“This is not how I thought my life would look like at 28 years old. This life is a dream come true, but this is a dream I didn’t even know I had. Being their mom will be the single most important accomplishment of my life.
I ignorantly took a leap of faith into foster care, and it wrecked me.
I had nothing to offer but love. I mean, I had nothing. I lived in a crappy 750 sq ft, 2 bedroom apartment that, thanks to my downstairs neighbors, reeked of pot occasionally. My financial status would have been classified as ‘almost stable.’ I was single with no family in the state of Tennessee. I was working full time and then some. I said yes, and I have no idea why because I had every reason to say no.
I literally had nothing to offer but love, but I knew this was my calling. When I was 15, I took a trip with my aunt and uncle to an orphanage to assist with their children while they finished the adoption process of a little girl from Ecuador. It was in that orphanage, For His Children, in Quito, Ecuador, that God clearly told me, ‘This is what you’re going to do with your life.’ I was holding a sweet, precious baby girl whose story details align with different parts of my girls’ stories.
I spent 5 weeks in Quito, Ecuador, and we were in the orphanage daily helping with the children. I was able to visit the different houses, where the children lived according to their ages. I got to assist in mealtimes and walks and swimming lessons and therapies and music classes. I was able to build sweet little relationships with the children there, and I bonded with the children during my time at the orphanage. I also got to experience the local life and culture in Quito as we stayed with an Ecuadorian couple who really did an amazing job of exposing us to the beauty of Quito and its people. We spent time in the markets and malls and parks, and I fell in love with the people of Quito.
Being single wasn’t ever a deterrent to me when considering my future in orphan or foster care. While I definitely have the desire to be married one day, my goal in life is not based on getting married. I believe my purpose in life is to love God and to love people. Marriage is a by-product of those things within God’s will. I knew God called me to orphan care, and being married or single wasn’t going to waiver that calling. I had fears, of course, about doing this as a single woman. I still have those same fears, but I know that God is not going to call me into something and then abandon me. The past 4+ years have proven that time and time again.
My decision to pursue foster care was initiated first out my calling to orphan care, but also because of a message at church about being pro-life. To me, pro-life means advocating for all lives, not just the unborn. I wanted to step into the hard places with these families by loving on hurting children after being removed from their families. Unfortunately, none of my long-term placements ended with parent reunification, but I have had the opportunity to build relationships with the families in different ways.
My very first placement was a respite placement for a 2-week-old baby, whom I picked up from the NICU. She was precious and amazing, but I only had her for respite because she had 2 siblings she needed to be placed with. At the time, I didn’t have the peace about raising 3 kids on my own right off the bat. They were all 3 and under at the time. So I loved on that sweet girl for 44 hours before DCS found a placement for her and her siblings.
All of my other placements were all long-term and adoptive cases. Six days after I said goodbye to that sweet baby girl, I brought home my oldest girls, Ava and Sadie, at the ages of 4 and 2. From the very beginning of their case, I did my best to connect with their biological mother. I downloaded the app Sideline so I could protect my privacy while also keeping in contact with her to share pictures with her and allow phone calls. I would send in crafts and gifts from the girls to her during their visitation time. I would do my best to keep her updated on the girls’ medical appointments.
With Nora, my third daughter, she only had a couple of visits with her biological parents before they stopped visiting, but I did meet Nora’s biological grandfather during a court hearing once. He gave me his number and told me to reach out if I wanted because he was raising the older 2 brothers. I called him around Nora’s first birthday to set up a lunch with the older siblings (there are 2 sisters as well). So, I have kept up with that sibling connection throughout the past couple of years, which has led to a really beautiful relationship with them. One of the older sisters has babysat for me and has joined me and my girls for my family’s Thanksgiving out of state.
Mia’s case was unique for different reasons I cannot disclose, but I was able to build a good relationship with her biological mother that I still retain to this day in an open adoption. Then with Lucy’s case, it was very unique. Lucy is Nora’s biological sister, and their biological mother requested that Lucy be placed with me and be adopted by me. It is such a privilege to be trusted in that way by their biological mother.
I was 24 years old when I started fostering, and I was seriously sheltered and abundantly ignorant. Those first few months were the hardest of my life. My first long term placement was a sibling set of 2 girls, ages 2 and 4. They were young, but they were difficult. My oldest, Ava, has Cerebral Palsy, and she hadn’t been given any medical care until she came into the system. Trauma also affects the immune system, and if we weren’t in therapy or at a specialist, we were in the PCP office for strep, ear infections, RSV, flu, etc. I was working full time as a middle school Latin teacher and also coaching volleyball and doing other jobs around the school. The girls had 6 therapies a week on top of a weekly visit with their biological mom.
I felt excited and also so under-qualified. Like, why the heck are they giving me kids to raise? I immediately felt every insecurity when it came to becoming a mother. I also just lost all my sense. I remember walking around Walmart just confused as to what to buy. What do kids eat? What size of clothes do 2-year-olds wear? Are they potty trained? Are they going to have lice? Are they going to sleep through the night? When do they start school? So many questions and thoughts flooded my mind, but I was genuinely excited to love on some kiddos. But when I took them home, it felt so foreign and so right all at the same time. Like I was made for this, but I didn’t know exactly what this was.
At 2 months into fostering them, I was broken. I had failed. It was so much harder than I imagined. I wasn’t enough for them, and the caseworker thought it would be best to move them into a 2-parent home with a stay-at-home mom who could handle all of their medical needs.
I was told my time constraints were too much due to being a full-time working single parent. I was having a friend from church take Ava to a couple of therapies for me as they conflicted with work. Their caseworker expressed her concern that I wasn’t very committed to Ava’s medical progress if I wasn’t joining her in her therapies to learn alongside her so we could work more at home.
I was so broken, I agreed that I wasn’t fit to care for them, but I also loved them and wanted to have them in my home. I fully expected them to go to a new foster home, and I felt peace about either outcome of this meeting. Somehow Jesus intervened in His sovereignty during that meeting, and He kept the girls in my home. It wasn’t rainbows and butterflies after that, but I had a whole new sense of God’s sovereignty.
I knew this was a story God was writing. I don’t have any control in this, and that’s right where I needed to be because I’ll tell you right now my family wouldn’t look this way if I had been the author of this story. This is a much better story than I could have ever imagined.
These girls taught me a lot about myself. I wasn’t the amazing, patient mother I thought I would be. I had so many emotions. I didn’t know how to handle them, and I felt guilty all the time about everything.
Sadie never had the ‘honeymoon period’ a lot of foster kids have when placed into a foster home. She would throw fits every time I put her down to bed. Hours-long fits. They were exhausting, and I just needed time to myself at night. It would take me hours to get her to sleep every night. She threw fits at every appointment we went to. She threw extra fits for 2 days after every visit, which were weekly. She constantly was screaming, and I often lost my cool. I would slam my door or yell in my frustration or hide in my bathroom and just cry. It was just so much all the time, and I had not learned good coping skills myself.
Motherhood is hard, and at the urging of my girls’ therapist, I got my own therapist. I am a very prideful person, and I hate saying I need help, but I needed help. I needed to work through stuff from my past so I could move forward and better myself as a person and therefore as a mom for my girls. Therapy and mental/emotional health have been a taboo topic for so long, and I bought into that. Then I just surrendered to the fact that I needed help, and there was nothing shameful in admitting that. That’s actually a sign of strength.
Every yes I’ve made in foster care including the initial one has been questioned and, at times, discouraged. I’ve been informed by others of all the reasons why I shouldn’t and couldn’t, but God called me to this.
I was told I didn’t have enough support because I didn’t have enough family in the area. I was told I shouldn’t do foster care without a husband because it was too hard to do on my own. I was told I should just focus on my ministry of being a teacher and reach those kids instead. I was told foster care was too hard and complicated for me to tackle alone. I was told I would never get married because this life is too much.
I laid my ‘yes’ at the feet of Jesus, and He has always been faithful. In my darkest hours, He’s been there. In those moments my fears were overtaking me, He’s been there. In the meeting where the caseworker was questioning whether or not I was enough for my girls, He was there. He has and always will be faithful. His sovereignty has nothing to do with my ability. His grace was all-sufficient because my weaknesses were abundant. I have nothing to offer my girls, but Jesus uses my broken vessel to love them well.
Time after time after time, God has been faithful to show up. He’s never called me to a place of surrender that He’s abandoned me. Just 2.5 years after I first brought home my oldest 2 girls, I was called to take my (already adopted) daughter’s biological sister who had just been born. At that time, I had a 7-year-old, a 5-year-old, a 20-month-old, and a 4-month-old.
Honestly, I don’t know how or why God asked me to take so many, but I do know God moved in so many ways so specifically for each individual child to be in my home that I don’t doubt each of these girls were meant to be my daughters.
I sobbed on the phone to the CPS worker, ‘I know what my answer needs to be, but it’s going to be so hard!’ Siblings have the right to be kept together if at all possible. I wasn’t about to put myself and my needs in the way of that. I will sacrifice everything I have to preserve their families in any way possible. I am honored to have the privilege to have connections to Nora and Lucy’s older siblings, who are living with grandparents or on their own.
I went into major nesting mode. I immediately started making calls to get the clothes and equipment needed to bring her home. Within 24 hours of getting that call, I had a crib, a car seat, and all the clothes I needed for her.
I hear this a lot, ‘I don’t know how you do it.’ You know what? Neither do I. Because it is not me who does it. It’s all Jesus. Every step of the way, it’s because of Jesus.
And I won’t sugar coat it. There’s a lot of the day to day things that just suck. There are heavy burdens Jesus has asked me to carry through this journey, but I’ve never done it alone. Never once did He leave me stranded. There were times I felt alone and forgotten. Those were really dark moments, sometimes those moments turned into days and weeks. But Jesus always showed up in ways that looking back, I could see that He never left me. He was there moving His unseen hand.
I once had someone tell me that they were disappointed in me because I wasn’t on the mission field like I said was going to be. Their words hurt me, but God made it very clear. I am in my mission field. Foster care is my mission field. I’m not called to rescue all of the children, but I am called to be a light in the darkness. Foster care is full of spiritual warfare not only in the biological families, but the caseworkers, the supervisors, the placement team, the attorneys, the judges, and the foster homes. This is God’s work. It’s heavy and hard. It will break you. You will not walk through foster care without earning your battle scars.
But there’s beauty in all of this because of God’s sovereignty. In those moments where I thought I couldn’t go on, I had to throw my hands up in a Jesus-take-the-wheel type of situation and trust He knew what going on. With each of my 5 girls, I have seen God move in big ways. Each of my girls’ stories has God-sized details, and He’s used people like my caseworker, Kim Harvey, and my church in unique ways. Kim has had a huge part in each of my girls’ stories and how they came to me. She advocated for me, supported me, and encouraged me every step of the way. My church has supported me by bringing me diapers and meals and Christmas gifts, and many of the church people have helped me out with babysitting and respite.
Right now, we are in a sweet spot of life. I have all 5 of my girls adopted – Ava Grace, Sadie Faith, Nora Hope, Mia Truth, and Lucy Love. These girls are my world. We are just living our best lives right now enjoying the slower pace of life that came with the pandemic and with closing our home to DCS placements after the last adoption in February.
I’m looking forward to seeing what else God has for us in the future as I have a few opportunities opening up in sharing our story. We started homeschooling this year, so we are busy with that and all their therapies each week. I’m just not rushing into the next stage of life just yet. We’re enjoying this time of peace as we rest from the busyness that DCS required. I’m in love with the life God’s given me. I could not have written a better story, but Jesus is still working and moving in our lives. I’m excited about the next step whenever it is, whatever it is, and wherever it takes us. Jesus has done some wild things in the past, and I’m here for whatever comes next.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Elizabeth Schneider. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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