A couple weeks after moving to Hawaii, we began the search for friends in our neighborhood. That’s when we met Mary and Troy. We were immediately captivated by Troy’s magnetic storytelling abilities. He is dynamic and hilarious, and is a former-military man turned stay-at-home dad. Mary and I instantly hit it off when we realized we are both highly sarcastic, have similar laidback parenting attitudes, and share an affinity towards wine. To make a great situation spectacular, they have children the same ages as ours. In so many ways, they are like us – a middle-class military family, financially stable, authentic and compassionate, with two biological children. But something is different. Mary and Troy are foster parents. In addition to their biological children, they also care for two foster boys.
Later that evening Daniel and I came home to recap our first friend-venture. “Do you think you could ever foster a child?” I asked Daniel.
“No way!” He responded. “I don’t know how people do it.”
“I know, right?” I affirmed. “How do you give them back?”
“Or what about our own kids? How would they respond?” Daniel wondered.
“I would be open to adopting, but fostering sounds like a rollercoaster I don’t want to ride,” I responded. “Plus, Mary and Troy seem so normal, they definitely don’t fit the stereotype. I mean that’s great they do it, but I never could.”
It was settled. Kaput. No foster children for the Riches – we could never do it.
If you’ve been following our journey, however, you’ll know that the story didn’t end that night. It would’ve been easier if it did, though. And, if I’m being completely honest, I might have been ok with that. After all, I’ve spent my whole life doing the “easy things” to care for those in need – handing out homeless goody bags, buying lunches for strangers, and writing checks to good causes. I like those activities, the easy ones. They demand a level of generosity that requires little risk on my part, and for the greater part of my life, I have been content with that level of investment.
Unfortunately for me, we met Mary and Troy during a time my heart was aching for intimacy with Jesus and I had begun praying a silly little prayer – “Break my heart for what breaks Yours.” It was a rookie mistake, you know, to pray such a bold prayer when I like doing easy things. I should have known better. I wrote all about the shattering of my heart in this previous post.
But what I didn’t fully explain is how God began to mend my heart after He broke it – how He surgically repaired it by challenging me to step beyond the simple tasks and take on something with greater risk.
This heart surgery took about two months to complete, and every healing stitch came in the form of an answered question – namely the questions Daniel and I asked one another the night we met Mary and Troy.
Maybe you’ve asked these same questions at some point in your life. Maybe you’ve written off serving a foster child because of past assumptions or misconceptions. Or maybe you are simply curious to learn more. Well stick around, friend. In a series of upcoming blog posts, I will be sharing the answers that healed my heart. Together we will tackle one question each day as we consider how we can serve bigger and better – even when (or especially when) it isn’t easy. I hope you will join me!
It’s been A MONTH, y’all. A month that has shaken up our world with the force of an epic earthquake—the good kind of earthquake, if there was such a thing. My heart and mind are overflowing with things I want my reader-friends to know, but I’m trying to give myself grace for the season because I know that when you’re living a story worth telling, you’ll hardly have time to write it. So forgive me if it takes awhile, but I’ll be writing our story in the fringe hours as we walk this unpaved journey through foster care.
If you read my last blog post, you’ll be happy to know that the Baby came! Baby Jesus, that is. My hubby and two little boys rallied together on Christmas morning for what will undoubtedly be one of my favorite memories. There is so much beauty in the stillness and modesty of a small family Christmas. The pomp and circumstance that comes with hosting family is replaced with precious simplicity (Translation: we never get out of pajamas). The stress and anxiety that occurs when traveling with littles is traded in for endearing moments and heightened engagement with the magical little eyes that are soaking in every ounce of the beloved holiday. It is pristine and dazzling and treasured, and I am eternally grateful for that experience.
But then, just three short days after we celebrated the most important Baby of all time, we got “the call” at 11:00 a.m. Wavering between enthusiasm and fear of disappointment (due to the previous fake-out calls), I answered the phone.
“Is this McKinley?” I heard on the other end of the line. “Yes, this is her,” my voice trembled. “Hi, this is Mary calling from the Department of Human Services. Do you remember that little boy I told you about a couple weeks back?”
The blood rushed to my heart and I could feel it beating beyond the confines of my chest. “Yes, of course I remember him” I muttered, half defiantly and half elated.
Mary replied, “We have decided to remove him from his current placement after all and are wondering if you would still be interested in taking him?”
There was a brief pause for me to take a breath, and then I began my uncontrollable word vomit into the phone. “Of course!! We’ve been thinking about him and praying for him! My boys will be so excited! Thank you so much for calling!” I continued on, blabbering my enthusiasm in a muddied puddle of words, until Mary graciously interrupted (Thank you, Mary).
“So, will you be around in about three hours for us to drop him off?”
“Three hours?” I questioned— partly shocked by the sense of urgency and partly humored by the fact that I can’t even make a fancy dinner reservation three hours ahead of time, but that is apparently enough warning to drop a child off at someone’s house for an extended stay.
“Yes, three hours,” Mary repeated.
Before I let my practical brain get the best of me, I interrupted, “Yep. Sounds great! We have no other plans!” That last part was a lie, but the hike we had planned seemed trivial in comparison to this momentous occasion.
So how does one prepare to welcome a foster child into their home? Well, I for one thought it was necessary to clean my house as though Princess Kate was coming for a play date with Prince George. And so, in a fit of panic (because I do nothing calmly) we dropped our boys off with some friends and began to speed clean LIKE A BOSS.
As I scrubbed toilets (that a one-year-old doesn’t use), and dusted bookshelves (that are out of a babies reach), and vacuumed floors that a baby could be crawling all over (see, it wasn’t all futile), I became overwhelmed with God’s faithfulness.
This same baby that broke my heart just a few weeks before was coming to us after all. His name was spoken repeatedly in our home and we prayed for him over dinner. I longed so badly to see him and know him and was overjoyed at the prospect before us.
Side Note: Long before this little guy arrived, we had many conversations with our boys about bringing foster children into our home. A few days after each conversation, I would ask Britton to explain to me what he understood about foster care, to which he would always respond, “A baby friend is going to come live with us, but we don’t know their name yet.” And so, for the purposes of this blog, I will call this little guy our Baby Friend or BF for short.
After the house was in tip-top shape, we put the boys down for their naps and waited (im)patiently. I felt like a child, peering out the window with great anticipation waiting for a long lost family member to arrive. I was anxious and elated and hopeful and PETRIFIED.
As the official state vehicle pulled into the driveway, I froze. Do I run out into the driveway with a prize-winning grin and arms wide open as if my grandparents pulled up? Do I walk out somberly as if someone is delivering bad news? How can I be excited when BF’s family is mourning his loss?
“Don’t be crazy”, I thought, “just open the door.” And so I did. I met the social worker at the car and let her take the lead – after all, it’s not her first rodeo. She unbuckled BF from his seat and handed him to me. His large brown eyes focused on me, his designated stranger. He was clothed in a tiny white, ribbed tank top and a diaper. His beautiful Hawaiian tan and chubby leg rolls were the yummiest I had ever seen (but since taking a bite out of a foster child is frowned upon, I restrained myself).
I carried him into his new home and the social worker brought in a couple bags of clothes and placed them on the floor.
Still feeling awkward, but wanting to appear inquisitive, I asked, “Is there anything I need to know?”
“Well, he has a minor diaper rash so if you can put some diaper cream on it, that would be great!” She said nonchalantly.
"Not quite the answer I was anticipating," I thought to myself., But diaper cream, got it.
“Do I need to sign a paper or anything?” I asked.
“Oh yes, hold on.” She fumbled through her bag and pulled out a folded piece of paper, “If you can just sign right here, you’ll be good to go!”
And with one simple signature, as though I was receiving a UPS package, there we stood with the cutest little stranger.
As I closed the door behind her, I took a deep breath and suddenly realized how ignorant I was. I knew a total of four things about this little fella: His name, his birthday, the reason he was removed from his home, and that he has a minor diaper rash. I can tell you more details about random children I’ve met at the playground!
There I stood, soaking up every inch of his little body hoping that maybe there were secret clues written somewhere on his skin, or hidden notes tucked away in one of his bags. I wondered what he likes to eat? When does he go down for a nap? Does he have siblings? Did he sleep in a crib? Does he take a bottle? Does he have a favorite toy? How has he been put to sleep for the last year of his life?
And then I remembered, it’s just our first date. Time will be the greatest teacher for us—imparting wisdom with every interaction, every parenting attempt, every minute spent in each other’s presence. It’s not the crash course I would have wanted, but such is the road on the journey through foster care.
Today I learned to simply open the door. Open the door to uncertainty. Open the door to infinite questions. Open the door to God's calling on our lives. Open the door to loving someone else's child. Open the door to that precious little stranger. We know very little about what's on the other side, but I know that when God calls us to a door of uncertainty or discomfort, He will carry us through the threshold if we can simply open the door.
It was April of 2015 when I found myself in a scary place. I’d been here before, but this time felt different. The monotony of life had overtaken my spirit. The day-to-day tasks wreaked havoc on my soul by transforming my passionate spirit into a complacent one.
As a Christian, I’ve learned the devil can do his best work when I’m in this state. After all, the devil’s work isn’t always disguised as pure evil, but can be as simple as turning my gaze away from the One who made me. Even though I was spending many hours volunteering in His buildings and serving His people, I felt distant to Him.
Something was missing. Really missing.
I’ve learned in these moments, that a simple, consistent prayer is both all I can muster and is simultaneously all I need. So in an attempt to feel that deep connection with my Maker again, I began to utter these seven words, “Break my heart for what breaks Yours.” At the time, I wasn’t even sure what this meant, but the repetition and consistency by which I prayed this simple prayer began to rebuild a foundation in my heart.
Disclaimer: In hindsight, I should’ve known better. I know to be careful when I utter words to God. So, if I were you, I wouldn’t pray these words unless you are ready for a life-changing cardiac upheaval.
As the seven words echoed in my prayers for a few months, our lives were uprooted with a move across an ocean. Moving with littles is emotionally and physically exhausting, and let me be the first to tell you, I did not handle it well.
I wanted so badly to put my spiritual life on hold and come back to it after the boxes were unpacked and the daily schedules were set, but God had a different plan. It was July, and I was haphazardly scrolling through my Facebook feed when I saw the first undercover Planned Parenthood (PP) video. I watched as a VP at Planned Parenthood spoke nonchalantly about life-ending procedures that occurred in PP clinics across the country. It was there in that moment that God began to answer my prayer.
Piece by piece my heart began to break. A piece for the unborn child, a piece for the mother (and father) who were faced with an unfathomable decision, and a piece for the families and friends who had the important job of supporting the mother through this trying time. Over the next several weeks, a total of ten heart-wrenching videos were released, and by the end of August, my heart seemed almost irreparable.
In the wake of the videos’ release, articles flooded the Internet about the “validity” of the videos and about whether or not PP was receiving illegal compensation for fetal tissue. In previous years, my logical brain would have been fixated on these reports, and I would have felt compelled to discover the “truth” and the “facts” and thereby create a well-constructed political stance on abortion.
But not this time.
In light of arguably the most compelling propaganda against abortion, I lost all political affiliations and sobbed uncontrollably for the people. ALL THE PEOPLE. The unborn baby, the mother, the families.
For decades our country has debated this issue in the political spectrum and instead of making progress, we have simply created hardened hearts. Policy makers no longer see people, they see scenarios. Politicians no longer see hearts, they see agendas. Instead of pulling up a chair to the table, and looking one another in the eye, human-to-human, people on both sides are digging their heels in and gluing themselves to a party line.
But, much to my heart’s dismay, there will never be a crystalline answer to this issue. And so, I began to wonder, what if instead of picketing, or donating, or lobbying, we make a different choice—a choice that exists outside of the political spectrum? What if we put down our politically and emotionally charged agendas and choose to simply love others?
As God broke my heart by opening my eyes, He began to rebuild a new foundation in my soul by providing me with a solution.
I began to think about my own children and how I discipline and guide them. I thought about how I try (and fail) to parent out of love and use positive reinforcement to correct behavior. I thought about how the only way to change the actions of their hands is to focus on their hearts.
And so, I wondered, what if we took the same approach when looking for solutions to the abortion epidemic? What if, instead of focusing on the abortion clinic, we begin to focus on the women who chose NOT to have an abortion?
What if we focus on the mother who gave her child life, but due to difficult circumstances is now unable to care for them?
What about the mom who – even though terrified – chose to deliver her baby, but due to addiction, or the throes of poverty, or one bad decision has now become unfit to care for her kids?
Should we not — despite her shortcomings—celebrate the first difficult choice she made to give life to the baby inside of her?
Should we not come alongside of her and offer to help?
As a society (and especially as Christians) we can’t continue to tell women, “You must have your baby” if we aren’t simultaneously going to say “and, if the time comes when you need it, we will help you care for them”.
As the vision became clearer, I felt God saying, “Look in the eyes of the terrified mother who said ‘yes’ to giving her baby life and help care for her child. Open your home to orphans and those children in need. The unborn babies are safe in My arms, but there are BORN babies around you who need your help.”
So with a lot of kicking and screaming (because one of my spiritual gifts is “stubbornness”) we became a licensed Foster Family. In the coming weeks, we will welcome an unknown child (or children) into our home for an undetermined period of time, and you know what?
We are terrified. We have absolutely no clue how it’s going to pan out. In some ways, we feel similar to the terrified pregnant woman who walks into an abortion clinic. We are nervous about bringing another child into our home. We are uncertain of the stress extra children will put on our lives. We don’t know if the love that we shower all over these kids will have any lasting impact. We doubt our abilities as parents on a daily basis.
But despite our uncertainty, I do know this: I can’t close my eyes any longer.
I can’t turn away from the mom, who if given a few months to focus on her own needs, could become a better mother to her children.
I can’t continue to live this over-abundant life and believe that I am doing everything in my power to fulfill God’s great commission.
I can’t continue to bawl my eyes out at the astronomical number of abortions that occur in the U.S. and not do my part to celebrate and support the women who CHOSE LIFE for their children.
I must choose to support the lives of the children around me if I’m ever going to expect a terrified pregnant woman to choose life for her unborn baby.
So you may still be thinking, how can serving as a foster family help reduce the number of abortions? I cannot give you a scientific study, but I can share the thoughts of my heart. So, if you’ll allow me to be idyllic for a moment, just imagine a world where more people made the choice to radically care for children in the foster care system.
Note: When I say "radically care," I don’t just mean adoption. Radically caring for a foster child means radically caring for the parents who are trying to get back on their feet. It means financial support, training, education, mentorship, therapy, rehabilitation and LOVE.
And when I say “more people” I simply mean 1 family out of every 290 families in the U.S., or 0.3% of ALL households in the Country, or, as a Christian, just ONE family from every church congregation. Or, even better, every church congregation as a whole could choose to rally around one foster child (*gasp*). That’s right, if every church congregation radically loved on a child in care, we could totally eradicate the foster care system. The church could single-handedly destroy the system with unrelenting love.
And then, imagine this…A terrified pregnant woman walks into an abortion clinic. Maybe she feels ill-equipped to raise a child. Or maybe she is scared to bring a child into poverty. Or maybe she is frightened because she can’t imagine caring for a child with special healthcare needs.
But instead of encountering judgmental faces, she sees a different world.
She sees a world that has rallied around orphans so well that our country no longer has orphans.
Imagine her relief as she walks into the clinic and, instead of seeing picketers, she sees a family ready and waiting to support her during her pregnancy. This family promises that, if she finds herself unable to care for her child, they are willing to take her child in and support her while she gets back on her feet.
She sees that the same love given to nearly 400,000 children in foster care is available to her and her baby.
In light of this overflowing love, how could this terrified mother not be compelled to at least consider a different choice for herself and her child? The scared mom is not as scared because she knows there is a community of people who are willing to help her. If we long for a world that has no more abortions, we must create a world that has no more orphans.
I’ve written these words with trembling hands and a humble heart because these conversational wounds are sensitive and tender to so many people. I pray these words will be genuinely received by those who read them and that all who disagree can do so with love.
I deeply understand that foster care may not be the right choice for many families, but I pray that each person whose heart breaks for unborn children, will consider finding a way to support the children and mothers who have been given life and are struggling. May we have open minds and open hearts to serve ALL THE LIVES around us, just as Jesus called us to do.
And as for my family, the journey is just beginning. We don’t have all the answers, but we do have one: Do the next right thing. And the next right thing for us is to open our home to a child in need. After all, I didn’t get to choose how God answered my prayer, but I can trust that once He has answered, He will go before me. I can pray as Paul did in 2 Thessalonians 1:11 that “By his power He may fulfill every good purpose & every act prompted by faith”. I’ll do my job and He will do His, and piece-by-piece we will mend our broken hearts.
I am a lover of people, a child of God, and a laugher at jokes. I write words, cry tears and smile at strangers.