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When God Gives You the Family You Never Expected (Part 1 of 2)

Focus on the Family / Jim Daly
The Truth Network Radio
November 15, 2023 2:33 am

When God Gives You the Family You Never Expected (Part 1 of 2)

Focus on the Family / Jim Daly

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November 15, 2023 2:33 am

Foster parents are often called “heroes” for bringing needy children into their home, but Jillana Goble argues that they are normal people who simply obeyed God’s call to care for orphans and widows. Joined by Jean Daly, sharing from their own experiences, they describe some of the common challenges of foster parenting, such as feeling overwhelmed, not knowing how past trauma affects behaviors today, loving children and giving them back to their bio parents, dealing with extra stress in your marriage and family and being stretched out of your comfort zone. (Part 1 of 2)


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After a series of bad choices, Shelly was a single mom without a clue of what to do next. Then she got married and discovered a powerful resource for her family.

I'm Jim Daly. Thanks to the generosity of friends like you, we're able to give new hope to families like Shelly's, and we invite you to join our family strengthening team. If you donate today, your gift will be doubled. Please call 800 the letter A and the word family or visit slash gift. When you think about foster care, what comes to mind?

Maybe you've heard statements like this. Caring for a child like that will disrupt my family. Foster parents are special people.

Only heroes can do it. Those kids are damaged goods. Well, today on Focus on the Family, we'll explore the world of foster care and what it means to step up to the challenge and sacrificially love needy children. Your host is Focus President and author Jim Daly, and I'm John Fuller. John, many of our listeners and viewers know that this topic is very close to my heart because I lived it and I was a foster kid. My mom remarried when I was eight. She then died when I was nine and the stepdad left the day of the funeral and my siblings, some of my siblings and I ended up in foster care.

Not a great experience. And so for that, when probably 12, 13 years ago now we started Wait No More, which is a program to elevate the need of foster here in the US and abroad. And I'm thankful that a lot of children have been placed because of the great effort of the work here under Wait No More.

Dr. Sharon Ford is head of that program. But when you look at the numbers, I mean, there's about 400,000 children in foster care in a given year here in the US. About 100,000.

The parental rights have been terminated. They're looking for placement. But there's 360,000 churches in this country.

And so you do the math. It's almost if every church would just help one child, it would be done. Wouldn't that be a great New York Times headline? Christian church wipes out waiting, foster and adoption. That would change the tenor of the church in this country.

I think the reputation. We have to do it, though. I don't want to lay blame anywhere, but man, this is a field white unto harvest. And if we could just turn our gaze that direction and get motivated to go, we could make a huge difference. It's not easy, to be honest. And Jean and I, Jean was so awesome when I got home after that first broadcast, encouraging people to become foster involved. And I came home and Jean looked at me and said, well, if you're going to ask other people to do it, we maybe should do it, too. And I went, no, no, I already did it. I was a kid in foster care.

And she looked at me like, what? You know? And so we got registered. We got cleared to become foster parents and we've done that.

So I'm looking forward to today's program. You know, in that process, one of the great scriptures that caught my attention as a 15-year-old boy when I gave my life to the Lord was Psalm 34 18, which says, the Lord is close to the broken hearted and saves those crushed in spirit. Man, the church has an incredible role to play in this area of foster. Well, I'm glad that you sparked our Wait No More outreach to encourage foster care and to get involved in helping those families. And we have your wife Jean here to share a little bit about your story after you said, OK, we will get involved.

We also have Jelana Goble with us. And Jelana is an author and speaker and foster care advocate. She and her husband, Luke, are the parents of five children. And she's written kind of a memoir about her family and faith journey.

It's called A Love Stretched Life. The subtitle is Stories on Wrangling Hope, Embracing the Unexpected and Discovering the Meaning of Family. And we've got copies of that book here at the ministry. Stop by the show notes for details. Jelana and Jean, welcome to the broadcast. Thank you so much. Happy to be here. It's good to have you, Jean. It's really good to have you here. It's a pleasure being here. This is a really important topic. It is.

It really is. Jelana, let's start with you getting involved in this area. You and your husband, Luke. I listened to your book. I want to encourage people to listen to the audio because you just read your book so well. And it just encouraged me to reconsider what we're doing in foster care.

Maybe we could do more. It was just so positive. But how did you and Luke get engaged in this area? Well, after spending some time in Central America, we naively turned to one another on the plane coming back and just said, well, where are the vulnerable kids in this country? And of course, that led us straight to the doors of foster care. To my knowledge, I didn't grow up with anyone that I knew in foster care. I didn't know anyone that had done foster parenting. And so we did the classic like, hey, we have no parenting experience. We're both 25 years old.

Let's go and do respite. But as it often happens, when you are willing, they're like, you know what you'd be great at? Not just regular foster care, therapeutic foster care. And I think Luke and I were a little flattered, like maybe they see in us something we don't even see in ourselves. The great parents were going to be someday. Right. Exactly.

So we said yes. And we welcomed with zero parenting experience, two boys aged six and nine. And that just kind of started just a crass course in the selflessness of parenting.

Two boys, they were two out of a sibling set of 15. The nine year old just had a ton of trauma that manifested in really high behaviors. And it got to the point where we just couldn't physically keep him safe. And so the call had to be made by the agency to remove that the nine year old so that we could keep safe the six year old. And I just felt crushed by that.

I just honestly felt like a failure. We had learned in class that it's best for siblings to be kept together. And I think when you enter into the world of foster care and adoption, God really calls us to kind of walk this tightrope between kind of the theory of best practice and then the lived reality, recognizing that those two things might not always align.

And in our very first case, they didn't. To make a very long story short, that six year old lived with us for a year. We were privileged to parent him for his first grade year through a series of circumstances. We moved him on to a pre adoptive home, which eventually fell through. We were visiting him at a group home. And one day, Luke and I and our then small biological daughter went to pick him up and we were just told, we're so sorry, he's been transferred. To which I replied, transferred to where? I mean, like we had been really the only connected presence.

Exactly. Like we had him for a year and then we visited him consistently for more than a year on a consistent basis. And that was kind of the abrupt ending to this piece is that all he knew is that we were supposed to show up and didn't because he was transferred. I even went so far as to go to some of the other agencies in town and leave my phone number to say, please give this to whoever's caring for him. I want him to know. We tried to show up.

And that was a very abrupt ending until six years ago, after 13 years with absolutely zero contact. I got this, what I would say is like just a Holy Spirit like Jelana. Where where is royal? He has an unusual name. I looked him up and boom, there he was.

And he had bloodshot eyes in this social media picture and he was holding a bottle of Hennessy. And I just could tell, like, I knew it was him. What do you say after you haven't talked to someone for 13 years? So I wrote this private message and I just said, Royal man, you may not remember us. And I'm not even sure if it's you. I kind of tried to backtrack because you don't want to come across as too sure.

That sounds a little intimidating. But gosh, Luke and I had the privilege of parenting you when you were a first grade boy. And we just remember you with such fondness. We still have your pictures up and your summer birthday circled on our calendar. And I just want to let you know, we've never forgotten about you.

And I just wish you the best. And the next day woke up to some messages of OMG with about 20 exclamation points. You're still dot, dot, dot. My mom in capital letters, which was astounding to me because he always called me Miss Jelana in first grade.

We didn't have anyone else calling us anything differently. And that initial conversation is what led us to this path of reconnection. We've been reconnected for the last six years. It's been a wild and worldly journey.

But he has three children and I'm Nana to all of them. No, I mean, that's such a special story, really. And that's a positive outcome. And he probably had a lot of difficulty.

Jean, when we were getting into that, we had pretty high expectations of what we could deliver as perfect parents. But it is it's like, you know, it's a whirlwind of emotion. And these children are coming in, I would say, emotionally bruised. In many cases, they're coming from different kind of difficulties. It could be parents that are using drugs. That's very common in foster today.

But they're they're broken. They have real emotional trauma described for us how you were thinking about this journey and how positive it was going to be. And then some of the things that were a little difficult.

All right. I think most of us go into it with some really high expectations. And we knew that this sibling set was going to be coming to live with us. And I prayed over those bunk beds.

I cried over these boys and was so excited to invite them into our family. And I think we made some critical errors early on that I'd even run by the foster agency and they agreed that they were good ideas, but they weren't for this situation and ended up causing some animosity and some jealousy, I think, with one of the boys. And bottom line is, I did not know. We did not know how to de-escalate behavior. But one of the boys was really dysregulated. And at that time, I wasn't we weren't getting the advice we needed on how to de-escalate and redirect. We later learned that.

And it it was challenging. Well, and so often in this environment, the children are coming from out of control situations. So their behavior tends to give them control, which they're yearning for. And so you have to figure out the puzzle pieces that are going on.

And it really does help calm the environment once you get an idea of what's going on. The other thing, and Jelana, you can mention this, you know, expectations need to be kind of pushed to the side. I mean, let's keep them reasonably low just to make sure that you're not expecting more than these children can deliver. I think that that's so true. And I can so appreciate what you said, Jean.

I mean, within 48 hours, I realized that there was a huge gap between me taking like nice, neat notes about trauma in my clean journal versus like the lived experience underneath my roof. You know, and and so I think that there's just a ton of grace involved. There has to be grace for ourselves and our expectations about our parenting. And there has to be grace for these kids to recognize that no child ends up in foster care for no reason and that we have to be equipped as parents.

That's why I love the Wait No More program. You guys do an amazing job of equipping with education because it's not just enough to have good intentions. We need to have good intentions. We need to have community. We need to have education.

Yeah. And the reality is it's not a perfect environment. You know, parenting in general is not perfect. And then you add all the experiences these children have and it it complicates your parenting.

But even if you think you're pretty good, they will humble you is the point. A few years later, you and Luke started your family and thought about doing foster care again. So in that context, how'd that work out? I think you're the child that came to you was Micah.

The child that came to us was Micah. I actually placed what I thought was just going to be one of those informational calls. You know, when you have like a long to do list and you're like, I'm just going to call. You know, now we've moved from a different state to to Oregon. How long was that gap between the first placement and then just a few years? OK. But I called in and a week later, the social worker called and said, well, guess what?

Technically, you're still certified in your other state. And we have this the six month old baby boy. That's what you would be his fourth placement. And would you be willing to say yes to him? We said yes to him. And that started me on this very unexpected journey. But one of the most transformative aspects of my life has been engaging with Micah's biological mom.

Her name is Jennifer. And it's important for me to say that I have permission from everyone that I'm sharing stories with. You know, when you're talking about foster care and adoption, so many other stories intersect with your own. So you're kind of telling little snippets of other stories.

So I do have permission to share their names and the snippets of stories that I'm sharing. But Jennifer grew up in foster care. This is her third child.

All of them had been foster involved. And I met her at court. The social worker said she's going to be at court. I was a little intimidated. I never had the chance to show up to court before. But on the way out the door, I grabbed an eight by ten photograph of baby Micah that was sitting atop my piano. Because I just felt like this the sense of like this is her child that is photographed sitting in my house. And I need to get this photo to her. And so court can be so awkward for those that haven't.

I kind of feel like it's the worst of junior high with people kind of whispering in little groups before they go into the through these double doors of court to see the judge. And I saw a woman look over at me. She kind of had a disheveled bun. And I just said, hey, are you Jennifer? And she's like, I am. And I said, OK, well, I'm Jelana.

I'm your son's foster mom. And I brought this for you. And she took the photograph and she started weeping. And I found myself giving her a hug and completely unexpectedly saying, I just want to let you know that I'm rooting for you.

And those kind of became those words kind of became the unexpected anthem of the last 15 years that we've lived a life together. That's a powerful story about showing God's love in the midst of foster care. And our guests today on Focus on the Family are Jelana Goble and Jean Daly. And we'd recommend you look for Jelana's book for more details about this important topic. It really is a terrific resource.

It's called A Love Stretched Life. And we can tell you more when you call 800-AFAMILY or you can get the book by clicking the link in the program description. Jelana, you describe the excruciating process of fostering Micah while simultaneously trying to develop and care for Jennifer to an extent. There's some restrictions that some of that relationship development can be a little difficult in the foster system with the bio parent.

I mean, it's pretty regulated. But how did you do it? How did you encourage Jennifer, the mom, and still take care of her little baby?

That had to be excruciating. It was. And yet I knew that if Micah was going to be reunited with Jennifer, that my job as a foster mom was to make sure that their bond was strong.

And again, this is all a continuum, right? When we're talking about foster care and adoption, we can never say absolutes because every family situation is different. But in this case, Jennifer was safe and healthy enough and appropriate enough for me to engage with her. I got the caseworkers permission to do so. And, you know, today, Jennifer and I are privileged to speak at retreats and conferences and share with caseworkers. And many people often say, how did you get here? And honestly, it's kind of like, well, how do you develop a relationship with anyone?

It's kind of exchange snippets of information over time. And so I invited her to a mommy and me class where I was able to kind of keep eyes on that baby, but give her time to bond with her son. And I was able to engage with her like mom to mom with my own two small biological girls at that point. And so, you know, over time, I was actually given permission to supervise visits with Jennifer.

That led to 150 hours of just, you know, play dates at the park. It's so humbling because I think things that are so normal for so many parents, like taking your kids to the park was a totally new experience for her. And, you know, during that time, I was able to see up close and personal that Jennifer loved her child. This was not about her loving him or not loving him. She was in the pit of addiction and she was in a toxic codependent relationship.

And so it was really hard to root for her, but also to see her drown and then come up for air and drown and come for air. So eventually the plan was changed to adoption and we were pleased to continue our relationship. And I don't want to make it sound like this is some Disney version of foster care and adoption. There were several times where I mean, we've experienced and we both talk about this very openly. We have experienced every emotion under the sun, both with and towards one another. And yet I say today that, you know, their families comes family comes in all different shapes and sizes. And we're kind of this untraditional blended family, if you will, where she and her older children are able to come to our house.

Not just for holidays, but for Sunday lunches. There is a time where she was coming to church with us. You know, we've made it work. And I feel like, well, it's not the story for everyone. I'm grateful to have lived this version of this story.

Well, and I appreciate that honesty. And I think that's one of the things that is kind of necessary in this work is, I think for Christians particularly, we're reaching for God's Shalom, his peace. So our homes generally are hopefully peaceful and kind of tranquil for the family.

And that's a good thing. And then whammo, this is chaos. And in that regard, I'm sure having Jennifer and the kids come by and over, it creates chaos because they're coming from brokenness. I think, Jean, the story that we have with a foster father that we were working with, we had his two children for a long period of time. But describe that for you.

And that was me too. Our ability to learn how to lay down these expectations. Because I think it's an area where Christians can get really frustrated. Because you're saying, listen, just generally, not in either of these particular stories, but listen, if you don't do drugs, things go better. If you get a job and show up at eight o'clock, things go better. Why aren't you doing these things? I mean, it could become very frustrating, like you're parenting the adults saying, come on, it's time to be responsible.

But you've got to do it inch by inch. God did a remarkable work in my heart towards those in the foster care system who have had their children removed from their homes. And I am embarrassed to say that I was really judgmental towards those individuals who've had their children removed. God showed me that the birth parents are also his children who he adores. And typically they have come from dysfunctional or traumatic backgrounds or they're victims of the opioid crisis.

There's always a reason that they've ended up in the system. And I did and the Lord really had me do a complete turnaround. And I went from judgment to empathy.

And similarly, I was able to really form a positive bond with the biological family, especially with the dad. And, you know, it wasn't easy. And it's not a linear progression. It's like a scribble, right? It is a scribble.

It's scribble. That's a good way to look at it. But for me, it helped that those in the foster care system continually teach you, you are to provide, we're to provide the safe and loving home. And their goal is to reunite the children with their birth parents.

And I also saw that especially the little girl who entered our home, she was four and a half years old. All she wanted was her biological family. She it didn't matter how many fun activities we did or how many stories I read or she wanted and needed her biological family and her dad. I watched him do really hard things to get his children back.

And it's two step forward, one step back. But I'm so grateful that God changed my heart that I have a beautiful relationship with this dad and with the extended family. And in that regard, I mean, we're still engaged. They're now just about into teenhood and we see them once a summer and we go out or they come out to us and we're staying engaged. We're kind of like their surrogate grandparents now. I love that. And I think so many seasoned foster and adoptive parents can relate to what you just said.

I can certainly do so. I think in the absence of proximity to people who have burdens that are more that they can bear. We oftentimes as Christians oversimplify their struggles to fit within our paradigm. And it's very, very easy to call down from a privilege mountaintop, just make a different choice. And it's very hard to link arms with somebody and say, I want to in humility walk alongside you through this path of things that I haven't experienced, but you have.

And I want to help you dig out of the pit. And sometimes we rejoice when we see that parents are successful and oftentimes they are not. And yet we can still be there for them no matter what the outcome is. Showing them kindness, showing them love, whether that's up close or even rooting for them from a distance.

We can still root for them and further flourish. I think right at the end here and I want to continue this discussion next time. So we're going to staple you guys to your seats and we'll come back and keep the discussion going. But at the end here of day one, just that re-emphasis of not looking at your ability, but just asking the Lord, what is it that you would have me do? And I think, again, when you help children, man, James says it, you want pure religion, help the orphan and the widow and foster is filled with the orphan and the widow. And we're so well equipped to do it even in our selfish natures.

Right. And we learned so much in the process. We want to put a little emphasis on that. Well, I just I love the verse that you quoted, Jim, about the Lord being close to the broken hearted. And I just think we have the privilege of being close to the broken hearted. And that has also made me feel closer to the Lord through that privilege of walking in the midst of the mess in the muck.

It has really been the most transformative discipleship tool that the Lord has used in my life by being in proximity to those with different stories than me. Yeah. Jean, anything you want to add there? Well, yes, if not us, then who? And another scripture in Psalm 82, defend the cause of the weak and the fatherless, maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. We are all called to help one another. That's it.

I mean, you've hit it. And I hope this at least puts a seed in your heart to be able to think about this. What can I do? And as Jelana mentioned early in the program, respite care. That's just where you come alongside current foster family and do some things for them.

Maybe take the kids for a couple of hours or weekend if you're licensed to be able to give them a break. That is so helpful. I think research has shown that if five families wrap around that foster family, they will all be successful in that journey. So it's a great thing for the church to organize, too, to reach out and help in foster care. And what you've heard today is such heart from our guests.

Jelana has written a book. I mentioned it earlier, A Love-Stretched Life. Stories on wrangling hope, embracing the unexpected and discovering the meaning of family.

Obviously, foster care extends far beyond a child to others in the picture. And we want to encourage you to roll up your sleeves, get involved, get a copy of this book for inspiration and to help you with your paradigm, with your thinking about what this could mean for you, how God might use this journey in your life. Give us a call to learn more about Wait No More, our program to wrap around families and to encourage foster care, or to get a copy of this book, A Love-Stretched Life. Our number is 800, the letter A in the word family, or we'll have details in the show notes. And we are supported by friends like you who might give on a monthly basis or one time gift. Make a difference today. Help us with this program, with this outreach by making a contribution today to Focus on the Family. And when you do, we'll send a copy of Jelana's book to you as our way of saying thanks for being a part of the support team. Again, our number 800, the letter A, and the word family, or details are in the show notes. Well, as a reminder, John, we as a ministry committed to giving families hope during this holiday season, Christmas season.

Let me say it directly and well into the new year. Through the ongoing efforts to strengthen marriages, equip parents, rescue preborn babies, one of the big efforts here at Focus, and so much more. And some generous friends are inviting you to join them in doing ministry through Focus on the Family. And they do that through a matching gift opportunity. And that means your year-end gift will be doubled, increasing the impact on families literally around the world. So if you can give $50, they match it with another $50.

It's a fun way to encourage one another to do ministry together. Yeah. So contact us today.

The link is in the notes or give us a call. Jean, Jelana, let's come back and keep the discussion going. Can we do it?

Absolutely. I'd love to come back. Well, we'll look for you to join us next time for Focus on the Family. And on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, I'm John Fuller. Join us next time as we once again help you and your family thrive in Christ. We'll talk with you, pray with you, and help you find out which program will work best. That's 1-866-875-2915.
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