As far back as I can remember, I’ve always said I didn’t want to have children when I grow up. As a young child, my reasoning was that I didn’t want a “tummy ache.” As a teenager, I didn’t want to get fat. As an adult, I couldn’t risk loving so much that I couldn’t control the potential pain I could experience. The bottom line… everything boiled down to me.
Three years ago I began an unknown [to me] journey of whole-heartedness. As I’ve grown in knowing the depths of God’s love for me it has slowly unraveled the grip of control I’ve held on my carefully managed life. As I’ve experienced this freedom it has propelled me into a Larger Story that looks beyond just me and my fears.
As Daniel and I have stepped into this realm of foster care it has broken my heart in ways I never imagined could be broken. A common thing you hear from others is “I could never do what you’re doing – I would never be able to give a child back.” That’s a very valid point and one that must be carefully considered before you embark on such a mission. I, however, foolishly thought that would be the easy part. To me, the hardest part of fostering would be to love someone else’s child every day regardless of their challenges that are brought on by no fault of your own. What does it look like to love whole-heartedly?
My crash course in parenting happened with a 5 year old princess that turned my world up-side-down. I call her Little Miss Sunshine because on our second night she spent a whole hour dancing on the floor at Panera Bread in such fashion that reminded me of the final scene of the same named movie. All I could do was smile as she did her thing on the dance floor.
We had the privilege of pouring our heart and lives into this princess for three months. In the last two weeks we walked through what felt like the darkest period my sheltered life had experienced. It was in this time I felt the depths of whole-hearted love and whole-hearted pain.
I was aware of a tension between the birth-mother towards us as foster parents. Her perception was that I couldn’t have children of my own, so I was out to steal hers. Stab.my.heart. Replaying her words in my head brought a flood of tears to my eyes. Tears that reflected the pain of being misunderstood, unknown, unappreciated and exhausted from giving all I had to a situation that felt hopeless. I cried all afternoon. God, this is too hard. My grace is sufficient, is all I heard.
Shortly thereafter we were faced with a realization that this was not a safe situation and forced to consider releasing this princess into the hands of new parents. I wrestled for days, through tears, with the fear that we had failed, we were giving up, we would cause more pain to a precious child that has already experienced so much in her life. God, how could this be part of her story?
Through tear stained eyes I asked my husband, are we doing the right thing? I couldn’t see God for the life of me. I couldn’t understand how His Best for this child was something other than me. (I know, that’s absurd.) I may not be the best substitute mother, but I at least knew my whole heart was in it. And in this moment, that whole heart felt shattered…. with pieces everywhere.
Your grace abounds in deepest waters.
As we stepped into what we believed to be obedience in God’s direction of releasing this child, I had to trust that He loved her more than I ever could. We walked through darkness, knowing we had no control over her future. We realized that the easy thing would be to hold-on out of our own pain avoidance. God was calling us to let go, for his greater purposes. So we did. And it hurt. With whole-hearted love comes whole-hearted pain.
But God amazes me. I received a call from the new foster mom that was preparing to receive our Little Miss Sunshine. She shared how she had prayed for us all night only imagining how hard releasing this child must be for us. It felt as though God was gathering the pieces of my shattered heart and restoring what had been broken. There are so many ways that this new home was perfect for a princess, but I can’t share for confidentiality purposes. But as we drove to the new home, she asked me what color her new foster mom’s eyes were. I told her I didn’t know I had never seen her. You see, she had told us before that she wished her blue eyes were brown, so she could “match” us. Nothing about her blonde haired, blue eyed self matched Daniel and me. She longed to belong.
Needless to say, God cares about details. This home was prepared for a child they had never met yet loved before they ever laid eyes on her. She walked into her new bedroom decorated with purple walls – purple is her favorite color. And when she looked into her new foster mom’s blue eyes, I knew that God was near.
It has been 4 weeks since we left Little Miss Sunshine with those we believe are an answer to many prayers. I’m overwhelmed with God’s goodness and faithfulness to us and this child. I’m grateful that I can look back and know I gave it my all, and even though we were just a small part of her story, it was worth every tear.
After several years of working in the corporate world Abby Mandella was ready for a change. She took a job with Wellspring Group not knowing that it would be a life changing position for both her and her husband Daniel. After 4 years, Abby and Daniel have been through the Battle for the Heart process and it continues to impact every area of their life. Abby is the Operations Director of Wellspring Group. She and Daniel currently live in Florid