January 19, 2012

A listening heart.

As parents, we really try our best not to parent behaviors, but to parent hearts.  No matter the background of a child, their behaviors spill out of their little hearts that are broken, trying to navigate through this life.  Life in a world that is as broken as their hearts, broken but not beyond repair.  Broken in selfishness, broken in greed, broken in anger.  The first signs that this is not our home, this is not where we belong.


When our kids are struggling to share, or to be kind, or to be loving, we talk to them about what their hearts are saying.

A selfish heart says ‘mine, mine, mine’ but a generous heart says ‘here, you have a turn.’     You get the idea.


At night we pray with them before bed – we pray about how our day went, give thanks for our blessings, and pray for our friends.


The last couple days have been hard.  Pull-my-hair out frustrating.  Behaviors from the back and forth of visits are in hyperdrive.


As I started to pray with Bella last night, I didn’t even know where to start, what to say.  I was physically and emotionally exhausted.  So I just started out really honest.

“God, some days we have a lot of trouble listening.  We just don’t have listening hearts.”


As the words came out of my mouth, mostly intended for the kind of day that Bella had just had, my prayer hit my heart.


I had a lot of trouble listening.  I didn’t have a listening heart.

All I could hear all day was our struggles, when God was speaking to me something completely different.


This tantrum, this is your opportunity to love her.  Go.  Love her.  Do it well.

Your little two year old that is so stubbornly (frustratingly) strong willed?  She will do great things someday because she doesn’t. give. up.

The mess that you see when you look at your house?  There is beauty in it.  It is the sign of a day full of life.  It is the beauty of having my children under your roof.

If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times (he chuckles), slow. down.

But I didn’t hear these things in the moment, because I was focused on how my children just weren’t listening.

The irony.

Some days I think God just shakes his head at me.  Out of love, of course.


For all the times I pray that my children would have listening hearts, I pray the same for myself.

January 18, 2012

9 Months.

  I love this age.  We see more of your personality every day.  It’s like every day you are on a mission to show me you are your own person with your own quirks and loves and needs.  I am loving getting to know you.


  I think I see, emerging out of you, a heart that is tender and so willing to make someone else’s day.  At just the right moments you look at me and smile your big, open mouth smile, as if to say – Mama, I know we drive you crazy sometimes, but I am so worth it!  You love to snuggle, and even though you are a very busy girl, you always have time to give me a little baby love.  You get so excited when your Daddy or I pick you up, and as soon as you get in our arms you squeeze us as tight as your little arms will let you.  The best kind of hug, I’m very sure.




  You are crawling all over the place, and very quickly.  Sometimes you try to chase your sisters around, and they play along.  It’s one of the cutest things I’ve ever seen.  Hands down.  You pull up on anything that seems even vaguely sturdy enough, and you’ve started cruising around a bit too.

  You’ve learned to climb the stairs.  Without my permission, I might add.  I didn’t know you had conquered this little trick, so I put you downstairs with some toys while I was helping your sisters brush their teeth upstairs.  I walked around the corner to come check on you, and there you were at the top of the stairs. 

It’s not nice to give your Mommy heart palpitations like that.




  You’re still sleeping with us.  Still.  I know for the last two months I’ve said we were going to transition you to your crib – but, well, maybe this month.  You don’t make it easy.  Last night we took you to bed with us, and for thirty minutes you laughed at absolutely anything we did.  It was absolutely the best part of my day.  So who wants to put you in a crib with fun like that??

  You’ve decided ‘to heck’ with that baby food stuff.  You’re slowly munching on more solid foods – but mostly your still nursing.  You got your first tooth this month, which turned into your first four teeth.  Two on top, and (barely) two on bottom.




  You’re still teeny tiny.  Like your mama through and through.  I love your itty   bitty-ness.  You’ve got drama down pat.  Essentially if Sylvia comes near you, and I’m not holding you, you start throwing a fit.  I have to say, that is some intelligent drama.  You’re only trying to survive, I know.

  You are very intensely focused on discovering every little thing you can, and you study things like you are going to be given a test on the inner workings of every toy we own.  You are soaking things up, learning, and exploring every moment.




  You are an absolute joy.  You have a huge grin on your face almost constantly.  We are so blessed by your presence.  I love you more and more and more.  I am so happy to call you my little baby (even though soon you won’t be so little.) – what a blessing you are.


  Love you, Love you, Love you,




January 17, 2012

Behavior Modification.

  We started some short term in-home therapy with Bella today.  I requested it because the transitions back and forth from 3-4 days with Mom and Dad to 3-4 days with us has seriously been kicking her four year old butt – along with ours in the process.  So mostly I wanted a therapist who could come in and decompress with her – someone, besides us, who can talk to her about everything that is going on.

  So her therapist came.  She is very nice, very to the point, and easy to talk to.  I’m just not sure that our mindsets and parenting theories are necessarily in sync.  We talked about what we’ve been seeing in between visits, the ridiculousness that is bed time, and we went over background info.


  Essentially what I heard was this:


  • Stop worrying so much over the emotional impact of the way you parent her.
  • Her behaviors are primarily attention seeking.
  • You are not being strict enough.


  I told her that at bedtime, sometimes we go on two hours of her crying for her Mommy, needing her back rubbed, talking through what her parents are probably doing, and talking about how much longer it is until her next visit.  I told her this in an effort to explain the deep emotional impact that the transitions back and forth are having on her.

  I was told that this bedtime routine is simply her trying to get attention, and that she’s figured out that if she cries that I will stay in there (some nights, this is true, I will admit that.).  I need to do our bedtime routine, leave, ignore her cries, and in three days it will stop.


A.K.A. : Behavior Modification.


But seriously, she’s four.  She’s away from her family.  She is going back and forth between completely different environments, expectations, and structures.  What I hear from that advice is : Ignore that she is hurting in ways she doesn’t understand, and then she’ll stop telling you.

This is not a solution. 

I honestly don’t think it’s possible for a four year old to go through that, and then have behaviors that are not derived from the pain of their circumstance.  Sure, some of her behaviors are attention seeking : because she needs attention.

What happened to fulfilling the cycle of need?


  I know there are probably a lot of people this therapist sees that just want the behaviors to stop.  Sometimes, in the thick of it, that’s what I want too.

  But really what I want is to know how I can best love her and support her emotionally through the behaviors.


  I guess I’m just disappointed.  I’ve tried really hard to develop our parenting practices in therapeutic ways, and it makes me bristle to hear advice from a therapist that does not take into account the hurt that her little heart is carrying.

  I also know that therapeutic parenting is often in pretty strong discord with many accepted parenting techniques.  But I’m not here to get pats on the back for turning my traumatized children’s behavior around over night – I’m here to comfort the hurt that causes it.


  So where do we go when our therapists are telling us that we should just treat the behaviors as if these children have had everything they ever needed and more?  I don’t know, but I do know that I can’t wait  to get to    This Conference. 

Because there is a reason that foster and adoptive parents struggle with behaviors more than other parents, and it’s not because we’re all incapable of being consistent.


(P.S. If you need book or video resources on therapeutic parenting and you’re at a loss, please e-mail me – I am happy to send you some!  It will make you feel less crazy, and help you understand where all this behavior is coming from!)

January 16, 2012


We had Community Missions Sunday at my church yesterday, which involved having booths from local ministries set up so that people can learn how to volunteer and get involved.

  For the second year we set up a booth for the agency that we license through in hopes of encouraging others in our church to think about fostering and adopting. 

  For the second year in a row, I heard so many of the same comments when people stopped at our booth.


“Oh, I could never do that.”

  “I just couldn’t say goodbye when they left.”

  “Oh, that takes a very special kind of person.  Not me.”


  At risk of going on a rant, can I just say something?


I am not special.

If you had always known me, I can tell you that you would not have picked me out and said, “Now her, she’d make a great foster parent.”  I am not the kind of person who is just magic with kids.  I’m not that pre-school teacher that you know that can walk into a room of four year olds and have them all happy and chanting how much they love me.  That’s. Not. Me.


I can also tell you that I screw up on a regular basis.  I have to ask my kids’ forgiveness daily.  I read as much as I can on therapeutic parenting, and then in the moment I am oh-so-not therapeutic.  I am broken. So broken. 


If it took a particularly special kind of person to do this, I think there would be even fewer foster parents than there are.  I know lots of foster and adoptive parents, and lets just be honest, I don’t think that any of us are particularly…special.


I was shown a need.  I was given an opportunity.  And I said yes.


I don’t say that to toot my own horn.  Goodness knows that the only thing that gets me through most of this life we call fostering is prayer and knowing that God is redeeming all things.


In her book Kisses from Katie, Katie Davis writes:

Ordinary people.

He chose Moses.  He chose David.  He chose Peter and Paul.  He chose me.  He chose you.  Common people.  Simply people.  People with nothing special about them.  Nothing special except they said yes.  They obeyed.  They took the task God assigned them and they did it.  They didn’t always do it well, but they said yes, and with His help they did it anyway.

Extraordinary tasks.

Moses was a murderer, a shepherd just trying to mind his own business and move on with his life when he watched a bush catch fire and not burn up.  God wanted to use him to lead His chosen people out of Egypt.  Moses was human and told God that he had the wrong guy.  Moses wasn’t an eloquent speaker, and he was afraid.  But he said yes, and god used him anyway.  The Red Sea parted, bread fell from Heaven, and people believed. 

David was a shepherd boy, pretty much the runt of the litter, the very last thought in his father's mind, and despised by his brothers.  God wanted to use him to be the next great kind of Israel.  Though everyone doubted and watched in horror, David said yes, and God use him anyway.  Little David used a stone to take down the giant Philistine.  The Philistines were defeated, and though David continued to make mistakes, God used Him to make Israel a great national and relay His words to many people.

Sometimes, the everyday routine of my life feels so normal to me.  At other times, the idea of raising all these children seems like quite a daunting task.  I realize that since I have chosen an unusual path it is easier for outsiders to look at my life and come to the conclusion that it is something extraordinary.  That I am courageous.  That I am strong.  That I am special.  But I am just a plain girl from Tennessee.  Broken in many ways, sinful, and inadequate.  Common and simple with nothing special about me.  Nothing special except I choose to say “yes.”  “Yes” to the things God asks of me and “yes to the people he Places in front of me.  You can too.  I am just an ordinary person.  An ordinary person serving an extraordinary God.


  I know that one of the first responses I will see to this is, “Well, God doesn’t call us all to foster.”  And I agree.  That is true.  But He is very clear in the Bible that we are to care for the least of these, that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, that we are to care for the orphan. (And, for an entirely different post – I don’t think we were necessarily called specifically to foster.  Sometimes you just have to do something.)

  I do think that he has called many more of us to foster than are actually fostering, otherwise I don’t think there would be children waiting for homes, living in shelters, and staying in foster homes that do not have their best interest at heart.


So.  There is my very long response to the people who say they could never do it, that they aren’t specifically called, or that it takes a special person.



  I am not special.  And you don’t have to be.

January 10, 2012

Adoption Tax Credit.

Reposted from Foster Care, Our Love Story.


There is a tax credit available for people who adopt. It is intended to offset the cost of traditional adoption and provide incentive for perspective parents to adopt special needs children from Foster Care.
When adopting from foster care, almost all of our kids qualify as "special needs". Some of the qualifications for that are sibling groups, minority children, a child that has been in care over 1yr, or children with medical or developmental disabilities. If you adopt a special needs child, you are eligible for the entire adoption tax credit.
In years past, this credit could be used against your income tax. So you would get a bigger return, but the benefit was linked to your income and how much you pay in taxes. So for Middle class families, it could take years before you saw the full benefit of the tax credit. If you were a Grandma on Social Security who adopted 3 of your Grandbabies, you would never see this money because you don't owe taxes.
In 2010, however, President Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act which had some small print that made this Adoption Tax Credit a refund. This means that for every child adopted from foster care through 2011, their adoptive parents would a receive a $13,170 check regardless of their income or taxes owed. This was great news for people who got to adopt in these past 2 yrs. Granny gets the money she needs to move to a bigger apartment or start college fund for her kids.
Unfortunately, this refundable credit went away on December 31, 2011.
The plan for people adopting in 2012 is that you can get credit up to $12,170 for each adoption against your income tax. However, the remaining amount can not be used in following years. You'll get a bigger tax return for this year, but not the check for the credit amount and there is no benefit beyond 2012.
In 2013, the Adoption Tax Credit goes away all together.
There is a petition going around to try to get the Tax Credit extended. I signed it, and I hope you will too. The financial incentive shouldn't be the reason people adopt, but hopefully it helps keep siblings together or keep higher needs kids in stable homes.
Click here to sign the Adoption Tax Credit Petition
This is a form letter you can send to your State representative

January 8, 2012

Why Foster?

Reason #783:

Because over time, I have only become increasingly convinced that if we

(the Popps.) can do it,  anyone can do it.



But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

2 Corinthians 12:9

January 6, 2012

5 years.

  Five years ago right now I was at the church, putting on my dress, surrounded by my family and friends who would coach me down the aisle to marry my best friend.  (Only gently aided by half of a muscle relaxer on loan from my dad.)


  Five years sounds impossible – both too short and too long.

We tend to pack a lot of life into our years.  We’re good at that.  And that’s the way we like it – after all, we’re not going to run short on life to fill our years and so we might as well pack it in.  I think we average at least twice as much change, transition, and excitement as the typical couple – but if you know either of us, this makes sense.  We are absolutely live to the fullest, why not try it, hit the ground running kind of people.


  And I love it, this life we’ve built.


For our fifth anniversary, Brian surprised me by taking me to the church that we were married in.  Not ten minutes later, my mom showed up with Sylvia and Naomi (Bella was on a visit), and a photographer.

My, how life has changed in five years.

















Our first five years has been full of ups, and very few downs.  Thank you Lord for this life you have given us.  Here’s to another fifty just as full of life as these five.  Love you, Bri.


(Photos thanks to John Gaugahn Photography.)

January 5, 2012

Maturational Loss.

In MAPP class we take time to talk about maturational vs. situational losses. It's the difference between losses that are expected, and generally have gains that accompany them, and unexpected losses that don't have much of a silver lining.

Moving away from home: Maturational loss. It's expected. You lose living with your family and the immediate support of them being there (and probably someone cooking meals for you.), BUT you gain independence and responsibility.

Family member dying in car crash: Situational loss. It's unexpected, and there isn't any gain that goes along with the loss.

So. In theory, a child going back home from foster care is a maturational loss (for the child and the foster parent.). This always trips up my MAPP classes. But it's (hopefully. ideally.) planned for, prepared for, and is a planned out transition. (I said ideally.) There are losses involved - foster parents, foster siblings, new friends, school, etc. - but there are also obvious gains - being back with their bio family, reuniting with old friends, etc.

A maturational loss, it is.

But, to me as a foster parent, it doesn't always feel that way.

I know that Bella is going home. I know that we are in the midst of a rather long, and planned out transition. I know that it is a good thing, and that there will be gains that accompany the losses.

But it still catches me off guard.

I spent a long time packing Bella for her Christmas trip. I wanted to make sure she had everything she could possibly need, and probably several things she won't. I wanted to help her feel safe in the transition. All that packing was a good mental prep for me too - reminding myself that she won't be here for Christmas, and that it is a good thing.

But as we packed her things into the transporter's car, it didn't feel so maturational. I wanted her to stay. I wanted to watch her Christmas morning. I wanted her to be there for our very last night of advent as the anticipation rises in our hearts and the kids go to sleep longing for the sun to rise.

She spent Christmas where she should be. Outside of the hurt from watching her transition out of our lives, it is where I want her to be. I'm so glad her mom and dad got to watch the excitement in her eyes that morning. She is building memories and traditions with them that she will have forever.

But this does not feel maturational.

January 3, 2012


Bella's case plan meeting was two and a half weeks ago - I just suck at getting updates posted in any timely manner.

I think it has something to do with the children who have, in the last 24 hours, squeezed all of my lotion out onto the floor and practically bathed in it, covered the kitchen floor in thousands of tiny pieces of paper bag confetti, and opened every card game that we own and mixed all of the cards together into one big mixed up pile - all in the name of having fun.

The case plan meeting went very well.

Dad is still very motivated and doing everything he is asked. Mom (more recently) has really gotten on board and is seeming much more excited to get the girls home.

The plan is to officially, 100% transition Bella home at the very beginning of March. Her next court date is March 1, and they will move her in the days following. Between now and then, they will continue to do weekend visits and possibly start extending them into the week.

They've done a very thorough job at planning this transition. They have slowly increased visits, and will continue to do so, while monitoring how things are going. They have put family therapy in place that will help the family with nutrition and family interaction. And after Bella transitions home, they will continue to monitor how everything is going in the home for three months. I have to say, I am impressed. This is the best we've seen the system work thus far.

It is also helpful that we have had the opportunity to develop a good relationship with Bella's parents. I see them at every doctor's appointment, which is very frequent. They also call every night to talk to Bella, which keeps communication open between us. Bella's Dad has always been very excited to tell us about his progress, and we've been happy to provide support and encouragement along the way.

The only thing that concerns me is the emotional toll it is taking on Bella to go back and forth between our house and her parent's house. Every weekend she goes there for 2-3 days (soon to be more) and then has to leave again and come back to our house. It has been extraordinarily difficult for her to process.

In her attempt to process the back and forth, trauma related behaviors have snuck up and attacked. Huge, long, irrational tantrums are our norm these days. We've also seen a lot more defiance and disrespect. We've also seen a handful of behaviors tossed in that, "I get to do at my Mom and Dad's house." Pleasant things like spitting at us when she gets an unfavorable answer. It breaks my heart to see all of it. It isn't her, it's her pain. She's like a completely different child.

I'm just concerned because she will continue to be put through the proverbial wringer for another two months before she can finally find a resting place and consistency. I'm not sure there is a better answer though.


Anyway, we are officially transitioning her home.

January 2, 2012


In my pretend life, that I play out in my imagination when the kids are driving me up.the.wall., I would smoothly and seamlessly concoct a Christmas full of at least 10 or 12 wonderful traditions that my children could look back on with a warm glow in their hearts and nostalgia for their childhoods.

(cue record ssccrraattcchh).

In reality our house is neither coordinated or calm enough to get through much of any planned activities or traditions.

I do what I can.

Brian is the baker in our family (and he's very good at it.). He loves making Christmas cookies and candies, so I leave all that to him and the kids. Over the last couple weeks they've made all kinds of goodies, and the girls have loved it.


Don’t ask me why the girls had their shirts off to make cookies.  Your guess is as good as mine.








We've also done a daily advent study with the kids this year. We went with Truth in the Tinsel, and we've really liked it. At the beginning of advent we made a chain with 25 links that each had a clue on them about the day's advent topic. Each night we read about a different aspect of the birth of Christ, and there were instructions for making an ornament for each day that went with the topic.

The girls loved taking turns taking a link of the chain each night - and most nights we even made it through the story. (Ok, maybe not most nights.) Their favorite part, though, was definitely making the ornaments.




I think the girls could probably share a pretty good version of the Christmas story now. (Notice I didn't say accurate.) Although, Sylvia spent most of advent fixated on the fact that Mary breastfed the baby Jesus. She thinks this part of the story is very cool.

The Friday that Bella left for her Christmas visit she was feeling very conflicted about leaving. About an hour before she left, she came up and asked me if we could do advent early that day so that she wouldn't miss it. Of course we did. I love that she asked.


I love our family Christmas. Mostly because I love our family.

January 1, 2012

Christmas 2011.

  Love, love, love spending Christmas with family.  And even with the stomach bug and the flu going through the house, it was a wonderful week.  (Just hoping we're not taking the flu back with us to share with Bella.)  Because of the stomach bug getting Brian and I on consecutive days, we only got to spend one day at his parent's house, which was a big bummer.  I think they appreciated us not sharing the pukes though.

  This year, Brian and I did Christmas as homemade as we possibly could.  With the exception of two presents, all of them were made by either me or Brian.  It took a long time, but we were more excited to share our presents this year than any other.  They were all personal and took lots of time, love, and effort.

Our homemade Christmas was also partly inspired by participating in the Advent Conspiracy.  It was helpful in not just deciding what Christmas shouldn't be, but what it should be

As our family grows, we are keenly aware that we are teaching and creating what Christmas will really mean to our kids, and we definitely want to avoid, as much as we can, the consumerist score-as-much-loot-as-you-can Christmas attitude that is so pervasive.  Apart from the fabric store, we didn't set foot in a store for our Christmas gifts this year, and I think that alone will make for a different kind of Christmas growing up.  We had time to focus on waiting expectantly to celebrate the coming of our Savior.  We are so thankful.   
  Even at one gift per person and drawing names, our Christmas gifts added up.  Gifts of time and meaning.

 My long lost family from Seattle.  So good to have them visiting.

 Helping Nana make dinner.

 I'm on the nice list.  Trust me.

 Naomi is clearly having fun.  No, really, this is just the beginning of the drama at our house.  She is crying only because Sylvia was getting close to her.

 Excited to be with my Papa!

This is the part of Christmas where Brian loses his wedding ring and has to rent a metal detector to find it.  More on that later.

It was a wonderful Christmas.  So thankful for family.  So thankful for Jesus.


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