On Fostering

“Who is that?” I asked, pointing at a picture of my husband.

“That’s my daddy!” She replied immediately. She then turned to me, “mama, when will he be home?”

We had only been hosting Hannah* for a week, but she had quickly given up on our names in favor of mama and daddy and had stolen our hearts just as fast.

We went from our normal pace (that of a relaxed couple living out in the suburbs with no kids, though 8 months pregnant) to the demanding pace of a 3 year old in the span of an hour after I met and returned home with Hannah, our first placement through Safe Families. Just a week later life resumed “normally” the day after we scrambled to get Hannah and her few bits of clothing, along with the toothbrush we bought her, to the cities in time for her mom to secure a spot in a family shelter. From the time we heard anything about the placement ending to the time Hannah was gone we had just 3 hours. I was at work for most of them. While the way it ended was stressful, the placement was anything but.

What has been amazing is the impact such a short time has had on us.

Now, we got possibly the easiest first placement possible. Hannah was sweet, energetic, well-behaved, and so, so lovable. I have been around foster care my whole life and know this is not always the case. My parents fostered and adopted children before I was even born. I don’t remember many times growing up where we didn’t have one or more extra kids running around. I know first hand that foster-care is hard stuff, but it is also beautiful. And it was our normal; I didn’t know anything different.

James and I have discussed fostering and adoption for the past 5 years. It is something I have always longed to do and something he has pushed himself to understand and embrace. While I wanted to do it he wanted to want to do it. We talked and prayed over it many, many times. I have been praying for the past couple years that he would develop the heart for it that I have.

In just a week with Hannah that prayer was answered.

When we learned about Safe Families I immediately wanted to apply to become a host family. SF essentially acts as a safety net for families who are struggling and do not have support around them. Families go through training to become ‘hosts’ and when a need arises they can offer to take whichever placements work for their current situation.

A SF placement is voluntary on the part of the parent/guardian who is placing the child (unlike foster care). It can last anywhere from a few days to several months. The goal of SF is to give the families the support they need to get to a place in life where it is healthy for them to be reunited with their children. In the meantime they help coordinated safe and loving homes for the children to stay.

A child might be placed for a few week while a single mother finds a job or for a few months while both parents sort through outstanding legal issues. The host families are encouraged to pursue relationships with the whole family in order to offer holistic support.

It’s messy work. But life is messy.

When the opportunity to apply for SFs came up I wanted to jump in and deal with logistics as we went. James, however, wanted us to figure out a few things before starting. I impatiently waited for things to get to a place where he felt it was a good time to begin pursuing it, it is not something I wanted to go into without both of us on board. After a few months we began the process, which took a few more months… and then waited another few months to be in a place job-wise where we could make it work. When the request for Hannah went out I knew we could make it work and James cautiously agreed to try. The request for a host family went out on Thursday and we had Hannah in our home by lunch on Friday. In our week with Hannah, James and I finally moved onto the same page. At the end of the week we debriefed and agreed that:

*Fostering is not so scary. It’s simply taking someone in and loving them as best you can for the time they are with you. It is simply saying “yes.” Yes to opening your heart and your home.

They won’t be perfect and you won’t be either. There are unknowns but they shouldn’t be an insurmountable barrier.

*Adoption is not so scary. There are not biological boundaries on love. Their lives may be more complicated, things will probably be harder in many ways, but at the and of the day they are children who deserve love and safety and life isn’t about finding the path of least resistance.

*Parenting is not so scary. This is good, considering how very pregnant I currently am. We enjoyed being “mom and dad” for a week and are more excited than ever to welcome baby Z into our family.

(We are very cognizant that it was a short time but I believe the things we learned are still valid. Also, I do not want to downplay the complexities of fostering and adoption, it is by no means easy or straightforward, but difficulty does not negate beauty!)

Yes, it was hard when Hannah left. Yes, it will be hard next time around too. But I would take the hard with the beauty any day.

If you are interested in becoming a host family or supporting Safe Families in some way drop us a message or check our their website: https://www.bethany.org/other-services/safe-families-for-children or facebook page: Safe Families For Children Minnesota

*Names are changed to protect anonymity

5 Weeks

5 weeks and our lives change forever.

5 weeks and we go from a family of 2 to a family of 3.

5 weeks and we are entrusted with the care of a completely dependent tiny person.

5 weeks and Baby Z will start to make his impact on the world and we will start to make our impact on him.

What will that impact be? We have values that we hope to instill, character traits that we will encourage, a way of living that we will try to promote- but what he takes and what he leaves will be up to him. And that’s how it should be. No matter how much I want to guide him to my values, he is his own person. This is what I want for him, in theory. I want him to tread his own path and make his own decisions but I don’t have any concept of just how hard that will be when it comes down to it. It’s a mixture of excitement and terror. Who will he be? How will he change me and my beliefs? Most of my beliefs I hold tightly. I really, really want our children to follow in them but I also recognize that my way is not the only way. The woes of a type 1 personality (for those in the Enneagram sphere). The other day I came across a blog post that encouraged readers to take a moment and make a list of the 5 things that are most important to them. I was intrigued so I did it and what I came up with is pretty representative of what I want to instill in my children (my children… that sounds very adult!). How they incorporate these values into their own lives is their choice (because the world does not need a bunch of mini-Jalyss’s, although I am hoping for some gingers). I spoke with James and he said he felt it was representative of his priorities as well, which is good, ‘cause we are a team 🙂 So I will speak for #TeamZapfletts.

Our Values:

Whole-heartedly following Christ

First and foremost I want Z to know that there is a good God who loves him. I pray that Z will in turn love God. I want him to genuinely follow Christ’s example. I want him to see through our family that following God should make your life noticeably different and I want him to want that for his own life. I want him to care about the things God cares about and allow Him to guide his life and choices.

Relationally focused life, community oriented

The American Dream is simply unhealthy and inevitably ends up causing us to be inwardly focused. Our priorities become skewed with careers taking precedence over family and independence being elevated over community. I want our child to break from that path, to know that there is another way to live. I want him to know that his career is not his identity. I want him to recognize the importance of truly sharing life with others and to accept and extend support. Life is hard and shouldn’t be done alone. Life is not meant to be lived alone, I want him to experience deep and meaningful relationships in all stages of his life.

Hospitality

My family operates on the belief that “there’s always room for one more” whether that be adding adults from group homes to our holiday celebrations, participating in adoption and foster care, or just being open to the neighborhood kids dropping in for dinner unannounced. We have an open door policy that results in a revolving door. I want our child to know his friends are always welcome. I hope that he will be welcoming to those who are going through good times or bad times, extending and accepting hospitality. I hope his doors and arms and heart are always open.

Social Justice:

I want our child to grow up knowing that inequality exist, that privilege and racism are real, and that we should actively seek to be a part of changing this. I want him to recognize the worth of each person no matter their sex, race, culture, orientation, religion, and so on. I want him to think about where his clothes come from and the working conditions of those who made them. To consider who picks the fruit that he eats and whether they are paid fairly. I want him to fight against the rhetoric that marginalizes those on welfare. I want him to actively care.

Sustainablility

I want little Z to respect the environment and do his best to live in a way that is sustainable. I don’t want him to follow the trend of disposable-materialism but to instead distinguish between a need and a want. To invest in things that are long-lasting and ethically produced. I hope that he recognizes that his consumption habits and lifestyle have an impact on the Earth and by extension those who inhabit it. I want him to appreciate the world around him and respect it.

I also hope he’s funny, because I want him to fit in with our family 😉 But that is possibly a secondary want…

But with all that said, I want him to be unashamedly himself. I’m sure he will have a few things to teach us.

5 weeks and the journey begins. We can’t wait.

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The Power of Slowing Down

I like busy.

I don’t think I am a workaholic, I just like to have things going on. I function best with a fair amount of structure. I have an intense need to be productive in some way whether that be working, organizing and reorganizing the house, or learning from documentaries or TED talks.

I hate being sick, as I become stir-crazy within a matter of hours. Given the option I would generally prefer to be stressed by business than stressed by lack of activity. Between James and I we have had 6 jobs for the past year. We each work 2 part time jobs during the day plus asleep or partial asleep overnight jobs. This seemed pretty reasonable to me. It’s what I’m used to and feels like what is expected. Busyness is accepted, even applauded in our culture.

In December we had the opportunity to go to the UK for Christmas. James and I didn’t see one another for several days before we left because of our hectic schedules and there was not a night for 2 weeks leading up to leaving where we were both home overnight, due to our staggered overnight shifts. The first few days in the UK I was anxious about having 3 weeks without work, without constant structured busyness. But then I got to hang out with James and I remembered just how much I like that. I got to read a book. Got to spend time reading the Word and praying with James. Got to spend un-pressured time with people that I love. Had the headspace to serve those around me rather than just doing the bare minimum and falling asleep exhausted by 9:30. I remembered what it felt like to be truly rested. Our time in the UK prompted us to re-evaluate or lives. Helped us to recognize that our schedules were not healthy or life-giving. We decided James would quit one of his day-time jobs and I would put in my notice to my night job when we got home.

Pregnancy has had other plans for me. Instead of having a month to prepare for the transition I had a couple weeks. Bad joints + pregnancy = severe nerve pain. Two weeks before my night job and my coaching job were going to be finishing up I ended up off work completely for nearly a week with severe nerve pain in my back. For several days the only manageable position was lying on my side. I am not sure what was harder to deal with- the physical pain or the frustration of being so limited. Feeling so unproductive. Needing so much help. All in all it was about two weeks where the pain interfered significantly with my life. At only 24 weeks pregnant the thought of things not getting better terrified me.

Fortunately, things have leveled out over the past week. My pain is much more under control. I have to be careful and I am certainly not doing as much as I typically would but it feels manageable. James had his last shift at the coffee shop a couple weeks ago and I had my last overnight shift last week. My high school coaching position came to it’s end with the last competition of the season last weekend.

Now James is working nights and part-time days and I am working a couple days a week. Whilst the circumstances surrounding my slow-down have been frustrating (feeling forced to slow down before I was fully mentally prepared) we are seeing just how important space in life is. It has taken a while for us to get there but we are coming back to the place we were while in the UK.

The past couple weeks have been a breath of fresh air in many ways.

  • James and I have been able to spend more time together, which, beyond being enjoyable for us, has had a great impact on our relationship. This is particularly important with Little Zapfletts on the way!
  • We have been able to be a part of our church community and my family in a re-energized, life-giving way.
  • We have had time to be more intentional about relationships. We can prioritize people over work!
  • I have been able to spend time reading, playing board games, and just generally relaxing a
  • We have had time to cook real food (I am making our bread again, which I love.)

On the physical side I am learning that sometimes the things I feel are important to do aren’t actually that important. Dishes can sit for a few hours, dinner can be a bit late, it’s not the end of the world. I am also learning to be ok with needing more help and am able to appreciate James’ contribution to our family more.

We desire to live relationship-centered lives. The steps we are taking to create space in our lives is making sharing life with those around us possible. We are not so busy getting through life that we don’t have a chance to live life.

We are living and learning and doing our best to love well.