Chasing Hearts ~ loving + fostering teenagers

I was sitting in bed with my husband one evening last week when I uttered, “The honeymoon is over, we knew this was coming.”

“This is good. He’s comfortable now.”

Our son J had moved in four months prior. The novelty of having a forever family was wearing off and he was realizing that being part of a family also meant having responsibilities and following rules. It meant boring days at home, arguing with siblings, doing homework, clearing your own dinner plate, being told no, having consequences, going to bed at a decent hour and waking up for school in the morning. It meant being let down by mom at times and disagreeing with dad at others. Suddenly, family movie nights seemed a little lame and that younger brother a little more annoying.

We could sense the shift in his attitude and he could sense the frustration in our voices. Teens are hard. Teens who have experienced trauma, whom you’ve only just met, who are trying to navigate your relationship with while also learning boundaries, is even harder. But we didn’t say yes to him because he would be easy, we said yes to J because we already loved him.

How?

The simple, but fully true answer, because God already loved us. “We love because He first loved us” has been our constant reminder. It’s etched on our hearts. It’s printed on our walls. Its why we said yes before and said yes again.

You see, J isn’t our first teenager. We’ve been in this “what happens now” stage with a teen in foster care before. It can get really bad. And then good. And then bad again. The roller coaster is exhausting.

When my husband and I eagerly signed up to become foster parents six years ago, teenagers were not on our radar. Our birth daughter was a year old when I dreamed of bringing in babies who needed our love. Instead, our very first phone call was for a fourteen year old girl.

“Can we come over tonight and present you with her profile?” a social worker asked.

“Wait, what? We didn’t sign up for teens!” Surely they weren’t serious! But they were. They came over and handed us a photo of a beautiful young girl with strawberry blonde hair and a profile that would break your heart. Her face didn’t leave our minds as we spent the next few days praying about the decision.

When I think back about that week, I’m still shocked we said yes. We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. We were twenty five and twenty six years old, had one year of parenting under our belts and had just agreed to face a teenager. When we said yes to this girl, our eyes were sealed shut, not even knowing what the term “honeymoon” meant. We had no idea what to do when everything came crashing down a month into her placement. The next four years took us down the craziest roller coaster of our lives and ended with A, that beautiful, strawberry blonde girl with the heart breaking profile, becoming our forever daughter. I won’t get into the gritty details of her story, but please know it wasn’t easy. Worth it? Absolutely. But still so hard. 

***************

So here we were, sitting in bed, talking about the honeymoon being over and wondering where we go from here. Do we get more strict? Give him more space? Show him more grace? Buckle down on his behaviors before they get out of control? We ask ourselves these questions over and over, and we remind ourselves this: just as the Lord wants our hearts, we want his heart, not just his obedience.

“O Lord, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it. Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!  If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.” Psalm 139:1-10

I’ve poured over those verses in tears after so many long days. They consistently blow me away. I see His pursuit of me. I see His complete knowledge of me and His complete love for me. I see His searching me out and coming right after me no matter where I am. He doesn’t wait for me to come to Him. He doesn’t choose me because I am good or because I bring anything at all to the table. He chooses me despite all of my faults. He leads me, and holds me, and has been for years despite my rebellion. This is His love for me. This is how I want to love our son. 

Teenagers are rebellious. I’m rebellious. We’re kindred spirits, them and I. That honeymoon period? I had one too. Those sweet days where I longed for Him and read His word and basked in the gift of my salvation. That novelty of being part of His forever family eventually wore off and there I was for years, coasting along while He pursued me. I was consumed with doing good and acting right, proving I had it together and could take care of things on my own…take care of these children on my own. I was chasing after temporary things instead of that which is permanent because these important and good things gave me significance, value, and fulfilment. Misplaced though they were, He kept pursuing me. Because you see, He’s not after my good deeds, He’s after my heart. He chased after my heart daily and has absolutely wrecked me through this process fostering and adopting. I’ve been wrecked by Him in the best of ways.

So we sit in bed, throw our arms up in the air and laugh with each other as we talk about our son.

“We’re totally winging this, aren’t we?”

And we are! There’s no manual for this. No step by step guide. Not even a mentor who has been through this very thing with this very boy. We just have to wake up every day and make the decision to pursue his heart. Because in the end, it’s each of our kids hearts we are after. God chases after our hearts and now we chase after our son’s.

So ya, teens are hard. But teens are worth it.Because every once in a while you catch tiny glimpses of them “getting it,” of them starting to wrap their heads around the idea of someone loving them no matter what—of someone pursuing them. And when they get it? Even if just for a moment? That’s when we point them right back to the One who gave us the love in the first place. The One who knows them so completely and loves them even more than we possibly could. In all of this, this is our goal: that they would know the unconditional kind of love from the Heart Changer. For only then can true healing begin.

“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.  Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them” Psalm 139: 13-16

For six years we’ve taken in children from every age and category; infants we picked up right from the hospital, toddlers, middle aged children and teens. Each with their own unique set of joys and challenges. But teenagers? They’ve stolen my heart—and my mind if I’m being honest. I’ve lost my mind and I’m pretty sure they have it! Each case has brought me to my knees and shown me how truly desperate I am without Jesus. And as He continues to pursue me, I’m learning to pursue Him. Because He is worth far more than any temporary thing, fear, heartache or hardship that comes with saying “yes”.

***Many thanks to Michelle for trusting me to share her and her families story here. I wanted to highlight not just how she talks about fostering and adopting teens, but also how she shares the story in a complete way. Tough? Absolutely. But Jesus? He’s right there pursuing them in and through it. I pray hearing her story helps you view and see Jesus’s pursuit of you in your own unique story. You can follow along with Michelle and her family on IG @becauseheloved

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