This is truly a touching story. I hope you like it as much as I did. The picture is of her family. She can’t post a picture of their foster baby, for the protection of children that are wards of the state, no names or pictures on social media, so he is extra “smiley” today.
My Journey as a Foster mom: Immeasurable Love Found In Unexpected Places
by Nikki Gruesbeck
God first stirred a passion in me that I had not felt before on a mission trip to St. Ann’s Bay Jamaica in 2005. I stood in the school yard with dozens of little hands reaching up to me in hopes of a hug, touch, or any affection from me. One little girl in particular would not leave my side. I walked home from school with her and nothing could have prepared me for what I learned. She was 11 years old, living all alone in what we would consider a tool shed with a padlock on the door. No bed, no window, nothing. I went to the School Administrator, surely they could fix this if they knew what she was going through. The response sent me reeling. “She is just one of many. This is life for many of these kids”. Are you kidding me?? I wanted to bring this girl home with me in the worst way. Since customs wouldn’t look fondly on my bringing her back in my suitcase and our week long mission trip was not long enough to begin the red tape around the particulars of her situation, our team did the best we could by setting up some contacts for her, connecting her with the local church and praying for her (and all those like her) daily. Tears poured down her cheeks and mine as our bus pulled away headed for the airport. I came back home with a forever changed heart. I could not look at my life, my children, my abundant blessings the same. I felt completely humbled at how blessed my entire life has been and how often instead of expressing gratitude for all I have I am so quick to grumble about all that I don’t have or all I still want.
I knew that God had awakened a passion for orphans in me, and we began collecting information from local agencies on adoption. At this time, with a 5 & 3 year old and another baby on the way, and living on a single income, the cost of adoption caused us to close that door. We decided instead to get involved with World Vision and began sponsoring children. As the monthly newsletters of needs worldwide and notes from our sponsored children intensified, the feeling that we needed to be doing something more also intensified.
Fast forward now to 2011. One of my dearest friends brought two medically fragile foster twins into her already full life and I had the privilege of having a front row seat to watching God do amazing things through this family as they stepped into radical service. At this time, my husband and I had just welcomed our 5th daughter. We had completely outgrown our vehicle and were quickly outgrowing the bedrooms in our home. My husband had just started working a 2nd job to support life at our house. This is not exactly the scenario you’d expect for someone to decide to begin a journey as foster parents, and yet, it is exactly the way that God likes to work, in those completely illogical scenarios. God lit one of those “God fires” in me that I could not ignore. Those embers that had been simmering since Jamaica were now a blazing flame that was unmistakable. Everywhere I went it seemed like I met a foster parent, I heard a radio commercial for foster parenting, billboard signs on the highway shouting at me….”become a foster parent!!” Well, being the rational, logical people we are (or at least my husband is), we talked about this process. Financially it made no sense, and with our house already bursting at the seams with children, it was irrational to take on more. But God would not let it go and so we decided to pray about it. When you ask God to confirm what He has already told you to do, trust me, He IS going to confirm it in a big way! (Remember Gideon and the fleece? Yep, that was us).
That week I read a book called Adopted for Life (amazing book by the way, I highly recommend it to anyone considering this journey!) The theme of James 1:27 kept coming through, to care for orphans and widows. Our daughters were at summer camp this particular week (that’s why I had time to read the book). We picked them up on the last day and they couldn’t wait to tell us the theme they learned this year, “Mom, it was all about James 1:27, how God wants us to take care of orphans and widows”. The next morning, as we sat in our pew at church we listened to our pastor speak about, of course, James 1:27. My husband and I just looked at each other- how much more confirmation do you need? And with that our foster care licensing journey began.
Throughout the training sessions, I listened to all they were telling us and nodded in agreement. Yes this is necessary, there are hundreds of children right here in the mid-Michigan area in need of a loving temporary home. And I was excited and ready to serve. I have to admit, though, that I had some ‘contract conditions’ in my head, ones that I only shared with God. It went something like this: “God, I want to serve you and I know that you are able to give us the strength and everything we need. BUT, I want a child that needs a forever home because I couldn’t handle loving a child and then having to give them up. So, as long as you can work that out we’ll be good. Oh, and just so you know, I don’t want to have to deal with the biological parents, because you know how I’m not good with confrontation so just make it an easy case. Ok, thanks.” My worst fear was that we would bring a baby home, get attached and then have to let her go. I trembled at the thought of devastating the hearts of my 5 precious daughters, all of whom are like little mommas. I worried about exposing their tender hearts to such a broken world. You’d think that in my 40 years of life and countless experiences bargaining with God I’d have learned that setting conditions on service never works. But no, I’m as hardheaded and forgetful as the Israelites in the wilderness, humanity unchanged. (As you may know, God had just led group of a million plus Israelites out of a lifetime of slavery in Egypt, He miraculously parted the Red Sea, they witnessed the drowning of the entire Egyptian army, and yet a mere 3 days later they are already whining because there is nothing to drink! Did you not just see what God can do? Really?? Is our God not able to do ALL things?),
Then came our first placement. A beautiful baby girl. Not an easy case, not a baby that stayed forever, and not a placement devoid of bio parent interaction. So far 0 for 0 on my checklist of expectations. But we were ok, not only ok but we grew stronger. For a month I sat with baby girl in the hospital feeling brokenness over her situation and anger towards her mom. Then the day finally came, the day I met her mom. God did something I never expected. I walked into the room, saw her tears and I walked straight over to her and hugged her, a huge close extra-long embrace of this complete stranger. This stranger who just minutes before I was fuming at in my mind as I made the long drive into the visit, running over the facts of this case in my head like a broken record. I sat next to her and cried with her. I did not feel anger, I did not feel judgment, every feeling I had in my flesh the past month was gone. The Holy Spirit filled me with a gut wrenching grief, love and compassion, and an overwhelming need to help this woman whose life and circumstances were totally foreign to me. It was Jamaica all over again. I was faced with how quickly I forget how blessed I am, how often I complain and grumble when I should be on my knees thanking God for my life, my home, my family, the comfort I have always known, everything I take for granted every day. Baby girl went home, and we were ok. God had us in His palm the whole time.
We waited for the next placement and in time the next baby came. “This baby was going to stay” I thought to myself (yes remember me, the forgetful Israelite. All those lessons of the past months tucked neatly away). But in God’s sovereignty He was preparing me to see His providential hand. Romans 8:28 “And we know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love him and are called according to His purpose”. This verse showed up everywhere. EVERYWHERE. For about 3 weeks. On the radio, in my daily devotions, in the sermons at church, at bible study, in my devotions with my kids, in my sleep. Romans 8:28. Gods got a plan, and it is good. I took this to mean that I was right, this baby was going to stay. But this baby didn’t stay, God had a different plan, a different forever family, and it wasn’t MY plan. I was devastated. I was sure that Romans 8:28 meant that God was working this out the way I wanted. After all surely I had learned the lesson He had for me from the first foster care case. Hadn’t I overcome my fear of a baby going home? Hadn’t I learned that God could help me deal with and even love the biological parent? I believe that God is sovereign over all circumstances, but in that moment I forgot that God is in control. I directed my hurt and frustration at people, surely someone messed up here. Someone should fix this and see that this is wrong. I was on the phone barking up every tree- Caseworkers, Case Supervisors, Guardian Ad Litem, County Prosecutor, you name it. And guess what? Nothing happened, nothing changed.
I had an expectation, I made a plan. BUT GOD determines the exact places where each one should live. Acts 17:26 “From one man he made every nation of men that they should inhabit the whole earth; and HE determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.” (NIV) He places the lonely in families, not me! He takes the hand of the orphans and defends the fatherless. Because it wasn’t up to people, it was up to God. And it was ok, because God’s will always happens.
As this second placement was coming to a close, in a tearful tantrum to my amazing, gentle licensing worker, she reminded me of a basic truth; that foster care is about the kids. That I signed up for this to help the children and that is exactly what I did. This wasn’t about me. I didn’t realize until that moment how subtly my own will had crept into this service that I had agreed to. I wanted to be selfless and love these children but still inside there was my will. When I stopped that day and listened to her words I realized that this baby was in a great home, he was going to be loved, God has a plan and He was working it out. She asked me if we would be willing to open our home back up to calls. My husband and I believed that God was prompting us to be open to another placement, so my response was “Yes!”. This was on Wednesday. A baby was born that day. My phone rang two days later. I heard the caseworker say “We have a baby, he was born Wednesday. He needs to be picked up today, it may be only a temporary placement. The goal is reunification with birth mom”. The case worker continued talking about more details but I already knew I the answer, it was an overwhelming and undeniable YES! She proceeded to tell me his name. I knew this name, it was a name that I loved. The name means God is Sovereign, God is the Lord. And He is! God had been preparing this all along, and though I could only see the hurt and disappointment of my plan, God had a plan much better, much greater than mine. So we welcomed this new baby. It is not an easy case. There is plenty of bio parent interaction. Many months into it and still it’s not been decided by the courts where the forever home for this baby is, of course we know that God already has that figured out.
This journey has taught me so much about me, about life, and about my loving Heavenly Father. I have learned that I cannot have Gods will MY way. I am loved by God more than I will ever know. It is a privilege to serve Him, it is sometimes a terrifying adventure and sometimes a mountaintop high, but it is HIS plan and I don’t get to call the shots. And as much as the control freak in me shudders at that realization, over this journey I have found extreme comfort in that knowledge. HE’s got this, I don’t have to call the shots. I can trust Him and know that just like he taught me in Romans 8:28, He’s working all things together for good. Amen?? I have learned to enjoy the blessing of every moment. I don’t know what the next month or next review hearing will bring so I treasure every moment and every new squeal, new step, new tooth, every smile and snuggle. It has made me a better mom because I have stopped to realize that I need to treasure these very moments with the 5 precious ones that God has already given me. We get lulled into this false sense of security that we have our biological kids forever, that it’s only the foster kids that can be taken away, but truly only God knows the number of days I have with all the people I love in my life. Treasure every moment. They aren’t all happy picture perfect moments, but I can even find joy in the crazy loud teenager, toddler, baby chaos at my house and smile because God IS good! People still say to my husband and I “I could never be a foster parent, I’m afraid I’d get too attached and wouldn’t be able to let them go”. Let me tell you- you WILL get attached, and your heart will grow in ways you never expected, and you will be able to let them go if God asks you to, and you WILL be ok. God promises he will never leave us or forsake us.
People say “I couldn’t do foster care because the system is messed up”. Yes it is an imperfect system, because nothing is perfect on earth. We pray “Father, Your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven!”, and we know someday perfection will come. Until that day, I am thankful that we have a system in place in the United States, though not perfect, it is a far cry from having no system at all like I witnessed in Jamaica. My other answer to that is that we as Christians need to step up, God has called us to be the hands to help the orphans. We can’t complain about a system unless we are willing to get involved and help make a difference.
Our world tells us daily that we deserve more and it is easy to start believing that lie. The reality is we have far more than we deserve. I have learned much about gratitude over the past few years. Foster care has brought a lot of firsts for me- first time figuring out the WIC system, first time navigating the Medicaid system, first time feeling helpless at a health clinic when I couldn’t get any health care professional to listen to me. I was reminded of the privilege of having a credit card to buy more formula when the WIC runs out. I was reminded of the privilege of having health insurance and the ability to choose the physician my children will see and the privilege of finding a new physician when I feel like they aren’t getting the best of care. I will not take these things for granted any more. I have grown in compassion for those less fortunate for me. I always thought I had compassion but there a saying about walking a mile in someone’s shoes before judging them. When we step into someone else’s shoes we gain a new appreciation for their challenges. Those ‘blind spots’ we have to our own prejudices are revealed to us. I thank God for loving me enough to change me in these ways.
When we step into radical service, doing the ‘illogical thing’, like inviting someone else’s brokenness into your life, we will get dusty and dirty in the battle and we will get some bumps and bruises along the way, but we come through shining and victorious because
God makes us conquerors! We are co-heirs with Christ! The victory is all His.
These last couple months God has brought a new verse to light for me. Ephesians 3:20 – “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen”. God is able to do immeasurably more than anything we can even imagine to ask for. And I’ve got a great imagination! His ways are greater and his plans are better. That is the attitude that has helped me through the lows, and kept me in check through the highs and continues to sustain me on this journey. I realize that I have a limited view but I serve a mighty God who want’s the best not only for these children but also for me and my family. I don’t know what the future holds for my family, for the baby in our care now, for any of the children already in care or yet to come into care. I am confident though that the love we have been able to give will not be wasted. When we serve them, when we help, when we welcome them into our homes and share the abundance of blessings we have been given, WE are blessed. The joy is truly in the offering! My heart is bigger and stronger, and God has shown me that having a child leave our home is not my worst fear after all. Ultimately, I’ve learned that my fear is that a child in need may never know the love of a family or the extravagant love of our Heavenly Father. And so for that reason our journey continues, and we’ve got an amazing guide, and though I don’t know where He is leading us, I know it’s going to be immeasurably, abundantly better than I’ve imagined.