Community, Fostering, Uncategorized

Spotlight on the Mommas : Keeping Siblings Together

Guys, you will LoVe Becky. She is the real deal. There is nothing coming out of this woman that is less than 1000%. She lives in the present and celebrates the little things like it’s going out of style. She is Momma to 4 kiddos, a compassionate IR nurse and wife to the mailman. She may look like the nice neighbor next door, but there is FIRE in her!

Becky’s pretty darn cool and not just because of the snow or serious adventuring with her first born

How did you decide you wanted to foster to adopt? (Were you and your hubby always on the same page?) Ryan and I always wanted a large family (we’re both 1 of 5 kids – he’s the oldest and I’m the youngest of our families) but pregnancies were HARD. We had a difficult time getting pregnant, and then with our oldest I was in bedrest from 18-34 weeks due to a subchorionic hemorrhage (bleeding behind the placenta which threatened the pregnancy). The second one I was also on bedrest for a complete placenta previa (the placenta was over my cervix) and then she developed heart problems and passed away in utero, her delivery was precarious and we were advised that I’d most likely die during delivery…niiiiiiiice. Did I mention she delivered our anniversary? Ha! We know how to do things! Our third was also bedrest from 10 -24 weeks and then we had a crash c-section during delivery at 37 weeks because I had a concealed abruption and Cy (our son) nearly bled out in utero. Our fourth pregnancy we miscarried at 10 weeks. All of this to say, I had a dysfunctional uterus, it was a miracle ANYTHING survived me gestating it, and after our pregnancies we knew we were DONE trying for bio kids. BUT we also knew we needed time to heal. So, after after a SEEK fast at Radiant Church, God brought adoption back to our hearts individually. We ended up talking about it, and it was amazing that God had laid adoption on both of our hearts during that same season. We considered foreign adoption, domestic adoption but NEVER infant adoption. (Ha! We were DONE with diapers!) After praying longer about it, we realized were being led to adopt from foster care. Honestly, that first info meeting about foster care, we were surprised. (I think we were the only ones in the room that didn’t know you received a monthly stipend to care for the kids you fostered! Like shocked!). We entered foster care intending to take in kiddos that needed a forever family, and the first two kids placed with us did become ours after a LONG year and a half.

How did you decide to foster/decide what ages and how many at a time? We wanted siblings that were younger than our oldest child (preserving birth order). So at the time that meant any sibling set of 1-3 kids, ages 4-9, boys or girls. We knew the older kids were harder to place and much harder to place together and we wanted to be able to keep siblings together.

How was the licensing process? How long did it take? What helped you during all the inspections/ paperwork? The licensing process for us was HORRIBLE! They lost our total volume of paperwork…like ALL of it… not once but TWICE! Ryan and I agree that we think they lost it a third time but then found it. We were so done with it all that I had taken forty days to pray about it, and then called the agency to tell them we were out. It was that phone call that changed everything and kept us “in the game”. It must have been a Holy Spirit led conversation on the other end because I found myself saying we’d stay in it to get licensed when I had been adamant that we would not continue the process before the phone call took place. I’m so glad we prayed. I’m so glad He moved!

How do your bio kids feel about fostering/adopting? (How do they help? What’s hard? Where do each of you shine?) Our bio kids…hmm. They’ve taken it well, but it’s been hard. A lot of sacrifice involved. I’m not sure how to explain what they’ve gone through other than it takes a lot of dying to yourself to make room for others to occupy your home and family and lives and not swing through all of the emotions. I think all four of them now just treat one another like siblings….it’s becoming blissfully normal…and I am thankful. Recently I took our new teenager on a surprise trip to Colorado for her birthday. She just needed that one on one time to be appreciated and loved on without the pressure of everyone and everything. I didn’t realized how much she’d need that until we were gone together. Intentionally. I’ve realized how intentional we’ve needed to be to make each kid feel seen and loved. We plan on more of that coming along.

And what no one tells you about foster care and adoption is how much it takes for a family to recover. It’s been a year and a half since we adopted, and we’re just now hitting our stride and coming up for air. Normalcy takes time. Healing from trauma (our adopted kids, our bio kids, our’s) it takes time. And when you invite trauma into your home, you ALL walk through it together, you all die a little together, and it’s hard. It’s beautiful. It’s good. But you feel like you’re drowning for awhile. Is it worth it? Absolutely. We wouldn’t change a thing. But is it hard? Harder than anything we could have conceived. But again, is it worth it? Always. A year and a half, and we feel like we’re just coming back to finding ourselves. It’s new, it’s better, it’s hard, but it’s good. AND it takes grace. Grace for ourselves, and grace from others.

Why yes, they are REAL children who make faces at the camera and don’t always get along. They’re true siblings.

How do you stay connected in your marriage and as a family? Praise be to JESUS we don’t need a babysitter anymore! Ryan and I have reinstated date night once a week and it has been a game changer! We need that time away together, and to reconnect. And the thing that helps us grow as a family, honestly, is going to church together, having dinner together and praying as a family. Psalm 126 seems to be the story of our family AND the cry of our hearts.

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then they said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.” The Lord has done great things for us; we are glad. Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like streams in the Negeb! Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.

Psalm 126 : 1-6

Do you have a family photo to share? Well we have two! The first Gotcha Day photo is ours, and the second is from our kiddos Little sister’s Gotcha Day. So our story takes an odd turn in that there are three kiddos from the sibling set, but Angel went into foster care with another family. When we got the phone call about Genesis and Breanna we were told there were only two, but then a couple of days later we found out that there was a third. She was 7 months old when she went into foster care, and the caseworker said she could be ours too, if we wanted her. So we prayed about it and asked questions about the other family and how well bonded she was. We found out that Angel was doing well and THRIVING with them and that the other family had bonded with her also – it just didn’t set right with us to rip her out of their arms. God had a different story. And we love it! So instead of adopting her to keep her with her biological siblings, both of our families adopted each other! All four of my kids call Angel’s parents “Aunt” and “Uncle” and call the other kids their cousins (except for Angel who G and Bre obviously call their sister). Angel’s adoption day was also the day they got her baptized and they asked Ryan to be her Godfather. So, we all become one big family and see each other as much as we can. Talk about being grafted into one another! God is so incredible.

Ya’ll! I love how separate families in the same community can connect to make one big family, because it takes a village and sometimes even TWO villages to raise a child!! These kiddos have double the love, double the birthday presents and double the siblings because one family was willing to listen to God and hear HIS ideas for their story and not just what made sense or felt “right.” I’m so thankful for Becky so generously sharing all these pieces of her heart and her story. I love how God is using her story to inspire others and encourage us all to lean in and hear God speak!

Adoption, Fostering, Parenting

Intro to a New Series: Spotlight on the Mommas

Whether you’re new here or we’ve been together for years, I’m sure you have noticed I have a heart for adoption and foster care. Loving kids like Jesus would is our calling as believers and decent human beings. I know you know this. There are kiddos all over the world who are not tucked in at night with a hug and a story. There are kiddos who don’t get food every day… and many of them live in your home town. There are kiddos fighting for survival, seeking out acceptance, looking for hope and lost in the meantime.

This breaks my heart.

It keeps me awake at night.

It’s not ok.

Fortunately, we have the power to change their destiny.

“The truth is that the 143 million orphaned children and the 11 million who starve to death or die from preventable diseases and the 8.5 million who work as child slaves, prostitutes, or under other horrific conditions and the 2.3 million who live with HIV add up to 164.8 million needy children. And though at first glance that looks like a big number, 2.1 billion people on this earth proclaim to be Christians. The truth is that if only 8 percent of the Christians would care for one more child, there would not be any statistics left.”

― Katie J. Davis, Author or Kisses from Katie

I want you to know that you don’t have to do or be anything especially great to change the life of a child. You don’t need to have your life all put together and you sure as heck don’t have to have all the answers. What kiddos need is nurture and structure and with a little help from your community, church, caseworkers and a few therapists, you can offer that and so much more!

Can you cook mac and cheese? Do you know how to read a book? Are you good at Go-Fish? (If the answer to that one is no, that’s actually better in this case.) Kids will love you. Sign up for Foster Care or Refugee Care to love on some kiddos in your own home or seek out a foster family you know and do their laundry. Notice the kids in your own kids’ school that fall on the outskirts or utilize the free lunch program and invite them to a playdate. (Supporting other families is called ORPHAN PREVENTION, America needs this!)

This month I’ve got a spotlight on some seriously amazing Mommas. They have graciously agreed to share their own stories of unconventional motherhood and I’m telling you: they have MOTHERED WELL because they were willing to show up. They have held little hands, wiped away big tears, made crazy amounts of food, played games, learned new math and woke up at ungodly hours of the night. Some of them have signed piles of paperwork, went to courtrooms, faced fears, said goodbye and some of them (like me) are still waiting for their kiddos to make it home. What they have all done, however, is said YES. They have all taken risks and stepped out in faith and I am so honored to share these beautiful, wild and crazy women with you.

So today I have a reading list for you to stir up the Holy Spirit in your hearts and create awareness. Here’s a few of my favorite books to open up your mind and heart and learn more about the needs of children in the US and around the world:

Dozens of people have written summaries of these amazing books, I won’t even try. I’ll just tell you to read them. I have found several at the library or on Hoopla, Libby, and Audiobooks. Trust me, they will change your life!

  • No Greater Love By Levi Benkert
  • Sold by Patricia McCormick (Honestly, only read this one if you are very brave.)
  • Kisses from Katie by Katie Davis
  • Too Small to Ignore Wess Stafford (Former CEO of Compassion International)
  • Small Town, Big Miracle by W.C. Martin
  • No Longer a Slumdog by K.P. Yohannan

Are you ready to change the world? It doesn’t have to be all at once, just one sweet little broken spirit… one at a time.

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!