Dear "Foster" Mama - Mother's Day Series Part 2

Welcome to Part 2 of the "Dear Mama" series! Today, I’m talking with my good friend and foster mom, Kristen Crew. Not only does Kristen genuinely care about people, she’s also passionate about following Jesus and obeying God's Word, as you’ll see from our Q+A! I’ve had a front row seat to Kristen’s journey as she’s lived out the Biblical command to care for the orphan, even when it meant taking in a child while pregnant! If you’re currently fostering or you’ve ever thought about fostering, you're definitely going to enjoy reading her story. And to all the foster mamas out there, you are appreciated!

Meet Kristen Crew

Kristen likes to think of herself as your average mom who wavers between mental sanity and complete chaos on any given day. She’s been married to her husband, Nate, for eight years, and spends a large part of her time chasing her three active boys, ages six, three and one. Upon closer examination, however, Kristen is anything but average. Just FOUR MONTHS after getting married, she and her husband moved overseas to pursue missions work. Several years later, they decided to pursue fostering the very same month they learned they were pregnant with their first son! In all her free time, Kristen works for a therapy company and is also active at her church where she serves alongside her husband in young adult ministry.

Q: What was your primary reason for pursuing foster care?

A: Nate and I wanted to practice what we preach in a tangible way, no matter the cost. The Bible talks about loving “the least of these (Matthew 25:40),” caring for the “orphan and widow in their distress James 1:27),” and loving “your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:31).” As pro-life Christians, we believe every single life has the same amount of value and significance. That means whenever a mother chooses life for her child but is unable to care for that child herself, we have a responsibility to step in and help. We see through the Bible that God adopts us as his sons and daughters and gives us an inheritance, a hope and a future, even though when we have nothing to offer Him in return (Ephesians 1:5, Romans 8:23, Galatians 4:5). In the same way, we felt sure that God wanted us to love a child through foster care or adoption.

Q: When did you decide to begin fostering?

A: Nate and I moved overseas shortly after we were married to do missions work in the Dominican Republic. While we were there, we spent a lot of time working with orphans. When we returned to the U.S. the following year and realized we’d be here for the foreseeable future, we knew we wanted to continue living on mission the same way we did overseas. We both agreed that included foster care or adoption. In 2010, we entered graduate school as a young couple, but agreed to pursue foster care or adoption as soon as we were employed. Our prayer was that we wouldn’t “merely listen to the word” and its truth, but that we would do what it says (James 1:22). The very first month we both found full-time career positions, we knew we had to do something, even if it didn’t make sense or wasn’t convenient (because it never would be!) We did some online research, then attended our local county’s foster parent interest meeting. At one point, we briefly discussed whether we should look into international adoption or another route besides foster care, but we felt sure that this was exactly what God had for our family.

We immediately continued down that road, and got pregnant that very same month, even though we hadn’t previously been trying for a biological baby. We didn’t feel that my pregnancy changed God’s plan for us and our future foster children, so we kept pressing on (even though everyone thought we were pretty much crazy at that point.) Our first biological son was born six weeks premature, spent some time in the NICU and was quarantined from small children for a short time after that, but when he was three months old, we accepted our first placement. That placement came back and forth quite a few times for various reasons, followed by a 10-month old baby for one month before he went to another home. Now, that first placement has been in our lives for three years and will soon be our son forever. He just turned six, and is the leader of the pack to our two biological sons who are three and one. Our home is never boring, to say the least!

Q: What does an average day in your house look like?

A: This is a loaded question. Flexibility within structure is what works for us. My husband is in full-time ministry and I work flexible hours from home, but we have small children and are also managing all that comes with raising a foster child. As a result, our daily life has looked quite different at different stages over the past few years. A week of a typical foster parenting may include a lot of contact with our child’s social worker, scheduling around supervised visits with his biological parents, therapy appointments, and Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) visits. Although every family's experience is different, it’s absolutely possible and common for working parents to become foster parents. For mental health and your own personal sanity though, I do think options for flexibility within your work situation are lifesavers. However, I've also heard stories of countless individuals and families who are fostering with situations that I wouldn’t describe as flexible, and it works for them.

Q: What would you say has been the greatest challenge of this process?

A: The challenges for me as a foster mom have really changed at different times throughout the process. It is important to say first though, that none of our challenges have ever made us doubt our initial pursuit of foster parenting or a day of caring for a child in need. Instead, all of them have brought us to our knees many, many nights and days, which has brought us into deeper relationship with the Creator of the universe, who through His sufficient grace (2 Corinthians 12:9) continues to transform us into who He wants us to be. I wouldn’t trade in any of the challenges, what we’ve learned, who we’ve become, or how we have seen God use it all.

That said, our challenges have included everything from managing our child’s behaviors and needs, fearing the unknown future, and dealing with the child’s “case” within the court system. It’s often his daily needs that bring us to the end of ourselves, leaving us empty and depleted. It is here that God meets us with his new mercies every morning (Lamentations 3:23) and endurance and hope amidst trial that only comes from faith in God’s promises for His people. There are times, by God’s grace and through His peace, that I haven’t struggled with all the future unknowns, but then there are seasons when I play my own version of Randall and Beth’s “Worst Case Scenario Game” on This Is Us. I have often been reminded in those times of how, with the Lord, we can laugh at the future as described in Proverbs 31:25 because we know Who holds it. God has, and always will, continue to be faithful, just like He's promised. The “case” is my own categorization of all the court proceedings, mandated supervised visits with biological parents that often come with a child’s placement and affect them greatly, and the disheartening revelation of birth parents' choices and needs that affect everyone involved. We value the role of biological parents in each child’s life and initially support reunification until it is proven that is not possible, so I tend to carry the weight of their struggles and what the child will have to face as they grow to understand. My husband is quick to remind me that God is a burden lifter and not a burden giver so I am to serve and give it to Him to carry.

Q: What has been the greatest joy?

A: I would sum it up by saying that my greatest joy is seeing God’s faithfulness proven so true in all of our lives throughout this process. He has been faithful to meet me in the middle of the night when not a soul can help. His word and presence proves to be the refuge it promises. He has also been faithful to do a mighty work in our foster children, often tangibly showing us through their “case” that He cares about them more than we do. It has been so encouraging and rewarding to see undeniable growth and progress in the children in our care. We have countless tangible circumstances to look back on that we say “only God” that include a turn of events that led social workers and lawyers speechless and with jaws dropped out of shock at the unexpected events that led to important decisions regarding our foster son’s future. It has been a joy to see the impact these foster children have in the lives of therapists, CASAs, social workers, lawyers, teachers, specialists, and to see God use our lives and our expressed beliefs as it intersects with their work regularly. The joy has been in taking one baby step of faith and obedience after the other, and seeing it be worth it every time, especially when that is done as family unit.

5. Looking back, what do you wish you would have known before you started fostering?

A: I have to admit I’m kind of an anomaly. I began reading books and blogs about topics such as transracial adoption and trauma in kids as far back as I can remember. On top of of that, my education, career path, and friendships all helped prepare me for our time as foster parenting, so there's not a lot that truly shocks me. There is one aspect of fostering that always comes to mind with this question, although I’ve never shared it before now and have never heard it discussed too much. I completely underestimated the impact becoming a foster family would have on our extended families. We are very close to our families, although even if we weren’t, it would still impact everyone. Becoming a foster family has completely changed the dynamic for all involved and has added a layer of complexity that none of them signed up for when we chose to become foster parents. Everyone has handled it with unbelievably amazing grace, acceptance, love, and understanding, but it hasn’t always been easy for all of us. I don't think you need the approval of extended family to become foster parents by any means, but we consider it our responsibility and joy to help educate them in the process and keep communication very open. We also have to offer a lot of grace especially since the entire family unit changes each time a child comes, goes, or deals with issues your family wouldn’t otherwise have to face. We believe God wants us to be foster parents though, so we trust that by His grace, this is also good for all the cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents involved, and for God’s glory. We are inexplicably indebted to and thankful for our family’s support, help, and open arms since we became foster parents.

Q: What advice do you have for others hoping to travel down the road of foster care and adoption?

A: I agree with Jason Johnson in his book Reframing Foster Care (which is brand new and a must-read) when he writes, “Kids in crisis can’t afford to wait until it’s most convenient for us to care for them. They simply don’t have that luxury. And maybe we don’t either… at the end of the day, our ‘no’ will be much more difficult on them than our ‘yes’ might ever be on us."  I don’t believe it will ever be convenient or that your ducks will ever be in a row enough for foster care to “make sense,” so seek the Lord, and take baby steps of faith and obedience as you see God lead you. Don’t drown in the “what ifs” and the bigger picture… just do something. Not everyone should be a foster parent, but everyone should be involved in what God cares about, which includes the needy, the vulnerable, the voiceless. Don't avoid a leap of faith because of fear (of the unknowns, of the pain, or the life change). As the saying goes, “the will of God will never take you where the grace of God cannot keep you.” Definitely reach out to me or someone else you know who has walked this road. I am always very happy to talk these topics. Ask anything you’d like, and respectfully understand if we cannot answer all things due to confidentiality restrictions and legal matters.

Q: What’s one thing you’ve admired about your spouse through this process?

A: I admire how unwavering Nate is in his belief in God’s word - enough to lead us in living out boldly, no matter the cost. Out of the overflow of Christ in him, he is freely able to love sacrificially, forgive, continue with endurance, and to do it all without complaining or doubting. Literally, I don’t think I’ve ever heard him complain. I’m thankful he’s been my partner in this road since the very first day until now.

Dear "Homeschool" Mama - Mother's Day Series Part 1

It’s the first day of our “Dear Mama” series, which celebrates the many faces of motherhood. Today, we’re talking homeschooling with Mary Coleman, a mama of seven (yes, you read that correctly!) who homeschooled her kids for more than a decade. If you’ve ever aspired to homeschool, or if you’re homeschooling now, Mary has some great wisdom and practical tips to share. Read on to learn more about Mary, her family, and how she made homeschooling work all those years. (You may be surprised by what she wishes she knew then that she knows now!) And to all the homeschool mamas out there, you are appreciated!

Meet Mary Butler Coleman

Mary Coleman Headshot.jpg

 Mary Butler Coleman has been married to her husband Joe for 35 years and is mama to seven biological children – six girls and one boy – ranging in age from 33 to 21, which basically means she’s a superhero. On top of that, she homeschooled all but one of her kids for 13 years, which deserves a medal in and of itself! Mary is also a development director at a nonprofit in Charlottesville that serves children from low-income families. I first met her when she came to speak at a moms group at my church and I am close friends with her oldest daughter, Andrea. She is someone I deeply admire, not only because she’s obviously amazing, but also for her godliness, poise and candor. Want more? Be sure to check out Mary’s blog at www.thestudiousmom.com.

Q: How many children do you have and how long did you homeschool?

A: Seven children, plus one deceased. Her name was Victoria and Andrea’s daughter is named after her. All my children are two years apart in age. I homeschooled for a total of 13 years and the oldest five graduated from the same public high school. The youngest two graduated from a girls' boarding school in Raleigh. I often say my record is an example of educational schizophrenia!

  Mary pictured with her husband, children and grandchildren at Thanksgiving in 2017. 

Mary pictured with her husband, children and grandchildren at Thanksgiving in 2017. 

Q: What was your primary reason for homeschooling?

A: To protect them from what I thought was a lot of "evil" in public schools and for the freedom and flexibility to control our family life because we had so many kids.

Q: What did an average day look like?

A: I started every day by having my personal time with the Lord. That was critical because otherwise I wouldn’t have the strength to make it through. Next we had breakfast together, did chores, and then gathered around the table for what I called “Conference,” where we read the Bible aloud and did character training. I don’t even know where I got the word “Conference” from, but it was not a boring family meeting. I tried to make it fun, involve the children in reading, and encourage open discussion about practical and spiritual things. After that, I homeschooled for three hours and for the rest of the day, the kids played creatively and read lots of books. In later years, we did a few modest co-ops and homeschool sports.

Q: How did you manage homeschooling multiple children (at different ages?)

A: Unit studies. Sonlight is an awesome curriculum! I used Saxon for math and Writing Strands for writing.

Q: What would you say was the most significant challenge you faced while homeschooling? 

A: Balancing life with toddlers and school-aged children. I was always nursing or pregnant and really stretched emotionally. I also felt the kids needed more time away from me and each other as time went on.

Q: What were the greatest joys?

A: There were so many joys including being in control of my kids/family's schedule, reading aloud, not having to go out when the weather was nasty, being able to discipline the way I wanted and not having to undo what they might have been exposed to in public school, imparting godliness and biblical principles into their lives/building character and being able to serve others as the kids got older (Andrea, for example, sat with, changed, bathed and dressed her ailing grandmother). I also enjoyed being connected to the homeschool community. They are some of the most dedicated parents on the planet.

  Mary pictured with her husband, Joe Coleman.

Mary pictured with her husband, Joe Coleman.

Q: Looking back, what do you wish you knew now before you started homeschooling?

A: That the Christian identity we fostered in our kids was strong enough to withstand public school sooner. I burned out trying to sustain all the kids at home for too long. I feel the best possible scenario for us would have been homeschooling through third grade before the math gets hard! The early years are what truly laid the foundation with our kids. With that said, we live in a rural county and it’s very Christ-friendly, but Christian kids typically find each other no matter what.

Q: How did you know when your children were ready to enter public (or private) school? 

A: When Victoria died the day she was born, it sent me into a depression and that was the beginning of the end. As a result, Andrea went into public school halfway through 9th grade, which was really a hard and unfair transition for her. Looking back, they all should have gone in before middle school.

Q: What advice would you give to someone just starting out? 

A: Make no assumptions about what you understand about education, especially if you don’t have formal training. Educating your child is a serious endeavor. My kids definitely had some gaps in their learning that I didn’t realize until they were struggling in other school settings. Also, don't treat home school like a sacred cow. Give in when your spirit is saying it's becoming too hard. The enemy tries to convince us that we have to be on call 24/7, but don’t be so hard on yourself and don’t be afraid to build in a break when you need it. I also think you should have a firm conviction about why you’re homeschooling before you start. Make a list of pros and cons, and count the cost. Then you can focus on what really matters when it gets hard, because it will! Remember that we live from our convictions, not our emotions.

Hope you enjoyed learning about Mary! To close, here are a few parting words I borrowed from her blog:

“In Proverbs 31 there’s a woman who loves God first, and that love is reflected in the energy she pours into her home and those who live there. It’s NOT about being perfect or making bread from scratch. Being virtuous is about being strong and attuned to what our families need today. That’s not going to look the same for each of us.”