There are obviously a lot of ways our environment impacts our lives, for each of us. For instance, I don’t think if Brandon and I lived in a city, in some high-rise apartment building, that we would have a bottle-fed lamb for RA to grow up with. First, can you imagine Brandon living in an apartment?! Hahahaha! Anyway, I digress, but it may seem obvious that parts of our lives would be drastically different if we didn’t live where we do. But also, there may be many elements of our lives that would be the same, the path to getting there just may have been a little different. Moving forward with the process to become licensed foster parents is an example of one those things. I think even if we were living somewhere else with very different professions, maybe we would have come to this same place, but seeing as we don’t, of course the farm was a pivotal part in our discovering this is where we were headed.
Before Brandon and I were even married, once we were at that point in dating when talking about the future and family isn’t a total red flag, we talked about how many children we would like to have and we discussed foster care and adoption as possibilities for us. We both were very open to adoption and at that time I really thought foster care would be awesome, but Brandon was pretty vulnerable and open to share he didn’t think that was for him. “I don’t think I’m made for foster care.” It didn’t have anything to do with the difficulty of the children and the system, that wasn’t even a part of the discussion, it was more the idea of opening up your home to a child and then having to say goodbye, no matter the circumstances of them leaving. That would be so hard.
Fast forward a few years, we’ve gotten married, I’m still in grad school, and the topic of what family will look like to us has come up a few more times in conversation – when would we like to start having children, how many, are adoption and foster care still on the table? Regardless of what prompted the conversations or what the outcomes were, there was nothing we were going to be doing anytime soon. It was important to me to finish school before we started a family and we both wanted to have built our house on the farm before adding any new living beings to our family, seeing as we had already filled our 4 room rental house with the two of us and three large dogs.
Fast forward a few more years – I’ve finished grad school, we moved into our house, Romney Ann has been born, and I switch jobs. Game changer. I started working in July of 2018 at Thornwell, a ministry with a residential program for teens in foster care, they license and walk alongside Foster Families in the upstate of SC, they serve the immediate community of Clinton through their Child Development Center and Charter School, they’re a host for a Children’s Trust program called Strengthening Families AND they’re serving across Florida, GA, and SC with a program called Building Families. Whew! That’s a lot! I could do an entire blog post about each of these programs and the difference this ministry is making in communities across the southeast. It’s phenomenal! Please feel free to look Thornwell up, www.Thornwell.org, or ask me any questions you have, but I’m going to keep moving, haha!
So, once I began working there, some of the realities of foster care and adoption became more apparent to me. The realities of the trauma these children and teenagers have experienced and how it impacts them both immediately as well as for the rest of their life just blew my mind. Foster Care quickly became something that was wwwaaaaaayyyyyyy more than something to do if you have love in your heart and space in your home, wwwwaaaaaayyyyyy more! I was coming home daily and sharing with Brandon what I was learning. I was like a sponge trying to take everything in that I could to feel more equipped, because I was becoming more and more aware of how naïve I was about the world of child welfare.
Well fast forward just a few more months, and Brandon comes to work at Thornwell too, for seriously, his DREAM job! In August of 2019, he came to work at Thornwell as the Director of Farm Operations. This 340 acre farm has been dormant for around 10 years and with some renewed energy and excitement, Thornwell made the decision to invest in the future of that property and what it could mean for many different aspects of the ministry. So now, all these things that Brandon hears me talk about from work, he is now meeting these amazing people and these incredible teenagers, and hearing their stories. Since I began working at Thornwell, we had naturally had many more conversations about foster care and adoption which only increased once Brandon came as well. I was realizing that it was way more than I thought it was and Brandon was learning alongside me. Ironically, it was like the more unsure I became about the idea, the more on-board Brandon became. And then, in September, we helped at Thornwell’s Foster Care Conference, and this was a game changer for both of us.
This conference is an all-day event, and Brandon and I were there to help with the behind the scenes stuff. When we were able to, we were encouraged to sit in on sessions and hear speakers. I had helped with the conference in 2018 and I was so excited for Brandon to hear some of the sessions, but throughout the morning we both stayed really busy. The first time we were able to hear a speaker was the keynote at lunch. Derek Clark, also known as the Rapping Dad, shared his story of a childhood spent in the foster care system. He talked about the abuse and trauma he experienced at the hands of his biological father while he was still in his mother’s womb and then at the hands of his mother once he had been born. It was truly beyond anything I could ever fathom a child going through. He spoke about how he moved from foster home to foster home because of how he acted out, but no one stopped to ask why. His actions were directly linked to his trauma. And then he shared about his final foster home, his last chance. There was a lot that led to this placement, but essentially if it couldn’t work out there, then he was going to be institutionalized.
On his first day at this new house, standing on the front porch meeting his new foster parents, he ran. He ran down the long driveway and then turned and ran down the two lane road. Once he got tired, he began to walk, when what he thought was a dinosaur’s head, came over the fence. To hear him tell this part of the story is hysterical. It was a horse. He’d never seen a horse before. This foster family had a farm. He shared about all the animals this family had on their farm, but to make a long story short, he really found a connection with the chickens. Who knows why, but he spent a lot of time with them and would help care for them. As an adult, he has chickens now and they are definitely spoiled pets to him. Towards the end of Derek’s talk, Brandon leaned over and all he said was, “We have chickens.” The weight this three word sentence carried was immense. This idea that maybe, just maybe, through all the difficulty of being foster parents, we have something unique to offer a child in what is our everyday life was overwhelming. We have always known that animals can be therapeutic to children, but for some reason, hearing Derek’s story was a lightbulb turning on for both of us. Those chickens didn’t make all of Derek’s behavior issues go away, but it was a connection point for this family and him.
For so many children in the foster care system, there’s something that is a part of their foster family that is a new experience for them. It might just be what gets them through what no child should ever have to go through. Maybe it’s a dog or a garden. Maybe it’s a foster parent’s love of music or random Star Wars trivia. Or maybe it’s chickens. Whatever it is, it’s a starting point, it’s a connection point, it’s a launching point.
From that day in September, we’ve had a lot more conversations and asked a lot more questions, of ourselves and of the process and in November we made the call to Epworth. Epworth is a ministry similar to Thornwell. They license and walk alongside their foster families. We began the process almost immediately and actually completed our 14 hours of training this past Saturday. Our paperwork will be ready to send off sometime this week. What we’ve said from the beginning to our case worker is, “We know enough to know we don’t know a lot.” Her response was, “That’s a whole lot more than most people.” We are excited. We are nervous. We are scared. We are overjoyed. And we know it will not be easy, but somehow this life on a farm was the real launching point for this next adventure and our prayer is that life on the farm may make a difference in at least one child’s life throughout our time as a foster family.
Like I said when I began, maybe we would have come to this same place even if farming wasn’t our life, but the fact is it is, and it was the light bulb that lit the way forward. Brandon and I have been blessed with incredible resources because of where we work, and I think the best of what the internet can be is resources for those looking for answers or at least people asking the same question. I’m hoping that if foster care is something you’ve ever had questions about or are interested in, we can share our journey and that it might help you too. We aren’t all called to be foster parents, but we can all do something for these children and teenagers. Maybe you have chickens too or maybe you can support someone who does.