Hold On Tight

Someone from our Foster Care agency posted this video. It’s from 2017, so I’m surprised it hadn’t come across my newsfeed till now. If you can’t watch it, the voiceover says:

We’ve done well in life. With help from our adviser, we made it through many market swings.

Retirement age couple, straightening up the house. They sit at a table when the doorbell rings.

Sure we could travel, take it easy. But we’ve never been the type to just sit back. Not when we have so much more to give.

The scene is obviously a situation of a social worker dropping off a new foster child to their home. Then their title of “Empty Nesters” is crossed out and replaced by “Foster Parents”.

So yeah. Here I am crying at work.

But interestingly enough, it wasn’t so much the twist at the end that got me. I’m actually a little too realistic (cynical?) to think that a foster child would so quickly give a hug with this look of comfort and appreciation. Real life drop-offs don’t always work that smoothly.

Most of ours have not been dramatic, just strangely casual. Like we’re having friends over for a playdate, and no one’s really talking about the elephant in the room. The first night has never been all that emotional.

The part that really got me was the shot at the table.

Here they sit in anticipation. They pour a cup of coffee because what else is there to do? Everything else at this point seems so trivial. You’ve cleaned the house and prepared as much as you could since the call probably came only hours before. But to watch TV is irritating and senseless. You can’t go anywhere. So here we sit like waiting for the doctor to come out of surgery with an update.

They share a glance of mutual understanding that says “We both agreed to do this. Get ready, cause it’s about to happen.” Then they chuckle, knowing that they may very well be in over their heads, which is entirely possible.

Because then the foster child comes. And you get the privilege and burden of not only the experience, but also knowing all the gruesome details that would cause a child to be in this situation to start with. It’s the difference between knowing and understanding. Between head-knowledge or heart-knowledge. We could all guess pretty accurately what abuse or neglect happens to families in the system. But when you hear the reports over the phone while you’re looking at the child this happened to – it becomes real. When you become closer to the birth family and hear the cycles of trauma that have been around for generations, the grief becomes insurmountable.

That’s when you realize that nothing in this world is perfect, and the best you can do is to do something. Simply take an action with heart full of hope that maybe it will make a difference at some point.

So they look at each other and smile, with the head-knowledge that their hearts are about to be challenged. But we’ve never been the type to just sit back anyway.

Then they hold hands.

Holding hands when you’re dating is only sensational. You do it just to see if she’s as willing to hold your hand as you are. But when you’ve been married for a couple decades, holding hands is a way to rededicate the vows you gave years ago without having to say a word. When things around us get tough, she will grab my hand and say “hold on tight.”

Too many times we’ve been at that same coffee table, after a really long day with the foster kids or after getting disappointing news, and we hold hands and say “hold on tight.”

Whenever we hear of couples getting a divorce, “hold on tight.” When we hear of infidelity or a spouse passing away, “hold on tight.” When we hear of children who grow up and fall away from their faith or give up on trying, “hold on tight.”

Because if you were to ask me in the best and brightest of days, I would rather be thanking God for this woman in my life than anything else. So in the darkest of challenges, we have to remind ourselves that even though this moment is difficult, this is better than anything else. Fighting for this is worth it. This. We can’t lose this. We can’t let this go.

Because it seems as though the people around us are all facing the worst of circumstances. It’s like they are being dragged away from the fairy-tale life we all dreamed of, the life we seemed to all be living just a few years before. And now attacks are coming from every angle and it’s enough emotional weight to make you physically cringe inside.

Hold on tight. Say it again and again as often as you need to. Take the ones you love the most and fight through the sleepless nights and longest days to make it work. Better to have this than live any other life.

So we go back to the table from time to time. Reset. Pour a cup of coffee. Turn off the irritating and senseless TV. Share a glance of mutual understanding. Acknowledge that we may not know what to do next. But take my hand. Hold on tight. Release a nervous laugh. God’s got this. Our task is to simply be willing, faithful, and ready to go,

because the doorbell is about to ring.

I Forget I Have Foster Kids

Sometimes when I get home from work, it’s quiet. That means my wife is busy or resting and the kids are all upstairs or across the street playing. Other nights I get home and one kid screams “DADDY!”, one gives me a big hug, one gives me a long hug, and one tells me a story.

Then later on I tell one kid to pick up toys, one to clean dishes, one to put up dishes, and one to take out trash.

When school is in, one needs to go to bed on time, one has paper homework, one has computer homework, and one has a project.

All of them are stubborn in their own ways. All of them are helpful, smart, and innocent.

When they have a bad moment, one can be bossy, one tends to hide the truth, one thinks the world is ending, and the other throws a fit.

At their best, one is charming, one is helpful, one is sweet, and one is kind.

Unless you know each of them really well, it’s probably hard to tell which two are our biological kids and which two are our foster kids. Most days I get lost in the crazy schedules, things to do, and things to remember that I forget I have foster kids. They are all children in my house. I’m responsible for them. I also have to feed them, discipline them, and make sure they bathe and sleep from time to time. And in doing all those mundane things, I neglect to remember their circumstance.

Sometimes I intentionally “forget”, when someone comments on how close in age they all are, I respond with a definitive “Yep.” to avoid the awkward and unnecessary conversation. Sometimes I forget when they do something important like a band performance, or someone compliments me on how great they are. I puff out my chest as if I’m responsible for the majority of their life where they were raised to be great kids before I came into the picture.

Late at night is typically when they miss their mom the most. And not just their mom, but their former lifestyle. They miss all the things that we would consider less than appealing, but they wish to go back because it was theirs. It’s all representative of the last time their family was together. The life they’re in now is our life. We’ve grafted them into how we do things. We’re conscious of their preferences and traditions, but day-to-day life happens and those tend to slip away.

Today they both got braces. That’s a big deal! A really big deal they might remember forever. And the memory will be associated with having done it in their foster home. That’s neither good nor bad. But it’s in these moments I wonder if they think about their family and if they’re wanting to show off their smile to them.

They have moments where they miss their mom more than usual, and it’s neither good nor bad that they do. They forget to think about their old life, and that’s neither good nor bad. They absolutely love some of the things they get to do by living with us, and that’s neither good nor bad.

When they get injured, I wonder if I’m handling the way they’re used to (probably not – I’m more interested in how they got injured to start with.) When they wake up in the middle of the night, are they a little disappointed it’s me that came to check on them? When they come home with a good or bad grade, did I react to an appropriate amount?

But in forgetting that they are foster kids, it’s not that I feel like I’m purposefully taking ownership of them. I still know they have a mom who loves them. We advocate for reunification and make it our mission. It’s just not at the forefront of my mind. Then occasionally we have a rough day, and like waking up to a bucket of ice water, I remember “oh yeah, this is all really hard for them.”

I suppose it’s just like getting over a breakup or a loved one passing away, where time takes over and the moments of sadness and heartbreak happen less often than they used to. Right after the event happens your heart races so much you can feel it pulsing through your veins; you can audibly hear the beats pounding. But give it time and it levels back out to a new normal.

So it’s not that we would actually be doing anything different. But simply knowing and remembering creates an empathy to care for others.

It’s driving for miles not acknowledging a single road sign, but suddenly a “Proceed with Caution” catches your attention. Remember someone’s situation, know that this moment might be difficult, and intentionally put love first. In hard times, that’s all any of us need: to be known, loved, heard, and remembered.

Food and Music Therapy

Currently, our foster kids are 13 and 11 years old. For an extended weekend, my wife volunteered to watch their half-siblings, both toddlers, to give their grandmother a break. My wife may whine a little in the midst of it all, but she has the biggest heart of anyone I know. See, for the rest of us, our selfishness hushes our heart before we get too attached. Her heart beats the living daylight out of any selfishness before she realizes that we’re now watching six kids for five days.

We suddenly realize that we may have an opportunity to let all four kids see their mom (whom we absolutely love) for the first time since last Spring. So we make plans on Saturday for her to take them and I will stay with our two kids.

I decide to do something different for lunch, since it’s now only three of us, and go to a new Japanese restaurant. Before getting settled in, my wife calls and tells me that the place “didn’t have the records”, didn’t really care to try, and left them no option but to leave disappointed. So now my wife’s just pleaded and balled her eyes out in front of strangers, the older kids are upset and confused, the younger ones are tired and hungry.

“Come meet me at this restaurant,” I say.

I get the waitress to get us a big table: 2 adults, 3 big kids, 2 little kids, 1 baby. I order a variety of plates and one sampling of sushi, just for the fun of it. Everything is being served just as they walk in. The restaurant is mostly empty, dimly lit, and quiet.

I can see the distress on their faces turn slowly to relief with every dish of rice, chicken, and soup. We divide everything up. “Can I try that!?” “Can I have more?” 

Then comes the sushi. Almost everyone tries the California Roll. Three of us eat the raw fish.

It was weird, and yummy, and fun.


As if that wasn’t enough for a weekend, the next day I had to drive the little siblings back to their family. The four of them have been like Velcro on each other for five days, and now it was time to separate the pieces. We meet in a parking lot and transfer bags and car seats. They’re about to leave and I try to get the older boy to come out and give hugs when I realize he isn’t because he’s trying to hold back his tears. 

The first few minutes of the drive back he was sobbing into his hands. The girl is stronger than all of us put together; she’ll hold it all in and put on a good face for her younger brother. 

I put on a CD of what is probably our favorite album from our favorite band, “Indian Summer” by Carbon Leaf. Track after track of good, catchy, poetic songs. No one was talking so I turn it up loud and let the music fill the lonely, empty air. I can sense them starting to get in to it a little. Heads bobbing. Humming. Drumming. 

Some of their songs have a melancholy tone. The sentimentality doesn’t allow you to listen without thinking. Then comes the best one with the repeated line “When all of your tears dry, let your troubles roll by…” Over and over and over again. Not like a nagging voice, but like a mother rubbing your back to calm you down. I’ve heard that song a thousand times and never cried. But I hear him sniffle. Then I hear her sniffle. Then I sniffle.

And by the time we make it home, the tight chest-pain of sadness had been released with a deep breath.  


Life is busy and noisy. Too busy to sit at a table without distractions. Too noisy to let an entire album play and soak it in. Too often we forget how to recenter and refocus. I, for one, am thankful that in a weekend of really heavy events, which is just a snapshot of a really heavy year, we were able to come out on the other side. Heads up, eyes dry, arms around each other.

If the world could use anything right now, I think it should be:

meals around a big table with the ones you love

and good music

“Congratulations” and other misguided remarks

This past week we got the call we’ve been waiting for since September. Would we be willing to take two boys in as foster kids? Really, we’ve been waiting for almost three years, since our last placement was a month before we began expecting a baby, which put foster care on a hiatus. This would unofficially make our seventh placement. Unofficially – since one was only 24 hours for respite care (more-or-less babysitting) and one was not through the system.

My wife texted me “we may be getting 2 boys.” After she found more details, I stepped out of a meeting, called her, we talked, we agreed, and she left to pick them up. I walked back in the meeting and apologized that I might be a little distracted since we just found out we’re getting foster kids. There was a bit of a reaction from the five people in the room, and I remember someone saying “Congratulations!” and “How exciting!”

Soon after, it came up at a business lunch and the room applauded. I’m not sure why. But lots of “That’s great!” and “Congratulations!” were shared. The waiter had even overheard me talking about it and offered his own “Congratulations” as we left.

Afterward, I felt strange about their reaction. I didn’t share the news as if I just found out we were expecting another baby. Trust me, foster care is not worth it to simply be in it for attention. At the moment it was heavy in my mind. The only reason I shared the information was because that’s all that was in my head. I wasn’t much for casual conversation either. But still, the reaction didn’t match how I was feeling. “Congratulations” didn’t seem… appropriate.

I feel really bad for knocking someone’s genuine excitement. It’s not their fault they don’t know my perception of the situation. I probably wouldn’t know what to say either. Especially since I seem to lose my entire vocabulary when someone mentions a death in their family. “Oh, wow, man, hmmm.” For some reason, “Sorry to hear that” doesn’t want to escape my voice box.

The snobby-foster-care-insider in me, now that we’ve been through this before, knows that this is not a congratulatory situation. Especially since the agency gets kids from DCS and not a voluntary placement, if you’re called on for foster care, something bad happened. I once heard a story of a single mom needing help with kids only because the she was going for a major medical procedure and had no one else that could care for them. But even though she didn’t DO something bad, something bad still happened.

Most of the reasons for a child’s removal are neglect, abuse, abandonment, incarceration, and substance abuse. If we get a call, one of those things happened. “Congratulations” isn’t the best word.

I don’t think down on anyone who might have said that to me. What else are you really supposed to say?


The next night I had already agreed to participate in the Thanksgiving Service at church, so we risked ultimate chaos and went with our new additions. Of course, everyone was excited to meet them and say hi. In the parking lot afterward, a friend walked out with us. He knows our story, what we do and why, and has adopted, too. While I was buckling the kids in the car, he stood by with this huge smile. The same look he had when they were introducing themselves inside. He stuttered, nearly dumbfounded, he managed to get out, “I… don’t know what to say, but congratulations.”

I realized then that he might really know why we do foster care. And his use of “congratulations” might be spot on.


A few days later we went out to eat with friends and they said, “we talked about doing foster care but just don’t see being able to handle more kids right now.” And we responded with a resounding “Tell me about it! Hopefully, we’ll get daycare set up real soon. We’re not in this just cause we love kids.”

*awkward silence*

“….then why DO you do it?”

Oh, yeah I guess that sounded strange. The why is the same reason for how “Congratulations” might be an appropriate saying. We don’t want a large family necessarily. Our initial thought would be to adopt out of the foster care system. But after our first placement, we only want to foster, and we realized why we were chosen for this service.

Kids, if at all possible, need to be with their parents. Even in the worst situation, terminating parental rights still leaves the child with a loss. Better than the alternative, but a loss. We could all agree on the world being a better place if houses were made up of strong, healthy, together families. Foster care is an opportunity to take a struggling family unit and breathe new life back into it.

Adoption is a different story altogether. But in foster care, as much as we love these children, and as much we try to do a good job parenting, they are not our kids. And I don’t want them to be. Because if I did, I would be dishonest to our ultimate goal, which is to reunify the family. I want these kids to be with their mommy and daddy. I want their parents to be thriving in a healthy and stable environment and to take their kids back with full confidence.

Our two placements that were the longest were the easiest to let go. Because the process worked. Because in the end, we happily, with full confidence, gave the kids back to where they belong: to a mommy who worked hard to get her life back, and get her kids back. This is the moment where “Congratulations” was welcome a word.

So when foster parents get a call to take in kids, “Congratulations!” on the opportunity to take a family in a bad situation and give them a chance to thrive.