Our crew

Our crew

Thursday, November 17, 2016

The whole story

I know it's been QUITE some time since I posted here.  There is so much privacy surrounding the foster care system that I didn't feel I could share enough without sharing too much.  But now, on the other side of things, I can share OUR story.  Our son's story.  Though he will always be who he is and will always know where he came from, his future is entirely changed.  He is our son, but more importantly, he belongs to Christ.
Here he is at just a couple of weeks old.  I photographed him in our family's baptism gown even though we didn't know if he would eventually be a Shipp or not.  But all of my children have worn this gown and I wanted that for him if he was in fact going to be a Shipp.

We also got to put him in the baptism gown that belonged to my great grandmother, who was also adopted.  So here he is in his great-great-grandmother's baptism gown.

Here is the story I wrote up to keep for him, along with the continuation I finished up today. Some of this will be recap on the blog, but I wanted to share the whole thing.

We always knew we wanted to adopt.  We always thought that something would just “fall in our lap.” One of my great grandmothers was left in a basket on a doorstep. We didn’t think we would start the process until after our biological kids were much older, but in the summer of 2013 we decided to go in that direction.  We went to our first meeting at Buckner International in October of 2013 and were licensed to do straight adoption through CPS waiting Texas children.  We were licensed to adopt as many as three, which would give us 8 total in our home.  We submitted our homestudy on numerous sibling groups but were never chosen or matched.  

In early November of 2014, a young homeless couple showed up at our church.  That Sunday my husband was teaching Sunday school for the first time.  It was “Orphan Sunday” and he was teaching on the responsibility of Christians to care for orphans.  After Sunday school, this couple came up to us and introduced themselves.  They told us they had two girls in foster care in different homes.  They had heard from someone else at church that we were licensed to adopt, so they told us they thought maybe we could get their girls and adopt them and then in a few years when they “get back on our feet”, they could take the girls back.  We immediately thought that they didn’t know what adoption meant!  They also told us they were expecting.

The next month, my husband took a job working in NM 3 weeks a month and we found out we were expecting.  We decided to put adoption plans on the back burner but to keep our license up so we wouldn’t have to go through all the training classes again.  I also started mentoring the young mother.  Our church helped the couple with housing, a vehicle, jobs, and food.  I drove her to many doctors appointments, food banks, and more.  I developed a good relationship with them, but especially with her.  She was very open with me and we talked often.  I got more and more comfortable and learned much from her.  Her stories exposed me to many things and experiences I never dreamed of.  (These details are in another note.)  Folks from church also helped with a wedding and the couple was married January 3rd, 2014.

Her baby was due in March.  Between November and March, they had lived in 5 different places including living with various friends.  The father had acquired and lost 6 jobs.  I maintained a relationship with them.  Their parental rights had been terminated on their daughter in December.  Mom had another older daughter that was not in CPS custody but was living with family of the father.  She had no contact with them.  On more than one occasion she and I had conversations about her girls and she expressed her desire to get her girls back.  CPS had told her she would not be getting the middle daughter back.  Their parental rights were terminated and case was closed.  She still didn’t seem to get it.  At one point she asked me if I thought she would ever get her back.  As hard as it was, I had to tell her “no.”  We shed tears together.  I hurt for her.  During this conversation she also asked me if I thought CPS would get involved again when this baby was born.  I told her I expected they would.  She asked if I would be there with her at the hospital when he was born and if CPS came if I would be there to help her understand what they told her.  She also asked if CPS decided to remove him, if we would take him.  I told her we would talk and pray about it.  We both cried.

We did talk and pray about it extensively.  I knew that if it came to it, we were their best chance at getting him back.  We could continue to offer support.  The church could help them and encourage them.  They could get and stay clean.  We could surround them with love and prayer.  Despite my husband being gone so much, me being pregnant, and having 5 kids already, we decided that we would say “yes” if the call came.  On one Sunday after telling her we would foster him if needed, she commented to me casually in the lunch line that she liked knowing that if she couldn’t have her son that we would and that we would raise him the right way and love him and discipline him like our own.  I couldn’t imagine saying such a thing.  

After several false alarms, I finally got a call from her telling me her water had broken.  She was in labor and headed to the hospital.  She asked me to meet her there.  On Tuesday, March 17, 2015, a healthy baby boy was born via c-section.  He was 6 lbs 9 oz and 18” long.  He spent his first 8 hours in the nursery.  Mom never asked for him but asked frequently if she could go down and smoke a cigarette. She was in lots of pain from the surgery and asking for pain meds.  But she wanted a cigarette more than her baby.  He was precious and perfect.  He looked like his daddy.  I took pictures.  I was the third person to hold the little tiny bundle and I spent a lot of time holding and snuggling and kissing on him.  I was there all day while my mother-in-law was at home with my kids.

The next morning CPS showed up.  Mom texted me and asked me to come now.  I was already in the parking lot.  I went up and the investigator was there.  I asked mom if she wanted me to come in and she said yes. She was a nervous wreck.  The investigator asked lots of questions and I listened as mom answered and lied about many of them.  Dad wasn’t there and I was afraid he would fly off the handle when he got there.  The investigator asked mom if she had someone, family or friend, that could take him if CPS determined he could not go home with them.  She named me.  I spoke with the investigator outside of the room afterward.  Then my dad, the pastor, showed up coincidentally and spoke with her as well.  Then the dad showed up.  He actually stayed calm and answered the investigators questions.  Both parents thought she was satisfied and that baby boy would be going home with them.

I went home again that night.  My husband and I were prepared for the possibility of bringing another baby home soon.  My dad called and told me his concerns about the potential of having a foster baby, especially this foster baby with all the complications of knowing the birth parents.  He also told me that he knew, as crazy as it all was, that if anyone could handle it, I was it.  We of course prayed more

On Thursday morning I called mom to see if she wanted me back at the hospital.  She said she did so I went.  She had not had the baby in her room all night.  She said she had too much anxiety and needed something for it and needed a cigarette and more pain meds.  The CPS investigator came back with an armed guard to tell them that baby boy would not be going home with them.  After she left the room, I stepped out to give them a moment with each other to process and grieve.  The investigator told me they weren’t sure yet if baby would be going with me.  They had to talk to the family that had his sister first.  I left to go get a bite to eat with a friend.

While I was at lunch, I got the call.  Baby boy was coming to my house within a couple of hours.  I called mom to let her know and I told her that this would immediately change my relationship with her.  I would have to limit contact with her.  He was now my priority.  I would be loving and helping her by loving and caring for her son.  She thanked me.  So did dad.

I went home to get ready and my mother in law ran to the store for diapers.  He was brought to my house shortly after that, we signed all the papers, and we were officially foster parents.  My parents came within the hour with a baby gift.  My dad said to all of us that as long as this baby is with us he would be treated 100% like family.  No matter how long he would be with us he would get all the benefits of being in our family.  My husband hadn’t even met him yet and wouldn’t for two more weeks.  He called my father in law to let him know.  My father in law agreed that we had done exactly what needed to be done.

They came to the first court hearing.  CPS stated that they wanted to go straight to termination based on the previous case and the parents lack of improvement since that short time ago.  The judge denied that request and required CPS to give them a service plan.  At the initial staffing meeting at CPS the parents did not come.  I was present.  The service plan was laid out for the parents to have consistent employment and housing for six months, to stay off drugs and out of jail, to do parenting classes and psychological evaluations.  The primary goal listed was for “non relative adoption” and the concurrent goal was reunification.

Over the next couple of weeks baby boy had weekly visits with his parents at the CPS office and on Sundays at church we would go in the office and have a short visit that I supervised.  It was a bit awkward but they were always friendly.  When he was about 3 weeks old the parents failed their drug tests and visits were suspended by CPS.  They were no longer allowed to have contact with him, even at church. They continued to come on and off but couldn’t hold him.  On Mother’s Day they showed up again and informed us that their daughter had been adopted.  Then they disappeared.  

I enjoyed all the new baby snuggles and baby boy slept constantly.  He never cried.  Our baby girl was born on June 7th.  She was baptized on Father’s Day.  That day his birth parents were at church again.  They asked to hold him but we told them we had to follow CPS rules.  We did get a picture of him beside them.  After that they disappeared again.  That was the last time we saw birth dad.  I don’t know if we will ever see him again.

After a month or so I heard from mom again.  They were in Louisiana but wouldn’t tell us where.  They didn’t come to court.  Mom would contact me periodically.  I would send pictures and tell her how he was doing and what new “tricks” he was learning.  She assured me that they were “working hard.”  At one point she asked me if I was disappointed in her and I told her “yes.  You left your son.”  She always thanked me for loving him and taking care of him.
Several months went by without contact.  Then suddenly, on Halloween, I got a facebook request and message from her.  I seriously debated accepting the request but decided to do so on a limited basis.  I could see what she posted and send messages back and forth, but I could hide most of my posts from her.  They had moved to Colorado.  They were “working hard”.  At this point they both told me that they realized the best thing for baby boy was for us to adopt him  I had several very good conversations with mom on the phone and once with dad.  They both thanked me profusely for loving and caring for their son.  They told me they knew he has a future with us and that they couldn’t provide for him.  I asked them if they intended to relinquish their rights and they said yes.  They were going to get a P.O. Box and get the papers signed.

More time went by with nothing.  They told me they had contacted their court appointed attorneys and informed them of their desire to relinquish their rights and for us to adopt.  They never signed papers.  I didn’t hear from her after mid December.  I was worried about her.  Homeless, cold, and for all I knew, missing.  Or worse.

The Sunday after Christmas, I stayed home from church with a sick kid.  I never miss church.  That morning I got a text from my dad letting me know that birth mom was at church.  I was an emotional wreck.  I wanted baby boy home with me.  I was shocked.  I was relieved that she was ok.  I wanted to be there to talk to her.  I wanted to know what was going on.  I wanted to see her.  I wanted to hug her.  I wanted to ring her neck.  I didn’t know what I wanted.  She was friendly to everyone.  My husband told me she came up to him, kissed baby boy on the head, called him by the name we gave him (not what she named him), and told him to be good for mama and daddy, referring to us.  She told him she loved him.  

A few days later she sent me a Facebook message and we made plans to have lunch.  I picked her up on the side of the road about 15 miles outside of town.  We went to lunch and had a good visit.  She told me her husband was in jail in Colorado and would be there for a while.  She said her intentions for us to adopt still stood.  She knew she couldn’t be a parent.  She was staying with her dad, who up until this point, I had no idea existed.  I had never heard her talk about him.  He send me a FB message and asked me to call him.  He wanted to confirm her story of meeting me for lunch.  I had a good conversation with him.  She didn’t go back “home” to him.  She moved in with a friend and started laying low because she knew she had a warrant out and would be arrested.

Court was Monday, January 11th.  Mom didn’t show.  CPS filed to terminate parental rights.  Mom and Dad’s attorneys said that they had been contacted and informed that the parents did not wish to contest and that they willingly gave up their rights, though they never signed anything.  The judge granted this order and their parental rights were terminated that day.  

Now we have to wait 90 days to adopt our little guy. Then I can share pictures of this beautiful boy that essentially fell in our lap.  He may look like his biological father, but he is practically a twin of our now six year old.  He will also grow up as a twin to our baby girl.  They are two and a half months apart.  Most of the time when people in public ask if they are twins we say “yes.”  The first time someone asked that and my husband said they were, I asked him what he was going to tell them when they asked how old they were.  He said, “I was going to say I don’t know, ask my wife.”

We hope that we can maintain a relationship with birth mom.  I’m not sure what that will look like.  I hope she can get clean and lead a productive life.  I hope that she comes to know the Lord.  I hope that all this mess leads her to fall down at the foot of the Cross.  As much as I think it would be easier for ME if he never knows her, I know that he will benefit from knowing her and knowing his history.  This is nothing at all what we expected when we set out to adopt.  But it’s exactly what God had planned for us.  He is the author of this story.  My constant prayer through all of this last 10 months and beyond has been that glory would be brought to Him through this experience.  That more people would be drawn to foster and adopt.  That this sweet little guy would change lives. That his birth parents would know HIM.  And when I would worry about baby boy’s future I would remind myself that God loves him way more than I do.

To be continued...

The rest of the story is that on May 13th, we finalized his adoption.  We had a huge party to celebrate!  His is ours forever!  It's not exactly what we set out for, but it's what God intended for us.  And it's perfect. 
For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you.  Plans to give you a hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11

On May 15th, my dad had the privilege of baptizing his 16th grandchild.  And of course my mom made a beautiful outfit for the occasion.

The day we received his Birth certificate in the mail, in late October, was overwhelmingly emotional.  To see our names listed as his BIRTH parents, on that official document stating that we are his REAL parents,  Wow!

I do still maintain contact with his first mom.  She knows that if she is open with me that she will continue to know him.  She also knows that if she ever shows up for a visit and is strung out on something, the visit will be over and we will not continue visits until he wants them again.  Of course at this point he doesn't even know who she is.  But that will never be hidden from him.  I have the only pictures from his first parents' wedding and from his birth.  He will know where he came from.  He also has several letters written by his first father and mother along with pictures from her childhood.  He will always know he was loved.

Though she made many bad decisions, she made two great ones, and I thank her often for that.  She chose to give him life when she didn't have to.  And even though it was a forced decision, she did chose us to be his parents.  I will forever be grateful for that sacrifice and I will never forget the valuable lessons I learned through all of this.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Foster Care Update

I've been wanting to write a post for a while now to fill you in on our experiences with foster care but I didn't know where to start.  There's a lot that simply can't be said for privacy reasons but there's still so much I want to say about this experience thus far.  Our situation is an unusual one for sure.

Two months ago we became what is called "kinship caregivers" for a sweet baby boy.  He came to us from the hospital.  Of course you know that we set out to adopt and never expected to be foster parents.  It's not that we were opposed to it, we simply had too many children in our home already. Being considered "fictive kin" (i.e. the parents asked for us to care for him) is the only way that we can be foster parents at this point.

Since we were only one class away from being a licensed foster home, we went ahead and took the class.  For the last two months we have still been a kinship home which falls under the oversight of CPS.  Once our license goes through in a few weeks though we will be under Buckner.  While we have had no negative experiences working with CPS we are happy to continue our relationship with the kind ladies at Buckner.  Again, we are so happy we chose to go through them on this adventure to adoption and now foster care.  It seems that everyone is a little baffled by our situation.  With Andrew gone so many weeks at a time, five kids already in the home, and expecting another addition in a few short weeks, there's plenty of red tape to deal with, papers to sign, waivers to get, It seems we are the exception to the rule!

God's hand has been evident in this from the very beginning.  Again, there are many details that I simply cannot share, but this is entirely a God thing.  Not only has he given us the privilege of caring for this little guy and giving him the best start we can, but He has surrounded us with a community of believers to support us and encourage us along the way.  There is simply no way I could do this alone.  Any one of the circumstances we are going through right now is more than I could handle on my own.  When people ask me how I'm doing this my answer is always the same: "By the grace of God."  It's the absolute truth.

Despite the difficult situation and the extreme emotions (foster care combined with pregnancy combined with knowing his parents and feeling for them), we have been blessed over the last two months by countless people.  Our church family has helped meet needs for meals, for diapers, for baby items, babysitters, and constant prayers.  Our neighbors have enlisted the help of folks from their church as well.  No need we have had has gone unmet thanks to all these wonderful people.  I wish I could thank them each by name but I would surely forget someone.  I have been brought to tears on more than one occasion by the love, support, and generosity of those around us.  I am so thankful that God brought us to exactly where we are and surrounded us with this community of believers.  They have helped sustain me, given me energy, added to my life, and helped me fulfill a calling.

We were even able to get our big, ugly, practical, beast of a van.  Twelve captains chairs to spread out, keep little people in their own space, and the best part is that they can't even touch each other! Do you have any idea how wild it is to get 6 little people buckled into car seats?  Or just the fact that we HAVE 6, soon to be 7, car seats?  Andrew and I have often joked about needing limo glass between the driver's seat and the rest of the car but now there is no need.  We need walkie-talkies to be able to hear people more than one row behind us.  It's not an urgent need though.  For now, I can just tell them, "I can't hear you, let's talk about it when we get home."  Seriously though, this vehicle has been a tremendous blessing to us.  Now we just need to sell our Expedition.  Any takers?

There are definitely moments when it's hard.  I don't think it's adding a baby to the mix that has been so difficult really.  He is such an easy going little guy and I of course welcome the opportunity to sit with my feet up and feed him or snuggle him.  It's all the regular, every day tasks that have me exhausted.  Without my better half around there are plenty of things that have been let go.  Washing dishes daily, folding and putting away laundry (at least it's clean!), anything more than a bubble bath for the girls (it's fun AND clean!), eating on anything other than paper plates, cooking dinner from scratch every night, going to bed on time, getting up and to school on time, and the list goes on.  We are managing though, by the grace of God!

And now we look forward to baby girl Shipp joining us in the coming weeks.  I admit, that part has me a bit panicked!  Two babies.  How am I going to handle two babies?  And five others?  Yes.  I know it's crazy.  I covet your prayers for patience, strength, endurance, and the ability to keep it together in those first few weeks.  And prayers for Andrew to get a great job much closer to home.  I'm going to need him for this!

We do not know what the future holds for us or for this little guy.  For now we will continue to give him all that he needs and to pray for him and his parents.  Our prayer has been that this little guy would have a bright and glorious future, that he would grow up in a loving Christian home, and that all his needs would be fulfilled.  We don't presume to know God's plan for him, and we ask for grace to accept whatever that plan may be.  I'm sure there will be many tears on all sides throughout the coming months.  Please pray with us for all involved.  Foster care is a tough situation for everyone.  Our priority right now is to love and protect this little guy and to maintain an open relationship with his parents.  Please keep them in your prayers as well.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Foster Care

If you've been following along then you know that we never set out to do Foster Care.  We had too many kids to be able to do that.  It wasn't that we were opposed to it at all, just that we were constrained by already having five in our home.  And then when we found out back in October that we are expecting baby #6 shortly followed by Andrew's transition to working out of town, we decided to put our adoption plans on the back burner.  We have kept up our license and done what we need to do to go back active as soon as we can.

Things have changed though.  It seems God has other plans for us once again.  About six months ago we met a young couple that was expecting and I have developed a good relationship with them.  When their baby was born a little over a week ago, CPS got involved.  I'm not at liberty to share details, but we were asked to care for this sweet baby boy and we willingly accepted.  He has now been with us a week and has already changed my life.

We don't know what's going to happen, or how long this will be, or really many details at all.  But for now we've told our kids to treat him just as we would treat our siblings.  We are loving on him, taking care of his needs, and maybe spoiling him just a little too.  We have been incredibly blessed by the love and support we have received from family, friends, church members, and neighbors.  The love we have been shown just over 8 days time has been tremendous and brings me to tears.

We are all doing well and adjusting as smoothly as can be expected.  It's already been a very emotional experience and I know it will continue to be so.  But right now we are doing what the Lord has called us to do and are grateful for this opportunity to serve.

We will have one more class to take to up-grade our license to a Foster license.  We plan to do that in April.

We appreciate your prayers for us and for baby boy's parents as we navigate this difficult situation.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A lot to catch up on

It has been a while since my last post and there are many reasons for that.  For one, my computer has been down and I really didn't want to type a blog post on my phone.  Now I am using a tablet though, so it is not much better.  Please pardon my typos.

Another reason for the lack of blogging has to do with all the changes my family is experiencing at this time.  You see, back in October we were surprised to find out that we are expecting another little Shipp.  While this wasn't exactly in our plan and timing, it clearly was in the Lord's plan.  We are very excited for this new little bundle of joy and all the changes she will bring.  While this is not necessarily a deterrent to adoption at this point, it certainly was something to ponder.

The biggest kink in our plans though is that Andrew has had to go out of state for work.  He has always had his hand in many pots of the legal realm, but his biggest contract with the Attorney General's office was not renewed after October 31st.  The state/government decided not to keep paying for that position despite the need to get the work done.  So after a month of searching and searching, Andrew took a job as a landman in New Mexico.  While this once again was not our plan, we are grateful for the Lord's provision.  Unfortunately this means that Andrew is away from home for weeks at a time.  There is great potential with this job and our initial hope was that this would lead to a landman position in Texas much closer to home.  With gas prices as low as they are though, many many landmen and oil field workers are currently without a job.  All of this changes things for us.

After much prayer and speaking with our case worker, we have decided that it is best to put things on hold for now.  We will still do everything to maintain our license, but we will not be submitting our home study on any more children for the time being.  Lord willing, we will be able to go back active as soon as Andrew has stable work back home.

In the mean time we are continuing to find ways to minister and serve those in need.  We are constantly praying for the children in foster care, orphans world wide, and those in direct ministry to these children.  Our hope is that many more Christians will answer the call to adoption and foster care and that one day soon He will re-open the door for us.  Clearly He is in perfect control of our family.

If you have any questions for me, please feel free to ask here or send me a message.  Thank you for your support and prayers.  I hope that soon we will be able to give more updates with pending adoption news.

I am happy to report that Andrew has had the privilege to help in the consummation of several adoptions recently and has a few more coming up.  It is such a joy for him to be a part of these special days.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Looking back

It's fun to look back at the family Christmas photos from the last 9 years of our marriage.  With our 10th anniversary in January, we are hopeful that once again this year's family photo will look a little different.  Here's a look back at the last 9 years.

2004, the Christmas before we got married

2005, Christmas as first time parents with a 2 week old

2006, expecting #2

2007, Family of Four

2008, expecting #3

2009, family of five AND expecting #4

2010, family of six

2011, expecting #5!

2012, family of seven

2013, still a family of seven!

Monday, October 20, 2014

7 months later

It's been a year since we started our adoption journey.

It's been 7 months since we've been licensed.

I really thought we would have a placement by now.

I remember last year before Christmas being a little sad that all of our kids weren't going to be "home for the holidays."  I knew even then that our missing kids were out there somewhere.  I wanted to be careful all summer with planning trips and activities.  I was constantly wondering what we would do or how plans would change if we got more kids.  We were licensed March 8th and I had hopeful expectations of having a placement by summer.

Now summer has come and gone.  And what a wonderful summer it was!   I knew in the back of my head though that as much fun as we were having and as enjoyable as it was with our kids at the ages and stages they were at that our family just wasn't complete.  Now, I admit that it would probably have been a little easier without a toddler, but most things are.

Each time our caseworker has a potential match for us we are shown a picture of a sibling group and told minimal details about them such as age, gender, basic reason for removal from their birth parents, and a few personal details.  The first few times this happened we would plan it all out in our heads.  Well, maybe Andrew didn't go that far, but I did.  I would imagine where they would sleep in our home, what we would need to get for a 2 and 4 year old girl or for 3 and 5 year old boys.  I would try to plan out as much as I could.  I would pray for them by name and think longingly of the day they would come home to us.  But that gets hard!  It gets very emotional to be told we weren't the right match for this sibling group or that.  It seems that just before we find out it's a "no" on one set we are shown another.  Then we find out we didn't get matched with the first set and we wait another month to hear on the second set, only to then be shown a third.

I'm not sure exactly how many kids we've been shown a photo of.  Maybe we are at 8 or 9 sets now. Now I try not to plan too much though.  I pray for them constantly.  But I can't plan.  And really I don't need to.  I know that we will have more warning still.  Even if we are told that we were selected in the top three we would still have time to read through the kids' case file and decide if we are personally ready for that particular commitment.  Then we would have more time as we wait to see if we are the #1 family.  That's plenty of time for planning and making the proper arrangements.  Plenty of time for more prayer!

We've recently been blessed to be part of the Foster Family Association for our county.  We enjoyed getting to meet some other local foster and adoptive parents and are looking forward to being involved with them.  I may have raised my hand to volunteer for something...

We continue to be blessed by this journey to adoption.  We love meeting new people that are doing the same thing or going about it a little differently.  I love learning about their experiences and their families.  I even struck up a conversation at Chick-fil-A with an adoptive mom I'd never met before.  A friend in my Bible study small group at another church is currently waiting for a match for domestic infant adoption.  Another family friend is searching for a sibling in an African country.  All of these people bless us.  And so do you.  Thanks for your continued prayers for our family.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Buckner Camp

Reading this blog post from Jason Johnson reminded me that I never followed up on camp. It seems like it's been much longer than two weeks since camp but hopefully I can remember everything I wanted to tell.

The number one thing that I took away from camp is similar to the point of the linked blog post.  

They're all human.

The foster parents, adoptive parents, foster kids, and adopted kids are just people.  They don't stand out in a crowd.  They're just kids and parents.  Kids that do things for attention, that need love and correction.  Parents that love, that get frustrated, that correct, and then love some more.  It was very eye opening for me to look around and just see people. There are no super-powers needed to be a foster/adoptive parent!

On our drive to camp (about 4 hours) I told Andrew that if the camp wasn't nice enough we would have to go stay in a hotel.  I wasn't going to spend 3 days without air conditioning.  I'm a sissy, I know.  I was impressed though and we had a blast.

The camp itself was wonderful.  The facilities were clean and beyond my expectations.  The camp grounds were beautiful and offered much.  The staff was friendly and interacted well with adults and children alike.  Our cabin was a large one with two sides. On our side there were 9 sets of bunk beds and a large bathroom with multiple showers and stalls.  The A/C unit worked really well too!  On the other side of our cabin was another large family.  

Each day started with breakfast at the cafeteria.  The food was good (for camp food).  Then there was a "pump it up rally" in which they tried to get everybody moving and dancing.  For any of you that know the Shipps remotely well you know that this is not our thing.  I actually offered the kids $1 each to dance.  Gabe was the only taker at first but eventually a few others joined in.  This may have been the furthest out of our comfort zone that we got the whole time.  After that we had activities.  We signed up for crafts one day and archery the next.  We also spent a lot of time at the covered sandbox with the little ones.  After lunch there was a short rest time.  Both days we took a little drive so that AnnaMae would actually nap.  After that was swim time.  We had the choice of the nice big pool or the lake with a water slide.  There was also a blob and kayaking but our kids were too young for that.  They were also too young for the ropes course and zip line.
After a little time for cleaning up we had dinner and then a short worship time all together. After that there was more time for pool swimming.  The last night they had "Buckner State Fair."  There were carnival games and prizes and a few "rides".  Ok.  Maybe THIS was the thing that made me most uncomfortable.  8-10 men on motor cycles taking the kids for a short SLOW ride around the circle and a big all-terrain type truck for kids to ride in the back.  These were both terrifying to me!

We met some wonderful people.  Everyone there was of course a foster or adoptive family.  We were definitely the odd ones out since we don't have a placement yet.  We were so glad we went though.  Aside from the sheer fun of it all, we were able to talk to and connect with parents that have done what we're trying to do.  Of course I met more people and talked more than Andrew did...

There was a lady that has been a foster mom for 40 years!  I can't even begin to imagine the number of lives she has touched!
There were families that went straight to adoption.  One that just finalized with their 5 year old a few weeks before.  You could see how much they were delighting in being parents for the first time.
There were families that have fostered-to-adopt and added to their biological families to make one BIG happy family.
There were many older couples that were doing foster care only.  One couple was there with their 25 year old son with Cerebral Palsy and their 2 or 3 young foster daughters.  And a few other older couples that had adult children but were fostering babies and young children.
There were group homes represented and one little boy that kept flirting with AnnaMae, playing with Gabe, and generally giving his foster mom a handful.  I could all too easily imagine him in our family.
There were other large families with older high-school and college aged kids that were fostering and adopting younger children.  We loved seeing these older kids tote around their younger siblings lovingly.

There were many more too.  I think there were somewhere around 200 people there.  It was a wonderful experience.  The kids can't wait to go back next year and neither can I.  But hopefully by camp next year we will have added to our family.

We continue to wait patiently for what the Lord has in store for our family.  I constantly remind myself that us not being chosen by a caseworker isn't just because the caseworker flipped past our already large family.  It wasn't that they just didn't like us on paper.  It's because God knows the right children and the perfect timing for us.  His plans are perfect.

We are blessed by all those we met and by this whole process.  Our eyes have already been opened to new things and we wait with excitement and anxiousness to see what else we will learn along the way.