Why I Decided to Foster a College Student
For one couple, becoming foster parents happened in a really unexpected way.
About a year ago, I had what I call a “mommy meltdown.” We had just begun the process of foster care training. We had also just begun marriage counseling, where we learned we weren’t expressing our needs to each other well enough. (Thus why Stuart’s innocent request to go fishing totally set me off.) Not to mention the reality of parenting two young, energizer-bunny little boys.
Stuart could have had any number of reactions to the hurtful words that made up my meltdown. But he kept his cool, knowing there was a lot more going on underneath what I said. I was simply so overwhelmed I needed a break. Or else I would break. He called his parents, who took the boys for the weekend, and we spent some time talking through our life.
Timing is everything
We realized one major detail that weekend. Although we both have a heart for foster care and adoption, it was probably not the right time to add it into our already full lives.
And even though I agreed with that decision, I was saddened by it. God had given me such a strong heart for adoption and foster care. I had wanted to adopt since I was a little girl, and several people in my life were fostering. Their journeys inspired me. I wanted to join forces to love on children who weren’t receiving love. Why would God give me this desire if He didn’t want to fulfill it?
A new opportunity
About a month later, Stuart sat down next to me on the couch. “I want you to consider something. Don’t respond right away, think and pray about it and then we can discuss it,” he said. I agreed. Then he asked me if I’d consider letting a local university student move in with us for the summer.
Stuart had been discipling Ja’Vonte, (“Tae” for short) since his freshman year of college. They had recently gone to North Carolina together to cheer on a friend and teammate of Tae’s from the track team who Stuart also discipled. On that trip, Stuart learned more about Tae’s home life.
He hadn’t had an easy life. The electricity at home wasn’t even always on. He hardly ever saw his dad. People around him drank excessively and used drugs. Tae wanted something more in life. He wanted to get out of that environment. But he didn’t have many options.
Stuart wanted to give Tae a better chance at life. He wanted to invite him into our home and family.
It was a pretty easy decision for me. Tae had been in and out of our home for years, coming to church with our family and back to our house for lunch afterwards. Our boys already loved him. I knew they’d enjoy having him around more. Stuart even set up a summer job for Tae with one of our neighbors, who he could also ride to work with every day.
He soon became part of the family. Our sons would shout his name and run to him in greeting every night when he walked in our door. It was just like they did with Stuart and me. They loved playing with him and telling him all about their day. His presence in our lives and home quickly became one of joy, belonging, and blessing.
A new perspective on foster care
It took me a while to fully realize what God had done though. I had a conversation with one of my cousins who is a seasoned foster mom and is currently fostering two young children. I told her how much I looked up to her and what she was doing.
She inspired me so much, I shared with her, because clearly I couldn’t hack it with foster care. Her response stopped me in my tracks.
With tears in her eyes, she said, “Jenn, I pray for someone like you in my foster children’s futures. The kids that come through my home probably won’t remember me. They’re too young. But no matter how long Tae stays with you, he will remember you for the rest of his life. I pray earnestly that someone loves the kids I’ve fostered enough to pour into their futures the way you’re pouring into Tae. You’re fostering him. It may not look like how I’m fostering my kids, but you’re in foster care nonetheless.”
I couldn’t believe what God had done. He pulled a fast one on me. He gave me a heart for foster care and fulfilled it without me even realizing it. I was looking at foster care through the traditional lens. Become trained, receive a baby, take them to visitation and court hearings. Through a broken heart, return baby to his/her birth parents, or hope baby will become adoptable.
But God wasn’t calling me to that type of foster care in my current season of life. He knew it would be too much for me. Too much for my family.
So He turned the tables on me. He said, nope, I want you to “foster” a 20-year-old boy who needs a safe home. You’ll love him like a son, but instead of the possibility of reunification, you’ll be praying he makes smart choices. Praying he matures into a godly man. Praying he loves himself and believes in himself enough to work hard for a future many of his friends and family will never see.
Parenting adult children is difficult. Especially when they’re not even technically yours. We’ve had some growing pains, tough conversations, and tears. But I love this young man so much. I’m so thankful God knew what was best for me and allowed me to become overwhelmed so I didn’t go through with foster care training.
National Foster Care Day
Today is National Foster Care Day, and the month of May is National Foster Care month. It’s a time to recognize and honor foster parents, workers, volunteers, and child welfare professionals. It’s also a great opportunity to think through how you can play a role in foster care.
There are more than 440,000 children in foster care, and they all need love. While not everyone is called to foster children in their homes, that doesn’t mean that you can’t play a role in making a difference in the lives of children in need.
Do you know a foster family? Take them a meal, a cup of coffee, or offer to babysit their children so Mom and Dad can have a date night.
Or take an out-of-the-box perspective on foster care. Do you know any college students who attend your church, or go to your local YMCA? Do they live far from their families? Invite some of them over for dinner or lunch after church. College students do not turn down home-cooked meals! You’d be surprised by how much this will bless your family, not just the college students.
Safe Families for Children
There are also other options in addition to traditional foster care. A couple from my church became licensed as a “Safe Family for Children.” Different from foster care, Safe Families offers an extended family-like feel for families who are in temporary crisis. Whether it’s unemployment, incarceration, or hospitalization of a parent, some families are socially isolated and extended family is nonexistent. They need help, but just for a short time. Safe Families provides a safe and loving home for children while their parents deal with whatever situation is keeping them from being able to provide for their children themselves.
One child at a time changes the world
And the list goes on. With an attitude of generosity and hospitality, you can change the world. One child, one college student, one neighbor at a time. Ask God to open your eyes to opportunities to help foster families, children in foster care, or simply people in your community who need love and maybe a hot meal.
You’ll be surprised what you see when the blinders come off. Need is everywhere. You just have to be willing to let God use you. It may not be in the way you expect, but God will surprise you with the many ways you can love those around you. I know He surprised me. And now my life, my family’s life, and the life of one college student will never be the same.
Copyright © 2019 Jenn Grandlienard. All rights reserved.
Jenn Grandlienard grew up an East Coast Philly girl, but now loves calling the Midwest her home. She lives in Xenia, Ohio with her husband, Stuart, two sons, Knox and Zeke, and pup, Stella. Jenn and her husband work with Athletes in Action, a ministry of Cru that teaches college athletes what it means to have a relationship with Jesus. She loves to read, work out, laugh really hard with friends, and spend time with her husband and boys. You can check out her blog about all these things and more at OurGrandLife.com. Find her on Instagram at @mrsjenngrand and on Facebook.