Jenny’s Story: Part One
By Maria Hammann & Amy Tartick
The call Jenny had been waiting for finally came, and she quickly realized she had little time to prepare for an infant. The 23-year-old first-time single foster mom recalls, “This baby was going to be in my care soon, and I had to go shopping; he was coming with nothing, and I had nothing. I needed diapers and clothes, formula, and bottles; I needed everything! On the way home, I went into a panic. I knew I would meet him soon, and I thought, ‘I can’t do this, I can’t be a mom, I can’t have a three month old on my own.’” The idea of raising a child without knowing if she would have a solid support system around her was terrifying. Two minutes from her house, Jenny pulled over, stopped, and prayed.
The concerns of her parents and family ran through her head, “you are so young and fresh out of college—you have too much debt to do this now—you have no experience, no husband for support—how do you know this is what God wants for you?”
Although Jenny knew she didn’t need a husband or her parents close by, she desperately pressed God for assurance as that question pierced her heart deeply. Instead, there were more questions. “Where’s your faith? Who did I make you to be?” God was asking Jenny to trust Him, to be obedient to the call He was placing on her life. The journey she had experienced over the past several months rushed through her mind like water over Niagara Falls. Her heart raced—she drew in air slowly to the full capacity of her lungs before exhaling. With steeled determination, a slight tremble seeped into her hand as Jenny put the car in gear and drove home to prepare for the new arrival.
Several months later, Jenny, with an infant in tow, sat across the table from me (Maria) in a small local coffee shop. We had picked up steaming cups of fresh coffee and sweet, flaky pastries at the counter. Jenny’s foster son, Baby A, was content and smiling in his seat on the booth in between us. The room was loud, filled with many others having conversations.
I remembered talking with Jenny at The Chapel’s student ministry small group leaders’ retreat the previous year. Jenny’s voice glowed with excitement as she shared her dream of becoming a certified foster parent. Although she was struggling to feel support by those around her, she couldn’t wait for the day when she would be able to provide a safe home for a child. In my head, I questioned why she would want to take on a responsibility like this seemingly alone. Regardless, Jenny’s dream had become a reality and I wanted to hear her story.
Jenny smiled at her foster son and then at me as she began her story. “After my internship with the Every Child ministry, I moved back home to Pennsylvania, where my life was. But God changed that plan, and I ended up looking for somewhere else to live. It was between Georgia, where my sister lives, and Buffalo.”
I laughed when she told me that she was confused as to why Buffalo was even an option. Although Jenny had enjoyed an internship, she hated living here the first time, so why would she ever consider coming back in a more permanent way? As she prayed and sought God’s direction, it became clear that Buffalo would become her new home. She reached out to one person from The Chapel about finding a job, and within four weeks from that moment, with little excitement for the place she would soon call home, she was moving. It’s not that Jenny hated the weather, which is the typical reason people stay away from Buffalo, rather, she was coming back to a place where she had made very few connections. She was worried that this second time would be the same. “I continued to pray and I gave God a time limit. I said, ‘I give you a year. If I don’t have friends or like it, I’m leaving.’ It has been a year and a half now, I have a foster child, a job, and I am loving it! I have the best friends I have ever had in my life, I love my small group, and I love everything about my life right now . . . Buffalo, New York of all places.”
I asked her if she ever had a defining moment when she felt a specific call to foster care. She responded earnestly, “I have always known my entire life that I wanted to adopt. That was always where my mind was. I did an internship with Every Child for a bit, and that’s where I learned about foster care. I didn’t know anything about foster care, I only knew about adoption. Throughout the internship, my heart continued to break. It was so softened towards the kids. These are little people who have no choice but to be taken from their home and family. I grew up in a wonderful family with support, comfort, and love, and it broke my heart that these kids didn’t do anything to deserve to be put into this situation . . . My heart was so taken in that I wanted to be the love, support, and family these kids deserved, however many, however old. That’s when I went from adoption straight to foster care. I knew that this was what I was going to do.” She had unequivocally said “yes” to God and His call on her life.
Jenny began to tell me about the little boy she was caring for who was sitting contentedly next to us. She described the night he was dropped off at her house. It was clear that this story was about more than just Jenny and the baby boy she was caring for; it’s a story of the greatness of God.
Through many anxious moments that evening, Jenny reaffirmed her ‘yes’ walking into her house that night to get ready to meet a sweet baby boy. She was still praying and God’s question remained as her answer, “Do you trust me?”
Jenny continued, “That’s the answer I got . . . until Baby A went to bed that night. He was sleeping in his crib and I was sitting on my couch, and it was then that I had overwhelming peace.” Finally, Jenny knew beyond any doubt that she was being and doing exactly what God had planned for her life.
We had lost track of time at our table. A few crumbs on the plate was all that was left of our pastries and our coffee was only lukewarm. It didn’t matter. I asked Jenny to tell me more about that night. A remarkable love and joy flowed with her words about this baby boy. “I gave him a bath and he smiled and had a blast. We laid on my bed for a bit, looking at each other, and he was cooing and smiling. This baby had no idea who I was and he was the happiest baby I have ever seen in my entire life. I was not expecting the first night to be like that. He fell asleep when I laid him down. He didn’t flinch. He was sound asleep in a brand new home, in a brand new crib, with new smells and new sounds. I just sat there and cried.”
It was obvious to Jenny that God had orchestrated every single detail. “This was a moment when I knew God was right there,” she stated, pointing next to her. “He is sitting on this couch, He is in the baby’s bedroom, and my thought was ‘we’ve got this,’ and that was it. The amount that I see God in the entire situation, including getting me prepared and meeting the people who got me into the agency is mind blowing.”
I pressed into that comment wanting to learn how God introduced her to the exact people He wanted her to meet, in order to begin this season of life that she joyfully calls an adventure. “It was summertime. Finding Dory had just come out and I went to the drive-in with friends to see it. We got there late and it was full. One of the workers had a spot for us—front row and center. That doesn’t happen.” I laugh as she describes the scene of attempting to back into this spot, with everyone watching and several people getting out of their cars to help her. One of the people who arrived to rescue her from the embarrassing situation had a Liberty University sticker on his car, and Jenny asked if he went there. The man said his name was Darrick and that he and his wife both graduated from Liberty, as did Jenny. “We noticed that they had kids, so we brought them Finding Dory snacks to say ‘thank you’.”
Jenny continued talking with Darrick and his wife, Jodi, and it came up that two of the kids were their foster children. That captured Jenny’s interest. Later that week, after hearing of Jenny’s desire to become a foster parent, the Castronovas invited her to a party at their house for the son they had adopted. Through laughter, she tells me, “I thought, ‘Oh, okay, I just met you at the drive-in, but sure I’ll go!’ That night Darrick told me that Child and Family Services were starting a new class the following week. He offered to ask if they had any openings. Two days later he told me, ‘If you want, they are starting next Tuesday, and you are in. I’ll send you the information.’”
Jenny remembers, “I didn’t even know what I was saying ‘yes’ to, but a week later I started the classes. I prayed through the whole thing. Darrick and Jodi are my foster care support. It’s cool to see how God brought them to me and put us into such a random situation in order to meet.”
I looked over at the comfortable baby, then at Jenny and asked what the hardest part has been so far. Up until this point, her story sounds like the perfect dream. “That first court date was the reality of what foster care is, and that was the hard part. Baby A is the best baby. I have friends who have surrounded me, moms helping me with mom things, and he has the biggest family because of all of the people who have come to support us. God has allowed all that to be super easy for me, for which I am grateful. The hardest part is the emotional aspect. I love him so much and would do anything in the world for him. When I think about getting the notice that he is leaving, I know I’ll be heartbroken.”
I watched Jenny as she tenderly cared for Baby A who sat happily in his seat. I asked her if she felt prepared to be a foster parent. She replied plainly, “I felt ill-equipped in every way. How do you be a mom?”
In spite of her reservations, saying ‘yes’ to God, had not only changed the direction of Jenny’s life, but also changed her relationship with her Savior. She explained, “I trust that this is where God wants me, no matter how many people are saying, ‘This isn’t what you want at age twenty-three, this isn’t what you want when you’re single, this isn’t what you want when you’re thousands of dollars in debt from college.’ This is what God wants, so really it’s what I want. I pray that I will desire what God wants for my life.”
People around us chatted and dishes clanked loudly at nearby tables being cleared. I leaned back and was quiet for a moment letting what Jenny said really sink in. Jenny’s bold obedience and transparency throughout this process has the ability to inspire others to follow hard after the things God calls us to do. I gained new perspective on what it means to trust the Lord when I considered her steps of faith. Her witness reminded me that shying away from walking in obedience could rob me of the great things God has planned. Jenny was very clear that she still faces many challenges as a single foster mom and the road ahead isn’t trouble-free.
When I asked, “What would you say is your biggest hope in all of this?” Jenny thoughtfully responded, “I hope God uses the courage He has given me to give other people courage, peace, and hope that they can do something. In my situation, He is helping me to succeed. I made a huge decision; I am raising a child, I didn’t just go get a fish. And God is faithful.”
Before we parted, I asked Jenny what she would say to someone who felt God was calling him or her to step out in obedience to something big. “I’d say exactly what my brother told me: stop, and pray. Stop what you’re doing, stop asking everyone, get alone with God and pray about it. Tell Him your fears, and tell Him you are struggling. He is going to lead you to what He wants. Trust God has a plan that’s so much more than your own.”
[Epilogue]: There is an amazing beauty and joy in obeying God’s will for your life, even when that obedience brings heartache. Something that helps me understand the lyrics that have often become my prayer, “Show me how to love . . . break my heart for what breaks Yours, everything I am for your kingdom’s cause…” With Jesus at her side, Jenny walked through that heartbreaking moment when Baby A’s grandmother was recently awarded custody of him. I remembered the hope that Jenny shared with me for Baby A: “. . . I want him to find God and his heart to desire God. . . . I want him to be surrounded by people who love Jesus.” In the wake of Baby A’s departure, Jenny continues to pursue what God wants for her life through the foster care program by caring for other children being placed in her home.
For a bit of Jenny’s heart relating to Mother’s Day, click here
There is a significant need for foster parents and foster support in our local area. Foster care is indeed a challenging ministry for foster parents and can create an emotional roller coaster that’s not for the faint of heart. Children in desperate need seem to arrive suddenly into their care, attachments to one another are formed, and just as suddenly, the children could be returned to parents or other family members willing to care for them. Proper training, experience, and community support help foster parents and families navigate through these seasons while providing quality care and God’s love to some of the most vulnerable and forgotten members of our society. To learn more about how to become or assist a foster parent, please visit every-child.com.