<![CDATA[ECHO Family Care Partners]]>https://www.wearetheecho.org/blogRSS for NodeSat, 25 Mar 2023 07:28:35 GMT<![CDATA[Racial Discrimination in Child Welfare Is a Human Rights Violation]]>https://www.wearetheecho.org/post/racial-discrimination-in-child-welfare-is-a-human-rights-violation63f69ef19e97c8a8489317b7Thu, 23 Feb 2023 00:48:00 GMTShereen WhiteThis article originally appeared on the ,American Bar Association's website.

By ,Shereen A. White and ,Stephanie Persson

Young African American girls riding in a car

Every day in the United States, Black children are investigated by the child welfare system and forcibly separated from their parents, at rates far greater than their white peers. Decades of data, research, and lived experiences reveal the deep disparities and discrimination within this system.

Over 50 percent of Black children in the U.S. will experience a child welfare investigation before their eighteenth birthday (nearly double the rate of white children). Nearly 10 percent of Black children will be removed from their parents and placed into foster care (double the rate of white children). One in 41 Black children will have their relationship with their birth parent or parents legally terminated (more than double the rate of the general population). Let those numbers sink in for a moment.

Each of these numbers represents a child and a family for whom contact with the child welfare system has caused harm—from intrusion and disruption to shattered lives. These horrifying statistics don’t even account for the additional trauma Black children often face within the child welfare system (a point we will return to). Involvement with this system, which authorizes the surveillance, regulation, control, and separation of families, causes immeasurable harm to Black children, families, and communities.

That the state can intrude into the private lives of families and separate children from their mothers and fathers hits at some of the most fundamental aspects of our humanity. It touches on the right to family integrity and on a child’s right to his or her identity, and, when compounded by the racial discrimination our child welfare system is structured to impose, it becomes a question of basic equality and human dignity.

Racial discrimination in U.S. child welfare is, in other words, a human rights issue. And a key body of the United Nations (UN) agrees. On August 30, 2022, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), a group of international experts charged with monitoring state compliance with human rights obligations on racial discrimination, expressed concern at the “disproportionate number of children of racial and ethnic minorities removed from their families and placed in foster care” in the U.S. The UN committee called on the Biden administration to “take all appropriate measures to eliminate racial discrimination in the child welfare system, including by amending or repealing laws, policies and practices that have a disparate impact on families of racial and ethnic minorities.”

We could not agree more.

What Does Racial Discrimination in the U.S. Child Welfare System Look Like?

The data are clear and glaring—Black families face discrimination and unequal outcomes at every stage of the child welfare system. And once placed into foster care, Black children are moved more often, receive fewer appropriate services, and then are four times less likely to be reunified with their families than white children.

Black youth also experience worse outcomes once they leave foster care—for example, 23 percent of Black youth who age out of foster care experience homelessness and 29 percent experience incarceration, far higher rates than for non-Black youth.

The U.S. Administration for Children and Families, the federal agency responsible for overseeing national child welfare policy, has acknowledged that racial discrimination exists in our child welfare system. In 2021, the agency publicly agreed that Black children and other racial minorities are disproportionally represented in the child welfare system. The cause, it found, was bad policies and “structural racism.”

What Role Does the Federal Government Play?

Federal laws are, unfortunately, a key component in why Black children face discrimination and unequal outcomes in the U.S. child welfare system.

For example, under current federal law, the majority of children in the U.S. aren’t separated from their parents because of abuse; they are separated for neglect—a code word that typically represents conditions of poverty, resulting in disproportionate separation and harm to Black families, which is especially shameful when you consider the cause. These conditions include inadequate food, housing, or clothing. In 2020 over 70 percent of all children, and 63 percent of Black children, removed into the U.S. foster system were taken from their families for reasons related to “neglect.” Due to historic injustices, Black children are significantly more likely to grow up in homes experiencing poverty.

President Biden himself acknowledged, in April 2021, that “too many children are removed from loving homes because poverty is often conflated with neglect” and that “the enduring effects of systemic racism and economic barriers mean that families of color are disproportionately affected.”

The federal law responsible for this policy, the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA), conditions federal funding on individual states’ inclusion of the vague and harmful category of “neglect” in their state laws and policies. Repealing this requirement, which punishes poverty, and instead expanding access to the resources and community supports that families need is a key step toward keeping families together.

CAPTA also requires states to adopt a system called “mandated reporting.” Mandated reporting requires that teachers, doctors, and other service providers must report families suspected of child maltreatment to a hotline, which then initiates an intrusive investigation. The result of this federal requirement has been the surveillance and policing of Black families, biased reporting, professionals forced to report instead of support families, and a tremendous increase in children entering the system. Since CAPTA was enacted, the number of suspected child welfare cases reported annually skyrocketed from 60,000 reports in 1974 to two million by 1990.

Mandated reporting is also biased. Research has shown that reporters are far more likely to screen and report Black families than white families. For example, pregnant Black women are four times more likely to be screened for drug use than white women, even without any prior report of substance abuse. Similarly, a Black mother’s refusal of medical care is twice as likely to be reported to child welfare services as abuse.

Federal law has also played a role in the disparate termination of Black parents’ legal rights. For example, the Adoption and Safe Families Act created statutory timelines for how long a child can be in the foster care system before the child’s birth parents’ legal rights can be terminated. These timelines are both arbitrary and often impossible for parents to meet.

Since the law came into effect, the number of children who experience a termination of parental rights has increased dramatically. Today, a shocking 1 out of every 41 Black children in the U.S. will have their legal relationship with their parent or parents terminated (compared with 1 out of every 100 children in the U.S.). Disturbingly, every year more children have their parental legal rights terminated than are adopted out of the child welfare system—creating a new category of children termed “legal orphans.” Here again, the majority of legal orphans are Black.

The Trauma of Removal and Child Welfare Involvement

The disproportionate investigation and removal of Black children cause tremendous trauma and harm to both children and parents. For most children, entry into the child welfare system is unexpected, shocking, and traumatic. Children are taken from their homes by strangers to a new and unfamiliar place, often a group home or sometimes even an office. In the process, they may be separated from their siblings and their belongings, and they may even be strip-searched. Separating children from their families breaks a critical source of attachment. The American Academy of Pediatrics has found that family separation “can cause irreparable harm, disrupting a child’s brain architecture and affecting his or her short- and long-term health.” Parents too experience harm and trauma from such separation.

Many children also experience harm within the child welfare system. There is substantial evidence that children are actually more likely to be abused while in foster care than in the general population. Children in foster care are also at increased risk for mental health disorders, are more likely to be overprescribed psychotropic medication, and are at increased risk for exposure to trafficking. The long-term outcome for children aging out of foster care is similarly poor. Children who have been in foster care are at increased risk for criminal justice involvement, less educational achievement, higher rates of drug and alcohol abuse, and higher risk of future homelessness.

Despite these severe and well-documented harms, the U.S. child welfare system and legal system rarely consider the harm of removal. Only a handful of jurisdictions in the U.S. even require courts and judges to incorporate this inquiry into their decisions on removal into state custody.

What Is the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination?

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is a body of independent human rights experts responsible for monitoring and ensuring the implementation of a human rights treaty—the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (ICERD). The United States signed ICERD in 1966 and the Senate ratified the treaty in 1994. By signing and ratifying ICERD, state parties agree to pursue “eliminating racial discrimination in all its forms.” The treaty requires that a participating government must not practice racial discrimination in public institutions, and must review existing policies and “amend, rescind or nullify any laws and regulations which have the effect of creating or perpetuating racial discrimination.”

It is important to note that, under ICERD, the standard for measuring racial discrimination is “disparate impact.” In other words, it does not matter whether the intention of a particular law, policy, or practice is racial animus. If a racial or ethnic minority is disproportionately affected, the state party must take steps to review and address the harm.

Under the agreed-upon terms of the treaty, each participating state comes up for review every four years. The U.S. came up for review in 2022. As part of that review process, the U.S. State Department submits a detailed report describing what steps it is taking to combat racial discrimination in a variety of forms and how it believes the U.S. is complying with its obligations under the convention. This starts an interactive review process, which includes an oral hearing before the CERD’s members and culminates in a written set of recommendations provided to the U.S. government.

The review process is also an opportunity for nonprofits and other civil society advocates to provide additional information to the UN committee, bolstering or countering information provided by the state.

The committee had previously addressed concerns regarding the removal of Indigenous children into the child welfare system and had also expressed concern about the separation of migrant children from their parents at the southern border. These concerns are serious and ongoing, but the committee had unfortunately never reviewed or addressed the reality that similar separations and harm are also faced by Black families forced into the child welfare system.

We felt that it was important that the committee understand the deep racial discrimination that has permeated the child welfare system, both historically and into the present. In May 2022, Children’s Rights, in partnership with the Human Rights Institute at Columbia Law School, wrote a letter asking the committee to add racial discrimination against Black children in child welfare to the topics it would review—which it did. In July, we together drafted a report, endorsed by over 30 advocates and civil rights organizations, detailing the history of discrimination in child welfare and asking the UN committee to hold the U.S. accountable for its failure to adequately address or remedy these harms. We were honored to join our fellow advocates on that powerful report.

We felt that acknowledgment of this issue was so important that we took our cause to the committee itself—traveling to the review session held at the Palace of Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. Together with fellow advocates, attorney Angela Burton, Joyce McMillan from JMacforFamilies, and Hina Naveed from Human Rights Watch, we walked below the famous row of flags representing all 193 UN member states, and testified to the CERD about the discrimination and harms experienced by Black children and families in the U.S. child welfare system.

What Did the United Nations Committee Have to Say?

Speaking to U.S. officials gathered in the UN building, the committee for the first time addressed racism against Black children and families as part of its review of the United States’ treaty obligations under ICERD.

At a public hearing, Biden administration officials were asked to explain what steps they are taking to combat discrimination in child welfare and were asked to address specific laws, including CAPTA, the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act, and the Adoption and Safe Families Act, which perpetuate harm against Black families. While the U.S. representative, speaking on behalf of the Department of Health and Human Services, acknowledged ongoing racism in child welfare, she did not address specific racist laws and policies, nor answer what the U.S. government is doing to course-correct.

Following the review session, the CERD released a detailed set of findings and recommendations—setting out areas of concern it believes violate the human rights obligations set forth in the ICERD treaty. The committee specifically expressed its concern “at the disproportionate number of children of racial and ethnic minorities removed from their families and placed in foster care” and noted that “families of racial and ethnic minorities are subjected to disproportionately high levels of surveillance and investigation and are less likely to be reunified with their children.”

To address these violations, the committee recommended that the government take all appropriate measures to eliminate racial discrimination in the child welfare system, including by amending or repealing laws, policies and practices that have a disparate impact on families of racial and ethnic minorities, such as the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, the Adoption and Safe Families Act and the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act. The committee encouraged the administration to “hold hearings, including Congressional hearings, to hear from families who are affected by the child welfare system.”

What Comes Next?

Public acknowledgment of the discriminatory harms perpetrated by the child welfare system is long overdue. Twenty years after the publication of Shattered Bonds: The Color of Child Welfare, in which legal scholar Dorothy Roberts detailed and exposed this issue, awareness of racial discrimination in child welfare is finally gaining increased momentum. For example, both the American Bar Association and the New York State Bar Association have recently released reports acknowledging systemic racism in child welfare and calling for change.

However, it is significant that a United Nations human rights body, one charged with reviewing and addressing racial discrimination, has chosen to weigh in on this issue. It allows us to call this problem what it is—a human rights violation.

The weight of that term is appropriate here. The language of human rights speaks to the “inherent dignity, and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family.” In the current U.S. child welfare system, government power is wielded disproportionately and discriminatorily against Black and minority families, intrudes into the private lives of families, penalizes poverty, and causes irreparable trauma and harm to children, families, and communities. Such a system violates these basic human rights.

The language of human rights also allows us to discuss child welfare discrimination using standards and vocabulary more directly able to address these concerns. For example, the disparate impact standard and the right to family integrity are concepts more fully fleshed out under international standards but still struggling to find their footing in domestic jurisprudence.

The CERD review process is meant to be a dialogue and a temperature check. How is the United States doing on key issues of racial discrimination and where does it need to do better? The committee’s answer as to discrimination in child welfare is now clear—the U.S. needs to do a whole lot better.

An immediate first step is for the current administration to listen to the committee’s concerns and deliver a concrete plan to hear public testimony from families and others directly impacted and to aggressively restructure and repeal harmful laws and policies. If the administration really wants to commit to fighting for racial justice, as it claims, that must include dismantling the racist structures that underlie the current child welfare system.

The CERD review process happens on a four-year cycle, so in four years the U.S. government will again have to report to the UN committee on its progress and what steps it has taken to address racial discrimination in child welfare.

Advocates must seize this opportunity to hold our government accountable.

For families in the system, four years is far too long.

For the U.S., the clock is ticking.

<![CDATA[An Unholy Alliance: Trafficking and Foster Care]]>https://www.wearetheecho.org/post/an-unholy-alliance-trafficking-and-foster-care63c9a13580730ea2b8cf1c2cFri, 20 Jan 2023 15:23:42 GMTHuman Trafficking Search

This article was originally published on ,Human Trafficking Search

The child welfare system is an important and necessary institution that protects children whose parents are unable to care for them. The overwhelming majority of children and youth in foster care placements and group homes are healthy and safe. However, it is undeniable that most children and youth who are victims of commercial sexual exploitation have been involved with the foster care system at one point in their lives.

Minimally half of the commercially sexually exploited children (CESC) on the streets today were at one time living in foster care or a group home run by the state. While most of reports place this number above 50 percent, the statistics widely vary. At the high end, Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Children and Families, the Honorable Joette Katz, stated in her testimony to the state that in Connecticut, 98 percent of children who are identified as survivors of sex trafficking had previous involvement with child welfare services, and many were legally in the care and custody of the Connecticut Department of Children and Families while they were being prostituted by traffickers. Another study found that at least 85 percent of all CSEC in New York State had a child welfare background. On the statistical low end is the state of California that reported 50 percent of children sold in California are foster care children. While the statistics may vary by report, state and city, the overwhelming evidence suggests that the foster care system is a breeding ground for CSEC.

Common Connections

There are three childhood experiences that victims of CSE commonly share: prior sexual abuse by a family member or family friend; parental neglect or abandonment; or time spent as runaways or throwaways. Sexual abuse in particular is cited as a leading cause for entry into CSE, an estimated 65-95 percent of sex trafficking victims were sexually assaulted as children and 75 percent of all sex trafficking victims were at one point homeless.

Children and youth are put in foster care placements or group homes when their parents are absent or can no longer adequately take care of them, leaving them prone to feelings of abandonment. There are a variety of reasons why the child welfare system takes children into custody, but the most common are parental substance abuse, alcohol abuse, domestic violence or neglect. A childhood of abuse and neglect greatly increases the chances for children to be lured into commercial sexual exploitation. It is also what runaway, throwaway and foster care children have in common. When asked, “What is the typical victim [of CSE] you come across?” FBI Agent and leader of the Tampa Area Crimes Against Children task force Gregory Christopher said, “A lot of these kids are foster kids, runaway kids… I’d say about 70 percent or so are foster kids. We work closely with DCF (Department of Children and Families).” Children and youth in the foster care system and those that run away from child protective services are more likely to become victims of CSE. The themes of childhood trauma, abandonment, and disruption are central to the stories of adolescents trafficked into commercial sexual exploitation. Without families to work on their behalf, it’s much more difficult to rescue foster youths from sex trafficking and keep them out of the cycle.

System Failure after Failure

Half of all human trafficking victims are minors, and slaverynomore.org states that 70 percent of these minors are children in the foster care system. Foster Focus Magazine, an online publication devoted to the US foster care system, places that number even higher at 80 percent. In a report by the state government of Connecticut, as much as 86 percent of victims rescued from domestic minor sex trafficking in 2011 may have been victimized while in foster care or residential placement.

These statistics are especially disturbing since there are an estimated 300,000 children involved in underage domestic sex trafficking in the United States which means 210,000 to 258,000 children have been failed by the very system that was created to protect and provide for them. Children in the foster care system are especially vulnerable since many have experienced trauma such as physical violence, substance abuse and parental incarceration. Children with no family and no support system are easy prey for pimps who initially shower the (mostly) girls with gifts and attention. Many pimps pose as boyfriends or protectors to gain trust of the young girls. Shockingly, it is often fellow housemates working for the pimps who recruit other members of the foster home or shelter into prostitution.

Will You Join Us?

This has to end! And we are not willing to let another generation of children be lost to this evil.

Be part of the movement to stabilize families and eliminate the need for foster care, closing the pipeline for predators and giving every child the chance to know the stability of a lasting, loving family.

Donate Now

<![CDATA[AmazonSmile Shuts Down. What Now?]]>https://www.wearetheecho.org/post/amazonsmile-shuts-down-what-now63c99b520a69462d88bcde97Thu, 19 Jan 2023 19:49:28 GMTRandall Nichols

The News

Over the last few years, many of you have chosen to promote ECHO's work through participation in the AmazonSmile program which contributed 0.5% of your eligible purchases to us as your selected charity. It was announced on January 18, 2023 that Amazon will be shutting down the AmazonSmile program effective February 20, 2023.

Some of you have reached out to us to understand the impact this may have on our organization so we thought we'd share the cumulative data related to our participation with AmazonSmile and then offer our suggested next step for anyone who wants to make sure their purchases, whether on Amazon or elsewhere, are having an impact for good in the community around you.

The Impact

Since we first began participating in AmazonSmile in November of 2019, 42 Amazon customers have selected ECHO as their charity of choice. Since that time, your eligible purchases have generated a total of $798.23. That's an average of $19 per customer over the last 3+ years donated by Amazon toward our work of eliminating the need for foster care.

While this is not a large number in terms of typical charitable contributions by large corporations, this nearly $800 gift from your purchases has helped us provide diapers, cribs, beds, clothing and so much more, bringing stability to families in crisis right here where you live!

So What Now?

We know many of you still want to make sure your purchases can have a meaningful impact. We're excited to share with you another platform we've been using since we started this work. In fact, it's something our family uses personally to extend our own financial contributions to the mission. It's a platform called RoundUp App and with it you can round up your purchases to the nearest dollar, the spare change going to your selected charitable organization(s). To contrast, in the same time period as our AmazonSmile participation, RoundUps have generated $4,067.52.

That's 5x the impact!

There are two main benefits to you. One, all purchases are eligible, not just purchases made on Amazon. And two, you can select as many charities as you wish to benefit from your generosity, not just one. RoundUp App is free to use and you can easily set your desired minimum and maximum contribution.

Setup RoundUp App today and use your spare change to accelerate change for children and families right here where you live!

<![CDATA[The Intersection of Foster Care and Everything]]>https://www.wearetheecho.org/post/the-intersection-of-foster-care-and-everything63a53f6191a673ff366258caFri, 23 Dec 2022 06:09:32 GMTRandall Nichols

We’re on a mission to eliminate the need for foster care.

That’s it. It really is that simple.

It will not be easy and there’s now way we can do it alone. But we’re convinced it is absolutely possible to achieve this in our day.

We’re inviting you to join us in a radical departure from the norm. It’s an invitation to leave empty pursuits in the past and risk it all in pursuit of Jesus as He leads us into the margins of society.

Foster care in America is upstream of every social challenge in our nation; crime, incarceration, gang activity, homelessness, trafficking, drug abuse… but if you join us in ending the need for foster care, you’re joining us in bringing significant change to all these other social issues, too.

Imagine a nation with 40% fewer incarcerated people, 70% less trafficking, 50% less homelessness, markedly lower crime rates, drug abuse, early pregnancy, and higher graduation and secondary education rates, weaving more skilled labor and generational stability into the fabric of our neighborhoods and our nation.

If you care about any of these issues, you care about foster care.

Eliminating the need for foster care strengthens communities, boosts the economy, and improves our overall well-being. But beyond any of these social benefits, ending the need for foster care strengthens and empowers families.

This is possible. Together.

Will you join us?

There are 4 ways you can this Giving Season and throughout the year:

  1. Setup a recurring gift
  2. Give your best one-time gift
  3. Donate stocks
  4. Create a peer-to-peer fundraiser

You can also give to specific programs or projects. View these on our website.

And don’t forget to see if your employer matches donations. Many do, making it an easy way to instantly double your gift.

<![CDATA[One Step Closer Devotional (Week 3)]]>https://www.wearetheecho.org/post/one-step-closer-devotional-week-3637d0b7bc961c71dbc43484dTue, 22 Nov 2022 06:00:00 GMTKelley Nichols

When I read this verse, I think of Moses and Aaron. Remember Moses on the mountain, having to hold his arms up to God to protect his people as they waged war against their oppressors? Aaron couldn’t do the job for him, so he stood by Moses’ side and held his arms up. He bore the weight of his arms and the heaviness of the task.

And in this way, he fulfilled the law of Christ. Loving God and his neighbor.

So how do we carry the burdens of vulnerable families impacted by foster care?

It could look like donating diapers every month for a child. Or getting your church involved with resourcing needs and community care. Or leaning into relationships with vulnerable families.

What keeps us from taking one step closer? From following Jesus into the margins and caring for vulnerable people? I think it’s the fear of not enough. We hold onto our resources—our time, our money, our talents—because we’re afraid.

My friend reminded me of Ruth and, love story aside, the message is that there is provision in the margins. Farmers were instructed not to harvest everything, but to leave the gleanings around the edges of the fields for the poor and the immigrant.

To be this kind of open society make us uncomfortable, doesn't it? It requires something of the landowner, right? It requires him not to claim everything that belongs to him by rights. It requires welcoming strangers inside the boundaries of his property. It requires the risk of personal exposure.

This kind of self-sacrifice is the only way for followers of the Way. Matthew 25

A local church took in a pregnant mother and her three children who literally came home from work one day this summer to find that there was no longer a home to go to.

Immediately homeless with nowhere to go and no means to pick up the pieces.

This church’s pastor said, “We’ll do it. We’ll care for her. We can’t afford it, but we’ll do it. We’ll go broke to make sure she’s got what she needs.”

And you know what? They didn’t go broke. And this mother and her kids are in a home of their own and have found a community who cares for her and her little ones like no one ever has.

So what's keeping you from moving closer?

Watch Video

<![CDATA[Entrusted Conference Recap]]>https://www.wearetheecho.org/post/entrusted-conference-recap63718a076e864323ab931102Sun, 20 Nov 2022 03:39:30 GMTRandall Nichols

It's so hard to put into words the experience we shared together at this year's (SOLD OUT!!!) Entrusted Conference, but let's try.

First some stats:

  • Attendees travelled from 6 states (Virginia, Maryland, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Ohio)
  • Together, we consumed 9 gallons of coffee and 3 gallons of coffee creamer
  • 36% of attendees made use of our new conference app platform
  • Over $5000 worth of gifts were given away to attendees, made possible by our generous sponsors
  • More than 40 different churches were represented
  • Nearly 50% of attendees have already secured their spot at next year's ALL NEW Entrusted Conference

Now, beyond the stats, the beauty of the weekend really lies in the vulnerability we were invited into. Tori Hope Petersen and Susan Wanderer both brought us to tears, and our worship leaders, breakout facilitators, panelists, and peers helped hold us together.

Here are a few quotes from attendees:

I always wonder if I should go the next year, and when I do, I get so much out of it, personally and as a parent/spouse, and I remember why I come! To be honest, I am an adoptive mom and feel out of place in the foster care world, but this event is so inclusive and I love being around like-minded people.

Or how about this one:

It was an eye opening experience where we really did feel seen and feel like we have to tools to help our kids feel seen as well.

Ok, one more...

I like the real life aproach of the speakers and break outs. I LOVE everyone’s humor. I laughed so much!

*More pictures and videos will be coming soon!

Oh, and we already know where we'll be and when next year! Make sure you get your tickets when Early Bird goes on sale after the new year.

Visit Entrusted Conference Online

We can't wait to be back together again next Summer!!!

<![CDATA[One Step Closer Devotional (Week 2)]]>https://www.wearetheecho.org/post/one-step-closer-devotional-week-2637d0a7de39229b5807fb506Tue, 15 Nov 2022 06:00:00 GMTKelley Nichols

I can navigate the sometimes treacherous path to the bathroom in complete darkness, dodging renovation tools, legos, and craft supplies littering the stairs. I don't need light because it's a well-traveled familiar path.

And I think much of our lives are like this. We confidently walk familiar paths without needing a light.

But following Jesus is an invitation to walk into unfamiliar places. The darkest corners where marginalized, vulnerable people live. It's scary and disorienting and I think we avoid it because we want a bright light to shine into every nook, exposing every potential obstacle.

Years ago, we took our first giant leap of faith into a life of ministry. And then into foster care and adoption. And then lept out of full-time ministry and into running a nonprofit with a million steps of faith along the way. And what we imagined is we'd take this one giant leap of faith in the darkness, and then our path would be clear and well-lit.

Except it's not. It's one leap of faith in the darkness, followed by another dark step. So we keep our eyes on Jesus.

We follow Him and enter the unfamiliar darkness without fear because the light of the world shines here.

Maybe you're questioning how? How do we take this first step into the darkness? And that's what we'll talk about next week.

Watch Video

<![CDATA[Countdown to Giving Tuesday]]>https://www.wearetheecho.org/post/countdown-to-giving-tuesday636b13a05cfa22b505735250Wed, 09 Nov 2022 03:29:19 GMTRandall Nichols

We launched ECHO in the final months of 2019 and with that we also participated in our very first Giving Tuesday. That inaugural event propelled us into 2020, giving us much needed financial (and moral) support for the curveball that was thrown at all of us in March of that year.

And while 2020 was like nothing any of us ever want to experience again, it taught us something: that our community is resilient and we have tremendous capacity when it comes to caring for one another. In the midst of a pandemic, you all gave and kept giving throughout that year and into 2021. And because of that, we had more opportunities to serve more families.

Because of your giving in 2021, we were able to launch new a new program and expand an existing one to see an economic impact of over $500,000 by the end of last year.

Momentum and Challenges

This generated great momentum going into this year, but we had no idea the pressure this hard-hit economy would place on the families we serve, indicated by the uptick in requests for diaper assistance. From April through September of this year, we saw an average monthly increase of almost 40% month over month. And last month we distributed nearly 20,000 diapers to roughly 200 kiddos.

As we look toward 2023 and do our best to anticipate the needs of families in our community, we do so with faith in our team of supporters who make it possible to keep serving the most vulnerable amount us.

Giving Tuesday

Giving Tuesday is Tuesday, November 29 and we'll have stories to share and fun things to giveaway throughout the day on our Facebook page, so make sure you follow us and keep the notifications turned on for that day!

And as the day approaches, consider what you can do to help fuel the mission of ECHO* to preserve families, prevent fracture, and protect futures because every child deserves to know the stability of a lasting, loving family.

*In addition to traditional giving methods, we now are able to help you explore tax-advantaged gifts like stock, crypto, and planned giving. You might also consider fundraising among your co-workers, friends, or small group, as well as donating gifts in-kind.

We are a crowdfunded nonprofit. We work to stabilize families in crisis, bringing echoes of heaven to earth. All of this is possible because of supporters like you. So, thank you!

<![CDATA[One Step Closer Devotional (Week 1)]]>https://www.wearetheecho.org/post/one-step-closer-devotional-week-1637d04e6d6b2cd4edf9434edTue, 08 Nov 2022 06:00:00 GMTKelley Nichols

As image bearers, we are meant to reflect His light. But when our hope is in anything or anyone other than Him, and when we’re distracted or too busy,

When our family was young, we struggled. Discontent. Dissatisfaction. The house was always messy. Work needed us and our young children needed us more. We were planting a church and there was always something that needed to be done. We were always running in different directions.

We were missing something. And society told us it was a bigger home, a newer car, and a nice vacation. And there’s certainly nothing wrong with these things. But God wants more and he wants us to want more.

Followers of Jesus, follow Jesus.

I think we dim our light (or the reflection of Jesus’ light in our lives) so we don’t have to see the needs. Because when we follow Jesus—the light of the world—he’s going to go into the margins. The dark corners with broken, hurting people. He brings light to them.

And if we follow him there we will see the needs.

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<![CDATA[One Step Closer - A Movement]]>https://www.wearetheecho.org/post/one-step-closer-a-movement634a068265dc60550802b7eeSat, 15 Oct 2022 19:05:25 GMTRandall Nichols

300 children.

That's how many children within 20 miles of your front door will fall asleep tonight separated from their parents.

Each of them helpless to their situation. Each processing the trauma of their separation in different ways. Many not knowing where their siblings are. All of them waiting for this to all be over.

The process of either returning home or finding a stable home can take years, often because there aren't enough homes able to care for the needs of a child who's experiencing so much turmoil.

We aim to reverse this. To find more homes, to equip more families, to move more children out of care each year than enter.

With each year, each service provided, each family served, and each partner engaged, we move closer and closer to this goal.

It's the reason we're launching the One Step Closer Movement. It's a fun run, sort of. But it's so much more than that. At its core it's an invitation to you and your circle to close the gap for these children; to move them one step closer to family with each step you take.

Here's how you get involved:

  1. Register yourself or your group on our website
  2. Invite friends to join your team
  3. Set a fundraising goal and recruit sponsors
  4. Get moving!

Will you join us? Will you join the movement that's reversing the impact of foster care in your community? Will you help bring them one step closer to family?

<![CDATA[10 Great Ideas for Your Church on Stand Sunday]]>https://www.wearetheecho.org/post/10-great-ideas-for-your-church-on-stand-sunday6349ef7dbe005e5cfee6762bSat, 15 Oct 2022 00:29:45 GMTRandall Nichols

If you've never participated in Stand Sunday before, you may not be familiar with this annual Church initiative. Every year on the second Sunday in November (which is also National Adoption Month in the US), churches all across the country shine a light on the more than 400,000 invisible children impacted by the US foster care system.

This is an opportunity to give your people actionable ideas to help them stand with the precious children and vulnerable families experiencing foster care right now, 300 of whom are within 20 miles of your church.

Want to know more about Stand Sunday? Click below to watch this short explainer:


You can also find more on the official Stand Sunday website, facilitated by the Christian Alliance for Orphans (CAFO).

<![CDATA[An Idea for Your Church and Families in the Community]]>https://www.wearetheecho.org/post/an-idea-for-your-church-and-families-in-the-community626d6fd6bae3cf6c2e04959dSat, 30 Apr 2022 17:24:57 GMTRandall Nichols

Hey Church Leader!

Have you ever visited a zoo? Do you remember your first time? How old were you? Did you go with family? A church group? Friends?

Last year ECHO hosted its first-ever family fun day at the Virginia Zoological Park in Norfolk. Here are some of the comments we heard:

"I've never been to the zoo before. Do the animals just roam around?" - Evan, 6 years old
"This is the first time I've seen my brother since we were separated." - Foster youth, 9 years old
"I didn't know coming to the zoo could feel like a family reunion." - Angie, foster parent

From our event last year, we were introduced to nearly 500 children and families and we've had the honor of serving them throughout the year.

On May 14th, we're hosting our 2nd Annual ECHO at the Zoo and already we have nearly 400 ticket requests from kinship, foster, and adoptive families.

We believe the local church is the world's greatest hope dealer. And for these families, you're the lifeline many of them have been praying for. How amazing would it be for your church to have an introduction to these families?

So I had an idea. Here's where you can make a tremendous impact. Three ideas...

  1. Would your church be willing to purchase a block of tickets for these families to make it possible for them to attend together? You can click this link to make it happen.
  2. Are there kinship (grandparents, aunts, uncles caring for a relative's child), foster, or adoptive families in your congregation who could use a fun, free day out to reconnect with each other? Would you buy tickets for your family and theirs and invite them to come with you? Can you imagine the gift this could be to them? Click here to buy your tickets.
  3. Does the church have a van or bus and a driver who'd be willing to help families lacking transportation take advantage of a day out? Connect with us here through this form (look for the Shuttle Team section).

We're so tremendously grateful for you, Church Leader, for your church, and for the work of the Gospel in which we're honored to share.

<![CDATA[Windows into the Invasion of Ukraine and Specifics on How to Pray]]>https://www.wearetheecho.org/post/windows-into-the-invasion-of-ukraine621b00da8ef61d4ef99f8b5aSun, 27 Feb 2022 05:02:14 GMTRandall Nichols

Article orifinally appeared on https://cafo.org/ on February 25, 2022 by Jedd Medefind

The world watches tragedy unfold in Ukraine. The war will damage everything it touches, from local electric grids to the global economy. Whatever else will occur, we can know this: As in any crisis, vulnerable children will be among the most impacted. The updates below provide glimpses of the current wave of the Russian invasion, shared real-time by CAFO member organizations that have long served children in Ukraine.

As you read, please do not only gaze on trouble from far off. Join with our dear brothers and sisters in Ukraine by praying for each situation and person involved:

Ambassador for Father’s House

Events have escalated quickly in Ukraine. Roman, the staff and kids are all safe! …The streets are full as people evacuate the city. A military base near Fathers House has been attacked. We have started the evacuation and the children are on their way to safety. Right now they are securing all the necessary supplies and documents to transport the children and adults who will be caring for them. They have secured housing for 120-150 people along with transportation for them. As things escalate, they are heading somewhere they will be safe throughout this time. The place they are going has agreed to allow the kids entry with or without travel forms. Kids and staff will be placed in a donor’s hotel, churches and families in a safe environment. We ask for your continued prayer and support in this fluid and uncertain time. At this time we are praying for safe travels and security during this trip across the country. We will continue to share updates via Facebook (@ambassadorsoffh) and social media as we can.

Lifeline Children’s Services

We have our FSPs in Ukraine as well as our partner Heritage Ukraine in Odessa. So far, all are safe, but the situation is grave. Heritage ministers to families with kids with special needs to help them be able to stay home & not be institutionalized. The Perekotys (our other partner) are in the US now. Yuriy’s parents however are in Ternopi. The family is currently safe but cannot leave where they are because gas stations are completely out of gas. Also, our partner Regen Foundation in Romania is prepared to receive Ukrainian refugees. We all have too many friends to count who are in harms way. I think we are all numb.

Lifesong for Orphans

All of the children and families we serve, as well as our staff and their families, are safe at this time. Our team prepared for this invasion by gathering food, water, fuel, and supplies, and they continue gathering supplies today.

We are enacting contingency plans and moving our staff, families, and youth to the safest locations we can, wherever possible.

Our hearts are heavy with what is happening. Would you join us in prayer? Please pray for:

  • Wisdom and discernment for government officials and decision-makers.
  • The children and families Lifesong serves to experience God’s unconditional love and peace.
  • The continued safety and protection of vulnerable children, staff, volunteers, and families.
  • Peace in and surrounding Ukraine.
  • God’s glory through the heavy challenges.

We find encouragement in the words and mindset of Denis Poshelok, Director of Lifesong Ukraine. He recently wrote, “God is in control. In times like this, people are more open to the Gospel and are searching for answers that only He has. It’s an ideal time to serve people and point them to Christ.

Our fight is a spiritual one, and we trust God will lead us through all this, as He always does.”

Nightlight Christian Adoptions

Our FT staff member in our Indiana office is a sweet, young Ukrainian citizen named Vika. She spent the whole time in tears…hasn’t been able to speak all day. Here are the prayer requests we came up with:

  • For the safety of our friends and family in harm’s way
  • For keen awareness of God’s presence in dark times
  • For God to be victorious over His enemies
  • For the protection and safety of those fighting for their freedom
  • For those fleeing the country, we pray for safe and successful passage
  • For all adoptions in process to find a quick and successful completion
  • Knowing that the “consent of the governed” is a God-given right, for the people of Ukraine to have the same
  • Knowing that all people were created with the inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, we pray the people of Ukraine would have these rights

A Family for Every Orphan

We have been in touch with several of our partners in Ukraine and they echo what is heard in the news. Some are in the east along the border where shelling is heavy and Russian tanks are crossing over into their regions, others are more central and continue to hear sounds of missiles and see smoke in the distance as key military and infrastructure is targeted. One has evacuated his family from the east, while choosing to stay behind to continue to minister to the many children and families he serves. Another is watching the news and traffic carefully to determine when and if evacuation is wise. And another is hunkered down with many children they minister to in a nearby bomb shelter until it is safe to return.

Our partners and the vulnerable children and families they serve are in immediate need of: Gas / transportation; Food and water; Medicine and supplies; Shelter as it will take days for many to travel west.

One pastor and ministry friend said: “… God is giving us peace to stay. So, we have chosen to stay here to serve the people of our church, to serve the kids of the ministry we have, and to serve people of this nation in any way that we can. We have become a place of refuge already, people know that we are a safe place to come to, and either get food or blankets or a place. And we are going to do just that. So, do pray with us and for us. We are believing that God will glorify his name through our nation. And We pray for Russia as well, for peace all over the world.”

Please also be praying specifically for…

  • Slava – our partner in Kharkiv that is one of the main areas attacked the hardest, evacuated his family and stayed behind to care for the children and families he is helping. Please pray for his protection and strength.
  • Jane and Barbara – Who run a family-style orphanage in the kyiv area are bunkered in a bomb shelter. Please pray for their discernment on when to return and for food supplies for the children.
  • Andriy – Who is helping families in the Chernobyl region that has been hit heavily as well. He has a wife and two young children behind at home.
  • Bogdan – Who has been helping aged out teens in the east relocate to safer shelters and is now stuff in the chaos of traffic and gas shortages to get back to where he needs to be.
  • And for the Ukrainian Military – Without other nations stepping in, with God’s help, they are their only hope and are apparently doing really well despite being significantly outnumbered.

Serving Orphans Worldwide

We have been in contact with all of our partner homes in Ukraine, and all of the children and staff are currently safe.

However, please continue your prayers and support.

Pilgrim (Mariupol) and Sails of Hope (Slavyansk) are in particularly vulnerable areas of Eastern Ukraine. Our contacts have confirmed shelling and attacks all over the nation close to all 5 of our partner homes located near Kyiv, Alexandria, and even Lviv which is near the Polish border to the west.

Two of the homes have made an attempt to evacuate, but ultimately were forced to turn around and shelter in place due to Russian military strikes.

Hands of Hope

Jed in Ukraine has requested prayer for protection, discernment, wisdom, and peace. There was bombing about 20 miles away at a tank factory which shook their windows but so far that’s as close as it’s come. They have 2 generators, supplies, food, and medicine for a few months. They are all hunkered down together. I know many have dear friends there as well. Praying fervently for all of Ukraine! We know God is faithful and eventually there will be victory over all the brokenness of the world. But hard, hard things.

Orphan’s Promise

We’ve been in constant communication with our people in Ukraine all day. Our staff there could see and hear the explosions from their houses... Everyone’s waiting. There’s really nowhere to go any more. The people are scared but they are determined to fight. Many volunteers are signing up to go to battle. They bombed the whole country and are trying to advance from three sides (from Crimea in the south, along Russian borders in the East and from Belorussia in the North…. we’ve sent supplies in earlier this month in anticipation of the attacks but nobody expected the whole country to be affected. All of our kids/projects have been safe for now, just praying and waiting.

Everyone has been affected in the whole country because of the Airstrikes yesterday. They continue today. Several staff from our office are gathering at her house as it’s seen as a safer place than in the city of Kyiv with multilevel buildings. And they all are praying together that nothing hits their house…

Orphan Outreach

The young adults who are in our Aging Out Program are safe and are doing as well as can be expected. They are praying together as the Russian attack commences, and our Orphan Outreach team is praying alongside them as they and all of Ukraine face an uncertain future. Our Ukraine team currently has provisions to provide for their care—including food and shelter. Of course, this situation can change at any moment.

<![CDATA[When's the Best Time to Reclaim Your Legacy?]]>https://www.wearetheecho.org/post/reclaim-your-legacy605cd72019708a0015df742aThu, 25 Mar 2021 18:40:45 GMTRandall Nichols"Some of you will reclaim the ancient ruins of your cities. Then you will be known as a rebuilder of walls and a restorer of homes." Isaiah 58:12 NLT

Some time ago we sat at the kitchen table feeling this frustration with life. We had one little guy and another one on the way and I remember you saying, “There’s got to be more than this.” It was this discontent with normal life, knowing we were created for more. Maybe you’ve said it or thought it or felt it... this discontent with the normal American pursuit (job advancement, bigger house, nicer car, family vacations, etc.). I think we just feel stuck in it and we look around and we feel normal so we just resign to live in it...until the nagging feeling catches back up to us and we feel frustrated all over again. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a good job, a nice house or car, or exploring the big beautiful world God has made. The problem is when those become our pursuit. They become our why. But pursuing these things we know almost always leads to ruin. Right? Marriages are ruined. Families are ruined. Careers are ruined. Finances are ruined. Reputations are ruined. Sometimes nature and cultures have even been ruined. Those “things” we want to acquire or see or do, they can all be roadside stops along the way but when they become our aim, people (and often the people we care about most) become victims along the wayside of our sideways pursuit.

That’s kinda what happened to the people of Israel. In the Book of Isaiah, we see the prophet spending a lot of effort trying to help Israel see how they’d abused themselves and the cost that was being imposed because of it. Isaiah’s helping them remember. Helping them aspire. Helping them identify. Helping them hook back in to that tether that anchors them to God and the purpose He has for them as individuals, as a community, as a nation, and ultimately as a people belonging to God. Israel had just been given a chance to start over but they were finding themselves doing the same old things with the same old results that weakened them as a society and left them exposed and vulnerable and ultimately led to their capture and the city's destruction.

Their legacy has been left in ruins.

What about you?

What about me?

What in your life, in my life, is in ruins because of self-preservation rather than seeking the welfare of others? I think you've probably seen it too often recently...

Marriages are crumbling. Business have closed. Influencial men have ruined their reputations. Church leaders have lost influence. Your daughter won't return your phone calls. Your brother has stopped responding to your attempts to connect. Your childhood friendship is on the rocks because of an unfiltered comment on Facebook. Maybe you feel like your life or parts of your life are in ruins.

Israel was there. Our society is there. And the ones who pay the highest cost are the poor, the overlooked, the invisible, the silenced, the marginalized...

But this chapter in Isaiah tells us, if we are willing to listen, some of us will have the luxury of a life that lives on after we've returned to the dust. If we will listen, if we will move toward the margins of society, if we will elevate the downcast, we will actually be able to reclaim for our own lives a legacy that can outlast us.

Reclaiming the ruins isn't easy. And it isn't instant. It's an investment but it's one that has the potential to pay dividends for generations to come.

When we observe the population we serve in foster care and adoption, especially the children, and maybe even more especially the teenagers, all of them come into a new family feeling a constant and often subconscious sense of the brain making all these "Am I Safe" evaluations. The walls have been broken down for them over and over and over again. And the more experiences of trauma a child has had, the more challenges a foster or adoptive parent will need to overcome. As a human, that child is instinctively wired to survive. But as a child, they're not emotionally equipped to build those walls in healthy ways. Only a regulated, stable adult can do that. And, as you can imagine, rebuilding walls is not an overnight or single-response solution. There's work to be done. Slow, intentional, self-sacrificing work to be done to rebuild security FOR a child and let their brains do the work of healthy development rather than constantly fighting for survival.

And adults... we are the only ones who can do this for a child... for the children in our cities who desperately need someone to say, "I see you. I've got you. You're safe here."

Is this your legacy? What would it take for you to take the next step? There are a few things you can do right now. One, you can pray. Let God stir your heart. Two, obey. Whatever you feel He might be asking of you, be courageous and follow Jesus in obedience. Three, connect with us. Maybe what He's asking of you is to welcome children into your home and begin the process of rebuilding walls for them. Maybe he's asking you to help these families with the process of rebuilding. Maybe he's asking you to fund the work. There's something for everyone. There's a way every single one of you can reclaim your legacy and be known as a rebuilder of walls.

And while it's fine to dream about your own 2.5 kids and your boat and your house, remember Isaiah was wanting Israel to keep the marginalized in mind in all this dreaming. And this is Jesus' dream for you as well. There are thousands of kids in our country who've forgotten how to dream because for them, the basics have been so elusive that dreaming of a family, of a place that feels safe, of the arms of a mother, of the security of a future, of the laughter around the dinner table, of warm snuggles under blankets, and football in the yard - these dreams aren't even possible for many kids. In fact, where we live there are a few hundred who simply don't have the capacity to dream right now because they're fighting for survival. They need someone who can curate a dream for them. You can bring the dream to them. You can restore home for a child today. You can restore dreams for a child today. This is your legacy. And God is inviting you to step into it. Will you take his offer?

Are you wrestling with the idea of opening your home to a child? Is there a family in your circle who needs your support? Do you have the capacity for financial generosity toward vulnerable people?

Here's what we know... we all want our lives to mean something. When we're dead and gone, we want to be remembered for something.

If we look again at Israel and the audience Isaiah was orginially writing to, in many ways this call to reclaim, rebuild, and restore was a very literal aspiration. Hammer and nails, timber and thatch, front doors and sidewalks and neighbors and all that. But you and I both know that a physical house is not at the core of our aspirations. Certainly we want a safe, pleasing, and functional structure. But home is more than walls and a roof. Home is what happens between the people who live inside it. And if I put myself in the shoes of Isaiah's audience and I hear him ask me to dream about being known as a restorer of homes, I'm remembering the dinners around the table as a kid where I'd watch my father pray, where I'd hear my brother and sister laughing, or my mom trying to stay civilized when someone produced an unexpected sound from the southside, if you know what I mean. I'm recalling building something with my dad or playing ball in the front yard. I'm dreaming about what it'll be like to teach my son to drive and how to ask a girl on a date. Being a restorer of homes is really very little about the structure of a house and so much about the opportunity to strengthen the human connection within the most sacred structure God has ever formed, the family.

It’s taking one step in the direction of God’s people. It’s seeing the messy, broken ruins of someone’s life and moving towards them, when everything in you wants to turn and go the other way.

We could ignore them. We do it every day. Sometimes, it's just easier. But what if instead, we choose to see the needs? To look into the eyes of the person in need? What if we believed God coud actually use us to meet the needs? What would it look like to move just one step in His direction?

We all want our lives to mean something. This is your legacy. And God is inviting you to step into it. Will you take his offer?

Will you move just one step in His direction?

<![CDATA[Self Care or Community Care?]]>https://www.wearetheecho.org/post/community-care605cd28e877a3b0015c63c84Thu, 25 Mar 2021 18:27:19 GMTKelley NicholsFifty percent (50%) of families who step into foster care and/or adoption will quit within the first year. They cite lack of support as the main reason. But with support, 90% continue on for years.

Big Question #1: Why do families quit?

First of all, parents of children with special needs or trauma experience chronic stress levels comparable to combat soldiers. They are at higher risk for caregiver fatigue, burnout, PTSD, depression and divorce.

And, there’s no quick or easy fix. Kids come to you after experiencing these big, hard things. We attended a trauma workshop that offered practical tips in managing trauma behaviors. And said after putting in the time, day in and day out for 18 months, you’ll see results. So it makes sense that without support, so many foster families are done after one year. It’s hard, you’re all alone and it’s not getting any better.

Big Question #2: What does margin look like for a family in crisis?

Families in crisis don’t have margin. Life happens in very rough waters. And your people (family, friends, church, school, counselors, doctors, babysitters, etc)—your support—is your family’s lifeboat. Without margin, water comes in the boat faster than you can bail out.

So you’re drowning. But, drowning doesn’t look like what you think. And sometimes, you don’t even realize you’re drowning.

“Shouting self care at people who actually need community care is how we fail people.” Nakita Valerio

Big Question #3: What are some practical ways anybody can get involved and what kind of commitment are we talking about?

If someone is drowning, you don’t stand over them and ask them why they’re drowning. Or suggest things they do differently.

You jump in.

Don’t say, “Let me know if you need anything.”

Instead say, “I’m picking up CFA. What can I get for your family?”

Just show up.

Why do we wait for people to die to show up with food? People eat every day. Just show up with food. A meal gives families time to do other things. Margin to go to the pool or ride bikes a little longer and come home to dinner because they don’t have to worry about cooking. And, a meal shows these families they have this whole community who cares about them.

So often for these families, one meal a month can be a lifeboat.

Content by: Carlyn Menser, Susan Fowler & Kelley Nichols

Listen to the full podcast episode HERE

Related Video:

<![CDATA[Sabotaging Big Days]]>https://www.wearetheecho.org/post/sabotaging-big-days5df2846836e9ee00179ad5d1Thu, 12 Dec 2019 18:24:30 GMTRandall NicholsThis article originally appeared on jenhatmaker.com on December 14, 2017. We’d love to hear your thoughts on these ideas as we head into the holidays.

Tracking your history, have you noticed that Christmas produces an inevitable cocktail of unintentional sabotage, overreactions, and meltdowns (or total withdrawal)? Do the best of days end in tears, yelling, and devastation? Do you end the season curled up in a ball, confused how these lovely moments keep going sideways?

Big Day Sabotage is no joke, man.

For all my friends who parent someone with unrealistic expectations, or you're related (or married) to someone like this, as well as grownups who also sabotage Big Days unwittingly, you're not alone. Maybe you find yourself wrecking Big Days like Christmas, feeling frustrated year after year at your own self. Perhaps this will be helpful for you too, dear one. So many factors contribute to this grief and self-preserving behavior; being abandoned is one contributor, but other circumstances result in the same reaction.

First, the WHY. This is multifaceted and certainly varies from person to person:

WHY: Abandonment, that common old culprit, is a deep shame so entrenched, most affected people don’t even know they are operating out of it. Whether with full memories in hand or not, it doesn’t matter. The narrative is: I wasn’t good enough to keep or to stay with or to stand by or to love well. This may affect children you are parenting, or it could be residual pain from your own childhood - someone left you, walked away, or maybe even lived in your home but was entirely absent. This sense of unworthiness is so deep, it takes a lifetime of intentional work to overcome. What shame says is this: I am not worthy of love, happiness, or goodness. It seems ridiculous to those who love that person, but those affections can’t erase a hard story. When someone doesn’t feel worthy of happiness on Big Days, he or she might sabotage to hasten the disappointment before it gets to them first. Double bonus if that behavior triggers someone else' anger, because then shame is validated.

WHY: Big Days trigger Big Feelings. No matter the extreme (good or bad), it is all INTENSE and triggering. It conjures the most tender emotions, the most volatile responses, kind of like laughing hysterically at a funeral. Of course the reaction seems outrageous, but Big is Big and when a traumatized or sensitive person opens the door to Big, everything is free to spill out. Some folks spend so much energy keeping a lid on their pain and fear and trying to just “act normal,” so when permission is granted to feel all their feels, both ends of the spectrum dump their restrained contents and it is a cluster of hysteria.

WHY: For many people, exiting the safe space of ordinary, regulated, predictable routine and entering the scary space of extraordinary, disregulated, unpredictable practice is very disruptive. When your insides feel out of control, it is incredibly calming to have a schedule you can count on; no big surprises to derail, no left field scenarios to navigate, no uncertain activities to worry about. Big Days not only produce exceptional emotions (not normal), but everyone else places heightened expectations on the impending (not normal) celebration, and the stress is unmanageable.

Or the opposite. Maybe you (or someone you love) place your own unreasonable expectations on Big Days. Someone might imagine a narrative so impossible, so idealistic, so over-the-top, every normal detour is devastating. The desire to craft the Most Perfect Day Ever reaches a fever pitch, and with the slightest wobble to the plan, that person comes unraveled. He or she wants to control the outcome all the way to perfection, but that doesn’t exist and inner shame trumps it anyway. That person falls from an exceptional height of Expectations + “I am unworthy of happiness.”

WHY: Regret and sadness. You know what? It is just sad to remember grief or pain or loss, whether it happened early or just this year. Big Days can be a reminder of what should have been but wasn’t, all that was lost, all that will never be. While others seem to happily skip through every charmed Christmas memory, the sensitive, fragile heart feels lonely and isolated from the merriment, alone in very real feelings of sadness.

So here are some suggestions for Big Days:

If possible, shrink the runway to Big Days. The longer the season (THANKS FOR NOTHING CHRISTMAS SEASON THAT NOW STARTS IN OCTOBER), the greater the stress. It’s just too much to worry about for too long. So if possible, don’t say a word until the day before or day of. On seasons like Christmas, the next suggestion is helpful…

Which is this: lower stimulation all around. The conventional American approach suggests that MORE Christmas is called for. Let’s make so many beautiful memories! We’ll give you all the magic! But it can have the opposite effect. Too much stimulus, too many feelings, too much activity, too many opportunities to fall apart. Keep Big Days (and seasons) simple. Don't overschedule or overhype. The calmer an activity is, the less noise and people, the better. And don’t talk about those activities until they are practically happening. Less is more.

Try to manage expectations. Cast simple, manageable vision for Big Days: this is what we’ll do, this is who will be there, this is what we won’t be doing, this is about how long it will last. If possible, address unrealistic expectations early; better now than someone obsess for weeks then face disappointment times one million. (I had a hard conversation with a kid a couple of years ago because she kept asking for an iPhone. I finally said, “Honey, you are not getting an iPhone. No 3rd grader in this family has ever had an iPhone. Let’s let that go right now so you don’t expect one on Christmas morning.” Once that stressor was gone, she did not worry about it for the next 10 days then despair on Christmas morning.) When someone tips their hand toward unrealistic expectations, manage them then and there. And if the unrealistic expectation is yours, sit your own self down and talk yourself out of the rafters. Paint a realistic picture for your mind and try to untangle from dreamy scenarios that will unlikely happen.

If it is appropriate, lots of touching and pauses for affection. This has a calming effect on my entire family actually. When you see one of your people spiraling, it helps to pull them on your lap, rub their backs, and redirect their attention for a few minutes. It is a physical solution to an emotional problem. It often works like a reset button. If it is you? Talk someone into scratching your back or rubbing your hands or shoulders for five minutes. (One of my best friends likes to have a small touch during Big Moments. I'll reach over and rest my hand on her forearm and tell her, "Who loves you? Me.")

Finally, talk in advance about how Big Feelings might show up. Recall other Big Days and identify emotions. Validate, validate, validate, making sure your Big Day Struggler hears that he or she is NOT a bad person wrecking a perfectly good day. (And you may need to tell this to yourself, dear one.) Talk about fear and sadness and feelings of scarcity and how that shows up, and give them full permission to feel it all. Assure them that whether they get a handle on it or not, they could not possibly make you love them less, and if the worst thing that happens is they have a bad day, then no big deal. Everyone gets to have bad days. It’s not a deal breaker.

Just taking that pressure off is so helpful. Feeling less alone in anxiety, confusion, and shame is so healing. The message is: We are in this together, and just knowing that makes us all less afraid.

For those of us managing a lot of hearts and lives, it helps to take our own expectations out of the stratosphere, and if a Big Day goes beautifully, then HUZZAH!! If it doesn’t, it is just a day and we are looking at the long road with our people, right?

To all parents doing this hard work and to grown-ups with sabotaging behaviors and worries about these Big Days ahead, I just love you. We’ll just keep working, keep trying, keep loving, and keep forgiving ourselves when it all goes sideways. You are not alone, know that. So many of us are right there with you, doing the stuff, having victories and flat-out disasters. But we are trying and we care and we Love Big and that counts.

The merriest of Christmases to you, friends. And if the whole Big Day goes in the gutter, there is always the egg nog.

What is your experience here? What do you see? What do you do? How do you help?

<![CDATA[Wrapping Around Foster and Adoptive Families]]>https://www.wearetheecho.org/post/wrapping-around-foster-and-adoptive-families5d35ba51b9b760016eb38a7eMon, 22 Jul 2019 13:37:08 GMTRandall NicholsThis article originally appeared on jasonjohnsonblog.com

The goal of your church is not simply to start a peripheral ministry a few are involved in; it’s to establish a foundation culture of caring for orphaned and vulnerable children everyone has a role to play in.

An environment where it's understood that while we're not all called to do the same thing, we're all certainly capable of doing something. That's the goal. Everyone. Doing. Something. 


If we're not careful, we may unintentionally define caring for orphans and the vulnerable too narrowly - to simply mean foster care, adoption or some other form of bringing a child into your home long term. While these are of course crucial and essential places for the Church to engage, they represent only a few of the items on the buffet of limitless opportunities available for people to get involved. The truth is that not everyone is called to foster or adopt. As a matter of fact, most people in the Church won't ever bring a child into their home for any extended period of time. But this does not mean they, and the Church as a whole, don't have an essential and necessary role to play in caring for these kids by supporting the families who do.

If people in your church are only hearing it's about adoption, then the many that are not considering adoption but still have a heart to be involved won’t engage. If people are only hearing it’s about foster care, then those who aren't able to foster but are still passionate about being involved will feel like there's no place for them to really make an impact. Our message must be clear, broad and helpful - from the single college student to the young family to the empty nester to the retiree - that we all don't have to do the same thing, but we can all certainly do something. If it's too narrow we effectively communicate that the majority of our people have no essential role to play in this, if any at all, which is certainly not the case.


I recently met a man in Nebraska. Mid-60's, retired. He spends most of his time at a local equestrian center re-shoeing and caring for the horses there because many are used in equine therapy for kids who have experienced trauma, abuse and neglect. He told me that while he may not be able to bring a child into his home he can certainly take care of these horses if it means it helps those kids who need them. I couldn't agree more. 

I recently met a couple in Kansas City. Empty-nesters. He told me he makes the best BBQ in the state (a bold claim!) and LOVES to cater any orphan care ministry related event at their church including respite nights for couples, info meetings for those considering getting involved and even taking meals over to families homes who have had a new child placed with them. Here's a couple that has said, "We know what we can't do, and we know what we can do, so we're going to do what we can do well." They told me that while they may not be in a position to bring a child into their home right now they can certainly do their best to bless those who are. I couldn't agree more. 

I recently spent time with a pastor in Oklahoma. Large, historic, traditional church. They've established a significant fund people can invest in that, in part, is used to (and I quote the pastor here) "Ensure that under no circumstances should it cost anyone in our church one penny to foster or adopt a child". Wow! He told me he recognizes that with a large demographic of senior-aged adults in his body they have to be diligent about presenting unique opportunities to get involved that don't simply consist of bringing children into their home. He's convinced they have thousands of dollars in an account right now waiting to be used by families because of it. Here's a church that has said, "We know what we can't do, and we know what we can do, so we're going to do what we can do well." I couldn't agree more. 

I know of lawyers that will donate legal services for adoptions pro bono. Mechanics who one Saturday a month offer free oil changes to single moms and foster parents. Counselors who offer their services for free to foster and adoptive families. The list could go on. Everyone...every.one. can do something. 


The opportunities to get involved are as unique and diverse as each individual person in your church. Everyone has something to offer - whether it's BBQ, babysitting, a gift card or even a new forever family. While we are not all called to do the same thing, we are all certainly capable of doing something. Perhaps it could be said this way: You're either called to bring children into your home or you're capable of serving and supporting those who do - so find your "something"! Maybe the consistent "script" at your church can simply be this:

"At _______ ________ Church, some of us are going to bring children into our homes, the rest of us are going to find ways to serve and support them."

Here's a visual to help us see some simple, unique and diverse ways that a community of people can wrap around and tangibly serve foster and adoptive families - and in so doing participate in their calling and responsibility to care for kids by serving and supporting the families who have brought them into their homes.  

To explore the idea of "everyone can do something" further, and to discover practical ways to implement this in your church or ministry, read "Ten Simple Ways Your Church Can Serve Foster Families", "Sharing Stories That Help Your Ministry, Not Hurt It" and download the FREE eBook, "Everyone Can Do Something: Building a Foundational Culture of Orphan in Your Church"

<![CDATA[Scared Doesn’t Mean Coward]]>https://www.wearetheecho.org/post/scared-doesn-t-mean-coward5c9411fbe0f217001cc710bcThu, 21 Mar 2019 23:05:28 GMTRandall NicholsDown syndrome is scary.

I said that to myself five years ago. It took me awhile to admit it. But I was pretty opposed to all lifelong diagnoses.

I had very little information about Down syndrome back then. And the information gaps gave my imagination plenty of space to run freely. I saw the shadows in the woods, tolerable at a distance, but I dare not move closer.

I was afraid. I was afraid of the shortness of life that often accompanies a Down syndrome diagnosis. Afraid of poor quality of life. Afraid of the social torment people with this diagnosis endure. Afraid I didn’t have what it would take to be a parent of a person with a lifelong diagnosis.

I could tell you all the reasons you shouldn’t be afraid, but they won’t apply to some of you and I’m certain to miss some of the specifics that others of you are really looking for. I can’t do it all in five minutes or less. I wish we could meet for coffee or share a few meals together (which we love doing if we can make the logistics happen). The concerns are varied but there are some things that are universal and those are the best things to talk about here.

Emotional or Practical? Which is Right?

Prospective moms and dads seem to come at the adoption process differently. For the most part, at least with the families I know, a mom’s initial approach to adopting is entwined with her emotionally enriched nature to nurture. Dads are emotional, too. I would argue our approaches are almost always emotional. Though not initially with an intent to nurture, we’re bent to ensure we’re protecting the margins, and that propensity is driven by emotion. There’s a lot wrapped up in this… it’s financial, practical; it’s family dynamics, potential lifestyle changes, etc.

None of these are necessarily deal-breakers, but they all need to be considered…

Will we have to buy a new car? Do we need to change our vacation strategy? Are we saving enough? Are my parents still going to come visit? Will our friends stick around for the chaos? What about the day-to-day? Do changes need to happen at work to accommodate a new child with potentially chronic medical needs?

It’s scary for us dads. We don’t say it. But I promise you, it is. Scary doesn’t mean choosing adoption is wrong. In fact, often, it probably means it’s right. But here’s the one thing we need you to know, wives. Us dads… we’re not cold or slow to the idea. We are practical, methodical, maybe even cautious.

But we are not cowardly.

It may sound like spin, but wives, please try to understand. We’re all trying to mitigate our own fears to best position our family for the prospect of a healthy transition into life as the family of a person with a lifelong diagnosis. I’m certain there are wise things to be poured in to your hearts moms, but I’m a dad and I think the boys need to hear me today.

Two Ways I Struck Out and One Time I Didn’t

First of all, dads… you’re doing a great job. You may not be hitting home runs. You might even be striking out. But you’re stepping up to the plate and taking swings. Now, if all you’re doing is striking out, we might need to work on some things because you’ve got to at least get on base if you ever hope to win the game. I want to help you. Dads, here are two ways I struck out. And this one time when I didn’t. Learn from my mistakes and help your wife and family…

….. Out #1: I processed everything internally only talking about my process when I’d come to a conclusion.

It is my nature to process internally. I read, reason, contemplate, read more, adjust my reasoning and finally settle my mind and heart. Nothing terribly unhealthy about this. Lots of brilliant people do it. Much of science and significant scientific discoveries follow this process.

But your wife’s heart and your family are not science experiments. They are your very own flesh and bone (Genesis 2:23). Your job as husband is as cultivator. It’s what a husband is. Someone who cultivates. Not just someone who contemplates. Contemplation in isolation is healthy. Cultivation requires planning, faith, exposure, discipline, protection, attention. Cultivation requires intimacy. And intimacy cannot happen in isolation. So sure, do what you need to learn and prepare, and then do what I didn’t do… offer your thoughts and feelings to your wife. Let her in. Ask her for her perspective. This will likely require you move back into contemplation (reading, learning, reasoning, etc.) but make sure you re-emerge to connect your wife to your process.

….. Out #2: I based all my internal processing decisions on the practical impacts.

Emotions are a real thing. They’re important. I don’t think they should have all the power, but they need to be given a voice and given their place. I don’t show the world what I’m really feeling most of the time. But this is a safe space, so I’ll confess… I have fears.We all do. To set our fears to rest, we seek knowledge, information, facts, experience. We’re looking for ways to settle our turmoil. We’re emotionally wired to move from chaos to peace.

But some of us (me), go a little far with this and ignore the messy emotions of a big decision, putting the weight of the cross on the shoulders of logic alone. Don’t do that. It’s poor form. And it ignores a critical element of your make up – your emotions. And look, if you’re having a hard time tapping in to your own emotions, ask your wife to offer hers. Emotion is too valuable an ingredient to holistic decision making to leave it aside.

….. That one time I didn’t strike out…

We had gotten some terrible news. Our dossier had been lost. This document we’d poured ourselves into for months, carefully following every little detail, asking for guidance to make sure it was in order… gone. We’d sent it to our agency. Our agency had reviewed it and sent it to the authorities in our child’s birth country, the birth country confirmed receipt of it, and then lost it. No one knew how to even begin to look for it.

There were lots of emotions. The most prevalent one being heartache. Our little girl was stuck in an orphanage while the family who loved her was stuck without a dossier. I cried. Mostly because I was angry and overwhelmed. My wife felt sad and guilty, as if she could have changed the outcome. It felt like a dead end, hopeless, heavy moment. But instead of sitting in my sorrow and letting anger turn in to cancer, we worshipped. Over and over we sang the refrain, “Our God is fighting for us always, we are not alone, we are not alone.” Over and over. Over our own hearts and over our little one across the world. We affirmed God’s nearness to us in this setback and His protection for our baby in an orphanage without a family nearby.

And then we prayed. Together. With tears streaming down our cheeks and faith in our hearts, “God wherever this dossier is, let it rise to the top of someone’s desk. If it’s buried in a stack somewhere, let it be found.”Two days later, that’s exactly what happened. It ended up on the wrong desk of a worker who was out of the office for a couple days. It’s reasonable to believe this issue would have worked itself out without our prayers. But we would have missed out on the opportunity to be raw and vulnerable with each other, with ourselves, and with our God. We needed a win.

The lost dossier wasn’t a concern to God. He knew where it was all along. He also knew my wife and I needed to be reminded that we’re on the same team.

There will always be plenty of reasons to be scared, fearful, upset, disappointed, and more as you work through adoption. But there’s no reason to keep it locked up. Process what you need to be able to give voice to your fears and then say them out loud.

I know this is hard for some of you. It’s hard for me. I’ve got a lot of work to do myself. But remember, you’ve been given a teammate who is perfectly suited to help you process. It’s okay to let her know where you are, even if you haven’t figured it all out yet.

<![CDATA[When Enough Is Enough]]>https://www.wearetheecho.org/post/when-enough-is-enough5c61a266d64a1f013e965f42Mon, 11 Feb 2019 16:31:16 GMTRandall NicholsI’m not overwhelmed and throwing in the towel. Not yet. Not exactly. I really want to talk about our clawing for more. For constant progress. For trying to be the best or at least better than you are.

The question I’m asking myself and I’m asking you is this: “What if exactly what you are, where you are is exactly what God wants for you right now?” I mean, at what point does your Always-Keeping-An-Eye-On-The-Horizon-Of-What’s-Next distract you from what God is doing right now? Maybe a better title of this article would’ve been, “When Can Enough Be Enough?”

I’m tired. I bet you are too. Being a parent is no walk in the park. Being an adoptive parent is something altogether different. Mix all this with the snares of being human and we wear ourselves out. There’s so much striving in our lives. So much trying to whittle our lives down to fit into a specific shape. But what if the rough edges are there by design for something only God knows about? We spend so much energy trying to conform our lives into something we’ve seen on Pinterest. We diet and style and dream and tear ourselves apart when what we attempt doesn’t match up to our expectations.

I may be wrong, but I think we all have this thing about us that wants to be the best at something. We want to find our niche and win more times than we lose. But the trouble I’m having lately is in trying to find a time Jesus taught us to strive to be the best. Not once did God call the most qualified. Moses argued with God about how He’d chosen the wrong man because he wasn’t capable of doing what God was asking of him. The Bible and our lives are filled with examples confirming this. And yet, somehow we’ve been led to believe that the pursuit of being the best is honoring to God.

But what if it’s not? What if stewarding average is what brings God the most glory? What if doing normal stuff is what makes your life legendary?

I realize this is unconventional. Even as I write it, my body winces. I’ve spent so much of my life from the time I was a teenager trying to be better, to be more attractive, to give employers a reason to hire or promote me. To build a larger audience, a better platform, a bigger following. But if I believe that God only gets glory when I’m this person I dream of being sometime in the future, then do I consequently ignore the opportunity to bring him glory with my life exactly how it is right now in the chaos of doctor’s appointments, paperwork, dossiers, home studies, attachment, etc.?

I had a conversation with a friend a couple weeks ago. I was talking about all these high-capacity people I know and struggling to learn how they do it and wrestling with my own insecurities and deficiencies. He said to me, “You realize that’s exactly what people say about you and your wife, right? How they’re in awe of you and all you guys are able to do. Your wife homeschools the kids, you both work full time, you guys have adopted two kids with special needs and somehow you’ve taught your children how to be the envy of every parent you meet.”

But I have a hard time believing him. It doesn’t make sense to me. I don’t feel high-capacity. I simply feel average. I don’t feel like I measure up. I’m 39 years old and still reaching for something. Sometimes I can pinpoint it. But more often it just feels like I’m reaching for something that I can’t quite see.

I struggle with feeling like I’m enough; a Just-As-I-Am kind of enough. Sometimes I think maybe God is more pleased with Those People who are getting more done in a day than I can in a week. The ones whose houses don’t desperately need painting or a new roof or floors that need to be patched and refinished. The ones with free time to read to their kids without feeling desperate to just get them to bed so you can sit down and take a deep breath for the first time today.

Those People have it together. Those People are my dream. Those People must be knocking it out of the park with Jesus.

But the problem is, Those People are not me. And for all the years I’ve been alive, I just haven’t figured out how to be Those People. Likely because God didn’t design me to be Those People.

I’m designed for something else.

My something may not be a thing that attracts thousands of followers on Instagram. My something maybe doesn’t lead to a publishing deal. But what if my something is something that stirs the hearts of those in my family to love Jesus more, to care more for others, and to become what God has made for them to become?

I feel the tension you’re feeling right now. The tension between hesitancy and hope. Believe me. I’m feeling it. If you’re thinking, “This guy has lost it. He’s suggesting a life of mediocrity and a let-it-be kind of ignorance,” you’re not far off. I think it’s crazy, too.

But maybe what I’m suggesting here is that we consider what life would look like if we abolish our self-imposed grading scale.

Why do we let ourselves believe our social media heroes are the definition of success? So what if what you do is change diapers all day, or wrestle with the insurance company, or drive an Uber? What if that’s exactly what you’re supposed to be doing? I’m not saying your dreams are bad, but what if your blinding pursuit of them (or even your absent-minded daydreaming of them) is a blockade to being the best version of you right now?

Your kids don’t need an awesome mom in 20 years. They need a present mom now. Your family doesn’t need a man who hides in a laboratory until all the kinks have been worked out. What could happen if instead of striving to build a better you, you chose to just be the best version of the you you are right now and trust God to give the increase if that’s what would bring him glory? Don’t you see?

God’s glory doesn’t rely on your accomplishments, but instead on your faithfulness. We can’t quantify the glory of God or what God defines as great. The greatest to ever live (Jesus) even balked at the idea of being labeled “great.” Greatness in the eyes of the world and greatness in the perspective of heaven must be two very different things.

I’m certain some of us will one day be better known than we are today. Some of us may become household names. Some of us may have an idea that turns into a multi-billon dollar industry. But none of this changes the call to simply just be you. There’s no curve. No level-ups. No ladders; unless the ladder helps you move downward to those in need.

Jesus was unequivocally the best, even though he wouldn’t have said so. But what if instead of doing what the Father had sent him to do he’d tried to be like Buddha, or Krishna, Odysseus, Romulus, or Horus? All these deities had enormous followings. Beloved by many. If Jesus would’ve modeled his life after any of these “successful” gods, we would still be dead in our sins, separated from God.

Looking back, we see the greatness of Jesus. But when he walked this earth, he did so in the most average sort of way (Isn’t this the carpenter’s son?). Wasn’t that his whole point? To come to be one of us? To be normal like us and show us that it has nothing to do with climbing the mountain to get to God, but instead, God climbed down to live among us in our dusty, broken down houses and lives. DL Moody says, “We are leaky vessels, and have to keep right under the fountain all the time in order to stay full.” Some might look at this as a flaw but what if this by design?

If Jesus could shake out of the accolades of heaven to come down to fulfill the work God sent him to do, can we shake the temptation to be something else and just be and do exactly what God has designed for us, regardless of whether anyone else thinks it’s awesome or average?

What would our families look like if we could embrace the mundane? What if we could shift our perspective and begin to see the mundane as the miraculous? What if our children could see us experience life like they do… eyes wide open to the possibilities of right now, absent of comparison, overcome with the exhilaration, the supremacy of the moment? Can we let tomorrow worry about itself?

We have a legacy to leave, the seeds of which can only be planted today.

<![CDATA[How To Trust When God Changes Course]]>https://www.wearetheecho.org/post/how-to-trust-when-god-changes-course5c619f87de63230ae4ec0287Mon, 11 Feb 2019 16:21:29 GMTRandall NicholsI wish I could tell you it was easy…

what you’re about to do…

I want to. I want to sell you. Because it sounds like such an easy thing to sell.

But I can’t do it. I can’t. I want to but I can’t.

Because what you’re about to do is one of the most inexpressible things you’ll ever walk through. No amount of words can capture it for you ahead of time to give you an accurate picture.

Here’s the reality. The process isn’t predictable. Some of the things you anticipate to be hard will be super easy. The places you expect the big donors to show up will be barren. The sleepers who you thought didn’t even know you existed will walk up to you and become your biggest cheerleaders. There’s not much predictable about the process of adoption. Many families have adopted multiple times. We’ve adopted twice. Very few things were the same. We used the same agency both times. Both our daughters have special needs. Both of them are of Asian decent. Beyond those similarities, these two adoptions couldn’t have been more different. I’d wager a triple-tall iced caramel macchiato that families who’ve adopted multiple times would affirm what I’m suggesting.

These uncertainties make the cliff you’re standing on seem higher that it really is. There are tremendous benefits to having a support system. I wish everyone could walk through this with the support we were fortunate to gather. We love our tribe. Love. Them. They’re a fantastic group of people. Some of the tribe are reading this right now. Many of our tribe don’t even live near us, and still they’ve carried us. Loved us. Cared for us. But the point of this is not our tribe, or any tribe for that matter. Because as much as I wish this were untrue, not every family has the fortune of a strong tribe, or any tribe at all; especially one like we have. We wish we could assure that every family has adequate support. We all need it, but we don't all have it.

Even with our phenomenal tribe, being a parent of a child with special needs is isolating. I’m sorry if this is the first time you’re hearing this. I’m even more sorry that it’s true. You also need to know, in case this was left out of your training. Every child from adoption has experienced trauma and therefore has a need that needs special consideration, understanding, and attention. Each child will process it differently, but with healthy guidance they can navigate it in a way that can lead to healing. What you're about to step toward is not for the faint of heart.

You probably have friends right now who don’t understand why you’re doing this. They can’t figure you out. And rather than asking questions and trying to understand, they’re going to begin to distance themselves from you. Those people you thought you’d always have in your corner may slowly fade into the shadows of your history.

For some of you, your family may abandon you. And if they don’t abandon you, you may notice one of two things; either they’ll talk about you behind your back or they’ll begin to avoid you at Sunday dinner.

And then there’s your church. I hope you have a great church with great leaders. But as much as your church leaders would say they want to support you, too often, they simply don’t know how. And whether you’re in the process working and waiting or you’ve been home for three years, too many churches are ill-prepared for what it means to care for adoptive families during the process and post-placement.

But please don’t hear this as defeat. In fact, after seeing more and more families walk the process, I’m convinced this is all setup by God for his good purpose to provide you with abundant opportunities to trust.

Take this passage for example:

“The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.” – Proverbs 21:1 ESV

Like a stream of water…

Throughout scripture the “hand of the Lord” represents His strength, His power, and His work. We can work with Him or we can try to work it out our way. But we should know, God will turn the course, not to fit us, but to fit His plan.

My advice: learn to settle in and trust a little more. He’ll prove He’s worth it. This doesn’t promise smooth seas. As we move with God, as we follow the course He’s laid out for us, we will meet resistance. Sometimes God chooses to use us to cut through the resistance and forge a new way. Other times He uses the resistance to re-route us.

You probably know this by now, but there are reflections of Jesus in all of this; in adoption, in staying the course, in following through in obedience. And if Jesus can be seen then it must be Kingdom stuff. Jesus’ purpose while He was with us was to show us the way (Himself) and teach us to walk in Him. And what does He do to help us? He leaves us a guide (the Holy Spirit) and companions (the Church).

Now, in my dream of a perfect world, the local faith community would not need to be coaxed and prodded to step up for adoptive and foster families. I believe we will one day be there. But even if nobody steps up to walk with you, you are not alone. When God started stirring your heart for to care for orphaned and vulnerable children, He was actually inviting you into a partnership. When you said yes to walk out the Gospel example of adoption, you became co-workers with God Almighty in the work of adoption.

Isn’t that great news? My prayer for you is that you find a group of people to walk with you. But even if that never happens, I’m praying you realize that your co-working God doesn’t take lunch breaks or sick days or mini-retreats.

He shows up on time. He stays late. He helps pick up the slack. He negotiates the hard stuff. He closes the deals.

You are not alone.

When plans change change, when it seems God is changing course, know that it’s all under control. Your steady, faithful, unwavering God is working on your behalf.

Like streams of water, may your heart move along by the hand of your co-working God!

Postscript: If you're somewhere in the process of fostering or adopting and you find yourself isolated or in search or support, wherever you are in the world, please reach out to us. We are connected to a support network that spans the globe. And even if we can't find support in your neighborhood, we'd love to be able to support and encourage you along the way. Don't wait to reach out. We want you to succeed. And we know the best way to ensure this is to support you. Please let us know how we can serve you.