You want to make God laugh? Tell him your plans. Tell him your small, small plans. No doubt God chuckled when I told him about our plans for adoption. What we thought was “just an adoption” was a doorway into worlds and relationships we didn’t know we needed. We had no idea Mila’s adoption would light a fuse, blowing up all our plans. Now, don’t get me wrong, I would blow up those plans and choose her a million times over. But that detonation was painful, painful, and necessary. The ground needed to be cleared for the work God was starting.
Small, Small Plans
Her adoption introduced us to the world of special needs parenting and Joni and Friends. It led us to help plant Action Community Church in 2012. That was definitely not included in my small plans! Neither was starting seminary at 38 years old. Our life after foster care and adoption was more different than I could have ever imagined. I’m so thankful I didn’t see the whole picture in the beginning; I probably would have run the other way. But God, in His infinite wisdom, shows us just enough to keep us going. For that, I am eternally thankful. So, thankful I didn’t miss what was coming next.
Life After Foster Care
Life after foster care is often a struggle for many families, including mine. There is a lack of resources for both parents and kids. So, early in the life of our church, we created a support group. We didn’t know exactly what we were doing. We just knew it was needed. Our church had less than 100 people back then (half were under the age of 12!), so we started small. Seven years later, our support group is the largest in our county, a county with over 1 million people. We’ve also developed partnerships with other organizations. Our relationship with City without Orphans (CWO) has been one of the most fruitful.
When COVID canceled our meetings last Spring, CWO connected us with Renaissance Scholars, so we could serve in new ways. This program at Fresno State University supports former foster youth through college. Our church was able to supply food and necessities to these students, and this connection has changed my family forever.
Room for Rent
We’d long ceased to be a certified foster family, so when the call came, we were surprised. It was our pastor relaying the request from our network of connections. The dorms were closing, and Renaissance Scholars had a young man needing a place to stay for the summer. Even though our bedrooms were maxed, we had an RV sitting empty in our backyard. To be honest, it felt risky to have a stranger, an adult, come live with us. We really knew nothing about him. I’m sure it felt risky to him too. Life after foster care is risky, but so is love.
At our first meeting, I was taken by Miguel’s shyness, eyes that disappeared when he smiled, and his deep dimples. We showed him around, and he let us know his budget for rent. We said we’d be happy to take half that. His brand-new job at a local restaurant was on hold because of COVID. We knew he needed to save as much as possible to get into an apartment by the fall. We invited him to join family activities and meals as much or as little as he wanted. He accepted and moved in a couple of weeks later.
We soon learned just how risky this move was for him. How any kid enters foster care is hard, but his life after foster care wasn’t much better. Miguel had been separated from his siblings when he was adopted—yes, adopted. He hadn’t aged out of the foster care system as so many other young people do. Unfortunately, his adoptive parents were emotionally and verbally abusive. He didn’t get a happily ever after. He’d now lost two families. “Family” must have felt like a four-letter word.
It wasn’t long before Miguel slipped into our normal family routines. He became big brother, sous chef, assistant gardener, fence builder, peacemaker, and Clue champion. He got to see healthy parenting and lots of conflict-resolution. We watched movies and took walks. He and I bonded making dinner and dessert, a rarity in his life before. He and my husband bonded while doing odd jobs at church and searching for his apartment. It did my heart good to walk into the living room and see him lounging on the couch. Just like my other boys. A sure sign that he felt at home with us. He was our bonus kid for the summer, even joining us on vacation. As the summer came to a close, though, grief and excitement were popping up all over our house. The tears and tempers that hinted at the impending separation were rooted in our attachment.
Despite wanting him to stay, we knew that getting into an apartment was his goal. This was about him, not us. He never wanted to worry about dorm food or summer housing again, and who could blame him? So, we busied ourselves, helping him plan for his new place. We sat down to create an Amazon wish list together, helping him think through all the things he would need. We shared the list with our adoption support group, and soon, packages started arriving on our doorstep. As I assembled a recipe book for him, I grieved that two other women should have been doing this with him. I was humbled that, somehow, I got a front-row seat for this moment. I’m forever grateful I got to be part of his launch to independence. Sigh. God’s big, big plans.
Miguel’s last dinner with us was memorable. We made his favorite meal, and all sat around the table on the verge of tears. After dinner, we gave him a card congratulating him on his new place. Inside we tucked 2/3 of the rent he had paid us. That’s when the tears started flowing from all of us. The following day our church matched the amount. He was blown away, grateful for everyone’s generosity. We told him how happy we are to be a part of his story and that he is now part of ours. We made plans to get together as often as possible.
That night I began thinking. What it would be like if churches began partnerships with their local colleges. What if former foster youth never had to worry about where they were going to live for the summer? How many families have an empty spare room while young adults like Miguel are couch surfing? How many of these kids never get their degrees because they lack a support system? Too many, I’m sure. That’s what most former foster youth need in their life after foster care. They need a stable launchpad with people willing to come alongside them and be a safety net. They need people empowering them to make the big leap to adulthood. Our experience proved this is a problem the church can solve. Is it risky? Yes, but so is love.