The summer prior to my senior year of college I spent a few months abroad in Zambia. I went alone and met up with established missionaries serving there. I had this overwhelming desire to love and serve on kids living in orphanages. It was in Zambia that I knew this trip was going to drastically change my life. I envisioned myself living overseas and doing life in an African village. After my husband and I were married we sought out opportunities to do international missions together. Nothing seemed to align the desires we were both passionate about and we encountered close door after closed door. We’d been married for a hot three months when I dropped the “Hey, let’s be foster parents” bomb on my husband. We both laughed at the thought of becoming parents so soon after being married. We laughed about it until we couldn’t anymore. When the laughter had worn off we realized that there were families in our community hurting. Kids going through trauma that needed adults to care for them. We began to put names to the numbers and statistics with the facts. We realized this wasn’t a “maybe someday we will foster” or a “once we have kids of our own we will foster” kind of thing. We began to realize that the kids in foster care didn’t have the luxury of waiting, so why should we?
Three months later we found ourselves sitting at a lunch table in church cafeteria for an informational foster parent meeting. An additional 6 months later Uncle Sam knew my life inside and out, including every exit door in our small apartment. Foster care wasn’t our plan B. It wasn’t a backup plan; it was THE plan. We didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into or what foster care would actually look like played out in our lives. We just knew that it was an open door we were being swiftly ushered through. Prior to completion of our license we had to decipher ourselves as a foster only home or a foster home that was willing to adopt. Adoption hadn’t even been something that was on my radar. I didn’t grow up thinking or feeling that I would adopt. But when we stared at the little check box on our form, the black ink of our pen happily danced an X across the ‘willing to adopt box’. Though we had chosen to be an adoptive home, we also understood that the goal of foster care was and is always reunification.
After we were a fully licensed foster home oddly enough, we waited 8 months before receiving our first phone call for a placement. We still aren’t sure why that first phone call took so long. Hindsight, we can boldly claim that it took so long because we were in fact, waiting on our son. In the midst of the waiting we both gained and loss a baby through miscarriage. Had our first pregnancy brought forth life on earth I would have been due nearly the same time the phone call came for our son. Though we were deeply saddened and dismayed by the loss we watched our Maker turn those ashes to beauty. That no meant a different yes.
On December 4, 2015 our loss had been met by joy. Life had again begun to grow inside of my womb and we were so anxious to meet our sweet baby. At 23 weeks pregnant on that December 4th morning the phone finally rang. “Hello this is the Department of Children Services (DCS), Ms Rivera?”
I glanced down at my every growing bump. Dumb founded I thought to myself, really? Now?
“Yes, this is she.” I uttered.
The cold, matter of fact, voice on the other end of the phone replied, “We have a 12 month old male here at the office. His name is Gabriel. He is, overall, in good health . Would you be willing to accept him as a placement?”
I paused on the other end of the line. Waiting for additional information to be given. When I realized that was the extent of the information that we would be receiving I replied back with, “Let me call my husband at work and speak with him and we will get back to you.”
I called Brance at work. We had never before parented a child. We had no idea that our yes would ensue sleepless nights and more tantrums than diaper changes. Our hearts just knew that there was a 12 month-old baby boy sitting in an unfamiliar, DCS office. We knew his world had just been flipped upside down. We didn’t know his story but we knew he needed someone to love him and to keep him safe. We knew his name and he wasn’t just a statistic or a number anymore. If we were a no than where would his next yes come from? If not now, when? We both took a deep breath and agreed upon a yes. If I’m being honest, it was the most confusing yes I’ve ever given. It was a yes that gave birth (literally) to excitement, pain, joy, brokenness, redemption and restoration. It was a yes that has refined me in more ways than I could have imagined.
On that December 4th afternoon we met our son. He was wearing a black and red stripped T-Shirt with a weary and worn grin. At the time, we didn’t know he would spend the next 1,104 days with us in foster care prior to calling him son. We didn’t know that our sleepless nights would really be from watching him sleep, praying safety and abundance over his life. We didn’t know that every court date and visit would leave us all emotionally exhausted. We didn’t know that our yes would be one of life’s greatest joys.
For the next 1,104 days we walked the unknowns of foster care. We went through three social workers, three Guardian Ad Litems, three judges and hundreds of home visit/appointments. We stumbled our way through caring for two kids under two as first time parents. We learned about trauma informed care. We learned how to be still when needed and how to righteously advocate for justice. Our journey hasn’t been perfect. In fact, it’s been a lot of painful refining and dying to our flesh. It has required us to build a long table and not a higher fence. It has shown us grace upon grace. Our yes brought us our son. Our yes unfolded the gospel in our living room. So we will continue to again wait and we will continue to say yes. Maybe you’ve considered a yes. Maybe you’re afraid of what that yes will bring. I’d challenge you to confront that yes…because it might be the best yes you’ll ever come to know. Joy is waiting on the other side.