Featured in our June edition of The Ottawa Advocate

 

THE RIGHT THING.

 

 

“Please, Mom. Please! Don’t do the right thing.” 

My son is nearly hysterical. 

 

“Just this time. Don’t do the right thing! You don’t always have to do the good thing every time!” 

 

   He coughs out these words between red-faced cries. T-shirt wet with tears, he begs, hoping if he screams loud enough, long enough, I might send our newest house guests packing. This child whom I have loved longer than any other is asking that, this time, I pick the wrong path. Wiping the wet from his cheeks, I wish that I could.  

 

   “Baby, hey. Calm down. Take a breath.” He can’t. I’ve lost him. He has committed to the emotional avalanche that’s been building for the past few weeks. 

 

   “I know this is hard. This is so hard for all of us, baby. Mama sees how much you are struggling, and I know you want them to go.”   

 

And we have to do the right thing. Even when it’s so hard.                                                           – Ashley Wirgau

   He hates them and has since they walked in the doorThis eldest child never wanted kids in the house older than himselfSo, we said we wouldn’t do that…until we did. We said we wouldn’t do a lot of things…until we did. That’s how foster care goes. You make a lot of promises that are really difficult to keep.  
  Three years ago, we promised ourselves we would only foster the little ones. We promised we would always maintain the birth order. We promised we wouldn’t take on kids with difficult medical diagnosis or special needs or tricky behaviors.  

How naïve. How short-sighted of us to assume that only certain children of certain ages of certain behaviors or medical conditions (a.k.a. no behaviors and no medical conditions) were deserving of our time. Who exactly did we think we were going to help? A wholly nurtured baby, orphaned in the woods, whose entire family had tragically died on some picnic-gone-wrong? What kind of Disney nonsense did we imagine foster care to be?  

 

  Then our first placement arrived, and while his story was far from an animated happily ever after, it was relatively “easy.” He was instantly loved and welcomed. Our children never came to us in tears, upset over the space this child occupied. No one laid screaming in their beds, demanding we shove him out the door. We didn’t have to try to accept his presence in our lives; it was automatic. 

 

   But now, here we sit, on our son’s bottom bunk, in the wakof all our broken promises. We have taken on a placement riddled with “we’ll nevers” and our biological children are loudly sounding the alarm.  

 

   “But you have to consider the effects on your own children, people say. Believe me when I tell you that I am. Every day, my husband and I weigh the risk versus reward, contemplating which choices best serve not only our family but the world that exists outside of us. Then, we make these giant decisions for our children (yes, occasionally without their consent) because they do not fully understand what it means for another child to live without the support and safety they have always known.

But we can teach themWe can show them firsthand that their reality is not the only reality, and sometimes this means breaking the promises we made when we didn’t know any better. 

 
  But we can teach themWe can show them firsthand that their reality is not the only reality, and sometimes this means breaking the promises we made when we didn’t know any better. 

 

   This time, it seems we have broken nearly every promise in order to keep the one most essential – to do the right thing, to choose love above all else, even when it’s so very hard. I write this from a hospital room beside a child who is not my own while my husband drives the other five north for a holiday weekend. Doing the right thing doesn’t always feel good. Sometimes it tastes like loneliness, flat Pepsi and hand sanitizer. But that doesn’t make it any less necessary.   

 

   Tonight, I sit at my foster son’s bedside, a child we chose to welcome even though we didn’t really want to, knowing his presence would make all of our lives harder for a time. This child we have known for little more than a month is a lot to handle and can be difficult to love. He does not know our ways or our hearts, nor we his – not yet.  

 

   But slowly, hour by hour, I will stand by this choice. I will watch him sleep as the IV drips and nurses tap keyboards behind a rainbow-colored curtain. Together, we will gaze out the wall of windows, waiting for a helicopter to land on the roof across the street. We will make Play-doh pizzas and nibble cold French fries drowning in ketchup. Curled up on a too-stiff armchair, we will watch movies that paint orphans as cherubs who forget dead parents to fall in love with new families. No trauma histories or hospital beds. No screams in the night for Mommies and Daddies out of reach.  

 

   This is no fairy tale.  

 

 

   “I know you want them to go. I know you want that more than anything else right now, baby boy, but you are right. That is not the right choice. And we have to do the right thing. Even when it’s so hard.” 

 

   Hearing this final verdict, the hope still lingering inside my firstborn child evaporates. He closes his eyes and dives headfirst into cold wet anger, knowing this would be my answer. As he begged me to send away a child who a month ago was nothing more than a name, I calmly, quietly, whispered a call to love. 

 

But my goal is to raise children who are resolute in their ability to choose what is right, even when they don’t really want to.

   Behind each name is a wanting child. And to pretend that a child with a history that is inflicted upon them is worth less than the one crying in my arms makes no sense to me anymore. They are all worthy. Yes, it will be hard. It already is. But my goal is to raise children who are resolute in their ability to choose what is right, even when they don’t really want to.

 

   When we started down this road, we took all the safety precautions, setting up guard rails and bright orange cones to keep our family protected. We wanted to do the right thing as long as our path stayed smooth and straight, as long as it didn’t cost us too much. But there are ever so few perfectly nurtured babies abandoned in the woods these days, and so very many imperfect children sitting right in front of our faces, waiting for someone to do something.  

 

   We will do something. We will jump the guard rail and break those promises of “staying safe” in the hopes of providing actual safety for children who desperately need it. I want my kids to know that the right thing, more often than not, requires sacrifice. I want them to see us intentionally, knowingly stepping into the hard things because they are also the right things. How can I teach my children these lessons if I am not brave enough to live them? 

 

   My son’s tears will dry. And should they spill over again, which they are certain to do, my husband and I will dry them once more. We will show him this can be done not just for him, but for any child who enters our home because love is not finite. Over and over, we will walk straight into the hurt and the hard, letting the tears fall, growing our resolve each time that we choose to do good even when it doesn’t feel good.     

____

By: Ashley Wirgau, Michigan Fosters

 

NOW ACCEPTING BIKE DONATIONS

sPRING/sUMMER 2021

Help us get a bike to every foster child in Ottawa County! We are now accepting bike donations. Our biggest area of need currently is 24″ bikes for our older youth.

Please contact tiffany@michiganfosters.com if you have bikes to donate. 

 

Michigan Fosters is a 501c3 nonprofit organization. 

Donation location: 832 E. 8th Street, Holland, Michigan. 
* please contact our organization before making a bike donation

 

 

These people – the ones who have stepped into foster care, not by bringing in fosters of their own, but by choosing to circle around us are too the faces of foster care.

 

 

Texts keep coming. “What do the kids need?” “What do you need?” “How can we help?” “How are you holding up?” “You’ve got this!” Toys are on their way and art supplies should be here by week’s end. Voicemails are left to remind us who we are lest we forget somewhere in the midst of the sadness and struggle. 

 

These people – the ones who have stepped into foster care, not by bringing in fosters of their own, but by choosing to circle around us The ones who have opened up room in their hearts – these generous, dependable, necessary people will not let us down. Most importantly, they will not let these kiddos down, because they too are the faces of foster care. 

 

Our foster community is fortified through these individuals. No matter their rolesingle act of showing up is a pledge of support for the vulnerable child and a foster family exhausting their resources to ensure the stability and healing of those children from hard places.  

 

The faces of foster care are varied and vast, and we are grateful for every single one of them.

 

The faces of foster care are varied and vast, they range from our closest family and friends to organizations who understand and support our vision, and we are grateful for every single one of them. They keep us from drowning during the tumultuous first days of a placement. They keep us afloat until we can start to paddle on our own again, and they race right back should we start to sink. This is how a foster family is built – with love and late-night texts, freezer meals dropped off, respite on standby, cartons of goldfish and Amazon box surprisesContrary to popular belief, a foster family is never just one family. It is a web of hearts and hands and helpers all tuned in to the same frequency, all answering the call to foster in their own way.   

 

This May for Foster Care Month, we aren’t asking you to consider fostering a child. Instead, we’re thanking those who foster love and support for our foster community right here in West Michigan.  
 
 
Have you always wanted to do something for the foster community, but aren’t sure where to start?  Here are a few ideas: 
 

Start here:

Become curious about the foster care system and connect with us

Sign-up to make freezer meals 

Donate to Michigan Fosters 21-22 Program Funding Campaign 

Offer to provide respite to a foster family 

Ask your church what they can do to better support the foster community 

Take steps to become trauma-informed to better understand the life of a foster child & family

Pray for children in care 

Pray for parents with children in care 

Sponsor a Michigan Fosters program or event

Encourage your coworkers and neighbors to learn about the foster community

Send a note of encouragement to a foster family

 

 


 

Do you have unique ways that you help support the foster care community? Comment below! 

Faces io

Featured in our April edition of The Ottawa Advocate

 

Braving the Hard Road.

 

 

Foster families rarely follow a straight path. There are blind corners and speed bumps, twists and tangles. Half the time the headlights are out and radio is blaringOddly, the oncoming traffic seems not to be trying to avoid collisionbut at times, forcefully crashAnd once the destination has been reached, or at least the destination for the day, the front tire is flat, battery has gone dead, and an extra passenger (or two or three) have appeared in the backseat.

Enter an afternoon of respite or a frozen pizza or 6 hours of uninterrupted sleep. Then, it’s back on the road at the crack of dawn. This is the path a foster parent chooses. This is the path Ross and Krista Brower have become accustomed to.

“The need is bigger than we could have imagined and we can’t look away.”                                                             – Krista Brower

    Having traveled this road for six years now, the Browers have traversed their fair share of hope and heartache and healing. “We knew it would be hard,” Krista commented, “but we could not imagine how hard it could be.” 
“We knew it would be hard,” Krista commented, “but we could not imagine how hard it could be.” 
    Licensed through Ottawa County DHHS, Ross and Krista have welcomed a total of ten placements over the years, one of whom they have adopted, but all of whom take up space in their hearts. Loving these children so fiercely has helped shape their biological kiddos, as well. Krista commented that this is one of foster care’s largest blessings. “When we started foster care, we were worried about the impact it would have on our kids, and instead, I could not be more grateful for the way it has grown each one of them. It has helped us focus on what is truly important.” 

   Throughout their journey, Ross and Krista have been fortunate enough to witness successful reunification and have worked to build sustainable relationships with their foster children’s parents. The Browers have seen the amazing results that develop when foster parents and parents in care truly come together.

   Krista says their intentional efforts to connect with one of their foster children’s parents in particular “started us on a really good path with [them]. We worked together for the eight months we had our foster daughter, and we felt so good about her returning when reunification happened. We are still in touch and love to hear about how well they are doing. It just felt like the whole experience was exactly how foster care is supposed to work,” Krista explained.

  Like so many foster parents, though, the Browers have also been swallowed by conflict and sadness over foster children they knew had to move on, children who would find greater success with a different family. Another child, one they cared for over a significant period of time, has been maybe the hardest lesson they’ve encountered along this road.

  “We loved our foster daughter for the two years that we had her. However, it became clear as time went on, that she was not meant to be in our family forever,” Krista said. For foster parents, these intersections of life come with no roadmap to reveal what futures lie ahead. There are midnights laden with questions, prayers for clarity or closure, and guilt that threatens to hold foster families in its grip indefinitely.

“that was still the hardest decision we have ever made,”

 
   “There were so many signs that it wasn’t right, but that was still the hardest decision we have ever made,” she continued. “We felt like terrible people and had an incredible amount of guilt. We know it was the right decision, but we struggled (and still do) with anxiety and depression because of that situation.” This is the reality of so many families who foster, and it is through sharing these struggles with one another that families can start to heal. The Browers have been courageous enough to open up about their journey, and through both counseling and confiding in others who have experienced similar grief, they are working through the recurrent pain. They understand the hurt that comes is a byproduct of all the love they have cultivated.

  Recently, this family has boldly stepped in to yet another unknown. After having put their license on hold after a difficult loss, the Browers were contacted to care for the sibling group of their adopted daughter. Again, the Browers made the hard choice and welcomed these small children, taking their household from five kiddos to eight overnight. This is no simple feat and the overwhelm that follows such a decision can be suffocating at times. However, the family is resolute and walks in to the giant task at hand day by day. “We tell ourselves, “We can do this today. Then, tonight, we will say, ‘We can do it tomorrow,’ but we could not do any of it without our foster community wrapping around us like they have.”

   After all the Browers have endured, it would be easy to understand if they chose to call it quits, to take a straighter path for a while or forever. Thankfully, for the children in their home and the ones who’ve come before, the Browers do not scare easily. They are firmly committed to families in care. “The need is bigger than we could have ever imagined, and we can’t look away,” Krista said.

““The need is bigger than we could have ever imagined, and we can’t look away,” Krista said.”

  And so, the Browers continue to face the blind corners and charge on ahead, certain in their call to keep moving forward, grateful for the community that gives them the strength to keep their wheels in motion yet another day. They choose to stay the path despite the bumps and bruises they know will come. “We can sacrifice our broken hearts if it means these children can experience love and safety,” Krista added, a conclusion with the power to reframe the world of foster care if only more people were as brave as the Browers.

____

By: Ashley Wirgau, Michigan Fosters