2.10.2015

Private or State Agency? {Our Move}



The last few months have brought a number of changes to our ministry and family, a significant one being our move from a private licensing agency to the state.

As products of Lifeline's second foster care class, our four years with them were learning years. We valued every moment of our journey under their supervision. Our growth mirrored their programs, and the training and education we received were incredible. We treasured every day of our walk with them.

However, in early fall of last year, we became humbled by the alarming rate our county's needs were growing. We intentionally began researching the differences between our local county agency and private agencies in general.

In late November we knew for certain God was leading us to make a move and place ourselves under the supervision of the state. We have deeply grieved our Lifeline family, but embraced the welcome and calling from Shelby County.

There are some significant differences between the two, and I thought I would share a few things we learned through our experience, yet this certainly is not applicable to every state or agency.

~ In the state of Alabama, private agencies are not eligible to accommodate emergency placements. This means, they cannot accept placement referrals between the hours of 4:30 p.m. and 8 a.m., Monday through Friday, or on the weekends.

The reality is a limited amount of referrals actually take place during regular working hours. So many kiddos enter care under emergency or crisis situations. If homes are not available for this type circumstance, the children truly do end up sleeping at your local child welfare office. That's not just a television scenario. Though our family is currently busting number wise, we have a number of available beds, and when we became aware of this challenge, we knew we could help in occurrences like these if we were under the state umbrella.

~ Private agencies are responsible for their state license as well as yours. In honesty, this adds a second layer of needed paperwork, documentation, regulation, and communication. There's no way around it. They have to be able to have your back if questions are asked, but they must be able to defend their files as a private entity. As the foster parent, you may find yourself filling out forms simply for your private agency, that are not required by the state, but they are still needed. You may have an extra meeting a month if your agency worker cannot make it to your child's caseworker visit, or you'll need to be sure you make an extra copy of all the month's files.

~ Private agencies provide a filter for the referrals you receive. They have the margin to do this. This is a beautiful thing, but it is somewhat of a luxury. There's no way around that fact. We adore how Lifeline prayed over every call and examined the strengths and needs of their families before they every made contact. State placement workers attempt to weigh these in much the same way, but they often have numerous kids to place in a limited amount of time ~ a narrowed margin.

Additionally, some private agencies have differing limitations on the amount or specific type of children you may take. Whereas Alabama state law allows up to six children in care in a home (providing space and availability), a private agency may limit you according to your experience, the ages of children in your home, etc.

For a long time, we welcomed and appreciated this filter, but as we grew through experience, we reached a point where we felt we could steadfastly make these decisions for our family and remove the "middle man."

~ Through a private agency, you are often able to take placements from multiple counties. The last two years we've had children in our home from two local areas. We LOVED this experience because we were immersed in the differences between the court systems, because no county is the same. We were also forced to weigh these variations against state law. Yet, we reached a place where we longed to go deep and commit to our community, and for the most part, when you are licensed with your county, you will be placed with children through your county.

~ There is also a difference in support between private and state agencies. I have workers I would call my close friends from both, under the professional context. But there was distinct relational and spiritual support that our Lifeline workers provided. What a gift! We often wept and prayed together over the children in our home. We no doubt are also supported greatly by our County workers, but the reality is they are managing exponential cases and families at any given time. However, we have been so grateful for the clarity and support in policy through the County. The laws and regulations are clear and set. This takes a great burden off of us as foster parents.

Again, we would not trade our time with Lifeline for the world. It was a training sanctuary. We believe that God calls families and individuals to foster care for so many reasons and stories, ultimately for His glory. Yet, we are so thankful for our County agency and staff and filled with hope as the pages of this new chapter begin to turn.

How do state and private agencies differ in your area? Would love to hear more about your experiences!

~~~~~~~

Don't forget to support our agencies, families and kiddos in care by joining my Blog Birthday Party!

Because of Jesus ~

2.09.2015

Some Days I Forget My Reward ~

I sat in the child welfare conference area beside friends for whom we had battled in prayer.

Children for whom we had wept from our knees. 

My heart was filled with praise to see a room full of adoptions celebrated, yet shadowed with the quiet understanding to the lessons we had been learning in light of our calling becoming increasingly defined in the past months. 

Stepping into this world of foster care, our dreams craved a finalized adoption, another child, and new face.

Yet God has continued to say, No.

His plans for us have been distinctly different. We've delighted in walking with families and witnessing restoration, and we deeply feel these experiences will continue to shape our future.

Yet I'm ashamed to say not a day goes by that my eyes aren't pricked to tears and my feet aren't tempted to stomp and display a tantrum in rebellion.


I despise the jealousy, mingled with joy, that wells within me as I note my precious friends' adoption trial dates on my calendar with prayer.

It was this past Christmas Eve morning: the fact I had just been woken to sounds of vomit from the boys' room captured how I felt about foster care in perfection.

After cleaning the mess off the floor, I locked myself away in the basement to scrub the upchuck of my heart.

It wasn't pretty.

I demanded and bargained. I reminded God of every single thing to which we had said, Yes. I explained to him that I was fully aware that those efforts did not earn my salvation, but meeting me halfway would certainly be more than sufficient.

There, you have it. The nasty ugly.

How precious my Father did not leave me there.

As God asked Job in Job 38 ~

Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation? Tell me if you understand. Who marked off it's dimensions? Surely, you know. Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were it's footings set, or who laid its cornerstone....? ~ Finish the chapter. It's humbling.

In the quiet of my soul I knew He was beckoning us to lay it all down once again. He wasn't surprised by my fresh bout of pouting. He calls me to be a living sacrifice. And I'm pretty sure that anything alive, being prepared for a kill, uses its reflexes in defense.

So He's teaching me to be still.

He's restoring my hunger for Him, to love through Him by abiding in Him.

He's reminding me that Jesus is enough.

My heart could only reply, as King David in I Chronicles 17:16, 

Who am I, Lord God, and what is my family, that you have brought me thus far?

And I worshipped.

~~~~~

The countdown is on to my Blog Birthday party! Join us here.

Because of Jesus ~

2.08.2015

Dear Foster Mama {A Reminder} ~

As it says in Proverbs 31, we rise to bless you. It’s one of the deep, aching longings of your heart, to hear those words rather than the noise of the chaotic juggle you navigate within this world of foster care.

It’s the answer to your shadows of wondering if you really did hear your Heavenly Father’s voice to follow down this twisted, jumbled path…to the creeping doubts that surface when she screams she hates you because you’re not her mama, when you pack the bag for another weekly visit and feel your throat lurch inside of you, when you hold the one you’ve held since birth for the last time. 

We bless you.


You are different than when you began this pilgrimage, when you set off amongst the strange looks and concerning questions. You’re more tender, deeper…more sober.


And you know you are waltzing through one of the most unnatural dances possible. You trip, stumble and often feel there is no one to lead you, spin you...to search your eyes and see the caverns that now trace deep within your heart and cause the most sporadic tears to surface.


But He is leading you, and as He spins you He peers deeply into your soul and whispers with delight that your tears are beautiful because He knows they are shed from your altar of sacrifice, from the groaning utters you allow to escape when you’re on your battered knees of war. Because you know that this calling is not simply one to foster care or a system, but a commitment to carry the children placed in your care before the throne of grace with confidence for the rest of their lives.

Of all the mamas in the world, He invited you into this dance, with this child, with this family, with this worker.

And so when you’ve tripped and fallen once again, you rise ever more humbly, ever more boldly to stand and say yes again, to hope again, to love again, to grieve the immense losses that enter your home again.


You are a beautifully broken mother, and in the spaces where you feel most shattered, the world looks in and sees your Redeemer most vibrantly.



And together we bless Him.

And cry out with you as it says in Isaiah 54:13, “All your children will be taught by the Lord and great will be their peace.”

You are a glorious mother. Ever lifting you before our Savior,

2.07.2015

You are loved. You are loved. You are loved.

I swung my head around, dodging another flying shoe that left yet another mark of anger in the wall.

I hate you. You're nothing like my mother. I hate me. I hate all of this. I hate myself and my life, and it's all my fault.

I took one step toward her only to have the door slammed in my face, leaving me to sigh and slump through my tears. Through the crack in the doorway I reminded her with broken voice, I love you. I love you. I love you.

The scenario has been replayed more times than I can count. Different circumstances, new triggers, various children.

Same longings...

Arms of all sizes and colors reaching past me, craving the only one who cannot cradle in this moment.

In the midnight hours, I tiptoed down the hall to her room, confident our world was deep asleep.

Kneeling beside her bed, I brushed her hair from her face and saw the peace for which she longed, yet found only in the silence of the night.

And I whispered, You are so precious. You are our treasure. You are so deeply loved.

She slept on.

And suddenly, I saw another's stretching arms wrap around my neck as I knelt. One I thought was asleep across the room moved around me, crawling into my lap as she cupped my cheeks and whispered, Mama, you are loved.

My world stood still, one hand on a sleeping child, another around the little one seeking to reassure my mama heart.

For moments I sat, treasuring, pondering, dreaming, hoping.

Not one of us would speak of it in the morning. Perhaps some of us would not remember or ever even know.

Yet in those quiet hours, I was reminded how deeply Love is known in our home, even through the aching, reaching arms and midnight tears.



Love with us as we celebrate my birthday. Read more here.

Because of Jesus ~

2.06.2015

Isn't it hard on your OWN kids?

It's the scenario every foster mama recites in her dreams.

Oh... you're a foster parent. Isn't it hard to let them go?

Then right after that...

Isn't it difficult for your own kids?

I'm not going to lie. That was one of our gravest concerns when we sat through the 10 weeks of foster parent training classes and signed our names to the mountains of paperwork.

Many of the spaces where our sons are being changed by our choices and ministry will not surface for years. And that scares me.

This past November one of the children in our home hit a wall, and the result was grief like I have not seen before. 

One evening I held my knees on the bathroom floor and wept for her shadows, but also for the sorrow my sons were witnessing. When I walked out, I studied Caleb, our 11-year-old, and asked him, Do you ever grow angry at this life we have?

My son did not miss a beat. He kissed my head, wrapped his arms around me and said, Mom, this life is what makes me know Jesus. It's sad, and crazy, and funny, and hard, but I love it.

Recently, that same growing boy was asked by his writing teacher to record an experience where he or his family met a need, but that also impacted him.

For weeks I've asked him to see the rough draft, but he refused. Wednesday night he brought it to me and told me he was ready for me to read it.

I asked him if I could share it here in honor of the anniversary of this sweet girl's arrival in our home. Everything is completely through his lens and how he remembers it. {Note: He had to include a certain number of vocabulary words and other requirements, so roll with it :)}

Trust in God

by Caleb Lumpkin


            I was waiting for our first foster child although I knew little about her, and I was growing bored. It wasn’t until later in the morning hours when I peered out the window, and my heart jumped a little. "Screech!" A car halted to a stop, as I gazed outside and observed a black car door mysteriously opening.

            “Mom! She’s here!’’ I screamed through the house.

            Nervously the young Chinese girl, who was as tall as a door, walked down the hallway and into her twin bedroom. As I was insecure with the new addition to our family, my intrepid mother had the most valor in the world. In my house, which is around three stories high with many rooms, there is enough space for me and my two brothers, Benjamin and Daniel, to wrestle. Benjamin, who is a cheetah, is a crazy, excited child, and Daniel is gentle, calm and enjoys the outdoors. People call me Caleb, and I love sports. Walking into her room, I was introduced to her, and my mother told me my new sister’s name was “Mattie.” Interested by her story and manner, I noticed she was as tall as my dad’s shoulder and very thin. She was obviously frightened, but as I would soon find out she was an incredible person.

             After about a month of being part of our family, Mattie, a genteel swan, learned a family with thirteen Chinese daughters desired to adopt her. Discovering this news, she became incredibly scared as they were arriving that afternoon. When they pulled into the driveway, Mattie ran into the closet and locked the door. They rang the doorbell. Shocked that she hiding in the closest closet, Mommy, who was a kind and calm person, walked to encourage her. "Thump." Mommy knocked on the door, which stood over her like the shadows of a dark tree forest.

            “It’s okay, Mattie,” she told her. “We’re here for you.”

            Quietly and nervously she was led to the door and greeted them.

            Together, the family walked Mattie slowly to their car as she continued to look over her shoulder at me. I watched them drive off.  After the weekend was over, they returned, and Mattie, who was a rock now, had been refreshed. Listening to her wonderful story, which bubbled from like she had never done before, our family was humbled. As I was filled with curiosity like a monkey, I was also filled with great joy for my sister in this season. Gratefully, we had almost three more months with Mattie. After the time passed, we had a wonderful adoption celebration for her with her new family. 
                                  
            “Goodbye,” I told her as we hugged tightly.

            Discouraged, I watched my sister Mattie drive away that day, but little did I know she was the first of many to do the same. However, I learned that in doing foster care, you must always trust in God.
         
Every single day, I'm doubt in the quiet caverns of my heart the role our ministry is playing in our sons' lives, but my Friends, I am so grateful foster care has and will continue to impact my own kids.

You have 27 more days to join in on my Blog Birthday Party! Don't miss this chance to support kids in care and the people who serve them! Read all about it here!

Because of Jesus ~

2.05.2015

It's my Birthday, and you're invited!

Okay...

1. I really do plan to begin posting regularly again.

2. Please pray for us as we have been quiet on purpose, wrestling through some heavy shadows. Pray for wisdom, for abiding peace and resting hope.

3. Don't let my silence hold you back from jumping in on your invite to my...

36th Blog Birthday Party!


The entire gang voted on this one :)

I cannot believe this will be our fourth annual celebration!

When I turned 33, you guys showered us with diapers for Jefferson County Department of Human Resources.
33 Boxes for my 33rd Birthday!
 For my 34th, you rocked the Shelby County Department of Human Resource's playrooms!

Kristin and I kicking off the painting!

Last year, you poured into Lifeline's new counseling program with tools and therapy needs for kiddos in care.

This year, we met with caseworkers, foster parents and supervisors to identify one of the most consistent, urgent and expensive needs in the community of foster care...CAR SEATS!

Imagine scrambling to say yes to a four-year-old in the middle of the night, but there's no car seat. That could possibly hinder you from being able to be that child's safe place for the moment.

Only to wake up the next night to relive the scenario, but with an infant.

Typically, child welfare supervisors are required to have a car seat for each stage available to their caseworkers; however, Jefferson and Shelby Counties have been slammed with incoming cases since early August, and there are little-to-none available or remaining.

So...here's our challenge :)

Can we round up 36, or 56, or 106 car seats for kids who will enter care in the coming weeks and months in order to support foster parents and caseworkers, and hold up their hands as they answer, YES, with excellence and love? 

Can we do it by my 36th birthday on March 4th?

There are four ways to participate:

1. Purchase any type car seat, contact me {cafranktie@aol.com}, and we will arrange pick up.

2. Clean out your garage and car! If you no longer need a car seat you have, you may donate it! The  car seat must not have been in any accident at any point, and please check it's expiration date.

3. You may always give a tax-deductible donation online at The Forgotten Initiative, and please note Birmingham Birthday.

4. Would you pretty please share this post? The more people we invite, the more awareness is raised, and the stronger our efforts are together!

The longer Jamie and I are involved in foster care, we are increasingly convinced this must be a community effort to support child welfare services, the families and children in crisis, and the foster families and mentors with faithfulness.

What a simple way to do as God commands His people in Jeremiah 29, Seek the welfare our city.

And while you're at it, you get to say, Happy Birthday to me :)

Because of Jesus ~







1.01.2015

The Quest for Satisfaction

What a difference a year makes...

I'm ashamed at how neglected this space has become, and yet recognize the need we've had to step back and contemplate some significant changes in the ministry to which God has led us.

I've stolen a few moments of quiet today as footballs whiz by my ears and little princesses in tutus brush my leg to dwell on the reality that this past year was one of healing.

It was a long season of embracing the calling we now know we cannot escape and girding ourselves with His abundant grace to walk forward with hope.

We've come to an understanding that as John Piper said, Ministry is not what ordinary Christians do. It's a lifestyle devoted to making much of Christ.

My friends, that is not comfortable or easy.

Some days, I'm not even sure I would say I believe it is worth it.

But the corners of my soul resonate with a Yes.

Each day we peel back the layers a little more and realize this thing we do is messed up. It doesn't make sense. It's not natural, or clean or black and white.

Instead, it's muddy, and messy, and so very grey.

But as my friend Jeff Huey once told me, It's often the grey where God moves greatly.

With each passing day, I increasingly have come to the truth that my own means of survival is by, as it says in 2 Corinthians 4:8, fixing our eyes not on what is seen, but what is unseen.

Foster care is crammed with the unseen.

All of real ministry, the down and dirty, truly takes form in the unseen.

This past year, I had such dark moments of feeling so very lonely.

I've considered more and more how foster care {or any ministry} is an actual state of being. If we are truly surrendered to our calling, we cannot pretend that it will not infiltrate every space of our lives.

This could be a terrifying truth, or powerfully freeing.

Because when we own this and are able to embrace it, we are likewise able to own that in this life we are continually waged in a war, deep in the trenches.

And daily, we must take up the full armor.

We are finally able to lay aside our complexes to fix and rescue, and instead stand firm...and when we have done all, we stand.

We're sometimes asked what the "end game" is in our ministry. What is the point when we will be satisfied and fulfilled...when it will be completed?

Only a few years ago, I would have said it was when the word adoption had sealed a deal.

Now, we say Jesus.

Our reward is not a child, or many children.

It is not a successful reunification or another chance to share our story.

Our reward is Jesus Christ.

He is the end of our quest for satisfaction.

I'm reminded often of Jude 1:24, To Him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before His glorious presence without fault and with great joy...

Friends, this year, if we truly surrender ourselves to the hand of God's work, it's gonna feel some days like we are falling.

There will be moments we are tempted to despair, to pull the fuzzy blanket over our heads and hide with the chocolate truffles.

BUT GOD...

He is making all things new, not all new things.


He longs to give us a fresh vision of His Son.

Before foster care, I didn't need Jesus, like on my knees crying out with groans.

Jesus used foster care to save me. This is the space He calls me to intentionally experience Himself for my good and His glory.

In order to hope, we must have a need for hope. In order to trust, we must have a need to trust.

My friend, we are waiting expectantly for Jesus, and Isaiah 64:4 promises that, He acts for those who wait for Him.

Our lives are meant to make Jesus believable to the world.

The hope and power to do this must come from something beyond ourselves.


For me, it has meant spending these last months with the truths and promises taped to the ceiling and walls, by the bed on nights when I wake from the sounds of their nightmares.

It's carving space out to preach the Gospel to ourselves, to each other, to our sons, and to the children entrusted to our care.

It's intentionally redefining success to not be a ribboned finish line, but daily fixing our eyes on Jesus who both authored our faith and has promised to perfect and finish it.

He is the beginning and end. 

Your life is rooted in the unshakable sovereign purposes of God. 
You have been chosen, and consecrated, and formed and appointed for a great purpose. 
~ John Piper 

Because we are GREATLY loved ~