“It is interesting to see how our experiences weave the tapestries of our life. Our decisions, experiences, and circumstances, like ropes, braid together to create uniquely beautiful and rich life stories. In January of 2021, our family became licensed to foster. Our journey to become foster parents is not a conventional one. As I look back, there are a few key threads that brought us to this moment.
Fresh out of college, I taught high school. I was often questioned by new staff when making copies each morning because I looked just like one of the students. There is so much energy and cognitive stimulation in high schools. Working with the students in a classroom or coaching on the track was, by far, the most fulfilling aspect for me. I spent nearly every waking second thinking about them. Many of my students and athletes did not have much home support and to witness the power of what one supportive adult could do for a teen hit something deep inside me. This job left me feeling zombie-levels of exhaustion but it also gave me life, in ways I never knew before.
Speaking of high school, I married my high school sweetheart. A few years into teaching, I became pregnant with our first son and we moved. I channeled this energy I used for teaching into motherhood and our family. Family is everything for me. Within a few years, we became a family of four.
At this point in our lives, my husband and I made a really monumental family decision. After years of intense and thoughtful study, we chose to step away from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (informally known as the Mormon Church), a religion my husband and I had dedicated the entirety of our lives to but one we no longer identified with. For those who don’t have much context, the Mormon Church is a high-demand religion that is believed by the members to be the source of all truth. Growing up near the Church’s headquarters meant nothing about life was untouched by religion in some context. For practicing members, there is not much room for nuanced thinking without judgment or eternal consequences. We have sought to be respectful in our interactions with others as we live authentically. Still, many naturally pull away from those who question, almost as if doubts are a virus, contagious by close association.
This community that loved and raised us quickly became a foreign place. My heart cracked wide open. Therapy was a powerful resource to navigate identity, complex relationships, and the deconstruction. I began to experience the power of healing and diving into the research of trauma. Leaving an orthodox religion opened a deep vault of personal experiences and wisdom resulting from my own foundation/support system and identity crumbling. I find myself gravitating to those who feel unloved or ostracized. I cannot bear to watch another child raised without unconditional love. Every child should be celebrated and embraced for who they are and I am determined to be a safe place for those who don’t have one.
One day, I was randomly scrolling online when something popped up about being a CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate). Immediately, I clicked on it. Within a week, I signed up for an interview. A month later, I completed the 35-hour training sessions. The last portion involved court observation and being sworn in by a judge. I spent the afternoon watching numerous cases involving families coming before the judge. Many parents pleading for parental rights, neglected drug tests, extremely high stakes, terrible abuses, one mother firing her attorney in the middle of the hearing, case workers/GALS/CASA’s fighting for the rights of the innocent children.
I received my first CASA placement, a teenage girl who was now in foster care, 3 days before Covid-19 spiked and the country shut down. I was nervous and unsure as to how I would build trust and a relationship during social isolation. A teenager, specifically, who most likely wanted nothing to do with me. And strictly over the phone?
I kept reminding myself, I don’t need to have all of the answers to show up with my heart and my time. I sat and dialed the number, thinking to myself, just sit with her during her pain. We began to talk an hour each week. Soon, our relationship began to blossom. One night, I sat painting in our unfinished basement, listening to her talk about all of the boys she met at Cherry Hill that day. We laughed and joked about quirky teenage boy behaviors. To hear her excited about something teenagers typically experience, to hear her have life experiences outside of her current trauma, was monumental. This was a moment where I felt a piece of me that lay dormant for so long, ignite again. What a sacred moment to witness.
Fast forward to Fall 2020, all of these experiences came colliding with massive force. Carson, my husband, and I had been in deep thought. ‘Do we have another child?’ I pushed aside the idea to foster early on, thinking we weren’t ready/qualified to do so and deep in the trenches of young motherhood. Day after day, I saw more into this world being a CASA. The pull grew stronger and the door continued to open wider. My thoughts began circling. Every time we talked about growing our family, my mind went to these kids, the hundreds of thousands of children who are alive—right here, right now in need of temporary or permanent homes.
I finally blurted out to Carson one afternoon, ‘What if we fostered?’ He, like most people (me early on), thought of every reason to have concerns. He joked I should do a Shark Tank PowerPoint presentation with all of the factual logistics without the unsupported stigmas. I presented one the next week. That night, he said, ‘I think we know what we need to do, we just need to make sure we are always on the same page.’ Soon, our late-night conversations turned into really serious topics and sharing air-pod earbuds on drives/walks as we participated in the weekly training together.
My various experiences, like a thin thread, began weaving together, creating a stronger, more clear visual. Teaching gave me experience working with youth. Motherhood opened my heart and home, full-time, to raising other humans. Being a CASA enabled me to witness the legal system work in its entirety. Leaving an orthodox religion opened a vault of personal experiences and wisdom resulting from my own foundation/support system and identity crumbling. All of these experiences paved my way to becoming an advocate for youth and a licensed foster parent. In no way will I ever know the pain or trauma a child experiences when they are removed from their homes and placed in foster care but our hearts and homes are open and ready to show up.
It is hard to know how to feel at this point. There is so much heartache and pain that leads to the moment a child will meet us. The weight of the reality feels enormous and I wish it weren’t this way. We are also very mindful of how and what circumstances we will permit in our home due to our young kids. We will do all we can to show solidarity to the biological family and to provide endless love and support for the children we will have the honor to care for. I don’t know what the future holds but I will continue to do what feels like the next best thing, weaving together the experiences and wisdom from my past to propel me forward to the people and places destined to be.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Rachel Garrett. You can follow her journey on Instagram. 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.
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