“I grew up in an upper middle class family in the suburbs, surrounded by a family and community of people who loved me. My parents and other mentors taught me in order to be a Christian, you had to live out the words you sang on Sunday and read in the Bible. It wasn’t just about looking good or trying to be a good person. It was about living out from a heart grateful for what God has done for us and giving away the love we have received to others.
As a young girl, I was fascinated with what I considered to be the fairy tale life—go to college, get married to my dream partner, and have lots of babies. In elementary school for a class project, I said I wanted to be a mom and a teacher. When I attended college, I studied early childhood education. I’ll never forget sitting in one of my college classes and watching a documentary about children who didn’t have enough to eat and weren’t able to afford school supplies. When I was fifteen years old, I traveled to Mexico on a mission trip and saw impoverished living situations, but it didn’t really occur to me the extent of the physical and financial poverty in the United States. I knew then I wanted to make a difference in the lives of children.
Fast forward to college graduation, and I had never had a boyfriend and was nowhere close to marriage. I moved to Chihuahua, Mexico to be a teacher for kids whose parents were missionaries, pastors, and Bible teachers. During my time there, I had the opportunity to serve in various places and see so many different living situations and family dynamics. I also learned about international adoption during this time through reading various blogs. The blog Kisses from Katie was so inspirational to me, because she was a young 20-something like me who had left her family in the States, moved to Uganda, and adopted several Ugandan girls. Her story challenged my heart and gave me a new dream in my heart, too. I thought maybe I would continue to live abroad and adopt internationally, regardless of my marital status.
God had other plans, though, and after two years of living in Mexico, I returned to Athens, Georgia, where I had attended the University of Georgia. Athens is a place with so many rich qualities, but it is also one of the poorest counties in the nation. I knew God wanted me to teach here to make a difference in the lives of kids who needed a bright spot in the darkness. My husband and I met in 2014, and one of my prerequisites for marriage was he had to be okay with adoption. It was a non-negotiable for me. ‘How did you and your husband begin to foster?’ I get this question a lot. Lots of people wonder what made us say yes to this calling. Well, there were a lot of things. On our very first date, we talked about how we both thought we would like to adopt one day. We didn’t really know what we were saying and we didn’t know all it would entail, but we knew we wanted to adopt children into our family.
Fast forward nine months later, and we got married. We said we would wait for a while before we had ‘our own kids.’ We were like a lot of people who are on our journey, thinking it was important to establish ‘our own’ family before taking other kids into our home. But boy, did we have a lot to learn. When we had been married for about two years when we started trying to get pregnant, but nothing was happening. It was a dark and painful time for both of us, but God taught us so much. Through those sorrowful times, we still thought about adoption. Then we went to a conference at our church for fostering and adoptive families. It was there we learned about the foster care crisis in our state and in our nation. Our eyes were opened and the scales fell off. When we left the parking lot that day, we began to talk about what we sensed God was telling our family, and said to each other, ‘I think we’re supposed to foster.’
We began the process a few months later and started filling out all the paperwork, taking the classes, and doing the home study to open our home to children in need. We were so ready and scared, but willing. There were so many questions. We had no idea what the future would hold for us—how long would the process take? What if it was harder than we thought? What if the kids didn’t like us? What if we felt pressured to take on something more than we were equipped for? All of these questions were scary and loomed large, but we couldn’t let go of the fact we had not one, but two empty bedrooms, and while we slept safe and sound in our comfortable bed each night, there were hundreds of displaced children in our area in need of a loving home.
Our first placement was a sibling group of three. We were entirely over our heads. And it wasn’t just because there were three of them and we were outnumbered! Their needs were great, their hearts were broken, and we were overwhelmed. We thought we had done the work to be prepared, and we thought we knew what we were doing. In our naïveté and pride, we assumed we could do a better job than their parents since their kids had been removed and placed in foster care, right? But oh, how many slices of humble pie we ate when we realized we were not their saviors, and they were not in our home to be saved by us. The only thing we could do was love them. We just got to be a small part of it.
We knew as we introduced them to new ways of living we were planting seeds. During the short window of time they were with us, we saw some fruit from our labor. There were glimpses of hope and beautiful moments that made us say to one another, ‘This is so worth it.’ And then there were moments so excruciatingly painful we didn’t know how we would recover. We found the more we got to know our little loves, the more we grew to understand we could never meet their deepest needs. Their wounds were not for us to heal. But we could be a safe place for them in which many different people and the gift of time would allow them to heal and learn what true love is. ‘The kids are leaving today. You can pack their bags and bring their things to the county office.’ One of the hardest parts of our journey was when our first placement was removed from our home with only an hour’s notice.
We were completely blindsided and extremely upset. It would have been easy to throw in the towel after this and say, ‘No more. We can’t get our hearts broken like this again and again.’ But we knew we had to keep going, and there were more kids in need. We held each other and cried and sat in shock, dumbfounded our noisy and chaotic home was now quiet and empty again. In August, right after our kids left, I was crying in our bed, writhing in pain because I still had horrible cramps. Uterine fibroids and extremely painful periods had left my body weak and ravaged by disappointment as I waited month after month for a positive pregnancy test. I didn’t understand why I wasn’t getting relief and why I still wasn’t able to get pregnant.
Fast forward to Labor Day weekend, when I was awaiting the arrival of my period yet again. I was getting antsy because it was late, which is quite rare for me. But I assumed it was because of the supplements I was taking, stress-related to our kids leaving, and the upcoming move to our new house. Early one Saturday morning, I got up to go to the bathroom and was feeling a little perturbed. I mean, why wouldn’t my dang period come so I could get the worst of it over during the weekend and not have to be miserable at work the next week? A little nudge told me to take a pregnancy test, and I did so in secret for fear of being embarrassed yet again at a negative result. Much to my surprise, I watched in shock as two pink lines very quickly appeared.
What?! That is not what was supposed to happen! I burst into our bedroom and said, ‘Babe, wake up right now!’ Rory is not a morning person at all, so he was quite confused. I tossed the test in front of him and said, ‘Look at this!’ He said, ‘Is that real?!’ I quickly reassured him it couldn’t be real, and we proceeded to Google all of the reasons why one might get a false-positive on a pregnancy test, none of which applied to me. I guzzled some more water so I could take another test and headed to the bathroom to grab a digital one. If this was real, I needed to be able to see the word ‘pregnant’ and have no doubts.
When I sat down on the bed next to Rory, I handed him the test and said, ‘I can’t look!’ and proceeded to cover my eyes. I waited for what felt like forever, and he said, ‘Holy crap, babe.’ I looked down, and sure enough, there was the word ‘pregnant,’ clear as day. I immediately started crying and hugged him, and he teared up, too. We realized this was in fact no fluke. We were going to have a baby! As soon as I found out I was pregnant, fear entered my heart. How could I care for a baby and continue to be a foster mom? What would it be like to have a biological child and children who were not born to me in the home at the same time? We had always said we would continue caring for children in care if I were to get pregnant, but now our house was empty and I was afraid of the risk.
But for us, the impact of loving a child and showing them the gift of family is always worth it. When I was six months pregnant, we welcomed the sweetest teenage daughter into our home. We were afraid again, but it has been incredible, and now we can’t imagine our lives without her. When our little miracle boy was born, we prayed about how and when we should open our home again. This past summer, another girl joined our family, this time a preteen.
Life is full, and it is hard. It is complicated and messy and it is extremely unconventional. But it is rich and beautiful, and we wouldn’t trade it for anything. Because the hard things are always worth it.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Jessica Mathisen. You can follow her journey on Instagram and her website. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
Read more inspiring stories from foster/adoptive parents:
‘She was sitting in a shelter with no place to call home. A teenager, she’d already given up on being adopted. Then I received a text: ‘Hey, Autumn. You still interested in foster care?’: Couple adopt teenager from foster care
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