God at Work Through Foster Care
An Interview by Emily Gonzalez
So many wonderful things happen in the church that it’s easy to overlook some life-changing ministries. One powerful ministry people may not know much about is foster parenting. For a glimpse into fostering, what it requires, and how it directly and profoundly impacts many lives, I interviewed Heather Reynolds, who with her husband Matthew laid down their lives for a year and a half of fostering.
Fostering 101: Grit, Love, and Expecting the Unexpected
Emily: What made you decide to foster?
Heather: Honestly, that’s something we talked about before we even started dating. My parents were foster parents, but they waited until my sisters and I had grown up. So when we started dating and got married we thought we would do it, but wait until our kids were grown up, too. It was about 5 months into our marriage when we really started feeling the Lord was trying to tell us something, and it was coming at us from every direction. So we started praying and seeking the Lord in earnest and decided to foster a year and four months into our marriage.
Emily: Were you ready? How old was your first child?
Heather: He was 2 years old. It was a panicky situation because they called us in the evening, Matthew was out for the night, and I had a friend over… We had about 30-40 minutes between the call and “J” arriving!
Emily: So what happened with his story?
Heather: We had him about 5 months. They say in foster care that you never forget your first heartbreak. “J” was our first heartbreak. In fact, the first night they called us about him, they said they were looking for a pre-adoptive home. After 3 months of them telling us that he would be ours, we let our guards down, and he became ours. We made all kinds of plans for him; we gave him nicknames; we talked about what we would change his middle name to, and then, suddenly, his grandma came back into the picture. Eventually, she won custody of him, and they gave us no time to say goodbye. But the funny thing is, I had a dream the night before this happened, that his grandmother had won custody, and they said it would take a long time but ended up moving him that day with no notice. I really feel that was God preparing me. When I told Matthew, he said, “Oh my goodness, that’s exactly what happened.”
And it actually ends up having a happy ending. His grandmother felt sorry for us because we were weeping; she gave me her phone number and we met up at the park later that week. So we got to see him, and he was doing well; he loved his grandmother and they had a good bond. Eight months later, I got to call and wish him a happy birthday. He was happy, so we ended up having God’s peace in our hearts for him: heartbreak for us, but peace for him.
Emily: And that was your heart in it.
Heather: Exactly, that’s what we went in to do.
Emily: How much later before you got a new child?
Heather: It was less than a month. We had a 1 year old and a 2 year old, both girls. And I didn’t sleep for the 3 weeks we had them. We cried about it, prayed about it, and based on Matthew’s leadership and my mom’s advice, we decided that doing what’s best for the child means putting your foot down and that we weren’t the right home for them. As I was taking the kids back, I got a text from their social worker that a new family had been approved for them: a family from their previous church who knew them and loved them. We were their stopping off place, and we gave that family time to get approved.
God with Us: The Heavenly Father and Foster Care
The Reynolds had 2 more placements, a brief one and a longer placement that involved a brother and sister. After 7 months, they returned to their mom, who needed that time to become sober. Matthew and Heather got to talk with the boy about Jesus, who became his best friend. They prayed with the boy every night. He asked them all kinds of questions about God and told his mom what he had learned. He talked to Jesus in the car. “More than any other placement we had,” Heather said, “He was the one where we felt God used us to plant those seeds of knowledge of who he is, both in the child and in the parents. He went from not knowing who God was to loving God so much.” When the children were getting ready to transition, their mom joined Matthew and Heather in church a few times.
Emily: How did you all see yourselves grow through these experiences?
Heather: I struggle to reach out and talk about my faith with people I don’t know. God pushed me out of my comfort zone and grew me in that with these guys and their family. And trusting in Matthew: foster care was hard on our marriage, but it was also really great. I like to take charge, and Matthew and I disagreed about the foster kids many times. Often I was able to say, “I think you’re wrong, but I’m supposed to submit, and I’m just praying that God’s got this.” And then seeing good fruit from that helped me remember, “Oh yeah, God’s got this; I’m not in charge.”
Emily: What kinds of good fruit did you see in those moments?
Heather: Well, I wanted to keep the 1 and 2 year old girls, but Matthew’s decision ended up getting the girls more quickly to their family. With our last 2, I wanted to give up because “S,” at less than 18 months old, would throw herself down, scratch her face, bite herself, and hold her breath until she’d turn blue. And the boy would have temper tantrums and hurt us; he’d throw things at me in the car while I was driving, saying he wished I would crash and die. I told Matthew, “I can’t do this.” Matthew sought counsel, prayed about it, and said, “I think we need to keep going. We made a commitment to love these kids in Jesus’ name and we can’t go back on that.”
Emily: Is there anything else you want to say?
Heather: When people tell me they want to get into foster care, my first advice is to pray about it. Foster care demands everything you’ve got; if God’s not calling you to it specifically, it can be ruinous, and I’ve seen families ruined by it because there’s a lot of brokenness. But if you feel called to it, you will see God in amazing new ways.
Emily: One last question: How did you see the church step in and help out?
Heather: So many ways! They brought us meals when we would get a new placement and I was working full time and trying to adjust to motherhood. They would babysit; they loved our kids, and our kids have been damaged. They come in and they’re not sweet, innocent little babies, but I’ve never had anyone look down on them or down on us for bringing them around their own children: I saw only love and grace. That’s the church in foster care.
For more information on foster care in Knoxville, you can visit http://www.tn.gov/dcs/topic/foster-care