Instant Family – Instant Action

I love movies. All kinds of movies…war movies, westerns, suspense movies, romantic comedies, movies about bravery and heroism, and movies where love conquers all. Just this past year, the movie Instant Family made a big splash at the theatre, bringing into focus the kids in care, the need for foster families and adoptive families, and the process for earning your foster family stripes. Foster families who saw the movie shared it was an accurate portrayal of foster life (despite some irreverence), and that they were moved to laugh and cry.

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Have you ever watched a scene from a movie that you wanted to turn away, but you couldn’t? The action unfolding on the screen had you riveted? That’s foster care and adoption. God is calling you to follow him into that scene and you just can’t turn away. He’s calling you to do something on behalf of His precious kids in care. Everyone can do something…

What can you do today? It’s pretty simple. Today you can register for Walk for the Waiting as a sponsored walker. Build a team of sponsored walkers. Invite your church family to participate. You can raise funds to support 3 nonprofits – The CALL, Immerse  and Project Zero. Every dollar you raise as a sponsored walker will connect children and youth in care with a foster or adoptive family or connect a youth in transitioning out of foster care with a support network. 

We need you to walk. We need you to engage your network to support the work of these three organizations. But, most of all, the kids in foster care need you. Go to https://www.walkforthewaiting.org right now to register as a sponsored walker and walk with us on Saturday, May 4, 2019 at War Memorial Stadium!

~ Lauri Currier, Executive Director, The CALL

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What is Spring Break like for foster children?

For many children and teenagers Spring Break means freedom. It means freedom from tests and teachers, freedom from the rigidity of the school schedule, and the occasional freedom to travel. A single week of possibility.

However, many children in foster care have a drastically different experience. Spring Break can mean loneliness without the familiar faces of teachers and peers, it can mean anxiety and rest disruption without the structure of the normal week, and it can also mean being completely overwhelmed by the fear of missing out on whatever their biological families are, or would be, doing.

Youth who find themselves in the foster care system are removed from everything that anchors them. The people in their lives with whom they have the strongest attachment, their parents, are not able to be with them every day. Their relationships are reduced with greater community of individuals with whom they have attachments: pastors, neighbors, coaches, teachers, etc.

For these children, Spring Break doesn’t equal freedom, but even more loss.

If they are in a foster home, they have a family that loves and provides for them until they are able to be reunited with their biological family. But that doesn’t always mean it’s comfortable. And school, though difficult and not-super-fun, can many times act in a way that normalizes their experience.

After suffering the loss of their parents, their pets, their physical home, routines, they have a full week where they are forced to take a break from the thing that has kept them grounded.

A week of guessing what their bio parents are doing.

A week of scary new experiences and destinations.

A week where they don’t have their friends and teachers, school counselors and lunch-ladies to help them have a break emotionally from all that is going on around them.

A week of exploring and enjoying, drawing close to and falling in love with a family to whom they will one day have to say “goodbye.”

A week rid of distractions, allowing more time to reflect on the trauma or neglect they witnessed in their home and the traumatic experience of being removed from their home.

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How do we help? What can we do to relieve as much of the stress and anxiety from these children and teens as possible?

  • You can pray. Pray for these children and families to continue healing, to continue growing.
  • You can give.  More financial resources for The CALL, Project Zero, and Immerse means more families, more adoptions, and more resources for the teens who are homeless, living in group homes, or aging out of the foster care system.
  • You can show more mercy and grace to the foster families and children with whom you interact. Don’t assume you know what they are going through, but provide them more compassion and empathy than ever before.

“We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.” — Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Hagan #foreverFamilyFriday

When we were both 23 years old, 2 years after we got married, I came home and told my husband (Heath) I wanted to start fostering. He laughed it off and said maybe later, because at this time we were living in my in-laws basement and newly weds. God kept calling though; He kept placing me in direct contact with foster children — at church, at work, with friends — all intentional to continue and cultivate that desire in my heart. A couple of years later God put it on Heath’s heart too, and in “God fashion” The CALL was at our church the next day promoting info meetings for fostering. We immediately filled out our paperwork to foster one child without intentions of adopting; 4 months later our home was opened, a day later we had our first placement, and two weeks later we had our second placement.

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Eleven months after our newborn was placed with us he became our first adopted son, Carter. We continued to foster and then a few years later learned that we struggled with infertility. Still deep in the trenches of fostering and raising our son, we were deep in the trenches of infertility treatments. Treatments lasted about 9 months and we both decided that wasn’t for us; we had adopted before and knew that adoption was an option we were both on board with.

 

Not long after that, God put a specific girl on our hearts to adopt, we called her our “angel baby”. We prayed for her, but through a series of events we ended up not getting her.  Although heartbroken, we trudged on of waiting and longing. A few months later we decided that fostering was our heart’s desire and that we would continue to bring kids in our home to love for that season. In January we took a newborn baby boy home to love on while his mom was getting the help she needed. A few months later God surprised me and allowed me to meet “angel baby” that we had prayed for months earlier. I got to share with her pre-adoptive mom our story and how we prayed for her little girl and what a blessing it was to put a face to our prayers; how praying for her had increased our faith and brought us back to fostering. We continued on caring for this boy, Channing, and saw reunification as the goal, but were still thankful that we got to care for him and help his mom some in the process.

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Around June we were asked if we could keep our “angel baby” for respite while her pre-adoptive mom had surgery. Of course, we jumped at the opportunity to love on this girl and were naive to the emotional rollercoaster it would be to care for a baby we thought was going to be ours. During this time, Channing’s mom was doing really well and we just knew he was going to go back to her. The time came for us to do respite and, honestly, keeping “angel baby” was very hard on my heart, to love both babies and know that neither were going to be ours. I began looking into private adoption agencies. I didn’t want to keep fostering if our heart wasn’t in the right place for reunification. We called every agency in Arkansas and many families we knew that had adopted privately, and were set to go this route, when we got a call from “angel baby’s” guardian. I remember exactly where I was standing as we spoke on the phone, “Because of some complications, we are feeling like we shouldn’t adopt her, would you and your husband like to adopt this baby?” Are. You. Serious. I jumped at the opportunity to say yes and then remembered I should ask my husband to make sure he was good with it.

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A few weeks went by and we heard from the caseworker through an e-mail that said we were approved to keep her and be her pre-adoptive family and at the bottom of the message it said, “FYI she has a baby brother who was just born and he’s in the NICU, would you like to adopt him too?” Shocked, we said YES!! So now in a few short months we went from a 3-year-old adopted son, an 8 month old foster son, a 10 month old “angel baby” to adopt, and now a preemie baby boy! To say we were overwhelmed with excitement and fear was an understatement! Our heads were spinning with what to do with our sweet Channing. “Do we wait until he is reunified with his mom? Do we find another sweet family to love on him? Can we handle 3 babies at once?” A few weeks went by and we got another phone call, this time from Channing’s caseworker. “Mrs. Hagan, something happened at his visit today. Channing’s mom said she’s not able to continue with his care. Would you like to adopt him?” I literally busted out laughing on the phone. I couldn’t contain the emotions of hysterics! When I told Heath the phone was silent. We prayed and processed and pray and processed, finally one day Heath walked in and said, “Well do you want to change his name or keep it the same?” He had felt peace about adopting all 3 kids and becoming a family of 6.

Now our kids are Carter (5), Laney Kate (3), Channing (3), and Cayden (2) and have all been officially Hagans for almost a year. God’s ways are always perfect and his timing is always right. I can say 100 times over that the journey has not been easy but it has been one we wouldn’t trade for anything!
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Stricklin #ForeverFamilyFriday

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I ventured down this path toward foster care by myself at first… My husband and I had been married for a few years by that point and had three young boys. And it wasn’t that he was unwilling to talk about it. He actually thought it was a great idea. For later. At some unspecified time in our distant future.  But i was certain that now was the right time.
In early 2014, God radically gripped my heart as I read His Word and had prompted a surrender that was unprecedented in my life. I’d been a church girl my whole life, daughter of a pastor and now wife to one. I knew all the spiritual things to do and say and had a plate full of leadership roles and responsibilities alongside my husband. But in that little window of time, God totally remodeled my thinking and revealed more of His heart, and as a result, I began to sense his calling toward the orphans in foster care. Over time, conviction grew, and I longed to open my home and welcome kids into it. But instead…. I was forced to wait.
 
I knew my husband loved Jesus. I was confident in His ability to hear and follow the Holy Spirit’s leading. So whyyyyyy didn’t he feel the calling and urgency I did? I tried to be patient. I volunteered in other ways. But I felt compelled to act, and I just knew God Himself had stirred up this desire. 
 
There were baby steps a long the way, glimmers of hope on the long road of waiting. After at least a year of talking about it, we agreed to begin our foster parent training with The Call the Summer of 2015. And though BJ and I were “reading the same book” as Jason Johnson puts it, we were apparently nowhere close to being on the same page. For two separate weekends we sat through our Pride Training, and as I brushed away a continuous stream of tears, burdened by this weight and fully persuaded that God was in it, BJ was visibly unconvinced.
 
So we walked out of training that last day and halted the process. I was so disappointed – more unwelcome waiting. BUT I was sure God knew where to find us if or when He needed us. And if he had no need to use us in this area, then who was I to elbow my way in? 
 
A year and a half later, the Lord unexpectedly prompted BJ to resurface the conversation. My “yes” was still on the table, and God had, in His timing, brought BJ to a point of action.  In ways that only He could, He whispered (shouted!) confirmations to our hearts as we soon opened our home to foster. Three days after we were cleared, we got our first call, for a tiny pink newborn bundle, who we nervously and eagerly welcomed into our home. And then as if we were trying to make up for lost time, we shocked even our own selves by saying “yes” to her toddler sister joining us 6 weeks later. 
 
By God’s grace, despite the obvious challenges of going from three to five kids almost overnight, we were instantly “all in.” And I remember clearly the unmistakable thrill of knowing that God was delivering on the promise and prayer he’d put in my heart those years before. And as God’s mysterious ways go, those two little girls never left our home! Nineteen months later, in December 2018, we had the privilege of officially adopting them into our forever family!
 
And then it hit me. Had we opened our home back when I wanted to, my girls would not have even been born yet! What I saw as delay, was actually divine. What I saw as a set-back, became nothing less than supernatural.  I could not understand the waiting. I fought it. I hated it! But God used even my husband’s resistance to perfectly align us with His ultimate plan for our family!  
 
So be encouraged! If you’re currently on hold like I was, keep praying & asking, refuse to be embittered, serve where you can, and of course…. WALK FOR THE WAITING! 
 
 
(Watch the link to hear a snippet of my husband’s side of the story.)

 

Norman #ForeverFamilyFriday

There is a common misconception surrounding people that foster and/or adopt and it looks a little something like this…..

They probably homeschool.  They must have always wanted a big family.  I bet she can’t biologically have kids.  I bet she makes her own Valentines boxes instead of buying them at Walmart.  They must be really rich.  They must be so poor.  How do they have enough room?  They must LOVE kids.  I bet all her kids clean, cook, and babysit.  I could never do that.  I could never let them go.  She must be really organized.

Admit it.  You have seen the families in Walmart with 5-8 kids in tow and none of them have the same skin tone and you’ve thought to yourself….better her than me.  Or maybe you’ve actually done the opposite.  Maybe you have romanticized the situation.  You looked at the family and thought…..oh I wish I could do that.  I wish I could bring in these children, love them, feed them, house them, and let them go, but we just can’t right now.  If only we had more time, money, resources, etc.

Maybe, you have watched the family adopting a teenager or large sibling group and you realize another year has gone by without opening up your home.  Maybe, year after year you put that on your resolution list, your prayer list, your refrigerator magnet, and at the end of the year you have a lot of reminders/prayers but very little action.

Our family entered the world of foster care and adoption almost 7 years ago.  We were a nice family of four and had great plans for the rest of our life.  I was a teacher where my kids attended school, and J.O. was on a nice work path.  We had just bought a home in Little Rock we loved. Things were on the path for us to get our kids through school, still be relatively young, and travel the world.  The only problem with that plan was a feeling of complete un-rest.  In true Christian fashion, I committed to praying but wasn’t really planning to act on it.  This begin a year-long internal wrestling match.  I can tell you this…..it is ALWAYS easier to obey in the long run.  

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We opened to foster and have seen over 20 children come in and out of our home.  We have had the opportunity to see children be adopted into amazing homes, see families come back together in reunification and thrive, and even get to be foster grandparents for a bit.

During this time, we have also adopted twice.  We adopted two sisters and recently added to our family again with a little boy.

Our family of four has now grown to a family of seven.  My Honda Accord has transitioned into a 12-passenger van.  I am now going to have one entering his senior year of high school and one entering his Kindergarten year of elementary school.  Traveling the world young, now looks like parenting while old.

But you couldn’t make me trade it for the world.  

I get it….you cling to the saying, “Not everyone is called to foster or adopt, but we are all called to do something,”  However, what about this….”Not everyone is called to foster or adopt, but more are called than are currently acting.”

Maybe you are truly a prayer warrior and you hit your knees for these kids every single day.  That’s awesome.  Maybe God has entrusted you with extra money and you need to be a financial supporter in this fight.  Maybe you finally need to complete the paperwork to mentor youth aging out of foster care.  Or maybe the time has come to finish 2019 as an open foster or adoptive family.  Maybe it’s time to mark that resolution as completed.

Finding peace in obedience is much better than constantly wrestling with disobedience.  Give me the unknown of this journey over running from this journey any day.

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Cross #ForeverFamilyFriday

 

 

Our story started about 4 1/2 years ago.  Bill McCoy, retired Pastor of The Church of Sherwood, and his wife, Kay, took in 4 kids, under a Permanent Guardianship.  Ages 3, 5, 7, and 9.  The. McCoy’s are like second parents to us.  Robert, grew up in that church with his parents.  The McCoy’s and The Cross’s are best friends, and started that church together with other families, years ago.  Mr. McCoy married Robert and I.  Their 3 children are dear friends to us.

I always say this picture is truly the beginning.  It is my daughter Julianne’s 4th Birthday party.  Brandon’s 4 biological siblings are there sitting with my 2 kiddos.  The next day all of our lives would start to intertwine.

Bill sent out a mass text message stating, “Does anyone know someone who has an open Foster home?  Our 4 kids,  Bio parents had a baby, and it tested positive for drugs, so it immediately went into DHS custody.”

At that time, we didn’t know gender, or health of the baby.  When I tell people this, I know they think I am crazy.  When I got that message, I immediately felt like this baby is going to be mine.  I called Robert and asked him, what should we do.  He did not hesitate.  He said, call DHS and find out what we have to do to be foster parents, and go from there.

The case worker, asked me if I had any relationship to the child, or guardians of the siblings.  We do not.  She said, you can’t just pick a baby and say, I want to foster/adopt this one.  Then she told me to contact, The Call of Pulaski CO.  We went to an information meeting and knew, even if it doesn’t work out with this child, we had to do something.  There is such a need out there.

Bill McCoy, sees the word “no” as a negotiation.  He contacted the case worker, her supervisor, her supervisor, and eventually got in Milton Grahams ear.  He told him, that he is close to a couple, that are Christians and are getting trained through, The Call, and are  trying to get this baby to keep him close to his siblings.  Also, his 4 had not met their brother and they were getting anxious  Mr. Graham called Robert and then Me.  He asked us why we wanted to pursue this.    We pretty much echoed each other.  We felt called to do this, and we really wanted this child to know and grow up around his biological siblings.  Mr. Graham said, “we need more loving families like you two.  If you can get your home open before the child is 6 months old, we will pursue moving him to your home.”

Through all the discouragement, we still persisted.  Our home was open in less than 4 months.  He came to live with us when he was 4 months old.  Since then, I have gained a new best friend, his first foster mom and her family.  They moved recently, out of state, and still made it back for Brandon’s adoption.  I also gained 4 new kiddo’s to love on.  I knew them, but didn’t know them on a personal level.  It was awesome to introduce them to their brother.  Since that time, the girls especially, spend lots of weekends with us.  We spend every holiday together, and of course we make everyone’s birthday special.

After Brandon’s 2nd birthday 11-21-17 we finally received  the date of his adoption.  December 11, 2017, he officially became Brandon David Cross.  It was truly a celebration.

We have been blessed beyond belief.  Not only is he the sweetest baby ever, he is very smart, and above or on par developmentally.  Everyone loves Brandon.  We have a saying in our house, the first 2 were born in my tummy, but we all chose Brandon to be a part of our hearts, and our family.  We love The Call, and I am a huge advocate for foster care.  We need more foster & adoptive families!! 30550754_1930298263661665_880219495_o

What WFTW means to Immerse Arkansas

Since the beginning of this year, Immerse has provided support to almost 50 youth in crisis – that’s more than THREE TIMES the number of youth we served for the whole year in 2013 (when the Walk began). 
Each day, we walk with youth in crisis by providing tailored support to help them find hope and healing. With the help of a guide, the youth’s plan is focused on finding safe and stable housing, improving their well-being, forming permanent healing relationships, and increasing their earning potential through education and work.
We get to see these youth become Overcomer’s. We get to see many stories unfold of persistence and perseverance.  Here’s Mic’s story. Her ability to overcome and succeed has been amazing to watch:



In addition to directly supporting youth, we launched Immerse Families last year to improve support for foster and adoptive families. Our belief is that if we support foster and adoptive families well, kids in foster care and kids who find forever families, will have the permanent relationships they need to successfully navigate life. The better we support these families, the better they can help their children heal from trauma.

This effort is less than a year old, but the team driving the support is already making an incredible difference. In fact, we just held our first Youwannago Family Camp a few weeks ago. It was an incredible time of encouragement and fun for these amazing families. Below is the promotional video that will give you an idea of the camp:



Thank you so much for being a part of the Walk. It’s an incredible help to the youth and families we serve at Immerse. I truly believe that with God’s help, Arkansas can get to no more waiting!

Walking with you,
Eric Gilmore
Executive Director

Radke #foreverFamilyFriday

Yes, adults can be adopted

You can imagine that many of the youth that Immerse works with have given up on the notion of having a family. For some of them, it may have been in their early teen years, or around their 9th or 10th placement in foster care, or when their adoptive family reversed their adoption, that these youth gave up on the possibility of being in a family. They may have given up on the notion of belonging or being wanted, or having someone in their corner they can trust.

It’s been incredible to witness a different story unfold over the past couple of years.

Wade and Gina Radke began mentoring a young man named Jay. Jay came to Immerse homeless right around his 18th birthday. There’s a lot details about Jay that I’ll leave for him to tell a different time, but he’s had a hard life. Over a couple of years, Wade and Gina walked with Jay. They spent time with him, challenged him, encouraged him, loved him, and stuck with him through some big ups and downs. And then recently, Wade and Gina decided to ask Jay if he’d like to be adopted into their family.

The Radke Family added a new member just a few months ago:

The courtroom was a celebration of hope, love, family and belonging. God’s work to bring this family together was beautiful to behold.


I hope the message gets out – young people ages 18, 19, 20, 21 (and up) can still be adopted. Many are still looking for families. Many still want to be wanted. Many are still waiting – waiting for people like you and I to walk with them in whatever way they need, even if it means a forever family.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if kids aging out of foster care in Arkansas, if homeless youth in our area, had families pursuing them? Not all of these youth want to be adopted, but they all need someone they can trust in their corner.

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