10 practical ways to support foster families

I crafted this list a few months ago for our Vulnerable Children’s Ministry Facebook page. I think it’s worth sharing here, too. These are all practical (and specific) ways to support foster families (particularly if you already call them friends).

#1: Bring food. Show up with dinner or a freezer meal (in disposable dishes), drop off good chocolate for the grown-ups and kid-friendly snacks for everyone else, or send a gift card for take out or home delivery. Sending food is a great way to say, “let me help.”

#2: Take over the chores. Foster families often have their hands full, especially in the first few days and weeks after a new child joins the family: helping the new child settle in, figuring out school enrollment and medical needs and dealing with court hearings and social worker visits and family visits…the list goes on and on. One way you can help is to take over some of the basic, day-to-day chores that are necessary to keep a home and family running:

  • Mow the lawn
  • Offer to help run kids to appointments or activities
  • Tell them to put dirty laundry out on the porch and drop it off clean and sorted and folded
  • Plan meals or buy groceries

All of these things allow foster parents to focus on the needs of their kids as everyone adjusts to the new family dynamic. Plus it’s a practical way to say, “I’ve got your back.”

#3: Learn everything you can. Being a foster parent can feel isolating, because your parenting experiences are so different from others. Plus, parenting kids from trauma is a completely different ballgame. Ask questions, read articles from reputable sources – anything about the process of foster care and the court system, attachment-based parenting, or trauma-informed care. The more you know, the more you’ll be able to support friends and family who are in this journey.

#4: Engage with the kids. This one is simple – love our kids. Talk to them, give them extra attention (they need all they can get). They may only be with us for a little while, but jump in anyway.

#5: Make connections. When they say yes to a new foster child, a foster parent is automatically thrust into a brand new world associated with that child – new medical diagnoses, sometimes a new school, new cultural or even language differences, even new interests. Do you have experience with 2nd grade math that might help your friend? Know the IEP or 504 process backwards and forwards? Speak Spanish or know all about gymnastics, or know someone who does? If you know of a possible connection that can help a foster parent get up to speed quickly, offer to make it.

#6: Fill the gaps. Most of us don’t walk around with lots of extra hours in our day, so when a foster parent says yes to a new child, something has to give. Does your foster parent friend serve at church on a regular basis? Offer to take a couple of shifts until they are more settled. Do you work with them, and can you take a few things off their plate? These kind of things can be a practical help, but also emotional, as many of us feel guilty if we have to renege on our commitments or we can’t fulfill our obligations.

#7: Babysit. Offer to watch the kids, and be specific about when. Say, “I’d love to babysit the next time you need to attend a support group or training class.” Ask, “Can I watch the kids the next time you need to go to court?” Even better, sign up to provide childcare on a regular basis. This can be so helpful for all foster parents, but it’s especially meaningful for single foster parents.

#8: Don’t offer advice. Unless a foster parent is specifically asking for advice (“Help! I need ideas for a teething baby!” or “Does anyone actually understand common core math?”), chances are, foster parents don’t need more ideas, they just need to be heard. Parenting kids from hard places is just different, and sometimes you can try everything and it’s still just hard. Resist the urge to solve the problem, and just listen.

#9: Take photos. The make-up of a foster family can change from day to day, and sometimes we’re too busy just getting through life to remember to take photos. But photos are important, both for the family, and for the kids. They need to see their faces in photos displayed around the house. They need to have their time with a foster family documented in photos, because these memories will be so key for them as they get older (no matter where they are). Even if you’re not a professional, take photos when your family spends time with ours – then send us the photos and get them printed. (Just check before putting anything on social media, because that’s usually a no-go).

#10: Give them alone time. Take the kids out for ice cream, or better yet to a trampoline park where they can burn off a bunch of energy. Let me just shower in peace, or take a nap, or sit at a coffee shop and do nothing, and I’ll love you forever.

The heavy burden

This morning my pastor told a story of Hezekiah, of the prayers he presented to God when he was surrounded by his enemy and there were no other options left to him. My pastor asked us to name the similar places in our lives, to write out where we desperately needed God to move, and to offer these up as prayers. I immediately thought about where we are with B’s case, and how angry I have been this week – sometimes at certain people, sometimes at the delays, oftentimes at the whole messy process.

Then I realized that I’m not really angry so much as I’m anxious. Anxious that things won’t go the way I want them to, the way I think they should go. Scared of the fallout that will occur if they don’t and the pain it would bring for so many I love.

It’s not the first time I’ve been here, brought to tears at whatever heavy thing was going on in my life or in the lives of those in my close circle. Sometimes I get tired of the burden, but mostly I get tired that it never seems to end. Even as I am certain I am right where He has directed me, there is always a burden to carry.

Worry for the kids I’ve called mine, even for a short time, who may not be completely safe where they are.

Despair at the never-ending impact on kids, when healing seems so unlikely and far away, when there seems to be no good answer, just a lot of not-great ones.

Anger at those who can’t seem to put the needs of children first.

Grief at the absolutely horrific things that kids experience, coupled with the awareness of the significant likelihood that they will fall into the same behaviors as adults.

Frustration at yet another delay for reasons that just seem ridiculous.

Fear for the unknown outcome, because how do you make any promises and provide any stability when things could go sideways at any minute?

It wasn’t always this way. There were days when the biggest concerns I had are things that seem so self-centered and unimportant now. When if I were asked to name a situation that was lost unless God intervened, I would have been hard-pressed to come up with one.

But that was back when I knew that kids were abused and neglected and abandoned, but I didn’t know their names and faces. Now I do, and I can’t un-know them, even if some days I wish, for just a moment, to be that ignorant again.

Always a roller coaster

(Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash)

There’s an unspoken understanding among those whose lives have been touched by foster care. We don’t always say it, but every expectation, every plan, every confirmation comes with the reality that there are always surprises around every corner, that everything I am saying is true in this moment and it could change at any time.

I sometimes forget, when I’m talking to people who are not as closely immersed in this world as I am, to qualify my words. I know that things get rescheduled, and people don’t show up, and then they do, and new information comes to light. Most of the time, I’ve come to expect it.

But sometimes I forget, too. And I’m surprised again and feel myself reeling a little and needing to catch my breath.

We’ve had a couple of tough days over the last couple of weeks. Surprises, potential curveballs, unexpected and frustrating delays, standing still when we’re all ready to move forward. It’s not the first time, and it won’t be the last in this roller coaster adventure God has called us to.

So this month I’m doubling down on the things that bring comfort, that are helping to build this home and this family into a safe place to land for each of us, and maybe for others in the future.

I’m cooking and baking, especially comfort food. This is one of the ways my mom demonstrated her love for us, and I feel the reassuring weight of that legacy when I do the same for my kids.

I’m crafting with a friend, flexing my creative muscle and talking until the wee hours of the morning, all while filling my home with tangible reminders that we are loved and known and that we belong here, together.

I’m cleaning out every inch of this home, letting go of the things we no longer need, that don’t work for us any longer.

I’m planning for future family adventures. I’m playing games and cuddling with my kids.

And I’m listening, over and over, to songs that remind me that no matter what twists and turns come, God is still in control.

Through it all, through it all
My eyes are on You
Through it all, through it all
It is well

So let go, my soul, and trust in Him
The waves and wind still know His name


Shouldn’t it break our heart?

kelly-sikkema-530092-unsplashPhoto by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

A few days ago, I was talking to someone about ways to help vulnerable children, and I suggested she look into becoming a Court Appointed Special Advocate, or CASA. This was my on-ramp to foster care, and it is a wonderful program with a significant impact. She said she had looked into it, but was hesitant to get involved because she was afraid it would break her heart.

Well, yeah. The stories will break your heart.

Shouldn’t we want them to?

It seems to me that we have two options when faced with suffering in this world: we can choose to ignore it, or we can choose to enter into it.

Ignoring it is definitely easier. It’s less painful for us and certainly requires less sacrifice. And whether we intentionally push those uncomfortable feelings aside, or whether we simply let ourselves be distracted by other things, the effect is the same.

But the stories don’t become any less heartbreaking just because we pretend they don’t exist.

The alternative is to enter into suffering. This is the more awkward path, more uncomfortable, far more painful. It will require a lot more out of us and our families.

This is the choice than Christ modeled for us. He saw our suffering, and it moved Him to compassion and to action.

So, then, this path, where we choose the hard things and walk with the people who are caught up in the midst of them, this is the choice we have to make if we want to be more like Christ. Instead of running away from those who are suffering, we run toward them – not because we enjoy having our hearts broken, but because we want to be where He is.

Break our hearts, God, for the things that break yours.

I like vacation me.

Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash

Two weeks ago, my little man and I spent a wonderful week at the beach with some family and friends. We played in the sand and the waves and the pool, and the only thing I really had on my to-do list each day was to ensure that Micah got his nap (because every mom of a toddler knows that naps are the key to a good vacation).

It was wonderful. We walked nearly everywhere we needed to go, and sometimes we stopped to climb a fallen tree or watch the turtles and the ducks, just because we could. I left my phone in my pocket or in my beach bag and let others worry about capturing the photos. I stopped trying to get more done and use my time wisely, and I listened to Micah’s stories and enjoyed his sweet, funny little personality.

I like vacation me. Vacation me is relaxed and unhurried. Vacation me focuses less on planning and to-do lists and more on soaking up the moment in front of us.

Fast forward to a week later, and I was back to juggling full-time employment and single parenting, trying to manage job responsibilities and a sick toddler and preparation for surgery on my hand later this week.

It wasn’t long before I caught myself in those same old patterns – hurrying Micah along and trying to squeeze productivity out of every pocket of the day and responding more and more to his requests with, “just give me a couple minutes to finish this!”

I’m not kicking myself for making to-do lists or trying to get things done. We don’t get to live in vacation mode all of the time. There are more responsibilities here at home, and that’s okay, because those things bring me great joy and purpose, too.

But what if it was possible to hold on to just a bit more of vacation me? What if I slowed down and stopped rushing everywhere? What if I stopped trying to get so much done and instead looked at my to-do list to figure out what stuff I didn’t need to do? What if I dropped everything else when Micah said, “here, mama, you be the cheetah and I’ll be the rhino?”

So today, I didn’t hesitate when he asked me to hold him before his nap. I left my phone in another room and rocked him until he fell asleep, and then kept rocking even after he had drifted off. I can’t help but think that I only have so many days left when he will ask for this, so I ignored the things I was planning to get done during his nap and just watched him sleep.

I think that’s what vacation me would have done.

Lifting broken arms

This summer has not been what I expected it to be.

My two little foster loves left at the end of May, so I honestly expected that we would enter into a season of rest. I’ve gotten used to the ebbs and flows of this foster care life, and after several months that stretched me to my limit, I was ready for a bit of a break.

Instead, I’ve found myself dealing with medical issues, including an injury that will result in surgery in a few months, saying goodbye to my sweet dog Dakota, confusing court decisions, some challenging and frustrating work situations, and watching people I love walk through soul-crushing stuff.

There have been good and beautiful moments, too. Joyful moments with my family, life-giving hours with friends, frequent reminders that God is good and that he loves us extravagantly.

But yet, not what I expected. And given the choice, not what I would have planned.

I raise my hands often in corporate worship. It’s a natural response to worship for me, and not normally something I’m at all self-conscious about. But this week, as I lifted one arm wrapped in this brace that protects my hand until I can have the surgery to fix it, I felt awkward and uncomfortable. Like I was taking this broken limb that was the source of so much frustration and even anger, and I was holding it up on display.

I’m like most people, I imagine, in that I would much rather people think that I’m capable and that I have my stuff together. It’s not that I want to lie or pretend to be something I’m not, but there seems to be a difference between not hiding the brokenness, and lifting it up on display.

I know God tells us that his power is made perfect in our weakness, that his glory is made known in the midst of these jars of clay. I would still rather you see the messiness after I’ve cleaned it up a little, at least wrapped it up in a neat little package full of greater meaning.

But sometimes life is just hard. And sometimes the search for greater meaning is exhausting. Today I’m choosing to remember that my God is faithful, in any season, and that I can come to him, brokenness and all.

And if all I have to raise in these moments are broken arms, that’s enough.

Rewriting the script

For years, I’ve told people that I can’t keep anything alive that can’t bark or cry when it’s hungry.

I made all kinds of excuses – genetics, lack of training in outdoor things as a child, seasonal allergies. Whether the reasons were valid or not, I still believed the script: when it came to plants, I couldn’t do it.

Except this year, I have plants growing in my backyard that are actually producing food.

It feels good to rewrite the script every once in a while.


For the foster mama who is saying goodbye.

This right here? This is the hardest part.

Oh, to be sure, there are a lot of hard things. Being a foster parent is difficult and rewarding in about 1 million different ways. But saying goodbye to a child you love, no matter the circumstance? This is by far the hardest.

This is the part that scares many people away. “I could never give them back,” they say. “I’m not strong enough.”

But you, my friend, looked that fear in the face and decided it would not hold you back. You chose to love anyway, knowing that great heartache might be coming. You believed that it was worth the risk.

Maybe you don’t feel very strong right now. Maybe you don’t feel brave. Maybe there’s a part of you still hoping for the call that says they’re wrong and that this child that you have grown to love is not going anywhere.

And yet, deep down, you know that even if that were to happen, there would still be loss. It’s not a simple thing to reconcile, but sometimes the very best thing for the child you love isn’t you.

And sometimes, you may wonder if this move really is the best.

But, my friend, this is where faith comes in. Because as much as it may seem sometimes that our beautiful children are tossed around by circumstances or at the whim of a broken system, we know that there is a God who loves them without reservation and who still holds them in the palm of His hand.

So we place our trust in God, choosing to believe that He is in control of all things and that He meant it when He said He would never leave us, nor forsake us. We believe this for our children, and for us.

It’s the only way I know to get through the hardest part.

Just because it’s hard, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it.

It’s been a year since I started writing for adoption.com, since I started calling myself a writer.

But the truth is, I was a writer long before someone paid me to do it. Sometimes it was in a journal, written just for me. Sometimes it was a blog for others to read. Often it was partially composed pieces of things on a scrap piece of paper or in a note on my phone or just in my head.

I had this crazy idea that in order to be a thing, you had to be compelled to do it all the time. It had to flow, naturally and with no great amount of effort. That’s not me, not when it comes to writing anyway – so until that external validation came, I didn’t claim the title.

I can generate ideas like nobody’s business. My phone is filled with possible topics and random phrases and the occasionally paragraph that I could turn into a complete blog post or article, if I was willing to sit down and wrestle the thing into words that make sense. But the time and mental capacity to do the wrestling is in short supply in this season of my life, so I save the effort for a few circumstances.

Writing has reminded of something that I know is true throughout life – just because something doesn’t come easily, just because it’s hard, it doesn’t mean you’re not supposed to do it. Parenting, all kinds of relationships, work, travel, ministry – all of these things require effort. Most of the good stuff does.

And just imagine how boring life would be if we only did the stuff that came easily, anyway.


We had a rough morning yesterday.

It shouldn’t have been. It’s the only morning of the week we don’t need to be somewhere early, so there should have been time to get up slowly, for the kids to play and not just get dressed-eat-get out the door. I made breakfast that involved more than using a toaster or pouring cereal in a bowl.

But still, no matter how many times we do it, the work of everything in between waking up and getting into the car felt like it required too much. Too much refereeing, too much negotiating, too much reminding and redirecting. By the time I climbed into the driver’s seat and realized that we would be late yet again, I was frazzled and frustrated and very far from the patient and loving mom I want to be. I wondered if all of the effort was worth it.

But we went anyway, and I walked into that worship service and sang, and I was reminded that when He “silenced the boast of sin and grave,” that covered my anger and impatience, too.

And then I loaded everyone up in the car for the drive home, and the kids started talking about what they learned, that Jesus can do anything. And of course that means He can somehow use my humble attempts at loving these children well.

And just like that, there was the reset and perspective I so desperately needed.

No one’s behavior magically got better. In fact, by the time I went by a drive-thru for lunch (because I may have gotten a new perspective but I was still tired) and got everyone in the door, I had dealt with enough whining and flinging arms and legs that I sent everyone straight to bed for a nap, myself included, and left the food on the stove to eat when we woke back up.

And the point of this story, what I want you to know, is this:

For those of you who, like me, are deep in the throes of motherhood, whether you are trying to parent children from hard places or you are just simply outnumbered,

Or maybe you just feel like you are often failing at whatever thing you’re called to do,

God is using you. Now. Even in your mess.

And also, don’t underestimate the power of a good nap.