Author: Nikki Lehman

Keeping the “Merry” in your Merry Christmas

The holidays are intended to be a very exciting time of year.  Between Thanksgiving and Christmas there are two months of family gatherings, feasting, gift giving, and family traditions.  This is also the time of year when it can be very fun to be a parent.  We are excited to share with our children the joy of the season and to capture a little bit of the magic that is childhood.  As foster parents, we often times come in with even a little more gusto!  We can’t wait to share the joy of the holidays with these precious kids.  Who is not more deserving of joy than children such as these?

However, we must be careful.  Good intentions, especially when it comes to traumatized or neglected children, have a tendency to blow up in our faces.  If you want to keep the “Merry” in your Merry Christmas, it is important to approach the holidays with a plan.  Here are five easy steps toward achieving just that…

  1. Expect a change in behavior

A time of year intended to bring happiness and joy can be extremely uncomfortable for a child who has experienced trauma, neglect, or abuse.  Often times, childhood trauma leads to a negative self-image.  Healing takes time.  LOTS of time!  Despite prayer, counseling, and love, your precious children might still have a feeling that they are not good and do not deserve good things.  When we introduce them to happy situations like Thanksgiving or Christmas, expect that your child might unconsciously need to restore their equilibrium.  They will do this by soliciting negative behavior.  Don’t be shocked.  Take it as a reminder that your child is still healing and will need to be introduced to positive experiences slowly and with care.

Holidays also trigger past memories.  The season will provide them with plenty of reminders that their life is not traditional and the reality is not Hallmark.  Even if your child is in safer, happier, more loving situation, there is still room for sadness and grief.  Grief expresses itself in behaviors.  Expect a change in your child’s behavior and be prepared to meet the needs they are expressing.

  1. Make a family plan

Holidays mean a change in routine.  Children need routine.  Plan the season with your children, prepare a calendar so they can visually see places you plan to go and activities you plan to participate in.  Let them participate in the planning.  Is there a family tradition they want to share with you?  Is there a special food they would like to help cook?  Mold the season together, do not just plan the holidays and throw your child into the mix.  This needs to be a family experience, and as a newer member of this family, let them provide input and help create new traditions.  Giving your child a voice will give them a sense of control.  Control will help calm their nerves and ease behaviors.

Also be aware of sensory overload.  During this season our senses are assaulted on all fronts.  The sights, smells, and sounds of Christmas might bring us joy, but are a nightmare for a child who has trouble processing their environment.  Bringing a child with limited sensory processing to a crowded shopping area or a loud party is a recipe for disaster. Pay attention to your child’s triggers and adapt your schedule as needed.  Understand that they may be more easily triggered because they are already over stimulated and “on edge”.

  1. Lower Expectations

This can be difficult.  We enter this time of year with so much hope and anticipation.  We want to provide the very best for our foster children, that’s partly why we’re here!  But save yourself the grief and lower those expectations.  Provide the very best, but expect less.  This is a hard time of year for many children.  There will be behaviors.  There will be ungratefulness.  There will be tears or screaming or fighting.  There will be these things because there will be feelings.  And where there are feelings, there are behaviors.  You can help with your child’s stress by lowering your expectations and meeting their true needs.  They need to feel safe.  They need to feel secure.  They need to feel loved.  And love doesn’t mean you show up with the coolest bike on Christmas morning.  Love means when they are raging on Christmas Eve, you’re right there with them.  And you could care less that you are missing the family party.  Remind yourself in those moments that love is allowing that child to express their feelings, and love is letting them know they are in a safe place to do so.

  1. Help foster connections

Make sure to honor your child’s connections throughout the season.  Do they get to see their biological family?  Help them make gifts and cards.  If safe and approved, invite them to holiday events like the church’s Christmas play or a tree lighting ceremony.

Make sure your child has opportunities to give back.  Many people want to give to our children this time of year.  While this is kind, it can also be hurtful.  We don’t want our children to see themselves as needy or as takers.  Help foster connections by making them givers!  Help them make cards and presents for the important people in their lives, whether that is their biological mom or a teacher at their school.  Everyone has connections.  Help your child stay connected to theirs.

  1. Share, teach, and demonstrate the true meaning of Christmas

This is the most important step.  The meaning of Christmas gets lost.  Somewhere in the smell of sugar cookies, the mountain of presents, and the lights on our tree is the true reality of this holiday.  The reality that our savior was born in a stable and placed in a trough.  The reality that the king of this universe was born so that he could one day die on a cross.  But why death?  So that there could be life.  That is a powerful truth.  That is reality.  Don’t let it get lost.

Isaiah 9:6 tells us, “For us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.  And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Is that not everything our children need?  Is it not everything we need?  Our counselor, our mighty God, an everlasting father, and the Prince of Peace!  It is so powerful, so healing, and so true.  Keep this truth at the center of the holiday season and you will surely keep the Merry in your Merry Christmas.

John 16:33 “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”

To read more articles on what it means to be a foster parent please visit our blog page and read see FAQ to find out more about fostering in Arizona.

The Gift of Adoption

A personal post from 2013:

I just spent the day getting my daughter ready for her junior prom.  Moments like these are bittersweet for moms.  Shopping, nails, shoes, makeup, and hair are all on this mom’s list of favorites.  Watching your daughter combine all those activities and emerge looking less like a teen and more like a young woman, changes the dynamics.

As an adoptive mom it’s even a little harder.  Prom night is just another reminder that the time is slipping faster than I can savor it.  It’s another reminder that graduation and that 18th birthday are just around the corner.  It’s another reminder of all those missed moments that have led to this milestone event.

But it serves as another reminder too.  Seeing my daughter so beautiful and happy is just another bow on the gift of adoption.  We may have missed many moments, but the memories we’ve been a part of can’t compare to the ones we lost.

I wasn’t there the day she was born.  I wasn’t there when she took her first steps or said her first words.  I missed the first day of kindergarten and the chance to teach her to ride a bike.  But I was there today.  Today I helped my daughter get ready for prom.  And it reminds me that the moments missed just can’t compare to the memories made.  And that my friends, is the gift of adoption.

To find out more about adopting from foster care please visit our FAQ page and Contact us today.

A Practical Prayer Guide for Foster Care

People often ask how they can be involved in foster care; the number one way to be involved is to pray.  Acts 1:14 explains how the disciples were “joined together constantly in prayer”.

If we, the Christian Church, seek to step in and care for these orphaned then we need to be “joined together constantly in prayer”. This is no light task we have taken on, but if God is for us who can be against us? When we look at the broken system that is foster care today we should be deeply moved to go before our Father in prayer on behalf of all those involved.

Let’s take the first step in caring for these children, would you join in praying today?

Biological Families

  1. Pray for the biological families of these children to come to saving faith in Christ and be transformed in how they parent. Pray that God would send Godly mentors and friends to help them on their journey
  2. Pray for them to receive the help they need
  3. Pray that they would be treated well and loved by the Christians they encounter through the system
  4. Pray for Godly foster parents to show them Christ’s love and partner with them in working towards reunification

Children

  1. Pray that they would come to know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior
  2. Pray that God would heal their wounds and hearts
  3. Pray for them to be safe from abuse while in foster care
  4. Pray for them to find a forever home either through reunification or adoption
  5. Pray that God would send them someone who can speak truth into their lives and help them to heal from the trauma they have encountered.

Foster Families

  1. Pray for more laborers in the field
  2. Pray that God would continually encourage them and strengthen them on their journey
  3. Pray for boldness and opportunities to share the Gospel with these children and their biological families
  4. Pray for their marriage to remain strong and united
  5. Pray for biological children living in the home, and for foster children moving in, to transition well

Adoptive Families

  1. Pray that they would not be discouraged as they wait
  2. Pray that their marriage would be unified through this time
  3. Pray for them to love their child as God loves their child
  4. Pray for them as they raise their children to have wisdom and guidance

The Workers

  1. Pray that God would draw Godly people into the field of social work
  2. Pray that they would be encouraged in their job and not grow weary in doing good
  3. Pray for Godly judges, therapists, support staff, ect. to be involved in this process
  4. Pray for them to boldly live out their faith daily and for opportunities for them to share the Gospel

Please feel free to print and share this post as a tool for guiding your prayer time.

Saying Goodbye and other reasons we foster

This is the second entry in a 6-part series on foster parenting.  To view a list of all the videos and blogs available in this series, please click here.

Do you want to know the number one reason people tell us they can’t consider fostering children?  It’s not lack of space, time, money, or ability.  It’s not lack of care, concern, or information.  While those might be valid reasons, the number one reason people tell us they cannot foster is because they don’t believe they could say goodbye.  They believe they do not have the capacity to love, bond, and attach with a child they may not get to keep.

Saying goodbye is tough. What would be worse?  Never saying hello.

I have mothered many children over the past ten years.  Only four claim me on their birth certificate.  I’ve said goodbye to more pieces of my heart than I can count.  And I wouldn’t demand a single piece of it back.  Not one single time did I wish I hadn’t said hello, fallen in love, and bonded with a child I didn’t get to keep.  Not once, not even for a moment.

If saying goodbye isn’t hard, you’re doing something wrong.

We don’t become parents because we want a child to love us.  We become parents because we have love to give.  There is no one more deserving of this love than a child in foster care.

We don’t bond and attach with our children because we need to boost our own confidence.  We bond and attach with our children because they need to understand healthy relationships, experience care, and grow as individuals.  There is no one more deserving of strong bonds and attachment than a child in foster care.

We become so paralyzed with the end of the story, we don’t realize all the amazing chapters in between.  There are many reasons not to become a foster parent.  I promise you, saying goodbye is not one of them.  The difficulty of goodbyes means you have experienced a phenomenal journey that takes place after saying hello.

This is not a break up, this is a gift.

Love and attachment will cost you.  It will cost your pieces of your heart.  But does not our God promise to meet all our needs in Christ Jesus our Lord?  Does He who has called us to care for such as these leave us empty when we obey this command?  Absolutely not!  He is faithful.  And He will refill the Christian who dares to travel the beautifully broken journey of goodbye.

Luke 9:47-48

But Jesus, knowing what they were thinking in their heart, took a child and stood him by His side,  and said to them, “Whoever receives this child in My name receives Me, and whoever receives Me receives Him who sent Me; for the one who is least among all of you, this is the one who is great.”

Next part

Click here to view the next part of this series which will explore the topic of home inspections.

This blog entry is part of a 6-part series on foster parenting.  To view a list of all the videos and blogs available in this series, please click here.

The 17,000

17,000. The number is remarkable.  Over 17,000 children in the care and custody of the state of Arizona.  The number is staggering, the need is great.  The state has contracted with twenty-nine agencies to recruit and license foster parents for this crisis.  Of those twenty-nine, six list themselves as faith-based.  Six.  That’s just 20% of the state’s contracted agencies targeting their recruitment at Christians.

That means that 80% of families are recruited from among the general population. The very children we are responsible to rise up and care for.  The children we will hold an account for when our days are done, are not being cared for by us.

This is no easy task.  This is no easy calling.  But we will not be measured against its difficulty, we will be measured against our willingness to obey.  And there is hope for this generation of children in state care.  The first step toward foster parenting is an easy one!  Simply attend or host an information meeting.  These orientations are one hour long and will give you valuable information about becoming a licensed foster parent.  Orientations are held monthly and listed on our calendar.  They can also be privately scheduled for your church or group.  Contact us today to find out more!

Orientation

Interested in becoming a foster parent now, or a year from now?  Orientation is the first step!  Arizona Faith and Families collaborates with the Kids Consortium to host these orientations.  Orientations happen throughout the valley on a regular basis, the schedule is located here.

The state of Arizona requires all potential applicants to first attend these free and informative meetings before beginning the licensing process.  During orientation you will learn the steps and requirements to adopt or foster through the state of Arizona. These orientations are open to the public and a list of all Arizona licensing agencies will also be provided.

Interested in hosting an orientation at your church or for a special group?  Contact us today to schedule an orientation personalized to your location and schedule needs.

The Broken System

*Writers Note: The following article contains links to news and data related to this topic.  Please take the time to educate yourself on the crisis in Arizona and then pray about where God would use you to move on behalf of children and families in crisis.

Spend any amount of time in social services and you will inevitably hear the phrase, “The system is broken”.  In fact, the “broken system” has become such a norm that we never really pause to think about it.  It is a widely accepted fact that we simply must work within.  It’s broken, but we do our best.

But the question must be asked:  Why is the system broken?  And more importantly, can we fix it?  With over 17,000 children in Arizona Foster Care, can we really afford to do our best with something that doesn’t work?  Children born to broken homes, handed to a broken system; the irony is palatable.

I’ve meditated on the issue for the past ten years as I’ve worked in and around foster care and adoption.  I have spent a decade with this system and her children.  Watched its attempts at success, and had front row seats to its failures.  It was broken long ago, and it will crumble with these rising numbers.  The current system of foster care will not sustain 17,000 children.  It will fail.  That failure has a cost no child should pay.

Children failed by the system have multiple moves, caregivers, schools, and homes.  They are over medicated and under schooled.  They are sexually assaulted, physically abused, and lose their lives under the rubble of this system.  These traumas have life long consequences.

And Christian, it is important to note, that we are the ones holding the sledge hammer.  The mess and failures of this system belong to us.  It is not the state’s fault that the system is broken, it is the fault of the Christian church who handed it to her.

The government is not designed to raise children.  It is not designed to heal broken families.  So it should be no shock to us that it is not possible for the government to successfully play this role, no more than we would expect an elephant could climb a tree.  It is outside of its design, structure, and purpose.  The government plays this role not because it is best fitted for the job, but because it must.  It must protect its citizens and the most vulnerable of its people.  It must play this role, because the church has not.

The reality of this truth is painful.  The truth that our Lord and Savior tasked us with the care of the widow, the orphaned, and the oppressed.  The truth that the job of the foster care system was not intended for a government but for the Christian church and her people.  This fills me with so much shame as I look at the disaster it has become.  It is so terribly broken, Christian, and the blame belongs to us.

This conviction is not meant to chain us down with guilt.  It is meant to awaken us.  It should sting, but let that sting cause us to open our eyes!  We may have failed in the past.  We are definitely failing right now.  But praise God we do not have to keep on failing.  We need not stand in the refuse of the system and keep trudging forward.  We don’t have to come up with programs or funding and try to rebuild a broken building with broken bricks.  We are not a government or another human institution.  We are the people of a Holy Church and worship a Holy God.  The God who tasked us to care for the widow, the orphan, and the oppressed only asks that we step forward to do the job.  He is the one that will supply the tools, resources, and structure.  He is the one who will repair it, we need only show up to work.  Will you show up to work Christian?  Church, will you rise up and take back your job?

The question has been asked:  Why is the system broken?  And more importantly, can we fix it?  The system is broken because of us church, but praise God, Yes, it can be fixed!

To find out how to get started please visit our FAQ page and Contact us to get started.   

Arizona Faith and Families

Thank you for visiting our page!  In May, we received news from the state that our agency is now licensed and contracted to provide foster care and adoptive services to Arizona families!  We will be responsible for recruiting, training, and licensing foster families.  Our contract with the state begins July 1st of this year.  You can learn more about the history of our agency by visiting our History page.

Arizona currently has over 17,000 children in DCS care.  This crisis has been highly publicized in the news and media.  Please visit our FAQ page to find out how to take the first steps in becoming a licensed foster family.  There are so many ways to get involved.  We need emergency receiving homes so children aren’t sleeping in offices, we need respite homes so foster families can receive much needed rest, we need foster families so children have a place to call home in their time of crisis, and we need adoptive parents who are able to provide a forever-family to some amazing kids!  Contact us today to find out how to get involved.

The Devastation of Separation

I attended a conference today.  The conference highlighted research by the ACE Study.  Before I get to the heart and soul of this post, let me just throw some fast facts your way.

In a nutshell, your ACE score is calculated by the various types of adverse childhood experiences encountered while growing up.  The score is not per incident, but per category.

If you’re feeling brave, have a moment of self-reflection and find out your score here.  The categories are:

  1. Recurrent physical abuse
  2. Recurrent emotional abuse
  3. Contact sexual abuse
  4. An alcohol and/or drug abuser in the household
  5. An incarcerated household member
  6. Someone who is chronically depressed, mentally ill, institutionalized, or suicidal
  7. Mother is treated violently
  8. One or no parents
  9. Emotional or physical neglect

According to the Center for Disease Control, as your ACE score increases, your risk for the following health problems increase dramatically:

  • Alcoholism and alcohol abuse
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Depression
  • Fetal death
  • Health-related quality of life
  • Illicit drug use
  • Ischemic heart disease (IHD)
  • Liver disease
  • Risk for intimate partner violence
  • Multiple sexual partners
  • Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
  • Smoking
  • Suicide attempts
  • Unintended pregnancies
  • Early initiation of smoking
  • Early initiation of sexual activity
  • Adolescent pregnancy

As a worker in the social services, this research is of particular interest to me.  So as I sat and listened (getting totally bummed out b.t.w), I thought the information was fascinating, but now what?  How do I reduce these risks for people with high ACE scores?

The solution?  There really isn’t one.  Of course there were some panelists who gave great suggestions for our community and the legislators.  But the true reality that Dr. Vincent Felitti pointed out was that there has been no research conducted showing the efficacy of interventions on the health of those with high ACE scores……insert jaw drop here.

No one else on the panel wanted to touch that.  They politely interjected that there are great programs with great successes, but not ones that have been tested against this data.  (Enter moment of panic as I pictured the futures of my high-scoring loved ones).

Now it’s time to back up.  Programs are great.  Early intervention programs are critical.  Research is necessary.  But as Dr. Felitti pointed out, they’re not the cure.  And if we pretend they are, we are slapping a band-aid on a festering wound.

As a Christian in a secular culture, I have been very well indoctrinated that faith is to be kept separate from every other aspect of life.  Keep your faith out of school, government, health care, public opinion, and particularly research.  And as a student of history, I can point out many times when individuals have taken “faith” into these areas and run amuck with their personal agendas in the name of Christ.

But the devastation of this separation is band-aids for people in need of major surgery.  The gospel was not written for perfect, rich, individuals living in their castles.  The gospel was written for those individuals with high ACE scores.  It was written for the sick, for the dying, for the lost, for the lonely, for you, and for me (Matt. 9:12-13).

And the solution is not to create a “Christian” government or “Christian” programs, but rather for the church to rise up and share this truth with the people.  Rise up church.  Rise up Christian.  Because the reality is, if you know the truth about Jesus Christ, you have the truth that makes the power of an ACE score obsolete.

It is the power of Christ over sin.  Not only the power for you to overcome sin, but also to overcome the scars embedded by the sins of others.

Set that Truth free.  Don’t be afraid to share it.   Don’t separate it from the rest of your life.  The devastation of that separation is death, disease, and more devastation.  But the reality of the Truth is everlasting life and healing, in this life, or the next.

John 8:31-34

31To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”’