The Power of Community....

I've mentioned several times before that we are the parents of 7 children.  Four are biological children, three are long-term placement foster children, with the occasional "one-night" foster child added in.  My husband and I both work full-time jobs during the week, and he pastors a church as his part-time job, and we have the usual weekly commitments like sports, school programs, practices, church, youth group, piano lessons times seven kids.  Add in the extra foster care "normal" things like case worker home visits, weekly therapies, family services case worker visit, sibling visits, medicine evaluations, as well as the emotional high's and lows with attachment issues, triggers, behaviors, and you pretty much get the picture...We can't do this on our own!  As much as we tried to be the perfect foster parents that have the line of smiling children sitting nicely at church and keep everything straight with who needs what and when, and show all of these kids the love they need every day, it was just absolutely impossible.  I completely understand why the burnout rate for foster parents in the State of Kansas (and really nationally), is only about 10 months and then foster parents quit.  It's hard.  But let me tell you about the power of community.

My husband and I can tell our foster children they are loved.  We can try to show them that every day by taking care of their needs.  We can try to teach them they are valuable and respect their history by coming along side of them in their trauma rather than always pushing a make-over.  We can tell them about the love of a Jesus who treasures them, created them, and has the power of healing.  We can enroll them in every class, activity, therapy, camp, Bible study, and amazing experience possible.  But that is still just two parents telling them these things.  And given the activities I outlined above, that is clearly two worn-out, overwhelmed parents on a lot of days!  But we have a community around us.  We cannot help these sweet, broken children at the level of need they have if we are doing this alone.  We needed a community around us, and thank God that is what He gave us.    

We have some "grandparents" who stepped in to help with our teenagers.  They built a relationship with them.  They take them to lunch at least once a month and find out how they are doing.  They tell our teens they are loved, special, have a Jesus who loves them, created them, and has the power of healing.  They tell our teens they are valuable in their struggle of painful experiences, but they also can do anything in life in their future.  They come to birthday parties, special events, and give them "family" they can proudly point to as grandparents who love them.  We have an "aunt and uncle" who help take kids to therapy appointments, make sure they get to go to camp, help with school clothes shopping, and do all the fun, crazy, energetic things the cool aunt and uncle have time and money to do.  And while they are doing that they show, and tell, our sweet foster kids they are loved, special, have a Jesus who loves them, created them, and has the power of healing.  They tell our kids they are valuable just as they are, but their future is limitless.  Community are those at church who make us meals during really tough times, or on a night where family visits stir up trauma and we get home right at dinner time.  Community are those who helped make our house into a home where foster children could live by helping with handiwork, painting, baby gates, flooring, and more.  Community are those who join foster parents in prayer for the tragedies that occur in these precious children's lives over and over again.  Community shows God's love in every moment, gesture, gift, word, deed, and by just showing up.  Community is a family that has nothing to do with biology.  Community multiplies the love and commitment of just two foster parents to more and more people wrapping around these children who have been so undeservingly damaged, as well as the foster parents who are choosing to immerse themselves in the midst of the brokenness.  Community shows these children they are loved, valuable, and about a Jesus who is relentless for them.

Our God is a God who multiplies.  He multiplies His love and presence in us through His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit.  He multiplies our resources when we give Him all that we have.  In John 6:1-14, five barley loaves and two small fish became enough to feed five thousand, until "they all had enough to eat" (John 6:12).  One person gave what they had, and five thousand had enough.  What could that do in the world of foster care?  What if each person gave what they have, whether that be a meal, becoming a "grandparent" or "aunt" to a foster child, giving clothes, being a prayer warrior, helping make a baby-gate, or becoming a foster parent.  We would see each foster child who is waiting for a family, and those tired, worn out foster parents "all have enough."   And don't forget the impact on the lives of those who are obedient, as they get to see the miracle where their small gift to God brings such hope and healing to those who need it most.  That is the power of community.  It multiplies the love and and presence of a powerful God who has glorious, unlimited resources (Ephesians 3:16) which we cannot even comprehend.  

We are compelled to bring this experience of community here to Kansas through the physical location of Joy Meadows.  In addition, we are grateful to get to work with churches so they can implement the community ministry of foster care in their church and we see multiplication at work in each faith community.   We are looking forward to being further witnesses to the miracle of this movement of God and hope here in Kansas so that "they all have enough." 

May God bless you and call you to the joy of obedience for His children.

Sarah Oberndorfer

 

When there is nothing left to give...

We have been parents to 4 biological children, two of whom had life-threatening vascular anomalies causing strokes, brain disease, brain surgery, hearing-bone implants, facial reconstructive surgeries -- just to name a few.  We have been foster parents for years.  This has included being parents to a homeless teen who wasn't "in the system"; medically fragile preemie twins one of whom had brain damage; a set of siblings in and out of foster care 3 times; teenage siblings who have seen every aspect of foster care over a 5 year period; a "one-night" emergency removed from an abusive foster home who turned into a placement for several months; numerous "one-nights" so they wouldn't sleep in agency office; and a medically fragile newborn we've watched grow up.  We've seen kids go home to biological parents, get adopted by kinship, go through the roller coaster of having parental rights terminated only to be overturned by the court of appeals, moved for reasons that are hard to understand, and more.  After all of these experiences and years of dealing with trauma, I started to think that I can pretty much handle anything.  As though it was my ability and determination that brought me through all of these difficult situations.  I think I really fooled myself into thinking that I am just better suited to handle stress, multi-tasking, heartache, and pain than others.  

And then I suddenly get to a point where there is nothing left.  The trauma, the behaviors, the roller coaster of emotions, the questions of parenting and the effect on biological children, the exhaustion, the worry, the uncertainty of the future for these kids you can't protect, the great need of love and grace by everyone around you while they reject you at the same time, the inability to "fix" brokenness.  It is just too much and there is nothing left in me to give.  That is where I end up when I begin to think for even a second that I am somehow capable or qualified for this life as a foster parent.  There is nothing left.  I'm empty. I'm done.  

"Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.  He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.  He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.  Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint." Isaiah 40:28-31.   

When there is nothing left in me, I am so encouraged by these verses in Isaiah for so many reasons.  First of all, I love the sarcasm of the question, "Do you not know?"  Of course I know that it is God who is the Creator of all things and sustainer of all things!  I just need to trust in that, regardless of the seemingly hopeless situations in my home sometimes.  Second, these verses remind me that it is God alone who gives strength.  "He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom."  He is the source of all strength and power - not me! So when there is nothing left to give, it's because I never had it in the first place!  Only when I am trusting in God as the source of strength and understanding can I love and serve these beautiful, hurting children as He needs me to.  Third, "those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength."  Do you know the beauty of that promise?  The word "renew" literally means "exchange," as in getting a new garment.  So God isn't promising just to fill up my tired, overwhelmed spirit with a little bit more strength like he's patching an old worn-out shirt.  He promises to actually exchange my worn out, overwhelmed tattered strength with His perfect, brand new, endless strength! How comforting to know that we all "grow tired and weary," but it is what we do with that feeling that matters. I'm not a failure as a foster mom, wife, employee, pastor's wife, etc. if I get tired and weary! We all get that way.  But what will I do when I'm at that point and there is nothing left to give? That is what matters. If we "hope in the Lord" God promises that our strength will be renewed, and we will not grow weary or faint.  He promises that we can keep doing the work that He has called us to.  I just have to look to Him and trust in His understanding.  I need to put on the new garment of strength He's offering me every day.  

It's a joy to serve in this challenging, amazing, beautiful life of foster care with so many of you.  I pray you will find the strength and hope offered in these verses as well.  I pray your strength will daily be renewed.  

Sarah Oberndorfer

Siblings matter

I was reminded again tonight that siblings matter.  Hearing the squeals, giggles, and belly laughs from siblings in foster care echo through the restaurant as they have a "sibling visit" gave me a feeling of great joy and sadness simultaneously.  The extreme high's and low's of behavior and emotions were erased for two hours as these siblings were together once again and all is right in their world.  Most siblings in foster care are not placed together.  There simply is not space available in most foster homes to have more than one or two siblings together.  And despite our best efforts as foster parents or agencies to recognize the importance of the sibling bond and create these moments of "visitation," it cannot duplicate the stability of living with the one continual, trusted, meaningful relationship that these children have had in their lives -- the siblings were the family unit.  They are the ones that often clung together and cared for one another when their biological parents could not.  When children come into care, there is a reason to separate them for a time from biological parents who cannot care for them, but the separation of siblings is often nothing more than a logistical necessity with harmful results. 

So many times as a foster parent I have seen the worry, pain, and anxiety of a child when they are separated from their siblings.  It is difficult for them to feel safe and at peace when they cannot see how their siblings are doing on a daily basis.  It often causes defiant behaviors, creates distrust of care givers, and prevents the beginning of healing when they feel their siblings are being withheld from them. We have seen siblings travel for 5 hours round trip for a 1 hour family visit in an agency office, causing children to miss school and all sense of "normalcy" in their life. We have seen children moved from home to home whenever a place becomes available for one or two siblings to be placed together, causing further instability in their foster care placements and preventing the implementation of needed behavioral, emotional and academic supports.   We've heard the prayers at night of children hoping their brothers and sisters are safe, or that they could be together soon. 

It is our goal at Joy Meadows to create homes where siblings can be placed together in one single-family.  And if not within the same home, at a minimum they can be neighbors at Joy Meadows.  Siblings matter.  We need to show these children that we really do believe that and create a way for them to be together.  The laughter, hugs, and hope of being with a brother or sister should happen for more than 2 hours in a fast food restaurant or agency office at a "sibling visit."   

-Sarah Oberndorfer

A "One night" should break our hearts...

We had many opportunities in April to present the vision of Joy Meadows to leaders, agencies, and potential donors.  I am grateful for that.  Leadership of the Department of Children and Families were so encouraging and supportive of getting Joy Meadows started.  It was exciting to be able to verbalize this dream foster care community to the powerful and influential people in Kansas.  In the midst of that, our life as foster parents continued.  We had weekly therapies, sibling visits, trips to agency offices, case worker visits, calls to guardian ad litem, court reports, emails to teachers, doctor's appointments, and the list goes on and on.  And just when you get a little wrapped up in yourself and pat yourself on the back for the good work you are doing....you get smacked in the face with the reality of the "one night" kids and realize there is so much work to be done.  How little we are giving!  How wrapped up we are in our comfort!

My mother's heart was so sad last night. We had one free night from our crazy schedule of 9 people in the house, so we agreed to take a "one night." That is a foster child who doesn't have a permanent home to go to so they bounce from home to home for one night or sleep in an agency office. They arrive at bed time and are picked up early in the morning. A lot of these teens are from hard places, and yes, a little rough sometimes...but they are CHILDREN. I can't even fathom how this child who arrived at our doorstep with nothing but a backpack and bag full of meds doesn't expect anyone to say goodnight, doesn't expect anyone to wash her clothes, give her dinner, and certainly not a hug. It breaks my heart. Every child needs a family. They need someone to notice if they brushed their teeth. They need more than a random bed at night. So for one night we offer a bed, a smile, a shower, and this morning we say good-bye and send this child on to the next 24 hour stranger - praying she is safe and somehow finds a home. We need Joy Meadows now! Praying for our miracle and for all of these sweet kids who are treasures to God, and need to be treated that way in our care of them.

-- Sarah Oberndorfer

Dinner with the Governor...

Tonight my family had the opportunity to meet with Governor Colyer, the First Lady, and DCF Secretary Gina-Meier Hummel.  They hosted a few foster families from across the State at the Governor's mansion.  Their kindness and genuine concern was evident.  They listened to complaints, suggestions, and also shared information.  As a foster parent, it is encouraging to see the solidarity of those in our government, agencies, and foster parents continue to strengthen around our goal of creating a path forward for these almost 7,300 children in foster care.  Tonight I watched my biological children and my teenage foster children observe our leaders sit with humility, respect, and empathy as they listened to the wide array of people and stories before them. What a great thing for these kids to get to witness!  This evening also reminded me that there are many problems with a "system" that is put in place to care for broken and hurting families and children.  But no matter how much we manipulate and re-work that "system" that will never be the solution to healing.  We each need to help carry the burden of the "system" in our State.  A department, agency, policy, or statute cannot solve every problem. These are our children.  We each have a role to play.  We need our government to strive for excellence in this system of child welfare, but we also need to be willing to creatively work out the solution for excellence by giving whatever we can of ourselves.

Thank you for your continued support of Joy Meadows.  We are daily affirmed that this model of foster care families in community is a solution to meet the needs of these children in foster care.  We are prayerfully and diligently moving forward to raise the funding for the purchase of the land and first Joy Meadows home.

-Sarah Oberndorfer

Joy Meadows in the News.

We've had the opportunity to spread the word about Joy Meadows lately!  Thanks to reporter Zac Summers with Fox 4 KC news for reporting on the current needs in the Kansas foster care system and our plan for how Joy Meadows can help.  We are getting the word out that we found the land, home, and a community center to purchase and now we are fundraising so we can move forward to buy it!

 

We also had the opportunity to speak on daytime radio at 98.1 KMBZ to discuss foster care and the huge need for our model at Joy Meadows.  

The 7,200. New t-shirt!

A new t-shirt campaign fundraiser has just launched for Joy Meadows.  This new t-shirt design is made to bring awareness to the 7,200 children in foster care in the State of Kansas.  These children deserve the very best we can give them.  Many of them do not have a foster home to go to. We believe that a child's time in foster care does not need to be just about survival - but is should be a time of healing, hope and joy as they prepare for the next step in their journey, whether that is reunification with their parents or adoption.  Every child deserves a home.  To the 7,200 -- we see you, and Joy Meadows is preparing a home for you. 

Buy a t-shirt, bring awareness, and help us build homes.  Shirts are available for order through March 28t, 2018. 

 

https://www.customink.com/fundraising/joy-meadows

 

 

We found a home!

We have been searching for a perfect location for Joy Meadows and we finally found a place for Joy Meadows to call home.  We found a tract of land within the Basehor community that has over 50 acres, a large house, a multi-purpose building and office on site.  This means that we could be up and running with one large foster home right away while we start building the others!  The multi-purpose building could immediately be put to use to provide activities for foster children and host community activities.  Now all we need to do is raise the funds to move forward with the purchase! 

In the coming days we will provide new ways to give your financial support to our community: (1) become a monthly donor; (2) become a business/corporate sponsor; (3) a new t-shirt campaign will launch mid-March; and (4) schedule a date to have a Joy Meadows rep to speak to your organization for fundraising.  We can't wait to give you more info about this great opportunity for Joy Meadows!

Recent news has highlighted the 7,200 children in foster care in Kansas, and the limited 2,700 foster homes to care for them.  We have "homeless foster children" in our state.  At a basic level, a primary purpose of Joy Meadows is to provide more beds for children in foster care.  However, at Joy Meadows we don't want children to just survive foster care -- we want to give them a way to hope and healing as they move forward on their journey to reunification with their parents, or adoption.  We believe joy can be found in this journey, and we must provide our very best for these children.