‘We’ll love you as long as we have the opportunity.’: Family adopts daughter from foster care, ‘I get the privilege to guide her’

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“‘Go for it. Fill out the application. I’m ready.’ Dan set the paperwork in my lap. I had been waiting for this for what felt like forever. I didn’t want to even ask why or what had changed. He shared he had been reading in Mark 8:34 where Jesus says, ‘Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me.’ He wondered out loud what we were doing to deny ourselves. We had more than we needed and he realized we could share the love, space, and resources we had. We went from high school yearbook deadlines and theatre cast parties to getting married and playing house. We were young; not completely immature, but naïve.

Although I was 19, I was sure I would be involved in the foster care world in some way. I had the conversation when we were engaged. I brought it up nonchalantly but directly. ‘I am definitely interested in doing foster care one day and can see myself adopting. I want to have a couple biological kids, but a much bigger family in other ways. How do you feel about this?’ ‘OK. But no thanks,’ he had basically told me. Honestly, it didn’t stress me out too much because I knew we had years until we would be in this place. I also know Dan… he would come around when he understood the heart behind it. I just knew it would be the right thing for our family. It was simply a foreign concept to him. Still, I had peace knowing our life would pan out just how it was meant to… one step at a time.

Newly engaged couple smiling
Ed Ferguson Photography

We traveled and worked and focused on enjoying our time together for a couple years of marriage, knowing kids would change our world. By the time I got pregnant in 2010, I was ready! I achingly waited for my baby to come, and by the time baby boy showed up, he was the classic first child, the attention of all adults around him focused on his every move. Having been researching about foster care, understanding the process, educating myself on trauma, and connecting with our church’s foster/adopt community, I felt ready to get licensed. There was hesitancy from my husband, considering all of the unknowns and time commitment. The classes alone are nine weeks (that’s nine weeks of babysitters!) plus all the invasive questions and [insert excuse] and [insert additional excuse].

I found it so fulfilling and important to be involved in other ways. I showed up, helped begin our church ministry supporting foster and adoptive families, observed how to advocate and network and spread the word. In the meantime, I found this amazing organization called Safe Families for Children (SFFC). SFFC is voluntary crisis care for moms who need temporary help with their kids. The mission is beautiful, and to come alongside families in St. Louis who need a safe place for a time and be a supportive network while working through homelessness, getting medical care, looking for employment or housing—this opportunity to fulfill needs was my deepest desire. To me, it is more than just caring for kids; I want to support and preserve the family unit. So, when Dan told me one night he was ready to move forward with SFFC, it was game on.

Newly married couple dancing at wedding
Courtesy of Amanda Mueller

Meanwhile, baby brother arrived in January of 2014, and well, he… never… stopped… crying. After six placements there, we were quickly outgrowing our cute little brick house. Sharing one bathroom and bunking kids, we didn’t have freedom to move around after bedtime at the risk of waking a sleeping baby. It was cramped and time for us to move on from our first home. While so bittersweet, I saw this as an opportunity to find a house able to bless more kids, families—and maybe I could pee in peace! In 2016, we were in a place to put in the time to go through the nine weeks of the STARS class (Missouri’s foster care). We eagerly exchanged date night for a night learning about trauma, tacking on queso and margaritas to follow. The home study, the paperwork, cabinet locks, rearranging medicine, and making a fire escape plan: check, check, check. As it goes when you’re passionate and hyped on a bit of adrenaline, we were anxious to get our first placement through the state of Missouri.

New father and new mother holding newborn baby in hospital bed
Courtesy of Amanda Mueller

Once licensed, we waited two months… three months… four months, without a call for placement. We committed to do respite care for a week and, to no one’s surprise, we got a call for our first placement TWO HOURS before the baby came to stay. So in one day, we went from two kids to four (five and under). This sweet child came to our foyer, clung to the caseworker, deciding she was the safest person since she had been with her for hours at this point. She was terrified to be left with us. She banged on the windows and screamed, wouldn’t eat. She was scared of Dan. We simply sat calmly near her and offered comforting placations as she settled into a stranger’s house for the night, and who knew how long beyond this. Settling did not come… nor did it for another 30 days for any of us.

Bedtime was horrendous and traumatic. We tried sleeping with the room bright as day. I’d sit with her. She’d wake up and walk in to my room and not fall asleep again for hours. She was able to move to a family placement after 30 days. She was excited to see her aunt, and it restored a family connection for her. It is incredibly humbling to walk into so many unknowns and parent children where there is no control. At least with my biological kids, I have a faulty sense of control… the weight of knowing a kid could come any day—whether for a week or three years—feels heavy, and honestly a little anxiety-inducing for me. I do well in crisis mode. I thrive the night a kid comes to us. It is heartbreaking and takes so much patience and empathy, but this is where I shine.

Woman taking smiling selfie outside in yard
Courtesy of Amanda Mueller

Not knowing how our long-term family would be affected was hard. I have had to learn to embrace the open-door family we are and not get hung up on plans and visions of what the future will look like. The infamous fear of getting too attached? It’s the only way. The deluge of feelings when a kid leaves is the hardest to explain. I have to say goodbye to kids I adore and don’t want to let go of. Yet, I’m still happy they’re going to be with family. When there’s wariness about where they’re moving, there is uncertainty and sadness, but still peace which can only come from God. I do not have any control of their lives beyond our walls. There have been times the goodbye hasn’t been heartbreaking, and I’ve felt guilty for this. A few months later, I was sitting on the couch thinking about when our next child would come. We had talked about being ready, and I just knew in my spirit it’d be soon.

Husband and wife taking smiling selfie at beach
Courtesy of Amanda Mueller

I had gotten an email from SFFC and was reading it, deciding whether I should send it over to Dan, when my phone rang. ‘Hello?’ ‘Hi. We have a placement of an 18-month-old girl. She’s being transferred from another foster home. She is at her daycare now. Are you interested?’ (I was). After a couple of questions for formality (it gives me time to process!) and a quick check-in with Dan, I called back and said, ‘Bring her when you can.’ Soon after, a caseworker pulled up. I walked out to the car to say an innocuous hello. Her daycare ended up being just down the street from our house. She was so close for long before we met her, and we had no idea our family would be forever changed. Her chubby little face was so serious, taking everything in. I sat on the floor with crackers in my hand, a book nearby, and put my hand out and offered. Slowly but surely, she toddled to me and ate it.

Mother and daughter sitting on sled in sand
Courtesy of Amanda Mueller

Her lips upturned the tiniest bit, not giving in to a smile. Our evening was full of slow introductions as one kid came home from school, another woke up from nap, and Dan came home from work. I rocked her and sang ‘Jesus Loves Me,’ laying her down for bed. I wrote in my journal that night and the several nights after, detailing what we did and how she was doing, tracking milestones, so we would remember one day or send her off with memories. Four days after she arrived, I wrote, ‘So much change for you, little one. But we’re not going anywhere for awhile. I’m pleading for grace on this journey. The easiest thing is to love you. And we’ll do it as long as we have the opportunity.’ As we got to know her, we couldn’t help but love her. I left her with Dan alone for the first time and when I came home, I wrote, ‘You and Dan had a great time. He had hearts in his eyes when I came home.’

Family sitting in stands at Cardinal's baseball game
Courtesy of Amanda Mueller

After more than two years in foster care and many many more court dates, Dan and I sat in a pew of the courthouse. He looked at me as we sat there and whispered, ‘I don’t think I’m comfortable with this.’ I didn’t have words to explain the ambivalence I had about the decisions being made in front of us and for our daughter, but all I came up with was, ‘We don’t get to make this decision. The court will move forward however they please. The question is, are we available?’ We hear ‘the system is broken‘ all the time. And it is. The system has also been created to safeguard against more harm being done within the jurisdiction of the court. I don’t know if there’s a way we can perfectly balance the need for structure and guidelines, yet avoid harm being done in spite of it.

Family of five sitting in line for a ride at Disney
Courtesy of Amanda Mueller

There is no way to articulate the intense desire I have for the reunification of kids with their families. Heart tight, I waited for 2.5 years to see if it would happen. In this case, it did not. At the same exact time, I loved this girl more than I could imagine and knew we would do everything we could to love her and help her heal, not on our own, but through Jesus and the earthly resources given to us. If I would have had to say goodbye to her, it would have been devastating, but I was willing. After more than three years in foster care, she was legally adopted. She is our daughter, and the privilege and gravity of this always weighs in my mind. I am not her only mother. She will always have a piece of her I don’t have. And I get the privilege to love her and guide her through this life.

Mother and father kissing newly adopted daughter
Courtesy of Amanda Mueller

We are currently nine months into a placement that should be moving toward family reunification. We have prepared our hearts to say goodbye and the rollercoaster of foster care has kept him in our care longer than we thought. We balance cherishing every day we have with our kids, loving them the best we can, and advocating for the best interest to be done for these children. It is messy and painful and frustrating and hard, and so, so beautiful. Worth it to love people more than ourselves, humbling, refining, and so much more.”

Family of five standing in road smiling at each other
Emily Blackford Photography

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Amanda Mueller of St. Louis, Missouri. You can follow their journey on Instagram.  Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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‘How come I’m this color and you’re brown?’ I’d always respond, ‘This is how God made us.’ Black or white, it didn’t matter. I was her mama.’: Selfless woman adopts 4 children from foster care

‘We have an 11-year-old with identity issues. Would you be able to take him in?’ We said yes to 30 days from now. Then we received a call: ‘Can he move in today?’: LGBT couple adopt 4 children from foster care

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