“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” James 1:27
Six years ago, my husband Jonathan and I started attending a new church. We were invited by a colleague to a bible study and we checked it out one Tuesday night. We instantly felt welcomed and enjoyed their company and were invited to a new church site that their church was just getting off the ground.
The friends that we made that night would forever change the course of our lives. These friends all had a passion for orphan care and through their own journeys, began to pursue that in different ways.
Alissa quickly became one of my best friends. She was 25 and had a stage 4 cancer diagnosis. This diagnosis did not stop her and her husband Carey's strong desire to care for orphans. They were the first friends who exposed us to foster care.
Since we were childless at the time, we were often the ones Alissa & Carey called if they needed a babysitter. Their second placement quickly wormed her way into my heart, much to my dismay. When that beautiful baby left Alissa’s house fourteen months later, I thought my heart wasn't going to recover. I cried for days, and she wasn’t even my child.
Then another friend had her first placement and I quickly attached to those beautiful boys. When she did respite for another amazing kid, I was convinced this was something Jonathan and I needed to pursue. God had been using my friends’ foster kids to completely change my heart towards our city’s orphans. The stereotypes I carried of women who lose their kids to foster care were changing and my heart was being transformed to more like Jesus’ heart.
If you would have asked me three years ago if I wanted to be a foster mom, I probably would have laughed. If I would have had my way, we would have birthed 3 or 4 healthy children over a larger span of time, and we wouldn’t have walked into the scary unknown of foster care and adoption.
However, as we took one step in obedience to God at a time, we could see clearly that God had another path for our life. So in November of 2016 I called Social Services and we began the tedious process of becoming a foster home.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9
In June of 2017, we were pulled into a tragic story. A story of two little people who desperately needed a forever home. Hunter and Violet were 3.5 years old and had entered foster care. After apprehension, they were moved to a kinship home, then to my friend Alissa’s (amidst a terminal cancer diagnosis and the workers pestering her to take them!), and four short months later they came to us.
At 3.5, they could only speak two-word sentences, were very hard to understand, and were very frozen emotionally. Whatever they had encountered in their short lives before being placed in care had left them very behind in developmental, social, and emotional milestones. They were like 18 month-old babies in the bodies of 3.5 year old kids.
Looking back at the pictures of when they first moved in, it hard for me to believe we said yes. At the time of their arrival, we also had Sawyer who was 2.5 and Ezra who was 11 months old. It quickly felt like I had a 2-year-old and three 1 year-olds! Needless to say, our hands were full.
“He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8
Saying yes to the twins was easy for us. We were an Auntie and Uncle to them while they were with Alissa and Carey, and we were about a month away from being licensed when Alissa’s health took a turn for the worst. She stopped responding to chemo and was going to do a five-day stint of radiation when we took the twins for respite. Two weeks later they moved in permanently.
Forty-nine days later Alissa would die.
The grief felt unbearable at moments, I had never lost someone close to me before, let alone someone who was mentoring me in the hardest decision our family had ever made. Alissa was our biggest cheerleader amidst being so sick. She responded to my odd hour texts, she came along to the first doctors appointments the kids had, she fiercely advocated with the social workers, and then she was gone.
It didn’t make sense at the time, however as we continually process, we can clearly see God’s timing in it all. Alissa needed to go home to Jesus, her body had failed and she needed to be restored - her time had come.
"But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me." 2 Corinthians 12:9
The weeks after her passing are a bit of a blur. I remember having an unexplainable amount of grace and patience for my kids. I was calm, probably because I was sad and depressed, but I also was confidently experiencing peace from above. God was able to instill in me a perspective of excitement for Alissa that she was no longer suffering here on earth. This brought me so much comfort in the months after.
The first six months of the twins moving in were your typical honeymoon phase. We were full of endless amounts of energy to tend to many children who were still waking in the night. I was eager to expose them to many fun experiences and I kept our calendar and social life jam packed. For those of you who know me, this wouldn't come as a surprise. I like to stay busy and this didn’t put a hamper on it.
What I didn’t realize at the time was that a lot of my desire to stay busy and do all of these things was not something I was seeking God about. The busyness of life with four tiny people sent my time spent with God running for the hills. I knew God was with me, but I was not following Him closely. I was justifying my new job as caring for orphans as my justification for no time in the Word.
This approach, trying to do it on my own strength, didn’t go so well - parenting four kids was hard! It was tiring, it felt discouraging at many times when the twins didn’t seem to be talking more or making many strides in their development, and I felt guilty that I couldn’t spend more time with Sawyer and Ezra. Throw in monthly visits with bio family, meetings with social workers, pediatricians, psychiatrists, physiotherapists, psychologists, and teachers at school, everything felt a little nutty. I decided on a whim to go back to work full-time as a junior high teacher. We hired a nanny and boom, LIFE GOT INSANE!
Teaching filled me up. It felt easier to go and love 100 kids that belonged to other parents than to intentionally care for my needy toddlers. It felt like a break from reality and it was an important, albeit busy, season for our family. Because it was only until the end of June, it was very manageable and I believe God provided that job to change my perspective on my life. He reminded me how much I missed my kids, how much he had called me to be their mom, and he renewed in me a desire to be home and pour 100% into their lives. I am so thankful for that job, that break from the craziness at home, and that it was so life giving in revealing to me how much I wanted and needed to be home with my kids at the end.
"For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." Ephesians 2:10
Fast forward a couple of months post working outside of the home and I joined a program at our church on discipleship and intentional time seeking out God’s plan for my life. This was foundational for me to begin to seek God in our family. We were well out of our survival mode, we’d found good routines, and life was feeling more manageable. Our crazy schedule did not change, but my desire to seek God in all aspects of my life made everything feel less stressful. I no longer felt like we took on more than we could handle because I was learning to lay it down on Jesus and He would carry us through.
The last year I have seen copious amounts of evidence of God working in our family's life. He has provided for us in so many ways and I have become better at recognizing and giving credit back to Him. The twins speech has come incredible lengths, the bond between Sawyer, Ezra and the twins has gotten stronger and stronger, and my attachment has grown more than I thought it could.
We have hard days, we have amazing days, but one thing remains, God is unchanging, He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. He has used this journey of foster care to reveal in me my wretched sinfulness and has proven himself over and over again in His sovereignty over our lives. He picks me up when I have nothing left to give, He gently challenges me, and He deeply encourages me. He is my rock and my fortress, in Him I lack nothing.
"The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley,I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever." Psalm 23:1-6
We officially adopted Hunt and Vi on August 26, 2019. For 1158 days Jesus wrote foster care in their story, 761 of those days in our home. Now we can stop counting; they are forever home!
About the Author:
Angela Sawula is a former Steinbacher who now lives in Edmonton with her husband Jonathan and their four children. When she can find a spare moment, she enjoys running, thrifting, and hoarding indoor house plants.
If you would like to send Angela a message, email firstname.lastname@example.org and put her name in the subject line.
If you would like more pictures from their adoption journey, head to https://spark.adobe.com/video/DAAyKW7wyGZJl
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