He was my sixth child to master the skill of clapping and by far the most memorable. We were alone on the couch, doing our morning snuggles. The house was optimistically quiet, as if it was preparing for the noise which was inevitably coming. He is twenty months and hasn’t spoken his first word, or blown a kiss, or waved bye bye. We have spent hours in therapy with this goal teaching to this simple goal, because if you can clap, than maybe we can get him to sign “more”, and if he can sign, he can communicate, and if he can communicate, maybe he will stop banging his head on the floor when he gets mad at us.
I have modeled clapping consistently in play. We have banged blocks together so he understands the motion. I have made him clap his hands while he pushed back more times than I could even count. So, on this unassuming morning, as he was drinking his milk and I drank coffee, equally preparing for our calendar of to-do lists for the day, I never expected it to happen. He set his milk bottle down, (judge me if you must), and he looked studyingly at one hand, then the other, almost as if to say, “So, if I slap this hand against the other one, she might scream in my face and we will both get a good chuckle out of it.”
So he did and he was right. I screamed and I told him he was the smartest little boy I had ever met and I gave him too many kisses on the cheek to stand. I jumped up and down and danced and I praised the Lord for this simple and amazing talent. Then he did it again. Then he showed Dad when he got out of bed. We spent the rest of the weekend celebrating and I have no plans to stop partying.
I don’t remember the exact moment when any of my other babies learned this common feat. If I have learned anything over the past years of a fuller submission to his calling it is this: The greater the challenge, the greater the reward. Anything that comes easy can be easily taken for granted.
We are so beautifully reminded by Paul in Romans 5:3-4, We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.
I have always been so puzzled by this verse. To me rejoice means a celebration. Perhaps shouting a happy hallelujah? But my heart is rarely filled with delight at the realization that my tomorrows will be heartbreaking for a time or that I am entering a period of anguish and hardship. But this I know to be true: I have always grown more from the storms than the sunshine. Maybe it isn’t the suffering we should rejoice in, but rather the scar to follow.
These battle wounds weave and build our testimony. When someone asks me how I have joy in trials or they have seen me come through a valley, I always point them to the one who fully bore my burdens during that time. It is by suffering that we come to know him on a deeper level. Day in and day out, I find more confidence that he is consistently faithful. A scar will leave us changed forever. We won’t ever be the same again. I can rejoice knowing that this trial will not only help define me, but in time refine me. Jesus bore the ultimate scars and by those wounds we are healed. How humbling to consider that God could use my heartbreak and challenges to someday help strengthen or heal another.
In my refinement and closer walk with Jesus, I still have my share of uphill battles. As I was sharing my full plate with a friend, she in her thick southern accent reminded me, “Honey, that’s not a plate. You have a platter.” And when that sense of being overwhelmed begins to creep back in, I remind myself to cast to Christ those fears that I was never meant to carry and focus on the simple joys and moments that I am blessed with or beautiful victories of overdue milestones that are finally achieved.
It was 5:15 in the morning, when I heard an unfamiliar sound in our bed. Evan found something a child had left behind and was rolling it around in his hand. “What in the world is it?”
“They are marbles. Did you lose yours?”
It certainly feels like it most days. And I know from my conversations with others who are walking this similar journey, I am not alone in feeling this way.
I am embarking on another year of homeschooling and when I put together my schedule this year, I didn’t know whether I should laugh or cry. We have six children, three of which require tutoring and therapies that amount to forty hours a week. I have a route that surpasses most UberXL drivers. It seems so very impossible. When I get overwhelmed, I shrink. I make myself as small as possible. I get very quiet and I wait to hear something, anything, from a God I know is near.
In the quiet I was reassured, but not how I had hoped. The message was simple. This is a valley. Thanks. I already feel like I am losing. I have lost control. That superhero glow has long since faded in the light of foster care and adoption and the chaos that abounds in our home. I feel like I am losing myself, my sanity, even my friends.
A few weeks later, I was watching the kids swim. My oldest daughter, Margaret, came rushing inside. She was whining about a race she lost, and she got very irritated with me. “Are you even listening?”
“You didn’t lose the race. You lost the joy.”
Her eyes followed mine. We both watched as my youngest daughter, who has been deathly afraid to jump in the pool all summer, was taking gigantic leaps into my oldest son’s waiting arms. But that message wasn’t for her, it was a reminder to me. I am not losing in life; I am losing sight of what matters. I focused on the hard and lost sight of the joy.
I understood what he meant by the valley. I was wholly focused on a singular definition: a low point. I needed to reconsider the meaning. I imagined myself as a child in my grandmother’s rocking chair. She is crocheting as Elvis sings “Peace in the Valley” in the background. It was time for me to find rest and stillness in waiting for him. I was reminded to look around and find joy in the ordinary. I need to adjust my view from the valley. If I only focus on what life could be on the mountain top, I will miss the miracles in the moments of today.
Psalm 84 speaks of the Valley of Baca, which is translated as the valley of weeping. Verse 10 so beautifully reminds us: Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere. What a soul filling reminder. Better is one day in the valley with Jesus, than a thousand mountaintop experiences apart from him.
What a day! I have been on the phone, fielding e-mails, interviewing. Finally, at three, I sat on the couch with all my babies and watched a movie. Because I didn’t want to think about foster care for a moment.
I have spent the week talking with news outlets about reunification as the primary goal and finding ways to support biological families. How much we need caring and compassionate families to love on these children. I said everyone has a role, that we can’t turn a blind eye anymore. I agreed that it is a broken system, but that is even more a reason to rise up and protect these amazing, vulnerable children.
And every time a new story came out, it was the same: Baby gets adopted after 700 days in foster care.
The reality is, this isn’t a fairy tale. I am beyond grateful Isla is here and so loved and very safe. But, adoption is messy. There will always be questions I can’t answer. There were some paths in this journey that still keep me up at night. I think of Isla’s first mama all the time and will tell Isla when she asks someday that her mama loved her so much.
And in our very broken world and in this messy, broken system, still beauty resides. I see it every moment of the day. Every time I look at all these children in my home.
And every day, Evan walks up with Isla or our other foster baby in his arms and he says something like, “Look at this. Have you ever seen anything so precious? Did you ever imagine we would be so blessed with these amazing babies.” He exudes fatherly pride. Everyday this has happened for two years. It never gets old.
We aren’t the story. The happy ending isn’t the story. You have been the story. Every prayer, every card, every casserole, every coffee delivery. When you asked me if I was okay and I collapsed in your arms. When you came to court. When you called. When you babysat and arranged nights out for us. When you included our children from the foster system in the Christmas exchange, just like all the other cousins. When you proudly framed them in your family photos. When you loved us beyond anything we ever felt we deserved. That is the story here.
Thank you. To our family, Fostering Hope, and our churches Fruit Cove Baptist Church and Refuge Church, FBCH + One More Child, and all our friends.
I am sharing the story from CBS today, which really highlighted our community. We are grateful to Good Morning America and the other news outlets that shared our story today as well.
There is a foster child who needs you. Maybe it is a gift, maybe it is a mentor, maybe it is a meal, or maybe it is a home. But, you have a role somewhere. We all do.
Welcome to our page! We are so happy you found us. Whether you are here just to learn more about our church and our ministry, whether you’re a foster/adoptive parent or know someone who is, or whether you are just searching for something God has put on your heart…YOU are in the right place!
Our foster and adoptive ministry, “Fostering Hope” originally began several years ago, although it didn’t look anything like it does today. As with many ministries and outreach mission groups, it all started with identifying a need.
I will never forget the morning God opened my eyes to this world and all of its heart-breaking brokenness. At the time, I had just taken on the role of Sunday School Teacher for the one-year-old crew at Fruit Cove Baptist Church (FCBC). I was searching desperately to find my place, to plug-in, and to really serve this amazing church community that I had been a part of for so long. I knew God was speaking to me. I knew this calling was for children, so this is where I started. I had two school-aged kiddos of my own and I was super eager to jump back into the baby world and get those elusive snuggles in that were starting to be less frequent with my own children. Little did I know, God wasn’t stopping there. He had bigger plans, and this would be the platform for it.
A couple of months went by… I was getting into my groove… feeling pretty good about my decision to serve…when a woman unexpectedly walked into my classroom with a young boy. I had never seen her or this child before. We navigated through the normal drop off banter but when we finished, she said, “he is our respite placement for the weekend so it will only be for today.” And as quickly as she had appeared, she had walked out and left us with this precious little boy. Respite? Did I miss something? What did that mean? I thought I had maybe missed something in my Sunday School education quarterly meeting. Our Preschool Ministries Director, Mrs. Ginna would NOT be proud. It sparked a lot of questions that continued to plague me the rest of the day. Then, it carried into the week. I wasn’t sure how to deal with this overwhelming sense of uncertainty. I couldn’t get it off my mind! Then, the following Sunday, as we were starting our day, the same woman walked back through the door with her respite placement from the weekend prior. Baby J! She said something came up and that he was with them again! Um, CRAZY! I knew this had to be a sign. When she left, I tracked her down and forced her to have coffee with me. I asked her so many questions I was sure she thought I had lost my mind and I’d never hear from her again. That was the first time I met one of my (now) best friends, Karen Roy, our Fostering Hope Ministry Leader. And this is only MY story…. One of many…
The need was there. My eyes were opened. I guess you could say I took the red pill? After that, our HUGE, expansive church community started to change shape into a much smaller, very intimate community: Who was fostering? Who wanted to foster? Who had adopted? Who was going through training courses to be a foster/adoptive parent? We ALL had so many questions and yearned so deeply for fellowship with like minded people. It wasn’t long until we had an amazing group of families that rallied behind each other. We supported each other as we navigated through the storm that ensues when you step into the broken world of foster care. Next thing we knew? Our community was growing…exponentially….We started planning monthly dinner dates at Panera to get out and talk about our families, our cases, our fears, our doubts, and to most importantly, pray for each other and the children. The need was so evident! These children NEEDED loving Christian homes, but these families NEEDED support themselves to carry through this emotional, soul-testing journey. Our mission then became focused on the “How?” How do we support these families and in-turn, better serve these foster/adoptive children and their biological families?
How were we going to offer support to foster and adoptive parents? To their bio families? Not only in our church, but in our community? We knew we wanted to start small with accomplishable goals and we knew we could immediately provide prayer. When we reached out to our church, the support was honestly overwhelming. The prayer ministry welcomed our prayer requests with open arms. They even requested weekly updates…. not only from our church members, but from community families! And our church didn’t stop there. Our Family and Missions Pastor, Johnathan Wilson, quickly and eagerly jumped on board! He knew we didn’t have to travel far to reach those in need. Our mission field was right in our backyard. And it was huge…
After the church’s full backing, things literally took off and RAPIDLY grew momentum in a shockingly short period of time. What started as a monthly get-together between foster parent friends quickly snow-balled into a full-blown ministry, serving our own church families as well as those in our surrounding areas. It is nothing short of a miraculous display of God’s handiwork, as he laid the groundwork for this ministry to take flight.
We created an advisory board consisting of past and present foster and adoptive parents as well as a Guardian Ad Litem to help guide the ministry, lay a foundation, and maintain focus on our mission. What better way to start a ministry than through those that have walked the path?! This then led to spreading the word! We formalized our monthly meetings and were provided space on campus at FCBC. We also created a Facebook page to provide a platform to share meetings, provide encouragement and prayer, and to engage the community. Within a few short months, our group was now a ministry! Fostering Hope was born and was now a fully operational ministry with a focus on outreach and support not only within our church home, but within the surrounding community of Northeast Florida. We created a “closet” to store essential items, clothing, bedding, diapers, formula, you name it….all to support foster children in care. We started to become well known in the community as we worked diligently to partner with local agencies, neighboring churches and foster/adoptive minded businesses. It wasn’t long before we realized we needed a model or framework to operate under. As soon as the need arose, God provided!! Crazy how he does that right? We quickly partnered with CompaCare and adapted their proven framework to wrap around foster families with support to retain foster families. This support is necessary to ensure these families stay actively licensed and continue fostering so that these children can come to know the Lord in a safe, nurturing and CONSISTENT Christian home.
Through this model, Fostering Hope has been able to provide reliable wrap-around care for ALL of our actively licensed foster families at FCBC. This includes a volunteer advocate for each family who manages a team of volunteers. This team provides services such as meal deliveries, goody baskets, babysitting, clothing and supplies. This is possible only through VOLUNTEERS who answer the calling that has been presented to them…AMAZING! We couldn’t do it without them…
So, most importantly, we want to share our “WHY!” At Fostering Hope, our goal is to introduce this Christian-based program into our surrounding community by partnering with neighboring churches and agencies. We believe every family who fosters should have a team of support and prayer backing them. This is God’s true requirement of us, is it not? He calls on us ALL as Christians to care for the orphan. Not only does he ask us to care for the orphan and widow, but he exclaims that it is PURE AND FAULTLESS religion to practice this! We should routinely practice this to keep from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:27) WOW. Focus on the good. Focus on the needs. This seed has taken hold and the overwhelming support has turned into this magnificent demonstration of how God can truly guide willing hearts and PROVIDE when you are simply willing to say, YES! Yes, to foster care! Yes, to supporting foster and adoptive families! Yes, to volunteering efforts to “the least of these.” “GOD IS LOVE! Anyone who lives a life of LOVE is joined to Him. There is NO fear in love. Instead PERFECT love drives away fear. Because fear has to do with being punished and those who are punished do NOT have perfect love…WE LOVE BECAUSE HE FIRST LOVED US!” (1 John 4:19). And we will not rest until EVERYONE, even the orphan, even the “least of these,” knows it…