true Schuiteboer-style party.

Our celebration was a turning point. We needed it to find closure and while we put our feet in post-summer Lake Superior, hiked the UP and camped without a toilet, we laughed and made new memories to build on. We redefined our idea of family from an open-door concept of inviting everyone in to a protective stance of caring for ourselves and letting God heal our hearts with lots of quiet and empty space. It’s not going to be that way forever, but for us and for a season, it was just right.

Each week after our original shift in seasons, our family would realize we needed to pull back from another commitment and that added boundaries and definition to our season. We trusted God to lead our decisions because we constantly put ourselves in His hands and offered Him our everything {and our nothing too}. At first guilt persistently knocked on my door and then comparison: “No one else seems to need rest.” “Look at all the fun they’re having.” “Everyone else is still changing the world.” {Lies! All lies!}

When I realized that what I NEEDED was rest -as essentially as the air I was breathing- and what my family needed was rest, it suddenly seemed permissible to do “nothing”. When I wrote a letter to school saying I couldn’t help in the classroom this year and we quit volunteering at church and I said no to every invite under the sun, we took all that time to breath and nap and connect with each other and do nothing. We had all sorts of space for our minds to wander and think. And we started to heal. It seemed like every time I took a step toward rest, God showed me so much more was possible! We slowly sank into a rhythm of relaxing and restoring and the season became even more sweet.

We all know change is necessary, but we still need help to do it. Supportive friends, healthy boundaries, and journaling words of definition help me to view these ever-changing seasons of life as beautiful. It also helps to look to my community to help answer the hard questions: What has my life looked like from the outside? What are my strengths & weaknesses? Do you see a theme in my life recently?

Of course no season lasts forever. It may feel like it at times, but it’s still a season and by definition must change. I think the key is to keep talking to God and then listening. Keep asking questions and hearing when He sends you answers – sometimes through a friend, a verse, an inkling or even the weather. That still, small voice that you hear in the back of your mind, it has power! God speaks specifically and strategically. He knows what we need and He knows how to communicate that need to us so we can live the journey He set before us.

The treasured perfectly shaped red leaf!

So how about you? Can you name the season you’re in? Ask God to talk to you about it and then share with us! I want to hear where you’re at and how God is moving ❤

Adoption, Community, Fostering

How many kids do you have?

You guys! I recently joined a bible study and it brought so much refreshing to my soul! I am so honored to study the word of God with women who are HUNGRY. And I mean, these girls just won’t quit. They do not choose light-hearted, easy, breezy studies, let me tell you. (There is no time to fall behind on journaling & homework either!) God spoke it and these girls will study it.

It. Is. Awesome.

img_20180328_193852396-e1522287870768.jpg

I can now say that these women are dear and wise and some seriously amazing cheerleaders, but on my first day? Not so much.

I sat down at the table after a scrumptious [hot] breakfast where we were divided into small-ish groups, yet as the introductions traveled around the table I grew so anxious I was shaking and in tears when all eyes turned to me. What was I supposed to say? I was already dreading THE QUESTION. The leader prompted: “You don’t have to say much, maybe just tell us something about yourself? Do you have kids?”

That did it.

I’m pretty sure I didn’t use an ounce of restraint when I choked out “I don’t like that question!”

See, it’s complicated. Of course, there are 5 Schuiteboers who live at our address (for now). Each of us has friends who come to play or eat or sleep. (Yay for an open door community!) Then there’s fostering… Just fostering alone changes this number on a daily/monthly basis. The number of those who live with me changes and the number of how may are carried in my heart changes too.

Then there’s last summer… yup, as I entered this unsuspecting group of Jesus-chasers I had just barely survived a crazy season as a mom of 7. I loved it. I love them. Each kid was so beautifully brought to this house and this season of our lives. God’s promises were all over each one of them and He was doing such a good work! (I can say that now since I’ve had months of space & plenty of therapy to recuperate and heal.) Crazy enough, at the end of the summer I was down to only 3 kids to tuck in at night and I felt the void. I loved the now-missing kids and they will truly never leave my heart. They will be mine forever.

Then there is the mostly-adopted-but-not-present Elisee whose paperwork has seen no progress in a full year and sweet Chelsey who is growing up and moved out on her own for the first time. I’m just saying… I get to claim these two even when my “mothering” is mostly spent on my knees!

Seriously. I am undone.

So is my answer to this overwhelming question 3? How many kids I tuck in at night.

5? the number of kids who will *someday* be Schuiteboers and come home for Christmas.

9? The kids I have loved, smooched, and wiped away tears for when their own momma’s couldn’t. The ones I personally carry in my heart.

19? The number my girlfriends can amass at the nearest park on any given summer day, but also the number of kiddos I pray over, invest in and plan to talk to about all the things they don’t want to tell their own moms when hormones hit.

How about 143 million? The number of orphans out there whom I often pray for and cry over and desperately want to offer hope and security to- even if only for a moment.

Here’s the beautiful part: No matter how many kids I say I have, I actually have more than that. The kids that live in my house will always be my kids… ALWAYS… even when they leave someday (voluntarily or involuntarily). The kids in the foster care system- they’re all my kids. My friend’s kids- they’re mine too. The orphans around the world- they’re my kids. I am blessed with these kiddos to love, to pray over, to mourn for, and to lay at the feet of Jesus. This is KEY. Our children belong to Jesus. I’m just hanging with them a bit. I need to let go of the number and how it effects my identity as “a mom of ___”. Instead, I want to focus on loving each one well. Katie Davis from Amazima Ministries says:

 “I have learned that I will not change the world. Jesus will do that. I can however, change the world for one person.”

Just one.. at a time… That’s all I can handle anyway. I want to truly invest in the one in front of me and love each one that passes through my arms & prayers well. I don’t need to claim anything to try to help the world understand this crazy way of living. I am the arms of Jesus and that’s enough identity for me.

And let’s be honest. When it comes down to it, I will actually claim a fake (higher) number in those moments I appear slightly crazed from having a “bunch” of kids!