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Focus on the Family Broadcast

When God Gives You the Family You Never Expected (Part 1 of 2)

When God Gives You the Family You Never Expected (Part 1 of 2)

Foster parents are often called “heroes” for bringing needy children into their home, but Jillana Goble argues that they are normal people who simply obeyed God’s call to care for orphans and widows. Joined by Jean Daly, sharing from their own experiences, they describe some of the common challenges of foster parenting, such as feeling overwhelmed, not knowing how past trauma affects behaviors today, loving children and giving them back to their bio parents, dealing with extra stress in your marriage and family and being stretched out of your comfort zone. (Part 1 of 2)
Original Air Date: November 15, 2023

John Fuller: When you think about foster care, what comes to mind? Uh, maybe you’ve heard statements like this: “Caring for a childlike that will disrupt my family. Foster parents are special people, only heroes can do it. Those kids are damaged goods.” Well, today, on Focus on the Family, we’ll explore the world of foster care and what it means to step up to the challenge and sacrificially love needy children. Your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly, and I’m John Fuller.

Jim Daly: John, many of our listeners and viewers know that this topic is very close to my heart because I lived it and, uh, I ha- I was a foster kid. My mom remarried when I was eight, she then died when I was nine, and the stepdad left the day of the funeral. And my siblings, some of my siblings and I, ended up in foster care. Not a great experience. And so, for that, uh, when probably 12 or 13 years ago now, we started Wait No More, which is a program to elevate the need of foster, uh, here in the US and abroad. And I’m thankful that a lot of children have been placed because of the great effort of, uh, the work here under Wait No More. Dr. Sharen Ford is head of that program. But when you look at the numbers, I mean, there’s about 400,000 children in foster care in a given year here in the US, about 100,000, uh, the parental rights have been terminated. They’re looking for placement. But there’s 360,000 churches in this country and it’s so… You do the math. It’s almost if every church would just help one child, it would be done. Wouldn’t that be a great New York Times headline? Christian church wipes out waiting foster and adoption. That would change the tenor of the church in this country-

John: Mm-hmm.

Jim: … I think, the reputation. We have to do it, though. I don’t wanna lay blame anywhere, but man, this is a field white unto harvest. And if we could just turn our gaze that direction and get motivated to go, we could make a huge difference. Uh, it’s not easy, to be honest. And Jean and I… Jean was so awesome when I got home after that first broadcast, encouraging people to become foster-involved. And (laughs) I come home and Jean looked at me and said, “Well, if you’re gonna ask other people to do it, we maybe should do it, too.” And I went, “No, no, I already did it-

John: I lived that, yeah.

Jim: … I was a kid in foster care.” And she looked at me like, “What,” you know? And so we got registered. We got cleared to become foster parents and we’ve done that, so I’m looking forward to today’s program. You know, in that process, one of the great scriptures that caught my attention as a 15-year-old boy when I gave my life to the Lord was Psalm 34:18, which says, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those crushed in spirit.”

John: Mm-hmm.

Jim: Man, the church has an incredible role to play in this area of foster.

John: Well, I’m glad that you sparked our Wait No More outreach, uh, to encourage foster care and, uh, to get involved in, in helping those families. And, uh, we have your wife, Jean, here to share-

Jim: Yay.

John: … a little bit about your story-

Jim: (laughs)

John: … after you said, “Okay, we will get involved.” Uh, we also have, uh, Jillana Goble with us. And Jillana is an author and speaker and foster care advocate. Uh, she and her husband, Luke, are the parents of five children and, uh, she’s written a kind of a memoir, uh, about her family and faith journey. It’s called A Love-Stretched Life. Uh, the subtitle is Stories on Wrangling Hope, Embracing the Unexpected, and Discovering the Meaning of Family. And we’ve got copies of that book here at the ministry. Uh, stop by focusonthefamily.com/broadcast for details.

Jim: Jillana and Jean, welcome to the broadcast.

Jillana Goble: Thank you so much. Happy to be here.

Jim: (laughs) It’s good to have you.

Jillana: Thanks.

Jim: Jean, it’s really good to have you here.

Jean Daly: It’s a pleasure being here.

Jim: (laughs)

Jean: It is a really important topic.

Jim: It is. It really is. Jillana, let’s start with you, uh, getting involved in this area, uh, you and your husband, Luke. I listened to your book. I wanna encourage people to listen to the audio ’cause you, you just read your book so well and it just encouraged me to reconsider what we’re doing in foster care. Maybe we could do more. You were just so positive. But, how did you and Luke get engaged in this area?

Jillana: Well, after spending some time in Central America, we naively turned to another on the plane coming back-

Jim: (laughs)

Jillana: … and just said, “Well, where are the vulnerable kids in this country?” And, of course, that led us straight to the doors of foster care. To my knowledge, um, I didn’t grow up with anyone that I knew in foster care. I didn’t know anyone that had done foster parenting, and so we did the classic like, “Hey, we have no parenting experience. We’re both 25 years old. Let’s go and do respite.” But as it often happens when you are willing, (laughs) they’re like, “You know what you’d be great at? Not just regular foster care. Therapeutic foster care.” And I think Luke and I were a little flattered like, “Maybe they see in us something we don’t even see in ourselves.”

Jim: The great parents we’re gonna be someday.

Jillana: (laughs) Right? Exactly.

Jim: (laughs)

Jillana: So we said yes and we, we welcomed with zero parenting experience two boys aged six and nine. And that just kind of started just a crash course in the selflessness of parenting two boys. They were two out of a siblings set of 15.

John: Oh my.

Jillana: Um, the nine-year-old just had a ton of trauma that manifested in really high behaviors and it got to the point where we just couldn’t physically keep him safe. And so, the call had to be made by the agency to remove that, uh, the nine-year-old so that we could keep safe the six-year-old, and I just felt crushed by that. I just honestly felt like a failure.

Jim: Mm-hmm.

Jillana: We had learned in class that it’s best for siblings to be kept together. And I think when you enter into the world of foster care and adoption, God really calls us to kind of walk this tightrope between kind of the theory of best practice and then the lived reality, recognizing that those two things may not always align. And in our very first case, they didn’t. To make a very long story short, that six-year-old lived with us for a year. We were privileged to parent him for his first grade year through a series of circumstances. We moved him on to a pre-adoptive home, which eventually fell through. We were visiting him at a group home. And, um, one day, Luke and I, um, and our then small biological daughter, uh, went to pick him up and we were just told, “We’re so sorry. He’s been transferred,” to which I replied, “Transferred to where? I mean, like, we have been really the only consistent-

Jim: You’re connected.

Jillana: … present in his life.”

Jim: (laughs)

Jillana: Exactly, Jim.

Jim: Yeah.

Jillana: Like, we had him for a year and then we visited him consistently for more than a year on a consistent basis, and that was kind of the abrupt ending to this piece is that all he knew is that we were supposed to show up and didn’t, because he was transferred. I even went so far as to go to some of the other agencies in town and leave my phone number to say, “Please give this to whoever’s caring for him. I want him to know.” Um, we, we tried to show up. And that was a very abrupt ending until six years ago. After 13 years with absolutely zero contact, um, I got this what I would say is, like, just the Holy Spirit like, “Jillana, where, where’s Royal?” He has an unusual name. I looked him up and, boom, there he was. And he had bloodshot eyes in this, um, social media picture and he was holding a bottle of Hennessy. And I just could tell like, “I knew it was him.” But what do you say after we haven’t talked to someone for 13 years? So I wrote this private message and I just said, “Royal, man, you may not remember us and I’m not even sure if it’s you.” I kind of tried to backtrack ’cause-

Jim: Right.

Jillana: … you don’t wanna come across as too sure. That sounds a little intimidating. “But, gosh, Luke and I had the privilege of parenting you when you were a first grade boy, and we just remember you with such fondness. We still have you pictures up and, and your, you know, summer birthday circled on our calendar. I just wanna let you know we’ve never forgotten about you, um, and I, I just wish you the best.” And the next day, woke up to some messages of, “OMG,” with about 20 exclamation points, “You’re still dot, dot, dot, my mom,” in capital letters, which was astounding to me because he always called me Ms. Jillana in first grade. We didn’t have anyone else calling us anything differently. And that initial conversation is what led us to this path of reconnection. We’ve been connected for the last six years. It’s been a wild and whirly journey, but he has three children and I’m nana to all of them.

John: Mm-hmm.

Jim: No, I mean, that’s such a special, uh, story, really, and that’s a positive outcome. And he probably had a lot of difficulty. Jean, when we were getting into that, we had pretty high expectations of what we could deliver as perfect parents. (laughs)

Jean: (laughs) Yes.

Jim: But it is, it’s like, you know, it’s a whirlwind of emotion and these children are coming in, uh, I would say, emotionally bruised in many cases. They’re coming from different kind of difficulties. It could be, uh, parents that are using drugs. That’s very common in foster today, but they’re, they’re broken. They have real emotional trauma. Uh, describe for us how you, uh, were thinking about this journey and how positive it was gonna be, and then some of the things that were a little difficult.

Jean: Right. I think most of us go into it with some really high expectations. And, uh, we knew that the siblings sent was going to be coming to live with us, and I prayed over those bunk beds. I’d cried over these boys and was so excited to invite them into our family. And I think we made some critical errors early on that I’d even run by the foster agency and they agreed that they were good ideas, but they weren’t for the situation. And it ended up causing some animosity and some jealousy, I think, with one of the boys. And bottom line is I did not know, we did not know how to deescalate behavior, but one of the boys was really dysregulated. And at that time, I wasn’t, we weren’t getting the advice we needed on how to deescalate and redirect. We’d later learn that and it, it was challenging. It was really challenging.

Jim: Well, and so often in this environment that children are coming from out of control situations, so their behavior tends to give them control, which they’re yearning for. And so you have to figure out the puzzle pieces that are going on and it really does help calm the environment once you get an idea of what’s going. The other thing, and Jillana you can mention this… You know, expectations need to be kind of pushed to the side. I mean, let’s keep them reasonably low just to make sure that you’re not expecting more than these children can deliver.

Jillana: I think that that’s so true and I can so appreciate what you said, Jean. I mean, within 48 hours I realized that there was a huge gap between me taking, like, nice, neat notes about trauma-

Jean: (laughs) Yes.

Jillana: … in my clean journal-

Jean: Yeah.

Jillana: … versus, like, the lived experience, like-

Jim: Exactly.

Jillana: … underneath my ro- roof. You know, and, and so I think that there’s just a ton of grace involved. There has to be grace for ourselves and our expectations about our parenting, and there has to be grace for these kids to recognize that no child ends up in foster care for no reason, and that we have to, um, be equipped as parents. That’s why I love the Wait No More program. You guys do an amazing job of equipping with education, because it’s not just enough to have good intentions. We need to have good intentions, we need to have community, we need to have education.

Jim: Yeah. And the reality is it’s not a perfect environment. You know, parenting in general is not perfect and then you add all the experiences the- these children have, and it, it complicates your parenting.

Jillana: Yes.

Jim: But even if you think you’re pretty good-

Jean: (laughs)

Jim: … that will humble you is the point.

Jean: Yes.

Jim: A few years, uh, later, you and Luke started your family and thought about doing foster care again. And so in that context, uh, how did that work out? I think you, the child that came to you was Micah.

Jillana: The child that came to us was Micah. I actually placed what I thought was just gonna be one of those informational calls, you know-

Jean: (laughs)

Jillana: … when you have a long to-do list, you know, like, “Oh, I’m just gonna call, you know, now that we’d move from a different state to, to Oregon and see-

Jim: How long was that gap between the first placement and then Micah?

Jillana: Just a few, just a few years.

Jim: Okay.

Jillana: Um, but I, I called and, and, um, a week later, the social worker-

Jim: (laughs)

Jillana: … called and said, “Well, guess what? Technically, you’re still certified in your other state and we have this, this six-month-old baby boy. This would… You would be his fourth placement. Um, and, uh, would you be willing to say yes to him?” We said yes to him and that started me on this very unexpected journey. But one of the most transformative aspects of my life, um, has been engaging with Micah’s, um, biological mom. Her name is Jennifer and it’s important for me to say that I have permission from everyone that I’m sharing stories with.

Jim: Sure.

Jillana: You know, when you’re talking about foster care and adoption, so many other stories intersect with your own, so you’re kind of telling little snippets of other stories. So, I do have permission to share their names and, and the snippets of stories that I’m sharing, but Jennifer, um, grew up in foster care. This is her third child. All of them had been foster involved and I met her at court. The social worker said she’s gonna be at court. I was a little intimidated. I never had the chance to show up to court before.

Jim: (laughs)

Jillana: But on the way out the door-

Jim: It’s a good way to say it. (laughs)

Jillana: … I, I grabbed a- an eight-by-ten photograph of baby Micah that was sitting atop my piano, because I just felt like this, the sense of like, “This is her child that is photographed sitting in my house, and I need to get this photo to her.” And so court can be so awkward for those that haven’t… I, I kind of feel like it’s the worst of junior high with people kind of whispering in little groups before they go into the, through these double doors of court to see the judge. And I saw a woman look, um, over at me. She kind of had a disheveled bun and I just said, “Hey, are you Jennifer?” And she’s like, “I am.” And I said, “Okay. Well, I’m Jillana. I’m your son’s foster mom and, um, I brought this for you.” And she took the photograph and she started weeping. And I found myself giving her a hug and completely unexpectedly saying, “I just wanna let you know that I’m rooting for you.” And those kind of became, those words kind of became the unexpected anthem of the last 15 years that we’ve lived a life together.

John: That’s a powerful story about showing God’s love in the midst of foster care. And our guest today on Focus on the Family are Jillana Goble and Jean Daly, and, uh, we’d recommend you look for Jillana’s book. Uh, for more details about this important topic, uh, it really is a terrific resource. It’s called A Love-Stretched Life and we can tell you more when you call 800-A-FAMILY or you can get the book at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.

Jim: Jillana, uh, you described the excruciating process of fostering Micah while simultaneously trying to, you know, develop and care for Jennifer, too, in extent. There’s some restrictions that some of that relationship development can be a little difficult in the foster system with the bio parent. I mean, it’s pretty regulated, but how did you do it? How did you encourage Jennifer, the mom, and still take care of her little baby? It had to be excruciating.

Jillana: It was and yet I knew that if Micah was gonna be reunited with Jennifer, that my job as a foster mom was to make sure that their bond was strong. And again, this is all a continuum, right? We, when we’re talking about-

Jim: Mm-hmm.

Jillana: … foster care and adoption, we can never say absolutes, because every family situation is different. But in this case, Jennifer was safe and healthy and enough and appropriate enough for me to engage with her. I got the case worker’s permission to do so. And, you know, today, Jennifer and I are privileged to speak at retreats and conferences and share with case workers, and many people often say, “How did you get here?” And honestly, it’s kind of like, “Well, how do you develop a relationship with anyone?” It’s, it’s kind of exchanged snippets of information over time. And so I invited her to a Mommy and Me, uh, class, uh, where I was able to kind of keep eyes on that baby but give her time to bond with her son. And I was able to engage with her, like, mom to mom, with my own two small biological girls at that point.

Jim: Mm-hmm.

Jillana: And so, you know, over time, I was actually given, um, permission to supervise visits with Jennifer that led to 150 hours of just, you know, uh, play dates at the park. It’s so humbling because I think things that are so normal for so many parents, like taking your kids to the park, was a totally new experience for her. And, you know, during that time, I was able to see up close and personal, Jennifer loved her child. This was not about her loving him or not loving him. She was in the pit of addiction and she was-

Jim: Yeah.

Jillana: … in a toxic codependent relationship. And so it was really hard to root for her but also to see, um, her drown and then come up for air and drown and come for, for, for air. So eventually, the plan was changed to adoption, um, and we were pleased to continue our relationship. And I don’t wanna make it sound like this is some Disney version of foster care and adoption. There were several times where… I mean, we’ve experienced and we both talked about this very openly. We have experienced every emotion under the sun both with and towards one another, and yet I say today that, you know, there are… Families come, family comes in all different shapes and sizes and we’re kind of this untraditional blended family, if you will, where she and her older children are able to come to our house not just for holidays but for Sunday lunches. There was a time where she was coming to church with us. You know, we- we’ve made it work and I feel like, while it’s not the story for everyone, I- I’m grateful to have lived this version of the story.

Jim: Well, and I appreciate that honesty, and I think that’s one of the things that is kind of, um, necessary in this work is… I think, for Christians particularly, we’re reaching for God’s shalom, His peace, so our homes generally are hopefully peaceful and kind of tranquil for the family, and that’s a good thing, and then whammo, (laughs) this is chaos. And in that regard, I’m sure having Jennifer and the kids come by and over, it creates chaos ’cause they’re coming from brokenness. I, I think, Jean, uh, the story that we have with a foster father that we were working with… We had his two children, uh, for a long period of time. But describe that for you, uh, and, and that was me, too. Our ability to learn (laughs) how to lay down these expectations, because I think it’s an area where Christians can get really frustrated because you’re saying, “Listen…” Just generally, not in either of these particular stories, “But listen, if you don’t do drugs, things go better. If you get a job and show up at 8:00, things go better. Why aren’t you doing these things?” I mean, it could become very frustrating, like you’re parenting the adult, saying, “Come on. It’s time to-

Jillana: (laughs)

Jim: … be responsible,” but you’ve got to do it inch by inch.

Jean: God did a remarkable-

Jim: (laughs)

Jean: … work in my heart towards those, uh, in the foster care system who’ve had their children removed from their homes. And I, you know, I am embarrassed to say that I was really judgmental toward those individuals who’ve had their children removed. God showed me that the birth parents are also His children who he adores.

Jim: Mm-hmm.

Jillana: Mm-hmm.

Jean: And typically, they have come from dysfunctional or traumatic background or they’re victims of the opioid crisis. There’s always a reason-

Jillana: Yeah.

Jean: … that they’ve ended up in this system. And I did an, uh, or the Lord really had me do a complete turnaround, and I went from judgment to empathy. And similarly, I was able to really form a, a positive bond with the biological family, especially with the dad. And, you know, it, it wasn’t easy and, and-

Jim: (laughs)

Jean: … it’s not a linear (laughs) progression.

Jillana: It’s like a scribble, right?

Jean: It is a scribble.

Jim: Scribble, that’s a good way to look at it.

Jean: But for me, it helped that those in the foster care system continually teach you, you are to provide, where to provide the safe and loving home, and their goal is to reunite the children with their birth parents. And I also saw that, especially the little girl who entered our home, she was four and a half years old. All she wanted was her biological family.

Jillana: Yeah.

Jean: She…

Jim: Oh, yeah.

Jean: It didn’t matter how many fun activities we did or how many stories I read or… She wanted and needed her biological family. And her dad, I watched him do really hard things-

Jillana: Yeah.

Jean: … to get his children back. And it’s two step forward, one step back, but I’m so grateful that God changed my heart, that I have a beautiful relationship with this dad-

Jim: Mm-hmm.

Jean: … and with the extended family.

Jim: Yeah. And in that regard, I mean, we’re still engaged. They’re now just about into teenhood and, uh, we see them once a summer and we go out or they come out to us and we’re staying engaged. We’re kind of like their surrogate grandparents now.

Jillana: I love that. And I think so many seasoned foster and adopted parents can relate to what you just said. I, I can certainly do so. I think in the absence of proximity to people who have burdens that are more that they can bear, we oftentimes as Christians oversimplify their struggles to fit within our paradigm. And it’s very, very easy to call down from a privilege mountaintop, “Just make a different choice.” And it’s very hard to link arms with somebody and say, “I want to, in humility, walk alongside you through, um, this path of things that I haven’t experienced but you have. And I wanna help you dig out of the pit.” And sometimes we rejoice when we see that parents are successful, um, and oftentimes they are not. And yet, we can still be there for them no matter what the outcome is, showing them kindness, showing them love, um, whether that’s up-close or even rooting for them from a distance. We can still root for them and further flourishing.

Jim: Yeah. I think, uh, right at the end here, and I wanna continue this discussion next time. So we’re gonna, uh, staple you guys to your seats (laughs) and we’ll come back and keep the discussion going. But at the end here of day one, just that reemphasize of not looking at your ability but just asking the Lord, “What is it that you would have me do?” And I think, again, when you help children, man, James says it. You want pure religion? Help the orphan and the widow. And foster is filled with the orphan and the widow. And we’re so well-equipped to do it even in our, uh, selfish natures, (laughs) right? And we learned so much in the process. You wanna put a little emphasis on that?

Jillana: Well, I just, I, I love the verse that you quoted, Jim, about the Lord being close to the brokenhearted, and I just think we have the privilege of being close to the brokenhearted. And that has also, um, made me feel closer to the Lord, um, through that privilege of walking in the midst of the mess and the muck. Um, it has really been the most transformative discipleship tool that the Lord has used in my life, um, by being in proximity to those with different stories than me.

Jim: Yeah. Jean, anything you wanna add there?

Jean: Well, yes. If not us, then who? And another scripture in Psalm 82, “Defend the cause of the weak and the fatherless. Maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed.” We are all called to help one another.

Jim: That’s it. I mean, you’ve hit it and, uh, I hope this at least puts a seed in your heart to be able to think about this. “What can I do?” And as Jillana mentioned early in the program, um, respite care, that’s just where you come alongside a current foster family and do some things for them. Maybe take the kids for a couple of hours or weekend if you’re licensed to be able to give them a break. That is so helpful. I think research has shown that if five families wrap around that foster family, uh, they will all be successful in their journey. So, it’s a great thing for the church to organize, too, to, uh, reach out and help in foster care.

John: And, uh, what you’ve heard today is such heart from our guests. Uh, Jillana has written a book. I mentioned it earlier, A Love-Stretched Life: Stories on Wrangling Hope, Embracing the Unexpected, and Discovering the Meaning of Family. Obviously, foster care extends far beyond a child to others in the picture. And we wanna encourage you to, uh, roll up your sleeves, get involved, get a copy of this book for inspiration, and to help you with your paradigm, with your thinking about what this could mean for you, how God might use this journey in your life. Uh, give us a call to learn more about Wait No More, our program to wrap around families and to encourage foster care, or get a copy of this book, A Love-Stretched Life. Uh, our number is 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY, or stop by focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. And we are supported by friends like you who might give a monthly basis or a one-time gift. Uh, make a difference today. Help us with this program, uh, with this outreach by making a contribution today to Focus on the Family. And when you do, we’ll send a copy of Jillana’s book to you, uh, as our way of saying thanks for being a part of the support team. Again, our number, 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY, or details are at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.

Jim: Well, as a reminder, John, we as a ministry are committed to giving families hope during this, uh, holiday season, Christmas season, let me say it directly-

John: (laughs)

Jim: … and well into the New Year through the ongoing efforts to strengthen marriages, equip parents, rescue pre-born babies, one of the efforts here at Focus, and so much more. And some generous friends are inviting you to join them in doing ministry through Focus on the Family, and they do that through a matching gift opportunity. And that means your year-end gift will be doubled, increasing the impact on families literally around the world. So if you can get $50, they match it with another $50. Uh, it’s a fun way to encourage one another to, uh, do ministry together.

John: Mm-hmm. Yeah. So contact us today, um, when you call 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY.

Jim: Jean, Jillana, let’s come back and keep the discussion going. Can we do it?

Jillana: Absolutely.

Jean: I’d love to come back.

John: Well, we’ll look for you to be joining us next time for Focus on the Family. And, uh, on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, I’m John Fuller. Uh, join us next time as we once we again help you and your family thrive in Christ.

Today's Guests

A Love-Stretched Life: Stories on Wrangling Hope, Embracing the Unexpected, and Discovering the Meaning of Family

Receive the book A Love-Stretched Life and a free audio download of “When God Gives You the Family You Never Expected” for your donation of any amount! Right now, you can DOUBLE YOUR DOLLARS to GIVE FAMILIES HOPE through our YEAR-END MATCH provided by generous friends of the ministry.

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