Andrew and Merri Heberlein began volunteering at Coyote Hill seven years ago, in February of 2012. They officially joined our staff in August of 2012 as Full-Time Relief Home Parents; a brand new position at The Hill at that time. About a year later they moved into The Wright Home as Home Parents, and have been serving in that position ever since.
In a job that can be extremely daunting and emotionally draining, how have they managed to stick with it and continue serving year after year? Merri shares some of her insight and wisdom:
I go to the biblical story of Joseph a lot when I’m sharing with the children. Joseph endured a lot of rotten things that didn’t make sense; things that he didn’t deserve. Yet God took Joseph’s life and turned it into an absolutely beautiful story. The biggest joy and task for me is that we get to walk through this tough stuff that our kids are experiencing, but we can continually remind them that God has a bigger plan.
Also during our daily devotions with the kids, we try to bring in examples of modern day celebrities; people that can provide positive examples of overcoming. Recently we’ve talked a lot about Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. He has a cool success story – coming from complete poverty and being bullied as a kid, then struggling to find the right niche in life. Yet he kept working and was able to turn all of those hard things in life into a success story. Trying to teach the kids that there can be beauty amongst all their confusing hard stuff is what Andrew and I love to do.
Coming from Wisconsin, snow is something that makes me happy. Experiencing it in a positive way this month has been so enjoyable. It’s provided another wonderful life-lesson for our kids, as we discuss how beautiful it is, how much we can have fun and enjoy it – or how we can be frustrated and angry about it. So much of how we handle the things that life throws at us depends on the attitude we approach it with. I could be angry that I spent four hours shoveling snow…or I can be thrilled to experience a beautiful snowfall and watch the kids excitement as they fly down the hill on their sleds. That’s the perspective that keeps Andrew and I going. Tough things happen in our job – but they don’t have to be depressing tragedies. They can be moments that help define your character.
Now that we’ve been doing this job for several years, hindsight helps so much. New Home Parents often ask us, ‘What’s the one piece of advice that you would give us?’ I always say ‘Just stick it out!’ It takes about two and a half years to be able to look back and understand some of the reasons why God allowed things to happen; the way He’s working to make sense out of things that just don’t make sense. If new foster parents can push through and make it past the two year mark – different pieces of this confusing puzzle start falling into place. You can’t get that without riding through the storm of the first several months.
Andrew and I also have to remember our job is simply to plant seeds. We don’t often get to see the growth, although we have been able to maintain a lot of great relationships with former placements. Trying to maintain positive relationships with their families helps, and that allows us to keep in touch with the children and continue to encourage and love them. Thus, we get a bigger picture, and that helps remind us of why we’re doing what we do. About three years into this job, God gave me one of the most encouraging gifts He ever could have given. An analogy and peace about what my job truly is – I’m simply one instrument of many that God is using to create a beautiful symphony in a child’s life. Recognizing that has helped me so much.
It takes the pressure off that we tend to put on ourselves; this pressure of feeling like we have to fix all these tough situations and problems that our kids are coming from and we have to have all the answers for them. In reality – our job is to love them, hold their hand through the storm and remind them that God does have a plan in the midst of this. We don’t know that plan yet – but we trust that it is a good plan and God doesn’t make mistakes.
Our church family has also played a vital part. They are so supportive of us, and that’s extremely important. They’re always the first people to pray over us and pray for our kids – that’s huge. Their support makes a difference in our ability to keep going.
Our own children have also committed to this ministry 100%. If they weren’t, we couldn’t have lasted this long. Our youngest, Lex, was less than a year old when we moved here; and our oldest, Amythyst, was in first grade. Lex calls most of the kids his brothers and sisters. He loves giving them hugs and being a part of their lives. Amythyst has developed some great, long-term relationships and keeps in touch with many of them. She enjoys having them in her life and she loves being a part of what we do. It becomes very difficult if your children don’t feel an ownership in the ministry. If they simply see it as mom and dad’s job and they’re just along for the ride, they can feel left out and resentful. Always trying our best to love on our kids and give them the attention they need and deserve is a huge part in making it work.
Another thing that has really helped us stay at this so long is grasping the whole Trust Based Relational Intervention (TBRI) parenting style. TBRI® does a really great job of helping us understand how trauma affects the brain. It’s given us a much better perspective as Home Parents. It’s taught us that this isn’t just bad behavior on the child’s part, but instead, it’s a response to the trauma they’ve experienced. It then gives us tools to help them through that. It has really been great and has helped us stick with it and understand where our kids are coming from. It’s been very freeing for us as Home Parents, and has a really great relationship building component. You just learn to see every problem as an opportunity to grow the relationship.
Thank you, Andrew and Merri, for your faithful service.
If you or someone you know would be interested in finding out more about working as a Home Parent at Coyote Hill, please have them check out our Job Opportunities page.