I'll Walk Alone so You Don't Have To (Part One)
Each birthday that came my loneliness thickened, celebrating another year alone was a sting that I was still not married nor a mother. Each interaction, pressuring question, sarcastic remark to my singleness, felt like I failed somewhere along the way. I knew in my heart that God had more for me to accomplish first. There was a fear that as purposeful as my life felt, I wasn’t quite enough. That is until there was a shift in me, a very tangible, obvious shift in my heart, like the wind had changed. I NEEDED, ached for, longed to have a family, to be a mother, to start a new family outside of those I was born to. When I tell you this changed me, there are not words to encompass the transformation inside me.
One day a girl that works for me made a profound life-changing compliment that opened the floodgates of signs for what was next in my life. “You would be a really great foster mom.” Now I still don’t know if she knows just how meaningful that was to me, how humbling it was to hear, or if she even knows that I credit her for saying those words. I was flattered. But sadly, in a lifetime of church I knew nothing of foster care. I knew no one who was a foster parent or even if my paths had ever crossed with a child in care. But that was just the beginning to this calling.
When I tell you the signs started pouring in, you would be astonished. Suddenly I realize many of my clients are social workers, foster parent recruiters, former foster parents, early childhood therapists. I had always kept a pretty defined wall up between my personal and professional lives, but this wall was crashing in around me. I would go to church and there would be a guest speaking on the topic of children in need in foreign countries. There was a Sunday where they spoke about a local family of small children in need and ways we could help. I’d be driving down the highway and a car would pass with a picture of “want to be a foster parent? Call this number.”
The signs were so strong I couldn’t ignore it anymore. I broke a rule I had for myself and went to dinner with my client/friend, and the topic of foster care came up. She said, “hey, if you really think you should do this, I’ll give you an email address where you can inquire for more information.” I had always been an advocate for taking opportunities as they come, never knowing where they would lead. This fell in my lap for a reason, and it was time to send an email. Oddly enough one of my clients responded to my email. This person didn’t bother to email me back, instead she called me. I said I just wanted information, but because she knew me I bet she saw right through that. Next step, information night, which happened to be my day off (another sign). This also counted as class one for foster parent pre-service training. Classes would be on the two nights a week I didn’t work and in town, not downtown like they had been in the past. I couldn’t say no, I was supposed to be there. It was too easy. I had no question.
Through 60+ hours of training, days of interviewing, mountains of paperwork, and a 5-day hospital stay where I was paralyzed and couldn’t speak, then recovering and proving that I was stable enough to continue on, I became a licensed foster parent. I had learned a ton about myself and processed so much of my own life through this process. I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I was just as passionate about children in need as I had been in the near decade I was about my career.
I was ready for my first call. Keep in mind, you get to choose who you think you can accommodate, who you are best suited for in terms of age, race, gender, mental capabilities, disabilities, health concerns, and diseases and disorders. When my first call in, I quickly realized this wasn’t within my set parameters, and had I not gotten sick and delayed being licensed, I wouldn’t have received this call. I was at work when I answered the phone and my wheels were spinning. Did I ask the right questions? Did I give the right answers? I said, “thank you for calling, keep calling other people and if you can’t find someone else call me back.” A week passed, in foster care that can be along time. Surly they found someone else. I was in Target when I got another call, this time from the person that interviewed me for countless hours during my training. She said how much she thinks this is a match, but it would permanent. She was really urging me to accept. So I asked what the first step was. She took that as a green light and there I was, not dipping my toe in, but jumping in, ALL IN, completely outside of my age range. Why foster first when you can adopt? I was scared and shocked, but ready with my arms open to this journey and God’s plans.
I took the next step and drove alone almost two hours to meet with a team of caseworkers who would tell me about this little girl who needed a forever home. I was praying the whole way there, trusting that God was in control.
The next step was to meet this little girl. This time I drove an hour with my best friend, begging God the entire drive to smack me across the face with a sign. This sweet girl, with the help of her current foster mom, wrote a list of questions for me. I was being interviewed by a child. I, a complete stranger to her, better have the right answers. Then off the cuff, just because that is who she is, she says, “I have another question I didn’t write down, can I ask you?” I replied, “yes, of course, anything at all.” To which she pauses, takes a deep breath, and says; “do you believe in God?” I was stunned. I had only prayed that the kids I helped would know or be willing to be taught how to be sweet and kind. Do I believe in God? I could have jumped out of my skin! I had asked God for a sign. Well if that wasn’t a sign I don’t know what would have been. I knew right then that this was my girl. Of course I answered yes without a shadow of a doubt, “Yes I believe in God.” She looked relieved, like she could have cared less about the list of questions because this was what was weighing heavy on her heart. My best friend visited with her foster parents while I got to know my sweet girl. When we got in the car she screamed, “That’s your kid, Abbie! She’s your daughter!”
The next step, since this was a permanency decision, was for her to spend a weekend with me. She’d spend the next 10 weekends with me before moving in permanently.
In foster care, there are no promises. Nothing is permanent until it is. The following months were beautiful and ugly. They were purposeful and painful. They were the best and the hardest I had ever lived through. She was the greatest thing I could have ever asked for and the most challenging. She told me as adoption got closer, and she increasingly more violent, that she had to make sure I wasn’t going to give up on her. No matter how hard I tried to convince her, no amount of love would prove that to her. You see, when you take little ones out of the only way of life they know, everything different feels strange and wrong to them. Have you ever been cold and gotten into a warm bath and it felt like it was burning your skin? Sometimes you jump immediately out, other times you let it burn you, hoping it will cool down or that you will just adjust to the shocking temperature. It’s similar to our kids in care, you can say I love you, and they hear you but remember how they were treated by those who have said that in the past. They can hear you say I’ll never give up on you, but they know no one’s ever been able to keep that promise. So there we were, nothing I could say could convince her that I was different than the other adults in her life. She definitely couldn’t trust all the countless adults making decisions for her. So she pushed, and tried with every ounce of her survival to get me to quit on her. But I am not a quitter. And even on the days where I had to barricade myself in my own room to keep both of us safe, or the endless nights where she couldn’t deal with life, I prayed. I was reminded that God called me to her. He called me to be her mother. I wasn’t going anywhere.
I will never forget the next call. It was for a little boy who she and I both fell in love with. He came for a weekend and then returned several times over 95 days throughout the following year. We still love him tremendously. Then another little girl came. This time I tried really hard to protect my heart and keep a distance knowing she would be leaving quickly. Of course I failed and fell quickly in love with her, and I cried so deeply when I had to say goodbye that I had to pull my car off the road. She would come back a few times, once with her baby brother for a week long stay. There were two older kids that came temporarily who played well and fought well with my girl. I love each of them so much. The goodbyes were painful. But my girl never left.
Adoption day, her very birthday! On that day everything changed: her name, her confidence, her trust, our bond, everything. Let me pause and express that as amazing as adoption is, and it is, heartache and pain is what leads to adoption. That grief encompasses adoption just as much as joy does. Something had to happen in order for adoption to happen. It’s devastating, it’s broken, it’s gutting, it’s heart wrenching, it’s overwhelming, it’s redemption, it’s thrilling, it’s an incredible and honorable gift. I felt all of these emotions driving to the courthouse that day. I cannot begin to act like I understand what that feels like for a young child. I honor her first mother. I honor that she chose life. I honor that she will forever hold space in my daughter’s heart as her first mother.