Foster Care Part – Visits Continued

1E20B968-6A0D-41D3-BA6D-F558228D4953Foster Care Part 4 – Visits Again

 

I don’t think I can move past visits without discussing them more because in reality, they play a significant role in the reunification process and take time out of your week as a foster parent.

Our visits were every Tuesday and Thursday, started out at 1 hour and then move to 2 hours each time. So from 4:00-6:00 every Tuesday and Thursday our kids spent that time with their parents. Visits started out at the DHS office but moved to a public place, more exciting for kids, pretty quickly. When parents show up consistently they don’t keep visits at the DHS office.

Our kids were 2 and almost 1. 2 hour visits during the week, when we both worked full time and they went to daycare full time were pretty exhausting. In the beginning they would be emotional roller coasters after visits. They were exhausted and exhausted toddlers are on a completely different emotional level. Add in the confusion of being dropped off at daycare by the people you live with, picked up by a DHS worker (that you don’t know in the beginning), taken to the people you used to live with, and then the lady that you do live with (who you call mommy) comes to pick you up. Not confusing at all…

Those days were hard and what’s crazy is we knew it was hard in the moment, but we did it. It was like we put our heads down and made it work. Looking back, I DO NOT KNOW HOW we did it.

Let’s talk about visits from a foster parent’s perspective. I would show up at least 10 minutes early to allow myself time in the car trying to rid myself of the anxiety I had. The anxiety that would rise like a volcano about to erupt in my chest. I had to prepare myself to walk up to the parents with their/my kids and make small talk while walking their children back to my car. I will never forget those feelings. I will never forget giving myself a pep talk every single time. I will never forget repeating over and over “be humble, be humble, be humble”. It was not easy. It was not easy when they would let the 1 year old fall asleep during the visit which in turn ruined bedtime. It was not easy when they fed him chocolate chip cookies at 9 months old and he got sick after. It was not easy trying to keep them awake in the car on the drive home (since I drove out of my way for visits to make it easier on the parents to make it without a vehicle). It was not easy. Those are the parts of foster care that people who haven’t done it don’t understand. You can’t explain it. You can’t word it in a way to help them experience those feelings with you.

The visits are what made fostering real to me. They started before our first court date (which is an entirely different mountain we had to climb) and they were week in and week out with not an actual end date in sight. It was like our weeks would consist of Tues/Thurs visits forever.

Then they decided to toss in a Sunday night phone call. Technically the kids should have moved to 3 visits a week but with shortage in workers, bio parents both working and foster parents both working, it was impossible so we ended up making it a phone call. Not a face time but an actual phone call. We would call the bio parents from our phone and put it on speaker. They would talk to them for a little while and then read a book with them (we had one copy, they had another of the same book). You can probably imagine how that went. All of the emotions would come out from the 2 year old, she would end up crying, and trying to get 2 toddlers to stay somewhere around the phone was a nightmare. But we did it. Every Sunday.

My husband and I went to see Instant Family this weekend and it brought back all of the memories and emotions from our first kids. There is a part in the movie (sorry if you haven’t seen it…) where the kids go to visit their bio mom for the first time. It’s awkward, it’s hard to watch, and it’s pretty accurate. It’s accurate from the bio mom’s perspective and it’s accurate from the foster parents’ perspective. Bio parents are normal people and foster parents didn’t take their kids from them. Those are the 2 things they said that stuck with me the most because I felt both of those. Visits were hard. It’s not easy to remind yourself on those days that your kids, aren’t your kids. They’re their kids. Those parents are working really hard to get them back. Granted, not every parent works hard, or at all, to get their kids back (I know this, we adopted kids out of foster care) but some do. Some make mistakes and fix them. Some REALLY want their kids back because they truly want to be their parents.

This was true for our bio parents. They really wanted them back. They didn’t miss a visit. They were kind to me each time they saw me (even though I know they didn’t plan on having a relationship after or probably didn’t even really like me at the time); but they knew their kids were loved and that’s what mattered.

 

See, in foster care, you have to take your selfishness and toss it out the window. All of the things you think you know or you know would be better, toss them. Realize that you have ZERO control over what happens to those kids in court, at visits, and even down the road. But what you do have control over is how much they are loved while they’re with you, being there at the end of every visit with a smile and kindness toward their parents, and doing whatever you can to make their lives better, even if that’s supporting their parents getting them back. And in the end, you never know what will happen after your time with them is over.

 

Foster Care Part 3 – Visits

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Foster Care Part 3

Visits.

The totally unexplainable, indescribable, potentially most important part of foster care. These visits help determine if the parents are ready to fight for their kids or not. Whether they are ready to figure out how to spend a specified time during the week with their kids as a DHS worker supervises or not. The visits are the starting point for the parents; the first thing they need to start doing to show they want to work for their kids to return home. It’s only the first step of many but it’s a very, very important first step.

As a foster parent, visits are a wild card. A day full of anxiety, worry, hope, and potentially inconvenience. It isn’t convenient to drive out of your way to pick your kids up from a visit because you chose a location the parents could actually make it to. It isn’t convenient for visits to last until 6:00 and then you, as the parent, have to rush those babies home for baths and bedtime while hoping that visit didn’t set them off emotionally. None of it is convenient. But it’s necessary. And if you’re really going to do everything in your power to support the parents, then you do what has to be done. Besides, you didn’t sign up for what is convenient, you signed up for what you were called to do.

The first visits were sporadic as they worked on getting a normal schedule put in place. The DHS worker would pick the kids up from their daycares (because they were at 2 separate daycares the first couple of weeks), take them to their visit, and then take them back. However, our daycare then informed us that was not something they would allow. A visit in the middle of the day causes a disruption for not only those kids but for the classroom so they would need to be before school or after. So we worked on a more regular schedule of visits twice a week. The DHS worker would pick them up from daycare, take them to their visit, and then I would pick them up. Seemed easy enough. Until the first time I went to pick them up and received a call from the DHS worker that the bio parents wanted to meet me that day.

I wanted to throw up. How was I supposed to actually meet these people by myself? Matt couldn’t come since he was at work and it was so last minute we didn’t get to plan ahead. I wanted to say no. Nope. No thanks. But how do you say no? And if you’re really there to foster and support, you can’t say no. So, I said ok. Very reluctantly. Then I panicked.

What do I say to them? How do I act? Their children were taken from them and placed in my home. I am literally raising their children and we’ve never met. They had their children taken from them. How do you act toward somebody when you haven’t quite figured out how to understand that one fact? You tell yourself over and over that they made a mistake but at the same time that other part of your brain is screaming at you that it wasn’t JUST a mistake. It was like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in my brain. So I did what any normal 30 something woman would do, I phoned a friend.

My dear friend was also a foster parent in Arkansas. She had already fostered 2 babes who transitioned home and she had 2 current foster loves (who now lovingly share her last name) in her home. SHE would know what to do; she’d already done it. (Oh and I also have to mention that she is an overall phenomenal person.) I told her I was going to meet them but I didn’t know how. I didn’t know how to act toward them.

“Be humble. Treat them like you would treat C if she was her mom because if you don’t, C could end up like her mom. You have the ability to change that. Just love them like Jesus would.”

Be humble. Love like Jesus. Jesus wouldn’t look at them and think they’re less than because they had their children taken. He would love them and work with them to overcome it.

That is the only way I made it through that introduction. Love like Jesus. Love like Jesus. Be humble. Over and over in my head.

I didn’t know what to expect when I walked in. The worker allowed me to watch them as a family from behind a glass mirror (the kind where we can see them but they can’t see us). It’s hard to explain what I felt as a foster mom in that moment. Why were they parenting my kids that way? That’s not how I would do it. That’s not “right”. I’ll never forget when the worker said “they’re parenting the only way they know how; that doesn’t make it wrong”.

Those few words spoken from my friend and the worker that day changed the trajectory of the entire relationship. If I would have gone in as “holier than thou” or even tried to correct what they were doing it could have changed everything. I truly believe that first meeting (where bio mom hugged me and thanked me) is what set the foundation for the next 9 months.

That’s how 9 months of visits went. Every Tuesday and Thursday they would get picked up by the DHS worker, driven to their parents, I would go wherever they were, and then we would all walk back to my car together where they would load their children into my car, say goodbye, thank me, and then, as soon as the door was closed, C would say “hi mommy” to me.

Foster Care Part 2

Foster Care Part 2

I’m not really sure why this one has taken me so long to start. Sometimes going back and reliving those first few days, weeks and even month is hard. There was a lot we were not prepared for and we literally jumped headfirst into it.

As we stood at the guest room window watching a DHS worker unload a tiny blonde toddler and a brunette baby boy we were frozen. It was almost one of those situations where you wonder if it’s real and if you are actually capable of going to open the front door. You took the classes, did ALL of the paperwork, had multiple home visits, said yes on the phone, planned out the drop off time, and still, in that moment, you aren’t sure that it’s real. Those kids are about to come into your home and they will be there for an unknown amount of time. You become parents to kids who already had parents. You become a home to kids who already had a home. How do you make that transition smooth for them when you’re not sure how to make it smooth for yourself?

But there they were. We waited for the doorbell to ring (because obviously we didn’t want her to know we were watching her every move from the front window…) and then went to answer the door. In ran the tiniest little blur of blonde hair. She blurted “hi mommy” as she ran and jumped on our couch. I’m still not sure how she even got her little body up there so quickly. The DHS worker asked if I wanted to hold the baby. Um, maybe? But naturally I said yes and she handed him over. All of a sudden an 8 month old baby boy, who was sucking his thumb at the time, was in my arms and looking up at me like his life depended on me. Because it did. I wasn’t the woman he had looked up to for the previous 8 months of his life but something in that moment happened and he knew I was the woman who was responsible for him.

She had us sign a couple of pieces of paper and then she left (with the papers which showed that we were the guardians in charge of the 2 kids but in her rush to get out she left with them). The DHS worker was in our house for no longer than 5 minutes and then she was gone.

Then it was just me, Matt and 2 kids we met 5 minutes ago who now relied on us to keep them alive. No pressure. Especially for people who were not parents prior to those last 5 minutes.

We quickly realized that C would probably adjust pretty well. We found a cartoon she seemed to like and we had every single toy out in the living room. She spoke to us like she had known us her whole life. I later realized that she did this because she was often around people and left with people she didn’t know. Her little mind had learned to trust any adult she was left with. She continued to call me “mommy” and even called my sister that when she arrived at our house later that afternoon (because naturally I called my sister bawling when I had 2 kids all of a sudden and zero clue what I was doing). She was dirty, her hair was a mess, but she was one of the happiest toddlers I’d ever seen. Her laugh was contagious and I fell for her that first day. My tiny blonde best friend. Her brother, well he was a different story.

J was 8 months old when he was brought to us. He sucked his thumb, played/pulled out his own hair, and HATED being put down on the ground, or in a jumper, or in a walker, etc. etc. He was hard. In the early afternoon I tried to put him down for a nap (because he was a baby and I knew that’s something he needed) but it was not possible. He would not let me put him down. He fell asleep in my arms and I cried in his hair while I sat on the floor of his bedroom feeling like there was no way I could do this. There was no way I could be a mom to a needy baby and all sorts of thoughts started to creep into my mind. I bawled. And then I pulled myself together realizing that this tiny child needed me, even if he was going to be tough. He needed me to love him, care for him, and do everything I could do make his life the best it could be in the time I was allotted. He was a tough baby but he was a loving baby. He had the biggest brown eyes and when he looked at you he REALLY looked at you. He grew on me but that first day, I thought there was no way. And I cried a few more times before the day was over.

Luckily it was a Sunday morning so we had that day to try and figure out what we would do next. We both worked so we had already taken Monday off (in preparation for these kids who we will refer to as C & J) to figure out a daycare situation and at least give them a couple of days before they were dropped off at another place with other people they did not know.

That was one of the difficult parts about those first few days. Being a foster parent in a home where both parents work full time is tough. We wanted to make sure the kids were acclimated to us but we literally had to drop them off somewhere else within 2 days. It wasn’t ideal but it’s all we could do.

Thankfully we had already researched some daycares and had a couple of options. However, daycares can’t take holds on foster kids. They can’t hold a spot for a kid we don’t know the exact age of or even if we will 100% get that kid in our home. So Monday morning we loaded up our kids and drove to daycares so we could fill out paperwork (for kids we didn’t know…it’s not easy) in hopes that one would have not one but two openings. One of the daycares had an opening for J (the baby) but not for C (the toddler) for over a week. For that first week we had to drop C off at a drop in daycare and it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I did not want to drop off this tiny little child in a place she didn’t know, with people she wouldn’t see again, and hope that they would not break her in this fragile state she was in. But she made it and that next week we had them both in the same daycare adjusting pretty well.

Within the first 10 days of a child being in your care you have to take them to a doctor appointment. That was another tough part. Not only did we both work full time but now we had to figure out how to get kids to the doctor and make sure we were doing everything we had to do within a certain amount of time. Once we made it past the first couple of weeks it felt like we were on the downhill side (even though we knew we had literally climbed the tiniest hill on this foster journey we started). What felt like the downside of the hill was exactly that; except we didn’t see that it was just a tiny valley before Mt Everest in front of us. It felt like once we got adjusted to something, another something would need to happen. That’s what happened after we adjusted them to our home, daycare, and our lives. We started visits.E151120A-6AED-41BA-8DF1-9CF6959A7EEE

Foster Care Part Random

121295B5-6320-4A07-98F9-1A64DF53D38EFoster Care Part….basically this one is just random.

 

As I began thinking of my Foster Care Journey Part 2 I started to feel that I needed to address a few things before continuing our story.

Many people have seen our video “A New Family” that our church (Foundations Church) put together (if you haven’t seen it, I think it’s important to see it in order to understand most of my foster care blogs). The video rocks me to my core every time I see it; but it doesn’t tell the whole story. The focus of that video is all of the good that came out of this story and how foster care really can change lives for people. The focus wasn’t going to be on the tears, frustration, exhaustion, etc that came from being a foster family (it is assumed that most people would know that is there; but maybe not). When I watch it, not only am I blown away by the fact that it actually happened or all of the positivity that came out of it, but all of the emotions from those 9 months (and the months following) come FLOODING over me. ALL. OF. THEM.

When we got our first foster children, we knew NOTHING about this family. Nothing. We knew something bad enough happened that these children needed a safe place to stay and we were the ones who had been asked to care for them. First, we were not the same tribe so there was the possibility in the beginning that they would be moved (see how it works is when a child is removed, DHS looks for potential options in a certain order; they look for kinship, then same tribe if the child is tribal, then just any tribe if the same tribe is not available, and then last but not least, just any foster family. They keep searching these options even after a child is placed in a home).

We were #3 on the list; different tribe but a tribe nonetheless. We knew there was no kinship available but we knew the tribe they came from was bigger than ours and there was that potential. We wouldn’t have been prepared for it, but the thought was there. We were told until the child hits 3 months in your home, just know they could be moved for whatever reason DHS/the tribe says. Until they hit 6 months there is still a slight possibility (but after 3 months you could probably safely assume they would be there until they moved home).

See, when a foster child is placed in your home, your first thought is (well your first thoughts are all over the place but your first coherent thought) is NOT, “oh this child might be moved to another home”, you probably, as a normal human being, go straight to “what if we get to keep them?”. It’s natural. You’re an adult who was just brought a child, obviously you’re going to think about that. You KNOW they are your foster child but you don’t KNOW that the parents will succeed right away so you do think it; it’s ok. So in the video, which was made 9 months after our first children went home, we didn’t focus on the first few months of our foster care journey and the times we were told that we would probably end up with them; we focused on all of the good that was done during the time they were in our home and then the follow up (also known as bridging) that continued after our kids moved home.

 

That video came from a lot of tears, frustration, exhaustion, moments of weakness, moments of not being as humble as I should be, more tears, conflicting feelings as things happened with the case, trying to be positive for the parents but also knowing I wanted the WORLD for our kids, GRACE…so.much.grace, faith (that what we were doing/going through was for a purpose higher than us), again more tears and so many questions. It came from court hearings, visits, phone calls, home visits from workers, doctor visits for kids, sick days taken off for kids, trying to navigate how to talk to people your age while walking with them and their children to your car where their children will get in your car and leave with you, overnight visits which tore our hearts out, emotional toddler evenings after visit days. 9 months of waiting in the car for 5-10 minutes before walking into get the children from their parents at visits because the anxiety washed over you every single time.

Foster care is not easy. Not all journeys end with bio parents who decide to not only allow you in their lives but openly acknowledge what they did was wrong, fix it, and then share that with the world to make others better. Not all bio parents would accept an invitation to church, but ours did. I do not think they accepted that invite on their own. I believe the prayers we prayed for them and over them and specifically about them did not go wasted.

Foster care is hard. When I started I knew 2 people personally who fostered but as I write this I know multiple people going through their very first cases (and it brings back every.single.memory from our first case). I know the frustration, the feeling of ZERO CONTROL, hopelessness, exhaustion (from trying to do it all). I know it and I feel it with you.

If you’re a foster parent who is new to this gig, DON’T GIVE UP. God called you to this for a reason and no matter the amount of time you get to have with a child, YOU get that time. YOU are making a difference (even if it feels insignificant and not fair at the same time). You cannot change the beginning but you can change the ending (even if that ending is not with you).

If it were easy, more people would do it. This is our journey and I am just so proud of each and every person who has stepped into it with faith. We do not have control but neither do the judges, workers, parents, or even “the system”. We know who has control and even in the hardest of hard moments, we HAVE to remember that.

 

*and if you know a foster family, give them grace. Don’t remind them that this is what they signed up for; they know that and it doesn’t take away all of the hard stuff. Be kind because you don’t always know all of the hard, behind the scenes things. Assume that there are hard, frustrating things happening and be kind to them. Be supportive. We heard this from time to time and it’s just not something that’s necessary

Foster Care Journey – Part 1

124CA6E0-C923-4D67-8324-66A13897C7D1“You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending” – C. S. Lewis

I don’t know that I’ve ever come across a more perfect quote for fostering. You can’t change the beginning but, gosh, how you can change the ending. This is the perfect start for our fostering journey…

Foster Care Journey – Part 1

In May of 2015 (one year after our wedding day) we started talks about kids; when did we want them, when should we start “trying”…whatever that looked like, when would we really be “old enough” to be parents, and many many other thoughts.

In November of that year, after a destination wedding of a best friend in Jamaica, we decided we were capable to be parents and, while fostering was something we talked about, we had no reason to continue pushing it off. We were capable adults who knew we could be parents who also knew that there were kids in our state who needed a safe, loving home while their parents worked to get them back. We RSVP’d for our first foster care training session. We hadn’t started paperwork or even decided that we were definitely doing this thing. We just decided that we would attend a training and go from there. We knew we were called to do it and instead of just jumping in, we would tip toe our way into that water.

That first training was not easy. We sat in a room across from one other couple with a worker explaining trauma to us. Trauma. I guess we assumed we would learn how to parent but we didn’t fully grasp the concept of the type of parenting required from foster parents. We knew fostering would be hard and it wasn’t a “normal thing” so the kids would maybe have some adjustments to make; but we never expected an entire day full of trauma training. But we still knew we were called to do this so we decided to attend another training and start the paperwork.

We didn’t really tell family or friends in the beginning. We didn’t want opinions, fears, concerns, or just anything coming from anyone to deter us from what we knew we were supposed to be doing. Because, in all honesty, fostering is a hard concept for a lot of people to fully comprehend. Especially your friends and family. They just want what’s best for you and the idea of basically sacrificing time (potentially years) of your life to take care of somebody else’s kid, then give them back with the potential to never see them again is just a lot to wish upon somebody. I wouldn’t want that for somebody and definitely not somebody I love. But the reality of foster care is you have to take out what you want and realize that any selfish thought you have has to go. It’s impossible to be selfish and foster well. Now, do not get me wrong, I had PLENTY of selfish thoughts but they weren’t my main thoughts or even thoughts I gave time to. But we will get to the actual fostering soon…

We told family once we officially started the process to become foster parents because then there was no turning back. We knew once we started all of the work to do it, we would finish it; because it is a lot of work. We would sometimes joke (but maybe not really joke) that every parent should have to do all of these things before they have a child no matter how they have a child. Besides the 27 hours of foster care training (mostly all about trauma and how to bridge with bio parents) you have stacks of paperwork, visits from numerous people, a home study which dives into how you were raised and what your family is like, background checks, physicals and more paperwork.

The home study was probably the most interesting part to me. I guess I pictured that they would actually just “study” our home, what it looked like, what it offered, and what we offered. But it goes into so much more than that. Our worker sat with each of us, individually, and asked about our childhoods, our parents, our siblings, the way we were raised, and our family now. We also sat with her together and went over us as a couple, our history, what we saw in a family, what we would do in different situations. It was a lot.

In the middle of all of the paperwork and home study I didn’t quite comprehend why all of that was so important. Once I delved into the foster care world I realized the significance of it. These kids are taken from their homes and are in a very vulnerable state of life; they need to go to the safest place possible because even through all of this foster care vetting, some really bad people still get through. And that’s when Matt and I really felt that this was what we were meant to do. If we could be one really good foster family to make up for a really bad one, then we would sacrifice that part of our lives for whatever kid we were asked to take care of. Because if we didn’t do it, who would?

When we became certified foster parents I personally knew 2 couples who fostered. Two. Neither of them lived close to me. But oh how they helped me. One of them I believe significantly altered the path we took with our first bio parents with a few simple, direct, encouraging, yet honest words (but that’s a story for another day…).

After months of paperwork and passing everything we got the call we were a certified open foster home on a Friday morning. We received 2 calls that day about potential placements. One ended up going with kinship. The other ended up being a failed trial reunification and their previous foster parents took them back (trial reunification is when the child goes home with their bio parents for a trial run, usually one year. A failed trial reunification means the bio parents were unable to take care of the child or keep the child safe and they were brought back into the system. It happens more often than not.)

After receiving two calls we decided it was time to make our foster journey official because we had zero items for children in our home. We didn’t really have a lot of money to prepare for children that quickly so a dear friend set up an online foster care baby shower for us (and for that I will always be indebted). The people who gave allowed us to buy car seats, clothes, diapers, and basically just the necessities we would need when we got that call. I will never forget when I was told we should get a shower, even if it’s online, because we were becoming parents. Just because we weren’t doing it the “normal” way or even the adoptive way didn’t take away from the fact that whatever children were brought to us first, were our first. Our first babies. Our first children.

One week after certification, on a Friday afternoon, we received a call about a sibling set. We said yes. And then we waited. Just because we said yes didn’t mean they would actually end up at our home (they could find kinship, another foster family could be chosen over us, other reasons I’m sure could come up); but they did. We got a call late Friday night from the DHS worker to schedule their drop off. They would arrive Sunday morning. We spent our Saturday prepping a bedroom for an 8 month old and a bedroom for an almost 2 year old. I’m not sure we slept Saturday night.

That Sunday morning I will never forget standing in our guest bedroom watching out the window as a woman got a blonde headed toddler out, set her on the ground, and then went and got a little brunette baby out of the car….

James 1:27 – “Religion that God our Father accepts are pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress”

To be continued – Foster Journey Part 2

Love & Marriage

What leads up to marriage…

 

It’s basically the first domino in the line of dominos that have fallen into place over the past 4 ½ years (there are definitely dominos that fell before it to get me to our marriage but for now this is the domino we will focus on).

Matt and I started dating our senior year of college. To be more specific, we started dating the January of the last semester of our senior year in college (technically he stayed one extra semester but for all logistical purposes, it was our last semester).

He was it. I had a boyfriend for 3 years prior to him, was single (well, “dated” a few different people) for a year, and then he was it. I knew it when we started dating. I had always prayed for the “right” guy but I wasn’t really sure what that looked like. I had some ideas but when I started dating Matt I knew what my “right” guy required. All of him. Everything he encompassed as a person. His tender heart, his ability to draw people in (even though he is never the loudest one in the room), his patience (because Lord knows I needed someone with patience, and not just normal patience, but patience from The Bible, patience), his looks (obviously. I never knew I had a “type” until I found him and that was my “type”), his faith (there were Sundays in college where I was just not feeling it but his drive to go caused me to get out of that bed), and just this feeling that I was home with him. I never wanted anyone else like I wanted him.

And I think God knew that. I know he knew that. I wasn’t ever one to say I wanted to marry my best friend or my soul mate; but he was both. He dealt with my crazy and has continued dealing with it every day since January 16, 2009.

When we started dating we talked about serious stuff pretty quickly because I had approximately 4 months until I would no longer live in Stillwater; so I needed to know where we stood on life and what that looked like together. Somewhere in those 4 months we discussed family and what that looked like to us. I was one of 4 children; he was one of 2. We discussed how we wanted to be parents but how we became parents would be up to God. We knew we could be good parents and we would just let Him lead us down that path. We discussed fostering, adopting, and biological children. It was all on the table (and yes, another post for another day).

We dated through my move to Texas after graduating (my parents lived there and with no exact direction for life after graduation…on to my parents I went), my move back to Tulsa a few months later (because my parents were still my roommates so where they went, I went), my parents’ divorce (and yes, another move for me), and then my move to Oklahoma City to be closer to him.

See the thing is, even at that point, when I knew he was my person and I would marry him, I didn’t want to move because of him. If I got a job in OKC then I would move. And I did (and gosh it was the best job; I mean God really outdid himself on that one). That move and that job are such a defining part of my life story.

We dated for a few more years (4 ½ to be exact) then we got engaged at Busch Stadium (because Matt has been a Cardinals fan his whole life, I became a Cardinals fan, and we went to a game every year) with 2 of our very best friends. I had envisioned my engagement for years but this just went beyond any and all dreams I had of it. It wasn’t extravagant; it was perfect. We got engaged on the corner of 8th and Clark outside of the stadium after eating BBQ and…just all of the emotions (our dear friends captured it on video and in pictures and I could not be more thankful for that).

We didn’t have a lot of money (and by didn’t have a lot I mean…not a lot at all). I didn’t make much and he was in physical therapy school but we were going to have the best wedding. And we did. We got married at Crossings Community Church in Oklahoma City with the best bridal party. I mean, the best. I could write an entire separate blog post about the day before and the day of my wedding. It was that good. Our reception was at the Harn Homestead by the capitol building in Oklahoma City. It was an outside reception in May and it was the MOST BEAUTIFUL weather, ever. I literally felt like God looked down that day and said “here you go Hollie, enjoy your day”.

To really understand what this point in life meant to me, you have to know what marriage meant to me (we are about to get REALLY real here so…). I grew up Pentecostal holiness. I was taught that you do not have sex and you do not live together before marriage. You just don’t. It wasn’t an option. We didn’t talk about it; it wasn’t a discussion; you just didn’t do it. I took that and embedded it deep into my heart. Sex was for marriage. Period. As I got older that “do not do it because it’s against the rules” changed into so much more for me. I took Proverbs 4:23 literally. I wanted to guard my heart because everything flows from it. I wanted that for one person and one person only, for the rest of my life. In all honesty, I never even considered sex an option until I started dating Matt. Basically, beyond the initial “I’m going to marry that guy” feeling, THIS feeling sealed the deal. For 4 ½ years I knew I wanted him to be the only one and even that feeling didn’t change my long held moral code that it was for marriage only (this was just one thing I wanted for myself. The one thing I couldn’t take back and change if I regretted it. I wanted zero regrets on this). So we waited. We waited. The significance of waiting at this period in life is important. We learned to wait. That something great was worth waiting for (so if there is something you are waiting for, if this is a waiting period in your life, whether by choice or by circumstance, He’s in the waiting). Seriously. The best things are worth waiting for.

We also did not move in together until after our wedding day. I lived in our apartment for 3 months by myself. He would spend the night occasionally but for the most part, we wanted that part of our lives to be special. You only get to do things once in life and we both realized that by rushing things it took some of the “special” away. We knew once we moved in together it would be forever and we wanted that to be after marriage. Marriage first.

I think that has been our foundation. Without putting our marriage first, we couldn’t do the things we do today. Our marriage leads our family.

Life in the gray. It’s not always black and white, but in this case it was for us. These were choices that worked for us; they don’t work for everyone. That’s also an important point. What works for us or what we choose to do might be different than others, even our friends, but that doesn’t make what we do “right” and what others do “wrong”. One of the most significant things I’ve ever been told is when one of my dear friends said “I know you do not agree with my lifestyle, but you don’t judge me and you’re still my friend”. Yes, yes I am. I believe what I believe but I still love people who believe differently.

We established what we wanted and what we believed; and we haven’t looked back. To understand our next steps in life you needed a glimpse into us. The Grays.

 

XOXO – Hollie

How It All Begins

109B58FC-00E2-4513-9ECE-951A4E15BB84Hi, my name is Hollie Gray and the thought of a blog terrifies me.

But here we are so let’s get started.

I never felt as though I had a lot to share, or that what I experienced should or needed to be shared, but as time goes on I’ve realized that by not sharing our lives I’m potentially keeping someone from reading something they might need to read at a certain point in their lives. So in reality, this isn’t about me but about reaching people. Isn’t that what we are called to do? Reach people? And not in a, I don’t really have time for you and I’m just doing this because I’m “supposed to” way; but in a real, genuine, I want to know YOU way.

I’ve had a lot of thoughts for a while. We (my husband Matt and I…we will get to that blessed man soon) have been through a lot of life in the past almost 10 years since we first danced together on the Eskimo Joe’s dance floor (oh college); and maybe, some life event or random word of wisdom is supposed to be shared. And maybe, by sharing the parts of our lives I’ve been holding most tightly to my heart, I’ll say something or reach somebody who I wouldn’t have otherwise.

So, here we go but I’m not really sure where to start. How do you start a blog? Do you assume most people know about you or do you start with your name and your history (I guess technically I did already start with my name so we can check that off of the list).

When the idea of writing came to me I brushed it off and said “when we get a nicer computer” (because Lord knows this dinosaur of a computer will try me to my wits end). We don’t have a nicer computer but here I am. Then I said “when I have time”…I mean…so never. I don’t really have time but I’m making time so here I am.

I like to think I’ve had a pretty good life so far (I am approaching the ripe age of 32 so I feel like that speaks a lot). I had 2 loving parents growing up (who are still around); I’m the oldest of 4 children (I do love my siblings fiercely even if I am 10 & 12 years older than the youngest 2); I graduated from a great high school (home of the Redskins…and yes, I am still proud of that); I attended the college I chose and pledged the best sorority I could have dreamed of; I met my super-hot husband in college right before we graduated and started “real life”; we had a dream wedding after dating for 5 years; we bought/built our first home; we had the privilege of being foster parents to 2 darling children who we helped bridge home; and we have had the gracious responsibility, privilege, blessing to take on 2 more foster children who became our Gray babies. That’s a lot but I just covered almost 10 years so I like to think that’s impressive.

But when I really start to think about the details of my life that formed who I am today there are certain ones that stick out to me:

I had great friends growing up (friends that were family) but the end of high school became tricky for me because of bullying and while I graduated from high school, my senior year was not my best. In fact, I like to only remember graduation and a few other activities I did that year. It sucked. When I read of kids committing suicide nearly every day because of bullying, I can picture what they went through, because I experienced it myself. My thoughts drifted to switching schools or moving states but I still get it. Kids are mean and ruthless and have zero inclination to what their words really do to a person. That is sad and I thank God every day that social media was not around when I was in high school (praise the Lord for the requirement of a college email before signing up back when Facebook first came around).

Those moments of bullying pushed me to be a tougher, more direct, stand up for myself type of person in college. I was maybe too honest or direct at times. But the Lord sent me some pretty fantastic friends who became my lifelong friends and stood next to me at my wedding. They knew that eventually that harsh exterior I’d created because of my circumstances would eventually dissipate and I could be a little more kind. (I like to think I was always a good friend just maybe the type of friend you wouldn’t ask for advice if you didn’t want the total, 100%, unfiltered version). I could write an entire book on the friends I have. They are the best and I am just completely beyond gratitude when it comes to the people in my life.

Those friendships in college led me to my husband. We had mutual friends and when I met him I knew I would marry him. It wasn’t a “love at first sight” thing, it was straight to “I’m going to marry that guy” thing. We dated through long distance, grad school, various moves (I had 15 different addresses from the time I graduated high school until 10 years later when we bought our first home), new jobs and the ages of 22-27. Those are some pretty significant years. The mid 20s. The years you are trying to figure out your career, your calling, your “what am I supposed to do now that I’m not in college” time. But we grew and, more importantly, we grew together. We got engaged at Busch Stadium with 2 of our very best friends with us. We got married in Oklahoma City on a pretty small wedding budget but it was the most fabulous day and will always be my number one favorite day of my life (I’ve had some pretty good days; but our marriage has set the foundation for all of those good days that have followed so it will always be my favorite). We were also surrounded by the best friends and family. I can still relive that day in my mind.

Our marriage set the foundation for us. For our family. Without my loving husband I wouldn’t have my precious children. We said yes to foster care together and we jumped in head first. It was terrifying and exciting and overwhelming (and lots of other emotions but I think listing 3 is plenty). We had been married for over a year when we began the process to become foster parents and we were given our first children one month before our two year wedding anniversary. “We have a brother and sister in custody, will you take them?” Yes. Less than 36 hours later 2 precious souls were brought to our home. We became mommy and daddy and stayed that way for 9 months. Then they went home. Our first kids were gone.

Those first kids going home at that exact time led to a question about 2 more children 2 days later. Two days. “Are you interested in taking a set of twins?”. Nope. We hadn’t grieved yet. We just “lost” our kids. We just moved all of their stuff home and we needed time. But we knew God wanted us to say yes, so we did. 38 weeks from the day we met the twins, we adopted them. My babies were born at the hospital at 38 weeks. Timing is not a coincidence (but that is a blog for another day; the 2nd best day of my life so far).

 

So there it is. My first blog. Life in the gray. It’s a lot; but it sums up most of my life to this point and I feel that people should know all of that to understand the blogs that will follow.

If you made it this far thanks for reading. I plan to do more in depth blogs about fostering, adopting, marriage and just other things that come along in life. Basically my “whys” in life. And my hope is that somewhere along the way it helps somebody.

Because things are not always black and white.

XOXO – Hollie