This time last year, my husband Spenser and I were, by all accounts, a thriving newlywed couple. We’d get off work each afternoon and hit the gym or meet friends for happy hour. We spent the evenings decorating our home or watching The Office for the ten thousandth time (ok fine, we still do that.) We cooked elaborate meals together and took way too many photos of our dog. We were confident and independent. Things were safe and comfortable. Our goal was to “live our best life” and frankly, we thought we were nailing it. While we were content with our small ambitions, God had something far greater in mind.
Now we are hot-mess foster parents in desperate need of help and grace. Our selfish desires get trampled on with each new morning and our social plans now include PTA meetings and court hearings. We’ve survived tantrums, bed-wetting and back to school shopping at Walmart. We’ve discovered new buttons that can be pushed, new volumes at which to yell, and we often spend evenings trying to fight the lie that we are NOT cut out for this. But stay with me for a second—this isn’t a sad story. While walking this road, our marriage has become deeper, stronger and more precious to us. We have experienced God’s love in new and profound ways and our life purpose has become crystal clear: to love the kids in our care as Christ has loved us. Sometimes I think back to the way things were and for a second I almost miss it. But, it turns out, living in our comfortable bubble was nothing compared to the wildly beautiful life that God had in store.
We were first introduced to the world of foster care on a weekend trip to visit our good friends in Boston. We sat down to dinner and they told us they were considering becoming licensed foster parents. The barriers were obvious; small apartment, busy city, no family nearby to help. They knew it sounded crazy, but they were humbly following God’s lead. He used their obedience and authenticity that night to spark our whole journey! Our spirits were stirred as we learned about the vast number of kids in foster care and the inadequate number of foster homes. We lived back in Tampa, Florida in our newly purchased house. We had extra bedrooms, a big yard and both sets of parents in town. Spenser is a high school teacher and football coach and has always had a soft spot for kids who lack the love and opportunities to help them succeed. We were just beginning to consider this path when God decided to make his message loud and clear. On the last day of our trip we walked into church and were informed it would be a unique service because it was… “World Orphan Day.” I can’t make this stuff up! I remember standing in that service with tears welling up in my eyes as I sang these words:
I’ll just say yes, you lead the way
I’m not afraid of what it means for me to say
This life you gave is not my own,
I’m trusting you to hear my yes and lead me on
And there is peace when I say yes
I might not see it now but you save the best
For all who trust you and obey
There is an answer no more delay.
When we got back home after our trip, a quick Google search revealed that a fostering orientation was scheduled in our town the following week. We showed up, chose an agency, signed up for parenting classes, and the ball was rolling!
I must confess, for weeks during the process I only felt heaviness. There was no joy or excitement, I just felt burdened as I counted the cost. I cried often, wrestling with the reality that God sometimes leads us toward really hard things. In our parenting classes we were confronted with the horrific situations that these children are coming out of. We were given worse-case scenarios to help us prepare. I knew this was a noble mission but, to be honest, I wasn’t really looking forward to it. I also questioned my motives. Was I just doing this out of guilt? Or to win approval from others? Did I have regrets but feel too prideful to turn back now? My feelings were all over the map, but as we kept moving forward a quiet peace started to grow in my heart. I knew I was secure in Him despite the long list of uncertainties.
Looking back, I see what God was teaching me; sometimes you need to step forward in obedience even when you’re feeling scared and unsettled in your emotions. Friends, don’t spend your whole life waiting for things to “feel right” before you do the work God is calling you to. Feelings are fickle, especially if your heart is an emotional rollercoaster like mine. Even Christ in the midst of his work cried out in sorrow while sweating drops of blood! Scripture tells us “For the joy set before him he endured the cross.” Your redemption was at the heart of that joy.
Becoming licensed took us about five months. Fingerprints, background checks and home studies were completed. We bought booster seats, assembled bunk beds and decorated them with shark-printed sheets. Friends and family donated books and clothes to fill the closets. All we had to do was wait and with over 4,000 kids in care in the Tampa area we were alerted of a potential placement immediately. They sent us the information for a little boy whose current foster home was closing soon. With hearts beating fast, Spenser and I looked at each other knowing that the time had come. We said “Yes” and brought in the six-year-old, freckle-faced, blue eyed boy and our lives have never been the same.
This past year has been one wild ride. We’ve experienced heartache, joy, tears, laughter, frustration, growth and ultimately redemption. It’s been the best and hardest year of our lives. We welcomed in another amazing boy, then said goodbye to our first kiddo and, in the midst of that, found out we will be having a baby in December! We would NEVER have written this story for ourselves. It’s been too brutal and too wonderful. But that’s the whole point…submitting to God’s calling on your life is not usually glamorous by the world’s standards. No matter what God is leading you into (parenthood, new friendships, a leadership role, community service, ministry, marriage, etc.) Your service will undoubtedly be accompanied by discomfort, fear, persecution or sacrifice. You might wonder why you should carry on. I want to remind you. We are the recipients of the greatest and most undeserved gift of sacrifice imaginable! So, with simultaneous humility and courage, we can respond by laying down our lives—our gifts, our time, our money, our desires—for others. Foster parenting has taught me that laying down your life isn’t a one-time decision. It’s a hundred daily decisions to keep saying “yes” when situations appear hopeless or daunting. It takes utter reliance on God to move toward the brokenness in front of me instead of away. I’m only empowered to do this by renewing my mind with the truth of the Gospel: Christ stepped out of comfort and immortality into MY brokenness. He met me in my wretched state. He lived the life I should have lived and bore the wrath reserved for me. He rose from the dead in victory in order to purchase and redeem my rebellious soul! As I meditate on the overwhelming beauty of the Gospel, it changes me and it will change you too.
Whatever God has put you at the brink of or in the midst of, keep saying yes. Keep pressing on into the dark and broken corners of this world. That is where the Gospel light is needed and He has equipped YOU to bring it! Your shortcomings are not a barrier for our mighty God. Keep moving even when you’re afraid, limping, or discouraged and let the God of hope work through you. Our reward is a deeper experience of joy, satisfaction and purpose than we could ever have while staying in our safe, little comfort zones.
If you think God might be calling you to bring love and stability to vulnerable children in your area, follow the link below for more information and resources on how you can become a licensed foster parent in your county.