Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Brazilian listener: I am a ministry leader in Brazil. I struggled a lot leading women in the last two years.

Leslie Basham: This is an email Revive Our Hearts received from a listener.

Listener: By October 2017 God brought healing to me through Revive Our Hearts resources. God brought my husband and me to a new church in 2018, and I have prayed that everything I learned from these recent experiences will help me better serve the new group of women in this new church.

Pray for me as I connect with this new group and for a humble heart to support the women there in God’s way—not mine!

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: Well, thank you, Lord! As our team was preparing Revive Our Hearts programs and resources, we certainly had no way of knowing what this dear sister would be struggling with. But the Lord knew.

I’m grateful and I’m humbled that He would use our efforts to bring healing to this woman’s heart and to launch her into a new season of fruitfulness and ministry. If you have financially supported this ministry in the past, then you’re an important part of this woman’s story, too.

Your support provides encouragement to hurting women, and it equips women to minister to those around them. We especially need your support right now. This is the end of our fiscal year, when we wrap up our books and start into a new budgeting cycle.

To end this fiscal year in a healthy position, we’re asking the Lord to provide at least $680,000 in donations this month. Would you be a part of helping to answer that need through your prayers and your financial gift? You can support Revive Our Hearts by calling us at 1–800–569–5959, or visit us online at ReviveOurHearts.com.

Thanks so much for supporting Revive Our Hearts as together we’re ministering to the spiritual needs of women in Brazil—and around the world!

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Lies Women Believe, for May 10, 2018.

All week Nancy’s been talking with Christie Erwin about the challenges and the joys in foster parenting. Today we’ll hear how Christie copes with the emotional roller coaster of loving children—only to have them go back to their birth parents. Let’s return to the conversation.

Nancy: If you’ve missed the last couple of days of Revive Our Hearts, you need to go to ReviveOurHearts.com—to the podcast or the transcript or the audio—and pick up this conversation I’ve been having with Christie Erwin.

Christie’s a long-time friend, but we haven’t seen each other in a number of years. God’s been writing a story in her and through her and her family—her husband Jeff and their now six children—that involves caring for “the least of these” through foster care, through adoption.

It’s something we’ve never addressed before on Revive Our Hearts (I don’t know why), but I’m so thrilled we’re doing it now. And Christie, thank you for taking time while Robert and I are here in Little Rock today to come into the FamilyLife studio and talk with our Revive Our Hearts friends!

Christie Erwin: Oh, I am just beyond humbled and blessed to be on this side of the microphone! It’s just a blessing, such a blessing!

Nancy: And you were, I think, at the Governor’s summit this morning, talking. What was that?

Christie: Yes, our Governor—Governor Hutchinson—when he took office a couple years ago, made it a focus for foster care and improvements in the system and better outcomes for our kids. And so we had a summit two years ago and today we were following up on that.

We were able to have some of our kids that have been adopted, and some that still need to be adopted, address the audience of faith leaders and business leaders in the community. It was just really neat to get to be there and allow folks to hear from them.

Nancy: So what started out for you back in the early ‘90s as you and Jeff taking in children, usually for short-term interim foster care, has grown into something probably much more complex and more compelling and more fruitful than what you might have ever imagined!

Christie: Yes! It really has. For years we had been fostering with Bethany Christian Services—an amazing ministry that places newborns for adoption—and in other parts of the country they do foster care as well.

But I was beginning to get restless because we weren’t being used—because we weren’t needed—which is a great problem to have!

Nancy: Because the children were going right from the birth mother to the adoptive parents?

Christie: Yes . . . which is perfect for them, but it didn’t change the call on my heart that God had placed there.

Nancy: Which was to foster.

Christie: Yes. So I began searching. We had a baby that was about five months old from Bethany—and he was older than the newborns that we normally had. And the very first night we woke up to this horrific noise. I sprinted out of bed and I ran over to the crib. He was banging his head back and forth on the bed!

I grabbed him up and I put him in my arms, and he began banging his head on my chest. I realized that he was self-soothing. He had been with an eighteen-year-old birth mother with three children who trying to work and go to school and meet the needs of this family. She couldn’t do it, so she was placing her kids for adoption.

What that did for me is it let me see the bigger picture and the greater need. Because kids that are abused and neglected and abandoned—and all of those kinds of things—are not going to end up at the doors of a private Christian adoption agency.

Nancy: Normally . . .

Christie: Yes, normally that’s true. If people know about it, the State’s going to be called, because that’s an investigation. It’s a mandatory thing that has to happen.

Nancy: Reporting . . .

Christie: So that just began stirring around in me. There were four of us actually who had been fostering, and one by one they began moving to foster for the State. And so, the Lord placed it on our hearts, that’s what we knew we needed to do.

Jeff was onboard with that, and we began to go through the training and all the background checks and the home studies and everything that you have to do—which in its own way is a frustrating thing for folks.

Nancy: Because . . .

Christie: Because it’s onerous; it’s a big process. But what you need to realize is, it has to be to protect the children. You’ve got to go through those things because they’ve got to know who you are so that they can entrust a child into your home.

Nancy: And was the State welcoming of Christians getting involved in this process?

Christie: Yes. I don’t know that they really knew we were Christians at that point. A lot has changed since then, and they are very welcoming now. We made that move, and I knew that it was going to look very different!

I like to say that Bethany was kind of the “country club” of foster care. They were supportive, they were there, they were nurturing—even when you were a basket case, you know, after ten days.

But I knew the State—we were going to lose our country club membership. It was going to be a very different animal.

Nancy: How was it different?

Christie: It is massive! The need is massive; the caseworkers are overloaded. In our State, we have seen incredible progress over the years. But when we began fourteen years ago, there were a lot of things that needed to be changed in the system.

And so, I began to pray that Jeff would fall in love with the first little child that came to our home and that he would begin to see that our sacrifice of months—and maybe even years—was what God was calling us to do.

So we took that step, we got open. One October day I got a phone call from a case worker saying, “We’ve got a little girl. Would you be willing to take her?” There was more to the story. She had some other siblings—and that kind of thing.

I said, “Of course.” I ran by the store and bought a stuffed animal and I loaded my car seat in and ran down to the DHS office and picked up Serenity.

Nancy: I was living in Little Rock at the time, recording Revive Our Hearts here at the FamilyLife studios. I remember when Serenity came into your life. You showed up with this new baby—she wasn’t a brand-new baby, but she was new to you—in a baby carrier.

You had done this many times before, but this was going to be different.

Christie: This was going to be different. We were on the track to reunify her with her birth mom. Obviously, when you’re going to foster, you need to be on the team. You need to play by the rules. You need to be the one that is encouraging everybody involved in the case.

You don’t need to be the one criticizing. You don’t to be the one feeling like you know what’s best. There is a time to defend the orphan loud and clear, believe me, there is. But there are times when you just need to be the one ministering.

Nancy: So the goal was, typically, for the children to be reunified with their birth parents?

Christie: Yes. There’s a window of time—a year to eighteen months—that the State has to . . . if the parent needs to go to drug rehab or if they need to . . . whatever they need to do . . .

Nancy: Probably get a job . . . housing . . .

Christie: . . . those kinds of things. So we were on that track, and it was just really interesting. About six months in (and Jeff didn’t tell me this until months, months, months later) every Saturday morning he would take Serenity and they would go get a doughnut—or a something. They would bring it back to the house, and they would sit at the counter on the little stool and eat it.

He said one day he was sitting there, and he was talking to her and looking at her, and he just felt in his Spirit the Lord just whispered to him, “You’re going to adopt this child.”

Now, you have to understand that we did have questions sometimes with babies when we were asked, “Do you feel led to adopt?” and the Lord never gave us clearance, never said “yes.” And so that’s why we felt like our point, our place, was always in the middle.

Nancy: The foster care.

Christie: Yes, the foster care part of it. So Jeff didn’t share that with me. We went through a traumatic experience with her case—back and forth between reunification, termination, reunification, termination. It was really a faith test of, “Are you going to trust Me?”

I found myself praying all around that issue with Serenity.

Nancy: I remember you going through some of this, and it was up and down and in and out. Disappointment and then maybe it’s going to work, and then it’s not. You couldn’t see the outcome at that point.

Christie: Absolutely. It was a very humbling time for me, faith-wise, because I felt like I would say to the Lord, “Bless Serenity, protect Serenity, take care of Serenity,” but I could never say, “Your will be done.” I just could not get that out of my mouth.

So it was determined that she was going to go home to her birth mother. She went home on a weekend trial.

Nancy: And you knew that this was a difficult situation.

Christie: Yes, a difficult situation, not a good situation, but that it was going to be the end of my relationship. And so, she came back on a Sunday night, and the next morning—on Monday morning—I just said, “Okay God, alright, Your will be done in the life of my daughter. Your will be done.”

Nancy: And you’d had her for how long at that point?

Christie: Three years.

Nancy: Wow!

Christie: Yes, “Your will be done.” And the next day there was a change in the case. There was a critical situation that we didn’t know anything about, and immediately the goal changed to adoption.

And so in February of the next year we finalized our adoption, and Serenity became our daughter!

Nancy: How old was she at that point?

Christie: She was five.

Nancy: Old enough to have some idea of what was going on and to really consider you and Jeff her parents.

Christie: Yes, absolutely. And let me tell you, she was precocious! Oh my goodness, she was non-stop! Her name is Serenity but she was not serene! She was all over the place! We had four older children, and it took all of us to keep her out of the street.

I will never forget, one day she ran out the door, and we caught her. Jeff said, “I’m running to Home Depot. We’re putting a lock at the top; we’re going to get this all set!” So he came back, he locked it all up. We sat down and thought, We have beaten this toddler at her game!

And we hear the doorbell ring, and we go, and it’s her! She had opened up the window that was low to the ground, climbed out, and had rung the doorbell! So he went to pick up some window locks, and we ended that.

It has been amazing to see the walls fall, in the life of my daughter, and to see God’s provision in her. She’s on the youth worship team at church.

Nancy: She’s how old now?

Christie: She’s fourteen, and just to see her worship and lead worship! She was born at thirty-one weeks. She was born cocaine-positive at thirty-one weeks, three pounds, eleven ounces. It was a very, very difficult situation. And to see her now and to hear her—it’s just miraculous!

One of the things as adoptive parents that we need to understand and we need to come to the truth is that our children’s lives don’t begin when their name changes. Her life did not begin the day that I got that phone call. Her life began at conception.

And if we don’t, as adoptive parents, value that and value her birth family and where she came from, then our kids are never going to fully trust us and love us in a way that God designed. I learned that with her one night.

She is a late-night owl. She does not like to go to bed. It was about five or six years ago, and she didn’t want to go to bed. She was just mad at me and slammed down whatever it was . . . which is not really typical how she acts, but she did that night.

All of a sudden, out of the blue (never had she said anything like this before or since) she said, “I wish I was with my other family!” So I went out into the hallway, and I took a breath. I’m like, “Okay, Lord, this is a turning point.”

I went back in, and I said, “Sis, you owe me an apology.”

And she was like, “Huh?”

I said, “You know what you owe me an apology for?”

“No.”

“You owe me an apology for being disrespectful. But you know what you don’t owe me an apology for?”

“No.”

“You don’t owe me an apology for saying you wish you were with your other family, because if I were you, I would feel the same way. Because God designed a family to be together, and because of some bad situations, some difficult decisions, that was not an option, and so God decided to give you to us.”

It was almost as if the curtain dropped, and the walls fell, and she understood: “Hey! Mom embraces where I came from, and she loves me, and she loves my family.” And we make it a point to never talk in a negative light about the birth families of our children that we’ve adopted.

Nancy: Does she have memories of her birth family?

Christie: She does. We actually have a relationship with her brothers, and so we’ll get together with them. It’s amazing the memories that they have—even the colors of popsicles that they had. I mean, just amazing!

This is another critical thing. Siblings being together is a critical thing, and it’s something that we’re fighting for all the time in advocacy with foster care and adoption. But she gets to have that relationship with them. She has more memories than I would think for a fourteen-month-old coming into . . .

But she’s a survivor. That’s the other thing—she had to learn to survive. She’s a nurturer, just an incredible nurturer as a result of that.

Nancy: Do you ever find yourself feeling critical of the situations they come out of, those birth moms, those families that are so troubled?

Christie: Yes. I have to stop and remember that could be any of us. Their lives and their situations have dictated what has happened, and many times it’s a cycle. I see that with the kids that I work with that are waiting to be adopted. They are going to repeat the cycle unless God intervenes.

I don’t think I can let that be my focus, because some of the things that have happened to kids that I know are so horrific that it’s really hard to just take in and to understand. I just almost have to leave that in the Lord’s hands and just pick it up from there and do what I can do and what He’s called me to do to help.

Nancy: You’ve written that your calling was not to judge them, but to be Jesus to them.

Christie: Yes, absolutely. We had a situation—thirteen years ago actually. I got a call late one night about a mama with twelve children and eleven of them were coming into foster care. The newborn baby—well, he was two months old—was screaming. I heard him. He was in the investigator’s car.

She said, “Can you take this little guy?”

I said, “Absolutely.”

She said, “Mom won’t tell me what formula he’s on.”

I said, “I’ve got some here. I’ll mix it up, and I’ll meet you on the driveway.”

So I did, and we welcomed this bouncing baby boy. They busted in in a drug raid and would not have even known he was there except one of the other siblings said, “Hey, we got a brother in the other room.”

Nancy: Wow.

Christie: So for six months we had this little guy. The mom and I would see each other at visits, but because of some volatility in the situation, they didn’t want her to know who I was. So they just kind of pretended I was the driver that brought the baby.

But when it got towards Christmastime, I was like, “No, I’ve got to . . .” So I got pictures of him and fixed a Christmas gift and everything and dropped it when I dropped his bag. They didn’t want me talking to her.

Well, the next time I saw her, she threw her arms around me and said, “You will never know what those pictures mean to me!” And she worked her case plan, and within six months she got her kiddos back.

Was it a perfect situation? Absolutely not! Was it how I wanted him to grow up? No, but she loved him, and God brought together two mamas with one thing in common: we loved a little boy with all of our hearts.

We’re still in contact with her. It’s still not a good situation, but God has allowed me to maintain that relationship with her for thirteen years.

Nancy: Talk about “Baby B.”

Christie: Yes. You know, moving to the State, there were a lot of crises that we really couldn’t have anticipated and a lot more sacrifice than we ever dreamed we would be involved in.

One day, I was actually at my church on a Saturday. Serenity’s adoption hadn’t been finalized yet. I’m sitting at a parenting conference and I looked down at my phone. It was Serenity’s case worker. She said, “Hey, call me.”

Well I thought, Oh no, what has happened?

So I jumped up, ran out, and called her. She said, “Oh no, it’s not about Serenity, but do you know anybody to take a five-week-old baby girl?”

I was like, “No, but let me see if I can make some phone calls.” Well, I called several people, and nobody could do it.

I snuck back into the conference and I elbowed Jeff in the ribs and I leaned over and said, “Can we take a baby for the weekend?” Well, that was code for, “They’re never leaving!—if you say, “the weekend.”

He rolled his eyes—because he’d seen that so many times before. He whispered, “Yeah.” So I left the conference, ran home, got my car seat, ran down there. I looked into the eyes of this stunningly beautiful baby girl who had been dangled over an overpass in traffic at five weeks old!

Nancy: Wow!

Christie: I took her home and immediately just fell in love with her. By Sunday night, Jeff said, “You want to do this, don’t you?” We actually already had another little guy, and so we had a lot going on. I said, “I do.”

So, long story short, for the next sixteen months we hung on every word that Baby B did. We celebrated her first birthday. We loved her so well, and the goal began to change towards adoption, and we were onboard with that. We even had our “C” name picked out, and we were ready to go!

By this time I had a lot of friends at DHS. Everybody—attorneys, everybody I knew—said, “It’s a no-brainer; it’s a slam-dunk; it’s gonna happen!” So, let me preface this by saying—when the goal was reunification, we were onboard with that. But when it began to change, maybe I was little not-on-board as much as I should have been.

Once that goal changed, we knew that was our daughter. So we went to court the last time, and there was some unsettling in my spirit about the way that things played out that day, but I just kind of blew it off.

People continued to say, “It’s a no-brainer; it’s gonna happen!” So the judge said, “I’m going to take it under advisement.”

Nancy: You thought that the child was going to be yours.

Christie: Going to be mine, yes. And she said, “I’m going to take it under advisement.” Five weeks went by, and we hadn’t heard anything. It was a Wednesday afternoon at one o’clock, and I was loading the girls into the car to take Serenity to the dentist. I got a phone call from B’s attorney.

She was just broken. She said, “Christie, I don’t know how to say this. The judge’s ruled that she’s going to a family member.” I barely made it back to my house with them, and I called Jeff, and I called my kids. A couple of them were on their way, and Jeff was on the way.

So from one o’clock in the afternoon until five o’clock  that afternoon, I packed her things and wept, literally wept and held her. Four hours after that phone call, the child that I thought was going to watch grow up and get married and be my daughter left in a car and drove away—for me never to see her again.

Nancy: Into a situation you knew was not going to be an ideal one.

Christie: Yes. And I stood . . . It’s almost like I can see it in a snapshot—everybody on the porch, Jeff with his arm around me at the car, her looking up like, “Mama? What is  happening?” and me wailing, just wailing! I turned around and I went back in my house. I went upstairs, and I got in bed, and I covered up my head.

I just thought, “This is it! I can’t do this. I don’t want to do this!” I think that’s the only time over these last twenty-five years that I have really thought, I don’t want to do this! I can’t do this! My heart was broken; it was ripped out!

I was just devastated, and there was nowhere to go with that. There was nobody to talk to; there was nothing. Honestly, it was probably six months of really struggling. I didn’t realize how hard I struggled and how bad it was until one of my friends said—after about six or seven months—“I think we finally have our Christie back.”

I realized at that point that it had been that bad. And the Lord, He was far from me at that time—not because of Him, but because of me, because of my pushing. I didn’t want it. Nope.

I didn’t want to hear it. Even though I would try. I put Scriptures about hope all over my house, pictures of her. I was praying she’d come back, all of this. But the reality was I didn’t want to hear from Him! I felt like He had failed me, and I felt like He could have intervened, and He didn’t.

I mean, that’s just the honest truth. I couldn’t have said that out loud then. I can say it now because I’m looking back on it. But after that six months, I just said to Jeff one day, “I think we can do this again.”

And he’s like, “Okay. I’m following your lead.”

So about two days later, a friend of mine who’s a caseworker said, “I need you to take this little guy. Will you?”

I was, “Yeah, we will.”

So I drove to downtown Little Rock and picked up this bouncing baby boy—who is now my son! The Lord has just redeemed that.

Baby B was the darkest cloud I could have ever imagined! It really was, and Edward is the silver lining. Jeff and I were talking about it two days ago—about the loss. I can see her in the car driving away.

I have a little Brighton heart on my keychain that had her picture in. Every time it clings up against my dashboard, I think of her. And yet, God redeemed that! One of the things that He has done in redeeming it is allowing that story to be what resonates with foster moms.

As I was writing my book . . . I was actually finished with it and was getting ready to go to the publisher and that happened. I told Jeff, “I can’t write that!”

He was like, “You have to. You said you wanted to be transparent. What better way?”

That has been the one chapter that foster moms particularly have clung to and have emailed me about and Facebook messaged me about and said, “It’s just nice to know someone gets it, someone understands!”

There’s the kind of grief that just encompasses you. I want to tell foster moms to give yourself the freedom to grieve in a way that’s right for you. If you want to talk about it, talk about it; if you don’t want to talk about it, don’t. If you need a keychain . . .

I had one mom say that she carried the little girl’s pajamas in her purse for four months, and just every once in a while she’d pull those pajamas up and hold them close to her. Give yourself the freedom and the grace to grieve, but don’t get stuck there. God does not desire for us to be stuck there . . . Satan does.

He would like nothing better than to get you stuck in that discouragement and depression and grief—and just faithlessness—so that you’re rendered impotent to do any more for another child.

I’m grateful that God didn’t let me stay there, that He took ahold of my hand and He pulled me out of the muck. He set me on higher ground, and I’m forever grateful for that!

Leslie: Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has been talking with Christie Erwin about responding to God’s call to care for the fatherless. If you missed any of this helpful conversation on foster parenting you can hear it at ReviveOurHearts.com. That’s where you’ll find the daily transcript and the audio to stream or download.

Tomorrow Christie Erwin will be back to explain why sometimes foster parenting is a choice for life.

Christie: I have a job to do, and I have a responsibility. There are kids that are counting on me, and they’re counting on you, and they’re counting on the Body of Christ. Their lives—literally and figuratively—depend on what we do and what we say.

If we’re not willing to step up, some of them are going to lose their lives.

Leslie: Please be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Demoss Wolgemuth celebrates life. It’s an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

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