Welcome!!! I am so excited to share some incredible adoptions stories with you! This blog series is something that has been growing in my heart for some time! And I believe that the time to start it and share it is now. In this adoption series we will feature the stories adoption workers and families who have adopted. We are hoping to bring you stories that are real and authentic. The heart for me behind this series for me comes from a couple of different places… we have been getting so many questions about adoption and I feel like there are so many ways to answer their questions and our story is just one way… With sharing the stories of others we will be able to cover more options and hopefully inspire more people.
Secondly… when we first started the process… there were so many people who immediately want to tell you the horror stories and speak yuckiness about what “could” happen if you adopt and I feel like it is so important for the good stories… the stories of healing… the stories of God’s faithfulness to be shared so that others can be encouraged and challenged and open up the adoption conversation for more families.
And honestly, the last reason for me wanting to start this… it’s actually kinda selfish but this whole process really has been stinking hard and I think it’s easy to feel defeated but yet there is something about the stories of families who are on the other side of this process… the ones that have made it through those are the ones that keep me encouraged. I want the series to post on Mondays… Mondays are the days that Jax has had visits with his birth momma and those days are stinking hardest for us so it seemed like the perfect day to seek out some inspiration and share it with others. I feel like we are still in the midst of the beautiful heartache of foster adoption and we still have a lot of story left to write in our adventure but I began thinking about who inspired us to learn more about adoption for our family and I believe there are so many incredible adoption stories and I can’t help but want to be the one to share the good stuff… the stories of families radically changed forever by the blessing of adoption. I want you to find those stories here!
When Jared & I realized that we were seriously on the same page about adoption we knew that it was important to connect with other families who had been down the road. And before we had told anyone else we asked our very special friends Jeff & Karen Pishney to join us for dinner. They graciously agreed and we just wanted to soak in what they had learned and experienced. We walked away from our time with them confident that at the very least we needed to take the next step. I loved their passion for adoption and loving on these little ones that God has called us to love. And I remember them being so honest about the challenges but so vulnerable in their love for Allie and so confident that the Lord would equip them with exactly what they would need. Jeff & Karen have pioneered a local support small group with two other sweet friends of ours Chad & Corinne for adoptive families and they have been so faithful in laying the groundwork to support other families going through this same adventure. We have been so thankful for their authenticity, love and support and hope that you find their story just as encouraging!
Tell us a little bit about your family…
I am Karen, my husband is Jeff, and our kids are Hayden (5.5 yrs old) and Allie (3.5yrs old). Jeff is an outreach pastor at our church, oversees Love Modesto (along with other cities) and leads a local non profit called City Ministry Network. I oversee life on the home front and enjoy volunteering with my son’s school (well, mostly enjoy, except for all the tying of shoes and the reminders to wash their hands after using the restroom ;O) ) and with our local hospice. We really are a pretty loud, intense, passionate family filled with laughter, lots of squabbles (4 intense people in one family makes for some crazy dynamics most days) and lots of do-overs. We are passionate about loving Jesus, making a difference in our world and community and raising kids who are compassionate and aware of the needs around them.
– What drew you to adoption?
It was always a part of the language of my family of origin and always something in the back of my mind that I wanted to be a part of, I just wasn’t sure what that would look like. After working as a social worker for the county for a couple of years, I landed my dream job as a mentor for children and teens in the foster care system. The best of days ended in me crying tears of joy for the opportunity to work with such incredible kids. The worst of days ended in tears of anger, frustration and desperation over the issues these kids were up against and the daily struggles that they had to face. While I was supposed to be teaching and mentoring them, they were the ones who were teaching and mentoring me. I still miss them and that job dearly! During those 3 years there were a couple of defining moments that I won’t ever forget. One was the day I took the sweet girl that I had been working with for a couple of years to a group home meant for girls much older and wiser than her. She had been in 13 different placements by then and there was not a single foster family in our county willing to take her. She was always a fighter, but that day I saw her give up the fight and I felt like I had failed her, the system had failed her and the church as a whole had failed her. How could this young girl have not a single family willing to love her? The idea that she was literally all alone in the world with not a single person to love and care for her broke me. I can’t imagine what the knowledge of that did to her. I don’t know what happened to her after she moved from that home but I still think about her and pray for her often. That day I dropped her off there, I knew something had to change. Near that time, another defining moment happened when I was helping at a coworker’s foster parent information night. I was so frustrated and saddened by the people who were showing up and complaining to my coworker about there not being enough quality foster parents. She looked at me and said “Don’t you go to that big church in town? Where are they?”. Her questions struck a chord in me and that night I went home and cried as I told my husband what she said. Where was our church or for that matter, the church as a whole in the care of foster children? Why did that young girl have no family to call her own despite the fact that we live in a town full of hundreds of Christ believing churches? Jeff had long since been hearing about the foster care system from me but was blown away too by her questions.
– What was the first step you took to get started?
We prayed like crazy that God would make it clear that we were supposed to do this. We didn’t know anyone doing this and had no real reference point. I literally had a few weeks of just not sleeping and being consumed with the thought that we were meant to do this but was so fearful of all the unknowns. As soon as we went to the first information meeting for the county and started the paperwork, I started sleeping soundly again. God had made it clear! :O)
-What type of adoption did you choose… What are some of the positive things about the route you chose?
We chose to become foster parents with the intent to adopt and went through our local county. This meant that when Allie came into our family at 5 days old, we had no clue if she would be with us for a year or a lifetime. It seems like a lot of people have preconceived notions about the county being awful (I know we did), but we had a wonderful experience minus one very frustrating social worker. Three out of the four social workers that we dealt with during the nearly 2 year process were awesome. They were encouraging, understanding and really cared for the kids on their caseload. We both loved the trainings, and loved being with people from all walks of life and learning together with them.
-What was the hardest thing for you during the process? And what did you find encouraging to you during this time?
There were a few really challenging things. Trying to navigate the relationship with Allie’s birth mom was really challenging and emotionally draining. It was just really strange to want to root for someone to be able to parent their child, while at the same time feeling fiercely protective of this child that is in your care 24/7. Being a foster parent is such a unique experience because you are chosen by social workers to care for this child like your own, but then constantly reminded that they are not your own and told to protect them, but not get in the way of the court process. It’s a tricky thing to navigate and figure out your role in. Our relationship with one of the social workers (the one we had to work with for most of the two years) was also incredibly challenging for both of us but me, especially. We fundamentally disagreed about the role of the social worker in this process and I was not sure how to be respectful and yet firm in my stance on certain things surrounding Allie’s safety and care. I had to apologize to this social worker many times as I knew I had often done a poor job as a representative of Christ – especially after a particularly stressful visit with her birth mom in which I publicly yelled at him “How do you sleep at night??!!”. I was a real joy for him to work with ;O). That was definitely one of my lowest points, but it was a turning point for us too as I was humbled in having to apologize to him yet again and in knowing that I was just going to have to figure out how to interact with and respect a person who I so strongly disagreed with. I was reminded again that this was about providing a home for Allie for however long was necessary, not about protecting our feelings or about being right about certain aspects of her case. It was about letting go of trying to control the outcome and focusing on pouring our energy into loving Allie and giving her our all for however long she was with us. It was always encouraging for me to remember that none of this came as a surprise to God. He knew this social worker and I would butt heads in the worst way and I was always encouraged by talking with other social workers and realizing that this one does not represent the entire system and, in fact, was definitely the exception and not the rule. I was encouraged by friends who, even if they didn’t get it, still listened. I was encouraged by their heartfelt emails at some of my lowest points and their listening ears to my sobbing when we realized Allie was probably going to be reunified with her birth mother. Their prayers were not focused on us, but on God getting the glory out of all this, whether Allie stayed with us or not, and that encouraged me to keep focused on the big picture. It reminded us that no matter the outcome, we were meant to love and care for Allie for such a time as this.
-What were some of your joyful milestones after bringing her sweetness home?
Not sure that his qualifies as a milestone, but I would say watching my kids form this incredible bond was one of the most joyful things that came out of this. Hayden’s fierce love for her and the way he was inseparable from her almost immediately (despite us not preparing him at all ahead of time for her arrival) was so neat to watch. We knew 3 days ahead of time that we were going to get her, but I was out of state for all 3 days and when I returned, we literally drove to Target to get diapers, formula etc and then drove straight to pick Allie up. We met her and took her home within an hour- it was a whirlwind and I worried about him not being prepared, but my worries were unfounded. Seeing them together is a picture of heaven to me- 2 little people, completely opposite of each other-one light skinned, light haired, skinny and petite and one with brown skin, dark hair and chocolate eyes, tall and muscular; no blood relation or reason to call each other family except for us telling them they are and yet, they only see each other as “bubby” and “sissy”. To think that their paths would have never crossed had we not become her foster parents is just insane to us, as we can’t fathom either kid without the other. To them, having a sibling with a completely different genetic make up is normal and that warms my heart to no end!
There have been so many other joyful milestones- mostly surrounding her development. When she was around a year old, we were told by a team of specialists that she probably wouldn’t walk and if she did, she would have a very crooked gait because she had no core muscles to keep her upright and had such low muscle tone. We saw pretty much every specialist you can think of, did MRI’s, CT’s and did so much blood work that was all inconclusive. All we knew was that we had a one year old diagnosed with low muscle tone, who could not pull herself up at all, couldn’t lift her stomach up from the ground and was delayed in multiple other areas. When she was 15 months old, after dragging herself on the ground for months, she just started to walk. It was the coolest thing ever to bring her back 6 months after those initial heart wrenching appointments to follow up appointments with specialists here in Modesto and in Fresno and watch their expressions and amazement over her walking, running, jumping etc and now being advanced in her gross motor skills when she had been so behind for so long. The high infant risk assessment team at our local hospital and her physical therapist at Children’s Hospital Central California both called her a miracle and said they don’t see kids like her go from a rag doll, lacking muscle tone in major areas of the body to then becoming a busy, active, growing girl. I still cry thinking back to those two visits because I can remember my first visits to them being filled with so much heart ache and worry over my girl and having them say out loud that my girl defied the odds and was a miracle was overwhelming.
-How did the adoption became official and how did you feel when you knew she was home to stay?
For 10 months, we took Allie to weekly birth parent visits and we were told by her social worker that the process to reunify her with her birth mom was going to start with Allie going to her home for a few hours every week and then working up to overnight visits before she was there for good. Even though we knew it had been heading this way and we wanted to rejoice over the steps that her birth mom had made to be able to parent her, we just had this sick feeling that more needed to happen in order for Allie not to end up in the system again. We both struggled so much during this time, pleading with God that more changes would happen in her birth mom and that the social worker would see the red flags we were seeing. After a month of a van and driver coming to our home to pick Allie up and take her to her birth mom’s house and then back to ours again a few hours later, the social worker wanted to set up the first overnight visit but was not able to get a hold of her birth mom. She was not heard of for quite some time and even though it seems like this would make us excited as it would look like adoption could take place, it broke us. We worried for her, prayed for her, and wanted so much to see her succeed even in the midst of worrying so much about Allie. When we saw her again, it was at the court date that had been set to terminate her rights. It was hands down the hardest day for both Jeff and I as we just hurt so bad for her birth mom and for our Allie who may not ever know her. There was no guide book on how to handle the emotions of that day but we grieved a lot for Allie and for her birth mom and at the same time were so grateful that God would allow us to parent her. It was just a very weird mix of feelings because our joy of getting to parent to her was directly related to her birth mom’s pain of not getting to parent her. How could I truly rejoice that day knowing her birth mom was hurting so bad? Four months later, on March 11, 2011, we went to the court house with close friends and family and our little girl became a Pishney. I cried cleansing tears the whole night before and the whole way to the court house- it had been a long almost 2 years of all this court stuff and all these unknowns. Somehow that day, knowing she would always get to be my daughter, it didn’t seem like it had been that long. The judge that presided had been there from almost the very beginning of Allie’s case so she had seen us many times and somehow that made it even more meaningful. Celebrating with our friends and family after this was just incredible- we were so grateful for them and their prayers that held us all up and their love for our girl.
– What has God taught you through this process?
Humility, patience and surrendering my need for control to name just a few ;O). I learned that I was so much more judgmental than I wanted to admit of people involved in “the system” (birth parents, social workers, judges, attorneys- pretty much everyone involved ;O) ) and that I needed God to soften my heart towards them. I learned that God is right in the messiness of life- not just the stuff that works out all nice and neat but in the midst of broken relationships, unmet expectations and struggles that linger. I learned that He longs for restoration and longs for my heart to be surrendered to His will, which looked so much different than my own. I think in some strange way that before all of this, every time I encountered struggles, hardship, etc., I assumed I was doing something wrong or choosing the wrong path or that God must not be in it. I really didn’t get that God promised that in this world there will be trouble (somehow I read that verse and it just never registered like it did when I was actually encountering real hardship). I think having a simple life without any struggles or hardships was my hope even though I knew God teaches me so much when I follow Him and choose the hard over the easy. After going through this, I see Him way more clearly in the hard stuff, in the messiness of life, in the ongoing struggles and am so much more aware of His presence in those situations. I learned to lean on Him in a way I had never experienced before because He was showing me that He loved Allie more than I ever could, loved her birth mom, loved us and wanted what was best for each of us. I learned that I don’t need to share a child’s DNA in order to love them. I believed this before Allie joined our family but now I really get it. I look at her and I see my daughter, not my “adopted” daughter, just my beautiful, spunky girl. Allie has brought so much wonder, delight and joy to our family and every second of the hard and the struggle has been worth it to get to have the privilege of being her parents. God is teaching me that even though some of the struggles in foster care/adoption may not quickly disappear and I grow weary and impatient, that He knows what He’s doing and I don’t need to have it all figured out.
What is LOVE ALL KIDS?
Love All Kids is an initiative to inspire and mobilize people in our area to foster and adopt or support those who do. It will involve support groups for those in the foster care/adoption process, a website with resources and information on foster parent/adoption trainings in the community and events to highlight foster care/adoption awareness at churches and a Facebook page to share websites and information. It is still in its grassroots stages but we are really excited to see what comes of it.
How do you get involved?
Jeff & Karen…
Thank you so so much for taking a few moments to share your hearts and your story! Jared & I are seriously so thankful for you both. Your love for the people around you is absolutely contagious. Reading all of your answers brought tears to my eyes all over again knowing your sweet girl and what a little miracle she is!
We are looking to share more stories about adoption… If you have adopted, are adopted or work with adoption and are willing to inspire others with your story… Pretty Please email me at email@example.com
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