I will never forget May 4, 2018.
May 4th is the day I became a mom.
But it’s not my child’s birthday. On May 3, I wasn’t in labor or packing a hospital bag – I wasn’t actually even pregnant at all. And I fell asleep that night having no idea that it would be the last full night of sleep I would get for years.
Like many foster parents across the country, I only knew that I was willing to have my life interrupted by a tiny vulnerable person who needed somebody to love and protect her – maybe tomorrow, maybe in six months. Maybe for a night, maybe a few weeks, or maybe forever.
I normally blog about church communications, but in honor of National Adoption Awareness Month, I thought I would take a moment to share my story, as well as some practical ways for the Church to get involved in alleviating the orphan crisis in America.
Up until 18 months ago, I was living a pretty great life. I had the blessing of working full-time at a church I love, I had recently purchased my first home, and I had been privileged to travel all over the world. I even had a fully stocked sewing studio in my spare bedroom, and I loved the creative outlet of working with my hands and developing my skills in this craft. There was just one thing wrong – the nagging feeling that God had made me for more than this.
Sure, on the outside you could argue that my life was already devoted to ministry. And yet I could not shake the all-consuming feeling that I was made to be a mom. It was a desire that felt confusing and out of place for a happily single woman – until Faith Church launched a new outreach vision for orphan care, and all of the pieces came together for me. For years, I had felt like a mother without children. Now, I knew that our nation is sadly full of children without mothers. For years, God had been preparing me to step into that gap – and on May 4, 2018, the preparation was over and the assignment began.
Two hours after getting a call from an agency caseworker asking if I would be willing to take a placement of newborn twins, I met her for the first time in the hospital lobby. I was holding an empty carseat. She had a binder full of paperwork. Hospital security escorted us, along with a caseworker from Children and Youth, to the NICU where I met baby Ivy* for the first time. We were complete strangers, but a few hours later I would be snapping her carseat into the back of my car and pulling away alone with her. The next day, I returned to pick up her twin sister.
As I drove home with Hazel blinking innocently in the back seat – her first glimpse of the world outside the hospital – I had a moment of panic. Was I crazy for thinking I could care for two medically fragile infants by myself? I remember thinking that only God could give out such a big assignment, and only He could provide the strength I needed to do it.
I could never have imagined in those sweet (albeit terrifying, as any new parent can attest) first days just how hard it would be: balancing parenting with work; the near-constant barrage of medical appointments, therapies, sick days, tests, and hospitalizations; the emotional roller coaster of court dates and family visits and case plans and the constant uncertainty about their future. They were the children who made me a mom, and yet they were mine for only just this moment. Only God knew if – or where – they may be taken tomorrow.
But I also could never have imagined the strength that God would pour into me – a strength that rose on the wings of a whole village of support and an incredible inner equipping. By His complete and total grace, those two precious souls who weighed a combined 10 pounds when they first came into my home are now beautiful, healthy toddlers with round cheeks and pigtails and smiles that melt your heart. More importantly – and as long as I live, I will never stop celebrating this miracle – they have spent the crucial first months of their lives being told every single day that they are precious, that they are loved, that they matter, and that their needs will be met. They have been sheltered, cherished, prayed for, fed, and nurtured in every single way.
If God can use a single woman to raise premature twins at a moment’s notice, how could He use you to help orphans? I have a few practical suggestions. But first, a quick synopsis of the problem.
THE PROBLEM: Too many children, not enough loving homes.
There are currently 428,000 children in foster care in the United States. Of these, 308,000 (including my sweet Hazel and Ivy) are being cared for temporarily until they are able to be reunited with their birth families or until the court determines another permanency plan for them. The remaining 120,000 are currently eligible for adoption – meaning the only thing standing between them and a forever home is finding somebody who is wiling to say “yes” to them. Sadly, this is not happening. Each year, thousands of children are aging out of the system without ever finding a family. The consequences for them are disastrous.
THE SOLUTION: The Church
There are over 400,000 churches in the United States. If ONE believer from every church would step forward to adopt ONE unwanted child, the waiting list would skew dramatically in the other direction. What would happen if your church welcomed one child? Could you rally around one family?
If it takes a village to raise a child, I believe the Church is the perfect built-in support system – a literal “village” – for a foster or adoptive family. From providing prayer and encouragement to practical help like meals, hand-me-downs, gift cards, and babysitting, there are ways for everyone to get involved.
As believers, adoption is already a part of each of our story. Romans 8:15 says, “The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’”
The truth in this verse is basic and yet so profound. We were adopted by God into his family; the footnote in my Bible explains that the Greek word translated as “adoption to sonship” is a term referring to the full legal standing of an adopted heir in Roman culture. But not only do we have legal standing, we have a place in the family as well – so intimate and loving that we can cry out to the God of the universe and call him “Daddy.”
Was there any one of us too lost in our sin, too broken, or too scary for God to redeem? NO! There are waiting children who have been through very real trauma and pain and whose lives reflect that messiness. They have been rejected over and over again. But God does not reject them. We have the opportunity to show them that by offering radical hospitality – by allowing our lives to get messed up so that theirs can be saved.
How beautiful would it be if we could see these 120,000 children find not only loving moms and dads, but an Abba Father as well?
Here are some practical ways you could support foster and adoptive parents at your church:
Partner with a local foster care agency.
Faith Church has a beautiful partnership with The Salvation Army Children’s Services in Allentown. They have been an invaluable resource in providing training, information, and help as we developed our Mission: Adopt initiative. Having a preferred local agency takes away the first hurdle for families interested in fostering or adopting, and makes the process seamless for them.
Provide support and care, but also seek to understand.
In addition to providing practical help to families who are fostering and adopting, it is also incredibly helpful to create a church culture that understands trauma and where kids and student ministry staff are equipped to welcome a child who may have challenging behaviors due to their history and experiences. Foster families can quickly get isolated when they feel that their children’s behavior makes them unwelcome at church events.
Don’t overlook the potential in non-traditional families.
When you think of an ideal family to foster or adopt, who are imagining? Chances are, a young married couple popped into your mind. But you never know who God might be calling to accept the challenge! Many people are surprised to find that you don’t have to be married to foster or adopt. You also don’t have to own your own home. You can work outside the home and, other than a few exceptions, there are no age limits. Consider single people, empty nesters, and even retired folks. They might not be your first idea of what is “ideal” for a child, but isn’t a loving family (of any type) plus a whole church family better than no family? You can read about some awesome non-traditional families here, here, here, and here.
The problem is big, but our God is bigger and the Church has incredible potential to make a difference!
*To protect the confidentiality of my foster children, I have changed some minor details about their story, and changed their names to the ones I had picked out for my future daughters, if ever I was lucky enough to have them!
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