Caroline’s Story Part 3
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Hello and welcome to the Safe to Hope podcast. My name is Ann Maree and I’m the Executive Director for HelpHer and the host of this podcast. On the Safe to Hope: Hope Renewed in Light of Eternity podcast, we help women tell their story with an eye for God’s redemptive purposes. All suffering is loss, but God leaves nothing unused in His plans. We want to help women see His redemptive thread throughout their circumstances, and then look for opportunities to join with God in His transformational work.

Hello, and welcome back to the Safe to Hope podcast for Episode Five, the Foster Family Care Story. Just as a reminder, I’ve said this every time but I want to continue to present this to our audience, and that is that the Help[H]er ministry works with many women in churches in multiple types of crises, not just abuse. So this season, we’ve been branching out, and we’re talking with a foster mom. She has five beautiful children age six months through seven years. And there is a common theme in our previous broadcasts, and that being trauma and how it impacts people. But specifically for this series, we are looking at how trauma impacts the family, parents, biological children, and foster children and even biological parents of those children.

But Caroline is one who has witnessed and experienced trauma in a very unique way. So we also chose this series because foster families are populating our evangelical communities much more lately. So our hope is to share with the church, how they can come alongside and care for the very unique needs of both the parents and the children of these families.

So let’s welcome again, Caroline, our storyteller.

Caroline

Thanks, Ann Maree for having me again.

Ann Maree

This episode is the bittersweet one. We’ve spent so much time together. And this one in particular, we spend a lot of time together because of some road blocks that we’ve had with holidays and sicknesses.

But anyway, I’m excited to hear from you in this particular episode, because it’s where we will talk more about God and how he met you and your family in the circumstances. You and I have had some conversations about that offline. So today, we’ll talk about how God continues to meet you.

But I’m also looking forward to gleaning some understanding about how you actually have lived, spiritually speaking, through this type of story. So, specifically now for storytelling, can you talk to us about what it was like to reflect on and share this story?

Caroline

Actually I had forgotten this, but just remembered again, that five years ago today is when we got our phone call for the kids. So around lunchtime, I had put my four-month baby down and was walking away from her room when I got a phone call asking if they could come to our house on the next day. So tomorrow, we will celebrate our five-year anniversary as a family.

So it’s been nice to reflect on all that’s happened and all the ways that God has cared for our family and cared for our children. But I think that when you are living with someone who has experienced trauma, especially a child who developmentally does not have the capacity to think through some of the things that they’ve experienced, and honestly things they never should have experienced, it can look and feel like that trauma wins.

There are many nights and days and phone calls that have left me feeling like trauma has won. And I’ve asked the Lord why it feels like trauma is always winning. And even though I know the end of the story is victorious, that doesn’t always feel like I do. So my husband and I often talk about how our story of foster care and our story, and even things that we’re still working through, we realize that it’s really been one of the hardest things we’ve experienced. And we can see now that God has used it to completely change who we are for the better. And if it was not, for our oldest two children and their birth family, we probably would be completely different people.

And so I think that can be comforting to know that there are very evident ways that God has changed us and ways that I’m so thankful for. And I think that the experience of dealing with brokenness that is right in front of us has humbled me to my core of knowing that I am truly not in control of anything.

So I think that reflecting on the last five years, has been a good reminder that we’re not in control and that God is in control. Even when it feels like he’s not he is. It’s a simple truth that we’ve really had to hold on too tightly.

Ann Maree

We talk about this all the time, because it’s the tagline of our podcast that we want to have: hope renewed in the light of eternity. So you are saying, “I know the end of the story, but that doesn’t always make today feel a lot better,” right?

Caroline

No. ::chuckles::

Ann Maree

It’s a truth that we can depend on. It’s a promise from God. And it’s also a way on a daily basis to have to seek Him. Because, like you just said, you don’t have the feeling of relief that comes from that ultimate truth.

But Christians are the only people who are privileged with an ability to remember the future. It’s kind of weird. God told us the end of the story. He told us what he promises to do. And what those promises will result in. And in Scripture helps us make sense of our stories, maybe not a one-to-one correlation, for sure, but in such a way as to be able to ground our hope. “When we know the end result,” as Brother Laurence says, in The Practice of the Presence of God, “we don’t need to allow ourselves to be greatly concerned.” Like I’ve said now a couple times, that doesn’t mean that it makes our lives or circumstances easier.

When we talk about our story work, it really needs to be known that this is work. There is nothing easy about our stories. But God is also there. So on that note, how did God shepherd you through this process?

Caroline

And I think there is a lot of ways that God has continually reminded me that he cares for me in little ways. And my mom always reminds me to not miss God’s hand, even in hard circumstances. This seems so little, but I have a friend and we joke because I cannot count how many times over the last five years, a stranger has bought me coffee. It sounds so little but when I am behind someone in a drive-thru, I have pulled up to find out that my coffee has been paid for by the person in front of me. Or quite literally, I have been in a coffee shop where someone in front of me in line has bought my coffee just because they probably just see all the kids. I’ve been pregnant a couple of times with very little children. I think that sounds so little, but that just reminds me that God sees and that he knows me. And that he loves me and that he can even use strangers to care for you. And he can use believers and also unbelievers to remind me that God sees me and knows me.

And I think also with specialists whether it’s a doctor or a therapist or counselor, we’ve just had very good experiences with all kinds of specialists. And from the circles that I’m in, that just is not the norm. We have never had any problem getting services or referrals for our children. And again, that’s not the norm. People sometimes have a really hard time either getting the referrals they need or knowing how to advocate for their children. But we’ve had really good pediatricians who have also been believers and have loved our family well, and not only care for our kids, but have also cared for me, by knowing what my kids needed when I did not.

They helped me navigate as a new mom and as a new mom to kids with special needs. And, you know, you don’t know what you’re doing. They have come alongside us and have helped me figure out how to advocate for my children.

The same with our son’s therapist like knowing how to advocate in an IEP meeting and different things like that. I feel like that’s super practical but those have been ways that I have been reminded that, God sees and knows me and he cares.

And so that has been something that’s stuck out to me over the last five years. Also, my husband I will like to look back over pictures from several years ago. I don’t know if you’ve ever looked at a picture and you’re like, wow, I don’t remember that, but I don’t know how we did it. But we did, because we’re here. But oftentimes when we look back at pictures and you know with trauma, trauma affects the physical appearance of the body. And we have very much seen our kids change physically over the years in different ways.

So we’re able to look back, and honestly sometimes just laugh because we don’t know how we did that. The fact that we’re still a family living off of daily grace is a reminder to me that the Lord does care for me. Again, even when there are hard things happening and things that I wished would not be happening, he sees me and he knows me and that’s been a good comfort to me.

Ann Maree

Yeah, daily grace, that was a good phrase to put to what you just said. I think our audience has heard me say this before, in our bonus episodes in January, I talked about my own God moments. And I hear you talking about your daily graces, your God moments. But what I mean about God moments is that I recognize looking back that what happened could have only been from him and specifically for me.

We’re working on a course in H Institute called Theology of Story. And one of the books that we’re reading The Other Half of Church, the author writes, “Joy, helps us regulate our emotions and endure suffering.” And so for you, coffee brings you joy. And then free coffee even better, right?

And just think about this, ponder this for a minute, joy lives in our memories. Now we can have joy for the future, but the joy that we know is in our memories. God knows that you like coffee so he literally put joy in a cup for you. And that’s like “his face shining upon you and giving you peace” Numbers, 6:24-26, the benediction.

This is just another way we can feel his presence, not just his words, but his presence. And then another great thing is that it’s the gift that keeps on giving. And I mean, because those joyful moments live in our memories, we can remember them anytime. We pull them up and experience them in the same way. I could see in your demeanor as you were talking that you were experiencing it again. And then you have the holy presence of our Heavenly Father.

Actually what you just described is like a mini session on how to reframe our stories. So on that note, has God done any reframing of your story beyond those things? And if so, how?

Caroline

God has done a lot of reframing of our family’s story. I used to think that if God allowed something to happen, it was for my good. I know that God is good. I know what Romans 8:28 says. But children experiencing abuse and families being broken and siblings being ripped apart is not what God says is good. It’s also not how he created families, not what he intended for family. So although he can make and bring forth hope in these situations, and he can bring good things from them, those things specifically are not good. Psalm 34:17-18 says that “the righteous cry out, and God hears them, he delivers them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

And this is post-Fall and after the garden. So we will experience being brokenhearted and we will cry out to the Lord and we will be crushed in spirit. But we know that the Lord hears this people, and he promises to deliver his people. It just may not always be on this side of eternity. So I think that’s an important way to reframe that. We know the end of the story. We know that God delivers for eternity. But we don’t know what that looks like on this side. So I think that verse has brought me freedom to cry out to the Lord and know that there is freedom for me to say that I actually don’t know why God is doing something. And I can say, “I know you’re in control, but this doesn’t feel good. Please help me.” Or “I don’t understand why this is happening. Why are you allowing this to happen?”

I think there’s been a lot of freedom in being honest with the Lord and how I’m feeling about things. And I’ve noticed too that we often talk about suffering once we’ve received our desired answer from the Lord. And those are good things. We want to rejoice in all the ways that God answers prayers, whether that’s healing an illness or repairing a marriage or a prodigal returning home. But I feel like we rarely talk about who God is, when brokenness does not have the outcome that we anticipated or the outcome is not necessarily good.

So there’s brokenness here on this earth that God says is not good and that we will still experience due to the Fall. So knowing that we can acknowledge that and know that God is in control and also mourn what is broken.

God has taught me a lot about feeling two things at once. The “and” statements or the “but this” statements are things that I now feel more comfortable saying that I didn’t feel comfortable saying before. And being free to admit that things are not supposed to be this way. So our bodies, our brains, our families, our hearts are all broken due to sin just from the Fall, but we can have hope that this is not the end. And if anything, our experience has pushed my husband and I to long for eternity, probably more than ever before.

And another sidenote about God reframing. I think the word self-care is a term that we’re hearing a lot more frequently. And I don’t think I really had heard about it from a biblical perspective at all until I was in counseling. And I didn’t understand what it meant especially as a Christian. We hear a lot about dying to self. And I think as Christian moms, we can think that this means that we need to think the least of ourselves and the most about everyone else. But if we are not taking care of our bodies, physically and spiritually, then we can’t care for our families or other people around us. So the Bible is clear about loving God with all your heart, soul and mind so that we can love our neighbors as ourselves. But if we are not prioritizing our walks with the Lord, and also taking care of like our physical bodies, we can’t care for ourselves or others properly. God created our bodies to need certain things to work properly, like water and sleep and exercise and good food.

So I think foster care has taught me a lot about listening to my body and what it means, and also how important it is for moms to care for their own bodies. And a little plug, but being involved in your local community, I think can be super helpful to foster Moms. My gym community has been such a huge blessing for me in the season. Not only do I like to exercise and take care of my body, but I get to do it alongside some really great friends that I’ve made that I live in close proximity to that go to school with us and do sports with us and go to church near us. And that has been a really sweet gift from the Lord that he has reframed for me to think about how I should care for myself so that I can care for my family.

And God has also reframed what it means for us to be involved in our local community and to live among people and to know people and for them to know us. So those are two big things that God has reframed for us and our family lifestyle.

Ann Maree

Great, you said a lot of good things, but a couple things I wanted to draw out a little bit is to say that two things can happen at the same time. You can have joy in difficult circumstances. It can happen. I think probably “nuance in the Christian life” is one of the things that is least talked about or learned. That we can recognize that those two things can happen simultaneously. Actually, Martin Luther called that “delicious despair” which is a really beautiful way to think about it.

So on the note of self-care, I was just reading Aundi Kolber in her book, Try Softer and how it’s not selfish. And in 1 Corinthians 6 it says, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own, for you have been bought for a price, therefore glorify God in your body.” And she uses that verse, and what she’s talking about is when we’re bought for that price, and that price being Jesus Christ, who sacrificially gave his body for us, as we’re caring for the children that God has brought into our homes, we are imitating Christ. And it’s a sacrificial work, both mind, body and soul. And all of those three things are being used sacrificially as you care for others. And that is glorifying God in your body. And like you said, if you don’t take care of it, you can’t help anybody.

And I’ve had to change my thinking about this, too. Self-care isn’t somebody neglecting their responsibilities and taking a spa day. Rather, in self-care, you pay attention to what your body needs in order to keep glorifying God.

Let those emotions lead you to those questions. And that’s one of the ways you care for yourself by asking, “What is this emotion telling me about who I am in my relationship to God? And by asking those kinds of questions, it brings you back into relationship with God. You know, asking him the questions is relating with him. So to devalue all of those elements, mind, body, spirit, is Gnosticism rearing its ugly head again. So all of the things you said are very important to hear. Thank you.

So on the note of relating, how did this experience impact how you relate to God? You’ve touched on it, but tell us a little bit more.

Caroline

I am just reminded that God is personal and he specifically loves me and specifically cares for me and for my family. Prior to this, I just lived a very normal life. And, of course, there were things that happened that probably that shouldn’t have or that were hurtful but I there was really minimal suffering that I had experienced up until we entered into foster care.

And so I’m comforted that the Lord of the whole entire universe knows me, and not just me, but he knows all the kids in my home and he cares for them. He knows them by name, he knows all their needs. He knows all the ways that they need to be cared for physically and mentally and spiritually. And he knows their future, which I think any mom can be tempted to have anxiety about their children’s future, and what that will look like.

Colossians 1:17 says that “he’s before all things and in Him all things are held together.” This has been a comfort to us knowing that God who is Creator of all things also upholds all things and he’s in all things. And that means that he’s in the really big things and also the really small things.

And so I think that’s just wait one way that I’ve experienced God, uniquely, during these trials knowing that God is the same God who is with me in a courtroom, that he also is in an IEP meeting, that he also is in a counseling session, that he’s also is in a PT session, and that he also is at the park playing. It’s the same God and all of those things are held together by him. So that has been a unique way that I’ve gotten to experience him.

Ann Maree

He knows our name, but not just our name, right? In Isaiah 49:16, the Prophet says, “Look, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands” (and the CSB actually says “engraved”), and so, coming from Spurgeon’s take on that verse, he says, “It’s not just your name. It’s your person, your image, your ‘case,’ your circumstances, your sins, your temptations, your weaknesses, your wants, your works. Everything about you all that concerns you is engraved on his hands.” For all of us this is profound.

How or did this experience impact how you relate to others?

Caroline

I think probably one of the ways that foster care has impacted us the most is in the way that it has changed our theology of caring for others and how we relate to others. There are obviously things in Scripture that are black and white, but there is a lot of gray. And there are a lot of things that are not black and white.

And so I think that foster care has made my husband and I more compassionate, and has constantly put us in this tension receiving excellent care while coming alongside the vulnerable. We live in a in a town that is more upper middle class. And that’s helpful for our kids. They get to attend wonderful schools, and we have lots of access to great doctors and therapists and counselors. But that goes along with the tension of being among and caring for the vulnerable. So that is just something that we are always thinking through. We think about how to live where we live, while we as adults care for the vulnerable and broken.

I think this has taught me to listen to people, and to realize that some people can be broken and not look broken. Everyone has a story. Everyone has something that has happened to them that has caused suffering or pain or hurt. So it has taught me to listen closely to people and listen to their stories.

And as you’re forming friendships with people, and as they’re sharing more and more, we’re learning to be a safe place for people to share. Knowing that ultimately, what we all need when there’s brokenness is Jesus. And knowing that Jesus is a friend. So one way that we can be the hands and feet of Jesus is to be a friend to people.

And I think I’ve also learned that every family has suffering. No matter if you were raised in a Christian home or a non-Christian home, a foster home or a non-foster adopted home. Every family has suffering. We see this all over the Bible. Yeah, I think it’s just perked my ears up a lot to have a listening ear and to be a caring friend.

Ann Maree

Yeah, God kind of awakens that attentiveness, to pay attention to the people around you and what they are experiencing. But you’re right. Yes, there are so many black and white things in the Scriptures, but even Paul says in Ephesians, I think, to try and discern God’s will, as if he never gave it to us. So there are still elements of gray of having to look for “What is God’s will in this?”

But I hear so much compassion from you. A compassionate outlook in as you say like just listening. How important listening is. You’re right, everyone has a story. And we have been in the church really open to that concept, because we’re constantly asking people “What’s your testimony?” when we meet somebody new. And our testimony isn’t just what God did. It was what was happening to us when God did it. I think storytelling and story listening is a really important concept to grasp. And that you learned it in foster parenting is very interesting.

So speaking of God’s Word, where do you find his heart for you?

Caroline

The Psalms have been a huge comfort to me. I think we see specifically, in the Psalms that God’s word is filled with his heart for His people. I think one way that he gives us examples is through David and David’s life of lamenting over what is broken. Because God loves his people and he wanted to give us an example to show us how to lament.

We get to see David cry out to the Lord asking the same questions that we’re asking, “Why are things the way they are?” And I think just using someone like David, who God says is after his own heart, and yet, David had a lot of brokenness in his life, and that’s who God chooses to use as an example.

So that has reminded me of God’s heart for His people. This sounds so simple, but just over the holiday, as we celebrated Christmas, we were talking to our young kids about the story of Christmas, and how Jesus humbled himself to be born as a baby because he loves and cares for us. But he could have come into the world any other way. And he chooses to come as King of the world as a baby birthed in a stable with animals from a young woman, to live among others, so that we would know his heart for the broken and for people.

I just think that it’s really easy to tell the Christmas story and not think through all the logistics and all the things that were actually going on during that time. We should stop and see that God really cares for his people. And so that’s been just something we’ve been reflecting on as the Christmas season just passed.

Ann Maree

That’s really good. The Scriptures provide the language through the stories. And it gives you ways to frame how you think about your life and your circumstances, but it also gives the pictures.

I love what you’re talking about, about just imagining the practical. You know, sanctified imagination, imagining the practical aspect of all of what happened. And recently being a new mom, I’m sure you’re thinking, wow, giving birth in a stable!

But then, just going back to what we talked about before how those things then lead you back to God, because that just makes him even more amazing. And in the ways that you’re still questioning him, it also makes him more accessible. So lamenting isn’t just a thing in and of itself to do. It actually leads you to something that leads you to him. It leads you to think his thoughts to envision his pictures, his future.

That was really good. I’m sure that’s one of the takeaways that your children will remember when they’re older of you guys kind of working through that whole scene of the baby’s birth in a stable.

So you’ve talked about this before. But again, I’m going to just ask the question, see if you have anything else to add, but what are some of the comforts you’ve experienced along the way? We know coffee is one of them.

Caroline

The Old Testament has been such a comfort, specifically because it is filled with story after story of these families that were doing awful things when they did not trust God. In the things that the people in the Old Testament saw, like a sea parting or like a storm, wiping out the world and watching it all happen from an ark. There was so much infertility and brokenness. And yet, we then see in Hebrews 11, that God calls so many of these people faithful and that he remembers them. And I was thinking through Noah on an ark, watching the world wiped away like that. So that was trauma that affected him and his family.

So I have been reminded that God knows me, but he doesn’t just know who I am but he remembers me and my family. And knowing our story is not new to him, and it’s not anything that God cannot handle, even when I feel that way. Everyone’s story in foster care and adoption is unique for several different reasons.

But I can sometimes feel like ours is even a little more unique and I am reminded again that this is not new to him. And it’s not anything that was that was surprising to him. He’s a patient, loving, kind, gracious Father who delights in his children coming to him and asked me for help. I feel like there are some things that I’ve been praying for over the years that God is still saying, “Not now.” And the pain of those things has not gotten any easier, but my intimacy with the Lord is deeper because of them. And because I can come to God, and say again, “Why is this happening?” And yet knowing with all that said that he loves me. Also, I think it’s just been a comfort to know that my children are fully known by God, no matter how they got in our home.

Something I haven’t really touched on a ton is how foster care has affected the biological children in my home, and that’s mostly because I’m sharing my story as a foster mom, and how this has all affected me. But all five of the children in my home have their own stories. And we start pretty young in our home to cultivate the skill of processing story because of the nature of how our home is made up.

So there are some things that I have really grieved about my time specifically with my first biological child. Because when you’re pregnant with your first baby, you don’t really picture other children being added into the mix. And you have this idea of what it will be like for the first time when they are going to school or they’re doing all these first things. And that’s not what’s happened in our family, because I have two kids that are older than her, and they have gotten to do a lot of the first things. And that has been hard for me to grieve and to process. And I think I can sometimes feel guilty as a mom for some of those things. And God has just reminded me that he cares for my oldest biological daughter that I only got four months alone with her. He cares for her more than I do, and he knows her, and he knows her needs.

Ann Maree

Yeah, we have touched on the impact on your biological children, and they’re young still. I remember the first time I talked to you, and you said something about hoping that I don’t know if it was your biological daughter or foster daughter, that maybe she would one day be able to tell her story. But I’d love to have all of your kids on the podcast someday. I’d love to hear their perspective. When we heard Jonathan’s perspective about his experience, it was so informative. So I look forward to the day that I can meet your children and have them tell their story.

One of the things that we know is true in thinking about our story is that God does reveal himself, and we’ve heard it thread throughout everything you’ve talked about. But more specifically, what are some of the things that he’s revealed to you about himself?

Caroline

God has revealed himself in how he has designed us as people to live in community. And that has been a big thing that we’ve been learning a lot. The foster community where we live is great. There are lots of ways that we can have access to each other and lots of different support groups available. We probably have so many options because we live closer to a city, but it’s also super hard to do all those things when you have several children.

A lot of foster families have a lot of kids in their home. So on top of the needs of the therapy and other appointments, it can feel like you have very limited time for community. Many foster families can feel like they’re a burden to other people especially when you have kids going through hard things and working through hard things. We talked about maybe in the first or second episode that transitioning to different settings can be really difficult and can cause a lot of sensory regulation issues which can result in different behaviors. And so I think it’s uniquely hard for foster families to live in community.

And that’s been something that we see of who God is when we’re around other people. Because since we’re all made in God’s image when we are around other people, we do get to experience God uniquely. That’s something I could go on and on about because I could list person after person who I’ve met that just have cared for me and my family. A lot of them being believers, and a lot of them being other people who don’t identify as Bible-believing Christians.

We’ve experienced a common grace of living among others locally and living in community through which I’ve seen a really unique picture of God specifically this last year.

Ann Maree

Yeah, that’s beautiful. That’s the first thing we learn about God in the Scriptures. For he is a community. He has Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and they’ve been together from the beginning. So since we are made in his image, community is so important.

And it is really easy probably to pull back and hide away because of the hardness of life with a variety of children and a variety of ages and a variety of different needs. But when you do reach out and seek that community, you’re just reminded about the nature of who God is and how He created us. That would be another thing that we could say to other families of either foster or adopted or children who have been traumatized.

But what would you add to that? What would you say about this process of moving through your story?

Caroline

I think storytelling is so impactful. This is something we see all over Scripture. And I didn’t even think about the fact of interest when you ask people’s testimonies. People love it, because you’re hearing their story of how God literally changed their life. I think people just love hearing other people’s stories. And so it can help people relate, it can help others not feel alone, it can bring hope. And knowing someone’s story and then seeing their life is an encouragement as you watch them continue on to persevere through really hard things.

I know, we were somewhere recently where some people were sharing their stories, and it was an encouragement to me, because I’m standing there like, “And you’re okay, after all those things that have happened?” They are okay, and they are walking with God. And although I know that hard things are not joyful, they seem to be full of joy and peace. And that doesn’t mean things are not hard, but that been an encouragement to me.

I do think it’s more important for us to process your story with a professional. I think the counseling session gives the counselee like a judgment-free zone to process and work through hurt, pain and grief as they make sense of their story. And then can kind of craft together how their story impacts them, who God is in light of their story, and how to persevere on. And I think that’s something unique that can be done in a professional setting with someone who is safe.

I think there’s definitely caution with sharing our stories. First, because you just never know what someone else is going through. And so, always having discernment on when to share your story and who to share your story with is something to think through. And then knowing that the point in storytelling is not to make people feel bad for you or even really for others to feel what you’re feeling. But it’s a way to be more understood, and as a believer, it really is to bring Christ’s glory. And so I think there should definitely be caution when sharing your story.

I know it’s nerve-wracking to share your story on a public platform, because there can be triggers that come up during it. I think after our first day of recording the first episode, I was so surprised because it’s been five years since we got our foster kids, and after our first day of recording, I’m not sure what happened, but I was trying to plan dinner and I walked into the garage, my husband was in there, and I burst into tears, which, if you know me, that is not common for me. And I told my husband that I was just completely exhausted and wiped from just talking about something that happened five years ago. And basically I told him, “Listen, we need to order some dinner, and I need to take a nap.” I had to take it easy that afternoon and that is not what I expected.

So I think storytelling is great, and it’s a good thing. It can also be a thing that is triggering and hard.

Ann Maree

So yeah, it is it is work. I’ll remind everybody over and over it is story work. And you don’t really realize the impact on yourself when you’re working through it spiritually, physically.

So it’s important to be in tune with what your body’s calling for, as you’re working through your story. And I do appreciate that you mentioned working through it with a professional first. I agree. Even on our podcast, we like to work well. We tried to work with storytellers who have processed some of their story in some way.

Another thing to bring up as a thought process for story work, and that it’s not once and done. We will tell our stories, maybe not in full but in part, over and over and over in different ways for different reasons. And each time we do that, it is a healing experience. So we would like to have someone on the podcast here who has worked with somebody who knows what they’re doing prior to telling their story on this very public platform.

So let’s wrap it up now. This is the hardest part for me because we’re done. But what do you wish pastors and church leaders knew about foster care and anything else like about trauma or practical needs that we’ve touched on a little bit? Here’s your chance to talk to the pastors and church leaders. What do you think the needs are?

Caroline

I think when a foster family gets their first initial phone call that that placement is coming, I would want people in leadership positions of all kinds to know that foster families don’t know what they need because some of them have never done it before. It’s really easy to say that you need clothes and food and toys if you don’t have biological children in your home. But spiritually, emotionally and physically is where foster parents specifically need care.

Trauma from caring for foster children in the home is also really hard on a marriage for so many different reasons. So even if the family looks all put together on Sunday, and they get to church on time, and everyone looks “fine,” reality is that they probably aren’t. And this is really different than just rushing out the door and having attitudes because someone’s lost a shoe or mom didn’t get to eat breakfast or someone’s coffee is cold. I’m talking about like kids being dysregulated. And that family might have had a visitation that weekend that’s really leaving a child dysregulated for Sunday, and the children are having a hard time coping due to having some really big feelings. So this is just a reminder to remember that what you see is so small compared to what is actually going on. If you’ve see someone on Sunday and they say, “How’s it going?” and your child is standing there, you can’t really say how it’s going because they can hear you and you want to protect them in their story and things that are going on with them. And so yeah, I think just being reminded that there are definitely needs even if you can’t see them, they are definitely there.

I think just being trauma informed. I don’t know, this would necessarily look like for pastors and leadership, but I think that it can be discouraging when you hear that people might think trauma is not real, and you’re living with it in your home and you’re watching it. Sometimes it can feel like it’s killing your children. And I think that trauma hides who God created a child to be, and you’re seeing way more trauma than what God intended for that child. As a parent, it’s difficult to expect someone to come sit in church who’s never been in church before.

And again, thankfully, we had a children’s ministry director that knew all those things which very much gave me the freedom to say, “Hey, if this child cannot sit in church, even though that’s what is expected, please let me know, and we’ll work something out.” So just knowing that due to trauma and children’s experiences, there’s going to be a lot of things that they can’t do because it’s just not within their ability for now. And the leadership should consider how trauma is affecting the foster parents even if it seems like it’s not, it is. And the parents might not even know it yet.

There are some practical things that could be helpful. We were given clothes for our kids and grocery gift cards. My bible study at the time put together a bundle of toys for some of the kids and we were so appreciative of that. We had another couple at the time, who was also fostering, who came over and stocked our fridge with all kinds of kid-friendly food, and since we only had a four-month-old, I had no idea what a two-year-old would be eating.

There is a local nonprofit that we have in our area called Foster Village, and within 24 hours of receiving a placement, they will send you a welcome pack. So this includes bath soap, washcloths, toothbrushes, hair brushes, bedrails if you need that or anything like that. I know that some churches will have small foster closets so that when people in the congregation are getting rid of clothes or toys, they can donate it to the foster closet. And then when a placement arrives, the foster family can go into this closet and take what they need. That is a practical and easy way to love on a foster family.

And if the church had the ability just to have like a specific pastor who would check in on the foster families like on the state at the home, supporting the couple by checking in on the marriage. Our marriage had lots of ups and downs during the last five years due to the level of stress in our home. And a pastor could help with the parenting aspect. Foster parenting can cause a lot of tension in marriages, because trauma-informed parenting is really different than what we expected. And it’s a learning curve so that can cause tension. Those things would be a great help.

And then last, just having some kind of support group options. I lead a support group at the facility of a different church and so it’s not run by the church by any means. We just come in, they let us use their facilities and they provide snacks for us and so that arrangement is so simple and easy. It’s not an official ministry of the church and our support group is actually not a Christian support group. So it also allows unbelievers or non-faith people to come into the support group and be loved on by a church which I think is really unique. I think those are just some really practical and maybe simple ways that church leaders can help.

And one other thing would be to offer babysitting. You can be a respite foster parent who does not take placements but gives foster families a break for a weekend, and that can be a way to care for families in the church. Two churches we’ve been in have provided Respite Nights where families can come and drop their kids off so that the couple can go out to dinner and the children are cared for at church.

Getting babysitters even when your kids are still in or out of care is really difficult just because of the needs of the children. And also that high alert that happens when mom and dad are out of the home can cause a lot of anxiety for the kids. So I know we have had to be really mindful of who babysits for us based on who our kids feel comfortable with, and our kids have always felt comfortable at church. So knowing that we can drop off our children and that they’re cared for and that they feel safe is a huge blessing for us and for them. I could go on and on, but I’ll just stop there for now.

Ann Maree

We may be asking you to go on and on. Earlier in this series, we talked to Jessica Galena, and she mentioned something that triggered the thought of having a welcome packet for foster care families in the church. So that people can have a list for food and clothing and toys and other things. I’ve been out of it so long, I wouldn’t know what a two-year-old eats either.

And so Caroline might be helping us work on this resource as well, so that we can provide a digital list of age-appropriate toys and clothes while remembering that a foster two-year-old may not be playing with two-year-old toys yet. So developmental information could also be included in the packet. And the very practical ideas of providing a foster closet and a respite night out are great ideas. You know, we do nights out in churches for other things so it would make sense to provide foster families with nights out as well.

In and then then there’s the financial aspect of it. Fostering is not cheap, and you do get compensated in many ways, but not after you adopt them, if you adopt them. And then your own counseling, your therapy, and even story work can cost money. And so having five children and two adults in the home may mean that you need some help financially. So that would be something that our deacons could help with by coming up with a fund for our foster and adoptive families.

But there is so much that we could be doing, and I think that just sharing your life story with us has helped to shine a bright light into those things. I appreciate you so very much. Thank you, Caroline.

Caroline

Thank you.

Ann Maree

And thank your family because this has not been an easy process because of the dynamics of the kids and their age and Christmas and sickness and all those things, so thank your family for sharing you. They didn’t even know they did it, but they shared you with us.

Caroline

I will, thanks.

Ann Maree

That’s all for today. Our final episode in this series is in two weeks, and that’s when we will talk with Darby Strickland, who everyone in our audience, I’m sure, is well familiar with, and who is wise on multiple levels. But she just released a book for children called Something Scary Happened, and so we’re going to ask her to chime in on this conversation. She will be here partnering with Jill Butler, another CCEF counselor. And Jill recently spoke at the CCEF conference on trauma. So she will be an excellent resource for us as well. And we’re happy both of them can join us. So come back in two weeks and hear the end of the story.

If you want to know or learn more about becoming a licensed foster parent, please visit your local county’s Department of Social Services website. If you want to learn more about foster care, we suggest you start with some of the following book resources. That would be Foster the Family by Jamie Finn and/or Reframing Foster Care by Jason Johnson.

If you’re interested in learning more about trauma and building connection as a caretaker with a vulnerable child, we will include several resources in our show notes. And as well we will include a link if you’re a foster parent looking for one of the support groups Caroline has been talking about in your area.

Safe to Hope is a production of Help[H]er. Our executive producer is Ann Maree Goudzwaard. Safe to Hope is written and mixed by Ann Maree and edited by Ann Maree and Helen Weigt. Music is Waterfall and is licensed by Pixabay. We hope you enjoyed this episode in the Safe to Hope podcast series.

Safe to Hope is one of the resources offered through the ministry of Help[H]er a 501(c)(3) that provides training, resources, and the people necessary in order for the church to shepherd women well. Your donations make it possible for Help[H]er to serve women and churches as they navigate crises. All donations are tax deductible. If you’d be interested in partnering with this ministry, go to helpherresources.com and click the donate link in the menu. If you’d like more information, or would like to speak to someone about ministry goals or advocacy needs, go to helpherresources.com

We value and respect conversations with all our guests. Opinions, viewpoints, and convictions may differ so we encourage our listeners to practice discernment. As well. guests do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of Help[H]er. It is our hope that this podcast is a platform for hearing and learning rather than causing division or strife.

Please note, abuse situations have common patterns of behavior, responses, and environments. Any familiarity construed by the listener is of their own opinion and interpretation. Our podcast does not accuse individuals or organizations.

The podcast is for informational purposes and is not a substitute for professional care, diagnosis, or treatment.

Visit your county’s dept. of social services website for foster parent info.

If you are a foster parent looking for a support group in your area please visit Foster the Family support groups.

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Looking Forward
  • Swag Shop of branded goodies
  • Festival of Remembrance journal
  • Theology of Story II course
  • Remember Bible Study
  • Documenting resource for counselors