As I sat in Rebecca’s kitchen, watching her juggle a couple of the kids playing with water beads while the other three dug their hands into colorful sand at the kitchen table while simultaneously answering my questions, I saw beauty, skill and the Gospel on display.
Fun fact: Rebecca was my baby sitter growing up and I’m proud to own the title of “first piano student” in her life. So I’ve known this woman for many years now and I am in awe of what God has called Rebecca and her husband to. Not only are they parents to five children at the moment (three adopted, and two foster), but they have become advocates and leaders in our community to help the Church grow and better understand orphan care.
You may be all over this topic, or think that this is an area that God has not called you to; but I promise that by the end of this interview, you will realize that we all have a role in adoption and foster care.
How and why did you get involved in Foster Care?
We knew from the very beginning of our relationship that we would be dealing with infertility so we pursued fostering with the intention of adoption early on in our marriage, but God had other plans because immediately after we received our license in the mail we got the call about our first daughter, Addy. I knew the family from my days away at college and the whole situation was such an amazing blessing. We were able to be there through her pregnancy and in the delivery room when she was born. Our relationship with her bio family is still strong today and I am just BLOWN away by God’s goodness. If I had put all my hopes and dreams into an adoption basket, I could have never dreamed this one up. It has been more beautiful and more amazing than anything man alone could have created!
When Addy was two we were ready to adopt again and we were thinking about adopting from Ethiopia until I had a stirring in my heart back towards Foster Care. We received the call about Valisa two weeks later and from the moment we met her we knew that this is what God has called us to and we knew that someday we would be in it strictly to foster without the intention to adopt as well. Seeing the redemption in her life changed us forever.
What were your initial thoughts or fears about the Foster Care System?
I was definitely scared in the beginning about just about everything. Addy’s adoption had been so God-centered and amazing that to be in this secular, court-driven situation left me feeling really vulnerable and scared. In particular, I was nervous about dealing with the birth parents. I had lived a pretty sheltered life and the thought of coming face to face with drug addicts, alcoholics and criminals really scared me! The Court system was also scary because when you’re just starting out you don’t really understand it. The future of our family was in the hands of a judge who didn’t even know us! And lastly, I was nervous about the future of the children that would come into our home. What were the long term effects of the prenatal drug and alcohol exposure going to look like? But through all my prickly fears I learned very intimately that fear is not from The Lord and that I needed to battle my fears and my unbelief and truly trust His plan for our family.
What is one misconception about foster care that you would like to debunk?
The view that kids in the foster care system are so messed up and they always will be. It’s true that foster kids have a lot going against them… trauma alone is enough to have lifelong effects, let alone the effects that prenatal exposure left on their brain as well. They are fighting an uphill battle.. BUT… and this is a big but… We can’t underestimate God’s power of restoration and redemption! Those initial months and years may be tough, but through the love of a family and God’s healing power, I’ve seen kids experience great healing and there is no one too broken for God to heal!
How has your relationship with God and view of the Gospel changed since fostering and adopting?
Oh man, how has it not changed might be the better question! My relationship with God is the cornerstone for my ability to do this. I have seen my own sin more clearly than ever before. In fact, at times it has downright scared me! In some cases it has been a battle that I had to actively fight against for years at a time! Being on my knees and leaning into God’s strength and power, trusting His goodness and faithfulness is what got me through. I had always been consistently inconsistent in my daily time with The Lord, but since Valisa, I’m not inconsistent anymore. That time with God at the start of my day is what sees me through. It feeds me and fills me with what I need to love these kids and to serve them day in and day out.
As far as my view of the Gospel is concerned, I’ve seen my view of that change almost as much. I used to limit the Gospel to the act of spiritual redemption, but it’s so much more alive than that! When I came across the jasonjohnsonblog.com
and I saw how he broke down the Gospel in foster care I was literally blown away because he put words to what I had seen!
He says: “Three Things the Gospel Does in Our Care of the Orphaned and Vulnerable: It compels us into it. It sustains us in the midst of it. And it is put on display through it.” I love that! It sums up what was in my heart perfectly! There have been some really, really tough days with our six year old foster son. In those moments of taking his verbal and physical abuse I have seen the Gospel propel me forward. This little boy needs Jesus. His heart is hurting so much and he needs the healing and comfort that can only come through Jesus, and that kept me pushing in just a moment after I thought he had pushed too far and I was done. Instead of reaching for the phone to call the social worker my arms would reach for him and gather him into an embrace. That is all the Gospel, my friends.
In my flesh I wouldn’t go there into the filth and the discomfort of walking through his darkest moments. The Gospel sustains me through those moments. Jesus fills me with what I need for every day, every moment and every situation I’m going to come up against. I couldn’t do this without Him! And then the Gospel is put on display for everyone to see what God is doing in and through our family. The fact that we’re sitting here having this conversation is because of this very truth!
What are some challenges regarding legal and/or parenting that you weren’t expecting through the foster care route?
I didn’t expect the system to be so pro-parent. I expected that everyone would be pro-child first and foremost. But what I’ve seen is the parent is missing their kid and they push for a phone call or more visits, but there isn’t a lot of concern for the emotional well-being of the child in the making of those decisions, and that makes me sad. The kids are the innocent parties that have had their lives turned upside down! In my opinion, their wants and needs should be considered first and foremost and their parents should just have to deal with the consequences of their choices.
The spiritual warfare completely caught me off guard. It was just an aspect of this whole situation that I never considered! I didn’t even think about how we were opening up our home to a spiritual battle when we brought a child into our home. In fact, I was so clueless it took me months if not a year to figure out that that was the root of my struggle with Valisa. I had never been an angry parent until Valisa. All of a sudden this anger came out of nowhere. I know my heart is ugly and there is sin rooted in there that I didn’t even know I had, but to SEE it!!! Wow. It was so hard! And to see her utter defiance and rebellion against God, even at the tender age of two. People didn’t take me seriously, but it has stuck until recently when she decided to follow Jesus!
The depravity of our hearts exists from the beginning and that became so abundantly clear to me through Valisa. It was clear that there was the court battle going on, AND there was a spiritual battle for her heart as well. I learned how to use the tools that God has given us in His Word to combat what was going on in our home. I can clearly remember the night when it was gone. It was the night before “THE” court hearing that would decide the future of our family, and some friends and Bryan and I were praying together in our home. In fact, I had called everyone I knew to pray with us in their own homes at the same time! When we were done there was a peace that I hadn’t felt since Valisa had come and from that day forward the spiritual warfare was done. God had won!
What do we need to know about fostering and adoption?
Having kids is hard. Having foster kids is harder than you can imagine. Please don’t try to minimize the behaviors that our children are exhibiting. Believe us when we say that it’s worse than you can imagine at times and your parenting, though it is perfect for your child, is not necessarily going to work for ours. It actually belittles the underlying cause of the child’s behavior to say that your child, who has come from a stable, loving home from day one is that same as our child, who has experienced extreme trauma prenatally, as well as in the early days/years of their life. The behaviors might look the same on the outside, but just trust me when I say that the severity and duration of a child from a trauma background’s behaviors prove that it isn’t typical kid behavior. Hands down the best thing you can do for us is to listen to us vent, and then pray with us then and there!
There is SO much more to being a foster parent than just taking care of a child. We really do need extra help. We are running these kids around all day long to school, counseling, parent visits, we have IEP’s, teacher and principal meetings, social worker visits, lawyer visits, mandatory doctor visits… and the list goes on and on. I realize that every family struggles with laundry and dishes. Can I just tell you that there are weeks when I literally can’t touch my dishes for days at a time because I’m just trying to keep the kids in my family safe? Or I have to be there to comfort a hurting child? Or.. I’ve just had too many meetings that I haven’t been home in five days and the dishes are getting stinky? This is where the church can help foster parents shoulder the burden. What I wouldn’t give to have someone volunteer to drive my child to their parent visit, or to come over and fold my laundry while I’m gone. OR just stay with my toddlers so that they don’t have to be woken from their nap to take another child to see a parent! I believe that this is one way that Christians can live out their command to care for the widows and the orphans. You might not be able to take a child into your home, but you can certainly support the families that do in so many ways!
What have been some rewarding or joyful moments?
When Valisa came to us at twenty months old she didn’t have any words. She couldn’t even babble like a baby. To see her go from nonverbal to not qualifying for her early intervention speech program in two short months was amazing!
Obviously going to court to finalize each adoption!
It’s no secret that Valisa and I had a tough start to our relationship. I prayed for healing for FOUR years without any improvement. She would push me away when I tried to snuggle her or hug her. She would “shop” for a different mommy. She would attach to anyone and everyone except me. For FOUR long years I got up early to pray for her and our relationship. The day that she came up to me to hug me and kiss me on her own is a day that I will always cherish.
The day that our foster son decided to follow Jesus!
Watching my kids love the children who come into our home. I think a lot of people are held back from fostering because of their bio children and fear of them being hurt. But when we shield them from the hurt and don’t let them experience hard things we are actually shielding them from the joy of discipleship, and from God’s work in their lives. It does worry me also, but I know that God called all of us to this ministry and He is going to be faithful in their lives as much as He will be in mine and Bryan’s. Addy once said “I love ______, but I don’t like his behavior.” And I think that sums it up. She’s learned that love isn’t dependent on behavior. That love doesn’t condone the sin, but chooses to love them through it.
What advice would you give to someone who might be interested in foster care/adoption but doesn’t know where to start?
I think the first thing you need to do is figure out what type of fostering/adoption is best for you. Are you looking to be a temporary long term home for a child? Or are you seeking the least risky form of adoption? There are three main avenues in adoption. Domestic Infant Adoption, Foster to Adopt and International Adoption. Everyone has their own unique reasons for the route that they choose and that’s not something anyone else can decide for you! Pray and listen to God’s whisper in your heart! He’ll show you!
Once you’ve figured that out start calling around to your different local agencies and ask as many questions as you can. Every state, county and country is different. Don’t be afraid to take up their time. I’ve talked to dozens of people, different programs and even met with people in person before making up my mind!
Some churches have information and can point you in the right direction, and chances are you know someone who has fostered or adopted or you know someone who knows someone! Don’t be afraid to call them. Chances are they love talking about their experiences and remember how hard it was to get started themselves!
What would you say to the person who says “I’m afraid to foster, because I might get too attached and it will be too painful to give the child back”?
You ARE going to get too attached! There is no way to avoid it! So if that’s your concern, then I say “you’re the perfect person to do this!” But I know that’s not very reassuring or comforting! But that’s exactly what these kids need. They need people who are going to love them fiercely and be willing to love them enough to hurt when they leave. And the thing is that God is the One who sustains us, and though we haven’t actually had to give one back yet, I’ve seen God prepare our hearts for what is coming and ultimately prepares your heart to let go when the time comes. That doesn’t mean there won’t be sorrow or sadness. It just means that once again you are trusting that God is everything that you need to get through it and that it’s worth it. That child is worth it.
So you’ve recently started an adoption ministry at your church?
Yes! This ministry has been something that has been on our hearts since right after Valisa moved in. Struggling through the spiritual warfare made me realize that these kids need us, the Church, to be the ones to be there for them in this critical point in their lives. They needed to see the Gospel being lived out and they needed safe, loving homes. Who better than the Church? So we’ve lived our story on display for all to see in an effort to stir in people’s hearts to do the same. The other piece to what was on our hearts is that being a foster parent is isolating. Unless you have been a foster parent you really can’t understand the life that we’re living. So we wanted to build a place where people could come and share their joys and their struggles in a safe place where people would be honest and vulnerable and be there to tell you that what you’re going through is normal. Oh, how I wish I would have had someone just tell me that what we were experiencing with Valisa was normal and that I wasn’t failing her!
So when we started attending our current church it was no surprise that only six weeks later we were asked if we had ever thought of starting a Foster Adopt Ministry. Yes, yes we had! God had been stirring in our hearts, the community’s hearts and the Church’s hearts for this very moment! It has been so exciting to see a revival in our area, to see the ministry grow and to see more and more foster kids in our church community!
Now I feel like the next step is to propel the Church into caring for the families among us who are just beginning their fostering journeys. To wrap our arms around them and love on them as they love on these precious kiddos!