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From One Youth to Another

“If your own mother can’t love you, how do you expect anyone else to?”

These words pierced the heart of a young boy as he devastatingly watched his mother walk out on him. This tragedy only added to the trauma of abuse the boy had already experienced in his short life. He had never felt more alone.

Lonely in his new world, the boy entered foster care. Unfortunately, he bounced from home to home. Nine different times to be exact, and he didn’t have the best experiences in most of his foster homes. He was told he was only there because they needed money, and he was often differentiated from the biological children in the house. Finally, he made it to his last home, where he met the *Johnsons. At first, this was just another foster home to him. He was guarded, he was angry, and he did not, would not, trust anyone. You see, the Johnson’s had been foster parents for almost 37 years and had cared for roughly 800 youth (majority teenagers) in their home. The boy thought to himself that he would just be another number they could add to their “goody-two-shoes list”.

Although he often acted out, the boy noticed these people were different –  their love seemed genuine. It was through these foster parents that he was introduced to church. As a devoted Christian, every morning he would see and hear his foster mother praying for him. She would ask God, “If today is the day, please let him find you.” This experience of true and genuine love started to break down the walls this boy had built to protect himself. He became more vulnerable and open to people. To this day, he calls them Mama & Papa (Grandparents).

Through his foster parents, the boy met a family at church: the *Andersons. They took him under their wing. He would go over to their house often and eventually, they became family. Even though they were not able to become his legal parents, his brother said, “We don’t need a piece of paper. Last name or not, he is one of us, this is my brother.” This profound statement, along with the act of taking him in, turned this boy’s world upside down. He was verbally “adopted”. Not only did they make him feel like he belonged, but they also extended an invitation to his biological sisters. Instead of leaving one family behind, this allowed him to create a new family.

After four years of attending church, gathering knowledge of Jesus, and changing bad habits, the boy realized he needed a relationship with Jesus. He knew things about Him, but he did not know Him. He accepted Christ in his heart, and his life was forever changed.

Suffering allows one to perceive life in a way others can’t. Suffering allows one to see the power of Christ through circumstances.

This boy’s story is an illustration of God’s perfect sovereignty and provision. I know this because I lived his life. I was this boy. This is my story and the story isn’t over.

After emancipating at the age of 18, I began to feel a stirring in my heart… a calling to be a foster parent. I also remember asking God to allow me to work for a company that helps the faith community take in foster children. Although that calling to be a foster parent never left, as the years went by I totally forgot about this “ask” I had requested of God. Twelve years later, I was offered to join the staff at Foster the City. Before making a decision, I asked God for guidance and He gently reminded me, ”Remember what you asked for all those years ago”. At first, I was blown away that the Spirit of God remembered what I had asked, but I then recalled someone once told me that God exists beyond time and space. He is able to recall such things. Well, either that or He has a really great memory!

Years later I began dating the woman who would become my wife. Early on in our relationship, I opened up to her about my calling. I basically said, “If you don’t want to be a foster parent in the future, then we need to end this now.” Let’s just say, she passed the test. Shortly after we were married, we began the application process and we chose to go through an FFA that serves youth that requires extra care between the ages of 5 to 21 years old. A year and a half went by until we were finally approved. We were so thrilled and I remember wanting (and asking God) to have a youth in our home for Christmas (my favorite holiday).

We got a call for a sixteen-year-old teenage girl who had a lot of history. We said yes to *Jessica knowing it may be a difficult transition. I mean we went from having no kids to caring for a sixteen-year-old girl! Jessica nervously walked into our home and began to adjust to her new environment. The first night, as Jessica was going to bed, she came to the living room and asked, “I have a question. I know I’m sixteen and this may sound weird, but can one of you guys read me a bedtime story because it makes me feel safe.” Before I explain why this request was significant, let me back up for a second…

During our pre-approval phase, my wife was struggling with the idea of taking in teenagers because, since we don’t have biological children, we would be missing out on the earlier stages of their lives. One of my wife’s greatest desires as a parent has been reading to her kids at night, and being able to share a love for reading and storytelling. She gave it all to God and trusted in His plan for us and our family.

Going back to that night, you can see how that simple request from Jessica meant the world to my wife and she didn’t hesitate to say “I’d love to read to you.” That night as I heard my wife reading, I remember thanking God for hearing and answering her prayer. When she came to bed, I reminded her that God hears us, sees us, and often answers us in unique ways.

Our experience with Jessica has reminded me so much of my own experience as a foster youth. At the same time, however, it has helped me remember that each story is different and unique. My experience has helped me connect with her and understand some general concepts of why she does things or why she thinks a certain way. When I told Jessica I was a former foster child, her face seemed both confused and surprised. With confusion and sass, she asked, “And why do you want to be a foster parent?” At the time I didn’t have an answer for her, but I think I do now.

I’ve always loved Isaiah 1:17 (NIV): “Do right, seek justice. Defend the oppressed and take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” I believe this is what Jesus has done for us. He stepped into our lives to do right, to bring healing and justice. He defended and took the case of the oppressed, the marginalized, and the hurting. It took years for me to realize what God had done for me and through me. I knew something was different about the Johnsons. I didn’t realize it at the time, but looking back now, their love for Jesus was evident. I believe it was that love for Jesus that helped them see me and care for me in a way that no other family had done before. I look at the Anderson family as well, and their choice to love me and bring me into their family brought so much positive change into my life.

So why do I want to be a foster parent? Because it is one of the ways I can reflect the image of Jesus to children and youth in need. Being a foster parent is stepping into a broken system and into broken lives while being an advocate and a vessel of healing. I want others to experience the restorative and healing power of Jesus that can come through the love of a family.

Note: *Names have been changed for people’s privacy