Friday, April 20, 2018

Fostering Series: Licensing

The licensing process can work differently from state to state and between agencies; here's a look into our licensing experiences in 2011 and 2017.

Once we knew we wanted to pursue fostering, the next step was finding an agency. In our area, we have two private and one public agency that handle foster care. We switched agencies between license renewals to find a better fit. Here are some things you should consider when talking with agencies:
  • How quickly do they respond to your questions and inquiries about fostering? Every caseworker and licensing representative I've ever met is overwhelmed with a very heavy caseload, so there's going to be a lag everywhere, but really pay attention to how well you feel heard when inquiring about foster care. 
  • Ask about what resources they have to support foster parents. Do they plan monthly support and educational meetings? Do they have dedicated staff for visit transport? Will you be expected to provide all transportation? It might seem small to do a little extra driving for visits, but you have to guard your downtime against burnout, and you'll be driving to many, many doctor's appointments probably, so a support person to drive for visits is a big plus.
  • Do you feel camaraderie with the workers at the agency? These are going to be your teammates, you should feel comfortable talking to them. They're going to be in and out of your house and a part of your life.
We didn't find our best fit the first time with an agency. It was manageable, but the process has been so much smoother and our comfort level so much higher being in an agency where we feel like we just fit as part of the team.

After the initial inquiries and decision to pursue our license with an agency, we moved on to basic data collection, physical check ups with a doctor and home and background checks.

The licensing process is the first step in kind of laying your whole life out in front of others. Not just the cute pictures you'd share on social media, but the details of how you were parented, how you parent, what traumas you've been through in life, all of it. In my state, there's a pretty intense questionnaire around 30 pages long that's your whole life story, your relationship with your family members, everything, put in a file for the agency's review and records.

It gets personal when you open up your life to the state and an agency.

A licensing representative walks you through the initial process, interviews you, inspects your entire home for safety concerns, talks to you about foster care and what to expect.

I remember frantically scrubbing baseboards and cabinet doors before our first licensing inspection. Seriously, my house shone like the top of the Chrysler Building. Then, the licensing rep walked through with a glance around, and I thought she didn't even notice how clean my baseboards are!!!!

After we moved houses and switched agencies, we had our new licensing rep out. I still cleaned and tidied, but I felt so much more relaxed having learned my lesson; they're not going to glove test my baseboards.

Once all the initial questionnaires, interviews and paperwork are filed, you'll need to be fingerprinted, have a physical and have a background check. Obviously fingerprints and background checks are a safety requirement you may have already considered. The physical isn't as obvious, but it's also a precaution to make sure you're in good health to provide the kind of physically demanding care of young children.

Finally, there's the training. This varies from state to state, and the requirements and methods even changed in my state between our licenses.

The first time around, we attended an in-class session of 3 hours at a time for 9 weeks. It was a great place to ask questions and really get to know the material. During our second licensing, we were part of the pilot group taking the online classes. We completed two modules a week and had the whole process completed in about 5 weeks.

While it was mostly a repeat of information for us, and the convenience of online classes really worked with my husband's work schedule, I think if it had been our first time through, being in the classroom is really where it's at. I say this as someone who designs online learning for a living, so I'd really urge you to consider the classroom if you're discerning this process.

Sitting with other foster parents helps you gain future support people, and the classes are usually led by veteran foster parents who can help answer your questions.

Once we'd completed all of our interviews, safety checks and training, one day, a paper arrived in the mail. There is was, we were an active foster home. Thus began the wait for a call. 

Monday, April 9, 2018

Fostering Series: Discernment

Discernment is different for everyone, we all walk such a unique path in our journey to heaven.

For me, the first whisper of fostering I remember came around 19-20 years old. I was watching a news story about children aging out of the system, and a small seed was planted.

How could these children be alone?

Where are the families to take them in?

 It worked in my heart for years, slowly distilling into an urgent calling. Each Sunday, I would kneel after communion and a weight would settle onto my heart, my children are out there.

Following an ectopic rupture in 2010, I felt a firm push that now, now was the time. After nearly a decade of slowly growing in intensity, the call was sounding loudly. I felt we'd done what we could with what we knew in terms of my fertility and God was saying that we needed to look outside our own biology with our family. The answer wasn't in us, it was outside us.

So, slowly, my husband and I began talking about fostering, what it would look like in our lives, whether we both felt comfortable with it. I somewhat jokingly refer to myself as the "gas pedal" and my husband as "the brake". You need both for a safely moving car, so it's a good pairing, but one that can cause tension. Perhaps the holy tension of two souls making their path to heaven, perhaps a little less holy and more frustration filled, depending on the day.

My jump into fostering was a wild leap with abandon. My husband took some time, made sure we had the information and resources we needed, and then he walked into it with the bravery and determination of a man who knows he's embarking on a difficult journey.

Our foster placements have taught me the hard lesson many parents learn in the loss of a child, these souls aren't mine. There is no guarantee. They are the purest form of what God is calling us to with each of our children, care for them, all in, all the way until they don't need us anymore. Slam straight into the wall of love and loss so that they can know the complete love we're all striving to give our children.

I have heard we are brave for fostering. I have heard people say that they don't know how we could do it because they would get too attached.

I don't feel brave. I feel worried and uncertain and blind to what my future looks like. But, we all have pieces of our journey that ask bravery, of which we're uncertain. We all walk through some area of our lives with our hands along the wall, feeling for the next step.

This is my family's, and it maybe looks a little radical if it's not yours. We go in scared of loving and losing, we get too attached, but this is our calling. This is the voice of God that leaves no rest until answered. The Holy Spirit called, increasingly loudly, urging me to jump. I could feel the unrest in my soul building until we leapt. Now, it's the peace of the flight, the landing is left to God. It may be a crash landing where we are built again anew, it may be a sweet story of how our family grew, but always our hearts are growing in the gift of giving them away.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Ignite: A Review

Franciscan Media provided a book for my review.  All thoughts are my own.  Links are non-affiliate.

Over the years, I've tried a number of things over the years to get better at daily devotionals, but it's always a struggle for me.
I'm not one to rise before I *absolutely* have to.  But, this year the girls are both in school all day (aren't they cute?!), so there's been a little more breathing room during the day.

One of the things that has really inspired my interest in digging back into the Bible is reading Ignite.  The back and forth conversation of Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers and Sonja Corbitt leads the reader through two different perspectives and experiences with the Bible.  

The book is divided out into the the Who, What, Why, Where, When, and How of the Bible, as well as a thoughtful explanation of Lectio Divina.

Any response is correct, even negative emotions.  He's a big God; he can handle your ugly. (pg 8)

This has been one of the biggest insights for me over the last decade of low fertility, pregnancy loss, foster care loss and everyday upset.  Offering all of ourselves up, even the hurt and hurting pieces is an offering.  The encouragement to let scripture into those places as I read them is a new layer to add to my prayer.

In reading through the When of the Bible chapter, I loved the anecdotes and ties to our Liturgical Feast days and the rhythm of the Church calendar, and how we can uncover it more fully in reading the Bible.  

As a cradle Catholic of cradle Catholics, I really enjoyed Sonja's insights, especially in Which Voice Is His.  Coming from a different faith tradition (Baptist), she takes the reader through her upbringing and impressions of the Catholic Church from the outside, and then dives deeper into the richness of the traditions she found.

Seeing the Bible from the outside looking in was a unique opportunity to approach the Bible in a new way.  The structure and order of the book helped me feel like I had the complete picture of where to start and why.  

If you're looking for a way to inspire your Bible reading, with a healthy dash of conversion story woven through, this is the book to add to your reading list.  Available in paperback.

Let me know what you think of the book and share your prayer time habits to help you stay on track!

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Every Rosary Has a Story

Franciscan Media provided a book for my review.  All thoughts are my own.  Links are non-affiliate.

When I was 20, I took a trip to Italy with a group of college students for the Jubilee.  There was excitement and newness, wrapped in a trip centered on the oldness and familiarity of the Catholic faith.

I am a cradle Catholic, from cradle Catholics.  Our lives have been punctuated by and woven through with markings of this faith.  The smell of an old church at the end of winter, with the boilers keeping time with the falling thermometer, the feel of a wooden pew, aged by generations of hands before yours.  These familiar sensations laced through my childhood.

Always, with these sights, sounds and smells, the rosary.  The hard wooden beads or slippery plastic beads dotted the path of my childhood.  At the start of a long road trip, at the end of a Sunday, always there.

As I stood in the beautiful gift shop at the feet of the Vatican, there were rosaries.  

All different styles and materials.  This one, though.  This metal rosary with the cross of St JPII's papacy was the one I picked out especially for my someday husband. 

And there, in Rome, as I stood in a crowd of hundreds, I held the rosary for a special blessing from St JPII as he called our group by name and prayed a blessing for our families.

This rosary, I presented to my husband on our wedding day four years ago.  This rosary, he keeps with him 13 years later.  This same rosary, touched to the relic of St JPII.

As Catholics, our rosaries can weave a story through our lives, touching our hearts, holding our stories just like the mysteries of the rosary walk us through the stories of Jesus' life.

Within the greater context of our universal Church, our stories are magnified and held within this simple strand of beads as well.

In The Rosary: Your Weapon for Spiritual Warfare, Johnnette Benkovic and Thomas Sullivan dive into the miracles attributed to the rosary, as well as saintly devotions and tools to get our own devotion on track. 

They weave together a complete context and history of our Church's ties to the devotion of the rosary.  The book paints such a full understanding of where we are rooted in the history of this tradition that once finished, it feels like you are seated within the stories of the past as you pick up your beads. 

Just as I have the memory of my mother picking up her rosary, or the stories of my great-grandmother praying 15 decades every day, this book gives us all that rich heritage through the retelling of miracles and devotions.

Savor each piece of our history, and when you're done, share with me what most touched your heart.  The stories of St JPII kneeling in prayer as he was in forced labor as a young adult struck me with a pang to deepen my own devotions. 

Available in Paperback, Kindle or Audio.

Friday, August 18, 2017

7 QT: 101 Places to Pray

Franciscan Media provided a book for my review.  All thoughts are my own.  Links are non-affiliate.

When I volunteered to review some books, 101 Places to Pray Before You Die: A Roamin' Catholic's Guide was high on my list to check out.
I love a good road trip and have fond memories of visiting shrines and beautiful cathedrals during youth group pilgrimages.  We would take two weeks, travel to work somewhere for a week, visiting holy sites along the way, then go play at an amusement park before heading home.  

Praying somewhere new, seeing the variety of holy, beautiful places in our country that celebrate our Catholic faith were formative, growing experiences as a teen.

If you're planning a family, individual, or group road trip, this is the guide you'll want to include in your trip planning.  From Hawaii to Maine and everywhere in between, our country is filled with treasures to behold.  

Here's my wish list of places I'd like to plan trips to soon.  If you've been there, or you know, have a place for me to crash along the way, holler!

(1)  Peosta, Iowa.

This one hails from close to my neck of the woods, and really, it's on my list to visit as soon as I have a weekend to take for a retreat.  This monastery and retreat center has a guest house with twenty-two rooms, so group retreats and individual retreats are both welcome.  They also offer structured retreats for those in discernment (not me - but maybe you!?)

(2)  Detroit, Michigan

Assumption Grotto  (pg 101)
This church has daily Latin masses, something I've never been to, but what a great pilgrimage experience for the whole family!  The Gothic architecture and close proximity to other interesting Michigan sites puts this on the list as a great stop for a family trip.

(3)  Fonda, New York

I've actually been to this site, and it's gorgeous.  It's one of those spaces where nature and Church come together to give you a sense of what it may have been like for our early Church ancestors in this country.  The shrine is an restored barn and there's a beautiful outdoor statue.
When I was there last, she was Blessed Kateri Tekawitha and I was a teen.  Since then, she has been canonized and is the patron saint of my oldest, whose name means Lily, and shares her birth month with St Kateri's feast day (July 14th).  

I really want to bring my girl to this place to see the shrine of her patroness.  Time to break out the old Almanac and plan a road trip for a summer soon!

(4)  Portland, Oregon

About The GrottoI am so drawn to Our Lady of Sorrows.  As a child, my parents had a print of  the Pierced Heart of Mary with the seven swords representing the seven sorrows.  In my adult life, as sorrows have gripped me, I've sought refuge in Mary's Mantle, comforted that she knows my sorrows as a mother and woman.  

Traveling to see the shrine to her sorrows is a dream trip.  The sanctuary also has amazing botanical gardens and a marble replica of the Pieta!  Go look at their website cover photo and tell me you don't want to join me.  So strikingly beautiful.

(5)  Doylestown, PA

My Polish grandmother was such a treasured part of my childhood.  Visiting this shrine to Our Lady of Poland and a center for Polish culture would be a chance to visit with her heritage.  

With all my grandparents deceased, presenting some of these experiences and parts of our heritage to my children has become even more treasured.

(6)  Dickinson, Texas 

This shrine has a relic of the true cross.  What an amazing treasure.  Texas has a special place in my heart, my brother's family lived there for a number of years, one of my sisters lived there and was married there.  

If only I'd had this book a few years sooner, I would have known to visit this shrine before my family moved back north!  Next time Texas, next time.

(7)  Champion, WI

Living in the Midwest, I had heard vaguely of this shrine, but after reading a bit more about the healings that have been attributed to this site, it's moved much higher on the priority list to get out there.  

It's also the only authenticated site of an apparition in the United States.  I started looking at when we have off school for teacher in services to take a family trip north sooner, rather than later.  

This book is available in paperback and Kindle.

For more quick takes, and Kelly's amazing news this week, check out This Ain't the Lyceum.

Friday, August 11, 2017

7 QT: Wendell Berry and the Given Life

Franciscan Media provided a book for my review.  All thoughts are my own.  Links are non-affiliate.

In July, my parents invited my family to head to Michigan with them for the week.  One night, we all went out to dinner together and my mom told me a story about my great-grandparents.
On the end of a dirt road sat an old homestead.  Only the stone foundation remains.  There, my great-grandparents lived and worked, making their life in tune with their land, a very Wendell Berry kind of life.

As times changed around them, they remained as they were, an outhouse and no electricity.  Finally, the electric company needed a place to run their lines and needed a piece of the old homestead to do it.  In return, they would provide electricity to the house.

One lightbulb.  My great-grandparents had one lightbulb installed, because as my mom tells it, anymore would have been just too frivolous.

I've been rolling this around in my head.  I don't know how many lightbulbs I have in my house.  As I feel my moral superiority for keeping the air conditioning off on an 80 degree day, I'm reminded, I'm not all that connected to my surroundings.

With this trip on my mind, I picked up my newest read from Franciscan Media, Wendell Berry and the Given Life.

Seven thoughts on this book:

(1)  This is a book club kind of book.  You'll want to talk about it with your friends.  You'll want to tease out the complexities and thoughts.  It's so packed with big thoughts, big ideas, big dreams for what our lives can be.

(2)  If you love Wendell Berry, you probably need this on your wishlist.  This is a structured and thoughtful breakdown of his thoughts and ideals.

(3)  If you, like me, are having a hard time with the mid-30's angst of all the big questions:
 - Where am I going in my career (or relationships or life in general)?
 - Is this what our family looks like forever?
 - Will we have any more big adventures? 

The concept of the given life, rather than the built life is a kind a spiritual salve.  Just soaking into the first chapter felt like a deep breath from my center, pulling loose some of those tightened anxieties.

(4)  " be at rest is to fit in the place you are meant to be, to accept and work well within the confines of creatureliness." pg 21

This reminded me very much of the common phrase, "Bloom where you're planted."  My constant struggle is wanting more, to do more, to go for more.  The thought that sometimes, I may need to stop and evaluate if I want more for the more, or more as I grow into who I am meant to be.

(5)  "We must achieve the character and acquire the skills to live much poorer than we do." pg 29

There have been times in my life where my first thought upon reading this would have been, "Ummmm, I'm poor enough, thanks very much!"  I remember doing the poverty food challenge with my family one year where we lived on what the average person would get on food assistance and I literally changed nothing about my meal planning.  

Certainly others have more extreme versions of poverty.  I've always had the blessing of a clean home and more than enough to eat, even if it was beans and rice.  

But, the reality of today is, I do have more than I need.  And it's a challenge I need to embrace to live more simply, to be poorer in my living so I can be richer in my giving.

(6)  "There seems to be something in the human condition that is restless unless formed in stability." pg 77

I was formed in the most stable environment you could imagine.  My parents are rocks that have been married 43 years this November.  Still, I struggle with an internal wanderlust that will never quiet.  Within the bound of my own stable surroundings with my husband of 13 years, I seek constant change.  The color of my walls, the pillows on my couches, the rooms each of us sleep in, the arrangement of the furniture, I crave change, need it, can't breathe without it.  

(7)  Not every thought resonated with me, but I felt like there were good thoughts to turn over, to pull apart, to examine.  I'm not going to leave my lightbulbs behing (sorry Great-Grandpa Dockery!), but I'm thinking about what we could grow in our yard.  I'm slowly transitioning to buying meat from local farmers, rather than the grocery store.  

Little steps, thoughtful moves, doing what I can in the live I have been given.  Which isn't on acreage, but it is on a yard with enough room for some carrots and potatoes.  Not every piece of a Wendell Berry life will fit into your life or my life.  But, we can take the pieces that fit.  We can pick up our little pieces of land and grow some tomatoes on our balcony.  We can rejoice in nature around us.  We can plan our errands thoughtfully to conserve gas.  Little pieces, little steps, more thoughtfulness.

This book is available in hardback, Kindle, audiobook and CD.  If you read it, or have read it, I'd love to pick your brain.  

Stop back over to Kelly for more Quick Takes!

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Waiting in the Hallway

The foster license process was a whirlwind, and then suddenly, the licensing rep walked through our house in May, and it was complete, we were licensed.

The license completion felt like the end of a long race.  We had the pep talks along the way, we had the moments of mind over body to sit through class after class.  We set down our privacy, opened up our lives, our family histories, our personal stories to the State.

As May ended without a call, I thought perhaps June would be the month we got a call.  Then, June stretched out in front of us, full of lazy days and crazy camp schedules.  Birthday parties and friends filled our days, and the phone didn't ring.

Now, we sit at the beginning of July.  Thoughts are turning to the school year, school supply lists and the final plans for summer.  A vacation week is arranged, and in the back of my mind lingers the thought, "Do we need more space in the car?  Or will the phone stay silent?"

On the one hand, the empty spots in our home feel like a happy ending.  The reality that a child doesn't need that space because they're home and whole is a good thing.  That a parent and child haven't had to be separated is good

But I worry about the one who is suffering with no one to speak up.  I worry about the child stuck in a dangerous place, isolated from help.  Every mass, I pray for those children.  "God, send them an intercessor.  Help them find help.  St Michael, guard these precious little ones." 

Every week, I cry a little and pray there isn't a preschooler hiding under her bed somewhere without us to keep her safe.  I pray for the baby, neglected and isolated, losing contact with the world around her.  "Mother Mary, wrap them in your mantle."

On Pentecost, "Holy Spirit, give those who see child abuse and neglect the courage to stand up for those children."

On Father's Day, "Heavenly Father, help us to go where you lead to protect Your children."

So we wait, and we pray, and we entrust all those children in need to God, recognizing all the time they were His to start with.