Unsung Hereos: A Foster Family Feature Series, The Paxson's, Maegan Johnson's Blog, Foster Care, Foster Families, Foster Love

Unsung Heroes: The Paxson’s

Unsung Hereos: A Foster Family Feature Series, The Paxson's, Maegan Johnson's Blog, Foster Care, Foster Families, Foster LoveToday is the first feature in a four week series I am hosting called Unsung Heroes. Each Monday I am featuring a foster mom and her family that has stood out for her devotion, dedication, and advocacy for all foster children. These women and their families are the Robin Hoods, the Dark Nights of our time–average people like you and me daring to change the world. I interviewed each foster mom about the ins and outs of foster care from the most commonly asked questions to the most sensitive. I’m confident that you’ll not only be inspired by each woman but may have some of your own questions answered and possibly leave with a new perspective!

Unsung Hereos: A Foster Family Feature Series, The Paxson's, Maegan Johnson's Blog, Foster Care, Foster Families, Foster LoveOur first feature family is Chelsey and Ty Paxson a sweet couple from Boerne, Texas. They are first time foster parents who decided to start their family through foster care. Chelsey works in investments and her husband Ty is an electrician by day and races his cars in his spare time. They enjoy traveling, finding great new restaurants, rodeos. Chelsey and Ty are first time foster parents to a sweet two month old baby girl who goes by Baby L.

Maegan: Chelsey, I am so honored to have you as my first feature family. Let’s jump right in: What made you and Ty decide foster care was for your family?

Chelsey: My dad was adopted, and my husband’s mom worked for an adoption agency most of his life, so adoption has always been part of our lives. We always say that we are so blessed with wonderful friends and family and wanted to share our blessings with children who might night have been so fortunate. With so many children in need, we wanted to make a difference in one of their lives before we created a new life.

Maegan: Timing is a topic that always comes up in foster care. When did y’all know it was ‘time’?

Chelsey: My husband and I have both had baby fever many times in our marriage, but every time we prayed about starting our family we felt like God shut that door for us and took the desire away. One day we prayed about starting our family through foster care and we felt that he immediately answered our prayers that it was time, so we pushed forward full steam ahead.

Unsung Hereos: A Foster Family Feature Series, The Paxson's, Maegan Johnson's Blog, Foster Care, Foster Families, Foster LoveMaegan: In your opinion, what is the greatest challenge as a foster parent?

Chelsey: Knowing that your heart is going to get broken. We really want to adopt a child so we know that our hearts are going to break if/when the child returns to family, or if we get to adopt the child we know our hearts are going to break for them and their family that the situation didn’t work out for their family to be together. These children deserve for their families to fight for them. If we win and get to adopt, it means someone else has to lose.

Maegan: I have a lot of people ask for advice. What advice would you give to someone considering becoming a foster parent?

Chelsey: Do your research and find the right agency. Even if you have a great support system and resources fostering is difficult, you don’t need to add to the challenges with an agency whose main focus isn’t the children and Jesus.

Maegan: If you could give one piece of advice to a new foster parent what would it be?

Chelsey: Don’t worry about what the world expects of you. You obviously have felt called by the Lord to help these children and lean into Him more than ever.

Unsung Hereos: A Foster Family Feature Series, The Paxson's, Maegan Johnson's Blog, Foster Care, Foster Families, Foster LoveMaegan: What is your goal as a foster parent?

Chelsey: To love these children as Christ loves us. I want them to never doubt the love we have for them and that they have a safe and healthy place to stay.

Maegan: Fostering is not sustainable lifestyle and it’s important to have a plan before beginning. Does your family have a set of goals or a specific end date?

Chelsey: Once we adopt we would probably take a break and focus on trying to have a biological child and raising our family. Once our children are a little older we would like to foster again and help as many children as we can.

Maegan: What in your opinion is the best thing about being a foster parent?

Chelsey: Getting to love on these children.

Maegan: Attachment to a foster child is one of, if not the biggest, concern most non-foster parents have about becoming a foster parent themselves. What are your thoughts on attachment?

Chelsey: Not having someone attach to them is detrimental to these children’s development. Getting attached to them is actually the best thing you can do for them.

Unsung Hereos: A Foster Family Feature Series, The Paxson's, Maegan Johnson's Blog, Foster Care, Foster Families, Foster LoveMaegan: Why are you passionate about foster care?

Chelsey: I sound like a broken record, but these children deserve families.

Maegan: If you could only use three words to describe the certification process, what would they be? Why those words?

Chelsey: Paperwork, Invasive, Worthwhile

  • Paperwork – because there is a ton
  • Invasive – because they get all up in your business
  • Worthwhile – because even though it’s a lot of paperwork and it’s invasive, I would do it over and over again if it meant I got to have this time with Baby L.

Maegan: There is a great need for foster parents all across America. Could you list some of the statistics for your area?

Chelsey:

  • 8 children get removed from their homes every night in San Antonio
  • Almost half of the children in foster care will need to find new forever families
  • 80% of children are removed due to neglect
  • After the age of 6 a child only has a 5% chance of being adopted

Unsung Hereos: A Foster Family Feature Series, The Paxson's, Maegan Johnson's Blog, Foster Care, Foster Families, Foster LoveMaegan: Thank you so Chelsey for letting me interview you today. And thank you so very much for all the hard work you and Ty do as a foster parents. And thank you for being a shining light to all foster children.

I hoped you enjoyed hearing from Chelsey and that you learned something new today. Please leave her some love here in the comments and Instagram— Foster parents need lots of encouragement and support! If you personally know Chelsey and Ty I’m asking that you to support them with your hands this week. Call and ask when you can come over and do some laundry and/or wash some dishes or bring them dinner. Don’t call and ask what you can do–call and say your coming over to help or bring a meal. And then pray for them! It takes a community to foster–it takes lots of help. So, show Ty and Chelsey how much you appreciate all they do by lending a helping hand. Have a great week everyone!

Maegan — xx

Westbrook Family Visit

My parents came to visit last weekend and it was heavenly! I haven’t seen them in months and months and I was so glad they were finally able to meet “E”–as my mom calls her. We had the best time and they fell in love with Baby E! They brought her a chocolate Easter bunny that was almost as big as her, clothes, and the cutest little books! It was just a perfect visit! E recognized my mom’s voice as soon as they arrived!–she Facetimes with E and I quite a bit! That was so special to me that she recognized my mom’s voice. My heart was so full for E because she has been touched and handled by so many people for her whole life that it is really important that she has people she can anchor to besides myself and Sam. Like every child, she needs to know she has family who loves her and who she can recognize–even though, for now, we are her foster family. It is always such a range of emotions for me when E meets a family member for the first time. I’m excited for her to meet them but, at the same time, I worry it will be overwhelming for her and cause her to have a meltdown after they leave. I want her to know she has so many people who love her outside her foster care experience but I also want her to not be inundated with new people. Thankfully with both sides of our family she has been so comfortable! She laughs and plays and loves being with our families–and she has never had a meltdown during or after.On Saturday the weather was beautiful! We sat outside and enjoyed the beautiful weather by the pool, ate some Fuzzy’s Tacos, bounced the Baby and generally had the greatest time. Baby E loves being outside and I am so so happy because as the weather gets warmer we will definitely be spending more and more time out of doors! For me, the experience as a daughter and mother was really special because I get to see my foster child bond with my parents and my parents with her. This is my parents first grandchild too and that made it even more special. It is such an interesting experience to watch my parents from the perspective of parent and child. I understand now how important it is to have children because the experience makes you a more rounded person. It grows and matures you and your perspective on life in its entirety changes, and in a lot of ways becomes more realistic. A lot of things I believed were so important before we began fostering are not important as I believed them to be–and some of those things no longer matter at all.My Pop(my mom’s dad) also got to meet Baby E for the first time too! It was so sweet to see her so comfortable with him. Pop was all about her. It was adorable. Also, isn’t the family resemblance in the photo above striking? The Walker genes run strong! I took so many more pictures than I’m showing here but most of them have E’s face so I can’t show those. Boo! But seriously, it was so good to see my parents and for them to spend time with E. They are so attached to her that I think it will be just as hard on them if she is returned to her bio parent as it will be on us. I hope they get to visit again soon!

I am so proud of our families for embracing this sweet child like she was Sam and I’s biological child. So. Proud. So, so, proud. Not every foster family can boast that and I don’t take it for granted. She really does have two big families who love her so much. I don’t know many foster parents who can boast that! We are truly blessed!

Maegan

Over the Weekend

As Baby E has gotten a little bit older we’ve been able to get out and about a bit more, though with it being flu season we are extra careful and we don’t get her out of the car seat while we are out if it can be helped. This was our first big weekend to venture out of the house together as a family and we had quite a bit of fun. On Saturday we decided to have an impromptu lunch at Five Guys, which as some of you may know is a lot easier to manage when you have another set of hands to help you out. I tried to get Sam to take a few pictures for me and with me at Five Guys but all I got was his hungry face–and I was really hungry too–so this was as good as it got.I had my hamburger bun-less for the first time here and it was really good. Some places you go and get a bun-less burger and its a soggy mess but this burger still had a crisp bite to its lettuce and the burger was nice and hot! It was good all around!

Once we finished eating we decided that since we were out we should take advantage and run a few errands but we only made it to the Target parking lot before Baby E got hungry and we had to feed her in the backseat. We have been having a lot of back seat feedings and I am curious if this is the plight of a lot of first time moms. To me it makes more sense to feed them where you are then to force yourself to go home just so they can eat–and scream all the way there mind you.Once we were done with errands Sam and I thought a sweet treat might be nice so we drove to Sprinkles! Oh my sweet sugar overload. I LOVE Sprinkles! I particularly like their Salted Corn Flake Cookie Sundae with Captain Crunch ice cream. You guys, it’s drool worthy. My mouth is salivating just writing about it. So we drove to Sprinkles and split my favorite cookie sundae and it was scrumptious! Poor Baby E did not get to have any.

Sam was such a good Sport and let me take his picture. There are no pictures of me because I looked like a hot mess but as we get more and more used to our routine I’ll be able to better prepare myself for impromptu outings.Then on Sunday, Baby E attended her very first Sunday morning church service! I am so mad at myself because we forgot to ask someone to take our picture! We had so many people stop us and want to meet Baby E and express their excitement over her. She has so many people who love her and are praying for her–it is so humbling. I did manage to snap a picture outside before we got home. We also had out first Sunday after church lunch with some friends from church. Did I get a picture of that either? No. We also attended Sunday evening services and then went to dinner afterwards with more church friends. Sunday was a very full and joyous day. I’m so sad I didn’t get more picture taken but I know I will have those moments in my memory forever. I just wish I had more photos for Baby E’s scrapbook. Whatever God’s plans are for her I always want her to have good memories of her infant-hood to look back on.

In the next few days Baby E will be one month old! It’s so hard to believe! I look forward to sharing her milestone pictures here on the blog as best I can!

Maegan

From Orientation to Licensing—The Complete Step by Step Guide to Becoming a Foster Parent

acs_0004Since Sam and I have started this journey I have had so many people say to me, “I’ve always wanted to become a foster parent but I have no idea how to get started. What do you have to do to become a foster parent or foster to adopt?” Well, if you’ve ever had that question I’m answering it for you today. This is a lengthy post and for good reason. I go into detail about each step of the process and include tips and tricks Sam and I learned along the way. I want to note to that we are licensed in the state of Texas so if you live in another state some of these steps and protocols might look different for you but the basic bones of the process are the same. Ok, here we go!

First things first:

Choose an Agency

You need to choose an agency. You don’t have to use an agency but I’m NEVER going to suggest you try to go it alone. Fostering through an agency is an INFINITELY better experience for you and your placement. Why is an agency so important? The agency trains you for free (that CPR class you need would run you $200 and up if you were going it alone. And that’s just one of many many certifications you will have to have in order to be licensed.) An agency prepares you for every inspection and the home study and helps walk you through the certification process. But that’s not why fostering with an agency is so important. No, the most important part comes AFTER certification when you actually have a placement. They are your guide and liaison between you, CPS, the State, and the child’s bio family. They are your support people. If you have any issue, you vent to them and not CPS, or your CASA volunteer, or the child’s therapist, or a random stranger, or the internet(Ah-hem). They are there to support you and help guide you through court appointments, placement paperwork(that initial placement comes with over two hours of paperwork with CPS)–I could go on and on and on. Fostering through an agency is very important to the success of you and your placement’s experience. If you know someone who is currently fostering, ask them who their agency is. (We are with Upbring the largest agency in Texas) If you don’t know any foster families, Google: (Insert your city name here) Foster Agencies”. This will pull up all the agencies in your area. Go to their websites and and find out when their next orientation is. If it’s not listed on their website, call and ask!

Attend Orientations

Do your research about each agency and then attend their orientation. The following suggestions are personal preference of course, but there are some main factors I would never overlook such as; Does this agency like to follow ALL the rules? Do they expect you as the potential foster parent to follow the rules? Do they have strict guidelines and standards for certification qualification? Are they adamant about supporting their families? (In-depth blog post coming on this soon) Do they have a good relationship with CPS? Do they require you to have all the state mandated equipment in your home BEFORE an environmental inspection, BEFORE your home-study, and BEFORE your first placement? What’s their attitude towards the State? What is their motivation as an Agency? What are their spiritual beliefs? Obviously, you will want to spend a lot of time praying about this decision. Orientation is also a good time to talk to other people who are fostering with that agency. What is their attitude towards their agency? If you hear things like, “our previous agency never expected us to comply with “x” but your agency does?” multiple time from different people with different agencies you’re probably in the right place. A good agency will expect you to follow ALL the rules–and boy are there a lot of them.

Pray about it some more

 

Sign Up for Training

After you choose an agency you will receive a schedule of their next round of foster care training. Your agency will give you the schedule of when all your classes will be and you will be responsible for signing up for them in advance. Our agency didn’t offer all the trainings every month so knowing your schedule and keeping track of what trainings you’ve completed is important. With Upbring a person has three months to complete their trainings and receive their certification or they have to start the entire process over again. So look 3 months ahead in your calendar and decide if the next training round will be a good time for you, and know that soon beyond that point you will be receiving a placement upon receiving your license.

Fill Out the Preliminary Paperwork

At this point you will have some preliminary paperwork that you will need to fill out and submit before you begin training. This paperwork is pretty basic(and not scary)and it’s purpose is to determine whether you are a good candidate for going on to training. These factors are very practical factors like your Name, address, date of birth, etc. They are also going to ask to see your finances and tax records to determine whether you can you financially afford to take on another child or children. They are going to do background checks to see if you have gone to jail for murdering anyone or for abusing/molesting children(good things to look into I think); etc. They will complete a regular background check on you and then an FBI background check(we had to pay for our FBI background check). These processes are not about failing you, but about making sure the children’s best interest is ALWAYS put first. Should the government trust you to take care of the children in their custody? Are you realistically capable of taking on this commitment? These are all responsible, necessary questions your agency should be asking you because CPS and the State of Texas is going to ask them.

Training Begins

Print out your training schedule and put it up where everyone in the family can see it. Put in in your planner, and phone, and on your calendar. Hold on to your hats. Training is rigorous and emotional and mentally exhausting. It’s not that it’s too hard to understand–it’s just a very large amount of information at once. Be prepared to discuss, hear, see, and listen to difficult and upsetting topics and scenarios. There is a reason why foster care exists–and it’s ugly. That’s why children in foster care NEED good, loving, families to take refuge in. There’s a very valid reason.

Keep praying

Take your training in order. Trust me.

Pray some more–your getting in good practice for when you actually have that child or children come into your family

 

The Mountain of Paperwork

Your training will guide through the entire process including the paperwork you need to fill out. I can’t speak for other agencies but Upbring had our paperwork broken into phases so as you complete certain training you turn in the paperwork designated for that phase. This is why it’s important to take your classes in order! Sam and I took our classes out of order and that made keeping up with submitted paperwork much more difficult. During this time you will have some paperwork in your folder that is specifically for your references to fill out and mail in. As soon as you get your paperwork be thinking about who you would like to be your references. There are specific groups of people your agency wants to hear from including; clergy(or a boss), a family member, a friend, and a coworker. You will also be responsible for asking close friends or family to become certified babysitters and respite. Start this process as soon as you begin training because your babysitters and respite will all be required to have CPR/First Aid training and, regular and FBI background checks, plus the appropriate paperwork and government ID submitted. This can take a while to get all completed so don’t put this of until the last minute. You MUST have babysitters certified before you can be licensed so don’t put it off. It’s also rude and unkind to wait until the last minute. Offer to pay for your baby sitter and respite FBI background checks. This is the least you can do for all the hoops they are about to jump through for you. Your respite people will be required to complete all the requirements for your babysitters plus half of all the trainings you will take. Be gracious and kind to your babysitters and respite people. You will also be asked to submit photos of every room in your house plus pictures of yourself and all your family. These go in your file and are part of what your agency and CPS will look at when determining the best family for each child who enters the foster system needing a home.

You still praying? I bet your becoming a pro at it by now.

 

The Inevitable Doubt

I wanted to add this section because throughout our entire certification process Sam and I had plenty of doubts about becoming certified. This is completely normal. I would never want anyone to ever think that Sam and I just breezed through this LIFE ALTERING proccess without our fair share of doubts. Doubts mean you’re understanding and considering with seriousness the commitment you’re about to make. It also means you care. Just keep praying and be brave!

Complete Your Inspections

This the final phase of the training process. This includes all your inspections like the Fire Marshal, environmental, and(the not to be dreaded)home study. If you have a good agency then they will have held your hand and prepped you extensively and you should have no surprises or failed inspections. Both the fire marshal and environmental inspection checklists came in our paperwork and we knew exactly what each inspection would require of our home. There are no surprises here. They simply check the boxes on the check list and your done.

The Home Study

This is the most over hyped, demonized, horror storied part of the entire certification process. The home study is the final inspection you will complete and it’s not scary at all. Since you’ve had a fire marshal inspection and an environmental inspection(our agency pre-inspected our house to make double sure our environmental inspection would pass with flying colors) you will be extremely prepared for that portion of the home-study. If you’re with a good agency they will already have asked you a dozen times all the questions and topics that will be asked in your home study inspection. Have you lied about something from the beginning? Are you hiding something you don’t want anyone to know? Have you done something bad and are covering it up? if the answer to any of the question is ‘yes’ then you should be very worried about your home-study and I would just go ahead and tell you not to bother trying to get certified to foster–we don’t need your kind here. If you answered ‘no’ to all those questions then you don’t have anything to fear. When you decided to become a foster parent I hope you came into this with the right mindset; that mindset being that the government was going to go through every part of your life with a fine tooth comb. They are not going to bust down the doors of your life like a SWAT team, but they are going to find out all they can about you because–this whole process is not about you. This process is about the children and making sure their wellbeing is ALWAYS the first priority. I think most people’s aversion to the whole idea of foster care is because they have some skeleton in their closet they don’t want anyone knowing about–even if that skeleton is harmless. Embrace the home-study.

The Final Leg

Once your homestudy has been conducted you wait for it to be submitted to your agency, looked at, and filed into the system. It’s written by hand so it could take several weeks for your home study to be submitted. Now is the time to do bust out the confetti canon and celebrate the fact you made it to the end! Have fun and don’t sit around waiting to hear from your agency because you will drive yourself crazy. Celebrate all that you have accomplished!

Licensing Appointment

Your agency will call or email you that you have passed your inspection and schedule your licensing appointment. At this appointment you sign the final paperwork and file for your foster care licencing number. We received a giant binder full of pertinent paperwork our signed license, and other important information. You also go over all the burning questions you might have been itching to ask but just haven’t been relevant like; how does wic work, how long does it take to receive my placements Medicare number, how do I take them for their initial dr visits without their Medicare number, etc. You also get to meet your agency “case worker” who is assigned to you and is the person who works with you on every single one of your placements. It takes a couple of days for your liscnesing number to come back and be “live” in the system so again go and celebrate and have fun.

IT’S OFFICIAL YOU’RE FOSTER PARENTS IN WATING FOR A PLACEMENT

Once your licensing number is live in the system your family will be placed on the CPS vacancy list and now you are OFFICIALLY licensed foster parents. Once your family is live you will wait to be matched to a child who has come into the system via CPS. Your agency will call you as soon as they have a placement that needs you. For us, waiting for our first placement call was the most nerve wracking part so definitely fill up your calendar with things to keep yourself busy!

You made it all the way to the end of this blog post! Whew. That is pretty much the process in it’s entirety. Please remember that each agency and each state is different so a few of these processes and procedures might vary but overall the process will most likely be the same. I hope you are more educated and confident about how to start and complete the foster-care certification process. Please comment bellow with all your questions! I know there are bound to be a few!

Maegan

 

UP NEXT:

The Dreaded Home Study: It’s Nothing to Dread

Waiting

So, it’s been six days since we were placed on the vacancy list with our foster-care agency and we are still waiting on that phone call. Seriously. When we found out Thursday that we were officially on the vacancy list I freaked out a little and cried. I think it was just my being completely overwhelmed with the whole situation and also overjoyed at finally reaching a huge milestone after everything we have been through. It was a ‘nervous–cited’ cry. lol.

The next couple of days were the worst because every time the phone rang or pinged or chimed we both jumped like two feet. I’ve been constantly glued to my phone because I’m the contact person and I’ve been so worried I will miss that very important phone call. It’s important because if we don’t answer they immediately hangup and call the next family on the list. These kids need home like yesterday and they don’t have the luxury of waiting for you to call them back. After those first couple of days we have kind of gotten into a rhythm of keeping busy and waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. We are getting good practice at patience.

While we are waiting I thought I would kind of introduce our placement and answer some questions about what we do know about them. I shared our story here but I haven’t shared what we do know about our future placement.

These are some of the most frequent questions we get asked when people find out we are fostering to adopt:

How many children will you be fostering? 

One child at a time

What age will they be?

Newborn to Eighteen Months

Will you know the gender?

No.

Do you know what ethnicity the child will be?*

No.

*Sam and I honestly had no preferences about race or gender and that worked out great for us because specifying either of those in the state of Texas is not an option for infants.

Will the child have his clothes and toys from home?

No. Most children, if not all, come into foster care with nothing but the clothes they have on–and in our case that might be a diaper and nothing else. No clothes, toys, memorabilia, diapers, formula, wipes, bottles, pacifiers, blankets, car seats, bouncers, strollers, swaddles, nothing. none, zip, zero. They might have never had any of the things on this short list of items.

Will you know a lot about the child’s past, bio parents, family?

No. We will probably know very little about the child when they first come to us. A name, an estimated age, gender, race–that’s probably it since they will be so young and there’s nothing to add like what grade they are in, their favorite school subject, things like that. Bio parents information and the child’s past situation is not something by law we can know much about. And what we do know we cannot share with anyone because it’s against the law and violates the parent’s and child’s rights of privacy.

Will you be able to adopt your first placement?

There is no guarantee we will be able to adopt any placement we receive. It just depends on how everything plays out and that will take a while to figure out. It’s all in God’s hands.

How long will you have your first placement?

We don’t know. Maybe a couple of weeks? Maybe a few months or a year? Maybe forever! Each placement’s situation is unique and completely unpredictable. We will trust God and cherish each day we get to love and cuddle and spoil them.

Will they be adorable, perfect, squeezable, and basically the best baby ever?

YES! YES! YES! AND OF COURSE!!!!!! This we do know for sure!

I do want to touch on how the age and gender of placements is decided for each family because I think it’s pertinent. A lot of people think you get to choose the age/number/gender of children when you become licensed foster parents but this is an ignorant misconception–one that often sets people who desire to be foster parents up for disappointment. In almost every case you do not get to choose what age of child or gender of child you will be able to foster. There are actually several key factors and a complicated mathematical equation that determines those specifics. And those specifics are set in place by the State. Factors like available space in your home, number of licensed foster parents in the home, number of biological children in the home–their age and gender, foster parents working/not working or working from home, and what county a person lives in all play a role in what age and gender of children you will be eligible to foster.

For instance, because Sam and I live in a one bedroom town-home we can only legally foster children that can sleep in our bedroom. The state of Texas says that children who can sleep in our bedroom must be 3 and under. Because the foster and adoption process can take a year a to a year and half or longer to complete that means the child can be no more than eighteen months at the time of placement with us before they age out of our room. I stay at home full-time, we have no  biological children, and we also happen to live in a county that has an urgent need for EVERY age group. Because of these factors we happened to be good candidates to foster infants.

That’s the latest update and a little about our expected first placement. Please pray for us to have patience as we wait for that special phone call. We appreciate prayers so much!!

Maegan

Our Road to Foster Care

Lemon Scottie Foster Care Journey Maegan Johnson 7*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.

Lemon Scottie Foster Care Journey Maegan Johnson 2

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.

Zeus Schnauzer Foster Care Journey Maegan Johnson 1

Zeus Schnauzer Foster Care Journey Maegan Johnson 4

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Love Makes a Family: We are Foster Parents

Sam Johnson Maegan Johnson Foster Care AnnouncementSam and I are so excited to announce that we have decided to grow our family by fostering to adopt!! Y’all we could not be more excited! We will be fostering a single child between the ages of newborn and one year and are so eager to meet them! We are hoping for a placement before Christmas but definitely expect a placement before the New Year! Our end goal is to adopt, but we will also value each precious moment we will get to love and cherish the children who just need us for a short while.

We are so beyond excited–and a little nervous–to start this journey together as a family. After many years of infertility we are excited about pursuing this path to parenthood. Sam and I have really became passionate about adoption and foster care not only because we feel it’s the best option for us to grow our family but also because of how important adoption and foster are to Jesus.

November is also National Adoption Month and all the local courthouses in The DFW metroplex this month will be having huge parties for all families finalizing their adoptions this month.

There are so many ways to get involved in helping children in the foster system and if you are interested in becoming a foster parent start researching agencies. Find out who they are and the services they provide. You can also find their next orientation dates on their website. We NEED good families like YOU to become foster families!

Agencies also need monetary donors. Donor’s play a special role in foster children’s lives especially those with special needs. Your donations could help a child receive specialized therapy that they could not afford otherwise.

If you or your family are considering foster care or volunteering your time I encourage you to prayerfully consider this opportunity and don’t leave your research strictly to the internet. Meet real famlies who foster, go to orientations at several agencies(they are NOT, I repeat, NOT created equal) and make your own educated decision about what is right for you and your family.

Sam and Maegan Johnson