The Road to Foster Care

*This is a really long post, so grab a cup of coffee or tea and possibly a snack before you get started! 

Our story starts with a six month, black Scottie dog named Lemon and a miscarriage. I know, not the sun-shiniest of beginnings but I find that the stories really worth reading are the ones that begin in the darkness–because that’s where Jesus meets us.

In the Spring of 2016 our precious dog Zeus passed away from a very aggressive form of lung cancer. He had been a part of our family for over nine years and he was practically like our child. The same day I found out Zeus had cancer my parents called me asking if I was interested in a cute puppy who needed a home. I was really drawn to this dog and her story so we said yes only to have Zeus pass before they ever met. I was less enthused when I found out she had lived the first six months of her life neglected and mistreated. I new she would have a lot of issues that we would have to work through and I wasn’t really up for helping someone else out with their issues when I had my own. Don’t get me wrong she was super cute(she still is) and she seemed to have a very sweet demeanor but that’s where the list of her positive attributes ended.

But, after a lot of prayer Sam and I decided we would bring her into our family despite the troubles she might have because we really did want another dog and felt she was the puppy for us. Within 24 hours of her being in our home it became very clear to us she had a lot of issues. I think the best description I could give of her would be, ‘adorable, unwanted, no good, shifty terrier’.

She didn’t even answer to her original name and ran away when you called her–that’s when we decided to rename her Lemon. She had zero communication skills. She had no inclination to bond with us–like none, zero, zip, nada. She had no sense of belonging and she would literally go home with anyone. Ironically, she was afraid of a lot things too. She was afraid to walk through doorways which made going in and out of the house to potty an ordeal. She was NOT potty trained. She never even made noise–not while playing, not crying in her kennel, not ever. This made us really sad because this was undeniable evidence she was really neglected. She was super sneaky and was excellent about going behind our backs to do things she knew not to do. And she was the most manipulative little thing ever. She would play Sam and I’s emotions against each other by denying the person who wanted her attention and giving it other person. I have never ever seen a dog do that before. It was so blatant and completely baffling. She hated her kennel and would run and hide every time we tried to get her to go into it. She wanted to play but she didn’t want to be held, or pet, or touched–she would tolerate physical touch. She really didn’t even have a personality–mostly she just exuded learned bad behavior. She was an adorable, unwanted, no good, shifty terrier. She really was.

She did like to ride in the car though, and she would let you hold her if you were in the car. But then she would throw up so . . . yeah.

I was an emotional wreck and beyond frustrated with Lemon. I needed another puppy to love and snuggle this hot little mess. I would lament my puppy parenting woes to my friends only to receive looks of confusion or polite indifference. No one seemed to understand the behavioral issues we were experiencing or really get why I was so upset about it all the time. I also felt constantly guilty because I was having to correct or redirect her bad behavior and I couldn’t let her get away with anything. Any mom–or dad out there for that matter–who has that child that just-wont-give-up-pushing-that-boundary-line knows what I’m talking about. It was absolutely maddening and heartbreaking. I couldn’t let her get away with things the way I had Zeus when he was her age because if I gave an inch it would undo everything we were trying to teach her. Things like using the bathroom outside, not chewing on my couch, staying out of the trash, not jumping on every single person or dog we saw, etc–just simple house rules.

After a while of trying to figure it out on our own and failing miserably, we enrolled her in a dog training course at Petsmart at the beginning of the summer. Immediately we began seeing improvements. She learned how to communicate with us and vice versa. And we learned what was fueling her bad behaviors; like where they were coming from(her trauma) and what was behind them(fear, mistrust, frustration). Within the first week her demeanor and communication skills improved drastically and she seemed much less resentful. Everything got better on all sides, but she still did not want to be held or to bond with us and this was really hard for me to accept.

I was still so sad about Zeus and it didn’t help that he had been the snuggliest, cuddle-buddy ever. It was really hard for me not to compare them constantly and pick out all her flaws. He was the perfect dog and she was so broken. How could I ever feel love for another dog like I did Zeus? I prayed about prayed for months asking God why he had given me this dog and what I was supposed to do with our very one sided relationship. After a long while I made peace with the fact that she might not ever be a loving, snuggly dog. I also realized that our lack of bond could be coming from me wanting her to be someone she could never be and that I needed to accept her for who she was. That was so so hard.

Soon after this Sam and I would get pregnant and three months later at the beginning of October 2016 we miscarried with our first and only baby due to me having an outbreak of shingles. We had just celebrated our ninth anniversary and my thirtieth birthday. I don’t really think there is any way for me to adequately describe to you the heart-break, the devastation, the hopelessness that Sam and I both experienced. We had been waiting nine years for nothing it seemed. Sam and I have never officially received an infertility diagnosis but for some reason we have a hard time getting pregnant. We got pregnant on our own so there is really no explainable reason why it took so long for us to conceive the first time and why we have not conceived again. The loss of our child was equally baffling. It’s extremely rare for a twenty-nine year old, pregnant woman to have a shingles outbreak. There was just so much unexplained pain and heartache. After all that, I just didn’t expect much from anyone or anything anymore–the very least from Lemon.

But the Lord had other plans. A few weeks after our miscarriage I was standing at the kitchen table going through the mail when I felt this tiny wet nose bump the back of my leg. Truthfully, it startled me. Our trainer had informed us to be on the lookout for signs that Lemon was bonding with us, but I had let all hope of that go months before. Apparently, dogs bump each other with their noses or bump against one another with their shoulders to “check in”–like, “hey are we cool?” This is a behavior used in pack settings and denotes communication, hierarchy, and bonding. I looked down and there she was standing at my feet looking up at me expectantly. Her ears where down in submission and she wagged her tail just a little as if to encourage me. I slowly bent down to pet her and she kind of skittered to the side nervously, but she cautiously came right back to me and let me pet her. It was a beautiful moment and I could tell she was really happy to have my attention–and that got my attention.

All the while with my heart still in a thousand little pieces over our miscarriage, that one check-in turned into a hundred check-ins. It was like peeling back new layers of an onion every week. All the sudden she had preferences, expressing maternal instincts by mothering and cleaning one toy in particular–a little brown moose–and expressing her opinions vocally while playing–like growling and grunting–and even talking to me to get my attention. She started climbing onto the couch between Sam and I in the evenings wanting to be with us. Then she started to get jealous of Sam and I when we would hug or kiss and she would get between us and lay down on both our feet. She started remembering our neighbors and showing favoritism to a select few people she really loved. (She’s in love the with young guy that works at her grooming salon). The first night she rolled over on her back and fell asleep between Sam and I on the couch was triumphant. She started using her paws and talking to me when she wanted my attention. Her vivacious, spunky, and sweet personality blossomed and split wide open every single day. By Christmas, almost nine months had passed and my parents were shocked by how much she had changed. She wasn’t even the same dog anymore.

Sam and I knew that providing a loving, stable home with healthy boundaries was important for any pet or child, but I don’t think we realized how healing and transformative it could be–at least I didn’t. We didn’t do anything magical or ground breaking in the way of dog psychotherapy, we just loved her, emphasized communication, and set healthy boundaries. She became the dog she was always supposed to be–the dog hidden beneath all the trauma. And honestly, I felt so blessed to experience and be a part of Lemon’s healing. She is not the hero of my story to be sure, but it got me thinking that if it could be this rewarding(note I didn’t say easy) to adopt a neglected dog how amazing could it be to adopt a neglected child?

Fast forward to the spring of 2017. Even before we got pregnant the previous year we had been “talking” about fostering to adopt. It had always been something we were open to and willing to consider. Foster care was not how we wanted to grow a family–we wanted to grow our family like most people get to; biologically. But I had never ruled it out. For several months we considered setting aside having children forever for a while. And we prayerfully kicked around whether or not we wanted to commit to a different path for growing our family. Sam has always been open to adoption through foster care. Honestly, if we had the money and a house big enough Sam would probably just pull up to the Upbring office in a big school bus and cram as many children on it as possible. I love children too, but I wasn’t sure I could handle all the struggles that come along with fostering to adopt. But this new experience with Lemon beat across the rhythm of my heart like a harmony to my melody. I began to seek God about pursuing adoption through foster care.

I studied the topic of adoption and orphans in the Bible for months. I also spent (unsuccessful) hours looking for books or devotionals to read from a Christian perspective on foster care (but that’s a whole other blog post). Along the way I began to see the gospel story in a new light. Adoption IS the story of Bible–it’s the story of Christianity. I had always known that adoption is the story of the Gospel, but I didn’t really understand until Lemon came into our life. I’ll save the semantics for another post, but it dawned on me that what I was feeling–the pride, the humility, the joy, the awe, the love, the passion, the devotion for Lemon was what God feels for me as His child. Like Lemon, I too am broken, and traumatized, and to some a lost cause, but God sees me as worth the trouble. His love says; YES, I CHOOSE YOU and I don’t care how bad your trauma is or how far down the road I have to walk to get to you–I WILL NEVER LEAVE YOU. That is the story of the Gospel. Isn’t that beautiful? I found myself thinking on Lemon and I’s relationship about how every time she cast us off and blatantly misbehaved I was more and more motivated to prove to her that I had chosen her and I wasn’t going to give up.

All the while, in my anguish and tears over losing my own child, I became grief-stricken at the thought of never getting to be a mother and raise my own children. As I began to examine God’s design for humanity and God’s sacrifice of His own biological Son for me–a gentile, an orphan–a weighty question was laid before me; did I want to be a parent or did I just want to birth my own baby? That was a scary question. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with wanting to birth my own child, or mourning the loss of my baby–that’s very healthy, and natural, and God designed. But, if I really wanted to be a “mom” and a “parent” did that hinge on me birthing a child from my own body? According to the Gospel of Christ it doesn’t. This was more than a revelation to me; it was permission to hope and dream.

John 1:12-13 says, ” 12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. ” NASB

Roman’s 8:15 says, “15 For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!”.” NASB

If adoption is good enough for God–if he sees me as his legitimate child through adoption–then shouldn’t it good enough for me too?

As this new revelation grew wild in my heart, Mother’s Day 2017 rolled around and our very good friends, Ash and Patty Wright were featured on an Austin news station celebrating Patty’s first Mother’s Day with their son. Ash and Patty had been fostering for almost two years and were coming up on their one year adoption anniversary with their six year old son, Nathan. They were so excited and I new that it meant so so much to Patty and Ash to reach this milestone with their own child. As I watched the news piece on my iPhone I was brought to my knees. It was the joy in Patty’s eyes and the love and fulfillment in her and Ash’s expressions; Nathan’s joy, laughter, and appreciation for these two strangers who chose him and asked him to be their son and where now his forever mom and dad that moved me to sobbing tears. Sitting in a stall at Sonic I cried buckets of beautiful, redemptive tears. My broken, childless heart melted into a puddle of joy. I looked at them and saw a family. I didn’t see foster-care; I didn’t see trauma; I didn’t see an ugly disaster–I saw love, I saw redemption, I saw hope.

I am so blessed that when I looked at Sam that day and said I wanted to commit to fostering to adopt he totally embraced the idea 110%. I think he was patiently waiting for me. The very next day we called the Upbring office to find out how one even gets started fostering to adopt.(Follow this link for a Step by Step Licensing Guide) I actually wanted to call that Sunday on Mother’s Day but they were closed. lol. We attended Upbring’s orientation a few weeks later and I remember sitting, thinking to myself, “What are you doing here? Have you lost your mind?” But in my spirit I felt this steadfast peace that we were doing the right thing. Sam and I got in the car afterwards and we just looked at each other and smiled. Sam started the car and said, “Well, this logically seems like one of the riskiest and craziest things we have ever done, but it feels right.” I couldn’t have agreed more. It did feel crazy, but it just felt perfectly right. So September 2017 we began our three-month journey to obtain our foster care certification. As I write this post, we are one home study approval and one licensing appointment away from our foster to adopt certification! We are hopefully expecting our first placement by the New Year and we cannot be more excited!!!!

I don’t understand God’s plan most of the time. Why does he allow the ones we love to die? And why has he left us childless after so many years? I do know that if Lemon had never come into our life I’m not sure I would have ever had the confidence, courage, or conviction to pursue foster care. I don’t understand why we lost our baby and I don’t expect I ever will, but if my baby left to lay in the arms of Jesus so that I would outstretch my arms and my heart to an unloved, unwanted, neglected child–even if it’s only for a moment–I believe it wasn’t all for nothing. I believe there is still hope. Love is what will make me a mother. And I believe that love is what makes a family.

Maegan

10 Comments

  1. Crystal Kennedy

    Such an amazing story. So excited to see where this adventure takes you and can’t wait for you to be a mommy. ❤️❤️

  2. Karen

    Beautiful story of your journey so far. Can’t wait to read more of your courageous and loving journey with fostering and adoption.

    1. Maegankjohnson

      Thank you so much for reading my blog! I really appreciate your encouragement! I look forward to where this journey is taking Sam and I, and I’m excited about sharing about it. I hope you’re doing well and that you had a wonderful Christmas!

  3. Kelly Dillon

    Your story had me in tears. You have such a way with words. Although our stories are not exact, I wanted to let you know you are not alone. We lost our baby boy at 3 1/2 months gestation in March of 2016. So I understand that pain and all the questions around why. I can’t wait to see the journey God takes you both down as parents. Y’all are going to do an amazing job!! You have lots of love to give. Can’t wait to see what happens next!

    1. Maegankjohnson

      I really appreciate you sharing your story too. That means so so so much to know that I’m not alone. I really believe the devil works so hard to keep us isolated and believing we are alone. There is so much comfort, hope, and healing in knowing we have others walking the road of life together. Thank you for your encouragement!! Prayers for your loss and prayers for God to bless you with Children of your own!!

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