It Was A Dark & Stormy Night: Memoirs of a Foster Mom
by Sherri Shipman
“It was a dark and stormy night….”. Every good story starts with that phrase. Ours is no exception.
Felicia was a high school student in the little New Mexico village we pastored in. Her family was probably the largest clan in a town where it seemed everybody was related to each other somehow. So, news that one of them was being investigated for child abuse/neglect sent shockwaves through the entire community. It exponentially magnified the horror she and her siblings were going through.
In this hostile environment, Felicia tried desperately to carry on as a normal sophomore. Go to school, do the homework, keep the grades up, visit with friends, study for debate team, participate in meets, etc. During this cyclone of personal agony, another student invited her to church.
Ours was the only active youth group in town and all the cool kids were going, so she accepted. That invitation was the catalyst for transformation in her life. Because that was where she met Jesus and encountered God on an undeniable level.
I can’t help but wonder, how many times do we hesitate to invite someone to church for fear of humiliation or rejection? I wonder if we would hesitate if we could see what would be unlocked for them should they accept? I wonder how accountable we will be for failing to open the door to freedom for them? Of course, they can encounter God elsewhere. But church should be the obvious, easiest place to do so. And many folks are just waiting for an invitation.
As if often the case, one person being transformed by Jesus has an impact on those around them who do not know him yet. The presence of God that accompanies them now stirs up conviction among those whose souls sense the change even before it is evident in habits or speech. An uncomfortable tension is created. They can’t describe it or understand it even, but it can strain relationships and sometimes results in rejection.
This was the case with Felicia. Her transformation was strong and solid. Visible and undeniable. It challenged those she lived with and they were not up to the challenge. They were all going through turmoil and dealing with betrayal and bitterness issues. She had found, through Christ, a peace that surpasses understanding that was carrying her through the storm. But they were not ready to receive that peace for themselves and the tension in the household was just overwhelming them.
So, on a dark and stormy night – literally—she returned home from an event after dark and found all of her belongings on the front porch. Doors locked. No one answering her knock or responding to her shouts. She had been ostracized and cast out without warning.
It doesn’t rain much in New Mexico, but that night came a monsoon downpour. Very late in the evening, after we had all gone to bed and fallen sound asleep, we heard the doorbell accompanied by a pounding. Then a young woman’s voice calling out.
We got up out of bed, put on some clothes and saw a young woman, soaked to the skin from walking across town in the pouring rain. She asked if she could come in for the night. Sleep on the couch. “I’ll be gone in the morning.”
Of course! We’re not heartless! Come in. Get a pillow and blanket. Get settled. Back to bed.
Next day, there was no change in her situation. Went back her family home, belongings still outside. Door locked. No answer. Ghosted.
After a short period of bouncing around staying with friends, we could see that she was clearly on her own. Emancipated basically. And invited her to stay with us indefinitely.
At the time, we didn’t know what all that meant or what would follow. How it would change our family dynamic or how long it would last. We really didn’t think about it. We felt it.
But it wasn’t emotion. It was adoption.
A spirit of adoption came over us that completely took her in, ‘warts and all’ as the saying goes. Our hearts enveloped her. She became an interwoven part of our family. Our boys—we only had boys—immediately considered her their sister. To the Shipman’s she was as much a part of us as if she had been born with our surname.
It was automatic. Not contemplated. Not convinced or coerced. It was supernatural.
As a mom, I had the same instincts toward her that I had with the boys. That mother’s sixth sense that lets mom know something is amuck before anything comes to light. In fact, I may have even had more discernment in her regard than with my boys. Every time any of them was in deep doodoo, that intuition kicked in. Never missed a beat.
My heart did not remember that I hadn’t raised her. It felt like she had always been there. Meant to be with us from the beginning.
Fostering is loving care with an expected end.
Adoption is a forever entanglement of the heartstrings.
It’s been almost 20 years now. With a great many ups and downs. Hoops and hurdles. Even passed through a gauntlet along the way. Adopting a troubled kid is no picnic in the park. It’s more like hiking Mount Everest. It takes everything you have to give emotionally and then requires you to muster up more.
Your adopted child may not feel the same way you do for a very long time. An older child especially remembers where he or she came from and the bonding that naturally happens in infancy draws their desire to return back to the original unit. It’s similar to what a divorced child goes through: a deeply rooted longing for what was broken to mend and everything to become what it should have been.
We went through long periods and shorter sporadic ones where the longing for the original family to be whole again overwhelmed her and influenced her choices. She ran away more than once. She verbally expressed preferring to be with them many times. She tried to reconcile with the original unit multiple times and was disappointed repeatedly. Each time she was disappointed, we were there to pick up the pieces and help her heal. It took a lot of years for her to realize we were not going anywhere and no matter what we wouldn’t stop loving her.
Through the heartache that we experienced watching her work through her struggles, the spirit of adoption never wavered. When we went through a period of estrangement, the attachment remained the same. Even though I had lost hope that we would be reunited, and grief made me wish I could let go, the bond could not be broken.
Fostering is forever. It’s impact never leaves. You will never forget your time with a foster child. And the beautiful part is that they won’t forget either. You may not have the same type of connection that Felicia and I have, but rest assured, the investment you make in a child will stick with them. Love makes an impact. Love never fails.