Today I’m opening my blog to a dear friend and someone I admire quite a bit, Jocelyn Hattenberger. Foster care and adoption are both topics she carries close to her heart, please
read on to find out how foster care changed her life.
We sat side by side as she described to me a world that seemed galaxies away but was actually in the same small town that I lived. She told me of the abuse of her childhood and her drug use to escape. While I lived in a well-kept home, a few miles away she lived in a hotel with her step-father and her payment for this lodging resulted in the 2-month-old baby she held in her arms. After two months in the hospital hooked up to morphine and methadone, detoxing from heroin, cocaine and Xanax, he had been placed in my home for foster care. I went to this first visit with his mother angry and self-righteous, filled with judgement and a hard heart. But then I saw her for what she was. She was not some awful criminal, drug-using prostitute who knowingly poisoned her son with drugs as he grew in her body. Those were things she did, but it wasn’t who she was. Instead, underneath it all, she was a scared, hurt woman who was doing whatever she could to forget and escape her current reality. It was a reality that I was trying to save her newborn son from and a reality she should have been saved from 18 years ago.
Eight years ago I became a foster parent and never imagined I would be sitting with accused abusers seeing them in any other light than the justice they deserved. My foster care and adoption journey began as a selfish one, as most that start with “I want” are. Sure, I knew that adopting a child had unselfish properties which I hid behind for years, but the journey has brought me from “I want” to “God wants” in ways I never imagined.
I have been a foster mom to 16 amazing babies and have been blessed through the adoption of three wonderful children. It’s an amazing life filled with hope that can be seen and joy that can be felt. It is also a messier life than I ever imagined. I have found that it is there- in the messy- that we can truly see God and He can truly change us. As much as I wanted to pretend the only thing I was inviting into my life was a sweet, precious baby, the reality is that I was also inviting in the messy, hard and broken that came in packages that were often large and angry. It took me years of being led (kicking and screaming I might add) into situations that forced me to embrace the sorrow of this mess and realize that there could be beauty in those messes if I allowed myself to be used.
This world is filled with sinful, awful messes and we can pretend they are not there and invite just the lovely and precious into our lives. But in the messy there is true beauty to be found, stories to be told and lives to be redeemed. I believe we are called to embrace those behind these hard and sometimes shocking stories and infuse them with love and hope. And in order to do that, we have to get close enough to smell the stench of that mess, get the dirt on our hands, and embrace those wrapped in the hard dysfunction that sin has created in their lives.
Embracing messy dysfunction is scary. We would much rather see life in terms of black and white and when you invite in lives that look more grey it can be uncomfortable. Abuse, neglect and abandonment of children are not grey to me. It is wrong and those who commit these abuses against children are wrong. This is black and white. It is not my job to offer mercy in these situations. These parents will stand in court and be judged for their actions and sometimes the sentence is, and should be that their parental rights be terminated. However, I do believe I can, as a follower of God, offer grace- something that may not be deserved- my encouragement, support and the love of Christ.
Absolute beauty can come from the messy lives surrounding us every day when we choose to get our feet muddy and offer grace. It’s going be dirty and it’s going to be hard. The Lord knows I have gotten it wrong more times than I have right and thankfully He offers to pour that same grace out on me. It is in the messy- in the world of painful beginnings and hard choices- that life is found and the glory of God is revealed. “The Lord has anointed me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted… To give them beauty for ashes” (Isaiah 61:1-3).
(Foster and adoptive parents embrace the messy (quite literally as well as figuratively) and fill it with grace every day. The Orphan Care Network is a non-profit organization whose mission is to connect families and strengthen church orphan care ministries to offer encouragement and support to these families. Find out more about how you can be part of that support by visiting www.orphancarenetwork.org.)
Jocelyn Hattenberger resides in Tomball, Texas. She has been a foster and adop
tive mom for 8 years. She has loved on sixteen babies in her home and has adopted 3 children: Adrian, Sariyah and Tyger (ages 8, 8 and 7). She is an advocate of The Orphan Care Network (TOCN) and runs TOCN’s Moses Closet|Tomball which collects and distributes items to foster and adoptive parents in the community. She is actively involved in the Orphan Care Ministry at Tomball Bible Church. In her free time, she connects with new foster parents and encourages them as they walk the very winding road of foster care and adoption.