Bringing Home Strays (Informal Foster Care)

“You and Les should do foster care,” said the guy sitting next to me at my brother’s wedding. He was the head of a children’s home, so he had a vested interest. Les happened to hear the comment and knew it would break my heart if I ever had to let a foster child go. So his reply was, “I’d have to have a personal message from God before I would ever let Carol do foster care.”

There was no personal message from God.

And yet over the years, Les and I have had 10 kids live in our home for periods of time, as well as two young adults and a single mom. Some were with us for only a few weeks, some a few months, the mom and her kids for almost a year, Joy forever. Not one came through a placement agency, government or private.

Les always says, “Some people bring home stray animals; Carol brings home stray people.” But I’m not the only one bringing them home; he’s brought his share. They’ve come as we’ve kept our eyes and ears and hearts open to how people are hurting. They’ve come as we’ve recognized a need we could fill. The family came through a thought God pressed on Les’s heart (so I guess there was a message from God).

Did my heart ever get broken? Multiple times. Eighteen-year-old Lori “left” before she even came, calling me before boarding a bus to head back to the mentally ill mother who had kicked her out at age 13, the mother who would attempt suicide two days after Lori arrived home. As she explained her rationale and the eagerness to be loved by her mother invaded her voice, I sat on the floor of our bedroom, hugging myself and sobbing. I was pretty sure this would end badly for Lori. I believed I would never heal.

When 14-year-old Debby and her 13-year-old sister Joy came into our home, we had known them for several years through our church and got along well. We were going to adopt them. The four of us were going to be a family. Some complications required us to get permanent custody first. The day the permanent custody papers came for us to sign—20 months after they moved in with us—Debby walked out, never to return to us. I was at work. Les called to say she had left in a fight over a candy bar (Joy can still tell you what kind it was). I thought they were joking. We all grieved. We all believed we would never heal.

Two years ago, our adopted granddaughter Ashlee came to live with us. She wasn’t adjusting well at home and had become a threat to her brother and Joy. She seemed to do well for the seven months she was here. She wanted to go home. Three weeks back she imploded and things got so bad the adoption was terminated. Again we grieve. It feels like our hearts will never heal.

They do heal, but there are always scars, tender spots that, when poked by a memory, produce pain. And yet . . .

Our lives have been enriched by the presence of each person. There’s the chunk of coal still in our front yard (moved 4 times) from Lauren. There’s the “Bedtime for Bonzolinas” song I made up for Max and Katie that still runs through my head. There’s the word “crookalized” that’s still in our vocabulary thanks to Joy (and her presence in our lives and hearts always). There’s memories of the Chinese tea ceremony at Leslie’s wedding. There are the funny stories of Hannah and Gloria whose Korean father thought it was fine to have his 12- and 13-year-old girls drive on I-95 on the way to Washington, DC. There’s the “Welcome Home, Mor More” sign from Ashlee hanging on my bulletin board. There’s a friendship with Cyndi that’s lasted 30 years, in which she still calls us Mom and Dad.

Yes, I’d do it again. (Why do people ask that? Do they ask that of people who had difficult times with their birth children?) Yes, I’d do things a bit differently. Yes, I’d ask God to help me be more patient with all of them. Yes, I’d try harder to get Lori to stay, to convince Debby to come back, to keep Ashlee here in Pennsylvania (although I don’t believe any of them would have).

Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Do something every day that scares you.” We didn’t set out to do that, but when you open your heart and your home, it’s scary. Things can break. It’s worth the risk to love as God loves (however imperfectly we manage it).

Open your eyes. There may be someone who needs the warmth of your love and, possibly, your home. Step out and take the risk—even if you don’t receive a personal message from God.

8 thoughts on “Bringing Home Strays (Informal Foster Care)”

  1. Wow, great hearing some of your story. How kind of you to share love like that.

    And you ask a very valid question when you say, “Why do people ask that? Do they ask that of people who had difficult times with their birth children?”

    Thanks for showing me how that sounds to others.

  2. Thank you for this article. I cannot tell you how it blessed me today. We took in a foster child, our one and only, when she was 11…she started rebelling one week after she arrived. At 15 we all thought it would help to adopt and it got worse. By 16 tenancies toward mental illness began to come to the forefront. She made threats, went to many treatment centers and at age 18, as soon as she was free went back to her birth family that had horribly abused her before 4 years old. I never thought I would heal and part of me never did. I still have a relationship with her at a distance as she brings a toxicity to all her relationships, but I would never change what I learned about God during that time. Thanks again for posting this.

    • It is painful, Meg. Last we heard is that our granddaughter—things got worse after the adoption as well—is back with her birth family too (she’s only 12, and I am so angry at the state for allowing it). This week I’ve found myself compelled to pray this line from The Lord’s Prayer for her: “Deliver [her] from evil.” So thankful that God can still reach in and touch where I can do nothing. I’ll be praying for the same for your daughter.

      • Meg I dont know you but I would like to tell you I lived with Carol & Les but I rebelled & went to find my birth family when I was 18 I still spoke with Les & Carol but we didn’t have a good relationship. When it was time to leave from seeing them I picked fights with Carol before I left. I dont understand why I did I just always did. When I grew older & got the Lord really into my life & started being a foster parent I changed & my Mom (Carol) have a wonderful relationship & I don’t pick fights. I believe it has been @ 4 yrs mayb longer since I have. Keep praying for your daughter she will come around when she gets on the right track. I pray for my daughter Ashlee everyday. I’m hurt she is back with her birth family & not with me but I know the good Lord is watching over her & she knows were I am & I will always be here. Praying for you & your daughter.

  3. Mom I do still remember the candy bar & will not eat it still today because of that day. It was a Whatchamacallit candy bar. I remember that day like it was yesterday. I thank you and Dad for giving me a wonderful home & loving me like I was always yours. I wish ever child had the chance to experience the love of a mother & father. I remember the day Ashlee was coming back home & I was so scared. I knew you & Daddy cared for her like you did for me & all the others. I cried with Daddy in the parking lot unsure of all the feelings I had inside me. I was so scared. I didn’t want to fail her or either one of u. I miss Ashlee everyday!! I still write a journal for her & by her gifts I know she likes. I pray to the good Lord that maybe one day we will see her again & hold her & tell her we will always love her. I know that she wanted to be with her birth family & did what she could to get back with them. I know the Lord is watching over her. She will always be my baby girl!! Thank u & Daddy for everything u have done for me & Ashlee & Hunter. Youre the best parents on this earth. I know it took me awhile to realize this & to except what has happened to me. I thank God everyday for teaching me & the relationship we have now. I love you Mom.

    • I love you, too, sweetheart. You were a gift from God to us. So is our wonderful grandson Hunter. We are very thankful for God’s gift of adoption (after all, he invented it and adopted us into his family first).

  4. Carol, you said:
    They do heal, but there are always scars, tender spots that, when poked by a memory, produce pain. And yet . . .

    that’s when a friend-such as you-lovingly lets us know that we did the best we could at the time. And, more importantly, lets us know that opening one’s heart, hearth and home brings joy unbounded. The price outweighs the gift you receive and give. No matter how your gift seems to have been received at the time, it will give through life and into eternity.
    I love you.

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