Open Hands And Open Heart.
I love the change of seasons. There’s always something so hopeful about the transition between winter to spring; the transition from autumn to winter may provoke sadness in some, but the invitation into the quiet of winter is one I always look forward to. A year-and- a-half ago, our family felt a change of seasons; it was time to take the plunge into something my husband and I had felt beating in our hearts for many years. It was time to begin our journey into foster care.
When we first began our paperwork and training, we got a lot of the same question over and
again: Why? Most people assumed that we wanted to grow our family through adoption. Why else would we agree to turn our lives upside down for strangers? They were always surprised to find that our goal was NOT adoption; our hearts were firmly oriented toward supporting the entire family unit, children AND parents, and walking beside them through their journey toward reunification (if that was for the best.) Our first case followed that plan. We loved and cared for a two-year old, one-year old, and newborn while their parents worked their plan. And the day they reunified we celebrated. I have never been prouder of anyone in my life. I had never seen two parents work so hard to get help, and to get healthy. They never missed a visit, they went over and above what the agency required, and at the last court date, I sat with tears stinging my eyes as I listened to the judge pour her praise and appreciation upon them. In the end, we sent those babies home with happy hearts; in the process, our family grew because now we would forever be connected to this beautiful, young family we had grown to love. Of
course, we grieved not seeing the children every day. We love those precious babes; but our awe at the beauty that unfolded through that case far outweighed our own grief.
Somewhere in the middle of that case, a new seasoned dawned. Yes, there was a shift from
summer to autumn, but something else happened. We were surprised by grace. I’ll never forget the day our agency caseworker asked if he could stop by to discuss a potential placement. We sat at our picnic table on a beautiful fall day, and he told me about a 16-year old needing placement. I reminded him that we had requested children birth to age four. During training, people had told us not to disrupt the birth order of our biological girls; no one mentioned that foster care, by nature, is disruptive. After meeting this young man, and much prayer and discussion with our children we agreed to take his placement. Something was different about his case, though. Reunification wasn’t a possibility; he was “the product of a failed adoption.” (Those words still make me angry to type.) After the trauma of coming into custody, he had been adopted by a family who would abuse, and ultimately abandon him. He didn’t
want to be adopted again. He just wanted a safe place to finish out high school. We agreed that we could give that to him, and on a cool October day when the autumn leaves were changing, he moved into our home, and our family changed forever. Later, on a cold winter’s day, he would look into my eyes and say words I never expected to hear: “Mom, I want you and Dad to adopt me. Please.”
Today I’m writing this from our front porch. That Oklahoma wind you’ve heard about it is
sweeping down the plains, and the leaves and branches of the nearby stand of trees is singing its spring song. The song is the same as it is every year, but I’m not. My heart has changed, transformed by loving a child birthed by another woman. My heart has changed because I now have a son. Our adoption is set to finalize in June, the beginning of summer. It seems only fitting that this new metaphorical season for our family would coincide with the change of physical seasons. And the same hope that I feel when I see the first buds of spring is rising in my heart, even now. Hope. Hope for my son, that he will continue to find healing and wholeness through God’s gift of family. Hope for my husband and our other children, that they will have their hearts split open by the goodness of love and grace. Hope for myself, that I will continue to accept the grace of new seasons with open hands and an open heart. And hope for every other child out there, desperate for a place to call home.
When there are a million voices calling for us to despair about the brokenness of the families we serve, the anger and hurt our children carry, the dysfunction of the government systems, it is our duty to put our hands on our hearts, and say “No.” That we will not partner with despair for these families, caseworkers, and children. But that we will choose hope, every moment, of every day. Because no season lasts forever, and sometimes, when you least expect it, you can be surprised by grace.
What is one small reform you think would benefit the foster care community?
Provide better training for foster and adoptive families about the sensory issues facing many of our children from hard places.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
April Chonlahan is a thirty-something Jesus-loving writer who’s been married to her high school sweetheart for 16 years. Together they parent their two biological daughters (ages 6 and 8), and their 16-year old son, soon to be adopted from foster care. They have also had 2 other foster sibling placements in the last year. They make their home in Oklahoma, where the tea is sweet, and every day is Taco Day.