This transcript has been edited for clarity.
Emily: Welcome back to another episode of Risen Motherhood! We’re excited for you guys to hear this interview with Andrew and Chrissy Wolgemuth today, talking all about foster care and the gospel. They’ve been married for 14 years and have three daughters and a son. Chrissy manages her home and homeschools their kids, and Andrew works as a literary agent for Christian authors and blogs about fatherhood at dadcraft.com. They live in Colorado where they love exploring the mountains, and they’ve been involved in foster care and adoption for the last six years.
May is National Foster Care Month, so with that on the horizon, we wanted to talk about foster care and the gospel, because we know that there are so many aspects that portray Christ’s love for us so well. Even if you are not directly involved in foster care, we hope that you still find a lot of value in this episode.
Andrew and Chrissy do a great job of speaking to how you can support people that are pursuing foster care directly in your church community or in your family. We really hope you enjoy this episode, and are encouraged by it, so let’s jump in with myself, Laura, Chrissy, and Andrew.
Laura: Hi Andrew and Chrissy! Thanks so much for joining us on Risen Motherhood today.
Andrew: Laura, thank you. It’s really a pleasure to be on with you.
Laura: We are super excited to have you guys. We know we probably teed this up for you in the intro, but Andrew is actually our agent for our book, which is how we got connected with him. He has gently and slowly led us through the process of the whole book world, and been a great leader for us. Throughout the process, we actually found out that he and his wife were involved in foster care, so we invited them on the show today to talk through what that experience has been like for them.
Maybe we’ll just let you guys speak for yourselves obviously. [Laughter] How long have you guys been married? How many kids do you have? Can you just tell us a little bit about what a day looks like in the Wolgemuth family?
Chrissy: We have been married for 14 years, and we have four kids, aged 10, 8, 5, and 3.
Andrew: As a literary agent, I can kind of work wherever, as long as I’ve got internet and an airport, so I work from home and thoroughly enjoy that. Chrissy homeschools the older two—and the younger two to a certain extent—so we’re all in our house all day most days, which is a part of what allows us to foster care and is just a part of our family dynamic. We all enjoy each other pretty well.
Emily: That's super fun. I know my kids love it when dad is home, although I am super curious about all your strategies for keeping everybody out of the office at some point. [Laughter]
Andrew: We’re going to put those strategies to the test for this. I mean, a part of it is I actually grew up homeschooled so I am pretty used to being at home and having that work space and making it happen. Also, this is all the kids have known for the most part. Aside from infancy, I’ve worked from home.
Daddy’s office is where he’s working and if he doesn’t have his ear buds in, then maybe you can knock on the door. There's a window they can see in. But at the same time, I feel like I am always leaning on the edge of that BBC guy—that interview guy—and this, by the way, works out really well for the most part. [Laughter]
Laura: Can you guys tell us a little bit about how God led you to participate in foster care? And what did that initial decision-making process look like? Where was your heart at and how did God bring you to that decision?
Chrissy: From early in our marriage, we talked about adoption; it was kind of something we were interested in. And then it took over a year to get pregnant and doctors weren’t super hopeful during that time. I felt like that continued to soften our hearts.
Then fast forward; we did manage to get pregnant twice, and during the second pregnancy, I struggled with nausea and couldn’t get out of bed for months—and I had a toddler. I just remember looking at Andrew and saying, “I can’t do this again.” And he’s like, “You don’t have to, let’s adopt.” [Laughter]
From that point on, we decided that was going to be the next step for extending our family. About seven years ago, we were trying to decide international or domestic. Those are just big decisions, and it feels like there are so many options even within those two realms. Because we had lost some money in the housing market while trying to move here, we didn’t have this huge chunk of money for international adoption, and because when we moved here, our church had established a relationship with the state to train foster and adoptive families, we thought, “Alright, let’s try that out as our first step.”
We started going to training and it was just amazing; God really broke our hearts during that process for the kids in the system but also for their parents. The state has a policy of reunification, which means if parents are willing to work their treatment plan that the courts give them, then they can get their children back. But in the meantime, obviously those kids need a home. We, therefore, felt like really that's where God was leading us.
Emily: We have some very good friends who are doing foster care right now, and I know Laura has some really good friends as well. It’s been interesting to see how they’ve not only embraced the children, but they’ve embraced the gospel for the parents as well. Just seeing that whole relationship as, “How can we minister to and love this whole family?”
It’s been really cool to watch how God has expanded their view to care for and love their children, but to see to the health of the whole family too—however God works in that situation, which isn’t always the way that they expect. But I like how you share that it broke your heart for that and showed how you can be a part of that. It’s really amazing to watch as somebody who's not directly involved with it but really closely involved in the lives of someone who's going through that.
Andrew: The beauty of this church-based program and training that we went through then was that they instil that vision from the beginning. Right from the first sessions, they handed out placards and you stood up in the front of the class and it represented all the different participants in fostering and potentially adopting—but certainly any foster care situation. You’re talking about social workers, and different types of social workers – the intake and the outtake, and the ongoing—the judge, and so on.
You realize like, “Wow, this is a huge group of people,” and you have the opportunity to show them God’s love. You're talking about a broken situation; even the workers who may have full, intact households themselves are constantly, day after day, working in broken situations. They face accusations of taking kids away from parents in unjust situations. I mean just painful stuff. But all these participants need the gospel and are touched by your participation or participation in foster care.
Laura: It’s really neat to see the chain reaction that can be set off by a family who chooses to invest intentionally, with the hope of the gospel, in the foster care system. That is a really beautiful picture, and as we’re all talking about here, maybe we can be a little bit more explicit with this next question. Can you walk us through what is God’s call for his people to care for orphans, and how does that play out in the believer’s life?
Andrew: It’s funny because the technical definition of an orphan is, “a child whose parents have died.” And the reality is, when we think about the Bible, that's talking about widows and orphans with some frequency, we’re not actually interacting with orphans in that technical sense.
The Lord has broadened our perspective to understand God’s heart for the vulnerable— orphans and widows in particular—in biblical times as those folks, but still today. But in our situation, its kids who are stuck in the midst of families broken with addiction, or troubled with the criminal justice system. All sorts of different things that make kids essentially orphans in that they are extremely vulnerable.
Throughout the Bible, you see God’s heart for the vulnerable, saying, “Hey, Israel,” or, “Hey Church, a part of your call is to be seeking out the vulnerable and loving them.” The other thing that we've been struck by is the cyclical nature of family breakdown. And we all know that, intuitively I think, there's nothing like sitting in a courtroom and hearing a birth mom talk about her desire to have her son, and reflecting back on her own childhood in the foster care system.
You realize that she survived, that she's had few moments of peace or safety through her life. Then the reality is she can hardly do better than falling into the same habits, and as a result, her children are struggling as well. And there it is, the Lord saying, “Church, step in. Provide a place of peace for these children, for their families.”
Emily: That's a beautiful way to say it. We were talking with our kids recently about our friends who are doing foster care and explaining the situation to them a little bit. It was amazing to see the looks on their faces when I said, “You know there are some children whose mommies and daddies love them, but they don’t know how to care for them, and they need help.” Just the reality of like, “Wow!” What an opportunity too to be thankful if we are in a situation where we are able to care for our children by the grace of God, right? And to be able to communicate even to biological children like, “Let’s say thank you to God for this!” And then to realize that all of us in relation to God are needy. We’re vulnerable, and it’s only because he stopped to repair our relationship with him and to break our cycle of sin that we are able to enjoy life.
Chrissy: Also when we remember that everybody is created in the image of God, that has value. Then we can’t just say, “Oh these kids, or these families are struggling,” and we’re not tuned into that. We have to value that and enter in and...
Andrew: There is something really powerful though about communicating this to our biological children, and now, we’re communicating it to children that we fostered to adopt. We have our home base, and honestly, it’s easy to be a bit condescending towards birth parents or towards situations they got themselves into. Like, “How could they? What were they thinking?” But when you have to communicate it to your children, and you're communicating it to children who have been adopted out of that system, it demands that you respect these different people. It’s the reminder that we’re there, but by the grace of God. Chrissy and I would go, “Certainly.” And the reality that often we interact with people who have no safety net, no family or church. Our kids would never be in foster care because we have so many different networks of people supporting us. But the Lord has called us to look for folks who don’t have that network and to support them through this way.
Laura: Andrew, you're making me think of a really practical question here, so I know I am going to put you on the spot a little bit. As Emily shared, we both have dear friends that are heavily involved in the foster care system, and I know one of their struggles has been, “How do I talk to my biological children about that? What do I say?” especially with children sort of coming in and out, sometimes moving very quickly through a home. Do you have any practical tips on how you talk with your children about what that looks at? Just for the mom at home who's kind of like, “I am not sure how to explain this.”
Chrissy: I think it’s really age dependent. With our older girls, we’re starting to have more honest conversations. They’ve driven to visits with me to see their birth parents. And yet, because of addiction, because of a bad choice, these parents made this decision and they weren’t able to take care of their kids. We keep it pretty general, especially if there are any scary details. But, especially if you're at that point of having visits, just to say, “These parents are engaged. They're trying and they really want their kids back,” and so just being honest because kids are pretty perceptive. Even from the beginning, we’d say, “This is a temporary thing. We’re just going to love them as long as God has them in our house.” And they deal with that more honestly, probably better than we do. We’re always setting out schedules and trying to plan in the future, and they're not.
Laura: It often seems to be the case I feel, with all things parenting, we’re the ones that are kind of winding it all up tight, and really anxious. Just keep it simple and tell it to the kids like it is, and they're usually like, “Oh, okay,” and kind of move on while we’re making it this stressful thing.
Andrew: We've found there's always something to celebrate. I mean, we live in a culture where abortion is so easy and available, that just the courage it takes for a mom and hopefully a birth dad, involved to a certain extent, to carry through pregnancy, to get to a hospital to deliver a baby, is worth celebrating. We’ve found even in some of the darkest situations, there's still something to respect and honor about the birth family with our conversations with our kids.
Laura: Great point. Can you guys share a couple of common obstacles to foster care? And also a little bit just how you have seen God’s faithfulness and provision, especially when you feel weak and like you can’t do it? I am sure that happens in all of parenting and all of motherhood, but I am sure that that is also brought acutely to light through the foster care journey. If you could just touch on that, we’d love it.
Chrissy: First of all, I think the system is really hard to navigate at times – there's lots of required paperwork and training. Especially if you don’t have a kid placed in your home it’s really hard to want to do that. That's one thing. I think there's a lot of fear involved with foster care. a lot of people wonder like, “What if a child doesn’t stay? How is that going to affect my family? Can my heart take that?”
When we got our first placement, we were really wrestling with those questions. We were directed to the book of Ruth, and the story of Boaz being the kinsman’s redeemer. It was really impressed on us that there are people who have rights over these kids more than we do. And just like Boaz took his place and made sure there wasn’t somebody ahead of him, as the kinsman’s redeemer, we put ourselves in that place—that these parents have rights to their children first, before we do. I think that was kind of a sobering and encouraging way to look at it.
Then, where these kids come from trauma and neglect—even a newborn has something called a primal wound. It’s this concept of a primal wound. Even being separated from the woman who carried the child for nine months, it’s a wound, and a trauma that they carry with them. That trauma can come out in a lot of different forms with kids.
When we say, “Oh, foster care or adoption,” everybody has their worst case scenario that they love to tell you about. Those stories just circulate and give people that fear. But what I’d say is, we've had kids come in and they've just expressed their pain. They don’t hide it, and what it makes you realize is that we’re not the savior. God is the Savior and we can’t heal those wounds, but he can.
There’s this unique dependency on the Lord for these kids, and knowing that they're not in your care for a lifetime and that it might be days or weeks or months, but that you love them when they come into your home helps you realize that God created them and that he loves them so much. That transfers to your other kids where you realize, “I am not their Savior either,” these kids that are in your home everyday. It’s like a great perspective to realize our dependency on the Lord.
Andrew: I’d add too that we live in an American consumer culture, and the church slips into that too. That’s a serious obstacle when you're fostering, and going that route, even towards adoption, you're not the customer. The state’s main goal is to take care of these kids and reunify them with their family, and we’re just a vehicle for that. We’re a participant in that process, and that's a humbling thing because of how the system is not created to cater to foster families at all. It just sort of puts you in your place, and that, in and of itself, is a bit of an obstacle. Then too, there's a natural tendency to want to avoid pain and messiness, and to subtly or not so subtly seek out comfort in our lives. There’s a very real sense in the trauma Chrissy talked about—being present in these little people that you're inviting into your home—and you’re asking your other kids and other family members to deal with it.
That pushes against our own tendencies to protect our kids and to just be safe and comfortable. Those are some of the more subtle obstacles that I’d think of, but things which we feel pretty poignantly in the midst of the process. You kind of have to remind each other, “Hey, we’ve chosen this, and this comes with the territory that the Lord promises his presence through it.” The reality is that you're dealing with kids, social workers, and birth parents who are going to be in the messiness—why not reflect, as we can, the light of the gospel in the midst of that?
Emily: What you're describing is actually something Laura and I were just talking about. That the costliness of the gospel and of following Christ and being that light is oftentimes like, “I’ll share if it doesn’t cost me anything. I’ll love if it doesn’t hurt.” But Christ paid this ultimate cost; he went all the way and died; he experienced shame and rejection and all kind of different pain on our behalf.
Therefore if we are taking up our cross and following him, we have to expect suffering and persecution, and it’s just really challenging. I think that's one beautiful thing that we've seen as we've watched friends walk through foster care is just the way God upholds them. The cost is being paid just to see God beautifully sustain them and shine the brightest in them when they are weak and when they are asking for prayer, and they're saying, “We need him, we need some help with the other kids.” It’s beautiful to see them lay down comforts in their own lives, and God sustain them through that process. It’s a picture of the gospel for all to see.
Chrissy: Along with the cost is real joy. We get to see our kids love all these kids who come into our home, and we just count it as a sweet family ministry. I mean, it’s hard to get out when your kids are young and to be serving. So to invite that into your home where they can just serve in their normal life—breakfast, lunch, dinner—in the normal rhythms of life, and to see your kids just pitch in and play games and reach these children in ways that we couldn’t. It is such a joy to see that ministry in your kids.
Emily: I love that.
Laura: I do too. Okay, so what would you guys say to someone who's not foster caring directly, but they do want to support the vulnerable or other families who are involved? Much like Emily and I? Can you guys give us a little bit of advice and tips here? How can we be most supportive to families who are not doing what you guys are doing?
Andrew: That’s a great question because a central part of how this works for our family is the fact that we have a really wonderful local church and friends from that church. And then neighbors even who are aware of what we’re involved in and have said, “We’re a phone call. We’re a blank check. Whatever the need in the midst of this, let us know.”
There really are innumerable ways to serve fostering families, and that for us has looked like meals, it has looked like people who get a certain level of training so that they're state approved to provide support and to be a respite provider. It’s as simple as conversational partners. You're walking through stuff and you just need to share about here’s what we’re looking at and dealing with. Whether that person has legal or fostering experience, just to listen is something. And then to the extent that people have expertise in those different areas is hugely helpful.
Chrissy: I would also say that these kids come from homes where people struggle with homelessness and mental health. If you think about broadening the foster care realm into thinking those are the issues that are causing kids to come into foster care, you might have a passion for any of those areas. You might be a better fit or have skills where you can help out. That might be more of a preventative or a support in those roles.
Andrew: Yes, more birth parent-focused.
Laura: There are probably endless opportunities, like you said Andrew, for us to get involved and to support. I want to ask two questions. I was thinking about our listeners and we've all sorts of women listening in. But there are probably some that are likely interested in foster care and hooked on this episode because they're like, “Hmm, I am thinking about that,” or, “We’re praying about that; feeling led towards that. Let’s just see what these guys have to say.”
Then there might just be the camp of women who are also in the midst of thoughts of foster care and probably deep down in the trenches, they’re dealing with a lot of the realities of what you guys have spoken about. We usually end with some encouragement when we do interviews for the specific people that we’re talking to. I wonder if you could speak to both the women and husbands who might be listening with, “Hey, if you're interested, here is why you should do it.”
Chrissy: A word of encouragement.
Laura: Yes. Then to the other group who's down and dirty in it, and they're experiencing all that comes with foster care.
Chrissy: To the first group, the people who are interested, you just need to take a step in learning more. That could be just going to a meeting through the local county, or finding a support group. A lot of churches have fostering, adoptive support groups. When you just start hearing stories and hearing what those steps might look like, that might stir your heart.
Then even voicing that. If you say to your small group, “Hey, we’re thinking about foster care or adoption,” you might be surprised how many other people have thought about it but never voiced it. That might be a place or a community that you didn’t even know was there.
But I think community is so important in this because it’s easy to believe lies and to be discouraged. Therefore the more people that you have surrounding you, especially people who are doing it, the better off you're going to be.
Andrew: Absolutely. And the encouragement on the backend of that really is that the Lord just does something really special through the process. Whether its interacting with other fostering families, or the church coming alongside fostering families, time and again in the midst of fostering or after, we realize how real the Lord’s presence feels. In a way, we often miss it in more normal life. For the rewards; I mean, we have fostered younger kids to this point, and the reality is that probably none of them would recognize us a few months, or even a year, after they’ve been in our household. Whatever the length of time, they're just young.
So the tangible is we’re not going to show up in a thank you note after college graduation or something. But there are joys along the way of just seeing these children begin to thrive and kind of start to get a foot in life. And then again, the Lord’s presence through that process and then what it does for a family. They're often hard, challenging days, but the Lord just uses those. We love just what it has done for our family and for our walk with the Lord, and that's a huge part of our joy in the process.
Another resource if you're intrigued or considering—we've got a very special church where our lead pastor and his wife have adopted five times—is a podcast from our pastor that’s just sort of out there to listen to about fostering and adopting in faith (fosteringandadopting.com). It’s 14 episodes that walk through his journey and how the church came alongside. That’s another just more in-depth look about what it’s like, why the Lord’s call is in that direction, and what it looks like to participate.
Laura: We love resources at Risen Motherhood, so thank you.
Emily: We’ll include that in our show notes. Something that I’ve observed—that I love you pulled out—is when they're young like that, they may not remember you. But we've observed that friends who are doing foster care do infants a lot of times. The gift that they're giving to those children in that developmentally fragile period is a lifelong gift, potentially the difference between thriving and not being able to have relationships with people down the road. Because there was a mom and a dad who touched them, helped them, loved them, and fed them in an extremely vulnerable time. It’s just a gift to watch and see that. They may not know that, but it is an absolutely life-changing thing.
Andrew: That's right. And to the family in the midst of it, to the husband and wife in the darker days, it’s those same promises that feel distant, but that feel absolutely true. What is it? It’s a call to a deeper faith; that somehow God is using this—that your visit in the middle of the night to a detention center where your kid has ended up or whatever is a sacrifice where you don’t know how it’s going to play out. You don’t know if the kid will ever look at you and say, “Hey, thanks, I really needed that.”
But what an offering to the Lord to say, “Here’s all we’ve got for now. Use it,” and to trust that the Lord will provide through the local church, friendships, or whatever what you need to sustain you another day, another week in the midst of it.
Laura: I love that. I was chatting with a girlfriend who's doing foster care to two little ones right now, and she has three others. We were talking back and forth and she was like, “Well, I don’t really know how you're dealing with special needs,” with my daughter recently being diagnosed with special needs. And I was like, “I don’t know how you're doing it with foster care.” We were both like, “Praise God!” That he offers that perfect grace and meets both of us in our unique situations right where we’re at. I didn’t know what I needed going into our challenge with special needs, and she didn’t know what she would need going into foster care. But she was just like, “God’s grace has met me every step of the way.” Even when I feel like, “I don’t know what I am going to do now,” or, “I don’t know how to deal with this situation.” I think from the outside looking in, as Emily and I both are not involved in foster care straight up, it can kind of be like, “How do you deal with that heartache and that pain?” It just seems like a unique type of thing, and it is. But at the same time, we see God’s grace being sufficient for all of us in our unique situations and circumstances, and that he is so faithful in all these things that we work through. If he give us more of himself, then that's all that we need. That is a beautiful thing and it’s well worth it.
Emily: This was really encouraging, and I assume there are probably people listening who are weeping and feeling called. And also just feeling really encouraged. Hopefully, even if you know that you're not going to be directly involved in this, if you have foster parents in mind right now, and you're like, “I am going to text them. I am going to call them after this, and ask how I can come alongside them better and pray for them.” Thank you guys so much for sharing a little bit of what you've learned along the way.
Laura: We appreciate you guys being here.
Andrew: Certainly. Thanks for having us.
Laura: If you guys want to hear more about foster care or adoption, we will put a lot of links in our show notes today. We’ll also ask Andrew and Chrissy for some of their recommendations so we can include those, and hopefully you guys find more encouragement on that. And of course to find out more, follow us on social media, @risenmotherhood.com - Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. You can find all the links there as well.