A couple’s light shines brightly through short-term foster care

By Joy Sterling

In our search for Christian heroes or heroines it is easy to visualize distraught missionary mommas chasing snakes from steamy jungle huts, or weary saints dishing out bowls of soup and hunks of bread in a ghetto soup kitchen. Truly, these people do impact their world for Jesus and we appreciate them. But sometimes when searching for those who make a difference, we neglect our own back yards. My granddaughter Julie is a light for Jesus in an unexpected arena.

Although she grew up middle-class poor, life has smiled on her. She worked her way through college where she met and married a promising young medical student. Grant had been born with severe defects, and owes his mobility to dedicated, competent doctors who saw him through countless childhood surgeries. In his desire to return the blessing, he specialized in pediatric neurosurgery — a highly skilled and highly lucrative field. In the ensuing years, Julie and Grant have enjoyed a fast-paced life with early financial security that many never achieve.

Julie is a hands-on mom to three young daughters — 11, 8, and 4 — high achievers who are involved in countless academic, sport and leisure activities, all of which necessitate Julie’s active participation. She maintains a large, lovely home with only occasional outside help. A gourmet cook, she prepares food from scratch to avoid unhealthy processed foods for her family, and frequently entertains friends and colleagues. She works out regularly to stay healthy. She is actively involved in her church, attends Bible studies, volunteers for charitable projects and stays in contact on a regular basis with several missionary friends all over the world. Because of the stress of Grant’s job, she makes sure they schedule adequate “together time.” She even finds time in her harried life for weekly phone chats with Grandma. I am awed as I observe her day-to-day life. Surely her cup is filled to the brim — even overflowing. Sometimes I worry that it is perhaps too full.

Therefore, I thought she must be joking when she interrupted our weekly phone call… “Just a second, Grandma. One of the twins just threw up all over the couch.”

Twins? I thought. Surely I didn’t hear her correctly.

After a brief pause, she returned to the phone to explain. “I didn’t get a chance to tell you, but last night we got a pair of two-year-old twins. They really are a handful,” she sighed.

“Julie, honey, what on earth … ?”

“Oh, don’t worry, Grandma. It’s only for a few weeks. Just until their mother gets out of rehab. They are awfully cute little guys. As soon as we get their diaper rash cleared up, I’m sure they will be much easier to live with. Poor little things,” she sighed again, compassion oozing through her voice.

She went on to explain her church’s involvement in a program called SAFEHOMES. It is a nationwide ministry promoted through churches, in which stable couples volunteer to care for children whose lives have been disrupted, in order to keep them out of the Foster Care system. After extensive training, children in need of temporary housing due to family crises are placed in their home. The temporary placement can extend from a few days to six or eight weeks. No remuneration is involved, and the expectation is always for the children to return to their natural families when the crisis has been resolved. The reasons for a need for a safe home vary: sometimes it is because of illness, incarceration or financial stress. It can even happen because a parent has reached the “I-just-can’t-stand-this-kid-another-minute” frustration point.

My phone conversation with Julie continued with frequent interruptions: Loud wails; screams; “Momma!”; and “Just a second, Grandma. I’ll be right back.” When Julie resumed our talk, she attempted to convince me that what she was doing was “no big deal.”

“When I look at our lives, and see how blessed we are, I wonder why God has given us so much when oth¬ers have so little. I know he expects us to share what we have, and nobody needs it more than these poor innocent little kids. Imagine how uprooted their lives have been. If we can offer them a little stability and some unconditional love — even for a short time — then it seems like that is what Jesus would want us to do.” She was silent for a moment before continuing.

“The verse in Matthew where Jesus talks about ‘doing unto the least of these’ … well, who could be more least than these little waifs? I know it isn’t much, but it is something we can do. I just can’t stand back and let these children go homeless.” Compassion flowed from her voice.

I was awed. And touched. Most of us would choose to take the easier, more convenient route, and just write a check for some worthwhile charity, then pat ourselves on the back for having done our Christian duty.

Yet, here were Julie and Grant — a wealthy, upscale couple with plenty to do, a stressful job and a demanding family of their own. With already full lives, they didn’t need more. He leaves before 7:00 a.m. and rarely gets home before 7:00 p.m. She seldom has more than a few minutes in her long day to call her own. Yet they voluntarily assume the burden of caring for somebody else’s hurting, usually dirty, often problem-laden children, because they want to make the world a better place. Their desire is to show Jesus where he wasn’t seen before. It’s just a small candle in a dark world, but it shines brightly.

As fiction, this scenario would be difficult to accept. But these people, unbelievably, are real, and I thank God for them.

Joy Sterling’s writing was first published in a local newspaper when she was in third grade, and she’s been writing since, with articles, stories and essays in dozens of Christian and secular publications. She and her pastor-husband of 60 years have been foster parents for more than 70 children. Retired in L.A. (lower Alabama), she spends time reading, writing, knitting, cooking, crafting, gardening and grandparenting — the best job in the world!