Big Changes in the Ward Family

As an MK (missionary kid) I crave change.  If you don’t believe me, just ask my husband.  We have been married now for just under 12 years.  The first year of our marriage we moved from Chattanooga, TN to St. Louis, MO and both started new jobs.  The second year of our marriage we had our first child.  In the third year of our marriage we had our second child.  The next year we bought a house.  Then we got licensed by the state as an adoptive family, and had a pre-adoptive placement for about 6 months.  Then we recovered and got a dog.  Then we got licensed as a private adoptive family and had and lost a placement.  Then we got chickens and built something tangible together as we recovered.  Then we got licensed as a foster placement and had change after change (one time we received a new placement the same day one left).  That’s a lot of change and in the midst of it we have welcomed one more kiddo as a Ward and Lord willing will welcome the other two on a permanent basis soon as well.  We’ve also added and lost cats, added and lost lots of chickens, and added another dog.  I love change but it can also be exhausting and as a family we were ready for a year of just settling in to who our family is now and enjoying a slower pace as we move out of the fostering stage of life and into the “no more adding babies” stage of life.  This year was going to be our year of REST.

God has other plans, plans that we were not looking for or anticipating.  This year will be the year of the biggest change yet.  Moving again.  Kirk and I moved here as a newlywed couple twelve years ago.  This summer we will be packing up our family of seven humans, two dogs, one cat, and seven people worth of stuff (the chickens will be staying behind) and moving them all back to Chattanooga, TN.  I like to joke that we just came to St. Louis to have children.

This change has come as a shock to most people, it was also a shock to us.  Kirk was asked by Chattanooga Christian School to consider applying for their job as a Upper School Band teacher.  Though we’ve never expected to leave St. Louis, we started thinking about it…making our pro and con lists.  Pro…Kirk would be off on weekends and summers.  Con…he hasn’t really taught in type of setting before.  Pro…we have lots of family in and near Chattanooga.  Con…we love our church family in St. Louis.  Pro…CCS has a desire to improve their diversity.  Con…we love The Freedom School and the diversity it is dedicated to.  Pro…all the kids can go to the same school.  Con…we’ll miss our foster support…wait, can we even take our littlest two????!!!!!

This last “con” has been the biggest question mark in our minds.  God seemed to be opening door after door that was leading us to Chattanooga but we knew we wouldn’t leave our youngest two kids behind.  Their case is moving toward adoption but would it move fast enough for us to be able to move this summer.  This is still a question mark in our minds.  It feels like God is testing our trust in Him through it.  The last door to open was the official job offer.  Now the only thing that would hold us back is the St. Louis City court system, not the most efficient or time-sensitive entity in the world.  We have a great team working with us for the permanency of our kiddos but we really have no control over how things will play out.  WE NEED PRAYER!  We need prayer for God to move the “mountain” which is the court system so that we are at a point in their case that we can move them out of the state.  We need prayer for us that we will be able to trust God in whatever the future holds.

The Bible verse sitting on my kitchen window these days is so common that it’s easy to skim past all the wonderful encouragement…Philippians 4:6-7, “DO NOT BE ANXIOUS about anything, but in EVERYTHING by PRAY and supplication with THANKSGIVING let your requests be made know to GOD.  And the PEACE of GOD, which surpasses all understanding, will GUARD your HEARTS and you MINDS in Christ Jesus.”

Grief of Adoption

I have been slowly mulling over a couple of blogs I read a month or so ago.  These days my thoughts are scattered and interrupted by the nearly constant needs of my small children.  It takes time to formulate my random thoughts into cohesive ideas.  It takes even more time to find the time to sit down uninterrupted and write them down.  So forgive me if they are not fully processed or if nap ends in the middle of my post.

I recently read an article by Dr. John DeGarmo called My Grief Is Real: The Tears of a Foster Parent.  As a foster mom I have cried many tears over my kids who moved on.  I usually cried those tears the first time we found out they wouldn’t be staying in our family.  And God faithfully comforted me each time as we began to work toward helping that child move on to the next phase of their life.  Dr. DeGarmo’s article is a very encouraging article if you are in the midst of this phase of your journey…one of moving kids to the next phase.

But I am no longer in that phase of my journey.  My family has moved on toward the next phase, where our kids will not be moving on from our family.  We adopted Daniel last November after two years as his foster parents.  And we are moving forward in the process with Girly K and Baby K and will, Lord willing, be adopting them this summer. Reading DeGarmo’s article made me think about the differences in the tears I cried for our kiddos who moved on and my three youngest kiddos.  There were tears of grief for the kiddos that I didn’t get to keep, that we said goodbye to.  But those tears didn’t last very long.  We met daddies and cousins and friends who loved our babies and we could easily see God’s hand in moving the kiddos on.

For my youngest three kids, especially Daniel, I have cried many more tears.  Tears for Daniel as we experienced the back and forth of if he would stay or if he would move.  Once we knew he was staying we cried tears for him that he will never live with his birth mom again.  He has a bond with her that I can not understand in my rational mind…to love someone who has done such harm to you.  I cry tears for him as I anticipate the hard conversations we will have with him about her.  My tears aren’t all for Daniel.  I cry a lot of tears for myself.  Parenting Daniel is hard.  I cry because I will be his mommy forever and I will have to be the one to have the hard conversations.  I will be the one he will hate for taking him away from his birth mom  I will be the one he yells at in anger, “You’re not my real mom, I wish you’d never adopted me!”  I have a different kind of grief and tears for Daniel.  I grieve the pain in his heart and I grieve the pain in my heart as I struggle to love him the best that I can, knowing that it will be forever, knowing that it may always be hard.  I cry tears for two oldest kids.  I cry that we have given them a difficult brother.  I cry for the sweet times I miss out on with them because I have to give them space away from him when he is being mean or aggressive with them.  I cry for the loss of the simple, impulsive life we used to live and will never be able to live again.  I grieve that they no longer get to have that.

I love my Daniel and I prayed so hard that God would let us keep him.  We see tremendous growth in him and he is a delight to call my own.  But I am not naive about the journey we face.  I know that it will have it’s ups and downs.  I have no doubt in my mind that God brought us to this specific time and place.  And though I cry a lot of tears I know that He is here with me in the midst of all of them.  He does not judge me when I cry tears of anger because Daniel is hitting and scratching and kicking me because I did not give him his black coat because I don’t know where it was.  God is with me when I cry tears of grief over the loss of time with Joanna and Sam or Kirk.  God is with me when I cry heart-broken tears when he says he hates me because I gave him a consequence for disobedience or he says he feels safest with his mama (his birth mom) because she gave him bottles (though I know the truth about how she treated him).  These are the tears that I cry now.  Yet God is my comforter.

I was thinking about these things, saying yes to loving Daniel as a son forever, despite the many tears, as I read a blog post by a friend from church, Kim Rankin.  She talks about Being Brave.  “Perhaps bravery is not the absence of fear, but the refusal to be paralyzed by it. Perhaps there is bravery in admitting we are scared. Perhaps recognizing we need help is the bravest thing of all.”  There is a special kind of bravery that God gives us that leads us to do things that the world would call foolish.  Bravery for me is saying YES with all of my heart to Daniel even though I know in my mind that it will not be an easy journey.

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Why Adopt Little D?

Someone recently asked me why we have chosen to adopt Little D.  Kirk had said something to me, a “tongue in cheek” prayer.  “May God continue to bless D with new levels of maturity and peace so that his presence in the house does not slowly kill my wife.”  Though it was said somewhat sarcastically, it is a real prayer of our hearts that we pray humbly and desperately before the Lord.  This person asked me why we would choose to adopt a kiddo that we felt was slowly killing me.

This past summer was nearly impossible.  Five kids is a lot!  Balancing the needs of older kids and little kids is hard.  Balancing the needs of kids who want to chill without structure at home and a kid who needs specific structure and constant activity away from home is hard.  Carrying a 30 pound infant everywhere while chasing a 30 pound toddler who hasn’t learned boundaries is hard.  These are surface, logistical needs I faced each day this summer.  Not to mention that my family wants to eat breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner, and dessert EVERY SINGLE DAY!

There are emotional needs as well.  There are A LOT of emotional needs when you are parenting children from “hard places”.  Parenting children who are emotionally needy, children who are on the brink of “fight or flight” (mostly fight in Little D’s case) almost all day is exhausting.  Keeping on top of behavior to prevent all out rage is taxing.  Staying calm in the presence of a child who is fighting against you, literally in fear of their life, is nearly impossible.  With the help of the Holy Spirit I am able to love my little boy through these fears.  With the help of the Holy Spirit I am able to remain gentle and kind with my words and my body even when he is attacking me with his words and with his body.

But I do get enraged.  I do get so angry that I want to hurt him.  I get so used up that I want to disappear for a few days, or at least lay in bed by myself all day.  I found that by the end of the summer I was beginning to feel the physical effects of parenting Little D.  My body and my heart were all used up.  It’s in these moments that my prayer is that God would help me to survive another day.  It’s a real cry, from a really exhausted mommy; it’s a real cry, to a powerful God, a loving Father.  It’s a plea that He would give me the grace to love a child who calls me a “stupid cry baby” and threatens to “punch me in the face” (we’re hoping to deal with these issues before he becomes older and has worse names to call us).  A child who scratches, kicks, hits, and spits because he doesn’t want to eat the cereal I gave him for breakfast, the cereal he insisted he’d eat this time (his fear is telling him he’s going to starve, that I’m withholding food from him).  Or throws books at me as I leave him at bedtime.  It’s in these moments that my husband cries out in prayer on my behalf.  We cry out because we also see the charming, delightful little boy that he is.  He is precious in the sight of the Lord and we believe in a God of healing and we have hope and faith that God can heal Little D from the hurt he has experience.

So the questions come in these moments…why would you choose to adopt Little D.  I guess I’ve never really thought about it that way.  To be honest, it was never a question that I asked.  We chose to foster because we wanted to be a safe place for kids who needed a safe place.  I choose to adopt Little D because when that question came up he was already my son.

Me and D (one month as his mommy)

Me and D (one month as his mommy)

God’s Timing is Right (even if it’s hard)

*Author’s Note: D is up from his nap so this is an unedited and pre-proofread version of the post…unlikely to be edited later. 🙂

I made the comment to Kirk last night that sometimes I wish we had been able to have D since he was born.  We were thinking back over the various children God has brought in and out of our life and the journey that He has taken us on in order to get us to where we are today.  On the day that D was born, we weren’t ready yet to be his parents.  Four and a half years ago, when D was born, if he had entered foster care we wouldn’t have been there to be his placement.  We didn’t want to be foster parents, we wanted to be adoptive parents.

Sam and B Girl

Sam and B

Three month before D was born we took in a pre-adoptive placement.  One month into our journey we became foster parents as the court decided to try to get the kids back with their mom.  This proved to be 6 of the hardest months of my life.  We learned that some moms desperately want to be good moms but just haven’t been taught how.  They love their kids but seem to be unable to get stable enough to provide their kids with what they need.  After 6 months we had to ask for the kids to be moved, we struggled through the guild of that decision and closed our foster/adoptive license saying we would never foster again (at this point D was 3 months old).

Adoption Blanket for baby S

Adoption Blanket for baby S

By the time D was 1 year old we had decided to pursue private adoption and were working on our private home study through a local foster agency.  By the time D was 18 months old we had been matched with a mom and were taking home her baby from the hospital.  A week later we were driving to her house to give the baby back.  We spent the next six months trying to figure out what God was doing in our lives and asking Him lots of “why” questions.

"baby M"By the time D was 2 years old, we had decided to foster.  We’d re-taken the 9 weeks of classes to become licensed and switched our adoptive home study into a foster home study.  And taken in our first placement.  We still stay in contact with Baby Girl M’s father. I asked God for a clear sign that fostering was the right path for us and He gave us M.  She was delightful.  Her father was grateful.  We had spent months healing from the pain of feeling like God had used and abused us in our previous situations.  We began to see more and more the dire need for foster families.  In the two years that we’ve fostering we’ve had 8 placements (and done respite for several more).

Little D (a few months after he joined us)

Little D (a few months after he joined us)

After baby girl M who went home to her dad after a couple of months.  We had her in the spring.  That summer we had baby boy J who went to a friend of the family.  That summer we also decided not to pursue twin girls J and J.  We did respite care for them for several weeks and enjoyed them so much.  This was the biggest conflict of our marriage so far.  That fall, on my birthday, we took in Little D.  If D had come into care when he was born, we wouldn’t have been ready for him.  It’s been a long, hard journey, but I am so thankful for the work that God has patiently been doing on our hearts to bring us the the place where we’d be ready to step in and become his parents.

 

 

A Good Mama

20150703_062351Little D’s chicken, Snow White, went “broody” about a month ago…this means she started collecting eggs and sitting on them to hatch them. Unfortunately, without a rooster none of our eggs can hatch, I’ll spare you the chicken reproductive system. We drove out to Duda Lang Farm and bought a dozen fertilized eggs and put them under Snow White. Twenty-one days later we were supposed to have cute little chicks following their mama around as she teaches them how to eat and drink and survive in the world.

 

By the end of day 1 we were down two eggs…eaten by other hens while Snow White got up for a quick nibble of food and to stretch her legs.  (A broody hen sits on her clutch of eggs day and night for 21 days, turning them every 15 minutes to help them develop properly.)  We started keeping a closer eye on them, especially whenever Snow White got up for her brief daily meal. After a couple of weeks eggs started to disappear. We’re not sure what was happening but by “hatch” day we were down to only 3 eggs.

20150703_071827On Thursday night, before I went to bed I checked the eggs and found that two of them had a little crack, “pip”, in them (an air hole) showing that they would hatch soon. The next day we anxiously watched and waiting as one of the eggs slowly opened more and more. It was almost all the way open when we decided to have lunch and nap time. After nap time when we went to check on the new chick…it was gone. All that was left was half of a shell. We suspect that another hen ate it.

 

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So we blocked off the other hens in an attempt to save the next chick. We waiting excitedly all day and finally after dinner it made it’s appearance. A floppy little black chick cracked out of it’s egg, exhausted but triumphant. We kept a careful eye on Snow White to make sure she was careful with her new little chick. All was well as we put the littlest three kids to bed. We let the big kids hold the 1 hour old chick before they went to bed. When Kirk and I checked on it before we went to bed it had been smothered under Snow White. The third egg turned out to be a dud and had died before even hatching.

20150704_110316This day was such an emotional roller-coaster. The highs of watching the eggs slowly hatching. The lows of checking on them to find death and an empty nest. The next day we went back out to the farm and I debated and debated whether to get young chicks to give to Snow White (apparently we could sneak them under her at night and she’d wake up and assume they’re hers). “Maybe I can teach her to be a good mama hen. Maybe if they’re a little bigger she won’t smoosh them. Maybe if there’s more of them she’ll be a better protector.” In the end we got six week old chicks…just about the age that chicks are off on their own and the mama starts laying eggs again for her next clutch. It wasn’t worth the risk.  Snow White was not a good mama.  She didn’t keep her eggs safe enough to develop properly into chicks.  She didn’t keep the eggs or chicks safe from the other hens. She wasn’t able to keep them safe from herself.

Coincidentally, as we’ve been having discussions with Little D about Snow White being a good mama to sit on her eggs and keep them safe and warm, we’ve also begun conversations with him about adoption.  Adoption in general, and specifically his adoption into our family.  This weekend, as we watched Snow White’s patient sitting on her eggs come to nothing…we talked with Little D about how he will not be able to live with his birth mom again.  Snow White was unable to keep her eggs safe and provide them will all that they need to survive in the world.  Little D’s birth mom was unable to keep him safe and provide him with all that he will need to survive in this world.  We told him that since he can’t go back to live with his birth mom we were asked if he could keep living with us and be part of our family forever.  And we said, “YES! We would love to have his as a part of our family forever.”  We told him that since we picked out names for Joanna and Sam when they were born and so we had picked out a new name for him too.  We were going to change his name to Daniel.  He asked if he was going to have Daddy’s name and was very excited that he would be a Ward forever.  The court system is moving slowly, but the movement is forward.  We hope to have an adoption date before the end of the year.

Daniel with "White Head"

Daniel with “White Head”

Sitting in the Dark

I’m sitting in my 3 year olds room. In the dark. On the edge of his bed. Hoping he falls asleep before my phone’s battery dies. I sit here to trap him in bed, vainly hoping my presence will help him feel safe enough to fall asleep.

We’ve hit a roadblock in parenting this little guy who joined our family 9 months ago. I love him to death and hope and pray daily that he’ll be mine forever. Sometimes I feel he’s sucking the life out of me.

Bedtime has become a nightmare. One parent cleans up the kitchen, helps the big kids get ready for bed, connects with the big kids over some Narnia, and tucks them in. The other parent gets D ready for bed, reads books quietly, sings songs, rubs back, prays, and says goodnight. Then puts D to bed. Then puts D to bed again. Then puts D to bed again. To be transparent, this happens until they have to ask for a sub because they have become enraged.

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We’re starting a training in a couple of weeks based on Karyn Purvis’ “The Connected Child”. It can’t come soon enough. My three year old’s brain is wired differently than my bio kids who haven’t experienced trauma our neglect. Did you know that by connecting with a child from a “hard place”, you can change the way their brain functions? Did you know that you can teach a child to trust again? Did you know that you can help their brains not go directly into fight or flight just because you asked them not to touch the hot oven?

I feel so honored and humbled that God has directed Kirk and I into the business of changing brain chemistry.  I’m so thankful that He gives His Holy Spirit to sustain and give us wisdom through this journey.

Vicious Cycle

I feel like we are stuck in a vicious cycle. There are several things that we feel committed to as a family but at times these things seem to be in conflict with each other. Lately this has become most apparent in our desire to grow our family through adoption.

Commitment: Kirk’s job at New City Fellowship. We know this is where God has placed our family. Kirk is good at his job and enjoys it. God is using him to show love to the nations by pursuing multicultural music. Our church also believes in walking with the poor. They pay Kirk enough to support his family but not too much to make him unable to sympathize with those around us who are poor. This has been a good thing in our life as we humbly are able to understand what it is like to live paycheck-to-paycheck, almost. New City Fellowship is a good thing God has put in our life.

Commitment: Sarah’s job as a stay-at-home mom. I believe that the best thing I can do for my kids is be a stay-at-home mom for them during the first few years of their life. This gives them the chance to have a stable foundation as they go on into the world. It is hard to be a full-time mommy but also so rewarding. I have loved being able to fully invest myself in my kids, my household, and BAKING! Being at home full time also make me able to spend the time needed to work with a newly adopted child as they mourn for the loss of their first family and attach to ours.

Commitment: Living in the inner city. We moved into our house three and a half years ago. We wanted to live near the church office. God has blessed us with a wonderful block full of wonderful people. We happen to be the only non-African American family on the block. I love it! I love the environment for my kids. I love that I am pushed to step our of my comfort zone to go the the grocery store where I will be the only white face. I love the connections I have made and the acceptance I have received from those around us. I am glad that our AA adopted children will have people around them with the same skin color. And that I am having the opportunity to taste what it is like to be in the minority.

Commitment: Love and compassion for the orphan, the widow, and the refugee. Jesus’ kingdom. This is what has drawn us to pursue adoption rather than having more biological children. We have the space, love, and community that make us good candidates for adoption. Our compassion does not end with children who need a family, we also feel deeply for mom’s who are facing crisis pregnancies. Our desire for a child is balanced with a desire for moms to be able to raise their children. We are also committed to trans-racial adoption. We believe that God has equipped us to be a good option for an African American child because we will be able to raise him/her in an environment where they will be involved with other trans-racial families and have positive African American role models in their life through our neighborhood, church, and school.

Lately I have been frustrated with how our commitment to transracial adoption is being blocked by our financial commitment to being in our church which makes us a good option for a transracial adoption. Arg!

The best way to learn to trust my Heavenly Father is to be forced to trust him. I’m learning this, slowly.

Please pass around our adoption profile to anyone and everyone: KirkSarahAdoptionProfile.wordpress.com.