If you are new to joining this blog series, read parts one and two of our foster journey with baby Vanessa first.
Vanessa’s Story: Part Three—Beginning a Relationship With Grandma
The initial meeting of bio family is so awkward. What do you say? What will they say? Will they feel threatened by you? Will they think you “took” their baby? Will they blame you? Adoption and foster care creates all these intimately close connection with complete strangers. Mothers, fathers, grandparents, and entire networks of extended family instantly become “part” of you when a new child enters your home, but you don’t know their faces or often even their names. Your only connection is one of the strongest, closest connection in the world….a precious little child.
I prayed a prayer for wisdom and the ability to come across gentle and loving to this stranger that I had never met, I dialed the phone, hoped for voice mail to pick up… but instead I was greeted with a “Hello?”
About two sentences into explaining who I was the voice on the other end of the phone began screaming in thanksgiving. I heard joy, praise, laughter, and some “hallelujahs.” Once she calmed down from being so happy to hear from me I updated her on who we were, how Vanessa came to us, and how Vanessa was doing. Vanessa Sr. filled me in on all she knew about baby Vanessa and her constant night and day prayers for this little girl. She was overwhelmed with thankfulness when she heard we were Christians and Vermon was a pastor.
I am not sure how long we spoke that first time, maybe an hour? But I hung up and my entire emotional conflict was gone. I knew that baby Vanessa should be with Grandma Vanessa. I saw the Lord’s handiwork everywhere. My prayers instantly changed and I became fully committed to loving Vanessa enough to do whatever I could to speed up the process for her to be with her grandma.
Of course, with Arizona CPS, nothing is speedy. In fact, often it is painfully slow to the determent of the child’s safety and well-being. If Vanessa Sr. had been living in Arizona, the state would have moved baby Vanessa to Grandma within days of baby Vanessa being placed in our home; however, since she was in a different state with different laws, that meant going through a long, bureaucratic process (called an ICPC) that included 3 steps on the Arizona end and 2-3 steps on the Texas end.
So what followed was 4 months of phone calls with Grandma, sending her pictures, notes, and receiving pictures, letters, and clothes. Vanessa began working on her end in Texas, calling daily, trying to get the case moved along and I began working in Phoenix, making 8-10 phone calls a day sometimes, trying to get each painstaking step in our case moved along. In hindsight, I wish I would have called more often and sent more pictures!
It was challenging to find time to connect with Grandma because I had so many visits from CPS, licensing workers, physical and occupational therapists, attorneys, assessments, etc (this is a normal part of foster care ministry, even with generally healthy children). On top of all that, I was making many phone calls trying to get Vanessa’s paperwork pushed through so we could get her to her grandma. But even with a full plate, I still tried to make it a priority to connect with Grandma regularly.
If I can give any advice to foster families it is to reach out to those biological family members that want to build relationships with their children. Out of all the aspects to foster care ministry, I believe reaching out to biological family is one of the most important aspects of foster care ministry (second only to providing a loving, safe environment for the child).
All this work resulted in a wonderful relationship with Vanessa Sr. long before I ever met her face to face. With each phone call, I was growing to love her as a true friend. It became a highlight and joy to speak with her, hear her story, and see the Lord working in the midst of her challenging circumstances!
Up Next: Vanessa’s Story: PartFour—Grandma’s Comin’ to Town