I trudged to the front of the group, my palms clammy and heart racing. The gym was overcrowded with sweaty kids, a typical 90’s summer day club. The promise of good times and trying new activities had become disillusioned for me quite early on. My quiet, slightly pudgy 7-year-old self had won the attention of the camp director. And since attention was neither appreciated nor desired, dread—not laughter—filled my summer days.
All three of our children came into our family through adoption. One Sunday, when Rachel, my youngest of three kids was just a couple weeks old, we sang Oceans during worship. I’d never really attached to the song like so many other Christians that I know did. But that morning, the song fell on me fresh.
“Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders / Let me walk upon the waters / Wherever You would call me / Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander / And my faith will be made stronger / In the presence of my Savior.”
Perhaps many people can say what I am about to say: when I first began fostering children I had no plans on adopting. I was experiencing a bit of the ’empty nest syndrome’ and wanted little ones in my home once more. I also wanted to foster children on my own terms with the choice to stop when I felt the time had come.
I received a phone call from a social worker asking if I wanted to foster a baby who was still in the hospital. I immediately said, “Yes.” The social worker began informing me of the baby’s health condition. “This baby was born three months premature, weighs only four pounds at six weeks of age, and has tested positive for crack and alcohol.” She added, “The baby needs to be picked up today.” I raced out of the house and headed to the hospital to meet a tiny little girl.
The little black ringlets of hair curling round her rosy cheeks and dark brown eyes captured my heart at first sight. It’s a moment I’ll never forget. As the tears came out of nowhere and my heart exploded, it was instantaneous. Somewhere in that place a Mama feels the deepest of emotions, I knew she was ours. God had shown me the little girl He’d hand-picked for us halfway across the world.
It was love. A love that seemed surreal — but one I knew was a gift. I just wouldn’t understand the magnitude of that gift for many years to come.
Our adoption story wasn’t one of the easy ones. I don’t know that anyone has an “easy” story, but ours was riddled with unheard of obstacles, detours, and heartache.
It was never going to be forever. When we started the journey of becoming foster parents, it was not with the hope or goal of adoption. We became foster parents because we wanted to help children in need, and support families during tough times. The DHS knew this, we knew this, the bio-parents of the children who have been in our home knew this. Even the kids coming in to our home knew this, as over time we therapeutically explained our role to them. No matter how much you remind yourself of this, and talk to those around you about your role, and tell the DHS your boundaries, it doesn’t make a kiddo transitioning away from your home any easier.
When I tell people my story, I get a lot of surprised looks and questions. I have six siblings—three sisters and three brothers. But it wasn’t always this way.
When I was really little, I was the only girl. My brothers tried to include me in their chess games and Nintendo, but I wanted a sister more than anything. When my parents announced to us kids that they were pursuing adoption, we were thrilled!
They started out looking for one girl, but God placed two beautiful gals into our family. It felt so natural to me, and looking back on it, I wish I had treasured those moments even more than I did.
One of the things that amazes me, is about every third person I talk to has more knowledge about the child welfare system and adoption than they ever knew they had. What also amazes me is that we are so often called to this work, but not sure exactly how to play a role. I had an Indiana University social work student ask me just yesterday, at an event where I served as a panelist, “How do you know when you are called?” My answer to her was the same answer I received from my father when I was just seven years old — where does your passion lie? I went on to ask her several more rhetorical questions: what makes your heart quicken; what is that thing you would do if you never got paid; what would you be excited about engaging in even if it were twenty degrees below zero outside? She thought a while and looked at me and smiled. I smiled back and said, “That’s your call.”
“One day this will all make sense.”
This was told to us in the midst of an extremely emotional and troubling time. At that moment, I clung to those words as if they were a life raft and I was stranded in the middle of the ocean with no land in sight. We had just been told we had lost the referral of a beautiful baby girl only days after our pup, my soul dog, lost his fight with kidney disease and Cushing’s Syndrome. We fought like hell for almost a year to keep Stormy with us, and to this day I would give almost anything to spend just five more minutes with him. In the midst of our grieving, we received the referral of a beautiful baby girl, only to have her ripped from our grasp just days later. It was the first time a referral had been taken back in the program’s almost ten year history, and I was completely devastated. My poor husband felt powerless. He watched me mourn for the pup that made me a mom, albeit a fur mom, and now had to tell me we lost the girl we thought was our daughter for three days. I know how selfish I sound here…looking back on it now, I am so thankful her birth mom was able to change her mind and raise her. I truly am. But at the time, my emotions were controlling me, and they had me a complete mess. I am beyond blessed with my family, and feel so honored to not only have witnessed, but experienced firsthand our story unfold.
This month marks the 6th anniversary of when two small children stood on our front stoop, accompanied by a social worker, searching for a place to lay their heads that night. They seemed tiny and scared — both defensive and hopeful all in the same breath. Within 30 minutes, the social worker had left and the two children remained. We were a houseful of strangers, my husband and I realized. We didn’t know what to do or what to say because we had no idea how deep their wounds went.
One of the questions I am most often asked is: “Why?” Family members, friends, neighbors and new acquaintances all want to know why.
“Why did you become a foster parent?”
Maybe one reason I get asked this so often is because in my circle of middle class suburban friends and family, becoming a foster parent is not particularly typical. I can understand the curiosity. Why would someone who grew up with no connection to the child welfare system, who didn’t have a single friend who entered care, who never personally knew anyone who’d been a foster parent … what makes that person arrive at this choice?