Organized Freedom: A Story of Foster Care, Adoption, Grit, and God’s Grace
Have you ever prayed for something, desperately desired something, and finally received it? Only to discover it’s not exactly what you wanted? That it isn’t playing out how you always illustrated in your idealized imaginings?
That’s what happened to Lyndsay. With motherhood.
But, spoiler alert, the best thing about her story is, despite the fact that it wasn’t picture perfect, she ran toward it anyway.
Oh, how I love that.
I first met Lyndsay at church. She was sitting with her family a couple of rows in front of us. We’d only been attending for a short time, having just moved, and I didn’t know anyone very well when she introduced herself after service. She was holding the sweetest little dark-haired, dark-eyed girl you could conjure up and keeping keen watch on a lively boy whose singular ambition was to sneak up onto the stage where his dad, Dan, had just finished worshipping in the band. She was outgoing, engaging. I got the feeling her little family had a history, in such a good way.
I was right.
Not long after that initial introduction, we made plans to meet up and get to know one another. We found ourselves at a local bohemian-style restaurant one night just past dinner. We sat outside underneath blankets to ward off the early spring chill and I was entertained by the sheer time Lyndsay took to peruse the menu, to ask the waiter questions, to ensure she knew precisely what she was getting. We ended up ordering some amazing parmesan and balsamic-covered brussel sprouts and dessert to nosh while we caught up on previous decades.
And, almost a year later, when we met at a café to chat deliberate life for this interview, Lyndsay did the same. She took her time and weighed the options before selecting a decaf (we were meeting after our littles had gone to bed) tea off the menu. She told me she was limiting sugars for a cleanse. Lyndsay is clearly not someone who takes decisions lightly. A planner, but not uptight. I mean, she moonlighted once as a backpacking guide in Colorado and, trust me, this is the girl you want leading you through the woods. I’d call her laid-back methodical, with a smile. You have to be when you’re a mother of two, part-time nurse practitioner, and Plexus powerhouse who is overseeing a major home renovation and hosting a weekly community group in said space, right? And, who always looks pretty darn good doing it all, I might add. I’m seriously spent just typing that…
Once served, and after having caught up on life-of-the-moment-things, we dug in.
Lyndsay and Dan have been married for 10 years. They met in Nashville and did some, in my opinion, pretty serious long-distance courting. Lyndsay tells me about getting to know Dan while she casually tosses around proper nouns like Arkansas, Washington, Sweden, Korea, and Guatemala. Turns out the travel didn’t end when they eventually tied the knot either, as their early married years were spent in Hawaii and Mexico.
It was while in Mexico that they began intentionally seeking to grow their family. Lyndsay and Dan always wanted to adopt, and in the infamous words of many naively blessed adoptive parents, they planned to do it “after” they had biological children. But that wasn’t God’s story for them. We don’t dwell on that part though, because I don’t think she does either. Lyndsay and Dan decided to pursue other possibilities. They were attending an English-speaking church just over the border at the time and were worshipping alongside a couple who were fostering a little girl named Ellie. It was through that couple that Dan and Lyndsay became interested in foster care. They were drawn by the stories. By the sheer miraculous truth that children’s behaviors can be altered with love, nurturing, and purposeful boundaries. By the fact that there was such a debilitating need for refuge.
They ran towards it.
Shortly after, Lyndsay and Dan relocated just over the border to Chula Vista, California and were trained in a specialized subset within the County of San Diego Foster Home Licensing Department called Options for Recovery. Options, as Lyndsay refers to it, provides specialized support and resources to foster parents who care for children who are drug and/or alcohol exposed and/or HIV positive. Intense. After a nine-month wait, Lyndsay and Dan had their first foster-adopt placement. Ricky, a handsome, highly active two-year-old with layers of trauma and spunk, barreled into their home.
Just let that sink in for a minute… Lyndsay’s first ever parenting experience? A. Toddler. Boy. I’ve been there, done that. And, let me tell you, it ain’t easy. There are many times when I parent my fiery little man and in the middle of unbridled energy and brash defiance, I have to think back to the stage when he was a tiny tank of giggling chub just to deal and help us both make it out of the hour’s disaster alive. Lyndsay did not have that luxury. She had no previous connections and early moments with Ricky to draw on. And to make things more difficult, he, by no choice of his own, had joined their unconventional family by way of a tough situation.
Lyndsay tells me, “I immediately had regret.”
Those in the adoption/foster/trauma world know the word. The word that fills hearts with tangible dread and unleashed hope: attachment. Books, conferences, therapy styles, and research abound on the topic… But living it? Daily? Takes grit.
Ricky attached to Dan but not Lyndsay. Imagine finally getting what you wanted…to be someone’s mom, but for it to be so different than you ever dreamed. To give and give and get nothing in return. To know this child you’ve been praying for can’t return your adoration right now, and you don’t know when he will. Lyndsay and Dan read the books, did the things, attended the attachment therapy. And Lyndsay struggled to find the good. It was physically and emotionally exhausting. She knows that reality now and proclaims it to me with conviction and bitter tears in her eyes, “You have to fight for attachment. You never rest, you never take a break.” Grit.
There were spots of sunshine along the way though. One notable, in the form of a teacher. God uses them so often, doesn’t He? Ricky’s instructor at Head Start, Ms. Carmen, was a rare constant in Ricky’s life as she was his teacher both before and after placement. Lyndsay gets even more choked up as she describes this “angel” who gifted her the intangibles of confidence and encouragement. Ms. Carmen told Lyndsay the words every mother, through biology or otherwise, desperately craves, “You are exactly what he needs.”
Oh, and did I mention that six months into having Ricky, Lyndsay and Dan received a newborn placement? Neve, a scrumptiously sweet baby girl, lived with them for five months. Little Neve was lavished with all she needed to develop healthily. But she was, potentially, also God’s way of mending gaps in Lyndsay’s insecurity and discouragement with motherhood. To propel her further. When Neve left, for placement in another loving home with her biological sister, Lyndsay was absolutely devastated. Now, almost four years later, she can hardly keep it together as she tells me, “When they took Neve, it was the worst broken heart I have ever had.”
A mere month later, still reeling and in the midst of fighting for Ricky’s affection, Lyndsay and Dan willingly put their hearts on the chopping block again to care for newborn Nick. Lyndsay smiles incredulous as she remembers how small he was. “I was wearing him in a wrap once, and somebody asked me, ‘Is there even a baby in there?’” Nick required lots of love, patience, and feeding, feeding, feeding. And even though she didn’t feel it, because her heart ached for Neve, Lyndsay gave him everything he needed. Three months later Nick was reunited with his mom.
Then, came Ella. The one I saw Lyndsay cuddling the first time I met her. Ella was all three-day-old-perfection when she joined their home. In one of those crazy foster twists, Lyndsay and Dan actually got to name her. Lyndsay says that right away Ella was an “inviting soul.” She’s right, I’ve been privy to it. Ella is captivating. Cute beyond words, charming. Mischief escapes through every glance of her clever eyes. But, Lyndsay was guarded this time around. She knew, that “they could pick her up at any moment.” In fact, at one point a close friend who had walked alongside Lyndsay’s deep grief when Neve left, recognized the strong attachment forming and asked Lyndsay, “When Ella leaves, how do you want me to approach it?”
But, Ella hasn’t left. And, over two years later, is nearing adoption to be a part of Dan, Lyndsay, and Ricky’s forever family. Lyndsay says that little Ella has taught her a lot about parenting. And she realizes with Ricky, that “I didn’t give him the grace I give her.” It took a long time to get to the place where she could “enjoy him.” She sees that now.
I immerse myself in her truth. It would be appallingly easy for someone to judge Lyndsay for those statements. But I, as a fellow mom and foster parent, sit grateful. I’m blessed by her rawness as she shares with me the freedom to be human. Because parenting is just plain hard, even more so within the beautifully bizarre worlds we’ve chosen, and Lyndsay isn’t afraid to shoot straight. Her transparent journey has a way of allowing the rest of us to validate our realness, while still embracing faith for the future. Because now she does, enjoy Ricky that is, beyond belief. Ella is 2 ½ and Ricky is almost 6 years old, and they are siblings in every sense of the wild word. Ella gleefully copies Ricky’s antics with obvious adoration. They love life. And their parents.
Lyndsay and Dan had one more placement through the Options program. Which meant, at one point, Lyndsay was a mother of three through trauma. Their family had the privilege of loving Ryan, a four-year-old shy, cuddly, gentle boy with autism, for nine months. Lyndsay looks pained, and slightly relieved, when she tells me that Ryan is with someone else now. She says that having a trio of highly intense children at once felt unjust for the kids, even though Ricky and Ella loved Ryan like a brother. That she felt inadequate. That Ryan was adopted by a special needs teacher, but they still get to see him, allowing the whole family to continue the relationship.
I ask Lyndsay what all of this has taught her, this woman who seemingly has every detail planned. These unexpected little lives, some forever, some not. Decisions she can’t control. And she exposes insight in the cafe as the waitresses start clearing tables and dimming lights. A vulnerable self-awareness, “I figured out how to be angry-hurt with Ricky, I traveled through heartbreak with Neve, I discovered that love is a verb and not an emotion with Nick, I learned how to be exhausted with Ryan, and I survived the torturous threat of leaving with Ella.” Grit, indeed. And, foster care? Her laugh and sigh present simultaneous, “Even though it’s what we signed up for, it feels like a death when they go. It’s certainly not without cost. I’ve suffered unthinkable losses, but it has all been worth it.”
As we gather our thoughts and things, she unveils to me that her truest sunshine through these seasons has been God’s grace. The grace that has allowed her and Dan to be on the same team. The grace that they’ve been able to be a place of refuge, like they always wanted in those early days of learning what fostering entailed. The grace that has pointed them to prioritize God’s adoption of us. Lyndsay says, “God ran towards us fiercely.”
And, turns out, they do the same.