September 11, 2015
Would you be willing to care for a teenager for a little while?
If someone had asked me that question a few months ago, I would have said, No way! The sweet, little innocent babies? Of course! The medically fragile ones or the ones with special needs? I will consider it, depending on the season of our life and what is happening in our family. The older ones? Sorry, I’m just not comfortable with having a troubled teen in my home.
That would have been my response a few months ago. This, however, is today. You just never know when an ordinary day and a simple prayer can open your heart. When a chance encounter will form an unlikely bond. When God will give you the opportunity, and then the courage, to say yes.
For many years, my husband and I have attended the training classes that are required by our licensing agency. And for many years, they have either not offered childcare, or the children just sit in another room with a movie and a supervising adult. I’ve always thought we could – and should! – be doing something to make the time more enjoyable and productive for these kids.
Last year, about this time, my husband and I helped organize a new orphan care ministry at our church.1 One of the first things we did was offer to recruit volunteers from our faith community, people who would be willing to provide structured activities for the children and youth while their foster parents attend the training classes down the hall. People who would be willing to introduce these hurting children to the love of Jesus.
The timing of our agency’s training class last month was incredibly providential. A local church in our community just “happened” to be hosting a service project day the same date as the class, and they were looking for opportunities to serve. Nearly 20 of their church members donated their entire Saturday, volunteering to spend time with our agency’s foster children.2
I didn’t know these dear people who came that day, but I assumed that like most believers, cocooned and protected in our little church families, they may not have had much prior experience with interacting with children who are in the foster care system. They may be coming with pre-conceived ideas or misconceptions or stereotypes or prejudices. They may even be coming with some fear. I prayed for these volunteers, asking that the Lord would open their hearts to the children and youth they would be meeting, and that He would maybe even inspire them to open their homes in the future to a child in need.
Once the craziness of the arrivals and sign-ins had calmed down, and after everyone was settled into their various assignments and activities, I did a quick walk-through and counted everyone. I realized that there were not enough adult volunteers with the group of teenagers. Oh no! I knew instantly what the Lord was asking me to do.
Now, teens can be a little scary, especially teens who have been exposed to violence, who have learned by necessity how to fend for themselves, who have been bounced around to so many foster homes and group homes that they no longer trust anyone. So yes, I was a little nervous. I’m a “nice” girl; what would I possibly have in common with a tough, street smart, urban-dwelling teenager? One with body piercings and tattoos? One who might use cuss words?
But I sensed that the Lord was asking me to step into this uncomfortable situation. Honestly, I would have much rather been organizing, planning, leading, doing . . . anything but trying to get to know a bunch of teenagers with whom I most likely have nothing in common. But I knew He would be with me, and I really wanted to be obedient to His leading. And so I said yes.
The day was filled with lots of laughter, good conversations and some minor squabbles, and I even learned a few new dance moves. Through it all, I was surprised to find that I did indeed end up connecting with one of the girls. She was a firecracker of a girl – not even 5 feet tall, but spunky and confident and sassy. I thought, almost as an afterthought, You know, Lord, if You asked me to care for a teenage foster child like her, I would say yes. And immediately I was shocked by the thought. Did I just say that to the Lord? No, no, no! When I prayed that the volunteers would open their hearts to these kids, I meant them, not me!
All too quickly the day ended, and we each returned to our respective homes. I returned to caring for the needs of my family and planning the next event for our orphan care ministry. Over the next few weeks that spirited girl came to my mind from time to time, and I wondered if I would ever see her again.
Then last week, I got “the call.” (Have I mentioned that every time the phone rings, my heart skips a beat? It usually means something important is about to happen. This call was no exception.)
Would you be willing to care for a teenager for a little while?
Isn’t God amazing? Weeks ago, even before the need arose, He had prepared me to open my heart to a teenager. He had prepared me to say yes.
And isn’t God amazing? It wasn’t just any teenager who needed a place to stay, it was her! It was the very same little firecracker teenager I had already met! Not only had He been preparing me, He had been preparing her! Staying with strangers has got to be stressful and nerve-wracking. Going to a new home is surely unsettling. But she wasn’t going to come into the home of a complete stranger. She would be staying with me - someone she had already met and spent time with!
We greeted each other with a warm hug when she came, and within a few days it seemed as if she had always been a part of our family. It wasn’t too long before my husband assigned her a nickname – a term of endearment he reserves for his favorites.3 And my daughters loved her instantly. Shortly after her arrival we were at the store, when the sales clerk saw them together and asked if they were sisters. They answered in unison, without hesitation, yes!
I don’t know what the future holds for this girl – or for us. I don’t know how long we will be involved in her life or what role we will play. Will she become a permanent part of our family? It’s preposterous to even consider! Who in their right mind would adopt a teenager who has come from such hard places? The thought is absolutely terrifying to me. I mean, knees-shaking, nail-biting, panic-attack kind of fear.
There are so many things I just don’t know. I don’t know all of the details of her story. I don’t know what the courts will determine to be the best outcome for her. I don’t know what unthinkable thing the Lord is going to ask me to do.
What if I say yes, and then the task ends up being too big? Too hard? Too impossible? What if it ends up being turbulent and frightening? Or even dangerous? What if the challenges are insurmountable? The wounds too deep? What if I don’t love her enough? What if she doesn’t love me enough?
Fortunately, the Lord doesn’t expect me to have all the answers. He knows I’m not very brave. He knows I’m not really qualified to do this. He knows full well that this task is too big for me.
For today, though, He just wants me to trust Him. He just wants me to walk into the unknown with confidence that He knows what lies ahead. For today, He just wants me to say yes.
1. Orphan Connections is a ministry of Colonial Baptist Church in Cary, North Carolina. Our goal is “Connecting orphans with families. Connecting families with the love of God.“ www.orphanconnections.org
2. As a side note, I tend to be a very task-oriented person, which is good if you want to get things done, but not so good if you want to connect with people. While I was running around unlocking doors, setting out sign-up sheets and making sure everyone knew where to take their kids, I was getting a little frustrated that none of the volunteers were nearby to help. I happened to catch a glimpse into the gym while I was rushing past, and there they were, 20 people huddled in a circle, committing the day to the Lord. I was SO humbled (and convicted!) that they had paused to make prayer a priority.
3. In the movie Monsters, Inc. a little girl accidentally enters the monster world, and one of the monsters names her “Boo.” His friend, fearing the attachment that he sees forming, warns, “Don’t give it a name!” So my husband, when he begins to attach to one of our foster kids, jokes, “Don’t give it a name!” Therefore, this young lady, who has already won his heart, will forever be known to him as serial number XB6783746.