Foster parents Todd and Heather Lessem, along with their sons, Asher and Jadon, are currently fostering a 15-month old girl, “Peanut”. In a recent phone interview with Project 1.27, Todd and Heather shared their experiences so far.
What made you first consider serving as foster and adoptive parents?
Heather- I had adoption in the back of my mind after our second son was born. Todd was a little hesitant about the idea. One Sunday at church, our Pastor had invited a representative from DHS to share the need for foster parents in our county. That was the first time we’d considered foster care as our path. Coupling my passion for orphans with the need in our county started our journey.
Todd- I looked back at our premarital counseling and realized we’d both answered the question, “Would you ever consider adoption,” with a yes! Right about the time our pastor brought in the local DHS, two of our family friends started towards foster care. We didn’t realize it then, but God was using those friends to get us started.
What did it look going forward?
Todd – It was Heather saying, “let’s do this and me dragging my feet.” God had to soften my heart. We decided we wanted to adopt but I had a lot of anxiety about foster care. It took time, but God took away that anxiety.
Heather – We went to an Info Night with the county and were scared off. We were told if our end goal was adoption, we should leave. They were only looking for foster families focused on reunification. I heard about Project 1.27 and we decided to go to their Info Night. The way the information was presented was like night and day. We learned this could be for us and that gave us confidence to move forward.
Heather – In Feb 2017 we were certified and placed on a foster to adopt only placement list. We began waiting and waiting. A couple of difficult experiences led us to feel negative and question why we got into the system. Was it for ourselves or the kids. God made it clear by the summer, that it was for the kids. Then, we decided to start fostering and let God take care of the journey.
Anything else about the precertification process?
Todd – I keep going back to training, to what one of the parent panelists shared. He said, “Hey, we’re just called to love and put up with all the craziness of the process.” I realized foster care was about loving innocent children. Peanut’s been amazing and we’ve just dealt with the other stuff.
What was it like when Peanut first arrived?
Heather – It felt very much like welcoming a newborn. We were sleep deprived! It was really amazing and scary because she was our first foster placement and we didn’t know what to expect. We didn’t know how long we’d have her, what the outcome would be. We enjoyed loving her, having baby snuggles and letting the boys get used to having a little sister.
Todd – It was surreal. It started with a phone call from Heather on a Wednesday, “Hey there’s a baby just being born, we’re being pinged to foster her.” We thought it would be 5-7 days before we picked up Peanut since she was in NICU, but two days later Heather went to the hospital and brought Peanut home.
We were told at the beginning that Peanut would never move towards adoption. We decided to love Peanut and Heather went all in to build a relationship with Peanut’s mom, to care for her, pray for her daily. Our goal was reunification. We made a choice to pray that mom get healthy. To serve and let God deal with our feelings.
What milestones is Peanut working on now?
Heather – Peanut had her 15-month check up this morning. She’s developmentally on track; walking, almost running. Peanut’s working on developing speech, learning new words, which is a little bit of a struggle.
What are you working on as foster parents?
Todd – Being very intentional with each of our kiddos. One and one time, being present. Embracing each of our kiddos where they are, celebrating Peanut crawling down the stairs backwards or a Legos piece one of our sons put together. We started having one-one-one dates with our boys shortly after getting Peanut, a time to hang out and do what the boys want to do. With bringing in a baby, all the doctor’s visits, parental visits, etc; being intentional with our time is important.
What do you love most about serving as foster parents?
Todd – Watching our boys see this development of Peanut from baby to 15 mo old. Watching them “adopt” her as a sister. Seeing the softness, loving, caring and attachment develop. I love seeing the miracle of God’s creation and watching it through the boys’ eyes.
Heather – It gives me more purpose in my role as a mother. I get to be a missionary without leaving my family. Not only have we impacted Peanut’s life, I’ve gotten to touch her birth mother’s life in a significant way I will always cherish.
Todd – It’s been good to see how God has been able to impact my friends through our journey. Several have taken the step towards foster care and adoption, getting past that initial fear. God’s using our faithfulness to further his kingdom.
What has surprised you most on this journey?
Heather – I never in a million years expected to develop such a deep love for birth mom. I’m emotional talking about her because she’s not doing well and I consider her a friend. That was a huge surprise because you don’t hear that talked about very often.
Todd – At one of the support groups we went to someone shared that serving in the foster care system is like being in a counter culture. Digging into messy lives. Digging into a part of the government that is trying to meet a need in other people’s lives. It is tough for people not in foster care to understand the “crazy”. When I say crazy, I mean crazy good. At support group, they get it because they are also in the “crazy”.
What kind of support have you needed as foster parents?
Todd - Respite was a godsend once we were willing to take it. At first, we thought using respite would mean we were weak in some way. But we’ve learned it’s important to take care of the foster family. Sometimes foster families just need a break. It’s healthy to have a day away.
Heather – Prayer support! I’m frequently blasting out messages for friends to pray over Peanut, her mom, the situation. Prayer has lifted me and helped me keep going.
What would you tell someone interested in getting involved with Project 1.27?
Heather – Project 1.27 is very supportive. They will help guide you in every step.
Todd – What’s awesome is P127 is Christ-centered. It’s taking the tool kit of what you need as a foster parent and putting it through the lens of God’s plan. It put God in the center and helped us align our plans with His.
How can we pray for you and other foster parents?
Heather – Pray that we would all be encouraged because there is a lot of discouragement that creeps in with foster care. Encouraged to stay the course that God has called us to.
Anything else you’d like to share?
Heather – One of the coolest things is that in this journey with so many ups and downs, we have been completely blown away to see the mountains that God has moved and is moving. It has given so much more meaning to my faith because I’ve never before seen God show up like he’s shown up the last 15 months.
Todd – God’s really forced me to trust him more. He’s exposed my heart in ways I didn’t want to happen in the past. It shows up in spiritual growth – loving mom, loving our family, being more intentional with our kids. This has been so eye-opening and heart-opening for me.
What’s next with Peanut?
Todd – We don’t know. We’ve had to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.