Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Foster Parenting and the Love of Our Father

Leslie Basham: Each day Revive Our Hearts is on the air is another opportunity to be more like Jesus. That’s what one listener wrote to tell us.

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Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: God sure uses this program for my sanctification, too.

Leslie: Me, too.

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Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Lies Women Believe, for May 9, 2018.

Yesterday, we heard part one of a conversation between Nancy and Christie Erwin. Christie and her husband have opened their home to many foster children over the years, and she’s showing us how we can invest in the next generation.

Nancy: We’re talking with my friend Christie Erwin this week about a subject we probably should have addressed a long time ago on Revive Our Hearts. It’s one that’s very close to God’s heart. He’s a father. He loves children, and He cares for the fatherless and the orphans and the poor and the needy.

Christie is sharing with us out of her life journey about caring for children through foster care and adoption.

Christie, welcome to Revive Our Hearts, and I’m so eager for our listeners to hear more of your story.

Christie Erwin: Thank you so much, Nancy. It’s such a blessing to be here and get to share. It really is.

Nancy: You’ve shared in something you’ve written about your journey. It was actually written a number of years ago, so it’s not updated. There’s a lot more to the story. But you called the book, The Middle Mom. What does that mean?

Christie: Well, foster care takes on just a really strange point of view from the mothering standpoint because you’re not the beginning—you’re not the birth mother. You didn’t give birth to this child. You didn’t carry the child for nine months. And if you’re doing foster care for, say an organization that does adoptions, you’re not going to be the adoptive family.

So that puts you right in the middle, and sometimes that’s difficult because you don’t get to see the front end of it, and you don’t get to see the end of it. It’s kind of like planting a seed and then leaving and not getting to see that seed blossom. So I just called it “The Middle Mom,” because that’s really where I felt I would always be. It didn’t quite turn out that way, but that’s the way I perceived that God was going to have us be—just right in the middle of fostering kids before they went to their forever families.

Nancy: Give us a sense, as you think about the United States, you’ve been involved in this in Arkansas. You have been very active in fostering and adoption and activists and encouraging others to do that.

Christie: Yes.

Nancy: As you think about the United States, what kind of need are we talking about for foster care?

Christie: Well, I think one of the things that’s become very clear over the years is that we hear a lot about orphans overseas, and we need to. Every child needs a family—no matter where they are. But oftentimes we miss the boat with that because we don’t necessarily consider kids in foster care orphans—and they aren’t. Kids that are in foster care, that are going home, have parents.

But kids who are in foster care whose parental rights have been terminated are, honestly and legally, an orphan. There are no parents legally anymore. And so in the United States, there are over 400,000 kids in foster care. Of those 400+ thousand, around 100,000 of them have had parental rights terminated, and they are waiting today for a family to step up and be their forever family. So it’s a huge issue.

Nancy: The book of James tells us that this is something that matters greatly to God and should matter to each of us.

Christie: Yes.

Nancy: James describes what pure, true religion’s about—and what does it include?

Christie: Pure and undefiled religion is to care for widows and orphans in their distress. And that is a powerful command. And one of the things that I think is important to know about it is we don’t have to be guilt ridden by the fact that we haven’t done that. But once we see that, and we know that, we need to say, “What is my part?”

Your part may not be fostering. It may not be adopting. But there are a myriad of things that you can do to come along and support.

I know in my local church, we have a huge orphan ministry that surrounds fostering and adoptive families with meals, with babysitting, transportation and nights out. Things like that. That’s doing something else for the orphan. You may not be actively hands on, but you are helping move mountains in regard to those kiddos that need you.

Nancy: My hope for the results of this series as it airs on Revive Our Hearts is that there will be a huge spike in listeners caring about and saying, “How can I be engaged in some way in caring for these precious little ones in their time of need?”

Christie: Yes.

Nancy: Jesus saw these children that others were saying, “Get them away.”

And Jesus said, “No. Welcome them.” He put them on His knee. He put His hand on them. He blessed them. Well, what does that look like?

Of course, many of our listeners have their own children and caring for them is really, really important.

Christie: That’s right. Yes.

Nancy: But there are other children who don’t have someone to bless them in Jesus’ name.

Christie: That’s right.

Nancy: My prayer is that there’s going to be a whole new—maybe tens of thousands of children, I don’t know how many that might receive care they would not otherwise have had from Jesus’ followers who know and love the gospel and will give these children an opportunity to experience that.

Christie: Oh, yes. I would just challenge your listeners, the women in your audience, to not be held back by what you think you can’t do but to listen to what the Holy Spirit is asking you to do. Don’t fall back on, “Well, I’m not the perfect parent,” or “I don’t have enough money,” or “I don’t have enough time,” or “I don’t have enough energy.”

Nancy: Or, “I’ve got my hands full already.”

Christie: “I’ve got my hands full already.” That, in my own life was what didn’t make sense to a watching world. “She’s got her hands full already with three preschoolers. Why in the world would she take on ‘someone else’s’ baby?”

Well, the “Why in the world,” had one answer, and that’s because God said to. And when God says to, He equips you to stay up nights, to feel like you’re perpetually pregnant because you’re having newborns coming in and out of your home all the time. And yet, the sweetness of the obedience is just above and beyond anything. I just can’t imagine, even in the times that were difficult, saying, “No. I’m not doing this,” because it just wasn’t going to happen.

Nancy: Well, we talked yesterday about when God brought this first newborn child into your home.

Christie: Yes.

Nancy: In those days it was usually a ten-day or two-week period between the birth mother giving up the child and the child being placed into an adoptive family.

Christie: Yes.

Nancy: Hence, the “middle mom” that we’re talking about.

Christie: Right.

Nancy: When you brought in that first child, you named him Christopher for those ten days. Did you have any clue—we’re going back to the early 90s here—what all was going to unfold and what this was going to look like for your family?

Christie: (Laughing) No. I had no idea. As a matter of fact, I was just taking it a step at a time, a day at a time. I probably thought that that’s what I would be doing for a long time, but I thought it would look just like that. Little did I know that that wasn’t what it was going to look like at all.

Nancy: And maybe if you had known, you would have run.

Christie: (Laughing) Right.

Nancy: I read somewhere you wrote that you made a decision—I don’t know if it was at the beginning or early on—that you would never say no to taking in a foster child when asked, when the need was there, unless you had a sick child.

Christie: Yes. That’s right.

Nancy: Did you come to that early?

Christie: I did. I came to that very early because I realized that God’s will for my life regarding these babies came at the most inconvenient time for me, and yet His hand was all over it.

I remember one time I was doing something at my kids’ school, and I was hosting this thing for teachers. I was up to my hands in making chocolate pies and getting ready to go out the door, and I get this phone call about this baby. In my heart, it just said, “Remember, you said you weren’t going to say no unless you had a sick child? And you don’t have a sick child, so the answer is yes.”

I just began to do it like that, and God just showed out in huge ways that we were the ones who were supposed to be with the children that we were with. Probably about a year ago, I got a Facebook message from the very first baby girl we ever had, and she just reached out to me.

Nancy: Like, how many years later?

Christie: She’s twenty-three.

Nancy: And she was a baby when you had her?

Christie: She was fresh out of the hospital.

Nancy: Wow.

Christie: She left us at ten days and went to a family. Her Mama had reached out to me earlier and wanted to volunteer for some of the things that we were doing for Project Zero. Then she reached out to me, and she started coming to church with us and sitting with us. It was just so profound to think: There we are, twenty-three years later, a little baby that I got to nurture in the first ten days of her life, and she would just hug me and thank me. And I thought, That was only ten days. You’ve had a lifetime.

She has an amazing family, and she’s an amazing young woman.

So God strategically placed those little ones all those years in our lives and gave us the opportunity to not only do that, but to pray for their birth mothers. And that was something that became very important to me.

Especially one time. I had gone to a placement service, and as I walked in—Jeff hadn’t gone with me that day—and the pregnancy counselor said, “The birth mom sent a box, and here it is.”

Nancy: So you’re picking up this newborn?

Christie: Yes. I’ve got the baby, and the birth mom sent a box. I opened this box, and I just began weeping because in the box she had a beautifully done quilt. She had an outfit for this baby to wear when he was placed for adoption. And she had a sterling silver sippy cup that was engraved with “My precious angel” on it.

Nancy: She knew she would not see this child again.

Christie: She knew. She actually had an older child, a toddler, and she was struggling. She knew what she was losing. She understood what she was giving up. And yet, for his sake, and to give him a better life, she knew what she needed to do. And that just was not lost on me.

Nancy: She wanted him to know that he had been really loved.

Christie: She wanted him to know that this was a decision made from deep, unconditional love for her son.

Nancy: And so, give us a sense of what it was like—how often you had children coming in. Just paint a picture. As I read your writing about this, I don’t think I’ve ever known anybody quite like you, Christie.

Christie: Oh dear. It was probably two or three times a year. And as it kind of went down, things began to change in the adoption world for the better, in that babies were going directly to their adoptive families. And what we know now is that any move is not necessarily good. In other words, a baby leaves their birth mother and it goes to the little foster family for ten days and then goes home. It’s much better for them—mentally, psychologically, everything—to go directly home if the adoptive family is willing to take that risk for those few days.

Nancy: But there’s still a lot of foster care going on.

Christie: There is.

Nancy: So what does that look like?

Christie: That particular type of foster care was through private adoption agencies. The state is a very different situation, which I know we’ll get to, but that particular type began to change. So, as we kind of went down . . . we fostered for eleven years with Bethany (agency).

Nancy: And how many children are we talking about over those eleven years?

Christie: We had about forty different babies, and there were so many struggles. There was so much joy, but there were so many struggles. I had actually just given birth to our fourth biological child, Conner. He was about six months old, and at that time the agency said, “You really need to wait a year after you gave birth to do foster care again.”

I was struggling with that, and I remember one Sunday morning sitting in Sunday school when our teacher was teaching about God’s call on your life. I didn’t realize I had sighed out loud. I just kind of went, (sound of deep breath in) “Huh.” She turned to me and said, “Why are you sighing? You’re doing what God’s called you to do.”

And the next morning I got up, and during my quiet time I read the Scripture in Proverbs, “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due when it is in your power to do it.” And I said to the Lord, “That’s what I’m trying to say to You. I know that it’s not in my power to care for two babies and three other children, but I believe that in Your power it’s possible.”

About three hours later the phone rang, and it was the pregnancy counselor. She said, “Christie . . .” And I began weeping. And she said, “What is wrong with you?” And she said, “Just listen to me a minute. This is a very different situation, and it’s one that we’ve never had before. We’ve got a two-year-old, and we need a place.”

I said, “You’ve got a place.” And by 5 o’clock that afternoon, they rolled up with this beautiful two-year-old little boy who was coming straight from his birth mother to our home. And I worried. I prayed for the best, but I just knew that it was going to be a difficult thing.

By the next day at noon, when Jeff raised the garage door at lunch time, and Cara went running, “Daddy, Daddy,” he was right behind her crying, “Daddy, Daddy.” And for the next ten days, I wondered, and I prayed, “Are we his family? Are we it?”

We just began to see healing. He had come from a traumatic situation, and we just began to see healing in his little life and his little heart.

Nancy: In ten days?

Christie: In ten days, just by being in a family and just by seeing brothers and sisters who loved him and doted on him and played with him. And even more importantly than that, God said to me, “I hear you. I hear you. And I like it when you obey. I like it that you want to do what I’m calling you to do.”

Nancy: Did you have any children for longer periods of time?

Christie: At that particular time with Bethany, the longest we had a child was six months.

We had a beautiful little baby girl that was born, actually, on Cara’s birthday, with Down Syndrome. She was hospitalized for eleven weeks in ICU, so we spent those eleven weeks. I didn’t want anybody to think that she was less than. I wanted everybody to know that she was a child of the King. So her little crib in the ICU was decorated with beautiful drawings and balloons and lots of pink. She had bows in her hair even when she was struggling to live.

It’s just really interesting because I really thought she might be ours, and I questioned that, and I questioned that. She was hospitalized about three months later, and there was a woman who had called Bethany and had offered to come sit and give me some reprieve. I didn’t want it. I honestly didn’t want it. I didn’t want to leave her. I didn’t want anybody to come, but I agreed. And when she walked in the door, and we talked for probably five or ten minutes, I went out to the car, and I just thought, I think I’ve met her mom.

She and her husband were actually with FamilyLife, and they’ve since moved to Orlando and are with Cru. It was a beautiful example, once again. She had always prayed for a Down Syndrome child—and she is now a thriving.

Nancy: So she did take the child.

Christie: Yes. She took this child. They have two other adoptive kiddos from Russia. And she is a thriving fifteen-year-old now and is just doing great.

Nancy: When you think that part of that whole journey was your saying “yes” to a Down Syndrome child at a time when you had your hands full with other children.

Christie: Yes.

Nancy: But saying “yes,” and God put her in your home for that six-month period and then brought this future adoptive mother. She reached out and said, “I want to help you,” probably not thinking she would get her adoptive child at that point.

Christie: Yes. Absolutely.

Nancy: But in God’s providence, how He wove those pieces together.

Christie: Exactly.

Nancy: And your obedience became the opportunity for someone else to experience the answer to their prayers. And then for this precious child to have a home to grow up in that loved Christ.

Christie: Oh, I know. Yes. Absolutely. He was pointing her constantly to Him and to be the best that she can be and all that she was created to be.

Nancy: One of the things I hear you saying, Christie, is that there’s a lot bigger picture here.

Christie: Yes.

Nancy: There’s, of course, the child. There’s the birth mother and her story and challenges and that family. There’s the adoptive family in many cases. But then there are all these social workers, medical professionals. As you and others that you know take in these children for foster care and sometimes adoption, as Christians do this, what message does that send to those who are watching this take place? How does the gospel get furthered through all of this?

Christie: Well, I think it is . . . You really cannot overstate the importance of the Body of Christ stepping up. For one thing, we’re commanded to do that. We’re the only group of people that are commanded to do that. So I often take offense to somebody saying, “Well, the government’s not doing it right. The government should do this with the kids, and the government should do that with the kids.” And the bottom line is: We should. The Body of Christ should step up.

I heard a pastor say once that thinking about kids in foster care and adoption, thinking about those statistics should disturb and disrupt us. It should mess us up as believers. And that means for kids waiting in foster care to be adopted, if we’re looking at it from the Body of Christ, should be zero. There should be no kids waiting.

When we take that up as a believer, and we are living out like Jesus would have us do, I think that’s the key. I think sometimes Christians come in with the mentality that, “We know how to love. We know how to take care of children. We know how to do this. We know how to do that.” You cannot parent a child in foster care the same way you parent your biological children.

Nancy: Talk about that.

Christie: They have been through trauma. They have been through loss. They have been through things that you and I, and really, the Christian community, your ears would not be able to hear some of the things.

We have in our own home, children who have survived an abortion attempt; children who have been left at a drug house in lieu of a payment; someone who lived in a cult and was being groomed to be the next wife; someone who was beat to death almost as a newborn. There are kids who are neglected, abused, who had seen things that you and I have never seen and will never see. There are some who have lived through having their mom ask them to get a knife so that she can stab a lover. I mean, there are just things that . . .

Nancy: We can’t imagine.

Christie: We can’t process it. Our hearts just won’t let us take that in, and yet we have to open our minds and our eyes and our hearts because that’s what God’s calling us to do. If we don’t, who’s going to?

And there’s even a bigger picture there, and that is, yes, we need to give kids a home, a forever family, or a foster family in that interim time. But ultimately, we need to point them to the Ultimate Father.

Nancy: Yes.

Christie: We need to point them to Jesus who can change and bind the wounds and heal the broken-hearted and remove those nightmares and horrors from their minds and their little hearts. We have a big responsibility, and if we don’t answer the call, and if we don’t do it, we’re going to continue to see the faces of kids who have aged out of foster care without a family, who have gone the way of the statistics, which are just mind boggling as far as homeless, incarceration, teen pregnancy, drug addiction, for kids who age out without a family and support.

I can’t imagine that. I can’t imagine growing up alone. I think that the Body of Christ needs to be challenged because when we look at the faces of the individual kids, we can’t turn the other way.

I love what David Platt said about orphans. It really speaks to how I feel about it. He says that, “Orphans are easier to ignore before you know their names. They’re easier to ignore before you see their faces. It’s easier to pretend they are not real before you hold them in your arms. But once you do, everything changes.”

And that is exactly how it is.

Nancy: Christie, you’ve really challenged our hearts today about this not being ultimately the government’s responsibility, these children, but this is a responsibility that we as the people of God need to pick up, something we need to care about, something we need to be invested in.

We’re going to continue this conversation on the next Revive Our Hearts and talk about how you’ve seen churches step up and believers step up and get involved, and more of your own journey, not only in foster care but adoption.

But would you just take a moment and pray for maybe some people who are listening to this conversation right now and thinking, Is this something I should be involved in? Is this something God wants me to care about? Would you just pray for the Holy Spirit right now to touch and to confirm in the hearts of certain listeners, “This is something I want you to be involved in.” And then for Him to give the wisdom and the grace to know how to do that. Would you pray for that?

Christie: Absolutely. I’d be honored.

Oh Lord, I just cry out to You today on behalf of kids waiting for someone to answer the call. Lord, their faces are in my mind and forever indelibly placed on my heart. I pray for the women and men in this listening audience today. I pray that they would not allow fear or apathy or anything to keep them from seeking what You would have them to do about this issue.

I pray that You would just anoint Your people. Empower us. Push us on. Allow us to see what You would have us to do. And then, Lord, allow us just to say “yes” even before we know what that is. Let us just be obedient and say “yes.”

Lord, may the lives and futures and eternities of thousands and thousands of children be changed forever as a result of one yes by one man or one woman. We just praise You for what You’re going to do. We know You are about a big work, and so we just praise You for that. In the name of Jesus I pray, amen.

Nancy: Amen.

Leslie: We’ve heard from Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth and Christie Erwin. They’ve been showing us how important it is for kids in our care to know how loved they are.

If you missed any of today’s program, you can hear it at ReviveOurHearts.com. You’ll find the transcript there and the audio for you to stream or download.

Now, how in the world can a foster parent lovingly care for a child and then watch that child leave and go back to biological parents? Christie Erwin will talk about it tomorrow. Please be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth wants to equip you to invest in the next generation. It’s an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

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