It was the end of December 2015, and I was waiting for a call from DCS to see when I would be needed to care for some foster children in my county. The new year was just a few days away, and I started praying that God would help me to have OPEN HANDS for whatever He wanted me to do in 2016.
As I prayed about it for a few days, I knew that my personal mantra for 2016 would be “open hands.” I knew God had changes coming for me—and change usually scares me—but I wanted to say yes to God, to say yes to whatever He asked me to, no matter what.
About 10 days after this prayer, I got a call from DCS that they had two teenage girls, 13 & 14 years old, who needed a placement for 3-6 months. In the paperwork that I had given DCS, I had told them that I’d be willing to take in kids of all ages (besides babies). But in my mind, I was thinking that I would get preschoolers or elementary aged kids. My nieces and nephews were preschool and elementary age, and I worked with that age group with my job at church. So I was used to this age group, and I just figured that God’s plan would be for me to care for children around that age.
But these girls were both 8th graders (sisters who are only 11 months apart). And as I talked to the case manager about details of the girls’ situations, I could tell that there would be some teenage issues that I hadn’t thought about before.
I told the case manager over the phone, “Okay, give me a minute to let me shift my mindset.”
She asked if I could give her a yes or no by the next morning.
Throughout that evening, I prayed and considered.
I talked to my parents and my sister Shari. They didn’t want to push me one way or the other because they knew it was my decision—only I could decide whether to say yes or no.
Finally, about a half hour before I went to bed, as I sat with Mom, Dad, and Shari watching a basketball game on TV, I said to them, “Guys, I have to decide like now.”
They looked at me. It’s up to you, Mary.
And then I said it: “I want to say yes to them. I want to do this.”
And then their support poured out. They told me to go for it.
So I went to bed with the peace of having made my final decision: I would say yes. So many unknowns and so many things that I could be scared of—but more than anything I felt peace in knowing that God had a plan in this. I would open my hands, open my heart, open my home to whatever these girls needed.
During the first week that the girls were with me, they actually opened up to me a lot about some things that they had been through. And I was heartbroken to learn of all the burdens their young hearts were carrying. After they been had been with me 3 or 4 days, Anna fell asleep on the couch for a quick nap, and when she woke up, she told me that she’d had a dream. Anna dreamt that we were all in the house together. There were a few other little kids running around, and a burglar came into our home making threats. Anna dreamt that I stepped in front of the kids and told the burglar, “I won’t let you hurt any of the children.”
I almost cried when she told me that dream because I knew it was God trying to communicate to her that she would be safe with me and that she could trust me. As I look back, I can see that this was a huge blessing for my relationship with Anna.
I was actually surprised at how the girls warmed up to me so fast. I recognize now that at that point, because the girls had not seen their biological mom in a few months, they really were starving for some motherly affection. They sought my attention at home, asking me to blow-dry and braid their hair, asking questions about my life. They wanted to sit next to me wherever we went, and they’d give me spontaneous hugs. It was very sweet. J The girls also clung to me in public, grasping my arm at church, at my parents’ house, even at Walmart.
I talked to the girls’ therapist over the phone one afternoon, and she said to me, “I’m amazed at how well the girls are doing with you.”
“Yes, me too. But I figured it’s probably a honeymoon effect.”
“Maybe so. But still, they seem very happy with you—happier than I would have ever expected.”
About a week after the girls arrived in my house, I had hugged them goodnight, and then climbed into my own bed. As I was falling asleep, I had the thought, “What if I had said no?” Oh my goodness, I couldn’t even think about that.
I’m so glad I said yes, I’m so glad I said yes, I’m so glad I said yes.
About a month after the girls moved in with me, we realized that we had the option of me becoming the girls’ legal guardian for a few years instead of a few months. I never thought that I would say no. But still, I knew that this was a big responsibility, so I prayerfully considered this commitment.
The case manger explained to me that DCS wanted to close the case, and so they were going to send the girls to another long-term home with a relative—or I could choose to become their guardian, and we would see if the judge would approve that. The girls’ mom wanted them to stay with me, so we figured that we would easily get the judge’s approval.
The biggest challenge of becoming their guardian is that I would no longer receive financial support from the state. This has made me a little concerned as I considered my budget. But from the beginning, I told the case manager that I could never let money hold me back from doing something I knew I should do.
I was talking to my brother about it the other day, and I said, “Let’s say I spend about $10,000 on them over the next 2 or 3 years. Is there really anything more important to spend my money on? Maybe that could buy me a better car or some cool vacations, but it’s not even a contest in my mind. They are worth it; they deserve this.” (Some of the girls’ relatives have been helpful to send money to help buy them clothes, food, etc. So the Lord has provided in unexpected ways.)
On the weeks leading up to our guardianship hearing in court, I sought God to make sure that He was choosing me to be the right parent for the girls right now. Satan can always try to discourage us into thinking that we’re making too many mistakes. Parenting these girls has been like a magnifying glass to my flaws. And I’ve met several of the girls’ relatives by now, and I keep in contact with most of them. As I’ve stepped into another family’s circle, I feel a lot of accountability to them and to God to make sure that I’m loving the girls well and giving them the parental guidance they need.
I had become stressed quite a bit over the last several months, and I had acquired some stress-related health concerns. Nothing serious, but you know, it’s just one more thing to deal with.
So when it comes to my money, my time, my physical health and energy…I had to decide if I’m willing to “spend myself” on the girls. I read Isaiah 58:10 and decided God was using this verse to speak to me in this season: “If you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness.”
If you spend yourselves—in behalf of the hungry. Those who are hungry for not just food, but hungry for love and attention. (But of course, fixing them food consumes a lot of my time too! Lol)
If you spend yourselves—to satisfy the needs of the oppressed. The needs of the oppressed, the overlooked, the mistreated. I had a conversation with a guy this summer, and he shared about a little girl he met at summer camp who had been abused by her parents. He expressed his anger over people who mistreat children. He said he would like to take a baseball bat and beat them. I suppose that’s usually a guy’s response. But I have no desire to beat anyone up; I just want to help children heal. I thought, it might take more strength and certainly more perseverance to help a child heal than serving justice with a baseball bat. When you set out to SATISFY THE NEEDS (physical, emotional, relational, spiritual needs) of the oppressed, you will certainly “spend yourselves.”
Am I willing to do it?
God’s Word says, “If you spend yourselves—then your light will rise in the darkness” (Isaiah 58:10).
Am I willing? Yes. Here’s my house, my time, my health, my money, my energy. I’m willing even though some days I have no idea of what to do. God, I’m counting on you to make my light rise in the darkness.
On September 8, we went to court to have their biological parents sign over guardianship to me. My sister Sara met us there to support us. We had to wait 3 hours in the waiting room, sitting on the wooden seats—the girls playing with my hair, playing on their phones, and talking with the others. In court, their father said this is the happiest and most connected he’s ever seen them. And the judge and case managers said that a year ago, they were really worried about the direction the girls’ lives were headed, so they thanked me for taking them under my wing and helping the girls have a normal life. Another person told me that the girls have a light in their eyes now that they didn’t have before.
The judge asked the girls how they felt about me becoming their legal guardian. Anna hates speaking in front of people, so she quickly said, “Fine.”
Then Gabby said, “Great. She’s awesome.” (I later told Gabby that that was the sweetest thing she had ever said about me. She rolled her eyes and said that she says nice things about me a lot, just not usually to me. Lol)
Then the attorney asked me a series of questions. Under oath, I said yes to each of them:
I spoke into the microphone: Yes. Yes. Yes.
The girls were used to that courtroom, and they were used to transitions. I hoped that hearing me saying Yes for them would help them feel secure.
We walked out of court together. Of course, the girls wanted to stop at McDonalds for an early dinner. I didn’t feel like cooking, so I obliged. Nothing like McDonalds to celebrate the approval of the guardianship. When we got home, the girls wanted us all to watch TV together. It had been a stressful day for me, and a lazy evening on the couch sounded good to me too. I went to my bedroom to change into my pajamas, and by the time I came back out of the living room, both Gabby and Anna were fast asleep on the couch. They slept for 4 hours before I had to force them to get up and go sleep in their own beds. I realized then that it had been a stressful day for them too.
Anna got off the bus the next day and told me how she had told her friends all about me getting guardianship of them. I smiled as I listened to her, sensing that maybe she felt a little more settled now.
I was surprised at how getting guardianship made me feel more settled too. For about a week, I exhaled in relief and was super productive. Feeling like I had a grip on life again, I opened up an IRA, bought a pet chinchilla for us, and finally put together some photos of Gabby and Anna in frames to hang on my walls. Then the following week’s events reminded me that I’m not in control. I honestly have no clue what the next few years will hold, but I know God has given us this season to be together.
Everything about our situation…everything that girls have been protected from this year and everything the girls have learned thus far…hinged on me saying yes to God and saying yes to these girls. What if I had said no? I’m so glad I said yes. Even on the difficult days—and we have had many difficult days--I’m so glad I said yes.
I want to encourage you today to say yes to God. If the Lord has put a desire in your heart, go for it. Open your hands to what He has for you with your family and friends, to what He has for you with your work, and to all the ways He wants to use your life to influence others and to show love to those who desperately need it.
Mary is the author of She Won't Shrink Back: A Story of Building & Believing.
Mary works at Brookville Road Community Church, where she leads children's ministry and women's ministry. She is the author of She Won't Shrink Back: A Story of Building & Believing.